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There is nothing I so hardly beleeve to be in man as constancie, and nothing so easie to be found in him, as inconstancy.... Our ordinary manner is to follow the inclination of our appetite this way and that way, on the left or on the right hand; upward and downe-ward, according as the winde of occasions doth transport us; we never thinke on what we would have, but at the instant we would have it: and change as that beast that takes the colour of the place wherein it is laid. What we even now purposed we alter by and by, and presently returne to our former biase. We goe not, but we are carried: as things that flote, now sliding gently, now pulling violently, according as the water is, either stormy or calme.
Montaigne ( Florio ), II. 1.
Drifting From Christ
The counsel is one to Christian men to beware of drifting from Christ Such is our theme Drifting from Christ. But perhaps it is natural we should speak of another thing first.
I. It must be a long while now since men began to speak of their life as a running stream. It was inevitable the figure should suggest itself to them as soon as they began to think; we all feel its aptness as often as we reflect upon the ceaseless vicissitude that laps our lives round. Of course, it would be a mistake, and worse than a mistake, to think of this ceaseless movement in which we are all involved as if it were a mere brute fate to which simply we must perforce submit. 'Life,' says the Apostle to Christian believers, 'life,' with all its elements and conditions, 'is yours'. This continual change to which we are all committed is for one thing the condition of progress. And besides, how flat and stale life would otherwise be! And yet I believe every one will feel that were there nothing but ceaseless change in our earthly lot, no anchor sure and steadfast for us anywhere, life would be terrible indeed! Ah, it is everything for us to have attached ourselves to Jesus Christ! everything that by strong cords of trust and loyalty we should be fast moored to Him!
II. But it is time to speak now, in the second place, of what is meant by drifting from Christ. Of those who once were alongside Jesus Christ, how many that we could name have drifted very far! It is not easy even for Christian people always to have the Lord Jesus Christ for the fixed centre of their lives. Too often their relations to Him grow relaxed somehow, and His sublime Figure recedes into the distance, threatening to pass out of view an unhappy process which comes about in very various ways. Thus for example (1) A storm may have broken out in their life and driven them away from Christ. It may have been a storm of doubt, or a storm of trouble. (2) Or again, it may be an influence less obvious that does it. (3) When neither of these influences succeeds in detaching us from our Lord, there is another influence that may an influence more slow and subtle and secret still. A thousand varying cares and moods and occupations agitate the surface of our lives. And with this there comes a chafing and a fretting which may by slow degrees wear out the strands of loyalty that bind us to our Lord.
III. How can a Christian who has drifted away from Christ regain his moorings once more? It is by no violent efforts, no strong beating up against the adverse forces of his life, still less by any weak complaining of them, that any man will regain his old attachment to Jesus Christ; but just by giving 'earnest heed the more earnest heed to the things which he has heard about Him'.
A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 31.
Hebrews 2:1 (R.V.)
There is as much need for this exhortation today as when it was first written. There are many signs of religious decadence which we shall be wise to heed, lest we ourselves, caught in the prevailing current, drift away from the truth of God, from the day of God, and from the Christ of God. John Ruskin was not far wrong when he said that a Red Indian, or an Otaheitian savage, had a surer sense of Divine existence round him, the God over him, than the plurality of refined Londoners and Parisians. Allowing that there is some exaggeration in this, I fear that there is too much truth in it.
I. With a view to our spiritual help, let us see what those things are which we have heard, and then glance at the danger of losing them and the means of holding them fast. (1) Among the new truths these Hebrews had heard was the readiness of God to receive all who came to Him. (2) Take another example of what this writer alluded to the truth that suffering is often as much a sign of God's love as success. (3) Think also of Christ's revelation of the spiritual nature of acceptable worship. (4) But all this resolves itself into the possibility of losing our hold on the living God, for it is the fact of His Fatherhood which constitutes the brotherhood; it is because He is a God of Love that we are sure our troubles are overruled for good; and it is because He is a Spirit that we must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
II. The danger of loosening our grip on spiritual realities is serious. The nature of spiritual truths and things is such as to make them elusive. They are not evident to our senses.
III. How, then, shall we safeguard ourselves against this peril? The answer is here by taking more earnest heed to the things we have heard. (1) Could you not give more time to the study of God's Word? (2) Again, you will be taking more earnest heed to things you have heard when you live as if you believed them. (3) Above all, strive to keep up in prayer, here and alone, such personal communion with God in Christ that your affection as well as your intellect may grasp Him.
A. Rowland, Open Windows and other Sermons, p. 88.
References. II. 1. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 150. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 336. S. A. Selwyn, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 52. E. Griffith-Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 408, and vol. lviii. p. 292. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 15. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 205. II. 2-4. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. i. p. 133.
Neglecting the Great Salvation
The object of the writer of this Epistle was to show to the Jews how much belter the Gospel dispensation was as compared with the old covenant The keynote of the Epistle is the word better a better priest, a better tabernacle, a better sacrifice, are to be found in the new covenant. There are two points to which I wish to direct your attention.
I. Why this salvation is called great. (1) It is called great on account of its great author. It was the conception of the great heart of the great God of heaven and earth. Think of the greatness of our God. Take the telescope and sweep the heavens with it on some clear, starry night. What a revelation of God's greatness we have there! Let us turn to the microscope and there we see the perfection of God's workmanship, how the tiniest of His created things (unlike man's workmanship) will bear the minutest inspection. I turn from God the Creator to God the Ruler of the earth, and there too in the pages of history I see His might and His power. (2) It is a great salvation because of its subject a lost world. The loving arms of God seem to enclasp this sinful, this rebellious world, and we hear His voice of love saying, 'Not one of these sons and daughters of Mine shall perish' so God loved the world. (3) It is a great salvation because of the great object it has in view. It is not only to redeem a world lost, ruined, and cursed, but to redeem man in that world. (4) It is a great salvation because of the great price paid for it. There is no arithmetic, no numbers, by which we can calculate the great price of this great salvation. (5) And the end makes it great, even eternal glory. The purpose and plan was to bring many sons to glory. To be in His presence, to behold His glory, to be transformed into His image this is the great salvation.
II. The serious consequences that follow from neglecting it. If the Jew perished with less light and fewer privileges, how shall we escape! Alas! we are busy about everything but the one thing needful. How shall we escape if we neglect? There is nowhere in this universe where we may escape to. We cannot hide from God.
T. J. Madden, Tombs or Temples p. 119.
References. II. 3. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1584, p. 65. II. 4. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 141.
In a letter to Lady Elgin, written in 1833, Erskine of Linlathen points out the distinction 'between the dispensation of Christ and the dispensation of ἄγγελοι (Heb. I. and II.). The dispensation of Christ embraces in it a oneness with the mind of God not merely a readiness to do His will, when we know it, but a participation in His mind, so that, by a participation in the Divine nature, we enter into the reasons of His will, and do not merely obey the authority of His will'.
Reference. II. 5-9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 184. II. 6. J. N. Friend, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 458. II. 7. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 435; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 385.
You can remember that text, you have not ability enough to forget it. But we remember many things intellectually which we forget morally and sympathetically. 'Not yet' why it sounds like a song of hope; there is no despair in this strain. The meaning is, We shall by and by perhaps round the next mountain shoulder we shall see the holy land, the garden of God. 'Not yet;' we are waiting for it; the night is cold and long, but it will expire, and then we shall see the morning and feel its friendly warmth. 'Not yet,' but after a while; a few more struggles, and then the victory. We fight in the hope of the triumph. In mere fighting there is nothing but heartache and disappointment, but in the things that are beyond the morning is the smile.
Let us see if we can paraphrase and amplify this most beautiful thought.
I. 'Not yet, but' broken music, but God's music. All things we know of God are broken. Oh, the broken instruments that are lying on the floor of this orchestra, broken trumpets, broken organs, broken lives broken, all broken; they shall all be gathered up and put together again, and God's band shall be one loud sweet anthem-song. We do not see the whole world converted to the faith. They say it would be, but it is not There are atheists, there are cannibals, there are heathen, there are pagans, there are savages, who would dine off you if they could. You promised the earth should be green, and behold it lies in waste lands. Hold on! What do you see? Why, we see one man, and he only of the poor sort, believing. That is enough; why speak scornfully of the solitary specimen? He is an instance, he grows in the soil of his soul the plant of faith enough! Why do you lose heart in missions foreign and home? Is there only one man in all the world who believes? then the cause of Christ must be in a bad way. Not at all; that one man does believe, he keeps up the continuity of faith, he comes out of the secret places of the Most High, he is walking back to the sanctuary that is invisible, and in his tarrying here for a moment, he irradiates the planet with a strange mystic glory. We do not yet see all the land covered with summer flowers; it is but February, and cold icy February, and the very devil's in the air blackening it with his unholy blight. Talk about summer! Yes, we do. We do not yet see the spring and the summer in all their full blossoming, but this little girl was out this morning, and she found this little blue violet She did? Yes. In the open air? Yes. Sure? Quite. Not grown under glass? No, in the open air. Then the spring is here in that violet; that is enough, it took the whole solar system to grow that violet. You are taking a poetical view of things. Not at all, I am taking a prosaic view of things; because that violet is here in the open air the whole land shall glow with summer. There is a proverb like most of the proverbs, half a truth or a whole lie which says that one swallow does not make a summer. Yes, it does; that one swallow is the prophet of the Lord: He cannot come alone, you do not see his following.
II. If these things be so, what follows? Patience is one of the things which follow. God always takes time. I do not know how long it was before He came to look upon chaos. Chaos has no history, chaos keeps no archives, no records. But in due time, called by the prophet-poet, 'The beginning,' the dateless date, He came and looked and shaped the universe into music and meaning. I do not wonder at our being impatient. We have but a handful of years at our disposal, some seventy a few more or a few less, what matters? We want everything done in our day and generation, and the Lord never hurries Himself. He who breathes eternity need not be worried and fretted by feverish time. Patience! I never ask any man to join the Church, I never urge any man to come to the communion of the Lord's Supper; I never dig up the seed I have sown to see how it is getting on. Foolish man who takes up the roots to know whether they are growing and how fast they are growing. Son of man, go forth and preach the preaching that I bid thee; whether the people hear or forbear is no business of thine. You want to see immediate results. That is a sign of impatience: fall into the music of the universe, fall into the solemnity and the peacefulness of God's intention. The earth is redeemed, that fact is accomplished, and one day He will come to claim his redemption, and it will be all there. Confidence is another of the things which well becometh us under the inspiration of this meditation. It will all come to pass; we cannot even hinder the truth in any permanent or enduring sense. We can hinder it for a time and in a place, but a very limited hindering is the hindering that is possible to man. 'We can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.' It hath pleased God that His economy shall work in that way. He has made us fellow-labourers in His great husbandry, and at the last He will credit us with the whole; He will say, 'Thy faith hath made thee whole'. His harvest is the fruition of thy faith. Condescending God, merciful God, Person of the dear Jesus, He told the cripples that came to Him in the days of His flesh that they had made themselves whole by their faith a wondrous cooperation of pity and love.
Participation is another of the things which belongs to this series of thoughts. We shall be partakers of His glory. We shall reap where He has sown, His furrows shall be our harvest, and we shall have great delight together. Oh for that harvest day, that day of the laden wains, and the merry singing Harvest Home! Every one of us credited with having grown some of the corn, so big, so overflowing is the Divine love. Have you seen the resurrection? No. Yes, you have. No, I have not seen the resurrection. You have, you have seen these flowers: this is the resurrection. If these things, so shapely, comely, beautiful, and fragrant, came out of the cold black earth, the argument for the resurrection is complete. I have not seen the resurrection, you say. No, but you have seen one white lily out of the black earth. It is enough; if He brought that lily out of the earth, He can bring your child up too. I have not seen the resurrection. Yes, you have. Where? Why, in that arum lily that you pointed out to me the other day, that beautiful arum lily, so graceful, so spotless, that I said to it, Whence comest thou? Out of the earth almost into heaven. The text is I saw some persons come in late who ought to have been here in time the text is, 'Not yet, but'.
Reference. II. 8. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 84.
Man As King
I. 'We see not yet all things in subjection to man.' 'Not yet,' but we are to see it This supremacy is the final goal of humanity. The threads of the ages have been woven in the great loom of Time with the weft of the Divine purpose and the warp of human experience, and on the web is traceable in clear characters the God-given sovereignty of man.
II. 'Not unto angels has God subjected the coming world.' Not to them, but to men like ourselves, who have to do with sheep and oxen and the beasts of the field, with cotton and calicoes, with science and art; whose life is as 'fragile as the dewdrop on its perilous way from a tree's summit,' and yet so strong that it destroys itself by sin; man, 'made a little lower than God, and crowned with the glory' of a present participation in His nature, and therefore by and by to be invested with the 'honour' of sharing His rule.
III. But if to man, to what man is this sceptre of dominion finally granted? The conquering race is the godly race, of any colour, or country, or time. Not 'the great white race,' but the great Christian race, rises to joint-heirship with Christ Jesus in the salvation and service, and sovereignty of the future of humanity.
IV. Though eighteen centuries have elapsed since that forecast of the destiny of man was quoted, endorsed, and explained by the writer to the Hebrews, amid the wreck and overthrow of Judaism, we have, alas! to adopt the writer's lament, and say, as we look on man and his world today, 'not yet do we see all things subjected unto him'. He is only slowly learning that he is a spirit, and is for large breadths of his time and in wide areas of his life the slave of 'things'.
V. But surely, that is not all we see! Recognise fully the prodigious loss due to man's forfeiture of his predestined royalty; tabulate the miseries he owes due to his falls; omit no item in the tale of the poorness of his life, the selfishness of his spirit, and the fecundity of his sin; yet that is not all the whole human fact. On this earth and amongst men 'we see Jesus,' and though, in seeing Him, the first glimpse may only confirm the impression that man has not yet fully entered on his inheritance, yet the deeper look assures us that he is on his way to it, has already been anointed with the oil of joy above his predecessors and contemporaries, and, though suffering, is really ascending by suffering to the throne from which he shall rule for evermore. In what ways do men come to sovereign spiritual power? The Epistle to the Hebrews is the full and inspiring answer. The rule of life comes to the builders of the city of God; the men who, in glorious succession, work out the Divine purpose of redemption on the earth, and find the Author and Finisher of their work in the Christ Authority is in the revelation of God, and it increases till in the 'new covenant' it is at its maximum of light and power. World-rulers are men of ethical glow and passion, who believe in the invisible, and work for righteousness with self-sacrificing devotion. Seeing Jesus, we see these four paths to the sovereignty of the Christian race, and of the Christian religion through that race; the path of history; of Divine revelation; of saintly character; and of self-suppressing enthusiasm for the welfare of the world.
J. Clifford, The Secret of Jesus, p. 199.
The Crowned Christ
We have in these words a contrast between the greatness of man and the supremacy of Christ The writer of the Epistle admits the greatness of man, but suggests that he had fallen short of the ideal he had not yet realised his dominion: 'We see not yet all things subjected to him'. Then he proceeds, on this alleged greatness, to suggest an argument for the supremacy of Christ. Man, though great, had failed, but 'we see... Jesus... crowned'. We find the writer asserting two things:
I. That Man has not yet Realised Universal Dominion. See how true this is (1) In the realm of matter. Since the Epistle was written, how great has been the progress of Science! The dominion of man over matter is vast and most wonderful. A Kepler has traced the orbit of a planet, and with awe exclaimed, 'I thought over again the thought of God!' A Franklin has drawn lightning from the clouds, and directed its course. A Young has suggested the wave theory of light A Newton has discovered the force of gravitation. A Harvey has revealed the circulation of the blood. A Darwin has collected the facts on which the theory of natural evolution became possible. And yet, with all these wonderful discoveries of man in the realm of matter, how true it is, 'We see not yet all things subjected to him'. (2) In the sphere of life. (3) In the sphere of mind. (4) In the sphere of the spiritual.
II. That Christ is Destined to Realise this Universal Dominion. The writer sees clearly that the coming of Christ makes possible for man the heights of life that now he may win a closer fellowship with God, and, defying evil, march to the great future as a Son of God. He sees Christ crowned on the heights because He made all this possible for man, and in Him he sees the ultimate victory of the race. But on what does this splendid vision rest? The vision rests on the three granite pillars of the Christian Gospel (1) The Incarnation. (2) The Redemption. (8) The Priesthood. Though we see not yet 'all things subjected to him,' we see Jesus crowned, and the crowning of Christ involves the ultimate making and crowning of man. On these three pillars of the faith we may build our great hope and win the vision of man complete in Him. If redemption were a failure, Christ would lose His crown. The crown of man as a returning Son of God is the crown of Christ
J. Oates, The Sorrow of God, p. 108.
It is this which gives such terrible, even blighting power to the words and writings of unbelievers, which barbs and sends home many a dull scoff that would otherwise fall harmless; that they touch a conscious, ever-rankling wound. What they urge against Christianity is true. The believer knows, already knows, all that the infidel can tell him; the eye of love can see as clearly as that of hate, and it has already warmed over all the other exults in; has seen springs sink down suddenly among the sands of the desert; has looked upon bare and stony channels, now ghastly with the wreck and drift of ages, yet showing where once a full, fair river bore down life and gladness to the ocean. The Christian would fain explain, account for these long delays, this partial efficacy, this intermittent working. He feels that he is in possession of the key which is to open all these intricacies, but at present he finds that, like that of the pilgrims, 'it grinds hard in the lock'. He sees Jesus, but he sees not yet all things put under Him.
Dora Greenwell, in The Patience of Hope.
The Taste of Death and the Life of Grace
I. Jesus Christ not only died, but He tasted death as incredible bitterness and penury of soul.
II. He did so because He died for every man. He experienced in a Divine life the universal death.
III. Yet this desertion and agony of death was a gift and grace of God not only to us but to Him. And He knew it was so. And that faith was His victory and our redemption.
P. T. Forsyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LVIII. p. 296.
Thoughts of joy and gladness mingle with all our meditations of Ascension-tide. Christ is now seen to have all things put under Him. In this Jubilee of the Saviour's coronation, we may forget for a moment all our preceding commemorations. Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Calvary, the manger, the wilderness, the cross, the grave, they are only so many beautiful memories stages in that triumphant progress by which the Holy One ascends to the Throne. Our eyes 'see the King in His beauty,' and they can fix their gaze on nothing else: 'We see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour'.
I. What was the glory here spoken of? First, there was the glory of a great salvation for the lost children of men. The anticipation of this honour entered into that intercessory prayer recorded in the seventeenth chapter of St. John. Now this joint glory of the Father and the Son consisted in bringing many sons into glory. And in order thereto, Christ was to be set as a King upon His holy hill of Zion. 'The government was to be upon His shoulder.' He was to become the centre of ten thousand times ten thousand redeemed and happy beings who had been washed from their sins in His own Blood, and who should live only to cast their crowns at His feet. And there were means and agencies for carrying out these objects to be employed upon the Throne. No sooner had Christ ceased to drink of the brook by the way, and had sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, than the sun of His Godhead shone forth with all the effulgence of its original and eternal brightness. Men were to see the glory, both of the Father and of Christ. The triumphs of the cross shall be made manifest. The victories of the Holy Spirit shall begin. The work of the all-prevailing intercession shall go on within the veil. There shall be, as it were, a mighty revival in heaven, all the powers therein wondering at the extending reign of righteousness and the fruits of the outpoured gifts of the Ascension on the hearts of the sons of men. 'Thy Throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Thy Kingdom is a right sceptre: Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.'
II. 'Crowned with glory and honour,' in that, all things, both in heaven and earth, shall be subject to the kingdom of mediation (see Ephesians 1:20-23 ); and again, 'All things were made by Him and for Him'. 'For Him,' observe, that is, in His character as Mediator. The kingdom of mediation embraces the visible and the invisible; the whole of our present mundane system was constructed with a view to afford a theatre magnificent enough for the work of Christ, and for the training of suitable instruments for the accomplishment of His great purposes. The Saviour's exaltation reminds us then that we are subjects of the Mediator's world; that the earth is the platform of an achieved redemption; that all things were made for, and put under the dominion of the Crucified: 'All power is given to Him in heaven and in earth'. All power to seal pardons; to impart gifts; to quicken, sanctify, redeem, save. It was needful that in all things He should have the preeminence. All beings, all worlds must see Him 'crowned with glory and honour'.
'Crowned with glory and honour,' in that on the ascended Saviour should be concentrated all the homage and adoration of the heavenly world (Philippians 2:10 ), plainly affirms the dominion of Christ over all worlds, intelligences, and kingdoms. He is 'God over all, blessed for ever'.
When I think of our Lord as tasting death it seems to me as if He alone ever truly tasted death. And this, indeed, may be received as a part of the larger truth that He alone ever lived in humanity in the conscious truth of humanity. But when I think of death as tasted by our Lord, how little help to conceiving of His experience in dying do any of our own thoughts or anticipated experiences seem fitted to yield! What men shrink from when they shrink from death, is either the disruption of the ties that connect them with a present world, or the terrors with which an accusing conscience fills the world to come. The last had no existence for Him who was without sin: neither had the world, as the present evil world, any place in His heart.
McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement, pp. 259 f.
Bishop King of Lincoln wrote: 'We cannot understand the mystery of sorrow. We can "see Jesus" the "Man of Sorrows" and see how His earthly ministry apparently was a failure. They did not care for Him wonderful and purifying example for us all, warning us against the dangers of popularity and apparent success.'
Spiritual Letters, p. 64.
References. II. 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 771, and vol. xxv. No. 1509. J. T. Parr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 4. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 85. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 132; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 375; ibid. vol. ix. p. 472; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 45. II. 9, 10. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 340.
Thought, true labour of any kind, highest virtue itself, is it not the daughter of Pain? Born as out of the black whirlwind; true effort, in fact, as of a captive struggling to free himself: that is Thought. In all ways we are 'to become perfect through suffering '.
Carlyle, Heroes (lecture III.).
References. II. 10. J. G. Binney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii No. 478, and vol. xlv. No. 2619. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. i. p. 51. C. S. Macfarland, The Spirit Christlike, p. 127. Archbishop Cosmo Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 235. Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 256. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 200. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 219. J. Farquhar, The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, p. 145. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 143; ibid. vol. iii. p. 370; ibid. vol. iv. p. 34; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 386. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 229. II. 10-18. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 428. II.11. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 288. C. D. Bell, The Power of God, p. 40. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 298. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 124. II. 11-13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2418. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 239. II. 11-17. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 59. II. 12. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 118; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 197. A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 319. II. 13. H. Varley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 237. II. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 166. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 37. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 181. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 47; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 222.
Emancipation From the Pear of Death
Death is a subject which may at present be remote from our thoughts, but it is an experience in which we shall all one day or other be interested. To be frequently in the contemplation of death is perhaps the mark of a feeble rather than of a robust spirit, yet we ought not to refuse the calls which in God's providence invite us to consider death. And, if it be extravagant to demand that a large part of our life should be consumed in contemplating its end, we may, like Nelson, while fighting on deck yet keep our coffin in our cabin.
It is well to be assured that one of the purposes served by the mission of Christ was to dispel the fear of death by destroying that which gave it power to terrify. The fear of death is here represented as a bondage, a condition of slavery out of which every child of God must be emancipated.
I. If we analyse this fear we find that there are various causes producing it First of all there is the bodily pain, which frequently precedes death, and may in our own case do so. Dread of pain increases with age, as we learn more of the capacity for suffering which our body possesses, and as we see more of the terrible forms of disease by which life is slowly worn out It is human nature to shrink from long-continued and hopeless weakness, from months of uselessness and slow decay, from the gradual extinction of all the functions of life, and the constantly renewed misery of the medical or surgical appliances which we know can but prolong for a short time a life that has become torture. But this cause of fear may be left to be dealt with by common sense and nature. For it is unreasonable to distress ourselves with prospects of such a kind. For all we know, death may find us in sleep or may have passed before we were conscious of its approach, or in our case it may come with none of these attendant horrors. Dr. Hunter, in his last moments, grieved that he 'could not write how easy and delightful it is to die'. The late Archbishop of Canterbury quietly remarked, 'It is really nothing much after all'.
II. A second cause of this fear is a more reasonable one. We fear death because it brings to an end the only life we know experimentally.
But if we believe what both nature and Christ teach us, that this life is but the training-ground for another, that the powers here cultivated and the tools here whetted are for use in a larger and intenser existence; if we consider that once this life was as strange and new to us as any other can be, and that death is really the bursting of the shell that hinders us from entering the ampler air of our true and eternal life, we have surely cause enough to throw such regrets and fears to the winds, and even long, as some have longed, to learn what the true life of God and God's children is.
III. But this leads us to the most fruitful cause of fear, the consciousness that after death comes the judgment. Whatever men hold regarding the last judgment or the mode of it, all men feel that at death there is a judgment, that death ushers them into a fixed, final, eternal state. This is the instinctive apprehension of untaught men as well as the warning of revelation.
The natural boldness which confronts death cheerfully, or sullenly submits to the inevitable, disappears when this added knowledge of the significance of death enters in. Mere natural courage is irrelevant in facing judgment. This letter was written 'to the Hebrews,' to men who had lived under a legal religion, and who could expect to escape punishment only if they had complied with all that the law commanded. But to be sure of this was impossible, and the result was that we find them exclaiming, 'In this life death never suffers a man to be glad'.
Our emancipation from bondage to this fear is accomplished by 'the destruction of him that had the power of death, that is, the devil'. The devil was considered to be the counsel for the prosecution, the embodiment of an accusing conscience. Death was looked upon as the result of the primal curse, as separation from God and from all good on account of sin; a just and true view. The devil had the power of death in the sense in which the state has the power of the sword to inflict punishment on evildoers. The devil used the common idea of death to terrify and appal and separate from all hope in God. The Jew was haunted with such visions as Zechariah had when he saw the high priest himself clothed in filthy garments. This was the sting of the serpent; but in Christ the primeval promise was fulfilled, the serpent's head was crushed. The devil's weapon is struck from his hand. He can no longer persuade the children of God that death means separation from God and entrance upon a life of suffering.
Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 238.
'At another time,' says Bunyan in Grace Abounding (116), 'as I was set by the fire in my House, and musing on my Wretchedness, the Lord made that also a precious word unto me, Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. I thought that the glory of these words was then so weighty on me that I was, both once and twice, ready to swoon as I sat; yet not with grief and trouble, but with solid joy and peace.'
In the preface to Colloquia Peripatetica (p. lxxv.), Prof. Knight remarks that, for all the genuineness of Dr. John Duncan's faith, 'nevertheless, it is true that he was "all his lifetime subject unto bondage". His spirit did not live in the sunshine. Though he would have appreciated Luther's saying, 'I sit and sing, like a bird on a tree, and let God think for me," he never entered into the core of that experience.'
'O! Who will deliver me from this fear of death? What shall I do? Where shall I fly from it? Should I fight against it by thinking, or by not thinking of it? A wise man advised me some time since, 'Be still and go on'. Perhaps this is best, to look upon it as my cross; when it comes, to let it humble me, and quicken all my good resolutions, especially that of praying without ceasing; and at other times, to take no thought about it, but quietly to go on 'in the work of the Lord'.
Wesley's Journal (January, 1738).
References. II. 14, 16. A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 87. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 391.
In 1518 Erasmus lay dangerously ill at Louvain. After his recovery he wrote to Beatus Rhenanus: 'When the disease was at its height I neither felt distressed with desire of life, nor did I tremble at the fear of death. All my hope was in Christ alone, and I prayed for nothing to Him except that He would do what He thought best for me. Formerly, when a youth, I remember I used to tremble at the very name of death.'
He does not forsake the world,
But stands before it modelling in the clay,
And moulding there His image. Age by age
The clay wars with His fingers and pleads hard
For its old, heavy, dull, and shapeless ease.
W. B. Yeats.
References. II. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 90. II. 17. R. M. Benson, Redemption, p. 86. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 369; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 155; ibid. vol. x. p. 182. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 249.
In a letter, written during May, 1851, V. W. Robertson tells a correspondent that, 'except in feeling a fellowship and oneness with that Life, and recognising parallel feelings and parallel struggles, triumphantly sometimes, I do not see how life could be tolerable at all. He was Humanity, and in Him alone my humanity becomes intelligible.... Was not He alone in this world? unfelt, uncomprehended, suspected, spoken against? and before Him was the cross. Before us, a little tea-table gossip, and hands uplifted in holy horror. Alas! and we call that a cross to bear. Shame! Yet still I do admit, that for a loving heart to lack sympathy is worse than pain.'
References. II. 18. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. i. p. 331. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 487; vol. xxxiii. No. 1974, and vol. 1. No. 2885. Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 373. II. 26. A. Tucker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 230.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany