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11 God's Means to Keep Us in the Path of Faith
( Hebrews 12 )
It is of the deepest importance that the Christian should have a true estimate of the world through which he is passing, while ever keeping before him the blessedness of the world to which he is passing on.
If, however, we are over occupied with the increasing evil of a world that is ripening for judgment, with the solemn state of Christendom, so soon to be spued out of Christ's mouth, and with the confusion and scattering amongst the people of God, we shall hardly escape being depressed and disheartened.
In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews the fact is recognised that it is possible for the Christian to be cast down by reason of the trials by the way. Moreover, truth is presented that will meet this snare. The apostle evidently saw that those to whom he was writing were in danger of sinking under the pressure of trials and giving way in conflict with the enemy. He speaks of “weights” that drag down, of sin which besets us, and of difficulties that may arise in the Christian circle.
In the presence of these trials he sees there is a grave danger that believers may be hindered in running the race that is set before them; that they may grow weary and faint in conflict with the enemy; that they may faint under the dealings of the Lord; that their knees may become feeble; and that their listless hands and feeble knees may lead to wandering feet that turn aside into some crooked path.
To preserve us from being overcome of evil, the apostle brings before us certain great truths, which, if held in power, will sustain and encourage us to run the race from earth to heaven, in spite of every trial and opposition.
(V. 1). Our feet are in the path that lies between the present world, upon which we have turned our backs, and the world to come, towards which our faces are set. This path is viewed as “the race”. It is not “a race” that we have to set before ourselves; but “the race that lies before us”. Many appear to think that, while there is only one way of being saved, there are many ways of travelling through this world; and that each Christian is at liberty to choose the way that he prefers. Scripture shows that God has His way of saving people out of the world, and His way of taking them through the world. Our great concern should be to discern the path that God has marked out for His people, and then run “the race that is set before us”.
It is evident, as we read the Epistle to the Hebrews, that God's path for His people is entirely outside the Jewish camp. It is equally evident that Christendom has returned to a camp order of things and hence the direction in the final chapter, to go without the camp, still has its application. But as then, so now, to go outside the religious world of the day entails reproach, and it may be suffering, and naturally we shrink from reproach and suffering.
Moreover, there are hindrances to taking this path. The apostle says, “Let us ... lay aside every weight, and sin which so easily entangles us.” Here are two things that often hinder us in wholeheartedly taking the path that God has marked out - “weights” and “sin”. Weights are not things morally wrong. Anything that hinders the soul from accepting God's path, or running with patience when in the path, is a weight. Perhaps the quickest way for each one to find out what is a hindrance to our spiritual progress is to start running. A runner in the games will strip himself of all unnecessary clothing. Things that would be no weight in the ordinary life would become a weight on the race course. Moreover, we are exhorted to lay aside “every weight”. We are ready enough to lay aside some weights and yet retain others.
The other great hindrance is sin. This is not what we sometimes speak of as a besetting sin, as our somewhat defective translation might lead us to think. It should not be “the sin”, but simply “sin”, the principle of which is lawlessness, or doing our own will. Nothing will so hinder in taking the outside path of reproach as unjudged self-will. God's path must be one in which there is no room for the will of man.
The existence of these hindrances will call for energy and endurance, if they are to be overcome. The apostle therefore says, “Let us run ... with endurance.” Running supposes spiritual energy, and combined with this we need endurance. It is easy to make an energetic start; it is hard to endure day by day in the presence of difficulties and discouragement. In order that we may overcome these hindrances, and put forth the needed energy to run with endurance the race that is set before us, the Spirit of God brings before us in this chapter the different means God uses to this end.
Firstly, we have for our encouragement a cloud of witnesses to the path of faith. If we have enemies to oppose us, trials to meet, and difficulties to overcome, let us remember that others have gone before in this path of faith; others have walked in the light of the coming glories; others have had to meet yet greater trials - cruel mockings, bonds, imprisonments, persecution and death - and by faith have overcome. We are thus compassed about with a cloud of witnesses to the faith that can rise above every kind of trial in this present world, and run with patience the race that leads to another world.
(V. 2). Secondly, far above and beyond all earthly witnesses, there is Jesus in the glory; and in order to encourage us in the path of faith, our eyes are turned to Him, “the leader and completer of our faith”. The apostle does not imagine that, having taken the path outside the camp, we shall be able to keep the path in our own strength. On the contrary, his exhortation clearly implies that, having overcome the hindrances and commenced running, we can only continue by looking steadfastly on Jesus. The One who attracts us outside the camp to Himself is the only One who can sustain us when we have gone forth unto Him. Others have trodden the path of faith, but they have not reached the ultimate goal; they are not yet “made perfect” ( Heb_11:40 ). “Looking unto Jesus” we see One who has trodden every step of the path and reached the goal. The Old Testament worthies are shining examples, but they are neither “leaders” nor “completers”; Jesus is both. In His path of suffering and shame He was sustained by the joy of that which lay before Him. As He trod the path He could say, “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
The witnesses of Hebrews 11 encourage us by their example, but not one of these witnesses can be an object of faith, nor minister grace to help in time of need. Jesus is not only the perfect example of One who has trodden the path of faith and reached the goal, but He is also One who, from the place of power “at the right hand ... of God”, can minister sustaining grace to those who are in the path. The cloud of witnesses has passed from the scene: they live to God, but so far as this world is concerned, they are dead. Jesus ever liveth. We have wonderful examples behind us; we have a living Person before us.
It is to be noted how often in this Epistle the Lord is presented by His personal Name as Jesus. (See Heb_2:9 ; Heb_4:14 ; Heb_6:20 ; Heb_10:19 ; Heb_12:2 ; Heb_13:12 .) The reason, apparently, is to impress us with the great fact that the One who is crowned with glory and honour - who is our Apostle and High Priest - is the same One who has been here as a lowly Man amongst men. However changed His position and circumstances, it is “this same JESUS” upon whom we are called to look with steadfastness. He is looking upon us, but are we looking steadfastly upon Him?
(Vv. 3, 4). Thirdly, we have the encouragement of the perfect path of Jesus. We are not only exhorted to look to Jesus where He is, but also to consider Jesus where He was. “Consider well” is the better translation. Considering His path we shall see that from beginning to end He was opposed by the “contradiction of sinners against Himself”. We too, if we take the path of faith outside the camp to run the race that is set before us, will surely find that we have to meet the perversity of men on every hand, the contradiction of sinners against Christ, and even the opposition of the people of God to sharing His reproach. Continual opposition is very wearying; and when wearied, the tendency is to faint and give way. Let us then “consider Him”, lest we faint. There is nothing we have to meet, whether from opposing sinners or failing saints, that He has not already met in full measure. He could say, “Mine enemies reproach Me all the day; and they that are mad against Me are sworn against Me” ( Psa_102:8 ). We have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin. The Lord shed His blood rather than give way to the contradiction of sinners and fail in obedience to the will of God. The sinners that surrounded the cross said, “Save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Had He done so, He would have failed in doing the Father's will, and would not have finished the work that was given Him to do.
Fourthly, to keep our feet in the path, we have, in verses 5-11, the Father's ways of love in chastisement. If, in striving against sin, we are called to suffer a martyr's death, we should be delivered for ever from the flesh. If, however, we are not called to suffer unto blood, the Father takes another way to deliver us from the power of the flesh and make us partakers of His holiness. He may send trials to chasten and, if need be, correct.
(V. 5). In the presence of these dealings of the Father there are two dangers against which we are warned. On the one hand, we are in danger of despising the trial; on the other hand, we may faint under the trial. We are not, in the spirit of pride, to take the trial in a stoical way as being common to mankind; nor are we to sink under the trial in a spirit of hopeless despair.
(Vv. 6-8). Being warned of these two dangers, we are next reminded of two truths that will keep us from either despising or fainting in adversity. Firstly, we are told that love is behind every trial; for, it is written, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” The hand that smites is moved by a heart that loves. How then can I despise what perfect love sees fit to do? Why should I faint, for cannot love support in the trial that love sends? Secondly, we are told that in our trials God dealeth with us as sons. We see in our children the working of their wills and certain evil tendencies that need to be checked. In like manner God sees in His children everything that is contrary to His holiness - the evil tendencies and habits that we may little suspect, the impatience and irritability, the petty vanity and pride, the boastfulness and self-confidence, the hardness and selfishness, the lust and covetousness - and in His great love He deals with us so that we may be partakers of His holiness. The pains the Father takes with us in training and forming our character in conformity to His own holy nature is the outcome of His great love for His children. His love is not simply a passive love; it is active on our behalf. We too often think and speak of His love when spared some trial or relieved from some difficulty. This truly may be His tender loving mercy, but here we learn that it is equally His love that sends the trial.
The apostle speaks of chastening and scourging. The scourging may be more the governmental dealing of God in rebuking and correcting for positive failure. The chastening is not necessarily for any sin, but rather to develop in us that which is according to the nature of God, that we may partake of His holiness.
(Vv. 9-11). We are then instructed in two truths whereby we may gain the benefit of God's dealing in chastening. Firstly, we are told to “be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live.” Our earthly fathers dealt with the flesh; the Father of spirits deals with us in chastening to form within us a right spirit that we may live to Him. To get the full blessing of these dealings we must entirely submit to what God allows. By bowing to God in the trial, we keep God between ourselves and the trial; if we rebel and question God's way, the trial will get between us and God, and instead of our souls being sustained in life we fall into darkness.
Secondly, having submitted to what God allows, we are to be “exercised thereby”. In the day to come we shall see all the way He has led us, and fully understand the trials and the sorrows by which He has trained and blessed us. Then, indeed, we shall be able to sing,
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustred with His love.
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.
While, however, this is true, God desires that we should have present blessing from His dealings with us, and for this we need present exercise. The blessings are that we may be partakers of His holiness and enjoy the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The holiness of which the apostle speaks in verse 10 is the quality of holiness which leads us, not only to refrain from unholiness, but also to hate all unholiness, even as God does. The hatred of evil will lead to practical righteousness, which in turn brings forth the fruit of peace, in contrast with the restlessness of an unrighteous world through which we are passing.
Fifthly, in verses 12-17, we have for our encouragement some very practical exhortations to enable us to meet special dangers and difficulties that may arise amongst those who take the path of faith. While seeking to walk in obedience to the Word, and refusing to lower the standard of the Word, we are not to suppose that we shall find a company free from all weakness or failure. To aim at securing a company from which all but the most spiritual are eliminated would only end in forming a pretentious company of self-centred and self-satisfied saints.
Thus, this Scripture indicates that we may find in the Christian path:
(1) some who lack Christian energy - their hands hang down, their knees are feeble;
(2) some who walk in a crooked path;
(3) some who raise discord;
(4) some who fail in practical holiness;
(5) some who fail in the grace of God;
(6) some who form unholy alliances with the world;
(7) some who treat divine things as common.
How then are we to act in the presence of these different evils into which any one of us may fall but for the grace of God?
(V. 12). Firstly, the apostle says, “Lift up” the listless hands and the feeble knees. If spiritual energy is flagging, then encourage others by lifting up your own hands. May we not apply this exhortation to prayer? Writing to Timothy, the apostle says, “I will therefore that men pray every where lifting up holy hands” ( 1Ti_2:8 ). Hands that hang down, and knees that are feeble, may well speak of hands seldom lifted up in prayer, and knees seldom bent in prayer. Of old the prophet had said, “The youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength” ( Isa_40:30 ; Isa_40:31 ). Are we not, too often, powerless in public because prayerless in private?
(V. 13). Secondly, practice must follow prayer, so the word continues, “Make straight paths for your feet.” In a day when many are prone to wander into crooked paths, let us see that we are careful to make straight paths for our feet, so that none be turned out of the way. There are many who may be lame and halting in their walk; they are not sure of the path they are treading, and have no clear perception of the place they are in. Such are easily turned aside on small provocation. How important, then, that there should be no occasion of stumbling by the pursuit of some dubious course. It is easy for an older saint, by an unwise act, to open a door through which the younger saints may pass, and so be turned out of the way.
(V. 14). Thirdly, if there are those who take a course that makes for discord, let us see that we follow peace with all. The Christian is to seek to pass through this world quietly, not interfering with this world's politics, nor expressing strong opinions about things which, as a stranger in the world, are not his concern. There is in fallen human nature an innate love of engaging in strife. The Christian is not only to refrain from all that would stir up strife, but also to pursue peace by taking a course that promotes peace.
Fourthly, let us see that we follow practical holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. We see Jesus crowned with glory and honour, says the apostle; but this supposes a normal walk in holiness. Any allowance of unholiness will obscure the vision. Without holiness we shall not see the Lord. Peace and holiness must be held together, as in this passage, otherwise we may follow peace at the expense of holiness, or holiness without peace.
(V. 15). Fifthly, the apostle exhorts us to look “diligently” against anyone lacking the grace of God. Failing of the grace of God is losing confidence in God's grace and the practical enjoyment of what God is for us. In result some root of bitterness may spring up, troubling the saints, and many may be defiled by entertaining bitter thoughts of one another.
(Vv. 16, 17). Sixthly, we are to watch against any unholy alliance with the world, prefigured by fornication. Finally, we are warned against treating divine things as if they were common. This is profanity, of which Esau is a solemn example, who, for some present, passing advantage treated the birthright lightly - as if it were of little account. This surely was a solemn warning to these Hebrews, as indeed it is to all who have made a profession, against lightly throwing aside the blessings of Christianity. Alas! Christendom is fast falling into the profanity of Esau, to find, like Esau, they will be rejected. It was not, let us note, repentance that Esau earnestly sought with tears, but rather the blessing when it was too late. Christendom will find that there is no place of repentance for apostasy.
However, let us remember that, without going the length of apostasy, we may fall into profanity by treating divine privileges as of small account. Are there not those who have set aside the Lord's Supper as being of little account because we are not saved thereby? Is this not one instance of modern-day profanity?
(Vv. 18-21). Finally, to lift our souls above all the trials, the sorrows and the exercises of this present world, the apostle unrolls before us the blessedness of the world to come.
At present, everything in this world of bliss, the world to come, lies outside the region of sight and sense. Thus, when the apostle says we have come to these great realities, he surely means we have come to them in the apprehension of faith. In Heb_2:5 , the apostle definitely speaks of “the world to come”, an expression which signifies the vast inheritance of Christ in millennial days. It embraces everything over which Christ as Man will have dominion, whether in heaven or earth, for there is the heavenly side, as well as the earthly side of the world to come.
Before, however, speaking of these realities, the apostle speaks, in verses 18 to 21, by way of contrast, of the things to which Israel came - things to which the Christian has not come. At Sinai, God was declaring unto the people of Israel the covenant and setting forth what He commanded them to perform, even the ten commandments ( Deu_4:10-13 ). For this reason the presence of God on earth was accompanied with symbols of His majesty and holy destructive judgment against disobedience and sin. These symbols - the fire, the gloom, the darkness and the tempest - struck terror into the hearts of men. Everything at Sinai was against us. Moreover, everything at the first Mount appealed to sight and sense. We Christians have not come to the mount which “might be touched” (verse 18); nor to things which might be heard, such as “the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words” (verse 19); nor have we come to things which might be seen (verse 21). The natural man cannot endure the presence of God. Any glimpse of the glory of God is overwhelming when accompanied with a demand from man. Israel could not endure it, and even Moses found the sight terrible and said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.”
The great realities to which we have come in Christianity can neither be touched, nor heard, nor seen by the natural man; they can only be known by faith. This fact must have been specially testing for these Hebrew believers, accustomed as they were to a religious system in which everything was designed to appeal to man in the flesh. Now they found themselves introduced to that which was entirely new, and which set aside all the things that appeal to sight. They had to learn that the things of Judaism were but the shadows, and the unseen things of Christianity are the substance. Everything for sight is gone, and they, with ourselves, are brought into a wonderful circle of blessing which only faith can apprehend.
(Vv. 22-24). In this vista of blessing opened up to us, there are eight subjects mentioned to which we are said to have come:
1. Mount Zion;
2. The City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem;
3. An innumerable company of angels, the universal gathering;
4. The church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven;
5. God, the Judge of all;
6 The spirits of just men made perfect;
7. Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant;
8. The blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
1. Mount Zion
As we look on to the world to come, in the faith of our souls, the Spirit of God first brings us to Mount Zion, the earthly Jerusalem, representing the earthly saints. Furthermore, Mount Zion sets forth as a symbol the ground on which all saints, earthly and heavenly, will come into blessing. Two Psalms, 78 and 132, give us light as to the spiritual significance of Mount Zion. In Psalm 78 we have the account of the utter failure of Israel on the ground of responsibility. Everything is lost on the ground of their own works. The tabernacle is forsaken (verse 60); the ark goes into captivity (verse 61); the land comes under judgment and the people are consumed (verses 62-64). Then, as recorded in verse 65, a great change in the circumstances of the people takes place, wholly brought about by Jehovah: “The Lord awoke as one out of sleep”, and began to act “like a mighty man”.
Hitherto, God had acted towards Israel on the ground of their works, but when they had involved themselves in utter ruin, He falls back on His sovereignty and acts from Himself for their blessing. So we read, He “chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which He loved”, and again, “He chose David.” This is the sovereignty of divine mercy, exercising sovereign choice for the blessing of man. A mount is symbolic of power; Mount Zion is symbolic of mighty power exercised in sovereign grace.
Psalm cxxxii presents a further great truth in connection with Mount Zion. This Psalm celebrates the occasion when David brings the ark to Zion. The ark is not only recovered from the hands of the enemy, but is set in its rightful place on Mount Zion. The Psalmist says, “For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” Immediately upon the ark being set upon Zion, we have the blessing flowing out to the people. “I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.” Here again we have the thought of sovereign choice connected with Zion, but with the additional thought that it is connected with the ark. The ark, with its mercy seat, speaks of Christ, and thus we learn that the full symbolic meaning of Mount Zion is the power of God's sovereign grace exercised for the blessing of man through Christ. When everything has been lost for man through man's failure, then all blessing is secured through the sovereign grace of God righteously flowing to us on the ground of all that Christ is and has done. Such is the solid ground of blessing for the world to come, and to this we have come in the faith of our souls.
2. The city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem
Having begun with the sovereign grace that meets man in his utter ruin, we now pass by faith into heavenly scenes, and find ourselves in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This city is symbolic both of the heavenly saints and their dwelling in the world to come. The earthly blessing of millennial days will be administered through this city - the nations will walk in the light of it. In contrast with earthly cities, it is called the city of the living God. Earthly cities are composed of dying men, and therefore, like themselves, their cities are subject to death and decay. This city derives its life from the living God, and is therefore beyond the power of death and decay. In faith this glorious city rises up before our souls; we see what is coming. By sight we look around and see the misery, the squalor, the violence and the corruption of men's cities: by faith we look on and see this glorious city where sin-soiled feet have never trod. It comforts our hearts to know that, when the nations walk in the light of this city, the misery will be gone and the blessing of the world to come will be established.
3. An innumerable company of angels, the universal gathering
Having come to heaven we find ourselves in the presence of an innumerable company of angels. This will be the universal gathering of these spiritual beings. Every class and order of these glorious beings will be there. This innumerable company of angels exists already, and in the faith of our souls we have come to the conscious knowledge of their existence.
Angels are the divine guardians of God's people and will have this special service in the world to come. Psa_34:7 presents this guardian care. There we read, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” The history of Elisha illustrates this guardian care. When he was compassed about by his enemies at Dothan, his servant was in great fear, but, says Elisha, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” The Lord, in answer to prayer, opened the young man's eyes to see that the whole mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha ( 2Ki_6:17 ). Elisha had already come to them by faith; the young man came to them by sight. Daniel, in his day, knew the guardian care of angels, for one was sent to shut the lions' mouths that he should not be hurt ( Daniel 7 ).
The Lord as Man was in the guardian care of angels, as we read, “He shall give His angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways” ( Psa_91:9-12 ). Angels waited upon Him at His birth; angels ministered unto Him in the garden of Gethsemane; angels guarded His tomb; and angels were in attendance at His ascension.
At the present time believers are under the guardian care of angels, as we read, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” In the world to come they will still exercise their guardian care, for they stand at the gates of the heavenly city, and will pass between heaven and earth, ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
4. The church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven
Travelling yet farther into the depths of glory we come by faith to the assembly of the firstborn which are written in heaven. In this vast system of heavenly glory there are those who have a special and distinct place. They are spoken of as the firstborn, giving the thought of pre-eminence. Seven times in Scripture Christ is spoken of as the Firstborn or First-begotten, for He must ever be pre-eminent. Here the word is in the plural, and refers to the saints who compose the church. They will have a pre-eminent place among the heavenly saints, even as Israel is called Jehovah's firstborn as having a pre-eminent place among the nations ( Exo_4:22 ). The names of these firstborn ones are registered in heaven, speaking of their heavenly home; for we belong where our names are written. As the heavenly Jerusalem, the church is seen administering blessing in connection with earth; so the assembly of the firstborn, the church, is viewed as worshipping in connection with heaven.
5. God, the Judge of all
Mounting yet higher, we come in the faith of our souls “to God, the Judge of all”. God is seen, as one has said, “looking down from on high to judge all that is below.” This surely has no reference to God exercising sessional judgment, as at the great white throne, but as the One who will govern the earth in righteousness. Thus Abraham speaks of God as Judge, when he says, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” ( Gen_18:25 ). So in the world to come men will say, “Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily He is a God that judgeth in the earth.” Again, it will be said, “Lift up Thyself, thou Judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud” ( Psa_58:11 ; Psa_94:2 ). Under man's rule righteousness is too often divorced from judgment: under God, the Judge of all, righteousness will return to judgment, for “with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth” ( Isa_11:3-5 ).
6. The spirits of just men made perfect
The world to come would not be complete without the Old Testament saints. There will be the earthly saints, finding their centre in Mount Zion: there will be the assembly, pre-eminent among the heavenly saints, and there will be the saints of all ages before the Cross. They are spoken of as the spirits of just men made perfect, thus intimating that they have all passed through death and have now received their bodies of glory after having been in the unclothed state.
7. Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant
In the faith of our souls we have come to Jesus, the One through whom all the blessing of the world to come is secured, whether earthly or heavenly. What would the world to come be without Jesus? He is the centre of that vast scene of blessing, the Object that will fill and satisfy the heart of every saint, and administer His kingdom for the glory of God.
8. The blood of sprinkling
Finally, we have come to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. This is the righteous and everlasting basis of all blessing for the world to come. Abel's blood was sprinkled on the earth, and cried aloud to God for vengeance on the one that shed it. The blood of Christ has been sprinkled on the mercy seat under the eye of God, and instead of crying for vengeance, it cries for pardon for those who shed it. “The very spear that pierced Thy side drew forth the blood to save.” All who believe in God's acceptance of the blood will come under the blessing that the blood secures and have their part in the world to come.
Thus there is opened up before our souls a wonderful vista of the fulness of times, when the counsels of God for the glory of Christ and the blessing of all His saints will have their fulfilment. And in the faith and affection of our souls we are permitted to see the earthly saints, the heavenly saints, the Old Testament saints, the great host of angelic beings, God over all, Jesus the Mediator of every blessing, even as His precious blood is the basis of all.
(Vv. 25-29). Having set before us the glorious prospect to which the believer has already come in faith, the apostle utters a solemn warning against turning away from the One who speaks from heaven of these things. If there was no escape from judgment for the one who disobeyed the voice of God when He spoke on earth, requiring righteousness from man, much less will there be any escape from judgment for those who refuse the voice of God, now that He is speaking from heaven in grace that brings blessing to man. As Samuel Rutherford said, “The vengeance of the Gospel is heavier than the vengeance of the law.”
Moreover, we are warned of what is involved in this coming judgment. The holiness of God's judgment was, in a symbol, set forth by the shaking of the earth at Sinai. The future judgment will shake not the earth only, but also heaven. We are then definitely told that this shaking signifies the removal of what is shaken. Everything that is not the result of the sovereign grace of God will be removed in judgment. The old creation defiled by sin will finally be removed to leave only God's new creation, the result of His own grace. The kingdom that is received by Christians is established in righteousness, through grace, and therefore cannot be moved. Let us then serve God with reverence and godly fear, not, like Esau, treating divine things as if they were common, but realising the sanctity of the things of God, and walking in true piety. Let us not forget that, though we know God in grace, nonetheless, “our God is a consuming fire.” He will burn everything that is not of Himself, whether it be flesh in His people or a creation defiled by sin.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29