Click here to learn more!
THE ENTHRONED CHRIST
To that tremendous assertion the whole New Testament is committed. Peter, Paul, John, the writer of this book - all teach that the Jesus who died on Calvary now sits at the right hand of God. This is no case of distance casting a halo round the person of a simple teacher, for six weeks after Calvary, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared that Jesus, ‘exalted at the right hand of God,’ had ‘shed forth this,’ the gift of that Divine Spirit. This is no case of enthusiastic disciples going beyond their Master’s teaching, for all the evangelists who record our Lord’s trial before the Sanhedrin concur in saying that the turning-point of it, which led to His condemnation, was the declaration, ‘Ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power.’ The rulers interpreted the assertion to mean an assertion of divinity, and therefore condemned Him to death. Christ was silent, and the silence witnessed that they interpreted His meaning aright. So, then, for good or evil, we have Jesus making the tremendous assertion, which His followers but repeated. Let us try to look at these words, and draw from them some of the rich fulness of their meaning. Communion, calm repose, participation in divine power and dominion, and much besides, are implied in this great symbol. And I desire to dwell upon the various aspects of it for a-few moments now. I. Here we have the attestation of the completeness, the sufficiency, and the perpetuity of Christ’s sacrifice. Look at the context. Mark the strong words which immediately precede the last clause of my text. ‘This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.’ The writer has just been arguing that all Jewish sacrifice, which he regarded as being of divine-appointment, was inadequate, and derived its whole importance from being a prophetic shadow of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And he points, first, in proof of his thesis, to the entire disparity of the two things - the taking away of sin, and the blood of bulls and of goats. And then he adds a subsidiary consideration, saying in effect, The very fact that day after day the sacrifices are continued, shows that they had no power to do the thing for which they were offered - viz. ‘to quiet consciences.’ For, if the consciences were quieted, then the sacrifice would cease to be offered. And so he draws a sharp contrast between the priests who stand daily ministering and ‘offering oftentimes the same sacrifice,’ which by their very repetition are demon-strafed to be inadequate to effect their purpose, and Jesus. Instead of these priests standing, offering, and doing over and over again their impotent sacrifices, ‘this Man’ offered His once. That was enough, and for ever. And the token that the one sacrifice was adequate, really could take away sin, would never, through all the rolling ages of the world’s history, lose its efficacy, lies here-He sits at the right hand of God. Brethren, in that session, which the Lord Himself commanded us to believe, is the divine answer and endorsement of the triumphant cry upon the Cross, ‘It is finished,’ and it is God’s last, loudest, and ever- reverberating proclamation to all the world, in all its generations, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Do you think of Christ’s mission and Christ’s work as this writer thought of it, finding the vital centre in its sacrificial efficacy, seeing it as being mainly a work caused by, in relation to, and victorious over, man’s sin and my sin, and as attested as sufficient for all sin, for the sins of the world, in all generations, by the fact that, having offered it once, the High Priest, as this same writer says in another place, sat at the right hand of God? These two things, the high Scriptural notion of the essential characteristic and efficacy of Christ’s work as being sacrificial, and the high Scriptural notion of His present session at the right hand of God; these two things are correlated and bound inseparably together. If you only think of Jesus Christ as being a great teacher, a blessed example, the very flower and crown of immaculate humanity, if you listen to His words, and rejoice over the beauty of His character, but do not see that the thing which He, and He alone, does, is to deal with the tremendous reality of human transgression, and to annihilate it, both in regard of its guilt and of its power, then the notion of His session at the right hand of God becomes surplusage and superstition. But if we see, as I pray God that we may each see for ourselves, that when He came, He ‘came not to be ministered unto, but to minister,’ and that even that does not. exhaust the significance of His Person, and the purpose of His mission, but that He came ‘to give His life a ransom for many,’ then, oh! then, when my conscience asks in agony, ‘Is there a way of getting rid of my transgressions?’ and when my weak will asks, in tremulous indecision, ‘Is there a way by which I can shake off the tyranny of this usurping evil power that has fixed its claws in my character and my habits?’ then I turn and look to the Christ enthroned at the right hand of power, and I say, ‘This Man has offered one sacrifice for sins for over’; and there, in that calm session at God’s right hand, is the attestation that His sacrifice is complete, is sufficient, and is perpetual. II. We have here the revelation of our Lord’s calm repose. That is expressed, of course, by the very attitude in which, in the symbol, He is represented. Away down in the Egyptian desert there sit, moulded in colossal calm, two giant figures, with hands laid restfully in their laps, and wide-open eyes gazing out over the world. There they have sat for millenniums, the embodiment of majestic repose. So Christ ‘sitteth at the right hand of God’ rapt in the fulness of eternal calm. But that tranquillity is parallel with the Scriptural representation of the rest of God after creation, which neither indicates previous exhaustion nor connotes present idleness, but expresses the completion of the work and the correspondence of the reality with the ideal which was in the Maker’s mind. In like manner, as I have been trying to point out to you, Christ’s rest means the completeness of His finished work, and carries along with it, as that divine rest after creation does in its region, the conception of continuous activity, for just as little as the continuous phenomena of nature can be conceived of apart from the immanent activity of the ever-working God, and just as the last word of all physical science is that, beneath the so-celled causes and so-called forces there must lie a personal will, the only cause known to man, and preservation is a continuous creation, and the changes in nature are the result of the will of the active God, so the past work of Christ, of which He said, when He died, ‘It is finished!’ is prolonged into, and carried on through, the ages by the continuous activity of the ever-working Christ.
‘He sitteth at the right hand of God’; and to that session may be applied in full truth what He said Himself, in the vindication of His work on the Sabbath day - ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’
So the dying martyr looked up in the council chamber, and beyond the vaulted roof saw the heavens opened, and with a significant variation in the symbolical attitude, saw ‘the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ The seated Christ, we might say, had sprung to His feet, in answer to the dying martyr’s faith and prayer, and granted him the vision, not of calm repose, but of intensest activity for his help and sustaining. The appendix to Mark’s Gospel, in like manner, unites these two conceptions of undisturbed tranquillity and of energetic work. For he says that the Lord ‘was received up into heaven, and sat at the right hand of God, and they went... everywhere preaching the word.’ Then did the Commander-in-chief send His soldiers out into the battlefield, and Himself retire to the safe shelter of the hill? By no means. For the two halves of the picture which look so unlike one another - the Lord seated there, and the servants wandering about and toiling here-are brought together into the one solid reality, ‘they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord’ - seated up yonder - ‘working with them.’ So constant activity is the very essence and inseparable accompaniment of the undisturbed tranquillity of the seated Christ. In other places in Scripture we get the same blending together of the two ideas, as, for instance, when Paul says ‘It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.’ And in like manner, in Peter’s utterance Upon Pentecost, already referred to, you find the same idea.
‘Being at the right hand of God exalted, He hath showed forth this which ye now see and hear.’ So, working with us, working in us, working for us, working through us, the ever active Christ is with His people, and seated at the right hand of God, shares in all their labours, in all their difficulties, in all their warfare.
III. Lastly, we have here the revelation of Christ’s participation in divine power and dominion. There is a very remarkable and instructive variety in the forms of expression conveying this idea in various parts of the New Testament. We read from His own lips, ‘seated at the right hand of power.’ We read usually ‘at the right hand of God.’ We read in this Epistle ‘at the right hand of the Majesty of the Highest,’ and also ‘at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.’ So you see our Lord Himself dwelt mainly on the conception of participation in power. And these other passages which I have quoted deal mainly with the conception of the participation in royal authority and dominion. And these two go together. Then there is another observation to be made, and that in that this sitting at God’s right hand is to be interpreted as purely symbolical. For you cannot localize ‘the right hand of God.’ That ‘right hand’ is everywhere, wherever the divine power is working. So that, though I, for my part, believe that the human corporeity of Jesus Christ, with which He ascended into the heavens, does abide in a locality, it is not that localization which is meant by this great symbol of my text, but it is the declaration of a state, rather than of a place - participation in the power that belongs to God, and not a session in a given locality. There is another remark also to be made, and that is that, according to the full-toned belief of the Christian Church when Jesus Christ in His ascension returned to the Father, from whom He had come, He carried with Him this great difference between His then - that is to say, His present - state, and the pre-incarnate state, viz., that now He has carried into unity with the Father the glorified manhood which He assumed on earth, and there is no difference between the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and the glory in which He now sits. Humanity is thus gathered into divinity. Now, brethren, I am not going to dwell upon these thoughts, for they go far beyond the powers of my speech; but I am bound by my own conceptions of what Christ Himself has taught us, to reiterate that here we have the plainest teaching, founded on His own express statement, that He is participant of divine fellowship, so close as that it is represented either by being in the bosom of the Father, or by sitting at the right hand of God, and that ‘all power is given unto Him in heaven and on earth,’ so as that He is the Administrator of the universe. The hands that were pierced with the nails, and into one of which was thrust, in mockery, the reed for a sceptre, now carry the sceptre of the universe, and He is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’ ‘He sitteth at the right hand of the Throne of the Majesty in the heavens.’
Now all this should have a very strong practical effect upon us. ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek the things where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.’ Oh, brethren! if we carried with us day by day into all our difficulties and struggles, and amidst the glittering fascinations and temptations of this earthly life that great thought, and if we kept the heavens open - for we can do so - and keep before our eyes that vision, how small the difficulties, what molehills the mountains, and how void of charm the seducing temptations would then be! Christ seen - like the popular idea of the sunshine streaming down upon a coal fire - puts out the fuliginous flame of earth’s temptations, and dims the kindled brightness of earth’s light. And if we really, and not as a mere dogma, had incorporated this faith into our lives, how different that last moment, and what lies beyond it, would look. I do not know how it may be with others, but to me the conception of eternity is chill and awful and repellent; it seems no blessing to live for ever. But if we people the waste future with the one figure of the living Christ exalted for us, it all becomes different, and, like the sunrise on snowy summits, the chill heights, not to be trodden by human foot, flash up into rosy beauty that draws men’s desires. ‘I go to prepare a place for you’; and He prepares it by being there Himself, for then, then it becomes Home. ‘And if I go to prepare a place for you I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am there ye may be also’ - ‘sitting on My throne, as I overcame, and am sat down with My Father on His throne.’
PERFECTED AND BEING SANCTIFIED
IN the preceding sentence there is another ‘for ever,’ which refers to the sacrifice of Christ, and declares its perpetual efficacy. It is one, the world’s sins are many, but the single sacrifice is more than all of them. It is a past act, but its consequences are eternal, and flow down through all the ages. The text explains wherein consists the perpetual efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, and the reason why it needs no repetition while the world lasts. It endures for ever, because it has perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Now, in looking at these words, two things are noteworthy. One is the double designation here of the persons whom Christ influences by His offering, in that they are ‘perfected,’ and in that they are ‘sanctified.’ Another is the double aspect of our Lord’s work here set forth in regard to time, in that it is, in the first part of the sentence, spoken of as a past act whose consequences endure - ‘He hath perfected’ - and in the latter part of our text, according to the accurate rendering, it is spoken of as continuous and progressive, as yet incomplete and going on to perfection- For the text ought to read - ‘He hath perfected for ever them that are being sanctified.’ So there you have these two things, the double view of what Christ does, ‘perfects’ and ‘sanctifies,’ and the double view of His ‘work, in that in one aspect it is past and complete, and in another aspect it is running on, continuous, and as yet unfinished. I. First, then, look at the twofold aspect of the effect of Christ’s sacrifice.
By it we are ‘perfected,’ ‘sanctified.’ Now, these two words, so to speak, cover the same facts, but they look at them from two different points of view. One of them looks at the completed Christian character from the human point of view, and the other looks at it from the divine. For, what does ‘perfect’ mean in the New Testament? It means, as many a passage might be quoted to show, ‘mature,’ ‘full grown,’ in opposition to ‘babes in Christ.’ This very Epistle uses the two phrases in that antithesis, but the literal meaning of the word is that which has reached its end, that which has attained what it was meant to be; and, according to the New Testament teaching, a man is perfected when he has all his capabilities and possibilities of progress and goodness and communion with God made into realities and facts in His life, when the bud has flowered, and the flower has fruited, When capacity is developed, privileges enjoyed, duties attended to,. relationships entered into and maintained - when these things have taken place the man is perfect. It is to be observed that there is no reference in the word to any standard outside of human nature. If a man has become all that it is possible for him to be, he is, in the fullest sense, perfect. But Scripture also recognises a relative perfection, as we have already remarked, which consists in a certain maturity of Christian character, and has for its opposite the condition of ‘babes in Christ.’ So Paul exhorts ‘as many as be perfect’ to be ‘thus minded’ - namely, not to count themselves to have apprehended, but to stretch forward to the things which rare before, and to press towards the goal which still gleams far in advance. Consider, now, that other description of a Christian character as‘sanctified.’ The same set of facts in a man’s nature is thought of in that word, only they are looked at from another point of view. I suppose I do not need to enlarge upon the fact which, however, I am afraid a great many good people do not realise as they should, that the Biblical notion of ‘saint’ and ‘sanctified’ does not begin with character, but with relation, or, if I might put it more plainly, it does not, primarily and to start with, mean righteous, but ‘belonging to God.’ The Old and the New Testament concur in this conception of ‘sanctity,’ or ‘holiness,’ which are the same thing, only one is a Latin word and the other a Teutonic one - namely, that it starts from being consecrated and given up to God, and that out of that consecration will come all manner of righteousness and virtues, beauties of character, and dispositions and deeds which all men own to be ‘lovely... and of good report.’ The saint is, first of all, a man who knows that he belongs to God, and is glad to belong to Him, and then, afterwards, he becomes righteous and pure and radiant, but it all starts with yielding myself to God. So the same set of characteristics which in the word ‘perfected’ were considered as fulfilling the idea of manhood, as God has given it to us, are massed in this other word, and considered as being the result of our yielding ourselves to Him. That is to say, no man has reached the end which he was created and adapted to reach, unless he has surrendered himself to God. You never be ‘perfected’ until you are ‘sanctified.’ You must begin with consecration, and then holiness of character, and beauty of conduct, and purity of heart will all come after that. It is vain to put the cart before the horse, and to try to work at mending your characters, before you have set right your relationship to God. Begin with sanctifying, and you will come to perfecting. That is the New Testament teaching. And there is no way of getting to that perfection except, as we shall see, through the one offering. II. In the next place notice here the completed work.
‘By one offering He hath "perfected"‘ us, the Christian people of this generation, the Christian people yet to be born into the world, the men that have not yet learned that they belong to Him, but who will learn it some day. Were they all ‘perfected’ eighteen centuries ago? In what sense can that perfecting be said to be a past act? Suppose you take some purifying agent, and throw it in at the headwaters of a river, and it goes down the stream, down and down and down, and by degrees purifies it all If you like to use long- winded words, you can say that ‘potentially’ the river was purified when the precipi-rating agent was flung into it, though its waves were still foul with impurity. Or you can put it into plainer English and say that the past act has its abiding consequences, for there has been thrown into the centre of human history, as it were, that which is amply adequate to the ‘perfecting’ and the ‘sanctifying’ of every soul of the race. And that is what the writer of this Epistle means when he says ‘He hath perfected,’ because that sacrifice, like the precipitating agent that I have spoken about, has been flung into the stream of the world’s history, and has power to make pure as the dew-drop, or as the water that flows from melting ice, every foul-smelling, darkly dyed drop of the filthy stream.‘By one offering; Now the word that the writer employs there is a very unusual one in Scripture. He has just been using it in a previous verse, where he speaks about ‘the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.’ Did you ever notice that remarkable expression ‘the offering of the body,’ not as we usually read, the ‘blood.’ What does that mean? I think it means this, that the writer is contemplating not only the culminating sacrifice of Calvary, but Christ’s offering of Himself all through His earthly life; and knitting together in one the life and the death, the totality of His work, as that by which He has ‘perfected for ever all them that are being sanctified.’ And that, I think, is made quite certain, because he has just been speaking, and the words of my text refer back to the declaration in one of the psalms ‘Lo! I come to do Thy will, O God,’ as expressing the whole meaning of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That saying of the psalmist was fulfilled not only on the Cross but in all His daily life. Jesus Christ, then, in His whole manifestation, in His life, but not only in His life; and in His death, but not only in His death, has offered Himself unto God, ‘the Lamb without blemish, and without spot.’ And in that offering culminating in the death upon the Cross, but not confined thereto, there does lie the power which is triumphantly more than adequate to deal with all the foulnesses and sins of the world, and to perfect for ever any man that attaches himself to it. It deals with our guilt as nothing else can. It speaks to our consciences as nothing else can. It takes away all the agony and the pain, or all the dogged deadness, of a seared conscience. It deals with character. In that great offering, considered as including Christ’s life as well as His death, and considered as including Christ’s death as well as His life, you have folded up in indissoluble unity the pattern, the motive, and the power for all righteousness of character; and he reaches the end for which God created him, who, laying his hand on the head of that offering, not only transfers his sins to it, but receives its righteousness into him. By one offering that dealt with guilt, and wiped it all out, and that deals with the tyranny of evil, and emancipates us from it, and that communicates to us a new life formed in righteousness after the image of Him that created us, we are delivered from the burden of our sins and perfected, in so far as we lay hold of the power that is meant to cleanse us.
There is no other way of being perfected. You will never reach the point which it is possible for you to attain, and you will never fulfil the purpose for which God made you, unless you have joined yourself by faith to Jesus Christ, and are receiving into your life, and developing in your character, the power which He has lodged in the heart of humanity for redemption and purifying. III. Now one last word. We have here the continuous and progressive work of Christ, and the growing experience, of Christians. As I have remarked, the last clause of my text would be more completely rendered if we read, ‘them that are being sanctified.’ The same idea is set forth by the apostle Paul in that solemn passage in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, where he speaks about the double effect of the gospel upon ‘them that are perishing; and on them that are being saved.’ In both cases there is a process going on. The same idea is brought out, too, in the other expression in the Acts of the Apostles, about the ‘Lord adding to the Church daily,’ not, as the Authorised Version has it, ‘such as should be saved,’ but ‘them that were being saved.’ We may speak of salvation as past, as all included in the initial act by which we are knit to Jesus Christ through faith, when as guilty sinners we come to Him and east ourselves on Him. We may speak of salvation as being future, and lying beyond this vale of tears and battlefield of sins and sorrow. But we can speak of it more accurately than in either of these aspects, as a point in the past, prolonged into a line in the present, and running on into the future. For salvation is a process which is going on day by day, if we are right, and which I am afraid is not progressive in a very great many professing Christian people. Perfected, I said, meant full-grown. I wonder about how many of us it would need to be said, ‘Ye are babes in Christ, and when for the time ye ought to be teachers ye have need that one teach you which be the first principles of the oracles of God.’ Salvation is a progressive process. That is to say, if we are truly joined to Jesus Christ, we are growingly influenced by the powers of His Cross and the gift of His Spirit.
There is no limit to that growth. It is like a spiral which goes up and up and up, and in every convolution ‘draws nearer to the centre, but never reaches it. Our hearts and spirits are wonderfully elastic. They can take in a great deal more of God than we think they can, or than they ever have taken in. We can receive just as much of that infinite Life into our finite spirits as we will. Let us each strive to get more and more of Jesus Christ in us, that we may know Him, and the ‘power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings,’ more fully, more deeply, and may keep it more constantly. Oh, brethren! if we are not ascending the ladder that reaches to heaven, which is Christ Himself, we are descending; and if we are not growing we are dwindling; and if we cannot say that we are being sanctified, we are being made more and more common and profane. I am not going to say one word about whether absolute perfection or absolute sanctification can be reached in this life. If you and I were many hundreds of miles farther on the road, it would be worth discussing whether we could reach the goal or not. Never mind about the possibilities of abstract and perfect sanctification, we are a good long way off that.
Look after the next step in advance, and leave the ultimate one to take care of itself. Only remember, that whilst Christ’s past work has in it perpetual and absolute power to make any man perfect, no man will be sanctified unless he is sanctified by ‘faith that is in Me,’ and by the effort to work into his life and character the gift of the Divine Spirit and of the life of Christ which he receives by faith. It is ‘them that are being sanctified’ to whom the large hopes of this great text apply, and who may be sure that one day they will be absolutely perfected.
HOW TO OWN OURSELVES
THE writer uses a somewhat uncommon word in this clause, which is not altogether adequately represented by the translation ‘saving.’ Its true force will be apparent by comparing one or two of the few instances in which it occurs in the New Testament. For example, it is twice employed in the Epistles to the Thessalonians; in one case being rendered, ‘God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain’ or, more correctly, to the obtaining of ‘salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ’; and in another, ‘called to the obtaining of glory through Jesus Christ.’ It is employed twice besides in two other places of Scripture, and in both of these it means ‘possession.’ So that, though practically equivalent to the idea of salvation, there is a very beautiful shade of difference which is well worth noticing. The thought of the text is substantially this - those who believe win their souls; they acquire them for their possession. We talk colloquially about ‘people that cannot call their souls their own.’ That is a very true description of all men who are not lords of themselves through faith in Jesus Christ. ‘They who believe to the gaining of their own souls’ is the meaning of the writer here. And I almost think that we may trace in this peculiar expression an allusion, somewhat veiled but real, to similar words of our Lord’s. For He said, when, like the writer in the present context, He was encouraging His disciples to steadfastness in the face of difficulties and persecutions, ‘In your patience’ - in your persistent adherence to Me, whatever might draw you away, - ‘ye shall win’ - not merely possess, as our Bible has it, and not a commandment, but a promise - ‘in your patience ye shall win your souls.’ Whether that allusion be sustainable or no matters comparatively little; it is the significant and beautiful thought which underlies the word to which I wish to turn, and to present you with some illustrations of it. I. First, then, if we lose ourselves we win ourselves.
All men admit in theory that a self-centred life is a blunder. Jesus Christ has all moralists and all thoughtful men wholly with Him when He says, ‘He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life shall find it.’ There is no such way of filling a soul with enlargement and blessedness and of evolving new powers and capacities as self-oblivion for some great cause, for some great love, for some great enthusiasm. Many a woman has found herself when she held her child in her arms, and in the self-oblivion which comes from maternal affections and cares has sprung into a loftier new life. Many a heart, of husband and wife, can set its seal to this truth, that the blessedness of love is that it decentralises the soul, and substitutes another aim for the wretched and narrow one that is involved in self-seeking. And even if we do not refer to these sacred heights of maternal or of wedded love, there are many other noble counterpoises to the do-grading influence of self- absorption, which all men recognise and some men practise. Whoever has once tasted the joy and rapture of flinging himself into some great enthusiasm, and has known how much fuller life is when so inspired than in its ordinary forms, needs no words to convince him that the secret of blessedness, elevation, and power, if it is to be put into one great word, must be put into this one, ‘self-oblivion.’ But whilst all these counterpoises to the love of self are, in their measure and degree, great and noble and blessed, not one of them, nor all of them put together, will so break the fetters from off a prisoned soul and let it out into the large place of utter and glad self-oblivion as the course which our text enjoins upon us when it says: If you wish to forget yourselves, to abandon and lose yourselves, fling yourselves into Christ’s arms, and by faith yield your whole being, will, trust, purposes, aims, everything - yield them all to Him; and when you can say, ‘We are not our own,’ then first will you belong to yourselves and have won your own souls. There is nothing except that absolute departure from all reliance upon our own poor powers, and from all making of ourselves our centre and aim in life, which gives us true possession of ourselves. Nothing else is comparable to the talismanic power of trust in Jesus Christ. When thus we lose ourselves in Him we find ourselves, and find Him in ourselves. I believe that, at bottom, a life must either spin round on its own axis, self- centred and self-moved, or else it must be drawn by the mass and weight and mystical attractiveness of the great central sun, and swept clean out of its own little path to become a satellite round Him. Then only will it move in music and beauty, and flash back the lustre of an unfading light. Self or God, one or other will be the centre of every human life. It is well to be touched with lofty enthusiasms; it is well to conquer self in the eager pursuit of some great thought or large subject of study; it is well to conquer self in the sweetness of domestic love; but through all these there may run a perverting and polluting reference to myself. Affection may become but a subtle prolongation of myself, and study and thought may likewise be tainted, and even in the enthusiasm for a great cause there may mingle much of self-regard; and on the whole there is nothing that will sweep out, and keep out, the seven devils of selfishness except to yield yourselves to God, drawn by His mercies, and say, ‘I am not my own; I am bought with a price.’ Then, and only then, will you belong to yourselves.
II. Secondly it we will take Christ for our Lord we shall be lords of our own souls.
I have said that self-surrender is self-possession. It is equally true that self- control is self-possession; and it is as true about this application of my text as it was about the former, that Christianity only says more emphatically what moralists say, and suggests and supplies a more efficient means of accomplishing the end which they all recognise as good. For everybody knows that the man who is a slave to his own passions, lusts, or desire is not his own master. And everybody knows that the man who is the sport of circumstance, and yields to every temptation that comes sweeping round him, as bamboos bend before every blast; or the man who is guided by fashion, conventionality, custom, and the influence of the men amongst whom he lives, and whom he calls ‘the world,’ is not his own master. He ‘dare not call his soul his own.’ What do we mean by being self-possessed, except this, that we can so rule our more fluctuating and sensitive parts as that, notwithstanding appeals made to them By external circumstances, they do not necessarily yield to these? He possesses himself who, in the face of antagonism, can do what is right; who, in the face of temptation, will not do what is wrong; who can dare to be in the right with one or two; and who is not moulded By circumstances, howsoever they may influence him, but reacts upon them as a hammer, and is not as an anvil. And this superiority over the parts of my nature which are meant to be kept down, and this assertion of independent power in the face of circumstances, and this freedom from the dominion of cliques and parties and organs of opinion and loud voices round us, this is best secured in its fulness and completeness by the path which my text suggests. Trust in Jesus Christ, and let Him be your Commander-in-chief, and you have won your souls. Let Him dominate them, and you can dominate them. If you will give your wills into His hands, He will give them back to you and make you able to subdue your passions and desires. Put the reins into Christ’s hands and say, ‘Here, O Lord, guide Thou the horses and the chariot, for I cannot coerce them, but Thou canst.’ Then He will come and bring a new ally in the field, and cast a new weight into the scale, and you will no longer be the slave of the servile and inferior parts of your nature; nor be kicked about, the football of circumstances; nor be the echo of some other body’s views, but you will have a voice of your own, and a will of your own, and a soul of your own, because you have given them to Christ, and He will help you to control them. Such a man - and I verily believe, from the bottom of my heart, such a man only - in the fullest sense, is
‘Free from slavish bands, Of hope to rise, or fear to fall; Lord of himself, though not of lands; And having nothing, yet hath all.’
What does some little rajah, on the edge of our great Indian Empire, do when troubled with rebels whom he cannot subdue? He goes and makes himself a feudatory of the great central power at Calcutta, and then down comes a regiment or two, and makes very short work of the rebellion that the little kinglet could do nothing with. If you go to Christ and say to Him, ‘Dear Lord, I take my crown from my head and lay it at Thy feet. Come Thou to help me to rule this anarchic realm of my own soul,’ you will win yourself. III. Thirdly, if we have faith in Christ we acquire a better self. The thing that most thoughtful men and women feel, after they have gone a little way into life, is not so much that they want to possess themselves, as that they want to get rid of themselves - of all the failures and shame and disappointment and futility of their lives. That desire may be accomplished. We cannot strip ourselves of ourselves by any effort. The bitter old past keeps living on, and leaves with us seeds of weakness and memories that sometimes corrupt, and always enfeeble: memories that seem to limit the possibilities of the future in a tragic fashion. Ah, brethren! we can get rid of ourselves; and, instead of continuing the poor, sin-laden, feeble creatures that we are, we can have pouring into our souls the gift most real -though people nowadays, in their shallow religion, call it mystical - of a new impulse and a new life. The old individuality will remain, but new tastes, new aspirations, aversions, hopes, and capacities to realise them may all be ours, so that ‘if any man be in Christ he is a new creature’; and in barter for the old garment he receives the robe of righteousness. You can lose yourselves, in a very deep and earnest sense, if, trusting in Jesus Christ, you open the door of the heart to the influx of that new life which is His best gift. Faith wins a better self, and we may each experience, in all its fulness and Blessedness, the paradox of the apostle when he said, ‘I live’ now, at last, in triumphant possession of this better life: ‘I live’ now - I only existed before - ‘yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ And with Christ in me I first find myself. IV. Lastly, if by faith we win our souls here, we save them from destruction hereafter. I have said that the word of my text is substantially equivalent to the more frequent and common expression ‘salvation’; though with a shade of difference, which I have been trying to bring Out. And this substantial equivalence is more obvious if you will note that the text is the second member of an antithesis of which the first is, ‘we are not of them which draw back into perdition.’ So, then, the writer sets up, as exact opposites of one another, these two ideas - perdition or destruction on the one hand, and the saving or winning of the soul on the other. Therefore, whilst we must give due eight to the considerations which I have already been suggesting, we shall not grasp the whole of the writer’s meaning unless we admit also the thought of the future. And that the same blending of the two ideas, of possession and salvation in the more usual sense of the word, was implied in the Lord’s saying, of which I have suggested there may be an echo here, is plain if you observe that the version in St. Luke gives the text which I have already quoted: ‘In your patience ye shall win your souls’; and that of St. Matthew, in the same connection, gives, instead, the saying, ‘he that endureth’ - which corresponds with patience - ‘he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.’ So, then, brethren, you cannot be said to have won your souls if you are only keeping them for destruction, and such destruction is clearly laid down here as the fate of those who turn away from Jesus Christ. Now, it seems to me that no fair interpretation can eject from that word ‘perdition,’ or ‘destruction,’ an element of awe and terror. However you may interpret the ruin, it is ruin utter of which it speaks. And I am very much afraid that in this generation eager discussions about the duration of punishment, and the final condition of those who die impenitent, have had a disastrous influence on a great many minds and consciences in reference to this whole subject, by making it rather a subject of controversy than a solemn truth to be pondered. However the controversies be settled, there is terror enough left in that word to make us all bethink ourselves. I lay it on your hearts, dear friends - it is no business of mine to say much about it, but I lay it on your hearts and on my own; and I beseech you to ponder it. Do not mix it up with wholly independent questions as to what is to become of people who never heard about Jesus Christ. ‘The Judge of all the earth will do right.’ What this verse says applies to people that have heard about Him - that is, to you and me - and to people that do not accept Him - and that is some of us; and about them it says that they ‘draw back unto perdition.’ Now, remember, the alternative applies to each of us. It is a case of ‘either- or’ in regard to us all. If we have taken Christ for our Saviour, and, as I said, put the reins into His hands and given ourselves to Him by love and submission and confidence, then we own our souls, because we have given them to Him to keep, ‘and He is able to keep that which is committed to Him against that day.’ But I am bound to tell you, in the plainest words I can command, that if you have not thus surrendered yourself to Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, His intercession, His quickening Spirit, then I know not where you are to find one foothold of hope that upon you there will not come down the overwhelming fate that is darkly portrayed in that one solemn word. Oh, brethren! let us all ponder the question, ‘ What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’
A BETTER AND AN ENDURING SUBSTANCE
THE words ‘in heaven’ are probably no part of the original text, but have somehow or other crept in, in order to make more plain what some one supposed to be the reference of these words to the future inheritance of the saints. They, however, rather disturb than help the writer’s thought. He is speaking of a present and not of a future possession. ‘Ye have,’ and not ‘ye shall have,’ a better and an ‘enduring possession,’ not in heaven, but here and now. But even if these words be expelled from the text as disturbing the writer’s thought, there still remains a variation in the reading of some importance. It is a very slight difference of form in the original, but the two meanings between which we have to choose are these: ‘Knowing that ye have yourselves as a better and an enduring possession’; or, ‘a better and an enduring possession for yourselves.’ I am inclined rather to the former of the two, both from external authority and internal congruity, though the choice between them is difficult. But, if we accept this as the meaning of these words, we can gather from them important lessons, of which I ask your consideration. I. The true possession. If we adopt the other reading, and take the words to mean that, in so far as we are truly resting on Jesus, we have for ourselves an inheritance or possession better than all external ones, the text will then be pointing to the old thought that God is the true joy and treasure of a man’s soul. If, on the other hand, we may venture to adopt the other meaning, there is great depth and beauty in it, representing, as it does, the Christian as having himself as a treasure. It may strike one as strange, but a little consideration will show its truth and perfect harmony with the other thought, that God is the treasure of every soul which is not poor and in need of all things. ‘A good man shall be satisfied from himself, says the Book of Proverbs, and that is no arrogant denial of the need for God, but completely accords with the devout acknowledgment, ‘All my springs are in Thee.’ In the very same chapter as our text we read: ‘We are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of their souls,’ which might be more accurately rendered, ‘to the acquisition as their own of their souls.’ Remember, too, our Lord’s words: ‘In your patience ye shall acquire possession of your souls.’ If we take these sayings into account, we need not hesitate to admit that, at all events, there is a great deal to be said for the somewhat remarkable expression in the text. It just comes to this. No man possesses himself until he has given up himself. We only own ourselves when we have parted with ourselves. Until we have yielded ourselves in acts of dependent faith and rejoicing love and docile obedience unto God, we have no real possession of ourselves. He, and only he, who says, ‘I give myself away to Thee,’ gets himself back again sanctified, gladdened, ennobled, and on the way to be perfected by his surrender and God’s reception. We own ourselves only on condition of being Christian men. For, under all other circumstances and forms of life, the true self is domineered over and brought into slavery and dragged away from its proper bearings by storms and swarms of lusts and passions and inclinations and ambitions and senses. A man’s flesh is his master, or his pride is his master, or some fraction of his nature is his master, and he himself is an oppressed slave, tyrannised over by rebellious powers. The only way to get the mastery of yourselves, to be able to keep a tight hand upon all inferior parts of your nature, and to have that self-command and self-possession without which there is nothing noble in life, is to go to God and say, ‘Oh, Lord! I cannot rule this anarchic being of mine. Do Thou take it into Thine hands. Here are the reins: do with me what Thou wilt.’ Then you will be your own masters, not till then. Then you will own yourselves; till then, the devil and the world and the flesh, and the pomps and prides and passions and lusts and lazinesses that are in your nature will own you. But if we have exercised the faith which casts itself wholly upon God, we therein and thereby win God and our own selves also, and that is one of the meanings of ‘saving our own souls.’ Or, to put it in another light, the only things worth calling treasures and possessions are true thoughts that we have learned from God; pure affections that go out to Him; yearning desires after Him, which, in their very yearning, bear the prophecy, and are to a large extent the foretaste, of their own fruition. These are the things that make a man’s treasure. The inner life of obedience, of love, of trust, the conscience cleansed, the will made plastic and docile, the heart filled with all pure and heavenward affections, aspirations that lift us above self and time, and bring us into the sweet and calm light of the Eternal Love whose name is God - these are the possessions which are worth possessing. And he, and only he, has such who has found them in lowly submission of his sinful self to Christ who has died that our spirits might be cleansed and given back unto us. Brethren, the realisation of this possession of ourselves depends on our faith. Stoics and moralists and lofty souled men in all ages have talked about the true possession of oneself, which comes by self-surrender and annihilation, but Christian faith realises the dream, and they only find the reality who pass towards it through the gate of trust in Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, will the old English poet’s lovely picture be fulfilled, and the man’s soul
Made free from slavish bands, Of hope to rise, or fear to fall; Lord of himself, though not of lands; And having nothing, yet hath all.’
II. Note, again, how here we hear asserted the superiority of this possession.
It is ‘better’ in its essential quality. That does not need many words. Surely these possessions of heart and mind and will and desires all brought into fellowship with and filled by God are things more correspondent with the nature of man and his needs than any accumulation of outward possessions can ever be. And surely it is a plain piece of prose, and no exaggerated religious enthusiasm, which says, ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee.’ Men call it mysticism. It is the very foundation of all true religion. The apprehension of union with God is the one thing that will satisfy the sold; the one thing that we need, width having, we cannot be wholly desolate, however dark may be our path, nor wholly solitary, however lonely may be our lot, nor utterly bereaved, however Blessings may be dragged from our hands; and without which we cannot be at rest, however compassed with stays and succours and treasures and friends; nor rich, however we may have Bursting coffers and all things to enjoy. The possession which we tarry within us is better than any which we can gather round us. ‘Surely he is disquieted in vain, he heapeth up treasures’- and the very fact that they need to be ‘heaped,’ and that that is all that he can do with them, shows the vanity of the disquiet that raked them together. Not what a man has, but what a man is, is his wealth. And the better treasure is an enduring possession. That is the second element of its excellence. These things, the calm joys, the pure delights of still fellowship with God in heart and mind and will - these things have in them no seed of decay. These cannot be separated from their possessor by anything but his own unfaithfulness. There will never come the time when they shall have to be left behind. Use does not wear these out, but strengthens and increases them. The things which are destined ‘to perish with the using’ belong to an inferior category. All the best things are intended and destined to increase with the using, and this treasure, the more it is expended the fuller is the coffer, and the more we exercise the love, the communion, the obedience which make our true riches, the more do the riches increase. And then, when all other things drop from their nerveless hands; and ‘His glory’ - whose glory was in outward things -’shall not descend after him,’ we shall carry these treasures with us wherever we go, and find that they were the pledge of immortality. III. My text, lastly, suggests to us the quiet superiority to earthly loss and change which the possession of this treasure involves. The writer is speaking to Christian men who have endured a great fight of afflictions, and he says of them, ‘Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, because you knew that you had this Better and enduring substance.’ Joyfully! When you strike away the false props the strength of the real ones becomes more conspicuous. And many and many a time we may experience, unless we waste our discipline and our sorrows, that the surest way to become richer towards God is to lose the earthly stays and supports. But whether that be so or no, he who sits in the centre, and has the light round him, need not mind much what storms are raging without, and he whose inexpugnable fortress is within the depths of God may smile at all the hubbub and confusion down in the valley. If we possess this true treasure which lies at our doors, and may be had for the taking, we shall be like men in some strong fortress, with firm walls, abundant provisions, and a well in the courtyard, and we can laugh at besiegers ‘His abiding place shall be the munitions of rooks; his bread shall be given him and his water shall be made sure.’ We may be quiet and lofty, infinitely above the fear of chance and change, if we keep the firm hold which we may keep of the enduring riches which God brings with Him into our souls. Some of you may be in circumstances which make such thoughts as these specially applicable, either because dark days may be threatening, or because the sunshine of prosperity may be dazzling some eyes and making them lose sight of their true wealth. To the one class the thought of my text is gathered up in the warning, ‘Charge them that they trust not in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God.’ And, to the other class, the text should quicken and consolidate the resolve, ‘What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee. Thou art the strength of my heart, and mine inheritance for ever.’
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany