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THE QUEEN AND THE VIRGINS THAT FOLLOW HER
THE writer has been describing, in very stern and solemn words, the fate of apostates, and illustrating it by the awful metaphor of’ the earth which ’beareth thorns and briars,’ and which is, therefore, ‘rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.’ Then he softens, and knowing that rebukes are never so pointed as when the arrow is feathered by love, he changes his voice. ‘But, beloved’ - they needed to be assured that all the thundering and lightning did not mean anger, but affection - ‘we are persuaded better things of you, and those things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.’ Wherever, then, salvation is, certain other things will also be. Now, of course, it is clear that the word salvation is not here used to mean the ultimate, complete deliverance from all evil of sorrow or sin, and the ultimate, complete endowment with all good of joy and holiness, but for that earlier stage of itself - which unfortunately, too often is supposed to be all that is needed, and to be sure to last, if once possessed, whether diligently tended or left neglected - the initial gifts which are received by a convert in the very beginning of his Christian career, viz., the assurance of divine forgiveness, and the establishment of a new relation between him and God. It is that initial and incomplete salvation of which the writer is here thinking. And, he says, it does not come alone. Like a planet set in the heavens, with moons that circle round it; like a diamond set in a cluster of precious stones; like some queen with her train of attendants, when that incipient salvation comes into a soul, it comes companioned by other blessings that are its natural and necessary attendants and accompaniments. And what are these? The whole context is full of instruction as to what they are. We can gather them all up into the one metaphor fruitfulness; or to put away the metaphor, we can gather them all up into the one phrase, ‘a holy life.’ That, or these - for the one phrase, ‘a holy life,’ will break up and effloresce into all manner of beautifulnesses and goodnesses - are ‘the things that accompany salvation.’ It is plain that the possession of ‘salvation’ is sure to lead to that result. For it is something more than a judge’s pardon; it is a Father’s forgiveness, and even if it were nothing more than forgiveness, it would, as such, set in operation new emotions and aims in the child’s heart and will. God’s forgiveness does not only take away guilt, but breaks the power of sin. But surely the faintest dawn of salvation brings a new life which has affinities for all righteousness and every form of goodness, and brings the forgiven man under the influence of new motives, drawn from his blessed new experience of the ‘mercies of God,’ and strongly impelling him to that grateful, happy yielding of himself as a living sacrifice, from which whatsoever things are lovely and of good report are sure to spring, as naturally as rare exotics will, even in our northern cold, when the right temperature is maintained in the conservatory. The initial salvation sets us in new relations with God; it puts into us a new life, infantile and needing much care in its feebleness, no doubt, but still capable of growth to power and maturity, and even in infancy like the new-born Hercules, able to strangle the serpents. The initial salvation turns us in a new direction, changes our estimate of things to be pursued and avoided, gives new standards, new aims, new desires, new power to reach these aims, to satisfy these desires. ‘If any man be in Christ’ - even if he has but this moment entered, and has gone but a step or two in - ‘he is a new creature; old things are passed away, all things have become new.’ Simultaneous with the rapturous new assurance that God loves and forgives, come the inclination towards, and possibility of, a new life of holiness. It is for the most part an undeveloped possibility, and will need much careful tending, and much fencing off of infantile diseases, and much discipline, before it comes to a ‘perfect man’ after the pattern of Jesus; but the life is there, and, with fair play, will come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. ‘Salvation’ never enters alone, but ever is attended by a train of fair virgins. Now, from this thought of the primacy of salvation and the subordinate place of its certain accompaniments, important practical results follow. One of these is what we Christians need to have perpetually recalled to our minds, namely, that the way to increase our possession of the accompaniments is to increase our possession of the central blessing which they accompany, and therefore that the true course for us to pursue, if we would live that. holy life which accompanies salvation, is to seek to increase, first, our possession of those primary experiences that constitute salvation the sense of the divine favour, the consciousness of the forgiving and reconciling love of God, and to strive to increase that faith, by which a fuller tide of salvation will flow into our more widely opened hearts. Begin with that with which God begins; seek to have more of the divine salvation; that is the best way to get more of the graces that accompany it. Welcome the entrance of the queen, and her train of attendants, in all the variety of their sweet loveliness and feminine graces, will follow her. ‘The things that accompany salvation’ are best secured by making sure, and increasing our conscious possession of, the salvation which they accompany. To aim at possessing the graces of character which are the results of conscious enjoyment of salvation, without that enjoyment, is like the folly that would begin building a house at the rooftree. Such graces may be partially produced without ‘salvation,’ but they are but like artificial flowers in comparison with the sweet children of the dew and sun, and have no fragrance and no life. But another needful lesson is that the best test and evidence of our being saved, men and women, is our manifesting in our lives these certain attendants on salvation. We should be very sceptical of the genuineness of any profession of being ‘saved,’ whether made by ourselves or by others, which is not manifestly accompanied by these, its inevitable consequences and attendants. The pure heart, the clean hands, the truth-speaking tongue, the loving disposition, the integrity in business, the control of one’s own dispositions and tempers and tastes and appetites, and all these other fair traits of character which are the constituents of a holy life, the manifold rays which melt into the one white light of holiness - these things are the only tokens for the world, and the principal tests for myself, of the reality of my salvation. They are not the only tests for us. Thank God, Christian men do not need to take only the indirect method of determining the genuineness of their faith and love by examining their outward lives. They can say, ‘I have felt, I know and Thou knowest, that I love Thee.’ As to others, our only way of knowing whether the watch is going, is to note whether the hands are travelling round the dial, but for ourselves, we may have direct consciousness of our emotions, being, as it were, inside the watch ease and aware of its working. Yet, since we can hoodwink ourselves about our inward state, and inspection of ourselves is always difficult, and its results apt to be biased by what we wish to find within, we have all much need to check our judgments of ourselves, especially in regard to our faith and love, which are the conditions of our possessing salvation, by the test of our actions, which we are less liable to misconstrue, and which will often tell us unwelcome, but wholesome truth.
We shall be wise if we habitually test our Christian emotion by our conduct in the rough road of daily life, and if we gravely suspect the depth and genuineness of all feeling, however sweet and lofty it seems, which does not come out into action. If our Christian experience is worth anything, it will drive the wheels of self-sacrificing duty. It takes tons of pitchblende to make a drachm of radium, and it needs much experience of the possession of salvation, and many precious and secret inward emotions in order to produce the life of self-sacrifice which is the ultimate test of the worth of our religion. If these certain accompaniments are wanting, or are sparse and lacking in radiance in our lives, it is high time that we asked ourselves very seriously what the worth to us is of a salvation that does not produce in us ‘the things that accompany salvation.’ But the text suggests another thought to which we may now turn. It is that where these accompaniments of initial salvation are present, further salvation will follow. The whole of the context, including my text itself, goes upon the principle that whilst a holy life, or, to put it into other words, ‘good works,’ is, or are, the accompaniments of the initial salvation, they are the causes of a fuller salvation. For look what follows, and look what preceded our text. ‘The earth which drinketh in the rain’ - that is step number one and that drinking in of the rain is the initial act of faith which opens thirstily for the entrance of the initial salvation. Then follows - ‘and bringeth forth herbs’ - that is the second step, and corresponds to the holy life of which I have been speaking; and finally comes ‘receiveth a blessing from God,’ which corresponds to a fuller salvation. After the text we read: ‘God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love’ which implies a promise of rich reward. That is to say, if we have these accompaniments, and do our very best to make them conspicuous and continuous and more thoroughly the mainsprings of our actions, then we shall receive a fuller salvation, just because we have thus sought to appropriate and re develop the consequences in our conduct of the partial salvation with which we were started at first. Salvation is a great word which in Scripture is presented in many aspects. Sometimes it is spoken of as a thing in the past experience of the Christian; sometimes it is spoken of as a thing which he is progressively realising throughout his life: ‘The Lord added to the Church daily such as were being saved’; sometimes it is spoken of as an experience which is reserved for the future, ‘receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls,’ in that life beyond. Now, this experience or possession, call it which you like, or state of spirit and heart, which has its roots in the past, and is being developed all through the Christian life, and is to be perfected in the future world, has for one chief cause of its progressive increase in our own consciousness, a holy life. And if we, as good ground, are trying ‘to bring forth herbs meet for Him by whom it is dressed,’ we shall be like the earth softened by the rain, and smiling with harvest, on which God smiles down in the sunshine of His approval, and which He visits with His benediction. We shall possess a fuller salvation. A firmer grasp of the great truths which bring salvation when received, and of all their consequences of peace and joy, and spiritual elevation and calm, a closer union with Jesus, a larger endowment of the Spirit, will ‘follow our faithful attempts to ‘perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord,’ and so to possess, and to present, more of ‘the things that accompany salvation.’ Good works are a cause of a fuller salvation. The most fruitful Christians need to be warned against possible barrenness and apostasy.‘We are persuaded better things of you, beloved’ - but yet, though persuaded, the writer felt that he must ‘thus speak.’ For we never get beyond the risk of fruitlessness. We never get beyond the need of effort to resist the tendencies that draw us away. We never get beyond the need of warnings. It is always safe for us to look at the field that is bristling ‘with briars and thorns, and is nigh unto cursing.’ Therefore the warning note is sounded, and it is sounded, thank God! in order that what it points to as possible, may never be actual for any of us. We all need warning, but those of us who, like myself, are set to give it sometimes, have to remember that it loses all its force unless it is manifestly the warning of love. ‘Beloved I persuaded,’ as we are, ‘of better things of you,’ it yet is our solemn duty thus to speak, that thus it may never be with any of you. And it is the less likely to be the case with any of us that we shall bear but ‘thorns and briars,’ the more we remember that it is possible for us all, and will be possible until the very end.
THE ANCHOR OF THE SOUL
THERE is something very remarkable in the prominence given by Christianity to hope as an element in the perfect character. The New Testament is, one may say, full of exhortations to ‘hope perfectly.’ It is regarded as one of the three virtues which sum up all Christian goodness. Nay! In one place the Apostle Paul lays upon it the whole weight of our salvation, for he says ‘we are saved by hope.’ Now this great prominence given to the exercise of this faculty seems to correspond with the will of God as expressed in our nature, for man is a creature obstinate in his hope. But it seems to be strangely at variance with the value of hope as attested by experience; for who does not know that most hopes are false; and that whether they be disappointed or fulfilled, they betray. The world is full of complaints of the fallacies of hope. Poets and moralists are sure of a response when they touch that chord; and it sometimes seems to us as if elaborate provision were made in our nature for deluding us into activity and tempting us along toll-some paths, to gather a handful of mist at the end, and then to say in our bitterness, ‘All is vanity and vexation of spirit.’ But yet ‘God never sends mouths but He sends meat to feed them’; and if there be in a man a faculty so obstinate and strong as this, there must be somewhere a reality which it can grasp; and, grasping, can be freed from all its miseries and mistakes. So my text tells us where that is, and tells us further how ennobling and steady an ally of all great and blessed things hope is in a man, when it is rightly fixed on the right objects. The metaphor of my text is unique in Scripture, though it be common in other places. Only here do we find the familiar thought that hope is ‘the anchor of the soul.’ I take that metaphor as the guiding thought in my words now; and ask you to consider the anchor; the anchorage, or holding-ground; the cable; and the steadfastness of the ship so anchored in all storms. I. Consider, then, first, the force of this metaphor of the anchor. Now it seems to me that the very figure requires us to suppose that hope here means, not the emotion but the object on which it is fixed. The same interpretation is necessarily suggested by the context; for the previous verse speaks about ‘a hope set before us,’ and about our ‘laying hold upon it.’ So that here, at all events, the hope is something external to ourselves which is proposed to us, and which we can grasp. An anchor is outside the ship; and that which steadies us cannot be a part of ourselves, must be something external to us, on which our fluttering and mutable emotions can repose and be still. Nor is it at all unusual, either in Scripture or in common speech, that we should employ the name of the emotion to express the object which the emotion grasps. For instance, people say to one another, ‘my love,’ ‘my comfort,’ and we talk about God as ‘our fear’ and ‘our dread,’ and Scripture speaks of Christ as our hope; in all which phrases the person who excites the emotion is described by the name of the emotion. And so, I take it, is the ease here. The hope which we possess, and which, outside of us, we being fastened to it, makes us steadfast and secure, is, at bottom, Jesus Christ Himself. This hope, says my text, ‘has entered within the veil.’ Well l read on. ‘Whither the Forerunner is for us entered.’ When He passed within the veil our hope passed within it, and went with Him. For He is not only the foundation, but He is the substance of our hope. He is the thing hoped for, and in the deepest interpretation, all our future is the personal Christ; and every blessed anticipation that can fill a human heart with gladness is summed up in this, ‘that I may be found in Him,’ and made partaker of that Saviour whom to possess is fruition and eternal life. He is the anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, and entering within the veil Notice further the characteristics ascribed to this anchor and hope. ‘Sure and steadfast.’ These two words express diverse qualities of the hope. A sure anchor is one which does not drag. It is not too light for the ship that rides by it. It has found s firm ground, its flukes are all right, and it belch. It does not deceive. The ship’s crew may trust to it. An anchor which is steadfast, or, as the original word might be rendered, ‘firm,’ is one that will not break, but is strong in its own substance, made of good tough iron, so that there is no fear of the shank snapping, whatever strain may be put upon it. We may then say, generally, that this object of the Christian hope is free from all the weaknesses. and imperfections which cleave and cling to other objects. Take just a sentence or two in illustration of that. Our earthly hopes, what are they? Only She products of our own imaginations, or the reflection of our wishes projected on the dim screen of the future, with no more substance in them than the shadows from a magic- lantern thrown on to the sheet. Or even if they be the reasonable result of calculation, they still have- no existence. But there, says my text, is a hope which is a real thing, and has a present existence. It has ‘entered into that within the veil,’ as the literal anchor is dropped through the depths of the sea and lost to sight, so by an incongruous and yet forcible blending of metaphor the text tells us this anchor is carried aloft, into the azure depths, and there lost to sight, is fastened as it were to the very throne of God. All the universe being the temple, and a thin veil being stretched between us in the outer court and that Holy of Holies, the Christ, who is our hope, has passed with.. in the veil, and is verily there, separated from us and yet close by. A veil is but a thin partition. We can hear the voices on the other side of a woollen curtain, we can catch the gleams of light through it, A touch will draw it aside. So we float in the midst of that solemn unseen present which is to us the future; and all the brightest and grandest objects of the Christian man’s anticipation have a present existence and are real; just on the other side of that thin curtain that parts us from them. A touch, and it rattles on its rings and we stand in the blaze of the fruition This hope is not an imagination, not the projection of wishes upon the dim curtain of the future, not the child of calculation, but a present reality within arm’s length of us all. Then, again, earthly hopes are less than certainties. This one is a certainty, We may make the future as sure as the past. Hope may be as veracious as memory. It is not so with our ordinary anticipations; we all feel that when we say we hope we are admitting an element of dread as well as of hope into our anticipations. And so, however hope may smile there is always a touch of terror in her sweet eyes. As one of our great poets has described her, she carries a jewelled cup of richest wine, but coiled at the bottom of it a sleeping serpent. Possibilities that it may be otherwise are an integral part of all the uncertain hopes of earth, make it a torture often, and always dim its lustre and its gladness. But certitude is a characteristic of the Christian hope. It is ‘sure,’ as my text has it, and we can say, not, ‘I trust it may,’ but, ‘I know it will.’ Is it not something to be able to look forward into the dim unknown, and to feel that whilst much there is mercifully hidden, far more and that the best in the future is manifest as history, and certain as the fixed past. To the Christian resting upon Christ it is no presumption, but the simplest duty to feel ‘tomorrow,’ and the to-morrow after that, and all the to-morrows, including the unsetting day of eternity ‘shall be as yesterday, and much more abundant.’ Then again, earthly hopes, whether disappointed or fulfilled, betray, or rather, I might say, are disappointed even whilst they are fulfilled. We paint the future as if it contained but the one thing on which for the time being we have set our hopes. And we do not remember that when we reach the accomplishment of the expectation, life will have a great many other things in it than the fulfilled expectation, and all the old commonplaces, and annoyances, and imperfections will still be there. So ever, the thing chased is more than the thing won. Like some bit of sea-weed, as long as it lies there in the ocean moving its filmy fronds to the wave, it expands and is lovely. Grasp it, and draw it out, and it is a bit of ugly slime in your hand. So possession never realises the dream of hope. But here, the half hath not been told us. ‘Eye hath not seen it,.., neither hath entered into the heart of man,’ in his loftiest anticipations, the transcendent realisation of the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him. II. And now turn to the other points in this text.
Look at the anchorage, or holding-ground, that is to say, the reasons or the grounds on which these great objects become objects of hope to us. Why is it that I may without presumption, and that I must, unless I would fall beneath my obligations, expect to be for ever like Jesus Christ? Why, here is the anchorage. ‘God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation.’ Or, to put it into other words, God’s solemn utterance of His will guaranteed to us by God’s putting all the majesty of His own being into pawn for the fulfilment of His promise is the ground on which we rest. There is the anchorage. Nothing can touch that. If we cleave to Jesus Christ we have anchored ourselves in the fastnesses of the divine nature. We have struck the roots of our hopes deep into the very being of God; and all that is majestic, all that is omnipotent, all that is tender, all that is immutable in Him goes to confirm to my poor heart the astounding expectation that whatsoever Christ is I shall become, and that wheresoever Christ is there will also His servant be. Oh! how this rock- foundation on which we may build makes all the other foundations upon which men rest their ruinable hopes seem wretched and transitory. Cursed be the man - and he is cursed, that is, wretched and miserable in the act - ‘Cursed be the man that maketh flesh his arm, and whose hope is in man. Blessed be the man whose hope is in the Lord his God, and whose trust the Lord is.’ This anchorage is safe in all weathers, and none that ever sheltered there have been driven on the iron-bound leeward rocks. III. Again, still keeping the metaphor of the text, notice the cable. The anchor is of no use unless it be fastened by a strong hawser or chain. All the faithfulness of the divine nature, and all the grandeur of the promises which Christ gives and is, are naught to us unless we attach ourselves to them by setting our hopes there. I have been speaking to you about the vanity, the disappointing misery of earthly hope. Those show that the obstinate faculty which, in spite of them all, persists is as plainly meant to be attached to Jesus Christ as the great iron chain that you see lying on the deck is obviously intended to be the anchor-chain. You are able to anticipate the future, and God has given you the ability in order that it may grapple you to your Lord and Master, by whom alone you will be lords of the future, and it be filled with peace. To do that, to attach yourselves thus to Jesus Christ by a persistent and triumphant hope is not an easy thing. It means, first of all, detachment. You must get away from these lower and earthly anticipations of the paltry and immediate future on this side the grave, which fill so much of your onward gaze, if your eye is to see clearly that nobler future further ahead which is its legitimate and its only object. The habit of Christian hope needs diligent cultivation and strenuous effort. I think that there are few things that Christian men and women need to he exhorted to more earnestly than this that they should not waste upon the mean anticipations of to-morrow that wonderful faculty by which they may knit themselves to the most glorious and blessed realities in the remotest future. The wings of hope were given, not that we might flutter near the earth, but that we might rise to God. The clear eye that looks before was given us not that we should limit our vision to the near, But that we might send it forward to the most distant horizon. Do not let yourselves be so absorbed by anticipations of what you are going to do and where you are going to be tomorrow that you have no leisure to think of what you are going to do and where you are going to be through the eternities. We run our eyes along the low levels of earth, and we too seldom lift them to the great white summits that ring round the little plain on which our day is passed. Christian men and women, you are saved by hope. Live in the continual contemplation of that blessed future, and Him who makes it; and, according to the old exhortation sursum corda, ‘up with your hearts’ and your hopes, and fasten them to the anchor of your souls which hath entered within the veil. IV. And now, lastly, a word as to the steadfastness of the ship that rides in any storm by thin anchor. Hope is not usually a masculine faculty, nor one that on the whole is the ally of the stronger and nobler virtues. It does no doubt impel to action, and he that has ceased to hope has ceased to strive; but also, and quite as often, its effect is to disturb and flutter rather than to steady, to make impatient, to unfit for persistent application and toilsome service, to set the blood dancing through the veins, so that the hand can scarcely be kept steady. But this ‘Christian hope, if we rightly take the measure of it, and understand it, is an ally of all great, steadfast, calm, patient virtue. For one thing it will put all the present in its true subordination. Just as when a man’s eye is fixed upon the reddening dawn of the morning sky, all the trees and objects between him and it are toned down into one uniform blackness, so when we have that great light shining beyond the earthly horizon all the colours of the objects between us and it will be less garish, and they will dwindle into comparative insignificance. It is not so hard to bear sorrow when the light of a great hope makes the endurance but for a little moment, and the exceeding and eternal weight of glory more conspicuous than it. It is not so hard to do duty when a great hope makes action for the time sublime, and makes difficulties dwindle and hardships sweet. It is not so hard to resist temptations when temptations have had their dazzling light dimmed by the greater brightness of the hope revealed. He that has anchored himself to Christ may be calm in sorrow and triumphant over temptation. Whatsoever winds may blow he may ride safe there, and however frowning may be the iron-bound rocks a cable’s length off, if he has cast out his anchor at the stern he may quietly wait for the day in the assurance that no shipwreck is possible for him. Your hope will be the ally of all, dignity, patience, victory, will steady the soul and make it participant, in some measure, of its own steadfastness and security. And just as sailors sometimes send the anchor ahead that they may have a fixed point towards which to warp themselves, so, if our anchor is that Christ who has passed into the heavens, He will draw us, in due time, whither He Himself has gone. A calm steady hope fixed upon the enthroned Christ, our fore-runner, and the pattern of what we shall he if we trust Him, will make us steadfast and victorious in all our sorrows, Burdens, changes, and temptations. Without it life is indeed as ‘futile then as frail,’ and our only ‘hope of answer’ to its torturing problems, or of ‘redress’ of its manifold pains is ‘Behind the veil, behind the veil.’ Such a hope knits us to the true stay of our souls, and is a cord not easily Broken. As for men’s hopes fixed on earth, they are fragile and filmy as the spiders’ webs, which, in early autumn mornings, twinkle dewy in every copse, and are gone by midday. My brother! you have this great faculty; what do you do with it, and where do you fix it? You have a personal concern in that future, whether you think about it and like it or not. What is your hope for that future, and what is the ground of your hope? Let me beseech you, fasten the little vessel of your life to that great anchor, Christ, who has died, and who lives for you. And then, though the thread between you and Him be but slender and fragile, it will not be a dead cable, but a living nerve, along which His own steadfast life will pour, making you steadfast like Himself, and at last fulfilling and transcending your highest hopes in eternal fruition of His own blessedness.
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany