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VIRTUES AND GRACES BEFITTING THE CHRISTIAN PROFESSION
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 13:1. Brotherly love.—φιλαδελφία, the mutual love of Christians as such.
Hebrews 13:2. Angels unawares.—As Abraham (Genesis 18:2-22); Lot (Genesis 19:1-2); Manoah (Judges 13:2-14); Gideon (Judges 4:11-20).
Hebrews 13:3. Also in the body.—And therefore liable to similar treatment. “Remember those who are injuriously treated, as it becomes those who are themselves still in the body.” “Lucian’s tract dwells on the effusive kindness of Christians to their brethren who were imprisoned as confessors.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 13:1-6
The Spiritual Man’s Earthly Sphere.—Christianity is a spiritual life that can live and thrive in earthly scenes and relations. Two things concerning it need to be constantly presented. It is a spiritual religion. It is a religion of everyday, commonplace, human life. And on each of these sides Christianity is placed in some peril when frail human nature has to deal with it. Overpress that Christianity is the religion of common life, and men will exaggerate the place and importance of good works. Overpress that Christianity is a spiritual religion, and men will soon take up with the idea that evil lies in matter itself, and then will try to separate themselves from every-day interests, responsibilities, and duties, and think that spiritual religion is best represented by hermits, monks, and nuns. This mistake is in no sense supported by the Scriptures. Our Divine Lord is precisely the example of a spiritual man who brought His spiritual life into relation with every-day, earthly scenes. And the first Christian teachers insist, most emphatically, that faith must be shown in the life, and they who believe must be careful to maintain good works. With great variety of treatment, with much persistency, this writer has argued that Christianity is a spiritual religion. He will not close his letter without making it quite clear that the spiritual is the practical. It is the sanctifying of the earth. It puts the tone into the commonplace. The best man of the world is the man of God. Of our Divine Lord it can be said, “The highest, holiest, manhood Thou.” And after Him, and in the human measures, that should be true of all who bear His name. The plea of the writer in the closing verses of the previous chapter is this—Because we are spiritual members of a spiritual kingdom, therefore let us seek grace whereby, in meeting our human obligations, and fitting to our earthly places, we may serve God acceptably. And in this chapter he indicates some of the earthly spheres in which our spiritual life ought to find constant, free, and beautiful expression.
I. The spiritual man’s brotherly love.—The new life which we have in Christ Jesus is essentially a sonship. The quickened soul, “born again,” finds itself born into a family life, with relations and duties to Father, and to brothers. And even the anxiety with which we try to meet our obligations to our Father must not lift us away from our holy concern for our brothers. “If we do not love our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen?” But the duty of brotherly love may be approached from a lower standpoint than this. It may, however, be more persuasive on us if we have not ourselves reached the higher spiritual levels. In times of persecution and temptation, such as the Jewish Christian Churches were passing through, there were constant calls to brotherly helpfulness. Some were deprived of their means of living, on account of their profession of faith in Christ. Brotherly love could help them over times of strain and stress. Some were weak in faith, and in grave peril of yielding to enticement and persuasion. Brotherly love could steady the feet that were sliding, and restore the fallen in the spirit of meekness. In family life the brothers are considerate and helpful one toward another. There is no jealousy. Each rejoices in the other’s success; each shadows the other when he is imperilled; and each lifts the other when he falls. And within the brotherhood of the spiritual there should be the mutual bearing of burdens, which is the sure sign of brotherly love. The chief peril of brotherly love in a Christian community is the sectarian spirit, the dogmatism, and masterfulness, of exclusive and sectarian opinion. Brotherly love needs an atmosphere of mutual trustfulness, freedom to think, and freedom to let one another think.
II. The spiritual man’s hospitality.—This is a virtue which takes various forms in adaptation to the social conditions of different ages and countries. Essentially it is cheerful willingness to give of our food and our shelter to those who may be journeying. Hospitality is temporary help, and help given in the form of a supply of passing bodily needs. It is seen in its simplest form in tribal life. The stranger is cheerfully entertained, and pays for all he receives by the news he brings or the pleasure of his conversation. So long as life is in its simpler forms hospitality to passers-by can be freely and safely given, as indeed it is in many parts of the world to-day. Civilisation changes the forms in which hospitality can be offered. Welcome of anybody and everybody to our homes becomes impossible; and there is danger of losing the spirit of hospitality, or of keeping it within such limitations as allow it to bear no impress of charity. The hospitality which had come to be only entertaining in order to be entertained our Lord severely condemned. The generous giving of our food and shelter to those who are temporarily brought within our range—as in times of convention, congress, etc.—is a distinctly Christian duty, an expression of the life of the “spiritual man.” The importance of the duty to the Jewish Christian Churches, in their times of persecution, will readily be understood. Men were often driven away from their town, and in wandering to find work would be placed in grave difficulties. They could not expect to receive hospitality from the bigoted Jews; among them these wandering Christians would only be scorned. Their hope of food and shelter lay only in the hospitality of those who, with them, named the Christ-name, those who shared with them the spiritual life. And some of these wanderers proved to be “angels unawares;” in their brief visits ministering such spiritual blessings that they who offered the hospitalities were more richly blessed than those who received them.
III. The spiritual man’s sympathy with the persecuted.—Whenever disabilities, afflictions, or persecutions come upon the Church, they directly affect certain individuals. They vicariously bear the burden for the whole Church, and therefore have special claim upon the sympathy of their fellow-members. What is said of the suffering “servant of the Lord” in Isaiah is continuously true—sublimely true of the Son of God, but in measures true of all the sons. We are too ready to say of the suffering ones, They are “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” We do not see or feel as we should that they are bearing our burdens, and that therefore we should keep ourselves close knit with them in brotherly sympathy. There were some in bonds for Christ: the others should feel bound with them. There were some evil entreated for Christ’s sake: the others should have a fellow-feeling, and realise how hard to bear bodily suffering may be. Persecution may be a thing of the past; the vicarious suffering of some for the many is not. And the few sufferers still claim the sympathy of the many.
IV. The spiritual man’s sanctifying of human relationships.—The most prominent of these, and the typical ones, are connected with the sexes, and consequently the Scriptures illustrate the general relationships of human life by them. But it must also be added that Christianity, as a spiritual religion, distinctly raises the tone of the marriage relation, dignifies womanhood, and makes the natural relations spiritual friendships. The wrong is best conquered by the inspiration of the right. Find the full spiritual satisfaction in marriage friendships, and moral temptations altogether lose their power upon us. There is nothing active in us to which they can appeal.
V. The spiritual man’s culture of the spirit of contentment.—The most enslaving thing to man is the love of money. It wakens a restlessness and a dissatisfaction with everything; it excites a pushing to get which is too often not only a pushing before others, but also a pushing aside of others. That love of money is altogether out of place in the spiritual man. This does not say a spiritual man may not find fitting spheres for his energy, his activity, his enterprise, his ambitions. It does say that the restlessness and undue worry should be kept down by a cherished spirit of contentment; a restful satisfaction in the assurance that God provides, and never leaves His people desolate; and when He does not permit worldly success to be attained, even by earnest and persistent endeavours, works some higher benediction through the discipline of disappointment. Take what sphere of the earthly life and relation we may, there is room for illustrating the tone and character which the spiritual man can put upon it all. “Let us seek grace, whereby we may offer service well pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God”—the God of the spiritual Christian—“is a consuming fire.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 13:1. Brotherly Love.—As the spokes of a carriage-wheel approach their centre they approach each other; so, also, when men are brought to Jesus Christ, the centre of life and hope, they are drawn towards each other in brotherly relationship, and stand side by side journeying to their heavenly home.—J. F. Serjeant.
Sonship involves Brotherhood.—The counsel of the writer was especially necessary, because times of peril and persecution tend to nourish self-interest, and to separate men from each other in order to secure themselves and their own. Brotherly love is the first result of Christian faith The sense of Sonship to God carries with it the sense of brotherhood with those who are also sons of God. Brotherly love is—
I. Based on a common birth.—This is true of the human brotherhood. Nothing can create the sentiment but the idea of a common parentage. A gentleman of Marseilles, named Remonsat, shortly before his death, desired that his numerous family might be assembled about his bed. He acknowledged the delight which his children had afforded him by their affection and attachment, and especially for the tender love which they bore to one another. “But,” continued he, “I have a secret to disclose, which will remove one of you from this circle. So long as I had any hopes of living I kept it from you, but I dare not violate your rights in the division of the property which I leave you. One of you is only an adopted child—the child of the nurse at whose breast my own child died. Shall I name that child?” “No, no,” said they with one accord, “let us all continue to be brothers and sisters.” They who are born of God, born from above, born of the Spirit, are brothers by virtue of their very birth—spiritual birth.
II. Sustained by a common fellowship.—If brotherly love is to continue, the family must keep together. If members are separated by distance, they must be kept in touch by letters and by gifts. Brotherly love in Christ’s Church is only maintained on the same condition. Those members always fail in this who are careless about keeping up constant relations.
III. Expressed in a common service.—It will always be found that the most loving members of a family are those who are most watchful of opportunities, and most ready to do kindnesses to the other members. And this is at least equally true of the brethren in the spiritual family of God.
Hebrews 13:2. On Behaviour towards Strangers.—A dislike of strangers is one of the earliest developed, most permanent, and most widely diffused passions of mankind. Thus arises the feeling of dislike between nations. The antipathies that are summed up in the one word race constitute the chief part of the history of mankind. The secret dislike of strangers clings to humanity even after civilisation has conquered its grosser antipathies. It appears even under its religious transformations. Let us set down a few of the arguments which might impel Christians of differing name to cultivate, and earnestly seek for, the company of “strangers.”
1. Communion with devout minds of ideas and habits foreign to our own is favourable to the vigorous development of all alike. The human race thrives on intermixture and intermarriage. Religious bodies which act on the non-intercourse principle soon lose their vigour, and sink from arrogant dogmatism into indifference.
2. Every Christian is a member of Christ, to whom all good men are assuredly dear, and we should strive to bring our sympathies into accord with those which burn in the bosom of the good Shepherd. To him unity—a real, social unity of heart and life—is the grand object of aspiration and prayer.
3. Every Christian has the prospect of being introduced sooner or later to every other Christian in existence, on the ground of the most intimate and eternal friendship—a friendship based on a common relation to redeeming Love. How vain, then, the shyness which shrinks in this world from intercourse with those who must be our companions for ever! It is the work of the Holy Spirit not only to reveal Christ to each of His members, but all the members of His body to each other.—Edward White.
Hebrews 13:3. Interest in Those under Disability.—The writer bases an argument, by which to urge the duty of Christian consideration and sympathy, on the fact that we are all sharers in a common experience. That experience, however, comes with special heaviness on certain individuals, who should therefore be treated as burden-bearers for the rest.
Hebrews 13:4. Marriage.—Society is generally in a sound and peaceful state, and its individual members virtuous and happy, in proportion as the nature of marriage is understood, and its obligations respected. The first efforts of wisdom in ancient lawgivers and poets were to render sacred the rights and duties of wedlock. But in almost every age, and especially in more matured states of society, there have not been wanting persons to maintain, in one form or another, that passion ought rather to be destroyed than controlled; and that instead of aiming to ingraft refined and spiritual feelings on the animal instincts of our nature, these should be wholly eradicated. Marriage, to many of this class, has seemed but an unworthy compromise between the flesh and the Spirit. An equal contempt for marriage appears to exist in some who disgrace our age. Marriage is not below, but above, them; it is too pure, not too gross, for their taste. Proud of what they call liberty, they laugh at the restraints of marriage, while it can be avoided, and submit to it at length as to a catastrophe. With the discretion of a wise man, and the authority of an inspired man, the writer draws a firm line between the extremes of sensuality and spiritual asceticism; he denounces lust, but extols holy and wedded love. The sentiment of the text appears to be at variance with 1 Corinthians 7:0, but the sentiments, though different, are not contradictory. The advice given in Corinthians applied to circumstances of present distress, in which a man might wisely limit his obligations.
I. What things belonging to the marriage state render it honourable, and enable it, as we may say, to put honour on those who enter it.—
1. Its institution. The time when, the place where, the manner in which, the Being by whom, marriage was instituted, all increase the honour with which its institution invests it.
2. Its nature. It is a union of two, and only two, human beings; a union not only of hands but of hearts, of soul as well as body. There is in marriage, when its true nature is realised, a union of souls, whose affections intermingle until two spirits become one, and, by a mutual consciousness, understand each other’s thoughts and share each other’s feelings. It is this which meets the wants of our intellectual and moral natures. Marriage is a permanent union. We need not think that, although marriage terminates in death, the union which it involves must then also necessarily close for ever. We may cheerfully expect its renewal.
3. Its purposes.
(1) The development of mind, formation of character, promotion of happiness, in all who are married.
(2) The preservation and increase of the human species.
(3) The education of the young in successive generations.
(4) Its typical import also renders it honourable.
II. What must be the course of those who would enter on and pass through it, so as to do honour to the state.—
1. Every step towards it must be taken in the fear of God.
2. If we would do honour to marriage, it must be solemnised with decency, according to the form prescribed by the laws of our country.
3. When marriage has been thus entered on, its duties must be steadily and cheerfully discharged. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Love, displaying itself in cheerful submission on the part of the wife, in gentleness of authority on the part of the husband, in soft words, kind actions, and delicate attentions on the part of both; love which takes the love of Christ to the Church, and the Church to Christ for its pattern; and becomes respectively, in turn, the image of each.—Jonathan Glyde.
The Honourableness of Marriage.—Probably this is an exhortation. “Let marriage be held honourable in all respects.” Scripture never gives even the most incidental sanction to the exaltation of celibacy as a superior virtue, or to the disparagement of marriage as an inferior state. Celibacy and marriage stand on an exactly equal level of honour according as God has called us to the one or to the other state. The mediæval glorification of monachism sprang partly from a religion of exaggerated gloom and terror, and partly from a complete misunderstanding of the sense applied by Jewish writers to the word “virgins.”—Farrar.
Hebrews 13:5. The Lawful and Unlawful Love of Money.—A strict adherence to the original gives us a very simple and beautiful form of this precept. “Let the turn τρόπος be unsilver-loving, and be contented with what comes to hand, for He Himself has said, I will never leave thee; no, never, no never forsake thee.” There are some of the commands of the New Testament which, taken without the salt of wisdom, seem to be poisonous, and to strike not merely at the welfare but at the existence of society. Such are the precepts against the love of money. Everybody loves money. Without it no man can live. It is a natural and necessary instinct which makes us love possession. The love of getting is the basis of the love of giving. But the “love of money” in Scripture means love in a bad sense, in the sense of covetousness. It may become greed and avarice.
1. Do not seek after money in this world as if it were God, the chief good.
2. Do not fix upon any amount of property which you must obtain, or else set yourself down as in a state of destitution.
3. Steadily adhere to God’s laws in the gaining, and in the expenditure, of property. In nothing is character more shown than in money matters. A man who is right here is usually right everywhere; a man who fails in money matters is probably corrupt to the core. We have just as much of the love of God as we have of the desire to submit to His rule in our personal affairs; and this is a test which will exclude multitudes from heaven. They banish God from their expenditure.—Edward White.
God with Us all the Days.—We can be sure of this, that God will be with us in all the days that lie before us. What may be round the next headland we know not; but this we know, that the same sunshine will make a broadening path across the waters right to where we rock on the unknown sea, and the same unmoving nightly star will burn for our guidance. So we may let the waves and currents roll as they list; or rather, as He lists, and be little concerned about the incidents or the companions of our voyage, since He is with us.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
No Leaving, No Forsaking.—This is God’s own word of promise to his people. In giving it He has, as it were, sworn by Himself, because He could swear by no greater, pledging Himself to His faithfulness.
This promise is—
Emphatic.—“He hath said.”
Ancient—“He hath said.”
Divine—“He hath said.”
Personal—Not “us,” nor “them,” but “thee.”
Comprehensive—“Never leave, never forsake.”
Has been tested.
We have then—
1. The promise of Divine presence. He will ever be with us as the Witness of our lives—the Comforter of our hearts—our sovereign Lord.
2. Divine assistance for every time of need.—A. Griffin.
Hebrews 13:5-6. What is Characteristically Christian.—It was usual for the Christian teachers to close their epistles with direct practical applications. Here doing so is especially appropriate, because it was necessary to show that morals and piety were substantially the same in both dispensations. We may, however, properly expect these things to be more refined in the new. Absolute trust in Jehovah was the attitude of the older Jews; and this was met by the bestowment of material and temporal rewards. In trying to lift them into the spiritual region, it might seem to the Jewish Christians that their teacher was unduly negligent of the material and temporal. Practical Christian obligations and duties had to be dealt with by our Divine Lord—as in the “Sermon on the Mount”; and by His apostles—as in the close of their epistles. In this chapter the following practical things are dealt with. The duty of each Christian to his brother-Christian. The practice of hospitality. The expression of personal sympathy. The gaining of personal purity. Then there is summed up in the text the characteristic Christian tone. Three things are characteristically Christian.
I. A manner of life that is characteristically Christian.—Recall the New Testament use of the word “conversation.” Our Christian “turning about” in all the thousand-fold relations of life is to be “without covetousness”—that is, without a trace of grasping or getting for self. Covetousness was the great Jewish sin. This Christ corrects, by becoming the supreme aim of the soul. When the end of conversation is Jesus Christ, it cannot be getting for self. For us covetousness is self-centredness; and the remedy is Christ-centredness. To be “without covetousness” is quite consistent with enterprise and ambition in life. We may win the noblest things if we mean to win in a Christly way, and hold for Christ’s honour.
II. A cherished spirit that is characteristically Christian.—“Be content.” Advice easily misunderstood. Contentment is very difficult to a master or a father, but not at all difficult for a servant or a son; and these represent the Christian relations. Contentment is not indifference, or listlessness, though the confusion between these very differing things is often made.
1. Contentment means cheerfully accepting our place and duty, whatever it may involve.
2. Contentment involves fully doing the duty, when it is placed before us.
3. Contentment is consistent with prayer for change. True prayer is contentment.
III. A restful assurance that is characteristically Christian.—“The Lord is my Helper.”
1. We need covet nothing, since He gives all good.
2. We need be anxious about nothing, since He provides.
3. We need never be discontented, since what He gives must be best.
We know then three things that are characteristically Christian:
1. Making Christ our life-aim.
2. Accepting what He provides.
3. Resting our hearts in the sense of His presence with us.
Never Forsaken.—No need to name the Speaker—that majestic “He.” Two speakers and their two sayings.
I. God’s speech from heaven to earth.—“I will never leave thee.” These words nowhere occur literally. In Old Testament.
1. Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:15). The lonely pilgrim, with dim, dark future before him; we all face it sometimes. God speaks; the ladder descends, and bright in the blue star-depths the angels; “surely God is in this place.” One man, with that Companion, always in the majority.
2. Moses’ dying words to Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:7-8). God ratifies it to Joshua afterwards (Joshua 1:5). The promise to a warrior on the eve of sore battle. “Count the cost, reckon the enemy’s strength, but count not your resources and forget Me.” Brennus’ sword in the Capitol; Christ’s sword flung in for us.
3. David’s dying words to Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:20). Blessed are the parents who can so pass the covenant promise to their children. Pilgrim, warrior, builder—these sum up all our needs and all the promises. Its highest beauty in Christ’s word (Matthew 28:20).
II. Man’s answer from earth to heaven.—“The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear” (Psalms 118:0). The Revised Version says, “So that we do.” (not may) “boldly say.” We say we believe the promises: do we answer with perfect confidence—That promise I take for mine (Galatians 2:20), “He is my Helper, so I shall not fear?” No use to say to a man, “Do not be afraid.” World too strong for any man in it; life and death have tremendous powers to make cowards of the bravest. We would not be wise, if we were not, except on one condition: “Believe, and fear not.” You can resolve, “I will trust”; then surely comes the triumph and the shelter of the Divine companionship.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The Joy of Memory.—The past struggles are joyful in memory, as the mountain-ranges—which were all black rock and white snow while we toiled up their inhospitable steeps—lie purple in the mellowing distance, and burn like fire as the sunset strikes their peaks.—Ibid.
Contentment based on Security.—The Revised Version makes important changes in these verses. “Be ye free from the love of money; content with such things as ye have: for Himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I any wise forsake thee. So that with good courage we may say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear: what shall man do unto me?” The one thing that makes restlessness and anxiety in life is uncertainty. When we are quite sure about anything, we either quietly submit, or we brace ourselves up to deal with it, for its mitigation or its removal. If everything is uncertain, contentment is impossible. If there is anything absolutely certain and wholly reliable—whether it be so to our faith, or whether it be so in what we call “actual fact”—upon it contentment can be based. The writer of this epistle reminds his readers that, for them, there is something absolutely certain: there is the unqualified Divine assurance—the word of the ever-living God—“I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee.” In that unquestionable fact there was full ground on which to build a life of sweet content. What we have is secure to us, for He has given it. What we have not we are better without, for He has not thought fit to give it. What we wish for we may fully submit to His consideration who is always with us, and is our Helper to everything that is really good. The writer is evidently dealing with that kind of restlessness men feel when they want some more money, It is so easy to be caught and carried away by the love of money; so easy to think that every difficulty and anxiety of life would be mastered if only we had more money; and then it is so easy to fret and worry, and lose all contentment of heart, because of the limitations under which we are placed. The passage therefore has very pointed application to many of us in these days. We shall find our own applications of the counsels of this writer, if we consider—I. The spirit of Christian contentment; II. Something which makes Christian contentment impossible; and III. Something which provides a secure foundation for it.
I. The spirit of Christian contentment.—The apostle Paul tells us, that “godliness with contentment is great gain”; and it must be borne in mind that we are dealing, not with a common-place virtue, which can be urged on purely moral grounds, and grounds of expediency, but with that virtue as it is purified, ennobled, and inspired by Christian principle and the Christian spirit. We deal with that contentment which has “godliness” at the heart of it. The counsel of the text is precisely addressed to Christian disciples, and to them as, by their Christian faith, put into limitations, and even brought under persecutions and sufferings. It is assumed that their anxious conditions are out of their own control; and it is altogether unbecoming for the Christian to fret at what cannot be helped. He ought to have power—through his life in Christ—to bring his mind to his circumstances; to cheerfully accept his lot; to make the best of it, and to do the best with it; to “endure, as seeing Him who is invisible.” It is not an easy thing to speak wisely about “contentment,” because it seems to oppose the restlessness of ambition, which is the inspiration of endeavour, and the secret of all progress. Man is a restless, discontented being, by virtue of his very endowment as a moral being. He is always wanting what he has not, always reaching out his hand for something, always pushing into some dark place. And if he had not been thus, he could never have “replenished the earth and subdued it,” never have developed his civilisation, and never have looked on this life as the training-school of the eternal life. It may even be said, that man’s discontent is essential to his highest good, and that the individual and the nation are ruined when they become contented. A simple illustration will suffice to show this. The first inhabitants of the world massed themselves in the plains of Asia; and if they had been content there, the whole earth would never have been peopled and won. God filled them with restlessness and discontent, and they pushed out this way and that, streamed forth over hills and plains and rivers, and so the whole earth was won. Contentment is not the highest virtue for man, and it is not even for the Christian man. It may be the right thing at a particular time, and under particular circumstances, but we must be careful not to talk about it in an exaggerated way. Discontent may quite as truly honour God as content; but, given the condition of these Jewish Christians, and it may properly be urged that, for them, contentment was the duty of the hour. In pressing upon attention the claims of any one virtue, we are apt to forget that it must be developed in harmony with the development of other virtues. Christian enterprise, Christian hope, Christian ambition, must grow harmoniously with Christian contentment. A man who wants nothing is a poor, weak specimen of humanity, one who brings no honour to Christ. It is the man who wants desperately, and yet brings his want into obedience to Christ, and cheerfully accepts His will, who has the true contentment, and who honours Christ. In the “perfect man” in Christ there is this virtue of contentment; but it is proportionate with other virtues, and it is harmonious with a noble restlessness of discontent, which keeps the man “pressing toward the mark for the prize.” And it may further be shown, that contentment can never be the same thing in every man, because it must always be relative to disposition, and our response to different circumstances. There really is not much credit in some persons being contented. The truth is, that they have everything which heart can wish for; or else the truth is, that they have not spirit enough to be discontented. Some are naturally of a contented disposition, and there is no more credit in their being contented than in their being bodily sound. The only contentment worth having is that which is won in the sore conflict of life against natural disposition and hindering circumstance. Think of the “Mark Tapley” of fiction, who considered it was no “credit to be jolly,” unless circumstances were overwhelmingly distressing. A great many people are simply contented because they have no reason in the world to be anything else; and there is no Christian principle, no Christian triumph, in that. Contentment is put in the text in relation to “covetousness.” It is the opposite of a wrong state of mind and heart. It is not opposed to the getting of money, which may be perfectly legitimate, and indeed, for us, the duty of the hour. It is opposed to the fretfulness which always comes with the love of money, the passion for money, the craving merely to possess. That is wrong, bad, from every point of view, ethical, religious, and Christian. That love of money for its own sake is the root of all evil. “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” What we need to see is, that Christian contentment is a soul-mood, which properly belongs to the new life in Christ, and that necessarily attends upon that daily trust, dependence, and obedience which the Christian is ever seeking to nourish into strength. The life of faith on the Son of God is necessarily a life of soul-content that is quite consistent with active service. As a soul-mood it enables us rightly to appraise what we have; helps us to submit when we cannot have what we would; and above all permits of our recognising Divine, wise love in the provision that is made for us, which our relations with God in Christ assure us are arranged in precise and particular adaptation to us. The right spirit is seen in a striking example, taken from the life of our Divine Master. In the hour of His arrest there was the soul-mood of content with what was so evidently the will of God concerning Him just then, that He could rebuke hasty Peter, saying, “Thinkest thou that I could not even now pray to the Father, and He would immediately send Me more than twelve legions of angels?” Contentment is close kin with submission. To the open, trusting soul God’s will is revealed, and then the fitting response is a quiet acceptance of what must be, and a cheerful falling back to enjoy what we have. Lest any of you should be discouraged, because in you are high hopes and ambitions, and you feel that it is hard to be told to let all go, and rest content with your poor, limited present, let me remind you that, like unselfishness, contentment begins with a “day of small things.” It is but a germ in the character and life of the young, who very properly aim at high things, and mean to attain them. But the germ grows as life unfolds, and strain-times and cares and limitations nourish it. It comes to be the secret of peace—and of true power also—in the cultured Christian’s life.
II. There is something that can make Christian contentment impossible.—“Be ye free from the love of money.” Can we see the immediate application of these words? They were addressed to Jews; and grasping for money, scheming to get money, has been the Jewish characteristic through the long ages. It is the Rebekah-taint in the blood of the Abrahamic race. The Jews addressed in this epistle were trade-folk, busy getting money in the various towns where they dwelt. But becoming Christian proved a serious and often unexpected hindrance to their money-getting. It acted in two ways. Men cut off their dealings with them because of their faith in Christ. And they found that the Christ-conscience would not let them do the tricky things which they had done. So their incomes were failing, and they were tempted to apostatise, and fall back upon the old condition, which gave them free scope for their money-getting. The writer of the epistle appeals to them to master this money-loving, covetous spirit; to cheerfully accept their disabilities for Christ’s name sake; to see what gracious provisions their Divine Lord was making for all their real need; and to be content with such things as they had. It was a time of temporary limitations, such as does come in the histories of families, and towns, and Churches. Such times come and pass, and we are called to be heroic while they pass over us. Do not fret about being unable to get money; be thankful for what you have got. Remember He is yours, and with you, who could say, “The silver and the gold are Mine.” “Be content with such things as ye have: for Himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee.” Think how the cherished love of money may, in a time of strain, badly influence us, spoil our Christian spirit. It may put us on schemes; and schemes so inspired are sure to be grasping, inconsiderate schemes, that mean the ensuring of our success at the cost of our yet more suffering fellows—schemes with the strong self-seeking taint in them. The poor motive, the covetous feeling, will master good motives, and close our hearts to all sweet charities and generosities. And even more spiritually serious is the way in which the love of money nourishes soul-trust in money, and that effectually puts God out of our thoughts, and makes all beautiful, satisfying, happy reliance on Him well-nigh impossible. Indeed, when our thoughts are so fully occupied with this getting of money, and we find ourselves put into limitations here, and limitations there, it is not easy to keep ourselves from complaining of God, as if, in some sort of wilfulness and forgetfulness of due consideration, He were dealing with us. Nothing He does seems to us to be right, for the love of money always spoils spiritual vision. Swell money-loving out into the spirit of the miser, and then ask, What sort of a God is the miser’s God? Can he see God aright? Can he know Him as He is? Would you care to be known as the servants of the miser’s God? Then let us beware lest any circumstances of life, or any negligences of our soul-culture, allow that love of money, that anxiety about money, to begin its fatal work in our souls” “Mammon” soon gets to be our god; and “ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
III. Something that makes contentment quite possible.—Here again it must be kept in mind that the writer addresses Christians, and endeavours to meet their particular case and condition. It is assumed that there is in them a due sense of God, and of the importance of having God in gracious relations. Those in whose hearts and lives God is enthroned alone will appreciate His promise, “I will in no wise fail thee.” Such a man has gained a right idea of his several possessions, and can put them in the right order of their value. What does he possess? God. That stands first. Then come, ranged in order, wealth, learning, family, and other self-things. The Christian possesses God, and in Him possesses all things. And our text does but help him to feel what all-satisfying possessions he has in having God. The Christian having God, God dominates him, makes his ends, as well as provides for his needs. He is no longer his own, and so no longer worries to secure the attainment of his own ends. But money-getting is a man’s own end. It is never God’s end for any man. It may be God’s means of disciplining a man, or of giving him the material for some useful service; but it is well to have it clearly stated, that getting money never was, and never will be, the end which God sets before any man. God with us becomes the all-sufficient basis of the true Christian contentment. This is plain enough if we see what it involves. “I will in no wise fail thee.” Can He fulfil so unqualified a word of promise? May we fill out that “in no wise,” to the very uttermost of our ever-changing circumstances and needs? Is God so present that He has the actual control of our life? Is it true that not even a farthing sparrow falls to the ground without our Father? Is power adapted to us there? and wisdom, precise to meet our need, there? Is love, working in all ways of gentleness, there? And may we be sure that everywhere in our life God is; always working; never failing; never failing to carry out His purpose, and secure our highest good? “I will in no wise forsake thee.” That is, I will not be absent at any time when I may be pressingly needed. The help is always efficient, and the help is always at command. On what safer basis could Christian contentment rest? But it is Divine help making its appeal to faith, not to sense or sight. It is the contentment of a living faith.
A Song of Contentment.—John Bunyan pictures his pilgrim in a time of sore strain comforted by hearing a little lad singing a song of peaceful, submissive content: “He that is down need fear no fall,” etc. It is such a song for the soul which our text provides—a song that can be crooned over day and night, sung over and over again when the stress of life is great. Peace, quietness, content—soul-content, may keep up this music, and get it echoed back from the experience of the saints of all the ages—“The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” Here is one echo that comes from a long-by past: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Here is another echo from times somewhat nearer to our own: “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the sure ground of Christian contentment: “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 13:8.—Read “Jesus Christ is the same.” “The unchangeableness of Christ is a reason for not being swept about by winds of strange teaching. But a suggestion has been made that “Jesus Christ” is spoken of as the “end of the conversation” of those whose faith we are to follow. The order of the Greek is “yesterday and to-day the same, and to the ages.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 13:7-8
The Example of Christian Leaders.—There is evident reference here to some well-known persons—well-known then, but wholly unknown to us—who had, in a remarkable way, borne their testimony to Christ, and endured a great fight of afflictions for His name’s sake. It would perhaps be helpful to us if we did know something of them, but the story of Stephen will help us; the missionary life of St. Paul will help us; the martyrology of the early Church will help us. We need not unduly force meaning into the expression, “them that had the rule over you.” Order in Christian communities is secured as order is secured in other communities—by the appointment of officers, and the voluntary submission to authority voluntarily entrusted to individuals. St. Paul says, “Not that we have dominion over your faith.” The dominion was entirely in the range of outward order. The writer refers to some elder, or bishop, or apostle, or teacher—perhaps to more than one—who had gained the love and confidence of the Jewish Churches, and had recently been taken from them, probably to gain the martyr’s crown. He makes but a passing allusion to the obedience which such leaders may claim; he fixes attention on the character—the spiritual character which they had borne; upon their faith, and upon the inspiration which Jesus Christ was to them. The “issue of their life,” their supreme aim, had been the glory of Jesus Christ; yes, of Jesus Christ, who is worth glorying in, and whom we also should be glorying in, and glorifying, seeing that He is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” The subject suggested is the regard in which we should hold the Christian teachers, who, having nobly served us, have passed to their reward. The A.V. has, “whose faith follow.” The R.V. has, “imitate their faith.”
I. We should regard our teachers for their work’s sake.—This may be difficult while the work is being done. It is not often that a man’s work can be fairly estimated until all personal elements are withdrawn, and it can be calmly and dispassionately judged, fitted into its surroundings, and seen in its adaptations. But just such estimates we ought to form in order to the correction and improvement of our own service to Christ and our generation. What others have done is guidance and suggestion for us; it need not be the crushing of our individuality; it should be a direction of our individuality. The
(1) method, and
(2) sphere, of their work may be imitable;
(3) the spirit of their work certainly is. In what an earnest worker has done, and the way in which he has done it, “he, being dead, yet speaketh.”
II. We should regard our teachers for their life’s sake.—“Imitate their faith.” It was the motive-power of their lives, and it ennobled those lives. We say that what Christ was—“holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners”—was even more important to His redemptive work than what He formally did. And the same is true of our Christian leaders. What they were, in gracious character, in spiritual power, in holy life, does more for us than any things they actually accomplished. If we endeavour to realise who the persons are that have most influenced us, we shall soon find that the list is composed almost entirely of saintly charactered men and women. We are reminded that we too are gaining our best power on our fellows, not by what we do, but by what we are in the spirit of the doing.
III. We should regard our teachers for their aim’s sake.—“Considering the issue of their life”—“the end of their conversation; Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” You can never read a Christian teacher or leader’s work aright, save as you estimate the measure in which Christ was the inspiration of it. Did Christ lead to noble endeavour? Did Christ guide to wise methods? Did Christ help to endure? Did Christ touch all doing and all relation with heavenly, Divine charity? Was it that one aim—the honour of Christ—that ennobled their lives? Then we know what can also ennoble ours.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 13:7. Christian Fasts and Festivals.—The Church contemplates the observance of a number of special days, not Sundays. The weekly festival does indeed stand out from among all the others as the most important and most imperative upon the Church. It is the Divine institution of the Mosaic law carried into Christianity, and changed from the seventh day of the week to the first by apostolic usage. But it does not follow that our meeting together to worship God should be confined and limited to this weekly festival. Taking our stand on the recognised principle of commemorating the Resurrection, and therein the blessings and the glories of the gospel promises, does it not seem, at the first glance, reasonable, that if we can, with due judgment, light upon any other great leading events connected with the life of our Redeemer, or with those holy men whom He associated with Himself, and with each other, to be the pillars upon which His Church was to rest, we should appoint subsidiary days for their commemoration also? The Church has appointed thirty-six especial days throughout the year. Three sorts of days are mentioned by the Church as holy days.
1. Those which relate to some leading events connected with the life of our blessed Lord Himself.
2. The commemoration of the apostles and other saints of the Church. 3. The days of fasting and humiliation. Doddridge paraphrases the text thus: “Remember those dear and venerable persons who, having formerly presided over you in holy things, have spoken unto you the word of God, whose course is now finished. Though all your intercourse with them is for the present cut off, do not, however, forget their instructions and their examples, but be mindful of that faith which they taught and exercised, and let it be your great care to imitate them, considering the end of their conversation: reflect on the happy manner in which they quitted life, on that support which they found in their latest moments, from the truths which they had taught you, and on that heroic resolution with which some of them were animated to meet even martyrdom itself in that sacred cause; and let the remembrance of these things engage you steadfastly to retain their faith, and courageously to follow their steps.” This is just the spirit of the apostle’s meaning. He refers more particularly to his predecessors, James the apostle, and probably James the bishop of Jerusalem, both of whom had suffered martyrdom shortly before; and he exhorts them, and through them the Christian community for ever, to be mindful of those benefactors under God, who had laboured in the teaching of the word, and had sealed their labours with their blood. He bids them, though their intercourse in the flesh had been cut off, still to remember their instruction and example in “the communion of saints.” Old divines are not backward in their opinions on this duty of the Church. Jeremy Taylor says: “The memories of the saints are precious to God, and therefore they ought also to be to us; and such persons who serve God by holy living, industrious preaching, and religious dying, ought to have their names preserved in honour, and God be glorified in them, and their holy lives and doctrines published and imitated; and we by so doing give testimony to the article of the communion of saints.” The learned Hooker says: “Touching those festival days, which we now observe, their number being noway felt discommodious to the commonwealth, and their grounds such as hitherto have been showed, what remaineth but to keep them throughout all generations holy, severed by manifest notes of difference from other times, and adorned with that which most may betoken true, virtuous, and celestial joy?” “They are the splendour and outward dignity of our religion, forcible witnesses of ancient truth, provocations to the exercises of all piety, shadows of our endless felicity in heaven, on earth everlasting records and memorials, wherein they which cannot be drawn to hearken unto that we teach, may only by looking on that we do, in a manner read whatsoever we believe.”—William J. E. Bennett, M.A.
Preachers and Hearers.—Here are given three tests of a spiritual leader:
1. He speaks God’s message;
2. He lives for heaven;
3. He has faith in a personal Saviour. And there are three duties of the hearer:
1. To remember the messenger for his message’s sake;
2. To observe the testimony of his holy life; and—
3. To imitate his personal faith. God’s heaven-sent leaders deliver a heaven-given message. It is according to the written word (Isaiah 8:20; Jeremiah 23:28). Again, they speak the language of positive conviction, not negations, but affirmations (2 Corinthians 1:17-20); and, again, they are attended by spiritual power (1 Corinthians 2:1-4). The word is God’s, the conviction of a believer is behind it, and the Spirit’s demonstration attends it. Moreover, it is with solemn earnestness, not frivolity (see Jeremiah 23:32). The declaration of the message is experimental, for it is backed by a personal faith in a personal Saviour. No unconverted man is fit to preach or teach the gospel. The master of Israel must know these things heart-wise. The centre of his message is Christ, and He must be the centre of his heart’s faith and love and hope. If the truth is the ball, and the mouth the cannon, the explosive force behind the ball is the heart’s passion for Jesus. Such faith will be further confirmed and exhibited in a life which is under the power of eternal realities and whose end is Christ, heaven, and the glory of God. The thought is progressive. God’s leader speaks the word for God; convinced of its truth, he is led by it to a personal Saviour whom that word enshrines, and that faith remoulds and remodels his life.—Anon.
Considering their End.—“Attentively considering the end of their manner of life, imitate their faith.” That is, calling to mind the peaceful and happy, possibly even the triumphant, death of those religious teachers among you, who gave you instruction respecting the word of life, imitate their faith, persevere in your Christian profession, as they did, to the very end of life. There may be a glance at the martyr-death of St. Stephen.
The Duty of imitating Departed Worth.
I. The exhortation itself.—“Whose faith follow.”
1. Holding fast as they had done, to the end of life, the word of the Divine testimony.
2. Cleaving with the same steadfastness of faith to the Divine promises.
3. Imitating their faith in all its practical effects.
II. The motive by which compliance with it is recommended.—“Considering the end of their conversation.”
1. Contemplating their state in dying.
2. Considering their death as the final close of their earthly service.
3. Looking on their departure from this life as the commencement of a better.—R. Wardlaw, D.D.
Hebrews 13:8. The Unchanging Christ.—The writer of this epistle has been speaking of change. The old covenant was no more. The “many priests” had not continued by reason of death. The eleventh chapter is the record of the multitudes who had gone without seeing that for which they waited. This perpetual change was continuing itself in the Church. The Jewish Christians had seen their leaders taken away It is as with a sigh of weariness that the writer closes his admonition to remember these, to call to mind their fidelity in death. Then the ejaculation is uttered by him, broken and fragmentary, but the breathing of a name: “Jesus Christ yesterday and to-day the same, and for ever.” All is not changeful; He abides. The teachers go; Jesus Christ remains. You have other leaders, we have other fellow-labourers; but not another Lord. So He rests, so they may rest; Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.
1. A change in our own lives makes all things seem unstable. Change, ceaseless, wearisome change, seems to be written on everything. When this is specially brought home to us, we feel the comfort of this text.
2. There comes on men sometimes a terrible fear of change. Those who know how terrible the changes of life can be are startled by little things, e.g. the unknown handwriting on a letter. There is no cure for such a terror of changes, there is no security, no hope, for man, save in Him who is unchanging. The longing for rest, the desire for what is stable and unchanging—this is our deepest want; it grows and strengthens in us as we grow older, wiser, better men. Is life to be all weary and changing? Till we enter on our final rest, is there no continuance? The text speaks of One who is even now unchanging. All is not fleeting; Christ is the same. Before we go to Him, He has come to us, and with us He remains, the longed-for changeless One. The words of the text are intended to give us just this assurance. The secret of our confidence in a changing world is the unchangeable Christ. Let time bring with it what it may, we are assured of His fidelity. “Yesterday” we found Him precious; He is the same “to-day,” solacing our newest grief. “Yesterday” we heard His voice; His name was on the lips of those who spoke to us the word of God. The teachers are gone, or we have outgrown them. But He is still the same; the Truth is with us. The deep reality of life abides the same. The words “for ever” fall strangely on our ears; the solemn future is unknown and unimaginable. We often fall back baffled in our endeavours to grasp the mystery of the world to come. But again the thought of the immutable One bears us up out of the confusion of changing things. There will be more familiarity than strangeness there, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” He will not be unknown; He will be recognised who quickened, guided, sustained us, who was the steadfastness and identity of our passing earthly life. To those Christians who would read the words translated “for ever” in their original form, “unto the ages,” they would have a further suggestion. They were accustomed to look on God’s purpose in the universe as unfolding itself in a series of æons or dispensations. In the world to come there may be further dispensations, each fulfilling a thought, and all illustrating the mighty being of God. Here are changes, grand, stupendous, unimaginable. But in the midst of all is seen one unchanging Christ. Let dispensation follow dispensation, and the æons of the æons still open up, and broaden out, and deepen on, and lengthen themselves, immeasurable, inconceivable; Jesus Christ is “the same unto the ages.” The text does not speak of a thing that is the same, or even of a truth conceived to be the same, but of a Person who is the same. It is in our personal relations that we feel the identity or the changes of life. It is a Person, abiding ever, unchanging ever. He who is most of all to us, the life of our soul, whose love awoke us to life’s true value, whose care gave us first to know how deep and real friendship may be. Amidst the flux of things, the flow of events, the heart rests on one unchanging Friend.—A. Mackennal, B.A., D.D.
Christ ever the Same.—It is difficult to trace the connection of this verse. It seems to be inserted abruptly. The expression in Hebrews 13:7, “the end of their conversation,” is suggestive of the persecutions and martyrdoms of God’s saints; and then we may regard the text as a comforting assurance of the all-sufficiency of the living Christ, and we may recall how the sight of Him strengthened Stephen, the first Christian martyr. This view is quite in harmony with the spirit and the general subject of this epistle. The text is not so much suggestive of the doctrine of the person of Christ, as comforting to those who were almost overborne by temptation and trial. What a present, personal God was to David, that the present, personal God, in Christ, was to the apostles. If the element of the “ever-living Christ” were subtracted from the gospel, we should have only a dead mass of doctrines which could but corrupt as all earthly things corrupt. The text involves three things, and puts Christ in two contrasts.
I. It involves the Deity of Christ.—For it is the assertion of His immutability, His unchangeableness. The Deity of Christ is the key-stone of the gospel-arch. We say “Deity” because the term “Divinity” is used by some to indicate subordination and inferiority. (Illustrate by Socrates’ daimon.) The proof of the Deity of Christ which comes from the more incidental references is found by the devout reader to be more satisfying and impressive than the proof from formal texts. This we cannot but feel as readers of the New Testament. The attributes which exclusively belong to Deity are applied to Him. Eternal: “I am the first and the last … am alive for evermore.” Omniscient: “And Jesus knowing their thoughts”; “He needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” Omnipotent: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” The meaning of the sublime name of God, the “I am,” is given to us in this text.
II. It involves the sufficiency of Christ’s work for us. Unchangeable involves sufficiency and completeness. If the work of Christ were imperfect, it would need the change of alteration and completion. But it is declared that “by one offering He hath perfected for ever them who are sanctified.” There never can be another way of salvation. You make Christ to be a changeable one if you indulge the hope that He will save in any other than the gospel-way.
III. It involves Christ’s living and saving relations with us.—As our “Prophet, Priest, and King.” The unchangeableness of Christ is our title-deed to all the preciousness that the saints of all ages have found in Christ. What He was to them yesterday, He is to us to-day, and He will be to our children to-morrow. Then what has Christ been to the early Church, to the persecuted, to the martyr, to the sufferer? Nay, what has He been to us, in the experience of our own past?
IV. The text puts Christ in contrast with our associations.—It sets over against each other the changing world and the unchanging Christ. Moore’s verse, “I never sought a wild gazelle,” etc., expresses the feeling of men in every human pursuit. The changeableness comes out of the presence of sin, the consciousness of sin, and the struggling for immortality. The hold on anything earthly must be a shifting and uncertain hold. They only hold firm, and find what they hold to be firm, who hold Christ.
V. The text puts Christ in even stronger contrast with ourselves.—If He is ever the same, certainly we are not, either in circumstance or in feeling. “Though we believe not, yet He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself.” Man can no more be satisfied with himself than with the world. The unchangeable One offers Himself as the ground of confidence to the changeable: “Let him stay upon his God.”
Conclusion.—Let meditation take form that may prepare hearts for partaking of the Holy Sacrament. Fill up thoughts with the preciousness of Christ. Try the claimants to our love by this test—Will they keep ever the same? Ours will. The same, ever the same, even through the last water-floods.
The Sameness of Jesus Christ through all Ages.—In every sense of the word Jesus was and is the same, both in the sense that His character was the same all through, and that it is unchanged and unchangeable. His aim was one; His character was always the same. The character of Jesus stands up unabashed under that inconceivably great trial of the question, Is it suitable to the idea of God manifest in the flesh? It is. There is no break where weakness appears—no pride, no vanity, no rashness, no violence, no sentimental weakness, no levity, no presumption, though “thinking it not robbery to be equal with God.” By an easy transition we rise from this sameness of Jesus to the sameness of His unchangeableness in glory. Other men change in the different periods of their life, and often within short spaces of time. But Jesus is the same everywhere and always. And this same Jesus was taken up from us into heaven unchanged and unchangeable. It is the same Jesus who is “within the veil.” And He is there, what He was below, the soul of comfort.—Edward White.
The Everlasting Name.—Ages are to roll by; nations are to die, and nations are to rise and to take their places; laws are to grow old, and from new germs laws are to unfold; old civilisations are to crumble, and new eras are to dawn with higher culture; but to the end of time it will be seen that this Figure stands high above every other in the history of man! “A name which is above every name” was given to Him—not for the sake of fame, but in a wholly different sense; a name of power; a name of moral influence; a name that shall teach men how to live, and what it is to be men in Christ Jesus.—H. Ward Beecher.
The Ground of our Confidence.—A sublime contrast with things, with others, and with ourselves. Two things man yearns for—unity and constancy. This unity is the inspiration of knowledge, which is trying to find the One. This constancy is the secret of man’s interest in the reign of law. Can man ever get unity save in God, or constancy save outside his own sphere? Text an illustration of the abrupt construction, the bursting in of an exclamation in the course of an argument, which is characteristic of St. Paul; or rather, of all composition rhetorically constructed. “Jesus is the same,” etc.; therefore you who are followers of these “witnesses” may have abundant consolation and strength, in the assurance of the living presence of Christ. He is the same
(1) in His work yesterday;
(2) in His grace today;
(3) in His glory for ever. The same essential purpose has moved Him, and moves Him ever. How this central truth comes to us:
1. Freshening the story of our fathers. See what Christ was to them.
2. Lifting the load of the present. See what Christ is, and can be, to us.
3. Filling us with peace in view of the future. See what that future must have in it. No loneliness for us anywhere in that mysterious future; for the Christ whom we love, and now have in dear fellowship, is ever the same.
Ever the Same.—Such a proclamation of the personality, uniqueness, eternity, immutability, of the great object of faith, appropriately follows the mention of “faith,” and precedes the exhortation to simplicity and stability of belief and profession.
I. The essential attributes of the Saviour’s person, as the eternal and unchangeable Son of God.
II. The Lord Jesus, as unalterably the same in the office He sustains as the only and all-sufficient Saviour of believers.
III. The Lord Jesus is ever the same in His kind and compassionate dispositions towards His people.
IV. The Lord Jesus is unchangeably the same in His adherence to the declarations and requirements of His word.
1. To anticipate the progressive advancement and final triumph of the Christian cause.
2. To rely on the fixed terms and settled arrangements of the gospel.
3. How great the encouragement which believers may draw from the grace of their Redeemer, amid all the trials and difficulties of the Christian course.
4. Whence come the strongest consolations and supports amid all the losses and vicissitudes of this mortal state.—Prof. Crawfurd.
The Unchanging Friend.—Two views have been taken of this passage. In our English Version “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” is the end or aim of the conversation of those teachers and martyrs whose example of constancy and sacrifice is so earnestly commended. They toiled and suffered, inspired by the hope that thus they should honour Christ. Many, however, think that our text is better treated as a separate sentence—the words “end of their conversation” completing the writer’s reference to the martyrs, and poetically indicating the heroic deaths by which they sealed their faith. Then our text is seen to be an instance of abruptness, of thrusting in a sudden thought which comes to him, which we know was characteristic of the apostle Paul, and which is freely illustrated in the writings admitted as written by him. We will take the verse as standing alone, and specially suitable as a motto. It is the utterance of a thought flashing suddenly through the writer’s mind, and breaking in on the subject with which he is dealing. Turning for a moment from the example of the teachers whose faith we are to follow, this writer reminds us that Jesus Christ is all to us that He has ever been to others, nor need we fear the future, for He will be to us all that we have ever found He is. In this way the sentence stands fully out before us, distinct and clear, as a motto on which to base the sacramental meditations for a new year. Jesus Christ is ever the same; therefore all you who are followers of the holy witnesses may have their consolation. No one has any need to envy the apostles their fellowship with a Redeemer in the flesh, since to him that Redeemer both is and will be all that He ever was. He ever liveth. His offices as Prophet, Priest, and King are continuous, reaching right up to the for ever of our necessity. I am very often speaking to you on the subject which is, of all others, of intensest interest to me, about which I am always wanting to learn something more, and which I want to see from every possible point of view—the veritable humanity of our Lord, the mystery of the “Man Christ Jesus.” This much we can plainly see—that taking upon Himself our nature makes the Divine redemption to be a moral force on moral beings. It operates in sublimer degrees, but in the same ways as those in which men influence their fellow-men. Jesus Christ became a man that He might exert a man’s power on men. That is one side of truth; but we must see the other side. The full redemption—including both the justification and the sanctification—of fallen, sinful, morally helpless man must be an immediate and continuous operation of Divine power. This is true—He who saves the moral being man must be man. But this also is true—He who saves the morally ruined moral being man must be God; and therefore the essential attributes of Deity are shown to belong to Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” That which this sentence asserts concerning Christ is the familiar Bible declaration concerning God. “His years have no end.” The very striking expression in the ninetieth Psalm comes at once to mind: “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” But this unchangeableness is an assertion which we dare not make concerning any things. “The fashion of this world is ever passing away.” “The moth or the rust” are corrupting everything; and the constant change of form and place has become so familiar to us that something of its exceeding painfulness has gone, and we only feel it oppressively when the changes take unusual or severer forms. The whirl of time brings ever-changing day and night, wintry bareness, spring buddings, summer fulness, and autumn droppings. Grand cities fall to ruins; abbey and cathedral and castle stand roofless, all covered over with the creeping ivy. Nations pass away. The mighty, gallant warships presently rot idly away in the harbours. All round the circle of life our thought goes, and it can find nothing of which it may say, “The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” “Dew, like liquid crystal, often bespangles the garment in which the young day presents himself rejoicing before us. But what so transient, so visionary, as the dew of the morning? It is the very type of instability. It greets us silently, with soft glances from its myriad of myriads of eyes. We hail it, admire it—we feel young in its presence; but it is gone, exhaled in an hour.” It is an assertion that we dare not make concerning other persons. Of all the unutterably painful things of human life, one stands out as supreme. It is the changeableness of the friends in whom we have trusted, thinking them to be true, and constant, and faithful. The psalmist finds words which many of us have wanted in the bitter hours of life: “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it … but it was thou, a man mine equal, my companion, and my familiar friend.” Who among us has failed to learn, in life’s stern hours, that it is hopeless work putting our trust in princes or in the sons of men? Who does not feel that he must lift his eyes away from his fellow-men, since of none of them can it ever be said they are the “same yesterday, to-day, and for ever”? We cannot even use such expressions concerning ourselves. We are not what we were yesterday. Probably not one particle of our body of to-day, from head to foot, inside or out, is the same as our body of twenty years ago. We do not think to-day as we thought twenty years ago. Our experiences are as changing as the varieties of the daily atmosphere in our most changeable climate. Sunny days of glowing pass to wintry days of chill. Spring breathings that waken life give place to wild winds that bruise the flowers and strip the branches, and to biting frosts that nip off the budding life, and drive the sap back again to the shelter of the roots. We may find the image of the world, of men, and of ourselves as we lie on the smiling river-bank and watch the ships go by. They are ever passing, passing, some to their “harbour under the hill,” some out to the ocean sailing. A line against the sky as we watch them coming. Beautiful with their “bellied sails” as we watch them go by. A line on the far horizon as they reach away out to the open west. On, on! the voice sounds day by day. Here is no rest, is no rest. “We’ve no abiding city here.” Nothing stays the same. For earthly things there is no enduring. And yet the writer of this epistle, fearless of contradiction, claims this unchangeableness for the Lord Jesus Christ. The text is almost the closing word of an epistle which has presented with unusual fulness and vigour the Divine claims of Christ, who is declared to be greater than man, higher than angels, “brightness [outshining] of the Father’s glory, and express image of His person.” Our text is really an efficient summary of the teaching of the epistle concerning our Lord. In no more vigorous language could he set our Lord forth as distinct from things, distinct from men, crowned with the attributes and bright with the glories that belong alone unto God. “Yesterday, to-day, and for ever” is a Hebrew form of expression; and the addition of “the same” to it makes it denote immortality, and proclaim the personality, uniqueness, eternity, Divinity, of the sole Object of our faith. The doctrine of the person of Christ is the prominent doctrine of our times. About it all the battle rages. Think for a moment how that doctrine gradually unfolded in the first century. At first Jesus was evidently a man, and apprehended by everybody as a man. He was the Nazareth carpenter’s son; and what Joseph and His mother knew about the mystery of His birth nobody else knew. He grew up at Nazareth a man among men. Not until He was thirty years of age was there any open ground for suspecting the deep mystery that surrounded Him. Even when He stood forth as a teacher most people could see only a man. Even when He did mighty works as a physician most people could only see an endowed man. All through His life the highest view the majority could take of Him was that He was a gifted prophet. If we realise the kind of thought which the people had of their anticipated Messiah, conceiving that He would prove a grander Judas Maccabæus, a second and more glorious soldier-hero for the nation, we shall feel that nothing more than a Divinely endowed man was expected by them. Moreover, the Jews were possessed with a profound passion for the conservation of one truth—the truth of the unity of God. They were not in the least likely to entertain the idea that Jesus was God. They would not believe that the Divine rights could be shared with any one. They were offended, and accused him of blasphemy, when our Lord claimed the Divine authority to pronounce forgiveness of sins. At the present day our Christian setting of the Trinity, and our claim of Deity for Christ, are the grave stumbling-blocks in the way of the conversion of the Jews, who denounce us Christians as worshippers of many gods (polytheists), on account of these doctrines. It does not appear that it was a part of our Lord’s mission to state in so many words what He claimed to be. It was His duty to live, and to be. The due impression of these would certainly be made. Privately and incidentally He did say who He was; but even in these instances He used ambiguous terms. He left our world, having started mighty wonderings and questionings in the minds of His disciples. They had a general impression of His life and relations which, at the time, they could not translate. They were prepared for the apprehension of the higher truth in the illumination of the Holy Ghost. The impression produced by Christ’s completed life, death and resurrection, and ascension may be put into a single word. All who had to do with Him felt that there was about Him a “beyondness,” an inexplicable something, a strange separateness. He was with them, but He was above them, beyond them, otherwise than they. It is a question whether any of those who knew Christ in the flesh ever put it to themselves while He lived—“Why, this is God.” The impression was on their hearts, but it had not gained shape or words. Olivet, Pentecost, and after Pentecost, were the revealers of the meaning which they had failed to find. Two men more particularly formulated this truth for the disciples. Just as the spirit, the truth, the principles of the Reformation, were in the deep heart of Germany long before Luther arose, and he only found for that Reformation a voice, so the unuttered feeling of the Deity of Christ was in the deep heart of the early Church, and the apostles Paul and John did but find for it a voice. The truth itself was the impression left by our Lord’s life: the shaping of the truth was given by the inspired genius of two apostles. Paul’s representation differs from John’s, because Paul had to deal with idolatry and superstition, the belief in inferior and attendant divinities, and it was necessary for him to assert the absolute uniqueness and sole authority over all things which Christ claimed. John had to deal with a specious philosophy, which said that Jesus the man received a Divine Spirit at His baptism, and this Spirit left Him a mere man again before His crucifixion. It was necessary therefore for him to defend the reality of the Incarnation. Evangelical Christianity then has one distinct foundation-truth on which it rests. And it is an everlasting rock. They are other truths which we hold to be essential to the faith. But the one characteristic foundation of evangelic Christianity is the proper Deity of the Lord Jesus, “God manifest in the flesh.” First recognised as Jewish Messiah, then declared to be the Son of God with power, by His resurrection from the dead; at last, the fullest and deepest in Him is discerned, and we ascribe the Divine attribute of unchangeableness to Him who “is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” It is a fact, but it should be much more; it should be an experience, something which we find out and feel for ourselves, something which we can only get by the study of the historical Christ, and the communion of the living Christ.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 13:10.—This and the following verses form a little episode of argument in the midst of moral exhortations. Reference is made to the feasts which followed sacrifices, in which parts of the animal sacrificed were eaten. “When the writer says, that ‘Christians have a sacrifice of which those who pay their service at the altar have no right to partake,’ he means, that the benefits procured by the atoning sacrifice of Christ do not belong, or will not be granted, to such as rest their hopes of salvation on the ritual sacrifices of the Jewish law, i.e. to such as continue to be disciples of Judaism, or turn back from Christianity to Judaism, and thus renounce the blessings procured for believers by the death of Christ” (Stuart).
Hebrews 13:11. Burned without the camp.—Leviticus 16:11; Leviticus 16:14-16; Leviticus 16:27. Notice that the writer’s figures are mostly taken from the times of the tabernacle, and of the wilderness life.
Hebrews 13:13. Without the camp.—A figure of speech, meaning, “Let us leave the camp, i.e. the dwellings of the Jews, or the profession of Judaism, and go over to the place where Christians dwell, although it be without the city.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 13:9-17
The Reproach of the Spiritual.—Though anxious about many things appertaining to life and godliness, the mind of the writer readily returns upon his one great anxiety. He cannot close his letter without one more earnest appeal on behalf of that spiritual dispensation which was entered on accepting Jesus as Messiah and Saviour. Recalling other old figures with which the Jewish Christians were familiar, he pleads again with them, not to be “carried away by strange doctrines”; not to be distressed because they were excommunicated and reproached; but to enter so fully into their spiritual privileges and duties, that, having their interest wholly engaged, they might cease to trouble over the loss of old relationships. This is the general idea of the passage, but it needs a more careful and detailed attention. It is a difficult passage if its language be treated apart from its connections, and from the purpose of the writer. The difficulties readily pass when we understand the anxiety of the writer, and the conditions of those who were directly addressed. It appears that the epistle was not sent to the Jewish Church in Jerusalem—that was under apostolic guidance—but to the Churches of Jewish Christians in other parts; away from Jerusalem, perhaps through persecutions, perhaps through business exigencies. Then, and through all the ages since then, the Jews had an intense, passionate love for their holy city, a love which we can but very imperfectly estimate. It was a great strain on patriotic and religious feeling to live away, so that access to Jerusalem for the feast-times was practically impossible. This feeling for the city was matched by the Jewish feeling for the Mosaic ceremonial, which was still, at least partly, represented by the Temple worship. They lived indeed in the past rather than the present; and this writer meets the cherished feeling of the more pious Jews by referring so entirely to the times of the tabernacle, when the ceremonials were observed strictly according to the Mosaic pattern. Jews, in becoming Christians, in no sense lost their patriotic love for Jerusalem, or for that old system of rites and sacrifices which had been the religion of their fathers, and their own religion until they had been called into the spiritual religion of the Son of God. We must understand their feelings in order to realise how they were affected by the persecutions under which they were brought, and how severely they felt the threatenings and enticements of their old Judaic friends. In naming the name of Christ they had been virtually, perhaps actually, put out of the synagogues, excommunicated, and no longer allowed to take part in sacrifice and feast. The Christian teachers never required them to break with their old Temple associations. Both our Lord Himself and His apostles, throughout their lives, preserved their Jewish relations, and observed their Mosaic customs. It was not the policy of early Christianity to break with Judaism. In good time, in the providence of God, the Jewish ceremonial would fall away; the system was decaying; almost all the life was already gone out of it; and soon the Romans would put the final stroke to it and bury it for ever. But the Jews—the intense, bigoted Jews—forced the separation, and compelled the Jewish Christians to take a definite attitude, and satisfy themselves, if they could, with the spiritual religion which they had chosen. Those Jewish Christians had to endure the enticements of friends, who would use all kinds of arguments to induce them to return back to the old formal religious system of their fathers. And, among other things, we may be quite sure they would sneer at the spirituality of the Christian religion, and say: “See, you have no tabernacle, no altar, no sacrifice, no feast, no day of atonement, no priest. You have nothing but a sentimental notion that Jesus of Nazareth is alive; and all that you and we really know is that He was crucified. How ridiculous such a vague and unsubstantial religion looks beside such a formal and stately system as Mosaism, which has the imprint of Divine authority, and the testimony of efficiency from saintly souls through the long ages!” The allurements and persuasions were seriously affecting the Christians, and filling the hearts of the Christian teachers with grave anxiety. This epistle throughout bears on this perilous condition of the Jewish Christian Churches. And the argument is this—the spiritual alone is the real. We do not want to spiritualise those old ceremonials. We want to bring to light the spiritual things that were in—pictured in—those old ceremonies. The time has come when men can have the spiritual realities, and may be willing to let the pictures fade away. Do not be unduly moved when they say that, because the religion of Christ is spiritual, it can have no tabernacle, no altar, no sacrifice, no priest. It has the spiritual reality of all these things that was at the heart of all the old formality. Christianity has a spiritual tabernacle, a spiritual sacrifice, a spiritual Priest. If you would enter fully into the spiritual, you would be wholly satisfied, you would find that you were lifted up to a higher plane, and could not possibly go back to the “weak and beggarly elements,” as St. Paul calls them. Danger always lies in half-heartedness. When professing Christians did not enter fully into the spiritual truth and spiritual privilege, they were exposed to the full force of temptations, which had no force at all on whole-hearted men and women. In the midst of a series of practical counsels concerning the Christian life and relationships, the writer is reminded again of the one great message he had been trying so variously to present to them. Ere he closes his letter he will state his point once again, and then end with some kindly greetings. His message all through has been, “Be not carried away by divers and strange teachings.” His plea all through is—Enter fully into the spiritual apprehension of that religion whose tabernacle is not made with hands, whose sacrifice is the surrender of an obedient will, and whose Priest is the risen, ascended, glorified Son of God.
I. The inefficiency of the merely material in religion.—Because forms and ceremonies are found useful, men easily get to say that they are essential. The truth is that, like fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters. The old Mosaic system had for a long time been a mere automaton, a machine that kept up a routine working. There was no ark, and no mercy-seat, and no Shekinah glory in the Holy Place. That is the difficulty of all ritual religion. It is good while the life is in it, but it is always in peril of losing its life, and then becoming worse than worthless. The writer has already urged that formal ceremony could “not make the comers thereunto perfect,” as pertaining to the conscience. No sacrificial or sacramental system can ever touch the conscience. He reminds of all the former teachings when he says of the “meats” and drinks and divers washings of Judaism, that they did “not profit those who were occupied therewith.” Those who stood up so valiantly for the old Mosaic system had no real ground for their over-confidence. The real value of the material system was the spiritual truth which was in it, and found temporary expression by means of it. If it be said that there must be a material element in the religion that is adapted to man, still it must be anxiously and persistently urged—Keep the material element in its place, and in strictest limitations. It has a strange power of encroaching; it can cover over, hide, and even stifle the spiritual. The material form of doctrine has often stifled spiritual truth; and the material form of services and sacraments has often stifled spiritual life. It cannot be too constantly urged that religion becomes inefficient in proportion as it becomes formal and outward, a matter of postures, and garments, and rites, and services, and self-restraints. On Christianity this sign is fixed: “God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
II. The exclusiveness of spiritual religion.—To use a colloquialism, we may say that the writer “turns the tables upon” the mischievous Judaising teachers. They had pleaded that the Jewish Christians, even if they kept up association with Judaism, could have no real part or lot in it. Its altar was not for them. Its sacrifices could be of no avail for them. This writer says—Tell them that we have an altar, of which they, who serve the tabernacle, have no right to eat. They will not let you share their privileges, which lie on but a low level. You take high ground with them, and say—You cannot share our spiritual privileges. Your material-mindedness makes it impossible. The exclusiveness of spiritual religion is something which belongs to the very nature of things. The carnally, materially-minded cannot know them; they are spiritually discerned. No judicial act is necessary; he simply cannot. The spiritual man can, on all fitting occasions, and in all wise ways, use ceremonials, but the ceremonial man can do nothing with the spiritual. He is necessarily shut out, excluded. He cannot eat at this altar. Becoming spiritual-minded creates no stand-offness of the Pharisee, who says, “I am holier than thou.” But the spiritual-minded become exclusive, in the very nature of the case. They breathe another atmosphere, and move in another sphere. They are exclusive, as Christ was when He moved to and fro among men.
III. Then the writer recalls to mind a feature of the old ceremony of atonement, and, after the Rabbinical method of treating Scripture, makes it illustrate his point. Instead of being troubled by their excommunication from material Jewish privileges, they might remember something very suggestive in old covenant ceremony. Cast out were they?
1. So were the bodies of the animals who had given their life-blood as atonement for the redemption of Israel; and
2. So was Christ, who gave His blood—His life—a ransom for many, but was turned out of Jerusalem, and crucified outside the city. Cast out were they Let them take place with the burnt bodies outside the camp. They had given their life for men. They were turned out because of the work they had done; and there was high honour in their burning. Let them take place outside Jerusalem—if they were in any sense turned out of Jerusalem—with Jesus, whose body hung on the cross, outside the city wall. He had given His life for men. He was turned out because of the work He had done. And there was sublime honour resting on Him who died “without the camp.” The point of the illustration lies in the bodies of the beasts being those beasts whose blood had been taken for the sin-offering of atonement, and in the body of Jesus being the body in which He had offered to God the sacrifice of the obedient will as the spiritual atonement. The plea is full of most gracious persuasiveness: “Let us therefore go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” It is as if he had said: In Christ you are giving yourselves to the salvation of men; your life is the spiritual life of men. Do not hesitate then, if it comes to this; you are burned like the bodies of the beasts; you are crucified like the body of your Lord. “Go forth to Him without the camp.” Be excommunicated, if you must be. “Bear His reproach.” You are after Him, and for Him, the saviours of the world. Your spiritual life is the light and hope of men. “Bear His reproach,” the earth-strain of Him who gave His life for us, and is the Life and Light of men.
IV. The persuasion to enter fully into spiritual religion.—This teacher saw clearly enough that the mistake of the Jewish Christians, and the thing which put their Christian faith in peril, was their temporising. They were trying to keep in with Judaism, and at the same time to keep in with Christianity. Their heart was divided. Their attitude was represented by the proverbial “two stools.” And in pressing them to go forth with Christ, outside the camp, bearing His reproach, he is really pressing them to give up Judaism altogether. Let go those old ties to a formal religion; enter fully into the spiritual standing in Christ Jesus; realise fully your spiritual privileges in Christ Jesus; use freely all the spiritual agencies—tabernacle, altar, sacrifice, priest—provided in Christ Jesus. Breathe the spiritual atmosphere; feed on the spiritual food; live out the spiritual life; enjoy the spiritual fellowships. You will find them so soul-satisfying, that the reproach which may come to you will seem no more to you than it seemed to Christ, who, “for the spiritual joy, that was set before Him, endured the cross”—the highest form of reproach—“despising the shame.” Let us go forth outside all formal religion, as Christ went forth out of formal, material, continuing Jerusalem. Let us go forth into the city to come—the spiritual city, the new Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is above—to the age which has been so long anticipated, the spiritual age. Say it out once for all, “We’ve no abiding city here”—no abiding material city, no formal ceremonial religion, centred in a tabernacle or in a city made with hands. We seek the city to come, the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God—the city that is always coming to souls spiritually quickened. An altar do we want? Christ is our altar. A priest do we want? Christ is our priest. A sacrifice do we want? Christ is our sacrifice. Do you ask, How shall we respond to the spiritual sphere into which, with the quickened and regenerate life, we enter? The answer is given us at once, “Through Him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise”—that is, a spiritual sacrifice—“to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, which make confession to His name.” Can he be misunderstood in pleading so earnestly that they would enter into spiritual religion? Would they think that he urged them to go away from the world, and form communities like the Essenes of those times, and the hermits and monks of later times? He would correct the mistake at once by showing them—
V. The satisfying sphere of earthly activities, relations, and services which spiritual religion provides.—“But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Never let us make the mistake of thinking that spiritual religion is unearthly. Our Divine Lord taught us better than this when, interceding with God for His disciples, He said, “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” What we have to affirm persistently is, that man is not man until he is spiritual man; and when he is spiritual man, he is the most truly human being, and the best fitted to sustain all earthly responsibilities. “I knew a man in Christ.” That man was most truly and most worthily a “man in the world.” The spiritual man is the Christly man, who is ever going about doing good, and prepared to do it up to measures of self-sacrifice. “Bearing His reproach.” Can we put in a word what the reproach of Christ is,—what it was in those early times; what it has been in every age since then; what it is, in appropriate forms, for us to-day? It is the reproach cast on the spiritual by the carnal. It always will be cast.
1. It is the reproach always cast on those who persist in seeking spiritual truth. (Heretics, Mystics, Quakers.)
2. It is the reproach always cast on those who persist in doing spiritual service to humanity. Jesus, the miraculous Healer and Provider, everybody wants. Jesus, the Life and Light of men, only the few “babe-souls” ever seem to want.
3. It is the reproach always cast on those who persist that life, at its best, is the culture of spiritual character. They follow Christ, who was in Himself, in His character, the Saviour of the world; Reproach of the spiritual! We do but bear it with Christ.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 13:15. Our Altar—“We have an altar.” There is a certain militant emphasis on the words in the original, as if they were an assertion of something that had been denied. Who the deniers are is plain enough. They were the adherents of Judaism, who naturally found Christianity a strange contrast to their worship, of which altar and sacrifice were prominent features. Just as to heathen nations the ritual of Judaism, its empty shrine, and Temple without a God, were a puzzle and a scoff, so to heathen and Jew the bare, starved worship of the Church, without temple, priest, sacrifice, or altar, was a mystery and a puzzle. The writer of this letter in these words, then, in accordance with the central theme of his whole epistle, insists that Christianity has more truly than heathenism or Judaism altar and sacrifice. And he is not content with alleging its possession of the reality of the altar, but he goes further, and insists upon the superiority even in that respect of the Christian system. He points to the fact that the great sin-offering of the Jewish ritual was not partaken of by the offerers, but consumed by fire without the camp, and he implies, in the earlier words of my text, that the Christian sacrifice differs from, and is superior to, the Jewish in this particular—that on it the worshippers feasted and fed. Then, in the last words of my text, he touches upon another point of superiority, viz. that all Christian men are priests of this altar, and have to offer upon it sacrifices of thanksgiving. And so he lifts up the purely spiritual worship of Christianity as not only possessed of all which the gorgeous rituals round about it presented, but as being high above them even in regard to that which seemed their special prerogative.
I. Our Christian altar.—Two explanations are open to us. One is that the cross is the altar. But that seems to me too gross and material, and savouring too much of the very error which this whole epistle is written to destroy, viz. that the material is of moment, as measured against the spiritual. The other explanation is much to be preferred, according to which, if the altar has any special significance, it means the Divine-human personality of Jesus Christ, on and in which the sacrifice is offered. But the main thing to be laid hold of here is, as I take it, that the central fact of Christianity is an altar, on which lies a sacrifice. If we are to accept the significance that I have suggested as possible for the emblem of my text, then the altar expresses the great mystery and gospel of the Incarnation, and the sacrifice expresses the great mystery and gospel of the passion of Christ’s life and death, which is the atonement for our sins. But that possibly is too much of a refinement, and so I confine myself here to the general ideas suggested—that the very living heart of the gospel is an altar and a sacrifice. That idea saturates the whole New Testament, from the page where John the forerunner’s proclamation is, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” to the last triumphant visions in which the apocalyptic seer “beheld a Lamb as it had been slain,” the eternal Co-regnant of the universe, and the Mediator through whom the whole surrounding Church for ever worships the Father.
II. Our feast on the Sacrifice.—From this altar, says the writer, the adherents of the ancient system have no right to partake. That implies that those who have left the ancient system have the right to partake, and do partake. Now the writer is drawing a contrast, which he proceeds to elaborate, between the great sacrifice on the Day of Atonement and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The former was not, as many other sacrifices were, partaken of by priests and worshippers, but simply the blood was brought within the Holy Place, and the whole of the rest of the sacrifice consumed in a waste spot without the camp. And this contrast is in the writer’s mind. We have a Sacrifice on which we feast. That is to say, the Christ who died for my sins is not only my means of reconciliation with God, but His sacrifice and death are the sustenance of my spiritual life. We live upon the Christ that died for us. That this is no mere metaphor, but goes penetratingly and deep down to the very basis of the spiritual life, is attested sufficiently by many a word of Scripture on which I cannot now dwell. The life of the Christian is the indwelling Christ. For he whose heart hath not received that Christ within him is dead while he lives, and has no possession of the one true life for a human spirit, viz. the life of union with God. Christ in us is the consequence of Christ for us; and that Christianity is all imperfect which does not grasp with equal emphasis the thought of the sacrifice on the cross and of the feast on the Sacrifice.
III. Our Christian offerings on the altar.—“By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” What are these offerings? Christ’s death stands alone, incapable of repetition, needing no repetition, the eternal, sole, “sufficient obligation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” But there be other kinds of sacrifice. There are sacrifices of thanksgiving as well as of propitiation. And we, on the footing of that great Sacrifice to which we can add nothing, and on which alone we must rest, may bring the offerings of our thankful hearts. These offerings are of a twofold sort, says the writer. There are words of praise; there are works of beneficence. The service of man is sacrifice to God. That is a deep saying and reaches far. Such praise and such beneficence are only possible on the footing of Christ’s sacrifice, for only on that footing is our praise acceptable; and only when moved by that infinite mercy and love shall we yield ourselves thank-offerings to God. And thus, brethren, the whole extent of the Christian life, in its inmost springs, and in its outward manifestations, is covered by these two thoughts—the feast on the Sacrifice once offered, and the sacrifices which we in our turn offer on the altar. There is one Christ that can thus hallow and make acceptable our living and our dying, and that is the Christ that has died for us, and lives that in Him we may be priests to God. There is only one Christianity that will do for us what we all need, and that is the Christianity whose centre is an altar on which the Son of God, our Passover, is slain for us.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Hebrews 13:14. No Continuing City.—The truth presented in the text is one to which we at once give our consent, taught by many a sad experience.
I. The uncertainty of all earthly things.—Most persons experience a feeling of melancholy when the principle of the text is forced on their attention. There are times when, amid the changing scenes of earth, we cast about for something solid and enduring; but the more we search the more deeply we become convinced of the uncertainty of all human relationships. In vain we seek for something that knows no change, and will abide. The earth itself teaches its inhabitants this unsatisfying truth. As it gradually took form, passing through its various eras, change, unceasing change, was its abiding characteristic. In all its history; in its seasons, and soil, and scenery, and climate; and in the story of man upon it, is the same constant change. A mother fondles you as an infant; then through a long season of anxiety and care she watches from childhood into youth, and from youth to manhood; and by-and-by, in turn, you watch her gliding down the slope of life, and presently follow in her steps. A few years pass, and it becomes evident that this very body of ours has been changing, and in manhood every element of the bodily constitution has been renewed. The same change marks the advance of the soul from the first dawn of intelligence to the full development of mental vigour. The mind never can stay long unchanged, either in the condition of its mental powers or its spiritual faculties. The history of men and the history of nations repeats for us the same fact. Simple and natural was the mode of life pursued by the patriarchs of old. The grass sprang up fresh around them, and they fed their flocks. Then pastures were bared and the wells dried up, and they struck their tents and wandered forth. They had no “continuing city.” When the nomadic life was over, they built settled habitations, and raised their families, only to see them scattered far and wide over the earth. Man lays the foundations of empires; slowly and through many conflicts the kingdom rises toward perfection in constitution and order and developed civilisation, at last to find the fires of discontent imperilling it, and leaving it a prey to some strong and aggressive neighbour. For even the empire has “no continuing city.” The language of a people is always changing forms and meanings. The wants of a nation may keep the same, but the modes of supplying them are ever changing. The earth must be tilled and her fruits gathered in; the ocean must be swept of her treasures, and land knit to land across her; but the agencies for effecting these ends are ever varying. The vesture that adorns the human figure was once slowly produced by the human hand, and now it is rushed into existence on the wings of steam. The journey, once accomplished with difficulty and exertion, is now the simple act of rest. The message once communicated at the quickest by swift runners now flashes from mind to mind as does the lightning. Here we have “no continuing city”; and when we have passed away, the marvellous discoveries of our age will excite the smile of new generations that shall have tamed yet new and mightier nature-forces to do their bidding. There is, perhaps, no truth with which we are more familiar. All around us everything is speaking of decay and change; the story is written on the wasting rock and crumbling peak, on the old tower and the ivied wall. The flowing river and the gurgling stream, the tints of autumn, and the falling leaves, all tell it out, with no uncertain sound.
II. The permanence of all Divine and heavenly things.—The previous verses give admonitions concerning a true, spiritual life, and direct us from the change, dissatisfaction, and sorrow of our earthly life to Him who is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” By the exercise of Christian love, by charity and a heart open to the sufferings of those around us, by a happy contentment and a simple trust in God, and above all by having our heart ever reposing on Christ in every circumstance of joy or sorrow, we are taught to live in this world as though we were not of it. If we are cherishing this life, our hearts will be gradually lifted up above this earth, and we shall be able so to fix our affections on things here as not to rely on them for our happiness. Even before we have left our earthly abode the foundations of our future habitation may be laid. Our lives should be pilgrimages. Footsore and weary the traveller plods homeward; the clear sky, the rich sunset, the fruits by the wayside, the cool leafy shades, tempt him to stay, but his soul is full of the thought of home, and onward, still onward, he must go. What is that city which we seek? Its walls rise high; its mansions are secure; no aching heart dwells there; no tearful eye, no bent and drooping form, no withered or suffering frame, is seeking it. “There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, for the former things have passed away.” It is that spiritual and eternal city, “whose builder and maker is God.” We are pilgrims and strangers here, as indeed all our fathers were. But we do not unduly heed the changes of earth, or unrestrainedly weep over its uncertainties. We are travelling through; what matters a little discomfort on the way! We are going home—home to God. He is our “city yet to come.” And He changeth never.—A. Thomson, B.A.
Remindings of our Mortality.—If any one has visited Rome, he will remember—for none who have travelled thither can forget the scene—the long street of tombs which forms one of the approaches to the Eternal City. For miles on the road these monuments erected over the departed stand on either side of the way, at brief but uncertain intervals, until the traveller reaches the gate. Exactly thus it is with us on our pilgrimage to that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God; on every hand we are reminded of our mortality, until we in our turn fall by the wayside, and swell the number of the dead.—Archbishop Trench.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 13:20. God of peace.—Romans 15:33; Romans 16:20; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16. Translate the verse, “Who brought up from the dead Him, made through the blood of the everlasting covenant, great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord, even Jesus.” Or as R.V. “Who brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep, with [by or in] the blood of the eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus.” See Hebrews 9:15-18, and compare Acts 20:28; Zechariah 9:11. The meaning appears to be, that the great Shepherd is provided with, or (so to speak) carries along with Him, blood sanctioning a covenant which is of perpetual force.
Farrar’s note on Hebrews 13:13.—Let us go forth out of the city and camp of Judaism (Revelation 11:8) to the true and eternal tabernacle (Exodus 33:7-8) where He now is (chap, Hebrews 12:2). Bearing his reproach.—“If ye be reproached,” says St. Peter, “for the name of Christ, happy are ye” (compare Hebrews 11:26). As He was excommunicated and insulted and made to bear His cross of shame, so will you be, and you must follow Him out of the doomed city (Matthew 24:2). It must be remembered that the cross, an object of execration and disgust even to Gentiles, was viewed by the Jews with religious horror, since they regarded every crucified person as “accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Galatians 3:13). Christians shared this reproach to the fullest extent. The most polished heathen writers, men like Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, spoke of their faith as an “execrable,” “deadly,” and “malefic” superstition; Lucian alluded to Christ as the “impaled sophist”; and to many Greeks and Romans no language of scorn seemed too intense, no calumny too infamous, to describe them, and their mode of worship. The Jews spoke of them as “Nazarenes,” “Epicureans,” “heretics,” “followers of the thing,” and especially as “apostates,” “traitors,” and “renegades.”
Moulton’s note on Hebrews 13:20.—Two passages of the prophets have contributed to the language of this remarkable verse.
1.Isaiah 63:11; Isaiah 63:11 : “Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock?” Here the shepherds are no doubt Moses and Aaron (Psalms 77:20); the Greek translation, however, has, “Where is He that raised up out of the sea the shepherd of the sheep?” Moses, who led Israel through the sea, was brought up therefrom in safety to be the “shepherd” of his people Israel; by the same almighty hand the great Shepherd of the sheep has been brought up from among the dead.
2.Zechariah 9:11; Zechariah 9:11; in other words, “because of the blood which ratified thy covenant (Exodus 24:8) I have released thy prisoners.” In (i.e. in virtue of) the blood of an eternal covenant God has raised up the Lord Jesus.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 13:18-23
Requests for Prayer.—“Pray for us” is the frequent and natural request in Christian correspondence. See Romans 15:30; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1. This request for the people’s prayers is characteristically Pauline, and must be taken into due account in any discussion of the authorship of the epistle. The desire to stand well with his converts, and delight in their approbation, affection, and trust, were marked features in St. Paul’s character.
I. The interest of Christian teachers in their people’s prayers.—An interest felt and sustained partly—
1. For the people’s sake, because nothing opens the heart to the teacher’s influence, and keeps it sensitive and receptive to gracious influences, as prayer does. And it should be both
(1) private and personal, and
(2) collective, united, and public. The proper bond between ministers and people is only maintained by mutual prayer on each other’s behalf. And partly—
2. For the teacher’s own sake. Because he needs the kind of inspiration to do the highest and holiest work which only comes to a man when he knows that others are praying for him. There is a tone on Christian ministry which can only come as the response to intercessory prayer.
II. The sense of integrity may make a claim for prayer.—“We have a good conscience.” Whoever the writer was, one thing is evident—he was misunderstood and misrepresented and mistrusted, just as we know St. Paul was, by the Jewish, and even to some extent by the Jewish Christian, party. Some separation from him had been caused. This letter was in some sense written to remove wrong impressions, and make the standpoint of his teaching quite clear. It was fitting that he should assure them of his full loyalty to Christ and to them, of his genuineness, simplicity, and integrity. He meant nothing but their true spiritual good, and therefore he might honestly ask their prayers. Often we may be puzzled and disturbed by the teachings of the Christian teacher, but we can keep relations so long as we are fully confident of his integrity. What he is may keep us from offence at what he says.
III. The prayers of Gods people may influence God’s providence (Hebrews 13:19).—That has been the conviction of God-fearing men in all the ages. It is the absolute conviction of loyal and loving souls to-day. It never strikes them as for one moment unreasonable that God, who ever acts upon wise considerations, takes into account all facts, and forms good judgments, should let His people’s prayers influence His decisions and His arrangements. To think prayer could not affect God’s plans would be to assume that He could be apprehended through no rational or moral being that we ever heard of; it would be to refuse to recognise any reality in His Divine Fatherhood. A God who hears prayer, but takes no heed of it, and responds in no way to it, is inconceivable.
IV. The highest plea for prayer lies in the prayerfulness of him who makes the plea.—Hebrews 13:20-21, declare the prayerfulness of this writer, and indicate what he asks on the people’s behalf. It is summed up in the word “perfect.” He wants advance, growth, development, in the Christian life; for that he works, for that he prays. He can say, Pray for me, for I am always praying for you.
V. The prayer of him who asks for prayer may be a model for those whom he asks to pray for him.—The tone and substance of the prayer given in Hebrews 13:20-21, may be taken as a model of prayer. Impress that the act of prayer tends to put men in right relations with responsibility and with privilege. Prayer strengthens to bear responsibility and sanctifies the enjoyment of privilege.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 13:18. Conscience.—Now, as conscience is nothing else but the knowledge which the mind has within itself, and the judgment, either of approbation or censure, which it unavoidably makes upon the successive actions of our lives, ’tis plain, you will say, from the very terms of the proposition, whenever this inward testimony goes against a man, and he stands self-accused, that he must necessarily be a guilty man. And, on the contrary, when the report is favourable on his side, and his heart condemns him not, that it is not a matter of trust, as the apostle intimates, but a matter of certainty and fact, that the conscience is good, and that the man must be good also. At first sight this may seem to be a true state of the case; and I make no doubt but the knowledge of right and wrong is so truly impressed upon the mind of man that, did no such thing ever happen as that the conscience of a man, by long habits of sin, might (as the Scripture assures us it may) insensibly become hard, and, like some tender parts of his body, by much stress and continual hard usage, lose by degrees that nice sense and perception with which God and nature endowed it—did this never happen—or was it certain that self-love could never hang the least bias upon the judgment—or that the little interests below could rise up and perplex the faculties of our upper regions, and encompass them about with clouds and thick darkness—could no such thing as favour and affection enter this sacred court—did Wit disdain to take a bribe in it, or was ashamed to show its face as an advocate for an unwarrantable enjoyment—or, lastly, were we assured that Interest stood always unconcerned whilst the cause was hearing, and that Passion never got into the judgment-seat, and pronounced sentence in the stead of Reason, which is supposed always to preside and determine upon the case—was this truly so, no doubt, then, the religious and moral state of a man would be exactly what he himself esteemed it, and the guilt or innocence of a man’s life could be known, in general, by no better measure than the degrees of his own approbation or censure.—Laurence Sterne.
Hebrews 13:20-21. The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant.—This everlasting covenant is the covenant of grace, or the gospel, made with Christ, as the Head and Representative of all His believing people. It is called “everlasting” in contradistinction to some transient outward forms of it that had already vanished, or were vanishing away. God had made legal, ceremonial, national covenants, which were temporary—which had not the elements of permanency. But this covenant touches, embraces everything, reaches up to God’s highest attributes, and down to man’s deepest needs—over all the breadth of law, and along all the line of existence. We do not rest on the mere word “everlasting,” which sometimes in the Scriptures has evidently a limited signification. No great doctrine or belief should rest on a mere term, unless the thing is taught clearly, by argument or precept or implication. But in this case we have the idea all through the Scriptures of absolute and unlimited duration. The “blood of the everlasting covenant.” That is the virtue of the death of Christ. It is that grand act of atonement and self-sacrifice by which He bore the penalty of sin for us, and secured the gospel as God’s method in this world for ever.
I. God is the God of peace.—The God who makes peace where it has been broken, and gives it where it is lost—the God who makes peace between heaven and earth, between law and conscience, between Himself and sinful men.
II. “He brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.”—He wrought that mightiest work that has ever been wrought in this world—the resurrection of Christ. Again, “through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” The death is the germinating spring of the after-life—the humiliation is antecedent to and causal of the exaltation.
III. It is through the same act of self-sacrifice in death that He becomes “the great Shepherd of the sheep.” “The good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” That was the mark and criterion which He Himself gave by which men might know Him, and until this life was given the world could not have assurance that the good Shepherd has come. Now we come to the human side of the passage, and we have this blood of the covenant full of efficiencies on this side also.
1. The term “perfect”; giving us at once this high idea, the idea of perfection as a thing attainable now, by means of the blood and death of the Son of God. This perfection is not merely a thing ideal and distant, not only a thing to be hoped for beyond earth and time, in heaven and glory. It is a thing to be striven for and realised in measures in daily life and service—“perfect in every good work.” Nothing could be more practical, nothing further removed from a barren idealism and a visionary spirit. “In every good work,” in everything that benefits man, adorns the Christian profession, glorifies God in the fulfilment of His will.
IV. In this illustration of the power of the cross we have the inworking of the Spirit of God in the heart of the man who is thus seeking perfection—“working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” This secures simplicity and spirituality—God working within by the Spirit. Then all is right and good. The water is cleansed at the fountain, thought is touched as it springs, feeling purified as it begins to flow, affection lifted to its object, will bent to the will of God; the image of the heavenly beginning to shine, the likeness of the Resurrection dawning in the risen soul. Then
(1) let us come to this blood of the covenant, or to the death or to the cross of Christ, for cleansing;
(2) for motive;
(3) for speech.—A. Raleigh, D.D.
Hebrews 13:21. The Believer God’s Agent.—We often speak of ourselves as only “instruments in God’s hands.” It is our privilege to think of ourselves, if we are truly His servants, as agents. An instrument is a dumb, senseless, lifeless thing, which has no active, intelligent power even to co-operate with him who handles and uses it; but an agent (ago) is one who acts; in behalf of, and under control of, another, and yet acting intelligently and individually, as Aaron spoke under Moses’ dictation. Even the ox and ass yield a voluntary, intelligent obedience, and are far above the plough they drag, or the goad by which they are urged on. We are God’s agents, and He worketh not only by us, but in us, both to will and to work. (See Greek of Philippians 2:13.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29