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THE PERIL OF FAILING TO ADVANCE IN CHRISTIAN LIFE
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 6:1. Therefore.—διό, since only the τέλειοι, advanced ones, are capable of receiving advanced instruction, you may well seek to become such. Stuart reads, “Quitting the mere initial state of pupilage, advance forward to a maturer state of instruction and knowledge”; or, “make such advances that it shall be unnecessary to repeat elementary instruction in the principles of Christianity.” The writer generously assumes that they are ready for, and would gladly receive, higher teachings. Principles.—Rudiments; first elements. Such simple verities as we can teach children. Unto perfection.—That completeness of Christian manhood which implies power to deal with abstruse and difficult subjects, such as that one which was at the time in the mind of the writer, viz. the Priesthood of Christ as belonging to the order of Melchizedek. “Let us—I, as your teacher, leading you on with me—press on to maturity of Christian knowledge.” Laying again.—Foundations ought to require laying only once; first principles ought to require teaching only in the first stages of the religious life. In failure to grow, mentally and spiritually, is always found the great peril of apostasy. Life of every kind, if it is to be kept in health, must grow. Repentance.—The first lesson of the gospel (Mark 1:15). Dead works.—See Hebrews 9:14. Works in which there is no principle of life. Such as cause defilement, and require purification, because they are sinful (Galatians 5:19-48.5.21), and because their wages is death.
Hebrews 6:2. Baptisms.—A plural form; therefore Alford thinks the Jewish washings must be meant. But the writer is clearly referring to the first principles of the distinctive Christian teachings. The Syriac Version has the singular here; and it is evident that no stress is to be laid on the plural form. If importance be attached to the plural, it may be regarded as including John’s baptism and Christian baptism; and we know that some disciples underwent both baptisms. βάπτισμα is the proper word for Christian baptism, but the word here used is βαπτισμῶν. Farrar suggests that the word may imply the teaching which enabled Christian catechumens to discriminate between Jewish washings and Christian baptism. The order of first Christian principles given here may be illustrated from the Acts of the Apostles.
1. The doctrine of repentance, or sense of need; dead works being helpless in saving.
2. The doctrine of faith, or out looking for help.
3. The doctrine of baptisms, or public profession of faith.
4. The doctrine of laying on of hands, or sealing of the Holy Ghost.
5. The doctrines of resurrection and judgment, the inspiration of godly living. These are the two prominent truths taught by the apostle Paul, to whose school the writer belonged. All these doctrines are classed as rudimentary first principles.
Hebrews 6:3. This will we do.—Not, “attend again to these first principles”; but “go on to deal with the higher things.” The word “we” is here used theoretically. “Assuming your anxiety to grow, realising our dependence on Divine help; and remembering to what peril of falling the ignorant are exposed.” Then the writer deals with a case “excepted by God Himself from all efforts of the Christian teacher; in this case, though nothing can avail except the laying of a new foundation of repentance, God has appointed no agencies by which such foundation can be laid” (Moulton).
Hebrews 6:4. Impossible.—Either a strong word for “exceedingly difficult,” or, more probably, “impossible under existing provisions and conditions.” But this must not be thought of as involving “impossible under any provisions and conditions.” What God does must not be thought of as limiting what God may do. Observe the use of the term in Mark 10:23-41.10.27. It is a favourite term with this writer: see chap. Mark 5:18, Mark 10:4, Mark 11:6. “The purport of the whole clause is to this effect—that the persons apostatising from the Christian profession, after they have had experience, so far as man can judge, of the power of Christianity, it is impossible by the ordinary means of grace to renew them to repentance, for they renounce the very considerations by which Divine power works on the minds of men” (Barker). Enlightened.—Simply instructed; the word does not imply having illumination. A man can never be the same man again after hearing of Christ the Saviour. He must come under new responsibility, and this may either save or crush him. Tasted.—Begun experimental acquaintance with. Heavenly gift.—The privileges and blessings of the gospel. Some think Christ Himself—the “unspeakable gift”—is meant. Partakers of the Holy Ghost.—See Acts 19:1-44.19.6. Perhaps allusion may be to the “gifts” of the early Church, regarded as signs and sealings of the Spirit.
Hebrews 6:5. Good word of God.—Enjoyed the consolations administered and the hopes excited by the Divine promises which the gospel proffers. World to come.—R.V. “age to come”: the Christian, spiritual dispensation. Reference appears to be to the miraculous powers in the early Church. Stuart summarises the points of the paragraph (Hebrews 6:1-58.6.5) thus: “There is a regular gradation.
1. They had been taught the principles or doctrines of Christianity.
2. They had enjoyed the privileges, or means of grace, which the new religion afforded.
3. They had experienced, in general, various gifts and graces bestowed by the Spirit.
4. They had cherished the hopes which the promises of the gospel inspire.
5. They had witnessed, some of them may even have experienced, those special miraculous powers by which the gospel was fully shown to be a religion from God. They had the fullest evidence, internal and external, of the Divine origin and nature of the Christian religion. Consequently, if they apostatised from it, there remained no hope of their recovery.”
Hebrews 6:6. Fall away.—R.V. “and then fell away.” The defection meant is a practical renunciation of Christianity, and return to Judaism. Many did thus fall back to formal Judaism, in that time of persecution and danger. Crucify to themselves.—Acting as those did who actually crucified the Lord. His crucifixion was but the seal of their rejection of Him as Messiah. The case used is the “dative of disadvantage,” to their own destruction. Open shame.—Expose Him to scorn, as one proved to be unworthy of trust or service. “By renouncing their adherence to Christianity, they would openly declare their belief that Christ was only an impostor, and, of course, that He suffered justly as a malefactor. By returning again to Judaism, they would approve of what the Jews had done, and thus they would, as it were, crucify Christ, and expose Him to be treated by unbelievers with scorn and contumely” (Stuart).
Hebrews 6:7. Herbs.—βοτάνην. Hebraistic use, “any kind of vegetation”; classic use, “herbage,” or “vegetation,” not including bread-corn.
Hebrews 6:8. Burned.—Not the land, but the worthless and mischievous produce. But see Isaiah 44:15, and recall the fate of the Vale of Siddim. Point of illustration is: the earth is recipient of Divine favours; much depends on its response. What can be done more for that which yields a response of barrenness, or only bad growths, to the rains of God? It is a rhetorical illustration. In case of land it is a matter of inability; in case of man it is a matter of will.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 6:1-58.6.8
The Peril and Prevention of Apostasy.—The teaching of this passage is enforced, and in part explained, by an illustration taken from nature. Fixing attention on that illustration, we may be able to present the point of the teaching. The writer’s mind is evidently full of the cases of apostasy from the faith in Christ which had occurred, and of the temptations to apostasy which seriously imperilled many who had professed the faith in Christ. What could be done? It seemed hopeless to try and recover the apostates. The case of such a man as Julian was beyond the reach of all human influences. But how could the wavering ones be steadied? and how could all the members of the Church be guarded?
1. The writer urges that safety lies in vigorous growing—growing in spiritual life, one chief agency of such growth being advance in knowledge of Christian truth. Full occupation of mind and heart with heavenly and Divine things is the best and healthiest defence against any—even the most subtle—attractions of error. This our Lord taught in His illustration of the evil spirit which went out of a man, and left him “empty, swept, and garnished.” The man did not fill the empty spaces with good, so the evil spirit returned to the vacancy, and filled it full with others worse than himself.
2. And the writer warns, with extreme severity, of the hopeless condition into which wilful apostasy brings a man. It is the highest moral force that can act upon a man which persuades a man to be a Christian. If a man has felt that influence, and after experience of it resolutely and wilfully puts it away from him, what can be done for such a man? You cannot expect any lower influences to act upon the man who has rejected the highest; and there is no other and superior influence that can act upon him. The apostate makes his own condition an altogether hopeless one. While a man is undecided, the Christian persuasions are working on him. When a man resists the Christian persuasions, there is yet hope that they may gain convincing power upon him. But when a man has yielded to the Christian persuasions, and made professions of faith in Christ, and come into a share of the Christian experiences, and then deliberately thrown it all up, and taken a stand of opposition to Christ, the persuasions have become wholly ineffective, and there are no other that can possibly influence him. The man must be left to himself. It is impossible to “renew him again to repentance.” Take Julian, the apostate emperor of later days, as an example. To illustrate this the writer shows that there are conditions which make the husbandry of the earth hopeless and useless. His illustration is especially effective for Eastern lands, where, in ancient times, the natural characteristics of the surface soil were not changed by deep ploughing or chemically adapted manures. The ploughing was but surface scratching; and the land was left untilled that failed to reward the tiller, or that only brought forth “caltrops,” thorns, and briars. The earth, or the land, or the fields are represented as receiving all needful blessing from God and from man. From God, in the frost that breaks up the clods, the snow that keeps the soil warm and supplies it with chemical elements, the rains that make all life in it to break forth; from man, in the work of the plough, the spade, and the harrow, and in the scattering of various seed. What could have been done to the fields more than God and man have done for them? Now what may be the response of the fields? And what will be a fitting estimate and treatment of the fields in view of their varying response? The Christian professor is as a field.
I. The field may nourish a growth of plant life unto satisfactory fruitage.—Compare the “good soil” of our Lord’s parable of the “sower.” It brings forth fruit, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred-fold. In the passage before us attention is fixed upon the fact that what comes forth out of good soil keeps on growing, until it has reached its perfection. Its health and its safety depend on and are declared by its continuous growth. That is the immediate point of the writer. Christians must grow, or they will not be safe. Nothing resists evil influences like healthy and vigorous growing. St. Peter is as clear on this point, for he gives this pressing advice to Christian disciples: “Beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-61.3.18).
II. The field may fail to nourish anything worth harvesting.—It may be able to put no energy into anything that comes out of it. It can only grow leaves, or poor flowers that are not worth picking: only green stalks, on which stand small shrivelled ears, which even the insects have not cared to fructify. It is such poor, weak growth as this that is exposed to all kinds of peril. Frosts nip such blades. Fungus gets on such branches. Rains beat down such stalks. Rust gathers in such ears. And the like peril comes to men, when their response to the grace of God in Christ Jesus is of the same kind. They do not thrive; they do not grow; there is no vigour in their growing. The soil of their souls evidently needs nourishing, lest they should find their poor fruitage only fit for burning in the Day of God.
III. The field may grow nothing but weeds.—The farmer’s labour is expended upon it, the gracious agencies of nature act upon it, and yet the farmer is wholly disappointed. It seems as if both God’s work and his, which had been so freely received by the field, had all been rejected. He walks over the field, watching for signs of plant life from his seeding; and there is nothing save thistle, and ragwort, and dock, and nettle, and tare. It bears nothing but thorns and briars. The farmer turns away in despair. The field is rejected; it is nigh unto cursing. Nothing can be done for it. By-and-by the thorns and briars must be cut down and burned. There is a point in God’s husbandry of souls when it seems useless to do anything more. The utmost has been done, and resisted, and rejected, or turned to wrong uses, and made to nourish thorns and briars, not good plants. What can be done to the well-tended vineyard that only yields sour grapes? Thus righteously saith our God: “I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned nor digged. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” What can be done for a wilful apostate? He “is nigh unto cursing.” In the realm of motives there are none left which can persuade that man to repentance.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 6:1. The Peril of Keeping to Religious Simplicities.—The peril lies in this—we cannot help growing
(1) in body,
(2) in mind,
(3) in experience,
(4) in moral power; and if we do not also grow in religion, we get our nature out of its harmonies; manliness and childishness vainly strive to dwell amicably together; and the result, sooner or later, is that the manliness cannot do with the childishness, but suggests all manner of doubts and difficulties, which are only too likely to upset the religious faith altogether. Picture-books are best for children, and picture-teaching for child-souls. But it is a pitiable thing to see a man clinging passionately to the picture-books of his infancy. Yet that is done by the men who, having reached Christian manhood, will hear of nothing, and think they can profit by nothing, save the first principles, the child-simplicities, of the Christian faith. We need to see that the simplicities are fully preserved in the advanced teachings. The flower and the seed contain those cotyledon lobes that first burst the soil; but how foolish the man would be who persisted in caring nothing for the flower or the seed, but everything for the cotyledon lobe. The peril is threefold.
1. The man puts his own nature out of harmony.
2. The simple things will not stand the application to them of his enlarged and cultivated power and experience. He is a man trying to get himself into a boy’s jacket.
3. The lack of harmony between the man’s mind and religion makes his example to others not only ineffective, but injurious; for he suggests that a man must degrade his mental manhood if he is to be religious. Only the man who grows on, body and mind and soul, towards perfection, can realise the Divine idea for him, or worthily bear the name of disciple of the “Man Christ Jesus.”
The Christian First Principles.—For convenience and symmetry these may be arranged in three great pairs of truths.
I. Revelation of God through the written word; incarnation of God in the living Word.
II. Expiation of sin by blood of Christ; justification of the sinner by faith in Christ.
III. Regeneration of heart by the Holy Spirit; resurrection of body by the same Spirit.
Now observe the first pair concern God the Father; the second pair, God the Son; the third pair, God the Holy Ghost. Observe also that there is a threefold mediation:
1. The mediation of the word of God between God and human ignorance.
2. The mediation of the Christ between God and human guilt.
3. The mediation of the Spirit between God and human inability.—Homiletic Review.
Leaving First Principles.—We are to leave them as the scholar leaves the letters of the alphabet,—leaving them only to use them; leaving them that he may bring out all their powers, and employ them in startling combinations, as the instrument for acquiring or diffusing thought. We are to leave them as the plant leaves the root, when it towers into a majestic tree, leaving it only that it may the more depend upon it; and day by day drawing from it those fresh supplies of vital sap which it pours into the fresh leaves, fresh boughs, ever fresh and ever beautiful formations of that life which refreshes the hungry with its clusters, or the weary with its shade. We are to leave them as the builder leaves his foundation, that he may carry up the building, stone above stone, story above story, tower above tower, from the dusky basement to the sunlit pinnacle; always leaving the foundation, yet always on it, and on it with the most massive pressure and the most complete dependence when most he leaves it.—Charles Stanford.
The Double Meaning of “Repentance.”—The word μετάνοια, which occurs in this verse, has here and in other places a wider meaning than “repentance,” as we now understand it. In its full significance it serves equally to denote the turning away from what is opposed to God (Acts 8:22), and also the turning to God (Acts 20:20). In either instance the process is identical in result, though contemplated from different points of view. Its beginning is in the conscious individual spirit life, and the result is a distinct and powerful effect produced upon the will by means of Divine grace.
Hebrews 6:1-58.6.2. The Jewish Christian Catechism.—A catechism is supposed to confine itself to the primary truths and principles of the subject it treats, and to set them forth clearly and succinctly. What then, according to this writer, are the first principles of the doctrine of Christ? At first we are surprised at the list that he gives—as much surprised by what he includes as by what he omits. But the list must be examined as prepared for the Jewish Christian Churches of that particular time; and they were likely to have practices and ideas which have long since passed away. Some of their “simplicities” then have no application to us, and it is a mistake to force meanings, suitable to us, into “first principles,” which had special meaning for them. The list contains six items. Repentance, faith, resurrection, and final judgment we can recognise as still “first principles” of the Christian faith. But what were the teachings in the Jewish Church concerning “laying on of hands,” and “baptisms,” or “washings,” we can only guess. There was some particular Jewish feature about these, some retention of Jewish custom, which has quite faded out of our knowledge. The Christian associations of baptism and laying on of hands cannot with any certainty be identified with those of the early Jewish Christian Church. The “first principles” may therefore be thus divided:
1. Two spiritual qualities, absolutely essential to the entrance into and maintenance of Christian life at all—repentance and faith. Observe the sphere of the repentance—“from dead works”; and the sphere of the faith—“toward God.” There is no specific mention made of faith in Christ.
2. Two eschatological truths—the Resurrection and the Judgment. These are, singularly enough, the only truths stated as being first principles; and these we reckon to be advanced truths, not simplicities. Probably they were prominent in the Jewish faith, and so became prominent, and took too exclusive attention, in the Jewish Christian Churches.
3. Two symbolical acts—washings and laying on of hands. These seem to have taught two things:
(1) the absolute necessity for putting away all evil;
(2) the certainty of the communications of Divine grace to those thus cleansed.
Hebrews 6:4. The Morally Impossible.—There is the physically impossible and the mentally impossible, and these help us to understand the morally impossible. The word “impossible” is constantly used as if it were some definite and absolute thing. We say, “It is an impossibility.” But the impossible is always strictly relative to the being of whom it is spoken. Our Lord corrected the mistake when He spoke of two impossibilities, the impossible to man being possible with God; but God having his own impossibilities, relative to Himself. The physically impossible is simply that which is out of the range of powers that belong to a physical being. It is impossible for a hen to swin, or for an arm to do the work of an eye. It is possible for a duck to swim, and for an eye to do the work of an eye. In the same way the mentally impossible is simply that which is out of the range of the mental conditions, faculties, and laws. Given this as the condition of human thinking, two straight lines cannot enclose a space, and it is impossible for two lines ever to enclose a space—impossible so long as the mind attaches a particular meaning to the terms “straight line” and “space.” Or let the condition of human thinking be that what it names “two” added to “two” shall make “four”; then it is impossible for two and two ever to make five. And the morally impossible is as relative to the moral being of whom it is spoken. A moral being is a limited being, he cannot act beyond his range. There is that which is consistent with its own nature, and it is impossible for it to be something other than it is. St. John helps us to understand this when he says that the man who is “born of God” cannot sin. It is morally impossible because it is contrary to his renewed nature. Apply this to God. Through His revelations to us, and relations with us, we have distinct conceptions of God. He is “righteous in all His works, and holy in all His ways.” He is light and He is love; He is true; He is faithful. The morally impossible to God is anything and everything inconsistent with Himself. He cannot do the absurd; He cannot do the untrue; He cannot do the unkind, and so on. The impossible, to the infinitely good Being, is simply anything and everything that is inconsistent with Himself, with what He is, with what we know Him to be.
Hebrews 6:4-58.6.5. First Tastings of Divine Things.—“Tasted of the heavenly gift.” “Tasted the good word of God.” The word “taste” seems to have been carefully chosen, and with a view to a precise persuasion. The writer was anxious about those whom he addressed because they were satisfying themselves with the rudiments of Christian truth and the beginnings of Christian experience. They kept, as it were, just tasting; they did not eat, so as to get really nourished in the Christian truth and life. He points out the peril of that merely casual and partial relation. Those who only “taste” have no soul-strength to resist temptation and trial. Here another point is in his mind. That mere tasting brings with it solemn and awful responsibilities. If a man only begins the Christian life, if a man only accepts the rudiments of the Christian faith, if a man has only felt the first movings of the Divine Spirit, he has passed over a line, and can never go back to what he was. He has become a new man; he can never be the same man again. If he does not advance to the full possession and enjoyment of the new life, he will find himself one of the most miserable of men. He has broken away from the old relations, which did satisfy him, and he can never get really satisfied with them again. And his mere rudimentary relations to Christianity cannot satisfy him either.
Hebrews 6:6. Exhaustion of the Power of Renewal.—To “taste the good word of God and the powers of the world to come” is to be renewed; and the man must have been susceptible to influences of renewal, if he has that experience. Those influences of renewal are the very highest that can act on a man. But if the man who has felt the power and persuasion of them falls back into the world, and the low life unto self and sin, those powers of renewal have become powerless on him. He has turned against them; he is no longer susceptible to their influence; there is nothing in him now on which they can work. He cannot be renewed again unto repentance, for there is nothing in him to respond to persuasion. It is a most solemn consideration that unless the early religious experiences are followed up by a healthy growth, there is the gravest peril of the exhaustion of the religious sensibility; and this is more especially the peril when the first tastings and the early experiences are connected with seasons and scenes of religious excitement and emotion. The over-strain of religious feeling is followed by the exhaustion of religious capacity.
Crucifying the Son of God afresh.—Various as have been God’s dealings with the world, there is a terrible impartiality in His dispensations to His rational creatures. He can hear us all in the same court, and judge us out of the same books. He can see through the intricacies of His own diversified government. The whole world is under a moral government, though we alone are in a written covenant; all live to God, though we alone have professed “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” As a sort of equity is preserved in God’s arrangements of the relation between His Church and the world, so doubtless there is something not unlike it in His arrangements of the ages and provinces of the Church itself. While the human nature of the Church is uniform, its trials must be nearly so. The probation God enforces is distributed pretty evenly through all ages and classes. If we are not asked to perish at the stake in one terrific trial of faith and fortitude, we are summoned to a life of hourly self-denial. Temptations may vary outwardly; but while the human nature on which they operate remains unchanged, they must be found in substance much the same. Of all the repetitions of trial from generation to generation, that expressed in this text is the most startling and fearful. The crucifixion of Christ, in its literal reality, stands alone in the history of man. It was the last and darkest depth of human criminality. Never surely is man, in all the possibilities of futurity, destined again to consummate a wickedness like this! But heaven has not spared us this trial. There is in man a continued capacity of “crucifying afresh the Son of God”—a power to act over again all the scene of His torture, to league with the malignant priests and the scoffing soldiers, to buffet the unresisting cheek, to bind on the crown of thorns. No doubt the crime is a peculiar one, not ordinarily exemplified. The writer speaks of deliberate apostasy from the faith of Jesus. But there is no one characteristic of direct and utter apostasy which does not, in its own degree, belong to those daily desertions of the cause of Jesus which ally the miserable votaries of the god of this world with the avowed enemies of Christ in every age. There are the apostasies of the social table, of the fireside and the market-place, the refined apostasies of our own modern and daily life, as real as the imperial treachery of a Julian, or the cold-blooded abandonment of a Demas. There is a test we can apply. Pass from what you might do if you but were as you never can be, to what you are doing in the position where God has placed you. Reflect on the frame and temper of mind, on the weakness and the wickedness, that made the chosen people of God the murderers of His Son, and try if you cannot catch some faint image of that treachery in your own hearts. Doubtless the accuracy of the image will vary in degree: here, through progressive sanctification, all but obliterated; here, through remaining worldliness, vivid and undeniable; here, through total rejection of Christ, all but complete. Christ was a favourite with the mass of the people; and yet His people were the fierce invokers of His blood on them and their children. Is no parallel to this found in the Christian world around us? How many flock round Christ with enthusiasm, so long as He is made the standard-bearer of a party, professing boundless admiration, devotion, and love, who, when the true hour of trial comes, relinquish their short-lived discipleship, turn with the tide, and swell the torrent of the persecutors of the body of Christ! Or look at the wretched, wavering, timorous Pilate—willing to save, but afraid to resist, anxious to do right as long as virtue costs no trouble: has this crucifier of Christ no image among us? Are there no compounders between earth and heaven, who would have the best of this life and the life to come? Not far removed from this is the case of those rulers who struggled against their very faith, lest it should hazard their popularity. These poor dependants on human fame stand not alone in the world. Among the higher orders of society, especially, the verdict of society becomes of such tremendous consideration; it is vague and vast enough to hide God and His judgment altogether from our view. And what is peculiarly dangerous about this influence is the insidiousness of its advances. Religion is not proved to be absurd, but assumed to be so. There is deeper guilt than this. There is a Judas-like selling of the Master for paltry gain; there is the blasphemy that denies to Christ His Divine rights; there is the shame of preferring some Barabbas to Him; there is the hypocrisy of acknowledging Him only with the lip. When we are told that wilful rejection of Christ can still, in some sense, perpetuate His shame, who shall dare to set accurate limits to these awful revelations? Were it possible to renew in all its literal horrors the degradation and insult of Calvary, were each deliberate sin to disgrace Him as He was disgraced before, who among us could endure to risk such atrocious guilt? Yet, if there be truth in Scripture, such guilt, or guilt like this, is in effect yours, when, taught to approach a covenanted God in Christ, you turn with contempt from Him who loved and bought you.—W. Archer Butler, M.A.
Crucifying Christ Nowadays.—More people crucified Christ in the old days than the soldiers who fastened Him to the cross. Indeed, they were not His real crucifiers. They must bear the guilt of our Lord’s death who planned to secure it. And they were the recognised religious people of the day. Their inspiration to their wicked deed was the self-seeking character of their so-called religion. Our Lord, with His spiritual teachings, opposed their self-interests, and disturbed their self-satisfactions, and therefore they resolved to be rid of Him, and with shameless schemes they accomplished their end. That conduct, with that inspiration, has been repeated in every age. The crucifiers of Christ to-day are not His open enemies, but His professed friends, whose self-interest and self-satisfaction are affected by His claims as a spiritual Saviour, who is to be served by submission, self-surrender, righteousness, and charity.
Putting Christ to Shame.—The shame of being rejected after being accepted and tried. Only a certain measure of shame can be regarded as attaching to a thing which has been carefully examined and then rejected. This measure of shame; the man who examines it decides that, in his judgment, it is not what it professes to be, and it cannot do what it professes to do. Submit the claims of Christ as Saviour from sin to the judgment of any man, and only a certain measure of shame attaches to Him, if the man rejects the claim. So far as the man is concerned Christ is not what He professes to be. But if a man, after consideration, accepts a thing, gives it fair trial, and has full experience and knowledge of it, and then rejects it, the thing is utterly disgraced. It is put to shame before others; the man makes public declaration of its worthlessness. And when Christ’s claims are accepted, and His service tried, and then He is rejected, and His service abandoned, He is put before all men to an open shame, He is declared to be one who has been “weighed in the balances” of actual experience and “found wanting.”
A Moral State beyond Persuasion.—“It is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” But the impossibility is not here treated from God’s side, but from the apostate man’s side. It is not a question what God can do, but what the man will allow to be done. The man has, by his own action, put himself into such a moral state that the Christian influences can no longer affect him. He has hardened his heart by wilful resistance until it has become like a trodden field-path, and the seeds will not sink in. So long as that wilful apostasy continues, there is no visible hope for the man. There is no getting through self-inflicted hardness. It may be shown that there is—
1. A moral state which turns all old persuasions aside. It is the state of the man who, after having felt the persuasions of Christ, finally decides to resist them. It is of no use whatever to try those persuasions on the man any more.
2. It is the moral state which is unprepared to consider any new persuasions. Perfectly satisfied with his decision against, the man will not open the question again under any consideration.
3. It is the moral state of the man for whom there can really be no other persuasion, because he has come under and has felt the power of, the very highest that can move the heart and will of man.
Sin beyond Remedy.—The possibility of sinning beyond remedy is illustrated in the cases of nations and cities, and it is shown in cases of individuals.
I. Nations that have sinned beyond hope of remedy.—A group of small nations, of which Sodom and Gomorrah were the chief, was settled in the luxurious district of the Lower Jordan. But riches and idleness corrupted them quickly, the characteristic sins of the Canaanites flourished among them triumphantly, and the awful moral degradation into which they sunk is indicated in the story of wild night-rioting that is preserved for us in the book of Genesis, and in the fact that the most demoralising of human sins is permanently called after the name of Sodom. The cry of the cruelly wronged ones, the victims of lust and violence, rose up again and again into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth; yet He bore with these sinners, inquired concerning them, and held back the judgments which their sins demanded. But it was at last made quite plain that they were sinners beyond remedy. “The men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” “The guilt of Sodom stands confessed—guilt which fire only can purge. Her own mouth has proclaimed it. The awful sentence—the justice of which no one can question now—is forthwith written upon the dust of her city, announcing that she has been ‘weighed in the balances, and found wanting,’ and that her hours have been numbered and finished.” For such sin there could be no remedy, and the fire of God fell. The Canaanite nations inhabiting Canaan at the time of the Israelite invasion are made the illustrations for the world of this fact, that sin may grow to be beyond remedy. Four hundred years later than the destruction of Sodom, those nations had become, in daring and utterly abominable iniquity, what Sodom had been. The utter destruction of them, as nations, was the inevitable judgment of God. Jericho, the first city utterly destroyed, was the local seat of the worship of Ashtoreth, the consort of Baal; and it represented all that was foulest and most revolting in the heathenism of the Canaanites. “The heathenism of Palestine and Syria was so foul and degrading in every sense, that there is no state, even at this time, which would not put it down, if necessary, by the severest penalties.” Here again the Divine forbearance tarried long, even until the sin had grown to be beyond remedy. The prophets of Israel and of Judah are called to present the examples of the Divine dealings with the neighbouring nations for the warning of Israel. Again and again they show the Divine judgments hanging over a people, restrained in the Divine long-suffering until the sin has plainly grown beyond remedy, and then descending and overwhelming them. But Israel failed to receive the warning or to learn the lesson, and so it must pass through similar experiences. Despising God’s messengers, resisting God’s prophets, going on in sin, at last it comes to this—there is no more hope of remedy, and ruin is at their gates.
II. Cities that have sinned beyond hope of remedy.—We are reminded at once of Nineveh, that great city to which the warning of coming doom was spoken by the prophet Jonah. Its “cup of iniquity” was full. But the doom was averted by a great act of national repentance. In Jonah’s time the sin of Nineveh had not gone quite beyond remedy. But its goodness proved to be evanescent as the morning cloud. They fell back upon their sins, and at last sin grew beyond remedy, and Nineveh fell, and great was the fall of it. Capernaum, that city by the Lake of Galilee, was exalted unto heaven in privilege, for it was the abode of the Son of man, and the sphere of the great Teacher. But unbelief and indifference were its sins. They grew until they reached beyond remedy, and then even favoured Capernaum must be cast down to hell. There are city sins, in which we may share, which call down the righteous judgments of God. Let us most seriously concern ourselves with them, for they also may grow to be beyond remedy.
III. Individuals that have sinned beyond remedy.—Two figures rise at once into view—Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and Saul, king of Israel. Pharaoh resisted persuasion and appeal. He would not be humbled, so the pride of Egypt must be broken by the death of the first-born, and by the disaster in the Red Sea. Saul would put his will against God’s will. He was reproved, but he kept on in his self-willed ways, until there was no remedy, and the calamity of Gilboa must sweep away both him and his dynasty. The truth may come with some direct applications to ourselves. We have sins that easily beset us: sensual indulgences, self-pleasing luxuries—it may even be that some of us are knowingly and determinedly living in sin, and resisting all the gracious pleadings and warnings and persuadings of God’s servants. Then let us look fairly at this most searching fact to-day. Our sin—yes, our sin—may get to be beyond remedy, beyond the reach of Divine correction, and then the judgments of God that overwhelm must fall—even upon us.
Hebrews 6:7. The Reward of Responsiveness.—The case before the mind of the writer is that of the man who has made profession of Christian faith, and has come into the Church, and been subject to those gracious influences which should nourish Christly character, Christly service, and the Christly life. A man may respond to those influences, and thrive and grow into Christian perfection; and the perfection into which he grows will be the blessed reward of his responsiveness. Or a man may fail to respond to those influences. They may waste themselves upon him. He may remain in the rudimentary conditions, and fail to grow. He may grow nothing but the weeds and thorns that are characteristic of barren and worthless soils. And this will be the curse of his lack of responsiveness. The illustration is taken from the land. Some land is hungry; it will eat up everything that is put into it, but it will yield back nothing of value, only thorns and weeds, thistles and ragwort, and docks and sorrel, that can give pleasure or food to nobody. It is unresponsive land; it is “nigh unto cursing”; its “end is to be burned.” There is other land that is both receptive and responsive. It drinks in the rain and keeps it; it turns all good influences to living uses; it makes a fructifying seed-bed for the seeds and plants; it brings forth herbs to the abundant satisfaction of those who own it and toil in it; and that responsive land abundantly receives the blessing of God. Receptiveness to Christian influences is valuable and important. It may well be earnestly urged; it may well be wisely cultivated. But it is not enough; it is even perilous if it remain alone. There are some learned men who are simply receptive of knowledge. It goes in, any quantity goes in, and stays; it is there—that is all you can say about it. And so there are persons greedily receptive of Christian influences, who simply receive them, and make no response to them either in more gracious living, or in nobler and more devoted service. Responsiveness to Christian influences is the desirable thing, and upon it alone the reward and acceptance of God rests,—response in growth, in activity, in fruitage, in seeding; and in these responses the soul finds its ever-enlarging joy and satisfaction.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Hebrews 6:8. Burning over the Ground.—This lad who is setting fire to these briars and thorns is doing the very act which typified the awful state of those apostates whom it was impossible to renew again unto repentance. He finds it difficult to set the thorns on fire, for it is too late in the season. Before the rains came this whole mountainside was in a blaze. Thorns and briars grow so luxuriantly that they must be burned off always before the plough can operate. The peasants watch for a high wind, and then the fire catches easily, and spreads with great rapidity. It is really a beautiful sort of fireworks, especially seen at night.—Thomson.
Virgil on burning the Ground.—This practice of burning over the ground is very ancient in other lands besides this, and as there are neither fences nor habitations in the open country to be injured by fire, there is no danger in it. Virgil says,—
“Long practice has a sure improvement found,
With kindled fires to burn the barren ground,
When the light stubble, to the flames resigned,
Is driven along, and crackles in the wind.”
The Uses of burning the Ground—The poet speculates about the possible ways in which the burning is beneficial; as, whether “the hollow womb of the earth is warmed by it,” or some “latent vice is cured,” or redundant humours “driven off, or that new breathings” are opened in the chapped earth, or the very reverse. But the Arab peasant would say that two very good reasons not mentioned by the poet were all-sufficient: that it destroyed and removed out of the way of the plough weeds, grass, stubble, and thorn-bushes; and that the ashes of this consumed rubbish was a valuable manure to the land.—Thomson, “Land and Book.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 6:9-58.6.10.—The writer now turns from warning to conciliation and encouragement. He urges steadfastness, diligence, and growth. Better things.—Than any such tendency to apostatise. Accompany salvation.—Full salvation is meant, which includes growth and sanctifying. Farrar renders, “that are akin to salvation”: “near to, conjoined with, salvation.” As apostates are κατάρας ἐγγύες, nigh unto a curse, so those who persevere in maintaining the true religion are ἐχόμενοι σωτηρίας, their salvation is at hand. Labour of love.—Christian service is ever the best Christian defence.
Hebrews 6:11. Same diligence.—Continuing efforts until you have reached the very fulness of the stature of Christ. Full assurance of hope.—Indicating confirmed Christian stability, beyond all fear of falling away.
Hebrews 6:12. Slothful.—Remiss in discharge of Christian duties, or in using all means of Christian culture. Always peril of Christian indifference. The word νωθροί, “tardy,” is applied either to body or mind, to external actions or internal conceptions.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 6:9-58.6.12
Blended Hopes and Fears.—The writer of this epistle evidently occupied a ministerial position in relation to the Churches he addressed. There is the union of recognised authority with personal interest and anxiety in his advice and reproofs. It may be at any time ministerial duty to say stern, severe, searching things, but they should never be said in a hard or harsh tone. Personal interest and affection should at once qualify the severity, and make it all the more severe. The spirit of Christian reproof is given in this sentence: “As my beloved sons, I warn you.” The strong things this writer found it necessary to say concerning wilful apostasy might offend some, and might give many a wrong impression of the writer and of Christianity. He must make it plain that he was dealing with a possible case, and not assuming that they were in such a condition. It was necessary to point out what might be, in order to gain an influence over the evil things which might work out into such hopeless relations. To see where a road leads is often enough to convince us that it cannot be the right road. Every minister of Christ shares the experience of this writer concerning those entrusted to his charge.
I. He has hope in some.—The hope is based on recognised signs of Christian life. Hope is essential to the Christian ministry. There should be persistency in looking at the brighter side of things, quickness to discern every sign and possibility of good, and skill to nourish it into expression and strength. In many really good people, good has a way of hiding and almost disguising itself; and ministers need the wisdom of hopefulness in dealing with such persons. It may be that some in every Christian Church cause grave anxiety; it is almost always true that the many inspire confidence, win affection, and become to the minister his “joy and crown of rejoicing” in the day of God. He must never shrink from the duty of dealing with the careless, the inconsistent, and the wilful, but he can never do his work worthily unless he persistently hopes for the best. And the signs of healthy Christian life, which man may observe and God is sure not to forget, are summed up in this: “your work, and the love which ye shewed toward His name, in that ye ministered unto the saints, and do minister.”
1. Your work; activity and energy are satisfactory indications of vigorous and healthy life.
2. Love for Christ’s name, seen in doing the service which He did, and wants done. Christ’s name is a synonym for service to others, ministry to others. There is something of Christliness in all self-denying ministry; the full true Christliness when the ministry is distinctly rendered for Christ, and as Christ’s. Defection from the Christian spirit shows itself at once in failing ministry to others. Where soul-health flags there is no love of service.
II. He has fears for some.—And the fears find expression in anxious prayers on their behalf. Three things are objects of desire and prayer:
1. Where there is trembling and sign of weakness, the minister has his fears, and prays that these may be replaced by steadfastness, the firm tread, and upright pose of the man who feels the strength of good health.
2. Where there is flagging, through failing interest in Divine things, the minister has his fears, and prays that a new spirit of persistency may be given, and the aims of the Christian life become the inspiration of new and holier endeavour.
3. Where there is sluggishness, the dulness of stealthy spiritual disease, which saps the vital energy, and makes life a weariness, and lays the soul open to the attacks of spiritual disease, there the minister has his grave fears, and prays for grace to enable him to arouse and revive, by presenting in an inspiring way the example of them who “through faith and patience inherit the promises.” What the minister wants for all his people is, that they should have two graces—faith and patience; that each should be in full vigour of health; that the two should harmoniously and helpfully blend together; and so blending, protect from all attacks of temptation, open or insidious,—faith ever looking toward higher things, and patience ever enduring while those higher things are being attained.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 6:9. The Hopefulness of the Christian Teacher.—“We are persuaded better things of you.” A well-known and greatly honoured Christian preacher, in advising a younger minister, once said, “I would not care to preach, if the Christian religion were not a religion of hope.” Whatever subject that good man dealt with, he persisted in seeing the hopeful side of it, though he bore the burden of a frail body, and was placed in circumstances of great strain and difficulty. In hopefulness concerning those to whom he ministers, the preacher gains his power. He has reason to nourish a spirit of hopefulness:
(1) in view of the truths with which he has to deal;
(2) in view of the presence of the Spirit with him, in doing the service of Christ;
(3) in view of the inspiring power of hope on the human heart;
(4) in view of the fact that just what the pressure of weekly life does for men is, take the hope out of them;
(5) and in view of the fact, that Christianity holds out its best things as things to come. But the hopefulness of the Christian teacher is only sometimes a happy disposition. The nature of the minister’s work tends to nourish depression. Hopefulness is usually a gracious disposition won out of fierce conflict, won for the sake of gaining efficiency in the service of men, and of rightly representing Him who saves us by kindling hope.
Hebrews 6:10. God’s Observations and Remembrances.—“God is not unrighteous to forget your work.” When the Divine inspections are dealt with, the observation of our frailties, short-comings, and sins is usually commended to our attention. The Divine observation is made a ground for nourishing a holy fear. But we have lost much in fixing too close an attention on this side of the Divine observation. It ought to be made the means of nourishing a holy restfulness, and a holy joy. The inspection takes notice of everything that is good and hopeful in us. The inspection always considers the good things in their relation to the capacities and possibilities of the individual who does them, and so calls things very good which the individual mourns over as sadly below his own standard. And it is of the essence of God’s righteousness that He never forgets what He observes. His dealings with us are based on what He remembers, as well as what He sees.
Hebrews 6:11. Hope elevated into Full Assurance.—“Full assurance of hope unto the end.” R.V. “fulness of hope even to the end.” Can human hope ever rise to “full assurance,” to absolute confidence? Not in a strict sense. The element of human frailty, that necessarily involves uncertainty, must always be in it. It can never cease to be hope, because trust, which is the ground of hope, can never be removed from the creature, who is, and for ever must be, a dependent being. If hope then is to grow and enlarge, what can it grow into? The R.V. may help us. It can grow into “fulness,” into maturity, into completeness, into its ideal, into itself at its best possible. The man who has nourished the grace of hope into its maturity has whatever is meant by “full assurance.” And matured hope can do a most full and gracious work in the Christian life—especially in steadying it. Therefore the anchor is the symbol of hope, because it keeps the vessel steady when tides sway, currents draw, and winds drive. When the hold of Christian hope—its hold of the present realities of our Christian standing, and its hold of the exceeding great and precious promises, and its hold of God as the infinite satisfaction for our future—is firm and full and strong, then we can move calmly among the ever-changing, often trying, scenes of our mortal life. With the good hope of the heavenly Canaan, we can deal wisely with the wearying experiences of our “forty” long wilderness years. It is not, however, very frequently or very forcibly presented in Christian teachings, that Christian hope may and ought to grow into something, and that we are responsible for its nourishment and growth into something. It may be well therefore—
1. To show what a passionate, but unintelligent, and sentimental thing—often utterly unworthy thing—hope is in the young Christian. Its value is not unfairly represented by the expectations of Pliable in the Pilgrim’s Progress.
2. To show what a thing of mixed value hope is in the middle-aged Christian; often by no means cleared of its sordid and sentimental elements, and indeed often crushed down into silence, by the fierce strain, the wearying care, and the overwhelming disappointments of life. To the middle-aged Christian there is seldom any vision from Delectable Mountains, and Heaven seems “far to go.”
3. To show how in days of Christian maturity hope comes out clear, gains its fulness, and anchors the soul in quietness, security, and peace.
Hebrews 6:12. The Peril of Slothfulness.—“Be not slothful,” R.V. “sluggish.” Slow-blooded; showing no enterprise or energy. “Let us then be up and doing.” In the religious life there is supreme peril in resting content with anything that has been attained. The laissez-faire principle must be stoutly resisted, if any attempt is made to apply it in the Christian life. Therefore the apostle Paul so vigorously describes his own resolve, “Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus.” And the living Lord sends His messages to His seven Churches, making His promises only to “him that overcometh,” which must mean that he has kept up the fight even to the end.
I. Under what circumstances is a spirit of slothfulness likely to creep over the professing Christian?—
1. It is a frequent attendant on certain natural dispositions. The man who is slow-moving, sluggish, listless, in business affairs, is sure to carry his natural disposition into his religion. His life-work is correcting natural disposition.
2. It is associated with conditions of bodily health. There is lowered vitality where there is not active disease; and subtle diseases usually show themselves in languor, and flagging interest in things; and our bodily states affect the spirit in which our religious duties are done.
3. Slothfulness and indifference are often the rebounds from times of strained religious excitement and emotion. It should always be borne in mind that unusual religious emotion cannot be maintained, and the rebound from it is always serious.
4. Slothfulness in religious life may come with unusual business demands. A man may be compelled to give up his Christian work for a time, and then he has no interest in taking it again.
5. Slothfulness is sometimes a result of Christian jealousy. Others seem to be doing the work better than we are, and then we say, “Let them do it,” and put ourselves out of the ranks of the workers.
II. What perils lie in the path of those who give way to slothfulness?—
1. This peril—their own souls cease to grow, because they have no exercise.
2. This peril—temptation and religious disease secure their opportunity.
3. This peril—the final judgment of their Divine Master, who will surely be severe in dealing with those who “came not to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”
Slothfulness.—“Slothful”—a word which has quite passed out of common use. It may, however, be only the more suggestive to us for that reason. Sometimes our familiar employment of a word plucks out all vigour and force from its meanings. It is a strong old Saxon word, very little changed. The Saxon form is slewdth, from slaw, slow; and the idea of the word is tardiness, disinclination to action or labour; sluggishness, as represented by the level river in contrast with the fresh-flowing, hurrying, eddying mountain stream. It may even be dull, as the same word is translated in Hebrews 5:11 : “Ye are dull, or slothful of hearing; take heed lest ye become dull altogether.” This slothfulness was the characteristic sin of the civilised and effeminate times of the book of Proverbs. It is the great sin, in respect of religious things, of all highly civilised and luxurious ages and nations, and the great peril of all persons who are not placed under the stern necessity of working with hand or brain for their daily bread. But a more precise idea can be given to this term as it is used in this epistle. Slothfulness is action which has in it no energy; nothing of that essential characteristic of manliness—energy. The precise danger against which we are warned in the text is that of dropping down from the earnestness of our first love, to live a Christian life without energy. Such words as “energy” we know apply directly to success in business life, but it seems strange to apply such a term to Christian life and work. We dwell so often on the submissive, patient, and trustful sides of Christian duty, that we may profitably consider other sides which are, perhaps, too much neglected in religious teachings. If a religious life is to be worth anything at all, it must be a life in earnest. The epistle to the Hebrews we cannot affirm with certainty was written by Paul, but it is certainly Pauline in tone and doctrine; it belongs most closely to Paul’s order of thought. It is more rhetorically constructed than any of Paul’s known epistles. There is a balancing of sentences, a sense of artistic effect, a choice of language, and a wealth of elaborated illustration which we do not find in Paul’s intenser writings; and there is a breaking up of the argument for the sake of introducing hortatory passages, which belongs to the public speaker rather than the logical writer. Paul has, indeed, passages of splendid eloquence; but they are specimens of the natural eloquence to which an impassioned soul rises, rather than the eloquence which attends speaking gifts and elaborate education. Such an eloquent contrast as that given in the twelfth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews between the Mounts Sinai and Sion you feel is the result of study and care. The occasion of writing this epistle is evidently the observation, or the tidings, of flagging and relaxed energy marking the Christian life and work of the disciples, and putting them in peril of final apostasy from the Christian faith. They were caught in the downward current, and, though they discerned it not, Christian teachers knew that the rapids and the fatal falls were near. The cause of such slothfulness was partly the state and tone of society in that age, partly the enervating influence of a divided effort. The disciples could not rise wholly up out of Judaism, but painfully tried to blend Jewish observances with Christian spirituality. The corrective proposed is a worthier estimate of Christ and of Christianity, in contrast with the great Jewish officials and Judaism. Each stage in the contrast is relieved by passages of direct and intense personal application and persuasion. Our chapter is one of these digressions, partly persuasive, partly introductory to a difficult branch of the subject, viz. the deeper meaning of the Old Testament figure of Melchizedek. The writer urges that there ought to be kept up an exceeding interest in Christian growth—growth in intelligence, growth in activity, growth into the very fulness of the Christian manhood. Christians ought to respond to the various influences culturing growth, even as the earth ought to respond to the refreshing rains. What must become of earth that lies barren, or only brings forth thorns and briars, merely receiving all those quickening rains, and never worthily responding? Surely, “it is nigh unto cursing; its end is to be burned.” But counsels couched in this reproachful tone tend only to depress; so he speaks brightly and hopefully, as indeed he well may, of the Church as a whole; there was a general desire for growth, and signs of the spirit of energy. But he was afraid of individuals, and of their hindering, repressive influence. He has a word of earnest persuasion for them. “We desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” Show the same diligence. Be not slothful. Share all together in the Church energy, activity, and growth. Worthily follow the examples of those heroic men who, by daily faith that kept alive daily energy, and by daily patience that kept the energy from flagging, have obtained the promises. Remember Abraham, the father of the trustfully patient, and be quite sure that for you also the inspiring promises are pledged in the “immutability of God’s counsel.”
I. The sin of slothfulness in the Christian life.—The word does not mean mere “slowness of movement.” That may be a characteristic of the natural disposition; it may belong to the firm, strong, but slow pulse, and may be quite compatible with a true energy. It is opposed to “diligence,” so we may say that it is the taking up of a Christian profession weakly, manifesting in the Christian life no earnestness, easily permitting the claims it makes on us to be relaxed or denied for the sake of our self-indulgences. We know the sin and its ruinous consequences well enough in business life. We have often been wearied out with the kid-gloved young man, who counts business a bore, dawdles about, puts no soul into anything, drags through his day’s work, and tries the patience of everybody that has to do with him. Can it possibly be that he represents the way in which, by our Christian slothfulness, we are wearying God and all good men? It must be a sin to live a listless, easyful Christian life: a sin like that of the soldier who hides among the stuff, or feigns a sickness, when the trumpet-blast is summoning all heroic souls to the front. It must be sin in view of those all-absorbing claims of King Jesus under which we come. He demands body, soul, and spirit, life, time, powers, all. No man can be truly His without being wholly His. It must be sin in view of the consecration vow which we have made, yielding ourselves up as living sacrifices, like the whole burnt-offering, given over, body, and fat, and skin, and blood, and life, for a whole consuming on the Lord’s altar. It must be sin in view of that great work in the world which has yet to be done ere Christ shall “see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.” It must be the sin of the most shameful ingratitude when we remember how He bought us with His precious blood, giving Himself unto the death for us. Think, I beseech you, what manner of persons we ought to be who profess to live with the “love of Christ constraining us.” And yet what a frequent sin it is! Mark is slothful, shrinks from fatiguing, dangerous journeys in the cause of Christ; as Matthew Henry so quaintly puts it, “He wanted to go home and see his mother.” Demas fails, even in the hour of the apostle’s need: he could not put any energy into his Christian life, through the love of this present world. Even Timothy must be reproved for yielding to his retiring, studious disposition, and shrinking back from the active features of ministerial duty. And with withering severities the angel of the Churches pleads with the Laodiceans, “Thou art neither cold nor hot.… I would thou wert cold or hot.” The stability, the usefulness, the joy, and the ultimate triumph of the Christian life absolutely depend on our taking it up with energy. It is miserable to think of Christian people that, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, they shall all escape safe to land. What noble soul will care to drift into the harbour of God like that? Let us be in earnest, and win an “abundant entrance.” As we pass round over the bar, let every flag be flying, every man be at his post; a battered hull, but sound; rent but mended canvas filling with the heavenward breeze, and round the crowded harbour the thousand white-robed shouting our glad welcome, and saying,—
“Come in, come in; eternal glory thou shalt win.”
That is the way to go to heaven and God from an earnest Christian life. A little hut, built of half-burnt logs and boards, was raised amid the smouldering fire-ruins of Chicago, the first sign of the restoration of that desolated city, and on the front was placed this inscription:—
“WILLIAM D. KERFOOT;
All gone except wife, children, and energy.”
With energy all could be retrieved. With energy a noble Christian life can be lived. Work for Christ is worth doing “with both hands earnestly.” “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” “Do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” “Curse ye, Meroz, saith the Lord; for they came not unto the help of the Lord against the mighty.” Beware of this subtle, seductive, ruinous Christian sin of slothfulness!
II. The temptations to the sin of Christian slothfulness in modern life.—Certainly there is no temptation to slothfulness in modern business life. Intensity, haste, keenness, over-grasping, are the modern business sins. But this business life of ours in many ways brings temptation to a weak Christian living. Observe how it tends to exhaust energy, expending all the gathered stores of physical and mental strength, and leaving none to be given to Christian uses. What sort of men are you when the day’s work is done? It can be put in a few words: fit only for the social dinner-table and the easy-chair. All else but actual business hours must be devoted to recruiting strength for the coming business hours. Christ and His claims are simply crowded out. Sounding almost unheard in every office and warehouse and shop are words of Christ’s with which He fain would still the fevers, and calm the hurrying waves, of modern life. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Then, too, it brings wealth, and the enervating influence of luxury. Precisely the sin of old Sodom, old Jerusalem, and old Tyre, against which a prophet’s voice is ever needed. “Pride, fulness of bread, and idleness” were in them and their daughters, telling fatally upon the national energy. We know how our very food affects us, and we only care to rest. Once at home we can find plentiful excuse for shrinking from Christian worship or work. Other things besides business are seriously telling on the energy of religious life. I do but suggest them to your thought, that you may ponder over them seriously. To what an alarming extent personal Christian effort is excused by an arrangement for money payment; as if cold cash could ever do in the world for Christ what living souls can! The extravagant pursuit of mere pleasure, and interest in the excitingly sensational, and weakly sentimental, in literature. Intelligent Christian evenings are out of fashion, and our houses are flooded with tale-books, until we can get our children to read nothing that is solid and instructive. And then in other departments of life we have the open enthronement of intellect as the deity for modern worship. Men have not yet dared to call her “Minerva” or “Athene,” and claim for her a temple and an altar; but the goddess of wisdom is fast pushing Jehovah, the God of righteousness and love, out of His claim to men’s thoughts. Now can you seriously weigh the influence of all these things on Christian energy, on religious life? Can you see how these things account for the religious easyfulness that is all around us—an easyfulness that makes all Christian work drag heavily? Can you, by the help of these things, explain the pleasant way in which you are being borne along to heaven, as if in some delightful gondola, on a still and flowing stream—your boat fitted up with exquisite taste, pleasant companions around you, delightful music to soothe you into a dreamy half-sleep, rowers to dip their oars in the sparkling waters and relieve you of all the toil, and a strange delusion possessing you that in this way you may sail on, and never know a windy, stormy ocean, and never feel one tossing wave until the boat rounds in to the heavenly landing-stage? Awake, O sleeper! Arise from the death of such delusions! Let Christ give you light; let Christ inspire you to higher things with His constraining love. Christian life is conflict; Christian life is pilgrimage; Christian life is toil. No rowers can ever row for you while you recline on soft pillows of ease. The Christian boat is no fancy-painted gondola. It is a stout fisherman’s boat; and there is nothing for thee but thine own hand to the oars, and a life of hard pulling against the down-rushing stream. Christian work demands your help. A heaven that could be any real joy to you is to be won. Your crown is to be gained through a present victory over self and circumstance and sin! “Be not slothful.” Too surely all nerveless living induces disease. Slothfulness is a plague-spot; soon it spreads into unbelief, grows into indifference, eats inward until it become apostasy, and at last, reaching the vitals, it becomes spiritual and eternal death. Well indeed may the Son of man say, “I would thou wert cold or hot.”
“Who would share Abraham’s blessing
Must Abraham’s path pursue;
A stranger and a pilgrim,
Like him, must journey through.
The foes must be encountered,
The dangers must be passed;
Only a faithful soldier
Receives the crown at last.”
III. The dishonour which Christian slothfulness puts upon those saints and heroes who have gone before us, and who seek to live again in us.—“Them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.” We are not sure that hero-worship, or the inspiration of heroic examples, is as mighty in our day as in some past times. Pride in one’s own age was perhaps never carried to such an extreme as it is now. Men can speak lightly and even disdainfully of the grandest men that have ever lived, and we think ourselves quite competent to criticise the greatest productions of human genius. We often notice a failing reverence for God; there runs along with it a failing reverence for good and great men, and these are surely bad signs of the times. This age deals more with things than with persons, and it is as an antidote to this tendency that we persist in setting forth the person of the Son of God: not first His doctrine, not first His work, but first Himself. True greatness in every age is a response to the influence of sublime human examples. “The real interest of the Scripture books centres about persons, who reproduce and exhibit in their human lives the purposes of the Father of all.… The lives of the saints are always in some form a chief part of the spiritual food of every generation. Their experiences are assimilated by us, and enter into our own lives. The pious propagate their piety, the brave man propagates his courage, there is a spiritual descent and inheritance more sure than that of the race” (Ll. Davies, “Gosp. Mod. Life,” p. 173). The power of heroic examples has perhaps never been so forcibly illustrated as in the case of the great French Revolution. Men were, indeed, terribly mistaken in their modes of action, and borne beyond all sobriety in the enthusiasm of a great national hope; but the leaders were for the most part grand men, men of heroic soul, and it is instructive to observe that their heroism was fed by reading Plutarch’s Lives of the Great Romans. Luther cultured his brave, courageous spirit by constant fellowship with the great Israelite prophets, reading them till their ardour burned in his own breast. But there is also an unsurpassed humbling in the influence of heroic and saintly examples. They will cure us, as nothing else will, of our self-confidence and self-sufficiency. That which is true of the ministers is true of the people. If we find conceit growing, and we are beginning to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, we take down the Life of John Howe, who pressed near to the fountains of God’s truth till he felt that he drank right from the fresh spring. Or of Edward Payson, or R. M. McCheyne, men who lived in the secret place of the Most High. Or of Norman McLeod, broad as the world in heavenly, Divine charity, but gentle, humble, simple, playful as a child, and knowing on earth no joy but serving—serving God and his fellow-men. It is one of the characteristics of our religion that it presents to us, and keeps ever before us, a galaxy of heroes, of noble men and women, like a great sky full of various stars, circling about that wondrous light, that central pole-star, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible and the Christian ages do not give us so much a record of achievements as a record of men. And no man can know the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, by any critical estimate of His works; He must be apprehended in His person; He must make the impression of a living man. Think of that roll of heroes given by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews with an eloquence that makes it come to us like the swell of some grand organ-note, pealing forth, until it fills the whole place with its thrilling tones. What is the thing which we especially observe in that great cloud of witnesses? They lived their lives in the world with energy. Their religion was their glory. They were godly “men in earnest.” Watch them as they pass in panoramic order before you—Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Moses, and Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and David, and Elijah, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Daniel. Nay, this is but the beginning of the splendid muster-roll of the godly; add the “glorious company of the apostles,” and the “noble army of martyrs,” and the foremost men of the Christian ages—Augustine, and Bernard, and Luther, and Calvin, and Latimer, and Cranmer, and Loyola, and Knox, and Baxter, and a host of others. Come down into our own passing years, and add the names of such as have come within our own spheres of thought—Wilberforce, and Martyn, and Lincoln, and Hedley Vicars, and Havelock, and Arnold, and Robertson, and Chalmers, and Guthrie, and many more. Add, still again, those whom we have known and loved, with intensity because with reverence, in personal relationship and friendship. Think of those “holy souls and meekly who the cross of suffering bore.” Think of the noble souls who stood well in the front of God’s great war—earnest souls whose life-joy was the service they rendered to the Master whom they loved. What a splendid crowd of witnesses! Oh the glorious vision of the saints of God! Sainted fathers, sainted mothers, sainted pastors, sainted heroes. They have inherited the promises, and now they rest. But how? Through “faith,” which is but another name for energy—energy seen on another side; and through “patience,” which enabled them, amid all their toils and discouragements and failures, to keep up their energy. They live again in us. What dishonour do we put upon such men, then, if our Christian living is faithless and weak, self-indulgent and restless and fretful! How we disgrace our fathers and our grandfathers, our sainted mothers and grandmothers, and all the Christian dead, if we sink down so low as to make our lives a mere response to the questions: “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? And wherewithal shall we be clothed?” Brethren, surely this ought not so to be! They live again in us. They were the Church of Christ for their time, and we are for ours. Would to God that in earnest, energetic Christian lives we could be worthy of them! Nay, would to God that we might be worthy of Him whom they and we alike should imitate, who hath called us by His grace unto His kingdom and glory. I know of no promises to cheer the self-indulgent. I know of no high words of hope to speak to those who are at ease in Zion. But there are words of thrilling inspiration for those who will fight and toil. Do you say, “No cross”? Then the King will surely say, “No crown.” If you will but take up that cross brightly, cheerfully, lift it on your shoulder, go forth to life with it a brave, earnest man, full of energy for Christ, then He shall speak a “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and crown you with the crown of “full, and everlasting, and passionless renown.” Be earnest. Be earnest for Christ. Be earnest for holiness. Be earnest for souls. “To him that overcometh” ease, and sloth, and disposition, and pleasure, and the age, and circumstances, winning them all for Christ—“to him,” saith the Master, “will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God … and I will write upon him My new name.” Would it surprise you to find that name just meant this: the Unslothful—a man earnest unto death?
The Lives of the Saints.—“All saints” are the great cloud of witnesses by whom we find ourselves compassed about when we move backwards in thought through the ages of Church history. To remember those who have gone before us, who have trodden to the end the path we are treading, who have fought in the honourable conflict in which we also are fighters, seems a kind of spiritual obligation; but it is also one of the best exercises for spiritual training. The crown of all that the Bible has to reveal to us is the life of the Son of God in our flesh. In every age of the Church attention has been paid to the lives of good men. There has been no difference in this respect between Roman Catholics and Protestants. All sects and schools have had their lives of the saints. In the New Testament “the saints” are all the members of the Church, and their sanctity or holiness was regarded as depending not on their personal character, but on their calling. The ecclesiastical use of the word is not precisely the same as this. The saints we are to follow were men of faith and of patience. By faith they overcame the world; by patience they stood fast under the trials of their conflict. Whatever their opinions may have been, whatever their imperfections and lapses even may have been, men of eminent faith and of eminent patience are witnesses of the best things to us, and worthy leaders in the onward march of humanity. Such men have been the living heart of the Church, the salt of the earth. They have not always been honoured and promoted in their lifetime. The true saints have encountered difficulties which were mountains requiring all their faith to remove; they have undergone tribulations, such as neglect, persecution, contempt, which proved their Divine gift of patience to the uttermost. It is a good thing that we should try to obtain a closer acquaintance with the good Christians who have been in some way nearer to ourselves—with those, for example, of our own race and country, whose circumstances and trials and achievements we may be better able to understand. There is a continuous national life which is enriched by every faithful life that is thrown into it, and the contribution is more valuable when such a life is made the subject of an interesting record. Instances: W. Wilberforce, Ab. Lincoln, Hedley Vicars, Arnold of Rugby, Robertson of Brighton. These are lives that have become public property, by being led in conspicuous stations. But there have been lives of faith and patience known to us individually which never drew the eyes of the public upon them. There is always “the world” to be overcome; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Every example of persevering loyalty to the will of God, and of confidence in the ultimate dominion of that will, is an addition to the blessed company of the saints. In every life there are frequent calls for exercising patience. There has been no high Christian virtue, no eminent nobility of life, without patience. Where patience of the true quality has been shown, a patience sustained by hope, a sweet and kindly patience, there we ought to recognise the true saintship. The innumerable company of the saints is not a distant body of another nature than ours; it includes those who, whether they be still with us or have gone before us, have displayed the like faith and patience. These beckon to us to follow them in hope. When we commune with ourselves most sincerely, which kind of life seems really the noblest and most to be preferred, that of men who strove and suffered in faith and patience, whether they were happy in this world or not, or that of those who have selfishly steered their course so as always to get the most pleasure, and to avoid the most pain?—J. Llewellyn Davies, M.A.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 6:13.—The connection of thought may be thus given: “Follow the godly, I say. Take one such for an instance. Abraham. See how graciously God met his steadfast goodness.” But how does this illustrate the point? Thus God revealed Himself to Abraham, even as, in Christ, he has revealed Himself to you. Abraham believed. Abraham patiently continued. Abraham has long ago attained the promise. But, from this illustration it might be argued that Abraham had the advantage of a positive oath and promise: there was no uncertainty trying his faith. The writer replies, “Neither is there in Christianity.” That is the new grace of Him who has proved Himself faithful. What then are the two immutable things? The promise and oath of God. Given for confirming our faith. Stuart says, “the oath that David should have a son, and the oath that Christ should be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
Hebrews 6:19. Anchor of the soul.—This is a figure of hope; it was a familiar emblem from very early days. It is the hope, not the anchor, which is thought of as entering within the veil, resting on the living, exalted, spiritual High Priest. It is not necessary to think of the anchor as holding within the veil. Hope holds there, not the mere emblem of the hope. The figure of heaven is borrowed from the Jewish sanctuary.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 6:13-58.6.20
Two Immutable Things.—In this epistle there is certainly one of the marked characteristics of the Pauline style. St. Paul was constantly swept aside from the main line of his argument by new thoughts suggested by words he used. And he does not always come back precisely upon the point where he broke off. The writer here has a train of thought suggested by speaking of those who “through faith and patience inherit the promises.” He checks himself to make mention of one, the patriarch Abraham. But it is not difficult to trace the continuance of his main argument. He had been urging the Jewish Christians to a persistent steadfastness. But what can he say to strengthen them in making the effort? What can he do better than remind them that God is always on the side of goodness? He has, through all the ages, encouraged His people to persevering and steadfast goodness, by two immutable things—His promise, and the oath that confirms it. Abraham is the example of those who can unite faith in God with patient waiting for Him. To him came the comforting of God’s well-assured promise, “Blessing I will bless thee.” In the ways of men promises are things to be relied on and acted on. Promises, when confirmed by solemn oath, become covenants, and are regarded as absolutely reliable. “In every dispute of theirs the oath is final for confirmation.” I. The ground of Abraham’s hope was God’s solemnly confirmed promise to him. II. The ground of our hope is God’s promise of eternal blessing, eternal life, in Christ Jesus, sealed and confirmed as it is by the Divine assurance and oath. It is evident that the term “oath” is not used in the precise way that is familiar to us. It means generally “a solemnly assured promise.” There is therefore good reason for considering Stuart’s suggestion, that the two immutable things are:
1. The solemn declaration and assurance that Abraham should have a son, in whom all nations should be blessed. Abraham was encouraged and strengthened to endure all disabilities by that assurance. He lived and suffered and acted in the inspiration and cheer of it.
2. The solemn declaration and assurance, to which God, as it were, pledged His faithfulness, that Abraham’s son, David’s son, the Messiah, should be man’s High Priest for ever, and after the permanent human order of Melchizedek, not the temporary and strictly Jewish order of Aaron. Both these promises are regarded as solemnly confirmed and sealed, because both are written down in the infallible Scriptures, to which God is solemnly pledged,—one in Genesis 22:18; the other in Psalms 110:4.
I. God’s solemn pledges to His people.—
1. They are given in ways that show gracious Divine consideration for human weakness.
2. They are given in ways that make a basis for absolute confidence.
3. They are represented by the extremest ways in which men gain the confidence of their fellow-men.
4. They are written down in the sacred Scriptures so that there may be no disputing about their character and meaning.
5. So written, they become equally Divine pledges to the people of God in each succeeding generation.
6. The honour of God’s name is involved in any failure to keep the promises so solemnly made. And God is a jealous God—jealous of the honour of His own name.
II. A representative instance of God’s faithfulness to His pledge.—The case of Abraham. Specially interesting to Jews, because Abraham was the great race-father. God made a solemn promise to him. But it was one which it seemed, naturally, impossible to fulfil. Nevertheless Abraham accepted the assurance, relied on the promise, and found, what God’s people find over and over again, that the impossible with men is possible with God, and that God’s word never does “return unto Him void.” The promised son was born; in his descendants came the Messiah, and in Him all nations of the earth have been and are blessed.
III. The universally interesting instance of God’s faithfulness to His pledge.—As solemnly as Abraham was assured that all nations should be blessed in him, so solemnly was humanity assured that Messiah should be the Priest of humanity after the order of Melchizedek. That may seem strange and almost impossible to men who could recognise no priesthood but the limited Levitical. But the pledge is kept. Christ is that priest; and if He seems to supersede the high priest for Jews, it is only because He is God’s High Priest for humanity, Jews included.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 6:13. Swearing as Asseveration.—An examination of the references to swearing and oath-taking in a Bible Concordance will impress the familiarity of the custom in Bible times. It was the ancient way of assuring things which has in modern times been replaced by the signing of documents.
1. Swearing may be wrong. What is now commonly understood by swearing is always wrong. It is the “taking of God’s name in vain,” which is the expression of irreverence or unrestrained passion.
2. Swearing may be duty. It is when we are called upon seriously to confirm our word with an oath, in a court of justice.
3. Swearing may be the befitting thing. It is when the solemn confirmation of our word is called for. But Jesus taught that in the utterances of His followers there should always be such a ring of truth, that their words should never need such confirmations. Only in condescension to man’s weakness can God ever confirm His word with an oath. And He can only swear by Himself, as there is no one greater than He to whom His appeal can be made.
Hebrews 6:15. The Issue of God’s Waiting-time.—“And thus, having patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” However long God may call us to wait for the fulfilment of His promise, the fulfilment comes at last; but when it comes, it may not come to the person who first received the promise, or it may not come in the form which he expected it to take. Abraham himself did not receive the promise in its fulfilment, but his posterity did. Abraham did receive the fulfilment of the promise, if its spiritual significance be apprehended; for the spiritual blessing which holding the promise was to him was its really best fulfilment. This gives us two principles which can be applied to our Christian expectations.
I. Whatever God has literally promised will be actually and literally fulfilled, however long the fulfilment may seem to tarry, and even if the the waiting-time overpasses any one man’s life.
II. The spiritual blessing which God makes our times of trustful waiting for the fulfilment of His promise to be, are the very best fulfilment of that promise. In our trustful waiting we now “receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls.”
Hebrews 6:17. The Immutability of God’s Counsel impressed upon His People.—R.V. “Wherein God, being minded to shew more abundantly unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel, interposed with an oath.” God’s taking oath to confirm His promise was an act of most gracious and pitiful condescension to the weakness of men—condescension indeed to admit for one moment the bare possibility that He might not be true to His word. Such a suspicion might arise in man’s frail heart; but it is a marvel of grace that God should recognise it, and so patiently and so graciously arrange for its removal, by taking solemn oath for the confirmation of the promise. As if, for the comforting of man, and as if He were a man with men, He would pledge His very life upon His faithfulness. That marvel of condescending grace is seldom worthily estimated, and our response of absolute and entire trustfulness is seldom worthily made. The unchangeableness of God’s word and God’s plan, the “immutability of God’s counsel,” needs to be impressed upon us. But when we speak of change in relation to God, it is necessary to speak with great care and precision. There never can be change in His plan or purpose, there must be change in His modes of carrying out His purposes, if He is to adapt them to the ever-changing moods and circumstances of His uncertain and ever-changing creatures. But that sort of change we know is quite consistent with the steadfast and unwavering purpose of our human parenthood. Within the human limits, parents are at once unchangeable and changeable. But it is always a most serious endeavour of wise parents to fix the conviction of their faithfulness and unchangeableness on the minds of their children. It is the support of their authority; it is the ground of their claim to full trust. Just so, and in the higher, the infinite sense, God must adequately impress on us the “immutability of His counsel,” because on our confidence in it rests our response to His authority, and our trust in Himself.
Hebrews 6:17-58.6.19. The Anchor of Hope.—One of the saddest things that was ever said about the heathen world is said by the apostle Paul, who wrote of it as having no hope. The agnostic literature of our own period is doing what it can to drag Christendom back and down to the same dismal abyss. A grim, hard unbelief seeks to bound our little life for us, and there is no hereafter. We have a foundation in a Divine promise—a hope of eternal life. We have “an assurance of hope unto the end,” that is a certainty as opposed to uncertainty, meagreness, and shallowness. This blessed hope is described and illustrated in the text.
I. It is a “hope set before us.”—That form of expression is to be found again and again in this epistle. It is not uncertain, but devised, planned, and provided for by the God of our love. “Confirmed by an oath.” “Set before us.” Whom? Those who “flee for refuge.” Not for self-confident persons.
II. It is a “hope sure and stedfast.”—It rests on the promise of God. We need it in the face of the frequent defeats of natural earthly hopes, and the frequent discouragements of our personal experience and service.
III. It “enters within the veil.”—Thus it is like an anchor that goes into the sea—its proper place. Its security is in heaven, where Christian believers have and hold all their best things. The writer of this epistle never lost sight of the priesthood and the sanctuary. Nothing can twine itself about the person or injure the life of the great High Priest who is “within the veil.” We hope in Him, think of Him, and wait—that is our hope.
IV. The hope illustrated.—
1. It is an anchor of the soul. A most apposite and instructive metaphor. The anchor gives steadiness and security. So of our hope that goes down beneath the surface-troubles of life, and grapples with some secret ground of strength and comfort.
2. The folly of going to sea without an anchor. Men have impulse, energy, but no hold on the promises of God, no good hope through grace. So, too, unsound anchors and chains are worse than having none. A little profession, a faint hope, is an unsound anchor.
3. A well-taught, well-disciplined Christian has good hope, and is secure against going on the shoals of doubt, or the hard rocks of despair. When life is troubled, conscience agitated, and the heart tossed with tempests and conflict, the Christian can hope in God. The shipwreck of faith is well prevented by the strong anchor of hope. There is no perfect calm. We must put our hope in the promise of eternal life, which God has given to us in Christ Jesus. That is our anchorage ground. If, like Bunyan’s pilgrim, we “feel the ground,” we shall “see the Gate and Him standing by it to receive us.”—Donald Fraser, D.D.
Hebrews 6:18. The Immutable Promises of God.—This is one of the most inspiring and helpful passages in the New Testament. The key to it is in the dual thought presented, and which runs all through the paragraph. God gave to Abraham a promise which He confirmed by oath. These, His word and His oath, are the two immutable things; they constitute not only a consolation, but a strong consolation; we have not only an anchor, but an anchorage; the word is sure, and the oath makes it steadfast. This double form of presentation thus pervades the passage. God condescends to human frailty and the weakness of our faith. He gives His word of promise, and then confirms it with an oath; and because He can swear by no greater, swears by Himself. A deeper thought lies here. Jesus Christ is the living, incarnate oath of God—His word of promise made flesh, and thus doubly secured to the believer. The word of God is our anchor; but the anchor needs an anchorage; and Jesus, the forerunner, takes the anchor and lodges it within the veil, making it fast to the rock of ages. The introduction of the person of Christ here is to be accounted for on this ground—that He represents God’s confirming oath; and hence without Him the promise would lack its confirmation. (Compare Hebrews 7:22, also 2 Corinthians 1:18-47.1.20.) The theme suggested is the immutable promises of God.
1. God has given His word, and cannot lie.
2. God has given His oath, and cannot perjure Himself.
3. God has given His Son, and so has given Himself. Christ incarnates His word of promise and His oath in Himself, and fulfils both. He adds the yea of confirmation to God’s word. He seals the promise with His own blood. Practical thoughts:
1. The folly of unbelief. The land of promise is before us, but we are slack to possess it. All depends on our appropriation. (CompareJoshua 1:3; Joshua 1:3.) Only what we measure off with our own feet do we actually possess and enjoy.
2. The sin of unbelief. We virtually make God both a liar and a false swearer by not accepting His promise. We dishonour and disobey so far as we lack faith.
3. The inseparableness of the word written and the word incarnate. He who appropriates or rejects the promises appropriates or rejects Jesus. No man’s anchor has an anchorage until he finds Jesus as his Saviour.
4. Faith and hope are close akin (Hebrews 11:1). To believe God’s word begets hope. The more confident the faith the more assured the hope. Both reveal their real value, like an anchor, only when subjected to the strain of trial.—Anon.
Taking Sanctuary with Christ.—“Fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” There are two sets of associations which will materially help us in the endeavour to understand and to apply this somewhat figurative expression. There are one or two cases mentioned in Old Testament Scriptures in which men whose lives were imperilled fled for personal safety into the tabernacle precincts, and caught hold of the horns of the altar of burnt offering, evidently with the idea that they could not be slain while they held those horns. Adonijah, an elder son of David, made a desperate effort to secure the succession to David’s throne. He was thwarted by the promptitude of Solomon and Bathsheba; and then, knowing that he had forfeited his life by his rebellious scheme, “he arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.” Solomon graciously accepted this symbolical appeal, and granted him the right of asylum which he thus claimed. Because Adonijah had been successful, Joab, one of the rebellious party, and a much more dangerous man, thought he would try the same plan, and demand the same asylum. He also “took sanctuary.” “And Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the Lord, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.” But Solomon refused in this case to recognise the right of asylum; and as Joab would not voluntarily come forth from the holy place, he ordered Benaiah to fall upon him and kill him, even as he clung to the “horns.” It is not necessary now to vindicate the wisdom, or the rightness, or the policy of Solomon’s different action in these two cases; we only need attend to the fact, that laying hold of the horns of the altar was one of the ancient modes of claiming sanctuary, or protection from the legal consequences of misdeeds. It should, however, be fully understood that no sanctuary was allowed for wilful and determined criminals, though it was always difficult to decide who were to be classed as such. Sanctuary was recognised for those who had done some wrong by haste, or inadvertently, or by accident, or through circumstances that were quite beyond their own control. It was altogether a degradation of the idea of “sanctuary” when, in the middle ages, villains and criminals were shielded from the proper punishment of their crimes. It is interesting to know that the right of sanctuary was enjoyed by various districts and buildings in London. “In times when every man went armed, when feuds were of hourly occurrence in the streets, when the age had not yet learned the true superiority of right over might, and when private revenge too often usurped the functions of justice, it was essential that there should be places whither the homicide might flee, and find refuge and protection until the violence of angry passions had subsided, and there was chance of a fair trial. Whitefriars was once a refuge for all criminals except traitors; but in the fifteenth century it afforded shelter to debtors only. The ancient sanctuary at Westminster is of historical celebrity as the place where Elizabeth Gray, queen of Edward IV., took refuge when Warwick, the kingmaker, marched to London to dethrone her husband, and set Henry VI. on the throne. The precinct of St. Martin le Grand was also a sanctuary. So was the Savoy; and it was the custom of its inhabitants to tar and feather those who ventured to follow their debtors thither.” Dr. Turner, the missionary in Polynesia, tells us that, in the Samoan Islands, the manslayer, or the deliberate murderer, flies to the house of the chief of the village, or to the house of the chief of another village to which he is related by the father’s or the mother’s side. In nine cases out of ten he is perfectly safe if he remains there. In such instances the chief delights in the opportunity of showing his importance. The other set of associations likely to help us in understanding the metaphor of the text is that connected with the very familiar Mosaic “cities of refuge.” Indeed, that is more likely to have been in the mind of the writer, and to have guided his thought, than the less familiar sanctuary safety of the horns of the altar. Moses was instructed to make an arrangement which would give an unintentional manslayer, in any part of the country, a temporary asylum from the family goël, or avenger of blood. Three cities on each side Jordan were made refuge cities, and the roads giving access to these cities were required to be kept in good repair, so that the man fleeing from the avenger might have no hindrance. A man with the stain of a brother’s blood upon him must flee for his life to the nearest city of refuge; or, as our text expresses it, “he must flee for refuge to the hope set before him.” With these two sets of associations in our minds, can we find the applications of our text to our own religious conditions? If we are Christians indeed, we have taken sanctuary with Christ; we are in the Christ-sanctuary; we have, as it were, firm hold of the “horns of the altar”; we “have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” The writer is using persuasion to Christian professors.
I. A Christian is one who has had cause to flee.—He has been a sinner, and such a sinner that he has forfeited his life. The law has reached him, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” We need not speak exaggeratedly about this, or in any unreal, excited, sentimental way. The Christian has not been a murderer, or a thief, or a slanderer, or unclean. He may look at the great commands that affect moral relations, with the rich young ruler, and say as sincerely as he did, “All these have I kept from my youth up.” And yet the fact may remain, that relative to the searching spiritual law of God which demands a spiritual perfection of motive as well as of conduct, and the supreme devotion of the whole man to the glory of God, he is found wanting, judged a sinner, guilty before God. He has sinned with his soul; he must die. We can never get that sense of our sin which makes us feel the need of Jesus as our Saviour while our attention is fixed on acts of sin. It is not until we come to apprehend what sin really is, not until we see it to be the soul’s rebellion against God in order to exalt itself, that we see how righteously there hung over us the rebel’s doom—the doom of the spiritual and eternal death. Once the avenger of God’s outraged honour and claim was aroused, was at our heels, and we had cause to flee. Bunyan pictures Graceless awakened to see himself a sinner, and exposed to the sinner’s death. In his hand is the roll, in which he reads. There is the direction which he needs. He has cause to flee; and it reads, “Flee from the wrath to come.”
II. A Christian is one for whom a refuge has been provided.—It is pictured and anticipated in the old cities of refuge for the manslayer. It is a secure refuge; it is near at hand: the access to it is easy. But the old city was only a materialising of the the spiritual reality. The refuge provided for the soul-sinner is a man, a fellow-man, a Divine Man—altogether competent, for He has gained the full right and the full power to become man’s sanctuary. The psalmist had his foreshadowing of the truth which is so plain to us when he said, “I flee unto Thee to hide me.” An imperilled criminal may find refuge in a house, in a tabernacle, in a city; but an imperilled soul—and remember you once were a soul-sinner, that is the supreme fact of the past which demands such anxious attention—cannot find refuge at an altar, in a church, or even in an appointed city of refuge. No sanctuary that you ever heard of is any good at all to you, you soul-sinner. The imperilled soul, after whom the eternal death-avenger is pursuing, can find no refuge save in God—nay, nay, there is something far deeper, far more wonderful than that—only in the God-man, in God come into the soul’s actual sphere, to stretch out arms of welcome, and to make precisely adapted defences and securities. That Samoan custom to which allusion has been made suggests the true and spiritual refuge-provision. The man fleeing for his life fled to a man, the strongest, noblest, most powerful man within his reach; and the man, the chief, became his sanctuary: and Christ Himself is our refuge provided.
III. A Christian is one who has fled to the refuge provided.—It was much that three cities this side Jordan, and three cities that side, were known throughout the land to be “cities of refuge.” But the knowledge never secured any manslayer from the avenger of blood. Only his actual energetic flight over bridge and road, only his breathless hurrying till he could almost leap the last step within the gates of the city, could secure him. He must flee for refuge. It is much that an all-sufficient, almighty, infinitely adapted, and most gracious Saviour-refuge has been provided for us. We may dwell with the utmost satisfaction upon His Divine person, His finished righteousness, His perfect work, His recognised merit, His entrusted power to save, and His satisfying attractiveness; but the meditation, and even the knowledge, never yet saved one soul from the fatal grip of the avenger who executed the eternal death-penalty on soul-sinners. Adonijah would have found no clemency if he had satisfied himself with knowing about the safety gained, and the rights secured, by clutching the horns of the altar. He must flee to the tabernacle, and clutch them; and there must be no possibility of mistaking the fact that he does clutch them. And we cannot be Christians if we only know about Christ our refuge. We must have come into personal relations with Him. We must have fled to Him for refuge. We must have actually taken sanctuary with Christ. We must be behind Him, safe behind Him, so that He shall meet and answer all our foes. The apostle Paul has a famous passage, which is the exulting triumph of the soul that has fled for refuge, that is actually in the sanctuary. It is the song of the soul’s safety. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth: who is he that shall condemn? It is Christ Jesus that died; yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
IV. A Christian is one who has found more than he expected in the refuge to which he has fled.—Here we leave all the earthly symbols of Christ our sanctuary far, far behind. The old city of refuge provided safety—nothing more; or rather nothing more that was unusual. The “horns of the altar” provided safety—nothing more. The middle-age sanctuaries provided safety, and little or nothing more. And if all I could tell you about Christ the soul’s sanctuary were that it provided for the soul’s safety, but nothing more, I would scarcely care to tell the story—at least, there would be no passion of intense persuasion in the telling. Some people think to take sanctuary with Christ that they may be secure from going to hell. Many want Christ for nothing more than safety from their spiritual peril. Let us begin with that, but do not let us stay with that. Take sanctuary with Christ for shelter from the eternal death-avenger; and if you are true-hearted, you will soon find that taking sanctuary is an altogether more precious, more inclusive, more wonderful thing than you could have imagined. Christ our sanctuary is a provision for present enjoyment, and an inspiration to our hope. All thought of peril passes away in the restful, happy, beautiful life we can live in this sanctuary; and everything in it seems full of reminders of the “house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.” In Christ our sanctuary we are safe—that is true. In Christ our sanctuary we are being saved—that is yet more precious truth. In Christ our sanctuary we have the pledge of eternal salvation—that is the unspeakably precious truth. We fled for refuge to a Saviour, and we find that we have fled for refuge to gain a hope full of immortality and bliss. Would you be a Christian? Verily you have good cause to flee. A refuge has been provided for you. You must flee to it, or it can be no refuge to you. If you do take sanctuary with Christ, there is safety for you, joy unspeakable for you, a hope laid up in heaven for you.
Hebrews 6:19. Hope as a Christian Grace.—Hopo is the looking for something to come with an earnest longing and desire. What is it that Christians hope for? Is it not for “fulness of joy” in the presence of God, for the “pleasure” which is at His “right hand for evermore”? There can be no true hope where there is not some faith and some love. If we have no faith, no living interest in the things of another world—no strong feeling of their vast importance—how can we hope for them? And we only hope for that on which we have set our affections; and hope, in its very nature, springs from and implies a love of that which we hope for. Perhaps we do not think enough of hope, as a Christian grace and duty. We strive after a brighter faith and a warmer love, but suffer our hope to be weak and dim. We do not dwell enough on the glorious things which it is our privilege to hope for. God has given us hope as a help and support to other higher motives.—W. Walsham How, D.D.
The Anchor Figure for Christian Hope.—The anchor, in one form or another, was known among the most ancient navigators of whom we have any record; and very early, as was natural, it became a symbol of hope. The Jews were not a maritime people, and they probably borrowed both the anchor, and the symbolic use of it, from their Gentile contemporaries. From the text it appears that the anchor, as a symbol of hope, was well known in the apostolic Church. The early Christians engraved it on rings, sculptured it on monuments, and on the walls of cemeteries and catacombs. Sometimes the symbol was associated with the fish, which was regarded as the symbol of Christ Himself. The anchor still holds its place as a sign of hope, and will do so probably to the end of time.
The Soul’s Anchor-hold.—Christ is the soul’s anchor. He is within the veil. He is there for us—there in such real connection with us as is represented by the relation of the anchor to the vessel. The illustration can only be taken in a general way, suggesting the stability of that in which the anchor holds; the strength of the grip with which it holds; and the real—though not necessarily apparent—safety and restfulness of that for whose sake the anchor holds. The verse is a somewhat difficult one, and the metaphor is more involved than our Western precision of thinking can readily appreciate. Stuart gives the meaning so as to put the stress on the quality, soundness, of the anchor. “Which hope we are in possession of, ἔχομεν, and it will prove to us, in our troubles and distresses, what an anchor of sound materials, and one firmly fixed, will be to a ship in a tempest, i.e. it will keep us from making ‘shipwreck of the faith.’ Ἀσφαλῆ means, that which will not fail, i.e. like an anchor of good materials, which will not give way. Our Hope enters into the inner sanctuary, where God dwells. The meaning is, that the objects of hope are in heaven. The sentiment then is this: Hold fast the objects of your Christian hope. These will keep you steady in your adherence to the Christian religion, and preserve you, like an anchor, from making shipwreck of your faith.” Then the soul’s anchor-hold is its hope. We have said above that the soul’s anchor is Christ. Both are true. And perhaps if we could see more than the surface of things, if we could see the depths of things, we might find these two to be really one. When our thoughts circle about ourselves, our anchor seems to be our hope, which we put out into the heavenly things, and try to steady ourselves by getting a strong hold. But when we are in worthier and less self-centred moods of thought, we lose satisfactions in our hope, in anything that is ours, and see Christ to be our anchor, close fastened to us here amid the seas of time, but actually reaching into, actually there in the heavenly world, gripping tight for us the everlasting rocks, and holding us so firm that no wildest storm of earth can ever shift us from our Christian place.
Hebrews 6:20. Jesus as our Forerunner.—“Whither as a forerunner Jesus entered for us.” The use of the term “forerunner” reminds us at once of John the Baptist, and suggests a comparison or contrast between John as the forerunner of Jesus, and Jesus as the forerunner of His Church. It is necessary to the idea of a forerunner that
(1) he announces one coming;
(2) that his presence pledges the certainty of his coming; and
(3) that he secures all due preparations for the coming. In these senses we may look at the work of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the earthly Messiah. He announced the Coming One. His presence was the pledge that He was coming, and the assurance that He was coming at once. And his work as forerunner was only completed in his endeavour to secure the necessary moral preparations for the coming. It is manifest that these peculiarities of a forerunner can only be applied to Jesus in modified ways, if He be regarded as the forerunner of the Church, as the Church comes to its spiritual privilege and heritage; and that other ideas must be associated with Christ as forerunner. He does go into the spiritual world to say that His Church is coming, and to pledge His Church’s coming, and to prepare for His Church’s coming; but we must not miss His peculiarity as forerunner—He is the ground on which the Church has the right to come, and the source of the Church’s power to come.
The Order of Melchizedek.—In what sense was Christ a priest after the order of Melchizedek? The question may be answered thus: The Aaronic priesthood was typical of Christ, but in two principal respects it failed in representing the great Antitype. It consisted of succeeding generations of mortal men; it consisted of priests not royal. The Holy Ghost, on the other hand, suddenly brings Melchizedek before us in the patriarchal history. A royal priest, with the significant names “King of righteousness” and “King of peace” (Genesis 14:18-1.14.20), and as suddenly withdraws him. Whence he comes and whither he goes we know not. As a private man he had an unwritten history, like others; but as a royal priest he ever remains, without father, without mother, without origin, succession, or end; and therefore, as Paul says (Hebrews 7:3), made beforehand of God an exact type of the eternity of the priesthood of Christ (Psalms 110:4). The prophecy was “Thou shalt be a priest for ever,” or an eternal priest, “after the order of Melchizedek.” The similitude of this type therefore included two things:
1. An everlasting priesthood.
2. The union of the kingly and priestly functions in one person.—Hodge.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Hebrews 6:13. Three Kinds of Oaths, or Swearing.—In early times we find no scruples about the employment of the oath. As then humanity had to be accustomed to a mutual reverence for truth and fidelity, it was natural that its use should be frequent and its signs forcible. We may distinguish three kinds:
1. The simple kind, when a private individual would confirm something in a sacred manner by his own spontaneous action. He would call on the name of his God, and the Semitic nations raised the right hand, as if in a challenge, to heaven. Along with the name of God, the person swearing would at the same time designate His other attributes, His power and greatness, or whatever else of the essence of this God appeared to him at the moment of swearing of special significance. One of the shortest and finest of the asseverative phrases is that of the last king of Judah: “As Jahveh lives, who has created for us this soul” (Jeremiah 38:16). There is a peculiar Hebrew word which means “to bind oneself by seven [things].” According to this, the person swearing deemed it necessary to call upon seven things as witnesses of his declaration, or as enduring monuments of the truth. It might be seven men whom he invoked, or seven gods, or else he might touch seven sacred objects, or take seven steps to a sacred stone. (This last was customary amongst the ancient Indians in concluding treaties.) Sometimes seven sacrificial animals were presented (Genesis 21:27-1.21.31).
2. The oath became an adjuration, when it was used to compel another to confess the truth, or observe a command. Then the punishments imprecated from heaven would undoubtedly be always expressed in the strongest language. In the patriarchal times the person who desired to bind another to the strictest truth used to make the latter lay his hand under his own hip, on that part of the body out of which, according to ancient ideas, posterity proceeded. Thus he would refer the latter to the whole of posterity at once, and to its revenge should he break his promise.
3. When the oath was employed in making contracts or alliances, each of the two contracting parties made the other utter aloud the words of the contract which concerned him, these mutual promises being accompanied by similar oaths and imprecations.—Biblical Things.
Swearing by laying Hands on the Koran.—The present mode of swearing among the Mahometan Arabs, that live in tents as the patriarchs did, according to De la Rogue, is by laying their hands on the Koran. They cause those who swear to wash their hands before they give them the book; they put their left hand underneath, and the right over it. Whether, among the patriarchs, one hand was under and the other upon the thigh is not certain. As the posterity of the patriarchs are described as coming out of the thigh, it has been supposed that this ceremony had some relation to their believing the promise of God, to bless all the nations of the earth by means of One that was to descend from Abraham.—Harmer.
Oath “By the life of Pharaoh” (Genesis 42:15).—Extraordinary as the kind of oath which Joseph made use of may appear to us, it still continues in the East. Mr. Hanway says the most sacred oath among the Persians is “By the king’s head”; and among other instances of it we read in the travels of the ambassadors that “there were but sixty horses for ninety-four persons. The nehemander (or conductor) swore by the head of the king (which is the greatest oath among the Persians) that he could not possibly find any more.” And Thevenot says: “His subjects never look upon him but with fear and trembling; and they have such respect for him, and pay so blind an obedience to all his orders, that how unjust soever his commands might be, they perform them, though against the law both of God and nature. Nay, if they sware by the king’s head, their oath is more authentic, and of greater credit, than if they swore by all that is most sacred in heaven and upon earth.”—Burder.
Touching the Altar.—Patrick tell us that it was the custom of all nations to touch the altar when they made a solemn oath, calling God to witness the truth of what they said, and to punish them if they did not speak the truth.
Swearing lawfully.—Cruden says: That a person swear lawfully, must have a regard
1. First to the object; that he swear by the Lord alone; for seeing we deify and make that our god which we swear by, therefore we forsake the true God if we swear by that which is no God (Jeremiah 5:7).
2. To the manner; that he swear in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness (Jeremiah 4:2); that he swear not falsely or deceitfully, but that which is agreeable to truth; that he swear not rashly, but upon due consideration of all circumstances; and that he swear nothing but what is agreeable to justice and equity.
3. He must have a regard to the end; that God may be glorified, our duty discharged, controversies appeased, our brethren satisfied, or our own or others’ innocency cleared.
Hebrews 6:18. The True Refuge.—During the rebellion in Ireland in 1798, the rebels had long meditated an attack on the Moravian settlement at Grace Hill, Wexford County. At length they put their threat in execution, and a large body of them marched to the town. When they arrived there, they saw no one in the streets nor in the houses. The brethren had long expected this attack; but true to their Christian profession, they would not have recourse to arms for their defence, but assembled in their chapel, and in solemn prayer besought Him in whom they trusted to be their shield in the hour of danger. The ruffian band, hitherto breathing nothing but destruction and slaughter, were struck with astonishment at this novel sight. Where they expected an armed hand, they saw it clasped in prayer—where they expected weapon to weapon, and the body armed for the fight, they saw the bended knee and humble head before the altar of the Prince of peace. They heard the prayer for protection; they heard the intended victims asking mercy for their murderers; they heard the song of praise, and the hymn of confidence, in the “sure promise of the Lord.” They beheld in silence this little band of Christians; they felt unable to raise their hand against them; and after lingering in the streets which they filled for a night and a day, with one consent they turned and marched away from the place, without having injured an individual or purloined a single loaf of bread. In consequence of this signal mark of protection from heaven, the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages brought their goods, and asked for shelter in Grace Hill, which they called the City of Refuge.
Hebrews 6:19. The Anchor-symbol in the Catacombs.—Because the anchor is often the sole hope and resource of the sailor, it came to be called by the ancients “the sacred anchor,” and was made the emblem of “hope.” By the early Christians it was naturally adopted, sometimes with regard to the stormy ocean of human life, at other times in relation to the persecutions and dangers of the ship of the Church. It is found engraved on rings, and depicted on monuments, and on the walls of cemeteries in the catacombs. The symbols on sepulchral tablets often contain allusions to the name of the deceased. The Chevalier de Rossi states that he has three times found an anchor upon tituli, bearing names derived from spes, the Latin, or elpis, the Greek word for “hope,” upon the tablet of a certain ELPIDIVS, and upon two others, in the cemetery of Priscilla, two women, ELPIZVSA and SPES. In some cases above the transverse bar of the anchor stands the letter E, which is probably the abbreviation of the word elpis. Further, we find the anchor associated with the fish, the symbol of the Saviour. It is clear that the union of the two symbols expresses “hope in Jesus Christ,” and is equivalent to the formula so common on Christian tablets, “Spes in Christo,” “Spes in Deo,” “Spes in Deo Christo.” The fact that the transverse bar of an anchor below the ring forms a cross may have helped towards the choice of the anchor as a Christian symbol.
THE TYPE OF UNIVERSAL PRIESTHOOD
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany