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The Work of the Few and the Many.
The history of mankind, whether secular or religious, resolves itself into the history of a few individuals. It is not that all the rest do not live their own lives, or can shirk their own eternal responsibilities; but it is that the march and movement of the many is as surely influenced by the genius of the few as is the swing of the tide by the law of gravitation. It is a law of our being that we should belong the vast majority of us to the unknown, to the unrecorded masses, who, long before the very things we own have perished, shall have passed away out of all remembrance as utterly as though we had never been.
I. There, then, is one great fact of life; another, and a far sadder one, is that, by a sort of fatal gravitation, the human race seems of itself to tend downwards. It is impulse, passion, temptation, more than reason, that often sways the heart of each man, and therefore of all men. It is the few only who are saints; the few only who are heroes.
II. How does God carry out His work of continuous redemption? It is by the energy of His chosen few. Into their hearts He pours the power of His Spirit; upon their heads He lays the hands of His consecration. The history of mankind is like the history of Israel in the days of the Judges. The deliverance of mankind has never been wrought by the multitude; always by the individual.
III. We learn from this subject: (1) the secret, the sole secret, of moral power. Who that reads the signs of the times can fail to perceive how much this age needs to learn the secret. By faith, each in his age and order, these saints of God delivered his generation, inspired his successors, wrought righteousness in a faithless world. (2) We may notice also that the work of these saints of God, being always and necessarily human, is never permanent in its special results. There is an infinite pathos in the predestined failure of men and institutions which leave no adequate heirs to propagate their impulse, to carry on their purposes. Abraham dies, and in a century his descendants are slaves. When the influence of God's saints has spent its force, if the work pauses for a moment, everything falls into ruin and corruption. Only as an inspiring, passionate, continuous energy can Christianity regenerate the world. (3) These apparent failures were never absolute. No good man, no saint of God, has ever lived or died in vain. The very best of us leaves his tale half untold, his message imperfect; but if we have but been faithful, then, because of us, some one who follows us with a happier heart and in happier times, shall utter our message better and tell our tale more perfectly. Some one shall run and not be faint; some one shall fly with wings where we have walked with weary feet.
F. W. Farrar, Sermons and Addresses in America, p. 202.
Abel, Enoch, Noah.
Before the flood and the Abrahamic covenant God had a people on earth who lived by faith. Abel, the first martyr, Enoch, the seventh from Adam, and Noah, the preacher of righteousness, are the three witnesses of the period whose lives are recorded.
I. Abel, the first man who had to descend into the grave, was carried through it on the arms of redeeming love. Abel, believing the word, approached God through the bitter sacrifice. Every one who believes in Jesus Christ is an accepted worshipper. There is no other true and spiritual worship but the worship of a believer in Jesus, and this worship is always accepted. Of this, the only worship, Abel, though dead, yet speaketh.
II. The sinner who through faith in the sacrifice is righteous before God, belongs now to God, and is an heir of eternal life. Sin and death have no more dominion over him. Thus Enoch, the seventh from Adam, walks with God. In this simple familiar expression we have the description of the new life; it brings before us communion with God, dependence on His guidance, submission to His authority, confidence in His love and favour, continuous, habitual fellowship, and a mind conformed to God's mind, and delighting itself in the Lord.
III. Abel testifies of faith's sacrifice and worship always accepted. Enoch of faith's walk and triumph, lifted above sin and death into fellowship with the holy God, the Lord of Life. Noah's faith has again another testimony. He found grace the first time the word is used in Scripture in the eyes of the Lord. His faith, rooted in the contrite heart, and evidenced in his daily work and obedience, was tested by the opposition and mockery of the world to whom he testified of sin, of judgment, and saving grace; declaring what he possessed himself, righteousness by faith. And by his faith he not merely saved himself, but his household.
A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 289.
References: Hebrews 11:5 . J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 176; Homiletic Magazine, vol. i., p. 112.Hebrews 11:5 , Hebrews 11:6 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1307; Homiletic Magazine, vol. viii., p. 235.Hebrews 11:6 . E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 41; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 107; J. Kennedy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 102; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xx., p. 317; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 98. Hebrews 11:7 . S. Mitchell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 419; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 3303.
Faith in God the Creator.
I. Reason cannot ascend from nature to nature's God. The most comprehensive observation of things seen, and of which we can take cognisance, and the most minute analysis of things with the most remote and simple elements, leave the question of creation or the origin of things perfectly untouched and unapproached. The step from matter to mind, from things which appear to that which is the cause, spring, origin of all, is one which reason cannot take. God reveals it; we believe.
II. We believe that God is, for He has spoken to us; He has loved us, He has redeemed us. He was Abraham's guest and guide, his sure portion, and exceeding great reward. He brought Israel out of Egypt. He spoke unto the fathers as unto His chosen friends. Jehovah reveals to us that He is the Lord, the Creator of heaven and of earth; that He made all things by the word of His power. He reveals to us that all things were made by His Son, and for Him, who is appointed Heir of all things; that not atoms, or an original matter, but Christ, is the beginning of creation, in whom all His counsel stood before Him from all eternity.
III. God is the Creator; this is the first note struck on the lyre of Revelation, with which all other strains are in harmony. It sounds throughout the whole anthem. In Christ we hear the full melody; in Him we behold both the eternal counsel of redemption, and the final consummation in glory. Such are the apparently simple but inexhaustible and ever-blessed revelation truths for the sinner seeking salvation, for the Christian in affliction, in temptation; for the day of warfare, the night of sorrow, the hour of death.
A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 273.
Reference: Hebrews 11:3 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 334.
Faith as Acting on Worship.
I. All faith implies an effort, a motion of the will towards God. It maintains not existence merely, but living energy; it is not otiose, but active; it even asks, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? " Think of this as regards worship. To be real it must be a business in which we take an active part a homage to a Presence which we feel. If there are any to whom the Lord's day, with its special duty, or each day's ordinary duty of prayer and praise, is a mere blank of unoccupied thought, a mere spiritual void, then be sure that the world, the flesh, and the devil, are filling the vacuum. You come away the better or the worse from every service; you are either drawing near to God and receiving of Him, or you are practising unbelief, decomposing your assurance into doubt, and rehearsing the earlier stages of that hardening of the heart of which the Israelites are the standing type, who walked for a whole generation in God's presence, and knew Him not, and perished by the way.
II. Praise is valueless except it express faith. Take the oldest hymn of the distinctively Christian Church, which we have inherited from its earliest ages the Te Deum . That hymn has doubtless been so universally received throughout the West because it appeals so peculiarly to our faith as Christians. That is the simple account of it; it contains a creed, but under the most personal of aspects. Is it possible to utter such words as those of the Te Deum without an emotion of faith and not be self-convicted? Exactly in proportion as it embodies the articles of the faith, and displays each separate credendum in near connection with our most deeply seated hopes and our most awful fears, in that proportion does it demand the inward, the subjective faith in us which is the Divine quality in the heart of man. Faith alone can put a life into our worship.
H. Hayman, Rugby Sermons, p. 16.
I. It is so that every great man speaks to men. Dead, they live; buried, they rise again; and they speak with more power after death than during life, for jealousy and envy no longer dog their footsteps, and their faults are seen as God sees them, through that veil of charity which justice weaves; and their good is disentangled from their evil, and set in clear light, because so wise and true is the heart of mankind, in spite of all its wrong and folly, that in its memory it is the good and not the evil that survives.
II. Our home and our society are to us what the world is to a great man the sphere we may fill with work that cannot die. The statesman moulds a people into order and progress, partly by the force of character, partly by great measures. We are the statesmen of our little world. Every day mother and father stamp their character upon their children's lives, mould their manners, conscience, and their future by the measures by which they direct the household. This is our work, and all of it lives after you lives with tenfold power when you are dead, multiplies in the lives of those who have known you well.
III. Take noble care of the works that are handed down to to you, and the voices that come to you from the silent world. We look too carelessly on that store and its riches. The past spreads a banquet before you; eat and be thankful. The eating will nourish your whole being; the thankfulness will help you to digest the food. And as you do this the sense of the enduring life of human kind will grow on you; you will begin, through long unweaving of yourself with the past, to feel unwoven with an infinite future. This last result will make you worthy yourself to speak when you are dead, to follow your works in men to come. To do this with regard to Christ is to become a Christian.
IV. Considering that universal communion of those who have among men done and thought nobly or beautifully, and how among this communion there is neither nation, nor time, nor place, nor language, but mankind is all, and in all we, entering into this region through sharing in the works and speech of all those who have been good and great in all lands, become ourselves universal in thought and feeling. We shall arise into the conception of an everlasting life for this vast and glorious race that has so wonderfully thought, and done, and loved, and turn, believing, with outstretched hands and eager eyes, to Him who said, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to Him."
S. A. Brooke, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 401.
References: Hebrews 11:4 . Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 588; J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 225; W. J. Woods, Ibid., vol. xxxiii., p. 200.
The Father of Missionaries.
He went out, as many had gone out before him, as many would go out after him. He moves onwards and onwards towards the setting sun, till at length all progress is stopped by the sea barrier which parts him from the unknown worlds beyond. There, from those bare mountain heights, he would look down on the purple ocean, with its boundless expanse and its ceaseless turmoil, the ocean, terrible even to his late descendants. What must have been his thoughts as he remembered that promise, the Divine and irrevocable promise, that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude, and that in him all families of the earth should be blessed? For while all else in the scene was changed, the stars, the sacrament and the promise remained unchangeable, as the promise itself was unchangeable. They shone overhead each particular star with its own light, in its own region, above that strange, vague ocean, just as they had shone over his boyhood in his familiar inland home.
I. Whence comes it that, in the ceaseless tide of humanity, rolling westward throughout the ages, this one caravan of a simple nomad Bedouin this single drop in the mighty stream has fastened on itself the attention of men? The answer is contained in one word, It was his faith which singled him out in the counsels of God, and has stamped him in the hearts of men. He saw, as in a glass, he read, as in a dark enigma, the glory of the great Messianic day, when his children should rule over the earth. The shadow of the future was projected on the experience of the present. He saw, and he believed; he went forth, nothing doubting; he went forth, not knowing whither he went.
II. Abraham was not only faithful himself, but he was also the father of the faithful. Look at the history of the Jewish race. What was the secret of its long life, the principle which revived, animated, sustained it, amidst all disasters and under every oppression? Was it not faith faith in a Divine call, in a Divine mission for the race? With all their narrowness and all their weakness aye, and amidst all their defections, too, this faith never died out. It was the breath of their national life. The spirit of Abraham never altogether left his children. "The vanquished," said Seneca bitterly of the Jews, "have given laws to the victors." What would he have said if he could have looked forward for three centuries, and forecast the time when the spiritual Israel the offspring of Abraham by faith should plant its throne on the ruins of the majesty and power of Imperial Rome?
J. B. Lightfoot, Occasional Sermons, p. 38.
References: Hebrews 11:8 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1242; vol. v., No. 261; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 365; J. Thain Davidson, Talks with Young Men, p. 89; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 145; D. Bushell, Ibid., vol. xxxiv., p. 372.Hebrews 11:8-10 . Homilist, 1st series, vol. i., p. 119; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 77.
I. The period of the patriarchs has a very peaceful and lovely character. God appeared and spoke to them. There was as yet no law. What is the real peculiarity of the patriarchal life? What else but faith; that they lived before and with God, waiting for the promise, the heavenly country? They were not worldly; they were other-worldly. God was a very present God to them; while the future, the tabernacle of God on earth with man, was their constant hope.
II. Abraham's faith was the substance of future things hoped for, and a conviction of things not seen. It triumphed over reason; it laughed at impossibilities; it looked beyond death and the long night of the intermediate state; and in all this it gave glory to God; for this is the only glory we can give to God, believing that He can and will do what He has promised. The fathers, realising the fulfilment of the promise, treated the future possession as if it was theirs already, and disposed of it, as the Spirit directed them, by their last will and blessing.
III. We should learn from Abraham to believe in God that raised up Jesus from the dead. Reason sees your guilt, faith sees your acquittal, for Christ is risen; reason sees your sinfulness and infirmity, faith sees your power and strength in newness of life, for Christ is risen. Live in tents ; set not your affection on things below. Live in the tents the patriarchal life of prayer, and a reverent, filial walk with God. When the soul is cast down and disquieted within you, when the heart is heavy, when Isaac, in whom you delight, faith's child, is to be sacrificed, then believe, hope in God, and know that you shall yet praise Him. Thus we give glory to God.
A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 304.
References: Hebrews 11:9 , Hebrews 11:10 . C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 89. Hebrews 11:9 , Hebrews 11:13 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 533.Hebrews 11:10 . H. J. Wilmot Buxton, Waterside Mission Sermons, 2nd series, No. 3; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 268. Hebrews 11:11 . Expositor, 1st series, vol. xii, p. 345.
Faith triumphant in Death.
I. The excellence of the faith which places its object beyond death may be seen in two respects. (1) First, as it is in itself greater and bolder, existing in spite of greater difficulties. It is this, because it is fixed on an unknown object; our objects in this life, however remote, are such as we know or can well conceive of; there are no kinds of human pleasure, of such pleasure, at least, as we ourselves are ever likely to desire, which are not in some degree familiar to our minds already. (2) But, further, the faith which stops short of death may be, and often is, a faith which looks to a good object to the accomplishment of some great work, to the enjoyment of honourable rest; an old age relieved from labour, respected and beloved. Good objects I would not say otherwise; yet surely not the best nor the highest. But the faith which looks beyond death is content with no less object than God Himself. The faith which is strong enough to look beyond the grave does not fix its view chiefly on any known pleasure to be again revived, upon any known love to be eternally continued, but upon One who is truly the great end of all being; upon the knowledge of and communion with God and Christ.
II. This faith which takes death within its prospects, and looks on boldly to something beyond, is at once the greatest elevation and the greatest blessing of humanity. It cannot be denied that in quiet times, and amid much worldly enjoyment, such faith is hard to be maintained, and is in many wholly wanting. But yet all the while we are in extreme insecurity, and the sense of this sooner or later must be forced upon us; for sooner or later death and its strangeness must come near to us, and something beyond the grave must be thought of, because the grave itself is close at hand. And if faith has not habitually lived in that region, no longer far off but near, fear will now be dwelling upon it continually. In proportion as any one draws near to God, and thinks of Him, and prays to Him constantly and earnestly, so does he become familiar with the life beyond the grave, and find it possible and natural to fix his faith there.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 231.
References: Hebrews 11:13 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 1.Hebrews 11:13 , Hebrews 11:14 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1825; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 123; R. S. Candlish, Sermons, p. 235; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. i., p. 73; A. Maclaren, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 112.
I. One of the marks of the saints of God is their heavenward look. They are in the world, but not of the world; strangers, not citizens. Their acts, their failures, their sacrifices, their sufferings, are here, but their hearts and their treasures are above. But now, can it be that in urging this I have in reality been condemning them? In presuming to admire their upward hopes, have we in truth been branding them with selfishness? There are some who seem to think so. They urge that the dimmer the hope, the nobler the sacrifice; the more bounded the vision, the grander the energy of those who will labour while it is called today. Strange, indeed, is the revolution of thought when the dearest of blessings is stigmatised as the most perilous of tempters; and when the chief glory of faith, the sure and certain hope of immortality, is not merely discredited as a dream, but branded as a weakness from which true manhood would be proud to be exempt. Compare, it is said, the sacrifices of the Christian with the sacrifices of him who has the Christian morality, and the Christian self-denial, without being cheered or encumbered by the Christian's hope. The one devotes himself to the service of humanity, asking for nothing again; the other fixes his eyes on the glories of heaven, and calculates the overplus of future happiness which will more than compensate for present suffering. Which is the nobler? To-day we fix our eyes on the true champions of our faith, on those who have made full proof of their ministry, and have shown the world, by visible proof, what it may be to be a follower of Christ. Would they have been more disinterested, would they have been intrinsically nobler, if they had seen no heaven beyond? That upward expression, that unsatisfied air of aspiration, that expectant look as of the servant waiting for his Lord is it, as great painters have taught us to imagine, the dawn of the eternal day already irradiating the horizon, or is it, rather, the last lingering stain of a refined selfishness, all the more perilous because it is unconscious? No, my brethren; let us never be ashamed of the heavenward heart, as though it detracted from a perfect disinterestedness. Man is born for immortality; that is part of his being, the noblest part, and it cannot be selfish to crave the happiness for which we were created and designed.
H. Montagu Butler, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 282.
References: Hebrews 11:15 , Hebrews 11:16 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1030. Hebrews 11:16 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 289; W. M. Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 113; T. Hammond, Ibid., vol. xxi., p. 54; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 455.Hebrews 11:17-19 . C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 99.
The Story of a Pilgrim's Staff.
I. The pilgrim's staff represented something. He leaned on it, not because it was needed, but because it helped him to realise. It was the type of those principles which sustain and make strong on which the spirit leans. The spirit flees over many fields, but it rests and finds its home on one, like the lark that sweeps up through the blue, and sings in the heavens. Its home is on the earth. You may go up into heaven as much as you like, but you must have a realising place where you may put your head. Man may think in religion about many things, but he is strengthened by one or two things only. Whatever our faiths are, we need to realise; we need to see the thing embodied so that we may apprehend it.
II. And then it will follow from this, secondly, that as it was a staff through which he realised, and therefore was dear to him because it realised and represented to him, so it was a memory. It was a memory of many things, a memory of many events and seasons. I take it, that the staff was very specially a memorial to him of the covenant in the night when God spoke to him in that marvellous dream. He adored God in the memory of it, for it kept him from falling. He did not adore the staff, but in the memory of it he adored God.
III. He worshipped, leaning on his staff, thirdly, because it was experience to him. The staff was not merely itself a memorial; it was inscribed all over with memory. Did not he think of a wrestling hour with the angel, and of days and years which, if few and evil, were surely not unblessed?
IV. It was a staff of promise. To lean on it was an assurance of what God would be and do; to lean on it was to feel the promises rushing through his soul. They pointed the finger to the future in hope and in faith. Faith rises higher and sinks deeper than our mere relative consciousness. Just as the sky is over the earth, so it is with those promises that arch us over, that surround, that illuminate our heaven. All texts are not the same to us; they vary in their lustre; they vary in the nutriment they give. But every text in the word of God says, "Trust me; rest on me; I will be equal to thee."
V. Lastly, he worshipped, leaning on his staff, for it was the staff of redemption the uninscribed, but still the apprehended redemption. That staff of his that piece of stick was to Jacob a representation of a succession of promises, of times when his soul and God's soul had had lonely walks and consultations and communings together. The age of stones has gone, and the age of staffs, perhaps, in the way of which either David or Jacob might speak of their being used; but the age of words is not gone, and we lean on the staff in the counting-house, in the school, in the study, in the street, in the solitude, in the wilderness. As we gaze upon it we are able to say of God's word, "Thou hast not failed me, O thou staff."
E. Paxton Hood, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 766.
Reference: Hebrews 11:21 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1401.
I. It is not possible to read the life of Joseph without beholding here the portrait of a great man, not merely as a commanding and guiding intelligence, but that which is higher yet, a strong and noble personal character. Evidently, all his early life was pressed upon by thoughts his brethren could not comprehend; a contemplative nature, before whom often floated in his boyhood dreams of what he yet was to be.
II. He was what we should call a self-made man; he was as much so as any man can be a self-made man; his life was one long contest with difficulties, but he overcame them all.
III. His greatness was moral greatness. He was not a warrior. He did not bear the sword; he had that perfectly-formed will, which is character; he had insight and foresight; and he had in his possession that which really makes life easy and character strong. He had principles; faith ruled and controlled his character. He saw the golden purpose running through the darker web of his life.
IV. In the commandment he gave concerning his bones we see (1) the nationality of Joseph. His heart turns to Canaan. (2) The lesson of faith. "I die, but God shall surely visit you." Amid the temples of Osiris, Typhon, and Isis, and the world of uncouth marvels and debasement of the Egyptian temples, he had not forgotten Jehovah. (3) A lesson of the sustaining power there is in the memories of good and great men. Joseph lived in the thoughts and affections and hopes of his descendants. The dust of the holy dead is precious; the words of the holy dead are watchwords. (4) We have here a trust, a hope, an aspiration, concerning the resurrection. I cannot but think that this glorious dreamer anticipated, not only the departure of the tribes, but the final unsealing of all those tombs, and longed rather to be near the old cemetery of Machpelah than amidst the cold, dark, stony, stately rooms of Egyptian pyramids and their coffins.
E. Paxton Hood, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 313.
References: Hebrews 11:22 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 966; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 68; A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 485.Hebrews 11:23 . Ibid., vol. xxiv., No. 1421.
I. Israel is a typical nation. The things which happened to them" are recorded for our instruction and comfort. The things which happened unto them, happen unto us also. We also were in Egypt, and had to learn that we could not bring about our deliverance by our own strength and zeal. Like Moses, we had to flee from such attempts of self-wrought emancipation into the wilderness, and wait there quietly upon the Lord. When we were still, and knew that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, God showed mercy. We also went through the Red Sea, and then sang the song of praise to God; when we were taught the power of Christ's resurrection, and when the Holy Ghost, separating us by the Cross from Egypt, brought us through resurrection into the new life, and raised our affections to the things above.
II. Israel in Egypt. Look at another aspect of this history. "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." The saints who are precious in His sight, whom He purchased with the blood of His own Son, and for whom He has prepared an everlasting inheritance, God's elect, must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. Weak and despised believers are the pillars of the world. The intercession of Moses prevails to avert judgment from a whole people. It is the will of God to do great things for us. All things are ours; all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose; all things are freely given unto us with Christ, the Son, whom God spared not, but gave up for our everlasting salvation. But it is the will of God that we should learn faith.
A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 321.
The Choice of Moses.
I. The choice which Moses made. If we carefully examine this passage we find it to represent one of the most extraordinary acts of deliberate renunciation of the worldly, and deliberate preference for the spiritual, which the world has ever known. It is equally wonderful, whether you look at the things which he sacrificed, or at the things which he preferred. The adopted of royalty, the dweller in a palace, the well-instructed student of Egyptian wisdom, luxury loading her board at his bidding, pleasure waiting for his presence at her revel, within his grasp the sceptre of the most ancient and wealthy monarchy in the globe. It was surely no light thing to renounce a heritage like this; and there must have been, to constrain his decision, motives of irresistible power. He chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." He was influenced in his choice by the promise of a Messiah, which God had given unto Israel. There are, in this choice of Moses, the true principles of the philosophy of Christianity. There is involved the recognition of the future as higher than the present the preference of the spiritual to the secular, when their respective interests come into collision; and to have a right estimate of both, and to secure an equitable adjustment of their several claims, is the great problem of human life.
II. The motive which influenced his decision is presented in the words, "For he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." The recognition of a future state, with its allotments of delights and doom, is frequently recorded in Scripture as exerting a powerful influence on human conduct. We observe (1) it is certain; (2) it is complete; (3) it is eternal.
W. M. Punshon, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 42.
The Wise Choice.
Our admission into the family of all the saints depends upon the use we may make of that power of choice which, at all times, but especially at some times, is given to every one of us.
I. It is remarkable that this grace of choosing is mentioned as one of the characteristic features of the Lord Jesus Christ. So that when any one makes a good selection in things spiritual, he may have the comfortable feeling that he is copying Christ in one of the greatest traits of His perfect character, and that he is making the best return he can, to God Himself, when he chooses him to be his Father, who, from all eternity, has chosen him to be His child. The exercise of choosing is plainly a part, and no little part, of the discipline of life. In creating this world, God seems to have laid it down that it should be a world of probation. All probation presupposes a choice, a power to take good, or to refuse it; to love evil, or to eschew it. Therefore, in a great measure, because it was necessary to the exercise of the faculty of choosing which God thus made a part of the moral government of this world He permitted evil to come into it.
II. Moses made his choice as soon as he came to years. We do not know at what age he might be said to come to years. We have no reason to think that it was at that period when he made the first attempt to deliver his countrymen, when he was about forty. There is ground to think that he made the good choice long before that. Probably, it was at that season of life when his reason was capable of making a grave discrimination; and the lesson all lies in the fact that he did it early, as soon as he could. The sooner you give your heart to pod, the younger you are when you make the great decision which is to determine life, the more easy, the more acceptable, probably the happier, and the more Christlike, your choice will be.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 143.
References: Hebrews 11:24-26 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1063; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 91; J. Sherman, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. x., p. 185.
I. Note, in the first place, that the pleasures of sin are shortlived. In the expressive symbolism of Scripture they are like water in a broken cistern, which speedily runs out, or like the blaze of thorns, which crackle and flame up for a little, and then die down into a heap of ashes; and the experience of all who have indulged in them will corroborate this statement. There is in them at best only a temporary thrill, which vibrates for a moment, and needs to be reproduced again and again. They are not joys for ever. They do not live within a man, sounding a ceaseless undertone of happiness in his secret soul, wherever he may be.
II. The pleasures of sin leave a sting behind, and will not bear after-reflection. There is guilt in them, and there never can be happiness in contemplating that. Yet when the brief hour of joy is fled the guilt is the residuum of the joy.
III. The pleasures of sin are such that the oftener they are enjoyed, there is the less enjoyment in them. There is a wonderful harmony between God's moral law and the physical, intellectual, and moral nature of man, for every violation of its precepts does, in the end, evoke the protest of all our powers. Each time such guilty pleasure is felt, a portion of the sensitiveness is destroyed, and it takes more to produce the same excitement again, until at last it is impossible to produce it by any means whatever. But with the joys of holiness it is quite different. The oftener we enjoy them they are the higher. The longer and the better a man knows Christ the more happiness does he derive from Him.
IV. The pleasures of sin are most expensive. "The wicked do not live out half their days." The sinner is old before his time. Far otherwise is the experience of the Christian. So far from wasting his energies, his faith economises them, and haloes them all with the joy of his own happiness.
W. M. Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 145.
The Better Country.
I. Look, in the first place, to the state of soul here specified, "They desire." That word denotes an ardent longing for the possession of something which we have not now, but which we may come ultimately to call our own; and when used, as here, to designate the attitude of a believing soul toward heaven, it is to be noted that it is a positive thing. (1) It is not, therefore, to be mistaken for the dislike of the evils of the present life which is frequently mistaken for it. (2) Similarly, we must not suppose that we can use the term to designate that submission to the inevitable which makes a man say that if he must leave the world, though he would greatly prefer to stay in it, he would rather go to heaven than hell. The desire in such a case, very clearly, is to abide in the flesh; and if one has no more powerful attraction to heaven than that it is not hell, he is a long way from being made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. (3) Even true Christian resignation is not desire. Desire is an attraction to heaven for its own sake; an eager yearning to be with Christ and those who love Him perfectly, and serve Him constantly on high.
II. Note the object towards which this state of heart is directed, "The better land, that is, the heavenly." The evil things of earth shall there be absent, and the things which the Christian most delights in shall be possessed, not only in an infinitely richer measure, but eternally; therefore to those who value this life for Christ's sake, heaven must be, cannot but be, an object of desire.
III. Note the influence of this desire on those who cherish it. "They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth." Now that confession has a threefold influence. (1) It keeps those who make it from regarding the things of this life as supreme. (2) It sustains the Christian under present afflictions. (3) It gives consolation in bereavement and joy in death.
W. M. Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 113.
References: Hebrews 11:26 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 210; Archbishop Benson, Boy Life, p. 368; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 93.
Enduring as Seeing the Invisible One.
I. What is this virtual seeing of Him who is invisible? There must be wrought in me, between Him and me, some sympathy, some good understanding and fellow feeling about the matter spoken of. There must be established between Him and me some personal relation of mutual confidence and unity. There must, in a word, be formed a certain close unity of faith working by love. Then will that quasi vision " as seeing " be realised; that vivid sense and keen grasp of "my Lord and my God," as personally present to my eager gaze, my touch, my embrace, which compensates, and far more than compensates, for my never having set on Him my bodily eyes.
II. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not only at the Communion Table do you rest, but in the field of toil or of battle you endure, as seeing Him who is invisible. So Christ Himself, the man Christ Jesus, endured. The secret of His endurance was that with the eye of faith He always saw the Father. The Holy Ghost strengthens us to endure as seeing the unseen Saviour, even as He strengthened Him to endure as seeing the unseen Father. It is in the felt and realised presence of a Divine person, unseen in one sense, but in another virtually and vividly seen, that your strength to endure lies. And He is to be seen by you, not merely as an object of contemplation in a leisure hour, but as in the time of danger, standing beside you, conversing with you, calling you by name, and bidding you be strong and of a good courage.
R. S. Candlish, Sermons, p. 125.
References: Hebrews 11:27 . A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, p. 293; E. P. Hood, Sermons, p. 67; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 5; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 331; Ibid., vol. xix., pp. 100, 225; Ibid., vol. xxxi., p. 161; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 21.Hebrews 11:30 . Homilist, vol. i., p. 95; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 14th series, p. 93.
We may make use of extraordinary examples to encourage our ordinary faith at ordinary times. These models are on a very grand and large scale, and so we can plainly see them.
I. Faith works and suffers; faith is busy and energetic. It is our only strength and victory. In suffering we glorify God as well as in action; and in suffering it is only faith which grasps the promises, and rests on the bosom of God in quiet and loving humility. Suffering is an honour God puts on His saints. To them it is given to suffer for Christ's sake. A life without affliction and self-denial, a life without the cross, is not likely to precede the life with the crown. Let tried believers not doubt that they are precious in God's sight.
II. The first and most obvious difference between the old saints of the Church is, that the promised salvation was to them entirely in the future; while we have lived to see the first advent, we also are looking forward to the fulfilment of God's promises at the second coming. But to Israel the Messianic advent, with its salvation and glory, was altogether in the future. The reasons why the gift of the Spirit is now bestowed are manifold and obvious. (1) The Spirit's advent is connected with the finished work of redemption. Because the blood has been shed, the Spirit descends. (2) The Spirit comes through the preaching of faith, and not by the law. It is when the forgiveness of sin is declared that God puts His Spirit within our hearts. (3) The Spirit, as an indwelling Spirit, descends from the incarnate, crucified, and glorified Son of God, the Christ or anointed Head of the Church. At the coming of the Lord the union of all believers will be manifested. This union will be to the glory of God, a part of the blessedness of His people.
A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 337.
References: Hebrews 11:31 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 119; vol. xviii., No. 1061.Hebrews 11:32-34 . W. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 292; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 278. Hebrews 11:33 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 435.Hebrews 11:34 . Ibid., vol. xii., No. 697; A. P. Stanley, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 301; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 9; Archbishop Benson, Boy Life, p. 46.
I. The better resurrection. Think (1) of the place of it. "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie." The body which here depresses the soul shall be framed to lift it up, to give it perception and vigour, insight and wing, and made like unto Christ's glorious body. (2) Think of the company in the place. In this world our dearest friends become at times more dear to us. Some glow in them, or in us, suffuses the soul, and we feel that they are more ours, and we can be more theirs; times when we see deeper into each other's nature, and melt into one spirit; those times, above all, when we know that we are touching one another in the thought and life of God. Now, in that heavenly world we shall have the best at their best. (3) Think of the essence of this eternal life. Its essence consists in its entire freedom from sin. (4) Think of the security of that state. The children of the heavenly resurrection die no more; death hath no more dominion over them. The shadow is all behind, the light before, and the light shall no more go down.
II. Consider next the higher faith required for this resurrection. It needed very great confidence in the living God to believe that He could reanimate the dead frame which the soul had quitted for a few hours or days; but to face entire decay and mouldering dust, and to believe that those who sleep in it shall yet awake and sing, this requires a frame of soul still nobler. Let us mention some of its features, that we may aim at them. (1) It needs more of what I may call the patience of faith. The faith of the sisters of Bethany demanded one great effort, and the battle was gained. But ours cannot be so compressed. We have to bury our dead out of our sight, to wait the weary days and years, and "feel God's heaven so distant." And yet, you see, there are those who endured it all, of whom the voice from heaven has said, "Here is the patience and faith of the saints." (2) It needs also more of what we may call the sanctified imagination of faith. The circle of these earthly resurrections was very narrow and very simple compared with that which we expect. Their faith had only to bring back the dead to their old accustomed house, the well-known seat, the familiar haunts. Ours has to find out a footing for itself from the void and formless infinite, where the scenes and inhabitants and states of mind are so different that our friends seem to have passed away beyond our knowledge. There is an imagination of faith which helps to the evidence of things not seen. (3) This better resurrection needs more of the spiritual insight of faith.
III. Note some of the ways in which we may strengthen ourselves in this higher faith. (1) The first thought is addressed to your reason. We read here of men who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Can you imagine that their self-devotion was founded on delusion, and that God has made His world so that the noblest and divinest deeds in its history have a perpetual falsehood at their hearts? (2) " Women... received their dead." God intended that our deepest heart affections should be the helpers of our highest hopes and the instinctive guarantees of a life to come. (3) There is no certainty about immortality save what, grows from union with the dying and living and risen Son of God.
J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 336.
Reference: Hebrews 11:36 . F. W. Aveling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 84.
The word "martyr" properly means "a witness," but it is used to denote exclusively one who has suffered death for the Christian faith. Let us consider what it was in the early Christian ages to be a martyr.
I. First, it was to be a voluntary sufferer. Men, perhaps, suffer in various diseases more than the martyrs did, but they cannot help themselves. The martyrs lived under a continual trial, a daily exercise of faith, which we, living in peaceable times, can scarcely understand. To be a martyr is to feel the storm coming, and willingly to endure it at the call of duty, for Christ's sake and for the good of the brethren; and this is a kind of firmness which we have no means of displaying at the present day, though our deficiency in it is evidenced as often as we yield to inferior or ordinary temptations.
II. The suffering itself of martyrdom was in some respects peculiar. It was a death, cruel in itself, publicly inflicted, and heightened by the fierce exultation of a malevolent populace. The unseen God alone was their comforter, and this invests the scene of their suffering with supernatural majesty, and awes us when we think of them. A martyrdom is a season of God's especial power in the eye of faith, as great as if a miracle were visibly wrought. It is a fellowship of Christ's sufferings, a commemoration of His death, a representation filling up in figure "that which is behind of His afflictions, for His body's sake, which is the Church." And thus, being an august solemnity in itself, and a kind of sacrament, a baptism of blood, it worthily finishes that long searching trial which was its usual forerunner in primitive times.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 41.
Reference: Hebrews 11:37 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1528.
I. It behoves us to have a care how we judge the men of our own day who take a leading part in the conduct of affairs, and compel the notice of their fellows. It is easy enough to load them with flatteries if they be on our side; but should they be teachers of new things, with new ways and new ideas and new modes of speech, which some denounce and others mock at, then it behoves us to be cautious and patient. Great things are not so well seen when you are close to them. You may stand beneath the facade of St. Peter's at Rome, and form but a feeble conception of its magnitude; and even when you remove to some little distance, it is obscured by the crowd of vulgar buildings which surround it. But when you have journeyed twenty miles away across the level campagna, and then turn and look for Rome, it is St. Peter's which you see, as though it hung from heaven, suspended in the lucid air, and the crowding, encircling meanness has disappeared. And so it is with great men. We need to be at a distance rightly to estimate their magnitude.
II. Of some of the men in this list you would scarcely say that they were moral or religious men. But they were all alike said to have been faithful men; that is, men full of faith. And herein we may notice that the possession of faith is the prime capability for a religious life, as it is also the first qualification for the successful conduct of any great undertaking. By faith I mean the firm grip of some conviction, some purpose or other, so that there is decision and earnestness, and a marked out line in life. The man who takes up a cause and holds by it, and fights for it, even if the cause be a mistaken one; the man who is loyal and true to a person, and stands by him and speaks out for him, such a man, however worldly he may be, however selfish or however immoral, may by God's grace be converted to genuine piety.
W. Page Roberts, Reasonable Service, p. 117.
References: Hebrews 11:38 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 406; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 303; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 217. Hebrews 11:39 , Hebrews 11:40 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vii., p. 145; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 94; R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 273; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 289. Hebrews 11:40 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 114.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany