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the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Hebrews 12

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Verse 1

Hebrews 12:1


I. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is speaking in this passage of Esau a reckless young man parting with spiritual advantages without any thought of their real value, finding that the loss of them involves the loss of temporal advantages too, and trying in vain to recover the temporal advantages which in a moment of recklessness he had parted from for ever. A man squanders his money, and he is very sorry for it, and wishes he had not done so; but he cannot get back his money, even though he seeks it earnestly and with tears. A man by dissipation ruins his health, and when he is lying on a sick-bed, he is very sorry for it, and he wishes he had never been such a fool, and that he could recover the health which he has parted from for ever. It is easier to harden the heart than to have the softness restored; it is easier to blunt our feelings than to recover for them their elasticity and acuteness. And then the man, though, for a time at least, he may be sorry, makes no great change; he finds a change very difficult, if not impossible, and he finds, therefore, no place for repentance, though he seek it for a moment "even with tears."

II. We cannot expect that every effect of sin is to be entirely done away with. God intends that we shall still feel the scourge of our sins, even when, by His mercy, we are freed from their dominion; and the gospel of Jesus Christ is this, that, though sin has made men slaves, they may be emancipated, If the mercy of God in Jesus Christ visits us, and we turn to Him with full purpose of amendment, though the temporal consequences of our sin may be beyond recall and must continue for ever, yet, by His operation on the heart, God brings deliverance to the enslaved soul. The death of Christ speaks of our justification, and removes for those who turn to God the penalty which is hanging over them for sins past; the sanctification through the gift of the Holy Spirit makes the reconciled sinner to grow in holiness, and brings him back to the state which he had lost by the sin he had committed.

Archbishop Tait, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 97.

Esau's Birthright Irreparable Follies.

I. The writer is here speaking to Jewish Christians, pleading examples from the early history of their own race, to which they ever turned with reverence and fondness. He is warning them of the danger of forfeiting in carelessness the inheritance which belonged to them as Christians. They were in danger of undervaluing it. In the sense of present isolation from the mass of their countrymen, of hunger for the visible tangible support of ordinances in the old religion from which they had separated themselves, in the pressing fear of deadly persecution, they were losing heart and hope. They were losing, so he argues all through the eleventh chapter, that crowning grace to which their nation, through its long line of patriarchs, heroes, prophets, had owed its peculiar greatness the grace of faith, of trust in the invisible, of power to live and die in hope, not having received the promises. In this chapter for the moment he has turned to the other sight. He suggests from their own history an instance of one who lacked this power, who in a moment of weakness sold the future for the present, and who found that that moment's work was irreparable. He found no place of repentance. He could never again to any purpose change his mind. It is the type of our irretrievable acts, but in an especial way of irretrievable choices made under such circumstances as those under which Esau made his choice in the heat and weakness of youth. A single heedless act with unalterable results.

II. How often is the story repeated. The character of Esau, drawn in the bold natural outlines of a simple age, is one that cannot fail to find its likeness among the young. Bold, vigorous, his father's favourite, fond of outdoor life and adventure, generous even in his after-years, as we see from his meeting again with Jacob, here surely was the making of a fine character. Yet, even as in Saul and David, we should have been wrong. Something is wanting, something that cannot be replaced. And sooner or later the want shows itself, stamps itself indelibly in an act of folly that cannot be undone. We know the thoughtlessness that leads to loss of innocence, to the missing of golden opportunities. In spite of everything, the birthright, in the best sense of all, is still ours. Yet even in that sense too we may cast it away.

E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 27.

Esau's Vain Tears.

I. Look at the history which is here held up before us, a solemn warning. There is nothing in Genesis about Esau's vainly seeking for repentance, but there is an account of his passionate weeping and loud entreaties that he yet might obtain a blessing from Isaac's trembling lips. There is bitter sorrow for what had passed, and that is repentance. And there is earnest desire that it might be different. In what may be called its secular significance there are in Esau's case as recorded in Genesis both the elements of a decided alteration of mind and purpose, and a penitence and sorrow for the past.

II. Look at the lessons which this story teaches us. There may come in your life a time when the scales will fall from your eyes, and you will see how insignificant and miserable are the present gratifications for which you have sold your birthright, and may wish the bargain undone which cannot be undone. You cannot wash out the bitter memories, you cannot blot out habits, by a wish. The past stands. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

III. Notice the misapprehension which these words do not teach. They do not teach that a man may desire to repent with tears, and be unable to do so. If a man desires to repent, there must be in him some measure of regret and sorrow for the conduct of which he desires to repent considered as sin against God; and that is repentance. Nor do the words teach that a man may desire to receive the salvation of his soul from God and not receive it. To desire is to possess, to possess in the measure of the desire and according to its reality. There is no such thing in the spiritual realm as a real longing unfulfilled. The Gospel proclaims that whosoever shall ask will receive, or rather that God has already given, and that nothing but obstinate determination not to possess prevents any man from being enriched by the fulness of God's salvation.

A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, Oct. 22nd, 1885.

References: Hebrews 12:17 . L. Cheetham, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 241; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 144.

Verses 1-2

Hebrews 12:1-2

The Exemplar of Faith.

I. The cloud of witnesses is not the object on which our heart is fixed. They testify of faith, and we cherish their memory with gratitude, and walk with a firmer step because of the music of their lives. Our eye, however, is fixed, not on them, not on many, but on One; not on the army, but the Leader; not on the servants, but the Lord. We see Jesus only, and from Him we derive our true strength, even as He is our light of life. There are many witnesses, and yet Jesus is the only true and faithful Witness. His example is the great motive of our obedience of faith. Jesus walked by faith. He, who in the eternal counsel undertook our salvation in obedience to the Father's will, entered, by His Incarnation, on the path of faith. Herein is the very power and efficacy of the obedience of Jesus; that it is the voluntary condescension and obedience of the Son of God; that it is a true and real obedience, submission, dependence, struggle, suffering; that it is the obedience of faith.

II. Jesus believed. He is the Author and Finisher of faith the only perfect, all-sided embodiment of faith. Since without faith it is impossible to please God, and since Jesus always and perfectly pleased the Father; since faith is the very root and spirit of obedience, and Jesus was the servant of the Lord, who finished the God-given work, Jesus was perfect in faith. The whole realm of faith was traversed by Him; He ascended the whole scale, from the lowest to the highest step; He endured and He conquered all things.

III. The Christian life is a race, and hence constancy, steadfastness, perseverance, are absolutely necessary. "Lay aside useless and hurtful things; leave them behind," says the Apostle. It is easy, when we look unto Jesus; but impossible unless our thoughts and affections are centred on Christ, unless we behold Him as our Lord and Bridegroom, our Strength and Joy. This is the only method of the New Covenant.

A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 352.

The Communion of Saints.

The Christian Church has for many generations set apart a day for the observance of the Feast of All Saints; and its eve, celebrated in poetry, in games, by wild and graceful superstitions, and bearing in its practices traces of heathen faiths and legend, has been called All Hallows' Eve. The Feast was originally set up to put an end to the excessive multiplication of Saints' Days. These grew so rapidly, each nation wishing to honour its own special saints, that more than half the days in each month were turned into holidays. Work was neglected, and laziness seemed in danger of developing into a virtue. The Roman Church then threw the veneration and love of all these holy persons into one festival, instead of many, and the day was called the Feast of All Saints. The festival finally became the poetic form in which the doctrine of the communion of saints was enshrined.

I. This faith tells us that we are never alone. The very ground of it is that in the midst of this vast world of being, supporting its existence and pervading it, touching it at all points, and conscious of the life of every soul in it, is God, our Father, at once the vital principle by which each several being to borrow an illustration from science spins on its individual poles, and the ether in which independently it moves. He knows every thought; He feels every sorrow and joy; He supports with all the force of law every effort towards goodness, that is, towards union with the eternal, with the universe; He makes us feel, when we are in evil thought or act, our contradiction to the whole universe, our apartness from Him, till at last we yield ourselves to goodness only, and are consciously at one with Him.

II. And, secondly, it is not only God who, according to this idea, is present with us for solace and for power, but also all the noble dead all who live in God, and through the unity of His pervading Spirit are interwoven with us in the infinite web of immortal communion. Jesus is the Lover of our soul, and so are all the holy and loving souls who live in the eternal world. He is the nearest and the most conquering in His love and in His communion. But yet there are some whom we have known and loved on earth who have to us a relationship of union, not so powerful in love, but nearer in human bonds. These are ours, and the tie between us, though they are not seen, is closer even than it was on earth. What is its ground? Where is its strength rooted? In the truth of the Communion of Saints.

III. Finally, there are two things more to say. One is, that all the joy and comfort of this doctrine depend on our becoming pure in heart, holy in word and deed. Communion with God is known through holiness. The pure in heart see God. Communion with humanity in God is known by love. And there is no other way in the world by which we can believe in God and believe in man. And, secondly, when we think of this vast assemblage, all united in a communion of gentleness, we understand that the last and highest range of human nature is not knowledge or power, but holiness held in love.

S. A. Brooke, The Unity of God and Man, p. 61.

The Christian Race.

I. The Race. It is the old race from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, from ruin to regeneracy, from sin to full salvation. Sometimes it is called a journey. Even that is a figure full of interest, as denoting a purpose, a progress, an end. But here it rises to its full strength, to its full dignity, and is called a race. A race, if it is at all worthy of the name, is a straining from beginning to end. Let no man think that the Christian life is easy. When things get so low with any one that the strenuous imagery of this passage seems to have no application, that man has no evidence, or he can have very little, and that most precarious, that he is a runner at all.

II. The runners who are they? Two things are found in all the runners who run and strive lawfully for this great mastery, for this great prize. And they are (1) that all the runners shall begin at the Christian beginning, where all workers, all warriors, all runners, do begin, who enter upon this earnest and grand life. And where is that? They must begin with repentance; they must begin with faith; they must begin, in one word, with the Lord Jesus Christ. (2) Then the other thing is this, that, while beginning thus at the true beginning, they must also seek nothing less than the true end the high, Christian end. And what is that? The last and noblest end of all Christian life, is the image of Christ, purity, perfection, the full perfection of our nature, conformity in all things to the Master's will; that is the end, perfect peace, perfect knowledge, perfect love, perfect obedience.

III. The Impediments. These exist in every case; no runner is without them. They are to be laid aside. All that hinders, weights or sins, whatever they may be, be they constitutional, or be they superinduced, if they hinder they are to be laid aside by us.

IV. The Witnesses. There are spectators of the race. There is a watching from the skies: there is an earnest waiting of the glorified Church. What we think of as most shadowy, is in fact most real. What we think of as most distant, is sometimes really most near. What a motive is thus derived to promote our diligence while we are here as runners, and ere we have yet won our crown! If we lose it, it will be in sight of them all. Those whom you have never seen will see you; will see you stumble, will see you fall, will see you cease from running any more, while another takes your crown.

V. The Goal. The goal is at the end of the race. The goal in this case is the person of Christ, "looking unto Jesus." This is the goal, the presence, the approbation of Christ. His presence satisfies that illustrious company. It is His light that covers them all with glory; it is His approbation that thrills them all with joy; it will be at His feet that they will cast their crowns at the last day.

A. Raleigh, Penny Pulpit, 3938.

References: Hebrews 12:1 , Hebrews 12:2 . E. L. Hull, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 144; Fletcher, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 133; E. B. Pusey, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 130; Bishop M. Simpson, Sermons, p. 405.

Verse 2

Hebrews 12:2

Let us notice

I. What Christ endured.

II. Why He endured it.

III. The lessons that endurance teaches.

I. The sorrows of Jesus. What Christ endured crucifixion. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Jesus laid down His life for His foes! Christ had endured much for mankind before He suffered on the Holy Rood. But His other pains and sorrows fade away before the agonies of His crucifixion, even as the stars turn pale and then vanish before the overpowering light of the sun. He endured for the joy of saving souls; endured, not with the dogged callousness of the Stoic who despises his fellow-creatures, but by reason of a love that triumphed over every feeling of pain, of shame, and of sorrow. For the joy that was set before Him He endured all this.

II. Why Christ suffered; why Christ endured it. It was for the joy that was set before Him, and that joy consisted in doing good to others. It was because by this suffering Jesus redeemed mankind. It was to save men from the punishment and the power of sin. Like all true heroes, Jesus was preeminently unselfish. He had nothing to gain save the love of humanity. His joy was purely unselfish. He suffered, not to gain wealth, or renown, or power, but simply and solely to redeem mankind, to carry out to the last that obedience to the Father by which the many are made righteous. He suffered because He was obedient to the voice of conscience. There was nothing of the ascetic in Jesus. An ascetic voluntarily, purposely, goes out of the way to make himself miserable. Not so Jesus. He was preeminently the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. But all His sorrows met Him in the path of duty. He heroically endured the shame and ignominy of the Crucifixion (a more degrading death than hanging with us), despising its shame, for the joy that was set before Him the joy of redeeming the world.

III. The lessons of endurance. It teaches professing Christians to be ready to endure the cross of self-denial, and despise the shame that the world heaps on the faithful disciple of the Lord. It appeals to every sinner, with matchless eloquence, to be a follower of the self-denying Jesus. Plato and Socrates were noble leaders for Athens in the paths of virtue, but Athens perished. She could not be saved by her one or two great men, for the mass of the people were utterly corrupt. So, too, the greatness of our fatherland depends not on one or two great men, but on the masses being brought to Jesus Christ and led to take up the cross of self-denial for His sake.

F. W. Aveling, Christian World Pulpit, Dec. 21st, 1892.

References: Hebrews 12:2 . A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, pp. 77, 91; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 236; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 180; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. ii., p. 207; Bishop Ryle, Church of England Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 142; A. Raleigh, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 495; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. v., p. 132; H. Wonnacott, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 392; W. Page, Ibid., vol. xxv., p 374; L. D. Bevan, Ibid., vol. xxx., p. 200; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 84.

Verse 3

Hebrews 12:3

I. St. Paul, in the verses of our text, gives us a plain, serious reason for frequent meditation upon Christ's sufferings. It is not that we may learn to see how far human cruelty and intolerance can go; it is not that we may pride ourselves on being at least better than the savages who nailed the Saviour to the tree; it is not that we may congratulate ourselves on living in more civilised times; it is not for any reason which might turn our eyes away from Christ as the Life and the Light of men; but it is for this: "Consider Him, lest ye be weary and faint in your minds."

II. Christ's life, then, as the pattern life, is what is set before us here. Consider Him, for as He did, so must ye strive to do. The death and passion of the Son of God is the standard by which to measure any efforts of ours. There is a voice within us which tells us that in holiness and the faithful following of Christ there is, indeed, infinite happiness; that victory over evil is a triumph that is infinitely desirable; that it is far better to strive for what is noble and good, than to succumb to what is little and vile. But when these positions are to be carried out into practice, when our convictions are to be acted on every hour, when there is a countless host of disturbing influences at work, busy in their efforts to unbalance our minds and to lead us astray, then the great danger is lest we should say the lifelong struggle is too hard, the constant watchfulness required of us is too great a strain. It is in considering Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself that we shall learn by slow degrees, but we shall learn not to be weary or faint in our minds.

A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 119.

References: Hebrews 12:3 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1073; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 232; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 175; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 58; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., pi 83.

Verses 3-13

Hebrews 12:3-13

I. Chastisement is sent by fatherly love. There, where we are most sensitive, God touches us. The thorn in the flesh is something which we fancy we cannot bear if it were to be lifelong. We have emerged, as it were, out of a dark tunnel, and fancy that the rest of our journey will be amid sunlit fields. We have achieved steep and rugged ascents, and imagine the period of great and exhausting exertion is over. The trial deepest and sorest seems to leave us for a while, yet it returns again.

II. "Afterwards." Does not this world search and try us? God forbid that we should forget the chastening of the Lord, that we should "get over" sorrow, or be comforted like the world. Now is our afterwards, peace and godliness today by reason of yesterday's sorrow and trial.

III. The cross of Christ is despised and hated, not merely by self-righteous Jews and wise and worldly Greeks, but within the professing Church the Apostle weeps over many who are enemies of the cross of Christ, not of the doctrine that Christ died instead of sinners, but of the teaching that we have been crucified with Him and have been planted in the likeness of His death; that we have been saved, and are being saved, not from death, but out of death; that, dying daily the painful death by crucifixion, we live the spiritual resurrection life together with and in Christ. By affliction and the inward crucifixion we learn to seek our true life, treasure, strength, and joy, not in earthly affections, possessions, pursuits, and attainments, however good and noble, but in Him who is at the right hand of God; and the end will be glory.

A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 371.

Verse 4

Hebrews 12:4

It belongs to a good man to strive against sin. It sounds like a contradiction, indeed, for how should a good man have any sin to strive against? Nevertheless it is true; for as absolute goodness is not to be found in this fallen world, we must be willing to accept those efforts after it which seem to imply that the idea of it at least exists in the mind and the desire in the heart, while it is exemplified only in a very subordinate degree in the life. The doctrine of the text is, that all Christians are specially called and committed to a warfare with sin, a striving against it, even unto blood. Consider:

I. The nature of the striving. (1) It is really a striving; that is to say, it is really a difficult thing. It is not a mere figure of speech; it is the most difficult thing that any human being can attempt. He who addresses himself to it must lay his account with many a sharp and terrible conflict, not in the arena of the world alone, but in the more awful, even the invisible, arena of his own soul; and in view of this he must be careful to grasp the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, and by watchfulness and prayer to "gird up the loins of his mind." (2) It is a striving against sin as sin. Men of the world sometimes strive against sin after a fashion, but their striving is very different from that referred to here. ( a ) It is partial; ( b ) it is superficial; ( c ) it is only occasional. Such individuals may resist today, but they indulge tomorrow. The believer's striving is universal and persistent.

II. Look next at some considerations fitted to sustain and encourage us in it. And here notice (1) That help is promised. Were it not so, it would be idle to begin it. We should speedily fail. But God sends us not on this warfare at our own charges. He has provided us with weapons. When the believer goes forth behind the shield of faith to duty and conflict, God goes forth to meet him, and joining His power to the creature's weakness, giveth him the victory over every foe. (2) The longer the striving is continued the easier it becomes. This is a law of our nature. It is embodied in the common saying that practice makes perfect. The frequent repetition of an act ultimately establishes habit, and habit is a second nature, frequently stronger than nature itself.. (3) Striving is the universal law and condition. No more is required of us than has been required of all who have reached the goal. We are only asked to walk in the footsteps and accept the experience of all who have gone before us to the celestial heights, and it will be the same with alt who come after us, to the end of time. (4) There is the certainty and glory of your reward. Look less to the way, where, indeed, there is much to discourage, and more to the end of the way, where all is calm and bright. Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.

A. L. Simpson, Sermons, p. 187.

The Witness of the Passion.

The Apostle in the text is addressing the Hebrew Christians and encouraging them to a conflict, and as he encourages them to a conflict, for its object, its method, and its degree, he refers them back to the Passion of the Lord. The reason is, that the Passion has in it the essence of a great witness for God and man. The verses immediately before the text show clearly that that is indeed the Apostle's meaning, and that on which he would fix their minds.

I. What was the mode of conflict? What was the meaning of the severe dignity of the Passion of the Lord? Now it may appear startling that in the Passion of the Lord we find what confuses at first, what is difficult to interpret, that, whilst we Christians call it a conflict, its method is purely passive. There is no spirit throughout of aggression; there is no attempt at attack. Certainly it is true that in this moral attitude of the Lord there are most consoling, most comforting, most invigorating lessons for the patience and endurance of a Christian. But remember that the moral attitude, the method, of the Passion, its purely passive phase, means a great deal more than that. Like the flash of the lightning or like the track of the glacier, it makes us feel at once that we are in the presence of a force which is unmeasured and unmeasurable, of a force in the life of God. Now what is that force? The Passion in its passive character, in the moral attitude of simple forbearance and endurance, witnesses to force in the character of God. Force can be seen in a mere passive moral attitude.

II. And in the same way as there was real force there depicted in a passive attitude, so there was completeness in that attitude as it was seen in the Lord. When Jesus stood face to face with evil, when Jesus endured the Cross, resisting, not attacking, unto blood, there came out before the mind of man, before the thought of Christendom, the gathering up of every element of moral splendour in that one great glory the glory of the sanctity of God. The witness of the Passion to the character of God is the witness to unspeakable, unapproachable holiness.

III. The Passion also witnessed to sin. The world exhibited indifference. Jesus breasted indifference with intensity. Sin teaches us to hate God, to hate one another. Jesus in the Passion met it by love. He witnessed to the sanctity of God; He witnessed to the sin of man.

W. J. Knox Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii, p. 257.

References: Hebrews 12:4 . H. Wace, The Anglican Pulpit of To-day, p. 325; D. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 212; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 118. Hebrews 12:5 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 48. Hebrews 12:6 . G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons in Marlborough College, p. 476. Hebrews 12:6-11 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 241.

Verse 7

Hebrews 12:7 (Revised Version)

I. The word endure is no tame word. It means something widely different from insensibility, or proud defiance. Stoicism is no Christian virtue. Obstinate and contemptuous superiority to pain has no place here. This may possibly save a waste of passion in the sufferer; it may impress; it may win admiration. But all that kind of thing is far remote from the writer's thought. He drops very impressive hints about the afflictions of these Hebrews, and about the example of Christ. Christ endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him, counting its pain and its shame as light, trivial, in comparison with that. His holy soul had adequate solace and stay all through that immeasurable anguish; mental reasons mastered the flesh: spiritual considerations sustained Him that were far mightier to support than the cross to overthrow. The Hebrews, too, were exercised, much exercised, in their afflictions, and the exercise, like a Divine alchemy, was turning every constituent of distress into gold.

II. Questions arise here that admit of only one answer. (1) Who doubts the need of chastening? Sin in one or other of its myriad forms has aggravated all the imperfections of inexperience, so that we require far surer correction and direction than a childhood and youth of innocence had ever called for. (2) Who doubts the spirit in which this chastening is inflicted? Dictated by love, directed by wisdom, aimed at the highest ends, it has every quality to keep us alike from despising it or fainting under it. (3) Who is not driven to rigorous self-examination? There is no talismanic power in afflictions, in pains and penalties, that of itself can correct and transform. Chastening calls for thought, for reflection, for faithful survey of our life, with its temper, aims, and spirit. (4) Who does not rejoice in the advance of correction and growth? "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but since have I kept Thy word."

G. B. Johnson, The Beautiful Life of Christ, p. 166.

References: Hebrews 12:7 . F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol xxvi.,p. 321.Hebrews 12:8 . T. R. Stevenson, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 412.Hebrews 12:9 . H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2987. Hebrews 12:10 . E. de Pressensé, The Mystery of Suffering, p. 55; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 12th series, p. 92.Hebrews 12:11 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 528; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 139; R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 1st series, p. 238; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 10.

Verse 12

Hebrews 12:12

Religious Cowardice. .

The encouragement which we derive from St. Mark's history is, that the feeblest among us may, through God's grace, become strong; and the warning to be drawn from it is to distrust ourselves, and, again, not to despise weak brethren or to despair of them, but to bear their burdens and help them forward, if so be we may restore them.

I. Observe in what St. Mark's weakness lay. There is a sudden defection, which arises from self-confidence. Such was St. Peter's. In St. Mark's history, however, we have no evidence of self-confidence; rather we may discern in it the state of multitudes at the present day who proceed through life with a certain sense of religion on their minds, who have been brought up well and know the truth, who acquit themselves respectably while danger is at a distance, but disgrace their profession when brought into any unexpected trial.

II Christians such as Mark will abound in any prosperous Church; and should trouble come, they will be unprepared for it. They have been so long accustomed to external peace that they do not like to be persuaded that danger is at hand. They settle it in their imagination that they are to live and die undisturbed. They look at the world's events, as they express it, cheerfully, and argue themselves into self-deception. Next, they make concessions to suit their own predictions and wishes, and surrender the Christian cause, that unbelievers may not commit themselves to an open attack upon it To speak plainly, a state of persecution is not (what is familiarly called) their element; they cannot breathe in it. If there be times when we have grown torpid from long security and are tempted to prefer the treasures of Egypt to the reproach of Christ, what can we do? what ought we to do but to pray God in some way or other to try the very heart of the Church and to afflict us here rather than hereafter? So may we issue evangelists for timid deserters of the cause of truth, speaking the words of Christ and showing forth His life and death, rising strong from our sufferings and building up the Church in the strictness and zeal of those who despise this life except as it leads to another.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 175.

References: Hebrews 12:12 . Plain Sermons by Contributors to " Tracts for the Times, " vol. i., p. 55.Hebrews 12:12 , Hebrews 12:13 . J. H. Thorn, Laws of Life, 1st series, p. 323; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 243.Hebrews 12:12-29 . R. W. Dale, The Jewish Temple and the Christian Church, p. 264.

Verse 14

Hebrews 12:14

The Peaceful Temper.

There are many particular duties in which Christianity and worldly wisdom meet, both recommending the same course. One of these is the duty mentioned in the text, viz., that of being at peace with others. The reason which worldly prudence suggests is the quiet and happiness of life, which are interfered with by relations of enmity to others. The reason which religion gives is the duty of brotherly love, of which the peaceful disposition is a part. But the frequency of the advice, under either aspect, is remarkable, and shows that there is some strong prevailing tendency in human nature by which it is opposed. Let us examine what that tendency is.

I. When we examine the tempers of men, the first thing we observe is that people rush into quarrels from simple violence and impetuosity of temper, which prevents them from waiting a single minute to examine the merits of the case and the facts of the case, but carries them forward possessed of a blind partiality in their own favour and seeing nothing but what favours their own side. (2) Again, there is the malignant temper, which fastens vindictively upon particular persons, who have been either the real or the supposed authors of some disadvantage. (3) There are some persons who can never be neutral or support a middle state of mind. If they do not positively like others, they will see some reason for disliking them; they will be irritable if they are not pleased; they will be enemies if they are not friends.

II. Peace implies the entire absence of positive ill-will. The Apostle says this is our proper relation toward all men. More than this applies to some, but as much as this applies to all. He would have us embrace all men within our love so far as to be in concord with them, not to be separated from them. Separation is inconsistent with Christian membership. On the other hand, he knows that more than this must, by the limitations of our nature, apply to the few rather than to the mass and multitude; he fixes then upon this, nothing higher and nothing lower; he fixes upon the middle ground of peace as our proper relation towards the many. You must not, he says, be at peace only with those to whom you are partial; that is easy enough. You must be at peace with those towards whom you entertain no partiality, who do not perhaps please you or suit you. This is the rule of peace which the Gospel lays down, and it must be fulfilled by standing guard at the entrance of our hearts and keeping off intruding thoughts. It was not without design that following peace and holiness were connected by the Apostle. A life of enmities is greatly in opposition to growth in holiness. All that commotion of petty animosity in which some people live is very lowering; it dwarfs and stunts the spiritual growth of persons. Their spiritual station becomes less and less in God's sight and in man's. In a state of peace the soul lives as in a watered garden, where, under the watchful eye of the Divine source, the plant grows and strengthens. All religious habits and duties, prayer, charity, and mercy, are formed and matured when the man is in a state of peace with others.

J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 203.

I. Even supposing a man of unholy life were suffered to enter heaven, he would not be happy there, so that it would be no mercy to permit him to enter. We are apt to deceive ourselves, and to consider heaven a place like this earth; I mean, a place where every one may choose and take his own pleasure. But an opinion like this, though commonly acted upon, is refuted as soon as put into words. Here every one can do his own pleasure, but there he must do God's pleasure. Heaven is not like this world; it is much more like a church. For in a place of worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small, no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. Here we hear solely and entirely of God; and therefore a church is like heaven, because both in the one and in the other there is one single sovereign subject religion brought before us. When, therefore, we think to take part in the joys of heaven without holiness, we are as inconsiderate as if we supposed that we could take an interest in the worship of Christians here below without possessing it in our measure.

II. If we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man. We know how unhappy we are apt to feel at present when alone in the midst of strangers or of men of different tastes and habits from ourselves. How miserable, for example, would it be to have to live in a foreign land, among a people whose faces we never saw before, and whose language we could not learn! And this is but a faint illustration of the loneliness of a man of earthly dispositions and tastes thrust into the society of saints and angels. How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven!

III. If a certain character of mind, a certain state of the heart and affections, be necessary for entering heaven, our actions will avail for our salvation chiefly as they tend to produce or evidence this frame of mind. Good works are required, not as if they had anything of merit in them, not as if they could of themselves turn away God's anger for our sins or purchase heaven for us, but because they are the means, under God's grace, of strengthening and showing forth that holy principle which God implants in the heart, and without which we cannot see Him. The separate acts of obedience to the will of God, good works as they are called, are of service to us as gradually severing us from the world of sense and impressing our hearts with a heavenly character.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 1.

References: Hebrews 12:14 . A. K. H. B., The Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson, 3rd series, p. 124; W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 401; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 359; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 80. Hebrews 12:14 , Hebrews 12:15 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 940.

Verses 14-18

Hebrews 12:14-18

Peace and Holiness.

The two exhortations to follow peace with all men and that holiness without which none can see the Lord comprise the whole Christian life.

I. The characteristic feature of the Church ought to be the spirit of peace. Christians are faithful to God, and to His truth; their testimony is against sin and unbelief in the world, against hypocrisy and unfaithfulness in the Church; but as love is their life element, so peace is their characteristic. If God's peace is within us, we love the brethren and all men. We are able to deal with them tenderly and calmly. Humility, affection, and helpfulness characterise the son of peace; for he is always praising the boundless grace of God in which he stands.

II. Holiness. Christ is made unto us sanctification. If only holiness can admit us to the blessed vision of God, it must be Christ's; for imperfect holiness is as great a contradiction as unclean purity. The warfare is painful, for sin is still in us. It is not like a garment that we wear. It has entrenched itself in our flesh; that is, the old Adam-nature of body, soul, and spirit. Hence cleaving to Christ and our holiness in Him is crucifixion of the flesh, and that is painful. Let us study the epistles of the Apostle Paul, and learn the solemn and awful character of the Christian life, warfare, and race, the constant need of watchfulness and concentration of energy, of diligence, self-restraint, and self-denial. But let us learn from them that it is a blessed and joyous thing to follow the holiness, to abide in the light and love of God, to dwell in Him who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all, who is love, and who hath shed abroad His love in our hearts.

A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 388.

References: Hebrews 12:15 . E. Bersier, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 322; Outline Sermons to Children, p. 267; J. H. Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 22.Hebrews 12:16 , Hebrews 12:17 . S. A. Tipple, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 139. Hebrews 12:17 . J. Vaughan, Sermons, 9th series, p. 85; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 317; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 172.Hebrews 12:18-24 . Parker, Cavendish Pulpit, 1st series, p. 148.

Verse 16

Hebrews 12:16

Profanity in the Home.

In Scripture there are few characters more profitable for study than Esau. Whether we look at his circumstances, or his temper, or the line along which the tragedy of his life developed, we get nearer to this man, and find in him more that resembles ourselves, more that resembles the pitiful facts and solemn possibilities of our own lives, than we do in connection with almost any other character in either of the two Testaments. Here is a man who was not an insane or a monstrous sinner, a Lucifer falling from heaven, but who came to sin, who came to fatal irredeemable sin, in the common human way: by birth into it; by the sins of others as well as his own; by everyday and sordid temptations; by carelessness and the sudden surprise of neglected passions. Esau is not a repulsive, but a lovable, man; and we know that if one is to learn from any character, one's love must be awake, and take her share in the learning too. There is everything about Esau to engage us in the study of him. The mystery that haunts all human sin, the pity that we feel for so wronged and so genial a nature, only make clear to us more fully the central want and blame of his life. Perhaps we may discover it to be the central want and blame of our own.

I. Hereditary sinfulness. First, then, Esau was sinned against from his birth. The problems of heredity and of a stress of temptation for which he was not responsible appear in his case from the very first. His father and mother were responsible for much of the character of their son. It has always seemed to me a strange thing that in the otherwise beautiful marriage service of the Church of England the example of Isaac and Rebecca should be invoked for each new-wedded pair; for Isaac and Rebecca's marriage was the spoiling of one of the most beautiful idylls that ever opened on this earth of ours. It began in a romance, and it ended in the sheerest vulgarity; it began with the most honourable plighting of troth, and it ended in the most sordid querulousness, and shiftiness, and falsehood. This was just because, with all its grace and all its wonder, the fear of God was not present, because, with all the romance, there was no religion, and, with all the giving of the one heart to the other, there had been no surrender of both to God. The Nemesis of picturesqueness without truth is always sordidness; the Nemesis of romance without religion is always vulgarity; and vulgarity and sordidness are the prevailing notes of Isaac and Rebecca's wedded life.

II. Evil home influence. Our text calls Esau "a profane person," and this predominant aspect of his character he got at home. The Greek word for "profane" means literally that which is trodden, which is not closed to anything, but may be passed over, used, and trodden by who will. It is equivalent to a word in a notice we often see in our own towns: "No Thoroughfare." "Profane" means "thoroughfare," and had a Greek been wanting to put up "No Thoroughfare" upon any street, he would have expressed it probably in the original word in this text: "Not Profane." It was first applied to the ground outside sacred enclosures or temples. It meant ground that was common and public profane. That which lay in front of the fane or temple is thus the adequate translation of the original Greek. Now such was the home Rebecca made for her sons, a home which was not walled in by reverence and truth, and the steadfast patience of father and mother. The falsehood was permitted in its most sacred relations; petulance, vulgar haste, foolishly strong language, and lies found free course across its holy of holies the mother's lips. Profane home, indeed, when a mother's temper spoiled the air, and her ambitions trampled down her elder son's rights, her younger's honour, and her poor blind husband's weakness. The mother who thus profaned her home could not be expected to do otherwise with the heart of her son. Esau's was an open heart, as far as we can see a naturally free and unreserved heart. You know the kind of man. He has fifty doors to the outer world, where the most of us have only two or three; and except angels be sent of God Himself to guard these, the peril and fatality of such a man are immense. Friends and foes alike get far into him; the citadel of his heart lies open to all who come near. But instead of angels poor Esau had by him only tempters a tempter in his brother and a tempter in his mother. Unguarded by loving presences, unfilled by worthy affections, his mind became a place across which everything was allowed to rush, across which his own mother's lips poured the infection of her waywardness, and across which the commonest passions, like hunger, ran riot, unawed by the presence of any commanding principle. That is what the text means by a "profane person" an open, common character, unfenced, unhallowed, no guardian angel at the door, no gracious company within, no heavenly music pealing through it, no fire upon the altar, but open to his dogs and his passions, to his mother's provocations, and his brothe?s fatal wiles.

III. An impregnable heart. Finally, let us get back to this word "profane," for it is the centre of the whole evil. Be on your guard, then, against the little vices. It is they that first desecrate the soul. Take the virtue of truth. It seems to many an innocent thing to tell certain kinds of lies I am sure we have all fallen under the temptation society lies, business lies, rhetorical lies, lies prompted by pure selfishness, lies prompted by mistaken kindness. Now that is a fatal mistake, fatal for eternity. The character whose doors lie open to these visitors is the character that is open to anything, anything except what miserable fear and selfishness will in the end keep out, namely, the more rampant forms of vice. To everything else such a character lies open. Admit them, and you can keep nothing out. You are certain some day to be betrayed by them into larger and more fatal issues.

G. A. Smith, Christian World Pulpit, August 17th, 1892.

The Religious Standard of Value.

I. Esau's act was the act of one who had in him that disregard for the claims of things sacred which constitutes the essence of profaneness. Esau's temper was, like Saul's, of the earth, earthy, or, as we now say, purely secular. Both represent a type of character which may have many of the elements of popularity, many amiable or estimable qualities, but nothing of what Scripture calls faith, no real interest in the spiritual and the unseen. High spirits, good-nature, generosity, a fondness for manly exercises, a fearless gallant bearing, a frankness of speech which, at any rate, scorns all shyness these are well enough in their way, but are, after all, a poor outfit for a child of the great covenant, in which are gathered up the hopes of the world. They are ruined and rendered useless for any high purpose by fickleness, unsteadiness, want of faith and want of principle, wayward and selfish worldliness.

II. Esau does not always wear the goatskin raiment of the skilful Eastern hunter; he passes in society often enough as a finished English gentleman. Are there not baptized persons, calling themselves Christians with a certain degree of sincerity, who habitually despise a birthright still more august and precious than Esau's? They do not, we will suppose, reject Christianity as incredible, but they never allow it to be a power in their life. Their interests are all elsewhere, perhaps in a purely material region, perhaps in a higher, but still an unspiritual, sphere. A servant of Christ will make it his rule to test all weights in the balances of the sanctuary; he will honestly endeavour to call that good which Christ calls good and call that evil which Christ calls evil, he will regard nothing as really expedient or profitable which interferes, or which is even likely some time to interfere, with loyalty to that Master in whose service alone is true liberty and happiness.

W. Bright, Morality in Religion, p. 233.

Reference: Hebrews 12:16 . J. Thain Davidson, Forewarned Forearmed, p. 3.

Verse 18

Hebrews 12:18 , Hebrews 12:22

Sinai and Sion.

I. The points of contrast in the text are, that Sinai was the emblem of a sensuous, and Sion of a spiritual, economy, and that Sinai was a system of rigour, and the Gospel is a system of love. Sinai is represented as the mount that might be touched, that is, something palpable, the emblem of a material framework, of a system of gorgeous ceremonies and local shrines, and of impressiveness of external appearance. This was very largely characteristic of the system of Judaism. The giving of the law, for example, was an overwhelming address to the senses of the awed multitude. Of course there was an inner life in all this, at least in the palmy days of Judaism a vital heart pulsing beneath that drapery of symbol. But in the time of the Saviour the Incarnation the religion of too many had become only rubric and creed; the shadow was still grasped tenaciously, but the substance was gone; the whole system was like a corpse awaiting its embalmment, all ready for burial, so that the sepulchre were but in a garden. And this very sensuous-ness of Jewish worship necessitated the appointment of sacred places and a central temple of worship.

II. But, in contrast with this pomp of ceremonial and localisation of interest, ye are come to the spiritual Sion, filled with the inner man and with lively human stones building up a spiritual house. God on Sinai gave to the Hebrews a law; God on Sion hath given to the people a life: and now that the age of visible symbol has passed away, the Lord speaks no longer from the lips of seers or from any chosen or exclusive lawgiver. Religion, as the Gospel sets it before you and asks you to receive it, comes, so to speak, in the bareness of the Saviour's incarnation. No pomps attend it; no patronage commends it to our regard; its glory is not of this world; it stands alone upon the banks of our modern Jordan, unattended by any retinue of circumstance, a living, holy, independent stranger, without form or comeliness to the beauty-seeking eye of nature; it is loved, and it must be loved, for itself alone; it has no preferments in its gift, save those that are beyond the grasp of human hands; it calls men to no reluctant duty, and it offers to mortal weakness no compromises: it only offers the succour of a grace that will stoop down from heaven to help it up.

III. The Sinaitic was a rigorous discipline; the Gospel is a system of love. Our God is not remote, but near. Our very threatenings are fringed with sunlight. Our every precept has a promise. The service to which Christianity invites you is not a drudgery, but a healthful lucrative labour. When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, when the man is come to Sion and is happy in its citizenship, he rejoices that glorious things are spoken of his city. Everything about him is congenial, not constrained; intimacy, not distrust and distance; the calm of a soul that revels in sunshine, not the unrest of a spirit where tempest mutters and broods. He is satisfied with God's likeness; his delight is in the law of the Lord.

W. M. Punshon, Penny Pulpit, No. 3424.

Verses 18-25

Hebrews 12:18-25

The Blessedness of the Christian Life.

A Christian Jew is writing to Christian Jews, who stand in some danger of falling back to the religion they had abandoned. This writer is here, as every one sees, contrasting the two systems, the old and the new, the law and the Gospel, with a view to show which is indeed the thing he is showing all through his letter that the step from Moses to Christ had been in every respect a step forward and upward, that everything which they appeared to lose in forsaking Moses had been more than recovered in finding Christ.

I. If on Sinai all was material and ail was alarming, in the Gospel, on the contrary, everything is spiritual, everything speaks of peace. In the first place, to the material, changeable mountain there is set in opposition the fair God-guarded city of peace, the metropolis of the saints, not a metropolis to be sought for among the sons of earth a spiritual dwelling-place for pure spirits, temple and capital in God's moral realm, that hath perchance no local habitation anywhere, yet gathereth into its ample and ordered enclosure every lowly and loving heart throughout the Almighty's moral universe. The writer pictures for us the felicity, the tranquillity, the permanence, of that vast assemblage of spiritual beings, knit into a state under the reign of God, under the law of a reconciled and gracious Father.

II. The language in which these angelic inhabitants of Sion are described here, the force of which is not well brought out by our version, suggests a vast convocation assembled on some solemn day for stately and joyous festivity. It carries with it associations of sacred leisure and rhythmic song. It recalls those lovely paradises in which the angelical painter of Fiesole has depicted the mirth of heaven, with its unfading verdure, its golden pomp, its troops of happy spirits, that proclaim their gladness in musical cadence and reverent dance.

III. Men and angels are gathered into one brotherhood; but how and where? Gathered to their common King. The name of Jesus stands last on this mighty catalogue, the crowning name to make our privilege and our blessedness complete. But in the order of your experience and God's grace it comes first of all. There shall fly back at Jesus' word He only speaks the "open sesame" of heaven the everlasting golden gates that were barred against my importunity and yours, and the meanest of us all, the worst of all for whom this Mediator's death avails, who have fled for refuge to this Surety, shall be judged worthy to walk the shining pavements of God's heavenly city, to mingle in the pure festivity of its inhabitants, and to rest for ever in the shelter of its sure defence.

J. Oswald Dykes, Sermon Year Book, vol. i., p. 183.

Verses 18-29

Hebrews 12:18-29

Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.

In this passage are mentioned seven great and solemn heavenly realities.

I. Mount Zion. Mount Sinai represents the law. It manifests the majesty of God above us as creatures, the wrath of God against us as sinners; it reveals to us God's judgment and our condemnation; it convinces us of our guilt and of our strengthlessness; it represents the state of fear and darkness, of distance and alienation from God. It is winter, without sunshine, without flower and fruit, without the song of birds, the melody of praise.

II. Mount Sinai has passed away. It was only temporary. God touched it, but did not abide there. There is another mount, even Zion. Mount Sinai represents the law, temporary and intermediate; Mount Zion the Gospel, eternal and abiding. Sinai is connected with God's dealings with man according to responsibility, Mount Zion with the eternal election of grace.

III. We have come to myriads of angels. The moment we came to Christ, He brought us unto all the angels, who rejoice in the salvation of sinners.

IV. We have also come to the general assembly of the Church of the first-born ones, whose names are written in the heavens. Believers possess, by virtue of their union with Jesus, the rights and privileges of primogeniture. Their names are enrolled in the list of the heavenly city. When we come to Jesus we enjoy communion with all the saints.

V. In this blessed city of God there is no condemnation, there is no more judgment. But there is order, rule, government, to which all render obedience with joy and praise.

VI. We have come to the Mediator of the new covenant. The same Jesus who died for us is on the throne.

VII. We have come to the blood of sprinkling. Christ is set forth by God a propitiation, and faith beholds the blood of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary as a great reality.

A. Saphir, Lectures on Hebrews, vol. ii., p. 405.

References: Hebrews 12:19 . J. W. Lance, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 261.Hebrews 12:22 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 147. Hebrews 12:22-24 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1689; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ix., p. 286; G. W. Conder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 106; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xi., p. 362.

Verse 22

Hebrews 12:18 , Hebrews 12:22

Sinai and Sion.

I. The points of contrast in the text are, that Sinai was the emblem of a sensuous, and Sion of a spiritual, economy, and that Sinai was a system of rigour, and the Gospel is a system of love. Sinai is represented as the mount that might be touched, that is, something palpable, the emblem of a material framework, of a system of gorgeous ceremonies and local shrines, and of impressiveness of external appearance. This was very largely characteristic of the system of Judaism. The giving of the law, for example, was an overwhelming address to the senses of the awed multitude. Of course there was an inner life in all this, at least in the palmy days of Judaism a vital heart pulsing beneath that drapery of symbol. But in the time of the Saviour the Incarnation the religion of too many had become only rubric and creed; the shadow was still grasped tenaciously, but the substance was gone; the whole system was like a corpse awaiting its embalmment, all ready for burial, so that the sepulchre were but in a garden. And this very sensuous-ness of Jewish worship necessitated the appointment of sacred places and a central temple of worship.

II. But, in contrast with this pomp of ceremonial and localisation of interest, ye are come to the spiritual Sion, filled with the inner man and with lively human stones building up a spiritual house. God on Sinai gave to the Hebrews a law; God on Sion hath given to the people a life: and now that the age of visible symbol has passed away, the Lord speaks no longer from the lips of seers or from any chosen or exclusive lawgiver. Religion, as the Gospel sets it before you and asks you to receive it, comes, so to speak, in the bareness of the Saviour's incarnation. No pomps attend it; no patronage commends it to our regard; its glory is not of this world; it stands alone upon the banks of our modern Jordan, unattended by any retinue of circumstance, a living, holy, independent stranger, without form or comeliness to the beauty-seeking eye of nature; it is loved, and it must be loved, for itself alone; it has no preferments in its gift, save those that are beyond the grasp of human hands; it calls men to no reluctant duty, and it offers to mortal weakness no compromises: it only offers the succour of a grace that will stoop down from heaven to help it up.

III. The Sinaitic was a rigorous discipline; the Gospel is a system of love. Our God is not remote, but near. Our very threatenings are fringed with sunlight. Our every precept has a promise. The service to which Christianity invites you is not a drudgery, but a healthful lucrative labour. When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, when the man is come to Sion and is happy in its citizenship, he rejoices that glorious things are spoken of his city. Everything about him is congenial, not constrained; intimacy, not distrust and distance; the calm of a soul that revels in sunshine, not the unrest of a spirit where tempest mutters and broods. He is satisfied with God's likeness; his delight is in the law of the Lord.

W. M. Punshon, Penny Pulpit, No. 3424.

Verses 22-23

Hebrews 12:22-23

Where and with whom faith lives.

I. Where faith lives. (1) The life of a man who has truly laid hold of Jesus Christ, and so is living by faith, is on its inward side that is, in deepest reality a life passed in the dwelling of the great King. (2) The privilege has for its other side a duty; the duty has for its foundation a privilege. For if it be true that the real life of every believing soul is a life that never moves from the temple-palace where God is, and that its inmost secret and the spring of its vitality is communion with God, what shall we say of the sort of lives that most of us live? Does it not sound far more like wrong than truth to say of people whose days are shuttlecocked about by trifling cares, and absorbed in fleeting objects, and wasted in the chase after perishable delights, that they "are come unto Mount Zion," and dwell in the presence of God? The old fable of a mountain of loadstone which drew ships at sea to its cliffs is true of this Mount Zion, which is exalted above the mountains that it may draw hearts tossing on the restless sea of life to the "fair havens" beneath its sheltering height. There is no dread, though there is reverence, and no fear, though there is awe, in the approach of those who come through Jesus Christ, and live beneath the smile of their reconciled God and Father. (3) If you are living by faith, you do not belong to this order in the midst of which you find yourself. See that you keep vivid the consciousness, that you cultivate the sense, of having your true home beyond the seas; and look out as emigrants and colonists in a far-off land do to the old country, as being home. II. With whom does faith live? Of companions for us, in our lonely earthly life, there be two sorts, and as to both of them the condition of recognising and enjoying their society is the same, viz., the exercise of faith. (1) We have a better face brightening the unseen than any angel face. But just because Jesus Christ fills the unseen for us, in Him we are united to all those of whom He is the Lord, and He is Lord of men as well as angels. And we too may come to the joyful assembly of the angels, whose joy is all the more poignant and deep when they, the elder brethren, see the prodigals return. (2) "The Church of the first-born." These first-born have their names written in heaven, inscribed on the register of the great city; and to that great community, invisible like the other realities in my text and not coterminous with any visible society such as the existing visible Church, all those belong and come who are knit together by faith in the one Lord.

A. Maclaren, Paul's Prayers, p. 101.

Verse 23

Hebrews 12:23

Faith's Access to the Judge and His Attendants.

I. Faith plants us at the very bar of God. "Ye are come to God the Judge of all." (1) Here is a truth which it is the office of faith to realise continually in our daily lives. He would be a bold criminal who would commit crimes in the very judgment hall and before the face of his judge. And that must be a very defective Christian faith which, like the so-called faith of many amongst us, goes through life and sins in the entire oblivion of the fact that it stands in the very presence of the Judge of all the earth. (2) This judgment of God is one which a Christian man should joyfully accept. It is inevitable, and likewise most blessed and desirable, for in the thought are included all the methods by which in providence, and by ministration of His truth and of His Spirit, God reveals to us our hidden meannesses, and delivers us sometimes, even by the consequences which accrue from them, from the burden and power of our sins. It is a gospel when we say, The Lord will judge His people. (3) This judgment is one which demands our thankful acceptance of the discipline it puts in force. If we know ourselves we should bless God for our sorrows.

II. Faith carries us while living to the society of the blessed dead. "The Judge of all and the spirits of just men made perfect" Immediately on the thought of God rising in the writer's mind, there rises also the blessed thought of the company in the centre of whom He lives and reigns. We get glimpses, but no clear vision, as when a flock of birds turn in their rapid flight and for a moment the sun glances on their white wings, and then, with another turn, they drift away, spots of blackness in the blue. So we see but for a moment as the light falls, and then lose the momentary glory; but we may, at least, reverently note the exalted words here. These saints are perfected. The ancient Church was perfected in Christ; but the words refer, not only to those Old Testament patriarchs and saints, but to all who, up to the time of the writer's composition of his letter, had "slept in Jesus." They have reached their goal in Him. The end for which they were created has been attained. They are in the summer of their powers and full-grown adults, whilst we here, the maturest and the wisest, the strongest and the holiest, are but as babes in Christ. Mark further that these spirits perfected would not have been perfected there unless they had been made just here. That is the first step, without which nothing in death has any tendency to ennoble or exalt men. If we are ever to come to the perfecting of the heavens, we must begin with the justifying that takes place on the earth.

A. Maclaren, Paul's Prayers, p. 113.

Reference: Hebrews 12:23 . Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 136.

Verse 24

Hebrews 12:24

The Messenger of the Covenant and its Seal.

I. God's revelation to us is in the form of a covenant. The promises of the covenant are, full forgiveness as the foundation of all, and built upon that knowledge of God inwardly illuminating and making a man independent of external helps, though he may sometimes be grateful for them, then a mutual possession which is based upon these, and then as the result of all named first, but coming last in the order of nature the law of His commandment will be so written upon the heart that delight and duty are spelt with the same letters, and His will is our will.

II. Jesus Christ is the Executor of this covenant. Because God dwells in Him, and the Word became flesh, He is able to lay His hand upon both, and bring God to man and man to God. (1) He brings God to man. Nowhere else is there found the confidence in the Father's heart which is the property of the Christian man, and the result of the Christian covenant. Jesus Christ brings God to man by the declaration of His nature incarnate in humanity. (2) On the other hand, He brings man to God, for He stands by each of us as our true Brother, and united to us by such close and real bonds as that all which He has been and done may be ours if we join ourselves to Him by faith. And He brings man to God because in Him only do we find the drawings that incline wayward and wandering hearts to the Father. And, still further, He is the Mediator of the covenant in so far as He Himself possesses in His humanity all the blessings which manhood is capable of deriving from the Father, and He has them all in order that He may give them all. Here is the great reservoir from which all men may fill their tiny cups.

III. Note the sprinkling of blood which seals the covenant. If Jesus had not died, there would have been no promises for Us, beginning in forgiveness and ending in wills delighting in God's law. It is the new covenant in His blood. The death of Christ is ever present to the Divine mind, and determines the Divine action.

A. Maclaren, Paul's Prayers, p. 124.

References: Hebrews 12:24 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 211; vol. xii., No. 208; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 108; Homilist, 4th series, vol. i., p. 181; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 144.Hebrews 12:24 , Hebrews 12:25 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii., Nos. 1888, 1889.

Verse 25

Hebrews 12:25

Refusing God's Voice.

I. We have here, first of all, the solemn possibility of refusal. It is possible for Christian people so to cherish wills and purposes which they know to be in diametrical and flagrant contradiction to the will and purpose of God, that obstinately they prefer to stick by their own desires, and, if it may be, to stifle the voice of God.

II. Note the sleepless vigilance necessary to counteract the tendency to refusal. "See that ye refuse not." A warning finger is, as it were, lifted. Take heed against the tendencies that lie in yourself and the temptation around you. The consciousness of the possibility of the danger is half the battle. "Blessed is the man that feareth always," says the psalmist. There is no security for us except in the continual temper of rooted self-distrust, for there is no motive that will drive us to the continual confidence in which alone is security but the persistent pressure of that sense that in ourselves we are nothing and cannot but fall. The dark underside of the triumphant confidence which on its sunny side looks up to heaven and receives its light is that self-distrust which says always to ourselves, "We have to take heed lest we refuse Him that speaketh."

III. Note the solemn motives by which this sleepless vigilance is enforced. The clearness of the voice is the measure of the penalty of non-attention to it. The voice that spoke on earth had earthly penalties as the consequence of disobedience; the voice that speaks from heaven, by reason of its loftier majesty and of the clearer utterances which are granted us thereby, necessarily involves more severe and fatal issues from negligence to it. "See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh," for the clearer, the tenderer, the more stringent, the beseechings of the love and the warnings of Christ's voice, the more solemn the consequences if we stop our ears to it.

A. Maclaren, Paul's Prayers, p. 135.

Verses 26-27

Hebrews 12:26-27

The Shaking of Sinai and Calvary.

I. That voice of Sinai was a shaking of earthly things. How were nations dispossessed? How were thrones tumbled into the dust? How was the course of human history and human life changed or directed by that shaking of Sinai? And so with the shaking voice of Calvary. Earthly things were moved, and are still moved, by the power of that voice Divine. Sinai stands like a rock in the midst of a stream, and turns and separates the current. Calvary, like a mountain round which and at whose feet, in the valley which follows the configuration of the height, a great river finds its way, directs the course of history, of nations, the movement of the world.

II. May we not reverently suggest that the voice of appeal to a forsaking God, the voice of victory in the completion of redeeming work, the voice of final calm commending to the hands of the Eternal Father, wrought even upon the heart of the Infinite One Himself? At least, the issue was a Divine approval, a Divine acceptance, the change of threatening judgment into saving mercy.

III. There was shaking at Sinai shaking of old temporal and earthly relations, of old human and profane habits, and in their place the appointment of things seen in the heavenly kingdom, commanded by God, "made," indeed, by men, but made "after the fashion given on the mount." But now the voice from heaven hath shaken both earth and heaven. Once again, and far more surely and distinctively, are the earthly things shaken, and there topple down all secularities and temporalities and mere passing phenomena of human thought and law of man's mere worldly duty and faith.

IV. Much, indeed, in that awful shaking has departed, and its glory, was great, and its memory is illustrious. But what remains to us? What are the things that not even the voice from heaven can shake, that not even does the voice desire to shake, but only to establish? (1) Law remains, grand, inviolable, Divine. (2) Love remains. (3) Law and love combine, and in their union salvation remains.

L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 271.

Reference: Hebrews 12:26-29 . C. Kingsley, Westminster Sermons, p. 92.

Verse 27

Hebrews 12:27

Things which cannot be shaken.

In this remarkable verse the writer goes to the heart of the philosophy of religion and of history. He declares that through the ages runs one ever-increasing purpose, and this purpose is the will of God.

I. It is said that when the King of Prussia visited the playing-fields of our Eton college he said, "Blessed is the land in which the old is ever mingled with the new, and the new ever mingled with the old." To cling to the old when the new demands our attention and our allegiance has been a constant error and indolence of mankind. They look back to the east when the west is calling them. The noontide is approaching, and they linger amid the shadows of the dawn. So it was with the Jews in the days of Paul and Apollos. Christ had come, and they could not get beyond Moses.

II. Apollos, if he was the author of this epistle to the Hebrews, tells us that there are systems, doctrines, institutions, organisations, which God continually shakes to the ground in the earthquakes of history. He does so because they have had their day and done their work, because they have become obstructive and obsolete. These things are but shadows, and men take them for the substance; these things are quivering, unreal, evanescent as the reflection of the bulrush upon the shimmering wave. But there are other things which are unshakable and eternal, as are the cedars of Lebanon, yea, as the very crags on which they stand. There are foundations which no earthquake can make to tremble, much less rock to the ground. Such was the case in the days of Christ and of the great Apostle Paul. The Jews thought that their temple, and their sacrifices, and their ritual, and their priesthood, and their Pentateuch legislation were perfect, eternal, and Divine. Christ taught them that they were imperfect and transitory, and vanishing away. That was why they crucified Him. The cross was the reward of Pharisaism to the Son of God; and as it was with the Master, so shall it be with the servants. Wherever any great human soul utters new truth, there is once more the shadow of Calvary. But God not only gives, but gives back; and what He gives back is better than what was taken away. The earthquake can rock no sure foundation. Shadows of theory, shadows of opinion, shadows of tradition, shadows of hierarchy and party, may be shaken; Christ remains.

F. W. Farrar, Sermons and Addresses in America, p. 128.

Things Passing and Things Permanent.

I. Let us, first, illustrate the law of things which is declared in the text. (1) The Jewish dispensation was shaken, but the great realities enclosed in it remain. The coming of Christ in the flesh was the signal for the overthrow of that venerable and magnificent system. That shaking broke to pieces a Divinely instituted system, and the wreck of it can be seen in a nation still scattered over the face of the whole world. But there were things intended to remain. The daily sacrifice was taken away, but the great sacrifice of Christ abides to the world's close. The Jewish nation has ceased to be the peculiar people of God, but there is a spiritual Israel, all of them priests that offer sacrifices continually in lives holy and acceptable through Jesus Christ. (2) The forms of human society are shaken, but the principles that regulate it remain. Let us have confidence in the fact that God made man for society; let us have faith in the experience of all past history; above all, let us have trust in the word of Christ that the things which cannot be shaken shall remain. Every chaos has its harmonising voice "Let there be light" every flood its ark and its rainbow. (3) Outward systems of religion are shaken, but the great truths of the Church of Christ remain. (4) The temporal circumstances of men are shaken, but the great possessions of the soul remain. (5) The material frame of man is shaken, but the immortal spirit remains. (6) The whole system of nature is shaken, but the new creation remains.

II. Consider some of the benefits that result from this law. Could not God, it may be asked, have made a permanent world at first, without requiring us to pass through this process of change, deepening often to ruin? After all, this may be asking why God has seen fit to make this world under the condition of time, for, wherever time enters, change, as far as we can see, must accompany it. This is a world into which moral disorder has entered, and the painful changes that touch us are the consequence of it the consequence of it and yet an aid to the cure of it. Without sin there might still have been mutation, but it would have wanted the sting and the shadow. We have lost through our fall the perception of spiritual and eternal realities, and we must be made to see them through painful contrasts. It is by this process, too, that we not only see the greatness of these permanent things, but learn to cleave to them as our portion. This at least is the purpose, and if God's Spirit stirs the heart when His providence shakes the outward life this will be the result. Still further, things that are shaken preserve those things that are to remain until their suitable time of manifestation. They are wrapped round them, and fall away when men are ready for their reception. It is Christ who shakes all things, but He stands unshaken. Amid tottering commonwealths, and conflicting creeds, and shifting scenes, and dying friends, and fainting hearts, He abides ever, and He shakes all beside that we may cling more closely to Himself alone. "To whom can we go but to Thee?" and as we come we shall find a peace and strength that are the pledge of eternal life laid up in Him, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever."

J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 320.

References: Hebrews 12:27 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 690; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 345.

Verse 28

Hebrews 12:28

The Immovable Kingdom.

Consider the immobility of the kingdom which we receive and the service which citizenship in this kingdom requires.

I. The immovable character of the kingdom of God. Even a careless observer and superficial thinker will not fail to recognise, in the midst of all the shifting and changing scenes and events of nature and human life, a stable, ceaseless, unswerving principle, which ever emerges, and plainly controls all objects and all actions with resistless sway. All the movements of human life in social and national history lead up to this principle, or work it out in their own peculiar details. History is the illustration of that unity, and the religion of Jesus Christ, the purpose of the grace of God in the salvation of the world, is the final object of all human thought, the conclusion of the whole matter in human life, the all-embracing universal fact of the Church of God, the kingdom of God, which nothing can overthrow, which nothing can remove.

II. The phrase "kingdom of God" is used in two senses, the difference between them consisting in the extent to which the kingdom reaches. In the one case we have that entire government of God which embraces heaven and earth and hell in its sway, controlling alike the natural and the supernatural worlds; the other usage refers to that special department or division of that kingdom which is peculiarly concerned by the work of Jesus Christ in the salvation of the world.

III. It is obvious that anything which can be termed the kingdom of God must be immovable. The kingdom is not the mere work of Jesus, not the mere truth of the Gospel, not the merely external invisible community of the baptized, or even of the believers. But it is that spiritual, that only real, entity, the living faith, and love, and obedience; the loyal acceptance of Jesus Christ; the vital union of devoted souls to each other and to the Master: and this, when received, is the kingdom that cannot be moved.

L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 285.

Acceptable Service.

We observe:

I. That our relation to God produced by the Gospel necessarily demands our service.

II. The service which we can render unto God is the continual sense of gratefulness under which we ought to live towards Him.

III. We learn the spirit in which our service should be for ever rendered "with reverent submission and godly fear."

L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 299.

Verses 28-29

Hebrews 12:28-29

The Religion of the Day.

In every age of Christianity, since it was first preached, there has been what may be called a religion of the world, which so far imitates the one true religion as to deceive the unstable and unwary. The world does not oppose religion as such. It has in all ages acknowledged, in one sense or other, the Gospel of Christ, fastened on one or other of its characteristics, and professed to embody this in its practice; while, by neglecting the other parts of the holy doctrine, it has, in fact, distorted and corrupted even that portion of it which it has exclusively put forward, and so has contrived to explain away the whole.

I. What is the world's religion now? It has taken the brighter side of the Gospel, its tidings of comfort, its precepts of love, all darker, deeper views of man's condition and prospects being comparatively forgotten. This is the religion natural to a civilised age, and well has Satan dressed and completed it into an image of the truth. As the reason is cultivated, the taste formed, the affections and sentiments refined, a general decency and grace will of course spread over the face of society, quite independently of the influence of revelation. Is it not the case that Satan has so composed and dressed out what is the mere natural produce of the human heart under certain circumstances as to serve his purposes as the counterfeit of the truth?

II. Nothing shows more strikingly the power of the world's religion than to consider the very different classes of men whom it influences. (1) Many religious men, rightly or not, have long been expecting a millennium of purity and peace for the Church. In the case of those who have expected this, it has become a temptation to take up and recognise the world's religion as I have delineated it. They have, more or less, identified their vision of Christ's kingdom with the elegance and refinement of mere human civilisation, and have hailed every evidence of improved decency, every wholesome civil regulation, every beneficent and enlightened act' of state policy, as signs of their coming Lord. They have sacrificed truth to expedience. (2) On the other hand, the form of doctrine which I have called the religion of the day is especially adapted to please men of sceptical minds. There is a dark side to religion, and these men cannot bear to think of it. They shrink from it as too terrible. The religion of the world is but a dream of religion, far inferior in worth to the well-grounded alarm of the superstitious, who are awakened and see their danger, though they do not attain so far in faith as to embrace the remedy of it.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 309.

Reference: Hebrews 12:28 , Hebrews 12:29 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1639.

Verse 29

Hebrews 12:29

I. In the word "fire" there is the idea of purity, which belongs as an essential quality to the element itself. It is not possible to conceive of flame as impure. The material which is being consumed may be impure, the smoke which proceeds from the flame may be thick and black and suffocating, but the flame itself, freely and fully burning, is pure, taintless, without trace of corruption or uncleanness. Who can tell the purity of God, whose symbol is a flame?

II. Fire is a defence, a means of protection, and to symbolise the strong refuges of God's people is thus often used. It is not altogether as a terror that we approach the celestial light. The fire descending and consuming the offering was a gracious and encouraging sign of acceptance and favour. The chariots and horsemen of fire proved to be the defence and guard of the man of God. So is our God the comfort and defence of His people.

III. But the energy of fire is not only repellent; it is communicative. Fire kindles; fire sets on fire. These symbols of the Divine Being suggest the communicableness of the Divine nature and activity which is the very basis of our religious life. God is the fire of the spiritual world, and He gives His being unto the natures that He has made.

IV. "A consuming fire." A deeper, darker mystery still lies behind it all. God must burn for ever the thing that is against Him. Let the sinner hold to his sin, and the wrath of God must consume that sin.

L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 315.

The Sterner Aspects of the Divine Character.

This is the aspect of Deity which some well-meaning people would wish blotted out of the Bible. That God can take vengeance to the uttermost on evil-doers seems to some persons against the notion of God.

I. The disposition in question is indeed woven, if I may so speak, of two threads: it is partly moral, partly intellectual. So far as it is moral, it comes under the head of moral cowardice, the shrinking from uncomfortable truths; so far as it is intellectual, it proceeds on the false assumption that we know the whole of the case, and have faculties to criticise it. Remember, as against this perilous as well as false assumption, that from the beginnings of philosophy the wisest of mankind have ever leaned to a distrust of human faculties in their power of mastering the whole of any moral question.

II. The Bible is popularly regarded as a comfortable book, the contents of which may be taken for granted as in unison with our consciousness, and therefore as not needing examination. Thus men, in fact, assume without inquiry that the Bible reflects their own prejudices; and the vague idea of salvation which they connect with it is not hampered with any conditions or with any which they disapprove. Then when it is pointed out that salvation is not unconditional, and that the conditions are, whether of faith or practice, of God's fixing, not man's, such popular minds are offended. That salvation without such conditions cannot be had is too stern a truth to be accepted by the self-indulgent. Do you think that such false charity will bring a man peace at the last? Dare we speak as if our God were not a consuming fire? Or dare we think that He will be more tolerant of those that cheapen the way of salvation under the new covenant, than of a rival altar under the old?

H. Hayman, Rugby Sermons, p. 84.

References: Hebrews 12:29 . J. M. Whiton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 179. Hebrews 13:1 . J. Aldis, Ibid., p. 216. Hebrews 13:1 , Hebrews 13:2 . M. Dods, Ibid., vol. xxxvi., p. 216.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/hebrews-12.html.
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