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SEASONS OF PENITENCE RECOMMENDED
Hebrews 10:3. In those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
IN the institutions of the Mosaic law, burthensome as they were, God consulted the best interests of his people. Repentance, faith, and obedience, were inculcated in them all. The daily sacrifices and frequent ablutions were intended to shew them, that they stood in need of mercy and of spiritual renovation: and the authority with which they were enjoined, taught them, that their whole happiness depended on an entire submission to the will of God. Those ordinances had also a further use; which was, to lead the minds of all to the contemplation of mysteries, which should in due season be more fully revealed. They did not themselves convey any solid or lasting benefit: they were mere shadows, which indicated indeed a substance; but which would vanish away, when that substance should appear. This is the view given of the law in the passage before us. The Apostle says, “The law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then, would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers, once purged, should have had no more conscience of sins.” Hence it appears, that the most solemn institutions of the law, not excepting the sacrifices offered ou the great day of annual expiation, were, in fact, no more than mere “remembrances of sins,” which could never be removed, but by that better Sacrifice which should in due time be offered.
But that we may have a fuller insight into this subject, I will endeavour more distinctly to shew,
For what end those annual remembrances of sins were enjoined—
Doubtless they were intended, as the whole of the Mosaic ritual also was, to separate the Jewish people more entirely from all the nations of the world. But they were more particularly designed,
To make them sensible of their need of a Saviour—
[Every offering had this tendency: no man could see his victim bleed, without seeing and acknowledging what was his own desert before God. But, if there had been no day of annual expiation appointed, the people would have been ready to imagine that every offering which they had presented to God had actually taken away the sin for which it had been offered. To guard against this fatal error, a day was appointed annually for a more especial remembrance of their sins, and for a deeper humiliation of their souls before God on account of them. Thus they were taught that neither their repentances nor their sacrifices had really availed to put away their sins: for, if they had, there had been no occasion for a repetition of them. Moreover, the same ordinances being still appointed annually, and annually observed, they were made to feel, that not even these more solemn rites had been able to prevail for the expiation of sin; so that, in fact, the guilt contracted throughout their whole lives still abode upon their souls; no offerings, which they had ever presented, having been able to remove it. In the view of this, they were particularly required to “afflict their souls [Note: Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 16:31.].” And, in truth, this ordinance was well calculated to produce in them the deepest humiliation: for, having occasion every year to review their lives through the past year; and to add, as it were, the sum of their recent iniquities to the incalculable score that was against them in consequence of former transgressions; and being at the same time necessitated to see that nothing which they either had done, or could do, could cancel the smallest portion of their debt; they would, of necessity, be led to cry for mercy with the deepest contrition, and to acknowledge their need of that Saviour whom they were instructed to expect.]
To shew, then, the insufficiency of the legal sacrifices—
[Nothing could carry stronger conviction with it than this particular ordinance: for, if former sacrifices had prevailed, why should they be repeated? What occasion was there for the annual offerings, if the occasional ones had answered their full end? or why should the same sins be atoned for in a future year, which have been expiated in the present year, if the present expiation has been satisfactory and complete? Here, then, was the axe laid to the root of all self-righteous conceits. It was to no purpose that these ordinances were of Divine appointment; or that they were observed according to the strict letter of the law: they were never intended to serve as real expiations of sin; nor was the observance of them ever intended to form a justifying righteousness before God: they were intended only to shadow forth a Saviour, to whom all must look, and through whom all must be justified; and the very repetition of them was, in fact, not only a remembrance of the sins which rendered a Saviour necessary; but a pledge, that such a Saviour as they needed should in due time be sent them.]
To direct their eyes to that Great Sacrifice that should in due time be offered—
[In every sacrifice which was offered, they saw the Lord Jesus Christ exhibited before them: and were reminded, that in due time he should “come to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” They were informed, that there was to arise from the loins of Abraham, “a Seed, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” The Prophets Isaiah and Daniel had fully described the way in which the promised seed should effect the work assigned him: that he should “be cut off, but not for himself;” that he should be “wounded for our transgressions, and be bruised for our iniquities [Note: Isaiah 53:5-6; Isaiah 53:11.Daniel 9:24; Daniel 9:24.];” that he should “make his soul an offering for sin; and that in this way he should “finish transgression, and make an end of sin, and bring in an everlasting righteousness,” by which all the sinners of mankind, who should believe in him, should be “justified.” Now, all this was set before them; and was seen by them, with more or less distinctness, according to the faith they had in exercise: and in every sacrifice which, from year to year, was offered, they saw an herald sent, and heard his proclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world!”]
That we may bring the matter more home to ourselves, let us consider,
What good may be expected from stated remembrances of sins amongst us—
It is granted, that nothing equivalent to the Mosaic ordinances is required of us. Yet, if we were to appoint stated seasons for ourselves — seasons for reviewing our past lives, and for special humiliation of our souls before God—I am persuaded we should find it highly conducive to our spiritual welfare. Such seasons would be useful,
For the deepening of our repentance—
[We are apt to lose, very speedily, the convictions which sin has fastened upon our mind. At first, perhaps, they are pungent, and cause considerable anguish; but in a little time the impression wears away, and we almost forget that we have sinned at all. But if we had stated seasons for calling our ways to remembrance, our past convictions would be revived, and our humiliation before God be greatly promoted. The sins of early life being thus from time to time set before us, and those of daily incursion being added to them, we should have juster views of our extreme unworthiness. The whole life would then appear to be, what in reality it is, one continued scene of iniquity. For want of such seasons of recollection, men view their sins as they do the heavens in a cloudy night, when they can see only here and there a star of greater magnitude, and at remote distances: whereas, if our self-examinations were strict, and our retrospect frequent, our lives would appear rather like the heavens in the clearest night, full of stars of a greater or lesser order, and so connected as scarcely to leave an interval between them. With such views of ourselves, our repentance would not be slight, partial, transient; but deep, universal, permanent.]
For the endearing of the Saviour to us—
[True is that saying, that “where much is forgiven, men will love much; and little, where little has been forgiven.” Now, if we be in the habit of bringing before our eyes the sins of our whole life, and of viewing them, even as God does, in the aggregate, how shall we adore that mercy of God that has been extended to us, and that love of Christ which he has evinced in giving himself for us! Verily, it will appear almost incredible that even God himself should be capable of such condescension and grace. This self-knowledge is at the root of the experience of the saints in heaven. Behold them all prostrate before the throne, and casting down their crowns at the Saviour’s feet; whilst they sing, “To Him that loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood.” This is the state of mind which self-knowledge has a tendency to generate: and if our seasons of humiliation were more deep and frequent, we should more resemble the glorified saints, both in the nature and in the expressions of our joy.]
For the augmenting of our vigilance against the recurrence of sin—
[It is a truth not generally considered, that the sins which more easily beset us in early life, continue, more or less, our besetting sins to the end of our days. Pride, envy, wrath, malice, lewdness, covetousness, rarely leave the soul of which they have once got an undisturbed possession. Now, if a person has been in the habit of self-examination from year to year, and of seeing by what temptations chiefly he has been overcome, he will know the better against what he needs more especially to watch: he will have seen, how, on many occasions, that, which, if resisted in the first moment, might have been easily overcome, has, by being harboured in the mind, acquired an ascendant over him, and defied his utmost efforts to subdue it. He will have seen, especially, how he has been betrayed, by unwatchfulness, into sins to which he had no natural propensity; and that there is not an evil in the human heart against which he has not reason to watch and pray. In a word, he will feel the need of committing himself wholly to the guidance of his God, and of crying continually, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.”]
From this subject, then, we may learn,
What use to make of the present season [Note: It would be a proper subject for New-Year’s Day or Lent, or a Fast Day, or Birth Day.]—
[There are seasons which seem to claim somewhat more than an ordinary regard. The commencement of a new year, or the return of our natal day, may well lead us to a review of the past year, and consequently of our whole lives: and, were it so improved, how far more profitable should we find the season, than if it were spent in carnal mirth! I may add, too, how important is this suggestion in reference to eternity! Thousands go into the eternal world without having ever, in their whole lives, devoted one single day to the revision of their lives, and to humiliation for their sins. God forbid, my brethren, that you should be of that unhappy number! Let me recommend it to you all to begin, this day, to call your ways to remembrance; to enter minutely into the sins of your early youth, and of every succeeding year, even to the present hour. Let me recommend you to mark, not merely the sins of greater enormity, but those which the world accounts slight and venial. Let me recommend to you to notice the sins of omission, as well as of commission; and the sins of defect, as well as those of utter neglect. Could you be prevailed upon to take such a retrospect, it could not fail of being attended with the best consequences to your spiritual edification in this life, and to your eternal welfare in the life to come.]
What especially to aim at, in all the exercises of your souls—
[There is a frame of mind peculiarly characteristic of the advanced Christian: and which, I conceive, is suggested by the considerations of my text. You have seen that the most pious of God’s people, no less than others, were to observe a day in every year for the special purpose of remembering their past sins, and of afflicting their souls on account of them; whilst, at the same time, they were to renew their applications to God for mercy through the appointed sacrifices. A sense of sin was not to weaken their hope of God’s mercy, on the one hand; nor was their confidence in God’s mercy to weaken their sense of sin, on the other hand: both were to be retained in constant and united exercise; that so, whilst they “rejoiced with trembling,” they might tremble with rejoicing. Now, this is a state of mind by no means so common as might be wished. The generality of Christians, if they could feel towards God as a loving, obedient, and devoted spouse towards her husband, would conceive that they had attained the highest state of which they are capable. But, to make that image fully suited to our case, we must suppose the spouse to have been originally taken from the lowest and most degraded state by her husband; and, after her union with him, to have dishonoured him, and debased herself, by the grossest enormities. We must further suppose her husband to have followed her with the most affectionate entreaties to return to him; to have assured her of his most entire forgiveness; and, having prevailed on her to return, to be exercising towards her all imaginable kindness, without ever once uttering a single word of upbraiding. Now, suppose her to become faithful and obedient, and you will have a juster conception of the Christian’s state. Though her husband has forgiven her, can you imagine that she has forgiven herself? On the contrary, does not every act of love on her husband’s part fill her with deeper humility and self-abhorrence, for having ever acted so basely towards one of so exalted a character? Does not her whole intercourse with him, from day to day, augment her admiration of him, and her lothing of herself? Yes; though forgiven, she never for a moment forgets what she is, or what she deserves: and her whole soul is prostrate before God and man, even in the midst of her fondest endearments or her sublimest joys. Here is the Christian character: here is the character which I wish you all to attain. Do not mistake; you need not rush into gross sins in order to have a foundation for it: the adulteries of every one of you are manifest enough, without any fresh iniquities: you need only see how you have treated your divine Husband, and what base lusts you have harboured in your bosoms, from your youth up even until now, and you will see that you have need to “walk softly before God all your days,” and to “lothe yourselves before him in dust and ashes.” This is “walking humbly with God.” This will not abate either your confidence or your joy: but it will temper the one with fear, and the other with contrition.]
CHRIST SUPERSEDING THE LEGAL SACRIFICES
Hebrews 10:5-10. When he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt-offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
THERE is not any important truth contained in the New Testament, which was not before revealed in the Old. But we have an advantage over the Jews, in that the obscurity, which was cast over the language of prophecy, is removed by the interpretations of men divinely inspired to explain the sacred oracles. Hence we are enabled to see, what the Jews could never comprehend, though plainly and repeatedly declared to them, God’s determination to abrogate the Mosaic economy, in order to make way for the Christian dispensation. This was declared by David, while the law was yet in full force: and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews both quotes his words in proof of this point, and confirms them by additional declarations to the same effect.
We shall consider,
The quotation as explained by the Apostle—
In his comment on David’s words the Apostle throws great light upon,
What is expressed in them—
The Psalm beyond all doubt refers to Christ: for it was not possible that David should boast of his own obedience as superseding the law; since a compliance with the law constituted a very essential part of his duty. If it be thought that what is spoken in ver. 12. is adverse to this construction, it must be remembered that the sins of the whole world were Christ’s by imputation [Note: Isaiah 53:6.]; and therefore they might justly draw from him that complaint.
In the Psalm David speaks in the person of Christ, whom he represents as addressing the Father to this effect: ‘Thou didst never design the legal sacrifices to take away sin; that office thou hast assigned to me: and I have most willingly undertaken it, nor will ever relinquish my services till I have completed all that I have undertaken.’
That the sacrifices were never ordained to take away sin is plain, from the contempt poured upon them by God himself in comparison of moral duties [Note: 1 Samuel 15:22.Hosea 6:6; Hosea 6:6.]; yes, and absolutely too, if unaccompanied with suitable dispositions in the offerers [Note: Isaiah 1:11-14; Isaiah 66:3.].
That Christ was sent into the world for that end appears also from the very first promise made to man, that “the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head [Note: Genesis 3:15.].”
That he willingly undertook the office is declared by David much more strongly than in the passage as quoted by the Apostle. In the passage as quoted in my text, it is merely said, “I come to do thy will, O God:” but in the Psalm it is written, “Lo, I come; I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea thy law is within my heart.” All which additional expressions shew the zeal with which Christ undertook our cause, and executed the arduous work that was assigned him.
That he would never relinquish it till it was accomplished was also strongly declared in those words, “Mine ears thou hast opened,” which refer to the custom of boring the ear of a servant who refused to be liberated at the day of release, and engaged to abide for ever in his master’s service [Note: Exodus 21:5-6.]. The Apostle, in citing the passage, varies it in words, though he adheres to it in sense. He says, “A body hast thou prepared me;” that is, It was necessary to the completion of my undertaking, that I should have somewhat to offer in sacrifice; and therefore thou hast prepared for me a body in the womb of a pure virgin, that being free from the taint and corruption transmitted to all the posterity of Adam, it might be fit to be offered in sacrifice for the sins of the whole world [Note: The Apostle’s meaning is precisely expressed, Philippians 2:6-8.].
But, to the inconceivable advantage of the Church, the Apostle brings forth from David’s words,]
What is implied in them—
[Here we see the benefit of having an inspired commentator on the Old Testament. No Jew could have conceived all that was designed to be revealed in these words: but we are informed by God himself, that “when it was said, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God,” it was designed to intimate, that all the legal sacrifices should be swept away, and the whole Jewish economy be superseded by the Christian dispensation: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” This was an explanation of God’s hidden purpose, an explanation, which no uninspired man could have dared to offer. But in several other parts of this epistle are similar explanations given, and not in a way of conjecture, but of authoritative declaration. Thus, from the mention of a new covenant which God would make with his people, the Apostle infers, “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away [Note: Hebrews 8:8; Hebrews 8:13.].” In another place, having cited God’s declaration that, to those who laid hold on that covenant, their sins and iniquities he would remember no more, he draws this inference; “Now where remission of sins is, there is no more offering for sin; and consequently all the Jewish sacrifices are swept away [Note: Hebrews 10:17-18.]. Again, in another place having cited the words of the Prophet Haggai, “Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven,” he says, “This word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things which are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain [Note: Hebrews 12:26-27.].”]
Thus we have obtained a deep insight into the recondite meaning of our text, and may with confidence proceed to consider,
His declaration founded upon it—
There are two important points which the Apostle deduces from these words of David; namely, that salvation flows,
From God’s will as the source—
[Sanctification imports a setting apart of any thing for God. Hence the tabernacle with all its vessels are said to have been sanctified [Note: Exodus 40:10-12.]; and Christ himself says, “For their sakes I sanctify myself [Note: John 17:19.]:” and it is in this sense that the term “sanctified” is used in the text [Note: Comp. ver. 14.]: it means a separation for God, in order to eternal salvation.
Now it is solely from the “will of God” thus made known to his Son, and thus fulfilled by him, that any of the children of men are made partakers of salvation. It was not possible for any such plan to have originated with any other than God himself. When God’s dealings with the fallen angels were considered, who would have imagined that man, partaking of their iniquity, should yet be rescued from their doom? Supposing that such a thought could have entered into the mind of man, who could have contrived such a way of maintaining the honour of the Divine government, and of making the discordant attributes of justice and mercy to harmonize in the salvation of man? If such an expedient as the substitution of God’s own Son in the place of sinners could have been devised, who could have dared to propose it to the Deity; or have prevailed upon him to acquiesce in it? The more this is considered, the more will the salvation of man appear to be totally independent of man himself (as far as respects the contriving or the meriting of it), and to be the fruit of infinite wisdom, sovereign grace, and unbounded love [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.]. From the first laying of the foundation to the bringing forth of the top-stone, we must cry, Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zechariah 4:6-7.].]
From Christ’s sacrifice as the means—
[It might seem that men, under the law, were accepted on account of the sacrifices, which were offered according to the Mosaic ritual. But, not to mention the impossibility that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin [Note: ver. 4.], the very repetition of those sacrifices shewed their insufficiency for the removal of guilt, or for the satisfying of men’s consciences [Note: ver. 1:3.Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 9:9.]. They had no effect but as they led the offerers to the Lord Jesus Christ, or expressed their faith in his all-atoning sacrifice. All who have ever found acceptance with God, whether before the law, or under it, or since its abolition, have been admitted to mercy purely “through the one offering of Jesus Christ.” Nothing but that could ever satisfy Divine justice; nothing but that could ever atone for one single sin: nor can any creature, to the end of the world, ever obtain favour with God, but in consideration of that sacrifice presented to God for us, and pleaded by us as the one ground of our hope [Note: Act 4:12. 1 Corinthians 3:11.]. Here I cannot but call your attention to the minuteness and force of David’s statement, and to the redoubled force and energy expressed in the Apostle’s citation of it. David enumerates the different kinds of sacrifices, in order to shew, that none (whether those burnt without the camp [Note: Leviticus 16:27.], or those consumed on the altar [Note: Exodus 29:38-42.], or those of which but a small part was burnt, and the rest was divided between the priest and the offerer [Note: Leviticus 7:1-6; Leviticus 7:19. The word “all” includes the offerers. See Lev 7:15-16 and Numbers 18:11.]) were of any avail to take away sin. And twice does the Apostle repeat this enumeration of them, in order the more abundantly to manifest the eternal purpose of God to liberate us from the Jewish yoke, and to establish throughout the world the purer dispensation of the Gospel; so that all, whether Jews or Gentiles, should henceforth “know nothing as a ground of hope, but Jesus Christ and him crucified.”]
How vain is men’s confidence in any services of their own!
[To have been baptized in our infancy, to have attended punctually the outward duties of the Sabbath, and to have waited occasionally upon the Lord at his table, are deemed in general satisfactory evidences of our conversion to God, and sufficient grounds for our hope towards him. But, if the whole multitude of legal institutions, framed by God’s own order, and according to a model shewn to Moses in the mount, were of no value as recommending men to God, how much less can the few services which we perform be sufficient to procure us acceptance with him? But it may be said, that moral services are more pleasing to God than ceremonial: true; but we are not told that God willed them, any more than the others, as means of effecting our reconciliation with him. It was the incarnation and death of Christ that God “willed;” and, in a remarkable correspondence with the text, he thrice, by an audible voice from heaven, said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased [Note: Οὐκ εὐδόκησας, ver. 8. with ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα. Matthew 3:17.]. Let every self-righteous hope then be banished; and let us learn to glory in Christ alone [Note: Galatians 6:14.].]
What encouragement have all to devote themselves to God through Christ!
[We have the united testimony of Prophets and Apostles that God willeth the salvation of men through the sacrifice of his own Son, and that Christ as willingly offered himself a sacrifice in order to effect their salvation. What more can be wanted but that we go to God in that new and living way, which is so clearly pointed out to us? We can have no doubt of God’s willingness to save, or of the sufficiency of that salvation which he has provided for us. Let nothing then keep us back from God: but let us look to Christ as the propitiation for our sins [Note: 1 John 2:2.], and plead the merit of his all-atoning blood. Thus, sanctifying ourselves in his name, we shall be perfected before God [Note: ver. 14. with Hebrews 9:12.]; being sanctified also by the Holy Ghost, we shall be acceptable in the sight of God and our Father for ever and ever [Note: Romans 15:16.].]
THE PERFECTION OF CHRIST’S SACRIFICE
Hebrews 10:14-17. By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord [Note: If λέγειΚύριοςbe translated, The Lord saith, the connexion with what follows will make the passage incomparably more clear.], I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
IT is a favourite sentiment with some, that we need not study any thing but the four Gospels, in order to attain a complete view of our holy religion. But whilst I acknowledge, that a person who studies the four Gospels may certainly learn the way of salvation from them, I must add, that his views of Christianity will of necessity be very imperfect, if he do not avail himself of the further light which is afforded him in the epistles. To what purpose has the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, written so argumentatively on the subject of justification by faith alone, if we do not derive from his statement a fuller knowledge of that fundamental doctrine, than we could have acquired without it? And who will say that he could have attained from the Gospels, or even from the Mosaic law itself, such clear views of the priestly office of Christ as are set before us in the Epistle to the Hebrews? There the parallel between his and the Aaronic priesthood is drawn to our hands, and the superiority of his is pointed out with a fulness and precision which no uninspired man could ever have attained. The tabernacle in which the Levitical priests ministered was glorious; but Christ’s was more glorious, being not made with hands, even his own sacred body. They were appointed to their office by a command; he, with an oath; they entered into a holy place on earth; he, into heaven itself; they, with the blood of beasts; he, with his own blood. Their sacrifices purified the patterns of heavenly things; his, the heavenly things themselves: theirs, legally, the flesh; his, really, the conscience. Their priests were only priests; he, a Priest to God, and a Testator to us. They offered often; he, only once: they stood; he sits: they offered for themselves first; he, for us only: they entered the vail to come forth again; he, never to come forth till he shall come to judge the world: they obtained a temporary remission of some sins; he, an everlasting remission of all sin.
It is in this last view that his office is spoken of in the passage before us. The Aaronic priests offered often because their offerings could never take away sin: but he, “by his one offering, hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified: whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us.”
The peculiar solemnity with which his asseveration is here confirmed, even by an appeal to God himself, will lead me to consider,
The truth attested—
A more important truth than this can scarcely be conceived; it is, that Christ’s one offering has done that which all the Levitical sacrifices never could have done; it has procured for all who trust in it a full and perfect and everlasting remission of all their sins. But,
Let us notice this truth as contrasted with the ordinances of the Mosaic law—
[The Levitical sacrifices were renewed from year to year, because of their inefficiency: but Christ’s was offered only once, because it completely answered every end for which it was designed. The Levitical sacrifices perfected no man, either as to his acceptance before God, or as to the peace of his own soul: as far as they had any efficacy, they prevailed only for a year; and then must be repeated, in order to obtain a further remission: but Christ’s sacrifice rendered men perfect, both before God and in their own consciences. God was so satisfied with it, that he has nothing more to demand at the hands of those who trust in it: He considers it as a full discharge of all that the law requires of us, and a full price for all that our souls can need either in time or eternity. And the sinner who looks to it may well be satisfied, since God himself is satisfied, and all the demands of law and justice are satisfied. Thus, all who are “sanctified” to the service of their God, whatever their past sins may have been, are perfected, and that for ever: sins of the deepest die are purged by this sacrifice; and “all who believe in it, are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.”]
In this view, what a glorious truth it is!
[How honourable to Christ! how consoling to us! As it respects the Lord Jesus Christ, it shews how completely he has effected all which he came into the world to do. “He has made an end of sin, and made reconciliation for iniquity;” and “obtained eternal redemption for us.” Nothing is wanting to complete his work: his one offering has effected all. As it respects us, we have in Christ’s sacrifice all that we can desire. When once we recollect who he is, not man only, but God manifest in the flesh: when we recollect the covenant-engagements entered into between his Father and him; he on his part undertaking to make atonement for sin; and the Father undertaking to accept it in our behalf: when we recollect that he has been raised from the dead in proof of his having fulfilled all his engagements; and that he is now invested with all power in heaven and in earth to impart to sinners the blessings he has purchased for them: what can we want more? The soul acquiesces in this mysterious appointment, and confidently relies upon it, assured, that, if salvation is not to be found in him, it is not to be found at all.]
This truth being attested by the Holy Ghost, let us consider,
The testimony adduced—
The witness to this truth is no other than “the Holy Ghost”—
[“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God:” and whether the writers of it were Prophets or Apostles, “they all spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Throughout the whole Scripture, too, that Divine Spirit has one great object, which is, to testify of Christ. By the prophets he testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and of the glory that should follow. Indeed, “the testimony of Jesus was the spirit of prophecy” throughout [Note: Revelation 19:10.], and in this light we should regard all that the prophets have written. We should consider their words, not merely as the words of the Holy Ghost, but as a testimony given by the Holy Ghost, in order to shew us what we should believe respecting the Lord Jesus, and to increase our faith in him. And, whatever his testimony be, we should give the most implicit credit to it, adoring him for his wonderful goodness in thus condescending to teach the inquiring, and to confirm the doubting, soul. On this occasion,]
His testimony is most convincing—
[The passage cited by the Apostle, is taken from the prophecies of Jeremiah [Note: Jeremiah 31:31-34.]. He has before cited it in a preceding chapter [Note: Hebrews 8:8-12.]. There it is adduced more at length, in order to shew that the Jews under the Mosaic dispensation were taught to look forward to a new covenant, and to regard their own as waxing old. In the passage before us, a smaller portion of it only is adduced, in order to mark in a peculiar manner the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Its force will be best seen by contrasting it with the provisions made for the forgiveness of sin under the Mosaic dispensation. There was no actual forgiveness of sins obtained by the sacrifices which the law prescribed: they were pardoned, so to speak, for a year only; at the expiration of which time, the same sacrifices were to be again offered, in order to the obtaining of a protracted pardon. Thus the very sacrifices which were offered for sin, were rather a remembrance of sins than a real expiation of them; so that the conscience of the sinner was never relieved from a sense of guilt, and never brought to the enjoyment of solid peace. But, under that very dispensation, the Holy Ghost testified, that provision was made by the new covenant, for the full and everlasting remission of all sin, since God expressly engaged, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more:” and consequently no further sacrifice was wanted to be offered for them. This testimony comes exactly to the point. The Aaronic priests repeated annually the same sacrifices; because the sins for which they were offered, were still kept in remembrance by God: but, in consequence of the offering which Christ has made, the sins of those who believe in him shall “never be remembered:” and consequently, without any repetition of his sacrifice, his people are “perfected for ever,” being brought into perfect peace with God, and perfect peace in then: own consciences.]
Hence we see,
How amply the Scripture testifies of Christ!
[It is not merely of his Messiahship that the prophets speak: they enter fully into every part of his character, and work, and offices. There is not any thing which we are concerned to know respecting him, which is not revealed in the Old Testament. The revelation of him is indeed less clear than in the New Testament, but not a whit less glorious. When the true sense of the different passages is ascertained, there will be found truths, of which the superficial reader has no conception.
Our blessed Lord says, “Search the Scriptures; for they are they that testify of me.” And if we would fulfil that duty with care and diligence, and with earnest prayer to God for the teachings of his Spirit, we should find in the Scriptures an inexhaustible mine of wealth, and be enriched by them with all “the unsearchable riches of Christ [Note: Proverbs 2:1-6.].”]
What loss they sustain who receive not its testimony!
[It is a lamentable fact, that the generality of Christians are looking out for some other offering to present to God, in order to effect their reconciliation with him. Every considerate person will sometimes put this question to himself, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” And the ignorant conceit of Balak is that which then presents itself to his mind; “Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” But if men read even the Jewish Scriptures with attention, they might see how erroneous such views were, and how vain such hopes. They would see that the new covenant, which has been ratified by the blood of Christ, prescribes a very different method of acceptance with God: they would see that the one offering of Christ is a sufficient propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and that all attempts to add to it are vain. Dear brethren, believe, I pray you, the witness of the Holy Ghost on this all-important subject. “Make not God himself a liar,” as St. John expresses it, by denying or doubting this record. Be assured that he will not deceive you. If this were the testimony of a fallible man, you might well question it: but when Prophets and Apostles, all inspired by the Holy Ghost, concur in it, you should embrace it with your whole hearts, and rely upon it with your whole souls.]
How exalted are the privileges of every true believer!
[All who are interested in the one offering of Christ upon the cross, are “perfected for ever.” God has cast all their sins behind his back into the very depths of the sea. He has not only forgiven, but, if I may so speak, has forgotten, all their sins. They are blotted out as a morning cloud. True it is, that they still need the application of the same blood to their consciences, because they are yet compassed with infirmities, so that even their holy things need to be cleansed from the iniquity that cleaveth to them. They are like persons who have been washed in a bath; they are clean every whit; yet need they to wash their feet, because they contract defilement in walking even from the bath [Note: John 13:8-10.]. But as to all their former sins, they are altogether blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance. Yet let it not therefore be supposed that they should be forgotten by us. No: they should be ever before us as a ground of humiliation, though not as a ground of fear: and the more assured we are that God is pacified towards us, the more should we lothe ourselves; and pant the more to “be sanctified wholly, in body, soul, and spirit.”]
THE WAY OF ACCESS TO GOD THROUGH THE VAIL
Hebrews 10:19-22. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having an High-priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
MAN, by the fall, lost that intercourse with God which he had maintained in his state of innocence. The intent of Christianity is to restore him to the enjoyment of his privilege. Hence the inspired writers urge the great doctrines of the Gospel, not merely as truths which are to be believed, but as motives which are to animate and direct our conduct. The author of this epistle has set forth at large the correspondence between our blessed Lord, and the typical representations which were given of him under the Mosaic law. He now proceeds to the practical improvement of his subject. In the words before us he opens,
The grounds of our access to God—
They who are ignorant of their own extreme guilt and helplessness, imagine, that they can come to God without any mediator. But the Scriptures uniformly declare that the way of access to him is,
Through the atonement—
[The original way of access to God by the covenant of works was shut up for ever upon the first transgression. Nor does that typical way which was appointed under the law continue any longer. There is “a new way” now opened to us through the vail. The human nature of Christ was represented by the vail of the temple. At the very instant that his body expired upon the cross, the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom [Note: Matthew 27:51.]. That being the precise time of the evening sacrifice, all the worshippers in the temple had a perfect view of the holy of holies. Thus an intimation was given to them, that, by the rending of Christ’s body, the way into the most holy place was opened indiscriminately to all. As the high-priest went into the typical sanctuary with the blood of the sacrifice, so might all from henceforth go into the very heaven of heavens, as it were, with the blood of Jesus. This way was now “consecrated for them” by Jesus himself. It was a new way, not only because it was different from that which had existed before, but because it should never wax old or vanish as the other had done [Note: Hebrews 8:13.]. And it was a living way, because, while the former way prohibited access to all, except the high-priest, under the penalty of death, this infallibly imparts life to all who come to God in it.]
Through the intercession of Christ—
[The Church of God is that “house” which the temple of Solomon prefigured. In it God dwells in a more immediate manner than he ever did by the Shechinah upon the mercy-seat [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16.]. Christ, as the great High-priest, presides over this house. He is gone with his own blood into the holy of holies [Note: Hebrews 9:12.]. He is there sprinkling it on our behalf in the presence of his heavenly Father. There also is He offering the incense of his continual intercession. Under the law, the hopes of the Israelites were founded on the intercession of their high-priest. In vain was the sacrifice killed, if its blood was not carried within the vail: and in vain would it be carried thither, if it were not sprinkled before the mercy-seat, and accompanied with the clouds of incense. Thus not even the death of Christ is, of itself, a sufficient warrant for us to draw nigh to God. But his intercession added to it gives us boldness, and access with confidence [Note: Hebrews 7:25.]. We may go to God upon this ground as to a reconciled father. Nor need any sinner whatever deem himself too unworthy to approach his throne. All are now constituted priests unto God [Note: 1 Peter 2:9. Revelation 1:6.]. And all who bring the blood of Christ with them, and rely on his prevailing intercession, shall surely find acceptance with him.]
There is however something further which the worshippers of God must attend to, namely,
The manner in which we should approach him—
Christians are not to go to God with a rude and inconsiderate familiarity. They should consider the majesty of Him before whom they come; and should draw near to him with,
A sincere heart—
[To go before God and declare things which we neither feel nor believe, is to mock and insult him. If our confessions be without humility, our petitions without fervour, and our thanksgivings without gratitude, how is it possible that God should hear us? If we draw nigh to him with our lips while our hearts are far from him, we worship him in vain [Note: Matthew 15:8-9.]. To have imbibed true notions, is not sufficient. God requires truth in our inward parts [Note: Psalms 51:6.]. And they alone can worship him acceptably, who worship him in spirit and in truth [Note: John 4:24.].]
An assured faith—
[When we go to God in prayer, we should not doubt whether He be willing to accept us. We should be thoroughly persuaded that “Christ is the way, the truth, and the life [Note: John 14:6.];” and that he will save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him. To be assured of our own personal interest in him is not necessary. But we should have the most assured belief of the sufficiency of his atonement and intercession. Nor should we limit his power and grace under an idea of our own unworthiness. To ask with a doubtful mind, is to cast a reflection upon him at the very time that we are imploring his favour. And we are warned by God himself that such wavering petitions never shall prevail [Note: James 1:6-7.].]
A good conscience—
[The conscience of every man has been more or less defiled. Nor could the offerings under the law perfect a man with respect to it [Note: Hebrews 9:9.]. But the blood of Jesus will cleanse it from its defilement [Note: Hebrews 9:14.]. And, if we heartily endeavour to keep it void of offence in future, we shall enjoy the testimony of a good conscience [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.]. But if we live in the habitual neglect of any duty, or the allowed commission of any sin, we shall have an evil and accusing conscience. It is necessary therefore that our hearts be purged from the guilt of sin by the sprinkling of Christ’s blood, and from the love and practice of sin by his Spirit. Without this we can never approach God with comfort or acceptance. We shall stand self-condemned as hypocrites. And every petition we offer will appear a solemn mockery of God. We must therefore have our hearts purified from all habitual and allowed sin. Nor unless we have, can we hope for any answer of peace unto our souls [Note: Proverbs 28:9. Psalms 66:18.].]
An holy conversation [Note: The last clause of the text might properly begin the next verse; in which case it must be referred to our baptismal washing, and the solemn engagements consequent upon it.]—
[As our inward principle must be pure, so must also our outward practice be. The priests washed their flesh before they went within the vail, to denote the purity which was required of them by God [Note: Leviticus 16:4.]. Thus must we also be careful to possess that purity, if we would approach him with acceptance. Not that our sanctity of heart and life will procure us favour in his sight. The only grounds of our acceptance have been before stated. But there is a meetness for the enjoying of his benefits. And if we possess not that meetness, in vain shall we expect the benefits themselves.]
[Some may ask, What shall I do, seeing I possess not these requisites? Shall I stay away from the throne of grace entirely? We answer, No; if we cannot ask as we ought, we should ask as we can. God will assist us if we endeavour to serve him aright; and will impart to us those holy dispositions, that shall qualify us for the reception of his richest blessings. Let us then thankfully improve the liberty he has afforded us. Let us see the vail now rent asunder, and behold our God upon his mercy-seat. Behold, his address to every one of us is, Draw nigh to me, and I will draw nigh to you; cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded [Note: James 4:8.]. In obedience to his command, let us surround his throne with fervent importunity. Let us ask for mercy and grace to help us in every time of need [Note: Hebrews 4:16.]; and so open our mouths wide before him that He may fill and satisfy us with good things [Note: Psalms 81:10.]. Thus shall we enjoy the sweetest fellowship with him in this world; and shortly be admitted to his more immediate presence in the world to come.]
STEADFASTNESS AND ACTIVITY IN GOD’S SERVICE INCULCATED
Hebrews 10:23-25. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
CHRISTIANS in general do not sufficiently advert to Christian principles as a ground of action. Whilst they acknowledge their obligation to serve God, they lose sight of those considerations which alone can render his yoke easy, and his burthen light. They bear in mind that Christ offered himself a sacrifice for sin; but they forget, that his priestly office, which was but in part executed on earth, is still carrying on in heaven. Were this duly contemplated, it would afford a stimulus to exertion which nothing else can give. In the fourth chapter of this epistle, the Apostle urges it as a motive to steadfastness in our most holy profession: “Seeing then that we have a great High-priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession [Note: Hebrews 4:14.].” In the passage before us he repeats the same glorious truth, and grounds upon it, not only the same exhortation, but an exhortation to various other duties connected with it. What these duties are, it is my intention at this time to point out.
Our duty as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Some copies read ἐλπίδος instead of πίστεως; but they both amount to the same, hope being the offspring of faith.]—
It is our duty to profess openly our faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ—
[We are not to be contented with exercising faith in him as our Saviour: we must confess him also before men: for, if “with the heart we believe unto righteousness, it is with the mouth that confession must be made unto salvation [Note: Romans 10:10.].” But,]
This profession we must “hold fast without wavering”—
[The more we make our light to shine before men, the more will those who “love darkness, rather than light” oppose us — — — Nothing will be left untried to divert us from our purpose. Persuasion, derision, menaces, will all be used in their turn: and all manner of influence will be brought to bear upon us, if by any means we may be prevailed upon to renounce what the world calls our enthusiasm and folly. But we must “hold fast our profession,” whatever efforts be made to wrest it from us: we must hold it fast “without wavering.” There must be no inclination of the mind towards the ways we have forsaken, or the society we have left: “We must forget our own people and our father’s house, if we would that our heavenly Bridegroom should have pleasure in our beauty [Note: Psalms 45:10-11.].” We must “hate father and mother, and even our own lives,” in comparison of Christ [Note: Luke 14:26-27.]. There must be in us a determination of heart to “follow the Lord fully,” and at all events; even though we be threatened with scourging and imprisonment, as the Apostles were [Note: Acts 4:19-20.]; or with a cruel death, as were Daniel and the Hebrew Youths [Note: Daniel 4:18; Daniel 6:10.]. As for those vain reasonings by which men endeavour to justify their departure from God, they must not be entertained for one moment — — — Our whole life and conversation should proclaim “whose we are, or whom we serve.” We should be “shining as lights in the world;” and be as “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.”]
Connected with our duty to Christ as his followers, is,
Our duty as members of his mystical body—
We are “not to put our light under a bushel or a bed.” When once we become united to Christ by faith, we become members of the body, of which he is the Head. To that body we from henceforth have duties, even as the members of our corporeal frame have to the body of which they constitute a part. With that body we are to unite, both in its public and social meetings, and not by withdrawing ourselves from it, to shew an indifference to its welfare. Some there were, even in the Apostle’s days, who, through cowardice or worldly-mindedness, forsook the assemblies of the Church: and some there are who do so at the present day. But whatever vain excuses they may offer for their conduct, they grossly neglect their duty, which is, to edify, as far as they are able, every member of Christ’s mystical body. This all are bound to do,
In a way of mutual inspection—
[We should “consider one another;” we should notice each other’s wants and weaknesses, defects and failings, in order to guard each other against the very beginnings of declension in the divine life, and to stimulate one another to exertion in the cause of truth and love. We should mark also one another’s abilities and opportunities for serving God, in order that the energies of all may be employed to the best effect. The members of our natural body, if attempting to execute offices for which they are not fitted, can effect little; but, when exerting themselves in their appropriate sphere, they all contribute to the general good. Thus should all the members of the Church seek out for themselves, and assign to each other, such offices as they are best qualified to perform; that, each labouring in his proper vocation, (“he that ministereth, for instance, or teacheth, or exhorteth, or giveth, or ruleth,” in the due discharge of their respective duties [Note: Romans 12:7-8.],) the whole body may be edified, and God’s name be glorified.]
In a way of mutual excitation—
[Love, both in its feelings and actings, is apt to languish, if it be not watched, and cherished, and quickened to activity, from time to time. “This gift of God that is in us, needs to be stirred up,” and fanned to a flame, by mutual exhortations. Hence we are told to “provoke one another unto love and to good works.” No member of the body should be idle: there are some good works which all may perform: and all should be penetrated with a desire to do what they can. It is by the unwearied exertion of all their powers that the designs of God are to be accomplished, both in the Church and in the world. But, as all are apt to be remiss, all should exhort and animate one another, and, “so much the more as we see the day approaching.” The final destruction of Jerusalem was very near at hand when this epistle was written: and that period would be most afflictive to the Church who fled to the mountains, as well as to those who abode in the city: and therefore they all needed to prepare for that trial, and to labour with redoubled zeal for the Lord, whilst an opportunity of serving him was afforded them. And to us also, there is a day of trial near at hand, even the day of death, and of our appearing before God in judgment. Then all our opportunities of serving and honouring God will be terminated for ever. O how diligent then should we be in redeeming the present time, and in labouring whilst it is day; seeing that the night, when no man can work, is so near at hand! To impress these thoughts on each other’s minds, and to stimulate one another to activity in the consideration of them, is our bounden duty: and whatever we may imagine about serving God acceptably in secret, whilst we neglect these public and social duties, we shall find ourselves awfully mistaken, when God shall call us to account for “hiding our talent in a napkin.”]
Such being our duties to Christ and his Church, let us notice,
Our encouragement to perform both the one and the other—
God is faithful to his promises—
[Great, “exceeding great and precious are the promises” which he has given us in his word; promises suited to every state in which every member can be placed. In the covenant of grace they are all contained, even in that covenant of which Christ is the Mediator and Surety: and “in Christ they are all yea and amen, to the glory of our covenant-God and Father [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:20.].” Not one of them shall ever fail of accomplishment: for “God is not a man, that he should lie, or the son of man, that he should repent.” Indeed “he has confirmed his promises with an oath, that, by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong consolation.” The experience of all ages attests this blessed truth, that God is faithful to his promises. Joshua’s appeal to all Israel, at the close of his long-protracted life and warfare, may be made also to every child of Abraham; “Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you; and not one thing hath failed thereof [Note: Joshua 23:14.].”]
This consideration may well animate us to the performance of all our duties—
[If no promises had been given us, we might well have been discouraged: for who could “engage in such an unequal warfare at his own charges?” In like manner, if the promises had been less extensive, or less free, we might well despond; because we could have never merited the performance of them, nor ever have supplied what might be lacking in them. Moreover, if there had been any room to question God’s fidelity, we should still have been equally far from any solid comfort. But when we find the promises so perfectly free, that all are at liberty to lay hold upon them; and so full, that they extend to every possible want; and so sure, that sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of them shall fail; do we not feel encouraged to embrace them, and to rely upon them, and to plead them, and to go forth in the strength of them to serve our God? Is not this one word, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” a full warrant for undertaking any service, or for meeting any trial, to which God may call us? May we not boldly say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me?”
Here then is our encouragement to perform our duties to Christ and his Church. Whatever we may have to encounter for Christ’s sake, we may, in reliance upon his word, “hold fast our profession;” and whatever exertion may be necessary for filling up our respective offices as members of his body, we may labour and not faint; assured that, if we be “steadfast, and unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:58.].”]
What then shall I say more? Is God faithful to his engagements? Then,
Be ye faithful to yours—
[If you have given up yourselves to him as his purchased possession, then have ye bound yourselves to “glorify him with your bodies and your spirits which are his.” Remember then the vows that are upon you; those which were made for you in your baptism; those which you took upon yourselves at your confirmation; and those which you have renewed at the table of the Lord. Labour diligently to perform them all; and not only to perform your own promises, but to stir up others to the performance of theirs also. Do not think to say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for you have a duty to all the members of Christ’s mystical body; and you are as much bound to perform that, as to perform any other whatever. Address yourselves then to the work of the Lord; and “whatever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might.” If you meet with difficulties and trials, be not discouraged, but go on boldly in the name and strength of the Lord. Draw not back on any account: for, “if any man draw back, God will have no pleasure in him.” “He only who endureth to the end shall be saved.” “Look to yourselves then, that ye lose not the things which ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward [Note: 2 John, ver. 8].” “Be faithful unto death; and God will give you a crown of life.”]
Live by faith upon the promises—
[It is “by the promises that ye have already been made partakers of a divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.];” and “by them must ye cleanse yourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].” Lay hold then on the promises: search them out with care: plead them before God with earnestness: and expect the accomplishment of them with confident assurance. This is the great secret of living unto God. This will keep up a continual intercourse between God and the soul. This will bring down Omnipotence to your aid. This will make every trial light, and every duty easy. This will enable you to defy all your enemies, and to challenge them all, whether individually or collectively, “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ [Note: Romans 8:35-39.]?” This will render you blessings to others, as well as blessed in your own souls: for those who behold your light, will “thank God, and take courage,” and be emboldened to serve God with increased alacrity themselves. Thus too you will be prepared for “the day that is approaching:” for whilst the idle and unprofitable servant will be “cast into outer darkness, where is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” the active and faithful servant will receive the plaudits of his Divine Master, and will “enter into the joy of his Lord.”]
THE EVIL AND DANGER OF APOSTASY
Hebrews 10:26-31. If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? for we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
WE cannot be too strongly on our guard against attaching ourselves to human systems in religion. The partisans of human systems take a partial view of the Scriptures, leaning invariably to those passages which appear to sanction their favourite dogmas, and excluding all mention of those which have a contrary aspect. They all take it for granted, that the things which they know not how to reconcile, are contrary to, and inconsistent with, each other. But as in a machine wheels may move in opposite directions, and yet so harmonize as to subserve one common end, so, in the word of God, truths, which have an opposite aspect, may be perfectly reconcileable to each other, and equally conducive to the accomplishment of the Divine purposes. The Apostle Paul insisted, as strongly as any one could do, on the doctrines of grace, shewing that all was ordered by God according to the counsel of his own will: yet no Apostle spoke more strongly than he on the danger of apostasy; or taught more forcibly the necessity of continual watchfulness on our part in order to the attainment of those blessings which God had from all eternity prepared for us. It is on this subject that he is speaking in the passage before us; wherein he cautions the Hebrew converts against apostasy, bidding them to hold fast the profession of their faith without wavering; and warning them, that, if they turned back from God, it would be to their everlasting perdition.
In the words which I have just read, he sets forth,
The evil of apostasy—
It is not of all sin, or even of all wilful sin, that he speaks: for, if there were no pardon for wilful sin after baptism, or after we have embraced the Gospel, who could hope ever to attain salvation, since there is not a man in the universe who has not, on some one occasion at least, knowingly and wilfully done what he ought not, or left undone what he ought to have done. The sin spoken of in the text, is, a total and wilful apostasy from the Gospel of Christ. This appears from the whole context, both from that which precedes, and that which follows. In the preceding context he bids them to “hold fast the profession of their faith without wavering;” and then he adds, “for, if we sin wilfully;” that is, by renouncing our holy profession, we reduce ourselves to the most awful condition that can be imagined; seeing that, having put away all affiance in the sacrifice of Christ, there remains no other sacrifice for our sins. In the following context the sin is opened at large under three separate heads, which, whilst they mark distinctly the nature of the sin which is intended, display the evil of it in most tremendous colours.
Let us consider each of them in its order—
[Apostasy, he tells us, is a “treading under foot the Son of God.” The Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, came down from heaven to seek and to save them that were lost. We, when we are baptized in his name, or make a profession of faith in him, acknowledge him before all to be the Saviour of the world. All other lords we then renounce; and all other grounds of hope before God; and in effect we say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life: and we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God [Note: John 6:68-69.].” But when we renounce our faith in him, we, as far as in us lies, cast him down from his throne, and trample him under our feet; declaring, that he is unworthy of the honour which we had erroneously put upon him, and that we will “no longer have him to reign over us:” yea, we even “crucify him afresh, and put him to an open shame [Note: Hebrews 6:6.].”
Next, it is a “counting of the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.” The Mosaic covenant was ratified with blood; and with that blood both the tabernacle with all its vessels, and the people who worshipped before it, were sanctified, and set apart as holy to the Lord [Note: Hebrews 9:18-21.]. The covenant of grace is ratified with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, when we “come to the knowledge of the truth,” we also are sanctified with it, and set apart to the service of our God. We profess to consider that blood as the one procuring cause of all that we either have or hope for: and we look for all the blessings of the covenant solely through the merit of his blood as shed for us, and as sprinkled on us. But, when we cast off our profession, we declare before all, that we consider the blood of Christ as having no virtue at all as an atonement for sin, and as being, in fact, of no more efficacy than the blood of bulls and goats, or even of a malefactor, justly put to death.
Further, it is a doing of “despite unto the Spirit of grace.” The Holy Spirit, both before and after the death of Jesus, bare witness to him by signs and wonders innumerable: and, when we are brought to the knowledge of the truth, it is by that same blessed Spirit illuminating our minds, and sealing the truth with power upon our souls. But, when we renounce the truth we have received, we insult that Divine Agent, as having borne witness to a falsehood: and we ascribe all his miracles either to Satanic agency, or to some mysterious imposture. We even laugh also at the impressions which he has made upon our minds, and deride all his merciful suggestions as fanaticism and delusion.]
In this view of apostasy, say, if it be not a most tremendous evil?
[Those who are guilty of it, speak of it only as a change of sentiment resulting from conviction; and thus they take credit to themselves as having grown in wisdom, and been faithful to their convictions. But God seeth not as man seeth. God beholds all the evils of the heart which have been accessary to this change; and all the injury that results from it, both to his honour, and to the world at large. He sees the pride of heart which will not receive the truth upon his testimony. He sees the love of the world which operates to draw the heart from him; yea, and the enmity of the heart against him, which will not submit, either to be saved or governed in so mysterious a way. In other sins he beholds only a resistance to his authority; but in this, a contempt of all the wonders of his wisdom and love. A person who has never received the knowledge of the truth, cannot commit this sin, or any sin of equal malignity. It is the resisting of light that has been imparted, and the acting contrary to it to such an extent as to call it darkness; this it is which makes the guilt so great, that, humanly speaking, it can never be forgiven. Were it indeed repented of, and were mercy sought through the blood of Jesus, even this sin, great as it is, might be forgiven: but the commission of it implies such desperate wickedness and obduracy, that it never can, without a miracle of mercy, be repented of [Note: Hebrews 6:4-6.].]
Hence then may be seen,
The danger of it—
This is declared,
From the very nature of the sin itself—
[Consider what the sin is: it is a discarding of the only remedy which God has provided for the necessities of fallen man. Under the Mosaic dispensation, God revealed himself to the Hebrews as the only true God; and entered into covenant with them to be their God, if they would serve him in sincerity and truth. But, if any one made void that law [Note: ἀθετήσας, ver. 28.], and departed from him to worship other gods, he appointed, that, upon the fact being proved by two or three witnesses, the offender should be stoned to death [Note: Deuteronomy 17:2-7.]; and it was expressly forbidden to any person to conceal the crime: if it should have been committed by a man’s dearest friend or relative, he must reveal it to the constituted authorities, and take the lead in executing sentence on the offender [Note: Deuteronomy 13:6-9.]. In this law the Hebrews had acquiesced as holy, and just, and good. (Here let me suggest, by the way, that the illustration here brought by the Apostle farther shews, what the sin was of which he spake; namely, that it was not every wilful sin, but a wilful renunciation of the Gospel of Christ.) Now, says the Apostle, if so severe a sentence was executed, without any mercy, on the contemner of the Mosaic covenant, and the judges themselves declared the offender to be “worthy of it [Note: Deuteronomy 17:6.],” “of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who has renounced the Christian covenant; since he has trodden under-foot the Son of God, &c.?” Here he appeals to them, and makes them judges in their own cause. And to you also do I appeal. If they who renounced that legal covenant, the provisions of which were chiefly of a temporal nature, and the engagements of it ratified only with the blood of beasts, were counted worthy of such a tremendous punishment as death; of how much sorer punishment must he be worthy, who renounces the covenant of grace, in which all the blessings of grace and glory are made over to us, and which has been ratified and confirmed with the blood of God’s only dear Son? I consent that you shall be judges in your own cause, and the arbiters of your own fate. They who renounced the law were guilty of most egregious folly and ingratitude: but their impiety was not to be compared with yours: for whilst, as renouncing the only means of salvation, you resemble them, your impiety is greater than theirs, in proportion as the covenant which you despise is more glorious than theirs, and the mercies which you reject have been purchased for you at a dearer rate.
Know then, that to such persons “there remains no more sacrifice for sins.” Under the law, the sacrifices were repeated from year to year; but not so under the Gospel: Christ will never die for your sins again; nor will any other offering be made in his stead: and therefore, having renounced him, “nothing remains for you but a certain fearful looking-for of judgment,” whilst you continue here; and “of fiery indignation,” when you go hence, “that shall devour all the adversaries” of God and his Christ. Even here, I say, the punishment of such persons is awful: for, to say the least, they are in a state of uncertainty what shall be their fate in the eternal world; and they have frequently in their minds and consciences such an anticipation of their doom, as appals their souls, and terrifies their spirits, and forms a very hell within them: and the moment they go hence, the wrath of an incensed God comes upon them to the uttermost.]
From the fixed determination of God to punish it—
[God has said, “Vengeance belongeth unto me; and I will recompense [Note: Deuteronomy 32:35.].” And again, “The Lord shall judge his people [Note: Deuteronomy 32:36.].” Now if he, as the moral Governor of the universe, has determined to execute justice, as well as to shew mercy; and if the administering of justice be no less necessary to his own glory than the dispensing of mercy, what have the contemners of his Gospel to expect? He has said, he will thus display his righteousness at the last day: and “we know him who has said it:” we know that he is almighty, and therefore able to inflict punishment; and we know he is true, and therefore will fulfil his word. It is in vain to think that he will change: for “he is not a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent.” Seeing then that he will take the matter into his own hands, judge ye, whether it be not “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Were it only a mortal man that was incensed, and you had no way of escape from him, it were a terrible state for you to be in: but what must it be to be exposed to the wrath of the living God, who, whilst he ever lives to execute vengeance, will preserve you in existence, that you may eternally endure it? Think of enduring “the wrath of the Lamb,” which will be so much the more terrible, in proportion as his mercy in submitting to be slain for you has been slighted and despised.]
“Suffer ye then, brethren, a word of Exhortation”—
Watch and pray against every wilful sin—
[“Keep thy servant from presumptuous sin,” said David; “then shall I be innocent from the great transgression [Note: Psalms 19:13.].” Now, though it is true that every wilful sin, or every presumptuous sin, does not involve us in all the guilt of apostasy, yet it leads to apostasy as its natural end and issue; because it hardens the heart, and sears the conscience, and grieves the Holy Spirit, and provokes God to leave us to ourselves: and, if once God say of us, “They are joined to idols; let them alone [Note: Hosea 4:17.];” our doom is sealed, and our perdition sure. Let me then affectionately entreat you to guard against every wilful sin, whether of commission or omission. A man does not become an apostate all at once: he first indulges some secret lust, some filthiness either of the flesh or spirit. Then he declines into formality in his secret walk with God: then his besetting sin gets an ascendant over him: then he becomes indifferent to public ordinances; and so, from opposing the Gospel in his heart and life, he comes to abandon it even in profession, and to relapse into avowed infidelity, and a contempt of all true religion [Note: Ecclus. 19:1.]. The misery which such persons frequently endure in this life, is sufficient to make us dread such an event as this — — — But that which the apostate soul shall endure in the eternal world, surpasses all conception. It would have been better for such an one never to have known the way of righteousness, than, having known it, to desert it, and make shipwreck of his faith [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-21.].]
Bear in mind your obligations to Christ and to his Holy Spirit—
[Why did the Lord Jesus Christ die under the load of all your guilt? Was it that you might continue in your sins? — — — Why did the Holy Spirit undertake to renew and sanctify your souls; and why has he begun a work of grace in your hearts? Was it that you might “return again with the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to a wallowing in the mire?” Let then the Lord Jesus Christ behold in you the fruits of his love — — — and let the Holy Spirit rejoice in beholding in you the efficacy of his grace — — — Then it will be no formidable thing to “fall into the hands of the living God:” on the contrary, you may then with joyful hope look forward to the time of your departure, and, after the example of that Saviour in whom you have believed, you may say in your dying hour, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”]
THE BENEFIT OF PAST EXPERIENCE
Hebrews 10:32. Call to remembrance the former days.
TO take a retrospect of our past lives, is the duty of every child of man. Without a frequent revision of the past, no man can repent, no man believe, no man be saved. We must be sensible of our guilt and helplessness, before we can ever come aright to Christ for mercy and grace; and such a consciousness of our need of him can proceed from nothing but self-knowledge, the fruit of much self-examination and of a diligent inquiry into our own state. But it is not in this general view that we are now to consider the subject before us. The words were addressed to those who “had been illuminated” with Divine truth, and had “endured a great fight of afflictions” in the service of their Divine Master. It is to such therefore that we propose chiefly, if not exclusively, to limit our attention, whilst we notice the exhortation,
As given to the Jewish converts—
They were subjected to cruel persecutions throughout the world: and they were in danger of yielding to intimidation, and of making shipwreck of their faith. To fortify their minds and encourage their hearts, he bids them “call to remembrance the former days.”
These days deserved remembrance—
[They had been days of heavy trial to all who had embraced the Christian faith. Every convert was an object of hatred and contempt both to Jews and Gentiles. No reproaches were too bitter to cast upon the followers of Christ, no injuries too heavy to inflict upon them. Their persons were assaulted, their property destroyed—their lives menaced, and in many instances sacrificed to royal edicts, to popular fury, or to legal form. The community of interest which all felt in the welfare of the whole body, greatly augmented the sufferings of every individual. Wherever one member suffered, all the members suffered with it.
Yet in the midst of all these afflictions, the believing Jews, as a body, had maintained their steadfastness, and held fast their profession. They had not only submitted to the loss of all things for the sake of Christ, but “had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods;” “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Redeemer’s sake.”
To this measure of firmness they had attained by keeping their eye steadily fixed upon the heavenly state, where their portion was, and where an infinitely “better and more enduring substance” was treasured up for them. They had no doubt but their trials would be richly recompensed in the eternal world; and therefore they made light of all that they possessed below; “reckoning that the sufferings of this present time were not worthy to be compared with the glory that should be revealed in them [Note: Romans 8:18.].”
Such were their former days, immediately after the light of divine truth had shone into their hearts; and]
The recollection of them would be of singular utility to them at this time—
[From a review of their past experience, they would see, that, though the difficulties which they now had to sustain, or which they were daily expecting to encounter, were formidable, they were not new, nor insupportable, nor unprofitable. They were not new; since they were no other than what had come upon them from the beginning: and consequently were not to be regarded as “strange” and unlocked for [Note: 1 Peter 4:12.]: nor were they insupportable; for every convert had already borne them for a long period; and consequently might, with the help of divine grace, support them still: nor were they unprofitable; since the effect of them had been to drive the sufferers to prayer, and to bring down into their souls an increase both of grace and peace. In a word, the tribulations which they had already endured, “had wrought patience, and experience, and hope;” and therefore, instead of trembling at the prospect of future trials, it became every believer to hold fast the profession of his faith, and, together with that, the rejoicing of his hope firm unto the end.”]
What we have spoken sufficiently shews the scope of the Apostle’s advice as given to the Hebrews to whom he wrote; and having ascertained that, we are prepared to consider it,
As applicable to ourselves—
That there are many amongst ourselves, who, through the tender mercy of our God, “have been illuminated” with divine truth, we firmly believe: and to a certain extent the same consequences have followed, and do still follow, a profession of the Gospel in these latter times, as in the days of old. To all of you then who have been illuminated, we would offer the same advice as the Apostle did to the Hebrew converts, persuaded that it will be profitable,
For our humiliation—
[“Call to remembrance the former days,” when first ye received the knowledge of the truth, and see whether there was not much in your experience then which may justly operate for your humiliation now. You then saw and bewailed your lost estate both by nature and practice, and gladly fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ, as to the hope set before you in the Gospel. Having obtained a view of him as your Redeemer and your all-prevailing Intercessor, you rejoiced in him with joy unspeakable, so that you seemed to be come as it were into a new world. Then the cares and pleasures of this life appeared to you as empty vanities, that were scarcely worth a thought: and then, whatever you were called to suffer, whether of loss or shame, for Christ’s sake, appeared to you rather a ground of joy than of sorrow, insomuch that “you took joyfully” the injuries that were inflicted on you, and rejoiced that you were counted worthy to sustain them for Jesus’ sake. Nothing intimidated you; nothing was suffered to retard your progress. With the world under your feet, and heaven in your eye, you went on cheerfully, and made your profiting daily to appear.
But now perhaps your love has grown cold; your delight in the word of God and prayer has abated; your exertions in the pursuit of heavenly things have languished; and the power of divine grace upon your souls has visibly declined. Now prudence has not merely regulated (for that it ought to do) your zeal, but has greatly abated, if not altogether superseded, it. Now the cares of this life have regained an ascendant over you: the frowns of the world, which once were disregarded, are become formidable in your eyes; and the fear of suffering loss in your worldly interests damps all your ardour. Now, instead of being altogether crucified to the world, and living only unto God, as in former days, you can scarcely be distinguished, except by an outward profession, from those who were never yet irradiated by the light of Gospel truth. Is this an uncommon case? Would to God it were! But what we see in the Church of Ephesus of old is yet visible, wherever the Gospel has been long preached. Of them the Lord Jesus says, “Thou has borne, and hast had patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen; and repent, and do the first works [Note: Revelation 2:3-5.].” So then say I to you: “Call to remembrance the former days:” remember what you once were, and what your former works: and let the view of your declension fill you with shame and sorrow and contrition. Be afraid and tremble, lest the Lord withdraw from you the light with which you have been illumined; and beg of him to return in mercy to your souls, and to “strengthen in you the things which remain, and are ready to die [Note: Revelation 3:2.].”]
For your encouragement—
[It may be that either outwardly from men, or inwardly from Satan, you are strongly tempted at this time, and need to have a word of consolation and encouragement spoken to your souls. If this be the case, “Call to remembrance the former days.” Trials have not for the first time come upon you now: you have in a greater or less degree experienced them from the time that ye were first illuminated. Who is it then that strengthened you to bear them at that time? Is he not still as able and as willing to help you as ever? Is not the grace of Christ as sufficient for you now as in former days? And does he not deserve as much at your hands now as he did formerly? If you rejoiced in doing and suffering for him years ago, is there not the same reason that you should do so now? If there was “a need that you should be in heaviness through manifold temptations” formerly [Note: 1 Peter 1:6.], may there not be the same occasion still? and if the “trial of your faith was precious to you heretofore, yea more precious than gold, because you knew it would be found to your praise and honour and glory, as well as to the praise and honour and glory of your Lord, at his appearing [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.],” should it not be alike precious now? If too an assured prospect of “a better and an enduring substance in heaven” once made all earthly things appear to you so light, that you could take joyfully the loss of all of them in the prospect of it, is it not of equal value now? or do you think that, when you shall have obtained the enjoyment of it, you will regret the sacrifices which you made with a view to it?” Then I say, “Continue to walk by the rule whereto ye have attained [Note: Philippians 3:16.];” and “look to yourselves that ye lose not the things which ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.].”]
Let me improve the subject in a more particular address—
To those who have never yet been illuminated by the Gospel of Christ—
[How painful should the review of former days be to you! O! the seasons you have lost! the mercies you have abused! the guilt you have contracted! How differently have your lives been spent from what they would have been if you had been Christians indeed! You would have been fleeing from the wrath to come, and would have so made your light shine before men, as to “condemn the world” around you, even as Noah did when he built the ark: and you would have found in Christ such peace as passeth understanding, and such joy as should have infinitely overbalanced all that you could ever do or suffer for him. But of persecution for righteousness’ sake you know nothing; and still less of that high attainment of glorying in tribulation for the sake of Christ. Look back then to the days that are past, and be confounded before God because of your impiety: and pray that “the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened,” and that you may yet be “brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of his Gospel.” Be thankful to God that the light yet shines around you: and, “while ye have the light, be careful to walk in the light;” and “give glory to the Lord your God before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But, if ye will not hear this admonition, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore and run down day and night,” because of the awful judgments that await you [Note: Jeremiah 13:16-17.].]
To those who, though illuminated by the Gospel, are not walking in the enjoyment of the Divine presence—
[This may arise from temptation and spiritual bondage, or from sloth and carnality, and worldly-mindedness. If it have arisen from the former, God forbid that I should “break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax:” let me rather “hold up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees, and encourage the fearful heart.” Well I know that the soul of a righteous man may be bowed down with spiritual distress, and be so sore troubled under the hidings of God’s face, as to be deaf to the voice of consolation. Such was the state of David at one time [Note: Psalms 77:2-4.]; and the remedy to which he betook himself was precisely that which is recommended in my text. “I considered,” says he, “the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night [Note: Psalms 77:5-10.].” Then comparing his present painful experience with that which he had formerly enjoyed, he acknowledges, that all his present doubts and fears were the result of “his own infirmity.” And then, to prevent the return of any such distressing apprehensions, he adds, “I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember thy wonders of old [Note: Psalms 77:11.].” Thus then do ye: call to remembrance the experience of former saints, and your own also at more favoured seasons: and then bear in mind that, though you change, God is the same, and that “with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
But if, as in too many instances is the case, your darkness arise from a relaxation of your diligence, and an indulgence of worldly or carnal affections, I must “change my voice, for I stand in doubt of you;” and would have you also stand in doubt of yourselves, till it be clear that “Christ is formed in you” of a truth. If you are drawing back from God in secret, beware lest he leave you to yourselves to “go back to everlasting perdition.” To “have run well for a season,” will be of little avail, if you do not press forward in your heavenly course. The threatening denounced against backsliding Ephesus lies in full force against you; and you will do well to take heed to it. “I will come unto thee quickly,” says Christ, “and will remove thy candlestick, except thou repent.” Oh, return from all your backslidings with penitential sorrow and a lively faith; so shall your backslidings be healed; and “so iniquity shall not be your ruin!”]
To those who are walking steadfastly in their Christian course—
[Are you under trials? Every day brings you nearer to the termination of them: and your Lord and Saviour is just ready to set the crown of victory upon your head, and to put you into full possession of that better and enduring substance that awaits you. Look up to heaven and see the myriads that are now around the throne. “Whence came they? They all came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God [Note: Revelation 7:14-15.].” And therefore shall you soon join their company, and unite with them in songs of praise to God and to the Lamb for ever. Only “be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life,” according to that sure word of promise, “To him that overcometh will I give to sit down with me upon my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father upon his throne.” “He is faithful who hath promised, who also will do it” in its appointed time.]
PATIENT FORTITUDE REQUIRED
Hebrews 10:35-36. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
THERE have been, to the Church of Christ, seasons of bitter persecution, and seasons of comparative tolerance and peace: but in whichever of these states we be, it becomes us not to yield to dejection on the one hand, or undue security on the other. We are soldiers on the field of battle, and must be ready to encounter our enemies whensoever they may advance against us. It will be time enough to put off our armour, when we have received our dismission from an earthly warfare, and are crowned with laurels in the realms of bliss. There had been to the Hebrew Christians seasons of severe trial, which the Apostle called to their remembrance: and it is probable, that when this epistle was written to them they enjoyed somewhat of tranquillity: but he bade them not to cast away their confidence: since they would still have need of it, as long as they should continue in the body.
In this apostolic injunction we see,
What state of mind befits the Christian—
The “confidence” here spoken of is a holy boldness in confessing Christ—
[This is essential to the Christian character. Not even faith itself will avail for our salvation, where this is wanting: “With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness; but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation [Note: Romans 10:10.].” “If we are ashamed of Christ, and deny him, he will be ashamed of us, and deny us [Note: Matthew 10:32-33.].”
This holy fortitude we should maintain, under all circumstances. Never, for a moment, should we “cast it away.” If trials increase, we need it the more: if they abate, or even cease, we still need this divine quality; because we know not how soon it may be called for, or to what an extent it may be required.]
And it will bring its own reward along with it—
[It will keep us from all that disquietude and distraction which the menaces of the world might occasion in an unstable mind. It will induce a consistency of conduct, under all circumstances; and will bring into the soul, stability and peace. It will be to him who exercises it an unquestionable evidence of his own sincerity; and will doubtless be honoured with peculiar manifestations of the Divine favour. If more than ordinary supports are called for by reason of the augmented troubles that assault us, they shall be vouchsafed to us; even as they were to the Hebrew Youths in the furnace, when the Son of God himself condescended visibly to appear in their behalf]
To every Christian is this requisite, because of,
The occasion he will have for it—
Different as may be the path of different persons in some respects, in their great outline they are all the same. In their progress, all these different steps may be clearly and distinctly seen:
[Every Christian “does the will of God.” To believe in Christ, to receive every thing from Christ in the exercise of faith and prayer, and to give himself up to God without reserve; this is the one habit of his mind, and the one labour of his life. From day to day he does not his own will, or the will of an ungodly world; but the will of God, as it is revealed in his blessed word.]
[This will always more or less attend a faithful discharge of our duty to God. There will now, as formerly, be seasons of comparative peace: but it is not possible for unregenerate men to love the light, whether it be set before them in the word, or be exhibited before them in the conduct of God’s faithful servants. “The servant cannot be greater than his Lord:” if they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, those of his household must assuredly expect some opprobrious designation at the least. And though, in comparison of imprisonment and death, this may be regarded as a light matter; yet is it not light, when we consider, that the names with which the godly are designated, are a signal for the world to load them with every species of obloquy and contempt.]
[Our blessed Lord was “as a sheep led to the slaughter,” and, in the midst of all the indignities that were offered him, “opened not his mouth.” And in this manner his faithful followers also “possess their souls in patience.” They expect that they shall “have need of patience;” and it is their endeavour so to demean themselves under their trials, that “patience may have its perfect work; that so they may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”]
[This is the object of their pursuit; and to this they press forward with all their might. They know, that “if they draw back, it must be unto perdition;” and that it is by believing only, and maintaining their faith with steadfastness, that they ever can be saved [Note: ver. 38, 39.]. They are well assured, that the means must be used for the attainment of the end; and that if used aright, the end shall be attained. They are well aware, that duty must be performed, suffering expected, patience exercised: and in this way they have no doubt but that glory shall be ultimately secured. “By a patient continuance in well-doing, they seek, and will obtain, eternal life.”]
Let us be thankful for the peace that we are privileged to enjoy—
[These are days of extraordinary toleration and candour. We cannot indeed say that “the offence of the cross has ceased:” for it never can cease, as long as the ungodly constitute the great majority of the world. But persecution, except in private circles, is but little known. The flames of martyrdom are no longer kindled amongst us, as in the days of old. Let us, then, make a due improvement of this great mercy, for the more abundant edification of our own souls, and for a more active advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world [Note: See Acts 9:31.].]
Let us, however, stand prepared for other days—
[No one can tell how soon the face of things may be changed. If Popery were to gain an ascendant again, it would, in all probability, bring with it all its attendant horrors. But even in private life we may be called to make severe sacrifices, and to suffer the loss of all our prospects upon earth. But let us remember, that Heaven will richly repay us for all that we may either lose or suffer: and if only we “receive at last the promise” of eternal life, we shall never have reason to regret the “patience” we exercised, and the “confidence” we maintained.]
THE TRUE MEANS OF PERSEVERING TO THE END
Hebrews 10:38-39. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
TRIALS are the portion of all the people of God: times and circumstances may occasion a considerable difference as to the measure in which individual believers may be called to endure them: but to all, without exception, it must still be said, as well as to the Hebrews of old, “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive the promise.” To all may the same consolation also be administered; namely, that our Lord and Saviour will speedily come to the relief of his afflicted people; and that, if only we believe in him we shall assuredly be saved.
The words in which the Apostle thus consoled the Hebrews, are taken from the Prophet Habakkuk; who was himself comforted with this assurance, when bewailing and deprecating the calamities which were about to be brought upon the Jewish nation by their Chaldean enemies [Note: Habakkuk 1:6; Habakkuk 1:12; Habakkuk 2:2-4.]. And they are applicable to the Church of God in all ages; since that same almighty Saviour, who promised to interpose in behalf of his believing people then, still engages to be their support in the time of trouble, and only requires that they should look to him with humble and assured confidence, that their trust in him shall not be in vain.
To this consolatory declaration the Apostle adds a most solemn caution, that, if any be turned back from God by means of their trials, it will be to their everlasting perdition.
That the warning may come more distinctly before you, I will endeavour to shew,
The way to eternal life—
This is the same in all ages: we must live by faith alone: whatever our own personal character may have been, we must look to God as “the Author and Giver of all good;” and on him as reconciled to us in the Son of his love, we must rely for a supply of all that we need either for body or for soul, for time or for eternity.
By faith we are first introduced into the divine life—
[From the manner in which the Apostle quotes this prophecy in other places, it is evident that the sense of it is more large and comprehensive than we should of ourselves have imagined. In the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, St. Paul enters fully and argumentatively upon the subject of a sinner’s justification before God; and shews, in opposition to all the erroneous notions both of Jews and Gentiles, that it is not by works of any kind, whether ceremonial or moral, but simply and entirely by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In both these epistles too he not only adduces this prophecy as confirming his doctrine, but he lays a peculiar stress upon it, as establishing his doctrine beyond all contradiction [Note: Rom 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.] — — — Know ye then, as a matter of primary importance, that, if ever you would live before God, you must come to him as sinners destitute of all help or hope in yourselves, and must cast yourselves entirely upon that Saviour, “whom he has set forth to be a propitiation for sin,” and “not for your sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” There is no other way in which any man can come to God [Note: John 14:6.]; nor any other name but that of Jesus, whereby any sinner in the universe can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.].]
By faith also we must persevere in it even to the end—
[There is no other way for our continuance in life than that by which we are first brought into a state of spiritual existence. As at the beginning it is said, “He that hath the Son of God hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:12.];” so must it be said even to the end: for “all our fresh springs are in him:” “He is the fountain of life; and in his light alone we can see light.” Have we continually fresh sins to be forgiven? There is no way of being cleansed from them but by washing continually in “the fountain which has been once opened for sin and uncleanness [Note: Zechariah 13:1.].” Have we on account of our remaining corruptions continual need of fresh supplies of grace? There is no other source of grace but He: “it hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell [Note: Colossians 1:19.],” and “out of his fulness must we all receive, even grace for grace [Note: John 1:16.].” Are our trials and afflictions multiplied from time to time? It is in his everlasting arms that we must be upheld, and “his grace alone that can be sufficient for us.” In a word, it is “by faith that we must stand” every moment [Note: Romans 11:20.]: “by faith too we must walk [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:7.]:” yea, from first to last, “we must live altogether by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” “As we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so we must walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith as we have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving [Note: Colossians 2:6-7.].”]
But in order to maintain our steadfastness in this way, it is necessary we should consider,
The danger of departing from it—
On few passages of Scripture do we behold more glaring perversions than in comments upon these words. Some, in order to uphold a favourite system, will deny that the persons here cautioned against apostasy are the same as are spoken of in the preceding and following context. But I entreat you, brethren, never so to wrest the word of God. Take the word as little children, without inquiring what human system it appears to favour; and let it have all the force which it evidently bears in the passage from whence it is taken: and if you cannot reconcile different parts of God’s blessed word, leave that to him, saying, “What I know not now, I shall know hereafter.” It is plain that every man, whatever his attainments be, has need of this solemn warning: it is evident beyond all contradiction, that many, after having long professed to believe in Christ, and some also of the most distinguished attainments in religion, have gone back, and made shipwreck of their faith: and Paul himself felt a need of exercising continual watchfulness and self-denial, “lest, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.].” Consider then, all of you, the danger of turning back from the good way in which you are now walking:
You will inexpressibly grieve and offend your God—
[God says, “My soul shall have no pleasure in you.” In the humble and steadfast saint he has great delight; “he taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in them that hope in his mercy [Note: Psalms 147:11.].” But if any man leave off to behave himself wisely, how can God take pleasure in him? Whilst walking steadfastly and uprightly before God, the believer complies with all God’s gracious designs, and furthers, to that extent at least, the glory of God’s name. But when he draws back from God, he proclaims to all around him, that, in his estimation at least, God is not so worthy to be loved and served as once he had thought him to be; and that, after a full estimate of their respective claims, the world and the flesh are deserving of at least an equal regard with him, if not also a superior regard. Now, I ask, can a jealous God look with complacency on such a man? “Would even a fellow-creature, when once admitted into the nearest relation to us, be satisfied with such an avowal?
But the words in my text are intended to convey much more than they express: they import that God will look upon such a backslider as an object of his utter abhorrence. This is more plainly declared in the book of Revelation; where the Lord Jesus Christ, addressing the Laodicean Church, says, “I would thou wert cold or hot: but because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth [Note: Revelation 3:15-16.].” This shews us the true light in which God views “the backslider in heart;” he lothes and abhors him as a base ungrateful wretch, who has ceased to behave himself wisely, and has “returned, like a dog to his vomit, and like a sow that has been washed to her wallowing in the mire.”]
You will infallibly destroy your own soul—
[So says my text: they who draw back, “draw back unto perdition.” O what a fearful thought! Who can tell all that is implied in the word “perdition?” It is remarkable, that the day of judgment is expressly called, “the day of the perdition of ungodly men [Note: 2 Peter 3:7.]:” and so indeed it will prove. Now the ungodly have the upper hand, and do what they can to destroy the interests of the Redeemer’s kingdom in the world: but then the Judge of quick and dead will deal with them, and recompense upon their heads all the evil that they have done. But on none will so severe a doom be inflicted as on those who “have forsaken the right way,” and “after having once escaped the pollutions of the world, have been again entangled therein and overcome: with them the latter end will be worse than the beginning [Note: 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 2:15; 2 Peter 2:20-21.].”]
Yet, though the danger of falling is such as may well excite in us a holy watchfulness, it need not generate in us a slavish fear: since God engages to uphold the upright in heart: and they are therefore warranted in expecting from him all needful aid.
That we may not unnecessarily make the heart of the righteous sad, we shall endeavour to mark,
When our actual progress in the way of life has been such as will warrant a good hope of our continuance in it to the end.
But here we must not take a high standard, since the Apostle’s confidence referred not to himself only, but to the great mass of the believing Hebrews throughout the world. If then it be asked, who they are who may hope to persevere in the good way? I answer,
Those who are still advancing in the face of difficulties—
[Where there is nothing to try our faith and patience, no conclusions can be drawn respecting the principle of grace that is within us; but, when we are fighting against the world, and the flesh, and the devil, and maintaining the conflict undismayed, we may be sure that God is with us of a truth: and a certainty that “God hath begun a good work within us, is a just ground of confidence, that he will carry it on, and perfect it to the end [Note: Philippians 1:6.].” God has promised that “he will keep the feet of his saints:” and that “the righteous shall hold on his way, and he who hath clean hands shall wax stronger and stronger.” If then we have an evidence within ourselves, that we are indeed endeavouring to approve ourselves to God in a holy and consistent conduct, we need not alarm ourselves about future trials, but may safely and confidently commit the keeping of our souls to God, assured, that he will order every thing for us, and that “as our day of trial is, so shall our strength to meet it be.”]
Those who regard the salvation of their souls as that one object which they are determined at all events to attain—
[If a man have not thoroughly learned that lesson, that his soul is of more value than the whole world, it matters not what his present attainments be; he has no security whatever against a speedy and final apostasy. But, if he be determined in his heart, that, whatever come, he will not barter away his soul, or suffer the salvation of it to be compromised, that man will stand: “he has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from him.” The faith of such an one may be but weak at present; but it shall prevail at last: and because he believes to the valuing of his soul, his faith will operate to the saving of his soul.
Lower than this we cannot go; but thus low we must: for it is not the measure of a man’s attainments, so much as the reality of his faith, that we are concerned to inquire after. It is the Lord Jesus Christ alone that can carry on the work effectually in the heart even of the most advanced Christian: and if he see in the least and meanest of his people, that their hearts are upright towards him, “he will carry the lambs in his bosom,” and “suffer none to pluck them out of his hands.”]
Be persuaded now to bear in mind,
That there is in the mind of God an immense difference between man and man—
[Here we are all together; and the world sees little difference between us: but on some, God looks with pleasure and complacency; and on others, with aversion and abhorrence. Yes, if there be one amongst us that is poor and of a contrite spirit, God says, “To that man will I look.” And he will look on him with unutterable delight, insomuch that his very “soul” shall be refreshed with the sight of him. See this poor despised creature, whom man regards as “the filth of the world and the off-scouring of all things:” he has a beauty in God’s eyes, which makes him lovely beyond all conception: his every word and thought are so dear to God, that he listens to it with delight, and records it in the book of his remembrance, and anticipates with joy the period when he shall have an opportunity of testifying before the whole assembled universe his love for him [Note: Malachi 3:16-17.]. No bridegroom ever so rejoiced over his bride, as he does over this creature that is bemoaning his own unworthiness [Note: Isaiah 62:5.]. No monarch conceives himself so enriched by the most splendid diadem, as God does by this acquisition to his family [Note: Isaiah 62:3.]: and he contemplates with inconceivable delight the prospect of securing to himself the everlasting possession of one in whom he takes so deep an interest [Note: Jeremiah 32:40-41.].
But is it thus that he looks on all? Alas! alas! we read of many, whom the world accounts blessed, whom yet “his soul abhors [Note: Psalms 10:3.].” On them indeed his eye is fixed, as well as on others; but “it is upon them for evil and not for good;” and the only complacency which he feels respecting them is, “Ah! I will ease me of mine adversaries: their foot shall slide in due time:” “I will whet my sword, and will make mine arrows drunk with their blood [Note: Deuteronomy 32:19-20; Deuteronomy 32:35; Deuteronomy 32:40-42.].” Think not that God is the same to all: indeed he is not: if to some he is a God of love and mercy, to others “he is a consuming fire.” Ah! beloved, when will ye believe this? When will ye realize this thought? When will ye ask, What are God’s views of me? what are his thoughts towards me? Could you but be persuaded to do this, we might yet hope to see you humbled before God, and God’s soul delighting in you.]
That there is, and will be, a corresponding difference between men in the eternal world—
[Not only of the world at large are there millions “perishing for lack of knowledge,” but even of the Church; and of those who once appeared in a hopeful way, are multitudes “drawing back unto perdition.” How little do both the one and the other of these imagine what awaits them at the moment of their departure hence! Could they conceive it, how would they now be filled with horror! how would their spirits sink within them! How earnest would they be in their inquiries. What must I do to be saved? Verily they would no longer be so gay, and easy, and secure, as they now are: nor, if we had a just view of their condition, could we speak of them but with floods of tears. Ah! brethren, when will ye believe that such a thing is possible? When will ye believe that such a thing is true? But true it is, whether ye will believe it or not: I pray God, ye may so believe it on the report of the Gospel, as never to taste it by bitter experience.
But of others there are a goodly number, (O! that God would multiply them an hundred-fold!) who are “believing in Christ to the saving of their souls.” They are already brought out of Egypt, and are pursuing their journey steadily through this dreary wilderness to the promised land. They meet with difficulties; but they are not discouraged: they go on in the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ: and speedily will they attain the great end of their faith, even the everlasting salvation of their souls. O who can estimate aright their prospects? Happy, happy people! How shall we attempt to describe the blessedness that awaits you? What a heaven will burst upon the soul at the first instant of its departure from the body! And what inconceivable bliss will it enjoy in the immediate and everlasting fruition of its God! But I must forbear. In attempting to expatiate on such a subject, I am only darkening counsel by words without knowledge. But do ye, my beloved brethren, have worthy thoughts of your high calling; and labour night and day to walk worthy of it.
These things may to many appear as a cunningly-devised fable: but know, all of you, that they are the very truth of God; and that, of the multitudes who are now around you, there will soon be many weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; whilst some, who have been plucked as brands out of the burning, will be seated upon thrones of glory, and singing everlasting Hallelujahs to God and to the Lamb.]
That the one great line of distinction between them is “faith”—
[It is by “faith that the just live;” and it is by unbelief that all others are excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Faith is indeed a hidden principle: but it is strongly operative, wherever it exists; and wherever it operates aright, will assuredly be productive of all the benefits which are here traced to it.
But, notwithstanding all that is said of this principle in the Holy Scriptures, and the indispensable necessity of it to the salvation of the soul, how few condemn themselves for their want of it! How few pray to God for it, or are even conscious of their need of it! What greater proof can there be of the blindness with which Satan has blinded the whole world! Men will readily enough acknowledge their need of holiness; but of faith they feel no need: they think they have as much of it as is necessary for their salvation. But, if they would only see how totally inoperative their supposed faith is, they would see at once that they are as destitute of real faith as are even the beasts that perish. Dear brethren, be aware of this: and cry mightily to God to impart unto you this spiritual gift. It is, in all who have it, the gift of God. No man can produce it in his own heart: it is not a mere conviction founded upon reasoning, but a principle infused into the soul: and it is by that living principle alone you can ever be brought to a state of acceptance with God in this world, and the enjoyment of his favour in the world to come. May God in his mercy create it in all our hearts! and may its fruits within us now be a pledge and earnest of its yet richer blessings in the realms of glory.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20