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COMPASSION TO THE DISTRESSED INCULCATED
Hebrews 13:3. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.
IN the first ages of Christianity persecution raged to a degree that we at this time have little conception of: bonds and imprisonment were no uncommon lot, especially amongst those who were active in the service of their Lord. The loss of all things was also not unfrequently added to the other trials of the saints; so that their afflictions were greatly multiplied and exceeding heavy. At such a season, it was incumbent on every member of the Church to compassionate the distresses of his afflicted brethren, and by a participation of their burthens to lighten their pressure, and to alleviate the sorrows occasioned by them. To this they might well be stimulated by the consideration that they themselves were constantly exposed to the same trials, and might soon need the same relief which they were administering to others. Through the goodness of God we know but little of these trials. The persecutions of the present day amount to little more than contempt and hatred, and in some few instances a little outward opposition to our worldly interests. Still however there are afflictions of other kinds in abundance to which we all are subject; and under which it becomes us all to manifest the tenderest compassion towards each other, not knowing how soon it may become our own lot to need the sympathy which we ourselves have exercised. In this view, the exhortation in our text deserves the attention of every child of man. Let us notice in it,
The duty inculcated—
Compassion towards our suffering fellow-creatures is a duty universally acknowledged. If the household of faith are entitled to a preference in our regards, as certainly they are [Note: Galatians 6:10.], our benevolence is not to be restricted to them: it is to be exercised generally towards all the sons and daughters of affliction; and that too in a way of,
[We should “remember them that are in bonds” or afflictions of any kind, not with a transient sigh, or a few customary expressions of condolence, but “as actually bound with them,” and as being ourselves partakers of their sorrows. We can read of the desolations and ravages of war, or of the miseries occasioned by storms and tempests, and pass them over almost without any emotion, and in a few minutes utterly forget them. But, if we felt aright, we should enter into all the troubles of the sufferers, just as if we ourselves were in their very state and condition. Paint to yourselves the anguish of shipwrecked mariners, expecting every moment to be their last: or, if their feelings may be supposed to be so acute as not to be capable of being transfused into the bosom of one who is not exposed to such perils, conceive of persons immured in dungeons, or racked with pains and destitute of all needful succour; or contemplate the widow bereaved of all that she held dear in this world, and of all that she relied on for the support of herself and her helpless offspring; I say, conceive of sorrows as brought home to your own bosom, and as experienced in your own soul; and then you will see how you ought to realize in your minds the miseries of others, and to pant for an opportunity to relieve them.]
[“Intercession,” we are told, “should be made for all men;” but more especially should it be so in behalf of those, whose troubles render them objects of more than ordinary compassion. St. James says, “Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick: and, if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him [Note: James 5:14-15.].” You well know how a man will plead with God for the wife of his bosom, or for his beloved child, whose dissolution he apprehends to be fast approaching. Thus should we enter into the distresses of others also, and should plead with God in their behalf. David did thus even in behalf of his very enemies: “When they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth, and I humbled my soul with fasting [Note: Psalms 35:13.]:” and in this way should we also make our prayer unto God, in the hope that he will interpose effectually in their behalf, and bestow on them the blessings, which it is not within the power of any finite creature to impart.]
[We are not to say, “Be ye warmed, and be ye filled, and at the same time withhold” from our brethren the aid which we are able to bestow [Note: James 2:15-16.]: such compassion as that is mere hypocrisy. Our Lord tells us in what way our sympathy should display itself; “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me [Note: Matthew 25:35-36.].” All indeed have it not in their power to exert themselves to the same extent: some have more leisure, and more ability, than others: but all can do something for their poor neighbours: some friendly service they can render; some word of comfort they can speak: and what they cannot administer in their own persons, they may procure through the instrumentality of others [Note: If this were in aid of a Benevolent Society, or any other Charity, the particular benefits of the Institution, as imparting what no mere individual could impart, may be stated here.] — — — At all events, if it be only a cup of cold water that we can bestow, it should be given with a zeal and tenderness that shall evince the strength of an internal principle, and the wish that our means were more adequate to the occasion.
The proper example for us to follow, is that of the Macedonians, of whom the Apostle testifies, that, notwithstanding they were themselves “in a great trial of affliction, and in deep poverty, yet abounded unto the riches of liberality: and that to their power, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves; and prayed the Apostle with much entreaty to take upon himself the ministration of their bounty to the saints [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.].” This is the point to be aimed at: there must first be a willing mind: and, where that is, God will accept the offering, however small [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:12.].]
Such is the duty here inculcated. Let us now attend to,
The consideration with which it is enforced—
When the Apostle says, “Do this,” as being yourselves also in the body, he must be understood as intimating,
That we ourselves are exposed to the same afflictions as others—
[And this is true respecting every living man. No one is exempt from trouble. If any man was ever justified in saying, “I shall die in my nest,” it was Job: yet behold he, with all his wealth and power, was in a few days reduced to the most abject state that can he imagined. There are ten thousand sources of affliction which God may open, and cause our souls to be deluged with it in an instant. Our bodies may be racked with disease, or our spirits be overwhelmed with domestic troubles: or, whilst all external things are prospering, our souls may be so bowed down with a sense of sin, and so agitated with a dread of God’s judgments, that we may hate our very existence, and “choose strangling rather than life.” Indeed whoever he be that thinks with David, “My mountain stands strong, I shall not be moved;” he may expect, that God will speedily “hide his face from him; and that trouble shall ere long come upon him,” as the punishment of his iniquity.]
That what measure we mete to others, we may expect to have meted to ourselves—
[Mankind at large feel a far greater disposition to exert themselves in behalf of a man of active benevolence, than they do for one whose regards have terminated on himself alone. But it is not on the good dispositions of men that we are called to rely. God himself has engaged, that what we do for others, he will accept as done to himself; and “that what we lend to him, he will repay us again.” Very remarkable are his promises to this effect: “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive: and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing; and wake all his bed in his sickness [Note: Psalms 51:1-3.].” The language of the Prophet Isaiah is yet stronger still: “If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, (observe, it is not our money only, but our soul, with all its tenderest emotions, that is to be drawn forth,) and if thou satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not [Note: Isaiah 58:10-11.].” Here Almighty God himself is pledged to recompense into our bosom the kindness which we shew to others: and “he will recompense it in full measure, pressed down, and running over.” If then we would have consolations ministered to us in our troubles, let us labour to impart them to our afflicted brethren: for “what we sow, we shall reap;” if we supply the wants of others, God will supply ours [Note: Philippians 4:14; Philippians 4:19.]; and if “we cast our bread upon the waters, we shall be sure to find it after many days.”]
For your direction in reference to this duty, we beg leave to offer the following hints:
Do not undervalue the grace of charity—
[It is too often overlooked, not only by the world at large, but also by many who profess godliness; who imagine, that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is all that is needful for their best interests. But let me say, that, whatever faith a man may have, “if he have not love also, real, active, self-denying love, he is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Only recollect how great a stress St. James lays on “visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” when he declares, that “pure and undefiled religion” mainly consists in such offices; and you will never be satisfied till you attain this heavenly disposition, nor ever think that you can exercise it too much.]
Do not overvalue it—
[If you put your own benevolence in the place of Christ, and rely on that to purchase the remission of your sins, you will then indeed build on a foundation of sand. Know, that however much you may abound in acts of benevolence, “you are still unprofitable servants, who have done only what it was your duty to do.” If you really seek the glory of God in what you do, your services will come up with acceptance before him, and they will be to him as an odour of a sweet smell. But you must never forget that “your goodness extendeth not to God,” nor can confer any obligation upon him. On the contrary, the more you do for him, the more you are indebted to him; because “all your power either to will or do what is good, is from him alone.” “It is not you that do it, but the grace of God that is with you.”]
Endeavour to abound in it more and more—
[See the character of holy Job: “When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me: because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him: the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy [Note: Job 29:11-13.].” O what a lovely character was that! What a bright resemblance of the Saviour, “who went about doing good!” Dear brethren, set this example before you, and strive to imitate it to the utmost of your power. Thus will you shine as lights in the world; and thus “fulfilling the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:3.],” you will ensure his approbation in the day of judgment [Note: Hebrews 6:10. 1 Timothy 6:17-19.].]
GODS PROMISED PRESENCE AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO DUTY
Hebrews 13:5-6. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
THE end of knowledge is practice: and hence the Apostle closes all his epistles with practical exhortations. The argumentative part of this epistle terminated at the close of the preceding chapter. This chapter begins with some particular exhortations suited to the Hebrews at that time. The advice contained in our text is suited to the Church in every state and every age: and the encouragement with which it is enforced, gives it a more than common interest. In truth, it is the promised presence and assistance of God, which is our great incentive to every duty; since without his aid we can do nothing, but with it can effect whatsoever God himself requires of us.
Let us consider,
The promise here recorded—
The promise was originally given to Joshua: but in our text it is represented as spoken to each of us. And in this light it ought to be viewed: for it was not given to Joshua as a mere insulated individual, but as the head of God’s people, whom he was conducting into Canaan: and between them and us there is a close resemblance: they were about to conflict with many enemies, whom they must destroy, before they could possess the promised land: and we also must sustain many conflicts before we can attain the full enjoyment of the heavenly Canaan. To us therefore there is the same need of the promise, as to him; and to us also is there the same right and title; seeing that it was spoken for the encouragement of all God’s Israel to the end of time.
The promise that God “will not leave us nor forsake us,” imports that he will be ever with us,
By the operations of his providence—
[There is not any thing in the whole universe which is not under his controul. “Not even a sparrow falls to the ground” without his special appointment: and “the very hairs of our head are all numbered.” Circumstances indeed may occur which may cause us to tremble for the issue of them: but he will so overrule them all, as to “make them eventually work together for our good [Note: Romans 8:28.].” We may be reduced almost to despair; and may be ready to say with the Church of old, “The Lord hath forsaken and forgotten us [Note: Isaiah 49:14.]:” but he will ere long force us to acknowledge that such fears were the fruit only of “our own infirmity [Note: Psalms 77:7-10.];” and that the very things which we complained of as “against us,” were no other than his appointed means for accomplishing all his gracious designs towards us [Note: Genesis 42:36.]. Our dangers may be as imminent as those of Israel at the Red Sea; but that shall be the time for Him to open for us a way to escape from them. Our wants may be as urgent as those of Israel afterwards in the wilderness; but that shall be the time for giving us manna from heaven, and water from the rock. The time for any interposition may seem to have actually elapsed; but still “in the mount the Lord shall be seen,” precisely as he was when he arrested the uplifted arm of Abraham, and restored his Isaac to his embrace. “The vision may tarry; but never beyond the appointed and the fittest time [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.].”]
By the communications of his grace—
[These are necessary for us, and must be renewed to us day by day: and if for one moment they be suspended, we must inevitably fall. But God will not withdraw from his waiting and praying people. He may indeed suffer temptations to arise, such as shall threaten to plunge us into irremediable ruin; and he may even permit Satan for a time to prevail against us; but still he will not utterly forsake us; but will restore our souls, and make our very falls subservient to the augmenting of our humility and watchfulness throughout the remainder of our lives, and to the qualifying of us for warning, and exhorting, and comforting others with increased effect [Note: Luke 22:31-32.]. So also he may permit our trials to abide; and, though entreated by us ever so much, may not see fit to remove them. But “his grace shall be sufficient for us,” and shall be the more magnified in us, in proportion as our conflicts are severe, and our victories conspicuous [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.]. He may, for wise and gracious purposes, hide his face from us; but it shall be only for a little moment, that the riches of his grace may be the more abundantly displayed in the subsequent manifestations of his love and favour [Note: Isaiah 54:7-10.]. If it be asked, why he will thus continue his loving-kindness to them? We answer, “For his own sake,” and because “he changeth not [Note: Malachi 3:6. James 1:17. Romans 11:29.];” as it is said, “He will not forsake his people; because it hath pleased him to make you his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.].”]
That this promise may produce its due effects, let us consider,
The use we should make of it—
Innumerable are the benefits to be derived from it: but we shall specify only two: it should encourage us to discard, as unworthy of us,
All inordinate desires—
[“Our whole conversation should be without covetousness or discontent.” We should desire nothing which God has not seen fit to give us, nor murmur at any thing which he has ordained for us. For, what can we want, or what can we have to complain of, whilst he is with us? Could any worldly good add to our happiness, or give any security to us for its continuance? Would treasures, however great, be a richer portion than he? or would the loss of them be felt, if it led us to seek more entirely our happiness in him? “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble [Note: Job 34:29.]?” If we have but the light of his countenance lifted up upon us, nothing can augment, nor can any thing diminish, our bliss. Many of these Hebrews had “taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods:” and thousands in every age have been able to testify from their own blessed experience, that “as their afflictions have abounded, so also have their consolations abounded by Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.].” Let us only possess “the Lord for the portion of our inheritance and of our cup; and have that lot maintained to us;” and however small our portion be as it respects this world, we shall have reason to say, “The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places, and I have a goodly heritage [Note: Psalms 16:5-6.].”]
All anxious fears—
[The ungodly imagine that they can prevail against the Lord’s people: but they are no more than an axe or saw in the hands of him that useth it: they can do more than our God and Father is pleased to do by them [Note: Isaiah 10:15.]. Now who will tremble at a sword that is in his father’s hands? If indeed our God were ever weary, or absent, or disinclined to interpose for us, or if the creature could effect any thing without his special permission, there were some reason for fear: but when he is as “our shade upon our right hand;” when he is as “a wall of fire round about us, and the glory in the midst of us [Note: Zechariah 2:5.];” whom shall we fear? “Who can have access to harm us [Note: 1 Peter 3:13-15.],” if we be hid under the shadow of His wings? “If He be for us, who can be against us [Note: Romans 8:31.]?” Whatever confederacies then may be against us, whether of men or devils, we need not fear: in Him, as our sanctuary, we may deride their efforts, and defy their malice [Note: Isaiah 8:12-14.]. What should be the state of our minds, the holy Psalmist has shewn us; “Be merciful unto me, O God; for man would swallow me up: he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou Most High. But, what time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God will I praise his word: in God I have put my trust: I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me. In God will I praise his word; in the Lord will I praise his word. In God have I put my trust; I will not be afraid what man can do unto me [Note: Psalms 56:1-4; Psalms 56:9-11.].”]
See then from hence,
Of what importance it is to treasure up the promises in our minds—
[The promises of God are our great support under trials, and at the same time our great encouragements to fulfil our duty; since they assure us of all needful aid, both for the sustaining of the one, and the performance of the other. It is by them that we are enabled to cleanse ourselves from sin [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.]; and by them to attain the image of God upon our souls [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]. Let us then lay hold of them; and, to whomsoever they may have been spoken in the first instance, appropriate them to ourselves. Let us rest upon them, and plead them before God, as Jacob did [Note: Genesis 28:15. with 32:12.]: and know that “in Christ they are all yea, and amen [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.],” as unchangeable as God himself. O what a treasure does that man possess who has laid up in his mind the most comprehensive promises of his God! He can be in no trouble, wherein he has not abundant consolation; and in no want, wherein he has not an adequate supply. O beloved, let the word of Christ, and the promises of your God, “dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” Mark the emphatic manner in which they are pronounced. Look at that before us in particular: as recorded in our translation, it is strong: but as it is in the original, its force exceeds the powers of our language to express: there are no less than five negatives to confirm the negation [Note: See the Greek.]. When will God violate that promise—“Heaven and earth shall pass away; but not one jot or tittle of that promise shall ever fail [Note: Matthew 24:35.]?”]
How truly blessed is a life of faith—
[What a source of misery to mankind is a covetous and discontented spirit! and what a prey are they to trouble, who have no refuge from the cares and fears which agitate the ungodly world! But faith in God is a perfect antidote to them all. It assures us of a God ever nigh at hand to help and succour his believing people. See how the promise in our text is introduced: it is there suggested as sufficient to counterbalance the loss of every thing, however desirable, or the apprehension of every thing, however formidable. It is suggested, in order to inspire us with a confidence which nothing can intimidate: “We may boldly say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” Think of an angel sent down to sojourn here: what would either the acquisition or loss of riches affect him? or would any confederacies either of men or devils concern him? He would feel as satisfied and as secure as if he were in heaven itself. This then is the tranquillity which we also, according to the measure of our faith, are privileged to enjoy, Let us then “know in whom we have believed.” Let us “cast all our care on him who careth for us [Note: 1 Peter 5:7.].” And let us so realize the promises of our God, as to know that nothing ever shall, or ever can separate us from his love [Note: Psalms 46:1-3.Romans 8:38-39; Romans 8:38-39.].]
THE GLORY OF CHRIST
Hebrews 13:8. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever [Note: This was preached on occasion of the death of the Hon and Rev. William Bromley Cadogan, late Vicar of St. Giles’, Reading, on Jan. 29, 1797. But it may well be treated as a general subject:—thus,
The creature is frail and changeable — — — But the Lord Jesus Christ is from eternity to eternity the same.
The immutability of Christ—
(This may be treated under the five several heads here specified.)
Our duty in relation to him—
Seek above all things the knowledge of him—
The preaching of Christ is all our duty,Acts 3:20; Acts 3:20; Acts 8:5; Acts 9:20; and to acquire the knowledge of him is yours, John 17:3.Philippians 3:7-8; Philippians 3:7-8.
Guard against every thing that may divert you from him—
Hold fast the instructions which have led you to Christ, ver. 7; but on no account listen to “strange doctrines” that would lead you from him, ver. 9. Whoever be taken from you, Christ remains; and you must “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.” But beware of false teachers, such as there are and ever have been in the Church: for, whatever they may press upon you, there is nothing that deserves your attention but Christ crucified, 1 Corinthians 2:2.
Improve to the uttermost your interest in him—
Seek to realize every thing that is spoken of Christ, and to make him your all in all. John 1:16. Galatians 2:20. Colossians 3:1-4.].
IN this present state, wherein the affairs both of individuals and of nations are liable to continual fluctuation, the mind needs some principle capable of supporting it under every adverse circumstance that may occur. Philosophy proffers its aid in vain: the light of unassisted reason is unable to impart any effectual relief: but revelation points to God; to God, as reconciled to us in the Son of his love: it directs our views to him who “changeth not;” and who, under all the troubles of life, invites us to rely on his paternal care. Every page of the inspired writings instructs us to say with David, “When I am in trouble I will think upon God.” Are we alarmed with tidings of a projected invasion, and apprehensive of national calamities? God speaks to us as to his people of old [Note: Isaiah 8:12-14.], “Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this people shall say, A confederacy, neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid; but sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread; and he shall be to you for a sanctuary.” Are we agitated by a sense of personal danger? that same almighty Friend expostulates with us [Note: Isaiah 51:12-13.], “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be as grass, and forgettest the Lord thy Maker?” Are we, as in the present instance, afflicted for the Church of God? has God taken away the pastor, who “fed you with knowledge and understanding?” and is there reason to fear, that now, your “Shepherd being removed, the sheep may be scattered,” and “grievous wolves may enter in among you, not sparing the flock; yea, that even of your own selves some may arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them [Note: Acts 20:29-30.]?” Behold! such was the state of the Hebrews, when this epistle was written to them: and the Apostle, studious to fortify them against the impending danger, exhorts them to remember their deceased pastors, following their faith, and considering the blessed way in which they had terminated their career. Moreover, as the most effectual means of preserving them from being “carried about with any strange doctrines,” different from what had been delivered to them, he suggests to them this thought, That Jesus Christ, who had been ever preached among them, and who was the one foundation of all their hopes, was still the same; the same infinitely gracious, almighty, and ever-blessed Saviour. “Remember,” says be, “them which have had the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation: Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”
These last words were chosen by your late worthy minister, as his subject on the first day of this year, and, as I am informed, were particularly recommended to you as your motto for the year ninety-seven. On this, as well as other accounts, they seem to claim peculiar attention from us: and, O that the good Spirit of God may accompany them with his blessing, while we endeavour to improve them, and to offer from them such considerations as may appear suited to you, under your present most afflictive circumstances!
Your late faithful, loving, and much beloved pastor is no more: he that was, not in profession merely, but in truth, “a guide to the blind, a light of them which were in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of babes;” he that for so many years spent all his time, and found all his delight, in imparting the knowledge of salvation both to old and young; he, I say, is taken from you; and your loss is unspeakably severe. But is all gone? No. He that formed him by his grace, raised him up to be a witness, and sent him to preach the Gospel to you for a season, remains the same; he has still “the residue of the Spirit,” and can send forth ten thousand such labourers into his vineyard, whensoever it shall please him. Though the creature, on whose lips you have so often hung with profit and delight, is now no more, yet the Creator, the Redeemer, the Saviour of the world is still the same; Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever: he is the same in the dignity of his person—the extent of his power—the virtue of his sacrifice—the tenderness of his compassion—and in fidelity to his promises.
In the dignity of his person—
The terms “yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” are expressive of a true and proper eternity: they do not import merely a long duration, but an existence that never had a beginning, nor shall ever have an end. In this view they are frequently applied to Jehovah, to distinguish him from any creature, how exalted soever he might be. When God revealed his name to Moses, that name whereby he was to be made known to the Israelites, he called himself I AM: “say to them, I AM hath sent me unto you:” and St. John expressly distinguishing the Father both from Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit, calls him the person “who is, and was, and is to come.” Now this august title is given repeatedly to Jesus Christ, both in the Old and New Testament. The very words of our text evidently refer to the 102d Psalm, where the psalmist, indisputably speaking of Jehovah, says, “Thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” And lest there should be the smallest doubt to whom this character belongs, the author of this epistle quotes the words in the very first chapter [Note: Hebrews 1:12.], insists upon them as immediately applicable to the Messiah, and adduces them in proof, that Christ was infinitely superior to any created being, even “God blessed for evermore.” Our Lord himself on various occasions asserted his claim to this title: to the carnal Jews, who thought him a mere creature like themselves, he said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” And when he appeared to John in a vision, he said, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty [Note: Revelation 1:8.].” Behold then the dignity of our Lord and Saviour! “His goings forth have been from everlasting [Note: Micah 5:2.]:” he was set up “from everlasting; from the beginning, or ever the earth was [Note: Proverbs 8:23.].” We must say of him, in the words of David, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” And is this a matter of small importance? Does the Christian feel no interest in this truth? Yea, is it not the very foundation of all his comforts? He may be deemed a bigot for laying such a stress on the divinity of Christ: but having once tasted the bitterness, and seen the malignity of sin, he is well persuaded, that the blood of a creature could never have availed to expiate his guilt, nor could any thing less than “the righteousness of God” himself, suffice for his acceptance in the day of judgment. Know then, believer, that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever: he is the eternal and immutable Jehovah: he is worthy of all thy love, of all thy trust, of all thy confidence. Thou needest never be afraid of thinking too highly of him: when thou “honourest him as thou honourest the Father,” then thou regardest him in the manner that becomes thee: when thou bowest the knee before him, and confessest him him as thy Sovereign Lord, then thou most effectually glorifiest God the Father [Note: Philippians 2:10-11.]. Remember then, under all the trying dispensations thou mayest meet with, and, most of all, under the bereavement which thou art now so bitterly lamenting, that he, in whom thou hast believed, is an all-sufficient Saviour; and that when thou lookest to him for any blessing whatsoever, thou mayest cry with confident assurance, “My Lord, and my God.” The ministers of the Church “are not suffered to continue by reason of death.” That tongue which lately was “as a tree of life,” under the shadow of which you sat with great delight, and the fruit whereof was sweet unto your taste, now lies silent in the tomb. Our departed friend has experienced that change, which sooner or later awaits us all: he will ere long experience a still further change, when “his corruptible shall put on incorruption, and his mortal, immortality;” when his body, that now lies mouldering in the dust, shall be “raised like unto Christ’s glorious body,” and “shine above the sun in the firmament for ever and ever:” he is not to-day what he was yesterday: nor shall be for ever what he now is. This honour of eternal, immutable self-existence, belongs not to the highest archangel; for though the angels may be subject to no further change, it was but yesterday that they were first created. To Christ alone belongs this honour; and “with him there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
As Jesus Christ is eternally the same in the dignity of his person, so is he also in the extent of his power.
We are informed, both in the psalm from whence the text is taken, and in the first chapter of this epistle, where it is cited, that Jesus Christ was the Creator of the universe; “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.” And from the first moment of its existence he has “upheld it by the word of his power.” In the days of his flesh, he still exercised the same omnipotence: “Whatsoever the Father did, that did the Son likewise.” On ten thousand occasions he wrought the most stupendous miracles, and shewed that every created being was subject to his will. He not only cleansed the lepers, and caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk, but he raised the dead, cast out devils, and controlled the very elements, saying to the wind, Be still; and to the waves, Be calm. Nor, in this, did he act as one that had received a delegated authority; but as one who had an essential, and unalienable light to exercise universal dominion. Though, as man, he acknowledged subjection to his Father, and, as mediator, spake and acted in his Father’s name, yet, in all his miracles, he put forth a virtue inherent in himself; he made his own will the rule and measure of his conduct, and stamped the impression of divinity on all his actions. And is he not still the same? What he was yesterday, will he not also be to-day, and for ever? Is there any disorder of the soul or body, that he cannot heal? Are any lusts so raging, that he cannot calm them, or so inveterate, that he cannot root them out? Cannot he that formed the rude and indigested chaos into order and beauty, create our souls anew? Cannot he that said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” transform our corrupted hearts into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness? Cannot he that “triumphed over all the principalities and powers” of hell, “bruise Satan under our feet also?” In short, “is there any thing too hard for him?” No, he is still the same: he, to whom “all power in heaven and in earth has been committed,” still holds the reins of government, and “ordereth all things after the counsel of his own will.” What comfort may not this afford you under your present affliction! It pleased him for a season to set over you a faithful pastor, by whom he has called hundreds into his fold, and “turned multitudes from the error of their ways.” But though your honoured minister was the instrument, he was only an instrument; he was but “an axe in the hands of him that heweth therewith,” an “earthen vessel in which was deposited the heavenly treasure,” and by whom Christ communicated to you his “unsearchable riches:” “The excellency of the power was altogether Christ’s.” And has the power ceased, because the instrument is laid aside? “Is the Lord’s ear heavy, that he cannot hear? or is his hand shortened, that he cannot save?” O remember, that though the stream is cut off, the fountain still remains; and every one of you may go to it, and “receive out of your Redeemer’s fulness grace for grace.” Yea, who can tell? That same almighty arm that raised him up to be a faithful witness for the truth, that enabled him to despise the pleasures and honours of the world, and to devote himself wholly to the great work of the ministry, can do the same for his successor. You well know, that he, whose loss we bemoan, was not always that able and excellent minister that he afterwards proved. Be not then hasty, if all things be not at first agreeable to your mind: exercise meekness, patience, forbearance: seek to obtain nothing by force or faction: let the whole of your conduct be conciliating, and worthy of your Christian profession: above all, continue instant in prayer: beg that “the Lord of the harvest, who alone can send forth faithful labourers into his harvest,” will pour out in a more abundant measure his grace upon him, who by the good providence of God is about to take the charge of you; and then I do not say, that God will at all events grant your requests; but this I say with confidence, that your prayers shall not fall to the ground; and that, if God, on the whole, will be most glorified in that way, your petitions shall be literally fulfilled, and “the spirit of Elijah shall rest on Elisha.”
A third point, which it is of infinite importance to us to be acquainted with, is, that Christ is ever the same in the virtue of his sacrifice.
Though he was not manifested in human flesh till four thousand years had elapsed, yet his sacrifice availed for the salvation of thousands during the whole of that period. The sacrifice, which Abel offered, did not obtain those distinguished tokens of divine acceptance on account of its intrinsic worth, but because the offerer looked forward by faith to that great Sacrifice, which in the fulness of times was to be presented to God upon the cross, even to him, who, in purpose and effect, was the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” As for all other sacrifices, they had no value whatsoever, but as they typified that “one offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” When we see the high-priest and the elders of Israel putting their hands upon the scape-goat, and transferring to him all the sins of the whole congregation of Israel, that they might be carried into the land of oblivion, then we behold the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. It is not to be imagined that the blood of bulls or of goats could take away sin—no: in every instance where the conscience of a sinner was really purged from guilt, the pardon was bestowed solely through “the blood of him, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God.” And is not that, which throughout all the Mosaic dispensation, and from the very beginning of the world, availed for the remission of sins, still as efficacious as ever to all who trust in it? or shall its virtue ever be diminished? Could David, after the commission of crimes, which “make the ears of every one that heareth them to tingle,” cry, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow;” and may not the most abandoned sinner now hope for mercy through “the blood of sprinkling?” Could Saul, that blasphemer, that injurious and persecuting zealot, say of Christ, “He has loved me, and given himself for me?” Could he say, “I obtained mercy, that in me, the chief of sinners, Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who shall hereafter believe on him to life everlasting?” And shall any one be left to doubt whether there be hope for him? Surely we may still say with the same confidence that the Apostles declared it in the days of old, “We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: he is the propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world: through him all that believe shall be justified from all things: the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” How sweetly have many of you experienced the truth of these declarations, when your dear minister has been insisting on this favourite topic, and “Christ has been set forth crucified, as it were, before your eyes!” How many of you, while lying at Bethesda’s pool, have embraced the opportunity afforded you, and plunged beneath that water to the healing of your souls! Some others perhaps among you have been long hesitating, as it were, upon the brink, and doubting and questioning your right to wash in it: ah! chide your unbelief: know that “the fountain was opened for sin, and for uncleanness.” Look not then so much at the malignity of your offences, as at the infinite value of Christ’s atonement: and under every fresh contracted guilt, go to the fountain, wash in it, and be clean. Let there not be a day, if possible not an hour, wherein you do not make fresh application to the blood of Jesus: go to that to cleanse you, as well from “the iniquity of your most holy things,” as from the more heinous violations of God’s law; thus shall “your hearts be ever sprinkled from an evil conscience,” and your “conscience itself be purged from dead works to serve the living God.” There are some of you indeed, it is to be feared, who have hitherto disregarded the invitations given you, and are yet ignorant of the virtue of this all-atoning sacrifice: you have unhappily remained dry and destitute of the heavenly dew, which has long fallen in rich abundance all around you. How long you may continue favoured with such invitations, God alone knows: but O that you might this day begin to seek the Lord! He that once died on Calvary, still cries to you by my voice, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” Now then, obey his voice: say to him, “Draw me, that I may come unto thee; draw me, and I will run after thee.” Thus shall you be numbered among those, who are redeemed to God by his blood, and shall join, to all eternity, with your departed minister, and all the glorified saints, in singing, “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.”
It will be a further consolation to us to reflect that Jesus Christ is the same in the tenderness of his compassion—
It was Christ who led the people of Israel through the wilderness, and who directed them by his servant Moses. This appears from the express declaration of St. Paul. We are told that the Israelites “tempted God in the desert, saying, Can he give bread also, and provide flesh for his people?” And St. Paul, speaking of them, says, “Neither tempt ye CHRIST, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of the destroyer [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:9.].” Now the tender compassion which Christ exercised towards his people in the wilderness, is made a frequent subject of devout acknowledgment in the Holy Scriptures. Isaiah says, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old [Note: Isaiah 63:9.]. Moses himself, who both experienced and witnessed his compassion, describes it in terms as beautiful as imagination can conceive. See Deuteronomy 32:9-12. “The Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness: he led him about; he instructed him; he kept him as the apple of his eye.” Then comes the image of which I speak: but in order to enter fully into its meaning, it will be proper to observe, that the eagle, when teaching her young to fly, flutters over them, and stirs them up to imitate her; she even thrusts them out of the nest, that they may be forced to exert their powers; and if she see them in danger of falling, she flies instantly underneath them, catches them on her wings, and carries them back to their nest. In reference to this it is added, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him.” Can any thing present a more beautiful idea to the mind? Can any image whatever more forcibly impress us with admiring thoughts of Christ’s tenderness and compassion? Such was Jesus in the days of old: and is he not the same at this day? Will he not still “carry the lambs in his bosom, and gently lead them that are with young?” Can we produce in the annals of the world one single instance, wherein he “brake the bruised reed, or quenched the smoking flax?” Has he not invariably “brought forth judgment unto victory,” and “perfected his own strength in his people’s weakness?” Who amongst us has ever “sought his face in vain?” With whom has he ever refused to sympathize? Will not he who wept with the sisters of the deceased Lazarus; will not he that had compassion on the multitude because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; will not he that wept over the murderous and abandoned city, now weep over a disconsolate widow, a deserted people, and especially over those, who have “not known the day of their visitation, and whose eyes have never yet seen the things belonging to their peace?” Is he become an “High-priest that cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities;” or that, notwithstanding he has been “in all points tempted like as we are, has no disposition to succour his tempted people?” Unbelief and Satan may suggest such thoughts to our minds; but who must not attest that they are false? Who is not constrained to acknowledge, that “he is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great mercy?” Here then again let the drooping souls rejoice: ye, who are poor in this world, have lost a friend; a kind, compassionate friend, who, “according to his ability, and often beyond his ability,” exerted himself to relieve your wants. Ye, who are of a broken and contrite spirit, ah! what a friend have ye lost! how would the departed saint listen to all your complaints, and answer all your arguments, and encourage you to look to Jesus for relief! what a delight was it to him to “strengthen your weak hands, and confirm your feeble knees, and to say to your fearful hearts, Be strong, fear not, your God will come and save you!” Ye, “afflicted and tossed with tempest, and not comforted,” whatever your distresses were, surely ye have lost a brother, “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” But though his benevolent heart can no more expand towards you, “has your Lord forgotten to be gracious? Has Jesus shut up his tender mercies?” No: to him you may still carry your complaints: he bids the weary and heavy-laden to come unto him: he “has received gifts,” not for the indigent only, but “for the rebellious:” nor shall one of you be “sent empty away.” Whom did he ever dismiss, in the days of his flesh, without granting to him the blessing he desired? So now, if ye will go unto him, he “will satiate every weary soul, and replenish every sorrowful soul:” he “will give you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that God may be glorified.”
The last observation we proposed to make, was that Christ is the same in his fidelity to his promises—
We have before shewn, that he led his people through the wilderness: he had promised to cast out all their enemies, and to give them “a land flowing with milk and honey.” And behold, Joshua, at the close of a long life, and after an experience of many years, could make this appeal to all Israel: “Ye know in all your hearts [Note: Joshua 23:14.], 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.” The same fidelity did Jesus manifest, whilst he sojourned upon earth: the Father had committed to him a chosen people to keep: and Jesus with his dying breath could say, “Those whom thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost.” He promised to his disconsolate disciples, that he would pour out his Spirit upon them; and that the Comforter, whom he would send, should far more than compensate for the loss of his bodily presence: and how speedily did he perform his promise! Thus, in every succeeding age, have his people found him faithful. He has “given exceeding great and precious promises” to his Church, not one jot or tittle of which have ever failed. They who have rested on his word, have never been disappointed. Enthusiasts indeed, who have put their own vain conceits in the place of his word, and have presumed to call their own feelings or fancies by the sacred appellation of a promise, have often met with disappointments; nor can they reasonably expect any thing else: but they who rest upon the clear promises of the Gospel, and wait for the accomplishment of them to their own souls, “shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.” Let any creature upon earth “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and shall he be left wholly destitute with respect to temporal comforts? No: he perhaps may be severely tried for a season; but ere long he shall have “all needful things added unto him.” Let a sinner “whose sins have been of a scarlet or crimson dye,” make application to the Lord for mercy; and shall he ever be cast out? No, “in no wise,” provided he come simply trusting in the Saviour’s righteousness. Let any seek deliverance from the snares of Satan, by whom he has been led captive at his will; and shall he be left in bondage to his lusts? Most surely not, if he will rely on Him who has said, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Now it may be, that many of you have been promising yourselves much spiritual, perhaps also some temporal, advantage, from your deceased minister: and behold! in an instant, all your hopes are blasted: the creature, though so excellent, proves in this respect but a broken reed. But if you will look to Christ, you cannot raise your expectations too high: he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever: you may rely on him, for body and for soul, for time and for eternity: he will be to you a “sun and a shield; he will give you both grace and glory; nor will he withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly.” If he see it necessary that for a season you should be “in heaviness through manifold temptations,” he will make your trials to work for good; and “your light and momentary afflictions shall work out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory:” only commit your souls to him in well-doing, and he will “keep you by his Almighty power, through faith, unto salvation.”
In the improvement which we would make of this subject—
We beg leave once more to notice the words that immediately precede the text; “Remember them that have had the rule over you, that have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” We may appear indeed, in this, to draw your attention from Christ, and to fix it on the creature. But we shall still keep in view our main subject; and at once consult the scope of the context, the peculiarity of this occasion, and the feelings of your hearts.
First then, “Remember him who has had the rule over you, and has preached unto you the word of God.” Surely I need not say much to enforce this part of the exhortation: he is deeply engraven on your hearts, nor will the remembrance of him be soon effaced from your minds. Many of you would have “even plucked out your own eyes and have given them unto him,” if by so doing you could have conferred upon him any essential benefit: yea, I doubt not, there are many in this assembly that would gladly, very gladly, have laid down their lives in his stead, that so great a blessing as he was, might yet have been continued to the Church of God. It cannot be but that the poor must long remember their generous and constant benefactor. Many of the children too, I trust, whom he so delighted to instruct, will remember him to the latest period of their lives. Above all, the people, who looked up to him as their spiritual father, to whom they owed their own souls, will bear him in remembrance. They will never forget “how holily, justly, and unblameably he behaved himself among them,” and how “he exhorted and comforted and charged every one of them, as a father doth his children, that they would walk worthy of God, who hath called them unto his kingdom and glory.” Deservedly will his name be reverenced in this place for ages; for “he was a burning and a shining light;” and had so uniformly persisted in well-doing, that he had utterly “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” and made religion respectable in the eyes of the most ungodly.
Let me proceed then in the next place to say, “Follow his faith.” What his faith was, you well know. Christ was the one foundation of all his hopes. He desired “to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but that which is by the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” And as he trusted in no other for his own salvation, so he preached no other amongst you. He had “determined, like St. Paul, to know nothing amongst you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Every discourse he preached tended immediately or remotely to glorify Christ amongst you: if he preached the law, it was that, as a schoolmaster, it might lead you to Christ: if he insisted upon obedience, it was, that you might “glorify Christ by your bodies and your spirits which are Christ’s.” In short, Christ was, as well in his ministrations as in the inspired writings, “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last.” Were he preaching to you at this moment, I am persuaded he would have no other theme; yea, if to the end of the world he were continued to preach unto you, you would hear of nothing but Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. It was this which made his ministry so acceptable unto you: it was this which God rendered useful to the conversion and consolation of multitudes amongst you. By the faith of Christ he lived, and in the faith of Christ he died. Almost the last words he uttered were these, “Weep not for me; I am very happy, I die in the faith of the Lord Jesus.” I have been anticipated in one remarkable circumstance which I had intended to mention to you; and I am unwilling to omit it now, because there may be some here who were not present this morning. Indeed it is so applicable to my subject, and so illustrative of the character of your dear pastor, that I may well be excused if I repeat what you have already heard. That blessed man, though he possessed a very considerable share of human learning, valued no book in comparison of the Scriptures: when therefore he found his dissolution approaching, he desired his dear partner to read a portion of the word of God: she immediately read to him, first the 23d Psalm, and afterwards the 8th chapter of Proverbs. In the last verse but one of that chapter, she came to these words; “Whoso findeth me, findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.” Immediately, without waiting for her to conclude the chapter, he cried, “Stop, stop, now shut up the book; that is enough for me.” Blessed man! he had sweetly experienced the truth of those words; he had found life in Christ Jesus; he had obtained favour of the Lord; and he knew that he was going to dwell with his Lord for ever. Such was his faith. He held fast Christ as his “wisdom, his righteousness, his sanctification, and his complete redemption.” He made “Christ his all, and in all.” But while he trusted in Christ alone for his justification before God, no man living ever more forcibly inculcated the necessity of good works, or, I may truly add, practised them with more delight. He was also a firm friend to the Established Church, and inculcated on all occasions submission to the constituted authorities of this kingdom. He considered obedience to the powers that be, as an essential part of his duty to God: he looked upon earthly governors as ministers ordained of God; and inculcated obedience to them as a duty, “not merely for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” As then ye have been followers of his faith and practice while living, so be ye imitators of him now that he is withdrawn from you: “be ye followers of him, as he was of Christ.” And be careful, “not to be carried about with divers and strange doctrines,” either in religion or politics: but “hold fast that ye have received, that no man take your crown.” If there be any here, who have never yet been “partakers of the like precious faith with him,” O that I might this day prevail with them to “become obedient to the faith!” My dear brethren, you will assuredly find, that the only means of holiness in life, or of peace in death, or of glory in eternity, is, the knowledge of Christ: “there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved” from sin and misery in this world, or from everlasting destruction in the world to come; no other name, I say, but the name of Jesus Christ. I must therefore entreat you now to reflect on those things, which hitherto ye have heard without effect; and I pray God, that the seed, which has lain buried in the earth, may spring up speedily, and bring forth fruit an hundred-fold.
I add now in the last place, “Consider the end of your departed minister’s conversation.” You have heard how peaceful and resigned he was in the prospect of death, and what an assured and glorious hope of immortality he enjoyed. “Mark the perfect man,” says David, “and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace:” this you have seen verified in him. But carry your thoughts a little further: follow him within the vail: behold him united to that blessed assembly of saints and angels: see him freed from the bondage of corruption, arrayed in the unspotted robe of his Redeemer’s righteousness, crowned with a royal diadem, seated on a throne of glory, tuning his golden harp, and with a voice as loud and as melodious as any saint in heaven, singing, “Salvation to God and to the Lamb.” Is there so much as one of you that can think of this, and not exclaim, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” Let the thought of these things, my brethren, encourage you to persevere: the conflict cannot be very long; but how glorious the triumph! Consider this, I beseech you; that you “may fight the good fight of faith, and quit yourselves like men.” Go on, “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus;” and doubt not, but that you shall find the grace of Christ as sufficient for you as it has been for him; and that what Christ has been to others in former ages, he will be to you, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
CAUTION AGAINST FALSE DOCTRINES
Hebrews 13:9. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.
TRUTH lieth not on the surface, but must be sought after with diligence. This is true in every science; but most of all true in religion. In all other sciences, intellectual powers only are required: in religion, there must be integrity of heart, and a sincere desire to do, as well as to know, the will of God. To other knowledge there is no obstruction from within: if only there be a sufficiency of information and of capacity to comprehend it, truth will make its way into the mind of those who seek it. But to the progress of religious truth there are many obstacles in the heart of man; many prejudices, many passions, many interests present a barrier to obstruct its entrance into the soul: and these must be in a great measure removed, before the light of truth can break through the clouds which intercept its rays. Yet in one respect is religious truth of easier attainment than any other: for to the acquisition of it great intellectual powers are not necessary: nor is general erudition necessary. All that is wanting is, a humble, teachable spirit, that will seek instruction from God, and receive with child-like simplicity all that God has spoken in his word. Such an one, provided he seek with diligence, and with a determination of heart to fulfil the will of God as far as he can learn it, will assuredly be guided into all truth. But that very simplicity of mind which is necessary to the attainment of truth, subjects a person, if he be not much upon his guard, to be imposed upon by those, who, “by good works and fair speeches, deceive the hearts of the simple.” Against such teachers St. Paul felt it necessary to caution his converts frequently [Note: Romans 16:17-18.]; since, though agents only of the prince of darkness, they put on the appearance of angels of light [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.]. Against such he here cautions the Hebrew Christians, entreating them to bear in mind what they had been taught by those who had been over them in the Lord, and not to suffer themselves to be turned aside from the truth which they had received.
In the words here addressed to them, we see,
A caution given—
There were, even in the apostolic age, “many vain-talkers and deceivers, and especially amongst the circumcision, who by their subtle disputations subverted whole houses [Note: Titus 1:10-11.],” and “caused the way of truth to be evil spoken of [Note: 2 Peter 2:1-3.].” In this day likewise there are not wanting teachers of a similar description, who bring forward some favourite notions of their own, “in order to draw away disciples after them [Note: Acts 20:29-30.].” Against these we must at all times be on our guard, lest at any time we be “carried away,”
By legal doctrines—
[It was against these more particularly that the Apostle here cautioned the Hebrews. The great scope of his epistle was to shew, that the rites and ceremonies, on which the Jews laid so great a stress, were abrogated, and superseded by a better dispensation. And the strange doctrines hinted at in the text are put in immediate connexion with “meats, (such as were enjoined or prohibited under the Mosaic dispensation,) which had not profited those who had been occupied therein.” To such an extent were the ceremonies of the law insisted on by some, that they affirmed that no one could be saved without a strict observance of them [Note: 1 Chronicles 2:16; 1 Chronicles 2:161 Chronicles 2:16.]. Thus they perverted the Gospel of Christ, by uniting with the blood of Christ another ground of dependence for our justification before God [Note: Galatians 1:7.].
And though Judaism is not now insisted on as it then was, there is the same disposition in men to combine something of their own with faith in Christ, as a joint ground of their hope. Men are still as averse as ever to a free salvation that is all of grace. They would have it to be in some measure “of works;” not aware, that it must be wholly either of works, or of grace [Note: Romans 4:4; Romans 11:6.]: they do not see that the very instant any works of ours are admitted as meriting salvation, either in whole or in part, salvation is no more of grace, and man has to all eternity a ground of boasting before God [Note: Romans 3:27.].
Be on your guard then that you be not carried away by such legal statements as too commonly prevail even in the present enlightened age: for it is not necessary to go to Papists in order to hear such doctrines: they are still heard amongst us, notwithstanding this error formed the chief ground of our separation from the Church of Rome, and of our protesting against their fatal heresies. But know, that, if you add any thing to the work of Christ as a joint ground of your hope, you make void the Gospel of Christ, and must inevitably and eternally perish [Note: Rom 9:30-33 and Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.].]
By Antinomian doctrines—
[To these also there is a reference in the preceding context. Many converts, and especially from amongst the Gentiles, had but very imperfect views of that holiness which the Gospel enjoins. The great degree of criminality which attaches to fornication and adultery, was, through the influence of opinions imbibed in their Gentile state, but indistinctly seen: and hence, for the purpose of rectifying their views, the Apostle shews them, that, though marriage was honourable in all, having been ordained by God himself, that species of intercourse, which they were disposed to justify, was most dishonourable, and most offensive in the sight of God, “who would judge both whoremongers and adulterers” with the utmost severity [Note: ver. 4.]. Many indeed would plead for such indulgences; as we see in the Ephesian Church: but St. Paul, warning the Ephesian converts, says, “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience [Note: Ephesians 5:5-6. Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20.].”
Thus at this time also there are not wanting persons who teach, that the law is not a rule of life to believers; and that Christ’s righteousness being perfect, they have a sanctification in him, and need not seek to have any sanctification in their own souls. From a professed zeal for the honour of Christ, they would set aside all need of personal holiness, and bring men to their heavenly inheritance without putting them to the trouble of seeking a meetness for it.
But this is an awful delusion. It is very specious indeed, because it pretends to exalt the honour of Christ: but, in reality, it greatly dishonours him, inasmuch as it makes him, not a friend of sinners, but of sin; which, if unmortified and unsubdued, would incapacitate the sinner for the enjoyment of heaven, even if he were admitted there [Note: Revelation 21:27.].
But be on your guard against this doctrine also, a doctrine foreign to the whole tenour of Scripture, from the beginning to the end; a doctrine most injurious to God’s honour, directly repugnant to the great end for which Christ came into the world; (which was “to save his people from their sins [Note: Matthew 1:21.];”) and utterly subversive of the whole work of the Spirit in the souls of men [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-27. 1 Peter 1:2.]. Whatever stress we may lay on the work of Christ, (and we cannot possibly rely too much or too simply upon it for our justification before God,) it is an unalterable truth, that “without holiness, (real, personal, universal holiness,) no man shall see the Lord [Note: Hebrews 12:14.].”]
By erroneous doctrines of whatever kind—
[It were endless to attempt to enumerate all the heresies which have arisen, and are yet found, in the Christian Church. Some are entirely subversive of Christianity itself, being nothing less than “a denial of the Lord who bought us [Note: Jude, ver. 3.].” Others are founded upon some truth which is carried to excess, and held to the exclusion of other truths which are equally important in their place. Of this kind are the tenets of those who fiercely contend for human systems, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, taking only partial views of divine truth, and wresting every passage of Scripture which seems to militate against their favourite scheme. The truth is, that the way of salvation, if we will only submit to be taught of God, is very plain and simple: it is all comprehended in these few words, “Faith working by love.” But if, instead of taking the plain declarations of Scripture for our guide, we will refine upon them, and invent modes of speaking which are widely different from them, and insist upon our own subtilties as if they were the very word of God himself, it is no wonder that heresies arise, and divisions ensue. But against all dogmas of man’s invention we should be on our guard. In order to our preservation from them, we have in our text,]
An antidote recommended—
We should seek to be “established with grace;” or, as that expression imports, we should be established in the Gospel; (for that is the grace to which Jewish ceremonies are opposed, and it is “ the grace wherein we stand [Note: Romans 5:2.];”)
As a revelation of grace in itself—
[It is so: it is so altogether: the whole plan, as devised by Almighty God, was formed in his eternal counsels without any reference to human merit, or to any recompence which the whole universe could ever confer. It was undertaken by the Son, purely from his own love and mercy, to die in the place of sinners, and to expiate their guilt by his own blood. The Holy Spirit also engaged to apply that redemption to God’s chosen people, and to bring them to the possession of all its blessings by his sovereign and all-sufficient grace. All was the free gift of God to man: and there is not a Christian in the universe who must not say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
Now to be established in these views is a grand preservative against error of every kind: and a man well grounded in them is incapable of being moved by all the artifices of the most subtle deceivers. Tell the man that he does not deserve the wrath of God; or that he may save himself by the merit of his works; or that, if he cannot save himself entirely, he may in part, by some good works and righteousness of his own; you may perplex him perhaps, especially if he be unaccustomed to weigh the arguments of sophists; but you can no more convince him, than you can persuade him that he is an angel, or that he is able to create a world. He has within himself the witness of the truths which he maintains; and as complete a consciousness of his need of the Gospel, and of its suitableness to his necessities, as he has of his need of food for his body, and of the suitablenesss of food to recruit his strength. Hence, as a security against their being beguiled by enticing words, the Apostle says to the Colossian Church, “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving [Note: Colossians 2:4; Colossians 2:6-7.].”]
As a dispensation of grace to the soul—
[The same covenant, which says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sins will I remember no more,” says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts [Note: Jeremiah 31:33-34.Hebrews 10:16-17; Hebrews 10:16-17.].” It even engages to do this so effectually, that, notwithstanding all their outward temptations and inward corruptions, they shall never finally depart from God [Note: Jeremiah 32:38-41.]. In this light then should the Gospel be viewed, namely, as a provision for the “turning of men, not only from darkness unto light, but from the power of Satan unto God.” For this end is “all fulness of grace treasured up in Christ,” that “out of it all his people might receive,” and that “the grace so conferred may be sufficient for them.”
Now if once we are established in this view of the Gospel, we may bid defiance to all the sophistries that would relax our obligation to holiness. We shall see that holiness is the grand constituent of salvation, inasmuch as it is the restoration of God’s image to the soul, even of that image which alone can fit us for the enjoyment of his presence, and without which we must remain everlasting objects of his utter abhorrence. Indeed, if once we are established in this grace, all the subtilties of controversialists will lose their power. We shall see that a perfect conformity to God’s likeness is the only thing which we need to be concerned about; and the only end for which even the purest principles are of any value. This well fixed in the mind, our walk will be steadfast; nor, however violent the assaults of heretics may be upon us, shall any of them prevail to “carry us away.”]
We are yet further called to notice,
The recommendation enforced—
“It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace:” yes truly, “it is a good thing:” for it brings,
Peace into the soul—
[Those who are tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, or who are entering deeply into controversies of any kind, are for the most part strangers to peace. They are distracted and disquieted, and not unfrequently “filled with envy, and strife, and railings, and evil surmisings,” and all manner of unhallowed dispositions [Note: 1 Timothy 4:3-5.]. Their very contentions are for the most part not so much for truth, as for victory. But the man whose heart is established with grace, dwells, as it were, in the higher regions of the air, where he is not subject to those storms and tempests which agitate our lower world. His mind is kept in perfect peace, because it is fixed, trusting in the Lord. He is content to be ignorant of things which God has not revealed; and to let people entertain different sentiments from himself on matters of doubtful disputation. He knows assuredly, that, whilst his faith in Christ is firm and operative, he cannot materially err; and that “he shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]
Stability into the life and conversation—
[He leaves others to enter into controversies; he is concerned only about the maintenance of the divine life in his soul. Others are espousing different sentiments, and joining with different parties; and some are running the whole round of Christian profession, one day holding communion with one Church or people, and another day anathematizing them as heretics and fanatics. But the Christian who is established with grace, moves on in one even tenour, and makes his profiting daily to appear. He grows in grace, he makes visible attainments in holiness, “he runs with patience the race that is set before him.” Like the sun in its course, he diffuses blessings all around him: and, having finished his course, he sets, to rise in another hemisphere, where he shall shine with undiminished lustre for ever and ever [Note: Matthew 13:43.].]
Be not ignorant of the Gospel of Christ—
[It is quite a mistake to imagine, that, because there is a great diversity of sentiment upon some points, there is nothing certain: for on the points which are of fundamental importance, all true Christians are agreed. They are all agreed, that we are guilty, helpless, and undone: that it is in and through the Lord Jesus Christ alone that any human being can be saved: that we need his righteousness to justify us, and his grace to sanctify our corrupt nature: and that, whatever attainments in holiness any man may reach, he will still be indebted to the free, and sovereign, and undeserved grace of God for all from first to last. Get the knowledge, the practical knowledge of this; and all will be well. You may clearly see that much human learning is not necessary for this: on the contrary, human learning, if unsanctified, is rather an impediment to this, especially if it be relied upon, as it too often is, as a sufficient instructor, and a safe guide [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:18-21.]. There is no safe guide but the Holy Spirit: and “he often reveals unto babes and sucklings the things which are hid from the wise and prudent [Note: Matthew 11:25.].” The way to seek divine knowledge is, to study the Holy Scriptures with humility and prayer [Note: Proverbs 2:1-6.]: and if you do so study them, you shall “be guided into all truth,” and “be made wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”]
Be not satisfied with indistinct and narrow views of it—
[There are in the Gospel “heights and depths” that can never be explored. We may not indeed have different truths brought to our view: but the same truths will be brought with ten-fold clearness and power to the soul. It is the same sun which lights us amidst the gloom of winter, and in the height of summer: but how different are the sensations it excites, and the effects it produces! Yet of these feelings and these effects the peasant is as sensible as the greatest monarch upon earth. Know ye then your privilege, every one of you, and seek the enjoyment of it: and let every one of you labour and pray, that “his light be as that of the sun, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day [Note: Proverbs 4:18.].”]
THE CHRISTIAN’S ALTAR
Hebrews 13:10. We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.
CHRISTIANITY itself is simple; comprising two points, our fall in Adam, and our recovery by Christ. Yet it admits of an endless diversity of statement and illustration. The Mosaic institutions especially, which were intended to shadow forth the Gospel, supply an inexhaustible fund of observation for the elucidation of it. The Jews gloried in their law, and were with great difficulty brought to renounce their reliance on it for salvation. But from the law itself we borrow those very illustrations which place in the strongest possible view the superiority of the Gospel. Their altar, for instance, was their great medium of access to, and of communion with the Deity. But the Apostle, guarding them against an undue respect to outward observances, tells them, that we, we Christians, have an altar far superior to theirs; “an altar, of which those who serve the tabernacle, have no right to eat.”
From these words, I shall take occasion to shew,
The pre-eminence which we, under the Gospel dispensation, enjoy—
[The Jews had two altars; the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt-offering. It is of this latter alone that we shall have any occasion to speak at this time. On this altar they offered all their sacrifices; certain portions of which were consumed upon the altar, and the remainder was left for the subsistence of the priests [Note: Numbers 18:8-19. 1 Corinthians 9:13.]: on which account “they had no inheritance in Israel, seeing that the Lord was their inheritance [Note: Numbers 18:20-21.].” On some occasions, particularly that of the peace-offering, the offerers themselves also partook, and had by far the larger share [Note: Leviticus 7:11-21.]. But, when any sacrifice, the blood of which was carried within the vail, was offered, no one was suffered to eat of that: it was wholly burnt without the camp, whilst the tabernacle was standing; and without the city, when the temple was built [Note: Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 16:27.]: and, in order to fulfil this type, our blessed Lord, who offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, suffered without the gates of Jerusalem [Note: ver. 11, 12.]. Now, his blood was carried within the vail; he himself, as our High-priest, bearing it thither for us [Note: Hebrews 9:11-12.]. Yet of his sacrifice may we all partake, provided we truly believe in him: but to those who yet serve the tabernacle, is all participation of this altar proscribed: the altar and the provision derived from it are the exclusive portion of those who believe in Christ.
Now then the question arises, “Why cannot those who serve the tabernacle, partake of this altar?” The answer is plain: they are conversant only with shadows, now that the substance is come; and by adhering to their ritual observances, prove to demonstration, that they do not believe in Him, who, by the sacrifice of himself, has fulfilled and abrogated them all. Even under the Jewish dispensation, the offerers derived no spiritual benefit from their sacrifices, any further than they looked through those sacrifices to Christ. How then can they derive any benefit from Christ, whom they pertinaciously reject? Conceive, for a moment, what they who partook of the Jewish altar professed. They professed, that they were sinners, deserving of God’s righteous indignation: that they desired reconciliation with their offended God (for “they must bring their offerings with their own hands [Note: Leviticus 7:29-30.]”): they must also “lay their hands upon the head of their sacrifice,” to shew that they transferred their guilt to him [Note: Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:33.]. It was in the due observance of these rites that they became partakers of the altar: and if they had neglected their duty in these respects, they would have derived no benefit from the altar, or from the sacrifices that were offered upon it. Now these are the very things which are to be done by us under the New Testament dispensation. We must view the Lord Jesus Christ as the appointed Sacrifice; and bring him to the altar, and transfer our sins to his sacred head, and found all our hopes of acceptance on him alone: but this is what a Jew, who is yet resting on the observance of his legal ceremonies, can never do; and, consequently, he can never, whilst continuing in his error, partake of the benefits of the Gospel salvation. Our blessed Lord has declared this in the plainest terms: “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.”]
Seeing, then, that we Christians exclusively enjoy this high privilege, let us contemplate,
The duties arising from it—
In fact, this is the proper foundation of all our duties: for, though it is true that we are bound to serve God as our Creator, yet, under the Christian dispensation, we should receive a still higher impulse from all the wonders of redemption: “Being bought with a price, we should glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].” But, to speak more particularly: have we access to this altar?
Let us live upon that altar—
[The priests subsisted altogether on the provisions which were derived from the altar. Now we all, if we believe in Christ, are “kings and priests unto God:” there is no difference in this respect between male and female; all are “a royal priesthood;” and all are entitled equally to a full participation of the Redeemer’s sacrifice: “The life which we now live in the flesh, we are to live altogether by faith in the Son of God, who has loved us, and given himself for us [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” There must be no depending on our works. Whilst living upon Christ, we must “shew forth our faith by our works;” but our works must proceed from life already received, and by strength derived from Christ. It is from life, and not for life, that all our works must be performed.]
Let us present all our offerings upon it—
[There was not any thing presented to God, except the first-fruits [Note: Leviticus 2:12.], without a memorial of it being burnt upon the altar. The part which was there consumed was God’s share; of which he, as it were, partook with the offerer: from whence it is called “the food of the offering made by fire unto the Lord [Note: Leviticus 3:11.].” Now, whatever we have to offer unto God, our prayers, our praises, our alms [Note: ver. 15, 16.], our whole selves [Note: Romans 12:1.], we must lay it upon that altar. Never can it ascend up to God as a sweet savour, unless it be laid upon Christ, and ascend from him inflamed with fire that came down from heaven. “It is the altar that sanctifies our every gift [Note: Matthew 23:19.]:” and hence St. Peter gives us this plain direction; “To whom coming,” that is, coming to Christ as “the living foundation-stone” of God’s spiritual temple, “ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 2:4-5.].” O! let us ever remember, that neither our persons nor our services can ever be accepted of God in any other way than this.]
Let us invite the whole world to a participation of it—
[There is no bar to our admission to it, but unbelief. The very murderers of our Lord were invited to accept the benefits of our Lord’s sacrifice. It matters not whether we have been Jews or Gentiles; if only we come to Christ, we shall find acceptance through him: for he has told us that “none shall ever be cast out who come unto God by him.” Let us proclaim this to the very ends of the earth, that “from the rising of the sun, even to the going down of the same, God’s name may be great among the Gentiles; that in every place incense may be offered to him, and a pure offering [Note: Malachi 1:11.];” and that “all flesh may see the salvation of God [Note: Luke 3:6.].”]
Let me now address a few words,
To those who place an undue reliance on these advantages—
[Many imagine, that because “they have access to God through Christ [Note: Ephesians 3:18.],” they shall, of necessity, find acceptance with God. But there must be a suitableness in the sacrifices which we offer to him. What if men had offered to God “the torn, the lame, the sick; would God have accepted it at their hands [Note: Malachi 1:13-14.]?” No: nor will he accept us, if we do not offer to him such sacrifices as he demands: they must be “holy, if we would have them acceptable [Note: Romans 12:1.].” There must be in us a penitent and contrite spirit [Note: Psalms 51:17.]: and if this be wanting, our every sacrifice will be abhorred: “He that killeth an ox, will be as if he slew a man; and he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; and he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood [Note: Isaiah 66:2-3.].” Let us then examine well our motives, our principles, our manner of drawing nigh to God; that He who searcheth the heart, and to whom the inmost recesses of it are “open [Note: Hebrews 4:13. τετραχηλισμένα. The sacrifices were not only flayed, but cut down the back-bone, to be inspected.],” may approve of us as “Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile.”]
To those who are endeavouring to improve them aright—
[I have said that your offerings must be holy. But be ye not therefore discouraged; as though you, on account of your imperfections, could never find acceptance with God: for “God knows whereof you are made, and remembers that you are but dust:” and, as under the law, if a man were poor, and unable to bring a lamb for a trespass-offering, God permitted him to bring two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, “such as he could get,” (repeating it no less than four times, that he might bring such as he could get [Note: Leviticus 14:22; Leviticus 14:30-32.];) yea, if for a free-will offering he condescended to accept even “leavened bread [Note: Leviticus 7:13.],” and a mutilated beast [Note: Leviticus 22:21-23.], say, who amongst you needs to be discouraged? Nay, I will even ask, who amongst you has sincerely, however imperfectly, offered himself up to God, and not found some token of his acceptance, and some manifestations of his love, in his own soul? Doubtless, as the Levites, when dedicating themselves to the Lord, were first sprinkled with the water of purifying, and then shaved their flesh, and washed their clothes, and then offered their sacrifice [Note: Numbers 8:7-8; Numbers 8:21.]; so should you, as far as possible, put off the old man, and put on the new, whilst you are coming to Christ for pardon and acceptance: but, for real efficiency in holiness, this mode must be reversed: you must first lay hold on his promises of mercy, and then “cleanse yourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].” Nevertheless, I still ask, have you not found God ever ready to hear and to accept your prayers? It is remarkable, that though a peace-offering was to be eaten on the day that it was presented, yet, if it were offered as a free-will offering in consequence of a vow, it might be feasted upon by the offerer both on that day and on the day following; though by no means on the third day [Note: Leviticus 7:15-16.]. So I will ask, whether the savour of your religious exercises has not often abode upon your soul long after the hour in which they were presented unto God? If it continue not a third day, it is to teach you, that you are not to live upon your frames and feelings, but to be continually presenting yourselves to God afresh. Take ye then this encouragement from the Lord; and let the fire never go out upon your altar, and the altar never want a sacrifice to ascend up with an odour of a sweet smell before your God [Note: Ephesians 5:2.].]
THE BURNT-SACRIFICES TYPICAL OF CHRIST
Hebrews 13:11-13. The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high-priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without, the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
SUCH is the proneness of men to superstition, that they need to watch with care, lest, after having once shaken off its fetters, they be again subjected to its dominion. The Hebrew Christians in particular were liable to be drawn aside from the simplicity of the Gospel: their fond attachment to the law of Moses, seconded by the subtle arguments of Judaizing teachers, exposed them to continual danger. Hence the inspired author of this epistle cautioned them against returning to their former bondage. And, lest they should be led to think, that by renouncing the law of Moses, they deprived themselves of the blessings which were procured by their sacrifices, he tells them, that this was by no means the case; yea, that, on the contrary, they were partakers of a better altar, to which the adherents to Judaism had no access; and that the very ordinances, in which the Jews trusted, pointed out this truth in a clear and convincing manner; for not even the high-priest himself was permitted to eat of the sacrifices whose blood he had carried within the vail; whereas every true Christian was permitted to eat of that sacrifice which alone could atone for sin; and therefore, so far from there being any necessity for them to revert to Judaism in order to partake of the Jewish sacrifices, the Jews themselves must be converted to Christianity in order to obtain the full benefit even of those sacrifices which they themselves had offered [Note: This seems to be the true scope of the passage as connected with the context.].
To illustrate this more fully, we shall point out,
The correspondence between the death of Christ, and the ordinances whereby it was prefigured—
The most minute particulars of the death of Christ were typified under the law: but we shall fix our attention at present on that only which is specified in the text.
The sacrifices on the great day of annual expiation were to be burnt without the camp—
[The sacrifices on the great day of atonement were distinguished far above all others, and accompanied with circumstances of peculiar solemnity. Their blood was carried within the vail, and sprinkled upon the mercy-seat, as the means of propitiating the incensed Deity, and of obtaining pardon for the sins committed by the whole nation through the preceding year. A part of most other sacrifices belonged to the priest who offered them: but of this not the smallest portion was to be preserved for the use of man: all, except the fat which was consumed upon the altar, was carried without the camp (in later ages, without the city of Jerusalem) to be destroyed by fire [Note: Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 16:27.]. Probably this was intended to exhibit God’s indignation against sin, and to shew how utterly they must be consumed by the fire of his wrath, who should not be interested in this atonement. But the words before us reflect a light on this ordinance, which it is of great importance to observe. The burning of the whole of these sacrifices shewed that no legal services whatever could entitle a person to partake of them: not even the high-priest himself, who carried their blood within the vail, had any privilege beyond the poorest and meanest of the people. They could obtain an interest in them only by faith; nor could he taste of them in any other way: though his services were the most sacred, and his access to God far more intimate than any other person, or even he himself at any other period, could enjoy, yet had he no more part in this atonement than every other person might have by the exercise of faith: and consequently they, who, under the Christian dispensation, should trust in the sacrifice of Christ, would participate the benefits, from which the high-priest himself should be excluded, if he rested in the outward services without looking through them to the great, the true atonement.]
Agreeably to this typical ordinance, our Lord suffered without the gate of Jerusalem—
[The death of Christ was that which the annual sacrifices typically represented. He died for sin, and, after he had offered himself upon the cross, entered into heaven itself with his own blood, there to present it before the Father on our behalf: and it was by this means that he “sanctified,” or consecrated to himself, a peculiar people, who should for ever enjoy the virtue of his atonement — — — But, in order that his death might produce the full effect, it was necessary that it should be conformed in every respect to the ordinances whereby it had been prefigured: hence it was accomplished “without the gate” of Jerusalem; so strictly did it accord with the most minute particulars that had been before determined in the Divine counsels.
Whether there was any mystery couched under this event, we cannot absolutely determine. We should not indeed have discerned perhaps any thing particular in it, if light had not been thrown upon it by an inspired writer. But, as we are certain that this event was a completion of the pre-existing ordinance, it is not improbable that it might have some further signification. While it shews us to what a degree “Christ became a curse for us,” it may also intimate, that the virtue of his sacrifice was not to be confined to those who were within the pale of the Jewish Church, but rather to extend to those who were without it, even to the whole Gentile world.]
The exhortation, which the Apostle grounds upon these circumstances, leads us to point out,
The conformity which Christians also are to bear, both to the law and to him who fulfilled it—
Doubtless, every thing which Christ has done for us, entails on us an obligation to conform ourselves to his mind and will.
But the circumstances before considered, suggest to us some appropriate and important duties—
We must renounce all legal hopes, that we may depend on Christ—
[The particular injunction to go forth to Christ without the camp, intimates, that we must turn our back upon all the legal services, and trust alone in that sacrifice which he offered without the gate. The importance of this observation would he more strongly felt by an Hebrew convert, who was assailed with arguments respecting the obligations of the Mosaic law. But it is, in reality, no less important to us: for, if we do not trust in the blood of bulls and goats, we are ever ready to substitute something in the place of Jesus, as the ground of our confidence. But services, of whatever kind, whether ceremonial or moral, must be renounced in point of dependence. They must not even be blended in any degree with the atonement of Christ, as though the performance of them could procure us an interest in this. We must be “justified by his blood,” and by that alone. If St. Paul himself desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness [Note: Philippians 3:9.], much more must we. Let us remember then what, not the Gospel only, but even the law itself, speaks to us on this subject; and let us look for a participation in the great Sacrifice, not for, or by our works, but by faith only.]
We must forsake all worldly lusts, that we may walk with Christ—
[What a perfect deadness to the world did Jesus manifest, when he went forth to the place of execution, giving up himself to that accursed death, from which he could have been so easily delivered! But the world had nothing that could fascinate him: its cares, its pleasures, its honours, its society, were all alike indifferent to him: He had one only wish, to fulfil his Father’s will, and finish the work he had been commissioned to perform. In turning his back on that devoted city, he felt no regret, except indeed for the blindness and hardness of the people’s hearts. Thus must we come out of the world which lieth in wickedness: we must be “crucified to the world, and the world must be crucified to us [Note: Galatians 6:14.].” “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” must be abandoned as objects of indifference, as objects of abhorrence. The things that are dearest to flesh and blood, if they stand at all in competition with Christ, are to be hated and forsaken. Our former companions, if they will not travel with us in the heavenly road, are to be left behind; for “what communion hath light with darkness, or a believer with an unbeliever? Wherefore, saith God, come out from among them, and be separate [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 6:17.].” Even father and mother, and wife and children, yea, and our own lives also, are to be of no account with us [Note: Luke 14:26.], if they interfere with our duty to God, or retard the execution of his commands.]
We must submit to all indignities, that we may resemble Christ—
[This is the principal point to which the text refers. Jesus, when carrying his cross from the city to Mount Calvary, was an object of universal execration. Thus, in a measure, must we also be, if we will be his disciples. The world will hate, revile, and persecute us, as soon as ever we become his faithful adherents. “If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, so will they those of his household.” But we must not be deterred from our duty by these things: we must “follow our Lord without the camp, not only bearing his reproach,” but esteeming it our riches [Note: Hebrews 11:26.], and rejoicing that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for his sake [Note: Acts 5:41.]. He has told us beforehand, that “in the world we shall have tribulation,” and that, in proof of our attachment to him, we must “take up our cross daily and follow him.” Expecting this therefore, we must “count the cost;” that, if we be treated “as the filth of the world and the off-scouring of all things,” we may, like him, “endure the cross and despise the shame [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].” Nor should it ever seem hard to us to go in the path which he has trodden before us. On the contrary, to be conformed to him should be our highest ambition: “for if we suffer with him for a time, we shall reign also with him [Note: 2 Timothy 2:12.]” in glory for evermore.]
THE CHRISTIAN’S PORTION
Hebrews 13:14. Here have we no continuing city; but we seek one to come.
ACCUSTOMED as we are to expect a future state of existence, we scarcely ever reflect on the source from which we have attained the knowledge of such a state. It was not from reason that we derived it; for the wisest philosophers of Greece and Rome could arrive at no certainty respecting it: it is “the Gospel which has brought life and immortality to light,” and has thereby given us an unerring standard, by which to try every occurrence, of whatever kind. From a view of eternity, we learn neither to indulge undue complacency in what is gratifying to our feelings, nor, on the other hand, to yield to dejection under the pressure of what is painful. We learn simply to approve ourselves to God; and to look for his approbation in a future world, as a recompence for all that we can either do or suffer for him in this present life. This thought reconciled the Apostle to shame and reproach for his Redeemer’s sake; for he knew that “here he had no continuing city: but he sought one to come;” and regarded the possession of that as an ample reward for all that man could inflict upon him.
The words before us will lead me to shew,
The transitoriness of earthly things—
We have nothing durable in this life—
[If any thing could have been expected to continue, it would have been the city of Jerusalem: because it was, beyond all others in the universe, “the city of God,” and because “its foundations were like the great mountains.” But that was soon to be destroyed, so that not one stone should remain upon another that should not be thrown down: and, with the city, the whole civil and religious polity of the nation should be dissolved. Thus it had been with the great empires which had successively been established in Chaldea, Persia, and Greece: and thus, in due season, it should be with Rome also, though it was now the mistress of the world. Even this globe itself, and all which it contains, shall ere long be burnt up with fire, and utterly dissolved; so that nothing under the sun can be considered as of abiding continuance.]
This is a matter of daily experience to us all—
[We may know but little either of history or prophecy; but who does not with his own eyes behold the transitory nature of every thing around him? The seasons come, and pass away; and in like manner the generations of men vanish from the earth in quick succession. It was but the other day, and those who are now in the meridian of life were children: and in a few more days they will be swept away, to make room for others who shall hereafter arise. Since the beginning of the present year, how many have been removed into the eternal world! and before the expiration of another year, how many, who are now in health, will be taken to their long home! Truly, we are like the shadow of a cloud sweeping over the plain; and soon shall vanish, to be seen no more.]
This will account for,
The portion which the Christian affects—
For him a continuing city is prepared—
[God himself has prepared it for him: yea, God himself has built it: and its foundations are laid so deep, that nothing can ever shake them [Note: Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:16.]. To that city the Christian is already so far come, that he is entitled to all its privileges; and has, in a state of actual preparation for him, a mansion, in which he is to dwell for ever [Note: Hebrews 12:22. with John 14:2-3.]. In comparison of that city, all earthly edifices are unworthy of a thought. Not only are its walls and its foundations inconceivably superior to all that man can construct, but the very light that lightens it is altogether different: for, instead of needing the rays “of the sun or of the moon, the glory of God does lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof [Note: Revelation 21:10-23.].”]
To this he constantly directs his steps—
[He is careful to inquire his way thither, and to prosecute his journey towards it every day he lives. Like the Patriarchs, lie considers himself as a pilgrim and sojourner here: and, like them, whatever difficulties he meets with in the way, he presses forward, determining not to turn aside, or stop, till he has arrived within its gates [Note: Hebrews 11:13-16.]. He looks to it as the rest that remaineth for him; nor will he ever relax his labours, till he has attained it [Note: Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 4:11.]. In this he may be clearly distinguished from all other persons. Others are desirous of finding somewhat of a present portion: but “he seeks one to come,” and makes it the one great business of his life to secure it.]
This subject may be improved,
For our conviction—
[If this be practical Christianity, how little have we lived like Christians! We have been ever ready to take up our rest in this world; and for the most part have sought for nothing beyond it. The things of time and sense have had as much effect upon our minds as if they had been of lasting continuance; whilst the things of eternity have been disregarded, as though they had been altogether transient. Were it not that we see this conduct all around us, we should scarcely conceive it possible that rational beings should act so irrational a part. Let us lay it to heart, and humble ourselves before God; and “set our affections henceforth on things above, and not on things below.”]
For our consolation—
[We may, in the course of our pilgrimage, be oppressed with many troubles: but they are all of short continuance; whereas, the happiness which we have in prospect will abide with us for ever. This consideration makes every affliction appear light and momentary [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.]; more especially when we reflect that “tribulation is the way to the kingdom;” and that we are, like our blessed Lord himself, to be “made perfect through sufferings.”]
For our direction—
[Bear in mind the emptiness and vanity of earthly things, and learn to sit loose to them; “letting your moderation be known unto all men [Note: Philippians 4:5.].” In the use of them, be temperate; and, in the want of them, patient and resigned [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.]. And set before you “the prize of your high calling,” as those did who contended in the Grecian games. Keep it ever in view; and stop not till you have fully attained it. Then shall you have the approbation of your Judge; and ere long be received into the bosom of your God.]
THE SACRIFICES TO BE OFFERED BY CHRISTIANS
Hebrews 13:15-16. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
THE Jewish yoke was very heavy; and the observance of the Mosaic rites was burthensome in the extreme. From that we are happily delivered. Yet have we an altar upon which we are to attend, and sacrifices which we are bound to offer. Our altar indeed is very different from that of the Jews: as the Apostle has said in the preceding context; “We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle [Note: ver. 10.].” Of their own altar they did partake; the greater part of all the sacrifices being allotted them for their support [Note: Numbers 18:12-13.]. But even under that dispensation, an intimation was given them, that, when the great offering, which their sacifices typified, should be presented, they could have no part in it. The offerings which were presented by them for the expiation of sin, were burned without the camp; no part of them being appropriated to the use of the priests [Note: Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 16:27.]. And such is the sacrifice which was offered by our Lord Jesus Christ for the sins of the whole world, when he suffered without the gates of Jerusalem; of which therefore they who continued under that dispensation could not participate. We alone, who renounce all dependence on the works of the law, and found all our hopes on the atonement which Christ has offered, can eat of this altar, and enjoy the benefits which by his meritorious death and passion he has purchased for us. Again, though of other sacrifices the priests might eat, they might on no account eat the blood: that must be poured out even to the last drop [Note: Deu 12:23-25]. But of our sacrifice, we both eat the flesh and drink the blood: and it is only by so doing that we can obtain eternal life. Indeed on that body and blood we are to feed continually: it is the daily feast of our souls: as our Lord has said, “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed [Note: John 6:53-55.].” Having been offered by our Lord Jesus Christ himself on the altar of his Deity, (for he is at once the Altar, the Sacrifice, and the Priest,) it is accepted for us: and it is both our duty and our privilege to eat of it. But whilst we thus partake of this altar, we must ourselves offer sacrifices upon it, even “our whole selves, as living sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ [Note: Romans 12:1.].” To present these is,
Two kinds of sacrifices we are to offer: those,
Of praise to God—
[Praise is most justly due to Him from all his creatures; but more especially from those who have been favoured with a revelation of his will, and with the ordinances of his grace. The Jews, dark as their dispensation was, were infinitely indebted to God for it [Note: Romans 3:2.]. But infinitely greater are our obligations to him for the fuller manifestations of his mercy to us in Christ Jesus, and for that better covenant of which Jesus is the Surety and the Mediator — — — “We therefore should offer to our God the sacrifices of praise continually.” We should do it, not only at the appointed seasons of morning and evening, which in a lax sense may be called “continually [Note: Exodus 29:42.],” but throughout the whole day: not indeed in the way of a formal service, but in the frame and habit of our minds [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.]. This by the prophet is called “the calves of our lips [Note: Hosea 14:2.],” and, in our text, “the fruit of our lips;” because, as calves and first-fruits of the earth were offered in sacrifice under the law, so are praises under the Gospel dispensation. Under both dispensations, the duty of acknowledging our obligations to God, and our dependence on him, is the same: and therefore, as the Jews confessed both the one and the other by their offerings, so are we to do in ours, “giving thanks to his name [Note: ὁμολογούντων.].”
But it is by Christ only that our offerings can come up with acceptance before God: for, as the Jews were not at liberty to offer sacrifice any where but upon the altar in Jerusalem [Note: Deuteronomy 12:13-14.], so neither can we present to God any sacrifice but on this altar, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can sanctify our gifts, and render them in any respect worthy of God’s acceptance [Note: John 14:6.]. Of this it becomes us to have as distinct a conception as the Jews themselves had; and never for a moment to approach our God without a deep conviction upon our minds, that in Christ only can either our persons or our services be ever pleasing in the sight of our God [Note: 1 Peter 2:5.].]
Of beneficence to man—
[This also is a duty incumbent on us. God has so ordered in his providence, that there shall always be some who shall stand in need of assistance, and others, who, as his almoners, shall be enabled to dispense the benefits which are required [Note: Deuteronomy 15:11.]; that by a free exercise of benevolent affections there may be such a measure of equality produced, as may best subserve the interests of the whole [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:14-15. with Exodus 16:16-18.]. Hence, “to do good, and to communicate,” is an employment in which we should be daily occupied, each of us according to our ability. The poorest, as well as the richest, should, as far as God has enabled him, find delight in this duty [Note: 2Co 8:2-4; 2 Corinthians 8:12.]. Nor should we ever be so engaged in exercises of devotion, as to forget that we have duties to our fellow-creatures, which, in their place, are of equal importance with devotion itself. We may find it good to be on Mount Tabor: but we must not protract our stay there, when there is work to be done by us in the plains below [Note: Matthew 17:1-5.]. The duties of the second table must not be overlooked, any more than those of the first: nor can any measure of delight in God ever justify us in neglecting the offices of love to man. Liberality to the poor, especially when offered upon this altar, the Lord Jesus Christ, is as pleasing to God as any other offering whatever. Such was St. Paul’s view of the succours which he had received from the Christians at Philippi; which he represents as “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, and well-pleasing to God [Note: Philippians 4:18.].” But this also must be offered only through the Lord Jesus Christ: if presented as in itself good and acceptable, it would be rejected of God with as much abhorrence as the bribe of Simon Magus was by the Apostle Peter [Note: Acts 8:18-20.]. The direction given by God himself, and which must never in any case be forgotten, is this; “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks unto God and the Father by him [Note: Colossians 3:17.].”]
But that which in one view is our duty, in another view is,
In this view the injunction in our text is introduced: “We have an altar, of which the Jews, whilst so continuing, have no right to eat:” “therefore” let us enjoy our high privileges, and offer our sacrifices continually upon this altar. And truly, to offer these sacrifices is a most inestimable privilege: for,
We may all present them in our own person—
[This the Jews could not do: they must come to the priest, and put their sacrifices into his hands: and he alone could offer them upon the altar. But we who believe in Christ, are “a kingdom of priests:” amongst us there is “no distinction of male or female, bond or free; but we are all one in Christ Jesus [Note: Galatians 3:28.];” “we are all kings and priests unto our God [Note: Revelation 1:6.]:” “the vail of the temple was rent in twain;” we all “have access unto God through Christ [Note: Ephesians 2:18.],” “even into the holiest of all, by that new and living way which he hath opened for us [Note: Hebrews 10:20-22.].”
Now let us only conceive what were the feelings of the Jews when they saw their high-priest on the day of annual expiation go within the vail into the presence of Jehovah, even to his mercy-seat, on which he dwelt in the Shechinah, the symbol of his more immediate presence: how highly privileged would they consider him! and how happy would they have accounted themselves, if that honour had been vouchsafed to them! But you, beloved, need not envy even the angels themselves: for through Christ you may go, every one of you for himself, “unto God as your exceeding joy,” and may “lay hold of him,” and commune with him, and hear his voice, and taste his love, and receive into your souls the communications of his grace and peace. It was not of himself alone, but of all the godly without exception, that St. John affirmed, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ [Note: 1 John 1:3.].”
Learn then, brethren, to appreciate this privilege aright: and let the thought of it encourage you to draw nigh unto your God continually, and to present to him such sacrifices as the occasion may require.]
We may be perfectly assured of God’s acceptance of them—
[There is an excellency in our sacrifices which there was not in those which were offered by the Jewish priests: theirs were of no value at all, but as “shadows of good things to come:” in themselves they were “carnal ordinances,” deserving of no better name than “weak and beggarly elements [Note: Gal 4:9 and Hebrews 7:9.]:” and, if not offered with a suitable frame of mind, they were altogether hateful to God, even as hateful as the cutting off of a dog’s neck, or the offering of swine’s blood [Note: Cite at length both Isaiah 1:11-14; Isaiah 66:3.] — — — But where does God ever speak in such degrading terms of our sacrifices? “Whoso offereth me praise,” says he, “glorifieth me [Note: Psalms 50:23.];” and, “a cup of cold water offered to a disciple for his sake, shall in no wise lose its reward [Note: Matthew 10:42.].” The two are by God himself brought into a comparison thus: “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High [Note: Psalms 50:13-14.]:” “to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken, than the fat of rams [Note: 1 Samuel 15:22.].”
Besides, the altar on which we present our offerings sanctifieth every thing that is put upon it. Leaven was expressly forbidden to be offered on the Jewish altar [Note: Leviticus 2:11.]: yet in a sacrifice of thanksgiving, or of the first-fruits, it might be offered [Note: Leviticus 7:11-13; Leviticus 23:17.]. So shall “the fruit of our lips,” and “the first-fruits of our substance” be accepted [Note: Proverbs 3:9-10.], notwithstanding any imperfection with which they are offered, if only they be presented through Christ with an humble and contrite spirit: for Christ, our great High-priest, who is our altar, is also “our Advocate with the Father;” and “the incense of his prayers ascendeth with every sacrifice which we offer, and ensures the acceptance of it before God [Note: Revelation 8:3-4.].”
Who with such an assurance as this would not wish to present his sacrifices unto God daily, and without ceasing?]
We all have liberty to eat of our own sacrifices—
[This liberty, in reference to some sacrifices, was conceded to the offerers under the Jewish law [Note: Deuteronomy 12:5-7.]: but to us it is conceded in every offering which we can present. Do we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving? “our mouth shall be filled as with marrow and fatness, whilst we praise our God with joyful lips [Note: Psalms 63:5.].” Do we offer our mite for the relief of his indigent and distressed people? hear how he speaks of it: “If thou deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out to thy house; if, when thou seest the naked, thou cover him, and hide not thyself from thine own flesh; then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee; and the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward.” And again; “If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not [Note: Isaiah 58:7-11.].” I appeal with confidence to all: When did you ever present any offering, whether of gratitude to God or love to man, upon this altar, and not feed richly on it yourselves? When did not fire descend from heaven into your soul, to testify of God’s acceptance of your offering? or when did you not, after such an offering, depart, “filled and satisfied with the fatness of his house [Note: Psalms 36:8.]?” At no period did he ever dismiss you, without “satiating your weary soul, and replenishing your sorrowful soul [Note: Jeremiah 31:25.].” Abound then in these sacrifices, and it shall be well with you; for you shall eat of them richly both in time and eternity [Note: Isaiah 3:10. 1 Timothy 6:17-19.].]
To the poor votaries of this world—
[What a wretched and worthless altar have you! and what costly offerings are you daily presenting upon it! Your time, your talents, your very souls, are you sacrificing upon that altar! You would weep over the devotees who cast themselves under the wheels of the car of Juggernaut: why do ye not weep over yourselves, when, with all your light and knowledge, you are acting a part not less infatuated than they? Compare your state with that of the true Christian. He lives only to serve, and honour, and exalt his God: but you live only to please the world, and to gratify yourselves. He accounts nothing too great to sacrifice unto Jehovah: you will not sacrifice one lust, or interest, for him. To the world, and to self, do you devote your every hour, your every thought. And whilst you have eaten of your altar, which of course you have done, what have you done but “fed upon ashes, whilst a deceived heart hath turned you aside, so that you could not deliver your soul, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand [Note: Isaiah 44:20.]?” And do you suppose, that, whilst you are partaking thus of the world’s altar, you can partake of the Lord’s also? Assuredly not: “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:21.]:” “ye cannot serve God and Mammon [Note: Matthew 6:24.].” I call you then to consider what will be the issue of a worldly life: for “if ye love the world, whatever you may imagine, the love of the Father is not in you [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.].” Let me entreat you then to go to your God, and to present to him that prayer of David, “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with them that work iniquity; and let me not eat of their dainties [Note: Psalms 141:4.].” For be assured, that, if ye devote not yourselves to God through Christ in this world, ye can never dwell with him in the world to come.]
To the friends and worshippers of the Lord Jesus Christ—
[What a blessed employment is yours! A life of praise to God; and a life of love to man! What can you wish for more? What can add to your happiness, except it be an increase of grace to live more than ever unto God? Look at the angels around the throne: methinks, you have already invaded their office, and entered upon their bliss. Are they ever praising God? That is your employment day and night. Are they “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto them that shall be heirs of salvation [Note: Hebrews 1:14.]?” That also is your daily work, who are “doing good unto all men, and especially unto them that are of the household of faith [Note: Galatians 6:10.].” Go ye on then in this blest career: and abound daily more and more. And know that, as by the neglect of your duties “you may suffer loss in heaven [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:15.],” so by abounding in all the fruits of righteousness, ye may augment your blessedness in heaven, and obtain through Christ “an abundant entrance” into the realms of bliss [Note: 2 Peter 1:10-11.].]
THE DUTY OF PEOPLE, AND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MINISTERS
Hebrews 13:17. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
MAN, as a social being, has duties to the society of which he is a member: and of these duties he must be reminded, no less than of those which are purely personal. The Church of Christ is one great family [Note: Ephesians 3:15.], in which, as in every other family, order must be observed, by the exercise of power in those who preside, and a submission to it amongst those who are placed under their direction. The government that shall be exercised in it is appointed by God himself; who has invested his ministers with power to rule, and has required of their people a submission to their authority. But as, on the one hand, there has been amongst some who have presided an unscriptural usurpation of authority, very different from that which God ever committed to them; so, on the other hand, there is amongst others a very unscriptural disregard of that authority which is legitimate, and which every minister of God is bound to exercise in that society over which he presides. For the due administration of order and good government in the Church, the Apostle, having finished his directions respecting personal duties, proceeds to give one, which more immediately relates to our social intercourse, but which is of the greatest consequence to the welfare of that family of which we are members.
In calling your attention to this apostolic precept, I shall have occasion to set before you,
The duty of people towards their minister—
A shepherd naturally presides over his flock: and so must a pastor of God’s Church exercise rule over that flock which he feeds, over which the Holy Ghost himself has constituted him an overseer [Note: Acts 20:28.].” Not that civil power was ever delegated by God to his ministers; that exclusively belongs to the civil magistrates [Note: Romans 13:1-6.]. If the Lord Jesus Christ, when appealed to as an arbitrator in relation to civil rights, said, “Who made me a ruler and a divider over you [Note: Luke 12:13-14.]?” much less can any claim of temporal authority belong to those who are called by him to the administration of affairs which are purely spiritual. Yet is there power given to ministers,
As ambassadors from God—
[August as this title is, we claim it as of right belonging to us: for though we would by no means exalt ourselves, it becomes us, and is our bounden duty, to “magnify our office [Note: Romans 11:13.].” We come from God to you, and proclaim to you in his name the terms on which he will forgive your past rebellion, and receive you to his favour. It is in the very place of Christ that we stand, when we entreat you for his sake to be reconciled to God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:20.]. The word which we preach to you is God’s: and by you “it must be received, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.].” If our testimony be rejected, it is not man, but God himself, that ye reject [Note: Matthew 10:40-41. 1 Thessalonians 4:8. See also 1 Samuel 8:7.]. Doubtless, you must judge how far the voice of the minister accords with the word of God: for it is to that extent only that you are bound to pay any attention to it: and so far are you to be from receiving the word of man implicitly and without examination, that you are required of God himself “not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they be of God [Note: 1 John 4:1.];” and to “prove all things, and hold fast that only which is good [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.].” But when “the word which is delivered to you is that only which your minister has himself received from the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:3.],” then must you obey it as much as if it was delivered to you by God himself in an audible voice from heaven.
Now then we hesitate not to declare, that all which we preach unto you respecting your fallen state, and the necessity of your believing in Christ as the appointed Saviour of the world, and of your giving up yourselves to him “in body, soul, and spirit, to be sanctified wholly” to his service, is the very truth of God revealed in his Gospel: and whilst we affectionately entreat, we do also authoritatively enjoin, your acceptance of it, and your submission to it: and we affirm, that, if ye reject this Gospel, ye do it at your peril, and with a certainty of incurring God’s everlasting displeasure [Note: Hebrews 2:3. 1 Peter 4:17-18.].]
As stewards over his family—
[This also is a character belonging to us [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:1.], and a character with which a measure of authority is of necessity connected [Note: Luke 12:42.]. Under that character we must, at the peril of our own souls, be faithful to you, and to our God, whose servants we are [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:2.]. Whatever we judge to be the portion most requisite for your spiritual health, that we must administer, whether it be instruction or exhortation, consolation or reproof. We must no further seek to please you, than will be for your real welfare [Note: Romans 15:2.]: if we go beyond this, we cannot be servants of Jesus Christ [Note: Galatians 1:10.]. Of course, in the exercise of discipline, there will be some things which will be more clear, and some which will be of a more dubious character. In those which are clear, and where the word of God has precisely marked the course to be pursued, the submission of the people to the sentence of the minister should be willing and unreserved: and in those which, though not expressly defined by God, are necessary for the maintenance of order, a willing deference should be paid to the judgment of him on whom the great responsibility rests, and to whom authority has been committed by God himself for the good of the whole [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2Co 8:10. 1 Timothy 5:17.]. “Not that ministers are to be lords over God’s heritage [Note: 1 Peter 5:3.],” or to “have dominion over the faith” of any man [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:24.]: but still, even in dubious matters, a degree of submission is due to them, that order may be observed, and the affairs of the Church be well administered, for the good of the whole [Note: 1 Corinthians 16:15-16.]. This is the kind of rule which a parent exercises in his family; and in a spirit of paternal love must it be exercised by ministers in the house of God [Note: 1 Timothy 3:5.].]
These observations will acquire additional weight, if we attend to,
The considerations with which this duty is enforced—
Two considerations are here urged, as motives to a cheerful acquiescence in the duty prescribed:
The return due to them—
[Ministers have taken upon themselves to seek to the uttermost the spiritual and eternal welfare of those who are committed to their care: and, when duly impressed with the importance of their office, they “watch for souls as those that must give account.” When they undertake this office, they know, that if any perish through their neglect, the blood of those who perish will be required at their hands [Note: Ezekiel 3:17-21; Ezekiel 33:7-9.]. Under this fearful responsibility, “they watch for souls,” trembling lest, through their ignorance, or sloth, or cowardice, any have the truth withheld from them, or the means of salvation unprofitably dispensed to them. They feel their insufficiency [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.], and are ready at times to regret that ever they made themselves answerable to so awful an extent. But a “dispensation having been committed to them, they know that a woe attends them,” if they discharge not their office with fidelity and diligence [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.].
Now then I ask, Is nothing due from you to such friends and benefactors? When they, from love to your souls, and from an ardent desire to impart unto you the blessings of salvation, make “themselves your servants for Christ’s sake [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:5.],” renouncing all worldly cares, pleasures, and advantages, and consecrating all their time and talents exclusively to you, is there no love, no respect, no deference to be shewn to them? This, I am sure, is not God’s judgment respecting them: for he requires, that “you esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.]:” and if you refuse them this tribute, you are guilty of gross injustice to them, and of vile ingratitude to God, whose commission and authority they bear.
If you suppose that their living of the altar is a sufficient recompence, I must observe, that there is scarcely a faithful servant in all the Church of God who might not turn his talents to a far better account, if pecuniary emolument be the standard by which his recompence is to be estimated. As for the “shepherds who feed themselves, and not the flock,” I speak not of them: I leave them to their own fearful responsibility [Note: Jeremiah 23:1-2.Ezekiel 34:1-10; Ezekiel 34:1-10. Zechariah 11:17.]: but of faithful pastors, I affirm, that, if they could have the whole world for their hire, they would despise it all in comparison of one soul, whom they may present to God as begotten by their ministry and saved by their efforts [Note: 1 Timothy 4:16. with 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.]. I say, then, ye are debtors to them to a great amount: if they have been your spiritual fathers, ye owe them your own souls [Note: Philem. ver. 19.]: and if they are only your instructors, yet, as watching with all tenderness and fidelity for your souls, their griefs and their joys should be the griefs and the joys of you all [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:3.].]
The benefit accruing to yourselves—
[Daily do they go to God, to give up, as it were, an account of the stewardship committed to them: and this they do either with joy or grief, according as they find success or disappointment in their ministerial labours. See what grief St, Paul experienced when his people walked disorderly [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:4.]: and, on the other hand, with what ecstatic joys he was filled, when they walked worthy of their high calling [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10.]! So it is with every minister, in proportion as he approves himself faithful to his God. And how deeply are your interests involved in these exercises of your minister’s soul! When he sees you disobedient to the word, and regardless of his paternal admonitions, how do his hands hang down, and his spirit sink within him! Truly, it is “with grief,” and “with groanings,” (as the word imports,) that he goes to his God from day to day. And the whole of his ministry, in its ardour, in its unction, in its whole character, is lowered, when he has to labour amongst a proud, a worldly, a contentious, a gainsaying people. His mouth is stopped; and, instead of finding an enlargement of mind, and a liberty of utterance towards them, he is constrained rather to speak only in tears of anguish [Note: Philippians 3:18.], and, as it were, in the groans of one that is travailing in birth [Note: Galatians 4:19.].
On the other hand, in what tender strains did the Apostle address those who had received his word with power, and evinced its influence by a holy and heavenly conversation! He was amongst them “as gentle as a nursing mother; and was so affectionately disposed towards them, that he was willing to impart to them, not the Gospel only, but his own soul also, because they were dear unto him [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.].” How would words, proceeding from him in such a strain, “distil as the dew,” and penetrate their inmost souls! And when he felt such enlargement of heart towards them, what corresponding feelings would be generated in their souls [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:11-13.]! Such then are still the feelings of faithful ministers in this day. They experience either straitness, or enlargement, according as their people evince a disposition that becomes the Gospel, or a state of mind tending to obstruct its influence. And therefore, if you seek nothing but your own “profit,” you should, by a loving, submissive, and obedient spirit, encourage the efforts of your minister, and impart comfort to his soul.
But it is not to the present world only that this consideration must be confined. For though it is true, that a glorified soul can feel no grief, any more than God himself can, yet, for the purpose of impressing our minds, this idea may be predicated of them, as well as of him. And O! think of the joy with which they will present to God their obedient children in the last day [Note: Isaiah 8:18. Philippians 2:16.], and the grief with which they will appear as “swift witnesses” against such as were intractable and disobedient [Note: Malachi 3:5.]! Verily, their griefs will be “unprofitable indeed to you,” when the very word which they have spoken to you will be found only “a savour of death” unto you, and the means of your more aggravated condemnation [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.].]
“Suffer ye then a word of exhortation”—
[How long we shall stand in our present relation to each other, God alone knows: but this we know, that I must give up an account to God of my labours, as you also must of your improvement of them. O that I may be found faithful! and may you also so improve my ministry, that I may give up an account of you with joy, and not with grief! Imagine not your work done, when you have heard the word delivered to you. In reality, both your work and mine is then but just begun. We must watch for each other, and each of us for ourselves. And O! may you never have occasion for that painful reflection, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof, and have not obeyed the voice of my teacher, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me [Note: Proverbs 5:12-13.]!” And may I so watch, and so labour, that, like the Apostle himself, I may “be pure from the blood of all men [Note: Acts 20:26. N. B. If this were the subject of a Visitation Sermon, there should be a suitable Address to Ministers also.]!”]
CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES IMPROVED IN PRAYER
Hebrews 13:20-21. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
IN reading the epistles of St. Paul, we cannot but observe how continually he begins and ends them with prayer. At the same time, we cannot but be struck with the extraordinary fulness and grandeur of his prayers. In truth, there is in them, for the most part, such a vast accumulation of recondite matter, that it is extremely difficult to obtain any thing like an adequate comprehension of them. His prayers in the epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, are pre-eminently distinguished in this view. But that which I have now read, if not equal to the others in grandeur, is extremely interesting, on account of the richness and variety of matter contained in it. In unfolding it to your view, I shall notice,
His representation of the Deity, whose blessings he implores—
The very name which he here assigns to God is deserving of particular notice—
[Under the Old-Testament dispensation, Jehovah was more generally called “The Lord of Hosts:” but, under the New Testament, he is commended to us rather under the endearing character of the “God of Peace.” Between him and us a reconciliation has been effected, by the mediation of his dear Son — — — and so perfect is that reconciliation, that nothing but love is felt in his bosom towards us. In truth, every one of his attributes finds in this mystery its sublimest exercise; so that he is altogether a “God of Peace;” not having any more of adverse feeling towards us, than if mercy had been his only attribute — — —]
But what has he done to assure our souls of “peace?”
[To death and the grave had Jesus been consigned as our Surety and our Substitute. And, if he had continued in the grave, however we might believe that he had undertaken for us, we could have no assurance that his sufferings had been accepted in our behalf. But Jehovah, having “brought him again from the dead,” has given us a proof, that what the Lord Jesus has done and suffered for us, has been effectual for our complete redemption — — — Now we see, that “that great Shepherd of the sheep,” who “had laid down his life for them,” is re-invested with his office, which during his imprisonment in the grave seemed to have been suspended; and “all power is given to him,” to “save to the uttermost” all who are brought into his fold, and committed to his care. Now we know, that whatever they need for protection, for sustenance, for healing, shall assuredly be imparted to them in the hour of need [Note: Ezekiel 34:11-16; Ezekiel 34:23-24.]:” “the lambs shall be carried in his bosom; and he will gently lead them that are with young [Note: Isaiah 40:11.];” and of those entrusted to him, he will lose not so much as one [Note: John 17:12.]: no power in the universe shall ever pluck them from his hands [Note: John 10:27-30.] — — —]
In all that he has done for us, he has had respect to his own covenant-engagements—
[Here I wish you to mark distinctly the exceeding fulness of the Apostle’s mind; and the vast accumulation of important truth, which, apparently without any necessity, he brings together, for the purpose of more deeply impressing our minds, and more largely unfolding to us the great mysteries of redemption. Here he traces up every thing to a covenant; a covenant made from all eternity between the Father and the Son, and in due season ratified and confirmed with the Redeemer’s blood. In that covenant, the Son of God engaged to assume our nature; and in that nature, to expiate our guilt by his own obedience unto death. The Father promised to accept his vicarious sacrifice, and to give him a people who should be his joy and his glory through eternal ages. In accordance with this covenant, Christ had laid down his life: and in agreement with it, the Father had now raised him from the dead, and empowered him to perfect the work he had undertaken. What a field of mysterious information is here opened to our view! Every thing connected with our salvation is traced up to an everlasting covenant. Is God reconciled to us, and become a “God of peace?” Has he, under this character, “raised from the dead the Lord Jesus?” Has he, for the accomplishment of his gracious purposes, invested his dear Son with “the pastoral office,” and committed us to him as “his sheep?” All has been effected in conformity with an everlasting covenant, and from respect to that blood by which the covenant was confirmed. And does not all this, at the same time that it opens to us the most mysterious truths, give us an assurance which nothing else could convey? Yes, verily: for if the Lord Jesus were to suffer one of his sheep to he plucked out of his hand, or the Father were to refuse to impart to us one atom of what the Saviour has purchased for us, the covenant itself would be broken. But that covenant cannot be broken: and therefore every one, who believes in Christ, may be assured, that God is to him a “God of peace;” and that the reconciliation which has been effected shall never finally be dissolved.]
Let us now mark,
The blessing itself which he solicited—
Here also is a singular accumulation of words to convey what might have been stated in a much shorter space. But the Apostle’s mind was so full, that he could not but dilate upon the subject which so strongly engaged his thoughts. His general request was, that God would make them holy, and enable them to please Him who had so mercifully accepted them to his favour. But,
He first expresses the extent of his desire for them—
[“This,” says he in another place, “is my wish, even your perfection [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:9.].” He would have us “perfect in every good work.” The whole soul has been so disorganized, in relation to all spiritual things, that it is incapable of rendering to God the obedience due to him. Hence he prays, that we may be “fitted [Note: καταρτίσαι.],” by a renovation and concentration of all our powers, for the execution of God’s holy will. He would not have us to render any partial services, but an obedience perfect and entire. He would have us engage “in every good work,” of whatever kind it be; without regarding either the difficulty of performing it, or the danger to which the performance of it may expose us. We should know no authority but God’s; no standard but God’s: his will should be both the rule and the reason of every thing that we do. And who that views God as reconciled towards him in the Son of his love would wish to curtail any one duty, or to reduce the standard which is here proposed? Sure I am, that a knowledge of God, as a “God of peace,” cannot fail of engendering in us the desires here expressed by the holy Apostle, or of stimulating us to the attainment of a perfect conformity to the Divine will.]
He next suggests the only means by which that desire can be accomplished—
[It is “God who must work in us both to will and to do.” Without the operation of his Holy Spirit in us, we cannot even think a good thought. Hence the Apostle prays, that God will “work in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight.” In addition to holy principles instilled into our minds, there must be powerful energies imparted to our souls: for, as soon might a body, every joint of which was dislocated, perform the common offices of life, as we with our fallen powers effect the will of God in all holy obedience. We must not hope “to please God” by any thing undertaken in our own strength. Nor indeed, however it be wrought in us, can any thing come up with acceptance before God, except “through Jesus Christ.” His blood must cleanse our very best actions from the defilement that attends them; and his intercession must obtain for them the favour of our God. Except as coming before him in this way, God could not look upon the very best action of the best of men: “he is of purer eyes than to behold” with complacency any service that we can render, till it has been purified and presented by Christ himself. And I wish you to notice how carefully the Apostle strives to impress this upon our minds, where a common writer would never have thought of suggesting any such idea.
You will notice, also, how full of gratitude the Apostle is to that Saviour who has thus reconciled us unto God, and procured for us the acceptance of our unworthy services. In truth, the Apostle can scarcely ever mention Christ without expatiating upon his excellencies, and offering to him some ascription of praise. Here, apparently without necessity, the Apostle adds, “To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever: Amen.” And who amongst us has not his soul attuned to this divine and heavenly strain? Who, in the view of him as reconciling us to God, and as executing towards us the office of a Shepherd, and as procuring for us God’s favourable acceptance both of our persons and our services; who, I say, does not add his “Amen” to this; and desire, from his inmost soul, that all “glory and dominion” may be given to Him by all his creatures, both in heaven and earth? — — —]
From the whole of this subject we may learn,
What we should aspire after—
[We can scarcely conceive any thing more comprehensive of real holiness, of holiness in its utmost possible extent, than the words before us. This is what the Apostle desired in behalf of all the Christian Church: and this is what every Christian should aspire after for himself. Beloved brethren, indeed Christianity does not consist in notions of any kind. Doubtless its foundation is laid on truths revealed by Almighty God: but it must have a superstructure, a superstructure high as heaven itself; for “our conversation must be in heaven,” whither our Saviour Christ is gone before. I pray you, do not attempt to lower the standard of God’s requirements. Let your labour be for “every good work;” your rule, “his revealed will;” your delight, “whatsoever is pleasing in his sight:” desire nothing less than this; and aim at nothing less: but seek to be “holy as God himself is holy,” and “perfect as God himself is perfect.”]
How it is to be attained—
[It is not by any worldly principles that such holiness can be acquired: it is by a discovery and reception of evangelical truth, even by the Gospel only: and the more fully that Gospel is understood, the more influential shall we find it on our hearts and lives. It banishes servile fear: it establishes the dominion of gratitude and love: it stimulates to high and noble exertions: it renders suffering itself a ground of joy, when sustained in the cause of our adorable Lord and Master. It even assimilates us to Christ himself. What was there which he did not do to effect a reconciliation between God and us? And what will not his followers do to express their love to him? Behold St. Paul. “For the knowledge of Christ, he accounted all things but dung and dross.” He was ready to die at any time, and in any manner, for the sake of Christ. In like manner will the saving knowledge of Christ operate on us also. Let this, then, be remembered by us, that Christian principle alone will lead to Christian practice. And in order to our advancement in the divine life, let us seek to know Christ: for then only shall we be conformed to his image, when we behold his glory, and the glory of God the Father shining forth in him.]
END OF THE VOL. XIX.
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30