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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 4

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Verse 1


Hebrews 4:1. Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

THE histories of the Old Testament are very instructive to us. The divine interpositions, as well in a way of judgment as of mercy, shew us what to expect from God [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:11.]. The Apostle has been recording the destruction of the Jews in the wilderness [Note: Hebrews 3:0.]: and from thence he takes occasion to urge us to holy fear and diligence—



What is that rest which God has promised us—

The rest promised to the Israelites was the land of Canaan: but the Israelites had already for many hundred years possessed that land. The rest therefore, which David speaks of as yet future, must be a rest, of which Canaan was only a type or shadow—
It includes,


A present rest in Christ—

[A soul ignorant of Christ, can have no rest; but “by believing in Christ it has peace with God:” this is that rest which our Saviour promises to troubled souls [Note: Matthew 11:28.].]


A future rest in heaven—

[The rest of the soul is never perfect in this life: tribulations are the way through which we are all to pass; but in heaven our happiness will be complete: that therefore must be the rest in which our labours shall terminate [Note: Revelation 14:13.].]

Of this rest God has left us a promise in his word—
[It is called his, because he has prepared it for us from the beginning: it is his also, inasmuch as it is the gift of his sovereign grace: it is his moreover, as enjoyed in and with him; nor has he only revealed it as an object worthy our pursuit, but promised it to every penitent and believing sinner [Note: Acts 2:39.].]

It becomes us then to inquire,


What effect the promise of this rest should have upon us?

The news of any great and unexpected acquisition immediately produces strong emotions in our minds. The prospect therefore of present and eternal rest should surely excite much solicitude respecting it—
[We should endeavour to ascertain our title to it: we should fear lest by any means we be deprived of it; nor should we account any thing too much to do in order to obtain it: our vigilance and zeal should be proportioned to its value.]

The danger of coming short of it should increase our diligence in the pursuit of it—

[Of six hundred thousand that came out of Egypt, only two entered into Canaan: the others “could not enter in by reason of their unbelief.” And how much unbelief is there in our hearts! Yet, if we live under its power, we in vain hope for this rest: nor will the numbers of those, who are so circumstanced, afford security to us, any more than it did to those who perished in the wilderness. Surely then we should “fear lest we perish after their example.”]

The misery of coming short of it should also stimulate our exertions—

[There is no intermediate state between heaven and hell; nor will there be any other state of probation afforded us. They who rest not in Christ, can never know solid peace in this world; nor will they experience any thing but tribulation to all eternity [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. Revelation 14:10-11.]: there will be an impassable gulf between them and heaven. What fear and caution should this thought excite!]

We should fear lest we even “seem” to come short of it—
[To be in suspense about our eternal state is dreadful: God’s honour, as well as our happiness, is affected by it. We should seek to be “always triumphing in Christ,” and at last to have “an abundant entrance into his kingdom.”]


To those who have no fears about their souls—

[Your rest, such as it is, is by no means to be desired: it will soon vanish in the prospect of death and judgment, and it will speedily terminate in everlasting woe. Seek then the true rest, while yet it may be found: seek it in Christ, who alone can impart it to you; nor doubt but that it will abundantly recompense your labours.]


To those who are filled with slavish fears—

[These are not fears which you ought to entertain: they are calculated to rob you of the heavenly rest, rather than to bring you into it. The fear you should cultivate, is a jealous and watchful fear: to live under the influence of this, is to be truly blessed [Note: Proverbs 28:14.]: this well consists with even a present rest in the Lord Jesus. Lay hold then on the promise which is left you in the Gospel, and expect that “He who has promised will also perform:” they “who trust in the Lord, shall never be confounded.”]


To those who maintain a godly fear and jealousy—

[Disputes about the doctrine of perseverance are unprofitable and vain; but to unite a jealousy over ourselves with a confidence in God, will guard us against mistakes on either hand. Go on then in this good way, in which there is no danger of error or excess: thus will your soul be kept at an equal distance from presumption and despondency, and the attainment of your rest be perfectly secured.]

Verse 2


Hebrews 4:2. Unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

IN these words there is a peculiarity of expression, which, till it is explained, seems almost unaccountable. Had the Apostle said that the Gospel was preached unto the Jews, as well as unto us, it would have been intelligible enough: but the text, as it stands, seems to give the preference to them, as if they had enjoyed a pre-eminent display of God’s favour, and a clearer revelation of his will than ourselves. But the true meaning of the Apostle will appear from a due attention to the context. The Apostle is shewing the superiority of Christ to Moses, Moses being a servant only in God’s house, but Christ being a Son and Lord over his own house. “That house are we,” says he, “if we hold fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of our hope, firm unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:6.].” To impress this idea the more strongly on our minds, he, in the language of David, urges us to guard against a departure from God, lest, like the Israelites of old, we provoke God to cut us off from his promised rest. But, regarding the very passage which he quotes as needing some explanation, since, though all the adults who came out of Egypt perished in the wilderness, their children did enjoy the promised rest, he intimates, that the very expression of David shewed that Canaan was only a shadow of the rest promised to Israel, and that the true rest was common to all the children of Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles. Of this rest he exhorts us not to come short: for that the promise relating to it belonged to us as much as to the Jews in the time of Moses: and, as they came short of it in consequence of their unbelief, so shall we, if we mix not faith with the truths we hear.

Now this view of the Apostle’s words limits the term “Gospel” to that which alone is mentioned in the context, the promised rest. Hence, to compare the Gospel, as revealed to the Jews by Moses and the Prophets, with that which is revealed to us by Christ and his Apostles in a general view, would be beside the proper scope of our text. It would be profitable indeed to see how the moral law shuts us up to Christ, and how the ceremonial law shadows forth his work and offices; and how the Prophets also declare the fulness and excellency of his salvation; or, in the words of the Apostle, how “the righteousness which is by faith in Christ is witnessed by the Law and the Prophets [Note: Romans 3:21-22.]:” but we prefer confining our views to the precise idea that was in the Apostle’s mind, because we then have more clearly the mind of the Holy Ghost. This then we shall do, whilst we endeavour to shew,


What is that Gospel which is preached to us in common with the Jews—

To the Jews were sent “the glad tidings” of a promised rest—
[The promise given them included three things, deliverance, preservation, rest; deliverance from Egypt, preservation in the wilderness, and rest in Canaan, Their deliverance was to be by the blood of the paschal lamb, which, being sprinkled on their doorposts, was to protect them from the sword of the destroying angel, whilst all the first-born of Egypt were slain. That it was which burst their bands asunder, and caused their former masters not merely to liberate them from their bondage, but to thrust them out from amongst them: and from that time they were in all future ages to kill and eat the paschal lamb in remembrance of that great deliverance. From thenceforth, committing themselves to the Divine guidance and protection, they were to subsist entirely on the manna given them from the clouds, and on the water that issued from the rock. At the expiration of the time appointed for their sojourning in the wilderness, they were to enter into Canaan, there to serve and enjoy God as their God to the latest generations.

Now all this was to the Jews “a shadow of good things to come:” it marked the ways and means of our redemption; the nature of that life of faith which we are to live, and the happy termination of our labours. And, that it was so understood by the more spiritual among them, is evident, as from many other passages, so particularly from that quoted both in the foregoing and following context: for if the rest promised by Moses had had no reference to any thing beyond the land of Canaan, David could never, after that rest had been enjoyed for five hundred years, have spoken of a rest yet future. Consequently, the typical nature of that whole dispensation was made known to them; and though obscurely, yet certainly, was the Gospel of Christ preached to them.]
To us is the same rest presented as an object of faith and hope—

[We are to be delivered from a worse than Egyptian bondage, even from the bonds of sin and Satan, death and hell. And in the very same manner also are we to be delivered. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us:” and by the sprinkling of his blood on our hearts and consciences are we to escape the wrath of God. “We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins [Note: Ephesians 1:7.].” The destroying angel has received his commission against all on whom this mark is not found: and he will execute it on all without partiality or reserve: for, as “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins,” so it is by a believing application of that blood to our souls, and by that only, that we can ever obtain from Christ the benefits of his salvation.

Our preservation during the whole of our pilgrimage must also be secured in the same way. Whilst under the guidance and protection of our God, we must “live altogether by faith on the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us.” Our blessed Lord himself has told us, that He is the bread of life: that we must live from day to day upon him, even as the Israelites did upon the manna in the wilderness; and that, whereas they derived from it only the temporary support of their mortal bodies, we shall secure from him the eternal welfare of our souls. St. Paul also tells us, that the rock which poured forth its waters in the wilderness was Christ; that is, a type and figure of Christ: we learn therefore from this, that we are to look to Christ for daily supplies of his Spirit, to renew and sanctify us, and to refresh and comfort us throughout the whole of our weary pilgrimage. This is to be the one constant tenour of our way from first to last. Never till we arrive in the promised land shall we cease to need these supplies, which are to be brought to us by the exercise of a lively faith. There is no substitute for them: the life of the Israelites in the wilderness is a perfect pattern of our life; and to theirs we are taught to conform our own.

To “the rest which remaineth for us [Note: ver. 9.]” we are taught to look forward with high expectations and assured confidence. There is a better country than Canaan, even heaven itself, which the patriarchs, to whom the land of Canaan was promised, themselves regarded as their destined home [Note: Hebrews 11:9-10; Hebrews 11:13-16.]. And to that must we look as our inheritance. “There, we shall rest from all our labours:” there, shall all tears be wiped away from our eyes. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain: but, having his tabernacle with us, we shall dwell with him and he with us more intimately than we have now any conception of, we being his acknowledged people, and he our endeared God, for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 21:3-4.].]

But as this Gospel has never yet produced what it was destined to accomplish, it will be proper to shew,


To what must be ascribed its inefficacy both in them and us—

The Gospel itself is not destitute of power: it is “the rod of God’s strength:” it is “quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword:” it is “mighty through God to the pulling down of the strong-holds of sin and Satan:” it is the power of God unto salvation to all who truly believe it. Yet its operations have been very limited and partial. And whence arises this? I answer,
The Jews “mixed not faith with what they heard”—
[Moses from the beginning told them of all the blessings which God had in reserve for them: yet from the beginning they were an unbelieving people. Though Moses had given them abundant evidence of his divine mission, they murmured against him, when they found their burthens augmented in consequence of his interposition [Note: Exodus 5:21-23.]. When they had seen all the wonders wrought in their behalf in Egypt, they again complained, as soon as ever they saw the hosts of Pharaoh pressing upon their rear, and ready, as they thought, to overwhelm them [Note: Exodus 14:11-12.]. When they had passed through the sea on dry ground, and seen their enemies, who presumed to follow them, dead upon the sea shore, they were still as unbelieving as ever, and regretted that they had ever been induced to leave the land of Egypt. They even questioned “whether God were amongst them or not [Note: Exodus 17:3-4; Exodus 17:7.].” But a few weeks afterwards they altogether renounced God, and worshipped the golden calf. Thus it was on all occasions: whenever any fresh difficulty arose, they distrusted God, and murmured against him. When the spies brought their report of the land which they had searched out, the people universally gave way to despondency, as much as if they had never seen any one display of God’s power in their behalf. On this account they were all doomed to perish in the wilderness, “God swearing in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest.” In a word, “they could not enter in because of unbelief [Note: Hebrews 3:19.].”]

We also are alike unbelieving in relation to the truths we hear—
[The very necessity of redemption is denied by multitudes, or at least is acknowledged only in a speculative way, and without any due sense of its importance. The Jews under the pressure of their burthens cried mightily to God, so that their groans entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts. But when has he heard from us those sighs and groans by reason of the pressure of our sins? When has he heard those earnest cries for deliverance from the guilt we have contracted, and from the power of our in-dwelling corruptions? Alas! when urged on these subjects, we reply in our hearts, “Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians [Note: Exodus 14:12.].” If told, that “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” and that we must flee from it, as Lot from Sodom, if we will escape its ruin, we despise the warning, like the sons-in-law of Lot, and regard our monitor as “one who only mocks us” with absurd and groundless alarms.

If brought to give a general assent to the truths we hear, we still do not approve of a life of faith as the means of our final preservation. Why must we subject ourselves to so many trials and difficulties? Why may we not go in an easier way to heaven? Why must our separation from the world be so entire? Why may we not still enjoy the leeks and onions of Egypt, instead of subsisting upon the light and tasteless food provided for us? Why must we be so dependent? Why be looking every day and hour to the pillar and cloud for direction, and never to follow my own way? Why am I to have nothing in myself, but all in Christ? Why should I be necessitated to seek such a measure of sanctification, as not to entertain a “thought that is not brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ?” We choose to have greater liberty, and an easier path. We choose to have a less humiliating way, where we may derive some supplies from a stock of our own, and be able to ascribe some measure of credit to ourselves.

Nor are we by any means satisfied with the rest that is provided for us; we wish for some rest in earthly things; and murmur at the prohibition to seek it in them. Why must I have as the one object of my desire a portion that is invisible? Of the Israelites it is said, “they despised the pleasant land; they believed not God’s word [Note: Psalms 106:24.]:” and the same may be said of us. We do not estimate aright the felicity of heaven: we do not despise every thing else in comparison of it: we do not follow after it with the ardour that we ought: we shew, in the whole of our life and conversation, that we do not think the prize worth the toil necessary to secure it. Were we duly impressed with the excellency of Canaan as “the glory of all lands,” we should grudge no labours or sufferings that we may have to encounter in our way to it, nor any exertions that may be necessary for the attainment of it.

What I have here said is applicable to the great mass even of the Christian world: and the true reason of their being so little influenced by all that they hear, is, that they do not mix faith with it: they either account it a cunningly-devised fable, or else imagine that some way shall be found for the salvation of their souls besides that which is revealed in the written word. They believe not what God has spoken either of the way, or of the end; and therefore they fall short of that end, and perish in their unbelief]

To impress this subject the more deeply on our minds, I will endeavour to improve it,

In a way of solemn inquiry—

[It surely is reasonable for all of us to inquire, What have we “profited by the Gospel?” If we have indeed been profited by it, we can tell, in some degree at least, what are the benefits which we have received from it. To imagine that we have been really benefited, and not to know wherein we have been benefited, and especially in a matter of such infinite importance, is palpable and wilful self-deception. I ask then, wherein have we been profited by the Gospel? What effect has it produced upon our minds in relation to the things before spoken of? What have we experienced of a spiritual redemption? What are we yet daily experiencing of a life of faith upon the Son of God? and how far does the prospect of eternal glory animate us to do and suffer all things for the attainment of it? I pray you, brethren, put these questions to yourselves, and satisfy not yourselves with a superficial or evasive answer. Bring forth the benefits which you have received: examine them: see how far they are of a saving nature, and bear the stamp and character of a work of grace upon the soul!—If such inquiries be unnecessary, trouble not yourselves about them: but, if they will be made at the last day by the Judge of quick and dead, and will form the ground of your salvation or condemnation to all eternity, then let them be duly weighed, and impartially answered by every one of us: for, if we be not profited by the Gospel now, sure I am that we shall not be profited in the eternal world; yea, rather, that very “word which ought to have been to us a savour of life unto life, will be to us a savour of death unto death [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].” You all remember how greatly the guilt of Bethsaida and Chorazin was aggravated by their misimprovement of the privileges which they enjoyed under the ministry of our Lord: being exalted to heaven in their privileges, they were cast down the deeper into hell for their abuse of them [Note: Luke 10:13-15.]. The Jews in general too would not have had sin, comparatively, it they had not enjoyed the ministry of our blessed Lord: but that left them without excuse [Note: John 15:22.]. And even they will be innocent in comparison of you, if you, with the yet fuller light that is shining round you, neglect to improve the day of your visitation [Note: Matthew 12:32.].]


In a way of affectionate remonstrance—

[It is clear and manifest, that the great mass of Christians do not mix faith with what they hear: for, if they did, they would obey it. Faith has the same respect to the proper objects of faith, as reason has to the proper objects of reason. From reason, we know that some things will be beneficial to the body, and other things injurious: and in accordance with its dictates we act, unless we are violently impelled in opposition to them, by some more operative principle in our minds. So will faith act. If we be blinded and overpowered by sense, we are then under the influence of unbelief. And if this be the predominant principle in our minds, O! think how awful will be our state! Verily, if this be of all sins the least criminal in appearance, it is of all sins the most fatal in its tendency: for whilst other sins render us obnoxious to God’s displeasure, this binds them all upon us, and precludes, as long as it is in exercise, all hope and possibility of obtaining mercy. See its operation as marked in our text. Methinks we have here the veil of the invisible world drawn aside. We are in the habit of sending all to heaven; but here we see how few in comparison do really attain the promised rest. Of all the six hundred thousand Israelites that were advanced to manhood, two only were suffered to enter into Canaan. All the rest (with the exception of the Levites) fell short through unbelief. And this is recorded as a warning to us, that we buoy not up ourselves with delusive expectations, in reference to our final state [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6; 1 Corinthians 10:11. Jude, ver. 5.]. We can never alter that word, “He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” I entreat you therefore to “mix faith with what you hear” from the infallible records of God’s word. Mix faith with it, I say, in the same intimate and influential manner as you mix reason with the deductions of reason. Your reason soon makes you flee from a house that is on fire, and to run to a place of safety from one that seeks your life: let your faith operate in like manner, without delay; stimulating you to flee to Christ for safety, and to lay hold upon the hope that is set before you in the Gospel.]

Verse 9


Hebrews 4:9. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

THE servants of God possess many distinguished privileges. Their state in this world is far happier than that of the ungodly; but there is an infinitely richer portion reserved for them hereafter. To this David had respect in that awful denunciation [Note: Psalms 95:11.], whence it appears, that though prefigured by other rests, it remains yet to be enjoyed [Note: The Apostle’s argument seems to be this: God instituted a day of rest in commemoration of his having ceased from his works of creation. And many centuries afterwards he promised a rest to his people in the land of Canaan. But that rest was only typical of a more glorious sabbath, of which David spake a long time after the other had been enjoyed. From hence the Apostle concludes that there must yet be a rest, or Σαββατισμὸς (for he changes the word which he had before used, in order more strongly to intimate the analogy between the different rests there spoken of) remaining for the people of God.].


Who are the people of God?

This title cannot belong to all indiscriminately—
[The greater part of the world are idolatrous heathens. The generality of those who are called Christians are ignorant of God. Impiety and profaneness abound in every place: this indisputably proves the Apostle’s assertion [Note: Romans 9:6.]. The sinful works of men plainly shew whose people they are [Note: 1 John 3:8. John 8:44.]; nor do all who “profess godliness” really belong to God [Note: Romans 2:28-29. Titus 1:16.]. There are many who deceive both themselves and others [Note: Revelation 3:1.James 1:26; James 1:26.].]

Those who alone have a right to it are described by God himself [Note: Philippians 3:3.].

They “worship God in the Spirit”—
[It is the characteristic of God’s enemies that they neglect prayer [Note: Psalms 53:4.]: nor will formal services prove us to be God’s people [Note: Matthew 15:8-9.]. No worship is acceptable to him but that which is spiritual [Note: John 4:23-24.]. His faithful servants are importunate at the throne of grace [Note: Ephesians 6:18.].]

They “rejoice in Christ Jesus”—
[They do not merely acknowledge him to be the Messiah: they make daily application to him as the only ground of their hopes. Their hearts are lifted up with devout affection towards him. They delight in him as their all-sufficient Redeemer [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].]

They “have no confidence in the flesh”—
[They are deeply convinced that “in them dwelleth no good thing.” They see the folly of trusting to their own strength or wisdom [Note: Proverbs 3:5.]. They acquiesce fully in Solomon’s direction [Note: Proverbs 28:26.]—. They look for every thing in Christ alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].]

To these belong many glorious privileges.


What is the rest which remaineth for them?

They have already in some respect entered into rest [Note: Hebrews 4:3.]—

[They are freed from the terrors of a guilty conscience [Note: Hebrews 10:22.]. They feel a delight in ordinances and Sabbaths. Their minds are fully satisfied with the Gospel salvation. They experience the truth of our Lord’s promise [Note: Matthew 11:28.]—.]

But the rest which awaits them is far superior to that they now possess—
They will enjoy a freedom from all labours and sorrows—
[They are constrained to labour as long as they are in the world. Their whole life resembles a race or warfare. They can obtain nothing without strenuous exertions [Note: Matthew 11:12.]: and of necessity they are encompassed with many sorrows [Note: Acts 14:22.]. But in heaven they will cease from their labours [Note: Revelation 14:13.]: nor will their happiness have any intermission or alloy [Note: Revelation 21:4.].]

They will be exempt from all influence of sin or temptation—
[Sin now defiles their very best services. Satan is also unwearied in his endeavours to corrupt them [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3.]. These are sources of much pain to them at present. But the souls of all in heaven are made perfect [Note: Hebrews 12:23.]: nor can any unclean thing enter to defile them [Note: Revelation 21:27.]. Their triumph will be complete and ever-lasting [Note: Isaiah 60:20.].]

They will dwell in the immediate presence of their God—
[Their capacity of enjoying God will be wonderfully enlarged: they will behold him not darkly, as now, but face to face [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12.]. The Saviour’s glory will be the object of their devoutest admiration [Note: John 17:24.]. Their delight in him will surpass their present conceptions [Note: Psalms 16:11.]. They shall know that their happiness will be eternal [Note: Revelation 22:3-5.]. Then will every desire of their heart be fully satisfied [Note: Psalms 17:15.].]


How desirable is it to be numbered among God’s people!

[The rest described is the portion of them alone. God himself declares that the wicked have no part in it [Note: Isaiah 57:21.]: their portion will be very different [Note: Psalms 11:6.], and its duration also will be endless [Note: Revelation 14:11.]. Who then would not wish to be numbered with the saints? Who does not desire to participate their inheritance? But we must first be conformed to their character. We must renounce self-confidence, and believe in Christ. It was unbelief which excluded the Israelites from Canaan [Note: Hebrews 3:18-19.]. Let us fear lest the same evil principle rob us of the heavenly rest [Note: Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 4:11.].]


With what delight may God’s people look forward to death!

[The hour of death is often an object of terror to the godly, but it should be welcomed as a season of joy. Does not the husbandman rejoice in his wages, the mariner in his haven, the soldier in the spoils of victory? Much more should the Christian rejoice in the approach of his rest. Let us then long after it, like the holy Apostle [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:2.]; and let us labour to attain it in full confidence of success [Note: 2Co 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:8-9.].]

Verse 12


Hebrews 4:12. The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

THE state of a Christian’s mind should be alike distant from slavish fear and from presumptuous confidence. He is authorized to entertain a confidence, because he has Omnipotence for his support, and the veracity of God pledged to supply him with all that is needful for his spiritual welfare. But he has need of fear also; because he is in the midst of temptations, and has a deceitful heart, ever ready to beguile him. In the view of his privileges, he may rejoice: but in the view of his dangers, he should tremble. In a word, he should, as David expresses it, “rejoice with trembling.” This frame of mind is supposed by many to be unsuited to that full liberty into which we are brought under the Christian dispensation. But St. Paul continually inculcates the necessity of it in order to a safe and upright walk: “Be not high-minded, but fear:” “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” But in no place of Scripture is this mixture of diffidence and affiance more strongly insisted on than in this and the preceding chapters. We are taught the indispensable necessity of “holding fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of hope, firm unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:6.];” and yet we are again and again warned by the example of the Israelites, who were excluded from the promised land, lest we also should “fall after the same example of unbelief [Note: ver. 1, 11.].” It is in this view that the declarations in our text are introduced. There is an abruptness in them which renders the meaning of the Apostle somewhat difficult at first: but when the connecting link is supplied, the sense of the passage is clear, and very important. It speaks to this effect: The Israelites thought they had sufficient grounds for their unbelief; yet it ruined them. You also may be deceived by an evil heart of unbelief: but, however you may vindicate yourselves, that word, which you now disobey, will judge you in the last day; and will both expose your self-delusion, and justify God in passing against you a sentence of exclusion from the promised land.

The scope of the passage being thus explained, we propose to consider,


The description here given of the word of God—

Many able commentators have given it as their opinion, that, by “the word of God,” we are to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, who is frequently called by that name in the Holy Scriptures. But St. Paul never speaks of Christ by that name: nor is there any mention of Christ in the context. On the contrary, the word of revelation is mentioned, as that which the Israelites would not believe [Note: ver. 2.]; as that also which excluded them from the promised rest [Note: Hebrews 3:7-11.]; and as that which speaks to us precisely as it did to them [Note: ver. 7–9.]. And the different things spoken of it in the text are far more suited to the written word, than to the Lord Jesus Christ. To that, therefore, we limit the description before us. Its properties are set forth,


In figurative terms—

[It is “quick,” that is, a living word. Our blessed Lord represents it in the same view: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life [Note: John 6:63.].” And it is the very same term which Stephen also makes use of, when he calls the Scriptures “the lively oracles [Note: Acts 7:38.].” The word is not a mere dead letter, that will soon vanish away: it lives in the mind of God: it lives in the decrees of heaven: it liveth and will live for ever: nor will millions of ages cause it to be forgotten, or in the least enervate its force. All besides this shall wax old, and decay: but this shall endure, without the alteration of one jot or tittle of it, to all generations [Note: 1 Peter 1:23-25.].

It is also “powerful.” ear the appeal which God himself makes to us respecting it: “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord: and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces [Note: Jeremiah 23:29.]?” Yes: there is nothing that can resist its force.

But in the text it is compared with “a two-edged sword,” which, how sharp soever it may be, cannot penetrate like that. Frequently is it characterized by this image, especially as proceeding from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Isaiah 49:2.Revelation 1:16; Revelation 1:16.]. Yet does that image give but a very faint idea of its power: for a sword, though it may inflict a mortal wound, would be utterly incapable of dividing, with accuracy, the almost imperceptible organs of the human frame: but the word can “pierce to the dividing asunder the joints and marrow, yea, and the animal soul also from the rational spirit.” By this is meant, that there is nothing so hidden, which it cannot detect; nothing so blended, which it cannot discriminate.

This the Apostle proceeds to set forth,]


In plain language—

[The word is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Of the unregenerate man it is said, that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually [Note: Genesis 6:5.].” The regenerate are “renewed in the spirit of their minds.” But still they are not so renewed, but that some imperfection cleaves to all which they do: there is something in every thought and every purpose of the human heart, something which still shews that man is a fallen creature, and which cannot stand the strict scrutiny of God’s all-seeing eye. If he lay judgment for a line, and righteousness for a plummet, there is not any thing in which there will not be found some obliquity. Such a perfect standard is the word of God: “it will discern between the good and evil that is in the most holy thought of the most perfect of men.” In the hand of “the Spirit, whose sword it is [Note: Ephesians 6:17.],” its power is infinite, even though it be wielded by the feeblest arm. In the hand of the prophets, it “hewed” the hypocritial Jews in pieces [Note: Hosea 6:5.]. In the hand of the Apostles, it pierced thousands to the heart at once [Note: Acts 2:37.]. In the hand of ordinary ministers, it has still the same power, and can so detect all the secret thoughts of men’s hearts, as to evince that, it is indeed the very word of God himself [Note: 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.], — — — and through him is still, as much as ever, “mighty to the casting down of the most haughty imaginations, and to the bringing of every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.].”]

But that which gives to this description its force, is,


The end for which it is adduced—

The Apostle means to say, that, however secret the workings of unbelief may be, they will all be detected and condemned by the word in the last day. Now,
Unbelief is a most subtle sin—
[It has ten thousand pleas and pretexts by which it clokes its malignity, and justifies to the mind and conscience its operations. See it in the Jews, whom it deceived to their ruin. There was always some great trial, some apparently insuperable difficulty in their way. They supposed that God would make all their way easy, and that they should have nothing to try their faith and patience. Hence they construed every difficulty as a violation of God’s promises, and a prelude to his final dereliction of them. Hence also they made their appeals upon this subject with as much confidence, as if their conclusions were undeniable: and the chastisements which they received for their impiety only increased their complaints, as though, in addition to the disappointments of their legitimate expectations, they were treated with undeserved cruelty. Thus it is with us: we hide from ourselves, or rather we justify to ourselves, the workings of unbelief. Its operations all seem to us to be founded in truth and equity. If we look at God’s threatenings, it cannot be that they should ever be executed, because such a procedure would be inconsistent with the Divine perfections, and an act of injustice towards man. If the promises of God be the object to which our attention is turned, they are too great, and too good to be performed; or at least, that they are not intended for such sinners as we. Besides, they are so far out of our sight, as to have, in our conceptions, little or no reality, in comparison of the objects of time and sense. Other sins we excuse as acts of frailty: but this we justify, as an act of wisdom.]

But, how subtle soever our unbelief may be, the word of God will discover and condemn it—
[The word of God is so comprehensive, that there is not in the whole creation a thought or purpose that does not come within its range [Note: Psalms 119:96.]: and it is so minute, that there is not the slightest “imagination of a thought,” of which it does not take cognizance. It is spiritual, even as the Author of it himself is spiritual; and, when it is brought home with power to the soul, it convinces a man of sins of which he had before not the least conception [Note: Romans 7:9; Romans 7:14.]. As by a chemical process the constituent parts of material bodies may be discovered, so by the application of the word to our souls in the last day will every thought be decompounded, as it were, and its every particle of good or evil be disclosed [Note: John 12:48.]. The fire that will try us will search the inmost recesses of the soul, and determine, with infallible precision, the quality of the most latent imagination there [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:13.]. Of this we have an earnest in the events which happened to the Jews in consequence of their unbelief. Thus God addresses them by the Prophet Zechariah: “our fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever? But my words and my statutes which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us [Note: Zechariah 1:5-6.].” And the very same confession will, assuredly, be made in the last day by the most confident unbeliever in the universe: “His sin shall surely find him out [Note: Numbers 32:23.];” and it shall then be seen, “whose word shall stand, God’s or his [Note: Jeremiah 44:28.].” The counsels of every heart shall then be made manifest [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.];” and God be justified before the whole universe in the sentence that he shall pass [Note: Psalms 51:4. with Romans 3:4.].]

From hence we may see—

How attentive we should be to the word of God—

[Would we but inspect it with humility and care, it would be as a glass to reflect our own image, in a way that nothing else can do [Note: James 1:23-24.]. And, is it not madness to neglect the opportunity it affords us of learning our true character, and of ascertaining, before hand, the sentence of our Judge? To what purpose is it to deceive our own souls? Will that word be altered? Will any other standard be brought forward whereby to estimate our state? Or shall we be able either to dispute its testimony, or avert its sentence? Dear brethren, remember the description given of it in our text: think how unavailing all your pleas and excuses will be, when its voice shall be raised against you: and now, ere it be too late, take it as a light to search all the secret corners of your hearts [Note: John 3:19-21.Proverbs 20:27; Proverbs 20:27.], and to guide your feet into the way of peace.]


How fearful we should be of unbelief—

[As there is no grace which so honours God, as faith, so there is no sin which so dishonours him, as unbelief. Other sins, though they oppose his authority, do not deny his right to command: but unbelief questions the very existence of his truth. Hence does St. John so frequently speak of it, as “making God a liar [Note: 1 John 2:22; 1 John 5:10.].” Ah! little do the sceptic and the unbeliever think what guilt they contract: and little do they imagine what chains they are forging for their own souls! How, I would ask, will any man get his sins forgiven? it can only be by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and by a living faith too: for it is not a dead faith that will suffice; but such a faith as unites the soul to Christ, and derives out of his fulness all that grace, and mercy, and peace which we stand in need of. Most awful is that declaration of God, that “all the fearful and unbelieving shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death [Note: Revelation 21:8.].” Whether we believe this or not, it will prove true in the end: and the sentence, once denounced against Israel with an oath, shall again be repeated against all that abide in unbelief; “I swear in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my rest.”]


How earnestly we should pray to God for the gift of his Spirit—

[It is by the Spirit of God alone that we can either “be convinced of unbelief [Note: John 16:8-9.],” or be enabled to exercise a living faith [Note: Ephesians 2:8. Philippians 1:29.]. O! beg of God to give you his Spirit. Seek it in earnest; and you shall not ask in vain [Note: Luke 11:13.]. It is the Spirit’s office to “take of the things that are Christ’s, and to shew them unto you [Note: John 16:14.].” It is his office to make the word effectual to your souls: for it is then only effectual, when “it comes in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:4.].” Read not then, nor hear, the word in dependence on your own strength; but cry mightily to God to bring it home to your hearts “ with power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5.].” Then shall you experience its life-giving efficacy, and find it “the power of God to the salvation of your souls [Note: Romans 1:16.].”]

Verse 13


Hebrews 4:13. All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

MEN will commit those things in secret, which they would not commit, if they knew that the eye of a fellow-creature was upon them. But, if they duly considered the omniscience of God, they would be as watchful over their conduct in their most hidden recesses, as they now are in the noon-day. Yea, they would impose a far greater restraint on their inmost thoughts, than they now do on their outward actions. To fortify the Hebrews against apostasy, the Apostle endeavoured to impress upon their minds the thought that every motion of their hearts was strictly noticed by God.
From his words we shall consider,


The omniscience of God—

“There is not any thing in the whole creation which is not manifest in his sight.” At one glance he beholds,


All things—

[All that is past, however long since, or however forgotten by us, is as fresh in his memory, as if it had been transacted this very moment [Note: Isaiah 41:22.]. All present things, in whatever quarter of the globe, and however hidden from mortal eyes, are visible to him [Note: Job 28:24.] — — — All future events, whomsoever they concern, even the eternal states of all that ever shall be born, are known by him with as much certainty as if they were already accomplished [Note: Isaiah 46:9-10. Acts 15:8.] — — —]


All men—

[The actions of men are not only noticed by him, but weighed in a most perfect balance [Note: 1 Samuel 2:3.Job 31:4; Job 31:4.] — — — Their words are all distinctly heard by him, and recorded before him [Note: Psalms 139:4. 2 Kings 6:12.]. Their very thoughts, how secret or transient soever they be, are also marked, and written by him in the book of his remembrance [Note: Ezekiel 11:5.Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:5.] — — — The priests, when inspecting the sacrifices that had been flayed and cut asunder, did not so infallibly discern any blemish that might be found, either on their external part or in their inwards, as God discerns “every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts [Note: Γυμνὰ καὶ τετραχηλισμένα. This may be further illustrated by Psalms 11:4. “his eye-lids try,” &c.]” — — —]

That we may not give our assent to this truth without being suitably affected with it, let us consider,


The concern we have in it—

The words of the text include a double interpretation—
We shall include both senses by observing,


“We have to do with God” in every transaction of our lives—

[The law of God extends to the whole of our conduct: every action therefore, with every word and thought, is an act of obedience to him or of disobedience: there is not a possibility of detaching ourselves from him for an instant, so as to assert our independence in the least respect. Our minds should be constantly full of love to him; and our every purpose and desire should have respect to his glory [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.]. How deeply then are we interested in approving ourselves to him! If we had merely to do with our fellow-creatures, it might suffice to have our actions right, even though there were some defect in our motives and principles; but when we have to do with the heart-searching God, we should be careful that every motion of our hearts be agreeable to his mind and will.]


We must “give an account to God [Note: Πρὸς ὄν ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος.]” of all that we do—

[Every thing we do is noticed by God, in order that it may be recompensed at the day of judgment [Note: Jeremiah 17:10.]. The book of his remembrance will assuredly be opened in that day [Note: Revelation 20:12.]; and every action, word, and thought, during our whole lives, will have an influence on his decision. However trivial any thing may be in our eyes, or even imperceptible by us, it will enhance our happiness or misery to all eternity: how anxious then should we be to walk as in God’s sight! and how should we labour daily to lay up an increasing weight of glory, instead of “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17. with Romans 2:5.]!”

We may improve this subject,


For the awakening of the careless—

[You may think, like those of old, that God does not see or regard your ways [Note: Psalms 94:7.]; but, if Achan was detected and punished by God’s immediate interference in this world [Note: Joshua 7:14; Joshua 7:18; Joshua 7:25.], how much more shall you be in the day of righteous retribution!]


For the encouragement of the sincere—

[If God notices the defects of his people, he both makes allowance for them, and observes also their excellencies [Note: Comp. Psalms 103:14. with Revelation 2:9.]: nor have they so much as a good desire, which he does not mark with special approbation [Note: Psalms 38:9. Mal 3:16. 1 Kings 14:13.]. Let all then stir up their hearts to seek and serve him [Note: 1 Chronicles 28:9.]: so, notwithstanding their defects, they shall receive his plaudit in the day of judgment [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.].]

Verses 15-16


Hebrews 4:15-16. We have not an High-priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

NOTWITHSTANDING the excellency of the Christian religion, when compared with that of the Jews, there were not wanting many specious objections, which a Jew might bring against it, and which, on a wavering and ill-instructed mind, might operate with considerable force. A Jew might, with some appearance of truth, say, ‘We know that our religion is from heaven: we know that the sacrifices which we offer are of divine appointment: we see the priest actually making an atonement for us: we behold the high-priest carrying the blood of the sacrifice within the vail: and we hear him pronouncing the very benediction which God put into his mouth. You Christians lose all these advantages, and rely on mere notions of your own, which have nothing visible, nothing real.’ But to these objections the Christian may reply, ‘We have a better sacrifice, and a greater High-priest than you: and though we see neither the sacrifice nor the High-priest with our bodily eyes, we know he is entered into a better tabernacle, that is, into heaven itself, “there to appear in the presence of God for us:” and therefore do we “hold fast our profession,” yea, and will hold it fast, whatever menaces, or whatever allurements, be employed to turn us from it.’
But if the greatness of our High-priest be sufficient to determine us, what will not the consideration of his goodness be? Let us but contemplate that, and we shall need nothing further to keep us steadfast even to the end: for we shall have a perfect assurance that we shall never want any thing that is requisite either for our spiritual or eternal welfare.
This is the idea suggested in the text; from whence we are naturally led to notice,


The character of our great High-priest—

Though he was “the Son of God,” “Jehovah’s Fellow,” “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person,” yet “He was in all points tempted like as we are.”
[In bodily sufferings, he was tried with hunger and thirst, and weariness and pain; and had not even a place where to lay his head. As for persecutions from men, no human being was ever pursued with such bitter unrelenting animosity as he. No terms were too vile to be applied to him: he was called “a glutton and a wine-bibber,” a deceiver and blasphemer, a Samaritan and a devil: and the whole nation rose against him with that indignant cry, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Of his assaults from Satan, what shall we say? What words can express the conflicts he maintained with all the powers of darkness, in the wilderness, and in the garden of Gethsemane, when through the agonies of his soul his whole body was bathed in a bloody sweat? From the hidings of his Father’s face also, and from a sense of his wrath, when, as we are told, “it pleased the Lord to bruise him,” his sufferings infinitely surpassed all that any created imagination can conceive. When his soul was sore troubled, even unto death, he prayed indeed for the removal of the bitter cup, yet drank it, when put into his hands, without complaint: but when he was called to endure the consummation of his misery in the hidings of his Father’s face, he could not forbear pouring forth that heart-rending complaint, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Thus was he foremost in almost every trial that we can possibly be called upon to sustain; and notwithstanding in him was no sin, he was, far beyond any of the sinners of mankind, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”]
Having experienced in his own person all that we can feel, he sympathizes with us in all our trials—
[The double negation in our text is very expressive; and imports much more than a simple affirmation. Our High-priest is most assuredly a tender sympathizing Friend: and one great end for which he submitted to be tempted like us, was, that he might learn to appreciate aright our sufferings, and “be able to succour us in our temptations [Note: Hebrews 2:18.].” He now can say, more emphatically than heretofore, “I know their sorrows [Note: Exodus 3:7.]:” and more justly may it be said of him, “His soul is grieved for the misery of Israel [Note: Judges 10:16.].” So acutely does he feel for all his members, that “whoso persecuteth them, persecutes him [Note: Acts 9:4.];” and “whoso toucheth one of them, toucheth the apple of his eye [Note: Zechariah 2:8.].” What he felt when he wept at the grave of Lazarus, he still feels, as it were, when he beholds his sorrowing and afflicted people. From whatever quarter their troubles arise, from men or devils, from body or from mind, yea, or even from the hand of God himself, his compassion is the same, and his sympathy is ready to exert itself for their relief.]

Such being indisputably the character of our High-priest, let us contemplate,


The encouragement to be derived from it in all our addresses at the throne of grace—

The thought of having such an High-priest passed into the heavens to further our cause in the presence of his God, emboldens us to come to God himself,


Without fear, as arising from a sense of our own unworthiness—

[Had we not such an Advocate, it would be impossible for us to draw nigh to God with any hope of acceptance. To such unholy creatures as we, God would be nothing but “a consuming fire.” But, when we recollect what a sacrifice our great High-priest has offered, and that “he is entered into heaven with his own blood,” and that he pleads the merit of that blood in behalf of his believing people, how can we doubt of acceptance through his prevailing intercession? Be it so, our sins have been most heinous: yet are we assured, that “his blood will cleanse from all sin,” and that they who are washed in it, shall be as wool, and their crimson sins be white as snow. Had we the guilt of the whole world accumulated on our own souls, still need we not despair, since he who is our Advocate is also “a Propitiation for us, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world [Note: 1 John 1:2.].” If the blood of bulls and goats prevailed for Israel to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14.]. With such an Advocate we have nothing to fear. We are sure that “him the Father heareth always:” and that “he is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].” He has the names of all his people on his breastplate, and on his heart: and the chief of sinners may be as confident of acceptance through him, as those who have comparatively little to be forgiven [Note: 1 Timothy 1:15-16. ἐμοὶ πρώτῳ.].]


Without doubt, as arising from the greatness of the things we have to ask—

[All that we can need is comprehended in two things, “mercy and grace;” the one, for the pardon of our past transgressions; the other, for the preservation of our souls from sin in future. Now these are the very things specified in our text, as to be asked by us in the name of our High-priest with boldness and confidence: and we are assured, that they shall be granted, both in the time and measure that we need them. We are not to be accounting any thing too great to ask, because there is nothing too great for him to give. We “are not to be straitened in ourselves, seeing that we are not straitened in him.” We may “ask what we will; and it shall be done unto us [Note: John 14:13-14.].” However “wide we open our mouth, it shall be filled [Note: Psalms 81:10.].” Let our need of mercy be ever so great, “we shall obtain mercy;” and our need of grace ever so abundant, the supply shall be proportioned to our need. If we want grace to sustain suffering, to fulfil duty, to transform the soul into the Divine image, “Ask and have,” is the Divine command: and our boldness in asking cannot be too great, provided it be of a right kind: it must not be of an unhallowed and presumptuous cast; but duly tempered with penitential sorrow, and patient resignation. Then it may rise to a confident expectation, and a full assurance of faith [Note: Hebrews 10:19-22.].]

But whilst we are thus encouraged to draw nigh to God, let us learn,

That nothing is to be obtained without prayer—

[It is not the death of Christ as our sacrifice, nor the intercession of Christ as our great High-priest, that will save us, if we do not pray for ourselves. Though he is on a throne, and that throne is a “throne of grace,” we shall receive no benefit from his power or grace, if we do not sue for it in earnest and believing prayer. His offices are not intended to supersede our endeavours, but to encourage them, and to assure us of success in the use of the appointed means. Those are always characterized as “enemies, who call not upon God:” and we are warned plainly that we cannot have, if we neglect to ask [Note: James 4:3.]. The means must be used in order to the end; and it is only in, and by, the means, that the end can ever be attained [Note: Matthew 7:7-8.]. Hear this, ye who neglect prayer, or draw nigh to God with your lips only and not with your hearts! Unless “in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, you make your requests known unto God,” you can never experience his blessing upon your souls, nor ever behold the face of your God in peace.]


That in all your addresses to God your eyes must be directly fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Mediator and Advocate—

[When the high-priest was passing through the vail into the holy of holies, the eyes of all were fixed on him as their mediator; and from his intercession all their hopes were derived. And how much more should our eyes be fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Advocate and Intercessor! It is in his name that we are taught to offer our supplications [Note: John 16:23-26.]: and it is through his intercession alone that they can come up with acceptance before God [Note: John 16:6.]. Seek then at all times to realize this in your minds: and beg of God to make you deeply and abidingly sensible of it: for “then only do you honour the Father, when you thus honour his dear Son [Note: John 5:23.];” and then only will the Father be glorified in you, when he is thus honoured and glorified in the person of his Son [Note: John 14:12.].]


That when you thus approach God in and through his Son, all doubts of acceptance must be put away—

[We are not to be wavering in our minds when we draw nigh to God. To doubt either his power or his willingness to help us, is to disparage both the Father and the Son: and prayers offered with a doubtful mind will never bring with them an answer of peace [Note: James 1:6-7.]. It is quite a mistaken humility that leads persons to question whether such sinners as they can find mercy; or whether the grace of Christ can be sufficient for them. All such doubts betray an ignorance of Christ, and his Gospel. If he be not the Son of God, equal with the Father, then we may well doubt his ability to help: or if his sacrifice and intercession be not the appointed means of salvation for the whole world, then we may ask, Can he save such a guilty wretch as me? But if all has been ordered of the Father, and the whole work of redemption has been executed by the Son, then must we “not stagger at any of the promises, but be strong in faith, giving glory to God [Note: Romans 4:20.].” And according to our faith, so shall it be done unto us.] [Note: If this be the subject of a Charity Sermon, the following may be inserted in the place of the last inference.


That whilst we derive such comfort from him, we should labour to imitate his example—

[He suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should “follow his steps.” He requires us to “love one another, as he has loved us;” and, if need be, to “lay down our lives for the brethren.” And is there not a call for our sympathy at this time? (Here set forth the particular occasion and urgency of it.) Let us then shew that we “possess the mind that was in Christ Jesus,” and labour to the uttermost to extend to our brethren such aid as shall be suitable and sufficient for them.]].

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/hebrews-4.html. 1832.
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