The Law having a shadow of good things to come
The Law had only a shadow:
He is careful not to say that the Law was itself but a shadow.
On the contrary, the very promise includes that God will put His laws in the heart and write them upon the mind. This was one of “the good things to come.” The Law was holy, righteous, and good; but the manifestation of its nature in sacrifices was unreal, like the dark outline of an object that breaks the stream of light. Nothing more substantial, as a revelation of God’s moral character, was befitting or possible in that stage of human development, when the purposes of His grace also not seldom found expression in dreams of the night and apparitions of the day. To prove the unreal nature of these ever-recurring sacrifices, the writer argues that otherwise they would have ceased to he offered, inasmuch as the worshippers, if they had been once really cleansed from their guilt, would have had no more conscience of sins. The reasoning is very remarkable. It is not that God would have ceased to require sacrifices, but that the worshipper would have ceased to offer them. It implies that, when a sufficient atonement for sin has been offered to God, the sinner knows it is sufficient, and, as the result, has peace of conscience. The possibility of a pardoned sinner still fearing and doubting does not seem to have occurred to the apostle. To men who cannot leave off introspection and forget themselves in the joy of a new faith the apostle’s argument will have little force and perhaps less meaning. If the sacrifices were unreal, why, we naturally inquire, were they continually repeated? The answer is that there were two sides to the sacrificial rites of the Old Covenant. On the one hand, they were, like the heathen gods, “nothings”; on the other, their empty shadowiness itself fitted them to be a divinely appointed means to call sins to remembrance. They represented on the one side the invincible, though always baffled, effort of natural conscience; for conscience was endeavouring to purify itself from a sense of guilt. But God also had a purpose in awakening and disciplining conscience. The worshipper sought to appease conscience through sacrifice, and God, by the same sacrifice, proclaimed that reconciliation had not been effected. In allusion to this idea, that the sacrifices were instituted by God in order to renew the remembrance of sins every year, Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of Me”--of Him who hath put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself. Such, then, was the shadow, at once unreal and dark. In contrast to it, the apostle designates the substance as “the very image of the objects.” Instead of repeating the indefinite expression “good things to come,” he speaks of them as “objects,” individually distinct, substantial, true. The image of a thing is the full manifestation of its inmost essence, in the same sense in which St. Paul says that the Son of God’s love, in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, is the image of the invisible God. The gracious purpose of God is to forgive sin, and this was accomplished by the infinite humiliation of the infinite Son. God’s will was to sanctify us; that is, to remove our guilt. We have actually been thus sanctified through the one offering of the body of Jesus Christ. The sacrifices of the Law are taken out of the way in order to establish the sacrifice of the Son. It will be observed that the apostle is not contrasting sacrifice and obedience. The dominant thoughts of the passage are the greatness of the Person who obeyed and the greatness of the sacrifice from which His obedience did not shrink. The Son is here represented as existing and acting apart from His human nature. He comes into the world, and is not originated in the world. The purpose of the Son’s doming is already formed. He comes to offer His body, and we have been taught in a previous chapter that He did this with an eternal spirit. For the will of God means our sanctification in the meaning attached to the word “sanctification” in this Epistle--the removal of guilt, the forgiveness of sins. But the fulfilment of this gracious will of God demands a sacrifice, even a sacrificial death, and that not the death of beasts, but the infinite self-sacrifice and obedience unto death of the Son of God. This is implied in the expression “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” The superstructure of argument has been raised. Christ as High Priest has been proved to be superior to the high priests of the former covenant. It remains only to lay the top-stone in its place. Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest, is for ever King; for the priests under the Law stand while they perform the duties of their ministry. They stand because they are only priests. But Christ has taken His seat, as King, on the right hand of God. They offer the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins, and wait, and wait, but in vain. Christ also waits, but not to renew an ineffectual sacrifice. He waits eagerly to receive from God the reward of His effective sacrifice in the subjugation of His enemies. The priests under the Law had no enemies. Their persons were sacred. They incurred no hatred, inspired no love. Our High Priest goes out to war, the most hated, the most loved, of all captains of men. The foundation of this kingly power is in two things: first, He has perfected men for ever by His one offering; second, He has put the law of God into the hearts of His people. The final conclusion is that the sacrifices of the Law have passed away, because they are no longer needed. “For where there is forgiveness, there is no more an offering for sin.” (T. C. Edwards, D. D.)
The Old Testament and the New:
In the Old Testament the New Testament lies hid; in the New Testament the Old Testament lies open. (Augustine.)
Judaism and Christianity:
Christianity lay in Judaism as leaves and fruits do in the seed, though certainly it needed the Divine sun to bring them forth. (De Wette.)
The Old Testament and the New:
To pass from the doctrine of the Old Testament to that of the New is to enter a changed world. It is as if we had lived through an Arctic winter, our long night occasionally lit as by an aurora, or by stars the apparent revolutions of which made the mobility of our own minds the more conspicuous, and had suddenly chanced upon a warm and glorious summer with its unsetting sun and nightless day. The age of symbols is no more. Faint administrations of heavenly truths under material forms have given place to the loud proclamation of the same truths under those less material forms of speech and life. (Principal Cave, D. D.)
The two dispensations
The former constitution was not abolished, but exchanged, and by that change perfected; and in this manner did Jesus say that He came not to abolish, but to complete or accomplish: secondly, that the former was a type, and merged into its reality, not so much dying as passing into a second existence, where a true sacrifice covered a typical oblation, where redemption given passed before redemption expected, where uncertainty had ripened into knowledge, and hope yielded its kingdom to faith. To illustrate the noble by the base, the former state was as that living but creeping sheath wherein lie infolded for a time the corresponding parts of a more splendid and gorgeous insect, which in due time takes upon itself the vital functions till then by the other exercised, and rises towards heaven--the same, yet different--a transmigration rather than an offspring. (Cardinal Wiseman.)
No more conscience of sins
Conscience and forgiveness:
Conscience naturally knows nothing of forgiveness; yea, it is against its very trust, work, and office to hear anything of it. If a man of courage and honesty be entrusted to keep a garrison against an enemy, let one come and tell him that there is peace between those whom he serves and their enemies, so that he may leave his guard, and set open the gates, and cease his watchfulness; how worthy will he be, lest, under this pretence, he be betrayed! “No,” saith he, “I will keep my hold until I have express orders from my superiors.” Conscience is entrusted with the power of God in the soul of a sinner, with command to keep all in subjection, with reference to the judgment to come; it will not betray its trust in believing every report of peace. No; but this it says, and it speaks in the name of God, “Guilt and punishment are inseparable twins.” If the soul sin, God will judge. What tell you me of forgiveness.? I know not what my commission is, and that I will abide by. You shall not bring in a superior commander, a cross principle, into my trust; for if this be so, it seems I must let go my throne--another lord must come in--not knowing as yet how this whole business is compounded in the blood of Christ. Now, whom should a man believe if not his own conscience? which, as it will not flatter him, so it intends not to affright him, but to speak the truth as the matter requireth. Conscience hath two works in reference to sin--one to condemn the acts of sin, another to judge the person of the sinner; both with reference to the judgment of God. When forgiveness comes, it would sever and part these employments, and take one of them out of the hand of conscience; it would divide the spoil with this strong one. It shall condemn the fact, or every sin; but it shall no more condemn the sinner, the person of the sinner, that shall be freed from its sentence. Here conscience labours with all its might to keep its whole dominion, and to keep out the power of forgiveness from being enthroned in the soul. It will allow men to talk of forgiveness, to hear it preached, though they abuse it every day; but to receive it in its power, that stands up in direct opposition to its dominion. “In the kingdom,” saith conscience, “I will be greater than thou”; and in many--in the most--it keeps its possession, and will not be deposed. Nor, indeed, is it an easy work so to deal with it. The apostle tells us that all the sacrifices of the Law could not do it (Hebrews 10:2); they could not bring a man into that estate wherein he could have “no more conscience of sin”--thief is, conscience condemning the person; for conscience, in a sense of sin, and condemnation of it, is never to be taken away. And this can be no otherwise done but by the blood of Christ, as the apostle at large there declares. (J. Owen, D. D.)
Remembrance again made of sins
Sin remembered no more:
Memory is the source both of sorrow and of joy: like the wind, which is laden both with frankincense and with unpleasant odours, which brings both pestilence and health, which both distributes genial warmth and circulates cold.
The effect of memory depends on the subject of a particular recollection. This faculty is directed to past events, and if those which memory embraces have been joyous, the effect is joyous; if they have been grievous, the effect, unless there be some counteracting influence, is grievous. Among the multitude of sorrows, which, memory awakens, none is so bitter as that which arises from the recollection of sin. The recollection of sin is in this world variously originated. Sometimes pride leads a man to dwell on his past errors. He has a very high estimate of himself, and his complacency has been disturbed by some act of transgression, upon which be is constantly looking back. Vanity moves men to remember their errors. The vain man is anxious that others should have a good opinion of him, and his mortified vanity occasions him to look back upon his past faults and failures. Or he has a selfish desire for his own happiness: he sees in the past actions which have interfered with his enjoyment, and he cherishes the remembrance of sin because sin has been drying up the fountain of his pleasures. But turning from the evil powers which originate such recollections, we may look at a broken and contrite heart. Contrition of spirit cherishes the memory of transgression. The recollection of sin is occasioned by various influences, and the effect of these remembrances is various. Sometimes the recollection of sin hardens a man; sometimes it produces strong rebellion. On other occasions it induces deep depression. “The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmities, but a wounded spirit, who can bear?” There is a provision for forgetting our sins. But there was no such provision under the Law, nor in any of the ceremonies that Moses ordained. On the contrary, “in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” That Jew would not be a true disciple to Moses and true child of Abraham who did not on the Day of Atonement call to mind his trespasses, although he had presented a trespass-offering, and all the sins he had committed, although he had presented his sin-offerings. If you look at the chapter, you will find that this passage is introduced for the sake of forming a contrast between the dispensation under Moses and the dispensation introduced by Christ. “Now there is no remembrance again made of sins.” We have had our day of atonement--the day upon which Christ hung on the Cross. We have had our sacrifice offered: it has been both offered and accepted. We have only to feel that it has been offered, and that it is accepted, and then the atonement which removes the outward guilt takes away also from the conscience the sense of guilt. “In these sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” “But by this one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Here the writer penned these words for the sake of expressing something else which these words suggest to every Christian; such as these thoughts: First, God has made provision for the practical forgetting of sin in His own conduct towards a believing transgressor; and, secondly, the state of the penitent’s heart should respond to this provision. This provision is revealed to him on purpose that he may take advantage of it--that he may get all the peace and joy it is calculated to minister. “Thou shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.” “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.” For the sake of cherishing the spirit of humility, it is right to remember sin; for the sake of learning patience and forbearance and a kind and forgiving spirit towards each other; for the sake of increasing our sense of obligation to the atonement of Christ, and stimulating our gratitude for the everlasting mercy of God, it is right to remember sin; but sin should be forgotten when the remembrance of it would operate as a barrier to intercourse with God. “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace”; not with the sullenness of Cain--“my punishment is greater than I can bear”--but with all the loving reliance of Abel--“come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
1. As an obstacle to hope, there is to be no remembrance of sins. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” “Jehovah is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”
2. As a check to filial reliance, there is to be no remembrance of sin. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
3. As marring our complacency in God, there is to be no remembrance of sin. He “hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ,” and annihilated the distance. “You who were far off are brought nigh by the blood of Christ.”
4. As hindering our enjoyment in God, there is to be no remembrance of sin. You are not to ask, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?” as though you would go if you could, or as though it would be a relief to take your eye from God’s eye and your lip from God’s ear; but your resolve must be, I will “go to the altar of my God, to God my exceeding joy.”
5. As darkening our prospects, there is to be no remembrance of sin. He has” blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.” Why is it that some Christians do not realise all this? Why is it that sometimes fear gets the mastery over them? The answer is at hand. Many persons think that they are Christians when they are not. Their repentance has been a thoroughly selfish state of soul, and not a godly sorrow. (S. Martin.)
Reminders of sins:
As they in the time of the Law had many sacrifices to put them in remembrance of sin, so we in the time of the Gospel have many remembrancers of sin--sundry monitors to admonish us that we are sinners. The rainbow may be a remembrance of sin to us, that the world was once drowned for sin, and that it might be so still but for the goodness and mercy of God. Baptism daily ministered in the Church putteth us in mind of sin; for if we were not sinners we needed not to be baptized. The Lord’s Supper puts us in mind of sin: “Do this in remembrance of Me,” that My body was broken for you and My blood shed for you on the Cross. The immoderate showers that come oft in harvest and deprive us of the fruits of the earth may put us in mind of sin; for they be our sins that keep good things from us. Our moiling and toiling for the sustentation of ourselves with much care and wearisome labour; for if we had not sinned it should not have been so. The sicknesses and, diseases that be among us, the plague and pestilence that hath raged among us, the death of so many of our brethren and sisters continually before our eyes, &c., may put us in mind of sin; for if we had not sinned we should not have died. There be a number of things to put us in mind of sin; but there is nothing that can take away sin but Jesus Christ “ the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” Therefore let us all fly to this heavenly Physician for the curing of us. (W. Joules, D. D.)
The blood of bulls and Of goats
The insufficiency of Mosaic sacrifices
IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THINGS MAY USEFULLY REPRESENT WHAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE THAT IN AND BY THEMSELVES THEY SHOULD EFFECT. This is the fundamental rule of all institutions of the Old Testament.
II. THERE MAY RE GREAT AND EMINENT USES OF DIVINE ORDINANCES AND INSTITUTIONS, ALTHOUGH IT BE IMPOSSIBLE THAT BY THEMSELVES, IN THEIR MOST EXACT AND DILIGENT USE, THEY SHOULD WORK OUT OUR ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD. And it belongs to the wisdom of faith to use them to their proper end, not to trust to them, as to what they cannot of themselves effect.
III. IT WAS UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE THAT SIN SHOULD BE TAKEN AWAY BEFORE GOD AND FROM THE CONSCIENCE OF THE SINNER BUT BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. Other ways men are apt to betake themselves to for this end, but in vain. It is the blood of Jesus Christ alone that cleanseth us from all our sins, for He alone was the propitiation for them.
IV. THE DECLARATION OF THE INSUFFICIENCY OF ALL OTHER WAYS FOR THE EXPIATION OF SIN IS AN EVIDENCE OF THE HOLINESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND SEVERITY OF GOD AGAINST SIN, WITH THE UNAVOIDABLE RUIN OF ALL UNBELIEVERS.
V. HEREIN ALSO CONSISTS THE GREAT DEMONSTRATION OF THE LOVE, MERCY, AND GRACE OF GOD, WITH AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO FAITH, in that when the old sacrifices neither would nor could perfectly expiate sin, He would not suffer the work itself to fail, but provided a way that should be infallibly effective of it, as is declared in the following verses. (John Owen, D. D.)
The inability of the legal sacrifices
As the legal sacrifices did not of themselves take away sins, so it was impossible that they should. There was an essential defect in them.
1. They were not of the same nature with us that sinned.
2. They were not of sufficient value to make satisfaction for the affronts done to the justice and government of God.
3. The beasts offered up under the law could not consent to put themselves in the sinner’s room and place. The atoning sacrifice must be one capable of consenting, and must voluntarily substitute himself in the sinner’s stead. Christ did so. (Matthew Henry.)
A body hast Thou prepared Me
The body of Christ:
These words of the Psalmist are a prophecy of the Incarnation.
I. First, it plainly means THE NATURAL BODY, which He took of the substance of the Blessed Virgin. All that makes up the natural perfection of man as a moral and reasonable intelligence, together with a mortal body, He assumed into the unity of His person.
II. As there was a natural, so there is A SUPERNATURAL PRESENCE OF THE BODY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. He said, “The bread that I will give is My flesh,” &c.; “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man,” &c. And when at the Last Supper He gave this great sacrament to His apostles, He said, “This is My body, this is My blood.” It is not for us to attempt to explain the secrets of this mystery. Who can reveal the manner of the resurrection of the body or the mystery of the Incarnation? Then here let us stay our thoughts. What He has said, that He will give, in spirit, substance, and reality. It is enough for us to know that as truly as the life and substance of the first creation are sustained and perpetuated until now, so in the second, which is the mystical Vine, He is root and trunk, branch and fruit; wholly in us, and we in Him.
III. There is yet another and A WIDER MYSTERY SPRINGING UP OUT OF THE LAST. The natural body of our Lord Jesus Christ is, as it were, the root out of which, by the power of the Holy Ghost, His mystical body is produced; and therefore He seems to take this title, “I am the root and the offspring of David”--the offspring according to the descent of the first creation, the root as the beginning of the new. This great work of the regeneration He began to fulfil when, at His descent into hell, He gathered to Himself the saints who of old were sanctified through the hope of His coming; and although “they without us” could not, when on earth, “be made perfect,” yet at His descent unto them they “came behind in no gift,” but were made equal to the saints of the kingdom. Then began the growth and expansion of the mystical Vine. Upon this unity of patriarchs, prophets, and saints of old were engrafted apostles and evangelists, and all the family of the regeneration. The body which, in its natural and local conditions, was enclosed in an upper chamber or wound in grave-clothes, has multiplied its life and substance as the first Adam in the family of mankind throughout the generations of God’s elect. Such is the mystical body of Christ.
IV. ARE THERE, THEN, THREE BODIES OF CHRIST? God forbid; but one only--one in nature, truth, and glory. But there are three manners, three miracles of Divine omnipotence, by which that one body has been and is present--the first as mortal and natural; the second supernatural, real, and substantial; the third mystical by our incorporation. (Archdeacon H. E. Manning.)
A body prepared:
It is one of the most striking things connected with our earthly existence that God sends no life into the world unclothed, bodiless. Every life has a body specially adapted for the service which that life has to render. The higher the life the more complex the organism; but in each case there is a wondrous harmony between every life and its embodiment and every body and its surroundings. If it be so, how much more when He will send His Son into the world will He prepare a body for Him--a body that shall be specially adapted for His great mission and for the accomplishment of His great design! The Incarnation is confessedly among the greatest of all mysteries. It is the Infinite One accepting a body. What does this mean? We cannot tell; we can only touch the fringe of the great subject. It means--it at least signifies this: that, for a time, the Infinite One
1. Accepts the limitations of finite existence. We know that as man He hungered, was tempted, wept human tears; we know that He prayed to His Father, and that His was the joy of receiving the Father’s approval. His acceptance of a finite existence made these things possible in His experience, and thus made Him an example to us. We are very, very far from seeing the full significance of the Incarnation, but we see enough to rejoice in it and glorify God for that Incarnation which, by virtue of the limitations it involved, made a gospel like ours possible. Again, by the Incarnation Christ accepts
2. The conditions of service, the submission of a servant: “Lo, I come to do Thy will.” How does the Apostle Paul put it? (Philippians 2:6-8). The Incarnation was the form in which the Lord Jesus could render the lowliest service. What a step in the path of obedience was that! Once we accept the story of the birth, and believe that the Christ has accepted a human body, Gethsemane and Calvary are perfectly intelligible and easily accepted. It is as man that Godward He has rendered the most perfect service, and that manward He has left a perfect example that we should follow His footsteps. Again, by the Incarnation He accepts
3. The highest possibility of self-sacrifice. “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all This Man, after that He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” The Incarnation finds its full significance in that sacrifice which was made possible by it. Without the Incarnation there could be no Cross. It is the manger that predicts Calvary. (D. Davies.)
A prepared body
Be careful to see clearly that Christ is the speaker, and that it is He who says to His Father. “A body hast Thou prepared Me.” It is the Deity of the Second Person in the Trinity--not yet become incarnate, but at the very point--addressing God, and declaring the great mystery of the passing away of all sacrifice and offering--that is, of the death of animals and the presenting of gifts--as utterly inadequate, and nothing worth for the atonement of the soul. He introduces Himself--God’s one great method with man, in the strange and inexpressible blending of the Divine and human, which was in Him. The God in our Emmanuel explains His own manhood, and traces it all up to the Father’s pre-arranging mind: “A body hast Thou prepared Me.” Let us look at the time of the “preparation.” In the mind and counsel of God that “body” was before all worlds (Proverbs 8:24-31). So was Christ ready before He came, and, or ever man sinned, the scheme was complete. Then came the Fall, and immediately the ready promise (Genesis 3:15). As the ages rolled on, the plan developed. Then, as the time drew on, the “preparation,” which was in the bosom of the Father, began to take form and substance. The whole Roman world was stirred, that that “body” should appear at its destined spot. Through the purest channel which this earth could furnish, by miraculous operation, that “body” should come into the world, human but sinless, perfectly human but exquisitely immaculate. By what unfathomable processes I know not. “Curiously wrought” in this lower earth, that “body”--the prototype, before Adam was made, of all that ever should wear human form--that “body” came … But let us stand again by that little form laid in the manger outside the caravansaai, and let us reverently ask, For what is that “body”?
1. The text answers at once, For sacrifice. There is that dear Babe--lovely as no other babe was ever lovely--only a victim, a victim to be slaughtered upon an altar!… But let me ask, Is your “body” fulfilling the purpose for which it was “prepared”? Is it a consecrated body? Is it a ministering body? Ministering--to what? To usefulness, to mission, to truth, to the Church, to Christ?
2. And that “body” was “prepared” for sympathy. Therefore “He took not on Him the nature of angels,” but He became the Son of Man, that He might have human instincts; that His heart might throb to the same beat; that He might be true, even to every nerve and fibre of the physical constitution of every child of Adam. When you have an ache or feel a lassitude or depression, do not hesitate to claim and accept at once the fellowship of “the man Christ Jesus.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Care for the body:
First of all, I shall name the sloven. We have all seen him at times, and a very objectionable fellow he is; clothes, gait, hair, hands, everything about him, denoting a lazy, indolent creature that is utterly without self-respect. If you keep in mind this little text, “A body hast Thou prepared me,” you will feel it a sacred duty to keep in proper condition your physical frame. Secondly, I name the boor. It is the greatest mistake in the world to suppose that it is a token of manliness to disregard the courtesies of polite society. “Be courteous” is a Scriptural admonition. Whatever you are, don’t be a boor! As little would I like to see you a fop. Dandyism is one of the most contemptible developments of’ humanity, and always betokens extreme littleness of mind. But I cannot dismiss the text without pointing out how it bears upon the sensualist. There is no language in Scripture more startling in its awful solemnity than that which condemns the man “who sinneth against his own body.” “The body,” says St. Paul, “is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Scripture speaks in many a place of a man “sinning against his own soul.” But there is something exceptionally terrible in the wickedness of those who sin against their own bodies. My subject compels me to warn you, in accents of earnest entreaty, against every form of impurity. Your body is God’s temple; no marble fane that ever was reared is so beautiful or so perfect. Shudder at the thought of its defilement. “A body hast Thou prepared me, O God; it shall be kept stainless and immaculate for Thee”--let this be your daily vow. And if it is to be kept, you must first of all guard your heart-purity. There is no fuller’s soap that will perfectly cleanse the imagination once it is defiled. If a harp be broken, skill may repair it; if a light be extinguished, the flame may be rekindled; but if a flower be crushed, what power can restore it to what it was before? Such a flower is purity. The first step on the down-grade taken, only a miracle of grace can bring you to the level again. The Scriptural doctrine of the resurrection invests this physical frame of mine with an infinite dignity and importance. Death is its temporary dissolution, not its destruction. With what magnitude of interest and importance does this invest these corporeal frames of ours! It confers upon them an awful indestructibility, at the thought of which even the perpetuity of mountains, of suns and stars, become as nothing. You have a bodily as well as a spiritual immortality. These bodies shall claim half of your individuality to all eternity. Can you, then, make them the instruments of sin, or defile them by unholy lusts? Must you not guard with utmost care the imperishable temple of the soul? (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
Lo, I come … to do Thy will, O God
The beautiful life of Christ:
Our text presents an aspect of Christ of the highest charm. He is the great and only fulfiller of “the will of God “ the world has ever seen. There was a “book” in which much concerning Him was “written.” At different times, in different measures, in different ways, of type in institute and incident, of promise, of comparison and contrast with other men and other doings, did that “book” perpetually speak of Him. But howsoever diverse its utterances were, they were all wonderfully harmonised in their ascription to Him of the spirit of delighted obedience to God.
I. THE LIFE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LIFE THAT HAS EVER BEEN LIVED IN THE WORLD. All sorts of beauty were bright in Him--the beauty of virtue, the beauty of godliness, the beauty of love, the beauty of sympathy, the beauty of obedience, and this without crack or flaw; the beauty of wise words, the beauty of holy action, the beauty of kind and gentle disposition; beauty which shone in the house, beauty which flamed in the temple, beauty which lighted up the cornfield and the wayside, beauty which graced alike the table of the publican and the Pharisee; beauty With smiles and tears, gifts and helps for men, women, and children as He found them.
II. ONE GREAT REASON WHY THAT BEAUTIFUL LIFE HAS BEEN LIVED AMONGST US MEN IS THAT WE MAY MAKE OUR LIVES BEAUTIFUL BY IT. He came to be an example. He bade men follow Him. He called for imitation of His spirit and character. His servants held Him up in the same light; they bade men “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” “follow in His steps,” let the same mind be in them as was in Him. There is not a single virtue in Christ that should not have its place and power in you. The scale of its play, the special circumstances and relations which throw such grandeur into His career, must, of course, present a vast disparity between Him and us. But in essence, in spirit, we are bound to cultivate His worth; the actual outworking in our lot and relations of each excellence of His is an obligation on our heart and conscience.
III. THE SECRET OF THIS MOST BEAUTIFUL LIFE OF CHRIST IS TOLD US. Were you to see a rare and beautiful flower in another’s garden, you would naturally wish that it might adorn your own also. You would ask whence it came, what soil it liked, and a dozen other questions, so that its true treatment might be leaflet and your own garden enriched with it. And when you are truly roused to spiritual care you ask the like questions about a beautiful action that has struck you or a beautiful character that has crossed your path. Whence came it? What is its inspiration--its culture? Tell me the secret, Never were such queries more seemly than on the survey of Christ’s beautiful life. Is its great secret ascertainable? Is it within my reach? Well, Christ’s beauty all came from one thing--He did “ the will of God.” He delighted to do it. Its law was in His heart.
IV. WHAT A BEAUTIFUL WILL THE WILL OF GOD MUST BE IF THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE OF CHRIST IS SIMPLY ITS OUTCOME! Few phrases are so inadequately welcomed by us as “the will of God.” We invest it, perhaps, with all the reverence we can, with sublimity, authority, rectitude, and power, but not with beauty. It is not a charm to us, a ravishing delight. We submit to it rather than accept it. We bow, but we do not sing. Oh! let us correct ourselves. The will of God is beautiful beyond all expression. Each commandment it gives is beautiful, “holy, just, and good.” The way of life it prescribes is as “the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” The character it forms and moulds is radiant with a lustre that never dies. The good it diffuses is boundless in worth and variety.
V. IF YOU WOULD MAKE YOUR LIFE BEAUTIFUL LIKE THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE OF CHRIST, YOU MUST DAILY STUDY THE WILL OF GOD, AND JUST BE AND DO WHAT THAT WILL ORDAINS. There is the philosophy of a high, noble, beautiful, glorious life--so simple that a child can understand it, so profound and far-reaching that no maturity of power, no elevation in lot, can ever carry you beyond it. It is the one grand law of time and eternity, of earth and heaven. (G. B. Johnson.)
Christ the substance of the ancient sacrifices of the Law
To take Jesus Christ for our Redeemer and for our Example is an abridgment of religion, and the only way to heaven. If Jesus Christ be not taken for our Redeemer, alas! how can we bear the looks of a God who is of purer eyes than to behold evil? If we do not take Jesus Christ for our Example, with what face can we take Him for our Redeemer? Should we wish that He who came into the world on purpose to destroy the works of the devil, would re-establish them in order to fill up by communion with this wicked spirit that void which communion with Christ leaves?
I. First, we will consider the text AS PROCEEDING FROM THE MOUTH OF JESUS CHRIST. We will show you Jesus substituting the sacrifice of His body instead of those of the Jewish economy.
1. Our text is a quotation, and it must be verified. It is taken from the fortieth psalm All that psalm, except one word, exactly applies to the Messiah. This inapplicable word, as it seems at first, is in the twelfth verse, “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon Me.” This expression does not seem proper in the mouth of Jesus Christ, who, the prophets foretold, should have no deceit in His mouth, and who, when He came, defied His enemies to convince Him of a single sin. There is the same difficulty in a parallel Psalms 69:5), “O God! Thou knowest My foolishness, and My sins are not hid from Thee.” The same solution serves for both places. Jesus Christ on the Cross was the Substitute of sinners, like the scapegoat that was accursed under the Old Dispensation. The Scripture says in so many words, “He bare our sins.” Is the bearer of such a burden chargeable with any exaggeration when He cries, “My iniquities have taken hold upon Me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of Mine head”? Moreover, the fortieth psalm is parallel to other prophecies, which indisputably belong to the Messiah. I mean particularly the sixty-ninth psalm, and the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.
2. A difficult passage, that needs elucidation. The principal difficulty is in these words, “A body hast Thou prepared Me.” The Hebrew has it, “Thou hast digged, bored, or opened Mine ears.” It is an allusion to a law recorded in the twenty-first chapter of Exodus, where they who had Hebrew slaves were ordered to release them in the Sabbatical year. A provision is made for such slaves as refused to accept of this privilege. Their masters were to bring them to the doors of their houses, to bore their ears through with an awl, and they were to engage to continue slaves for ever, that is to say, to the year of Jubilee, or till their death, if they happened to die before that festival. As this action was expressive of the most entire devotedness of a slave to his master, it was very natural for the prophet to make it an emblem of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ to His Father’s will. But why did not St. Paul quote the words as they are in the psalm? The apostle followed the version commonly called that of the Seventy. But why did the Seventy render the original words in this manner?
3. Jesus Christ, we are very certain, is introduced in this place as accomplishing what the prophets had foretold; that is, that the sacrifice of the Messiah should be substituted in the place of the Levitical victims. On this account our text contains one of the most essential doctrines of the religion of Jesus Christ, and the establishment of this is our next article. In order to comprehend the sense in which the Messiah says to God, “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not;” we must distinguish two sorts of volition in God--a willing of a mean, and a willing of an end. God may be said to will a mean when He appoints a ceremony or establisheth a rite which hath no intrinsic excellence in itself, but which prepares them on whom it is enjoined for some great events on which their felicity depends. By willing an end I mean a production of such events. If the word “will” be taken in the first sense, it cannot be truly said that God did not will or appoint sacrifices and burnt-offerings. Every one knows He instituted them, and regulated the whole ceremonial of them, even the most minute articles. But if we take the word “will” in the second sense, and by the will of God understand His willing an end, it is strictly true that God did not will or appoint sacrifices and burnt-offerings; because they were only instituted to prefigure the Messiah, and consequently as soon as the Messiah, the substance, appeared, all the ceremonies of the Law were intended to vanish.
II. To WHAT PURPOSE ARE LEVITICAL SACRIFICES, OF WHAT USE ARE JEWISH PRIESTS, WHAT OCCASION HAYS WE FOR HECATOMBS AND OFFERINGS AFTER THE SACRIFICE OF A VICTIM SO EXCELLENT? The text is not only the language of Jesus Christ, who substitutes Himself in the place of Old-Testament sacrifices; but it is the voice of David and of every believer who is, full of this just sentiment that a personal dedication to the service of God is the most acceptable sacrifice that men can offer to the Deity. Ye understand, then, in what sense God demands only the sacrifice of your persons. It is what He wills as the end; and He will accept neither offerings, nor sacrifices, nor all the ceremonies of religion, unless they contribute to the holiness of the person who offers them.
1. Observe the nature of this sacrifice. This offering includes our whole persons, and everything that Providence hath put in our power. Two sorts of things may be distinguished in the victim of which God requires the sacrifice; the one bad, the other good. We are engaged in vicious habits, we are slaves to criminal passions; all these are our bad things. We are capable of knowledge, meditation, and love; we possess riches, reputation, employments; these are our good things. God demands the sacrifice of both these.
2. Having observed the nature of that offering which God requires of you, consider next the necessity of it (1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 50:16-17, Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:16; Jeremiah 7:21-23). To what purpose do ye attend public worship in a church consecrated to the service of Almighty God, if ye refuse to make your bodies temples of the Holy Ghost, and persist in devoting them to impurity? To what purpose do ye send for your ministers when death seems to be approaching if, as soon as ye recover from sickness, ye return to the same kind of life, the remembrance of which caused you so much horror when ye were afraid of death?
3. The sacrifice required of us is difficult, say ye? I grant it. How extremely difficult when our reputation is attacked, when our morals, our very intentions, are misinterpreted; how extremely difficult when we are persecuted by cruel enemies; how hard is it to practice the laws of religion which require us to pardon injuries, and to exercise patience to our enemies! How difficult is it to sacrifice unjust gains to God, by restoring them to their owners; how hard to retrench expenses which we cannot honestly support, to reform a table that gratifies the senses! How difficult is it to eradicate an old criminal habit, and to renew one’s self, to form, as it were, a different constitution, to create other eyes, other ears, another body!
4. But is this sacrifice the less necessary because it is difficult? Do the difficulties which accompany it invalidate the necessity of it? Let us add something of the comforts that belong to it, they will soften the yoke. What delight, after we have laboured hard at the reduction of our passions, and the reformation of our hearts; what delight to find that heaven crowns our wishes with success!
5. Such are the pleasures of this sacrifice: but what are its rewards? Let us only try to form an idea of the manner in which God gives Himself to a soul that devotes itself wholly to Him. “O my God! how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee! “ My God! what will not the felicity of that creature be who gives himself wholly to Thee, as Thou givest Thyself to him! (J. Saurin.)
The Son incarnate to do the will of God
I. In the first place the text reminds us THAT INTELLIGENT CREATURES CAN FIND THEIR HAPPINESS AND PERFECTION ONLY IN THE HARMONY OF THEIR WILLS WITH THE WILL OF GOD. But what if the new-made man should abuse his freedom? Who can foresee the consequences? As to his body; what if its hand should pluck forbidden fruit--its tongue utter deceit--all its members become instruments of unrighteousness unto sin? As to the material universe around; what if he should take himself out of harmony with its laws--extracting poison from its plants, and maddening juices from its fruits, and forging its metals into weapons for the slaughter of his fellows? What if he should league with other self-willed beings like himself--league with them solely to augment his power for crushing others, andfor openly disowning his allegiance to heaven? Nay, what if, in the progress of man’s history, he should come to think of setting up a god of his own? Or worse still--there is a rebel angel at large in the universe--a sworn enemy to the righteous government of God; what if a man should be led captive by Satan at his will? And what if he should complete his degradation and his guilt by calling the worship of his own vices, religion; the thraldom of Satan, liberty? What if here, where the will of God should be done as it is in heaven, the will of Satan should be done instead, as it is in hell?
II. I need not say THAT THIS IS HISTORY--THE HISTORY OF MAN. The hour of trial came; and he fell. A law was given him; and, oh, better had a star fallen from its sphere, and been falling still! he broke away from its sacred restraint--deranged the harmony of his own nature--disturbed the tranquillity of the universe--incurred the penalty of transgression. Mercy spared him, but he relented not; justice threatened him, but he quailed not. Generation followed generation, only to take up the quarrel and widen the breach. The Lord looked down from heaven to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek after God. Alas I they had all revolted: there was none that did good; no, not one.
III. But even then, WHEN TO ALL HUMAN EYES THE UNIVERSE WAS UTTERLY VOID OF AID, HELP WAS ON THE WAY. Even then, when infatuated man was saying, “We will not have God to reign over us,” and was vowing allegiance to Satan, that God was saying, “As I live, I will not the death of the sinner.” And even then a voice was heard replying to that purpose, “I come to do it--lo! I come to do Thy will, O My God. Thy will is My will--I delight to do it--it is within My heart.” And that voice came from nouncertain quarter--from no angel ranks--it came, if I may say so, from the centre of the Deity, from the mysterious depths of the Triune God. And the world was spared on the ground of that engagement, and the angels of God held themselves in readiness to behold its fulfilment; and Judaea was prepared to be the theatre of the great transaction, and unnumbered eyes were watching for His coming, and unnumbered interests depending on it. But when He comes, what laws will He obey?--what appearance will He assume? What laws? the very laws which man had broken. What appearance? that of the very nature which man had degraded. And when the fulness of time was come, a body was prepared Him--God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law. And you know what He proceeded to do. All the powers of that body He placed at the disposal of the will of God. Yes, by His obedience unto death, the will of God was done on earth, as it had never been done even in heaven--done in a manner which makes earth, from its centre to its surface, holy ground--done so as to secure the means of converting even this sin-worn world into a loyal province of the King of kings.
IV. And this brings us to the consideration of these MEANS. DO you ask how the will of the rebellious world is to be brought back into harmony with the will of God?” Not by might, nor by power”--not by coercion and force; “but by My Spirit, saith the Lord”--by My Spirit taking of the things of Christ--taking of His voluntary obedience; taking of His love, and showing how He wept over the infatuation of our disobedience; taking of His mediatorial glory, and showing that He is now seated on a throne to receive our submission, to place us once more in harmony with the will of God, and to assure us of His favour.
1. Now, do you not see that when the will of the penitent is secured, the whole man is secured?
2. Here, then, is a willing agent for God. Wonderful as was the creation of a finite will at first--wonderful as was the introduction into the universe of a second will--here is a greater wonder still--the recovery of a lost will to God-a will which had been led captive by Satan, set at liberty and restored, and once more moving in conformity with God’s will. What if he could prevail on other wills to unite with his will--how vastly would that increase his power of serving God!
V. The question naturally arises, then, How is it, if the Divine provision be all complete, and the sanctified human means so well understood--How is IT THAT THE WILL OF GOD IS NOT UNIVERSALLY OBEYED, AFTER THE EXAMPLE OF OUR SAVIOUR CHRIST? Eighteen hundred years have elapsed since He said, “Lo, I come,” and the redemption of the world was effected. How then, we repeat, is the present condition of the world to be accounted for? By the state of the Church. Whatever the doctrinal heresies of the day may be, the great practical heresy is that of a defective zeal. They seem to forget, that in praying that the will of God may be done in the world, they are presupposing that it is done already in the Church. We do not say that Christians have made no progress in learning this great lesson. All the success which they have achieved of late years, as a missionary Church, is owing to their partial obedience to the will of God. But partial obedience will only be followed by partial success. They have so far obeyed, that they are shut up to the necessity of obeying still further. God has quickened them; and they have given, and prayed, and laboured as the Church had long ceased to do. Let them copy the devotedness of their Lord, and the work will be done. Ask you for motives to such zeal”
1. Need I remind you that one of these motives is the sublime truth--that the brightest example of obedience which heaven now contains is not an angel form, but He who “learned obedience by the things which He suffered”? He now reigns in the same spirit in which He suffered. Think what He is doing as your representative there, and say, what ought you to be doing as His representatives here? He is doing your will--answering your highest requests--what ought not you to be ready to do in obedience to His will?
2. Need I remind you, as another motive, what a theme it is we have to obey and to proclaim? The merest despot finds ready instruments to do his will.
3. Think, next, of the happy results of the reception of this message, as compared with man’s present state.
4. Think, again, how some, influenced by these motives, have copied the devotedness of Christ.
5. And then one motive there is which adds force and solemnity to every other--the fact that He who is the subject and substance of our message, on leaving the world, hath said, “Behold, I come quickly.” (J. Harris, D. D.)
It must strike any person, as something that wants accounting for, how it is that a doctrine which has called forth the moral affections of man so strongly, and presented so transcendent an object for them, as that of the Atonement has, should of all criticisms in the world be specially subjected to the charge of being an immoral doctrine. It is based, it is said, upon injustice. What can be the reason of this extraordinary discord in the estimate of this doctrine? Is it not that the Christian body has taken the doctrine as a whole, with all the light which the different elements of it throw upon each other, while the objection has only fixed on one element in the doctrine, abstracted from the others? The point upon which the objector has fixed is the substitution of one man for another to suffer for sin; but he has not taken this point as it is represented and interpreted in the doctrine itself, but barely and nakedly, simply as the principle of vicarious punishment. It is to be observed that, according to this idea of sacrifice for sin, it is not in the least necessary the sacrifice should be voluntary, because the whole principle of sacrifice is swallowed up in the idea of vicarious punishment; and punishment, vicarious or other, does not require voluntary sufferer, but only a sufferer. The victim may be willing or unwilling; it matters not, so long as he is a victim; he endures agony or death in fact, and that is all that, upon the principle of mere substitution, is wanted. It was this low and degraded idea of sacrifice which had possession of the ancient world for so many ages, and which produced, as its natural fruit, human sacrifices, with all the revolting cruelties attending them. Such subtlety of cruelty was the issue of the idea that a mere substitution could be a sacrifice for sin; pain, due in justice to one, be escaped by simple transference to another. But this idea was totally extinguished by the gospel idea, when it was revealed that love was of the very essence of sacrifice, and that there could not be sacrifice without will. A victim then appeared who was the real sacrifice for sin. The circumstance, then, of the victim being a self-offered one, makes, in the first place, all the difference upon the question of injustice to the victim. In common life and most human affairs the rule is that no wrong in justice is done to one who volunteers to undertake a painful office, which he might refuse if he pleased. In accepting his offer this would not indeed always apply; for there might be reasons which would make it improper to allow him to sacrifice himself. But it cannot be said that it is itself contrary to justice to accept a volunteer offer of suffering. Is it in itself wrong that there should be suffering which is not deserved? Not if it is undertaken voluntarily, and for an important object. Upon the existence of pain and evil being presupposed and assumed there are other justifications of persons undergoing it besides ill-desert. The existence of pain or evil being supposed, there arises a special morality upon this fact, and in connection with it. It is the morality of sacrifice. Sacrifice then becomes, in the person who makes it, the most remarkable kind of manifestation of virtue; which ennobles the sufferer, and which it is no wrong-doing in the universe to accept. But this being the case with respect to voluntary sacrifice, the gospel sacrifice is, as has been said, specially a voluntary and self-offered one. It must be remembered that the supernaturalness of the sphere in which the doctrine of the Atonement is placed, affects the agency concerned in the work of the Atonement. He who is sent is one in being with Him who sends. His willing submission, therefore, is not the willing submission of a mere man to one who is in a human sense another; but it is the act of one who, in submitting to another, submits to himself. By virtue of His unity with the Father, the Son originates, carries on, and completes Himself the work of the Atonement. But now with regard to the effect of the act of the Atonement upon the sinner. It will be seen, then, that with respect to this effect -the willingness of a sacrifice changes the mode of the operation of the sacrifice, so that it acts on a totally different principle and law from that upon which a sacrifice of mere substitution acts. A sacrifice of mere substitution professes to act upon a principle of a literal fulfilment of justice, with one exception only, which is not thought to destroy but only to modify the literal fulfilment. It is true the sin is committed by one and the punishment is inflicted upon another; but there is sin, and there is punishment on account of sin, which is considered a sort of literal fulfilment of justice. But a voluntary sacrifice does not act upon the principle of & mock literal fulfilment of justice, but upon another and totally different principle, Its effect proceeds not from the substitution of one person for another in punishment, but from the influence of one person upon another for mercy--a mediator upon one who is mediated with. Let us see what it is which a man really means when he offers to substitute himself for another in undergoing punishment. He cannot possibly mean to fulfil the element of justice literally. What he wants to do is to stimulate the element of mercy in the judge. Justice is not everything in the world; there is such a thing as mercy. How is this mercy to be gained, enlisted on the side you want? By suffering yourself. It is undoubtedly a fact of our nature, however we may place or connect it, that the generous suffering of one person for another affects our regard for that other person. It is true that the sufferer for another, and he who is suffered for, are two distinct persons; that the goodness of one of these persons is not the property of the other; and that it does not affect our relations towards another upon the special principle of justice; that, upon that strict principle, each is what he is in himself and nothing more; that the suffering interceder has the merit of his own generosity, the criminal the merit of his crime; and that no connection can be formed between the two on the special principle of justice. And yet, upon whatever principle it is, it is a fact of our nature, of which we are plainly conscious, that one man’s interceding suffering produces an alteration of regards toward the other man. But it will be said this is true as far as feeling goes, but it is a weakness, a confessed weakness; this impulse is not supported by the whole of the man. Can you carry it out? it may be said; can you put it into execution? We cannot, for very good reasons, that civil justice is for civil objects, and in the moral sphere final pardon is not in our province. But because this particular impulse to pardon cannot be carried out or put into execution, it is not therefore a weakness. It is something true and sincere which speaks in our nature, though it cannot be embraced in its full bearings and in its full issue. Even if it is a fragment, it is a genuine fragment. It exists in us as a true emotion of the mind, a fact of our true selves; it is a fact of nature, in the correct and high sense of the word. The whole law of association, e.g., is a law of mediation in the way of enlisting feelings for us, by means external to us. The laws of association do in fact plead for persons from the moment they are born; men have advocates in those they never knew, and succeed to pre-engaged affections, and have difficulties cleared away before them in their path. The air they breathe intercedes for them, the ground they have trod on, the same sights, the same neighbourhood. What is the tie of place, or what is even the tie of blood, to the essential moral being; it is a wholly extraneous circumstance; nevertheless these links and these associations, which are wholly external to the man, procure regards for him, and regards which are inspired with strong sentiment and affection. So good deeds of others, with which persons have nothing in reality to do, procure them love and attention. The son of a friend and benefactor shines in the light of others’ acts, and inspires, before he is known, a warm and approving feeling. This, that has been described, is the principle upon which the sacrifice of love acts, as distinguished from the sacrifice of mere substitution; it is a principle which is supported by the voice of nature and by the law of mediation in nature; and this is the principle which the gospel doctrine of the Atonement proclaims. The effect of Christ’s love for mankind, and suffering on their behalf, is described in Scripture as being the reconciliation of the Father to man, and the adoption of new regards toward him. The act of one, i.e., produces this result in the mind of God toward another; the act of a suffering Mediator reconciles God to the guilty. But neither in natural mediation nor in supernatural does the act of suffering love, in producing that change of regard to which it tends, dispense with the moral change in the criminal. We cannot, of course, because a good man suffers for a criminal, alter our regards to him if he obstinately remains a criminal. And if the gospel taught any such thing in the doctrine of the Atonement, it would certainly expose itself to the charge of immorality. But if there is no mediation in nature which brings out mercy for the criminal without a change in him, neither on the other hand, for the purpose of the parallel, do we want such. Undoubtedly there must be this change, but even with this, past crime is not yet pardoned. There is room for a mediator; room for some source of pardon which does not take its rise in a man’s self, although it must act with conditions. But viewed as acting upon this mediatorial principle, the doctrine of the Atonement rises altogether to another level; it parts company with the gross and irrational conception of mere naked material substitution of one person for another in punishment, and it takes its stand upon the power of love, and points to the actual effect of the intervention of suffering love in nature, and to a parallel case of mediation as a pardoning power in nature. There is, however, undoubtedly contained in the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement, a kind, and a true kind, of fulfilment of justice. It is a fulfilment in the sense of appeasing and satisfying justice; appeasing that appetite for punishment which is the characteristic of justice in relation to evil There is obviously an appetite in justice which is implied in that very anger which is occasioned by crime, by a wrong being: committed; we desire the punishment of the criminal as a kind of redress, and his punishment undoubtedly satisfies a natural craving of our mind. But let any one have exposed himself thus to the appetite for punishment in our nature, and it is undoubtedly the case, however we may account for it, that the real suffering of another for him, of a good person for a guilty one, wilt mollify the appetite for punishment, which was possibly up to that time in full possession of our minds; and this kind of satisfaction to justice and appeasing of it is involved in the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement. And so, also, there is a kind of substitution involved in the Scripture doctrine of the Atonement, and a true kind; but it is not a literal but a moral kind of substitution. It is one person suffering in behalf of another, for the sake of another: in that sense he takes the place and acts in the stead of another, he suffers that another may escape suffering, he condemns himself to a burden that another may be relieved. But this is the moral substitution which is inherent in acts of love and labour for others; it is a totally different thing from the literal substitution of one person for another in punishment. The outspoken witness in the human heart, which has from the beginning embraced the doctrine of the Atonement with the warmth of religious affection, has been, indeed, a better judge on the moral question than particular formal schools of theological philosophy, The atoning act of the Son, as an act of love on behalf of sinful man, appealed to wonder and praise: the effect of the act in changing the regards of the Father towards the sinner, was only the representation, in the sublime and ineffable region of mystery, of an effect which men recognised in their own minds. The human heart accepts mediation. It does not understand it as a whole; but the fragment of which it is conscious is enough to defend the doctrine upon the score of morals. Undoubtedly the story of the Atonement can be so represented as to seem to follow in general type the poetical legends and romances of the infantine imagination of the world. In details--what we read in the four Gospels--not much resemblance can be charged, but a summary can be made so as to resemble them. And what if it can? What is it but to say that certain turning ideas, Divine and human, resemble each other; that there is an analogy? The old legends of mankind represent in their general scope not mere fancy, but a real longing of human nature, a desire of men’s hearts for a real Deliverer under the evils under which life groans. The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. But more than this, do not they represent real facts too? These legends of deliverers would never have arisen had there not been deliverers in fact; the fabulous champions would not have appeared had there not been the real; it was truth which put it in men’s heads to imagine. Doubtless, in all ages, there were men above the level, who interposed to put a stop to wrongs and grievances; for, indeed, the world would have been intolerable had it been completely given up to the bad: The romances of early times, then, reflect at the bottom what are facts; they reflect the action of real mediators in nature, who interposed from time to time for the succour of mankind in great emergencies. When, then, a heavenly mediation is found to resemble in general language an earthly one, what is it more than saying that earthly things are types of heavenly? So rooted is the great principle of mediation in nature, that the mediatorship of Christ cannot be revealed to us without reminding us of a whole world of analogous action, and of representation of action. How natural thus does the idea of a mediator turn out to be! Yet this is exactly the point at which many stumble; pardon they approve of; reconciliation they approve of; but reconciliation by means of mediation is what they cannot understand. Why not dispense with a superfluity? they say; and why not let these relieve us from what they consider the incumbrance of a mediator? But this is not the light in which a mediator is viewed by the great bulk of the human race. It has appeared to the great mass of Christians infinitely more natural to be saved with a mediator than without one. They have no desire to be spared a mediator, and cannot imagine the advantage of being saved a special source of love. They may be offered greater directness in forgiveness, but forgiveness by intervention is more like the truth to them. It is this rooted place of a mediator in the human heart which is so sublimely displayed in the sacred crowds of St. John’s Revelation. The multitude which no man can number are indeed there all holy, all kings and priests, all consecrated and elect. But the individual greatness of all is consummated in One who is in the centre of the whole, Him who is the head of the whole race, who leads it, who has saved it, its King and Representative, the First-born of the whole creation and the Redeemer of it. Toward Him all faces are turned; and it is as when a vast army fixes its look upon a great commander in whom it glories, who on some festival day is placed conspicuously the midst. Is there humiliation in that look because he commands them? there is pride and exaltation, because he represents them. Every one is greater for such a representative. So in that heavenly crowd all countenances reflect the exaltation of their Head. (J. B. Mozley, D. D.)
The coming Saviour and the responding sinner
Who said this? He who of all who ever walked this earth alone could say--“I have done Thy bidding.” And when did He say it? When all else had failed? When “Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings, and offering for sin, Thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein.” Then, said He, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” It is the announcement of human weakness. It was the final and only way to harmonise the attributes of God, and to make it a just thing for a Holy God to pardon a sinner--to reconcile man to his Maker. And what was God’s will? In the first instance God’s will was to make a lovely creation, and a creature, man, who should be a free agent to occupy and enjoy it. So He made a happy world, and two persons to inhabit and enjoy it. Free agents! That free agency they broke, and so our whole world fell. Then, all praise to His glory and grace, God recalled this world to happiness, and the question was--How could that be done compatible with the truth and justice of His word? That was the problem Christ came to solve. In Him we have a Brother who is the sharer of our weaknesses and of our sorrows and of our temptations. But oh! at what a cost was all this done! With what intensity of anguish I This then is the lesson, “Lo, I come.” But the Greek word which we have translated “ I come “ is more than that; it is “I am come. I am come.” Observe, the expression denotes two things that He came, and that where He comes He stays. “I am come” implies the two facts--the Advent and His presence. “I am come.” He came to die, to be our Substitute. And now, having done that, He stays. “I am come.” He is with us still--our Companion, our Brother, our Guide, our Friend. Can you not offer up an echo to such words us these in your heart and say to God; “Thou didst say ‘I come.’ To Thee, Lord, I will say back, ‘I come to Thee! I come to Thee!’” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
“In the volume of the book.” In olden times books were not made out of sheets of paper folded into four, six, or eight, or twelve, and so forming one compact volume, with page following page from beginning to end, from left to right as now. A book was made of one very long strip of papyrus or parchment, rolled like a window blind on a roller; or rather, let me say, it was on two rollers, one roller was attached to the top of the strip, the other roller was fastened to the bottom. The strip of parchment paper-rush was many yards long. The book began at the very top of the long strip. There were no pages and no turning over of the leaf, but the reader read straight down the strip, his book was written all over the yards of material. As he read the top lines he turned the top roller, and it rolled them up, and unrolled some more of the material with the writing on it from off the bottom roller. And when the reader came to the end of the book, he had rolled it all off the bottom roller on to the top one. When he began his book it was all rolled on to the bottom roller. When the words “volume of the book” are used, it means the roll of the book. A long book of several volumes was a book in several rolls. Our word volume is a Latin word and means a roll, such as a roll of calico or cloth at the draper’s. This word was used before books were made as they are now, in blocks; when the fashion of making books changed the old name remained on, though it really applied only to books in rolls. When it is said by Christ of His life, “Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of Me, to fulfil Thy will, O God,” it really means, “Lo, I come, to do Thy will, so it is written at the head of the scroll,” At the head of every volume was written the title of the book. Now Christ is speaking of His life as if it were a book. As the title and heading of His life is this text, “I am come to do Thy will, O my God!” Many a book opens with a quotation which gives the key to the meaning of the book, just as a text stands at the head of a sermon. You may have seen how every chapter in Sir Walter Scott’s stories begins with a piece of poetry, quotation from somewhere or other, and it has reference to all that follows. So the text, the heading of the chapter of our Lord’s life, is “I am come to do Thy will, O God.” That was why He was born of a Virgin--to fulfil the will of God. Why He was born at Bethlehem--to fulfil the will of God. Why He was circumcised--to fulfil the will of God. Why He fled into Egypt--to fulfil the will of God. (S. BaringGould, M. A.)
Voluntariness of Christ’s sacrifice
Who would say it was unjust of David, when Abigail took--voluntarily took--her husband’s guilt on herself and said, “Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be” (1 Samuel 25:24)? Would it not have been unjust to refuse to her the privilege she asked of being allowed to take on herself a burden, that she might throw it off and secure David’s pacification? Still less can we complain of injustice when Jesus, touched with pity, flies down from the eternal throne, and says to His Father in heaven, “Upon Me, My Father, upon Me let this iniquity be; let Me bear this burden, let Me set them free!” (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures:
In all the Word of God there is not a page that does not testify of Him. Mr. Moody tells of a visit to Prang’s chrome establishment in Boston. Mr. Prang showed him a stone on which was laid the colour for the making of the first impression toward producing the portrait of a distinguished public man; but he could see only the faintest possible line of tinting. The next stone that the paper was submitted to deepened the colour a little; but still no trace of the man’s face was visible. Again and again was the sheet passed over the successive stones, until at last the outline of a man’s face was dimly discerned. At last, after some twenty impressions, from as many different stones, were taken upon the paper, the portrait of the distinguished man stood forth, so perfect that it seemed only to lack the power of speech to make it living. Thus it is with Christ in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. Many persons--even those who know Christ from the New Testament revelations of Him--read rapidly through and over the pages of the book, and declare that they do not see Christ in them. Well, read it again and again; look a little more intently upon these sacred pages; draw a little nearer into the light which the Holy Spirit gives to them that ask Him; read them on your knees, calling upon God to open your eyes, that you may see wondrous things out of His law, and presently the beauteous, glorious face of Him whom your soul loveth will shine forth upon you. Sometimes you will see that dear face in deep shadow, marred more than the face of any man: sometimes He will seem to you as a root out of dry ground; and, again, He will seem fair as the lily of the valley; and as we move toward the end He will rise upon us as the day-dawn and day-star, shining above the brightness of the sun. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
The will of God
Socrates, when the tyrant did threaten death to him, told him he was willing. “Nay, then,” said the tyrant, “you shall live against your will.” “Nay, but,” said Socrates,” whatever you do with me it shall be my will.” And a certain Stoic, speaking of God, said, “What God will, I will; what God nills, I will not; if He will that I live, I will live; if it be His pleasure that I die, I will die.” Ah, how should the will of Christians stoop and lie down at the foot of God’s will; not my will, but Thine be done. (J. Venning.)
He taketh away the first
The first and the second:
The way of God is to go from good to better. This excites growing wonder and gratitude. This makes men desire, and pray, and believe, and expect. This aids man in his capacity to receive the best things. The first good thing is removed that the second may the more fitly come.
I. THE GRAND INSTANCE. First came the Jewish sacrifices, and then came Jesus to do the will of God.
1. The removal of instructive and consoling ordinances. While they lasted they were of great value, and they were removed because, when Jesus came-
(1) They were needless as types.
2. The establishment of the real, perfect, everlasting atonement. This is a blessed advance, for
II. INSTANCES IN HISTORY.
1. The earthly paradise has been taken away by sin, but the Lord has given us salvation in Christ and heaven.
2. The first man has failed; behold the Second Adam.
3. The first covenant is broken, and the second gloriously takes its place.
4. The first temple with its transient glories has melted away; but the second and spiritual house rises beneath the eye and hand of the Great Architect.
III. INSTANCES IN EXPERIENCE.
1. Our first righteousness is taken away by conviction of sin; but the righteousness of Christ is established.
2. Our first peace has been blown down as a tottering fence; but we shelter in the Rock of Ages.
3. Our first strength has proved worse than weakness; but the Lord is our strength and our song, He also has become our salvation.
4. Our first guidance led us into darkness; now we give up self,. superstition, and philosophy, and trust in the Spirit of our God.
5. Our first joy died out like thorns which crackle under a pot; but now we joy in God.
IV. INSTANCES TO BE EXPECTED.
1. Our body decaying shall be renewed in the image of our risen Lord.
2. Our earth passing away and its elements being dissolved, there shall be new heavens and a new earth.
3. Our family removed one by one, we shall be charmed by the grand reunion in the Father’s house above.
4. Our all being taken away, we find more than all in God.
5. Our life ebbing out, the eternal life comes rolling up in a full tide of glory. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Mosaic dispensation abolished by the Christian dispensation
I. THAT THE MOSAIC DISPENSATION WAS ABROGATED BY THE GOSPEL.
1. The Mosaic dispensation was of such a nature that it might be abrogated. It was altogether a positive institution. It was founded on mutable and not immutable reasons.
2. It was predicted that the Mosaic dispensation should be abrogated by another and more perfect dispensation under the gospel.
3. The apostles assure us this did actually take place at the death of Christ.
II. HOW THE MOSAIC DISPENSATION WAS ABROGATED OR SET ASIDE BY THE GOSPEL. There are two ways in which human legislators abrogate their own laws. One way is to pass them for a limited time, and when that time is expired they cease of course; and another way is to pass new particular acts to repeal them. But we do not find that the Mosaic dispensation was abrogated in either of these ways. There was no period specified in the Mosaic laws how long they should continue in force; nor did Christ authoritatively declare that the legal dispensation should be no longer binding. But there were two ways by which He took away the first and established the second dispensation.
1. By completely fulfilling the legal dispensation, which was designed to be typical of Him as Mediator. Just so far as the law had a shadow of good things to come it was entirely abrogated by the incarnation, life and death of Christ.
2. By appointing new ordinances which superseded it.
III. WHAT THINGS UNDER THE LAW WERE ARROGATED BY THE GOSPEL. There is room for this inquiry, because the Mosaic laws were not individually and particularly repealed by anything that Christ did or said. They were only virtually abolished; which proved an occasion of a diversity of opinions on the subject in the days of the apostles, and indeed ever since. It is universally allowed by Christians that some part of the legal dispensation is abrogated, but still many imagine that some part of it continues to be binding.
1. All those things which were merely typical of Christ are undoubtedly abrogated.
2. All things of an ecclesiastical nature under the law are abrogated under the gospel.
3. All things of a political nature in the Jewish church were abrogated by the gospel.
4. All things which were designed to separate the Jews from other nations were abrogated by Christ.
5. The gospel abrogated every precept of a positive nature which was peculiar to the Mosaic dispensation.
1. If the Mosaic dispensation ceased when the gospel dispensation commenced, then the apostles had a right to disregard, and to teach others to disregard, all the Mosaic rites and ceremonies,
2. In the view of this subject we may clearly discover the absurdity of Dr. Tindal’s reasonings, who maintains that Christianity is as old as the creation.
3. If the Christian dispensation has superseded the Mosaic in the manner that has been represented, then there appears an entire harmony between the Old Testament and the New.
4. It appears from what has been said that the evidence of the truth and divinity of the Christian dispensation is constantly increasing by means of the Mosaic dispensation.
5. If the Christian dispensation has entirely superseded the Mosaic, then there is no propriety at this day in reasoning from the Mosaic dispensation to the Christian.
6. If the Christian dispensation has completely superseded and abolished the Mosaic, then it is a great favour to live under the Christian dispensation.
7. It appears from what has been said, that sinners are much more criminal for rejecting the gospel under the Christian dispensation than those were who rejected it under the Mosaic dispensation. The gospel was preached to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to all the Jews under the law, but it was wrapt up in a multitude of mysterious ceremonies which it was difficult to explain and understand; and those who rejected it, generally rejected it through much ignorance. But those who live under the light of the gospel have no ground to plead ignorance. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The superiority of Christ’s priesthood
I. The old was COMPLEX--the new SIMPLE.
II. The old was RESTRICTIVE--the new UNIVERSAL.
III. The old was TRANSIENT--the new ETERNAL.
IV. The old was SENSUOUS--the new SPIRITUAL.
By the which will we are sanctified
THE ETERNAL WILL--“By the which wilt we are sanctified.”
1. This will must, first of all, be viewed as the will ordained of old by the Father--the eternal decree of the infinite Jehovah, that a people whom He chose should be sanctified and set apart unto Himself.
2. This wilt by which we are sanctified was performed of the ever blessed Son.
3. This work is applied to us by the Holy Spirit.
II. THE EFFECTUAL SACRIFICE by which the will of God with regard to the sanctity of His people has been carried out. “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.”
1. This implies, first, His incarnation, which of course includes His eternal Deity. Jesus Christ, very God of very God, did certainly stoop to become such as we are, and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh.
2. All this is implied in the text, because it speaks of the offering of the body of Christ. But why does it specially speak of the body? I think to show us the reality of that offering; His soul suffered, but to make it palpable to you, to record it as a sure historical fact, He mentions that there was an offering of the body of Christ.
3. I take it, however, that the word means the whole of Christ--that there was an offering made of all Christ, the body of Him, or that of which He was constituted.
III. THE EVERLASTING RESULT.
1. The everlasting result of this effectual carrying out of the will of God is that now God regards His people’s sin as expiated, and their persons as sanctified. Offered, and its efficacy abides for ever.
2. They are reconciled.
3. They are purified. (U. H. Spurgeon.)
The offering of the body of Jesus Christ
Sermon for Good Friday
I. No one can read the Gospels in the most careless manner without noticing THAT IN THEM IS A SPECIAL IMPORTANCE ATTACHED TO “THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST, apart from that which belongs to His life, with its absolute sinlessness and perfect obedience. As a general rule, it will be found that Scripture attaches very little importance to a man’s death, and lays all the stress upon his life. The solitary exception in the Bible is the death of Jesus Christ. Then notice also the way in which our Lord Himself speaks of it beforehand. Again and again He speaks of His death as a necessity, as if there was a Divine “must” which rendered it indispensable. There are frequent allusions to it in parable and allegory. The shadow of the Cross is resting upon Him. He speaks with the utmost plainness, and tells the Twelve that He has come “to give His life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:28). All this prepares us for the teaching of the apostles, namely, the fact that throughout their writings the utmost stress is laid on the death of Christ, as distinct from His life; and that the greatest blessings and highest gifts are always connected with His suffering and with the shedding of His blood. You will find that the Epistle to the Hebrews especially is full from beginning to end of the thought of the sacrificial character of the death of Christ. Vie was incarnate “that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” “He needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins and then for the people’s: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself.” “By His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” “The blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God” shall” purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” “Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” He was “once offered to bear the sins of many.” “He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever.” “We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” We have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” It is the “blood of the covenant wherewith” we are “sanctified.” “Jesus, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate.”
II. THE ATONEMENT. What controversies have raged round it! What a stumbling-block it is even now to many! Let us beware not only of endeavouring “to explain the efficacy of what Christ has done and suffered for us beyond what the Scripture has authorised”--this is a danger on one Side--but also let us beware of endeavouring to explain it away, and of “confining His office as Redeemer of the world to His instruction, example, and government of the Church”--this is danger on the other side. Both dangers are real ones. A great statesman once said in eloquent words of our own Church, “Take the history of the Church of England out of the history of England, and the history of England becomes a chaos without order, without life, and without meaning.” And may we not say with all reverence, “Take the history of the death of Christ out of the history of the world, and the history of the world becomes a chaos without order, without life, and without meaning”? We must cling to the fact that Christ is “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” and that by “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” there was made “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” The fact of the Atonement is revealed, but how it is efficacious, or why it was “ necessary,” we are nowhere fully told. Still, we are not to make it more mysterious by shutting our eyes to what is told us; and we must not forget that the doctrine does not stand alone. It should never be dissociated from the great truths of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. Take the doctrine of the Atonement in connection with these two central doctrines of the Christian faith, and then these three things follow, each of which is worthy of serious consideration:
1. He who bore our human nature, and wrought human acts, and died on the Cross for us was a Divine Person. “Not, indeed, God alone; for as such,” it has been truly said, “He would never have been in the condition to offer, or to die; nor man alone, for then the worth of His offering would never have reached so far; but He was God and man in one person, and in this person performing all those acts; man, that He might obey and suffer and die; God, that He might add to every act of His obedience, His suffering, His death, an immeasurable worth, steeping in the glory of His Divine personality all of human that He wrought.”
2. From the fact that He was God the Son, the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity, who is one with the Father, it follows that we must never, even in thought, imagine a discordance of will between the Father and the Son, nor so represent the Atonement as if there was a clashing of will within the Godhead. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,” and “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And what greater proof of love can be imagined than this?
3. In considering the doctrine of the Incarnation, we are to remember that it was not the death of a man which brought about such great results. He who died for us was the “Second Adam,” the Head of the redeemed humanity. If it is His Godhead which gives His offering its infinite worth, it is His position as the Second Adam which qualifies Him to represent us. It is often said that if you would win back to self-respect some poor despairing wretch who has fallen so low as to be utterly reckless, and lost to all sense of shame, you must begin by making him understand that there is some one who cares for him yet. And if we can learn at the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ that though we are sinful and hardened, it may be, and despairing, yet, in spite of all, God loves us with that yearning, passionate love which led Him to give Himself for us, then I think that our hearts will be broken, and we shall yield to the power of that love which knows no rest, and can never tire until it has found those it died to win. (E. C. S. Gibson, M. A.)
This Man, after He had offered
The eras of redemption
THE PAST ERA OF CHRIST’S REDEMPTIVE HISTORY. He has “offered one sacrifice for sins.”
1. Christ’s death was a self-immolation.
2. His death was a self-immolation for sin. He died to put away sin: to put it away in its guilt-form--in its idea-form--and in its habit-form. His death was a self-immolation for sin unrepeatable. “One … for ever.” Sufficient for all lands and ages.
II. THE PRESENT ERA OF CHRIST’S REDEMPTIVE HISTORY. “Sat down at the right hand of God.”
III. THE FUTURE ERA OF CHRIST’S REDEMPTIVE HISTORY. “From henceforth expecting,” &c.
1. Christ has enemies. Fallen angels and sinful men.
2. These enemies He will subjugate. Some will be subdued by the moral influences of His truth and love; and some by the resistless might of His retributive justice. Lessons:
1. The repugnance with which humanity should regard sin.
2. The true test by which we may determine the worth of our Christianity. The absence of sin.
3. The certainty of Christianity’s ultimate triumph.
4. The absurdity of waiting for any further helps to conversion. (Homilist.)
The perfection of Christ’s atonement
I. We see Him ON THE EARTH and this is what He is said to have done here--“He offered one sacrifice for sins.” The apostle, we must remember, is both comparing and contrasting Him with the Jewish priests. His object is to show us that He is all to the Church these priests ever were, and all in a much higher degree. He compares Him with them. Now one part of their office was to make reconciliation or atonement for the sins of the people. Thus far then our Lord resembles the Jewish priests--He really offered a sacrifice. But the apostle also contrasts Him with them. He made, he says, one sacrifice only. There was in His case no perpetual standing by the altar, no daily ministering, no multiplying of victims. His precious blood once shed, all is over; the fire on the altar goes out, and the altar itself is soon thrown down and destroyed. And here become evident; two blessed truths.
1. One sacrifice serves for all God’s Church--not only one priest, but one offering.
2. This one offering of Christ serves effectually for all God’s Church. Not only are all His people cleansed, they are all fully and eternally cleansed, by it.
II. We must now follow our Lord INTO HEAVEN. The text carries Him there in His human nature; and more than that--in the character He bore here in His human nature, the great Expiator of our sins. The apostle’s language intimates to us
1. The repose of Christ in heaven, a repose indicating the completeness and perfection of the work He had performed on earth.
2. The high exaltation of Christ in heaven. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The sacrifice and triumph of Christ
I. THIS GOD-MAN OFFERED ONE SACRIFICE FOR SIN. That was the sacrifice of Himself, which we may consider as implying surrender.
1. He offered His body (Isaiah 1:6; Psalms 69:21; Isaiah 52:14). These were sufferings of no common kind.
2. But, in suffering, He offered His mind. The sufferings of our Redeemer’s soul must be considered as the soul of His sufferings.
3. He offered in sacrifice His glory--by which we understand how glory will follow up the shame. Now, our Redeemer’s feelings were not blunted or stoical--nay, they were delicately fine; and when they called Him “ a deceiver of the people,” “a glutton, and a wine-bibber”; when they said He had a devil--that He was not fit to live: He must have felt the indignity with great acuteness.
4. He offered in sacrifice the consolations of heaven’s protection Matthew 27:46).
5. He offered in sacrifice His life (John 15:13; Romans 5:8).
6. He offered in sacrifice His will. He prayed that the cup of suffering might pass from Him (Matthew 26:42); yet He gave His person into the hands of those who put it to torture: He voluntarily resigned Himself to that train of overwhelming and distressing ideas, that threw His mind into an agony and bathed Him in a bloody sweat.
II. FOR WHAT PURPOSE DID HE OFFER THIS SACRIFICE? Whenever we think, or read, about the sufferings of Christ, we are immediately directed to sin 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5). This Man offered Himself a sacrifice for sin
1. To avert the consequences of it. Jesus Christ paid the penalty, that He might deliver the sinner from the consequences of his sins.
2. He died that He might remove the presence of sin, by doing away the love of it; by cleansing the guilty in the” fountain opened for sin and uncleanness,”--rendering the person “ without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
3. He offered Himself a sacrifice to overcome the forfeiture of sin.
III. THE EXALTATION OF OUR REDEEMER.
1. This was through the medium of His resurrection.
2. And He has now “ sat down at the right hand of God.” God is a great and invisible Spirit, with whom literally there can be neither standing nor recumbency. We must, therefore, understand this phrase figuratively; and it is
IV. THE PURPOSES OF HIS WILL SHALL BE FULFILLED. Of the adversaries of Jesus Christ we observe
1. That Satan is the most subtle, ancient, and formidable.
2. Error. Error may be said to be a hydra with many heads. These systems degrade God’s creatures, rob the Redeemer, murder the souls of men; and as such they must come down: by the general diffusion of knowledge, by the spread of the Scriptures, by the piety of God’s people.
3. Another enemy is to be found in wicked, unconverted men. But these enemies shall be the footstool of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Upon unconverted men, Jesus Christ will employ His gospel on their understandings, and His Spirit on their consciences, and His providence on their circumstances and their bodies; and these weapons shall be “ mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”
4. Another enemy of Christ is death. He is said to be the last enemy that shall be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).
5. All these enemies have been made by one worse than the devil himself, and that enemy is sin. To destroy sin the Son of God was manifested--for this purpose He offered Himself a sacrifice--for this purpose He has commanded His gospel to be preached to every creature--for this purpose He is, at this moment, seated at the right hand of God, invested with all power, to employ whatever instrument He thinks proper, and to give a blessing to those means that they may be effectual.
1. Here we discover the character of sinners. They are said to be enemies to Christ.
2. We learn, again, that these unconverted persons must be His footstool, whether at home or abroad. Will you be conquered by the sceptre of His grace; or will you be broken in pieces by the iron rod of His wrath?
3. We see the duty of the people to extend by conquest the triumphs of the Redeemer: to bring home His rebel outcasts, that they may be saved from sin and Satan’s snare. (W. Atherton.)
The matchless Mediator:
I. Is His RELATION TO CALVARY.
1. He accomplished what all others failed to do.
2. He accomplished what none others need attempt after Him.
II. Is His RELATION TO HEAVEN.
1. Enjoyment of tranquil repose.
2. Elevation to highest honour.
3. Execution of universal power.
III. IN HIS RELATION TO THE MILLENNIUM.
1. He has opponents.
2. His enemies are in process of subjugation.
3. His ultimate supremacy will be complete. (B. D. Johns.)
I. THE PERMANENCE OF THE REPETITION OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS IS NOT NECESSARY FOR THE PURPOSES OF THE ATONEMENT. If we look at the influence of it on other beings, good and bad, we can see that the transient acts of Christ’s life, and the permanent assumption of our nature for our redemption, are an eternal guarantee of His love of the law. If we look at its effects on the pardoned, it is sufficient that Christ lived here thirty-three years, and died once. The mother that bore you, and cherished you in infancy’s helpless years, needs not repeat all that, in order to convince you of her love, or to strengthen her claims upon your love. A stranger rushed into the flames, and saved you from a horrid death, when you were a child. Will you ever forget it? God needed only to express once, in this form, His unvarying grief at our sins--His uncompromising opposition to them. Nay, more:
II. THE PERMANENT SUFFERING OF THE INNOCENT AND BENEVOLENT REDEEMER WOULD DEFEAT THE VERY END OF ATONEMENT. That end is, to diminish suffering in the universe. If we are to be saved at the eternal expense of such a Being; if He is to be for ever buffeted and spit upon, while we are crowned with glory; if He is to sink under the Father’s frown, while we rejoice in the light of His countenance--then the cost is too great. To awaken the most generous sentiments in the hearts of the redeemed, and to sustain them, Christ must be rewarded with everlasting honour and joy. To enjoy heaven by the continued sufferings of our Friend and Redeemer, would make us selfish; to see His sufferings, and not be selfish, would make our own happiness impossible. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Philosophy and sin:
When Renan was once asked what he did with sin in his philosophy, he shrugged his shoulders, and laughed and said, “I suppress it.” (W. J. Dawson.)
Sat down on the right hand of God
I. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE SAVIOUR’S WORK.
1. He has done all that was necessary to make an atonement and an end of sin. He has done so much, that it never will be needful for Him again to be crucified. Oh! if the last thread had not been woven in the great garment of our righteousness, He would be spinning it now; if the last particle of our debt had not been paid, He would be counting it down now; and if all were not complete, He would never rest, until, like a wise builder, He had laid the top-stone of the temple of our salvation. No; the very fact that He sits still, and rests, proves that His work is finished.
2. And then note again, that His sitting at the right hand of God implies that He enjoys pleasure; for at God’s right hand “there are pleasures for evermore.” Now I think the fact that Christ enjoys infinite pleasure has in it some degree of proof that He must have finished His work. He has joys as God; but as the man-God, His joys spring from the salvation of the souls of men. That is His joy, which is full, in the thought that He has finished His work and has cut it short in righteousness. I think there is some degree of proof, although not, perhaps, positive proof there, that Jesus must have finished His work.
3. The fact that it is said He has sat down for ever proves that He must have done it. Christ has undertaken it to save all the souls of the elect. If He has not already saved them, He is bound to do something that will save them, for He has given solemn promise to His Father, that He will bring many souls unto glory.
4. Yet, the best proof is, that Christ sits at His Father’s right hand at all. For the very fact that Christ is in heaven, accepted by His Father, proves that His work must be alone. Why, as long as an ambassador from our country is at a foreign court, there must be peace; and as long as Jesus Christ our Saviour is at His Father’s court, it shows that there is real peace between His people and His Father. Well, as He will be there for ever, that shows that our peace must be continual. But that peace could not have been continual, unless the atonement had been wholly made, unless justice had been entirely satisfied; and, therefore, from that very fact it becomes certain that the work of Christ must be done.
II. THE GLORY WHICH HE HAS ASSUMED. “After He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right-hand of God.” Now, by this you are to understand the complex person of Christ; for Christ, as God, always was on His Father’s throne; He always was God; and even when He was on earth He was still in heaven. But Jesus Christ, as the man-God, has assumed honours which once He had not; for as man, He did not at one time sit on His Father’s throne; He was a suffering man; but as God-man He has assumed a dignity next to God; He sits at the right hand of the glorious Trinity.
1. From this we gather, that the dignity which Christ now enjoys is surpassing dignity. There is no dignity to be compared to that of Christ.
2. In the next place, Christ has real dignity. Some persons have mere empty titles, which confer but little authority. But the man-Christ Jesus, while He has many crowns and many titles, has not one tinsel crown or one empty title. He overruleth all mortal things, making the evil work a good, and the good produce a better, and a better still, in infinite progression.
3. And once more: this honour that Christ hath received (I mean the Man-God Christ) was deserved honour; that dignity which His Father gave Him He well deserved.
4. We must consider the exaltation of Christ in heaven as being in some degree a representative exaltation. Christ Jesus exalted at the Father’s right hand, though He has eminent glories, in which the saints must not expect to share, essentially He is the express image of the person of God, and the brightness of His Father’s glory, yet, to a very great degree, the honours which Christ has in heaven He has as our representative there.
III. WHAT ARE CHRIST’S EXPECTATIONS?
1. We are told, He expects that His enemies shall be made His footstool. In some sense that is already done; the foes of Christ are, in some sense, His footstool now. What is the devil but the very slave of Christ, for he doth no more than he is permitted against God’s children? What are wicked men but the servants of God’s providence, unwittingly to themselves? In that sense all things are now Christ’s.
2. But we expect greater things than these at His coming, when all enemies shall be beneath Christ’s feet upon earth. We are, therefore, many of us, “looking for that blessed hope; that glorious appearing of the kingdom of our Saviour Jesus Christ”; many of us are expecting that Christ will come; we cannot tell you when; we believe it to be folly to pretend to guess the time, but we are expecting that even in our life the Son of God will appear, and we know that when He shall appear He will tread His foes beneath His feet, and reign from pole to pole, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.
3. Christ will have all His enemies put beneath His feet, in that great day of judgment. Oh I that will be a terrible putting of His foes beneath His feet, when at the second resurrection the wicked dead shall rise; when the ungodly shall stand before His throne, and His voice shall say, “Depart, ye cursed.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The priests standing, Christ sitting:
That the ministry of the priests under the law is ineffectual is seen from their continual standing and offering (comp. Verse 2). That the Son’s is effectual appears from the fact which we know from prophecy fulfilled (Psalms 110:1; chaps, 2:9, 8:1) in Him, that having made His one offering He sat down. He ceased, and no more offers, but awaits the final issue of His one offering, which shall be when He appears a second time unto salvation (Hebrews 9:28). (A. B.Davidson, LL. D.)
From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool
The destined supremacy of Christianity:
The Being presented by this inspired declaration is Jesus Christ; and Christianity is the system of truth of which He is the centre--its Alpha and Omega. Its supremacy is inferred
1. From the fact that God has established and introduced it to human knowledge.
2. From its interior structure, its fitness to man, the reply which it gives to His deepest demands.
3. From the fact that the supremacy of Christianity will nobly complete the circle of history; will give unity, wholeness to the annals of the race, and will show through their courses a sublime method.
4. The specific declarations of God in the Scriptures assure us of that result.
5. The historic progress of Christianity among men, with the nature of the arena on which it now acts, gives assurance of its supremacy. How then ought its friends to labour for Christianity, to spread its truth, its promise, and life I How vividly also does this last thought come to us: the personal obligation of each of us to submit from the heart to Christ’s dominion. The ancient legend of the Church, that Julian died exclaiming as he expired, “Galilean, Thou hast conquered,” is certain to be realised in the substance of its history in every soul not submitted to Christ. His rule at last shall be complete, and the period of that sway shall compass eternity. In that last and glorious age there will be found no place on earth, no place in heaven for him who hath not bowed to Christ! The dominion of Messiah hath no promises for him. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Christ’s confident expectation of ultimate victory
I know nothing more sublime in the inspired writings than that representation of the Lord given us in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which He is depicted as “seated upon His throne at His Father’s right hand, expecting till His enemies become His footstool.” Reflect for a moment upon the sight that must meet that omniscient gaze! A world black with appalling crime and hideous depravity. A world reeking with drunkenness, and lust, and violence, and bloodshed. A world wrapped in the night of spiritual ignorance and heathen darkness. Angels beholding it, in ignorance of the Divine purpose, might well have despaired of it as a world too sunken to raise, too hopeless to deliver. Yet it is upon this sad world that the Saviour’s eye is fixed with such confident anticipation. No fear agitates His mind, no doubt breaks His rest. In His view nothing hangs in uncertainty or remains in jeopardy. To Him the fulfilment is as sure as though it were already realised. Fixing our eyes upon intervening and secondary things, our heart often fails us; but He looks right on through present conflict to the victory beyond; He knows there can be but one result--“His enemies shall lick the dust.” “All kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him.” (A. Bax.)
The signs of advancing victory:
Just as a man in early spring will fall down on some mossy bank over a pale primrose, with a keen joy in his heart, not so much for what it is in itself, but as the harbinger of the great glowing summer so surely advancing. As he looks at it, the leaden skies grow into sapphire clearness, the naked woodlands are once more dressed in living green, and the long winter silence is broken by the wild gushes of sweetest bird-music. He knows that behind that tender plant lies God’s immutable covenant, that, “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter shall not cease”--lie those omnific forces that will soon fulfil all the promise of this prophetic flower. So Christ welcomed each little sign of His advancing victory. A few Samaritans, returning with the woman with whom He had previously conversed at the well of Sychar, drew from Him the exultant utterance, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” The faith of one centurion is regarded at once as the earnest of the whole Gentile world” “And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” On another occasion two or three Greeks express a desire to see Him, and that desire fills Him with a holy transport. “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified … Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the Prince of this world be cast out.” Aa eloquent expositor has said that “they were to Him as the first-fruits of the great flock of humanity; and their presence as the first stroke of the bell which sounded the fatal but glorious hour.” And His attitude to-day upon His throne is still that of calm, quiet, confident expectation. (A. Bax.)
Christ will have the whole world:
It is on record that, during the late civil war in America, and when victory was swaying from side to side, that commissioners from the Confederate States sought and obtained an interview with President Lincoln, with the view of trying to effect an arrangement for the independence of the territory they represented. They knew the tender-heartedness of Mr. Lincoln, and appealed to him to stay the effusion of blood which, at the moment, was flowing in torrents. They were willing to forego several of the States for which they had hitherto fought, if he would consent to the remainder being independent. They pleaded with him for hours, and made use of the strongest arguments and considerations they could adduce to gain their object. When they had finished, the President, who had patiently and attentively listened to all that had been said, raised his hand, and then bringing it down with emphasis on the map which lay before him, replied, “Gentlemen, this Government must have the whole.” (J. Fleming, D. D.)
Perfected for ever them that are sanctified
Perfection in faith
THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE HERE INTENDED, UNDER THE TERM “SANCTIFIED”; they are described as sanctified persons. There are two meanings to the term “sanctified.” One is, “set apart.” God has set apart His people from before the foundation of the world, to be His chosen and peculiar inheritance. We are sanctified by God the Father. There is a second signification, which implies not the decree of the Father, but the work of the Holy Spirit. But the word here, I think, includes both of these senses; and I must try to find a figure which will embrace them both. And what is the apostle speaking about? In the ninth chapter he is speaking about the tabernacle, and the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread, and the sanctuary, and the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid with gold, and the pot of manna; he is talking about priests, and holy things; and he is declaring that all these things of which he speaks were sanctified things, but that though they were sanctified things, they wanted to be made perfect by the sprinkling of blood, Now I believe the sanctification of our text is to be understood in this sense.
II. IN WHAT SENSE ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THAT CHRIST HAS PERFECTED THESE THAT ARE SANCTIFIED? When the golden vessels were brought into the temple or into the sanctuary, they were sanctified the very first moment that they were dedicated to God. No one dared to employ them for anything but holy uses. But they were not perfect. What did they need, then, to make them perfect? Why, to have blood sprinkled on them; and, as soon as the blood was sprinkled on them, those golden vessels were perfect vessels, officially perfect. God accepted them as being holy and perfect things, and they stood in His sight as instruments of an acceptable worship. Just so was it with the Levites and the priests. As soon as ever they were set apart to their office; as soon as ever they were bern, in fact, they were consecrated, they belonged to God; they were His peculiar priesthood. But they were not perfect until they had passed through divers washings, and had the blood sprinkled upon them. Then God looked upon them in their official priestly character, as being perfect persons. Here is one sense of the text. The apostle says that we who are the priests of God have a right as priests to go to God’s mercy-seat that is within the veil; but it were to our death to go there unless we were perfect. But we are perfect, for the blood of Christ has been sprinkled on us, and, therefore, our standing before God is the standing of perfection. Our standing, in our own conscience, is imperfection, just as the character of the priest might be imperfect. But that has nothing to do with it. Our standing in the sight of God is a standing of perfection; and when He sees the blood, as of old the destroying angel passed over Israel, so this day, when He sees the blood, God passes over our sins, and accepts us at the throne of His mercy, as if we were perfect. Therefore, let us come boldly; let us “draw near with a true heart in frill assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” And now we will have one more thought, and then I shall have given you the full meaning of the text. In the seventh chapter, the nineteenth verse, there is a word that is a key to the meaning of my text, and that helped me all through it. “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by the which we draw nigh unto God.” Then with this, compare the tenth chapter and first verse, “The law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year, continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” There is the word “perfect”; and we have it in the text; “for then,” says he, if they had been perfect, “would they not have ceased to be offered.” Why offer any more, if you are a perfect man? “If the sacrifice made is perfect, the worshippers, once purged, should have had no more conscience of sin.” Now mark. The Jewish sacrifice was never intended to make the Jew’s moral character any better, and it did not; it had no effect upon what we call his sanctification; all the sacrifice dealt with was his justification, and the perfection would be sought after; the perfection is not of sanctification, but of official standing, as he stood justified before God. Now that is the meaning of the word “perfect” here. It does not mean that the sacrifice did not make the man perfectly holy, and perfectly moral, and so forth; the sacrifice had no tendency to do that; it was quite another matter. It means that it did not perfectly make him justified in his own conscience and in the sight of God, because he had to come and offer again. But now behold the glory of Christ Jesus as revealed to us in our text. “Those sacrifices could not make the comers thereunto perfect.” They could not feel in their own conscience that they were perfectly justified, and they wanted fresh offerings; but I see the slaughtered Lamb on Calvary. Years ago I sought Him and I found Him. I do not want another Lamb; I do not want another sacrifice. I can still see that blood flowing, and I can feel continually that I have no more conscience of sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The one perfect offering
1. The act is to perfect, which may be to a thing perfect; and seeing the end of Christ’s sacrifice is man’s full happiness, therefore to perfect is to make us perfectly and fully happy.
2. The subject of this consecration are the sanctified.
3. The effect is glorious and most excellent, and includes regeneration, justification, reconciliation, adoption with the inferior degrees of them all, and also the resurrection and eternal glorification. And surely so rare an effect must have some excellent cause; and so it hath, and that is, that one offering of Christ. (G. Lawson.)
The word “perfected” falls with a strange sound on those who are experiencing daily their sad imperfections. But the Christian is a strange paradox. We are unknown, yet well known; chastened, yet not killed; dying, and, behold, we live; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing all things. Let me speak to you then of this twofold aspect of the Christian. You may be caught up into the third heaven, and yet the abundance of thin revelation will not burn up the dross that is within you, or kill the old man, the flesh which warreth against the spirit. We have died once in Christ, and in Christ are accepted and perfect; but our old nature is not dead, the flesh in us is not annihilated, there is still within us that which has no pleasure in the will and ways of God. Painful this struggle will ever be, though God is with us, and our joy is greater than our pain. We have in us the death of Adam, and we have in us the resurrection of Jesus Christ. By the one we are broken and tormented through sin, and darkness, and sluggishness, and earthliness, and gloom; by Christ we are raised, and strengthened, and comforted. We sin, we fall, we carry about with us a mind resisting God’s will, criticising it, and rebelling; and we shall experience to the very last breath we draw on earth, that there is a conflict, and that we must strive and suffer in order to be faithful unto death. (A. Saphir.)
Importance of the death of Christ:
Speculate on it how we may, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ is presented to us in the New Testament as the everlasting reason of every happy relation between sinful man and the moral government of God. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
By one offering:
As our burnt-offering, Christ became our righteousness in full consecration; as our peace-offering, our life; as our sin-offering, the expiation for our sins; as our guilt-offering, He made satisfaction and’ plenary reparation in our behalf to the God on whose inalienable rights in us, by our sins we had trespassed without measure. (S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)
I will put My laws into their hearts
The Bible written in the mind:
Christianity in human life is better than Christianity in cold ink, because
It contains the Divine things, the other only the symbols.
2. It is the end of culture, the other only the means.
3. It is self-obvious, the other requires explanation.
4. It is imperishable, the other temporary. (Homilist.)
A Saviour such as you need
I. IT IS THIS WHICH CONSTITUTES THE GLORY AND SUPERIORITY OF THE NEW COVENANT OF GRACE--NAMELY, THAT IT GIVES TO ALL WHO ARE INTERESTED IN PERFECT SALVATION. Our text tells us that in two points the old covenant was far behind the new: first, in the matter of sanctification the old covenant did not do what the new one accomplishes, for the new writes God’s law upon our hearts and upon our minds, whereas the old covenant was only written out on tables of stone; and, secondly, the old covenant could not put away the guilt of sin, whereas the new covenant runs on this wise--“And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
II. The doctrine, then, is that THERE IS NO MORE SACRIFICE FOR SIN, BECAUSE CHRIST SUPPLIES ALL THAT IS NEEDED.
III. Lastly, does not this doctrine ANSWER A QUESTION that has often been propounded to me, namely, HOW IT IS THAT THERE ARE SO MANY HEARTS WHICH CAN FIND NO PEACE? Some people are always learning, but never coming to the truth. They are good people in many senses, but they cannot be happy. They are always discontented. Now, what do you think is the reason? I am sure it is this, they will not agree that Christ shall be all in all to them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God forgives and forgets:
“Mother forgives me when I’ve been naughty,” said a little girl; “but I see in her face all day after, though she does not frown, that she remembers what I did in the morning. She cannot forget. God forgives and forgets, for ‘He makes it up’ altogether.”
A little boy was once much puzzled about sins being blotted out, and said: “I cannot think what becomes of the sins God forgives, mother.” “Why, Charlie, can you tell me where are the figures you wrote on your slate yesterday?” “I washed them all out, mother.” “And where are they, then? Why, they are nowhere; they are gone,” said Charlie. “Just so it is with the believer’s sins--they are gone; blotted out; ‘remembered no more.’”
Boldness to enter into the holiest
The Christian’s exalted privilege
THE HOLIEST PLACE.
1. The special residence of the Deity.
2. The scene of holy services.
3. The residence of holy beings.
4. From this place those blessings are communicated that make us holy.
II. THE WAY OF ACCESS.
1. A new way.
2. A living way.
3. A consecrated way.
III. THE MANNER OF APPROACH.
1. With boldness.
2. With a true heart.
3. In full assurance of faith.
4. With hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.
5. With bodies washed with pure water.
1. The gospel method of salvation. The blood of Jesus. Its expensiveness and its preciousness.
2. There must be personal application before we can enjoy its benefits.
3. All who thus personally approach shall obtain mercy.
4. How shall they escape who neglect so great salvation? (J. Burns, D. D.)
The house of God and the way to it
I. THE HOUSE OF GOD. What a Divine house is the physical universe, if we had but minds capable of realising its unity and looking upon it as a whole! What a great house even this earth of ours is, full of things innumerable both great and small I And yet this is but the uttermost court to this house. But the physical universe, whatever be its glory, can never be the true house and home of intelligence, thought and will. Only men build up the home of man. And He whose image man wears, and whoso child he is, says, “My people are My portion; Israel is My inheritance.” What a sphere, then, of intelligence, love, and perfected will there must be as the aim and end of a physical universe which is so glorious! And if man’s nature rests in nothing less than man, and demands a human home in which to dwell, what a sphere of voluntary thought and reflection there must be for God, the Maker of heaven and of earth, and the Father of us all! But just as within the sphere of the physical, we require the intelligent, so within the sphere of intelligence there must be that of friendship, for the house of God. The universe of His friends, of His innocent, as well as of His redeemed and happy creatures--these form the house of God; this is Mount Zion, “the mountain of the house of the Lord,” the dwelling-place of the Most High--to which we are invited to draw near, “to an innumerable company ofangels, to the General Assembly and Church of the firstborn, to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to God, the Judge of all.” The Father’s dwelling-place is in the house of His children. But this, the house of His friends is a “house of many mansions”; it has its outer courts, its vestibule, its holy chambers, and its holiest; and between the outer courts, occupied by the children of earth, and that holiest of holies, what intervening abodes there are of angels, of elders, of principalities, of thrones, of dominions, of powers, and of the redeemed of all ages and experiences--throughout which, and in whom, God is all and in all! But within the holiest is enthroned, in meekest majesty, One who is “set over the House of God,” and who, in bodily presence, is the House of God, in the express image of His person and the brightness of His glory, in whom it pleases all the Father’s fulness to dwell, and who is the home of His eternal rest.
II. THE WAY TO IT. We must not forget, in considering the way to this house, that the house itself is spiritual, that it is the home for the thoughts, for the affections, for the will of God; a sphere in which His Spirit finds fellowship, satisfaction and rest; in which He is all and in all--the spring, the source of all power and life, and of all the forms of life answering to the power. Then, clearly, it must be a house only accessible on certain definitely determined conditions; conditions, not arbitrary, but imposed by the very nature of things, given in the very nature of God and His relations to His creatures. Everything has its own way by which it may be entered. Things must be related to have access to each other. Spiritual things have spiritual ways of access, and require spiritual discernment. No wonder then that the text speaks of the way to the House of God as a “new way.” It is not the original way of man’s primitive nature, but a way newly opened up in view of the necessities of the state and circumstances into which man’s sin and sinfulness had brought him, a way for sinners into the holiest of holies, the presence of God. The way of His descent to us may become the way of our ascent to Him. But, it is further called a “living way,” not merely because it leads to life, nor because it gives life, nor because it vitally renews itself, nor because its use is restricted to the living--though in all these senses there is much truth; but because it is a way set up in Him who is the Life. Christ is the way to Christ, as the light is the way to the sun, and the seed-life of the flower the way to the flower. He is the life-fountain and also the stream which conducts to it. But, in addition to its being “a new and living way;” it is also said to be a way which Christ has “consecrated for us through the veil of His flesh.” By this expression, “the veil of His flesh,” the apostle gathers up in unity of significance the whole incarnate relations of the Son of Man, in His representative character, on our behalf, and represents them as a veil of separation between Him and the house of His glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and says, “Only through that can there be a way for man to God.” And this was true for Christ Himself as well as for us. Only by the rending of the veil of His flesh could He, who “came out from God,” return to Him.
III. THE SEVERAL CHARACTERISTIC QUALIFICATIONS WITH WHICH WE ARE EXHORTED TO DRAW NEAR TO GOD WITHIN THE VEIL. “Let us draw near in the full assurance of faith”; that is, being fully assured that this way of “ access to God” for sinful men has been opened up; thai God has solved His own problem; and that in Christ, His representative and ours, the Son of God and Son of Man, it stands a completed work, with its gate on this side the veil, for us as for Him--the cross, and, through the veil, its goal--the cross crowned in glory. Assured of this, let us draw Hear, none daring to make us afraid; for should any arrest our course, and demand our right; to enter within “ the holiest,” we can point them to the way, and to our hearts, sprinkled with the blood of Him who in our nature and in our name is set over the house of God. Having this assurance of faith, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” An assured faith in the fact that we have the new and living way of access to God cannot fail to beget a stedfast hope. Faith not only warrants but demands hope, is in fact the substance of our hope. And He who is its Author has made abundant provision for its growth and expansion in the great exceeding precious promises He has given us, through which we “become partakers of the Divine nature,” and “receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls.” (W. Pulsford, D. D.)
Entering into the holiest
I. THE WARRANT “TO ENTER INTO THE HOLIEST.”
1. “The blood of Jesus.” This blood is the most precious thing that we can conceive of. It is set before us in Scripture in different views.
2. Another warrant is, that we have “a new and living way”--that is, a way quite different from that which the high priest had of old to enter into the “holy of holies.”
3. This way is said to be “consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” Now, every obstacle is removed; and every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is warranted to enter for himself into the immediate presence of God, and there transact all the concerns of his own soul.
4. Another powerful and suitable warrant is expressed in these words--“and having an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near.” When we consider this High Priest, what He is, what He has done, and what He is continuing to do, we have encouragement inexpressible. He is God and man. He is our Brother--our Righteousness--our Sanctification--our Redemption. How glorious is our great High Priest! How happy to be under His guidance--His management--His care!
II. YOUR WELCOME.
1. “Draw near with a true heart.” This implies that you have nothing in view but the supply of grace which you find you need. Let this lead you to inquire of what graces you stand in the utmost need; and let this alone employ all your present desires and petitions to your heavenly Father.
2. Another evidence of your welcome is “full assurance of faith.” This you can have by the study of Christ, in His person, and offices and intercession. In all He is, in all He does, and in all He has done, He is perfect. He can save every soul, be the condition of that soul what it may. But farther, He can give the Holy Spirit, to unite unto Himself--to conform to the Divine image. In one word, He can give “full assurance of faith.” Did you ever ask this “ assurance “ from Him? Did He ever deny it to you? This “ assurance” is your welcome.
3. A farther evidence of your welcome is to draw near with “hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” This is done by the Holy Spirit, for Christ’s sake. When the Spirit enables you to believe, lie at the same time applies to your heart the virtue of the precious blood of Christ. This removes all opposition to faith--to love--to every other grace in the mediatorial person of Christ. This “purges the conscience from dead works” (Hebrews 9:13-14). With such attainments you may, with full welcome, draw near to the mercy seat; for these constitute your welcome there.
4. The last evidence of welcome mentioned in our text is, “our bodies being washed with pure water.” This language is also figurative, and is taken from the act of consecrating Aaron and his sons to the priest’s office.
This is obtained by the promise (Ezekiel 36:25-27). (James Kidd, D. D.)
The true worshipper
1. I would first lead you to consider for a moment the term “brethren”: “Having, therefore, brethren.” There was a strong feeling of brotherhood amongst the Jews, not only on account of their original stock, but on account of their separation from the rest of the world; but the term here denotes the spiritual brotherhood of believers in Jesus Christ. It is not merely that believers are united by natural affections, without any intervening medium; but they are united to each other in Jesus--and that is the closest tie which the soul of man can ever know. What a difference it would make in our treatment of each other, if we could recognise with a loving heart our brotherhood in Christ Jesus! How many jealousies it would remove; and how many of those heart-burnings, which eat as a canker into our spiritual life!
2. Notice, in the next place, the term “ boldness.” This is put in contrast with the fear under the law, which deprived the worshipper of all confidence; and it marks the holy liberty of the child of God, compared with the bondage in which he was held under the law. One of the great snares of Satan is to endeavour to beat men off from this point, as if it were presumption, But read the Word, and see for yourselves what is said upon the subject. “He suffered, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”
3. But still observe--it is by the blood of Jesus, because “without shedding of blood there is no remission.” It is the blood of Christ alone that annihilates the distance between the believing sinner and God; there is no approach but through that blood, and “those who are afar off are made nigh” by it.
4. This is called “ a new and living way,” because it is peculiar to the new covenant of grace, and because it is always new and efficacious; it does not wax old, as did the first covenant; that was for a time only, till “the times of reformation,” we are told, but this is for ever. And it may be called living, because it is the only way of entering into life.
5. But the apostle goes on to say, that our Lord has consecrated for us this way “through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” The meaning of this expression appears to be, that as when the veil was rent at the death of our Lord there was no longer any hindrance to entering into the holiest, so Christ’s flesh being rent by His death, a way was opened to all believers, by the sacrifice which He offered, into the very kingdom of heaven. There is very much instruction for us here. Every other priesthood but the priesthood of Christ has the effect of keeping the worshipper at a distance from God; but His priesthood is put before us as a motive to draw near.
6. Another expression is made use of, which is full of point. “In full assurance of faith.” Faith is needed in God’s service, because “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” “Full assurance” is to be understood of faith in the priesthood of Christ. It is the superiority of that priesthood which the apostle aims to establish throughout this Epistle. And the “ assurance of faith” does not respect the assurance which a man has of his own salvation, but of the efficacy of Christ’s priesthood, and the sufficiency of His atonement and intercession, as opposed to all other ways of access.
7. But the apostle goes on to say--“having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” This is a consequence of our having a “full assurance” of the efficacy of Christ’s priesthood, that we get delivered from the burden of an evil conscience. The conscience of every man has been defiled by sin, nor could the offerings under the law perfect a man with respect to it; but the blood of Jesus can, and when applied to the conscience takes away the condemning power of sin, as respects the guilt of it.
8. Another effect is, that the man desires to “perfect holiness in the fear of God”; which is just what we are taught in the last phrase of the text--“our bodies washed with pure water.” This denotes purity of life and conversation. Thus must we be careful to cultivate holiness of life, if we would approach Him with acceptance; as the former clause, “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,” had reference to our justification, so this latter clause has reference to our sanctification, or to our growth in grace and conformity to the image of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)
The rent veil
I. WHAT HAS BEEN DONE.
1. In actual historical fact the glorious veil of the temple has been rent in twain from the top to the bottom: as a matter of spiritual fact, which is far more important to us, the separating legal ordinance is abolished. Jesus has made thee nigh, as nigh to God as even He Himself is.
2. This rending of the veil signified, also, the removal of the separating sin. Pardon, which removes sin, and justification, which brings righteousness, make up a deed of clearance so complete that nothing now divides the sinner from his reconciled God. The Judge is now the Father: He, who once must necessarily have condemned, is found justly absolving and accepting. In this double sense the veil is rent; the separating ordinance is abrogated, and the separating sin is forgiven.
3. Next, be it remembered that the separating sinfulness is also taken away through our Lord Jesus. It is not only what we have done, but what we are that keeps us apart from God. Through the death of our Lord Jesus the covenant of grace is established with us, and its gracious provisions are on this wise: “This is the covenant, &c., I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” When this is the ease, when the will of God is inscribed on the heart, and the nature is entirely changed, then is the dividing veil which hides us from God taken away: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
II. WHAT WE HAVE.
1. We have “boldness to enter in.”
2. Let us follow the example of the high priest, and having entered, let us perform the functions of one who enters in, “Boldness to enter in “ suggests that we act as men who are in their proper places.
3. If you will look at the text, you will notice that this boldness is well grounded. “Having therefore boldness.” Paul is often a true poet, but he is always a correct logician.
4. Why is it that we have boldness? Is it not because of our relationship to Christ which makes us “brethren”
5. We may have this boldness of entering in at all times, because the veil is always rent, and is never restored to its old place.
III. How WE EXERCISE THIS GRACE.
1. We come by the way of atonement.
2. An unfailing way.
3. A living way.
4. A dedicated way.
5. A Christly way. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Objective religion necessary:
To be ever lifting ourselves by our will, to be hanging round our own works, canvassing our defects, studying the pathology of our own evils, were enough, of itself, to drive one mad. The mind becomes wearied and lost in its own mazes, discouraged and crushed by its frequent defeats, and virtue itself, being only a conscious tug of exertion, takes a look as unbeautiful as the life is unhappy. Therefore we need, all alike, some objective religion; to come and hang ourselves upon the altar of sacrifice sprinkled by the blood of Jesus, to enter into the holiest set open by His death, to quiet our soul in His peace, clothe it in His righteousness and trust Him as the Lamb of God that taketh away our sin. In these simple, unselfish, unreflective exercises, we shall make our closest approach to God. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
A new and living way
The new and living way opened by Jesus
1. The way is new, not the old road of outward sacrifice, but the devotion of willing hearts.
2. Jesus dedicated it to the use of the redeemed host by first travelling along it Himself (for the essence of the dedication ceremony consisted in a solemn opening for the first time to public use).
3. It is also a living way, the path of a living spirit, not a routine of mechanical obedience; by quickening in us His own spiritual life Christ brings us near to God, and unless His spirit live in us we cannot follow in His way.
4. This way leads through the veil of flesh. The flesh is a real veil, shutting men out from the sight and knowledge of God, just as the typical veil shut out all but the high priest from the holy chamber of God’s presence. It forms an obstacle not only against the unclean and sinful, who desire to hide themselves from God’s holy eye and wilfully build up a wall between themselves and Him, but -even against God’s own people who, in spite of an earnest desire to come to Him, are hindered by the necessary imperfection of their mortal nature. Even Jesus Himself had to make His way through this veil of flesh; for He was made subject to the infirmity of the flesh, and liable to temptation. Sinless as He was, He had the understanding and the will of the flesh, its thoughts and desires, its natural appetites and affections. He had therefore to crucify the flesh in will and to be crucified in deed, to put off His mortal garment, and pass through death unto life, before He could altogether pierce the veil of flesh. By passing through this Himself He opened a way for His brethren also to pass through. As the typical veil was rent asunder at His death, so a wide road was opened through the veil of flesh, that all those whom He hath consecrated in His blood may enter in the strength of His spirit into the presence of God. (F. Rendall, M. A.)
The new and living way:
This way may be thus called in opposition to the typical way into the holiest of all, which was a dead way to all but the high priest; none but he might enter into it, nor he himself but once a year, and then not without blood; and that is a dead way through which no man passeth. Again, it is a living way, in opposition not only unto this which led into the most holy place, but unto that into Paradise: for this is a living safeway, and one may pass through it and live; both the other were dangerous and mortal. That in the tabernacle and temple was so: it was mortal to any but the high priest, and to him too at all times but once in the year; and then, too, if he presumed to enter without blood. The other passage into Paradise was obstructed with a flaming sword, and no man could have access to the Tree of Life, but must be slain and burnt to ashes. So that this is a way of life, permanent and safe. (G. Lawson.)
A new and living way
The apostle says it is “a new way.” The literal translation of the word is, “a newly slain way”; it is evidently an allusion to the sacrifice of Christ. If the word be taken in its strict sense it is not new, for it is as old as Adam in Paradise, it is as old as Abraham journeying from Ur of the Chaldees; but in another sense it is new. It is old in years, but it retains its new and beautiful attraction. It is as if a person were to live a thousand years in the same condition as at thirty-six--he would be always young--he would be old in years, but he would retain the appearance of perfect manhood. So this way is old, in the sense that it has been long revealed; but it is new in this sense, that it retains and expresses on the heart of him who walks in it all the joy that results from the novelty of a possession received for the first time, it is therefore, “a new way.” We read in the Apocalypse of “the new song,” that is, a song whose music never palls upon the ear, ever new, ever beautiful. So we say of the gospel, it is a new religion because it never parts with its attractions, it never becomes obsolete because the heart of him who receives it loves it the more he knows it, and the more he loves it the more he studies it; and every fresh view he has of that gospel only deepens the impressions of its excellence which he received when he first heard it. It is called also “ a living way.” If you walk upon a dead road your foot becomes weary as you walk; but this is a living way, it gives life to the walker. The more he walks upon it, the more vigorous, the more delighted, the more able he becomes. It is as if you could conceive a person walking upon a road, and having transferred from the road into his physical economy constant supplies of vigour that would make him walk and not faint, run and not be weary. So the longer you know this blessed gospel, the more you enjoy it; the more you draw from God, and the more you receive: you find real religion is not a dead dogma deposited in the intellect, but a living spring and fountain of life and power ever welling up into everlasting life. (J. C. Cumming, D. D.)
A new and living way
A way which was new, not only as being a way now opened for the first time, but as being a way which would never become old, worn and obsolete. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The way to God should be inquired about
I was coming here (Lame) from Carrickfergus in a gig. Taking for granted that I knew the road well enough I drove right on, passing many people going to market. After a while I began to doubt whether I was right; and meeting a gentleman on horseback, I said to him, “How far is it to Lame?” “This is not the way,” said he; “ you are two miles past where you should have turned to the left up the hill. Come back with me and I’ll show you the right way.” Then, striking his forehead with his hand, he shouted, “You could fool, why didn’t you inquire in time?” So you go on from day to day, thinking you are going right to heaven: but you’re in the wrong way. The great God has told you the right way in His blessed Bible. The priest says you mustn’t read it; but if you don’t inquire you’ll find you’re wrong, as I did. (Gideon Ouseley.)
An High Priest over the house of God
The priesthood of Christ
I. THE DENIAL OF THE PROPER PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST BREAKS THE INTERESTING AND INSTRUCTIVE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW
TESTAMENTS. Revelation is the glow of an early morning, shining to the perfect day. The foundation of the building was laid in the patriarchal ages; and it rose to the completion when by the ascension of Christ He became the head of the corner, and gave the weight and beauty of His majesty to give stability and ornament to the building. All the Scriptures testify of Him; to Him give all the prophets witness: as our great High Priest, Christ was seen with Moses and Elias, who “spake with Him of His decease” which He was about to “accomplish at Jerusalem.” They had looked forward to His day, not with curiosity merely, but with lively interest, as to the consummation of that sacrifice of which theirs were but the types, and their faith in that alone was imputed to them for righteousness.
II. As the connection between the two Testaments would be broken by the denial of the priesthood of Christ, so THE HARMONY BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT DISPENSATIONS OF REVEALED RELIGION TO MAN WOULD BE DESTROYED. The frame-work of revealed religion has been precisely the same in all ages: that man is a sinner; that on the ground of his own right he cannot be justified; that law, though it admits of atonement and satisfaction, is inexorable in the exaction of its penalty; that the guilty can only be pardoned through the sufferings of the innocent; that God can only be approached through mediation; and that intercession for the guilty is admissible only as it has respect to sacrifice for sin. How impressive, how solemn are these truths, transmitted as they are to us by the testimony of all ages, and marked and signalised by the rites of the Church wherever she has erected her temples! This is sufficient to prove that they are the expression of the counsels of the Divine mind; that they are the axioms on which He governs the guilty race; and that, like Himself, they are unchangeable.
III. If we have not in the gospel a real sacrifice and a real priesthood, then CHRISTIANITY LOSES ITS EXCLUSIVE CHARACTER, and can no longer claim to be the religion of mankind. That the religion of Jesus Christ makes such a claim cannot be doubted; and that it was understood by its first preachers to have this exclusive character is matter of history and not of reasoning.
IV. IF WE HAVE NO SACRIFICE, NO PRIESTHOOD, IN THE GOSPEL, THEN CHRISTIANITY, INSTEAD OF BEING THE CONSUMMATION AND PERFECTION OF ALL OTHER DISPENSATIONS OF RELIGION TO GUILTY MAN, IS IN FACT INFERIOR, IMPERFECT, AND THE LOWEST IN HOPE AND CONSOLATION. Who can lay his hand upon his heart and appeal to God that he has never offended in thought, in word, in temper, or in deed? The same gospel which reveals the righteousness of faith reveals also the wrath of God from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” No; thanks be to infinite mercy, we are not so left. We have a High Priest over the house of God. If any man sin, there is a sacrifice of infinite value: the death of the incarnate Son of God. Repentance, and a believing application to the blood of atonement, are followed by conscious pardon. The grace of the Holy Spirit is given to the humble and praying believer to realise in his experience and conduct the holiness of the gospel. (R. Watson.)
Let us draw near
A triplet of exhortations
DRAWING NEAR. Observe by way of contrast
1. Moses at the burning bush. “Draw not nigh hither.” Fire symbolic of judgment. God cannot thus be approached unto.
2. Children of Israel of Mount Sinai. The injunction given to stand off from the mount, God present in holiness, requiring perfect obedience to His law. This man could not render. Therefore there was no hope of being reconciled to God by the law.
3. Yet now the apostle says, “Let us draw near.” How is this? Because
II. HOLDING FAST. A very necessary injunction in these days of apostasy from the faith.
1. What not to hold fast
III. CONSIDERING ONE ANOTHER.
1. HOW may we do this?
2. What would be the result of thus considering one another?
1. To the sinner. You are yet afar off. Christ invites you to Him. He will abundantly pardon.
2. To the believer. You need, every day--yea, every hour--to be coming to Christ for blessing. (H. Whittaker.)
I. "LET US DRAW NEAR.” “Us.” All Christians. Christianity is a spiritual democracy. “Near.” The “middle wall” is gone; Jews and Gentiles are near to each other. How?
1. With the heart. Some honour God “with their lips, bug their heart is far from Him.” You meet an acquaintance, and complain that he was distant, i.e., he was not hearty.
2. With sincerity. “A true heart.” We may be hearty without being honest.
3. With faith. Note the relative position of this. Only hearty and honest seekers will ever be true believers, such always will “in an honest and good heart receive the word.” Bug though faith is placed after heartiness and honesty, let it not be overlooked-otherwise our coming is vain.
4. “With a pure heart.” Sprinkled from an evil conscience, &c. Conscience no longer accuses; our sins are forgiven. Conscience no longer sleeps, allowing us to sin, but is restored to its original office. Conscience is no longer defiled; it is washed, purged. Outward life is, therefore, right--“Our bodies washed with pure water.”
II. “LET US HOLD FAST.”
1. What to? “The profession of our faith,” or, “the confession of our hope.” This is a better rendering. Christianity is a hope--“Christ in you the hope of glory.” That is Christianity in a sentence. The confession is the outward sign of the invisible hope. Duty to confess, and to hold fast to the confession.
2. “Hold fast.” A drowning man, holding a rope, brings all the nervous force of his system into his hands, and clings for dear life. Put all the force of the soul into faith, and so cling to Jesus.
3. “Without wavering.” Very fashionable now to doubt; and we are told if, we certainly believe anything we cannot grow. Be it so. We can only be safe, happy, strong, or useful, by being fully decided--by ceasing to waver.
III. “LET US CONSIDER.” A Christian man is a thoughtful man. From the nature of his position--saved from the wreck--he is in a position to look around--to think.
1. “To provoke one another.” Not to say: “I am safe,” or, “I shall enjoy religion”; but to consider the work of your fellows and the wants of others. Not to say: “How little can I do,” but how much.
2. “Provoke one another.”
3. “To love and good works.” Who shall love most, who shall do most, is the only question worth asking- the only provocation Christianity allows. (J. Colwell.)
Faith, hope, and love:
The apostle’s great argument is concluded, and the result is placed before us in a very short summary. We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way; and we have in the heavenly sanctuary a great Priest over the house of God. On this foundation rests a threefold exhortation.
1. Let us draw near with a true heart, in the full assurance of faith.
2. Let us hold fast the profession of hope without wavering.
3. Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, labouring and waiting together, and helping one another in the unity of brethren. Faith, hope, and love--this is the threefold result of Christ’s entrance into heaven, spiritually discerned.
A believing, hoping, and loving attitude of heart corresponds to the new covenant revelation of Divine grace.
1. Having received, through Christ’s sacrifice and Christ’s present priesthood boldness, a full right of access into the holy of holies, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. The privilege is right of access unto God, the duty is that of approach; and no man values the right of access who does not desire to approach. There can be nothing which really satisfies the heart of any man in being told that he is at liberty to approach God, if he has no inclination to approach unto God. We can only approach with our heart, and by faith, which has its seat in the heart; with a heart which is in earnest, true, and purposeful in this very work of approach. God desireth truth in the inward part. A true heart is a heart which accepts the testimony of God, which distrusts itself, which believes God’s Word, declaring our sin, guilt, and helplessness, and which responds simply, and without reservation, humbly and joyfully to the Divine gospel of the gift of God, eternal life through the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. A true heart is a heart purified by trust in Jesus. A true heart is a heart which desires to be with God and to live unto Him. What is meant by full assurance of faith? Nothing else but faith in full, vigorous, healthy exercise. Faith in what? Not faith in our having faith, in our being accepted; but faith that we have a right of access, that Jesus is the living way, and that He is the High Priest in the holy of holies. The object of faith, of the weakest and smallest spark of faith, as much as of faith in plenitude or full assurance, is not ourselves, but Christ in His person and work. The eye does not see itself; faith is not to stand on itself; your full assurance is to be that Christ’s blood is precious, and that He has entered as the Forerunner. Then you are at peace. Faith means trust, reliance, confidence, leaning. There is no other worthy of trust, none else reliable but Jesus. But if you wish to have an additional object of faith in your own progress and spirituality, you are, like Peter, looking away from Jesus unto the unstable sea. Nor have I any other proof of my faith’s genuineness yesterday, but my exercising faith this moment. It is an ever-present tense--“He that believeth hath eternal life.”
2. We are exhorted to hold fast the profession of our hope without wavering. Before the First Advent believers looked forward in faith and hope to the good things to come. Believing the promise, they expected in hope the glory of Messiah’s reign. With us this unity of faith and hope is substantially the same; but it appears now in a twofold manner. Faith rests on the past, the accomplished work of Jesus; hope looks to the future, the return of our Saviour. And the more we realise Jesus as the living Lord, the more shall we look forward, waiting for His coming, and going forth to meet Him. If we believe that He has come, we also hope that He will come. The profession of our hope is most practical and testing. Hereby we profess that we are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, that we are seeking heavenly things, labouring for heavenly rewards, laying up for ourselves heavenly treasures. We must forsake the sins, pleasures, and honours of Egypt; we must purify ourselves, as Christ is pure. If we profess hope, we must also rejoice, though we be in tribulation; we must view the sufferings and trials of this present life as not worthy to be compared with the coming glory. Then hope, resting on faith, supports faith, and fills us with courage and patience. “Till I come,” is the voice of the Saviour, when faith beholds His dying love; and going forth to meet Him, going forth out of the world’s sin, bondage, gloom, is the response of the bride.
3. But in thus drawing near unto God, and holding fast the profession of our hope, we must bear in mind that we are called to be a brotherhood, and that faith and hope are to be exercised in love. We are the body of Christ, and members one of another. We are to please not ourselves, but our brother unto edification. We are to consider one another as fellow pilgrims; to study our brother’s need and sorrow, difficulty and trial; to exercise our mind on our duty and relation to him, that thus we may be helpful to him in his course, and stimulate and encourage him to good works. To consider one another in the right spirit is to look above all at the Christian character of our brother; to regard him, not so much in the light of his natural disposition; to love him, not so much on account of qualities congenial and pleasing to us; still less to exercise criticism, and to cherish suspicion and uncharitable judgment; but to fix our thought on the one great fact of brotherhood in Christ. And running together in a holy rivalry the same race, we should behold in our brother features of Christian character and activity in which we are deficient. And in this spirit of love we should cherish Christian communion; “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” Christianity is eminently an individual heart-affair; but it is also eminently social. The promise of Christ’s presence is to the assembly gathered in His name. (A. Saphir.)
Drawing near to God
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THIS, “Let us draw near.”
1. Sin has set us at a distance from God (Isaiah 59:2).
2. Sinners stand at a distance from God till they be called, and that powerfully (John 6:44).
II. WE MAY DRAW NEAR TO GOD. Glad news this to poor sensible sinners! Come in, ye blessed of the Lord; why do you stand back? you may draw near to God. For
1. God is on a throne of grace in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19).
2. There is a way to the throne never trod, nor designed to be trod, by any but sinners such as you, and the like of you. This is no back entry, but the most glorious way to the throne. Adam had a way to it, but that is blocked up; there is a new and living way consecrated for us (Hebrews 10:20).
3. He is a friend of ours who is set over the house of God (Hebrews 10:21).
III. WE OUGHT TO DRAW NEAR: “Let us draw near.” For
1. It is the command of God (James 4:8).
2. If we do not draw near to God, we dis-honour His Son, and so dishonour Himself, in so far as we frustrate the great design of the mystery of Christ (John 5:23).
IV. PRACTICAL IMPROVEMENT OF THE SUBJECT, in an use of exhortation.
1. Come back, sinners, draw near towards God and duty. What have you gained by going from Him?
2. Not only draw towards God, but come forward, and draw near to Him as a God in Christ. You may get near to Him ere you come to heaven; in His ordinances in the lower house, there you may have access to Him. Particularly, let us draw near to Him
3. Let us draw near in these ordinances
4. But how must the business of our drawing near to God be managed? The apostle here lays down four directions:
Drawing near to God
I. THE DUTY HERE ENJOINED. To draw near to God, in the sense of our text, is to seek Him in the use of the appointed means of grace, that we may be restored to His favour and image, and enjoy a heartfelt sense of that restoration.
1. We draw near to God when we engage properly in the solemn exercise of public worship.
2. Again, we draw near to God when we engage properly in the exercise of social worship.
3. We also draw near to God, in a peculiar sense, when we engage properly in the exercise of secret devotion.
II. How THIS DUTY MAY BE ACCEPTABLY PERFORMED. TO draw near “with a true heart,” means to worship God with sincerity, which is an indispensable ingredient in Christian piety. But do not confound sincerity with worthiness: that is another thing altogether. If we wait for a blessing at the hand of God till we are worthy of it, we shall die unblessed, and be lost for ever. We have nothing to plead but the worthy name of Jesus, and we need no other; and while we pray in His name, we may know ourselves sincerer however unworthy. The “assurance of faith” is a firm persuasion, a satisfactory evidence, that God does accept, pardon, save, and bless us, for Christ’s sake; and this firm persuasion, this satisfactory evidence, arises, not only from the exceeding great and precious promises of His Word, but chiefly from the direct influence of His Spirit, bearing witness with our spirit that we are His children. “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” There are some evils from which a man may escape; but shall a man flee from a guilty conscience? As well might he endeavour to escape from his shadow when the sun is shining. Wherever he goes, or whatever he does, he feels self-reproach and a sense of the displeasure of the Almighty. Now let us accept the call of grace, be sprinkled from an evil conscience, and restored to the favour and image of God, that, like the apostle, we may “have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” “And our bodies washed with pure water,” in Christian baptism. Water baptism is an outward sign of the inward grace of purification.
III. A FEW BRIEF, PRACTICAL INFERENCES.
1. The first inference from the whole subject is, whoever neglects the means of grace, deprives himself of religious enjoyment.
2. The next inference is, they who use the means of grace will profit thereby.
3. Finally, we infer from this text, what is elsewhere plainly declared, “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.” (T. A. Morris, D. D.)
Approach to God
On one occasion the Reformer paid a pastoral visit to a young scholar who was in his last illness, and one of the first inquiries made was, “What do you think you can take to God, in whose presence you are so shortly to appear?” With striking confidence the youth at once replied, “Everything that is good, dear father--everything that is good!” “But how can you bring Him everything good, seeing that you are but a poor sinner?” anxiously asked the Doctor. “Dear father,” at once added the young man, “I will take to my God in heaven a penitent, humble heart, sprinkled with the blood of Christ.” “Truly that is everything good,” answered Luther. “Then go, dear son; you will be a welcome guest to God.” (Anecdotes of Luther.)
Abiding in the holiest of all:
Some speak as if the “Let us draw near” meant prayer, and that in our special approach to’ God in acts of worship we enter the holiest of all. No; great as this privilege is, God has meant something for us infinitely greater. We are to draw near, and dwell always, to live our life and do our work within the sphere, the atmosphere of the inner sanctuary. It is God’s presence makes holy ground; God’s immediate presence in Christ makes any place the holiest of all: and this is it into which we are to draw nigh, and in which we are to abide. There is not a single moment of the day, there is not a circumstance or surrounding, in which the believer may not be kept dwelling in the secret place of the Most
High. (Andrew Murray.)
The effect of dwelling in the holiest of all:
Enter into the holiest of all, and dwell there. It will enter thee, and transform thee and dwell in thee.
And thy heart will be the holiest of all, in which He dwells. (Andrew Murray,)
Full assurance of faith
Assurance of faith, and assurance of salvation:
The full assurance of faith is a firm and full reliance on God and on. Christ, founded on a firm conviction that what is made known to us in the gospel is true. It has nothing to do with a belief in, or persuasion of, our own personal salvation. No one need wait, then, for this before he approaches God in prayer. Without any thought of self, except as we are conscious of weakness, of want, and of unworthiness, we may with boldness enter in the holiest of all, if we have a firm faith in God and in Christ. Is there, then, some may be ready to ask, no such thing as assurance of personal salvation? Granting that this is not to be confounded with that full assurance of faith of which the apostle speaks, may there not, nevertheless, be such a thing as this personal assurance of salvation, and may we not speak of it under other and more appropriate phraseology? To this I reply at once that there is such a thing, and that Christians may not only speak of it, but ought to seek earnestly, each one for himself, to attain to it. Christians are enjoined to examine themselves, so as to ascertain whether they are in a state of salvation or not; to be very earnest and diligent to certify their calling and election of God; to desire and aim at the attainment of firm and steadfast hope of eternal blessedness: and to regard the possession of joy in the Lord as a blessing to be asked of God, and a state of mind to be continually cherished by the believer. But obviously all this would be in vain if it be not possible for Christians to have some well-founded assurance that they are in a state of salvation. But whilst this seems unquestionably true, and whilst, therefore, there is such a thing as personal assurance of salvation, the doctrine has often been presented in such a way as to engender serious mistakes and lead to very dangerous errors. To some of them I must now advert.
1. It is an error to suppose that assurance of personal salvation does not admit of degrees; in other words, that it may be as full and strong in one just entering on the Christian life as it can be in one who has kept the faith for many years, and has passed through the varied experience of the Christian course. “In ordinary cases,” says a man eminent for his ability, piety, and experience, “I entertain a better opinion of the modest, doubting, and fearful professor than of the bold and assured one.”
2. Another error on this head is, that assurance of personal salvation is essential to salvation. This is held by those who teach that the faith which justifies is a confident assurance that the individual is himself in Christ, and so saved; and it is involved in the opinion of those who teach that every man who is in Christ knows this, and so is assured of his own safety. Now nothing can be more unscriptural than such doctrines. In all the New Testament there is not a single instance in which the apostles indicate, in the most distant way, that saving faith is a man’s belief in his own salvation. No; their invariable cry was, Repent, and believe in Christ; accept the offered salvation through faith in Him. Trust in Him; rest on Him; come unto God through Him and be saved. It is no doubt true that to believe in Christ is to trust in Him for our own individual salvation, for the forgiveness of our own sins and the salvation of our own souls. But to trust in Him for our salvation is a very different thing from believing that we are actually saved in Him; to have assurance that His work affords a sufficient ground for us to rest upon as well as others, is a very different thing from having assurance that we are actually resting on that work for salvation; to know that Christ “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it,” is a very different thing from knowing that He loved us and gave Himself for us. “Nothing,” says the sagacious Andrew Fuller, “can be an object of faith except what God has revealed in His Word; but the interest that any individual has in Christ, and the blessings of the Gospel, more than another is not revealed. God has nowhere declared concerning any of us, as individuals, that we shall be saved; all that He has revealed on this subject respects us as characters. He has abundantly promised that all who believe in Him, love Him, and obey Him shall be saved; and a persuasion, that if we sustain these characters we shall be saved is doubtless an exercise of faith; but whether we do or not is an object not of faith, but of consciousness … The grand object on which faith fixes is the glory of Christ, and not the happy condition we are in as interested in Him … If we be concerned only for our own security, our faith is vain, and we are yet in our sins.” To these wise and weighty words I can add nothing, and nothing needs to be added.
3. The last error I notice is, that we can arrive at assurance of our own personal salvation otherwise than by means of a holy life. This is the criterion which Scripture everywhere proposes; and when any other is proposed, the door is opened for all manner of delusions and fanaticism. If men imagine they can directly see the existence of faith in their souls, or if they suppose that a conviction of their being of the number of the elect is borne in on their souls by the Holy Spirit, or if they infer from some pleasant feelings in their own minds that they are the objects of God’s favour, they are either deluding themselves with what is impossible, or they are trusting to what may be a mere fancy or passing emotion of their own minds. The only sure evidence of our being in a state of grace, is our being in heart and life holy. From this two things follow. The one is, that no man can in this life be absolutely sure that he is sated, because no man in this life can become perfectly holy; the other is, that as holiness of heart and life is salvation, it is only in proportion as this is attained that we have any real ground for believing that we are personally saved. “By their fruits,” said our Lord, “ye shall know them.” The great thing for us is to apply the right test to ourselves, and to look for those signs of salvation in ourselves which our Lord and His apostles have laid down, that we might try ourselves by them. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
Full assurance of faith:
Not with a quarter or half wind, but with full assurance, such a gale of faith as fills the sails of the soul, and makes it set up its top-gallant as it were. (J. Trapp.)
Hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience
Sins of ignorance and weakness:
Among the reasons which may be assigned for the observance of prayer at stated times, there is one which is very obvious, and yet perhaps is not so carefully remembered and acted upon as it should be. I mean the necessity of sinners cleansing themselves from time to time of the ever-accumulating guilt which loads their consciences. We are ever sinning; and though Christ has died once for all to release us from our penalty, yet we are not pardoned once for all, but according as, and whenever each of us supplicates for the gift. By the prayer of faith we appropriate it; but only for the time, not for ever. Guilt is again contracted, and must be again repented of and washed away.
1. First consider our present condition, as shown us in Scripture. Christ has not changed this, though He has died; it is as it was from the beginning--I mean our actual state as men. The history of redemption, if it is to be effectual, must begin from the beginning with every individual of us, and be curried on through our own life.
2. Again, reflect on the habits of sin which we super-added to our evil nature before we turned to God. Instead of checking the bad elements within us, perhaps we indulged them for years; and they truly had their fruit unto death. Then Adam’s sin increased, and multiplied itself within us; there was a change, but it was for the worse, not for the better; and the new nature we gained, far from being spiritual, was twofold more the child of hell than that with which we were born. So when, at length, we turned back into a better course, what a complicated work lay before us, to unmake ourselves! And however long we have laboured at it, still how much unconscious, unavoidable sin, the result of past transgression, is thrown out from our hearts day by day in the energy of our thinking and acting!
3. Further, consider how many sins are involved in our obedience, I may say from the mere necessity of the case; that is, from not having that more vigorous and clear-sighted faith which would enable us accurately to discern and closely to follow the way of life. We stand before God as the Israelites at the passover of Hezekiah, who desired to serve God according to the Law, but could not do so accurately from lack of knowledge; and we can but offer, through our Great High Priest, our sincerity and earnestness instead of exact obedience, as Hezekiah did for them. What I have said is a call upon you, in the first place, to daily private prayer. Next, it is a call upon you to join the public services of the Church, not only once a week, but whenever you have the opportunity; knowing well that your Redeemer is especially present where two or three are gathered together. Christ died once, long since: by communicating in His Sacrament, you renew the Lord’s death: you bring into the midst of you that Sacrifice which took away the sins of the world; you appropriate the benefit of it, while you eat it under the elements of bread and wine. (J. H.Newman, D. D.)
Healing the evil conscience:
Suppose that all the people in the place where we live had some disease of the eye, and that in consequence some were not able to see at all, while none of them were able to see anything clearly. What a sad state of things this would be! We read of persons in the Bible who were just in this condition (2 Kings 6:1-33.). It is a good thing that we have no such trouble with our bodily eyes; but the soul has an eye as well as the body. God has put these eyes in our bodies that we may see where to go and what to do. And so God has given to our souls that which we call conscience, and which shows us what is right and what is wrong--what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. But the apostle speaks in our text of “an evil conscience.” This means a conscience that has been injured like a diseased eye, so that we cannot see clearly.
I. WHAT IS THE USE OF CONSCIENCE?
1. To guide us and keep us from doing wrong. You know we have reins for our horses to keep them in the way they should go; and our consciences are the reins by which God guides us, and if we only mind the reins we shall save ourselves from sin and sorrow.
2. To keep an account of what we do. Conscience is God’s scribe or private secretary; it writes down all that we do, or say, or think, or feel. During the reign of Queen Mary, Bishop Latimer was brought to trial for conscience’ sake. In the room in which the trial took place was a curtain, and behind this curtain a man writing. Whenever the bishop answered a question he heard the sound of this man’s pen as he wrote down each word that was spoken. The bishop said that the sound of that pen made him very careful to say nothing but what was strictly true. And this shows us how we should act at all times. Conscience, God’s secretary, is writing down everything that we do, “whether it be good or whether it be evil.” And the book in which this is written is “ the book of God’s remembrance,” of which the Bible tells us, and out of which we are to be judged at last.
3. As a detector, to find out sin after it has been committed. You know we have what are called detective police. When a robbery has taken place, or a murder has been committed, the business of these men is to try and find out the guilty ones. And God makes use of conscience as His detective police to find out those who have sinned secretly.
II. How MAY CONSCIENCE BE INJURED?
1. By not giving it good light. We have compared conscience to the eye of the soul. We may also compare it to the window of the soul. A window is of use for letting light into room, and also for looking through, that we may see what is outside of the window. But if we wish to have a correct view of the things that we are looking at through a window, what sort of glass is it necessary to have in the window? Clear glass. Suppose that the glass in the window instead of being clear is stained glass--one pane red, another blue, another yellow, and another green. When we look through the red glass what colour will the things be that we are looking at? Red. And so, when we look through the blue glass all things will be blue, they will be yellow when we look through the yellow glass, and green when we look through the green glass. But suppose we have thick, heavy shutters to the window, and keep them closed. Can we see anything through the window then? No. And can we see anything in the room when the shutters are closed? No; it will be dark. And conscience is like a window in this respect. We must keep the shutters open and the windows clean, so that plenty of pure light can get in if we wish to see things plainly. God’s blessed Word, the Bible, gives us exactly the kind of light we need in order to have a good conscience. Let us be careful that we do not injure our consciences by not letting in this light.
2. By not minding what they say. The apostle Paul speaks in one place of men’s consciences, which, he says, have been “seared with a hot iron” 1 Timothy 4:2). Notice how thin and tender is the skin on your hand or face. It is so delicate that it can feel the slightest touch. Not even a feather can rest upon it without your feeling it. But suppose you should have a red-hot iron applied to your hand. It would burn the skin off, and make a sore which would give you great pain. Afterwards it would heal over, and the skin would grow again, but the new skin would be very different from that on your hand now. Instead of being smooth and tender like this, it would be rough and hard, and have very little feeling. And the apostle means to say that if we do not mind what our consciences tell us we shall injure them just as the skin of our hand is injured by being “seared with a hot iron.” You know what an alarm-clock is. It is a kind of clock made to wake persons at a particular hour by making a loud noise. Suppose you have one of these clocks, and you wish it to waken you so that you can rise every morning at four o’clock. You wind it up at night and set the index-finger on the dial-plate pointing to four. The clock keeps on through the night, ticking away, till four o’clock in the morning. Then it begins to strike and ring, and makes such a racket as is sure to wake any ordinary sleeper. This is a very convenient way of being roused from sleep. Yes, it is a sure way, if you only mind the clock, and get up when it calls you. But if you turn over and go to sleep again for two or three mornings, the alarum-clock will lose its power, or rather you will lose your power of hearing it or of being awakened by it. No change will take place in the clock, but a great change will take place in yon. The clock will continue to sound the alarm at the proper hour, and it will make as much noise as ever it did, but it will lose its effect. You will sleep quietly on, just as though the alarm had never been given. Now, conscience is God’s alarum-clock. If we stop when it says “ stop,” if we do what it tells us to do, then we shall always hear it; but if we get into the habit of not heeding its warning, and not doing what it tells us to do, then by and by we shall cease to hear it.
III. How MAY AN EVIL CONSCIENCE BE HEALED? The answer to this question will depend upon the way in which we injure our consciences. We may injure them by doing wrong to those about us, or by sinning against God. And this must be taken into account in saying how the injured conscience can be healed. Suppose we feel distressed in our consciences on account of some wrong done to a friend or neighbour; then the way to get rid of this trouble, and heal our injured conscience, is to go and tell that friend of the fault--to say that we are sorry for it, and ask his forgiveness, thus making up for the wrong we have done. But if our consciences are troubled on account of our sins against God, then how are they to be healed. How are we to get rid of this trouble? Oh, it is dreadful to feel that God is angry with us I When we know that this is the case we never can be happy till our sins are pardoned and our consciences are healed; and it is for this reason that the Bible tells us of Jesus as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” He shed His precious blood and died for us on purpose that our sins may be pardoned, and we may be at peace with God. And this is what the apostle refers to in the text when he speaks of “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” (R. Newton, D. D.)
The cure for an evil conscience
Of course, the expression “sprinkled” is metaphorical. It means that we must receive into our hearts a sense and full belief of the efficacy of the death of Jesus Christ to cancel all our guilt and condemnation, and of the power of the Holy Spirit to make us yet good and holy and fit for the presence of God. And when we use the word “sprinkled,” it is to convey the excessive strength and efficacy and virtue of the grace of God--so that even though we may not yet be flooded with that spiritual “blood” and that spiritual “water,” its very drops will do the work I And if only you let your heart be imbued with the love of Jesus Christ and the faith which is in Him, and if you accept the gentle distillings of the Holy Ghost upon your soul, you shall be saved--saved from the torment of your own conscience now, and from “the worm that dieth not, and the fire that never shall be quenched” hereafter--because then the conscience that you are in Christ--and the conscience which God will give you of His perfect pardon and love--will entirely neutralise and destroy all power to hurt and distress you--in the conscience of all the sins you have ever done; and “the sprinkled heart” will kill the venom of “an evil conscience.” That gnawing canker! that dogging fear! that burden too heavy to be borne! that black future! There they are! Who sent them?
God. And why did He send them? Because He loves you. And who shall take them away? God. Only God. Place yourself under the “sprinkling”; if you cannot, ask Him to place you. Beg the great High Priest to “sprinkle” you; to do it at once, because you are at the worst, and just going to die. The “water” and the “blood” are always in His hand. And He is always pouring them out. Only lay bare your secret. Then open your heart of hearts to take it in. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
An evil conscience:
When the compass loses its proper polarity at sea, the whole course of the vessel might be altered by it; and when the conscience loses its right direction, its responsibility to God, its deference and inclination to His law, by its continued violation of the higher duties, the heart is filled with fears, the dispensations of Providence are suspected to be judgments, when they may be real and satisfying mercies.
Neighbour Jones has a conscience that looks forward and keeps him from doing wrong. But neighbour Smith’s conscience is of the ex post facto order, never manifesting itself till after the wrong deed is done, and then acting as a terrible avenger. How many there are of this kind, always sinning and always repenting! No class of men, in a moral point of view, suffer so much as they.
An evil conscience
When Professor Webster was awaiting his trial, he brought against his fellowprisoners the charge of insulting him through the walls of his cell, and screaming to him, “You are a bloody man!” On examination it was found that the charge was wholly groundless, and that these accusing voices were imaginary, being but the echo of a guilty conscience. If such things can be done in earth’s prisons, what are sinners to look for in a future world? Oh, what taunts and curses shall pierce the ears of these who lie down in hell! Conscience will have a terrific power of starting such accusations, and then an ear of keen sensibility to receive the echoes as they roll back upon the soul What an occupation for eternity! What inconceivable agony to be shut up with the ghostly memories of past sin, and to hear, through long centuries of gloom and despair, only the uttered and echoed curses which sin brings down upon the soul! Oh for that grace which sprinkles our hearts from an evil conscience!
Saved from an evil conscience:
The sailors on the French coast have a legend, that beneath the waters as they lap the shore, deep down, there are the ruins of a buried city, and that on still, quiet nights it is possible for a voyager to overhear the music of the church bells as they gently sound fathoms deep. So in the heart of every man there is, deep down, the buried power of conscience, and in days of pain and sickness and loneliness and bereavement, of holy ministry and quickening, the voice of conscience, fathoms deep, is heard in the breast of man, speaking for God and truth, and of judgment to come. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Hold fast the profession of our faith
Holding fast our profession:
I. WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE by the grace of God. If we read the text according to our present authorised translation, we have faith. We have made a public avowal of our faith. We have obtained what the apostle calls “like precious faith”: it is a rare jewel, and he is rich that possesseth it. But another reading--and a very good reading too--runs thus: “The confession of our hope.” If we have faith we have hope. We will take both renderings; for they are both correct in fact if not in the letter. We have a blessed hope, a hope most “sure and steadfast, which entereth into that which is within the veil.” The day of our Lord’s appearing will be the day of the redemption of the body from the dust with which it mingles. We have a joyful, glorious, blessed hope which purifies, and comforts, and strengthens, and sustains us, and this hope is in us now. Are we not enriched with the grace of God? Where faith and hope are found, love cannot be far off; for the three Divine sisters are seldom separated. Let us love the Lord who has given us the first two.
II. We have made A PROFESSION OF OUR FAITH, AND A CONFESSION OF OUR HOPE, By the memories of the day when you made that profession, be firm in it to the end. If you were not false then, if you were not deceivers then, hold fast the confession of your hope without wavering, for” He is faithful that promised.” Let us remember also the many times in which we have repeated that profession of faith, that confession of hope; for instead of retracting it, we have gone on to repeat it. We have been marked anew with the King’s name. If you ask how you have renewed your vows, I reply: you have done it many a time at the table of communion. You have repeated your profession in the shop, and in the market, and in the place of business, and among your friends, and in your family, and to the partner of your life. Those around you know you to be professedly an heir of heaven, a child of God: it is well that they should. We have considered how we began this profession, and we have also seen how often we have made it since. Let us think for a minute what it has cost us. Religion has cost many of its disciples somewhat dear: but it has cost nothing compared with its worth. What bashfulness it cost you to make the first confession of your faith! What a struggle it then appeared! You cried to God about it and you obtained courage; and now you wonder how you could have been so foolishly timid. Do not in future fall into the same fears. But perhaps some of you lost the friendship of many by becalming disciples of the Lord Jesus. I know one who became a member of this Church: she had moved in high and fashionable circles, but she said to me, “They have left me--everyone of them.” I said, “I am very thankful; for it will save you the trouble of quitting them. They will do you no good if they profess to be your friends; and they will do you less harm by giving you the cold shoulder.” It is about the best thing that happens to a Christian man when worldlings cut his acquaintance.
III. WHAT ARE WE NOW TO DO?
1. We are called upon to hold fast the profession of our faith.
2. But that is not the text. It is hold fast your profession of faith, your confession of hope; that is to say, stand to what you have done by way of avowment of these things. Constantly keep up your confession. You made it once. Renew it.
IV. WHY ARE WE TO DO THIS? We are to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, because He is faithful that has promised. Have you found Him faithful? Has the Lord failed you? Has the Lord been untrue in His promises to you? If He has, then do not hold fast your profession. If, after all, it has been a mistake and a delusion, then give it up. But if He is faithful that has promised--if till this moment you have proved the power of prayer, the wisdom of providence, and the truth of the Sacred Word, then deal with my Lord as He has dealt with you. Be not faithless to the Crucified. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian profession
I. THE PROFESSION REFERRED TO.
1. It is put on when we become the members of His visible Church.
2. It is one part of religion itself.
3. It will expose to difficulties and sufferings.
II. THE DUTY ENJOINED.
1. There must be decision of character. Not halting between two opinions. Not half-hearted. All our powers surrendered to God.
2. There must be constancy of spirit. Heart established, mind fixed, soul stayed upon God. Constant in duties; especially prayer, praise, reading the Divine Word, etc. Always setting the Lord before us, etc. Not as the morning cloud and early dew, &c.
3. There must be perseverance in practice. We only retain our hold by pressing onwards, etc. Not weary, but faithful unto death.
4. In short, we must hold fast our profession.
III. SOME MOTIVES BY WHICH THIS DUTY MAY BE ENFORCED. Love to Jesus is a powerful motive. Gratitude for past mercies. Our present happiness, and our prospect of eternal felicity. But Christ’s faithfulness is here laid down as the great motive.
1. He has promised to give us grace to hold fast our profession; and “He is faithful.”
2. He has promised to acknowledge our profession; and “ He is faithful.”
3. He has promised to reward our profession; and “ He is faithful.”
1. Learn that religion requires both the devotion of the heart and the profession of the life.
2. The way to heaven is associated with conflicts.
3. Stedfastness is essential to our final salvation.
4. God has provided abundant resources for our comfort and safety.
5. The end will amply recompense for the trials of the way. (J. Burns, D. D.)
An unwavering confession:
Admiral Foote, of the American navy, was a very godly man. While pacing the deck at night, on the lonely seas, and talking with a pious shipmate, he became convinced of his need of a Saviour and became His disciple, remaining true to his profession to the last. He used to be called the “Stonewall Jackson of the Navy.” He often preached to his crew on Sundays, and was ever forward in doing good. (H. O.Mackey.)
Steady to the pole:
Late observations have shown that under many circumstances the magnetic needle, even after the disturbing influence has been removed, will continue wavering, and require many days before it points aright and remains steady to the pole. So is it ordinarily with the soul, after it has begun to force itself from the disturbing forces of the flesh and of the world. (Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection.)
Some time ago, in one of our great ships of war, there was a solitary sailor who was not ashamed to own himself a follower of Christ. For a long time he was alone; no other sailor joined him. His place of prayer was amid the noise and din of the sailors. One evening he perceived a shadow by the side of the gun. Another Jack Tar was creeping along, and said, “May I come?” Oh, the joy of the young sailor to have a comrade with him! They met for many nights behind the gun, reading and praying. They became the butt of the men in two or three messes, but still continued, bearing and forbearing. It came to the ears of the commander, who was a Roman Catholic--but I mention this to his honour. The moment he heard that two of his sailors were meeting for reading and prayer behind one of the guns, he sent for one of them, and instantly ordered a portion of the lower deck to be curtained off, and gave orders that no one should molest them. For some nights they were the only occupants, but by and by the curtain was opened, and a blue-jacket said, “May I come in?” He was welcomed. Another came, and another, and the last account I heard from that ship was this, that every night thirty-two were meeting for prayer, thirty of them believed to be converted characters. And there, by “standing fire,” by standing firm, true to what was his duty, God has blessed that solitary sailor, and made him a spiritual father to at least thirty of the men on board the ship.
Confidence in death:
In the reign of Queen Mary of England, a man named Palmer was condemned to die. Before his death he was earnestly persuaded to recant, and among other things a friend said to him, “Take pity on thy golden years and pleasant flowers of youth before it is too late.” His beautiful reply was, “Sir, I long for those springing flowers which shall never fade away.” When in the midst of the flames he exhorted his companions to constancy, saying, “We shall not end our lives in the fire, but make a change for a better life; yea, for coals we shall receive pearls.”
He is faithful that promised
A sure promise
1. We have a promise. We are secure; when one that is able hath passed his word, and by promise bound himself unto us, then we make sure thus far of the thing promised. The thing which we desire, and which is promised unto us, is not only the reward of eternal glory, which is the object of our hope, but power and ability with assistance to do all things necessary for the attainment thereof; for in the gospel, not only the reward, but power to perform our duty, are promised (Ephesians 1:16-19).
2. This promise is not the promise of any man or angel, but of God; this is more than if all the best men and all the holy angels had bound themselves unto us and given us all security, which possibly they could. The reason hereof is that His power is absolute and almighty, and nothing can resist or hinder it if once it begin to work. Besides, God’s mercy is like His power, and as He is able, so is He willing to do what He hath promised, and He hath signified His will and purpose, through faith, by His power to preserve us unto salvation.
3. Yet one may be able, and for a time willing, and yet upon several reasons and motives change his mind, for the mind and will of man or angel is not absolutely immutable; and so, though perhaps they will not, yet it is possible, they may fail us. But God will not, God cannot, for God who hath promised is faithful; for as He cannot forget or be hindered by any contrary power, so He cannot change His will. If He say the word, it must be done; if He pass His promise, He will perform. This faithfulness presupposeth His power and His promise, and it is the immutability of His will, for as He is unchangeable in His being, so He is in His promise (1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6). So that all is sure on God’s part, and man hath no cause to waver, except he neglect his duty; and if he perish, his destruction must be of himself. And shall we, who have so great advantage, so many helps, so blessed an opportunity, and the promise of a faithful God, neglect and injure ourselves so much as to lose this glorious and incomparable prize? Shall we come out of Egypt, and come so near the borders of the heavenly Canaan, and turn hack? or refuse to go forward? Let us detest and eternally abhor to waver; let us go on whatsoever it may cost us. (G. Lawson.)
The faithfulness of God the Christian’s support in life and death
I. IT IS A FACT--“He is faithful that promised.”
1. Of whom it is that our text speaks. “He is faithful that promised.” Our text points to Him who fills the throne itself; we are contemplating Him as engaged to us by a covenant ordered in all things and sure; and as having communicated in consequence exceeding great and precious promises, while He is faithful to each and every promise which He has thus made.
2. We regard the Divine promises themselves. These promises are not mere movements of the Divine mind arising only under the exigencies of new circumstances or of events which spring up in the progress of time, but they flow from the deep fountains of His own grace and love; they embrace all that which is involved in the gift of His dear Son, the great work of the Saviour, the communications of the Divine Spirit, and in the application of every blessing which God has engaged to bestow on His Church on earth. They are all written with His own hand, they are all stamped with His own authority; and in His own Word they stand out in all their truth and in all their fulness.
3. We now consider the faithfulness of God to His promises. The first promise was that the seed of the woman should arrive in the fulness of time, and that He should bruise the serpent’s head; that He should give Himself as a ransom, and purchase the Church with His own blood. That promise has been fulfilled. Then, the promise of the Holy Ghost. The Redeemer ascended up on high; and He has poured forth the Divine Spirit: it has been granted and it is still continued to the Church.
II. As IT IS THE EXPRESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN’S EXPERIENCE--“He is faithful that promised.” When you are brought by the Holy Spirit to a just consideration of your own state as sinners, and with your eyes fixed upon the Infinite One, and stripped by transgression of all the rights with which you were originally invested, and when you see the manner in which God bestows everything out of His own fulness, and supplies your daily and your hourly wants; it is not on yourself or fellow-men that you can depend, for they are weak and evanescent as you are. It is not on your own works and your own productions that you can repose. It is not on your toil, your labour, your skill, or your acquisitions, that you can depend; for whatever your gains, they may take to themselves wings and fly and leave you desolate and utterly worthless. But the eye of faith contemplates the Infinite Being. It takes hold of God through His gracious word of promise; it looks at the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; it stands by that sacrifice, and embracing that Saviour as the only hope, the soul contemplates a faithful God. (Owen Clarke.)
The security of the promise
I. THE NATURE OF THE PROMISES.
1. They flow solely from the free and sovereign good pleasure of Jehovah.
2. They have all an immediate connection with the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
3. The form in which they are directed is not always the same, but sometimes assumes a more absolute, and sometimes a more conditional, appearance.
4. None of the promises, how conditional soever in their form, are altogether beyond the reach of sinners, so long as they are in the land of the living and place of hope.
5. They are many and various, every way suited to the numerous and diversified wants both of saints and sinners.
II. SOME CONSIDERATIONS TENDING TO ESTABLISH OUR CONFIDENCE IN THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS AS A SECURITY THAT THE PROMISES WILL BE FULFILLED.
1. Faithfulness is an essential perfection of the Divine nature. The name of the Lord is faithful and true.
2. The promises upon the accomplishment so much of our comfort depends are promises of grace.
3. The truth of God is pledged in the most solemn manner for the accomplishment of His promises.
4. Nothing unforeseen or unexpected can occur as a reason why we should doubt the Divine faithfulness.
5. God is omnipotent, and therefore it is not the want of power that can render Him unfaithful.
6. God is unchangeable both in His nature and purpose; it is impossible, therefore, that He can ever disappoint the hopes that His goodness has raised. (G. Campbell.)
The doctrine of the Incarnation is a promise; it assures us that God has become man to save us from sin. The doctrine of the Atonement is a promise; it explains the ground on which God grants the pardon of sin. The doctrine of Justification is a promise that the penalty of sin may be cancelled; the doctrine of Sanctification, that the power of sin may be destroyed. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Consider one another, to provoke unto love
This is a matter of very wide counsel.
We consider ourselves--our health, peace, comfort, &c.
as a rule, quite enough. We consider, too, our families full well. But Christian life brings us into the great broad sweep of humanity. Wherever there is another, we are to consider him. Consideration implies thought, and thought is costly material burning up the brain.
I. MUTUAL CONSIDERATION IS TO BE A CULTIVATED INFLUENCE. If YOU place your children under Christian culture, they will develop considerate natures. Just in proportion as you do that you will feel the need of the renewing grace of God, and you will ask God’s help through the Holy Ghost. But you must train as well as teach and pray, because God will not rain graces into your children. The Divine counsel to us is: Go to work: get the soil ready; do your duty, and help will come.
II. MUTUAL CONSIDERATION IS TO BE A PROVOCATIVE INFLUENCE. Provoke unto love. You can show persons so much love that they are obliged to love you in return.
III. MUTUAL CONSIDERATION IS TO BE A CHURCH INFLUENCE. “Not forsaking the assembling,” etc. What has that to do with mutual consideration? Why, this: it is only by commingling in the communion of the Church that we can get into these mutual relationships at all. If you forsake the assembling of yourselves together, how can we know your power or weakness, your want or your grief? How can there be something provocative to service, if you are not obedient to the roll-call, if you are not in the ranks? There is more than this in it--there is a subtle element in the fellowship of the saints that elevates the entire spiritual manhood and womanhood in us, that stirs up the flagging influence. (W. M.Statham, M. A.)
Mutual Christian incitement
It is better for a man to provoke himself to love and to good works than to be incited thereto by his fellows. But it is far better to be stirred by his fellows than to remain unloving and inactive. The highest state is that in which the goodness of love and the rightness of good works afford sufficient incitement; or in which love wells up, like the waters of a fountain, without any outward exciting cause, and good works are performed easily and naturally by the force of the inner life. This is the state of the Divine nature--a condition reached, it may be, only in measure by the most Godlike creatures of God. “Love is of God”--not of His creation and of His law merely, but of God Himself. “God islove.” This is more than can be said of some other principles essential to our spiritual life. The universe did not teach God to love, or move Him to love, but the world was born into the arms of love. And this pre-existent goodness had much to do with the objects and designs of creation. Look at love from another point. God requires us not only to love Him, but to love one another. Now, when we do love each other, we are in the best state to know God and to have the closest fellowship with Him. “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” “If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. Again, upon the supposition that God is love, we cannot conceive that any code of laws can issue from Him but that which love fulfils; or that in providing a remedial dispensation for man the principle of love would be overlooked. And what is the case? Love is not only the fulfilling of God’s law, but, as embracing God and man, it is the inward realisation of God’s great salvation. “This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He gave us commandment.” In the same strain we might proceed to speak of “good works.” There is that in shy right and useful deed which, when contemplated, may justly move a man to perform it. When you do what is “true,” “honest,” “pure,” “lovely,” and “Christian,” you are embodying an idea conceived in eternity; you are working out a deathless principle; you are rising into the ideal of your nature; you are expressing that which the Creator designed to utter in the creature; you are yielding to Christ the fruits of His mission; you are doing what in some form or other will never be destroyed; you are in harmony with those numberless and immeasurable spheres of creation that have never moved back to chaos; you are walking and working with God. Men at different times in the Christian age have been very busy defining good works--showing what must precede good works, and marking the precise position they occupy in the Christian life. And this philosophising has not worn itself out yet. We often feel moved to say, “Don’t talk about good works, but do them.” “Never mind what place they take in your creed, give them a chief place in your life.” “Do not stay to explain them, for while thus engaged the opportunity to do some good is let slip.” But let us try to get nearer the point of our text. We are required to incite each other to love and to good works--and to consider one another in order to incite one another. This is opposed to being careless and indifferent--to being envious and malicious--to efforts at practical deterioration and detraction. Let us meditate separately on the incitement and the consideration.
I. THE INCITEMENT.
1. We need stimuli to unfold our souls and to open our hands. To see that a thing is right ought perhaps to be enough to incline us to be it, and to do it; but in many cases it is not enough. We are idle, and shrink from the exertion--self-willed, and kick at the constraint--dispirited and weakened by distrust--isolated, and we cry complainingly, “I am left alone.” We need to be provoked.
2. And the text tacitly declares that we can incite each other. That men provoke each other to evil works and to hatred is a fact universally known--but the power to incite, and the susceptibility of being incited, are asreally capacities for good as for evil. The electric telegraph can convey truth and falsehood, evil report and good report; and human influence may awaken human sympathy, and arouse purpose and will both for right and for wrong.
3. The incitement required is both general and special. There is that which shall make others “ready to every good work,” and that which shall provoke to some particular ministration. For the former Paul instructs Titus when, having repeated the great facts of the dispensation of mercy, he writes, “These things affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God may be careful to maintain good works.” So that, according to Paul, contemplation of the love of God and of Christ is one means of maintaining good works. This is like connecting a minor wheel in a piece of machinery with the main movement. Our heart is to be incited by connection with God’s heart. For the more special incitement we have the pattern of Paul when he moved Corinth to imitate Macedonia in their liberality to the poor saints in Judaea. To say to our fellow believers with respect to any good work, “Do this--it needs doing--you can do it--you ought to do it--God will prosper your effort--I will help you--if you do it not the omission will be sin”--is to provoke to good works. And to make peace between those that are at enmity; to express faith in a good man when others utter causeless suspicion; to show hope where others are tempted to rejoice in alleged iniquity; to endure when others are irritated; to cover another’s faults, and to set forth another’s virtues--is to provoke to love.
II. THE CONSIDERATION HERE REQUIRED. This is based upon observation--we must know each other, and to know we must observe. Theincitement will be regulated by what we observe and by what we discern. One needs be moved to fear through warning, another moved to hope by encouragement, and another quickened by emulation. One may be incited by going before him, and letting him see you lead; but another by following him, and making him hear the fall of your quicker step. But no one is to be left as savourless salt, and as reprobate silver, or as a broken vessel, until after we have exhausted our resources in attempts to incite him. We arrive by this text at certain facts connected with mutual Christian influence to which we shall do well to take heed.
1. There is a serious influence of which Christians are mutually capable and susceptible. No vocation or gifts raise a Christian disciple beyond it; and no station however low is beneath its reach. When by speech I undulate the atmosphere, I know not the effect of those air waves in the universe; they flow on until they reach the shore of our firmament, and then, it may be, subside to rise again in other spheres. But far exceeding this is the influence of soul upon soul. It is not confined to the spirit we immediately move, but is transmitted from spirit to spirit, and becomes an impulse in the world of mind, both infinite and eternal. How awful is the power of soul over soul!
2. Christians are within a certain limit responsible for their influence. They are accountable, not for what that influence does, but for what that influence is. We are to try to incite to kindness and to corresponding actions. This is a good and happy influence. The direction of our influence is to be a study. Those who need this incitement are not to be passed by--but their lack of love and of good works is to awaken our consideration.
3. In the Church of Christ there should be mutual and reciprocal influence of the holiest and happiest kind. All are not apostles, all are not prophets, all are not pastors and teachers; but all are taught of God to love one another, and all may provoke to love. If any member of our body were smitten with paralysis, we should try to excite the torpid nerves; if one particular branch of a tree were barren, we should neither cut it off nor overlook it until after we had pruned it; and on the same principle we are required specially to incite those who are barren and unfruitful in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Nor is there any position in Christian life at which this incitement is needless, or from which it is to be withheld.
1. For Christianity’s sake let us consider one another to provoke unto love. If careless of each other, we shall misrepresent the system to which we adhere, and those who from lack of incitement are unloving and inactive will misrepresent it too. The effect of this will be that men, instead of going to our Leader and searching His oracles to know if we correctly represent Christianity, will take our embodiment of it, and finding it not less exclusive and individual than false religion, or no religion, will refuse attention to our advocacy of its claims.
2. For God’s sake, and for Christ’s sake, let us consider one another to provoke unto love. Christianity is the means God has devised that His banished be not expelled from Him. The correct representation of the system is one means of applying it; so that when Christianity is misrepresented, God feels not Himself to be blasphemed merely, but His master-work to be retarded.
3. For each other’s sake, and for our own sake, let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. Who of us would like to be surprised as were the foolish virgins, or to be rejected as the wicked and slothful servant? Let us provoke one another to take oil in our vessels with our lamps, and put out even our one talent to usury. Hearty discipleship to the Saviour will go far to secure this result. Love Christ yourself and you will incite others to love; do good yourself and you will provoke others to good works. Nor can you then measure your influence. The perfume which Mary’s hand freed from its prison is fragrant still the north wind has not driven it away; the odours of the east wind have not swallowed it up; the vapours of the south and west winds have not diluted it; but in every wind it has found an untiring wing, and we are refreshed by its sweetness in the present day. But we must intend to provoke; we must consider, and observe, and know, and attend to one another. There are many impediments to love and to good works which we are required to remove. There are wrong definitions of love--our making it a sentiment, not a principle--or complacency in existent good and not benevolence. There is our waiting to do some great thing, instead of doing what our hand finds to do. The liking to serve alone while yet we complain of it; the almost fear lest others should do what we do, and be what we are; the asking that God’s kingdom may come, and yet fearing lest in coming, “myself,” “my Church,” “my ism,” should be swallowed up--all this and muchmore needs removing. (S. Martin.)
The nature and source of true philanthropy:
We may wind off this coil best by grasping the-line at its outer extremity., and working our way inward to the heart. Or we may explore this river best by entering its mouth from the sea, and threading our way upward till we reach its source. We begin our examination of the text, then, not at the beginning, but at the end.
I. “WORKS.” Work is the condition of life in the world. The law of both kingdoms alike is, “If any man will not work neither should he eat.” Work has been made a necessity in the constitution of nature, and declared a duty in the positive precepts of Scripture. Idleness is both sin and misery. When a sinner is saved--when a man becomes a new creature in Christ, he is not set free from this comprehensive law. The Lord has a work of righteousness on hand, and the disciple yields himself a willing instrument. His heart is more hopeful now, and his hand more skilful. More honourable work is prescribed, and better wages wait him. Christ was a worker. He went about doing. “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Christ was a worker, and Christians are like Him. The world is a field. It must be subdued and made the garden of the Lord. Son, daughter, “go work to-day in My vineyard.”
II. “GOOD works.” It is not any work that will please God, or be profitable to men. A bustling life will not make heaven sure. The works must be good in design and character. The motive must be pure and the effect beneficent. But does not the gospel decry good works? You make a grand mistake if, because you are warned not to trust in good works, you grow less diligent in doing them. If a skilful architect, observing you expending your summer days and your manhood’s strength in an effort to build a house upon the sand, should benevolently warn you that the labour would be labour lost, you would poorly profit by his counsel if you should simply desist from the work, and loiter idle near the spot. The architect, your friend, did not object to the expenditure of your time and strength in building; but he saw that the higher your wall should rise on that foundation, the more certain and more destructive would be its fall. He meant that you should find the solid rock and build there--build with all your might. The gospel rejects good works, not as the fruit of faith, but as the meritorious ground of hope before God. Life does not spring from them; but they spring from life. As ciphers, added one by one in an endless row to the left hand of a unit, are of no value, but on the right hand rapidly multiply its power, so although good works are of no avail to make a man a Christian, yet a Christian’s good works are both pleasing to God and profitable to men.
III. “Love and good works.” Verily good works constitute a refreshing stream in this world wherever they are found flowing. It is a pity that they are too often like Oriental torrents, “waters that fail” in the time of greatest need. When we meet the stream actually flowing and refreshing the land, we trace it upward in order to discover the fountain whence it springs. Threading our way upward, guided by the river, we have found at length the placid lake from which the river runs. Behind all genuine good works and above them love will sooner or later certainly be found. It is never good works alone; uniformly in fact, and necessarily in the nature of things, we find the two constituents existing as a complex whole, “love and good works”--the fountain and the flowing stream. The love is manifestly in this case human in all its exercise. It is love from man to man. Like the water, it flows visibly out of the ground in the fountain, and along the ground in the river’s bed; but, like the water, it comes secretly at first all from heaven.
IV. “PROVOKE unto love and good works.” Let us attend carefully to the meaning of the term “provoke,” bearing in mind, however, as we proceed, that whatever kind of action the word may be found to indicate, it is action on ourselves, and not on our neighbours. The term in the original signifies, For the purpose of stirring up, or sharpening, or kindling love. We need not be surprised to find that injunction here. The love that is current in the Church is defective in kind and quality. It greatly needs to be stirred up. It is like a fire smouldering, and ready to die. Oh, for a breath from heaven to quicken it! We would fain see it bursting into a blaze, and hear all our jealousies and hollow hypocrisies crackling off in the flame. Love must be kindled into a paroxysm; for that is the original term untranslated, and that term, even in our own language, truly indicates the inspired apostle’s mind. All the really effective machinery for doing good in the world depends for propulsion on the love that glows in human breasts: with all the revival of our own favoured times, the wheels, clogged with the thick clay of a predominating selfishness, move but slowly. Up with the impelling love into greater warmth, that it may put forth greater power!
V. “CONSIDER ONE ANOTHER to provoke unto love and good works.” The exercise prescribed for provoking unto love conclusively determines the persons on whom the provocation was expected to take effect. It is the considerer, not the considered, who is provoked unto love. By thinking of my brother in his need I may be stirred up to pity him, but the mental process that goes on within my breast does not touch him for good or for evil. He may not know that I am considering his case; he may not know that there is such a person in the world. When we consider the heathen in India and China our meditation takes effect, not on them, but on ourselves. It stirs up, not them to love us, but us to love them. The question here, let it be remembered, concerns not the Divine cause of love, but the human agency employed in kindling it. It is the Spirit that quickeneth; but at present we look only to the lower side--the instrumentality of men. When fire is kindled by light direct from the sun, the same two must always conspire--the descent of the burning ray from heaven, and the preparation for receiving it on earth. The solar rays must be concentrated on combustible material by means of a glass with a convex surface, held in a certain attitude, and at a certain distance. Without these preparations, even the sun in the heavens cannot kindle a flame. Thus it becomes a question of deep interest, What attitude must we assume, and what preparation must we make, in order that love, by the ministry of the Spirit, may be kindled in our hearts? Here is the prescription, short and plain: “Consider one another.” To consider ourselves may be the means of begetting in us a desire for mercy; to consider Christ may be the means of begetting in us a trust in the Saviour; but in order to kindle in our hearts a self-denying, brother-saving love to men, the true specific is to “consider one another.”
VI. “AND consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works.” I would not play with a word; I would not extract the doctrines of grace from a copulative conjunction. But in this passage the little word “and” is the link by which all that we have yet gotten hangs on the higher--hangs on the highest. The exhortation to consider is the last of three which are given in an exact logical series, occupying Hebrews 10:22-24. Come to the Saviour for the cleansing of your own conscience, and abide in peace under the light of His countenance: then and thence look out upon your brother: the result of the combination will be thoughts of love and acts of kindness, as certainly and as uniformly as any of the sequences in nature. He who has drawn near and is holding fast, that is, he who has himself been forgiven through the blood of the Lamb, and is living in the consciousness of being accepted in the Beloved, cannot hate and hurt his brother. The act of considering or looking upon an object is of no avail to direct aright your own course, apart from the position in which you stand when you make your observations. A red light shines aloft at the narrow entrance of a safe harbour. A ship sweeping along the coast in a storm sees the light and makes straight for it through the waves and the darkness. She strikes a rock, and goes down in deep water. Why? This is the harbour, and the light she made for marks its mouth. Ah! it is not enough that you see the light; you must see it from a particular position, and make for it then. The right position is always correctly determined and laid down on the charts. Generally it is fixed by one or more other lights which you must see in line before you head for the harbour. “Consider one another”--that is the last and lowest of the three lights which lead to love. The course is marked for the Christian in his chart. One clause of the instruction is, Keep your eye on that light, and run in; but another clause in combination with it, equally Divine and equally necessary, intimates that ere you can go in with safety to yourself or benefit to others, you must get into line with these other two lights which stretch away upward, and lean at last on heaven. (W. Arnot.)
Motives and arguments to charity:
I. I desire you to remember and consider that you are men, and as such obliged to this duty, as being very agreeable to human nature; the which, not being corrupted or distempered by ill use, doth incline to it, doth call for it, doth like and approve it, doth find satisfaction and delight therein.
II. Let us consider what our neighbour is: how near in blood, how like in nature, how much in all considerable respects the same with us he is.
III. Equity doth plainly require charity from us, for every one is ready not only to wish and seek, but to demand and claim love from others, so as to be much offended, and grievously to complain, if he do not find it.
IV. Let us consider that charity is a right noble and worthy thing; greatly perfective of our nature; much dignifying and beautifying our soul.
V. The practice of charity is productive of many great benefits and advantages to us; so that to love our neighbour doth involve the truest love to ourselves; and we are not only obliged in duty, but may be encouraged by our interest thereto: beatitude is often pronounced to it, or to some particular instances of it; and well may it be so, for it indeed will constitute a man happy, producing to him manifold comforts and conveniences of life, some whereof we shall touch.
VI. Charity doth free our souls of all those bad dispositions and passions which vex and disquiet them: from those gloomy passions which cloud our mind; from those keen passions which fret our heart; from those tumultuous passions which ruffle us, and discompose the frame of our soul.
It consequently cloth settle our mind in a serene, calm, sweet, and cheerful state; in an even temper, and good humour, and harmonious order of soul; which ever will result from the evacuation of bad passions, from the composure such as are indifferent, from the excitement of those which are good and pleasant; “the fruits of the Spirit,” saith St. Paul, “are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness,” or benignity; love precedeth, joy and peace follow as its constant attendants, gentleness and benignity come after as its certain effects.
VIII. Charity will preserve us from divers external mischiefs and inconveniences, to which our life is exposed, and which otherwise we shall incur.
IX. As charity preserveth from misehiefs, so it procureth many sweet comforts and fair accommodations of life.
X. Charity doth in every estate yield advantages suitable thereto; bettering it and improving it to our benefit.
XI. We may consider that secluding the exercise of charity, all the goods and advantages we have (our best faculties of nature, our best endowments of soul, the gifts of Providence, and the fruits of our industry) will become vain and fruitless, or noxious and baneful to us; for what is our reason worth, what doth it signify, if it serveth only for contriving sorry designs, or transacting petty affairs about ourselves? What is wit good for, if it must be spent only in making sport, or hatching mischief? To what purpose is knowledge, if it be not applied to the instruction, direction, admonition, or consolation of others? What mattereth abundance of wealth, if it be to be uselessly hoarded up, or vainly flung away in wicked or wanton profusion; if it be not employed in affording succour to our neighbour’s indigency and distress? What is our credit but a mere noise or a puff of air, if we do not give a solidity and substance to it, by making it an engine of doing good? What is our virtue itself, if it be buried in obscurity or choked with idleness, yielding no benefit to others by the lustre of its example, or by its real influence? What is any talent, if it be wrapped up in a napkin; any light, if it be hid under a bushel; anything private, if it be not by good use spread out and improved to public benefit? If these gifts do minister only to our own particular advantage, to our personal convenience, glory, or pleasure, how slim things are they, how inconsiderable is their worth!
XII. Charity doth hugely advance and amplify a man’s state, putting him into the possession or fruition of all good things: it will endow, enrich, ennoble, embellish us with all the world hath of precious, of glorious, of fair; by appropriation thereof to ourselves, and acquiring of a real interest therein.
XIII. If therefore we love ourselves, we must love others, and do others good; charitable beneficence carrying with it so many advantages to ourselves. We by charitable complacence do partake in their welfare, reaping pleasure from all the fruits of their industry and fortune. We by charitable assistance do enable and dispose them to make grateful returns of succour in our need. We thence assuredly shall obtain their good-will, their esteem, their commendation; we shall maintain peaceable and comfortable intercourse with them, in safety, in quiet, in good humour and cheer. Besides all other benefits we shall get that of their prayers; the which of all prayers have a most favourable audience and assured efficacy.
XIV. We may consider that charity is a practice especially grateful to God, and a most excellent part of our duty; not only because He hath commanded it as such with greatest earnestness; nor only because it doth constitute us in nearest resemblance of Him; but as a peculiar experience of love and goodwill toward Him; for if we love Him, we must for His sake have a kindness for His friends, we must tender His interests, we must favour His reputation, we must desire His content and pleasure, we must contribute our endeavours toward the furtherance of these His concerns.
XV. Seeing God vouchsafeth to esteem whatever is done in charity to our neighbour (if done with an honest and pious mind, as to his friends) to be done unto Himself; that in feeding our indigent neighbour we refresh him; in clothing our neighbour we comfort him; we do by charitable beneficence oblige God, and become in a manner benefactors to Him; and as such assuredly shall be requited by Him: and is not this a high privilege, a great honour, a mighty advantage to us?
XVI. We may consider that charity is a very feasible and very easy duty; it requireth no sore pain, no grievous trouble, no great cost; for it consisteth only in good-will, and that which naturally springeth thence.
XVII. We may consider that charity is the best, the most assured, the most easy and expedite way or instrument of performing all other duties toward our neighbour: if we would despatch, love, and all is done; if we would be perfect in obedience, love, and we shall not fail in any point; for “love is the fulfilling of the law”; love “is the bond of perfectness”; would we be secure in the practice of justice, of meekness, of humility toward all men, of constant fidelity toward our friends, of gentle moderation toward our enemies, of loyalty toward our superiors, of benignity toward our inferiors; if we would be sure to purify our minds from ill-thoughts, to restrain our tongues from ill-speaking, to abstain from all bad demeanour and dealing; it is but having charity, and infallibly you will do all this; for “love worketh no ill to its neighbour; love thinketh no evil”; “love behaveth not itself unseemly.”
XVIII. Charity giveth worth, form, and life to all virtue, so that without it no action is valuable in itself, or acceptable to God. Sever it from courage; and what is that but the boldness or the fierceness of a beast? From meekness and what is that but the softness of a woman, or weakness of a child? From courtesy; and what is that but affectation or artifice? From justice; what is that but humour or policy? From wisdom; what is that but craft and subtilty? What meaneth faith without it but dry opinion; what hope, but blind presumption; what; alms-doing, but ambitious ostentation; what undergoing martyrdom, but stiffness or sturdiness of resolution; what is devotion, but glozing or mocking with God? What is any practice, how specious soever in appearance, or materially good, but an issue of self-conceit or self-will, of servile fear or mercenary design?
XIX. So great benefits doth charity yield; yet if it did not yield any of them, it would deserve and claim our observance; without regard to its sweet fruits and beneficial consequences, it were to be embraced and cherished; for it carrieth a reward and a heaven in itself; the very same which constituteth God Himself infinitely happy, and which beatifieth every blessed spirit, in proportion to its capacity and exercise thereof. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
Mutual Christian duties
I. EXPLAIN AND ILLUSTRATE THE DUTIES IN THE TEXT.
1. Mutual consideration.
2. Affectionate provocation.
Now we must thus provoke our brethren
II. ENFORCE THE DUTIES SPECIFIED IN THE TEXT.
1. Because of our liability to lukewarmness and indifference.
2. Because love and good works are essential to genuine godliness.
3. Because, if we abound in these, our usefulness and happiness must be greatly extended.
4. Because in proportion to these will be our reward in the heavenly state.
1. We learn the true spirit which should dwell among Christ’s disciples.
2. The necessity of mutual excitement, to the cultivation of that spirit, and the work it produces.
3. How many display the very opposite spirit, and are lamentably barren of good works. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The duty of Christians to provoke one another into love and good works
1. Consider the many and weighty injunctions which are to be found in the Word of God upon the subject (Romans 12:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; Hebrews 13:1; 2 Peter 1:7; John 15:17; Col 1 John 3:11; 1 John 4:20-21).
2. The character and conduct of Him whose disciples we profess to be.
3. The influence which our conduct will have on others.
4. Love is a grace greatly superior to either faith or hope.
5. Let ministers of Christ particularly cherish this temper and cultivate this spirit.
1. The state of mankind in general--a state of darkness, sin, guilt, infidelity.
2. What God has done for us and requires of us.
3. Let the age in which you live, and the country in which a benign Providence has cast your lot, be considered another motive.
4. The brevity of human life, together with the precariousness of bodily health and strength, we mention as another motive to induce you to attend to the text.
5. Your responsibility.
6. The judgment to come. (S. Mummery.)
The provocation of love
Are we sufficiently sensible of the responsibility which we owe to each other in relation to these words of apostolic admonition? Love is a sacred fire, and the measure of its glowing brightness and fervent heat is dependent on mutual fellowship and kindly interest. We may put water or oil on the fire. Words, looks, and deeds are as so much fuel or rubbish. An unkind word, an ungracious look, a cold touch of the hand, will lower the soul’s temperature. A kindly look, a gracious word, a friendly grasp will thrill through the veins, and circulate the warm blood of the recipient heart. One red coal will speedily go out, but put others with it and they will burn into a clear and glowing fire. Live for self, and your heart will become frost-bitten. Live for others, and your soul shall be a focus of Divine sunbeams, provoking, by the soft compulsions of love, the frozen hearts around.
We have very imperfectly realised as yet the abundance of the fruit which may be gathered in the field of Christian fellowship. It is by no means an uncommon experience to meet with Christians who are unwilling to learn anything of those from whom they differ in something. The methods and forms their fathers used under other circumstances, must, in their opinion, be still’ Divinely ordained in present circumstances. They are quite incapable of seeing, what even Nature teaches, that God has many ways of fulfilling Himself; that He speaks in various voices in the world, but none of them is without signification. In those spheres of life which are lower than the religious, men are not so dull and prejudiced. A new invention is eagerly caught up with whomsoever it originated. Every man engaged in a trade or a profession is prompt to learn from the experiences of his neighbours, and even of his competitors. But unreadiness to learn of others ought to be less characteristic of Christians than of other men; indeed, it can only be characteristic of them when they are inconsistent with their own professions. Depend upon it the duty urged in this verse is a test of our sincerity. If we are always ready to see faults, and close our eyes to virtues; if we can only appreciate what makes us seem superior to others, and ignore all that raises them above us; if, when excellences are so manifest that we cannot deny them, we are animated by envy, and seek to depreciate what we ought humbly to copy--then we are untrue to our profession. For we acknowledge that we are still learners, and that we are ready to humble ourselves that Jesus Christ may be exalted. Our feeling when we consider one another is a test, then, of our humility; and it is also a test of our love. A true mother is not envious when she sees her young daughter admired; and a true father has his face lit up with gladness over his son’s success. If, therefore, you would win from knowledge of your fellow Christians what God wishes to teach you, you must pray to be free from prejudice and pride, from envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness, and this can only be when in the deepest sense you are a “ new creature in Christ Jesus.” It is to such that the exhortation before us is addressed. There is a special form of these good works to which I wish to ask your attention--namely, that of Sunday-school enterprise.
I. THE LABOUR OF SUNDAY-SCHOOL TEACHERS IS EMPHATICALLY A GOOD WORK.
1. It concerns itself with the young in whom character is most plastic, and result is most probably to be looked for.
2. This work of teaching children is essentially good, because it affects the future. The destinies of the world lie in their hands. When we were on a plain, a little distance this side of Arizona, we were told that there, at a height of 7,300 feet, we were on the continental divide. The stream that we had just lost sight of, the river Colorado, flowed into the Gulf of California; and the one now rippling at our feet, the Rio Grande, was making its way into the Gulf of Mexico. In other words, a district not remarkable in its appearance, was the point; whence water flowed so far apart, as to fall into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. I feel sometimes as if standing at such a point as that, and you teachers in your classes may feel thus this afternoon. Here within your reach and sight are lives which may flow heavenward or hellward; and their whole future depends upon the channel into which, in a few short years or months, the stream of thought and feeling makes its way.
3. Sunday-school teaching may be called a good work, because it has an ennobling effect upon the teacher. How many of you have to thank God for a service which has been to your own soul an unspeakable blessing? Your contact with fresh, innocent, trustful childhood preserved you from becoming narrow and misanthropic, at a time mayhap when you were hardly dealt with in business.
4. Your work is good, not least on this account, that you feel yourself, while doing it, thrown back upon God, if you have seriously undertaken it.
II. BUT IS THERE ANYTHING IN OUR METHODS WHICH COULD BE IMPROVED? DO other practical workers find any helps which we should be the better for? If so, let us in that aspect “ consider one another “ in a spirit of love. I visited Sunday schools in various parts of America. And throughout the United States it appeared to me that their methods were superior to our own, whatever the results may be.
1. The expenditure of the church upon the children is far greater than with us. The class-rooms and schoolrooms are carpeted throughout, brightened by pictures and banners and flowers, presenting the appearance of comfortable parlours rather than of halls.
2. Nor could I help noticing the contrast between the teachers there and in some schools (happily not in all) here. Among us no sooner does a teacher get married, or even engaged, than the Class is forsaken; but there men and women of ripe experience grow grey in the service, and this naturally does much to retain the elder scholars, whom we generally lose.
3. Another feature of American Sunday-school work I wish to touch upon. It is that all classes are represented among the scholars who attend. No parents keep their children away because, being richer and cleverer than their neighbours, they consider it derogatory to their dignity to allow their children to go into ordinary classes. You say you teach them at home. Do you, as a matter of fact? Is not such teaching often interrupted by visitors and friends? Is there not also practical difficulty in constituting into one class the children of the home, who are of different ages, but who might have teachers adapted for each, in the grades of a Sunday school? And, further, does not a comparative stranger often speak more directly on personal religion than a parent, and is it not a curious but indubitable fact that the first confession of faith is more easily made to one who is known as the religious teacher outside the family? (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Love and good works:
Every minister will sympathise with St. Paul’s feeling, when he wished not only that he might stir up his people’s hearts, but that they, equally, might stir up his. The obligation is mutual; but the reciprocity is not sufficient among us. “Provocation “ is one of those many words which have gradually deteriorated, and taken a lower and severer sense than once, and more properly, belonged to it. To “provoke” is simply to call forth; and is used by many classic authors equally in a good sense as in a bad one. Therefore the literal sentence would be--“Consider one another to the stirring up, the inciting of love and good works.” If there be yet ought of severity in that expression, it is qualified by the word which precedes it--“Consider one another”--which is a term of careful observation and tenderness. So that no one who “considered “ would ever be really harsh! The whole sentence, too, assumes that those who “provoke” have “loved” and have “goodworks” already--only that they need to be brought out into greater clearness and power. Now my argument is first that your “love” falls short; that you do not love as you might, as you ought to love God and His Church. Now the first question is, How is love to be quickened or provoked in a man’s heart? The answer is, Only by the work of Christ. Your love can never be anything but a reflection--the reflection of the love of God to you. Therefore you must feel that you are loved. And the more you “feel that you are loved, the more you will love. For to feel loved, you must feel forgiven. Let me then “ provoke you” first, to accept your forgiveness, and to believe, without the shadow of a doubt, that God loves you. Do not wait till you are holier. Do not place sanctification before justification. “I am forgiven. I am loved. God loves me.” Is there no echo? Will you give Him no return? Now to make this” love,” and to increase this “love,” one way is to do good works; for good works make love, even as love makes good works; we all love those to whom we have been kind; the being kind makes us love them. So the two act and re-act therefore I say, I say it reverently but I say it literally, “Be kind to God!” Do you say, What are the “good works” I am to do? God will show you if you ask Him. You need not go far afield to find them. Love in the home! Shed love in your own family. Be great in love, specially where it is the hardest. There may be some one in the house who is to you continually provoking; that person is a provocation to you. Now turn the “provocation” the other way. “Provoke” that person first to love. Do it kindly, do it patiently, do it every day. Pray about it, persevere in it, and you will succeed. “Love and good works” will win the day. And there is another work for Christ. A church is, or ought to be, a fountain of work; and every member of a church should be a worker in the church. Is there not one amongst them whom you could” provoke?” to whom you could tell the happiness you find in God’s service; and so stir that one up to join you in your blessed offices of more “love and good works! Love and good works!” never divide them. “Love and good works.” For this you were created--for this you were redeemed. This is religion. This was Christ. This will be heaven. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Help one another
A traveller who was crossing the Alps, was overtaken by a snow-storm at the top of a high mountain, The cold became intense. The air was thick with sleet, and the piercing wind seemed to penetrate his bones. Still the traveller for a time struggled on. But at last his limbs were benumbed, a heavy drowsiness began to creep over him, his feet almost refused to move, and he lay down on the snow to give way to that fatal sleep which is the last stage of extreme cold, and from which he would certainly never have waked again in this world. Just at that moment he saw another poor traveller coming along the road. The unhappy man seemed to be, if possible, even in a worse condition than himself, for he, too, could scarcely move; all his powers were frozen, and all appeared to be just on the point to die. When he saw this poor man, the traveller, who was just going to lie down to sleep, made a great effort. He roused himself up, and he crawled, for he was scarcely able to walk, to his dying fellow sufferer. He took his hands into his own and tried to warm them. He chafed his temples; he rubbed his feet; he applied friction to his body. And all the time he spoke cheering words into his ear, and tried to comfort him. As he did thus, the dying man began to revive, and he felt able to go forward. But this was not all, for his kind benefactor too was recovered by the efforts which he had made to save his friend. The exertion of rubbing made the blood circulate again in his own body. He grew warm by trying to warm the other. His drowsiness went off; he no longer wished to sleep, his limbs returned again to their proper force, and the two travellers went on their way together, happy, and congratulating one another on their escape. Soon the snow-storm passed away; the mountain was crossed, and they reached their home in safety. If you feel your heart cold towards God, and your soul almost ready to perish, try to do something which may help another soul to life, and make his heart glad; and you will often find it the best way to warm, and restore, and gladden your own.
Surely Zionward travellers, who know the difficulties of the way and their own insufficiency to surmount them, should not be forgetful of one another. Though every member of Christ ought to sympathise with another, known or unknown, yet why does it please the Lord to bring us unto more particular connection or acquaintance with some, than others, but that they may be more especially objects of our concern and love? Let us be helpful to each other, then, in struggling up the steep, and pray the good Lord of the upper country so to fasten the hooks attaching the helping cord of love to our bodies, that, whenever we are for ceasing to climb, their points may make us feel it necessary to hold fast, and climb on. Oh, it is cheering to hear and see the genuine effects of the grace of God, displaying themselves in the circumstances that peculiarly prove their excellence and usefulness. May we be faithful to the benefit of others, as well as the good of our own souls. (S. Martin.)
Themistocles, when a very young man, was observed, soon after the famous battle of Marathon, in which Miltiades obtained so much glory, to be often alone, very pensive, unwilling to attend the usual entertainments, and even to watch whole nights. Being asked by one of his friends what was the cause of all this, he answered, “The trophies of Miltiades will not suffer me to sleep.” Thus fired with a love of glory, he became one of the most illustrious characters in Greece. (J. Bruce.)
Love and good works:
We may be as orthodox as Athanasius and as scrupulous as Jerome; we may be daily and ostentatiously building to God seven altars, and offering a bullock and a ram on every altar, and yet be as sounding brass and as a clanging cymbal, if our life shows only the leaves of profession, without the golden fruit of action. If love shows not itself by deeds of love, then let us not deceive ourselves God is not mocked--our Christianity is heathenism, and our religion a delusion and a sham. (F. W.Farrar.)
Stimulating to good works
The good Duchess of Gordon set her heart upon the erection of a school and chapel in a needy district of her neighbourhood. The Gordon estates at the time were so encumbered that she did not know where to find the necessary funds. In a letter to her friend, Miss Home, she describes some of her efforts and the consequences. “I took up to London,” she says, “a gold vase that cost about £1,200, in hopes of selling it, but could not find a purchaser, even at half-price I have still left it to be disposed of … The Duchess of Beaufort, hearing of my vase, thought of her diamond earrings, which she got me to dispose of, for a chapel in Wales, and her diamonds made me think of my jewels; and as the Duke has always been most anxious for the chapel, he agreed with me that stones were much prettier in a chapel wall than round one’s neck, and so he allowed me to sell £600 worth, or rather what brought that, for they cost more than double. The chapel is going on nicely, and I have still enough jewels left to help to endow it, if no other way should open. I do think I may with confidence hope for a blessing on this. It is no sacrifice to me whatever, except as it is one to the Duke, who is very fond of seeing me fine, and was brought up to think it right.” The chapel cost rather more than was expected, and the Duke, following up his wife’s example, offered of his own accord to sell some of his horses to make up the deficiency. (A. Moody Stuart.)
Not forsaking the assembling
The Church beneficent:
We can scarcely help reading into a passage like this ideas which belong to our time, and not to the time of the writer; that is to say, ideas which are our own rather than his.
Our notion as to Christians assembling themselves together is that which has been fixed in our minds by our custom, an old custom now, of attending church on Sundays. The truth is, however--and it is a point which has not received all the consideration to which it is entitled--meetings of Christians in those early times were not exactly of the same character as ours. Not only were they not as formal as we make ours by having an official person to conduct them, and, in fact, to take up most of the time with set religious discourse--not only were they not as formal as ours are thus made, they had, it is evident, different objects from those at which we aim in ours. These people who are here charged not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, did not meet to hear a sermon, or to pray and sing hymns; they met, it is plain, as Christian workers, to discuss their work and to carry it on. “To provoke unto love and to good works,” to consider one another, to take steps for the relief of their poor, the succour of their sick, the instruction of the young, the conversion of heathen friends, the advancement of their faith, the promotion of every scheme which an enthusiastic philanthropy suggested for making the world better and happier; this was the business which brought them together. Their meetings did not end as ours regularly and systematically do, in nothing at all; if there is anything certain with regard to them, it is that they served to combine the intelligence and the energies of the Christian brotherhood for the accomplishment of a variety of objects which were none the less Christian that they were not always what you would call religious. And yet it is not to be supposed that on this account their meetings were less devotional than ours are. Because, instead of being devotional and nothing else, they were taken up chiefly with matters of Christian business, those primitive assemblies which are here in question would not, in the nature of things, be less favourable to the spirit of supplication or the spirit of thanksgiving, than Sunday meetings are now. I cannot but declare my conviction--I have long been firmly convinced--it is because we have no business in our meetings except devotion, that our devotion is so dull a business. I must take for granted for one thing, that every intelligent man, who is not strangely destitute of religious feeling, has known at times the need, or at any rate the good, of joining with numbers in acts of worship. There is something in the voices of a congregation united in the praise of God which lifts a dull worshipper out of his dulness as nothing else can. It is to be deplored, therefore, that so many nowadays forsake churches, and, in doing so, at any rate deny themselves whatever profit there is in public worship. It is obvious, whatever is the reason of it, our present system of what we call public worship is not what it once was in point of health and vigour, and rough-and-ready methods of putting new life into it, from which much is hoped, have little outcome. So far from the attendance at church increasing over the country, it is, I believe, steadily falling off. It may well be a question, therefore, whether we should not, along with the multiplication of churches or in place of it, begin to consider whether churches ought not to be somewhat different from what they are, and perhaps made a little more like what they were once. While we are thinking only of how to enlarge our ecclesiastical machinery, or to drive it faster, the question perhaps really is, whether it ought not first to be remodelled. The thing which is to be done, the only remedy for the evil, is to make the church a more attractive institution than it is. In the first place, it is obvious we deny ourselves much of the advantage we might have from attention to what is beautiful and pleasing. Independently of the sermon altogether--for the sermon is made the most important part of public worship, utterly against the nature of things--there should be excitement in our church services sufficient at any rate to keep people from falling asleep in the middle of them. Congregations, not ministers, no doubt are to blame if this excitement is often conspicuous by its absence. Wherever the blame may be supposed to rest, it is certain this part of our worship, not the least important part, is in general made as unattractive as complete neglect can make it. They complain that long extempore prayers, such as are common among ourselves, are often sermons without a text, or Scripture in great disorder. They allege further, that as the sermon is generally made the most important part of the service, so it is generally the most tedious part. If this, then, or anything like this, is the account which is to be given of our public worship, or a great part of it, we can scarcely wonder if there are some who forsake it, and many who are not attracted by it. I hasten now to remark, that while we more or less deny ourselves the advantage of the beautiful, we altogether reject the far greater advantage of the practical and useful. To put the matter broadly: in connection with churches much good work is done, done by ministers and office-bearers, by committees, by associations of members, but as churches we do nothing. When we come together here on Sunday, after having been for hundreds of Sundays in the habit of coming, it is just to go through the old routine of prayer, praise, sermon, and go away home; the congregation, as a congregation, after the benediction, goes away home, that is to say, goes out of existence. Nothing equals the regularity with which our meeting takes place, except the regularity with which nothing comes of it. Take them as they commonly are, churches are like corn-mills carefully constructed and plentifully supplied with steam or water-power, but never put in motion, never made to grind a bushel of grain. In our congregational life it is all saying and not doing. It would involve the remodelling of our churches to an extent to which few of us, perhaps, would care to see them remodelled; but, if the practical and useful were as prominent in their arrangements as other things are, they would not have to complain so much as they have now of being forsaken. What is needed to fill churches and put life into them, is to revert to the original idea of a church, and make it a society “ to provoke unto love and to good works.” If we were, even in the loosest sort of way united as a congregation in an endeavour to further Christian objects, to relieve the poor, to comfort the sick, to instruct the ignorant, to reclaim the erring, to remove temptation out of the way of the young, to promote decency, sobriety, honesty, truth, gentleness--if we were ever so loosely united as a congregation in this endeavour, it is impossible, being as many as we are, that we should not accomplish something. Now, if there were this kind of business first, and devotion followed it, or if business and devotion were somehow combined in the order of our Sunday services, we should have what gives zest to meetings for other and inferior purposes--the sense that we are dealing with what is of immediate practical utility to ourselves and to others. Before I conclude, let me advert for a moment to an objection which may be urged. Would you, some one may ask, suppose it were possible, divert the activity of churches from those purely spiritual objects, which only churches are fitted to promote, and direct it to philanthropic but still secular ends, which other institutions and other agencies are intended to further, and are possibly better fitted to further? To this, however, it is to be answered, that charity never faileth, nor the need for that organised charity which a church ought to be. When all other institutions and agencies, even the most benevolent and most useful, have done their best, much will still remain to be done, for the welfare of mankind, much which only Christian philanthropy can do, or will attempt to do, and it is the business of churches to concern themselves with that. (J. Service, D. D.)
I. THE ASSEMBLING TOGETHER. All on the same level, except so far as we may differ in spiritual things.
1. Assembling together is a duty.
2. A privilege. To neglect it is to starve the soul.
II. THE OBJECT OF MEETING TOGETHER.
1. TO draw near to God.
2. To receive spiritual blessings.
3. To exhort one another.
III. THE INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF THIS MEETING TOGETHER AS THE PARTICULAR DAY NAMED IN THE TEXT DRAWS NEAR.
1. The day that you may be deprived of the opportunity of meeting.
2. The day of trial and affliction.
3. The day of death.
4. The day of judgment. (G. Sexton, D. D.)
The importance of public worship
I. THE ADMONITION GIVEN.
1. That to assemble together is a Christian duty.
2. Some who profess attachment to Christ’s cause neglect this duty. Some are once-a-day worshippers; others are fine-weather worshippers; while many are merely fancy-worshippers, and go to the Lord’s house just when it may please them. Great reason is obvious, no spiritual relish, only a name to live, &c. Only form of godliness, etc.
3. It is of the utmost importance that we do not thus forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
We are deeply interested in these assemblies. We might “forsake,” &c., if we had no mercies to acknowledge, no sins to confess, no blessings to crave, no enemies to overcome, no soul to sanctify, no hell to escape, no heaven to gain.
II. A SPECIFIC DUTY STATED. We should exhort each other
1. To watchfulness and vigilance.
2. To determination and constancy.
3. To zeal and diligence.
4. To courage and perseverance.
III. A POWERFUL MOTIVE.
1. The day is approaching.
2. This day is truly a momentous one.
3. The believer sees the day approaching. That is, he never loses sight of that truth.
1. The place of the Christian’s delight will be God’s house.
2. From our present circumstances, we all stand in need of exhortation 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 3:13).
3. We cannot fail to be stimulated, both to diligence and faithfulness, if we keep the truth before us that the day is approaching. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The duty of Divine worship
I. THE NATURE AND REASON OF DIVINE WORSHIP IN GENERAL. Though it must be confessed to be a duty on many accounts to worship God in private, yet I think it may plainly appear that it ought to be performed publicly too. For what is it we mean by the worship of God but such acts as do immediately declare our love, fear, and reverence to Him; our obedience, gratitude and resignation towards Him? Now, if the nature of God’s worship consists in our honouring Him, that must certainly be the most acceptable way of worshipping Him which tends most to His honour, and that is doing it in solemn and public assemblies; for by this we take away all suspicion of our being either afraid or ashamed of our duty to Him, and many seeing our devotion may be influenced thereby to glorify their Maker more abundantly. Besides this, we may consider that as there are two parts of worship, the one internal, by which we bow our souls before God, and the other external, by which we give visible signs of our inward devotion, such as uncovering our heads, kneeling, praying, and praising God with an audible voice, and the like; so the chief use of this latter part of worship is for public assemblies. Again, the reason on which Divine worship is naturally grounded declares for it being public. God is our Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor, and doth not this as evidently demand our public as our private devotions? Doth not He bestow public blessings on us, and prevent or remove public evils from us, as well as private? But, furthermore, can we imagine that man was made a sociable creature for civil concerns only? Does not the affair of religion, and the immortal comforts that depend upon the true profession of it, as much deserve our united care and endeavours as the fading, transitory things of this lower world?
II. GOD’S POSITIVE INSTITUTIONS CONCERNING IT. All the directions He gave to Moses concerning the tabernacle, concerning the priests, concerning the sacrifices, concerning the Sabbath and feasts, were institutions of a public nature, and supposed His worship, to which they all related, to be a public worship. He hath nowhere declared for the cessation of public worship; but, on the contrary, hath plainly intimated His will to have it continued, and promised that His presence shall propitiously attend on our Christian assemblies lawfully met in obedience to Him, as it formerly did on the Jewish. For the promise then was (Exodus 20:24). So now it is wheresoever, i.e., whether at Jerusalem as before, or in any other place, two or three, i.e., any indefinite number, of you are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of you (Matthew 18:20).
III. That public worship is the duty of all Christians may be proved likewise from THE VERY BEING AND ECONOMY OF THAT CHURCH. For, in the first place, if we consider what the Church simply is, we can have no other conception of it but of a number of people called together and chosen out Of the unbelieving world, to profess the faith of Christ and to worship God according to the instructions which Christ gave. Now, a number of people, called out of the world to worship God after the same manner, and with unity and consent touching any instructions given them for that end, must in all reason be supposed to do this by meeting and assembling together. But if we consider it under that metaphor which the scriptures gives us of it when they call it Christ’s body, and the several Christians that compose it, the members of that body (1 Corinthians 7:27). This will still further convince us that Christians are bound to worship God in communion; for why is the Church represented as a body but to signify to us its unity? And what can that agreement be which unites Christians so as to make them one Church or spiritual body but their joining together in the performance of those offices for which they were incorporated, and therefore surely in the worship of God, which is none of the meanest of those offices. And yet this will further appear from the order and government of it. For if it had no need of public worship, why are we so solemnly admitted into it, and excluded out of it? (Joseph Watson, D. D.)
The duty of regular attendance at public worship
There is one fact implied in the text, you perceive, and one asserted. First, it is implied that even in the early time when this Epistle was written Christians were accustomed to meet statedly for the worship of God and to receive the word of exhortation. You do not doubt this. It is the dictate of our nature that God should be honoured and worshipped. Men are social, and constituted to act in concert. Then, moreover, Christianity is pre-eminently a social religion. There is another fact, you perceive, directly asserted in the text, that it was the manner of some to neglect this practice of statedly meeting together. It appears wonderful, indeed, that such individuals should have been among the members of any of the apostolic churches. But let us consider two or three circumstances that may mitigate our surprise. The parties spoken of had forsaken the practice of Christian assembling. They had once observed it. There was a time when they delighted to frequent the place of prayer, and to sit at the feet of those who had the rule over them, and to obey them. What had made them forsake them? For one thing, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, there was the scorn of the world, and often its wild and bloody violence. To be a Christian made a man the mark for obloquy and persecution. The attending at Christian assemblies was the most palpable avowal of having embraced Christianity. It was throwing down the gauntlet to the un-Christian world. With many, through God’s grace, this only served to brace their minds to the conflict and endurance. With others we can hardly wonder the effect was different.
The scorn and persecution were too much for them. They yielded and abjured the gospel. Some of them, perhaps, merely temporised and forsook assembling with their brethren. They gave up the Lord’s Day and the sanctuary, vainly thinking that they might still retain their religion. For another thing, suppose that the “ some “ of whom the text speaks had been Jews. We can see how difficult it would be for them to part with their seventh day and adopt the first instead of it as their day of holy solemnities The step must have been a great shock to their established habits, and roused against them the fury of their countrymen who continued to reject the claims of Christ. For one thing more, suppose that the “ some” of whom the text speaks had been Gentiles. How difficult must it have been for them to form the habit of keeping the Lord’s Day! Here is a heathen man who has known nothing either of Sabbath or Sunday, of a day of rest or a day of worship. He is convinced by the preaching of the gospel, believes, is baptized, and received into a Christian church. But he is in business, perhaps, and has partners. If he will keep the Lord’s Day, they know nothing about it; and they will not have their arrangements disturbed by his new-fangled notions and scruples. In whatever position of life he is, the assembling with other Christians subjects him to manifold annoyance, not to say loss, and marks him out as having separated from the mass of his countrymen. For a time, while he is powerfully under the influence of the Christian truth that has laid hold of him, he is seen regularly in his place in the sanctuary. By and by his new impressions begin to lose their vividness and his old habits to regain somewhat of their power. His attendance becomes irregular. These considerations help us to understand the melancholy fact mentioned in the text. But they do not justify it. The case of those “some” was adduced by the writer as a Warning to others, and it may also serve as a warning to us. Allow me, by way of application of our subject, to ask you all to receive from it the word of serious exhortation.
1. Consider the fact implied in the text concerning the existence of a stated day for Christian worship among the Hebrews is a fact palpable and acknowledged by us. Here is the sacred ordinance. It is ours. We ought to use is according to its design, and not forsake on it the assembling of ourselves together.
2. Consider none of the circumstances which I described, not to excuse but to explain the conduct of the “some,” condemned in the text, can be pleaded by us. We were not brought up Jews, and the keeping of the first day holy does not clash in our minds with any reverence which we have been accustomed to attach to the seventh. We were not brought up Gentiles, in ignorance of God and Christ and immortality, trained to be of the earth earthy, so that the keeping of the Lord’s Day should be to ourselves something new, and to all around us a thing outrageous and revolutionary. We are not exposed to any violence of persecution if we obey the exhortation before us. We are verily guilty, we have no excuse to allege, if we forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
3. Consider what high ends are answered by our assembling ourselves on the Lord’s Day. Strength and beauty are in the sanctuary.
4. Consider the consequences likely to result from neglecting the ordinances of the sanctuary are disastrous. The man who neglects them declines the open profession of his faith; he cuts himself off from the highest exercises of his nature and the purest sources of virtue and happiness. His indifference and carelessness will grow on him, till backsliding becomes desertion, and desertion will become rebellion, which can only issue in his outcasting himself from the presence of God and the beatific vision of heaven; a life ruined and a soul lost,--without God, without hope: (Professor Legge.)
The daily service:
The first Christians set up the Church in continual prayer (Acts 2:46-47). St. Paul in his Epistles binds their example upon their successors for ever (1 Timothy 2:8; Colossians 4:3). Observe how explicitly he speaks, “I will therefore that men pray in every place”;--not only at Jerusalem, not only at Corinth, not only in Rome, but even in England; in our secluded villages, in our rich populous busy towns, whatever be the importance of those secular objects which absorb our thoughts and time. Or, again, take the text, and consider whether it favours the notion of a change or relaxation of the primitive custom. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The increasing troubles of the world, the fury of Satan, and the madness of the people, men’s hearts failing them for fear, the sea and the waves roaring, all these gathering tokens of God’s wrath are but calls upon us for greater perseverance in united prayer. Consider how this rule of “ continuing in prayer” is exemplified in St. Peter’s history also. He had learned from his Saviour’s pattern not to think prayer a loss of time. Christ had taken him up with Him into the holy mount, though multitudes waited to be healed and taught below. Again, before His passion, He had taken him into the garden of Gethsemane: and while He prayed Himself, He called upon him likewise to “ watch and pray lest he entered into temptation.” In consequence, St. Peter warns us in his first Epistle, as St. Paul in the text, “The end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” Stated and continual prayer, then, and especially united prayer, is plainly the duty of Christians. And if we ask how often we are to pray, I reply, that we ought to consider prayer as a plain privilege, directly we know that it is a duty, and therefore that the question is out of place. Surely, when we know we may approach the mercy-seat, the only further question is, whether there be anything to forbid us coming often, anything implying that such frequent coming is presumptuous and irreverent. Now, Scripture contains most condescending intimations that we may come at all times. For instance, in the Lord’s Prayer petition is made for daily bread for this day; therefore, our Saviour intended it should be used daily. Further, it is said, “give us,” “forgive us”; therefore it may fairly be presumed to be given us as a social prayer. If, however, it be said that family prayer is a fulfilment of the duty, without prayer in church, I reply, that I am not at all speaking of it as a duty, but as a privilege; I do not tell meal that they must come to church, so much as declare the glad tidings that they may. This surely is enough for those who “ hunger and thirst after righteousness,” and humbly desire to see the face of God. Doubtless, even in your usual employments you can be glorifying your Saviour; you can be thinking of Him. Doubtless: only try to realise to yourself that continual prayer and praise is a privilege; only feel in good earnest, what somehow the mass of Christians, after all, do not recognise, that “ it is good to be here”--feel this, and I shall not be solicitous about your coming; you will come if you can. I account a few met together in prayer to be a type of His true Church; not actually His true Church (God forbid the presumption!) but as a token and type of it;--not as being His elect, one by one, for who can know whom He has chosen but He who chooses?--not as His complete flock, doubtless, for that were to exclude the old, and the sick, and the infirm, and little children;--not as His select and undefiled remnant, for Judas was one of the twelve--still as the earnest and promise of His saints, the birth of Christ in its rudiments, and the dwelling-place of the Spirit; and precious, even though but one out of the whole number, small though it be, belong at present to God’s hidden ones; nay, though, as is likely to be the case, in none of them there be more than the dawn of the True Light and the goings forth of the morning. Some, too, will come at times, as accident guides them, giving promise that they may one day be settled and secured within the sacred fold. Some will come in times of grief or compunction, others in preparation for the holy communion. Nor is it a service for those only who are present; all men know the time, and many mark it, whose bodily presence is away. We have with us the hearts of many. How soothing and consolatory to the old and infirm who cannot come, to follow in their thoughts, nay, with the prayers and psalms before them, what they do not hear! Shall not those prayers and holy meditations, separated though they be in place, ascend up together to the presence of God? Who then will dare speak of loneliness and solitude, because in man’s eyes there are few worshippers brought together in one place? or, who will urge it as a defect in our service, even if that were the case? Who, moreover, will so speak, when even the holy angels are present when we pray, stand by us as guardians, sympathise in our need, and join us in our praises? (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Why go to church?
It is a rather remarkable fact that in this text we have the nearest approach that is found in the New Testament to a commandment enjoining what we now call attendance at public worship; and the reason for such attendance, which is suggested by this mild remonstrance against neglect of the practice, is rather notably different from that with which we have nowadays become familiar. We have been so long accustomed to regard going to church on Sunday in the light of a religious duty, and indeed as almost the chief religious duty of the week, that it must surprise us, I believe, to find that the duty is scarcely enjoined at all in the New Testament. The observance of the Sabbath was no part of the original motive of the early Christians for the weekly assembling of themselves together; and in the absence of any other express commandment, it is plain that some spontaneously felt need and desire led them to seek such fellowship. What that need and desire were could hardly be better expressed than in the first words of our text, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” It was consideration of one another as interested in one common cause, as devoted to one common Lord and Master, as having one great end of life in view, and as needing common counsel and encouragement in the pursuit of that end, that led them to practise the assembling of themselves together. They did not think they were serving or glorifying God in any specially sacred manner by meeting together for praise and prayer on the Lord’s Day--Christ had given them very different ideas of how God should be served and honoured. It was because their whole life was consecrated to God and to the service of Jesus Christ, in the practise of love and of good works, that they felt the need and followed the practice of meeting together to consider one another, and comfort and encourage one another, in the difficult task of living such a life in the world. And it will be of little use, we may be sure, to admonish and exhort men to the maintenance of the ancient custom of meeting for prayer and praise on the Lord’s Day, unless we can show in ourselves and excite in them the ancient spirit of consecration to God and devotion to Christ which first originated and inspired the custom. What we ought to aim at is not to get careless, unspiritual persons to come to church--that is putting the cart before the horse--but to get them awakened to some thoughtful interest in Christ and His salvation. It was Christ that drew men to the Church in the first place, not the Church that drew them to Christ; the ardour of faith and hope in Christ drew them together to form a Church, and the contagion of faith and example of love among those who first formed the Church was the strongest force to draw others into it. We have almost completely inverted this order of cause and effect now, and instead of awakening interest, first in Christ and then in the Church, we put the Church first, and trust almost entirely to the influence of the weekly assembly of the Church to bring men to Christ. When we do get back into the vivid conception of this primitive principle and motive of the “ assembling of ourselves together,” it will work great changes not only in the extension of the practice of going to church, but also in the way we organise and conduct the worship and teaching of the Church. Churches will not depend then so much upon good preachers and pastors as upon good people; ministers’ sermons will then be fewer, more practical and business-like, serious and urgent as an “officer’s address to his troops before a battle,” “addressed by a soldier to soldiers.” More, “perhaps, of the ministers’ time will be given to teaching the rudiments of the faith to the young, and less to reiterating first principles to the old. And Christians will meet not as “hearers,” nor yet simply as “ worshippers,” but as ardent and hopeful co-operators in a great common cause which each is anxious to understand his own part in, and to which each daily and nightly applies all his own mind and heart and contriving skill and practical energy. (J. C. Barry, M. A.)
The duty and benefit of social worship:
I. THE PRINCIPAL ENDS WHICH REAL CHRISTIANS HAVE IN VIEW IN ASSEMBLING THEMSELVES TOGETHER.
1. To express submission to the authority of the Lord their God.
2. To improve in spiritual knowledge.
II. SOME OF THE IMPORTANT EFFECTS OF ATTENDING ON ASSEMBLIES FOR WORSHIP.
1. The belief of a dependence upon God, as the Author of all our blessings, is preserved and enlivened in the mind.
2. We exercise and improve the benevolent affections of the heart.
3. We are training up for the devotional exercises of the heavenly temple.
III. EXHORTING ONE ANOTHER, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”
1. If exhortation was necessary in the days of the Apostle Paul, it may be easily admitted that it is equally so in ours. Let me exhort you to remember that weekly worshipping assemblies are not an appendage to Christianity which we may add or keep off at pleasure.
2. The text adds this awful reason for exhortation, “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” A regular and devout improvement of the Lord’s Day, is an excellent preparation for meeting the Lord when He comes. The transition seems natural and easy, from a house of prayer on earth to a house of praise in heaven. (Robert Foote.)
Attendance on public worship
I. CONSIDER OUR OBLIGATIONS TO ASSEMBLE TOGETHER FOR THE WORSHIP OF GOD.
1. Public worship is sanctioned by Divine authority, and the example of the saints in every age.
2. Public worship has the special promise of the Divine presence.
3. The profit and advantage arising from public worship require also to be considered. Our own interest is concerned, as well as the glory of God Psalms 36:8; Psalms 92:13). There the ignorant are instructed, the languid are quickened, the broken-hearted are bound up, and the wounded in spirit healed.
II. INQUIRE INTO THE CAUSES OF NEGLECT.
1. In some instances it arises from a spirit of scepticism and infidelity.
2. In others it arises from a spirit of profaneness, daring to resist convictions, and to trifle with obligations which cannot be denied.
3. Neglect of public worship frequently proceeds from sloth and idleness.
4. It is often the effect of self-conceit and pride. There are some who think they know enough, and have no need of instruction; they are also good enough, and need not to be made better.
5. The interference of personal prejudices too frequently prevents an attendance on the means of grace, but can never be urged in justification. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The text does not point to secret devotion, but to open religious fellowship. There is a devotion which is to be hidden from all human knowledge, in which the soul discloses itself without reserve to the scrutiny of the Most High. To neglect such devotion is to dry up the springs which rise from the very rocks. Without it there can be no spiritual life. Yet there is something beyond it. What solitude begins sympathy completes. There is a subtle and indescribable power of sympathy in public worship. Individually we sing the more expressively because of the animating song of those who are round about us. Our idea of worship is enlarged. We get glimpses of that splendid possibility--a whole world engaged in common prayer! Public worship helps us to see deeply and clearly into the unity of human nature. On the streets we are many; in the sanctuary we are one. In taste and whim and special fancy we are an innumerable throng; but in the true hunger of the heart we are as one man. In other places we may meet as groups, but in the house of prayer we meet as a race. A wondrous, sad, glorious sight, is a great congregation of worshippers. What histories are represented! What madness of ambition, what recklessness of the best gifts, what sin done in darkness, what plots of avarice, what broken-heartedness, what wealth, poverty, loneliness, pain, what strength, fury, nobleness, truth! yet we are all one, one in sin, one in want. I pray God we may be one in the ineffable ecstatic joy of pardon through the Son of God. If I may put the matter personally, I do not hesitate to say that I must have the benefit of public worship if I would save myself from spiritual languor. Unrelieved solitude narrows a man’s nature. We correct and complete one another. We settle each other into right proportions. We see greater breadths of the bounty and love of God when we compare our common experiences or utter our common thanksgivings. It is not uncommon to hear men talking in some such words as “When I worship I go out into the temple of nature: I uncover my head in the aisles of the forest: I hush myself under the minster roof of the stars: I listen to the psalm of the sea.” This kind of talk sounds as if it meant something. It touches one side of life; how far it touches the other remains to be seen. As Christians we claim to have sympathy with nature. From the rash talk of certain avowed lovers of nature it would seem that Christians, by reason of their Christianity, did not know the sea when they were looking at it, and that they required to have the sun pointed out with a rod before they could distinguish it from the moon. I love nature. I have seen some of her pictures, and heard many of her voices. She is always full of suggestion. But let me tell you something farther. I will be frank that you may understand me. Nature is to me often the saddest of all sights. She is but a succession of phases. I cannot keep her at any point. The spring dies; the summer vanishes; autumn delivers her gifts and turns away; winter is a presence I would not detain; the sun is but for an appointed time, and the stars withdraw long before I have half-counted them. More than that. Nature is but an alphabet or, at most, a primer. I soon begin to find that she has no answer to my deepest wants, and that I can ask her questions which will stagger her with dismay. My heart aches, and I ask for a physician that can extract the pain. My conscience tortures me and I cry for rest. Then I find the spiritual sanctuary; I pass within the veil; I see the Cross, the Priest, the Sacrifice, and ever after, nature is but an outer court, and Grace is the presence-chamber of the Redeeming King. Application:
1. Come to worship.
2. Resist the influence of a bad example, “as the manner of some is.” The object of public worship is twofold.
1. Edification, having in view the stimulus and encouragement of believers, and their defence from manifold temptation.
2. Conversion, having in view the salvation of those who are afar off. A special blessing is theirs who love the house of God; their own dwelling shall be watched and blessed. “They shall prosper that love Thee.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
Assemblies are of many kinds; amongst the many differences of them this is one, that some are civil for matters of this life; some are religious, for matters spiritual, wherein we do converse with God and amongst ourselves. These assemblies were instituted and observed for public converse with God, and these were occasional or more solemn and observed at set and determinate times, and in times of peace and liberty in certain convenient places erected or separated for that end and use. Hence synagogues and Sabbaths amongst the Jews. The heathen also had their temples and sacred places and their solemn times, yet abused to superstition and idolatry, The light of nature doth dictate that God is to be worshipped not only in private, but in public, and that this worship, if orderly performed, requires not only certain solemn times but also convenient places; yet the times were always more considerable than the places. To enjoy these assemblies and have liberty in public to serve their God, both in convenient places and at certain and solemn times, was a great mercy of God and a great benefit to man. For in these they testified their union and agreement in the same faith and worship. And we are very brutish or very inconsiderate if we understand not the excellency of these religious public assemblies, and very unthankful if we acknowledge not the benefit of them. The persecuting enemies of the Church knew full well if they could scatter these meetings and conventions, demolish their houses of worship, and deprive them of their solemn and sacred times, they might do much to destroy Christian religion. David did love the place where God’s honour dwelt vehemently, desired God’s presence in that place, and sadly complained to his God when he was banished from these holy and blessed assemblies, and yet those were far inferior to these of the gospel. And doleful was that lamentation of the captives of Jerusalem when God had taken away His tabernacle, as if it were a garden, destroyed the places of assemblies, had caused the solemn feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and had despised in the indignation of His anger the king and the priest (Lamentations 2:6). (G. Lawson.)
Attendance on the means of grace:
Bear with me while I set before you some of the causes which prevent them from obeying the decision of their consciences, and the command of God. The mechanic has been so severely wrought during the week, that he indulges a little longer in bed on the Sabbath morning, and the hour of meeting arrives and passes by ere he can get himself prepared; or if he happens to attend, he is so wearied out with the exercises, to him tedious, that he remains at home during the rest of the day, reading the newspapers, lolling in listless apathy, or entertaining a friend. The man of business is so much immersed in his merchandise that he can find no time to go to the house of God; what with arranging his books, answering letters, and conversing on the present position and future prospects of trade, he is entirely engaged; and if perchance he may drop in occasionally, his restless and discontented aspect bespeaks that his mind is not there. One considers he fully discharges his duty when he goes once to church; more than that he esteems unnecessary and inconvenient. Such seize upon the quiet that prevails, to amuse themselves with their families, spend an afternoon with a neighbour, or take a walk in the fields. Others are only found in the house of prayer, on the fashionable diet, forenoon or afternoon as it may chance to be; they would not be obeying the rules of etiquette if they departed from this custom, and if they transgressed would certainly be included among the common people, or be counted too serious and strict; after this they could not appear at the gay tea-table, and to be excluded from any one of these is a punishment greater than they are able or willing to bear. Ought these things to be so? Oh! it is an awful and overpowering reflection, but not more alarming than it is true, that for every sermon which you have not heard, you will have to account, if you had an opportunity to hear it, but thoughtlessly or wilfully allowed it to glide past unembraced and unimproved. If ye despise the services of the Church militant, how do you expect to join those of the Church triumphant? By an immutable law of our nature, our happiness does not consist so much in the objects that surround us, as in the harmony which subsists between these and our own dispositions and tastes. Now suppose you were this instant translated to the general assembly and church of the first-born, do you think you could find any satisfaction in the fellowship of the saints above, when it is uncultivated and even avoided below? (C. F.Buchan.)
Attendance on the House of God
What do you mean, you who say, “If we do not go to church, we read good books--besides our Bible; and we are not guilty like some, of traversing the fields, and setting a bad example to others”? This will not stand examination. What would you think of a steward who, instead of assigning to each of the servants under him his work and his wages, should say, “I do not indeed do this, but I read my master’s letters, and carefully peruse his instructions”? To what purpose, when you do not fulfil the design of the letter and instructions he sends? You read good authors, but to what purpose, since these very authors will be called to witness against you, that you did not attend to what they said in reference to the very first of duties--that of publicly calling upon God and hearing His Word? Oh think here again of precious opportunities neglected, past, never to be recalled! I went in by mistake, one Sabbath-day, to the house, not of the invalid I intended to visit, but of one in health. The inmates had not been in church; the mother was in the attitude of leaning half asleep upon a table, and another person, a stranger, slumbering by the fire; I asked the cause of absence from the house of God. The reply was, with sharpness of tone, “One cannot be always hearing preaching.” No! said I, you will not always have it in your power; we had need to improve the day of visitation; now is the time accepted. A short time elapsed, when the individual who made the remark above expressed, sickened, and in a few hours expired! Various are the excuses for absence; one has not a seat he wished to have had; another wants some article of clothing; another thinks he or she got cold the last time of being in church; another says he intends coming again by and by, “and you will be sure to see me now and then at the church,” for he at least has no idea of never coming more. Are your reasons of absenting frequently from church such as will appear satisfying to you on a death-bed? I once visited a man who had frequently defended the irregularity of his attendance at the house of God, on the ground particularly, that being somewhat skilful in treating the diseases of cattle, he was often sent for when he was on his way to church. This might have happened now and then, but as a defence of frequent absence was not tenable. I saw him when on his dying, bed, and he then, with grief, acknowledged that he urged an apology which was very insufficient, and “Oh!” said he, “that I had it in my power to come and hear the Word of God; I did not go when I might and ought to have gone, and now gladly would I go, but am not able. What would I give to hear another sermon!” (William Burns.)
The public worship of God:
There are many persons who, while they acknowledge themselves to be Christians, yet depreciate the public worship of God. The reasons assigned for this line of conduct are various. I shall mention some of those which I have actually heard urged. The labouring man says, “It may do very well for you rich people to go to church twice, but it is needful for a poor man to have some rest on the Sabbath.” The rich man considers church-going habits as of great importance for the working classes, but he thinks such strictness unnecessary in his own station. One individual says that he can very well learn his duty in half an hour of a forenoon. Another, still supposing that to learn our duty is the only purpose of attending church, observes, “We hear more than we practise.” A third, partly looking around him on the conduct of others, and partly judging by the state of his own mind, says that those who go to church twice a day are not better than their neighbours. A young man, possessing a highly intellectual mind, and ardent in the pursuit of knowledge, complains that at church he hears nothing new, nothing which he cannot learn as well from books, and therefore, while he goes once a day to please his parents or friends, he spends the rest of the day among his books. One who goes to church, perhaps merely from habit, without ever thinking of the principles on which habit should be based, says that his ideas of God’s power and goodness are much better excited by a walk among the objects of nature than by sitting in the close and unwholesome atmosphere of a church. Another individual of a speculating mind, quite absorbed in the pursuit of science, when in church finds that his attention is not arrested by the preacher, that his thoughts are unconsciously roaming among his favourite studies, and under the guise of avoiding this sin, which he thinks he cannot otherwise help, he forsakes the public worship of God, and makes his occupations entirely worldly. The example of our blessed Saviour I have heard stated as a reason why medical philanthropists should neglect or but rarely attend on the public exercises of religion; and to have been visiting the sick is considered an unanswerable excuse for absence from church. Lastly, it has been gravely alleged that there is no commandment in Scripture for going to church twice a day. To notice this last argument, in the first place, I at once acknowledge that there is no commandment for going twice to church; but it must be recollected that neither is there any commandment for going once. The Bible does not contain a code of minute rules, but a series of principles which are much better fitted for our guidance, and which we ourselves are to apply to even the smallest concerns of life. The man who has the fear of God in his heart, and who is constrained by the love of Christ, will need no specific commandment as to worshipping God in public as well as in private, on the Sabbath as well as on other days. It is urged, however, that God may be worshipped in any place; and a great deal is said about the suitableness of the God of universal nature being adored amidst His works of rural scenery. This is just. Those whom the providence of God plainly excludes from the sanctuary may enjoy His presence with them in the several places of their seclusion, and will find the want of public ordinances fully compensated by that gracious presence. But it is to be doubted whether the man who purposely takes a rural walk in preference to the sere-ice of the church, who makes Sunday the day for doing all the odd pieces of work which have been left over from the week--it is much to be doubted whether he can rationally expect the blessing of God on his soul. He is a God of order; He has blessed the Sabbath, and sanctified it specially for His worship; and the wilful forsakers of His ordinance have no right to expect His blessing on their voluntary substitutes for His appointed sacrifice. Christianity is a religion of mercy, and I would not for a moment depreciate or discourage the services paid to the sick on Sunday. But we must recollect, that our Lord never neglected the public worship of the temple or synagogue, and that His cures on the Sabbath were usually performed on those who had come to attend that worship. In the commencement of my professional life, while honestly desirous of regularly attending church, I yet satisfied myself that this was beyond my power, and considered it a subject of regret that my duty called me away from the house of God. I continued in this belief for a considerable time, till meeting with the life of Mr. Hey of Leeds, a name in the first rank as a surgical authority, I found it stated that “ he rarely missed attending the morning and afternoon service of the Church.” This impressed my mind much, and I argued with myself that if he, with his extensive practice, could accomplish this, it must be still more easy for a young man with a limited practice. I resolved, at least, to attempt it; and by a better arrangement of my time, by paying many visits on Saturday, and by leaving only the necessary ones for Sabbath, I generally found myself at liberty to attend divine service both forenoon and afternoon. (Win. Brown, M. D.)
Weather or no
When Theodore Hook, the celebrated humorist, arrived at a friend’s late for dinner, the host supposed “ that the weather had deterred him.” “Oh,” replied Hook, “I had determined to come, weather or no.” Be this the resolve of all who have no valid excuse, “I am determined regularly and punctually to attend the sanctuary, weather or no!” (Sword and Trowel.)
You and I know that it is one of the sweetest things outside of heaven to talk to one another, and to exchange notes of our experience. As nations are enriched by commerce, so are Christians enriched by communion. As we exchange commodities in trade, so do we exchange our different forms of knowledge while we speak to one another of the things of the kingdom. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Working men’s objections to public worship
A meeting of working men was convened in Camden Town, in order to learn why they as a class were “conspicuous by their absence” from public worship. The followins were twenty of the reasons assigned. No.
1. I like to walk out on Sundays to see the works of the Creator.
2. The church is hot and close, and I like to get into the fresh air.
3. The world is God’s house; I can worship God anywhere.
4. What’s the use of going to listen to a man reading a discourse? I could do that as well as him.
5. I can read and pray at home quite as well as at church.
6. I work hard all the week; Sunday is the only day I can be with my family.
7. Sunday is the only day I’ve got to attend to my garden.
8. I mend my children’s shoes on Sundays.
9. I go to see my daughter who is in service on Sundays.
10. The sermons are dull and the ministers want talent.
11. On Sunday mornings I attend to my private business, in the afternoons and evenings I rest.
12. I want to read the newspaper on Sundays.
13. I wouldn’t go to be a hypocrite.
14. If I go I cannot have my pipe, which I enjoy after a week’s work.
15. My dress is not good enough to go in.
16. They preach, but very few of them practise.
17. When I’ve got the will to go, I’ll go.
18. Going to church won’t carry me to heaven.
19. It’s all done to frighten the people and to keep them down.
20. I had enough of religion and imprisonment at the Sunday school. (The Christian.)
A patent umbrella, warranted to turn a Sunday rain, and protect the owner from a Sunday sun. The ordinary umbrellas are ample for all the other days of the week; but then you know that Sunday rains and Sunday sunshine are much more trying. Such an invention might swell the attendance at many of our churches on rainy and hot Sabbaths, and might bring out the very people who most need to “renew their strength.” (Anon.)
The perils of religious isolation
The sun is necessary to health. Important changes take place in the constitution of the blood in consequence of the cutaneous vessels on the surface of the body not being freely exposed to its oxygenating and life generating influence. It is a well-established fact that, as the effect of isolation from the stimulus of light, the fibrine, albumen, and red blood-cells become diminished in quantity, and the serum or watery portion of the vital fluid augmented in volume, thus inducing a disease known to physicians and pathologists by the name of leukaemia, an affection in which white instead of red blood-cells are developed. This exclusion from the sun produces the sickly, flabby, pale anaemic condition of the face, or exsanguined, ghost-like forms so often seen among those not freely exposed to air and light. The absence of these essential elements of health deteriorates by materially altering the physical composition of the blood, thus seriously prostrating the vital strength, enfeebling the nervous energy, and ultimately inducing organic changes in the structure of the heart, brain, and muscular tissue. Now that which the sun is to the body, friendship is to the soul. Wherever you find a nature withdrawn from the genial influences of friendship you will observe traces of abnormal weakness and melancholy. In the shadow of solitude man loses the ruddy glow of joyousness, and a gloomy misanthropy and sometimes mental decrepitude are apt to derange all his affections. True friendship is the sun of the soul. It stimulates, strengthens, and gladdens our whole being. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
Worship no waste:
Religious duties may be likened to the food and drink which are given to the reaper during his labours under the summer’s sun; it is evident in a mathematical point of view, that he must lose a little time in eating his dinner, drinking, and taking a few moments’ rest. Yet who would call that wasted time? (Mons. Landriot.)
The social genius of Christianity:
Communion is strength, solitude is weakness. Alone, the fine old beech yields to the blast, and lies prone upon the sward; in the forest, supporting each other, the trees laugh at the hurricane. The sheep of Jesus flock together; the social element is the genius of Christianity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Absence from week-night services:
“Prayer-meeting and lecture as usual on Wednesday evening in the lecture-room. Dear brethren, I urge you all to attend the weekly meetings. ‘Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.’” Some of the “dear brethren” deported themselves in this way: Brother A. thought it looked like rain, and concluded that his family, including himself of course, had better remain at home. On Thursday evening it was raining very hard, and the same brother hired a carriage, and took his whole family to the Academy of Music, to hear M. Agassiz lecture on the “Intelligence of the Lobster.” Brother B. thought he was too tired to go, so he stayed at home and worked at the sledge he had promised to make for Billy. Sister C. thought the pavements were too slippery. It would be very dangerous for her to venture out. I saw her next morning, going down street to get her old bonnet” done up.” She had an old pair of stockings drawn over her shoes. Three-fourths of the members stayed at home. God was at the prayer-meeting. The pastor was there, and God blessed them. The persons who stayed at home were each represented by a vacant seat. God don’t bless empty seats. (United Presbyterian.)
Influences which ought to radiate from the sanctuary:
Ruskin discovered a very ancient inscription on the church of St. Giacomo di Rialto, Venice, which reads, “Around this temple let the merchant’s law be just, his weights be true, and his covenants faithful”--a beautiful epitome of the influences which ought to radiate from the sanctuary, to elevate and purify the world around. He says of the discovery, it is “the pride of my life.”
Public worship--a reminder
A clergyman relates the following:--“Several little girls were in my study, seeking counsel to aid them in becoming Christians. One of them, a dear child, not much more than eleven years old, said, ‘I have not been to two or three of the meetings lately.’ Desiring to test her, I answered, ‘It does not make us Christians to attend meetings, Lizzie.’ ‘I know that,’ she replied at once; ‘ but it keeps it in my mind.’”
Absence from worship:
One Sunday morning a lady, stepping into a hackney-coach in order to ride to a place of worship, asked the driver if he ever went to church. She received the following reply: “No, madam; I am so occupied in taking others there, that I cannot possibly get time to go myself!”
One benefit of regular churchgoing:
A devoutly pious man, who lived some six miles from the house of worship, once complained to his pastor of the distance he had to go to attend public worship. “Never mind,” said the good minister, “remember that every Sabbath you have the privilege of preaching a sermon six miles long--you preach the gospel to all the residents and people you pass.”
A blessing attends public worship:
One winter day, a gentleman riding on horseback along a Kentucky road met an old coloured slave plodding on through the deep snow to the house of God, which was four miles from his home. “Why, uncle,” cried the gentleman, “you ought not to venture out such a distance on such a day! Why in the world don’t you stay at home? … Ah, massa,” was the answer, “I darn’t do dat! ‘Cause, you see, I dunno when de blessing twine to come. An’ ‘spose it ‘ud come dis snowy mornin’, and I away? Oh, no! dat ‘ud nebber do.” Would God’s service ever be dis-honoured by empty houses of worship were all Christians possessed of such faith?
Exhorting one another
Exhorting one another:
Amongst the social and friendly duties which seem to be recommended, is the duty of exhortation. Exhort one another. To what? To good works, without question; to everything that a Christian ought to do. Much of the same nature is the precept, Admonish one another, and warn one another. Exhortation ought to proceed from brotherly love, else it would be faulty in its motives, and unsuccessful in its attempts; and because it often is so, this has given rise to two splenetic observations, made by those who view human nature in the worst light. First, that every man is liberal of advice; secondly, that no man is the better for it. If a person exhort another, purely because he is a friend, and desire his welfare, the very manner will show the man; for love has an air which is not easily counterfeited; he will temper his advice with discretion and humility; he will add whatsoever is necessary to recommend it; and if a person be persuaded that he who gives him his advice would also give him anything else that he could reasonably desire, he is not a little disposed to attend to it. Exhortation comes most properly from superiors and from equals. It is part of the duty of rulers to subjects, parents to children, masters to servants, the elder to the younger, and friends to friends, since friendship always finds or makes a certain parity. It cannot be convenient or decent that every man, upon every occasion, should exhort every man; but every person has his inferiors, or his equals, and towards them he is to exercise this office upon all inviting opportunities. Besides, there is a sort of indirect exhortation, if I may so call it, to virtue and to goodness, which every Christian ought to exercise, even towards his superiors; and that is, to speak well of all those who deserve well of him; to praise good things and good persons; to which I shall not add, that he has the same call to blame those who are deficient, and who want either the capacity or the will of acting suitably to their office and rank; because censure is often as nearly related to censoriousness in reality as it is in sound, and is not a weapon rifler every hand to wield. But here, likewise, there is an indirect censure, as well as an indirect exhortation; and surely every one may assume the honest freedom to pass by in neglect and silence those who deserve reproach and disgrace. The office of exhortation is, in a more particular manner, incumbent upon us who are the ministers of the gospel; and we are expressly required to exhort, warn, admonish, incite, and reprove, with humble authority, and modest resolution, and meek integrity, and prudent zeal. There are particular seasons and occasions for particular exhortations: as when a person is advanced to any high station in the Christian republic; it is then expedient that he should be admonished to beware of himself, and to remember what God and men expect from him; and every one who deserves such a station will take it kindly to be thus reminded of his duty. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
So much the more as ye see the day approaching
The growing urgency of religion:
I. THE NECESSITY OF RELIGION INCREASES AS THE DAY APPROACHES.
1. Duties become more numerous and complicated as you advance in life, and you need religion to enable you to discharge them.
2. Circumstances will become more and more trying as you advance, and you will need religion to enable you rightly to bear them.
II. THE OBLIGATIONS TO RELIGION INCREASE AS THE DAY APPROACHES. Sinner, each drop in the rich showers of mercy that are rained upon thee every moment has a voice, and that voice says, with imperial emphasis, “Yield yourself to God.”
III. THE OBSTRUCTIONS TO A RELIGIOUS LIFE INCREASE AS THE DAY APPROACHES.
1. Your insensibility increases.
2. Your indisposition increases.
3. Your incapacity increases. (Homilist.)
The day approaching
A note of time is struck here, and the context shows that the apostle makes use of this note as a stimulus to Christian earnestness in every department of the Christian life. The expression “ day” is a very common one in the Bible. It is used, as other words are, in various senses. It is used to signify the natural day of four-and-twenty hours; it is used to signify the artificial day, the rising and the setting of the sun, which varies at different times and seasons, because of the obliquity of the sphere; it is used to signify the civil day, which varies in the manner of counting according to the habits of the various nations of the world. But the expression “day” is used in Scripture in a less direct manner than this, to signify an indefinite period of time. It is used to express the forty years during which the Jews were in the wilderness, called “the day of temptation,” that is, the period of temptation. And in this larger sense we read in Scripture of a “day” of grace, a “day of vengeance,” a “day of death,” a “day of judgment.” Let us consider these.
I. The apostle did not say to the Hebrews that their “DAY” Or GRACE WAS “APPROACHING,” nor can I say so to you. Their day of grace had come, and so has yours. Your day of grace did not approach with this new year; you had it last year, you have had it all your years, you have it still--it has followed you into this new year. “Now is the accepted time, now is the clay of salvation.” The gospel sun has risen upon you in all its light, in all its warmth, in all its privileges, in all its responsibilities. But there is a setting of the gospel sun as well as a rising. Of this the Hebrews are warned. The gospel is not always left in the same country, nor in the same part of the country; not always in the same town, nor in the same congregation in a town. Now, avail yourselves of these opportunities while you have them, and tell your neighbours to do the same. You are not all doing this as you ought.
II. But, then, secondly, in many places and in many persons, where a day of grace was long enjoyed, there has also succeeded a “DAY OF VENGEANCE.” “God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”; and the reaping is often in this world as well as the sowing. The retribution is not always kept for eternity; there is retribution in time. Opportunities are put an end to; domestic circumstances occur, withdrawing men from means of grace, from the gospel; distances are enlarged, and prosperity is diminished; expenses cannot be incurred, and opportunities cannot be enjoyed, as before. There is a solemn calamity.
Domestic judgments fall also upon families; I say not in anger, because of means abused, but as a matter of fact, whatever the motive may be in Him who brings them. Without presuming to scan His reasons, we are commanded to observe His doings; and these things He does. He brings, in various ways, domestic and relative and personal judgments, which cut short, or greatly diminish, the opportunities of grace. Now in other ways days of vengeance, putting an end to days of grace, are brought upon men, as in national calamities. A day is approaching which may shake every throne and every established church in Christendom. And what then? What should Christians be prepared for? We should all be prepared for storms. How do we prepare for natural storms? Why, we build a strong house and have it fortified against the tempest. We take care that the doors and windows are made capable of resisting the impetuosity of the gale. We seek a hiding-place from the tempest; and in a climate like this we should be considered mad if, with the means of having a house over our heads, we were to wait until the storm came to get a house. We prepare the house for the storm, and we prepare it with the more earnestness because we see the storm approaching. What is to be done here, then, as ye see a day approaching when your means of grace may be removed--a day when even our own favoured country, hitherto comparatively quiet, may be disturbed. Is there, then, no possibility of a day approaching? And where should Christians be found? We have a new and living way of access to God; we have a High Priest over the house of God. We should “hold fast our profession,” for “He is faithful that promised.” And we should “consider one another,” have a friendly eye to things around, consider where failures are, kindly, but firmly, point them out, to “provoke unto love and to good works,” and this “the more as ye see the day approaching.”
III. Though no such day as I have imagined should approach our favoured nation within our time, yet is there another “day approaching” which calls for preparation--a day which no power can ward off, no riches bribe. It may come suddenly to many of us; to all it is approaching with gradual, but determined and decisive step. It is giving notes of warning as it comes in many of us. “WE HAVE THE SENTENCE OF DEATH IN OURSELVES.” It was Dr. Watts who said to a friend that came to see him on his death-bed, “You come now to see an old friend; we have talked on many subjects of learning, and criticism, and controversy; now none of these things suit me; I must now take that view of the gospel which the poorest Christian in the town can take as well as I.” And so he died, in simple reliance on Jesus. See, then, my brethren, that you realise this reliance, “so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”
IV. “WE MUST ALL APPEAR BEFORE THE JUDGMENT-SEAT OF CHRIST.” Every one of you “must give account of himself to God,” where there will be no possibility of concealment, no doubtful examination of witnesses, no hesitation about facts, no cross-examination to ascertain what the facts were, but where all will be transparent to the Judge--all that we have done in the flesh, whether it were good, or whether it were bad. How shall we be ready for the “day” which is thus “ approaching”? The answer is as before: no man shall stand in that judgment but the man who is in Christ Jesus. This is the only preparation for the judgment--“the day” of the judgment of God. (H. McNeile. D. D.)
The day approaching
I. NOTICE THE DAY APPROACHING.
1. The day of providential trial, when the judgments of God will fall on the wicked, and the Church of Christ will have to pass through the fires and floods of persecution.
2. Then the day of death is approaching--approaching us all, and perhaps is much nearer to us than we generally suppose. We see it approaching in every grey hair on the head, in every attack of disease, in every puncture of pain, in every token of decay, in every symbol of mourning, in every funeral procession, and in every open grave.
3. And the day of general judgment is approaching. Oh what separations, what disclosures of character, what wrecks of false hopes, what shrieks of despair, what bursts of joy, what strange transitions, will then be seen and heard!
II. THE INFLUENCE WHICH THE DAY APPROACHING SHOULD HAVE UPON OUR PRESENT CHARACTER AND CONDUCT.
1. Be diligent and earnest in seeking your own personal salvation, “and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”
2. Then, next to this, be diligent and earnest in the discharge of all Christian duties, and the improvement of all your Christian privileges, “and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”
3. Then you should be diligent and earnest in a cultivation of a spirit of weanedness from the present world, and of attachment to heaven and heavenly things, “and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” When that day comes, what a poor insignificant thing will this world appear! How low and brief its pleasures! How vanishing its wealth and honours! How dim and fading its brightest glories! How infinitely below the capacities and wants of an immortal mind! (Wm. Gregory.)
The day approaching:
Time is like a ship which never anchors; while I am on board I had better do those things that may profit me at my landing, than practise such as shall cause my commitment when I come ashore. (O. Feltham.)
The hour-glass in the hand:
There was an ancient custom of putting an hour-glass into the coffin of the dead, to signify that their time had run out--a useless notification to them. Better put the hour-glass into the hand ofevery living man, and show them the grains gliding steadily out. Soon all will be gone. (New Cyclopedia of Illustrations.)
If we sin wilfully
THE PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES ESSENTIAL TO THE COMMISSION OF APOSTASY.
1. An accurate and extended acquaintance with the disclosures of the gospel.
2. A decided conviction of the truth and authority of the gospel.
3. A partial experience of the power and excellence of the gospel.
4. A distinct and open profession of the gospel.
II. THE PECULIAR FEELING INVOLVED IN THE COMMISSION OF APOSTASY. It must be done wilfully.
1. From sin committed through want of due information and conviction.
2. From sin committed through hasty inconsideration.
3. From sin committed through powerful and unexpected temptation.
4. From the occasional falls of the true believer, which are subsequently followed by deep, and perhaps speedy repentance. Apostasy is not one act of sin, but a continued state of mind and conduct. It is a falling away, persevered in to the close of life, and issuing in a state of hopeless wretchedness.
III. THE AWFUL CONSEQUENCES RESULTING FROM THE COMMISSION OF APOSTASY.
1. It occasions a necessary exclusion from the attainment of mercy.
2. It induces a terrifying apprehension of coming wrath. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Left without a sin-offering:
For those that abandon their Christian profession--“sin wilfully after” that they “have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” They could not return to the temple, and plead with God for mercy over the offerings which their fathers had presented to Him. The old covenant had passed away. Its priests had lost their consecration. Its altars had lost their sanctity. Its sacrifices had lost their power with God. There was now only one atonement for sin which God would regard; and if they turned away from that, there was nothing for them “ but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” For a Jew to be left with all his sins upon him, and no sin-offering by which to invoke the Divine pardon, was for him to be condemned to intolerable despair. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The danger of apostasy
1. The apostle is net here speaking of the common infirmities which may attend the godly, but of wilful transgressions; or, as David calls them, “presumptuous sins,” from which he prayed to be delivered (Psalms 19:13).
2. Neither are sins of ignorance intended, but such as are against light and strong conviction. To sin against knowledge is one of the greatest aggravations, and that which leads on to perdition.
3. The text speaks not of sins in general, though knowingly or presumptuously committed, but of some sin in particular, and such as excludes from the hope of salvation. Now this appears to be no other than an absolute and entire rejection of the truth which had been professedly received. Those who cast the Son of God from His throne must expect that He will cast them into hell. They divest Him of His glory, and He will cover them with disgrace.
I. THE DEATH OF CHRIST WAS A REAL AND PROPER SACRIFICE FOR SIN. The sacrifices under the law were figurative: this was real and effectual. They were shadows: this was the substance.
II. THE DEATH OF CHRIST IS THE ONLY SACRIFICE FOR SIN.
III. THOSE WHO REJECT THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST ARE LEFT WITHOUT HOPE.
1. If Christ became a sacrifice, this will account for the treatment He met with both from the hands of God and man.
2. If the death of Christ be the only sacrifice for sins, let us not only hold fast this doctrine, but actually build upon it as the foundation of all our hopes and comfort.
3. As the passage which we have now considered speaks terror to these who either never embraced the doctrine of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, or who have shamefully apostatised from it, so it speaks terror to them only. Such indeed are running a dreadful risk of unpardoned guilt and Divine displeasure, and it behoves them to take warning. But let those who put their trust in Christ crucified, and who know no other hope, rejoice and be exceeding glad; for He is able to keep that which they commit unto Him until that day. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The knowledge of the truth
Receiving the truth
1. By the truth is meant the true, pure and most certain doctrine of the gospel concerning Christ already come, faith and salvation. This is called truth because it is true, and most eminently and infallibly true, which is noways in anything false and erroneous, as being at first immediately revealed from God, the God of truth. It is called also the truth by way of eminency, as the most excellent truth revealed for man’s eternal happiness.
2. Truth may be truth, and yet not known to any man or angel, and the truth was first known only unto God; yet it pleased Him, out of His great mercy, to reveal His mind to man, and in particular this truth of the gospel by Christ and His apostles, who made it known unto others, who by that means came to know it. This knowledge was not mathematical, physical, political, or metaphysical, as some use to speak, but theological and Divine, and a light above the light of nature. The word may signify not only knowledge, but acknowledgment of this truth, by a full assent upon conviction. And this might be caused, not only by outward revelation, information, and miracles, but also by the illumination o! the Spirit, and supernatural gifts” for God goes far with man, and doth much to save him: He many times penetrates his inward parts, and by His Divine light and power enters into his very heart, and all this to convert him.
3. They received this knowledge. God did not only offer it, but give it, which He might be properly said to do when they received it. They had it not by nature; for it is far above the natural man. They acquired it, but not by their own power and industry; neither did they merit it. Yet in this receiving they were not merely passive, yet passive because they could be active. God must do something without man, before he can actively receive, He must prevent him by revelation and information without, and by illumination and operation within, and this done, man may be active. For, to receive it is certainly an act not only of the understanding which assents, but of the will which approves. So that he both wittingly and willingly receives, and that with some delight, and proceeds to profession, and continues for a while to believe, approve, profess. Though this receiving of knowledge may seem only to be acknowledgment, yet it is something more. Truth is opposed to error, knowledge to ignorance, acknowledgment to dissent, approbation to rejection of this truth. (G. Lawson.)
Fearful looking for of judgment
I. The word judgment may inform us that this justice is not legislative, but judicial; and, as judicial, not remunerative, but vindictive, which presupposeth crime and guilt in the party to be judged. This judgment is the decree of condemnation which determines the penalty: and to signify how dreadful it is, it is said, metaphorically, to be fiery indignation. The words may be translated, the heat, or boiling, or burning of fire; that is fiery heat. By these terms the Spirit informs us of God’s high displeasure against apostasy, and the severity of His justice, whereby He is resolved most fearfully to punish that sin, which is not barely a disobedience of some particular law, but a plain revolt.
II. The parties that must suffer are adversaries: adversaries are apostates, who are not merely disobedient subjects, but revolters.
III. There remains a certain fearful looking for of this judgment.
1. Though they never fear it, nor think of it, yet they are obnoxious to it.
2. This will certainly be their doom; and as they are obnoxious by law, they shall certainly suffer that which they have deserved.
3. If they ever seriously reflect upon themselves, and remember what they have done; as conscience will now and then lash them, and mind them of their crime, they must needs expect it, and their fear will be very great. For as they apprehend the peril, so will their fear be; and they cannot apprehend the judgment, but as very grievous, pressing hard upon them, and unavoidable, and so it will torment them before the time of execution. (G. Lawson.)
Foreboding of the judgment day:
Traverse the earth--enter the gorgeous cities of idolatry, or accept the hospitality of its wandering tribes--go where will-worship is most fantastic, and superstition most gross--and you will find in man “ a fearful looking for of judgment.” The mythology of their Nemesis may vary--their Elysium and the Tartarus may be differently depicted--the Metempsychosis may be the passage of bliss and woe--still the fact is only confirmed by the diversity of the forms in which it is presented. (R. W. Hamilton.)
Trodden under foot the Son of God
THE APOSTATE TREADS UNDER FOOT THE SON OF GOD. The expression is metaphorical, and presupposeth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and affirmeth that He, though the Son of God, is trodden under foot. To tread a thing under foot is
1. To undervalue it, if it be of any worth.
2. To vilify it.
3. To vilify it very much.
4. To express this contempt by casting it upon the ground and trampling upon it, which is the greatest debasement, and is sometimes an expression of utter detestation.
Thus Jezebel was thrown down upon the earth, and trampled upon by Jehu’s horses. To vilify and debase things that are base is no fault; and to despise unworthy men is tolerable; but the apostate undervalues the Son of God; and the greater His dignity, the greater the indignity. He is not mere man, though man, yet as man the best of men; for He is the Son of God, and that not any kind of son, but the only begotten and beloved Son of God, the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person; and so the Son of God, that He is God. Thus neither the Person and Deity of Christ, nor His natures, nor the personal union of them, nor His transcendent gifts, nor His heavenly wisdom, nor His glorious works, nor His rare virtues, nor His great work of expiation, nor His glory and power; which He enjoys at the right hand of God, could anyways move him; but he debaseth Him that was higher than the heavens, as low as the dust under his feet; yet this debasement was only an act of his base mind, but could not in the least degree obscure the excellency of Christ, This is the first aggravation of apostasy.
II. HE COUNTETH THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT, WHEREBY HE WAS SANCTIFIED, AN UNHOLY THING.
1. By the blood understand the sacrifice of Christ, so much magnified in the former chapter; for it is that blood by which Christ, entering the holy place of heaven, obtained eternal redemption; that blood which purgeth the conscience from dead works to serve the living God; that blood which confirmed the everlasting covenant, in which respect it is called the blood of the covenant. This covenant is called the covenant of grace, wherein God promiseth remission of sins, and the eternal inheritance of glory, upon condition of repentance and faith in Christ. And it is called the blood of this covenant because upon it the covenant was grounded, and by virtue of it all the promises thereof are made effectual.
2. This was the blood by which this apostate, upon his receiving the knowledge of the truth, was sanctified. For
3. Yet this sanctifying blood the apostate counts unholy or common. To be common blood may be understood
III. THE APOSTATE DOTH DESPITE UNTO THE SPIRIT OF GRACE.
1. This Spirit is not the spirit of man, neither is it any angel, nor any created person of substance; but it is an uncreated Spirit, the Spirit of God, so as that it is God; therefore the perfections and operations of God are predicated of it.
2. This Spirit is said to be the Spirit of grace. Thus He may be called in opposition to the spirit of bondage and fear, which is the spirit proper to the law. For the Spirit by the law, which had no expiation for sin, no promise of power to keep it, nor of pardon if transgressed, could work nothing but fear, which was a continued slavery. The Spirit of the gospel, which is the Spirit of Christ, promised and given in the gospel, is a Spirit of comfort and confidence.
3. They do despite unto this Spirit. In this despite there are injury, reproach, contempt; and the greater the person to whom the despite is done, the more heinous it is. This here meant is not done to man, but God; because done to that Spirit which is so the Spirit of God, that He is God. This is committed
The folly of rejecting Christ:
It is as if a Venice glass should dispute against a marble wall. It is as if a little ship should run itself against a rock; the rock would soon split the ship, but the ship could not have hurt the rock. (Ralph Robinson.)
The murdered Christ
I do believe that a murderer would rather see the ghost of his murdered victim standing by his side, sitting at his table, looking at him through the curtains of his bed, confronting him in every society he visits, haunting him in solitude--I believe a man would rather see the ghost of a murdered victim following him everywhere than you would like to see the murdered Christ, whom your sins pierced on the Cross. (B. K. Noel.)
Vengeance belongeth unto Me
VENGEANCE BELONGETH TO THE LORD. By vengeance is meant vindicative justice punishing offenders, the acts whereof are condemnation and execution; and it is proper to a judge, as here it may be taken either for the power or the act and exercise of the power. The party to whom it belongs is the Lord, as He is the supreme and universal Judge; for He that is the supreme Law-giver must needs be the supreme Judge. Angels or men may have the use of it, but the propriety is in God; and that you may understand it more fully, you must know that this power of punishing is an universal, an original power, as it belongs to God and none else. It extends to all persons, to all causes, and to these in all respects; for He hath jurisdiction over angels, and the consciences and immortal souls of men, and can arrogate spiritual and eternal punishments.
II. As vengeance, so RETRIBUTION BELONGS UNTO THE LORD and it may be considered, not only as it is a power or right to recompense, but the act and exercise of vindicative justice, and may include both the sentence and the execution, which is nothing else but a returning evil for evil, the evil of punishment for the evil of sin. The apostle in this follows the Septuagint, which turn it, “I will recompense,” which seems to imply, that as He is
III. HE WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE. This may be understood two ways.
1. That God will judge the cause of His oppressed and persecuted people, by punishing and destroying their enemies; and this the context in Deuteronomy seems to imply.
2. That He will judge His people, and punish severely all apostates among them. Men may threaten and never condemn, they may condemn and never execute; but God will certainly do both.
IV. THE LORD SAITH SO. Man might have said it, and it might have been otherwise; out of ignorance he might have been deceived, or out of pravity he might deceive others; or if any earthly judge, who knew his own mind and power, should have said so, yet he might change his mind, or want power; and so recompense might fail. But it is God who is Supreme Judge, who cannot be deceived, cannot deceive, cannot change His mind; who hath almighty power that saith so, and His word is His deed. If therefore He say, “I will recompense, I will judge”; recompense and judgment will certainly follow, they cannot fail.
V. THEY KNEW IT WAS GOD WHO SAID SO THAT GOD WHO COULD CERTAINLY DO AS HE HAD SAID, If any other had said it, and they had been ignorant of it, their fear had been less, though the danger had been as great as if they had known it. Seeing, therefore, it is the Lord who said it, and they knew that it was said, and that by Him, their fear should be answerable to the danger, and so much the greater, as their knowledge was more clear and certain. They knew this, and that by Scripture, which they believed to be the Word of God. Ignorance of this truth makes men secure and presumptuous, and so doth unbelief; this seems to prove the punishment to be unavoidable. (G. Lawson.)
In the reign of King Charles I., the goldsmiths of London had a custom of weighing several sorts of their precious metals before the Privy Council. On this occasion they made use of scales poised with such exquisite nicety that the beam would turn, the Master of the company affirmed, at the two-hundredth part of a grain. Now the famous Attorney-General, standing by, and hearing this, replied, “I shall be loath, then, to have all my actions weighed in these scales.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)
God avenges wrong:
When a Chief Justice was spoken to of showing mercy to a prisoner before him, he said, “Let me remember that there is mercy due to my country.” Have you travelled in the Alps? You will come to a magnificent and beautiful valley with flowing streams and exuberant foliage. A few miles--it may be a few steps--further, and you have a great mountain with its awful shadows, and threatening to hurl its mass over you. You cannot have the sunny valley without the frowning mountain. So there are changes in the scenery when you study the Divine working. There is the lowly valley where the flowers of redemption grow, and the waters of grace curl their eddies; and there is also the great white throne, glorious indeed, but great and terrible in its shadows, because of the intense light that shines upon it. The same engine that beneficently draws the train along will be an instrument of wrath and destruction to anything that crosses its path. God moves on the track of perfect holiness, not only bestowing blessing, but avenging wrong for the benefit of His universe. If the sinner throws himself across that track, the same law that moves Him to love will cause Him to punish the unrepenting sinner. (A. P.Pierson, D. D.)
Vengeance a Divine prerogative
A person happened to complain in the hearing of a pious man of some conduct which had been manifested towards him by his neighbours, and concluded by saying that he had a large portion of vengeance in store for them. “You have stolen it, then,” was the answer, “for I know it does not belong to you of right, because God says, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.’”
A fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God
Is God love?
(With 1 John 4:16):--A sermon on these two texts was published by Mr. Charles Voysey, and entitled, “A challenge to the orthodox.” The heading of the sermon puts the matter in an interrogative form: “Is God love? OR, IS it a fearful thing to fall into His hands?” The two ideas are regarded as incompatible, and evidently it is suggested that they are startling opposites. Now it will be for us to consider whether they are really opposites, and whether there is any contradiction of moral idea in them at all.
I. THIS SEEMING CONTRADICTION IS OFTEN HARMONISED IN HUMAN LIFE. Most of US have known the love of home, as amongst the dearest experiences of earthly life; and we shall not easily forget the dewy eyes that looked so carefully into the trunk that was being packed for us with sacrificial love. True! but yet we can remember times when it was “a fearful thing to fall into our earthly father’s hands”! The fatherly spirit seemed turned into a consuming flame of righteous anger. Nay, in cases of guilty betrayal, the deeper the parental love, the more intense the indignation at the harm done to some dear child of the home. And who can measure the terrible influences of sin in God’s fair universe? Is His voice the only voice that is to be silent? Is His hand the only one that is not to hold the sword of justice? Is He who is the author of the eternal moral law, and who is the inspirer and quickener of all moral intuition, to be assailed as wanting in love, if by the lips of one of His own inspired apostles He declares that “ it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands”?
II. THIS SEEMING CONTRADICTION WAS HARMONISED IN THE LIFE OF CHRIST HIMSELF. All ages since the Redeemer’s advent have at least agreed in the testimony that He was a Lord of love. And yet, while His whole life is a revelation that “God is love,” He casts some clear light, upon the truth that “it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands.” Wicked men trembled as He read their hearts. He saw where sin was taking the forms of hypocrisy and hardness. And would any universe be beautiful or desirable that had not a retribution for such as these hardened hypocrites? Would it not be a fearful thing, if it were not “a fearful thing for them to fall into the hands of God”? Were they to “devour widows’ houses for nothing”? Were they to be “full of all uncleanness,” and yet meet no condemnation from the immaculate God? Where is justice in the universe, if they escape from “the wrath to come”’?
III. THIS SEEMING CONTRADICTION IS NOT A CHRISTIAN ONE ALONE. It is “a fearful thing to fall into the hands” of Nature, if you disobey her laws. The tempest, will not let you play with the lightning; the precipice will not let you tempt her indulgence by plunging into the depths; the sea soon casts upturned and ghastly faces on to the shore if you tack amid the rocks, even though there be “beauty at the prow, and pleasure at the helm”! And what are we reminded of when Nature thus resents our negligence and ignorance? We are told that all these laws and powers could not be altered for one instant in the smallest degree without injuring man, and that to secure his welt-being and safety all these laws are established. What would be the good of saying, Now you must choose one horn of this dilemma--“You cannot say, Nature is love, and yet it is a fearful thing to fall into her hands”?
IV. THESE SEEMING CONTRADICTIONS HAVE BEEN HARMONISED WITHIN BY CONSCIENCE ITSELF. Instincts are often truer than arguments. We feel in relation to what is Called crime that a merely reformatory system is not enough. It would be wrong to pass over their crimes, wrong to make Nemesis impossible! What? with their miserable victims of yesterday tortured, pillaged, traduced, and murdered! Would it be right to say, as does Mr. Voysey, “Love makes no bargain, and imposes no conditions; can never so betray itself as to say, ‘Believe and thou shalt be saved,’ but, ‘thou shalt be saved whether thou believest or not!’” A fearful enough universe such an one would be; an altogether unmitigated misery to live in it. “Love imposes no conditions”! Is it so? Is there to be no “Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow”? I venture to affirm that the righteous instincts of human nature say emphatically, “Amen,” as of old, to all these condemnations. (W. M.Statham, M. A.)
Future punishment a fearful thing
I. The text asserts that “ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” and our first statement shall be, that SURELY IT IS SO as we may certainly gather from several considerations.
1. It must be a fearful thing for impenitent sinners to fall into God’s hand when we remember the character of God as revealed in His judgments of Deuteronomy 7:10; Isaiah 66:6). What instances does the Scripture give of what Paul calls “ the severity of God,” and how true is it that “ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”!
2. Pursuing our heavy task, we shall not draw your solemn attention to the words of the Saviour. Our Lord Jesus Christ we believe to be the incarnation of God, and to represent our God under a most tender aspect. It is a very remarkable fact that no inspired preacher of whom we have any record ever uttered such terrible words concerning the destiny of the lost as our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. We feel that it must be a fearful thing to be punished for sin when you remember the atonement.
4. The conscience of every sinner tells him that there wilt be a wrath to come. Dying men who have lived in impenitence, have often exhibited fears that are not to be accounted for, except upon the supposition that the shadow of a terrible doom had cast itself upon their minds.
II. Let me urge you NOT TO ATTEMPT TO DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE BENEFICIAL EFFECT WHICH A PROPER CONSIDERATION OF THIS DOCTRINE WOULD HAVE UPON YOU.
1. Do not deny the fact, at any rate if you do, be consistent and deny Scripture altogether.
2. Do not have the edge of this truth taken off by those who suggest a hope that though you may be punished for a time in the next world you will ultimately be destroyed and annihilated.
3. Some suppose that instead of annihilation, restoration awaits the lost. What can there be about hell fire to change a man’s heart?
4. Some ungodly men say, “Well, you do not believe for a minute that there is any material fire, do you?” But if it were not so, do you think that soul punishment is a trifle? Why, man, it is the very soul of punishment. It is far more dreadful than bodily pain.
III. CONSIDER HOW THIS TEXT IS PUT. The punishment to be endured is here described as falling into the hands of the living God. Will not that be fearful? But what could there be that would alarm the soul in falling into the hands of the living God? Let me remind you. You sinners, when you begin to think of God, feel uneasy. In a future state you will be compelled to think of God. That thought will torment you. You will have to think of God as one to whom you were ungrateful. You will feel remorse, but not repentance, as you recollect that He did honestly invite you to come to Him, that He did call and you refused. As you think of the happiness of those whose hearts were given to Him, it will make your miseries great to think of what you have lost. Well may the wicked gnash their teeth, as they note the overthrow of evil and the establishment of good!
IV. IF THESE THINGS BE SO, THEN ACT ACCORDINGLY. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The New Testament revelation of God
Not one jot or title of the old revelation of God as a God of Righteousness is lost or cancelled. The moral teaching is stern and uncompromising as ever. God’s love, which is Himself, is not the invertebrate amiability or weak good-naturedness to which some would reduce it. “The New Testament,” it has been said, “with all its glad tidings of mercy is a severe book” (Church). For the goodness and the severity of God are, as it were, the convex and the concave in His moral nature. (Aubrey L. Moore.)
The Almighty will not appear as an injured individual avenging his wrongs, but as a righteous Judge administering the law. (J. Howard Hinton, M. A.)
The ethical value of a belief in retribution
David Mallet was a great free-thinker, and a very free speaker of his free thoughts; he made no scruple to disseminate his sceptical opinions whenever he could with any propriety introduce them. At his own table, indeed, the lady of the house (who was a staunch advocate for her husband’s opinions) would often in the warmth of argument say, “Sir, we Deists.” She once made use of this expression in a mixed company to David Hume, who refused the intended compliment by asserting that he was a very good Christian; for the truth of which he appealed to a worthy clergyman present, and this occasioned a laugh, which a little disconcerted the lady and Mr. Mallet. The lecture upon the non credenda of the free-thinkers was repeated so often, and urged with so much earnestness, that the inferior domestics became soon as able disputants as the heads of the family. The fellow who waited at table, being thoroughly convinced that for any of his misdeeds he should have no after-account to make, was resolved to profit by the doctrine, and made off with many things of value, particularly plate. Luckily he was so closely pursued that he was brought back with his prey to his master’s house, who examined him before some select friends. At first the man was sullen, and would answer no questions put to him; but being urged to give a reason for his infamous behaviour, he resolutely said, “Sir, I had heard you so often talk of the impossibility of a future state, and that after death there was no reward for virtue, or punishment for vice, that I was tempted to commit the robbery.” “Well, but, you rascal,” replied Mallet, “had you no fear of the gallows?” “Sir,” said the fellow, looking sternly at his master, “what is that to you, if I had a mind to venture that? You had removed my greatest terror; why should I fear the lesser?” (Thomas Davies, on David Mallet.)
In the hands of the living God
We are all, in one sense, in “ the hands of the living God” (Psalms 139:7-10). In conversion, too, the sinner, in some sense, “falls into the hands” of God. The alien is restored--the rebel is welcomed back again--the prodigal returns to his Father’s house, and sinks into his Father’s arms. Glorious privilege!--And yet, the sacred writer testifies, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Jehovah is here regarded as the God of vengeance. To fall into the hands of Jehovah as the unreconciled Thunderer, is certain ruin for the guilty soul of man. In that case, the righteous Governor fulfils upon the sinner the curses of the broken covenant of works; the dark and dreadful threatenings of His word upon the workers of iniquity are carried into execution; God meets men as an enemy, and His wrath blazes out against them. Nor does the mercy with which Christianity is suffused interfere with the execution of the threatenings of heaven upon those who finally reject the “great salvation.” The very greatness of that salvation, and the very “meekness and gentleness of Christ,” serve to aggravate their guilt, and to augment their punishment. Oh, now let the sinner fall into His hands as the hands of God in Christ, bidding him welcome to their kind and sheltering embrace; lest, hereafter, he “fall into His hands” as the hands of an avenging potentate--an unreconciled and desolating foe. (A. S.Patterson.)
Ye endured a great fight of afflictions
The believing Hebrews exhorted
THE SUFFERINGS TO WHICH THE APOSTLE ADVERTS. “A great fight of afflictions.” The term affliction is usually employed by us to denote bodily indisposition; but it is evident that the reference here is to persecution. The words, “a great fight,” show that these Hebrews had a severe struggle to maintain; and it would be well for us to contrast the sufferings of the early Christians with what we have to endure. In addition to this general representation, the apostle proceeds to enumerate some of the special evils which they had to encounter. By the term “reproaches,” we are given to understand that they were the objects of false and slanderous accusations, which has been the case with the people of God in all ages (Psalms 69:20). This is a severe trial, especially to tender and sensitive minds. But what says the Saviour? (Matthew 5:11-12). And what says the apostle? 1 Peter 4:14-16). “With reproaches the apostle again connects the term “afflictions,” or persecutions; and, from what is stated in the following verse, it is evident that the spoliation of their property is mainly intended. The notoriety connected with these proceedings added to their trials. “Partly, whilst ye were made a gazing-stock,” &c. The object of their persecutors was openly to expose them to scorn, and to excite public feeling against them. Then their own sorrows were enhanced by the warm sympathy they felt for their fellow-sufferers. “Part]y, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.” As believers, being united to Christ, partake of the fellowship of His sufferings; so, being united to each other, they cannot but share the afflictions which are accomplished in their brethren around them.
II. THE ENCOURAGING CONSIDERATIONS WHICH HE ADDUCES (verse 34).
1. The conduct of these persons demands our highest admiration. Simply to acquiesce without murmuring would have been no small matter; but to meet joyfully such a visitation, was strange indeed. When the harvest is suddenly blasted, the utmost we expect in the husbandman, after all his care and toil, is patient resignation; no one, under such circumstances, thinks of joy. But these persons took joyfully the spoiling of their goods--those goods including their earthly all.
2. They were influenced by the consideration of the treasure laid up for them in heaven, which the spoiler could not reach, nor aught else destroy. They knew that they had there a better and a more enduring substance than the possessions of this passing world.
III. THE DUTIES AND OBLIGATIONS WHICH HE ENFORCES.
1. Confidence. This feeling is to be regarded as the fruit of faith, and is displayed by courage in the face of difficulties and oppositions. It includes freedom from bondage and fear, and also a prevailing persuasion of our acceptance with God.
2. Patience. This is another fruit of faith, and is not the least important of those things which are lovely and of good report. There are three things which call for the exercise of this grace. We have need of it
In each of these senses the Hebrews had to exercise this grace, but especially in the latter. What the apostle exhorts them to cultivate is the opposite of that impatience which cannot wait; but he tells them that they would not have to wait long. “For yet a little while,” &c. The overthrow of the Jewish state would put an end to their power to annoy them. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted, think of this “little while.” Every wave is numbered between thee and the desired haven; and then the little while of time will be swallowed up in the unending ages of eternity.
3. Perseverance. “Now the just shall live by faith”--in the exercise of a calm and constant trust in God--“but if any man draw back, My soul,” &c. To draw back, after putting our hands to the gospel plough, is a sin highly aggravating in its nature, and, if persisted in, one that will be most awful in its results (2 Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-31). Some years ago there was a shipwreck in one of our channels. Among the passengers were a father and his son. They were a considerable distance from shore, but, as their lives were at stake, they resolved to make an effort to reach it by swimming. Before long, the son became very faint, and the father, perceiving it, cried out, “Hold on! Hold on! “ Again and again did he repeat the words, Hold on! and he did not cry in vain. The youth was stimulated thereby; and at length, in spite of the roaring winds and boisterous waves, they reached the shore in safety. Now, what this shipwrecked father said to his fainting son would we say to those who have named the name of Christ, especially to the young disciple. By all the fearful consequences with which backsliding will be attended we bid you, Hold on! (Expository Sermons.)
The conflict of the light:
I. THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IS NOT ONLY AN EXTERNAL REVELATION, IT IS ALSO AN INNER LIGHT. The first aspect it presents to us is of an objective revelation. Christ’s mission fulfilled and transcended all the hopes of the past. In His person and work we have the materials of the world’s illumination. He is the Sun of the spiritual universe. That revelation still advances. The historic work of Christ on earth is given in the volume of Revelation, closed in the first century. The work of Christ in the heavenly world, and in the hearts of men, constitute ever fresh gospels in that unending volume which contains the progressive manifestation of God. We are surrounded, then, on all sides, with this environment of light. But that light and the objects it reveals are not discovered by us until we are inwardly illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Then we are transformed by it, and become orbs of light enlightening the darkness about us. Only when these two conditions are met, is the spiritual world a reality to us.
II. THE RECEPTION OF THIS LIGHT BRINGS CONFLICT. We should expect the possession of Christ to bring gladness, peace, power; and so it does, but only as the effect of battle. The influx of light ever arouses opposition. Why is this conflict inevitable? It is because of the antagonism of the light and that which it expels. It is because there is a Divine necessity that truth and error should come into collision. It is because it is the destiny of the light to rule. It must be diffused. It exposes all that is withered, noisome, dead. The aim of the light is to fashion a different world altogether. The face of Nature is the work of light. And the light of Christ is spreading, rising, will prevail.
III. THE LIGHT THAT PROVOKES THE CONFLICT GIVES US FORTITUDE TO ENDURE AND CONQUER. All power is in the light. If we shut our eyes to any part of it, we are weakened, we are without the correlative energies that go with the light--fire, heat, electricity.
IV. THE MEMORIES OF THE PAST VICTORIES OF THE LIGHT SHOULD BE CHERISHED FOR PRESENT HELP. “Call to remembrance.” Is it dark with you now? Does your way lie through shadows? Remember that “He turns the shadow of death into the morning.” The twilight of doubt shall be followed by the dawn of certainty. The night of sorrow by the morning of joy. The evening of life by the noontide of heaven. The present darkness of the world shall be succeeded by the universal shining of the light of the gospel. (J. Matthews.)
Loss suffered joyfully
A missionary in India says: I rode to Nallamaram and saw some people of the congregation there, together with the catechist. The clothes of one of the women were rather dirty, and I asked her about it. “Sir,” said she, “I am a poor woman and have only this single dress.” “Well, have you always been so poor?” “No, I had some money and jewels, but a year ago the Maravers (thieves) came and robbed me of all. They told me,” she said, “if you will return to heathenism, we shall restore you everything.” “Well, why did you not follow their advice? Now you are a poor Christian.” “Oh, sir,” she replied, “I would rather be a poor Christian than arichheathen.” (W. Arvine.)
It is with wealth as with a water reservoir. When the drought has dried it up, you find in the deserted bed things that were lost years ago, and curious interesting things which but for this circumstance would never have been known. So, where it is a believing contented mind, it will discover, when the flood of fortune has drained away, in the deserted channel unsuspected sources of enjoyment and lost things, feelings which long since vanished, simple pleasures and primitive emotions which abundance had overflowed.
Joy in afflictions:
You don’t know, Christian friends, how much harm some of you do by looking so gloomy and unapproachable. I remember one of my congregation telling me how, when she was a girl, she was nearly driven to shun the society of godly people by hearing the unhappy utterance of a friend of her father’s, who was reputed to be a good man, but who, more than once, groaned in the hearing of herself and other young people, “Woe’s me! the more grace a man has, the more he has to make him miserable.” Let the world know that there is a fountain of joy and gladness. (A. A. Bonar, D. D.)
Reproaches and afflictions
I. They endured a great fight of afflictions, PARTLY BY BEING A GAZING STOCK, BOTH IN REPROACHES AND AFFLICTIONS.
1. They were reproached. Thus they might be used either by words or deeds. For so to speak or do anything that tends to our disgrace is to our reproach. Perhaps they called them sectaries, heretics, apostates, innovators, seditious persons, and also did so account them, and in this respect did hate them. These reproaches in themselves were bitter and grievous, yet they were more grievous because of afflictions, for they afflicted them by scourging, imprisoning, banishing them.
2. Yet these were made still more grievous, because they did reproach and afflict them not so much privately as publicly, in open view, to make their shame and ignominy the greater. They brought them as it were upon a stage, and as into a theatre, where multitudes, even thousands, might gaze upon them, revile them, scourge them, and make a sport of their sufferings. Every one must take notice of them as base persons, troublers of the world, the refuse and scum of mankind, and abhor them.
3. This was part of their great fight, and a great fight it was, because naturally we much desire to preserve our credit, honour, and reputation, which to some high spirits which the world terms generous is dearer than life, for men choose rather to die than live in disgrace and lose their honour. And as we desire respect in the world and abhor ignominy and contempt, so we love our liberty, ease, and peace, and are very unwilling to lose them.
II. Partly they endured a great fight WHILST THEY BECAME COMPANIONS OF SUCH AS WERE SO USED.
1. Some part of the Church doth suffer sometimes and not another. The storm which fell upon them was past, yet another falls upon their brethren, and they are reproached and afflicted sad made a gazing stock as they had been.
2. They became companions of these, for they owned them, were grieved inwardly for their sufferings, and did relieve and comfort them. By doing thus they were exposed to the derison of others: their former sufferings might be called passion, this compassion.
3. This also made a part of the great fight: for Satan’s design in this was to strike a terror into them, and to let them know what a dangerous and restless condition they were in if they should continue to be Christians. And if he could not daunt and discourage them, yet he would at least grieve and vex them, for he knew the passion of their brethren would be their compassion, and that in their suffering they would suffer. (G. Lawson.)
Ye had compassion of me in my bonds
Compassion with sufferers
1. He cometh to particulars; and first, their compassion towards himself in his bonds is remembered by him. Then
2. Another particular is, their joyful enduring the spoliation of their goods. Then
3. Their encouragement and cause of joy was the sensible feeling within themselves of the comfort of eternal riches in heaven keeping for them. Then
(2) Whoso getteth a heart to quit anything on earth for Christ, shall have better in heaven than he can lose here.
A better and an enduring substance
I. THE APOSTLE’S BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THEM.
1. A “better” substance than anything on earth, in its moral character, social enjoyments, spiritual services.
2. More “enduring.”
II. THE CHRISTIAN’S CONSCIOUS INTEREST IN THEM.
4. Will soon be realised. (Homilist.)
The heavenly substance
I. CHRISTIANS POSSESS AN INVALUABLE PROPERTY IN ETERNITY.
1. The state where our possessions are placed. They are “ in heaven.”
2. The character by which our heavenly possessions are distinguished. We have property in heaven substantial and valuable--far superior to all the productions of the globe, and which is to last for ever.
3. The certainty with which the heavenly possessions are regarded--“Knowing in yourselves.” The Divine word informs us--and here let the heart rest in joyous confidence--that the blessing is prepared for all those who are believers in the Son of God.
II. THE CONSIDERATION OF THE PROPERTY POSSESSED BY CHRISTIANS IN ETERNITY OUGHT TO POSSESS A POWERFUL INFLUENCE UPON THEM IN TIME.
1. If we know that we have “in heaven a better and an enduring substance,” we shall not allow inordinate affection for the things of the present world.
2. If we know that we have “in heaven a better and an enduring substance,” we shall exercise patience and fortitude under the privations and sufferings of life.
3. If we know that we have “in heaven a better and an enduring substance,” our dispositions and thoughts will be imbued with the spirit of heaven, and testifying a growing meetness for its enjoyments. (J. Parsons, M. A.)
The Christians preference of heavenly riches
I. THE TRIAL THEY WERE CALLED TO ENDURE Was imprisonment and the spoliation of their property. You can all understand the misery that must attach to the violent invasion of your freedom and of your possessions. You know that such are among the heaviest sufferings of an external kind that human nature can experience; and that they require the highest degree of fortitude to sustain them with patience. But these were, in all probability, very frequent sufferings among those first disciples of Christ.
II. THE TEMPER OF MIND WITH WHICH THIS TRIAL WAS SUSTAINED. They exhibited a Christian generosity, crowned with a Divine devotion; they remembered their fellowsufferers, and forgot their own sufferings. And, what is much more remarkable, “ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods.” Simply to acquiesce unmurmuring in such a dispensation of Providence as this; not to be driven by it to dissemble; not to flinch from an honourable adherence to truth; might have been thought all that could be expected of human nature. But “joyfully” to meet the severest of circumstantial distresses, rendered the more severe by its cruel injustice, this is an elevation to which Christian piety only can ascend!
III. THE PRINCIPLE WHICH CHERISHED AND MAINTAINED THIS DIVINE TEMPER: “knowing in yourselves,” etc.; not taking this prospect upon probable testimony, but relying on it as a certain reality.
1. In how many respects this heavenly substance is “ better” than any that is of an earthly nature.
2. This is also an enduring substance. Temporal wealth is extremely transient. Lessons:
The Christian’s inheritance and assurance
I. THE CHRISTIAN’S FUTURE INHERITANCE.
1. By contrast. It is designated “substance,” as opposed to shadow. All the pleasures and enjoyments of the world are a shadow; there is nothing solid or substantial in them. Afflictions are but a shadow (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our present existence is but a shadow (James 4:14). It is like an eagle in the air, like a ship in the sea, a flower on the earth; as a tale that is told, a watch in the night, a hireling accomplishing his day: man fleeth also as a shadow. Death is a shadow; there is no substantial evil in it to the Christian. But religion is a substance; the gospel is a substantial reality.
There is a most delightful promise in the book of Proverbs, where Christ is represented as speaking under the character of wisdom, “I will cause them that love Me to inherit substance; I will fill their treasures.” Heaven is all substance: its pleasures and enjoyments, its worship and devotions.
2. By comparison. It is called “a better substance.” It is better in comparison with the present state of our existence, because there is some good in this world. We must not despise God’s providential mercies, nor undervalue our temporal supplies. We should thank Him for the atmosphere that vivifies, but most of all for the air of holiness and the breath of devotion. We should thank Him for the bread which perisheth, but most of all for the bread of life, the hidden manna. We should thank Him for the water that quenches the thirst, refreshes, and purifies, and revives, but most of all for the streams of salvation, the water of which if a man drink he shall never die. We should thank Him for the use of our bodily limbs, but most of all if we have been taught to walk at liberty in God’s laws, and run in the way of His commandments. We should thank Him for the faculty of reason, but most of all if, by a spiritual perception, our senses are exercised to discern both good and evil. How much better will the enjoyments of heaven be than the highest degree of happiness realised by believers in a state of grace!
3. By continuation. It is an enduring substance. It is a city which hath foundations--a kingdom which cannot be moved--an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away--a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens--a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. When the angel of death shall spread his cloud over everything terrestrial, the celestial abodes shall shine forth with a grandeur which nothing can demolish, and which eternity itself will but increase.
II. THE CHRISTIAN’S PRESENT ASSURANCE.
1. Believers have a present title to this inheritance. They have the promise of it. The gospel is God in a promise; and the saints in glory are said to be inheriting the promises. They have the hope of it, which is no more nor less than the prospect of future good grounded on present evidence. They have preparation for it, being “made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” They have a title to it, and this by virtue of their adoption.
2. They shall have the future possession. There must be the trial of faith, the exercise of patience, the sifting of your motives, the test of principles, and the examination and pondering of the heart.
3. They have inward assurance. “Knowing in yourselves,” &c. Assurance is a pearl that most want, a crown that few wear. It may be ascertained by the testimony of the Spirit, accompanied with the witness of personal experience. (Essex Remembrancer.)
A better and an enduring substance:
“Knowing that ye have yourselves as a better and an enduring possession.”
I. THE TRUE POSSESSION. We own ourselves only on condition of being Christian men. For, under all other circumstances and forms of life, the true self is brought into slavery and dragged away from its proper bearings by storms, and swarms of lusts, and passions, and inclinations, and ambitions, and senses. A man’s flesh is his master, or his pride is his master, or some fraction of his nature is his master, and he himself is an oppressed slave, tyrannised over by rebellious powers. The only way to get the mastery of yourselves is to go to God and say, “Oh, Lord! I cannot rule this anarchic being of mine. Do Thou take it into Thine hands. Here are the reins; do with me what Thou wilt.” Then you will be your own masters, not till then.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF THIS POSSESSION.
1. It is better in its essential quality. The apprehension of union with God is the one thing that will satisfy the soul; the one thing which having, we cannot be wholly desolate, however dark may be our path; and without which we cannot be at rest, however compassed with succours and treasures and friends; nor rich, however we may have bursting coffers and all things to enjoy.
2. It is an enduring possession. These things, the calm joys, the pure delights of still fellowship with God in heart and mind and will--these things have in them no seed of decay. These cannot be separated from their possession by anything but his own unfaithfulness. There will never come the time when they shall have to be left behind. Use does not wear these out, but strengthens and increases them. The things which are destined “to perish with the using” belong to an inferior category.
III. THE QUIET SUPERIORITY TO EARTHLY LOSS AND CHANGE WHICH THE POSSESSION OF THIS TREASURE INVOLVES. When you strike away the false props, the strength of the real ones become more conspicuous. If we possess this true treasure which lies at our doors, and may be had for the taking, we shall be like men in some strong fortress, with firm walls, abundant provisions, and a well in the courtyard, and we can laugh at besiegers. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A better house in heaven:
Zinzendorf became of age in 1721, and in the following year purchased the estate of Berthelsdorf, near his aged relative, the Baroness of Gersdorf, writing up over his dwelling, “The tenant of this has a better house in heaven.”
Meetness for heaven:
It is worth something to be in a readiness for mercy, for afflictions, for death, or for judgment, as those who are meet for heaven. The speech of Basil was noble, when Modestus, the prefect, threatened confiscation, torment, and banishment. He answered, “He need not fear confiscation that hath nothing to lose; nor banishment, to whom heaven only is a country; nor torment, when his body would be crushed with one blow; nor death, which is the only way to set him at liberty. (C. Heywood.)
Heaven the right place for the Christian:
Heaven is as suitable for a saint as a lock is fitted to receive its key; and as the fashion of a lock might be inferred from the key, so may the glorious state be guessed at from the gracious man. He has, moreover, sips of sweetness, which give him no merely fanciful notion of the hill country, and he knows somewhat of what the full-blown flower must be as he gazes at the beauty of the bud; but he looks not that in the revelation of the glory the invisible should be only a reproduction of the visible; for he knows that the spiritual exceeds the natural even as the heaven is above the earth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
No home beyond the grave
I have been told of a wealthy man who died recently. Death came unexpectedly to him, as it almost always does; and he sent out for his lawyer to draw his will. And he went on willing away his property; and when he came to his wife and child, he said he wanted them to have the home. But the little child did not understand what death was. She was standing near, and she said, “Papa, have you got a home in that land you are going to?” The arrow reached that heart; but it was too late. He saw his mistake. He had got no home beyond the grave. (D. L. Moody.)
The better substance
1. The happiness of the saints in heaven is substance, something of real weight and worth; all things here are but shadows.
2. It is a better substance than anything they can have or lose here.
3. It is an enduring substance; it will outlive time, and run parallel with eternity. They can never spend it; their enemies can never take it from them as they did their earthly goods.
4. This will make a rich amends for all they can lose and suffer here. In heaven they shall have a better life, a better estate, better liberty, better society, better hearts, better work, everything better.
5. Christians should know this in themselves. (Matthew Henry.)
My horse invariably comes home in less time than he makes the journey out. He pulls the carriage with a hearty goodwill when his face is towards home. Should not I also both suffer and labour the more joyously because my way lies towards heaven, and I am on pilgrimage to my Father’s house, my soul’s dear home and resting-place? (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Heaven--a sustaining prospect:
One Palmer, of Reading, being condemned to die, in Queen Mary’s time, was much persuaded to recant, and among other things a friend said to him, “Take pity on thy golden years and pleasant flowers of youth, before it be too late.” His reply was as beautiful as it was conclusive: “Sir, I long for those springing flowers which shall never fade away.” When he was in the midst of the flames he exhorted his companions to constancy, saying, “We shall not end our lives in the fire, but make a change for a better life; yea, for coals we shall receive pearls.” Thus do we clearly see that, although “ if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” yet the prospect of a better and enduring substance enables us to meet all the trials and temptations of this present life with holy boldness and joy. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
How to meet adversity:
If a heathen could say, when he saw a sudden shipwreck of all his wealth, “Well, Fortune, I see thou wouldst have me to be a philosopher,” should not we, when called to quit our movables, say, “I see that God would have me to lay up treasure in heaven, that is subject neither to vanity nor violence”? (John Trapp.)
Cast not away, therefore, your confidence
WHAT THIS SPIRITUAL CONFIDENCE IS.
1. Confidence in Christ.
2. Confidence in the riches which Christ will give.
II. SPIRITUAL CONFIDENCE IS TO BE FIRMLY HELD. For the better understanding of this, it is well to bear in mind the difference there is between confidence and faith. They are much the same in their exercise; still they are different. Confidence is the outcome of faith. Confidence is stronger than faith, and leads the soul onward to be bold and daring. Faith is as the root; confidence the branch springing out of the root. Confidence grows on faith, and cannot live without it; but faith may exist without confidence, though there can be no doubt that the one is affected by the other, and that as the one strengthens the other strengthens, or that as the one wanes the other also wanes. We see, therefore, that we may cast away our confidence by unbelief. Once begin to doubt the power and will of Christ to bless us, and our confidence is gone. The faith may not altogether have departed, but confidence is thrown away. In fact, it seems to be possible for one to have all the evidences of Christ’s character and goodness set before him, so that he cannot doubt, but must believe in Christ’s divinity and salvation; and yet to have no real confidence in Him, no confidence which leads one to trust Him fully, and to go forth in His name in all boldness and with Christian courage. If, then, you are a possessor of this confidence, hold it fast. It is a step in advance of the ordinary Christian plan. It leads to something more, something higher, bolder, and grinder, for Christ and for His cause. Hold it fast, and exercise it. The more it is cultivated and exercised, the more it will grow and the stronger it will become.
III. SPIRITUAL CONFIDENCE BRINGS ITS OWN REWARD.
1. We have it here upon earth. You cannot confide in Christ one single hour without receiving some blessing. If you have this confidence, it matters but little what may befall you here. There may be war, or jealousies, or collapses in business, or bodily suffering, or temptation, or any other kind of trial as sharp as death itself, yet your mind is calm amidst it all; and, like the bird which sits on some secluded twig and sings sweetly while the thunder roars and the lightning flashes, so you are joyful in the Lord, and amidst every storm can sing to the praise of your Saviour.
2. We shall have a further reward hereafter. Self-devoting unselfishness for Christ’s sake will be its own reward in heaven. Can any soul absolutely confide in Christ and not be made holier in heaven than he is here? He will also be rewarded with the rest of heaven--blessed, peaceful rest, after his toils and sufferings here. He will have the glories of heaven poured upon him in such a measure as he never anticipated, and of a kind of which he had not conceived. (H. F. Walker.)
The Christian’s confidence
The confidence here mentioned is not merely that trust in the personal sacrifice of Christ whence springs pardon of sin. It is the filial trust of a believing heart, washed from guilt in the redeeming blood, already an heir of God, and joint-heir with Christ. And in what is this confidence placed? In self-goodness, or self-power? No; but in God, through Jesus Christ alone. The more of this confidence the Christian possesses, the more humble will he be; for it makes Christ supreme in the heart. And on what is it immediately grounded? This rejoicing confidence is not founded on dim speculations, on vague hopes, on boasted deeds, but on the clear testimony of the Divine Spirit. In this must be the basis of all the enjoyment in the blessings of the kingdom of grace here, and all for which we may look in the glory hereafter. In hours of distress it ministers consolation. In danger it brings preservation and rescue. In trouble it gives support and relief. It realises not only a deliverance from all evil, but a communication of all that is good. Who can tell how rich in delight earth may be, with this confidence in God keeping the soul; with the kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and joy as its government; with the sure promise that the maintenance of this confidence is constantly adding to the lustre of our heavenly crown! But its highest, its supremely great “ recompense of reward” is beyond the grave. With expanding and quickened facilities, with ever-opening objects for thought and feeling, with closer approach to the infinite, and changing into the Divine likeness, the faithful saints shall reap the eternity of their reward. The apostle here alludes to the conduct of the ancient warrior. The Lacedaemonians were celebrated for a valour which chose death before an ignominious defeat; therefore they threw their lives away rather than shrink from the foe. The mothers of their young men often gave them, as they departed for the fight, the shield of the father, and commanded them to bring it back, or be brought back upon it--that is, to return victorious or slain. So the loyal, valiant Paul bids the soldier of the cross never to give up his shield, never cast it away in foul retreat. Ours is a mighty moral conflict. If we Can cast this away, we can have no hope of succour and deliverance from Him. We must fall a prey to the devourer. Let us, then, resist the various devices to ensnare us. Cast not away your confidence in any sore temptation. Cast it not away should the prosperity and flattery of the world try to attract you from it. Perhaps this is the least dreaded, but it is the most dangerous combatant; for, like Judas, it first kisses, then betrays. (S. B. Bangs.)
Hold fast your shield
I. WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF THIS CONFIDENCE of which the apostle speaks? It is not very easy to explain this word in one English word. It means that freedom, that peace, that at-homeness which makes a man feel bold, free, confident. The elements of it seem to me to be these.
1. Confidence in the principles which you have espoused. There must be certain undoubted truths about which you can sing, “O God, my heart is fixed, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise”--things which you perceive to be plainly taught in the Scriptures--things brought home by the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. This is the groundwork of true confidence but to make it complete there must be an open avowal of our belief in our Lord Jesus.
3. To do all this you must know your own interest in those truths man will readily let go a truth which may condemn him. Who will die for a truth in which he has no share? The man who can live and die for Christ is the man who believes that Christ has lived and died for him.
4. This means, besides, a full and firm reliance upon the faithfulness of God, so that we are free from all mistrusts and fears, and simply rest in God.
5. Where this confidence really reigns in the soul, it takes the form of full acceptance before God.
6. Upon this there follows that further confidence, of which John says, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He heareth us”--confidence that when we pray we shall be heard.
7. Over and above that, how delightful to feel that even what we do not pray for, by reason of our ignorance or forgetfulness, our gracious God will bestow.
8. You may add to all this the confidence that He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him; for we have this confidence--that whether we sleep or wake we shall be together with Him.
II. How THIS CONFIDENCE MAY BE CAST AWAY.
1. By changing it for self-confidence. Be empty, and Christ will be your fulness, but if you become full in yourself you have done with Christ. Cast not away your confidence by leaving your simple reliance upon Jesus Christ.
2. Some, however, cast away their confidence by giving way to sin. Old Master Brooks says, “Assurance will make us leave off sinning, or sinning will make us leave off assurance.” You cannot grieve your Heavenly Father and yet feel the same confidence towards Him.
3. Another way of losing our confidence is by getting into worldly company and mixing up with the gay and frivolous. A child would soon lose his loving, confident feeling towards his father if his father had an enemy opposite, and he constantly went into that enemy’s house, and heard all the language that was used there.
4. You can very easily lose your confidence by changing your aim in life. While your object is God you will be bold as a lion, but a sordid motive is the mother of cowardice.
5. Some unhappy professors have apparently cast away their confidence in utter unbelief.
III. THE REASONS GIVEN FOR HOLDING FAST OUR CONFIDENCE.
1. “Cast not away therefore you confidence.” What does this “therefore” mean? Why, it means this--because you have already endured so much. Do not lose the victories which you have already gained. If it was wise to go so far, it will be wise to go on to the end. I recollect going over the Col D’Obbia on the Alps, and when I got a little way down I found myself on a steep mountain side upon a mass of loose earth and slates. There seemed to me to be some miles of almost perpendicular descent and no road. My head began to swim. I set my feet fast down in the loose soil, turned my back to the scene below me, and my face to the hill-side, and stuck my hands into the earth to hold as best I could. I cried to my friend, “I shall never go down there: I will go back.” He coolly replied, “Just look where you have come from.” When I looked up it appeared to be much worse to try and clamber up than it could possibly be to go down, and so he remarked, “I think you had better go on, for it is worse going back.” So we must go on, for it will be worse going back. Let us gird up the loins of our mind, and push onward with firm resolution, by the help of the Spirit of God.
2. Do not cast away your confidence, for it has great recompense of reward. There is a reward in it now: for it makes us happy. Do not cast away your confidence, since it yields you such pure delight. But it makes you strong both to bear and labour. When you are like a child in confidence before God, you can endure pain and reproach right bravely. And, moreover, it makes you victorious. And, best of all, there is a recompense of reward to come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Discouragements and comforts in Christian life
1. There are many discouragements which follow false conceptions of life, and which result from the practical rectification of those conceptions. There are those who enter upon a Christian life expecting to be borne, as it were, by the Divine afflatus, straight through their course. When they find, on the other hand, that God only works in them to will and to do, and that the effect of the Divine influence upon them is to make the necessity of work in them still more emphatic, they are disappointed. There are those who have supposed a religious life to be a tide of joyful emotion. They thought religion was some Cleopatra’s barge of ivory and gold, with purple sails, and with music and joyfulness within; and though there would be savage barbarians along either shore, that would shoot arrows at them, they meant to fire out of the barge a great deal better than was sent at them; and when they find that instead of being a Cleopatra’s barge, it is a galley, as it were, and that they are galley-slaves, they are despondent. The dispersion of these illusions destroys all that they stood on; and yet, at that, it is far better. There is many a man who is much nearer the kingdom of
God at the point of discouragement than he was at the point of hope. The point of hope was the point of misconception; this discouragement is more wholesome than was their hopefulness, because it is nearer to the truth.
2. There are those who begin a religious life upon the nourishment abundantly supplied to them in the peculiar circumstances in which they are born, but who have a slender capacity for supplying themselves with nourishment. They lack that motive force which makes religion, and that inspiration which gives them vital courage. Those who are slenderly endowed in this respect, find, as soon as they begin to live a Christian life for themselves, that it is very dull. It is for such persons that the external routine of church duties is peculiarly useful. If they could be held to some set, stated exercises allied to religion, they would find themselves, both by the regularity of these exercises and by their routine nature, to be greatly sustained and helped. For they are persons that are living upon a low plane.
3. Men suffer discouragements arising from the misconception of the relations of joy to the Christian life. They think while they are joyful that they are growing, and when they are not joyful, then they are going behind-hand. But pain is a far more growing element than joy. Sunshine is not more indispensable to harvests than rains and cloudy days. And in the Christian life the yoke and the burden are eminently profitable to men. There are many men who think that religion is an invitation to go into the house and sit before a great fire that has been built for them. Religion is an invitation to more than that. It is also an invitation to the felling, hauling, and preparing of the fuel. And is not this rational? Is not this the way to make true and wholesome natures?
4. There are discouragements arising from conflicts and rivalries between lawful secular occupations and religious emotions. Our whole life is a religious life. The experiences of inspiration may be spiritual in the closet; but the real life of every man is that into which he puts his energy, his strength, his vitality, his power. Wherever men are, there they ought to put their power of understanding, their power of sentiment, their power of feeling, their power of planning and execution. That is the thing for a Christian man to do. And the kind of power which he has, and the moral quality of it, depend upon the influence of the interior and invisible life.
5. A large element of discouragement arises in minds of fine temper, on account of the discrepancy which must always exist between ideality and practical reality. There will always be a chasm between duty and performance. The higher our conception of justice is, the harder it will be to reach it. The fact is, a person of a vivid imagination will conceive of an amount of duty and a fineness of experience which it would be impossible, except by a tutoring of years and years, to meet. Do not you suppose that Raphael’s mind, before his hand was trained to paint, painted pictures that were infinitely more beautiful than any that his hand painted? No men are so apt to be discouraged as those who are living far up along the scale. They judge themselves by a high ideal of life. I would not have them discouraged finally; but it does not do any hurt for a man to be enough discouraged to keep down pride and vanity. Men are discouraged, frequently, from a perception of the weakness and unfruitfulness of their will-power--their power of executing what they mean to do. Men resolve, and do not accomplish. The relation between the power of the will and the thing to be executed is different in different people. I have often said that moral stamina lay in the will more than anywhere else. The will is like a rudder. Some ships are very hard to steer, and some are very easy. Some you can hardly turn from their course, and some you can set about by the least touch of the wheel. So it is with men. And they are discouraged, usually, if they find it hard to direct their course aright, because they think it is owing to some wickedness in them. Persevere, and work manfully, with weakness and temptation, in darkness and light, and you will reach your Heavenly Father soon. No father on earth was ever so lenient with the faults of his boy who wanted to do right, as God is with your faults if you want to do right, and will try to do right. In a little time you will know that this is so. Not to mention the other classes of discouragement, I remark, in closing, that behind and within all our personal labour is our God. No man will ever reach heaven that does not himself strive; but no man will ever reach heaven simply through his own striving. There are two co-ordinate lives; there is power within a power; there is God in us; and that is the secret of the power by which we are saved. It looks as though the pointers of a watch kept time; but is it the strength of the pointers that carries them round? No. Down deep below there is the coiled spring that moves the wheel, and, in obedience, the pointers move and register the time. But suppose the pointers were taken off? Then all the springs in the world, though they might set the wheels playing round, would not indicate the time. The measuring power would be gone. Both of them, the spring and the pointers, must be concurrently adjusted in order to keep time. It is God that is the mighty spring within us; and it is we that on the great dial of time are moving round in obedience to this interior force. There is, behind our own will and within our own purposes, the Divine influence; and this truth affords a ground whereon we may comfort ourselves in discouragement. (H. W. Beecher.)
Carrying the sword a little further
I recollect a brother minister saying to me when I was a very young man, “I remember being sent for, and going to see a very blessed old man. I had never seen a dying Christian; and as I had read a lot of poetry about the deathbeds of the Lord’s people, I had got the notion that they all died very quietly. As I drew near to his bedside, I said, “Oh, sir I it is all peace now.’ It took the old man a little while to get breath enough to speak; and when be did, the sound of his voice seemed to come from beneath the bed-clothes, and chilled me. I could almost have fallen, but I waited a minute, and I then heard what he said. He said, ‘No, it is not all peace yet. I must wear the halbert a little longer, and I must carry the sword a little further. It is a hard fight; but I shall get the white robe and the crown by-and-by. It is a hard fight; but it is worth it.’ I have never forgotten the lesson I learned at that death-bed.” (S. Coley.)
The celebrated Philip de Morney, Prime Minister of Henry IV. of France, one of the greatest statesmen, and the most exemplary Christian of his age, being asked, a little before his death, if he still retained the same assured hope of future bliss which he had so comfortably enjoyed during his illness, he made this memorable reply: “I am as confident of it from the incontestable evidence of the Spirit of God, as I ever was of any mathematical truth from all the demonstrations of Euclid.”
Ye have need of patience
The need of patience in an over-active age
Amongst the many ominous characteristics of our age, there is hardly one which stands out so glaringly and alarmingly as the growing want of quietly enduring patience.
In various forms this spirit penetrates the Christian world, and tends to bring into it a certain feverishness, haste, and restlessness.
I. How PATIENCE IS TO BE HELD FAST. Patience is composed of confidence, hope, and belief in future perfect redemption; it prevents our becoming faint-hearted (Romans 8:25). Two other ingredients of patience are obedience and humility, which keep the spirit calm and submissive.
1. If we cast away confidence and the joyful hope of a better future, all capacity for patience is gone. Thence the answer of the text to the question, “How can we hold fast patience?” is, by resisting the temptation to cast away confidence and joyousness. This is particularly great at the present day.
2. But how, then, are confidence and joyfulness to be held fast in spite of all temptations to the contrary? If confidence is steadfastly to endure, look not unto men and unto the circumstances that lead into temptation, but cast thyself wholly upon God. The more thou growest in the knowledge of Him, the more strength wilt thou receive to persevere in cheerful confidence and patience. Then, too, look upon Christ. He is the visible form of the patience of God, the Lamb of God, who bore without a murmur so much contradiction. Is it a time to cast away confidence, now in the midst of the rapid extension of Christ’s kingdom at home and abroad? And in order that it may become easier for us to hold fast our confidence, the text adds another weighty reason and stimulus: “which hath great recompense of reward.”
II. WHY IS IT SO INDISPENSABLE TO SHOW OPENLY THAT WE POSSESS THIS PATIENCE?
1. Without it we cannot do the will of God. It is the will of the God of patience that we should be patient as His children (2 Corinthians 6:4). Let us do the will of God patiently upon earth, by patient continuance in well doing seeking for eternal life (Romans 2:7). Have we patience not only with ourselves, and the slow progress of our work, but with others 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Ephesians 2:14). But specially by patience in suffering must we learn to do the will of God. Learn not to shrink from little troubles, but to bear them quietly, so that, in time, thou mayest be able to endure great ones (Romans 12:12; Hebrews 12:1). All virtue is, as it were, shorn of half its glory, if it be not crowned with patience (verse 38).
2. Patience is also indispensable for the receiving of the promise. He alone that doeth the will of God and endureth in faith and patience, can receive the whole rich contents of the Divine promises of grace for this life and for the life to come. Hence the exhortation (chap. 6:12). It is impossible for Him who loses patience, and with it hope, to have a part in the future fulfilment of hope. (T. Christlieb, D. D.)
One who had never thought of it before might be amazed at discovering how often the word “ patience “ occurs in the Bible; with the force almost of a revelation might the fact break upon his mind. Patience! It seems to be referred to on every page of God’s written Word; it is the inner habit of His people. This word is found through the Bible, everywhere, excepting in one section, where notably it is absent, as I shall presently show; nor is it the voice of this life only, for behind the veil, in that place where the souls under the altar cry to God, the tone is still the Revelation 6:10). And as this human voice calls evermore for grace to bear whatever is God’s will, so, at last, there comes also the full reward (Revelation 3:10). There is something altogether memorable in this; and think how it comes home to every soul! Let us collect some of these sayings, to give fulness to our meditations-- James 5:7-8;Hebrews 12:1-2; James 1:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Hebrews 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Revelation 2:2; Revelation 14:12-13. What, then, is this, whereof such marvellous things are spoken? Take heed to distinguish it from all similes, all faint reflections of itself. There is a patience which is mere enduring, mere mute, uncomplaining submission. But in religion, patience is far more than that. It is “the endurance of any evil, out of the love of God, as the will of God.” That is the full meaning of the word; that is the mark of His children; it is this which calms the storms in the soul, which refines, which makes men like Christ, and ensures to them the crown hereafter. But now, since this is a Christian virtue, involving conquest over self, and leading those who practise it, step by step, in the path which the Lord’s saints have trodden, shall we think of it as too high for the ordinary daily life? We are always making that mistake about religion. We separate it from our common experiences; we do not apply it to little things. Be sure of this: that you cannot rise to what you ought to be in great things, unless you practise in small matters. It is eminently so, in the case of this virtue of patience. You have it not, because you do not strive after it day by day and hour by hour. You have it, and are collected and calm: it is because you have disciplined yourself in things so little that an ordinary mind would give them no second thought. But that is the way to prove our sincerity: the only way to gain and grow. From little daily matters, from petty trials, by the endurance of what you feel ashamed that you think of seriously, are you to grow to the likeness of the saints, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. Patience is the endurance of any evil. How small are most evils! How rarely come the great ones! No hour in the day without its foolish little trial; but everything turns on how you bear yourself there; so only shall you be fitted to stand without flinching when the mighty battles must be fought. What, then, is the field on which you are to be taught the sublime lesson of the Master? Find it in your own house; in your own heart; where you meet with others; when you are alone with your restless thoughts. But you will ask: How shall I learn that Divine art? We answer, patience is a special gift of grace. So much is intimated by the apostle: “the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God.” What is the characteristic sign? To bear all things, not with animal courage, not with iron resolve, not with that mere pagan fortitude which is a natural virtue only, and which the world applauds, but out of the love of God. Try to feel this in a simple, practical way. Even in little trials, that love of God is proving you; it is as truly an act of religion to check yourself in angry words, to give a gentle answer when some one torments you in waywardness or malice, as to go to the church, and approach the Table of the Lord: try to act lovingly and patiently towards others, because you know that God loves them also. But you may ask whether this be possible to bear, to endure in silence, without complaint? Does not the vexed soul demand relief? Is there not a cry in the heart which must make itself heard? We know the danger of repression; it brings on outbreaks and explosions; it betides mischief, sudden and terrible, if there be no safety valve, no escape for surplus force. It is so with men; just as much so with God’s patient servants as with machinery or mobs. What is in the troubled heart must make an utterance for itself. Patience is not inconsistent with complaint. Cry to the Almighty, yet not as murmuring against His dispensations, nor as rebelling against His will, nor as angrily criticising His providences, but cry to Him because He is our Father, because He knows all, because, when things seem perplexing to us, it is a comfort to know that to Him all is clear. I said before that this word “patience” is woven into the whole texture of the Sacred Books, except in one section. It is scarcely to be found in the four Gospels. Why should this be? Perhaps, because he needs no exhortation to patience who studies the life of Christ. For Christ was patience itself; in Him patience had her perfect work; of all examples of the virtue none ever came up to that. But another reason may be imagined: who needed to be patient while Christ was in the world? His presence was the fulness of joy, and at His right hand was pleasure for evermore. Not while He was with them in the flesh did they need homily or counsel to be patient, who, in having Christ Himself, had all. And so He said (Matthew 9:15). And so it was; after He departed, began the watch for His return; and as that return was delayed, patience became the sign of the faithful. It has ever been so; it shall be so till the end. Nor is it among the living only; it is thus also with the dead, wheresoever they are sleeping, in the dust of the earth, or under desert sands, or beneath the blue water, their bones expect the resurrection; it is even thus behind the veil, where the souls of the departed call on God the Lord to hasten His kingdom. Think it no hardship, then, to wait and watch, but rather think of the joy that is set before you in the Second Advent of the Lord. To those whom that great vision holds firm with a controlling power each day is counted gain, because it brings them nearer to the triumph of the Redeemer in whom they trust. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
The need of patience:
Certainly this is the most difficult lesson of life, patience; for we have many of us imperious desires, hasty wills, and petulant ambitions. We too often seek speedy harvests, and expect swift recompense for our strenuous toil. The age we live in feeds the fallacy that harvests must be immediate. Results rule. Men haste to be rich. Such precipitation, however, is dangerous. We are to “run with patience.” We have need of patience; it is a spiritual exercise of great preciousness not to be lightly esteemed, in the Divine outworking of the Christian life.
I. PATIENCE IS NEEDED FROM THE NATURE OF OUR WORK. The will of God rules all. Let us beware, therefore, of the hasty work of impetuous desire. Patience is something sublime, august, working itself out through hindrances to our aims. Patience! for the veil will one day be torn down, and the beautiful statue appear. Patience! for what testimony to the power of truth so potent as that it sustained men in their hours of grief and gloom?
II. PATIENCE IS NEEDED FROM OUR OWN PERSONAL CONSTITUTIONS. These constitutions differ. But for the most part we find our active powers in royal ascendency. We can do, we can dare; but we have little power to wait and to endure. When the waterfloods rise to our waist and to our throat, and almost overwhelm us, our patience fails. Thus we need Divine chastening in relation to our weakest point. We need patience day by day, not only that our natures should work, but that they should work to beautiful ends, and in humble and submissive ways. I have stood by the white water-wash when the mill sent forth two boiling streams, with fleecy foam and rushing roar; and at another time I saw one cascade, at another none. What silence then! To work the mill is not enough. The stones must be patiently adjusted, with corn there to be ground, or there is noise without result. So remember that work is not enough; it must have in it patience as well as strength. We have need of patience under disappointment: we forget that to be set right in God’s way is best. A child learning music dislikes the discipline that keeps to “the scales.” To play pleasant tunes is so much easier and brighter; but that would only end in inefficiency and imperfection. Even philosophy has glimpsed the truth that the way of success is a way of non-haste: as the Spanish proverb has it, “The world is his who waits.” But what in life can compare with life itself? The great soul within us, that is all in all. For that to be redeemed and saved, for that to be made meet for the inheritance of the” saints in light,” who would not endure?
III. PATIENCE IS NEEDED BECAUSE OF THE RELATIONSHIP WE SUSTAIN TO OTHERS. Life is full of varieties. Nature is. And so is human history. We are not all alike. Our opinions differ. Friendship has to learn how to live, not in the absence of differences, but in spite of them. It is a sorry thing if people must see eye to eye before they come heart to heart. We all have faults which must grieve others, but human forbearance is the very life of love. Without it we become petulant, prejudiced, and proud. How patient we ought to be with our children! And in Church life how needful it is that we be patient with each other in all diversities of taste and judgment.
IV. PATIENCE IS NEEDED BECAUSE OF THE DELAY OF HARVEST TIME. It seems so long! Whatever field we walk in, we are tempted, like the children in Longfellow’s tale, to dig up our plants after a few days to see if they are taking root. We are discontented if we do not see the result of our labours. We forget the patience of God. And perhaps no really good work in this world was ever done without patience. Things hastily done are generally ill done. The great painters, what toilers they were! The great speakers, what elaborate skill they used! What evils have been wrought in the Church of God by endeavours after a speedy harvest! What sensationalisms have had to be endured; what strained excitements have ended in sad relapse! We need in all real work to wait for the harvest. But then the real lasts and lives. There is principle in it; there is permanence in it; there is health in it. The forced plant soon droops and dies.
V. PATIENCE IS NEEDED BECAUSE THE HARVEST IS IN HEAVEN. The harvest is to be eternal life. Our light afflictions are but for a moment. The revelation of immortal rest is the only one that will satisfy the heart, or, indeed, the intellect. We cannot understand the meaning of our sorrows unless we look to the great reward. (W. M. Statham, M. A.)
I. THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN PATIENCE. Patience is not an insensibleness of present evils or an indifference for future good: “No affliction for the present is joyous, but grievous.” But Christian patience is a disposition that keeps us calm and composed in our frame, and steady in the practice of our duty, under the sense of our afflictions or in the delay of our hopes.
1. Patience secures the possession of our souls in every circumstance that tends to discompose our minds.
2. Patience will prevent hasty and rash conclusions, either from present troubles or from the suspension of desired good.
3. Patience will fortify against any unlawful methods for accomplishing our deliverance or desires.
4. Patience disposes a man to go on in the way of his duty, whatever discouragement may arise from the pressure of his troubles or the deferring of his hopes.
II. THE NEED AND OCCASION WHICH A CHRISTIAN HAS FOR THE EXERCISE OF PATIENCE.
1. A Christian has need of patience to persist in doing the will of God, even in his ordinary course.
2. A Christian hath need of patience to persist in bearing the will of God, and in doing his duty under it, when his course is peculiarly embittered. For instance, to bear the shock of sudden and unexpected trials, which are apt to overset a man at once and to produce hasty thoughts and unadvised words, both of God and man (Psalms 31:22; Psalms 116:11). To suppress a tumult, and keep the mind in frame upon such an occasion, is a very great attainment. To bear succession of exercises, one after another, is still more. To have God’s waves and billows to pass over us, and yet keep our heads above water, neither thinking Him unkind, nor unjust, nor unfaithful, nor losing the use of reason and grace, is a noble firmness of mind (Job 1:20-22). To bear the long continuance of exercises. Many who have behaved well upon the first attack have been tired out by the length of afflictions. To bear the hand of God when He touches us in a most tender point; not only in small trials, but in great and heavy afflictions. To bear God’s rod when we cannot account for His reasons or ends in it. To bear sharp afflictions when natural spirits are decayed. To bear affliction patiently when an unlawful way of deliverance seems directly to offer itself and to promise relief. It is hard in such circumstances to choose suffering rather that sinning; to be content to bear our burden still rather than be eased of it upon such terms.
3. A Christian hath need of patience to persist in waiting to the end to receive the promise, especially if he has lively views of a happy state before him, and comfortable hopes of his own title to it; if his course be greatly embittered in the meanwhile by bodily infirmities, by troubles in the world, by the removal of many of his pious friends and acquaintance to heaven before him; if his service and usefulness are to appearance much over; if he hath long thought himself going, just at harbour, but finds himself driven back again to sea: every such instance is a fresh trial to him.
III. THE WAY TO WHICH CHRISTIANITY DIRECTS US FOR SUPPLYING THIS NEED, OR FOR FURNISHING US WITH THE PATIENCE REQUIRED.
1. Whatever is a trial of our patience, we should consider it as the will of God concerning us.
2. We should strengthen our faith in the discoveries of the gospel and live in the daily exercise of it.
3. We should carefully cultivate the principle of love to God.
4. Let us often represent to our minds the present advantages of patience. It is its own reward, as impatience is its own punishment.
5. We should often contemplate the great examples of patience.
6. We should be earnest in prayer to God for this grace (James 1:4-5).For a clue
Be solicitous to exert its most excellent acts. Not only that we may be preserved by it from sinking and murmuring and notorious misbehaviour, but that there may be the most complacential acquiescence in the will of God, that we may be in a frame for praise in the darkest day: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Study to have the actings of patience easy and ready to you as there is occasion; to be able to say with Paul, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus” Acts 21:13). Be careful that the exercises of it be lasting; that it be a fixed habit, and not only by starts; like Moses, who made the exercise of patience so constant a practice that we find but one instance to the contrary through his whole story. (John Evans, D. D,)
Necessity, advantages, and confirmation of patience:
I. THE CALL WHICH THE CHRISTIAN LIFE MAKES ON US FOR THIS GRACE OF PATIENCE. The need of patience results from two things--the presence of sufferings or the privation of blessings; patience is exercised either in the enduring of evils or in waiting for desired good. There are trials, besides those common to man, which are peculiar to Christians. There are spiritual trials within, from the corruptions of the heart, which none but those who have experienced them can understand.
II. THE GREAT ADVANTAGES OF PATIENCE.
1. It lightens affliction, disarms it of half its sting. Impatience greatly adds to the momentum of affliction; but the firmness which belongs to patience prepares us to bear the pain. What, indeed, is fortitude but patience?
2. Patience gives room for those moral effects which are designed in the affliction. A tranquil state of mind gives us aa advantage for receiving the benefits of our affliction; being purified, having the unholy fires of the soul quenched, the beauties and beatitudes of the Spirit imparted. But these Divine purposes are not fulfilled in a turbulent mind.
3. Affliction endured with patience redounds to the glory of God. Nothing is a more practical proof of devotedness to God than submission; nothing more recognises God as the great Governor of the world than obedience to Him, as well in what He inflicts as in what He prescribes.
III. CONSIDERATIONS ADAPTED TO STRENGTHEN THIS VIRTUE.
1. Affliction is sent by God; His hand is there.
2. Consider the gracious and glorious design which God has in afflicting us; it is “ for our profit”--for nothing less than this--“that we may be partakers of His holiness! “
3. There are some familiar comparisons, naturally suggested to a reflecting mind, which tend to support the afflicted. One is the comparing of our trials with those of many others among the people of God. What are ours to theirs? to those of David; Isaiah, supposed to have been sawn; Jeremiah, cast into a dungeon; or the martyrs of later times?
4. What are our troubles compared with our deserts?
5. What are our sufferings compared with our eternal prospects and hopes?
6. The time is hastening on when all these afflictions will be no more. (R. Hall, M. A.)
The need of patience in our times:
Great things are spoken in Scripture of this grace (Romans 5:4; James 1:4, &c.). “The God of patience” is one of the Divine titles, and consolation goes with it. May it not be said that some of the worst evils of life spring out of impatience? I need not speak of its effects and workings in hearts and homes. In high places impatience may ruin a country. Impatience is, I think, one of the vices of our generation; nothing is allowed time to grow, room to develop, or opportunity to mend itself. Patience has two ingredients. The beautiful word for it in the original conveys definition in the very name. Patience is, being interpreted, “submissive waiting.” It is often treated as if it were identical with resignation. But there is altogether another element, too, in patience, and that is expectation. Patience is willing to wait; patience does not for a moment think that the past or the present is all, and that now to look back or to bear is just the one possibility and the one duty. On the contrary, “Onward” is its watchword; it submits, but it also waits. Subjection is one part of patience, but expectation is the other. “Submissive waiting “ is its name and its definition. More and more as life advances do we understand why patience should be made so much of in Scripture. “Behold, we count them happy which endure”--it is the word before us--“them that have patience.” We can all see why the apostle should have preached patience to these Hebrew Christians, to whom the text was first addressed. (Dean Vaughan.)
Patience is not one of those stupid experiences which have been sometimes in vogue. It is not the grace of indifference or of laziness. Neither is it a kind of dogged obstinacy under difficulties. It is the sequence of enterprise and of endeavour, and is an act of self-control. In the text the teacher points to a very common experience, namely, impatience because labour does not bring forth its results immediately. Divine providence is conducting a double system in this world, or rather a single system with two developments. Constantly these two elements in it are clashing, by reason of men’s misunderstandings; but they are co-operative and harmonious in the plan of God. He is perpetually administering His government as we that are wise parents administer ours in the family. We take care of our children’s bodies, of their food, of their dress, of their physical comfort. At the same time it is with reference to an ulterior manhood. And in every instance, if there is a choice in reference to truth-telling, purity, delicacy of mind, and generosity of love, we teach the child to sacrifice the lower for the sake of keeping the higher. We are in our households carrying on a duplex education, which is at its base physical and in its higher developments moral and social; and that which we are doing in the small God is doing in the large sphere. And the human race are being developed at the bottom physically and at the top spiritually. There is, however, one element which runs through both parts of this providence, viz., the time element. In general, the time legitimately required for the accomplishment of an end or the production of an effect measures the value of that effect; or, in other words, the things that you can do very quickly are usually of the least value. Physical qualities and physical objects are very near at band. A man clears up a forest, and lays down his farm, and sees from day to day what he is doing. We raise our harvests in the same way. The distance between the establishment of the cause and the reaping of the effect is very short in physical things; and we can see from hour to hour, from week to week, the results of our work. The lowest sphere is the place where we can quickest realise the fruits of our labour. As when you touch powder to fire there is an instantaneous explosion, so there is the greatest instantaneity between cause and effect the lower down you go toward base matter; and the higher you go above base matter, the wider is the interval between cause and effect. Next above the physical department of life is the intellectual. This is far higher. A man can learn to use his body in a day or two, or in a few weeks, and, in complex trades, in a few years; but a man does not learn how to make use of his intellectual faculties in that length of time. And we call it the education, the developing of our faculties, and the teaching them comprehensive philosophy--the knowledge of how to use themselves so that they shall control the natural globe. This is a slower work. If we regard the perception of the beautiful, the fine, and the harmonious as a higher development of the intellectual or as dependent on a yet higher class of faculties, we shall find that this test which I have employed is still true, viz., that no man can produce the beautiful (the beautiful in truth, I mean) half as fast as he can the lower elements. In other words, truth, in its higher and finer elements, is a product that requires more time for development than truth in its lower forms. But moral qualities stand higher than even the intellectual and artistic in their higher forms. Love (not that instinct which comes to all, but spiritual love, comprehensive, discriminating, fine), joy (not that giggling joy of the senses, but the inspiration of the spirit, joy in the Holy Ghost, that high and blessed enjoyment which comes with faith and with hope)--love, joy, peace, faith, gentleness, goodness, truthfulness--how few there are that possess these! How rare is it to see men who are fully armed with them! And where they are possessed, how long a discipline it was that produced them! It is a long trial that makes strong, impetuous, rude, harsh, cruel men gentle--sweetly gentle--voluntarily gentle. How long it takes to subdue power to humility! How long it takes to turn a man’s self-esteem into a patronising magnanimity! How long it takes to transform man’s native conception that he is born and built for his own using into the conception that he is born and built to use himself for others, “in honour preferring others, and pleasing others to their edification”! As you go higher, the work is more difficult. It is larger, it is finer, and the period of time between the starting and the ending is longer. The journey between a man’s volition and his higher moral traits is a very long one, ordinarily speaking. Here, then, is a brief delineation of this spiritual law of growth and labour. I will make some applications of it.
1. In a new religious life all reformations which are physical in their nature should be speedy. Evils in this sphere are to be cured at once. Absolute and total discontinuance is the law for the flesh. A man who begins a Christian life must recollect that, so far as the body is concerned, the law is that there is but a very short space between cause and effect in the lower elements of it.
2. But the strictly religious elements go on. These are the elements of negation--those which involve leaving off and not doing. The moment you enter upon the sphere of the higher elements of religious experience, which is the sphere of change or development, the results cannot be immediate. The term between cause and effect will vary in duration with the peculiar advantages which different persons have; with the peculiar susceptibilities of different persons; with the intensity of inspiration which is brought to bear upon them, and under which they are called to act; yet growth in grace is, in the nature of things, a gradual growth. Every single step upward implies and requires the harmonisation of all the elements below in a man’s nature and in his surroundings, and that often is comprehensive and very difficult. Not only is all growth in grace gradual which implies development of the higher nature, but you must make up your mind that you will oftentimes set in operation courses which will finally fulfil themselves and disclose beneficial effects. You will set them in operation; and then you will have to wait a great while before you come to the result. And you are not to be discouraged because in labouring for spiritual qualities you do not find them as soon as you could wish. A man cannot say to his temper what he can say to his body. A shrew, being converted, can hold her hand so as not to beat the child, and a little later she can control her tongue, so as not to scold the servant, perhaps; and by and by she can manage her temper, but that takes much longer; and at last she develops a spontaneous emotion of kindness where before there was temper, and that takes longer yet. But still there is a regular progress all the way up; and although there seems to be but little progress made, many persons actually cover a sphere so much wider, and there is so much contained in the little which they do that they really, in the sight of God, are lifted far higher than they are in their own sight, because they are always looking to see physical results--results that the eye can measure, or that the outward senses can recognise, instead of the hidden elements of moral excellence. We have need of patience, after we have done the will of God, before we reach the results. God is dealing with men by difficulties, by tasks, by bereavements, by sorrows, by trials, to prove the higher part of their nature. Give me, now, a bit of wax, and see how soon I will take it in my hand and mould it into any form that I want. Give me a bit of alabaster, and I cannot work that as I can the wax, because it is harder. Give me a bit of marble, and that must be cut more slowly. But give me a diamond, rough and rude, and tell me to cut the faces on that by which it shall reflect all the rays of light and show its hidden powers of beauty, and it is a long task. Yet though it is a long task to cut a diamond, when it is once cut it is worth all the labour that it has cost. Wax is quickly done, but it is of very little use after it is done. A diamond, on the other hand, is long in doing, but once done it lasts for ever. We are not, therefore, to suppose that God is angry with us because we have blow upon blow, and grinding upon grinding, and stroke upon stroke, day after day. He deals with us as with sons. How little we know about this! How little we know what is being done to us! There is a great part of God’s providence that must always be mysterious to us--for that is the term by which we speak of ignorance. In labouring for others, therefore, we ought to bear in mind this principle, that perpetually we are to carry along together both the physical and the moral development of the world, and that he who lays out his work so as to see the result as he goes along must of necessity be a low worker, he that sees at the end of the day all that he has done during the day has done very little. He that is a true worker is always throwing effects over beyond himself to which he will not come for months, or for years; it may be; and he is a true worker who, after he has done the will of God, has patience till he receives the promised reward--the legitimate effect. This comes home to parents. There are parents who say: “How much I have laboured with that child! and with what discouraging results! There are my neighbours--they have no trouble at all with their children; but my children, it seems to me, are bound to the gallows or the gaol.” Now, you take a child that is knit from single threads, take a child that has no particular force, and that is reasonably well balanced, and it is not hard to bring him up, for a little effort here and there is sufficient to torn him. A man can put his hand at the spout of a watering-pot and turn the stream here or there or anywhere; but let a man turn Niagara with his hand if he can. Here is a child that has intensity in him. The child would do very well if the mother would let it alone. Let her wait. It takes a great while to unfold a nature, if it be a large nature. Have patience. Believe and understand that the lower things can be speedily done, but that the intermediate affections require a long time for their development, and that the higher moral nature requires a still longer time. Have faith in God. Work, work, and wait! Do not remit any work; but the worry--remit that. (H. W. Beecher.)
The duty and reward of the Christian
I. THERE, IS A WAITING TIME. “Ye have need of patience.”
1. The world in which we live is hostile.
2. We are in an imperfect state in body, mind, and heart; hence suffer affliction.
3. We wait for the fulfilment of the promise that Christ will come again.
II. THERE IS A LABOURING TIME. “After ye have done the will of God.”
1. It is a righteous work.
2. It is a work that secures benefit for ourselves.
3. In this labour we have Divine assistance, for it is God’s will we do.
III. THERE IS AS ENJOYING TIME TO COME. “Receive the promise.”
1. Rest (Hebrews 4:9).
2. An inheritance (1 Peter 1:4).
3. Companionship with Christ (John 12:26; 1 John 3:2).
4. A speedy deliverance (Hebrews 10:37).
1. To bear patiently our present trials is our present duty.
2. Faith, which prompts us to do the will of God, secures for us, through Christ, our salvation. (B. Knepper.)
Need of patience:
This passage is interesting if only as an evidence of the care with which the apostles studied the spiritual conditions of the separate churches which were committed to their care. They conceived of their office, not as a temporary lectureship, but as, in modern phrase, a “ cure of souls.” Preaching was for them only a means to an end. That end was the salvation and sanctification of human souls. Wherever anything went wrong, there the anxious eye of the apostle rested, to warn, to encourage amendment. At Thessalonica they had forgotten present duties through their absorbing interest in the second coming of +,he Lord. At Rome the strongminded members of the Church were dealing with the scruples of their weaker brethren in a spirit of scornful indifference. At Corinth party spirit had reached an unexampled height, and an incestuous union was actually tolerated in a man who remained a member of the Church of the apostles. In Galatia baptized Christians were for having themselves circumcised as if they were merely Jews. At Colosse a theosophy, which afterwards became Gnosticism, was dethroning the Divine Redeemer in many a man’s intellect. At Philippi there was the public scandal of a quarrel between two prominent ladies--Euodias and Syntyche. And so, as the apostle, probably dictating what he had to say in general terms to St. Luke, thinks of this church of converts from Judaism, and of the dangers which encompassed them, and of the shortcomings which were peculiar to them, we read the words, “Ye have need of patience.”
I. PATIENCE NEEDED UNDER PERSECUTION. Why did the Hebrew Christians need patience? These Hebrew Christians needed patience, first of all, because they had been exposed and were still exposed to persecutions involving some degree of physical suffering. They had been, on some occasion respecting which no details have reached us, “spoiled of their goods.” This trouble, the writer says, the Hebrew Christians had borne “ cheerfully, knowing that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” They had suffered also, it would seem, as objects of popular ridicule. It is hard to be identified with a cause which is treated as ridiculous; and, when ridicule is accompanied by leagalised robbery, and by worse things than robbery looming in the distance, then the exercise of patience becomes exceedingly difficult. On the other hand, it seems clear that, as yet, in this particular Church no life had been taken. There had as yet been no martyr. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood.” This is interesting if only as showing that the Hebrews addressed in the Epistle cannot have been members of the Church of Jerusalem. Many years had passed in that Church since Stephen had sunk outside the city gate beneath the stones of his murderers, many since James the son of Zebedee had been slain by the sword of Herod. But the fact that there bad been no martyr is of moral as well as critical and historical interest. It shows that the persecution which called especially for the exercise of patience was a moderate persecution--moderate as persecutions went in those days; and for this reason patience may have been more difficult to practise than would have been the case had the persecution been fiercer.
II. LESSER TRIALS MAY DEMAND MORE PATIENCE THAN GREATER. Many a man will not utter a murmur when he knows that he is lying in agony between life and death, and when those around him know that each hour may be his last; but let that same man be afflicted with a malady which entails great distress, but something less than very acute suffering--which implies no danger to life, but which nevertheless makes him a confirmed invalid--which is of a character to allow those who wait on him to reflect less frequently on the seriousness of his illness than on the trouble which it entails upon themselves, and patience becomes, in average cases, very difficult. There is here felt to be no demand for a supreme effort at self-mastery--an effort which cannot or may not be necessary for long. There is here no sense of such support as is yielded by friends kneeling around a bedside--by sympathies stimulated to the very highest point of tension. It is more difficult to be patient when the irritation is great and when the situation is commonplace.
III. MENTAL PERPLEXITY DEMANDS PATIENCE. In their time of trouble their Jewish neighbours would have plied the recent converts with arguments for returning to the old synagogue which they had left. To begin with, it would have been urged that they would thus escape a great deal of trouble. The Jewish religion was an old, respectable religion, well known to the authorities of the empire, and, in ordinary circumstances, tolerated, if not very much liked. It was legally recognised, and by belonging to it a man escaped numberless annoyances which attached to membership of a body which, in the eyes of the pagan world, was a new sect, to which neither law nor society as yet had much to say that was not offensive or insulting. Why not, then, come back to the synagogue, the old religion which, besides having a recognised place in the world, was in possession of so much with which Christians had presumably parted company?
IV. SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. The sum of the answer is that in possessing Jesus Christ our Lord Christians had everything that the religion of Israel could possibly give them and a great deal more. The angels ministered to Christians, too, as the heirs of salvation; but Christ was greater than the highest angel, to none of whom--no, not to the highest--had it ever been said, “Thou art My Son; thisday have I begotten Thee.” Moses was, no doubt, a ruler in the house of God, but he ruled as God’s viceroy. Christ ruled in it as a Son over His own house. He ruled that which He had made and which He owned. And if the glories of Aaron’s priesthood were undisputed, Christ, too, was a priest, but in a higher sense--after the order of Melchisedek. And the Jewish sacrifices--what were they but “ shadows of the good things to come”--shadows of the realities which Christ brought with Him from heaven? That most solemn action of all--the entry into the earthly Holy of Holies--what was it but a figure of the entrance of our ascended Lord into the inmost sanctuary of the heavens, where His presence is of itself an intercession?
V. THE HEBREW CHRISTIANS NEEDED PATIENCE WHEN DEALING WITH EACH OTHER. They could keep at times and to a certain extent, out of the way of their pagan persecutors, out of the way of Jewish controversialists. They were thrown into intimate and constant contact with other members of the Church; and it seems more than probable that the Church of Alexandria, like the Churches of Rome and Corinth, contained in those first ages very different elements, the co-existence of which was a trial to patience. At Rome we know there was a quiet but vigorous struggle between the converts from Judaism and the converts from heathenism. At Corinth, to the indignation of the apostle, Christians even went to law with Christians in the courts of the pagan empire, or, as he puts it, “brother with brother, before the unbelievers.” At Alexandria there would have been, from the nature of the case, very different degrees of Christian attainment, very different ways of dealing with questions of the day. It is impossible that the whole Church of Alexandria can have been meant by the writer’s vivid description of those “dull of hearing,” who needed “milk” when they ought to rejoice in “strong meat,” who, considering the time that had elapsed since their conversion, ought to have been teachers, and yet needed that some one should teach them what were “ the first principles of the doctrines of Christ.” There must have been others to whom this description did not apply, but who may well have been tempted to irritation with those to whom it did. For them, perhaps, such sentences as the following were intended: … Lift up the hands which hang down and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for the feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed”; “Follow peace with all men.”
VI. THE SLOW GROWTH OF CHARACTER. In no department of life is patience more necessary than in dealing with human character. The young, the slow, the undeveloped, the timid, claim it at our hands. No character that is worth anything develops all at once--develops at a single impulse. It grows gradually, first from silence and reserve to decision and explicitness, and then to full productiveness and beauty. As our Lord has said, “First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” And yet how often is patience wanted on the part of older people when dealing with and judging of the young. We expect the work of ten years to be crowded into ten weeks. We expect the growth of character to reveal itself to some moral microscope of ours, or to the naked eye, when we will.
VII. PATIENCE DEMANDED IN THE PRESENT DAY. The great change which Jesus Christ introduced into man’s estimate of conduct was the exaltation of the passive virtues. The old pagan world meant by a “virtuous” man a brave, strong, just, energetic human being, who might be, but who probably would not be, humble, submissive, self-subduing. The gospel ideal of character is described under the title of “the works of the Spirit,” and it runs thus: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” For the old pagan or for his modern representative virtue is mainly active, pushing, aggressive, demonstrative. Virtue is the warrior; it is the athlete; it is the ruler of men. Anyhow, it is the proud self-assertion of conscious force. It thinks cheaply of Christendom, with its ideal of patience and submission. It has a quiet contempt for the martyr, as though he were wanting in manly dignity and self-respect. Christian patience, it says, is the slave cringing beneath the lash of his master--cringing because he is weak and ignorant.
VIII. PATIENCE IS STRENGTH. If “better is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city,” then most assuredly the action of the will represented by patience is higher than the action of the will represented by physical courage; for, in the latter case, will is exerted upon something external to man; in the former it is turned in upon man himself: it is engaged in controlling the very force which animates it. It would be far easier, I apprehend, for nine men out of ten to join a storming party than to lie on a rack or to hang on a cross without repining. Yes, patience is strength, and patience is moral strength: it is wisdom. In exercising it we, the creatures of a day, make one of the nearest approaches possible for us to the life of God.
IX. PATIENCE OF GOD. Of God, St. Augustine has finely said, “Pattens quia aeternus” (Because He lives for ever, He can afford to wait).
X. PATIENCE THE LAW OF PROGRESS. IS not patience the very law of your conquests in science? Those revelations of new powers in nature which from time to time astonish the world those discoveries which make man’s power over the conditions of his existence sensibly greater than they ever were before--have been prepared for, are being prepared for, by a group of moral and intellectual efforts under the presidency of patience--patience which neglects no facts, patience which is wearied by no disappointments, patience which inspires, which controls, which combines all the group of workers which obey her. And is not patience, I will not dare to say the law, but the hope of your art? Why does our architecture at its very best fall so far short of those great creations of days when our forefathers had neither our knowledge, nor our wealth, nor our marvellous resources? There may be more answers to that question than one, but one is that we have not the patience which is needed for these splendid efforts. We care more to see what we attempt in its completeness than to forego our personal satisfaction for the sake of the grandeur of our work, and our work is dwarfed and impoverished accordingly. Or what is the most necessary quality for any who would promote man’s social or political welfare? Wisdom, no doubt, is necessary, and energy, and freedom from the chains of prejudice, and buoyant courage, and readiness to recognise the conditions under which success is possible; but above all these is patience.
XI. CONDITIONS OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE UNCHANGED. And as for individual life its conditions are just as they were eighteen centuries ago. Here the modern is just as the ancient world. Sin remains; death remains. When science has so revolutionised our life as not only to alleviate but to banish pain, as not only to postpone but to do away with death, then we may do away with patience. Till then patience is as necessary as it ever was. Patience is needed to enable us to meet the inevitable, and to transfigure it by joyfully accepting as a Father’s will that which else must overtake us as if it were the iron will of a relentless fate. And in this, as in all other virtues, Jesus Christ our Lord is our highest model. (Canon Liddon.)
The first and most obvious thing which occurs to our minds when we try to call up those things which will make patience needful is positive suffering and pain. Who but those who have actually felt the heavy load of severe bodily pain, protracted day by day, know the bitter and impatient thoughts and feelings which it has power to stir up in our hearts? Which of us can tell how sadly we may need patience before we come to die? But suffering, whether great or small, always tends to make us impatient; and oftentimes those little, insect cares and pains which are of daily and hourly occurrence, and which seem, perhaps, too small and insignificant to need any great exercise of patience to enable us to face them, yet suffice to spur us on to an impatience and fretfulness which are sinful and humiliating. And the very fact, to which experience testifies, that we are even more ready to grow impatient at little troubles than at great ones, because for great troubles a Christian man gathers up his endurance and seeks to receive them submissively as coming by the appointment of God, while little ones he somehow does not think of in connection with the Almighty, and meets them in his own unaided strength--I say this very fact only shows us the more strongly that a very ordinary lot, with very ordinary trials, may yet furnish a great field for the exercise of patience--patience not the heathen virtue, not the worldly prudence, but the Christian grace. A second case in which patience will be very needful to us all is when our hopes and wishes are deferred, when we have to wait and wait, day after day, week after week, year after year, for some expected good. And how many human beings have to wait away in this fashion the best years of life! How many a human being never gets the thing which he or she has waited for till the power of enjoying it is gone! But surely patience, implanted by God’s Spirit, is mightily needed in such a case; for, if it be not given, how often it proves bad for man to linger out these days of expectancy: how often to do so sours the heart, withers up the affections, jaundices the views, turns the fresh hopeful being of youth into the gloomy, solitary, despairing misanthrope of scarcely middle age! Who does not know that in this evil world things almost invariably turn out just in that way which we least wished and hoped? That day is nine times out of ten a rainy one which we especially desired should be fair; any little accident is pretty safe to happen just at the most inconvenient time; any little illness is almost certain to come when we most wished to be well. It is just on the day when you expect an important letter that something goes wrong with the mail train; it is just when the physician is wanted in a case of life and death that of course he is twenty miles away. So we pass to the more practical question, As we need patience so much, how are we to get it? Where does it come from? Now, we reply that patience is a Christian grace, the gift of God, the operation of the Holy Spirit; and it is to be obtained as all Christian graces are, by earnestly praying for it and by patiently striving after it, and by humbly submitting to all those means which the Holy Spirit makes use of to implant it in our hearts. “Tribulation worketh patience,” says the Apostle Paul; and how often long-continued affliction is sanctified of God to subdue the soul into a calm submission. We will grant you, indeed, that in working patience the Holy Spirit finds very different kind of material on which His gracious operations must be wrought. It is much easier in some cases than in others to produce what looks like patience. Extremely stupid people often seem remarkably patient; but here, in truth, there is no true patience at all. You would not call a stone patient, let it bear what it might; and why? Because it feels nothing. And the nearer people approach to the insensibility of the stone the less they have of real patience. It is not patience to await composedly the decision of some question which would make another tremble with eagerness if the reason of your composure be that you do not care how the matter goes. Ah, the true patience, which God’s Spirit works, and oftentimes by the slow wear of suffering years, is not the dull torpor of a clod, but the sensitive, eager, vehement resistance of a human soul against that to resist which it is by itself utterly unequal. But let us see to it that none of us should fancy that because we find it hard to exercise patience therefore we may be excused seeking to exercise it at all. If any among us feels within himself that impatience is his most easily besetting sin, then let such an one remember that here is his battle-ground; and let us be sure of it, that “the God of patience and consolation”--He who “knoweth our frame,” and who has told us how sorely we “have need of patience”--will be ready by His Spirit and His grace to “strengthen us to all patience,” to enable us to “possess our souls in patience,” to “run with patience the race set before us,” “patiently waiting for Christ” and His coming at the last. Oh! if the story be true how one who stands out in the long ages past as the purest and the best of heathens (Socrates) bore still upon his passion-scarred face the traces of storms gone by, after the discipline of years had made him the mildest and most self-subdued; if the tale be true that when one who professed to read men’s hearts upon their brow said that the gentle philosopher must be the most irritable of men, that tranquil heathen stayed the derisive laughter of the standers by and the physiognomist’s mistake, and exclaimed, “He is right; I was naturally so, but Philosophy has cured me”--oh! if days of self-conflict and self-control could change the swarthy and puny being, with his satyr nature of old still written upon his satyr face, into the very best and gentlest, shall it ever be said that the mighty grace of God and the constant working of a Divine Spirit will not suffice to calm the heats and storms and acerbities of nature, and to work out a loftier than the patience of the philosopher,” even the serene, happy “patience of the saints”? May that patience be yours and mine! (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Patient endurance recommended to believers
I. THE NATURE OF PATIENT ENDURANCE. Patience is one of the many valuable graces that enrich the Christian character. It cannot be too carefully cherished. From the pen of inspiration it appears that Christian patience is a certain hallowed, dignified, serene possession of the soul in the midst of the raging storm and of impending danger; it is the sitting of the noble and Heaven-taught spirit upon the munitions of rocks in, at least comparatively, undisturbed and silent majesty, smiling at the noise and fury of the tempest; it is the valiant bearing up under great perplexities and sorrows, even when surrounded by them on every side. Undismayed by the gloomiest prospects, this grace reigns and shines in leading its possessor to venture or suffer anything in obeying the commandments of God and in professing the faith of Jesus, making him well-pleased with whatever God appoints respecting him. Like every other good thing, it is the gift of God.
II. TO SHOW THAT THE TRUE BELIEVER HAS NEED OF PATIENCE.
1. Where is our dwelling-place? It is on earth, which is not the place of our rest. The heavenly is the only inheritance that is undefiled either with sin or with sorrow. We are also in a strange land. What have we to look for but trials, of which all are partakers? The present is also a state of warfare. We are in an enemy’s land.
2. What is our life? It is a scene of sorrow and trouble, of vanity and vexation of spirit.
3. What is our character? We are followers of God, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling; not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world.
4. What is our peculiar situation in reference to the richer and better part of our treasure and inheritance? We are children of hope. Truly it is said, “The greatest part of the saint’s happiness is as yet in promise.” Now, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick”; and the object of our desire as Christians not always being within grasp or at our own command, we must with patience wait for it.
5. What is the will of God with which we have a special concern, in the observance of which we are neither to tire nor to rest until all be fulfilled in reference to ourselves? The will of God is twofold--that of His purpose as shining through all the wise and mysterious arrangements of His providence respecting His people, and that of His command as connected with the whole extent of required duty. With both of these we who are called by God’s grace must unhesitatingly comply. To the former, or what may be termed His providential will, as Christians we must without murmuring bow. The mind is to be prepared for whatever may befall us. Oh, what need of patience! To the latter, or what is often called God’s revealed will, we must ever have respect. Self is not only to be denied and the cross taken up, but the will of God is to be done. And this is the will of God, even our sanctification; and that not in part, but wholly. As far as in us lies we must walk in all the statutes and ordinances of the Lord blameless, however great the disrelish which may sometimes be felt for duty, however fierce the opposition we may meet with. Who, then, can doubt whether Christians have need of patience?
III. THE EXCITING REASONS TO CALL FORTH THE EXERCISE OF THIS CHRISTIAN VIRTUE,
1. The first shall be drawn from the source of afflictions. The hand of the Lord is in all these things.
2. The second shall be taken from the promised reward. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Observe patience in its poise and pose. It is the consummation of a thing which determines its appreciation. Nothing that is desirable looks to be such in its preliminary stages. On the contrary, whatever is exquisite in its completeness may be unsightly in its incipience. Patience alone comprehends the cases and fulfils the course. Patience sees things as they are by seeing things as they shall be; patience puts things together and makes sense of them. It is the Divine glory to see the end from the beginning; it is human wisdom to see the beginning from the end. Right triumphs in the sequel. Great truths move over the world at their own paces. Ships move when they seem only to rock, cutting their curves against the sky. Prejudices die, truth comes out by the witness of reason and the facts of history, as the kernel of grain comes out, just when the husk drops away. Any great cause seems, for a long time, to be a struggling and a sorry cause. Generations always scout what is to be the pride of coming generations. That old maxim, “Magna est veritas et prevalebit,” is not correct in any sense of immediata consequence. Justice is the latest arrival, the last intelligence upon earth, but justice comes to stay. Justice once done is done for ever. Its final decision is distinct. No man is so sure to be righted as the man who is wronged; no heart is so sure to be remembered as the heart that was slighted; no character is so likely to be lauded as the character which has been scouted; no man is so certain to be remembered as he who had been forgotten, he who, for sake of others, could forego himself. These all hoard their claims, and put them out at interest, as the provident pinch themselves to invest their savings, that the present may lay up for the future. It is the sequel that determines any fact, as the denouement determines a fiction. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Now, look a little further, taking a wider range. The patience of faith is the self-possession of fact; the long agony of time is the long suffering of eternity. Most unbelief is petulant impatience. If there be a God, to worship is to wait; to wait is to worship; to wait upon Him is to have Him for waiting. Tread softly; speak gently amid these ranges and mazes. Look cheerfully upon these mysteries. God is busy with His own arrangements. His kingdom is coming by His own processes, in His own time and ways. (H. S. Carpenter.)
Patience is the guardian of faith, the preserver of peace, the cherisher of love, the teacher of humility. Patience governs the flesh, strengthens the spirit, sweetens the temper, stifles anger, extinguishes envy, subdues pride; she bridles the tongue, restrains the hand, tramples upon temptations, endures persecutions, consummates martyrdom. Patience produces unity in the Church, loyalty in the State, harmony in families and societies; she comforts the poor and moderates the rich; she makes us humble in prosperity, cheerful in adversity, unmoved by calumny and reproach; she teaches us to forgive those who have injured us, and to be the first in asking forgiveness of those whom we have injured; she delights the faithful and invites the unbelieving; she adorns the woman and approves the man; she is beautiful in either sex and every age. Behold her appearance and her attire. Her countenance is calm and serene as the face of heaven unspotted by the shadow of a cloud, and no wrinkle of grief or anger is seen in her forehead. Her eyes are as the eyes of doves for meekness, and on her eyebrows sit cheerfulness and joy. Her mouth is lovely in silence; her complexion and colour that of innocence and security; while, like the virgin, the daughter of Sion, she shakes her head at the adversary, despising and laughing him to scorn. She is clothed in the robes of the martyrs, and in her hand she holds a sceptre in the form of a cross. She rides not in the whirlwind and stormy tempest of passion, but her throne is the humble and contrite heart, and her kingdom is the kingdom of peace. (Bp. Horne.)
Want of patience:
He who wanteth patience in this world is like a man who standeth trembling in the field without his armour, because every one can strike him and he can strike none; so the least push of pain, or loss, or disgrace, doth trouble that man more which hath not the skill to suffer than twenty trials can move him which is armed with patience, like a golden shield in his hand, to break the stroke of every cross and save the heart though the body suffer, for while the heart is whole all is well. (H. Smith.)
There is no such thing as preaching patience into people unless the sermon is so long that they have to practise it while they hear. No man can learn patience except by going out into the hurly-burly world and taking life just as it blows. Patience is but lying to and riding out the gale. (H. W. Beecher.)
Patience related to pleasure:
There is no music in a “rest,” that I know of, but there’s the making of music in it. And people are always missing that part of the life-melody, and scrambling on without counting; not that it is easy to count, but nothing on which so much depends ever is easy. People are always talking of perseverance, and courage, and fortitude; but patience is the finest and worthiest part of fortitude, and the rarest too. I have known twenty persevering girls to one patient one; but it is only the twenty-first one who can do her work out and out and enjoy it; for patience lies at the root of all pleasures as well as of all powers. (J. Ruskin.)
Men sometimes, in their eagerness to act, act too far--act by wrong motives; and in their impatient fussiness overlook the processes of God and the harmonious working of all things. It is a great thing very often to be patient; not to talk much about it, not to try to do much about it, but to wait and trust. And this is all, sometimes, that we can do. (E. H. Chapin.)
A wise prayer
Lord, perfect what Thou hast begun in me, that I may not suffer shipwreck when I am almost at the haven. (Beza.)
God’s time best:
Were you prematurely rending the calyx which contains the coming rose or lily, perhaps it would refuse to blow at all, or at best you would only get a crumpled, stunted flower. God’s way is better. With gushing summer He fills the bud within; with sap and strength He makes it glad at heart, till the withering cerement bursts and the ripened fragrance floats through all the air of June. The soul must be ripe within, and then it easily puts off this tabernacle. (Jas. Hamilton, D. D.)
When Judson was labouring in Burmah, unable at the first to report conversions to the American churches, to their desponding letters he replied, “Permit us to labour on in obscurity, and in twenty years you may hear from us again.”
Dr. Morison, of Chelsea, for thirty years editor of the Evangelical Magazine, was not more distinguished by abundant labours than by manifold sufferings. For nearly twenty-five years he was so afflicted with asthma as to be obliged generally to leave his bed by two or three o’clock in the morning. Four sons, full of promise, were in succession cut off; then came the death of his daughter, Mary Legge, of China, the unexpected end of a “life of beauty and brightness.” The friend who broke to him this terrible news said: “I shall never forget the sublime resignation with which Dr. Morison bowed his head and held his peace.” Only one child was then left, and she was brought home with mind wrecked by sunstroke in Tasmania. The last illness of this grand sufferer lasted forty-two months. Though by nature keenly sensitive to pain of every kind, no word of impatience escaped from his lips or his pen. He once said: “At this moment there is not an inch of my body that is not full of agony”; yet his voice was steady and his face unruffled as he spoke. Of his dying words his biographer, Dr. Kennedy, says: “I could only listen in reverent and grateful silence … I felt as if I stood on the confines of heaven and was listening to one who was more in heaven than on earth. In the patience and peace and love and hope which I was witnessing there seemed to be a demonstration of the divinity of the gospel.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come
“Yet a little while”:
He who has a house ready furnished does not mind the dismantling of his lodging.
True, it is not pleasant to have the furniture of even our lodging disturbed and broken, to have the things in it scattered and pulled to pieces; for even a lodging becomes dear when we are used to it, every corner an old acquaintance and almost an old friend: every part of it brings some thoughts, habits, and employments to remembrance. We do not leave it without pain, nor are we driven from it without some natural sorrow. But if we have a house ready when the lodging is gone, our sorrow is less, our regret slighter, for it is not our all: we are not left houseless. The Hebrews were in trouble: persecution had fallen upon them. Therefore, when the heathen were let loose upon them, and the malice that was not allowed to take their lives was allowed to spoil their goods, they “took it joyfully,” remembering that “they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance,” that, though men destroyed the lodging and its furniture, they could not reach or touch the home. They had thus” done the will of God,” not only by active obedience, but by patient submission. However, the promise on which their hopes were fixed, even “the hope of eternal life,” was still at a distance. They must wait on till it should be fulfilled. To be able thus to wait they needed “patience”; and to exercise that patience St. Paul wrote our text: “Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” “A little while!” says the unbeliever, as he hears it--“a little while! are one thousand eight hundred years a little while”? Such are the thoughts of the sceptic. If we were to weigh time in man’s puny scales, it would not be a little while. To us worms, creeping along the earth for a small space, for our few years, it is not a little while. But He who spoke these words, “I come quickly,” is the same “to whom a thousand years are but as a day,” the same that “inhabiteth eternity.” To Him years are as seconds on the stop-watch, and centuries roll round as swiftly as the hands on the dial. The humble Christian does not understand this, but he believes it; for it is the word of Him whom he has found to be the truth of God. And those words, “Yet a little while,” are a fruitful source of comfort to his soul. Come with me to the death-bed of a Christian missionary, and see what those words do there. Morning is just beginning to break over the eastern hills. The missionary’s wife has been watching all night by the bedside of her fever-stricken husband. In an hour or two she will be a widow and desolate. “Yet a little while.” He knows that he is leaving her: he knows that he shall soon cease to behold that face on which for so many years he has never looked but in love, and which has never looked but in love upon his own. Yet a few more years or months and her work also will be done; and she also shall be where he is, and the loving fellow servants shall meet never to part again in their Father’s home. Come with me, yet not to foreign lands, but to our own, and not to a distant part, but near at hand. Come to the abode of poverty; poverty brought on by no crime--poverty which God’s visitations have brought on. “Yet a little while.” It will soon be over: I shall soon have done with this little room, this scanty furniture, these poor garments: I shall soon want not even the little food I now want for my mortal body. “Yet a little while,” and He who for my sake became poor will make me eternally rich through His poverty. Yes, we might run through the whole range of Christian faith: we might look into Christians of every rank of life, from the peer that wears a coronet down to the aged widow driven at last even from her little room into the shelter of a workhouse: we might ask the princely Christian merchant at his desk, the Christian tradesman at his counter, the Christian soldier at his post, the Christian mechanic at his work, yea, the Christian pauper (for such I have met) breaking stones by the roadside of the country, or picking oakum in the town, and they would all tell us, if we asked them, to what they are looking, and what assurance cheers them in their way, and they would all say, “Yet a little while.” But do these words bring comfort to any but the Christian? Ask the wealthy worldling with his splendid mansion, its costly furniture, its comforts and its luxuries. Oh no; it is his misery to think that all these are only for a little while--that he must leave them all so soon; and it would mar everything if on his splendid furniture, his majestic trees, his noble mansion, were written in clear, plain characters, “a little while.” Ask the bright girl, who is only a creature of this world, full of life and spirits, bounding with joy and health, enjoying with keen relish all the enjoyments of the world, the excitement of the dance; would that bright child of fashion, that joyous and excited creature of amusement, desire to have written on her wardrobe, on her novels, and to meet her wherever she goes--“a little while? … Happy Christian!” for thou dost believe what thy God has said. Thou does not believe that this life is all of life, nor this world all: thou dost believe that this is God’s school, and above is God’s home, and that thou art now under tutors, and that now afflictions are thy teachers, troubles thy discipline, temptations the searching tests of thy truth, thy purity, thy integrity, thy love to God, thy sense of sin; that this is all meant to make thee fit for thy Father’s house, to form thy Saviour’s likeness in thy soul; and, believing this, thou dost rejoice to think, “that yet a little while,” and when the fires have melted thee and taken off thy dross, thou wilt not be sorry that the heat is over--when trial is done, thou wilt not be sorry to receive the crown of righteousness. (W. W. Champneys, M. A.)
Faith during delay
I. THE DELAY OF THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF PROMISES IS A GREAT EXERCISE OF FAITH AND PATIENCE.
II. IT IS ESSENTIAL UNTO FAITH TO BE ACTED ON THE PROMISED COMING OF CHRIST TO ALL THAT LOOK FOR HIS APPEARANCE.
III. THERE IS A PROMISE OF THE COMING OF CHRIST SUITED UNTO THE STATE AND CONDITION OF THE CHURCH IN ALL AGES.
IV. THE APPARENT DELAY OF THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF ANY OF THESE PROMISES REQUIRES AN EXERCISE OF THE FAITH AND PATIENCE OF THE SAINTS.
V. EVERY SUCH COMING OF CHRIST HATH ITS APPOINTED SEASON BEYOND WHICH IT SHALL NOT TARRY.
VI. THIS DIVINE DISPOSITION OF THINGS GIVES A NECESSITY UNTO THE CONTINUAL EXERCISE OF FAITH, PRAYER, AND PATIENCE, ABOUT THE COMING OF CHRIST.
VII. Although we may not know the especial dispensations and moments of time that are passing over us, yet ALL BELIEVERS MAY KNOW THE STATE
IN GENERAL OF THE CHURCH UNDER WHICH THEY ARE, AND WHAT COMING OF CHRIST THEY ARE TO LOOK FOR AND EXPECT.
VIII. FAITH IN ANY CHURCH SATISFIES THE SOULS OF MEN WITH WHAT IS THE GOOD AND DELIVERANCE OF THAT STATE ALTHOUGH A MAN DO KNOW OR IS PERSUADED THAT PERSONALLY HE SHALL NOT SEE IT HIMSELF, NOR ENJOY IT. The faith of this kind is for the Church, and not for men’s individual persons.
IX. “UNDER DESPONDENCIES AS TO PECULIAR APPEARANCES OR COMINGS OF CHRIST, IT IS THE DUTY OF BELIEVERS TO FIX AND EXERCISE THEIR FAITH ON HIS ILLUSTRIOUS APPEARANCE AT THE LAST DAY.
X. EVERY PARTICULAR COMING OF CHRIST, IN A WAY SUITED UNTO THE PRESENT DELIVERANCE OF THE CHURCH, IS AN INFALLIBLE PLEDGE OF HIS COMING AT THE LAST UNTO JUDGMENT.
XI. EVERY PROMISED COMING OF CHRIST IS CERTAIN, AND SHALL NOT BE DELAYED BEYOND ITS APPOINTED SEASON, WHEN NO DIFFICULTIES SHALL BE ABLE TO STAND BEFORE IT. (John Owen, D. D.)
The appointed time
As the herbs and flowers which sleep all winter in their roots underground, when the time of spring approacheth presently start forth of their beds, where they had lain so long unperceived, thus will the promise in its season do. He delays who passeth the time appointed; but he only stays that waits for the appointed time and then comes. Every promise is dated, but with a mysterious character; and for want of skill in God’s chronology we are prone to think that God forgets us, when indeed we forget ourselves in being so bold to set God a time of our own, and in being angry that He comes not just then to us. (W. Gurnall.)
The just shall live by faith
Those who are justified by faith are heirs or life:
There is a slight transposition in the words of our text, which is warranted by the original Greek, and which, while it does not materially affect the meaning of the passage, appears to set it in a clearer light.
We may read the text thus--“The just by faith shall live.” The expression is descriptive of a child of God. The “just,” or “justified man,” is not merely a person who is equitable in all his dealings, and who maintains a character for honesty, but one who has received by faith the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been renewed in the spirit of his mind by the power of the Holy Ghost.
I. THE JUSTIFIED MAN SHALL LIVE IS THIS WORLD. A man’s outward condition forms no correct criterion by which we may ascertain the measure of his acceptance with God. The possession of riches and honours does not necessarily imply that the possessor is the favourite of heaven, or that he is peaceful and happy in his own mind. How often do we see the true Christian labouring under the pressure of poverty--struggling hard against the tide of adverse circumstances; or if, in a higher sphere of society, he engages in the pursuits of business, “all things are against him,” and every exertion which he makes proves painfully abortive. But in the midst of all these vicissitudes he “lives,” and his is a happy life. Again, behold the believer when he is stretched upon the bed of sickness. He may be exhausted by weakness, or racked by pain, yet “he lives.” Though a dark cloud passes over him his soul is serene. Again, behold the Christian in the day of persecution. It is to this point the apostle makes special allusion in the context. The early disciples of the blessed Jesus derived no worldly advantage from the profession of their faith in Him. What enabled them to sustain the rage of their persecutors? It was faith in their Master--it was confidence in His promises. And in one word, what in every age has supported the people of God under the pressure of calamity, or the prospect of a dying hour? Not certainly the remembrance of the good they had done, or the glory they had achieved--not the contemplation of their own merits, or their moral and intellectual attainments, but simply the inwrought principle of a living faith--that faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
II. THE JUSTIFIED MAN SHALL LIVE IS THE WORLD TO COME. Faith, indeed, is not the procuring cause of eternal life. The possession of faith gives us no absolute or inherent claim on the Almighty for the pardon. It is merely the instrument of our justification. It is the link that connects us with the Saviour, and in virtue of this connection we receive every blessing we enjoy. Eternal life is the purchase of the Saviour’s sacrifice. (A. B. Parker.)
Of living by faith:
These words are used four times (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11, and here). In the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians they respect justification, Paul making use of them to prove that we are justified by faith. In Habakkuk 2:4, and the text, they respect our conversation, and hold forth what should support a righteous man in all dangers and necessities.
I. WHAT IS IT TO LIVE BY FAITH? This living by faith is not a single and transient act, but something habitual and permanent. And therefore its nature, as of other habits, will best appear in its acts and objects.
1. The acts of faith. The Scripture holds them forth under the notion of dependence and recumbency. And we may thus describe it: living by faith is constant dependence on God as one without whom we cannot live. Three things concur to its constitution.
2. The object of faith is God in Christ as made known in His attributes, offices, relations, promises, and providences. We may refer the objects and support of faith to these heads.
(a) Priestly office (Hebrews 4:14-16).
(b) Regal office (Acts 5:31).
(c) Prophetical office (Deuteronomy 18:15).
(5) Providences of God are objects and encouragements to, faith. The consideration of what He has done for others, and for themselves, has supported the saints. These are the hands of God stretched out on which faith takes hold (Psalms 119:132; 1 Samuel 17:37; 2 Timothy 4:17-18).
II. How DO THEY, HOW MUST WE LIVE, BY FAITH? Here I shall give particular directions how faith may act with most advantage upon its several objects formerly propounded, and show what encouragement faith may find from them in all its actings.
1. Attributes of God. For the direction and encouragement of faith in acting upon them, observe eight particulars:
2. The offices of Christ. To direct and encourage faith herein, take the rules:
(a) Kingly office.
1. As He is King He is lawgiver; writes laws in our hearts. Gives not only laws to be obeyed, but hearts to obey; laws for obedience and principles of obedience.
2. To subdue our enemies (Psalms 2:6; Psalms 2:8), our lusts, the world, the powers of darkness. He will bruise them with a rod of iron.
3. To rule us. The government is on His shoulders. He sets His throne in our hearts, and takes care that we live under His government in peace, plenty, safety; peace of conscience, plenty of grace, perseverance.
(b) Prophetical. To declare His Father’s will, to make us understand it; to enlighten our minds; to send the Spirit of Truth to clear up obscurities, resolve doubts, remove scruples, satisfy cases of conscience.
(c) As priest. So He suffered and intercedes. His sufferings are both satisfactory and meritorious.
3. Promises. How faith may act with most advantage upon promises, and get support and encouragement from them in its actings.
(10) Believers have a just and unquestionable title to all things promised besides that title which the promise conveys. They have right to them, and therefore have no reason to doubt but the gracious God will bestow them, especially when He has confirmed the former title by promise. All that is promised was bequeathed to believers by the eternal will of the Father, and purchased for them by the precious blood of Christ, and they are instated therein by many endearing and interesting relations. They have as much right thereto as an heir to his inheritance, or a wife to her jointure; for they are co-heirs with Christ and married to Him (1 Corinthians 3:23). (D. Clarkson, B. D.)
I. The first instructions in Christian knowledge inform us of THE IMPORTANCE AND NECESSITY OF FAITH TO OUR ETERNAL HAPPINESS. We are assured that the just shall live by faith; and that without it it is impossible to please God.
1. It seems absolutely essential to the nature, and necessary to the design and success of a Divine revelation, that the messenger of it should, upon producing sufficient evidence and proper attestations from Heaven, insist upon an acknowledgment of its truth, as proceeding from that Being who cannot deceive His creatures, whose admonitions would not be offered but for our advantage, and whose authority cannot be disobeyed without danger.
2. The principal reason why faith is so indispensably required and declared to be the condition of salvation is because it is the surest principle of holiness, the basis of obedience, the natural foundation of universal virtue. If, for instance, we believe in our hearts, and are persuaded of the existence of a God, supremely powerful, wise, and good, possessed of every conceivable and possible perfection, we cannot but reverence and adore a nature so infinitely superior; and every sentiment of our heart must pay homage to Him. If we apprehend Him to be the original of good, the fountain of mercy, we shall be naturally led to acknowledge His goodness in all the expressions of worship, praise, submission, and obedience. If we believe that He sent His Son into the world to purchase, on certain conditions, the pardon of our sins, and an eternity of happiness; we must think ourselves obliged to obey the precepts of His doctrine, to imitate the examples of His life, to comply with the conditions required, and be grateful for so amazing an expression of mercy.
II. I SHALL NOW PROCEED TO OFFER SOME OBSERVATIONS SUGGESTED BY THE PRECEDING DOCTRINE.
1. If faith be the ground of holiness we may hence learn the reason of the general prevalence of iniquity in the world; which is a want of faith, or want of attention to the objects of it.
2. If faith he subservient to holiness, and derive its value from its efficacy and influence on our manners, we may hence learn to estimate the intrinsic value of every doctrine, and to weigh the degrees of malignity and danger in particular errors. Doctrines are valuable in proportion to their moral importance, or subservience to virtue; in proportion to their influence in inclining us to preserve in our minds a constant sense of our dependence on our Maker, and of the duties we owe Him, and of our obligations to observe integrity, and justice, and equity, and charity, in all our dealings.
3. If the design of faith was to lead us to the practice of all righteousness let us not rest our hopes of salvation on a bare acknowledgment or belief of the gospel, in an ineffectual barren faith, productive of no virtue, but let our faith have its proper influence; let our manners correspond with our principles, and let us live as we believe. (G. Carr, B. A.)
The vital force:
I. A DOCTRINE.
1. Doth not the text plainly teach us that faith is the continued act of the Christian? Just as long as he lives here below, if he doth live to God at all, he lives by faith.
2. Faith is a great practical virtue. The text does not say that the just man shall study the doctrine of faith in his retirement, and be able to frame a correct definition of what faith is. It is true that the just man should be meditative, studious, a man well instructed in the history of revelation and the mystery of the kingdom of God; but that is not what the text saith. It doth not say that the just man shall converse about faith, and make the object of faith the constant theme of his discourse. It will be so: what is in the heart will be sure to come out in the tongue. But that is not the truth taught here. In plain English, it is this--the righteous man will carry his faith into his ordinary life. He will live by faith.
3. Faith hath a great quickening power over all the faculties of the spiritual man. This is the Prometheus that stole the heavenly flame, and brought it down to men made of clay, and made them live the lives of the immortals. This it is that brings immortality to us through Jesus, who brought life and immortality to light. Whenever faith rules in a man it quickens all his graces. The believer is the man to love--to love his God, his neighbour, his enemy. The believer is the man to hope--to hope for deliverance out of present affliction; to hope for the eternal outgoing of the issues of all this life’s battle and strife. If there be any patience, if there be any forgiveness, if their be any generosity, if there be any loving-kindness, if there be any zeal, if there be anything lovely and of good repute, all these are quickened and brought out into their life and force according to the life and power and energy of the faith which a man possesses.
4. Turning this doctrine over in rather a different form, but still keeping to it, let me say that the believer lives only by faith. All other kinds of living are to him spiritual death.
II. A PROMISE. My faith shall ensure my life. Oh, ‘tis joy to have faith that makes you immortal! The faith of the just shall constrain them to live. They cannot die; they must not die. God Himself shall as soon die as they shall. The just shall live by faith. This is not true of any other but those who have faith. You know the story I have told you sometimes, of the good old soul whose minister called to see her when she was dying, and amongst other things he said to her, “My sister, you are very weak; don’t you feel yourself sinking?” She looked at him, and gave no answer, but said, “Did I understand you, minister? Please tell me what you said; I hope you didn’t say what I thought I heard?” “Why,” said he, “my dear sister, I said to you, don’t you feel yourself sinking?” And then she said, “I did not think my minister would ever ask me such a question as that! Sinking? Did you ever know a sinner sink through a rock? I am believing in Jesus Christ; if I were resting anywhere else I might sink, but as I am resting upon Him, did you ever know a sinner sink through a rock?” Yes, and that is just the very point. It is so. God does in the very words of our text seem to assure us that if we believe, we have got on a rock, that if we believe, we shall live. We shall live by our faith under all circumstances and difficulties.
III. A KIND OF PRECEPT. IS it not clear that as life is the main thing for us to look to, nature itself having taught us by its instincts to guard with all care our life, therefore our faith, upon which our life so evidently depends by virtue of our union to Christ, ought to be the object of our most sedulous care. Anything which comes in the way of our faith we should strive against, while the promotion of our faith should be our first endeavour. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The just man and his life
I. DESCRIBE THE JUST MAN OF THE GOSPEL.
1. The term “just” not used in its comparative and popular sense. It is so used sometimes in the sacred Scriptures, as in Romans 5:7. There are those who are “just before men.” Their words are true, their promises faithfully kept, their actions irreproachable. Measure them by the Divine standard, and they dwarf down to nothing; see them as God sees them, and all their righteousness is as filthy rags.
2. Not in its strictly legal sense. There was a time when there were just men on earth; that time was brief. There are just men “made perfect,” but they are before the throne of God, and serve Him in His temple. There are none on earth now.
3. The term is used in the evangelical sense--justified.
4. This declaration is connected with the faith of the justified person. Luther at one period suffered so much from a sense of sin, that his health rapidly gave way. An old monk entered his cell and spoke kindly. He knew little but his creed, which contained something that gave him comfort, and he said in his simplicity, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Luther repeated, “I believe in the forgiveness of gins.” “Ah!” said the monk, “you must not only believe that David’s or Peter’s sins are forgiven--the devils believe that. The commandment of God is, that we believe our own sins forgiven. Hear what the Holy Ghost says: ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee.’” He renounced the thought of meriting salvation, and trusted with confidence in God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
II. THE LIFE HE ENJOYS. He “shall live by faith.”
1. Observe the import of this assurance. “There is, then,” said Luther, after studying these words, “for the just another life than that possessed by the rest of men, and this life is the fruit of faith.” What is that other life? The elements of life are
2. The truth of this assurance.
1. Sinner, are you dead? This voice bids you live by faith.
2. Let believers cleave to this doctrine. (The Evangelical Preacher.)
The Christian’s life of faith
I. THE CHARACTER MENTIONED. “The just.”
1. As found in Christ.
2. As conformed to Christ.
3. As practically just. Their faith produces good works; they are honest, upright, abhor evil, and cleave to that which is good.
II. THE FACT AFFIRMED. “Shall live by faith.”
1. Because by faith they are united to Christ, and derive from Him all needful influence.
2. Because faith anticipates the glories of heaven, preparatory to which the Christian contest is carried on.
3. Because faith overcomes temptation.
III. THE RESULT PRODUCED.
1. They live by faith in the darkest seasons.
2. They live a holy and pleasant life, because faith brings into exercise all other Christian graces.
3. By faith they live in constant expectation of heaven. (Homilist.)
Living by faith
1. We have faith, which is a Divine practical assent unto the saving truths of the gospel, and a reliance upon the promises of God.
2. Upon faith followeth righteousness; for the just have faith, and are just and justified by faith: for by “just” are here meant the justified by faith according to the tenour of the new covenant. For man being sinful and guilty cannot be justified by his own innocence, purity, inherent righteousness, and perfect obedience. For he that hath faith is just; he that continueth in faith, continueth just; and he that is finally believing is finally just.
3. As guilty man is just by faith, so being just he shall live by faith. By life in this place is meant a spiritual, happy, and eternal life; the life of glory, which is the great reward, which will certainly follow upon final faith; for it is faith which, by virtue of Christ’s merit and God’s promise, gives a right to life; and upon a final faith, the possession and full enjoyment of this blessed life doth certainly follow. The duty therefore which the apostle urgeth is final perseverance in faith; and the motive whereby he seeks to stir them up to performance is the certain fall possession of the great rewards for which he allegeth God’s own Word and promise recorded in the prophet. And if they will hearken unto God speaking by the prophet, and take His Word and promise, there is great reason why they should persevere. (G. Lawson.)
Faith consists of two parts: Belief, which accepts certain declarations as true, and trust in the person about whom those declarations are made. Neither will do without the other. On the one hand, we cannot trust a person without knowing something about him; on the other hand, your knowledge will not help you unless it leads to trust, any more than it avails the shivering wretch outside the Bank of England to know that the vaults are stored with gold. A mere intellectual faith is not enough. The holding of a creed will not save. We must pass from a belief in words to trust in the Word. By faith we know that Jesus lives, and by faith we also appropriate that life. By faith we know that Jesus made on the Cross a propitiation for sin, and by faith we lay our hand reverently on His dear head and confess our sin. Faith is the open hand receiving Christ. Faith is the golden pipe through which His fulness comes to us. Faith is the narrow channel by which the life that pulses in the Redeemer’s heart enters our souls. Faith is the attitude we assume when we turn aside from the human to the Divine. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The life of faith:
Have you ever thought of the life of a child? Why, the life of a child is a perfect life of faith. That little child--what can that little child do? Why that little child could not find its way to the street end and back again. It would be lost if you trusted it alone. That little child could not find the next meal. If you left that little child it would die of want. That little child could not furnish a shelter for its own head to-night; and yet, has that little child any fear about it? Has that little child any sort of alarm about it? Not at all! How comes it that the child’s life is the happy life it is? Because, instinctively and beautifully, it is a life of faith. That child could not buy the next loaf, but it has a firm belief that “father” can. That child could not provide for itself the garments for to-morrow, but it has an unbounded belief in “father’s” power to do it, and “mother’s” power to do it. That child could not do it for itself one day, but it never costs that child a moment’s concern. Its life is a life of perfect faith in its parents. (S. Coley.)
Description of faith
Mr. Stewart, in his Journal of a Residence in the Sandwich Islands, relates, that whilst on board a ship sailing from America to those Islands, he felt it his duty to instruct the sailors; and he had several proofs that his labours were not in vain. One sailor named R, had been brought to trust in Christ for salvation; and shortly after meeting with another who was anxiously inquiring the way of salvation, he thus addressed him, “It was just so with myself once; I did not know what faith was, or how to obtain it; but I know now what it is, and I believe I possess it. But I do not know that I can tell you what it is, or how to get it. I can tell you what it is not; it is not knocking off swearing, and drinking, and such like; and it is not reading the Bible, nor praying, nor being good: it is none of these; for even if they were to answer for the time to come, there is the old score still, and how are you to get clear of that? It is not anything you have done or can do: it is only believing and trusting to what Christ has done: it is forsaking your sins, and looking for their pardon and the salvation of your soul, because He died and shed His blood for sin: and it is nothing else.” (Churchman’s Monthly.)
If any man draw back
By the expression “ to draw back,” must certainly be understood a total and final apostasy, as is evident from Hebrews 10:39.
1. Some who once were accounted disciples of Christ have drawn back into open profanity and infidelity (2 Peter 2:20-21). Persons of this character, who have stifled conviction, and hold the truth in unrighteousness, become generally the most hardened and daring in wickedness. Common restraints are removed--the voice of conscience is silenced--the Spirit of God ceases to strive, and they are given over to a reprobate mind--to fill up the measure of their iniquities, and at last to perish in unbelief.
2. Others who apostatise from Christ fall into gross and dangerous errors 2 Timothy 2:17-18). I add
3. There is still a more secret and disguised kind of apostasy, which is not on that account the less ruinous; I mean when persons who have once had a profession of religion become careless, lose all zeal about the things of God and eternity, and discover a proportionable eagerness in worldly pursuits. This is a way of apostatising from Christ the more dangerous, because it is the least apt to be perceived. The decay is so gradual and insensible. They have changed their views, their manners, their company. Perhaps some alteration in their outward circumstances has produced these unhappy effects. Raised from a state of dependence to wealth, their minds have been intoxicated with worldly prosperity; and by a strange kind of infatuation. Or, perhaps, without any visible cause, their profession of religion has gradually declined, and their devotion to the service of their God and Saviour proved as the morning cloud and early dew, which soon pass away. After maintaining for a while an appearance of serious godliness, they have gradually sunk into sloth, possibly into bad habits, which deaden every religious feeling.
1. Let gratitude to the Redeemer for the blessings you have received constrain you to cleave to Him with full purpose of heart.
2. Let a regard to your best interests urge you to cleave steadfastly to Christ. Solid sense and real piety, instead of being incompatible, are closely and intimately united.
3. Let the dreadful doom of apostates deter you from the aggravated sin of drawing back from Christ. (A. Ramsay, M. A.)
The danger of apostasy from the true religion
I. THE NATURE OF THIS SIN. TO make a man an apostate, it is not necessary that a man should solemnly renounce his baptism and declare Christianity to be false; there are several other ways whereby a man may bring himself under this guilt; as by a silent quitting of his religion, and withdrawing himself from the communion of all that profess it; by denying an essential doctrine of Christianity; by undermining the great design of it, by teaching doctrines which directly tend to encourage men in impenitence, and a wicked course of life.
II. THE SEVERAL SORTS AND DEGREES OF APOSTASY. The highest of all is the renouncing Christianity, or of some essential part of it, which is a virtual apostasy from it; but there are several tendencies towards this which they who are guilty of are in some degree guilty of this sin.
1. Indifferency in religion, and want of all sort of concernment for it; when a man, though he never quitted his religion, yet is so little concerned for it, that a very small occasion or temptation would make him do it.
2. Withdrawing from the public marks and testimonies of the profession of religion, by forsaking the assemblies of Christians for the worship and service of God; to withdraw ourselves from those, for fear of danger or suffering, is a kind of denial of our religion.
3. A light temper of mind, which easily receives impressions from those who lie in wait to deceive and seduce men from the truth.
4. A departure from the purity of the Christian doctrine and worship in a gross and notorious manner.
III. THE HEINOUSNESS OF THIS SIN. What an affront it is to God, and how great a contempt of Him!
IV. THE TERRIBLE PUNISHMENT IT EXPOSES MEN TO. This sin is placed in the highest rank of pardonable sins, and next to the sin against the Holy Ghost, which our Saviour declares to be absolutely unpardonable. And indeed the Scripture speaks very doubtfully of the pardonableness of this Hebrews 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:20-21; 1 John 5:16). (Archbp. Tillotson.)
Transgressions and infirmities:
Warnings such as this would not be contained in Scripture, were there no danger of our drawing back, and thereby losing that “life” in God’s presence which faith secures to us. Faith is the tenure upon which this Divine life is continued to us: by faith the Christian lives, but if he draws back he dies; his faith profits him nothing; or rather, his drawing back to sin is a reversing of his faith; after which God has no pleasure in him. And yet, clearly as this is stated in Scripture, men in all ages have fancied that they might sin grievously, yet maintain their Christian hope. Now I quite grant that there are sins which faith is the means of blotting out continually, so that the “just” still “lives” in God’s sight in spite of them. There is no one but sins continually so far as this, that all that he does might be more perfect, entire, blameless than it is. We are all encompassed by infirmities, weaknesses, ignorances; and all these besetting sins are certainly, as Scripture assures us, pardoned on our faith; but it is another thing to assert this of greater and more grievous sins, or what may be called transgressions. For faith keeps us from transgressions, and they who transgress, for that very reason, have not true and lively faith; and, therefore, it avails them nothing that faith, as Scripture says, is imputed to Christians for righteousness, for they have not faith. Instead of faith blotting out transgressions, transgressions blot out faith.
1. No one surely can doubt that there are sins which exclude a man, while he is under their power, from salvation (see 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; Philippians 3:18-19; Galatians 5:4).
2. That there are sins of infirmity, or such as do not throw the soul out of a state of salvation, is evident directly it is granted that there are sins which do; for no one will pretend to say that all sins exclude from grace, else no one can be saved, for there is no one who is sinless. However, Scripture expressly recognises sins of infirmity as distinct from transgressions, as shall now be shown. For instance: St. Paul (Galatians 5:17) allows that it is possible for the power of the flesh and the grace of the Spirit to co-exist in the soul; neither the flesh quenching the Spirit, nor the Spirit all at once subduing the flesh. Here then is a sinfulness which is compatible with a state of salvation. Again, the same apostle says, that we have a High Priest who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” in that He had them Himself, all but their sin:--this implies that we have sinful infirmities, yet of that light nature that they can be said to be in substance partaken by One who was pure from all sin. Accordingly, in the next verse St. Paul bids us “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy.” Such words do not imply a return into a state of salvation, but pardon in that state, and they correspond to what he says (verses 19-22; Romans 5:2). In like manner St. John says, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another: and the blood of
Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” It seems then that there is sin which is consistent with “walking in the light,” and that from this sin “the blood of Christ cleanseth us.” And St. James says, “In many things we all offend,” that is, we all stumble. We are ever stumbling along our course while we walk; but if we actually fall in it, we fall from it. And St. Jude: “Of some have compassion, making a difference; and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.” Distinct kinds of sin are evidently implied here. And lastly, our Lord Himself had already implied that there are sins which are not inconsistent with a state of grace, when He said of His apostles, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
3. It remains to show that these sins of infirmity tend to those which are greater, and forfeit grace; which is not the least important point which comes under consideration. An illustration will explain what I mean, and may throw light on the whole subject. You know it continually happens that some indisposition overtakes a man, such that persons skilled in medicine, when asked if it is dangerous, answer, “Not at present, but they do not know what will come of it; it may turn out something very serious; but there is nothing much amiss yet; at the same time if it be not checked, and, much more, if it be neglected, it will be serious.” This, I conceive, is the state of Christians day by day as regards their souls; they are always ailing, always on the point of sickness; they are sickly, easily disarranged, obliged to take great care of themselves against air, sun, and weather; they are full of tendencies to all sorts of grievous diseases, and are continually showing these tendencies, in slight symptoms; but they are not yet in a dangerous way. On the other hand, if a Christian falls into any serious sin, then he is at once cast out of grace, as a man who falls into a pestilential fever is quite in a distinct state from one who is merely in delicate health. I conclude with advising you one thing, which is obviously suggested by what I have said. Never suffer sin to remain upon you; let it not grow old in you; wipe it off while it is fresh, else it will stain; let it not get ingrained; let it not eat its way in, and rust in you. It is of a consuming nature; it is like a canker; it will eat your flesh. And then again, sin neglected not only stains and infects the soul, but it becomes habitual. It perverts and deforms the soul; it permanently enfeebles, cripples, or mutilates us. Let us then rid ourselves of it at once day by day, as of dust on our hands and faces. We wash our hands continually. Ah! is not this like the Pharisees, unless we wash our soiled souls also? (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
I. THE CASE SUPPOSED:
1. The person here meant is one who has made some professions of religion, and has taken some steps in it.
2. The person of whom we are speaking, having walked for a longer or shorter time in the way described, is now drawing back. He has been deterred, perhaps, by the difficulties which seemed to stand in his way, and to oppose his progress; I say seemed, because if he had persevered he would have found that they would have yielded and have come to nothing. Or perhaps he has been overcome by the persuasion and influence of worldly friends and relations. Or perhaps the world has involved him in its cares or pleasures, in its business or dissipations; and these, like thorns, have choked the good seed which was beginning to shoot, and have rendered it unfruitful. Or, to mention only one other cause, he has not watched against his favourite sin; he has not denied and mortified it. To make this part of the case, however, more plain, I will state to you some few of the particular symptoms which distinguish it. When a person is drawing back in religion, he will discover his retrograde movement by many proofs, to those who know what religion is, and have the means of observing his conduct. It does not follow that he will return exactly into the same paths in which he was walking before he appeared to become a religious character; but he will plainly show that he is not now the same religious character which he lately was. He will insensibly become less correct in his conduct and conversation. He will not now be so careful of his company. He will gradually become less frequent and regular in his attendance on public ordinances; while the devotion and attention that used to mark his behaviour there are too visibly declining. If, in addition to these outward marks of declension, you were to follow this person home, and observe his conduct in private, you would see the Bible less frequently consulted, and religious duties less diligently performed. Communion with God is no longer his delight and enjoyment.
II. THE AWFUL THREATENING DENOUNCED. “If any man draw back.” If there should be a person in the state that has been here described, what does the Lord declare respecting him? “My soul shall have no pleasure in him.” We are told that the Lord does “take pleasure in His people.”--“The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him; in those that hope in His mercy.” He regards such persons with favour and complacency. He delights over them to do them good. But He hath no pleasure in them that “draw back.” He sees, but He cannot approve them. But further, the expression in the text has a still more alarming sense. It is a dreadful thing to be excluded from the lovingkindness of the Lord; but it is a far more dreadful thing to be shut up under His displeasure. Yet such is the case with the person of whom we are speaking. Such is the real meaning of the text. No persons are so offensive to Him, as those, who, having for a time walked in His ways, at length draw back. For such conduct is the greatest affront, and most direct indignity which can be offered to God. The man who draws back does in a manner say, that the ways of sin and of the world are preferable to the ways of religion. Can anything be more dishonourable to Jesus Christ, or show a greater contempt of His mercy and grace? Address three kinds of persons.
1. Those who have entered, as they suppose, on the paths of religion, and are now walking in them. Take heed that ye draw not back. To this end “be watchful and sober.” Those who would walk safely, must walk humbly. The Lord will guide and keep the meek. Watch against the sin that most easily besets you. Be regular and fervent in private prayer, and in secret communion with God. This is the life and source of religion in the soul. If you would not draw back, go forwards. Press towards the mark; grow in grace, add one Christian virtue and temper to another, so wilt your progress be clear and certain: your calling and election will be made sure.
2. I would address those who in their hearts may be conscious, at least fearful, that they have drawn back. Consider from whence you are fallen.
3. I would, in conclusion, address another class-those who perhaps may be saying to themselves: “We are free from this charge. We have never made any particular profession of religion, so that we cannot be said to have renounced it. We are at least no hypocrites. God cannot accuse us of having drawn back from His ways.” Because you are not hypocrites, and have made no pretentions to religion, shall you escape the judgment of God? Why have you not made pretentious to religion? Be assured, that so long as you are in this state, the Lord hath no pleasure in you. He abhors ungodliness and sin, and both hates and will punish all the workers of iniquity. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
The pansy only develops its beauty under cultivation, and when neglected soon relapses into its native condition. There are men who keep conspicuously moral so long as they are constantly cultivated by their minister, but who relapse into their former littleness if his care is withdrawn. Such men, like the pansies, give a deal of trouble. But if you want to exhibit either them or the flower, you have no option but to give them constant cultivation. Whether the result in either case is worth the trouble is another matter. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
All do not reach home who set out for it
I heartily desire that ye would mind your country, and consider to what direction your soul setteth its face; for all come not home at night who suppose they have set their face heavenward. (S. Rutherford.)
Draw back unto perdition
Apostates have martial law, they run away, but into hell-mouth, Runaways are to be received as enemies, and to be killed wherever they be found.
Dr. Donne says that Lot’s wife looked back and God never gave her leave to look forward again. God hath set our eyes in our foreheads to look forward, not backward; not to be proud of that which we have done, but diligent in that which we are to do. (E. P. Thwing.)
Way to heaven:
“I know the way to heaven,” said little Minnie to little Johnny, who stood by her side, looking on a picture-book that Minnie had in her hand. “You do?” said little John. “Well, won’t you tell me how to get there?” “Oh, yes! I’ll tell you. Just commence going up, and keep on going up all the time, and you’ll get there. But, Johnny, you must not turn back.” (New Cyclopcedia of Illustrations.)
Perdition--the state of the lost:
Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Dante’s “Inferno,” Dore’s cartoons, the weird word-painting of the pulpit, dreadful fancy pictures of hell--all of this cannot make us understand what it is to be lost. It was not to purgatory or hell that Christ went, but it was into this world of ours that He came to seek and to save the lost. They were here. To be lost is to get away from where we belong. The lost sheep, the lost prodigal, were wanderers. They were not dead, they were not in hell; but they were lost. The soul does not belong to sin and the devil; it belongs to God. And if you want to know how lost the soul is, then learn how far it has got away from God. That is the thing to know. Heaven and hell are incidentals. If you take care to be saved from your sins, to be brought back to the image of God from which you have wandered, heaven and hell will take care of themselves. Now, if you would know how lost you are, put your life, with all its selfishness and littleness, beside the life of Jesus; your motives by His, your thoughts by His, your heart by His. Try and see how far you ]lave got away from the perfect image of the God-Man. He is the perfect specimen of man, of which the rest of us are ruins, it matters not how magnificent those ruins may be. He shows us a specimen of man who is not lost. The image of Christ will teach us more about the lost than Dore’s cartoons could ever do. (R. S. Barrett.)
Believe to the saving of the soul
I. THE NATURE OF FAITH.
1. Belief in another’s testimony. We go to places, and attend meetings; we write letters, and maintain intercourse with others; we transact business, and conduct our affairs; we sail for foreign ports; we do ten thousand things, trivial or important, simply on the testimony of others, because we believe in them and what they say.
2. Belief in God’s testimony. His testimony is contained in the Scriptures. In them He reveals His nature, perfections, government and laws; His relations and designs towards us; judgment to come, and future states of being; things unseen and eternal. We accept the testimony--that it is from Him, and, consequently, that what it declares and unfolds, promises and threatens, is true and real. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.”
3. Belief in God’s testimony concerning the Redeemer. He has testified that Jesus Christ is His eternal, only-begotten, well-beloved Son, one with Him in nature and operation; that “in the fulness of the time” He was born of a woman, became partaker of flesh and blood, and was made in our likeness,” &c. We believe the testimony concerning Jesus Christ, because He who testifies cannot deceive.
4. Trust in Christ as our Saviour. Believing the testimony God has given us concerning His Son, concerning His Divine person and mediatorial office--that He came “to seek and to save the lost.” We cast ourselvesunreservedly and wholly on Him; we confidently give up ourselves to Him; we trust in Him.
II. THE ORIGIN OF FAITH.
1. It is of God. The Godhead is the fountain of all blessings, the primary cause of all gracious effects. We have neither the inclination nor the ability to believe unto salvation. The desire and strength must be granted. If we have a true apprehension of our demerit and exposure to perdition, and are disposed to flee to Christ: and if we have a full persuasion of His sufficiency to save, and are able to cast ourselves on Him, it is of Divine favour and operation.
2. God produces faith by the Holy Spirit. Convicted, illumined and made willing by the power of the Holy Ghost, we realise our sinfulness, our awful danger; we see Christ in the beauty and excellency of His Divine person, and in the suitableness and sufficiency of His atoning work; and we surrender every other ground of hope, and rest altogether and only on Him for salvation.
III. THE INSTRUMENT OR MEANS BE WHICH FAITH IS PRODUCED AND MAINTAINED. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
IV. THE DEGREES OF FAITH. The rock on which saved sinners stand is equally stable to all, but the foothold of all is not equally firm. Faith may decline; how far it would be difficult to determine. Even the believer, in a time of desertion and darkness, may question his interest in Christ, and fear coming short of heaven. On the other hand, faith is sometimes strong.
V. THE EFFECTS AND EVIDENCES OF FAITH.
1. It imparts peace. The storm is changed into a calm. The dark night is past, and morning dawns. The fever, the agony, is over. And in proportion as faith is maintained, so is peace. If faith languish, and be temporarily interrupted, distress of soul returns; if it flourish, and be strong and vigorous, tranquillity continues.
2. It produces holiness. “The operation of God,” its tendency is to godliness, A holy principle, it produces holy practice; good seed, it yields good fruit; a pure spring, pure streams flow from it; a latent power, it manifests itself in godly deeds.
3. It purifies the heart. A believing sight of Christ crucified, imparted by the Holy Ghost, reveals the terrible evil of sin, and fills us with repugnance of it. Faith in vigorous exercise, we cannot but loathe sin. The heart purified, sanctified, “holiness to the Lord” shall be inscribed on all pertaining to us.
4. In producing holiness, faith works by love. Believing in Jesus Christ, we are assimilated, though very imperfectly, to His human disposition and conduct. How attractive and effective are words and deeds of love I Faith and love are beautiful graces and potent factors.
5. It overcomes the world. (Alex. McCreery.)
How to own ourselves:
The writer uses a somewhat uncommon word in this clause, which is not altogether adequately represented by the translation “saving.” Its true force will be apparent by comparing one or two of the fear instances in which it occurs in the New Testament. For example, it is twice employed in the Epistles to the Thessalonians; in one case being rendered, “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain” (or, more correctly, to the obtaining of) “salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ”; and in another, “called to the obtaining of glory, through Jesus Christ.” It is employed twice besides, in two other places of Scripture, and in both of these it means “ possession.” So that, though substantially equivalent to the idea of salvation, there is a very beautiful shade of difference which is well worth noticing. The thought of the text is substantially this--those who believe win their souls; they acquire them for their possession. We talk colloquially about “people that cannot call their souls their own.” That is a very true description of all men who are not lords of themselves through faith in Jesus Christ. “They who believe to the gaining of their own souls” is the meaning of the writer here.
I. First, then, IF WE LOSE OURSELVES WE WIN OURSELVES. All men admit in theory that a self-centred life is a blunder. Jesus Christ has all thoughtful men wholly with Him when He says, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life shall find it.” There is no such way of filling a soul with blessedness and of evolving new capacities as self-oblivion for some great cause, for some great love, for some great enthusiasm. Many a woman has found herself when she held her child in her arms, and in the self-oblivion which comes from maternal affections and cares has sprung into a loftier new life. But whilst all these counterpoises to the love of self are, in their measure, great and blessed, not one of them will so break the fetters from off a prisoned soul and let it out into the large place of glad self-oblivion as the course which our text enjoins when it says: If you wish to forget yourselves, to abandon and lose yourselves, fling yourselves into Christ’s arms, and by faith yield your whole being, will, trust, purposes, aims, everything--yield it all up to Him; and when you can say, “We are not our own,” then first will you belong to yourselves and have won your own souls. Nothing else is comparable to the talismanic power of trust in Jesus Christ. When thus we lose ourselves in Him we find ourselves, and find Him in ourselves. I believe that a life must either spin round on its own axis, self-moved, or else it must be drawn by the mass and weight and mystical attractiveness of the great central sun, and swept clean out of its own little path to become a satellite round Him. Then only will it move in music and beauty, and flash back the lustre of an unfading light. Self or God--one or other will be the centre of every human life. It is well to be touched with lofty enthusiasms; it is well to conquer self in the eager pursuit of some great thought or large subject of study; it is well to conquer self in the sweetness of domestic love; but through all these there may run a perverting and polluting reference to myself. Affection may become but a subtle prolongation of myself, and study and thought may likewise be tainted, and even in the enthusiasm for a great cause there may mingle much of self-regard; and on the whole there is nothing that will sweep out, and keep out, the seven devils of selfishness except to yield yourselves to God, drawn by His mercies, and say, “I am not my own; I am bought with a price.” Then, and only then, will you belong to yourselves.
II. Secondly, IF WE WILL TAKE CHRIST FOR OUR LORD WE SHALL BE LORDS OF OUR OWN SOULS. I have said that self-surrender is self-possession. It is equally true that self-control is self-possession; and it is as true about this application about my text as it was about the former, that Christianity only says more emphatically what all moralists say, and supplies a more efficient means of accomplishing the end which they all recognise as good. For everybody knows that the man who is a slave to his own passions, lusts, or desire--that the man who is the sport of circumstance, and yields to every temptation that comes sweeping round him, as bamboos bend before every blast--is not his own master. He “dare not call his soul his own.” What do we mean by being self-possessed, except this, that we can so rule our more fluctuating and sensitive parts as that, notwithstanding appeals made to them by external circumstances, they do not necessarily yield to these. He possesses himself who, in the face of antagonism, can do what is right. Trust in Jesus Christ, and let Him be your Commander-in-Chief, and you have won your souls Let Him dominate them, and you can dominate them. If you will give your wills into His hands, He will give them back to you and make you able to subdue your passions and desires. What does some little rajah, on the edge of our great Indian Empire, do when troubled with rebels that he cannot subdue? He goes and makes himself a feudatory of the great central Power at Calcutta, and then down comes a regiment or two and makes very short work of the rebellion that the little kinglet could do nothing with. If you go to Christ and say to Him, “Dear Lord, take my crown from my head and lay it at Thy feet. Come Thou to help me to rule this anarchic realm of my own soul,” you will win yourself.
III. Thirdly, IF WE HAVE FAITH IN CHRIST WE ACQUIRE A BETTER SELF. The thing that most thoughtful men and women feel after they have gone a little way into life is not so much that they want to possess themselves, as that they want to get rid of themselves--of all the failures and shame and disappointment and futility of their lives, and that desire may be accomplished. We cannot strip ourselves of ourselves by any effort. The bitter old past keeps living on, and leaves with us seeds of weakness and memories that sometimes corrupt, and always enfeeble; memories that seem to limit the possibilities of the future in a tragic fashion. Ah, we can get rid of ourselves; and, instead of continuing the poor, sin-laden, feeble creatures that we are. The old individuality will remain, but new tastes, new aspirations, aversions, hopes, and capacities to realise them, may all be ours. You can lose yourselves, in a very deep sense, if, trusting in Jesus Christ, you open the door of the heart to the influx of that new life which is His best gift. Faith wins a better self, and we may each experience, in all its blessedness, the paradox of the apostle when he said, “I live “ now, at last, in triumphant possession of this better life: “I live” now, I only existed before; “yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” And with Christ in me I first find myself.
IV. Lastly, IF BY FAITH WE WIN OUR SOULS HERE, WE SAVE THEM FROM DESTRUCTION HEREAFTER. I have said that the word of my text is substantially equivalent to the more frequent and common expression, “salvation”; though with a shade of difference, which I have been trying to bring out. And this substantial equivalence is more obvious if you will note that the text is the second member of an antithesis, of which the first is, “we are not of them which draw back into perdition.” So, then, the writer sets up, as exact opposites of one another, these two ideas, perdition or destruction, on the one hand; and the saving or winning of the soul on the other. Therefore, whilst we must give due weight to the considerations which I have already been suggesting, we shall not grasp the whole of the writer’s meaning unless we admit also the thought of future. So, then, you cannot be said to have won your souls if you are only keeping them for destruction. And such destruction is clearly laid down here as the fate of those who turn away from Jesus Christ. Now it seems to me that no fair interpretation can eject from that word “perdition,” or “destruction,” an element of awe and terror. However you may interpret the ruin, it is ruin utter of which it speaks. Now, remember, the alternative applies to each of us. It is a case of “either--or” in regard to us all. If we have taken Christ for our Saviour, and, as I said, put the reins into His hands and given ourselves to Him by love and submission and confidence, then we own our souls, because we have given them to Him to keep, “and He is able to keep that which is committed to Him against that day.” But I am bound to tell you, in the plainest words I can command, that if you have not thus surrendered yourself to Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, His intercession, His quickening Spirit, then I know not where you find one foothold of hope that upon you there will not come down the overwhelming fate that is darkly portrayed in that one solemn word. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
It is not the quantity of thy faith that shall save thee. A drop of water is as true water as the whole ocean. So a little faith is as true faith as the greatest. A child eight days old is as really a man as one of sixty years; a spark of fire is as true fire as a great flame; a sickly man is as true living as a well man. So it is not the measure of thy faith that saves thee--it is the blood that it grips to that saves thee; as the weak hand of a child that leads the spoon to the mouth, will feel as well as the strong arm of a man; for it is not the hand that feeds thee--albeit, it puts the meat into thy mouth, but it is the meat carried into the stomach that feeds thee. So if thou canst grip Christ ever so weakly, He will not let thee perish. (J. Welsh.)
Gripped by the Lord
A convert, at the Golden Lane Mission, in London, said: “I’m a corster and doin’ well, for I’ve got nearly a score o’ barters. Many a time I’ve had a lark at the meeting, and tried to upset ‘era. One day the Lord spoke to my ‘art, an’ it reeled ready to bust in me--an’ I couldn’t sleep until I got down on my knees an’ prayed for forgiveness. Since then I’ve had plenty o’ things tryin’ to pull me back from the Lord, but He’s got such a firm grip that I’m not afeerd.”
What and how to believe:
“Can you tell me,” said an unhappy sceptic to a happy old saint, “just what is the gospel you believe, and how you believe it?” She quietly replied, “God is satisfied with the work of His Son--that is the gospel I believe; and I am satisfied with it--that is how I believe it.” (J. H. Brooks, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hebrews 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany