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Let brotherly love continue
WHAT IS BROTHERLY LOVE? It is that feeling of mutual regard, subsisting among the members of the faithful, which is felt to be due from one brother to another, and without which, in the intercourse of domestic life, there could be neither peace in families nor comfort in society. If, though hatred should not exist among them, there were yet no cordial affection, nothing like a desire to promote each other’s welfare, the members of that family would deprive themselves of the most fruitful source of enjoyment still permitted to fallen human nature. But brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus form but one family in the eyes of our common Parent; and He has commanded them to love as brethren.
II. How IS BROTHERLY LOVE TO BE CULTIVATED AND ATTAINED? There may be differences of sentiment and practice in many particulars, which human infirmity will always occasion, even among those who are endeavouring to find the way to the same heavenly city. But there must be a reception of the Lord Jesus; in all His offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, and a desire to submit to the guidance of His Word, and to be led by the gracious direction of His Spirit, as a foundation for that brotherly love in which we are commanded to live. Common feelings imply common principles; and the peculiar love of Christians must have the peculiar faith of Christians for its basis and origin.
III. How MAY BROTHERLY LOVE MOST SECURELY CONTINUE?
1. Of course the first object, with this view, should he to retain the feelings in which that pure affection for the Christian brotherhood originated; to recollect, from day to day, that” one is our Master, even Christ, and that all we are brethren”; and still more especially to look upon every trait of Christian character as a link of attachment, a feature in that family likeness which belongs to all the faithful, and gives them an instinctive interest in each other’s well-being. But, after all, the chief preservative of this characteristic grace of Christianity is, the love of Christ Himself, which will always necessarily expand in love for the brethren.
2. But, further; if we desire this mutual regard for all the brethren to continue among us, and to grow, we must attend to two things.
(1) We must be on the watch to do those actions which have a tendency to promote and to strengthen brotherly love. We must inquire into each other’s wants, with a view to relieve them, and thus exercise the affections which we wish to cultivate.
(2) We must be careful to remove those impediments which thwart and retard its growth. Now, there are a number of little causes, which, by being suffered to grow up in the bosoms of Christians, tend to narrow their affections, and restrain that brotherly love which ought to be their delight. Differences of taste will sometimes, if not controlled, engender personal dislikes, against which a wise man can never be too much on his guard. It is surprising how often some slight, but frequently recurring, peculiarities of manner will produce a distaste for the society of a person who is yet a Christian.
3. Again; every man has his infirmities, his failings, his besetting sins. There is no habit more injurious to the exercise of brotherly love than that of dwelling unnecessarily on the defects of those whom we are bound to love as brethren. Whatever be your neighbour’s faults, he is still your brother, for whom Christ died. I have not now spoken of the duty of forgiveness, because, among those who are Christians indeed, the occasions for the exercise of this virtue ought to be rare. But yet a forgiving disposition is so essential an attribute of Christianity that brotherly love cannot be cultivated without it.
4. But the grand instrument for the removal of all impediments to our charity, from within or from without, is intercessory prayer. (E. G. Marsh, M. A.)
A brother is a hallowed name. Born of the same parents, nursed with the same untiring, tender care, dependent on the same protection, and sharing in the same blessings of the same common hearthstone, expectant heirs of a common inheritance, the tie that binds me to my brother is one most sacred in its nature, and nothing ought to be allowed to injure, much lest to destroy, this hallowed relationship.
I. BROTHERLY LOVE MAY BE DISTURBED AND SOMETIMES SEVERED. Christianity does not deprive us of our individuality. With the same inspired truth before us we differ, honestly, in our opinions as to the meaning or extent of that truth. We still have our pride of opinion. Again, we are liable to have our preferences and prejudices as well as our opinions. Here is need for the exercise of that charity “that thinketh no evil”; that, in honour, prefers another to itself. Love is magnetic. It attracts pure hearts together and all to God. It throws its wondrous power over sinful opposition, and with more than the skill of Orpheus is a true tamer of wild beasts. Love is the great law of gravity in God’s spiritual universe; it binds each orb and keeps it coherent, while it rolls all in harmony around the grand central sun. Love is the vitalising principle of truth and experience and duty. Love concentrates individual piety in intense beauty in the character of the Church, while it unifies and employs all the strength of the Church in its sacred mission on the earth.
II. Again, THERE IS THE PURPOSE FORMED BY EACH LOVER OF THE SAVIOUR THAT BROTHERLY LOVE SHALL CONTINUE. The first approaches of the small foxes that injure the vines are carefully guarded against. Special care is taken to put out the least spark of “envy, or malice, or uncharitableness,” that the enemy may throw into the soul. The little courtesies of Christian as well as polite society are tendered with suitable delicacy, and “ little deeds of kindness” are kept busily at work receiving and reciprocating true brotherly love.
III. BROTHERLY LOVE ACCORDS TO OTHERS WHAT WE CLAIM FOR OURSELVES, AND MORE--for, in true humility, in honour it “esteems others better than itself.” It is deferential, forbearing, and forgiving. To rejoice in the success of a brother, more than in our own, is strong evidence that we “have been with Jesus,” and breathed largely of His Spirit. “Let brotherly love continue.”
1. This should be the theory and practice of the ministers and officers of the Church.
2. Among different denominations of Christians this should be observed.
3. Among members of the same Church this apostolic injunction is a vital necessity. It is utterly opposed to detraction of the gifts, ability, and usefulness either of ministers or of any member of the Church.
4. We should cultivate this principle of brotherly love, for through it we must show, by contrast with unsanctified human nature, that Christ’s religion makes us gentle, kind, patient, and forgiving; and as Christ’s history is the loveliest exhibition of Divine love, so we must reflect the highest honour on our once crucified but now risen Lord, by loving the brethren.
5. Nowhere is there a more attractive picture of genuine piety than in “ the fellowship of the saints.” (W. H. Anderson, D. D.)
Love one another:
Love is one of the most important and distinctive of all Christian graces, and some of the churches seem to have been distinguished by a great abundance of it. Writing to the Thessalonians, the apostle says: “Concerning brotherly love, ye have no need that I write unto you.” “I thank God for all the grace that has abounded in you; still let it continue.” Let us now glance at the objects of brotherly love. In the first place, it must mean Christian brotherhood. Only as we love them for Christ’s sake have we any true brotherly love. But what is to be the rule of our brotherly love? It is to be after the measure and the pattern of our Lord’s love to us. This is the revealed standard, and it has been set before us most plainly again and again. When the Saviour announced it to His disciples He said: “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you,” and very soon after He refers to it again and says: “This is My commandment, that ye love one another.” Then He refers to the strongest proof of love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” The Apostle Paul said: “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us,” and the Apostle John said: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Why, this laying down of His life is the mystery of redemption, the strongest revelation of the Divine compassion, the innermost sanctuary of the absolute goodness. How can we attain to this standard of love? It is a good rule--aim high, or you will never excel. Ay, and this, too, is needed--for brotherly love has a good deal to do, to endure, and to give--a heart divinely tender, a hand divinely strong, a soul divinely generous. And now consider some reasons why we should join the apostle in his desire: “Let brotherly love continue.” First, it has a power of living and growing. Brotherly love is a living power. We may well and consistently say, “Let it continue.” In the trials that will come of the furthering of the cause of Christ, let brotherly love ever continue. The want of it hinders more than almost anything else. Besides, the presence and power of it is mightily helpful. The Saviour prayed that His disciples might be all one--not in oneness of ceremonial and creed, but in character and life with the Father and with the Son. But that was only to secure another object--that the world might know, that the world might believe that the Father had sent the Son. This was the direct effect produced by the descent of the new Christian life on the Day of Pentecost. The primitive disciples were few and poor, unlearned and despised. Yet by moral force alone they emptied the temples and demolished the altars, vanquished Caesar, the philosophers and priests, and changed the aspect of the world. By what? Supremely by the vision of the Crucified--that manifestation of matchless love, which at once showed what love for sinners was and could do. And next to that was the image of brotherly love, a Divine creation, sent amongst men. In a world where the few were tyrants and knew no mercy, and the many crushed and toiling slaves that found no pity--lo! they looked up, saw this new creation--men loving one another--and they said: “See how these Christians love one another!” and their hearts were eased, and a new life began in them, and a new life was conferred upon them. Was it so? There is no question. Then “let brotherly love continue.” Further, brotherly love is for the edification and establishment of the cause of Christ. Paul says: “Knowledge puffeth up; charity edifieth.” The great appointed force for all Christians, where by each believing man may attain to a full salvation, is faith; but faith works by love. Christian fidelity consists not merely in speaking the truth--you only want a hot temper to do that sometimes--but in speaking the truth in love--a very rare and a very difficult thing. In the midst of all infirmities andsufferings to have a patience that never frets and an energy that never tires, forbearing one another in love--oh, there is the calm and glow of the divinest life that can possess the soul of a man I God grant that this grace of love may abide with you, because it edifies every way and everywhere. Let it continue in the midst of the infirmities and sufferings of life. One brother is rash, another sluggish; one vain, another proud; one rude, another sensitive; one shy, another forward. Amidst all imperfections there is nothing so good and nothing so helpful as brotherly love--meek, generous, thinking no evil, seeking not its own, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. And in one way or another all have their sufferings. These sufferings are to us a great mystery; yet one feels that they furnish a grand field for the exercise of brotherly love in which to speak its kind words, do its best deeds, win its triumphs, and shine forth in all its glory. Brotherly love is also a sign of grace, and a good one. A sign of grace, I say, and a blessed sign of grace, a mark of the true Church if you try to get it and keep it. Finally, “let brotherly love continue” until it return unto glory; for by Divine appointment it shall live in heaven and be perfect there. (John Aldis.)
The duty of brotherly love
1. There is the express command of God and of Christ in regard to it. It is a permanent obligation.
2. The relationship continues, and so should the affection; the bond of brotherhood abides, and the love of the brotherhood should abide also.
3. The fountain from which it flows continues, and so also should the stream that flows from it.
4. The necessity for its cultivation continues,
(1) You have need of it.
(2) Your brethren have need of it; for oh, you know not how you grieve and wound them.
(3) The glory of Christ and the triumphs of the gospel need it. (Thos. Main, D. D.)
The preservation of brotherly love:
Brotherly love is very apt to be impaired if we do not endeavour continually to preserve it. It is a part of the wisdom of faith to consider aright the occasions of the decay of mutual love, and the means of its preservation. Without this we cannot comply with this caution and injunction in a due manner.
I. The CAUSES OF THE DECAY OF THIS LOVE, whence it doth not continue as it ought, are
2. Love of this present world.
3. Abounding of lusts in the hearts of men.
4. Ignorance of the true nature, both of the grace and the exercise of it, in its proper duties.
5. Principally, the loss of a concernment in the foundation of it, which is an interest in gratuitous adoption, and the participation of the same spirit, the same new nature and life. Where this is not, though conviction of truth and the profession of it may for a season make an appearance of this brotherly love, it will not long continue.
II. THE OCCASIONS OF ITS DECAY AND LOSS ARE
1. Differences in opinion and practice about things in religion.
2. Unsuitableness of natural tempers and inclinations.
3. Readiness to receive a sense of appearing provocations.
4. Different, and sometimes inconsistent secular interests.
5. An abuse of spiritual gifts, by pride on the one hand, or envy on the other.
6. Attempts for domination, inconsistent in a fraternity; which are all to be watched against.
III. THE MEANS OF ITS CONTINUANCE OR PRESERVATION ARE
1. An endeavour to grow and thrive in the principle of it, or the power of adopting grace.
2. A due sense of the weight or moment of this duty, from the especial institution and command of Christ.
3. Of the trial which is committed thereunto, of the sincerity of our grace, and the truth of our sanctification. For “by this we know that we are passed from death unto life.”
4. A due consideration of the use, yea, necessity of this duty to the glory of God, and edification of the Church; and
5. Of that breach of union, loss of peace, disorder and confusion, which must and will ensue on the neglect of it.
6. Constant watchfulness against all those vicious habits of mind, in self-love, or love of the world, which are apt to impair it.
7. Diligent heed that it be not insensibly impaired in its vital acts; such as are patience, forbearance, readiness to forgive, unaptness to believe evil, without which no other duties of it will be long continued.
8. Fervent prayer for supplies of grace enabling us thereunto, with sundry others of a like nature. And if we judge not this duty of such importance as to be constant in the use of these means for the maintenance of it, it will not continue. (John Owen, D. D.)
I. ITS NATURE.
1. Unity in sentiment.
2. Union of feeling.
3. Union of effort.
II. THE DESIRABLENESS OR IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN UNION.
1. The teachings of Scripture.
2. The example of the early Christians.
3. The evils of division.
4. Christians are engaged in the same cause.
5. Union is strength.
6. Union is promotive of happiness.
7. It is only by the exercise of that love, which is the substratum of union, that one can resemble God, and become imbued with the spirit of heaven. (W. C. Whitcomb.)
Motives to brotherly love
1. Brotherly love is a grace absolutely necessary. It is the foundation whereon all duties that have relation to the brethren are erected.
2. Brotherly love is one of the fairest and most glorious flowers in the Christian garden. It makes men amiable before God and man. It sends forth a sweet fragrant savour wheresoever it is.
3. Such is the life and vigour of brotherly love, as it puts on them in whom it is unto all duties. A stronger incitation and enforcement thereunto cannot be given.
4. So violent and irresistible is the power of love, as it will pass through all difficulties, and overthrow all obstacles. It will not be hindered from doing the good it should do.
5. Love is as salt, which infuseth a savoury and wholesome taste into such things as would otherwise be fresh and flashy. It is therefore joined with sundry other duties for this very purpose, even to season them. The apostle so far commends love in this kind, as he maketh all things unsavoury and unprofitable without it (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). He therefore giveth this general advice, “Let-all your things be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
6. Love hath a strong operation on others. It is a fire which heateth the things that are near it. As apprehension of God’s love to us works love in us to God (1 John 4:19), so others’ apprehension of our love to them will make them love us. And as love puts us on to all kindness unto them, so their love of us will put them on to do all kindness unto us. David and Jonathan.
7. Love is one of the most comfortable graces that a man can have. It gives evidence to others, and brings assurance to a man’s own soul of the love of God to him, of his right to Jesus Christ, of the Spirit’s abode in him, and of his right to the heavenly inheritance.
8. Love is an especial means of strengthening and establishing the kingdom of Christ. It unites the subjects and members of that kingdom in one, which is a means of great stability.
9. The nearest union that is betwixt any in this world is betwixt professors of the faith, and that in their mutual relation one to another, and in the joint relation that they all have to Christ. Resemblances of the nearest relation that be, are used to set this forth, as of a foundation and edifice Ephesians 2:20-21) of a vine and branches (John 15:5), of a husband and wife (Ephesians 5:32; 2 Corinthians 11:2), of a head and body (Ephesians 1:22-23). This near union should stir us up to brotherly love; for therein we love that body which is styled Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).
10. This world s hatred of saints should the more stir us up to love them. Christ enforceth this duty upon this ground (John 15:17-19). The world most hateth saints, and that, in this very respect, because they are saints.
But brotherly love is a sovereign antidote against the poison of the world’s hatred, and a precious cordial to revive and support the saint’s spirits. (W. Gouge.)
A truly pious man, of rank in society, was in the habit of entertaining persons of very humble circumstances of life, if they only gave evidence of true religion. A friend of his, who was accustomed to measure everything according to the standard of this world, pleasantly rallied him on the subject of his associates; intimating his surprise that he should admit to his hospitality and friendship persons of so obscure origin, and of so little estimation among men. He replied, in a tone of unaffected humility, that as he could scarcely hope to enjoy so elevated a rank as they, in a future world, he knew not why he should despise them in the present. The reproof came home to the feelings of the proud man, and he was silent; conscience whispering, meanwhile, how dim were his prospects of rising in the future world to an equality with the pious poor, if his Christian friend was in danger of falling below them.
Brotherly love among the early Christians
A striking instance of the brotherly love of the early Christians transpired in the great plague that raged round Alexandria, during the reign of Gallienus. At the first appearance of the symptoms, the heathen drove the infected man from their sight; they tore themselves from their dearest connections; they threw their friends half-dead into the streets, and left their dead unburied. But, in contrast with this cruel selfishness, “the Christians, in the abundance of their brotherly love,” as their Bishop Dionysius says, “did not spare themselves, but mutually attending each other, they would visit the sick without fear, and ministering to each other for the sake of Christ, cheerfully gave up their lives with them. Many died after their care had restored others to health. Many, who took the bodies of their Christian brethren into their hands and bosoms, and closed their eyes, and buried them with every mark of attention, soon followed them in death.”
The text derives much of its importance from the times in which it was written.
They were perilous times for Christians. The disciples of Christ had often to flee to strange cities, and in entertaining some stranger, a man might find he had entertained a Christian, or had given shelter and food to a messenger or angel of the Church, and he would be more than repaid by the discourse and benediction of the wayfarer.
I. SMALL DUTIES ARE OFTEN ENFORCED BY GREAT PROMISES. Small duties, like small mercies, are often overlooked. God has scattered His gifts over life’s pathway, we mistake them for wild flowers or mere weeds; but they yield fragrance when pressed by our worn and weary feet. Life is made up, to a great extent, of small things,--they give symmetry and beauty to character, and make up the proportions of life; they are necessary to the order of the family and the harmony of the home; their absence would soon be detected in the irregular movements of the simple machinery, or in the note of dissonance which would mar the music of life. There are numerous instances in the past, in which pity to the oppressed and the captive, kindness to the stranger, and charity to man, were enforced by great promises; by the promise oftentimes of “living long in the land which the Lord their God had given them.” And so in the text men are to entertain strangers because some “have entertained angels unawares.”
II. OUR MINISTRATIONS MAY BE AS IMPORTANT FOR OUR SAKE AS FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE TO WHOM THEY ARE RENDERED. We get, in one sense, as much good by giving, as we confer on those who receive our gifts. We are to be merciful, that thus we may imitate God. Hospitality is of importance, because it involves a genial nature,--a large, loving heart, consideration and care for man. A man who is not a lover of hospitality is in danger of living to himself, shutting up life within himself, being separate and divided from his fellows. Man is a social being, and he who would have friends “must show himself friendly.” Apparently incidental circumstances often lead to great and unexpected results. An introduction to a stranger--an act of courtesty--a few passing words, have led to results which have influenced all the future. Men have only thought of entertaining a stranger, and they have entertained an angel. We are to do life’s duties; we are to be generous and hospitable if no angel ever enters our tent; we are to entertain strangers, though they may never turn out to be angels.
III. THE PRECEPT ENJOINS ON US BENEVOLENCE AND LARGENESS OF HEART. Men are too much accustomed to live with men of their own class, with men who read the same books, think the same thoughts, and live the same kind of life; they do not know men out of their circle, they do not receive the benefit which results from freshness of thought, and interchange of sentiment, and deeper and warmer feeling. (H. J. Boris.)
In hospitality these things are required:
1. That we do it frequently. One swallow makes not a spring. The receiving of a stranger once makes not a hospitable man. We must make a daily use and occupation of it. It was the continual practice of Lot and Abraham, as may appear by their behaviour.
2. It must be willingly. We must not tarry till strangers offer themselves. We must pull them in, as Abraham and Lot did. We must constrain them, as Lydia did St. Paul and Silas.
3. Cheerfully without grudging (1 Peter 4:9), we must not repine at it, speak hardly of them when they be gone.
4. Meekly; not receive them after a stately and lord-like manner; but after a meek manner, as if we were rather beholden to them, than they to us. They be the brethren of Christ, the sons of God; we are not worthy of such guests.
5. Abundantly; according to that ability wherewith God hath blessed us. If we have but a little, let them have a little, as the widow of Sarepta dealt with Elias. If we have a great portion of God’s blessings, let them taste of them.
6. We must do it perseveringly: be not weary of well doing. Hospitality is a good thing, be not weary of it. Let thy house be open to good men all the days of thy life. But alas, this is a hard doctrine, who can abide it; we are too much wedded to the world: yea, they that make a great show of Christianity, are ready to say with Nabal,” Shall I take my bread and my water, and my flesh, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be? “Oh forget not this duty. Here he means such strangers especially as are compelled to forsake their country for the gospel’s sake; but it is to be extended to all.
It is an excellent duty, and we have many spurs to prick us to it.
1. God requires it (Isaiah 58:7).
2. We have many ensamples for it.
3. We ourselves may be strangers, therefore do as ye would be done to.
4. The want of it hath been grievously punished, it was the overthrow of the whole tribe (Judges 20:1-48.).
5. In receiving men that are strangers, we may receive angels. Preachers which be God’s angels, nay, Christ Himself (Matthew 25:6).
6. It is gainful for this life, and that which is to come. (W. Jones, D. D.)
A gracious disposition unexpectedly rewarded
I. ESPECIAL SEASONS ARE DIRECTIONS, AND CONSTRAINING MOTIVES UNTO ESPECIAL DUTIES. And he who on such occasions will forget to receive strangers, will not long remember to retain anything of Christian religion.
II. OUR HEARTS ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED UNTO IN OCCASIONAL DUTIES, IF WE PRESERVE THEM NOT IN A CONTINUAL DISPOSITION TOWARDS THEM. If that be lost, no arguments will be prevalent to engage them unto present occasions.
III. THAT THE MIND OUGHT CONTINUALLY TO BE ON ITS WATCH, AND IN A GRACIOUS DISPOSITION TOWARDS SUCH DUTIES AS ARE ATTENDED WITH DIFFICULTIES AND CHARGE. Such as that here commanded to us, without which, we shall fail in what is required of us.
IV. EXAMPLES OF PRIVILEGES ANNEXED TO DUTIES, WHEREOF THE SCRIPTURE IS FULL, ARE GREAT MOTIVES AND INCENTIVES TO THE SAME, OR THE LIKE DUTIES.
V. FAITH WILL MAKE USE OF THE HIGHEST PRIVILEGES THAT EVER WERE ENJOYED ON THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES, TO ENCOURAGE UNTO OBEDIENCE, THOUGH IT EXPECTS NOT ANYTHING OF THE SAME KIND ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE SAME DUTIES.
VI. WHEN MEN DESIGNING THAT WHICH IS GOOD, DO MORE GOOD THAN THEY INTENDED, SHALL OR MAY REAP MORE BENEFIT THEREBY THAN THEY EXPECTED. (John. Owen, D. D.)
Kindness to stranger:
Even in later ages of the Church, there have been fine exemplifications, personal and public, of kindness to Christian strangers. Some of the most remarkable of these belong to the age of the Reformation. The heart warms towards Frankfort and Geneva, in the memory of the hospitable shelter which those venerable cities gave at that eventful epoch, to so many of our English and Scottish exiles. And not a few evangelical Protestants on the Continent of Europe now delight to extend their humble hospitality to British Christians whom an interest in “the common faith,” or even a less sacred motive, may have carried to their shores. (D. S. Patterson.)
A genius for kindness:
“There is a man,” said his neighbour, speaking of a village carpenter, “who has done more good, I really believe, in this community than any other person who ever lived in it. He cannot talk very well in prayer-meetings, and he doesn’t very often try. He isn’t worth two thousand dollars, and it’s very little that he can put down on subscription papers for any good object. But a new family never moves into the village that he does not find them out, to give them a neighbourly welcome and offer any little service he can render. He is usually on the lookout to give strangers a seat in his pew at church. He is always ready to watch with a sick neighbour, and look after his affairs for him; and I’ve sometimes thought he and his wife keep house plants in winter just for the sake of being able to send little bouquets to invalids. He finds time for a pleasant word for every child he meets, and you’ll always see them climbing into his one-horse waggon when he has no other load. He really seems to have a genius for helping folks in all sorts of common ways, and it does me good every day just to meet him on the streets.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)
Entertained angels unawares
Strangers may be angels
I. Strange PERSONS may often turn out to be “angels.”
1. It may be so with the “stranger” who enters our household.
2. It may be so with the “stranger” in our neighbourhood.
3. It may be so with the “stranger” in our church.
4. It may be so with the “stranger” in our country. Treat all men with generousness and goodwill, and you may perhaps find angelic things within them.
II. Strange THINGS may often turn out to be “angels.”
1. A “strange” truth may turn out to be an “angel,” solving difficulties, enfranchising the intellect, and making the horizon of the soul beam brightly with unearthly stars.
2. A “strange” trial may turn out to be an “angel.” Adversity, disease, bereavement, may prove blessings in disguise.
3. A “strange” charity may turn out to be an “angel.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Homilist.)
There is no reason for thinking that under the Christian dispensation angelic beings ever assume a visible form, though we have nevertheless the comforting assurance that they are all “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that shall be the heirs of salvation.” But the visit might be like that of an angel, inasmuch as the visitor might bring rich intelligence as to the glorious things of the invisible world. What is there to prevent God from enabling one of our fellow-men to discourse to us so exquisitely on the deep things of our faith and the beautiful and harmonious things of heaven, that the effect shall be literally the same as though He had commissioned a cherub or a seraph to take human form and speak in human speech? We will give you as nearly as we may the scene which was likely to occur in the early days of the Church, and which, with due allowance made for change in circumstances, might occur in our own. We suppose a Christian family gathered round their fireside in times when the profession of Christianity exposed to persecution. They are themselves almost dreading the coming of the inquisitor, and they are startled by that knock at their door, fancying that it may proceed from some minister of cruelty; but there is only an aged wanderer who solicits admission, and the storm pleads for him as eloquently as his grey hairs. Shall he be refused?” It is not unlikely that he is some poor victim whom the dogs of persecution are hunting down. If we admit him, he may be tracked to this house, and then, without being able to shield him, we shall be ruined ourselves.” But the master of that house is too staunch a character to be deterred from duty by the fear of consequences. Simply reminding his family of the precept--“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,” he opens his door, and bids the old man welcome in the name of the Lord; and the stranger, whilst partaking the proffered hospitality, enters into conversation, and, finding that they are Christians who have so kindly received him, seeks to recompense the kindness by discoursing on Christianity, and he pours forth all the treasures of his experience, and enlarges on the mysteries of redemption. He is one who has thought deeply and felt deeply; and as he dilates on the love of God in sending His own dear Son, and explains the blessed and marvellous manner in which the provisions of the gospel meet the wants of fallen creatures, or speaks thrillingly of “the exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” for which the trials of life are only a preparation, every eye is fast rivetted upon him, and his voice falls on every ear as some unearthly sound; but most sweet and most musical in its unearthliness. Is there any reason whatsoever why this might not occur, why it might not happen in any age of the Church, though more likely when persecution had caused the excellent of the earth, like the Master whom they served, to have not where to lay the head? And when the old man, wearied by his own high stretchings into mysteries and glories, had sunk to repose, would not the amazed and delighted family say, one to another, as the disciples who had journeyed to Emmaus, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures? “Would not their feeling be as though they had received into their circle the inhabitant of a better world, known, not indeed by the wing of light and the eye of fire; but by wisdom drawn from gazing upon God; and would they not exclaim, “Oh! well hath the apostle followed up his precept, ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,’ by saying, ‘for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’”? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Angels as strangers:
We often mistake the dispensations of God’s providence. They come to us as angels veiled in sadness, or in strange forms; we think they are enemies, and wrestle with them; in the darkness, the struggle goes on,--we want our way, it is not till they touch us and teach us their Divine character; it is not till the day begins to break, that we find we are in the presence of God’s messengers. We learn that we have wrestled with an angel, and then we seek to detain him, and earnestly ask for a blessing. Sorrow comes unbidden, unwelcomed; it takes its place at our fireside, sits at our table; its presence casts a shadow on us; but when we allow it to commune with us, when it touches us, our life seems changed, our thoughts and affections are transfigured. Death comes over our threshold, into our home; and life is never more the same. It reads us some lesson out of the black-letter book of God’s providence. The lesson we bear in tears, but we never more forget it. “We confess that we are strangers and sojourners here.” We begin to think of leaving this tent. “We declare plainly that we seek a better country.” Death, so dreaded by us, acts in his ministrations only as an angel, who takes our loved ones into the everlasting home of the heavens. (H. J. Bevis.)
Jupiter and Mercury once visited a village, and, disguised in human form, sought entertainment, but in vain, till they came to the thatched cottage of the aged Baucis and Philemon. Before the strangers was spread the best the place afforded, with careful attention. The unwasted wine revealed to them the gods to whom they would have sacrificed. “This inhospitable village shall pay the penalty of its impiety. You shall be free. Come with us to the top of yonder hill,” said the gods. They obeyed, and beheld the country around sink into a lake, while their own house grew into a magnificent temple, in which they served as priests until transformed together. (New Cyclopedia of Illustrations.)
Entertaining a prince unawares:
During the Prince of Wales’s stay at Torquay he has walked or driven to many of the numerous points of beauty or interest with which the coast abounds. It is related that on Friday the Prince landed at Babbicombe Bay, and after exploring its charms, in company with Captain Stephcnson and Lord Hastings, the trio betook themselves to an adjacent tea garden, and ordered refreshment. The establishment, however, is chiefly frequented by visitors who bring their own provisions, and was unprovided with any but very homely fare. A lady who was taking tea with friends in an adjoining arbour, overheard the colloquy to which the request gave rise, and courteously placed at the disposal of the gentlemen a portion of her provisions, including, of course, Devonshire cream, tea and cakes. The offer was accepted, and, the lady’s creature comforts having been freely partaken of, the recipients, the Prince especially, were warm in their acknowledgments of this display of courtesy to strangers. It was not until after they had departed that the lady became aware that she had entertained a prince unawares. (Western Times.)
Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them
Reverence is the spirit of the Christian towards that which is above him, and sympathy is his spirit towards that which is about him.
That which is above is summed up in God; that which is about us is summed up in man. We speak of sympathy as a feeling for others, where it is in the fullest sense of the phrase a feeling with others. Sympathy is not from without, not from above, as of one who looks afar off upon some object which moves his pity, but it is from within, and reaches to our whole being. He who really sympathises has in the true language of the heart entered into the feelings of another and made them his own. That which moves him belongs not to a stranger but to himself; he has mastered so far the secret of a true communion of life. And then, for the most part, and very naturally, we understand by sympathy a fellowship in suffering. We are most conscious of our need in moments of sorrow, and in such moments we can most recognise how much we owe to those who help us. But sympathy does not find scope in suffering only or even chiefly. It is co-extensive with human emotion and human experience. No doubt the service of sympathy costs us something. We must bear and feel the burden which we remove. The wonders of Christ’s infinite compassion were indeed triumphs of human love rather than of Divine authority, and as we study them we dimly discern with something of trembling awe what is meant by “the power of His resurrection” and “the fellowship of His sufferings”; how it is through pain and seeming loss and death that we gain, in Him, for others and for ourselves, the blessings of life. The service of sympathy does cost us something, but it brings abundant compensation. St. Paul has told us the secret of his unmatched influence: “I became all things to all men.” His influence flowed, that is, from his sympathy, and the transformation wrought in him by sympathy was a reality and not a superficial imitation. It is always so. Just as the great poet lives in the characters which he creates, so the great teacher makes himself the true fellow of his scholars; he regards things with their eyes, he reflects on them with their thoughts; he offers his lessons to them in the form which answers to their condition; he wins to them a larger knowledge because he enables them to see how the new grows from the old, guards their peculiar treasures, and makes these also tributary to the interpretation of his messages. As it is with the great teacher, so it is with the great leader. He who sways men must be one with them, however far removed by his personal gifts. For sympathy is not the communion of like with like, but the power of uniting things different in the embrace of a greater life. Sympathy, therefore, preserves these small differences answering to our individuality, on which the beauty of the whole order of things depends. It does not only give; it receives. He who enters into the feelings of others becomes partaker of their energy. It does not only offer; it claims. He who is seen to sacrifice himself freely for the service of another, can justly demand in return a service corresponding to his own. And both aspects of its working must be observed carefully. Till we have called out the response of action we have not attained the object of our efforts; till we have sunk ourselves in those we wish to help, we have not measured the full extent of our power, for all experience tends to show that self-surrender is the gauge of power. It cannot be otherwise, for self-surrender is the gauge of faith. It is the soul’s answer to the voice which calls us to become fellow-workers with God. That voice too often is unheard, and “when we consider our worst failures and disappointments, we must confess that words which are constantly on our lips express most truly how they have been brought to pass. Even in our highest purposes “we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,” we have pursued our ends in our own manner, we have fashioned them according to our own fancies, we have placed our own things and not the things of others in the forefront, we have not used the way of sympathy. So we have gained no entrance to the hearts of those whom we sought, and we have been cast down by the conviction of our weakness. Perhaps during that conviction we have recognised what we needed and found encouragement. For sympathy, which is the source of influence, is also the source of strength. In isolation there can be no experience of the highest human forces. It is through contact with our fellows that we feel the majesty of truth and righteousness. As we move among men, we see that our own best thoughts are shared by others, and we are invigorated by their silent support. Thus common testimony tells us that God is on our side. He has not left us desolate. He Himself works among us by His gifts, and they who have them are said to be ministers of His loving wisdom, trusting not to their own power but to His, confident not in their own foresight but in His sovereign will. So it is that as soon as we see this social destination of our several endowments, sympathy enriches us with the manifold resources of all through whom God is working. We draw strength from the very burdens which we have to bear. (Bp. Westcott.)
There are, as we think, two very different, but both highly important principles here asserted: the principle of fellowship, and the principle of forethought. That of fellowship, for we are to feel as though bound with them in bonds: that of forethought, for we are to remember that we ourselves are also in the body, and therefore exposed to the adversities which claim our sympathy in others. Or to expound our text by the motive rather than the principle it puts forth, there are here two reasons or inducements suggested by the apostle, why Christians should be earnest in works of Christian love; the one is derived from their intimate connection with the suffering, the other from their own liability to similar visitations.
St. Paul may here be said to go even beyond what he has laid down in Romans 12:15. He requires something more than sympathy as commonly understood. One man is said to sympathise with another, who is pained when and because theft other is pained: and sympathy, as thus understood, is little more than pity or commiseration. But to suffer with another, which is actually to sympathise, goes much beyond the weeping with another; it is making the griefs of that other mine own, so that the wound is in my heart as well as in his. The members of one family actually sympathise and suffer themselves, when death has come in and snatched away one from their circle; the loss is a common loss, attecting all equally, and the sorrow of each is literally the sorrow of every other. According to the Scriptural idea Christians constitute but one body, the mystical body of Christ; and if this be the application of the acknowledged principle, that “if one member suffer all the members suffer with it,” it follows that every Christian, in the measure which he has attained towards perfection, would seem to bear in his own person the very sufferings, and to receive in his own person the very blessings allotted to those who have like precious faith with himself. And when we think how deficient we are even in such sympathy as is generally understood by the world, and which would result from universal brotherhood, we may well be staggered at finding, that the Christian standard is yet vastly higher, and that universal brotherhood would be but a stage towards universal membership. But what an image does it give us of the condition of the world, to suppose all men actuated by the consciousness of being members one of another. Beyond nature, we confess it, but not beyond grace; and the Christian is not to be content, until in relieving the distressed lie can feel that he acts on the great principle of membership. He must see to it, that he has part in the bearing, as well as in the relieving the calamity. His relieving is to be the result of his bearing; he is to relieve, that is, as one who is relieving himself, with all that activity and all that perseverance which our own personal interests are sure to elicit.
Paul descends to a lower and yet not wholly different ground: he descends from Christian membership, and takes his position on that of our own exposure to misfortunes.
“As being yourselves also in the body!” What an amount of motive is gathered into these simple words! It has been one of the natural, and, we might almost say, necessary consequences on the combination of men into societies, presenting almost every possible variety of condition and circumstances, that there has been a comparative losing sight of the equal liability of all, to the several ills to which flesh is heir.
It is very difficult not to fancy that the man of large ancestral revenues has an exemption from the contingencies and changes of want, which beset the poor peasant that tills one of its fields.
It might sound to him as a threat, whether of ignorance or insult, that it should thus be implied, that notwithstanding all his state, and all his abundance, he might come to want the morsel which we ask him to bestow. And, of course, it does need a very thorough and practical recognition of the truth, that “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof,” to be able to put aside all the appearances of security and independence, which hoarded wealth furnishes, and to view in every man, whatsoever his circumstances, a pensioner on the bounty of that omnipotent Parent, who “openeth His hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.” I would rather have the security against want, which the meanest of our villagers enjoys, whose daily bread is the subject of daily prayer and daily toil, than that of the foremost of our capitalists, who in any way gives indulgence to the sentiment of the rich man in the parable; “Soul, thou hast goods laid up for many years.” The one, indeed, has a security--the security of a prayerful dependence on God; whereas the other has no security whatever, but lies exposed to the peril of being punished for presumption. And it matters not to us, what may be the worhtly circumstances of any, nor how far they may seem to remove him from liability to poverty. If he be a man, he may come to be a starving man; and that, too, without any of those explicable occurrences and reverses, which seem to mark God’s special interference to bring round an unlooked-for catastrophe. There ought, therefore, to be to him as much cogency as to the man whose property seems jeopardised, in the motive of being himself in the body, when it is for the relief of the actually destitute that we appeal to his bounty. And this is, perhaps, the only case in which there is even the appearance of exemption from liability to the misfortunes with which we see others oppressed. It cannot be said that any one form of sorrow is appropriated to this class of men, and warded off from that; all are accessible through the same channels, and all are capable of the same ills. And is there not in consequence the greatest cogency, whosoever be the party addressed and whatsoever the affliction which asks to be remembered, in the motive of being in the body? It is the enlisting of selfishness on the side of the afflicted, and calling on us to be merciful if we would have mercy ourselves. Inexpressibly bitter would it be if living to be oppressed and deserted ourselves and to ask in vain for succour and for sympathy, we should have to remember how in our own sunshine we had cared nothing for those over whom darkness had gathered, and to feel that we were but reaping the harvest of which our own want of charity had sown all the seeds. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The fellow of suffering:
We feel our own burdens distinctly enough and our own limitations and sorrows. Now if we felt those of other people a tenth part as distinctly, we could do almost anything with them and for them. To Christ other people were real: just as real as He. God was interested in men because to Him they were lovable. “God so loved the world”; that was where redemption began. And it was not a general, diffusive kind of thing, His love was not. It was not like some great sea of translucent fog which sometimes inundates our city of a warm morning, which only has a kind of general reference to everything and no particular reference to anything. His love was rather like a sunbeam, which drops down ninety million miles upon one specific grass-blade, into one particular bird’s eye. People, indeed, are interesting as soon as we get near enough to them to feel that they are people, not things, and as soon as we get far enough into the secret of their life to discover its workings, its difficulties, its disappointments, its ambitions, its defeats, its penitences, its remorses. I believe we would love everybody we came near to if we realised what a hard time they are having. No two people would ever quarrel if they could be each other for a little while. “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Then, besides that, if we could feel the sorrow and suffering that is in a man’s life, no matter how wicked or degraded he might be, his degradation would be no barrier to kindly regard for him. If we came near enough to a bad man’s history to understand it, to see how unfortunate influences tell upon him, what susceptibilities to evil were in him, entirely independent of any choice of his own in the matter, we should find that circumstances were what made a large:part of the mischief, and that the poor fellow has had just as hard and sad a time in keeping from being worse than he is, as we have had in keeping from being worse than we are. We are sometimes surprised that Christ, who as we are told “ knew what was in man,” nevertheless was able to love man, to love all men. But that was exactly the reason why He was able. Tragedy is all about us--a good deal more tragedy than comedy; and any life becomes inter-resting as soon as, with a key wrought out of love, you unlock it and begin so to be yourself closeted on the inside of it as to feel yourself somehow involved in it, and all its difficulties to be your difficulties, and all its weaknesses and sins even to be so taken upon yourself that you commence to feel the burden of them as your burden. That is what Christ did. That is the meaning of His life; that is the distinctive quality in His redemptive work. He carried people. By becoming like them He helped them to become like Him. And as Christ can do this for each of us, because in His loving way He so perfectly understands all the ins and outs of each of us, so we, in order to make our own lives redemptive in another’s behalf, have to make a distinct and affectionate problem of his life, get on to the interior side of it, discover the impulses that play in it, the history that lies back of it, the circumstances that encompass and dominate it. These things quicken in interest as we go on. If you have commenced to read a book, and some one says to you, “Do you like it?” you will very probably answer, “I can hardly say, for I have not yet got fairly into it.” So the characters and lives of people only then begin to be interesting, when we have fairly got into them. They are then sure to be of interest, even when we treat them merely as problems to be mentally solved; how much more when we bring to them a heart fraught with personal regard and Christian sympathy. It is in this way, then, that people must be saved and lifted. I do not believe we are going to solve the problem of city and country evangelisation till we get over lumping people. When, at this season of the year, you look up into the sky of an evening, you discern a nebulous belt of light, an indiscriminate mass of stars, lying up and down the sky like a vast white cosmic rainbow. Now, telescopes, as they are directed to that great nebulae, are showing themselves competent to crumble up that mass of stellar uncertainty into myriads of little diamond-like stellar individualities, and as, year by year, the penetrating powers of telescopes are increased, this crumbling, individualising process goes steadily on, so that now we do not any longer think of the Milky Way as a mass of star stuff, but as a host of brilliant worlds, each as distinct from the rest, and as complete in itself as our own great sun, which is indeed thought to be one single flaming member of that superb host. Now, what lenses of enhanced power do for the human eye in the way of splitting up a world of filmy splendour into keen-edged points of individual light and lustre, the same thing love does for human discernment when exercised upon the mass of humanity by which, in a great city, we are environed. It crumbles the mass up into glittering individualities, each a little distinct personal world all in himself. When the sun melts the snow in the spring it tackles each little snow crystal by itself. Each sunbeam picks out its own crystal and turns it into a tear, and so is able to do a great deal in its little way and saves itself the embarrassment and weariness of thinking how many flakes there are that it can never reach; and the snow goes off. How much better that is than it would be for the sunbeams to spend all their time holding conventions in order to devise means for melting the masses of snow. The next thing, therefore, for you and me to do, is to go into the Snow-bank, if we have not already done so, and pick out our particular snow crystal, and commence melting it. (C. H.Parkhurst, D. D.)
Sympathy not scared by suffering
Sympathy for each other in suffering is not confined to mankind. “There is one trait,” says Mr. Jesse, “in the character of rooks, which is, I believe, peculiar to that sort of bird, and which does them no little credit. It is the distress which they exhibit when one of them has been killed or wounded by a gun while they have been feeding in a field or flying over it. Instead of being scared away by the report of the gun, leaving their wounded or dead companion to his fate, they show the greatest anxiety or sympathy for him, uttering cries of distress, and plainly proving that they wish to render him assistance, by hovering over him, or sometimes making a dart from the air close up to him, apparently to try and find out the reason why he did not follow them
‘While circling round and round,
They call their lifeless comrade from the ground.’
If he is wounded, and can flutter along the ground, the rooks appear to animate him to make fresh exertions by incessant cries, flying a little distance before him, and calling to him to follow them.” (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
Remembering the needs of others:
In one of Dickens’s letters referring to a notice of Tom Hood’s book which he had written for the Examiner, he says: “Rather poor, but I have not said so, because Hood is poor too, and ill besides.” (H. O. Mackey.)
Value of sympathy:
Every man rejoices twice when he has a partner of his joy; a friend shares my sorrow and makes it but a moiety; but he swells my joy and makes it double. For so two channels divide the river and lessen it into rivulets, and make it fordable and apt to be drunk up by the first revels of the Syrian Star; but two torches do not divide but increase the flame; and though my tears are the sooner dried up, when they run on my friend’s cheeks in the furrows of compassion, yet when my flame hath killed his lamp, we unite the glories and make them radiant, like the golden candlesticks that burn before the throne of God, because they shine by numbers, by unions, and confederations of light and joy. (Bp. Taylor.)
Nature of sympathy:
It is by sympathy we enter into the concerns of ethers, that we are moved as they are moved, and are never suffered to be indifferent spectators of almost anything which men can do or suffer. For sympathy may be considered as a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected. (E. Burke.)
We must not make too much of sympathy, as mere feeling … We praise feeling and praise its possessor. But feeling is only a sickly exotic in itself--a passive quality, having in it nothing moral, no temptation, and no victory. A man is no more a good man for having feeling, than he is for having a delicate ear for music, or a far-seeing optic nerve. The Son of Man had feeling--He could be “touched.” The tear would start from His eyes at the sight of human sorrow. But that sympathy was no exotic in His soul, beautiful to look at, too delicate for use. Feeling with Him led to this, “He went about doing good.” Sympathy with Him was this, “Grace to help in time of need.” (F. W. Robertson.)
Helpful sympathy self-remunerative:
It is said of the saintly George Herbert, the quaint old English church poet, that once in a walk to Salisbury, to join a musical party, he saw a poor man with a poorer horse that was fallen under his load. They were both in distress and needed present help, which Mr. Herbert perceiving, put off his canonical coat, and helped the poor man to unload, and afterwards load his horse. The poor man blessed him for it and he blessed the poor man, and was so like the Good Samaritan, that he gave him money to refresh both himself and his horse. Thus he left the poor man; and at his coming to his musical friends at Salisbury, they began to wonder that Mr. Herbert, who used to be trim and clean, so soiled and discomposed. But he told them the occasion; and when one of the company told him “he had disparaged himself by so dirty an employment,” his answer was, “that the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight, and that the omission of it would have upbraided and made discord in his conscience whensoever he should pass by that place; for if I be bound to pray for all that be in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practise what I pray for; and let me tell you, I would not willingly pass one day of my life without comforting a sad soul, or showing mercy, and bless God for this occasion.” Oh, how many might have anxious thoughts which often infest their midnight hours changed into sweet music, if they would only be more frequently seen with full hands and friendly words in the abodes of poverty and suffering! These are the places in which to attune one’s conscience to midnight harmonies.
Marriage is honourable
It is not to be denied that marriage hath its proper inconveniences.
There are peculiar cares and hindrances belonging to it. For the new relations that are acquired by it, as those of husband and wife, father and mother, master and mistress, are attended with peculiar crosses and troubles. But then it is to be considered that there is no condition of life whatsoever without inconveniences, and particularly celibacy is a great trouble of itself; it is comfortless and unarmed, exposed to hazards, and beset with dangerous temptations. But the state of wedlock, if it be wisely entered into, hath a natural tendency to a happy way of living, as it is conducing to order and government, to industry and diligence, to frugality, to stability, and to a care for futurity. It is best for the good of mankind, for the uses of human life, for the interest of the universe, and the welfare of Christian societies. But there have been always some in the world that have remonstrated against this state of life, and these are of two sorts--the religious and the witty; that is, those who would be thought to be such. Saturnius, a professed gnostic, held that marriage was of the devil, as Iremeus relates, and most of that sect cried it down as a cursed and diabolical thing. The Marcionites, the Montanists, and the Manicheans declared it to be unlawful. The Hierachites held that marriage excluded from heaven, and they admitted none but single persons into their communion. But here by the way we are to note, that the gnostics and some others, who were very fierce against marrying, practised promiscuous lust. It is an honour then to this state that it is doomed by such. Some make use of the Holy Scripture to patronise this cause; and the chief place which they allege is 1 Corinthians 7:1. We are to know, then, that when the apostle lived the times were perilous, and persecution was the allotment of the faithful Christians; and therefore that was an unfit season for embracing a conjugal life. We see then that the authority of the apostle is made use of to no purpose, because it is wholly misunderstood. Of which we cannot but be convinced, when we find in this very chapter a positive license given to the Christians to change their condition, if they saw occasion for it, and were willing to venture on the dangers which attended matrimony. “But if thou marry,” saith he, “thou hast not sinned” (verse 28). There is no absolute unlawfulness in doing so. And he condemned those heretics that taught otherwise, forbidding to marry (1 Timothy 4:3). But the witty people are another sort of men, that affect to rally upon marriage; and that they may have a full shock at it, they except against the other sex itself.
The Jewish Rabbins think themselves great wits in jeering the sex for their restless tongues and false tears, as we frequently find in their writings. Nay, they are so virulent as to publish to the world, that the honestest woman on earth is a witch, and given to enchantment and sorcery. The Arabians vote all married persons to be fools in that proverb of theirs, “If all men were wise” (that is, if they would abstain from marriage) “the world would soon be at an end.” Even some men of gravity cannot abstain from inveighing against the sex, as such Cato often said that “if the world was without women, the gods would come down and converse with men; but whilst those are here, these will never visit us.” Yea, Chrysostom, the celebrated father of the Greek Church, the famous pulpit orator, made a sermon in the dispraise of all women, and tells us that matrimony in its own nature is a sin, only by Divine permission it is excusable. In brief, he is reckoned the wittiest man that is most dexterous in defaming of women, though at the same time he defames himself. Whatever prejudiced, fanciful men may suggest, we are sure the apostle is in the right, and utters an incontestible truth, “Marriage is honourable in all.” The married state is not only lawful, but noble, appointed by God, and of Divine institution. It was first ordained in Paradise, in the state of innocency (Genesis 2:18). This gives repute and authority to wedlock, and renders it commendable. And it hath been always esteemed as such by those who have a reverence for God’s ordinance. It is observable that our Saviour Himself honoured marriage with His first miracle, gracing the solemnity by turning water into wine. Here I may take notice of the high esteem some nations have had of a married life, and how concerned they were that men should not always be single. Among the Lacedemonians there were actions brought against men for not marrying, and for marrying late; and those that lived unmarried were infamous among that people by the law. There were penalties among the Romans inflicted on those that refused to marry after such a term of years, as Tacitus and the Code testify. Every one is bound to embrace matrimony at twenty-five years of age by the Alcoran. The Tartars think this so good and excellent a thing, that they believe their god Matagai hath a wife and children. And if their sons and daughters die before they are at age, they celebrate a marriage between parties thus deceased, that they may be man and wife in the other world. Though this is very gross indeed, and is a sign they are unacquainted with what our Saviour said, “In heaven they neither marry, nor are given in marriage”; yet it shows what respect and esteem these people have for the state of wedlock, and how congruous it is to the natural reason and sentiments of mankind.
1. Marriage must be with great deliberation. There is no undertaking of man’s life that doth more require freedom of thought and choice than this doth. Plato would have no man marry before thirty, nor Aristotle before thirty-five years of age, designing thereby not peremptorily to confine persons to that computation, but to warn them against a precipitant changing of their state, and to put them in mind of acting very cautiously in this affair. Nor should they only weigh and consider the matter themselves, but apply to their friends, but especially their parents, for their advice and counsel.
2. Marry not merely for money or estate. This is the prevailing fault of men, as well as women, they court the estate rather than the person who hath it; they may be said to wed the lands and money, not the possessor. A wife is put to sale, and marriage is a mere bargain.
3. Let not the man marry the woman merely for beauty, or finery, for feature, for dress, which latter is the body’s artificial beauty.
4. Marry not a woman merely on the account of her wit, learning, or parts. Arts and sciences are not the proper talent of that sex.
5. Though you are not to marry merely for money, beauty, or wit, yet never marry one that is poor, or deformed, or a fool. A single life with indigency may be endured, but that and wedlock together are a double misery. If you be not able with your own estate and way of living to maintain a wife, never take one that hath none. Again, choose not one whose deformity is very conspicuous and remarkable, unless some extraordinary qualities and perfections compound for it, lest you should be tempted afterwards to change the object of your sight, and look upon others as more acceptable. Wherefore make choice of one who hath competent comeliness, or who by modesty mends her countenance, and gives it a beauty by blushes. Mate such a one as we know is mistress of those accomplishments and graces which are not liable to be impaired by any accidents whatsoever, that so we may ever find that in her which deserves our love. Lastly, methinks that there should be no need of advising a man or woman not to marry one that is noted for folly and weakness, for this too plainly shows that they themselves are liable to the same imputation.
6. Above all things make choice of a virtuous person, one that fears God, one whose mind is endued with a deep sense of religion, and whose conversation is regular and upright. All the aforesaid qualifications must give place to this, and without this they are mean and inconsiderable, and of no real value.
7. Next to religion good nature is to be prized most. This contains in it a peaceable and quiet temper, a sweet disposition, an obliging and winning carriage, free from all extravagant passion, wrath, and bitterness. Else a man, in a worse sense than the Duke of Venice, marries the Adriatic, is espoused to waves and storms.
8. Be careful to marry one suitable to you; suitable in age, birth, and humour. Such a one will be truly a meet-help.
9. Be well satisfied of one another’s love, chastity, and faithfulness, and increase and nourish them by all means. A wife, as Sir Thomas Overbury rightly saith, is an abbreviature of all the rest of the sex: to her husband she must be (as Eve was) all the world of womankind.
10. Let it never be known which of them is superior. Always divide and share your power.
11. Begin and proceed in the conjugal state with prayer and great devotion, and all acts of religion and piety. (J. Edwards, D. D.)
I. DIVINE INSTITUTION IS SUFFICIENT TO RENDER ANY STATE OR CONDITION OF LIFE HONOURABLE.
II. THE MORE USEFUL ANY STATE OF LIFE IS, THE MORE HONOURABLE IT IS. The honour of marriage arises much from its usefulness.
III. THAT WHICH IS HONOURABLE BY DIVINE INSTITUTION, AND USEFUL IN ITS OWN NATURE, MAY BE ABUSED AND RENDERED VILE BY THE MISCARRIAGES OF MEN; as marriage may be.
IV. IT IS A BOLD USURPATION OF AUTHORITY OVER THE CONSCIENCES OF MEN, AND A CONTEMPT OF THE AUTHORITY OF GOD, TO FORBID THAT STATE UNTO ANY, WHICH GOD HATH DECLARED HONOURABLE AMONG ALL.
V. MEANS FOR PURITY AND CHASTITY, NOT ORDAINED, BLESSED, NOR SANCTIFIED UNTO THAT END, WILL PROVE FURTHERANCES OF IMPURITY AND UNCLEANNESS, OR OF WORSE EVILS.
VI. The state of marriage being honourable in the sight of God Himself, IT IS THE DUTY OF THEM THAT ENTER THEREUNTO DULY TO CONSIDER HOW THEY MAY APPROVE THEIR CONSCIENCES UNTO GOD IN WHAT THEY DO.
VII. IN THE STATE OF MARRIAGE THERE IS REQUIRED OF MEN A DUE CONSIDERATION OF THEIR CALL UNTO IT, OF THEIR ENDS IN IT, THAT THEY ARE THOSE OF GOD’S APPOINTMENT; prayer for, and expectation of His blessing on it; reverence of Him as the great witness of the marriage covenant; with wisdom to undergo the trials and temptations inseparable from this state of life.
VIII. WHATEVER LIGHT THOUGHTS MEN MAY HAVE OF SIN, OF ANY SIN, THE JUDGMENT OF GOD CONCERNING ALL SIN, WHICH IS ACCORDING TO TRUTH, MUST STAND FOR EVER. TO have slight thoughts of sin will prove no relief unto sinners.
IX. FORNICATION AND ADULTERY ARE SINS IN THEIR OWN NATURE, DESERVING ETERNAL DAMNATION. If the due wages of all sin be death, much more is it so of so great abomination.
X. ALL OCCASIONS OF, ALL TEMPTATIONS LEADING UNTO THESE SINS, ARE TO BE AVOIDED, AS WE TAKE CARE OF OUR SOULS. (Joliet Owen, D. D.)
Whoremongers and adulterers
Whoremongers and adulterers
I. WHO ARE COMPREHENDED UNDER THIS CHARACTER. Every person will at once perceive that all who live in common fornication, or who defile the marriage-bed, are evidently comprehended in this description. Let those then tremble, and know that this is their true state and name, who, though they disdain the open and more notorious commerce, yet secretly beguile the innocent and unwary, and become the agents of Satan in the ruin of others. Neither let those deceive themselves who, though they may not traverse the ranges of unbounded lust, yet keep up a cursed league with some particular person with whom they live in a state of fornication or adultery; let them not flatter themselves with an idea that this is a small matter, or shelter themselves under the fashion or the opinion of the times; God is not ruled by caprice or fashion, nor does His eternal standard of rectitude and good vary with human desires or modes of action.
II. THE TESTIMONY OF THE WORD OF GOD AGAINST THIS SIN.
1. God has directly and expressly forbidden it in His Divine law. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is the seventh of those commandments which stand in the sacred decalogue, as the injunctions of God to mankind. And that every avenue to this sin may be stopped, and His holy displeasure against it plainly testified, He has again enforced it by taking a part of it into the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not so much as covet thy neighbour’s wife.” Nor is this law any matter of Jewish obligation only, but equally incumbent upon us; for our Lord Himself in Matthew 5:1-48. enjoins this command in a very peculiar manner, and through the whole of the New Testament it is abundantly charged and enforced (1Co 6:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:2-8; Ephesians 4:19-20; Ephesians 5:3-5).
2. We may learn God’s hatred and displeasure against these sins from the odious and alarming description given of them in the Scriptures. The author of the Book of Proverbs is peculiarly diligent in endeavouring to lay before the thoughtless sinner the snares and delusive temptations which draw men into these evils, as well as the miserable and fatal consequences which attend them. The sixth and seventh chapters are almost entirely taken up with this subject, and part of the second and ninth is employed to the same purpose. Now we must remember that it is the intention of the sacred writers in setting these things thus before us to imprint the same odious image of them on our hearts, that we may know their nature, and flee their practice. Happy if it might but thus succeed!
3. I shall, in the next place, call your attention to the dreadful threatenings which the Word of God denounces against impure sinners. This sin is declared in the Scriptures as the cause of God’s controversy with nations and with individuals (Hosea 4:1-3). And Jeremiah (chap. 5.) represents God as ready to give His people up, and to forbid His prophets to reprove them any more. His mercy and forgiveness seem to put, as it were, to a stand. And in 1 Corinthians 3:1-23., when the apostle had represented this sin as a defilement of the body, which is the Temple of God, he adds this awful word, “If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy, for the temple of God is (or ought to be) holy,” and not made a nest of unclean lusts. St. John, in the Book of the Revelation, declares the doom of whoremongers to be with the rest of notorious sinners, in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. How impiously bold then are those sinners who dare all these terrors for the gratification of a base lust! To such as have been entangled with this sin, and have a real desire to be delivered from it (as well as to those who are anxious to secure their modesty and virtue), I would suggest a few considerations.
(1) Seek for a spirit of true and hearty repentance for all the uncleanness of which you have been guilty before God; rest not in a mere wishing you had been more wise, or a dislike of your conduct from prudential maxims; but seek to God to give you true repentance by the grace of His Holy Spirit.
(2) Be ever upon your guard against the first appearance of this evil. Keep at a distance from the tempter. If you would be kept from harm, keep out of harm’s way. And this caution must be observed, not only respecting any particular person, but also the places and other occasions which may tempt you to sin.
(3) Let sinners of this kind think much of death and hell.
(4) Apply daily to the mercy-seat for the Divine aid. In the blood of Christ there is virtue to wash away the foulest guilt; in His grace there is sufficiency of power to subdue the most raging sins. (J. King, B. A.)
Let your conversation be without covetousness
Covetousness in life SHOULD BE AVOIDED.
II. Covetousness in life INTERFERES WITH CONTENTMENT. It is in the heart like the tide in the sea, allowing no rest.
III. Covetousness in life is INCONSISTENT WITH CONFIDENCE IN GOD. (Homilist.)
The heinousness of covetousness
1. It is a deceiving sin. It blinds the understanding and corrupts the judgment in a main point of happiness; for the covetous man maketh “ gold his hope, and fine gold his confidence” (Job 31:24).
2. It is an insatiable sin (Ecclesiastes 5:10). In this respect covetousness is like a dropsy which increaseth thirst by much drinking; and like a fire which by addition of fuel is the more fierce. The desire of a covetous man ariseth from abundance; and in that respect is unnatural; for nature is satisfied with sufficiency. Hunger and thirst cease when a man hath eaten and drunk that which is sufficient.
3. It is a galling sin. It works a continual vexation, and takes away all the comforts of this life (1 Timothy 6:10). There is a threefold woe that accompanieth covetousness.
(1) A woe of labour in getting wealth.
(2) A woe of trouble in keeping it.
(3) A woe of anguish in parting with it. Nothing makes death more unwelcome than a covetous desire of the things of this world.
4. It is an ensnaring sin (1 Timothy 6:9). Wealth as it is a bait to allure men to snap thereat, so it is a snare fast to hold them, and a hook to pull them down to perdition (Mark 10:23; Luke 14:18-19). It keeps many from the Word, yea, it steals away the heart of those that come to the Ezekiel 33:31).
5. It is a mother sin (1 Timothy 6:10). Fitly therefore doth the prophet thus style it evil covetousness (Habakkuk 2:9). There is no evil which a covetous man will forbear. It is a root of impiety. It draws the heart from God: so as there can be no true love nor fear of God in a covetous heart. For gain he will profane the Sabbath. It makes inferiors purloin from their superiors, and superiors to neglect their inferiors. It is a cause of much rebellion, of many treasons, murders, thefts, deceit, lying, false witness, and what not!
6. It is a growing sin. The longer men live in the world the more covetous they use to be after the world. Old men are commonly the most covetous. Herein it differeth from other violent sins, which by age abate in their violence.
7. It is a devouring sin (Matthew 13:22).
8. Iris a crying sin. The cries of them which are oppressed by covetous persons enter into the ears of the Lord. Hereupon an apostle bids them weep and howl (James 5:1). Covetousness causeth a curse from man and God. “He that withholdeth corn the people shall curse him.” As for
God’s curse, “the wrath of God cometh upon men because of these things” Ephesians 5:5-6). The apostle reckoneth covetous Persons among those that shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). (W. Gouge.)
Remedies against covetousness:
For preventing or redressing covetousness, these rules following are to be observed.
1. The judgment must rightly be informed in these two points.
(1) In the nature of true happiness.
(2) In the vanity and deceitfulness of riches.
Many learned men want this point of understanding. It is the blindness of a man’s mind that maketh him place a kind of happiness in the things of this world. If therefore we shall be rightly instructed, that happiness consisteth in matters of another kind than this world affords; surely their immoderate desire of riches could not be but much modified. He that said, “There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us” (Psalms 4:6), well discerned the difference betwixt earthly and heavenly blessings. So did he who said, “Riches profit not in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivereth from death” Proverbs 11:4).
2. The will and heart of man must follow the judgment well informed, and raise themselves up to that sphere where true happiness resteth Colossians 3:2). This will keep the heart from doting on things below. A beast which is feeding in fresh pasture will not stray into a barren heath; much less will an understanding man that finds the sweetness of heavenly blessings dote upon earthly trash (Philippians 3:8).
3. A man’s confidence must be placed on God and His providence. God’s providence is an overflowing and everflowing fountain. The richest treasures of men may be exhausted; God’s cannot be. Be therefore fully resolved of this, that “ God will provide” (Genesis 22:8). This casting of our care on God’s providence is much pressed in Scripture, as Psa 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 6:25-26), &c. By experience we see how children depend on their parents’ providence; should not we much more on our heavenly Father?
4. Our appetite or desire of riches must be moderate (Proverbs 30:8; Matthew 6:11). Be content with that portion which God gives thee, and be persuaded it is best for thee (Philippians 4:11). Contentedness and covetousness are directly opposite as light and darkness.
5. We must pray against covetousness (Psalms 119:36). (W. Gouge.)
A vile weed and a fair flower:
Is it not humiliating that the best of Christians should need to be cautioned against the worst of sins? May the consecrated become covetous? Is it possible that the regenerate may drivel into misers? Alas, what perils surround us, what tendencies are within us I It appears from our text that the children of God need also to be exhorted to cherish that most simple and natural of virtues--contentment. One would think that, at least in some instances, they would have this good thing as a matter of course. Among our villagers we have met with persons so well satisfied with their lowly lot that they would not cross the sea to gain an empire. Yet their contentment has sprung up wild as the daisies and buttercups of their own meadows, for they have not been acquainted with the blessed hope which makes trials light to bear. Do Christians, then, need to be admonished with precepts, and stimulated with promises, to make them yield the commonplace virtues of life? Do their fields refuse to grow “the herb called heartsease,” which simple folk have gathered unsown from their little garden-plots?
I. I shall have to say a little about COVETOUSNESS. We are told that our conversation is to be “without covetousness.” The term “conversation” includes, as you know, the whole of our lives.
1. Taking the first meaning of conversation, namely, talk, we ought not in our words to be on the side of those who grip for wealth or growl for wage, who grasp for power or grind the poor. We ought not in our talk to take part with the churl and the illiberal.
2. But our conversation has to do with our actions as well as our words. The sugar of words is sickening if it be not attended with the honey of deeds. Let our whole life in our dealings with our fellow-men be moved by liberal principles, and enriched with a generous spirit.
3. But this will not do unless the word “conversation” takes in our desires, our projects, our plans, our thoughts. We must be without covetousness within, for if that vice reigns in the soul it is sure to rule in the life. Our prayer should be that of David, “Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.” It is so very easy a thing to be covetous, that no class of society is free from it. A man may be very poor and covetous withal, and a man may be exceedingly rich and still may think that he is not half rich enough. It is not possible to satisfy the greedy. Covetousness has many ways of manifesting itself; and the text does not warn us against one of those ways, but against them all.
(1) In some it is most seen in repining and complaining against their lot. This disease is born and bred in our very bones, and it needs the grace of God to get it out of us. God help us all to get rid of every particle of it, for it savours not of grace, but it is earthly, sensual, devilish.
(2) In some others this covetous principle shows itself in envying others. Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous, but who is able to stand before envy? Now, if I envy a man, I am clearly guilty of covetousness, for I wish that something which he has were not his, but mine. And that may happen to you when you do not think about his property. You may be covetous of his gifts. This ill-natured vice shows itself generally in finding fault. Of course our brethren are not perfect; but why should we take a delight in pointing out their eccentricities, or their shortcomings?
(3) And covetousness may show itself by perpetually craving and desiring that which we have not. The old moralists used to say that the man who would be truly rich had better retrench his appetites than increase his fortune. Some men seem as if they never could fix their thoughts on what they have, but they are always thinking of what they could, would, or should have. They have swallowed the two daughters of Solomon’s horseleech, and these continually cry, “Give, give.”
(4) In many--perhaps in the most numerous class--this anxiety for acquisition betrays itself in fretful fears about the future; and I must in all honesty grant that this form of the vice has sometimes the appearance of being the most excusable of the whole. Full many are not content with such things as they have because the dread of a distant season of trial is constantly harassing them. In vain for them their table is bountifully spread unless they have a store in hand against every contingency that may happen. Do you notice how precious is that promise which provides for all possible casualties that may befal you? “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The censure, therefore, falls where this sacred pledge is unheeded; and he is accounted covetous who walks after the cravings of the flesh rather than after the counsel of the Spirit of God. If God would have thee live by the day, why dost thou want to gather enough for seven days at once? Covetous people, I have often observed, are classed in Scripture with the worst of criminals. How revolting to be included in such bad company! Here in this very chapter we read, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness.” Thus covetousness is classed with the very filthiest of vices of the flesh. In another place the apostle says “covetousness, which is idolatry”; and thus it is identified with a loathsome impurity of the spirit. Let the Christian dread it. Covetousness is a deadly poison, destructive of all virtue; it dries up the milk of human kindness in a man’s breast, and makes him hard, indifferent towards the needs of his fellow creatures. How much infamy it fosters! The man whose heart is set on covetousness will do anything for gold; he will venture to stain his hands with blood itself if he may but gain it.
II. As there is a vice to be shunned so there is a virtue to be sought. The theme is more pleasing now that we speak upon CONTENTMENT. “Be content with such things as ye have.” It is, after all, no very great virtue if we should attain it: the more pity, therefore, if we should miss it. The old moralists constantly twit us with the fact that we may have the necessaries of life upon very easy terms, whereas we put ourselves to great pains for its luxuries, To be content with such things as we have should be specially easy to us, because we have so much to be thankful for, such constant communications from the great Benefactor, and so certain an assurance that He will withhold no good thing from those that walk uprightly. This world is ours, and worlds to come. Earth is our lodge, and heaven our home. I believe that contentment depends very much upon taking right views of things.
1. There is, to wit, a short view. To live by the day is the way to be cheerful.
2. Take also long views as well as short views. Take the view which says, “It will be all the same a hundred years hence.” Take the view which says, “We shall soon laugh at this present little vexation.” Take that distant view which says, “When I get to heaven this great trial will seem very small; when I look from the hill-tops of glory at my present dilemma, it will probably cause me many a smile, to think that I should have been so vexed and tormented by it.” The secret of true contentment, and the way to get at it, is admirably expressed in these words, “Be content with such things as ye have, for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Some of the most easygoing people in the world are those who have a Government pension of so much a month. It is little, but it is sure. If all the banks break they will get it. They have no trouble as to how the markets fluctuate, or how different stocks rise and fall in value; or what dividends they might derive from investments. Now, then, that is exactly where the child of God stands; for ye know who hath said--“Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure.” Between now and heaven I do not know who may starve; but I never shall, because the Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want.
III. Our last point is the CONFIDENCE with which we may encourage ourselves, and bid defiance to a frowning world. “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man can do unto me.” This promise of the Lord is fitted to nerve us with courage, as well as to solace us with contentment. If we are oppressed, or if we have to encounter opposition, we may just go straight ahead in the strength of our text, and say, “What can man do unto me?” If God be our helper, why should we shrink or falter; why should we droop or look dismayed; why should we hold our peace or speak with bated breath? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Covetousness--an insidious sin
I asked a question, some years ago, of a person whom I believed to be one of the most covetous individuals in my acquaintance, and I received from him a singular reply. I said, “How was it that St. Francis de Sales, who was an eminent confessor, found that persons confessed to him, in private, all sorts of horrible sins, such as adultery, drunkenness, and murder; but never had one person confessed the sin of covetousness?” I asked this friend whether he could tell me why it was, and he made me this answer, which certainly did take me rather aback. He said, “I suppose it is because the sin is so extremely rare.” Blind scull I told him that, on the other hand, I feared the sin was so very common that people did not know when they were covetous, and that the man who was most covetous of all was the last person to suspect himself of it. I feel persuaded that it is so. Covetousness breeds an insensibility in the heart, a mortification in the conscience, a blindness in the mind. It is as hard to convict a man of it as to make a deaf ear hear of its own deficiencies. You cannot make a horseleech see the impropriety of desiring to suck; to all your expostulations it renders the one answer, “Give, give.” Covetousness goes about in disguise. In the “Holy War” we read that, when Diabolus sent traitors to lurk about the town of Mansoul, he sent among the rest a young fellow named Covetousness; but when he entered into the town of Mausoul, he took the name of Mr. Prudent Thrifty, and he was engaged at once as a servant, I think it was in the house of Mr. Conscience, the Recorder. He seemed such a likely young man, this youth of the name of Prudent Thrifty. Now, mind you, when you are taking a servant, that you do not engage one of the name of Prudent Thrifty; for I have information that he comes of the family of the Greedies, and that his true name is “Covetousness,” though it may be long before you find it out. His near relations are the Screws, the Skinflints, and the Graballs; but he will not own them, but always mentions his great-uncle, Squire Prudence, and his mother’s brother, Professor Economy, of the University of Accumulation. You will have need to carry your eyes in your head if you mean to practise the precept, “Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have.” (C. H. Spurgeon,)
Covetousness destructive of religion:
The Fabulist tells a story of the hedgehog that came to the coney-burrows in stormy weather, and desired harbour, promising that he would be a quiet guest; but when once he had gotten entertainment, he did set up his prickles, and did never leave till he had thrust the poor conies out of their burrows: so covetousness, though it hath many fair pleas to insinuate, and wind itself into the heart, yet as soon as you have let it in, this thorn will never cease pricking till it hath choked all good beginnings, and thrust all religion out of your hearts. (T. Watson.)
Covetousness a sign of death:
As it is, therefore, a mark of life in an evergreen, when transplanted, to suffer its fading leaves to fall off easily when touched; and a sign of death when they retain their hold, so that to disengage them you must pull off part of the stem with them; so it is an evidence of spiritual life in the Christian, to sit loose to his possessions, instead of setting his heart upon them; while the covetous man parts with his money in charity as if he were parting with his life.
Be content with much things as ye have
Christian contentment: its hindrance and its help:
Contentment is the central word of the passage, and stands between words representing its greatest foe and greatest friend, like Joshua with the Angel of the Lord and Satan on either side.
I. CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT--WHAT IS IT? TO be contented is to be satisfied; it is the Amen of our spirit with regard to what is.
1. Christian contentment presupposes effort. We are not to be content with many things that we have, nor with anything short of our best.
2. Christian contentment implies a certain amount of failure. There is no room for its exercise where matters cannot be improved; you could not speak of the angels as contented. Joy is the word for heaven; contentment for earth.
3. Christian contentment delivers us from the power of circumstances. It is not a doing without things because we must--that is possible apart from Christian grace; it is repose, satisfaction, the heart saying “Thy will be done.” To attain to that is to reign as a king over our circumstances. What a great thing is that religion which helps one to this!
II. CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT HINDERED BY COVETOUSNESS. “Let your conversation [character, mode of life] be without covetousness.”
1. Covetousness is a wrongly placed desire for what in itself may be good. The word in the text refers specially to money (R.V.), but it is not the object that makes covetousness. Covetousness may fasten on different things. What is it? (See Luke 12:13-15, etc.). It is a desire for anything (good or bad) not regulated by an appeal to God and God’s requirements; our own spiritual needs.
2. Covetousness is regarded by God as one of the grossest sins. See the position in which it is mentioned as here coming after verse 4, as though a similar sin; also (1Co 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:3-5; Col 3:5-6; 2 Peter 2:14; Mark 7:21-22).
3. Covetousness is the deadly enemy of contentment. They are opposites, and cannot coalesce. Admit covetousness to the heart and contentment takes its flight. Let contentment return, and she will scourge the traders from what she calls, and from what then she makes it, her Father’s house.
III. CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT CHERISHED BY THE ASSURANCE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE. “Be content, for He hath said, I will never,” &c.
1. This is a declaration of God’s personal presence. Only God can say, “I will not leave thee”; not one of His gifts can say it. Loneliness destroys content. God satisfies.
2. This presence pervades the arrangements of our life. The words must mean that God will be in all our circumstances, and where He is He will not play a subsidiary part, and follow where chance or our waywardness may dictate. “I will not leave thee” must mean I will guide thee: choose thy lot, appoint thy changes, where thou comest thou shalt be brought by Me. Dread of the Unknown destroys content. God in all we have creates content by removing that dread.
3. This presence is the guarantee of protection and supply. No hurt can come to him with whom God is as his friend. Fear destroys content, but God with us enables us to say, “I will not fear.” “He hath said.” There are five negatives here to prevent our doubting it. (C. New.)
Every one knows that contentment is another name for happiness.
I. In the first place, let us INQUIRE INTO THE CHIEF CAUSES OF THE OPPOSITE TEMPER. We see, in too many instances, how men, misled by vain illusions, in the eagerness of their pursuit, miss the road even to earthly happiness. Now this unhappy propensity to become our-own tormentors is to be traced, chiefly, to three bitter roots, growing within the mind itself--pride, selfishness, and envy; whence probably proceed a great part of the miseries of mankind.
II. Consider now MUCH THE DIVINE BOUNTY EXCEEDS OUR DESERTS. Instead, therefore, of being the ingenious artificers of our own misery, let us make a better use of our reason. If Providence offer us the means of attaining a happier state, let us thankfully embrace them. But if the will of God appoint otherwise, before we admit a repining thought, let us first endeavour to recount, if we can, the numberless calls we have for gratitude. Though the present state is a state of trial and probation, it is by no means left destitute of comforts and gratifications. Let us resolve, for the time to come, to make a more careful improvement of the blessings of Providence. Gratefully acquiescing in our own condition, let us, instead of envying, be kind and helpful one to another; and sincerely rejoice with those who are placed above us. This is true benevolence. This is true wisdom. (P. Houghton.)
I. EVERY MAN HAS HIS OWN INDIVIDUAL PORTION IN THIS LIFE, ASSIGNED HIM BY GOD.
1. The portion of every man consists of such things as he has: literally, present things.
2. That which each man has, is assigned him by God. Suppose he has a competency for all the comforts of life which he has acquired. In that case, who, but God, gave him capacity of mind, strength of body, business to do, and success in the doing it?
II. WITH THAT PORTION WHICH GOD HAS ALLOTTED HIM, EVERY CHRISTIAN IS REQUIRED TO BE CONTENT.
1. Cautionary remarks.
(1) This command does not forbid a proper regard to the future.
(2) Industrious efforts to obtain more are not forbidden by this command.
(3) The embracing a proper opportunity of improving one’s condition is not forbidden by this command.
2. Contentment is
(1) The opposite of a complaining spirit.
(2) The opposite of an envious temper.
(3) Opposed to anxiety.
(4) Opposed to covetousness.
(5) Opposed to restless schemes and endeavours after more.
3. How it is to be cultivated.
(1) By habitual self-abasement.
(2) By thankfulness. Gratitude gives fitness to our raiment, relish to our food, and sweetness to all.
(3) By the exercise of faith. He hath said, “He, who has all power; he who abideth faithful.” He has said that He will never leave nor forsake thee, whosoever thou art, who puttest thy trust in Him; therefore, “be content with such things as ye have.”
(4) By “looking unto Jesus.” Though the earth and the fulness thereof were His, He assumed the lowest state of poverty.
(5) By habitual prayer and dependence on Christ. (Essex Remembrancer.)
A satisfied spirit
To be content is to be in good humour with our circumstances, not picking a quarrel with our obscurity, or our poverty, or our social position. There are four or five grand reasons why we should be content with such things as we have,
1. The first is the consideration that the poorest of us have all that is indispensable in life. We make a great ado about our hardships, but how little we talk of our blessings.
2. Our happiness is not dependent on outward circumstances. I find Nero growling on a throne. I find Paul singing in a dungeon. I find King Ahab going to bed at noon through melancholy, while near by is Naboth contented in the possession of a vineyard. Haman, prime minister of Persia, frets himself almost to death because a poor Jew will not tip his bat; and Ahithophel, one of the great lawyers of Bible times, through fear of dying, hangs himself. The wealthiest man, forty years ago, in New York, when congratulated over his large estate, replied: “Ah! you don’t know how much trouble I have in taking care of it.” Byron declared in his last hours that he had never seen more than twelve happy days in all his life. The heart right toward God and man, we are happy. The heart wrong toward God and man, we are unhappy.
3. Another reason why we should come to this spirit inculcated in the text is the fact that all the differences of earthly condition are transitory. The houses you build, the land you culture, the places in which you barter, are soon to go into other hands. However hard you may have it now, if you are a Christian the scene will soon end. Pain, trial, persecution never knock at the door of the grave.
4. Another reason why we should culture this spirit of cheerfulness is the fact that God knows what is best for His creatures. Sometimes His children think that He is hard on them, and that He is not as liberal with them as He might be. But children do not know as much as a father. I can tell you why you are not largely affluent, and why you have not been grandly successful. It is because you cannot stand the temptation. If your path had been smooth, you would have depended upon your own surefootedness; but God roughened that path, so you have to take hold of His hand.
5. Another consideration leading us to the spirit of the text is the assurance that the Lord will provide somehow. Will He who holds the water in the hollow of His hand, allow His children to die of thirst?
6. Again, I remark that the religion of Jesus Christ is the grandest influence to make a man contented. Indemnity against all financial and spiritual harm! It calms the spirit, dwindles the earth into insignificance, and swallows up the soul with the thought of heaven. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The Bible warning against discontent
I. We ought to mind it--FOR OUR OWN COMFORT. Now suppose that you have a long walk to take every day, but you have a thorn run into your foot, or a sharp stone in your shoe--could you have any comfort in taking that daily walk? Certainly not. But a feeling of discontent in our minds is just like that thorn in the foot or that stone in the shoe. It will take away from us all the comfort we might have, as we go on in the walk of our daily duties. A certain bishop had passed through many great trials; but he was never heard to complain in passing through them. He was always contented and cheerful. An intimate friend of his, who had often admired his calm, happy temper, and who felt as if he would like very much to imitate his example, asked him one day if he would tell him the secret of the quiet, contented spirit which he always had. “Yes,” said the bishop, “I will gladly tell you my secret. It consists in nothing more than making a right use of my eyes.” “Please tell me what you mean by this.” “Certainly,” said the bishop; “I mean just this. When I meet with any trial, I first of all look up to heaven, and remember that my chief business in life is to get there. Then I look down upon the earth, and think how small a space I shall need in it when I die, and come to be buried; and then I look round in the world, and think how many people there are who have more cause to be unhappy than I have. And in this way I learn the Bible lesson--“Be content with such things as ye have.”
II. FOR THE COMFORT OF OTHERS. We cannot all have really beautiful faces, but we can all have sweet, pleasant tempers; and a sweet temper gives a loveliness to the face, which is more pleasing than any amount of mere outward beauty. A contented spirit, or a sweet temper, is to a home what sunshine is to the trees of the field or to the flowers of the garden. John Wesley used to say, “I dare no more fret, than curse or swear.” A friend of his, who was intimately connected with him, for a large portion of his life, in speaking of him after his death, said, “I never saw him fretful or discontented under any of his trials. And to be in the company of persons of this spirit always occasioned him great discomfort, and trouble. He said one day, ‘To have persons around me murmuring and fretting at everything that happens is like tearing the flesh from my bones. I know that God sits upon His throne, ruling all things. With this thought in my mind, and the grace of God in my heart, I may well learn, “To be content with such things as I have.’ Good Mr. Wesley was minding the Bible warning against discontent when he used these words, and was setting a good example for us all to follow. What a blessed thing it would be if all Christians would try to follow his example.
III. TO PLEASE GOD. No trials can ever come upon us in this world without God’s knowledge and consent. He is so wise that He never makes a mistake about our trials, and He is so good that He never lets any trouble come upon us but what He knows will be for the best. And when we try to be patient and contented under our trials, because we know that God orders or permits them, this will be pleasing to Him. “I was going down town in a Fourth Avenue car one day,” says a New York merchant, “when I heard somebody cry out, ‘Holloa, Mr. Conductor, please stop your car a moment; I can’t run very fast.’ The car stopped, and presently there hobbled into it a little lame boy, about ten or twelve years old. I saw from the nice clothes he wore that he was the son of wealthy parents; but oh! his face told such a tale of silent suffering! and yet he was bright and cheerful. He put his little crutch behind him, and placing his poor withered limb in a more easy position, he began to look round at his fellow-passengers. A happy smile played over his pale face, and he seemed to take notice of everything. Presently I got a seat next to him, and as he looked around him I heard him humming in a low tone the words of the hymn, ‘Hark, I hear an angel sing.’ Then I had a little talk with him, and found that he knew and loved the Saviour, and it was this which made him so contented and cheerful. He told me he was born with this withered limb, and that the doctor said it never would be any better. ‘Well, my dear boy,’ I said, ‘under these circumstances, how can you be so happy and cheerful?’ His reply was, ‘Jesus, my Saviour, has sent this trial for me to bear. Father tells me He would not have sent it unless He knew it would be best for me. And don’t you think, sir, that I ought to be satisfied with the best?’ This touched my heart, and brought tears to my eyes. I was just going to get out of the car then. So I shook hands with the little fellow, and thanked him for the lesson he had taught me, which I told him I should never forget as long as I lived.” (R. Newton, D. D.)
The unreasonableness of discontent
I. Observe, in the first place, THAT DISCONTENT IS OFTEN OWING TO CAUSES WHICH THE DISCONTENTED MAY THEMSELVES REMOVE. How often do you see people grow sullen and dissatisfied in consequence of straits to which they have reduced themselves by sloth, by waste, or by expensive indulgences? How often do men become the victims of chagrin through the failure of expectations which they permitted themselves, without any good reason, to indulge. How often, in fine, does it happen that people, instead of endeavouring to make the best, make the worst of every inconvenience in their lot?
II. Are there not in human life innumerable circumstances wholly independent of us, by which the lot of man is very much diversified, and WHAT SHALL WE SAY WHEN DISCONTENT ARISES, NOT FROM CAUSES WHICH WE CAN CONTROL, BUT FROM THE INEVITABLE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR LOT? NOW, granting that, owing to circumstances which you cannot control, you do not possess all the temporal advantages which you might wish; yet what claim can you advance to more? Food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, a shelter from cold and storms, the pleasing warmth and light of day, and calm silence of night, the alternate enjoyments of labour and rest, our social and domestic pleasures, these are blessings to be found in all the ordinary situations of human life; and these, so far as depend on mere outward things, are the chief blessings which Providence bestows. With respect to luxury and pomp, splendid raiment, magnificent habitations, honours, attendants, and all the dazzling train of circumstances which wait upon riches, they are but little connected with true happiness.
III. The observations hitherto offered apply chiefly to the ordinary situations of human life. BUT ARE THERE NOT CASES OF WRETCHEDNESS THAT PLACE THE SUFFERER BELOW THE ORDINARY LOT? and in all situations does not affliction often await us amidst our most tranquil enjoyments? The duty required in such situations is resignation rather than contentment. It is religion, however, which in all situations possesses the most consoling influence, inspiring contentment amidst the ordinary inconveniences of the human lot, and resignation under the pressure of our heaviest afflictions, and we proceed to consider the arguments applicable to our present subject, that may be derived from this Divine source. One of the views is that suggested in the words immediately following our text. “The Lord is my helper, therefore I will not be afraid for what man can do unto me.” The Scripture informs us farther how it is that these perfections are exercised towards us. Now we are informed that in consequence of that new dispensation, which God hath been carrying on ever since the fall of our first parents, this world is only a state of temporary preparation for the next. To give a proper scope for the exercise of our talents, to afford us an opportunity of cultivating good dispositions by placing us in various relations to one another, to form us to habits of obedience and resignation, God hath in His infinite wisdom ordained a very great diversity of ranks and circumstances among men. But all this is only a temporary state of things, and when it has accomplished its purposes is abolished by death with respect to each individual, and will be abolished with respect to all mankind when the world is dissolved. (Thos. S. Hardie, D. D.)
Discontent is doubtless, on the whole, a useful element in our nature, for it prompts to better things; and it is only when it goes beyond the bounds of moderation that it is seriously objectionable. The great error is that people do not pursue their course of advancement with calmness; they forget to enjoy the advantages which they now possess; and while they look at the future they neglect the present, forgetting that the present is the only real time. This error leads them into two follies; they believe that at some future period they will be happier than they are now, because they will then have at their command means which are at present denied; and secondly, they fancy that people who follow a different mode of life are more favourably circumstanced than themselves. They seem to want a change. I have heard men in business say, “Ah, if I could devote my life to study, instead of grubbing here to get money, I should then be all right.” And, on the other hand, students are heard to say, “After all, it is the man of business who really enjoys reading, when in his hours of relaxation he goes to his books as a relief. But it is odious to make your study a workshop.” Both parties are labouring under a kindred delusion. And thus people go on; their energies are devoted to the attainment of some object, and “ if they can reach that they will find repose.” The end is gained, but soon the object fails to satisfy; they miss the excitement which the chase afforded, and they must propose some new goal or be wretched. The men who place their hopes exclusively in the future confess, by the very act, that they are incapable of enjoying the present (and by enjoyment much more is meant than the mere taking of pleasure); but not wishing to make this humiliating admission, they flatter themselves that something else than what they possess is essential to peace and comfort. This is nothing tess than an excuse for want of contentment; because, when the object of search is attained, they are as far from what they really need as ever. He who does not begin by placing contentment as the basin of external goods, heaps up in vain, and might as well try to fill a sieve with water as to construct a building of happiness upon a shadowy foundation. Besides, a constant restlessness is the greatest possible hindrance to sound education of the mind. The feverish gaze of the fortune-seeker cannot look aright upon the beautiful creation which is around him, if it ever looks upon it at all. There are many men surrounded by the comforts of life who, if you told them to divert their eyes awhile from future prospects, to cease envying their associates, to admire the wonders of nature and the beautiful world we live in, to be rejoiced at the remembrance of their daily blessings, and to be fully satisfied with their numerous advantages, would put you down for a madman or a fool. It is quite as easy to cultivate such a state of mind as to be constantly pining after what you have not got, or distressing yourself because you are not so well off as other people; and while every man of active mind must desire to go through his daily duties with energy and skill, and to fulfil his vocation with diligence, yet when he has done all this calm contentment is one great means to make him happy and keep him so. (Scottish Pulpit.)
The discontented character:
There are people who are constitutionally discontented. Nothing gives them satisfaction. They are like the hermit-crabs, and may well be designated “crabbed.” We see that the animal and the shell are mostly well suited to each other; but it is a remarkable fact that, however well the shell and the crab may be suited to each other, the crab always thinks that a shell belonging to another crab would make a better house. Consequently they will wage direful battles over a few empty shells, although neither of the shells would make so commodious a habitation as that which was already occupied. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
Contentment in vicissitudes:
The other day I watched a little bird who had alighted on a branch almost too frail to bear his weight. The branch was swaying to and fro, but the little songster did not cease his song, He knew he had wings! Christian, learn the lesson that bird would teach thee, and, amid life’s vicissitudes, sing on, for thou art immortal. (The National Baptist.)
Contented without contentment
What a beautiful example for all of us is the resolution of the old lady who, from a crabbed and anxious body, became quite the opposite! When asked what had induced the change, she replied, “To tell you the truth, I have been all my life striving for a contented mind, and finally concluded to sit down contented without it.” (New Cyclopedia of Illustrations.)
Contentment under loss
A friend of mine sat down to breakfast one morning, and an ugly-looking letter was handed him, it having just come by post. He opened it and found it was from a broker who transacted business for him. It ran something like this: “Dear sir, I am sorry to inform you that you have lost £50,000.” Now, it is no joke to lose a sum of money like that. To this friend of mine it meant the loss of every penny he had. He had not been gambling, but speculating, as he thought, carefully and wisely. He quietly looked around the breakfast table, then without saying a word he rose and went to his room. He did not go and buy a pistol and blow his brains out. He simply fell on his knees before God, and said, “Dear Heavenly Father, help reel Thou hast given me plenty, and I have tried to use all to Thy glory; now Thou hast taken everything away. Now, Lord, Thou wilt have to feed me straight from heaven. I thank Thee for making me poor, that I may the more fully know Thee as my Father.” He came downstairs again and finished his breakfast. His losses had not even power to spoil his appetite. He has ever since been as poor as a church mouse--and that is poor enough--but he has been rejoicing always, because he has the “joy of the Lord.” I can testify to the truth of this as I know him well, and he was one who came to see me off when I left England. (G. C.Grubb, M. A.)
My dear hearers, there is not a single soul of you all that are satisfied in your stations: is not the language of your hearts when apprentices, We think we shall do very well when journeymen; when journeymen, that we should do very well when masters; when single, that we shall do well when married; and to be sure you think you shall do well when you keep a carriage. I have heard of one who began low: he first wanted a house; then, says he, “I want two, then four, then six”; and when he had them, he said, “I think I want nothing else.” “Yes,” says his friend, “you will soon want another thing, that is, a hearse-and-six to carry you to your grave”; and that made him tremble. (G. Whitfield.)
Contentment bears the hues of joy. (Shakspere.)
Content with little:
On the eve of General Gordon’s departure on his last journey, a friend is related to have said to him, “Have you got your kit ready, General?” “I have got what I always have. This hat is good enough, and so are these clothes. I shall start as I am, my boots are quite strong.” “And how are you off for cash, &c.? You must have some ready money.” “Ah, I had forgot that; I had to borrow five-and-twenty pounds from the King of the Belgians to get over here. Of course I must pay this, and I shall want a little more. A hundred pounds apiece for myself and Stewart will be enough. What on earth do we want more for?”
Is that beast better that hath two or three mountains to graze on than a little bee that feeds on dew or manna, and lives upon what falls every morning from the storehouses of heaven, clouds, and providence? Can a man quench his thirst better out of a river than a full urn; or drink better from the fountain which is finely paved with marble, than when it wells over the green turf? (Jeremy Taylor.)
Contentment and duty:
There is a fable told about a king’s garden in which the trees and all the flowers began to make complaint. The oak was sad because it did not bear flowers; the rosebush was sad because it did not bear fruit; the vine was sad because it had to cling to the wall and could cast no shadow. “I am not the least use in the world,” said the oak. “I might as well die, since I yield no fruit,” said the rosebush. “What good can I do?” said the vine. Then the king saw a little pansy, which held up its glad, fresh face, while all the rest were sad. And the king said, “What makes you so glad when all the rest pine and are so sad? I thought,” said the pansy, “that you wanted me here because you planted me, and so I made up my mind that I would try and be the best little pansy that could be.” Let us all try to do our best in the little spot where God’s hand has placed us.
John Sinclair once alighted from his carriage near an abject-looking hovel, and entered into conversation with an old labourer who lived there alone. On leaving he asked if he could serve him in any way. “Sir,” said the old man, with a look of honest contentment, “there is not in this world a thing that I want.” Sir John often said that that poor abode was the only home in which he had found perfect happiness, and requested his daughter to draw him a picture of that one-windowed hut where lived a man who had not a wish ungratified. Contrast the happiness of this man in poor circumstances with the ennui of Napoleon on the day when he was crowned with unexampled splendour by the Pope in Notre Dame. He returned home, and, flinging his splendid robes to different corners of the room, declared that he had never spent in his life such tedious hours.
Polish the dark side
A complaining grumbler was lamenting how things went wrong, when a friend, writing to console her, bade her “look upon the bright side.” “Oh,” she cried, “there seems to be no bright side.” “Then polish up the dark side,” was the reply.
Contentment not hostile to aspirations:
We must not make the ideas of contentment and aspiration quarrel, for God made them fast friends. A man may aspire, and yet be quite content until it is time to rise. A bird that sits patiently while it broods its eggs flies bravely afterwards, leading up its timid young. And both flying and resting are but parts of one contentment. The very fruit of the gospel is aspiration. It is to the human heart what spring is to the earth; making every root and bud and bough desire to be more.
I will never leave thee
Providence--God never leaves things or persons:
You perceive at once, perhaps, that this promise has two distinctive peculiarities. In the first place, it is limited as to its aspect; and secondly, it is mixed as to its character. It is limited as to its aspect. Being not addressed to sinners generally as sinners, its sphere must at once be considered circumscribed and sacred. It is a promise, not to the world as such, but to the Church which has been redeemed out of the world. The design, evidently, of this glorious promise is to keep down the fears of believers in passing through this world to everlasting glory. And we see that there are two classes of evils which make them afraid, against which fears there is a provision in this promise. There are things that trouble you--their confusion, their irregularity, their aspects; and then you live amidst intelligent beings, like yourselves imperfect, and not only so but evil, and you fear from them--you fear things, you fear persons. But God has made a merciful provision against both these fears by saying, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
I. The remarks assume somewhat of a secular character in the first part of the subject. In speaking of these “Things,” the passage refers to such subjects; therefore it is not improper for me to do so. By “things” I understand things of this life--food, raiment, habitation, health, comfort, all those things which are necessary for our existence, for our convenience, and for our comfort, according to our relative positions in society, and especially to the answering the end of our being, namely, doing good and glorifying God our heavenly Father.
1. Now these things, we say, are necessary for us. And when a thing is absolutely necessary, it is right to think of it. But then there is the danger of magnifying our wants, of supposing that we have wants that we have not, and that ten thousand things are necessary for us which would actually be, if given, injurious to us. But so little do we feel that we are in danger here, that it is only when we do feel it, and at no other time, that we in this respect rejoice in the truth and glory of the promise, “I will never leave thee,” etc. And there is another danger to which we are exposed. The very fact that the things of this life have necessity imposed upon them very frequently tends to covetousness. Christian friends, when the world comes over you and consumes your heart and destroys your spirituality, go and weep before the Cross; go and plead this promise again and again in the name of the Saviour, that you may stand, and in the Lord be mighty and strong.
2. I refer to another thing impressed upon the things of this life: there is difficulty; that is to say, the universal law of our natural living in this world is this, “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” Labour is man’s necessity, and man’s glory. A man says, “I know that without labour I cannot exist.” The tradesman says it, the politician says it, the philosopher above any says it, the Christian ought to say it. He says, “I see that labour is essential to prosperity and elevation and usefulness”; and then he imagines that it is the cause of it, whereas it is only the condition of it--it is only the connection made by God to subsist; for labour itself, which is merely acting upon matter, trying to produce changes, is nothing without God. We repeat it again, man labours in vain, bodily and inwardly, unless God grants a blessing. And God says to the soul humbled and chastened, “I will never leave thee, I will never forsake thee.”
3. I might refer to the mutability that is impressed upon all these “ things,” as a frequent occasion of sorrow. The great political changes, the great commercial storms, the great commercial stagnations which very frequently follow; the death of a friend, a brother, a child, a failure, or what is called a common accident, may change the whole history of a man. And then come the trials of the soul, and then it is the heart goes forth to covetousness; it is then that man begins to fear; and it is then too comes, and then too is felt, the preciousness of the promise, “I will never leave thee.”
II. Let me just glance, in the second place, at PERSONS. Paul, addressing himself to the Hebrews, says, quoting David, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Will you not? Man may injure you; some men have injured you, and you are in danger of being injured still more in the dark future. What is your protection?” The Lord is my helper.” I should be afraid of man; but He being my succour and my helper I shall not be afraid. Man in very many ways may injure us; taking society as it is constituted, and taking into consideration especially its evils. Man may injure our feelings, which is not a very trifling matter--may injure our reputation, civil, social, sacred--may injure our property--may injure our persons--may do what is still more painful, may injure our souls. The nearer and dearer persons are to us, the greater is the danger of being injured by them. They may injure us by the carelessness or even by the impurity of their conversation, they may injure us by false guiles or by base cruelties, they may injure us by their seductions, they may injure us by their frowns, and by their severities, and by their contempts, and by their persecutions. “But the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear,” &c. These then are the external circumstances which render the promise before me peculiarly applicable, “Be content with such things as ye have,” for He, “God,” hath said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” I was going to say, whence evils spring up, and that is ourselves. Many of our fears rise and terminate in our own beings. Evil thoughts, evil imaginations, evil affections, malice, pride, unkindness, indifference to the misery of others, and a variety of other things; these in frightful numbers and in horrid forms present themselves to the conscience, and then the soul is afraid. He thinks of sins in life and sins in language, sins of the soul and sins of the senses, sins against God as a personality, against God as a governor; and, as the scene blackens before his eyes, he says within himself, “I could have trusted that that cloud would have passed away; but I am an offender against my God, I feel that I have increased His displeasure, therefore what shall I do?” Now again comes the promise; yes, and we need not hesitate, we need not tremble to go to God and say, “It is mine, it is mine.” He has said, “I will never leave thee,” etc. Now, I said that the evils were of two kinds--external, arising from circumstances, and personal, springing up from ourselves. Now God meets these two evils, the first by His Providence, and the second by His influences and His Spirit. First, God says, “I will take care of the things”; and secondly, He says, “I will take care of you.” (Caleb Morris.)
An unwritten Word of God:
Where has He said so? If the chapter-and-verse theory be insisted upon, there is no proof that these precise words were ever uttered by God. Yet if the doctrine be withdrawn from the Bible, the Bible will be impoverished by the withdrawal of its richest solaces. There are words, too, marvellously like the very words of the text Genesis 28:15; Deuteronomy 31:6; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:5). There are words spoken to the soul in secret. The heart remembers, attests, clings to them With tenacious love. There are paraphrased revelations; seed-revelations grown into blooming flowers of assurance. Let us take it, then, as the most assured fact in spiritual history that God never forsakes the man whom He has undertaken to guard and nourish--it is the unwritten and eternal law which comes out of the very nature of the Divine Being.
I. This word is SUFFICIENT--because GOD HAS SPOKEN IT. We say of some men, “Their word is their bond.” Shall we say less of the Living One, of whose eternity our life is but a spark?
II. The word is INSPIRING--because IT PLEDGES THE PERSONAL FELLOWSHIP OF GOD. “I will never leave thee”: not, Angels shall be sent to thee, &c. Enoch walked with God. To Moses God said, “Certainly I will be with thee.” To the Church Jesus says, “I am with you alway,” &c.
III. This word is COMPLETE--because IT EMBRACES ALL TIME: “I will never leave thee.” The child becomes free of the parent; the apprentice is liberated from his bonds; the hireling fulfils his day--but union with God is perpetual, and its joy is an ever-augmenting sum.
IV. This word is CONDESCENDING--because IT IS PERSONAL IN ITS APPLICATION. It is not a pledge given to the universe as a whole; it is spoken to the individual heart, and is to be applied by each heart according to special circumstances. The whole exists for the part, as well as the part for the whole. “All things are yours.” Every flower may claim the sun.
V. This word is Assuring--because IT IS REDUNDANT IN ITS EXPRESSION. “I will never leave thee,” would have been enough for a merely technical bond; more is added; we have word upon word, so that the heart cannot escape the golden walls of protection and security. Love does not study terseness. It must be emphatic; it must be copious. Regarding this promise, what should be its practical effect?
1. We should inquire whether we are entitled to apply it to ourselves. It is not for all men. The question is one of spiritual character. Are we the children of God?
2. Be entitled to it, we should live as if we truly realised it: not gloomily; not self-trustingly; not fretfully; but joyously, devoutly, thankfully.
3. Living as if we realised it, we should ask what we can do in return. “Glorify God in your body,” &c. “Were the whole realm of nature mine,” &c. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice,” &c. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A lesson and a fortune for Christian men of business:
I. A WORD OF THE LORD IS OF GREAT WEIGHT TO A BELIEVER. See then the argument, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said.” That “He hath said “ is the hammer which drives the nail home, and clinches it, with every true child of God.
II. THE WORD OF THE LORD MAY HAVE A THOUSAND FULFILMENTS. When man makes a promise, and he keeps it, that promise is done with. You cannot expect a banker to pay a cheque a second time. The merchant who duly meets his bill once has met it once for all, and the document is henceforth of no value. But when God makes a promise He fulfils it, again, and again, and again, to the same man, and to hundreds of other men. The Lord’s promise once given is never recalled. He does as good as give forth each inspired promise every moment anew; He is for ever promising that which is once promised in His Word. Now I do not think this particular promise is recorded anywhere in the Old Testament in these exact words. He who is the God of grace, and of immutable love, has virtually said, by His very nature, to those that seek His face, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” All that we know about God says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” All that we have ever experienced about God, all that our fathers have experienced, goes to show that Jehovah does not forsake His people.
III. THE WORD OF THE LORD IS TO BE APPROPRIATED BY EACH CHILD OF GOD, AND ACTED ON. “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” I like this singularity of the person. You see Paul had been saying in general, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have”; and then he changes from the plural and writes, “for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” When the Lord speaks in this instance His promise is in the singular. He saith not “you” and “ye,” but “thou” and “thee.” He speaks to us with that--I do not know what to call it unless I use a French word--sweet tu-toiage, which is the language of endearment, the chosen speech of love. When one man speaks to another, and means him to know that his promise is assuredly and altogether for him, and that he is most lovingly his friend, he cannot do better than use the singular and personal pronoun. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
IV. EACH WORD OF GOD HAS ITS OWN ‘USEFULNESS. This particular word, that we have before us, is an illustration of this fact.
1. This particular text is an extraordinarily useful one, for, first, if you notice, it covers all time. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Well, if God will never leave me, He will not leave me now. If He will never leave me, no time is excluded from the word” never.” However dark or however bright, it says “never.”
2. Our text covers all space, as well as all time. Suppose we emigrate. Suppose we are compelled to go to a backwoods settlement of America or Canada, or away to Australia or New Zealand, this promise will go with us all the way--“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Suppose we have to take to sea, and lead the risky life of a sailor: we will sail with this at the mast-head--“I will never leave thee.” But suppose we should get into prison. Does not Jesus visit those who are prisoners for His name’s sake? Hath He not said, “I will never leave thee”?
3. And then it covers all circumstances. “I will never leave thee.” I may get to be a very childish old body. “I will never leave thee.” But my dear children may all be dead, and I may be quite a solitary person. “I will never leave thee.” But every friend may turn tail and desert me. “I will “never leave thee.” But I may be in such a state that nobody will own me. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Never, no never, no never
I. VIEW THE WORDS AS A QUOTATION. The Holy Spirit led Paul to quote from the Scriptures, though he could have spoken fresh words. Thus he put honour on the Old Testament, and taught that words spoken to ancient saints belong to us. Paul quotes the sense, not the exact words--teaching that the spirit of a text is the main thing.
II. VIEW THEM AS A HOUSEHOLD WORD FROM GOD.
1. They are peculiarly a saying of God--“He hath said.” This has been said, not so much by inspiration as by God Himself.
2. They are remarkably forcible from having five negatives in them in the Greek.
3. They relate to God Himself and His people. “I” … “thee.”
4. They ensure His presence and His help. He would not be with us, and be inactive.
5. They guarantee the greatest good. God with us means all good.
6. They avert a dreadful evil which we deserve and might justly fear; namely, to be deserted of God.
7. They are such as He only could utter and make true. Nobody else can be with us effectually in agony, in death, in judgment.
8. They provide for all troubles, losses, desertions, weaknesses, difficulties, places, seasons, dangers, &c., in time and eternity.
9. They are substantiated by the Divine love, immutability, and faithfulness.
10. They are further confirmed by an observation of the Divine proceeding to others and to ourselves.
III. VIEW THEM AS A MOTIVE FOR CONTENTMENT. Leading us to
1. Live above visible things when we have stores in hand.
2. Present satisfaction, however low our stores may be.
3. See provision for all future emergencies.
4. A security more satisfactory, sure, ennobling, and Divine, than all the wealth of the Indies could bestow.
5. Reckon discontent a kind of blasphemy of God.
IV. VIEW THEM AS A REASON FOR COURAGE.
1. Our Helper is greater than our foes.
2. Our foes are entirely in His hand.
3. If permitted to afflict us, God will sustain us under their malice. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The saint never forsaken
I. Is WHAT RESPECTS GOD WILL NEVER LEAVE NOR FORSAKE HIS PEOPLE.
1. God will never leave His people, so as to cease from loving them.
2. He will never leave them nor forsake them, so as to take from them any of His new-covenant and special gifts; “ for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29).
3. He will never leave them so destitute of support and comfort, as that they shall plunge into the depths of despair.
4. The Lord will never leave nor forsake His people totally, nor finally.
II. THE GRACIOUS PRESENCE OF GOD IS SUFFICIENT TO SATISFY HIS PEOPLE IN EVERY SITUATION.
1. If God is graciously present with His people, they have the greatest reason to be content, because He is the most bountiful of all providers.
2. If the Lord be graciously present, with Him he may be content, because he has the most powerful of all protectors.
3. Because, when their God is graciously present with them, they have the wisest of all leaders.
4. They may be content, because they have ever with them the most skilful physician.
5. Since their God will never leave them, nor forsake them, they may be satisfied; because they are always furnished with the most effectual and compassionate Comforter.
6. Since God will never leave His people, they have ever with them the nearest of all relations, and the most excellent of all companions.
III. THE SECURITY GIVEN TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD, THAT HE WILL NEVER LEAVE THEM NOR FORSAKE THEM.
1. The inviolable faithfulness of the Promiser is good security for the accomplishment of the promise.
2. His relation and love to them is good security for the accomplishment of the promise.
3. The power of the Promiser affords them good security for the accomplishment of the promise.
4. The mediation of Christ may be considered by God’s afflicted and poor people as noble security.
5. The believing consideration, that the glory of all the Divine persons is connected with God’s being graciously present with His people, that He may complete their salvation.
IV. SOME DIRECTIONS HOW TO OBTAIN THE GRACIOUS PRESENCE OF GOD, AND TO MAINTAIN A COMFORTABLE CORRESPONDENCE WITH HIM.
1. You must close with His Son, Jesus Christ, in the offers of the gospel.
2. You must not only begin your acquaintance and correspondence with God, by believing in our Lord Jesus Christ; but by believing in Him, and improving Him, you must maintain and carry on your correspondence with God.
3. That you may attain and carry on a loving correspondence with God, you must wait on Him, in all the ordinances of His grace.
4. Beware of doing anything that may provoke Him to “leave you, and forsake you.”
5. Endeavour, through the Spirit, to cleave close to Christ, and plead importunately the promise of His perpetual presence,
6. Let unbelievers consider, that this God, who is the best of all friends, the mightiest of all protectors, and the best of all companions, is, to those who persevere in rejecting the overtures of His grace, the most dreadful of all enemies, the most inflexible of all judges, and most terrible of all executioners. Flee, flee, therefore, without delay to the Lord Jesus, as the only all-sufficient Saviour. (John Jardine.)
I. As AWFUL CONDITION.
1. Forsaking implies an utter loneliness.
2. Utter helplessness.
3. Utter friendlessness.
5. Unutterable agony.
II. A GRACIOUS PROMISE. What is guaranteed in this promise? Herein doth God give to His people everything. “I will never leave thee.” Then no attribute of God can cease to be engaged for us. Is He mighty? He will show Himself strong on the behalf of them that trust Him. Is He love? Then with everlasting lovingkindness will He have mercy upon us. Whatever attributes may compose the character of Deity every one of them to its fullest extent shall be engaged on our side. Moreover, whatsoever God hath, whether it be in the lowest hades or in the highest heaven, whatever can be contained in infinity or can be held within the circumference of eternity, shall be with His people for ever, since “He hath said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
III. THE SWEET CONFIRMATIONS of this most precious promise.
1. The Lord will not and cannot leave His people, because of His relationship to them. He is your Father--will your Father leave you?
2. Then, next, His honour binds Him never to forsake thee. When we see a house half-built and left in ruins, we say, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Shall this be said of thy God, that He began to save thee and could not bring thee to perfection? Is it possible that He will break His word, and so stain His truth?
3. And if that be not enough, wilt thou remember besides this that the past all goes to prove that He will not forsake thee. Thou hast been in deep waters; hast thou been drowned? Thou hast walked through the fires; hast thou been burned?
4. And if that be not enough ask thy Father and the saints that have gone before. Did ever any perish trusting in Christ?
5. There is no reason why He should east us off. Can you Adduce any reason why He should cast you away? Is your poverty the danger of your life? In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that hath loved us. Do you say it is your sins? That would have been a cause why He never should have loved them, but having loved them when they were dead in trespasses and sins, their sin can never be a reason for leaving them.
IV. And now the SUITABLE CONCLUSIONS to be drawn from this doctrine.
1. One of the first is contentment.
2. Courage is the next lesson. Let us boldly say, “God is my Helper, why should I fear what man can do unto me.”
3. Then, next, we ought to cast off our despondency.
4. And then, here is an argument for the greatest possible delight.
5. Lastly, what ground there is here for faith. Let us lean upon our God with all our weight. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It is not here said God will never Afflict His people. Sorrow is the heirloom of royal hulls as well as of lowly huts. It is well it should be so, for sorrow is useful; man cannot bear ceaseless sunshine, he needs the intercepting cloud. In the second place, it is not here said that God will never bereave His people. A vacant chair is in every home and by every fireside. It may seem a very severe lesson, but it is a very necessary one--if death never cast his cold, dark shadow upon your fireside, you would begin to worship that fireside; you would incline to make this earthly tabernacle your home. In the next place, it is not said here that men, or even Christians, will never die; that is not so. It does seem to us sometimes inexplicable, if Christ has destroyed death, that Christians should still die. The Answer is, He has not destroyed death as a fact; but He has done better, He has left the fact, but out of the bosom of the cold fact He,has evoked blessings that more than compensate for all its bitterness. God not having promised these things to us, has however said to us what is far better--He will never forsake His people. He will be with them in any one or in all of these together, their peace and support. His omniscience will always watch you with a sentinel eye that never closes, His omnipresence will always reach and help you--if you go to the ends of the earth. The Lord will not forsake His people. No palace walls, however thick, no guards, however brave, no breadth of sea, no number of miles, no impassable desert, shall intercept the visits or arrest the interposition of God. There is not a sting in the human heart, there is not a shadow, however blighting, on the human soul, which God sees not. When all God’s billows, and afflictions, And troubles pass over you, a light brighter than the brightest star, even the morning star, will rise upon you, and a voice louder than the noise of the sea waves, and more musical by far, will bring comfort to your heart: “It is I; be not Afraid.” But in viewing this blessed promise, that God will not forsake His people, let me notice some of the circumstances in which He will not forsake, or, interpreted in the positive form, He will be specially present, for all God’s negatives are most expressive; His promise, “I will not forsake you,” is the strongest form of saying, “The Lord will Always and everywhere be with His people.”
1. Well, God will not forsake you in affliction, and trials, and difficulties, when all you loved is lost, when all you counted on has put forth unexpected wings and fled;--and need I say we live in a period when no man is certain that the honest possessions of to-day will be his property to-morrow; and perhaps the lesson that God is teaching us amid all the mutations of this age is not to set our hearts upon uncertain riches.
2. In the second place, God will not forsake you in the time and during the pain of bereavement. And if this be so, if it be God that interposes, if it be God that takes the pilgrim home, then what is our inference? There are no such things as accidental deaths.
3. God will not forsake His people when entrusted with great responsibilities. When you are called upon to fulfil great duties, never forget to plead God’s great promise. All that is in God is with us, and for us, so that the inexhaustible capital, on which a Christian can draw, is the omnipresence, the omniscience, the omnipotence, the love of God his Father in heaven. The reason why God does not forsake you and me is that He is the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness, so that it cannot be exhausted. Another reason is because He has been pleased to make us His people. God does not forsake us for His name’s sake, because He has been pleased to make us His people. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
This is a promise which bears no special address. We cannot fix a name to it, and for this we are grateful. There are some promises, which, like letters, have been addressed to certain persons, and which to the end of time will bear upon their envelope those particular names. There are other promises, and they are by far the most numerous, which either were never exclusively addressed to an individual or community, or were far too great for such to monopolise, or for any age to exhaust; and which have been redirected and repeated in varying phrase, but with identity of meaning and additional emphasis, as generations have passed by. Ah! these old promises, like Him who uttered them, are the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. They partake of His own infinitude. This assurance of our text meets the highest needs of our nature. Loneliness is one of the most trying experiences possible to man. It never has been from man’s creation, and never will be to all eternity, “good for man to be alone.” Is it not a mysterious law, that the higher the type of creature the more dependent he is, and the greater his needs? The higher the type, the more complex is the organism, and the greater and more varied the necessities, until we reach man, the greatest creature whom God has made on earth; then we touch the most needy. Thus, as you rise in the scale of being, you rise into need. It is only an Almighty, self-existent God that can be the complement of such a creation. Therefore does God speak to man as He does not to any other creature on earth, as if to say, “I have made thee only a little lower than the angels; hence thou hast immeasurable ambitions, and needs. Thy nobility consists in the greatness of thy dependence. The highest necessity of thy nature is that thou shouldest have great need. I, Myself, am thy supreme need. Thou art too great to be satisfied with less than thy God and thy Saviour. I will satisfy thee; I will not leave thee Godless: better that thou shouldest miss all than thy God. ‘I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee.’”
I. The PROMISE OF DIVINE SUFFICIENCY. “I will in no wise fail thee.” The emphasis which is placed upon the word “Himself” must not be overlooked--“For Himself hath said.” I have pointed out that in proportion to thegreatness of our nature is the measure of our need. I would now remind you that in proportion to the measure of our fall is our need multiplied. No creature in heaven will have made so great a demand upon God as redeemed man. It is to this creature, with needs intensified by his own sin, but who now realises his entire dependence upon God, that God Himself speaks--“I will in no wise fail thee.”
1. God’s promise projects itself into the unknown future. “I will never leave thee.” Man cannot live in the present. He ever looks forward. His hopes and fears come from life’s morrows. This accounts for the interest which promises and predictions ever awaken in the heart of man.
2. Again, the promise includes every change of circumstance and variety of experience. The words of God by the mouth of Isaiah grandly emphasise Isaiah 42:2). In the face of the infinite variety of disappointment and trouble is the permanence of this Divine promise that God will be with us. None but the eternal and unchanging God, as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord, can satisfy our yearnings and meet our needs. It is, however, enough if He be with us.
II. THE PROMISE OF DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. There is nothing more beautiful in life than fidelity, nothing so abhorrent as infidelity. It would seem as if the consummation of the world’s guilt will be its unfaithfulness (Luke 18:8)--unfaithfulness to man as well as to God. Sin will culminate in the prevalence of Cain-like infidelity brother-ward and God-ward. Now, over against that, the acme of God’s excellence is His faithfulness. It is this which alone can triumph over human infidelity. It is this, too, which bears with us in our doubts and fears, and bids us trust (2 Timothy 2:13, R.V.). Thus the Divine constancy contrasts with our inconstancy. It is this fact that has sustained the saints in all ages when persecuted, and even when “in perils among false brethren.” This assurance may be ours. H we did but appropriate this twofold promise, what heroisms would be ours, and what noble lives we should live! (D. Davies.)
God does not forsake His people:
John Owen, in a letter dictated to his friend, Charles Heetwood, says, “Live and pray, hope and wait patiently, and do not despond; the promise stands invincible, that He will never leave nor forsake us.” Forcibly are the negatives in this passage rendered by Kirkham, in his well-known hynm:
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to His foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
How sad the confession of Cardinal Wolsey, when he was leaving the world: “Had I been but as careful to please God as I have been to serve my prince, He would not have forsaken me now in the time of my grey hairs!” How beautifully in contrast with his were the last moments of Mrs. Isabella Brown! A quarter of an hour before she died she was reading a list of Scripture promises: and, noticing particularly this tender declaration, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” she said, faintly: “Oh, they are sweet!” After her death the list was found on her breast with her hand upon it.
Dying testimony to God’s faithfulness
Our friend, Dr. William Graham, of Bonn, has lately departed this life, and we are told that on his death-bed one said to him, “He hath said, ‘ I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,’“ to which the good man replied, with his dying breath, “Not a doubt of it t Not a doubt of it!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s presence enough
A heathen sage said to one of his friends, “Do not complain of thy misfortunes, as long as Caesar is thy friend!” What shall we say to those whom the Prince of the kings of the earth calls His sons and His brethren? “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee!” Ought not these words to cast all fear and care for ever to the ground? He who possesses Him, to whom all things belong, possesseth all things. (F. W.Krummacher.)
No place where God cannot be found
I have read of a company of poor Christians who were banished into some remote part; and one standing by, seeing them pass along, said that it was a very sad condition these poor people were in, to be thus hurried from the society of men, and made companions with the beasts of the field. “True,” said another, “it were a sad condition indeed if they were carried to a place where they should not find their God. But let them be of good cheer, God goes along with them, and will exhibit the comforts of His presence whithersoever they go.” (T. Brooks.)
God’s presence desirable
There are cases in which mere presence is something very bad. The presence of the desperately wicked is a grief and heart-sorrow to the righteous. The presence of a deceitful enemy is a terror to an upright and generous spirit. The presence of one of Job’s comforters in the day of our sorrow is an intolerable nuisance. But the presence of a mother to a sick child, or the presence of a father to a child in bodily danger, or the presence of a medical practitioner to a sick person is as light in darkness, or as a copious dew upon withered grass. Simple presence is very good when presence has a good and sweet influence. But presence and action, presence and ministration, presence and service, is all we can desire--that is, if the individual present be such as we desire. (S. Martin.)
God’s presence operative:
If God be with us we shall never be alone, nor shall we feel lonely--that is, if we believe in God’s presence. If God be with us, He will not be inactive on our behalf. He will provide for us so that we shall not be needy or destitute (Psalms 23:1). He will guide us so that we shall not err or mistake our way (Psalms 73:24). He will protect us so that no real evil can befall us (Psalms 121:7-8). He will preserve us that we shall not perish or lose any good thing (John 10:28, 2 Timothy 4:18.) (S. Martin.)
God’s friendship all-sufficient:
There is an old English proverb which says, “He cannot be poor who has the Lord Mayor for his uncle”; we may rather say, “He cannot be poor who has God for his friend.”
The Lord is my helper.
A cheerful confidence in God
I. THE CHEERFUL PROFESSION OF CONFIDENCE IN GOD AGAINST ALL OPPOSITION, AND IN THE MIDST OF ALL DISTRESSES, IS THAT WHICH BELIEVERS HAVE A WARRANT FOR IN THE PROMISES THAT ARE MADE UNTO THEM.
II. AS THE USE OF THIS CONFIDENCE IS OUR DUTY, SO IT IS A DUTY HIGHLY HONOURABLE UNTO THE PROFESSION OF THE GOSPEL.
III. BELIEVERS MAY USE THE SAME CONFIDENCE THAT DAVID USED, SEEING THEY HAVE THE SAME GROUNDS OF IT THAT DAVID HAD. For outward circumstances alter not the state of things as unto faith or duty.
IV. THAT ALL BELIEVERS, IN THEIR SUFFERINGS, AND UNDER THEIR PERSECUTIONS, HAVE A REFRESHING SUPPORTING INTEREST IN DIVINE AID AND ASSISTANCE. For the promises hereof are made unto them all equally in their suffering state, even as they were unto the prophets and apostles of old.
V. IT IS THEIR DUTY TO EXPRESS WITH CONFIDENCE AND BOLDNESS, AT ALL TIMES, THEIR ASSURANCE OF THE DIVINE ASSISTANCE DECLARED IN THE
PROMISES, TO THEIR OWN ENCOURAGEMENT, THE EDIFICATION OF THE CHURCH, AND THE TERROR OF THEIR ADVERSARIES (Philippians 1:28).
VI. FAITH DULY FIXED ON THE POWER OF GOD, AS ENGAGED FOR THE ASSISTANCE OF BELIEVERS IN THEIR SUFFERINGS, WILL GIVE THEM A CONTEMPT OF ALL THAT MEN CAN DO UNTO THEM.
VII. THE MOST EFFECTUAL MEANS TO ENCOURAGE OUR SOULS IN ALL OUR SUFFERINGS, IS TO COMPARE THE POWER OF GOD WHO WILL ASSIST US, AND THAT OF MAN WHO DOTH OPPRESS US (Matthew 10:28).
VIII. THAT WHICH IN OUR SUFFERINGS DELIVERETH US FROM THE FEAR OF MEN, TAKES OUT ALL THAT IS EVIL IN THEM, AND SECURES OUR SUCCESS. (John Owen, D. D.)
God’s people protected from enemies
1. These have their enemies, signified by the word Man, “what man may do against me.”
2. These men being enemies do much against them, or at least attempt to do much; for wicked men together with the devil are great enemies to Christ’s kingdom and His subjects. The devil designs their spiritual, the wicked their temporal ruin; and the design of the one is subservient to the other. The devil makes use of temporal persecutions to shake their faith; both hate the Church and thrust sore at it.
3. Yet God is with them, stands for them, helps them, strengthens and protects them, and gives them safety in the midst of danger, joy in the midst of sorrow, bread in the midst of famine.
4. If God be with them, for them, and their help, they need not fear anything, no, not the worst that man can do unto them, but may be confident of safety and deliverance; they need not much desire the best things of the world, nor fear the worst.
5. They may think, believe, say, and be assured, that God is their help. And so much the rather, because God hath promised that He will not leave or forsake them at any time, and why should they be covetous or fearful, there is no cause of either. (G. Lawson.)
Man not to be feared:
When Dr. Rowland Taylor was brought before Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, the bishop asked him how he durst look him in the face, and if he knew who he was. “Yes,” replied the doctor, “I know who you are--Dr. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and Lord Chancellor, and yet but a mortal man, I trow. But if I should be afraid of your lordly looks, why fear you not God, the Lord of us all? How dare you look any Christian man in the face, since you have forsaken the truth, denied Christ, and done contrary to your oath and writing? With what face will you appear before Christ’s judgment-seat and answer to your oath against popery in King Henry VIII.’s time and in the reign of King Edward VI., when you both spoke and wrote against it?” (W. Whitecross.)
A right to the promises of God cleared up:
Let it be thy chief concern to have thy interest in and right to the promises cleared up. This is the hinge on which the great dispute between thee and Satan will move in the day of trouble. Oh, it is sad for a poor Christian to stand at the door of the promise, in the dark night of affliction, afraid to lift the latch, whereas he should then come as boldly for shelter as a child into his father’s house. (W. Gurnall.)
Remember them which have the rule.
The duty of imitating the primitive teachers and patterns of Christianity
I. THE DUTY ENJOINED. If we would preserve that purity of faith and manners, which our religion requires, we should have frequent recourse to the primitive teachers and patterns of Christianity, and endeavour to bring our belief and lives to as near a conformity with theirs as is possible. Who so likely to deliver the faith and doctrine of Christ pure, as the primitive teachers of it, who received it from our Lord Himself; and were, by an extraordinary assistance of the Holy Spirit, secured from error and mistake in the delivery of it? And who so likely to bring their lives and conversations to an exact conformity with His holy doctrine, as they, who were so thoroughly instructed in it by the best Master, and shown the practice of it in the most perfect example of holiness and virtue?
II. WHEREIN WE SHOULD IMITATE THESE PATTERNS.
1. We are to imitate these primitive patterns, in the sincerity and purity of their faith; I mean, that the faith which we profess be the sincere doctrine of Christianity, and the pure word of God, free from all mixture of human additions and inventions.
2. We are to imitate them, in the stability and firmness of our faith, and not suffer ourselves to be shaken, and removed from it, by every wind of new doctrine; the faith of Christ being unchangeable as Christ Himself.
3. We are to imitate them, in the constancy and perseverance of their faith; and that, notwithstanding all the discountenance and opposition, persecution and suffering, which attend the profession of this faith.
4. We should imitate them in the efficacy and fruitfulness of their faith, in the practice and virtues of a good life; “ whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation,” that is, their perseverance in a holy course to the end. And these must never be separated; a sound faith and a good life.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO THIS, from the consideration of the happy state of those persons, who are proposed to us for patterns, and the glorious reward which they are made partakers of in another world. “Considering the end of their conversation,” τὴν ἔκβασιν, their egress or departure out of this life into a blessed and glorious state, where they have received the reward of their faith and patience, and pious conversation in this world; or else (which comes much to one)considering the conclusion of their lives, with what patience and comfort they left the world, and with what joyful assurance of the happy condition they were going to, and were to continue in for ever. (Archbp. Tillotson.)
The remembrance of past teachers
I. THIS IS OUR BEST, THIS IS OUR ONLY WAY OF REMEMBERING THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN OUR GUIDES, LEADERS, AND RULERS IN THE CHURCH, WHETHER THEY HAVE BEEN APOSTLES, OR EVANGELISTS, OR ORDINARY PASTORS; NAMELY, TO FOLLOW THEM IN THEIR FAITH AND CONVERSATION.
II. THIS OUGHT TO BE THE CARE OF THE GUIDES OF THE CHURCH; NAMELY, TO LEAVE SUCH AN EXAMPLE OF FAITH AND HOLINESS, AS THAT IT MAY BE THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH TO REMEMBER THEM, AND FOLLOW THEIR EXAMPLE. Alas! how many have we had, how many have we, who have left, or are likely to leave, nothing to be remembered by, but what it is the duty of the Church to abhor! how many, whose uselessness leads them into everlasting oblivion!
III. THIS WORD OF GOD IS THE SOLE OBJECT OF THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH, THE ONLY OUTWARD MEANS OF COMMUNICATING THE MIND AND GRACE OF
GOD UNTO IT. Wherefore upon it, the being, life, and blessedness of the Church doth depend.
IV. A DUE CONSIDERATION OF THE TRUTH OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BEFORE US, ESPECIALLY OF SUCH WHO WERE CONSTANT IN SUFFERINGS; ABOVE ALL, OF THOSE WHO WERE CONSTANT UNTO DEATH, AS THE HOLY MARTYRS IN FORMER AND LATTER AGES, IS AN EFFECTUAL MEANS TO STIR US UP UNTO THE SAME EXERCISE OF FAITH WHEN WE ARE CALLED UNTO IT. (John Owen, D. D.)
The Church in relation to her past:
The feeling which underlies these words of reverential admiration for the saintly dead, the founders and confessors of the Church gone to their rest, is one which at a later age wrought to Christianity much mischief. Yet it is in itself an eminently natural and proper sentiment. It was surely becoming in the early Church to keep green the names of her noble apostles; to guard with pious care the dust of her martyrs; to connect with each local congregation the memory of those missionaries who had planted, of those pastors who had nourished it. Customs in their origin so inoffensive and beautiful as these led speedily to serious abuse. Out of beginnings the most harmless there grew up all over Christendom, as pure religion degenerated, a mighty system of holy places, holy days, and holy relics; a system of saint-worship, sustained by lying miracles and discredited by acts of the grossest superstition; a system the vastness and persistency of which must still provoke the astonishment of a Christian historian. Yet our text reminds us that at the root of such abuses there really lay, after all, a valuable truth. It is this: The Church of Christ is the heir of her own past. That inheritance she ought never to disown. Her successive periods, like the stages of human existence, have a link of natural piety to bind them together. The present grows out of that which has been; and the generation which is now alive has lessons to learn from the dead generations that are gone before. God has written Himself and His truth upon the lives of our godly fathers, and on their triumphant witnessing deaths, in such wise that we their children shall lose much if we fling away the memory of it. Inspiration we shall lose; for what kindles imitation like the examples of the beloved and revered dead? Continuity we shall lose; for in the children there ought to live anew the spirit of their fathers. Experience we shall lose; of which the lessons are for our warning as well as guidance; experience that is the child of history and the parent of wisdom. Steadfastness we shall lose; when, lightly forsaking the devotion and the beliefs that made our forerunners strong, we suffer our religion to vary with the passing moods of every age, and are carried about with divers and strange doctrines. Let it be asked, first of all, why should it be worth our while to review with close attention the career of dead saints, and reflect in what their course of Christian living issued at the last? For this reason, that He who was the object of their faith, and the source of their life, and the prize of their fidelity, He in whose truth and fellowship lay all the glory and hope of their career, is to us exactly what He was to them--the same unaltered, undiminished object of trust and source of power! “Christ Jesus is the same yesterday and to-day; for ever.” But yesterday your eyes beheld your leaders. The names you venerate as you recall them were living names. He it was in whom their life was lived, and their words uttered, and their deeds of witness-bearing done. If the issue of their career was memorable for its fearless martyr-devotion or its unshaken trust in death, who but He was the Lord in whom and for whom they died? To-day we are in their place; and we miss them, and the times are evil, and timid hearts are quaking. But today, as yesterday, Jesus, for His part, abides the same; passed into the heavens, able to save to the uttermost, ruling a kingdom which cannot be moved. Thus the lives and deaths of departed believers become instinct with lessons of encouragement so soon as you perceive how they were but the temporary organs through whom an enduring Saviour discovered to the world His truth and grace. Christ is Himself the sum of His own faith, as well as the Head of His whole Church. In a sense in which no other founder of a religion ever was identified with the faith He founded, He is Christianity. Therefore in His unchangeableness there lies a permanent factor, an element of perennial life and youth, for Christian history. If the dead fathers spoke to us the Word of God, it was because they found it in the person of Christ. If the end of their conversation, the last exit scene of their earthly walk, was edifying and saintly, He who gave them steadfast endurance and grace for dying need has not bade us farewell, but is as able to hold us in His peace and keep us from falling and conduct us across the sullen river to the shining shores beyond! Courage, then, for the desponding Christian heart! Hope for every generation that mourns its vanished leaders! New times bring new perils and impose new labours; but no time can rob us of Him in whose strength all past saints grew strong, or quench or dim the deathless presence which burns on through all the ages. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Duty to spiritual rulers
I. THE SPECIAL DUTY TO WHICH WE ARE SUMMONED. It is very instructive to observe, that when the apostle fastens our attention on those servants of God who have gone to their rest, he does not call up before our minds the gifts with which they were endowed, or the attainments by which they were distinguished; he says nothing of the learning of which they were possessed, or the eloquence with which they were adorned. Nay, it is not on that which was official or personal that he fastens; not on aught that was distinctive or peculiar to them, as the commissioned ambassadors of Christ, but on that which they professed in common with all saints. Now when the apostle here singles out the faith by which they were distinguished, and bids us be followers of that, it is not because that was the one solitary feature of Christian character by which they were distinguished. Nay, faith never stands alone; but it is singled out just because it is the one great fundamental principle which ministered to the vitality of all the other graces of the Christian character. It is faith that unites the soul to Christ; and so it is the spring of their spiritual life. It is faith that keeps the soul leaning upon Christ, and thereby secures their safety. It is faith that keeps the soul ever near to Christ, and so it promotes their holiness and conformity to Christ. It is faith that draws out of the fulness that is treasured up in Christ, and supplies the believer with the nourishment needed for the ripening of his Christian character, that he may reach “the measure of a perfect man.”
II. THE CONTEMPLATION THAT IS TO ANIMATE US TO THE IMITATION OF THEIR FAITH.
1. The word rendered “considering” signifies looking at, or beholding with attention. It is a metaphor from the art of painting. When a pupil is learning his art, he is set to copy a picture of his master--to imitate that picture, and reproduce it if he can; and in order to do this he must keep carefully looking to it, keeping it ever before him. In like manner, the apostle summons us, while engaged in this work of imitating the faith of departed believers, to keep steadfastly before us the end of their faith.
2. The word rendered “the end” signifies not only termination, but also exit. It means an end accompanied with, and consisting in, an escape or deliverance from the trials and temptations to which they were exposed.
(1) It conveys the idea that they are not lost, but gone before; not dead, but living. Their place here is empty, but their place in heaven is filled. What to us was an end, to them was only a beginning--not the sunset, but the dawn--not the blotting out and extinguishing of their life, but the rising of new stars on yon glorious firmament.
(2) There is more than mere survival; there is escape from all the toil and weariness of this earthly scene. No note of sadness in their song; no drop of bitterness in their cup. (Thos. Main, D. D.)
The remembering of departed Christian ministers:
When we have followed the remains of our departed pious friends to the house appointed for all living, we are apt to conclude that our connection with them has, for the present, entirely ceased. But it is not so. They are gone; but we have not done with them. We are to embalm their memory in our heart, to recollect the instructions which we have received from them--to consider their life, and especially how they died; that we may be taught, both how we are to live, and how to be prepared to die.
I. THE NATURE OF THE PASTORAL OFFICE.
1. A Christian minister must be a guide to his flock. It is true that it is God alone who efficiently leads His people like a flock through this wilderness to the heavenly Canaan. But it is also true that Christian ministers are undershepherds of the great Bishop of souls. In the exercise of these important functions, however, they have no dominion over the faith of the flock; no authority to constrain the conscience, except by the presentation of the truth and the influence of love.
2. A Christian minister must preach the Word of God. He is to beware of preaching himself, or of teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
3. Such being the nature of the pastoral office, and the duty of those who hold it, what ought to be their character? They should be like those described in the text. These were, in the first place, men who were strong in faith, giving glory to God; and, in this point of view, were worthy of the imitation of all believers. But, further, they were men whose conversation was worthy of their profession. They lived as Christians; they glorified that Saviour “who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” To promote His cause was the object of their existence. In Him they placed their confidence; in Him their affections centred. And they consecrated their time, their talents, their property, and life itself, to the promotion of his cause in the world; and their end was like their life.
II. THE DUTY WHICH WE OWE TO FAITHFUL DEPARTED MINISTERS.
1. We ought to remember pious ministers. Remember what they were--the ministers of God to you--the messengers of the King of kings, invested with the high commission of proclaiming to you those glad tidings of great joy which bring glory to God and salvation to men.
2. We ought to follow their faith, that is, imitate them in their steadfastness in the profession of the faith which they preached, and, like them, be faithful unto the death,
3. We ought to consider the end of their conversation--we should attentively, and with a view to our own profit, consider their deportment its object, and its issue. (G. Johnston.)
How to honour the saintly dead
Men naturally desire to be remembered, though dead and gone, to have their names perpetuated to after ages; nor has there been wanting among the heathen such, who, though not inspired with the hopes of a future reward, yet have taken care to have their memories conveyed to posterity. Witness the Egyptian pyramids, as also certain statues among the Greeks, with the names of their founders inscribed On them. And indeed so it is; for otherwise God would never have assured it to righteous men that they should be had in everlasting remembrance, that their righteousness should remain for ever, and their memories never perish. Whereas God hath threatened the wicked with excision, even of their very names, that their memory should perish; or, if it did out-live them, it should rot. How very exact too were the primitive Christians in honouring the memories of their martyrs and deceased bishops? For this were the diptychs read in the church, which were two leaves or tables, on the one whereof were written the names of those pious men and confessors who were yet alive; and on the other those who had died in the Lord and were at rest. For this were altars erected over their graves; for this were their pictures hung up in their private shops and houses; for this were churches, though dedicated to God, made to boar the names of saints to preserve their memories; for this were their feast days celebrated, panegyrics made on them, and their lives written. St. Basil wrote the life of Barlaam, who was but a poor shepherd; Nazianzen, of Basil and others, which, he saith, he left to posterity as a common table of virtue for all the world to look on. We do not read of any worship in those times addressed to them; we do not read of any prayers for them to be delivered out of purgatory; nor of adoring their relics; nor of making vows or oblations unto them. But the greatest honour which they did them was to follow or imitate them, which is the second duty inculcated in the text. The very remembrance of good men is an approach to holiness, otherwise St. Paul would not have required it. By virtue of this imitation it is that we become influenced, nay, ecstasied with the spirits of those who are gone before us; that we become meek with Moses, patient with Job, chaste with Joseph, devout with David. Would they have unworthily betrayed their holy faith? With what courage, with what patience were they endowed! And indeed, as I intimated even now, this is the highest honour we can do them, to propound them to ourselves as our patterns, and to follow them in their constant love to God, to religion, and to all mankind, whatsoever we suffer for it. By this we raise them as it were from the dead to life again, we revive their memories, we personate them in this world, and act their parts. Our actions are the resultances of theirs, our praises the echoes of their songs, and our selves the living images of them. And those who do thus honour God’s saints and friends, God Himself will honour everlastingly. Here are two graces expressed in the text in which especially we are obliged to follow them.
1. Their faith.
2. Their perseverance and constancy even unto the end of their conversation.
As to faith, we here understand by it the grace rather than the rule of faith, and by it we mean a constant dependence upon God for the performance of His promises; a being convinced of the truth of those things of which we have no ocular or sensible demonstration. Intuentes, looking upon seriously, and diligently, again and again, their exit, their going out of the world. Revolve with yourselves how holily they adorned their faith, how constantly they persevered in the profession of it, how gloriously they attested and signed it with their blood! Faithful they were unto death, or, as Clemens Alexandrinus expresseth it, to the very last gasp, as they did run the race set before them, so they did it with patience and perseverance. (Edward Lake, D. D.)
Ministers to be remembered after they are dead
I. WHAT A TRUE MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST LEAVES TO BE REMEMBERED BY HIS PEOPLE AFTER HIS DECEASE.
1. And the first thing which offers itself to our observation herein, is, his doctrine--sound and true; perfectly agreeable to the oracles of God with which he is entrusted, and which he has taken in charge to deliver to the souls of men.
2. The next thing which a true minister of Christ leaves to be remembered is--his example as a true follower of Jesus Christ.
3. Another particular which a faithful minister leaves to be remembered, is his injunctions and admonitions.
4. The last thing which I shall mention, that a true minister of Jesus Christ leaves to be remembered by his people after his decease, is his love to their souls.
II. THE DUTY WHICH IS INCUMBENT ON THE PEOPLE, TO FOLLOW THE SOUND FAITH OF SUCH A TRUE AND FAITHFUL MINISTER. “Whose faith follow.”
III. THE REASON WHY THE PEOPLE SHOULD THUS REMEMBER AND FOLLOW THE FAITH OF SUCH A MINISTER, FROM THE CONSIDERATION OF THE GOOD END WHICH HE HAD IN VIEW IN ALL HIS LABOURS, AND THE CHRISTIAN MANNER IN WHICH HE IS ENABLED TO FINISH HIS COURSE. “Considering the end of their conversion,” I shall use these words in two senses.
1. “As respecting the end of their conversation in life, or that end which the ministers of Jesus Christ have in view, in the things which they preach and recommend.” This end is--the good of your souls.
2. This expression may more particularly mean the end by which the Christian minister finishes his course. And this, I apprehend, is the sense in which it is more generally understood. Now, if here, in the finishing part, he be able to bear a good testimony to the truth of that which he has delivered, it is the fullest human confirmation which we can expect of its truth. For death is a trying hour. However any may be able in the day of health and strength, firmly to hold to their deceits, yet, unless the mind be overwhelmed with ignorance, or the conscience seared, that hour will tear all such webs asunder; it will try every man’s work of what sort it is. But now, the delusions of fancy or the pretensions of the hypocrite are detected by this awful test; if, on the other hand, in this hour of severe trial, the Christian minister’s hope stands firm, and instead of retracting anything from the doctrines which he has delivered, he testifies of them as more precious than ever; surely such evidence recommends itself to our fullest attention, and carries with it the greatest force for the conviction of every candid mind. (James Stillingfleet, M. A.)
Preachers speak after death:
There are strange legends extant of churches which have been swallowed by earthquakes, or buried beneath fallen mountains. The rustics declare that they have heard the bells still ringing, far down in the bowels of the earth, just as they did when they hung aloft in the tower. Take the bells to be preachers and the legend is true, for being dead they yet speak, and from their graves they sound forth lessons not less powerful than those with which they made their pulpits resound while they were yet with us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Honour God’s ministers:
Take heed of that; for then God is dishonoured, when anything is the more despised by how much it relates nearer unto God. No religion ever did despise their chiefest ministers; and the Christian religion gives them the greatest honour. For honourable priesthood is like a shower from heaven, it causes blessings everywhere; but a pitiful, a disheartened, a discouraged clergy waters the ground like a waterpot--here and there a little good, and for a little while; but every evil man can destroy all that work whenever he pleases. Take heed; in the world there is not a greater misery can happen to any man than to be an enemy to God’s Church. All histories of Christendom, and the whole Book of God, have sad records, and sad threatenings, and sad stories of Korah, and Doeg, and Balaam, and Jeroboam, and Uzzah, and Ananias, and Sapphira, and Julian, and of heretics and schismatics, and sacrilegious; and after all, these men could not prevail finally, but paid for the mischief they did, and ended their days in dishonour, and left nothing behind them but the memory of their sin, and the record of their curse. (Bp. Taylor.)
Jesus Christ the same.
The immutability of Christ:
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has just been recalling memories of the first apostles of the gospel. Many of them were dead. Those who had seen Christ, and who had listened to Him, became day by day fewer in number. The flux of time, and the ravages of persecution, had done their work in thinning out the illustrious band. More than one soul had been dismayed and discouraged, and therefore it was necessary to recall to the minds of all that, though men may come and men may go, the cause of Christ is immortal. It is just this thought which the sacred writer expresses in glowing words of lofty exultation, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” To be immovable, unchangeable, immortal, is the greatest end men can think of. It is the supreme dream of earthly vanity. In this world nothing remains long. Man is carried to and fro by the sweeping and the swirling of the tide. The very molecules of which his body is composed are changed from time to time with a rapidity which defies the calculating powers of science. Generations come and generations go as rapidly and as transiently as the forest leaves swept by the autumn breeze, and it is precisely this mutability, this feebleness, which man most resents. Was there ever a man--an educated man, at any rate--who did not passionately desire to leave a name which would survive him? There is the dream of literary ambition. There is the dream of military glory for which men face, with cool composure, the cannon’s mouth. Well-a-day! Of all those whom the thirst for glory has seized, how many ever attained it? Many were called. How many were chosen? How small, after all, is the number of those who leave behind them an undestroyable memory or fame that no man will dispute! To some it has been vouchsafed to serve with distinction their country on the field of battle, or in Parliament; others have opened up new tracts to civilisation, and have acquired a fame purer than that of arms, or they have guided the consciences, and have made themselves the teachers of humanity. Is it not certain that, in the treasure-house of history, there are reputations which are imperishable, against which time and the changes of this mortal life are powerless to corrode? Now is this an idea similar to that of the text, where we are told that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? Is it merely a question of saying that, among the sons of men, nobody has left on earth a pro-founder trace or a more indestructible fame? That of itself would be an imperishable glory, but the text has more to say than this. It speaks to you of a truth believed under every sky by the Church’s children, that Christ is living, and that He reigns for ever. Christ is in the midst of us by His Eternal Presence. Others have acquired immortality by their work, but it is an immortality limited by questions, whether their work is more durable, more true, more striking, more useful, than that of possible rivals. Jesus Christ is working to-day as He worked yesterday, and as He will work to-morrow. The better to understand this immutability, consider--
I. THE IMMUTABILITY OF HIS TEACHING. He told us that it would be so. Standing one day in view of the Temple, He said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” It is remarkable that, when He pronounced these words, not one of them was written down. They were confided to the memory of a few poor, ignorant men, who hardly understood them. In the sanctuaries of Thebes, of Delphi, and of Nineveh, the religious thought of millions of worshippers have been engraved on marble and on metal, in the desire to hand down to coming generations the names and the exploits of their gods. What is there left of it all? The memorials of the proud religions of the masters of the world, and those remembrances which one might have expected to be imperishable, have vanished into the sombre depths of the great ocean of oblivion but, like the ark of old, the words of Christ preserved in four little books have become the heritage, and the treasure, not only of all the successive generations of all the superior races on the face of the earth, but also of the humblest and the poorest among the children of men. You will tell me, perhaps, that in this perpetual duration of the teaching of Jesus Christ, there is nothing very extraordinary and nothing peculiar to Himself. I may be told of many thinkers and poets since Homer and Plato whose works have become the property of humanity. But there is; in the teaching of Jesus Christ, another feature. It is unchanging, not only in its duration, but in the nature of the authority it possesses. Here is a gospel which, in every age and in every clime, subjugates and makes captive the human conscience. Hundreds of millions of souls live and die under the same spell which, in the days of our Lord, captivated disciples as they listened to Him for the first time. Ask yourself why this should be so. The object of true religion is to establish and strengthen the double tie existing between God and man, and between man and his fellow man. What is the root of all our knowledge of Jesus Christ if it is not just this? The tie which linked us to God has been broken by sin. It can be re-established by pardon from God and faith from man, and when it has been formed anew it should show itself in the justice and the charity of our lives. That is the substance of all Christ’s teaching. Let us take another step. The teaching of Christ is remarkable, not only for what He said, but for what He did not say. His extraordinary sobriety of thought and of language is the best proof that His was not the supreme effort of the human soul aspiring towards the infinite. It is the revelation of God who tells man just as much as it is necessary for him to know and no more. This sobriety is the most striking proof of His immutability. Let us suppose that, like every other religious teacher, He had touched upon political and social questions, that He had pronounced some views on scientific questions, and we found in the pages of the Gospel a system of caste, as in Brahminism, or a code of legal enactments, as in Mahommedanism, or even a religious philosophy, such as that of the schoolmen. Is it not plain that on all sides He would have exposed Himself to unnecessary attacks from the progressive thought of the ages? He might have impressed men by His brilliancy, but in His teaching there would have been the seeds of decay. What do we find it: them? Why, we find that marvellous, that indefinable, thing which we call life. Just in that way, life is always found in the words of Christ, immutable in its essence, infinitely diverse in its applications. They are words which can never grow old. They are as immutable as Justice, fruitful as Love, eternal as Truth.
II. Look, again, at the immutability of Jesus Christ as exemplified in His PERSON. Jesus Christ is not only a Master, a Revealer, but He is also a Revelation. He did not merely say, “Listen to Me”; He said, too, “Look at Me.” Not only did He say, “Believe My words,” He said, “Believe in Me.” In the person of Jesus Christ there are two Beings in unity, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the visible image of the invisible God, and the ideal type of humanity. I am not going to attempt to explain the Mystery. I simply place myself in the presence of Jesus Christ. There I see the Ideal Type of moral perfection. I say that this Type is immutable, and that the words of the text are true of that Type, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” Just think of it for a moment--an immutable Ideal! Is there not something bold and even presumptuous in the very phrase? Nothing in the history of the human imagination is so difficult as to create an ideal of perfection which will last. The greatest geniuses have failed in the endeavour. Dante and Milton described with wonderful power the sufferings of hell; they failed, utterly, when they tried to paint the harmonies of heaven. Novelists who have depicted with bitter truth the anguish of remorse, and the consuming tortures of guilty passion, have never yet succeeded in creating an ideal hero. The ideal of one race is not the ideal of another. But in Christ’s Person I behold a strange fact. Here is a Being who came forth from the East. Here is a Descendant of Shem who will bend the sons of Japhet. Here is a Representative of the House of Israel in whom representatives of all earth’s races have found and adored the absolute Moral Ideal. He has bent before His Throne the art-loving children of Greece, who in His Cross of shame have discovered a creation of beauty which none of their most gifted artists could imitate. Before His sceptre have bowed low the chiefs and the soldiers of Imperial Rome, and when in the ruin of that Empire young and barbarous races streamed forth from the far-off lands of the East, like troubled waves of the ocean tossing and heaving beneath the anger of God, those restless souls bowed down in the dust before a Majesty simpler and purer than any they had ever seen, in fact, or in dream. He restrained the brutality of men in the Middle Ages, when, in the Renaissance, the antiquity which men had rediscovered intoxicated their minds with subtle fancies, He took possession of the strong souls, like Luther and like Calvin, who, by their very faults, checked the shortcomings of their age. So it was in the seventeenth century, the century of positive science, the age which saw masters like Copernicus, like Euler, like Newton, like Pascal, great souls whose glory it was to devote themselves and all their genius to the service of their fellow men. And so it is to-day. After criticism the most pitiless, after scrutiny the most rigid, after all His acts, His works, His life have been dissected, that sublime Figure still remains as sublime and as holy as ever, towering above human ideas of grandeur, above human idols and human follies.
III. Immutable, too, is He in His WORK. For three years He worked on earth. By the Spirit He works throughout the centuries, and in all time you will see in His work three great characteristics.
1. He saves. For that purpose He came here. He is nothing unless He is the Redeemer.
2. He sanctified. Through the ages He gives humanity new life, transforming man’s hearts, changing men’s wills and men’s lives, working a work in man’s souls analogous to that which here below He wrought in their bodies when He healed men’s leprosies, delivered men possessed of devils, raised men who had passed into the grasp of death. I know well to what you are going to object. Where, you will ask me, was this sanctifying influence in the days of Constantine, and of Clovis, or, later on, in Christian Gaul when the Merovingian kings illustrated all the infamies of life? Where, we have often asked, has it been in many of our modern churches, which have become worldly and insipid like salt that has lost its flavour? It was there. It may have lain mysterious and hidden in the souls of the faithful, so that the world knew it not--in faithful souls who, mingling with sinners of the most flagrant type, yet preserved to their last breath the Treasure of the Faith and the Eternal Hope. It was there in the narrow cell of a convent, and in the caverns of the Cevennes, in those humble men, those little ones of earth’s passing show, who would not bend the knee to Baal. And that is why the Church has lived. That is why she still lives, saved by her Divine Chief, who watches over her, and preserves her.
3. I have said, too, that Christ consoles. It is here that men may see, if they choose, the immutable nature of His work. It is attested beyond all doubt, not by the happiest of men, but by the most afflicted--Jesus Christ consoles. He has shown us an object in grief which makes it endurable. He lightens death with an eternal hope. He tells us of a sympathy profound, immense, infinite. And this is not an hypothesis. It is a reality we experience every hour, every minute. The blind only can deny that this consolation exists. That Christ is unchangeable--let us take, then, this thought as a great power in our faith, a great consolation for our hearts, a great encouragement for our active and militant Christianity. Christ is always the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He was here yesterday, He will be here to-morrow. His wealth of tenderness and of sympathy is always the same. He will be here in all possible troubles. He will be with us in the last moments of weakness, in the last sigh of agony. He will be with us to the very end. We are under the protection of an unchanging Power. When Charlemagne had reconstructed the political edifice of the Caesars, when he had gathered together under his victorious sceptre Germany and Helvetia, Italy and Gaul, the astonished world gazed upon this empire, which extended from the banks of the Baltic to the Pyrenees, and from the Alps to the Ocean. It happened that one day the old Emperor, satiated with glory, sat at a window in his palace on the banks of the Seine, and suddenly his eyes filled with tears. Being asked why he was sad, he pointed to the fields and the vines which the Norman pirates had devastated as they went up the river, and he said: “If they will do this while I live, what will they do when I am dead?” All! what will they do after me? It is the last cry of the great ones of the earth, whether they be called Alexander or Caesar, Charlemagne or Napoleon. It is the last cry of great thinker: like Plato and Spinoza, Leibnitz and Hegel: “What will they do when I am dead?” Imminent change, like a constant menace--heirs to succeed us who may destroy what we have gathered. But we serve an unchanging Master. It has pleased God, says the prophet, that Eternal Empire should rest on His shoulders. Those shoulders will not bend, and that empire will subsist for ever. In this hope, in this faith, in this rest, in this communion of the Universal Church, let us sing the Te Deum of the Christians of old, “Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ.” (E. Bersier, D. D.)
Sameness without monotony:
When these words were written they meant: Jesus Christ of to-day (the Gospel day) is the same as Jehovah of yesterday (the Old Testament day). Does not this enlarge our views, ennobling not the Master Himself, but our conception of Him? Now we know who walked with Enoch, who wrestled with Jacob, who walked with Abraham, who revealed Himself to Moses, who led His people like a shepherd--Jesus, the same yesterday and to-day. Always the same. The only (real) difference is the atmosphere through which He is viewed. I used to stay in Cumberland, and right away in line with the street, twenty miles distant, was a grand and venerable mountain-Skiddaw--always there, always the same, and yet different every day, every hour. Some days, however, it could not be seen. Clouds rolled between, but it was there, all the same. Other days it seemed close at hand, seen through the atmosphere that precedes rain, when distant objects grow near--a peculiar sombre atmosphere; then the mountain almost overshadowed one with its solemn grandeur. And some days, when the earth was deluged with golden light, and as sunbeams fell athwart the mountain, it seemed further away and yet much nearer, its details startling in their far-away distinctness. Always there, always the same; and yet, how different! Thus we are reminded not only of the sameness of Christ, but the infinite variety--may I reverently say?--the infinite novelty in Him. In Him there is sameness without monotony. How different from ourselves I We weary one another with our sameness. We repeat the same commonplaces in our conversation; we write the same things in our letters; we utter the same platitudes in our religious exercises--and God has more patience with us than we have with each other. Yet now and then we meet with a man about whom there is continually something new; who is always the same, and yet never twice alike; who always seems to have a chapter in reserve; whose life, as we know it better, ever unfolds in a way that charms the senses, enlightens the understanding, and warms the heart. Think of such a man, superior to all you know, and for whose engaging friendship you sometimes think you would give all you have. Yet even he would weary many. And at best he is a cipher, when contrasted with Him in whom is all the fulness of the Godhead and all the perfection of humanity. Even His enemies never grow tired of Him. And that “ for ever”: who shall say what it will reveal to us? Yesterday and to-day are ample guarantee of what to-morrow will be. Yesterday--Old Testament day and imperfect dispensation- what variety! Many a dreary life would be charmed by a study of the Old Testament alone, with its infinite variety of light and shadow. To-day--Gospel day--who can read the books, who can see all the pictures, who can hear allthe music; who can measure all the good inspired by Him, who maketh all things new?
I. THE SAME COMPANION. What beautiful glimpses we have of the companionship of yesterday, almost tempting us to wish that we had lived then instead of to-day. But yesterday is so vividly pictured in the Gospels that we may know what to expect to-day. Yesterday Jesus began His mission at a homely gathering--a wedding party--changing water into wine and disappointment into gladness. And even when He did not speak or work, how eloquent and comforting would be that silent presence and companionship. Christ in the house, Christ in the home, the same to-day as yesterday. Think what he must have been in His mother’s home for thirty years. And, lest we should be discouraged at the thought, we have the assurance that our association with Him may be real and close and beautiful (Matthew 12:49-50). Yesterday He took the little one up in arms laid his hands upon them, and blessed them. And, no doubt, this is given as a sample of what He often did. Is He the same to-day? What means the band of 500,000 Sunday-school teachers (in our own country alone) every Sunday afternoon gathering around them some 5,000,000 scholars, and, without pay, telling those children the old, old story? What is meant by all the entrancing books and papers published for children to-day?--Jesus Christ, the same Friend of childhood to-day as yesterday; no longer embracing two or three children in the Temple cloister, but a great multitude that no man can number.
II. THE SAME TEACHER. “Lo! I am with you alway.” Is He not ascended up on high? Yet to an eminence where all can see Him. When on earth, He said, “The Son of man which is in heaven.” If in heaven when on earth, surely on earth when in heaven.
III. THE SAME SAVIOUR. Yesterday the blind received their sight, the deaf were made to hear, the lame to walk, the leper to rejoice as he escaped a living death. All this free, without money, without price, and never one case refused. Jesus--“Saviour”--is the same to-day, and none dare point to a case and say it is too desperate for Him. Yesterday He recalled the maiden scarcely cold in death, the young man some time longer dead, and Lazarus far within the portals of death. Even concerning the body alone, when the Christian considers the marvels of surgery to-day, the progress of nursing, and matters pertaining to health and food, he is bound to ascribe them all to Him who went about doing good to body and soul alike. We feel that the miracles of to-day would not be experienced had not the Saviour come down to this poor, sin-stricken world--if He did not abide in it still. Philosophy and civilisation had their chance for ages to show what the world could do without a Divine Saviour. Last, but not least--in some way we cannot understand--Christ is the same to-day in His dying love. His sympathy is the same. When the heavens were opened to the seer of Patmos, he beheld that which made him think of a Lamb newly slain, yet slain from the foundation of the world. (M. Eastwood.)
The unchangeableness of Christ
I. HE MUST BE ESSENTIALLY DIVINE.
1. The history of all creature existences shows that they are essentially mutable.
2. The nature of things shows that the uncreated alone can be immutable.
II. His GOSPEL MUST STAND FOR EVER AS THE LIVING EXPRESSION OF HIMSELF.
III. HIS FRIENDS ARE ETERNALLY BLESSED. (Homilist.)
Instructions and consolations from the unchangeableness of Christ
I. CONSIDER THE OCCASION OF THESE WORDS.
1. The Hebrews had been blessed with public instructors, who had spoken to them the word of God, and who believed and lived what they taught.
2. They had spoken, bat now they ceased to speak the word of God. Their exemplary edifying conversation was now at an end.
3. Ministers, who have thus spoken the word of God, should be remembered, their faith followed, and the end of their conversation considered.
4. From the caution after our text, “Be not carried about with diverse and strange doctrines,” it would appear that there were some who endeavoured to turn the Hebrews aside from that purity and simplicity of the gospel which their deceased pastors had inculcated. Even in the primitive Church, tares were sown soon after the wheat, and sprung up in abundance.
II. CONSIDER THE MEANING of my text, and the practical instructions it suggests.
1. The religion of Jesus is ever the same. The doctrines and laws, taught by Christ and His inspired apostles, have been, are, and ever shall be, the only rule of faith and manners.
2. The kind and benevolent affections of Jesus are the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Dispensations of Providence may wear a frowning aspect; clouds and darkness may be round about the Saviour, and hide from His ransomed ones the pleasant light of His countenance; still, however, the love of His heart never expires, never diminishes.
3. The power of Christ is the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
The uniformity of God in His government:
St. Paul gives us a very beautiful idea of God, when he says, “The wisdom of God is manifold.” The first great cause, the Supreme Being, hath designs infinitely diversified. This appears by the various beings which He hath created, and by the different ways in which He governs them. But, although there be a diversity in the conduct of God, it is always a diversity of wisdom. Whether He creates a material or an intelligent world; whether He forms” celestial or terrestial bodies, men, angels, seraphims, or cherubims; whether He governs the universe by the same, or by different laws; in all cases, and at all times, He acts like a God: He hath only one principle, and that is order. There is a harmony in His perfections, which He never disconcerts.
I. We see in THE ECONOMY OF TIME four remarkable varieties.
1. We see in God’s government of His Church various degrees of light communicated. Compare the time of Moses with that of the prophets, and that of the prophets with that of the evangelists and apostles. In these various degrees of knowledge, communicated by God to men, I see that uniformity which is the distinguishing character of His actions, and the inviolable rule of His government. The same principle that inclined Him to grant a little light to the age of Moses, inclined Him to afford more to the time of the prophets, and the greatest of all to the age in which the evangelists and apostles lived. What is this principle? It is a principle of order, which requires that the object proposed to a faculty be proportioned to this faculty; that a truth proposed to an intelligence be proportioned to this intelligence.
2. What justifies the government of God on one of these articles, on the various degrees of light bestowed on His Church, will fully justify Him in regard to the worship required by Him. Conceive of the Jews, enveloped in matter, loving to see the objects of their worship before their eyes, and, as they said themselves, to have gods going before them. Imagine these gross creatures coming into our assemblies, how could they, being all sense and imagination (so to speak), exercise the better powers of their souls without objects operating on fancy and sense? How could they have made reflection, meditation, and thought, supply the place of hands and eyes, they who hardly knew what it was to meditate? How could they, who had hardly any idea of spirituality, have studied the nature of God abstractly, which yet is the only way of conducting us to a clear knowledge of a spiritual being?
3. The same may be said of the evidences, on which God hath founded the faith of His Church. What a striking difference! Formerly the Church saw sensible miracles, level to the weakest capacities; at present our faith is founded on a chain of principles and consequences which find exercise for the most penetrating geniuses. How many times have infidels reproached us on account of this difference! Represent to yourselves the whole world let loose against Christians; imagine the primitive disciples required to believe the heavenly origin of a religion, which called them first to be baptized in water, then in blood. How necessary were miracles in these adverse times, and how hard, with all the encouragement given by them, must the practice of duty be then! Weigh these circumstances against yours, and the balance will appear more equal than ye have imagined.
4. In like manner we observe a similar uniformity in the various laws prescribed to the Church. At all times, and in all places, God required His Church to love Him with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind: but He did not inform His people at all times and in all places the manner in which He required love to express itself. Expressions of love must be regulated by ideas of Deity;. Ideas of Deity are more or less pure as God reveals Himself more or less clearly.
5. Our fifth article is intended to justify the various conditions in which it hath pleased God to place His Church. At one time the Church enjoys temporal pomp and felicity, at another it is exposed to whatever the world can invent of misery and ignominy. Let us reason in regard to the Church in general, as we reason in regard to each private member of it. Do you think (I speak now to each individual) there is a dungeon so deep, a chain so heavy, a misery so great, a malady so desperate, that God cannot deliver you, were your deliverance suitable to the eminence of His perfections? Why, then, doth He at any time reduce us to these dismal extremities? Order requires God, who intends to save you, to employ those means, which are most likely to conduct you to salvation, or, if you refuse to profit by them, to harden you under them. He wills your salvation, and therefore He removes all your obstacles to salvation. Let us reason in regard to the Church in general, as we do in regard to the individuals who compose it. A change in the condition of the Church doth not argue any change in the attributes of God. The same eminence of perfections which engageth Him sometimes to make all concur to the prosperity of His Church, engageth Him at other times to unite all adversities against it.
II. We have considered Jesus Christ in the economy of time, now let us consider Him in THE ECONOMY OF ETERNITY. We shall see in this, as in the former, that harmony of perfections, that uniformity of government, which made our apostle say, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” The same principle that formed His plan of human government in the economy of time, will form a plan altogether different in that” of eternity. The same principle of proportion which inclines Him to confine our faculties within a narrow circle during this life, will incline Him infinitely to extend the sphere of them in a future state. The same principle which induces Him now to communicate Himself to us in a small degree, will then induce Him to communicate Himself to us in a far more eminent degree. The same principle that inclines Him now to assemble us in material buildings, to cherish our devotion by exercises savouring of the frailty of our state, by the singing of psalms, and by the participation of sacraments, will incline Him hereafter to cherish it by means more noble, more sublime, better suited to the dignity of our origin and to the price Of our redemption. The same principle which inclines Him to involve us now in indigence, misery, contempt, sickness, and death, will then induce Him to free us from all these ills, and to introduce us into that happy state where there will be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, and where all tears shall be wiped away from our eyes. Proportion requires that intelligent creatures should be some time in a state of probation, and this is the nature of the present dispensation: but the same law of proportion requires also, that after intelligent creatures have been some time in a state of trial, and have answered the end of their being placed in such a state, there should be a state of retribution in an eternal economy. By this truth let us regulate our faith, our morality, and our ideas of our future destiny.
1. Our faith. Let us adore only one God, and let us acknowledge in Him only one perfection, that is to say, a harmony, which results from all His perfections. If this idea be impressed on our minds, our faith will never be shaken, at least it will never be destroyed by the vicissitudes of the world, or by those of the Church. Why? Because we shall be fully convinced, that the vicissitudes of both proceed from the same cause, I mean the immutability of that God who saith by the mouth of one of His prophets, “I, the Lord, change not.”
2. God hath only one principle of His actions, that is proportion, order, fitness of things. Let love of order be the principle of all your actions; it is the character of a Christian, and would to God it were the character of all my hearers. A Christian hath only one principle of action. In Scripture-style this disposition of mind is called “walking with God,” “setting the Lord always before us.” Glorious character of a Christian, always uniform and like himself! He does nothing, if I may be allowed to speak so, but arrange his actions differently, as his circumstances vary.
3. Finally, this idea of God is very proper to regulate that of your future destiny. Do we wish for a full assurance of a claim to eternal happiness? Let us then by our conduct form an inseparable relation between our eternal felicity and the invariable perfections of that God who changeth not; let us spare no pains to arrive at that happy state, let us address to God our most fervent prayers to engage Him to bless the efforts which we make to enjoy it; and, after we have seriously engaged in this great work, let us fear nothing. (J. Saurin.)
The unchanging Saviour
I. WHAT IS DENIED. It is denied that either time, or mood, or circumstances, or provocation, or death, can alter Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. Time changes us. Your portrait, taken years ago, when you were in your prime, hangs on the walls of your home. You sometimes sadly contrast it with your present self. Then the face was unseamed by care, unscarred by conflict; but now how weary and furrowed! The upright form is bent, the step has lost its spring. But there is a greater difference between two mental than physical portraitures. Opinions alter. And sometimes the question arises, Can time alter Him whose portrait hangs on the walls of our hearts, painted in undying colours by the hands of the four Evangelists? Of course, time takes no effect on God, who is the I AM, eternal and changeless. But Jesus is man as well as God. He has tenses in His being: the yesterday of the past, the to-day of the present, the to-morrow of the future. It is at least a question whether His human nature, keyed to the experiences of man, may not carry with it, even to influence His royal heart, that sensitiveness to the touch of time which is characteristic of our race. But the question tarries only for a second. Time is foiled in Jesus. He has passed out of its sphere, and is impervious to its spell.
2. Moods change us. We know people who are oranges one day, and lemons the next; now a summer’s day, and, again, a nipping frost; rock and reed alternately. You have to suit yourself to their varying mood, asking to-day what you would not dare to mention to-morrow; and thus there is a continual unrest and scheming in the hearts of their friends. But it is not so with Jesus. Never tired, or put out, or variable.
3. Circumstances change us. Men who in poverty and obscurity have been accessible and genial, become haughty when idolised for their genius and fawned on for their wealth. New friends, new spheres, new surroundings alter men marvellously. What a change has passed over Jesus Christ, since mortal eyes beheld Him. Crowned with glory and honour; seated at the right hand of the Father. Can this be He who was despised, an outcast, and a sufferer? R is indeed He. But surely it were too much to expect that He should be quite the same? Nay, but He is. And one proof of it is that the graces which He shed on the first age of the Church were of exactly the same quality as those which we now enjoy. We know that the texture of light is unaltered, because the analysis of a ray, which has just reached us from some distant star, whence it started as Adam stepped across the threshold of Eden, is of precisely the same nature as the analysis of the ray of light now striking on this page. And we know that Jesus Christ is the same as He was, because the life which throbbed in the first believers, resulted in those very fruits which are evident in our hearts and lives, all having emanated from Himself.
4. Sin and provocation change us. Our souls close up to those who have deceived our confidence. But sin cannot change Christ’s heart, though it may affect His behaviour. If it could do so, it must have changed His feelings to Peter. But the only apparent alteration made by that sad denial was an increased tenderness.
II. WHAT IS AFFIRMED.
1. He is the same in His person (Hebrews 1:12). His vesture alters. He has exchanged the gaberdine Of the peasant for the robes of which He stripped Himself on the eve of His incarnation; but beneath those robes beats the same heart as heaved with anguish at the grave where His friend lay dead.
2. He is also the same in His office (Hebrews 7:24). Unweariedly He pursues His chosen work as the Mediator, Priest, and Intercessor of men.
III. WHAT IT IMPLIES. It implies that He is God. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Jesus Christ immutable
I. First, the personal names of our Lord here mentioned--“JESUS CHRIST.” “Jesus” stands first. That is our Lord’s Hebrew name, “Jesus,” or, “Joshua.” The word signifies, a Saviour, “for He shall save His people from their sins.” It was given to Him in His cradle. Jesus in the manger deserves to be called the Saviour, for when it can be said that “ the tabernacle of God is with men, and He doth dwell among them,” there is hope that all good things will be given to the fallen race. He was called Jesus in His childhood--“The Holy Child Jesus.” He was Jesus, too, and is commonly called so both by His foes and by His friends in His active life. It is as Jesus the Saviour that He heals the sick. But He comes out most clearly as Jesus when dying on the cross; named so in a writing, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” There preeminently was He the Saviour, being made a curse for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Still bearing the name of Jesus, our Lord rose from the dead. He is a Saviour for us since He vanquished the last enemy that shall be destroyed, that we, having been saved from sin by His death, should be saved from death through His resurrection. Jesus is the title under which He is called in glory, for “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” As Jesus He shall shortly come, and we are “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” There are two words in the name Jesus. The one is a contraction of the word “Jehovah,” the other is the word which I have just now explained to you as ultimately coming to mean “salvation.” Taken to pieces, the word Jesus means Jehovah salvation. You have the glorious essence and nature of Christ revealed to you as Jehovah, “I am that I am,” and then you have in the second part of His name His great work for you in setting you at large and delivering you from all distress. Now reverently consider the second title--Christ. That is a Greek name, a Gentile name--Anointed. So that you see you have the Hebrew Joshua, Jesus, then theGreek Christos, Christ; so that we may see that no longer is there either Jew or Gentile, but all are one in Jesus Christ. The word Christ, as you all know, signifies anointed, and as such our Lord is sometimes called “the Christ,” “the very Christ”; at other times “the Lord’s Christ,” and sometimes “the Christ of God.” He is the Lord’s Anointed, our King, and our Shield. This word “Christ” teaches us three great truths.
1. It indicates His offices. He exercises offices in which anointing is necessary, and these are three: the office of the King, of the Priest, and of the Prophet. But it means more than that.
2. The name Christ declares His right to those offices. He is not King because He sets Himself up as such. God has set Him as King upon His holy hill of Zion, and anointed Him to rule. He is also Priest, but He has not taken the priesthood upon Himself, for He is the propitiation whom God has set forth for human sin. He comes not as a prophet who assumes office, but God hath anointed Him to preach glad tidings to the poor, and to come among His people with the welcome news of eternal love.
3. Moreover, this anointing signifies that as He has the office, and as it is His by right, so He has the qualifications for the work.
II. His MEMORABLE ATTRIBUTES. Looking at the Greek, one notices that it might be read thus, “Jesus Christ Himself yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” The anointed Saviour is always Himself. He is always Jesus Christ; and the word “same “ seems to me to bear the most intimate relation to the two titles of the text, and does as good as say that Jesus Christ is always Jesus Christ, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. If the goodly fellowship of the prophets could be here to-day, they would all testify to you that He was the same in every office in their times as He is in these our days.
1. Jesus Christ is the same now as He was in times gone by, for the text saith, “The same yesterday, and to-day.” He is the same to-day as He was from old eternity. Before all worlds He planned our salvation; He entered into covenant with His Father to undertake it. Whatever was in the heart of Christ before the stars began to shine, that same infinite love is there to-day. Jesus is the same to-day as He was when He was here on earth. When He tabernacled among men, He was most willing to save. Blessed be His name, Jesus Christ is the same to-day as in apostolic days. Then, He gave the fulness of the Spirit. We have had great enjoyments of God’s presence; we do remember the love of our espousals, and if we have not the same joys to-day, it is no fault of His. There is the same water in the well still, and if we have not drawn it, it is our fault.
2. Now, further, Christ shall be to-morrow what He has been yesterday and is to-day. Our Lord Jesus Christ will be changed in no respect throughout the whole of our life.
III. OUR LORD’S EVIDENT CLAIMS.
1. If our Lord be “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,” then, according to the connection of our text, He is to be followed to the end. If the Lord is still the same, follow Him till you reach Him. Your exit out of this life shall bring you where He is, and you will find Him then what He always was.
2. The next evident claim of Christ upon us is that we should be steadfast in the faith. Notice the ninth verse: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.”
3. If Jesus Christ be thus immutable, He has an evident claim to our” most solemn worship. Immutability can be the attribute of none but God.
4. He claims also of us next, that we should trust Him. If He be always the same, here is a rock that cannot be moved; build on it.
5. And, lastly, if He is always the same, rejoice in Him, and rejoice always. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The unchanging Saviour:
Changing circumstances have great power to work changes in character. There are few things more admirable than the spectacle of a good man passing through many chequered experiences, and keeping himself unchanged, excepting that his piety shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. This, like all other moral beauty and glory, was found in the Son of man, as it has been found in none besides.
I. HIS EARTHLY LIFE LEFT HIS LOVE UNCHANGED. His course was one long trial, from the manger to the cross. What His love was when it went into that furnace, that it was when it came out; not so much as “the smell of fire upon it.”
II. DEATH WROUGHT CHANGE IN HIS LOVE. His subjection to its power was real and complete. It would be easy to take up the history of “ the great forty days,” and show that in word and deed Christ proved that His character was in every respect what it had been before He passed through the mysteries of death,
III. EXALTATION TO HEAVENLY POWER AND GLORY WROUGHT NO CHANGE IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST. Since He has been at the right hand of God, He has four times visibly revealed Himself to men on the earth, and each revelation has been for a merciful purpose. To Stephen, to Paul, to John, to the Seven Churches. (C. Vince.)
Jesus Christ ever the same:
I. IN RESPECT OF THE TRUTH OF WHICH HE IS THE TEACHER. In this respect Divine truth differs materially from human science. Science is tentative and experimental. In the light of the nineteenth century the scientists and philosophers of bygone ages seem little better than jugglers. And though some of the axioms of scientific teaching maintain their hold, yet the most accomplished students of the phenomena of life are ever hesitant and reserved. Nothing more vividly illustrates the unchangeableness of Divine truth than the ever changing phases of unbelief, and the ever varying tactics of its opponents. Theological development does not involve new truths. A deeper experience, a profounder study, a growth of intelligence, may invest a well-worn truth with fresh significance and beauty, just as the practised hand of the lapidary can develop the latent brilliance of a gem--each fresh operation discovering new tints, new possibilities of lustre. Biblical criticism may illumine an obscure passage; single words here and there may be touched with new life; but the cardinal verities remain changeless and unalterable. The unchanging truth, while it is our safety, is our confidence. Whatever changes, the doctrines to which we have yielded our faith will never change. Whatever fails, the truth shall not fail.
II. IN RESPECT OF THE METHODS OF HIS ADMINISTRATION.
III. IN RESPECT OF THE RESOURCES AT HIS COMMAND (Matthew 28:18-20). Anticipating this glorious investment, the Psalmist sang long before of “gifts for men,” which were to be the prerogative of the ascended Lord. There is nothing to warrant the theory that these gifts were temporary, that they were limited to any particular age or crisis, or that they were distinctive of certain aspects only of the Messianic reign. It was of Himself, as thus endowed with “all power,” that the Lord said, in charging His followers with their great commission: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” It is impossible now to indicate the many-sided aspects of His mediatorial power. The word “all” defies exhaustion. He can shape the course of history and open doors which prejudice and enmity have closed. By the viewless ministrations of His Spirit He can prepare the minds of men for the reception of saving truth. He can endow the holy life with wealth, and inspire a generosity which will rise to every emergency. He can raise up and qualify men for every branch of Christian service: the heroes of the mission-field, the inventors and administrators of Church economy, the mighty preachers of all ages have been just what He made them. (R. N. Young, D. D.)
The immutable mercy of Jesus Christ
I. THE CENTRE IS JESUS CHRIST. Jesus was His proper name, Christ His appellative. Jesus a name of His nature, Christ of His office and dignity. Jesus, a name of all sweetness. A Reconciler, a Redeemer, a Saviour. When the conscience wrestles with law, sin, death, there is nothing but horror and despair without Jesus. The Word of God, the Son of God, the Christ of God, are titles of glory; Jesus, a Saviour, is a title of grace, mercy, redemption. This Jesus Christ is the centre of this text; and not only of this, but of the whole Scripture. The sum of Divinity is the Scripture; the sum of the Scripture is the gospel; the sum of the gospel is Jesus Christ.
II. THE REFERRING LINE, PROPER TO THIS CENTRE, IS “THE SAME.” There is no mutability in Christ; “no variableness, nor shadow of turning” James 1:17). All lower lights have their inconstancy; but in the “Father of lights” there is no changeableness.
1. This dissuades our confidence in worldly things because they are inconstant. All vanities are but butterflies, which wanton children greedily catch for; and sometimes they fly beside them, sometimes before them, sometimes behind them, sometimes close by them; yea, through their fingers, and yet they miss them; and when they have them, they are but butterflies; they have painted wings, but are crude and squalid worms.
2. This persuades us to an imitation of Christ’s constancy. Let the stableness of His mercy to us work a stableness of our love to Him. And howsoever, like the lower orbs, we have a natural motion of our own from good to evil, yet let us suffer the higher power to move us supernaturally from evil to good.
III. THE CIRCUMFERENCE.
1. Objectively. Jesus Christ is the same in His word; and that
(1) Yesterday in pre-ordiuation;
(2) To-day in incarnation;
(3) For ever in application.
2. Subjectively, in His power the same; and that
(1) Yesterday, for He made the world;
(2) To-day, for He governs the world;
(3) For ever, for He shall judge the world.
3. Effectually in His grace and mercy. So He is the same,
(1) Yesterday to our fathers;
(2) To-day to ourselves;
(3) For ever to our children. (T. Adams.)
The changelessness of Christ:
Sameness is not a quality of things much loved for its own sake. In common things we soon grow wearied of sameness, and the whole earthly system of things is founded on the principle of variety and change. In what department of this universe shall we find immobility? Take your stand on the quietest day in the stillest place you can find--change is going on around you with every moment of time, so restless is nature down to its very heart. The same law holds in providence. Indeed, there could be no providence without change; no providing and no rule would be possible if no new circumstances arose. The same constitution of things holds in the higher sphere of man’s moral progress and religious life. We make progress only in change--we put off the old and put on the new--we learn and unlearn--we fall and rise again; and as nature and providence are never the same on two successive days, so our souls are never in exactly the same moral state on one day as they were on the day before. The prayer of every Christian heart is: “Oh! unchanging One, let me change from day to day, until I gain Thine image and reach Thy presence!” And may we not believe this to be the prayer of angels too? Are they not thirsting for change “ from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord? “And yet many hearts thrill with a sacred joy on hearing the words, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” How comes it that when we are pleased and profited by variety everywhere else, we are conscious of a sublime satisfaction in finding fixedness here? Is it not because we are created to find rest and portion only in God? Behind all changes in nature we press to unchanging power and law, and feel that these can reside only in an unchanging God. The text is a declaration of the immutability of Jesus Christ, and so takes for granted His divinity. It can be said of no creature that he is the same yesterday and to-day. That language can only have reference to a Divine Being, and it can only he with regard to His Divine qualities that Jesus Christ can be said to be immutable. In fact, He is not the same yesterday and to-day in the forms and aspects of His existence. In these there has been great change. He was “with God,” then with man, now with God again. In regard to these visible, sensible manifestations, Jesus Christ is different to-day from what He was yesterday, and (we speak with reverence), for anything said in the Scriptures, He may be different to-morrow from what He is to-day. Some such change may be suggested in 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28. But these mortal, formal changes, whatever they are, do not affect the substantial meaning of the text. Jesus Christ, in all that constitutes His personality and in all that pertains to His character, is the same, and cannot change. In His will, in His purposes, in His principles, in His affections, He is for ever the same. These things constitute being and character, and these in Him are without change. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The unchanging Christ
I. I apply these words as a New Year’s motto, in two or three different directions, and ask you to consider, first, THE UNCHANGING CHRIST IN HIS RELATION TO OUR CHANGEFUL LIVES. The one thing of which anticipation may be sure is that nothing continues in one stay. Blessed are they who, in a world of passing phenomena, penetrate to the still centre of rest, and looking over all the vacillations of the things that can be shaken, can turn to the Christ and say, Thou who movest all things art Thyself unmoved; Thou who changest all things, Thyself changest not. Let the fleeting proclaim to you the permanent; let the world with its revolutions lead you up to the thought of Him that is the same for ever. For that is the only thought on which a man can build, and, building, be at rest. The yesterday of my text may either be applied to the generations that have passed, and then the “to-day” is our little life; or it may be applied to my own yesterday, and then the to-day is this narrow present. In either application the words of my text are full of hope and of joy. “Jesus Christ is the same to-day.” We are always tempted to think that this moment is commonplace and insignificant. Yesterday lies consecrated in memory; to-morrow, radiant in hope; but to-day is poverty-stricken and prose. The sky is furthest away from us right over our heads; behind and in front it seems to touch the earth. But if we will only realise that all that sparkling lustre and all that more than mortal tenderness of pity and of love with which Jesus Christ has irradiated and sweetened any past is verily here with us amidst the commonplaces and insignificant duties of the dusty to-day, then we need look back to no purple distance, nor forward to any horizon where sky and earth kiss, but feel that here or nowhere, now or never, is Christ the all-sufficient and unchanging Friend. He is faithful. He cannot deny Himself.
II. So, secondly, I apply these words in another direction. I ask you to think of THE RELATION BETWEEN THE UNCHANGING CHRIST AND THE DYING HELPERS. God’s changeful providence comes into all our lives, and parts dear ones, making their places empty that Christ Himself may fill the empty places, and, striking away other props, though the tendrils that twine round them bleed with the wrench, in order that the plant may no longer trail along the ground, but twine itself round the Cross and climb to the Christ upon the throne. He lives, and in Him all loves and companionships live unchanged.
III. So, further, we apply, in the third place, this thought to THE RELATION BETWEEN THE UNCHANGING CHRIST AND DECAYING INSTITUTIONS AND OPINIONS. Man’s systems are the shadows on the hillside. Christ is the everlasting solemn mountain itself. Much in the popular conception of Christianity is in the act of passing. Let it go; Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. We need not fear change within the limits of His Church or of His world. For change there means progress, and the more the human embodiments of Christian truth disintegrate, the more distinctly does the solemn unique figure of Christ the same rise before us. His sameness is consistent with an infinite unfolding of new preciousness and new powers, as new generations with new questions arise, and the world seeks for fresh guidance. “I write no new commandment unto you”; I preach no new Christ unto you. “Again a new commandment I write unto you,” and every generation will find new impulse, new teaching, new shaping energies, social and individual, ecclesiastical, theological, intellectual, in the old Christ who was crucified for our offences and raised again for our justification, and remains “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”
IV. Lastly, look at these words in their application to THE RELATION BETWEEN THE UNCHANGING CHRIST AND THE ETERNAL LOVE OF HEAVEN. The “for ever” of my text is not to be limited to this present life, but it runs on into the remotest future and boundless prospect of an eternal unfolding and reception of new beauties in the old earthly Christ. For Him the change between the “to-day” of His earthly life and the “ for ever” of His ascended glory made no change in the tenderness of His heart, the sweetness of His smile, the nearness of His helping hand. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Yesterday and to-day:
Employing the word “yesterday” to represent past time in general, we ask, who beside Jesus Christ is the same to-day as yesterday? Yesterday our fathers and our mothers were young, and hale, and strong--to-day they lean towards the earth like half-felled trees, or they lie prostrate as trees wholly cut down. Yesterday the hair of the husband was black as a raven--to-day it is white as wool. Yesterday the children were like olive plants round about the table--to-day one is not, another withers in the place that still knows him, and others are transplanted to a foreign soil. Yesterday kindred and friends were a wide social circle--to-day but a poor segment of that circle is left. And these changes will continue--not absolutely, and for ever, but to-morrow, and for days in succession, until the last man, and the last day. And with the changes to which men are subject is associated mutation, which, like waves flowing over sand, affects the condition and appearance of all things. Yet here, where nothing is abiding but change--here where we “should imagine that we should get accustomed to change--we are always sighing for that which is the same to-day as yesterday, and which will be the same for ever. The Divine in Jesus Christ is ever the same, His power in heaven, in earth, and in hell--His knowledge--all that hath been, all that is, and all that will be--His wisdom for device and design, for ruling and over-ruling, for ordering all beings and things--His presence in all places--His spotless purity, and undeviating righteousness--His unbounded love--are all “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” The humanity ofJesus Christ is in all its essential features the same. Eighteen centuries ago it was said of Him that “He manifested forth His glory.” This glory--the fulness of grace and truth--is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” And is He the same in His devotedness to the work of redemption? Yesterday that work was His. He gave Himself to it in the beginning; undertook it when man fell; made ready for His advent during four thousand years; came in the fulness of time. He came to live as a man--He did live as a man. He came to suffer as a substitute. He came here, not to stay, but to return. Yesterday Jesus Christ did all this--and what of to-day? To-day I This is the favourable time--this is the day of Jesus Christ’s salvation. And for ever will Jesus Christ be our Redeemer. “Of His kingdom there shall be no end.” “He continueth ever.” “He hath an unchangeable priesthood.” “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” “He shall reign for ever and ever.” He has made great promises to His disciples. He has said that they shall never hunger and shall never thirst, they shall never die, they shall do great works, they shall not abide in darkness, they shall have peace, they shall join Christ in His glory. Will He fulfil these words? Can He? In disposition to fulfil them, and in power, Jesus Christ “ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” He is the revealer of what the apostle Paul calls present truth--and in His exhibition of that which it is essential for us to know, and essential for us to believe, He changeth not. Still, too, He assures His disciples, “I will come again.” He said this yesterday. And to-day many of you are found among those who wait for His appearing, and who love His appearing--and as the vision seems to tarry, and as the time appears to be delayed, often do you hear Him say, “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” Jesus Christ is the same in His influence upon those who believe in Him. Yesterday it was testified, “The love of Christ constraineth us “-it carries us out of the course of the world. To-day, moved by His love, multitudes are acting and suffering as those only can work and endure who live, not unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again. And what say you of His love? His eye is the same--bright as a flame of fire, and strong enough to view all things, whether great or small. His ear is the same--quick and sensitive; embracing the harmonies of creation, and receiving at the same time the whisper of a little one’s prayer. His hand is the same--strong even to almightiness. And His heart is the same--sympathetic, patient, generous, tender as a woman’s, strong in its personal attachment, and filled with a love which surpasseth knowledge. In all respects, and in all aspects, Jesus Christ is “ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” To-day, brethren, Jesus Christ is the same as when Peter and Johu rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”--not counted worthy to wear some crown for His name, unless the crown be a crown of thorns, but “ that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Then to-day let us boldly confess Him. To-day Jesus Christ is the same as when Paul said, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that day.” Then let us with all our heart confide in Him to-day. Let us renew our confidence. Let us give everything up to Him, ourselves and our all. To-day Jesus Christ is the same as when He said, “I am the vine; ye are the branches.” Then let us abide in Him to-day. To-day Jesus Christ is the same as when it was said, “We are all one in Christ Jesus.” Then let us to-day promote the manifestation of the true unity of all believers. (S. Martin.)
The unchanging Christ
I. Follow for a moment THE SUGGESTIONS OF TRUE CONTEXT; remember those who exercised a blessed, loving, wise “ rule “ over you, who “ spake to you the Word of God,” pastors, parents, friends; those who first interpreted to you your soul’s yearning and restlessness, and pointed you to Christ for rest; the true and trusty ones who warned you against your dangers, and helped you in your temptations, and solaced you in your griefs; who seemed to read your life, and could speak the very words you needed. Death, or separation, or mutual alienation and distrust put an end to their guidance. Alas that association so blessed should have had an end.
II. The longing for rest, the desire for what is stable and unchanging--THIS IS OUR DEEPEST WANT; IT STRENGTHENS IN US AS WE GROW OLDER, WISER, BETTER MEN. When our impatience has been tamed, and our impetuosity has become subdued; when we have learned to distrust ourselves, and wish for an immutable goodness on which to stay; when we have learned to distrust the world, to look away from things and circumstances; after we have felt weariness and disappointment, we grow to value quiet. Youth will wander and explore; but manhood asks a home wherein to dwell. But a coming rest is not all we ask; is life all to be weary and changing? must we ever be restless? Our text speaks of One who is even now unchanging. All is not fleeting, Christ is the same. What changes need we now fear? We may be troubled, but we cannot be daunted; surprised, but not unmanned. The deep reality of life abides the same; Jesus Christ the same to-day as yesterday.
III. THE WORDS “FOR EVER” FALL STRANGELY ON OUR EARS; THE SOLEMN FUTURE IS UNKNOWN AND UNIMAGINABLE. Here I can work, here I can feel, here I am somewhat at home; but that world will be so unutterably strange. Again the thought of the immutable One bears up out of the confusion of changing things. There will be more familiarity than strangeness there, for “ Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” He will not be unknown; He will be recognised who quickened, and guided, and sustained us, who was the steadfastness and identity of our passing earthly life. To those Christians who would read the words translated “for ever” in their original form, “unto the ages,” they would have a further suggestion. They were accustomed to look on God’s purpose in the universe as unfolding itself in a series of aeons or dispensations. It had been so in the history of this world; they themselves were living in the end of one dispensation, the old world passing away; a new world, another age, was immediately commencing. Words had come to them from the heavens of old, obscurely referring to at least one other dispensation that had accomplished itself before man was created. Paul speaks of worlds and epochs, of which we now know nothing, that are all to be gathered together, and seen fulfilled in Christ. In the world to come there may be further dispensations, each fulfilling a thought, and all illustrating the mighty being, of God. Here are changes, grand, stupendous, unimaginable. But in the midst of all is seen one unchanging Christ. Let dispensation succeed dispensation, and age follow age, Jesus Christ is “the same unto the ages.” New they will be, but they will not be strange; the changes will but illustrate the unchangeable.
IV. You will observe that it is not of a thing that is the same, nor even of a truth conceived to be the same, that our text speaks, BUT OF A PERSON WHO IS THE SAME. It is in our personal relations that we feel the identity or the changes of life. Our life continues the same in many vicissitudes, so long as the persons we have to do with are unchanged. Amidst the flux of things, the flow of events, the heart rests on one unchanging friend. We may stand solitary, where once we stood circled with affection, alone but not alone, for He is with us. Truest companion, trustiest guide; He who “laid down His life for His friends”; Jesus Christ is “ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”
V. LET ME SPEAK TO YOU PERSONALLY OF THE UNCHANGING SAVIOUR. Well is it for you who trust in Christ. Sorrow cannot long dim your eyes, for He is the unchanging Comforter. Disappointment cannot quench your hopefulness, for He is the unchanging Hope. Difficulties will not daunt you, for He is the unchanging Helper. You will not sink in weakness, for He is the unchanging Strength. You need not fear temptation, for His is an unchanging succour. Sin will not overmaster you, nor guilt drive you to despair; for He whose blood first cleansed you will cleanse you still, and the ear into which you breathed your first penitence is listening still for your repentant prayer. Death has no terror for you, and the endless ages will not see you shaken; for He is “ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” And you to whom all your life long He has “stretched out His hands”; you who have still rejected Him, you to whom a Christian life has long seemed only a dream in memory, a possibility left far behind; to you too He is still the same. Your conscience may be sluggish, His voice is powerful to arrest; your heart may have grown hard, His love is strong to melt; your will may have become obdurate, His grace is mighty to subdue. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
The immutability of God:
The unchangeableness of God was taught originally as contrasted with the ever changing views entertained when poets, and mythists, and theologists of antiquity were accustomed to weave just such fancies as they pleased, and twine them about an imaginary God, changing to-day the imaginings of yesterday, as one twines every day fresh flowers about some statue. Without revelation, without even the fixed data which science affords, men formed ideal images and called them God. There was perpetual change. As opposed to such a view of God, a creature of fancy, that changed with all the moods of the imagination, God was declared to be unchangeable. His unchangeableness was also taught as opposed to any change of dynasties. The gods of heathen nations made war with each ether, maintaining themselves by the exertion of force against other gods, so that there were revulsions in high and heavenly places, and reigning dynasties were overthrown. As opposed to such a conception as this, the Bible teaches God to be one, from eternity to eternity, sovereign and immutable. God’s unchangeableness was taught, also, as opposed to the caprice of heathen divinities. The gods of antiquity were shameful, subject to fits of wrath, and to the most fitful changes of the most desperate feelings. The Bible revealed Jehovah, the unchangeable; who, being once known, was for ever to be obeyed, because His commands were equitable and right, and from whom such as learned His will, and followed the path of obedience, had nothing to fear, but everything to hope. What then, are the respects in which God is to be supposed to be immutable?
1. In the first place, no change is to be imputed to Him such as comes to us by reason of age and the wearing of the body. He is not, as men are, changed by time. It is blessed to think of being eternally young; but the thought that, while men are wrinkled, and bent, and scarred by disease, and toil, and suffering, and are subject to all manner of infirmities, there is One that is unchanged by time, and is for ever in the bloom of youth--this thought comes home with sweetness and comfort to every heart.
2. Nor is there any such change possible to God as belongs to men by reason of their external circumstances.
3. Nor is there any change in the great moral attributes which form the basis of the Divine character--justice, and truth, and love. That which was love in the beginning, is love now, and will be love for evermore. Truth and justice are the same now that they were in the beginning, and that they ever will be. The applications of them vary, but the essential moral qualities themselves never change. God is immutable in the fundamental elements of His being.
4. Nor is there any change in the essential purposes of God’s moral government. God saw the end from the beginning; He follows a plan eternally ordained, and the whole vast administration of creation is carried on in pursuance of certain great fixed ideas. In view of these statements, I remark, first, that it is such a view of God as this that inspires confidence and trust in Him. We want to feel that though there are endless variations in goodness and justice, and endless degrees of these things in the Divine mind, yet there is nothing there that traverses justice or good, or that changes these qualities, making that which is evil and unjust in this age just and good in the next age. It has been supposed that the doctrine of God’s decrees would repel men, and drive them into infidelity. On the contrary, it draws men. God’s decrees may be taught so as to make men feel that they are oppressive; but the thought that the decrees of God run through time and eternity, and that He is true to them, so far from being repulsive, is exceedingly attractive. You might as well say that the laws of nature are repulsive, as to say that God’s decrees are so. It is constancy that is the foundation of hope, and civilisation, and everything that is blessed in the world. (H. W. Beecher.)
Jesus always the same:
Ah! the time comes when the actor must leave the public stage; when the reins drop from the leader’s grasp; and the orator’s tongue falters; and the workman’s stout arm grows feeble; and the fire of wit is quenched; and the man of genius turns into a drivelling idiot; and men of understanding, without any second birth, pass into a second childhood. But the time shall never come when it can be said of Jesus, His hand is shortened that it cannot save. No; “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,” there is nothing He ever did, in saving, blessing, sanctifying, that He cannot do again. This gives undying value to all the offers, invitations, and promises of the gospel. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Christ does not change:
Earthly friends are apt to change, and if they do not change they die. When a visitor comes from a foreign land where you once sojourned, you ask eagerly about the different acquaintances you once had there. “And did you see such a one?” “Yes; but you would not know him, he is so greatly altered.” “Did he remember me?” “Well, I rather think he was asking for you, but I cannot be very sure. He has got other things to occupy his thoughts since you and he were wont to meet.” “And what of such another?” “All, times are sadly changed with him. You would be sorry to see him now. I believe he has the same kind heart as ever; but he has not in his power to show it as he was used to do.” “And our old neighbour, who lived next door?” “Your old neighbour? dear good man, he is safe in Abraham’s bosom. I found his house shut up, and all his family gone away.” And it is very seldom, after years of absence, that you hear of one whose outward circumstances are nowise different from what they were, and rarer still to hear of one whose dispositions are quite unchanged. However, One there is who wears our nature, but is not liable to the variations of mortality. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Experiences may change, but not Christ:
It is a beautiful moonlight night. The moon is at full, and shining in more than ordinary silver brightness. A man is gazing intently down a deep, still well, where he sees the moon reflected, and thus remarks to a friendly bystander: “How beautifully fair and round she is to-night! how quietly and majestically she rides along 1” He has just finished speaking, when suddenly his friend drops a small pebble into the well, and he now exclaims, “Why the moon is all broken to shivers, and the fragments are shaking together in the greatest disorder!” “What gross absurdity! “ is the astonished rejoinder of his companion. “Look up man! the moon hasn’t changed one jot or tittle. It is the condition of the well that reflects her that has changed.” Now, believer, apply the simple figure. Your heart is the well. When there is no allowance of evil the blessed Spirit of God takes of the glories and preciousness of Christ, and reveals them to you for your comfort and joy. But the moment a wrong motive is cherished in the heart, or an idle word escapes the lips unjudged, your happy experiences are smashed to pieces, and you are all restless and disturbed within, until in brokenness of spirit before God you confess your sin (the disturbing thing), and thus get restored once more to the calm, sweet joy of communion. But when your heart is thus all unrest, need I ask, Has Christ’s work changed? No, no. (G. Cutting.)
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines
Evils of a state of scepticism
It would seem hardly to be expected, where ample means of religious knowledge are enjoyed, that such a state of mind should be a common thing.
Of those who are educated under religious light, and who are led in early life to accept Christianity, a very considerable number sooner or later reach a state in which they are disposed to question almost anything pertaining to religion. More commonly this crisis arrives in advanced youth, or on the verge of manhood. Up to that time the mind has been content to take as truth, on the authority of others, and with but little question, whatever may have been taught it. It has acquiesced, without serious difficulty, in the statements of parents and teachers as to what were the claims of duty. But now there comes a change. Of the views and impressions which childhood entertained on a variety of subjects, advancing years and knowledge have shown many to be erroneous. In this state of mind the inquirer is inclined to question everything, as he once was to believe everything. He has found a few things, or, if you please, many things, to be false, and so he is afraid to believe that anything is true. He passes, by a not unnatural process, from the extreme of credulity to the extreme of scepticism. At this point one of three things must happen: either the mind must become utterly lost to truth, and settle itself on the ultimately fatal grounds of false opinion; or it must drift on unfixed, full of uncertainty, or, it must lay hold of the strong cable of sound evidence, and deliberately cast anchor on the sure foundations of the truth. There are doubtless some who do succeed in confirming themselves in falsehood beyond the chance of recovery. We are sure, also, that there are those who gain a hold on truth which nothing can relax, and which permanently sets their hearts at rest. But how large a number fall into the intermediate class, the class of perpetual doubters!--and are carried about by diverse and strange doctrines, always catching at a new absurdity to relieve the weariness of dwelling on the last. What can be more deplorable than this unnatural, this morbid bewilderment of the soul? Such a state is, of all things, to be dreaded.
1. For, in the first place, it must needs be an exceedingly unhappy state. To all minds that have received even a moderate degree of cultivation, it is a source of positive pleasure to have, on all important subjects, clear views and well-defined opinions. So, on the contrary, it is painful to the sound mind to grope about in the “everlasting fog”--to be threading backward and forward the mazy labyrinths of vague inquiry, which chases shadows and catches at emptiness, finding nothing solid on which it can rely. This, we say, is the constitutional law of the mind, let the subject about which it inquires be what it may. But if the matter in question be one on the right understanding of which great consequences are depending, there must be, in addition to the doubtfulness, the pain of anxious apprehension. The fear of what calamities may soon or late, result from failure to ascertain the truth, will often haunt the mind and mingle more or less with all its thoughts. Religion, it is clearly seen, if it be anything, is of the highest imaginable interest; and to miss the truth in such an affair, may, it cannot but be felt, involve irreparable loss, disaster that nothing can retrieve. Here is a most effectual cause of disquiet to the soul.
2. It is also evident, still further, that a state of chronic scepticism tends greatly to enfeeble both the character and the mind. A strong mind presses on to a decision. It is content only when getting at results, A sceptical habit--observe I do not say a season of temporary questioning, but a chronic habit of doubting--most generally indicates a want of mental energy to lay hold of evidence and to appreciate its force; a lack of the strength of mind required in order to rise above the prejudices that tend to warp the judgment. It betrays an intellectual feebleness already existing and likely to perpetuate itself. For when the mind has been allowed, and rather encouraged, to wander among the mists of doubt; to look rather after difficulties, than after proofs; it seems to become incapable of logical deduction and unsusceptible to the effect of evidence. It will also be true that in proportion to this loss of force and intellect, there will be likewise a loss of general force of character. He who is unable to decide with promptness, will not be able to execute with vigour. The habitual vacillation of the mind will be sure to exhibit itself in a feeble, time-serving, irresolute course of action. There is yet another evil result of the habit of mind in question.
3. It is very liable to impair the love of truth, and to lower the estimate set on it by the judgment. Truth has been well defined to be “ the reality of things.” To know truth is to know things as they are. On having a right understanding especially of those things that directly relate to us, our highest welfare essentially depends. Nothing therefore, in fact, is so precious to us as truth. God has, accordingly, given the mind an instinctive love of truth, a natural desire to know things as they are. It is an important end of education to strengthen this desire, and give it a right direction: and observation and experience show that, in respect to many subjects at least, it is, on the other hand, capable of being weakened, and almost or quite destroyed. It is found, for example, especially easy to repress the instinctive desire to know, when there is occasion to apprehend that the knowledge of the truth might be for any reason painful; and this is the case invariably in respect to sinful man when he inquires about religion. While on this, as on other subjects, he feels the natural desire for knowledge, there are conscious reasons growing out of his own character which prompt him to resist this desire, and rather to shrink from full and certain knowledge, than to seek it. He is inclined to indulge himself in something. The question, Is it right? suggests itself. If he presses the inquiry, he may find himself obliged to deny his inclination; and he will be very likely for this reason not to press it. The appetite for truth may yield to the stronger appetite for self-indulgence which now has possession of the mind. In every such case, of course, the love of truth must necessarily be weakened. There will be less appreciation of its value than before; and if the oftener the love of truth is repressed for such a reason, the feebler it becomes, it must finally be destroyed. But this is what is happening all the while in the unsettled, wavering, and doubtful mind.
4. It remains only to say finally, that a state of sceptical uncertainty is attended with great danger as regards its last result. To doubt about anything is, of course, to admit the possibility that it is true. To doubt about the claims and obligations of religion is to allow that we are not sure that these are not founded in reality. But while those who are floating on the sea of doubt, confess, by their very uncertainty, that the teachings of religion may quite possibly be true, they are sure to act, in the main, as though certain they were false. It needs no words to show that if you live as though the truths of religion were mere dreams, and it shall finally turn out that they are great realities, you are undone inevitably, and that for ever. This, then, is the amazing peril of resting in a dubious, unestablished frame. Even those who do this cannot but perceive that they run the unspeakably awful hazard of a wretched, lost eternity. Religion and godliness, according to their view of things, hang trembling in equal balance. How much to be deprecated and dreaded is a position that involves continually the danger of a fall from which there is no recovery I Here, then, are weighty reasons for regarding it as a very serious evil to be in habitual doubt in regard to the truths and duties of religion--reasons which make it appear in the highest degree desirable that the heart should be established. Of course it follows that nothing should be done by any thoughtful person to favour such a state, but that, on the contrary, diligent and resolute effort should be made to avoid or escape it. Do any of you find the impressions of your childhood giving way, in some degree, so that you feel disposed to question them and to demand on what foundation they are based? You see with what seriousness you should regard the crisis. Never, in all your life, has there been a time when you so greatly needed the counsel of your kindest, most faithful, and judicious friends. Yes! Believe it, my intelligent young friend--the poor wayfaring man, who wanders homeless and friendless over the wide world, finding never a voice of greeting nor a resting-place in which he may take up his abode, is far less an object of compassion than he whose soul is driven about perpetually in the chaos of confused and dubious thought, where all is dim and shadowy, and can find nothing that is stable; who as to the highest and most vital questions of his being, has established nothing, and positively believes nothing! Rather than suffer yourselves to slide into such a state, it were wisdom to suspend all other business, to shut yourselves up in the chamber of meditation and research, and to bend the undivided energies of your minds on this one work of reaching conclusions which will satisfy; and this with humble, earnest prayer to the Father of lights for that Divine illumination without which spiritual things are never clearly seen by any of mankind. You can have satisfaction on all really vital questions if you will. You may plant yourselves, if you will do it, where, though floods come, and the tempests beat, and the refuges of error are all swept away, you can stand calmly and in serenity of soul, and feel your foundations firm. Believe it--nay rather, make the experiment for yourselves, and know it with a happiness that cannot be described. There is light--and you were made to see it. There is reality--and you were made to find it. There is religious truth--and you, you may grasp the inestimable treasure, and make it your own blessed and permanent possession. (R. Palmer, D. D.)
The true doctrinal foundation
I. THERE IS A REVELATION OF TRUTH GIVEN TO THE CHURCH IN THE WORD OF GOD, WHICH IS ITS ONLY DOCTRINAL FOUNDATION AND RULE OF FAITH.
II. THIS DOCTRINE IS COGNATE, AND EVERY WAY SUITED TO THE PROMOTION OF THE GRACE OF GOD IN BELIEVERS, AND THE ATTAINMENT OF THEIR OWN SALVATION.
III. DOCTRINES UNSUITED TO THIS FIRST REVELATION BY CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES, AS RECORDED IN THE SCRIPTURE, ALIEN AND FOREIGN FROM THEM, DID SOON SPRING UP UNTO THE TROUBLE OF THE CHURCH; they had done so in those days, and continued to do so in all ensuing ages.
IV. USUALLY SUCH DOCTRINES ARE AS EMPTY OF TRUTH AND SUBSTANCE, USELESS AND FOREIGN TO THE NATURE AND GENIUS OF EVANGELICAL GRACE AND TRUTH, ARE IMPOSED BY THEIR AUTHORS AND ABETTORS, WITH A GREAT NOISE AND VEHEMENCE ON THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN INSTRUCTED IN THE TRUTH.
V. WHERE SUCH DOCTRINES ARE ENTERTAINED, THEY MAKE MEN DOUBLE-MINDED, UNSTABLE, TURNING THEM FROM THE TRUTH, AND DRAWING THEM AT LENGTH INTO PERDITION.
VI. THE RUIN OF THE CHURCH IN AFTER AGES AROSE FROM THE NEGLECT OF THIS APOSTOLICAL CAUTION, IN GIVING HEED UNTO VARIOUS AND STRANGE DOCTRINES, which at length overthrew and excluded the fundamental doctrines of the gospel.
VII. HEREIN LIES THE SAFETY OF ALL BELIEVERS, AND OF ALL CHURCHES; NAMELY, TO KEEP THEMSELVES PRECISELY UNTO THE FIRST COMPLETE REVELATION OF DIVINE TRUTH IN THE WORD OF GOD. Let men pretend what they will, and bluster as they please, in an adherence to this principle we are safe; and if we depart from it, we shall be hurried and carried about through innumerable uncertainties unto rain.
VIII. That those who decline in anything from grace, as the only means to establish their hearts in peace with God, SHALL LABOUR AND EXERCISE THEMSELVES IN OTHER THINGS AND WAYS TO THE SAME END, WHEREBY THEY SHALL RECEIVE NO ADVANTAGE. (John Owen, D. D.)
Evils of inconstancy:
An inconstant and wavering mind, as it makes a man unfit for society (for that there can be no assurance of his words or purposes, neither can we build on them without deceit), so, besides that, it makes a man ridiculous, it hinders him from ever attaining any perfection in himself (for a rolling stone gathers no moss, and the mind, while it would be everything, proves nothing. Oft changes cannot be without loss); yea, it keeps him from enjoying that which he hath attained. For it keeps him ever in work, building, pulling down, selling, changing, buying, commanding, forbidding. So, whilst he can be no other man’s friend, he is the least his own. It is the safest course for a man’s profit, credit, and ease, to deliberate long, to resolve surely; hardly to alter, not to enter upon that whose end he foresees not answerable; and when he is once entered, not to surcease till he have attained the end he foresaw. (Bp. Hall.)
Fixed religious convictions helpful to growth
“Stand fast in the faith.” There are some men who, because they want to grow, are continually being transplanted; and they think that because they keep moving from place to place, they are gaining; but they gain nothing at all. Trees that grow fastest stand stillest. Running after every new thing that presents itself does not increase the growth of Christian graces, or anything else that is good. If a man would grow spiritually, he must have a standpoint, a fixed root-place, for his religious convictions. (H. W. Beecher.)
The question is not whether a doctrine is beautiful, but whether it is true. When we want to go to a place, we don’t ask whether the road leads through a pretty country, but whether it is the right road, the road pointed out by authority, the turnpike-road. (J. C. Hare.)
The heart be established with grace
Confirmation in the doctrines of the gospel an effect of Divine grace
I. WHO ARE THE SUBJECTS OF GRACE? All men are naturally destitute of grace, and under the entire dominion of a depraved heart. In this state they remain until they are awakened, convinced, and converted, by the special influences of the Divine Spirit. They now become conformed to the moral image of God, reconciled to His character, to His laws, and to the terms of salvation proposed in the gospel.
II. WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL DOCTRINES OF THE GOSPEL?
III. Having specified the essential doctrines of the gospel, it remains to show THAT REAL CHRISTIANS, WHO ARE THE SUBJECTS OF GRACE, ARE ACTUALLY ESTABLISHED IN THEM. The apostle represents them so established, as not to be carried about by divers and strange doctrines; and this we find verified by the conduct of real saints under both the Old and New Testament. And it is well-known that since their day, multitudes have sacrificed their lives in testimony of the truth and importance of the essential doctrines of the gospel. And this leads me to say that they not only may be, but must be so established; for several reasons:
1. Because they know that the essential doctrines of the gospel are true.
2. Because they love them.
3. Because they feel the infinite importance of them.
1. If the subjects of grace are established in the essential doctrines of the gospel, then it is easy to distinguish religious orthodoxy from religious heterodoxy.
2. If the subjects of grace are established in the essential doctrines of the gospel, then real Christians see the propriety and importance of forming and subscribing creeds, or confessions of faith.
3. If the subjects of grace are established in the doctrines of the gospel; then they are constrained to consider men’s religious sentiments as a test of their religious character.
4. If ministers of the gospel are established in the great and fundamental doctrines of it; they will not fail to preach those doctrines to the people. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
An established heart
I. How GOOD IT IS. What else is it that communicates to the Saviour such nobility but this immovable firmness of a spirit resting in God, from which words and deeds proceed, pure, calm, and self-consistent, like rays which the sun emits? The establishment of heart of which we speak is the union of Divine freedom and Divine power. We call him free who is not dependent on anything outside himself. Are you free in this sense? Where there is this freedom, there is also Divine power. Power is the capability of executing what we have set our minds on doing. Let me determine, moved by nothing without me, and all my action is subordinate to a single aim, and this aim stands unmoved before my eyes. But that is just what gives emphasis to all action. For such power we long, we should like to reign over nature, over our body, over everything outside us. Now it is the unity of such Divine power and freedom that makes establishment of heart so precious. Do you long after it? I know you do: you who see before you a life in which are seducers and tempters on the right hand and on the left, bent on bringing about your fall, oh, I know you long for it.
II. How SUCH FIRMNESS IS BROUGHT ABOUT--“with grace,” says the apostle. He adds:--“Not with meats,” intending to say, not through dependence on any outward work. When he says, “with grace,” it is as if he said, “through faith in the grace which is offered in Christ.” “Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also access by faith into this grace, wherein we stand”; if there is not this, then establishment of heart is impossible. (J. Tholuck.)
The established heart
It is a good thing to have an established heart. With too many of us the inner life is variable and fickle. Sometimes we have days of deep religious earnestness, when it seems impossible for us to spend too long a time in prayer and fellowship with God. The air is so clear that we can see across the waters of the dividing sea, to the very outlines of the heavenly coasts. But a very little will mar our peace, and bring a veil of mist over our souls, to enwrap us perhaps for long weeks. Oh, for an established heart! Now there is one thing which will not bring about this blessed state of establishment. And this is indicated by the expression, “meats”; which stands for the ritualism of the Jewish law. Another obstruction to an established heart arises from the curiosity which is ever running after divers and strange doctrines. A condition which is the very antipodes to the established heart. There is only one foundation which never rocks, one condition which never alters. “It is good that the heart be established with grace.” Primarily, of course, the established heart is the gift of God. (2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Peter 5:10; Deuteronomy 28:9). But there are certain conditions also indicated in this context with which we do well to comply.
I. WE MUST FEED ON CHRIST. Eating consists of three processes: apprehension, mastication, and assimilation; and each of these has its spiritual counterpart in that feeding upon Christ which is the very life of our life. We, too, must apprehend Him, by the careful reading of the Word of God. We, too, must fulfil the second part of the process of eating by meditating long and thoughtfully on all that is revealed to us in the word of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. We, too, must assimilate Christ, until He becomes part of our very being, and we begin to live, yet not we, because Christ lives in us, and has become our very life.
II. IF WE WOULD FEED ON CHRIST, WE MUST GO WITHOUT THE CAMP. There are plenty who argue that the wisest policy is to stop within the camp, seeking to elevate its morals. They do not realise that, if we adopt their advice, we must remain there alone, for our Lord has already gone. ]t is surely unbefitting that we should find a home where He is expelled. What is there in us which makes us so welcome, when our Master was cast out to the fate of the lowest criminals? Besides, it will not be long before we discover that, instead of our influencing the camp for good, the atmosphere of the camp will infect us with its evil. Instead of our levelling it up, it will level us down. The only principle of moving the world is to imitate Archimedes in getting a point without it. All the men who have left a mark in the elevation of their times have been compelled to join the pilgrim host which is constantly passing through the city gates, and taking up its stand by the Cross on which Jesus died. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
An established heart:
Turned into modern English the writer’s meaning is that the merely intellectual religion, which is always occupied with propositions instead of with Jesus Christ, “Who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,” is worthless, and the merely ceremonial religion, which is always occupied with casuistries about questions of meats, or external observance of any sort, is as valueless. There is no fixity; there is no rest of soul, no steadfastness of character to be found in either of these two directions. The only thing that ballasts and fills and calms the heart is what the writer here calls “grace,” that is to say, the living personal experience of the love of God bestowed upon me and dwelling in my heart. So, then, the main theme of these words is the possible stability of a fluctuating human life, the means of securing it, and the glory and beauty of the character which has secured it.
I. First, then, mark WHAT THIS WRITER CONCEIVES TO BE THE ONE SOURCE OF HUMAN STABILITY. What the New Testament means by this familiar and frequently reiterated word “grace,” which, I suspect, is oftener pronounced than it is understood by a great many people. To begin with, then, the root meaning of that word, which runs all through the New Testament, is simply favour, benignity, kindness, or, to put all into a better and simpler form, the active love of God. Now, if we look at the various uses of the expression we find, for instance, that it is contrasted with a number of other things. Sometimes it is set in opposition to sin--sin reigns to righteousness, grace reigns to life. Sometimes it is contrasted with “debt,” and put sometimes in opposition to “works,” as, for instance, by Paul when he says, “If it be of works then is it no more grace.” Sometimes it is opposed to law, as in the same apostle’s words, “Ye are not under law, but under grace.” Now, if we keep these various uses and contrasts in view we just come to this thought, that that active love of God is conditioned, not by any merit on our part--bubbles up from the depths of His own infinite heart, not because of what we are, but because of what He is, transcends all the rigid retributions of law, is not turned away by any sin, but continues to flood the world, simply because it wells up from the infinite and changeless fountain of love in the heart of God. And then, from this central, deepest meaning of active love manifesting itself irrespective of what we deserve, there comes a second great aspect of the word. The name of the cause is extended to all the lustrous variety of its effects. So the complex whole of the blessings and gifts which Jesus Christ brings to us, and which are sometimes designated in view of what they do for us, as salvation or eternal life, are also designated in view of that in God from which they come, as being collectively His “grace.” And then there is a final application of the expression which is deduced from that second one--viz., the specific excellences of character which result from the communication to men of the blessings that flow to him from the love of God. So these three: first, the fountain, the love undisturbed and unalterable; second, the stream, the manifold gifts and blessings that flow to us through Christ; and, third, the little cupfuls that each of us have, the various excellences of character which are developed under the fertilizing influences of the sunshine of that love--these three are all included in this great Christian word. There are other phases of its employment in the New Testament which I do not need to trouble you with now. But thus far we just come to this, that the one ground on which all steadfastness of nature and character can be reared is that we shall be in touch with God, shall be conscious of His love, and shall be receiving into our hearts the strength that He bestows. Man is a dependent creature; his make and his relationships to things round him render it impossible that the strength by which he is strong, and the calmness by which he is established, can be self-originated.
II. And so I come, in the second place, to LOOK AT SOME OF THE VARIOUS WAYS IN WHICH THIS ESTABLISHING GRACE CALMS AND STILLS THE LIFE. We men are like some of the islands in the Eastern Tropics, fertile and luxuriant, but subject to be swept by typhoons, to be shaken by earthquakes, to be devastated by volcanoes. Around us there gather external foes assailing our steadfastness, and within us there lie even more formidable enemies to an established and settled peace. How are such creatures ever to be established? My text tells us by drawing into themselves the love, the giving love of God. I would note, as one of the aspects of the tranquillity and establishment that comes from this conscious possession of the giving love of God, how it delivers men from all the dangers of being “ carried away by divers strange doctrines.” I do not give much for any orthodoxy which is not vitalised by personal experiences of the indwelling love of God. I do not care much what a man believes, or what he denies, or how he may occupy himself intellectually with the philosophical and doctrinal aspect of Christian revelation. The question is, how much of it has filtered from his brain into his heart, and has become part of himself, and verified to himself by his own experience? So much as you have lived out, so much you are sure of because you have not only thought it but felt it, and cannot for a moment doubt, because your hearts have risen up and witnessed to its truth. About these parts of your belief there will be no fluctuation. Still further, this conscious possession of the grace of God will keep a man very quiet amidst all the occasions for agitation which changing circumstances bring. Such there are in every life. Nothing continues in one stay. Is it possible that amidst this continuous fluctuation, in which nothing is changeless but the fact of change, we can stand fixed and firm? Yes! There is shelter only in one spot, and that is when we have God between us and the angry blast. An empty heart is an easily agitated heart. A full heart, like a full sack, stands upright, and it is not so easy for the wind to whirl it about as if it were empty. They who are rooted in God will have a firm bole, which will be immovable, howsoever branches may sway and creak, and leaves may flutter and dance, or even fall, before the power of the storm. Further, another field of the stability communicated by that possessed love of God is in regard of the internal occasions for agitation. Passion, lust, hot desires, bitter regrets, eager clutching after uncertain and insufficient and perishable good, all these will be damped down if the love of God lives in our hearts.
III. Lastly, my text suggests HOW BEAUTIFUL A THING IS THE CHARACTER OF THE MAN THAT IS ESTABLISHED IN GRACE, The word translated “good” in my text would be better rendered “fair,” or “lovely,” or” beautiful.” Is there anything fairer than the strong, steadfast, calm, equable character, unshaken by the storms of passion, unaffected by the blasts of calamity, undevastated by the lava from the hellish, subterranean fires that are in every soul; and yet not stolidly insensible, nor obstinately conservative, but open to the inspiration of each successive moment, and gathering the blessed fruit of all mutability in a more profound and unchanging possession of the unchanging good? So do you see to it that you rectify your notions of what makes the beauty of character. Then, my brother, if we keep ourselves near Jesus Christ, and let His grace flow into our hearts, then we, too, shall be able to say, “Because I set Him at my right hand I shall not be moved.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Established in grace:
The vendors of flowers in the streets of London are wont to commend them to customers by crying, “All a blowing and a growing.” It would be no small praise to Christians if we could say as much for them, but, alas! of too manyprofessors the cry would truthfully be, “All a stunting and a withering.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We have an altar
OUR CHRISTIAN ALTAR. The very living heart of the gospel is an altar and a sacrifice. That idea saturates the whole New Testament, from the page where John the Forerunner’s proclamation is, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” to the last triumphant visions in which the Apocalyptic seer “beheld a Lamb as it had been slain,” the eternal Co-Regnant of the universe, and the Mediator through whom the whole surrounding Church for ever worships the Father. Jesus Christ is all which temple, priest, altar, sacrifice proclaimed should one day be. And just as the relation between Christ’s work and the Judaic system of external ritual sacri-rices is that of shadow and substance, prophecy and fulfilment, so, in analogous manner, the relation between the altar and sacrifice of the New Testament and all the systems of heathenism, with their smoking altars, is that these declare a want, and this affords its supply; that these are the confession of humanity that it is conscious of sin, separation, alienation, and the need of a sacrifice, and that Christ is what heathenism in all lands has wailed that it needs, and has desperately hoped that it might find. Christ in His representative relation, in His true affinity to every man upon earth, has in His life and death taken upon Himself the consequences of human transgression, not merely by sympathy, nor only by reason of the uniqueness of His representative relation, but by willing submission to that awful separation from the Father, of which the cry out of the thick darkness of the Cross, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” is the unfathomable witness. Thus, bearing our sin, He bears it away, and “ we have an altar.”
II. OUR FEAST ON THE SACRIFICE. The Christ who died for my sins is not only my means of reconciliation with God, but His sacrifice and death are the sustenance of my spiritual life. The life of the Christian is the indwelling Christ. But how is that feeding on the sacrifice accomplished? “He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.” He that believeth, eateth. He that with humble faith makes Christ his very own, and appropriates as the nourishment and basis of his own better life the facts of that life and death of sacrifice, he truly lives thereby. To eat is to believe; to believe is to live. I need not remind you how, though there be no reference in the words of my text, as I have tried to show, to the external rite of the communion of the Lord’s body and blood, and though “ altar:’ here has no reference whatever to that table, yet there is a connection between the two representations, inasmuch as the one declares in words what the other sets forth in symbol, and the meaning of the feast on the sacrifice is expressed by this great word. “This is My body, broken for you.” “This is the new covenant in My blood.” “Drink ye all of it.”
III. OUR CHRISTIAN OFFERINGS ON THE ALTAR. What are these offerings? Christ’s death stands alone, incapable of repetition, needing no repetition, the eternal, sole, “sufficient obligation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” But there be other kinds of sacrifice. There are sacrifices of thanksgiving as well as for propitiation. And we, on the footing of that great sacrifice to which we can add nothing, and on which alone we must rest, may bring the offerings of our thankful hearts. These offerings are of a twofold sort, says the writer. There are words of praise, there are works of beneficence. The service of man is sacrifice to God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Jewish and the Christian altar
I. ATTEND TO A FEW PARTICULARS RESPECTING THE JEWISH ALTAR.
1. It had its origin in Divine appointment.
2. The altar being built, it was afterwards dedicated, and in a solemn manner set apart for God.
3. When the altar was consecrated, it was ever afterwards reputed holy.
II. TRACE THE RESEMBLANCE, IN SOME INSTANCES, BETWEEN THE JEWISH AND THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR.
1. The altar was principally designed for sacrifice, and was, therefore, called the altar of burnt-offering (Exodus 40:10). Now Christ is both the Sacrifice, the Altar, and the Priest.
2. The altar was designed for worship, and its most solemn acts were there performed. “I will wash my hands in innocency,” &c. “I will go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy” (Psalms 26:6; Psalms 43:4). And what the altar was to the Jews, that is Jesus to us; all our services are to be performed in His name, all our prayers and praises offered up through His mediation.
3. The altar was a place of refuge. Christ is in the truest sense the refuge of all who flee from the wrath to come, and who lay hold on the hope that is set before them in the gospel. (B. Beddome M.A.)
The altar of the Christian dispensation
I. THE LORD CHRIST, IN THE ONE SACRIFICE OF HIMSELF, IS THE ONLY ALTAR OF THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
II. THIS ALTAR IS EVERY WAY SUFFICIENT IN ITSELF FOR THE ENDS OF AN ALTAR; NAMELY, THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE PEOPLE, as Hebrews 13:12.
III. THE ERECTION OF ANY OTHER ALTAR IN THE CHURCH, OR THE INTRODUCTION OF ANY OTHER SACRIFICE REQUIRING A MATERIAL ALTAR, IS DEROGATORY TO THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST, AND EXCLUSIVE OF HIM FROM BEING OUR ALTAR.
IV. Whereas the design of the apostle in the whole of his discourse is to declare the glory of the gospel and its worship above that of the law, of our priest above theirs, of our sacrifice above theirs, of our altar above theirs, IT IS FOND TO THINK THAT BY “OUR ALTAR,” HE INTENDS SUCH A MATERIAL FABRIC AS IS EVERY WAY INFERIOR UNTO THAT OF OLD.
V. When God appointed a material altar for His service, HE HIMSELF ENJOINED THE MAKING OF IT, PRESCRIBED ITS FORM AND USE, WITH ALL ITS UTENSILS, SERVICES, AND CEREMONIES, ALLOWING OF NOTHING IN IT OR ABOUT IT BUT WHAT WAS BY HIMSELF APPOINTED. It is not, therefore, probable that under the New Testament there should be a material altar of equal necessity with that under the Old, accompanied in its administrations with various utensils, ceremonies, and services; while neither this altar itself, nor any of its services, were of Divine appointment.
VI. SINNERS, UNDER A SENSE OF GUILT, HAVE IN THE GOSPEL AN ALTAR OF
ATONEMENT, WHEREUNTO THEY MAY HAVE CONTINUAL ACCESS FOR THE
EXPIATION OF THEIR SINS. He is the propitiation.
VII. ALL PRIVILEGES, OF WHAT NATURE SOEVER, WITHOUT A
PARTICIPATION OF CHRIST AS THE ALTAR AND SACRIFICE OF THE CHURCH,
ARE OF NO ADVANTAGE UNTO THEM THAT ENJOY THEM. (John Owen, D. D.)
An altar in the Christian economy
1. The very name, institution, and existence of an altar implies that man is a sinner-that there is a quarrel between us and God. If no sin, there is needed no sacrifice; if an altar, there must be sin to necessitate the institution of that altar.
2. It teaches also another grand lesson, namely, that the wages of sin is death.
3. An altar suggests to us a disruption between God and man. It is one of the instinctive suggestions of the heart of man that there is a quarrel between him and God; and until he can see it in the light of revelation, he knows not the origin of that quarrel, he knows not how that quarrel may be made up. The existence of an altar in the Christian economy teaches that there is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared.
4. An altar suggests to us the important, that there being one altar, it is the only way of acceptance. If this be infinite in its sufficiency why seek anything else?
5. Another idea suggested by the name “altar “ is protection. We read occasionally in the Bible of “fleeing to the horns of the altar,” “laying hold upon the horns of the altar”; thus, too, the Christian has in his altar perfect protection. Protection from what? Not from illness, from poverty, from losses, from crosses? These are sanctifying and may not therefore be prevented. But you will have protection from all that is penal; for the inscription most luminous upon the very face of that altar is “ There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
6. This altar suggests to us the very important truth that through it and by it we always have acceptance with God; that not only is it the only way of acceptance, but it is the standing evidence of access to God.
7. This altar and the idea of an altar teaches us this great lesson, that “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” A great crime cleaves to humanity; a stain deep as hell has fallen upon the human heart. All the tears of penitence cannot wipe it out, all the blood of martyrs cannot cancel it, no length of time will waste it, no ingenuity of man can mitigate it. There is only one element that can wash it away. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.”
8. We learn another lesson from the name “altar”: it is the altar that sanctifies the gift. The way to have all the sorrows of your life sanctified, to have your great things made greater, and your little things made precious, and the way to receive them again a thousandfold, is to bring and offer them all upon Christ, the glorious altar that sanctifies the gift. What a magnificent idea does this give us of a Christian l The least act that a Christian does is thus a sacerdotal act. All Christians are priests.
9. This use of the word “altar “ implies that there is a priest who offers the sacrifice; who is this priest? We have but one altar, we have therefore but one priest, and we do not need any other. Wherever the winds blow, wherever the waves of the ocean roll, wherever man’s heart beats, and man’s lungs breathe, and man’s soul longs for a sense of the presence of
God, the great High Priest is accessible, able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him.
10. But this name, “altar,” having suggested to us so many truths, where, you ask, is the altar situated on which the great propitiation has been made, by which that everlasting High Priest continually stands and ministers for ever? Our altar is in the heaven, on the earth: wheresoever two or three meet in the name of Christ, there the altar stands, and there the altar is approached; for “ I am present in the midst of them.” (J. Cumming, D. D.)
The Christian altar
I. First, we have an altar--THAT IS TO SAY, CHRISTIANITY RESTS FOR ITS BASIS ON THE INSTITUTION OF SACRIFICE. Though men have been divided from each other by oceans and continents, united neither by commerce nor by any mode of communication, though they have differed in their views of polity and government and religion, they seem to have been as one in this matter of sacrifice. They have all equally thought that the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth must die to propitiate God. And we would have you farther observe, as a proof of the Divine origin of this custom, that it was not an idea which would naturally originate with man. If it had been at all likely, according to the teaching of unassisted reason, that God would have been pleased with this mode of worship, then we might imagine that man had himself devised this mode of approaching his Creator. But let Reason sit in judgment on this custom of animal sacrifices, and what will be her verdict? To kill the unoffending--can that be pleasing to God? When I am conscious of guilt, and anxious for pardon, am I likely to appease God’s wrath by putting to death an innocent victim? We must surely admit that the practice of sacrificing animals, unless Divinely commanded, was an act of wanton cruelty, which, so far from disposing God to mercy, must have stirred Him to greater indignation; and that a custom so manifestly not suggested by reason, should yet have spread itself over the whole earth, seems to us the strongest possible proof of the divinity of its origin. Throughout the whole of the Jewish system there was a continual offering of the blood of animals upon the altars where God was worshipped; and however blind the Jews were, however hard their hearts were, however many truths they missed which the Almighty had meant them to learn, they did lay hold of tiffs truth--that there is no acceptable worship without sacrifice. And when the new religion appeared we can well imagine that this was one of the difficulties to a Jewish mind--that the votaries of the new system abandoned the altars of their fathers, and set up new altars of their own. We can conceive a Jewish objector approaching the apostles, and saying, “How is this? From the time when men first began to call upon the name of the Lord, they have always worshipped at altars. Those altars have always reeked with blood. It is thus that our fathers have worshipped ever since the giving of the law, and even before the days of Moses. It is thus that Abraham worshipped on Mount Moriah. It was thus that Noah worshipped under the arch of the covenant bow. It was thus that Abel worshipped when men sought earliest to win back their way to Paradise. If you are worshippers of the true God, the God of our fathers, where are your altars? what are your sacrifices?” Now, the words of our text seem to reply to such an objector, “We have an altar”; as though the writer said, “We recognise the great principle which has been revealed to men all through the days of the law, which has been known even by heathen men among their grossest superstitions--the truth that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, and we, too, have an altar.” We need not tell you that the altar here referred to is the Cross, and that the sacrifice offered upon it was the only begotten Son of God. Thus the text affirms that Christianity rests upon basis of sacrifice.
II. The text further affirms THAT THE CHRISTIAN SACRIFICE IS AN OFFERING, FOR SIN. Through the whole of the Jewish system men were taught that as it is the life which man forfeited by sin, so it is the life which must atone for sin. There is a passage in Leviticus which distinctly affirms it: “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” The passage occurs in connection with the command not to eat flesh in which there blood remained. The teaching seems to be this: “You must not eat of blood because that is appointed as the symbol of atonement, and the blood is the symbol of atonement because it represents the life of the animal from which it is taken.” It is not the matter of the blood that atones, but the life it bears and represents. “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it you upon the altar to atone for your lives, for the blood atones through the life.” Hence you will find in the Jewish system that before the victim died the offerer was commanded to lay his hands upon its head. Now, in Scripture the laying on of hands was a symbolical action. It represented the transfer of something from the person imposing his hands to the person or thing upon which hands were laid. What had the offerer to transfer to the victim? Evidently his sin. He came to God as a sinner. His anxious desire was to obtain the forgiveness of his sin. His prayer was that the guilt of his sin might pass from him to the victim that he offered. And the Jews believed that where there was a frank confession and true renouncement of sin there was an actual transfer of sin from the man to the animal. Now, in this text before us the writer identifies the death of Jesus with those particular sacrifices. “We have an altar,” he says, “of which they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” They might eat the free-will offerings and the thank-offerings, but they must not eat that particular sin-offering; for he goes on to say: “The bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary for sin are burned without the camp.” They had been so burned in the days of Moses when the camp was pitched in the wilderness. They were so burned still in the days of the apostles, outside the walls of Jerusalem. “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate.” You see that this text clearly connects the death of Jesus with the Jewish sin-offering, not with thank-offerings or with free-will-offerings, but with the sin-offering, and with the most sacred and impressive of all the sin-offerings--the offering whose blood was taken to the holiest place by the high priest for sin. We need not enlarge on the correspondence between the death of Jesus and the transactions on that day of atonement. We are taught that by the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, graciously offered as a sacrifice for us, a way has been opened to the holiest as through a veil, that veil no longer excluding and concealing from the presence of God, but rent on purpose to receive every penitent transgressor. We are taught that by the blood of Jesus shed for our sins we are permitted to come, not only with safety, but with boldness into the region of God’s manifested presence. We are taught that the offering, being infinitely precious, is attended by none of the imperfections which mark the Jewish sacrifices, but is adequate to meet all the requirements of a guilty conscience, and to present a sinner, soul and body, with perfect acceptance before the holy God.
III. But this text teaches us, further, THAT THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR WILL HAVE NO RIVAL, NO COMPETITOR YOU observe that the apostle has been telling us in this text that the Christian sacrifice corresponds with the Jewish sin-offering. A little further study will show that he tells us that the Christian sacrifice avails for none who put their trust in the old temple sacrifices. He describes the Jewish system as a camp pitched in the wilderness. It was not a continuing city. He tells us that Jesus went out of the camp, and he exhorts us to follow Him. For himself, he had long since resolved to know nothing among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified; to worship at no altar but the altar of the Cross; and he here exhorts all his fellow Christians to copy his example, and, at whatever cost and suffering and reproach, to go forth to Him who, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. There is no need for us to emphasize this exhortation not to trust in Jewish sacrifices. Within seven or eight years after this letter was written Jerusalem was destroyed--the temple was abolished. From that day to this no Jewish sacrifices have been offered, so far was that from being a continuing city. But is there nothing that we may learn from this solemn admonition not to trust in the Jewish sacrifices? The underlying principle is this--that Christ will be the Saviour of none who mingle any other confidence with their simple rest upon His merit. You have to come to Jesus and to Jesus only; and if some of you have been looking for salvation long, do you not see here the reason that has kept you back from it? There has not been the renouncement of all other confidences which there must be. We have an altar all-sufficient to save us to the uttermost; but they have no right to eat of it, they have no saving share in the merit of it, who trust in the sacrifices of the temple. But that is not all that this text teaches us. Not only are we here taught that it is utterly destructive of Christian faith to follow the Jewish ceremonies as a ground of merit; we are further taught that it was dangerous to the simplicity of faith to follow them at all. Now, why were the apostles so anxious to have the Jewish ceremonies abolished? With a ritual that was the most gorgeous the world has ever known, if mankind could learn the truth from ceremonies and symbols, no ceremonies could be imagined more impressive than those which God Himself appointed in the temple at Jerusalem. Why not continue the types to help Christians to understand the Antitype? Why not have an order of priests on earth to remind us of the one Priest in heaven? Why not have sacrifices offered on Christian altars to remind us of the one Sacrifice by which our sins are taken away? Alas, the apostles knew too well how prone men are to rest in shadows and forget the substance, In all ages elaborate ceremonial has been destructive of the simplicity of faith. What, then, does this teach us as to our practical duty? It shows that there is a city out of which we have all to come. We all love it; we all cling to it--the city sometimes of gorgeous ritualistic pomp, the city sometimes of orderly Nonconformist worship; the city of mere outward morality and formal attendance upon the means of grace; the city of personal self-righteousness. Out of it we have to come if we mean to be saved by Christ--away from all that as a ground of trust. Out of it? Whither? To the ignominious place where criminals suffered. To the scene where the bodies of the beasts whose blood had been taken into the sanctuary for atonement were burnt with fire. To Golgotha, the place of a skull. There is our altar.
IV. But, lastly, THE ALTAR DEMANDS SACRIFICE. We are not to escape and think that it is all accomplished because the sacrifice has once been offered. Read on to the fifteenth verse. By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise, the Jewish free-will offering, the thank-offering. Let us do this continually; not simply, as the Jews did, on great festivals and stated occasions, but always. And let this sacrifice of praise be the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name. Mark it, the fruit of our lips--not simply the words of our lips. A great many words pass our lips that are not the fruit. Fruit has a root. The fruit of the lip grows out of the heart; and only when what the lip says is what the heart feels is that the fruit of our lips. There must be the fruit of our lips--the thanks to God that spring out of a truly renewed and grateful nature: “the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” The margin says, “confessing His name,” and that is the best thanks we can give to God--not to talk about ourselves, but about Him, to confess what He is and what He has done for us. “The fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” But that is not all. Forget not that there is something beyond even that. The sixteenth verse tells you: “To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Though the Jewish ritual has been abolished, though the nursing mother no longer brings her pair of turtle doves and her two young pigeons for an offering, though the man recovered from sickness no longer drives his bullock or his flock of sheep to the temple door, the heart of a Christian will be as grateful as the heart of a Jew. If we do not bring the victims we may bring the worth of them. (F. Greeves, D. D.)
Jesus also … suffered without the gate
Jesus suffering without the gate
A CUSTOM that prevailed among the Israelites in the wilderness; “The bodies of those beasts,” etc. The apostle writes as though the camp and this custom still existed. The camp, however, was gone, but the custom remained with this difference only, that the temple was now substituted for the tabernacle and the city for the camp. It was a custom of Divine appointment. The Lord, in framing a law for the Jews, regarded the whole nation as sinners. Besides, therefore, the offerings to be made by individuals for their own sins, various sacrifices were ordained for the sins of the nation, and among these, one of unusual solemnity. It was to be offered once in every year, and on a certain day of the year, called from this circumstance the day of atonement.
II. AN EVENT which took place at Jerusalem, closely resembling it; “Wherefore Jesus also,” &c. Notice three points of resemblance between our Lord and the animals burnt on the day of atonement.
1. They did not die a natural death; their blood was shed before they were carried forth. And our Lord also “ suffered”; His precious blood, too, was poured forth.
2. He suffered in the same place in which these animals were destroyed. They were slain, indeed, in the camp, but they were burned outside of it. So our Lord” suffered without the gate.” “They led Him out to crucify Him,” out of their city, to the very spot probably where, after the people were settled in Jerusalem, the bodies of those beasts which had so long prefigured Him were consumed.
3. He suffered for the same end. The blood of these animals was shed that it might be taken “into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin,” as a propitiation for sin; their bodies were burned as a testimony of the Divine indignation against sin. When these two ceremonies had been gone through God is said to have been reconciled to His people, the whole camp was considered as purged from its transgressions. And what was the end for which our Lord suffered? It was that His people, His spiritual Israel, might have sin removed from them.
III. AN EXHORTATION grounded on the event mentioned. “Let us go forth,” &c. We must again imagine ourselves in the desert. Around us are spread the tents of Israel. The men dwelling in them are all worshipping the Lord in one way--as their fathers worshipped Him, looking for His mercy through rites and ceremonies and bleeding victims. The Lord Jesus appears amongst them; tells them He is sent of God to abolish these rites and ceremonies, to become Himself once for all a victim for them, and calls upon them in consequence to turn from their shadowy rites and long accustomed sacrifices to Him. Instead of this, they cast Him forth out of their camp and crucify Him. We are to conceive of Him, therefore, as even now hanging in shame and suffering on a Cross beyond the gate, and then comes this apostle saying to us among our tents, “Let us not linger here. Let us go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.”
1. It is clear, then, that He calls on us, first, to forsake the religion of our fellow-men, a religion, it may be, that either is or once was our own. The Jew in the desert could not go forth to a bleeding Jesus without turning his back on the Jewish worship, and giving up all his long-cherished Jewish hopes. He must abandon the sanctuary and ordinances with which all his religious feelings have been long associated, and around which he beholds his countrymen still gathering. A painful sacrifice. And it is the same now. Many of us have a religion that the gospel calls on us to renounce. It is made up of opinions and feelings and hopes which are as much opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the religion of any Jew ever was. We may have cherished it long, even from our childhood. The world around us may respect and commend it; it is natural it should do so--it is the world’s own religion; the world taught it us. But no matter who commends it or how highly we may have valued it, we must let it go; or rather we must turn our backs on it, we must cast it away, before we and the Cross of Christ can ever meet.
2. And with the religion of the world, we must forsake also to a considerable extent the men of the world.
3. Then, connected with this forsaking of the world, there must be an actual coming, the apostle says, to Christ our Lord. Observe, he does not simply bid the Israelites leave the camp, as though his only object was to get them away from their old religion and companions, he directs them all to one spot; he bids them leave the camp for one purpose, that they may go to Him who is suffering for them without the gate. So we are not to go forth only, we are to go forth unto Christ. It will profit us nothing to give us the empty religion of the world, if when we let that go, we get no other. Superstition for scepticism is a poor exchange. And it will profit us as little to forsake the world, if we stand still when we have forsaken it. The going forth, the apostle enjoins, is not going into cells and hermitages, nor is it roaming this desert world in a proud, dreary solitariness. It is a going forth unto Jesus. It is exchanging the religion of the world for the religion of His Cross; it is giving up that which cannot elevate, comfort, or save us, for that which can. And then it is leaving the world for the world’s Master; it is suffering the loss of all things that we may win Christ; it is the forsaking of a world which is not worthy even of us, that we may be--what? outcasts? No; but “fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God”; sharers now of higher riches and pleasures than the earth can give, and heirs of a world that is worthy, if any world can be, of the God who made it. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Let us go forth therefore unto Him
Exhortation to decision and earnestness in religion:
I. A GENERAL VIEW OF THE ADMONITION IN THE TEXT.
1. The conduct which he intended to prescribe to the Christian converts to whom he wrote was evidently this--namely, that they should openly profess their faith in Jesus, who had been cast out as accursed, notwithstanding the reproach to which such a profession would expose them; and should publicly adhere to His worship and service in the sight of their unbelieving and reviling countrymen.
2. What does the apostle here exhort us to do? He doubtless exhorts us to make Christ crucified our only hope; to confess Him before men, and by our open and consistent attachment to His cause, His people and His ordinances, to show that we indeed belong to Him.
II. SOME PARTICULARS WHICH A COMPLIANCE WITH THIS ADMONITION INVOLVES.
1. That we renounce all other grounds of satisfaction for sin, and of acceptance with God, but those which the Cross of Jesus Christ provides.
2. That we separate ourselves from the world. Especially
(1) From its corrupt practices and principles; and
(2) From its religion--the resemblance of godliness without the power thereof.
3. That we are prepared to take up the cross and encounter reproach for Christ’s sake.
III. THE MOTIVES BY WHICH THE ADMONITION IS ENFORCED.
1. Our situation in this world is one of extreme uncertainty. “Here we have no continuing city.”
2. Besides “ we seek one to come.” This is our profession as Christians. We profess that we are seeking “a city which hath foundations”; a “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” But unless we go forth unto Christ, all such profession is vain. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
Let us go forth
I. We have, first of all, THE BELIEVER’S PATH. “Let us go forth without the camp.” The Divine command is not, “Let us stop in the camp and try to reform it--things are not anywhere quite perfect, let us therefore stop and make matters right”; but the Christian’s watch cry is, “Let us go forth.” To this day the Christian’s place is not to tarry in the camp of worldly conformity, hoping, “Perhaps I may aid they movement for reform”: it is not the believer’s duty to conform to the world and to the world’s ways, and say, “Perhaps by so doing I may gain a foothold, and men’s hearts may be the more ready to receive the truth.” No, from the first to the last day of the Church of God, the place of witness is not inside, but outside the camp; and the true position of the Christian is to go forth without the camp, bearing Christ’s reproach. What is meant by this “ going forth without the camp”?
1. I understand it to mean that every Christian is to go forth by an open profession of his faith. You that love the Lord are to say so. You must come out and avow yourselves on His side. You may be Christians and make no profession, but I cannot be sure of that, nor can any other man.
2. This done, the Christian is to be separate from the world as to his company. He must buy, and sell, and trade, like other men in the world, but yet he is not to find his bosom friends in it.
3. The follower of Jesus goes without the camp as to his pleasures. He is not without his joys nor his recreations either; but he does not seek them where the wicked find them. If thou hast no separation from the world, as to thy pleasures, since thy heart is generally in thy pleasures, thy heart therefore is with the wicked, and with them shall thy doom be when God comes to judge mankind.
4. Furthermore, the true follower of Christ is divided from the world as to his maxims; he does not subscribe to the laws which rule most men in their families and their business. Men generally say, “Every one for himself, and
God for us all.” “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others,” is the Christian’s rule.
5. Once more--and here is a very difficult part of the Christian’s course--the Christian is to come out not only from the world’s pleasures, andsins, and irreligion, but there are times when the true followers of Christ must come out from the world’s religion as well as irreligion.
II. But now, secondly, we have in the text, THE CHRISTIAN’S LEADER. It does not say, “Let us go forth without the camp” merely, but, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him.”
1. It means, let us have fellowship with Him. He was despised; He had no credit for charity; He was mocked in the streets; He was hissed at; He was hounded from among society. Expect not to wear the crown where Christ carried the Cross; but, for fellowship’s sake, follow Him.
2. Again, if I am to follow Him, I am to follow His example. What Christ did, that I am to do.
3. I am to go forth unto Him: that is, I am to go forth to His truth. Wherever I see His truth, I am to espouse it: wherever I see error, I am to denounce it without hesitation.
4. And then I am to go forth to Christ’s witness-bearing. The present age does not believe in witness-bearing, but the whole Bible is full of it. The duty of every Christian is to bear witness for the truth.
III. Now, in the third place, we have THE CHRISTIAN’S BURDEN. He is to bear the Lord’s reproach. I knew you may live without it if you will fawn and cringe, and keep back part of the price; but do not this, it is unworthy of your manhood, much more is it unworthy of your Christianity. For God and for Christ be so holy and so truthful that you compel the world to give its best acknowledgment of your goodness by railing at you--it can do no more, it will do no less. Be content to take this shame, for there is no heaven for you if you will not--no crown without the cross, no jewels without the mire. You must stand in the pillory if you would sit in glory; and if you reject the one you reject the Other.
IV. THE CHRISTIAN’S REASON FOR BEARING HIS REPROACH, AND GOING WITHOUT THE CAMP. It is in the text, “Let us go forth therefore”--there is the reason. Why then?
1. First, because Jesus did. Jesus Christ came into the world pure and holy, and His life and His testimony were a witness against sin. Jesus Christ would not conform. He stands out like a lone mount of light, separate from the chain of dark mountains; and so must the Christian. Christ was separate; and so must you be. Christ was pure, holy, truthful; so must you be. I pray you either renounce your profession, or else seek grace to carry it out.
2. Moreover, the connection of the text tells us that Christ set apart His people by going without the camp. That He might sanctify His people, He suffered without the camp. The Head is not of the world, and shall the members be of it?
3. Again, Christ would have His people separate for their own sanctification. You cannot grow in grace to any high degree while you are conformed to the world. The path of separation may be a path of sorrow, but it is the path of safety. The martyrs tell us in their diaries that they were never so happy as when they were in the dungeon alone with Christ for company; nay, their best days were often their days of burning: they called them their wedding-days, and went to heaven singing and chanting the triumphal paean, as they mounted in their chariots of fire.
4. Thus we shall hope to win the crown if we are enabled by Divine grace faithfully to follow Christ in all respects. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Going forth to Christ
1. Let us go forth unto Christ without the camp, that we may testify to Him as the Messiah, the only Saviour. This is manifestly the first leading idea which our text is designed to convey. On this fundamental doctrine of our holy faith hinges the essential difference between Christianity and Judaism. It constitutes also one vital point of difference between the gospel and the various systems of heathenism and infidelity. All the sections of the unbelieving world agree in this, that they do not acknowledge Christ as the promised Messiah. “Unto you who believe He is precious.” Attachment to the person of Christ can only spring from a Divine principle. “No man can truly call Him Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” I beg of you, therefore, distinctly to understand, that I do not expect you will be prepared to lift up a consistent testimony to His Messiahship, unless you are the subjects of a saving change. “The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to His law, neither indeed can be.”
2. Let us go forth unto Jesus without the camp, that we may specially bear testimony to Him as King of Zion. This is what may be emphatically called our present duty. We might justly regard it as treason against the Lord of Glory, were we to overlook this view of our subject. We dare not hold our peace regarding the sovereign authority of the Redeemer, although some prejudiced souls should be offended.
3. We must go forth unto our Lord without the camp if we would enjoy fellowship and communion with Him. This idea is naturally suggested by the preceding context, “We have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” The importance of this consideration should ever be borne in mind. It argues a very diseased state of things on the part of any professing Christian, when the question with him is--How far he may go in the path of error and corruption, and still enjoy communion with the “author and finisher of our faith.” And it certainly is a sign of daring impiety when individuals, be they ministers or hearers, are exercising their ingenuity in devising reasons for palliating soul-destroying errors, and when they have the effrontery to tax us with want of charity when we endeavour to vindicate the doctrine of spiritual fellowship, and call upon the Christian people to abandon the communion of a Church that has practically renounced the King of saints.
4. In obeying this command we must lay our account with contempt, reproach, and persecution. It is the dictate of experience, as well as of Scripture, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The mere circumstance of coming out from the world lying in wickedness, and of faithfully serving the Captain of our salvation, has never failed to bring upon them the scorn and hatred of the ungodly. The votaries of superstition cannot bear to see the truth as it is in Jesus openly proclaimed and honoured. Men of despotic principles will not tolerate, if they can help it, a spiritual authority which stands in the way of their usurpations. And false professors of the gospel, whose interests are linked with corruption and tyranny, will be among the foremost to vilify such as for conscience’ sake withdraw from their communion. Where do we find, among men, a brighter example of piety, and holiness, and philanthropy, than that of the apostle of the Gentiles? and who ever experienced greater reproach or more bitter persecution than he? When we look higher we see that our Lord Himself “was despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Why should we dream of exemption from trials? The offence of the Cross has not ceased. But we must not be deterred from following Christ by the dread of obloquy, or the loss of all things. (John Thomson.)
The renouncing spirit of Christianity
I. ALL PRIVILEGES AND ADVANTAGES WHATEVER ARE TO BE FOREGONE, PARTED WITHAL, AND RENOUNCED WHICH ARE INCONSISTENT WITH AN INTEREST IN CHRIST, and a participation of Him; as our apostle shows at Philippians 3:4-10).
II. That if it were the duty of the Hebrews to forsake these ways of worship, which were originally of Divine institution, that they might wholly give up themselves unto Christ in all things pertaining unto God, MUCH MORE IS IT OURS TO FOREGO ALL SUCH PRETENCES UNTO RELIGIOUS WORSHIP AS ARE OF HUMAN INVENTION.
III. Whereas the camp contained not only ecclesiastical but also political privileges, WE OUGHT TO BE READY TO FOREGO ALL CIVIL ACCOMMODATIONS ALSO IN HOUSES, LANDS, POSSESSIONS, CONVERSE WITH MEN OF THE SAME NATION, WHEN WE ARE CALLED THERE UNTO ON THE ACCOUNT OF CHRIST AND THE GOSPEL.
IV. If we will go forth unto Christ as without the camp, or separated from all the concern of this world, WE SHALL ASSUREDLY MEET WITH ALL SORTS OF REPROACHES.
V. THAT BELIEVERS ARE NOT LIKE TO MEET WITH ANY SUCH ENCOURAGING ENTERTAINMENT IN THIS WORLD AS TO MAKE THEM UNREADY OR UNWILLING TO DESERT IT, and to go forth after Christ bearing His reproach. For it is a motive in the apostle’s reasoning to a readiness for that duty, “we have here no continuing city.”
VI. THIS WORLD NEVER DID, NOR EVER WILL, GIVE A STATE OF REST AND SATISFACTION TO BELIEVERS. It will not afford them a city. It is Jerusalem above that is the “vision of peace.” Arise and depart, this is not your rest.
VII. IN THE DESTITUTION OF A PRESENT SATISFACTORY REST, GOD HATH NOT LEFT BELIEVERS WITHOUT A PROSPECT OF THAT WHICH SHALL AFFORD THEM REST AND SATISFACTION TO ETERNITY. We have not, but we seek.
VIII. As God hath prepared a city of rest for us, so IT IS OUR DUTY CONTINUALLY TO ENDEAVOUR THE ATTAINMENT OF IT IN THE WAYS OF HIS APPOINTMENT.
IX. THE MAIN BUSINESS OF BELIEVERS IN THIS WORLD IS DILIGENTLY TO SEEK AFTER THE CITY OF GOD, or the attainment of eternal rest with Him; and this is the character whereby they may be known. (John Owen, D. D.)
Coming forth to Christ
I. WE MUST COME FORTH OF THE CAMP OR CITY TO HIM.
1. The camp or city is Judaism, and all erroneous sects, and also the world, and men of the world: we must separate from all things inconsistent with the truth and Christ.
2. Out of this camp or city we must come forth, and that we do when we renounce all errors in religion and all earthly affections. We have something in our hearts which keeps us from our God till we be truly converted.
3. To come forth to Christ, therefore, is to be rightly informed, and to believe the saving truth of Christ; and upon this right information, to love Him above all, as far more necessary, excellent, and beneficial than anything, than all things else. To come forth to Him is not to change the place but our hearts; it is a motion not of the body, but the soul, and if we once knew the beauty of Christ, and had tasted of His sweetness, we should be ravished with Him, and all the world could not keep us from Him. In Him alone true happiness is to be found.
II. The second part of the duty is TO BEAR HIS REPROACH. Here is reproach, His reproach, the bearing of His reproach. In this the author alludes unto the bearing of the cross, which was the greatest shame any man could be put unto. To endure disgrace, and suffer in our reputation, credit, hot, our, and good name, is a very grievous evil, and few can endure it, and some can better suffer death than ignominy. The Cross was not only a matter of reproach, but of grievous pain, and was the epitome of all possible evils; and, therefore, by reproach is signified all kinds of afflictions which we may suffer from men, or may be obnoxious unto in this life. Yet this reproach and this cross here meant must be His reproach, His Cross. If we suffer punishment for our own crimes, and through our own folly, then it is not Christ’s cross. This is a reproach and cross laid upon us for His sake, because we profess His truth, obey His laws, oppose sin and His enemies, refuse to comply with the world in any sin, renounce all errors, idolatry, superstition, and wicked customs of the world, and all this out of love to Christ. To bear this cross is not merely to suffer any ways, but to suffer the worst man can do unto us with patience, with constancy, with joy, and to think ourselves happy and much honoured that we are counted worthy to suffer for so great a Saviour, and in so noble a cause. This requires a Divine faith well grounded upon the word and promises of God, and a special assistance of the Divine Spirit; for these will strengthen our hearts, and make us willing to suffer anything before we offend our God and lose our Saviour. (G. Lawson.)
Bearing His reproach
It is called Christ’s reproach in sundry respects: as
1. The union that is betwixt Him and His Church. So as the reproach of the body or of any member thereof is the reproach of Christ Himself.
2. The sympathy which is betwixt Christ and every of His members. He is sensible of that reproach which is cast upon any of them (Acts 9:4).
3. The account which Christ hath of the reproaches of His saints; He doth account them as reproaches cast upon Himself.
4. His undertaking to revenge such reproaches and wrongs as are done to His members (Romans 12:19).
5. The cause of the reproach which is here meant, and that is Christ Himself, a profession of His name, a maintaining of His gospel, and holding close to His righteousness. In this sense an apostle calleth sufferings in such cases Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:14; Acts 5:41).
6. That resemblance that is betwixt the reproaches of saints and Christ.
This reference of reproach to Christ in this phrase, “His reproach “ is for limitation, direction, consolation, and incitation.
1. It affordeth a limitation, in that it restraineth it to a different kind of reproach, which is Christ’s reproach. It is not every kind of reproach that can be counted a matter of glory, wherein a man may rejoice; but Christ’s reproach. I may in this case say of reproach, as the apostle doth of buffeting: “What glory is it, if when ye be reproached for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?” (1 Peter 2:20).
2. It affordeth a direction in showing how we ought to bear reproach, even as Christ did; for we are in this case to look unto Jesus, who despised the Hebrews 12:2).
3. It ministereth much comfort, in that no other thing is done to us than what is done to our Head before us. Herewith doth Christ comfort His disciples (Matthew 10:25; John 15:20).
4. What greater motive can we have to incite us willingly and contentedly to bear reproach than this, that it is Christ’s reproach? If honour, if profit may be motives to incite us to a duty, these motives are not wanting in this case. What can be more honourable than to be as Christ was? and if we be reproached with Him here, we shall enjoy with Him hereafter a crown of glory; what more honourable? what more profitable? (W. Gouge.)
Reproach incurred by Christians:
The following are the chief grounds on which the first Christians were called to bear reproach, and on which we also may be called to bear the same.
1. They suffered reproach, as being followers of a crucified Saviour.
2. A second ground of the reproach suffered by the first Christians was that they forsook the ways of an evil world.
3. Christians are reproached by many on account of their general seriousness and spirituality of character.
4. Lastly: those who adopt any peculiar mode of religious observance have been at times exposed to ridicule on that account. (R. Hall, M. A.)
Bearing Christ’s reproach
Sheriff--was the child of a Christian mother. He had lived to be over sixty years of age without openly confessing Christ. Some time ago he “became interested in his spiritual welfare, and after attending some meetings in the city where he lived, he arose and openly acknowledged his intention to be a Christian. The positiveness of his expression, and his prominence in the community, caused a reporter to insert an item in the next morning’s paper that the sheriff had been converted. When he went into the court-house in the performance of his duties, he was saluted by one of a throng of godless men with the remark, “Well, sheriff, we hear you are going to leave us.”
“Leave you?” said he. “What do you mean?” “Why, we heard,” said the man, “that you were going to leave the world, the flesh, and the devil.” The sheriff hesitated only an instant, and said, with great emphasis, “That’s just what I’m going to do.” One of the men then said, “How do you like its being printed in the paper that you have been converted?” He said, “Was that in the paper? I think that is grand. I wish that they’d print placards about it and put them up all over the city, so that people might know about it at once, that I mean henceforth to be a Christian man.” It is needless to say that from that time he was a devoted and faithful follower of Christ.
Prizing the Cross:
Tacitus reports that though the amber ring among the Romans was of no value, yet, after the emperor began to wear it, it began to be in great esteem: it was the only fashion amongst them. So our Saviour has borne the Cross, and was borne upon it. Once a disgrace, even, it comes to be a boast to the true believer. We should esteem it more highly than many of us do, and bear it daily in remembrance of Him. (E. P.Thwing.)
Here have we no continuing city
An ever-changing scene:
These words sum up what was certainly the apostolic mind as to the position of Christians in the world.
They were members, as we are, of a vast and complex association which we call human society; but, with all its great attributes, it wants permanence. The world passes away as we work and speak. “Here we have no continuing city.” We have, indeed, a city; we have a wonderful and beneficent citizenship; we could not live without it; we owe it debts beyond repayment, duties of the most sacred kind; but society is with us and about us to-day, and to-morrow we and it are to be so much farther on in our round of successive changes, by which it becomes something quite different from what it is now, something, perhaps, which now we cannot imagine, and we disappear from life and from the visible world. But though “here we have no continuing city,” we do “seek one to come.” Born amid change, knowing nothing by experience but change, the human heart yet obstinately clings to its longing for the unchangeable and eternal. Christian souls not only long for it, but look for it. We seek that which is to come--seek it, believing that we shall one day reach it. We do not need Scripture to teach us that “we have no continuing city,” that “the fashion of this world passeth away,” that “nothing continueth in one stay.” But only Scripture can teach us to seek with hope for that which is to come. I need not remind you how, throughout the Psalms, we meet the impressive recognition of this aspect of life and of the world. They are full of the presence, of the greatness, of the eventfulness Of change--change going on for good and evil, for joy and sorrow, in Outward circumstances, in the inward life--changes visible, material, political, moral, and vicissitudes in the fortunes of men and nations; and there are recorded the most rapid alternations and successions of feeling in the soul within, in its outlook towards God and things outside it. The idea of the sovereignty of God is the counterpart throughout the Psalms set over against all that is unsatisfying, disastrous, transitory, untrustworthy, not only in man’s condition, but in the best that be can do. The psalmists realised that they had “no continuing city” in a way that is far beyond our experience. They knew a state of society which could rely on nothing settled. It was liable at any moment to be tormented by insolent and lawless wickedness, to be shaken to its foundations by the fever and passion of false religions, to be crushed down into utter ruin by some alien conqueror. They believed that they were the people of God; they believed that they had His promises; and yet what they saw was these promises still unfulfilled, recalled, apparently passing away to nothingness; they, the people of God’s holiness, saw in the midst of them, trampling on all light and purity, the bloodthirsty and deceitful man; they, the elect of the Lord of Hosts, saw the enemy master among the ruins of God’s holy place, and for generation after generation felt themselves the slaves and spoil of the heathen. What wonder, then, that the voice of grief and humiliation sounds with such tragic repetition in the Book of Psalms? “Hath God indeed forgotten to be gracious, and wilt He shut up His loving-kindness in displeasure?” But what is the other side of all this? It is that perhaps with one, and that only an apparent exception, the voice of unalloyed and uncomforted despair is never heard there. At the very moment that the heart is rent with shame and agony comes the remembrance of the Eternal King of Mercy and Righteousness, whose kingdom endured from end to end, while empires rose and fell, and whose ear heard with equal certainty the cry of the poor, and the blasphemer, and the cruel. In spite of the daily evidence of experience, the wicked “flourishing like a green bay-tree,” the power of the oppressor, the mocking tongue of the blasphemer--in spite of all, the foundations stand sure and unshaken by any accidents of mortal condition. “Thou art set in the throne that judgest right.” “The Lord shall endure for ever; He hath also prepared His seat for judgment.” “The Lord also will be a defence for the oppressed,” &c. And so with the transitoriness of the lives and generations of men. Nowhere is a keener sense shown of it than in the Psalms. “For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain.” “As soon as Thou scatterest them they are even as a sleep, and fade away suddenly like the grass.” “For, when Thou art angry, all our days are gone; we bring our years to an end as a tale that is told.” What is there to comfort and compensate for this dreary prospect? Nothing but unlimited trust in God’s power and goodness and ever-watchful care. “My days have gone like a shadow, and I am withered like grass.” There is the consciousness which must come to all men sooner or later--a consciousness in the Psalmist’s case that these great changes in his lot were not undeserved by a sinner. “And that because of Thy indignation and wrath; for Thou hast taken me up, and cast me down.” The great revelation of forgiveness and immortality was yet to come, but the Psalmist’s faith in the Eternal King of the world never wavered. “The days of man are bat as grass, for lie flourisheth as a flower of the field. For as soon,” etc. “But the merciful goodness,” &c. “When the breath of man goeth forth,” &c. The waste, the throwing away of human souls, of human affection--is there anything more strangely perplexing in the ruin of death? But the answer is at hand: “Blessed is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,” &c. Men died and were buried, and their children after them; they knew that they must die and be as though they had never been. They walked like shadows in the midst of shadows. They felt to the full the shortness of life, how soon it was over, how awful its inevitable changes; yet they did not faint. They knew that over them was the ever-continuous rule of Him who made heaven and earth and all things. They doubted not that He “keepeth His promise for ever”; and so, with change and mortality in them and around them, written on the solid earth and on the distant heaven, they broke into the exulting song (Psalms 102:25-28): “Here we have no continuing city”; but we know, with a distinctness which all men have not, of the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. But where is that passionate, delighted, triumphant faith of those men of old? What have we got of their joy and gladness at the very thought of God? (Dean Church.)
Mutability of man’s present condition
I. HERE WE HAVE NO CONTINUING CITY.
1. We may be said to have here no continuing city, by reason of the changes to which our circumstances are liable.
2. The same truth will appear evident if we consider the dissatisfaction with which every condition in life is attended.
3. The truth of the apostle’s declaration will appear still more manifest when we consider the change to which we ourselves are liable. Every step that we take, while it may bring us nearer to some object of pursuit, at the same time brings us nearer to that misty ocean upon which we must all embark, and bid adieu to all upon its shore.
II. BUT WE SEEK ONE TO COME.
1. This presupposes, on the part of Christians, an idea of the existence of another city yet to be discovered.
2. The language of the apostle implies not only a conviction of the existence of heaven, but of its excellence, its decided superiority to the place of man’s present habitation.
3. The language here employed implies a belief that this city may be gained.
4. It implies, more particularly, that Christians have abandoned the world.
5. It implies an actual entrance upon the way to heaven by an engagement in Christian duty. (James Clason.)
The final home of the Christian not on earth, but in heaven
I. MAN HAS NO PERMANENT HOME ON EARTH.
1. The inconstancy of human life.
2. The inevitable event of death.
3. The doom which awaits the earth.
II. THE PERMANENT HOME OF THE CHRISTIAN IS IN HEAVEN.
1. Heaven is a place.
2. Heaven is a permanent place.
3. Heaven is sure to the faithful believer.
III. To ATTAIN HEAVEN IS THE CHRISTIAN’S SUPREME CONCERN.
1. Heaven is secured to the believer conditionally.
2. That condition must be fulfilled on earth.
3. Its fulfilment requires the vigorous application of the whole mind.
4. The hope of heaven inspires Christian courage. (Homilist.)
Men sojourners upon earth
I. No sooner are we capable of looking round us, and considering the frame of our nature, and the condition of our being, than we may observe THAT, DERIVED FROM DUST, WE NATURALLY HASTEN TO DUST AGAIN; that none can claim the privilege of an exemption from the common necessity; that the human, like the vegetable race, have their periods of growth and declension, and are either cut down by the hand of violence, or soon fade and drop of themselves. Strangers and sojourners here, as were all our fathers, we soon pass away, and are gone.
II. I proceed to deduce SOME REFLECTIONS AND INFERENCES FROM THE SHORT DURATION AND TRANSITORY: CONDITION OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. Melancholy indeed would be the reflection that we pass away as a shadow if this life were the whole of our existence, and we had no hope beyond it, But, setting aside other considerations, the short term of our existence here may give us grounds to hope that it will be renewed and prolonged hereafter. For can we think that man was not designed by his Maker to attain that perfection in wisdom, and virtue, and happiness of which his nature is susceptive?
2. Meditation on our short and uncertain state in this world may wean us from an over-fondness for anything in it.
3. The consideration of the shortness of life may assist us in supporting us under its afflictions.
4. If the time of our sojourning in this world be but short, let the great and habitual object of our attention be that state which may soon begin but can never end. If “we have here no continuing city, let us seek one to come.” (G. CarT, B. A.)
Present change and future continuance:
Changeableness is one characteristic of all that is earthly. What is history? Largely the record of a succession of vapours which have appeared for a little time, and then have vanished away. What is philosophy but knowledge of the rise and progress, the extent and duration of shadows? What is poetry but the expression of the deep emotions awakened by earthly vicissitudes? And what is this world as we now all see it but a system of globes having a double revolution? Nothing abides in the same place, or exhibits two days together the same aspect. Changeableness is one feature of all that is earthly; human nature being no exception. Personally, relatively, in body, in spirit, within, without, there is no continuance. Some of the changes to which men are subject are manifestly good in themselves, good in all respects, and in the case of those who love God, and who are the called according to His purpose, all things work together for good. “Here have we no continuing city.” In what position are we left? Are we never to have continuance? Yes, we are to look upon things abiding, for while “here we have no continuing city, we,” Christians, “seek one to come.”
I. Look at THIS CHANGEABLENESS HERE FELT AND ACKNOWLEDGED. “Here have we no continuing city.” This seems discordant with the closing verse of the former chapter, where it is said--“We receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” But you remember, that kingdom is within us; and that kingdom is continued. The apostle is speaking in the text rather of that which is outside of us. Here, too, have we no fixed temporal condition. The rich often become poor; the elevated are brought low; and the men of many friends are made desolate. Here, too, have we no ultimate stage of existence. We begin with babyhood, rise into childhood, and oh, how soon do we get through manhood! And here have we no permanent visible Church. The persons constituting the Churches of Christ die; the members of particular congregations change; they pass from one community to another; and our Church forms and modes alter. Here, too, have we no fixed and unalterable demand upon our resources and powers. Duties and responsibilities, they all vary. Here, too, have we no fixed state of the emotions. To-day we are in joy; to-morrow in sorrow. Here, too, have we not the consummation of redemption. There are some things in our salvation now complete. Our pardon is complete; our justification is complete; but the inner salvation is being wrought out. There is no continuance in the experience of a true Christian. Here, too, have we not the everlasting Jerusalem. So that we may say, looking at all these facts, “Here have we no continuing city.”
II. WE CHRISTIANS SEEK ONE TO COME. We desire that which is unchangeable, and we seek it. “One to come”--a higher and a settled dwelling-place--a final home. It is love that makes a home. To love, and to be loved, though it be in the peasant’s cot, is to be at home; and often you find homes in the rudest dwellings, and none in the most splendid palaces. But where love is likely to be disturbed--where some rude hand can take the threads that love is ever spinning and tying and fastening, and cut them and sever them, the home feeling must of course be partial. And we long for a place and a state where we shall abide eternally in the presence of those who love us. “We seek one to come.” A higher and a settled dwelling-place, a final home, a permanent state of being--not a stereotyped state of being, but still a permanent state of being, as distinguished from a mere probational state. And we long for, we seek a permanent state of being, and an undisturbed condition. Society, for example, just to take two or three illustrations--society without interruption or separation. Now, as soon as we know one another, we are taken away from each other. Occupation pursued for ever. The man who looks at this world as he should look at it almost trembles to undertake anything great or anything grand. But think of immortality as the day of your work. What broad foundations of enterprises may you lay, when you shall feel that you have the “for-ever” before you in which to execute those enterprises! “One to come”--not only occupations to be pursued for ever, but pleasure to be enjoyed for ever, and honours to be worn for ever, and worship to be continued for ever, and communion to be unbroken for ever, and the Church to be glorious and perfect for ever. Now, we Christians desire this for comfort’s sake, for progress’ sake, and above all for righteousness’ sake. Acknowledge, then, that “here have we no continuing city”; acknowledge it. Acknowledge it by expecting change. Do not busy yourself in trying to fix permanently all the arrangements of your households, and to say, as I sometimes hear some of you say, and hear you say occasionally with trembling, “Now we are settled.” Settled? Settled this side of the grave? Settled--where change is the very law of life? Settled? Oh, never say with the spirit that we are now condemning, “Now we are settled.” When God requires you to make changes, make them, and be ready for them, and then they will not hurt you. “Here have we no continuing city.” Acknowledge this fully and cordially. Then “ seek one to come”--by union with Jesus Christ, and by spiritual preparedness. There is a city to come--a collection of the saved children of Adam in one place--a holy place, a city. It is beautiful for situation, like Jerusalem of old,but built upon everlasting hills which shall never bow, and upon mountains which shall never be moved. It is a holy city, into which shall not enter anything that defileth or worketh abomination, or maketh a lie. (S. Martin.)
No continuing city here
I. THE AFFECTING VIEW WHICH THE TEXT PRESENTS OF THE PRESENT WORLD.
1. Our earthly possessions do not continue.
(1) Our life--the chief of them--is not permanent. “We know not what a day may bring forth.”
(2) Our connections are not permanent. We may flatter ourselves in the hope that they will remain, and avail us, all along the journey of life; that we shall never want a relative to feel an identity of interests with us; but, probably, amidst all these self-gratulations, events may arise to dissolve our pleasing reverie, and to compel us to mourn over lost relations, never to be regained.
(3) Our health, property, respectability, do not always continue. What reverses of this kind does the page of history record! We read of constitutions broken, estates lost, fortunes ruined--of thrones subverted.
2. Our opportunities do not continue. There is a tide in our affairs, both temporal and spiritual.
3. Our religious peace and joy do not continue. There are disturbing forces in the kingdom of grace, as well as in that of nature: there are alternations in the affections of the soul, as well as in the seasons and the elements; and it would be strange if our minds were liable to no fluctuations, since there are different states in the health of our bodies.
II. THE CONDUCT WHICH THE APOSTLE DESCRIBES IN REFERENCE TO ANOTHER WORLD--“but we seek one to come.”
1. Observe the figure under which the place of the future abode of godly persons is represented--it is a city. A city means a place of concourse, in which is intelligent and agreeable society; a place of protection, a place of entertainment, where there is much to delight the eye, the ear, the taste--a place of refinement, where the minds, and manners of the inhabitants are removed from what is coarse--a place of wealth and comfort, affording a confluence of the supplies and enjoyments of life.
2. This peerless place is yet to come. That is, it is yet to appear, to be enjoyed--it is future. Hannibal’s soldiers had no adequate idea of the
Italian plains, before they descried them from the Alpine heights. The Israelites must have had a very imperfect notion of the Land of Promise, before they had crossed the Jordan, and traversed its mountains and valleys, entered its cities, walked amongst its vineyards, and partook of its milk and honey. And our highest attainments of grace upon earth leave us painfully ignorant of the perfect realisations of glory which await us in heaven.
3. Real Christians are now seeking this city which is to come. Seeking it implies earnest desire, assiduous diligence, and progressive advancement. (J. Davies.)
No continuing city:
In Chili, where the ground is subject to frequent shocks of earthquake, the houses are built of lowly height and of unenduring structure; it is of little use to dig deep foundations, and pile up high walls, when the very earth is unstable; it would be foolish to build as for ages when the whole edifice may be in ruins in a week. Herein we read a lesson as to our worldly schemes and possessions; this poor fleeting world deserves not that we should build our hopes and joys upon it as though they could last us long. We must treat it as a treacherous soil, and build but lightly on it, and we shall be wise. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A frail habitation:
Mr. Ruskin speaks in his “Love’s Meinie” of the “Little Crake, a bird which lays her eggs on an inartificially constructed platform of decayed leaves or stalks of marsh plants, slightly elevated above the water. How elevated I cannot find proper account, that is to say, whether it is hung to the stems of growing reeds, or built on hillocks of soil, but the bird is always liable to have its nest overflown by floods” (H. O.Mackey.)
We seek one to come
The abiding city of God’s people
I. I shall trace in these words THE OBJECT YEARNED AFTER BY EVERY MAN’S HEART, VIZ., A SETTLED AND SECURE CONDITION. Fully to enter into the beauty and force of this expression, it is necessary to imagine ourselves transported to a country exposed to the frequent devastation of war. Imagine yourselves in a land where the broken framework of the law cannot restrain each castle and town from pouring forth its band of marauding ruffians; or, suppose an enemy’s host landed and spreading fire and ruin far and wide--you will then partly estimate the desirableness of dwelling in “a continuing city.”
II. Therefore, secondly, GOD CONDESCENDS TO GIVE MAN A WARNING RESPECTING IT, drawing at one stroke a picture of this world, by saying that no such permanent security is to be found here--“here we have no continuing city.” Are riches secure? Your city has no bolts and bars to confine them. Friends, the nearest and dearest--what risk of their becoming estranged and chilled by misunderstanding. Earthquake, and hurricane, and plague, and war, are not necessary to brand instability on our comforts of this life. In the form of a slight cold Death lays its imperceptible touch upon the frame, and ere long comes to claim his own. Yet men will seek for these things, as if they were to endure, and will confide in their continuance to the last hour. It is necessary, then, that ye be warned by no less than the voice of God Himself, that “here ye have no continuing city.”
III. But, thirdly, GOD ASSURES US THAT THERE IS SUCH A STATE TO BE ATTAINED UNTO ELSEWHERE--there is “one to come.” The original is more explicit, for the existence of such a state is expressly affirmed. It is spoken of not as a hope, an imagination, like those which man sets before his own eyes, but as a reality. The true force of the expressions, “the one to come,” is, “the city that is to come.” Yes, revelation sets before us a place of security beyond the utmost dream of human hope--“a continuing city,” more complete than it hath entered into the heart of man to conceive, hath God prepared for them that love Him. It is figured forth as a city Hebrews 11:16): “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city.” It hath walls and gates: “Thou shalt call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise.” It is set forth specially under the figure of the “holy city,” the New Jerusalem: “the city had no need of the sun, nor of the moon.” The majesty of God is security for the peace and safety of that place.
IV. But, fourthly, THE APOSTLE LETS FALL BY THE WAY A SHORT CHARACTERISTIC DESCRIPTION OF EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN, VIZ., THAT HE IS A “SEEKER” OF THAT HEAVENLY CONDITION: “We seek one to come.” Recognise in this description that earnestness is an implied characteristic of the people of God. As an exile seeks his father’s land, or his native city, where the great majority of his kindred dwell, so the Christian soul feels towards heaven. He need not affect stoic indifference to the stations and duties on earth. St. Paul said, “I am of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.” But let earthly things clash with heavenly, and you will see where his heart is, that he is earnestly seeking his native city, into whose privileges he was new born, though at a distance, precisely as Paul was born into the privileges of Rome, though his native place was in Cilicia. The earnestness of a Christian will show itself in all he does; and in proportion as he is earnest, is the development of his Christianity. Another remark to which this characteristic description of a Christian gives rise, is an encouraging one to those Christians who, though earnest, are cast down. A Christian’s character is evidently that of an expectant, not a possessor. Ye are not yet come into the place which the Lord hath said He will give unto you. Be not therefore discouraged at being only an expectant of coming blessings. I would now fain bind this subject yet closer upon your individual hearts, by addressing three classes of persons. First, those that have suffered much from the mutability of earthly things; secondly, those that have been prosperous hitherto; and, thirdly, those that are entering on the trials of life. (G. Hebert, M. A.)
Only one Paradise for man
It is said that Mahomet approached Damascus, and when he stood to view the dazzling spectacle of that royal city, amid the beautiful plain, he turned aside and left the prospect, saying, “It is given to man to enjoy Paradise but once. If I possess Damascus I lose heaven.”
Offer the sacrifice of praise
A life-long occupation:
It is instructive to notice where this verse stands.
The connection is a golden setting to the gem of the text. Here we have a description of the believer’s position before God. He has done with all carnal ordinances, and has no interest in the ceremonies of the Mosaic law. What then? Are we to offer no sacrifice? Very far from it. We are called upon to offer to God a continual sacrifice. Having done with the outward, we now give ourselves entirely to the inward and to the spiritual. Moreover, the believer is now, if he is where he ought to be, like his Master, “without the camp.” What then? If we are without the camp, have we nothing to do? On the contrary, let us the more ardently pursue higher objects, and yield up our disentangled spirits to the praise and glory of God. Do we come under contempt, as the Master did? Is it so, that we are “bearing His reproach”? Shall we sit down in despair? Nay, verily; while we lose honour ourselves, we will ascribe honour to our God. We will count it all joy that we are counted worthy to be reproached for Christ’s sake. Moreover, the apostle says that “Here we have no continuing city.” Well, then, we will transfer the continuance from the city to the praise--“Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” If everything here is going, let it go; but we will not cease to sing. If the end of all things is at hand, let them end; but our praises of the living God shall abide world without end.
I. First, then, concerning a believer, let me DESCRIBE HIS SACRIFICE. “By Him therefore.”
1. See, at the very threshold of all offering of sacrifice to God, we begin with Christ. We cannot go a step without Jesus. Without a Mediator we can make no advance to God. He is that altar which sanctifies both gift and giver; by Him, therefore, let our sacrifices both of praise and of almsgiving be presented unto God.
2. Next, observe that this sacrifice is to be presented continually. Not only in this place or that place, but in every place, we are to praise the Lord our God. Not only when we are in a happy frame of mind, but when we are cast down and troubled. The perfumed smoke from the altar of incense is to rise towards heaven both day and night, from the beginning of the year to the year’s end.
3. The apostle goes on to tell us what the sacrifice is--the sacrifice of praise. Praise, that is, heart-worship, or adoration. Adoration is the grandest form of earthly service. We ascribe unto Jehovah, the one living and true God, all honour and glory. Praise is heart-trust and heart-content with God. Trust is adoration applied to practical purposes. Praise is heart-enjoyment; the indulgence of gratitude and wonder. The Lord has done so much for me that I must praise Him, or feel as if I had a fire shut up within me.
4. The text evidently deals with spoken praise--“Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name”; or, as the Revised Version has it, “the fruit of lips which make confession to His name.” So, then, we are to utter the praises of God, and it is not sufficient to feel adoring emotions. “Well,” saith one, “I cannot force myself to praise,” I do not want you to force yourself to it: this praise is to be natural. It is called the fruit of the lips. Fruit is a natural product: it grows without force, the free outcome of the plant. So let praise grow out of your lips at its own sweet will. Let it be as natural to you, as regenerated men, to praise God as it seems to be natural to profane men to blaspheme the sacred name. This praise is to be sincere and real. The next verse tells us we are to do good and communicate, and joins this with praise to God. Many will give God a cataract of words, but scarce a drop of true gratitude in the form of substance consecrated. This practical praising of the Lord is the life-office of every true believer. See ye to it.
II. We will, secondly, EXAMINE THE SUBSTANCE OF THIS SACRIFICE. “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.”
1. To praise God continually will need a childlike faith in Him. You must believe His word, or you will not praise His name. Doubt snaps the harp-strings. Question mars all melody. Unbelief is the deadly enemy of praise.
2. Faith must lead you into personal communion with the Lord. It is to Him that the praise is offered, and not to our fellow-men.
3. You must have also an overflowing content, a real joy in Him. Be sure that you do not lose your joy Rejoice in the Lord, that you may praise Him.
4. There must also be a holy earnestness about this. Praise is called a sacrifice because it is a very sacred thing. When life is real, life is earnest: and it must be both real and earnest when it is spent to the praise of the great and ever-blessed God.
5. To praise God continually, you need to cultivate perpetual gratitude, and surely it cannot be hard to do that! Remember, every misery averted is a mercy bestowed; every sin forgiven is a favour granted; every duty performed is also a grace received. Let the stream leap up to heaven in bursts of enthusiasm; let it fall to earth again in showers of beneficence; let it fill the basin of your daily life, and run over into the lives of others, and thence again in a cataract of glittering joy let it still descend.
6. In order to this praise you will need a deep and ardent admiration of the Lord God. Admire the Father--think much of His love; acquaint yourself with His perfections. Admire the Son of God, the altogether lovely One; and as you mark His gentleness, self-denial, love, and grace, suffer your heart to be wholly enamoured of Him. Admire the patience and condescension of the Holy Ghost, that He should visit you, and dwell in you, and bear with you.
III. I want, in the third place, to COMMEND THIS BLESSED EXERCISE.
1. “Offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually,” because in so doing you will answer the end of your being. Every creature is happiest when it is doing what it is made for. Christians are made to glorify God; and we are never in our element till we are praising Him. Do not degrade yourself by a less Divine employ.
2. Praise God again, because it is His due. Should Jehovah be left unpraised? Praise is the quit-rent which He asks of us for the enjoyment of all things; shall we be slow to pay?
3. Praise Him continually, for it will help you in everything else. A man full of praise is ready for all other holy exercises. The praises of God put wings upon pilgrims’ heels, so that they not only run, but fly.
4. This will preserve us from many evils. When the heart is full of the praise of God, it has not time to find fault and grow proudly angry with its fellows. We cannot fear while we can praise. Neither can we be bribed by the world’s favour, nor cowed by its frown. Praise makes men, yea, angels of us: let us abound in it.
5. Let us praise God because it will be a means of usefulness. I believe that a life spent in God’s praise would in itself be a missionary life. A praiseful heart is eloquent for God.
6. Praise God, because this is what God loves. Notice how the next verse puts it: “With such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
7. To close this commendation, remember that this will fit you for heaven. You can begin the music here--begin the hallelujahs of glory by praising God here below.
IV. LET US COMMENCE AT ONCE. What does the text say? It says, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually.” The apostle does not say, “By and by get to this work, when you are able to give up business, and have retired to the country, or when you are near to die”; but now, at once, he says, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise.” Let us stir one another up to praise. Let us spend to-day, and to-morrow, and all the rest of our days in praising God. If we catch one another a little grumbling, or coldly silent, let us, in kindness to each other, give the needful rebuke. It will not do; we must praise the Lord. Just as the leader of an orchestra taps his baton to call all to attention, and then to begin singing, so I bestir you to offer the sacrifice of praise unto the Lord. The apostle has put us rather in a fix: he compels us to offer sacrifice. Did you notice what he said in the tenth verse? He says, “We have an altar.” Can we imagine that this altar is given us of the Lord to be never used? Is no sacrifice to be presented on the best of altars? If we have an altar, do not allow it to be neglected, deserted, unused. It is not for spiders to spin their webs upon; it is not meet that it should be smothered with the dust of neglect. “We have an altar.” What then? “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” Do you not see the force of the argument? Practically obey it. Beside the altar we have a High Priest. Shall He stand there, and have nothing to do? What would you think of our great High Priest waiting at the altar, with nothing to present which His redeemed had brought to God? No, “by Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” Bring hither abundantly, ye people of God, your praises, your prayers, your thank-offerings, and present them to the Ever-blessed! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Public worship a sacrifice:
It is commonly supposed that the immediate object and end of public worship is edification, and that we assemble ourselves together in God’s house of prayer, mainly, if not solely, for our own benefit and improvement. Persons who are better informed will, indeed, admit that the honour of God is also intended in public worship; but it is evident that most people are far from realising this truth. The devout Christian will readily understand that such a view of public worship as this, which has respect rather to our own profit than to God’s honour, is most erroneous; and the words of the text, rightly understood, are well calculated to set forth and correct the falseness of this notion. Now, in considering the apostle’s expression, “sacrifice of praise,” with a view to ascertain the full meaning of the phrase, let us inquire whether there was anything in the ancient sacrifices which does not apply to the solemn services of the Christian Church.
1. And the first prejudice which we may mention against applying the term sacrifice to our own acts of worship is the erroneous persuasion that blood was always shed in the sacrifices of old. But this is altogether a mistake, and betrays an ignorance of the Scriptures, as well as of the writings of heathen antiquity; for nothing is more certain than that the sacrifices both of Jews and Gentiles consisted, many of them, of the oblation not of slain animals, but of flour, cakes, wine, fruits, and other vegetable substances.
2. Having, then, shown that there were other sacrifices among the Jews than those of slain animals, I will notice a second objection that might be ignorantly urged against the term “sacrifice” being applied to Christian oblation, viz., that the sacrifices of old were always burnt upon the altar, whereas all burnt-offerings have ceased among Christians. But it is not true that all the Jewish sacrifices were burnt; for it is certain that the wave-loaves were not thus offered with fire: and again, it was distinctly enjoined that the scape-goat was to be presented alive before the Lord to make an atonement.
3. But perhaps a still more serious objection to our use of the word “ sacrifice” is the fear entertained by many well-meaning persons lest this term should suggest the idea that our religious performances are intrinsically meritorious and propitiatory, and so detract from the all-sufficient merits of the great sacrifice which was once offered for the sins of the whole world. But this apprehension is also founded upon the mistaken notion that the sacrifices before the coming of Christ were really propitiatory; whereas, in truth, they had no real virtue apart from the merits of that prevailing sacrifice which they prefigured. Not one of the Jewish ceremonies and sacrificial rites could, in the least, avail to cleanse from sin, but as they were accepted by God for the sake of the offering of the body of Christ once for all. It does not, therefore, appear how the application of the term sacrifice to Christian oblations, and particularly to the Holy Eucharist, can encourage the supposition that they are intrinsically meritorious. But while it is freely admitted that none of these ceremonies, either before or after Christ, are in their own nature and by their own virtue meritorious, it may be safely maintained that, if they be done in and “by Him,” our “ Priest for ever,” then they are, through the atonement of the Cross, availing to the quieting of our consciences, the reconciling to God, the imparting of grace, and the forgiveness of sin. And this surely is especially true of that sacrifice of praise which has been ordained by Christ Himself as the perpetual memorial of the sacrifice of His death, and of the benefits which we receive thereby. Observe: St. Paul, writing to the Hebrew converts, who of all people were most familiar with the import of the word “ sacrifice,” instead of avoiding the use of this term, as if all notion of the solemn offerings of the Mosaic law was to be carefully banished from their christianised minds as irreconcilable with the spirituality of the gospel, selects this very word to convey to them his idea of the character of Christian praise. Now, to the Jewish mind sacrifice was a solemn act surrounded with a ceremonial prescribed by God Himself. There was the trouble and expense of providing the oblation; then it was to be brought to the priest, who alone could present it with prayer to God and make it an acceptable sacrifice. We will conclude the subject with a few practical remarks suggested by the word “continually.” The worship of the Church is a sacrifice. But not only this, it is a continual sacrifice. There was the daily, morning, and evening sacrifice among the Jews. There has ever been the same daily services in the Catholic Church of Christ; and our own Anglican branch of it asserts this duty, and claims this privilege. Has our gracious Lord taught the Church to cry continually, “Give us this day our daily bread”; and does this petition suggest individual and domestic wants only, and not those of the people and nation also? Is it lawful for man to pray daily for common blessings, and must it not be a duty and a privilege to unite in prayer, in God’s own house of prayer, under the direction of His ministers? But besides this continual sacrifice, I would remind you of those more solemn days of fast and festival, upon which every devoted member of the Church Catholic (or at least some representative of his family) should present himself before the Lord, if he desires to be like, or fears to be very unlike, all Christians of bygone days. These levees of the King of kings will often be held on days inconvenient to the world. But we are not of the world, but subjects of another kingdom. But to realise this blessedness you must come to offer sacrifice. You must come in God’s way, and in compliance with the laws of His Church. Do not think too much, or immediately of the benefit, spiritual or temporal, which you hope to receive; but think first and chiefly of rendering to God that homage which is His due. Nor make much of the trouble or inconvenience which such duties may occasion you; rather to the “fruit of your lips,” add cheerfully the sacrifice of your time, your bodily strength, your worldly substance. (C. Wray, M. A.)
We must thank God for the mercies we have, or else we shall not have others. In the early days when the Puritans settled in New England they were always having fast days. They had a fast day because their bread was getting short; another fast day because the Red Indians invaded them; another fast day because a ship had not arrived that they expected; and they had so many fast days that they began to get exceedingly weak. At length, one very wise brother said, “Did they not think it would be as well, now and then, to vary the thing, and to have a feast day occasionally? Would it not be quite as acceptable to God if instead of mourning over mercies they wanted, they were to thank Him for mercies enjoyed?” So they instituted what is called the thanksgiving day, which became a perpetual ordinance afterwards--the thanksgiving for mercies received. There is reason and wisdom in such a course. How dare you go and ask for anything else till you have been thankful for what you have? What do you with poor people who depend upon you? You gave the man some relief yesterday, and he walked away with an ungrateful face, shrugging shoulders, as much as to say, “That’s all!” Sometimes when you have given charity to a very greedy person, have you not seen him stand and look at it? What has been your rule when he comes next time? You have sent him away empty, and very properly is he punished. But how is it the Lord does not serve you the same? You ask Him for a mercy and you get it, and you either look at it as though it were not worth having, or else you enjoy it for a time and then forget you have ever had it, and never think of thanking Him; and then you knock at His door again, and expect that He will wait upon your lusts when you will not wait upon His throne with thanksgiving. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thanksgiving in the heart:
As flowers carry dewdrops, trembling on the edges of the petals, and ready to fail at the first waft of wind or brush of bird, so the heart should carry its beaded words of thanksgiving; ‘and at the first breath of heavenly flavour, let down the shower, perfumed with the heart’s gratitude. (H. W. Beecher.)
In praising a fellow creature we may easily surpass the truth; but in praising God we have only to go on acknowledging and confessing what He really is to us. Here it is impossible to exceed the truth; and here is genuine praise. (J. A. Bengel.)
Gurnall spoke of “the double action of the lungs”--the air sucked in by prayer and breathed forth again in praise.
The Lord has many fine farms from which He receives but little rent. Thanksgiving is a good thing: thanksliving is better. (P. Henry.)
A line of praise
A line of praises is worth a leaf of prayer; and an hour of praises is worth a day of fasting and mourning.. (J. Livingston.)
Pliny says in his Natural History there m a certain people in India, upon the river Ganges, called Aotomy, who have no mouth, but feed upon the smell of herbs and flowers. We have some of the same kind of people in England: when, under the afflicting hand of God, they have no lips to praise God, nor tongues to justify Him. (J. W. Kirton.)
Hard by the table of shewbread commemorating His bounty should stand the altar of incense denoting our praise. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Gratitude an aid to enjoyment:
Many favours which God giveth us ravel out for want of hemming, through our own unthankfulness; for though prayer purchases blessings, giving praise doth keep the quiet possession of them.
“Have we thanked Him?”
A lady, hearing of a poor gipsy boy lying very ill in a tent, was anxious to visit him. In her endeavours to do so she met with much abuse and a refusal from the boy’s father. At last, however, the father consented to her visiting his dying son. Entering the tent, she found the poor lad lying on a heap of straw and in great suffering. She spoke to him of Jesus, and His love for sinners; of His cruel death and resurrection; and was astonished to see the boy’s frame shaken with sobs. To her inquiry about his distress, he gasped, “Oh, miss, and I’ve never so much as thanked Him!” Have we thanked Him?
But to do good, and to communicate, forget not
WHAT THE EXPRESSIONS TO “DO GOOD “AND TO” COMMUNICATE” DENOTE.
1. To “do good” is to do whatever may tend to promote the good and happiness of our neighbour; to prevent any peril or misfortune he may be exposed to, or to deliver him out of any circumstances of adversity which he may be in. The goods or evils we are capable of in this world either respect our spiritual or our temporal state. If he requires our advice we ought to give it in the best manner we can; if our assistances we ought to discover a readiness to gratify him in any reasonable request.
2. To communicate, or distribute, is to set apart some proportion of those good things the providence of God has blessed us with to the benefit and relief of others.
II. WHY DOING GOOD AND COMMUNICATING ARE SACRIFICES ACCEPTABLE AND WELL-PLEASING TO GOD.
1. By beneficence and charitable actions we imitate God in one of the glorious and moral perfections of His nature. That perfection which He seems Himself to exalt above all His other attributes, and without which they would render Him rather an object of terror than love to us.
2. Hereby we do honour to the providence of God. For probably this, among other reasons, may be one why God has put so great a number of men under circumstances of want, that those who are in a better capacity may have constant occasions of exerting themselves in all the good offices of humanity and love, which are the brightest ornaments of human nature; and that others, seeing these their good works, may be more effectually excited to glorify God.
3. By acts of beneficence we discover the power which religion has over us, and the sincerity of our love to God. This is the most sensible argument that we can give to ourselves or others, that our hearts are right with God, and that religion has in truth some power over us. But in truth, though acts of charity may in many respects interfere with the maxims of self-love, and seem to cross the designs of avarice and worldly-mindedness; yet it will appear under my next and last particular.
4. That they are agreeable to one of the prime and essential inclinations of human nature. God has implanted in our very frame a compassionate sense of the sufferings of other people, which disposes us to contribute to their relief; so that when we see any of our fellow creatures in circumstances of distress we are naturally, I had almost said, mechanically, inclined to be helpful to them. One reason why God has given us these natural sentiments of compassion may be that man, of all other beings upon earth, stands in the greatest need of the help of his fellow creatures; for whereas Nature, when she brings other creatures in the world, puts them in a readier way of making some provision for themselves. Man is born more exposed, and even in his full strength he would at the best but pass his time very ill were it not for the many comforts and conveniences which he reaps from society. As God has made man a sociable creature, it was a very wise design of His providence to train him up in such a manner for society as might give him the strongest impressions of all the duties of humanity and respect, which he owes to it, anal wherein the peace and happiness of it principally consist. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)
There is no good for man but to do good. To do good is in accordance with our highest reason, and commands universal approval; for, whatever may be the practice of the selfish and the churlish, even they are constrained, though in stinted phrase, to commend the generous. Whether we appeal to our personal consciousness, or the general judgment of mankind, the man who lives for others, and labours, even at a sacrifice, to assist and elevate them, receives the homage of the common heart. A parent, self-indulgent, neglectful, or failing to provide for the wants of those dependent upon him, or seeking to render the lives of his children subservient to his indolence or personal indulgence, is an object of contempt and reprobation. A prince who should squander the revenues of his kingdom on plans of personal aggrandisement, or schemes of wild ambition, is universally condemned, and men rise up in rebellion against him. The scholar who merely acquires knowledge for the delight it affords him, without seeking to apply it to the common good, is regarded with indifference or pity; even an angel would be neither the object of approval nor envy, who only lived to breathe in celestial joys, and was ready neither to wait nor to serve. God Himself is adored as the good, because He is the Giver of every good; nor can we conceive of Him as either indifferent to the happiness of His creatures, or regardless of their fate, without feeling that He would cease to command our reverence or cull forth our love, and would be like the fancied gods of the heathen, whose only vocation is to quaff their bowls of nectar and feast on ambrosia. The honoured dead, whose memories are cherished, and whose names are treasured as heirlooms of the race, are not those who, immured in palaces, have spent their lives in extravagant pleasures, but those who have endured hardship, and sacrificed ease, and even life, in conferring great boons on their generation. Not the rulers of the race, but its benefactors, are revered; not the high potentates, but the wise statesmen; not the ambitious warrior, but the devoted patriot, are held in loving remembrance; not he who has waded through the blood of others to the throne of a kingdom, but he who has shed his own blood to obtain or defend the liberties of a nation, will find a perennial monument in the grateful heart of posterity. To do good is not only in accordance with our highest reason, and the prompting of our best instincts, but it is the very genius of our common Christianity. If we are brought near to God by a true faith, we must become like Him in the exercise of a pure love. And how shall we do good? We live in a time of great opportunities and manifold facilities, of multiplied means of usefulness. Our capability is our only limit. But we should specially seek to do good by faithfully discharging all the duties of our vocation and sphere, by cheerfully responding to all the obligations which arise out of our relations to the home, the church, and the world; by honest work, true words, and daring deeds; and by using our influence directly and indirectly for the furtherance of any good work. We should do good by heartily sustaining, extending, and transmitting the gospel, and all its ordinances; in the erection of churches, the planting of missions, and the establishment of schools; by relieving the distressed, succouring the needy, and comforting the sorrow-stricken, both personally and through the agency of others, in connection with charitable societies and humane institutions; and by daily deeds of love and frequent gifts of affection and gratitude. To do good is the dictate of humanity, the demand of duty, the claim of justice, and the plea of interest; and each loving, feeling heart may readily find its appropriate work. (Christian World Pulpit.)
Doing good and being good:
The man who fails to fulfil his mission to others, fails to find the end and meaning of his own life; cease to do good and you will soon cease to be good, and will make shipwreck of your personal hope. The Jews were God’s witnesses of this. Instead of making all nations love them and seek to walk in the light of their life as a people, they managed to make all nations hate and persecute them--with a hatred, moreover, that deepened with the ages, and at length wrought their utter ruin. You may say that this was the inevitable result of the position of a godly people in the midst of a heathen world. At first it might be so, but not permanently. Christianity has won its way, first to toleration, then to honour--Judaism never did; and yet the peoples around were far from indisposed to receive its impressions. Joseph won his way at once at Memphis, Daniel at Babylon. And Joseph and Daniel had nothing but what Judaism had. They were Jews to the heart’s core, and the history of their missionary work stands in everlasting record to shame their countrymen, and to justify the ways of God, when “the wind bound up the self-centred and exclusive people in her wings,” and bore them into a far captivity, where, unless they were prepared to renounce their nationality, they must bear witness for God, whether they would or no. (J. Baldwin Brown.)
The useful life missed:
When an oak, or any noble and useful tree, is uprooted, his removal creates a blank. For years after, when you look to the place which once knew him, you see that something is missing. The branches of adjacent trees have not yet supplied the void. They still hesitate to supply the place formerly filled by their powerful neighbour; and there is still a deep chasm in the ground--a rugged pit--which shows how far his giant roots once spread. But when a leafless pole, a wooden pin, is plucked up, it comes easy and clean away. There is no rending of the turf, no marring of the landscape, no vacuity created, no regret. It leaves no memento, and is never missed. Which are you? Are you cedars planted in the house of the Lord, casting a cool and grateful shadow on those around you? Are you palm-trees, fat and flourishing, yielding bounteous fruit, and making all who know you bless you? Are you so useful, that were you once away it would not be easy to fill your place again, but people, as they pointed to the void in the plantation, the pit in the ground, would say, “It was here that that old palm-tree diffused his familiar shadow, and showed his mellow clusters”? Or, are you a peg, a pin, a rootless, branchless, fruitless thing, that may be pulled up any day, and no one ever care to ask what has become of it? What are you doing? What are you contributing to the world’s happiness, or the Church’s glory? What is your business? (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
“What can I do?”
The Rev. Spencer Compton, an evangelical minister at Boulogne, relates the following incident: “During a voyage to India, I sat one dark evening in my cabin feeling thoroughly unwell, as the sea was rising fast and I was but a poor sailor. Suddenly the cry of ‘Man overboard!’ made me spring to my feet. I heard a trampling overhead, but resolved not to go on deck lest I should interfere with the crew in their efforts to save the poor man. ‘What can I do?’ I asked myself, and instantly unhooking my lamp, I held it near the top of my cabin and close to my bull’s-eye window, that its light might shine on the sea, and as near the ship as possible. In half-a-minute’s time I heard the joyful cry, ‘It’s all right, he’s safe,’ upon which I put my lamp in its place. The next day, however, I was told that my little lamp was the sole means of saving the man’s life; it was only by the timely light which shone upon him that the knotted rope could be thrown so as to reach him.”
We should do good in our own sphere:
Keep in the way of your place and calling, and take not other men’s works upon you, without a call, under any pretence of doing good. Magistrates must do good, in the place and work of magistrates; and ministers, in the place and work of ministers; and private men, in their private place and work; and not one man step into another’s place, and take his work out of his hand, and say, “I can do it better”; ford if you should do it better, the disorder will do more harm than you did good by bettering his work. One judge must not step into another’s court and seat, and say, “I will pass more righteous judgment.” You must not go into another man’s school, and say, “I can teach your scholars better”; nor into another’s charge or pulpit, and say, “I can preach better.” The servant may not rule the master because he can do it best, no more than you may take another man’s wife, or house, or lands, or goods, because you can use them better than he. Do the good you are called to do. (R. Baxter.)
Exert your talents:
“Exert your talents,” said Dr. Samuel Johnson, “and distinguish yourself. Do not think of retiring from the world until the world will be sorry that you retire. I hate a man whom pride, or cowardice, or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing while there but sit and growl.” Activity is the key to a useful Christian life. The key to activity is opening the doors o! our hearts, and letting the river of Christ’s love constantly flow through. Our realisation of Christ’s love prompts us to love our fellow-man, and strive to lighten his burden. Then, too, the best way to be active in God’s service is to embrace every opportunity to do our fellow-man all the good we can, knowing that he that is faithful unto death shall be given a crown of life.
The most beautiful thing in the world is a good deed:
How can this be otherwise, when everything else that is beautiful is only a symbol of a deed? What are beautiful words but more or less imperfect signs for recording and perpetuating the actions which inspired them? No poem, no work of art, is beautiful unless it expresses some phase of action. The calmest landscape represents the play of light and shade, and perpetuates some instantaneous phase of motion; the marble statue represents the body in some form of actions; music is always the soul in motion; the deed gets expressed by symbols; but it is the deed which possesses the intrinsic beauty, and not the symbol. Therefore we should not think that we are incapable of apprehending and rendering the beautiful in life because we cannot write poems, or paint pictures, or carve statues. So long as we are capable of doing good and beautiful deeds, are we capable of rising to that intrinsic beauty of life which the mere art-form does nothing more than express. What if a woman cannot paint a Raphael’s Madonna, when she can be herself a Madonna, a holy mother? What though a man cannot write a grand and beautiful poem, so be it he lives a grand and beautiful life? This was the spirit that was in Christ. He was the greatest of all artists because He lived the greatest and most beautiful of lives. What He did was even more beautiful than what He said. And in the essential beauty of the deed we are all capable of being like Him.
Is his purse converted?
A Methodist labourer in Wesley’s time, Captain Webb, when any one informed him of the conversion of a rich man, was in the habit of asking, “Is his purse converted?” He agreed with Dr. Adam Clarke, who used to say, he did not believe in the religion that cost a man nothing.
Giving, a sign of perfectness:
When wheat is growing it holds all its kernels tight in its own ear. But when it is ripe the kernels are scattered every whither, and it is only the straw that is left. (H. W. Beecher.)
Rohese, the mother of Thomas a Becket, was a very devout woman in her day. It was her custom to weigh her boy every year on his birthday against money, clothes and provisions, which she gave to the poor. (H. O. Mackey.)
The rhubarb pie plan:
During a discussion in a certain church, on the question of the duty of giving, a brother well known for his generous benefactions, was asked what part of his income he was in the habit of contributing to the Lord’s treasury. “I do not know,” said the brother; “I do very much as the woman did who was famous for the excellence of her rhubarb pies. She put in as much sugar as her conscience would allow, and then shut her eyes and put in a handful more. I give all my conscience approves, and then add a handful without counting it.” We commend this plan to those who believe that “he that soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully,” and who wish to err upon the safe side. Many men seem afraid of giving too much; but among all the failures in business of which we have heard, we have never known an instance where a man has ruined himself by giving to the poor or to the cause of God.
We often read in the papers of “ munificent bequests.” To my mind it is a phrase that has no meaning at all. I see no munificence in bequeathing your property to charitable purposes when you are gone out of the world and have not the possibility of longer enjoying it. What I like are munificent donations. (Lord Shaftesburg.)
True measure of charity
It has been frequently wished by Christians that there were some rule laid down in the Bible fixing the proportion of their property which they ought to contribute to religious uses. This is as if a child should say, “Father, how many times in the day must I come to you with some testimonial of my love? how often will it be necessary to show my affection for you?” The father would of course reply, “Just as often as your feeling prompts you, my child, and no oftener.” Just so Christ says to His people, “Look on Me, and see what I have done and suffered for you, and then give Me just what you think I deserve. I do not wish anything forced.” (H. G. Salter.)
With such sacrifices God is well pleased
Sacrifice--true and false:
Thousands think that if they are outwardly decent, if they veneer their lives with a decorous respectability, they are very good Christians; and that, though they neither love God nor their neighbour, but are simply walking after their own heart’s lusts. But it is not all men who are able thus to scarify the surface of their spiritual being. Deeper natures, tortured by the scourge of conscience, seeing how useless it must be to give to God that which costs them nothing, feel impelled, since they will not give Him the pure life and the loving heart, to give Him something else of a costly kind. It is this feeling which led to the awful horror of human sacrifices. But all this externality of affliction, of suffering, is vain. God is no Moloch; He delights in innocent happiness, and not in self-chosen suffering. Bodily suffering has ever proved itself vain to expel spiritual sin, and God would fain deliver us from sin, which cannot be done by vain attempts to anticipate the penalty. With such sacrifices God is not well pleased. We can in the fullest sense offer no sacrifice to God that will save us. It cost more to redeem our souls, so that we must let that alone for ever. That has been done for us. But in a lower sense the word sacrifice is applied in this verse to that which we can offer to God. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” “But to do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” The type of all such passages is that magnificent question and answer in the prophet Micah (Micah 6:6-8). Do not let any of us pretend that we do not know what God requires of us. To communicate: What does it mean? It means unselfishness as regards what we possess, not to keep to ourselves what we have, to use our gifts in whatever way seems best for the good of the world, to remember that we are the stewards of what God gives us, and not the owners; to be cheerful givers; to learn the exquisite happiness of living for the good of all others, to have the heart at leisure from itself to soothe and sympathise: with such sacrifices God is well pleased. And to do good: it is not only to give; indeed, the indiscriminate, careless charity which gives to silence greedy demands or satisfy a conventional conscience; the reckless, foolish giving which only fosters the plague-spots of pauperism and imposture is worse than useless, it is a curse. Almsgiving, to be any use at all, must be thoughtful and discriminating. To do good: there you have the summary of a true life. We are on earth to give, and not to receive. We are not our own. Am I in this life of mine doing any real, unselfish good? Millions do positive harm. Like barren trees, they not only bring forth no fruit, but curse the ground with the blight of their bitter foliage and their unprofitable shadow. Millions, if they do no direct or positive harm, yet do absolutely no good. They sleep and feed and go through some sort of mechanical routine in their profession for themselves--no more. Their life is no true life; they die, but they have never lived. But among the millions who do deep harm, and the millions who do no real good, how many are there who can really be counted among the lovers of their fellow-men? These do see how often from efforts apparently infinitesimal and insignificant, lonely, inefficient, and as it seemed obscure, vast blessings come, and even when good men see no great positive result of their self-denial they feel within them the peace of a calm conscience and a blessed sense that their humble endeavours are accepted of their God. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
With such sacrifices God is well pleased
1. He is so, first, because He is pleased with the spirit of faith. Such charity arises out of that faith which the apostle describes as “the evidence of things not seen”; for you observe that when our Lord counsels His disciples not to lay up treasure on earth, but in heaven, He makes an appeal to their faith. When He says--“If thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, for they cannot recompense thee, for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just,” He requires us to believe that we shall appear before the judgment-seat of God, to receive according to the things done in the body. When, then, in expectation of these things--these things not seen but believed, not possessed but hoped for--we expend what we do possess and see; when we resign the means of present gratification; when we part with what might please the natural inclination--satisfy “the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life”--we give a proof of faith of the same sort as that of Abraham, when at the call of God he gave up what is dear to every man--his country, and his kindred.
2. God approves the man who distributes and does good, because He sees in him a spirit of obedience. It is part of the arrangement by which the world is governed, that there should be a connection between the several classes of mankind--such mutual dependence as of servants on their employers, of children on their parents, of a people on their spiritual pastor, of the poor on those who are better endowed; and it is only while the links of the chain, constructed by God Himself, are sound and uninterrupted, that the balance of the whole is preserved, and the machine proceeds in conformity with its Maker’s design. “The end of the commandment is charity.” This is the purpose of God’s revelation of Himself by His beloved Son--that when, through unfeigned faith in the atonement made for sin, the conscience is set at ease, and the heart sincerely converted to God, the result should be charity--love of man towards his fellow-men, springing from the love of God towards himself, and nourished by a constant sense of His mercy. When, therefore His Spirit has established this principle in this heart, then and not before the gospel has dominion there. (Abp. Sumner.)
The sacrifice of Christian beneficence:--We are not to offer on the altar of Christian charity the halt, blind, lame, the mere offal of our comforts which we deem below our notice; nor are we content with yielding up the surplus of our possessions which we do not want and cannot use. We must be prepared to make “sacrifices” Did the Son of God exhibit a species of compassion which cost Him nothing? Did He, without effort and humiliation merely give us, if I may so speak, the surplus of His riches, the redundance of His glory? Altogether the opposite: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through His poverty, might become rich.” (J. A. James.)
Obey them that have the rule
Rulership in the Church
THAT THE DUE OBEDIENCE OF THE CHURCH, IN ALL ITS MEMBERS, UNTO THE RULERS OF IT, IN THE DISCHARGE OF THEIR OFFICE AND DUTY, IS THE BEST MEANS OF ITS EDIFICATION, AND THE CHIEF CAUSE OF ORDER AND PEACE IN THE WHOLE BODY. Therefore is it here placed by the apostle, as comprehensive of all ecclesiastical duties.
II. AN ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT AND POWER BY ANY TO RULE OVER THE CHURCH, WITHOUT EVIDENCING THEIR DESIGN AND WORK TO BE A WATCHING FOR THE GOOD OF THEIR SOULS, IS PERNICIOUS UNTO THEMSELVES, AND RUINOUS UNTO THE CHURCH ITSELF.
III. Those who do attend with conscience and diligence unto the discharge of the work of the ministry towards their flocks, committed in an especial manner unto their charge, HAVE NO GREATER JOY OR SORROW IN THIS WORLD THAN WHAT ACCOMPANIES THE DAILY ACCOUNT WHICH THEY GIVE UNTO CHRIST OF THE DISCHARGE OF THEIR DUTY AMONGST THEM, AS THEIR SUCCESS FALLS OUT TO BE.
IV. Much of the life of the ministry and benefit of the Church DEPENDS ON THE CONTINUAL GIVING AN ACCOUNT UNTO CHRIST, BY PRAYER AND THANKSGIVING, OF THE STATE OF THE CHURCH, AND SUCCESS OF THE WORD THEREIN. Those guides who esteem themselves obliged thereunto, and do live in the practice of it, will find their minds engaged thereby unto constant diligence and earnest labouring in the discharge of their duty. And the dealings of Christ with the Church itself are regulated according unto this account, as the last words do manifest. (John Owen, D. D.)
The reciprocal duties of ministers and people:
The relation which is formed between a minister of the gospel and the people committed to his charge is highly important. It is a relation most sacred in itself, and most awful in its consequences; and the duties which spring from it are such as ought to be well understood by both parties.
I. THE DUTY OF MINISTERS TO THEIR PEOPLE IS THUS DESCRIBED. They “have the rule over them,” or, as the word may properly moan, have the “guidance” of them; and “watch for their souls.” This expression denotes that no small degree of diligence, perseverance, and anxiety is necessary for the discharge of the ministerial office. At least it implies that a minister in the faithful exercise of his calling is required to perform two things.
1. Solemnly to admonish the people of their danger.
2. To look out for every convenient opportunity of doing good to their souls. Now observe the obligation which they are under to a faithful performance of their duty. “They watch for your souls as they that must give account” (see Ezekiel 3:17-19; Ezekiel 34:4; Ezekiel 43:7-10).
II. It must be plain THAT DUTY BEGETS DUTY. If ministers be required to have the rule over their people and to watch for their souls, what must be required of their people in return but obedience and submission?
1. It is the duty of the people to attend on their minister with a disposition to receive and follow his instructions.
2. It is the duty of the people to bear with the importunity and solicitude of their minister in watching for their souls. They are not to take offence at his plain speaking, nor be impatient under his friendly admonitions.
3. It is the duty of the people to join with their minister in such plans and attempts as may best promote the object of his ministry. Does he, for example, point out any particular means by which immorality and ungodliness may be checked, or the cause of true religion may be encouraged and strengthened? In these cases his people are justly required to attend to his proposals; and by their support to forward his endeavours. From this view of the people’s duty towards their minister let us turn to the obligations which they are under to discharge it.
(1) In the first place, the very office of the minister imposes it on them. The same authority which prescribes to him his duty prescribes also to them their duty. And the same reasons in both cases enforce the performance of it.
(2) But, in the second place, the object which the minister has in view strongly obliges the people to discharge their duty towards him. For whose souls does he watch but for theirs?
(3) But let it be considered, thirdly, that in this, as well as in every other instance, duty and interest are closely joined together. It is the people’s interest to obey them that have the rule over them, and to submit to those who watch for their souls. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
Ministerial duty, responsibility, and reward
I. MINISTERIAL DUTY.
1. The objects of ministerial solicitude. “Your souls.”
(1) The origin of souls. God’s offspring. Immaterial, intellectual, immortal.
(2) The price at which they were redeemed. “Precious blood of Christ.”
(3) Their destiny. Eternal life or death.
2. The expression of ministerial solicitude. “They watch.” This includes love for immortal souls, manifested in a constant attention to their interests, and a devotedness to their welfare.
II. MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY.
1. This responsibility refers to their commission. Christ will employ in His work a friend that loves Him; not a stranger, much less an enemy. It has been well remarked that the Church had formerly wooden vessels, but golden priests; since that she has had golden vessels and wooden priests.
2. This responsibility refers to the fidelity which is required on their part.
3. It refers to the account which they must finally render.
III. MINISTERIAL REWARD.
1. What they deprecate. That they may not give their account with grief.
2. What they desire. “That they may give account with joy.” How animating to the labourer is success!
3. The interest of the people in both. Both in what ministers deprecate and in what they desire. Our disappointment may have an influence on us. It may weaken us in the way; it may bring us down broken-hearted to the grave. But our disappointment is your ruin! It may grieve us, but it will destroy you. Our satisfaction is your conversion. Your increase is delightful to us, but it is your salvation. (John Davis.)
Duties owing to ministers
1. Reverence in regard of their office. Alexander reverenced Jaddus. Herod, John the Baptist. Obadiah called Elias Lord. “My father,” said Josiah to Elisha. If we reverence them not the word will not have so free a passage among us. They that use their pastors unreverently sin against God.
2. Love. Have them in exceeding love for their work’s sake. It is the best work in the world, the saving of your souls; therefore love them for it. You love the fathers of your bodies that brought you into the world, and wilt ye not love them that beget you with the word of truth and bring you to a kingdom?
3. Obedience to their doctrine, exhortations, and admonitions. You will obey the prescript of the physician for the health of your bodies; though it be a bitter potion, you take it well at his hands; and will you not obey them that give you counsel for your souls, though their reproofs be bitter, their rebukes sharp (Titus 1:13)?
4. Maintenance. All rulers must be maintained. The king hath maintenance due from the people, and so must the minister. In the fear of God, if ye be good and religious people, discharge the duties that God requireth to them that have the spiritual government of you. Why? There be two reasons to excite us to it; the one taken from the matter of their work, the other from the manner of their working. They are your watchmen; therefore submit yourselves to them, love them, regard them. Not over your goods and bodies, as the magistrate is, but over your souls, which are more precious; not as the fowler watcheth for the bird to catch it and kill it, but they watch for the preservation and eternal salvation of your souls; therefore submit yourselves to them. The second reason is taken from the manner of their working; they would gladly do their work with joy; they would watch over you with joy, which they cannot do if you be peevish, perverse, and froward. Therefore submit yourselves to them. What though we grieve them? What care we? Will such a thing grieve him? He shall be sure to have it then; we will do it for the nonce. Some are at this pass. But you shall have no benefit by that; you hurt yourselves more than them. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Ministers as generals:
The ancient knight was a cleaver of skulls, a fighting man rather than a leader; his great force lay in muscle, not brain. But who ever thought of estimating the value of Napoleon upon a battle-field by the blows he gave? He wielded an army, not a sword. Ministers should covet earnestly the general’s gift. The man who has the faculty of getting others to work, keeping them at their work and wisely directing their work, will get more done than any solitary labourer can do, though he be strong as Samson and diligent as Paul. (S. Coley.)
They watch for your souls
Ministers are watchmen
I. THE OFFICE OF WATCHMAN IS ONE OF APPOINTMENT.
II. THE OFFICE OF WATCHMAN IS ONE OF TRUST.
III. THE OFFICE OF WATCHMAN IS ONE OF RESPONSIBILITY.
1. For his time.
2. For his diligence.
3. For his vigilance.
4. For his fidelity.
Application: We learn
1. The solemn character of the ministerial calling. A calling which demands great personal piety, as well as high spiritual gifts.
2. The arduous duties of the ministerial office. So arduous as to claim all the faculties of the mind and all the energies of the body.
3. The great necessity that they should receive Christian sympathy and comfort.
4. The personal responsibility of those over whom they watch.
5. Jesus, the great and blessed keeper of Zion, is the model every Christian minister should study and imitate. (J. Buras, D. D.)
Solicitude for souls:
In one of McCheyne’s manuscripts there occurs this sentence--“As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power that every one of my flock most soon be in heaven or hell. Oh, how I wished that I had a tongue like thunder that I might make all hear; or that I had a frame like iron that I might visit every one and say, ‘Escape for thy life!’ Ah, sinners! you little know how I fear that you will lay the blame of your damnation at my door.” (Life of R. M. McCheyne.)
The solemnity of the minister’s work
"I continually hear the surges of eternity beating against my study door,” said an eminent minister of the gospel.
A captain whose ship was nearing a reel gave orders to keep off. To a remark of approval the captain replied, “It is necessary that I should be very careful, because I have souls on board. I think of my responsibility, and remember that souls are very valuable.”
I verily believe that had I been adequately affected by the whole matter, even as I might have apprehended it then, I should never have gone to Stepney (the college) after all. It strikes me with awe at this hour that I should have undertaken what I have found to be so veritably the burden of the Lord. A vision of my Norwich life, had I seen it at Fen Court, would have led me to withdraw my application to the committee on the spot. A vision of my Bloomsbury Chapel life, had I seen it as I passed that evening into my college chamber, would have sent me back to my bench at Mr. Field’s and to my occasional services to the rustics at Collier’s End. However, no such visions did appear to me; and perhaps in mercy the weightier ultimate responsibilities which were involved were hidden from my eyes. (W. Brock, D. D.)
Care for souls:
Dr. Bushnell greatly interested himself in providing a park for the town in which he lived. Writing to Dr. Bartol, he said, “One thing I have learned by this undertaking--namely, to wonder why it is that as a Christian teacher and pastor I am so feebly exercised, so little burdened by my work. It fills me with doubt and shame and grief; and the result has been to make me fully resolved that I will either be a more responsible, more efficient minister of Jesus Christ or none. I cannot shake off those words of Paul--they are ringing continually in my ears--‘I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.’ This park matter has been a kind of revelation to me, which I pray God I may never forget. Why should I carry a park to bed with me, and work it over in my dreams during the night, and wake with it in the morning, and yet be so little exercised in the magnificent work of the gospel and the care of souls? It makes me doubt whether doing a thing professionally we do not sometimes do it idly and, perfunctorily, as if we did it not. Do we really believe that Jesus is a Saviour, and that in any significant sense of the words He brings salvation? Thoughts of this kind have been working in me of late with such power that I have become wholly dissatisfied with myself. I thought I meant something when I preached Christ to men; but I see that I must do more, that I must have the men upon my spirit, that I must bear them as a burden and hold myself responsible for them. God help me!” (Life of Dr. Bushnell.)
Gladstone once said to an audience, “I don’t come here to tell you what you want to hear; but what I think is true and just.” (J. Clifford, D. D.)
The gospel the best message:
He (the late Rev. W. O. Simpson) never reasoned with the gospel; he reasoned with sinners: the gospel was his message. (E. E. Jenkins, D. D.)
Pray for us
Prayer for ministers
SOME CONSIDERATIONS TO ILLUSTRATE AND CONFIRM THE NECESSITY OF SUCH PRAYER.
1. The awful responsibility of the ministerial office.
2. We are men of like passions with yourselves, with bodies requiring to be kept under, and with souls to save.
II. SOME SUITABLE HEADS OF PRAYER.
1. First of all, pray that “utterance may be given unto us, that we may open our mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” The full and free declaration of “ the gospel of the grace of God” is the crowning part of the Christian minister’s office.
2. Again, “pray” for your minister, that in dispensing among you the Word of God, he may be enabled rightly to divide it. Much spiritual wisdom is required here.
3. But, again, “pray for us,” that the truths which we preach to you may be so deeply impressed upon our own souls by the Spirit of God that they may always exert a commanding influence over our life, conversation, and whole deportment, and thus become the springs of a holy and consistent walk.
4. Again, “pray for us,” that we may be made conquerors over our peculiar temptations as ministers--that we may never speak to you “smooth things” merely for the sake of pleasing you.
5. Yet, again, “pray for us,” that we are bold and faithful witnesses for Christ, God would keep us lowly and humble in ourselves, and enable us to ascribe all that we are, and have, and may become, to His free favour.
III. The truth is simply this: a minister cannot be blessed without his flock being made to experience a correspondent share of blessing. YOUR PRAYERS FOR ME WILL BE CROWNED WITH INTEREST TO YOURSELVES. You will find your own souls growing in grace “ and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” You will find yourselves daily becoming more ripe for “ the inheritance of the saints in light.” Thus it is that God graciously orders that our labours of love for one another should be reflected upon ourselves. (H. Cadell, M. A.)
We trust we have a good conscience
Balm from Gilead to recover conscience
I. WHAT CONSCIENCE IS.
1. It is an inbred faculty of the soul, “a noble and Divine power, planted of God in the soul, working upon itself by reflection”: or thus, “the soul of a man recoiling upon itself.” A faculty, I call it, because it produceth acts, and is not got and lost as habits are, but is inseparable from the soul, immovable from the subject, as neither acts nor habits are. In the understanding part it is a judge, determining and prescribing, absolving and condemning de jure. In the memory it is a register, a recorder, and witness, testifying de facto. In the will and affections, a jailor and executioner, punishing and rewarding. Say we not in common use of speech, which is the emperor of words, My conscience tells me I did or did not such a thing, which is an action of the memory? My conscience bids me do, or forbids me to do this or this, which is but an action of the will. It smites me, it checks me, it comforts or it torments me: what are these but actions of the affections recoiling upon the soul?
2. God hath given it more force and power to work upon men than all other agents whatsoever. It, being internal and domestical, hath the advantage of all foreign and outward.
3. It being individual and inseparable, there is no putting of it to flight or flying from it. It was bred and born with us; it will live and die with us. Agues a man may shake off, tyrants and ill masters a man may fly from; but this saith (as Ruth to Naomi), “I will go with thee whithersoever thou goest.” It hath more immediate deputation and authority from God (of whom all principalities and powers receive theirs) than angels, kings, magistrates, father, mother, or any other superior. It is only inferior to God.
II. WHAT A GOOD CONSCIENCE IS.
1. The goodness of it is the peace of it; for stirring, accusing, and galling consciences are consequents of sin, and presuppose some evil.
2. They, secondly, prove good unto us only by accident, and God’s goodness, which maketh them as afflictions, gather grapes of thorns; yea, all things work to the best of His beloved, as physicians do poison in their confections
3. And thirdly, they do not always produce this effect. Sometimes as sicknesses and purgations, they are in order to health, as in the Jews (Acts 2:1-47). Oftentimes as in Cain, Judas, Ahithophel, they destroy their owners. Good consciences, therefore, properly to speak, are only quiet ones, excusing and comforting; but here take heed the devil, the great impostor of our souls, put not upon our folly and simplicity, three sorts of quiet ones, as he doth to most: the blind, the secure, and the seared. What, then, is a good conscience? That which speaks peace with God’s allowance, which is a messenger of good things between God and us, that upon good grounds is in good terms with God. It lies in the lawful peace of it, and not in integrity and freedom from sin. (T. Adams.)
Take care of your conscience:
We remember the old story of the mariners who, because they followed the direction of their compass, thought they were infallibly right, until they arrived at an enemy’s port, and found themselves suddenly seized and made slaves. They did not take into consideration the possibility that any agency had tampered with the needle. Yet the wicked captain had, on purpose to betray the ship to enemies, so carefully concealed a large loadstone near the needle as to make it untrue to itself, and thus be the means of their ruin. Something not very unlike this is often true of conscience. Conscience may be perverted as truly as any other faculty of the soul--so perverted as even to mislead and destroy, while it is relied upon to direct in the path of safety. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways o! death.” We are warned, then, to take care of the conscience. See that there is no prejudice, no passion, no evil influence that is perverting it, and gradually making it untrue to itself, and therefore unsafe. We must examine the basis of our conscientiousness. Is there a concealed loadstone which is attracting the needle from its true polarity heavenward, toward spiritual foes and spiritual bondage? This is a vital question for every man.
The comfort of a good conscience:
There is no friend so good as a good conscience. There is no foe so ill as a bad conscience. It makes us either kings or slaves. A man that hath a good conscience, it raiseth his heart in a princely manner above all things in the world. A man that hath a bad conscience, though he be a monarch, it makes him a slave. A bad conscience embitters all things in the world to him, though they be never so comfortable in themselves. What is so comfortable as the presence of God? What is so comfortable as the light? Yet a bad conscience, that will not be ruled, it hates the light, and hates the presence of God, as we see Adam, when he had sinned, he fled from God (Genesis 3:8). A bad conscience cannot joy in the midst of joy. It is like a gouty foot, or a gouty toe, covered with a velvet shoe. Alas! what doth ease it? What doth glorious apparel ease the diseased body? Nothing at all. The ill is within. There the arrow sticks. (B. Sibbes.)
A good conscience
A good conscience is to the soul what health is to the body; it preserves a constant ease and serenity within us, and more than countervails all the calamities and afflictions which can possibly befall us. (T. Addison.)
Conscience aided by right sympathies
It will be found that men are sensitive to right and wrong, not so much by reason of the direct impact of intellectual decision as by reason of intellectual decision transmitted through another faculty or emotion. Take an illustration out of my own experience--for it is always allowable, I believe, for a man to dissect his own sins. When I came to Brooklyn, feeling a certain independence, I refused to return marriage certificates to the authorities. There was no law which compelled me to do it, and I was not going to return them for mere form’s sake. By and by a law was passed that all clergymen should return marriage certificates to the Board of Health, but I did not do it then; I did not see any reason for it, and I was not going to trouble myself about it. But after the first year of the war, on two or three occasions it happened some woman would come to me and say, “My husband was killed on the battlefield; the Government owed him for bounty and back pay; but I cannot get the money unless I can prove that I was married to him: will you not give me a certificate? “I had none. I had made no return of their marriage, it did not take more than one argument like that to convince me that I ought to make returns of certificates of marriage. I said to myself, “If the bread of the poor is often to be determined by the fact of a marriage; if the fact of a marriage is a question of humanity, and can settle what is right and what is wrong, then my duty in the matter is clear”; and I believe I have not failed to return the certificate of a marriage since that day. The mere abstract law would not affect any conscience; but since my conscience was approached through sympathy, through benevolent feeling, you could not bribe me to neglect my duty in that regard. My conscience has strength on that side. (H. W. Beecher.)
Willing to live honestly
I. IN ORDER TO ILLUSTRATE THE EXCELLENCY AND IMPORTANCE OF THIS VIRTUE OF HONESTY, WE SHALL POINT OUT SOME OF THE FOUNTAINS FROM WHENCE THE OPPOSITE VICE FLOWS, OR SOME OF THE CHIEF CAUSES OF DISHONESTY. Opposites frequently illustrate each other to great advantage. The beauty and charms of Christian virtue gain strength by arousing in us an abhorrence of immoral practices. Honesty will appear more honourable by awakening a proper hatred of the odious deformity of dishonesty. With regard to the chief springs of dishonesty, they may be contemplated. Under a general consideration, dishonesty arises from the same common source with all other kinds of iniquities. It arises from the awful depravity of the human heart. But the more particular causes of dishonesty are such things as these
1. Slothfulness, idleness, and an aversion to labour and the business of our calling.
2. Avarice or covetousness.
3. Luxury and extravagance.
4. Pride and selfishness.
II. SOME CONSIDERATIONS AND MOTIVES TO INDUCE US TO BE CONSCIENTIOUSLY HONEST IN ALL OUR EMPLOYMENTS, BUSINESS, AND CONVERSATION WITH OUR FELLOW-MEN. Can we now think a dishonest thought, contrive a dishonest scheme, or be guilty of a dishonest action? Consider the right every man has to enjoy his own, by the laws of nature, reason, religion and society, in respect to his person, property, and character. These blessings are the benefactions of heaven to all. Their right to the undisturbed possession of them is founded upon the grant of the God of nature and of grace.
1. Will the Almighty Sovereign see His creatures and His children rifled of their immunities and blessings, which His goodness and bounty hath conferred upon them, and not conceive resentment? Will He not whet His glittering sword, and His hand lay hold on vengeance?
2. Further consider, sincerity and honesty are the very bonds which hold society together. The religious observation of these virtues are the great means to advance its real interests. A dishonest person is a public nuisance, and may be viewed as a common enemy to mankind.
3. Consider the practice of dishonesty is prohibited in a thousand instances in the Word of God. The Divine wrath is revealed against it, both in His declarations, and in many examples recorded in the sacred history. (A. Macwhorter, D. D.)
Honesty spiritually rewarded
The religious tradesman complains that his honesty is a hindrance to his success; that the tide of custom pours into the doors of his less scrupulous neighbours in the same street, while he himself waits for hours idle. My brother, do you think that God is going to reward honour, integrity, highmindedness, with this world’s coin? Do you fancy that He will pay spiritual excellence with plenty of custom? Now, consider the price that man has paid for his success. Perhaps mental degradation and inward dishonour. His advertisements are all deceptive: his treatment of his workmen tyrannical; his cheap prices made possible by inferior articles. Sow that man’s seed mad you will reap that man’s harvest. Cheat, lie, advertise, be unscrupulous in your assertions, custom will come to you. But if the price is too dear, let him have his harvest, and take yours. Yours is a clear conscience, a pure mind, rectitude within and without. Will you part with that for his? Then why do you complain? He has paid his price; you do not choose to pay it. (F. W. Robertson.)
Of the Rev. S. F. Bridge, independent minister, his son says: His integrity was unbending. One circumstance in connection with domestic life demonstrated this sterling feature. A kind friend used sometimes to send a parcel of clothing, and on this occasion, in a coat pocket, a five-pound note was discovered. Many, even of the Lord’s people, might have appropriated the money, and thought it “quite a providence.” But father did not so. There are timely provisions and there are baits which test God’s family. He knew the donor’s habits, and would not take for granted that the note was intentionally submitted in a delicate manner, so he promptly sent it back with an explanation. I well remember how dear mother--her name was Martha--urged with tears that he should write first, and ascertain whether it had not been enclosed as a gift; but, although the value of five pounds was multiplied by the many mouths to be fed, she soon endorsed father’s way as the right one. I believe this matter was never known save to the Lord, the family, and the gentleman himself. That five pounds (lid not reach us again. (Sword and. Trowel.)
Honest under all circumstances
Some years before England abolished slavery in the West Indies, a negro, who was a slave, but who had learned to become a Christian, was put up for sale. A kind master, who pitied his condition, and did not want him to fall into the hands of a cruel owner, went up to him, and said, “Sambo, if I buy you will you be honest?” “With a look that I have no power to describe,” says the gentleman, the black man replied, “Massa, I will be honest whether you buy me or not.”
The God of peace
The God of peace and our sanctification
I call your attention to THE PECULIAR TITLE UNDER WHICH GOD IS ADDRESSED IN THIS PRAYER: “NOW, the God of peace.” The names of God employed in prayer in holy Scripture are always significant. Why, then, did the apostle here call God “ the God of peace”? He had a reason; what was it? Iris a Pauline expression. You find that title only in the writings of Paul. It is a name of Paul’s own coinage by the teaching of the Holy Ghost. There were reasons in Paul’s experience which led him to dwell upon this peculiar trait of the Divine character. Just as in our text he prays, “Perfect you in every good work to do His will,” so in Thessalonians he says, “And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is evident, not only that the apostle delighted in the expression peculiar to himself, but that he saw a close connection between the peace of God and the sanctifying of believers, and for this reason, both in the Thessalonians and in the Hebrews, his prayer for their sanctification is addressed to the God of peace. The title is a gospel one. God is not spoken of as the God of peace in the Old Testament; but there He is “a man of war, the Lord is His name”; “He shall cut off the spirit of princes; He is terrible to the kings of the earth.”
1. The appropriateness of the title to the particular prayer will readily strike you, for holiness is peace. “May the God of peace make you holy,” for He Himself is peace and holiness.
2. The God of peace has also graciously restored peace and reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, but it has been by the putting away of sin, for while sin remained peace was impossible. He died for our sins, but He rose again for our justification, which is none other than the replacing of us in a condition of reconciliation with God. He went into heaven to take possession of our inheritance; and what better evidence could there be that we are reconciled to God?
3. If you pursue the subject you will see more and more clearly the significance of the title, “the God of peace”; for, to make us perfect in every good work to do His will is to give us peace. Sin is our enemy, and the new life within us is heartily at enmity with evil, and therefore peace can never be proclaimed in the triple kingdom of our nature until we always do that which is well pleasing in the sight of the Lord, through Jesus Christ. Nor is this all.
4. When the apostle, praying for our sanctification, prays to the God of peace, it is as much as to say to us that we must view God as the God of peace if we are to be led to do His will. O man, is God your enemy? Then you will never serve Him, nor do that which is well pleasing in His sight. You must first of all know that there is peace between you and your God, and then you can please Him. This knowledge can only come to you through Christ Jesus, for peace is made only by “the blood of the everlasting covenant”.
5. I will call to your notice the fact that the title, “the God of peace,” sheds a light over the whole passage, and is beautifully in harmony with every word of the prayer. Let us read it line by line. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.” War brings down to death; but the God of peace brings back from the dead. The restoration of the Lord Jesus from the grave was a peaceful act, and was meant to be the guarantee of peace accomplished for ever. “Through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” The very word “covenant” is also full of peace: and especially is it so when we remember that it is a covenant of peace which eternal love has established between God and man. The apostle goes on to pray, “Make you perfect in every good work to do His will.” If God’s will is done by us, then there must be peace, for no ground of difference can exist. “Working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight.” When all in us is well pleasing to God, then, indeed, is He the God of peace to us. The final doxology is also very significant, for in effect it proclaims the universal and eternal reign of peace: “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” What can there be to disturb the universe when the Lord God omnipotent shall reign, and all nations shall glorify the Ever Blessed, world without end? Not without reason, therefore, did our apostle select the title, “The God of peace.”
II. We have now to consider THE SPECIAL ACT DWELT UPON” IN” THIS PRAYER. “That brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” The bringing back of the Lord Jesus from the dead was the seal of His perfected work, and consequently of our peace and ultimate perfection in holiness. Because He had wrought all righteousness, therefore did tie stand amongst living men; and because He had merited a crown of glory, therefore did He rise even to the throne of Jehovah, to sit there till His enemies are made His footstool. We go further yet. The bringing again of Christ from the dead was in effect the leading back of all His people. Not without the sheep did the Shepherd come, for that were to return defeated. The text speaks of “Our Lord Jesus.” Did you notice that? Ours in His offices of Shepherd and Saviour, altogether ours as brought again from the dead. What He did was for us. He is the great Shepherd of the sheep, and therefore what He did was for the sheep. “Because I live,” saith He, “ye shall live also” and because He lives to intercede, therefore His people are preserved from evil: Satan desires to have us, that he may sift us as wheat; but the great Shepherd, who was brought again from the dead, is daily watching over us, and the power of His life, and of His kingdom, and of His plea, are manifested in us, so that we conquer temptation, and advance from strength to strength in our pilgrimage to heaven.
III. Thirdly, let us notice THE VERY REMARKABLE MANNER IN WHICH THE HOLINESS PRAYED FOR IS DESCRIBED in the text: “Make you perfect in every good work to do His will.” That is the first clause, but the translation is not strictly accurate. The passage would be better rendered, “make you fit in every good work to do His will,” and the original Greek word properly means to reset a bone that is dislocated. The meaning of the text is this: by the fall all our bones are out of joint for the doing of the Lord’s will, and the desire of the apostle is that the Lord will set the bones in their places, and thus make us able with every faculty and in every good work to do His will. The first part of the prayer, then, is for fitness for holiness. The next is for actual service: “Working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight.” And here I ask you to notice how all things are of God. Even he who is best adapted for the performance of virtue and holiness, yet does not perform these things till the Lord worketh in him to will and to do of His own good pleasure. Over and above this mode of securing all the glory to God notice the next clause--“through Jesus Christ.” That which we do even when the Lord works in us we only do through Jesus Christ. We are nothing without our Lord, and though we do what is acceptable in the Lord’s sight, yet it is only acceptable through Jesus Christ.
IV. Our fourth point drops into its place very naturally, for we have already seen that THE WHOLE OF IT COMES TO A MOST APPROPRIATE CONCLUSION OF PRAISE: “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” To glorify God is the object of it all. Praise is the flower for which the stalk of prayer exists. It would be a very difficult question to decide to whom the last clause alludes, whether to “ the God of peace,” or to “Our Lord Jesus,” and, therefore, I think, the safer way is to take them both together, for they are one. “To whom,” that is to God; “To whom,” that is to the Lord Jesus, “be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Let it be so; it ought to be so, it must be so, it shall be so. Amen. Amen. Tarry just a minute while we give glory unto the Three-One-God. He is the God of peace; approach Him with holy delight; adore Him; glorify His name evermore. Then magnify Him next, because He found for us a Shepherd. Glorify ]=lDDint next for the covenant. And then adore Him because the power which He exerted upon Christ He is now exerting upon you. Bless Him for every grace received, for faith however little, for love, even though it burn not as you would desire; bless Him for every conquered sin, bless Him for every implanted grace, bless Him evermore. Bless Him that He deals with you through Jesus Christ. Through the Mediator all good has come to us, and through the Mediator it will still come, until that day when He shall deliver up the throne to God, even the Father, and God shall be all in all. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The work of God
I. LOOK AT THE ASPECT IN WHICH GOD IS HERE PRESENTED.
1. A God of peace. Were we hastily to form our opinion of the character of God from the aspects and condition of this world, we might come to a different conclusion. “God of peace”! Where is peace? Read the world’s past history, or survey its present condition! Has not every age been filled with wars? and what soil, from the sands of Africa to Polar snows, has not been drenched with human blood? Unconverted man is at peace--neither with himself, nor with others, nor with God. Shall we therefore conclude from this view of the world that He who is at once its Maker and Monarch is not a God of peace? Assuredly not. He had nothing to do with this miserable condition of affairs; and is neither to be judged by it, nor blamed for it. In a fatal hour, sin was admitted into our world; and the ship that takes a Jonah aboard parts with peace. She has nothing to look for but thunders and lightnings, and storms and tempests. But let God have His way, only let His will be done in earth as it is done in heaven, and such a change were wrought on this world, as would recall the change that night saw on Galilee, when Jesus woke, and, rising in the boat, looked out on the tumbling sea, to say, “Peace, be still”--and in a moment there was a great calm.
2. God has made peace. “Fury is not in Me, saith the Lord.” He has turned from the fierceness of His anger, and made peace between Himself and man by the blood of the Cross; but not “peace at any price”--at the expense of His honour, holiness, justice, law, or truth. No. God has not overlooked the guilt of sin; He pardons, but does not palliate it. Peace, as has often been done between man and man, may be established on a!also basis. Take for example the States of America. Before they were actually rent asunder, they might have established a peace on the foundations of iniquity. Had they given ear to preachers who perverted the Word of God, and, regarding slavery as the white man’s right, and not the black man’s wrong, had they joined hand to hand to sacrifice the interests of humanity to those of commerce, they might have had peace instead of war. They might have cemented their union with the blood of slaves. But such a peace as that would have offered a complete contrast to the peace of the gospel. This preserves God’s honour. Not “peace at any price,” it is peace at such a price as satisfied the utmost demands of His law, and fully vindicated His holiness in the sight of the universe.
II. HE BROUGHT CHRIST FROM THE HEAD.
1. In one sense the glory of His resurrection belongs to Christ Himself. The only thing else I have now to give, Jesus might say, is My life; and there it is. Of My own will, by My own, free, spontaneous act, I lay it down. All your wretched tools and cruel tortures, your crown of thorns and bloody Cross, cannot deprive Me of life. It is not you that take away My life; nor is it God. It is not taken away--but given; for I have power to lay it down, as I have power to take it up again. Hence our Lord’s claim on our love and gratitude. But He who said, “I have power to lay down My life,” also said, “I have power to take it up again”--as He had before intimated, when, the Jews having asked a sign of Hint, He said, referring to His body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
2. Here our Lord’s resurrection is attributed to God. Here unquestionably; but not here only. Paul says, “He hath raised up Jesus again.”
1. Look at this aspect of Christ as the Great Shepherd of the sheep. How many are the elements of His greatness! He is a Divine Shepherd. And unlike other shepherds, who in the East dwell in tents, and here in the lowly cottages, His home is a palace, and His servants are the angels of heaven. How many are the shepherds He has under Him. Indeed, those who bear the greatest names in His Church are, though leaders, but part of the flock; He Himself being the only Shepherd, Bishop, and Overseer of souls. Nor here, as sometimes happens among men, is greatness separated from that goodness which is the best property of the two. But both properties, infinite in measure, meet in Christ. Paul calls Him the Great, but He calls Himself the Good Shepherd.
2. Glance at Paul’s prayer. “Make you perfect.” Could I express for you a better wish, or could you aim at a better object? I know that we are not perfect yet; far from it! In our imitation of Christ, how unlike is the’ fairest copy to the great original I Still there is no ground for despair. Perfect freedom from the power of sin, perfect obedience to the precepts and spirit of the law, perfect harmony to the mind and perfect conformity to the image of God, are within the bond, sealed with blood; and also in the prayer, “I will that those whom thou has given Me be with Me where I am.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The great pleas of a great prayer
I. THE NAME OF GOD IS THE WARRANT FOR OUR LARGEST HOPE. God is the God of peace, and, therefore, He will, if we will let Him, make us perfect unto every good work. That, of course, must imply that the peace which is here ascribed to Him, as its source and fontal possessor, is that deep and changeless calm of an infinite and perfectly harmonious being which is broken by no work, perturbed by no agitations, and yet is no more stagnant than the calm depths of the ocean, being penetrated for ever by warmth and majestic motion in which there is rest. “The God of peace” wills to give to men something not altogether unlike the tranquillity which He Himself possesses. The hope seems altogether beyond the conditions of creatural life, which is tossed to and fro amidst change and agitations. How can the finite whose very law of life is change, whose nature is open to the disturbances of external solicitations, and the agitations of inward emotions--how can he ever, in this respect, approximate to the repose of God?And yet, analogous, if not similar, tranquillity may fill our hearts. When our wills are made pliable and flexible, no longer stiff and obstinate, like a bar of iron, to His touch, but bendable like a piece of dressed leather; when our hankering desires no longer go after forbidden dainties, but keep themselves within the limits of the Divine will; when we are ready for all that He commands or appoints, meeting the one with unmurmuring resignation, and the other with unquestioning obedience--then nothing that is at enmity with joy can utterly abolish or destroy the peace that we have in God.
II. THE RAISING OF THE SHEPHERD IS THE PROPHECY FOR THE SHEEP. I ask myself, Is it possible that I shall be delivered from this burden of corruption; that I shall ever, in any state, be able, with unhesitating and total surrender of myself, to make the will of God the very life of my spirit and the bread on which I live? And all the unbelieving and cowardly suggestions of my own heart as to the folly of trying after an unreachable perfection, and the wisdom of acquiescence in the partial condition to which I have already attained, are swept out of view by this one thing--the sight of a man throned by the side of God, perfect in holiness and serene in untroubled beauty. That is a prophecy for us all. We look out upon the world, or into this cage of evils in our own hearts, and are tempted to fold our hands and acquiesce in the inevitable. Alas! it is too true that “ we see not yet all things put under man.” Courage! Nothing less than the likeness of Jesus Christ corresponds to God’s will concerning us. In Him there is power to make each of us as pure, as sinless, as the Lord Himself in whom we trust.
III. THE EVERLASTING COVENANT IS THE TEACHER AND THE PLEDGE OF OUR LARGEST DESIRES. Is it not a grand thought, and a profoundly true one, that God, like some great monarch who deigns to grant a constitution to his people, has condescended to lay down conditions by which He will be bound, and on which we may reckon? Out of the illimitable possibilities of action, limited only by His own nature, and all incapable of being foretold by us, He has marked a track on which he will go. If I may so say, across the great ocean of possible action He has buoyed out His course, and we may prick it down upon our charts, and be quite sure that we shall find Him there. Be sure of this, that within the four corners of God’s articulate and unmistakable assurance lies all that heart can wish or spirit receive from Him. You cannot expect or ask more from Him than He has bound Himself to impart. You desires can never be outstretched as to go beyond the efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ; and through the ages of time or eternity the everlasting Covenant remains, to which it shall be our wisdom and our blessedness to widen our hopes, expand our desires, conform our wishes, and adapt our work. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Peace from God through Christ
I. THE AUTHOR OF PEACE. From all eternity God purposed in Himself the counsel of peace; and when by reason of sin, discord and misery came into the world, the Lord always comforted His people by the promise of redemption. In the fulness of time came Jesus, the Peace-maker; and when the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, the Father made peace through the blood of His Cross. Jesus Himself is our peace; but it is the God of peace who gave Jesus, and who by His atonement made peace, and reconciled all things to Himself. Peace means not merely calmness and rest of conscience and heart, based on the righteousness of God, but it means also restoration to health and well-being; or rather, since in Christ God makes all things new, not a restoration to Adam’s state of innocence, but the creating us anew after His image.
II. JESUS THE CHANNEL OF PEACE. Our Lord Jesus was the Paschal Lamb on Calvary. From that moment our peace was purchased, and we were identified with the substitute. Now the Lamb that was slain is also the good Shepherd, that laid down His life for the sheep; He is not merely the good, true, genuine Shepherd; He is also the great Shepherd, the mighty, sublime, the only one, who leads the flock out of the grave to the heavenly glory.
III. GOD WORKS IN US. Have we thus risen to the thought of the God of peace, the Redeemer, the Restorer, who through the sufferings of Jesus, and by His blood, delivered us from all evil, and has raised us together with Christ, unto a new, spiritual, and endless life, then we can understand the benediction, that God should work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. We are humbled by the sense of our transgressions, and above all of the sinfulness of our old nature. Let us be exalted by the grace of God. True, we groan in this tabernacle, being burdened, but we rejoice in God. The Lord works in us. He gives good desires, true petitions, living words and works. He prepares us for the work in time, as He prepared the work for us in eternity. He works in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight, for what is born of the Spirit is Spirit. And all is wrought through Jesus Christ. For He is our life and strength. Only abiding in Him can the branches live and bear fruit. The Spirit in us is not a substitute for Christ, but the connecting-link between the Lord and us. Thus the Divine energy within us acts simply through our faith in Jesus. Lean then on Jesus, and you will conquer sin. (A. Saphir.)
Our Lord Jesus
The names of the Saviour:
To most of us, I suppose, the various names by which our Saviour is designated in Scripture are just like so many aliases, indiscriminately used, and all conveying the same impression. But, in truth, they each suggest some distinctive aspect of His nature or relations to us, and in Scripture are never used without at least a sidelong glance to their special significance. The writer’s thought is always tinted, as it were, even if it is not deeply coloured, by the name which he selects. I have chosen the words which I have read as our starting-point, because they very strikingly bring together the extreme names; that which expresses lowly manhood and that which expresses sovereign authority, “Jesus our Lord,” in the union whereof lie the mystery of His being, and the foundation of our hopes, and by which union He becomes “that great Shepherd of the sheep.”
I. So, then, in the pursuit of this design, I have to ask you to notice, first, THE SIMPLE, HUMAN NAME JESUS.
1. Let us ever keep distinctly before us that suffering and dying manhood as the only ground for acceptable sacrifice and of full access and approach to God. Then, further, let us ever keep before our minds clear and plain that true manhood of Jesus as being the type and pattern of the devout life,
3. Then, again, let us set clearly before us that exalted manhood as the pattern and pledge of the glory of the race.
II. Then we have THE NAME OF OFFICE--JESUS IS CHRIST. IS your Jesus merely the man who by the meek gentleness of His nature, the winning attractiveness of His persuasive speech, draws and conquers, and stands manifested as the perfect example of the highest form of manhood, or is He the Christ, in whom the hopes of a thousand generations are realised; and the promises of God fulfilled, and the smoking altars and the sacrificing priests of that ancient system, and of heathenism everywhere, find their answer, their meaning, their satisfaction, their abrogation? Is Jesus to you the Christ of God?
III. We have THE NAME OF DIVINITY--JESUS THE CHRIST IS THE SON OF GOD. NOW that designation, either in its briefer form, “the Son,” or in its fuller form, “the Son of God,” is, we may say, a characteristic of this letter. The keynote is struck in the very first words. And then the writer goes on in a glorious flow of profound truth and lofty eloquence to set forth the majesty of this Son’s nature, and the wonderfulness of His relations to the whole world. Jesus is this Son. Once, and once only, in the letter does the writer buckle together these two ideas which might seem to be antithetic, and at the utmost possible poles of opposition from each other: the lowly manhood and the wondrous Divinity. But they are united in Him who, by the union of them both, becomes the High Priest of our profession--Jesus, the Son of God. Further, the name is employed in its contracted form to enhance the mystery and the mercy of His sharp sufferings and of His lowly endurance. “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” The fuller form is employed to enhance the depth of the guilt and the dreadfulness of the consequences of apostasy, as in the solemn words about “crucifying the Son of God afresh,” and in the awful appeal to our own judgments to estimate of how sore punishment they are “ worthy who trample under foot the Son of God.” In like manner once or twice our letter speaks of Jesus as “Lord,” declaring thereby His Sovereignty, and setting forth our relation of dependence and submission. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christ brought from the dead:
Which words carry with them the form and purpose of a devout prayer. And prayer is the usual conclusion of St. Paul’s Epistles. This prayer of Paul is a mutual prayer. In the two former verses he craves their prayers for himself, “Brethren, pray for us” (Hebrews 13:18). He desires the assistance of their prayers. And see how he requites that fruit of their love. What he requires of them he performs for them; he prays for them again. Such strong combinations of mutual prayers are prevailing means to bring down blessings. The prayer he makes is most seasonable and pertinent. This prayer is a full and sweet comprehension of his former doctrine, and a great confirmation of the piety and holiness of it. It is a good character of truth when we can pray that which we preach. The text, then, you see, is St. Paul’s charitable and devout prayer, his apostolical and fatherly benediction, and blessing of the Hebrews.
I. The first thing observable is THE PERSON AND AUTHOR FROM WHOM HE SEEKS AND CRAVES THIS BLESSING OF GRACE AND HOLINESS FOR THEM. It is from the God of peace. Why doth he insist in that attribute of God, above all others, when he prays to Him for grace for his people? Many other excellencies God hath ascribed to him in Scripture, and the interposing of them in our prayers would seem very useful for the obtaining this great blessing of grace and sanctity.
1. The Scripture terms Him the God of power; and the blessing He sues for is a work of great power, to sanctify, and fit such sinful creatures as we are, to every good work (2 Peter 1:3).
2. The Scripture terms Him the God of grace; and this work is a gracious work. This prayer is a petition for grace, and so St. Peter frames it accordingly (1 Peter 5:10).
3. The Scripture terms Him the God of glory; and this work we are about, the work of sanctification, is a glorious work. St. Peter calls it the spirit of 1 Peter 4:14). Yet we see the apostle passes by these attributes, and insists upon this, the God of peace, as most proper to what he aims at. In general
(1) The aim and drift of the apostle in this epistle is to compose all jarrs and differences of opinion in the Church of the Hebrews.
(2) He prays for grace from the God of peace, because, in truth, all grace flows from this, that God is become a God of peace to us. While He is an offended God there is no hope to receive from Him any gift of grace. Sue for pardon and peace first, and then His grace and Spirit, all that belongs to life and godliness, shall be made good unto thee.
(3) This title of the God of peace carries with it a third intimation, and that is of a necessary qualification, that is requisite in us for the receiving of this grace St. Paul prays for. He is the God of peace, and bestows His grace where He finds His peace. Such as follow peace the grace of God follows them and enters into them. If there be a Son of peace the blessing of grace shall rest upon him. A peaceable spirit invites the Holy Ghost to enter into us and to abide with us. It makes our hearts a fit soil for the feed of grace. But besides these more general considerations
2. This title of the God of peace hath a more close reference to the text, to the purpose of it, and to all the parts of it.
(1) It hath a reference to the blood here mentioned, and to the great Shepherd’s death. And it refers to that as to the main ground, and foundation, and purchase of this peace.
(2) A second reference to this title of the God of peace is to another passage in the text. It refers to the bringing of Christ back from the dead again as the proper effect and fruit of this peace. God, being now at peace with us, He brings Christ back from the dead. When Christ was brought under the dominion of death, that was the bitter fruit of God’s fierce anger, but the restoring back again to life, that is the sweet and blessed truth of His peace.
(3) There is a third reference of this title of God, the God of peace, and that is to the Shepherd of the sheep. It refers to that as to a great evidence and token that now He is indeed at peace with us. For He hath not only restored Christ to life, but restored Him to his office too, committed to Him the care of His flock again.
(4) There is yet a fourth reference of this title of the God of peace, and that is to the everlasting covenant that the text speaks of. God is now become a God of peace to us, because He is become a God in covenant with us. Nay, it is not only a lasting, but an everlasting peace. He hath bound Himself to maintain this peace by an everlasting covenant. He hath established a peace that shall never be broken. Nay, it is not only the peace of a covenant, though that be strong, but the peace of a Testament. We read of the quarrel of God’s covenant (Leviticus 26:25), that may meet with jars; but when peace becomes a legacy, a firm deed, and bequeathment that is unalterable, we shall inherit peace. Peace and safety is the heritage of the Lord’s servants (Isaiah 54:17). And for our greater assurance He hath erected a public office in His Church, where we may view and exemplify this covenant, take out a true and perfect copy of His last will and testament; and that is in the institution of the sacrament. We have done with the first particular, the Person, of whom he craves the blessing; that is the God of peace. Now
II. follows the MOTIVE THAT HE USES, AND BY WHICH HE STRENGTHENS AND ENFORCES HIS PRAYER. And that is the consideration of our Saviour’s resurrection. And it is the Divine art and holy rhetoric of prayer, not only to present our suits, but to press them by the interposition of such prevailing arguments. The motive, I say, which he uses is our Saviour’s resurrection. And of it take a double view. See the description of it; and that consists of three particulars.
1. Here is the Person raised. And He made known
(1) By His personal title, the Lord Jesus. And this title is very pertinent to His resurrection. For, however this glorious title was due to Him, even from His birth, yet it is observable it is never completely given to Him till after His resurrection. By His resurrection He was declared to be the Son of God; then made known to be Lord and Christ.
(2) The title of His office. The former, indeed, is more honourable for Him; but this other, that great Shepherd of the sheep, is more comfortable to us, as implying thus much, that whatsoever betided Him in the whole carriage of this business befell Him not as a private person for His own cause, but in the behalf of those that were committed to His charge. Whatsoever He did or suffered, it was all for His sheep.
1. His first mission and coming into the world was for His sheep Matthew 15:24).
2. His death and passion was not in His own behalf, but for His sheep John 10:15).
3. His resurrection, that was for His sheep to resume that office, to take care over His flock (Acts 3:26). All for us men, and for our salvation. For better understanding of this title let us take it asunder into these three particulars. First, We see the Church, the body of Christians, they are called sheep. And this resemblance is exceeding frequent in Scripture. The Church of God is called a flock of sheep (Luk 12:32; 1 Peter 5:5; Ezekiel 36:38).
It is fitly so termed in these resemblances.
1. Sheep are such kind of creatures as naturally gather themselves together, unite into a flock. Such are Christians; such is the Church, combined in a holy society and communion. If we belong not to the flock we belong not to the Shepherd, we make ourselves a prey to the wolf.
2. Sheep are of a very harmless and inoffensive nature. And such must Christians be, endued with dove-like simplicity, with lamb-like innocency. The most cruel dispositions shall be tamed and sweetened when they come once to be of this flock of Christ. 3, Sheep are creatures exceedingly subject to stray, if not tended and kept in the better; unable to keep out of error; and, having erred, unable to return. Such are Christians, the best of them, if left to themselves. How soon out of the right way are we if God takes off His guidance and leaves us unto ourselves? Into what mazes and thickets of errors do we run ourselves (Psalms 119:176).
4. Sheep are weak and shiftless creatures, unable to make resistance. And such is the Church, if considered in itself, and from under Christ’s protection. The enemies of God’s Church are like the fat bulls of Bashan, whereas God’s people are like a few helpless sheep.
5. Sheep are not, as many other creatures, wild and of no man’s owning, creatures at large, but they are the property and possession of an owner. So God’s Church is not a loose, scattered people; they are His proper possession, His chosen people, the sheep of His pasture, His peculiar people, the people of His purchase, His choice inheritance. Secondly, Here is His office. Christ is a Shepherd. He vouchsafes to be called and known by that name (Psalms 80:1). Our Saviour assumes this name to Himself John 10:11).
All that is requisite in a Shepherd is fully in Christ.
1. A Shepherd is an employment of much diligence and attention. It requires a constant, continual inspection over the flock. Such is the watchful care that Christ hath over His Church (Matthew 28:20).
2. A shepherd is an employment of tenderness, and mildness, and of much compassion. If the sheep stray he seeks them carefully, brings them home gently, lays them on his shoulders. And such a Shepherd is Christ, not like a lion over His flock, but meek and merciful (Isaiah 40:11).
3. A shepherd’s is an employment of skill; he must be able to know the state of his flock (Proverbs 27:23). What diseases they are subject to, and how to prevent or cure them: what food is wholesome for them, and how to supply them. Sure, in this also, Christ is a perfect Shepherd. He hath not the instruments of a foolish shepherd, as Zechariah speaks Zechariah 11:15), but is completely furnished with all abilities for the good of His flock. He knows their diseases, and can cure them; their dangers, and can prevent them; their necessities, and can supply them; their enemies, and can disappoint them (Psalms 23:1).
4. A shepherd’s is an employment that requires stoutness and courage. He that will keep his flock from mischief must not fear the wolf or flee from him, but withstand and resist him.
5. As shepherd’s is an employment of much patience and hardship. He must bear many a storm, and blast, heat, and cold, undergo all weathers. He must endure much tediousness in seeking and reducing his poor stray sheep. It was Jacob’s lot, and much more our Saviour’s. He served a hard service; storms and tempests fell upon Him in tending His flock. He was a man of afflictions, patiently undergoing all the toil of His laborious employment. Thirdly, Take notice of the dignity and eminency of this office. He is called “that great Shepherd.” Great Shepherd! Surely in the world’s account there is scarce good congruity between these two words. If a Shepherd, then we conclude Him to be a mean man. Kings and priests joined together in the Scripture. Nay, peasants and priests, that is the world’s heraldry; so they rank them, set them wish the dogs of the flock, as Job speaks (Job 30:1), that place is good enough for them. Shepherd, Priest, Minister, all words of contempt, not to be found amongst the titles of honour; nay, what saith Moses (Genesis 46:34)? Every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians. So is a Church shepherd to profane worldlings. Well, let the ministry be the scorn of the world; let them stumble at it in their folly, or spurn at it in their pride, yet it is the wisdom of God and the power of God. A shepherd’s is the office of our Saviour and the glory of Christ. So then, with or without their leaves, Christ is the great Shepherd. Every way great.
1. Great in His person. If the Son of God become a Shepherd, surely then a great Shepherd. How wonderful is it to see the Lord Jesus Christ, with His shepherd’s crook, tending His flock! This humiliation of His Person in a great exaltation of the office makes Him a great Shepherd.
2. Christ is the great Shepherd, because He is the supreme Shepherd, the Prince of Shepherds. All other pastors, of what title soever, are inferior to Him. All hold their employment in dependence from Him.
3. He is a great Shepherd, for His flock is great; great, I mean, in the value. His flock is a flock of souls, and that is a precious flock.
4. He is great in prerogatives. All the flock of Christians is under His inspection. He is the only true OEcumenical pastor. All other shepherds are but petty shepherds, of a portion only of His flock. But to be the universal Shepherd of the whole Church is Christ’s prerogative.
5. He is great in possession. The flock is His own, He is the rightful Owner and Possessor of it. We, the best of us, are but servants to Him, to tend His flock. He sets us on work, to Him we owe our accounts. He will pay us our wages, or reckon with them that shall any ways defraud us.
6. He is great in His abilities to tend His flock.
1. A great Shepherd in knowing His flock. He hath a special knowledge of every poor sheep. He hath all their names engraven on His breast (John 10:3).
2. Great He is in His love and affection to His flock. He lays down His life for them.
3. He is of great power to save and preserve them (Isaiah 63:1). (Bp. Brownrigg.)
That great Shepherd
The great Shepherd of the sheep
I. WHY GOD’S RELIEVING PEOPLE ARE COMPARED TO SHEEP.
1. Sheep are harmless creatures (Philippians 2:15).
2. Meek and patient (1 Peter 3:4).
3. Clean (Psalms 73:1).
4. Simple and guileless (Psalms 32:2).
5. Tractable (John 10:27).
6. God made them His sheep by free grace (Psalm c. 3).
II. JESUS CHRIST IS THE GREAT SHEPHERD OF HIS SHEEP.
1. He carefully feeds His flock (Isaiah 40:11).
2. He feeds them in providing ordinances for them (Psalms 23:2).
3. In providing shepherds to dispense ordinances (Ephesians 4:11-12).
4. He spiritually blesses the feeding of His flock (Ezekiel 34:14).
5. Christ knows all His sheep (Jeremiah 33:13).
6. He knows them as given to Him by His Father (John 17:6).
7. He knows them as bearing His image (Romans 8:29).
8. He knows them by the sprinkling of His blood (Revelation 7:14).
9. He preserves them from danger (John 10:28).
He preserves them
(1) By His death.
(2) His intercession.
(3) His presence.
(4) His union to them.
(5) His promise.
(6) And His Holy Spirit.
III. WHY CHRIST IS CALLED THE “GREAT SHEPHERD.”
1. In regard to the dignity of His character (Zechariah 13:7).
2. In regard to His great ability to save (John 3:34-35).
3. In regard to His property in the sheep (John 10:11; compared 1 Peter 1:18-19).
4. Other shepherds are sheep as well as shepherds (Acts 14:15).
5. In regard to His dominion over the shepherds (Ecclesiastes 12:11).
6. In regard to the success that He can give to His pastoral care 1 Corinthians 3:7).
7. In regard to the jurisdiction He has over them (1Co
8. In regard to the extent of His jurisdiction (Psalms 72:8).
Improvement. To ministers:
1. To teach ministers to act for Christ.
2. To feed their hearers with gospel truths.
3. To show believers their daily mercies.
4. To remind them of their security in Christ.
5. And their final salvation and glory.
Instruction. To believers:
1. Be ruled and governed by Jesus Christ.
2. Submit to the shepherds that He has appointed.
3. Pray to love the goodly pastures of Christ’s providing.
4. Bring forth fruits unto the glory of His grace.
5. And expect to live with Him hereafter, where all sorrow and sin will he for ever done away, and the whole Church will rejoice in God eternally. (T. B. Baker.)
The blood of the everlasting covenant
The blood of the everlasting covenant:
All God’s dealings with men have had a covenant character. It hath so pleased Him to arrange it, that He will not deal with us except through a covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. It is important, then, since the covenant is the only ladder which reaches from earth to heaven, that we should know how to discriminate between covenant and covenant; and should not be in any darkness or error with regard to what is the covenant of grace, and what is not.
I. First of all, then, I have to speak of THE COVENANT mentioned in the text; and I observe that we can readily discover at first sight what the covenant is not. We see at once that this is not the covenant of works, for the simple reason that this is an everlasting covenant. Again, I may remark that the covenant here meant is not the covenant of gratitude which is made between the loving child of God and his Saviour. Such a covenant is very right and proper. But that covenant is not the one in the text, for the simple reason that the covenant in our text is an everlasting one. Now ours was only written out some few years ago. It would have been despised by us in the earlier parts of our life, and cannot at the very utmost be so old as ourselves. Having thus readily shown what this covenant is not, I may observe what this covenant is.
1. Now, in this covenant of grace, we must first of all observe the high contracting parties between whom it was made. The covenant of grace was made before the foundation of the world between God the Father, and God the Son; or to put it in a yet more Scriptural light, it was made mutually between the three Divine persons of the adorable Trinity. This covenant was not made directly between God and man.
2. And now, what were the stipulations of this covenant? They were somewhat in this wise. God had foreseen that man after creation would break the covenant of works; that however gentle the tenure upon which Adam had possession of Paradise, yet that tenure would be too severe for him, and he would be sure to kick against it, and ruin himself. God had also foreseen that His elect ones, whom He had chosen out of the rest of mankind, would fall by the sin of Adam, since they, as well as the rest of mankind, were represented in Adam. The covenant therefore had for its end the restoration of the chosen people.
3. And now having seen who were the high contracting parties, and what were the terms of the covenant made between them, let us see what were the objects of this covenant. Was this covenant made for every man of the race of Adam? Assuredly not; we discover the secret by the visible. As many as shall believe, as many as shall persevere unto the end, so many and no more are interested in the covenant of Divine grace.
4. Furthermore, we have to consider what were the motives of this covenant. Why was the covenant made at all? There was no compulsion or constraint on God. As yet there was no creature. Even could the creature have an influence on the Creator, there was none existing in the period when the covenant was made. We can look nowhere for God’s motive in the covenant except it be in Himself, for of God it could be said literally in that day, “I am, and there is none beside Me.” Why then did He make the covenant? I answer, absolute sovereignty dictated it. But why were certain men the objects of it and why not others? I answer, sovereign grace guided the pen.
II. But now, in the second place, we come to notice ITS EVERLASTING CHARACTER. It is called an everlasting covenant.
1. And here you observe at once its antiquity. The covenant of grace is the oldest of all things.
2. Then, again, it is an everlasting covenant from its sureness. Nothing is everlasting which is not secure.
3. Furthermore, it is not only sure, but it is immutable. If it were not immutable, it could not be everlasting. That which changest passes away. But in the covenant everything is immutable. Whatever God has established must come to pass, and not word, or line, or letter, can be altered.
4. The covenant is everlasting, because it will never run itself out. It will be fulfilled, but it will stand firm.
III. Having thus noticed the everlasting character of the covenant, I conclude by the most precious portion of the doctrine--the relation which the blood bears to it--THE BLOOD OF THE EVERLASTING COVENANT. The blood of Christ stands in a fourfold relationship to the covenant.
1. With regard to Christ, His precious blood shed in Gethsemane, in Gabbatha and Galgotha, is the fulfilment of the covenant.
2. With regard to the blood in another respect, it is to God the Father the bond of the covenant.
3. Then, again, the blood of the covenant has relation to us as the objects of the covenant, and that is its third light; it is not only a fulfilment as regards Christ, and a bond as regards His Father, but it is an evidence as regards ourselves. Are you relying wholly upon the blood?
4. The blood stands in a relationship to all three, and here I may add that the blood is the glory of all. To the Son it is the fulfilment, to the Father the bond, to the sinner the evidence, and to all--to Father, Son, and sinner--it is the common glory and the common boast. In this the Father is well pleased; in this the Son also, with joy, looks down and sees the purchase of His agonies; and in this must the sinner ever find his comfort and his everlasting song, “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness are my glory, my song, for ever and ever.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The blood of the everlasting covenant:
This everlasting covenant is the covenant of grace, or the gospel, made with Christ, as the Head and Representative of all His believing people. It is called “everlasting,” in contradistinction to some transient outward forms of it that had already vanished or were vanishing away. God had made legal, ceremonial, national covenants, which were temporary--which had not the elements of permanency. But this covenant touches, embraces everything: reaches up to God’s highest attributes, and down to man’s deepest needs--over all the breadth of law, and along all the line of existence. Nothing can happen to shake it. Nothing can alter the disposition of Him who makes it. He foresees all changes. He overrules all events. He provides for all circumstances. We read of “everlasting love”; of “the eternal purpose”; of “predestination unto the adoption of children”; of being” chosen before the foundation of the world”; of “the mercy of God unto eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began”; and here we have “the everlasting covenant.” Everlasting! I cannot fix a beginning, any more than an end. I can only think there never was beginning. Oh I it is a wonderful thought that God never began to love the world, that He never began to love you. And He will never cease to love. We go on now to the other term, “the blood of the everlasting covenant.” That is the virtue of the death of Christ. It is that grand act of atonement and self-sacrifice by which He bore the penalty of sin for us, and secured the gospel as God’s method in this world for ever.
I. GOD IS THE “GOD OF PEACE,” WHO MAKES PEACE WHERE IT HAS BEEN” BROKEN, AND GIVES IT WHERE IT IS LOST. The God who makes peace between heaven and earth, between law and conscience, between Himself and sinful men. How does He make it? Through “the blood of the everlasting covenant.” If there is a way between heaven and earth, an open way for hopes and prayers, for departing souls and descending angels; if troubled consciences are pacified and cleansed; if thunders of broken law are hushed into silence, it is because this blood was shed, because Christ died, “the lust for the unjust.”
II. HE BROUGHT AGAIN FROM THE DEAD OUR LORD JESUS. He wrought that mightiest work that has ever been wrought in this world, the resurrection of Christ. How? Again, “through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” The power of the death sprang into resurrection. The corn of wheat fell into the ground and died, and then, with a mighty vegetative force, produced this harvest of resurrection--this splendid flower-fact, which towers and shines above all others.
III. It is through the same act of self-sacrifice is death that He becomes “THE GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP.” What kind of shepherd is needed by this wandering widespread flock of men, scattered over all the hills of earth and time? Is it one who will come and pipe to them while they pasture? Is it one who will speak to them, and call them all by name? Is it one who will lead them out and drive them home? Nay, the first and foremost requisite in the good Shepherd is, that He shall die for the sheep.
IV. Now, passing over the ridge of the passage, we come down upon the human side of it, AND WE HAVE THIS BLOOD OF THE COVENANT FULL OF EFFICIENCIES ON THIS SIDE ALSO. Here the first term that meets us is the term “perfect”; given us at once this high idea, the idea of perfection as a thing attainable now, by means of the blood and death of the Son of God. And this perfection is not merely a thing ideal and distant, not only a thing to be hoped for beyond earth and time, in heaven and glory. It is a thing to be striven for and realised in measure in daily life and service, as here--“The God of peace make you perfect in every good work.”
V. Finally; in this illustration of the power of the Cross, we have the inworking of the Spirit of God in the heart of the man who is thus seeking perfection, “WORKING IN YOU THAT WHICH IS WELL PLEASING IN HIS SIGHT.” This secures simplicity and spirituality--God working within by the Spirit--then all is right and good. The water is cleansed at the fountain, thoughtis touched as it springs, feeling purified as it begins to flow, affection lifted to its object, will bent to the will of God. Lessons:
1. Let us come to this blood of the covenant, or to the death, or to the Cross of Christ for cleansing. This alone cleanseth us from all sin. Here, on Calvary, is the open fountain.
2. Let us come to this blood for motive. Nothing will stir us so purely, nothing will stir us so much. Here is nobleness without a shadow, unselfishness without reserve, self-sacrifice without regret. Here is the love of God all in motion! The purpose of God in and for man, beginning to shine! Here is the everlasting model and example for new obedience!
3. Let us come to this blood for speech. The blood of sprinkling speaketh; and if we hear the utterances, we shall speak too, and tell out what we hear. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The blood of the covenant
I. The subject is the covenant of grace, as it is here spoken of, and I shall begin by noticing, first, THE COVENANT NAMES which the apostle uses. He calls the ever-blessed Father “ the God of peace”; and to the Redeemer who has taken the other side of the covenant, he gives the title, “Our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.” As many of us as have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ are in Christ, and He is our Head and Representative, our Shepherd and Sponsor. Jesus has, according to His promise, shed His blood, and now the covenant stands only to be fulfilled on the side of the eternal Father, and under that aspect of the covenant the apostle calls the Father, “the God of peace.” He is not the God of a hollow truce, not the God of a patched-up forgetfulness of unforgiven injuries, but the God of peace in the very deepest sense; He is Himself at peace, for there is a peace of God that passeth all understanding; and, moreover, by reason of His mercy His people are made to enjoy peace of conscience within themselves, for you feel that God is reconciled to you, your hearts rest in Him, your sins which separated you have been removed, and perfect love has cast out the fear which hath torment. While the Lord is at peace with Himself, and you are made to enjoy inward peace through Him, He is also at peace with you, for He loves you with a love unsearchable; He sees nothing in you but that which He delights in, for in the covenant He does not look at you as you are in yourself, but in your Head, Christ Jesus, and to the eye of God there is no sight in the universe so lovely as His own dear Son, and His people in His Son. Henceforth be it ours in every troubled hour to look to the Lord under this cheering name, “the God of peace,” for as such the covenant reveals Him. The apostle had a view of the other great party to the covenant, and he names Him “Our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.” We must view our Redeemer in the covenant first as Jesus the Saviour who leads us into the Canaan which has been given to us by a covenant of salt, even the rest which remaineth to the people of God; He is also the Lord Jesus, in all the dignity of His nature, exalted far above all principalities and powers, to be obeyed and worshipped by us, and our Lord Jesus--ours because He has given Himself to us, and we have accepted and received Him with holy delight to be the Lord whom we cheerfully serve. Further, our Lord is called “the great Shepherd of the sheep.” In the covenant we are the sheep, the Lord Jesus in the Shepherd. You cannot make a covenant with sheep, they have not the ability to covenant; but you can make a covenant with the Shepherd for them, and so, glory be to God, though we had gone astray like lost sheep, we belonged to Jesus, and He made a covenant on our behalf, and stood for us before the living God. This is a great subject, and I can only hint at it. Let us rejoice that our Shepherd is great, because He with His great flock will be able to preserve them all from the great dangers into which they are brought, and to perform for them the great transactions with the great God which are demanded of a Shepherd of such a flock as that which Jesus calls His own. While we rest in the covenant of grace we should view our Lord as our Shepherd, and find solace in the fact that sheep have nothing to do with their own feeding, guidance, or protection; they have only to follow their Shepherd unto the pastures which He prepares, and all will be well with them. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
II. Secondly, the apostle mentions THE COVENANT SEAL. “The God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” The seal of the covenant is the blood of Jesus. Think how impossible it is that the Lord should ever break that covenant of grace, which He spontaneously made with His own Son, and with us in Him, now that it has been sprinkled with blood from the veins of His own well-beloved Son. Remember, too, that in our case that blood not only confirmed the covenant; but actually fulfilled it; because the covenant stipulation was on this wise: Christ must suffer for our sins and honour the Divine law. It is not only ratified with that bloody signature, but by that blood it is actually carried out on Christ’s part, and it cannot be that the eternal Father should start back from His side of the compact since our side of it has been carried out to the letter by that great Shepherd of the sheep who laid down His life for us. By the shedding of the blood the covenant is turned into a testament. Dwell with pleasure upon that word “ everlasting covenant.” The covenant of works is gone; it was based on human strength, and it dissolved as a dream; in the nature of things it could not be everlasting. Man could not keep the condition of it, and it fell to the ground. But the covenant of grace depended only upon the power and love and faithfulness of Christ, who has kept His part of the covenant, and therefore the covenant now rests only upon God, the faithful and true, whose word cannot fail.
III. We have now to notice THE COVENANT FULFILMENT, for the Lord has commenced to fulfil it. “The God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that good Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” See, then, Jesus Christ has been brought back again from the dead through the blood of the covenant. See how He climbs aloft, and sits upon the Father’s throne, for God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. Now note by what means our Lord returned from the dead to all this glory. It was because He had presented the blood of the everlasting covenant. When the Father saw that Jesus had kept all His part of the covenant even to death, that He began to fulfil His portion of the contract by bringing back His Son from the grave to life, from shame to honour, from humiliation to glory, from death to immortality. See where He now sits expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. Now, what has been done to Jesus has been virtually done to all His people, because, you observe, the Lord “brought again from the dead,” not the Lord Jesus as a private person only, but “our Lord Jesus,” as “that great Shepherd of the sheep.” The sheep are with the Shepherd.
IV. Fourthly, we will view THE COVENANT BLESSING. What is one of the greatest of all the covenant blessings? The writer of this Epistle here pleads for it. “Now,” saith he, “the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” Notice that one of the chief blessings of the covenant is power and will to serve God.
1. Taking the text word by word, I perceive that the first blessing asked for by the apostle is meetness for the Divine service, for the Greek word is not “Make you perfect,” but “meet,” “fit,” “prepared,” “able for.”
2. But the apostle asked for an inward work of grace, not merely meetness for service, but an operation felt--“Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” Do not be satisfied with a little, weak, almost inperceptible, pulse of religion, of which you can hardly judge whether it is there or not; but ask to feel the Divine energies working within you, the eternal omnipotence of God, struggling and striving mightily in your spirit until sin shall be conquered, and grace shall gloriously triumph. This is a covenant blessing. Seek ye for it.
3. But we need outward as well as inward work. Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight--no small matter when you remember that nothing but perfect holiness can please God. We must know the power of our Lord’s resurrection, and exhibit it in every action of our lives.
4. Observe, once more, the completeness of this covenant blessing. Just as Jesus is fully restored to the place from which He came, and has lost no dignity nor power by having shed His blood; but rather is exalted higher than ever, so God’s design is to make us pure and holy as Adam was at the first, and to add to our characters a force of love which never would have been there if we had not sinned and been forgiven, an energy of intense devotion, an enthusiasm of perfect self-sacrifice, which we never could have learned if it had not been for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. God means to make us the princes of the blood royal of the universe, or, if you will, the body guards of the Lord of Hosts.
IV. We conclude with THE COVENANT DOXOLOGY, “TO whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” If anything in the world can make a man praise his God it is the covenant, and the knowledge that He is in it.
1. Our God deserves exclusive glory. Covenant theology glorifies God alone.
2. He also has endless glory. “To whom be glory for ever and ever.” Have you glorified God a little, because of His covenant mercy? Go on glorifying Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Make you perfect
Apostolic prayer for the Hebrews
I. He prays that the God of peace would MAKE THEM PERFECT IN EVERY GOOD WORK TO DO HIS WILL. The word here translated “perfect “ occurs in various other texts, and properly signifies to adjust, to dispose or prepare with great wisdom and propriety. The apostle obviously means that God would fit and dispose the minds of His brethren for every good work to do His will. “The doing of the will of God,” whether this relate to active obedience, or to suffering, forms the grand end of the gospel, considered in its practical design on the heart and life.
II. He also prays, in connection with this, that God would would WORK IN THEM THAT WHICH IS WELL-PLEASING IN HIS SIGHT, THROUGH JESUS
CHRIST. That which is well-pleasing in the sight of the all-perfect Jehovah, must be supremely excellent in itself, and adapted to promote the true, the eternal happiness of His people. It consists of the various dispositions and desires and practices which are comprehended in His “good and perfect and acceptable will.” A very great and unspeakably important part of the great salvation, consists in being delivered from the dominion of the old man--in being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and having infused into the heart those gracious dispositions which are the fruit of the Spirit, and the produce of faith in that Saviour of whom He testifies. Lessons:
1. Let us be exhorted to contemplate the blessed character of our God as the God of peace, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and who is the author of that holy tranquillity and sweet serenity of soul which is the happy portion of those who know and love His name. It is this which calms the troubles of the breast, and fills us with that peace which, in the language of our Lord, the world can neither give nor take away.
2. We are reminded of the inseparable connection between our enjoyment of the blessings of the everlasting covenant, and of the God of peace as our God, and our being fitted for every good work to do His will.
3. Let us imitate the example of the apostle Paul, in commending one another to the God of peace.
4. Let us ascribe the glory of all to Him who is the author of our salvation. (Andrew Arthur.)
The closing prayer
I. THE BURDEN OF THE PRAYER is that these Hebrew Christians may be made perfect to do God’s will. There is no higher aim in life than to do the will of God. It was the supreme object for which our Saviour lived. This brought Him from heaven. This determined His every action. And human lives climb up from the lowlands to the upland heights just in proportion as they do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. God is love; to do His will is to scatter love in handfuls of blessing on a weary world. God is light; to do His will is to tread a path that shines more and more to the perfect day. God is life; to do His will is to eat of the Tree of Life, and live for ever, and to drink deep draughts of the more abundant life, which Jesus gives. God is the God of hope; to do His will is to be full of all joy and peace, and to abound in hope.
II. MARK THE GUARANTEES THAT THIS PRAYER SHALL BE REALISED.
1. The appeal is made to “ the God of peace.” He, whose nature is never swept by the storms of desire or unrest; whose one aim is to introduce peace into the heart and life; whose Dove to us will not brook disappointment in achieving our highest blessed-ness--He must undertake this office; He will do it most tenderly and delicately; nor will He rest until the obstruction to the inflow of His nature is removed, and there is perfect harmony between the promptings His will and our immediate and joyous response.
2. “He brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.” To have given us a Shepherd was much; but to have given us so great a Shepherd is marvellous. He is the great Shepherd who died, just as He is the good Shepherd who knows His flock, and the chief Shepherd who is coming again, He is great, because of the intrinsic dignity of His nature, because of His personal qualifications to save and bless us, because of the greatness of His unknown sufferings, and because of the height of glory to which the Father hath exalted Him. And, surely, if our God has given us such a Shepherd, and raised Him to such a glory, that He may help us the more efficiently, there is every reason why we should confidently count on His aid.
III. THE DIVINE METHOD will be to work in us.
1. It is necessary first that we should be adjusted so that there may be no waste or diversion of the Divine energy.
2. When that is done, then it will begin to pass into and through us in mighty tides of power. “God working in you.” It is a marvellous expression I We know how steam works mightily within the cylinder, forcing up and down the ponderous piston. We know how sap works mightly within the branches, forcing itself out in bud, and leaf, and blossom. We read of a time when men and women were so possessed of devils that they spoke and acted as the inward promptings led them. These are approximations to the conception of the text, which towers infinitely beyond. On His doing all that may be needed in us, as He has done all that was needed for us.
3. He will certainly respect the everlasting covenant, which has been sealed with blood.
IV. THE RESULT will be that we shall be well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The great prayer based on great pleas:
This prayer is the parting highest wish of the writer for his friends. Do our desires for ourselves, and for those whom we would seek to bless, run in the same mould?
I. CONSIDER THE PRAYER WHICH THE NAME EXCITES. “Make you perfect in every good work.” Now, I need only observe here, in regard to the language of the petition, that the word translated “make perfect” is not the ordinary one employed for that idea; but a somewhat remarkable one, with a very rich and pregnant variety of significance. The general idea of the word, is to make sound, or fit, or complete, by restoring, by mending, by filling up what is lacking, and by adapting all together in harmonious co-operation. And so this is what Christians ought to look for, and to desire as being the will of God concerning them. The writer goes on to still further deepen the idea when he says, “make you perfect in every good work”; where the word “work” is a supplement, and unnecessarily limits the idea of the text. For that applies much rather to character than to work, and the “make you perfect in every good” refers rather to an inward process than to any outward manifestation. And this character, thus harmonised, corrected, restored, filled up where it is lacking, and that in regard of all manner of good--“whatsoever things are fair, and lovely, and of good report”--that character is “well-pleasing to God.” So you see the width of the hopes--ay! of the confidence--that you and I ought to cherish. We should expect that all the discord of our nature shall be changed into a harmonious co-operation of all its parts towards one great end. It is possible that our hearts may be united to fear His name; and that one unbroken temper of whole-spirited submission may be ours. Again, we shall expect, and desire, and strive towards the correction of all that is wrong, the mending of the nets, the restoring of the havoc wrought in legitimate occupations and by any other cause. Again, we may strive with hope and confidence towards the supply of all that is lacking. “In every good”--and all-round completeness of excellence ought to be the hope, and the aim, as well as the prayer of every Christian.
II. NOTE THE DIVINE WORK WHICH FULFILS THE PRAYER. “Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.” Creation, Providence, and all God’s works in the world are also through Jesus Christ. But the work which is spoken of here is yet greater and more wonderful than the general operations of the creating and preserving God, which also are produced and ministered through that eternal Word by whom the heavens were of old, and by whom the heavens are still sustained and administered. There is, says my text, an actual Divine operation in the inmost spirit of every believing man. Expect that operation! You Christian men and women, do you believe that God will work in your hearts? Some of you do not live as if you did. Do you want Him to come and clear out that stable of filth that you carry about with you? Do you wish Him to come and sift and search, and bring the candle of the Lord into the dusty corners? Do you want to get rid of what is not pleasing in His sight? Expect it! desire it! pray for it! And when you have got it, see that you profit by it! God does not work by magic. The Spirit of God which cleanses men’s hearts cleanses them on condition, first, of their faith; second, of their submission; and third, of their use of His gift.
III. NOTICE THE VISIBLE MANIFESTATION OF THIS INWARD WORK. NOW the writer of our text employs the same word in the two clauses, in order to bring out the idea of a correspondence between the human and the Divine Worker. “To work His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” God works in order that you and I may work. Our action is to follow His. Practical obedience is the issue, and it is the test, of our having the Divine operation in our hearts. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Importance of service:
The soul into which privilege is over running without any outflow of service will become a stagnant and acrid Dead Sea in which no spiritual thing lives. (J. Alison, D. D.)
Perfect in every good work through the Holy Spirit
As we ascend from stage to stage in the animal world we find the structures becoming ever more complex, consisting of innumerable parts, articulated or adjusted to each other. That word “articulated” comes from the same root as the word here translated perfect. It means every organ, faculty, feeling in the fulness of its appropriate energy, discharging its proper work; every power disciplined to the height of its capacity and in ceaseless performance of its functions, in due relation and harmony with all the other powers, thus working with them to a common end, so that we are fit not merely for one kind of service, nor two kinds, nor ten, but for every good work. The juice of earth and the carbonic acid of the air passing into the tree, minister to every part of its structure, carrying on all the operations involved in its common life. The stream Of chyle or digested food, drawn up into the blood, serves a thousand distinct ends, restores the energy of nerve and muscle, renews every tissue in the frame, freshens every power of nature, keeps the whole machine at work. And so the Divine Spirit, passing into the consecrated soul, worlds there not merely to the development of one kind of energy. He aims to breathe the mind of Christ through and through the man, so that Christ being present more and more in the man, may recover to His service, dominate, impregnate, and use every power of the nature, intellect, imagination, emotion, memory, will, with all specific talents, aptitudes, qualities. (John Smith.)
Conscientious discharge of duty:
“I notice,” said the stream to the mill, “that you grind beans as well and as cheerfully as fine wheat.” “Certainly,” clacked the mill; “what am I for but to grind? And so long as I work, What does it signify to me what the work is? My business is to serve my master, and I am not a whit more useful when I turn out fine flour than when I make the coarsest meal. My honour is not in doing fine work, but in performing any that comes as well as I can.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)
God the originator of good work:
In a mill where the machinery is all driven by water, the working of the whole machinery depends upon the supply el water. Cut off that supply, and the machinery becomes useless; let on the water, and life and activity is given to all. The whole dependence is placed upon the outward supply of water; still, it is obvious that we do not throw away the machinery through which the power of the water is brought to bear upon the work. Just so it is with the Christian’s labour for God. All is naught without the Divine blessing. The living stream must be poured out from on high, or the machinery, however beautiful to the eye, and however carefully constructed, will be useless. For the will to work; for the power to work; for success to work, man is altogether and always dependent upon the Spirit of God. (Christian Armour.)
Only a chisel
I’m only a chisel Which cuts the wood, while the Great Carpenter directs it. (General Gordon.)
God working in His people:
Human nature is sordid and mean and base; and human nature is grand and heroic and sublime. And the history of the mean men of the world shows how bad you and I can be, without trying very hard either. And the history of the great, and the heroic, and the Divine men shows what you and I might become if we would let God have His way with us. Put a violin in the hands of a poor player, and you will put your fingers in your ears to keep out the dissonance. Put the same instrument in the hands of a skilful player, and you will feel the soul breathing through the instrument. It is the player that makes the difference. Look all along the line of human history, and you may see what kind of figures God can make out of clay like yours; you may hear what kind of music He can play on instruments such as you are. The great and good men of the world are witnesses to the power, not ourselves and yet that is in ourselves, to the power that makes men great. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
Man Divinely equipped
Just as a machine which has got out of order must be set right before it can work easily and well; just as a ship must be equipped and fitted up before it can safely commence its voyage; so it was necessary that these Jewish Christians should have their whole nature re-organised before their Christian life could be vigorous or happy. The prayer is, that the re-organisation should be such as would make them ready for “every good work”--for the courageous confession of Christ, for the patient endurance of suffering, for worship, for all moral excellence, for brotherly love, for submission to their church rulers, for whatever duty the law of Christ, and the perilous times in which they lived, might impose on them. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
“You sit here and sing yourselves away to everlasting bliss,” said a certain true witness, “but I tell you that you are wanted a great deal more out in Illinois than you are in heaven.” (Proctor’s Gems of Thought.)
Grace be with you all
This is the most comprehensive, the best, the sweetest wish. Grace bringeth salvation. Grace contains all things pertaining to life and godliness. By grace we have been saved; by grace we stand; in grace we rejoice, and grace will end in glory. May the free, unmerited, boundless, all-suf-ficient love of the Father in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the blood of the everlasting covenant, shed for the redemption of guilty and helpless sinners, be with us through the power of the Holy Ghost. By Jesus, and in Jesus,we say Amen. For He is the Amen, in whom all the promises of God are sealed. (A. Saphir.)
I had been talking to a little ignorant, neglected boy about the good God and His love for children. “I should like to live along o’ Him!” said the poor little man with a wistful sigh. It was all such a new revelation in his hurried, loveless existence. “Shall I pray to God to make you a good boy, clean and good, fit to live with Him?” I asked. “Yes, do, missus.” “But you must pray too,” I urged. “I dunno’ how.” “Then you must listen to me and say ‘ Amen’ at the end of my prayer. That will mean ‘Yes, I want all that,’ and God will understand you. The child nodded, and I began a very simple, short prayer for the Holy Spirit’s help to make my little friend pure and true and obedient, for Jesus Christ’s sake,--I paused for the “Amen.” A soft, hushed “Yes” fluttered up to heaven from the young lips. “I couldn’t remember the other word,” the child whispered, “but won’t God know about it?” And he went away quite satisfied. He had made the prayer his own in his own way. If all Amens could have the force of that gentle “Yes,” I thought, as I watched the last flutter of the poor little man’s rags, surely prayer would meet with a fuller and quicker answer. But we are too apt to think that the prayer is everything, the Amen nothing, and so we listeners do not do our part; we remain mere listeners, no prayers.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hebrews 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29