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Wherefore, holy brethren
The heavenly calling
“Wherefore” connects generally with chaps, 1.
, if., where Christ is Apostle (Hebrews 1:1-3) and High Priest Hebrews 2:9, &c.), though immediately with “faithful” (Hebrews 2:17) and the closing words of chap. if. The author had in view this comparison with Moses, and prepared the way for it by using “faithful” in Hebrews 2:17. The author had called believers “sanctified” and “sons” Hebrews 2:11-13); recalling this, and realising what it implied, he addresses the Hebrews as “holy brethren.” Further, he had set before them what the great salvation was to which they were destined (Hebrews 2:3), and to which the Captain of their salvation had attained, even lordship over all things in the world to come (Hebrews 2:5, &c.); and as called to this heavenly world and already tasting its powers (Hebrews 6:5; Hebrews 2:4), he addresses them as partakers of “a heavenly calling”; that is, sharing in a call to the possession of the heavenly world to come. In the word “heavenly” there is struck for the first time, in words at least, an antithesis of great importance in the Epistle, that of this world and heaven; in other words, that of the merely material and transient and the ideal and abiding. The things of this world are material, unreal, transient; those of heaven are ideal, true, and eternal. Heaven is the world of realities, of things themselves (Hebrews 9:23), of which the things here are but “copies.” There is the true Tabernacle (Hebrews 8:2); the city that bath the foundations (Hebrews 11:10); the heavenly Jerusalem and Mount Zion Hebrews 12:22); the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27-28); the true “country” which the patriarchs sought (Hebrews 11:16)--all the eternal real things of which the things of this world are but shadows (Hebrews 10:1); and to these things we are called and are come, for this heavenly world projects itself into this present life like headlands of a new world into the ocean. This world of realities has been revealed, for Christ, who belongs to it, has come from it, and has opened up the way to it by entering it through death as our Forerunner Hebrews 6:20) and High Priest (Hebrews 10:19). This real world is the abode of God, where He is as He is in Himself. It is that which He has destined to be put in subjection to man as his final possession Hebrews 2:5-8). Being true and consisting of things themselves, it cannot be shaken, but remains after the great convulsions under which things that are made pass away (Hebrews 12:27). Then it may be called earth or heaven, for earth and heaven coincide. (A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)
The causes of men’s being holy, and of calling them so
This excellent prerogative of being holy cannot arise from men’s selves. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one” (Job 14:4). “But every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). This Father of lights communicateth holiness to men two ways.
1. By imputing unto them the righteousness of His Son. Thus we are said to be “made the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21), and Christ is said to “be made of God righteousness unto us” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
2. By conveying His Spirit into us, who altereth our nature and disposition, and enableth us to perform the works of righteousness. In this respect He is not only called the Holy Ghost, but also the Spirit of holiness Romans 1:4); and sanctification is said to be of the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13), because it is wrought in us by the Spirit of God. Thus this excellent title “Holy” gives no matter of boasting unto man (2 Corinthians 4:7); but it giveth great cause of glorying in God. The apostle here giveth these Hebrews this title not so much in regard of their parentage, because the root from whence they sprouted was holy Romans 11:16); for the partition wall betwixt Jew and Gentile was now broken down, and all that were of the faith of Abraham were counted to be of Abraham’s seed (Galatians 3:7).
The apostle therefore here gives them this title
1. In regard to their profession, whereby they were distinguished from profane persons.
2. In regard of his opinion of them; for he judged them to be true members of the holy Church (1 Corinthians 6:11). Thus he usually styleth all to whom he wrote “saints”; that is, holy ones. How did the apostle know that they were holy? By their holy profession; for the ground of judging others is not certainty of knowledge, but the rule of love (1 Corinthians 13:7). (W. Gouge.)
Directions to be holy
That we may be such “holy brethren” as are here set down
1. Be well informed in the nature of holiness. If the mark be mistaken, the more diligence we use, the further we shall be off from it. The faster a traveller goes in a wrong way, the farther he may be from the place to which he desires to go. The Jews, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, were farthest off from true holiness.
2. “Cleanse yourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” Thus may you “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). It is a course which all of all sorts observe for perfecting a thing, namely, first to remove the impediments; thus physicians purge out peccant humours, chirurgians draw out festering matter, husbandmen stock up broom, briars, thorns, and all noisome weeds.
3. Have special care of your company. Avoid the society of unholy ones Psalms 16:3). That this means is very powerful is evident (Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 22:24-25).
4. Be constant in using such means as God hath sanctified for attaining holiness; for God will be found in His own way. The means are
(3) secret. Public means are the Word and Sacraments.
5. Be instant and constant in prayer, and that for the Holy Spirit which is promised to those that ask Him (Luke 11:13). This Spirit it is which makes us holy.
6. Be patient under crosses; for God cloth chasten His, that they might be “partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). (W. Gouge.)
Partakers of the heavenly calling
The heavenly trilling
The calling of saints is here commended unto us by this attribute “heavenly.” It is here in this place attributed to saints’ calling
1. To distinguish it from earthly callings.
2. To show the excellency thereof; for excellent things are called heavenly; great, deep, excellent mysteries are called heavenly (John 3:12).
3. To declare the end of this calling, which is to bring us to a heavenly kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12), namely, an inheritance incorruptible, reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). This particular excellency here mentioned by the apostle is of force to raise up our hearts unto heaven, seeking the things that are above. It doth also instruct us how to walk worthy of this calling, namely, by an inward heavenly disposition and an outward heavenly conversation. (W. Gouge.)
The superiority of Christianity
I. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN DISPENSATIONS IN RESPECT TO THEIR NATURE.
1. This distinction of nature is set forth in the word by which the apostle designates the Christian’s vocation. He terms it “the heavenly calling.”
(1) The word rendered here “calling” must not be confounded with the gospel’s general invitation to salvation, but refers to that to which believers are entitled through Christ Jesus.
(2) It is termed “heavenly,” not in respect to its source, for Judaism and Christianity have a common origin. Both are of God, in respect to the nature of the blessings proffered and the sphere where the blessings are to be enjoyed.
(3) The intimate and exalted fellowship of those united under the banner of this “heavenly calling” is here noticeable: “ Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.”
(a) “Brethren” by kinship closer and more enduring than that formed by natural bonds.
(b) “Holy,” in the sense of being set apart by God the Father, through Christ His Son by the Holy Spirit, to one heavenly and sacred aim--the service of God alone.
(c) “Partakers”; literally, “holding things in common.” Sharers together of the privileges of the “heavenly calling.”
(4) Noticeable also are the terms applied to the Lord in connection with the heavenly calling, and the earnest exhortation of the apostle to due consideration of Christ in these offices. “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.”
(a) The word rendered “ consider “ means to observe well, to consider attentively, to ponder thoughtfully.
(b) The word “apostle” (literally, “one sent”), as applied to our Lord here, is peculiar, this being the only place where this special term is applied to Him. We may regard the word “apostle” as used to avoid ambiguity, and also at the same time to set forth our Lord as having been “sent” of God, and therefore divinely authorised, as was Moses.
(c) The expression “the High Priest of our profession,” suggestively represents the Divine authority, and also the redemptive feature so prominent in the Christian system.
II. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN CHRIST AND MOSES IN THE RELATION THEY SUSTAINED TO THEIR RESPECTIVE DISPENSATIONS.
I. Christ is here represented as being the owner of the “house” He served, Moses being only servant of the “house” he served.
(1) Notice the significance of the term “house.” Its meaning, as applied to Christ’s house, is given in Hebrews 3:6.
(2) The sense in which Christ is, and Moses was not, owner of the “house” each respectively served thus becomes obvious. The apostle, however, even here, holds still prominently before us that it was in His capacity as “ Son “ He also redeemed.
2. This ownership in the “household of faith” sustains the apostle in his next position--that Christ has a higher claim to homage and honour than Moses.
3. The prominent and practical characteristic here mentioned should not be lost sight of in connection with Christ’s superiority to Moses, namely, His faithfulness.
III. PRACTICAL AND SOLEMN INFERENCES FROM THE PRECEDING POSITIONS.
1. An earnest lesson from the history of the past (Hebrews 3:7-12).
2. Practical counsel as to what they should do (Hebrews 3:13).
3. The only reliable evidence of our union with Christ (Hebrews 3:14).
4. The essential importance of every-day religion (Hebrews 3:15-18).
(1) To prevent hardness of heart. Heedlessness is the beginning and the sure evidence of hardness (Hebrews 3:15).
(2) To avoid that grieving of the Holy Spirit which is inevitably followed by Divine judgment (Hebrews 3:16-17).
5. The fearful cause of all defection from God and of all sin against God--“unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).
(1) It was the cause of the first sin of our first parents in Eden.
(2) It was the cause of the first murder on record.
(3) It was the prolific cause of all those terrible effects which culminated in the destruction of all religious life in the antediluvians, with the exception of one man, and led to the destruction of the whole race of mankind save Noah and his family. Oh, what a hydra-headed, destructive monster is unbelief! (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Consider the High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus
Christ to be appreciated
A young lady, a novice in art, said to her father, who was an accomplished man of taste, “Father, I cannot enjoy the works of the old masters.” “Then,” said he “look at them till you can.” Even so, if one were to say, “I cannot appreciate the Cross,” our earnest reply would be, “Study it till you can.” (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Christ should be contemplated
It is recorded of a celebrated philosopher that, pursuing his investigations on the subject of light, he ventured on a bold experiment. Without the protection of smoked glass, he turned his naked eye on the sun, and kept it fixed there for awhile. When he removed it, such was the impression made upon his eyes, that whichever way he looked, upwards, downwards, right or left, he saw nothing but the sun. The last thing he saw at night, the first thing he saw in the morning, was the sun. What a blessed thing it would be for us if we had some such view of Christ, if the glory and love of Him who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, was thus impressed upon our souls! (A. C. Price, B. A.)
Hazlitt once copied a painting of Titian’s, and showed it one evening to his friends, Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke. It was fine, but as he held the light to it, and thus unconsciously showed his own intellectual head, square “potential forehead,” and eyes full of earnest fire, they felt that he was really the picture to gaze at. In like manner, Jesus lifts the light of truth to the picture of duty, but He also grandly embodied it in His daily life. (T. R. Stevenson.)
Consider Jesus and banish frivolity
The wise picture-dealer at Oxford was right, who, handing to an undergraduate the fine engraving of an ancient master, said, “Hang this on your wails, sir, and it will soon banish all the pictures of jockeys and ballet-girls.” (F. W. Farrar, D. D.)
Priesthood of Christ
About a hundred years ago a Welsh boy heard a sermon upon the priesthood of Jesus Christ. It was a new idea to the boy, filling him with astonishment and delight. The doctrine was so excellent and sweet to him, that without delay he opened his heart to it. To this day all the Welsh revere his memory, for that boy became the Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala, the apostle of his native land, the founder of day and Sabbath schools and of the Bible Society. And such a faith in Christ will give you, too, a true and fruitful life. (J. Wells, M. A.)
The advantages derived from considering Jesus
I. The solemn consideration of Jesus Christ may well RECONCILE YOU TO ANY DIFFICULT OR TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES in which you may be placed. Compared to His what are all the duties which we have to perform, or any sufferings which we have to endure? How few have to “resist unto blood, striving against sin.” Every repining thought must be subdued.
II. “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of your profession,” and you will see in Him A MODEL FOR YOUR CONDUCT, and will learn how to act in circumstances of difficulty or distress. Amid injustice and ill-treatment, which so easily discompose the mind and render one’s duty so peculiarly difficult, Jesus has taught us how wisdom, integrity, and goodness would act. Now the principles which formed the character and governed the whole conduct of Jesus are evidently these two--faith in God and love to mankind. Clearly discovering in His character and conduct the wonderful efficacy of these principles, we must fix them in our souls if we wish to fulfil the more difficult duties of life or rest in composure and peace of mind amid its various ills.
III. To consider Jesus will ANIMATE AND ENCOURAGE YOU AMID THE DIFFICULTIES AND ILLS OF LIFE. He foresaw all the extent of His sufferings, and “ in all things made like unto His brethren,” He felt all the depression natural to the human mind in such disheartening prospects; but declining any exertion of supernatural powers, He resigns Himself to the violence of wicked men, with no other defence but that Divine grace and those heavenly principles which the humblest of His followers may through His mediation attain. And can His admirable conduct be exhibited to us in vain? Can it be contemplated without exciting our efforts and prompting our imitation? (R. Boog, D. D.)
The Christian and his Redeemer
I. A DESCRIPTION OF TRUE CHRISTIANS.
1. A common character: “Holy.”
2. A common relationship: “Brethren.”
3. A common privilege: “Partakers,” &c. A call from heaven and to heaven.
II. A DESCRIPTION OF THE GREAT REDEEMER.
1. The Apostle of our profession. Sent from God to us.
2. The High Priest of our profession. By Him we draw near to God, even as by Him God draws near to us.
3. The Christ Jesus--the anointed Deliverer.
III. THE OBLIGATIONS OF TRUE CHRISTIANS TO THE GREAT REDEEMER, it Consider.” Men’s characters are formed by their thinkings. Meditation is the most constant and influential operation of our nature. (U. R. Tibetans.)
The Advent call
“Consider,” then, it is here directed, “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” Seeing what He is, according to the statements of the two previous chapters; how great, how Divine, how human, how merciful, and how faithful; how sufficient in His atonement for sin, how experienced in His sympathy with the tempted; consider Him, fix your thoughts upon Him. Now in what aspects are we here charged to consider Christ?
1. As “the Apostle of our profession”; that is, of our confession, or common faith. An apostle means an emissary, or ambassador, or representative--one who comes to us with a message or commission, in this case from God Himself. We ought to be transacting business with Him, if I might so express it, every day; dealing with Him as to the concerns of our life, inward and outward, and conscious that, in so doing, we are dealing also with God Himself.
2. Again, the High Priest of our confession. You know how large a part of this Epistle is occupied with the subject thus introduced: the priesthood of Jesus Christ as satisfying all those wants which any other priesthood could only indicate and impress. “Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes”--why is it a glad sound? It is not because we wanted an Apostle, and because we wanted a High Priest? Put Christ out of sight altogether for a moment, and then see how dark life is, the present and the future. See what it is to be conscious of sin, and then suppose that there were no Christ, no Saviour, no Propitiation, and no Intercessor! Yes, we know that we shall all want Him; as our Apostle, as God’s representative, that is; as our all-wise Teacher, our Revealer of God as He is, as the Person in whom as well as by whom God deals with our souls, and bids us also to deal with Him; want Him also as our High Priest, our Sacrifice and Propitiation for sin, our merciful Intercessor, our faithful Advocate with God. (Dean Vaughan.)
Christians invited to consider Christ
I. THE CHARACTERS ADDRESSED: “ Holy brethren.”
1. All real Christians are
(1) Partakers of the same spiritual nature.
(2) Members of the same family.
(3) Interested in each other’s welfare.
2. Christians are “ holy”
(1) By the dedication which they have made of themselves to God.
(2) By the purification of their minds,
3. They are partakers of a calling
(1) Heavenly in its origin.
(2) Heavenly in its end.
II. THE ADVICE GIVEN.
1. Christ was a Divine Messenger. He is a Divine Person. He was divinely John 4:34; John 5:23; John 7:16).
2. Christ was a voluntary messenger. He came willingly (Hebrews 10:5-9). The undertaking was arduous, but “ He gave Himself for us.”
3. Christ was a merciful messenger. He came not to destroy, but to save; and it was all free, unparalleled mercy.
4. He is the High Priest of our profession.
(1) He made an atonement for sin (Hebrews 9:28).
(2) The Jewish high priest blessed the people (Numbers 6:23-27).
(3) The Jewish high priest interceded for the people; and Christ ever liveth to make intercession for us.
5. The advice given is, “Consider the apostle,” &c. Consideration is the exercise of thought, not a hasty glance at an object, but a deliberate exercise of the mind. Hence we should consider Christ.
(1) That we know Him. The knowledge of Christ is the most beneficial we can possess; but no man can know Christ who will not consider Him.
(2) That we may be grateful to Him. Our obligations to Christ should bind us to be grateful to Him; but these obligations can be known only by consideration.
(3) That we may keep His commandments. No man can keep
Christ’s commandments who neglects the advice in the text.
(4) That we may emulate His example. (Sketches of Sermons.)
The consideration of the apostle-ship and priesthood of Christ inculcated
I. THE CHARACTERS HERE PECULIARLY ADDRESSED.
1. “Holy brethren.” Every one must possess holiness, not indeed in perfection: but, as it were, the Christian’s element, where he breathes with freedom and with peace. Sin is the Christian’s aversion, and therefore he looks forward with joy to that period when he shall put off this body of sin, and be in possession of a holy and blessed state in heaven.
2. The characters here addressed are described as “Partakers of the heavenly calling.” Here we speak of the manner in which such are brought to this brotherly love.
II. THE HIGH CHARACTER GIVEN IN THE TEXT OF CHRIST JESUS
1. “Apostle.” The Redeemer of mankind, though one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is declared to have come out from God in the capacity of a servant. In His commission to His disciples after the Resurrection, He acknowledged His own apostleship. He says, “As My Father hath sent Me, so send I you.”
2. “High Priest.” The high priest was to offer up the evening sacrifice and prayer. Christ Jesus appears offering Himself a perfect sacrifice for sin.
III. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED. “Consider.” As if he had said, do not turn away from Him, as though you had no interest in this great subject; but let your attention be drawn off from everything else, that your soul may be found resting here. (F. H. Fell, M. A.)
The Apostle and High Priest of our profession
I. THE AGENTS. Who are exhorted to consider Christ? The “ holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” “Holy brethren.” The terms define sufficiently the class of persons to whom this exhortation is directly addressed. It is a word, not for those who are without, but for those who are within. The two terms are interesting separately, and in their union. If they do not certify what all the worshippers are, they certainly declare what each ought to be. You may detect here the twofold division of duty, which from its fountain in the decalogue flows down, and penetrates all the moral teaching of the Scriptures. Christians get both the first and the second commandments printed on their life. They love the Lord with all their heart, and their neighbour as themselves. They are “holy” to God, and “brethren “ to men. Further, they are “partakers of the heavenly calling.” It comes from above, and invites them thither.
II. THE OBJECT. Whom should the holy brethren regard? “The Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” “Our profession” is the religious system which we adopt -the confession which we make and maintain. It indicates profession to God, and confession one with another. We hold the truth, and we hold it together. We hold to God by faith, and to our brethren in love. It is not the truth in type and shadow, but the truth Himself unveiled--God manifest in the flesh. Our profession, finally, is not self-righteousness, but faith. It is not what I am able to do, but what God is willing to give. Our plea is, not that our sins are small, but that our Saviour is great. “By grace are ye saved through faith.” Of this profession, the Apostle and High Priest is Christ Jesus. Either office is important in itself; and the union of both in the person of the Lord Jesus has a distinct and peculiar importance of its own. An apostle is one sent out. Missionary, with which we have become so familiar in our days, is the same word in another language. An inexpressible dignity is connected with the mission of this Apostle. The sender, the sent, and the errand, are all great. All our missions are copies of this great original. He is High Priest too. It is His office to go into the holiest with atoning blood, and there plead for the rebellious. With His own blood our High Priest has entered into the heavens, where He ever liveth to make intercession for us. In His own personal ministry He was first Apostle and then High Priest. In the order of time His mission as God’s representative sent out to us was first accomplished, and thereafter His mission as our representative sent in to God. Throughout His personal ministry in the body He acted as Apostle; at His death and resurrection and ascension He became High Priest. When Jesus as our High Priest passed into the heavens, His personal ministry as our Apostle ceased; but He has not left Himself without a witness. He has left that work to His servants. He prescribed their task, and promised them Matthew 28:20). Not only every preacher, but every believer of the Word, is an apostle, charged and qualified to make it known. When He ascended He left on earth a multitudinous ministry. Nor is Divine commission wanting to the meanest: “Let him that heareth say, Come.” In a similar manner the intercession of the High Priest in heaven is reduplicated on the earth. “Brethren, n, pray for us,” expresses the true instinct of the new creature in a time of need. All who preach in any form to men also pray for them; and, besides these, a great number of the Lord’s little ones, who lack courage or skill to spake a word for Christ, speak in secret to Him, for their neighbours and for the world. In view of both these offices He said to His disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away.” His ascension into heaven spreads both the apostleship and the priesthood over the world. In contact with the earth’s surface the sun would be only a consuming fire; from the height of heaven it sheds down light and heat on every land. So Christ, after the days of His humiliation were done, was a “Light inaccessible and full of glory.”
III. THE ACT. How the holy brethren should regard Christ: “Consider Him.” Consider Him the Apostle. Well we may. When the heavens must open, and a messenger come forth bearing the mind of God to men, we have cause to rejoice that the mission is intrusted to a partaker of our nature. It was necessary that we should meet God; to make the meeting possible, God became man and dwelt among us. Consider Him who has brought out the message, for He is “ gentle and easy to be entreated.” Consider Him the High Priest. He is before the throne, charging Himself with all the interests of His people. He has power with God, and pity for man. (W. Amos.)
I. We have here ONE GREAT COMPREHENSIVE COMMAND. The word “consider” implies in the original an earnest, fixed, prolonged attention of mind.
1. The first remark that I would make is that a Christian man’s thoughts should be occupied with his Saviour. How do you Christian people expect to get any blessing from Jesus Christ? Does He not work by His truth? And can that truth which sanctifies and saves produce effects if it is not appropriated by the meditative occupation of our minds with it? What is all the gospel to you unless it is consciously present to your understanding, and through your understanding is ruling your affections, and moulding your will, and shaping the outgoings of your life?
2. Then, that being premised, note how much practical direction as to the manner of that occupation of mind and spirit with Christ lies in that single emphatic word “ consider.”
(1) There is surely implied, to begin with, that such occupation must be the result of conscious effort. Why, you cannot even make money until, as you say, “you give your minds to business.” A man sitting at a desk cannot even add up a column of figures correctly if he is thinking about a hundred other things. And do you think that the Divine glories of Christ are to flow into a man’s soul on condition of less concentration and attention?
(2) But, still further, our gaze on Him must be the look of eager interest; it must be intense as well as fixed. I do not wonder at so many people thinking that there is nothing to interest them in the gospel. There is nothing--and that because they do not come to it with awakened eagerness, and so because they have no hunger it is tasteless. If we would hear Christ, we must keep our ear attent unto His voice. To superficial investigation no treasures are disclosed, we must dig deep if we would find the vein where the gold lies. Still further, another requisite of this occupation of mind with Christ and His work may be suggested as included in the word.
(3) Our consideration must be resolute, eager, and, also, steady or continuous. A hurried glance is as profitless as a careless one. You do not see much on first going into a dark room out of the light; nor do you see much on first going into the light out of the dark. It was Newton, I think, who, when asked as to his method of working in attacking complicated problems, had only the simple answer to give, “I keep it before me.” Yes, that is the way to master any subject of thought. The steady gaze will, by slow degrees, see order where the random glance saw only chaos. And we shall never see the glory of that light which dwells between the Cherubim if our visits to the shrine arc brief and interrupted, and the bulk of our time is spent outside the tabernacle amidst the glaring sand and the blazing sunshine. Let us fix our eyes on Him, our Lord. Surely there is enough there to draw and satisfy the most prolonged eager gaze. He is our Example, our Redeemer, our Prophet. In Him we see all of God that man can apprehend, and all of man. In Him we behold our wisdom, our strength, our righteousness.
II. THE GREAT ASPECTS OF CHRIST’S WORK WHICH SHOULD FIX OUR GAZE. We have Himself proposed as the object of our thoughts.
1. He is the Apostle of our profession. No declaration was more common on our Lord’s lips when on earth than that He was “ sent of God.” He is the sent of God. And our loving thoughts are to lay hold upon this aspect of His nature avid work, not to tarry in the simple manhood, fair and blessed as that is, but to discern in Him the complete expression of the Divine Will, the complete fulfilment of the slow marching revelations of God, the perfect, final, eternal word spoken of God among men.
2. Then we are to think of Him as our High Priest. “As Apostle,” it has been well said, “He pleads God’s cause with us: as High Priest He pleads our cause with God. The Apostolate and the Priesthood of Christ are both included in the one word--Mediator.”
III. THE GREAT REASONS FOR THIS OCCUPATION OF MIND AND HEART WITH CHRIST, OUR MEDITATOR. These are to be found in the remaining portion of this verse.
1. Our relation to Christ and the benefit we derive from it should impel us to loving meditation on Him. “Holy brethren.”
2. The calling of which we are partakers should impel us to loving meditation. God in Christ calls us to His service, to His love, to His heaven. Of this call all Christian souls are recipients. Therefore it becomes them to set their thoughts and love on that Saviour, through whom they receive it at the first, and continue to feel its quickening impulse and its immortal hopes.
3. Further, the avowal which we have made concerning Him should impel us to loving, steadfast contemplation. He is “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession,” or, perhaps, more accurately “of our confession.” Our creed avows that Christ is everything to us. Alas! alas! how many of us proclaim in our lives that He is nothing. If these tremendous sentences are believed at all by us, what means this languid, occasional half-hearted gaze upon Him? Surely, if we believe them, we should never turn away from beholding that face, so gentle and so Divine, radiant with the brightness of God, and soft with the dewy pity of a brother and a priest! Is your life in accordance with your confession? If not, what is the confession but a blasphemy or a hypocrisy? And what does it avail except to make the life more criminal in its forgetfulness of your Saviour? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
When a traveller passes very rapidly through a country, the eye has no time to rest upon the different objects in it, so that, when he comes to the end of his journey, no distinct impressions have been made upon his mind. This explains how it is that death, judgment, eternity, make so little impression upon most men’s minds. More souls are lost through want of consideration than in any other way. The reason why men are not awakened is, that the devil never gives them time to consider. He beguiles them away from simply looking to Jesus: he hurries them away to look at a thousand other things. But God says, Look here, consider the Apostle and High Priest of your profession; look unto Me, and be be saved.
I. BELIEVERS SHOULD LIVE IN DAILY CONSIDERATION OF THE GREATNESS AND GLORY OF CHRIST, OH, could I lift you away back to that wonderful day, and show you Jesus calling all the angels into being, hanging the earth upon nothing; consider Him, and see if you think He will be a sufficient Saviour. I can as little doubt the sureness and completeness of my salvation as I can doubt the sureness of the solid earth beneath my feet. And where is Jesus now? All power is given to Him in heaven and on earth. Oh, could you and I pass this day through these heavens, and see what is now going on in the sanctuary above--could you see the Lamb, surrounded by all the redeemed, the many angels round about the throne, and were one of these angels to tell you, “This is He that undertook the cause of lost sinners--consider Him--look long and earnestly upon His wounds--upon Hisglory--and tell me do you think it would be safe to trust Him? Do you think His sufferings and obedience will have been enough?” Yes, yes, every soul exclaims, Lord, it is enough! Oh, rather let me ever stand and gaze upon the Almighty, all-worthy, all-Divine Saviour, till my soul drinks in complete assurance that His work undertaken for sinners is a finished work.
II. CONSIDER CHRIST AS THE APOSTLE, OR MESSENGER OF GOD. NOW Christ is an Apostle, for God ordained and sent Him into the world. Oh, could I lift you away to the eternity that is past;--could I bring you into the council of the Eternal Three; and as it was once said “Let us make man”;--could I show you how God from all eternity designed His Son to undertake for poor sinners;--could I show you the intense interest with which the eye of God followed Jesus through His whole course of sorrow, and suffering, and death. Oh, sinner, will you ever doubt any more whether God the Father be seeking thy salvation?
III. CONSIDER CHRIST AS THE HIGH PRIEST OF OUR PROFESSION.
1. Consider Him making atonement. Now the atonement has been made, Christ has died, His sufferings are all past. And how is it that you do not enjoy peace? It is because you do not consider.
2. Conisider Christ as making intercession. (R. M. McCheyne.)
The Apostle and High Priest
I. THE APOSTLESHIP OF CHRIST. In its exact and original signification an apostle is “one who is sent,” i.e., the bearer of a message from some one. There have been many revelations of God, differing in kind, differing in degree and completeness. The greatest and most complete revelation of God is in Jesus Christ. In the teaching of Christ, in pregnant saying, or parable, or discourse, we have a revelation concerning God which it had not entered the mind of man to conceive.
II. THE HIGH-PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST. The essential idea of a priest is that he comes between man and God; and the essential idea of a priesthood is that of a class of men who act as mediators between God and men. The priest offered sacrifices, or conducted religious ceremonies, but he did these things not for himself, but for the worshippers. If it be true that without blood there is no remission of sins, it is also true that without an intervening priest, there was no shedding of sacrificial blood, and therefore no remission. Carry these thoughts with you then, and you will see why Christ is called the High Priest of our profession. High Priest, because He stands for mankind before God: High Priest, because He has made one all-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of men: High Priest, because He does for men what they could not and cannot do for themselves. Christ’s priesthood means that we have a way by which we may approach the eternal and all-holy Father. They who are conscious of their own unworthiness may plead the worthiness of Christ, may rest with confidence on the sympathy of Him who wore our humanity as a brother-man. Christ’s priesthood further means that a sacrifice bus been made by which the defilement of sin is removed, and a new relation begun between men and God. Christ’s priesthood means that in His crucifixion, from which He did not shrink, there was given to men a means of reconciliation with God. And, once more, Christ’s priesthood means that there is in heaven One who pleads continually for pardon for sinful men. To what now, I ask, should these considerations of the apostleship and priesthood of Christ tend? The writer of this Epistle uses them to add point to his exhortation, and to warn against unbelief. I know that some among you are fully aware of the responsibilities of belief, and shrink from doing or professing anything which seems to go beyond your power to practise. Have you ever thought of the responsibilities in which the want of belief may involve you? Have you ever, amid your doubts and hesitations, considered this, that by your doubts and hesitations you are practically denying that the revelation of God in Christ is a revelation to you; that you are practically saying, “Christ’s sacrifice was no sacrifice, so far as I am concerned.” True it is that they who enter into the temple, have their responsibilities; but are they free from responsibility who stand at the threshold and will not enter in? And the same considerations may be used to quicken and sustain our faith.
Christ is our Apostle; therefore we have a sure knowledge of God. Christ is our High Priest; therefore, we have in our hearts the assurance of Divine love, and the abiding hope of Divine forgiveness. (D. Hunter, B. D.)
The study of Jesus
I. THE SUBJECT FOR STUDY.
1. Consider the person of Jesus. Christianity is Christ; and if Christ be not God. Man our religion is the dream of sanguine enthusiasts or the fraud of ingenious impostors.
2. Consider the offices of Jesus.
(1) In His Divine-human capacity Jesus is the Apostle of our confession.
(2) As Apostle Jesus has a mission. He is High Priest.
II. THE STUDENTS.
1. Confessors. Practical confession is the living up to all we believe, and the carrying out of all that that belief involves.
2. Holy brethren. Christ was born and died that He might communicate His Holy Spirit, by whose regenerating, adopting, and sanctifying work we arc made holy, the sons of God, and His brethren.
3. Partakers of a heavenly calling.
(1) Walk worthy of it.
(2) Make it sure.
III. THE METHOD OF STUDY AND THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT IS TO BE PURSUED.
1. As for the method, the word “consider” is descriptive of the posture of the earnest student who abstracts his attention from every other object, and pores over the thing in hand with unflagging industry until he has mastered it.
(1) To our study of Jesus we must give undivided attention. We know so little of Christ, in spite of all our prayer and meditation, because we think of so much else while we are trying to think of Him.
(2) Our study must be deep. Just as nature is grand or commonplace according as our reading is profound or superficial, so is it with the great subject of Christian study.
(3) Our study must be patient and persistent. That knowledge is not worth much, and is often worth less than nothing, which is acquired in a few weeks’ scamper over a mighty continent.
2. The spirit.
(2) Humble boldness. (J. W. Burn.)
Consider Christ fully
If you wish to look at a portrait of Raphael’s, what would you think to see only the forehead uncovered, and then only the eyes, and so on, until all the features had been separately seen? Could you gain a true idea of the picture as a whole? Yet this is the way men look at the picture of Christ in the Gospels, reading a few verses and mottoes here and there, and never considering the life in its wholeness and harmony. (H. W. Beecher.)
Consider Christ intently
Consider not lightly, as they that do not mind the thing they look upon. Their eyes are upon it, but their mind is on another matter. Look on Him with the sharp eye of your mind. Consider that in Him all the treasures of wisdom lie hid. He is a rich storehouse, in whom ye may find all the pearls and jewels of wholesome doctrine. In Him there is salvation, and in no other; therefore all other teachers set aside, listen to Him. When the judge of assizes gives the charge, all that be in the shire-house, especially they that be of the great inquest, consider seriously what is spoken. When the king makes a speech in the Parliament-house, the whole House considers earnestly what he says. Christ Jesus, the King of kings, speaks to us in the ministry of the Word, yet few consider the excellent things that be spoken. The Queen of Sheba considered Solomon well, all that he spake or did. Behold, here is a greater than Solomon. Therefore let us diligently consider what He says. If they were matters of no moment, we were not to be blamed, though we did not consider them; but being of such weight, touching the eternal salvation of our souls, what madmen be we, that we consider them no better. If one should talk to us of gold and silver, we would consider what he says. Christ speaks to us of that which surpasseth all the silver in the world, yet we regard Him not.
Let us consider Him now, that He may consider us hereafter when He comes with His holy angels. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Of Christ as an Apostle
I. THE GENERAL FUNCTION OF CHRIST, as a Prophet, Apostle, and Minister of the Word of God, was to make known the will of the Father unto His people.
II. HIS SPECIAL CALL to that function was immediate from the Father. Christ thus saith of Himself (John 20:21). Oft does Christ make mention of this that His Father sent Him. Where Christ saith to the Jews John 5:37; John 6:46; John 1:18).
III. THE PRIVILEGES which belonged to an apostolical function, and in a most eminent manner appertained unto Christ, were these.
1. Christ laid the foundation, for He first preached the gospel (Genesis 3:15). Yea, Christ Himself was the very foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). He is also the chief corner-stone (Ephesians 2:20).
2. The whole world was Christ’s jurisdiction. No limits were set to His function (Psalms 2:8; Ephesians 2:17).
3. He had His gifts immediately by the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2; Luke 2:20).
4. He received the Spirit more abundantly than any other (John 3:34; Colossians 2:3; Colossians 2:9; John 1:16).
5. He could not but have infallible assistance in that He was the very truth itself (John 14:16; Luke 4:18).
6. He also must needs have power of giving gifts, in that He was the prime Author of all gifts (Ephesians 4:7; John 20:22).
7. About miracles He had mote power than ever any other.
8. Vengeance especially belongeth unto Christ (Romans 12:19). When the apostle delivered the incestuous person over to Satan, he did it in the name and with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:4). (W. Gouge.)
Christ the only Apostle and High Priest of our profession
Where Christ is said here to be the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, we must learn this: that we that be Christians profess no other teacher, nor no other Saviour, but that Christ is both our wisdom and our justification; His word is ours, His doctrine is ours, His wisdom is ours, we profess not one jot whereof He hath not been an Apostle unto us; and whosoever he be that teacheth us other things than what Christ hath taught us already, he is not of our profession nor of our brotherhood. And more than this, we are sure he teacheth nothing but vain illusions and imaginations of men; for all treasures of wisdom and true knowledge are hit” in Christ. And seeing it hath pleased Him to be our Apostle, who is the Son of God, the brightness of His glory, the ingraven form of His substance, the Heir of all things, the Maker of heaven and earth, far greater than angels, how unthankful be we if His doctrine be not our profession; nay, how mad be we, if we will change Him for any other or for all other. Whatsoever glorious names they bring, of fathers, doctors, councils, we neither know them nor their names. If they be ministers of Christ unto us, their feet are beautiful, and their names are honourable, it they be their own ministers, we know them not, nor all their glory. Now where the apostle calleth Christ the High Priest of our profession, as we have learned before, if He be our Apostle, we have no other teacher. So we learn here, if He be the Priest of our profession, no part of the office of His Priesthood we may give to another, but profess it clearly that He is our priest alone. And as the priest is ordained to make sacrifice for sin, and to be a mediator between God and man, so all this work we must leave wholly unto Him, receive no other, upon whom we will lay this reconciliation, to purge our sins, and to bring us to God, but Christ alone. (E. Deering, B,D.)
Open Christian profession
Let us look at the word “profession.” We are very apt to undervalue things with which abuse and danger are connected, and which may be easily counterfeited. There is such a thing as a mere outward hypocritical profession; but is that a reason why we should not attach importance to confessing Christ? With the heart we are to believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth we are to confess that Jesus is the Lord. It may be a mere lip-utterance to say, “I believe in Jesus”; it may be only a form to sit down at the Lord’s table; but as the outward expression of an inward reality, it is a great and blessed fact. Let us not be secret disciples; let us not come to Jesus merely by night, ashamed to bear testimony to the gospel. Our confession of Christ in the outward Church, in the congregation of professed disciples, in the ordinances of Christ’s institution, let us not undervalue it! Remember with gratitude that you have publicly professed Christ; that into the Church of Christ you have been received by baptism, and acknowledged at the Lord’s Supper as a brother and partaker of the heavenly calling. Let the remembrance of this be to us continually helpful, and stimulate us to adorn the doctrine of the gospel by a Christ-like life and walk. (A. Saphir.)
Faithful to Him that appointed Him
Fidelity in personal duties
The general prosperity of human life and the peace and comfort of individuals greatly depend on the diligence, the cheerfulness, and the spirit with which our personal duties are fulfilled.
I. I mention as the first, AN HABITUAL AND PRACTICAL REMEMBRANCE THAT GOD HATH APPOINTED US OUR DIFFERENT CONDITIONS, and that a proper discharge of the duties resulting from them, from a regard to His authority, is service due and done to God. Christianity thus brings religion home to the most minute departments of human life, to the house and to the field, to the shop and to the farm; and intimately unites earth to heaven.
II. Personal fidelity includes HONEST AND ASSIDUOUS ENDEAVOURS TO UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENT DUTIES OF OUR SEVERAL CALLINGS OR CONDITIONS, AND TO ACQUIRE THE TALENTS NECESSARY TO PERFORM THEM WELL. But I must observe that a knowledge of the duties of a calling, and even the best talents for discharging them, are not sufficient. Personal fidelity chiefly consists in the diligence, animated by religious motives, which produces the activity which our separate duties require; and therefore I remark
III. That men discover their fidelity when they MARE CONSCIENCE OF THE MORE DIFFICULT AND BURDENSOME, as well as of the more easy duties of their particular callings.
IV. Men show their fidelity in their personal duties, when they do NOT NEGLECT, FOR THE SAKE OF PLEASURES, THEIR PROPER BUSINESS OR EMPLOYMENTS.
V. Fidelity to Him who hath appointed men their respective callings, requires that they shall Do AS MUCH GOOD IN THEM AS THEY HAVE THE
MEANS OR OPPORTUNITY TO DO; and that they shall manage them to the best advantage, for which their knowledge or abilities have qualified them.
VI. Personal fidelity requires that men REGARD AND FULFIL ALL THE DUTIES OF THEIR CALLINGS OR SITUATIONS, AND NOT MERELY A PART OF THEM.
VII. Personal fidelity requires that men shall do the duties of their proper stations, ALTHOUGH EVERY WORLDLY MOTIVE SHOULD TEMPT THEM TO NEGLECT OR TO VIOLATE THEM.
VIII. Fidelity in the duties of our proper callings ought ever to be ACCOMPANIED WITH PRAYER TO GOD, AND AN HABITUAL AND DEVOUT DEPENDENCE ON HIM FOR HIS BLESSING. I conclude with observing, that if a faithful discharge of social duties were the whole of religion, even on such terms no man could be justified by works. In fidelity to conscience, and in zealous endeavours for promoting the glory of God and the good of mankind, Archbishop Usher was perhaps exceeded by few of his own, or of any other order, Yet we find among his last, what were certainly none of his worst words, “Lord, forgive my sins of omission.” Even in the discharge of their secular callings, men of the worthiest characters are far from being already perfect, and after all their best attainments have need to pray, “Lord, enter not into judgment with Thy servants.” (John Erskine, D. D.)
Christ the Son and Moses the servant
1. And here that it is said, “God appointed Him,” we see the root of this love, that Christ should come a Saviour among us. And as we must give unto our Saviour Christ the glory of our redemption, in the sacrifice of His body, so we must give unto the Father the praise of His mercy, that hath freely loved us, and predestinated us eternally unto life; for as this is our profession, that Christ hath done the deed, so this is our profession, that God the Father hath appointed Him unto it.
2. The second thing here witnessed of Christ, and in which we are assured He is our only Prophet, and are provoked to hearken unto Him, is “that lie was faithful in all the house of God.” This faithfulness is truth and integrity in discharge of this office committed to Him, wherein He set all His care and industry, that He might be found faultless, that like as He was sent of God to be a Prophet to reveal His will, so He did faithfully perform it, teaching only doctrine and ordinances of His Father (John 7:16; John 8:28; John 17:8). How diligently then ought we to hear such a Prophet as hath so faithfully spoken. And here we have all a very good lesson taught us, in the person of Christ, to what calling soever we be called of God, in the same let us be faithful; if we be preachers, faithful preachers; if we be princes, faithful princes; if we be judges, faithful judges; if we be treasurers, faithful treasurers; if we be merchants, faithful merchants; whatsoever we be, faithfulness must be our praise.
3. It followeth, “He was faithful as Moses in all His house.” What was the faithfulness commended in Moses? That he did in every point according to that which God had commanded. This was then the faithfulness of Christ, to do nothing but at the will of His Father; and this St. John witnesseth expressly in many places. Here is the image of this faithful minister, like unto Christ, one that preacheth nothing but the Word of God, nor for any cause but God’s glory. Now, more touching this comparison here made between Christ and Moses, there is no doubt but the apostle useth it to join the Hebrews unto Christ; for how they accounted of Moses he knew well, and whatsoever was spoken of him they did willingly apply themselves to mark, and his praise did win their affections to be more equally bent to learn Christ. Taking this occasion, he beginneth his comparison, making this as common both to Christ and Moses: that either of them ruled in the house of God, and either of them was faithful in his charge, but yet so, as Christ was much more honourable, and therefore to be of us acknowledged our only Prophet. Now, lest the comparison should seem equal, or Moses should be accounted as great as Christ, he showeth the great excellence of Christ above Moses, that the Jews may also learn to honour their Messias as it becometh them. It followeth now in the fifth verse, “And Moses was faithful in all His house, as a servant for the testimony of the things which should be spoken, but Christ as the Son is Ruler of His house.” Now, how much more honour the son hath in his father’s house than he that is a servant, so far Christ is above Moses, and above all. And in this the apostle needed not use many words, for that Moses was a servant, all confessed that God calleth him oft His servant Moses. And that Christ was the Son no man doubted, and the Scripture giveth Him plainly the title of the Son of God. Here we have all taught us a lesson of good humility, and how to know ourselves, and what place we have in the Church of God. It followeth, “For a testimony of the things which should after be spoken.” For this purpose Moses was a servant, and in the performance of this duty was faithful: he was a servant to bear witness unto the people of all the words which God should speak unto them, that is, a servant faithfully declaring all the law of God. And Moses also himself did bear witness of Christ. And Moses, the most renowned of all prophets, what was he? a servant to declare unto the people all that the Lord had spoken. Who is he now will presume above Moses, to speak of his own head, ordinances, and laws? Who will establish decrees of his own in the house of God? Whosoever he be he shall carry his judgments. He is not a servant, as Moses was; but he exalteth himself to be a master; for if he were a servant he would do the work of a servant, and bear witness what his Master had said. It followeth, “But Christ as the Son is over His house.” So that, being the Son of God, who is heir of all things, He ruleth in this house as Lord and Governor, whose commandment alone doth stand. And again, being the Son of God, eternally begotten of His Father, He ever did, and shall do to the end, rule and have the sovereignty in His own house. Therefore, even as before the apostle made his exhortation, that they would consider this Apostle and High Priest of their profession, even so let us humble ourselves under this High Lord in the House of God; let us obey His voice, let us be all faithful in our calling, that before Him we may have a good account, especially the minister, that he will be a faithful servant, keeping his fellowship in the Church of God, and bearing witness of all that the Lord hath spoken. (E. Deering, B. D.)
Christ and Moses
Every word here is an echo of something going before, and is instinct with persuasive virtue. “Brethren” of Him who in a fraternal spirit identified Himself with the unholy, and for their sakes took flesh and tasted death. “Holy,” at least in standing, in virtue of the priestly action of the Sanctifier; and because holy in this sense, under obligation to make their consecration to God a reality by living a truly Christian life. “Partakers of a heavenly calling”--thus described, at once with truth and with rhetorical skill, with a backward glance at the greatness of the Christian’s hope as the destined lord of the future world, and with a mental reference to the contrast between that glorious prospect and the present state of believers as partakers of flesh and blood, and subject to death and the fear thereof; reminding them at the same time of the blessed truth that as Christ became partaker of their present lot, so they were destined to be partakers of His glorious inheritance, the unity and fellowship between Him and His people being on both sides perfect and complete. The titles here ascribed to Jesus also arise out of the previous context, and are full of significance. Specially noteworthy is the former of the two, “Apostle,” here only applied to Christ. The basis for the title is such a text as Exodus 3:10 : “Come now therefore, and I will send thee [ἀποστείλω, Sept.] unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” Moses was an apostle, as one sent by God on the important mission of leading the enslaved race of Israel out of Egypt into Canaan. Christ was our Apostle, as one sent by God to be the Leader in the great salvation. The Apostle of our Christian confession and the “ Captain of salvation” are synonymous designations. “Consider the Apostle” means, consider for practical purposes a subject already sufficiently understood; “consider the High Priest” means, consider the doctrine of Christ’s priesthood, that ye may first understand it and then prove its practical value. Christ the Apostle is the immediate subject of contemplation. That aspect is in view throughout the third and fourth chapters, the priestly aspect being presented at the close of the latter, as an introduction to the long discussion which commences with the fifth chapter and extends to the tenth. “Consider the Apostle of our confession” is the rubric of this new section. To guide consideration, a point of view is suggested congruous to the practical aim. The aim being to promote steadfastness in the Christian faith and life, the selected point of view is the fidelity of Jesus our Apostle. God made Jesus by giving Him His unique place in the world’s history, as the chief agent in the work of redemption. And Jesus was faithful to God by discharging faithfully the high duties entrusted to Him. What the Hebrews are invited to do, therefore, is to consider Jesus as the faithful Captain of salvation, who never betrayed His trust, shirked His responsibilities, or neglected duty to escape personal suffering, and who at the last great crisis said, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” For of course the theatre in which Christ’s fidelity was displayed was His earthly life of trial and temptation. He has already held up Jesus as Priest, as one who is faithful to the interests of those for whom He transacts before God, and therefore entitled to their confidence. The two views supplement each other, and complete the picture of the Faithful One. Faithful as Priest to men in virtue of sympathies learned on earth, faithful as Apostle to God in the execution of the arduous mission on which He was sent to the world; in the one aspect inspiring trust, in the other exciting admiration and inciting to imitation. The following comparison between Christ and Moses at once serves the general end of the Epistle by contributing to the proof of the superiority of Christianity to Judaism, and the special end of the present exhortation by affording the opportunity of extracting wholesome lessons from the fate of the people whom Moses led out of Egypt. In doing this, he simply does justice to the familiar historical record of the Jewish hero’s life, and to God’s own testimony borne on a memorable occasion, the substance of which he repeats in the words, “as also Moses [was faithful] in His house.” “My servant Moses, faithful in all My house, he,” God had said emphatically, to silence murmuring against him on the part of his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam. He lays hold of the suggestive words “house” and “servant,” and turns them to account for his purpose, saying in effect, “Moses was as faithful as any servant in a house can be: still he was only a servant, while He of whom I now speak was not a mere servant in the house, but a Son; and that makes all the difference.” Verses 3 to 6 are substantially just the working out of this thought. But it may be asked, the subject of comparison being the respective fidelities of the two apostles, is not a reference to their positions irrelevant? What does it matter whether Moses was son or servant, if he was faithful in all God’s house, in all parts of his work as the leader of Israel? If one were comparing two commanders in respect of bravery and military genius, would it not be an irrelevance to say of one of them, he was the better man, for he was the king’s son? The question is pertinent, but it admits of a satisfactory answer. Reference to the superior dignity of Christ is relevant, if His position as Son tended to enhance His fidelity. That it did the writer doubtless meant to suggest. Farther on we find him saying. “Though He was a Son, yet learned He obedience.” Similarly he says here in effect: “Christ, though a Son, was faithful to His vocation amid trial.” It is a just thought. Beyond doubt we have in Christ as Son a more sublime moral spectacle of fidelity than in any ordinary man called to play a great and responsible part in history. To the fidelities which He has in common with other men, the Son adds this other: resolute resistance to the temptation to use His sonship as an excuse for declining arduous heroic tasks. But there is more than this to be said. The reference to the dignity of Christ looks beyond the immediate parenetic purpose to the ultimate aim of the whole Epistle It is designed to insinuate the great truth that Christianity is the absolute, eternal religion. This idea casts its shadow on the page at three different points
1. In the contrast between Moses and Jesus as respectively servant and Son.
2. In the representation of the Ministry of Moses as being for a testimony of things to be spoken afterwards (Hebrews 3:5).
3. In the representation of Christians as pre-eminently though not exclusively God’s, Christ’s, house (Hebrews 3:6). The assertion manifestly implies the transiency of the Mosaic system. It suggests the thought that the house aa it stood m the time of Moses was but a rude, temporary model of the true, eternal house of God; good enough to furnish shelter from the elements, so to speak, but unfit to be the everlasting dwelling place of the children of the Most High, therefore destined to be superseded by a more glorious structure, having the Spirit of God for its architect, which should be to the old fabric as was the “magnifical” temple of Solomon to the puny tabernacle in the wilderness. At Hebrews 3:6 transition is naturally made from Moses to the lessons of the wilderness life of Israel. The writer is haunted by the fear lest the tragic fate of the generation of the Exodus should be repeated in the experience of the Hebrew Christians. He hopes that the powerful motives arising out of the truths he has stated may bring about a better result. But he cannot hide from himself that another issue is possible. For the future fortunes of Christianity he has no anxiety; he is firmly persuaded that it will prosper, though the Hebrew Church, or even the whole Hebrew nation, should perish. That fatal catastrophe he dreads; therefore with great solemnity he proceeds to represent retention of their position in the house of God as conditional: “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the boasting of the hope.” (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
What God requires is faithfulness to that which He has entrusted to us. A poor man is responsible for the little of his poverty, and sins if he withhold his mite. The Church needs the gifts of the poor; the gifts of the industrial and labouring classes. She needs the influence of those who think they have no influence. She needs the sympathies and prayers of those who can only stammer out of their sin-burdened hearts, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The most fertile summer showers are composed of unpretending little drops. Water-spouts are farless beneficial than the steady, soaking, noiseless rain.
Importance of fidelity in the Christian life
Though in the life and character of Moses there are many striking excellencies, the faithfulness of Moses is the feature on which the apostle dwells. It is, indeed, the most important feature in our character as servants of God. And well were it for us if we laid more stress on faithfulness, and thought less of gifts and talents, or of success and results. For while it belongs to God to appoint unto each of us severally our positions, to distribute gifts according to His wisdom, and to reward us with results hundredfold, sixtyfold, or thirtyfold, it belongs to us to be faithful to God wherever He has placed us, and in the gift and task which His love assigns. We see the summary and result of the true disciple’s life in the decisive words of the Master (Matthew 25:21). (A. Saphir.)
Moses and the Jews
More than Luther is to Germany, more than Napoleon is to France, more than Alfred, or Elizabeth, or Cromwell, or William III. is to England, Moses was to the Jewish people--prophet, patriot, warrior, lawgiver, all in one. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
A faithful mother
The Bishop of Machester was giving the prizes one day to the scholars, in a school with which he is connected. A large number of the parents and friends of the scholars were present. They all knew and loved the bishop, as a good, and learned, and very useful man. In the midst of their exercises, as he stood surrounded by the scholars, the good bishop was led to speak of his mother. “She was a widow,” said he, “with some children to support and educate. God helped her to be faithful. She sacrificed her own ease and comfort for the good of her children. Her home was a poor one. She had to struggle hard for our support. But she managed to make that home the brightest and the happiest place to us. Her children through her faithful efforts have since risen to positions of honour and usefulness, where they are helping to make the world better. She is now,” said the bishop, and here his voice was broken with deep feeling--“She is now living in my house, paralysed, speechless, helpless, but every time I look at her dear face, I thank God for giving me such a mother. All that I am, and all that I have I owe to her.”
Faithful to duty
In the terrible April gale of 1851, the lighthouse on Minor’s Ledge, near Boston, was destroyed. Two men were in it at the time, and a vast multitude were gathered upon the shore, waiting in anxious distress for the expected catastrophe. Every hour, however, the bell tolled the time, and ever the light pierced the dark rating storm, and bid the sailor beware. No howling blast could silence the one nor rising wave extinguish the other. At last one giant wave, mightier than the rest, rose up and threw its arms around the tower, and laid it low in the waves. Then alone was the bell silent, then alone did the light cease to shine. (J. M.Reid.)
He that hath built all things is God
“He that built all things is God.” He began in the undated past, and He keeps on in sundry ways and with diverse materials from generation to generation. To-day is built up out of yesterday and all its predecessors, and the vast and prolific morrow will be constructed out of the incomprehensible and mighty to-day.
2. “Know ye that the Lord, He is God. It is He who hath made us and not we ourselves.” “We are His workmanship,” created of old, with a body that is a finely built machine, opulent in resources, and apt for our uses; with a mind of surprising capacities; perception and reason, memory and conscience, hope and trust, reverence and love, and above all with a spirit that links us with the Infinite, makes us susceptible of being “created anew in Christ Jesus,” after the type of His holy life. The home is His work, built as the primary institution for choking in the germ the destructive self-seeking of the human race, and developing that love which forgets self, considers all, and creates an atmosphere of domestic and social ozone that refreshes and exhilarates everybody who breathes it.
3. But God’s supreme building work goes very far beyond that unit of civilisation, the home, and seeks to construct out of the individuals of which the world is composed one vast moral commonwealth, a spiritual republic, a divine “ house,” in which selfishness shall be killed outright, and God and freedom, righteousness and love, reign for ever and ever; a “house” with servants like Moses, sons like Jesus, faithful in all things; a free, aggressive, and holy spiritual community; a perfect form of society, into which nothing enters that defiles, or makes a lie. This is the Divine ideal, the sum and crown of the long and patient labours of God upon men, the image and pattern of the things, towards the realisation of which all the pulling down and plucking up of nations, and states, and churches, and all the reconstructing of systems and societies, stedfastly and assuredly tend.
4. “Whose house are we”--we Hebrews recently become followers of Jesus, but not the less belonging to God’s building; for He goes forward amid the wreck of systems, the sacking of Jerusalem, with unbroken persistence, calm and sure, though not swift, towards the eternally pre-ordained top-stone. The fires of God (Hebrews 12:29) sweep through the structure with a fierce and cleansing blast, not a grain of gold is lost; but lo! here I an ampler edifice, on a wider foundation, richer in its architectural beauty, rises into sight as the dwelling-place of the sons of men.
5. Whence it follows, if you are able to hear it, that in the truest sense God is the first Socialist the Author of that gospel which has done more to create motive and inspire practical enthusiasm for the real welfare of men, than all other systems and agencies and persons put together.
6. Two workers of unapproachable greatness stand out with decisive significance as social creators and organisers. Many builders have done excellently, hut Moses, a faithful servant in the house of the Father, and Jesus, a faithful Son, have excelled them all. The making of Israel was in the hands of Moses. The making “of all things new” is the work of Christ.
7. Moses, indeed, was faithful in all His house as a servant, and built up, as Ewald says, “for the first time in all human history a whole nation, prepared to put itself under obligation to live hereafter only in accordance with true religion and her requirements, and to look for salvation in all time to come only from loyalty in its religious life, and the love of the true God, which this loyalty pre-supposes.” Better foundation than that can no man lay--God, freedom, righteousness, love; and on every part of it is prophetically written the name of the coming Christ.
8. But the chief purpose of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is to show that Christ is a greater Builder than Moses. In what, then, was Jesus greater than Moses? In the basis on which He built? No: for both built on the same. In the spirit in which He did His work? No; for both could say, ‘“ It is my meat to do the will of my Father, and to finish His work.” In fidelity to His trust? Yes; but this is not in the writer’s mind: but rather the fact that Christ proves Himself to be nearer the founts and sources of spiritual power.
(1) Did Moses speak of a “definite Deity”? Christ’s view of God as the Father and Saviour of all men, and of all alike, is the fullest gospel men have yet seen, and makes the amplest provision for all the needs of the individual and social life of mankind.
(2) Did Moses build on the heights of freedom? Christ much more! It is to His incarnation and sacrifice we owe the knowledge of the unutterable worth of one soul, the marvellous possibilities of one corrupted and lost human being! From him comes the impulse to liberty.
(3) Is Moses a legislator? so also is Christ. He did not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fill out and realise their plan; not to demolish their often-dropped ideal, but to take it up and embody it in the life of men. He leads to higher ways of action; to patience, forbearance, forgiveness and self-devotion, for the sake of the weakest and worst; and what men could not do or suffer under “the law” they accomplish with ease and grace under the gospel.
(4) Since Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, is greater than Moses the servant of God, in that He furnishes the one thing that was lacking, viz., motive-power; and furnishes it on a scale of limitless magnitude, and with a fitness for human need that leaves nothing to desire, “let us hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope to the end,” and so prove that we are of this Divine house. God’s commonwealth is as sure to be established as the heavens and earth are built. Only let us give His gospel free play; treat it as containing the key to all our social problems as well as to our individual uses, and it will prove itself as victorious over the difficulties of humanity as it has signally triumphed in the experience of numberless individuals.
(5) But recollect, we only belong to that “house” in so far as “we hold fast our boldness” and do not fail in bravo deeds, in bold initiative, in courageous persistence, in the speech and work that vindicate and back our confidence. God has no room for cowards and idlers.
(6) Partnership in that “house” requires another quality, viz., that of holding fast “the glorying of our hope,” i.e., our exulting hopefulness. “In social things,” says John Morley, “we may be sure undying hope is the secret of vision,” and it is also the secret of patient work. “We are saved ‘ socially ‘ by hope.” Amid all this conflict of human passion and opinion, God’s work of salvation and regeneration goes on, “without haste and without rest,” towards its long since predicted consummation. (John Clifford, D. D.)
The being and attributes of God proved from His works
I. THIS WORLD MIGHT HAVE HAD A BEGINNING. There is nothing absurd in this supposition. We can easily conceive that there was a time when the heavens and earth mid not exist; and consequently that there was a time when they first came into existence. Now, if the world existed of necessity, it would be absolutely immutable, or incapable of change.
II. If this world might have begun to exist, then IT MIGHT HAVE HAD A CAUSE OF ITS EXISTENCE. Upon this principle the apostle supposes that “ every house is builded by some man,” or owes its existence to some cause. And this mode of reasoning from the effect to the cause, is perfectly agreeable to common sense. Should the greatest sceptic travel two or three hundred miles into a wild wilderness, and there discover a very ancient and elegant house, he would instantaneously draw the conclusion in his own mind that that house was built by some man.
III. If the world might have had a cause, then IT MUST HAVE HAD A CAUSE. When a number of men walk in procession, they bear the relation of antecedent and consequent to each other, but not the relation of cause and effect. The motion of those who walk before is no cause of the motion of those who walk behind. The operation of our own minds gives us a clear and distinct perception of cause and effect. When we walk, we are conscious of a power to produce motion. Our idea of cause and effect is as clear and distinct as our idea of heat and cold, and is as truly correspondent to an original impression. This being established, the way is prepared to show, that if the world might have had a cause, it must have had a cause.
IV. THE CAUSE WHICH PRODUCED THIS WORLD MUST BE EQUAL TO THE EFFECT PRODUCED. No cause can produce an effect superior to itself. For just so far as an effect surpasses the cause, it ceases to be an effect, and exists of itself.
1. The Creator of all things must be possessed of almighty power. This is the first attribute of the first cause which His great and marvellous works impress upon the mind.
2. The Author and Framer of the world must be supremely wise and intelligent. Mankind have always admired the beauty of the world. Uniformity amidst variety appears through every part of creation.
3. The builder and upholder of the world must be everywhere present. It is the nature of all created beings and objects to be constantly and absolutely dependent upon their Creator.
4. The Maker and Governor of the world must be a being of boundless knowledge. He must necessarily know Himself, and be intuitively acquainted with all His natural and moral perfections. And by knowing these, He must necessarily know all possibles; that is, all things which lie within the limits of omnipotence.
5. The first, supreme and intelligent Cause of all things must be eternal. To suppose the first Cause had a cause of His existence, is to suppose there was a cause before the first Cause; or to suppose He was the cause of His own existence, is to suppose that He existed and operated before He did exist; or to suppose that He came into existence without any cause, is to suppose what has been proved to be impossible.
6. The Framer of our bodies and the Father of our spirits must be a being of moral rectitude. The moral faculty of man carries in it a clear demonstration of the moral rectitude of his Maker. Besides, the whole world bears innumerable marks of the Divine goodness.
1. If it be true that the visible world displays the being and perfections of the Deity, then all who reason themselves into atheism are guilty, of extreme folly.
2. If there be a being of supreme power and intelligence, who is the Creator and Proprietor of the world, then there is great reason to think that He will dispose of all things to His own glory.
3. If there be a being who hath made us, and who will absolutely dispose of us, then it is very desirable to receive a revelation of His will.
4. It there be a God who is possessed of every natural and moral perfection, then it is fruitless for those who believe and acknowledge His existence to deny the divinity of the Scriptures in order to get rid of their disagreeable doctrines.
5. If there be a God, then all His reasonable creatures are bound to be religious. Our capacity to know God obliges us to glorify Him as God. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
God in History
There is a God in history. The undevout historian, like the undevout astronomer, is mad. Every house is built by some one, but He that built all things is God. There is a house, a structure that fills the ages, its foundations laid millenniums ago. Great events are like columns in their structure, like arches, like graceful pinnacles, and a glorious dome shall complete it by and by. And it must be a fool that can look on the structure of history, with all its marvellous adjustments and adaptations, its many and varied apartments, its evidence of architecture, symmetry, and beauty, and say there is no Architect in history. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
Christ as a Son over His own house
Christ the Lord, and Moses the servant
To speak of Moses to the Jews was always a very difficult and delicate matter. It is hardly possible for Gentiles to understand or realise the veneration with which the Jews regard Moses, the servant of God, Think of the history of Moses. It was wonderful from the very commencement. His whole life was a sacrifice of love and of obedience to the God of His fathers Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; a life of self-denial and affection to the people of his choice. Look at his peculiar position. He was mediator of the covenant, the ambassador (apostle) and plenipotentiary (as it were) of God. All God’s dealings with Israel were transacted through him. Look, again, at the work Moses accomplished; at the great things which the grace of God performed through him. Through him God brought Israel out of Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea; He gave the ten commandments and the whole law b v him; by him the whole national life of Israel was organised. But after admitting fully the excellence of Moses, the apostle proceeds to show the still greater glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. It must have struck you that in many respects Moses was a type of Jesus. But yet, what a difference! The zeal of Moses was not free from earth-born elements, and had to be purified. But there was nothing in Jesus that was of the earth earthy; no sinful weakness of the flesh was in Him who condescended to come in the likeness of sinful flesh. But notice the imperfection of Moses as a servant. How different was Jesus! He declared the full, perfect, and free love of God. The house, the building, means the children of God, who by faith, as lively stones, are built upon Christ Jesus the Foundation, and who are filled with the Holy Ghost; in whom God dwells, as in His temple, and in whom God is praised and manifested in glory. A Christian is like the tabernacle; he is a sanctuary. There is the holy of holies, the holy place, and the outer court. But in all the glory of God is to be revealed; the holiness of God to be shown forth. His body is the Lord’s; the members of his body are Christ’s members. God is to walk in it, to dwell in it, to rest in it. He is to be not merely a visitor, but an indwelling guest, “abiding in him.” How manifold are the mansions in which He dwells! As there are many mansions in the Father’s house above, as there are many mansions in His Church below, so also are there many rooms in the spiritual house of the individual believer; in various manifestations of grace, strength, and love, does God dwell in us. But the apostle adds-shall I call it a condition? shall I call it an encouragement? “If you hold fast the confidence and the rejoining of your hope unto the end.” And with the exhortation is the word of promise: “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “They that trust in the Lord shall be like Mount Sion, which cannot be moved, but standeth fast for ever.” Oh, blessed word and promise of God, that He will keep us unto the end I “Hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end.” Faith is the mother of Hope; but how often is the mother strengthened and cheered by the daughter! Cherish the hope which in Christ Jesus is given unto you who believe in the Saviour. (A. Saphir.)
Christ as a Son over His own house
I. AS A SON OVER HIS OWN HOUSE, CHRIST EXERCISES THE PREROGATIVES OF EXCLUSIVE SUPREMACY.
II. CHRIST AS A SON OVER HIS OWN HOUSE IS ITS ONLY REDEEMER.
III. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AS A SON OVER HIS OWN HOUSE HAS PROCURED FOR IT THE GIFTS AND THE GRACES OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT.
1. During His personal ministry, our Lord instructed “ His own house” in the things which pertained to the kingdom of God. As the Prophet of the Church, He made known the whole counsel of God for the obedience of faith.
2. Our Lord was, moreover, even in His estate of humiliation, “a Son over His own house,” as its Sovereign from whom emanate all the laws which regulate both its internal economy and “the outward business of the house of God.”
3. Christ is no longer visibly present in that house over which He presides as a Son. “The heavens must retain Him until the times of the restitution of all things.” Still, He is truly and ever present by His Spirit, whom He sends forth in every age to carry forward many of the sublime designs of His mission into the world. (John Smyth, D. D.)
The spiritual house
I. First of all, THE HOUSE? WHAT HOUSE IS THIS? “Whose house are we.” It is a house composed of all true believers. It is a spiritual edifice. Only look at the contrast; the house of bondage and the house of light and liberty; the former under Moses as a servant, and yet a master--the latter under Jesus the Son, and He also the Master. Oh I what a precious truth it is, that the believer passes from the one to the other.
II. Now, let us CONSIDER THE PROOF THE TEXT GIVES TO US WHEREBY A MAN MAY KNOW WHETHER HE REALLY BELONGS TO THIS HOUSEHOLD. It does not say, “If you hold fast your confidence and the rejoicing of the hope,” you shall belong to this house; but it says, “Whose house we are” if we do so and so. That is the proof of my being a member of that house. Observe here the contrast is not between belonging to the house of Christ and no house. Observe, it is not between having religion and no religion. It does not say, “If you have confidence, and if you have hope, you prove that you are religious, as contrasted with those who have no religion”; but you prove that you belong to the house of Christ, as contrasted with the house of Moses. That shows us that whatever a man may say about his religion, yet if he has not confidence, he has gone back to the Mosaic dispensation. Now I do say to you, this house of Christ, as contrasted with the house of Moses, is a glorious house. It has no parallel in the universe. There is nothing like the household of God, belonging to Christ; even angelic intelligences, though a part of that household, are eventually not to be compared to the members of Christ’s household. The believer is brought into such a union with God’s own Son, as communicates to him a blessedness unknown to any other creature. Even now, look at the wonderful privileges to which believers are called--fellowship with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and Community of nature with Christ; Christ having humanity, we having the Divine nature! Only conceive what is held out to us--the glorious promise that we shall behold the glory that He had with the Father before the world was! The apostle says, “whose house are we, if we hold this fast”; if this is manifest in our feelings and deportment. We must get that kind of confidence that neither hell nor earth can shake, and that is to be got by implicit trust in the promises of the Lord. So again the expectation: you are to hold fast the confidence “and the rejoicing of the hope.” What hope? That He will come again; “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ”; that is the hope. There is a rejoicing of common expectation; but the expectation of the Christian must be definite. Let me give you two or three important practical rules for retaining this confidence and hope.
1. First of all, thoroughly understand the relationship into which you enter when you enter the house of Christ. Understand thoroughly your relation to God the Father. It is in proportion as you see that, together with your relationship to the Son and Holy Ghost, that you feel confidence that you shall hold fast. Feel this: if God be my Farther, will He give me a stone if I ask Him for bread? Certainly not. Then how much more will He not give me His own Spirit if Christ be my own Saviour? Will He withhold the robe of righteousness in which I may stand before Him? Certainly not, if Christ died that I might have it. If the Holy Ghost be an indweller of my soul, will He quit me? Certainly not.
2. Then another thing bear in mind that you should hold fast; that this work is the work of the Holy Ghost, through whatever instrumentality the Holy Ghost may operate on you. Learn, therefore, to exercise an unqualified dependence on the Holy Ghost. While you are using every possible means, learn to be always dependent on the Holy Ghost, as completely as though you did nothing, at the same time remembering that the Holy Ghost does work by means.
3. Another thing: remember that the path of duty is the path in which all these things are met with and enjoyed. (C. Molyneux, M. A.)
The Church Christ’s house
No less power was requisite to make the Church than to make the world. The world was made out of nothing, the Church made out of materials altogether unfit for such a building. Christ, who is God, drew the platform of the Church, provided the materials, and by almighty power disposed them to receive the reform. He has compacted and united this His house, and has settled the orders of it, and crowned all with His own presence, which is the true glory of this house of God. (M. Henry.)
Christ in relation to the true Church
I. HE OWNS IT.
1. This proprietorship is founded on His creative work.
2. His redemptive work.
II. HE OCCUPIES IT.
1. As a permanent Resident.
2. As a hospitable Host.
3. As A Master. (Homilist.)
Whose house are we
Christians are God’s house
What a singular honour is this, that we should be God’s house--yea, His dwelling-house.
I. A nobleman hath many houses, which he dwells not in himself, but letteth them forth to other men. We are not houses to let, but God Himself dwelleth in us; we are His mansion-house. It pleaseth Him of His infinite mercy to dwell in such base houses as we are.
2. If God dwell in us, and we be His house, then bow neat and handsome should it be kept. Shall a king’s house be overgrown with weeds Shall there be filthy corners in a king’s palace? And shall we that profess ourselves to be God’s house he full of pride, envy, and malice? The devil found his house swept and garnished to his mind, and shall not God’s house be swept for the entertaining of Him? Let us garnish ourselves, which are God’s house, with the sweet flowers of faith, love, hope, zeal, humility, temperance, patience, sobriety, that God may take delight to dwell in us.
3. There is no man, especially if he dwell in a house, and it be his own, but will bestow needful reparations on it; and do you think God will suffer His house to lie unrepaired? Nay, being God’s house, we shall want nothing for soul or body. If we decay in faith, zeal, and other graces of His Spirit, He will in due season repair them again; He will keep His house wind-tight and water-tight; He will preserve it from wind and weather--yea, the gates of hell shall never prevail against His house.
4. A man may have a house and be defeated of it: some wrangling lawyer may wring it out of his hand, or he may be weary of his house, and make it away. None can snatch God’s house out of His hand; He is no changeling; He will keep His house for ever. What? are we the house of God simply? Live as we list, and do what we will? No, verily; but if we hold fast the confidence, &c. One special quality of a good house is to be firm and stable. If it be a tottering house, ready to shake in every wind and tempest, a man will have small joy to dwell in it; even so, we that be the house of
God Almighty must not be wavering and inconstant, but we must stand sure, and hold fast the graces we have received. There be two things which we must hold fast: faith and hope; the boldness that we have by faith to come into the presence of God, to whom we have access by Christ, apprehended by faith, and by virtue whereof we may boldly call God Father, and open our minds freely to Him--that is the nature of the word. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Of those who are the house of Christ
This pronoun (we)
may be taken two ways
1. Jointly, for the whole Catholic Church, which is the society of all that ever did or shall believe in Jesus Christ.
2. Distinctly, for every particular believer. For the body of a particular professor is said to be the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). Fitly are saints styled a house.
1. As stones and timber, they are brought together and fitly laid, and that for God to dwell among them (2 Corinthians 6:16).
2. As a house is set upon a foundation (Luke 6:48), so are saints built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-stone (Ephesians 2:20).
3. As Solomon’s temple was beautified and adorned with silver, gold, variety of pictures, and other ornaments (2 Chronicles 3:4; 1 Kings 6:29), so saints are decked and adorned with the various graces of God s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
4. As a house inhabited hath a governor over them, so the society of saints have one over them who is called the Master of the house (Matthew 10:25).
5. As in a house there is a household which consisteth of children, servants, and others, so in the Church of God (Matthew 15:26; Luke 11:7).
6. As in a great house there are variety of officers, so in the Church there are stewards, ministers, and others (2Co 12:28).
7. As in a house all needful provision useth to be stored up, so in this house of Christ there is bread of life, water of life, and needful food and refreshing.
Singular comforts must needs hence arise to those that are parts and members of this house; and that by reason of
1. The sure foundation whereon it is settled (1Co
2. The fast knitting of the parts of the house together Ephesians 2:21).
3. The excellent ornaments thereof, which are the glorious graces of God’s Spirit,
4. The good laws and constitutions for better governing the same, being all contained in the Word of God.
5. The wise Governor thereof.
6. The excellent household.
7. The useful offices in it.
8. The variety and sufficiency of provisions appertaining thereto.
That which is expected of such as are of this house is
1. That they cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18). Otherwise this house of Christ may prove the devil’s stye.
2. That they deck and adorn themselves with the graces of God’s Spirit Colossians 3:12).
3. That they be subject to their Governor, and to the good orders that He establisheth among them.
4. That they be content with the place and portion which the Master of the household allots unto them.
5. That they maintain unity amongst themselves; for a house divided against itself shall not stand (Matthew 12:25). (W. Gouge.)
If we hold fast the confidence
This conditional speech importeth
1. That some professors in the visible Church may make defection, and not persevere to the end.
2. That such as shall make final defection hereafter are not a part of God’s house for the present, howsoever they be esteemed.
3. That true believers must take warning, from the possibility of some professors’ apostasy, to look the better to themselves, and to take a better gripe of Christ, who is able to keep them.
4. That true believers both may and should hold fast their confidence unto the end; yea, and must aim to do so, if they would persevere.
5. That true believers have ground and warrant, in the promises of the gospel, both to hope for salvation, and to rejoice and glory in that hope, as if it were present possession.
6. That the more a man aimeth at this solid confidence and gloriation of hope, the more evidence he giveth that he is of the true house of God. (D. Dickson, M. A.)
The word which is rendered “confidence” in this verse is not the same as that which appears in other places in the same chapter. “We are made partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end,” says the fourteenth verse. “We are His house if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” The two things are substantially the same, and yet there is a shade of difference in the meaning of each of them. The word in my text translated “confidence” literally means “frank speech” saying everything is literally the rendering of the expression. And the thought is just this, when you are upon terms of perfect confidence with anybody, as we say, we “know him,” or “I can say anything I like to him.” And that is the sort of thing this writer enjoins as the essential of the Christian man’s relationship to God. Two friends, two lovers, a parent and a child, that understand each other, it does not matter much what they are talking about; anything will serve, because each knows that down to the very bottom of the other heart it is joy to that other heart to make itself manifest. But if there be the slightest tinge of distrust or alienation, like a sensitive plant, the leaves all fold themselves together, and so shut themselves up, and constraining silence comes. So, says my text, this marks the true relation to God, that there is such perfect trust that there is perfect frankness. And so you get, you know, such other words as these in this same Epistle, about “having access with confidence,” about “coming boldly to the Throne of grace,” and the like, all of them carrying the same suggestion of intimacy. Hold fast the frank speech, which is a child of trust, and the trust which is the parent of the frank speech. And my text gives us a practical hint when it calls this temper and disposition the confidence of hope. It is precisely in the measure in which we cherish the Christian hope with regard to that future--that guilt, and with guilt anxiety, and with anxiety fear, being all doneaway with, there comes this full and free communication. The child that doubts the father’s favour, and is conscious of its own faults, sulks in the corner and says nothing. The child that is sure of its Father’s forgiveness, and is conscious of its own faults, has no rest till it tells its faults. And so the frankness which comes of confidence is based upon that assurance which covers all the future with a great light of hope, and all the past with a great light of pardon and oblivion. And then the other side of this disposition is conveyed by that other significant word, “Hold fast,” not only the confidence, but the “glorying,” which is more nearly the meaning of the word than the “rejoicing” of our version, the “glorying,” which likewise is the fruit of hope. Now, this “glorying” does not mean an act of glorying, but it means the subject matter, or the occasion. That is to say, it does not describe a man’s disposition or notion, but it describes something outside of him, which excites that emotion, and on which it is fixed. So you see my text has two horns to it, as it were; the one lays hold of something in me, and says to me, “You see to it that you hold fast your confidence,” and the other points to something without me, and says, “In order that you may see that you keep hold of the thing which entitles you to rejoice, to triumph, to glory, to boast yourselves.” That is to say, we have here set forth the great facts of the gospel, all gathered up into that one word, the matter for our boasting, and that boasting which is no self-complacent bragging of our own strength, but a certain triumphant exultation in a thing that lies outside of us, and with which we have nothing to do but accept it, that glorying, the confidence of which I have been speaking, is, in a certain sense, the child of hope. For the more we are familiar with the great issues to which God is leading us, if we will, the more we shall keep firm hold of the ground for rejoicing and triumph which lies in the message of His love. And all life with all its bitterness, with its changes, and defeats, and sorrows, it will all, smitten, as it were, into beauty by this light of the future that falls upon it, it too will all become material for triumph, for exultation, for gladness. And now let me say a word as to the effort that is required to keep this hold of which my text speaks. The word is a very vivid and very natural one, the metaphor strong but most familiar, the grasp of a muscular hand which tightens itself round something that it will not part with, is set before us as the analogue to which our Christian disposition and temper is to be conformed. And so we come just to these two practical advices--“Hold fast the inward emotion; and hold fast the outward Object upon which it rests.” How do you hold fast an inward emotion? How call we stereotype and make permanent the flowing currents of our inward life? Perhaps not absolutely is it possible for us to do so. All emotion is evanescent. Well then, swiftly renew it as it dies. The carbon points in the electric lamp burn away with tremendous rapidity, but there is a little mechanical action behind them which keeps pushing them forward with proportionate swiftness, so that there is always a fresh surface presented to be consumed and to be illuminated. And so you and I can do, day by day renewing the temper which day by day is dropping away, as it were, burnt out, we can cultivate the habit of frank speech to God. If you want to hold fast your confidence, cultivate as you can the habit of coming near to God, and telling Him everything. And that we may, let us beware of dropping into the evils which certainly will break that communion and will darken that confidence. For no man will be on frank terms with God that has not got coiled in his heart some evil which he knows to be a devil, and yet will not cast out. And then, on the other hand, as we have to cultivate the inward emotion, so we have to cultivate our firm grasp of the outward thing, the material and ground of our glorying and of our hope. All muscular effort tends to relaxation. That is to say, if a man lays hold of a rope ever so tightly, unless there is a continual renewal of the muscular impulse the grasp will slacken by degrees. There are three ways by which you lose your hold of God’s truth. Some of you let it be dragged out of your hands by violence; some of you let it drop out of your hands by carelessness; and some of you fling it away out of your hands because you want to clutch something else. And so for all three ways by which men lose their Christianity here comes the exhortation: hold fast the ground of your glorying, and keep a tight grip of Jesus Christ. Those whose slack hands let Him go generally open their hands a finger at a time, or a joint at a time, and do not know what they are doing until the palm is open and empty. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Marks of the Church of God
Here the apostle setteth down three especial marks by which the children of God are known: the first is the joy of their hope; the second, the assurance of it; the third, the constancy and perseverance unto the end. And let us not think but that God hath done thus with us, whom He hath chosen to eternal life. He hath prepared our hearts to know and feel His unspeakable gift which He hath given us; for if we should bestow any gift upon men, we are not so unwise to give a precious thing unto him that knows not what it is; we would not give him a diamond that would think it to be a piece of glass, nor we would not give him a pearl that would think it to be a grain of salt, for we should lose both our labour and our thanks. And shall we think the Lord will so bestow His heavenly blessings? Will He give His gifts to those that know them not, who cannot give Him again the praise of His goodness? No, He will never do it; but, as Peter saith, He hath taken us for His own people to the end we should show forth His virtues that hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light; and therefore, if we be in the covenant of His grace, appointed to the inheritance of His glory, it is impossible we should not feel the comfort of it, and know the height and breadth of His great mercy and grace. Another thing here to be learned, if we will know ourselves to be this house and Church of God, is, that as we hold this hope, so we must hold it steadfast and without wavering unto the end, for so, the apostle saith, we must have steadfast assurance of our hope; he calleth it in the sixth chapter “a frill persuasion of hope.” St. Paul calleth it his intentive hope, a hope in which he shall never be frustrate. So that this assurance is in a true and living hope, and it casteth out mistrust and wavering, even as faith doth, for faith and hope cannot be separate, neither in nature nor property; but if you have faith, you have hope, and as your faith is, so is your hope--a sure faith, a lively hope; a wavering faith, a blind hope; for our faith is a persuasion of the love of God in Christ, and our hope is an apprehension of the glory which by that love is given unto us. It cannot be that we should know the love and grace of God, which is our faith, but we must know the fruit of His love, that is, His glory and eternal life, which is our hope; if therefore we be sure that God doth love us in Jesus Christ, we are also sure that God will glorify us through Jesus Christ; and as our faith rejoiceth in God’s favour, so our hope rejoiceth in God’s glory; and as our faith is sure that nothing shall separate the love of God from us, so our hope longeth after the incorruptible inheritance which we feel and know is laid up in heaven. So this constancy and boldness of our hope, without wavering, laid up in our breasts, and crying still within us, “Come, Lord Jesu,” this hope is our warrant we be the house of God. Now, the third thing which we must here mark for our instruction is perseverance, for so he saith, “We must hold our rejoicing continual unto the end.” A most necessary thing, and such as without which all our labour is lost, but a thing hard to attain unto, know it by the experience of it, for scarce one of a great many doth grow up into fervency of zeal and so continueth unto the end. And therefore the more danger is unto us in this behalf, the more watchful we must be to avoid the peril. The greatest enemy we have to make us fall, that we should not hold this constancy to the end, is our own flesh. And if it may have any rule in this work we are undone, for flesh will like of nothing long. Even as Solomon saith, the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing; but be the tune never so sweet, at last we desire another. (E. Deering, B. D.)
The nature and advantages of the believer’s confidence
I. ON WHAT THE STRENGTH AND PERMANENCY OF THIS FEELING OF CONFIDENCE DEPENDS, It depends on a continued realisation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great object of our faith, and an enlargement of our views concerning His glory and excellency. No desire or resoluteness on our part to retain the sentiment of confidence will avail, without presentation to the mind of the object by which it is excited (see Hebrews 3:1-2). In the construction of this sentence, as well as in what follows, it is remarkable how the inspired writer always keeps in view the connection of those whom he addresses with Him of whom He speaks. Is He an Apostle or High Priest?--it is “of our profession.” Is He a Son over His own house?--it is added, “whose house are we.” This appropriation of Him to usgives us a peculiar interest in all that is said of Him.
II. THE ADVANTAGES OF THIS FEELING OF CONFIDENCE AS PROMOTING THE MORAL GOOD OF THE SOUR. Whilst the great question of our peace with God remains undecided, the prevailing motive under which any religious effort can be put forth is fear; itself not the legitimate motive, but leagued as it must be with the paralysing influence of uncertainty on so momentous a concern, it can have no steady or permanent efficacy in producing efforts for good. Therefore, the apostle says, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption.” Unquestionably a spirit of fear is not a spirit of power; and those moralists who expect great results by exciting fear in the minds of men must be disappointed; it is as if a general should expect to achieve a great victory by filling the minds of his soldiers with fear when entering on the contest. We know how easy, and in many cases how successful, an enterprise is made by having the mind supported by confidence in matters of this world; the same principle holds in religion, that a spirit of confidence in God is a spirit of power for enduring and accomplishing what His holy will requires. There is, no doubt, a material difference between the confidence of the men ,,f this world, connected as it is with high self-estimation, and leading to presumption and insolence which often defeat itself, and that confidence of the believer in God, which is connected with the lowest estimate of himself, and with the most entire meekness and humiliation of spirit, and which is seen, as often exercised in the patient endurance of reproaches and trials, as in the strenuousness of the soul for religious objects. But as human nature is constituted, peace of mind, with the hope of support, and enterprise, and success from God, all entering into the idea of a believer’s confidence, give him a spirit of power in the great undertaking of his soul’s salvation, by which he pursues a resistless course, utterly unknown to minds under the vacillating influence of uncertainty and fear--difficulties yield, and enemies are repelled before him; and there is a moral influence and dignity in his character to which the consciences of others give the secret homage due to power. But the main strength of the feeling of confidence towards God which faith begets consists in its exciting love to God, which is the great legitimate principle of moral obedience. Farther, the effect upon the understanding is no less striking or deserving of notice in forming an estimate of the moral efficacy of believing confidence in the truth of God. The apostle says that God hath given us “the spirit of a sound mind,” by which we are certainly to understand a greater degree of rationality, and of the influence of our reason on our heart and habits. It is easy to account for uncultivated men becoming intellectual, by having their minds strongly excited by the weight of an eternal interest to study, and reason from day to night upon the most profound of all subjects. And it is no less easy to determine why intellectual irreligious men cannot reason soundly upon religion--they have not been impelled to inquiry by the same pressure; they have not learned the views nor imbibed the principles which would enable them to reason, either with sense or safety, on this momentous subject. It is not the mere exercise of the understanding, but the nature of the subjects about which it is conversant, that gives it force as a moral engine, the greatest metaphysician may be completely outdone in judging of matters of common life by a man of plain common sense, and in matters connected with the soul’s salvation his judgment may be completely outdone by a plain Bible Christian. But even when the mind has been employed with the utmost attention on the truth, and comes to its conclusions, their efficacy is small and unabiding until the confidence of faith in the Divine testimony becomes a fixed sentiment in the mind. A conclusion depending on a process of reasoning may strongly impress us whilst we retain the recollection of the process by which we arrived at it; but when that is lost, its impression is weak, and utterly fails before an opposing temptation. How often is it the case with men that they feel little confidence in their own conclusions, however legitimately they may appear to have arrived at them, unless they are fortified by the concurring opinions of those who are reputed wise. This observation leads to the conclusion to which we desire you to come on this subject--that it is not the mere cultivation of the faculty of reason, nor its exercise on the appropriate subjects, that give it real force and steadiness for habitually influencing our moral character, but the distinct apprehension of the Divine testimony concurring with and sanctioning the different positions to which the mind has assented. Reason and faith in the Christian are closely allied in that exercise, for though the Christian must, on the testimony of God, receive some things as true which are above the comprehension of his reason in the present state, God does not propose to him what is contrary to it; and in the peculiar points, the faith of which is essential to salvation, God leads the human mind to an understanding of that which He requires it to believe.
III. THE INFLUENCE THIS CONFIDENCE HAS ON HAPPINESS. In its lowest degree it produces a repose of the soul, to which the gay and thoughtless of this world are utter strangers. It is equally obvious that the state of mind in which it possesses energy to pursue the dictates of the higher faculties, wherein it is exempted from the control of degrading passions, and especially has its leading affection its chief desire, toward that great Source of all good, to which, by its original relations, it was allied, and for enjoying which its capacities were framed, must be the happiest state of the soul; and that all apparent happiness, in a different state, is as delusive in its nature as it is transitory in its duration. Recourse to God, considered in itself, is at all times an unfailing source of joy to the soul that has confidence in Him. It is inward, and independent of outward combinations, which he could not command; it accords with stillness and retirement, which are so irksome to the children of pleasure; it purifies and ennobles the soul; nor is there in it, when rightly understood, the least vestige of delusiveness or enthusiasm; for, though not depending upon sense, or carried on through its medium, its evidence of reality is quite as satisfactory. He whose soul goes out in confidence to God knows God’s existence--His attention to his desires--His approbation of the confidence which the soul cherishes in Him from the testimony of His written Word--of that Record of Truth which will survive and prove its reality when all the objects of time and sense shall have passed away for ever. (Donald Fraser, D. D.)
Means for perseverance
To help us on in holding out, these graces following, among others, are very useful.
1. Humility. This is the basis and foundation when the fore-mentioned house is settled. Christ saith that a man who builds a sure house digs deep Luke 6:48). God giveth grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34). For this very end we are forbidden to be high-minded, lest we fall (Romans 11:20). Self-conceitedness and pride make men careless (Revelation 3:17).
2. Sincerity. Tills is an inward soundness. If the foundation be not sound, the edifice cannot be well settled on it. Soundness is that which maketh last and endure. Sappy, rotten timber will quickly fail. Counterfeit grace will not last.
3. A settled resolution to hold out to the end (Psalms 119:106).
4. Jealousy. Jealousy, I say, in regard of the temptations whereunto we are subject, and of our own weakness. Satan is subtle (1 Peter 5:8). Sin is deceitful (Hebrews 3:13); and we are of ourselves foolish, and prone to yield to sin and Satan. If we be secure or careless, we may be soon taken as birds in a net.
5. Prudence. For the manifestation hereof avoid occasions which may draw thee out of thy Christian course.
6. Growth in grace. By this we shall be the more strengthened and the better enabled to hold out.
7. Walking with God. By this he that never saw death pleased God all the days of his life (compare Genesis 5:24 with Hebrews 11:5).
8. Stedfast expectation of the prize or reward that is set before thee. It is said of Moses that he had respect unto the recompense of the reward Hebrews 11:26).
9. Prayer-faithful, fervent, constant prayer. Christ used this means for Himself (Hebrews 5:7). This means He also used that Peter’s faith might not fail. By the foresaid means we may continue to enjoy our spiritual strength, as Caleb did his bodily strength (Joshua 14:11), and as Moses, whose natural force abated not (Deuteronomy 34:7), we shall still bring forth fruit in old age (Psalms 92:14). (W. Gouge.)
An established, experienced, hopeful Christian is, in the world, like an iceberg in a swelling sea. The waves rise and fall. Ships strain and shiver, and nod on the agitated waters. But the iceberg may be seen from far, receiving the breakers on its snow-white side, casting them off unmoved, and, where all else is rocking to and fro, standing stable like the everlasting hills. The cause of its steadiness is its depth, Its bulk is bedded in calm water beneath the tumult that rages on the surface. Although, like the ships, it is floating in the water, it receives and throws off the angry waves like the rocks that gird the shores. Behold the condition and attitude of Christians! They float in the same sea of life with other men, and bear the same buffetings; but they are not driven hither and thither, the sport of wind and water. The wave strikes them, breaks over them, and hisses past in foam; but they remain unmoved. They were not caught by surprise while they had a slight hold of the surface. The chief part of their being lies deep beyond the reach of these superficial commotions. Their life, “hid with Christian God,” bears without breaking all the strain of the storm. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Example of stability
The Macrocystis pyrifera is a marine plant, rising from a depth of one hundred and fifty or two hundred feet, and floating for many fathoms on the surface of the sea. Darwin says, “I know few things more surprising than to see this plant growing and thriving amid the great breakers of the Western Ocean, which no masses of rock, however hard, can long resist. The stem is round, slimy, and smooth, and seldom has a diameter of so much as an inch.” How great its resistance to withstand the strain of such a sea! In spite of storm and breakers, the species maintains itself from century to century; for the strength with which it clings to the naked rock, and faces the fury of the elements, has been poised by the wisdom of God. (J. Hartwig.)
Means of stability
As we tie a tender tree to some other tree that it may not be broken by the winds, and cast anchor in a storm to fix the ship that it may not be driven by the tempest; so ought we to join and apply our weak and faint hearts to the firm pillar of God’s word, and fix the ship of our souls by the anchor of hope, that it sink not. (John Arndt.)
Confidence in death
Donald Cargill, on the scaffold, July 27, 1681, as he handed his well-used Bible to one of his friends that stood near, gave this testimony: “I bless the Lord that these thirty years and more I have be, n at peace with God, and was never shaken loose of it. And now I am as sure of my interest in Christ, and peace with God, as all within this Bible and the Spirit of God can make me. And I am no more terrified at death, or afraid of hell because of sin, than if I had never had sin: for all my sins are freely pardoned and washed thoroughly away through the precious blood and intercession of Jesus Christ.”
Confidence to the end
The time came when Luther was to write no more. He was at Eisleben, attending a Protestant synod. It was the 17th February, 1546. He felt that he was dying. “Pray, brethren; oh! pray for the spread of the gospel,” he said to his fellow-labourers. Then he took a turn or two in the room, and lay down. “Friends, I am dying. Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit.” “Reverend father,” said Dr. Jonas, “do you die firm in the faith you have taught?” Luther opened his eyes, which were half-closed, looked fixedly at Jonas, and replied, firmly and distinctly, “Yes.” That was the last word he uttered; then his great spirit went home.
As the Holy Ghost saith
The authority of the Scripture is not of man, but of the Holy Ghost.
2. The Scriptures are no dumb letter, but the voice of the Holy Ghost, who by them speaketh.
3. The Holy Ghost is God, the Inspirer of the prophets that wrote the Scripture.
4. The Holy Ghost is a distinct person of the Godhead from the Father and the Son, exercising the proper actions of a person inspiring the prophets, inditing the Scriptures, and speaking to the Church. (D. Dickson, M. A.)
To day, if ye will hear His voice. -
The voice of Jesus
are the voices audible to man throughout this terrestrial sphere. As he journeys on the pathway of life, they salute his ears at every step. In the busy city, the secluded hamlet, the open field; in the arid desert, and on glassy ocean, their words are heard. These voices are vastly dissimilar in their utterances and in their tones, and are fraught with momentous consequences to man. There is creation’s voice, and they who lend an attentive ear will find “ tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in tones, and good in every thing.” Then there is the voice of conscience, which proclaims sin and guilt, warns of misdoing, and harasses with fears. Then there are a multitude of human voices which make glad the heart. The voice of a mother, resonant with ineffable tenderness. The voice of friendship, how it brightens the eye, awakens sympathy, cheers in the hour of adversity. How welcome the voice of mercy, as it announces pardon to the transgressor, or utters a gracious reprieve to the condemned. Then there are other voices, the object of whose utterance is to lure man from the path of virtue, degrade, and destroy. But amid these multifarious voices, the one referred to in our text ever sounds distinct. Like sweetest music it falls upon the ear of the soul, and, when listened to, makes melody in the heart. It is the voice of Divine love, compared with which human affection sinks into insignificance. It sounds in the ear of the sinner and tells of liberty, comfort, strength. Sometimes this voice is preceded by manifestations of Almighty power such as occurred to Elijah on Horeb’s mount. The destructive wind of adversity may break in pieces the mountain of earthly prospects; the fire of personal afflictions may threaten to consume our bodies; and then follows the still, small voice, proclaiming the illusive character of the fleeting things of time. This voice is constantly asking admission to the human heart Revelation 3:20). The saints of old heard it, and were filled with joy; the disciples, journeying, heard it, and their hearts burned within them. Saul of Tarsus heard it, and it crushed out all his pride, laid him low in the dust, subdued his rebellious spirit, and evoked the prayer--“Lord, what wilt Thou have me do? “ But how many close their ears to that voice, and turn away from the loving Saviour t The hue of health flushes the cheek, vigorous physical life is theirs, easy circumstances surround them, and all will be well. The period when we are to hear that voice is to-day; now is the accepted time, this is the day of salvation. By to-morrow the pulse may cease its beating. “To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” He asks your attention, your heart, your soul, your all; but He uses no compulsion. If ye will hear! (R. Kingshott.)
An admonitory address
I. THE GREATNESS OF THE SPEAKER.
1. He who addresses you is Christ the Redeemer. This calls for serious consideration.
2. It is He who has witnessed all your past life and behaviour.
3. It is He who will judge you at last, as having a perfect knowledge of your whole life.
4. His judgment is “upright.” Then there will be no mercy, but all will be judgment.
II. THE THINGS WHICH CHRIST SAYS.
1. He says that your time is gone! This is a serious address.
2. He says that eternity is at hand!--a long, a never-ending eternity!
3. Christ farther says, What have you done with your privileges, and how have you improved the means of grace in past time?
4. Christ still farther says, When will you be ready, and what would make you ready to enter into glory?
III. THE TIME SET FOR YOUR HEARING THESE THINGS is mentioned in our text as being” today”--not to-morrow.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF ATTENDING TO OR NEGLECTING THESE THINGS. If repentance be obtained, heaven will be your everlasting happy home. If sin continues, hell will be your doom. (James Kidd, D. D.)
A dissuasive from procrastination
I. There is a voice which may, with emphatic propriety, be termed THE VOICE OF GOD.
1. the providences of God, particularly those of an afflictive nature.
2. The sacred Word--both law and gospel.
II. THE VOICE OF GOD DEMANDS OUR SERIOUS ATTENTION,
1. Should a servant decline the reasonable commands of his master--a son, the gentle authority of his father--or a subject turn his back upon his prince, who might condescend to address him?
2. The nature of the subject upon which He deigns to address us is another reason for our attention to His voice. He calls us to no hard service. He invites us to approach that we may receive those blessings which constitute the happiness of man.
III. YOUR ATTENTION TO THE VOICE OF GOD SHOULD BE WITHOUT DELAY.
IV. IF WE WOULD LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF GOD WE SHOULD BE CAUTIOUS NOT TO ADOPT A CONDUCT WHICH WILL PREVENT OUR ATTENTION TO ITS ADMONITIONS.
1. Yon must avoid that state of insensibility into which so many nominal Christians have fallen.
2. It will be of equal importance that you also studiously avoid the inordinate cares of life, which first this obstruct and then close up the avenues to the soul, and so produce a fatal insensibility.
3. Moreover, it will be of vast consequence that you avoid temptation; for the mind is rendered insensible in proportion as it becomes familiar with sin.
4. Finally, beware of the whirlpool of scepticism--the dangerous shoals and fatal rocks of infidelity. (S. Lowell.)
Peril of delaying repentance
Not to listen to God’s voice (evil and perilous though it be) is a far lesser evil than to will not to listen to it. Men fail to listen through the impulse of passion; they will not to listen through deliberate choice. A single sin, grave though it be, is of human infirmity; to defer repentance, when called, is deliberately to reject God.
1. He does not promise you time. One time is our’s, now. The past is gone; the future is not yet. One time we ever have, a time fleeting by, an ever-passing present. God renews to us this present again and again, in every moment of our being. You can attend, or pray, or resolve at this moment. When the next is come, you may, if God’s grace continues, do the same. But you cannot efface what you have done; you cannot replace what you have left undone. But there will be a morrow which will have no to-morrow except eternity. God has promised pardon to the penitent, but where has He promised a morrow to the procrastinator?
2. He has not promised thee grace. He gives His grace at all times freely. We have no claim upon it; else it were not grace, but debt. He gives it overflowing, without, beyond, against our deserts. But He gives it with wisdom also. He gives it although it is abused; but He does not give it in order that it should be abused, or to encourage man’s abuse of it. But it would be to encourage man’s abuse of it, to store it up for those who not only again and again refuse it, but who refuse it now because they may have it hereafter (Romans 2:4-5). What is it but to make the mercy of God the occasion of sin, to sin on now, because God is so good, that thou thinkest that He will give thee grace to repent hereafter? And when wishest thou that He should give thee grace to amend? Next year? or the next? or the next? No! In none of these, if thou art even thus far honest with thyself, dost thou wish to amend. No, not yet. How is this? Because thou knowest full well, that even in these six years, thy passions will not be exhausted, thy desires will not be weakened; the wants which thou suppliest unlawfully will still be craving; the evil habits which thou nurturest will be even strengthened; the embers of thy earthly fires will not have died out. “When, then,” God may ask, “wilt thou choose Me?” Alas, if thou speakest truly, thou wilt say, “When I have nothing else to prefer to Thee.” God is nothing to thee. Thou wantest, willest, wishest nothing of God, but to escape Him. It is not God thou choosest, but thyself still. One thing alone thou really choosest, impunity in sin. Those who picture to themselves future repentance, picture to themselves at best only the exchange of pleasure for pleasure, unlawful pleasure, it may be, for lawful; but mostly they picture to themselves a time when they shall be worn out to the world and the world to them, in sickness or death. Then they would give up what they cannot keep; they would part with what has parted with them; and they would receive in exchange--not God whom they know not, but--in some way, they know not how, escape from hell.
3. But wilt thou then have the will to repent? Judge of the future from the past. Think of the time when thou wert just hesitating on the borders of sin, when it first looked pleasant to thee, when first thou was tempted to some slight forbidden gain to take some little thing that was not thine, to give way to some childish or youthful vanity, to taste some slight forbidden pleasure. If thou hast not repented yet, hast thou more or less mastery over thyself now than then? Is it easier to thee to abstain from greater sin now than from lesser sin then? Too surely, thy bands have been bound faster around thee; thy desires have become stronger; thy will weaker. People sin, out of the very habit of sinning. Sin wears out the heart, the mind, the soul, the strength; not itself. It lives on upon the life of soul and body. It lives upon their destruction; but itself thrives and is vigorous in their decay. You have seen the fungous, unsubstantial, putrid, stinking, disgusting, poisonous, fed from the yet living tree. You know it to be the token of decaying life on which it feeds. Such is sin. Its seat is in the will. It corrupts the will. The corrupted will anticipates the sin in act; it survives the power to enact. Avarice, falsehood, hatred, censoriousness, vanity, hypocrisy, love of ill-gotten goods, impurity, will live on in the aged sinner’s soul; they will accompany him to the last; they will pass out of this world with him and in him; but whither will they accompany him? Will they escort him, as an angel-train, guarding him from the evil spirits, who wait for the departure of the disembodied soul, to seize on their lawful prey? Will they carry him to Abraham’s bosom, into the realms of peace and truth and love, where nothing defile, I shall enter? Will they present him before the judgment-seat of Christ, who bids us to love one another as He has loved us, to purify ourselves as He is pure, to deny ourselves as He denied Himself and emptied Himself of His glory that He might take our shame, and thereby bring us to partake of His glory and His love? (E. B.Pusey, D. D.)
Taking the first opportunity of grace
1. It is God which worketh in us both to will and to do (Philippians if. 13). And no man can come to Christ except the Father draw him (John 6:44). Is it not then a point of wisdom to yield when God draws?
2. Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth; therefore put not off the grace that is offered thee to-day. Boast not thyself of to-morrow Proverbs 27:1).
3. By putting off an opportunity men make themselves more unfit for another opportunity; for sin, the longer it groweth the stronger it groweth, and the heart useth to be more hardened by putting off means of softening. As they who had received grace were exhorted to persevere therein, put not off to-day, much less let childhood put off to youth, or youth to man-age, or man-age to old-age, or old-age to death-bed. (W. George.)
The offer of salvation
1. That while men have the offer of salvation and the word preached unto them, it is their day.
2. That by the outward hearing, God requireth the heart to be brought down and mollified.
3. That He requireth present yielding, to-day, while he calleth, without delay, because we cannot be sure how long God will spare or continue his offer beyond this present.
4. He that studieth not to yield his heart to believe and obey God’s word, sounding in his cars, hardeneth his heart. For what is it else not to harden their heart, but heartily to believe and give obedience? (D. Dickson, M. A.)
I. THE VOICE THAT SPEAKS. “To-day if ye will hear His voice”: whose voice? The voice of God. It is the Holy Ghost that speaks, the source of all inspiration; so that all Scripture may be regarded as “His voice.” And if it he the voice of God, does it not demand your deep attention, your prompt obedience? Shall God speak, and man refuse to hear? Nor does He speak to you in vengeance, but in love. He does not make His appeal to-day to the sword of justice, but He makes His appeal to the blood of His Cross. And Obadiah 1:0 can there be any subject more momentous--involving, as it does, your highest interests for time and for eternity? “To-day if ye will hear His voice.” But how does He speak? Most impressively, most earnestly: by His Word, by His Gospel, by His providence, by your teas, in, by your conscience. But what does He say? There are two subjects, on which He addresses you: your own condition as a sinner in His sight--your guilt, pollution, and depravity; and the rich provision of His mercy in the mediatorial character and work of His beloved Son.
II. THE PROMPT AND IMMEDIATE ATTENTION IT DEMANDS. “To-day if ye will hear His voice.” Why “to-day”? Because to-day all is ready. The great salvation is ready; the way of access to the throne is ready; the great Intercessor there is ready; the angels that hover over this assembly are ready; and the Church on earth is ready, to bid you welcome to its communion, Why “to-day”? why “to-day”? Because you will never have a more suitable season than to-day. Be assured, that the longer you delay, the more deep and firm will be the hold which the world will get of your heart; “ the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches,” like the thorns in the parable, will have grown up to choke every good resolution. Why “to-day”? why “to-day”? Because you have delayed long enough. Ah! too long--too long. You should have heard His voice long ago; you should have heard His voice in the days of your youth; you should have heard His voice in early childhood. You should have heard His voice the first time He spoke to you. You should have heard His voice in the advantages which you enjoyed; in parental instruction--in the Sabbath School-under a faithful ministry. Why “to-day”? why “to.day”? Because you may not see to-morrow. Amid the stillness of “this night,” death may enter in at your window. Or to-morrow may come, and this voice not speak to you to-morrow. Or if the voice speak to you to-morrow, you may not be in circumstances to profit by it. Now, it convinces of sin; to-morrow it may not convince. Now, conscience speaks; but to-morrow conscience may be seared.
III. THE SOLEMN WARNING, the admonition, the remonstrance, by which a prompt and immediate attention to the voice that speaks to you is enforced. “To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
1. “Harden not your heart” with infidel objections. Do not say--“The Scripture is not true.” Have you proved it? Can you stake eternity upon it? You know you cannot!
2. Do not “harden your heart” by saying you cannot believe. You will not. It is not for want of evidence, but for want of inclination.
3. Do not say, “I am not responsible for my belief.” Iris false. You are responsible for your belief; the great God holds you responsible for your belief; and so far from your not being responsible for your belief, your destiny will turn upon it. It is upon that very thing it will hinge. “He that believeth, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned.”
4. “Harden not your heart.” Oh! think of the consequences if you do. The result is inevitable; the consequence is infallible. He will turn upon you in indignation, who now bends to you in condescension and love. The cup of salvation is handed round amongst you; dash it not untasted from your lips. The sceptre of His grace is stretched out to you; touch it and live. (T. Raffles, D. D.)
Instant consideration of religion recommended
I. THE EXCELLENCE OF RELIGION, AND YOUR INTEREST IN THE PRACTICE OF IT. Both these are indisputable. What do you set your thoughts on, when you take the affairs of religion under your consideration? Is it not the glory of God, and your own salvation from sin and wrath? Now what is so excellent in itself, so honourable, so suitable to the capacities of thinking beings, as these pursuits which form the nature of practical religion?
II. THE UNCERTAINTY OF LIFE, AND TILE DANGER OF DYING UNPREPARED FOR ETERNITY. What is human life? A vapour, appearing a little while, and then vanishing.
III. THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD’S PRESENT DEMANDS. Whatever He requires of you now, He will require twenty or thirty years hence, should you live so long. The method of pardon is already fixed. The Unchangeable will never alter it. And if He will not, men cannot. If you dislike at present humiliation; if you feel now an aversion at a dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for justification; if the duties of holiness seem hard and disagreeable at this instant, they will for ever be so, in relation to depraved dispositions.
IV. THE LONGER IT IS DELAYED, YOUR AVERSION AND INABILITY TO IT WILL INCREASE. Was your life threatened with some distemper, how would you reason, and how would you act? Would you say, I will stay till I be a little worse, and then I will apply to a physician? Would it not be reckoned madness to sport in this manner with life and health?
V. THE NECESSITY OF AN OPERATION OF DIVINE GRACE ON YOUR SOULS. God is now striving with you. But what if these are the last touches He will ever give a heart so long hardened against Him? (Alex. Shanks.)
The solemn caution
I. THE VOICE REFERRED TO.
1. It is the voice of mercy.
2. It is the voice of Divine authority.
3. It is the only voice directly connected with the sinner’s salvation.
4. This voice addresses us through various mediums of communication.
II. THE ATTENTION DEMANDED.
1. That we hear so as to understand it.
2. That we hear so as to believe it.
3. That we hear so as to obey it.
III. THE SPECIFIED PERIOD FOR HEARING CHRIST’S VOICE,
3. Succeeded by the darkness of the grave.
IV. THE IMPORTANT CAUTION ANNEXED. “Harden not your hearts”
1. By inattention to the concerns of the soul.
2. By pursuing the works of darkness.
3. By yielding to the influences of unbelief.
4. By a sordid attachment to the present world. Application.
(1) You are all responsible, for the voice of Christ has repeatedly sounded in your ears.
(2) You have all your day--a period given for the improvement of your privileges and mercies.
(3) How necessary, then, to hear His voice! How important that you harden not your hearts!
(4) Let our influence be laid out in bringing the ignorant and perishing of our race to hear the joyful sound, that they may not perish for lack of knowledge!
(5) Let us be watching and preparing for the second advent of the Saviour, when they that are in their graves shall hear His voice and live. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Sinners entreated to hear God’s voice
1. The first motive which I shall set before you with this view, is the shortness and uncertainty of life. I urge you to become religious to-day, because you are not sure of to-morrow. Need I tell you, that you are frail as well as mortal; that you must not only die, but may die soon and suddenly? Who, let me ask, are the persons that die suddenly and unexpectedly? Are they the feeble, the infirm? No, observation will tell you, that they are the youthful, the vigorous, the strong. She will tell you that while the former, like a reed, bend before the blast and escape, the latter, like the stubborn oak, brave its fury, and are prostrated.
2. This remark suggests a second reason, why you should not postpone religion to another day. You cannot properly, or even lawfully, promise to give what is not your own. Now to-morrow is not yours; and it is yet uncertain whether it ever will be. To-day, then, is the only time which you can properly or lawfully give to God.
3. A third reason why you should commence a religious life to-day, is, that if you defer it, though but till to-morrow, you must harden your hearts against the voice of God. God commands you to commence immediately a religious life. Now if you do not comply, you must refuse, for there is no medium. Here then is a direct, wilful act of disobedience to God’s commands; and this act tends most powerfully to harden the heart; for after we have once disobeyed, it becomes more easy to repeat the disobedience. But this is not all. If you disobey, you must assign some excuse to justify your disobedience, or your consciences will reproach and render you uneasy; if no plausible excuse occurs, you will seek one. If none can readily be found, you will invent one. This also tends most powerfully to harden the heart. A man who is frequently employed in seeking arguments and excuses to justify his neglect of religion, soon becomes expert in the work of self-justification. He is, if I may so express it, armed at all points against the truth; so that in a little time nothing affects him, no arrow from the quiver of revelation can reach his conscience. But if, as is sometimes the case, his excuses prove insufficient, and his understanding and conscience become convinced, he can avoid compliance only by taking refuge in an obstinate refusal, or by resolutely diverting his attention to some other object, till God’s commands are forgotten, or by a vague kind of promise that he will become religious at some future period. Whichsoever of these methods he adopts, the present impression is effaced, and his heart is hardened. He has resisted the force of truth, and thus rendered it more easy for him to resist it again. In a word, he has less religious sensibility; he has become more inaccessible to conviction, and less disposed to yield to it, than before. Now this is precisely what the Scriptures mean by hardening the heart to-day. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The Holy Ghost saith “to-day”
It is the mistake and ruin of many, both young and old, that they believe and obey Satan rather than God. The one motto is “ to-day!” the other is “to-morrow!”
I. A CREST SPEAKER. Much depends, for the way in which we regard and treat what is said, on the person who says it. In connection with the Holy Ghost being the speaker here I have three remarks to make. In regard to what is said, you may be sure that.
1. It is important--for “the Holy Ghost saith” it. Much importance is attached to what great men say. A man’s position gives importance to what he says--a king, for instance, or a statesman, or a master, or a judge. How much more important is the word of the Holy Ghost, whether it be in the way of warning, or encouragement, or command, or reproof! When He comes to you, you may be sure it is some momentous errand that has brought Him; and while all Scripture is His Word, such a saying as that in our text is His, in a special sense, and is of peculiar significance. And as, when a king speaks, every voice is hushed, so when the Holy Spirit speaks, there may well be the deepest interest, attention, and reverence. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith.”
2. It is true--for “the Holy Ghost saith” it. Sometimes the word of the wisest and greatest is not to be trusted, and even the truest and best may mistake. Here is One who never deceived, never mistook, never was untrue, whose word never was broken--the Holy Ghost. He is the “ Spirit of truth.” His is the “ Scripture which cannot be broken.”
3. It is kind--for “the Holy Ghost saith” it. He is the Spirit of Love as well as of Truth. With what a gentle voice He speaks. I dare say you have seen people in anxiety about their souls. Their happiness was gone. And in regard to all this, you have heard it said that it was the Holy Spirit’s doing; and you have thought hardly of Him in consequence. And yet never was He more kind than when He did this very thing. When He awakens and alarms, it is to warn of coming danger, and lead to flight and safety. Will you not listen to Him as a loving Friend?
II. A MOMENTOUS WORD.
“To-day!” This is what the Holy Ghost says. It is a little word, but it has a world of meaning in it. It may be said to be at once a warning and an invitation.
1. It sets before us the time for repenting. Sin is rebellion against God, and each new sin is another act of rebellion still further endangering the rebel’s head. What is to be done? The sin must have an immediate arrest laid upon it--must be forsaken. Here is a boy who has begun to be in earnest about his soul. He knows he is lost. He would like to be saved. But he would like to keep his sins too, at least for a while. He is just like that lad, who, while working among the waggons on a railway, has had his leg so bruised and crushed that there is nothing for it but to have the limb taken off. But he cannot make up his mind to part with it. Day after day he asks to have the operation deferred, each day thinking it will not be so difficult the next; though his whole experience has proved that it would have been easier at first, and that the longer the delay, the more difficult it will always become. At length the surgeon, if he is wise and kind, will break in on this state of things, and say, “We cannot tamper with a matter of this kind any longer. It is as much as your life is worth, to put off another day. The choice lies between your limb and your life; which are you prepared to lose? Whatever is to be done, must be done at once. It must be now or never.” And even so it must be with sin, with the evil habit, the forbidden indulgence--it must go at once. I know how difficult it is. It is compared to cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye. “I’ll repent one of these days. I’ll repent to-morrow.” And thus it goes on from day to day, till at length the Holy Ghost breaks in with His great word, and says, “To-day!” There must be no more putting off. You have lost too much time already. It is as much as your soul is worth to wait longer. Or is there a girl who has got a sense of her sin, but fears she is too far gone to be saved. She has put off so long, that she believes she is now past hope. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” She is like to give way to utter despair. Nay, but the Holy Ghost saith, “To-day!” It is not too late yet. It may be too late to-morrow.
2. It sets before us the time for believing. But here, too, what delay! Here is one trying to make himself better first. He says he is not fit to come to Jesus as he is. His heart is too hard: his sin is too great. He is like that diseased boy who can hardly walk, and yet refuses to see the doctor, or to knock at the infirmary door, because he is too ill, or does not yet sufficiently feel his need of help. He hopes to go by and by. He might not be received as he is. His case is too desperate. He must try to improve himself a little first. He does not see that the worse he is, the greater is the necessity for getting help at once. And when the Holy Ghost saith “ To-day,” it is as if He said, “Now is the time to flee to Jesus, whatever you may be. Now is the time to come to Him, all as you are.” What a happy day it would be if we heard some of you saying, “Lord we take Thee at Thy word to-day I we come to Thee to-day!”
3. It sets before us the time for working. It is good for ourselves to work. Idleness of every kind is evil,--unhealthy for the body, for the spirits, for the soul. And so, Christian workers get personal benefit from their work. We need to be doing some work for Christ and for others, to keep our own souls healthy and lively and right. It is good for others. There are few for whom the youngest of us could not do something. It is pleasing and honouring to God. God likes to see His people working. It is one proof of their love to Himself. But where is all this to be done? Here on earth. And by whom? Not only by the old, but by the young also. And when? Now. Perhaps some of you are purposing to be workers when you are grown up. You think of doing nothing meanwhile. But “the Holy Ghost saith, To-day”;--not when you are older, but now while you are yet young. The kind of work which the Lord now asks of you can only be done here--not in heaven. Can you think of so many perishing all around you, without your doing anything for them? Can you do or give nothing for the heathen now? And so it is as regards giving for Christ. I fear we are far behind in this respect. What a sad thought it will be, “I might have done something for Christ, if I had only began in time!”
4. It sets before us the best time for repenting, for believing, for working--“to-day.” Not when you are older, not when you are better qualified,but just now, immediately--to-day. You must have noticed the tide gradually coming in till the shore was covered; and when it was at its full, how eager the fishermen were to get their boats afloat; and how easy it was then as compared with what it was when the tide was back. The tide may be said to he in with you now: it is full tide; it is the time for getting your own boat afloat, and helping others with theirs: and for your encouragement, and for your warning, ere it go back, “the Holy Ghost saith, To-day!”
5. It sets forth the time for repenting, for believing, for working, as very short: a day--this day--to-day. You say you must enjoy yourselves, and see what the world can do for you. Or you must learn your business first. Nay; but here again, “the Holy Ghost saith, Today!” It is slipping past, and will soon be over.
6. It sets forth what may be the only time for repenting, for believing, for working. “Oh that thou hadst heard, even thou, in this thy day!” As if every one had his “day”--and when that is lost, it is lost for ever. “Thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” This may be the only “to-day” we shall ever see.
III. THE LESSON.
1. Value to-day. Regard it and treat it as you do other precious things. We may well say what a daughter told me she heard her dying mother, a Christian woman, saying a few days ago. It was Sabbath morning, and when the early sunshine lighted up her room, after a long night of restlessness and suffering, she was overheard saying, “Dear day!” Oh yes, it should be a “dear day “ to us all, for it is the “day of grace,” the “day of salvation.”
2. Improve to-day. “Make hay when the sun shines.” If the day is so precious and so short, then surely we should make the very most of it. Do not waste it. Lay it out as a steward of God.
3. Remember that the night cometh.--Every day has its night, and so has this one. Whether you are improving it or not, it is going away, and the night will soon be on. (J. H. Wilson, D. D.)
The entreaty of the Holy Ghost
I. THE SPECIAL VOICE OF THE HOLY GHOST.
1. How does the Holy Ghost thus speak?
(1) He saith this first, in the Scriptures. Every command of Scripture calls for immediate obedience.
(2) Further, while the Holy Ghost speaks in Scripture on this wise, He speaks in the same manner in the hearts of His people, for he is a living and active agent.
(3) The like is also true when the Holy Ghost speaks in the awakened.
(4) Once more, the Holy Ghost speaks thus by His deeds as well as by His words. We have a common proverb that actions speak more loudly than words. Now the acts of the Holy Spirit in the leading of many to the Saviour are so many practical invitations, encouragements, and commands to others.
2. But why so urgent, blessed Spirit, why so urgent? It is because the Holy Ghost is in sympathy with God; in sympathy with the Father who longs to press the prodigal to his bosom; in sympathy with the Son who is watching to see of the travail of His soul.
II. A SPECIAL DUTY. “Hear His voice”--that is, hear it obediently, eager to do what he bids you, as he enables you. Do not hear and forget. Retain the truth in your memories, and, better still, practise it in your lives.
1. Hear ye the Lord when He instructs you. How often are men’s ears stopped up with the wax of prejudice, so that they are dull of hearing. They have made up their minds as to what the gospel ought to be, and will not hear what it is.
2. But the Lord does more than instruct you, He commands; for let men say what they will, the Gospel to be preached to the ungodly is not merely warnings and teachings, it has its solemn, positive commands.
3. But the Lord does more than command, He graciously invites; with tenderness He bids sinners to His banquet of mercy. Shall His love be slighted, and His bounty treated with scorn?
4. But the Lord does more than invite, He adds His promises. Oh do not count yourselves unworthy of them.
5. The Lord also threatens, as well as entreats. He declares that the despisers shall wonder and perish. If Christ be rejected, eternal wrath is certain.
III. A SPECIAL TIME EMPHASISED.
1. To-day, that is while God speaks. Oh, if we were as we should be, the moment God said “Seek ye My face,” we should reply, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek”: as soon as the invitations of mercy were heard there would be an echo in our souls to them. Hear God to-day, for to-day He speaks.
2. The apostle says in the next chapter, “To-day--after so long a time.” I see that some of you have bald heads, or grey hairs lie thick upon them. Is it not long enough to have provoked your God these sixty years? “To-day,” that is, especially while the Holy Ghost is leading others to hear and to find mercy; to-day, while the showers are falling, receive ye the drops of grace; to-day, while there are prayers offered up for you; to-day, lest the preaching of the Word of God should come to be a matter of routine, and the preacher himself, discouraged, should lose all zeal for your soul; to-day, while everything is peculiarly propitious, hear ye the voice of God. While the wind blows, hoist the sail; while God is abroad on errands of love, go forth to meet Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
From first to last, salvation is the product of the mighty energies of the Holy Ghost, and is brought about by His voice speaking to our hearts. We shall never be disposed to seek for salvation until the Holy Spirit of God in one way or another begins to stir our desires. Further, we may say that, although we are distinctly commanded to repent and believe the gospel, we never shall repent without His first having convicted us of sin; so that from first to last, on our side as well as His, salvation is of the Lord. All this is true; but it is only one side of the truth, though it is a side we must not ignore. I can imagine a man saying or feeling, “If that be so, I am not responsible for my conduct. If the Holy Spirit of God is not pleased to strive with me it is impossible for me to come to Christ; therefore, unless He make me willing I can do nothing. I do not distinctly feel that He is drawing me now, and therefore there is nothing for it but to go on living in sin until my call comes, if it ever do come at all.”
1. First, are you quite sure that God has not spoken to you, and that you may not have failed to hear His voice, either because in your sin you did not wish to hear it, or because in your perversity and ignorance you had made up your mind that His voice must speak in a certain particular way, while God has seen fit to speak after quite a different manner?
2. And, second, is your conscience quite clear that He never has spoken to you, and you have known it, and been convinced of it, and yet have hardened your heart against His call? It is quite true that you cannot come unless the Spirit draw, but is it equally true that He has never drawn? It is not too much to say, that whatever moves you in the right direction, whatever influences you to forsake sin and turn to God, is the work of the Holy Ghost. The fervent desire after better things, the inward restlessness, the sense of guilt, the feeling of shame, the fear of punishment, the longing for purity and moral freedom--all these are the effects of the influence of God the Holy Ghost. You shall never be able to say, “I would, but God would not.” Oh that God might never have to bring the apposite charge against you. I have spoken of one great danger against which we have to guard, if we would benefit by the Divine voice, the danger of ignoring it, and failing to recognize it; but remember there is yet another danger, and to it our text more particularly alludes; it is the danger of bearing God’s voice so plainly that we can entertain no reasonable doubt but that it is God’s voice, and yet while He is speaking hardening our hearts against Him. “Harden not your heart.” These words bring before us the thought of a capacity that we all possess. We all possess the power to harden our hearts against the gracious influences of God. It is a dangerous thing to do under any circumstances, even when our relations with God are not concerned. I once heard a man say, “I used to think it manly to repress my feelings, and so I set myself to steel my heart against them, and now I cannot feel when I would. Happen what may, I might offer my fortune for a tear, and offer it in vain.” This may be a serious matter. We have no more right to murder our feelings than any other element in our manhood, but that is a small thing as compared with the folly and the sin of hardening our heart against the Holy Spirit of God. And remember this is a sin which we all remain capable of committing, however strong the influences of God the Holy Spirit may be. He never so influences us that it is impossible for us to resist Him. What shall we say of the folly of him who mutilates his own moral nature of all its higher sensibilities and capacities of spiritual apprehension, and of his own accord elects to be “past feeling”--“twice dead, plucked up by the roots, and withered”? But remember, there is only one way of avoiding this terrible issue and that is by yielding at once. But when the Holy Ghost speaks, and you hear His voice: there is always a “now” in it. He takes care to put before you something to be done then and there. “To-day harden not your heart.” You are responsible for this winged moment that is even now flying from you. The Holy Ghost saith, “To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Oh, think of all the possibilities, the glorious possibilities of to-day! (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
To-day--a voice for the opening year
I. THE HOLY GHOST COMMANDS IT, AND THEREFORE IT IS BINDING. The obligation is founded on
1. Absolute proprietorship.
2. Mediatorial interposition.
II. THE HOLY GHOST COMMANDS IT, AND THEREFORE IT IS PRACTICABLE.
III. THE HOLY GHOST COMMANDS IT, AND THEREFORE IT IS URGENT.
1. The Holy Ghost thoroughly understands the transcendent importance of the work. The Holy Ghost knows exactly the portion of time allotted you for the work. (Homilist.)
The right time
You admit that it would be the right time to start on a certain journey when the following four conditions were all combined. First, a clear duty to undertake the journey; secondly, a safe route; thirdly, a suitable conveyance waiting for you; fourthly, the danger that you could not go on a later day. To these might be added that year life depended on your starting at once (as happened to myself years ago, when I found myself in a village where cholera was raging fearfully). Now all these five conditions meet, and press you to betake yourself to the Lord Jesus for immediate salvation. Add now to these undeniable arguments the other one--that every day you postpone makes it harder for you to come. Manyyears ago the merchant-ship Lowell went ashore on the New England coast in a terrific gale. Her bows projected so far up towards the shore that the crew leaped off the bow-prit and were rescued, one by one, by the keeper of a neighbouring lighthouse. All leaped off except the first mate, who had been in feeble health; he continued to walk the deck and give orders to the men. The keeper shouted to him, “Jump ashore this tide or you are lost!” The poor man continued to tramp the deck, which soon crashed to fragments, and he was swallowed up in the wreck. What was the matter? The terrors of the scene had so deranged his weak nerves, that he had become insane and laud, heal at the idea of danger. Yet that unhappy officer of the sinking ship did not act more insanely than you do in persisting in risking the life of your precious soul. When Jesus calls, your salvation depends on prompt obedience. It was short work with Peter when Christ said to him, “Follow Me.” Again was it short work with him when be was sinking in the waves arid cried out, “Lord, save me.” It was short work with the Philippian jailer when he heard Paul’s directions and threw himself into the Saviour’s arms on the spot. All the Bible narratives (except that of Nicodemus) describe a prompt action where salvation was secured. Prompt obedience saves! (T. Christlieb, D. D.)
Only to-day is yours
To-day only, to-day is yours; to-morrow belongs to God, and you have no right to take it for granted that He will certainly give it you. What if He does not? An incident occurred some years ago which illustrates this point in a manner so exceptionally startling that I should not venture to relate it to you if it had only come to me by hearsay. I am able to relate it as a fact on the authority of a gentleman who was acquainted with the person referred to. A young lady of good family, a woman of the world, and a devotee of fashion, came home from a religious service, which she had been induced to attend, evidently profoundly impressed. On returning to her chamber, and turning over in her mind all she had heard, I suppose she felt under the force of a mighty influence that was drawing her towards better things. Moved no doubt by a spiritual impulse, she sat down by her table, and took pen, ink, and paper, and wrote down these words: “If God spare my life for six months from this time, I will give my heart to Him.” She signed her name, and then I suppose a misgiving must have crossed her mind, for she drew her pen through what she had written, and she wrote again underneath, “If God spares me for three months from this time, I will give my heart to Him.” Once again the voice within, I apprehend, urged the danger of delay. “Are you sure that you will live three months longer?” And a second time she drew her pen through what she had written, and once more she wrote, “If God spare me for one month from the present date, this day month I will give my heart t, Him.” The day before that date there was to be a great fancy dress ball, and she had made up her mind she must go to that ball at all costs; something, I conclude, told her that it would not be consistent to go if she were a real Christian, so she fixed the date just one day beyond this last scene of dissipation. “If God spare me one month from this time, I will give my heart to Him”; and she signed her name, and she went to her bed. The next morning her lady’s maid came to call her as usual. She tapped at the door, but there was no answer. She threw it open, entered the room, looked at the bed. There upon the bed lay her young mistress, a cold corpse, and by her side was a sheet of paper, and on this sheet of paper were written the words, “If God spare me for one month, I will give my heart to Him.” God did not spare her for one night. She had heard God’s voice, but, alas I there would seem to be too much reason to fear that she had done what I entreat you not to do. “To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” One more illustration, and it shall be on the brighter side. Some years ago at the close of an evangelistic service, a rough sort of man--a collier he was--came up to the minister who had preached. “Sir,” he said, “do you mean what you told us in your address to-night?” “What did I tell you?” “Why, sir, you said that if we were determined to seek and find salvation, we might have it to-night.” “Yes,” said the preacher, “I did mean that.” “Very well, sir; then I want to find it. It must be settled to-night with me; it must be settled now.” “Thank God,” said the preacher, “I am glad to hear you say that. Now let me try and show you how you may get it.” Well, they had a long talk together. The preacher set before the poor ignorant man as plainly as ever he could the way of salvation; and then they got to their knees, and there they knelt praying and crying to God together, while the preacher sought to direct the seeking soul to Christ. Time was creeping on, and at last the clock struck eleven. The preacher was very weary, and naturally enough, having his own home duties to care for, he said to the collier, “My dear fellow, I think now that perhaps you had better go home and consider what I have been saying. I don’t see that we can get very much further to-night”; for the poor man was very ignorant and full of unbelief. “Sir, didn’t you tell me that it might be settled to-night?” “Yes,” said the preacher. “Very well,” then he said; “I have made up my mind if it can be settled to-night it shall be settled to-night; I don’t rise from my knees until it is settled.” “Very good, then,” said the preacher, “if that is so we will stay together.” The clock struck twelve, still they were kneeling together; one, and still they were kneeling together; two, and still they were there. The summer’s sun was just rising, daylight was just beginning to dawn, the poor man was thoroughly worn out. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, he had no strength left. The moment of our weakness is the moment of God’s power. Fairly exhausted and wearied out, at last he was fain to trust himself in the arms of Christ. He might have done so at first as well as at last, but it was only after these hours of anguish that he was brought to the point of utter helplessness and self-despair, and so at length he just rested his weary soul on Jesus, and in a moment the burden was gone. He sprang to his feet with a joyful shout. “Glory be to God,” he cried, “it is settled at last; it is settled at last!” With a happy heart he went on his way rejoicing. In the middle of that day there was a hue and cry raised in the neighbourhood that there had been an accident down in the coal-pit, and, as is the custom in colliery districts, everybody rushed to the pit to know what had happened. The tidings soon spread that a portion of the earth in the pit had fallen in, and there was every reason to fear that a man was buried under the rubbish. Half a dozen stalwart colliers were soon at work, working with all that heroic determination which distinguishes those men under such circumstances. For many a long hour they continued their toil, until at last they got near to the place where the unfortunate man was imprisoned. Gently and carefully they prised up the superincumbent mass, and freed one shattered limb after another, and at last lifting the weight off the man’s breast, they dragged him out all crushed and shattered as he was. As he felt the load taken off him, he opened his eyes for the last time. A smile came over his begrimed countenance as he gasped out, “Thank God it was settled last night!” and he fell back and died. To-day, to-day, to-day! (W. HayAitken, M. A.)
The folly of procrastination
It is recorded of Archias, a chief magistrate, in one of the Grecian states, that he was unpopular in his government, and excited the hatred of many of the people, who conspired against his life. The day was arrived when a fatal plot was to be executed.
Archias was more than half dissolved in wine and pleasure, when a courier from Athens arrived in great haste with a packet, which contained, as it afterwards appeared, a circumstantial account of the whole conspiracy. The messenger being admitted into the presence of the prince, said, “My lord, the person who writes you these letters conjures you to read them immediately; they contain serious affairs.” Archias replied, laughing, “Serious affairs to-morrow”; and so continued his revel. On the same night, in the midst of that noisy “mirth, the end of which is heaviness,” the assailants rushed into the palace, and murdered Archias, with his associates; leaving to the world a striking example of the evil of procrastination. In ten thousand affecting instances, something like this has been the conduct and the fate of men respecting the concerns of eternity. They have been warned, but, like the unhappy prince whose case we have recited, they have said, “Serious things to-morrow,” and when in an unexpected hour their souls have been “required,” they have left the world exclaiming, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof!” (S. Lowell.)
The importance of the present moment
The old sun-dial at Alfric, in Worcestershire, has lately been repaired, and its motto regilt. Now all eyes may read the weighty words inscribed on it by a vanished hand of long ago--“On this moment hangs eternity.” Is this statement true? Assuredly it is.As we live and act at the present moment we decide our future: living for God, we shall live for ever with God; living for this world, we pen.-h with it.
Come while the lamp burns
There is a story told in ancient history of a certain king who lighted a lamp, and had it hung in his palace: he then sent heralds forth to bring every criminal and rebel to his presence, that they might obtain pardon. Those who came while the lamp was burning were set free; but those who delayed till the lamp had gone out, or who altogether neglected the invitation, met with a terrible death.
The folly of increasing the burden of sin by delay
A hermit was conducted by an angel into a wood, where he saw an old man cutting down boughs to make up a burden. When it was large be tied it up, and attempted to lift it on his shoulder, and carry it away; but, finding it very heavy, he laid it down again, cut more wood, and heaped more on; and then tried again to carry it off. This he repeated several times; always adding something to the load, after trying in vain to raise it from the ground. In the meantime, the hermit, astonished at the old man’s folly, desired the angel to explain what this meant. “You behold,” said he, “in the foolish old man an exact representation of those who, being made sensible of the burden of their sins, resolve to repent, but soon grow weary, and, instead of lessening their burden, increase it every day. At each trial they find the task heavier than before, and so put it off a little longer, in the vain hope that they will by and by be more able to accomplish it. Thus they go on adding to their burden till it grows too heavy to be borne; and then, in despair of God’s mercy, and with their sins unrepented of, they lie down and die. Turn again, my son, and behold the end of the old man whom thou sawest heaping up a load of boughs.” The hermit looked, and saw him in vain attempting to remove the pile, which was now accumulated far beyond his strength to raise. His feeble limbs tottered over their burden; the poor remains of his strength were fast ebbing away; the darkness of death was gathering around him; and, after a convulsive and impotent attempt to lift the pile, he fell down and expired.
Harden not your hearts
Hardening the heart
I. TO HARDEN THE HEART IS TO CHERISH A VOLUNTARY INSENSIBILITY TO GOD AND DIVINE OBJECTS.
II. HOW THE HEART IS HARDENED.
1. By fixing its affections supremely on the world. A striking exemplification of this was furnished by that miser whose band, cold in death, still held its firm grasp upon his gold, when his spirit had gone to the bar of God.
2. By refusing to turn the attention to Divine things. No truth is plainer than this; that a man will not feel what he does not think of. God unthought of, must leave the heart as hard and unmoved as it would be were there no God, no Christ, and no heaven.
3. By excusing sin. The object of every excuse formed by the mind is to impair or destroy a sense of obligation and guilt.
4. By presumptuous hopes and expectations from futurity. The very language of such hopes is, the authority and glory of God shall not be felt now; the evil of sin and the awful realities of a future world shall not be felt now; all sensibility shall be deadened by hopes from futurity. These hopes of a future repentance, fellow-sinner, are a shield to your heart, which the arrows of the Almighty will never penetrate.
III. TO ENFORCE THE EXHORTATION NO LONGER TO HARDEN THE HEART, BY THE CONSIDERATIONS IMPLIED IN THE TEXT, “To-day if ye will hear His voice.” The declaration implies
1. That to harden the heart is a fatal obstacle to bearing and obeying the gospel.
2. To harden the heart is the only obstacle to an immediate compliance with the demands of the gospel.
3. To abstain from hardening the heart is as easily done at the present as any future time.
4. The last consideration is that those who now harden their heart may never hear and obey the gospel. This appears, if we consider, in all such cases, the increase of guilt. To harden the heart against the voice of God once is a high measure of provocation; and if it be the tendency of sin, of accumulated guilt, to exhaust the patience of God and to provoke His speedy vengeance, what must be the effect of hardening the heart with the formal design of continuing to rebel against Him? When in its own nature it involves every act of future sin; when its whole strength--strength, too, thus to offend God--is derived from the fact that God is good and long-suffering? What purpose embodies baser ingratitude, a more direct insult to God, greater hardihood in rebellion, and a greater amount of crime; and what purpose could the sinner form to provoke God’s instant vengeance if this does not? Again, there is a fearful principle of God’s administration which arrays all its alarms before such persons. “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.” (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
I. HOW THIS HARDNESS OF HEART IS EVIDENCED.
1. One of these signs is dulness of conscience. A sensitive conscience is only the possession of those whose hearts have not been hardened, or have been softened. But where there is religious insensibility the hearing of the conscience is confused, its sight perplexed, its voice low and weak. This is the state of the moral nature of which Paul speaks when he describes a
“conscience seared with a hot iron”--an allusion, evidently, to the custom, that was very prevalent among ancient Eastern doctors, of cauterising any affected flesh. Sin is indeed a terrible caustic to the conscience. At first it burns the living moral tissue very painfully, but at last it leaves it insensitive, almost destroyed.
2. Another sign of a hardened heart is poverty of love. No tale of human want or woe stirs their pity or prompts their help; no statement of God’s great bounty or wondrous love awakens their praise.
3. Another sign--comprising those we have mentioned, and suggesting several more--is inability to be moved by the gospel truth.
II. HOW THIS HARDNESS OF HEART IS ATTAINED.
1. By familiarity with the mere theory of religion. It is well enough to have true ideas, to accept a correct creed; but if those ideas linger only in the intellect, are merely themes for memory, imagination, logic, and do not send down into the affections an influence that will permeate the entire being; if that correct creed is a mere mental property, held and defended jealously by the mind, but not colouring and controlling the plans and loves and whole scope of the daily life, then those ideas, that creed, however true, produce hardness of heart. They lose their freshness, and thus much of their force. The soul becomes accustomed to them, as the forester to the rustling of the foliage, or the mariner to the murmur of the waves. And that familiarity intercepts every effort to arouse, and startle, and awaken.
2. By a neglect of religious claims. Some by procrastination, others by stolid indifference, refuse to come face to face with such questions as “What must I do to be saved?” The capacity for religion diminishes, and almost dies out through disuse. Is it not thus with every power we possess?
3. By conscious indulgence of any sin. The man who continues, perhaps, in a very studied secrecy, to carry on some business scheme that he knows to be fraudulent, to cherish some desire that he knows to be impure, to maintain a habit that he knows is stamped with meanness, or uncharitableness, is doing the very best he can to become insensible to sincerity, holiness, nobility, and love.
III. HOW THIS HARDNESS OF HEART IS TO BE PREVENTED.
1. Be earnest. Triflers petrify with terrible rapidity.
2. Be real. They who simultaneously live two lives--the outward, upright, pious, irreproachable; the inward, false, godless, corrupt are, by all the restraint and repression that their hypocrisy involves, hardening their hearts, becoming in heart “ as hard as a piece of nether millstone.”
3. Be watchful. Not only to avoid trifling and to keep wide of all hypocrisy, but because of the insidious influence of familiarity with holy things, there is need in every one for watchfulness. Often introspect yourself to see if you are getting less tender-hearted; and if you are, use every means that can soften and quicken you again.
IV. How THIS HARDNESS OF HEART IS TO BE REPROVED.
1. How can the hard heart be broken? God has provided the means.
(1) The dispensations of His providence, such as the loneliness of Jacob, the manifold sorrows of Job, the sickness of Hezekiah, are designed to quicken our spiritual nature.
(2) God’s Word is a hammer that has crushed the pride, shivered the self-righteousness, broken the “ stony heart” of many a sinner.
(3) The Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all that cross signifies of a life of love, of sacrificial suffering, and of atoning death, is the great power for melting and subduing human hearts.
(4) The Spirit of God, sometimes using these means, sometimes acting directly upon the human spirit, is the power that takes away “the stony heart, and gives a heart of flesh.”
2. What are the signs that the heart is rightly broken?
(1) There is consciousness of sin. As in broken stones we find fossils of the reptile or the fern, telling of the time when it was a soft, clay like substance, easily impressible; so in the process of breaking the hard heart, there is revealed the reptile of actual sin, as well as the fern of fair promise. “God be merciful to me a sinner!” “Father, I have sinned.”
(2) There is the sense of God’s gracious presence. When the heart is rightly broken, He who was “ sent to heal the broken-hearted” is there. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and sayeth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (U. R. Thomas.)
The response of the heart
I. WHEN WE HEAR GOD’S VOICE THE HEART MUST RESPOND. The assent of the intellect, the admiration of the understanding, the fervour of the imagination, and even the conviction of the conscience, do not suffice. God speaks to the heart. Oh that Christ may dwell there! God’s voice is to soften the heart. Alas I by nature we are bard-hearted; and what we call good and soft-hearted is not so in reality and in God’s sight. God wishes us to be delivered from hardness of heart, that is, from dulness of perception of His love and beauty, from ingratitude and lukewarmness towards Him, from pride and impenitence, from self-seeking and unrest. When we receive God’s Word in the heart, when we acknowledge our sin, when we adore God’s mercy, when we desire God’s fellowship, when we see Jesus, who came to serve us, the heart becomes soft and tender. For repentance, faith, prayer, patience, hope of heaven, all these things make the heart tender. Can we be hard--thinking much of ourselves, discontented with our lot, envious or unforgiving, worldly and restless--when we hear the voice of God--“I am the Lord thy God; I have loved thee with an everlasting love; thou art Mine.” “As I have loved you, love one another.”
II. ALL SIN BEGINS IN THE HEART. And what is the error of the heart? What else hut unbelief? God speaks, and the heart is to believe. If the heart is hardened, it believes not; and regarding neither the threatenings nor the promises, it leans not on the strength and love of God: unbelief is the mother of all sin and sorrow.
III. UNBELIEF IS DEPARTURE FROM THE LIVING GOD. HOW simple is this!” As long as you trust God you are near Him. The moment you doubt Him your soul has departed into the strange country. Faith is the link between God’s fulness and strength and our emptiness and weakness. If the soul cries out, Abide with me, or Nearer to Thee, the answer of Jesus is, Only believe! (A. Saphir.)
Of the causes of bawdiness of heart
1. Natural hardness. This is the original cause of habitual hardness. If that be not taken away this will accompany it; both will be mixed together.
2. Unbelief. This makes men disrespect promises, threatenings, mercies, judgments, and all other means which are of use to soften, or break men’s hearts (Deuteronomy 1:32; Deuteronomy 9:25; Psalms 78:22; Psalms 78:32).
3. Hypocrisy. By this men cover and hide their sin, whereby they wax bold in sinning.
4. Pride. For this is ordinarily joined with scorn, disdain, and such like vices as make men refuse and reject the means which might mollify their hearts.
5. Presumption. When sins are committed against knowledge, conscience, light of nature, and motions of the Spirit, they are as heavy weights that press out all spiritual sense and life.
6. Of committing or long lying in the same sin. Many small knocks or blows, long continued, do in time as much as a great blow at once.
8. Lewd company. Lewd companions will by evil counsel, bad example, bold encouragement, make men impudent and obstinate in sinning Proverbs 1:10, &c.).
9. Superfluity of the things of this world; as of wealth, honour, ease, pleasure, applause, and other such things as men by nature delight in.
10. Multitude of crosses not sanctified. There are as many blows upon the smith’s anvil (2 Chronicles 28:22; Psalms 78:31-32). (W. Gouge.)
Remedies for preventing or redressing hardness of heart
I. TAKE HEED OF ALL AND EVERY OF THOSE CAUSES WHENCE HARDNESS OF HEART ARISETH.
1. Regeneration. Hereby natural hardness is removed.
2. Faith. Hereby unbelief is redressed.
3. Sincerity. This keeps out hypocrisy.
4. Humility Hereby pride and other like vices are kept down.
5. A fear of God. This will withhold us from gross sins.
6. Christian prudence. This will make men weary of multiplying sins and long lying therein.
7. Spiritual watchfulness. This will uphold in such a course as will preserve us from relapse.
8. Holy jealousy, lest we should by company be drawn aside.
9. Contempt of this world and of the things thereof, that we be not ensnared and overcome thereby.
10. Patience under all crosses, as laid on us by our heavenly Father for our good.
II. LABOUR TO FEEL THE HEAVY BURTHEN OF SIN (Psalms 38:4). (W. Gouge.)
Harden not your hearts
The metal of the human soul, so to speak, is like some material substances. If the force you lay upon it do not break it, or dissolve it, it will beat into hardness. If the moral argument by which it is plied now, do not so soften the mind as to carry and to overpower its purposes, then on another day the argument may be put forth in terms as impressive, but it falls on a harder heart, and therefore with a more slender efficiency. You have resisted to-day, and by that resistance you have acquired a firmer metal of resistance against the power of every future warning that may be brought to bear upon you. You have stood your ground against the urgency of the most earnest admonition, and against the dreadfulness of the most terrifying menaces. On that ground you have fixed yourself more immoveably than before; and though on some future day the same spiritual thunder be made to play around you, it will not shake you out of the obstinacy of your determined rebellion. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Obduracy of heart
There is a striking image employed by one of the old divines to illustrate the obduracy and insensibility of the human heart. He compares a man in this condition to the blacksmith’s dog, who, although lying at the foot of the anvil, is rather not moved at all by the sparks which are continually falling about him, or only disturbed for an instant; while he returns again and again to his old position, and sleeps as sound as ever.
Hardening the heart
The pirate Gibbs, whose” name for many years was a terror to commerce, was finally captured and executed in the city of New York. He acknowledged before his death that when he committed the first murder his conscience made a hell within his bosom; but, after he had sailed for years under the black flag, his conscience became so blunted he could rob a vessel, murder all its crew, and then lie down as peacefully to rest as an infant in its cradle.
Hardness of the heart
Stones are charged with the worst species of hardness: “As stubborn as a stone.” And yet the hardest stones submit to be smoothed and rounded under the soft friction of water. Ask the m, rinds of stones on the seashore what has become of all their angles, once so sharp, and of the roughness and uncouthness of their whole appearance. Their simple reply is, “Water wrought with us, nothing but water; and none of us resisted.” If they yield to be fashioned by the water, and you do not to be fashioned by God, what wonder if the very stones cry against you? (J. Palsford.)
The hardening of the heart
has its gradations of
1. Carnal security, which comforts itself with the outward possession of the means of grace; and from--
2. Natural indifference and insensibility to the Word, proceeds on through
3. Unbelieving disparagement.
4. Faithless neglect, and
5. Reckless transgression of the Word
6. To rejection, contempt, and denial of it; and thence to a
7. Permanent embittering of the wicked heart; to a
8. Conscious stubbornness of the wicked will; to the
9. Bold tempting of the living God Himself, until in
10. Complete obduracy, judicial retribution begins the fulfilment of its terrible work. (J. P. Lange.)
Hardening the heart
On a winter evening, when the frost is setting in with growing intensity, and when the sun is now far past the meridian, and gradually sinking in the western sky, there is a double reason why the ground grows every moment harder and more impenetrable to the plough. On the one hand, the frost of evening, with ever-increasing intensity, is indurating the stiffening clods. On the other hand, the genial rays, which alone can soften them, are every moment withdrawing and losing their enlivening power. Take heed that it be not so with you. As long as you are unconverted you are under a double process of hardening. The frosts of an eternal night are settling down upon your souls; and the Sun of Righteousness, with westering wheel is hastening to set upon you for evermore. If, then, the plough of grace cannot force its way into your ice-bound heart to-day, what likelihood is there that it will enter to-morrow? (R. M.McCheyne.)
Hardness of heart
Known, discovered, and revealed sins, that are against the conscience, (are) to be avoided as most dangerous preparatives to hardness of heart. (S. Rutherford)
Harden not your hearts
“Harden not your hearts”; there is no need, they are hard enough already. “Harden not your hearts”; there is no excuse, for why should you resist love? “ Harden not)our hearts”; there can be no good in it--a man is the less a man in proportion to his loss of tenderness of heart. (Christian World Pulpit.)
Sin hardens the heart
The effects of sin may be compared to those of the river north of Quite, petrifying, according to Kirwin’s account, the wood and leaves cast into its waters; or to those of the busy feet of passers-by causing the crowded thoroughfare to grow hard. (G. Neil, M. A)
When your fathers tempted Me
How men can tempt God
If having means we neglect them, fondly flying to the supposed providence of God; if Christ, having a pair of stairs to come down by, should have cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple, He had tempted God.
2. Men tempt God when, having had evident proof and manifest experience of His wisdom, power, mercy, and goodness, yet if they be driven into any straits, and see no present means to come out, then they murmur against God, despair of His providence, and are ready to exclaim against God. This was the Israelites’ fault, and thus often times they tempted God in the wilderness. They had seen with what a strong hand God had brought them out of Egypt, yet for all that when they were in any difficulty then God was of no power or willingness to do for them. This was a tempting of God which highly displeased Him. Therefore in all distresses let us trust in Him, though all worldly means fail us; in sickness and health, in poverty and wealth, in death and life let Him be our pillar to lean upon. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Israel in the wilderness
The thought of Moses naturally suggests the Israelites in the wilderness. Faithful was the Mediator, through whom God dealt with them: but was Israel faithful? God spake: did they obey? God showed them wonderful signs: did they trust and follow in faith? And if Israel was not faithful under Moses, and their unbelief brought ruin up ,n them, how much more guilty shall we be, and how much greater our danger, if we are not faithful unto the Lord Jesus? The history of the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness is most instructive (1 Corinthians 10:1-33.). According to the solemn words addressed by the glorified Saviour to the Church of Thyatira, Israel’s experience is to be a warning to all the Churches.
1. It is a marvellous history from beginning to end. The exodus out of Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai the manna, the pillar of cloud and fire, the victory over Amelek, the rock that followed them, the garments that never became old; all is miracle, full of the wondrous love and power of God who is Israel’s Redeemer. Consider the Messenger, the Angel of the Covenant, Christ, who led them. Their whole life and history was a life and history by the word of God. Do you know this as a present experience?
2. It was a history of solemn and glorious privilege. God separated Israel unto Himself. Their daily need, their absolute dependence on Divine help, the constant gift of manna, guidance and defence, the daily beholding of God’s mighty and gracious works--all this was a marvellous privilege, the life of faith was made near and easy. Is this not a picture of the Christian’s life?
3. It is a sad history from beginning to end: continual murmuring, doubt, ingratitude, idolatry, sin; looking back unto Egypt and its pleasures, forgetting its degradation and bondage, doubting God’s goodness and power, yielding to the temptations of lust and tempting the Lord Jehovah, the faithful and merciful Christ. It is a sad history, full of fearful judgments. And yet the Lord was with them all the days, and every day, ready to bless and to gladden them. Do you understand the parable? Yet was there in Israel also faith and love; and God remembers the time of their espousals, when they followed Him in a laud that was not sown. There were not merely murmurings, but hymns of thanksgiving; there were willing offerings unto the Lord of gold and silver, there was victory over the enemies, there were Joshua and Caleb, who followed the Lord fully. (A. Saphir.)
They do always err in their heart
The errors of the heart
THE CONDUCT OF MANKIND UPON EARTH IS A MATTER OF GREAT ANXIETY TO OUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN. Men are apt to think it a matter of indifference how they behave themselves, so that they do not involve their temporal prospects. Little do they reflect upon the grief that their impiety occasions to the best of benefactors. A lamentable thing it is for them and for others, that they forego the privilege of living in the fear of God; for it is impossible to live so happily in any other way as in that which God lays down for the guidance of His people. But it is not only in this way that God shows His solicitude for the welfare of His creatures--He makes great efforts to restrain men from ill-doing by the operation of His Spirit. In the minds of wicked men His Spirit strives. And one result of this benevolent intervention is, that men cannot do wrong without feeling uneasy about it. The man that leads a life of injustice is seldom in a happy, quiet state of mind; misgivings torment him, fear agitates him, and anxiety about the future makes him restless and miserable. This uneasiness and misery is intended by his heavenly Father to drive him from sin into the ways of righteousness and peace.
II. ERRORS IN THE UNDERSTANDING ARE NOT UNCOMMON. Men take up wrong notions and act upon them as if they were right. But for all tills, they are right at heart, and the goodness and the purity of their intentions (humanly speaking) guide them safely through the shoals and quicksands around them. I do not ray without damage to their reputation, nor without impairing their usefulness, but their real singleness of intention and uprightness in motive leads them far away from those dangers that otherwise would environ them. Now things are not so when a man has what is called a bad heart. Beyond such in depravity are others who have no sort of conscience respecting the injuries they inflict on their fellow-creatures. Men may be met with, and mere children also, who would rob a widow of her last penny and care not about her misery.
III. WHAT THE REMEDY FOR SUCH A STATE OF THINGS REALLY IS. “They do err in their hearts, for they have not known My ways”: the proper remedy for crime is, therefore, the knowledge of God’s ways. But we must not fall into the mistake of supposing that the knowledge of the ways of God signifies the being informed as to the purport of these laws. Here, as in many other parts of Scripture, the word denotes approval by experience, as well as knowledge in the ordinary sense. The ways of God are excellent, and commend themselves to such as keep them. In every case these are united in the ways of God. If prayer be enjoined as a duty, it is that we may receive the blessing when we rightly draw nigh to Him. Devotion has many mercies attached to it; and light, grace, comfort, or peace are given according to our wants. Without the duty we could not have the blessing, and men who slight the one lose the other. Our happiness never can be separated from our duties. (John Davis, BA.)
Methodius compares the inbred corruptions of man’s heart to a wild fig tree growing upon the wall of some goodly temple or stately palace, whereof, although the main trunk of the stem be broken off and stump of the root be plucked up, yet the fibrous strings of it piercing into the joints of the stone work will not be utterly extracted, but will ever and anon be shooting and sprouting out until the whole frame of the building be dissolved and the stonework thereof be disjointed anal pulled in pieces. (T. Brooks.)
Error is insidious in its approaches. It flatters by liberality and betrays by sophism. We are not reconciled to it at once. There are disgusts to be allayed and fears to be vanquished. Little by little are we allured. Of none, perhaps, is the equivocal character more certain than of this. We believe it always originates in an undue conception of sin. This may be greatly modified. It does not “appear sin.” Often, we believe, is it strengthened by the forgetfulness that our facts and faculties are alike limited, and by a pretension to knowledge far beyond our actual attainment. Let us beware of the first wrong direction of thought and feeling, however minute the degree; fearful may be the after deviations. The voyager enters a current which seems propitious, there is no apparent diversion from his course, his bark speeds well, his oar does not toil nor his sail strain. In his confidence all promises success. But while he examines, scarcely does it seem that he has advanced. Much again and again reminds him of what he has noticed just before. A strange familiarity impresses his sense. Still current flows into current, while onward and buoyant is his track. Soon he feels an unnatural vibration. Where he glided, he now whirls along. The truth seizes upon him. He is sweeping a whirlpool. Long since he has entered the verge of a maelstrom, and he is now the sport of its gyrations. No power is left his helm or mast; he is the trembling, unresisting prey. He hears the roar; he is drawn into the suck of the vortex.
Not only the circle lessens, the very circle slopes. The central funnel and abyss, dark-heaving, smooth, vitreous, yawns. The mariner shrieks, the skiff is swallowed up, where the waters only separate to close, where the outermost attraction was but the minister to the famine of this devouring maw. (Dr. R. W. Hamilton.)
The root of sin in the heart
In every man’s heart there is this triple root of sin; no one who knows his own heart will dispute it; the root of selfishness, from which spring self-indulgence, self-will, self esteem, and the whole brood of vanity and pride; the root of worldly-mindedness, which issues in ambition, in covetousness, in the love of money, in the desire of advancement, of honour, of power; and the root of carnal-mindedness, from which, if it be not cut down betimes, and kept diligently from shooting up again, the lusts of the flesh will sprout rankly, and overrun and stifle the soul. (Archdeacon Hare.)
They have not known My ways
Here we are to consider two points.
1. What are the ways of God.
2. How their not knowing of them was an aggravation of their sin. A way is that course wherein one walketh. It is attributed unto God metaphorically, and that in two respects
1. Actively; setting out that way wherein God Himself walks.
2. Relatively; intending that way wherein He would have us to walk.
Of the former kind there are two sorts.
1. God’s secret way. This is His unsearchable council (Romans 11:33; Isaiah 55:3).
2. His manifest way. Under this in special are contained His works, whereby He declares Himself and His Divine properties unto us, as power, wisdom, truth, mercy, justice, wrath, &c. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 145:17). The ways wherein God would have us to walk are His precepts (Psalms 25:4; Psalms 25:8-9; Psalms 81:13; Isaiah 2:3). The two latter kind of ways are here especially meant, namely, His works and His precepts. The works of God are styled His ways, because we may see Him as it were walking therein. For by His works we may discern the footsteps of His properties and providence (Psalms 68:24). By the goings of God are meant the distinct acts of the Divine providence. Where it is said to God, “Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters,” reference is had to God’s manifestation of His power, wisdom, mercy, and justice in dividing the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through it, and overwhelming their enemies thereby (Psalms 77:19). In this respect that God’s works are ways wherein He may be seen walking, it is our duty
1. To understand the ways of God, so far as He is pleased to walk in them, and to make them known to us. Thereby He shows Himself to be such a God as none can be imagined to be like unto Him (Psalms 66:3; Psalms 86:8).
2. To acknowledge the equity and righteousness of God’s ways (Psalms 145:17). This is it whereabout God makes with the Israelites this vehement expostulation, and that again and again (Ezekiel 18:25; Ezekiel 18:29; Ezekiel 33:17; Ezekiel 33:20). To impeach God’s ways of iniquity is a high degree of blasphemy.
3. To admire and magnify the Lord in His ways (Psalms 138:4-5). Much is this duty pressed in, and under the title of God’s works (Psalms 9:1; Psalms 40:5). God’s precepts are frequently styled His ways. To demonstrate this more clearly this epithet way is often joined with God’s precepts and commandments (Psalms 119:27; Psalms 119:32-33; Psalms 119:35). God by His precepts doth declare unto men how they should carry themselves towards Him and towards one another, so as they are as a way for them to walk in, to observe and to do them. God’s precepts are not for mere speculation, but for practice. It is the proper use of a way to walk in it. (W. Gouge.)
An evil heart of unbelief
How does unbelief show itself?
What are some of the evidences of unbelief? It shows itself in positive rejection of the gospel. There can be no difficulty in detecting that form of unbelief which says “There is no God.” Perhaps none of you belong to that class. You would shrink from such a creed, whose air is the dungeon, whose element is darkness, whose hope is disappointment, whose doom is everlasting and clearly-declared banishment from God. It shows itself in another shape, namely, in a theoretical acceptance of Christianity, but in practically living without it. You are a Christian just in as far as the grace of God transforms your heart. This unbelief shows itself very often in refusing certain parts of the Bible as inspired--accepting by all means some books, but doubting others. I do not complain that you doubt, but I complain that you are satisfied with your doubts. The most upright and honest mind may doubt about a book in the Bible, but a thoroughly sincere mind will never rest satisfied with a doubt, lie will resolve to find reasons conclusive either to accept or reject. Another evidence of such unbelief is often shown in rejecting, or rather undervaluing, the great and distinctive peculiarities of evangelical religion. You must if you believe the gospel at all, accept it in its fulness, or reject it altogether. Nature accepts the existence of a God; grace alone, living faith, believes that He, is God manifest in the flesh. Another proof of this unbelief is seen in disliking a spiritual and a pure worship. Whenever unbelief begins to incrust itself oil man’s heart he begins less to like a pure and spiritual worship, and more and more to be ensnared and charmed with a pompous and gorgeous ritual. This unbelief develops itself in pride. Wherever there is a proud man there is an unbelieving man. What is pride? It is just the passion that exudes from unbelief. Wherever there is pride there is a man at a distance from God; wherever there is deep humility, there is a man who feels that he is living near to God. This unbelief shows itself in presumption. Many men think God is all mercy; then sin again, and draw upon His mercy again; whereas the idea of the Bible teaches us that the very mercy that has to-day forgiven the sin committed yesterday is the strongest motive, and the likeliest and most constraining influence for avoiding all sin for the future. Another evidence of such unbelief is despair. In fact, these two, presumption and despair, alternate. The man that presumes to-day will generally be found in despair to-morrow. Presumption looks to God’s mercy alone; despair looks at justice alone. Faith looks at mercy and truth met together; righteousness and peace embracing and kissing each other. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
On the heart of unbelief
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN UNBELIEF, or what we are to understand by a heart of unbelief. It implies
1. Ignorance. We mean not that which is occasioned by a deficiency of means, nor that which is owing to want of instruction in the doctrines of the gospel. That in view is, in Scripture, sometimes denominated blindness of heart. It is that gross darkness which hangs over the minds of those who are not united to Christ, by reason of which they do not spiritually understand the great truths which they notionally credit. One may have all knowledge and yet be deploratdly ignorant in a spiritual respect. Therefore the character of all unbelievers, the most knowing as well as the most ignorant, is that they know not God, and obey not the gospel.
2. The rejection of, or refusal of a proper assent to the testimony of God. Many pretend to assent to the Divine testimony who do it not in a right manner or on proper grounds. They believe the truth of Revelation, and of particular doctrines. But for what reasons? Their fathers had the same persuasion. These things are believed by the church of which they are members, and it requires the same of them. Or, perhaps, they find no sufficient reason for calling in question the proofs of the inspiration of Scripture which are ordinarily brought. But such an assent is not that which accompanies salvation. For this is founded on the authority of God impressed on the word and manifesting itself powerfully to the conscience and heart.
3. Obduracy. It is not only essential to saving faith that the understanding be supernaturally enlightened, but that the heart be graciously mollified. For “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” This is the most secure fortress of unbelief. Though rational considerations and common operations may produce a great change in the understanding, conscience, and affections, yet these are only the outworks of the soul. The will, as to any saving change, remains absolutely impregnable till the Holy Spirit makes a breach in it by that fire, and by that “hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.”
4. A rejection of the person and mediation of Christ. This is the crowning point of unbelief in all. As it hath been often said that the formal act of faith consists in receiving Christ, it may be also asserted that the rejection of Him constitutes the formal act of unbelief. As submission to the righteousness of Christ is the greatest act of faith, the rejection of His righteousness is the greatest act of unbelief. This is sometimes done openly, as when the very profession of His name is treated with scorn. Others do it more secretly by maintaining a profession while they make it only a cloak for their sin. There is still a more secret way of rejecting Him. For many apprehend that they have given their hearts to Christ, while some hidden lust still keeps firm hold of them.
5. A refusal on the part of those who hear the gospel to believe the record of God with particular application to themselves.
6. Distrust of God in Christ. In faith there is a resting on Christ alone for salvation as well as a cordial reception of Him. But unbelief refuses this exercise. Faith depends on His righteousness as the only ground of justification before God, but unbelief either contemptuously rejects this, or vainly endeavours to join it with the works of the law, or refuses it under the pretence of personal unworthiness.
7. Disobedience. There is the greatest contumacy in unbelief. “This is the commandment of God, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Now, unbelief spurns at this commandment and tramples it under foot. It denies salvation through free grace to be practicable, reasonable, or comfortable. It says in effect, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?”
All may be exhorted to try themselves, by what hath been now observed, that they may know whether they really believe in Christ, or continue under the power of unbelief?
1. Try your knowledge. If it be supernatural and saving you will be convinced of your natural ignorance and of your absolute need of Christ, as of God, made unto you of wisdom. It will warm your heart with love to the unseen Redeemer.
2. Try the nature of your assent to the Divine testimony. Do you assent to its truth just because of the authority of God manifested in it? Do you trust the promise just because you judge Him faithful who hath promised? This is the only true foundation of faith.
3. Hath the obduracy of your heart been broken? If this be the case, you have learned that it is naturally a stony heart. The remaining obduracy of your heart is your daily grief, and you are still claiming His promise, “A new heart will I give you.”
4. Have you received the Saviour, or do you still reject Him? If the former, then you have received Him in all His offices--as a Prophet, Priest, and King.
5. Do you claim a particular and personal interest in God’s promise, in Christ exhibited therein, and in all the blessings presented to you through Him? It is the attainment of true believers alone really to appropriate Christ to themselves.
6. Do you rely on God in Christ? If so, you despise every other confidence, and are fully satisfied that your own righteousness is only a refuge of lies, and your own strength absolute weakness.
7. If you be delivered from the power of that disobedience which is in unbelief, you will obey from the heart, and habitually delight in the ways of God. If you know the obedience of faith you will constantly aim at the obedience of holiness.
II. THE CAUSES OF THAT POSITIVE UNBELIEF WHICH CONSISTS IN A REJECTION OF THE SAVIOUR. The corruption of human nature is the primary cause of all the particular evils that prevail in the heart or life. To this polluted fountain all the streams of iniquity must be traced. It is the ocean of depravity in the heart that, by its swelling tides, fills so many distinct channels. All men are naturally disposed to reject the testimony of God because they ate born in sin. Therefore all without distinction are called children of disobedience, or of unbelief. There are several things within the sinner himself, and some also of an outward nature, that operate on his mind as causes of that unbelief which is called positive or acquired, or of the continuance and increase of the natural unbelief of the heart, especially as manifested in the rejection of salvation through Christ, to illustrate some of which is our present design. Amongst these arc
1. Ignorance. This hath been already viewed as an ingredient in unbelief. But it may be also considered in the light of a cause. Acquired unbelief proceeds especially from wilful ignorance. Of this sin Peter accuses the hearers of the gospel, For this, he says, “they are willingly ignorant of.” The same complaint is made by the Psalmist, “They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness.”
2. The love of sin. This is naturally supreme in the heart. It must be so indeed, because sin reigns in us. It is impossible that a supreme love of sin and faith in the Saviour should subsist in the same heart, for where faith is it purifies the heart.
3. Attachment to the objects of sense. Man, even according to his original state, from the very frame of his nature, hath a great and intimate connection with these. But this is unspeakably augmented by sin. In the state of innocence the senses were subjected to reason, but now reason is subjected to them. Therefore the whole man, as unrenewed, is denominated from these. He is called the natural, animal, or sensual man.
4. Inconsideration and indifference about the grace exhibited in the gospel. It is given as the character of sinners that they turn back from God, and will not consider any of His ways. Men presumptuously give the sacrifice of fools because they consider not that they do evil.
5. The agency of Satan. He works on the root of unbelief in the heart, and prompts men actually to reject eternal life. Therefore, he is called the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. He makes them view the concerns of eternity as of little moment compared with those of time, and so entangles their minds with the affairs of this life as to make them suspend all serious attention to those of that which is to come. He likewise represents sin as a small matter that they may give themselves no trouble about salvation.
6. The love of the world. The pleasures, riches, and honours of this world swell so much in the sinner’s eye that he views all eternal objects in a diminished light; he considers them as of no consequence, as unworthy of his pursuit.
7. The fear of suffering. This hath o[ten proved a snare. We have frequently perceived its influence in preventing a confession of Christ, and where it continues to overpower the mind it as really prevents a genuine faith in Him.
8. Lastly, perhaps the most powerful cause of unbelief is the pride of man. This natural principle in its influence in the heart directly opposes faith. It discovers itself in a variety of ways. It appears as a pride of reason, of wisdom or learning, of will, of righteousness, and of strength. Are these, then, the causes of that unbelief which consists in a rejection of the Saviour? It must undoubtedly be your duty, depending on Divine grace, to give all diligence to counteract their operation.
For this purpose
1. Labour to attain a real acquaintance with the truths of God. While you are assiduous in acquiring a doctrinal knowledge of them let it be your special aim to know them experimentally and practically in their power on the heart and life.
2. Supplicate the power of Divine grace for destroying the reign of sin in your hearts. It is the work of the Spirit to accomplish this by creating you again in Christ Jesus.
3. Endeavour to get your hearts loosed from sensible objects. Consider their insignificance, and the unspeakable value of those that are spiritual.
4. Despise not the grace that is in your offer. To recommend it to your attention you are assured that it is abundant, for “where sin hath abounded, grace did much more abound.” You know not how soon you may be deprived of the offer. Consider the danger of continuing to refuse it. There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.
5. Beware of listening to the suggestions of Satan. His name tells you what he is--an adversary. Be not ignorant of his devices. And this is his great device to keep men at a distance from Christ. Some he prevails with one way, some another. But whatever method he take, if he can effect this, his great object is gained. The more that Satan instigates you to reject Christ, the more earnest ought you to be to embrace Him, for he desires nothing so vehemently as to deprive God of His glory and you of salvation.
6. Pray for deliverance from this present evil world, from the love and from the fear of it. It does not merit your love, for it makes no worthy return.
Why should you fear the world? It cannot really hurt you. The utmost it can do is to kill the body.
7. Be denied to yourselves. How dangerous is it for a professed disciple to deny his Master? But whence are any chargeable with this aggravated sin?
It is just because they have not learned to deny themselves. (John Jamieson, M. A.)
On the evil and aggravations of unbelief
1. It strikes against all the perfections of the Divine nature. All these are illustriously displayed and infinitely glorified in the work of man’s salvation. If you reject the Son of God, you are chargeable with practical blasphemy against each of the Divine attributes. You in effect call the wisdom of God foolishness. It is not to you the wisdom of God. Nor is it the power of God. For by your unbelief you say that it was exerted, even in this great salvation, for no great end. You also insult His holiness, as if it were a needless regard to trifling offences. By rejecting the Saviour you materially say that sin is a light matter, and that Christ died in vain. You brand His justice as if it were a groundless severity; for by refusing to accept of the obedience and sufferings of Christ, as in your stead, you practically declare that He obeyed and suffered without any real necessity.
You virtually deny His faithfulness; for he that believeth not in God hath made Him a liar. His very love, which is the great source of salvation, you dare to treat as if it were unmeaning compassion; as being exercised about those who have no need of it; mercy extended to those who are not miserable, offering salvation to those who can easily save themselves.
2. It does injury to all the Persons of the adorable Trinity. The Father declares Christ to be His beloved Son; and this is His record, that in Him there is eternal life: yet sinners by their unbelief refuse to give it credit. The Son testifies concerning Himself; yet they reject His testimony. They will not allow Him to be the faithful and true witness. The Holy Spirit hath attested the excellency of that salvation exhibited in the gospel, not only as the Spirit of inspiration but by signs, and wonders, and divers miracles. He still attests it by common and saving operations on the hearts of men. Though God reveals Himself in the gospel under the endearing character of love, and though He describes the scheme of redemption as the most glorious of all the Divine councils, yet unbelief refuses Him all honour in this gracious revelation.
3. The great evil of this sin appears from the dignity of the person of Christ, and especially from the truth of His Divine nature. He is the more immediate object of faith; for by Him we believe in God: therefore unbelief is more immediately committed against Him.
4. Unbelief is greatly aggravated from Christ’s relation to us as our Kinsman-Redeemer. The greater the condescension of any person, the greater is the evidence of his love, and the more inexcusable is our ingratitude if we make not a proper return. And behold I what infinite condescension is here.
5. The atrocious nature of this sin appears from the dignity of the mediatory office of Christ. The honour conferred on Him by His mission, as well as that essentially belonging to Him in His person, is often mentioned as a valid reason of faith, and as a striking proof of the evil of unbelief. This is the work of God, a work of the greatest importance, that work in the success of which He is especially concerned, “that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”
6. The sin of unbelief is greatly aggravated by the reason of various relations in which the Son of God offers Himself in the gospel to sinners. That no person whatsoever may have excuse for rejecting Him from a pretended unsuitableness to his necessities in the character that Christ bears, in unspeakable love He reveals Himself in every character with which the necessity, nay, the misery of man, can in any respect correspond. Is the sinner in a widowed state, is he desolate and forsaken like a wife of youth? In great mercy this Kinsman-Redeemer saith, “Thy Maker is thy Husband.” Is he, in a spiritual sense, an orphan? He reveals Himself as a Father to the fatherless, in His holy habitation. And in Him, indeed, the fatherless findeth mercy. Is he friendless and destitute? Here is “a Friend born for adversity, a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” a Friend who hath laid down His life for His enemies. Is he foolish and ignorant? Christ proclaims Himself as the Counsellor. Hath he gone astray, and is he altogether unable to recover himself? He appears as a compassionate Shepherd, who “gathers the lambs with His arm, carries them in His bosom,” and “brings back the hundredth sheep that was lost, on His shoulders, rejoicing.” Is he weak? He is the Strength of Israel. Is he in a starving condition? Then Christ declares that He is the Bread of Life. Is he dead in trespasses and sins? The God-man is the Resurrection and the Life. Where then is thy excuse, O unbelieving man? There is no want in thyself but may be amply supplied in Christ, and will be amply supplied by a believing application to Him.
7. This sin is greatly aggravated from the work which Christ hath performed, and the blessings that He hath purchased.
8. A consideration of the variety of means and ordinances with which the hearers of the gospel are favoured tends to illustrate the great guilt of this sin. The greater the tenderness of a parent, and the more various the plans he pursues in order to reclaim a rebellious child, the greater is his guilt if he persists in rebellion. And how various are the means of grace which sinners enjoy--means of conviction, illumination, conversion, comfort, confirmation, and edification!
9. Under the power of this sin men refuse the influence of every consideration that hath weight with them in other things. In human affairs they are generally engaged by the reasonableness of any proposal. The proposals which God makes to us, in the Word, are highly reasonable. He offers eternal life, through Jesus Christ, without money and without price. He assures us that we cannot save ourselves. Yet the sinner prefers death to life.
10. This is a sin that can never be committed by heathens. For “ how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” Although their sin is declared to be inexcusable, yet their doom is more tolerable.
11. This is a sin that could never be committed by devils. Unspeakable is their guilt indeed. But they have never added, and never can add, to their other sins that of rejecting salvation through Jesus Christ.
12. This is a sin against the very remedy. “If ye believe not,” saith Christ, “that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.”
13. This sin, in some sense, lays bonds on Omnipotence. It does not so absolutely. It is impossible that the creature can ever defeat the purpose of the Creator, whatever it be, for He will do all His pleasure. But sinners may, and often, do counteract the operations of God as to their tendency in themselves. Thus they oppose their natural tendency, though they do not defeat the immutable purpose of God, but actually accomplish it.
From these considerations we learn
1. That unbelief attempts a second time to undo all that God hath done for His own glory and for the happiness of man. According to its nature, it is determined to war against God in all His works, though at the dreadful expense of warring against the soul.
2. The source of the ruin of many hearers of the gospel. Whatever attention they pay to the sins of their conversation, they are under no apprehensions about those of the heart. They endeavour to reform their lives, to deliver themselves from the more gross pollutions of the world. But oh! consider, that this is only to wash the outside of the cup, and of the platter; and that how much soever it please men, however beneficial it be to society, it comes far short of pleasing God. (John Jamieson, M. A.)
On the prevalence of unbelief in believers
Though its power is broken like a tree that is blasted by lightning, or felled by the axe, there is still a corrupt root in the heart which retains a principle of life, and is continually sending forth its bitter scions, which is perpetually springing up, and often greatly troubles the Christian, so that he is thereby defiled.
1. It discovers itself by suggesting doubts about the reality of religion, or the truth of fundamental doctrines.
2. It appears in seeking sensible manifestations as the foundation of faith. Faith and sense are two things entirely different. Faith is the life of the Christian on earth. Sense is the life of saints in glory. Faith is a persuasion of the truth of God’s testimony, on His own faithfulness pledged in the Word. Sense is the enjoyment of those blessings which are the subject of this testimony. We must first believe and then see; for it is not sense, but faith, which must be our support in this life. But Christians are often disposed to invert this order. They would first see, and then believe.
3. It appears in disbelieving the promise of God when providence seems to oppose its fulfilment. It is no small measure of faith that can bring a Christian to the same exercise with Job: “Though He shall slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
4. Unbelief discovers itself in unbelievers by making them doubt of God’s love to them because of their unworthiness or when their love to Him is weak. They measure the extent and duration of Divine love by their own variable exercise; though they may be well assured, that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than their ways, and His thoughts than their thoughts. The love of God to thee, weak Christian, is eternal. For He hath said--yea, He is presently saying, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” It is unchangeable; for the Lord thy God in the midst of thee--rest in His love. Can anything, then, be more unjust to thy God than to doubt the truth of His love to thee because of the weakness of thy love to Him; when He hath at first extended loving-kindness over thee, and hath ever since been compassing thee about with mercy?
5. It often prompts the Christian to deny the whole of his experience because he is at times assaulted with terrors of conscience on account of sin. To conclude from these that all former experience has been a mere delusion proceeds from a mistaken apprehension of the Christian life; as if it were impossible that any who are savingly converted could feel a work of the law on their consciences. True it is that one of the blessings of the covenant of grace, and one of the most eminent fruits of justification, is peace of conscience. But we are not to suppose that this peace is altogether uninterrupted. As it admits of different degrees in different believers, so also of different degrees in the same person, according to the sovereignty of God’s dispensation, or the variation of circumstances.
6. Unbelief takes advantage when matters exceed expectation. We have a striking example of this in the conduct of the disciples when Christ appeared to them after His resurrection. “They believed not for joy, but wondered.”
7. Unbelief exerts its influence in disposing him to yield to corruption or temptation from a doubt of God’s willingness to deliver. It is as if a soldier in the field of battle were to assure himself that he should be overcome; and under the influence of this apprehension should at the very first onset throw down his arms and desert his standard. How unlike is this to the soldiers of Jesus Christ, who must endure hardness, who ought to stand fast, quit themselves like men, and be strong. There is no sin or danger in doubting our own sufficiency. All is wrong with us, till we despair of it, till we see our greatest strength to be mere weakness. But to doubt of the strength of our Head is absolute unbelief; nay, to doubt of it as ours. This is the great reason of our falling.
8. In neglecting duty from an apprehension of danger. Fear is the child of unbelief; and where there is a persuasion of the Divine call, and yet disobedience to it from the fear of danger, it is a greater act of unbelief than the disbelief of the call itself. The rejection of God’s call discovers ignorance and blindness of heart; but a refusal of obedience when conscience feels the force and authority of the call is more dishonouring to God because it is a gross abuse of light.
9. It uses every effort to drive Christians away from the exercise of prayer when it is not immediately answered. God could as easily answer the prayer of His people at first as afterwards; but it is His pleasure that they should join hope and patience with their faith. They must be taught submission to His will as to the season. He delights in their holy importunity, and will thus enhance the value of His blessings before He bestows them.
10. Unbelief breaks out in anxious thoughts about temporal subsistence. Like Asaph, they are in danger of fretting when they see the prosperity of the wicked. But there can be nothing more unreasonable. For this prosperity is nowise enviable, as it often proves their destruction.
11. This corruption often discovers itself in fears of death. It is one of the glorious fruits of the death of Christ to deliver His people not only from the power but from the fear of death. But many real Christians are so weak in faith, that all their life, through fear of it, they are subject to bondage. These fears also discover the strength of unbelief. For by indulging them they deny and deprive themselves of one blessed fruit of the purchase of Christ--a deliverance from the fear of death.
1. Judge not of the love of God to you by the course of providence. If you take a just and comprehensive view of this it will prove a powerful confirmation of the truth of His Word. But a partial view can only tend to fill you with perplexity.
2. Beware of interpreting the designs of providence by its external aspect. It is denying providence and deceiving ourselves to explain it in this manner. For nothing can be a more uncertain evidence of the real design of God’s procedure than its outward appearance. In general its intention is the very reverse of what carnal reason would suppose.
3. Do not imagine that there is any real humility in doubting or denying what God hath done for your souls, whatever evidence you have of His love in a work of progressive sanctification. There is a great ingratitude in such conduct: for whatever self-abasing thoughts you entertain, you ought always to acknowledge the truth of God’s loving-kindness towards you.
4. Amidst all doubts, fears, and disquietudes, endeavour to present exercise of faith in Christ. This is the most effectual and confounding reply to all the reasonings of unbelief and temptations of Satan. This is a mean of comfort which has been often blessed to doubting saints when their Christian experience hath been of little use to them, when every other mean hath failed. To one groping in darkness there cannot be so convincing an evidence of the reality of light as to get a view of the sun shining in his strength. (John Jamieson, M. A.)
On vigilance as to a heart of unbelief
1. This exhortation by no means implies that it is either in our will or in our power to change our hearts. For, although it is otherwise with respect to conversion, regeneration is everywhere represented as a real change affected on the heart of the sinner, wherein he is entirely passive, as a new creation, a calling of things that be not, a quickening of those who are dead, a transformation into the image of God; in a word, as a work of such a nature, that it requires an exceeding greatness of Divine power.
2. This exhortation implies that we are in great danger of being negligent. The power of sin in our hearts, the temptations of Satan, and the influence of the world, are all evidences of the danger we are in of rejecting Christ.
3. It implies the necessity of watchfulness and jealousy of ourselves. Take heed, look around you, lest ye be misled as to the great interests of salvation. We are called to such vigilance as become a watchman appointed for the very purpose of observing the motions of an enemy.
4. These words denote the necessity of knowing our natural state as under the dominion of sin. It is not said, Take heed “lest there enter into your hearts any motion of unbelief,” as if it were a thing that had no root within us, a habit to be contracted by imitation, or by a course of iniquity. But, take heed lest there be in any of you a heart of unbelief; as plainly declaring that this is natural to every man, and that it is so as denominating his whole heart.
5. It implies the possibility of knowing our present state.
6. It expresses the necessity and importance of the knowledge of our state. Were not this knowledge of the greatest consequence to us, the Holy Spirit would not press us so earnestly to take heed that we deceive not ourselves. The importance of this knowledge appears from that of its subject; as the glory of God and our eternal comfort are inseparably connected with it. On this question, whether we be in Christ? depends another of the greatest moment, whether God’s highest end, not only in the works of creation and providence, but in redemption, and the highest end of our being be accomplished? This is the one thing needful, compared with which everything else that requires our attention is less than nothing and vanity.
7. It implies that it is highly incumbent on us to examine ourselves for discovering our state. The phrase here used signifies a looking not only about us but into ourselves, a trying of our own hearts: for thus alone can we discover the dominion or prevalence of unbelief.
8. This injunction declares the necessity of a diligent use and improvement of all the means of grace. We are not to confine our attention merely to what passes within us for attaining a knowledge of our state, but diligently to attend to ordinances as the means instituted by God for rectifying our state, if it be bad, and for giving us a greater degree of certainty.
9. It implies that Christians ought not only to know their real state but to attend to their present exercise.
10. This injunction further implies that the sin of believers, in itself considered, hath no less guilt, and is attended with no less danger than that of the unregenerate.
11. It also implies that our preservation in a state of grace is inseparably connected with the use of means on our part.
From the foregoing observations, those who are still negligent about the state of their hearts may be exhorted
1. To the exercise of self-examination.
2. Beware of spiritual sloth. This is the ruin of many hearers of the gospel. They will not give themselves so much trouble as to make a diligent inquiry into their state for eternity.
3. Earnestly apply to God Himself that He may open and incline your hearts. He alone can perform this work. It is His prerogative. It is entirely a supernatural work. It is not bestowed on men like any natural gift, such as wisdom or prudence. It must be communicated by the effectual operation of the spirit, implanting a new nature. For God saith, “Behold I make all things new.” (John Jamieson, M. A.)
On the necessity of vigilance as to unbelief
The necessity of taking heed to the gospel, of embracing Christ, and adhering to Him in the exercise of genuine faith, appears
1. From the impossibility of escape to final unbelievers.
2. From the severity of the punishment awaiting unbelievers.
3. The dignity of Christ’s prophetical character. The chapter in which our text lies begins with this argument: “Wherefore … consider the Apostle … of our profession, Christ Jesus.” How are we to consider Him? We are so to devote our minds to the contemplation of all His excellencies as fully to satisfy ourselves that He is every way worthy to be the object of our faith. We must consider Him as “the Apostle of our profession”; for He is that great Prophet whom God hath sent, after having promised Him so often and so long.
4. The honour put on those who steadfastly adhere to Christ. They are His house! He occupies their hearts, their whole persons, as His constant dwelling; for He hath said, “I will dwell in them.” They are “builded up for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” If so, we ought surely to be extremely vigilant, lest, by an evil heart of unbelief, we exclude this blessed inhabitant.
5. The authority of the Holy Ghost. This argument is proposed (Hebrews 3:7-8). Unbelief, when described as a tempting of God, is held up to view as committed against each Person of the adorable Godhead. It is spoken of as a tempting of the Father (Psalms 95:7). It is viewed as committed against Christ (1 Corinthians 10:9). And here it is considered as directed against the Spirit. Unbelief is thus described, because it is a rejection of that salvation in which each Person of the Trinity hath a peculiar and distinct operation. It is especially a tempting of the Holy Ghost, because it is more immediately opposed to His work ill applying this salvation to the hearts of men. By unbelief He is peculiarly resisted, as He, according to the order of subsistence, is the Finisher of all the external works of God. Therefore unbelievers are not said to resist the Father, or the Son, but the Spirit. Two things are mentioned in the passage, in which the authority of the Holy Spirit is interposed. First, He enjoins on us the exercise of faith in hearing the voice of God, the present exercise of faith, without admitting of any delay. “To-day, if ye will hear.” Then He warns us against unbelief and activity in hardening ourselves and tempting Him, like the ancient Jews. It is, therefore, necessary that we take heed, lest we be found chargeable with resisting the Holy Spirit of promise by a rejection of that which is the great subject of His testimony and ground of His operation in the Church, the salvation purchased by the blood of Christ.
6. The danger of being unexpectedly deprived of our day of grace. This argument is urged by the apostle, from the example of God’s procedure with the Israelites (Hebrews 3:11). The day of grace is never extended beyond the day of life. But the latter sometimes continues after the former is gone.
7. The unspeakable blessedness necessarily connected with genuine faith. “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14). The great privilege which the apostle seems especially to have in his eye is union to Christ. He, in His incarnation, was made a partaker of us: “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise took part of the same.”
Now, this participation is mutual; for being joined to the Lord, we are one spirit with Him. The apostle seems especially to describe faith as the evidence of our real participation of Christ. He exhibits it under one character, which is a certain proof of its sincerity. It is of a permanent nature. It is not a transient notion in the head, or affection in the heart, which we have to-day, and lose tomorrow, but a fixed principle, making us to abide in Christ to the end of our course.
8. The danger of exclusion from God’s rest This argument is urged by the apostle in the last verse of this chapter, connected with the first of the following: “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” This argument is intimately connected with one already considered, arising from the danger of our day of grace coming to an end.
9. The all-penetrating nature of the Word of God. This argument is adduced (Hebrews 4:12-13). From the foregoing observations we infer
(1) That God deals with us in the gospel as rational creatures. He proposes innumerable motives, which have a natural tendency to affect the will. He works on the affections by the most pressing entreaties, tender expostulations, and exceeding great and precious promises. As man is naturally swayed by hopes of honour, pleasure or interest, He shows that all these in their true value and perfect essence are engaged solely on His side. Thus He “draws with the cords of a man” (Hosea 11:4).
(2) The necessity of having the heart right with God. Did the priests under the law examine the sacrifices, not only outwardly, but inwardly, to discover if there was any blemish So doth our great High Priest. He looks not only to the conduct, but to the heart, to see if there be any such blemish there, as would render the sacrifice a corrupt thing. For all things are naked and opened to Him.
(3) One mark by which the voice of Christ may be known. It is of a heart-penetrating nature. “The sheep,” saith the Great Shepherd, speaking of ” Himself, “hear His voice:… for they know it. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” Many flee from a searching ministry. But surely this is the greatest folly, and a certain evidence that the heart is bad. For “ he that is of the truth, cometh to the light.” What is this but as far as possible, to flee from the presence of the Lord, to flee from the Word of God, who, by the means of His own appointment, is quick and powerful?
(4) Christians may learn the danger of grieving the Holy Ghost. You do so by not improving His gracious motions within you when stirring you up to duty, and by committing sin.
(5) Those Who are habitually careless may be warned from this branch of the subject not to tempt and resist the Holy Spirit. (John Jamieson, M. A.)
On the tendency of unbelief
From these words we are therefore to illustrate the natural tendency of unbelief, or its influence in producing a departure from the living God.
1. This expression implies a rejection of spiritual and eternal life, through Jesus Christ. This sin, as persisted in, issues in a total separation from the blissful enjoyment of God as reconciled, an eternal banishment “from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His Dower” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
2. It often produces a secret apostasy from Christ. Many retain the form of godliness, while they practically deny the power thereof. They indulge sin in the chamber of imagery, or practise it so secretly that their characters are not blasted.
3. Unbelief induces to a departure from all purity and strictness of profession.
4. Unbelief drives others so far that they entirely renounce a religious profession.
5. Unbelief often issues in confirmed, or in judicial obduracy.
6. It tends to the commission of the unpardonable sin. This evil heart is a sluice which, if once opened, knows no restraint but what is imposed on it by the restraining, preventing, renewing, or preserving grace of God. It is a torrent that would soon burst through all the fences of reason, natural dictates of conscience, common light, and strong convictions--nay, of saving grace already received, were not believers kept by the power of God through faith as the mean, kept by continual supplies from the fulness of Christ, and thus preserved hem perishing. It is naturally a rejection of the living God, and of that life of God, which can alone preserve from total apostasy and eternal death.
7. It tends to the indulgence of all sin. As unbelief is itself the departure of the heart from God, it continually impels to an universal departure from Him in the life. He who is under the power of unbelief never views sin as sin. Unbelief, which rejects Christ and salvation through Him, must necessarily give a preference to sin, his enemy. Nay, that very preference which the unbeliever gives to sin is the immediate cause of his rejection of the Saviour. The character of evil here given to the heart seems, indeed, especially to refer to the great efficacy of positive or acquired unbelief; for it makes the heart a great deal more wicked than it was before. Nor is it merely called evil, but the word used denotes great activity in evil, a labour in increasing its own corruption and that of the life, in strengthening itself in its own wickedness.
8. It tends to eternal death. If, as hath been said, it be a rejection of spiritual and eternal life, this must be the inevitable consequence. (John Jamieson, M. A.)
On the improvement of the doctrine of unbelief
I. We may improve it for INSTRUCTION.
1. We may learn, in general, the great reason of the unprofitableness of the bearers of the gospel. It is their want of faith.
2. It may be inferred that we ought to view every sin in its natural tendency. This particularly applies to unbelief. Therefore the apostle holds up this sin in its genuine scope, in departing from the living God. This is one great object of the deceitfulness of sin to conceal its true spirit, design, and end. But we ought to tear off the veil, and then shall we see that its ways lead down to death.
3. A departure from the ordinances of the gospel is a departure from God. The Hebrews might be apt to excuse themselves for renouncing the gospel dispensation in the hour of trial by pretending that they still secretly adhered in heart to God, trusted in the Messiah, and retained a respect to ordinances formerly enjoined. But the apostle shows that, by departing from the gospel, they really apostatised from the living God. Others may endeavour to excuse themselves in like manner from their inward respect to God, while they refuse attendance on the means of grace. But all who habitually do so renounce the authority of God, who hath an undoubted right to appoint what religious ordinances soever He pleases. Unless we acknowledge His authority in this respect, our hearts do not submit to Him; we rise up in actual rebellion against Him.
4. The great danger of speaking irreverently of the Holy Spirit, either as to His person or operations.
5. We may learn that even the partial exercise of unbelief in the hearts of God’s people is highly provoking to Him. Therefore we are so earnestly dehorted from it. We have an instance of His displeasure in this respect with two eminent saints, Moses and Aaron, although Moses was the principal actor.
II. This subject affords ground of TRIAL. Let every one put this important question to his own heart, “Do I really believe in Christ, or am I still under the power of this evil heart of unbelief?”
1. If your faith be saving, you are convinced that it is the work of God.
2. It is attended with evangelical repentance. “They shall look on Me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn.” Have you never been made to abhor yourselves? Has all your sorrow for sin been confined to its consequences? If so, you are yet strangers to the faith of God’s elect.
3. The heart is purified by means of it. This grace always produces holiness. It instigates to, and is instrumental in, the mortification of all known sin.
4. It worketh by love. It produces a supreme love to God. For “he that loveth not, knoweth not God.” It works by love to the brethren. For “hereby do we know that we are passed from death to life,” &c.
5. It overcometh the world. The Church is represented as having the moon under her feet. This may be understood of the present world, of which, because of the uncertainty of all its enjoyments, the moon in her many waxings and wanings, in her constant changes, is a very proper emblem. Faith overcomes the world in its allurements.
6. It produces a high esteem of Christ; for to them that believe He is precious.
7. Faith receives and improves Christ in every respect in which He is revealed. It embraces Him in His person as God-man. Therefore believing is called receiving Him. Indeed, faith is, on our part, the great instrument of union to Christ. Faith embraces His righteousness. Therefore it is called the righteousness of faith, and said to be unto all and upon all them that believe It receives Him in all His offices, as made of God to us wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification.
8. Faith purifies the life. “As the body without the spirit is dead, even so faith without works is dead also.” That faith which does not influence the practice is deceitful and destructive. (John Jamieson, M. A.)
To all, faith
In Scripture the “heart” expresses the whole spiritual nature of man--his mind or understanding, his feelings and passions, his spiritual being, his will. Under sin the heart’s thoughts are darkened, its passions degraded, its will perverted (Jeremiah 17:9; Ezekiel 11:19; Ecclesiastes 8:2). Accordingly, the gospel deals first and above all with the heart. Mere change of life, while a deceitful heart remains, will avail nothing. The gospel’s first promise, therefore, is (Ezekiel 37:26-27). The renewed heart implies everything--new light to the darkened mind, a renewed will, a new life. The root of all the evils that afflict our race is the unbelieving heart. You will find many urge in those days that, as faith is simply belief in testimony, as to whose value people may differ, unbelief is no sin. For instance, you may hear that a certain event took place in London last week, and the evidence seems to you so good that you believe the report; a friend of yours, however, does not believe it, because he thinks the evidence untrustworthy. In neither case does moral blame attach to the person; all that can be said is, that the two friends differ. Now any one who reads Holy Scripture will soon discover that, as to the great truths of religion, Scripture treats faith in them, or unbelief, in no such easy temper as this. Faith, according to the Bible, is our first duty, and unbelief a damning crime (Mark 16:16; John 6:29; John 3:18). What, then, is theessence of saving faith? (Romans 10:9-10). It is believing God’s testimony concerning His Son, concerning our doom as sinners, His love as our Saviour, His death for us, His resurrection, His reign over us, and His Spirit’s work in us. As to God, it is our taking Him at His word, in all He tells us of our emptiness, and of Christ’s fulness. As to ourselves, it is the assertion and triumph of the higher nature within us over the lower, of the unseen and eternal over the world of sense about us and within us. We see, then, why faith saves. It lays hold upon God; it overcomes the world. The believer lives as seeing Him who is invisible, as in presence of things eternal. God has clearly revealed to us this unseen lie, and established by many infallible proofs both its existence and its awful character. Reason deals with the evidence, and then, assured of the facts, faith’s eye gazes upon them as though they were visible, and the believer lives under the abiding sense and power of them. What this power is, we see in Hebrews
11. Whereas, where an evil, unbelieving heart is, there will be found the victory not of faith, but of the world--evil thoughts, evil desires, evil words, evil acts, the deceitful heart desperately wicked. In Romans 1:28-32 we have one of the reasons why unbelief is condemned. It is a sin against knowledge. It may be said, indeed, that many live in ignorance of unseen realities; but whence springs this? With multitudes, from indifference. They care for none of the things that make for their soul’s peace, and hence take no pains to know God’s way of peace for guilty sinners. Multitudes, again, are lost by procrastination. The longer the delay, the less the hope. Worldliness grows upon one, deadness of heart spreads and deepens; ossification, stoniness of heart--the truest and most awful mortification known to us; the conscience becomes dulled, the eye of sense opens, the objects of sense allures, faith’s eye closes, and unseen things become dim, shadowy, unsubstantial. Luxuries become, from habit, necessities; the lust of the flesh, &c., grow by indulgence; and the desires after better things unseen dwindle by disuse. Faint wishes after heavenly things, and these but seldom take the place of settled purpose; while the strong will, every day stronger, drags down the captive spirit to earth, and sense, and sin. Pride unites with careless indolence in making the unbeliever reject the gospel. He rebels against its simplicity. His good name, good works, good character--something of self as are equivalent for salvation; whereas, all the while, eternal life is God’s free gift, which can neither be bought nor bribed, but must come of God’s own rich, undeserved grace, for His Son’s sake. Strange, too, as it may seem, the evil heart betrays its presence as much by shame as by pride; but it is the false shame, which springs not from sin but from fear of the opinion of the world about us. There is but one way to God, but there are a thousand ways of departing from Him. He who is the slave of impure thought, of anger, hatred, malice, envy, or covetousness, will find that his evil begirt will soon open up a way by which he may depart still further from the living God. To each and all the gospel says--Return. The test of faith is obedience. (W. McLean.)
The evil of unbelief
1. Unbelief hardens men’s hearts against means afforded for their good 2 Kings 17:14; Exodus 9:19; Exodus 9:21).
2. It keeps them from being established in the way of God (Isaiah 7:9).
3. It makes them reject those whom God sends (John 5:38; Matthew 21:32).
4. It takes away the profit of God’s word (Hebrews 4:2).
5. It perverts the plainest manner of teaching (John 3:12; John 10:25).
6. It makes miracles not to be regarded (John 12:37).
7. It enrageth men’s minds against the truth (Acts 17:5):
8. It moved the apostles to depart from people (Acts 19:9).
9. It makes men unfit to call on God (Romans 10:4).
10. Unbelievers can in nothing please God (Hebrews 11:6).
11. They are no sheep of Christ (John 10:26).
12. They are under Satan’s power (2 Corinthians 4:4).
13. To unbelievers nothing is pure (Titus 1:15).
14. The gifts which Christ bestows upon them are fruitless and without Matthew 17:20).
15. Christ’s own power is stinted to them (Matthew 13:58).
16. Unbelief makes men do detestable acts (1 Timothy 1:13).
17. It was an especial cause of the rejection of the Jews (Romans 11:20).
18. It was the cause of many external judgments (Hebrews 3:19; Hebrews 11:31). For it makes men run headlong into danger (Exodus 14:23).
19. It excludes from heaven (Hebrews 4:11).
20. It thrusts down to hell (Luke 12:46; Mark 16:16; Joh 3:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:12; Revelation 21:8). Can that which is in itself so heinous a sin, and that which has so many fearful effects following upon it, be accounted an infirmity? If we would judge it as indeed it is a true, proper sin, a cause of many other gross sins: a sin most dishonourable to God, and damagable to our own souls: we should take more heed of it, and be more watchful against it. (W. Gouge.)
Duties due to Christ, as He is the living God
Sundry duties are to be performed unto Christ in this respect, that He is the living God.
1. Acknowledge Him to be the true God (Joshua 3:10;Jeremiah 10:10).
2. Be zealous of His honour (1 Samuel 17:26; 2 Kings 19:4; 2 Kings 19:16).
3. Fear Him that hath the absolute power of life (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 10:31).
4. Tremble before Him (Daniel 6:26; Deuteronomy 5:26).
5. Adore Him (Romans 14:11).
6. Serve Him (1 Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 9:14).
7. Turn to Him (Acts 14:15).
8. Long after Him (Psalms 42:2; Psalms 84:2).
9. Hold close to Him (John 6:68-69).
10. Seek life of Him (John 6:33; John 5:40).
11. Trust in Him (1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Timothy 6:17).
12. Account it a great privilege to be His son (Hosea 1:10; Romans 9:26; Hebrews 12:22).
13. Pervert not His word (Jeremiah 23:36).
14. Never depart from Him (Hebrews 3:12). (W. Gouge.)
I. THE EVIL IN UNBELIEF.
1. Distrust is born of evil experience. The innocent child is credulous. Its confidence is destroyed by what it comes to see of dishonesty, falsehood, and selfishness. But this product of sin ought not to become the principle by which to weigh the truth of higher things.
2. Infidelity has dishonoured our nobler nature. Its philosophy is materialistic. Its theory of human origin is degrading. The unbelievers of every age neglect the human spirit and pamper the lower nature of man.
3. Scepticism is a covert for sinners. Infidel eras in all human history have been connected with selfish luxury and license.
II. THE INHERENT DAMNATION. The miser has no faith in kindness. The seducer no faith in woman’s virtue. The trader in souls no faith in any rights of the weak. The traitor no faith in loyalty. And so such men as Nabal, and Aaron Burr, and Benedict Arnold, carry about inherent damnation. Yet the principle of evil unbelief, run to extreme in their cases, is the same, in only less degree, in every unbeliever’s heart.
III. THE TREATMENT OF DOUBT. Do not denounce or debate. Give kind, clear, truthful, positive argument; but do not argue in a strife of wits. Raise the standard of Christian living, promote revivals. For “if any man will do His will, he shall know.” The gospel is a mystery; then an experience, then a growth in knowledge, under true conditions. (The Homiletic Monthly.)
An evil heart of unbelief
We are prone to lay the stress of religion on the head and the outward conduct--on an orthodox faith and a correct life. But we make a grave mistake. Not with the head, but “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” It is “an evil heart of unbelief” that is our greatest danger.
1. Because of the insidious character of such a moral state. An overt act we cannot hide from view, but an evil heart may have seduced us far away from God before we are conscious of it.
2. Because of the radical character of such a condition--a bad heart vitiates every moral act.
3. Because the danger arising from such a spiritual state is most imminent. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
The rejection of revealed truth referable to moral depravity
I. Unbelief in the revelation of Jesus Christ is EVIL IN ITS NATURE. Unbelief is not a mere error in judgment; a mere miscalculation of the amount and force of testimony:--but a state of the heart involving disobedience to God; aversion to His truth. And is not the heart that is capable of all this, an “evil heart”;--a rebellious heart;--a hard, ungrateful heart? Yes, unbelief, so far from being no sin, or a small sin, is the radical principle, the most noxious element of all sin. And if all unbelief be thus evil, how pre-eminently evil is that unbelief which not only refuses to hear and to yield assent when God speaks, but which sets at naught such a message as the glorious gospel--a message of love and mercy, of peace and pardon and life.
II. Proceed to show that the heart-of unbelief is “an evil heart,” by tracing this unhappy state of mind to some of its CHIEF CAUSES. That which is always and essentially evil in its NATURE cannot be imagined to have any other than an evil SOURCE.
1. And on this point the Word of god is clear and decisive. It uniformly traces unbelief, in all its forms, to a corrupt source. It represents it as generated and nourished by pride, by prejudice, by unhallowed appetite and passion, by corrupt habits of living, by a desire to be free from all the restraints which the faith of the gospel imposes. If the children of unbelief were really actuated by that spirit of candid inquiry; can it be imagined that their manner of investigating the religion of Jesus Christ could be such as it to commonly is? Can it be believed that levity, sneer, habitual ridicule, and profane scoffing become the discussion of matters so infinitely important?
2. The same charge of unhallowed origin is still further established against the spirit of unbelief, by the undoubted fact, that while its votaries are unceasing and ardent in their efforts to draw those around them from the religion of Christ; they discover no serious desire either to practise themselves, or to inculcate on others that which they profess to believe.
3. Again, the history of the rise and progress of many of the most common cases of infidelity, plainly demonstrates that its source, no less than its nature, is evil. Thousands of the young, as well as of the aged, have been, manifestly, drawn into infidelity by their evil passions and their vices.
III. No less evil are its EFFECTS. Our blessed Saviour has taught us to judge of all moral professions and claims by this test. “Therefore,” said He, “by their fruits shall ye know them.” With regard to the DOCTRINES which unbelief inculcates, they are, notoriously, as to the great mass of them, radically and essentially corrupt. It has, indeed, been often remarked, and with great justice, that INFIDELITY HAS NO PRINCIPLES. In truth, there was scarcely the smallest exaggeration in the charge of the satirist when he said that the sum of their creed is “to believe in all unbelief.” Now, is it possible to conceive that such principles, or rather such absence of all principle, can tend to promote the order, purity, and happiness of society? As well might we dream of darkness begetting light, or of committing men to the school of Satan and his angels, to be trained up for the heavenly paradise. And as the speculative opinions of the votaries of unbelief are generally and essentially corrupt; so their practice has been, in all ages, worthy of their creed. Who, let me ask, ever since the religion of Jesus Christ has existed in the world, have been most conspicuous for the regularity, purity, and benevolence of their lives--infidels or Christians? That the effect of unbelief in revealed truth has ever been to generate moral corruption is attested by all history. Read, for example, the “Confessions of Rousseau,” that wonderful monument of perverted genius, who undertook to paint his own likeness, and you will behold the portrait of one of the most polluted and miserable of men. Read what Voltaire and his royal patron and companion in unbelief, the Prussian monarch, say of each other, and you will find one of the most revolting and loathsome pictures of moral baseness ever presented by men claiming a decent place in society. But further; who, let me ask, have ever been found throughout Christendom most zealous and active in forming and executing plans for the benefit of mankind? What class, I say, have ever been found most ready for every such good work--infidels or Christians? On the other hand, by what class of persons are the great mass of the crimes which pollute and disturb society committed? They are infidels, either open or secret. Further, was it ever known that any son or daughter of Adam was reformed from a wicked life by embracing infidel opinions? But oh, how often has the dying culprit been heard to confess with anguish and tears that infidel sentiments led him astray; that the rejection of the Bible gradually led to profaneness, to intemperance, to lewdness, to fraud, to robbery, perhaps to murder,--and at length to the infamy of a felon’s death 1 I am aware that it will be said by those who are determined to resist all evidence on this subject, that many professing Christians have been as immoral as other men. This is, no doubt, a fact; and yet it does not in the least degree weaken our argument, or militate against the doctrine of our text. On the contrary, it rather confirms every word which has been uttered. Were these persons real, or only nominal Christians? Nay, infidels themselves are witnesses that they were nominal Christians only. Why else have they, with few dissenting voices, acknowledged that the morality of the Bible is the best in the world? Practical inferences:
1. We may see the reason why Christian faith is so constantly in Scripture enjoined as a duty, and the absence of it condemned and threatened as a sin. The fact is--as you have heard--faith is so essentially connected with the state of the heart and the current of the affections; its very nature so inseparably involves moral feeling, practical choice, and the spirit of obedience; that where it is present it is the gem of all that is good in the soul; and where it is absent, there is the essence of rebellion.
2. We may learn how many and great are the evils which must necessarily flow from the decline and the weakness of faith in the real Christian. The “evil heart of unbelief” is not confined to that infidelity which is speculative and entire. It exists, and exerts a pestiferous influence, in the case of many a sincere believer. This is the worm at the root of all spiritual duty, prosperity, and comfort. In short, faith, among the Christian graces, is like the main-spring in a well-adjusted machine. Its character affects everything.
3. We may infer that infidelity is, in every respect, hostile to the best interests of civil society. An infidel people will ever be an immoral, profligate people; and a people characteristically immoral and profligate cannot long continue to be a free and happy people.
4. We are taught, by what has been said, that if we desire to bring our children and others committed to our care to the knowledge and love of the truth, we must not content ourselves with mere frigid instruction, with mere addresses to the intellectual powers. We must take measures to enlist the whole man in the great subject.
5. We may learn from this subject the reason why the great, the rich, the philosophical, and the honourable among men so seldom embrace the genuine gospel; and also why, when they do profess to embrace it, they so rarely appear to enter heartily and thoroughly into its spirit. The reason is--not that there is any deficiency of evidence in the gospel; the real andprincipal reason is, that men “cannot serve God and mammon.”
6. We may see, in the light of this subject, the alarming situation Of infidels.
7. Finally, this subject teaches us the unspeakable importance of Christians showing forth their faith by their works. It was once said by a female martyr, of feeble body, but of firm and undaunted spirit--when standing before her merciless persecutors, who endeavoured to perplex and confound her by their learned subtleties--“I cannot meet you in argument for Christ, but I can die for Him.” My dear fellow professors, we may not be called to “ die for Christ”; but we can all live for Him. (S. Miller, D. D.)
The necessity of a believing heart
I. THE TRUE NOTION OF FAITH. Faith, which is the principle of the gospel, respects the promises and declarations of God, and includes a sure trust and reliance on Him for the performance. Beyond this there is no further act of faith. Religion is a struggle between sense and faith. The temptations to sin are the pleasures of this life; the incitements to virtue are the pleasures of the next. These are only seen by faith; those are the objects of every sense. On the side of virtue all the motives, all the objects of faith engage. On the side of vice stand the formidable powers of sense, passion and affection. If this be the case, if religion has nothing to oppose to the present allurements of the world but the hopes and glories of futurity, which are seen only by faith--it is no more absurd to say men are saved by faith than it is to say they are ruined by sense and passion, which we all know has so much of truth in it, that it can have nothing of absurdity.
II. The character given in the text of AN UNBELIEVING HEART--namely, that it makes us depart from the living God.
1. That it is for want of faith, considered as a principle of religion, that men depart from the living God. The knowledge of God is but like other natural knowledge, as long as it has it residence in the head only. To become a principle of religion it must descend into the heart, and teach us to love the Lord with all our minds, with all our souls, and with all our strength. The faith then of the gospel, and which the wicked man is an utter stranger to, is that faith which makes us cleave steadfastly to the Lord with full purpose of heart.
2. That faith cannot be a principle of religion till it has its effect and operation in the heart. Even sense works in the same manner, and, powerful as it is, has no effect till it has made its way to the heart, the seat of all our passions and affections. There, and there only, it prevails as a principle of action. Sense produces no sensuality till it warms the affections with the pleasures of the world; and faith produces no religion till it raises the heart to love and to embrace its Maker. The great advantage the world has over religion lies in the certainty and reality of its objects, which flow in upon us at every sense. To supply this defect on the part of religion, Revelation was given to assure us of the certainty and reality of things future; without which assurance they could have no effect or influence on our affections.
3. That the motions and operations of the heart are in great measure under our own power and government. We find daily that we can check our passions and inclinations to serve the purposes of this life, and if we would do as much for that which is to come, we shall answer all that the apostle in the text requires of us, when he exhorts us to take heed of an evil heart of unbelief. (Bp. Sherlock.)
Warning against backsliding
I. THERE IS MUCH UNCONSCIOUS BACKSLIDING. In a petrifying spring articles are often placed under the dropping water, and as it trickles down upon them they are gradually hardened till they become like the very stone. So is it with sin. Gently and slowly it seeks its way into the heart, and hardens it day by day, even while the possessor of that heart may be more or less unconscious of the change that is going on. This is backsliding. Sin permitted, the heart gradually hardened, unbelief taking his place on the throne, and then, departure from the living God.
II. THIS UNCONSCIOUS BACKSLIDING MAY EXIST IN QUARTERS WHERE WE LEAST SUSPECT IT. The word of the text is, “lest there be in any of you.” “Any of you,” what a searching word! “Lord, is it I?” It is always dangerous to stay ourselves upon our strength, our knowledge, our experience; upon anything, in fact, but the sustaining grace of God supplied to us through faith from moment to moment. It is worthy of note, and has often been remarked, that in the accounts of backsliding furnished in Scripture, men seem to have failed just in those points of character where they were supposed to be strongest.
III. THE TRUE SAFEGUARD AGAINST THIS UNCONSCIOUS DECLENSION. “Consider … Christ Jesus.” As the devout Jew was encouraged to walk about the holy city, and note her strength and beauty, so are we urged to consider the Lord Jesus in every aspect of His blessed character, offices, and work. Only with the eye of faith fixed on a full-orbed Christ, and a heart occupied in the consideration of Him, shall we be able to comply with the exhortation of the text. (W. P. Lockhart.)
The evil heart of unbelief
Anybody who has common power of observation, must be struck by the wonderful things which are constantly attributed in Holy Writ to faith, or believing in the word of God--be it what it will--and especially in that revelation of Himself which He has made in Christ Jesus (see Romans 4:5; Galatians 3:11; Mark Matthew 17:20; Luke 8:48, &c.). But a second thing, equally beyond doubt, is universally asserted of this Divine grace: that from a true faith springs of necessity, like a tree from its root, a corresponding obedience, a bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit. To be a believer and a doer of the Word are the very same thing. Faith or belief is holy living, and holy living is faith, being one and indivisible; so that the inward principle, denoted by the term faith, comprehends all things which, whether in our justification or sanctification, are made by the word of God essential to our everlasting salvation. Now, then, this nature of ours, which makes us what we are--men, and not angels or brutes--is not a single or a simple thing, but is made up of at least two parts, what we call our heart and our head, or our understanding. The first, that by which we feel, and love, and hate, and have a choice or will; and the other, that by which we see what is right and true, and in a lower form of it, reason about the things of the world in which we live, and which our senses present to us. Some things belong only to the head, and if that consents to them, it is enough; it is the belief which belongs to that kind of truths. Such are many things in numbers, and what is called science, and many matters of fact; men and people, for instance, mentioned in books, and many concerns of this life; the heart or will has nothing to do with them one way or other. But other things have not only a true and a false, but a right and wrong about them, and when admitted as true, make it absolutely necessary for us to approve them and to act upon them, and by reason of them; and since, therefore, they touch at once the heart and the head, they cannot be really believed, unless those two parts of our nature go together. When they do so, then, and then only can we, indeed, and in truth, be said to believe them. And when anything is thus admitted, and beats down all opposition before it, and occupies all our nature, all the spiritual being, whatever of it by which we think and feel, is made to act as God intended it to do. As a wheel rolls when the needful force pushes it in a particular direction, or any other machine moves when the spring is touched, so does the man. He is agitated, he is moved; thought and feeling go forth into visible actions he does and acts accordingly; his nature is at unity with itself, and all obstacles being overpowered, impels him in one way. Now, the solemn thing for us to consider is this, that such is the case with all that God has revealed to us in the glorious gospel of His Son. It is not made up of things to be received into the head, only as part of us, and to be kept like book knowledge, outside of the soul, but it is to be accepted by our whole and entire soul. You see, then, in an instant, what a number of powerful enemies there are within us, to divide, even in things of themselves most clear, the heart and will from the head, and to prevent that living and true belief in Christ, and in His gospel without which no soul of man can be saved. What a fearful alienation from God, as a spiritual God, there is in the heart, whatever natural graces may adorn it! What an iron stubbornness of will and resolution to conform all things to itself, and not itself to the eternal law I Yet God, if He is God, is not a word, or a fancy, but an awful King, who must in all things be obeyed. Flowing from the same evil source, what an unspeakable repugnance there is to such a love of Christ, as shall have power over us. What vanities, what idolatries, what coldnesses! What an evil ally in the world about us, and the enemies--not of flesh and blood, but princedoms, dominations, and powers, even all the hosts of Satan--who rest not day or night, but toil to harden up the evil heart within us, to the destruction of all living faith, and the ruin of the soul. (J. Garbett.)
I. IN ITS NATURE IT DOTH INVOLVE AN AFFECTED BLINDNESS AND IGNORANCE OF THE NOBLEST AND MOST USEFUL TRUTHS; a bad use of reason, and most culpable imprudence; disregard of God’s providence or despite thereto; abuse of His grace; bad opinions of Him, and bad affections towards Him.
II. THE CAUSES AND SOURCES FROM WHENCE IT SPRINGETH.
1. Negligence, or drowsy inobservance and carelessness; when men being possessed with a “spirit of slumber,” or being amused with secular entertainments, do not mind the concerns of their soul, or regard the means by God’s merciful care presented for their conversion; being in regard to religious matters of Gallio’s humour, “caring for none of those things.”
2. Sloth, which indidposeth men to undergo the fatigue of seriously attending to the doctrine propounded, of examining its grounds, of weighing the reasons inducing to believe; whence at first hearing, if the notions had not to hit their fancy, they do slight it before they fully understand it, or know its grounds; thence at least they must needs fail of a firm and steady belief, the which can alone be founded on a clear apprehension of the matter, and perception of its agreeableness to reason.
3. Stupidity, or dulness of apprehension, contracted by voluntary indispositions and defects; a stupidity rising from mists of prejudice, from streams of lust and passion, from rust grown on the mind by want of exercising it in observing and comparing things; whence men cannot apprehend the clearest notions plainly represented to them, nor discern the force of arguments, however evident and cogent; but are like those wizards in Job, who “meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noonday, as in the might.”
4. Bad judgment; corrupted with prejudicate notions, and partial inclinations to falsehood.
5. Perverseness of will, which hindereth men from entertaining notions disagreeable to their fond or froward humour.
6. This is that hardness of heart which is so often represented as an obstruction of belief.
7. Of kin to that perverseness of heart is that squeamish delicacy and niceness of humour which will not let men entertain or savour anything anywise seeming hard or harsh to them, if they cannot presently comprehend all that is said, if they can frame any cavil or little exception against it, if every scruple be not voided, if anything be required distasteful to their sense; they are offended, and their faith is choked.
8. With these dispositions is connected a want of love to truth, the which if a man hath not he cannot well entertain such notions as the gospel propoundeth, being nowise grateful to carnal sense and appetite.
9. A grand cause of infidelity is pride, the which doth interpose various bars to the admission of Christian truth; for before a man can believe, every height [every towering imagination and conceit] that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, must be cast down.” Pride fills a man with vanity and an affectation of seeming wise in special manner above others, thereby disposing him to maintain paradoxes, and to nauseate common truths received and believed by the generality of mankind. A proud man is ever averse from renouncing his prejudices and correcting his errors, doing which implieth a confession of weakness, ignorance, and folly. He that is wise in his own conceit, will hug that conceit, and thence is incapable to learn. A proud man, that is big and swollen with haughty conceit, cannot stoop down so low, cannot shrink in himself so much, as to “enter into the strait gate, or to walk in the narrow way, which leadeth to life”: he will be apt to contemn wisdom and instruction.
10. Another spring of infidelity is pusillanimity, or want of good resolution and courage. Christianity is a warfare; living after its rules is called “ fighting the good fight of faith”; every true Christian is a “good soldier of Jesus Christ”; the state of Christians must be sometimes like that of the apostles, who were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears; great courage therefore, and undaunted resolution, are required toward the undertaking this religion, and the persisting in it cordially.
11. Infidelity doth also rise from sturdiness, fierceness, wildness, untamed animosity of spirit; so that a man will not endure to have his will crossed, to be under any law, to be curbed from anything which he is prone to affect.
12. Blind zeal, grounded on prejudice, disposing men to stiff adherence unto that which they have once been addicted and accustomed to, is in the Scripture frequently represented as a cause of infidelity. So the Jews, being “filled with zeal, contradicted the things spoken by St. Paul”; flying at his doctrine, without Weighing it: so “by instinct of zeal” did St. Paul himself persecute the Church; being “ exceedingly zealous for the traditions delivered by his fathers.”
13. In fine, infidelity doth issue from corruption of mind by any kind of brutish lust, any irregular passion, any bad inclination or habit; any such evil disposition of soul cloth obstruct the admission or entertainment of that doctrine, which doth prohibit and check it; doth condemn it, and brand it with infamy; doth denounce punishment and woe to it: whence “men of corrupt minds, and reprobate concerning the faith”; and “men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth,” are attributes well conjoined by St. Paul, as commonly jumping together in practice; and “to them,” saith he,” that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled”; such pollution is not only consequent to, and connected with, but antecedent to infidelity, blinding the mind so as not to see the truth, and perverting the will so as not to close with it.
III. THE NAUGHTINESS OF INFIDELITY WILL APPEAR BY CONSIDERING ITS EFFECTS AND CONSEQUENCES; which are plainly a spawn of all vices and villainies, a deluge of all mischiefs, and outrages on the earth for faith being removed, together with it all conscience goeth; no virtue can remain; all sobriety of mind, all justice in dealing, all security in conversation are packed away; nothing resteth to encourage men unto any good, or restrain them from any evil; all hopes of reward from God, all fears of punishment from Him being discarded. No principle or rule of practice is left, beside brutish sensuality, fond self-love, private interest, in their highest pitch, without any bound or curb; which therefore will dispose men to do nothing but to prey on each other with all cruel violence and base treachery. Every man thence will be a god to himself, a fiend to each other; so that necessarily the world will thence be turned into a chaos and a hell, full of iniquity and impurity, of spite and rage, of misery and torment. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
1. The great reigning sin.
2. The great ruining sin.
3. That which is at the bottom of all sin. (J. P. Lange.)
Unbelief and faith
Of Duncan Matheson, the Scottish evangelist, it is said that the most difficult people he had to deal with were those who “concealed a hard heart under a thick coat of Evangelical varnish.” To extend his usefulness, he secured a printing press, and wrote upon it, for a motto, “For God and Eternity.”
Departing from the living God
Apostasy from the living God
I. GOD IS A LIVING GOD.
1. Not a mere historical God; a God that has been and is no more.
2. Not a theoretical God--a Being made up of abstract propositions which we call theologies.
3. Not a dormant God--impassive, sluggish, inactive.
4. “Living”--always, everywhere, intensely.
II. DEPARTING FROM THE LIVING GOD IS AN IMMENSE EVIL.
1. The greatest insult to Him.
2. The greatest calamity to self.
Cut the stream from the fountain, and it dries up; hew down the branch from the tree, and it withers to death; detach the planet from the sun, and it rushes into darkness and ruin; separate the soul from God, its fountain, root, sun--and ruin is its destiny.
III. UNBELIEF IS EVERMORE THE CAUSE OF THIS DEPARTING. Had men an undoubting, strong, abiding, and practical faith in the living God, and their obligations to Him, they would cling to Him with all the tenacity of their existence. (Homilist.)
Exhort one another
Restraining of spiritual intercourse in families
THE EVIL OF THE RESTRAINING AMONG NEAR RELATIVES OF FREE INTERCOURSE ABOUT THEIR SOULS, IS EVIDENT from this, first of all
1. That it is a breach of God’s express command in the text, “Exhort one another daily.” If this duty lies on professing Christians simply as such, much more must it be obligatory on husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child.
2. The evil of it appears in that it involves, I suspect to a very large extent, the sin of being ashamed of Christ and of His words. Whence that strange silence, that awe-struck air in the presence of a brother? If it were before a stranger, one might try to account for it in different ways. But this will not do among persons accustomed to open their minds freely on every other subject.
3. This restraint cuts off all the precious innumerable benefits which God intended to arise from the exhortation enjoined in the text, and which in families were all the greater, in virtue of the constant opportunities and peculiar facilities there afforded for it. What daily consolation, what instruction, what warning, what encouragement, what direction, are thus lost for ever!
4. There is a specially mischievous effect produced by it on the children of a family. The absence of it throws a fearful stumbling-block in their way. Is heaven a reality? Is Christ indeed beloved? Is the soul imperishable? The faith of the child, such as it is, is gradually sapped and undermined.
5. Near relatives are, by this restraint, deprived of one of the mightiest incentives to a holy life.
II. THE CAUSES OF THIS.
1. The unregenerate condition of too many parents, and other near relatives, professing religion. They cannot speak of Christ, because they are ignorant of Him. They cannot commend Him to others, because they have never themselves embraced Him. The world is their theme, because it is their treasure, their god.
2. Careless, inconsistent walking before God and each other, among near relatives, is one painful and powerful cause. Persons professing godliness, united in very endearing ties, are not careful to order their lives in each other’s sight, entirely as becomes the gospel. Honesty forbids it. It is felt that it were hypocrisy to talk of Christ’s love and of His law, unless, at least, it were with the avowed design of committing the parties to an immediate change. But still farther
3. And in close connection with inconsistent walking, yet distinct from it, I believe that the chief cause of the restraint in question among the people of God is to be found in the want of soul-prosperity, and of a close and habitual intercourse in secret with God and His blessed Word. The want, in short, of religion, or the low’ state of it, are the real causes of this evil.
III. There can be little difficulty in discovering and noticing THE REMEDIES, under God, for the evil. These must take their character from the causes.
1. I besought you to ask yourselves, as in God’s sight, whether ye were Christ’s indeed.
2. If the cause lie with you in careless and inconsistent walking, whatever other remedies you may employ, let that command be heard, “Put away the strange gods which are among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only.” And especially
3. In the third place, seek the remedy for this evil in a closer walk with God, in a more habitual, living fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (C. J. Brown.)
I would have every minister of the gospel address his audience with the zeal of a friend, with the generous energy of a father, and with the exuberant affection of a mother. (Fenelon.)
Lest any of you be hardened
I. THE EVIL ITSELF.
1. It is from an obstinate refusal to attend to Divine things, which are irksome and painful, and the soul is better pleased with those things which are congenial, and afford pleasure and satisfaction.
2. It is from the natural character of the heart, which, unless renewed, refuses to bend to the teachings of grace and the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
II. THE PREVALENCE OF THE EVIL. It exists everywhere that human nature exists. It is both natural and acquired. The heart, though naturally hard, is made harder by the circumstances by which it is surrounded.
III. THE END AND CONSEQUENCE OF THE EVIL. It is like the fossilisation of an object which we sometimes see. A piece of wood or cotton is placed under the drip of a waterfall; in a short time it is encrusted, and becomes, to all intents and purposes, a stone. It is hard, unimpressionable, will neither melt nor burn. So the heart of man may become a fossil, incapable of good actions, tender thoughts, holy feelings. (Homilist.)
The danger of heart-hardening through sin
I. THE SOURCE OF GREAT AND ALARMING DANGER.
1. Sin is deceitful.
(1) In its appearances.
(2) In its promises.
(3) In its influences.
2. Sin prevails through its deceitfulness. In the time of temptation its deformity is hid; its real character is veiled. Many a man on a dying bed has been compelled to feel the difference of the views he has entertained in health and in a state of sickness. But when sin presents itself to the objects of its temptation, it suggests itself as easy to be avoided: “Oh, you are not the slaves of sin; you may avoid it, or you may limit your progress in it; yield to the temptation, and stop when you please.” So the devil deceives the human mind. It often changes its tone, and it is equally deceitful in both cases. It is sometimes represented as irresistible; the man says, “I have no power to resist it.” This is the way the mind is operated upon by the tempter. Oh, how great is the deceitfulness of sin 1
3. Sin hardens through its deceitfulness.
(1) Hardness of heart implies a state of moral insensibility, the moral susceptibility of the heart being removed, the soul becoming callous, so that spiritual things do not impress.
(2) In hardness of heart there is a principle of inflexibility and rebellion in the heart. It is not merely hard like stone; there is something like a reaction: the hardness is manifested in its resistance to the claims of truth--an inward principle of rebellion against God.
(3) Sin hardens the heart by strengthening the principles and habits of iniquity in us. The restraints of conscience in this way are overcome.
II. THE CONDUCT THAT IS TO BE PURSUED UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, We must “exhort one another.”
1. Now exhortation implies instruction. We are to endeavour to diffuse “the savour of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord.”
2. This exhortation implies warning and reproof; where it is necessary to warn our fellow-creatures that are in danger of “being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”; to set the danger before them, and affectionately to point out to them the dreadful consequences which must ensue.
3. But this implies also encouragement. We ought to encourage one another to look to God, to seek much grace to enable us to counteract the influence of sin.
4. But this exhortation to which we are admonished is private exhortation. Now let me remind you that the discharge of this duty does necessarily imply a disposition to receive exhortation as well as to give it.
5. But this is a serious and a very difficult duty to discharge successfully.
(1) If you exhort one another let it be seriously, then; do not affect to give religious instruction in a spirit of levity. Let us remember that the soul is the object concerned.
(2) And let it be with a right spirit; do not assume superiority; do not pretend to dictate like masters.
(3) In love.
(4) Seasonably. Watch for opportunities.
(5) Prayerfully. All our effort will be unavailing without God’s blessing.
(6) Frequently. “Daily,” i.e, as often as you can seasonably..
(7) Urgently. Whatever we do we must do now, or perhaps we shall not do it at all: we know not what another hour may bring forth. (Josiah Hill.)
1. Private Christians not only may, but should, keep Christian communion amongst themselves, and mutually exhort and stir up one another.
2. This is a necessary means of preserving people from defection.
3. And a duty daily to be discharged while it is to-day; that is, as oft, and as long, as God giveth present occasion and opportunity for it, lest a scattering come. (D. Dickson, M. A.)
A warning against hardness of heart
I. THE HARDENING CHARACTER OF SIN.
1. There is no doubt whatever that living among sinners has a hardening tendency upon men. You cannot walk about in this great lazar-house without receiving some contagion.
2. Let me here remark that the sins of God’s people are peculiarly operative in this manner. If I see a drunkard intoxicated, I am simply shocked at him, but I am not likely to imitate his example; but if I see the same vice in a man whom I respect, and whose example has hitherto been to me the guide of my life, I may be greatly grieved at first, but the tendency of my mind will be to make an excuse for him; and when one has succeeded in framing a plausible excuse for the sin of another, it is very natural to use it on one’s own behalf. Association with inconsistent Christians has been the downfall of many young believers. The devil delights to use God’s own birds as a decoy for his nets.
3. It is often a long and laborious process by which conscience is completely seared. It usually begins thus: the man’s first carefulness and tenderness departs. It may not seem a great evil to have less abhorrence of evil, but this truly is the egg from which the worst mischief may come. The next distressing sign of growing hardness is increasing neglect or laxity of private devotions without any corresponding shock of the spiritual sensibilities on account of it. Another symptom of increasing callousness of heart is the fact that hidings of the Saviour’s face do not cause that acute and poignant sorrow which they produced in former times. Still further, when the soul is hardened to this extent, it is probable that sin will no longer cause such grief as it once did. It is a sad sign of coming declension when we can talk of sin lightly, make excuses for it, or make jokes about it. The next step in this ladder, down, down, down to destruction, is that sin thus causing less grief is indulged in more freely. After this there is still a greater hardening of heart--the man comes to dislike rebukes.
II. THE PECULIAR POWER WHICH LIES IN SIN TO HARDEN THE HEART. It is the deceitfulness of sin. The heart is deceitful, and sin is deceitful; and when these two deceitful ones lay their heads together to make up a case, there is no wonder if man, like a silly dove, is taken in their net. One of the first ways in which sin deceives the professor is by saying, “You see no hurt has come of it.” Forgetting that the immediate results of sin are not always apparent in this world, and that if hardness of heart be not apparent it is all the more real. Then sin will whisper next, “This would be sin in other people, but it is not in you. You see you were placed in a peculiar position; there is indulgence for you which could not be accorded to other men: you are young,” says sin, “nobody could accuse you if you did go a little rashly to work--if you were an older professor it would be very wrong.” Then if it is an old man who is to be deceived, sin will cry, “You must take care of yourself; you need more indulgence than others.” If a man be in private life, sin will then suggest, “It does not matter in you: it would be wrong in a church-officer, but nobody knows it in your case.” If it be some person in high repute, then sin whispers, “Your character is so well established it will bear it.” Again, sin will sometimes have the impudence to say, “It is very easy to repent of it.” This vile traitor is even dastardly enough to take the doctrines of grace and turn them into a reason for sin.
III. THE REMEDY WHICH IS PROVIDED IN THE TEXT FOR US TO USE WITH OTHERS. “Exhort one another.” Doubtless many professors would be saved from gross sins if mutual exhortation were more commonly practised in the churches of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. All of you, without exception, whether you be rich or poor, see to each other’s souls; say not, “Am I my brother’s keeper? “ It is so pleasant to restore a brother from the error of his ways, that I can offer you no greater reward than these two, to screen the name of Christ from shame, and to have the pleasure of saving a soul from death and covering a multitude of sins
IV. SUPPOSE THIS TO BE THE CASE WITH ANY ONE OF US, WHAT THEN? Some of us arc in such a position that we are not very likely to be exhorted, we are keepers of the vineyard, and have none who would take upon themselves to admonish us. Our enemies, however, very ably supply the lack, for they often tell us very profitable, but very unpleasant truths. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hardness of heart
Hardness scarcely needs an explanation. It is that which, taking it from the armoury or from the smithery, gives the power to any metal to resist a weapon thrown against it; to turn the edge of the sword, to blunt the point of the spear, to quench the fiery dart, as it were: and in that sense of course it would be auspicious to have something that was hardened. But to render insensitive that which is carried within, and which ought to be sensitive; to have a disposition which has the power of turning away an appeal, of dismissing an argument, and of making vital truth a matter of indifference--that kind of hardening is much to be deplored. And it is just that which we are cautioned against. Every physician knows that a medicine is worn out by continuous use. As it were, the system adapts itself to it, and it ceases to be remedial. So there is a power in repetitious truth to become unremedial to men. This hardening is not brought about on purpose in those to whom I refer. I am not speaking to that class of persons who deliberately set themselves against the truth; I am speaking to that very much larger class of persons who first become indifferent to truth, and then are deceived in regard to it, and at last are snared by its enemies. One of the circumstances which tend to deceive men, and to wear out the power of truth upon their conscience and upon their understanding, is the attempt to make truth merely the cause of susceptibility, or of mere emotions. Men want to be stirred up; they want to feel; but feeling constantly stirred up and never employed loses tone. It is had for any man to have feeling that abides as feeling. Now it is the peculiar nature of religious truth that it plays upon excitability. Of truth there is much that touches hope, much that touches fear, and much that touches conscience, on every side; but it is a very dangerous thing for a man to hear more truth preached than he cares to practise. You may say that so much of that which he hears as he does not practise goes over to the account of instruction; and that may be so in regard to truth set forth in a didactic form; but to accustom oneself to hearing truth merely for the sake of having it play upon the susceptibilities is very dangerous, because it is a very deceitful experience; and yet there are multitudes of persons that do it. Then, next, there are a great many who hear the teaching of the Word of God, who receive it into good ground--that is, into their reason--who approve it, who feel as though they ought to give heed to it, andwho wish to profit by it, but in whom the impulse dies with that wish, and does not convert itself into a choice. They say, “I think that view was just: it commends itself to my mind as truth, and I really have been taking it home to myself; I am thinking about it; the time has come when I should be a better man, and take some steps in advance; if I am ever going to be a Christian man I ought to become one now”--and that is about the extent to which they go. Now, when a man has done that through the first year, when he has done it through the second year, and when he has done it through the third year, he begins to be tattooed, as it were. Constant iteration and trituration harden the skin, and the sensibility of his mind becomes like the sensibility of the palm of his hand, and grows leather-like. By reason of the continual handling of a man’s judgment his power of choosing becomes inert and inoperative. The perpetual raining of truth upon a man may be kept up without developing in him either character, as I said in the first instance, or choice, as I say in the second instance. Then, when the truth is being preached to men of their own sinfulness, and of their great need of a transformed nature, so that they shall rise from the flesh life to the spirit life, a great many persons feel as though this were a thing that ought to be pondered. They feel as though time should be taken to think of it. They are afraid they shall commit themselves without having reckoned whether, beginning a Christian life, they can complete it. So they take it into account. And there are two points to be made on that subject. In the first place, there is one class who take it into account, not by meditation and thought, but by reverie. It is one thing for a man to say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner; without the interposition of Divine grace I am lost; and I will cry immediately to God for help; I will begin a Christian life to-day.” That is effectual. But, on the other hand, a man, coming home from listening to a strong sermon, says, “That was well put. What if I should go to church next Sunday night, and the minister should preach on Lazarus? And what if I should be awakened? And what if I should have one of those terrible experiences which I have heard of? And what if all the sins of my life should be brought before me? And what if I should roll all night in distress? Then the minister would come and see me, and friends would gather around me, and I would pray and wrestle, and by-and-by there would suddenly come a bur,-t of light, and I should be converted, and everything would be new to me; and I would join the Church, and what a happy day it would be for father and mother when they saw me do that! And I would be a real Christian--not a lean, skinny Christian, like some that I have seen.” Thus a man weaves the fabric of an imaginary life, and it is all reverie. He supposes he is thinking about religion. He says, “I am taking it into consideration.” Oh, fool! you are taking it into consideration very much as a spider weaves silk when he makes cobwebs to catch flies on. It is all in the air. It is vacuous. There are other persons who have a very salutary horror of insincerity. They say to themselves, “This matter of religion is of transcendent importance, and if a man is going to be a Christian he ought to consider it well.” And there is a certain sort of comeliness in this. No man ought to go tumbling headlong into a profession of religion. But it is not necessary that a man should have a theological education before he can become a Christian. And, besides, no man can wait. No man does wait. There is not a man of you who, when the way of manhood is pointed out to him, does not choose. You go one way or the other. You know what truth is, and you either take the way of truth or the way of falsehood. Ten thousand influences upon every side have been pressing home the truth upon you. And what is the result? You say, “Yes, religion is a profoundly important thing; and yet it is one that ought to be much thought of.” But this ought not so to be. It is not for you, like a ship in a harbour, to cast anchor now, and swing with every tide that carries you first north and then south, for ever changing and never travelling. It is not for you to stand still and talk about thinking. A long time ago you ought to have been doing. You ought before now to have chosen, and to have converted sensibility into conduct and character. And if all the excuse you have for not entering upon a Christian life is that you do not want to do it until you have laid the foundations of thought; if you excuse yourself by saying, “I do not want to go into a Christian life until I have made sure that I will not come out of it,” then let me warn you lest you harden your heart through the deceitfulness of sin in this most guileful and specious form. At last, when men have got past these stages, there comes the stage of easy acquiescence and of mild criticism from the standpoint of mere taste. They make such a voyage as boys make who take their whittled-out miniature boats over to the park and sail them across the lake and back again. There is as much in one of these voyages as in the other. There are others who criticise the truth from a logical and instructive standpoint. They have intellectual acumen, they have critical sensibility, they are good critics: a great deal better critics than they are Christians. The truth may be as weighty as eternity; it may be a truth that reaches to the very heart of Christ; it may be the whole theme of salvation by faith in the Saviour: and all that it does to them is to excite in them a momentary pleasure of the taste, a transient gratification of the intellect, and a generous criticism as to its ability or inability, as the case may be. And what is the condition of a man upon whom the presentation of the weightiest truths no longer awakens sensibility, nor stimulates a disposition to choose, nor creates an impulse in the right direction? These are not bad men--that is, in the sense of being vicious, or in the sense of being guilty of outrageousness in any way. Often their conduct is conformable to all the best rules of social life. But they have sealed themselves against the higher forms of spiritual growth which translate one from the life of the body to the life of the Spirit. And their chances for development in true manhood as it is in Christ Jesus grow less and less every day through the deceitfulness of sin which is hardening their hearts. And so as men grow old, as age creeps on them, upon natural decay is superinduced this waste which arises from the constant hearing of the truth and from non-action, and which results in men’s coming into that dry and arid state in which the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and they are not saved. And now, what is to be done? Consider the guilt of every man who thus practises upon himself. It was only as early as 1400, I think, in the war between the Turks and the Greeks, that that magnificent structure, the Acropolis, and the temple of Minerva, and the statue of Minerva, and that wonderful frieze, the work of Phidias, whose very fragment has been the despair of the art of modern days, were destroyed. Into the magnificent temple of Minerva, which was the glory of Athens, the Turks threw bombs, which exploded and shattered the temple into a mass of shapeless ruins; and that which adorned the ripest age of the world in beauty and art perished, as it were, in an hour. To have demolished an old granite fort, to have battered down an old earthwork, would have caused sorrow to no one; but to have blotted out the grandest and most exquisite achievements of human taste, human thought, and human hand-skill, must have filled with regret every heart that loved what was beautiful. But what is any statue, even from the chisel of Phidias, or what is any temple, compared with man, who is the temple of God? and what was ever wrought in ivory or marble that was to be compared with the humanity that is in every man? and for you to destroy that humanity in yourself, to turn it into courses of evil, in spite of the influences that are tending to draw it the other way; and so to trample under foot and extinguish your higher nature--that is wanton. It is wicked beyond the power of language to express its degree of wickedness. Woe be to the man who corrupts his spiritual nature, or overlays it with animalism, or beats it down in spite of its crying, and destroys it. Consider, too, what is the nature of the truth that men resist. If the gospel of Christ had simply disclosed to men the infamy of their condition, if it had merely poured out upon them warnings and threatenings, if it had withheld from them all promises of mercy, then there would have been little to attract them to it, and there would have been some reason for their revulsion from it; but the whole presentation of the truth as it is in Christ is charming to the reason, to every noble sensibility, to every feeling of honour, and to every elevated taste, however exacting. The whole tone and the whole sphere of the New Testament is as sweet as music, and ought to vibrate upon every uperverted heart, and ought to make every soul desire to have that commerce with God and with the Lord Jesus Christ by which it shall rise and take hold upon its immortal destiny. And now, suffer me not to preach to you; suffer me to beseech you. If there are any here who have serious thoughts, let me say to them, Serious thoughts are very well if you make something out of them. In summer, when drought has long prevailed, clouds come trooping through the sky, and the farmer says, “Ah! at last the weary, parched earth will be refreshed”; but no, the clouds have no rain in them, they pass on, and the ground is as dry as it was before. To-morrow other clouds sail in caravans through the heavens, and give promise of refreshing showers; but the showers do not come. Thoughts that produce no results are of little account. To be worth anything they must be condensed into forms of active life. And while I urge you to heed and ponder the Word of God, I bid you to beware of taking it so that it shall not lead to the production of fruit in your Christian life. (H. W. Beecher.)
Hardened by being melted
When the cloud is dried up off the mountain’s brow, and the dew off the rock, the mountain is as great as before, and the rock as hard; but when convictions fade away from the heart of a natural man, they leave the mountain of his sins much greater, and his rocky heart much harder. It is less likely that that man will ever be saved. Just as iron is hardened by being melted and cooled again; just as a person recovering from fever relapses, and is worse than before. (R. M.McCheyne.)
Character tends to fixity
The Bible says nothing about how an old man can cleanse his way. When a man reaches the age of forty or fifty he cannot change the shape of his collar, how much less that of his character! (Prof. H. Drummond.)
It is not necessary for a man to die out of the world in order that his spiritual salvation may be closed. There are many who are doomed before they die. They reject the offers of salvation until they become hardened and encased as it were in steel, beaten hard like steel, and at last they become so hardened that they resist all impression, they will not listen, and their insensibility grows upon them. It is a fact which cannot be denied, that the more we resist the offers of mercy the more insensible we become to them; all spiritual sensibility in the case of some people seems to have died out before they quit this world, and it is against this that I warn you. (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
A minister of the gospel on one occasion made a solemn appeal to the young to seek God without delay, urging as a motive that, should they live to be old, difficulties would multiply, and their reluctance to attend to the subject would increase with their years. As the preacher descended from the pulpit at the close of the service, an aged man came forward, and extending his hand to him, with much emotion remarked, “Sir, what you said just now is unquestionably true. I know it from my own experience. When I was young I said to myself, I cannot give up the world now, but I will by-and-by when I have passed the meridian of life and begin to sink into the vale of years; then I will become a Christian; then I shall be ready to attend to the concerns of my soul. But here I am, an old man, and not yet a Christian. I feel no readiness nor disposition to enter upon the work of my salvation. In looking back, I often feel as though I would give worlds if I could be placed where I was when I was twenty years old, for there were not half as many difficulties in my path then as there are now.” Though tears coursed down his cheeks as he gave utterance to these truths, the emotions that were stirred up within him, like the early dew, soon passed away: he did not turn to God.
On a winter evening, when the frost is setting in with growing intensity, and when the sun is now far past the meridian, and gradually sinking in the western sky, there is a double reason why the ground grows every moment harder and more impenetrable to the plough. On the one hand, the frost of evening, with ever-increasing intensity, is indurating the stiffening clods. On the other hand, the genial rays, which alone can soften them, are every moment withdrawing and losing their enlivening power. Take heed that it be not so with you. As long as you are unconverted, you are under a double process of hardening. The frosts of an eternal night are settling down upon your souls; and the Sun of Righteousness with westering wheel, is hastening to set upon you for evermore. If, then, the plough of grace cannot force its way into your ice-bound heart to-day, what likelihood is there that it will enter to-morrow? (R. M.McCheyne.)
A hardened heart
An old man, one day taking a child on his knee, entreated him to seek God now--to pray to Him--and to love Him; when the child, looking up at him, asked, “But why do you not seek God?” The old man, deeply affected, answered, “I would, child: but my heart is hard--my heart is hard.”
The deceitfulness of sin
The deceitfulness of sin
Our vital energy finds issue in three great regions: those of thought, of word, of deed. In each one of these there is duty, and there is fault. In each of them there is the voice of God speaking in our consciences, there is the written law of God guiding, confirming, furthering, that inward voice; in each of them there is in us the constant disposition to set conscience and to set God aside, and to become our own guides, our own masters. Let us then take each one of there in turn, and show in each how manifold sin is, how deceitful.
I. Sons of THOUGHT. Nothing is so deceitful as the taking account of our own thoughts and feelings. Memory cannot copy faithfully the picture which has faded away, but overlays and tricks it out with fresh and unreal colours. Still, there is no question that our real thoughts can be got at, and their liability to sin justly measured, if we will spend time and trouble over it. We may venture to say that the great burden of our sins of thought will be found to consist in a want of honest, conscientious adoption and following of what we know to be real and true. When selfish views spread before us in all their attractiveness, the fertile plains of Sodom tempting us to dwell in them, does the course of self-denial to which we are pledged instantly assert its claim? When the temper is roused by insult, when the pride is stung by contumely, when the self-opinion is buffeted by designed slight, and the tyrant fiend of revenge springs to his feet in a moment,--do our eyes see, or do they refuse to see, the Spirit of the Lord lifting His standard against him?
II. Sins of WORD. And here I shall not speak of bad and unholy and impure words, of evil speaking, lying, and slandering: these are manifest: if we fall into these, we know it, we repent of it; but I shall speak of sins of word more beneath the surface, into which when we fall, we do not know it, of which, when we have fallen into them, we are little accustomed to repent. And I believe such sins will mainly be found, as regards our dealings with men, in stating or not stating the very truth of our sentiments and feelings and beliefs. I am not now speaking of hypocrisy, nor of any wilful and conscious disingenuousness, hut of a general want of clear and fearless truthfulness. When will men come to feel that the blessed gospel of Christ never was and never can be the gainer by any false statement, any equivocation, any shrinking from dangerous truth or unwelcome fact? If again the effect of this timid untruthful religion be bad on a man’s self, much more is it hurtful and fatal on others.
III. Sins of ACT AND DEED: doing what we ought not to do, leaving undone what we ought to do. Oh that there were in any of us the habit of referring our questioning thoughts at once to His verdict whom we profess to serve; of guiding our actions simply, humbly, fearlessly, by His precept anmd His example! If we were earnest like Him, humble like Him, wise like Him, we should recommend and adornour unflinching course of Christian duty by quietness,by unobtrusiveness, by consideration for others, by knowledge what to say, and when, and to whom. It is not the busy protester against what other men do, it is not the man who is ever found up in arms against the usages of society, who does the good; but he who is gifted with sound judgment enough to overlook things indifferent, to join in practices which he himself would perchance not have chosen, it by so doing he may cheer, and bless, and hallow, and leaven, the society in which God has cast his lot. An unsocial, uncomplying, individualising life may be very flattering to pride; may serve as a salve to the conscience, and make a man fancy himself very good and pure; but there can be no doubt that such a course is a life-long sin, bringing dishonour on the blessed gospel of Christ, and hardening men’s hearts against its influence. (Dean Alford.)
The deceitfulness of sin
Sin, we must remember, has, properly speaking, no separate independent being of its own. It is the spiritual and moral quality either of dome act, or of the habitual inward tone of mind and spirit, of a moral agent; and it is a diseased and unnatural quality and state in such an agent which is described. But to this horrible work of sin men are, as the apostle’s word imply, lured on by the deceitfulness of sin. What then is this? Sin being that disordered acting of the spiritual nature in which the will chooses that which is against the will of God, the deceitfulness of sin must mean that there is a tendency in this disease to conceal its own presence, and so to shut out from the sight of him in whom it is acting the evil which is being accomplished within him. That there is this attribute about it the very smallest acquaintance with our nature and its actings may easily convince us. For what else are all those fair names for evil, those easy judgments concerning it, which are everywhere conventionally current, but the working of this its deceitful power? Why is it that the fondness of lust is termed gallantry or pleasure? Why is it that the cold and heedless selfishness of debauchery is talked about as spirit and gaiety, but because sin’s common working is thus utterly deceitful and untrue? But above all, this deceitfulness of sin may be seen in the false estimate which it leads men to form of their own moral and spiritual condition. And this in all ways. For, first, how does it blind men’s eyes to their own actual condition. Most men would be marvellously startled if they suddenly learned what was the clear view which their daily intimates possessed of their weaknesses and faults. And why? Surely for no other reason than because they habitually judge themselves so partially, and shut their eyes so weakly to their own besetting sins. And as this first deceit as to the actual presence of evil in their characters is thus practised upon most men, so too plainly are they deceived also as to its growth within themselves! How little do men who give themselves up to it perceive the increase of sin within themselves. And this must be so. For every allowance of evil weakens in its own degree that special power of conscience by which it passes sentence on our actions. But once more, it is not only the actual presence of the evil, or the increase of the work of evil within them, which is hidden from those on whom it is passing, but they perceive nothing whatever of its deep spiritual significance. It is altogether altering their relation to the unseen world around them, and they know not of it. The adopting love of Christ had gathered them into His family: His heart yearned over them; for His sake the Eternal Spirit wrought in them. He was ever beside them. But the deceitfulness of sin veils to them all these blessings. The heavenly world seems to withdraw itself. Nor is it only peace and joy that this man thus loses. This, again, increases in another way his own inability to see the evil of the sin which possesses him. For only under Christ’s Cross, only in the full sight of His love and holiness, and bitter agony for us, can we see anything of the true evil and hatefulness of sin; and so its deceitfulness, which prevents his seeing those, deludes him wholly till it robs him of his soul. If these things are happening around, and it may be among us, what practical lessons should they enforce on us?
1. Surely, the need of a resolute watchfulness against these seductions. They who would walk safely amidst the deceitful whispers of an enchanted land, or hold on their course in spite of sounds so falsely sweet that they have lured every listener to destruction, find no escape save in stopping their ears to the voice of the enchanter. And so must it be now with those who would escape from the deceitfulness of sin within them. They must “watch and be sober.”
2. But farther, this should be a time not only for self-searching, but for beginning resolutely in some par titular actions a course of more earnest service of God. And this course of more earnest service should not be any new way devised for ourselves, but the doing more completely and conscientiously, and as to God and our Lord Jesus Christ, our own appointed duty. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
The deceitfulness of sin
Though sin admits of no definition in itself, any more than sound or colour or odour, being, all four alike, primary ideas; it may be defined, i.e., indicated, by pointing out its relation to other things with which it is essentially connected.
1. St. Paul defines sin by comparing it with law: “Sin,” he says, “is the transgression of the law.” He means the law of God, the supreme Being, the sovereign power of the universe. God has prescribed us laws, which we may or may not observe. Sin is in man what deviation from their orbits would be in the heavenly bodies, if they were endowed with a will and a power of disobedience, and should shoot off from the paths in which they now move with so much order, beauty, and beneficence.
2. So again we may define sin by its effects, its “fruits,” its “wages,” as the apostle calls them; and how easy and how melancholy the definition. It is enough to fix the thoughts on one particular, and that is, death. How wide the sweep of its scythe! how universal the havoc which it makes!
3. Once more let us look at sin in relation to the process by which it accomplishes these deadly effects. How comes it, we ask, that while sin is acknowledged to be the prolific source of all misery, still men make light of and rush into it? Sin has undoubtedly made passion strong, the imagination wild, the conscience weak; and these are parts of the explanation; but not the whole. In addition to this, sin deceives them all through, and in connection with, the understanding, to which deception properly belongs. Men cheat themselves, or allow themselves to be cheated out of eternal life. With the strength of passion, and the stupor of conscience, and the weakness of will, has been united, in marvellous sympathy, a sad hallucination of the judgment; and so we have done, and practised, it may be, what we should have thought perfectly impossible, as long as our reason remained with us and what has ever since been a matter of painful and self-condemning recollection. And now, what is the conclusion of the whole matter? We have seen what sin is in relation to God and His law; what it is in its effects, and what it is in the process of its working. What now are the natural inferences from these points? Two at least present themselves, viz., that it is the greatest of all evils, and, at the same time, that it is the most insidious. The law, of which it is the transgression, is the prime law, the parent law, the law which makes all others possible, the law which develops moral agency, and binds the moral universe together. It is to the ethical, what gravitation is to the physical world. If sin were perfectly and completely triumphant, it would overthrow society as by an earthquake, shaking the deepest foundation of all things; and not all things in our world merely, but every other world also, where the distinction between right and wrong is known. If the Divine law is so comprehensive, fundamental, and absolutely necessary, then sin is a tremendous, and, in relation to all others, an incommensurable evil. The same conclusion is inevitable, when we look at it in its bearing, not on our moral but our sentient nature, our susceptibility to pleasure and pain, happiness and misery. All the suffering this moment in the world, whether of mind or body, whether open or secret, whether social or individual, whether from the recollection of the past, or the anticipation of the future, or the pressure of the present, springs from the root of sin. Oh, what folly to be fleeing from other evils--poverty, sickness, obscurity, shame, bereavement--and yet take no measures, while opportunity is afforded, to escape from the consequences of sin and its intrinsic evil! Oh, my friends, sin is a great evil; and it is as deceitful as it is great. It beguiles the soul it ruin. It is like those diseases which put the patient asleep, so that he slumbers into the very grave; or those which cause him to indulge fond hopes of life, up to the moment Death throws his unerring dart. It deceives in regard to a man’s particular acts, and in regard to his whole moral state. (W. Sparrow, LL. D.)
Deceitfulness of sin
1. It assumes false names.
2. It prefers false claims.
3. It offers false excuses.
4. It makes false resolutions. (J. Burns.)
Religion the great security against the delusions of sin
It is an old and just observation, “that no man ever became completely wicked at once.” But, notwithstanding all the kind restraints of conscience, of shame, and the terrors of futurity, which Providence has mercifully opposed to the progress of sin, it does, however, make wonderful advances in the world.
I. A MAN CANNOT ENTIRELY ABANDON HIMSELF TO THE COMMISSION OF EVIL, TILL HE HAS ABSOLUTELY EXCLUDED THE APPREHENSION OF GOD FROM HIS THOUGHTS. It is not usual ever for bad minds to put their dark workings in execution till every eye be closed; they shun the light they hate, because their deeds are evil. And is it possible that they should fly from the presence of a man fallible as themselves, and yet dare to stand the inspection of that Eye, to which the very darkness is no darkness at all; before which all hearts are open, and to which no secrets are hid? Again, it is observable that when a man has once begun to indulge the dispositions and habits of vice, he gradually withdraws himself from every object which may infer a reproach upon his conduct, or suggest to him the necessity of reforming it. He deserts the places of public adoration; he declines the society of pious and good men; and suppresses the exertion of every thought that bears upon it any visible stamp of virtue and religion. He guards himself against the apprehension of God, as against a dangerous companion. He finds himself incapable of advancing one step, while this stands in his way; it opposes his progress, as the armed angel did that of the ambitious prophet, and obstructs the accomplishment of his wicked views.
II. When the apprehension of the Deity is once suppressed, A MAN MAY BE LED, IMPERCEPTIBLY, BY THE DELUSIVE ATTRACTION OF ERROR, through each successive degree of impiety, till he arrive at last at a state of absolute insensibility and final impenitence. The bad affections, which were before chained down, are now let loose; and sin, deceitful enough in itself, gains an easy ascendant upon a mind which is willing to be deceived, and which dreads nothing so much as the necessity of subscribing to conviction. By what shallow reasonings, by what poor pretences, men suffer themselves to be cheated out of their virtue!
1. One pretence that is generally made is, “That religion contracts our faculties into narrow bounds; that, in order to enlarge them, it is necessary to burst her bands asunder, and cast away her cords from us; that every passion has its natural object, and that it is an infringement on natural liberty to restrain the indulgence of them; that, since life is at best so short, the best method of making it longer is to enjoy it; that the severities and rigours which are imposed by religious ordinance are only the inflictions of politic priests, who (being disabled by age and infirmity) would willingly make atonement for their own transgressions, by laying the severest restrictions on the liberties of others; that religion, in short, is the merest slavery; and that a man denies himself a pleasure which nature has allowed him, who does not give a full scope to the indulgence of every passion.” This method of arguing is attended by two very great and very evident defects.
(1) It is by no means evident (though it has been sometimes insinuated) that religion forbids the enjoyment of any delight which nature and reason allow; and whoever presumes to exceed the bounds prescribed by reason and nature, will be sure to meet the disappointment his presumption deserves. And it is notorious to a degree, that those who pretend to a greater latitude of enjoyment than the rest of mankind, have in fact the least real enjoyment of all.
(2) The austerities which are charged upon religion are trifling, in comparison of the repeated penances, mortifications, to which the libertine is reduced, by disappointed passions, a distempered constitution, and an unquiet mind.
2. Another deceit that men are apt to put upon themselves is, “That the sins they commit are so inconsiderable, that they will certainly be overlooked by the eye of infinite mercy; that they make such short incursions into the ways of wickedness, as to leave their retreat secure whenever they please; and that they are in no danger of falling into any flagrant or presumptuous act of evil.” This is so fatal a deceit, that one would almost be induced to think that it had been better for some men to have fallen immediately into a flagrant breach of duty (upon their first revolt from virtue) than to have crept on in the commission of what are usually called inconsiderable sins. And for this reason there is something so shocking to a mind that retains any sense of God and goodness in the reflections which succeed the commission of any greater crime, that a man recoils from it with the utmost horror and detestation, and is often carried backward to greater degrees of virtue by the very violence with which he fell from it. But, on the other hand, while a man continues to flatter himself that the sins he commits are trirling, he is gradually amused into an increase of wickedness and guilt. He goes on step by step, without perceiving the progression, and is deluded into his destruction by an opinion of his security.
3. And this brings on the last illusion in which sin is apt to involve the human mind; which is this--when the persons who have thought themselves so secure begin to look calmly back, and discover the unthought of advances they have made in vice, they stand amazed; and conclude it as impossible for them now to return, as they did before to have proceeded so far. (T. Ashton, D. D.)
The deceitfulness of sin
I. SIN HAS A SINGULAR POWER TO DECEIVE.
1. Its deceit may be seen in the manner of its approaches to us. It comes in a very subtle way, offering us advantage. Intellectually, it comes with a question, or an inquiry. Ought we not to question and to inquire? Are we to receive everything implicitly? The question is, however, full often the thin end of the wedge, which Satan drives home in the form of carnal wisdom, doubt, infidelity, and practical atheism. How tiny a drop of sinful distrust of God’s Word will poison all the thoughts of the soul! Sin frequently comes as a bare suggestion, or an imagination; an airy thing, spun of such stuff as dreams are made of. The thought fascinates, and then the spell of evil begins its deadly work; thought condenses into desire, and desire grows to purpose, and purpose ripens into act. I have known a sin insinuate itself by the way of the repulsion of another sin. A man will fly from pride to meanness, from moroseness to jollity, from obstinacy to laxity. Thus the shutting of one gate may open another, and one sin may crawl in as another creeps out.
2. Sin is deceitful in its object, for the object which it puts before us is not that which is its actual result. We are not tempted to provoke our Maker, or wilfully cast off the authority of righteousness. No, no; we are moved to do evil under the idea that some present good will come of it. Thus are we lured and bird-limed like the silly fowls of the air. The object set before us is delusive: the reward of sin may glitter, but it is not gold, and yet as gold it thrusts itself upon our erring judgment.
3. Sin is deceitful, next, in the name it wears. It is very apt to change its title: it seldom cares for its own true description. Almost every sin, nowadays, has a pretty name to be called by on Sundays, and silver slippers to wear in fine society.
4. Sin also shows its special deceitfulness in the arguments which it uses with men. Have you never heard its voice whispering to you, “Do not make much ado about nothing. Is it not a little one?” The point of the rapier is small, and for that reason the more deadly. Then will sin raise the question, and say, “Is this really wrong? May we not be too precise? Are not the times changed? Do not circumstances alter the command?” Sin is great at raising difficult points of casuistry. He that wills to do wrong is eager to find a loophole for himself.
5. This deceivableness is further seen in the excuses which it frames afterwards.
6. The deceitfulness of sin is seen again in its promises; for we shall not go far into sin without finding out how greatly it lies unto us.
7. Sin is deceitful in the influence which it carries with it. When yielded to, it tries to shut off the door of repentance.
II. THIS DECEITFULNESS HAS A HARDENING POWER OVER THE HEART.
1. Partly through our familiarity with sin. We may look at hateful sin till we love it.
2. Then there follows on the back of this insensibility to sin an insensibility to the gospel.
III. THIS DECEITFULNESS OF SIN, AND THIS TENDENCY TO BECOME HARDENED, NEED TO BE FOUGHT AGAINST.
1. The way to keep from hardness of heart, and from the deceitfulness of sin, is to believe. You shall find that, just in proportion as faith grows strong, the deceit of sin will be baffled.
2. If you would be saved from the deceitfulness of sin confess it honestly before God. Pray that sin may appear sin: it cannot appear in a worse light. Thus thou shalt not so readily be caught in its traps and lures.
3. Cultivate great tenderness of heart. Do not believe that to grieve over sin is lowering to manhood; indulge thyself largely in sweet repentance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The lies of the temptress
There is a possible reference here, in this personification of sin, as leading men away by lies, to the story of the First Temptation. There, the weapons of the Tempter were falsehoods.
I. FIRST, THEN, MY TEXT SUGGESTS TO ME SIN’S LIES ABOUT THE BAIT. The old story is typical, and may stand as a welldeveloped specimen of the whole set of evil deeds. Either for the sake of winning a desirable object, or for the sake of avoiding some undesirable issue; we never do the wrong thing, and go away from God, except under a delusion that we shall be better and happier when we have got the desired thing than we should be without it. Now I do not mean to say that there is not a very solid reality in the pleasurable results of a great many wrong things. If a man chooses to sin to gratify sense, he does get the sensuous enjoyment out of it. But there is another question to be asked. You have got the thing you wanted; have you,--what then? Are you much the better for it? Are you satisfied with it? Was it as good as it looked when it was not yours? Is not the giant painted on the canvas outside the caravan a great deal bigger than the reality inside, when you go in to look at him? Is there anything that we have got by doing wrong for it, howsoever it may have satisfied the immediate impulse in obedience to whose tyrannous requirements we were stirred up to grasp it, which is worth, in solid enjoyment, what we gave for it? Having attained the desire, do we not find that it satisfies not us, but only some small part of us? If I might so say, we are like those men that old stories used to tell about that had swallowed some loathly worm. We feed the foul creeping thing within us, but ourselves continue hungry. Besides, sin’s pleasures are false, because along with them all comes an after tang that takes the sweetness out of them. There is only one thing that promises less than it performs, and which can satisfy a man’s soul; and that is cleaving to God.
II. AGAIN, NOTE THE LIES ABOUT THE HOOK. “Ye shall not surely die.” I suppose that if any man had clear before him at the moment of any temptation, howsoever fiery and strong, the whole sweep of the consequences that are certainly involved in his yielding to it, he would pause on the edge, and durst not do it. But sin suppresses facts; and here are a few of the barbed points that she hides. She does not tell you anything about outward consequences. Every year there come into Manchester young men who fancy they can play the game and not pay the stakes. She suppresses the action of conscience. There is nothing more awful than the occasional swiftness and completeness of the revulsion of feeling between the moment before and the moment after. She suppresses the action of sin upon character. You cannot do a wrong thing, “departing from the living God,” without thereby leaving an indelible mark upon your whole spiritual and moral nature. Loftier aspirations die out of you, the incapacity for better actions is confirmed, and that awful mysterious thing that we call “habit” comes in to ensure that once done, twice will be probable, and twice done, thrice and innumerable times will be almost certain. There is nothing more mystical and solemn about our lives than the way in which unthought of and trifling deeds harden themselves into habits, and dominate us, whether we will or no. And so the sin which once stood in front of us with a smile and tempted us, because it was desirable, afterwards comes behind us with a frown, and is a taskmaster with a whip. The flowery fetters become iron, and the thing once done gets to be our master, and we are held and bound in the chain of our sins. And more than that, there is the necessity for perpetual increase, heavier doses, more pungent forms of evil, in order to titillate the increasing insensitiveness of the nature. You take a tiger cub into your house when it is little; it is prettily striped, graceful in its motions, playful and affectionate; and it grows up, and when it is big, it is the master of you, if it is not the murderer of you! Do not you take the little sin into your hearts. It will grow, and its claws will grow, and its ferocity will grow. And now all these consequences suggest the last of sin’s suppressions that I would specify. They all make a future retribution a probable thing. And that future retribution is a plain and necessary inference from any belief at all in a God, and in a future life. But the tempting sin has nothing to say about that future judgment, or if it has, has only this to say: “Ye shall not die.” You are like sailors that get into the spirit room in a ship when she is driving on the rocks, and, as long as you can get the momentary indulgence, never mind about what is coming.
III. THEN NOTICE AGAIN, THE LIES AS TO THE CRIMINALITY OF THE DEED, “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat?” is the insinuated suggestion that creeps into most men’s minds. Just as housebreakers carry some drugged meat for the house-dogs, when they intend to break into some lonely farmhouse, so we are all adepts in applying gentle phrases to our own evil, while, if the same thing is done by anybody else, we shall flame up in indignation, as David did when Nathan told him about the man and his one ewe lamb. Therefore, it comes to this--do not you trust to instinctive utterances of inclination calling itself conscience. Remember that you can bribe conscience to say anything but that it is right to do wrong. You will get it to say anything that you teach it about what is wrong and what is not. And therefore you must find a better guide than conscience. You bare to enlighten it and educate it and check it, and keep it wakeful and suspicious, as the price of purity. The same set of lies about the criminality of our actions operates with still greater effect after the commission. I was speaking a moment or two ago about the sudden waking of conscience when the deed is done. Bat there is a worse thing than that, and that is when conscience does not wake.
IV. THE LAST WORD THAT! WISH TO SAY IS IN REFERENCE TO THE FALSEHOODS OF SIN IN REGARD TO THE DELIVERANCE THEREFROM. These other lies, like bubbles, sometimes burst. The first of them, about the pleasures, generally bursts as soon as the thing is done. The others about the pains and the criminality often disappear, when pricked by some thought of God and contact with Him. But the repertory of the deceiver is not empty yet. And she can turn her haled and bring out another set of lies, in order to retain her dominion. For the sin that said to you before you did it: “ There is no harm in it; you do not need to do it again; it is only just once and it will be done with,” says to you, after you have done it, when you begin to feel that it was wrong, and try to shake off its guilt and power: “You have done it howl. You never can get away any more. The thing is past, and neither in regard of its consequences nor in regard of its power will you ever escape from it. What you have written you have written. You are mine!” And so she lays her iron claw upon the man and holds him. So sin lies to us just as she lied before. And I have to crone with the message that, of all her falsehoods none is more false and fatal than the falsehood that a sinful man cannot turn from his evil; conquer all his transgression; begin a new happy, clean life; and be sure of forgiveness from his Father in heaven. “Jesus Christ, the faithful and true witness,” has died that it may be possible to bring to us pure and true promises of lasting and satisfying blessedness, and to avert from each of us, if we will trust in the power of His blood, the worst and penal consequences of our transgression, and, if we will trust in the power of His imparted Spirit, to make our future altogether unlike our past, and deliver us from the habit and entail of our sins. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The devices by which sin beguiles
1. One of the most obvious ways in which it works this mischief is, by diverting the attention from that to which it ought to be directed. Man’s power of attention is limited; it cannot be directed to all things at the same time; it must take them in succession. Neither should it bestow itself equally upon all things, but graduate its time and earnestness according to circumstance. Of this feature of our constitution sin, taking advantage, so fills the mind with other things, that no room is left for the things of religion. A man is thus made to forget God, by the simple obtrusion of other things upon his attention.
2. Sin deceives also by the false and captivating colours in which it decks out things forbidden. Their beauty was not their own. They wore a mask. It is no very uncommon thing for certain visions and appearances to pass before the mind, under the influence of disease, which wear all the lineaments of persons and things with which we are familiar, and yet possess no reality whatever. But not to take so violent a case for illustration; let us simply reflect how depression or hilarity of animal spirits affects all our views of things. The one will hang the brightest heaven with mourning; the other will shed an air of cheerfulness over the deepest gloom. Now it is somewhat in this way that sin deludes. It causes things to appear in unreal colours.
3. A third way, in which sin deceives, is by making us miscalculate time. What is our life? It is compared to a “watch in the night,” to a “tale that is told,” to a “vapour which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away,” to a “race that is run,” to a “ battle that is fought,” to the “labour of the day,” to the dimensions of a “span.” Yet, notwithstanding, may I not with all confidence ask whether his own feelings have not often virtually given the lie to these statements? Thus does sin deceive the young. To say nothing of the uncertainty of life, they are in error in regard to the length of it.
4. This property, which is specially named in the text, arises from our being creatures of habit. By the law of habit, the doing of a thing once, makes it easier to do it again, and creates an inclination towards the repetition of the act. Notice the manner in which the spider endeavours to secure the unwary insect, which has fallen into its web, and you have a pretty accurate representation of the process. One attenuated thread after another is woven round it, each easily broken, each in itself too trifling to be regarded or felt, but all, in their united strength, beyond its ability to break. There the victim lies, making mighty efforts to escape, but more and more hopelessly each successive moment. Thus it is, that sinful habit insensibly weaves around us its meshes. (W. Sparrow, LL. D.)
The dangerous deceitfulness of sin
I. HOW SIN IS TO BE TAKEN AS SAID TO BE DECEITFUL, AND WHEREIN ITS DECEITFULNESS LIES.
1. With reference to the external object and act about it, sin’s deceitfulness lies in false appearances and delusive promises.
2. As to indwelling corruption, who can tell the many ways it has to deceive and destroy? Sin here is the man sinful, proving a tempter to himself.
(1) In enticing to it: What pains does the shiner take to justify or extenuate the evil he is bent upon? desirous by a deceitful varnish to take off from its horrid appearance, that it may give as little disturbance to conscience as possible. All endeavours are used, not only to colour the object, but to corrupt the eye by a disguising tincture, that the sight of things may not be according to truth, but according to his desire.
(2) In confirming in it; drawing on its servants even to final obduracy and destruction. To this end false principles are admitted, or perverse inference drawn from true ones: the Scriptures are wrested, precious promises, instances of grace abounding to the chief of sinners, &c., and arguments fetched from all, whereby sinners encourage themselves to add sin to sin.
II. THE POWER AND PREVALENCY OF THE DECEITFULNESS THAT BELONGS TO SIN.
1. How strangely powerful is the deceitfulness of sin, with reference to the many who love and live therein, though they are told of its present deceit and destructive issue?
2. How powerful is the deceitfulness of sin, that can persuade men that are made for another world, to look no farther than this; and so seek for happiness where it is never to be found, or call that so, that is bounded by sense and time, as if they had nothing higher to mind.
3. How powerful is the deceitfulness of sin, as to the numbers over whom it still reigns, though all its servants sooner or later confess the delusion?
III. WHAT HARDNESS THIS TENDS TO AS MATTER OF FEAR AND FLIGHT.
1. Habitual. This is the result of repeated acts of sin, strengthening the natural depravity, and confirming in it. Hereby the sinner is emboldened in his way, and becomes a stranger to much of that shame and sorrow, reluctancy and remorse, which he was sometimes-wont to feel.
2. Judicial, or inflicted from heaven.
1. Hence learn the reason of that mighty storm that is ordinarily felt in the breasts of true penitents upon their first becoming such.
2. How adorable is the grace of God, as to all that get safe to heaven; what joy will there be upon their arrival!
3. It need not seem strange that holy men are afraid of nothing so much as sin, and cannot allow themselves to follow a multitude to do evil Exodus 23:2), it being too dear a compliment to be paid to any, to run the hazard of being hardened first, and so of perishing for company.
4. How dangerous is their mistake, who whilst under the power of sin, think their case good, because their consciences are quiet? And with how many is it thus?
5. How great is our advantage in having the Bible and living under the gospel? By which we are warned of sin’s deceitfulness and armed against it.
6. How desirable is the state of such as are in covenant with God, having chosen Him in Christ for theirs, and given up themselves unto Him. They are hereby become His special charge, as well as His peculiar delight.
7. Is the case so sad of being hardened in sin? Let the dread of this awaken a present and perpetual opposition to it in every one that would be safe.
(1) Begin at the root: see that corruption, as to its power and reign, be mortified within. Get by faith into union with Christ.
(2) Let conscience be instructed from the Word of God, and charge it to be faithful, and hearken to its voice.
(3) Beware of running upon temptation in a vain presumption you may come off safe. Your strength lies not in yourselves, but must come from heaven; and you have no promise of protection out of God’s way.
(4) Keep the cross of Christ as much as possible in view, and remember it was sin that nailed Him to it.
(5) Solemnly renew your covenant with God, and often reflect upon it with approbation; that whenever tempted to sin, you may be able readily to answer, I have opened my mouth unto the Lord and I cannot go back Judges 11:35). Thy vows are upon me, O God (Psalms 56:12).
(6) Live under an awful sense of God’s presence with you, and plead it with yourselves, that you may act accordingly.
(7) Frequently call yourselves to account. The beginnings of sin may be most hopefully resisted; but like a slight disease, may prove dangerous in the neglect, and threaten death.
(8) Use yourselves to a life of self-denial as to the flesh and the world.
(9) Keep up lively apprehensions of death and judgment approaching.
(10) Make your constant, serious application to heaven, for wisdom to discern, and grace to withstand the deceitfulness of sin. (D. Wilcox.)
The deceitfulness of sin
I. WHAT IS SIN. TO love God and to love our fellow-creatures with a pure heart fervently is the gospel law, and our own conscience witnesses that it is holy, just, and good. Whatever is the contrary to, whatever comes short of this law is sin. Now, if we trace up sin to its fountain, then we call it birth sin--derived from our first father Adam. But, if we trace sin to the streams that flow from this unclean fountain, then we call it actual sin, done by our own will. Then sin is everything we do which we ought not to do, and everything we leave undone which we ought to do. If we trace it to its different kinds we find some sins done against God only, others against God and man too. There are sins of the thought, sins of the heart, sins of the tongue, sins of the hand, sins of the whole body.
II. THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN.
1. Sin draws us away from the thought of God and of His grace; of what He has done for us, and of what we owe to Him.
2. Then unbelief slips in; unbelief of God’s Word. So Satan tempted Eve.
3. If only we disbelieve God’s Word, then we are ready to be caught with the bait which sin offers, fair and tempting to the sight, hiding under it danger and death.
4. Be not misled by the deceitfulness of sin, to go on without repentance, without conversion of heart to God. Is not delay the devil’s favourite word?
5. Nor let sin beguile you to misuse the doctrine of the grace of God.
III. THE EFFECT OF SIN. It hardens the heart. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
The deceitfulness of sin
I. MY BUSINESS SHALL BE TO SHOW YOU THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN AND HOW MUCH THEREBY WE ARE IN DANGER.
1. Evil takes another name though it doth always retain its nature. Coveteousness passeth for a thrifty temper and good husbandry. Prodigality for being generous. Vanity is reputed necessary remission of mind, and foolish talking to be affable conversation. Lavish expense of time goes for exercise and recreation due to the body. Finding fault with others is reckoned to be reproof of sin. Sharpness and severity to be strictness of conscience. Backbiting is accounted an endeavour for reformation. Jealousy and suspicion to be care for right and truth. Busy meddling with other men’s affairs, lives, and judgments, is said to be activity for the advancement of religion. And to control others’ liberty, a care for their souls. Presumption is thought to be faith in God. Curious determinations beyond Scripture, to be the improvement of faith, and inconsiderate dulness to be the denial of our reason. Malcontent to be sorrow for sin. Excessive use of the creatures, to be Christian liberty. Sometimes evil suggesteth to us pleasure and delight, and sometimes gain and profit.
2. Evil holds us in hand that it is a matter of our right, and that which we may do in the use of our liberty. Whereas it is not power to be able to do that which is not fit to be done, this is not liberty, but licentiousness.
3. Evil covers itself with some probable notion or circumstance. Nothing in this vain world is more usual than colours, pretences, representations, excuses, appearances contrary to reality and truth.
4. Evil warrants itself sometimes by the difference of time and place, sometimes by measure and degree, sometimes by mode and manner.
5. Evil pleads sometimes the necessity of the ease, and that it is unavoidable.
6. When evil hath once entangled us there is another evil (and it may be a greater) though necessary to hide or extenuate it. For evil, if it be looked into, will be ashamed of itself. Upon this account it is that men are ashamed to own it, and sometimes with a lie deny it. Cain, Gehazi, Ananias, and Sapphira.
7. Evil justifies itself by prescription and general practice. So it was formerly, and so it is still. And this is taken for a justification.
8. I shall observe in the last place that which is most dangerous of all others, and that is this: when the first motion towards repentance and conversion is looked upon as if it were the sovereign remedy of repentance itself. As if sorrow for sin were the whole product of repentance, whereas, indeed, that which is true repentance must be accompanied with the forsaking of sin and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness.
II. HOW GREAT REASON WE HAVE, ACCORDING TO THE ADVICE OF THE APOSTLE, TO TAKE HEED THAT WE ARE NOT DECEIVED.
1. Because in this state we run all manner of hazards and dangers.
2. Our several faculties have different inclinations, and some of them are not at all capable of reason, therefore not to be governed by any moral considerations, which make it a very hard province that we are to act in.
3. Things without us, and round about us, presented with their several advantages, do many times provoke and allure us, and are hardly to be denied.
4. That which should be for our security, viz., company and converse, often becomes a snare to us.
5. He that is officious to bring us into his condemnation, he is forward to fit us with suitable objects that shall raise our apprehensions and draw us into evil.
6. There are many things impure and contrary to religion to which we are tempted that the world do not reckon among the greatest crimes.
7. Man is such a compound that heaven and earth, as it were, meet in him, terms that are extremely distant. Man in respect of his mind is qualified to converse with angels and to attend upon God. And in respect of these noble faculties he is liable to be tempted to insolency, arrogancy, and great presumption, and self-exaltation.
8. If we do not use self-government, and moderate our powers by subduing the inferior to the superior, we fail in that which is our proper work and province.
9. If God be not understood and acknowledged in our worldly enjoyments and recommended to us by them; if He be not intended in all our actions, then do we not comply with the relation we stand in to God, nor act according to our highest principles, nor answer our capacity, nor are true to our own interest. For our highest faculties are God’s peculiar, God’s reserve, made for God, and fit to attend upon Him, and to receive from Him. Since, therefore, there is this danger
(1) Let us act with caution and with good advice, by conversation with the best and wisest men. For it is an easy matter to be deceived without great care and diligence.
(2) But chiefly let us make application to God, by meditation and prayer, who will not be wanting to us. Let us carefully avoid all presumption, pride, arrogancy, and self-assuming. Do not on the sudden, but see before you do; and understand well before you act. (B. Whichcote, D. D.)
On the danger and deceitfulness of sin
I. First, I shall endeavour to represent to you THE GROWING DANGER OF SIN, and by what steps and degrees bad habits do insensibly gain upon men and harden them in an evil course. All the actions of men which are not natural, but proceed from deliberation and choice, have something of difficulty in them when we first practise them, because, at first, we are exercised in that way; but after we have practised them awhile they become more easy, and when they are easy, we begin to take pleasure in them; and when they please us we do them frequently, and think we cannot repeat them too often; and, by frequency of acts a thing grows into a habit, and a confirmed habit is a second kind of nature: and so far as anything is natural, so far it is necessary, and we can hardly do otherwise; nay, we do it many times when we do not think of it.
1. Men begin with lesser sins. No man is perfectly wicked on the sudden.
2. After men have been sometime initiated in these lesser sins they are prepared for greater; such as lay waste the conscience and offer more violence to the light and reason of their minds.
3. When a man hath proceeded thus far he begins to put off shame, one of the greatest restraints from sin which God hath laid upon human nature. And when this curb once fails off, there is then but little left to restrain and hold us in.
4. After this it is possible men may come to approve their vices. For if men’s judgments do not command their wills and restrain their lusts, it is great odds, in process of time, the vicious inclinations of their wills will put a false bias upon their judgments; and then it is no wonder, if men come to boast of their sins and to glory in their vices, when they arc half persuaded that they are generous and commendable qualities.
5. From this pitch of wickedness, men commonly proceed to draw in others, and to make proselytes to their vices. But that which renders the condition of such persons much more deplorable is, that all this while God is withdrawing His grace from them. For every degree of sin causeth the Holy Spirit of God with all His blessed assistances to retire farther from them. And thus, by passing from one degree of sin to another, the sinner becomes hardened in his wickedness. For the mind of man, after it hath long been accustomed to evil, and is once grown old in vice, is almost as hard to be rectified as it is to recover a body bowed down with age to its first straightness.
II. I shall, from this consideration, take occasion to show WHAT GREAT REASON AND NEED THERE IS TO WARN MEN OF THIS DANGER, and to endeavour to rescue them out of it. If we believe the threatening of God which we declare to others, if we have any sense of our own duty and safety, we cannot but be earnest with sinners to break off their sins, and to give glory to God by repentance before darkness come.
III. I apply myself to this work of EXHORTATION--the duty commanded here in the text.
1. To persuade those who are yet in some measure innocent, to resist the beginnings of sin, lest it gain upon them by degrees. Vice may easily be discouraged at first. It is like a slight disease, which is easy to be cured, but dangerous to be neglected. As there is a connection of one virtue with another, so vices are linked together, and one sin draws many after it. When the devil tempts a man to commit any wickedness, he does as it were lay a long train of sins, and if the first temptation take, they give fire to one another.
2. To persuade those who are already engaged in a wicked course, to make haste out of this dangerous state. And there is no other way to get out of it but by repentance; that is, by a real change and reformation of our lives. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
The deceitfulness of sin
Who is it that is deceived? It is the sinner himself. Does he need to be deceived? Is there not in us all a strong enough direct inclination to that which is evil? There is also a deceit which over-reaches and ensnares us into the commission of what, but for that mistake, we would have avoided or abhorred. Again, if the sinner is deceived, who is it, or what is it that deceives him? Here we must observe that when we speak of sin’s being deceitful, it is not so much anything without us, taking the advantage of our weakness, but it is the corruption within, which makes us see things in a wrong light, and draw unjust and pernicious consequences from them.
I. I shall endeavour to open a little the CHIEF BRANCHES OF THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN.
1. Its disguising itself and wholly concealing its nature.
2. Its forming excuses for itself, and thereby extenuating its guilt.
3. Its insinuating itself by degrees, and leading men on from the voluntary commission of some sins to the necessity of committing more.
II. I proceed now to consider THE DUTY WHICH IS FOUNDED BY THE APOSTLE ON THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN, viz., mutual exhortation.
1. As to the persons who are obliged to exhort others. It seems in this passage to be laid upon Christians in general, without any exception. This is perfectly consonant to the spirit of true religion, and to our relation one to another. There is also a particular obligation upon superiors of all sorts, whether in office, as magistrates; in station, as persons of wealth and opulence; in years, as those whom time and experience should have enriched with solid wisdom; in relation, as parents and masters of families. But it is also plainly a part of Christian friendship, even for equals to exhort one another, and kindly to communicate their mutual experience in the spiritual life. We all stand in need of it; we may all be the better for it. I do not remember anything recorded more truly glorious for a monarch than what we are told of Philip of Macedon, that he heard reproofs not only with patience, but with pleasure; and I am sure there is nothing more like a Christian than to profit, not only by the admonitions of friends, but by the reproaches of enemies. If they are just, reform what is amiss; if they are probable, abstain from the appearance of evil; if they are neither the one nor the other, submit to them with patience, as a part of the will of God.
2. The season in which the duty of mutual exhortation is to be performed. Exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day; by which we are to understand that it is to be done frequently; and without delay.
3. The manner in which this exhortation must be given, if we hope to do it with success.
(1) You ought not to reprove at an uncertainty, upon bare rumour and suspicion.
(2) It ought not to be done when the offending person is in an ill temper to receive it.
(3) We are not to reprove those whom we have reason to believe to be such desperate wretches, that they would be but the more exasperated, and sin in the more daring manner, on account of the reproof (Proverbs 9:7; Matthew 7:6).
On the other hand, positively, when reproof or exhortation are administered
(1) It should be made appear, as much as possible, to flow from love and affection as its principle.
(2) As it ought to flow from love as the principle, so it ought to be conducted with meekness in the manner; no railing or reviling expressions, which will look like the wounds of an enemy to destroy, and not the balm of a physician to cure.
(3) Reproof should be given with some degree of zeal as well as meekness; we should avoid the extreme of remissness as well as severity. A slight careless reproof is often worse than none; for it is ready to make the offender think lightly of his own offence. I shall give an instance of this. Swearing, and taking the name of God in vain, is sometimes ridiculed, instead of being reproved. This seldom has a good effect. It ought, indeed, to be despised for its folly; but, at the same time, it ought to be deeply abhorred for its guilt.
(4) In admonishing one another for particular sins, we should still keep in view the source of all sin, a polluted nature, and the great danger of the sinner, as in a sinful state.
(5) Let those who would acquit themselves of this duty in a proper manner be particularly watchful and circumspect in their own conduct. Lessons:
1. From what has been said, you may see the great corruption and depravity of our nature.
2. From what has been said, let us be led to strictness and frequency in self-examination. If sin is so deceitful, it may easily lurk unobserved. Self-knowledge is a study of as great difficulty as importance.
3. From what hath been said, let me beseech all, but especially young persons, to beware of the beginnings of sin.
4. I shall close the subject, by addressing an exhortation to those who have been long and hardened sinners; who have many habits of vice cleaving to them; who have hitherto despised the gospel, and even sat in the seat of the scornful. Why will you longer continue at enmity with Him, while He is offering you mercy? (J. Witherspoon.)
The deceitfulness of sin
I. THE CAUTION. In the text sin is, by a bold figure of speech, personified, as it is in several other parts of Scripture. But we are not to suppose that there is a being called sin; but an evil principle that is at work in the world and in all our hearts. We will now notice some of the means adopted by sin to deceive the ungodly.
1. It assumes to itself soft and specious names. Sin, notwithstanding the exalted place it holds in the affections of men, is an abominable thing. Professors of religion, be you aware that you endeavour not to lessen the enormity of sin.
2. Sin deceives by promising pleasure, while it conceals the evils connected with it. It promises pleasures it can never give. Absalom listened to sin, and was stimulated in his rebellion by the hope of raising himself to his father’s throne. The event showed he was deceived, and lost his life beside. David listened to sin, when he thought of the pleasure of Bathsheba’s company, and thought, “No eye will see, no one would know.” He, too, was deceived, for his sin became patent to all Israel, and peace fled from his house for ever. There is one case recorded in Scripture which shows how sin deceives, and hardens, and finally damns the soul--Judas.
3. Sin deceives by misrepresenting the revelations of God’s Word. Instructed by that Word, we are taught to think of God as a being of infinite perfection, and that all His attributes being perfect, they cannot clash one with another--that all are holy, wise and good. But sin suggests to man’s mind a God all mercy: it puts out of sight the fact that God is a God of holiness. Again, sin leads men to reason thus: God is too lofty to behold the things done upon earth; it is inconceivable that He will take knowledge of men’s actions; He has worlds to guide and direct.
4. Sin deceives, by persuading the man that there is time yet to seek pardon, and persuades him to defer the season of repentance till a later period of life. Now, there is no want of good intention on the part of many. Sinners are deceived by sin, and flatter themselves that because they know what is right, there must be some good in them, though they practise it not. They comfort themselves, that though at this particular moment they do not put their good resolutions into effect, they intend to do it, and they think there is some virtue in that.
II. THE MEANS PRESCRIBED.
“Exhort one another.” Those who undertake to give advice should themselves be endued with wisdom and understanding. An ignorant or presumptuous person will be likely to do more harm than good. That wisdom which is gained by experience is most likely to prove useful to others. Intimate friends may exhort and counsel one another, and admonish one another of their faults. But even here a caution is needful. Some do this in such a censorious sort of way, such a “ Stand by, I am holier than thou” sort of air, that the advice they give, however good, is certain to be rejected. Men are never to be scolded into doing that which is right. In reference to this part of our subject I would say, never engage in this duty except with much prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and then between your exhortation and example there must be a consistency. If not, it will render any effort altogether vain.
III. THE TIME when this duty is to be performed--“Daily, while it is called to-day.” The present may be the only opportunity. Christians are daily going astray; every day they need exhorting. By way of application, I would entreat you all to watch well your heart, and resist the beginnings of sin, lest it should end in ruin. A spark is easily put out, but how difficult to extinguish a conflagration! Resist the unholy thought before it becomes the unholy deed, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. I will illustrate by an anecdote what sin does. There was a little boat floating near the hank in the river a few miles above the falls of Niagara; a mother was working in a field near by. She had cautioned her little daughter not to go to the water; but thither the child strolled. She saw the boat, jumped into it, which moved with her weight. She was pleased with the feeling. The boat slipped from its moorings, and began softly to float down the stream. More and more pleased was the child. The sun glittered on the tiny waves; everything was pleasant and delightful to the child. Quicker, and more quick, but yet softly and silently, that vessel shot down the river with its unconscious and joyous freight. The mother looked, and saw her child carried quickly to the current towards the fall. She screamed and ran--she plunged into the water; she ventured far, and failed. The boat is caught in the foaming rapids; it is carried over the precipice; the child is lost. Something like this may be seen daily. We warn you. (W. Jarbo, D. D.)
Deceptive nature of sin
I heard a minister not long since, while preaching on the nature and deceptive influence of sin, make use of the following illustration:--“Suppose,” said the preacher, “an individual should go to a blacksmith and say to him, ‘Sir, I wish you to make me a very long and heavy chain; here are the dimensions. Have it done at such a time, and I will pay you the cash for it.’ The blacksmith is pressed with other and more important work, but for the sake of the money he commences the chain, and after toiling hard many days, finishes it. The individual calls. ‘Have you made that chain?’ ‘Yes, sir; here it is.’ ‘That is very well done. A good chain; but it is not long enough.’ ‘Not long enough! Why, it is just the length you told me to make it.’ ‘Oh yes, yes; but I have concluded to have it much longer than at first; work on it another week. I will then call and pay you for it.’ And thus, flattered with praise and encouraged with the promise of full reward for his labour, he toils on, adding link to link, till the appointed time when his employer calls again, and, as before, praises his work; but still he insists that ‘ the chain is too short.’ ‘But,’ says the blacksmith, ‘I can do no more. My iron is expended, and so is my strength. I need the pay for what I have done, and can do no more till I have it!’ ‘Oh, never mind; I think you have the means of adding a few links more; the chain will then answer the purpose for which it is intended, and you shall be fully rewarded for all your labour.’ With his remaining strength and a few scraps of iron, he adds the last link of which he is capable; then says the man to him,’ The chain is a good one; you have toiled long and hard to make it. I see that you can do no more, and now you shall have your reward.’ But, instead of paying the money, he takes the chain, binds the labourer hand and foot, and casts him into a furnace of fire. ‘ Such,’ “ said the preacher “ is a course of sin. It promises much, but its reward is death.” (C. Field.)
It appears fair, but is filthy; it appears pleasant, but is pernicious; it promises much, but performs nothing. (M. Henry.)
The deceitfulness of sin
There was an abbot who desired a piece of ground that lay conveniently for him. The owner refused to sell it, yet, with much persuasion, was contented to let it. The abbot hired it for his rent, and covenanted only to farm it for one crop. He had his bargain, and sowed it with acorns, a crop that lasted three hundred years. Thus, Satan begs but for the first crop: let him sow thy youth with acorns, they will grow up with thy years to sturdy oaks, so big-bulked and deep rooted, that they shall last all thy life. Sin hath a shrewd title when it can plead prescription, and Satan thinks his evidence as good as eleven points at law when he hath once got possession. Let him be sure of thy youth, he will be confident of thy age.
The change sin works in the conscience
Soft sponges become flints oftentimes by a peculiar process. There are in sponges particles of flint or silex; these are ever attracting particles to themselves, until in process of time the whole mass is an aggregate of silicious matter, and the softness of the sponge has disappeared. It is exactly thus with your conscience: its sensibilities are gradually giving way to the hardening particles that are introduced by every sin you commit.
The fatal chain
Professor Drummond tells of an over-laden coal barge which stood in the river: “A sailor reported to the captain that the water was gaining upon the vessel. The captain drove him away with scoffs. Twice, thrice, the warning was repeated. Each time the warning voice was unheeded. At last the barge began to give evidence of sinking. The captain ordered the men to the boats. They took their places. He then said: ‘I told you there was plenty of time.’ Then he took out his knife to cut the cable which bound the boat to the barge. He fell back with a cry of horror. The cable was an iron chain!” The eleventh hour is an hour of haste and danger and disappointment. The thread becomes a cord, the cord a cable, the cable a chain. The time to get clear of a sinking craft is now.
The accelerating progress of an ungodly course
A denier of the original taint of sin once stood before two pictures which hung side by side upon a wall. The first was the portrait of a boy with open brow, and curls that looked golden in the sunshine, and cheeks whose damask beauty shamed the ripened fruit, wearing that happy smile which can be worn but once in life--a smile whose rippling waves are poisoned by no weeds of suspicion, and break upon no strand of doubt, looking gaily up from the flowered earth into the azure heaven without the slightest misgiving. From the canvas of the second picture there glared out a wolfish eye--the home of all subtlety and malice; and in the gloom of the dim lighted cell you might perceive the matted hair, and garments stained with blood; chains clank, or seemed to clank, upon his fettered limbs. All tell of the desperate character of the man. On these two pictures hanging side by side, the denier of the original sin fixed his gaze, until the exclamation burst out at length in a tone of half concealed triumph, “What I do you mean to say that these two beings were originally and radically the same? Do you mean to tell me that any amount of evil teaching could ever develop that guileless child into that debased and godless man? “ The artist volunteered the information that the portraits were taken from the life of the self-same individual at different stages of his history. You know the moral of the tale. There is an accelerating progress in an ungodly course, increasing with the momentum of an avalanche when the first stages of its course have run. The descent into perdition is easy, when the strivings of the passions are seconded by the dictates of the will. Sinner, I charge thee, beware lest thy sin become habit. (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
Like flakes of snow that fall unperceived upon the earth, the seemingly unimportant events of life succeed one another. As the snow gathers together, so are our habits formed. No single flake added to the pile produces a sensible change--no single action creates, however it may exhibit, a man’s character; but as the tempest hurls the avalanche down the mountain, and overwhelms the inhabitant and his habitation, so passion, acting upon the elements of mischief which pernicious habits have brought together by imperceptible accumulation, may overthrow the edifice of truth and virtue.
We are made partakers of Christ
Partners of Christ
There is nothing that Christ hath, but we have part of it.
His wisdom, holiness, His righteousness is ours; yea, His kingdom is ours. We are heirs, yea, co-heirs with Him of His kingdom. As the man at the day of marriage says to his wife, “With all ray worldly goods I thee endow,” so the Lord Jesus endoweth us with all His goods; by reason whereof, being poor and worth nothing, we become exceeding rich. Christ is ours, death, life, the world is ours. Oh, unspeakable prerogative vouchsafed to dust and ashes! Let us walk worthy of this honour whereunto we are advanced: being Christ’s partners, let us not be the devil’s partners. Let us be holy as He is holy, humble as He is humble; let us contemn this world with all the vain pleasures that be in it as He did. What fellowship is there between Christ and Belial? (W. Jones, D. D.)
Fellows of Christ
What does this mean? The first idea that suggests itself is that “ Christ” stands as a synonym and compendium of salvation, just as “Moses” in the above-quoted words of Paul is a synonym for the redemption he was God’s instrument in achieving. An alternative course is open to the interpreter: to render, “partakers with Christ,” and to find in the words the thought that only such as persevere in faith share in the glory and the joy conferred on Him at the close of His earthly career as God’s faithful apostle. This view, however, though true in itself, attains to its full heights only when we adopt a bolder course, and take μέτοχι as meaning here, as in Hebrews 1:9, “companions “ or “fellows.” We then get the striking thought that by persistent loyalty to the Christian vocation we become fellows of Jesus. It is intrinsically likely that the passage about the Messiah quoted from the forty-fifth Psalm in the first chapter was present to the writer’s mind at this point. It speaks of the Messiah as anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows, implying that they too, in their measure, have a cup full of joy. In the present connection of thought mention is made of a “boasting of hope,” a hope rising into exultation, implying a still higher measure of triumphant joy when hope reaches its consummation. The idea, “the faithful the fellows of Christ,” is also in full sympathy with the thought expressed in Hebrews 1:6, “whose house are we.” The faithful are God’s house, at the head of which is Christ, God’s Son. They are God’s house not as Moses was, as servants, but as sons, therefore the brethren of Christ. But brotherhood is a thing of degrees. There is an initial brotherhood, in which, as Paul says, a son differs nothing from a servant; and there is a brotherhood, the result of a normal moral development, in which a younger son, at length arrived at maturity, becomes the companion of the elder brother. We are brethren to begin with, but if we are faithful we shall end in becoming fellows. And so our author, having already said of those who persevere that they are the house of God, now takes a step in advance, and in renewing his exhortation to steadfastness says, “The faithful are not only the house of God and the brethren of Christ, they are His fellows, sharing His joy and having perfect communion with Him in spirit.” (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
A persuasive to steadfastness
I. First, then, here is A VERY HIGH PRIVILEGE. “We are made partakers of Christ.” Observe that the text does not say we are made partakers of rich spiritual benefits. There is more than that here. To be partakers of pardoning mercy, of renewing grace, of the adoption, of sanctification, preservation, and of all the other covenant blessings, is to possess an endowment of unspeakable value: but to be made “partakers of Christ,” is to have all in one. You have all the flowers in one posy, all the gems in one necklace, all the sweet spices in one delicious compound. “We are made partakers of Christ”--of Himself. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell,” and we are made partakers with Him of all that He is ordained to be of God unto us “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” We are made partakers of Christ, when first of all by faith in Him we procure a share in His merits. Moreover, we are partakers of Christ, inasmuch as His righteousness also becomes ours by imputation. We further become partakers of Christ by living and feeding on Him. The sacramental table represents our fellowship. Partakers of Christ! Yes, and therefore with Him partakers in destiny. The language of the text reminds us that none of us have any title to this privilege by nature. “We are made partakers of Christ.” From our first parentage we derived a very different entail. “We are made partakers of Christ.” This is the Holy Ghost’s work in us, to rend us away from the old wild olive, and to graft us into the good olive; to dissolve the union between us and sin, and to cement a union between our souls and Christ. This is work as grand and godlike as to create a world.
II. The privilege of which we have spoken suggests A SOLEMN, SEARCHING QUESTION. Are we made partakers of Christ? There is nothing more to be dreaded than a counterfeit justification, a spurious hope.
III. Now we come to THE UNERRING TEST. Patience comes to the aid of faith here. Evidences accumulate till the issue is conclusive. “We are made partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” This passage may be read in two ways, neither of which violates the literal meaning of the original as we have it in our version, “the beginning of our confidence,” or, as I would rather translate it, “the foundation of our confidence,” the basis on which our confidence rests. Take your choice. We will expound both. That man is a partaker of Christ who holds fast the faith he had at first, having received it, not as an education, but as an intuition of his spiritual life; not as an argument, but as an axiom he could not challenge, or rather as an oracle he received joyfully and bowed to submissively. The confidence which is based upon the true foundation, even Christ Jesus, is simple and clear as one’s own consciousness. It asks no proof because it admits no doubt. Now what was the beginning of our confidence? Well, the beginning of my confidence was, “I am a sinner, Christ is a Saviour; and I rest on Him to save me.” We were nothing at all, and Jesus Christ was all in all. We are not made partakers of Christ unless we hold this fast to the end. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To-day if ye will hear His voice
TO-DAY: HOW RELATED TO YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW. We are putting yesterday to its noblest use when we are using its experience to make the life of to-day better. We are preparing for the morrow in the truest way when we are striving with all our might to be faithful to the opportunity of to-day.
II. TO-DAY: ITS IMPORTANCE. To-day is the critical moment of life. Our vital concern is with to-day. Life in to-day is an impressive feature of Biblical teaching. The emphasis of both Testaments is on to-day. “We must work while it is day.” To look back is, in the judgment of the Master of our life, to unfit ourselves for the work of the kingdom of God. To be loyal to the Christian idea and order of life, we must be ready to break with the old for the sake of the new. There is little need, then, to dwell on the past. It is not behind us. In a very real sense it goes with us. The new continues, it does not efface the old. There is no “dead past”; the past is living in the present. Our present character is the Divine judgment upon our past conduct. But to-day is not only a history of the past, it is also a prophecy of the future. It is by watching to-day we can tell what will be on the morrow. Foresight is truly insight. There is no violent break between yesterday and to-day. Whatever is to come out of to-day exists in to-day. The future is not a revolution but an evolution. To-day is the child and heir of yesterday; to-morrow will be the child and heir of to-day.
III. THE BLESSING AND OPPORTUNITY OF A DAY. It comes to us laden with blessing and promise, full of history and full of prophecy. It has taken many thousands of years to prepare it for us. In the very fuel that feeds its fires is the vegetation of primeval years. Every day that dawns has countless relations with things far and wide. Ancient Egypt and Israel, Greece and Rome, Scandinavia and primitive Germany, priests and philosophers, prophets and poets, discoverers and inventors, innumerable thinkers and workers, known and unknown, have helped to prepare the materials out of which to-day’s opportunity has been made. We inherit the good, material and moral, wrought out through the experiences of many men and many races of men through many centuries. In the life of to-day are the results of the labour and struggle of all the yesterdays. No day is poor and commonplace. To the prepared soul every day is full of marvel and joy. Every day has its comedies and tragedies. Genius does not invent, it discovers and interprets. To find examples of heroism we need not turn to classic pages, nor search the annals of martyrdom. Heroism is as unfailing a reality as the daily dawn. Around and in each day are all the great marvels of creation, all the moral forces and splendours of life, and all the sacred realities to which the deeply moved soul has witnessed in every age. It is a familiar saying that life is but a day. It is said to express the awful and pathetic brevity of our existence upon this earth. But when we say each day is a life, we are giving expression to a truth of deeper importance and of greater practical value and use. There is nothing small. In the smallest things are the elements of the greatest. One day of life has in it the quality of the whole. In its acts and relations we see God making history, and man making his own future--making the character which creates condition and decides destiny. Are we making the most and the best of the opportunities of to-day? One of our older poets has represented the days as coming to us with their faces veiled; but when they have passed beyond our reach and call, the draped figures become radiant, and the gifts we slighted are seen to be right royal treasures. Let us make the most and the best of each day’s opportunity for pure and noble enjoyment. The lesson of joy is as Divine a lesson to learn as that of obedience and sacrifice. Let us make the most and the best of each day’s opportunity for thought and meditation. The inner life constantly needs deepening. The mind closed against new truth is already dying. Let us make the most and the best of the opportunity for moral and spiritual growth and beneficent service which is afforded by the daily task. It is in the sphere of every-day duties most men must win the discipline which our earthly life is meant to yield, most form the character which is the crown of life, and prepare themselves for wider usefulness. It is only by living up to the ideal and duty of making each day perfect in itself we can make life a spiritual triumph. There are only “twelve hours in a day,” yet how much can be done in and with a day. If we throw away a day no miracle will bring it back to us. There is no to-morrow for the work that ought to be done to-day. The cry, “Too late,” is not false. The mercy of God is infinite every way, but an opportunity lost is lost for ever. Other doors may open, but that door is for ever shut. The exhortation, “Prepare to meet thy God,” is, indeed, an exhortation to prepare for life, not death. Every day we meet God; every day we need to be prepared to meet Him. We prepare for what we suppose to be great days. But every day may be a great day, a Divine day. To-day all good and great things are possible. Let us by our faith and faithfulness, by our obedience to all best visions and impulses, turn it into a day of salvation, a day of God, one of the days of the Son of Man, one of the days of heaven upon earth. (John Hunter.)
1. Let me ask those who believe the truths of the gospel, but who put off the renunciation of the sins they condemn, and the consideration of the truths themselves to a future period, have you a reliable guarantee that you will have a future in which to consider, pray over, and meditate on these things? There is no such thing. The space between life and death is quickly traversed.
2. But, in the next place, addressing those who are thus procrastinating, let me suppose that you reach the remotest horizon of human age; is it not true that every day you neglect Divine truths the probability of your ever accepting then diminishes? In this world you require time to grow in knowledge; why should you argue that what God recognises in His providence He should not recognise in grace; but that He should leave you to a lifetime of ignorance, indifference, apathy, and then should give you light enough to guide you to heaven in your last moments?
3. But there is a third argument against all such delay. It is that whilst you are delaying the salvation of the soul, your heart is not all the while remaining empty. Your heart is being coloured by all it comes into contact with in the world. Now, if your soul has for forty, fifty or sixty years been absorbed about what you shall eat, what you shall drink, wherewithal you shall be clothed; or about the world’s wealth, or the world’s ambition, or the world’s cares, will it be very easy to disengage it from its old routine upon a dying bed? Will it be very easy to alter the currents, change the channels, and empty the springs of such a heart when its beating becomes feebler, and life’s sandglass is almost run out?
4. There is another fact, let me mention, one suggested to me by conversation with a physician, and I think it is a very just one, namely, the very structure of the brain, which is the hand of the mind, adapts itself to the action of the thoughts that have constantly passed through it. Now, if your thoughts have been ceaselessly absorbed with the things of this world, your brain is just adapting itself to the things of this world, and becoming unfit for others. A blacksmith’s arm would never do for the most exquisite handwriting; his arm has been accustomed to other work; and that is only a coarser illustration of what is true of the brain, that it becomes adapted and physically fitted to the trains of thought that have ceaselessly rushed through it; till, when you come to speak to a dying man who has never had Divine thoughts in his heart and head, you have to deal with the most intractable of all materials; till, almost despairing, you must cease to teach, and begin only to pray. But I take another view of the danger of such a course.
5. As people grow older, on the supposition that they live to a protracted age, the impressibility of the mind becomes less, the blood chills with age, it runs more sluggishly through the arteries and veins; the memory in old age, you know quite well, becomes less retentive. Then is not that another evidence that it must be very difficult to impress Divine truths, everlasting motives, upon memories that scarcely recollect next day what was said on this; upon hearts that Mammon has trodden into the hardness of iron, and in which passions have scorched every fair and fragrant blossom?
6. Let me notice another reason and explanation of the danger of this procrastination: you are creating and strengthening every day a refuge to which you have recourse. It is a singular law in human nature, that what becomes your habit becomes almost your very nature; and as you are making to-day a refuge from conviction, a refuge from what you feel to be duty, that procrastination becomes a habit; and every time that you do so, the next time you will be abler to do so.
7. But now the final result of not hearing God’s voice, and of thus procrastinating to a future, is what is here called the hardening of the heart. Love degenerates to zero; the enthusiasm of your spring is all frozen hard in the winter of old age; what once awakened you to joy, to hope, to fear, to alarm, fails to awaken you any more; and it is possible that God may say, as he said of one of old, “Let him alone; My Spirit will not strive with man any more”; like Pharaoh, He gives him up to the hardness he himself has originated, an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. Some of you will say, “But is not the Holy Spirit of God able to change any heart, however hard? Is He not able to convert a man in his last gasp?” The Holy Spirit’s work is always exercised on a system that promotes holiness, that glorifies Himself, that honours His holy Word; and your acting on the pleas that I now quote for you is simply sinning because grace abounds, and making the Holy Spirit’s omnipotence an excuse for your worldliness. And, in the next place, let me remind you, that while the Holy Spirit is able to do all this, He will not, and it is unreasonable to expect that He will, dishonour the means that He has instituted. But perhaps you will argue, “But we know that men have been converted on their deathbeds; very frequently we read of instances the most remarkable of deathbed conversions; and this ought to cheer us in the prospect of a deathbed conversion.” First of all, are you perfectly sure that your case is parallel in all points with the cases that you read? And then, in the next place, are you quite sure that such cases are not exceptional? I admit at once grace has its trophies in every age. But if this be exceptional, not the general rule, would you act in this way in common life? Would you plunge into the roaring cataract because one man, half a century ago, did so, and escaped? And then, let me add, those remarkable cakes that you quote had not the opportunities that you have had. Now that is a very modifying element. The dying thief never heard of a Saviour till he saw Him nailed to the Cross. In none of these cases--here is the striking fact--was there a previous hardening process under the knowledge and the preaching of the truth. But some encourage themselves with this: “But you know the scenes of a deathbed are very solemn.” They are very solemn indeed. “And may it not be true,” you will say, “that when eternity envelops us like an ocean, that then we shall think, and pray, and believe, and be saved? “ When the house is tumbling to ruins about the tenant, when life is ebbing from all the shores of the senses, when you are distracted by hopes to-day, by depression to-morrow; when cares in this world that you have left unsettled, pains and agonies within, separations, tears, sympathies, and sorrows are about you--oh! let me ask, is that an hour for thinking about the soul, of God, of the judgment-seat, a Saviour, an eternity? You may disguise it as you like, but you may depend upon it it is not. It is so easy in health to speculate what you will do; it is so difficult in a dying hour to settle what was unsettled before. The following illustration is is by an American traveller: “ In my to and fro rambles in foreign lands I once met with a party of young Englishmen, one of whom had lost his passport. By one dodge and another he continued to get on without it at the stations of secondary importance, but at length he came to the frontiers: the demand to see and examine the document was stern and imperative; his lack of it, as well as the artifices by which he had heretofore concealed it, was detected, and his further progress disgracefully arrested.” How many will come to the frontiers of that eternal world towards which we are all journeying without a passport? We may evade all scrutinies at the way-star, ions. We may be admitted into reputable and virtuous society. We may enter the Church. We may eat and drink in the presence of Christ. But all this does not constitute a passport into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Only learn wisdom from the children of this world, and do not delay to get your passport till you reach the very station where it will be demanded. It will then be too late. Now is the accepted time. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
The voice of God and the hard-heartedness of man
I. THE VOICE OF GOD! Ah! it is a wonderful thing that the High and Holy One should condescend to speak to a rebellious and apostate race for their good.
1. And if you ask how He utters His voice to man, I answer, in the first place, it is uttered through the medium of external nature. By those who will listen to it, the voice is heard above, below, and around them. And yet there are men in this age of science and education, who can tread upon the green carpet of the earth, bespread with fruit and flower, without any responding emotions to the Giver of them all; who appear deaf to the countless notes by which His voice is uttered, and His wisdom, power and love proclaimed, and to whom it is requisite now as of old to say, “If ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.”
2. I next observe, that the voice of God is uttered through the medium of passing events. Whatever occurrence takes place, the really wise man hears in it a message from the throne of the Eternal. When affluence and power are bestowed, he hears the voice of God declaring,” Here are means and opportunities for promoting My glory and advancing the welfare of My creatures. Make a right use of them. De a wise steward over them.” When, on the other hand, poverty comes, he hears the voice of God admonishing, “Learn the perishable nature of earthly wealth, and lay up for thyself treasures in heaven.” When sickness and bereavement come with their desponding and painful associations, he hears the voice of God declaring, “It is good for thee to be afflicted; before thou wast afflicted thou wentest wrong; but now thou shalt learn my statutes.”
3. I next observe, that the voice of God is uttered through the medium of human instruction and example. Here a believing husband seeks to impress his wife with the truths of the gospel; there a wife, whose affections are set “ on things above,” deplores the excessive worldliness of her husband’s mind.
4. I observe, further, that the voice of God is uttered through the medium of His inspired Word.
II. THE NATURE, OR THE MANNER AND CHARACTER OF THE RESISTANCE MADE BY MAN TO THE VOICE of God. The resistance commonly offered to the Divine appeals is not that of “the fool, who saith in his heart, there is no God,” nor that of the recklessly worldly or the profoundly infidel, who cry out, “What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?” The resistance offered by the bulk of the impenitent, is that described by the expression, “hardening the heart as in the provocation”; a delay and a disinclination to act up to the convictions of conscience from a deep rooted love of sin, like that of the people in the wilderness, than which nothing can be more provoking to the Holy One of Israel. When men disobey what they believe to be the voice of God, they must try to find some plausible excuse for their disobedience, or they must be most uncomfortable and uneasy in their minds. The individual who is frequently employed in gathering pleas for the neglect of religion soon becomes an adept in the work of self-justification. Having engaged in a warfare with his reason, his judgment and the best affections of his nature, he has nearly gained the victory, and the consequence is that he feels less religious responsibility than before, and is become almost inaccessible to any means of conviction. Now this is precisely what the Scripture means by “ hardening the heart”; and this is the very thing that is done by those in a Christian land, who refuse to become Christians indeed and in truth. (H. Hughes, B. D.)
Neglecting the day of grace
An artist solicited permission to paint a portrait of the queen. The favour was granted; and the favour was great, for it would make the fortune of the man. A place was fixed, and the time. At the fixed place and time the queen appeared: but the artist was not there; he was not ready yet. When he did arrive, a message was communicated to him, that her majesty had and would not return. Such is the tale. The King eternal consented to meet man. He fixed in His covenant and promised in His Word, the object, place, and time of the meeting: it is for salvation it is in Christ; it is now. He has been true to His own appointment; but how often is it otherwise with man! (W. Arnot.)
Now is the time
When I think of opportunities, I think I may liken us here to-night to a number of men in the Arctic regions. They have been frozen up for a long time, and the ship is high and dry on great masses of ice. The thaw comes on; but the thaw, however, will last but for a very short time. They set their saws to work; they see a split in the ice; there is a long and very narrow lane of water. If they can get the ship along there before the water freezes it up again they may yet reach the shores of dear old England, and be safe; but if not they are frozen in for another winter, and very likely will be frozen in for ever. Well, n-w, to-night it seems just so with us. It seems as if the Spirit of God had purposely brought some of you here; and I do trust He is opening, as it were, the lane of mercy for you--causing your sins for a little time to loose their frosty hold, and openingyour heart a little to the genial influences of the gospel. But, oh! if it should be frozen up again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Borne, when they had heard, did provoke
Some but not all bad
MANY HEAR THE WORD OR VOICE OF GOD TO NO ADVANTAGE, BUT ONLY TO AGGRAVATE THEIR SIN. Their hearing renders their sin provoking unto God, and destructive to their own souls. It is, I confess, a great privilege for men to have the Word preached unto them, and to hear it (Psalms 147:19-20). But privileges are as men use them. In themselves, they are of worth, and to be prized. But unto us, they are as they are used. Hence the gospel comes unto some “a savour of death unto death” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Yea, Christ Himself, in His whole ministry was a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:14; Luke 2:34). And the enjoyment of any part of the means of grace is but a trial.
II. IN THE MOST GENERAL AND VISIBLE APOSTASIES OF THE CHURCH, GOD STILL RESERVES A REMNANT UNTO HIMSELF TO BEAR WITNESS UNTO:HIM AND FOR HIM, BY THEIR FAITH AND OBEDIENCE. This He hath done, and this He will do.
1. To maintain His own kingdom in the world.
2. Should all faith utterly fail in the earth, should all professors provoke God and apostatise from Him, all gracious intercourse between the Holy Spirit and mankind in the world would be at an end.
3. Goal will do this for the work that He hath for some of His in all ages and seasons to do in the world. And this is great and various. He will have some always to conflict with His adversaries and overcome them, and therein give testimony to the power of His grace and truth.
4. God will always have a testimony given to His goodness, grace, and mercy.
5. God will always have a revenue of especial glory out of the world, in and by His worship.
III. GOD LAYS A FEW, OFT-TIMES A VERY FEW, OF HIS SECRET ONES IN THE BALANCE AGAINST THE GREATEST MULTITUDE OF REBELS AND TRANSGRESSORS. They are His portion, His inheritance, His jewels, dear to Him as the apple of His eye, and deservedly preferred unto the greatest heap of chaff and rubbish. (John Owen, D. D.)
With whom was He grieved
Now where he saith, “With whom He was angry forty years,” we have here to learn what is the long-suffering of the Lord, who doth not straight punish the sinner, but as He endured the manners of the people of Israel forty years, so He beareth with us in all our transgressions.
If thus we consider this example and such like, we are no idle hearers, but profitably exercise ourselves in His judgments; and as we ought to give Him this praise, that He is long-suffering, so let us know what duty we ought again to render unto God for all His goodness; for a great many of us cry with loud voices, the Lord is merciful, but we be dumb and deaf, and have no hearts, when we should learn what His mercy requireth of us. For, tell me, what wouldst thou think of such a child, who, because his father is loving and kind, would therefore be rebellious and riotous? What wouldst thou think of a servant, that because his master is gentle and courteous, would therefore be careless in his work, and not regard him? What subject, think we, were he, that because his prince is good and favourable, would therefore be traitorous and conspire against him? Would we not give speedy sentence against such monstrous and unnatural men? And what hearts then have we that be here this day, if we will confess this great goodness of God, our King and Father, and yet walk in our sins before Him? Thus let us answer the long-suffering of our God: and howsoever He be angry with many, as with the Israelites in the wilderness, He will be pleased with us, as with Caleb, or Moses, and we shall enter into His rest. How can we have a better rule than to see in the Word how God is said to be angry with His people. He is angry here because they refused wisdom and embraced folly, because they forsook the word of truth and followed vain devices, because they would not enter into the rest promised them, but had more desire to return to the heavy labour and bondage of Egypt. This madness of the people the Lord is angry with, as a loving Father that had care over them. So, if we will have holy anger, let it be free from all hatred and revenge, and arise only for the profit and well-doing of our brethren (Mar 3:5; 2 Timothy 4:4; Jude 1:23). (E. Deering, B. D.)
Sin and its punishment
I. GOD IS NOT DISPLEASED WITH ANYTHING IS HIS PEOPLE BUT SIN; OR, SIN IS THE ONLY PROPER OBJECT OF GOD’S DISPLEASURE, AND THE SINNER FOR SIN’S SAKE.
II. PUBLIC SINS, SINS IN SOCIETIES, ARE GREAT PROVOCATIONS OF GOD.
III. GOD SOMETIMES WILL MAKE MEN WHO HAVE BEEN WICKEDLY EXEMPLARY IN SIN, RIGHTEOUSLY EXEMPLARY IN THEIR PUNISHMENT. “They sinned,” saith the apostle, “and provoked God, and their carcases fell in the wilderness.” To what end is this reported? It is that we might take heed, that we fall not after the same example of unbelief (Hebrews 4:11).
1. The first use hereof is that which Hannah proposeth (1 Samuel 2:3). Let men take heed how they arrogantly boast themselves in their sin and wickedness, which is too common with provoking sinners; for God is a (hod of knowledge and judgment.
2. Let us learn to glorify God because of His righteous judgments. The saints in heaven go before us in this work and duty (Revelation 11:15-18; Revelation 15:3-4; Revelation 19:1-2). Not that we should rejoice in the misery of men, but we should do so in the vindication of the glory of God, which is infinitely to be preferred before the impunity of profligate sinners.
IV. GREAT DESTRUCTIONS IN A WAY OF JUDGMENT AND VENGEANCE, ARE INSTITUTED REPRESENTATIONS OF THE JUDGMENT AND VENGEANCE TO COME (see Isaiah 34:1-5; Daniel 7:9-11; Matthew 24:29; Hebrews 10:26-27; 2 Peter 3:5-7; Revelation 6:13-17). (John Owen, D. D.)
Sin viewed in connection with its temporal results
It cannot, indeed, be contended that the wicked are openly, in this world, rendered invariable victims of Divine wrath; nor does subjection to misfortune prove previous subjection to vice. Providential visitations do not necessarily presuppose extraordinary impiety; and must not, therefore, be continually identified with judicial strokes. On the other hand, worldly prosperity is not an unfailing accompaniment to holiness--frequently very far otherwise. It is true, that in times of persecution, those will suffer who avow that they are “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”; but still, at other periods, and even then, it will not be needful that they should be visited with such woes as are sent to correct the rebelliousness of the ungodly. If, therefore, we were called upon to point out a mode whereby man might ofttimes mitigate the rigours of his earthly pilgrimage, we would not hesitate to recommend to him the practice of holiness. Never forgetting that his first object in endeavouring to conform to the Divine will must, of course, be God’s glory, in conjunction with his own salvation, we find, at the same time, ample reason to conclude, that his” peace on earth,” no less than his bliss in heaven, will be advanced by his steadfast adherence to the ways of righteousness. You may have been accustomed to consider, that it is solely in reference to your spiritual concerns that your faith can be made available; but, surely, if the want of faith is liable, as in the instance referred to in the text, to become an occasion of temporal disappointment and failure, it may fairly be expected that its presence, which we know to be well-pleasing in the sight of God, will lead, in unnumbered cases, to results of a precisely opposite character. Our Almighty Father displays far more readiness to recognise the faith and love, than to punish the distrust and alienation, of His children. Though the murmuring Israelites were doomed for weary years to wander through the wilderness, and were even destined never to behold the fair and fertile land which lay beyond its bleak and barren regions, yet would it, think you, have been God’s determination to exclude them from the country which they so desired to reach, had they firmly relied on His power and constantly respected His precepts? Already had He furnished them with evidences in abundance of His anxiety to promote their well-being. But no: they counted as nothing all previous demonstrations of His affection and His power; their sensibilities were unawakened, and their minds unconvinced, by any reasonable appreciation of the evidence which foregoing occurrences had supplied; and their tongues were as ready to murmur, and their hearts to faint, at every obstacle met with in their path, at every inconvenience experienced throughout their journey, as though no practical assurances had been given of God’s readiness still to act as their Protector and Guide; as though no stupendous wonders had been wrought, and no providential kindness had been displayed. We marvel greatly at their obstinacy and blindness; but I question much whether, after all, we recognise, generally speaking, that principle in the Divine procedure with our race which was exemplified in the retributive treatment with which they met. They were losers, in a temporal point of view, through their unbelief. Had they trusted in God in seasons of apparent danger or real distress, they would speedily, doubtless, have been enabled to surmount all the difficulties of their pilgrimage, and have been happily and safely located in the land of promise. The world at large may ridicule the idea that a man’s spiritual standing can have the remotest connection with the success or failure which may attend his pursuit of any temporal objects: and we are far enough from alleging that the maintenance of religious principle will necessarily ensure the prosperous issue of every enterprise; but its absence may, at any time, throw obstacles in the way which might not, under other circumstances, require to be encountered; and when we find that unbelief, and nothing else, was the cause of the exclusion of so many of the Israelitish wanderers from the choice and productive land of Canaan, we seem to read, in characters so plain that only wilful error can mistake their meaning, the great truth, that the earthly prospects of all may be materially and even vitally affected by the possession or the want of faith. We do not say that brilliancy of renown, that stores of earthly treasures, that high and commanding influence will belong to those who consistently repose faith in the wisdom and continual workings of the providence of God: these appertain but to few, nor can they fairly be ranked amongst such acquisitions as are intrinsically adapted to produce felicity. But we say that when a man conducts each of his undertakings, from its commencement to its conclusion, with express reference to the will and watchfulness of the Almighty Governor; looking to Him as the Source of aid in all his difficulties, and regarding Him as the Author of all his success; we say that the man lives in the habitual exercise of such faith as will remove the most formidable obstacles out of his path; and that thus, while he is journeying towards a happier land, brighter sunshine, and unclouded skies, he is also engaged in the promotion of his own welfare meanwhile here below--in procuring, to a large extent, an increase to his happiness, even ere he is released from the infirmities of the earthly tabernacle. (H. B. Moffat, M. A.)
Because of unbelief
The sin of unbelief
Why did they not enter into rest? Because they believed not. He does not single out the sin of making and worshipping the golden calf; he does not bring before us the flagrant transgressions into which they fell at Baal-peor. Many much more striking and to our mind more fearful sins could have been pointed out; but God thinks the one sin greater than all is unbelief. We are saved by faith; we are lost through unbelief. The heart is purified by faith; the heart is hardened by unbelief. Faith brings us nigh to God, unbelief is departure from God. Does it seem strange? By faith we draw near and worship God; by faith we receive God’s love; through faith the Holy Ghost is given unto us; by faith we obey and follow Christ. Yet it is so natural and so like the goodness of God that all should be by faith. For the Lord is our God; He is all. He is willing to be, to give, to do all; to be God for us, to us, in us. By grace are we saved through faith, and even this trust is the gift of His blessed Spirit (Ephesians it.). Unbelief prevented Israel’s entering into the promised land. Then it follows that faith enters into rest. If we trust in God, then the wilderness will be converted into the garden of the Lord. See the true Israel, Jesus our Lord, who was tested in the wilderness. He entered into rest, He enjoyed peace with God; and there was given Him power to tread upon the lion and adder, and to trample the dragon under His feet. Worshipping the Father He conquered; and the angels of God refreshed and gladdened His heart with their heavenly converse. Such is to be your life. Only believe, only worship, only harden not your heart, when in the Scripture and in the Spirit’s teaching and in God’s daily dealings you hear God’s voice, and though wild beasts, hunger and privation, weakness and temptation beset you, you are safe, you are blessed. God is with you, who can be against you? (A. Saphir.)
The bar to progress
The words of our text are now perpetually being fulfilled in people who have missed their aim, who have not reached success. They belong to a crisis, a turning-point in the ancient history of God’s people, and they suit the present modern condition of the world.
They refer to those who were marching onward to a distinct end, but could not enter in because of unbelief. Thus they may fit us and our ways. This generation is enterprising and ambitious. It looks down every road, and tries every gate. Multitudes are seeking to go forward in divers ways. And the success of their advance depends upon their belief. I mean trust in the living power of righteousness, truth, and love, which is God’s. No one can really enter into and enjoy any new work, state, or position; no one can really advance without reliance upon this. Look at education. What an impulse it has lately received! But what might be, what often is, the bar to its wholesome effect--to its success? Not merely the omission of the Scriptural or religious lesson from the time-table, but a misbelief in the great aims of education itself. Without an inculcation of righteousness, without trust in the great principles of law and order, and without an appeal to the spiritual capacities of the scholar, education may result in the scraping together of the worst ancient and modern moral mud into the cesspool of his mind, and in his alliance or union with that which is most actively mischievous in the world. We might see, moreover, how the law of our text governs many other movements. It specially rules such as are akin to that which originally called it forth. It was first spoken of those who migrated from Egypt to Canaan, but could not enter into the Promised Land because of unbelief. This makes us think of another great movement of these days--emigration. The overflow of crowded Europe is filling North America, and other great half-empty regions of the world. It is true that some of the conditions attending this transfer did not exist in any previous settlement of a new land. But one condition holds--for ever. The emigrant is sure to fail if he goes frivolously, if he fails to realise the severe conditions of migration, if he does not go with a steadfast heart, trusting--though he may not always define this process to himself--in the great eternal and Divine laws of life and growth, which always govern victory. The genuine spirit of enterprise and energy begets success. It is a possession which increases to the holder, while the half-hearted loses the little that he holds. It slips from his feeble hand. Unquestionably, a successful act of migration demands much energy and perseverance on the part of those who move. We may be sure that the great laws of God overrule all adventure; and that the keeping of a good courage, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel, and the like Divine gifts, really lead to victory. These ever have entrance and dominion. I have said that the note of our text is in good tune ,with many of the greatest movements of our day. No true progress is made in anything except in accordance with the great laws of God. Moreover, it holds, not only in the advances which are being made into the freshly opened regions of the earth, but in the revision of ancient home institutions, and the promotion of any social or political progress. Take, for instance, the giving of larger power in the State to the peasantry in our land. This is exercising both the legislature and society. And we are specially reminded of it by that period in the history of the Hebrews to which our text belongs. We are there told of a race which for hundreds of years had been in bondage along with their flocks and herds. We hear of the partial probation these people had gone through, of the education which they had received since they left the place of subjection. When they crossed the border into their new land they faced new conditions of life, they incurred greater responsibilities. They had to exercise more of that political power which belongs to a civilised country. In the pastoral desert, where these people had been sojourning, their chief concern had been to supplement God’s gifts of food with such produce of nature as they could raise or gather from the soil or the flock. While thus living they were under such Divine or religious instruction as they had not received before. It is especially notable that they had to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Ten Commandments; learning thus their duty toward God and towards their neighbour. In the keeping of the great moral laws of God may be seen the assurance of national success. None can enter into or enjoy the real blessings of civilised society without a belief in these. This truth touches each, and as we are all members one of another, we do not merely watch spectacles of enfranchisement and the like, but by our loyal keeping of the great principle of righteousness shown in commonplace uprightness of life rising out of behest Christian faith, we welcome and assist any new-comers into the fuller rights of the national family, however little we may be brought into personal contact with them. Every Christian life is an active centre of goodness and influence reaching far beyond our sight. These words, “beyond our sight,” might lead us to the thought of that unseen rest into which we cannot enter without belief. The true rest of the Land of Promise is not that craved by the sole of the foot, the sinew, and the brain; it is rather a sense of spiritual repose along with, or after, any work done as before God; though human results may not be seen to follow it. It marks a shelter from the strain of life which may be felt even in the whirl and pressure of its business. We all sometimes feel or yearn for this. It remains for the people of God--for such as put their trust in Him. It is occasionally, but most certainly, touched by them, even in this life. It survives disappointment, and arrives even in confusion. But we do not enter into it without belief. Let those who stand outside be invited and helped by the thought that the belief which leads to salvation is not begun by an assent to a current or formulated creed, but in the receiving of the influence of the living God who is revealed to us, and to whom we are joined by our Lord Jesus Christ. This living faith gives life and meaning to the creed. (H. Jones, M. A.)
A man in prison, with a signed and sealed permission to leave it and walk at liberty lying on the table beside him, untouched, unopened, yet bemoaning himself and unhappy in his cell, is just the image of us believers who have even a fragment of unhappiness about us. I think I can trace every scrap of sorrow in my own life to this simple unbelief. How could I be anything but quite happy if I believed always that all the past is forgiven and all the present furnished with power, and all the future bright with hope, because of the same abiding facts, which don’t change with my mood, do not crumble, because I totter and stagger at the promise through unbelief, but stand firm and clear with their peaks of pearl cleaving the air of eternity, and the bases of their hills rooted unfathomably in the rock of God. (James Smetham.)
“Unbelief among sins,” says an old writer, “is as the plague among diseases, the most dangerous; but when it riseth to despair, then it is as the plague with the tokens appearing that bring the certain message of death with them. Unbelief is despair in the bud; despair is unbelief at its full growth.”
Warnings from the fate of others
When, a few years ago, a steamer was burned on Long Island Sound, and the hulk of the vessel was afterwards beached, it was said that the bell of that steamer kept tolling through the day and through the night for weeks, solemnly and impressively, to those who passed by on the waters. And I have to tell you that God has so arranged it that right over the place where the soul goes down, or there is a moral shipwreck or awful spiritual catastrophe--that right over it there is a warning that rings through the day, and through the night, and through the years, saying, “Beware! beware!” (T. DeWitt Talmage.)
Profiting by the disasters of others
Oh, that we could make that use of their disaster that Walden, the French merchant (father and founder of the Waldenses), did of that sad sight that befell him. For walking in the streets,
180 and seeing one fall suddenly dead, he went home and repented of his Popish errors and profane courses. (J. Trapp.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hebrews 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29