We have such an High Priest.
Our great High Priest
You can hardly fail to observe the tone of triumph of St. Paul in giving his summary; in announcing it as an established fact, that we have such an High Priest, a High Priest such as had been described--“holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” He speaks as though nothing more could be needed, nothing more wished. Now then, as a preliminary view of this summary of the apostle, you will all admit that in speaking of our High Priest, St. Paul is evidently to be understood as speaking of a mighty Friend or Supporter. He is manifestly anxious to magnify this High Priest, that he may possess us with an exalted opinion of His greatness and His goodness. Yet we are not for a moment to think it implied that salvation is not a difficult thing, requiring effort, exertion, and sacrifice. In a preceding chapter St. Paul had said: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” Though he here describes the same blessed truths, as in the summary of our text, he evidently indicates that we are in danger of letting go our profession through the greatness of the struggle needed for maintaining it. Thus you should set before yourselves the privilege of the Christi, n in treat his cause has been undertaken by a Being “ who is able to save to the uttermost”: and at the same time the duty of the Christian, in that he must labour with all his might at a task which is both difficult and dangerous. And we are to labour at this difficult and dangerous task on the very account that “we have such an High Priest,” that our cause, that is, is in hands which are certain to make it prevail, Without a Mediator, repentance, even if it; might have been genuine, must have been unavailing; whereas, with a Mediator, repentance wrought in us by God’s Spirit, may be made the condition of our admission into God’s kingdom. Without a Mediator prayer, even if from the heart, could have brought down no blessing from above; whereas with a Mediator prayer has only to be the prayer of faith, and it will prevail with our Father in heaven. Without a Mediator the effort to keep God’s commandments, even if made with all diligence and sincerity, could have done nothing towards removing us from under the curse; whereas with a Mediator, our imperfect obedience, though void of any merit what ever, can be graciously accepted as a proof and token of faith, and noted by God, who out of His exuberant mercy designs to “reward every man according to his works.” He taut in any measure or sense trusts in his own strength, or leans on his own righteousness, as truly depends on a broken reed, now that Christ hath died,or him, as though no Mediator had risen to make atonement; but Christ, as we have already said, puts us into a new state or condition, not a state in which we may be saved without labour, but a state in which labour may end in our being saved. He “opened to us the kingdom of heaven,” that kingdom which without Him would have remained for ever closed against the fallen and the feeble; but to open the kingdom, is not the same thing as to put us into the kingdom without any effort of our own. It is rather to encourage us to exertion, which, manifestly of no avail while the everlasting doors are firmly barred against us, may be graciously crowned with success when the bars have been removed by the Redeemer. Therefore, the whole power of the gospel, so far as motive is concerned, is against indolence and indifference, and on the side of energy and endeavour. Seeing that Christ hath been crucified, let us crucify ourselves; it would be of no avail striving to mortify the flesh whilst hell yawned for us and could not be escaped. Seeing that Christ hath died for sin, let us labour to die to sin. It is not a useless labour now, but it was till heaven had been opened, for which holiness makes fitness. Seeing that Christ pleads for us, let us be fervent in pleading for ourselves. Prayer can now be heard and answered, though it could not have been except as presented through an all-powerful Intercessor. Now, hitherto we have only treated the apostle’s summary as bearing generally on the fact, that the scheme of the gospel is so constructed as to urge us to endeavour, rather than to encourage us in inactivity. We will now, however, take a different view of the case. We will consider it as addressed simply to believers, constructed for the comfort and encouragement of those, who, in the midst of a troubled and sinful world, may be tempted to let go their Christian profession, despairing of being able to persevere to the end. There are two great points, or facts, upon which the apostle fastens as making up the sum of all that he had advanced. First, “we have such an High Priest”; such an one as had been described in the foregoing chapter--“holy, harmless, and undefiled, separate from sinners, who being made perfect, became the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey.” The apostle speaks of Christ as still being a High Priest. He uses the present tense, and thus he reminds us that the priestly office was not completed or laid aside when the Mediator had offered up Himself, but that it still continues to be discharged, and will be so while the church is in any danger of letting go her profession. And this is a truth which is full of comfort to the Christian. There is an unlimited difference to him between” we have had an High Priest,” and “we have an High Priest.” What more of encouragement can we desire, what more of assurance of final victory, now that we are able to wind up all discussion upon the Christian scheme, in the words of our text--“Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have,”not we have had, but we have--we still “have such an High Priest.” Now we turn to the second point adduced by the apostle, and this relates to the present residence of the High Priest, who, according to St. Paul, is “set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” And the tone, as we before said, in which he gives his summary would seem to indicate that the fact of Christ having passed into heaven is one which should fill us with gladness and confidence. If that residence in the heavens prove to me that Christ prevailed in the great work which He undertook, and that because He thus prevailed all power has been given unto Him in heaven and in earth, what better reason can I have for adherence to Christianity? It is no “cunningly devised fable” which I follow, if indeed the Redeemer be thus “on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” It is on no doubtful aid that I rely, it is no uncertain Advocate with whom I trust my cause, if He who died upon the cross hath been exalted to the throne. What want can there be for which He has not a supply? what sorrow for which He has not a solace? what sin for which He has not an expiation? what temptation which He cannot enable me to resist? or what enemy which He cannot strengthen me to overcome? Shall we, then, let go our profession? Shall we shrink at the approach of danger? Shall we play the coward and the recreant, because of persecution, distress, contumely, and difficulty? Nay, this were to desert a Leader, of whom we have every possible assurance, that no friend can trust Him and not be finally more than a conqueror--no foe resist Him, and not be finally crushed. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The great possession
I. THE REALITY OF THE FACT. “We have such an High Priest.” It is not a matter of useless desire or of future hope, but of present accomplished possession. The truth exists indeed in the unseen world, and is not at present visible to sight, as it will be hereafter. Hereafter the very eyes shall take cognisance of the fact, when forth from the holy of holies, the immediate presence of God, the great High Priest shall come to be manifested before the eyes of an astonished world. But why is that time delayed? Why lingers the great High Priest within the heavenly sanctuary? The answer is, that He waits till the number of the elect shall be completed, and the intercession which He for ever lives to make for His people shall be no longer necessary, when, His people being gathered safely in the last veil shall be for ever removed from between them end the full sight of God. Our High Priest still ministers for us till then.
II. THE SINGLENESS OF THE PERSON, AND OF THE OFFICE HE FULFILS. “We have such an High Priest”--not many, but one--one, and only one, so absolutely alone, that it is blasphemy to arrogate any part of His work. But will Christ be Priest for ever? This the apostle notices. Yes, for He liveth in “the power of an endless life,” and needs no successor.
III. THE PERFECTION OF THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST, AND THE PERFECTION OF HIM WHO FULFILS IT. “We have such an High Priest.” Turn back to the preceding chapter, and you will find that the apostle enumerates beauty after beauty in Christ, as if he were gathering together a cluster of jewels to deck His crown of glory. It is singular, when we read the passage carefully, how we find it crowded with insignia of honour. In human priests, if the most extravagant claims were admitted, It would yet be true that the dignity is only in the office, and not in the men. But when we turn to the true High Priest, how different it is! Here is not only the glory of the office, but the glory of the Person, infinitely qualified in His Deity, to stand between the justice of God and the whole human race. He is no mere dying man like an earthly priest, but clothed with “the power of an endless life.” He was not made after the law of a carnal commandment, but made after the oath of God Himself, “a High Priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec.” He has not entered into the “tabernacle made with hands, with the blood of bulls and goats,” but with “His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” He is not one among many, like earthly priests, but is alone in His own single and unequalled majesty, “the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” He does not fill a delegated office, like earthly priests, but fulfils His own office, and that so perfectly that He “is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him.” He needs not daily, as earthly priests, to seek forgiveness for His own sins, but is “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” He does not minister afar off from God, like earthly priests, but is already “made higher than the heavens,” and at the right hand of His Father pleads evermore for us. He needs not to repeat His daily offerings, as earthly priests, but has made atonement once, “when He offered up Himself.” And, lastly, He has no infirmity, like earthly priests, but is the Son of God, Himself God, blessed for evermore--omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, infinite! Who perfect as He? and what wonder that, thus perfect, He should govern as well as atone?-not only Priest, but King,--nay, bearing on His head the triple crown of glory--Prophet, Priest, King. (E. Garbett, M. A.)
The enthroned servant Christ
We have here two strikingly different representations of our Lord’s heavenly state. In the one He is regarded as seated “on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty.” In the other He is regarded as being, notwithstanding that session, “a minister of the sanctuary”; performing priestly functions there. Reigning He serves; serving He reigns.
I. THE SEATED CHRIST. “We have a High Priest who”--to translate a little more closely--“has taken His seat on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” If we translate the symbol into colder words, it means that deep repose, which, like the Divine rest after creation, is not for recuperation of exhausted powers, but is the sign of an accomplished purpose and achieved task, a share in the sovereignty of heaven, and the wielding of the energies of Deity--rest, royalty, and power belong now to the Man sitting at the right hand of the throne of God.
II. THE SERVANT CHRIST. “A minister of the sanctuary,” says my text. The glorified Christ is a ministering Christ. In us, on us, for us He works, in all the activities of His exalted repose, as truly and more mightily than He did when here lie helped the weaknesses and healed the sicknesses, and soothed the sorrows and supplied the wants, and washed the feet of a handful of poor men. He has gone up on high, but in His rest He works. He is on the throne, but in His royalty He serves.
III. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS OF SUCH THOUGHTS AS THESE. They have a bearing on the three categories of past, present, future.
1. For the past a seal For what can be greater, what can afford a firmer foundation for us sinful men to rest our confidence upon than the death of which the recompense was that the Man who died sits on the throne of the universe?
2. A strength for the present. I know of nothing that is mighty enough to draw men’s desires and fix solid reasonable thought and love upon that awful future, except the better that Christ is there. But with Christ in the heavens the heavens become the home of our hearts. See Christ, and He interprets, dwindles, and yet ennobles the world and life.
3. A prophecy for the future. There is the measure of the possibilities of human nature. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The crowning point: Christ the High Priest in heaven
The Lord Jesus is our High Priest in heaven. These simple but majestic and weighty words sum up the teaching of the first eight chapters of our epistle. This is the crowning-point of the apostle’s profound and massive argument, Jesus, who suffered and died, is consecrated the priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec, after the power of an endless life. He is the minister of the heavenly sanctuary and the true tabernacle In no other portion of the new covenant Scriptures is the High Priesthood of the Lord Jesus explained. Hence in this precious and most essential epistle, more than in any other book, stress is laid upon the ascension rather than the resurrection, and upon the tact that Jesus is in heaven. The object of this epistle was to comfort and also to exhort the Jews, whose faith was sorely tried because they were excluded from the services of the temple in Jerusalem; to confirm unto them the great truth, that they had the reality of those things which were only temporary and signs, and that the real sanctuary was not upon earth but high in the heavens, and that Jesus had gone to be the minister of the holy things, and of the true and substantial tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. It is because the Son of man, who came down from heaven, hath ascended up into heaven, it is because Jesus is at the right band of God, that He is the true and perfect mediator between God and man. From His throne in heaven Be gives repentance and the remission of sins; from thence He gives unto His Church all needful gifts, even as He at first sent forth the Holy Ghost because He had been exalted by the right hand of God. From heaven He shall descend and gather His saints, changing their vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto His glorious body; from heaven He worketh now, and will work, until He hath subdued all things unto Himself. If Christ is in heaven, we must lift up our eyes and hearts to heaven. There are things above. The things above are the spiritual blessings in heavenly places. “Seek those things which are above”; faith and love, hope and patience, meekness, righteousness, and strength. The things above are also the future things for which we wait, seeing that our inheritance is not here upon earth. All that is pertaining unto the inheritance “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away,” belongs unto those things which Christ has now to minister in the tabernacle which God has made and not man. Our transfigured body, our perfectly enlightened mind, our soul entirely filled with the love of God, all the strength and gifts for government (for we shall be called to reign with Christ upon the ear h), all those powers and blessings which we have now only by faith and in germ, are in the heavenly places with Christ, who shall bring them to us when He comes again at the command of the Father. (A. Saphir.)
The true tabernacle
The true tabernacle
IT HAS A DIVINE RESIDENT. The soul is in the body, animating and controlling it, and revealing itself in it; so God is in the good--the true Church.
II. IT HAS A DIVINE ARCHITECT.
1. He formed the plan, and a wonderful plan it is, stretching over ages, and involving the agencies of heaven, earth, and hell.
2. He laid the foundations (Isaiah 28:16).
3. He prepares the materials. Digs each stove out of the quarry of depravity, hews it, polishes, makes it suitable for a place m the building.
4. He builds the materials together.
III. IT HAS A DIVINE MINISTER
1. A Deliverer.
2. A Leader.
3. An Educator. (Homilist.)
The true tabernacle
Here the contrast is not so much that of law and gospel, of grace and works, as in other epistles; the contrast is between the earthly and temporary and the heavenly and eternal. While the temple was still in existence, it was difficult for the Hebrews to understand the heavenly character of their calling and worship.. The apostle shows that Jesus is High Priest in heaven, and that therefore ours is a heavenly sanctuary, where all is substance, and possessed of an eternal vitality and glory. He is the minister of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. This tabernacle is contrasted with the tabernacle in the wilderness. It is “true,” in the sense in which Jesus says, “I am the true vine”; that is, the real and substantial vine, of which the outward and visible vines are merely emblems. In the second place, this tabernacle was made, not with hands, and not through the mediation of human beings, as was the tabernacle in the wilderness; but it was made by God Himself. And, in the third place, this tabernacle is not a tent in the wilderness, but it is an abiding place in the heavenlies, there to be for ever. The tabernacle is one of the most important and instructive types.
1. In the first place, the tabernacle is a type, a visible illustration, of that heavenly place in which God has His dwelling.
2. In the second place, the tabernacle is a type of Jesus Christ, who is the meeting-place between God and man.
3. And, in the third place, the tabernacle is a type of Christ in the Church--of the communion of Jesus with all believers. The tabernacle presented wonderful truths to Israel. In the sacrifices and ordinances of the tabernacle God declared unto His people the forgiveness of their sins: He brought them near unto Himself through expiation and mediation; He healed their diseases and comforted their hearts. But the ultimate object in all this was to reveal Himself, to manifest His Divine perfection, to show forth His glory. Everywhere the twofold object was accomplished, the need of sinful, guilty, and failing man was supplied, and in this very grace the character and glory of Jehovah was revealed. Thus, as in Christ crucified we possess all we need, and behold all the thoughts and purposes of God, so in the tabernacle the believing Israelite, receiving pardon and help, was taught to exclaim, “Who is a God like unto Thee?” The tabernacle was a symbol of God’s dwelling. There is a sanctuary, wherein is the especial residence and manifestation of the glorious presence of God. The throne, from which He issues His royal law and the declaration of His sovereign grace, is between the cherubim, a symbol of the heavenly throne of Divine majesty. “The temple of Thy holiness,” is the name both of the earthly and heavenly sanctuary. God, who dwells in heaven, and from His heavenly throne dispenses all blessings, manifests Himself on earth and holds communion with His people, and the place or sanctuary chosen for this purpose is a symbol of heaven, and there subsists a real connection between the celestial archetype and the earthly image. When Jacob awoke out of his sleep, in which the Lord appeared unto him, he said, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” In the sublime prayer of dedication, Solomon constantly expresses the same thought. But the tabernacle is, secondly, a type of the Lord Jesus Himself. For it is in Him that God dwells with us; in Him dwells the fulness of Godhead bodily, that we dwelling in Him should have communion with the Father. See the fulfilment of the type in the first place in the Incarnation. “A body hast Thou prepared for Me.” He dwelt in the midst of us even as the tabernacle was in the midst of the people. And as that tent, although it was made of materials which were common and earthly, was irradiated and sanctified by the indwelling glory of the Lord so although He was born of the Virgin Mary, and was in every respect like unto His brethren, and was found in fashion as a man, yet is the humanity of Jesus called that holy thing, for it is the tabernacle in which was beheld the glory of the Only-begotten. It was by a gradual development that Jesus became the true tabernacle. First, by His Incarnation. The tabernacle was pitched of God, and not of man. The Holy Ghost came upon the Virgin Mary, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her. Then Jesus, in His holy humanity, in His perfect walk of obedience, in His words and works, manifested the Father: God was with Him: the Father was in Him; the glory of the Only-begotten shone through His body of humiliation. Then, by His death on the cross, the holy place became, as it were, the holy of holies; the veil being rent, all that separated God from sinners was removed according to righteousness. Then, by His resurrection and ascension, He actually entered in--as our representative for us, and, so to say, with us. It is difficult to combine all the aspects of Christ, who is Sanctuary, Priest, Sacrifice; but the more we dwell on Him as the One who is all, the more fully are our hearts established. Behold Him, then, as the tabernacle where all sacred things arc laid up. All that was in the tabernacle is in Him. He is the true Light, the true Bread of the countenance, the true Incense of intercession, with which our prayers and offerings come before God. All spiritual blessings in heavenly places are in Christ. But the tabernacle has yet a third aspect. There God and His people meet. God now dwells in His saints by His Spirit, whereby they become an holy temple unto Him. We are builded together in Him (Christ) for an habitation of God through the Spirit. We are, according to the testimony of another apostle, a spiritual house, in which sacrifices and offerings of thanksgiving and obedience are continually brought unto God. In this chosen Temple God has His rest and His joy. This is the glorious gospel: God in Christ, we in Christ, Christ in us. Thus we have seen that the tabernacle was a picture of heaven, a type of Christ Jesus, and of Christ Jesus in the saints. And therefore, when Jesus Christ comes again with His saints, it will be said, “Lo, the tabernacle of God with men.” True, there is a locality where Christ and His saints have their abode. But the glory and substance of that heavenly place in the Lord Jesus, one with the saints. (A Saphir.)
If He were on earth, Be should not be a priest
Jesus’ limitations, His power and glory
The fact which the writer of the Epistle here cites, bears witness to the truth that there will be earthly aspects of limitation to the character of Christ, and tells us how they are to be looked at, so as to lead to His ultimate elevation.
Jesus is always falling short of men’s ideal. There arose the ideal of the ascetic: that was the holiest, the best, the noblest life, to men’s minds; and that man whose life was open to all the influences of His fellow-men, that man who was reproached by the malicious distortions of enemies as a glutton and winebibber, could no more fit that character than He could that of the sacrificing priest of the ancient temple. The time of chivalry and of crusades exalted the warrior; and He who sent forth His disciples without sword, and healed the ear of Malchus, was no figure to vie with the bold knights in their valorous reputations, any more than the plain garments of the humble Galilean could shine beside the imposing vestments of Jewish priests. Or, some down to modern days, and take the standards of any class in life to-day. The scientific thinker asks for facts, for analysis, for knowledge of the structure of earth and heaven: and those beautiful parables and wonderful miracles enter into no such details; and Jesus in a scientific assembly to-day would be as completely out of place as He would have been beside the high priest in the holy of holies. And the business, the commercial, ideal of life, does not look for its leader to Him who said, “Lend, hoping for nothing again,” and “Take no thought for the morrow,” any more than priest and Levite consulted Christ as to the best mode of offering sacrifices. Polities and society would find it equally impossible to discover their ideal in Him who originated no new system of Government, and associated always with the lowly. The words of Isaiah’s prophecy have a real meaning: “And when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” All this causes difficulty. We need not inveigh against the earnestness of pursuits which have erected such ideals, any more than this writer found it necessary to heap reproaches on the Jewish system of priesthood because it found no place for Christ within it. Would Jesus lead the life of the modern clergyman to-day? is the taunt which, from the outsider, may be thrown at the preaching of His gospel. Better than to answer it by asking whether He would find it possible to lead the life of the modern merchant, or statesman, or scholar, better is it for all of us to recognize that He would lead the life of no one of us. No forms or modes of action, which we find it necessary to observe, could hold the power of Divine life, any more than the life of an ordinary Jewish priest, God-ordained as he was, could be the measure of the life of the Saviour of the world. And as we say that, we reach the ground of the solution which is given to this difficulty. Jesus was not a priest of the old covenant, because He was the Mediator of a new and better covenant, He was not a priest in descent from Aaron, because He was a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. The limitations of Jesus are His glory; the fact that He does not claim any of these ideals of earthly greatness is because He sets up a greater ideal, to which they all belong. We can find an illustration in our common life. A king steps down among his people; he mingles with them, and sees them at their work. And there is not one of those workmen that cannot do something better than he can. If they should bring their difficulties of work to him, he could not answer one of them; he fulfils the ideal of no one of their positions. And yet all those interests are his, and are strong and healthy through his power and character. His kingly character remains untouched by the superiority of any one of those who are eminent in their departments, and the carelessness and scorn of some man who thinks a man no king who does not know his secrets, never moves his mien of royal dignity. The lifting-up of every one of those subjects to the higher conception of the nation over which he rules, is a work truly his as no mechanical knowledge or minute practice can ever be. Such was Christ’s position as king; and so He stands far above, though never apart from, every standard of human attainment. He helps every one of them, as He brings them all into connection with the very centre of life. He set forth for ever the truth, that the life of the lower is to be found in the higher. Low and compromised mortal life comes from narrow views; from fixing our minds on some immediate object, and making that the measure of all our existence. He who sees such an object only as a part of something greater is the man who will cease sacrificing nobleness of character and purity of life, which are treasures that will lash to eternity, for ends that must be limited and transient. Is not that precisely the kind of assistance which we need? We men must be priests in our own temples, and we are made to aspire to the highest places in the region of life where God has placed us. That earnestness, as it limits our sight, may be destroying our character and hope of eternal life. We plead as an excuse that we are doing our best, and cannot be expected to see the full Divine meaning of all our work. But when that is showed to us, when, through such a life as that of Jesus, we see that our little pursuit is not the end of our being, then with that revelation goodness stands forth as a real power in life, and we hold to it in spite of every sacrifice for which it may call, in the name and spirit of Him who has thus consecrated it for us. Our pursuit shall still be vigorous and successful; but, by connection with Him, character, too, shall be purified and elevated by it. That is one advantage of Christ’s position outside of our special pursuits. We find another in the way in which it draws us all together. He is for all, because no special pursuit causes Him to belong specially to any. Is not the way that Christian worship calls us together, men, women, and children, without distinction, a part of Christ’s greatest blessing in telling us of our manhood which is beneath all our pursuits and greater than them all? We all come from our different pursuits; but it is the same take of mingled joy and sorrow, success and discouragement, struggle and triumph, sin and holiness, which we bring. It is the same word of love, forgiveness, hope, and strength that we want to hear. The bands of life are strengthened in the presence of Him who belongs to us all. We feel the influence in deepened friendship, widened sympathy, enriched family feeling. It will be harder for our variety of pursuits to separate us when in truth we recognise our relation to Him who is the common Lord and Saviour of us all. (Arthur Brooks.)
According to the pattern shewed to thee
Plan and pattern and purpose
Moses, when he went down from God on Sinai, knew what he was going to build, and how he was going to build it.
The thought of a thing, the conception of it, is its first and largest half. It is easier to pour in the molten iron than to make in the sand the mould into which it is to be poured. I want, first, to say something generally about plan and pattern and purpose. As I look through Scripture I discover that the men who did the best work and the most of it first wrought out in thought what they were afterwards going to work out in act and word. The Creator Himself wrought out first His creative designs. In that sense the world is as old as God. When at the end of the first week He said “All very good,” He meant that things had now become in fact what they had first and for ever been in idea. Nothing, perhaps, comes nearer God’s workmanship in this respect than art; hence our ha it of speaking of the creations of art. The modern architect, like the one on Sinai, sees the building he is going to construct before the timber has been cut or the ground broken. Gerard von Rile, six hundred years ago, saw the cathedral which has just been completed at Cologne. Slowly since the year 1200, German artisans have been copying into stone Von Rile’s thought, working from his plan, and the cathedral is perfect to-day because it was perfect then. All that God does is in prosecution of a plan, an eternal idea come to utterance. The tree ripens to the grade of a purpose that was ripe before the tree, and before the third day. It is all one whether we say that the plan is deposited in the seed, or that God builds the plant each moment against the pattern of His thought, as the mason lays bricks close to the plumb-line. It all sums up into the same result. With such examples of pattern and purpose before us, I want to go on and say that there are at least three advantages that come from having a plan in our life and work, and working and living from that plan.
1. One is, that in an open field and with a long prospect our purposes will lay themselves out in a larger and wiser proportion than when framed at close quarters and at the dictation of momentary impulse. The captain brings his ship to Liverpool in less time by having the whole course settled at the outset than by settling a little of it every day. A man’s longest purposes will be his best purposes. Immediate results are meagre results. The men who are doing most for their own day are such as are working toward an aim that is a score or a century of years away. In the days of American slavery the poor fugitive reached liberty by walking towards the stars.
2. Not only shall we think wiser and grander purposes when we mature them in advance; there is also a solidifying and invigorating power in a long purpose clearly defined. You can generally tell from a man’s gait whether he has a purpose. Plan intensities. Pursuance of a purpose makes our life solid and consecutive. Plan concentrates energies as a burning-glass does sunbeams. We cannot do to-morrow’s work to-day, but we can have to-day’s work shaped and but ressed by what we are intending to do to-morrow. In a life which has meaning in it, past and future sustain each other.
3. Then, in the next place, knowing with definiteness what we are attempting to do is a moral safeguard. Purposelessness is the fruitful toothier of crime. When men live only in conference with circumstances lying next them, they lose their bearings. A drifting boat always drifts down-stream. Young aimlessness is the seminary of old iniquity. Out of 904 convicts received at the Michigan State in the three years ending 1880. 822 (91 per cent.) were unskilled labourers--prison had never been taught how to work. Such facts challenge the attention of the Church as well as of the political economists. Character, purpose, and apprenticeship will never get far apart from each other, whether among immigrants or native population. But Moses not only approached his work with a purpose and a pattern, but brought down his pattern from on high. This teaches that there are celestial ways of doing earthly, things, and that human success consists in getting into the secrecies of God’s mind and working in the direction o! His method. Human success is a quotation from overhead. Men are enriched with presentiments of the way God would work if placed in our stead. These presentiments we call ideals. We discover, not invent, them. “In the mount” we reach after them and ascend to them. They are a continuous firmament that overarches us, but a clouded firmament that yields itself to us only in broken hints. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
Character-building according to pattern
All of us are builders--builders for time and for eternity. The building of the sacred edifice of character, which is to be a holy temple for God to dwell in; the raising of the stately structure of a lifework which shall be enduring as the years of God; the laying of secure foundations for that heavenly home in which we all hope to dwell--these are the high and heaven-appointed employments of our earthly years.
I. THE DIVINE PATTERN IS GIVEN TO US ALL. Not blindly nor ignorantly do we pursue our life vocation. Up into the mount of privilege God calls each of us, and there reveals the heavenly pattern of our life work. The yearning of all true hearts to hear the voice of God and to know His thought and will concerning us is fully met in these Divine revealings. What are these holy heights where God reveals to you the heavenly plan according to which you are to build?
1. The mount of Divine illumination, where cons, fence sits enthroned, and utters her authoritative voice as she summons you to her tribunal. That voice of warning and restraint, of persuasion and guidance, is often heard above the Babel of earthly voices that press their urgent pleas. That voice, sanctioning the right, condemning the wrong, is God’s own call to a life of fidelity to Him.
2. There is also the mount of Divine revelation through the inspired word. In the pages of Bonier and Virgil, of Shakespeare and Milton, you are invited to the mount of communion with these illustrious men. Great, indeed, is that privilege. You live in their immediate presence; you breathe the atmosphere which surrounded them; you listen to their voices; you think their thoughts, and learn the priceless lessons garnered from their lives. In the Bible you are permitted to commune with the eternal God, to hear His voice as certainly as Moses heard it on the quaking mount. And here God reveals to each of us His own plan for all our earthly building and work. The plan reveal d is set before us with sufficient distinctness, completeness, and fulness of detail. It is given to us not only in doctrine and in precept, but it is clearly illustrated in the histories and biographies with which the sacred book abound, and which, as their subjects follow or disregard the Divine direction, always secure or miss life’s highest good; and thus, in a peculiar sense, they serve as “guides” or “guards” to us who are favoured with the inspired record of their successes and failures.
3. But in a preeminent sense is the pattern revealed to us on,he mount of Divine manifestation. Moses saw only in vision the plan of the tabernacle which be was to build, but we, more privileged than was he, are permitted to behold the glorious pattern which we are to follow, clothed in concrete and tangible form, taking on our own humanity, standing before our ravished eyes incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ. Looking at this incarnation of truth, purity, duly, sacrifice, and love, we hear the heavenly voice calling to us, “See that thou make all things according to” this “pattern showed to thee” in this most sacred mount of Divine manifestation.
4. There are also given to us all seasons of special revelation, times when the height to which we are lifted is greater, and earth with its blinding atmosphere seems farther removed--its strife and clamour more faint and ineffectual--while God’s voice sounds clearer, and the heavenly vision is brighter. There are times when the soul seems more susceptible of good influences, and the powers of evil relax their grasp, and tender memories steal in upon the mind, and the thoughts of another’s love, and a lather’s prayers, and a teacher’s counsels, and a Saviour’s sympathy, and the Spirit’s gentle wooings, hold the entire being for one supreme hour under their hallowing spell. Cherish these favoured seasons. As travellers in mountainous regions, climbing to some high eminence where the glories of the entrancing view ravish the soul, carry the glorious vision with them, through all the future years of life; so take with you these clearest visions of the heavenly pattern, these best thoughts and holiest purposes and lofty ideals, down into the lowest valley of temptation and strife.
II. THE DIVINE PATTERN MUST BE FOLLOWED IN ORDER TO A TRUE AND SUCCESSFUL LIFE.
1. Let it be kept in mind that this is God’s plan for your life-work. God’s ideal life for you. Whether a life-pattern coming to us from such a source is worth our acceptance, whether it can be rejected or neglected without wreck of all worthy hopes, none but a madman can ever pause to question. Once let the thought that God’s ideal of your life has been really revealed to you actually possess the mind, with all its legitimate force, and nothing can prevent your yielding to its sway. Henceforth, your fife has a significance in it which belongs to nothing merely human; it is a Divine thing; it is God’s propose and God’s thought taking on a human form incarnated in you. You think God’s thoughts, you utter His words, you crystallize His will into actual deeds; you project into this needy and sinful world of humanity a life that is heaven planned and heaven-inspired, the copy of a Divine ideal given to you by the Almighty World-Builder.
2. All the lessons from analogy teach us the majesty of Divine law--the penalty of violating, and the profit of obeying, its behests. See everywhere in nature a perfect adjustment of part to complementary part, an adaptation of means to ends. Everything shows purpose and plan. Law reigns; order and harmony are the universal resultants. Attempt to disregard one of the laws which God has ordained, and you pay the penalty. Despise or forget the law of gravitation; step from the roof of a house or the edge of a precipice as though the air were like the solid pavement for your feet, and, quickly dashed to the ground below, your mutilated body attests the foolhardiness of your lawless act. What have you done but violated God’s order--set aside His laws? Can you, then, disregard no single part of His plan, in nature, without peril, and yet expect to set at naught His entire plan for the government of your life with immunity from evil consequences?
3. And this Divine pattern must be followed in its completeness and comprehensiveness, with all its particularity of detail. Three perils lie in ambush, even for those who, with more or less strength of purpose, regard themselves as accepting the revealed plan for their life-building. The first is the peril of accepting it in part, but not in its completeness; the second is that of accepting it theoretically, but rejecting it practically; the third is the peril of accepting it for a time, but abandoning it before the life-work is completed. (C. H. Payne, D. D.)
Our hours of vision
I. There comes to us all TIMES OF EXCEPTIONAL INSIGHT, of moral elevation, yes, of inspiration, when in a special way our spirits are touched by the spirit of truth and goodness--times when we are, so to speak, upon the mount, and see heavenly only things clearly, and a higher pattern of life is shown to us. These hours of vision may be associated with the utmost variety of circumstances giving occasion to them. It may be simply interruption of our ordinary work. We have been going on from day to day in the regular customary routine. Each day has been so filled with its multiplicity or engagements, its interests, its distraction, its pleasures, its annoyances, as to leave little leisure and less inclination for that quiet and serious thought in which we seek to see life steadily, and see it whole. We need to stand a little back from it, as an artist has to do to judge of the effect of the picture he is painting. And sometimes God compels a man to stand aside and look upon his life and his work from a little distance. He takes him apart from the multitude that He may open his ears to voices that cannot be heard amid the bustle of the crowd. In the confinement of his chamber his spirit chafes at first as he thinks of the great tide of men with eager interests which flows every morning citywards and ebbs at evening, and of all the busy life from which he is excluded; by-and-by a change has come over his spirit--the roar of that loud stunning ride sounds faint and far off; his interest in it has become strangely weakened; other visions are opening out before his mind; he is seeing deeper than the surface stir and bustle of life, its ambitions and its rivalries, into the meaning of life itself, its possibilities and its purpose. He is learning to see things in their true proportions, and is waking up to the discovery that he has been exaggerating terribly certain aspects of them. A diviner pattern of life is being shown to him--an ideal higher in its aims, its methods, and its motives; and when he comes back to take up again among men his daily tasks, surely it is with an earnest purpose to make all things according to the nobler pattern that has been shown him. But there are experiences tending towards similar results that enter much more frequently into life than such as that. To all men, and most of all to those who have youth and hope on their side, a period of leisure and recreation and contact with nature is not more a rest than an inspiration, a time of sanguine and earnest forecasting of the future, a time of forming of plans and contemplating ideals, of storing up impulse and stimulus, of girding up the loins of the mind with strenuous self-denying purpose. There are other times-sadder times--which have worked to the same effect: hours, not of elevation, but of deep depression, when we saw things after the pattern of the heavenly. It may have been an hour of stern self-rebuke, of humiliation and shame, when conscience justly scourged and spared not, or when you felt yourself baffled and helpless in the presence of a great perplexity; or the day you came back from standing beside a new-filled grave, and realised that the world was emptier and poorer than it had been a week before. Men looking up from deep places, it is said, see stars at noon-day; and sometimes it is when it is sighing its De Profundis that the soul catches its vision of God. There are countless hours of vision which we need not stay to classify. We wake up one day to feel as if all our previous knowledge of God had been but hearsay: we feel, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ears, but now mine eye seeth Thee.” Life seems to begin anew from times like that. We have accepted truth upon the authority of others; the time comes when we say, “We see.” The entrance of God’s Word gives light, and so certifies itself. Our own hold of truth is never satisfactory until we thus see. The man who is to influence others must first himself see heavenly things upon the mount.
II. These times of vision leave behind them RESPONSIBILITIES. “We cannot command those higher moments--at least not directly--not otherwise than by habitual obedience to the laws of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. “To him that hath shall be given.” The seeing may be special times; the acting out what we have seen belongs to our common life. That is the only possible way of keeping the vision clear--of retaining it as our lasting possession. For
“‘Tis the most difficult of tasks to keep
Heights which the soul is competent to gain.”
It is so very easy to be a seer as well as a hearer, and not a doer, to be like the man who beholdeth his natural face in a glass, to whom there comes a bright perception of truth, which reveals him to himself, with all his blots and stains and flaws, and who assents to it, and goeth his way, and forgetteth what manner of man he is. It is possible to do even worse: to use that kind of experience--even visions and revelations of the Lord--for our own self-deception. It is one of the great dangers of what may be called the religious temperament, to care a great deal more about what it can see and feel upon the mount than about faithfulness in commonplace duty on the ordinary levels of life. It is a frequent temptation after we have been touched by admiration for some aspects of duty, and mate to thrill at the thought of seeing ourselves doing it--especially if we have been led to speak warmly about it--to indulge in a soft, self-complacent, feeling, as if we had really done it or were doing it, although we may not have touched it with one of our fingers. Is not this the difference between the man of mere emotion and the man of principle--between the man of feeling and the man of faith--that the one can be thrilled with high ideals, and can proceed to work them out while the glory is upon him, and continue only so long as the excitement or emotion lasts; while the other, who has hid in his heart that which he has seen, will toil on steadily along the dull, flat levels, keeping to the path of duty when the brightness has faded from the sky? It is a great thing, an unspeakable privilege, to have seen the beauty of the Lord that our heart and conscience have said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God”; and yet it is His word, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord! shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven”--not be that seeth and even prophesieth in My name, but he that maketh his life according to the pattern that hath been showed to him. (A. O. Johnston, M. A.)
The pattern in the mount
As the old Tabernacle, before it was built, existed in the mind of God, so all the unborn things of life, the things which are to make the future, are already living in their perfect ideas in Him, and when the future comes, its task will be to match those Divine ideas with their material realities, to translate into the visible and tangible shapes of terrestrial life the facts which already have existence in the perfect mind. Surely in the very statement of such a thought of life there is something which ennobles and dignifies our living. A child is born into the world thus morning. Its lessons are unlearned, its tasks untried, its discoveries unmade, its loves unloved, its growth entirely ungrown, as the little newborn problem lies unsolved on this the first day of its life. Is that all? Is there nowhere in the universe any picture of what that child’s life ought to be, and may he? Surely there is. If God is that child’s Father, then in the Father’s mind, in God’s mind, there must surely be a picture of what that child with his peculiar faculties and nature may become in the completeness of his life. Years hence, when that baby of today has grown to be the man of forty, the real question of his life will be, what? Not the questions which his fellow-citizens of that remote day will be asking, What reputation has he won? What money has he earned? Not even, What learning has he gained? But, How far has he been able to translate into the visible and tangible realities of a life that idea which was in God’s mind on that day in the old year when he was born? How does the tabernacle which he has built correspond with the pattern which is in the mount? All this is true not merely of a whole life as a whole, but of each single act or enterprise of life. We have not thought richly or deeply enough about any undertaking unless we have thought of it as an attempt to put into the form of action that which already has existence in the idea of God. You start upon your profession, and your professional career in its perfect conception shines already in God’s sight. You set yourself down to some hard struggle with temptation, and already in the fields of God’s knowledge you are walking as possible victor, clothed in white, and with the crown of victory upon your head. You build your house, and found your home. It is an attempt to realise the picture of purity, domestic peace, mutual inspiration and mutual comfort, which God sees already. The distinction between ideas and forms is one which all men need to know, which many men so often seem to miss. The idea takes shape in the form, the form expresses the idea. The form, without the idea behind it, is thin and hard. The form, continually conscious of its idea, becomes rich deep, and elastic. If all that I have said be true, then it would seem as if there ought to be in the world three kinds of men--the men of forms; the men of limited ideals, or of ideals which are not the highest; and the men of unlimited ideals, or the highest ideas, which, are the ideals of God. And three such kinds, f men there are, very distinct and easy of discovery. First, there are the men of forms, the men whom all their self-questionings about what they ought to do, and in all their judgments about what they have done, never get beyond the purely formal standards which proceed either from the necessity of their conditions or from the accepted precedents of other people. They never get into the regions of ideas at all. How many such men there are! To them the question of their business life never comes up so high as to mean, “What is the best and loftiest way in which it is possible for this business of mine to be done?” It never gets higher than to mean, “How can I best support myself by my business?” or else, “What are the ways and rules of business which are most accepted in the business world?” To such men the question of religion never becomes: “What are the intrinsic and eternal relations between the Father God and man the child?” but only, “By what religious observances can a man get into heaven?” or else, “What is the most current religion of my fellow-men?” It would be sad, indeed, to think that there is any man here to-day who has not at least sometimes in his life got a glimpse into a richer and fuller and more interesting sort of life than this. There is a second sort of man who does distinctly ask himself whether his deed is what it ought to be. He is not satisfied with asking whether it works its visible result or not, whether other men praise it or not. There is another question still, Does it conform to what he knew before he undertook it that it ought to be? If it does not, however it may seem successful, however men may praise it, the doer of the deed turns off from it in discontent. If it does, no matter how it seems to fail, no matter how men blame it, he thanks God for it and is glad. Here is a true idealism; here is a man with an unseen pattern and standard for his work. He lives a loftier, and likewise a more unquiet life. He goes his way with his vision before his eyes. “I know something of what this piece of work ought to have been,” he says, “therefore I cannot be satisfied with it as it is.” What is the detect of such an idealism as that? It is, that as yet the idea comes only from the man’s own self. Therefore, although it lies farther back, than the mere form, it does not lie entirely at the back of everything. It is not final; it shares the incompleteness of the man from whom it springs. Therefore it is that something more is needed, and that only the third man’s life is wholly satisfactory. Literally and truly he believes that the life he is to live, the act he is to do, lies now, a true reality, already existent and present, in the mind of God; and his object, his privilege, is not simply to see how he can live his life in the way which will look best or produce the most brilliant visible result, not simply to see how he can best carry out his own personal idea of what is highest and best, but how he can most truly reproduce on earth that image of this special life or action which is in the perfect mind. This is the way in which he is to make all things according to the pattern which is in the mount. What quiet independence, what healthy humility, what confident hope there must be in this man who thus goes up to God to get the pattern of his living. To-morrow morning to that man there comes a great overwhelming sorrow. What shall he do, what shall he be in this new terrible life, terrible not least because of its awful newness, which has burst upon him? Where shall he find the pal tern for his new necessity? Of course he may look about and copy the forms with which the world at large greets and denotes its sorrow, the decent dreadful conventionalities of grief. That does not satisfy him. The world acknowledges that he has borne his grief most properly, but he is not satisfied. Then behind all that, he may reason it over with himself, think out what death moans, make his philosophy, decide how a man ought to behave in the terrible shipwreck of his hopes. That is a better thing by air means than the other. But this man does something more. The pattern of his new life is not in the world. It is not in himself. It is in God. To get up, then, into God, and find that image of his grieved and sorrowing life, and then come back and shape his life after it patiently and cheerfully, that is the struggle of the Christian idealist in his sorrow, of the man who tries to make all things according to the pattern which is in the mount. Can we not see what quiet independence, what healthy humility, what confident hope there must be in that man’s struggle to live out through his sorrow the new life which his sorrow has made possible? But now it is quite time for us to ask another question. Suppose that all which we have said is true; suppose that there is such a pattern of the truest life, and of each truest act of every man lying in God’s mind, how shall the man know what that pattern is? Is not Christ the mountain up into which the believer goes, and in which he finds the Divine ideal of himself? As a mountain seems to be the meeting-place of earth and heaven, the place where the bending skies meet the aspiring planet, the place where the sunshine and the cloud keep closest company with the granite and the grass: so Christ is the melting-place of divinity and humanity; He is at once the condescension of divinity and the exaltation it humanity; and man wanting to know God’s idea of man, any man wanting to know God’s idea of him, must go up into Christ, and he will find it there. All kinds of men have found their ideals in Jesus. Entering into Him, the timid soul has seen a vision of itself all clothed in bravery, and known in an instant that to be brave and not to be cowardly was its proper life. The missionary toiling in the savage island, and thinking his whole life a failure, has gone apart some night into his hut and climbed up into Christ, and seen with perfect sureness, though with most complete amazement, that God counted his life a great success, and so has gone out once more singing to his glorious work. Martyrs on the night before their agony; reformers hesitating at their tasks; scholars wondering whether the long self-denial would be worth their while; fathers and mothers, teachers and preachers whose work had grown monotonous and wearisome, all of these going to Christ have found themselves in Him, have seen the nobleness and privilege of their hard tires, and have come out from their communion with Him to live their lives as they had seen those lives in Him, glorious with the perpetual sense of the privilege of duty, and worthy of the best and most faithful work which they could give. This, then, is the great truth of Christ. The treasury of life your life and mine, the life of every man and every woman, however different they are from one another, they are all in Him. In Him there is the perfectness of every occupation: the perfect trading, the perfect housekeeping, the perfect handicraft, the perfect school teaching, they are all in Him. To go to Him and get the perfect idea of his, and of every action of life, and then to go forth, and by His strength fulfil it, that is the New Testament conception of a strong successful life. How simple and glorious it is! We are like Moses, then--only our privilege is so much more than his We are like a Moses who at any moment, whenever the building of the tabernacle flagged and hesitated, was able to turn and go up into the mountain and look once more the pattern in the face, and come down strong, ambitious for the best, and full of hope. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
As we read the story with which this passage has to deal, we feel how great are the tasks which are committed to great souls. None but a great soul could have mounded a horde of slaves into a nation, could have inspired them with national ideals, or could have kept the ideal of their future clear and bright before his own soul. Never was heavier task committed to man; and broad must have been the heart and constant the fidelity which sustained the load through the greater part of a hundred years. Great tasks like these are either easy or impossible--easy, while the deer is sustained by the inspiration which pricked and goaded his heart to perform it; impossible, when he labours in his native strength, or leans for support upon anything short of the Eternal. The Divine power which called Moses to this work, and which originated in him the genius to conceive it, m st sustain him in every turn and juncture of its execution. All great ideas like his widen and expand with the expanding visions of the growing soul. The grand outlines of such a vision, indeed, come to the soul in a flash of inspiration, but the details are filled in as the soul broods over the great revelation. Hence the world’s great teachers, its prophets and seers, have been ever given to solitude, to self-communion, and to prayer, that in silence they might hear that Voice which speaks only to the listening ear. “On a certain day,” says Plato, in one of his deepest books, “all the gods mount to the topmost heaven, and gaze upon the reams of pure truth, and all noble souls that can do so follow in their train and gaze upon the fair outlook; then they sink to earth, and all the worthiest part of their lives thenceforward is but the endeavour to reproduce what they have seen: their highest moral achievements are wrought by the power of remembered truth.” This wonderful passage is an intuition of one of the foundational truths of our highest life, and one of the greatest truths of revelation. Once or twice only does Moses gain an insight into the “life of things.” and then only when his eyes are purged of their grossness; but these rare occasions are sufficient to inspire him, and his noblest work is wrought out in obedience to his vision. As he moved about the camp, or when consulted by captains and artificers as to the manner of their labour, daily he would hear the Divine imperative admonishing him to shape it thus and thus; to remember what he had seen; to make his vision take actual shape in gold, or precious stones, or carved work. For him, too, there would be shining the “seven lamps of architecture”--the lamp of sacrifice and the lamp of truth, of power, beauty, life, and obedience, and, not the least, the lamp of memory. Great tasks, we say, are committed to great souls; but is it not true that great tasks are committed to us also, whether we be small or great? Is not the shaping of our scattered and sundered life into a habitation for God to dwell in a task as sacred and as imperative as that which was committed to Moses? And do we not see that the first thing which we need for this work is that which Moses had--a great ideal? Do we not know by experience what a difference there is between living and working with such a pattern and without one? There are no Mount Sinais now, we say, scaling which we might gain such a vision as Moses had to equip him for his work. We have no Mount Sinai, but there still stands Mount Calvary, from which a brighter glory streams and a rarer loveliness, and from which, too, a Voice still reaches us, saying: “See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.” That utterly surrendered life gives us indeed the pattern which we need, the ideal to which our own life should be conformed. We know how flawless it was, and how significant; how He did those things which He had seen with His Father. This was the secret of the perfect unity of His life, of His patience, dignity, and peace. Shall we not confess, then, that we, too, have received our heavenly vision? We have, indeed, confessed it to be most beautiful and Divine, but we have allowed it to fade from our memory. Yes, and the finer our sensibility and the quicker our imagination, the greater will be the temptation to allow it to fade out into mist for all strong emotion avenges itself by exhaustion. Thus Moses, before he had well reached the camp, descending the rugged slopes of Sinai, half-blinded by the splendours he had gazed upon, dashed down in anger the tables of stone written by the finger of God. So a man may cast away in sorrowful anger the very records which he has received with fear and trembling. Sometimes in anger and sometimes in disgust, when surrounded by a herd of howling idolaters who do not enter into his thought, or through indolence, or the pressure of sordid care, a man is tempted to let his vision go, and account it but as such stuff as dreams are made of. It is a temptation especially besetting men who work in the things of the imagination and the things of the Spirit. Many men lower their ideal--as they will tell you frankly--for the sake of their wives and children. How bitter it will be hereafter if these same children grow up to be sweet, and pure, and unworldly, and despise the crooked means which have been employed for their elevation, and to be filled with sad pity for the founder of their fortune, who, like Lot, chose the well-watered country, and for the sake of it disowned every noble ambition! Thus, are we severally tempted to disobey the admonishing Voice which bids us make all things according to the pattern which has been revealed to us. But who will be left to rear God’s tabernacle if they fail who have had vision of its ideal beauty and hope of its foundation among men? It is in such an hour of temptation that we need to renew the old impressions, to revive the faded tints of the picture, and to trace the lost meaning of the vanishing lines of the pattern of heavenly things, once so clear to us. And do we ask, How can our lost impressions be renewed? Then the store before us supplies us with the suggestion. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables which thou breakest.” Yes; He who first gave us the great conception of noble life can renew it when it fades away if with all our hearts we truly seek Him; it may not be with all the early glow of our first inspiration, nor with such glad announcements of its coming to our bosoms: but what we gain the second time more painfully may be cherished more religiously, watched over more prayerfully, and kept with diligence even to the end. (G. Littlemore.)
The pattern in the mount
I shall consider, in the first place, the fact that all men have ideals--have some kind of spiritual conceptions; and in the second place, I shall urge the results of consistent action upon those conceptions.
I. Consider, for a moment, and you will see that this is the great characteristic of the man--THAT HE IS THE CONSTRUCTOR OF THINGS FASHIONED AFTER AN INWARD IDEAL OR PATTERN, and thus he transforms the outward world according to his mental and spiritual conceptions. Here, on one part, stands vast, unshaped matter--rock, wood, stream, fluent, air: on the other part is the human agent who is to work upon this world of matter. You may say that the beaver or the bee works upon matter. The one proceeds with the utmost accuracy to build its neat, and the other to construct its dam; but there is a point at which each of them stops. They do not go a jot beyond the line of instinct; they do nothing more wonderful, nothing different from what has been done for six thousand years. But see, out of this same world of matter, man makes houses, weapons, ships, printing presses, steam engines, and telegraphs. He makes implements, and produces combinations that did not exist in nature, but that stood first as shadows on the horizon of his own thought--patterns that were shown him in the mount of intellectual and spiritual elevation. But if this power which man has of working from inward conceptions is expressed in the ways in which he pours his thought into matter, it is still more apparent in the ways in which his thought, so to speak, overrides matter--as he appears not merely in inventions, but in creations. The work of art, for instance--the great work of genius--whence comes that? Something that you do not see in nature, something that can nut be interpreted as a mere combination of matter--a mere putting together of the elements of the physical world; but something that has flowed out of the ideal springs of a man’s own soul, until we have the splendours of the sunset sky woven in the fibres of the canvas, and the stones of the quarry heaved up in an architectural ant m of grandeur and aspiration. But the main conclusion to which I would lead your thought is this: than a most every man has conceptions higher and better than he realises, or than he even endeavours to make real. Before every man there hovers a high conception--or one more or less high--certainly above the level of his present conduct--of virtue, of moral action, of duty, of righteousness, of truth; and the more h-looks at that, the more vivid it becomes to him. Although he may, at the same time, not move a jot or a hair toward it, nor even endeavour, for a single instant, to come up to it, yet it stands before him, and he sees it clear and bright, kindling upon his thought, and ready to move hi heart. And you see this fact revealed m this remarkable manner by every man. If he does ever so bad an act, he tries to justify it in some way--tries to reconcile it to some ideal of virtue. So that from his own showing, his own confession, there is an ideal standard in his mind higher than that from which he has acted. What better advice, then, could be given to any man than just this? Work out your highest conceptions--the noblest standard of truth and duty that comes to you. It may not be the highest possible, nor the highest conceivable by other men, but that which seems to you the highest possible or conceivable, work up to, and live up to, and endeavour to make it the rule. And so especially it is in regard to the matter of faith about which many are much troubled and perplexed. They say they cannot believe that the Bible is divinely inspired; they are not fully convinced about the immortality of the soul, and they even sometimes incline to doubt the existence of a God. What then are you to do, my be low-men? To throw aside all faith and live outside of its circle, merely as an animal, in a coarse, material existence? No--no; some shred of faith you have. Every man has some. Some conceptions of spiritual things dawn upon every mind; live up to the faith you have. Have you a faith that it is good to do good? Live up to that. Have you a faith that charity is a blessed thing? Live up to that. Work out to the extreme limit of your conception here, and just so sure as you do it, the wider will your circle open before you.
II. In the next place, let us proceed to see WHAT WILL RESULT IF A MAN ACTUALLY ATTEMPTS THUS TO WORK UP TO HIS HIGHEST AND BEST SPIRITUAL CONCEPTIONS. In the first lace, I think he will acquire some comprehension of the worth and certainty of spiritual being, and of the reality of his own soul. Let a man think, when he endeavours to carry out the best conception of duty, how much that is all-controlling and supreme in his life, let him think that the highest claim in his life is from within; hst him think how mind will after all control and master the body. The moment you think of this power to control and master material things, you fall back upon the consciousness theft you have a soul, and that there is more evidence than you have supposed of its existence. In fact, there is more proof of a soul than of a body. When a man asks me what proof I have of a soul, I reply by asking him, What proof have you of a body? You have more logical difficulty to prove an outward world than a soul. Spiritual consciousness, mounting aspiration, ideal influences have controlled you all through life. But more than this; not only will a man, as he begins to work from his best spiritual conceptions upward, begin to comprehend the worth of spiritual things and of the soul, but he will begin to acquire right standards of action. I hardly need say that in the calculations of men, very generally they do not start from the ground of the soul. If you look at a great many of the social fallacies of our time, at a great many of the social faults and errors of men in business, in politics, and in life generally, you will find that the fallacy or error consists in the fact that they do not start from the ground of the soul as a standard, but from outward things. They estimate all outward things by their bulk or glitter. Let a man take up the subject of immortality--of the spirit of man enshrined in time, and working through sense, as destined to live beyond the stars, when banks and warehouses, cities and continents, shall have melted with fervent heat, and crumbled to ashes; when this world shall be dashed from its orbit as a speck of dust from a flying wheel--let him take the grand calculus of the immortality of the soul, and start with that, and then worldly good and gain will take their proper attitude, temporary expediency will sink down, and right will assert its proper place; then he will have a true standard by which to estimate all things. In the next place, if a man really endeavours to work according to his highest a-d best inward conception, he will come to perceive the need of Christ and the worth of Christianity. Working from his best and highest, he gains a better and a higher still, until at length he will come to feel that spiritual aspirations are boundless. And when, from the yearnings of his educated soul, he wants a perfect ideal, he will ask, Where is the excellence that will answer my highest ideal? where is that which will begin to fill up this boundless thirst of the soul, which has only been increased by drinking from narrow cisterns? And Jesus Christ comes out upon the horizon of history, and stands before him in the gospel, and answers that inquiry. He says virtually to man, “I am the ideal for which you aspire; in Me behold a perfect reflection of that which you now must seek; in Me behold that which continually fills up your yearning want, and makes that want the deeper, that it may fill it with more.” Here stands man on one side, with a sense of imperfection and sin, asking, What is there that will help me in, what is there that will deliver me from the power of sin? No mere man, no mere teacher, like Plato or Seneca, can do it. Man needs some spirit of Divine goodness to enter into him, to cure him of his sin and Jesus Christ embodies that Divine spirit. He comes before man to assure him of mercy, with the encouragement that the vilest sin may be cast off, and that man may throw himself upon the Divine mercy which He represents, and be lightened of his load. And here, on the other hand, are limitless wants and desires; and how does Jesus Christ gratify them? By exhibiting perfect Father; by showing an ideal to us that we never can compass, but can always aspire to. (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)
Of the right manner of doing duty
1. The same Lord who enjoins the matter, prescribes the manner.
2. As great respect is manifested to God in the manner of doing what He requires, as in matter. In this was David commended 2 Kings 3:6). This was it that Hezekiah pleaded before God 2 Kings 20:3).
3. Herein lieth a main difference between the upright and the hypocrite, instance the difference between Abel’s and Cain’s offering (Genesis 4:4-5).
4. That which is good is altered and perverted by failing in the manner. Good is thereby turned into evil, and duty into sin.
5. Failing in the manner makes God reject that which in the matter He requireth (Isaiah 1:11).
6. God detests things commanded by Himself when they are done in an ill manner (Isaiah 66:3).
7. In this case he that doth the work of the Lord is accursed Jeremiah 48:10).
1. This giveth just cause of examining ourselves even about the good things that we do. This use is the rather to be observed because every one best knoweth his own failings in the manner of what he doth (1 Corinthians 2:11).
2. Upon due examination we cannot but be deeply humbled ever for our failings in the manner of doing good things. The glory of our reading, hearing, praying, singing, partaking of the sacrament, alms-deeds, and other duties, is hereby taken away, which if profane men knew, they would insult over professors.
3. This giveth just occasion of abnegation, and of renouncing all confidence even in our best works, for we must fail therein (1 Samuel 3:2). Did justiciaries well understand this, it would make them cast down their gay peacock’s feathers. They would not be so conceited of themselves, as the proud Pharisee, but rather as the humble publican (Luke 18:11-13). There is nothing of such force to work in us This lesson of denying ourselves as a consideration of the manner of doing the good things we do. This consideration would soon put an end to all conceits of fulfilling the law, of meriting, of doing works of supererogation, and undry other proud apprehensions.
4. Upon the aforesaid ground be exhorted to learn as well as to do, what we enterprise, as what we do. God loves adverbs. We were as go d be ignorant of the duty itself as of the manner of performing it. To know what ought to be done, and not to know how it ought to be done, will be a great aggravation of sin.
6. For well-doing that which, is good observe these few rules;
6. For comfort in this case we must have our eye upon our Surety in whom was no failing at all (Hebrews 6:26). (W. Gouge.)
Mediator of a better covenant.
The covenant of grace opened and explained
I. THE GOSPEL-DISPENSATION UNDER WHICH WE LIVE IS PROPERLY A COVENANT.
1. What we are to understand by a covenant in general.
2. What by the covenant of grace in particular.
3. Illustrate two or three particular points which have created some doubts and difficulties in this subject.
4. Consider some of the peculiar titles and distinguishing properties of this covenant.
II. JESUS CHRIST IS THE MEDIATOR OF THIS COVENANT.
1. The proper office of a mediator.
2. Christ’s peculiar qualification for this high office of Mediator between God and man.
3. His accomplishment of it.
4. How admirably this constitution is founded in the Divine grace and wisdom.
5. What regards are due to Christ under this character of Mediator.
III. THE GOSPEL DISPENSATION IS A BETTER COVENANT THAN THAT UNDER WHICH THE JEWS LIVED.
1. Because it contains better terms. Repentance, faith, and sincere obedience are called the terms of the covenant, not only because they are the requisites on which the promised blessings of the covenant are suspended, but because they are of themselves essentially necessary to qualify us to partake of them.
2. Because it affords better helps or assistances.
3. Because it is founded on better promises.
The excellency of the Christian dispensation
I. The Christian dispensation, or the New Testament, though it be a rich discovery of grace, YET IT CONTAINS THE FAIREST AND FULLEST REPRESENTATION OF THE MORAL LAW. That law, which is of eternal obligation upon all mankind, is more particularly explained here than in any of the former dispensations.
II. In the Christian dispensation THE GOSPEL OR COVENANT OF GRACE IS REVEALED MORE PERFECTLY AND PLAINLY THAN EVER BEFORE not in obscure expressions, in types, and carnal metaphors, but in its own proper form and language, i.e., as a covenant relating to things spiritual and eternal.
III. THE RITES AND CEREMONIES which are superadded to the covenant of grace, in the Christian dispensation of it, ARE MUCH PREFERABLE TO THOSE IN FORMER TIMES, and that in three respects; they are fewer, they are clearer, and they are much more easy.
IV. THE SON OF GOD, WHO WAS THE REAL MEDIATOR OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE THROUGH ALL FORMER DISPENSATIONS, HAS CONDESCENDED TO BECOME THE VISIBLE MEDIATOR OF THIS DISPENSATION.
V. THIS DISPENSATION OF THE GOSPEL is not confined to one family, or to one nation, or to a few ages of men, but it SPREADS THROUGH ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH, AND REACHES TO THE END OF TIME.
VI. I might add here some OTHER CHARACTERS OF THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION, which the apostle gives it in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18., whereby he exalts it above all the religion of the Jews, and especially far above the Sinai covenant.
VII. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS AND PERSUASIVE HELPS WHICH CHRISTIANITY GIVES US TO FULFIL THE DUTIES OF THE COVENANT ARE MUCH SUPERIOR TO THOSE WHICH WERE ENJOYED UNDER ANY OF THE FORMER DISPENSATIONS. NOW these consist chiefly in examples and motives.
1. Do examples invite us to our duty, and by a soft and secret influence encourage and lead us on to the performance of it? Such indeed were the names of Abraham and David, each in their day a happy pattern to their several ages; but in my opinion all the praises which are due to David and Abraham fall far short of the labours and sufferings, the zeal and patience, the holiness and the love of St. Paul. And not one of them is to be compared with the more excellent and perfect pattern of Jesus Christ.
2. Let us next consider our various motives to duty under the New Testament. Are the motives of love and gratitude powerful principles to encourage and persuade us to every active service? Such indeed were the blessings and gifts which God bestowed on men under former dispensations. But what were all those gifts and blessings in comparison of the unspeakable gift of His own Son, to die as a sacrifice in our stead, which is one of the chief themes and glories of the Christian revelation? Are the promises and threatenings of God another set of motives to duty? Do the awful glories and terrors of a future and eternal world work upon all the springs of our activity and diligence by hope and fear? Yes, certainly, in a high degree. But the former dispensations had but few of these eternal terrors and glories, these threatenings and promises relating to an invisible state. (Isaac Watts, D. D.)
The better covenant
I. THE GENERAL NOTION OF A COVENANT OF GOD WITH MAN. By a covenant among men we understand an agreement or compact, by which the parties bind themselves, and each the other, to the fulfilment of certain conditions. Now, when we speak of a covenant of God with men, one important difference is to be observed. In this case there is no natural equality between the parties. God wills, and man must obey. But this revealed mind and purpose of God is called a covenant, because
1. As respects God, He who has no rule of action but His own will is pleased hereby to bind Himself, in His dealings with men, to the observance of certain specified terms.
2. As respects men they are bound to fulfil the conditions herein prescribed to them, under pain of forfeiting the offered benefits, and incurring the attendant penalties. The covenant under which all men are born, as children of Adam, is that of works. It must be evident to every one, that if he be tried according to the letter of this covenant, there remains no hope for him before God, for he is a transgressor of it from the womb. And thus the Scriptures everywhere testify. We are led then to the inquiry: is there any other covenant or dispensation of God for His creatures, whereby (letting go the first, and laying hold on this) we may have that eternal life and blessedness which we have irrecoverably forfeited by the first? Such a covenant there is. The terms of it are fully made known to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the “glad tidings of great joy.”
II. The particular features of this “BETTER COVENANT, which was established upon better promises.”
1. Whereas in the old covenant something is required on the part of man, as a title to its privileges, this contemplates in him nothing but sins and unrighteousness, and lays the basis of all covenant good vouchsafed to him in the sovereign grace of God, a promise as large and unlimited as language can express of the free removal of sins, and that for ever. Herein is summed up all the grace of the covenant, that it supposes guilt of every kind and degree, in the objects of it, and meets them with this cheering assurance, I will be merciful to it, I will remember it no more. But has God, then, deserted His justice, in showing mercy to a sinner, and dishonoured His law by suffering the violation of it with impunity? God forbid! The condition of life under the new covenant is precisely that of the old--perfect obedience. But under the gospel this obedience is rendered for the sinner by his surety, and the life which is its due becomes his, not by working, but by believing. Christ has fulfilled the law for us. Mercy, therefore, to man is the jut reward of merit in Christ.
2. Mark another feature, no less distinguishing the gospel as a “ministration of glory.” This is the exceeding fulness of its promised blessings Romans 15:29).
3. Its security. The effectual provision which God has made in it for the sure enjoyment of its rich benefits.
4. Its everlasting continuance. Hence it is expressly called “ the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20).
1. The overwhelming motives afforded us, by this covenant of grace, to walk before God in all holiness and godliness of living.
2. The grievous sin of those who carelessly neglect this covenant of grace, or obstinately refuse to close with it.
3. The abundant encouragement which this covenant holds out to the most guilty and desponding sinner to return to God and be at peace.
4. Lastly, let the established believer recognise in this covenant the charter of all his privileges. Ever rejoice, my Christian brethren, in your entire deliverance from the law of works as a means of obtaining life. Life is yours by free gift, covenant gift of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. Having the Son, you have life. Only abide, then, in Him, your Covenant Head, and walk worthy of your exalted privileges, in all holy and happy obedience. (Francis Goode, M. A.)
Christ the Mediator of the better covenant
The covenant of grace is, strictly speaking, made between God and Christ; and, in this view, is part of that great covenant of redemption, ordered from eternity between the persons of the Godhead. Man is a party to it only in the second instance, as he is viewed in Christ, coming in for the blessings of it by his surety’s fulfilment of its terms. To Him we are indebted for its grace; and through Him alone it has all its efficacy in the experience of redeemed sinners.
I. Consider it As IT BEGAN IN ETERNITY. As there never was a moment in which God was not, so never was there a moment in which this grace to man was not the determinate counsel and object of delight of the Eternal mind. The purpose of redemption was not (as many unworthily think of it) a purpose conceived only when man fell, to remedy a mischief never contemplated till then. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” Rather, the whole mystery of grace in the gospel, yea, creation itself, with all its consequences, is a result of the purpose of God to make, in the person of Christ, the most illustrious display, before all intelligent creatures, of the glories of the Divine nature, by man’s redemption.
II. As IT WAS CARRIED ON UPON EARTH With His incarnation commenced that active ministry of which the apostle is here speaking as “more excellent” than that of Aaron, above which it is one great object of this Epistle to exalt it. The main intention of this earthly ministry of Christ was to make atonement.
1. It was the life of a sinless Being, and so was altogether unforfeited; it was that which He had to give to God, in exchange for His people, who are therefore called “the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:14); the law of God had no claim upon it, except as He voluntarily subjected Himself to its curse for us.
2. While it was human life, it was life taken into union with Deity; and so it was not only of infinite value, but this Priest as well as Victim possessed in Himself infinite ability both to lay it down and to take it again.
3. But let us look at the effect of this atonement which Christ, as our High Priest, made for the sins of men, in reference to the covenant of which we are treating. The blood of Jesus Christ is represented by Himself, and throughout this Epistle, as the ratification of the covenant.
III. AS IT IS COMPLETED IN HEAVEN (Hebrews 6:20).
1. His intercession above gives efficacy to His offering of Himself on earth.
2. His mediatorial dominion. He holds the reign of universal empire. Heaven, earth, and hell--all things in all worlds--obey His sovereign will. (Francis Goode, M. A.)
Argument from analogy or Mediator
The whole analogy of nature removes all imagined presumption against the notion of a “Mediator between God and man.” For we find all living creatures are brought into the world, and that life is infancy is preserved, by the instrumentality of others, and every satisfaction of it some way or other, is bestowed by the like means. (Bp. Butler.)
The general meaning of the word διαθήκη, covenant, is a Divine institution for man; it is not συνθήκη, or compact between two parties. God has the ordering of all, and therefore covenant and dispensation are really the same. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Established upon better promises
In the promises there are these two things, the matter and the manner. As for matter and substance, the promises were all one in the Old and New Testament, that is Christ, and eternal salvation by Him. But ours in respect of the manner are better and excel theirs.
1. Their promises were included within the narrow compass of Judea; our promises are blazed all the world over.
2. Their promises were published by men, by the patriarchs, prophets, which were but servants; ours by Christ the Son of God.
3. They according to God’s promise had the graces of the Spirit as we have, yet not in such abundant measure as they be now poured out in the time of the gospel.
4. Their promises were dark and obscure, covered under the veil of many ceremonies, and shadowed out by temporal things; our promises are more clear and evident.
5. Theirs were at the delivery of the law with a condition, “Do this and live. Cursed be he that continueth not in all things,” &c. Ours “Believe and live.”
6. The sacraments, whereby the promises were confirmed unto them, were more hard and difficult: the cutting off the foreskin, the preparing of a lamb for every house; ours are more easy and familiar: the sprinkling of a little water, or the dipping in the water, the procuring of bread and wine.
7. Their promises were of things to come: there should come a Lamb that should take away the sins of the world; ours are of things already come and exhibited. This Lamb is come, and hath offered up Himself on the altar of the cross for us. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Stability of the Divine promises
Every promise is built upon four pillars: God’s justice and holiness, which will not suffer Him to deceive; His grace or goodness, which will not suffer Him to forget; His truth, which will not suffer Him to change; His power, which makes Him able to accomplish. (H. G. Salter.)
Fulness of the Divine promises
The promises which God hath made are a full storehouse of all kind of blessings; they include in them both the upper and nether springs, the recycle, of this life and of that which is to come: there is n- good that can present itself as an object to our desires or thoughts, of which the promises are not a ground for faith to believe and hope to expect the enjoyment of. (H. Spurstowe.)
If that first covenant had been faultless
The imperfection of the first covenant
What is charged on the first covenant, and that is faultiness, by which we are not to understand any sinful faultiness, but defectiveness and imperfection only; for it was not faulty in the matter and substance of it, as it was instituted and ordained by God, but therefore called faulty because it was obscure, was not so surely ratified, and not attended with that virtue, power, and efficacy which the new covenant is accompanied with.
2. Wherein consisteth that defectiveness and imperfection of the first covenant which is here complained of.
3. How Almighty God makes the imperfection of the old covenant, and the Israelites’ instability therein, the reason of His making a new covenant with us, in which grace and assistance is offered to enable us to obey and persevere in obedience.
From the whole note
1. That the grace and glory of the new covenant are much set off and manifested by comparing it with the old.
2. That nothing but effectual grace from Christ will secure our covenant obedience one moment: what greater motives or stronger outward obligations to obedience could any people under heaven have than the Israelites had? But they quickly turned out of the way; therefore, in the new covenant, is this grace promised in a peculiar manner. (W. Burkitt, M. A.)
The two covenants
A covenant is properly an agreement between two parties, who bind themselves by certain conditions with the view of attaining some object. A covenant may be between equals, as that between Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:32), or between parties of whom one is superior to the other, as that between Joshua and the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:1-27.). The covenant relation between God and men is of the latter kind, for God imposes the covenant (Hebrews 8:8-10). None the less both parties lay themselves under obligations and contemplate an object by the covenant. A covenant between God and men cannot possibly have any other meaning than that He will be their God and they His people Hebrews 8:10). The Epistle contemplates religion or the relation of God and men under this aspect of a covenant. It distinguishes two covenants, that made at Sinai (Hebrews 8:9), and that made through Christ (Hebrews 9:15). The former is called the first covenant Hebrews 8:7; Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:18); it is not named the “ old “ covenant, although it is said that God, in announcing a new covenant, has made the first old Hebrews 8:13). The latter is called a seceded (Hebrews 8:7), a better (Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6), a new as having different contents Hebrews 8:8; Hebrews 9:15), and also new as being recent (Hebrews 12:24), and an eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20, comp. Hebrews 7:22). The first covenant was not faultless--so mildly does the author express Himself (Hebrews 8:7); the second is enacted upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 8:10-12). The Epistle does not speak of a covenant with Abraham, as the Pauline epistles do (Galatians 3:15; Galatians 3:17); it knows of promises to Abraham (Hebrews 6:13; Hebrews 7:6), which the first covenant was ineffectual to realise (Hebrews 11:39), which, however, are realised through the second (Hebrews 9:15). The covenant relation is not its own end. It is rather a relation within which the people are being matured for that final blessedness which God has destined for them. No doubt this maturing of them always more fully realises the covenant relation, and this of itself is a great and blessed end. But it is chiefly regarded as the means to that which lies beyond, which is the bringing of the people to a sphere of existence that shall fully correspond to their capacities and needs. This end is variously described: it is inheriting the promises (Hebrews 6:12), or receiving the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15); reaching the heavenly country Hebrews 11:16), or the city that hath the foundations (Hebrews 11:10); or, receiving the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28); or entering into the rest of God (Hebrews 3:4); or, having the world to come,put into subjection to them (Hebrews 2:5, &c.). The covenants are means adopted for realising promises and gracious purposes, the announcement of which was prior to both of them. The new covenant is only a more effectual means of accomplishing the same object pursued in the first. A covenant between God and men is a state of relation in which He is their God and they His people. By being His people is meant that they are dedicated to His service (Hebrews 9:14). that they ale His worshipping people. And the means by which they are translated into this relation of fit worshippers is important. The term that expresses this change is “ sanctify” (Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:12). Having a conscience defiled by sin, they felt debarred from free access to God so as to serve Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 10:22), and for the same reason of their defilement God could not permit Himself to be approached. This defilement of sin is purified away by sacrifice, the blood of which is the blood of the covenant (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:18; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:20), and thus the people are sanctified for the service of God. As the end had in view and the covenant itself, which is the means towards it, are alike due to the grace of Hebrews 2:9), the sacrifice which effects the sanctification of the people is no less an institution of His provision. Though within the covenant, the people are not supposed to be sinless. They err and are out of the way; they are compassed with infirmity and labour under various “ignorances” (Hebrews 5:2; Hebrews 7:28; Hebrews 9:7 : comp. Hebrews 4:15). Such errors, though sins and transgressions (Hebrews 9:15), and interruptions of the covenant relation, are not absolutely incompatible with its maintenance, provided they are taken away. A means of removing such sins of infirmity was provided in the sacrificial system. This is the meaning of this system. It was appointed of God for removing sins committed within the covenant. The Epistle does not speculate how it is that men in covenant still continue to sin; it accepts the fact without referring it to any principle such as “the flesh” of St. Paul. Its distinction of sins of infirmity and “wilful” sins is unknown to the latter apostle, to whom all sins are deadly and infer the curse (Galatians 3:10). This is revolved in His mode of regarding the law as a commandment of works to be obeyed in order to justification. Any transgression of it is its breach in principle, and makes an end of all pretensions on man’s part to be righteous before God. The condition of the continuance of the covenant was the keeping of the law. But here a double defect manifested itself in the first covenant. On the one hand, the people abode not in it (Hebrews 8:9), and on the other hand, its institutions could not remove the transgressions done under it Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 10:4). In the new covenant God promises to write His law on the people’s heart (Hebrews 8:10), as on the other hand the death of Christ redeems the transgressions under the first covenant Hebrews 9:15), and God remembers them no more (Heb
10:17). Though in the new covenant the law be written on the people’s heart, their wills are still practically regarded as mutable; they may sin wilfully (Hebrews 10:26), and fall away from the living God Hebrews 3:12), and they need all the safeguards which their own patient endurance (Hebrews 6:12), the example of those who have gone before (Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 13:7), mutual exhortation Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:24), memory of past attainments (Hebrews 10:32, &c.), and the “throne of grace” (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 7:23-25) can afford, to enable them to hold fast the beginning of their confidence from unto the end. Thus the first covenant failed, and God caused to arise upon the people the light of the promise of a new covenant. The first covenant indeed was conscious of its own Imperfection; hence it gave forth fro,, within itself the promise of “ another priest” (Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 7:14), of a “better sacrifice” (Psalms 40:7; Hebrews 9:23; Hebrews 10:9), and even of a “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:8). The structure of the Tabernacle was a perpetual witness to the inability of its ministry to open the way for the worshippers into the presence of God, a witness borne by the Holy Ghost (Hebrews 9:8). And the very continual repetition of the sacrifices year by year was a constant remembrance of sin, and proclamation of their inefficacy to take it Hebrews 10:3). The Epistle is a detailed contrast between the two covenants showing that in all those points where the first failed the second realises the purpose of the covenant. That which gives eternal validity or absoluteness to the new covenant is the person, the Son of God, who in all points carries it through--who reveals, mediates, and sustains it. As initiating the covenant through His blood (Hebrews 9:20; Hebrews 10:29), He is the mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 9:15); and as sitting at the right hand of God, before His face, for ever, as high-priestly representative of the people, He is the surety of it (Hebrews 7:22). the Old Testament holy places and all the vessels of the ministry were made according to the pattern showed in the mount (Hebrews 8:5), and are thus the copies of the things in the heavens (Hebrews 9:23). Again, the law had a shadow of the good things that were to come (Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:9; Hebrews 10:11). Thus the first covenant lay, as a sphere of dim representations, between two regions filled with realities--heaven, the region of the true things themselves, on the one side, and the new covenant, realising the very image of the good things that were to come, on the other. These two regions correspond to one another (Hebrews 12:22). Yet the first covenant having a shadow of the good things that were to come was in truth the introduction of the new covenant, though in a shadowy form. Hence the second covenant, though called new, is new only in a modified sense. The promises on which it was enacted are virtually nothing more than the promise truly to realise the great objects aimed at in the first covenant (see Hebrews 8:6). It contemplates the same end with the first, the bringing of men into the rest of God and the promised inheritance Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 4:3). And it was made with the same persons as the first. These are the people (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 13:12), the people of God Hebrews 4:9, comp. Hebrews 7:27), or, the seed of Abraham Hebrews 2:16). It is by no means easy to understand what is said in the Epistle in regard to the relations of the two covenants. Two points may be alluded to.
1. The author speaks in a very disparaging way of the Old Testament sacrifices, saying that they could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:11), nor perfect those offering them as to the conscience (Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 01:2), and that they were carnal ordinances and useless Hebrews 7:18): His language implies that Old Testament saints were burdened with a conscience of sin (Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 10:22), consequently that they were oppressed by the sense of the inefficacy of their sacrifices to remove sin, from which it seems to follow that they ha.! no clear light as to any connection of these sacrifices with another the virtue of which they conveyed. To the same effect is the view that the transgressions under the first covenant were left outstanding and only removed by the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:15). All this, however, bears directly only on the question before him of the value of the Old Testament sacrifices in themselves, and whether they effected a true objective atonement. Old Testament saints felt they could not do so, and hence they were burdened with a sense of sin which, among ether things, manifested itself in a bondage from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
2. Again, when the author says that blood of bulls could never take away Hebrews 10:4), and on the other hand that it sanctified in reference to the purity of the flesh (Hebrews 9:13), it is certainly very far from being his intention to draw a distinction between one class of offences called “sins” to which the Old Testament sacrifices were inapplicable, and another class that might be named ceremonial defilements which they did remove, and so to erect a general theory of the Old Testament constitution to the effect that it consisted of two spheres, one of ceremonial observances and external government, within which sacrifices had a real validity, and another the sphere of true spiritual relations to God, within which they had no force. The sacrifices were offered for sins Hebrews 5:1; Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 10:8; Hebrews 1:11), and if they could have effected the purpose for which they were offered, the worshipper would have had no more conscience of sins (Hebrews 10:2), a condition which the offering of Christ brings about (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:17). The Old Testament sacrifices could not go further than to purify the flesh. (A. B.Davidson, LL. D.)
Finding fault with them
God complaining of the Church
GOD HATH OFTTIMES JUST CAUSE TO COMPLAIN OF HIS PEOPLE WHEN YET HE WILL NOT UTTERLY CAST THEM OFF.
II. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH TO TAKE DEEP NOTICE OF GOD’S COMPLAINTS OF THEM. Want hereof is that which hath laid most churches in the world under a fatal security. Hence they carry themselves as though they were “rich and increased in goods, and had need of nothing,” when indeed “they are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” To consider what God blames, and to affect our souls with a sense of guilt, is that trembling at His word which He so approves of. And to guide them herein they ought carefully to consider
1. The times and seasons that are passing over them. For in a due observance of the times and seasons, and an application of ourselves to the duties of them, consists that testimony which we are to give to God and the gospel in our generation. That Church which considers not its especial duty in the days wherein we live is fast asleep, and it may be doubted whether, when it is awaked, it will find oil in its vessel or not.
2. The temptations which are prevalent, and which unavoidably we are exposed unto. Every age and time hath its especial temptations. And it is the will of God that the Church should be exercised with them and by them; and it were easy to manifest that the darkness and ignorance of men, in not discerning the especial temptations of the age wherein they have lived, or neglecting of them, have been always the great causes and means of the apostasy the Church.
III. GOD OFTEN SURPRISETH THE CHURCH WITH PROMISES OF GRACE AND MERCY (Isaiah 7:13-14; Isaiah 43:22-25). And this He will do
1. That He may glorify the riches and freedom of His grace.
2. That none who have the least remainder of sincerity, and desire to fear the name of God, may utterly faint and despond at any time, under the greatest confluence of discouragements. (John Owen, D. D.)
I will make a new covenant
I. GOD’S COVENANT WITH MAN INSTRUCTETH US IN TWO ESPECIAL POINTS.
1. In God’s condescension to man.
2. In the sure prop that man hath to rest on God for happiness.
1. God’s condescension to man is manifested four ways.
2. The sure prop that man hath to rest of God for happiness by reason of His covenant is manifested two ways.
II. THE COVENANT OF GOD WITH MAN DOTH DIRECT US IN FOUR SPECIAL POINTS.
1. To know what God expects of us; namely, whatsoever is in the covenant to be performed on our part, which we must be careful to observe as we do desire to receive any benefit from the covenant.
2. To understand what we may expect from God; namely, whatsoever on God’s part is covenanted.
3. To acquaint ourselves with the covenant of God, that thereby we may know what privileges and blessings belong unto us. A wise heir will search after such evidences as give him a right to his lands and goods.
4. To be careful in observing our own undertakings, and as conscionable in performing the covenant on our part, as we are desirous to partake of the benefit of the covenant on God’s part. This is laid down as a ground of Levi’s blessing, theft they kept God’s covenant (Deuteronomy 33:9). This God expressly requireth (Exodus 19:5). We cannot expect that God should keep covenant with us unless we he careful to keep covenant with Him (Psalms 25:10). Great is that loss which followeth upon breach of covenant, yet that is not all, God’s wrath and vengeance will also follow thereupon. Sole vengeance hath been executed on breach of covenant with man (2 Kings 17:4, &c.; Ezekiel 17:15). How much sorer vengeance may be feared on breach of covenant with God Jeremiah 22:6; Jeremiah 22:9; Jeremiah 34:18-20; Hosea 8:1; 1 Kings 11:11). (W. Gouge.)
The blessings of the new covenant
New, as contrasted with old, means in Scripture that which is perfect and abiding. The old vanishes, the new remains. God gives us a new heart that we may love and praise Him for ever. The old covenant was temporary and imperfect. God findeth fault with it; for although the law was holy, just, and good, yet by reason of Israel’s sin neither righteousness nor life could come through it. And as the purposes of Divine love could not be attained by the old covenant, so the character of God, as the God of grace, could not be fully revealed therein. Hence the promise of a new covenant, which in itself proves the imperfection and insufficiency of the old; and this new covenant is represented as a contrast, unlike the old; it is new, that is, perfect, everlasting. God is pleased with it because it shows forth the glory of Jehovah as the God of salvation. How great is the contrast between the old and the new covenant! In the one God demands of sinful man: “Thou shalt.” In the other God promises: “I will.” The one is conditional; the other is the manifestation of God’s free grace, and of God’s unlimited power. In the one the promise is neutralised by the disobedience of man; in the other all the promises of God are yea in Christ, and amen in Christ. In the new covenant Christ is all; He is the Alpha and Omega: all things are of God, and all things are sure and steadfast. The blessings of the new covenant are all based upon the forgiveness of sin. God promises to put His laws into our minds, and write them in our hearts, and to be to us a God, because He is merciful to our unrighteousness, and will remember our sins and iniquities no more. The forgiveness of sin is not merely the beginning, but it is the foundation, the source; it is, so to say, the mother of all Divine blessings. For so long as sin is upon the conscience, arid man is not able to draw near unto God, he is separated from the only source of life and blessedness. In the forgiveness of sin God gives Himself, and all things that pertain to life and godliness. To know God is the sum and substance of all blessings, both in this life and in that which is to come. Now, although the law manifests to a certain extent the holiness and truth, the justice and unchangeableness, the goodness and bounty of God, the law does not reveal God Himself, the depth of His sovereign and eternal love, the purpose which He purposed in Himself before the foundation of the world was laid. When in Christ we receive the forgiveness of sin, we behold God. Here is also the source and the commencement, the root and strength of our love to God. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” We eve much, because much is forgiven unto us. The new obedience, the spiritual worship, the fight and victory of faith, the knowledge and fear and love of God, have their starting-point in the pardon of sin. And this is the new covenant blessing. True, the servants of God always knew this blessing. Of the Divine righteousness both the law and the prophets testify. David describeth this blessedness. The sacrifices typified, faith looked forward to the great atonement. But now that Christ has come, and that He died once for all, we receive forgiveness in a full and perfect manner: there is no more remembrance of sins; no repetition of sacrifice is needed; no yearly recurrence of the day of atonement; in Christ we have redemption in His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. It is in giving this perfect pardon that God renews the heart, and writes in it His laws. We must needs contrast law and gospel. Yet let us not forget that the law from the very outset showed its temporary and negative character, pointed beyond and away from itself; sighed, as it were, after Him, who by fulfilling would take it away, and by taking it away would fulfil it in us, raise us to the still greater height of the new love! All spiritual life flows from Jesus as our Saviour. When we believe in Jesus we are not in the flesh but in the Sprit. His precious blood is not merely our peace, but our strength; and our strength because it is our peace. Justification and sanctification emanate from this one source. When Israel is brought in repentance and faith to the Lord, then shall be fulfilled the gracious purpose of God, which under the law was frustrated through Israel’s sin and disobedience. Although God was a husband unto them, they brake His covenant. But now, forgiven and renewed, Israel will be in actual reality, and not merely in position, God’s people, and Jehovah will be their God. And because He is God to them, source of light and life, they are His people. Not merely chosen and appointed; not merely called and treated collectively as God’s people; but in reality, according to truth, according to their individual character and experience, the people in whom God’s name is revealed, who show forth His praise, who walk m His ways and obey His will. For then each one individually shall know the Lord. “God is known in Judah,” said the Psalmist. In their marvelous history, in the Divine messages sent by Moses and the prophets, in the types and ordinances, in the Judges and Kings, God had revealed unto His people His name. His character and will, and His great desire was that they should know Him. How touching is the complaint of Jehovah, that after all the signs which they had seen, and after all His mighty works of redeeming and guiding love, a d after all the words of light and of grace which He had sent them, His people did not know Him f So long had He been with them, and, erring in their hearts, they did not know His ways! What could be more grievous to the fatherly heart of God, yearning to be known, trusted, and loved? But when the Holy Ghost shall be poured out upon them they shall all know Jehovah, from the least to the greatest; though one shall encourage and exhort the other, yet they shall not need to tea h and to say to their neighbour, Know the Lord. In the Church this promise is already fulfilled. From Jesus, the anointed, all Christians receive the Holy Ghost; they have, according to their name, the unction from above. Hence, they possess the teacher who guides into all truth. Knowledge is within them. There is within them a well of living water. They are not dependent on external instruction. There is given unto them the Paraclete, who always reveals the things that are freely given unto us of God. The spiritual man knows all things--all the things of the Spirit, all that pertains to life and godliness. True, he does not know all things actually, or in any given moment; but he knows them potentially. There is within him the light which can see, the mind which can receive all truth. (A. Saphir.)
The difference betwixt the two covenants of works and grace
The covenants of works and grace do differ in the particulars following.
1. In the different consideration of the Author of the one and the other, which are in the first God’s supreme sovereignty, and in the latter His rich mercy.
2. In the procuring cause of them, which was of the former God’s mere will and pleasure, of the latter pity and compassion.
3. In the manner of making the one and the other. The former was without a mediator; the latter with one
4. In the time: the former was made before man had sinned; the latter after his transgression.
5. In the occasion of making the one and the other. The occasion of the former was to try man’s faithfulness in that integrity wherein God made him. The occasion of the latter was to show the necessity of man’s continual dependence on God.
6. In the confederates or parties with whom the one and the other was made. The former was made with all mankind; the latter with the elect only.
7. In the particular good that was promised. In the former a reward was promised upon fulfilling the condition by man himself (Romans 10:15). In the latter was afforded
14:3; 17:23, 24).
8. In the duties required by the one and the other. Perfect obedience was required by the former; faith and repentance by the latter.
9. In the order of God’s accepting. In the former God accepted the person for the work; which is thus expressed, “If thou do well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7). In the latter the work is accepted in reference to the person.
10. In the ratification. The former was ratified by word, promise, and seals. The letter was further ratified by oath (Hebrews 7:20) and blood Hebrews 9:16-17)
11. In the issue of the one and the other. The former was violable. It might be forfeited, and was forfeited. The latter is inviolable and shall never be broken (Jeremiah 33:20-21).
12. In the matter of the one and the other. These two covenants do so far differ in the very matter and substance of them as they can no more stand together’ than the ark of God and Dagon (1 Samuel 5:3-4). The apostle doth so far oppose works and grace in the case of justification and salvation as they cannot stand together (Romans 11:6). This difference betwixt the covenant of works and grace giveth evidence of God’s wisdom in working by contraries and bringing light out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6) and good out of evil, as He brought “meat out of the eater” ( 4:14). For man’s sin and misery that fell thereupon caused this better covenant. This is an especial instance to prove that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). (W. Gouge.)
The agreement betwixt the covenant of grace as it is styled old and new
The covenant of grace hath continued from Adam’s fall, and shallcontinue to the end of the world. In this respect it is styled an everlasting covenant. But it hath been variously dispensed in the several ages of the world. The greatest difference in the dispensation thereof hath been manifested in the times float passed before and since Christ was exhibited. This difference is so great, as the covenant of grace, though always one and the same in substance, hath been distinguished into an old and new covenant (Hebrews 8:13). The latitude of the covenant of grace wilt more clearly be discerned if we duly consider the agreement and difference, as it is called old and new. The agreement is manifested--1. In their Author, and that considered in the same respect: namely, as He is our Creator and Lord, and as He is our Redeemer and Father, for so was God of old called and acknowledged (Deuteronomy 32:6).
2. In the procuring cause, which was the bee grace and rich mercy of God Luke 1:54-55; Luke 1:72; Luke 1:78).
3. In the same ground and meritorious cause of both, which is Jesus Christ Hebrews 13:8; Revelation 13:8).
4. In the same promises, which are remission of sins, reconciliation with God, and everlasting happiness (Exodus 34:7; Leviticus 8:15; Psalms 91:16).
5. In the same duties required, which are faith (Genesis 15:6) and repentance (Ezekiel 33:11).
6. In the same ground of stability, which is the continual abode and operation of the Spirit in God’s confederates (Psalms 51:11-12).
7. In the same general end, which is the praise of the free grace of God Exodus 33:18-19; Exodus 34:6).
8. In the same persons with whom the covenants are made, which are sinners by nature but elect of God (Psalms 33:12; Psalms 89:3).
9. In the same word of faith, whereby the one and other covenant is revealed (Galatians 3:8; Hebrews 4:2).
10. In the same substance of sacraments and the same spiritual food (1 Corinthians 10:3-4). (W. Gouge.)
The difference between the covenant of grave as it is styled old and new
The difference betwixt the old and new covenant is
1. In the time. The old was before Christ, the new since (Hebrews 1:1-2).
2. In the manner of delivering. The old was more obscurely delivered under types and prophecies, the new more clearly (2 Corinthians 3:13-14).
3. In the extent. The old was restrained to a select people (Psalms 147:19-20); the new is extended to all nations (Matthew 28:19).
4. In the mediator. Moses, a mere man, was made the mediator of the old Galatians 3:19); but Jesus Christ, God-man, the Mediator of the new (verse 6).
5. In the ratification. The old was ratified by the blood of beasts Exodus 24:8); the new by the blood of the Son of God (Hebrews 9:12).
6. In the efficacy. The old comparatively was a ministration of death, thee new a ministration of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:7-8).
7. In the kind of confederates. Under the old God’s confederates were in their non-age, as children under tutors and governors (Galatians 4:5; Galatians 4:7).
8. In the kind of seals or sacraments. Under the old they were more in number, more various in rites, more difficult, more obscure, more earthly. By comparing the sacraments of the one and the other together, this will evidently appear.
9. In the manner of setting forth the promise of God. In the old it was set forth more meanly under temporal blessings (Deuteronomy 28:2); under the new, more directly under spiritual and celestial blessings Matthew 5:3, &c.).
10. In the yoke that is laid o, the confederates by the one and the other. By the old heavy yoke was laid (Acts 15:10); by the new, an easy and light Matthew 11:30). So great a difference there is betwixt the new covenant and all other covenants, as it is styled a better covenant. (W. Gouge.)
The two dispensatons are one
The new covenant deals with the same fundamental conceptions which dominated the former one. These are the moral law, knowledge of God, and forgiveness of sin. So far the two dispensations are one. Because these great conceptions lie at the root of all human goodness, religion is essentially the same thing under both covenants. There is a sense in which St. Augustine was right in speaking of the saints under the Old Testament as “Christians before Christ.” Judaism and Christianity stand shoulder to shoulder over against the religious ideas and practices of all the heathen nations of the world. But in Judaism these sublime conceptions are undeveloped. Nationalism dwarfs their growth. They are like seeds falling on the thorns, and the thorns grow up and choke them. God, therefore, spoke unto the Jews in parables, in types and shadows. Seeing, they saw not; and hearing, they heard not, neither did they understand. Because the former covenant was a national one, the conceptions of the moral law, of God, of sin and its forgiveness, would be narrow and external. The moral law would be embedded in the national code. God would be revealed in the history of the nation. Sin would consist either in faults of ignorance and inadvertence or in national apostasy from the theocratic king. In these three respects the new covenant excels--in respect, that is, of the moral law, knowledge of God, and forgiveness of sin, which y t may be justly regarded as the three sides of the revelation given under the former covenant. (T. C. Edwards, D. D.)
I will put My laws into their mind
God’s covenant with the New Testament Church
WHAT IS IMPORTED GENERALLY IN THE WORDS.
1. That a covenant shall be made, and a covenant-relation shall subsist, between God and every member of the New Testament Church.
2. That both parties, so related to one another, shall behave in a due and becoming manner, agreeable to the relation in which they stand.
3. That the relation itself and the due behaviour of the relatives on both sides shall be wholly the work of God.
II. WHAT IS MORE PARTICULARLY IMPORTED IN GOD’S PROMISING TO BE OUR GOD.
1. That God will graciously bring us to have a real and saving interest in Him as our God. Now, in order to our having such an interest in God, two things are necessary; both which are secured by this promise and both are accomplished in behalf of every one who is brought within the bond of this covenant.
2. This part of the promise imports that God will do all that for us that any people has reason to expect or usually does expect from their God. He would be ashamed to be called our God, if He were not to act up to the character. And His allowing us to claim Him in that character may be viewed as an engagement that He will do for us whatever corresponds unto it.
III. WHAT IS IMPORTED IN OUR BEING TO GOD FOR A PEOPLE.
1. That God would gather into one all the members of the New Testament Church; so that in whatever place of the world they should have their residence, from whatever nation they should spring, whatever should be their kindred, tongue, or language, they should all be closely united one to another and constituted one body mystical.
2. That this dignified people, and every particular person among them, shall, in due tree, be enabled to dedicate themselves unto God, and cheerfully to acknowledge themselves to be His property.
3. That having made such a dedication of themselves to God, the Church and her members shall be preserved from ever attempting to alienate what they have devoted.
4. That God will graciously accept the dedication that we make of ourselves to Him and all those evangelical services which we perform in consequence thereof.
1. From what has been said, we may see one very remarkable difference between the covenant of grace as it is exhibited in the gospel and actually made with every Christian in the day of believing, a difference, I say, between this and all other covenants. In all covenants there are mutual engagements entered into by both parties respectively; and something which they become bound to perform one to another on both sides. So far this covenant agrees with all others. But the amazing difference between this and every other covenant lies in this, that here one party binds Himself for the performance of the engagements of both.
2. We may see that all true Christians are really covenanters with God, however little relish some of them may have for the name.
3. From hence we may see that neither faith, nor repentance, nor sincere obedience, nor anything else wrought in us or done by us, can be the condition of the covenant of grace.
4. We may see from this subject that real Christians are the only happy person- in the world. All the things that men value or esteem, and in which they look for happiness, riches, honours, power, pleasure, they possess in a supereminent degree. They arc the only persons who deserve to be called rich, having an interest in God Himself, an infinite and inexhaustible good as their portion and inheritance. (John Young, D. D.)
The religious relations of the intellect
That there is mind, and that it is superior to matter, I assume, and I have a right so to do: for assumption is not illogical where the demonstration of the thing assumed can be instantaneous and popular--that is, within the range of ordinary understandings. That our bodies are but the organs of our minds, and therefore inferior to them, and totally distinct from them, is seen in this: that the one can be destroyed, while the other remains intact. The surgeon can cut both legs of a man off near the trunk, and then he can cut both arms off at the shoulder, until a full half of his body as represented by bulk has been destroyed, and still the energies of the man’s mind are in no way affected. The symmetry of the body is gone, but the symmetry of the undestroyed and the indestructible mind remains. The mind and the saw have not touched it; they cannot. Now, holding that mind is immortal, I would point out to you some of its religious relations, to the end that we may all apprehend how natural to the mind itself are those states, moods, and natures which the Bible enjoins. For religion is only nature corrected--nature perfected. When man stands in his natural powers, with all hisadjustments correct, with all his instincts just, and with all his aspirations holy, he has in him the same mind that was in Christ; for in Him all religion existed organically. Reverence, obedience, affection, humility, truthfulness, and whatever other element piety includes, lived incarnate in Him. He embodied them. Hence, imitation of Him is piety in its highest phase. Hence, His life is the light of men, morally. Hence, Christian studentship is a studentship of His character.
1. Well, the first characteristic of the mind, religiously considered, is activity. Mind is motion, mind is impulse, mind is vibration, mind is only God’s thought; and His thought keeps for ever thinking. Mind, therefore, in its religious connections, must be for ever active. Be not afraid, therefore, to think, young men. Let your minds go forth continually in search of facts. Knock at the door of every phenomenon; press against the door until the fastenings of it yield to your pressure, and, passing in, you stand eye to eye in presence of its long-pent mystery. Wherever there is darkness, creep into it; and when you have entered within its gloom, kindle the torch of investigation and look around you, to discover the hidden wonder. Explorations, spiritually, are for ever in order. The proof of God is found, beyond all else, in your thinking; and the thinkers of the world are the perpetual evidences of the truth of the Bible when it declares that God made man in His own image. The human intellect is the offspring of the Supreme Intelligence. No less cause than this can be assigned as able to produce such a result. There was but one orb that could throw out such a beam. The primal relation of the human mind to the Deity was filial. Of this there can be no doubt. Nature alone is sufficient evidence. And what, pray, is the peculiar characteristic of filial connection? What is the initial attitude of the child’s mind into which it grows continually as it advances in years?
2. There is but one answer: the attitude is that of reverence. Well, what shall we say, then, touching the proper attitude of the human mind to its Creator, if not this, that its attitude should be reverential? This conclusion we reach, you observe, not by following the line of any dogma, but by following the line of nature. Nature alone constitutes a perfect bible from which to read the commandment of duty. Your minds are the offspring of that Supreme Intelligence which they resemble. And if your minds are not in a reverential attitude toward God, they are in a state of transgression; not as touching any verbal statute, but as touching the great ineradicable principle of natural relationship. This reverence on the part of the human mind touching God refers not only to Him as to His nature, but to Him equally as to His creations and surroundings. The mind that rightly apprehends its relationship to the Divine Being reverences not only Him, but all that He has made. It apprehends Him in His divergence, in His distributiveness, in the varieties of His expression. Like the Hebrew, it apprehends Him in the beauty of the firmament. Like the Egyptian, it sees Him in the patience, the usefulness, and the cunning of animal life. Like the Greek, it admires the divinity as seen in the symmetry of outline and the loveliness of the human figure. Like the historian, it beholds Him in the progress of events and in the succession of forces, as they have been evolved from the various attempts at government. Nor does such a mind fail to see the evidence of its Master’s presence in little things. In grasses, in flowers: in shrubs, in trees, in whatever there is of growth round about, the mind which is properly constituted reverentially apprehends Deity.
3. The third characteristic of mind that has a special religious relation is humility, and the exceeding excellence of this trait will be more clearly apprehended when it is set in contrast with its opposite, arrogance. This arrogance of intellect is as old as studentship, and as offensive as human pride. Its results are beyond expression deplorable. Its tendency is to make men self-opinionated, domineering, and insulting. It has been the mother of oppression. It has dictated persecutions beyond number. It has driven the sword of war even to its hilt into the white bosom of peace, and often made the Church, which is by nature a dispenser of the mercies of God, an engine of the devil. Its culmination is seen in the assertion of infallibility. He who lays claim to such powers of judgment advertises himself as the colossal arrogance of the world. The worst phase met with to-day is the arrogance of what is known as Radicalism. There is a class of men whose whole philosophy is that of negation. Their wisdom consists in denial. They deny the existence of God, they deny the exaltation of Christ, they deny the truth of the gospel, they deny the intelligence of piety, they deny everything that faith credits or the converted soul believes. Their sole object seems to be to undermine and pull down every structure which Christian faith and hope have builded. A more self-conceited and arrogant set of men never lived. They fulminate their scepticism as if they spoke with the authority of a god. A scientific supposition is made to subserve the purpose of a fact. Their speculations arc announced as if they were demonstrations. They are all kindred in the fashion of their behaviour. Their utterances are monotonous. He who has heard one of them lecture has heard all. He who has read one volume has mastered their entire system, if such vagaries of thought can be called a system. Bring them all together, strip them of their various names and their personality, lump them in one embodiment, and they represent a solid mass of self-conceit. That such men can have any lasting influence on the thought and morals of the race is preposterous. They are simply an accident of the times. They simply represent human eccentricity. I have now discussed the relations which mental activity, the quality of reverence, and the quality of humility hold to religious development. If you desire religious growth, you must keep your bodily organs thoroughly healthy, your mind active, reverential, and humble. One more thing alone remains to be said.
4. And this one thing which we need, we need beyond everything else: it is the love of the truth. Truth is the soul of form. It is the spirit which lurks in all substance. It is the genius which lives in law. It is the inspiration of love. It is the crown and glory of man’s noblest effort. In seeking it men have passed their lives. To behold the brightness of its /ace, men have walked bravely into the darkness of death. In order to know truth you must first desire it--desire it with your whole heart, desire it for its own sweet sake. In order to find it you must free your mind from all prejudice, from all vanity, from all pride. You will look for it on a throne, and you will find it in a manger. You will look for it in honour, and you will find it in shame. You will look for it among the wise, and you will find it among the ignorant. You will look for it under the royalty of a crown, and you will find it on a cross. You will search the letter, and you will find that the letter does not include it. You will search for it in creeds, and after forty years of belief, you will discover that your creed does not contain it. You cannot stamp it on the pages of a pamphlet any more than you can tie the wind to the tree tops, But he who searches for it actively, reverently, humbly, and because his soul loveth it, will, somewhere, sometime, find it; not all at once, nor in the way he expected, but little by little, and in the way of surprise. As he finds it, so shall he find delight. It will be sweet to his soul. Peace, too, shall come with it--the peace which passeth understanding--the peace that makes man a marvel unto himself. (W. H. H. Murray.)
The highest literature of Christianity
I. TRUTH THUS WRITTEN IS MOST LEGIBLE. Those who know not the alphabet-children and heathens--can read characters. These life-commentaries on the Bible we want.
II. TRUTH THUS WRITTEN IS MOST INCORRUPTIBLE. Man may write his interpolations in connection with God’s truth on paper or parchment, but not on souls.
III. TRUTH THUS WRITTEN IS MOST CONVINCING. The arguments of Butler, Paley, &c., are powerless compared with the argument of a true life.
IV. TRUTH THUS WRITTEN IS MOST LASTING. Paper, marble, and brass will decay, but not souls. (Homilist.)
I. THE PROPER CHARACTER OF SANCTIFICATION. This, as it is an act of God upon the human soul, consists in the establishment in it of a divine principle of holiness, expressed, here, as the putting God’s laws into the mind and writing them in the heart. This is begun in regeneration. The law of God, the principle of true holiness, is re-established in the inward parts; the man is brought into habitual conformity to it, in all its spirituality, as the one governing principle of his life. This is the proper character of sanctification, as it is a grace of the true Christian.
II. THE SEAT OF SANCTIFICATION. This is, in general, the soul of man: the mind and heart. In both these this blessed principle has its throne, and exerts its paramount, though not undisputed, dominion over the whole man. The body of the believer, itself, experiences the benefit of the sanctification (Romans 6:13; Romans 12:1). Divine grace, in the renewed mind, is a pervading principle, that, like leaven, to which it is compared, never ceases its operation, till it have assimilated to itself all with which it comes in contact. It attacks not one vice, and spares another; corrects not one evil habit, and tolerates the rest. The law of the new creation is nothing less than God’s law; and whatever in thought, word, or deed, whatever in tempers, habits, and dispositions, consists not with perfect love to God and man (which is “the fulfilling of the law”), that the renewed man instantly detects, by a kind of spiritual instinct before unknown; an antipathy of nature, as true to itself, as uniform in its actings, as that of water to fire, or of darkness to light. The two cannot exist together in peace. The man now hates sin; strives against it in all its shapes--against corrupt reason and passion both. Satan and his allies in man--the lusts of the flesh and of the mind--are driven into corners; they cannot tyrannise as before; but they yield not easily. The words of the promise lead us to distinguish two parts in this great work, the sanctification of the human soul.
1. The enlightening of the understanding, expressed by putting God’s laws into the mind.
2. The engagement of the affections, expressed by writing them in the heart. Both these go together when the man is born again of the Spirit. The soul is sweetly but powerfully drawn to choose what the judgment has been taught to approve. There is given, not the rule only of obedience, but the spirit of obedience; there is a taking away the stony heart out of the flesh, and giving a heart of flesh.
III. THE AUTHOR OF SANCTIFICATION. “I will put … I will write.” God, then, is Himself the agent in the establishment of His law in the hearts and minds of His people. None beneath Himself is equal to this great work. The outward means which He uses as preparatory and auxiliary to this great work, are endlessly diversified.
1. The mercy which distinguishes one man from another is not the result of holiness foreseen in the subjects of it. The terms of the covenant of grace run directly counter to such a notion. Sanctification is promised in it to sinners, as a free gift.
2. Holiness is connected with mercy, as the effect with its cause. The revelation of mercy to unrighteousness is God’s great means for winning the sinner from his enmity, to love and delight in Him. I will sanctify, saith He, for I will be merciful. These two can never be disjoined.
3. Sanctification is never perfect while the believer is in the body. The conflict between the flesh and the spirit continues to the end, with various success; but, upon the whole, the actings of corruption get weaker, and the habit of grace strengthens in the soul. Still, the spark of evil is not extinguished. Satan lives, and, if permitted, can easily re-kindle it into a flame.
4. The law of the Ten Commandments is still the rule of life to the believer. From the law, as a covenant, we are eternally delivered, through Christ. As a means, therefore, of meriting life, we have nothing whatever to do with the terms of it. Eternal life is given us in Christ (1 John 5:11). But we are therefore “delivered from the law,” “that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, who walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” Romans 8:2; Romans 8:4, compare Romans 7:6). The law of Christ is indeed a law of love; but still this “ new commandment” is “the old commandment which ye had from the beginning” (1 John if. 7).
5. The security of the believer in Jesus. God has put His hand to the work, and who shall let it? (Francis Goode, M. A.)
God’s law written in the heart
I. THE THINGS TO BE WRITTEN ARE THE LAWS OF GOD. But what laws these are may be doubted. For some will have them to be the Decalogue. Yet these are said to be written in the heart of the very heathens (Romans 2:5). Yet suppose they be already in their hearts, yet the writing of them there is very imperfect; for both the knowledge of them and the power to keep them are very imperfect, so that the love of God and our neighbour may be imprinted there more perfectly. Yet the word termed Laws signifies in the Hebrew, Doctrines. And these are the doctrines of the gospel concerning Christ’s person, nature, offices, and the work of redemption; the doctrines of repentance, faith, justification, and eternal life; and these either presuppose or include the moral law. Further, they are doctrines concerning Christ, glorified, reigning, and officiating in heaven.
II. THE BOOK OR TABLES WHEREIN THEY MUST RE WRITTEN ARE THE MIND AND HEART OF MAN. There is the spring and original of all rational and moral operations, of all thoughts, affections, and inward motions. There is the directive counsel and imperial commanding power. There is the prime mover of all humane actions as such. This is the subject fit to receive not only natural but supernatural truths, and doctrines, and all laws. There divine characters may be imprinted, and made legible to the soul itself. This is the most noble and excellent book that any can write in.
III. THE SCRIBE OR PEN-MAN IS GOD FOR IT IS SAID, I WILL GIVE OR PUT, I WILL WRITE. He that said so was the Lord. And it must be He, because the work is so curious and excellent that it is far above the sphere of created activity. He alone can immediately work upon the immortal soul to inform it, move it, alter it, and mould it anew.
IV. THE ACT AND WORK OF THIS PENMAN IS TO WRITE, AND WRITE THESE LAWS AND WRITE THEM IN THE HEART. HOW He cloth it we know not. That He doth it is clear enough. His preparations, illuminations, impulsions, inspirations, are strange and wonderful, of great and mighty force. For in this work He doth not only represent divine objects in a clearer light, and propose high motives to incline and turn the heart, but also gives a divine perceptive and appetitive power, whereby the soul more easily and clearly apprehends, and more effectually affects heavenly things. The effect of this writing is a divine knowledge of God’s laws, and a ready and willing heart to obey them, and conform unto them, a power to know and do the word of God. This is that work of the Spirit which is called vocation, renovation, regeneration, conversion actively taken, without which man cannot repent, believe, obey, and turn to God.
1. The laws. The laws of God are written in the heart, not the inventions, fancies of men, nor natural, nor mathematical, nor moral philosophy; much less the errors and blasphemies of seducers and false prophets.
2. The heart of man is by nature a very untoward and indisposed subject, and not capable of these heavenly doctrines. It is blind and perverse, and there is an antipathy between it and these laws. As it hath no true notions of the greatest good, so it hath no mind to use the means, which conduce to the attaining thereof. This defacement of so noble a substance is the work of the devil and sin.
3. Concerning God’s writing His laws in the heart of man, you must know
The law in the heart
It was a choice tribute that was lately rendered to a noble Christian woman, that “her natural life was so completely Christian, that her Christian life became completely natural.” (Sarah F. Smiley.)
The miracle of miracles
The miracle of miracles is this--“A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” To put the law in the inward parts, and to write it on the heart, is more than to fill the firmament with stars. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Commandments, not burdensome
Cicero questions whether that can properly be called a burden which one carries with delight and pleasure. ° If a man carries a bag of money given him, it is heavy; but the delight takes oft the burden. When God gives inward joy, that makes the commandments delightful. Joy is like oil to the wheels, which makes a Christian run in the way of God’s commandments, so that it is not burdensome. (T. Watson.)
Obedience from love
The son of a poor man, that hath not a penny to give or leave him, yields his father obedience as cheerfully as the son of a rich man that looks for a great inheritance. It is, indeed, love to the father, not wages from the father, that is the ground of a good child’s obedience. If there were no heaven, God’s children would obey Him; and though there was no hell, yet would they do their duty; so powerfully doth the love of the Father constrain them. (J. Spencer.)
Two conversions needed
We all need two conversions. First of all, we need to be converted from the natural man to the spiritual man, and in the second place, we need to be converted from the spiritual man to the natural man, until the spiritual man becomes a natural life, and the burden is opportunity and the bondage is delight. (Theodore Monod.)
If those who are in the employ of others do but meet the outward and visible engagements into which they have entered with their masters, the latter are satisfied. Let but the proper hours be kept and the day fully and diligently filled up, let but the books be accurately posted, and the articles of merchandise which are being manufactured be put together in a workmanlike way; and the wages are cheerfully and promptly paid. The majority of masters do not concern themselves with the motives of their men. The latter might profess to like other masters better than they do their own, yet if they but fulfil their tasks their employers are content. The preferences and motives of their servants most masters regard as being no concern of theirs. In this respect there exists a striking contrast between the claims of God and those of men. The Almighty will accept of no service which is not a service of love. The heart must first be given before the service is accepted. The connection subsisting between God and those employed by Him resembles rather the services rendered to each other by the members of a loving and united household. (T. Thompson, M. A.)
The law in the heart
Just as each plant in its growth spontaneously obeys the law put into its inmost parts by God, so the believer who accepts the new covenant promise in its fulness, walks in the power of that inner law. The spirit within frees from the law without. (Andrew Murray.)
Just as the water naturally follows the channels which are constructed to conduct it from the mountains to the sea, so the holy heart follows the channels of Divine law, marked out by Divine law, not through compulsion, but through the power of attraction.
The grand morality
A noted secular paper once prophesied concerning Moody and Sankey that Professor Tyndall would do more to purify London than “these men!” Professor Tyndall may help us to purify the atmosphere of our houses and streets, but what word has he ever dropped that would purify a human heart! He may discourse eloquently of “duty,” but Plato could have done that; Aristotle did that. But who has not found out before he has had many years’ experience in dealing with men, that what is needed is not so much to show men their duty as to get them to do it? To show men their duty yon want light, to get them to do it you want power, and the only adequate power is love. God’s clearest light, God’s mightiest power is in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! (C. Clemance, D. D.)
I will be to them a God
I. A MUTUAL RELATION OF GOD AND MEN. “I will be to them a God.” In other words, Whatever I am in Myself, that I will be to them; of that they shall have the free use and blessed experience: all My perfections will I exert for their present and everlasting welfare. How greatly do we need the increase of faith, to receive this amazing promise I to embrace it, to the comfort and joy of our souls. We shrink from appropriating it; we try to live on something less for happiness. But He who knows the souls that He has made, knows that nothing beneath Himself can ever fill their boundless desires. No gifts of nature, no, nor even the largest gifts of grace itself, can supply the place of Him who is the Author of them all. God, then, makes Himself a God to His people, communicates Himself to them by indwelling. “I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God.” Two things are necessary for your enjoyment of this promise.
1. Realize God as your God. Claim the relation of a child; live as if you were one; and God will so own the relation that you can hesitate no longer.
2. Live on God as a God to you--and this in two ways.
Under this twofold aspect God revealed Himself to Abraham (Genesis 12:1) for the encouragement of His faith, in the long-continued trial of it. (Francis Goode, M. A.)
They shall be to Me a people
I. This relation of redeemed sinners to their GOD. “They shall be to Me a people.”
1. His people owning God as theirs.
2. God owning them as His people. Consider the terms of endearment under which He speaks of them. He calls them His children; the sheep of His pasture, for whom the Shepherd bled. Such is the preciousness of His purchased people in His eyes.
II. God’s own engagement to establish this RELATION BETWEEN US AND HIM. “They shall be to Me a people.” These words clearly express a resolve of God in this matter. He Has so ordered the covenant of grace, that it is a sure covenant to all who have once embraced it. “They shall be to Me a people.” His word is passed for the effectual accomplishment of His grace; and, therefore, His own Divine character and glory are involved in it. If God be able to do what He has resolved to do, this relation cannot fail to be made good between Him and them. This doctrine is a precious cordial for the fainting soldier in the day of battle. It strengthens his weak hands; confirms his feeble knees; animates him under all the terribleness of conflict. (Francis Goode, M. A.)
All shall know Me
I. A knowledge of God covenanted under the GOSPEL. “They shall know Me.” This is a knowledge little thought of, or valued, by men in general; and, which is stranger still, it is that of which all men in Christian countries think they are in possession. But to know God indeed, according to the true sense of the term, is to have such an apprehension of His infinite majesty and holiness as shall lay us low before Him, and to bow with deepest submission to His will. It is to have such a knowledge of His glorious goodness as shall fill us with holy delight in Him, intense desire after communion with Him, and enjoyment of His favour. Further, it is so to behold His glory, as to be ourselves transformed into the same image of holiness and goodness; to be ourselves “partakers of the Divine nature” 2 Peter 1:4). This knowledge of God, which is matter of promise to His covenant people, we may consider under two heads. It consists in saving acquaintance with God
II. The universality of this knowledge of God BY HIS COVENANT PEOPLE. “All shall know Me, from the least to the greatest.” There is not one true child of God under the gospel but has his measure of it. He discerns the perfections of God, as they are displayed in the work of redemption; that “mystery which, in other ages, was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His apostles and prophets (and by them to the Church) through the Spirit.” The “least” of God’s covenant’ people, as well as the greatest, has now a satisfying, soul-quieting acquaintance with God; such an understanding of the method of peace with God, through Christ, as even prophets, and righteous men of old, the most spiritual of their day, desired in vain. Yea, often the poor and ignorant and weak in intellect of this world are, in the sovereignty of Divine grace, pre-eminently “rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love Him.”
III. A SUPER-HUMAN SOURCE OF THIS KNOWLEDGE. “They shall not teach,” &c. This is certainly not said to disparage God’s appointed ordinance of public preaching, or mutual exhortation. It was under this very gospel covenant that He first gave the command, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” But the believer does not so learn of man as that He receives the truth in that uncertainty, or sense of possible error, which attaches to every mere word of man. There is a revelation of God to His children, a knowledge of Himself by His Spirit, that is, like light, its own witness. The man who has it is sure that he has it, and that it is of God. Lessons:
1. Do we possess such superior light and knowledge of God to any which the saints of old enjoyed? O, then, let the superior effects of this knowledge be clearly discernible in our conduct. To see God indeed is to be like God.
2. Be satisfied with no knowledge of God to which you have yet attained. Though, like Paul, you had been caught up into the third heaven, yet should your prayer be, with Paul, “That I may know Him”; yet should your language be, as his was, “Not as though I had already attained.” Still have you reason to say, “Now I know in part.”
3. Learn to live on God in the use of ordinances. This is a very different thing from that pernicious conceit of living above ordinances. That is the privilege of heaven alone. God can indeed supply the place of means, and, in particular cases, He does so; acts independent of them; to teach us to trust in Him, in the dearth of them. But, ordinarily, it is otherwise.
4. This promise of the covenant, like the preceding, has its complete fulfilment only in an eternal world. The knowledge of God which the believer now has is real and delightful; all the things that can be desired are not to be compared unto it. But the sweetest part of its enjoyment is, that it is an earnest of what shall be. (Francis Goode, M. A.)
The knowledge of God
I. In the first place, WHAT IS INTENDED IN THE TEXT BY THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. “All shall know Me.” It cannot be a mere knowledge of the existence of God, for the devils believe that God is. It cannot be a mere partial acquaintance with the character of God; because we cannot for a moment doubt that the Jews were partially acquainted with God’s character, and yet our Lord said to them, “Ye neither know Me nor My Father.” Neither can it be a dry, uninfluential, notional knowledge of God, however accurate (2 Peter 2:20-21). To know God includes far more than this. It implies a real, personal, experimental, sanctifying acquaintance with God.
1. It especially regards Him as a reconciled God in Christ.
2. But more than this; the knowledge of God implies a knowledge of Him as our God in covenant; a God who has pledged His very perfections to bring His people safe to glory; who will not have them to judge Him by their feelings, nor by their providences. Who can unfold the knowledge of God which springs from the consideration of Him as a pitying Father? “He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” To know God implies a knowledge of Him as a God all-sufficient; My brethren, how long you and I have been learning this lesson, and how little we know of it after all!
II. Observe, in the second place, here is a positive word of certainty THAT ALL GOD’S PEOPLE SHALL KNOW HIM, “from the least to the greatest.” This was no small part of the work of our adorable Immanuel. It is sweet and pleasant to look at Him as bearing the very name of the Word of God, because He is the revealer of God. He does indeed tell us the secrets of God’s heart; He brings to light those perfections in Deity which we could never conceive to have existed but for His work. The work of Jesus is glorious throughout, and there is no part of His work which ought more to endear Him to our hearts than this, inasmuch as He disclosed more of the Father, and brings us into more intimate acquaintance with the character of God, than could have been devised by any other means. But it is not this that secures the infallible teaching of all God’s Israel; it was the covenant “ordered in all things and sure.” But there is a point connected with this that I would not overlook, and that is, the way by which the Holy Spirit (for it is His especial work), brings the knowledge of God into the soul. “I will give them a heart that they may know Me, saith the Lord.” It is not, “I will give them knowledge,” but “I will give them a heart.” Now this was communicated in regeneration. Oh the wonders of redeeming love, flowing out from the heart of God by Christ Jesus! Oh what a beam of light is that which the Holy Spirit brings into the conscience, developing God our Saviour in Christ Jesus!
III. But observe, WHAT ARE THE BLESSINGS OF THIS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. I hardly know where to begin or where to end. It is true wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of Him is understanding.” Here lies also the secret of peace, “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.” Whence is it that the careworn brow marks thy countenance? If thou weft only conversant with the great secret, “Casting thy care upon Him that careth for thee,” thou wouldst find out the blessed lesson, of living above the region of disappointment, and finding peace in believing, ‘‘ Acquaint thyself with Him, and be at peace.” In a word, this true knowledge of God has in it the material of all holiness. Whatever there is of love, whatever there is of hope, whatever there is of obedience, whatever there is of careful walking, whatever there is of watchfulness unto prayer, whatever there is of making a conscience of one’s deeds, whatever there is of walking secretly with God as in the sight of God--it is all involved in one truth, a true, real, personal, experimental knowledge of God in Christ.
1. Be thankful, then, for the least measure you have of the true knowledge of God.
2. Covet earnestly the most. The true secret for a heavenly walk with God is a real acquaintance with Him.
3. Do not quarrel with the way by which God makes Himself known to thee. I remember the expression of a child of God who, feeling her heart too much attached to some earthly object, prayed that God would take away the idol, whatever the idol might be. In the course of a week He took away her husband. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The universal diffusion of Scriptural knowledge
These words, quoted Jeremiah 31:34, are here applied to New Testament times. They plainly teach, that these times shall be greatly superior to all that preceded them, in the general diffusion of that knowledge which is essentially necessary to the everlasting salvation of the soul. This blessing, which is of infinite importance, belongs to a new economy, different from the ancient covenant which God made with Israel, the peculiar privileges of which were of an earthly character, were shadowy or emblematical, and were chiefly confined to one nation. But the privileges of the new economy were to be of a spiritual character, and were to extend to men of all ranks, and of all nations, on the face of the earth.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THAT KNOWLEDGE WHICH SHALL EMINENTLY DISTINGUISH THIS PERIOD.
1. It is the knowledge of God, of things divine, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
2. This knowledge is communicated to the ignorant as the fulfilment of a gracious promise by the agency of the Divine Spirit (Isaiah 54:13).
3. This knowledge of the Lord, by which the period referred to in the text shall be eminently distinguished, shall be very generally diffused among all ranks and descriptions of men.
II. THE MEANS WHICH OUGHT TO BE USED BY US FOR HASTENING THIS PERIOD. It is said in the text, that when this happy era is come, they shall not teach, or, as it is expressed in the prophecy, they shall teach no more, every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord”; which seems plainly to intimate, that certain means, which are now very properly used for advancing this period, shall then become unnecessary. (Wm. Schaw.)
Coming of the millenium
The world is preparing day by day for the millenium, but you do not see it. Every season forms itself a year in advance. The coming summer lays out her work during the autumn, and buds and roots are forespoken. Ten million roots are pumping in the streets; do you hear them? Ten million buds are forming in the axils of the leaves; do you hear the sound of the saw or the hammer? All next summer is at work in the world; but it is unseen by us. And so “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” (H. W. Beecher.)
I will be merciful to their unrighteousness
Mercy to unrighteousness
I. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THIS GRACE IS COVENANTED. IS it I, will each of us inquire, whom God means to include in a promise so cheering, so all-sufficient?
II. THE CONDITION IN WHICH IT SUPPOSES THEM TO BE. Throughout this covenant no mention is made of anything in man but guilt and ruin. The promise in my text obviously assumes such to be his condition. Man is in himself all unrighteousness, as it is written, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Sorely there is nothing more suited to respire hope in the breast of an awakened sinner than the consideration of this truth. My sins, such an one may say, are exceeding great; but, thanks be to God, He who best knows them speaks to me of mercy I But it is long, in general, before an awakened sinner, though again and again God discover to him the vanity of all attempts to bring any deservings of his own, can be persuaded to go quite without hope or plea of any kind but this--Lord, I am a sinner, and Thou art a free Saviour. We dare not believe that grace is indeed so free, so unbounded, to those who will go to God in Christ.
III. GOD’S ENGAGEMENTS RELATIVE TO THIS CONDITION. “I will be merciful … I will remember no more.” In these words God promises the removal of all kinds and degrees of sin.
1. Freely. “I will be merciful.” This is both the reason with God for blessing, and the method by which He works upon the souls of His people; winning them from their natural enmity and distrust of Himself, by the effectual revelation of His mercy to them.
2. Eternally. “I will remember no more.” Guilt makes the soul of the sinner fearful; he is ever recurring to the memory of his past sins, and he fears God does the same. He has had some momentary glimpses of mercy; but when the present sense of it is gone, conscience is afraid again; he is ready to suspect God of yet harbouring some latent feeling of resentment; fears the reconciliation has been partial, and that wrath, so deeply deserved, is ready to break out afresh on fresh provocation. But oh, blessed be God, this is indeed the way of men; but His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. Those whom He forgives freely, He forgives entirely, forgives eternally. (Francis Goode, M. A.)
Many years ago in Russia a regiment of troops mutinied. They were at some distance from the capital, and were so furious that they murdered their officers, and resolved never to submit to discipline; but the emperor, who was an exceedingly wise and sagacious man, no sooner heard of it than, all alone and unattended, he went into the barracks where the men were drawn up, and addressing them sternly, he said to them, “Soldiers! you have committed such offences against the law that every one of you deserves to be put to death. There is no hope of any mercy for one of you unless you lay down your arms immediately, and surrender at discretion to me, your emperor.” They did so, there and then. The emperor said at once, “Men, I pardon you; you will be the bravest troops I ever had.” And so they were. Now, this is just what God does with the sinner. The sinner has dared to rebel against God, and God says, “Now, sinner, you have done that which deserves My wrath. Ground you weapons of rebellion. I will not talk with you until you submit at discretion to My sovereign authority.” And then He says, “Believe in My Son; accept Him as your Saviour. This done, you are forgiven, and henceforth you will be the most loving subjects that My hands have made.” (W. R. Bradlaugh.)
A glorious position
Mr. Lyford, a Puritan divine, a few days previous to his dissolution, being desired by his friends to give them some account of his hopes and comforts, he replied, “I will let you know how it is with me, and on what ground I stand. Here is the grave, the wrath of God, and devouring flames, the great punishment of sin on the one hand; and here am I, a poor sinful creature, on the other; but this is my comfort, the covenant of grace, established upon so many sure promises, hath satisfied all. The act of oblivion passed in heaven is, ‘I will forgive their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more, saith the Lord.’ This is the blessed privilege of all within the covenant, of whom I am one. For I find the Spirit which is promised, bestowed upon me, in the blessed effects of it upon my soul, as the pledge of God’s eternal love. By this I know my interest in Christ, who is the foundation of the covenant, and therefore my sins being laid on Him, shall never be charged on me.” (K. Arvine.)
Justice and mercy
The Jews have a saying that Michael, the angel of God’s justice, has but one wing and he comes slowly; but Gabriel, the angel of Divine mercy, has two wings, and is made to fly swiftly. (H. R. Burton.)
Their sins … will I remember no more
The new covenant--its promises
It will be observed that the last-named promise is pardon. But though the last mentioned, it is the first bestowed, as indicated by the conjunction for, by which it is introduced. Pardon is not only promised, but is here represented as the reason for the preceding blessings. It is evident that the author, in his enumeration of these blessings of the better covenant, presents them in the inverse order of their realisation. In them he traces the Divine process of salvation, but starts at a point where that salvation has reached its highest fruition on its moral side, that grand moral achievement, the complete surrender of the soul to the Divine will, indicated by the writing of the law in the heart, and descends by the several steps of the process to the initiatory one, the pardoning of sins. It follows, then, that in order to understand duly these truths of overwhelming interest, we must deal with them according to their logical sequence.
I. THE PARDON.
1. Its source. This is indicated by the expression, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness.” The source, then, of the promised pardon is the mercifulness of God. We mean, of course, its moral source, for its legal source is the atonement of Jesus Christ.
2. We have also the fulness of this act of mercy indicated in the expression, “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” This oblivion of transgression is a feature of the Divine pardon much emphasised in the Scriptures, with a view, no doubt, of duly impressing men with the fact of its absolute entirety. Nothing can be more emphatic than the prophet’s declaration regarding God’s dealings with the sins of Israel--“And Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Absolute oblivion is the prominent idea of this graphic figure. That which is cast into the depths of the sea cannot be commemorated. An incident in connection with the laying of the Atlantic cable furnishes a striking illustration of the insuperable difficulty of marking spots in mid-ocean. When the first Atlantic cable was being laid it broke in mid-ocean, and the severed pieces dropped into the bottom, and the vessel was compelled to return to England to procure the means of recovering the broken end. Before, however, leaving the spot, means were adopted to mark the place, so that on their return the lost end might be found. So a suitable buoy was constructed, and every precaution taken to render its foundering or drifting impossible, as they supposed. But on the vessel’s return the buoy laid down with such care was found, but, as careful astronomical observations showed, it had drifted over five hundred miles away from the spot where it had been originally moored. The broken end of the cable was never recovered. Thus is strikingly illustrated the impossibility of erecting memorials in mid-sea. God, therefore, by representing Himself as casting our sins there, would tell us how completely He forgets them, and how certain it is that He will never charge us with them again.
II. THE INTUITIONAL KNOWLEDGE OF GOD ASSURED BY THE BETTER COVENANT. The knowledge of God forms a very important part in the Divine redemption. It is, so to speak, the Alpha of the whole process. Our Lord represents it so--“And this is eternal life, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). The knowledge, however, referred to here, is introductory to the blessings of salvation, whereas that of the text is the outcome of the blessing realised. We come to the blessing through the knowledge in the one case, but in the other we come to the knowledge through the blessing.
In the first instance the knowledge is our schoolmaster to the blessing; in the second the blessing becomes our schoolmaster to the knowledge. The knowledge of God obtained through experience of His pardon is the grandest of all knowledge of Him. It is also the only infallible knowledge. An eminent minister, recently addressing a number of young ministers starting for the mission-field, said, “You will never lack a theme, for your mission is to tell of Him whom you know better than you know any one else besides.” Never was uttered profounder thought or one more true. Those who know God know Him better than any one beside, better than they know their most intimate friends, better than husband knows his wife, or wife her husband, better than children know their parents, or parents their children. We may be deceived in our nearest and most intimate friends and relations, much as we may know respecting them. But God cannot deceive us. The nearest friend may fail us, but God cannot fail us.
III. THE DIVINE KINSHIP ASSURED BY THE NEW COVENANT. The relation to His people indicated by this expression I take to imply fatherhood. When God promises to be our. God, He promises to be our Father, and the pardoned soul apprehends Him in this light. In short, it is the pardoning act that reveals God to the soul first in this light. In this transaction he discovers God becoming his God as a father, for this act of pardon is, above all, a fatherly act. Our Lord has shown us this in that inimitable parable of the prodigal son. In nothing is God so intensely a father as when He forgives. And the child never understands his own father, never has the fatherly attribute so deeply revealed to his heart, as when he has had occasion to experience the joy of his father’s forgiveness. Again, this relationship is in itself a guarantee of the fullest and most devoted service on their behalf. If the statement, “I will be to them a God,” is equivalent to the statement, “I will be a Father unto them,” then we know what it must mean as regards undertaking and acting for them. Some light is thrown upon this by the words already quoted--“God is not ashamed to be called their God.” To this is added, “for He has prepared a city for them.” This preparing of a city for them is given as a proof that He is not ashamed to own Himself as their God. As if it should be said, “He is not ashamed to avow Himself their God, for behold on how grand a scale He discharges the obligations of that relationship.” We have no need to be told what the title “father” signified to the child: care, love, guidance, support, and all without stint.
IV. THE ASSURANCE WHICH THE BETTER COVENANT GIVES OF A LOVING, CHILDLIKE SUBJECTION TO THE DIVINE WILL. Parental government is by means of laws wrought in the heart; magisterial, by laws without. The parental relationship of God, fully and deeply realised by the believer, quickens the filial disposition, inducing such a humble, yet cordial, assimilation to the Divine will, comparable only to the “ putting of the Divine laws into the mind and writing them upon the heart.” Let us try and get at the meaning of these peculiar expressions regarding the law, “the putting it into the mind” and “the writing it in the heart.” Now, the mind and the heart represents two sides of our nature, the intellectual and the emotional. Here, then, we have guaranteed to us the fact that the law, the sanctifying principle, shall take possession of these two ruling sides of our moral nature, exerting upon them an influence both subduing and formative. (A. J. Parry.)
The new covenant--the superiority of its promises
I. THE QUALITY OF THE BLESSINGS.
1. The greater excellence of the Christian pardon. The Jewish religion had its pardon, or something that passed for pardon; the superiority, however, of the pardon held forth by the gospel is indicated by the expression, “and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Contrast this statement with what is said respecting the method of dealing with sins under the old covenant--“But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance of sins every year” (Hebrews 10:3). In the one case we have the forgetting of sins, in the other the remembrance of them. The ancient pardon, then, was not really such, but only a kind of reprieve annually renewed, a kind of suspension of the sentence, not the removal or abrogation of it. It was in the nature of a “ticket-of-leave” transaction.
2. The greater excellence of the knowledge of God assured by the new covenant. The knowledge of God acquired under the old covenant was preceptive knowledge, and, like all such knowledge, it needed constant prompting, it needed that every man should say to his neighbour, and every man to his brother, “Know the Lord,” for they resembled boys learning a lesson, they continually forgot it. A prophet would arise, saying to the people, “Know the Lord,” and they would learn the lesson; but no sooner did the prophet’s voice cease than the people forgot the lesson, and wandered after false gods. Then another prophet would arise, and repeat the oft-taught lesson, “Know the Lord.” But the more excellent knowledge of the better promise needs no such prompting. In the ease of this knowledge,” they shall not teach every man his neighbour,” &c., it is a knowledge in the heart, not in the memory, for the memory may fail, but the heart never.
3. The greater excellence of the relationship between God and His people. It is better in this, that it is individual and spiritual, whereas the corresponding promise of the old covenant was national and temporal. The promise as it related to Israel is given very graphically in Deuteronomy 26:17-19. There is something inexpressibly grand in the abounding sweep of this promise. If we consider it in the light of the history of God’s dealings with the ancient people, we shall obtain some notion of its meaning. But rich and abounding as its meaning may be, it embraces only the nation, and that in relation to temporal things. The greater excellence of the corresponding promise of the new covenant is that it realises these blessings in a spiritual sense, and to every individual in the wide world that comes within the scope of its conditions.
4. Next, we notice the greater excellence of the formative principle of the new covenant. The superiority claimed here consists in this--that the laws are “put into the mind” and “written in the heart.” There is an implied contrast with the corresponding provision of the old covenant. The latter had its laws, but they were inscribed, not in hearts, but on tables of stone. The other consists of an inward principle or motive, the subject of it animated by love, yielding willing obedience from a heart glowing with loving, grateful enthusiasm. This difference in the spheres of their respective laws involves a wide difference in their respective effects upon the course of the lives affected by them. There is a great difference between the sailing vessel and the steam-boat. The one is propelled by influences external to itself, and is, therefore, dependent upon them for the progress it makes; the other is propelled by a principle working within, and is, therefore, independent of external influences, moves without them, and often against, yea, in spite of them. The latter illustrates the method adopted in the new covenant. Hence its greater excellence. It implants the principle of action, the motive power, within, so preventing its subject from becoming a creature of circumstances, and his obedience a mechanical routine, making it rather a thing of the heart and of the affections. The gospel, in this respect, works according to the analogy of nature. In nature, the formative law of everything is within it.
II. THE SUPERIOR CERTAINTY OF THE PROMISES OF THE NEW COVENANT. The utmost assurance that these promises will be fully realised in the experience of every one who accepts Christ’s salvation is given us in the fact that they are called by the term “covenant.” In verse 6 the promises and the covenant are referred to separately; in verse 10 there is but one word “ covenant.” The term promise is merged in the term covenant. This substitution of covenant for promise indicates the element of certainty belonging to the latter. But it may be asked, were not the promises of the ancient religion established upon a covenant? Certainly, they were, but those of Christianity upon “a better covenant.” The promises of the ancient religion were ratified by the blood of goats and calves, but Christ ratified the better promises of the “new covenant” by the sacrifice of Himself. His own declaration on this point is, “This cup is the New Testament in my blood,” that is, the new covenant ratified by the shedding of My blood. In short, we have the promises of the gospel resting upon the atonement of Christ. (A. J. Parry.)
God’s non-remembrance of sin
I. THERE IS FORGIVENESS.
1. This appears, first, in the treatment of sinners by God, inasmuch as He spares their forfeited lives.
2. Why did God institute the ceremonial law if there were no ways of pardoning transgression? Does not a type imply the existence of that which is typified?
3. If there were no forgiveness of sin why has the Lord given to sinful men exhortations to repent?
4. If you will think of it you will see that there must be pardons in the hand of God, or why the institution of religious worship among us to this day?
5. Furthermore, why did Christ institute the Christian ministry, and send forth His servants to proclaim His gospel? For what is the gospel but a declaration that Christ is exalted on high to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sins?
6. Now, you do not want any more arguments, but if you did I would venture to offer this. Why are we taught in that blessed model of prayer which our Saviour has left us, to say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” or, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us”? It is evident that God means us to give a real, true, and hearty absolution to all who have offended us. If, then, our forgiveness is real, so is His; if ours be sincere, so is His; if ours be complete, so is His; only much more so, inasmuch as the great God of all is so much more gracious than we poor, fallen creatures ever can be.
7. The best of all arguments is this: God has actually forgiven multitudes of sinners. We have read in Holy Scripture of men who walked with God and had this testimony, that they pleased God; but they could not have pleased God if their sins still provoked Him to wrath; therefore He must have put their sins away.
II. THIS FORGIVENESS IS TANTAMOUNT TO FORGETTING SIN. This is a wonder to me, a wonder of wonders, that God should say that He will do what in some sense He cannot do; and yet that it should be strictly true as He intends it. God’s pardon of sin is so complete that He Himself describes it as not remembering our iniquity and transgression. He wishes us to know that His pardon is so true and deep that it amounts to an absolute oblivion, a total forgetting of all the wrong-doing of the pardoned ones.
1. You know what we do when we exercise memory. To speak popularly, a man lays up a thing in his mind: but when sin is forgiven it is not laid up in God’s mind.
2. In remembering, men also consider and meditate on things; but the Lord will not think over the sins of His people. The record of our iniquity is taken away, and the judge has no judicial memory of it.
3. Sometimes you have almost forgotten a thing, and it is quite gone out of your mind; but an event happens which recalls it so vividly that it seems as if it were perpetrated but yesterday. God will not recall the sin of the pardoned. “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” “No more!” Let those words go echoing through the chambers of despair: “No more!” Is there not music in the two syllables? God will never have His memory refreshed. The transgressions of His people are dead and buried with Christ, and they shall never have a resurrection.
4. Furthermore, this not remembering, means that God will never seek any further atonement. The apostle saith: “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” The one sacrifice of Jesus has made an end of sin.
5. Again, when it is said that God forgets our sins it signifies that He will never punish us for them. How can He when He has forgotten them?
6. He will never upbraid us with them--“He giveth liberally and upbraideth not.” How can He upbraid us with what He has forgotten? He will not even lay them to our charge.
7. Once more, when the Lord says, “I will not remember their sins,” what does it mean but this--that He will not treat us any the less generously on account of our having been great sinners.
III. FORGIVENESS IS TO BE HAD.
1. Through the atoning blood. Why does God forget our sin? It is not on this wise?--He looks upon His Son Jesus bearing that sin.
2. Next remember that this forgetfulness of God is caused by overflowing mercy. God is love: “His mercy endureth for ever”; and He desired vent for His love.
3. How does God forget sin? Well, it is through His everlasting love. He loved His people before they fell; and He loved His people when they fell. “I have loved thee,” saith He, “with an everlasting love”; and when that great love of His had led Him to give His Son Jesus for His people’s ransom, it made him also forget His people’s sins.
4. Again, God forgets His people’s sins because of the complacency He has in them as renewed and sanctified creatures. When He hears their cries of repentance, when He hears their declarations of faith, when He sees the love which His Spirit has wrought in them, when He beholds them growing more and more like His dear Son, He delights in them. His joy is fulfilled in them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. EXPLAIN THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE FORGIVENESS.
1. The object of Divine forgiveness, denoted by the following terms--“unrighteousness, sins, and iniquities.”
2. Notice the manner in which the forgiveness of sins is here expressed, or the cause to which it is ascribed; and this is said to consist in the Lord’s being “merciful” to our unrighteousness. Even our best services and most spiritual dispositions, fall so short of the Divine requirements, that they need much mercy to cover their defects; how much more our unrighteousness, sins, and iniquities.
3. Divine forgiveness is farther expressed, by “remembering our sins and iniquities no more.” The pardon of sin is not only full and free, but final and irreversible.
II. INQUIRE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN THE BLESSING OF FORGIVENESS,
1. Those and those only who have a sorrowful remembrance of sin themselves. The more sin grieves us, the less likely it is to ruin us; and that sorrow for sin which follows upon the discoveries of pardoning mercy, is the best evidence of a renewed state.
2. Those who so repent of sin as not to allow themselves in any known evil; and to whom the remembrance of sin is so bitter, that it becomes their first wish to be delivered from it. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
God neither looks to anything in the creature to wish Him to show kindness, nor yet anything in the creature to debar Him; it is neither righteousness in man that persuades God to pardon sin, nor unrighteousness in man that hinders Him from giving this pardon, and acquitting men from their transgressions. It is only and simply for His own sake that He pardons. (Bp. Huntington.)
A happy memory
Of our Henry VI. it is storied that he was of that happy memory that he never forgot anything but injury. (J. Trapp.)
God never pardons one sin but He pardons all; and we dishonour Him more by not trusting in Him for complete forgiveness than we did by sinning against Him. Christ took up all our sins and bore them in His own body on the cross; and God cannot punish twice, or demand a second satisfaction to His justice. “Nothing can pacify an offended conscience but that which satisfied an offended God,” says Henry; and well may that which satisfied an offended God pacify an offended conscience. (T. Adams.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hebrews 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany