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The exhortation, begun at Hebrews 10:19, but interrupted at Hebrews 11:1-40. I by the chapter on faith, is now taken up again with increased force from the array of examples that have been adduced to support it. Observable in the Greek is the fine roll of the majestic and well-ordered phrases with which this chapter begins, as if the writer had felt the dignity of his subject, and the commanding power with which he can now approach it. Even the initiatory word τοιγαροῦν, rather than the usual ὅθεν, or οὖν, or διό, adds to the effect.
Wherefore let us too ("we also," in the A.V., is wrongly placed), seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience (rather, endurance) the race that is sot before us. Christians, still "fighting the good fight of faith," are hero regarded under the image of athletes in the palaestra, contending for a prize. It is a favorite image with St. Paul, not only, we may suppose, because of its appropriateness, but also because of the probable appreciation of it by his readers in consequence of the general interest taken in the famous games (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24, etc; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). The idea in this first verso is that of a race (τρέχωμεν ἀγῶνα). The word προκείμενον (τὸν προκείμενον ἡμῖν ἀγῶνα) is the usual one in the ease of a contest appointed in public games, though, of course, otherwise applicable, as in Hebrews 6:18 and Hebrews 12:2. "Every weight" (ὄγκον πάντα), which we are to "lay aside," or rather put off from us (ἀπόθεσθαι), means, probably, in the figure, any heavy accoutrement, or other encumbrance, which the runner might have about him. Some, indeed, take ὄγκον to denote "obesity"—a sense in which the word is sometimes used, as by Hippocrates, Diodorus, AElian—and think the allusion is to the training required of athletes for getting into condition. But the word ἀποθέμενοι rather suggests as above. In the word ἁμαρτίαν, that follows, the figure is dropped, so as to make evident what is meant, but still retained apparently in the epithet εὐπερίστατον. This word, which is found nowhere else either in biblical or classical Greek, has to be interpreted from its derivation, the analogy of similar words, and the context. The usual and most probable view is, deriving it from περιΐ́στασθαι, to understand "that which easily surrounds us" (equivalent to τὴν εὐκόλως περιΐσταμένην ἡμᾶς). Thus Chrysostom: Εὐπερίστατον γὰρ ἡ ἁμαρτία πάντοθεν ἱσταμένη ἔμπροσθεν, ὔπισθεν καὶ οὕτως ἡμᾶς καταβάλλουσα (Chrysostom, 'Hem.' 2. on 2 Corinthians). Cf. περίκειται ἀσθένειαν (Hebrews 5:2). It is true that other verbals, similarly derived from ἵστημι, or its compounds, are not active, but intransitive or passive; thus περίστατος means "surrounded," not "surrounding; ἀπερίστατος means "unguarded," i.e. "not surrounded." Still, as such verbals derived from other verbs are often active, this may be so here, and thus have an intelligible sense in connection with the context. We may understand the figure of a race to be still kept in view, with regard to the runner not only laving aside encumbrances, but also stripping himself of his clothes, which would cling round him and impede his course. (The idea of close personal encirclement thus supposed to be expressed by αὐπερίστατον seems better to suit the figure, as also the governing verb ἀποθέμενοι, than that preferred by Delitzsch; viz. of sin getting in our road as we run, as might surrounding obstacles in an actual race: "Peecata currentem et implicant ac supplantant, ut prorsus a cursu impediatur vel in medio subsistat ant corruat," Horneius, quoted by Delitzsch) The application of the whole figure to Christian athletes is not hard to understand. The encumbrances to be laid aside by them, lest they should be weighted in their race, may include old associations, lingering Jewish prejudices, ties to the world, habits and customs which, whether or not in themselves blameless, might prove clogs and hindrances. Then the "easily besetting sin" would be all such as might cling to them personally, whether in the heart or in habits of life; which, if not got rid of, would be ever like an encircling and impeding robe, crippling alacrity and arresting speed. But further, as runners, however unencumbered for the race, require what in modern phrase is called "pluck" to keep it up to the end, so with the Christian athlete; for there will always be danger of his flagging as his course goes on under trials and difficulties, and this especially in times of persecution. This further requirement is expressed by δι ̓ ὑπομινῆς, "with endurance," i.e. throughout to the end. Thus we have presented to us a grand conception of Christians being as athletes contending on the arena of this present world for the crown of immortality; and, as is expressed at the beginning of the verse, under the eager gaze of a vast multitude of unseen spectators, corresponding to those in the crowded seats, rising higher and higher, of an earthly amphitheatre. These unseen spectators are the innumerable saints before us, who have finished their course and are now at rest, but who are as it were in the air around us, watching us from above with sympathy. The word "cloud" (νέφος), though applicable to any great multitude, is peculiarly appropriate here, as suggesting the idea of an aerial company. The word "witnesses," too (μαρτύρων), though here most obviously to be understood in the sense of θεαταί, i.e. witnesses of our contest, may be intended to convey also, as it certainly suggests to the mind, its other welt-known meaning—that of witnesses to the faith, or martyrs (cf. Acts 22:13; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 11:3; Revelation 17:6). So the Fathers generally understand it here. The saints before us, as they bore witness to God in life, so are conceived as witnesses also of our like witness now, awaiting the day when, "not without us," they shall be finally perfected.
Looking unto the Author and Finisher of our faith (rather, the Leader, or Captain, as in Hebrews 2:10, and Perfecter of the faith, or of faith—faith's Captain and Completer), Jesus; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. The idea is not, as implied in the A.V. and understood by Chrysostom and other ancients, that Jesus first inspires and then brings to its complete result the individual Christian's faith ("quod caepit in nobis consummabit"), but (as implied in the word ἀρχηγὸς, and suiting the context better) that he is the Leader of the whole army of faith, whose standard we are to follow, and whose own completed victory is the enabling cause as well as the earnest of our own. It is no valid objection to this view that he could not have been a Leader in this sense to the faithful ones before his coming, referred to in the last chapter; for, as has been before observed (see on "the reproach of Christ," Hebrews 11:26), he is regarded as the Head and Leader, in all ages, of the faithful; and in virtue of his future warfare for mankind the saints of old endured and triumphed:—and certainly Christians, to whom the exhortation is addressed, may look to him in an obvious sense as their Captain to be followed. Nor, again, is there difficulty—apart from that of the whole mystery of the Incarnation—in his being presented to us as himself an example of triumphant faith. For he is elsewhere spoken of as having so "emptied himself" of his Divine glory as to have become like unto us in all things, sin except; and thus to have been sustained during his human life by faith in the unseen, as we are. His addresses to the Father (see especially John 17:1-26) are strikingly significant in this regard. The expression, "for the joy," etc. (ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶς), does not mean, as some take it, "instead of the joy which he might have had on earth" (such e.g. as was offered to him by the tempter), but, as is evident from the word προκειμένης, "as set against, i.e. for the sake of, future joy" (cf. ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς, Hebrews 12:16). Such looking forward to joy with the Father and the redeemed after triumph is expressed in the great intercessory prayer-above referred to (John 17:5, John 17:13, John 17:22, John 17:23, John 17:24, John 17:26). It may be here observed that anticipation of reward hereafter is among legitimate human motives to a good life. It may be said, indeed, that the highest virtue consists in doing what is right simply because it is right—in fulfilling God's will, whatever may come of it to ourselves; but the hope of a final happy issue comes properly, and indeed inevitably, in as an inspiring and sustaining motive. Aspiration after Happiness is a God-given instinct of humanity, necessary for keeping up the life of virtue. There may be some so in love with virtue as to be capable of persevering in lifelong self-denial, though without any faith in a life to come. But human nature in general certainly requires this further incentive, and Christian faith supplies it. Nor are those who thus work with a view to future joy to be accused of selfish motives, as though they balanced only a greater against a smaller gain. To the true Christian the grand inspiring principle is still the love of God and of his neighbor, and of goodness for its own sake, though the hope of an eternal reward supports and cheers him mightily. Nor, again, is the joy looked forward to a selfish joy. It is the joy of sharing in the triumph of eternal righteousness in company with all the redeemed, whose salvation, no less than his own, he desires and strives for. And, further, with regard to his own individual joy, what is it but the joy of attaining the end of his being, the perfection God meant him for, and to which it is his duty to aspire? Hence Christ would not have been a perfect Example to man had he not been represented as looking forward to "the joy that was set before him."
For consider him that hath endured such contradiction of sinners against himself (or, of the sinners against him), lest ye be weary fainting in your souls. The word ἀντιλογία ("contradiction"), though strictly applicable to verbal gainsaying, and thus especially suggesting to our minds the blasphemies and false accusations against Christ, includes opposition of all kinds. It is used in the LXX. for "rebellion" (Hebrew, ירַסְ), 2 Samuel 22:41; Proverbs 17:11, cf. Jud Proverbs 1:11, τῇ ἀντιλογιᾴ τοῦ Κορέ. (Instead of εἰς ἑαυτόν (al. εἰς αὐτὸν) there is weighty manuscript authority for εἰς ἑαυτούς, equivalent to "against themselves.") "Lest ye be weary," etc., keeps in view the idea of getting tired in a race, the word ἐκλυεσθαι ("faint") being used primarily for corporeal, and figuratively for mental, lassitude (cf. Matthew 15:32, μήποτε ἐκλυθῶσι ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ).
Ye have net yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Here (as in 1 Corinthians 9:26) there is a transition of thought from a race to a combat. Your trials have not yet reached the point of dying in the good fight of faith, as has been the case with some of your brethren before you, who have followed their Leader to the end (of. Hebrews 13:7).
Hebrews 12:5, Hebrews 12:6
And ye have forgotten (or, have ye forgotten?) the exhortation which speaketh unto you (more correctly, discourses, or reasons, with you; i.e. in the way of fatherly remonstrance) as unto children, My son, etc. This verse introduces a further motive for persevering under prolonged trial, viz. our being assured in Holy Writ of its beneficial purpose as discipline. The quotation is from Proverbs 3:11, Proverbs 3:12, as it is in the LXX. We observe that the word "faint" (ἐκλύου) is the same as was used in Proverbs 3:3. In the seventh and following verses this scriptural admonition is applied and commented on.
Hebrews 12:7, Hebrews 12:8
For chastening ye endure; i.e. It is for chastening that ye endure. The reading εἰς παιδείαν ὑπομένετε, supported by almost the whole weight of manuscripts (including all the uncials that contain the text), of ancient versions, and commentators (Theophylact being the only certain exception), is decidedly to be accepted instead of the εἰ παιδείαν ὑπομένετε (equivalent to "if ye endure chastening") of the Textus Receptus. Moreover, it is required for the sense of the passage in regard to the proper meaning of the verb ὑπομένετε ("endure"), which is to "submit to," or "endure patiently," not simply "to undergo." For to say, "if ye endure chastisement patiently, God dealeth with you as sons," has no meaning; our being treated as sons depends, not on the way we take our chastisement, but on our being chastised at all. The use of the preposition εἰς to express purpose is common in this Epistle (cf. Hebrews 1:14, εἰς διακονίαν: Hebrews 3:5, εἰς μαρτύριον: Hebrews 4:16, εἰς βοήθειαν: Hebrews 6:16, εἰς βεβαίωσιν): and the essential sense of παιδεία is discipline or education. The drift is the same, whether we take ὑπομένετε as an indicative or an imperative. Thus the next clause of the verse follows suitably: God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there (or, who is a son) whom his father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastening, whereof all (i.e. all God's children, with reference to Hebrews 11:1-40) have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons (ye are not your father's real children whom he cares for as such).
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us (more correctly, we once had, or, we used to have, the fathers of our flesh as chasteners), and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? This introduces an à fortiori argument. We are reminded of the days of our youth, while we were under parental discipline, and bore with it submissively: much more should we submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father, to whom we are as children under training all our life long! Commentators differ as to what is exactly meant by the contrast between "the fathers of our flesh" and "the Father of spirits (τῶν πνευμάτων)." Some (among moderns Delitzsch) find here a support to the theory of creationism as against traducianism; i.e. that the soul of each individual, as distinct from the body, is a new creation, not transmitted from the parents. This view would have more to go on than it has, were we justified in implying ἡμῶν after πνευμάτων ("our spirits," in opposition to "our flesh," preceding). But τῶν πνευμάτων seems evidently meant to be understood generally; and the expression (suggested probably by Numbers 16:22 and Numbers 27:16, "The God of the spirits of all flesh") need imply only that, though God is the original Author of flesh as well as spirit, yet the latter, whether in man or otherwise existing, has in a peculiar sense its parentage from him (cf. Genesis 2:7, "The LORD GOD formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul;" also Job 33:4, "The Spirit of the LORD hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life"). Our earthly parents transmit to us our carnal existence; our spiritual part, in whatever mysterious way derived or inspired, is duo to our Divine parentage; and it is in respect of this that we are God's children and accountable to him. But, as has been intimated above, it is not human spirits only that are here in the writer's view. God is the Father of all "the spirits," whether in the flesh or not; all are of Divine parentage, for God himself is Spirit—Πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός (John 4:24). Chrysostom explains thus: Τῷ πατρὶ τῶν πνευμὰτων ἤτοι τῶν χαρισμάτων λέγει, ἤτοι τῶν εὐχῶν ψυχῶν ἤτοι τῶν ἀσωμάτων δυνάμεων
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. The a fortiori argument is thus continued. The discipline of our earthly fathers was "for a few days," i.e. during our childhood only, since which we have been left to ourselves; and even then not necessarily for our greatest advantage; it was only as seemed good to them (κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς); it might be injudicious, or even capricious. But our heavenly Father's discipline we may trust to be always good for us, and with a definite final purpose. Though there is here no distinctly expressed antithesis to the "few days" of ordinary parental chastisement, yet one is implied in the last clause; for if God's purpose in chastening us is to make us partakers of his own holiness, we may conclude that the discipline will be continued till the end be attained; and thus also a further reason is implied why Christians should not "faint" under even lifelong trials.
Now no chastening seemeth for the present to be joyous, but grievous (literally, not of joy, but of grief): nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which have been exercised thereby. This is a general statement with respect to all chastening, though the expression of its result at the end of the verse is suggested by the thought of Divine chastening, to which alone it is certainly, and in the full sense of the words, applicable. "Of righteousness" is a genitive of apposition; δικαιοσύνη is the peaceable fruit yielded by παιδεία. And the word here surely denotes actual righteousness in ourselves; not merely justification in what is called the forensic sense: the proper effect of chastening is to make us good, and so at peace with our own conscience and with God. It is by no means thus implied that we can be accepted and so have peace on the ground of our own imperfect righteousness; only that it is in the fruits of faith perfected by discipline that we may "know that we are of the truth, and assure our hearts before him" (cf. James 3:18, "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace;" also Isaiah 32:17, "And the work of righteousness shall be peace").
Wherefore lift up (for, straighten anew) the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees (rather, the relaxed hands and the loosened or enfeebled knees). The word παραλελυμένα is used only by St. Luke elsewhere in the New Testament, and with reference to persons paralyzed (Luke 5:18, Luke 5:24; Acts 8:7; Acts 9:33). The form of the exhortation is taken from Isaiah 35:3, Ἰσχύσατε χεῖρες ἀνειμέναι καὶ γόνατα παραλελυμένα. The figure of the palaestra is thus again brought into view, with reference both to boxing and running.
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but that it rather be healed. The ideas in this verse correspond to, and may be suggested by, those that follow in Isaiah the passage above referred to. For there too the prophet goes on to speak, among other things, of the lame leaping, and of a way of holiness along which none should err. But the words themselves are suggested by Proverbs 4:26, Αὐτὸς δὲ ὀρθὰς ποιήσει τὰς τροχιάς σου (LXX), the verb διαστρέφεσθαι having been previously used for turning out of the way. It is observable that the words, καὶ τροχιάς, etc., are arranged so as to form an hexameter line. This may have been unintentional, but it is at any rate effective. Delitzsch remarks on it. "The duty to which the writer urges, his, readers is courageous self-recovery m Gods strength. The tone and language are elevated accordingly, and Proverbs 4:12 is like a trumpet-blast. It need not surprise us, then, if our author here turns poet, and proceeds in heroic measures." With regard to the purport of this verse, we observe that, while the figure of running is still continued, a new idea is introduced—that of pursuing a straight course with a view to others who are to follow on the same track. "That which is lame (τὸ χωλόν)" denotes the weak and wavering brethren—the ἀσθενοῦντες, such as are referred to in Romans 14:1-23. and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. The expression well suits (specially those among the Hebrew Christians who halted between two opinions—between the Church and the synagogue (cf. 1 Kings 18:21, Ἕως πότε ὑμεῖς χωλανεῖτε επ ἀμφοτέραις ταῖς ἰγνύαις;). The strong in faith ought to desire and aim at the healing of such lame ones, i.e. their being strengthened in the faith, rather than expose them to the risk of apostasy by any wavering of their own.
Follow peace with all (i.e. as required by the context, with all the brethren; cf. Romans 14:19), and holiness (more properly, sanctification), without which no man shall see the Lord. Here the figure is dropped, and two cautions given, peculiarly needed, we may suppose, by the community addressed. The exhortation to "peace with all" reminds of the tone of St. Paul's admonitions both in Romans and in 1 Corinthians, where he so strongly warns against dissensions and party spirit, and enjoins tolerance and mutual allowance with regard to the weaker brethren. The word ἁγιασμὸς ("sanctification") need not be limited (as by Chrysostom) to the idea of chastity; the general thought implied may be (as expressed by Limborch, quoted by Alford), "No, dum pact studeat, nimis slits obsequendi studio quidquam contra sanctimonism Christianam delinquat;" but the special allusion to πορνεία in verse 16 (as also in Hebrews 13:4) is evidence that chastity was especially in the writer's mind, with definite reference to which the word ἁγιασμὸς is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. The frequent and earnest warnings against fornication in St. Paul's Epistles are enough to show how slow even some in the Church were to recognize the strict code of Christian morality, unknown to the heathen world, and by the Jews very imperfectly recognized, in this regard; and the case of 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. illustrates how easily such vice might creep into and infect a Christian community without general reprobation. Hence probably the special warning here.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many (or, according to the more probable reading, the many, i.e. the general community) be defiled. In this, the usual rendering of the verse, ᾗ is supplied, so as to make μήτις ὑστερῶν mean "lest there be any one that fails." But this is not necessary; the verb ἐνοχλῇ ("trouble you") may be common both to the first μήτις and to μήτις ῥίζα, thus: "Lest any one failing … lest any root … trouble you." The sentence may have been broken off after its first clause in order to bring in the appropriate quotation from Deuteronomy 29:18, which in our A.V. runs thus: "Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood." The Vatican text of the LXX. has Μήτις ἐστὶν ἐν ὑμῖν ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ: the Alexandrian, which seems to be followed here, has Μήτις ἐστὶν ἐν ὑμῖν δίζα πικοίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐκογλῆ καὶ πικρίᾳ. The reference in the speech of Moses is to the future possibility of any "man, or we man, or family, or tribe" turning from the LORD to go and serve the gods of the nations, and so involving, not only themselves, but even the whole people in a curse. The figure is that of a plant being allowed to grow of such a nature at its root as to bear bitter and pernicious fruit. There is no special allusion in the word "bitterness" to disturbance of "peace" by dissensions; for this is not the idea in the original passage, nor is it carried out in the following verses of the Epistle. (Cf. Acts 8:23, "Thou art in the gall of bitterness (εἰς χολὴν πικρίας)")
Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 12:17
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited (i.e. desired to inherit) the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. The word "fornicator" is to be understood literally, not figuratively (as Ebrard) of spiritual fornication (see ἁγιασμὸν, Hebrews 12:14). Βέβηλος ("profane") denotes one outside the sphere of sanctity, and so debarred from sacred privileges. Esau is appropriately adduced as a notable instance in the Old Testament of a person thus profane, and especially, in the way of warning, of one who lost irrecoverably the privileges which in his profaneness he had scorned. It is immaterial whether Esau himself is intended to be designated as a fornicator (πόρνος) as well as profane (βέβηλος). The essential moral of his history is this: being the firstborn of Israel, and so the primary inheritor of the promises made to Abraham, he set no store by the privilege, and so lost it irretrievably. In early life he so lightly esteemed his birthright as the eldest born (carrying with it, as is supposed, in the patriarchal age, the priesthood of the family, and in his case, as might be presumed, the custody and transmission of the promises) that he parted with it for the gratification of a passing appetite. His words on that occasion expressed the limit of his aims and interests: "Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" Later in life he nevertheless presented himself to claim the blessing of the firstborn from his dying father, but found that he had been forestalled. It does not appear that he had meanwhile changed his mode of life or made amends for his former carelessness; still, he felt now that he had lost something worth having, and was grieved exceedingly. But not even his "great and exceeding bitter cry" availed then to recover what was forfeited. And so neither he nor his seed had part or lot in the Abrahamic promises: the time of opportunity was gone forever. There is some doubt with regard to the latter part of Hebrews 12:17,
(1) as to whether "it" (αἰτήν) in "he sought it" refers to "repentance" (μετανοίας) or to "the blessing" (τὴν εὐλογίαν);
(2) as to what "place of repentance" means. If "it" refers to "repentance," it is difficult to see how Esau's own repentance can be meant; for not only does seeking repentance with tears seem in itself to imply the capability of it, but also the "great and exceeding bitter cry" to which allusion is made was, not because he could not himself repent, but because he could not get the blessing. Hence, if "it" refers to "repentance," it must be repentance, i.e. change of mind, in Isaac that is meant, or rather in God, against whose will Isaac could not go; cf. "God is not a man … that he should repent" (Numbers 23:1-30. Numbers 23:19). Of such change of mind and purpose it may be meant that Esau found no place. This seems to be the view of many modern interpreters, though not of Bengel, De Wette, Bleek, Hofmann, Delitzsch, Alford, or of Luther, Calvin, Grotius, or any of the Greek Fathers. Against it is the consideration that such is not the more obvious meaning of "he found no place of repentance," taken by itself, especially as μετανοία is always elsewhere in the New Testament (though not always in the LXX) used for a person's change of mind with respect to his own misdoings (cf. supra, Hebrews 6:6). Difficulty on this ground is removed if, taking the clause, "for he found no place of repentance," as parenthetical, we refer αὐτὴν to τὴν εὐλογίαν, preceding. This is by no means a forced construction of the sentence, and it is supported (as above intimated) by the fact that in Genesis it is the blessing itself that Esau is expressly said to have craved in his "great and exceeding bitter cry:" "Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept." Thus we may render either, "When he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance [i.e. of change of mind in the bestower of the blessing], though he sought it [i.e. such change of mind] with tears;" or, "When he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it [i.e. the blessing] with tears." If, the latter rendering being adopted, Esau's own repentance be intended, the idea maybe, either that there was no place left in which even a real repentance could avail, or that of a real repentance he had become incapable; for his tears might be those only of vexation and remorse, not expressing any more appreciation than before of the birthright in its religious aspect. Ebrard's remark, that his conduct as related in Genesis 33:1-20, shows "a changed heart," and hence a true repentance, is not to the point. For all that there appears is that he had got over his angry feeling towards his brother; it is by no means implied—rather the contrary—that he would have preferred his destiny to his own, or that his views of life had risen above thoughts of worldly prosperity. We observe, further, that nothing is implied one way or the other as to Esau's own salvation; it is only the privilege of being the patriarch of the chosen seed that he is said to have thus irrecoverably forfeited. But his example is adduced as a warning to Christians with regard to their still more precious inheritance, which does involve their own eternal prospects. The warning to them is similar to those of Hebrews 6:4, etc., and Hebrews 10:26, etc., to the effect that sacred privileges, if persistently slighted, may be lost beyond recovery. And if the passage before us seems to imply, according to one view of it, what the former ones were found not to do, the possible inefficacy of a true repentance, however late,—we may say that, even if this is implied of Esau with respect to his lost blessing, it is not therefore necessarily implied of Christians with respect to their personal salvation; or that, if it is implied of them, it is not till their probation in this life is over that a "place of repentance" in this sense can for them be found no more (cf. the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1, etc); also Matthew 7:22, etc; Luke 13:24, etc). One of Dr. Newman's Parochial Sermons ("Life the Season of Repentance," vol. 6. 'Sermon' 2) strikingly sets forth this view. See also 'Christian Year' (Second Sunday in Lent), with the appended note: "Esau's probation, as far as his birthright was concerned, was quite over when he uttered the cry in the text. His despondency, therefore, is not parallel to anything on this side the grave."
There follows now, both for encouragement and for warning, a grand contrast between the Mosaic and Christian dispensations, founded on the phenomena that accompanied the giving of the Law. To Mount Sinai, with its repelling terrors, is opposed an ideal picture of Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem, expressive of the communion of saints in Christ. And then at Hebrews 12:25 (as previously in Hebrews 10:1-39) the tone of encouragement changes again to one of warning, the very excess of privilege being made the measure of the guilt of slighting it.
For ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched, and that burned, with fire, and unto blackness and darkness and tempest. The allusion is to the Israelites approaching Mount Sinai when the Law was given (see Deuteronomy 4:11, whence still more than from Exodus 19:1-25. the whole description is taken, "And ye came near [προσήλθετε, the same word as is used supra, Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 7:25], and stood under the mountain"). Though the word "mount" in the Received Text has the support of no ancient authority, it must be understood, whether or not originally written. For it comes after προσήλθετε in the passage of Deuteronomy which is evidently referred to, the following words, "blackness, darkness, tempest" (σκότος γνόφος θύελλα), being also found there. And otherwise we should have to translate, "a touched [i.e. palpable] and kindled fire;" but "touched" (φηλαφωμένῳ) is not suitable to fire; and we should also lose the evidently intended contrast between the two mountains of Sinai and Zion, which appears in verse 22. Neither may we trans- late, as some would do, "a mountain that might be touched, and kindled fire;" for the original passage in Deuteronomy has "and the mountain burned with fire (καὶ τὸ ὄρος ἐκαίετο πυρὶ)." The participle φηλαφωμένῳ (literally, that was touched), rather than ψηφαλητῷ, may be used here, although on the occasion referred to all were forbidden to touch the mountain, by way of bringing more distinctly into view the actual Sinai, which was touched at other times, and which Moses both touched and ascended. If so, the main purpose of the word is to contrast the local and palpable mountain of the Law with the ideal Mount Zion which is afterwards spoken of. Or, the verb ψηλαλάω may here carry with it its common sense of groping after, as in the dark (cf. Deuteronomy 28:29, Καὶ ἔση ψηλαφῶν μεσημβρίας ὡσεὶ ψηλαφήσαι ὁ τυφλὸς ἐν τῷ σκότει), with reference to the cloudy darkness about Sinai, and in contrast with the clear unclouded vision of Zion.
And the sound of a trumpet (Exodus 19:16), and the voice of words (Deuteronomy 4:12); which voice they that heard entreated that no word should be spoken to them more: for they could not endure that which was commanded (rather, enjoined), If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned (Exodus 19:13; "or thrust through with a dart" is an interpolation in the text from the passage in Exodus): and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake (Deuteronomy 9:19, ἔκφοβός εἰμι, to which ἔντρομος is added in the text. This saying of Moses was really uttered afterwards, when he was descending from the mount, and became aware of the sin of the golden calf. It was called forth by the people's sin, but was due to the alarming character of the preceding phenomena, of τὸ φανταζόμενον, that which was being revealed or manifested. Mention of it is added here to show that the general fear extended even to Moses, the mediator). This whole account, thus powerfully condensed from Exodus and Deuteronomy, presents a vivid picture of the terrors of the Mosaic revelation. God was, indeed, revealed to man, but still as unseen and unapproachable, terrible in his wrath against sin, and surrounded by sounds and sights of fear. But now mark the serene and glorious contrast.
But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Here, as in Galatians 4:1-31., Zion and Jerusalem, ideally regarded, are contrasted with Sinai. The foundation of the conception is in the Old Testament. When David at length won the citadel of Zion, and placed the ark upon it, it was a sort of primary and typical fulfillment of the promise of rest, seen afar off by the patriarchs and from the wilderness. Psalms 24:1-10., which was sung on that occasion, expresses the idea of the King of glory being at length enthroned there, and his people of clean hands and pure hearts being admitted to stand in the holy place before him (cf. "This is my rest forever: here will I dwell," Psalms 132:14). In the Psalms generally the holy hill of Zion continues to be viewed as the LORD'S immovable abode, where he is surrounded by thousands of angels, and whence he succors his people (cf. Psalms 48:1-14; Psalms 68:1-35; Psalms 125:1-5; Psalms 132:1-18; etc). Then by the prophets it is further idealized as the scene and center of Messianic blessings (cf. Isaiah 12:1-6; Isa 25:1-12 :13; Isaiah 33:0; Isaiah 35:0; Isaiah 46:13; Micah 4:1-13; to which many other passages might be added). Compare also the visions, in the latter chapters of Ezekiel, of the ideal city and temple of the future age. Lastly, in the Apocalypse the seer has visions of "Mount Zion" (Revelation 14:1-20), and "the holy city, new Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:1-27), with the presence there of God and the Lamb, and with myriads of angels, and innumerable multitudes of saints redeemed. If, in the passage before us, a distinction is to be made between "Mount Zion" and "the heavenly Jerusalem," it may be that the former represents the Church below, the latter the heavenly regions, though both are blent together in one grand picture of the communion of saints. For so in Revelation 14:1-20. the hundred and forty-four thousand on Mount Zion seem distinct from the singers and harpers round the throne, whose song is heard from heaven and learnt by those below; while the picture of the holy city in Revelation 21:1-27. is one entirely heavenly, representing there the final consummation rather than any present state of things. And to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn (rather, and to myriads, the general assembly of angels, and the Church of the Firstborn), which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel (literally, than Abel). Of the several ways of translating the beginning of the above passage, the best seems to be to take μυριὰσιν by itself as including both the angels and the Church of the Firstborn, and to connect πανηγύρει with "angels" only. "Myriads" is a well-known expression for the LORD'S attendant hosts (cf. Jude 1:14; Deuteronomy 30:2; Daniel 7:10); further, καὶ, which throughout the passage connects the different objects approached, comes between πανηγύρει and ἐκκλησία, not between ἀγγελῶν and πανηγύρει, and the application of both πανηγύρει and ἐκκλησία to πρωτοτόκων would seem an unmeaning redundancy. The word πανήγυρις, which in classical Greek denotes properly the assembly of a whole nation for a festival, is peculiarly appropriate to the angels, whether regarded (as in the Old Testament) as ministering round the throne or as congregated to rejoice over man's redemption. "The Church of the Firstborn" seems to denote the Church militant rather than the Church triumphant; for
(1) ἐκκλησία is elsewhere used for the Church on earth (so also in the Old Testament; cf. Psalms 79:6);
(2) the phrase, ἐν οὐρανοῖς ἀπογεγραμμένων, expresses the idea of being enrolled in the books of heaven rather than being already there (cf. Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:27);
(3) the "spirits of the perfected" are mentioned afterwards as a class distinct. The word πρωτοτόκων may be suggested here by the firstborn of Israel, who were specially hallowed to the Lord (Numbers 3:13), and numbered as such by Moses (Numbers 3:43), or perhaps still more by the birthright (πρωτοτόκια) spoken of above as forfeited by Esau. God's elect may be called his firstborn as being hallowed to him and heirs of his promises (cf. Exodus 4:22," Israel is my son, even my firstborn;" and Jeremiah 31:9, "Ephraim is my firstborn"). They thus correspond to the hundred and forty-four thousand of Revelation 14:1-20., standing on Mount Zion, being "redeemed from the earth," and having "the Father's Name written on their foreheads;" seen distinct from, and yet in communion with, the saints in bliss, whose voices are heard above. Between them and the spirits of the perfected is interposed, "God the Judge of all;" and this appropriately, since before him the saints on earth must appear ere they join the ranks of the perfected: the former look up to him from below; the latter have already passed before him to the rest assigned them. Τετελειωμένεν ("perfected") expresses, as elsewhere in the Epistle, full accomplishment of an and or purpose with regard to things or persons (of. Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:19,Hebrews 7:28; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 11:40); the word is used here of those whose warfare is accomplished, and who have attained the rest of God. Their "spirits" only are spoken of, because the "perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul" is still to come. In the mean while, with respect to the issue of their earthly course, they have been already perfected (cf. Revelation 14:13, "They rest from their labors"). Corresponding to the Lamb in Revelation, there is seen next Jesus the Mediator, through whom is the approach of the whole company to the Judge of all, and the accomplishment to the perfected. The "new covenant" is, of course, meant to be contrasted with the old one before Mount Sinai, under which there was no such approach or accomplishment. Then "the blood of sprinkling" has reference to that wherewith the old covenant was ratified (Exodus 24:1-18; cf. supra, Hebrews 9:18). The blood shed by Christ on earth for atonement is conceived as carried by him with himself into the holy place on high (cf. Hebrews 9:12), to be forever "the blood of sprinkling for effectual cleansing. And this blood "speaketh better things than Abel." His blood cried from the ground for vengeance, with the accusing voice of primeval sin; Christ's speaks only of reconciliation anti peace. Some commentators (Bengel in the first place, whom Delitzsch follows)see in this contrast between Sinai and Zion a distinct parallelism between verses 18, 19 and verses 22-24; seven objects of approach in one case being supposed to be set against seven in the other, More obvious is the correspondence of the successive clauses of verses 22-24 to the general ideas connected with the giving of the Law. The two pictures may be contrasted thus—
The Old Covenant.
The New Covenant.
Sinai, a palpable earthly mountain, surrounded by gloom and storm.
Zion, radiant with light and crowned with the city of God.
The angels through whom the Law was given (of. Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53; Deuteronomy 23:1-25. Deuteronomy 23:2), unseen by men, but operating in the winds and in the fire (cf. Hebrews 1:7).
Festal choirs of assembled angels.
Israel congregated under the mountain, afraid, and forbidden to touch it.
The accepted Church of the Firstborn, with free approach to the holiest of all.
The LORD, unapproachable, shrouded in darkness or revealed in fire.
The Judge of all, without his terrors, accessible, and awarding rest to the perfected.
Moses, himself afraid, and winning through his mediation no access for the people.
The Divine availing Mediator.
The blood sprinkled on the people to ratify the old covenant, but which could not cleanse the conscience.
The ever-cleansing blood of complete atonement.
The sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, inspiring fear.
The voice of that cleansing blood, speaking of peace and pardon.
Such is the vision by the contemplation of which the inspired writer would arouse his readers, amid their trials and waverings, to realize the things that are eternal. He would have them pierce with the eye of faith beyond this visible scene into the world invisible, which is no less real. If they were perplexed and disheartened by what they found around them—by the opposition of the world and the fewness of the faithful—he bids them associate themselves in thought with those countless multitudes who were on their side. The picture is, indeed, in some respects, ideal; for the actual Church on earth does not come up to the idea of the "Church of the Firstborn;" but it is presented according to God's purpose for his people, and it rests with us to make it a present reality to ourselves.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not, refusing him that spake (rather, warned; the word here used is not λαλοῦντα, as before, but χρηματίζοντα, expressive of a Divine admonition or warning. In the passive it is translated "warned of God," "admonished of God," Matthew 2:12, Matthew 2:22; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 11:7; of. Acts 10:22, ἐχρηματίσθη ὑπὸ ἀγγέλου ἁγίου) on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh (or, warneth) from heaven. Here the warning begins. "Him that speaketh (τὸν λαλοῦντα)," is suggested by λαλοῦντι in the preceding verse. But the subject is changed: it is God, not the "blood of sprinkling," that is now regarded as speaking to us from heaven. It was God also that warned on earth; not, as some take it, Moses, whom the word χρηματίζοντα does not suit: of him it is said, κεκρημάτισται (Hebrews 8:5). The allusion is to the voice heard from the earthly Sinai, which the people entreated (supra, Hebrews 12:19, παρητήσαντο—the same word as is used here) should be heard no more. But they escaped not the hearing of that voice, or the consequences of disregarding its warning (cf. Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 3:10).
Whose voice then shook the earth (see Exodus 19:18, "The whole mount quaked greatly," though there the LXX. has λαός instead of ὄρος: but of. Judges 5:1-31., "The earth trembled," and Psalms 114:7, "Tremble, thou earth," etc., with reference to the phenomena at Sinai; also Habakkuk 3:6, Habakkuk 3:10): but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. The prophecy referred to is Haggai 2:6, Haggai 2:7, "Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts." Again, Haggai 2:21, "I will shake the heavens and the earth" (cf. Isaiah 2:19, Isaiah 2:21). The prophecy was uttered with reference to the second temple, the glory of which was to be greater than the glory of the first, in that it should be the scene of the LORD's final revelation of himself to his people. Its first fulfillment is rightly seen in Christ's first coming (cf. Habakkuk 2:9, "And in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts;" and Ma Habakkuk 3:1, "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple"). But the language used points evidently, even in itself, to a further fulfillment; nor do readers need to be reminded here of the pregnant and far-reaching sense of all Messianic prophecy. "Illustre est testimonium Is. Newtoni ad Dan. p. 91: vixque in omni V.T. aliquod de Christo extat vaticinium, quod non, aliquatenus saltem, secundum ejus ad-ventum respiciat" (Bengel). The ultimate reference is what is seen dimly afar off in so many of the prophetic visions—the final dissolution of the whole present order of things, to be succeeded by the kingdom of eternal righteousness (cf. Psalms 102:25, etc). By the heaven that is to be shaken in that great day is meant, of course, not the eternal abode of God, but that which is created and visible (τῶν πεποιημένων, verse 27). This final shaking is set against the local and typical shaking of Mount Sinai in two points of contrast—its extending to the whole creation, and its being once for all (ἔτι ἅπαξ); and from the latter expression the removing of the things thus finally shaken is in the next verse inferred. This inference, though not following necessarily from the expression itself, is involved in the general drift of Haggai's prophecy, taken in connection with other cognate ones, in which an entirely new and heavenly order is pictured as rising over the ruins of the old
, let as have grace (or, thankfulness; the usual meaning of ἔχειν χάριν is "to be thankful," or "to give thanks," as in Luke 17:9; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:3), whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire. This last verse is from Deuteronomy 4:24, where the Israelites are being warned of the danger of forgetting the covenant of the LORD their God. The LORD's nature is not changed: he is still a consuming fire against evil, as he declared himself from Sinai; and if We scorn the present dispensation of grace, the day of judgment will still be to us a day of terror (cf. supra, Hebrews 10:26, etc).
The life of faith, and its supreme Exemplar.
In these verses the apostle gathers up the practical lesson to be derived from his historical demonstration of the power of faith contained in Hebrews 11:1-40. The figure of the passage is that of a race which the believer is required to run, the reference being doubtless to the foot-race in the Grecian games.
I. THE CHRISTIAN RACE. (Hebrews 11:1) Glance here at the points of analogy, or truths intended to be taught by this figure. The life of faith is:
1. An arduous struggle. "The righteous is with difficulty saved" (1 Peter 4:18). The Christian calling is not a stroll or a saunter, but a race. It entails strenuous effort.
2. A struggle which involves fixedness of aim. It is "set before us." There is a goal to be kept in view, and a prize to be won; and there is, accordingly, a prescribed path of faith and duty.
3. A struggle which involves perseverance. The believer must "run with patience." He must not allow his ardor to decline. He must not desist until he finishes his course.
4. A struggle which will soon be over. "Yet a very little while," and the Christian shall have reached the goal, and won Christ.
5. A public spectacle. "We are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses." We run this race under the eye of God himself. Other spectators are the holy and the fallen angels, "the spirits of just men made perfect," our fellow-believers on earth, and the ungodly world around us.
II. THE CONDITIONS OF SUCCESSFUL RUNNING. (Hebrews 11:1) The Olympic runner put off his flowing robes, and everything else that might impede his course. So the Christian is to "lay aside,"
1. Weights. This word denotes whatever would put one to disadvantage in running, whether it be in itself innocent or not. Of course every evil passion is a weight, which can only clog the believer's heavenward progress. But even that which is in itself lawful may become, if we abuse it, a heavy load. We may pervert a good gift of God into a dead weight. And some habit which is no hindrance at all to my Christian brother may have proved to be a great spiritual cumbrance to me. There is, e.g., the weight of prosperity, of care, of sorrow; the weight of worldly business, of earthly ambition, of human affection. "The things which are seen" must not be allowed to lie heavy on the soul, if we would successfully run the Christian race.
2. Sin. This is the essential burden. It "easily besets us," i.e. cleaves to us, wraps itself round us like a cloak, clings to us as a parasitical plant to a tree. It is sin in general which the apostle characterizes as "easily besetting." The adjective in the original does not rotor to the particular sins, whatever these may be, to which individuals are most prone; although, of course, in taking home the exhortation to the conscience, this thought will naturally be suggested. The writer probably had in his mind just now (indeed, be never forgets it throughout this letter) the sin of apostasy—the danger to which the Hebrew Christians were exposed of drifting back to Judaism, and thus of" falling away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). This sin, and all others, must be laid aside. If we do not renounce sin, we give up the race.
III. ENCOURAGEMENTS TO PERSEVERE IN RUNNING. In the midst of affliction and weariness, as well as of powerful temptations to apostatize, how are our fainting hearts to be revived? Two great motives are presented.
1. The presence, as spectators, of the former heroes of faith. (Hebrews 11:1) The Old Testament saints are "witnesses" now of the race which they once ran themselves. They not only testify to the power of faith; they are also spectators of the struggles and conflicts of their successors. The apostle's language is not that merely of poetic imagination. He seems to say that "the spirits of just men made perfect" are cognizant of what is done upon the earth, and take an absorbing interest in it. We are to think of them as hovering over us in the heavens. They circle and crowd around us, tier upon tier, on both sides of the race-course. On the one side is the gallery of the saints before the Flood, that of the Hebrew Pilgrim Fathers, of the heroes of the Exodus, of the judges, and of the prophets; while on the other side is the gallery of the apostles, that of the Christian confessors and martyrs, of the missionaries of the Church, and of our own departed friends who have gone to glory. These spectators are a "great cloud "—multitudinous in number; they are radiant with the brightness of immortality; and, having themselves passed through the same experience as we, they keenly sympathize with us. We should therefore take heart, as we hear their heavenly greetings, and realize the fellowship with us which they claim.
2. The example of Jesus, the Leader and Perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 11:2, Hebrews 11:3) While gratefully conscious of the presence of the men of faith, we are to gaze fixedly only upon Jesus. The writer refers to the Savior here in his human nature, as the Pattern Man, and as our supreme Exemplar. His portrait is the grandest in the whole exhibition of the heroes of faith; indeed, none of those in Hebrews 11:1-40. can for a moment compare with it. This noblest picture is arranged in two divisions; we see Christ on the one side in his humiliation, and on the other in his exaltation. And the inscription set over it reads thus: "Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith." He is the Author, i.e. Captain, Prince, Head, or Leader, of all the men of faith. He exhibited, during his own earthly life, an absolutely perfect example of trust in God. By faith he waited at Nazareth, with his high destiny stirring in his heart, during thirty years. By faith he assumed the burden of the world's sin. By faith he conquered Satan in the wilderness. By faith he performed the labors of his three years' active ministry. By faith he endured the agonies of Gethsemane, and the "gainsaying" (Hebrews 11:3) of Gabbatha, and the soul-darkness of Golgotha. Jesus did not "shrink back unto perdition," notwithstanding his unparalleled temptations. So he is also the "Perfecter of faith;" for in him faith has had its perfect work. No other man will ever appear in our world equal to him as a specimen of faith. Therefore he is our great Model. The early Hebrew Christians were to "consider him." That very "cross" at which they stumbled, he "endured." If they were being treated by "sinners" (Hebrews 11:3) as renegades from the religion of Israel, much more had he been. Their sufferings and temptations were not nearly so dreadful as his. Seeing, then, that the Man Christ Jesus, for the sake of the eternal reward in store for him, persevered to the end in running his appointed race, why should any of his followers allow themselves to "wax weary, fainting in their souls"? It was his endurance of the cross that gave him his place "at the right hand of the throne of God;" and all who follow him as their Leader in the race of faith shall eventually sit with him upon his throne.
1. Life or death depends upon whether or not we run the Christian race.
2. Christ will give us strength to run well, if we ask him.
3. He will crown us at the end, bestowing himself upon us as the Prize.
In this passage the writer reminds the Hebrews that although doubtless they had sustained severe trials on account of their devotedness to Christ, none of them had yet been required to seal their faith with their blood (Hebrews 12:4). Other children of God had suffered much more than they (Hebrews 11:35-38), and had remained faithful. For them to apostatize would, therefore, be very heinous sin. Rather they must learn to view their afflictions as the corrections of God's fatherly love. Consider—
I. THE FACT OF CHASTISEMENT.
1. Our afflictions are really such. Sometimes, in forgetfulness of God, the believer may regard his sorrows simply as calamities—untoward events which have no particular spiritual meaning. At other times he may receive them merely as trials of his faith, or as sent to strengthen his Christian graces. But this passage reminds us that we greatly err if we do not find in our troubles the clement of chastisement. It is true that Jesus Christ has borne the essential penalty of his people's sins; but, though he has done so, he has not removed any lesser punishment which we may require in order to the correcting of our faults. God "forgives" us, but he "takes vengeance of our inventions" (Psalms 99:8).
2. Chastisement is inevitable. The Lord "scourgeth every son" (Hebrews 12:6). "All have been made partakers" of it—all the Old Testament saints, and all believers in Christian times. The unchastened man is a bastard.
3. Chastisement is various in kind and in degree. There are, e.g., disease of body, distress of mind, the loss of property, injury of character, the profligacy of children, the faithlessness of friends, persecution for righteousness' sake.
4. Chastisement is severe. He "scourgeth" (Hebrews 12:6). The Lord's rod draws blood. It checkers the believer's life with wales (Isaiah 1:5, Isaiah 1:6). The Christian "bears branded on his body the marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:16).
II. GOD'S PURPOSE IN CHASTISEMENT. It is a gracious purpose. Divine penalties fall upon the believer as a necessary discipline. The love as well as the righteousness of God prompts to these retributions. Chastisement is sent:
1. To correct our faults. Possibly there are certain sins of ours in regard to which correction is needed, that we may be led to repent of them; and, when affliction overtakes us, we should endeavor to find out what these sins are. Or, perhaps, a life of ease and prosperity may have seduced us into spiritual carelessness, and favored the growth of pride within the soul, In such a case God sends chastisement to convince us of the vanity of the world, and to attract our thoughts towards the things which belong to our peace.
2. To form our spiritual character. Correction is sent as a means of assimilating our moral nature to that of God himself (Hebrews 12:10). Sorrow accepted as Divine chastisement refines and sanctifies the soul. It stirs its tenderest emotions, and touches its richest chords. It draws the heart towards God himself, as its only Rest and Strength and Joy. The most beautiful human faces are not those which show merely the most regular features and the purest complexion; they are those saintly faces which have been beautified by chastisement—"made perfect through sufferings."
3. To promote our eternal well being. The ultimate purpose is that we may "live" (Hebrews 12:9), spiritually and eternally. To become "partakers of God's holiness" is to be educated for spending eternity with God. Each believer must pass through, a curriculum of chastisement before he can graduate to glory.
"'Tis sorrow builds the shining ladder up,
Whose golden rounds are our calamities,
Whereon our firm feet planting, nearer God
The spirit climbs, and hath its eyes unsealed."
III. OUR DUTY IN RELATION TO CHASTISEMENT. This the apostle gently censures his readers for having overlooked, as it is exhibited in the Old Testament Scriptures. He quotes Proverbs 3:11, Proverbs 3:12, and adds a few sentences of beautiful and suggestive commentary. The quotation (Proverbs 3:5, Proverbs 3:6) exhibits the duty negatively, and the comment (Proverbs 3:7-11) positively.
(1) We are not to "despise" chastisement. (Proverbs 3:5) We do so when we proudly strive to feel it as little as possible, treating our troubles in a stoical spirit, as if they were meaningless. We do so, too, when we refuse to see God's hand in them, or to believe that they are determined in providence by our spiritual condition. We despise chastisement when we insist that we do not deserve any; and when, in haughty insubordination, we allow ourselves to be "made cross by cross providences."
(2) We must not "faint" under it. (Proverbs 3:5) This is the other extreme—to become depressed, despondent, despairing. We abuse chastisement if we do nothing but bemoan it, as Elijah once did (1 Kings 19:4). We "faint" when we cherish dark and hard and unbelieving thoughts regarding our afflictions—forgetting the blessed purpose that is behind them, and the grace which the Sender will supply to enable us to bear them.
(1) We must "be in subjection unto the Father of spirits." (Proverbs 3:9) This is the opposite of" despising" our troubles. The child of God will school himself into unquestioning submission. He will receive his afflictions as from the Lord, on whose paternal grace he depends for every blessing.
(2) We must be "exercised thereby." (Proverbs 3:11) This is the opposite of "fainting" when God reproves us. Chastisement is intended to brace the believer, not to depress him. Afflictions are the gymnastics of the spiritual life. They are like the exercises of the athlete, who is in training for a contest. We are "exercised thereby" when we accept our troubles as sent by God himself for our correction; and when, recognizing this, we cooperate with him in carrying out their gracious purpose.
IV. OUR CONSOLATION UNDER CHASTISEMENT. This passage suggests many comforting thoughts, which should help us submissively to bear it. It is:
1. Appointed by God. (Proverbs 3:5) Afflictions do not come casually. They do not overtake us merely at the pleasure of our enemies, He who chasteneth is "the Lord," the Sovereign of all. Let us, with Job (Job 1:21) and Eli (1 Samuel 3:18), realize this: to do so will strengthen our hearts.
2. Sent in fatherly love. This thought runs through the passage like a golden thread (verses 5-10). God is "the Father of our spirits;" and he cherishes towards us the heart of a Father. His corrections are a token of his loving-kindness. He loves not to smite; but he smites because he loves. He uses the rod only because necessity requires it. And if a dutiful child submits patiently to the chastisements of his earthly parents, although he has derived only his body from them, how much more submissively should we bear the Divine corrections, seeing they proceed from him from whom alone we have received our spiritual and immortal nature!
3. Dealt with unerring wisdom. (Verse 10) We who are parents often chastise our children wrongly. Sometimes our motives are wrong, as when we punish under the influence of temporary passion or caprice. At other times our measures are wrong, as when we choose an infliction of an unsuitable kind, or make it unduly severe. Parents also are prone to study only the temporal well being of their children, and to chastise them merely with a view to the "few days" of their earthly life. But our heavenly Father makes no mistakes in his chastisements. The pain which he appoints is always wise and right and salutary. He never punishes beyond our deserts, or in excess of what we are able to hear. And he is ever seeking our spiritual and eternal well being.
4. Productive and profitable. (Verses 10, 11) The "profit" is that we may share the holiness of God. The "fruit" consists in "righteousness," i.e. moral and spiritual excellence—the beautiful graces and the holy habits of the Christian life. This blessed fruit is "peaceable," in sweet contrast with the "grievousness" of the affliction considered in itself. It begins to be reaped even here on earth (Romans v, 3-5); and the full harvest of it will be gathered in heaven (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18).
A threefold cord of duty.
The word "wherefore" (Hebrews 12:12) connects this admonition with what goes before. For these reasons, says the apostle—since the Savior was subjected to such hard treatment at the hands of wicked men; since your own resistance to sin has not yet exposed you to bloodshed; since your very trials are an expression of God's fatherly love; and since his chastisements are fitted to be so profitable in their results—surely you will never allow yourselves to fall away from the Christian faith. The direct admonition in Hebrews 12:12-14 refers to ourselves, to our fellow-believers, and to God—an arrangement of thought which is eminently Pauline. And the three parts of it are reduplicated in Hebrews 12:15-17, each being introduced with the word." lest."
I. OUR DUTY TO OURSELVES. (Hebrews 12:12, Hebrews 12:13, Hebrews 12:15) Here the author seems to return to the metaphor of "the race set before us" (Hebrews 12:1). "Hands" and "knees" and "feet" represent the powers of action, motion, and progression. The Hebrews must no longer faint in the presence of their trials. They must be resolute, manly, courageous. The exhortation has respect mainly to the spiritual life of each believer himself. Each ought to form a decided purpose to correct his own faults, and to continue faithful at all hazards to his Christian profession. The whole Church should advance in the right course with such unanimity that the highway of holiness shall be beaten smooth by their feet—so smooth that even the "lame" will not stumble in it. If we remain remiss and vacillating, we may finally "fall short of the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:15). Slothfulness and indecision cause one to lag behind, and may prevent him from ever reaching the goal. If we be not resolute in our fidelity we shall come short of ultimate salvation, and shall never "see the Lord."
II. OUR DUTY TO OUR FELLOW-BELIEVERS. (Hebrews 12:14, Hebrews 12:15) The personal spiritual life which is fed by the Church is in turn to react for good upon the whole congregation. Two prominent duties towards our brethren are here indicated.
1. To "follow after peace with all." (Hebrews 12:14) The scope of the passage seems to restrict this "all" to the members of the Christian brotherhood. We need not expect that God will bless us in our Church relations if we cherish a persistent grudge against any fellow- communicant, resolving never to forget some injury that he may have done us. A vindictive or malignant disposition is not Christian. The soul that harbors malice, and that takes pleasure in exhibiting its animosities, will not only become stunted in its spiritual growth, but will injuriously affect the life of the Church to which it belongs. A prominent cause of ecclesiastical disturbance is the springing up of "any root of bitterness" (Hebrews 12:15). Sometimes the noxious weed is a wicked person, like Achan, who "troubled" Israel (Joshua 7:25); and sometimes a radically bad principle, the growth of which may defile the Church with dissension. In either case, it must be rooted up and cast out.
2. To have a brotherly care over all. This thought underlies the entire passage. Each of us by his own example is to help the weak of the flock to become strong; and. to set a guard upon the "lame," so that they may not wander out of the right way, While the cure of souls is, of course, the especial duty of the spiritual rulers of the Church, the expression, "looking carefully," in Hebrews 12:15, reminds us that the ordinary members also ought to exercise the office of a bishop over one another. The communion of our Churches would be purer, were this duty of mutual spiritual care more clearly understood and better practiced than it is. Indeed, we cannot place too much stress on this point, as one main purpose and function of our Church life. No spiritual work is more restful and rewarding, than that which a Christian man does in connection with the particular congregation to which he belongs.
III. OUR DUTY TO OUR GOD. (Hebrews 12:14, Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 12:17) We must be "pure" as well as "peaceable." The peace that we follow after must be "by righteousness;" for "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." This is one of the most solemn sayings of the Bible. How short and simple it is; but how pointed and powerful] It falls upon the ear with a sharp sound of authority. It reverberates within the conscience like the echoes of thunder among the hills. God is pure and holy; therefore only the consecrated and sanctified can see him. Sanctification must be "followed after," i.e. pursued earnestly. We must labor to cleanse ourselves from our carnality and impurity by washing in Jesus' blood, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by the use of the means of grace, and by living always as in the presence of God. Notice what the writer says in particular of the man who strives after this "sanctification."
1. He will not be a sensualist. (Hebrews 12:16) He will not only avoid acts of gross immorality; he will hate every filthy thought. How dreadful for any one to sit down at the Lord's table, as a professed disciple of Christ, who is in the habit of visiting also the disgusting haunts of secret vice!
2. Neither will he be a "profane person." (Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 12:17) "Profane" means common, secular, worldly; and such a person loves only the things of sense and time, and has no appreciation of what is spiritual. Esau was such a man. He cared nothing for the blessings of the covenant, or for the hopes which centered in the promised seed of Abraham. Hence his guilty folly in bartering away his birthright for a mess of lentils. The apostle, in one or two forcible expressions, depicts the consequences of this act of profanity. All Esau's subsequent regrets were unavailing. On the second occasion, when his younger brother circumvented him, his father Isaac refused to recall the blessing which he had just pronounced; for Isaac realized that in blessing Jacob he had unwittingly been the mouthpiece of a Divine oracle. Esau, therefore, was in this matter God-rejected. He failed to induce his father to change his mind. And he found no means of undoing his own first act of folly. "Now," says the apostle in effect to the Hebrew Christians, "beware of profanity like Esau's. You belong to God's 'firstborn' nation; and the gospel of the Lord Jesus is for 'the Jew first.' Take care that you do not forfeit your rights of spiritual primogeniture. Should you forsake the new and final covenant, for any consideration whatever, you will make as bad a bargain as Esau did."
CONCLUSION. Esau's character and life are a beacon still, to warn us also back from the whirlpool of apostasy. He was a man of a very ordinary type. There are many such all around, who for the savory meat of sensuous pleasure will barter away their birthright of spiritual opportunity, and at last irrevocably sell their souls. May Divine grace preserve us from cultivating the character of which these words are an adequate epitome—"A profane person, who for one mess of meat sold his own birthright"!
Sinai and Zion.
This grand passage, extending to the end of the chapter, forms a magnificent finale to the lengthened general exhortation to constancy, beginning at Hebrews 10:19, which occupies so important a place in the Epistle. The verses before us exhibit a highly wrought and impressive contrast between the Mosaic and the Christian dispensations. Mount Sinai is the emblem of the one, Mount Zion of the other. And Zion is incomparably superior to Sinai, in the privileges and blessings which flow from it.
I. A PICTURE OF THE OLD REVELATION AT SINAI. (Hebrews 10:18-21) The nature of the dispensation inaugurated there was reflected in the character of the scene on occasion of the giving of the Law. The old economy was:
1. Sensuous. Sinai was "a mount that might be touched" (Hebrews 10:18); i.e. a tangible, palpable, physical mountain. The expression suggests the ceremonialism which was so prominent a feature of the Mosaic dispensation. The scene at Sinai was spectacular; and Judaism, in like manner, was a religion of externals. Its teaching was elemental, because elementary, Its ritual was sensuous. Its precepts were sustained by earthly sanctions.
2. Obscure. When God came down upon Sinai, he made "blackness and darkness" his pavilion; he revealed himself in flame and storm. This is an emblem of the clouded character of the Old Testament revelation. Under it the plan of redemption still remained veiled in mystery. "The way into the holy place was not yet made manifest" (Hebrews 9:8). The Jews, in their ignorance and weakness, could only bear a shaded, shadowy, portentous manifestation of truth.
3. Exclusive. God spoke at Horeb only to one small nation, gathered before him there on the plain, and separated by the rocks and passes of the desert from the great peoples of the world. The Jews were a little flock, and the Shepherd of Israel shut them into a little fold by themselves.
4. Remote. The Hebrews dared not approach the God who revealed himself to them. The mountain was fenced round, and the stern penalty of death was threatened upon the trespasser (Hebrews 10:20). Similarly, while the Mosaic economy granted a certain access to God, and Israel was "a people near unto him," this access was yet not the most real. For Jehovah, to the mind of the Jew, was clothed with thunder; legal barriers stood between him and sinful men; and the Levitical system was saturated with ceremonial restrictions. Moses could not be an adequate mediator for Israel, to bring them to God; at the giving of the Law he was himself smitten with fear and trembling (Hebrews 10:21).
5. Terrible. This is the most prominent feature of the whole picture. At Sinai the lightnings flashed and the thunder rolled; the trump of God sent forth its wild weird blasts, and the awful voice of the Eternal spoke the ten "words" (Hebrews 10:19). But the people could not endure the revelation. They crouched and cowered in terror.
"When God of old came down from heaven,
In power and wrath he came;
Before his feet the clouds were riven,
Half darkness and half flame.
"Around the trembling mountain's base
The prostrate people lay;
A day of wrath, and not of grace;
A dim and dreadful day."
Now, this awful scene symbolized the spirit and genius of the old dispensation. The Law inspired terror. It was "the ministration of death" and of "condemnation." It "bore children unto bondage." The ceremonial system became an unbearable yoke, by reason of its burdensome constraints; while the moral law pronounced its pitiless curses upon the disobedient.
6. Temporary. Sinai rears its shaggy cliffs of granite in the naked wilderness, and Israel made only a year's encampment there. The tented plain of the desert was not their home. And so the dispensation set up at Mount Sinai was provisional and preparatory. It was only to stand until, under the Divine leading, the Church should be brought to the spiritual Mount Zion, and to the heavenly Jerusalem as its "city of habitation."
II. A CONTRASTED PICTURE OF THE NEW REVELATION AT ZION. (Hebrews 10:22-24) Although we did not attempt to trace the various points of comparison in detail, we should yet be impressed with the contrast as seen in the large outlines of the two pictures, and in their general tone and color. The new economy, as represented by Mount Zion, is:
1. Spiritual. The Church of Jesus Christ is the ideal Zion. It is also "the heavenly Jerusalem," the metropolis of the mediatorial kingdom. The New Testament system of religion is inward, supersensible, experimental. The types and ceremonies of Sinai have passed away. The matter of the new revelation is more spiritual. Christianity speaks of righteousness, not of ritual. The gospel laws are written upon the heart.
2. Clear. No night, or cloud, or storm gathers around Mount Zion; its very name means "sunny." The Sun of righteousness shines upon its towers and palaces, gilding them with brightness and beauty. The new covenant is "clear as the sun" in its teachings. It has given the world the most advanced truth; and it presents that truth in the simplest and the most explicit form.
3. All-embracing. Mount Sinai stands in the lonely and silent desert; but Mount Zion is the center of a populous city, whose teeming inhabitants are cosmopolitans. The Jewish Church was shut out from intercourse with the rest of the world; but our fellow-citizens under the new covenant are:
(1) The holy angels: "myriads of angels, a festal assembly" (Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 10:23);—the cherubim and seraphim, all the princes, potentates and rulers of the celestial hierarchy.
(2) The saints or, earth: the "Church of the Firstborn who are enrolled in" the album of heaven. Israel was mustered and numbered at Sinai; and so the New Testament Church, although dispersed all over the world, forms but one society of firstborn ones, each of whom is a prince of the blood of God.
(3) The believers of the ancient Church: "the spirits of just men made perfect." The disembodied souls of the Old Testament saints could not be made perfect "apart from us" (Hebrews 11:40); and thus we now form one brotherhood with them, as well as with departed believers who lived in Christian times.
4. Access-giving. At Sinai "the people stood afar off." They could not draw near to God. The presence of his attending angels brought them no confidence. The mediation of Moses could not remove the barrier of their guilt. But now the great invitation is, "Come." The sum of gospel privilege is expressed in the words, "Ye are come" (Hebrews 10:22). Believers have been admitted to the mount and city of God, to the companionship of his angels, to the fellowship of his redeemed saints, and into his very presence as the righteous "Judge, the God of all." And to what are we indebted for this access? We have come to God, because we have come "to Jesus," and have been sprinkled with his "blood" (Hebrews 10:24). Christ and his blood are the ground of all our blessings, and the sum of all. The nail-pierced hand of a better Mediator than Moses has opened for us the door of access.
5. Genial. The scene at Sinai was terrific; but all is peaceful in the sunny garden-city of Zion. It is true that the punishments connected with the new dispensation are far more dreadful than the merely spectacular terrors of the old; but these occupy the background of the picture, while at Sinai the terrors were in the foreground. And all who really come "to the blood of sprinkling" are safe. The atmosphere of the new covenant is balmy and genial by reason of the merit of that blood. Abel spoke (Hebrews 11:4) by his sacrifice only of a coming atonement and a future redemption; but Christ's blood certifies that these blessings have been secured. And so the whole panorama of Zion is genial and attractive. Its verdure is unfading (Psalms 72:6); all is winsome and gladsome and serene.
6. Final. "The heavenly Jerusalem" is "the city which hath the foundations" (Hebrews 11:10). The life of the Church now is no longer a tent-life. It has exchanged the tabernacle for the true temple. The covenant of which Jesus is the Mediator is a "new," i.e. (according to the Greek in Hebrews 10:24) a fresh covenant, one that shall never become stale or old. The kingdom of heaven is a "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 10:28). As this whole picture embraces the entire history of the Christian Church, its truthfulness will be more and more appreciated as the centuries roll on, and most of all in the times of the latter-day glory.
CONCLUSION. The practical improvement of this graphic and pregnant passage is indicated in the solemn verses which follow.
The final appeal.
The body of the Epistle seems to conclude with these verses, Hebrews 13:1-25. being of the nature of a postscript. The solemn warning which they utter breaks forth abruptly. It drops like a thunderbolt out of the sunny sky of Zion.
I. OUR NEW TESTAMENT PRIVILEGES.
1. God speaks to us from heaven. (Hebrews 13:25) At Sinai, and while the Jewish dispensation lasted, God spoke as it were "on earth," by an earthly mediator, Moses; and largely by means of material forms, which were only "copies" (Hebrews 9:23) of the great spiritual realities. But now God speaks "from heaven,"—from his home at the heart of the universe, and therefore from the heart of truth; and by his Son, the Divine Mediator, who is "in the bosom of the Father." The whole Epistle is clasped together with the emphatic declaration—in its opening sentence (Hebrews 1:2), and here at its close—that the Lord Jesus is the Prophet of the new covenant.
2. God has removed the things that were shaken. (Verses 26, 27) It was only "the earth" that shook at Sinai. And that convulsion speedily subsided. Indeed, the Jews became lulled into the delusion that the Levitical institutions would never be overthrown. But Haggai predicted (Haggai 2:6, Haggai 2:7) that the shaking which was to accompany the introduction of Christianity would affect "the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and all nations." It would do greatly more than produce alteration in the outer form and state of the Church. It would grasp its very heart and life—flooding it with the noonday light of spiritual truth, and with the abundant grace of the Holy Ghost. The movables of Judaism, which had been "made" at Sinai—the tabernacle, the priesthood, the ritual, the sacrifices, the festivals, etc.—were "shaken" and "removed" when the Church "came" to Zion. Judaism was only a scaffolding, set up temporarily with a view to the erection of the permanent structure of Christianity. Its ceremonial was the mere husk of religion; and when the husk rotted and perished, the kernel still lived and became fruitful.
3. God has given us a kingdom that cannot be shaken. (Verse 28) Believers in Christ" receive" the kingdom of Heaven; they are not only subjects in it, but kings. And this kingdom is the finished work of God—the Divine masterpiece. Everything connected with it is stable. Nothing that is loose or perishable can adhere to it. It is built upon those great facts and truths, which the convulsions that overturned the Levitical system could not disturb. The "things which are not shaken remain;" e.g. the character of God, the moral nature and responsibility of man, the dark fact of human guilt, the doctrine of acceptance by sacrifice. Christianity has solved the problem of sin, in relation to the life of man; and therefore it "cannot be shaken." Throughout all time the way of salvation, the encouragements to believe, the rule of duty, the principles of the Christian life, the fruits of holiness (1 Corinthians 13:8, 1 Corinthians 13:13), will be the same. And what a joy to live, as we do, among these abiding realities! The kingdoms of the world pass away; but Christ's kingdom "shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:37-45). Systems of philosophy cease to be; but the truth as it is in Jesus endures. Denominations disappear; but the Church continues. Political establishments of religion are shaken; but national religion remains. Creeds decay and wax old; but the Bible possesses an indestructible vitality. The heavens anti the earth shall pass away; but the kingdom of the saints cannot be moved.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITIES WHICH THESE PRIVILEGES INVOLVE. We must:
1. Obey the voice of God. (Verse 25) That voice speaks to us in the Scriptures, and in the pleadings of the Holy Spirit within our souls. But in our time earth is "so full of dreary noises" that our weak hearts are sorely tempted not to listen to the words of God. There is the voice of the philosophic thinker, of the political leader, of the social reformer, of the scientific teacher, of the newspaper editor, of the popular novelist. But none of these voices are prophetic. The man who can speak with authority regarding some department of physical science is not on that account entitled to deference when he discourses about God and the future life. Only the Lord Jesus Christ, the Loges, by whom God now speaks from heaven, can instruct us concerning the spiritual universe and the way of salvation.
2. Cherish gratitude for the kingdom. (Verse 28) "Let us have grace," i.e. gratitude. To cultivate the spirit of thankfulness is the very essence and sum of Christian duty. When God in his mercy invests us with the kingdom, what can we say, but just "Many thanks"? "I will take the cup of salvation;" "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable Gift."
3. Devote our lives to the service of God. (Verse 28) For, while the saint is a king, he is at the same time a servant; indeed, he is a servant because he is a king. The service is involved in the kingdom. The entire life of the Christian is to be that career of devout consecration which is the natural outcome of the grace of gratitude. And, while thankfulness is the secret motive of the service, its befitting spirit is "reverence and awe." The believer's manner and tone are not to be flippant or frivolous; but grave, chastened, solemn.
III. WARNINGS BY WHICH THESE RESPONSIBILITIES ARE ENFORCED. This passage is an earnest admonition. It opens with an arresting "Beware" (verse 25); and it sounds three notes of warning.
1. From Hebrew history. (Verse 25) When God spoke by Moses and the prophets, "his people would not hearken to his voice;" and thus they were constantly drawing down punishment upon themselves. If, then, they escaped not who spurned the less adequate revelation made by the heaven-descended God, how may we hope to escape, if we turn away from the full-orbed revelation made by the heaven-ascended Son of God?
2. From Hebrew prophecy. (Vols. 26, 27) God has no other "Yet once more" to promise to the world. That was to be the last "shaking" of the Church which should accompany the introduction of the gospel. "It is the
last hour" (1 John 2:18). The final overthrow of types and forms is proceeding. God has done all for us that he can do. He has given us the "eternal gospel." To reject it were to attach ourselves only to the passing and perishing.
3. From Hebrew theology. (Verse 29) The words of this verse fitly close the prolonged strain of exhortation. They are borrowed from Deuteronomy 4:24; and the apostle, in citing that passage here, reminds us that the Divine character is not one of" those things that are shaken." If the God who spoke at Sinai was just and severe, the God who dwells in Zion is not less so. For the very reason that God is gentleness and love and mercy, he must be "a consuming fire" to all who are essentially alien to him. Sometimes, when this warning word is quoted, it is softened after this fashion: "Out of Christ God is a consuming fire." But such a gloss is unwarrantable. For God is never out of Christ. Christ is the manifested God. It is not so that God the Father is all justice and severity, and God the Son all tenderness and grace. Christ the Redeemer is "a consuming fire." The most dreadful declarations about the doom of the impenitent which the Bible contains were made by him.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Hebrews 12:1, Hebrews 12:2
The Christian race.
"Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so," etc. The "wherefore" shows the connection of our text with the preceding chapter. There the writer has exhibited the power of faith in a host of illustrious examples. To the exercise of a like faith in the prosecution of the Christian race he now summons the Hebrew Christians.
I. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS HERE COMPARED TO A RACE. The Christian is represented as a runner competing for the prize; and the writer would arouse him to activity and perseverance by the example of those who have already triumphed, and are now hearing silent but eloquent testimony to the power of faith. The comparison of the Christian life to a race is appropriate and suggestive.
1. A race has its limitations, so has the Christian life. The racer may not run anywhere, but must pursue the course marked out for him. Beginning at the starting-point, he must pursue the definite course until he reach the goal. And in the Christian life "the race is set before us;" it is marked out by the Word of God, by the examples of the faithful who have finished their course, and we may ascertain it with unerring accuracy by marking the footprints of Jesus the great Leader and Perfecter of faith.
2. A race is characterized by intense activities, so is the Christian life. There is no room for sloth or indifference. The Divine life can be maintained only by constant diligence and strenuous effort; and it can be perfected only through conflict and suffering. Our progress in the Christian course is opposed by strong and subtle adversaries, and frequent and formidable difficulties. We have to battle with our foes and grapple with our difficulties, even while running the race that is set before us.
3. A race is characterized by brevity, so is the Christian life upon earth. The race we are running requires intense effort, but only for a short season; the goal will very soon be reached. The whole of our earthly life is but of short duration; and the time of this earnest race is still shorter. What is our life here to eternity? What is the period of effort on the course to the age of rest and reward?
II. COMPLIANCE WITH CERTAIN CONDITIONS IS INDISPENSABLE TO SUCCESS IN THIS RACE.
1. We must "lay aside every weight"—cast off everything that encumbers. The reference here is to things which in themselves are not positively sinful, customs and associations which in themselves are innocent, but which may wrap themselves tightly round our heart and impede our progress. "Intercourse and friendship," says Ebrard, "with old Jewish acquaintances, the relations formed by trade and merchandise, might be hindrances of this kind for the readers, and in such a case it was right, and is still right, to break entirely away from such relations, and to get rid of the fetters which they impose as soon as they threaten to become a snare, even though in themselves they should be innocent." Everything that would hinder us in running this race, every weight of cares, of interests, of attachments to the things pertaining only to this life, of relationships which are not favorable to advancement in the race, must be given up, abandoned.
2. We must "lay aside the sin which doth so easily beset us," or, "the sin which subtly encircles us." With every one of us there is some sin to which we are especially prone; let us each take heed that we are not hindered in the race by reason of it. There is some weak point in the moral defenses of our nature where the tempter most easily obtains access; to this point, wherever it may be, special attention must be directed. With some it is an ungovernable temper; with others, a strong propensity to avarice; with others, etc. Let every man, by faithful self-examination and by prayer, ascertain his own besetting sin, and seek to be quite free from it.
3. We must run our race with patience. Not simply with patient endurance of the trials which may befall the runner, but with perseverance until the goal is reached. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong," but "he that endureth to the end the same shall be saved." "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." It is only "by patient continuance in well-doing" that "glory and honor and immortality" are won.
III. IN THE PROSECUTION OF THIS RACE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY A GREAT HOST OF WITNESSES, OR TESTIFIERS. "We are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses." Those who have preceded us in the life of faith in immense numbers surround us as witnesses to the power of faith, as testifiers by their example to the might of that principle by which we are called to run our course successfully, and war our warfare nobly, and do our life work faithfully. The writer would teach us to think often of this great cloud of witnesses, to meditate upon the noble lives and glorious deeds of the true men who have gone before us, that by the remembrance of their trials and triumphs we may arouse ourselves to greater diligence in running the race that is set before us. In them we see what trials can be borne, what victories won, what work accomplished, what characters built up, by faith. If by faith they overcame every difficulty, why should we be discouraged by the difficulties of our course? If by faith they conquered their many and mighty enemies, why should we dread to encounter our foes? If by faith, despite outward opposition and inner weakness, they came off victors in the fight and winners in the race, why should we despond and shrink from the contest? "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," etc.
IV. IN THE PROSECUTION OF THIS RACE WE ARE SUSTAINED AND ANIMATED BY THE HIGHEST EXAMPLE—THE PERFECT EXAMPLE. "Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith," etc. The idea of the writer is not that Jesus Christ is the Producer of faith in us and the Completer of the faith which he has organized. If we translate, "Looking unto the Leader and Perfecter of the faith, even Jesus," we shall perhaps the more readily apprehend the meaning of the text. In the long procession of heroes celebrated for their faith our Lord stands at the head; he is the Leader, and in him faith appears in full and perfected glory. And the text exhorts us to look to him as our great Exemplar, and to draw from him support and encouragement. The example of our Savior is especially sustaining and cheering, for the course he had to run was one of extreme difficulty and danger and suffering; yet he overcame, and finished his course with joy, and gained the highest honors. "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross," etc. (cf. Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 2:9, Hebrews 2:10). In time of suffering, then, pursue your course "looking unto Jesus," the perfect Example of patience; and in the presence of Gethsemane and Calvary your sufferings will appear slight, and the calm face of the supreme Sufferer will impart patience and power unto you. In seasons of despondency, when faith is weak and your spirit sinks within you, look unto Jesus, and the trust which he exercised and the destiny he attained, and let the bright example brace your heart with courage. In times of exhaustion and weariness, when you faint because of the duties and difficulties of the way, look up to Jesus, and his example will raise and strengthen your powerless hands, and nerve your whole frame with new energy. And in seasons of temptation look unto him who" resisted unto blood, striving against sin," and yield not in the conflict, give no place to the tempter. Let this be our attitude, "looking unto Jesus." Let the eye of the soul be fixed upon him as our Pattern and Helper; so shall we finish our course with joy, and "receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away."—W.J.
The Christian's danger of weariness and his defense.
"For consider him that endured such contradiction," etc. Our subject naturally divides itself into two branches,
I. THE EVIL TO BE GUARDED AGAINST. "Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." The Christian is in danger of weariness in the course which he is called to run. This weariness springs from faintness of soul. When the heart loses its faith and hope and enthusiasm, the step soon loses its elasticity and vigor and speed. And this may arise:
1. From the difficulties of the course. The path of the Christian is not always through green pastures or beside still waters. It is often bleak and rugged, and mountainous. It is marked by trials of various kinds, which sorely strain his faith and patience and fortitude. And there are enemies who would delay his progress sometimes by subtle solicitations to ease and enjoyment, and at other times by opposing his efforts or obstructing his way. "And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way."
2. From the slowness of the apparent progress. There are times when the Christian runner seems to make little or no advancement in the race. Notwithstanding reading and meditation, aspiration and resolution, prayer and effort, we are still so hampered by imperfections and sins, so deficient in holiness and usefulness, and so little like our Lord, that at times all that we desire and do seems to be vain, and our souls wax faint within us.
3. From a false or exaggerated estimate of the value of feeling in the Christian life. There are those who are prone to test their spiritual condition and progress by the state of their feelings. If their emotions are tender and confiding and cheerful, they conclude that they are in the true course and moving onward to the goal; but if their hearts seem unfeeling, or cold, or cheerless, they doubt whether they are in the course at all, or ever started aright in the race, and so they faint in their souls and flag in their footsteps. Feelings fluctuate; they ebb and flow; they rise and fall. But we run this race, not by feeling, but by faith. We are saved, not by our emotions, however delightful they may be, but by our confidence in our Lord and Savior.
4. From neglect of the means by which hope and courage are maintained. If prayer be neglected; if meditation upon the spiritual and eternal, upon the soul and truth and God, cease; if the testimony of the "great cloud of witnesses" be unregarded; if "the Leader and Perfecter of the faith" be not contemplated,—the soul will faint and the limbs become weary, and the attainment of the prize will be jeopardized, How, then, is the evil to be guarded against?
II. THE SAFEGUARD AGAINST THIS EVIL. "Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself," etc. The meaning of the word rendered "consider" is not easily expressed in English. Analogize, compare, think on him and on his sufferings by way of comparison with ours. The "contradiction of sinners" should not be confined to words, but indicates the opposition of the wicked against him. A comparison of what he thus suffered and the trials we have to bear will preserve the soul from faintness, and the steps from faltering.
1. He suffered more than his followers are called to suffer. He was assailed by slander, by contradictions, by ensnaring questions. He was betrayed by one disciple, denied by another, and forsaken by all in the time of his trial. He was blasphemed, scourged, derided, and crucified. Think, moreover, how intensely susceptible to suffering he must have been, since he was untainted in his body and perfectly holy in his soul.
2. Yet his sufferings did not cause him to falter in his course, or to turn aside from it. Resolutely he went forward on his path of suffering and sacrifice; knowing the shame and anguish that awaited him, yet still he steadfastly pursued his appointed way—
"Until the perfect work was done,
And drunk the bitter cup of gall."
3. In this he is an Example to us. "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example," etc. (1 Peter 2:20-23). Consideration of him and of his sufferings makes our severest sufferings seem small, and saves us from weariness and discouragement in the Christian course.
"Lord, should my path through suffering lie,
Forbid it I should e'er repine;
Still let me turn to Calvary,
Nor heed my griefs, remembering thine."
Hebrews 12:5, Hebrews 12:6
"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord," etc. Our subject is Divine discipline. Let us notice—
I. ITS CHARACTER. Three words are used to express it—"rebuke," "chastening," "scourging." The last two seem to be used synonymously here. Archbishop Trench points out that "'to rebuke" and "to chasten" are often found together, but they are very capable of being distinguished. "To rebuke" is so to rebuke that the person is brought to the acknowledgment of his fault—is convinced, as David was when rebuked by Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13)." The word translated to "chasten," "being in classical Greek to instruct, to educate, is in sacred Greek to instruct or educate by means of correction, through the severe discipline of love." £ The object of the discipline is to deliver the subjects of it from sin, to establish them in the faith, and to perfect them in holiness. The means of the discipline are afflictions, persecutions, and trials. And it may be administered by the enemies of the Church of Christ. The persecutions of man may be the discipline of God. "Persecution for religion is sometimes a correction and rebuke for the sins of professors of religion. Men persecute them because they are religious; God chastises them because they are not more so: men persecute them because they wilt not give up their profession; God chastises them because they have not lived up to their profession."
II. ITS AUTHOR. "The chastening of the Lord ... Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." Some of our trials are from his hand. He is the great Husbandman, and he prunes the vines that they may bring forth more fruit. The trials which are not sent by him are permitted by him (cf. Job 1:12; Job 2:6; 2 Corinthians 12:7). And he gives to all our trials their disciplinary character. He makes the bitter potion medicinal. By his blessing our sufferings become salutary, and our sorest afflictions our sagest instructors. The fact that the Lord is the Author of our discipline, that our trials either proceed from him or are permitted and regulated by him, supplies a guarantee that we shall not be tried beyond our strength. He is infinite in wisdom and in love. "He knoweth our frame;" and he will either restrict our trials so that they exceed not our strength, or increase our strength until it surpasses the severity of our trials. "He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind." "I will correct thee in measure." "Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies." "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
III. ITS SUBJECTS. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."
1. They are filially related to him. "Every son" of his he subjects to reproof and chastisement. "God has one Son without sin, but none without suffering." If we are his sons, we may rest assured that he will not fail to secure to us the discipline that we need. Thus our sufferings may be an evidence of our sonship.
2. They are beloved by him. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." Because he loves us he corrects us. It has been well said, that "lawns which we would keep in the best condition are very frequently mown; the grass has scarcely any respite from the scythe. Out in the meadows there is no such repeated cutting; they are mown but once or twice in the year. Even thus the nearer we are to God, and the more regard he has for us, the more frequent will be our adversities. To be very dear to God involves no small degree of chastisement."
IV. ITS RECEPTION. "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord," etc.
1. It should not be deemed unimportant. "Regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord." "We may be said to despise the chastening of the Lord," says Dr. Wardlaw, "in the following eases:
(1) When it is not felt; when there is a want of natural sensibility to the particular stroke of the rod. This is but rare. Men in general are quite sufficiently alive to the value of temporal things. But the value is comparative. There are cherished and favorite possessions, and others less highly thought of, less fondly held. The Lord, it may be, deals gently. He spares the 'gourd.' He does not take what is most highly set by. And instead of humbly owning the kindness—being lowly and submissive, and seeking a blessing on the gentle stroke, that the heavier one may be withheld—the preservation and safety of the greater produces insensibility to the privation of the less; and the correction is thus disregarded, and proves inefficient.
(2) When it is not duly felt as from God.
(3) When, although God is seen in it and his hand is felt, it is not felt humbly and submissively; not bowed to, but resisted.
(4) When the design or end of correction is not laid to heart."
2. It should not be deemed intolerable. "Nor faint when thou art rebuked of him." We are not to sink under the reproofs and strokes of the Divine discipline, though they be severe. The fact that our trials are regulated by our Father's hand, that they are educational, that they are intended and adapted to promote our spiritual and eternal well-being, should keep us from sinking beneath their pressure.
"The tears we shed are not in vain;
Nor worthless is the heavy strife;
If, like the buried seed of grain,
They rise to renovated life.
It is through tears our spirits grow
'Tis in the tempest souls expand,
If it but teaches us to go
To him who holds it in his hand.
Oh, welcome, then, the stormy blast!
Oh, welcome, then, the ocean's roar!
Ye only drive more sure and fast
Our trembling bark to heaven's bright shore."
(T. C. Upham)
Discipline in its endurance and in its results.
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous," etc. Two aspects of discipline, distinct yet vitally related, are here set before us.
I. DISCIPLINE IN ITS ENDURANCE. "All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous, but grievous." All life's discipline, while we are enduring it, is painful. It is so even to sincere and saintly Christians, for:
1. The Christian is not insensible to pain. Christianity offers no encouragement to stoicism. It does not call upon us to repress or to blunt the natural susceptibilities of our nature. We are summoned in the Christian Scriptures to feel for others and with others. "Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep." Insensibility is neither manly nor saintly, virtuous nor blessed. Our Savior was deeply moved by the afflictions and griefs of others. And he felt acutely the sorrows and sufferings which fell to his own lot (John 12:27; Matthew 26:38; Luke 22:44; Matthew 27:46; Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 5:8).
2. Pain or trial is an essential element of discipline. Our text speaks of discipline as "chastening," and that is painful. If we speak of it as correction, that is not easy to bear. It may be administered in various forms, but in every form it carries with it trial or suffering of some kind. Take away the trying element from the experience, and you take from it the character of discipline.
3. The endurance of discipline demands the strenuous exercise of spiritual powers. The writer speaks of those who have been exercised by the chastening. This exercise is not an amusement, but an arduous putting forth of mental and moral powers. Suffering sorely tests our submission to the Divine will. Tribulation tries our patience and piety. Enigmas of providence and dark passages in our own experience test our faith in the Divine Father. Remember how God's servant Job was "exercised." And St. Paul (2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Corinthians 11:23-30; 2 Corinthians 12:7, 2 Corinthians 12:8). And the Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10). If we did not feel the pain of the discipline, we could not derive any profit from it. If the chastening were not grievous for the present, it could not result in any blessing hereafter.
II. DISCIPLINE IN ITS FRUIT. "Yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness." It is a well-attested fact of human experience that trial borne in a right spirit, and sanctified by God, results in rich benefits. But notice:
1. The condition of the fruit of discipline. "It yieldeth fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby." The chastening must have been felt, and recognized and accepted as discipline, in order to the reception of its fruits. Suffering is the condition of the deepest serenity. The pain of moral conflict must precede the glory of moral conquest.
2. The season of the fruit of discipline. "Afterward it yieldeth," etc. Not while we are passing through the painful experiences do we reap the rich result of them, but "afterward." Time is required for the fruit to form and to ripen. There are beautiful pictures which cannot be truly seen when we are near to them. So viewed, they appear to be inartistic and rough daubs. But, viewed from the right angle and from a suitable distance, their beauty captivates the eye and delights the soul. We must leave our disciplinary experiences and travel into the "afterward," before we can discover their true significance and their gracious uses.
3. The character of the fruit of discipline.
(1) The fruit of righteousness. Alford: "The practical righteousness which springs from faith." "Before I was afflicted I went astray," etc. (Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71).
(2) The fruit of peace. "Peaceable fruit." Alford: "This fruit is called peaceable in contrast to the conflict by which it is won." Ebrard: "Exercise in hard bitter conflict brings peace as its fruit." Tholuck: "Fruit of righteousness to be enjoyed in peace after the conflict." Generally the deepest and most constant peace is possessed by those who have passed through the sharpest sufferings or the severest struggles. "Our afflictions are not for naught. They are the fruitful seed of future glories. They are blessings in disguise. They are meant for good, and are productive of good. They are like the early processes of the garden, when the soil is broken up and weeded, in order that fair flowers may at length adorn it. q-hey are the quarrying and chiseling of the marble before the living statue can stand out in symmetrical proportions. They are the instruments, without which no harmony can be secured in the ultimate concert. They are the medicine of our convalescence, the drudgery of our education, the spring pruning of our vine trees, without which we can never be healthy or happy, fit for heaven, or qualified to bring forth fruit whereby our Father may be glorified."
In conclusion, our subject should encourage us to be:
1. Patient under our discipline. Discipline is like a tree; it requires time and seasonable influences to produce the ripened fruit of peace and righteousness. Wait patiently for the "hereafter." "Behold, the husbandman waiteth," etc. (James 5:7).
2. Resigned under our discipline. Let us not rebel against the suffering which is designed for our sanctification; but let us "be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live."
3. Hopeful under our discipline. The trial may be bitter, but it wilt be brief, and the fruit thereof will be blessed and eternal (cf. Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18).—W.J.
Hebrews 12:12, Hebrews 12:13
The Christian treatment of the feeble.
"Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down," etc.
I. THE LIABILITY TO FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. This condition is variously described in the text. "The hands which hang down," relaxed, enervated, incapable of vigorous or healthy action. "The feeble knees," tottering and paralyzed. "That which is lame" indicates, says Afford, "that part of the Church which was wavering between Christianity and Judaism." Christians are often faint and feeble in our own times. Piety may be sincere yet deficient in strength. A genuine Christian may suffer with lameness in some element of his character or some faculty of service. This feebleness may arise:
1. From the discipline to which we are subjected. We may faint when we are corrected by him (Hebrews 12:5). The first effect of discipline may be to discourage us, and this will probably lead to lack of earnestness and vigor in Christian life and service. Discipline misunderstood or resented may disable us for a time.
2. From the difficulties of our counsel.
3. From the neglect of the means by which hope and effort are sustained. £
II. THE DANGER ARISING FROM FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. Cessation of Christian effort. Relaxed hands and tottering knees may cause the Christian runner to give up running, and to relapse into ignoble ease. Instead of imitating Gideon's heroic three hundred who were "faint, yet pursuing" their fleeing foes, the feeble may relinquish the pursuit altogether. Thus faintness may lead to failure.
2. Deviation from the Christian course. If the way be very rugged and tedious, requiring painful effort to walk in it, those who are lame may be turned out of it. The Christian race is easy when the runners are strong and the course is smooth. But oh, it is very difficult when the hearts are heavy, and the hands nerveless, and the limbs are lamed, and the way is rough and steep! Under such conditions it requires no little patience and heroism to keep moving onwards even at any pace; and the temptation to turn aside is very great.
III. THE DUTY TO BE PURSUED IN FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. To seek renewal of strength. "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." How shall we do this?
(1) By believing prayer to God. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength," etc. (Isaiah 40:29-31).
(2) By the recollection of former mercies. Memory may be used as an inspiration of hope and courage. "Because thou hast been my Help, therefore under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice."
(3) By consideration of the uses and benefits of our trials and discipline (cf. Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2, James 1:3, James 1:12).
(4) By contemplation of the great multitude who have reached the goal and won the prize (cf. Hebrews 12:1).
(5) By contemplation of "the prize of our high calling." Exercises such as these are calculated to inspire moral courage, and increase spiritual strength, and promote Christian progress.
2. To seek to keep each other in and help each other onward in the way. "Make straight paths Tot your feet, that that which is lame be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed." "The meaning seems to be," says Alford, "let your walk be so firm and so unanimous in the right direction, that a plain track and highway may be thereby established for those who accompany and follow you, to perceive and walk in (cf. Isaiah 35:8). If the whole congregation, by their united and consistent walk, trod a plain and beaten path for men's feet, these lame ones, though halting, would be easily able to keep in it, and, by keeping in the 'straight tracks,' would even acquire the habit of walking straight onward, and so be healed; but if the tracks were errant and confused, their erratic steps would deviate more and more, till at length they fell away out of the right way altogether."
1. Let not the faint yet sincere Christian yield to discouragement.
2. Let not the vigorous Christian despise the feeble and halting, but rather cheer and help them.
3. Let all Christians in the strength of God press onward to the goal and to the crown.—W.J.
The pursuit of peace and holiness.
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness," etc. The primary meaning of the text seems to be that the Christians addressed "are to guard against differences among themselves; they are not to quarrel with one another, but every one is to be earnestly intent on his own sanctification;" for without holiness no one shall see the Lord with joy. Three chief points arise for consideration.
I. PEACE AS AN OBJECT OF PURSUIT. "Follow after peace with all men." Peace here is the opposite of strife, division, or misunderstanding amongst Christian brethren. "Seek peace, and pursue it." "Behold, bow good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" etc. (Psalms 133:1-3). Notice:
1. The importance of the object of pursuit. "Peace." It is essential to spiritual progress, to Christian usefulness, and to the enjoyment of the Divine presence. Discord drives away the Holy Spirit, and is fatal to personal growth in grace, to mutual edification, and to successful evangelization.
2. The extent of this pursuit. "With all men." The primary meaning is "all their fellow-Christians." The context shows this. Our text immediately follows the exhortation to guard against any feeble Christian being turned out of the way, and it immediately precedes the exhortation to take heed that no one should fall short of the grace of God. And if the "all" signified all mankind, the exhortation under consideration would be exceedingly unconnected. "It is clearly the brethren who are here meant by all," as in Romans 14:19, "Let us follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." But in applying it to ourselves may we not take it in its widest signification? "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
3. The limit of this pursuit. In our endeavors after peace we must not sacrifice anything which is essential to the pursuit of holiness. "First pure, then peaceable." Follow after peace, but not at the expense of Christian principle.
II. HOLINESS AS AN OBJECT OF PURSUIT. "Follow after … holiness," or, "sanctification." Delitzsch says, "Sanctification is not holiness, but is the putting on of it and becoming holy." But for popular speech we may use the term "holiness." Let us consider two inquiries.
1. What is holiness? It is, says Dr. Huntington, "that attribute which is the very crown of all the culture of humanity; for it carries the soul up nearest to the everlasting Fountain of wisdom, power, goodness, from which it came. It enters in only where repentance opens the way, and spiritual renewal puts the heart into wholesome relations with the Divine will. It is the peculiar gift for which the world stands indebted to revelation, and it is multiplied just in proportion as the heart is formed into the likeness of Christ's. It is the summit of manhood, but no less the grace of God. It is achieved by effort, because your free will must use the means that secure it; and it is equally the benignant inspiration of that Father who hears every patient petition."
2. How shall we pursue holiness? Not by efforts, however sincere and earnest, after self-reformation or self-improvement. It is assumed that the persons who are exhorted to follow after holiness have accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord. Supposing that we are sincere Christians, we should seek for holiness.
(1) By keeping our spiritual nature open to Divine impression and action. We must let Christ enter, and dwell, and work, and reign within us.
(2) By communion with Jesus Christ. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise." "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," etc. (2 Corinthians 3:18).
(3) By conscious and deliberate imitation of Christ. "Take my yoke upon you, anti learn of me." "I have given you an example," etc. (John 13:15). "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps." This imitation obviously includes endeavors to render complete and hearty obedience to the Divine will.
(4) By diligent use of Divine ordinances. The holy Book will be prayerfully and thoughtfully read, "the assembling of ourselves together" will be welcomed, and the ministry of the Word and the sacraments will be devoutly considered and accepted.
(5) This pursuit should be continuous. "It is not by fits and starts that men become holy. It is not occasional, but continuous, prolonged, and lifelong efforts that are required; to be daily at it; always at it; resting but to renew the work; falling but to rise again. It is not by a few rough, spasmodic blows of the hammer that a graceful statue is brought out of the marble block, but by the labor of continuous days, and many delicate touches of the sculptor's chisel. It is not with a rush and a spring that we are to reach Christ's character, attain to perfect saintship; but step by step, foot by foot, hand over hand, we are slowly and often painfully to mount the ladder that rests on earth and rises to heaven" (Dr. Thomas Guthrie).
(6) The pursuit both of peace and of holiness should be zealous. The word used by the writer in enjoining it shows this. It means to pursue rapidly, to follow eagerly, to earnestly endeavor to acquire. Half-hearted efforts are of little avail. As the miser seeks to amass temporal wealth, as the enthusiastic student strives after knowledge, so let us follow after peace and holiness. And with even greater eagerness should we pursue them because of their greater importance.
III. HOLINESS AS A QUALIFICATION FOR HEAVEN'. "Sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord."
1. Heaven is the place of the supreme manifestation of God. (Cf. Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 22:3, Revelation 22:4)
2. Holiness is an essential qualification for the perception of this manifestation. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." "The pure heart," says Tholuck, "itself is the organ whereby the vision of God becomes attainable by us." Without holiness a person has no more fitness for heaven than a blind man has for the enjoyment of a beautiful picture-gallery or a glorious landscape.
3. If it were possible for an unholy soul to enter heaven it could find no peace or happiness there, but would realize intense misery. "Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man; How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! He would find no one like himself; he would see in every direction the marks of God's holiness, and these would make him shudder. He would feel himself always in his presence. He could no longer turn his thoughts another way, as he does now, when conscience reproaches him. He would know that the eternal eye was ever upon him; and that eye of holiness, which is joy and life to holy creatures, would seem to him an eye of wrath and punishment. God cannot change his nature. Holy he must ever be. But while he is holy, no unholy soul can be happy in heaven. Fire does not inflame iron, but it inflames straw. It would cease to be fire if it did not. And so heaven itself would be fire to those who would fain escape across the great gulf from the torments of hell. The finger of Lazarus would but increase their thirst. The very "heaven that is over their heads 'will be brass' to them" (Dr. S. H. Newman). Therefore, let Us "follow after peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."—W.J.
Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 12:17
Esau; or, the sacrifice of the spiritual for the sensuous.
"Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person," etc. There is much about this man, Esau, which is noble and attractive. "Esau, the shaggy, red-haired huntsman, the man of the field, with his arrows, his quiver, and his bow, coming in weary from the chase, caught as with the levity and eagerness of a child by the sight of the lentil soup—'Feed me, I pray thee, with the red, red pottage'—yet so full of generous impulse, so affectionate towards his aged father, so forgiving towards his brother, so open-hearted, so chivalrous, who has not at times felt his heart warm toward the poor rejected Esau, and been tempted to join with him as he cries 'with a great and exceeding bitter cry,' 'Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father!'" (Dr. A. P. Stanley). Yet he is solemnly held up in our text as a beacon against certain sins which might lead to apostasy from the Christian faith and life. In his conduct as mentioned in the text we notice two things.
I. A SACRIFICE OF SACRED RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES FOR SENSUOUS SATISFACTION, "Esau for one mess of meat sold his own birthright" (cf. Genesis 25:29-34). Peculiar rights and privileges were inherited by the firstborn son.
(1) He received a double portion of the paternal property, which probably signifies twice as much as any other son received (Deuteronomy 21:17).
(2) The priestly office pertained to him, previous to the selection of the tribe of Levi to fulfill that office for the nation (Numbers 8:17-19).
(3) He enjoyed a rank and authority in the family over those who were younger similar to that exercised by the father (Genesis 27:29; Genesis 49:3).
(4) And in the case before us, the honor of being in the patriarchal line, and of transmitting the promises made to Abraham. These rights of primogeniture Esau sold for one meal of red pottage; and in the sale we have:
1. A sacrifice of a great and lifelong good for the satisfaction of present need and desire. Esau was tired, faint for want of food; there was the appetizing pottage; and there was the mean and subtle brother who craved the birthright, and saw his opportunity for gaining his end by disgraceful means, and who proposed that the birthright should be given to him for the mess of pottage, and who, deeming others as unprincipled as himself, would have the bargain ratified by an oath; and Esau yielded, and sacrificed the long future for the brief present. He allowed his strong impulse to overpower his reason and judgment.
2. A sacrifice of spiritual privileges for sensuous satisfactions. The cravings of his senses, his hunger and desire for the pottage, mastered the convictions of his soul. Carnal appetite conquered the claims of Esau's higher interests.
3. A sacrifice made upon the solicitation of his mean and crafty brother. Most discreditable was the action of Jacob in this transaction. If a darker guilt attaches to the tempter to evil than to him who, being tempted, yields, then Jacob's sin was greater than Esau's. Well does Dean Stanley inquire, "Who does not feel at times his indignation swell against the younger brother? 'Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he hath supplanted me these two times?' He entraps his brother, he deceives his father, he makes a bargain even in his prayer; in his dealings with Laban, in his meeting with Esau, he still calculates and contrives; he distrusts his neighbors, he regards with prudential indifference the insult to his daughter and the cruelty of his sons; he hesitates to receive the assurance of Joseph's good will; he repels, even in his lesser traits, the free confidence that we cannot withhold from the patriarchs of the elder generation." Thus tempted by hunger, by appetite, by opportunity, and by his astute and scheming brother, "Esau for one mess of meat sold his own birthright." "Thus Esau despised his birthright." To what a large extent do men still sin after the fashion of Esau's transgression! In our country there are multitudes who are bartering their spiritual interests for secular prosperity—renouncing godliness for worldly gain. What countless numbers are risking the salvation of their souls for the gratification of their senses! sacrificing their well-being in the endless future for their pleasure in the brief present!
II. A SACRIFICE WHICH INVOLVED IRREPARABLE LOSS. "For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected," etc. We have here:
1. Earnest desire for the forfeited blessing. "He would have inherited the blessing." Esau was neither so wicked nor so worldly as to contemn the blessing either of his lather's God or of his father. And when he was defrauded of that blessing by his brother, he sought for it with a most pathetic earnestness (Genesis 27:30-40).
2. Deep distress because of the loss of the forfeited blessing. Our text mentions the "tears" of his great sorrow. "He cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.... Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept."
3. Earnest desire and deep distress which were of no avail for the recovery of the forfeited blessing. "He was rejected: for he found no place of repentance." We do not understand by this either that Esau was unable to change his father's mind, or that he could not himself repent of his sins; but, as Alford expresses it, "that he found no way open to reverse what had been done: the sin had been committed and the consequence entailed, irrevocably. He might change, but the penalty could not, from the very nature of the circumstances, be taken off. So that repentance, in its full sense, had no place. And such is the meaning of the 'place of repentance,' wherever occurring. We do not mean by it an opportunity to repent in a man's own bosom, to be sorry for what he has done, for this may be under any circumstances, and this might have been with Esau; but we mean a chance, by repenting, to repair." There is an awful permanence in deeds. They cannot be undone. Words once spoken are beyond recall. Opportunities once lost are lost forever. Others may, perhaps, be granted; but those are irrevocably gone.
Let us learn:
1. To curb strong impulses by reason and by conscience.
2. To maintain the forgiver relation between the present and temporary, and the future and abiding.
3. To keep the sensuous subordinate to the spiritual. This brings us to the practical point of the writer of the Epistle. Let us not forsake what is right and true to escape from any present difficulty or loss or pain, or, to secure any present pleasure. Let us not turn away from Christ to escape the cross.—W.J.
The exalted privileges of sincere Christians.
"For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched," etc. This paragraph exhibits a striking contrast between Sinai and Zion—the Mosaic and the Christian dispensations. The chief points of the contrast seem to be these:
1. The sensuous at Sinai is contrasted with the spiritual at Zion. At Sinai the manifestations were palpable, visible, audible (Hebrews 12:18, Hebrews 12:19); at Zion they were heavenly, and to some extent invisible and inaudible. The former appealed chiefly to the senses, the latter to the soul.
2. The rigorous at Shoal is contrasted with the gracious at Zion. The former mountain was palpable, but no one of the people might draw near unto it, and if even a beast touched it it was to be stoned. The whole of the proceedings were awful and terrible. The revelation was of Law. Love was there, for love was the fountain of the Law; but Law, solemn and inflexible, and not love, was conspicuous. But at Zion, love and not Law was conspicuous. "The Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." In the Christian dispensation grace is unmistakably clear and prominent. Here the voices are musical, the utterances are inviting.
3. The repellant at Sinai is contrasted with the attractive at Zion. At the giving of the Law, "they that heard entreated that no word more should be spoken unto them, And so fearful was the appearance that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake." But in this later dispensation men are drawn by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. To the sincere soul Christianity is bright, alluring, and blessed. Let us now consider the exalted privileges of sincere Christians as set forth in our text.
I. THEY ARE MEMBERS OF A DISTINGUISHED SOCIETY, "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." We do not apply these words to heaven, but to the Church upon earth, the kingdom of Christ here and now; because
(1) in the sacred Scriptures Mount Zion is not set forth as the antithesis of heaven, but of the Christian Church (Galatians 4:24-26); and
(2) the text affirms that Christians "are come unto Mount Zion," etc. It is the statement of a present fact, and not a future prospect. Mark the characteristics of this distinguished society.
1. It is spiritual in its constitution. "The heavenly Jerusalem." The qualification for admission into this society is spiritual, not carnal; a thing of character, not of circumstances; not physical descent from Abraham, but moral approximation to Christ. Its worship is not restricted by local limitations, or by conventional and artificial rules; but by spiritual conditions only. "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father.... The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipper shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth," etc. (John 4:21-24). Wherever there is a devout soul, there is the true Zion. The contrite heart can consecrate for itself a temple wherever it may be.
2. It is hallowed by the Divine presence. "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." Previous to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the name Mount Zion "was applied exclusively to the eastern hill, or that on which the temple stood." The glory of the Holy Land to the pious Hebrew was Jerusalem, and the glory of Jerusalem was Mount Zion, and the glory of Mount Zion was the temple, and the glory of the temple was the Shechinah (cf. Psalms 48:1-3; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 132:13, Psalms 132:14). "The Lord is in his holy temple." "He sitteth between the cherubim. The Lord is great in Zion." But in a higher sense he dwells in the consecrated heart, and in the Christian Church. "Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them."
3. Its members are individually consecrated to God. "To the Church of the Firstborn." The firstborn of Israel were dedicated to God as his priests (Exodus 13:1, Exodus 13:2, Exodus 13:11-15). Afterwards the tribe of Levi was selected for this service instead of the firstborn of all the tribes (Numbers 3:11-13). And it is characteristic of every Christian that he is consecrated to God; he is a priest unto God. "Ye are a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession."
4. Its members are heirs to a glorious inheritance. All Christians are called "firstborn" because they are all heirs of the heavenly inheritance. "We are children of God: and if children, then heirs," etc. Heirs "unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled," etc.
5. Its members are individually known unto God. They "are written in heaven." They are "not yet citizens of heaven who have taken up their full citizenship by passing through death, but persons to whom their citizenship is assured, they being as yet here below." This enrolment in the book of life is the sign that the citizenship of the Christian is in heaven, and that his name and character are known unto God. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." The good Shepherd "calleth his own sheep by name" (cf. Luke 10:20).
II. THEY ARE FAVOURABLY RELATED TO ANGELIC BEINGS. "Ye are come … to an innumerable company of angels." Notice:
1. The great number of angelic beings. The text speaks of" myriads of angels," an expression which is employed to indicate a great multitude. St. John in spiritual vision saw "many angels round about the throne;… and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands."
2. The joyful spirit of angelic beings. "And to myriads, the festal host of angels." Alford: "Πανήγυρις is the complete, multitudinous, above all, jubilant, festal, and blissful assembly." "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." They rejoice in the progress of the cause of Christ, in the extension of his Church, in the triumphs of his cross and Spirit.
3. The gracious relation of angelic beings to Christians. Angels were present at Sinai in great numbers, and assisted at the giving of the Law (cf. Hebrews 2:2; Deuteronomy 33:2; Galatians 3:19). But their ministry upon that occasion seems to have been majestic and terrible, fitted to awe but not to attract men. But their relation to Christians is gracious and engaging. We are come unto them. Invisibly yet beneficently they are present with us as out' spiritual helpers. "Are they not all ministering spirits?" etc.
III. THEY ARE SYMPATHETICALLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE PERFECTED SPIRITS OF THE GOOD. "And to the spirits of just men made perfect." We have here:
1. The noblest portion of human beings. "Spirits." Having laid down their bodies at death, these thinking, reflecting, loving, worshipping spirits live on in consciousness and in blessedness.
2. A commendable character of human beings. "Spirits of just men." Not innocent; but pardoned and purified from sin through the mercy of God. Spirits of all the just who have entered the eternal state, from righteous Abel down to the spirit which last responded to the home-call.
3. The most excellent condition of human beings. "Spirits of just men made perfect." Made perfect, not in degree, but in character and condition. Perfect as being without error and sin, but not as being incapable of further progress. They are without sin, but they will grow in holiness. They are without error, but they will increase in knowledge. "Made perfect;" then how different are they from even the best of men in this world! Many an imperfection will be put off by us at death; many an error will be corrected soon as we see things in the clear light of eternity. "We are come … to the spirits of just men made perfect." They are not lost to us. Life and immortality are brought to light in the gospel. Deep and tender is their interest in us. We are one with them in sacred and blessed sympathy.
"E'en now by faith we join our hands
With those that went before;
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands
On the eternal shore."
IV. THEY HAVE GRACIOUS ACCESS TO THE GREAT GOD. "And to God the Judge of all." At Sinai the Israelites were terrified at the signs of his presence as Lawgiver; but in this later dispensation sincere Christians draw near to him with confidence even as the Judge of all. Nay, there is a sense in which this aspect of his being attracts them. They are yet in the world. They have enemies to contend against and wrongs to endure; and they look up to God as their righteous Judge, who will vindicate their right and their cause. We are come unto him. He is not a cold, impassive, remote being. He is near to us; he loves us, draws us to himself, and blesses us with his gracious presence. We confide in him, and realize our holiest impulses and most blessed experiences in fellowship with him.
V. THEY ARE SAVINGLY RELATED TO JESUS CHRIST. "And to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
1. We are come to him as our Mediator. By him God is brought so near to us, and we are reconciled to God. Through him we enter into the possession of all our exalted and rich privileges.
2. We are come to him who effected his mediatorial work by the sacrifice of his own life. The blood of sprinkling is his own precious blood, which he shed for us. "We have our redemption through his blood," etc. And this blood speaks of the infinite love of God, and the full and free forgiveness of sins, and spiritual perfection, and endless progress and blessedness.
CONCLUSION. Great privileges involve great responsibilities.—W.J.
The kingdom which cannot be moved.
"We receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved." "A kingdom which cannot be moved." Is there such a thing? What is it? Where is it? The great empires of antiquity—Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Rome—are all gone. Where is the immovable kingdom? Is there anything that cannot be changed, shaken, and destroyed? Physical comforts are torn away from their possessors. Health is not immovable. Wealth is not a lasting kingdom. Property is "unstable as water." What is the "kingdom that cannot be shaken"? Men are removed from earth and from the dwellers thereon. Entire families sometimes pass away. Generations are carried hence into the invisible world. Even whole races of men have completely disappeared from the earth. With all these changes, where shall we find the unchangeable and the permanent? The oak that has braved the storms of centuries, and the cedar and the yew whose years must be counted by thousands, will one day crumble into dust which will be scattered by the breeze. But the mountains and rocks—surely they abide? The sacred Scriptures speak of them as "the everlasting mountains, the Perpetual hills." Those Scriptures also say, "Surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place. The waters wear the stones." "The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed." Geology proclaims the same truth. Even the very Churches pass away. The Jewish Church has departed, or only a feeble and faded remnant of it is left. And Christian Churches are planted, flourish, decay, and die. Is there anything here that is immutable-anything "that cannot be moved"? The kingdom which our text says is immovable is Christianity. In other places it is called "the kingdom of God," "the kingdom of Christ," "the kingdom of heaven." We also read, "The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." And again, "The Law," i.e. the Jewish economy, "was given by Moses; grace and truth," i.e. Christianity, "came by Jesus Christ." "Grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," are immutable and eternal; these are the elements which constitute the "kingdom which cannot be moved." Christian Churches may pass away; but Christianity ever abides and ever grows. Christian denominations and sects may die; but the Church of Christ ever lives and advances towards its position of supreme and world-wide sovereignty. Again, "grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," as realized by the individual Christian, are not constant and permanent. Our consciousness of these things may vary and fluctuate; but the things themselves cannot be moved. The presence of the sun in the heavens may be veiled from us; but the sun is there, calm and luminous as ever. Clouds may hide every star from our view, and present to us a canopy of pitchy blackness; but the stars are not lost—beyond and above the clouds they pursue their appointed courses. So the consciousness of the kingdom within us may be disturbed and suspended and lost fur a time; but the kingdom is not lost, or suspended, or disturbed. If we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we have "received a kingdom which cannot be moved." Let us now fix our attention upon some of the chief teachings of the text.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS A SOVEREIGN POWER. It is "a kingdom;" "the kingdom of God;" "the kingdom of Christ;" "the kingdom of heaven;" the "kingdom which cannot be moved." Jesus claims supreme authority over the heart and life of all men, and over all institutions and societies. He claims to be the King of men. Have we received Christianity as a ruling power in our lives? Some accept it only for purposes of study and speculation; others only by manifesting towards it a little respect and interest; others admit it to a limited measure of control over them. But none of these has received the "kingdom which cannot be moved." He who has not welcomed the Lord Jesus as his King has not truly welcomed him at all. Personal Christianity is a sovereign power and person in the soul, ruling the thoughts and words, the desires and feelings, the purposes and actions of our being—ruling, in a word, our whole life. Have we so received Christ?
II. CHRISTIANITY AS A SOVEREIGN POWER IS UNCHANGEABLE AND EVERLASTING. "A kingdom which cannot be moved." We have seen that this kingdom is "grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." These are immutable and abiding things; They are essential to the being and character of God, and he is unchangeable and eternal. And these things as possessed by his people are derived from him. Ephemeral is the seeming reign of falsehood and wrong; eternal is the reign of truth and righteousness—the kingdom of God. Amid change and decay, amid revolution and dissolution, here is an abiding thing, a sovereign and eternal thing. Have we received the "grace and truth," the "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost"? Then we have received the immovable kingdom, the kingdom which rests upon the eternal and unchangeable God.
1. Mark the blessedness of the true Christian. Amid all the painful uncertainties and changes of this life, he possesses the unalterable and the certain. He has a portion and an inheritance which shall nut be taken away from him. He will carry his wealth with him into eternity, and it will increase forever. "Grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," are incorporated with his very being, and will never pass away from him. The blessed and permanent "kingdom of God is within" him.
2. Here is the basis of an argument for the immediate acceptance of Christianity, or rather, of the Christ. Christianity is not to give place to any other remedial dispensation. The patriarchal form of religion passed away, and the Mosaic system followed; that in its turn passed away with the advent and growth of Christianity, which will never be removed until the end of time. God will not speak to us with any voice more attractive, persuasive, or convincing than that by which he now addresses us. "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not," etc.. Accept at once the blessings and obligations of this kingdom.—W.J.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The cloud of witnesses.
I. THE NUMBER OF THE WITNESSES. From many ages, of both sexes, and in all positions of life. Our attention is called, not merely to a cloud, but to so great a cloud. Birds gather together in clouds. And the cloud may be so great as to compel notice. Whether we shall be impressed by the number of the witnesses depends altogether on the spirit in which we consider them. If we are ourselves of a believing disposition, we shall quickly recognize faith in the lives of others. We shall notice faith in the peculiarity of its beginnings, in the nobleness of its progress, and the certainty of its results. By its fruits we shall distinguish faith from credulity. Nor shall we think any the less of it because those who have it lack other elements of life which are valued by the world. Those who come together into so great a cloud of witnesses because they have faith will remain together. They will be found to have other qualities giving union. The figure here employed has already had its correspondence in the expression," Time would fail me to tell." The cloud of witnesses is but another way of saying that God's true people, the believing host, the children of faithful Abraham, are as the stars of the sky for multitude, the sand by the sea-shore innumerable.
II. THE AGREEMENT OF THE WITNESSES. They are not like witnesses in a court of justice, for there some are on one side and some on the other. All have the same story to tell. Faith came to them with a distinct imperative word. The course they took was not one that could be commended by reasons suited to the common understanding of men. Their life, to a certain extent, has been separate from men, and not infrequently men have opposed them. But always they have the same story to tell as to results. The way of the wicked perishes. It begins with self-indulgence and self-confidence, with the fear of man and after man's wisdom, and so it goes on till the hour of exposure comes. But the way of the believer is out of darkness into light, out of the midst of difficulties and toils into a path where he can run with enlarged heart.
III. THE MATTER OF THEIR TESTIMONY. They have to speak of God's dealings, God's guiding. Their lives are set before us as giving occasion to manifest the Divine character. Everywhere in Scripture just those things are recorded which through human lives show Divine working. The testimony of believers is ever valuable, just in proportion as they make it clear that it is not they who live, not they who work, but God, Christ, living and working in them.
IV. THE MANNER OF THEIR TESTIMONY. It is given unconsciously. It is given out of the past and as we read it in the page of history. Abel, being dead, yet speaketh. It is Abel, dying because of his faith, who impresses us. Oftentimes in the proceedings of human justice that which helps most to a right decision is some silent witness, in the shape of a paper or a weapon, or some such article, the existence and position of which are incompatible with any but a certain conclusion. It has not been sworn, and it cannot be perjured; it says more than a thousand sworn witnesses can say. The great believers of old may be helpers of our faith, simply by our taking the trouble to consider what we know about them in the humble, earnest spirit of the seeker after truth.
V. THE CONSEQUENT RESPONSIBILITY. It is a serious matter to be encompassed by this cloud of witnesses. They may rise up in judgment against us, whereas they were not given for this, but to help us into like precious faith. And as the world goes on the matter becomes more serious still. The cloud, large in the days of this writer, is immensely larger now. Luminous then, what a heart of light it now has, radiating forth its truth and encouragement for all who have eyes to see!—Y.
The appointed struggle.
I. THE FIGURE EMPLOYED. The particular form of it is unfamiliar, but the essence is familiar enough, and likely long to be so. We are led to think of the natural man, ambitious to triumph by virtue of physical or intellectual strength. His motive is self-regarding, yet it leads him to a measure of self-restraint; indeed, he will go extraordinary lengths in checking self-indulgence if only he may stand first when the struggle is done. A man may be very low in the scale of humanity and yet have the spirit of emulation in him very strong. Now, by this figure, men thirsting for fame and honor have their thoughts turned away from low aims to the highest aim a man can cherish; from aims that bring envy, waste of human faculties, and ultimate disappointment, to an aim which may bring to every man the richest, the most abiding of gains without the slightest loss to any brother man. While there is a stimulus in this exhortation for every Christian, it is specially directed to ambitious climbing, striving men. It tells them to relinquish purposes that at the very best can bring them only a corruptible crown, and bend their energies to the attainment of that divinely produced joy which is set before them even as it was before Jesus. We who are not engaged in the struggle set before us here need to ask what sort of a struggle we are engaged in, We are summoned from the lower to the higher.
II. THE AIM PROPOSED TO US. The struggle is the thing mentioned, but behind the struggle stands that for which the struggle is engaged in. Each man, looking at possibilities through his natural eyes, has his own ideal of how to reward the exercised faculties of life. So many kinds of men, so many ideals. But God our Maker has also his ideal for the universal man. His purpose is that the whole man should win a victory. Not that the intellect should be victorious while the spiritual nature lies crushed and dishonored. Jesus had a joy set before him; so also have we. And even as the joy of this world's successes lies at the end of a long and toilsome struggle, so it must be in the joy of spiritual success. We put struggles before ourselves in order to satisfy ambition; God puts a struggle before us to comply with a sense of duty. Here is the proposition of this arduous career put right before us in our onward path. Shall we accept it or shall we evade it? We cannot very well ignore it.
III. PRELIMINARY CONDITIONS OF PROGRESS. We are to lay aside every weight. Wherein a weight consists is to be determined by its character in relation to the result of the struggle. The moment anything binders progress in spirituality it is to be forsaken. As to the easily besetting sin, perhaps that is best taken not as indicating something different from the weight, but in apposition to it. The variety of expression enforces the one paramount duty of putting aside everything, external and internal, which would tend to failure. The easily besetting sin is generally spoken of as being unbelief. But it is not enough to look at unbelief on its negative side; we must look at it positively as a state of the heart wherever it goes out after things that are seen, mere appearances, satisfactions of the fleshly appetite. Then, when obstacles are thrown off, we can patiently pursue our path. We shall need patience because there will be external obstacles—a world not sympathizing with us, and indeed crossed and thwarted by us in our steady adherence to the course God has marked out. But the patience must be that quality which in the New Testament is specially dignified by the name "the patience of hope." The toil, the strain, the seasons of weariness and of special difficulty, must all be cheered by the well-grounded hope of ultimate victory. The dreadful thing in all struggles is when they end in failure. In the race run by the Christian all succeed.—Y.
Looking to Jesus.
I. WHAT WE LOOK AWAY FROM. For the idea in the verb is that of looking away from one thing to some other thing. We must always have some object before the eyes of our mind, and very often it is an object that will cause the natural man discomposure, doubt, vacillation in his practice. Looking round on your companions professedly in the path of faith, you may feel that they are doing anything but live the life of faith. You may see some backsliding, Demas-like, through their love of the present evil world. And even the best of brother believers have their moments of failure and misapprehension. Then, moreover, as we look round us, we see not only the cloud of testifying believers, we see a cloud given over to the things of this world. To mingle with them in many relations is a necessity of life. Insensibly they affect that standard of excellence at which we ought to aim. We see something which is not God's standard, but in our self-deception, honestly enough, we take it to be so. And so we must look away from the ordinary surroundings of life, and even from the achievements of ordinary believers, to one in whom we shall find every good we find in man, without alloy, without contradiction, and with special power in us to produce perseverance and aspiration.
II. WHO WE LOOK TO. What a great matter it is to have an Object so satisfactory, so inspiring, on which our eyes may rest, on which our thoughts may dwell I But we must look at that Object in a certain way. As we have looked for faith in Abraham, in Moses, in the prophets, and found it, so we must look for faith in Jesus. It is of the greatest importance for us to see that the life which Jesus lived in the flesh was a life of faith—faith in his Father in heaven, faith in his brethren upon the earth. And what is to be noticed most of all is this combination of Author and Finisher. We see Jesus beginning his course of faith, we also see him finishing it. With regard to other believers, it is by an act of faith on our part that we comprehend a reward to be in store for them. But the reward of Jesus is before our eyes. That reward is to be clearly seen by us if we have any power of spiritual perception at all. We see the faith of one who submits to death with the certainty that he will rise again, and in due time he does rise again. Jesus is at the right hand of God, for he does actually rule over many human hearts, He did not pass through suffering and shame into an obscurity which was only the last stage of the suffering and shame. His present glory is a manifest thing, manifest in the light of more tests than one. It is a glory perceptible from the common historian's point of view. The richness and depth of that glory become more and more apparent when the eye of a real Christian is turned upon it; he looks for things and sees things which to the world are only names. And yet what appears to our eyes is a very imperfect representation of the reality proposed to him and seen by him. He saw more with his sense of truth, his power of insight, his superiority to this world's considerations, than we can see. And along with the end he saw the way to it. Well might he warn rash, would-be disciples to count the cost, for he himself had counted the cost to begin with. Thus must we ever look at Jesus, not in one part of his career, but in all taken together. The cross and the shame must not be separated from the seat of honor and of power. Nor must the end be looked at apart from the way. We also have a joy set before us, namely, that of attaining to companionship with Jesus. When we look away to Jesus we look, not only to an example, to an inspiration, but also to a goal.—Y.
Hebrews 12:2, Hebrews 12:3
What Christ was exposed to.
I. PHYSICAL PAIN. He endured a cross. When the hour and. authority of darkness came upon him, he was left to those tender mercies of the wicked which are cruel. It was part of his victory to endure whatever men chose to inflict in the way of pain. All who afterwards had to endure crosses, all who were thrown to wild beasts, burnt, etc., knew that their Savior had been in exactly the same path. He did not choose the cross; it came in the way he had to take to the joy. If it had been the Roman amphitheatre, the stake, or the rack of the Inquisition, he would have gone with equal willingness. Whatever suffering evil men in their recklessness thought fit to inflict, he was ready for it. And we, always determined in the way of duty, service, honor, and reward, must also be ready for all that comes in the way of pain. Notice the force of" endure," the verb corresponding to the substantive ὑπομόνη. Not only did he bear the cross as a Stoic might have done, in grim silence, but with the veritable patience of one testifying for God. In all his bearing there was love, meekness, and patient waiting for the joy yet to be revealed.
II. A SHAMEFUL REPUTATION. Christ might have been put to death cruelly and yet not shamefully. Shame, according to human reckoning, was added to keen pain. But human shame could not reach to the height of out' Leader's magnanimity. He had too clear a view of everything to be affected by mere reputation. The cross is not shameful to us. Things reckoned shameful are largely so according to custom. What would be shameful in one age and country has no such repute in another age and country. Hence, while we can at once see the pain of the cross, we cannot see the shame. But we can understand that there would be a shame when we recollect that it has even been counted a privilege to die by the headsman's axe, and not by the hangman's rope. And this shame would be a great difficulty in the way of the apostles in preaching Christ; indeed, we know it actually was so. It is not the slightest difficulty now, however. How an old Roman would have laughed to hear it predicted that the cross of crucifixion could ever become an ornament! What men reckoned shameful has proved the way to glory and exaltation. He who conquered the worst men could do to him, might welt take a place at the right hand of God.
III. BITTER TAUNTS. The shameful repute of hanging on a cross could not but come into the reflections of Jesus; but also to the silent insult of the cross itself was added the bitterest words men could find. But let men do their worst. "All things Work together for good to them that love God." And surely of such Jesus is facile princeps. Taunts bound back from the innocent and the God-fearing as arrows do from one who is thoroughly clad in amour.—Y.
God's discipline of his children.
Continually in the New Testament, when we get into circumstances of doubt and pain, we are brought back to the rich truth and comfort to be found in the fatherhood of God. Here, as elsewhere, à fortiori argument is employed. If an earthly father, being evil, gives good gifts to his children, how much more will the heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them asking him? And even so, if an earthly father disciplines his children, making them do and bear many hard things that they may grow into a useful manhood, how much more will the heavenly Father make his children to suffer hardness that they may be fit to run in the way of his commandments hereafter?
I. HOW A BRIGHT SIDE MAY BE FOUND TO SUFFERING. They were evidently a sadly tried community to whom this letter was written. What shall be done to comfort and encourage them? In the fourth verse there is a very common and not altogether useless ground of comfort suggested. Things are bad, no doubt, but they might be worse. "You have to suffer a good deal in resisting sin, but not yet have you resisted to blood." This view of suffering, however, useful as it is for the moment, soon leads on to the question, "Why should others suffer, or seem to suffer, more than I?" And so the writer quickly turns to bid his friends remember that they are the children of God, and if they only recollect their character and destiny, and live under the ever-deepening influence of this recollection, then they will see that nothing can do them abiding harm. All the comfort of the exhortation passes away, unless it mingles with the assurance of the Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are indeed the children of God. Suffering must cast an ever-thickening gloom upon the heart unless the hopes of a child of God come in to shed abroad an amply countervailing light.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY THAT SUFFERING LAYS UPON US. It is a serous thing for one who reckons himself a Christian to pass through suffering and difficulty. He is expected to be the better for it all. If he uses it aright, according to the wisdom communicated from above, then assuredly he will emerge front it with a purified heart and a clearer spiritual vision. The first rule is that suffering is to be escaped if possible. But if it cannot be escaped, it must not merely be endured. It must be received as an agent of God's will in making us better and more capable children. Hence the plain truth that we shall be held responsible for all we have had in the way of pain.
III. THE USE GOD CAN MAKE OF HUMAN WICKEDNESS. Those here sought to be comforted were evidently suffering persecution. This is distinctly suggested in the expression "striving against sin." And thus it is made manifest how the discipline comes in. Much suffering could have been escaped by yielding to the temptation of compromise, or of total retreat from the Christian's position. Little do the enemies of Christ imagine the service they render his true people by the demonstrations of hostility. We are forced to a firmer grasp of truth and to a more penetrating and exact estimate of our spiritual possessions.—Y.
The fruit of discipline.
I. A LESSON FROM BOYISH EXPERIENCE. The discipline of earthly parents, while we are passing through it, is all pain and no pleasure. Even when exercised with wisdom and consideration, the discipline must be painful; and in many instances there is a needless harshness which increases the pain. Parents are apt to take the course of discipline which gives them the least trouble. But even harsh and stern discipline is better than indulgence, infinitely better than letting the child have its own way. What bitter pain men have had to suffer, because as children they suffered little or none! The boy at school finds it very hard to be kept at the desk and the book, when the sun shines bright through the window, and he hears the merry cry of other lads at play; and hard it must seem while he is going through it. But it will soon slip past and manhood come, and then how glad he will be for knowledge gained and for facility in the use of the knowledge! How he will then rejoice over the encircling rigor of the parental will!
II. THE FALLACY OF PRESENT ESTIMATES. We are bad judges of the experiences through which we are passing. A schoolboy's estimate of life is amusing to listen to, but when we come to reflect over it, the reflection makes us sad. For we know well how different things are from what he thinks them to be. And what changes there must be in his view of life before it can be, even approximately, a true one! Therefore, whenever we listen to the confident and artless prattling of boyish ignorance, let there be in it a warning for us, a fresh admonition to walk by faith and not by sight. What we know not now and cannot know, we shall know hereafter. We must not kick against circumstances, for they are doubtless the very safety of our life if we only knew it. It is the greatest folly to say that a thing must be bad for us because it is painful and straight opposite to the strongest inclinations of the moment.
III. THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD NEED NOT BE GRIEVOUS. As a general rule discipline is grievous, always grievous to the child. And even to one who is sure of his position of sonship towards God, discipline comes as a hard thing. But what makes it hard is that the flesh as yet counts for more than the spirit. Only let the spirit have free course and be glorified, and then joy will spring up in the very midst of the discipline. The man who wrote this letter, whoever he was, had not yet himself got out of the era of discipline; but the grievousness of discipline must have been abundantly sweetened by all the divinely born hopes and assurances that would throng into his heart. All the considerations here pressed upon the suffering believer are meant to bring joy in the midst of discipline. Joy especially there should be in the certainty of fruit. Youthful discipline, however careful and however successful in appearance for the time, yet may show little of result in after life. Something that no discipline can avert spoils the manhood. But we have the joy of feeling sure that God's discipline of us cannot fail if we work together with him in submissive docility and patience.—Y.
Hebrews 12:14, Hebrews 12:15
The worst perils of the Christian life.
It may be presumed that these people suffering persecution are somewhat discontented and murmuring under it. Thus persecution may become a temptation; it may bulk so largely before the eye as to hide far worse perils. It would almost seem as if the writer had the Beatitudes in mind. tie has been seeking to illustrate the blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. And now in Hebrews 12:14 he urges not to lose the blessedness of the peacemaker, and the blessedness of those who are made able to look on God. There are four important counsels in these two verses.
I. THE DILIGENT PURSUIT OF PEACE. This is a recommendation both to the individual and the Church. The maltreated man is very likely to have a settled feeling of anger against the man who maltreats him. That we should behave rightly under suffering is far more important than that we should escape suffering. Notice the intensive force of the verb. The same verb is used to signify persecution. The same pursuing energy that persecutors employed against Christians was to be employed by Christians themselves in preserving a feeling of settled peace towards the persecutors. Animosity and irritation towards others, however justified it may seem by their conduct, will destroy all peace in our own hearts. Even when the necessities of duty bring us into marked controversy with others, we must in the very height of the dispute show that our aim is concord, not discord.
II. THE EQUALLY DILIGENT PURSUIT OF HOLINESS. Holiness here may be taken as the equivalent of what is elsewhere called purity of heart. That is the blessedness of the pure in heart that they are made able to look on God. Our right state towards all men is to have perfectly peaceful inclinations towards them, and doing everything that shall incline them to reciprocate the peace. Our right state towards God is to have a heart perfectly consecrated to him. And the diligent pursuit of peace and holiness must go together. You cannot follow the one without following the other. That can be no true peace towards man which is gotten by compromising our position towards God. Nor can that be true holiness which is very profuse in services to God and yet leaves room to indulge animosities toward man.
III. WATCHFULNESS TO MAKE FULL USE OF THE DIVINE GRACE. We must not lose the loving favor of God. We must keep in such paths of spiritual courage and enterprise as will preserve to us continually his loving smile. What shall we be if God be against us? It will be a poor compensation to escape trial, if at the same time we miss God's help out of our life.
IV. WATCHFULNESS TO STOP THE BEGINNINGS OF CHURCH MISCHIEF. Watch the Christian community as you would watch a garden. You have not only to nourish what has been planted so that it may bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness, but you must watch against the entrance of noxious plants. In a large garden something of this kind may easily make headway unless there be the most vigilant eye upon it. All mischief must be stopped in the very beginning, if possible.—Y.
Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 12:17
Esau is an excellent example of what serious results may come out of sheer thoughtlessness. There were special reasons why Esau should be a careful, thoughtful, prudent man. Thoughtfulness is the need of every man in such a maze as life is continually tending to become, but the position of some makes thoughtfulness a special duty. So it was with Esau. He had the birthright. To him it specially belonged to continue and increase the prosperity and credit of the family. Yet for the sake of a single meal, because in his hunger he could not wait a little, he sold his birthright. He did, indeed, make a pretext of saying as it were, "What shall it profit me to keep my birthright and lose my life?" but this very question showed that he had never made a careful estimate of his privileges and responsibilities. The folly of Esau's conduct is plain enough to us; would that we could see as clearly how often it is reproduced in the reckless, self-destructive conduct of those to whom belongs the birthright of children of God!
I. OUR FREQUENT THOUGHTLESSNESS AS TO OUR POSITION. Esau is called a profane person. A profane person is one who treats sacred things as if they were common. Esau was himself a sacred person as the firstborn, but the thought of his peculiar position never seems to have gained real entrance to his mind. And so it too often is with us. The serious and sublimer side of life, the side that connects us with God, Christ, and eternity, is too seldom in our minds. Too seldom! Why, that is too complimentary a word as regards many; they never seem to think of this side of life at all. And assuredly none of us thinks of it as we ought to do. We are more valuable in the eyes of God than we are in our own. God looks on each one of us as on a pearl of great price, but we view the pearl of our position with only swinish eyes.
II. THE ULTIMATE RESULT OF THAT THOUGHTLESSNESS. Man is made to think, and think deeply, on his position, duties, and destiny; and to this actual course of reflection he is driven sooner or later. Man cannot escape the necessities inherent in his nature. The hint here, in this parallel from Esau, is that these reflections may come too late. Omnipotence cannot bring back the past. If you have failed to sow in the spring, you cannot reap in the autumn. Nor will you be able to escape the bitterness of reflecting that this absence of the proper harvest is your own fault. Thousands in the curlier years of life do as Esau did. They barter the joys of self-denial and holy aspiration ton self-indulgence. The fragrance of worldly pleasures rises into their nostrils, and they never stop to consider the height and depth, the breadth and length, of a life redeemed by Christ and sanctified by his Holy Spirit. Then, when the passing pleasure is past and gone, they come face to face with eternal realities, and they are not ready for them. Yet the parallel with Esau must not be pushed too far. He found no place of repentance so far as the earthly birthright was concerned. But that is not to say that Esau has lost his share in spiritual and eternal realities. Isaac could not give him the blessing that belonged to another As long as he sought the earthly blessing he might well seek with tears, and seek in vain. Along with the folly, suffering, and futile regrets of Esau we must take the folly, suffering, and profitable repentance of the prodigal in the parable.—Y.
Sinai and Zion.
Esau bewailed his lost birthright, and yet to what did that birthright lead the posterity of him who gained it? See the posterity of Jacob gathered round the terrible mountain in the wilderness. The posterity of Esau might perhaps congratulate themselves on having escaped the constraints of Jehovah that fell so sorely on the kindred children of Jacob. If, then, this birthright, over the foolish casting away of which Esau shed such copious and fruitless tears, led to such terrible experiences, how should we guard the privilege that brings us, not to Sinai, but Zion, with all its durable attractions and companionships? Such seems to be the thought underlying the exhibition of these two contrasted pictures.
I. THE SAME GOD MANIFESTS HIS PRESENCE IN TWO DIFFERENT WAYS. Zion is very different flora Sinai, but for all that Sinai must precede Zion. This, it may be said, is not true to every individual experience. Not true, perhaps, in strict sequence of time; but every human life must know something of Sinai if it would know Zion to the full. Every human being must know something of the Law coming by Moses, as well as the grace and truth coming by Jesus Christ. Let no complaint be made that preachers impose on the ignorant and the timid by fictitious and exaggerated terrors. Jehovah is none the less God of Sinai because since then he has become God of Zion.
II. SINAI IS MEANT FOR THE PASSING EXPERIENCE, ZION FOR THE PERMANENT ONE. The children of Israel came to Sinai for a very short time. God's anger with the wicked abides—he is angry with the wicked every day—but it would be clean against his character as a pitiful and long suffering God to have Sinai continually involved in smoking flame and roaring tempest. Sinai is God's appointed halting-place for us somewhere in the solemn and arduous journey of life. Zion is the goal of the journey. Many of those who trembled along with Moses at the literal Sinai have surely been gathered with Moses since upon the heavenly Zion.
III. NOTE POINTS IN THE CONTRAST. Sinai was in the wilderness, and there is some reason to suppose that it has now more of the wilderness than ever, that its desolation is greater than when the children of Israel camped there. Zion was in the city. Men lived about it all their lives. He who comes to Zion comes to an abiding company. The earthly Jerusalem where the ark dwells, typifies that heavenly Jerusalem where the God of the ark really dwells. Thence the messengers of God issue forth on their errands of righteousness and mercy, and thither they return to resume the service of the higher, holier sphere. At Sinai just men, struggling with their sense of sin, were made to feel their imperfection. On Zion just men are gathered in their purity of heart and spiritual completeness, enabled forever to look on the face of God. The two contrasted pictures must not be pushed too much into detail. Let the imagination rather try to group each as a whole. The passage suggests two frameworks, in one of which we may gather the peculiarities of the old covenant, and in the other the peculiarities of the new.—Y.
The purpose of the shakings.
This chapter, which has been full of comforting elements, rises to the highest kind of comfort at the close—that to be drawn by the believing heart from the conviction that stable good is coming out of all present vicissitudes. Terrible as was the shaking at Sinai, that only affected an infinitesimal part of the crust of the earth for a short time. There remains a far more terrible and searching experience. The shaking at Sinai was only a sign of Jehovah's power, but the shaking yet to come will be more than a sign; it will bring a result the most desirable of any we can imagine. Heaven and earth will be shaken, so that the heavenly Jerusalem, the place of Jehovah's glory and the abode of his saints, may at last appear in all its strength and all the excellency of its beauty. The alternate rising and falling—the one generation going and the other coming—of the present scheme of things will cease. The things of eternity will then be finally freed from all the weights and encumbrances of time, sin, and death.
I. THIS GREAT CATASTROPHE OF THE FUTURE. Vain to speculate on the mode of its happening. Far more important to be well assured that this catastrophe is coming, and to rejoice that something inexpressibly glorious and beautiful lies beyond. Only then will the perfect men in Christ Jesus be constituted into the perfect society. Only some such revolution in human affairs as is here indicated can set things right finally and completely. Good and evil are not to be forever mingled. The Lord who has so often shaken the earth will shake both earth and heaven. Then it will be seen who is on the rock and who on the sand, who has built gold and silver and precious stones, and who wood, hay, and stubble.
II. THINGS WHICH CAN BE SHAKEN OUGHT TO RE SHAKEN. Shaken in order that they may be utterly removed from us. Each of the elect and glorified now within the walls of the new Jerusalem is there because he has known within his own experience what it is for both earth and heaven to be shaken. The whole process of life is but a continual loosening and steady progress towards the dissolution of all the corruptible frame. We are in the hands of both Builder and Destroyer. The spiritual life is strengthened and enriched, while the natural is weakened and diminished. That it is so shows that it ought to be so. All bitter and trying experiences only bring the weak and unworthy to the surface and cast it out. Like the corn placed in the ground, we must be ready to decay and die; that even as it presently breaks forth to the air and sunlight, so we may break away from our limitation and darkness into a sinless and sorrowless eternity. This truth may be illustrated
(1) from the physical frame;
(2) from the present mixed relations of life.
III. A very practical question is—HAVE WE EXPERIENCE OF THE UNSHAKEN THINGS? Do we know the work of the Lord Jesus to be our only secure refuge amid the tempests and earthquakes of our life? Can we look away through vicissitudes of time and sense, and feel that far out of their reach is a kingdom of eternal life, which the Lord fills with his life and love and power? Our citizenship must be in the heavenly Jerusalem.—Y.
The unshaken kingdom.
I. THE CARNAL HOPES OF ISRAEL. We know well from the Gospels what notions the disciples had of a visible kingdom, with its center of power and glory in the earthly Jerusalem. It was a dominating thought among them down to the very departure of their master. They greeted him, getting ready for his ascension, with the inquiry whether he was about to restore the kingdom to Israel; And we may well suppose that among all the Hebrew Christians this hope prevailed to the last. A spiritual and invisible kingdom could not all at once become manifest. And as a visible kingdom retreated further and further into the region of improbabilities, this would add another trial to whatever came in the way of personal suffering. They had prayed the prayer, "Thy kingdom come," but prayed it too much after their own fancies. And now to their sorrowing eyes it looked a kingdom clean going forever.
II. THE CONTRASTED OBJECT OF EVERY CHRISTIAN'S HOPE. The writer has just been dividing existing things into the shaken and the unshaken. Naturally, therefore, considering what the hopes of Hebrew Christians had been, there follows a reference to an unshaken kingdom. The true Israelite does well to keep his thoughts fixed on a kingdom. But let him be careful not to neglect the reality for the phantom. God desires a kingdom based on something more than material force, for such kingdoms can only get built up through ambition, cruelty, violence, and injustice. God has promised a kingdom, and his promise cannot be broken; but it must be kept in his own way. That kingdom has its foundation in the accepted claim and power of Christ over the individual human heart. We may say of that kingdom what Paul says of the love of God in Christ Jesus, "that neither death, nor life,… nor things present, nor things to come. nor any other creature, should be able to shake the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ." It cometh without observation; the inspection of the natural eye will never discern it; the assaults of the natural man operate in another realm altogether.
III. THE EFFECT OF THIS RECEIVED KINGDOM. "Let us have grace," says the writer. What he really means is, "Let us show thankfulness." Instead of sorrowing over a corrupt ideal vanished, let us be deeply thankful for a Divine reality that cannot pass away. The old mode of serving God has gone forever. The old temple, with its altar and its holy place, its sacrifices and its priests, can never be aught but a memory. The foreshadowing service of outward ceremonies is gone, and the true spiritual service has forever taken its place. And recollect especially the same God remains. God appointed the old λατρεία (Hebrews 9:1) from amid all the terrors of Sinai. And he is not the less God of Sinai because he appears in the gentler aspect of Father of Christ Jesus. Israel's God Jehovah was a consuming fire upon occasion, and the same indignation and power reside in him still. Whatever outward form our λατρεία may fake—and there is much latitude in this—there must ever be a deep feeling of personal unworthiness and of humblest adoration. Outward pomp in itself, however costly, however laborious, cannot please the spiritual God; if it have no heart of spirituality and sincerity, the fires of his wrath will soon lick it all away.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18