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As if our apostle had said, "Seeing we who are now called forth to suffer, have before us so many instances of the faithful, who like a cloud of witnesses have gone before us, and by the help of their faith conquered all impediments that lay in the way of their salvation, let us take encouragement from them to quit ourselves like men; and, as runners in a race, let us cast off all worldly encumbrances which will entangle us, and avoid all sin, especially a bosom corruption, which easily besets us, and as easily overcomes us, and let us run with patience and perserverance the race of Christianity set before us."
Note, 1. That the Old-Testament saints are here called witnesses, a cloud of witnesses, and a cloud encompassing us; they are witnesses of this grand truth, namely, that faith will carry believers safely through all that they may be called to do and suffer in the profession of the gospel; they are called a cloud of witnesses, partly for their number, there being a great multitude of them; partly, for their direction, there being a leading virtue in them.
As there was a cloud that went before the children of Israel to lead them in the wilderness, so this cloud of witnesses leads us up and down in the wilderness of this world, in the darkest night of our sorrows and sufferings; and they are said to encompass us, because the scripture everywhere encompasses us with them, so that we can be in no suffering state or condition, be it never so sad, but we may turn our eye, and behold the face of some or other of these worthies looking upon us, and encouraging of us to patience and perseverance; and we are encompassed with such a cloud of witnesses, is a great aggravation of our sin.
Learn hence, That it is a special honour which God put upon his saints departed, especially such as suffered and died for the truth, that even after their death they are witnesses to faith and obedience in all generations: We are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.
Note here, 1. Christianity is a race, a race set before us by God, and it is our duty faithfully and perseveringly to run it.
Note, 2. That in order to the running of this race, all impediments must be laid aside: Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us.
By every weight, is generally understood the world, its riches, honours, pleasures, preferments, which oftimes are a peculiar obstruction to constancy and perseverance in the profestion and practice of Christianity; this dead weight must be laid aside, by mortifying our hearts and affections towards the world, for it is inordinate love to these things which gives them their weight and encumbrance; where this grace is in its due exercise, the world cannot influence the mind into any disorder, nor make it unready for its race.
By the sin which doth so easily beset us, some understand all sin in general, others a bosom-beloved sin in special, others timorousness and fear in particular; all softness and tenderness, with respect to suffering. In the original words, rendered easily beset us, some think there is an allusion to the long garments worn in the eastern countries; which dangling about a man's heels, unfit him for running a race. As a man that has a burden on his back,, or a long garment hanging down to his heels, is altogether unfit to run a race; so unready are they for the spiritual race, who are entangled with the love of the world, or with any sinful compliances.
Note, 3. That patience is a grace very necessary to enable a person to run the race of Christianity which God has set before him. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Such is the inevitableness and unavoidableness of the Christian's trials, such the multiplicilty and varity of them, such the long duration and continuance of them, that there can be no perseverance without patience.
Note, 4. The way discovered, and the means declared, how and by which we attain this grace and patience, namely, by looking unto Jesus.
Learn hence, That looking unto, and beholding of Christ in looking unto, and beholding of Christ in his patience, is a notable mean to excite and stir us up to the practice and performance of our duty.
Note, 5. The special title given here to Christ, he is styled the author and finisher of faith in his people; he is deservedly styled the author of our faith, because his holy ordinances are special means of faith, and his Holy Spirit the producer of faith in the souls of his people, and his precious blood the purchaser of faith and all grace for his people.
And he is the finisher of our faith too, as well as the author of it, inasmuch as he has by his promise engaged to perfect what he has begun, Php_1:6 "Being confident of this very thing, that he that hath begun a good work in you will perform it, &c." And inasmuch as he doth by his intercession plead with the Father for the believer's preservation in faith, and perseverance in holiness unto the end: I have prayed that thy faith fail not, Luke 22:32.
Here the apostle subjoins another reason why the Hebrews should be reconciled to a suffering condition; because what they had already suffered was but a fleabite, compared with what Christ and the fore-mentioned cloud of witnesses suffered; he and they resisted unto blood, which you never yet did: Ye have not resisted unto blood, &c.
By blood is meant death and loss of life; though they had resisted bravely, and suffered manfully, yet their lives were safe.
Learn hence, 1. That such as are engaged in the Christian profession have no security, but that they may be called forth to the utmost sufferings, even to the sealing of it with their blood.
Learn, 2. That whatever befalls us on this side, blood is to be looked upon as a fruit of divine tenderness and mercy towards us.
Learn, 3. It is highly dishonourable to faint in the cause of Christ and the gospel, under lesser sufferings, when we know there are greater to be undergone by ourselves and others on the same account.
Learn, 4. That it is a noble struggle to resist even unto blood, in opposing sin, and striving against it; both in striving against the sin which others commit, and in striving against the sin which others by promises or threatenings would tempt us to commit.
O how honourable a warfare is it to be engaged against such an enemy as sin is! Striving against sin.
As if he had said, "By growing weary and faint in your minds, you will plainly show and evidently declare, that you have forgotten that exhortation which God gives, Proverbs 3 ." The want of a diligent consideration and due remembrance of God's promises, recorded in scripture for our encouragement unto duty, and support under difficulties, is very sinful, and of dangerous consequence unto our souls. Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you,-
Note here, 1. A sweet and endearing compellation, My son.
Learn hence, That good men, when under the greatest trials and heaviest afflictions, are God's sons; he calls them sons, and he deals with them as with sons.
Note, 2. The nature of the saints' afflictions declared; not judgments, out chastisements, and fatherly rebukes; the original word signifies such a correction as a father gives a child for his instruction, and bringing him to a sense of his duty.
Learn hence, That all the afflictions which God lays upon his children are not the effects of his vindictive anger, but the fruits and effects of his paternal love.
Note, 3. A cautionary direction given against two very dangerous extremes in the time of affliction, namely, despising correction, and fainting under it. It is the duty, and ought to be the endeavour, of all the children of God, when under his fatherly hand, to take care that they neither despise his chastisements, nor faint under them.
When God has taken away one of our comforts, to say, "Let him take all if he will; if my children must die, let if he will; if my children must die, let them die; if my estate must go, let it go;" -this is to despise. God cannot bear to see us bear his hand thus lightly.
The other extreme is fainting: If when goods are taken away, the heart is taken away, and whe relations die, the spirit of a person dies with them: Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint, &c.
A reason is given in these words, why we should not faint under divine chastisements, because God chasteneth every one whom he loves.
Here note, That love is antecedent unto chastening, and that chastening is consequential unto love.
Note, 2. That divine love and fatherly chastenings are inseparable; whom he loveth, that is, whomsoever he loveth, he chasteneth, none goes free.
Note, 3. That no person then has any reason to complain of his portion of fatherly chastisements, seeing it is the constant way and manner of God's dealing with his children.
Note, 4. That in and under all our chastisements, the resignation of ourselves to the sovereign pleasure and infinite wisdom of God, is the only means to preserve us from fainting and weakness.
Observe, 1. He does not say, if ye be chastised, but if ye endure chastisements, God dealeth with you as with sons; if ye endure them with faith and patience, with submission and perseverance, so as not to faint under them.
Learn hence, That a patient endurance of chastisements is of great price in the sight of God, as well as of singular use and advantage unto us. Afflictions and chastisements are no pledges or assurances of our adoption, but when and where they are endured with patience.
Observe farther, from those words, What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
1. That every one of God's sons, more or less, stands in need of his fatherly chastisements.
2. That God is very careful, as a wise and tender father, to correct and chasten all his children.
3. That God, in correcting of his children, dealeth with them as with sons: He is the world's sovereign but the believers father; as he is the governor of the world, he treats men righteously in his judgments; as he is the father of believers, he treats them graciously in afflictions.
Observe again from those words, If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, (that is, all sons are partakers.) That all true children are under God's fatherly discipline, are not his children, then are ye bastards and not sons.
Learn hence, 1. That God's family or visible church in this world, has some bastards in it; sons that may have gifts and outward enjoyments, but are not heirs, and have no right to the heavenly inheritance.
Learn, 2. That this is a great evidence of it, that they are not the genuine sons of God, because they go unchastised; not that they are altogether without affliction, for they are in trouble like other men, but they are not sensible of divine chastisement in their afflictions, they do not receive them, bear them, and improve them, as such, but are impaired by their afflictions, rather than improved by them; they come cankered out of the furnace, and leprous out of Jordan; affliction, that should refine them form their dross, and purify them from their filth, boils their scum and impurity more into them.
Learn, lastly, That a joyous state of freedom from affliction, is such as we ought to watch over with great jealousy and fear, lest it should be a leaving us out of the discipline of the family of God; not that we may desire afflictions as such, much less excruciate and torment our selves; but we may pray that we may not want any pledge of our adoption, leaving the ordering and disposal of all things to the will of God.
These words are a fresh argument to persuade christians to a patient enduring of divine chastisements; the argument is drawn from the less to the greater, thus: "If our earthly parents chastened us only for a few days, and after their own pleasure, and yet we were subject to them, how much more ought we to be subject to God our heavenly Father, who chastens us for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness?"
Note here, 1. Earthly parents do and may chastise the children of their flesh, and they ought to reverence them for so doing, and pay a reverential submission for their parental chastisement.
Note, 2. That the motive of, and rule which parents too often follow in correcting of their children, is their own will and pleasure: They have frequently a greater regard to their own passions, than to their children's advantage, and correct oftener in humour than in reason; erring sometimes in the matter, sometimes in the manner, sometimes in the measure, of their correction.
Note, 3. That great is the difference between divine and parental chastisements.
1. In their author; one is the father of our flesh, the other of our souls and spirits, they are the immediate product of his power, which is a fundamental reason for our patient submission to God, in and under all afflictions.
2. In their end; the one for their own pleasure, the other for his children's profit, to make them partakers of his holiness, by renovation, sanctification, and mortification: The carrying on of these things in us, is that which God designs in all his chastisements.
Learn hence, that we can have no greater pledge and assurance of divine love in afflictions than this, that God by them brings us nearer to himself, and makes us more like himself; if under divine chastisements we find no increase of holiness, they are utterly lost, and we have nothing but the trouble and sorrow of them.
Note lastly, The duty we owe to God, the Father of spirits, and that is, subjection, together with the benefit and advantage of it: By being in subjection to the Father of spirits, we shall live.
Now this subjection unto God, consists in an acquiescence in his right and sovereignty to do what he will with his own, in an acknowledgment of his wisdom and righteousness in all his dealings with us, in a mighty sense of his care and love, and in an entire resignation of ourselves to his holy will in all things.
And behold the advantage and benefit of this subjection to God in our chastisements; we shall live a spiritual life on earth, and an eternal life in heaven. The rebellious son, under the law, that refused subjection to his earthly parent, was stoned to death, Deuteronomy 21:18 and died without mercy; but they who yield subjection to God in their chastisements shall live and not die.
Our apostle in these words seems to obviate an objection against a compliance with his exhortation to bear divine chastenings with silence and submission; and this is taken from the trouble and sorrow wherewith chastisement is accompanied; this he takes for granted is so, but takes off all the weight of the objection, by opposing the benefits of affliction thereunto.
Learn hence, 1. That all afflictions for the present are grievous to the flesh, and painful to human nature.
Learn, 2. That though afflictions are grievous, yet their fruits are gracious to a believer; God in his sovereign wisdom doth so dispose and manage his people's afflictions, that he makes them end in an happy fruit even in the fruits of holiness and sanctification; and after affliction has done its work, and wrought kindly God comes in with comfort and joy, and cheering cordials follow bitter physic.
Observe farther, How the benefit of chastisement is expressed in a threefold gradation.
Affliction yieldeth fruit; it is no dead and dry thing, but this rod blossoms and brings forth almonds.
The fruit it yieldeth is the fruit of righteousness, namely, patience, submission to the will of God, weanedness from the world, mortification of sin, purity of heart, holiness of life, farther readiness and greater fitness for suffering; these are the sweet fruits which God enables his to gather from the sour tree of afflicton.
And this fruit of righteousness, which affliction yields, is peacable fruit, because it is a pledge and evidence of our peace with God, and because it brings peace into our own minds.
By these fruits of righteousness our hearts are quited, our minds composed, all tumults allayed, and we enabled to possess our souls in patience. O happy fruit of affliction! Blessed is the man whom thou chastisest.
Observe lastly, Who they are that are blessed with these special benefits of afflictions, only those that are exercised thereby. The original word is an allusion to those in the public games, who stripped themselves naked, and put forth all their strength for mastery. To be exercised by chastisements, is to have all our spiritual strength put forth, all our faith and patience tried to the utmost.
Learn hence, that a christian can never find any benefit in chastisements, unless he be exercised by them, that is, unless his graces be stirred up by them to an holy and constant exercise, for hereby alone do they yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
As if our apostle had said, "Seeing so glorious fruits spring from sanctified afflictions be not dejected in mind, nor suffer fear to seize upon you, which weakens the hands, and enfeebles the knees, and causes them to smite one against the another; but be resolute for God, make straight paths in the way of Christianity, not stepping once out of it to avoid persecution, lest they who are already lame and feeble, the weak and wavering Christians, be disheartened, and moved by your example to turn out of the way, but let them rather by your constancy be confirmed in their Christian course."
Learn hence, 1. That in the running of our spiritual race, we must put forth our utmost strength and activity; but where the course is long and difficulties great, we are apt to grow weary and despond, our hands hang down, and our knees grow feeble.
Learn, 2. That faintness and weariness in duty, dejection and despondency as to success, and great evils, and of fatal consequence unto others as well as ourselves, which therefore we must with all intention of mind watch against; Lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees.
Learn, 3. That negligence and careless walking in time of prosperity, and pusillanimity and weakness in time of trial, is a great mean of turning aside those that are lame and weak out of the paths of visible holiness: Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way.
Learn, 4. That the sight and due consideration of a Christian's courage and constancy, will tend very much to the healing of the weak and lame Christians whilst they are in the way, whose recovery, when quite turned out, will be very difficult, if not impossible. -Let it rather be healed.
Our apostle having now finished his exhortation unto patient perseverance in the profession of the gospel under all sufferings and afflictions, he now proceeds to a prescription of practical duties incumbent upon Christians at all times in the daily course of their conversation, two of which are contained in this verse, namely to follow peace and holiness; the former contains our duty to man, the latter, our duty to God.
Here observe, that both duties are enjoined in one and the same precept, and also with one and the same penalty: Without which, that is, without following of both which without pursuing and endeavouring after both, no man shall see the Lord.
Indeed, if a person follows holiness, though he cannot obtain peace, he may see God provided he pursues peace, and the fault is none of his that he doth not find it; but if he does not pursue peace, though he pretends never so much to holiness, he cannot be happy, for a Christian must be of a peaceable as well as of a pious, conversation; peace and holiness, peacableness and purity, are here joined together, and he neither can be happy in this or the next world, that puts them asunder.
Observe farther, The manner how peace and holiness must be followed, namely, with intense endeavours: The original word imports a vehement pursuit, a metaphor taken from huntsmen, who follow the chase, and pursue their game though it flies before them; if peace be had, though it be upon hard terms, we must endeavour to secure it, for it can never be bought too dear, if it be not purchased by sin and baseness.
A frame and disposition of seeking peace with all, is eminently suited unto the doctrine and grace of the gospel. A forward spirit, ready for strife and contention, easily provoked, and retaining long a sense of injuries, is directly contrary to the spirit and temper of the gospel.
Observe likewise, How that holiness towards God must be accompanied with peaceableness towards man. It is evangelical holiness which is here required; which must be an inward holiness, an universal holiness, a sincere and real holiness, an humble and self-denying holiness, a growing and progressive holiness, and such a holiness towards God as is always accompanied with righteousness towards men.
Observe lastly, The absolute necessity of holiness in order to eternal blessedness, Without it no man shall see the Lord. The future sight of God in glory depends peremptorily on our present holiness, not as the meritorious cause of it, but as a necessary qualification and preparation for it, and as it is the indispensable condition of our obtaining of it. The soul is by holiness made meet and fit for the enjoyment of God in happiness, Colossians 1:12.
Lord! How miserably mistaken will they be, who expect to see God to their comfort hereafter, who have lived and died in an unholy state here!
Our apostle having declared what our duty is with respect to ourselves, in the the foregoing verses, here acquaints us, how much it is our duty to take care of, and watch over others, to do what in us lies, that none may fall short of the grace of God, that is, fall from the grace of God, and the profession of Christianity; so that it is very plain, that apostasy is the sin here pointed at, their falling back from Christianity to Judaism, for fear of persecution: This is deservedly called a root of bitterness springing up, according to Deuteronomy 29:18 A root that beareth gall and wormwood.
Learn hence, 1. That looking diligently unto the good of others, and to prevent their falling into sin, especially into the sin of apostasy, is a duty we are obliged to by the light of nature and the royal law of love.
Learn, 2. That the root of apostasy from God, and the profession of Christianity, may abide invisibly in and among eminent professors of religion. It is here called a root, because at the beginning it is hidden in the hearts of men, and cannot be discovered until it springs up; and it is called a root of bitterness, because of its noxious and poisonous qualities, its bitter effects and fruits.
Learn, 3. That there is no man professing the gospel who comes short of the grace of God, but it is by reason of himself and his own sin. Unbelief, negligence and sloth are the true causes why such persons do fail of the grace of God: Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God.
Our apostle proceeds in these verses to warn them against such sins as would occasion their apostasy and falling from the grace of God, and they are fornication and profaneness; together, because they usually go together; fornicators, such especially as are habitually so, do always grow profane, and profane persons do set light by fornication, and they are sins very seldom forsaken; few fornicators and profane persons, do ever come to repentance.
By fornication understand all conjunction with women out of wedlock, be it with single or married persons.
By profane persons, understand such as mock religion, who lightly regard its promises and threatenings, who despise or neglect its worship, who speak irreverently of its concerns.
Note, 2. The instance which the apostle gives of a profane person, in the person of Esau: Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau. The Scriptures make no mention of his fornication; but the way whereby he manifested his profaneness is declared, namely, that for one morsel of meat he sold his birthright. Which birthright had many privileges belonging to him, but especially the honour of priesthood, all which did belong to the first-born. Add to these the blessing which run from Abraham in the patriarchal line, and was communicated from father to son, containing an inclosure of all church privileges, and preservation of the promised seed. Now Esau, by selling his birthright, did virtually renounce his right unto this blessing, wherein the promised seed and the church-state were contained, and doing all this upon a slight consideration, for a mess of pottage, or morsel of meat; and in a regardless manner, utterly unconcerned at what he had done. This was his profaneness; and accordingly the Scripture says, Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Learn from hence, How much it concerns all persons not to glory in their outward privileges. Esau here was the first-born of Isaac, circumcised according to the law of God, and partaker in all the worship of God, yet he proved an outcast from the covenant, and promises thereof.
Profane Esau! The 17th verse acquaints us with the fruitlessness of Esau's sorrow for parting with his birthright, and the unprofitableness of his endeavours in order to the recovery of it: when he would have inherited the blessing afterwards. This afterwards, say some, was not less than forth tears, for he sold his birhtright when he was young, and when he designed the recovery of the blessing, Isaac was old: Thus long did he live in sin, without any sense of it, or repentance for it: but falling into distress, it fills him with perplexity, and he seeks the recovery of the blessing: And herein he was a type of all unbelievers, and obstinate refusers of the grace of Christ.
Learn from his example, That there is a time coming when the profanest sinners upon earth will be found upon their knees at God's door, seeking, and that earnestly, with strong cries and tears, for the obtaining of that blessing which they now sinfully undervalue, and scornfully despise. Afterwards Esau would have inherited the blessing, and sought it carefully with tears.
It follows, he was rejected; that is, by his father Isaac; and found no place with him for repentance. Isaac would not change his mind, nor recall the blessing, which as a prophet of God he had conferred on Jacob.
Learn hence then, That such sinners as neglect the seeking of the blessing in God's time, have great reason to fear that they shall not find it in their own time, though they seek it with tears saltier than those of Esau. Profane contemners of the grace of God, ought to fear being excluded from the mercy of God; and as Isaac did not, God will not repent or alter his righteous sentence upon them. This sad event had the profaneness of Esau, nad the like will they meet with who despise the grace of God.
Our apostle's design being to bring over the Hebrews fully from Judaism to Christianity, he enters here upon a description of both states, shewing the excellency of the one above the other. He describes first the legal state of the church under the Old Testament, and the manner of their forefathers entering into covenant with God at Mount Sinai. And then he sets forth the evangelical state, whereunto they were called, and into which they were entered.
In the verses now before us, he sets forth the dread and terror of the Mosaic dispensation, and the way and manner how their forefathers under the old Testament entered into their church-state; telling them, that they came to a mount that might be touched, that is, to Mount Sinai in the desert of Arabis, a barren and fruitless place, full of bushes and brambles, but without water or food; intimating, that such as are under the law, in a state of sin, bring forth no acceptable fruit unto God; and as there was no water in the desert, but that which the people lived upon was brought out of the rock, and that rock was Christ: it intimates, that from Christ alone were all their and our refreshments: The law affords none, but thunders from its fiery mouth, wrath and a curse.
Farther, this mount is said to be what might be touched; that is, a sensible, carnal thing, exposed to feeling; intimating how low and inferior the giving of the law was in comparison of the promulgation of the gospel, which was from heaven. The law was given from a mount that might be touched by man or beast, though if either touched it they must die, to intimate the bondage and fear the people were then in, who might not so much as touch the mountain where were the signs of God's presence: But the gospel was promulgated from heaven, and the Son of God sent down on purpose from thence to plant and propagate it here in the world.
The second thing which the apostle tells them they were come unto, was to fire that burned. This fire that burned on the mount was a token of God's presence, and a distinct means of filling the people with dread and fear. This fire represented the purity and holiness of God's nature, his jealousy and severity against sin. Thus the law represents to us the holiness and severity of God, with his anger and displeasure against sin and sinners, but there leaves us consumed, without relief by Jesus Christ.
Unto fire the apostle adds blackness, and darkness, and tempest; which blackness and darkness might be caused by thick clouds and smoke that covered the mount. This darkness was a type of that utter darkness of hell, which the transgressors of that law deserved; and the tempest and terrible storms were emblems and signs of God's fiery indignation and fearful vengeance on the wicked violaters of his holy law, and might also point out and signify the effects of the law then delivered, namely, to bring the soul into darkness, that it can see no light either for its direction or consolation; and it raises a tempest in the mind, of disquieting, perplexing thoughts, without relieving or encouraging a sinner to look out after any relief, until Christ in his gospel says, Behold me, Behold me.
It follows, ye are come to the sound of a trumpet: This was not a real trumpet, but the sound of a trumpet formed in the air by the ministry of angels waxing louder and louder, to signify the nearer approach of God; also as this trumpet did summon the people to appear before the Lord as a legislative trumpet, in like manner there shall be a judicial trumpet, to summon the world to appear before Christ at the great day.
After the sound of the trumpet followed the voice of words that is the voice of God in a terrible manner promulging the law out of the midst of the fire, in a language understood by that people. As the sound of the trumpet, so the voice of God was loud, majestic, terrible, and like thunder.
Quest. But why was there such vast solemnity used at the giving of the law?
Ans. To signify the majesty and authority of him who was the supreme lawgiver, even the Lord of heaven and earth; and that the greater the outward solemnity was, the greater the inward impression might be upon the minds of the people; and to signify, that if the promulgation of the law was so awful, the transgression of it would be fatal, and the transgressors' punishment very dreadful.
Observe lastly, The event of this sight and hearing on the part of the people: Fear made them desire that they might hear this voice no more: And God's design in all, was to cause them to long for, and look after, that great prophet, Christ Jesus, by whom God would speak unto them more comfortably, and by whom they might have access to the throne of grace more freely. They entreated that the word should not be spoken unto them any more, because it heightened their fear and dread to the utmost.
Learn from hence, That the sight and voice of God will be very dreadful to us: and there will be no appearance for us before him with confidence and peace, unless we have an answer in readiness with us to all the words of the law, even all that the law requires of us; and such as trust to their own works and merits to answer for them, or to any thing whatsoever, besides the blood and sacrifice, the mediation and satisfaction, of Jesus Christ, the surety of the new covenant, will find themselves eternally deceived.
The next evidence the apostle gives of the dreadful promulgation of the law, and consequently of the miserable state of them that are under its power, appears in this, that the people could not endure that which was commanded; that is, the severity of that command, that if a beast touched the mountain, it should be stoned or thrust through with a dart. All this was to shew the absolute inaccessibleness of God, in and by the law, and at what distance we ought ot keep ourselves from everything that falls under the curse of the law.
It is added last of all, That Moses himself did exceedingly fear and quake.
From whence observe, How all persons concerned were brought to an utter loss and distress at the promulgation and giving of the law, from whence no relief is to be obtained, but by him alone who is the end of the law for righteousness unto all them that believe.
Our apostle having given an account, in the foregoing verses, of the state of the Jewish church under the law, comes now to declare that most excellent state whereinto believers are called in and by the gospel. The privileges here summed up partly respect the church militant, and and partly the church triumphant.
Observe then, The glorious privilege of the gospel-state, and what believers are said to come to, whilst militant here on earth.
1. They are said to come unto Mount Sion, the city of the living God, the new Jerusalem; not to mount Sinai, which was full of terror and discomfort, but to mount Sion, full of all spiritual blessings.
Where note, The gospel church is called the city of the living God. A city is a place of safety and a place of honour, a place of peace and rest. The souls of sinners can find no place of rest or safety under the law, but we have all these things by the gospel; rest in Christ, peace with God, safety in divine protection, &. And as a king dwells in his city, so God dwells in the church of believers; "This as my rest for ever, here will I dwell says God, for I have a delight therein."
O what manner of persons ought they to be, who are the denizens of the city of God! Alas! the great number who pretend highly to the church, and its privileges, are citizens of this world only, and altogether unfit for this holy society.
2. Believers are next said to come to an innumerable company of angels. To come to these, is to be of their society; they and we are one in Christ; the angels above, and believers below, make up but one corporation or family; they are our fellow-citizens, and our fellow-subjects. True, they are above us, and at a mighty distance from us, yet upon occasion very near us; and though we do not see them, nor speak unto them, nor familiarly converse with them, yet they love us, have a special care of us, and are ministering to us, as heirs of the same salvation with themselves.
3. They are come to the general assembly or church of the first-born; that is, they are of the number of God's regenerated and adopted ones, those that are born again, whose names are registered in heaven. As the first-born under the law had a right to the inheritance, to a double part of the inheritance; so they who are interested really in the gospel-church, have a right to all that God has provided, and Christ hath purchased, even to the whole inheritance of grace and glory. O glorious privilege, to be brought unto this blessed society, this general assembly of the first-born; especially if we consider what company, what society, what assembly we belong unto, without it, which is no other than that of devils, and the seed of the wicked serpent.
4. They are come to God the judge of all; that is, they have access to God by Jesus Christ, access to his favour by justification, and access into his presence by prayer and supplication, yea, access to him as a judge, without terror or consternation.
Blessed privilege! believers have a comfortable access to God as the judge of all; with all their causes and complaints, he will hear them, plead their cause, and judge for them, and make their oppressions unsafe to the greatest of the sons of men.
5. Believers are said to come to the spirits of just men made perfect. Come to them, though not in the same place with them, though not in the same place with them till death; yet we and they have the same God and Sovereign, the same Head and Saviour, the same expectation of a glorious resurrection.
Note here, 1. There are spirits of men in a seperate state and condition, capable of communion with God and the church.
2. That all the spirits of just men departed, are made perfect: their race is consummated, perfect deliverance from all sin and sorrow is completed, and a full reward enjoyed; their faith is heightened into sight, and all their graces elevated into glory.
3. That yet are they spirits still, and no more but spirits; and though perfected spirits, yet there is wanting the last finishing stroke from the hand of God to render the bodies as well as the spirits of just men for ever perfect in the morning of the resurrecton.
4. Believers are here said to come to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant; as if the apostle had said, "Your fathers came to a mount of fire and smoke, of darkness, terror, and death, where there was no Mediator to make their peace with God, no blood to cry for mercy, and to cleanse them from sin, but you, by forsaking Judaism, and coming over to Christianity fully, are come into that society where Christ is Mediator and Priest; where the blood of Christ sprinkled upon your souls, cries aloud for mercy, and cleanses from all sin.
And to the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. Intimating, that Christ's blood solicits God with stronger cries for mercy, than did ever Abel's for revenge.
Question. But what are those better things which the blood of Christ speaks above and beyond that blood of Abel!?
Answer. 1. It speaks better things from God unto us, namely, that his justice is satisfied, his wrath appeased, the condemning guilt of sin expiated, and the majesty of God fully reconciled to all believers.
2. It speaks better things to God for us, namely, to be at peace with us, to rest in his love toward us, to furnish us with all grace here, and to fit us for glory here after.
O blessed Jesus! Thy blood never cried as Abel's did, for vengeance on them by whom it was shed, but pleaded for pardon, and obtained pardon on the behalf of many of them. Happy they who by faith are made partakers of this typical blood of sprinkling, which speaks better things than the blood of Abel.
Our apostle having, in the foregoing verses, given a summary account of the two states of the law and gospel with the incomparable excellency of the latter above the former, he gives them and exhortation and cautionary direction to take heed that they did not turn a deaf ear to so excellent a person as Christ was, preaching to them by his doctrine: see that ye refuse not him that speaketh.
Here note in general, That to refuse any who speak unto us in the name and authority of Christ, is to refuse Christ himself. This may be applied to all the faithful preachers of the gospel, however they may be despised in and by the world. But it is here the person of Christ that is particularly intended. To refuse him here, is either to reject his doctrine, and not to receive it, or having received it, to renounce it; so that this refusal includes both unbelief and apostasy, either of which are fatal and dangerous to the sons of men.
Observe next, The reason drawn from the heinousness of the sin, and the grievousness of the punishment; if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth; that is, Moses, who delivered his message here below; much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven; that is, Jesus Christ his Son, sent down from heaven personally to deliver his holy doctrine; and now speaking to us from heaven by his Holy Spirit, in his ministers and apostles.
Note here, 1. That Christ did in former times speak unto his church by Moses and the propheets.
2. That in theses latter times he vouchsafed to speak unto his church personally himself.
3. That after he personally disappeared and left the world, he vouchsafed still to speak unto his Spirit in the ministry of the world.
4. That though to refuse Christ, when speaking here on earth, was a grievous sin, and deserved a fearful punishment; yet to refuse him now, speaking from heaven, is a more grievous sin, and deserves a greater punishment, considering who speaks, what he speaks, and from whence he speaks; the gospel was a mystery brought to us from the bosom of the Father, the clearest revelation of God's will, and fullest manifestation of his love, and yet few regard it, most reject it, to their unutterable and inevitable condemnation.
As if the apostle had said, "The voice of God, at the promulging of the law on mount Sinai, shook the earth; but he promised after this to shake all nations, and that Christ, the expected Messias, the desire of all nations, should come, which is now fulfilled."
Question. But what means our apostle by God's shaking not the earth only, but also heaven?
Answer. He means thereby all the Mosaical worship, all the Judaical state, those were shaken at the coming of Christ, in order to the introduction of the immoveable gospel-state, which was perpetually to remain.
Learn hence, That the coming of the Messias was to be the last dispensation of God for the salvation of mankind, and consequently was to be perpetual and unchangeable. The apostle argues from the words, once more, that the former dispensation should be removed to make way for that which should perpetually remain.
Several things are here asserted by our apostle,
1. That there were some things which were intended by God to be shaken, namely, the Levitical priesthood, and all the Jewish sacrifices and services; these things were to be shaken, moved, yea, altogether removed out of the way.
2. That there were things that could not be shaken or removed, but remain; these were the gospel-state, the Christian religion, which shall continue until time shall be no more.
3. That the former things were removed, that the latter might be introduced and established; the law and the gospel were inconsistent; the legal and evangelical administration could not stand in force together, therefore there was a necessity for the nulling of the one, in order to the establishing of the other.
4. That the removal of the law, to bring the more perfect administration of the gospel, doth prove the stability and immutability of the gospel, that it stands fast forever; there shall be no more shaking, no farther alteration in matters of religion to the end of the world. For thus it follows.
Observe here, 1. That the apostle calls the dispensation of the gospel, a kingdom that cannot be shaken, in opposition to the law, which was an imperfect and alterable dispensation; the gospel-revelation after this, nor of any change of that religion which was brought from heaven by the Son of God, in regard of the perfection of it, and its admirable fitness to reform the world, and to recover mankind out of their lost estate and lapsed condition, and to bring them to eternal happiness; and this by the purity of its doctrine, and the power of its arguments, to work upon the minds of men by the clear discovery of the mighty tewards and punishments of another world; we have received now a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Observe, 2. The inference which the apostle draws from the perfection and perpetuity of theis revelation which God has last of all made to the world by his Son, let us have grace to serve God acceptably; that is, let us live as becometh those to whom God hath made so clear and perfect a revelation of his mind and will; we have all the advantages of divine revelation which the world ever had, and the last and most perfect that the world ever shall have; we have not only Moses, but Jesus; not only the moral law, but the glorious gospel, which the Son of God came down on purpose from heaven to declare to the world.
Observe, 3. The manner how God must be served, with reverence and godly fear. Reverence in divine service look at God's glorious excellency and majesty, and at our own unworthiness, together with that infinite distance between him and us; and godly fear is a religious awe upon the soul in holy duties, from the consideration of the great danger of sinful miscarriages in his worship.
Observe, 4. The reason making the foregoing duty necessary, For our God is a consuming fire.
Our God, intimates a covenant relation.
Note hence, That the believer's Gods is a consuming fire, but not to believers; or if so, not to consume their graces, but their corruptions only, or at most their corruptible comforts.
Note, 2. That though God takes us near to himself, and in covenant with himself, yet he expects that we consider who he is, and what he is, even a consuming fire and a jealous God.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25