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THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of earnest souls have misread Hebrews, and have fallen into doubt, darkness, and even despair. The reason was, their failure to read aright these great warnings which Hebrews holds.
There are indeed in Hebrews constant and solemn warnings against inattention towards God's message; "neglect" of God's Son and His "so great salvation"; spiritual sluggishness and sloth. These states of soul, all, are shown to tend to final apostasy and eternal woe. Neglecters easily become rejecters; unbelief hardens; and shallow dealing with Divine things becomes despairing of Divine things.
But on the other hand--according to' God's Word, "Ye have grieved the heart of the righteous, whom I have not made sad" (Ezek. 13:22). There are honest hearts of the family of "Littlefaith" who have applied to themselves, with terrible self-accusation, words intended for others than themselves. Satan delights to roar continuously in the ears of a trembling soul: "You have trampled under foot the Son of God, you have 'done despite to the Spirit of grace'! You have been 'hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.' It is 'impossible to renew you to repentance!'"
Let such timid souls remember and reflect upon God's past ways with them, His graciousness, His long-suffering, His goodness. And even in their state of trembling let them read such a verse as Chapter 4:1; Let us fear, therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into His rest. Let them dwell upon these latter words, a promise being left. Let them cast themselves upon the mercy of God, and look, even in their fearfulness, for this promise that is "left"! For this verse does indeed apply, first of all, to those who may have sorely neglected God's promises and providences. Yet even for such, the words are: a promise being left. Let them take up Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (which God has so blessed to souls), and in the second part become acquainted with "Mr. Ready-to-halt," "Mr. Fearing," yea, with "Mercy," and, as we have said, with all whose name may be called "Littlefaith." One has well said, "Little faith brings the soul to Heaven, while great faith brings Heaven into the soul!"
In all their soul-exercising also, let them remember that "Mr. Legality" is their great enemy! It was from "dead works" that the consciences of these Hebrew saints were delivered by the blood of Christ to serve the Living God. Let them stay within sight of Calvary, and not be driven by the enemy to undertake to get deliverance through "serving" God.
Yes, God, being infinitely loving and long-suffering, constantly "leaves" for the believer some promise which he may lay hold of by faith, if he will. The warning here, however, is that such a gracious promise may be neglected, overlooked, come short of.
Now you may have failed to lay hold of one promise after another; and your life may have become more and more perplexed. But do not despair! For it is God's habit to "leave" a promise! There is such a one for you! Search for it prayerfully, carefully, humbly. And when you find your heart drawn out to any Scripture, thank God for that, praying that there may be in your heart a "mixture of faith," graciously given by Him.
For we see verse 2: For indeed we have had good tidings preached unto us, even as also they (Israel of old): but the word of hearing did not profit them, because it was not united by faith ("mixed with faith", A.V.) with them that heard.
Faith, reading a promise, says, "This means me!"
I remember a meeting many years ago, where presents were being given out to poor children. From a great heap of presents on the table, the leader would read out names of those who were to receive gifts, and such ones were expected to come forward and receive them thankfully. There came the reading of the name of a certain boy, and no one came forward. Someone sitting beside me said, "There's that boy, over there by the aisle."
I watched him. His name was repeated several times. At first he looked forward at the announcer; then, as his name was repeated, he looked to the right and to the left; and then stood half up and looked all around over the back part of the building, expecting to see the favored one. But someone near him called out, "He means you, Jimmy!"
Jimmy kept his seat, clutching the chair in front of him. He was not used to receiving presents! Not until the speaker looked right at him, reading his name, and asked, "Is that your named" did he tremblingly get up and go forward and accept his present!
Thus we act toward God. We quote promises--never really claiming them. Do not forget that the last word in Chapter 3 is "unbelief." We have seen that Israel lost their promised land (Num. 14) through simply not believing! just as they fell short of Canaan, so many professing Christians today, though a promise is left them of entering into His rest, fail of it:--of that spiritual "rest" which belongs to all who hear and believe that Christ has borne their sin; that He made peace by the blood of His Cross.
(The most of the nation of Israel in the future will not "profit" by the voice of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-12, warning them of the fearful results of worshiping the Antichrist and his image. Most of them will not attend to the voices of the three angels who warn in Revelation 14:6, 8, 9. A "Remnant" shall indeed "return to the mighty God," but it will be a "very small Remnant" that shall be saved (Isa. 1:9; cf. 2-6; Rom. 9:27, 28). It will (Isa. 66:8) be with this Remnant, called "a nation brought forth at once," that God will make His future covenant "with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah," as we shall find in Heb. 8, He will do.)
Verse 3: But God says, We who have believed do enter into that rest. Dear brother, it is of infinite importance to you and to me just to BELIEVE!--to believe God's "promises" that are "left" us! The work was finished on the Cross, and our Lord is in the glory on the ground of that perfect work for sinners. Do not try to become worthy by any works, or change of your "character," but just believe. And do not rest upon any "church" forms or ceremonies: for God does not rest there, but in Christ alone!
Verse 3 (continued.): Even as He hath said, As I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
As we continue to take up the great subject of what God calls "My rest" (brought before us by the Spirit from Chapter 3:11 to 4:11), let us consider what this "rest" of God is, and what it is not.
God Himself entered upon rest after the seven days of creation: "For in six days Jehovah made Heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed" (Ex. 31:17).
Let these words mean precisely what they say: Jehovah rested. Jehovah was refreshed. Let none dare to object that God, being infinite and almighty, could not be "refreshed." God's word is, that He was!
"And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good ... And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had made. And He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made." Note, "He rested on the seventh day." So also state the next verses in Hebrews 4:
For He hath said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise, And God rested on the seventh day from all His works; and in this place again, They shall not enter into My rest.
See Genesis 1:31 to 2:3. Sin entered; God's rest was broken. All creation was subjected to "vanity." God could not rest where sin was. For it is well to reflect that there is in God, from all eternity unto all eternity, the infinite complacency which belongs to the Absolute Good. (All our human restlessness, our incapacity for rest, arises from sin: "The wicked are like the troubled sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt". (Isa. 57:20). "The sea is no more" in John's vision (Rev. 21:1), for the sea could not rest! All is REST in the New Creation; all is absent that suggests unrest.)
Therefore there was creation, and, in order that His creatures might know Him, to man was given free will. When sin entered God's creation (though not from Him Who "cannot be tempted with evil, and Himself tempteth no man"), there resulted a necessity and an opportunity. The necessity was judgment: God sparing not angels when they sinned! The opportunity was love: God so loved that He gave His Son. Consequently, there is the exhibition of the nature of God Himself: "Herein is love." (Not that when sin entered, God's purposes or counsels failed: for these were all connected with Christ, and His redemptive work to come.) Therefore He began working toward redemption. (This is what our Lord meant when He said: "My Father worketh even until now, and I work"--John 5:17.) (The Jews, like the present "Seventh Day Adventists," sticklers for the seventh day observance, said of Christ, "This man keepeth not the Sabbath." They, like the Adventists today, chose to remain under the Law that God says condemned them! (Gal. 3:10).)
Indeed, from the time that Adam sinned, God had prophesied (Gen. 3:15) a great struggle between the woman's Seed (Christ) and the seed of the serpent, in which the Seed of the woman (Christ) should "bruise the serpent's head": a struggle not over until Satan is cast into the lake of fire forever! (Rev. 20:10).
And so we come to the Cross. In Christ crucified we find God's holiness and righteousness that could not spare His well-beloved Son, sin being laid upon Him; and also that fathomless love that reached us in redeeming power. You and I may not yet have found full rest or constant rest in the work of the Cross. God has! May His grace enable us so to "rest" in what was done at the Cross and in resurrection, as to glorify God in finding peace (Col. 1:20).
Our blessed Lord on the Cross cried, "It is finished!" Sin had been laid upon Him; He had been forsaken, smitten by God's hand as a Substitute for our sin, the wages of which was death. His death met that penalty perfectly and forever! "Through His own blood" as our Great High Priest "He entered in once for all into the Holies (Heaven), having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12). "He, when He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God" (Ch. 10:12).
Now becomes possible the first phase of God's "rest" for the believer: we rest where God rests, in the shed blood of Christ! This spiritual rest arises from accepting God's announcement of Christ's finished work on our behalf. Hezekiah spake to his people when the Assyrians came against them:
"With him is an arm of flesh: but with us is Jehovah our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah" (2 Chron. 32:8).
Let Hezekiah's subjects be a lesson to us!
The tenth verse of Hebrews 4 also has a reference to this spiritual rest: For he that is entered into His rest hath himself also rested from his works as God did from His. (a) There is a time when spiritual anxiety ceases in view of the work of the Cross; (b) and also (generally some time later, when struggle to live a holy life in one's own strength ceases: and a "Thanks be to God, Who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" rises from the heart), there is ever-deepening "rest," as His Yoke is fully accepted by the believer: as the Lord Jesus said (Matt. 11:28, 29), "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls--rest from self, from anxiety, from depending on one's own planning. Sad to say (c) there are, as we shall see, many who do not go on with God, who remain "babes." (See Heb. 5:12.)
This is the present rest of faith, the found rest of Matthew 11:29. This is a subjective state called "the peace of God" (Phil. 4:6, 7), the believer already, through faith in Christ's shed blood, having "peace with God" (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).
There is a second phase of rest, set forth by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. The Thessalonian Christians were being afflicted by persecution and every earthly wrong. They were still in the trials of this world, and the enemy was tempting and opposing them. So Paul writes that, consequent upon the second coming of Christ, "If so be that it be a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from Heaven with the angels of His power in flaming fire."
Here will be a cessation of temptation, trial, and all infirmity. Satan having been cast down to earth, there will also be rest from conflict with him.
But we must note further here, for there are those who claim (most earnestly) that the rest into which believers enter is only the "rest of faith" in believing on Christ (Heb. 4:3), and so beholding His blood as to have the conscience "cleansed from dead works to serve the living God," thus having rested from their works as God did from His (Chs. 4:10; 9:14). To this I would say, while deeply appreciating the high and holy purpose, yea, and walk, of such dear saints, that our chapters state over and over (from 3:11 to 4:11) that it is God's rest into which believers are to enter. Now God does indeed rest, in a sense none of us fully appreciate, in the work of His beloved Son at Calvary. Yet, to carry out the figure of Hebrews 3 and 4 (which is Israel's entering Canaan): let us suppose we have come up out of the wilderness, and crossed over Jordan in the power of the death of Christ, as the ark brought Israel over (josh. 3). What about the "Canaanites"? the "inhabitants of the land"? Israel's "rest" involved the conquest of these possessing enemies! But the book of judges is the record of their failure through unbelief, compromise, and even, in the case of Dan, rebellion and idolatry! In judges 2:20-23, we read that on account of this failure, this disobedience of unbelief: "Jehovah left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered He them into the hand of Joshua."
Indeed in Joshua's old age Jehovah said to him: "Thou art old and well stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed" (josh. 13:1).
And although later we read:
"So Jehovah gave unto Israel all the land which He sware unto their fathers; and they possessed it and dwelt therein. And Jehovah gave them rest round about, according to all that He sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; Jehovah delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not aught of any good thing which Jehovah had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (josh. 21:43-45), yet the emphasis here is upon Jehovah's faithfulness when Israel pressed on against their enemies. In the very last chapter of Joshua we find Joshua gathering all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and solemnly enjoining "the elders ... their heads ... their judges ... and their officers ... Put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve ye Jehovah" (vs. 14).
But the declaration of the Spirit in Hebrews 4:6, 7, 8 is: Seeing therefore it remaineth that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, He again defineth a certain day, Today, saying in David so long a time afterward (hundreds of years afterward) (even as hath been said before), Today if ye shall hear His voice, Harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest,He would not have spoken afterward of another day--of the rest as still future.
So, still carrying out the figure of Chapters 3 and 4, our rest, like that of Israel, involves the conquest of enemies. However deep and abiding our rest in Christ's work on the Cross and His priesthood in Heaven, the conflict with the hosts of darkness is still on, and will be on till Christ comes for us--for His Church! Even then, though (as we have seen) those "afflicted" by the enemy will have rest--the rest of the Millennial Kingdom--yet God's final REST awaits the last overthrow of Satan, who is to be released after the 1000 years and lead those who come to his banner from the four corners of the earth, in the greatest rebellion earth has ever seen, at the close of the Millennium (Rev. 20:7-10).
The Millennium in a vast degree illustrates the rest of God's people, both of those of the heavenly calling, and of redeemed national Israel. As we know, "They that are Christ's" are taken up in the Church's Rapture, at the first phase of His coming. Then after the Antichrist's covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:2) (Daniel's seventieth week of years), occurs the revelation or manifestation to earth (Rotherham: "forthshining") of Christ's coming--the second phase. The event makes possible rest, both for the spared remnant of Israel and, of course, for the Church. All the enemies of God's saints must be disposed of if those saints are to have rest! Satan is cast into the abyss in the center of the earth, and it is sealed over him for one thousand years. Of Satan's host of angels (evidently one-third of the angels of God), we read in Isaiah:
"And it shall come to pass in that day, that Jehovah will punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit (margin, dungeon), and they (Satin's host) shall be shut up in the prison; and after many days (that is, after the Millennium) shall they be visited" (Isa. 24:21, 22).
"That day" is the day of Christ's coming in wrath. If anyone is ignorant of the time that this will occur, let him read the next verse:
"Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for Jehovah of hosts will reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem; and before His elders shall be glory"--that is, at the beginning of the Millennium.
Lastly, as to evil men: they will be dealt with by the Lord at that time, and during the Millennium. Even one who slanders in secret will be "cut off" with "all the wicked of the land ... all the workers of iniquity" (Ps. 101:5, 8); for our Lord will rule with a rod of iron, in the 1000 years!
After the Millennium, Satan will be cast forever into the "lake of fire and brimstone," where the Antichrist and the false prophet shall have been during the Millennium; and the last judgment (that of the Great White Throne) and the final eternal separation of the wicked from among the righteous will take place.
Revelation 21:3-4 will then describe one company:
"God Himself shall be with them, their God: and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away."
And Revelation 21:8 describes the other:
"But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death." For, concerning the New Jerusalem: "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie; but only they that are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).
So the "rest of God" into which His saints shall finally enter, and unto which He directs them, is that state of things in which God Himself is at rest, and in which He takes delight! This can only be at the New Creation, as Peter says: "According to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness' (2 Pet. 3:13). (Or, we may paraphrase: "Wherein righteousness is at home." Thayer says, "In the Septuagint the rendering of the Greek word for dwelleth (_katoikeo), meaning to settle, to dwell, differs from _paroikeo, meaning to sojourn, as the Permanent differs from the transitory."
(1) To rehearse then, what has been said: The believer should rest fully in Christ's work for him, with a conscience cleansed by Christ's blood from dead legal works, or from hoping anything from the flesh. He should come to say with Paul, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7); and should see the deliverance, saying also with Paul, "I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord!" and so recognizing the work of the Spirit as to say: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death" (Rom. 8:2).
These present elements--rest from guilt in the blood of Christ, and deliverance from the power of
sin and the Law through identification with Christ in His death and burial, should be shared by every believer. Thus only doth he press on to full growth.
(there is also another phase not often thought of: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; for their works follow with then," (Rev, 14:13, see author's book The Revelation, p. 225). This is a vivid example of the ending of our work for God, called by Paul "accomplishing our course". Our Lord Jesus Himself said to the Father, "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given me to do." There comes time when earthly labor for God ends, and the heavenly state is begun.)
(2) Believers should expect (and that at any moment, for there is no unfulfilled condition), being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and transformed into His likeness, receiving our resurrection bodies. Thus the present conflict with the devil, the world, and the flesh, will be over forever.
But (3) we must also look forward, and that with a sure hope, away beyond the Millennium, to the eternal state, unto which we already belong ("If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation":) but for which an outward Heaven and earth remain to be created! How comfortable were God's closing words by His angel to Daniel: "But go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and shalt stand in thy lot, at the end of the days"! (Dan. 12:1). Whatever God does in the "ages to come," there will be no longer necessary any dispensational revealing of Himself, and unfolding to all holy creatures of His nature as Love! That was done once for all at the Cross, and is being continued now in Christ's tender sympathetic priesthood in Heaven. There will be no longer need for warning against enemies, eternal separation from them having then taken place. There will be no longer need of preaching or prophesying that the will of God is the creature's true bliss; the praises of those blessed holy ones who by Divine grace have chosen God's will, will be proof that the creature's only true happiness is to know and serve the God Whose name is Love. As for God, the following beautiful words from Zephaniah express His "rest" of the ages to come, do they not? "He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing" (Zeph. 3:17).
As long as there is a problem unsettled, a saint not yet glorified, transformed into Christ's image; as long as God's enemies are permitted to "destroy the earth," even to use His blessings of light, air, food, health--God's "rest" will not, cannot, be completed. Concerning the present earth, God says, "The heavens are the heavens of Jehovah; but the earth hath He given to the children of men" (Ps. 115:16). But the "New Creation," the "New Heavens and the New Earth," are absolutely according to God--not in any sense an "adjustment" of the old, but entirely new, with Sin, and Trial, banished forever!
God says: "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind" (Isa. 65:17).
"The first heaven and the first earth are passed away," (Rev. 21:1): "every tear ... death ... mourning ... crying ... pain ... passed away" (vs. 4).
"The new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before Me" (Isa. 66:22).
What is wrapped up in the marvelous words, "He that sitteth on the throne saith, Behold I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5), we cannot even feebly grasp: any More than we can fully understand the new birth--so puzzling to Nicodemus, "the teacher of Israel." New creatures are those in Christ. But while we already belong to the New Creation, how little we know of it! "All things new": a new nature, a new kind of existence of what we call material things; new laws of being of which men know nothing. Did not our Risen Lord come and "stand in the midst," "when the doors were shut," and say, "Handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold Me having"? The New Creation, though material and tangible as was our Lord's resurrection body, will evidently bear a relation to the old, as we read:
"The first man is of the earth, earthly; the second Man is of Heaven ... If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:47, 44). (A "natural" body: literally, a body adapted for the soul--_psychikos; and also "a spiritual body,"--that is, a body adapted for the spirit--_pneumatikos.)
This New Creation is founded upon the blood of the Cross, as we read in Colossians 1:20. In the New Jerusalem the Lamb is the light. They shall see God's face: (no temple-worship: no distance from God). "His name shall be in their foreheads," ... and they shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:4-5). How wonderful! (There are two great amazements when we think of God: first, He is infinite; second, He loves US!)
From this study of God's "rest," let us return to take up more particularly Verse 6, ff: Seeing therefore it remaineth that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience--The Hebrew Christians addressed in this epistle had been brought up to reverence their national election--just as "Presbyterians" and other sects do their history and "standards." But such reverence blinds men to the facts. The Israelites failed to enter in through unbelief and hardness of heart. God's mercy had spared the nation; but only Caleb and Joshua, as we have seen, entered Canaan! This awful failure would be the very things never mentioned in the talks of their rabbis!
But since these Hebrew Christians were now dealing directly, by Christ, with God, their true history as a nation must be shown to them. As a nation, they had failed to enter in. (Imagine any synagogue today teaching this national failure: the rest of the Jews would mob such a synagogue! Yet such teaching would be the truth.) Israel has failed to enter in, and the kingdom of God has been "taken away" from that nation, to be given to the coming Remnant of it--to "a nation bringing forth the fruits" of God's kingdom (Matt. 21:43)--a nation not yet born, but which "shall be born in a day"! (Isa. 66:8; Zech. 12:10-13:6).
It is striking in Hebrews, and also characteristic of the book, that the sin called to the attention of these believers is not that of the rejection and crucifixion of their Messiah, but the national attitude of unbelief shown by them at the first offer of "rest" in the land Jehovah had promised them in their early national history!
Christ was now in Heaven over God's house as a Son--with rights even the faithful servant Moses had never known. Thus to take their minds back to that great outburst of unbelief against God's servant Moses would indeed show up their own history to their hearts! Would these Hebrew Christians hold fast their "boldness," and the "glorying" of their hope in Christ--thus obeying the voice of the blessed Spirit not to harden their hearts? Or would they treat the Son as their fathers had treated the servant Moses--and rebel?
(Yet God had dealt with them in utter grace each time. He had brought them to Sinai, and said to them, "If ye will ... keep My covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is Mine." And in supreme self-confidence they had promised, "All that Jehovah hath spoken, we will do." And so at Sinai they had signed, by note of hand as it were, a covenant, to which God will yet hold them--when in the last days He brings them "into the bond of the covenant." (See Ezek. 20:33-38.) For the fulfillment of this prophecy lies in the immediate future, when the nations shall turn against Israel, and become toward them "the wilderness of the peoples." This is the universal anti-Semitism that is already arising!)
It was not because they were under an imperfect covenant that Israel failed to enter in. It was because their hearts were bent to evil, and thus to unbelief. They did not desire the acquaintance of the God Who had opened the door to the promised land for them. "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt," they said. So at Sinai, when Moses was upon the mountain they had said to Aaron:
"Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him"! (Ex. 32:1).
It is this frightful readiness, yea, eagerness, to do without God--not, indeed, without "religion"--forms, ordinances, and the like; but without the Living God, that is the mark of the Laodicean stage of the Church's history, also--just as of that failing, unbelieving generation of Israel whose "limbs" were "strewn down along in the wilderness" (Heb. 3:17). If people, being what are called "church-members," find themselves able and quite willing to do without the fellowship of God and Jesus Christ His Son day by day; if people do not know what it is to be "led of the Spirit," it may be a dream that they are sons of God! Hell will be filled with false professors, those who deceived themselves.
I tell you, beloved, the story of "the day of the trial in the wilderness," "the provocation," needs to be laid to heart by you and me! Let no one dare to say that the great warnings of Hebrews 3 and 4 do not concern, and directly, every believer today! Shall these Hebrew believers be solemnly warned by recalling their own history of unbelief and failure to enter in, and Gentile believers have no such heart-dangers to be warned of? Where should God go for warnings for all believers, if not to the history of His dealings with the children of men?
You say, "Since Christ died and rose and is gone to Heaven, things are entirely different." We grant at once that sin has been put away, and Christ is indeed in Heaven. But Peter warned those to whom he wrote (the "elect ... of the Dispersion," surely) to make their "calling and election sure"--not to God, but to themselves! "Watch ye," also pleads Paul with the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:31); and,
"I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (vss. 29, 30).
"In the last days grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty ... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Again, "But shun profane babblings: for they will proceed further in ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a gangrene: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; men who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim. 2:16-18).
Paul also told Timothy, "The time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine." And (2 Tim. 1:15) "This thou knowest, that all that are in Asia (Ephesus being the center) turned away from me; of whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes." These turned away, not necessarily from all Christian profession, but at least from that heavenly doctrine, "the mystery," committed to Paul, which is the only truth that establishes and protects saints. (Notice how Paul tells out the names of false or dangerous teachers. No other practice is safe in protecting the saints! The saints know the names of Jones or Smith, though they may not yet have Scripturally discerned the evils that Smith or Jones may be teaching. It is my business (and it is yours and Paul made it his), if we are teaching the saints, to warn them of dangerous men. It is reported that someone asked John Darby what books he had in his library. He replied, "I have the Bible, and bad books." I do not report this story as a fact; but I can understand from his own writings Mr. Darby's concern about all books that he read! I do not know anyone more zealous, or jealous, for truth, Biblically set forth, since the days of Paul. You say, "It got Mr. Darby hated." Certainly! What of that? So was Paul!)
So now there is set before our eyes, in this great book of Hebrews, all the frightful scene of Divine judgments. For Israel (though nationally pardoned in answer to Moses' prayers) turned back into the wilderness, knowing that they would never see the land of milk and honey!
How solemn, then, the warnings of Hebrews 3 and 4! You who say so glibly, "This story of failing to enter into Canaan belongs to the Jews, not to us"--wait! You and I were told, since the Spirit came at Pentecost, to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Have we been? Again,
"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13). Are you filled with all joy and peace, abounding in hope, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit? If so, thank God! If not, be still and hearken to the Spirit's searching words concerning Israel's failure to enter in--and learn of what your heart, like theirs, is capable.
God has promised, when He saves national Israel, to "take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). With us Christians, Christ is to be received into the heart, and dwell there by faith. Mark, that only is a normal Christian condition. Paul is praying for it for the Ephesians, even though they had been "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). Still "he bows his knees unto the Father ... that He would grant them ... that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith"--a definite thing; only upon condition of which could they be "filled unto all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:14-19).
Be reasonable! To whom could God speak with unavoidable plainness and warning except to the Hebrews? There is one Body: we know that. Before God since Calvary there is no difference between Jew and Greek; all are sinners. But God, Who has declared all human hearts alike, had already for over 1500 years had direct dealings with Hebrew hearts, even the hearts of those who had received promises, and had had many blessings and deliverances. And the record of it is already written in the Old Testament. It would be pride and self-importance, yea, presumption, for a Gentile professing Christian to say, "Inasmuch as this epistle is addressed to Hebrews, it is not addressed to me." But have you not seen from this very book of Hebrews that it lifts hearers completely away from earth into a heavenly calling? Just as you, Gentile believer, though a "sinner of the Gentiles," have by unexpected, limitless grace been sought, and brought into the same calling.
For you or me to pass this epistle over "to the Jews," is to blind ourselves to, and deny, its whole message. A Hebrew believer, reading it and from the heart believing it, would become as free as Paul, and could say, along with that great apostle (to the Gentile Galatian believers), "I beseech you, brethren, become as I am, for I also am become as ye are." He was wholly a heavenly man, and no racial or religious distinctions were left in his heart or life!
Frankly speaking, brother, if after reading Hebrews you say, "That epistle is written to the HEBREWS," and you keep Hebrew believers as a distinct class in your heart, it is you that have missed the great Divinely intended effect of Hebrews. You are the loser. You do not believe that all are one in Christ! Also, you have missed the joy of being enlightened by the blessed Holy Spirit concerning God's past ways on earth.
We now come again to one Scripture quoted and re-quoted three times in these chapters: Psalm 95:7:
Today if ye shall hear His voice, Harden not your hearts. The argument for the present, peculiar attention of the Hebrew believers is, that Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts, was said in David so long a time afterward: that is, after the sad events of the wilderness forty years. So that, if the Spirit took the wilderness overthrow as a warning for those who should read David's writings hundreds of years later--with how much force should the warning come to believers today--a warning of the treachery of the human heart. We have been examining the "rest" of God, together with such facts as that Joshua did not give them rest, or God (vs. 8) would not have spoken afterward of another day.
As for Joshua himself, his words in Joshua 24:15, "As for me and my house we will serve Jehovah," summarize his wonderful life. But concerning Israel, read Joshua 23:1-4:
"And it came to pass after many days, when Jehovah had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, and Joshua was old and well stricken in years, that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and for their heads, and for their judges and for their officers, and said unto them,
"I am old and well stricken in years: and ye have seen all that Jehovah your God hath done unto all these nations because of you; for Jehovah your God, He it is that hath fought for you. Behold, I have allotted unto you these nations that remain."
But alas, in the book of Judges, after Joshua's death, we read,
"Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean ... Ephraim drove not out the Canaanites ... Zebulun drove not out ... Asher drove not out ... Naphtali drove not out the inhabitants ... but he dwelt among the Canaanites ... The Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill-country" (1:27-34), and the like.
Then comes the heart-breaking message from the angel of Jehovah: (2:1-23).
"Ye have not hearkened unto My voice: why have ye done this? ... I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you."
"And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, that knew not Jehovah, nor yet the work which He had wrought for Israel.
"And the children of Israel did ... evil in the sight of Jehovah, and served the Baalim; And they forsook Jehovah ... followed other gods ... provoked Jehovah to anger ... forsook Jehovah and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. And the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers ... sold them into the hands of their enemies ... The hand of Jehovah was against them for evil ... they were sore distressed."
Graciously, "Jehovah raised up judges ... Yet they hearkened not unto their judges ... they turned back, and dealt more corruptly than their fathers ... they ceased not from their doings, nor from their stubborn way" (2:16-19).
What a sad history!
Now let us take moral warning of this oft repeated word, TODAY. The writer himself testifies, as he has heard others testify, to the losing of years by the failure to hear some Spirit-spoken "TODAY" message, either from the Word directly, or from some faithful messenger, or from what we call "circumstances." May I speak humbly and reverently here? But is not God's long-suffering from the very manner of His dealing with Israel, even now saying again and again, "Today"? This is a word of patient, tender Divine love. Creatures of the dust that we are, we should spring to obey the voice of the heavenly glory! Some, indeed, have, like Israel, "fallen," "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin"--Yea, by that self-deceiving which makes promises to self of a future hearkening or obedience, while living in present disobedience. I would to God that both you and I and all of us could read Hebrews 3 to 6 with that testimony in our own hearts that God gave to His servant Moses, "My servant Moses--is faithful in all My house"!
We are more and more impressed that the book of Hebrews stands between that salvation set forth in Romans, and the judgment depicted in the book of The Revelation. For the Judge in The Revelation is our blessed Lord Himself (Rev. 1). He stands as Priest-Judge among the seven assemblies called by His name on earth. Then, Chapter 5, He takes the seven-sealed book of universal judgment from God's hand in Heaven. And finally, He comes in Person in the Great Day of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19). God does not want us in the judgment, my friend. Judgment is His "strange work" (Isa. 28:21). And He says, "As I live ... I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth ... Wherefore turn yourselves and live"! (Ezek. 33:11; 18:32).
Do you remember our Saviour's great words in John 5:24?
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth Him that sent Me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life."
And His great closing public message in John 12:47:
"If any man hear My sayings and keep them not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."
(Christ will be Judge at last! But now: "The Father hath given Me a commandment what I should say ... and His commandment is Life Eternal"!)Therefore after those blessed epistles, that proclaim the way of Salvation, and before The Revelation, the book of judgment, comes this wonderful exhortation--epistle of Hebrews. In it God sets His Son and His priestly work before us, and the heavenly worship which alone is real, and in which God yearns that we should join. No wonder, therefore, if He warns us again and again of the treachery of the human heart. "Let us take heed," as we are exhorted in Hebrews--for eternity is at stake!
There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God: Note (1) that this "rest" is for "the people of God"--here meaning especially the Christ-confessing Hebrews, in view of the past history of their nation. But of course including all "partakers of the heavenly calling." Note (2) this rest "remaineth": that is, it is future--not present rest in Christ's work, blessed as that is. For rest in Christ's atoning work for us is constantly attacked by Satan; and often also by reproofs and disturbing of conscience. There must also, as we have seen, be watchfulness against "an evil heart of unbelief." And real rest in Christ's atoning work is accompanied by a godly walk; where the enemy's "devices" must be watched against.
The "rest" itself is here called sabbatismos, a "state-of-rest" (cessation from labor or employment). Not in the sense of a weekly occurrence, but in the sense of that eternal state entered into by those who, already new creatures in Christ, enter that New Creation of Revelation 21-22; to which they already belong, where all things are according to God, where God Himself is at rest: For this is what is meant by God's rest!
"The sabbath was made for man." that is, as a mercy to his body, which is part of the old creation.
"The Sabbath-rest (sabbatismos) is the consummation of the New Creation in Christ, through whose priestly mediation reconciliation with God will come to pass--the rest of perfect adjustment of all things to God."--Vincent, p. 424.
-Into God's rest, Hebrews 4 teaches us, man in creation never entered. Such natural Peacefulness without combat as he may have had then for a moment, cannot be on earth now ... The rest of God, after the first creation, was short. The rest of men with God Passed away like a morning dream.
"God's rest will have its sabbath in the Millennium ... What is the rest of the New Creation, to which I belong as having died and risen, Christ being my life, the heavenly rest of the Lord's day is the intimation, the day of Christ's resurrection ... The Lord's day is the happy witness, as far as a day can be, of a better and perfect rest.--J.N.D., Vol. X.
Excellent! But the "rest of God" is in the New Creation (Rev. 21-22), where all is of God, where all not of Him is banished forever, from this NEW CREATION in which those in Christ already are!
Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that (His) rest--For to these Hebrew believers and to us, God has told how the nation which He brought out of Egypt fell short of even the rest of Canaan. "Diligence" is opposed to that lack of "earnest heed" with its consequent "neglect" (Ch. 2:1-3); and of course to the lack of use of the spiritual "senses" of Chapter 5:14; and that state of dullness into which their negligence and spiritual sloth, that lack of energy in appropriating Divine grace, had brought them. See 2 Peter 1:5, 10; and 2 Corinthians 7:11-12, where the same word is translated "earnest care." Here the Corinthians were aroused from a state of puffed-up self-satisfaction, to what God calls "godly sorrow," which wrought "earnest care" in them. Read this passage, and note the wonderful seven, fold change in them, which brought the apostle to say that he 132 was "comforted and of good courage" toward them. This meaning must be brought into Hebrews 4:11, and 6:11.
("This word 'diligence' indicates universal earnestness in accomplishing, promoting, or striving after anything."--Thayer. The translation in the old version, Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, is not exact. The true meaning is, to be roused from sloth, and give all attention.)
We shall find that this "universal earnestness" is a great secret of progress, and the great guardian against the sad condition of the Hebrew believers; who, we are to see in Chapter 5, became "needers of milk, and not of solid food ... without experience of the word of righteousness," instead of teachers of others. Remember, believer, that this world is an "Enchanted Ground." Here again Pilgrim's Progress, which astonishes us by its pictures of spiritual facts and folks, illustrates the danger of lack of diligence in our Christian path. See note below!
"I saw then in my dream that they went till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if one came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep. Wherefore he said unto Christian, 'I now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes; let us lie down here and take on nap.'
"'By no means,' said the other, 'lest sleeping, we never wake more.'
"Hopeful. 'Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man: we may be refreshed if we take a nap.'
"Christian. 'Do you not remember that one of the shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that, that we should beware of sleeping; 'Wherefore let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober' (1 Thess. 5:6).
"Hopeful. 'I acknowledge myself in a fault; and, had I been here alone, I had by sleeping run the danger of death!'"
To enter into that rest--Here "that rest" is seen to be a spiritual thing, a Divine return for "diligence" toward the things of God. Then we have, that no man fall--Let me quote here Charles Hodge, the Calvinistic theologian: I copy from his Commentary on Romans, p. 422, published in Edinburgh, 1875--valued highly in Britain:
"Believers (the elect) are constantly spoken of (in Scripture) as in danger of perdition. They are saved only if they continue steadfast (in faith). if they apostatize, they perish. If the Scriptures tell the people of God what is the tendency of their sins as to themselves, they may tell them what is the tendency of such sins as to others. Saints are preserved not in spite of apostasy, but from apostasy."
After the same example of disobedience: The last word in Chapter 3, "unbelief," or want of faith, described a condition of heart--not having God and His power and former blessing in view. "Disobedience" is the action of the natural heart in this condition. Compare verse 6, in our present chapter. "Lord, increase our faith," was the apostles' prayer. Their Lord rebuked often their lack of faith: "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" And, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!" Nevertheless, none but Judas had an "evil heart of unbelief." Analyze this carefully. All unbelief is evil; but an "evil heart of unbelief" is that set over, in the parable of the sower, against the good-ground hearers: "These are such as in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, hold it fast and bring forth fruit." An evil heart of unbelief is one that holds fast to sin, and tries to believe at the same time! But this terrible state Paul shows up, in the words, "Holding faith and a good conscience; which some having thrust from them made shipwreck concerning the faith" (1 Tim. 1:19).
You cannot ride two horses going in different directions; YOU must let one go. So "an evil heart of unbelief" has chosen evil. Let us remember that Paul says an apostate is not a backslider: an apostate is one who has, by his own will, turned his back on Christ and Christianity. Having "tasted" all things, he has "fallen away," as we show elsewhere (Ch. 6:4-8).
Whatever God's rest may be, and however we consider it, all who read Hebrews 3:17 to 4:13 honestly, will consent, as we have said, that the prevailing spirit of it is warning:
"If we hold fast our boldness ... Harden not your hearts ... Take heed ... Not able to enter in because of disobedience ... Let us fear ... lest any one of you should seem to have come short of it" ... Let us give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience.
The very vision of Israel today, a people without a land, and a land without a people, should warn every believer. Let those who take trips to Palestine, go to the Jews' Wailing-Wall, and listen and take heed!
God is the same God in this day of grace that He was with them under the Law. Then He saved people in mercy: today He does likewise. Then he rejoiced in and blessed men of faith; today He does likewise. The Joshuas, Samuels, Davids, Hezekiahs, Jehoiadas and Josiahs; with the Sarahs, Rahabs, Ruths, Hannahs, 134 and Shunammite women--all who really loved Him and sought His face, He brought into peculiar blessing: just as He does today.
You who have been troubled by your lack of inward rest; who are worried about your failures and your sins, and are tempted to say, "This passage in Hebrews convicts me: I am not one of those who shall 'enter into rest.'" Let me ask you: Who were those who displeased God? Were they not saying, in rebellion, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt"? Were they not refusing even to face the path of faith, God being their mighty Leader, before Whom giants and walled cities are nothing? Did they not talk of stoning Caleb and Joshua?
Now let us compare your condition. Are you saying, "The Christian path is too irksome for me; the difficulties and trials are too great: I am going back into the world"?
You know you are not saying that! The thought fills you with horror. Satan is the prince of this world--this world which crucified the Son of God!
Do not, therefore, I beg you, misuse this passage of Scripture. (confessedly difficult though it be). You belong to Christ: Your very horror at the thought of relinquishing the Christian path and returning to the world, proves that.
But take heed that your bones do not fall in the wilderness! The early church, as pictured in the book of Acts--are you of it?
"Continuing steadfastly with one accord ... breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God ... And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved ... Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (2:46, 47; 5:14).
And remember our Lord's words, "They (His disciples) are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." And Paul, to the Colossians:
"If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (3:1-3).
A Chicago preacher, a godly man, told me an experience of his:
He said, "Brother Newell, last Sunday morning, I announced my text. 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new!' The church, holding about 1000, was full. I said, 'How many of you are Christians? Please rise.' The audience rose, in the main floor and gallery. I said, 'Please be seated.' Now I will read my text again: 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.' Will all the new creatures please rise? Here and there, some arose; a few, quite readily; more, hesitantly; and most of the audience, not at all."
I have never forgotten that incident, the more so that I have seen it corroborated through many years.
Unless a man walks with a tender conscience, he does not want to be warned or rebuked. To be told, "Give diligence," hints that he is slothful; "Take heed," that he is thoughtless, if not reckless; "Let us fear," that he has false confidence; "Harden not your heart," that he is capable of that. Most Christians are content with "church membership," general approval of pastor and people, and such "church duties" as are requested of them.
But will you please tell me how, with only these things, they differ from the Jew, with his synagogue, rabbi, observances, and approvals?
You may answer, "I hold orthodox Christian teachings concerning the Scriptures and the Person and atoning work of Christ." But this, my friend, will not satisfy the book of Hebrews; and this, too, is the reason that very many Christians are not satisfied with the book of Hebrews----'Written to the Jews," they say!
One of the most solemn passages of the whole Bible follows:
For the word of God is living, and active--Remark that they of old, as well as we, have to do with His Word--that which God has magnified above all His Name (Ps. 138:2). For those having to do with God, have to do with that Word! All His being and attributes are behind it. It is of eternal consequence that we should have a right perception of the Word of God! It is not merely a book of 66 books, bound between two covers, which you may pick up and lay down as you might any writing of man. Our Lord Jesus said of His own words, "The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life." It will be impossible in the compass of this comment to trace all that God says of the Scripture that "cannot be broken." Notice that the word "For" begins the verse, because verses 12 and 13 give the great reason why there must be earnest diligence in this matter of entering into the rest of faith, and going on with God. It might be supposed that the "diligence" in verse 11 concerns man's activity only--diligence in prayer, or any special activity. But this word, "For," brings in God. And how, God? you ask. The answer is astonishing: For the word of God is living, and active. (The A.V. rendering, "quick and powerful," is doubly unfortunate. First, "quick," as meaning living, is an old word not now commonly used or understood. Second, "powerful" is not a good translation of the Greek word, _energes. Thayer renders it, "that which is at work.") God deals with men not by mere "influences," nor through human "thinking," but through His word, whether written or preached. Compare verse 2.
First, it is "living." That is an amazing statement. It may be beyond our grasp to know just in what manner the Word of God is "living," except to remind ourselves:
- That it is the word of God, not of a creature. Therefore it can never pass away: "Forever, O Jehovah, Thy word is settled in Heaven" (Ps. 119:89).
- That the Word of God, being the utterance of living Deity, and as we have seen, not passing away, must abide perpetually in the same vitality and energy as when first spoken, because the Spirit of God Who inspired the words, does not leave them: "The Word of God, which liveth and abideth" (1 Pet. 1:23.) This is why believers grow: they feed upon the words that "are life"; and why unbelievers, modernists, who actively reject the Bible as "God spake all these words," find it "a savor of death unto death." For the Holy Spirit, Who alone can impart life, lives in the words they reject!
While the Word of God is for life, thousands are slain by it; while sadly few hearken and live. The same Word was preached in the parable of the Sower (Matt. 13) to the wayside hearer, the rocky ground hearer, and the thorny ground hearer--that was preached to the good ground hearer. But only the last, "in an honest and good heart," received it. It were better for the others had they never heard.
- Being the Word of God, it is the utterance of infinite wisdom. Here is no chaff, no possible element of decay. it will be as fresh a billion ages from this moment as now. Spurgeon said, "If, when I go to Heaven, God should say, 'Spurgeon, I want you to preach for all eternity,' I would simply say, 'Give me a Bible, Lord; this is all I shall need.'" Let everyone who has a Bible in his house remember that he has a living book there! Being the _logos (Word) of God, it becomes the _hrema (saying) of God,--by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit Who inspired it and indwells it.
Second, it is "active." There are things alive that are not active. I saw a large tortoise at a neighboring zoo the other day. It had life, but hardly activity. Near it was a cage of golden eagles, whose very existence was activity. But the Word of God is not only living, but active. This, people will not believe. But concerning this word, our Lord said, "Take heed how ye hear." That is, the Word of God is always doing something to those who hear or read it! When Jonah cried out to that great city of Nineveh, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" how active God's word through His prophet became! "The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And the tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation ... Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock ... feed nor drink water; but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands ... And God saw their works. that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil ... and He did it not" (Jonah 3:5-10).
We emphasize this example of the activity of the Word of God. It is the word of God that has gone forth and searched them out, the activity of the word of God only.
And sharper than any two-edged sword--Paul must have been familiar with the sight of the bronze Roman sword of the first century: "Among early double-edged swords, the Roman pattern stands out as a workmanlike and formidable weapon for a close fight," the Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us. But how much sharper is the Word of God than any man-made weapon!
And piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit--At a great camp-meeting I attended many years ago, there was a great deal of prayer. Some 1500 Christians had come together from all over the United States and Canada. I remember Fanny Crosby sitting in the second seat from the front, a dear saint, with Heaven upon her face. One day some one had preached the Word with power in the afternoon, and the people were dispersing. But a Negro came running up to the altar, dropped on his knees, and began to cry mightily to God. I truly believe his voice could have been heard a mile. We gathered around him to comfort him, but it was as if we were not in existence. The Word of God had pierced even to the dividing of soul and spirit. Our singing, our talk, meant nothing to the man. He had been a backslidden church member, and as he afterwards told it, "I saw myself before God's judgment bar! yea, slipping into hell, and the voices of earth meant nothing."
Alas, we forget that many come to meetings, enjoy the singing and the organ, yea, the eloquence of the preacher; but never experience dividing of soul and spirit. All is "soulical" to, them. There is no direct dealing with God.
Here is a church "service": in comes the "choir," who, with "most acceptable performance," and "skillful accompaniment," "render" a musical "number," which, using probably Bible words, brings the audience under a religious spell. But is it spiritual--of the Holy Spirit? Hear one of them earnestly describe it:
"Hearing God's message while the organ rolls
It's mighty message to our very souls." Certainly, it is to their souls, not to their spirits!
Then (let us hope), comes a godly preacher, who uses "the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God." He calls sinners to "flee from the wrath to come," to the Cross, where judgment on sin has already fallen. Men, women and even children fall under the power of the Holy Spirit, so that God becomes a living Person with Whom they have to deal. Real conviction has seized them. They have no peace until they are led by the Spirit of God to rest in the blood of Jesus, shed for them. Those who believe God (and none others are ever saved), flock forward, entirely forgetting their "religious" condition of awhile ago, when "the organ rolled," and concerned only with their spiritual state before God. The Word of God, living and active, has pierced to the dividing of soul and spirit. Men deal with God, and God deals with men, not in "soulical" music and eloquence, but in SPIRIT. Those saved have dealt with God as spirits, and will worship Him in their spirits. "God is my witness," cries Paul, "Whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son!" "The Spirit of God" is said to "bear witness with our spirits that we are born-ones of God"--not with our soulical faculties, which may hear the organ roll, feel religious, and go to hell!
We repeat, soul and spirit, Heb. 4:12, is one of the Scripture proofs that soul and spirit are not one and the same. Another is 1 Thess. 5:23: "May your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire." Man is here seen as a tripartite being, not merely body and soul. (See author's book, Romans Verse By Verse, pp. 11, 211, 306-8.) This comes out first in Eden: "Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground"--there is the body; "and breathed into his nostrils the breath (Heb., _ruach spirit) of lives; and man became a living soul." There is the being, or mode of life, formed by the combination of spirit with body, and the spirit could now look forth upon the creation and take part in its activities. "Mind," as we call it, found its activity in the soul-life, as we read in Gen. 2:19, that "Jehovah God formed every beast ... every bird ... and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them." Man had a perception of the respective places in creation assigned to the creatures by their Creator, with Whom he was at that time in blessed relationship.
The doctrine that man is only "body and soul" has enabled fallen man to exalt this "mentality" of his, and to dream that it is the spirit. So there are theological seminaries today that claim to "prepare men for the ministry" by a course of mental exercises in theological lessons in "church history," and other studies. But this leaves out the Holy Ghost Who came at Pentecost! It does not treat man as a spirit, which spirit alone has communion with God. A theological "training" that leaves out the Holy Ghost, is a daily insult to the God of Pentecost!
So in this dividing of soul and spirit by the living and active Word of God, people become, praise God, spiritual Christians! In 1 Corinthians 2:12 to 3:3, there are seen three classes: (1) natural men, not born of God; (2) babes in Christ, born of God, but still carnal, under prevailing fleshly impulses; and (3) spiritual, that is, those controlled in mind and life by the blessed Spirit of God, toward Whom, by us, account must be rendered. The Holy Spirit does not present the truth to the soul, to the sensibilities, or to the reason, but directly to the human spirit.
Of both joints and marrow--The opposite effect from dividing and judging is seen in Ephesians 4:16 and Colossians 2:19:
"From Whom all the Body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the Body unto the building up of itself in love." "The Head, from Whom all the Body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God."
Physicians have long known that the purpose of the marrow "appears to be to increase the red corpuscles." In the joints is no life: in the marrow, there is. But here in Hebrews 4:12, it is a work of searching out (even for judgment) and for ultimate salvation. It is no mere figure of speech, but just as soul and spirit of this verse denote different parts of man, so the body is, as it were, opened up, even in both joints and marrow, by the judging, living Word of God.
Many years ago, I was called to the home of a beloved and very prominent Christian worker to talk to his daughter, it being hoped that I might lead her out of her attitude of despair of salvation. Both she and her father told me her story.
She had engaged in Christian service in another land along with her parents, and had become deeply infatuated with a Christian writer known the world over. When assurance of her own salvation began to fail her, she saw this man as her idol. As I quoted to her several Scriptures which spoke of God's sovereignty in grace, and His willingness to receive any, and reminded her that His Word is living, and active ... piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow; and said that we may throw ourselves completely upon His mercy, she suddenly screamed to her father:
"Do you not see? I am dying!" She stretched forth her arms: "See! they are dead! My bones are drying up! God has forsaken me, and I know it!"
No persuasion of either her father or myself availed in the least.
"I am nothing but soul--I'm all soul! My spirit is dead!" she would scream.
I kept in touch with her father. He wrote me that she died, despairing!
And quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart: We have known people suddenly arrested in their deepest being by reading a verse of Scripture. The thoughts, and necessarily, the intents of the heart, they found discerned, and themselves the object of an infinite Intelligence, but yet an Intelligence not like that at Sinai, when the glory and power and majesty of God were openly displayed; but in the written Word of God, which, being "living and active," had pierced them. This piercing may have resulted in their conviction of sin, and accepting Christ and salvation; or it may have been resisted. Nevertheless, the power of the Word of God is here seen, and we greatly need to meditate upon it in these days.
The Word of God brings everything out into the light: All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do. As David said to Solomon, "Know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Jehovah searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts" (1 Chron. 28:9). And Hannah, in her great prayer: "Jehovah is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed." And Solomon, in his prayer of dedication: "Render unto every man according to all his ways, whose heart Thou knowest (for Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men)."
These Hebrew believers are here exhorted to "hold fast" their confession. "Confession" of what? First, that Jesus is the Son of God; second, that as the Son of God He is our Great High Priest; and, third, that He has put away, at the Cross, all our sins forever; and fourth, that, raised from the dead, He passed through the heavens. The connection of this last clause with Chapter 7:26, "Such a High Priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens," is very manifest.
Now what does passed through the heavens, mean? It means that all earthly priesthood and ceremony and temple are abandoned by God during this dispensation, and that worship is carried on in Heaven alone! It was one thing for Jesus to be born King of the Jews and to go about "doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil," God manifestly with Him, calling Israel to receive their Messiah: they refused--they crucified Him.
It is another thing that now He has been "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." The "mystery of godliness" written by the Spirit through Paul in 1 Timothy 3:16 is "without controversy great." But its first term reads, "He Who was manifested in the flesh"; its fourth, "preached among the nations"; and its sixth, "received up in glory."
We repeat, worship is now carried on in Heaven alone, for since Christ's death, the worshiper is nigh to God. That is, he is to go into the holiest of all, "by the blood of Jesus, by the way, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh," as we shall see in Chapter 10:19ff, the great exhortation passage of Hebrews. "We (believers)" says Paul, "are the (real) circumcision, (those identified in death with Christ, Who was cut off out of the land of the living) who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3).
We cannot therefore state too strongly that there is no earthly worship now; that true worship is in the Spirit, Who, blessed be God, is here with us, but is also in Heaven, He acts in, for, and through believers wholly and only on the ground of Christ's accomplished work, and of His being received up in glory, and of His having passed through the heavens. The believer has the same blessed rights in the presence of the Father as belong to the Son in Whom he is, and Who "appears before the face of God" for him.
Certain further conclusions follow the fact that our Great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, hath passed through the Heavens:
- All worship or pretended connection with God by men calling themselves "priests" on earth, whether Romish priests or pagan priests, involves sin and rebellion far more blasphemous than that of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, whom the earth, opening, swallowed up. For by this pretension the Son of God and His one sufficient sacrifice of Himself are despised; and the Most High God is openly insulted by profane wretches.
- Such worship as is fully pleasing to God is patterned in the book of Acts where the constant presence, superintendence, and guidance of the Holy Spirit are openly confessed by all believers. In those days there were no great "cathedrals," no "ecclesiastical" edifices or titles or forms; but believers went in to God, glorying in Him through Christ their Great High Priest. Any variation from this, or from Paul's description in his epistles of the heavenly calling, character, and ministry of the Church of God, must be finally rejected of God, although in His long suffering and grace He may deign for awhile to allow earnest believers to make use of means and methods not set forth in His Word. The believer will be rewarded for all really done in the name of the Lord Jesus; yet all not set forth in the Scriptures must finally be rejected by a Holy God. Wise Christians will ever be most careful, therefore, to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good"--that is, according to the Scriptures.
- Since the world has crucified the Son of God, who hath passed through the heavens, and is awaiting His own return in glory (Ch. 10:13), we well know that no kingdom, no state, will be "conquered by the gospel," but the very contrary! Believers are termed by our Lord in His absence a "little flock." Christendom and the world are fast preparing to bow to Satan's Christ: "All that dwell on the earth shall worship him" (Rev. 13:8). This is no "failure of the gospel," or of the Church, as some, arguing in the flesh, assume! But it is God's permitting man to show what he really is, and on whose side he is. "Popular" religious movements will be judged by the wise believer in the light of all Scripture. Let us take heed, brethren, lest in our heart of hearts we be found "building up a work," rather than waiting for our Lord from Heaven. One of the articles in the ritual of the Moravians--godly and missionary saints--reads thus: "From the unhappy desire of becoming great, Gracious Lord, deliver us!"
We might illustrate the indifference of Christendom to our Great High Priest Who hath passed through the heavens, and to the worship now going on in Heaven, by an imagined visit to the camp of Israel of old.
Every Israelite knew that a morning and an evening lamb were offered daily as burnt offerings to Jehovah; and that four other great sacrifices (two of them having to do with the forgiveness of sin) had been provided, and minutely described by God to Moses and Aaron; in addition to the Great Day of Atonement once a year, the great yearly feasts, the weekly Sabbath, and other celebrations. They had been told to teach their children the meaning of these things, especially of the Passover, by which they had been delivered from Egypt by the shedding of the lamb's blood.
Let us in imagination step up to this man calling himself an Israelite, and hold converse with him.
"No," he says, "I don't give any thought to the daily offerings. The priest is supposed to attend to all that! I do not see anything in it anyhow but a form. And so with the Great Day of Atonement. As for the Passover feast, and the others, I meet my friends there. But as for remembering that the blood of the lamb down in Egypt long ago kept the destroyer from smiting the Israelites whose tents were marked with it--I rather regard that as a fable. The weekly Sabbath also, frankly, would get to be a burden to me were it not for the social feature--meeting friends and acquaintances."
"Yet you call yourself an Israelite?" we ask. "Oh, yes, certainly!" Here then is a man who does not regard the presence of the Creator God in yonder tabernacle, though he owes life, breath, and all things to Him. Furthermore, all the priestly functions going on there, meant to teach him deep truths, and draw him close to the God of Israel, mean nothing to him!
Alas, it is so in the professing church! There is a great priesthood being exercised in Heaven. Sacrifices are not now being offered up, because the Son of God and Son of Man offered Himself once for all, at infinite cost, to put away man's sin. But there is a worship going on in Heaven: the Holy Ghost has come. The saints delight to remember Him Who died for them--not only on the Lord's Day, at the Lord's table, in remembrance of Him, but every day! Christ is for them, as it were, the "morning and evening sacrifice." The value, power and infinite blessedness of this acceptance before God in their behalf is ever before them. These are the saints of God.
But, alas, there are those who "go to church," and "sit ... as My people," as God said to Ezekiel; and sing the songs, hear the sermon, greet their friends, praise the preacher, then go home, to feast at dinner, and "enjoy themselves," as best they may.
But where is God, where is Christ, where is the Holy Spirit in all this? The Living God, they know not. The Great High Priest, and the worship belonging to the heavenly calling, they care not for. The Holy Ghost, they have not.
Alas, if it were only one here and there! But there are thousands upon thousands, to whom the sense of the fearful need of the shed blood of Christ on their behalf has never come; to whom the unutterable rest of faith in that blood, and the ecstatic sweetness of a purged conscience have never come; to whom the "entering in by the new and living way," and the "drawing near to God" by the blood of Christ, with Him as a Great High Priest Who hath passed through the heavens, mean nothing; to whom the glad singing that has begun in Heaven to go on for all eternity, has never opened on their ears! "Church membership," the selection of a "denomination," the following of some petty "program," even jealousy for certain "standards,"--that is all there is to it.
Once in awhile, in marvellous mercy, God puts forth a hand in sovereign grace and rescues some soul from this unconscious death and damnation, and there is joy in Heaven!
In contrast to cold, indifferent, professing Christians, neglectful of the priesthood and worship in Heaven, there are earnest, gracious souls who find hindrances and difficulties in laying hold of Christ's benefit to us as Priest. For to those who have heard and believed the true gospel of Christ's having fully settled their account, actually borne their judgment, and put away their sin by His blood at the Cross, unless the doctrine of Christ's priesthood in Heaven has been thoroughly explained, there will arise perplexity and self-condemnation, when assaults and accusations of Satan are made upon the soul, and experimental peace is destroyed.
For the question arises in such a heart: "Since Christ 'made peace by the blood of His Cross,' why do I not experience peace?" And further, when God's providence permits to arise circumstances which, looked at in themselves, test the faith and seem to hide His face; and most especially when upon searching their hearts they can find no cause for such Divine withdrawal of comfort; and even earnest supplication seems to avail nothing; I say, unless the true doctrine of Christ's work as Priest on our behalf in Heaven be diligently taught and received, there will be much spiritual trouble.
For almost universally the human heart expects a priest to do something God-ward. The thought that all has been done, that Christ at God's right hand is NOT making propitiation for us, but is acting upon the basis of propitiation already made--His work God-ward having been finished; that He has entered in, "having obtained eternal redemption"; that there is
"no more offering for sin"--this great fact tests the reality of our faith in Christ's work to the very utmost.
I have met thousands upon thousands of Christians, but, as I look back, I can remember few indeed whose presence gave one a consciousness that they had untroubled rest. Many, of course, were relying upon Christ and His work and had learned to view their own righteousnesses as filthy rags. But among even the most earnest and "consecrated" of these, the majority seemed yet to be engaged in what one might call an inward struggle, or were at least longing after a "higher state of grace" in themselves.
Yet there have been souls who have come into an unbroken abiding in God according to 1 John 4:16: "He that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him." I remember in particular many years ago sitting on the bank of the Hudson, above New York, having a long talk with a Christian gentleman from England. In this man I found no vestige whatever of struggle or aspiration. The very atmosphere of his presence was one of quietness, of satisfaction, of utter absence of all apprehension, or creature-fear. Rest, depth, devotion--all these breathed forth from him, quite unknown to himself. For I found, as we talked and talked, that rest in Christ was perfected in him to a degree I had never thought possible! Faith with him was no effort: was not Christ God the Son? Had not Christ put away sin for ever on the Cross? Did Christ not live at God's right hand, and live for him and in him as "the hope of glory?" Whatever struggles over these matters he may have had, they were all past. The verse that seemed to sum up his life was the third verse of our present chapter in Hebrews: "We who have believed do enter into that rest." The influence of that conversation was to me a revelation--became to me a voice.
You may say, Among all the twelve there was only one such disciple. Yes, I know it. And the others recognized it (John 13:23-26). But did not John's attitude of simplicity of faith make true in his experience, "We know and have believed the love which God hath in our case"? And see Stephen in Acts 7.
it is hard indeed for our poor legal hearts to surrender to this mighty fact: that not our devotion or consecration, or will to serve or suffer, but our FAITH is addressed, when our Lord says, "All things are possible to him that believeth" (Mk. 9:23); and, "As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord (by simple faith), so keep walking in Him" (Col. 2:6).
And who, I pray you, has the right to believe? Well, Paul wrote, in the Spirit, "sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15); and, "The life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me."
"Thou sayest, Fit me, fashion me for Thee.
Stretch forth thine empty hands, and be thou still:
O restless soul thou dost but hinder Me
By valiant purpose and by steadfast will.
Behold the summer flowers beneath the sun,
In stillness His great glory they behold;
And sweetly thus His mighty work is done,
And resting in His gladness they unfold.
So are the sweetness and the joy Divine
Thine, O beloved, and the work is Mine."--Ter Steegen.
Now tell me why all the mighty Priestly work of Christ in Heaven should not be made good in your case. Do you plead you are unworthy? That is a plea of one who does not yet know grace.
For we have not a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, without sin. "May God in His mercy give us a true insight into the glory of what is offered us in these words--even this, that our High Priest, Whom we have in heaven, is One Who is able to sympathize with us, because He knows, from personal experience, exactly what we feel! 'For we have not a high priest who is not able to sympathize with our weaknesses.' The writer uses the two negatives to indicate how common the thought is which he wishes to combat. A rich king, who lives every day in luxury,--can he, even though he hear of it,--can he fully realize what it means for the poor sick man, from year to year, never to know where his daily bread is to come from? Hardly! And God, the glorious and ever-blessed, can He truly feel what a poor sinner experiences in his daily struggle with the weakness and temptations of the flesh? God be praised! Jesus knows, and is able to sympathize. He is one who hath been in all things tempted like as we are, without sin." And He is God the Son!--Murray, "The Holiest of All." p. 168.
This is what we longed for! You remember how old Eli, the high priest of Israel, misjudged Hannah, who was in deep affliction and earnest prayer. As she prayed, he "marked her mouth ... and thought she had been drunken." Not so with our High Priest! He never misjudges, always understands. How tenderly He restored Peter after his denial. What a blessed comfort, in our weakness and infirmities, to know that we have a Great High Priest able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmity!" No matter how weak and failing we realize ourselves to be, our position in Him never changes. No matter what the darkness may be, our Great High Priest ever appears before the face of God for us; and He is the same yesterday and today and unto the ages, able as when on earth to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities--yea, all the infirmities of His own!
I recently had a talk with a dear friend who has had much infirmity of body, but who was at this time deeply concerned with another phase of infirmity. "So often," he said, "for days at a time, I do not seem to be able to get hold of anything. Even my hold on God seems gone, and a sense of weakness which is indescribable overwhelms me. Whether it is nervous weakness, or mental collapse, or a direct attack of the enemy, I do not know. What shall I do?"
I read to this friend Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, with the Lord's answer to his three times beseeching that his "thorn in the flesh" might be removed--(a physical infirmity, but a "messenger of Satan" to keep "buffeting" him: that he "might not be exalted overmuch"): "He hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee"; and Paul's wonderful response: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
I rejoice to say that my friend seemed comforted. He had never thought of glorying in weaknesses, taking pleasure in infirmities. It is for such cases as this that our Great High Priest, the Forerunner for us, has entered in, and supplies to us His strength--HIS--His OWN strength!
"Touched"--what a beautiful word! What a continual tenderness! And it is not the emotion of pity here, nor feeling for us, as of one far off from us, but of feeling with us--sympathy. For we read further, but One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are. Tempted directly by Satan, assailed by all the wiles of our great enemy, passing sinless and holy through all; tempted by circumstances so adverse as to seem as if God had forgotten Him: no place to lay His head. Tempted by the continual unbelief of the Jews, and of His mother's children; tempted and tried constantly by the little faith and slowness of heart of His own disciples, for whom He cared as the very children of the bridechamber. We praise God for this word, in all points tempted like as we, sin apart.
The word "yet" inserted in both the Authorized and the Revised versions here, "yet without sin," is an utter hindrance, instead of a true translation. The Greek reads, "tempted like as we, without sin," or, "sin apart." The Greek word for without, choris, signifies having no connection with, no relationship to. Temptation does not involve sin. Twice in this epistle, here and at Chapter 9:28, occurs this remarkable expression, choris hamartias, apart from sin.
It may throw light on the first occurrence to look at the other, where we read that Christ, "having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for Him, unto salvation" (Ch. 9:28). Every thoughtful reader will at once see the meaning of choris hamartias here, for we know that our Great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, hath been "manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (9:26), so that, having been thus "once offered to bear the sins of many," when He appears the second time, it will be apart from sin. Clearly, whether we read here the expression choris hamartias, apart from sin, as referring to Christ Himself or to us, whose sins He bore, the sin question will not come up for the saints at His coming. Therefore the phrase, choris hamartias, denotes an entire absence of sin, in Chapter 4:15, as in Chapter 9:28.
Our Lord was tempted by Satan to fall down and worship Him. Does this mean that there was an inclination in Christ to do such a thing? What folly to think of it! He was the "True Light" which shone in the darkness, and the darkness "overcame it not." This is the testimony of the Spirit in John 1:5, 9. There was nothing of the inward struggle that we know when tempted. It is a Satanic delusion, and next door to blasphemy, to assert that in order to be in all points tempted like as we, Christ must have had an inward inclination to the evil! There are two great truths you must hold fast; the truth about our Lord's Person, the truth about His Work. In all His temptations--and He endured them all--He was God, Who had spoken the word of creation of the worlds, and upholds them "by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:2-3).
Though our Great High Priest is man, it is blessed indeed to have Him called in this great passage Jesus the Son of God, able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, having passed through the path of temptation--suffering therein because He was the infinitely Holy One, loving righteousness and hating iniquity, and being, of course apart from, without, sin. Even in our little life on earth we know of temptations of virtuous, high-minded persons who have been approached by those who would ensnare them; and the very suggestion of the evil they abhorred has made them suffer, for they hated the evil. Now One infinitely above us, our blessed Lord, has this testimony borne to Him as man: "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity" (Ch. 1:9).
The perpetual object of the devil is to malign Christ to every believer, and to deny His work. But "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and forever"--the Jehovah character. Loving righteousness and hating evil marked every moment of our Lord's existence on earth, as well as before He came. Therefore leave out the dishonoring "yet" of the translations of Chapter 4:15; and behold your Lord, assaulted by every evil which Satan, or the world of evil men, or poor faltering disciples could bring to bear upon Him, going steadily on, delighting to do the will of God. Such is the Captain of your salvation!
Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace--This is the throne of God in all His holiness, righteousness, and truth. It is to Him we come. The word "Therefore" refers us to verses 14 and 15, which we have just studied. Our Great High Priest is there, at God's right hand, and of course believers are in Him, as brethren. (See Ch. 2:11.) Thence our boldness. "He appears before the face of God for us," and "ever liveth to make intercession for us." Our Priest does not stand between us and God, as did Israel's; but He is Head over the house of God, of which we are a part; and in the midst of the saints He leads our worship and our praise.
But note that it is not to Him we are told to draw near, but unto the throne, unto God:
- God must be on His throne.
- God's name is not mentioned here, but the throne only. The whole passage (vss. 14-16) is filled with the presence of our Great High Priest, and it is His presence there that gives us boldness.
- But it is a throne of Grace. Here is an amazing word, for Grace means favor, and a throne of grace is dispensing favor. It is in the value of the finished work of Christ on our own behalf that the believer is welcomed to the throne of Grace. It is the throne of the infinitely holy God, twice in this epistle called "the throne of the Majesty in the heavens," where is the blessed and only Potentate, the only God, called in Chapter 12 "the judge of all," Who has judged our sin in His own Son and has chosen to place believers in Christ Risen, making them thus the righteousness of God Himself, in Christ. This is immeasurable, yea, unutterable grace. Grace is always sovereign. There are only two principles: grace and "merit," as it is called. But of merit we have none: "There is none righteous." We must not, cannot avoid this, that we, no matter what we have been or what we have done, are being received (by Divine sovereign grace) as Christ our Lord was received. There are no degrees of acceptability or acceptance before God. Every believer is received according to the full, finished work of Christ!
This is without doubt the hardest (though most simple and most insisted upon) truth for believers to grasp, in all the book of Hebrews.
But we must conceive of God's throne being now a throne of grace--yea, that Grace which gave His Son to bear sin, made to be sin in our behalf. For us to hang back is to doubt God's heart of mercy; to limit Christ's unspeakable sacrifice, and secretly to conceive that God must have something against us because of past sin or failure: and this is that unbelief which is the great secret foe of the God of truth and grace. Believer, exercise your heart over and over on this wonderful phrase, the throne of grace. To the most of even real Christians, it is a throne where possible judgment awaits them, or a throne which puts them "on probation," or (as the Reformed Theology will have it), a throne where, behind and beyond everything else, Law, and not Love, reigns and must reign. (In the Church time of Rev. 2 and 3, indeed, our Lord Jesus says, "I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne." But when the dispensation changes from grace to judgment at Rev. 4:1, there is the throne of the thrice holy One surrounded by the four-and-twenty thrones of the elders, and before Whom they and the four living ones fall, crying out, "Holy, holy, holy!" Again at the close of the Millennium, there is the Great White Throne, of the Last Judgment; and finally, the "throne of God and of the Lamb" of the eternal state (Rev. 21, 22).)
It is called a throne of grace in view of the purposes of God. In us is to be exhibited, for all eternity, age after age, and more and more in each age, the infinite kindness of God Whose name is Love (Eph. 2:7). It is a throne at which no charges against sinners are made. For we read, "God was in Christ (at the Cross) reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses" (2 Cor. 5:19). That dispensation is on, in which our Lord Jesus Christ said,
"If any man hear My sayings, and keep them not, I judge him not ... the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:47-8). But the "Last Day" is not yet; the day of Grace is here, and, praise God, has not yet closed, as it will close! In all the unspeakable blessedness of that friendship toward sinners which the Friend of sinners displayed when in this world, the throne of grace exists. Now if God chooses to sit in grace, not judgment, let poor sinners hasten! and let believers, no matter how faint of heart or how failing in life, hasten into this throne room! There can be no mistake: God cannot lie.
Let us come boldly--As we have seen (cf. Ch. 3:6, and see comment there) the word "boldness" is literally, all-spokenness--meaning, "Unreservedness in speech; freedom, frankly, without concealment; fearless confidence: the diametric opposite of being covered with shame" (Thayer). So let us not be ashamed or fearful, but have boldness before such a throne.
To close, then, this wonderful verse, we have the object to be obtained in thus coming boldly to a throne of grace: first, that we may receive mercy--special favor, Divine blessing; second, that we may find grace to help in time of need. Let us analyze these briefly.
Paul speaks of himself as one who had "obtained mercy" at his salvation; and again, as one who had "obtained mercy" to be faithful--in his ministry. National Israel also in the future is to obtain what she has never yet obtained--mercy (Hos. 2:19). Now here in Hebrews the believer is exhorted, having this Great High Priest touched with the feeling of his infirmities, to come boldly unto the throne of grace, to receive mercy. This is not the mercy of salvation, for he has already received that. (Mark that "mercy" here is a noun. The verb, which we know in Lk. 18:13, "Be Thou merciful (or propitiated) to me a sinner," sets forth initial salvation. See Rom. 9:15, 16, 18; 1 Tim. 1:13, 16. But it is special mercy to a saved person that Heb. 4:16 speaks of.) Unsaved people are not told that they have a Great High Priest, for they have not, till they have believed the marvelous news of the gospel. But, you say, when is the believer then to come to receive mercy? Well, let him come according to the example given in Scripture. David said:
"Evening, and morning, and at noonday, will I complain, and moan; And He will hear my voice" (Ps. 55:17); and,
"At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee Because of Thy righteous ordinances" (Ps. 119:62).
The "mercy" referred to in Hebrews 4:16 is explained by what follows: Here is a faithful, praying believer, daily going to God, pouring out his soul--for he is always in a state of dependence, as we know. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, there comes a time of need, need of special grace for special testings or even chastenings (see Ch. 12). False friends betray, or weak Christians try his spirit. Testings of all kinds come. But peculiarly does the saint find times of need when the great enemy is permitted specially to attack him. But lo, such a one has already obtained mercy for just such a time of need: so that when they arrive, he finds grace to help him. Grace in this sense is the direct supplying by the almighty power of God, by the indwelling Spirit, of such Divine help as the believer needs at any time.
Alas, perhaps all of us will give ready testimony that we can trace our spiritual failures to a lack of prayer beforehand--a lack of a drawing near with boldness unto the throne of grace. (It is to be carefully noted that that operation of the Holy Spirit within us which enables us to pray is not here set before us, as elsewhere. Why? Because in Hebrews God is speaking to us in a Son. It is the Person and work of Christ that are in view. We should, however, remember such verses as Eph. 2:18: "Through Him (Christ) we both (Jew and Gentile believers) have our access in one Spirit unto the Father." Here the Trinity is before us: we come through Christ, the Spirit having the enabling power in prayer, unto God as Father. Neither of these relationships is set before us in Hebrews. But, as we said, the Person and work of Christ, by Whom and by which we have the right to, and do, draw near to God in Heaven, are set forth.)
One who has "obtained mercy" is written down in God's book for help when "time of need" arises. This is most important. We ought not to postpone our appeals until the time of need. Then we may be distraught, we may be perplexed; then we may be bereaved, ill in body, or overwhelmed by some tremendous call or opportunity for service. But if we obey this great command of verse 16, and, outside the time of need, draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, we shall find ourselves made inwardly conscious of a Divine "yes" which will give us wonderful confidence when the time of need comes and we need grace.
Many years ago, in the Moody Institute, it fell to me to direct the afternoon and evening gathering of all the students. Together with my helpers, some eleven men, I made the celebration a missionary one. There was manifest blessing.
When all was over, at about ten at night, I said to the young men who had helped, "Let us go into my office and thank the Lord." We went in and knelt to pray. It was in none of Our Minds to remain long, but just to thank the Lord ere we retired.
But it pleased God to take the meeting in charge. His Spirit filled us. In a few minutes we were on our faces praising God and weeping with joy. How His love melted and overwhelmed us! All sense of distance from God, yea, all sense of self, was gone. Only measureless joy in God, as we knew ourselves the objects of His intimate kindness and love, remained.
There we were until half past three in the morning! And when we dispersed, we were more refreshed, in body and spirit, than at the beginning. After the brethren left, 1 marked stain after stain of tears upon the floor, where men had wept with joy. Four men, if not five, became missionaries as a result of that night's visitation.
God may not at all times overwhelm us, as on that occasion, with a sense of His blessedness and love. We walk by faith, not by sight (lit., appearance, vision, or experience). But at all times, under all circumstances, God is love, and believers are invited to come boldly to a throne, a throne of GRACE!
Not only justification through the blood of Christ, not only our position in Christ, do we find in Hebrews, but spiritual activity on the part of those who have been "enlightened." There is an entering in, in Hebrews: not an entering in to mere doctrines, but into God's presence. There is a boldness enjoined throughout the book which is a boldness toward God, in view always of Christ's having put away our sin by His one sacrifice, and having Himself entered within the veil as our Forerunner, appearing before the face of God for us.
And in Hebrews, activity of believers culminates in worship. To be satisfied with "joining the church," holding "correct doctrine," or engaging in "church activities" or "programs" is far, far from Hebrews teaching. In Hebrews the believers are all to be acquainted with God, to be godly, to be worshipers, to be pressing on to full growth, to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
We may note that:
- Salvation brings joy and gratitude: delightful to God, yet not properly worship.
- A sense of sonship brings filial affection, rather than worship.
- Union with Christ (and God) brings a sense of liberty--and blessedness of life.
- The relation of Bride, "espoused to one Husband," Christ, brings a sense of separation from the world to Him: the "first love" (Rev. 2:4).
- Taking Christ as Lord brings a sense of being owned by Him, and delight in service. Christ died and rose again "that He might be Lord", "Whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son," as said Paul.
- But worship belongs to God as God; and the redeemed will worship forever!
Even Christ said, "My Father" (as being one of the Godhead) but, "My God", as having become man. Indeed. though He was "equal with God," yet will Christ, Who has, as Man, entered into the holies above "through His own blood," as our Great High Priest, lead the praises and worship of "the great congregation" of His saints forever.
It is sadly true that many Christians never on earth become such worshipers and praisers of God. Thus they doubly lose. For it is Christ's business in Heaven to see that our needs are supplied, and our trials and temptations met. But God's plan is that we should come habitually to the throne of grace. Thus all things are supplied, and we are delivered from this world, and our minds set on the things that are above, as we are enjoined in Colossians 3:1-3.
But the greatest result, infinitely the greatest, is the glory God receives from a life filled with prayer and praise. A "heavenly minded" Christian is noted by the world and remembered by the saints. Oh, let us become occupied with this wondrous life of worship and praise!
It is related of the saintly Duncan Matheson in Edinburgh, by a friend who was walking with him one day, that Matheson turned gently to him, saying, "Gang alang, Jimmie, for the Lord ha' a word wi' me. Wait for me." So the friend walked on for several blocks, while Matheson was occupied in some business with God. Then he caught up with his friend.
The great barrier to the love of worship in most hearts is the thought of distance--of a gulf between us and our God. judging in our hearts our nearness to God by our own inner sense of that nearness, we fail to look at Christ (in Whom we are) as having entered in through His own blood into the holies above. He is our nearness! We are created in Him, the Risen Christ, and made to sit with Him in the heavenlies, in Christ Jesus."
How many Christians should daily be "drawing near" the throne of Grace in Heaven? Absolutely all! It will never do merely to say, "I am saved. I have believed Romans' truth--justification by faith. And I have believed Ephesians' truth, that I am raised up with Christ and made to sit with Him in the heavenlies." For Hebrews takes the heavenly calling for granted, and then says, Draw near. Do you yourself, do this? Are you offering up "a sacrifice of praise to God continually"? Are you a constant worshiper within the veil?
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Newell, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany