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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
Hebrews 4

 

 

Verses 1-11

Hebrews 4:1-11

Fear and Rest.

I. The worldly man neither fears nor loves God. He sometimes imagines he loves God, because he is not afraid, because he is not awed by the holy majesty of God, and does not tremble at the righteous condemnation of the law. The soul which is roused and convinced of sin fears God. This fear, created by the Spirit, has in it already, though concealed and feeble, elements of trust and affection. There is in it, as there is in repentance, a longing after the peace of God, a desire to be brought into harmony and fellowship with Him. There is in this fear, although dread and anxiety about self may predominate, reverence, conviction of sin, sorrow, prayer.

II. It is because we know the Father, it is because we are redeemed by the precious blood of the Saviour, it is as the children of God and as the saints of Christ, that we are to pass our earthly pilgrimage in fear. This is not the fear of bondage, but the fear of adoption; not the fear which dreads condemnation, but the fear of those who are saved, and whom Christ hath made free.

III. The believer has rest, now on earth, and afterwards in glory. Resting in Christ, he labours to enter into the perfect rest of eternity. We enjoy rest in Christ by faith. But the perfect enjoyment of rest is still in the future. There remaineth a sabbatism for the people of God. Believers will enter into rest after their earthly pilgrimage, labour, and conflict, and the whole creation will share in the liberty and joy of the children of God. The substance and foretaste of this rest we have even now in Christ. But as Christ has entered into glory, so we are to be glorified together with Him at His coming. Then will be perfectly satisfied the great and deep-seated longing of our hearts for rest.

A. Saphir, Expository Lectures on the Hebrews, vol. i., p. 209.


References: Hebrews 4:1-13.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 315; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 459. Hebrews 4:2.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. vii., p. 205; Bishop Jackson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 497. Hebrews 4:3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 866; Homilist, 1st series, vol. v., p. 38. Hebrews 4:5.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 112.


Verse 9

Hebrews 4:9

The Earthly Sabbath: a Type of the Heavenly.

I. The heavenly blessedness is Sabbath blessedness, because it includes rest. The fundamental idea of the Sabbath is rest; and this is the idea which the Apostle makes most prominent in this place, because he uses Sabbatism, interchangeably with the word which signifies cessation or repose. But it can never be granted that mere physical or animal rest was the sole or even chief thing enjoined by the Sabbath law under any dispensation. It was the rest of man in God, a rest like that of God, a rest which in man's unfallen state was enjoyed by his working on the same plan and resting in the same spirit with God, and in his fallen state could only be recovered by his return in his whole being to harmony with God, and rest in Him. There is rest (1) from sin; (2) from sorrow and pain; (3) from labour and fatigue.

II. The heavenly blessedness is Sabbath blessedness, because it includes commemoration. From the beginning the Sabbath had a memorial character. Heaven will not be a mere repetition of the creation Sabbath, nor of the creation enlarged and endeared by such a providential sign or memorial of deliverance as made up the Exodus or Canaan Sabbath of the Old Testament. Nor will it be a mere repetition or prolongation of the resurrection Sabbath of the Christian Church. It will stand in the same relation with that Sabbath of the new creation, in which the Exodus Sabbath did to that of the old as from the first; this wonderful ordinance finds room for the oldest memories and for the most recent. Like some great pillar carved with successive inscriptions, or shield quartered with various arms, the Sabbath adds on, and yet loses nothing, so that the heavenly sabbatism enriches itself with all the spoils of the past.

III. The heavenly blessedness will be Sabbath blessedness, because it includes worship. The worship of the heavenly Sabbath will be distinguished (1) by gratitude; (2) by sympathy; (3) by consecration.

J. Cairns, Christ the Morning Star, p. 325.


References: Hebrews 4:9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 133; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 18; A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 74; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons to English Congregations in India, p. 168; Bishop Barry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 321; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 77.


Verse 9-10

Hebrews 4:9-10

Entrance into God's Rest.

We have here:—

I. The Divine rest: "He hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His." (1) Rest belongs necessarily to the Divine nature. It is the deep tranquillity of a nature self-sufficing in its infinite beauty, calm in its everlasting strength, placid in its deepest joy, still in its mightiest energy; loving without passion, willing without decision or change, acting without effort, quiet and moving everything; making all things new, and itself everlasting; creating and knowing no diminution by the act; annihilating and knowing no loss, though the universe were barren and unpeopled. The great ocean of Divine nature which knows no storm nor billow is yet not a tideless and stagnant sea. God is changeless and ever tranquil, and yet He lives, wills, and acts. (2) There is the thought here of God's tranquil ceasing from His work, because He has perfected it. (3) This Divine tranquillity is a rest that is full of work. Preservation is a continued creation.

II. The rest of God and Christ is the pattern of what our earthly life may become. Faith, which is the means of entering into rest, will, if only you cherish it, make your life no unworthy resemblance of His who, triumphant above, works for us, and, working for us, rests from all His toil.

III. This Divine rest is a prophecy of what our heavenly life shall surely be. The heaven of all spiritual natures is not idleness. Man's delight is activity. The loving heart's delight is obedience; the saved heart's delight is grateful service. Heaven is the earthly life of a believer glorified and perfected. If here we by faith enter into the beginning of rest, yonder through death with faith, we shall enter into the perfection of it.

A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, vol. i., p. 291.


References: Hebrews 4:11.—E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. ii., p. 301; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 211; Homiletic Magazine vol. xiii., p. 111; E. Paxton Hood, Dark Sayings on a Harp, p. 369.


Verse 12-13

Hebrews 4:12-13

Life a Dialogue.

There is a Word of God to us; there is also a word of ours to God. The Divine word and the human. The word which speaks, and the word which answers and makes reply.

I. The Word of God. There are many such words. There is a word of God in nature. There is a word of God in providence. There is not sound only, but a voice in both of these; a voice implying a personality, and a voice presupposing an auditor. If the definition of "word" is intelligence communicating itself, here twice over is a word of God, and here is an ear to which it makes appeal. The word was a voice before it was a book. The living life wrote itself upon other lives; they, in turn, wrote it upon others, ere yet a page of gospel Scripture was written, on purpose that the distinction between letter and spirit might be kept ever fresh and vital; on purpose that the characteristic of the new revelation might never fade or be lost sight of, how that it is God speaking in His Son—God speaking, and God bidding man to make reply.

II. There is also a word of ours to God. The particular point in the view of the holy writer was that of accountability. God speaks in judgment, and we speak to give account. "With Him" directly and personally "we have to do." The two words of which the text speaks are not independent words. This conversation is not between two equals, either of whom must contribute his share to the instruction and the enjoyment of the meeting. The incommensurableness, in nature and dignity, of the two speakers, while it forbids not freedom in the inferior, forbids presumption, nay, precludes it as a tone and a feeling which it would jar upon, and jangle out of tune the very melody and harmony of the converse. The word of the man meets the word of his God on the strength of the Word made flesh, which is the reconciler and the harmoniser of the two. "I looked, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and a voice saying to me, Come up hither!"

C. J. Vaughan, University Sermons, p. 546.



Verses 12-16

Hebrews 4:12-16

I. The Word of God judges the Christian below. We are familiar with the Word of God. Like Israel, we possess the treasure in our country, in our families. Do we know that in possessing, reading, and knowing the Scriptures we are under a mighty, solemn and decisive influence, and that this Word judges us now, and will judge us at the last day? The Word is (1) living. It is the seed which appears insignificant, but which, if received in good ground, shows its vitality. Hence it is that by this Word souls are born again into eternal life. (2) The living Word is powerful and energetic. It springs up and grows while men are unconscious of its operation. It grows and energises in our thoughts and motives; it brings forth fruit in our words and actions; it impels to exertion, it sustains in trial. (3) The Word cannot be living and energetic without being also a sword, dividing and separating, with piercing and often painful sharpness, that which in our natural state lies together mixed and confused. Without a solemn awe and trembling at the Word of God, there is no true rest in Christ.

II. The Word judges us on earth, and we are humbled; the Lord Jesus represents us in heaven. He intercedes for us, He sympathises with us. We look from earth and self to the sanctuary above, and find there nothing but love, grace, sympathy, and fulness of blessings. He is our great High Priest. In the sanctuary of blessedness and glory Jesus, who was tempted in all things as we are, apart from sin, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He remembers His earthly experience; He knows our frailty, the painfulness of the conflict, the weakness of the flesh. We are upheld according to His lovingkindness, according to the multitude of His tender mercies. Justified by His blood, we are now much more abundantly saved by His life. Our great High Priest in the highest glory is our righteousness and strength; He loves, He watches, He prays, He holds us fast, and we shall never perish.

A. Saphir, Expository Lectures on the Hebrews, vol. i., p. 232.


References: Hebrews 4:14.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 229; Ibid., vol. xxx., p. 65; Ibid., Sermons, vol. ii., p. 89; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 115; W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 284.


Verse 15

Hebrews 4:15

The Sympathy of Christ.

I. Few persons are aware of the extent to which the mind is influenced by sympathy. It may be doubted whether there was ever anything done in the world, greatly bad or greatly good, which did not owe itself, in part, to sympathy. When the ignorant multitude led in the meek and lowly man of Nazareth through the waving palms, with their unwearied "Hosannas!" till the excitement spread from street to street, and even children to the temple's gate cried back, "Hosanna!" no person can question but that the popular fervour owed its rise, in a great measure, to no higher principle than sympathy. And when, four days afterwards, the very same voices, with rival fury, shouted, "Crucify Him!" it was little else than the same principle in another dress. And we all know, in the smallest circle, if you took away sympathy how little would be the sum of joy or sorrow that would remain; while, if but two kindred minds are left to act and re-act upon each other, there is scarcely the height of moral happiness, or the depth of moral suffering, to which both will not unconsciously arrive. On all sides there is nothing insulated in man. Now the gospel comes in to take hold of this deep and all-pervading principle of our nature, and to give it a higher and nobler reach.

II. When our blessed Lord, in His sojourn here, had gathered round His own heart all the trials, and all the infirmities, and all the tendernesses of man, then did He ascend into heaven, that He might carry them with Him to the throne of God. His ascension severed none of His sympathies. Every cord of brotherhood remained perfect between the Church and Christ.

III. It is not without a particular emphasis that, in immediate connection with this mention of Christ in His sympathy as the High Priest of His people, it is added that He was "yet without sin." Two thoughts lie in these words. The one is the qualification for sympathy. And here we would observe, that sympathy can never be separated from virtue. So that for the perfect sympathy there must be entire innocence. But in the mention that our sympathising Saviour was "without sin," we are taught that there is not only a qualification, but also a limit to His sympathy. It is evident that in the highest sense of the word we can sympathise only in that of which we have had experience. Christ in the flesh had experience of the consequence of sin, but not of the acts of sin: He bore an imputed guilt, but a real punishment.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 63.


The Sympathy of Christ.

Christ's sympathy with penitents is perfect, because He is sinless; its perfection is the consequence of His perfect holiness. And for these reasons:—

I. First, because we find, even among men, that sympathy is more or less perfect, as the holiness of the person is more or less so. There is no real sympathy in men of a sensual, worldly, unspiritual life, unless we are to call that inferior fellow-feeling which ranks with our natural instincts, and is to be found also in the lower animals, by the name of sympathy. Sin is essentially a selfish thing. We may almost measure our advance in the life of God by the tenderness of our feeling towards sinners. And if we may venture to dwell on thoughts beyond our probation, may we not believe that this law prevails to perfect the mutual sympathy of those who are in the higher state of separation from this evil world? Of all the members of Christ's mystical body, they must mutually sympathise most perfectly who are most free from the taint of evil.

II. And from this our thoughts ascend to Him who is all-perfect; who, being from everlasting very God, was for our sakes made very man, that He might unite us wholly to Himself. Above and beyond all sympathy is that of our High Priest. It stands alone in its incommunicable perfection. Let us see how we may draw comfort from this thought. Those who have sinned may go to Him in a perfect confidence that He is able to be touched with a feeling of their infirmities. We have something in Him to which we may appeal. (1) We may plead with Him on His own experience of the weakness of our humanity. (2) We may appeal to His experience of the sorrow and shame which come by sin upon mankind.

III. Lastly, let us so live as not to forfeit His sympathy. It is ours only so long as we strive and pray to be made like Him. Love of the world casts out the love of Christ.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 179


I. The soul of man in this passage through the years of time, which is the preface, the ante-chamber, the school, the exercise-ground of an eternal existence, has to go through temptation. Man comes into life fitted and equipped to meet his trial, to meet temptation, as he comes fitted and equipped to provide for his bodily wants, to subdue the earth, to live in society, to develop and improve the marvellous endowments of his nature. The soul comes with reason, with conscience, with knowledge, with will, with grace; and as the day goes on the question is ever presenting itself, How shall it use that great gift of will? The beginning of the history of the first man, the prelude and figure of what was to follow, was the history of a trial, a temptation, a defeat. The first scene in the victory of the Second Man was a temptation, a victory, the type and firstfruit of what man might hope for. The Bible opens with man ensnared and vanquished; it closes with the great sevenfold promise to him that overcometh, and with the vision of the glory of those who overcame. And what is all that is written in it, between the first page and the last, but the record of how, to men and to nations, there came the day of opportunity, the day of visitation, the day of proof, and how that day was met, and how they bore themselves in it, and what were its issues?

II. What we see in the great lives in the Bible finds place in the most commonplace of our modern lives. He was "in all points tempted like as we are." We may turn the words round, and say with all reverence that like as He was tempted, so are we, even the humblest among us, tempted, tried, according to the measure of what we can bear, but as truly and with all depending on the issue. The hour is coming which must soon decide it—betray, make manifest, what has been going on, not only in the great storms of adversity and passion, those great critical decisions of will for or against what is right, to which we often confine the name of temptations, but in those secret, undisclosed, prolonged workings of choice, of effort, of self-surrender, which prepare men for what they do in public, and which are as real and serious as what they do in public. We rise in the morning, and the day will try us, show what we are, touch some spring, some dormant motive deep down in our nature which reveals the truth about it to one who sees us; and as we go through each day's proof and trial, we are fitting ourselves for the event of the trial of tomorrow, and the current of our life and character is set by unperceived and insensible influences either towards that eternal life which God has prepared for man, or towards that eternal death from which, for the soul, there is no rising.

R. W. Church, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 704.

References: Hebrews 4:15.—S. Martin, Sermons, p. 157; J. R. Macduff, Communion Memories, p. 194; C. Stanford, Central Truths, p. 122; S. Rawson, Church of England Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 192; Ibid., vol. x., p. 409; W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 321; Ibid., vol. iv., p. 312; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xii., p. 88; Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 77; Ibid., vol. xv., p. 67; Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 422; J. B. Heard, Ibid., vol. xx., p. 120.


Verse 15-16

Hebrews 4:15-16

The Sympathetic Saviour.

We have her—

I. Christ's power of sympathy asserted. Sympathy was the heritage which earth gave Him to enrich His heavenly state.

II. The conditions guaranteeing the power. (1) His exposure to temptation. Just as the light becomes tinged with the hues of the glass it passes through, so the unfathomable love of the Son of God becomes sympathetic towards men as it passes to them through the human heart, steeped in sorrow and agonised by the sufferings of the Son of man. Christ's exposure to temptations gave His love the quality of sympathy. (2) The other condition of His power of sympathy was His freedom from sin, notwithstanding His exposure to its temptations. The temptations of our Saviour were no shams. He was tempted like as we are. His temptations were as real to Him as ours are to us. Temptations to sin are of two kinds, direct and indirect; the first being solicitations, and the second provocations to sin. Christ endured both kinds. It is a belief with the people of the district that the River Dee passes through the whole length of Bala Lake without mingling with its waters. Its current, they affirm, can be clearly traced, marked off by its clearer, brighter waters. So Christ's life, passing through the lake, so to speak of earthly existence, is clearly defined. It is one bright, holy, spotless stream from beginning to end—a life without sin. The dark waters of temptation and sin pressed round Him; but such was the force of will and power of holiness by which He was characterised, that not a drop was permitted to mingle with the pure stream of His life. He passed through unsullied.

III. Christ's power of sympathy used as an encouragement to seek the blessings provided for us. The writer notifies (1) the blessings we are urged to seek—"mercy and grace in every time of need." (2) The place whence they are dispensed—"the throne of grace." (3) The spirit of confidence in which, in view of the assurance furnished to us of Christ's power of sympathy, these blessings should be sought. The boldness is the confidence inspired by a living, all-absorbing conviction of the deep and yearning sympathy of Him who occupies the throne. With such an assurance, surely any shrinking hesitancy to come and seek is unreasonable and sinful. The word rendered boldly here may, with equal propriety, be rendered joyfully. So, then, we are right to seek mercy and grace with joy. The Christian man should come with joy to draw the grace which is to quench his soul-consuming thirst, and sustain the Divine life quickened by the Divine mercy in his soul.

A. J. Parry, Phases of Christian Truth, p. 233.



Verse 16

Hebrews 4:16

I. We have here the idea of majesty. God is seated upon a throne. His estate is royal. To Him belongs kingly authority. He is to be approached as a monarch, with reverence and worship. The royal majesty of Jehovah rests not only on His power, but still more on His perfection, especially His moral perfection.

II. We have here the idea of sovereignty. The sovereign occupant of a throne acts not of constraint, nor merely as limited by law or promise, nor always as his subjects may desire or request; but in proportion as he is a sovereign he acts according to his own conclusions as to what is wise, and right, and befitting. Absolute sovereignty cannot safely be trusted to a creature. But to God absolute sovereignty belongs. In coming to God, then, we must bear in mind that we are coming to a sovereign.

III. We have here the idea of wealth or abundance. Plenty beseems the royal estate. Wealth properly surrounds a throne. Riches and honour are the fit appurtenance of a crown. In this respect the throne of God has its due accompaniment. To Him belongs the wealth of the universe. His kingdom ruleth over all. It is the privilege of the believer to remember this when he approaches God in prayer.

IV. We have here the idea of liberality or bountifulness. Great wealth does not necessarily imply great beneficence. It is only where the possessor is of a kind and generous spirit that his wealth becomes a blessing to others. Now in this respect God commends Himself to our admiring and grateful confidence. His generosity is as boundless as His wealth. Let us cultivate just views of God as at once a King and a Father—a King almighty and glorious, and a Father full of compassion and tenderness.

W. Lindsay Alexander, Sermons, p. 287.


References: Hebrews 4:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1024; R. Glover, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 88; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 143; Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 329. Hebrews 5:1, Hebrews 5:2.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 229.



 


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hebrews 4:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/hebrews-4.html.

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Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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