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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Hebrews 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

DISCOURSE: 2334

CHRIST’S PERSEVERING DILIGENCE

Hebrews 12:1-2. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

WHEN we read the history of the Jews as recorded in the sacred volume, we in general feel no other interest in the events related concerning them, than we do in those which are handed down to us by the historians of Greece and Rome. But, allowing for some local and circumstantial differences, the same things are transacted amongst ourselves; and the records which we read, may serve as a glass wherein to see all that is now passing in the world. The saints of old, even from righteous Abel to the end of the prophetic age, were called to a life of suffering, and by their sufferings were made perfect. Thus also “must we go through much tribulation in our way to the heavenly kingdom;” and fill up the measure of sufferings which is allotted us in this vale of tears.

The Apostle having given us a long catalogue of worthies, who had approved themselves faithful unto death, and had thereby “obtained a good report,” exhorts us to follow their example, and more especially the example of our blessed Lord himself.

In this passage are contained,

I. An exhortation to run our race—

All of us are called to “run our race with patience”—

[There is a course marked out for us by God himself: nor can any one err from it, who duly attends to the directions given him in the Holy Scriptures. In this course we are to run. We are not left at liberty to choose a path for ourselves: the race is “set before us,” and to that we must strictly adhere. But we cannot hold on in it without much and continual exertion. Many are the difficulties that obstruct our way: sometimes our path is steep and slippery; and sometimes it is rough and thorny. Often are we wearied in it and ready to faint, before our course is half finished. And not unfrequently they who ought most to aid and encourage us, exert themselves to the utmost to impede our progress. But our duty is to run our race “with patience;” to hold on till we arrive at the goal, in spite of all our external trials, or inward weakness; and “by patient continuance in well-doing to seek for glory and honour and immortality.” To run well for a season will avail us nothing: we must “endure unto the end, if ever we would be saved.”]

To this we should be stimulated by the consideration of the many witnesses that surround us—

[The saints who have gone before us, having finished their course with joy, are represented as being spectators of our conflicts, and witnesses to us that our persevering efforts shall be crowned with success. In both of these views, the consideration of them is calculated to refresh our spirits, and to quicken our languishing exertions. Conceive “a cloud,” or multitude of departed saints, and more especially of those who ran together with us; conceive them looking upon us with eager solicitude, rejoicing when they behold us rapidly advancing, and ready to weep over us, if at any time they see us on the decline; conceive them crying out to us, Press forward; remember me; I once endured the same trials; I, like you, was ready to faint; but, through grace, I held on: and at last I obtained the prize: hold on then a little longer, and the crown of righteousness is yours; “be not weary in well-doing; for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not:” I say, let us dwell on this thought; and surely, if ever men running in a race were encouraged by the acclamations of their friends, much more shall we by such animating considerations as these.]

Together with this earnest exhortation, the Apostle gives us,

II. Directions to ensure success—

1. We must put away whatever obstructs our progress—

[They who are about to run a race need not be reminded of the necessity there is to cast off all unnecessary weight, or any long garment which may impede their motion. But in. running our spiritual race we are apt to be forgetful of this obvious and necessary caution. Many things there are which operate as a burthen to weigh down our spirits; and to exhaust our strength. How often do the cares or pleasures of the world divide our attention, enfeeble our efforts, and prevent our advancement in the divine life! There is in every one some “sin that more easily besets him,” and which, like a flowing robe [Note: εὐπερίστατονἁμαρτίαν.], diminishes his activity in the service of his God. What sin this is we should be careful to inquire. It will in general be found to be some inward lust that is constitutionally wrought into our frame, or some evil, incident to our situation, our company, or our employment. Whatever it be, whether pride, or passion, whether covetousness or uncleanness, whether sloth or intemperance, whether unbelief or impenitence, whether self-righteousness or self-dependence, we must “put it away.” Whatever tends to divert us from the path of duty, or to embarrass us in it, must be sacrificed, if we would “so run as to obtain the prize.”]

2. We must direct our eyes to Jesus Christ—

[Jesus is here proposed to our view both as our successful pattern, and as our almighty friend. Never had any other person such a difficult course to run: nor could any other ever have persevered in it. The cross he bare was heavier than we can possibly conceive: nor was the ignominy of it less than the pain: but “he endured the cross and despised the shame:” he looked to “the joy that was set before him,” the joy of glorifying his heavenly Father, the joy of delivering a ruined world, the joy of being for ever the acknowledged author of their salvation: and in the prospect of having all this consummated, he disregarded all his trials and difficulties, he even “longed to be baptized with his bloody baptism,” and continued with unabated ardour till he could say, “It is finished;” and till, in consequence of his victorious career, he was exalted to the “right hand of the throne of God.”

How should we be encouraged by the sight of this our successful pattern! for, what are our trials in comparison of his? How richly too are his exertions recompensed, even as ours also shall in due time be, in the full possession of the prize that was set before him!

But the Apostle directs us to look unto Jesus also as our almighty friend. It is he who marked out for us our course, who called us forth to run in it, who holds out to our view the prize, who sits as umpire to award the prize to every one that wins it, and who will bestow it on us with his own hand. He is moreover “the author and the finisher of our faith;” from him proceeds that faith whereby we are stimulated to engage in the race, and that whereby we are enabled to persevere in it to the end. Let us then look at him, and see how sufficient he is to renew our strength, and how interested he is in crowning our efforts with success.

There is a peculiarity in this direction which we must by no means pass over. The Apostle tells us not merely to look unto Jesus, but, in so doing, to look off [Note: ἀφορῶντες.] from every thing else. We are apt to look at our own weakness, at the length and difficulties of our way, at the strength and number of those who are endeavouring to cast us down, or at any thing that tends to discourage us: but we should look off from all these things, and keep our eyes steadily fixed on Jesus as our pattern, and our friend: and then our difficulties will appear as nothing; and we shall proceed cheerfully in an assured expectation of the prize [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:26.].]

Address—

1. To those who have never yet begun to run—

[Were it optional with you whether you would have any interest in this race or not, we might leave you to your choice: but you are of necessity entered upon the lists, and must have all the shame and misery of failure, if you run not so as to obtain the prize. The loss of heaven is not the sole consequence of your sloth: for, if you be not judged worthy of the felicity of heaven, you will receive the doom of the wicked and slothful servant in the torments of hell. Consider then how much time you have lost, how little may yet remain, and what an arduous race you have to run; and begin immediately, while yet the prize is in your view, and Jesus is ready to assist your feeble efforts.]

2. To those who are halting, or turning aside out of the course—

[Many “run well for a season, and yet, after all, are hindered [Note: Galatians 5:7.]” from pressing forward to the goal. Inquire, my brethren, whence it is that such a lamentable change has taken place in you? What is there that will compensate for the loss of the heavenly prize? It were better far to part with every weight, and every incumbrance, whether friends, or interests, or pleasures of whatever kind, or even with life itself, than to be diverted from your course, or to be retarded in it. Be assured that, as “he who puts his hand to the plough, and looks back, is not fit for the kingdom of heaven,” so neither can he be, who halts in his Christian race. May God enable you to resume your labours! and know for your encouragement, that, if persisted in, “they shall not be in vain in the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:58.].”]

3. To those who are resolutely hastening toward the goal—

[Doubtless you are sometimes ready to faint: but look at the cloud of witnesses that are gone before you: look at Jesus in particular, that bright example of all righteousness, and that gracious helper of all his followers. Look too at the prize, the joy that is set before you; and “have respect unto the recompence of reward:” how richly will that repay you for your persevering exertions! Methinks you are now come within a short distance of the goal, and thousands of God’s dear children, though invisible to you, are looking on, and standing ready to congratulate your success. Press on then a little longer, “forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.]:” so shall you “finish your course with joy,” and “receive the crown of righteousness from the hands of Jesus, your righteous Judge [Note: 2 Timothy 4:7-8.].”]


Verse 3

DISCOURSE: 2335

CHRIST’S PATIENCE UNDER SUFFERINGS

Hebrews 12:3. Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

THINGS are good or evil in this life chiefly by comparison: the happiest of men is unhappy in comparison of Adam in Paradise; and the most miserable of men is happy in comparison of those who are in hell. This reflection will be of great service to us in estimating our own state. It is not indeed expedient that we should compare ourselves with those who appear in a more prosperous condition than ourselves (unless for the purposes of humiliation and self-abasement), lest we should be led to envy them, and to repine at our own lot: but it will be highly advantageous to us frequently to view the wants and sufferings of others, in order to extirpate every murmuring thought, and to stimulate our own souls to gratitude and thanksgiving. A sight of the Lord Jesus in particular cannot fail to produce in us the best effects; since all that we are called to endure for his sake, is as nothing in comparison of what he patiently and willingly endured for us—

In the text we have this very direction given us, and for this express purpose. The Apostle, in what he wrote for the comfort of the afflicted Hebrews, reminds us,

I. That the soul is apt to faint under heavy trials—

The people of God are taught to expect trials from an ungodly world; and to make their sufferings an occasion of joy and glorying. But,

Even the most eminent saints have fainted under their trials—

[In the Scriptures we have the weaknesses of God’s people as faithfully recorded as their virtues. And there is scarcely a saint who has not on some occasions shewn himself weak as other men. Jacob, in despondency, cried, “All these things are against me [Note: Genesis 42:36.].” Moses, by his intemperate and hasty expressions, provoked God to exclude him from the earthly Canaan [Note: Numbers 20:10-12.]. Job cursed the day of his birth, and accused even God himself of cruelty and oppression [Note: Job 3:3; Job 10:3; Job 16:12-14.]. David said it was in vain to serve God; and called all who had ever testified to the contrary, by the name of liars [Note: Psalms 73:13-14; Psalms 77:4; Psalms 77:7-9; Psalms 116:10-11.]. Elijah, through the dread of Jezebel, begged of God to put an end to his life [Note: 1 Kings 19:4.]. Jeremiah lamented that he had ever been born; and complained that God himself was to him “as a liar, and as waters that fail [Note: Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 15:18.].” All of these were very distinguished characters, and yet, in circumstances of peculiar trial, lost that composure of mind which it was their duty, and their privilege, to possess.]

And who amongst us has not on many occasions betrayed the same weakness?

[We have borne up with fortitude perhaps against some trials, which have been light and transient; but how have we sustained those which were heavy, complicated, and of long continuance? When our troubles have arisen from those who were our avowed enemies, we have endured them manfully: but when they have come from a quarter that we did not expect, or from a quarter from whence we had reason to expect nothing but support and consolation, how have we endured them then? If some near relative, or a friend that was as our own soul, have been the immediate cause of our affliction, and our enemies have been those of our own household, have we not given way to complaint and murmuring? Yea, have not our very spirits failed by reason of vexation, insomuch that we could find scarce any comfort in life. If we have not been turned from the faith, like those who were afraid to confess Christ [Note: John 12:42.], have we not been diverted from the path of duty, and been led to manifest a vindictive spirit instead of overcoming evil with good? Let this then suffice to shew us how weak we are, and how much we need the supports and consolations of the Gospel.]

But in the text the Apostle informs us,

II. That a view of Christ’s patience under his sufferings will afford us most effectual relief—

Many are the consolations which the Gospel administers, by pointing out to us the author and the intent of our trials, together with the benefits resulting from them. But there is no source of comfort so great as that which the consideration of Christ’s sufferings opens to us.

The contradiction of sinners which Christ endured was wonderful indeed—

[Consider the unreasonableness with which he was opposed, when, notwithstanding the myriads of miracles that he wrought, his enemies were continually demanding more signs, and pretending a want of evidence as the ground of their unbelief. Consider the obstinacy with which he was rejected, when his victory over the devils was ascribed to a confederacy with them; and Lazarus himself was made an object of murderous resentment, because his restoration from the grave was the means of converting some who were more open to conviction. Consider the malice with which he was persecuted. Incessantly did his enemies labour to ensnare him, and seek to take away his life. And, when they had a prospect of effecting their purpose, there was no method, however infamous, which they did not use to accomplish their wishes. With what inveteracy did they suborn false witnesses; and, on the failure of that device, compel the judge by clamours and menaces, to give sentence against him! Consider the cruelty with which he was put to death. They might, one would have thought, have been satisfied with seeing his back torn, and even ploughed up, with scourges: but their cruelty was insatiable; for, even when he was nailed to the accursed tree, they ceased not to mock and insult him, and to add by their indignities a tenfold poignancy to all his anguish.

Yet, notwithstanding the contradiction of sinners against him was so great and unparalleled, he endured it all with patience, never fainting, never wearied, till he expired under the accumulated load.]

A due consideration of this will keep us from fainting under our sorrows—

[What are our sorrows in comparison of his? The utmost we have met with is a little contempt and ridicule, or perhaps the loss of some worldly interests or prospects. “We have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin [Note: ver. 4.];” and any thing short of that should be deemed unworthy of our notice. How slight are the aggravations of our sufferings in comparison of his! If we do not deserve such treatment from man, have we not merited infinitely worse from God? But he was altogether spotless; nor could either men or devils lay any thing to his charge. Perhaps we have endeavoured to do some good to those who now hate and revile us: but he came from heaven for the salvation of them that hated him; yea, and subjected himself to the power of his enemies, on purpose that he might effect their reconciliation with God. If then he patiently endured such things for us, should we faint when called to endure some light afflictions for him? Surely we should rather rejoice that an opportunity is afforded us of testifying our love to him, and of approving ourselves faithful to his interests.]

We may improve this subject,

1. For our humiliation—

[How should we be ashamed of our readiness to shrink from the cross, and to complain when it is laid upon us! What if we should be called to lay down our lives for Christ, as thousands have been before us? How should we endure that trial? “If we have run with the footmen and they wearied us, how shall we contend with horses? if we be wearied in a land of peace, how shall we do in the swelling of Jordan [Note: Jeremiah 12:5.]?” Let us remember, that “he who hateth not his own life, (when it stands in competition with his duty) cannot be Christ’s disciple.” Let us then never fear the face of man [Note: Isaiah 51:7-8; Isaiah 51:12-13.]; but whenever we are tempted to betray the cause of Christ, let us reflect on the example he has set us, and “arm ourselves likewise with the same mind [Note: 1 Peter 4:1.].”]

2. For our encouragement—

[Some variation in our frames we must expect: but we must never suffer a desponding thought to lodge within us. Be it so; our sufferings are very great: then we are the more conformed to the example of our blessed Lord. And shall not this thought console us? And if we walk in his steps shall we not soon be with him where he is? Let us then be content to “fill up the measure of his sufferings,” and to follow him in his appointed way. Thus shall we, like him, “be made perfect through sufferings; and, having suffered with him for a little while, “be also glorified with him” to all eternity [Note: Romans 8:17.].]


Verses 4-13

DISCOURSE: 2336

AFFLICTIONS THE FRUIT OF GOD’S LOVE

Hebrews 12:4-13. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth, not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

PERSECUTION for righteousness’ sake is what every child of God must expect: and when faith is in lively exercise, it will be sustained without murmuring. This is amply shewn in the preceding chapter [Note: Hebrews 11:35-38.]. But when faith languishes, the trials which believers are called to endure will appear almost insupportable. Such was the state of many of the Hebrews to whom the Apostle wrote: they were in danger of becoming weary and faint in their minds through the greatness and long continuance of their sufferings. On this account, St. Paul, having shewn them the power of a living faith to support them, brings before them a variety of considerations,

I. For their consolation and support—

The patience of Christ under his sufferings is beyond all comparison the strongest incentive to resignation under ours; since ours fall so infinitely short of his. This the Apostle first propounds for their consideration; and then goes on, in the words which we have just read, to offer other suggestions, which also are of great weight for the reconciling of the mind to trials, of whatever kind they be. From them we also, when bowed down with affliction, may learn to support them manfully: for,

1. They are far less than we have pledged ourselves willingly to endure—

[The very terms on which we come to Christ are, that we shall be ready to die for him at any time, and in any way, that he shall see fit. We are plainly warned by our Lord himself, that, if we will not lay down our life for him, we cannot be his disciples. “If we love our lives, we shall lose them: but, if we lose them for his sake, then shall we find them to life eternal.” But, what is the loss of temporal good when compared with that of life? Be it granted that, like the Hebrews, we have suffered much [Note: Hebrews 10:32-34.]: yet our persecutors have stopped far short of what they might have inflicted; and may, for ought we know, be yet permitted to inflict: “We have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Instead therefore of complaining of the heaviness of our trials, we have reason rather to be thankful for the lightness of them: and, if we faint when they are so light, how shall we support them when they come upon us with unrestrained force? “If we have run with footmen and they wearied us, how shall we contend with horses [Note: Jeremiah 12:5.]?” In our “strivings then against sin” and Satan, let us prepare for yet greater extremities: and, when we are prepared for the worst that can come upon us, then will all which stops short of that appear light and easy to be borne.]

2. They are all the fruits of paternal love—

[God had exhorted his people under the Old Testament dispensation to regard their trials in this view, as sent by a loving Father to his children; and to receive them with truly filial gratitude, “neither despising them,” as though they came only by chance, “nor fainting under them,” as though they had been sent in anger [Note: Proverbs 3:11-12.]. And the Apostle fixes our attention particularly on the tender and affectionate terms under which our God addresses us; “My son, despise not.” And we should not overlook such endearing expressions, which, if duly attended to, would reconcile us even to the most afflictive dispensations. The truth is, that man is only an instrument in God’s hands: and that the very afflictions which men lay upon us for our excess of piety, God lays upon us for our defects, or for the further advancement of his work within us. St.Paul’s thorn in the flesh was ordained of God to prevent his being too much elated by the revelations which had been vouchsafed unto him [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7.]. Our state in this world is a state of discipline: we are yet children, and need correction on account of our manifold errors and faults: and it is by correction that we are gradually brought to the exercise of true wisdom. This is found universally amongst men; insomuch that there is no wise father who does not occasionally correct his child. A man, who sees children that are unconnected with him acting amiss, takes no notice of them, but leaves to others the painful office of correcting them: but his own children he corrects, because of his peculiar interest in them, and his love towards them. Would we then that God should disregard us as bastards, that have no real relation to him? Would we not much rather be dealt with by him as his beloved children, in whose welfare he takes the deepest interest? Whatever then be our affliction, corporeal or mental, personal or domestic; or with whatever view it may be inflicted on us by others, let us view the hand of a Father in it, and say, with Eli, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good [Note: 1 Samuel 3:18.].” Let us “hear the rod, and him who hath appointed it [Note: Micah 6:9.];” and endeavour to make a just improvement of it for the good of our souls.]

3. If we have submitted patiently to the rebukes of our earthly parents, much more should we to those of our heavenly Father—

[Earthly parents do not always correct so justly or so temperately as they ought; their rebukes being sometimes little else than an ebullition of their own evil tempers: yet we have submitted to their corrections without presuming to arraign the wisdom, the justice, or the love that inflicted the chastisement upon us. This is a part of that honour which children were by God’s law enjoined to pay those who were the fathers of their flesh; and which, if they obstinately refused to pay, they were, by God’s own appointment, to be stoned to death [Note: Deuteronomy 21:18-21.]. But this submission is due in an infinitely higher degree to Him who is the Father of our spirits: and, if we refuse it to him, a far worse death assuredly awaits us in the world to come; for he never inflicts any evil upon us but for our greater good, even that we may become in a greater degree “partakers of his holiness.” On the other hand, to obedient children there was a peculiar promise of a long and happy life; a promise doubtless fulfilled to multitudes in former times, and not unfrequently accomplished now. But to those who meekly submit to the Divine chastisements, it shall be fulfilled in the Canaan that is above, even in the regions of blessedness and glory for evermore. Shall we then refuse to the corrections of our heavenly Father that submission which we paid to our earthly parents? “Shall we not much rather be in subjection to him, and live?” Surely this is our truest wisdom, and our highest privilege.]

4. Our sufferings, how grievous soever they may appear at the time, are all sent for our eternal good—

[Whilst we have the feelings of humanity, chastening, of whatever kind it be, cannot but be grievous to us at the time: but after it has produced its proper effects, “it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.” At first, tribulation works impatience: but, when the soul has been well disciplined by a continuance or recurrence of it, a better temper is produced; and, through the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, a different process is produced; and “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; even a hope that maketh not ashamed [Note: Romans 5:3-5.].” Now shall we complain of dispensations which are sent for such an end? Shall the vine complain of the pruning knife, which cuts only with a view to increase its fruitfulness? Shall the vessel complain of the furnace into which it is put in order to effect its meetness for the Master’s use? Let us then look to the end; and we shall never repine at the means which Infinite Wisdom has ordained for the attainment of it. If we be “in heaviness through manifold temptations, let us not forget that there is a fit occasion for them; and that the trial of our faith, which is infinitely more precious than that which purifies the gold, will be found to the praise and honour and glory of our God, and to our own also, at the appearing of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:6-7.].” If we be “made partakers of his holiness,” we shall never complain of the means which were used to bring us to the attainment of it.]

5. Walk so as to encourage others by your example—

[The influence of example is far greater than we are ready to imagine. Peter, in order to avoid the displeasure of the Judaizing Christians, had recourse to dissimulation. (Here I may observe that if an Apostle swerved so grievously from the path of duty, through his carnal reasonings, who has not reason to take heed lest he also fall?) And what effect had this on others? “The whole Church dissembled with him; insomuch that even Barnabas himself was carried away with their dissimulation [Note: Galatians 2:13-14.].” On the other hand, see the effect of good example in the Apostle Paul. He was imprisoned for the truth’s sake, and retained his fidelity undaunted, and undiminished; insomuch that “his bonds for Christ’s sake became a matter of notoriety through C ζsar’s palace, and in all other places. And what was the effect of this? We are told, that “many of the brethren in the Lord waxing confident by his bonds,” and by what they heard of his fortitude in supporting them, “were much more bold to speak the word without fear,” so that “the Gospel was furthered” by the very means which its enemies used to obstruct its progress [Note: Philippians 1:12-14.]. Similar effects will, in a greater or less degree, follow from our conduct under our afflictions. There are in every place many who may be considered as “lame,” who will be stumbled and weakened, and discouraged, if they see us faint; whilst, on the other hand, they will be encouraged and emboldened to go forward, if they behold us adhering resolutely to the path of duty, and supporting manfully the trials which are come upon us. Let us then think of the probable effect of our conduct upon those around us: let us think how much good or evil we may do, according as we approve ourselves to God, or not, in the discharge of our duty. There is a high line which we should pursue, even that which the Apostle prayed for in behalf of the Colossians, to be “strengthened with all might, according to God’s glorious power—unto all patience, and long-suffering, with joyfulness—giving thanks unto the Father who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light [Note: Colossians 1:11-12.].” And think not that such an aim as this would betray any arrogance in you: for Timothy was but a youth, and yet was directed to be an example, not to the world only, but to believers also, in every thing that was good [Note: 1 Timothy 4:12.]: and it is the duty of every one, whether a minister or not, “so to let his light shine before men, that all who behold it may be led to glorify their Father which is in heaven [Note: Matthew 5:16.].” In a word, let us all endeavour so to walk, that we may say with the Apostle Paul, “Whatsoever ye have heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you [Note: Colossians 4:9.].”]

The Apostle having instructed the Hebrews in the true nature and end of their sufferings, suggests some further considerations,

II. For their direction and guidance—

These also we shall consider as addressed to us; and in correspondence with them we would say to all sufferers of the present day,

1. Yield not to dejection—

[Troubles, whether felt or feared, are apt to depress the spirits, and to enervate the whole man. This we see depicted in strong colours in the Prophet Ezekiel. “Sigh,” says God to him, “Sigh, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins, and with bitterness sigh before their eyes. And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt answer, For the tidings: because it cometh: and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water [Note: Ezekiel 21:7.].” But it should not be thus with us, whatever be the trials with which we have been visited, or with which we may be menaced: for they all are ordered by a wise and gracious God, who controuls and limits all according to his own sovereign will, and without whose permission not a hair of our head can be touched. Our enemies, unconscious of their dependence on him, plot and threaten our destruction. But see what the Psalmist says concerning them: “The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth: but the Lord shall laugh at him [Note: Psalms 37:12-13.],” as a poor, impotent, and malignant worm, that exists only through his forbearance and tender mercy. Now, I ask, shall God laugh at him, and we cry? Shall we not rather set the poor impotent worm at defiance? But see what the Psalmist further adds: “The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.” And what is the issue of all this? “Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken [Note: Psalms 37:14-15.].” “Say ye not then, A confederacy, like those who are crying out, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid: but sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread: and he shall be to you for a sanctuary [Note: Isaiah 8:12-14.].” And when others would alarm you with the supposed power of your persecutors, let your answer be, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven [Note: Psalms 11:1-4.].” The greatest of all your adversaries, even Satan himself, could not so much as enter into the swine without permission: how then shall he, or any of his confederates, hurt a child of God without permission [Note: 1 Peter 3:13.]? You may laugh them all to scorn, and shake your head at them [Note: Isaiah 37:22.]: for, with God on your side, there are a million times “more for you than against you.” Only “be strong in the Lord [Note: Ephesians 6:10.],” and you will be more than conqueror over all.]

2. Swerve not from the path of duty—

[Fear, and unbelief, and impatience “will make our ways crooked [Note: Isaiah 59:8.]:” and the contrivances to which under their influence we shall have recourse for the purpose of avoiding difficulties, will augment our difficulties an hundred-fold. The way to “make straight paths for our feet,” is simply to fulfil the will of God, and leave events to him. If Daniel and the Hebrew Youths had set themselves to consider how they might avoid the trials with which they were threatened, they might have attained their end, it is true; but they would have involved their souls in the deepest guilt. They followed the straight-forward path: not moving to the right hand nor to the left, to avoid the fiery furnace, or a den of lions. This was right — — — And this is the very direction given to us also by God himself: “Ponder the path of thy feet; and let all thy ways be established: Turn not to the right hand, nor to the left; remove thy feet from evil [Note: Proverbs 4:26-27.].” Adopt this then as the principle from which no consideration under heaven shall induce you to depart; “I must obey my God;” and, if the whole world combine to divert you from it, let your reply be, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” This will deliver you from endless perplexity. This will make your every path both clear and straight. “If your eye be evil,” and the film of carnal hopes or fears be upon it, “your whole body will be full of darkness:” but “if your eye be single,” and you have no purpose but to serve and honour God, “your whole body will be full of light [Note: Matthew 6:22-23.],” and your steps be directed in a way wherein you shall neither err, nor stumble.]


Verse 14

DISCOURSE: 2337

THE NECESSITY OF HOLINESS

Hebrews 12:14. Follow. holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

THE Gospel, while it brings us into a state of reconciliation with God, enjoins us to maintain peace with man. This is rendered difficult, not only by the evil dispositions that are exercised on account of daily occurrences, but more especially by the enmity which subsists in the hearts of the generality with respect to religion; in reference to which our Lord himself said, “I come not to send peace on earth, but a sword.” Much however may be done by means of patience, meekness, and forbearance; and it is our duty to sacrifice any thing, except a good conscience, for the sake of peace. But our duty to God is paramount to every other consideration: therefore the Apostle, exhorting the Hebrews to “follow peace with all men,” adds immediately, “and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” the import of which is, that we may fail in obtaining peace, however earnestly we may seek it; but holiness we may, and must, attain at the peril of our souls; for without it no man shall see the Lord.

We shall,

I. Ascertain the nature of holiness—

Holiness is a conformity of heart and life to the revealed will of God—

But, to enter more fully into the subject, it implies,

1. That we love the whole will of God—

[There is not any thing that more truly characterizes a Christian than this: it draws a line of distinction between him and all other persons upon earth. The self-righteous Pharisee, and the most refined hypocrite, have secret objections against the law of God; they think its precepts too strict, and its sanctions too severe. They would be glad if it left them somewhat greater latitude. They would be content that it should forbid gross outward sins, and insist on the performance of outward duties: but that it should call for continual self-denial, that it should require brokenness of heart and contrition for the most secret offences, and demand the utmost exertion of all our faculties in the service of our God, this appears too much; they would wish for an easier way to heaven.

But a person that possesses the smallest measure of true holiness, is the very reverse of this. He lothes himself for not complying more perfectly with the demands of the law; but he never condemns the law as too strict; he would not have it require one jot or tittle less than it does. He even admires and loves it for its purity; he says with David, “The commandment of the Lord is pure, therefore thy servant loveth it.” He acknowledges it to be not only “holy, and just, but good” also, and calculated to make every one happy that obeys it. And though he cannot obey it perfectly, he can truly say, “I delight in the law of God after my inward man:” yea, the language of his heart is, “O that my ways were made so direct, that I might keep thy statutes.”]

2. That we live in no allowed deviation from it—

[We mean not to say, that a Christian experiences no deviations from the law of God; (for, alas! he is conscious of many) but he does not allow them. Others will obey the will of God as far as will consist with their interests and reputation; or with the exception of some bosom sin; but there will always be found, in insincere persons, some secret lust for which they plead, and in reference to which they say, “Pardon thy servant in this thing.”

But true holiness admits of no reserves, no limitations, no exceptions: and he who possesses it will stop short of nothing that God has commanded. He may do what is wrong, either through ignorance or temptation; but he will not persist in it: he will endeavour to mortify the whole body of sin. He will no more allow himself in secret sins, whether of omission or of commission, than he will commit the greatest enormities. Like David he says, “I esteem thy commandments concerning all things to be right; therefore I hate every false way;” that is, I love the ways of duty, so that I would walk in them even if there were no reward; and I hate the ways of sin, so that I would shun them, though I were sure never to incur punishment.]

3. That we actually grow in a conformity to it—

[Sanctification is a progressive work. A child of God arrives not at full stature but by degrees: he is constantly growing in grace: the vernal bloom gradually advances to the autumnal fruit. There may indeed be seasons wherein he may appear to decline, or may really suffer a declension: but if he have the grace of God in his heart, he will revive, and return to God with more fervour and steadfastness. Nor will he ever think he has already attained, or is already perfect; but “forgetting the things that are behind, he will reach forward unto that which is before.”

This is in no respect the case with others. They are satisfied with their present state: they are not conscious of their defects; and therefore they feel no longings for higher attainments. They are like a painted sun upon the canvass, while the true Christian “grows up into Christ in all things as his living head,” and, like the sun in the firmament, “shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.”]

Having in this description of holiness, marked the lowest degree of it that exists in a true Christian, we proceed to,

II. Shew the grounds, on which it is necessary in order to salvation—

If we were not able to assign any reason for God’s determination, it would be quite sufficient for us to know, that he has issued his decree. It is not for us to dispute, but to submit, saying,

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

But there is one obvious ground on which the necessity of holiness is indisputable, namely, that in the very nature of things it is impossible without it to enjoy the Divine presence

[If heaven were a place suited to a carnal mind, and afforded the gratifications which unregenerate men affect, then indeed unholy men might find such happiness there, as in their state they are capable of receiving. But heaven is a holy place; the habitation of a holy God: it is filled with myriads of holy men and angels, who are exercising themselves incessantly in the holy employments of praise and adoration. What then would there be in that place suited to the taste of an unholy man? Could those whose spirits were defiled with sin, and who had never been purged from its guilt by the atoning blood of Christ, find pleasure in the presence of God, who, being omniscient, could not but discern their state, and, being holy, could not but regard them with abhorrence? Would not a consciousness of his power terrify them, and a recollection that he had once cast innumerable angels out of heaven, appal them? Could they delight in the society of the glorified saints whom they so little resemble, or find communion with them in exercises, which were here their burthen and aversion? We are fully assured, that “as the tree falleth, so it lieth;” that “he who is unjust, will be unjust still, and he who is filthy, will be filthy still.” If it has not been the one desire of our hearts to honour and enjoy God; if secret intercourse with him in our chambers, and social fellowship with him in the public assembly, have been a mere task, and not the delight of our souls, how can we suppose that we should instantly find a delight in these things in heaven? How could we endure to spend an eternity there in employments, for which we had no taste? We are told, that there is a “meetness for the inheritance of the saints [Note: Colossians 1:12.]:” and that we must have that meetness before we could enjoy the Divine presence, even if we were admitted into it. Christ must be precious to us now, if we would find him so in the eternal world: and we must account it our supreme felicity to enjoy him now, if we would hereafter join the chorus of saints and angels, in ascribing “Salvation to God and to the Lamb for ever.” In short, holiness, real holiness of heart, is as necessary to the enjoyment of the Divine presence, as a taste for music, or literature, is for the company and employments of musical or literary men. As we soon grow weary of things which we do not affect, and prefer any other employment that is more suited to our inclination and capacity, so most assuredly must it be even in heaven, if our natures be not changed: we shall remain for ever destitute of those qualities which constitute our meetness for the heavenly inheritance, and consequently be for ever incapable of participating the joys of heaven.

This may at least be sufficient to illustrate the declaration in the text; perhaps we may add also, to vindicate it. Not that any declaration of God is to be judged of by the reasons which fallible men may assign in vindication of it: his word is the same, whether we believe it or not; nor shall one jot or tittle of it ever fail.]

This subject cannot but suggest to our minds the following reflections:

1. How few are there that will eventually be saved!

[Take the foregoing explanation of holiness, and compare it with the state of all around us; how awful the contrast! — — — But God is true; and his word respecting the unholy shall surely stand — — — Let us “seek then, yea, strive to enter in at the strait gate, and to walk in the narrow path” — — — Let us “follow” holiness with all our might — — — Whatever we may think, it is in that way alone that we can behold the face of God in peace.]

2. How needful is it that we should seek holiness in a right way!

[The generality are extremely ignorant respecting the manner in which holiness is to be obtained: they have an idea that they must acquire it by some exertions of their own: whereas they should seek it from Christ, through the operation of his Spirit in their hearts. They should first seek to be united to him by faith, as scions to the stock of a tree, or as a wife to her husband [Note: These are the very means prescribed by our Lord, John 15:4-5 and by St. Paul, Romans 7:4.]: then, by virtue derived from him, they will be made fruitful in good works, and be “changed into his image in righteousness, and true holiness.”]


Verses 15-17

DISCOURSE: 2338

THE DANGER OF DESPISING OR DISHONOURING THE GOSPEL

Hebrews 12:15-17. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

UNSEARCHABLE are the riches of the Gospel, and freely imparted to all who seek them by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet they quite mistake the nature of the Gospel, who imagine it to be inconsistent with solemn warnings. It offers every thing freely; but it does not dispense with the exertion of human efforts: it promises every thing fully; but not in such a way as to supersede the need of care and watchfulness on our part. In fact, it abounds with warnings and exhortations, to which we must take the utmost heed; and by attending to which we are to secure the blessings which it holds out to us. Nothing can be conceived more consolatory than all the foregoing declarations, that sufferings of whatever kind, and especially those inflicted on us for righteousness’ sake, are permitted by our heavenly Father for our good, and shall be overruled by him for the advancement of our best interests. At the same time we are warned, that “without holiness, radical and universal holiness, no man shall see the Lord:” and we are cautioned to “look diligently,” lest, by coming short of the requirements of the Gospel, we fail to attain a possession of its blessings.

The caution here given us is two-fold:

I. Not to come short of the Gospel in embracing it—

By “the grace of God” I understand “the Gospel of the grace of God,” or that “grace of God which bringeth salvation.” And by “failing of the grace of God,” I understand, a falling short of it: the first part of our text being exactly parallel with that expression in the fourth chapter of this epistle, “Let us fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it [Note: Hebrews 4:1. ὑστερηκέναι.].” Now we may come short of the Gospel,

1. By not submitting to its humiliating doctrines—

[The Gospel views all men as in a lost and perishing condition. Its provisions are made for all mankind without exception. It knows nothing of persons so good as not to need salvation, or of persons so bad as to be beyond the reach of the salvation which it provides. It requires all to view themselves as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; and counsels them to come to the Lord Jesus Christ for eye-salve that they may see; for gold that they may be enriched; and for garments that they may be clothed [Note: Revelation 3:17-18.].” It suffers none to bring any price in their hands, but requires them to receive every thing “without money and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.].” Nor does it merely require this of men at their first conversion: it prescribes the same humiliating system to the latest hour of our lives: whatever our attainments be, we must renounce them all in point of dependence, and place our whole dependence on the Lord “Jesus Christ for wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” We must have no more in ourselves than the branch of a vine has; but must receive every thing from the stem into which we have been engrafted [Note: John 15:5.]. We must “receive every thing out of the fulness that is in Christ [Note: John 1:16.],” and must “live altogether by faith in the Son of God, who has loved us, and given himself for us [Note: Galatians 2:20.].”

But all this is very humiliating. Proud man does not like to be brought so low, as to depend wholly on another, and not at all on himself. We wish to have something of our own whereof we may boast. And to be reduced to a level with the vilest of the human race, so as to acknowledge ourselves as much indebted to Divine grace as they, is a humiliation to which we cannot endure to submit. Could we be saved in a way more congenial with our own feelings, we should be satisfied: but when it is said, “Wash and be clean,” instead of accepting the tidings with gratitude, we spurn at them like Naaman, and go away in a rage [Note: 2 Kings 5:10-13.].

To this however we must “submit [Note: Romans 10:3.]:” for there is no other way of salvation for any child of man [Note: Acts 4:12. 1 Corinthians 3:11.]: and, if we will not come to Christ upon his own terms, we must remain for ever destitute of the blessings he has purchased for us [Note: Romans 9:30-32.].]

2. By not obeying its self-denying doctrines—

[Though the Gospel gives salvation freely, it does not leave us at liberty to neglect good works; on the contrary, “it teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” Indeed, the sanctification it requires of us is as offensive to our carnal and worldly hearts, as the humiliation it imposes on us is to our pride. The object of the Gospel is, not merely to save men from death and hell, but to bring them back to a state of holy allegiance to their God, such as Adam experienced in Paradise. For this end it requires us to give up ourselves as living sacrifices unto God, and to be as entirely dedicated to his service as the burnt-offerings were, which were wholly consumed on the altar [Note: Romans 12:1.]. It enjoins us “neither to live unto ourselves, nor die unto ourselves;” but both in life and death to be altogether at the Lord’s disposal, for the accomplishment of his will, and for the promotion of his glory [Note: Romans 14:7-8.].

Now to this measure of holiness we have by nature a deep and rooted aversion. We have many earthly and sensual appetites, which plead for indulgence: and when we are required to “cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye,” and to “be holy as God himself is holy,” we reply, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” To “mortify our members upon earth,” and to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts,” is a work, which, as the very terms in which it is expressed intimate, is painful to flesh and blood: and to be told that without this we never can be Christ’s disciples, is most grating to our ears [Note: Galatians 5:24.]. But nothing less than this will suffice for the approving of ourselves upright in the sight of God.

I beseech you then, brethren, to “look diligently” to this matter, and not to come short of what the Gospel requires of you; for if you comply not both with its doctrines and its precepts, you can never partake of its privileges and its blessings.]

But respecting this Gospel, we are further cautioned,

II. Not to dishonour it after we have embraced it—

We are in danger of dishonouring it,

1. By heretical opinions—

[It is to these chiefly, though not exclusively, that I suppose “the root of bitterness” to refer. The expression is adopted from the Old Testament, where Moses cautions the Israelites against any “root among them bearing gall and wormwood,” and operating to the production of idolatry [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19.]. Such sprang up very early in the Christian Church; even as St. Paul forewarned the elders of Ephesus to expect: “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them [Note: Acts 20:29-30.].” Some there were who blended the Mosaic rites with the Gospel; others, who “denied the resurrection, saying that it was past already;” others “denied the Lord who bought them:” and great was “the trouble,” and extensive the defilement, which these heretics occasioned in the Church of Christ [Note: Galatians 5:7-10. 2 Timothy 2:10-18. 2 Peter 2:1-2.].

Such teachers there have been ever since in the Church, even to the present hour: and there is need of the utmost care that we be not drawn aside by any of them “from the simplicity that is in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3.].” Nothing can be more simple than the Gospel, when it is received in a humble child-like spirit. It requires nothing but a life of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of love both towards God and man for his sake. The whole is comprehended in those words, “faith working by love.” But men are fond of making the Gospel a theatre for disputation; and they care not how far they divert the minds of their followers from “the truth as it is in Jesus,” if only they may but prevail upon them to receive their dogmas. This is the true root of all the heresies which have distracted and defiled the Church of God in all ages.

But be ye on your guard, brethren, lest any such “root of bitterness” spring up among you. It is well called “a root of bitterness,” for nothing that ever yet divided the human race has caused more “bitterness” than that which calls itself religion, but which, in fact, is only some partial or erroneous view of religion, which conceit has propagated, and bigotry enforced.]

2. By ungodly practices—

[Grievous have been the falls of many who have professed religion; and shocking the scandals which have at times prevailed in the Christian Church. Evils, which obtained amongst the ignorant and licentious Gentiles, were indulged, and vindicated, by them after they had embraced the Gospel of Christ; and many, like profane Esau, bartered away the inheritance of heaven for some worthless perishable good.

Thus it is at this day. Many things are pleaded for, which are as opposite to the holy nature of the Gospel as “fornication” itself: and the vanities of time are yet daily exchanged for the glories of eternity. In vain are we reminded how bitterly Esau at last bewailed his error; or how fruitless were his efforts to remedy the evil he had committed. We see nothing in his example which speaks to us; nor have we any ears for the instruction it conveys to us. The influence of temptation is too strong for us: our earthly and sensual hearts will plead for gratifications which the Gospel of Christ does not allow: and thus multitudes relinquish all the blessings of eternity, through their undue attachment to the things of time and sense.

But let not such be found amongst you. It is melancholy to see that Demas, after being twice united with Luke in the salutations of St. Paul, should be found, “through love to this present world,” “making shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience.” But such instances occur in every age of the Church: and it requires continual watchfulness over our own hearts, and over each other too, to prevent the more frequent recurrence of similar apostasy. To all then I would recommend the example of St. Paul, who “kept his body under, and brought it into subjection, lest, after having preached to others, he himself should become a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.].”]

The solemn hint with which our text concludes will furnish us with matter suited to enforce the preceding subject—

1. Think what will ere long be your views of your present conduct, if you neglect the cautions which have been now suggested—

[Lightly as Esau once thought of his birthright, he saw at last that it was worthy to be “sought,” yea, to be “sought carefully” too, and that “with tears.” And what will be your views of heaven when you are lying on a bed of sickness, or, at all events, the very instant that your soul enters upon the invisible world? Will an obedience to the Gospel then appear so hard a condition, that all the glory of heaven could not recompense you for complying with it; or the mortification of some forbidden lust so insupportable a task, that hell itself, with the indulgence of that lust, was a better portion than heaven with the mortification of it? No: the pangs of Esau will be your pangs, when you find how bitter are the consequences of your folly, and how irreversible the doom that has been pronounced.

Not that repentance, provided it had been genuine, would have been unavailing for Esau as far as related to his eternal state. Isaac had, though unwittingly, conferred the rights of primogeniture on Jacob; and he would not reverse his word, notwithstanding all the bitter cries with which Esau importuned him to do so. And this is what is meant, when it is said, that Esau “found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Had he repented before God, he might have obtained pardon with God: as we also may do, through our Lord Jesus Christ. But, if we do not turn to God through Christ with our whole hearts, we shall find ere long the door of mercy shut against us, and in vain implore admission to that bliss which now we have despised [Note: Luke 13:24-27.].]

2. Yield to the Gospel, without delay, the obedience which it requires—

[Infinite are the blessings which it offers to us. And what are the sacrifices which we are called to make? — — — Be they ever so difficult or self-denying, they are not worth a thought in comparison of “the grace that shall be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The wise merchantman parted with all for the pearl of great price. Do ye the same: and determine through grace, that whatever it may cost, you will not come short of it by refusing to make the sacrifices, or suffer either men or devils to rob you of it.]


Verses 18-25

DISCOURSE: 2339

THE TRANSCENDENT EXCELLENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION

Hebrews 12:18-25. Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (for they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) but ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.

IN explaining the Holy Scriptures, it is often requisite that we carefully bear in mind, not only the immediate context, but the whole scope of the book in which any particular passage occurs. This is of the first importance in considering several expressions in the Epistle of St. James, and it is not unimportant in the passage before us.

The general scope of the Epistle to the Hebrews is, to encourage the Jewish Christians to hold fast their profession in the midst of all the persecutions they endured. And the principal argument used for their encouragement is, the great superiority of the Christian religion above that which they had renounced. In the foregoing part of the epistle, this subject is treated at large: and, in the words which we have read, there is a kind of recapitulation of it, purposely introduced, in order to confirm the Hebrews in a steady adherence to the faith which they had embraced, and to shew them the dreadful danger of departing from it.

Hence, in elucidating this passage, we shall have occasion to shew,

I. The transcendent excellence of the Christian dispensation—

The circumstances which took place at the giving of the law, are all particularly and distinctly referred to [Note: Compare ver. 18–21. with Exodus 19:14-25.]: and they exhibit in very striking characters the nature of the law itself. The law was never given in order that the people might rest in it, or expect life from it; but that they might be made to know and feel their need of that better covenant which God would make with them under the Gospel dispensation. Instead of bringing men to God, it kept them at the greatest distance from him, not a soul being suffered to touch the mount on which he revealed himself, nor so much as a beast touching it without having instant death inflicted on him. Instead of producing any thing like filial love and confidence, it inspired only fear and terror, and, as the Apostle says, “gendered to bondage [Note: Galatians 4:24.].” Even Moses himself said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” Instead of offering life to any one, it was altogether “a ministration of condemnation and death [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:9.].”

Now, says the Apostle, ye who have received the Gospel are not come to such a dispensation as that; “ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear [Note: Romans 8:15.]:” but ye are come,

1. To a better place—

[Mount Sinai differed not from any other mount: it might be seen and touched like any other place. But not so the mount to which those who believe in Christ are come: “they are come to Mount Sion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” a place not visible to mortal eyes, nor like to any place which mortal hands have formed: it is a place formed by Almighty God for his own immediate residence, and for the fullest manifestations of his glory.]

2. To a nobler society—

[Angels indeed were present at the giving of the law: but the Jews had no communion with them: they were only God’s agents for augmenting the terror of the scene [Note: Acts 7:53. with Psalms 68:17.]. Their whole tribes too were there convened: but it was only that they might all be filled with the same dread of God’s wrath, and be made to unite in that urgent request, that God would speak to them no more by an audible voice, but only through Moses as a mediator [Note: Deuteronomy 5:22-28.]. But those who believe in Christ are come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” Yes, the glorified saints and angels all belong to the same blessed assembly to which believers are now called: and “God, even as a Judge,” is no longer to them an object of dread, because they know that he at the same time is their Father: and they have “Jesus as their Mediator” with him; and “the new covenant” as the rule according to which they shall be dealt with by him. Here all is no longer fear and terror, but peace and joy.]

3. To far more exalted privileges—

[Moses, the morning after the giving of the law, offered burnt-offerings; with the blood of which he sprinkled both the book of the covenant which had been made with the people, and the people themselves, saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words [Note: Exodus 24:4-8.].” But what did this covenant avail them? The very blood with which it was ratified served only to testify against them as violating their own engagements, and making void every promise contained in it. But the blood of sprinkling to which the Christian is come, effectually removes from him all his sin, and prevails for his perfect reconciliation with God. The blood which Abel offered in sacrifice, received a visible and most honourable token of God’s acceptance of it [Note: Hebrews 11:4.]: but, however blessed that external testimony was, it was not worthy to be compared with that internal “witness of the Spirit,” with which believers in Christ are sealed; which assures them of their adoption into God’s family, and their everlasting fruition of his glory: it seals them, not for a time only, but unto the day of redemption; and is to them, not a seal only, but a pledge and earnest and foretaste of heaven itself [Note: Ephesians 1:13-14.]. The very same eternal love which “elects them to obedience,” elects them also to this “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:2.].”]

The Apostle, however, not content with exhibiting thus the transcendent excellence of Christianity, proceeds to point out,

II. The indispensable necessity of paying to it the attention it requires—

The warning which he gives to the Hebrews is most solemn; “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh:” and the argument with which he enforces it is most awful; “for, if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.”

Hear then the warning—

[Look into the history of the Hebrews: see what became of those who refused obedience to the Sinai covenant: they perished; even that whole nation perished, (of those at least who had attained the age of full maturity,) with the exception of two. For one single transgression of it was Moses himself excluded from the earthly Canaan [Note: Deuteronomy 32:50-51.]. The extreme severity of the law against any wilful and presumptuous violation of its commands, is again and again held forth as a warning to us under the Gospel dispensation, and particularly in the epistle before us: “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation [Note: Hebrews 2:2-3.]?” So again; “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy, under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace [Note: Hebrews 10:28-29.]?” Well may such warnings as these sink down into our ears, and make us tremble at the thought of disobedience to the Gospel covenant!]

Acknowledge also the justice of it—

[Think how the Christian covenant has been delivered: not by a terrific voice, uttered from a cloud by a Being that was invisible, but by the Lord Jesus Christ himself descending from the highest heavens to make it known to us in the mild accents of love and mercy. Think too of its contents. To what does it call us, but to a conformity with the holy angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect? It brings us into favour with God, precisely as they are. It invites us to begin their employments now, and even on earth to participate their bliss. It makes every provision for the end: it offers pardon, and peace, and righteousness, and glory, to all who by faith will lay hold upon it. Say then, what do not they deserve who refuse to listen to invitations like these? Verily, we cannot but acknowledge, that, if the judgments denounced against the disobedient Israelites were just, much more must the heaviest judgments that can ever be inflicted upon us be just, if we refuse to listen to Him who speaks to us with such astonishing condescension and grace.]

We must not omit to notice, that the Apostle here takes for granted, respecting every true Christian, that he is thus come to Mount Sion.

Permit me then, in conclusion,

1. To make this a matter of inquiry—

[Have you indeed come thus to Mount Sion? Have you turned your backs on Mount Sinai, from a deep conviction that you are condemned by the law, and have no hope at all but from the gracious provisions of the Gospel? Have you obtained an insight into the nature of true religion, as consisting in a communion with God and with the heavenly hosts, and an actual participation of the mind, the spirit, the blessedness of heaven? Ah! how rarely is Christianity viewed in this light! It is regarded rather as a mere system of restraints enforced with terror, than as an earnest and antepast of the heavenly bliss! I pray you, not to imagine that you have ever yet set out aright, if you have not thus passed from Mount Sinai unto Sion, and from Moses unto Christ.]

2. To address you under the supposition which is here made—

[I will suppose, that “you are come unto Mount Sion.” Yet much would I guard you, as the Apostle did the Hebrews, against yielding to any species of temptation that may deprive you of the blessings to which, according to your Christian profession, you are entitled. It is no uncommon thing for persons to make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, even after they have for some time maintained, in appearance at least, an upright walk and conversation. But beware lest ye be in any wise hindered in running the race that is set before you: difficulties ye must meet with, both within and without: and it is well that you do meet with them; for how else shall your fidelity to God be tried? But ask yourselves, what any of the holy angels would do if they were in your place? or what any of the spirits of the just that are now made perfect would reply to those who should either by menaces or allurements attempt to turn them from God? You cannot doubt. Be ye then like them, to whose society you are brought, and with whom you are to dwell through everlasting ages: and as ye are already come to the very gate of heaven, see that “an entrance into it be ministered unto you abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord.”]


Verse 22

DISCOURSE: 2340

ABEL’S SACRIFICE AND CHRIST’S COMPARED

Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 12:24. Ye are come ……to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

AS the Christian dispensation differs widely from that of Moses as to the manner in which it was promulgated, so does it most essentially differ with respect to the spirit and temper which it is calculated to produce in the minds of men. The terrors of Mount Sinai were suited to impress the Jews with a servile fear; as their whole system of rites and ceremonies was, to keep them under bondage. But the mild genius of the Gospel introduces us at once to peace and liberty. In the passage before us the Apostle exemplifies this remark in many particulars; the last of which demands our attention at this time. We propose to shew,

I. The efficacy of Abel’s blood—

By “the blood of Abel” we are not to understand his own blood, but the blood of his sacrifice—

[The generality of commentators indeed explain this as relating to Abel’s blood, which cried for vengeance against his murderous brother [Note: Genesis 4:10.]. But to commend the blood of Christ in this view, would indeed be no commendation at all. The history of Abel informs us, that he offered one of the firstlings of his flock in addition to the same kind of offering as Cain brought [Note: This is well proved by Dr. Kennicott, in his dissertation on Cain and Abel.], manifesting thereby not merely his obligations to God as a creature, but his conscious guilt as a sinner, and his faith in that Lamb of God, who was to take away the sin of the world [Note: Hebrews 11:4.]. That sacrifice of his was honoured with very peculiar tokens of God’s acceptance [Note: Perhaps fire might be sent from heaven to consume the sacrifice. See instances of this, Leviticus 9:24. 1 Kings 18:38. 1 Chronicles 21:26 and 2 Chronicles 7:1.]; and may therefore fitly be referred to as illustrative of the sacrifice of Christ.]

It spake to him that offered it very excellent things—

[Had not the marks of God’s favour been such as were most desirable, Cain would not have so cruelly envied his brother the attainment of them. But they manifestly declared to Abel the acceptance of his person, and an approbation of his service. What could be more delightful than such a testimony to a pious soul? Had life itself been the price of such a blessing, it had been well bestowed.]

But the excellence of Abel’s sacrifice is far surpassed by,

II. The superior efficacy of Christ’s—

The blood of Christ is here, as in other places [Note: 1 Peter 1:2.], called “the blood of sprinkling”—

[There is in this place an allusion to the sprinkling of blood on the book and on the people, when God made his covenant with the Jewish nation [Note: Compare Exodus 24:6-8. with Hebrews 9:18-22.]. The blood of Christ is sprinkled upon us, when we enter into covenant with God; and it binds God, if we may so say, to fulfil to us his promises, while it binds us on the other hand to obey his precepts.]

This speaks to us incomparably better things than the blood of Abel—

[Great as the expressions of God’s love to Abel were in consequence of the sacrifice which that righteous man had offered, they were not to be compared with those which we receive through Christ. There was no inherent virtue in his sacrifice; its efficacy was derived from the relation it bore to Christ; and the blessings, enjoyed by means of it, were rather typical than real. The continuance of God’s favour to him was to be secured only by a constant repetition of the same sacrifices; nor could he obtain a full and perfect peace of conscience even by their means [Note: Hebrews 9:9.]: but Christ, by his one sacrifice of himself, has perfected for ever them that are sanctified [Note: Hebrews 10:14.]. Besides, whatever Abel’s sacrifice spake, it spake to him alone: whereas the blood of Christ speaks to the whole world, and proclaims acceptance to all who will trust in it for salvation. Thus, while the good things which the blood of Abel spake, were only typical, temporary, and personal, those which the blood of Christ speaks, are real, permanent, and universal.]

Nor will our concern in this matter appear unimportant, if we consider,

III. The interest which the believer has in it—

Every believer “comes to” this blood of sprinkling—

[The efficacy of the Redeemer’s blood is not a matter of speculation, but of experience, to every true Christian. As Moses and the Israelites “came to” Mount Sinai in order to make a covenant with God, so do we come to the blood of sprinkling: they came as persons redeemed by God out of the house of bondage: we as redeemed from death and hell: they came to take God as their God, and to give up themselves to him as his people; and we come with precisely the same view: they offered sacrifices and were sprinkled with the blood, in token that they deserved to die, and could be cleansed only by the blood of atonement; and we come in the same manner to the blood of Christ: they looked through the typical sacrifices to him who was in due time to be offered; and we look to him, who in due time was offered for our sins upon the cross.]

In coming thus to Christ we experience all the efficacy of his blood—

[Were we afar off? we are brought nigh to God [Note: Ephesians 2:13.]: Were we enemies to God? we are reconciled to him [Note: Colossians 1:20.]: Were we condemned for our iniquities? we are now justified [Note: Romans 5:9.]: Were our minds filled with a sense of guilt and a dread of punishment? our hearts are now sprinkled from an evil conscience [Note: Hebrews 10:22.], and enjoy peace with God [Note: Romans 5:1.]: Were we strangers to communion with God? we now have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus [Note: Hebrews 10:19.]: Were we enslaved by evil habits? we are now purged from dead works to serve the living God [Note: Hebrews 9:14.]: Did a sentence of eternal misery await us? we now look forward to the fruits of an eternal redemption [Note: Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:15.]. Such is the interest that the Christian has in the blood of sprinkling; and in this sense it may be said of every believer, that he is “come to” it.]

Application—

1. Let us inquire whether we be indeed come to the blood of sprinkling—

[It is not every nominal Christian, that has approached God in this way: “all are not Israel who are of Israel.” The outward form indeed which was observed by Moses is not required under the Christian dispensation; nor need we feel his terror, in order to obtain his comforts: but we must seriously draw nigh to God, sprinkling ourselves, as it were, with the blood of Christ, and professing our entire reliance upon that for our acceptance with him. Yea, we must go to God in the very spirit and temper in which Abel offered his sacrifice; not merely thanking him with pharisaic pride, as Cain may be supposed to have done; but smiting on our breasts like the Publican, and imploring mercy for Christ’s sake. Have we done this? Or rather, are we doing it yet daily? On this depends our happiness, both in this world and in the world to come. If God at this moment gives us the witness of his Spirit in our consciences that this is indeed our experience, let us rejoice in such a testimony, and be thankful for it. But if our consciences condemn us, O! let us delay no longer, but instantly sprinkle ourselves with that precious blood, on account of which he will speak peace unto our souls.]

2. Let us endeavour to fulfil the obligations which this blood entails upon us—

[When Moses sprinkled the Jews, and read to them the book of the covenant, they said, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient:” O that there may be in us also such a heart,—such a heart, I mean, not merely to promise, but to perform our promises! Certainly this is the end for which Christ shed his blood; he died, not merely to bring us to the enjoyment of privileges, but to lead us to the performance of our duties; “he gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” Let us then strive to walk worthy of our high calling; and let “the love of Christ constrain us to live unto him, who died for us and rose again.”]


Verse 24

DISCOURSE: 2340

ABEL’S SACRIFICE AND CHRIST’S COMPARED

Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 12:24. Ye are come ……to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

AS the Christian dispensation differs widely from that of Moses as to the manner in which it was promulgated, so does it most essentially differ with respect to the spirit and temper which it is calculated to produce in the minds of men. The terrors of Mount Sinai were suited to impress the Jews with a servile fear; as their whole system of rites and ceremonies was, to keep them under bondage. But the mild genius of the Gospel introduces us at once to peace and liberty. In the passage before us the Apostle exemplifies this remark in many particulars; the last of which demands our attention at this time. We propose to shew,

I. The efficacy of Abel’s blood—

By “the blood of Abel” we are not to understand his own blood, but the blood of his sacrifice—

[The generality of commentators indeed explain this as relating to Abel’s blood, which cried for vengeance against his murderous brother [Note: Genesis 4:10.]. But to commend the blood of Christ in this view, would indeed be no commendation at all. The history of Abel informs us, that he offered one of the firstlings of his flock in addition to the same kind of offering as Cain brought [Note: This is well proved by Dr. Kennicott, in his dissertation on Cain and Abel.], manifesting thereby not merely his obligations to God as a creature, but his conscious guilt as a sinner, and his faith in that Lamb of God, who was to take away the sin of the world [Note: Hebrews 11:4.]. That sacrifice of his was honoured with very peculiar tokens of God’s acceptance [Note: Perhaps fire might be sent from heaven to consume the sacrifice. See instances of this, Leviticus 9:24. 1 Kings 18:38. 1 Chronicles 21:26 and 2 Chronicles 7:1.]; and may therefore fitly be referred to as illustrative of the sacrifice of Christ.]

It spake to him that offered it very excellent things—

[Had not the marks of God’s favour been such as were most desirable, Cain would not have so cruelly envied his brother the attainment of them. But they manifestly declared to Abel the acceptance of his person, and an approbation of his service. What could be more delightful than such a testimony to a pious soul? Had life itself been the price of such a blessing, it had been well bestowed.]

But the excellence of Abel’s sacrifice is far surpassed by,

II. The superior efficacy of Christ’s—

The blood of Christ is here, as in other places [Note: 1 Peter 1:2.], called “the blood of sprinkling”—

[There is in this place an allusion to the sprinkling of blood on the book and on the people, when God made his covenant with the Jewish nation [Note: Compare Exodus 24:6-8. with Hebrews 9:18-22.]. The blood of Christ is sprinkled upon us, when we enter into covenant with God; and it binds God, if we may so say, to fulfil to us his promises, while it binds us on the other hand to obey his precepts.]

This speaks to us incomparably better things than the blood of Abel—

[Great as the expressions of God’s love to Abel were in consequence of the sacrifice which that righteous man had offered, they were not to be compared with those which we receive through Christ. There was no inherent virtue in his sacrifice; its efficacy was derived from the relation it bore to Christ; and the blessings, enjoyed by means of it, were rather typical than real. The continuance of God’s favour to him was to be secured only by a constant repetition of the same sacrifices; nor could he obtain a full and perfect peace of conscience even by their means [Note: Hebrews 9:9.]: but Christ, by his one sacrifice of himself, has perfected for ever them that are sanctified [Note: Hebrews 10:14.]. Besides, whatever Abel’s sacrifice spake, it spake to him alone: whereas the blood of Christ speaks to the whole world, and proclaims acceptance to all who will trust in it for salvation. Thus, while the good things which the blood of Abel spake, were only typical, temporary, and personal, those which the blood of Christ speaks, are real, permanent, and universal.]

Nor will our concern in this matter appear unimportant, if we consider,

III. The interest which the believer has in it—

Every believer “comes to” this blood of sprinkling—

[The efficacy of the Redeemer’s blood is not a matter of speculation, but of experience, to every true Christian. As Moses and the Israelites “came to” Mount Sinai in order to make a covenant with God, so do we come to the blood of sprinkling: they came as persons redeemed by God out of the house of bondage: we as redeemed from death and hell: they came to take God as their God, and to give up themselves to him as his people; and we come with precisely the same view: they offered sacrifices and were sprinkled with the blood, in token that they deserved to die, and could be cleansed only by the blood of atonement; and we come in the same manner to the blood of Christ: they looked through the typical sacrifices to him who was in due time to be offered; and we look to him, who in due time was offered for our sins upon the cross.]

In coming thus to Christ we experience all the efficacy of his blood—

[Were we afar off? we are brought nigh to God [Note: Ephesians 2:13.]: Were we enemies to God? we are reconciled to him [Note: Colossians 1:20.]: Were we condemned for our iniquities? we are now justified [Note: Romans 5:9.]: Were our minds filled with a sense of guilt and a dread of punishment? our hearts are now sprinkled from an evil conscience [Note: Hebrews 10:22.], and enjoy peace with God [Note: Romans 5:1.]: Were we strangers to communion with God? we now have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus [Note: Hebrews 10:19.]: Were we enslaved by evil habits? we are now purged from dead works to serve the living God [Note: Hebrews 9:14.]: Did a sentence of eternal misery await us? we now look forward to the fruits of an eternal redemption [Note: Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:15.]. Such is the interest that the Christian has in the blood of sprinkling; and in this sense it may be said of every believer, that he is “come to” it.]

Application—

1. Let us inquire whether we be indeed come to the blood of sprinkling—

[It is not every nominal Christian, that has approached God in this way: “all are not Israel who are of Israel.” The outward form indeed which was observed by Moses is not required under the Christian dispensation; nor need we feel his terror, in order to obtain his comforts: but we must seriously draw nigh to God, sprinkling ourselves, as it were, with the blood of Christ, and professing our entire reliance upon that for our acceptance with him. Yea, we must go to God in the very spirit and temper in which Abel offered his sacrifice; not merely thanking him with pharisaic pride, as Cain may be supposed to have done; but smiting on our breasts like the Publican, and imploring mercy for Christ’s sake. Have we done this? Or rather, are we doing it yet daily? On this depends our happiness, both in this world and in the world to come. If God at this moment gives us the witness of his Spirit in our consciences that this is indeed our experience, let us rejoice in such a testimony, and be thankful for it. But if our consciences condemn us, O! let us delay no longer, but instantly sprinkle ourselves with that precious blood, on account of which he will speak peace unto our souls.]

2. Let us endeavour to fulfil the obligations which this blood entails upon us—

[When Moses sprinkled the Jews, and read to them the book of the covenant, they said, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient:” O that there may be in us also such a heart,—such a heart, I mean, not merely to promise, but to perform our promises! Certainly this is the end for which Christ shed his blood; he died, not merely to bring us to the enjoyment of privileges, but to lead us to the performance of our duties; “he gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” Let us then strive to walk worthy of our high calling; and let “the love of Christ constrain us to live unto him, who died for us and rose again.”]


Verse 28-29

DISCOURSE: 2341

GOD TO BE SERVED WITH REVERENTIAL FEAR

Hebrews 12:28-29. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.

THE Christian world are little aware how much we are indebted to the holy Apostles, or rather to God, by whose inspiration they wrote, for the light which they have thrown upon the prophecies of the Old Testament. To this hour should we have been almost as much in the dark respecting the import of them as the Ethiopian Eunuch was, if God had not sent us persons authorized and empowered to unfold their true meaning. The passage which that Gentile proselyte was reading when Philip joined himself to his chariot, was as clear as any part of Isaiah’s prophecies: yet, when asked by Philip, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” he replied, “How can I, except some man should guide me [Note: Acts 8:28-31.]?” So we should have still been at a loss to know of whom the prophets spake in numberless passages [Note: Acts 8:34.], if God had not raised up holy men to give us the desired information. Let us take for instance, the prophecy which is cited by the Apostle in the verses before our text. It is taken from the Prophet Haggai, and is adduced by St. Paul in order to confirm his preceding declarations respecting the superiority of the Christian dispensation above that of the Jews. And we may well suppose that an uninspired Jew, if conversant with the Scriptures, would have understood the passage as referring to the Messiah [Note: Haggai 2:6-7.]. The construction which he would have put upon it would probably have been to this effect: ‘God shook the earth when he established the Mosaic dispensation: but, when he shall introduce the Messiah himself, he will do it with far greater convulsions of universal nature.’ But let us see the explanation of it which the Apostle has given us: He first somewhat alters the words, in order to make them express more fully the mind of God in them; and then he gives us this interpretation of them: “This word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” Thus he shews us that not any convulsion of nature was intended, like that which took place at Mount Sinai: but the total removal of the whole civil and ecclesiastical polity of the Jews was predicted, in order to make way for the immoveable and everlasting kingdom of the Messiah. Then, on the passage thus explained, he founds this exhortation: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.”

The points to be especially noticed in this passage are,

I. The privilege which all true Christians have received—

“They have received a kingdom which cannot be moved:” they have received it,

1. As that to which they are to submit—

[The Lord Jesus Christ is he of whom Jehovah has said, “Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion [Note: Psalms 2:6.].” And “his kingdom admits of no change.” The dispensation which had been introduced by Moses, “waxed old, and vanished away;” but that which Christ has established is ever “new [Note: Hebrews 8:13.].” “His dominion,” says the prophet, “is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed [Note: Daniel 7:14.].” Men and devils will no doubt combine for its destruction: but “the gates of hell shall never prevail against it [Note: Matthew 16:18.].” — — —

To this kingdom all true believers belong. They once were vassals of the god of this world: but they have been “translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” Their language now is, “Other lords besides thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name [Note: Isaiah 26:13.].” Into the name of Christ they have been baptized; and to his service have they willingly devoted themselves; engaging to fulfil his will, and even to lay down their lives, if need be, for his sake.]

2. As that which they are to inherit—

[All the blessings of it are theirs: and it is administered altogether for their good. The King himself has their interest in view, as much as if he had not another subject in his realm to occupy his attention. Their enemies are all restrained, and shall all, not excepting Satan himself, ere long be bruised under their feet. All the protection which they can need, and all the provision which their souls can desire, are secured to them: “they dwell on high; their place of defence is the munition of rocks: their bread is daily given them, and their water is sure [Note: Isaiah 33:16.].” Nor can these be moved, any more than the kingdom itself can. Neither time nor chance can impair the blessings themselves, or rob them of the enjoyment of them. The pardon, the peace, the holiness, the glory, are theirs, not for time only, but for eternity — — — And this is the portion, not of some few favoured individuals only, as Prophets and Apostles, but of every believer, however poor, however unworthy. To the whole body of believers, without exception, it is said, “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Note: Luke 12:32.].” Hear this, ye who are poor in this world; and survey the riches to which God has chosen you [Note: James 2:5.]: in respect of your earthly state, ye may be said to be “upon a dunghill: but God has taken you thence, to set you among the princes [Note: 1 Samuel 2:8.].” “Ye have received a kingdom:” “Christ has appointed to you a kingdom, even as his Father has appointed unto him a kingdom [Note: Luke 22:29.];” and has ordained that “you shall sit with him upon his throne, as he sitteth on his Father’s throne [Note: Revelation 3:21.]:” ye may be “beggars,” as it respects temporal possessions; but ye are “kings [Note: Revelation 1:6.]:” and respecting all of you, Jehovah himself says, “I know your poverty; but ye are rich [Note: Revelation 2:9.].”]

Let not any, however, be so elated with their privilege as to overlook,

II. Their duty as connected with it—

“We must serve God with reverence and godly fear”—

[Privilege and duty are so connected, that they can never under any circumstances be separated from each other; and any attempt to separate them will infallibly issue in our ruin. A kingdom has been given us, it is true: and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” But ye must “serve God,” and serve him too “with reverence and godly fear.” We must not presume upon his mercy, or take occasion from it to indulge in carelessness and supineness. We must never forget with what a God we have to do. “He is a great God, and greatly to be feared.” Though his dispensations are altered, he himself is not altered: “He is a consuming fire” now, as much as he was in the day that he proclaimed his law from Mount Sinai: and he must still “be had in reverence of all them that are round about him [Note: Psalms 89:7.].” True, indeed, we are not now to “fear and quake before him,” as the Israelites, and Moses himself, then did: for “he has not given us the spirit of bondage again to fear, but a Spirit of adoption, whereby we may cry, Abba, Father [Note: Romans 8:15.]:” but still we must “stand in awe of him [Note: Psalms 2:11; Psalms 4:4.],” and fear to offend him, knowing that “he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity without the utmost abhorrence of it [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.].” In whomsoever wilful sin is found, he will visit it with fiery indignation; and most of all in those who profess themselves his servants [Note: Amos 3:2.]. “If we regard iniquity in our hearts, he will not hear us,” or acknowledge us. We must seek to “be holy, as he is holy;” and “perfect, as he is perfect:” and the circumstance of our having been “sealed by him unto the day of redemption,” is a reason why we should be more than ever careful, not either by word or deed, and, if possible, not even by a thought, to “grieve his holy Spirit [Note: Ephesians 4:30.].” Our labour should be to have “our every thought brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:5.].” It is in this way alone that we can serve God “acceptably:” and in this way alone that we can prove our title to the kingdom which we profess to have received.]

For strength to do this, we must seek his grace from day to day—

[We have no strength in ourselves even for a good thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.]: “Without Christ we can do nothing [Note: John 14:5.].” But there is a fulness of grace treasured up in him; and out of his fulness must we continually receive those supplies of grace which we stand in need of [Note: Colossians 1:19. with John 1:16.]. We must not be satisfied with such a measure of grace as may suffice to bring us to God: but must labour for such a measure as may enable us to serve him, and to “serve him acceptably” to the latest hour of our lives. Especially must we seek a meekness of spirit, an humility of mind, a tenderness of conscience, a purity of heart, an hatred of sin, an abhorrence of ourselves on account of sin, a holy desire to please God, a love to his will, a delight in his service, and an utter contempt even of life itself in comparison of his honour and glory. But these are attainments which he alone can give: therefore we must cry day and night unto him for more and more grace, and must labour for them only in a dependence on his good Spirit.

To this state of mind we must be brought by the consideration of the unbounded mercies bestowed upon us: “Having received a kingdom,” we must thus seek his grace, and thus labour joyfully to fulfil his will: for so the Apostle elsewhere teaches us: “I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God, as your reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].”]

The concluding declaration in our text deserving more especial notice, I will draw your attention to it,

1. To augment your thankfulness for the Gospel of Christ—

[We see how terrible the presence of God was when he appeared as a consuming fire upon Mount Sinai. But, how much more terrible is it in that world where he is inflicting vengeance both on men and devils as the monuments of his wrath! Yet that is the view of him which we should have had to all eternity, if the Lord Jesus Christ had not interposed to effect our reconciliation with him, and to restore us to his favour — — — Can we reflect on this, and not adore that blessed Saviour, who “bore our sins in his own body on the tree,” and “died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God?” Think for a moment of that place which he has “ordained of old, the pile whereof is fire and much wood, and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it [Note: Isaiah 30:33.].” Think of the state of the souls which are confined there, all of them drinking “of the wine of God’s wrath, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and tormented with fire and brimstone, having no rest, and the smoke of their torment ascending up for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 14:10-11.]:” and then let us ask ourselves, “Who amongst us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who amongst us can dwell with everlasting burnings [Note: Isaiah 33:14.]?” Verily, if we would more habituate ourselves to consider the justice, and holiness, and majesty of our God, we should know no bounds to our gratitude for the work of redemption: our every thought would be thankfulness; and our every word be praise — — —]

2. To preserve upon your minds a holy dread of sin—

[Still must it be said, as in the days of old, “The Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God [Note: Deuteronomy 4:24.]:” and we should never for a moment lose sight of him under that character. It is fit that he should be jealous, and suffer no rival in our hearts. In harbouring any unhallowed lust, we are as great enemies to our own happiness as we are to his glory: and he would have loved us less, if he had given us any reason to hope for impunity in the ways of sin. Be ye then jealous over yourselves with a godly jealousy, lest there be found in you any thing which is displeasing in his sight. Let your conscience be tender even as the apple of your eye: and if but a mote come upon it, let it not abide there for a moment; but weep it away with tears of penitential sorrow, and wash it away with the blood of Christ, which alone can cleanse you even from the smallest sin. Bear in mind, that what ye are in respect of holiness, that ye are in the sight of God: and recollecting, that “his eyes are as a flame of fire,” and that “he weighs, not your actions” only, but “even your spirits” also, “be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless [Note: 2 Peter 3:14.].”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/hebrews-12.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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