Hebrews 4:16
Great Texts of the Bible
The Throne of Grace

Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.—Hebrews 4:16.

In the closing sentences of this chapter the writer winds up the long exhortation to steadfastness by an inspiring allusion to the sympathy of the great High Priest, who has passed out of this time-world, through the veil of the visible heavens, into the celestial-world; and he takes care that his last word shall be of a cheering character, and also so manages that the conclusion of this hortatory section shall form a suitable introduction to the next part of his discourse. For the third time Christ is designated a High Priest and there are ascribed to Him, as such, attributes which are to form the theme of the next great division of the Epistle, wherein the priestly office of Christ is elaborately discussed. The writer re-invites the attention of his readers to the High Priest of their confession, and in doing so uses words every one of which contains an assertion which he means to prove or illustrate, and which being proved will serve the great end of the whole Epistle—the instruction and confirmation of the ignorant and tempted.

Then, when he has, by brief, pregnant phrase, hinted the thoughts he means to prove, the writer proceeds to address to his readers an exhortation, which is repeated at the close of the long discussion on the priesthood of Christ, to which these sentences are the prelude. In doing so, he gives prominence to that feature of Christ’s priestly character of which alone he has as yet spoken explicitly—His power to sympathize, acquired and guaranteed by His experience of temptation. He presents Christ to view as the Sympathetic One in golden words which may be regarded as an inscription on the breast-plate of the High Priest of humanity. To this strong assertion of Christ’s power to sympathize is fitly appended the final exhortation: “Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and grace for seasonable succour.”


Confidence of Approach

“Let us draw near with boldness.”

1. The word “boldness” is somewhat incongruous; it neither conveys the original nor does it correspond to our sense of propriety. The thought would be far more beautifully and far more naturally represented by a more literal translation—“Let us come with frank confidence” to the throne of grace. The word literally means, if we go to the etymology of it, “speaking everything.” You can easily understand how naturally that becomes an expression for the unembarrassed, unrestrained, full outpouring of a heart. You cannot pour out your heart in the fullest confidence to a person you do not respect, but if you are with some one you entirely trust, how swiftly the words flow, and how very easy it is to tell out the whole heart. Just so with this great word of the writer of this Epistle, descriptive of the temper and disposition with which men are to go to God—with confidence, full, cheerful, and unembarrassed, and expressing itself in full trust, exactly as we have it in one of the Psalms: “Ye people, pour out your heart before him.” Yes, let it all flow out, just as you would do to husband or wife, or lover or friend, or the chosen companion to whom you can tell everything.

2. We need not, however, discard the familiar word “boldness”; it is enough if we know what kind of boldness it is. Not the boldness of presumption; for if we would “serve God acceptably” it must be “with reverence and godly fear.” Not the boldness of self-will; but ever praying—“Father, Thy will.” Not the boldness of selfmerit; but saying, with Daniel, “We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.” It is the boldness of reliance on God’s own nature and promise. He has bidden us pray, assured response, and promised help. He means what He says. So we may come with reliance, though with reverence; with earnestness, though with submission; with confidence, though with penitence; with the boldness of a child telling all its griefs and wants to a pitying parent—the boldness Jesus encouraged in the parable of the importunate widow, and rewarded in the case of the Syrophenician mother.

Prayer in the fullest sense—the prayer that is wrought in us by the Spirit and presented by the Christ of God; prayer that wins the King’s ear—is the last triumph of the life of grace. Prayer in the noblest sense implies a concentration of all man’s united energies. Coleridge shortly before his death said these words to a friend who has recorded them: “I do not account a solemn faith in God as a real object to be the most arduous act of the reason and the will. Oh, no, my dear sir, it is to pray with all my heart and strength, with the reason and with the will, to believe that God will listen to your voice through Christ, and verily do the thing He pleaseth thereupon. This is the last, the greatest achievement of the Christian’s warfare on earth. ‘Teach us to pray, O Lord.’ Here he burst into a flood of tears, and begged me to pray for him.” The highest energy the human heart is capable of is to pray, like St. Paul, with the spirit and the understanding. But few may reach this victory, and it is deeply consoling to remember that it is a Throne of Grace before which we kneel, and that though our prayers may be marred and faultful, yet our Mediator interprets them in the ears of our loving Father, while the Spirit helps our infirmities and gives life and power to the failing, dying heart.1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 339.]

To come boldly, it is to come frequently. At morning, at noon, and at night will I pray. We use to count them bold beggars that come often to our door. To come boldly, it is to ask for great things when we come. That is the bold beggar, that will not only ask, but also choose the thing that he asketh.2 [Note: Bunyan.]


The Throne of Grace

“Let us draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace.”

1. The word “throne” commonly suggests power, majesty, sovereignty, wealth; but God’s throne is here described as one of grace. His generosity is as boundless as His wealth. He bestows blessing not upon the ground of desert or according to any measure of merit, but according to “the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” Having, in the fulness of His benevolence, not “spared his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,” He stands ready with Him and through Him, “freely to give us all things.” He is the God of love, the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort and consolation, who daily loadeth us with benefits, who preventeth us with the blessings of His goodness, and who in the riches of His grace hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence. It is to give prominence to this aspect of the character of God that the writer represents Him here as seated on a throne of grace. Mercy no less belongs to Him than majesty. If He is the God of glory, He is also the God of all grace. The throne, therefore, on which He sits is represented as a throne of grace—a throne which rests on grace, which is upholden by mercy, and from which blessing flows forth in a free and plenteous stream to the unworthy, the wretched and the lost. The glory that surrounds God’s throne, as He manifests Himself to His creatures, is a glory before which the highest of them veil their faces; they are unable to gaze on its exceeding lustre; but the form in which it arranges itself is that of a rainbow, the token of mercy and the pledge of blessing, so that even the guilty and the fallen can approach with confidence to ask of Him who sits on that throne mercy and favour.

Mercy is that eternal principle of God’s nature which leads Him, even at the cost of infinite self-sacrifice, to seek the temporal good and eternal salvation of those who have opposed themselves to His will. In the words of Martensen: “Viewed in relation to sin, eternal love is compassionate grace.” God’s continued impartation of natural life is a foreshadowing, in a lower sphere, of what He desires to do for His creatures in the higher sphere—the communication of spiritual and eternal life through Jesus Christ. When He bids us love our enemies, He only bids us follow His own example.1 [Note: A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, i. 289.]

2. And what is grace? Grace, of course, is the New Testament word for the undeserved favour and loving regard of God to man considered as weak, sinful, and unworthy; it is love which has its own motive, apart from any regard to worthiness in the object upon which it falls. Grace is its own real impulse and motive, and grace is set in Scripture as the opposite of desert; it is of grace, not of works, and so forth. It is set as the antagonist of sin and unrighteousness and all evil, and so runs up to the idea that it expresses the unmerited, self-originated, loving regard of God to us poor miserable creatures, who, if dealt with on the ground of right and retribution, would receive something very different indeed. But this text says that the throne of grace is the throne of God. The throne is based and established, as it were, in grace, out of which this undeserved love flows in broad, full streams. Whatever else there may be in the Divine nature, the ruling sovereign element in Deity is unmerited love and mercy and kindly regard to us poor, ignorant, sinful creatures, which keeps pouring itself out over all the world. God is King, and the kingly thing in God is infinite grace. Then we can scarcely but bring into connexion with this grand idea the other phases which the Old Testament gives to the same thought. Read such words as these: “Justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne”—“God sitteth on the throne of his holiness”—“The throne of thy glory.” Yes, the throne of justice and of judgment. White and sparkling—cold and repellent. The throne of glory—flashing and dazzling, coruscating and blinding, glittering and shimmering, ready to smite the diseased eye. “The throne of his holiness.” Yes, lofty, far up there, towering above us in its pure completeness, and we poor creatures, being ourselves blinded and dazed, and far away from Him, down amidst the lowlands and materialities, and all that majesty in the heavens—the justice and judgment, the holiness and glory—all that is only the envelope and wrappage; the living centre and heart of it is a pure, lambent glow of tenderness, and the throne is truly the throne of grace. The “throne” gives us all ideas of majesty, sovereignty, dominion, infinitude, greatness. The thought that it is “the throne of grace” sheathes all these in the softest, tenderest, most blessed folds of love—unmerited, free, spontaneous—simply because He is God, and not on account of any goodness in us.

“Less and less, I think, grows the consciousness of seeking God. Greater and greater grows the certainty that He is seeking us and giving Himself to us to the complete measure of our present capacity. That is Love, not that we loved Him, but that He loved us. I am sure that we ought to dwell far more upon God’s love for us than on our love for Him. There is such a thing as putting ourselves in the way of God’s overflowing love and letting it break upon us till the response of love to Him comes, not by struggle, not even by deliberation, but by necessity, as the echo comes when the sound strikes the rock. And this, which must have been true wherever the soul of God and the soul of man have lived, is perfectly and finally manifest in the Christhood of which it is the heart and soul.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks: Memories of His Life, 606.]

(1) It is the opinion of some that, in the phrase “the throne of grace,” an allusion is made to the so-called mercy-seat in the Jewish temple, on which God is represented as sitting enthroned, and where He heard the supplications of His people presented by the high priest, when He accepted their oblations, and from which He dispensed to them the blessings that they needed. For this, however, there seems no sufficient reason. The writer has no call here to refer to the mercy-seat; and it is unlikely that, in seeking to raise the minds of his readers to the elevation of specifically spiritual worship through Christ, he would clothe his sentiments in language borrowed from the outward Jewish worship; to say nothing of the fact that “mercy-seat” is a rendering which has nothing in the original to justify it, and that Jehovah is nowhere represented as “sitting enthroned on it,” but rather as sitting on a throne upborne by the cherubim, from which He looked down on the blood-sprinkled lid which covered, and, as it were, hid from view, the covenant broken by Israel, and demanding the punishment of the transgressors.

(2) Others have thought that this throne of grace is the mediatorial throne on which Christ sits, not the throne of God the Father. But though it is undoubtedly true that our Lord is now exalted to the throne of heaven, where He sits possessed of all power and authority, it does not appear that it is of this that our author is speaking here. His subject leads him to contemplate the priestly office and work of Christ rather than the regal, and the light in which we are taught to regard Him here is not so much that of the Being to whom we are to come as that of the Medium through which we are to come. As He has procured eternal redemption for us, and as He appears in the presence of God for us, we have access with confidence to the Most High. Through Him we have the introduction or privilege of entrance to the Father. Access to the throne of grace, then, is access to God the Father, as seated on that throne. Such language is of course figurative: it describes God after the manner of men. But it does describe Him to us; it is not a merely ornamental figure, it is a figure designed vividly, and in a manner calculated to impress our minds, to convey to us certain ideas concerning God in His relation to us, ideas which it is of importance that we should receive, as intimately connected with the furtherance in us of a true and spiritual religion.

I suppose if I were more simple-minded I should have been thinking over my faults and failures, desiring to do better, making good resolutions. But I don’t do that. I do desire, with all my heart, to do better. I know how faltering, how near the ground my flight is. But these formal, occasional repentances are useless things; resolutions do little but reveal one’s weakness more patently. What I try to do is simply to uplift my heart with all its hopes and weaknesses to God, to try to put my hand in His, to pray that I may use the chances He gives me, and interpret the sorrows He may send me. He knows me utterly and entirely, my faults and my strength. I cannot fly from Him though I take the wings of the morning. I only pray that I may not harden my heart; that I may be sought and found; that I may have the courage I need. All that I have of good He has given me; and as for the evil, He knows best why I am tempted, why I fall, though I would not. There is no strength like the abasement of weakness; no power like a childlike confidence.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, The Upton Letters, 317.]

“Holy of Holies,” awful name—

Where, in a still retreat,

The Presence of the Godhead dwelt,

Upon the mercy-seat:

Veiled from the eye in darkness dim,

Enthroned between the cherubim.

Once in the year, within the veil,

In mystic robes arrayed,

The High Priest entered, and with blood

An expiation made:

But blood of victims could not cleanse

And purge the guilt of man’s offence.

O Great Redeemer! God and Man,

Victim and Priest in one;

Thou, entering Heaven with Thine own Blood,

Didst once for all atone;

Thou hast removed the awful cloud,

Which once the oracle did shroud.

Now a bright Rainbow o’er the Throne

Sheds lustre from above,

Where showers of Judgment mildly shine,

Gilded by beams of Love;

Thy Blood, O Lamb of God, is there,

Pleading for us with ceaseless Prayer.

Cleansed by that Blood, we now approach

Boldly the Throne of Grace:

O may we, following the Lamb,

Come to that Holy Place;

Lord, who for us didst deign to bleed,

Be Thou our help in time of need!1 [Note: Christopher Wordsworth.]

3. To the throne we should come with hearts that harbour no treason; to the throne we should come with large petitions as those who expect greatly; to the throne we should come with the deepest sincerity and earnestness, remembering how high and wonderful a thing it is to enter the brightness of its radiance. But knowing its own flaws, its faultiness, its feebleness, the spirit rests on the thought that the throne is a throne of grace. Often and often we can approach it only with broken words, with wandering hearts, with ignorant desires, with passionate sobs and sighs. There is One who is there to interpret with loving tenderness our tears, our dim longings for deliverance and purity. Often we can come only defiled within and without. We come to the throne with defects of faith, defects of knowledge, defects of life, but they may all be overlooked and forgiven. We come with griefs we cannot name, but we come to Him whose eyes behold with compassion our most intimate and secret and shameful miseries. We are living in a year of grace and we are living under the reign of grace. Those who approach an earthly throne may be troubled infinitely by some breach of custom or etiquette, but the place of our sanctuary, our glorious high throne from the beginning, is a throne of grace.

We are called to the throne of grace, not to the throne of law. Rocky Sinai once was the throne of law, when God came to Paran with ten thousand of His holy ones. Who desired to draw near to that throne? Even Israel might not. Bounds were set about the mount, and if but a beast touched the mount, it was stoned or thrust through with a dart. O ye self-righteous ones who hope that you can obey the law, and think that you can be saved by it, look to the flames that Moses saw, and shrink, and tremble, and despair. To that throne we do not come now, for through Jesus the case is changed. We are still on praying ground and pleading terms with God, and the throne to which we are bidden to come, and of which we speak at this time, is the throne of grace. It is the throne set up on purpose for the dispensation of grace; a throne from which every utterance is an utterance of grace; the sceptre that is stretched out from it is the silver sceptre of grace; the decrees proclaimed from it are purposes of grace; the gifts that are scattered adown its golden steps are gifts of grace; and He that sits upon the throne is grace itself. It is the throne of grace itself. It is the throne of grace to which we approach when we pray.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

The way is open to the throne of grace,

Draw near, and in the name of Jesus plead;

It was for sinners that He shed His blood,

Looking to Him, come now with all thy need.

The Father waits to hear thy humble prayer,

And Jesus speaks, Ask and thou shalt receive;

Most gracious is the call, the promise great,

Full blessing will be thine if thou believe!


The Blessings Obtained

“That we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.”

1. Our chief and comprehensive request at the throne of grace must ever be mercy and grace. The first prayer of penitence is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He who atoned for sin is before the throne to plead for sinners. Grace includes more than mercy. It is seasonable succour at all times. If mercy forgives our failings, grace helps us not to fail. We need mercy to pardon, grace to purify; mercy to give life, grace to nourish it; mercy to rescue us, grace to guide us; mercy to lay the foundation of the temple, grace to complete it to the top-stone. Grace every day, in all circumstances: in prosperity, lest we forget God; in adversity, lest we distrust Him; in temptation, lest we fall; in conflict, lest we yield; in anguish, lest we faint. Our great encouragement is that on the throne is One who has known the need of help from God, from angels, and from men.

There are two who are unfit for showing mercy: he who has never been tried; and he who, having been tempted, has fallen under temptation. The young, untempted, and upright, are often severe judges. They are for sanguinary punishment: they are for expelling offenders from the bosom of society. The old, on the contrary, who have fallen much, are lenient: but it is a leniency which often talks thus: Men must be men—a young man must sow his wild oats and reform. So young ardent Saul, untried by doubt, persecuted the Christians with severity, and Saul the king, on the contrary, having fallen himself, weakly permitted Agag to escape punishment. David, again, when his own sin was narrated to him under another name, was unrelenting in his indignation: “The man that hath done this thing shall surely die.” None of these was qualified for showing mercy aright. Unthinkingly we should say that to have erred would make a man lenient; it is not so. That truth is taught with deep significance in one of the incidents of the Redeemer’s life. There stood in His presence a tempted woman, covered with the confusion of recent conviction. And there stood beside her the sanctimonious religionists of that day, waiting like hell-hounds to be let loose upon their prey. Calm words came from the lips of Him who “spake as never man spake,” and whose heart felt as never man felt. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” A memorable lesson of eternal truth. Sinners are not fit to judge of sin—their justice is revenge, their mercy is feebleness. He alone can judge of sin—he alone can attemper the sense of what is due to the offended Law with the remembrance of that which is due to human frailty—he alone is fit for showing manly mercy, who has, like his Master, felt the power of temptation in its might, and come scathless through the trial. “In all points tempted—yet without sin”; therefore, to Him you may “boldly go to find mercy.”1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

2. There is no fellowship with God possible on the footing of what people call “disinterested communion.” No, we have always to go to Him to get something from Him. The question is, What do we expect to get? The text tells us. It is not temporal blessings, not the answers to foolish desires, not the taking away of thorns in the flesh, but mercy and grace to help—inward and spiritual blessings. But what are these? The one expresses the heart of God, the other expresses the hand of God. We may obtain mercy as suppliants coming boldly, confidently, frankly, with faith in the Great High Priest, to the throne of grace. There we get the full heart of God. We stand before Him in our filth, in our weakness, with conscience gnawing at us in the sense of many infirmities, many a sin and shortcoming and omission, and on the throne, so to speak, is a shoot of tender love from God’s heart to us, and we get for all our weakness and sin pity and pardon, and find mercy of the Lord in that day. And then in getting the full heart of God, with all its Divine abundance of pardoning grace, and tender, gracious pity, we get, of course, the full hand of God to obtain mercy, and find grace, the bestowment of the needful blessings, the obtaining of grace in time of need, the right grace. There are no blunders in the equipment with which He supplies us. He does not give me the parcel that was meant for you; there is no error in the delivery. He does not send His soldiers to the North Pole equipped for warfare in Africa. He does not give this man a blessing that the man’s circumstances would not require. No; God cannot err. The right grace will be most surely given to us to help us in time of need, or, as the words may perhaps be more vigorously and correctly translated, find grace for timely aid, grace punctually and precisely at the very nick of time, at the very exact time determined by heaven’s chronometer, not by ours. It will not come as quickly as impatience might think it ought; it will not come so soon as to prevent an agony of prayer; it will not come in time enough for our impatience, for murmuring, for presumptuous desires; but it will come in time to do all that is needed.

You remember the narrative of that great final battle on the plains of Waterloo. For long weary days brave men died by the thousands; the afternoon of the last day was wearing rapidly away, the thin red living line getting thinner and thinner, the squares smaller and smaller at each returning charge—but at last, just before the daylight faded, just before endurance could do no more, there comes old Blücher at last and gives the order, and the whole line bore down upon the enemy and scattered them. Ah, help came at the right time, not so soon that the courage of our brave soldiers had not been tested, but before despair had settled upon the ranks, and in time for a great and perfect victory. “Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

An old Scottish divine, Robert Walker, makes some apt observations on finding grace to help us in time of need. The grace, he remarks, that we are encouraged to ask is grace for present need, and not present grace for future supposed necessities. It is no uncommon thing for serious people who suspect their own sincerity to forecast some trial of the severest kind, and to pass judgment upon themselves, according to the present state and temper of their minds with respect to that supposed trial. What shall I think of myself? saith one; it is required of a disciple of Jesus, that he take up his cross; but so feeble am I, that my nature shrinks at the remotest prospect of suffering. Alas! saith another, instead of desiring “to depart, and to be with Christ,” death is to me the “king of terrors”: when I think of dissolution, my heart dies within me; what shall I do when the fatal period is come? By such unwarrantable experiments do many perplex and discourage their souls, and weaken their hands for present duty. I call them unwarrantable experiments, because they are not only beside the Scripture rule but directly contrary to it. Our Lord hath commanded us to “take no thought for the morrow,” but to leave the morrow to take thought for the things of itself; because “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Grace to suffer is for a suffering season; grace to die is for dying moments: then, but not before, is the time of need. Are you solicitous about grace for future emergencies? Let me ask you, I pray, have you got all the grace you need for present duty? If you think you have, I can, without further inquiry, assure you that you are mistaken. At this very moment you need grace to cure your anxiety and distrust, to check your impatience and presumptuous curiosity. Cast your care upon God for every needful support when you shall be called to suffer and die; and come to His throne for grace that may enable you to live to some good and useful purpose in the meantime. Till the present time cease to be a time of need, it is indecent, it is foolish, to look beyond it, and to distress yourselves with a premature anxiety about the morrow.1 [Note: Robert Walker, Sermons on Practical Subjects, 225.]

Wants and needs are different things. We often want what we do not need, and need what we do not want. We distinguish between young wants and needs, and “know how to give good gifts to our children.” Is not the infinite Mind wise enough, and the infinite Love strong enough, to subordinate our wants to our needs and disappoint us in the short run, if need be, to develop and delight us in the long one? Real needs override incidental wants; we cannot always have what we please, if we are to have what God pleases—and what is best for us. To want what God wishes, is a swift way to have His wishes come true, and to have our real needs amply supplied.2 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living, 24.]

Jesus calls on us to claim God as a helper as He did, and then with that help to resist evil as He did; to contend against trial in His solitary reliance on His Father; to win inward vigour, inward peace, by living for work and dying for love; not to be indifferent, dreaming, but to hunger for righteousness, to strive to enter in at the strait gate, to lay down our life for the sheep, to rise incessantly out of dreams into daylight. God will not make us do that by miracle. But He will be in it when we begin it, or desire to begin it, as our help and strength, a very present power. Not the weakening help or the degrading strength which by taking everything out of our hands leaves us undeveloped and unexercised, but the help which is inspiration, and the strength which flows from encouragement; nay, more, which flows from the consciousness of being loved, from knowledge of the glorious character of Him who loves, and from the mighty motives which the knowledge that we shall gain perfection wakes within us to enkindle work, to sweeten trial, to enlarge thought, and to fill work, thought, and trial with healthy joy. In one word, God does not make us grow into His likeness, He helps us through the laws of our nature to grow into it ourselves.3 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke.]

The Throne of Grace


Alexander (W. L.), Sermons, 286.

Bruce (A. B.), The Epistle to the Hebrews, 167.

Hall (Newman), Gethsemane, 201.

Jay (W.), Short Discourses, i. 139.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 2 Timothy, etc., 333.

Meyer (F. B.), The Way into the Holiest, 81.

Moody (A.), The Message of Salvation, 111.

Murray (A.), The Holiest of All, 171.

Nicoll (W. R.), Sunday Evening, 339.

Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, i. 99.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xvii. (1871), No. 1024.

Spurgeon (C. H.), My Sermon Notes, iv. 330.

Walker (R.), Sermons on Practical Subjects, 219.

Wilmot-Buxton (H. J.), Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, i. 398.

American Pulpit of the Day, iii. 198 (O. Perinchief).

Christian World Pulpit, xii. 92 (H. W. Beecher); xxxiii. 229 (H. W. Beecher); liii. 412 (J. S. Maver).

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