Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE AIM OF GOD. To make men perfect. All God's revelations and the powers belonging to them have this for their end, to take imperfect men (men in whom there are all sorts of imperfections, physical, intellectual, spiritual, men who have mixed with their nature a corrupt and debasing clement) and make them perfect. And this is to be done according to a Divine standard of perfection, not a human one. Indeed, that human excellence should attain a Divine standard is as necessary for the satisfaction of man as it is for the glory of God. All that is instrumental and ministerial about human life is to be measured as it serves towards the perfecting of the individual man in true godliness and Christian character. And we must ever remember this in the midst of all the infirmities and lapses of our present life. We are, indeed, strangely blind to the marvelous possibilities that lie hid in every human being. We often have to say of men that their purposes are broken off, but forget all the time that God's purposes for men may all be fulfilled if only they are willing to be co-workers together with him.
II. THE SERVICE OF THE LAW. The Law, taken in its most comprehensive sense, including commandments as to conduct on the out hand, and ceremonies on the other, was of immediate service in two ways. It made men dissatisfied with their present selves, and intensely anxious to be better. If it did not give a standard of life positively, it was something that it gave one negatively. One of the great merits of Psalm 119. is in showing what the Law could do by way of stirring up spiritual aspirations, and filling men with a sublime discontent. For what the writer of this psalm expresses, thousands must have felt. Like Paul, they wanted to do good, yet evil was present with them. And always, to many, the Law must have been indeed a shadow of good things to come, a proof that there was abiding substance which would one day be manifested.
III. THE LIMITS OF THE LAW. The Law was good as indicating where perfection lay; but there was in it nothing dynamic, nothing to advance men one stage nearer perfection. Indeed, the Law, apart from its proper sequel in Christ, would have done harm rather than good, inasmuch as it would have driven men to despair. Perfection would have been seen across an impassable abyss. It has always been a curse of fallen human nature that what God gives for one purpose man uses for another. In the course of ages the Jew had reduced a Law meant to rouse the heart, a Law that in the very essence of it was spiritual, to a mere collection of external ceremonies. The Law was reckoned as something that could be obeyed with the hands and lips. And because men had lost the main part of the Law, the Law itself must have fallen into disrepute with many. Outwardly they saw a profession of religion; inwardly they saw a sordid and uncharitable life. And even the gospel may be misused as much as the Law. There may be an outward semblance of connection with Christ, while he has no power over the heart. Men did come to the Law seeking perfection; all Pharisees were not bad men at heart; their consciences were misled by traditional teaching as to the importance of ceremonies. In their own strength they did their very best to obey. What is wanted is that we should really come to Christ, that our hearts should be brought fully under the regenerating power of his Spirit. Then shall we know something of steady and joyous approach 'to perfection; for while perfection itself may only come by slow degrees, yet Christ surely means us to have the satisfaction of knowing constantly that we are in the right way. - Y.
I. THE NEED OF SUCH A REMINDER. Men need to be impressed with the fact that sin is sin, something special, something done in defiance of God's Law. If we do hurt to a fellow-man, even if he condone and excuse, that does not put things as they were before. God would have us to consider what a serious and terrible thing it is that we should do wrong at all. Then also we need to be reminded because of our liability to forget. Life is one long sin, made up of daily omissions and commissions in what are called little things. We see well enough as each day is passing over our heads what wrong words we have spoken, what evil thoughts we have had in our hearts; some days we feel deeply enough the sin of the day; but soon the impression is gone. The total of life's sin, however, still remains, and it is above all things needful that we should not forget it. Then most important of all, perhaps, is it that we should be reminded how much of the trouble and misery of life comes from our ignorance. Sins of ignorance were specially provided for in the Mosaic economy. A man can hardly be blamed for what he does in ignorance, and certainly he is in a very different position from one who lets lust and pride lead him against truth and light. But the evil done in ignorance is evil none the less, and men need to be wakened up to consider how much truth and righteousness they are still ignorant of. The past is not done with because it is past. The future has its roots in the past, and this yearly reminder of sin among God's people of old should teach us to desire reminders of the sin of life, not merely at particular seasons, but as often as possible.
II. WE HAVE OUR REMINDERS OF SIN. Bodily reminders in the shape of disease and weakness consequent on evil courses of life. Reminders in the feelings of the heart consequent on disappointment and failure from selfish courses of action. Especially the Christian, the devout Christian, has his reminders at the Lord's Supper. Jesus himself spoke of this institution as an ἀνάμνησις. It was to remind his people of himself, but this very reminding included many things beside. Jesus must be remembered with certain surroundings, and no sinner can remember him rightly without remembering his sins at the same time. - Y.
I. THE IMPERFECT SACRIFICES. The imperfection of the legal sacrifices has been exhibited already with considerable fullness. In the preceding verses of this chapter it is pointed out that they were mere shadows of the true Sacrifice; they could not cleanse the offerers, or take away their sins. Another aspect of this imperfection is brought into view in our text. These sacrifices are spoken of as unacceptable to God. "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not... sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sins thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; the which are offered according to the Law." How are we to understand this? Were not these sacrifices and offerings instituted by him? When the Divine intention in them was realized, and they were offered in the true spirit, they were, undoubtedly, acceptable to him. When the sin offering was the manifestation of the offerer's penitence for sin and desire for forgiveness; when the burnt offering symbolized the self-consecration of the offerer to God, and the meat offering was the spontaneous tribute of a thankful heart to the Giver of all good, then they were well pleasing to God. But when they were offered as though the offering of them were meritorious on the part of the offerers, or as substitutes for personal obedience and service, they were not acceptable unto God. This is the aspect in which they are introduced in our text - the offering of sacrifices as contrasted with the rendering of willing obedience to the will of God. He has explicitly and repeatedly declared in the Scriptures that such sacrifices he will not accept (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 50:8-14; Psalm 51:16-19; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 9:13; Mark 12:33). The principle is applicable still. God will not accept our professions, praises, prayers, or gifts as substitutes for faith, love, obedience, and self-consecration.
II. THE PERFECT SACRIFICE. "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith," etc. The perfection of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is here seen in several particulars.
1. It originated with God the Father. "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body didst thou prepare for me He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." Not only the sacrifice of the Christ, but his whole mission, was the outworking of the counsel and plan of God. The Savior himself was the great Gift of the heavenly Father to our lost world. All our blessings flow from the throne of God.
2. It expresses the most perfect obedience.
(1) Obedience in the highest spirit. With perfect voluntariness our Lord did the will of God the Father. Freely he entered upon and fulfilled his great redemptive mission. "Then said I, Lo, I am come to do thy will, O God." More forcibly is this aspect of Christ's work expressed in the psalm from which our text is quoted: "I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy Law is within my heart." "Jesus saith, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." He found deepest and purest joy in doing the holy will of God. His own will, his entire being, was in beautiful and blessed accord with the will of his Father. His obedience was not in word and action only, but in thought, feeling, and volition. In the sight of God the obedience of a moral being is never true except it be voluntary.
(2) Obedience in the fullest extent. Our Lord "fulfilled all righteousness." But did his obedience include suffering and sacrifice? Our text returns a decisive reply. "A body didst thou prepare for me. I am come to do thy will, O God. In which wilt we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The will of the Father included the suffering and death of the Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. On this point the testimony of the sacred Scriptures is clear and conclusive. "The Son of man came to give his life a Ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28; see also Matthew 26:39, 42; Luke 24:26, 27, 44-47). He was "obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross." But even here it was not the intensity of the sufferings which made the sacrifice acceptable unto God, but the piety of the spirit in which they were endured. The sacrifice was perfect because it was offered in the fulfillment of the will of the Father." "It is monstrous to suppose," said Dr. Robert Vaughan, "that the Deity could be pleased with mere suffering. It is the spiritual essence in the atonement that makes it to be what it is to us. It may be accepted as certain, that in the gift of the Son of God we have the brightest manifestation of the love of the Father; and that in the willing humiliation and grief of the Redeemer we have the tenderest revelation of pity towards the evil and unthankful, and at the same time the noblest act of worship ever rendered to the good and the holy. In this sense it is truly by the sorrows, the death, the cross of Christ, that we have salvation. It has been his will to become thus acquainted with grief, and to die - to die the death of the cross - that we might be saved." The perfection of the Savior's sacrifice was in the voluntary and entire surrender of himself to God.
3. It accomplishes its Divine design. "In the which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Ebrard interprets sanctification here as involving "both justification and sanctification." But the use of the perfect participle, "we have been sanctified," "expresses not our subjective sanctification, but our objective reception into true relationship to God, and into the actual fellowship of the members of the people of God as 'the saints' (Hebrews 6:10)" (Lange). By his one great offering of himself our Lord has provided all that man needs for the forgiveness of his sins, for his acceptance with God, and for the purifying and perfecting of his being. Christ's work is finished and perfect. To it nothing can be added; in it no improvement can be made. Man's great business in relation to it is to accept of it, and become perfected (ver. 14) through it. - W.J.
I. THE SACRIFICE OFFERED BY CHRIST.
1. Self-sacrifice. The Jewish priests offered goats, lambs, etc. But Jesus Christ "gave himself." The whole of his life upon earth was a sacrifice. The sufferings of the closing scenes were sacrificial. His death was sacrificial. In all he acted with entire spontaneity (John 10:17, 18). All was the outcome of the infinite love wherewith he loved us. It is of the very nature of love to sacrifice self for the beloved. No sacrifice is so Divine as that of self. "Greater love hath no man than this," etc. (John 15:13).
2. Self-sacrifice for sin. The death of Jesus was neither
(1) a mere martyrdom; nor
(2) an offering to pacify the wrath of God; but
(3) it was a "sacrifice for sins." "He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." "Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous," etc.
3. Self-sacrifice for sin of perpetual efficacy. "He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever." Christ's sacrifice was offered once for all It needs no repetition. It is completely efficacious for all sins of all men for ever (cf. Hebrews 9:25-28). It seems to us that to speak of "offering Christ upon the altar" in the Lord's Supper is utterly unscriptural, and a reflection on the sufficiency of the "one sacrifice for sins forever" which our Lord offered.
II. THE POSITION OCCUPIED BY CHRIST. "Sat down on the right hand of God." This position is suggestive of:
1. Rest. The sitting down is opposed to the standing of the preceding verse. Christ's sacrificial work is completed. The sufferings of his earthly life are over forever. The toil and conflict are all past. He has finished the work that was given him to do (cf. Hebrews 1:3).
3. His exaltation is a guarantee that all who are one with hire in sacrifice shall be one with him in sovereignty. There is a cross for each of his disciples; there is also a crown for every one who faithfully bears that cross (cf. Matthew 16:24; John 12:26; Romans 8:17; Revelation 3:21).
III. THE EXPECTATION ENTERTAINED BY CHRIST. "From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet." The foes of our Lord are rebellious angels and rebellious men. All persons and all things which are opposed to his character and sovereignty are his enemies. Ignorance, the darkness of the mind, is opposed to him as "the Light" and "the Truth." Tyranny is opposed to him as the great Emancipator. He proclaimed the universal brotherhood of men. Sin is opposed to him as the Savior and the Sovereign of men. Death is opposed to him as the Life and the Lifegiver. All these he will completely and for ever vanquish. "He must reign till he hath put all his enemies under his feet." Let us endeavor to realize the certainty of this.
1. History points to it. During nearly nineteen centuries the spirit and the principles of Christ have been advancing and gaining strength in the world. Tyrannical despotisms passing away; free governments spreading; slavery losing its place and power; liberty and the recognition of human brotherhood constantly growing; cruelties and oppressions ever decreasing; Christian charities and generosities ever increasing; the night of ignorance receding; the day of intelligence advancing and brightening. The past is prophetic of the complete triumph of Christ.
2. The spirit of the age points to it. There is much of evil in the age; but there are also many good and hope-inspiring things. The age is one of broadening freedom, earnest inquiry, growing intelligence, and many and ever-increasing charities. All these are in harmony with Christianity, results of Christianity; and as men advance in them they will be the more fitted and disposed to embrace Christianity.
3. God's Word assures it. (See Psalm 2:8; Psalm 72:8-17; Daniel 7:13, 14.) 4. Christ is waiting for it. "From henceforth expecting" - implying his undoubted assurance of it. He cannot be disappointed. - W.J.
I. THAT THE SAVIOR'S SACRIFICE FOR SIN WAS PERFECT. This is implied in the text. It is stated more than once in the preceding argument. To prove it was one of the great objects of the doctrinal portion of this letter. It has already come under our notice in several of our homilies (see on Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:11, 12; Hebrews 9:13, 14; Hebrews 10:5-10).
II. THAT THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN THROUGH THE SAVIOR'S SACRIFICE IS COMPLETE. This completeness is exhibited by the writer:
1. By comparing it with the partial putting away of sins obtained through the legal sacrifices. "Sacrifices which can never take away sins" (ver. 11). The word employed here signifies "to take clean away (cf. Acts 27:20), i.e. to put off like the garment which clings to the person, or the ring on the finger; as, for instance, the besetting sin of Hebrews 12:1, or the besetting infirmity of ver. 3. The sacred writer does not mean to say that sins were not forgiven to sacrificial worshippers under the Law; but that the legal sacrifices had no inward spiritual power to give peace to the conscience, or any assured sense of pardon, purity to the heart, or any really new beginning of spiritual life (Hebrews 9:9). With these in their subject-matter and their inadequacy, ever similar and oft-repeated sacrifices, he contrasts (ver. 12) the "one sacrifice for sins of Jesus Christ, which is no other than himself" (Delitzsch). And Alford, "The (legal) sacrifice might bring sense of partial forgiveness; but it could never denude the offerer of sinfulness - strip off and take away his guilt." But through the sacrifice of the Christ sin is really taken away. He who heartily believes in him is reconciled unto God, receives absolute and full forgiveness of sins, and is inspired by a new and holy affection, even supreme love to God. And this affection is the mightiest antagonist of sin. He who is inspired by it is not overcome of evil, but overcomes evil with good.
2. By the expressions which are used to set it forth. "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (see our remarks on Hebrews 8:12). Here is the greatest encouragement to sinners to seek forgiveness from God. "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption." "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc. (Isaiah 55:7).
III. THAT THE SAVIOR'S SACRIFICE WILL NEVER BE REPEATED. "Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." Being perfect in itself and in its efficacy, his sacrifice needs no repetition (see remarks on this in our homilies on Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:27, 28; Hebrews 10:5-10). Learn the folly of looking for other and more effective means of salvation. The grandest and most convincing proof of the love that God hath to us has been given in the sacrifice of Christ. No greater sacrifice, no more constraining influence, is possible. Let us accept the perfect Sacrifice, and the all-sufficient Savior. - W.J.
I. A DECLARATION or CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE.
1. What the privilege is in itself. It is twofold.
(1) The right of approach unto the presence of God. We may "enter into the holy place." There is a reference here to the entrance of the high priest into the holy of holies under the Mosaic economy. The holy place in the text is the Divine sanctuary, "the place of God's essential presence." We have the privilege of access into his presence. We have this at present in prayer. Even now in prayer, and spiritually, we may "reach the inmost recesses of the Divine sanctuary, the very heart of God." And we may do this without the intervention of' any human priesthood, or the presentation of any material sacrifice. Hereafter we may enter into his presence in person. Already our Lord is there. And he prayed for his disciples, "Father, I will that where I am, they also may be with me." Admission into the manifested presence of God is the exalted privilege awaiting every true Christian in the future. "We shall see him even as he is." "I will behold thy face in righteousness," etc. "In thy presence is fullness of joy," etc.
(2) Confidence in approaching the presence of God. We have "boldness to enter into the holy place." This boldness is not rashness, or irreverence, or unreverence. It is rather a holy freedom of access to God because of our assurance that we shall be graciously received by him. See this in the exercise of prayer. We may freely express our wants and wishes to our heavenly Father; for, being our Father, he will not resent our filial confidence, but will welcome us the more because of it.
2. How the privilege has been obtained for us. "By the blood of Jesus." It is by the sacrifice of Christ that we have the right of access to the presence of God. And it is by the infinite love of God manifested in that sacrifice that we have confidence in availing ourselves of this right. In a word, this great privilege has been obtained for us through the mediation of our Lord and Savior. This is here represented as a way: "By the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way," etc. The description is instructive.
(1) The characteristics of the way. It is a new way; i.e. newly made, recent, or newly opened. Truly and beautifully Stier says, "No believer under the Old Testament dared or could, though under a dispensation of preparatory grace, approach God so freely and openly, so fearlessly and joyfully, so closely and intimately, as we now, who come to the Father by the blood of Jesus, his Son." It is a living way. "The way into the sanctuary of the Old Testament was simply a lifeless pavement trodden by the high priest, and by him alone; the way opened by Jesus Christ is one that really leads and carries all who enter it into the heavenly rest, being, in fact, the reconciliation of mankind with God, once and for ever effected by him through his ascension to the Father - 'a living way,' because one with the living person and abiding work of Jesus Christ" (Delitzsch). "Jesus saith, I am the Way," etc. (cf. John 14:1-6).
(2) The inauguration of this way. "Which he dedicated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." There is a comparison between the flesh of our Savior and the veil which separated the most holy from the holy place. "While he was with us here below," says Delitzsch, "the weak, limit-bound, and mortal flesh, which he had assumed for our sakes, hung like a curtain between him and the Divine sanctuary into which he would enter; and in order to such entrance, this curtain had to be withdrawn by death, even as the high priest had to draw aside the temple veil in order to make his entry to the holy of holies." In his death our Lord put off the weak, mortal flesh; and at his death "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom," laying open the holy of holies. Dying, our Lord laid aside those conditions of body which could not be taken into heaven itself, and removed the barriers which kept us from God (cf. Corinthians 1:21, 22).
(3) The encouragement to tread this way. "And having a great Priest over the house of God." The description is suggestive. "A great Priest." One who is both Priest and King; "a royal Priest and priestly King." He is "over the house of God," i.e. the Church; the one great communion of saints both in heaven and upon earth; the Church triumphant above and the Church militant below. Here is encouragement to tread the new and living way. Our great Priest has trod the way before us. He has entered the heavenly sanctuary, and abides in the glorious and blessed Presence. He is there on our behalf; as our Representative, as our Forerunner, and as an attraction to draw his people thither also.
II. AN EXHORTATION TO AVAIL OURSELVES OF THIS PRIVILEGE, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith," etc. Consider how we are to avail ourselves of this privilege.
1. With perfect sincerity. "With a tree heart." A heart free from hypocrisy and from self-deception. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
2. With assured confidence. "In full assurance of faith." Not questioning our right of access, or the certainty of our gracious acceptance, through Christ. Not with divided confidence, but "in fullness of faith" in Christ. The full undivided faith is required, as Ebrard says, "not a faith such as the readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews had, who to the questions, 'Is Jesus the Messiah? Is he the Son of God?' replied in the affirmative indeed with head and mouth, but yet were not satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ, but thought it necessary still to lean on the crutches of the Levitical sacrifices, and on these crutches would limp into heaven." We fear that there is much of this divided faith at present, or at least a great lack of "fullness of faith" in the Savior. The faith of some is divided between the Christ and the Church, or some human priesthood; others, between the Christ and the sanctions of reason or philosophy; and others, between the Christ and what they conceive to be their own personal merits. If we would draw near to God acceptably, we must do so "in full assurance of faith" in our great Priest as the only and all-sufficient Mediator.
3. With purity of heart and life. "Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water." There is a reference here to the Levitical purifications (cf. Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 8:30; Leviticus 16:4, 24; Hebrews 9:13, 14, 21, 22; 1 Peter 1:2). And in the last clause of the text there is probably a reference to Christian baptism, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing (cf. Acts 22:16). The idea seems to be that to approach God acceptably we must be morally pure in heart and in action. But "who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" And so we draw near to God at present trusting in the Christ for pardon and for purity. Through him we are justified before God by faith, and have daily cleansing for daily impurities. And hereafter we shall draw near to his blessed presence "having washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," and shall appear before him as members of "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish."
1. How great are our privileges of present access to God in prayer, and hope of future approach to him in person!
2. How solemn are our obligations to avail ourselves of our privileges, and to walk worthily of them! - W.J.
I. WHY THE APPROACH IS TO BE MADE. There needed the statement of no reason here; the necessity of approach is assumed. The great thing required was to substitute a new ground and a new mode of approach for a ground and a mode which had become useless, nay, even harmful. The Israelite had always acknowledged that he must approach Deity in some way or other. If God had not appointed a certain way of access in the Levitical ordinances, the Israelite would have taken his own way. Indeed, it is lamentably plain that too much he did take his own way. He had to be turned from the golden calf by the sharpest of chastisements, and many a century elapsed before image-worship and debasing rites lost their hold upon him. Moses and the prophets, say all the representatives of Jehovah under the first covenant, had quite as hard work to turn away their fellow-countrymen from image-worship as the writer of this Epistle afterwards had to turn them away from types to antitypes, from shadow to substance, and from a temporary discipline to its abiding result in the Christ. The approach to God may be looked at as either a need or a duty, and whichever aspect be considered, it is evident that a loving, foreseeing God will provide the way. He provides the right way to the right end. Let us try to imagine him leaving Israel to its own devices when it escaped from Egypt. The people would still have built altars, slain sacrifices, and appointed priests. What God does is to deliver the conscience from the tyranny of every idolatry and bring it under reasonable government and guidance. He frees human religious customs from cruelty, lust, superstition, and makes them typical and instructive. And now we come to the means of a full approach to God in Christ, is it not plain that all this is to supply a corresponding need and give scope for a corresponding duty? Jesus tells us there is a true Vine; so there is a true altar, a true sacrifice, a true Priest. The image-worshipper, whose darkened heart is filled with falsehoods about the nature and the service of God, is yet faithful to what he thinks to be right. Shall we be less faithful, who have opportunities for such service and such blessing.
II. THE GROUND OF APPROACH. The spirit of man has to find its entrance into the holy place, and has to give its reason for confidence in expecting admission - a reason which every man must apply to his own understanding, so as to make his approach as practical, as persevering, as possible. It is not expected of us, who have no experience of the details of Mosaic sacrificial institutions, to appreciate all the details here. We have not to he won away from sacrifices of beasts and dependence on an earthly priest. But, nevertheless, we must apprehend that the only ground of satisfactory approach to God is in Christ. There is no way to reach harmony with that great Being in whom is light and no darkness at all, and who cannot be tempted with evil, save through Christ. In Christ there is hope for the sinner, something to draw him, something to lift him above useless resolutions and vain struggles. Jesus Christ is the Way. "You have come to Mount Zion," says the writer in Hebrews 12. To the real Zion, which is part of the city of the living God. But we are brought there that we may be safely and permanently introduced into the true holy of holies, and into that communion with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which gives purity and blessedness.
III. THE MODE OF APPROACH. The whole man must be united in a true approach to God. It is now that we have to approach, and there can be no separation between the inward and the outward man. The heart must be right and the body must be right. Mere bodily approach could never have profited at any time, save to the extent that it freed the worshipper from the penalties of complete disobedience. But still bodily approach has its place. With the body we have to serve God; and cleanliness is not only a wholesome and a comfortable thing - it is also sacred. People have sometimes been exposed to ridicule by quoting the common saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," as being from the Scriptures. They are not so far wrong, for that is what this passage virtually says. Then with a true heart, and a vigorous, prosperous faith bearing us onwards, we shall make a real and secure progress towards possession of the mysteries of godliness. - Y.
I. THE EXHORTATION TO CHRISTIAN FIDELITY. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not."
1. The object of our hope. That in Christ we have at present forgiveness of our sins, the right of approach unto God, sanctifying influences, etc. That through Christ we shall attain unto the future and perfect rest - the sabbath-keeping which remains for the people of God. Or in brief, that Jesus is the Christ of God, and that in him we have salvation in its beginnings here and now, and shall have it in perfection hereafter.
2. The compression of our hope.
(1) The confession made. The Christian baptism of these Hebrew Christians was a confession of their faith in Christ. When the hope is clear and assured, it "cannot remain dumb; it must speak, and give a reason of its own existence. It utters itself in a frank confession, which we are to hold fast." This confession is obligatory upon believers in Christ Jesus (cf. Matthew 10:32, 33; Luke 12:8, 9; Romans 10:9, 10; 1 John 4:15).
(2) The confession maintained. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not." It is implied that there was a danger of their relinquishing it. They were in danger by reason of persecution (cf. John 9:22); and by reason of the ritualistic and other attractions of Judaism, and the simplicity and spirituality of Christianity. And a clear, consistent, and steadfast confession of our Christian hope is imperiled today by not a few influences. There is danger from Satanic solicitation, from worldly suggestion and example, and from the inclinations and disinclinations of our lower nature. Visible and material interests would draw us away from the claims of the invisible and spiritual. Having so much to do with seen and temporal things, there is danger lest we relax the firmness of our grasp on the unseen and eternal verities. There is danger, too, of attempting to base our hope upon Christ and something else, rather than upon Christ and Christ alone. "Let us hold fast the confession," etc. Let there be no uncertainty, no timidity, no wavering, in our acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
(a) Our own true interests enforce the exhortation of the text.
(b) The great company of the glorified call upon us to "hold fast the confession of our hope," etc. (cf. Hebrews 6:11, 12).
(c) God himself summons us to fidelity and perseverance. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown."
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO CHRISTIAN FIDELITY. "For he is faithful that promised." Many are the promises which God has made to his people. Promises to the penitent, the tempted, the afflicted, the mourner, the weak, the perplexed, etc. Now, all these promises are perfectly reliable. Of this we have many guarantees; e.g.:
1. His infinite intelligence. "When he promises anything, he sees everything which may hinder, and everything which may promote the execution of it, so that he cannot discover anything afterwards that may move him to take up after-thoughts: he hath more wisdom than to promise anything which he knows he cannot accomplish."
2. His almighty power. He is able to perform all and everything that he has promised. "Trust ye in the Lord for ever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength."
3. His perfect faithfulness. "It is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2). "God is not a man, that he should lie," etc. (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). "With him can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning" (James 1:17). "How many soever be the promises of God, in Jesus Christ is the yea," etc. (2 Corinthians 1:20). The fidelity of God to his glorious promises should ensure our fidelity in the confession of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. - W.J.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF ACTUAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT IS ASSUMED. The writer is addressing those who are avowedly Christians. Jesus has already been acknowledged as Apostle and High Priest (Hebrews 3:1), and already an exhortation has been given to hold fast the acknowledgment of him. In the first age of Christianity, the breaking away from Judaism or from Gentile idolatry could not, of course, be concealed. It never was meant to be paraded or obtruded; but, in the very nature of things, light rising in the midst of darkness must manifest itself. Saul's conversion was soon known in Damascus. The Nicodemus-attitude, however excusable at first, cannot long be maintained. It must advance to acknowledgment or subside into spiritual indifference. Many there must have been who, like Timothy, had made a good confession before many witnesses; therein, as Paul hinted, following the example of Jesus before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:12, 13).
II. THE SPECIAL FORM OF THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT HERE REFERRED TO. It is the acknowledgment of a hope. These Jewish Christians have made all their expectation of the future to depend on Christ. Hope is the natural and proper feeling of the human breast; men hope for that which it is within the limit of human ability to attain. And when Christ, by his death and resurrection, and by the gift of his Spirit, has enlarged that limit, then the hope is enlarged and elevated also. Christ meant that a spiritual and lofty hope should brighten the arduous lives of his servants; and evidently his first apostles had such a hope as they contemplated the possibilities of their own lives. In referring to the Christian hope here, the writer is but continuing the strain running through the previous part of the Epistle (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 6:11, 18; Hebrews 7:19). If we do not get hope into our hearts from our connection with Christ, then that connection is a delusion.
III. THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT WILL BE OF NO USE UNLESS IT IS HELD FAST. We must avow, without the slightest hesitation or vacillation, the confidence and expectation we have from our connection with Christ. And we can only make the avowal if the feeling is real, deep, and based on a proper understanding of what it is that Christ promises. Christ is not bound to justify all our hopes, but only such as the obedient and spiritually minded ought to entertain, Note the strong words which the writer uses in insisting on the need of holding fast this acknowledgment. This shows what temptation there would be to fall away from it.
IV. THE GROUND GIVEN FOR HOLDING FAST. "He is faithful that promised." The word of one who has done such things as Jesus, and manifested such a character, is the very best ground we can have. The faithfulness of Jesus is known in all those points whereby, in the present world, it can be tested. When he speaks of the treasures of a future which we cannot yet test, our wisdom is to hold fast to him, and not listen to the confused utterances of men, or the too often rebellious promptings of our own hearts. - Y.
1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Colossians 1:4, 5)! First, the injunction to approach in the full assurance of faith; then that to hold fast the confession of our hope; and now a third, to godly rivalry in the manifestation of Christian love.
I. THE DUTY OF MUTUAL CONSIDERATION. Let us consider one another." This exhortation does not warrant any impertinent interference in the concerns of others, or sanction the conduct of busybodies and gossips. It calls upon us to cherish a mutual regard, and to exercise a kind consideration one for another. We should consider the wants, weaknesses, temptations, trials, successes, failures, and varying experiences of each other. With a brother in his shortcomings and sins we should be patient and forbearing, slow to condemn, but quick to raise and restore. "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass," etc. (Galatians 6:1, 2). With each other we should sympathize in our respective joys and sorrows. Our religious duties, motives, aims, trials, joys, and hopes are very similar in their character; therefore "let us consider one another," sympathize with one another, and strengthen one another.
II. THE DESIGN OF MUTUAL CONSIDERATION. "To provoke unto love and good works." "To provoke" is here used in a good sense - to excite, or to call into activity for a worthy purpose. "Consider one another" in order to produce in each other a generous rivalry in love and good works. Mark the importance of these two things.
1. Love. It is the supreme grace of Christian character (1 Corinthians 13:13). It is the most Christ-like. It is the most God-like. "God is love." It is that which most truly represents our Savior to the world. It is that which is most extolled in the sacred Scriptures. The Bible abounds in exhortations to love one another and to love God (Leviticus 19:18, 34; Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:19; Matthew 22:36-40; John 15:12; 1 Corinthians 13.; Colossians 3:14; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11-24; 1 John 4:7-21). On earth and in time love exalts and imparts an attractive luster and beauty to the character. And it qualifies for the glories of heaven and eternity.
2. Good works; beautiful actions. Love is the fountain of all beautiful deeds. Our works are beautiful in proportion as love is our motive and inspiration in them. That which is done selfishly, grudgingly, or in the spirit of a hireling, has no goodness or beauty. Love is the purest and mightest inspiration. No difficulties deter love; no dangers appall it; no toils are too arduous or prolonged to be accomplished by it. The venturing and enduring power of love is wonderful. And, thank God! illustrations of it are not scarce. See it in the unwearying vigil and the unfailing ministry of the mother, night and day, day and night, by the couch where her sick child lies; or the wife by the bed of her afflicted husband, etc. Love delights in self-sacrificing service for the beloved. "Provoke unto love and good works." To teach a class well in the Sunday or the Ragged school; to visit the neglected, the sick, and the dying; to comfort some troubled heart or cheer some depressed spirit; to perform common duties with diligence and fidelity, or irksome duties with cheerfulness; to bear physical pain or social trial patiently; to suffer long by reason of the faults of others, and still be kind to them; - these are "good works," beautiful works. It is to love and good works that we are to provoke one another, and for this purpose we have to kindly consider each other. Put no obstacle in the path of any true worker, but cheer him, strengthen him. Perhaps the best way to stimulate others to love and good works is to set a good example in respect of these things. Learn here the most effective method of preventing strife and securing unity amongst Christian brethren. Kindly mutual consideration, love, and good works preclude disagreement, and unite hearts in sacred and blessed fellowship. - W.J.
I. WE HAVE TO CONSIDER ONE ANOTHER, i.e. we must look well into the character, the habits, the position, the abilities, the needs of all whom we have sufficient opportunity to estimate. We must get an honest and adequate view. We must not expect too much from them, neither must we let them off with too little. This knowledge is to be gained by real consideration, not by hearsay, not hastily, not casually. We must get below the surface. Such a consideration as this may have many results.
II. THE SPECIAL AIM HERE TO BE KEPT IN VIEW. "To provoke unto love and to good works." There is a large meaning in this expression. First of all it means that when we look at the needs of others, especially of fellow-Christians, when we look into those needs, seeing how deep, how abiding, how discomposing they are, we shall be stirred up to a very passion of love for the needy and a consequent doing of good works for their relief. And, moreover, when the consideration is what it ought to be, there will be wisdom, proportion, true economy, adjustment of means to ends, in the good works. But also those whom we consider must be stirred up to have love in their own hearts and good works in their hands.
III. A PECULIAR PERIL. That of living in isolation. Living the Christian life in isolation. People will not act so in the needs, duties, and pleasures of common life. They will gather together in twos or threes, or any number that may be necessary. But their religion they keep to themselves. They do not understand how much they can be helped by mutual edification. Not that the writer supposes this tendency can be universal. He expressly points out that it is the habit of some. Such do not understand their obligations and their needs; their latent ability to comfort others on the one hand, or their latent weakness, their certain need of comfort, on the other.
IV. THE MEANS OF THIS MUTUAL EDIFICATION. "Exhorting one another." Real exhortation is to be made by virtue of the Holy Spirit working in him who exhorts. It must not have its sole origin in experiences and energies of the natural man. An exhortation which shall be truly a good work must come from a spiritual man. He only discerns the reality of spiritual truth; he only can communicate it with the requisite force.
V. A SPECIAL MOTIVE. The day of the Lord's coming is approaching. This day, as we know from ample evidence, was believed to be very near by the primitive Christians. They did right in so believing, for their Lord wanted them to be ever ready. And in any case the practical equivalent of that day is not far off from each Christian in his earthly life. His opportunity to show love and do good works will soon be over. - Y.
I. MAN'S NEED OF SOCIAL WORSHIP.
1. Man needs worship. A god is a necessity of man's being. He must have something to worship, even if it be only a fetish. This arises from the presence and influence of the religious and devotional elements and faculties in human nature. As these are refined and educated, so man is able to receive pure and exalted ideas of God. One of the bitterest of human wails is, "Ye have taken away my gods, and the priest; and what have I more?" The loss of even a false god is deemed ruinous by those who confided in it. The cry of the man whose religious nature has been enlightened by Divine revelation is, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." The body needs the exercise of manual labor, or of athletics, or gymnastics, or it becomes weak and incapable. The mind must be employed in the acquisition of truth, in reflection upon truth and life, or its powers must be called forth in some other way, or it will sink into a condition of feebleness and decay. And the principle is equally applicable to the religions soul. If its powers be not employed in the worship of the Divine Being and in the effort to live usefully and holily, those powers will perish; the eyes of the soul will become blind, its ears deaf, its aspirations extinct. Man needs worship for the life and growth of his own religious nature.
2. Man needs social worship. He is a social being. His heart craves friendship. In sorrow and joy, in labor and rest, we long for companionship and sympathy. We are formed for fellowship and for mutual help. Hence, social worship is a necessity of our being. This need was divinely recognized in Judaism, and provision was made for it in the temple, in the great religious festivals, etc. Our Lord recognized this need in various ways (Matthew 18:17-20; Luke 4:16). So also did the apostles. Even in the darkest seasons in the history of the Church of God, devout souls have felt this need and have sought satisfaction for it. "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another," etc. (cf. Malachi 3:13-17).
3. Social worship is often very beneficial and blessed. Our Lord has promised that the unanimous prayers of such worshippers shall be answered, and that he himself will meet with them (Matthew 18:19, 20). In such assemblies of believers devotion and holy feeling pass from heart to heart until all hearts are aglow. Mutual prayer strengthens the weak disciple. One man is cast down and almost faithless, but his faith is invigorated and his soul encouraged by the influence of another who is believing and hopeful. Nor is worship the only engagement of these assemblies. Our text speaks of mutual exhortation. "Exhorting one another." Brotherly counsel and encouragement and admonition are profitable to strengthen faith, incite to diligence, guard against declension, and promote the progress of the soul.
II. MAN'S NEGLECT OF SOCIAL WORSHIP. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom of some is." Notice:
1. The causes of this neglect. As our Epistle does not speak of the neglect of worship by the irreligious, but of the desertion of the Christian assemblies by those who themselves were avowedly Christians, we shall confine our attention to the causes of the neglect of social worship by those who manifest some respect for religion.
(1) The necessity of social worship is not recognized, or inadequately recognized. The neglecter says, "There is no need for my frequent attendance at church; I can read the Bible or a sermon by my own fireside; and as for worship, we have that in the family." But reading a sermon is not attendance upon the divinely instituted preaching of the gospel. And family worship is not enough for man as a social being. Religion itself is social. As we need friends beyond our own domestic relations, so we need in religious exercises a wider circle than the home one.
(2) Absorption in temporal and worldly affairs is another cause of the neglect of the Christian assemblies. The interests and occupations of this world and time fill the whole being; spiritual and eternal interests are disregarded; the soul and its needs are neglected; thus men are unjust to their own higher nature.
(3) Decline in the spiritual life is another cause of this neglect.
2. The danger of this neglect. They whose custom it was to forsake the assemblies of Christians were not yet apostates from the Christian faith and confession. But the admonition and exhortation of the text suggest that they were in danger of apostasy. And the awful warnings which immediately follow more plainly indicate the dread peril. He who neglects the Christian assemblies is likely ere long to forsake the Christian Church and renounce the Christian faith, and ]:e may even go on to tread underfoot the Son of God, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace. - W.J.
I. A SIN OF THE GREATEST ENORMITY. TO obtain a correct view of the dark sin which is here depicted, let us notice:
1. The spiritual experience which preceded the sin. Two clauses of our text set forth a personal experience of genuine religion. "After that we have received the knowledge of the truth." The word which is translated "knowledge" - ἐπίγνωσις - as Delitzsch points out, cannot mean an unreal or false knowledge, but a genuine and intelligent apprehension of the truth. "The sacred writer, therefore, clearly intimates by the very choice of the word that it is not a mere outward and historical knowledge of which he is here speaking, but an inward, quickening, believing apprehension of revealed truth (Hebrews 6:4-8)." "The blood... wherewith he was sanctified." In the case supposed the man "had advanced so far in the reality of the spiritual life, that this blood had been really applied to his heart by faith, and its hallowing and purifying, effects were visible in his life (Alford).
2. The character of the sin itself. The sin is apostasy from Christianity, after having personally experienced its power and preciousness. But see how it is here sketched.
(1) Contemptuous rejection of the Divine Redeemer. "Hath trodden underfoot the Son of God." The expression does not simply mean to cast a thing away as useless, which is afterwards carelessly trampled on by men (Matthew 5:13); but a deliberate, scornful, bitter treading down of a thing. So terribly wicked is the rejection of the Son of God which our text sets forth.
(2) Profanation of the sacrificial blood of the Savior. "Hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing." The blood of sacrifices offered under the Law was regarded as sacred, and as having cleansing power (Leviticus 16:19). How much more really and more intensely holy must the blood of Christ be (Hebrews 9:13, 14)! To regard this blood as common, or as the blood of an ordinary man, was not only a degradation of the most sacred thing, but also an admission that Jesus was deservedly put to death; for if his was the common blood of a mere man, he was a blasphemer, and according to the Jewish Law deserved death.
(3) Insultation of the Holy Spirit. "And hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace;" or, "insulted the Spirit of grace." The expression designates the Holy Spirit as the Source of grace, and leads us to think of him as a living and loving Person. "To contemn or do despite to this Holy Spirit is to blaspheme the whole work of grace of which one has once been the subject, and to exhibit it as a deception and a lie. It is profanely to contradict the very truth of God, and draw down a vengeance which cannot fail" (Delitzsch).
3. The aggravations of the sire. The preceding experience of the blessings of Christianity sorely aggravates so bitter an apostasy from it. But the sin is further aggravated by the willfulness, deliberateness, and continuousness with which it is committed. "The sin here spoken of is not a momentary or short-lived aberration, from which the infirm but sincere believer is speedily recalled by the convictions of the Spirit, but one willfully persisted in." "If we sin willfully." Moreover, it is not an act or acts of willful sin committed once, or more than once, and then repented of, which is here set forth; but a continuous condition of sin. The use of the present participle - ἁμαρτανόντων - "indicates perseverance and continuance in apostasy." It is not a case of ordinary religious backsliding or declension from Christ; for then there would be some hope of repentance and encouragement to repent (Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 14:4). It is a case of willful, deliberate, contemptuous, persistent rejection of Christ and of Christianity, after having known his truth and experienced his grace.
II. A PUNISHMENT OF THE MOST TERRIBLE SEVERITY.
1. The utter loss of the hope of spiritual reformation. "There remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins." The sacrifices of Judaism to which, in the case supposed, the apostate returns have no power to take away sins. The efficacy of the sacrifice of the Savior has not been exhausted by him, but he has deliberately and scornfully rejected it, so that for him it has no longer any atoning or saving power. And no other exists for him, or will be provided for him. When a man willfully, contemptuously, and persistently rejects the only sacrifice through which salvation may be attained, what hope can there be for him of forgiveness and spiritual renewal?
2. The dreadful anticipation of an awful judgment. "There remaineth a certain fearful expectation of judgment." The apostate looks forward with dismay, and even with terror at times, to the approaching judgment and the righteous retributions which will follow. His punishment is already begun in his alarming anticipations of the dread penalties awaiting him hereafter.
3. The infliction of a punishment worse than death. "A fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries. A man that hath set at naught Moses' Law dieth without compassion," etc. If an Israelite apostatized from Jehovah to idolatry, when "two witnesses or three witnesses" testified against him, he was to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). If one sought to seduce another to idolatry, the person so tempted was to take the lead in stoning the tempter to death, even though the tempter was the nearest and dearest relative, or a friend beloved as his own soul (Deuteronomy 13:1-11). But for the apostate from Christ there is a "much sorer punishment" than the death of the body by stoning. The severity of the punishment will be in proportion to the clearness of the light and the richness of the grace and the preciousness of the privileges rejected by the apostate. "The wrath of God burns as hotly as his love, and strikes no less surely than justly." Yet it seems to us that nothing in the punishment of the apostate can be darker or more terrible than this, that for him "there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins." "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." - W.J.
1 Chronicles 21:13). State briefly what led to this utterance of David. The taking of the census, etc. Wherein was the sin of numbering the people? Not in the mere act; for Israel had been numbered thrice before by the command of the Lord. But David took this census
(1) without Divine authority or sanction;
(2) from motives of pride and ostentation.
Perhaps he was contemplating schemes of foreign conquest. Certainly the motive was a sinful one, and therefore the act was sinful. God was displeased thereby, and he determined to punish the king and his people for this and previous sins, e.g. the rebellions in which the people had joined. He, however, sent Gad the seer unto David to give him the choice of one out of three punishments (1 Chronicles 21:11-14). With becoming humility and piety, the king left the judgment in the hand of God. He prayed that he might "not fall into the hand of man," and his people be destroyed three months before their foes; but whether the punishment should be "three years' famine, or three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in the land," he left to the decision of the merciful God. "David said unto Gad," etc. (1 Chronicles 21:13). After these words the text from our Epistle has a strange sound: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The sacred writer has been treating of a sin of extraordinary wickedness - apostasy from Christ; and apostasy characterized, not by ignorance, but by despite of the clearest knowledge; not by weakness, but by willfulness; not by transitoriness, but by persistence. It is of the punishment of such an apostate that it is said, "It is a fearful thing," etc. "The hands of God are his almighty operations, whether in love or wrath." He is "the living God" because he is self-existent; his existence is independent, absolute, eternal. So "the hands of the living God" present the ideas of his almightiness and eternity. How fearful to fall into the punitive hands of such a Being! Man may be angry with me, but his power is limited, and he dies, and then he can injure me no longer; but it is a fearful thing to fall into the avenging hands of him whose power is unlimited and whose existence is endless - the hands of the almighty and ever-living God, Contrast these two fallings into the hands of God.
I. THE ONE FALLS VOLUNTARILY INTO GOD'S HANDS; THE OTHER, COMPULSORILY. David deliberately and freely elected to leave himself in the hands of the Lord; that was his choice. But the willfully and persistently wicked wilt fall into his hands as the guilty culprit falls into the hands of the officers of the law. The strong hand of Divine justice will seize the hardened rebel against God, and from that grip there will be no escape. Of our own free will let us now fall into his almighty and loving hands.
II. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS HANDS IN HUMBLE PENITENCE; THE OTHER, IN HARDENED IMPENITENCE. David was sincerely and deeply repentant of his sin (1 Chronicles 21:8, 17). But in the case supposed in our Epistle the sinner willfully and defiantly persists in known and terrible sin, and is arrested by the Omnipotent hands as a daring rebel. And we have sinned and deserved God's wrath. How shall we meet him? in penitence, or in presumption? "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength," etc. (Job 9:4). "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry," etc. (Psalm 2:12).
III. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS HANDS FIRMLY TRUSTING IN HIS MERCY; THE OTHER, DEEPLY DREADING HIS WRATH. "David said... for very great are his mercies." He could and did confide in the love of God even in his judgments. But when the desperately wicked fall into God's hands it will be in abject terror (cf. ver. 27). Again let us imitate David, and trust God's mercy, not man's. "If you are accused, it is better to trust him for justice than to trust men; if you are guilty, it is better to trust him for mercy than to trust men; if you are miserable, it is better to trust him for deliverance than men."
IV. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS CHASTISING HAND; THE OTHER, INTO HIS AVENGING HAND. David and his people were to be punished, but the punishment was paternal chastisement for their profit. They were to suffer that they might be saved as a nation. But very different is the punishment of the willful and persistent sinner (see vers. 26, 27, 30, 31). What is our relation to God? Penitence, or persistence in sin? Humble trust, or abject terror? We must fall into his hands somehow. How shall it be? "Hast thou an arm like God?" Let it be thus -
"A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
I. As ILLUSTRATED IN HISTORY. The whole passage, vers. 26-31, is a very serious one to read, insisting as it does on the reality of Divine retribution upon those guilty of neglect and disobedience. It was evidently necessary, however, to deal with this point and thus make the comparison between the old and the new covenant complete. How will God deal with those who willfully neglect the ample and gracious provisions of the new covenant? The first element in the answer is given by inquiring how he dealt with despisers of the old covenant - despisers of Moses as Jehovah's deputy and messenger. A great deal hangs on the word willfully. Jehovah has always been long-suffering with ignorance and thoughtlessness. But when men rise like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with the purposes of rebellion and self-assertion strong in their heart, knowing what they are doing, and doing it deliberately and defiantly, then God has to be equally assertive of his rightful authority and the rightful authority of whomsoever he makes his representative. The Jew did not question that it was a right thing that the despiser of Moses' Law should die without fail under two or three witnesses. Of course we must guard against arguing back from great catastrophes to great sins. What we are bound to do is to recognize the plain asserted connection between some great sins and the consequences that followed. And in every case, to every individual, the consequences are real; only in some cases the consequences have been made terribly conspicuous by way of warning.
II. AS CONTRASTED WITH THE IMPOTENCE OF OTHER HANDS INTO WHICH WE MAY FALL. Jehovah, the living God, is here contrasted with lifeless idols. Jehovah, the God who makes unfailing, righteous, potent judgments, as contrasted with idolatrous priests who have no power except by working on the superstitious fears of men. Attachment to Mosaic institutions had hardened into something little better than idolatry. The living God had become a mere name, the center of a mechanical ritual. Men stood in terror of their own traditional delusions. Or they stood in terror of one another like those parents of the blind man, who feared they would be put out of the synagogue if they acknowledged Jesus as the Christ. It is right that men should be afraid, but how often are they afraid of the wrong things! To fall into the hands of men must have a dreadful look at first, but when the position is fully estimated it is a mere trifle. The really fearful thing is to fall into the hands of the living God. He is something very different from an empty superstition or a living man.
III. AS CONNECTED WITH THE IMMENSE SIN OF WILFULLY REJECTING JESUS. The writer allows us to be under no mistake as to what he means. Whosoever can truly say that he does not trample underfoot the Son of God, does not reckon the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, does not do despite to the Spirit of grace, - such a one is free. In the first days of breaking away from Judaism, when all the malevolence and bitterness of the worst sort of Jews came into play, there would be more occasion of warning of this sort than now. And even with regard to such men there is another side to be considered. Paul was once bitter and malevolent enough, but he put in the plea that what he did he did ignorantly, in unbelief. God only can judge the heart of a man enough to say how far his rejection is really deliberate, in the face of light and knowledge. - Y.
I. SUFFERINGS ENDURED FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF THE FAITH IN THE PAST.
1. These sufferings were of various kinds.
(1) Sufferings in their own persons.
(a) Infliction of physical pain. "Being made a gazing-stock by afflictions." The afflictions, or tribulations, arose from active and bitter persecutions. And these were inflicted (as the word translated "gazing-stock," or spectacle, clearly indicates) in the theatre before the assembled multitude, that to the physical pain might be added the sense of shame.
(b) Subjection to undeserved reproaches. "Being made a gazing-stock by reproaches." They were publicly assailed by the scornful jeers of their persecutors. The people of God have frequently borne the bitterest anguish by reason of the malignant and contemptuous utterances of their adversaries (cf. Psalm 41:5-9; Psalm 42:3, 10).
(c) Spoliation of their worldly possessions. "Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods." Ebrard suggests that by this "we are to understand what we find still at this day taking place in the sphere of the Jewish mission. When a Jew shows himself determined to become a Christian, he is disinherited by his relations, his share in the property is withheld from him, his credit and every source of gain withdrawn; he falls into a state of complete destitution."
(2) Sufferings in sympathy with other sufferers. "Becoming partakers with them that were so used. For ye had compassion on them that were in bonds." In a truly Christian spirit they sympathized with others who were in tribulation; they wept with those who wept; they made common cause with their persecuted brethren.
2. Their sufferings were of great severity. They "endured a great conflict of sufferings." The severity of the sufferings of the early Christians is witnessed to by very many portions of the New Testament (Acts 5:17-42; Acts 6:9-15; Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1-4; Acts 9:1, 2; Acts 12:1-5; Acts 14:19; Acts 16:19-24; Acts 21:27-32; Acts 22:24, 9.5; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-11; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Revelation 2:9, 10).
3. Their sufferings were because of their Christianity. "After ye were illuminated, ye endured," etc. This enlightenment is that which led them to embrace Christianity and trust in Christ (cf. Hebrews 6:4). They endured persecutions for his Name's sake.
4. Their sufferings were patiently endured. "Ye endured" - the word used by the sacred writer indicates endurance "without losing heart or hope." They "took joyfully the spoiling of their possessions." Like the apostles they "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his Name." One thing which sustained them in this noble endurance of cruel persecutions was their assurance that they possessed precious and imperishable treasures. "Knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one." They bad treasure in heaven beyond the reach of their mightiest and most malignant enemies. Three things concerning this possession are worthy of brief notice.
(1) Its certainty. They knew that it existed, and existed for them; for they had the earnest of it in their hearts.
(2) Its superiority. It is "better" than any earthly possessions.
(3) Its perpetuity. "An enduring substance." Heavenly possessions are inalienable and imperishable. The knowledge that they had these sustained them under the loss of earthly possessions and sore tribulations. If any are called to suffer in the cause of Jesus Christ in these days, let them think of these noble endurers of far severer afflictions, and gather courage and patience from their example.
II. SUFFERING RECALLED FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF FAITH IN THE PRESENT. "Call to remembrance the former days, in which," etc. It is implied that they were suffering in the time then present because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and would probably have to suffer for some time (cf. Hebrews 12:3-13). They are exhorted to call to mind the tribulations which they had already borne victoriously to inspire them in the endurance of present and future afflictions, and to preserve them from apostasy. This was not to be an occasional exercise, but a constant habit. Hence the sacred writer uses the present tense, the force of which is thus given by Alford, "Call ever to remembrance the former days." But how would this recollection of past trials and victories assist them in their present conflicts?
1. All the fruit of their former sufferings would be lost if they did not continue faithful. "To begin in faith, but not to endure, leads to useless sacrifices, vain hopes, and fruitless sufferings." These Hebrew Christians had already borne far too much in the cause of Christ for them to abandon that cause now because they were called to bear more tribulation. They were like capitalists who had invested so much in this enterprise, that they had only to call to mind the amount of their investments to save them from giving up their interest in it because other calls were made upon them.
2. All the help afforded them in former sufferings was available unto them still. The God who had helped them in the past would not forsake them in future trials; for he is ever the same - the same in wisdom, in power, in faithfulness, in goodness. Thus, the recollection of former deliverances should be an inspiration in present trials and for future difficulties. "All the historic triumphs of the Divine arm stimulate us in the present battle." "Because thou hast been my Help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." Thus David frequently reasoned (cf. 1 Samuel 17:32-37). And thus should we encourage ourselves in God, especially in seasons of suffering or of sorrow, of temptation or tribulation. - W.J.
I. THE RIGHT ESTIMATE ITSELF. This is a mean between extremes. To despise worldly possessions, to speak of them as if they were to be trampled underfoot as always worthless, is not a Christian state of mind. The worldly man overvalues and the ascetic undervalues. The Christian, taught by his Master, learns to use the world as not abusing. It is not well in ordinary circumstances to make comparisons; a wise and devout man will use everything for God according to its nature and its scope. But there may come a time when the man has to make his election between the temporal and the eternal, between what the world has to give and what Christ has to give. Then it will be seen where the affections are. A treasure is rot a treasure in itself; it is a treasure relatively to its possessor. Where the heart is, there the treasure is. One may see the pearl of great price where another sees a trifle, as it were a mere nothing. No one estimates temporal possessions rightly unless he is willing to sacrifice them for eternal interests. There is only one answer to the question, "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" A man will surrender all his wealth to keep his life. How much more, then, should he be willing to surrender his wealth to keep his spiritual hope, his vital connection with the boundless spiritual wealth resident in Christ? This is not a question for the few rich men only; it is for every one who has possessions to lose. They may not have to be given up outright; they may not be in danger of loss through persecution; but they may have to be risked through adopting truly Christian principles of life.
II. THOSE WHO ARE TO GAIN THE RIGHT ESTIMATE. In making the estimate, everything depends on the life and character of him who has to make it. The estimate is made, if one may say so, in an unconscious kind of way. It is a personal, practical decision, not a mere speculative one with little or no influence on the life. The decision is made, and some of the consequences of it attained, before the critical character of those consequences is discerned. In great moments of life we may have to decide on the spur of the moment; and the only man who can decide rightly is the spiritual man - he whose inner eye is open to see things as they really are. The pearl of great price is to be seen intuitively or not at all. There must be a firm resolution fixed in the heart to gain and to keep this pearl at whatever cost. Once we have got into right relations with Christ, comparisons between his claims and the claims of other beings are not hard to make. In making comparisons between one temporal possession and another, the character of those who make the comparison may or may not be a matter of importance. But in distinguishing between the temporal and the eternal, character is everything. We must have the Spirit of Christ working in us most energetically if we would be lifted above all danger of sacrificing the eternal to the temporal. - Y.
I. A GREAT REWARD PROMISED. "Great recompense of reward.... Ye might receive the premise." By "the promise" is meant here, not the promise itself, but the blessings promised; not the word of promise, for this they had already, but the good things which that word assured unto them. By the recompense of reward and the promised blessings we understand one and the same thing; i.e. "the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15), "the better and enduring substance" (ver. 34). It is the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. The life is characterized by
(4) perpetuity. A perpetuity of bliss is bliss. This life is promised to every believer in our Lord and Savior. "Whosoever believeth on him shall have eternal life." This life the Christian believer has now in its imperfect and early stages; he will have it hereafter in its fullness and perfection. "Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our Life," etc. (Colossians 3:3).
II. A GREAT DUTY MENTIONED. To do the will of God. This must precede the reception of the promised blessings. "Having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise." If we combine the interpretation of several expositors, we obtain what we regard as the true interpretation of "the will of God" here. Thus M. Stuart: "To do the will of God here, is to obey the requirement, to believe and trust in Christ" (cf. John 6:40). Ebrard: "By the will of God, in this context, is to be understood his will that we should confess Christ's Name before men." And Delitzsch: "The will of God is... our steadfast perseverance in faith and hope." It seems to us that the doing the will of God includes each and all of these things - faith in Christ, confession of Christ, and continuance in Christ. Moreover, the Christian accepts the will of God as the authoritative and supreme rule of his life. This will is sovereign, gracious, and universally binding. Let us endeavor to do it willingly, patiently, and cheerfully; for in so doing it our duty will become our freedom, dignity, and delight. We must do this will if we would receive the recompense of reward. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
III. A GREAT NEED EXPERIENCED. "Cast not away therefore your confidence.... For ye have need of patience," or endurance. The confidence which is not to be cast away and the endurance which we need are, not identical, closely related. The confidence is perhaps (as Ebrard suggests) the root, and patience the fruit, the endurance growing out of the confidence. The confidence is the joyous assurance "of faith and hope, and boldness in confessing Christ." We must not cast this away, as a dismayed soldier casts away his weapons; for we shall need it in the conflicts which yet await us. And the patience is "that unshaken, unyielding, patient endurance under the pressure of trial and persecution, that steadfastness of faith, apprehending present blessings, and of hope, with heaven-directed eye anticipating the glorious future, which obtains what it waits for." Now we need both these things, the confidence and the patience, the boldness and the endurance; for:
1. Our spiritual battles are not all fought yet. We still have foes to encounter; therefore we shall need our confidence and courage, our faith and hope.
2. Our various trials are not all passed through yet. We shall have to meet with losses and sorrows, to suffer afflictions, to be beset with difficulties, to bear disappointments; hence we "have need of patience."
3. Our possession of the promised inheritance is not attained yet. Perfect purity and peace, progress and blessedness, are not ours as yet. There are times when the recompense of reward seems long delayed, and our spiritual advancement towards it seems slow; and we have need of patience to wait and hope, and to work while we wait.
IV. A GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT PRESENTED. "For yet a very little while, and he that cometh shall come, and will not tarry." The end of our trials is very near. The inheritance of the promised blessing will speedily be ours. "The recompense of the reward comes as certainly as the Lord himself, who is already on the way." "Be patient therefore, brethren,... for the coming of the Lord is at hand?
"Stand up! stand up for Jesus!
I. SOMETHING IN THE PAST. "Having done the will of God." The writer did not hereby mean that his readers had done all the will of God; he simply recognized the fact that they had complied with the will of God in Christ Jesus as far as that will had been made known in distinct words and could be complied with in distinct acts. Jesus had been proclaimed to them as the Christ; they had accepted him as such fully and practically; they had welcomed him as the Fulfiller of the Law and the prophets. They had received his Holy Spirit. They had renounced all faith in Judaism as necessary to acceptable service of God. Their position might be expressed thus: "We have done the will of God as far as it has been made known to us; if there be anything more for us to do on earth let us know, and we will do it." Now, the question for us is - Have we got as far as these people? They were standing on the fact that what they knew of God's will they had done. Have we done what we know of God's will? Or, to go further back still - Have we knowledge of what it is that God wills us to do? We all have to wait, but what is our standing-place as we wait? That will make all the difference. Have we done the whole of what can be done any day? "Wow is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." The five wise virgins trimmed their lamps and filled their oil-vessels, and then they could wait with composure and confidence. Long as Christ's coming seems to the truly faithful, it will come all too soon for some.
II. SOMETHING IS THE PRESENT. The spirit of patient waiting. It must have been very hard to wait among persecutors and unjust spoliators. The second coming of the Master seemed the only effectual way of deliverance. But this second coming was a thing to be waited for, until it came in the fullness of time. God has to think of all individuals and all generations. God has to make all things work together for good to every man. We have to wait for others, as others have had to wait for us. The principle is laid down at the end of Hebrews 11. Meanwhile waiting is not altogether waiting. Something is given by the way. Even as Jesus had ineffable joys and satisfactions in the days of his flesh, there are like experiences for us. Patience is only truly patience when it is combined with hope, and true hops built on faith must be a gladness to the heart.
III. SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE. Something perfectly definite and certain; We know not how long we may have to wait, but at the end of the waiting there is something worth waiting for. Long did Israel wait in Egyptian bondage, but liberty came at last. Long did Israel wander in a comparatively little tract of land, but the settled life of Canaan came at last. Many generations lived and died with nothing save gracious prophecies to solace them, but the Christ came at last. And so Christ will come again without sin unto salvation. - Y.
Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11. Thus viewed, it presents to our notice -
I. THE CHARACTER SPECIFIED. This is marked by two leading features.
1. Righteousness. "The just," or righteous. The righteousness of the Christian is
(1) in character. He possesses the forgiveness of sins, and is accepted by God through Jesus Christ. The apostle of the Gentiles sets forth this righteousness: "That I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own," etc. (Philippians 3:9). The righteousness of the Christian is
(2) in conduct. "He that doeth righteousness, is righteous" (1 John 3:7, 10).
2. Religiousness. The Revised Version gives our text thus: "But my righteous one shall live by faith." This we regard as the correct text. It sets before us one who is godly as well as just, whose righteousness is joined with reverence, and is exalted by the union. A man cannot be righteous towards God without being religious. Unless we worship and love and obey him, we do him injustice. In the Christian character piety and principle, righteousness and reverence, must go hand in band.
II. THE LIFE MENTIONED. We are not acquainted with a satisfactory definition of life. The things of deepest significance and greatest importance defy our powers of definition. So we cannot set forth adequately in a sentence the life spoken of in the text. It is far more than physical and intellectual existence and activity. "Knowledge, truth, love, beauty, goodness, faith, alone can give vitality to the mechanism of existence." The life of true personal religion is that which our text speaks of. It is the life of supreme love to God, the life of Christ in man. "Christ," says Canon Liddon, "is the quickening Spirit of Christian humanity; he lives in Christians; he thinks in Christians; he acts through Christians and with Christians; he is indissolubly associated with every movement of the Christian's deepest life. 'I live,' exclaims the apostle; 'yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.' This felt presence of Christ it is which gives both its form and its force to the sincere Christian life. That life is a loyal homage of the intellect, of the heart, and of the will, to a Divine King, with whom will, heart, and intellect are in close and constant communion, and from whom there flows forth, through the Spirit and the sacraments, that supply of light, of love, and of resolve which enriches and ennobles the Christian soul."
III. THE MEANS OF THIS LIFE. "Shall live by faith." Brief consideration of two points is essential.
1. The nature of this faith. It is far more than the assent of the reason, or apprehension by the reason. It is a moral rather than an intellectual act. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "When the soul in very truth responds to the message of God, the complete responsive act of faith is threefold. This act proceeds simultaneously from the intelligence, from the heart, and from the will of the believer. His intelligence recognizes the unseen object as a fact. His heart embraces the object thus present to his understanding; his heart opens instinctively and unhesitatingly to receive a ray of heavenly light. And his will too resigns itself to the truth before it; it places the soul at the disposal of the object which thus rivets its eye and conquers its affections."
2. The Object of this faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself is the grand Object of the faith of the Christian. We accept him in the three great relationships which he sustains to his true disciples. As our Prophet we exercise faith in him. He claimed to be "the Truth." On all questions of morality and religion, of sin and salvation, of life and death, we bow to him as our infallible Teacher, and unhesitatingly accept his Word. We believe in him as our Priest. He has made full atonement for sins; he is our perfect Representative with the Father; he is our tender, compassionate Savior. To him the heart turns in its sins for forgiveness, in its sorrows for consolation. We loyally accept him also as our King. He is the Sovereign of our will and the Lord of our life. We believe in him as our moral Master, whose authority is supreme. Thus Christ is the Object of the Christian's faith. "By faith the soul is to be moving ever towards Christ, resting ever upon Christ, living ever in Christ. Christ is to be the end, the support, the very atmosphere of its life." He who thus believes in him shall have eternal life (John 3:10; Ephesians 2:8). - W.J.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE JUST MAN. It was inevitable, in an Epistle to Jewish Christians, that there should be some reference to that Pharisaic righteousness which consisted in a conformity to certain ritual regulations. There was the man just after the Pharisee fashion, because of his scrupulosity in ceremonial observances; and there was the man just in the sight of God, because he believed in God and showed his faith by his works. These Jewish Christians were righteous men because they were believers. They had been brought fully to comprehend that while God cared nothing for a round of ceremonies, he valued in the highest a spirit of trust in him - a spirit able to break away from the common reliance of men upon seen things, and to live as seeing him that is invisible. This is the only sort of righteousness that changes the whole of character; for if a man really trusts God, then men will be able to trust him and get real advantage out of him.
II. THE SAFETY OF THE JUST MAN. The just man shall live. By his faith he becomes just in the sight of God, and that faith, continuing and strengthening, preserves him. What can a round of ceremonies do for a man? The moment they lose their typical character, the moment they cease to be symbolic of spiritual realities, that same moment they bring the heart more than ever in bondage to the senses. The path of safety has always been the path entered on in response to the voice from on high. To the eye of sense it may have seemed a needless path, or a foolish path, or a perilous path. There may have been many to criticize and abuse. The only stay of the heart has been the deep conviction that the way was God's way, and that in the end it would approve itself such. This truth, that the way of faith in God is the way of safety, is amply illustrated in the following chapter. Whatever the believer may lose, he keeps the chief treasure.
III. THE ENDURANCE OF THE JUST MAN. There must be perseverance in the way of faith. There must be a readiness to wait on God's time. Therefore it is that we are warned on trying to enter the life of faith. Can we go on believing even though our present life be full of adversity? Our faith must continue against the persuasions of worldly success and through the pains of all suffering to the flesh. It is to the prophet Habakkuk the writer refers in reminding us how the just by faith lives; and that just man of the prophet keeps his faith even though the fig tree do net blossom, nor fruit be in the vines; though the labor of the olive fail, and the fields yield no meat; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls. - Y.