The Appearance of Failure
Hebrews 4:1-2
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.…

It is a great principle under the Christian dispensation, that " none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." We are "members one of another," so associated by intimate and indissoluble ties, that we ought never to consider our actions as having a bearing only on ourselves; we should rather regard them as likely to affect numbers, and sure to affect some, of our fellow men, to affect them in their eternal interests, and not only in their temporal. We have again the same principle, the principle that membership should influence actions, involved in a precept of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." There is something of a fine sound in advice which is often given, "Do what you know to be right, and care not what others may think"; but, after all, it is not universally, nor perhaps even generally, good and Christian advice. A Christian should consider the opinion of his fellow Christians. Be not engrossed with securing your own salvation; see to it that ye be not, at the same time, endangering the salvation of others. In the chapter preceding that which is opened by our text, St. Paul had been speaking of those Israelites who, though delivered by Moses from Egypt, never reached the Promised Land, but perished, through unbelief, in the wilderness. From this the apostle took occasion to warn Christians that they might have some progress towards heaven, and still be in danger of missing its possession. And if this had been the whole tenor of our text, it would have afforded but little place for commentary, though much for private and personal meditation. But you will observe that St. Paul does not speak of " coming short," but of "seeming to come short." He "seems to come short" of the promised rest, who, in the judgment of his fellow men, is deficient in those outward evidences by which they are wont to try the genuineness of religion. But surely, all the while, he may not actually "come short": human judgment is fallible, and can in no case be guided by inspecting the heart, which alone can furnish grounds for certain decision; and, doubtless, many may be found in heaven at last, of which entrance thither survivors could entertain nothing more than a charitable hope. And is it not enough, if we do not "come short "? why should we further concern ourselves as to the not "seeming to come short"? We might answer, as we did in regard of the "appearance of evil," that it is a dangerous thing to approach danger. He who " seems to come short" must almost necessarily be in some peril of failure; and where heaven is at stake, no wise man, if he could help it, would run the least risk. Besides, it can hardly be that he, who seems to others to come short, should possess decisive and Scriptural evidences of his acceptance With God. But whilst there may thus be many reasons given why we should fear the seeming to come short, even were our personal well-being alone to be considered, the full force of the text, as with that which enjoins abstinence from the appearance of evil, is only to be brought out through reference to our being members the one of the other. We shall, therefore, take the passage under this point of view. In other words, we will examine what there is, in an appearance of failure, to do injury to the cause of Christianity, and therefore to justify the apostle in so emphatically calling upon you to learn, "lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." Now as there are undoubtedly many ways in which we may actually come short, so must there be many in which we may apparently come short: who can tell up the methods in which the soul may be lost? neither can any one enumerate those in which it may seem to be lost.

1. And it must, we think, commend itself to you in the first place, that none will more "seem to come short," than those whose practice is in any way inconsistent with their profession, so that lookers-on can decide that their conduct is not strictly accordant with the principles by which they declare themselves actuated. He who professes to " walk in the light as God is in the light," may occasionally wander into dark paths, and yet be mercifully restored; but it can hardly fail but that the impression produced on observers, especially on men of the world, will be one as to the weakness of his principles, or a want of power in that religion which professes itself adequate to the renewing the world. And who will pretend to compute the amount of damage done to the cause of vital Christianity by the inconsistencies of those who profess themselves subjected to its laws, and animated by its hopes?

2. But there is another, if a less obvious mode of "seeming to come short." It should be observed that, though the apostle, when speaking of rest, must be considered as referring mainly to that rest which is future, there is a degree of present rest which is attainable by the Christian, and which is both the type and foretaste of that which is to come. Thus St. Paul, in a verse which follows almost immediately on our text, says of Christians, "We which have believed do enter into rest"; and afterwards, "He that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His," evidently making the entering into rest, a present thing, as well as a future. Our blessed Saviour bequeathed His own peace, as a legacy to His Church; and what Christ entailed on us, may surely be enjoyed by us. The religion of the Bible is a cheerful, happy-making religion: the very word "gospel" signifies "glad tidings"; and he who has received good news into his heart may justly be expected to exhibit in his demeanour, if not much of the rapture of joy, yet something of the quietness of peace. But it is in this that righteous persons are often grievously deficient. Hence, in place of struggling with doubts and endeavouring to extinguish them, they may be said actually to encourage them, as if they befitted their state, and either betokened or cherished humility. A great mistake this. There is commonly more of pride than of humility in doubts; he who is always doubting is generally searching in himself for some ground or reason of assurance; whereas, true, genuine humility, looks wholly out of self, not as forgetting the corruption which is there, but as fastening on the sufficiency which is in Christ. But, without dissecting more narrowly the character of the always doubting Christian, we cannot hesitate to say of him, that he is one of those who "seem to come short." If a present, as well as a future, rest be promised to the righteous — and what else can be denoted by such words as these, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee"? — certainly he, at least, "seems to come short" of that rest, who is continually the prey of fear and disquietude, who has never anything to express but apprehensions as to his deceiving himself, or who wears always the appearance of one ill at ease in regard of his spiritual interests. It could hardly fail to be a strong motive with religious persons to the cultivating cheerfulness of deportment, if they carefully rein inhered that others will judge religion by its apparent effects, and that, if they see it produce only sadness, they will be likely to shun it as opposed to all joy. A gloomy Christian may not be always able to help his gloom; but he should lament it, and strive with it; for what will a generous leader say of a soldier, who, commissioned to enlist others under the same banner with himself, makes his appearance in the world as a terrified and half-famished prisoner?

3. But now, having thus illustrated the text from inconsistency of conduct, and from the harbouring of doubts, either of which will cause a Christian to "seem to come short," let us take one other case, one which is not perhaps indeed as much under our own power, but one against which we may be always endeavouring to provide. The great business of life, as we all confess, is preparation for death. And a Christian's hope, a Christian's desire, should be that he may be enabled to meet death triumphantly. It should not content him that he may pass in safety through the dark valley, though with little of that firm sense of victory which discovers itself in the exulting tone, or the burning vision. This indeed is much — oh! that we might believe that none of us would have less than this. But, in having only this, a Christian may "seem to come short." And there is often a mighty discouragement from the death-beds of the righteous, when, as the darkness thickens, there is apparently but little consolation from the prospect of eternity. Even as, on the other hand, when a righteous man is enabled to meet death exultingly, as though he had to step into the car of fire, and be wafted almost visibly to the heavenly city, there is diffused over a neighbourhood a sort of animating influence; the tidings of the victory spread rapidly from house to house: the boldness of infidelity quails before them; meek piety takes new courage, and attempts new toils. And it ought not, therefore, to satisfy us that we may so die as not to come short of heaven: we ought to labour that we may so die as not even to "seem to come short of it." It is doubly dying, if, in dying, we work an injury to our brethren; it is scarcely dying, if we strengthen them for their departure out of life. This is, in its measure, the doing what was done by the Redeemer Himself, who, "through death, destroyed him that had the power of death": the believer, as he enters the grave, deals a blow at the tyrant, which renders him less terrible to those who have yet to meet him in the final encounter. And by continued preparation for death, by accustoming ourselves to the anticipation of death, that, through God's help, our passage through the valley shall be rather with the tread of the conqueror, than with the painful step of the timid pilgrim.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

WEB: Let us fear therefore, lest perhaps anyone of you should seem to have come short of a promise of entering into his rest.

Profitless Hearing
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