Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace and not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those devoted to them.
I. IN HIS PERSON. "Our Lord's Godhead is the seat of his personality. The Son of Mary is not a distinct human person mysteriously linked with the Divine nature of the eternal Word. The Person of the Son of Mary is Divine and eternal. It is none other than the Person of the Word." This personality is immutable. This has been already asserted by the writer of this Epistle: "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth," etc. (Hebrews 1:10-12). He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" in his great attributes - his eternity, spirituality, omniscience, omnipotence, etc. He is the same in his perfect and blessed character - in his righteousness and faithfulness, his love and mercy, his forbearance and tenderness, etc. In this respect how vast is the difference between him and us! We are ever changing in many respects. Our outward appearances, the particles of which our bodies are composed, the opinions which we entertain, the experiences which we pass through, the characters which we are forming, - all these change. But he is sublimely unchangeable, eternally and infinitely perfect.
II. IN HIS WORD. The teaching of our Lord, like his personality, continues and changes not. His words are true, vital, suited to the conditions and needs of human nature and life. More than eighteen centuries have passed away since they were uttered; but they have lost none of their clearness, or freshness, or force. They are still the great fountains of religious light to our race. And the noblest human spirits still say to him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." It has been well said by Dr. Parker, "Plato's definitions are practically forgotten, but the Nazarene's words intermingle with universal civilization. A great composer said he was spending a long time over his work because he intended it to live long, but this Galilean peasant talks extemporaneously, as if simply answering the question of the hour; yet his words float over all generations, and are prized by men today as if they had been addressed exclusively to themselves. These 'sayings' are not local lamps, but suns set in the firmament commanding the range of all nations.... In Christ's 'sayings' there was always something beyond - a quickening sense that the words were but the surface of the thought; there was nothing to betoken conclusion, much less exhaustion; there was ever a luminous opening even on the clouds that lay deepest along the horizon, which invited the spectator to advance and behold yet fuller visions" ('Eece Deus'). How different is the teaching Of Jesus Christ from the changing opinions, speculations, and theories of men - even of distinguished men! Of every province of human thought and investigation we may truthfully say -
"Our little systems have their day; III. IN HIS WORK. Part of his great work was perfectly and splendidly accomplished while he was upon earth. The work which was given him to do upon earth, says Dr. Wardlaw, "was the expiation of human guilt, and the provision of a righteousness for the justification of the ungodly; the laying of the groundwork of man's redemption - the foundation on which might rest together the glory of God and the hopes of sinners. But his mediatorial work did not cease then. It does not properly terminate till 'the end come,' when he shall have accomplished all the ends for which his office as Mediator had been assumed." "He who for man their Surety stood, 1. As Savior of sinners he is the same. The cross upon which he gave himself in death for us has lost none of its ancient power. By his glorious gospel and his Holy Spirit he is still convincing men of sin, drawing them to himself, and imparting to them pardon and peace, liberty and joy. 2. As the Helper of his people he is the same. "He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). "Christ's perpetual presentation of himself before the Father," says Canon Liddon, "is that which constitutes his intercession." He is in the presence of God as our Representative, our Advocate, and our Friend. From the unchangeableness of Jesus Christ we infer: 1. That he is essentially Divine. All created beings change. This is one thing in which each and all of them are alike. We are different today from what we were yesterday, and tomorrow we shall differ from what we are today. Immutability belongs only to God (cf. Hebrews 1:10-12). 2. That be is worthy of our utmost confidence. If he were fickle, changeable in his character and purposes, loving man today and regarding him with indifference to-morrow, how could we trust him? Nay, if it were even possible for him to change, how could we calmly and confidently commit cur souls to him? But seeing that he is what he is in his character and in his relation to us, and that he is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever," we may repose in him the fullest confidence of our being. 3. That the success of His cause is assured. In the preceding verse we were reminded of the death of Christian ministers and elders; but the great Head of the Church ever liveth and is ever the same. "He shall not fail, nor be discouraged," etc. (Isaiah 42:4). - W.J.
III. IN HIS WORK. Part of his great work was perfectly and splendidly accomplished while he was upon earth. The work which was given him to do upon earth, says Dr. Wardlaw, "was the expiation of human guilt, and the provision of a righteousness for the justification of the ungodly; the laying of the groundwork of man's redemption - the foundation on which might rest together the glory of God and the hopes of sinners. But his mediatorial work did not cease then. It does not properly terminate till 'the end come,' when he shall have accomplished all the ends for which his office as Mediator had been assumed."
"He who for man their Surety stood,
1. As Savior of sinners he is the same. The cross upon which he gave himself in death for us has lost none of its ancient power. By his glorious gospel and his Holy Spirit he is still convincing men of sin, drawing them to himself, and imparting to them pardon and peace, liberty and joy.
2. As the Helper of his people he is the same. "He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). "Christ's perpetual presentation of himself before the Father," says Canon Liddon, "is that which constitutes his intercession." He is in the presence of God as our Representative, our Advocate, and our Friend. From the unchangeableness of Jesus Christ we infer:
1. That he is essentially Divine. All created beings change. This is one thing in which each and all of them are alike. We are different today from what we were yesterday, and tomorrow we shall differ from what we are today. Immutability belongs only to God (cf. Hebrews 1:10-12).
2. That be is worthy of our utmost confidence. If he were fickle, changeable in his character and purposes, loving man today and regarding him with indifference to-morrow, how could we trust him? Nay, if it were even possible for him to change, how could we calmly and confidently commit cur souls to him? But seeing that he is what he is in his character and in his relation to us, and that he is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever," we may repose in him the fullest confidence of our being.
3. That the success of His cause is assured. In the preceding verse we were reminded of the death of Christian ministers and elders; but the great Head of the Church ever liveth and is ever the same. "He shall not fail, nor be discouraged," etc. (Isaiah 42:4). - W.J.
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.
1. For, in the first place, it must needs be an exceedingly unhappy state. To all minds that have received even a moderate degree of cultivation, it is a source of positive pleasure to have, on all important subjects, clear views and well-defined opinions. So, on the contrary, it is painful to the sound mind to grope about in the "everlasting fog" — to be threading backward and forward the mazy labyrinths of vague inquiry, which chases shadows and catches at emptiness, finding nothing solid on which it can rely. This, we say, is the constitutional law of the mind, let the subject about which it inquires be what it may. But if the matter in question be one on the right understanding of which great consequences are depending, there must be, in addition to the doubtfulness, the pain of anxious apprehension. The fear of what calamities may soon or late, result from failure to ascertain the truth, will often haunt the mind and mingle more or less with all its thoughts. Religion, it is clearly seen, if it be anything, is of the highest imaginable interest; and to miss the truth in such an affair, may, it cannot but be felt, involve irreparable loss, disaster that nothing can retrieve. Here is a most effectual cause of disquiet to the soul.
2. It is also evident, still further, that a state of chronic scepticism tends greatly to enfeeble both the character and the mind. A strong mind presses on to a decision. It is content only when getting at results, A sceptical habit — observe I do not say a season of temporary questioning, but a chronic habit of doubting — most generally indicates a want of mental energy to lay hold of evidence and to appreciate its force; a lack of the strength of mind required in order to rise above the prejudices that tend to warp the judgment. It betrays an intellectual feebleness already existing and likely to perpetuate itself. For when the mind has been allowed, and rather encouraged, to wander among the mists of doubt; to look rather after difficulties, than after proofs; it seems to become incapable of logical deduction and unsusceptible to the effect of evidence. It will also be true that in proportion to this loss of force and intellect, there will be likewise a loss of general force of character. He who is unable to decide with promptness, will not be able to execute with vigour. The habitual vacillation of the mind will be sure to exhibit itself in a feeble, time-serving, irresolute course of action. There is yet another evil result of the habit of mind in question.
3. It is very liable to impair the love of truth, and to lower the estimate set on it by the judgment. Truth has been well defined to be " the reality of things." To know truth is to know things as they are. On having a right understanding especially of those things that directly relate to us, our highest welfare essentially depends. Nothing therefore, in fact, is so precious to us as truth. God has, accordingly, given the mind an instinctive love of truth, a natural desire to know things as they are. It is an important end of education to strengthen this desire, and give it a right direction: and observation and experience show that, in respect to many subjects at least, it is, on the other hand, capable of being weakened, and almost or quite destroyed. It is found, for example, especially easy to repress the instinctive desire to know, when there is occasion to apprehend that the knowledge of the truth might be for any reason painful; and this is the case invariably in respect to sinful man when he inquires about religion. While on this, as on other subjects, he feels the natural desire for knowledge, there are conscious reasons growing out of his own character which prompt him to resist this desire, and rather to shrink from full and certain knowledge, than to seek it. He is inclined to indulge himself in something. The question, Is it right? suggests itself. If he presses the inquiry, he may find himself obliged to deny his inclination; and he will be very likely for this reason not to press it. The appetite for truth may yield to the stronger appetite for self-indulgence which now has possession of the mind. In every such case, of course, the love of truth must necessarily be weakened. There will be less appreciation of its value than before; and if the oftener the love of truth is repressed for such a reason, the feebler it becomes, it must finally be destroyed. But this is what is happening all the while in the unsettled, wavering, and doubtful mind.
4. It remains only to say finally, that a state of sceptical uncertainty is attended with great danger as regards its last result. To doubt about anything is, of course, to admit the possibility that it is true. To doubt about the claims and obligations of religion is to allow that we are not sure that these are not founded in reality. But while those who are floating on the sea of doubt, confess, by their very uncertainty, that the teachings of religion may quite possibly be true, they are sure to act, in the main, as though certain they were false. It needs no words to show that if you live as though the truths of religion were mere dreams, and it shall finally turn out that they are great realities, you are undone inevitably, and that for ever. This, then, is the amazing peril of resting in a dubious, unestablished frame. Even those who do this cannot but perceive that they run the unspeakably awful hazard of a wretched, lost eternity. Religion and godliness, according to their view of things, hang trembling in equal balance. How much to be deprecated and dreaded is a position that involves continually the danger of a fall from which there is no recovery I Here, then, are weighty reasons for regarding it as a very serious evil to be in habitual doubt in regard to the truths and duties of religion — reasons which make it appear in the highest degree desirable that the heart should be established. Of course it follows that nothing should be done by any thoughtful person to favour such a state, but that, on the contrary, diligent and resolute effort should be made to avoid or escape it. Do any of you find the impressions of your childhood giving way, in some degree, so that you feel disposed to question them and to demand on what foundation they are based? You see with what seriousness you should regard the crisis. Never, in all your life, has there been a time when you so greatly needed the counsel of your kindest, most faithful, and judicious friends. Yes! Believe it, my intelligent young friend — the poor wayfaring man, who wanders homeless and friendless over the wide world, finding never a voice of greeting nor a resting-place in which he may take up his abode, is far less an object of compassion than he whose soul is driven about perpetually in the chaos of confused and dubious thought, where all is dim and shadowy, and can find nothing that is stable; who as to the highest and most vital questions of his being, has established nothing, and positively believes nothing! Rather than suffer yourselves to slide into such a state, it were wisdom to suspend all other business, to shut yourselves up in the chamber of meditation and research, and to bend the undivided energies of your minds on this one work of reaching conclusions which will satisfy; and this with humble, earnest prayer to the Father of lights for that Divine illumination without which spiritual things are never clearly seen by any of mankind. You can have satisfaction on all really vital questions if you will. You may plant yourselves, if you will do it, where, though floods come, and the tempests beat, and the refuges of error are all swept away, you can stand calmly and in serenity of soul, and feel your foundations firm. Believe it — nay rather, make the experiment for yourselves, and know it with a happiness that cannot be described. There is light — and you were made to see it. There is reality — and you were made to find it. There is religious truth — and you, you may grasp the inestimable treasure, and make it your own blessed and permanent possession.
(R. Palmer, D. D.)
II. THIS DOCTRINE IS COGNATE, AND EVERY WAY SUITED TO THE PROMOTION OF THE GRACE OF GOD IN BELIEVERS, AND THE ATTAINMENT OF THEIR OWN SALVATION.
III. DOCTRINES UNSUITED TO THIS FIRST REVELATION BY CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES, AS RECORDED IN THE SCRIPTURE, ALIEN AND FOREIGN FROM THEM, DID SOON SPRING UP UNTO THE TROUBLE OF THE CHURCH; they had done so in those days, and continued to do so in all ensuing ages.
IV. USUALLY SUCH DOCTRINES ARE AS EMPTY OF TRUTH AND SUBSTANCE, USELESS AND FOREIGN TO THE NATURE AND GENIUS OF EVANGELICAL GRACE AND TRUTH, ARE IMPOSED BY THEIR AUTHORS AND ABETTORS, WITH A GREAT NOISE AND VEHEMENCE ON THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN INSTRUCTED IN THE TRUTH.
V. WHERE SUCH DOCTRINES ARE ENTERTAINED, THEY MAKE MEN DOUBLE-MINDED, UNSTABLE, TURNING THEM FROM THE TRUTH, AND DRAWING THEM AT LENGTH INTO PERDITION.
VI. THE RUIN OF THE CHURCH IN AFTER AGES AROSE FROM THE NEGLECT OF THIS APOSTOLICAL CAUTION, IN GIVING HEED UNTO VARIOUS AND STRANGE DOCTRINES, which at length overthrew and excluded the fundamental doctrines of the gospel.
VII. HEREIN LIES THE SAFETY OF ALL BELIEVERS, AND OF ALL CHURCHES; NAMELY, TO KEEP THEMSELVES PRECISELY UNTO THE FIRST COMPLETE REVELATION OF DIVINE TRUTH IN THE WORD OF GOD. Let men pretend what they will, and bluster as they please, in an adherence to this principle we are safe; and if we depart from it, we shall be hurried and carried about through innumerable uncertainties unto rain.
VIII. That those who decline in anything from grace, as the only means to establish their hearts in peace with God, SHALL LABOUR AND EXERCISE THEMSELVES IN OTHER THINGS AND WAYS TO THE SAME END, WHEREBY THEY SHALL RECEIVE NO ADVANTAGE.
(John Owen, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(J. C. Hare.)
The heart be established with grace.: —
I. WHO ARE THE SUBJECTS OF GRACE? All men are naturally destitute of grace, and under the entire dominion of a depraved heart. In this state they remain until they are awakened, convinced, and converted, by the special influences of the Divine Spirit. They now become conformed to the moral image of God, reconciled to His character, to His laws, and to the terms of salvation proposed in the gospel.
II. WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL DOCTRINES OF THE GOSPEL?
III. Having specified the essential doctrines of the gospel, it remains to show THAT REAL CHRISTIANS, WHO ARE THE SUBJECTS OF GRACE, ARE ACTUALLY ESTABLISHED IN THEM. The apostle represents them so established, as not to be carried about by divers and strange doctrines; and this we find verified by the conduct of real saints under both the Old and New Testament. And it is well-known that since their day, multitudes have sacrificed their lives in testimony of the truth and importance of the essential doctrines of the gospel. And this leads me to say that they not only may be, but must be so established; for several reasons:
1. Because they know that the essential doctrines of the gospel are true.
2. Because they love them.
3. Because they feel the infinite importance of them.Conclusion:
1. If the subjects of grace are established in the essential doctrines of the gospel, then it is easy to distinguish religious orthodoxy from religious heterodoxy.
2. If the subjects of grace are established in the essential doctrines of the gospel, then real Christians see the propriety and importance of forming and subscribing creeds, or confessions of faith.
3. If the subjects of grace are established in the doctrines of the gospel; then they are constrained to consider men's religious sentiments as a test of their religious character.
4. If ministers of the gospel are established in the great and fundamental doctrines of it; they will not fail to preach those doctrines to the people.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)I. How GOOD IT IS. What else is it that communicates to the Saviour such nobility but this immovable firmness of a spirit resting in God, from which words and deeds proceed, pure, calm, and self-consistent, like rays which the sun emits? The establishment of heart of which we speak is the union of Divine freedom and Divine power. We call him free who is not dependent on anything outside himself. Are you free in this sense? Where there is this freedom, there is also Divine power. Power is the capability of executing what we have set our minds on doing. Let me determine, moved by nothing without me, and all my action is subordinate to a single aim, and this aim stands unmoved before my eyes. But that is just what gives emphasis to all action. For such power we long, we should like to reign over nature, over our body, over everything outside us. Now it is the unity of such Divine power and freedom that makes establishment of heart so precious. Do you long after it? I know you do: you who see before you a life in which are seducers and tempters on the right hand and on the left, bent on bringing about your fall, oh, I know you long for it.
II. How SUCH FIRMNESS IS BROUGHT ABOUT — "with grace," says the apostle. He adds: — "Not with meats," intending to say, not through dependence on any outward work. When he says, "with grace," it is as if he said, "through faith in the grace which is offered in Christ." "Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also access by faith into this grace, wherein we stand"; if there is not this, then establishment of heart is impossible.
(J. Tholuck.)2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Peter 5:10; Deuteronomy 28:9). But there are certain conditions also indicated in this context with which we do well to comply.
I. WE MUST FEED ON CHRIST. Eating consists of three processes: apprehension, mastication, and assimilation; and each of these has its spiritual counterpart in that feeding upon Christ which is the very life of our life. We, too, must apprehend Him, by the careful reading of the Word of God. We, too, must fulfil the second part of the process of eating by meditating long and thoughtfully on all that is revealed to us in the word of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. We, too, must assimilate Christ, until He becomes part of our very being, and we begin to live, yet not we, because Christ lives in us, and has become our very life.
II. IF WE WOULD FEED ON CHRIST, WE MUST GO WITHOUT THE CAMP. There are plenty who argue that the wisest policy is to stop within the camp, seeking to elevate its morals. They do not realise that, if we adopt their advice, we must remain there alone, for our Lord has already gone. ]t is surely unbefitting that we should find a home where He is expelled. What is there in us which makes us so welcome, when our Master was cast out to the fate of the lowest criminals? Besides, it will not be long before we discover that, instead of our influencing the camp for good, the atmosphere of the camp will infect us with its evil. Instead of our levelling it up, it will level us down. The only principle of moving the world is to imitate Archimedes in getting a point without it. All the men who have left a mark in the elevation of their times have been compelled to join the pilgrim host which is constantly passing through the city gates, and taking up its stand by the Cross on which Jesus died.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
I. First, then, mark WHAT THIS WRITER CONCEIVES TO BE THE ONE SOURCE OF HUMAN STABILITY. What the New Testament means by this familiar and frequently reiterated word "grace," which, I suspect, is oftener pronounced than it is understood by a great many people. To begin with, then, the root meaning of that word, which runs all through the New Testament, is simply favour, benignity, kindness, or, to put all into a better and simpler form, the active love of God. Now, if we look at the various uses of the expression we find, for instance, that it is contrasted with a number of other things. Sometimes it is set in opposition to sin — sin reigns to righteousness, grace reigns to life. Sometimes it is contrasted with "debt," and put sometimes in opposition to "works," as, for instance, by Paul when he says, "If it be of works then is it no more grace." Sometimes it is opposed to law, as in the same apostle's words, "Ye are not under law, but under grace." Now, if we keep these various uses and contrasts in view we just come to this thought, that that active love of God is conditioned, not by any merit on our part — bubbles up from the depths of His own infinite heart, not because of what we are, but because of what He is, transcends all the rigid retributions of law, is not turned away by any sin, but continues to flood the world, simply because it wells up from the infinite and changeless fountain of love in the heart of God. And then, from this central, deepest meaning of active love manifesting itself irrespective of what we deserve, there comes a second great aspect of the word. The name of the cause is extended to all the lustrous variety of its effects. So the complex whole of the blessings and gifts which Jesus Christ brings to us, and which are sometimes designated in view of what they do for us, as salvation or eternal life, are also designated in view of that in God from which they come, as being collectively His "grace." And then there is a final application of the expression which is deduced from that second one — viz., the specific excellences of character which result from the communication to men of the blessings that flow to him from the love of God. So these three: first, the fountain, the love undisturbed and unalterable; second, the stream, the manifold gifts and blessings that flow to us through Christ; and, third, the little cupfuls that each of us have, the various excellences of character which are developed under the fertilizing influences of the sunshine of that love — these three are all included in this great Christian word. There are other phases of its employment in the New Testament which I do not need to trouble you with now. But thus far we just come to this, that the one ground on which all steadfastness of nature and character can be reared is that we shall be in touch with God, shall be conscious of His love, and shall be receiving into our hearts the strength that He bestows. Man is a dependent creature; his make and his relationships to things round him render it impossible that the strength by which he is strong, and the calmness by which he is established, can be self-originated.
II. And so I come, in the second place, to LOOK AT SOME OF THE VARIOUS WAYS IN WHICH THIS ESTABLISHING GRACE CALMS AND STILLS THE LIFE. We men are like some of the islands in the Eastern Tropics, fertile and luxuriant, but subject to be swept by typhoons, to be shaken by earthquakes, to be devastated by volcanoes. Around us there gather external foes assailing our steadfastness, and within us there lie even more formidable enemies to an established and settled peace. How are such creatures ever to be established? My text tells us by drawing into themselves the love, the giving love of God. I would note, as one of the aspects of the tranquillity and establishment that comes from this conscious possession of the giving love of God, how it delivers men from all the dangers of being " carried away by divers strange doctrines." I do not give much for any orthodoxy which is not vitalised by personal experiences of the indwelling love of God. I do not care much what a man believes, or what he denies, or how he may occupy himself intellectually with the philosophical and doctrinal aspect of Christian revelation. The question is, how much of it has filtered from his brain into his heart, and has become part of himself, and verified to himself by his own experience? So much as you have lived out, so much you are sure of because you have not only thought it but felt it, and cannot for a moment doubt, because your hearts have risen up and witnessed to its truth. About these parts of your belief there will be no fluctuation. Still further, this conscious possession of the grace of God will keep a man very quiet amidst all the occasions for agitation which changing circumstances bring. Such there are in every life. Nothing continues in one stay. Is it possible that amidst this continuous fluctuation, in which nothing is changeless but the fact of change, we can stand fixed and firm? Yes! There is shelter only in one spot, and that is when we have God between us and the angry blast. An empty heart is an easily agitated heart. A full heart, like a full sack, stands upright, and it is not so easy for the wind to whirl it about as if it were empty. They who are rooted in God will have a firm bole, which will be immovable, howsoever branches may sway and creak, and leaves may flutter and dance, or even fall, before the power of the storm. Further, another field of the stability communicated by that possessed love of God is in regard of the internal occasions for agitation. Passion, lust, hot desires, bitter regrets, eager clutching after uncertain and insufficient and perishable good, all these will be damped down if the love of God lives in our hearts.
III. Lastly, my text suggests HOW BEAUTIFUL A THING IS THE CHARACTER OF THE MAN THAT IS ESTABLISHED IN GRACE, The word translated "good" in my text would be better rendered "fair," or "lovely," or" beautiful." Is there anything fairer than the strong, steadfast, calm, equable character, unshaken by the storms of passion, unaffected by the blasts of calamity, undevastated by the lava from the hellish, subterranean fires that are in every soul; and yet not stolidly insensible, nor obstinately conservative, but open to the inspiration of each successive moment, and gathering the blessed fruit of all mutability in a more profound and unchanging possession of the unchanging good? So do you see to it that you rectify your notions of what makes the beauty of character. Then, my brother, if we keep ourselves near Jesus Christ, and let His grace flow into our hearts, then we, too, shall be able to say, "Because I set Him at my right hand I shall not be moved."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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