It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
I. AN EXALTED CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. "Those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift," etc. Here is a cumulative experience of gospel blessings.
1. Spiritual illumination. "Those who were once enlightened." The mind and heart of the unrenewed man are in a condition of spiritual ignorance and darkness. The wicked are "darkened in their understanding." In conversion men "turn from darkness to light." In the case described in the text man has been enlightened as to his spiritual state, his need of salvation, and. the salvation provided in Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:17, 18).
2. Experience of gospel blessings. "And tasted of the heavenly gift." Tasted is not to be taken in the sense of a mere taste, but personal experience, as in Hebrews 2:9, "Taste death for every man;" and 1 Peter 2:3, "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." In the case before us, man, through Christ, experiences the forgiveness of sins, and peace with God, and spiritual strength.
3. Participation in the presence and influences of the Holy Spirit. "And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost." They share in his instructing, comforting, sanctifying presence and power. "The Spirit of God dwelleth in" them (1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 8:9).
4. Experience of the excellence of God's Word. "And tasted the good Word of God." Probably there is a special reference to the comforting, encouraging, strengthening power of the inspired Word. Or the good "word." is the word of promise, and the tasting of it is the experience of its gracious fulfillment. The use of the Hebrew equivalents supports this view (see Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:15; Jeremiah 29:10; Jeremiah 33:14; Zechariah 1:13).
5. Experience of the spiritual powers of the gospel age. "And tasted the powers of the world to come," or "the age to come." The expression "signifies a personal experience of the mighty energy and saving power of the gospel." Here, then, the religion of Jesus Christ is exhibited as a gracious light in the intellect, a blessed experience in the heart, and a practical redemptive power in the life. How complete and exalted is the personal Christian experience thus delineated!
II. AN AWFUL SPIRITUAL POSSIBILITY. "If they shall fall away... they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
1. Of falling from an exalted spiritual condition. We have noticed the advanced development of Christian character and the full enjoyment of Christian privileges sketched by the writer; and now he speaks of falling away from these great and gracious experiences. The higher the exaltation attained, the more terrible will be the injury sustained, if one should fall from such a height.
2. Of incurring the darkest guilt. "They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was the blackest crime in all the dark annals of human wrong-doing. And if any one having really and richly enjoyed the blessings of the gospel of Christ should fall back into sin, renouncing Christ and Christianity, he would repeat in spirit that terrible crime. "It is often said," wrote F. W. Robertson, "'My sins nailed him to the tree' There is a sense in which this contains a deep truth The crisis of the conflict between the kingdoms of good and evil took place in the death of Christ: the highest manifestation of good in him, the highest manifestation of evil in the persons of those who saw the divinest excellence, and called it Satanic evil. To call evil good, and good evil, to call Divine good Satanic wickedness, - there is no state lower than this. It is the rottenness of the core of the heart; it is the unpardonable because irrecoverable sin. With this evil, in its highest development, the Son of man came into collision. He died unto sin. The prince of this world came and found nothing congenial in him. He was his victim, not his subject. So far as I belong to that kingdom or fight in that warfare, it may be truly said, the Savior died by my sin .... I am a sharer in the spirit to which he fell a victim." But is such a fall as this really possible? To us it seems that the teaching of the Bible and the moral nature of man admit of but one reply as to this possibility.
(1) The hypothesis of the text is not an idle one. It is inconceivable that the Holy Spirit of God should have inspired the writer to mention so awful a fall if it had been an utter impossibility.
(2) The many warnings against apostasy which are addressed to Christians in the sacred Scriptures witness to the possibility of such apostasy. This letter to the Hebrews is one long and powerful warning, persuasion, and exhortation against falling away from Christ.
(3) The constitution of our nature shows this fall to be possible. We are free either to loyally serve God or to wickedly rebel against him, and must ever remain so, or moral distinctions would no longer be applicable to us.
III. AN APPALING MORAL IMPOSSIBILITY. "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance." This "impossible" may not be enfeebled into "very difficult," or other similar expression, as may be seen by an examination of the other passages of this Epistle in which it is found (Hebrews 6:18; Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 11:6). The reason of this impossibility is the moral character and condition of those of whom (should there ever be any of such character) it is predicated. Having once experienced the Divine renewal, they have utterly fallen away from it, and now scornfully reject the only power by which their renewal could be effected. The mightiest spiritual influence in the universe, even the love of God in the death of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners, is derided by them. "They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." "They tear him out of the recesses of their hearts where he had fixed his abode, and exhibit him to the open scoffs and reproach of the world, as something powerless and common" (cf. Hebrews 10:29). Dr. Parker forcibly inquires, "If men have insulted God, poured contempt upon his Son, counted the blood of the covenant as an unworthy thing, grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit, what can possibly remain of a remedial kind? The inquiry is one on which reason may expend its powers. What remains after God has been exhausted?" Let the Christian earnestly heed the solemn warning of our text. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation;" "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for doing these things, ye shall never fall." The surest way of guarding against this terrible fall is to aim at and seek to realize constant spiritual progress. "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection," etc. - W.J.
The powers of the world to come.— That is to say, belonging to, and operating from, that world which, as to us, is" to come," though now existing. And by " powers," we easily understand forces, energies, agencies, influences, virtues, and these in action upon their proper subjects. Now, we are subjects to be acted upon. Our nature has almost its whole exercise, we might almost say the verification of its existence — in being acted upon, by influences and impressions, from things extraneous to it. "The powers of the world to come." There is one pure, salutary, beneficent order of influences, tending to work the absolute, supreme, eternal good of our nature. But it confounds the mind to reflect what proportion this class of influences bears to others, in the actual operation on mankind. This world, too, has" powers," which it exerts, we do not say in rivalry with the "powers" of the other, but with a fearful preponderance of efficacy. ]s it not as evident to our view as the very face and colour of the- earth, that incomparably a greater proportion of human spirit and character is conformed to this world than to the other? That "world to come" comprehends the sum, the perfection of everything, the sublimest, the best, the happiest. But what is it all to me? I feel no congeniality nor attraction. But is not this a lamentable and fearful state for the soul to be in? But what is to be done? What but to implore that "the powers of the world to come" may be brought upon us with irresistible force? and that we should make earnest efforts, if we may express it so, to place ourselves exposed to them? This is to be done in the way of directing the serious attention of the mind to that world. Let us fairly make the trial — what agency,, what influences, that world can convey upon us. The proof of its influential power has been displayed on very many, in effects the mesh salutary and noble. One of these effects is, that it causes the unseen to predominate in our minds over what is seen; the future over the present; add these are great and admirable effects. From that world come the influences to fix and keep us in one great sovereign purpose of life, and that a purpose high above all the mere interests of this world. From that world comes the enlightening and active principle which at once exposes the nature of sin, and renders and keeps it odious to the soul. From that world comes the supporting, animating power for endurance of the ills of life, and for overcoming the tear of death. They are "powers" of influence which all the best beings conspire to send. For even the d, parted saints are placed, as it were, in combination with God, the Mediator, and the angels, in sending a beneficent influence on us below — by their memory — by their examples — by their being displayed to our faith as in a blissful state above — and (we may believe,) by their kind regard and wishes for those below. And good and wise men have thought it not irrational to suppose that they may sometimes even be employed in real, actual ministries here on earth. These "powers" of the other world we are regarding chiefly under the character of influences, proceeding at the will of God, and conceived as exclusive of personal agency. But far oftener than we suspect there may be the interventions, though invisible, of such an agency. All these "powers," these forces of influence, are sent, throng), the medium, and in virtue of the work, of the Mediator, and bear in them a peculiar character derived from Him.
I. SINLESSNESS IS ONE OF "THE POWERS OF THE WORLD COME." None of the woe of evil is there. Above, purity is unimpeded and its joy suffers no eclipse.
II. AN UNSUFFERING AND DEATHLESS FUTURE IS ONE OF "THE POWERS OF THE WORLD TO COME." Before we reach that world, the burdens of this will have been laid down. There activity will no more fatigue. None shall sit down and brood over anxious thought and wearing toil which have left only failure and wreck behind.
III. ETERNITY IS ONE OF "THE POWERS OF THE WORLD TO COME."
1. Eternity is the name for all that is great. Eternity is the realm of all things vast and wonderful. So, whatever a godly man does for eternity, must be great. Whatever in the Christian life pertains to eternity, partakes of its grandeur and sublimity. The Son of God filled earthly duties with heavenly motives, and linked the fleeting moment and the transitory deed to the grandeur of eternity.
2. But to the eternal world, as well, we ascribe stability. It is the realm where all things abide, No abandoned palaces are there, no prostrate temples. No flower weeps upon a grave, no verdure fringes the rents of gaping tombs.
3. Eternity is not only inseparable from greatness and stability, but it is the theatre of progress. There souls ever grow. Intellect, heart, character, knowledge, love, power, never halt.
IV. GOD IS THE GREAT "POWER OF THE WORLD TO COME." What has been the most ardent aspiration of the righteous in every age? Has it not always been, to see God? to stand in His presence? to realise His contact with the soul? Lessons: —
1. You must have strong faith in " the world to come," if its realities are to be "powers" to your souls. It is not an easy attainment. It demands industrious culture.
2. One great end of the life, sufferings, resurrection, and ascension of our blessed Lord, was to make the verities of "the world to come" "powers" to the mind and conduct of men. All the tender memories of Gethsemane and Calvary centre in His risen and living person, to allure the affections and uplift the aspirations of the holy to the skies.
3. Oh, ye who are heated in the chase for riches and honour, worldly fame and earthly enjoyment, walk out to the hallowed lights of eternity, as men at eventide cool their feverish pulses beneath the heavens when the hot sun has gone down and the stars shine forth. Act with an awakened consciousness of your immortality, live for eternity, realise the everlasting years which stretch before you. Among the ruins of Petra there are temples and mansions excavated in the faces of the rocks. Some, massive in their proportions and elaborate in embellishment, are unfinished. What an exquisite perfection the artificer would have given to his work, if informed beforehand that the monuments of his skill would survive all these long centuries, and be numbered among the wonders of the world! Christian men and women, let your souls be aglow with the inspiration and ardour of working for eternity, and, when this is over and the hour of rest shall come, going home to meet the approbation of your God.
(H. Batchelor, B. A.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)I. THERE WILL BE A REGULATING INFLUENCE UPON OUR PRESENT LIFE.
1. The inward life will become increasingly pure and holy.
2. The outward life will become increasingly human, just, unselfish.
II. THERE WILL. BE A SUSTAINING INFLUENCE. In times of despondency, sadness, loss, and temptation, we shall bravely bear all, and wait for the " eternal years."
III. THERE WILL BE A RESTRAINING INFLUENCE.
1. Thoughts, motives, professions, deeds, will be kept in the right direction.
2. There will be no apostasy of heart or life.
(James Foster, B. A.)
I. Our intuitions give us answer. The Creator has given a voice to our soul. It tells us of immortality. It creates the conviction of a "world to come."
2. Also, man's attributes give answer to these questions. Though in some things he is like the brutes that perish, in many things he is most unlike them. In the wonderful gift of speech, in the endowment of reason, in the possession of conscience, in the intelligent and holy emotion of love, he belongs to another domain of being from that in which mere animals have their existence. He is a moral being, and amenable to the bar of right and wrong. Can it be that a being of such capabilities is the mere creature of a day? My whole being revolts at such a conclusion.
3. But finally the Scriptures give answer to these questions.
4. This world to come is very near to us; to some of us oh how near! "The world to come" — can we to-day make this real? Can we open our hearts and enfold the truth that this "world to come" is a "world to come ' to you and to me? Let us bring it near, let us make it personal. The Christian should be glad to do so; it will strengthen his faith, it will confirm his hope, it will quicken his zeal, it will purify his love, it will wean him from this world, it will lift up his life to nobler and holier experiences.
(C. P. Sheldon, D. D.)
If they shall fall awayI. WHAT PERSONS HAS THE APOSTLE HERE IN VIEW? He enumerates respecting them a variety of marks, which certainly belong to real Christians.
1. The first of these is, that they have been enlightened. As there are various kinds of enlightening in visible nature, as by the sun, by the moon, and by lamps, so are there various kinds of enlightening relative to the human soul. There are many persons who certainly know what is the one thing needful, and what are the several stages on the road to heaven; but they know it only from human instruction, and have their light at second or third hand. Theirs is a moonlight, which neither warms nor fructifies; neither makes that which is dead, alive, nor that which is withered, green. Such enlightening we may have, and yet be as far from the kingdom of God as the most unenlightened heathen. There are others who show that they partake of a better enlightening, and even of a kind of warmth accompanying it. But they are excitable persons, who are easily moved at hearing of Christ, and the experiences of His saving grace, and become, perhaps, irresistibly convinced that such things are true. But should any of their lamps have burned down, or their oil have been spent, so as to yield a fainter light, or those who carry brighter lamps happen to have withdrawn, then are those persons as much in darkness again as ever; and this because they have not cherished the true light in themselves. Now, neither this, nor the former class of persons, does the Scripture call enlightened. It gives this name, not to those who receive their light at second or third hand, but only to those who cherish within them a light which is received immediately from Christ Himself; to those of whom it is written, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." And this light pervades the soul and spirit, "piercing even to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart"; that is, it is a light which discovers to the sinner his misery, and makes him feel it. And if we have been thus enlightened, then doubtless we are children of God, and born of the Spirit.
2. The apostle further says, they "have tasted of the heavenly gift"; which is another exclusive characteristic of true Israelites. This heavenly gift is no other than that spoken of by our Saviour to the woman of Samaria.
3. Another mark attributed to them is, that they have been "made partakers of the Holy Ghost"; and this surely will not allow us to remain uncertain what sort of persons the apostle has in view. Who can doubt that they are children of God?
4. And that we might know that they have received the Spirit of God as aa earnest of their salvation, it is added, that they "have tasted the good Word of God." This expression clearly intimates that they have experienced the Word of God in themselves as a good word; as a word which takes the most kind and sympathetic part in whatever happens to us, or oppresses us; as a word that has upon all occasions counsel and deliverance for us, and stands by us in the most gracious manner with its light and healing balm.
5. And now for the last mark: they "have tasted the powers of the world to come." Understand by this expression whatever you can think of it as implying those outpourings of grace which enable us to overcome the world and death; or, as implying a lively foretaste of eternal joy, a powerful assurance of the final consummation, and of our being "ever with the Lord"; or, as signifying our present triumphant elevation upon the wings of faith above time, above all afflictions and crosses, above death, judgment, sin, and hell; or, understand whatever as believers you please by these words — this you must allow, that St. Paul could have had only children of God in his eye when he declares of them, that they "have tasted the powers of the world to come."
II. THE SPIRITUAL DECLENSION OF WHICH THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE CAPABLE. St. Paul then, speaking of children of God, and even of such as have gone on for a considerable time in the way of salvation, and have attained maturity of growth and decision of character, says, "It they shall fall away." In strict language every fall is a falling away; for it is a temporary forgetfulness and turning aside from Him who hath said, "Abide in Me." But the Scripture evidently makes a distinction between falling and falling away. In the 4th verse of the 5th chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians we meet with persons who had fallen away. They had lost the lively sense of their unworthiness and inability; and, instead of abiding implicitly at the foot of the cross, so as to live upon grace and forgiveness alone, they had become bewildered with the unhappy notion of being their own saviours and intercessors. "Ye did run well; who hath hindered you that ye should no longer obey the truth? " This was a falling away; a departure from grace; it was an erring from the way of God's children rote the way of self-righteous, natural men; a virtual renunciation of Christ; a tacit declaration that they no longer needed Him, and could do without Him. It was a depreciation of His precious blood; a contempt of His sacrifice, and a rejection of His person: so that St. Paul could utter that reproach with the utmost propriety and justice, Christ is again " crucified among you." But there is a falling away which is more fearful still. Not only a falling away from grace into legal bondage, but a falling away into lawlessness, or into a course without law altogether; a falling away from God to idols; from the kingdom of heaven to the world; from the way of light into the way of the flash and of darkness. This would seem hardly credible, did not sad experience show it to be true. Look at David at one period of his life. But no, on David's crime, dreadful as it was, we will not insist; it was rather an awful fall than a falling away. Think then of Solomon, that precious man of God, that Jedidiah from his cradle: observe him in his career; and how can you help shuddering? Twice does the Lord appear to him, and give him a commandment not to walk after other gods (1 Kings 3:14; 2 Chronicles 7:12-22); but he obeys it not; he continues in his departure from Jehovah the God of Israel; so that the Lord is obliged, at length, to come against him with the thunder and lightning of His judgments. And, oh! how many of the children of God have brought upon themselves, in like manner, His rebukes and visitations! How many, to whom the world had been already crucified, have gone back again to the world!
III. THE WARNING GIVEN. Hearken to that awful thunder of the Divine oracle, which declares that "it is impossible for those who were once enlightened," &c. How terribly does this sound I almost like, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." And, indeed, it is evident at once how difficult must be the restoration of those who, having taken root in a life of holiness, and having been blessed with sweet experiences of Divine love, could, after all, have fallen away! Whoever is conscious that he is guilty of this, may well tremble. The word "impossible" in our text is enough to fill him with horrible dread. And if so, "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall!" Let all of us watch and pray; let our abiding station be ever at the foot of the cross. There let us lie down and take our rest; there let us arise in the morning; there perform every duty of our daily life; there let us be formed, and fixed, and live; there wait for the Bridegroom; there breathe bur last: so are we safe.
(F. W. Krummacher, D. D.)I. THERE ARE THREE THINGS WHICH DISTINGUISH THE SIN HERE SPOKEN OF IN THE TEXT FROM "THE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST" DESCRIBED BY OUR SAVIOUR.
1. The persons that are guilty of this sin here in the text are evidently such as had embraced Christianity, and had taken upon them the profession of it; whereas those whom our Saviour chargeth with "the sin against the Holy Ghost," are such as constantly opposed His doctrine, and resisted the evidence He offered for it.
2. The particular nature of "the sin against the Holy Ghost" consisted in blaspheming the Spirit whereby our Saviour wrought His miracles, and saying He did not those things by the Spirit of God, but by tie assistance of the devil, in that malicious and unreasonable imputing of the plain effects of the Holy Ghost to the power of the devil, and consequently in an obstinate refusal to be convinced by the miracles that He wrought; but here is nothing of all this so much as intimated by the apostle in this place.
3. "The sin against the Holy Ghost" is declared to be absolutely "unpardonable both in this world and in that which is to come."
II. That this sin here spoken of by the apostle is NOT SAID TO BE ABSOLUTELY UNPARDONABLE. It is not "the sin against the Holy Ghost"; and, whatever else it be, it is not out of the compass of God's pardon and forgiveness. So our Saviour hath told us, "that all manner of sin whatsoever that men have committed is capable of pardon, excepting only the sin against the Holy Ghost." And though the apostle here uses a very severe expression, that " if such persons fall away it is impossible to renew them again to repentance," yet there is no necessity of understanding this phrase in the strictest sense of the word impossible, but as it is elsewhere used for that which is extremely difficult. Nor, indeed, will our Saviour's declaration, which I mentioned before, that all sins whatsoever are pardonable, except " the sin against the Holy Ghost," suffer us to understand these words in the most rigorous sense.
III. The sin here spoken of IS NOT A PARTIAL APOSTASY FROM THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION BY ANY PARTICULAR VICIOUS PRACTICE, Whosoever lives in the habitual practice of any sin plainly forbidden by the Christian law may be said so far to have apostatised from Christianity; but this is not the falling away which the apostle here speaks of. This may be bad enough; and the greater sins any man who professeth himself a Christian lives in, the more notoriously he contradicts his profession, and falls off from Christianity, and the nearer he approaches to the sin in the text, and the danger there threatened; but yet, for all that, this is not that which the apostle speaks of.
IV. BUT IT IS A TOTAL APOSTASY FROM THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, more especially to the heathen idolatry, the renouncing of the true God, and our Saviour, and the worship of false gods, which the apostle here speaks of. And I doubt not but this is the sin which St. John speaks of, and calls "the sin unto death," and does not require Christians "to pray for those who fall into it," with any assurance that it shall be forgiven (1 John 5:16).
V. We will consider the reason of the DIFFICULTY OF RECOVERING SUCH PERSONS BY REPENTANCE.
1. Because of the greatness and heinousness of the sin, both in the nature and circumstances of it. It is downright apostasy from God, a direct renouncing of Him, and rejecting of His truth, after men have owned it, and been inwardly persuaded and convinced of it. It hath all the aggravations that a crime is capable of, being against the clearest light and knowledge, and the fullest conviction of a man's mind, concerning the truth and goodness of that religion which he re-nounceth; against the greatest obligations laid upon him by the grace and mercy of the gospel; after the free pardon of sins, and the grace and assistance of God's Spirit received, and a miraculous power conferred for a witness and testimony to themselves, of the undoubted truth of that religion which they have embraced. Now a sin of this heinous nature is apt naturally either to plunge men into hardness and impenitency, or to drive them to despair; and either of these conditions are effectual bars to their recovery.
2. Those who are guilty of this sin do renounce and cast off the means of their recovery, and therefore it becomes extremely difficult to renew them again to repentance. They reject the gospel, which affords the best arguments and means to repentance, and renounce the only way of pardon and forgiveness.
3. Those who are guilty of this sin provoke God in the highest manner to withdraw His grace and Holy Spirit from them, by the power and efficacy whereof they should be brought to repentance; so that it can hardly otherwise be expected but that God should leave those to themselves who have so unworthily forsaken Him, and wholly withdraw His grace and Spirit from such persons as have so notoriously offered despite to the Spirit of grace.I shall now draw some useful inferences from hence by way of application, that we may see how far this doth concern ourselves; and they shall be these.
1. From the supposition here in the text, that such persons as are there described (namely, those who have been baptized, and by baptism have received remission of sins, and did firmly believe the gospel, and the promises of it, and were endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost), that these may fall away — this should caution us all against confidence and security; when those that have gone thus far may fall, "Let him that standeth take heed."
2. This shows us how great an aggravation it is for men to sin against the means of knowledge which the gospel affords, and the mercies which it offers unto them.
3. The consideration of what hath been said is matter of comfort to those who, upon every failing and infirmity, are afraid they have committed "the unpardonable sin," and that it is impossible for them to be restored by repentance.
4. This should make men afraid of great and presumptuous sins, which come near apostasy from Christianity; such as deliberate murder, adultery, gross fraud and oppression, or notorious and habitual intemperance. For what great difference is there, whether men renounce Christianity, or, professing to believe it, do in their works deny it?
5. It may be useful for us upon this occasion to reflect a little upon the ancient discipline of the church, which in some places was so severe, as, in case of some great crimes after baptism, as apostasy to the heathen idolatry, murder, and adultery, never to admit those that were guilty of them to the peace and communion of the church. This, perhaps, may be thought too great severity; but I am sure we are as much too remiss now as they were over-rigorous then; but were the ancient discipline of the church in any degree put in practice now, what case would the generality of Christians be in?
6. The consideration of what hath been said should confirm and establish us in the profession of our holy religion.
I. Notice THEIR PREVIOUS CHARACTER AND POSITION. The state that preceded their apostasy, if there be meaning in words, was that of actual conversion; and but for the exigencies of a vicious creed no other idea would have been entertained. They were " once enlightened"; and the same word is used of them in the tenth chapter under the rendering "illuminated." No stronger expression could be used to denote conversion. "Once ye were darkness, but ye are now light in the Lord." Again, they are here affirmed to have "tasted of the heavenly gift," which, however it may be explained, it would be arbitrary in the extreme to understand as falling short of salvation. The same remark applies to the next thing attributed to these apostates, "they were made partakers of the Holy Ghost." Full of the Holy Ghost we need not suppose them to have been; but none the less does the expression denote the saving fruits of faith as contrasted with the fruits of those that continue in the flesh. (Compare Galatians 5:19-25; Ram. 5:5.) On the same principle, consistency demands it at we explain the attribution — "they have tasted the good Word of God," in the spirit of David in such places as Psalm 19. and 119., or of Jeremiah when he sweetly says, "Thy Word was found of me, and I did eat it, and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart." "To the above tastings," or spiritual experiences, the apostle adds that those apostates h d "tasted the powers of the world to come"; or, as the expression means, "the age to come." This was the New Testament age, and had long been familiarly so denominated. The word "power" is the same as that rendered "miracles" in Hebrews 2:4; and it is here intimated, therefore, that the spiritual evidences and influences so grandly characteristic of that period had previously operated their due effects on the minds and hearts of these apostates.
II. We now pass to THEIR PRESENT STATE — that of men who have apostatised.
1. The fact of their apostasy is expressly affirmed. They had " fallen away." Their fall, as we shall see, would not be precipitate. The gradient of the downward path is at first exceedingly imperceptible; it is not till a further stage down that it becomes recklessly headlong.
2. Let us now pass from the fact to the nature of their apostasy. It was a lapse from all the Christian experiences above detailed, and that by a lapse from the source of these — namely, faith, and from all the means by which we are enabled to " stand fast in the faith." This lapse would be stealthy, and so in fact the word implies. It was probably no sudden flight, no leap, no bound, no run, or even deliberate, walk, but a partially passive and insensible process of "falling away." Like the fleecy envelopment of air which, from its yielding nature, falls behind in the diurnal revolution of our globe (causing our trade and oblique winds) such retrogressors gradually yield to dragging influences and lag behind. First, the Bible is neglected, then prayer, then family duty, then Christian converse, then Christian zeal in every form, then the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and all the means of grace. At whose bidding? we need hardly ask, seeing the seducers are legion. It may have been at the prompting of Mammon, or of Belial, of vanity, or of pride. It may have been in the name of free thought, under the license of free speech, or under the baser dictation still of indolence and cowardice that shrink from encountering pain, and toil, and loss. Any way, the sphere of salvation in the soul contracts and grows dim; the fruits of the new life shrivel up; the heart, now " an evil heart of unbelief, departs from the living God," and day by day becomes "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
III. Let us now endeavour to understand Him: IMPOSSIBILITY HERE AFFIRMED Of again renewing these recreants unto repentance. Be it noted in the outset, that vain is the attempt of those who would substitute for the word "impossible" some milder translation, such as "difficult," or the like. In the original, just as in our version, the word incontrovertibly and immovably stands "impossible." But then the question is still left open to us — In what sense impossible? First. and surely plainly enough, no such thing as absolute impossibility is for a moment to be thought of, for we are here in a far other sphere than that of strict omnipotence. We are in the moral sphere; and in the moral sense only are we to understand the word impossible. And even in that sense the impossibility lies not on the side of God, but wholly on the side of man. How? Only in the moral sense; and in no such sense even of the moral kind as need doom any apostate to despair, though certainly such as ought to make his ears tingle and his knees tremble, and his frame shake and his heart quake. It was impossible to renew those men, merely in the sense of Christ's impossible, when He said, "How can ye believe, who receive honour one of another?" — this state of mind, while it lasted, being a moral bar to their believing: but then it had no need to last. It was impossible, in the sense in which we ourselves freely use the word every day; as when we say, It is impossible to love this man, or hate that man, or to respect or trust that other — that is, impossible only in the sense of being extremely hard or difficult by reason of moral dispositions or circumstances; which moral causes, however, it is all the time understood by us, it is quite in the power of the man concerned to alter or surmount, if he choose.
IV. THESE MORAL CAUSES FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE, in the case of the apostates in my text, it only remains that, in the last place, I now briefly explain. For very special they were, and frightful in the extreme — amply sufficient, and more, to account for the very strong word "impossible" which the inspired writer here employs. These singular causes are briefly but expressively set forth in the appended reason, "seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame." They not only renounce Christ, they do it with every circumstance of contumelious indignation and scorn. They re-enact for "themselves" what they are now too late literally to join in — the crime and the jeering concomitants of the Saviour's crucifixion. This they do, not only in the arena of the inner spirit, but in open avowal, by shamelessly homologating and glorying in the deed. They say, "though for a time deceived, we now see that the deed was right." They this gather into themselves the combined virulence of both Jew and Roman; for while with the Jew they cry, "Crucify Him," with the Roman they do in effect "crucify Him," so far as it is in them to re-enact the deed. And unlike that tumultuous rabble, who were stirred into frenzy by their rulers, and borne many of them they knew not whither, so that Christ affectingly said of them, praying, "They know not what they do," these apostates, on the contrary, re-enacted the crime deliberately, from amid the full flood of gospel light, and life, and power, and after they them elves had tasted the sweets of gospel love. This, the terrible attitude and its implications, were explanation enough of the word impossible, were we to say no more. But to stop here would leave unexplained the fact, otherwise incredible, how they could ever have been led to take such an attitude at all. This is the only thing further I have to explain, and then the shadow over the word "impossible" will have deepened into the most hopeless gloom. The explanation is to be found in the strongly marked peculiarities of the Jew, and in the then conditions of social and religious life in Palestine. These were such as to leave no neutral ground. A Jew's wrath, in religious matters, easily intensifies to frenzied rage. Hence their scorn of Jesus, their vindication of His death, their hate of all who bear His name, their practice by spitting, gesticulation, or terms of execration, of blaspheming and cursing the Holy One under the opprobrious name of "the Nazarene." In such a state of society, to renounce Christianity was not to lapse into negative indifference; for indifference or neutrality there was none. It meant positively a return to Judaism; and to Judaism aroused awed armed in deadly antagonism to Christianity. The process would be this. Expelled the synagogue, put under the ban, disowned by their nearest, if they perished in clinging to the hated Nazarene in spite of the entreaties, the tears, and ere long the curses of their kin, the Palestinian Christian would at first waver, then absent himself occasionally from the Christian assemblies. Urged by his relatives, the occasionally would become frequently, till, now fairly on the decline, he came to abandon them entirely. And now the entreaties, the blandishments, the impassioned warnings would be renewed. Let him only pass through the needful discipline and be welcomed anew into the synagogue and into the bosom of his home. He does so: and the die is cast. To quit the church for the synagogue was to pass from one hostile camp to another, with no intermediate resting place or ground even for parley. It was to quit all Christian ordinances and restoring influences, and to raise a brazen wall between. And it was to enter the synagogue to join the anti-Nazarene crusade. The apostates, and with proverbially apostate zeal, now persecuted the faith they formerly preached. In conclusion, there result two vitally important lessons, which we briefly state in Scripture language.
1. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
2. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts."
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
1. The first mark of them is that they be lightened; that is, endued with the knowledge of God, not only by the heavens, which declare His glory, nor by the firmament, which showeth His work, nor by any of God's creatures in which His eternal power and Godhead cloth appear and shine, and of which light all nations are made partakers, but they are also lightened with His holy Word, which is a lantern to their feet and a light unto their steps, and have heard His gospel preached unto them, unto the which they have agreed that it is the Word of Life.
2. The second note of them is, that they have tasted of the heavenly gift: the heavenly gift is the life and great salvation that is in Christ Jesus, by whom we are reconciled, which likewise our Saviour Christ calleth the gift of God, speaking to the woman of Samaria; and this is that knowledge into which they are lighted by the gospel, and this they not only know, but of this gift they have also tasted: which is, they have gladly some time received it, and rejoiced in it; like as our Saviour Christ describeth them by the parable of the stony ground, that incontinently with joy they receive the seed, and which also He noteth in the Pharisees, speaking of John Baptist, which was a shining lamp among them, and they for a season did rejoice in his light.
3. The third note of these men is, that they have been partakers of the Holy Ghost: which is, that many graces of the Spirit of God have been given unto them, as these two above named, that they are lightened with knowledge, and rejoice in their understanding, which is neither of flesh nor blood, nor of the will of man, but of the Holy Ghost.
4. The fourth note is, that they have tasted the good Word of God, not much differing from that He first spake of, that they were lightened, that is, that they had knowledge of God, not only by His creatures, but much more by His Word. But here naming the good Word of God, he noteth especially the gospel, by comparison with the law.
5. The fifth note here set forth is, that they know and confess that this gospel hath in the end eternal life: and Christ is a mighty Saviour, who will keep for ever those whom He hath purchased. And he nameth the world to come, because the Spirit hath lightened them to see the latter end of this corruptible world, and to know assuredly that here they have no dwelling city, but another habitation made for God's chosen, not with mortal hands, but everlasting in heaven, and calling it the powers, because it is made so strong in Christ Jesus, that it can never be assaulted; for all power is given unto Him in heaven and in cart,, and He hath made that heavenly city glorious for His saints throughout all worlds. And thus far of the persons, what gifts they have received; wherein yet let us understand a great difference between these men which fall away and the gifts which are in Gods elect that cannot perish, nor ever sin against the Holy Ghost. Nosy let us see the manner of rebellion, how far they tall away: first, we must observe what points the apostle hath before named. In the beginning of the chapter he mentioneth repentance from dead works, faith towards God, the doctrine of baptism, and laying on of hands, and resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment, which here he calleth the beginning and foundation of Christian amity; then he speaketh of an apostasy or falling away from all these points here named even from the foundation and first beginnings of the Christian faith, so that all the former light is quite put out, and the first understanding is all taken away; they laugh now at repentance, and the first faith they account it foolishness.
(E. Deering, B. D.)I. FOUR FALLS OF THE GODLY.
1. The first and lightest fall of the godly is that in their daily combat between flesh and spirit (Romans 7; Galatians 5:17). Our duties are imperfect, graces defective, our gold and silver drossy, "our wine mixed with water." Sin deceiveth, surpriseth, capri. vateth, slayeth, yet reigneth not. These falls or slips are unavoidable and involuntary. There is no saint but complains of them, no duty but is stained with them. In our clearest sunshine we see a world of such motes, which yet hinder not the light and comfort of our justification, avid destroy not sanctification. True grace consists with these; yea, is not separated from the assaults and indwelling of such motions. "Will we, will we," said Bernard, "we are pestered with swarms of these Egyptian flies, and have these frogs in our inmost chambers." This first fall is but like the fall of a mist in a winter morning: the sun gets up, and it is a fair day after. This is the first fall: the second is worse, which is —
2. An actual and visible stumble as to offence of others, yet occasioned by some surreptitious surprise of temptation, for want of that due consideration which we should always have: this the apostle calls " a man's being overtaken with a fault," who is "to be restored with a spirit of meekness, considering we also may be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Such falls (or slips rather) all or most are subject to (James 3:2). We sometimes trip, or slip, or "miss our hold," and so down we come, but not out of choice. Thus did Peter slip or halt, when he did Judaise out of too much compliance with the Jews; whom therefore Paul did rebuke and rest-re (Galatians 2:11, 14).
3. The third fall is much worse, "a fall from the third loft," whence, like Eutychus, they are "taken up dead" for the present; but they come to themselves again. These are falls into grosser and more scandalous sins which do "set the stacks or corn-fields of conscience on fire"; whereas the other two forenamed, especially the former, are such as calls "of daily incursion." These are very dangerous, and befall, not all professors: (they had not need!) but, now and then, one falls into some scandalous sin; but they not usually again into the same sin after sense and repentance of it. Thus fell David and Peter into foul flagitiousness, but not deliberately, nor totally, nor finally, nor reiteratedly. This fall is like the fall of the leaf in autumn. Life remains safe; a spring in due time follows, though many a cold blast first.
4. There is yet one worse fail than the former, incident to a child of God too — to be of the decaying kind, and to remit and lose his former fervour and liveliness. And it may be he never comes (as the second temple) up to the former pitch and glory (Ezra 3:12). Thus Solomon's zeal and love were abated in his old age. This is like the fall of the hair in aged persons. Life yet remains; but strength, native beat, and radical moistness decay, and the hair never grows alike thick again.
II. THE FOUR FALLS OF THE UNREGENERATE.
1. The first whereof is a final fall, but not a total at first, but insensible, by degrees, "gradually and without perceiving it," grow worse and worse; as the thorny ground, choked with cares, or drowned with the pleasures of the world.
2. Some fall totally and finally, but not premeditately and voluntarily at first; but are driven back by the lion of persecution, and tribulation in the way, and they retreat (Mark 4:17; 1 Chronicles 28:9). This is like the fall of Sisera at the feet of Jael (Judges 5:27).
3. Some. more fearfully, totally, finally, voluntarily, deliberately, but not yet maliciously. Thus Demas is supposed to fall, who, of a forward disciple or teacher, is said to have become after an idol priest at Thessalonica. Thus fell Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).
4. The fourth and last fall follows, which is like the opening of the fourth seal, and the fourth horse appears (Revelation 6:8): when men fall totally, finally, voluntarily, and maliciously. Thus Simon Magus, Julian the apostate, Hymenaeus, and Alexander, whose names are in God's black book. Here the gulf is fixed, and there is "no retracing of the steps" hence. These are not to be renewed by repentance. This fall is like that of Jericho's walls: they fell down flat with a curse annexed (Joshua 6:26); or as Babylon's walls, with a vengeance (Jeremiah 2:58); both without hope of repairing: or like the fall of Lucifer the first apostate, without offer, or hope of offer, of grace any more for ever: or like the fall of Judas, who, "fading headlong, burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" (Acts 1:18).
III. THE MIXED FALL. There is also another kind of fall, of a mixed or middle nature; and to which side of the two (godly or reprobate) I should cast it, is not so easy to determine. Relapses into sin are like relapses into a disease after hopes and beginning of recovery.
1. This informs us that possible it is for men (yea, too ordinary) to fall from grace. We wonder not. to see a house built on the send to fall, or seed not having root wither, or trees in the parched wilderness decay (Jeremiah 17:6), or meteors vanish, or blazing stars fall, or clouds without rain blown about, or wells without springs dried up. So, for hypocrites to prove apostates is no strange thing, and utterly to fall away.
2. Even godly and gracious persons are subject to fall, and therefore must not be secure: they must " work out their salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). They are bidden to "fear lest they should fall short" (Hebrews 4:1): "stand fast" (1 Corinthians 16:13): "take heed lest they fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12): "look diligently lest any fail of," or "fall from" (so is the other reading) "the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:15): " take the whole armour of God, that they may he able to stand" (Ephesians 6:13).
3. Yet a truly regenerate soul, a plant of God s planting by the waterside, a plant or graft grafted into Christ, and rooted in Christ, can never fall away totally or finally: Peter could not, when Christ prayed for him: the elect cannot (Matthew 24:24).
1. This text is thunder and lightning against apostales. — Awake, you drowsy professors! There is no sin like apostasy: adulteries, manslaughter, theft, idolatries, &c., nothing to this.
2. This speaks terror to professors fallen, or lying in scandalous sins. — You cannot sin at so easy a rate as others. You know your Master's will, and do it not, therefore ye "shall be beaten with more stripes" (Luke 11:47). You are as a city set on a hill. Your fault cannot be hid, no more than an eclipse of the sun.
3. Terror to such as, after conviction and engagements under affliction and distress, after some prayers, vows, and a begun or resolved reformation, return to former courses. — As they, after what they promised in their distress, returned when delivered, and started aside like a broken bow (Jeremiah 34:15, 16). The new broom of affliction swept the house clean for the present; but afterwards the unclean spirit returns, and this washed sow is wallowing in the mire again.
4. Terror to such as lapse and relapse into the same sin again. — As Pharaoh, Jeroboam, and those antichristian brood which repented not (Revelation 9:20. 21). Notwithstanding all judgments, convictions, confessions, promises, they go from evil to worse, from affliction to sin; from sin to duty, and from duty to sin; repent and sin, sin and repent (Jeremiah 9:3); and from repenting of sin in distress, go to repent of their repentance when delivered.Discrimination.
1. There are some who have fallen into foul sins; and they think their case desperate, because of the greatness of their sins. But their sin is not the sin against the Holy Ghost, because not committed after light, taste, partaking of the Holy Ghost. &c., but in the days of their ignorance, as Paul mice. Some fall foully after conversion, as Peter, but not deliberately, maliciously; and both these may be the spots of children: they see "the plague" in their heart (1 Kings 8:38), feel the smart. These have foul scabs; hut they go to Jordan and wash, go to " the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness"; and then "though their sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though red like crimson, they shall be as white as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
2. There be some relapses through human infirmity, which are truly bewailed. This is not the sin against the Holy Ghost neither.
3. But there are others that make a trade of sin, "drink up iniquity like water," that "add drunkenness to thirst," and fall and rise, and rise and fall: they lapse and relapse, and slide away as waterShall I say such shall have peace? Not What peace to such so long as their sins remain? I shall, to conclude, give a few short directions, to prevent falls and relapses, but cannot now enlarge upon them.
1. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation (Matthew 26:41). — Watch in prayer, watch after, watch when alone, watch when in company, especially against ill company and all occasions of sin.
2. Keep conscience lender, and shun the first motions and occasions of sin. — "If thou find thyself given to appetite, put a knife to thy throat", is the wise man's counsel; if to wine, "hook not on the glass"; if to wantonness, "come not near her corner."
3. Take heed Of having slight thoughts of sin. — As to say, "As long as it is no worse"; "It is the first time"; "It is but now and then a great chance, when I meet with such company"; and many have such foolish pleas, and so play at the mouth of the cockatrice's den till they are stung to death.
4. Take heed of having light thoughts of God's mercy. — "When sin abounds, grace superabounds," &c. The Lord saith, He "will not spare" such, nor be merciful to them.
5. Take heed of reasoning from God's temporal forbearance, to eternal forgiveness.
6. Take heed of presuming of thy own strength: "I can, and I mean to repent; I can when I will, and I will when time serves. I trust I am not so bad, that God hath not given me over. Many have gone further than I: why may I not repent at my last hour?"
7. Take heed of a mock repentance, saying, "I cry God-mercy, God forgive met I sin daily, and repent daily. When I have sworn or been drunk, I am heartily sorry. Is not this repentance?" I answer, No! Repentance is quite another thing. "The burnt child," we say, "dreads the fire."
(John Sheffield, M. A.)
Homilist.I. PERSONAL CHRISTIANITY IS A SPIRITUAL PARTICIPATION OF DIVINE REALITIES.
1. It is an idea.
2. It is a feeling.
3. It is a power.
II. APOSTASY FROM PERSONAL CHRISTIANITY IS AN IMMENSE SIN.
1. The falling away here mentioned is that of total apostasy.
2. The apostasy here spoken of is stated purely as an hypothesis.
3. Although the apostasy is spoken of only as hypothetical, it is, nevertheless, possible. The man who parts with Christ through the force of old prejudices, is the Caiaphas of the age; he who parts with Him for money, is the Judas; he who parts with Him for popular favour, is the Pilate. The tragedy of Golgatha has many actors; every generation every day reiterates these multiplied crucifixions.
III. THE SIN OF SUCH AN APOSTASY WOULD ENTAIL THE MOST LAMENTABLE RESULTS.
1. The lamentable results of this sin would be irremediable.(1) Their first repentance could only have been produced by the whole force of the moral considerations contained in the gospel.(2) The supposed apostates have triumphed over the whole force of the most powerful considerations that can ever be addressed to them.
2. The lamentable results of this crime are consonant with character. Their doom answers to their state.
3. The lamentable results of this crime are terribly awful The conscience in flames!
4. The lamentable results of this crime are ever just at hand. "Nigh unto cursing."
(F. Rendall, M. A.)
1. First, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves His children from falling away; but He keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? "If you go down you will never come up alive." Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequence would be keeps us from it. It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed. It is calculated to excite fear; and this holy fear keeps the Christian from falling.
2. It is to excite our gratitude. Suppose you say to your little boy, "Don't you know, Tommy, if I were not to give you your dinner and your supper you would die? There is nobody else to give Tommy dinner and supper." What then? The child does not think that you are not going to give him his dinner and supper; he knows you will, and he is grateful to you for them. The chemist tells us that if there were no oxygen mixed with the air animals would die. Do you suppose that there will be no oxygen, and, therefore, we shall die? No, he only teaches you the great wisdom of God, in having mixed the gases in their proper proportions. Says one of the old astronomers, "There is great wisdom in God, that He has put the sun exactly at a right distance — not so far away that we should be frozen to death, and not so near that we should be scorched." He says, "If the sun were a million miles nearer to us we should be scorched to death." Does the man suppose that the sun will be a million miles nearer, and, therefore, we shall be scorched to death? He says, "If the sun were a million miles farther off we should be frozen to death." Does he mean that the sun will be a million miles farther off, and, therefore, we shall be frozen to death? Not at all. Yet it is quite a rational way of speaking, to show us how grateful we should be to God. So says the apostle. Christian! if thou shouldst fall away, thou couldst never be renewed unto repentance. Thank thy Lord, then, that He keeps thee.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)"had need of some one to teach them again the first principles of the oracles of God." Yet he declares his determination not to enter anew on a course of elementary instruction, but to go on to some of the higher branches of Christian knowledge; for this cause, that there was no reason to expect that such restatements would be of any use in reclaiming those who, after being instructed in the doctrines and evidences of Christianity, had apostatised; while, on the other band, there was every reason to hope that illustrations of the higher branches of Christian truth would be of the greatest use to those who "held fast" the "first principles," in establishing them in the faith and profession, in the comforts and obedience of the gospel; just as a farmer after making a fair trial of a piece of ground, and finding that, though everything has been done for it in the most favourable circumstances, it still continues barren, desists, saying, "It is impossible to make anything of that field," and turns his attention to rendering still more fertile those fields which have already given evidence of their capability of improvement. "It is not possible, by a renewed statement of Christian principles and their evidence, to bring back these apostates. Nothing can be stated but what has been already stated, which they seemed to understand, which they professed to believe, but which they now openly and contemptuously reject. No evidence, stronger than that which has been brought before their minds, and which they once seemed to feel the force of, can be presented to them. The meaning and evidence of Christian truth have been before their minds in as favourable circumstances as can be conceived." The apostle's assertion, then, appears to me to be just this — "Statement and argument would be entirely lost on such persons, and therefore we do not enter on them."
(John Brown, D. D.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
(J. Leifchild, D. D.)
(Old Greek Saying.)
Shall be shut out by love,
And on her threshold lie
Howling in outer darkness."
(R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.not spared us this trial. When Christ was about to die, He instituted a memorial sacrament of His passion, to show forth His death until He come. It would seem that there is, as it were, a fearful and Satanic sacrament too, of that same dread hour, by which it is still in man's power to reiterate and prolong His death until He come to judge the long succession of His crucifiers. St. Paul delivers to us the tremendous truth, that there is in man a continued capacity of "crucifying afresh the Son of God"; a power to act over again all the scene of His torture, to league with the malignant priests and the scoffing soldiers, to buffet the unresisting cheek, to bind the crown of thorns. Reflect on the frame and temper of mind, on the weakness and the wickedness, that made the chosen people of God the murderers of His Son, and try if you cannot catch some faint image of that treachery in your own hearts. But be true to yourselves if you would indeed detect the lurking evil, and think not that even among the best of us, in a world of oft-recurring temptation, it is useless to prosecute the scrutiny. Doubtless the accuracy of the image will vary in degree: here, through the progressive sanctification, all but obliterated; here, through remaining worldliness, vivid and undeniable; here, through total rejection of Christ, all but complete. To estimate the resemblance we must turn to the original. When Christ was, in that day of mingled horror and glory, sacrificed on Calvary, few things were more remarkable in the accessories of the event than the feelings and motives of the people. Christ was unquestionably a favourite with the mass of the people; the great obstacle to the schemes of the priests was always that "they feared the people." His gracious bearing and the mysterious anticipation that surrounded and dignified His singular 'life, had evidently caught and conciliated the popular mind. Nor was it unqualified malignity that made them His persecutors, Christ Himself had found a palliation for this crime in their ignorance, He besought forgiveness for them because "they knew not what they did." Yet, however it came to pass, this people, thus disposed, are found the unanimous destroyers of their Prophet, the tumultuous petitioners for His crucifixion, the fierce invokers of His blood on them and on their children? Strange as this appears, is there indeed nothing that resembles it in our own experience? Is no parallel to be found for it in the Christian world around us! Can we not, when we go abroad into the highways of daily life, find something in the general mind that reminds us of a people honouring Christ as long as He offers easy blessings, flocking round His standard with enthusiasm so long as He is made the standard-bearer of a party, professing boundless admiration, devotion, and love; yet when the true hour of trial comes, and the question can no longer be escaped, — Shall we surrender our pleasures or our Redeemer? — give up the favour of earthly superiors or the favour of the King of heaven? — abandon our cherished sins, or with our sins nail Jesus to the cross once more? — then, relinquishing their short-lived discipleship, following the instigation of blind and guilty guides, turning with the turning tide, and swelling the torrent of the persecutors of the body of Christ. Turn again to the record. Among the unhappy instruments of Satan, on that dread occasion, was one whose name, almost unknown in all else, his relation to this event has miserably immortalised — the wretched, wavering, timorous Pilate. Willing to save, but afraid to resist, anxious to do right as long as virtue cost no trouble,-has this crucifier of Christ no image among us? Are there no Pilates among our grave and reputable men of business? — none who cold be models of consummate piety if there were no danger of its disturbing their tenure of wealth and influence? — who would gladly save the Son of God from degradation if they were not a tittle apprehensive of degrading themselves in the task, — and would allow Him supreme authority as long as the r own was warranted secure? Not far removed from this is the case of those rulers who struggled against their very faith lest it should hazard their popularity (John 12:43). Alas! these poor dependents on human fame stand not alone in the world; this weapon of the evil one has not been suffered to rust in disuse! It is not with open disavowal that the votary of fashionable worldliness disclaims the Lord of glory. A peril such as this might be met and warded off. But society does its work surely because slowly. Religion is not proved to be absurd, but assumed to be so; the world would not harshly ask us to disbelieve in Christ, but merely to forget Him. Principles are lost for ever before we have dreamed they were in danger, and the poor victim of the world's opinion has learned to "crucify afresh the Son of God," without relinquishing one outward characteristic of discipleship I But these, wretched and criminal as they are, are but the less daring forms of crime. Deeper guilt than this bore the suffering Lamb of God to His cross, and deeper guilt than this is not confined to His first crucifiers. Can we witness nothing that recalls the rebellious ambition of those who said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours"? The world at large — yea, the far immense of worlds — is the inalienable property of God; the inheritance is entailed upon that only-begotten Son, "whom," it is written, "He appointed Heir of all things." And when, refusing to hold as His lessees, spurning His rights of lordship, we would explode His claims for antiquated and fanciful, that we may enjoy His gift as though the fee were ours; in all this is there none of that spirit which once raged in those who, in angry impatience of His claims, "took counsel against Him for to put Him to death"? And when a paltry hope of gain or advancement can bribe us to forsake a gracious Master, to forget all He has done, and all He has borne; does he remain the. alone in the world who "said unto the chief priests, What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you"? Nay, at such an hour we are worse than Judas; for even Judas, the miserable suicide of remorse, we may believe, had another option been his, would not have " crucified the Son of God afresh! "Can we descend yet deeper? Christ was crucified on the imputation of blasphemy. What was the "blasphemy"? He had called Himself the Son of God, and the Son of man, and in right of this transcendent union, the Judge to come " in the clouds of heaven," and "sitting at the right hand of power." If this was false, His crucifiers were justified; if this was false, in a theocratic government, He deserved His fate. There are those who pronounce that mysterious title false in any sense that could have ever made it "blasphemy" from human lips, who deny the Sonship of the Eternal any significance beyond what more or less belongs to all the virtuous revealers and interpreters of the will of heaven that have ever instructed man. Surely we cannot in justice refuse to such impugners the place they have chosen for themselves in the throng that circled the cross of Jesus! Still we have not sunk to the last level of the Jewish persecutors. Fallen as we are, we could not have borne to prefer Barabbas, the thief and murderer, to our pure and guiltless Redeemer. And who, then, are the darling idols of human applause? Who are the chosen of our race that poetry crowns with its halo of glory, and every young imagination bows to worship? Who, but the laurelled Barabbases of history, the chartered robbers and homicides that stain its pages with blood, and that, after eighteen hundred years of Christian discipline, the world has not yet risen to discountenancing? Remove the conventional discredit that attaches to the weaker thief, exalt him to the majesty of the military despot, and how many would vote for Barabbas, how many linger with the lowly Jesus? "Be it so, but our votes would at least be open and undisguised, we would not stoop to the meanness of hypocrisy. We would not, with those you are pleased to make our prototypes, 'put on Him the scarlet robe and the crown, and the sceptre,' that we might 'bow the knee and mock Him.' Of this, at least, we are incapable." Perhaps so. I pray God it may he so. And yet, recall but the hour that has just now floated past you into eternity, when you "bowed the knee" to this same Jesus who was crucified, when your lips uttered words of piercing sorrow, and besought His mercy and implored His aid, as erring and straying sheep, as miserable offenders, miserable sinners. Ask yourselves how many knees were bowed in the repentance the lips rehearsed, how many hearts were melted in the agony the tongue so readily expressed. And if conscience whisper an accusation, bethink you how differs this from the guilt of those who called Him King, and despised the royalty they ascribed; or was it more a crime to insult Him when He walked the earth in poverty and pain, than when He sits, as now, the recognised Monarch of the universe!
(Prof Archer Butler.)
Homilist.I. THE METHOD BY WHICH HEAVEN TESTIMATES THE CHARACTER OF MEN. The essence of a moral act lies, not in the muscular exertion, but in the mental volition.
1. This method of judging character commends itself to our sense of justice as obviously right.
2. This method of judging character urges the most vigorous discipline of the heart.
3. This method of judging character suggests unexpected revelations on the day of judgment.
II. THE ENORMITIES WHICH CORRUPT MEN ARE AT ALL TIMES CAPABLE OF PERPETRATING.
1. The feelings which effected the crucifixion we may find everywhere in the hearts of depraved men.
2. Similar circumstances would probably lead to a similar development.Learn:
1. The propriety of a trembling modesty in denouncing the great criminals of history. In condemning them, let us take care that we do not foredoom ourselves.
2. The necessity of a heart renovation for the real improvement of humanity.
3. The inestimable value of the gospel to mankind.
(David Gregg, D. D.)
Baxendale's Dictionary of Anecdotes.Bridaine was one of the most celebrated of the French preachers. Marmontel relates, that in his sermons he sometimes had recourse to the interesting method of parables, with a view the more forcibly to impress important truths on the minds of his hearers. Preaching on the passion of Jesus Christ, he expressed himself thus: — "A man, accused of a crime of which he was innocent, was condemned to death by the iniquity of his judges. He was led to punishment, but no gibbet was prepared, nor was there any executioner to perform the sentence. The people, moved with compassion, hoped that this sufferer would escape death. But one man raised his voice, and said, 'I am going to prepare a gibbet, and I will be the executioner.' You groan with indignation! Well, my brethren, in each of you I behold this cruel man. Here are no Jews today to crucify Jesus Christ; but you dare to rise up, and say, 'I will crucify Him.'" Marmontel adds, that he heard these words pronounced by the preacher, though very young, with all the dignity of an apostle, and with the most powerful emotion; and that such was the effect, that nothing was heard but the sobs of the auditory.
(Baxendale's Dictionary of Anecdotes.)Hebrews 10:29).
(F. W. Farrar, D. D.)
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