Hebrews 13:8
Great Texts of the Bible
The Unchanging Christ

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever.—Hebrews 13:8.

1. The author of this Epistle wrote some thirty-five years after the crucifixion, almost at the climax of a time of change, when his fellow-Hebrews were isolated and disheartened. They had cast off the exclusive religion of the Temple with its splendid ritual and its ties of family and race, and instead had what must often have seemed the disappointing insignificance of Christian ceremonial and the separation from many an association both of personal love and of national patriotism. Persecution was surrounding them: the gravest dangers, the most insistent terrors, seemed to be at hand. And the eschatological hope on which some may have built had not been fulfilled. Christ had not returned in glory; and there were no signs of His return or His triumph. The religious atmosphere of the Hebrew Christians was charged with doubt and disappointment and loneliness. It was at such a time that a teacher, a man of their own, with the love and inspiration of the Old Covenant behind him, had the courage not only to point out that the Law was in its essence transitory and the Gospel the fulfilment of the whole purpose of God’s creative act and man’s historic development, but also to declare that the crucified Nazarene, made a shame among men, was the same through whom in the beginning the worlds were made, and who through all His suffering life on earth, His rejection and death, and the absence from His people which now tried their faith—yes, He was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. If it is bold to say those words now, it was almost incredibly bold to say them then, when Christianity had won no great visible triumphs, but was embodied only in a small, despised, lonely sect.

2. The words of the text are not the words of a bigoted opponent of salutary change. They are not the great formula which is to disguise the little policy of mere obscurantism. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews must have sustained among his brethren the difficult and suspected rôle of a religious innovator. He was the author and advocate of a new theology. All this adds immensely to the significance of his declaration. He lays hold of the fixed factor in Christianity, that which is the indispensable postulate of every sound theology, and the verifying element in all theologies; and he offers it as the justification of his novel teaching, and the palladium of Christian faith. The Temple, he tells his Jewish fellow-disciples, will perish; all that the Temple symbolizes and enables will pass away: Jerusalem will be desolate, and the religion of national privilege, which has found its centre there, will come to an end; but this demolition of sacred institutions and time-honoured traditions will not touch the core of their faith, nay, it will enable them to realize more truly what that core of their faith really is. They will find that the springs of spiritual life are in no system, but in the person of the Lord, in whom every system must find meaning, apart from whom all systems are nothing.


A Changing World and an Unchanging Christ

1. We scarcely need an inspired book to remind us of those laws of change which are written alike upon the earth and upon the firmament that overarches it. No wonder that Oriental mystics have come to look upon the things that address our senses as shows and phantasms, for we are never permitted to forget their transiency. How the face of the world has changed, and will still change! Life is but a thin green strip that unites two unexplored deserts; that which lies behind is silence, and that which lies before is death. The solid stars are but shadows, and could we watch them long enough, they would vanish like the shadows which lie for a few brief hours across our streets. The suns in the vault of heaven are bubbles of gas on those mystic and unmeasured tides of force which flow through space, and were our life less ephemeral we should see them collapse and pass away. In comparison with the fleeting phenomena which environ us, Christ is the enduring substance, the reality which persists unchanged through all change. “They shall perish, but thou remainest.”

By the very law of contrast, and by the need of finding sufficient reason for the changes, we are driven from the contemplation of the fleeting to the vision of the permanent. Blessed are they who, in a world of passing phenomena, penetrate to the still centre of rest, and looking over all the vacillations of the things that can be shaken, can turn to the Christ and say, “Thou who movest all things art Thyself unmoved; Thou who changest all things, Thyself changest not.” As the moon rises slow and silvery, with its broad shield, out of the fluctuations of the oceans, so the one radiant Figure of the all-sufficient and immutable Lover and Friend of our souls should rise for us out of the billows of life’s tossing ocean, and come to us across the seas.

“The Same.” Among the mediæval mystics that term was in use as a title for the Eternal. They called Him “the Same.” They spoke of knowing “the Same,” of taking refuge in “the Same.” Amidst the restless drift and flux of phenomena they saw in God, and rightly saw, the anchorage they craved. And for us also, in the Son of God, eternal as the Father in His majesty and in His mercy, there is rest and refuge in the thought that He, this Lord Christ Jesus, now and for ever, is “the Same.”1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, in The Record, Jan. 27, 1911, p. 88.]

2. But is not permanence opposed to progress? Our thinking to-day is denominated by the idea of evolution, by the belief in progress. Does not even the mention of a principle of permanence in the Christian Church provoke a suspicion of, and an antagonism to, stagnation of thought, fixity of doctrine, and bondage to the dead past? It may be pointed out that this principle of permanence is not a creed or code, a ritual or a polity, but a Person; and that personal identity does not exclude development in self-manifestation. Just because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever,” is continuity of progress in Christian, thought and life possible. On the one hand, the living Christ may and does communicate Himself more fully in the spread of His gospel and the growth of His Kingdom upon earth; and on the other hand, our apprehension of the meaning of His Person, and our appreciation of the worth of His work, may and do develop. Within this principle of permanence there is this twofold possibility of progress.

So, if we have Christ for our very own, then we do not need to fear change, for change will be progress; nor loss, for loss will be gain; nor the storm of life, which will drive us to His breast; nor the solitude of death, for our Shepherd will be with us there. He will be “the same for ever”; though we shall know Him more deeply; even as we shall be the same, though “changed from glory into glory.” If we have Him, we may be sure, on earth, of a “to-morrow,” which “shall be as this day, and much more abundant.” If we have Him, we may be sure of a heaven in which the sunny hours of its unending day will be filled with fruition and ever-new glories from the old Christ who, for earth and heaven, is “the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever.”

Much in the popular conception and representation of Christianity is in the act of passing. Let it go; Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever. We need not fear change within the limits of His Church or of His world. For change there means progress, and the more the human creations and embodiments of Christian truth crumble and disintegrate, the more distinctly does the solemn, single, unique figure of Christ the Same, rise before us. There is nothing in the world’s history to compare with the phenomenon which is presented by the unworn freshness of Jesus Christ after all these centuries. All other men, however burning and shining their light, flicker and die out into extinction, and but for a season can the world rejoice in any of their beams; but this Jesus dominates the ages, and is as fresh to-day, in spite of all that men say, as He was at the beginning.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

One of the strongest pieces of objective evidence in favour of Christianity is not sufficiently enforced by apologists. Indeed, I am not aware that I have ever seen it mentioned. It is the absence from the biography of Christ of any doctrines which the subsequent growth of human knowledge—whether in natural science, ethics, political economy or elsewhere—has had to discount. This negative argument is really almost as strong as the positive one from what Christ did teach. For when we consider what a large number of sayings are recorded of—or at least attributed to—Him, it becomes most remarkable that in literal truth there is no reason why any of His words should ever pass away in the sense of becoming obsolete. Contrast Jesus Christ in this respect with other thinkers of like antiquity. Even Plato, who, though some four hundred years before Christ in point of time, was greatly in advance of Him in respect of philosophic thought, is nowhere in this respect as compared with Christ. Read the Dialogues, and see how enormous is the contrast with the Gospels in respect of errors of all kinds reaching even to absurdity in respect of reason, and to sayings shocking to the moral sense. Yet this is confessedly the highest level of human reason on the lines of spirituality, when unaided by alleged Revelation 1 [Note: G. J. Romanes, Thoughts on Religion, 157.]


The Unchanging Christ is a Living Christ

1. The great glory of our Christian faith is that we have not to do with a dead Christ, but with a Christ who is living still, and who is to all disciples to-day just what He was to disciples who saw and heard Him twenty centuries ago. His biography is not the biography of one who sleeps now, and has slept for ages, in a Syrian tomb; it is the biography of an earthly life that is continued in the heavens, the life of a Divine Redeemer who is “alive for evermore,” the same in love and power as once He was, the unchanged and unchangeable One. The sinful to-day find Him the same Forgiver as of old; the ignorant find Him the same Teacher, the sorrowful the same Comforter, the despairing the same Deliverer, as He ever was. And what He is to-day the same He will be found to be when heaven comes. Every disciple, seeing Him as He is, will recognize at once the same Jesus who loved him, and whom he loved, long before.

Whatever may have been the original grounds of the faith of the great majority of Christian people, their faith has been verified in their own personal experience. They trusted in Christ for the remission of sins, and they have been liberated from the sense of guilt; for deliverance from sin, and the chains of evil habits have been broken or loosened, and the fires of evil passion have been quenched or subdued. They trusted in Christ for a firmer strength to resist temptation and to live righteously, and the strength has come. They have received from Him—they are sure of it—a new life, a life akin to the life of God. They have been drawn into a wonderful personal union with Christ Himself; “in Christ” they have found God, and have passed into that invisible and eternal order which is described as “the kingdom of God.” Whatever uncertainties there may be about the historical worth of the four narratives which profess to tell the story of Christ’s earthly ministry, their faith in Him is firm, because they know by their experience that the Living Christ is the Lord and Saviour of men.… For Christian faith it is enough to know the Living Christ; a knowledge of Christ “after the flesh”—in His place in the visible and earthly order—is not indispensable. But for the perfect strength and joy of the Christian life we must know both the Christ who lived and died in the Holy Land eighteen hundred years ago, and the Christ who, ever since His resurrection, has been saving and ruling men.1 [Note: R. W. Dale, The Living Christ and the Four Gospels.]

2. It is necessary in these days to lay some stress upon the fact that Jesus Christ is still a living force and available for human needs. There has been one evil result of recent historical criticism of the Gospels. Men have too often come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is some Person buried away in the infinitely distant past, and that they have to go back and grope for Him there if they would discover Him at all. Now, that is not so. The real cry of the Christian Church is not “Back to Jesus Christ.” It is no question of going back. The real cry is, “We would see Jesus, and see Him now, and hear Him speak in the language of to-day.” And the real need of the Church and of the world to-day is to come into touch with what is called sometimes the living Christ. The Christ of to-day must be One who has become part and parcel of our human environment, who is still a force, the effect of which we can feel for ourselves—a Christ who is for us not merely a memory, not merely a sacred figure with a halo round it that we can bow down before in reverence, but a power that touches us, and that we can touch, and of which we can have real and experimental knowledge.

It seems to be specially necessary to-day to insist on what was so evident to the Apostolic Church—that the living, loving, mighty saving Presence of which believers were conscious was no other than the Jesus who had lived, taught, wrought, and died on earth. There are not a few on the one hand who hold firmly the trustworthiness of the gospel story, and find help, comfort, and hope in the facts there recorded, but to whom the living Christ is a vague abstraction. Let them but bring together the historical reality and the personal experience, let them realize that the grace of God that here and now saves them is the same Jesus whose words and works the Gospels record, and surely there will be a clearer vision of, and a closer communion with, and a richer communication from, the Saviour and the Lord. Some there are on the other hand who are conscious of the guidance, enlightenment, and inspiration of the Divine Presence, whom they call the living Christ; but they do not make their consciousness as distinct and attractive and compelling as it might be if the object of their faith appeared to them in the full and clear reality of the historical Jesus. The mystical and the historical, to use current terms, in the Christian apprehension must be blended if the Christian experience is to be as wide and deep as it may become. Thus the living Christ will make the historical Jesus a present reality, and the historical Jesus give to the living Christ a distinct content.

Let time bring with it what it may, we are assured of Christ’s fidelity. Let other hopes die out in disappointment, the hope of my spirit endures. Let me learn what painful lessons I may about my feeble purposes and uncertain heart; broken with penitence, sad and ashamed at so many resolutions unfulfilled, weary with wicked and fruitless wandering from His good care, I shall find Him ready as ever to pardon, gracious as ever to restore. In temptation we learn strange and humbling lessons about ourselves; the lusts we thought subdued “conceive and bring forth sin”; we fall; but He is the same, calm as ever to soothe, strong as ever to subdue. Our wisdom sometimes proves our folly; but Christ is wise as ever to teach us, ready again to guide our erring thoughts. “Yesterday” we found Him precious; when for the first time we stood by the graveside He comforted us, “the resurrection and the life.” He is the same “to-day,” solacing our newest grief. “Yesterday” we heard His voice; His name was on the lips of those who spoke to us the Word of God. The teachers have gone, or we have outgrown them. But He is still the same; if the teachers are gone, the Truth is with us. The living Word of God, who speaks from the lips of counsellors, is Himself our Counsellor. What changes need we now fear? We may be troubled, but we cannot be daunted; surprised, but not unmanned. The deep reality of life abides the same: Jesus Christ the same to-day as yesterday.1 [Note: A. Mackennal, Christ’s Healing Touch, 282.]

3. Thus, amid all the changing views and varying theories about Christ, our Lord, the living Person still remains the same. As the supreme Revelation of God, as the supreme Revelation of man, and as the Saviour, He stands unaltered through the vicissitudes of the ages. And it is just this permanence of the living, unchanging Christ that is the pledge and guarantee of the life of Christianity. Other religions have faded and passed away. Once, so the legend goes, along the winding shore of the blue Ægean Sea the mournful cry was heard, “Great Pan is dead.” And the deities of classic Greece departed from their thrones, and the oracles left the temples, and the sprites of mountain and woodland were seen no more for ever. A religion died. And later again, far away in the desolate North, there sounded another yet more bitter cry, “Baldur is dead—Baldur the Good, the Beautiful.” And amid the terrific conflict of the twilight of the gods the old Scandinavian deities perished in their turn, and another religion died. Yes, many religion have died. But Christianity does not die and cannot die. For the life of Christianity is the Living One—the abiding, the unchanging, the imperishable One—“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever.”

The Evangelic Jesus cannot be a mere ideal; for an ideal cannot enkindle love. He is a historic person, and He lived among men as the Evangelists have portrayed Him. But He is more than that. It is impossible to love one who is remote from us, and has never been in present and personal contact with us; and therefore Jesus is more than a historic person who dwelt in Palestine long ago. He is the Living Lord, the Eternal Saviour, who was manifested, according to the Scriptures, in the days of His flesh, and still, according to His promise, visits the souls that put their trust in Him and makes His abode with them. Here lies the supreme and incontrovertible evidence of the historicity of the Gospels. The final decision rests not with the critics but with the saints; and their verdict is unanimous and unfaltering. They know the Divine Original, and they attest the faithfulness of the portrait.2 [Note: D. Smith, The Historic Jesus, 117.]

The mysterious union of human souls with the Living Christ, which constitutes the strength of the Christian Church, has been proved by signs and wonders. It has been proved by the days in which the Church lost her sense of Divine fellowship and became cold and unbelieving; then the Church sank into an irreligious and worldly institution, helpless, hopeless, and corrupt. It has been proved by the days of revival, when the Church returned unto her first love and faith; then she arose in her might and conquered new provinces of the world, radiant, strong, triumphant. If the Church as a body, and her members as single disciples, declare that their weakness has arisen from the absence of Christ, driven away by unbelief, and their strength has alone come from Christ when He returned in the power of His Spirit, what can be said against such witness? and why should it not be accepted as true? There is such a thing as the mirage of the desert, which has mocked the dying traveller; and the history of religion affords fantastic notions which have been the craze of society for a day and have vanished away. No one with a serious face can make any comparison between these passing delusions and the faith of Christ. There is also the oasis where the grass is green and the palm trees stand erect in their beauty, and the reason thereof is the unfailing spring which rises from the heart of the earth and yields its living water to the traveller as he journeys across the desert from the land which he has left to the land which he has never seen. That spring is the Spirit of the living Christ, who “was dead,” and is “alive for evermore”; who remaineth from age to age the strength and hope of the race into which He was born and for which He died.1 [Note: J. Watson, The Life of the Master, 407.]


The Unchanging Christ is a Christ of Infinite Variety

When we look upon Christ in Himself, as the Person, the living Reality that has been operating through the ages, nothing indeed appears more permanent and certain. But again when we look upon Christ as reflected in the thoughts of men—when we consider men’s notions about Him, their feelings about Him, their ideas about His Person—the sameness breaks up into something infinitely variable. The Christ who here confronts us is a changing Christ. He is never quite alike for any two intelligences. He varies from man to man, and from age to age. What a difference there is, for example, between the Christ of John Chrysostom and the Christ of John Calvin! What a difference between the Christ of mediæval Scholasticism and the Christ of twentieth-century Modernism! What a difference between the Christ of the Russian peasant, and of the German theologian, and of the average business man of London or New York! The note that most forcibly strikes us, at any rate at first, is this note of difference. The outline of that gracious Figure seems continually to waver. It is never the same—no, never quite the same. We see in Jesus something other than our fathers saw; and those who come after us will probably find much in Him that we, sharp-sighted though we think ourselves, have not discovered. And yet, behind all superficial differences and divergences, the Lord who claims us is indeed the same. The clouds take many shapes about the summit of the mountain, are here to-day and gone to-morrow, but the mountain for ever stands. And so, behind the glimmering mists of human fancy, behind our uncertain wisdom and our fluctuating formulas, behind our notions of Christ and our notions of other people’s notions of Christ, the great Reality eternally abides. The living Person does not change. That Jesus whose life has been the inspiration, whose truth the illumination, whose death the salvation of uncounted millions; that Jesus whose marvellous attractiveness has cast its sweet spell alike upon an ancient and upon a modern world; that Jesus whom Peter preached and Francis followed, whom mystics saw in visions and whom saints have loved—He alters not. He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the Ending, “the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever.”

When I introduce my little one to the Saviour I am introducing her to a lifelong friend. Marvellous, and ever-growingly marvellous to me, is my Lord’s adaptability, or should I rather say, our Lord’s susceptibility, to a little child. How He can accommodate Himself to the little span of their comprehension, and weave Himself into their desires and enthusiasms and hopes! But more beautiful still is it to watch how His stride enlarges with their years, and how He shares with them the pilgrim’s sandals and the pilgrim’s staff when life becomes a grave crusade. He is “the same yesterday and to-day,” when we begin to shoulder responsibility, and to take up the burden of our prime. And when we reach the summit of our years, and the decline begins, and we march down through the afternoon towards the west where the clouds are homing for the night—when old age comes, with all its regret and fears, He will be as finely susceptible and responsive to our need as in those playful, careless hours of the dawning, when first He called our names.1 [Note: 1 J. H. Jowett.]

Whate’er may change, in Him no change is seen,

A glorious sun, that wanes not, nor declines;

Above the clouds and storms He walks serene,

And on His people’s inward darkness shines.

All may depart—I fret not nor repine,

While I my Saviour’s am, while He is mine.

He stays me falling; lifts me up when down;

Reclaims me wandering; guards from every foe;

Plants on my worthless brow the victor’s crown,

Which in return before His feet I throw,

Grieved that I cannot better grace His shrine

Who deigns to own me His, as He is mine.

While here, alas! I know but half His love,

But half discern Him, and but half adore;

But when I meet Him in the realms above,

I hope to love Him better, praise Him more,

And feel, and tell, amid the choir divine,

How fully I am His, and He is mine!2 [Note: H. F. Lyte, Poems Chiefly Religious, 76.]

The Unchanging Christ


Barry (A.), Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey, 109.

Dudden (F. H.), Christ and Christ’s Religion, 29.

Edwards (H.), The Spiritual Observatory, 38.

Greer (D. H.), From Things to God, 14.

Henson (H. H.), Westminster Sermons, 127.

Hutton (W. H.), A Disciple’s Religion, 227.

Kingsley (C.), All Saints’ Day Sermons, 285.

Knight (G. H.), Abiding Help for Changing Days, 91.

McFadyen (J. E.), Thoughts for Silent Hours, 13.

Mackennal (A.), Christ’s Healing Touch, 276.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Hebrews, etc., 285.

Maclaren (A.), The Unchanging Christ, 1.

Meyer (F. B.), The Way into the Holiest, 212.

Raleigh (A.), From Dawn to the Perfect Day, 361.

Ryle (J. C), The Christian Race, 179.

Sampson (E. F.), Christ Church Sermons, 236.

Selbie (W. B.), Aspects of Christ, 225.

Selby (T. G.), The Unheeding God, 365.

Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, iv. (1859), No. 41.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xv. (1869), No. 848.

Spurr (F. C.), Jesus Christ To-day, 1.

Stone (S. J.), Parochial Sermons, 106.

Thompson (J.), Words of Hope and Cheer, 81.

Vince (C.), The Unchanging Saviour, 1.

Waller (C. H.), Silver Sockets, 69.

British Congregationalist, Nov. 15, 1906 (J. H. Jowett).

Christian Commonwealth, xxxi. (1911) 313 (R. J. Campbell).

Christian World Pulpit, xxxv. 49 (J. Culross); xxxvi. 291 (A. Rowland); lx. 246 (G. Gladstone); lxvii. 266 (H. W. Clark); lxxiv. 246 (J. E. Rattenbury); lxxiv.275 (A. E. Garvie); lxxvii. 283 (R. C. Gillie); lxxxiii. 301 (J. S. Reece).

Church Family Newspaper, Jan. 2, 1914 (F. B. Macnutt).

Church of England Pulpit, liii. 122 (H. H. Henson).

Homiletic Review, xxxix. 414 (J. I. Vance); lxv. 411 (F. F. Shannon).

Record, Oct. 16, 1908 (G. Nickson); Jan. 27, 1911 (H. C. G. Moule).

Sermon Year Book, ii. 151 (H. D. M. Spence).

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