Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
so, etc. The "wherefore" shows the connection of our text with the preceding chapter. There the writer has exhibited the power of faith in a host of illustrious examples. To the exercise of a like faith in the prosecution of the Christian race he now summons the Hebrew Christians.
I. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS HERE COMPARED TO A RACE. The Christian is represented as a runner competing for the prize; and the writer would arouse him to activity and perseverance by the example of those who have already triumphed, and are now hearing silent but eloquent testimony to the power of faith. The comparison of the Christian life to a race is appropriate and suggestive.
1. A race has its limitations, so has the Christian life. The racer may not run anywhere, but must pursue the course marked out for him. Beginning at the starting-point, he must pursue the definite course until he reach the goal. And in the Christian life "the race is set before us;" it is marked out by the Word of God, by the examples of the faithful who have finished their course, and we may ascertain it with unerring accuracy by marking the footprints of Jesus the great Leader and Perfecter of faith.
2. A race is characterized by intense activities, so is the Christian life. There is no room for sloth or indifference. The Divine life can be maintained only by constant diligence and strenuous effort; and it can be perfected only through conflict and suffering. Our progress in the Christian course is opposed by strong and subtle adversaries, and frequent and formidable difficulties. We have to battle with our foes and grapple with our difficulties, even while running the race that is set before us.
3. A race is characterized by brevity, so is the Christian life upon earth. The race we are running requires intense effort, but only for a short season; the goal will very soon be reached. The whole of our earthly life is but of short duration; and the time of this earnest race is still shorter. What is our life here to eternity? What is the period of effort on the course to the age of rest and reward?
II. COMPLIANCE WITH CERTAIN CONDITIONS IS INDISPENSABLE TO SUCCESS IN THIS RACE.
1. We must "lay aside every weight - cast off everything that encumbers. The reference here is to things which in themselves are not positively sinful, customs and associations which in themselves are innocent, but which may wrap themselves tightly round our heart and impede our progress. Intercourse and friendship," says Ebrard, "with old Jewish acquaintances, the relations formed by trade and merchandise, might be hindrances of this kind for the readers, and in such a case it was right, and is still right, to break entirely away from such relations, and to get rid of the fetters which they impose as soon as they threaten to become a snare, even though in themselves they should be innocent." Everything that would hinder us in running this race, every weight of cares, of interests, of attachments to the things pertaining only to this life, of relationships which are not favorable to advancement in the race, must be given up, abandoned.
2. We must "lay aside the sin which doth so easily beset us," or, "the sin which subtly encircles us. With every one of us there is some sin to which we are especially prone; let us each take heed that we are not hindered in the race by reason of it. There is some weak point in the moral defenses of our nature where the tempter most easily obtains access; to this point, wherever it may be, special attention must be directed. With some it is an ungovernable temper; with others, a strong propensity to avarice; with others, etc. Let every man, by faithful self-examination and by prayer, ascertain his own besetting sin, and seek to be quite free from it.
3. We must run our race with patience. Not simply with patient endurance of the trials which may befall the runner, but with perseverance until the goal is reached. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong," but "he that endureth to the end the same shall be saved." "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." It is only "by patient continuance in well-doing" that "glory and honor and immortality" are won.
III. IN THE PROSECUTION OF THIS RACE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY A GREAT HOST OF WITNESSES, OR TESTIFIERS. "We are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses." Those who have preceded us in the life of faith in immense numbers surround us as witnesses to the power of faith, as testifiers by their example to the might of that principle by which we are called to run our course successfully, and war our warfare nobly, and do our life work faithfully. The writer would teach us to think often of this great cloud of witnesses, to meditate upon the noble lives and glorious deeds of the true men who have gone before us, that by the remembrance of their trials and triumphs we may arouse ourselves to greater diligence in running the race that is set before us. In them we see what trials can be borne, what victories won, what work accomplished, what characters built up, by faith. If by faith they overcame every difficulty, why should we be discouraged by the difficulties of our course? If by faith they conquered their many and mighty enemies, why should we dread to encounter our foes? If by faith, despite outward opposition and inner weakness, they came off victors in the fight and winners in the race, why should we despond and shrink from the contest? "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," etc.
IV. IN THE PROSECUTION OF THIS RACE WE ARE SUSTAINED AND ANIMATED BY THE HIGHEST EXAMPLE - THE PERFECT EXAMPLE. "Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith," etc. The idea of the writer is not that Jesus Christ is the Producer of faith in us and the Completer of the faith which he has organized. If we translate, "Looking unto the Leader and Perfecter of the faith, even Jesus," we shall perhaps the more readily apprehend the meaning of the text. In the long procession of heroes celebrated for their faith our Lord stands at the head; he is the Leader, and in him faith appears in full and perfected glory. And the text exhorts us to look to him as our great Exemplar, and to draw from him support and encouragement. The example of our Savior is especially sustaining and cheering, for the course he had to run was one of extreme difficulty and danger and suffering; yet he overcame, and finished his course with joy, and gained the highest honors. "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross," etc. (cf. Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 2:9, 10). In time of suffering, then, pursue your course "looking unto Jesus," the perfect Example of patience; and in the presence of Gethsemane and Calvary your sufferings will appear slight, and the calm face of the supreme Sufferer will impart patience and power unto you. In seasons of despondency, when faith is weak and your spirit sinks within you, look unto Jesus, and the trust which he exercised and the destiny he attained, and let the bright example brace your heart with courage. In times of exhaustion and weariness, when you faint because of the duties and difficulties of the way, look up to Jesus, and his example will raise and strengthen your powerless hands, and nerve your whole frame with new energy. And in seasons of temptation look unto him who" resisted unto blood, striving against sin," and yield not in the conflict, give no place to the tempter. Let this be our attitude, "looking unto Jesus." Let the eye of the soul be fixed upon him as our Pattern and Helper; so shall we finish our course with joy, and "receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away." - W.J.
I. THE NUMBER OF THE WITNESSES. From many ages, of both sexes, and in all positions of life. Our attention is called, not merely to a cloud, but to so great a cloud. Birds gather together in clouds. And the cloud may be so great as to compel notice. Whether we shall be impressed by the number of the witnesses depends altogether on the spirit in which we consider them. If we are ourselves of a believing disposition, we shall quickly recognize faith in the lives of others. We shall notice faith in the peculiarity of its beginnings, in the nobleness of its progress, and the certainty of its results. By its fruits we shall distinguish faith from credulity. Nor shall we think any the less of it because those who have it lack other elements of life which are valued by the world. Those who come together into so great a cloud of witnesses because they have faith will remain together. They will be found to have other qualities giving union. The figure here employed has already had its correspondence in the expression," Time would fail me to tell." The cloud of witnesses is but another way of saying that God's true people, the believing host, the children of faithful Abraham, are as the stars of the sky for multitude, the sand by the sea-shore innumerable.
II. THE AGREEMENT OF THE WITNESSES. They are not like witnesses in a court of justice, for there some are on one side and some on the other. All have the same story to tell. Faith came to them with a distinct imperative word. The course they took was not one that could be commended by reasons suited to the common understanding of men. Their life, to a certain extent, has been separate from men, and not infrequently men have opposed them. But always they have the same story to tell as to results. The way of the wicked perishes. It begins with self-indulgence and self-confidence, with the fear of man and after man's wisdom, and so it goes on till the hour of exposure comes. But the way of the believer is out of darkness into light, out of the midst of difficulties and toils into a path where he can run with enlarged heart.
III. THE MATTER OF THEIR TESTIMONY. They have to speak of God's dealings, God's guiding. Their lives are set before us as giving occasion to manifest the Divine character. Everywhere in Scripture just those things are recorded which through human lives show Divine working. The testimony of believers is ever valuable, just in proportion as they make it clear that it is not they who live, not they who work, but God, Christ, living and working in them.
IV. THE MANNER OF THEIR TESTIMONY. It is given unconsciously. It is given out of the past and as we read it in the page of history. Abel, being dead, yet speaketh. It is Abel, dying because of his faith, who impresses us. Oftentimes in the proceedings of human justice that which helps most to a right decision is some silent witness, in the shape of a paper or a weapon, or some such article, the existence and position of which are incompatible with any but a certain conclusion. It has not been sworn, and it cannot be perjured; it says more than a thousand sworn witnesses can say. The great believers of old may be helpers of our faith, simply by our taking the trouble to consider what we know about them in the humble, earnest spirit of the seeker after truth.
V. THE CONSEQUENT RESPONSIBILITY. It is a serious matter to be encompassed by this cloud of witnesses. They may rise up in judgment against us, whereas they were not given for this, but to help us into like precious faith. And as the world goes on the matter becomes more serious still. The cloud, large in the days of this writer, is immensely larger now. Luminous then, what a heart of light it now has, radiating forth its truth and encouragement for all who have eyes to see! - Y.
I. THE FIGURE EMPLOYED. The particular form of it is unfamiliar, but the essence is familiar enough, and likely long to be so. We are led to think of the natural man, ambitious to triumph by virtue of physical or intellectual strength. His motive is self-regarding, yet it leads him to a measure of self-restraint; indeed, he will go extraordinary lengths in checking self-indulgence if only he may stand first when the struggle is done. A man may be very low in the scale of humanity and yet have the spirit of emulation in him very strong. Now, by this figure, men thirsting for fame and honor have their thoughts turned away from low aims to the highest aim a man can cherish; from aims that bring envy, waste of human faculties, and ultimate disappointment, to an aim which may bring to every man the richest, the most abiding of gains without the slightest loss to any brother man. While there is a stimulus in this exhortation for every Christian, it is specially directed to ambitious climbing, striving men. It tells them to relinquish purposes that at the very best can bring them only a corruptible crown, and bend their energies to the attainment of that divinely produced joy which is set before them even as it was before Jesus. We who are not engaged in the struggle set before us here need to ask what sort of a struggle we are engaged in, We are summoned from the lower to the higher.
II. THE AIM PROPOSED TO US. The struggle is the thing mentioned, but behind the struggle stands that for which the struggle is engaged in. Each man, looking at possibilities through his natural eyes, has his own ideal of how to reward the exercised faculties of life. So many kinds of men, so many ideals. But God our Maker has also his ideal for the universal man. His purpose is that the whole man should win a victory. Not that the intellect should be victorious while the spiritual nature lies crushed and dishonored. Jesus had a joy set before him; so also have we. And even as the joy of this world's successes lies at the end of a long and toilsome struggle, so it must be in the joy of spiritual success. We put struggles before ourselves in order to satisfy ambition; God puts a struggle before us to comply with a sense of duty. Here is the proposition of this arduous career put right before us in our onward path. Shall we accept it or shall we evade it? We cannot very well ignore it.
III. PRELIMINARY CONDITIONS OF PROGRESS. We are to lay aside every weight. Wherein a weight consists is to be determined by its character in relation to the result of the struggle. The moment anything binders progress in spirituality it is to be forsaken. As to the easily besetting sin, perhaps that is best taken not as indicating something different from the weight, but in apposition to it. The variety of expression enforces the one paramount duty of putting aside everything, external and internal, which would tend to failure. The easily besetting sin is generally spoken of as being unbelief. But it is not enough to look at unbelief on its negative side; we must look at it positively as a state of the heart wherever it goes out after things that are seen, mere appearances, satisfactions of the fleshly appetite. Then, when obstacles are thrown off, we can patiently pursue our path. We shall need patience because there will be external obstacles - a world not sympathizing with us, and indeed crossed and thwarted by us in our steady adherence to the course God has marked out. But the patience must be that quality which in the New Testament is specially dignified by the name "the patience of hope." The toil, the strain, the seasons of weariness and of special difficulty, must all be cheered by the well-grounded hope of ultimate victory. The dreadful thing in all struggles is when they end in failure. In the race run by the Christian all succeed. - Y.
I. WHAT WE LOOK AWAY FROM. For the idea in the verb is that of looking away from one thing to some other thing. We must always have some object before the eyes of our mind, and very often it is an object that will cause the natural man discomposure, doubt, vacillation in his practice. Looking round on your companions professedly in the path of faith, you may feel that they are doing anything but live the life of faith. You may see some backsliding, Demas-like, through their love of the present evil world. And even the best of brother believers have their moments of failure and misapprehension. Then, moreover, as we look round us, we see not only the cloud of testifying believers, we see a cloud given over to the things of this world. To mingle with them in many relations is a necessity of life. Insensibly they affect that standard of excellence at which we ought to aim. We see something which is not God's standard, but in our self-deception, honestly enough, we take it to be so. And so we must look away from the ordinary surroundings of life, and even from the achievements of ordinary believers, to one in whom we shall find every good we find in man, without alloy, without contradiction, and with special power in us to produce perseverance and aspiration.
II. WHO WE LOOK TO. What a great matter it is to have an Object so satisfactory, so inspiring, on which our eyes may rest, on which our thoughts may dwell I But we must look at that Object in a certain way. As we have looked for faith in Abraham, in Moses, in the prophets, and found it, so we must look for faith in Jesus. It is of the greatest importance for us to see that the life which Jesus lived in the flesh was a life of faith - faith in his Father in heaven, faith in his brethren upon the earth. And what is to be noticed most of all is this combination of Author and Finisher. We see Jesus beginning his course of faith, we also see him finishing it. With regard to other believers, it is by an act of faith on our part that we comprehend a reward to be in store for them. But the reward of Jesus is before our eyes. That reward is to be clearly seen by us if we have any power of spiritual perception at all. We see the faith of one who submits to death with the certainty that he will rise again, and in due time he does rise again. Jesus is at the right hand of God, for he does actually rule over many human hearts, He did not pass through suffering and shame into an obscurity which was only the last stage of the suffering and shame. His present glory is a manifest thing, manifest in the light of more tests than one. It is a glory perceptible from the common historian's point of view. The richness and depth of that glory become more and more apparent when the eye of a real Christian is turned upon it; he looks for things and sees things which to the world are only names. And yet what appears to our eyes is a very imperfect representation of the reality proposed to him and seen by him. He saw more with his sense of truth, his power of insight, his superiority to this world's considerations, than we can see. And along with the end he saw the way to it. Well might he warn rash, would-be disciples to count the cost, for he himself had counted the cost to begin with. Thus must we ever look at Jesus, not in one part of his career, but in all taken together. The cross and the shame must not be separated from the seat of honor and of power. Nor must the end be looked at apart from the way. We also have a joy set before us, namely, that of attaining to companionship with Jesus. When we look away to Jesus we look, not only to an example, to an inspiration, but also to a goal. - Y.
I. PHYSICAL PAIN. He endured a cross. When the hour and. authority of darkness came upon him, he was left to those tender mercies of the wicked which are cruel. It was part of his victory to endure whatever men chose to inflict in the way of pain. All who afterwards had to endure crosses, all who were thrown to wild beasts, burnt, etc., knew that their Savior had been in exactly the same path. He did not choose the cross; it came in the way he had to take to the joy. If it had been the Roman amphitheatre, the stake, or the rack of the Inquisition, he would have gone with equal willingness. Whatever suffering evil men in their recklessness thought fit to inflict, he was ready for it. And we, always determined in the way of duty, service, honor, and reward, must also be ready for all that comes in the way of pain. Notice the force of" endure," the verb corresponding to the substantive ὑπομόνη. Not only did he bear the cross as a Stoic might have done, in grim silence, but with the veritable patience of one testifying for God. In all his bearing there was love, meekness, and patient waiting for the joy yet to be revealed.
II. A SHAMEFUL REPUTATION. Christ might have been put to death cruelly and yet not shamefully. Shame, according to human reckoning, was added to keen pain. But human shame could not reach to the height of out' Leader's magnanimity. He had too clear a view of everything to be affected by mere reputation. The cross is not shameful to us. Things reckoned shameful are largely so according to custom. What would be shameful in one age and country has no such repute in another age and country. Hence, while we can at once see the pain of the cross, we cannot see the shame. But we can understand that there would be a shame when we recollect that it has even been counted a privilege to die by the headsman's axe, and not by the hangman's rope. And this shame would be a great difficulty in the way of the apostles in preaching Christ; indeed, we know it actually was so. It is not the slightest difficulty now, however. How an old Roman would have laughed to hear it predicted that the cross of crucifixion could ever become an ornament! What men reckoned shameful has proved the way to glory and exaltation. He who conquered the worst men could do to him, might welt take a place at the right hand of God.
III. BITTER TAUNTS. The shameful repute of hanging on a cross could not but come into the reflections of Jesus; but also to the silent insult of the cross itself was added the bitterest words men could find. But let men do their worst. "All things Work together for good to them that love God." And surely of such Jesus is facile princeps. Taunts bound back from the innocent and the God-fearing as arrows do from one who is thoroughly clad in amour. - Y.
I. THE EVIL TO BE GUARDED AGAINST. "Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." The Christian is in danger of weariness in the course which he is called to run. This weariness springs from faintness of soul. When the heart loses its faith and hope and enthusiasm, the step soon loses its elasticity and vigor and speed. And this may arise:
1. From the difficulties of the course. The path of the Christian is not always through green pastures or beside still waters. It is often bleak and rugged, and mountainous. It is marked by trials of various kinds, which sorely strain his faith and patience and fortitude. And there are enemies who would delay his progress sometimes by subtle solicitations to ease and enjoyment, and at other times by opposing his efforts or obstructing his way. "And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way."
2. From the slowness of the apparent progress. There are times when the Christian runner seems to make little or no advancement in the race. Notwithstanding reading and meditation, aspiration and resolution, prayer and effort, we are still so hampered by imperfections and sins, so deficient in holiness and usefulness, and so little like our Lord, that at times all that we desire and do seems to be vain, and our souls wax faint within us.
3. From a false or exaggerated estimate of the value of feeling in the Christian life. There are those who are prone to test their spiritual condition and progress by the state of their feelings. If their emotions are tender and confiding and cheerful, they conclude that they are in the true course and moving onward to the goal; but if their hearts seem unfeeling, or cold, or cheerless, they doubt whether they are in the course at all, or ever started aright in the race, and so they faint in their souls and flag in their footsteps. Feelings fluctuate; they ebb and flow; they rise and fall. But we run this race, not by feeling, but by faith. We are saved, not by our emotions, however delightful they may be, but by our confidence in our Lord and Savior.
4. From neglect of the means by which hope and courage are maintained. If prayer be neglected; if meditation upon the spiritual and eternal, upon the soul and truth and God, cease; if the testimony of the "great cloud of witnesses" be unregarded; if "the Leader and Perfecter of the faith" be not contemplated, - the soul will faint and the limbs become weary, and the attainment of the prize will be jeopardized, How, then, is the evil to be guarded against?
II. THE SAFEGUARD AGAINST THIS EVIL. "Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself," etc. The meaning of the word rendered "consider" is not easily expressed in English. Analogize, compare, think on him and on his sufferings by way of comparison with ours. The "contradiction of sinners" should not be confined to words, but indicates the opposition of the wicked against him. A comparison of what he thus suffered and the trials we have to bear will preserve the soul from faintness, and the steps from faltering.
1. He suffered more than his followers are called to suffer. He was assailed by slander, by contradictions, by ensnaring questions. He was betrayed by one disciple, denied by another, and forsaken by all in the time of his trial. He was blasphemed, scourged, derided, and crucified. Think, moreover, how intensely susceptible to suffering he must have been, since he was untainted in his body and perfectly holy in his soul.
2. Yet his sufferings did not cause him to falter in his course, or to turn aside from it. Resolutely he went forward on his path of suffering and sacrifice; knowing the shame and anguish that awaited him, yet still he steadfastly pursued his appointed way -
"Until the perfect work was done, 3. In this he is an Example to us. "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example," etc. (1 Peter 2:20-23). Consideration of him and of his sufferings makes our severest sufferings seem small, and saves us from weariness and discouragement in the Christian course. "Lord, should my path through suffering lie,
3. In this he is an Example to us. "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example," etc. (1 Peter 2:20-23). Consideration of him and of his sufferings makes our severest sufferings seem small, and saves us from weariness and discouragement in the Christian course.
"Lord, should my path through suffering lie,
I. ITS CHARACTER. Three words are used to express it - "rebuke," "chastening," "scourging." The last two seem to be used synonymously here. Archbishop Trench points out that "'to rebuke" and "to chasten" are often found together, but they are very capable of being distinguished. "To rebuke" is so to rebuke that the person is brought to the acknowledgment of his fault - is convinced, as David was when rebuked by Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13)." The word translated to "chasten," "being in classical Greek to instruct, to educate, is in sacred Greek to instruct or educate by means of correction, through the severe discipline of love." The object of the discipline is to deliver the subjects of it from sin, to establish them in the faith, and to perfect them in holiness. The means of the discipline are afflictions, persecutions, and trials. And it may be administered by the enemies of the Church of Christ. The persecutions of man may be the discipline of God. "Persecution for religion is sometimes a correction and rebuke for the sins of professors of religion. Men persecute them because they are religious; God chastises them because they are not more so: men persecute them because they wilt not give up their profession; God chastises them because they have not lived up to their profession."
II. ITS AUTHOR. "The chastening of the Lord .... Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." Some of our trials are from his hand. He is the great Husbandman, and he prunes the vines that they may bring forth more fruit. The trials which are not sent by him are permitted by him (cf. Job 1:12; Job 2:6; 2 Corinthians 12:7). And he gives to all our trials their disciplinary character. He makes the bitter potion medicinal. By his blessing our sufferings become salutary, and our sorest afflictions our sagest instructors. The fact that the Lord is the Author of our discipline, that our trials either proceed from him or are permitted and regulated by him, supplies a guarantee that we shall not be tried beyond our strength. He is infinite in wisdom and in love. "He knoweth our frame;" and he will either restrict our trials so that they exceed not our strength, or increase our strength until it surpasses the severity of our trials. "He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind." "I will correct thee in measure." "Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies." "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
III. ITS SUBJECTS. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."
1. They are filially related to him. "Every son" of his he subjects to reproof and chastisement. "God has one Son without sin, but none without suffering." If we are his sons, we may rest assured that he will not fail to secure to us the discipline that we need. Thus our sufferings may be an evidence of our sonship.
2. They are beloved by him. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." Because he loves us he corrects us. It has been well said, that "lawns which we would keep in the best condition are very frequently mown; the grass has scarcely any respite from the scythe. Out in the meadows there is no such repeated cutting; they are mown but once or twice in the year. Even thus the nearer we are to God, and the more regard he has for us, the more frequent will be our adversities. To be very dear to God involves no small degree of chastisement."
IV. ITS RECEPTION. "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord," etc.
1. It should not be deemed unimportant. "Regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord." "We may be said to despise the chastening of the Lord," says Dr. Wardlaw, "in the following eases:
(1) When it is not felt; when there is a want of natural sensibility to the particular stroke of the rod. This is but rare. Men in general are quite sufficiently alive to the value of temporal things. But the value is comparative. There are cherished and favorite possessions, and others less highly thought of, less fondly held. The Lord, it may be, deals gently. He spares the 'gourd.' He does not take what is most highly set by. And instead of humbly owning the kindness - being lowly and submissive, and seeking a blessing on the gentle stroke, that the heavier one may be withheld - the preservation and safety of the greater produces insensibility to the privation of the less; and the correction is thus disregarded, and proves inefficient.
(2) When it is not duly felt as from God.
(3) When, although God is seen in it and his hand is felt, it is not felt humbly and submissively; not bowed to, but resisted.
(4) When the design or end of correction is not laid to heart."
2. It should not be deemed intolerable. "Nor faint when thou art rebuked of him." We are not to sink under the reproofs and strokes of the Divine discipline, though they be severe. The fact that our trials are regulated by our Father's hand, that they are educational, that they are intended and adapted to promote our spiritual and eternal well-being, should keep us from sinking beneath their pressure.
"The tears we shed are not in vain; Tis in the tempest souls expand, Oh, welcome, then, the ocean's roar!
Tis in the tempest souls expand, Oh, welcome, then, the ocean's roar!
Oh, welcome, then, the ocean's roar!
à fortiori argument is employed. If an earthly father, being evil, gives good gifts to his children, how much more will the heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them asking him? And even so, if an earthly father disciplines his children, making them do and bear many hard things that they may grow into a useful manhood, how much more will the heavenly Father make his children to suffer hardness that they may be fit to run in the way of his commandments hereafter?
I. HOW A BRIGHT SIDE MAY BE FOUND TO SUFFERING. They were evidently a sadly tried community to whom this letter was written. What shall be done to comfort and encourage them? In the fourth verse there is a very common and not altogether useless ground of comfort suggested. Things are bad, no doubt, but they might be worse. "You have to suffer a good deal in resisting sin, but not yet have you resisted to blood." This view of suffering, however, useful as it is for the moment, soon leads on to the question, "Why should others suffer, or seem to suffer, more than I?" And so the writer quickly turns to bid his friends remember that they are the children of God, and if they only recollect their character and destiny, and live under the ever-deepening influence of this recollection, then they will see that nothing can do them abiding harm. All the comfort of the exhortation passes away, unless it mingles with the assurance of the Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are indeed the children of God. Suffering must cast an ever-thickening gloom upon the heart unless the hopes of a child of God come in to shed abroad an amply countervailing light.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY THAT SUFFERING LAYS UPON US. It is a serous thing for one who reckons himself a Christian to pass through suffering and difficulty. He is expected to be the better for it all. If he uses it aright, according to the wisdom communicated from above, then assuredly he will emerge front it with a purified heart and a clearer spiritual vision. The first rule is that suffering is to be escaped if possible. But if it cannot be escaped, it must not merely be endured. It must be received as an agent of God's will in making us better and more capable children. Hence the plain truth that we shall be held responsible for all we have had in the way of pain.
III. THE USE GOD CAN MAKE OF HUMAN WICKEDNESS. Those here sought to be comforted were evidently suffering persecution. This is distinctly suggested in the expression "striving against sin." And thus it is made manifest how the discipline comes in. Much suffering could have been escaped by yielding to the temptation of compromise, or of total retreat from the Christian's position. Little do the enemies of Christ imagine the service they render his true people by the demonstrations of hostility. We are forced to a firmer grasp of truth and to a more penetrating and exact estimate of our spiritual possessions. - Y.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, etc. Two aspects of discipline, distinct yet vitally related, are here set before us.
I. DISCIPLINE IN ITS ENDURANCE. "All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous, but grievous." All life's discipline, while we are enduring it, is painful. It is so even to sincere and saintly Christians, for:
1. The Christian is not insensible to pain. Christianity offers no encouragement to stoicism. It does not call upon us to repress or to blunt the natural susceptibilities of our nature. We are summoned in the Christian Scriptures to feel for others and with others. "Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep." Insensibility is neither manly nor saintly, virtuous nor blessed. Our Savior was deeply moved by the afflictions and griefs of others (cf. Mark 7:34; Mark 8:2; Luke 19:41; John 11:33, 35, 38). And he felt acutely the sorrows and sufferings which fell to his own lot (John 12:27; Matthew 26:38; Luke 22:44; Matthew 27:46; Hebrews 5:7, 8).
2. Pain or trial is an essential element of discipline. Our text speaks of discipline as "chastening," and that is painful. If we speak of it as correction, that is not easy to bear. It may be administered in various forms, but in every form it carries with it trial or suffering of some kind. Take away the trying element from the experience, and you take from it the character of discipline.
3. The endurance of discipline demands the strenuous exercise of spiritual powers. The writer speaks of those who have been exercised by the chastening. This exercise is not an amusement, but an arduous putting forth of mental and moral powers. Suffering sorely tests our submission to the Divine will. Tribulation tries our patience and piety. Enigmas of providence and dark passages in our own experience test our faith in the Divine Father. Remember how God's servant Job was "exercised." And St. Paul (2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Corinthians 11:23-30; 2 Corinthians 12:7, 8). And the Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9, 10). If we did not feel the pain of the discipline, we could not derive any profit from it. If the chastening were not grievous for the present, it could not result in any blessing hereafter.
II. DISCIPLINE IN ITS FRUIT. "Yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness." It is a well-attested fact of human experience that trial borne in a right spirit, and sanctified by God, results in rich benefits. But notice:
1. The condition of the fruit of discipline. "It yieldeth fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby." The chastening must have been felt, and recognized and accepted as discipline, in order to the reception of its fruits. Suffering is the condition of the deepest serenity. The pain of moral conflict must precede the glory of moral conquest.
2. The season of the fruit of discipline. "Afterward it yieldeth," etc. Not while we are passing through the painful experiences do we reap the rich result of them, but "afterward." Time is required for the fruit to form and to ripen. There are beautiful pictures which cannot be truly seen when we are near to them. So viewed, they appear to be inartistic and rough daubs. But, viewed from the right angle and from a suitable distance, their beauty captivates the eye and delights the soul. We must leave our disciplinary experiences and travel into the "afterward," before we can discover their true significance and their gracious uses.
3. The character of the fruit of discipline.
(1) The fruit of righteousness. Alford: "The practical righteousness which springs from faith." "Before I was afflicted I went astray," etc. (Psalm 119:67, 71).
(2) The fruit of peace. "Peaceable fruit." Alford: "This fruit is called peaceable in contrast to the conflict by which it is won." Ebrard: "Exercise in hard bitter conflict brings peace as its fruit." Tholuck: "Fruit of righteousness to be enjoyed in peace after the conflict." Generally the deepest and most constant peace is possessed by those who have passed through the sharpest sufferings or the severest struggles. "Our afflictions are not for naught. They are the fruitful seed of future glories. They are blessings in disguise. They are meant for good, and are productive of good. They are like the early processes of the garden, when the soil is broken up and weeded, in order that fair flowers may at length adorn it. q-hey are the quarrying and chiseling of the marble before the living statue can stand out in symmetrical proportions. They are the instruments, without which no harmony can be secured in the ultimate concert. They are the medicine of our convalescence, the drudgery of our education, the spring pruning of our vine trees, without which we can never be healthy or happy, fit for heaven, or qualified to bring forth fruit whereby our Father may be glorified." In conclusion, our subject should encourage us to be:
1. Patient under our discipline. Discipline is like a tree; it requires time and seasonable influences to produce the ripened fruit of peace and righteousness. Wait patiently for the "hereafter." "Behold, the husbandman waiteth," etc. (James 5:7).
2. Resigned under our discipline. Let us not rebel against the suffering which is designed for our sanctification; but let us "be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live."
I. A LESSON FROM BOYISH EXPERIENCE. The discipline of earthly parents, while we are passing through it, is all pain and no pleasure. Even when exercised with wisdom and consideration, the discipline must be painful; and in many instances there is a needless harshness which increases the pain. Parents are apt to take the course of discipline which gives them the least trouble. But even harsh and stern discipline is better than indulgence, infinitely better than letting the child have its own way. What bitter pain men have had to suffer, because as children they suffered little or none! The boy at school finds it very hard to be kept at the desk and the book, when the sun shines bright through the window, and he hears the merry cry of other lads at play; and hard it must seem while he is going through it. But it will soon slip past and manhood come, and then how glad he will be for knowledge gained and for facility in the use of the knowledge! How he will then rejoice over the encircling rigor of the parental will!
II. THE FALLACY OF PRESENT ESTIMATES. We are bad judges of the experiences through which we are passing. A schoolboy's estimate of life is amusing to listen to, but when we come to reflect over it, the reflection makes us sad. For we know well how different things are from what he thinks them to be. And what changes there must be in his view of life before it can be, even approximately, a true one! Therefore, whenever we listen to the confident and artless prattling of boyish ignorance, let there be in it a warning for us, a fresh admonition to walk by faith and not by sight. What we know not now and cannot know, we shall know hereafter. We must not kick against circumstances, for they are doubtless the very safety of our life if we only knew it. It is the greatest folly to say that a thing must be bad for us because it is painful and straight opposite to the strongest inclinations of the moment.
III. THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD NEED NOT BE GRIEVOUS. As a general rule discipline is grievous, always grievous to the child. And even to one who is sure of his position of sonship towards God, discipline comes as a hard thing. But what makes it hard is that the flesh as yet counts for more than the spirit. Only let the spirit have free course and be glorified, and then joy will spring up in the very midst of the discipline. The man who wrote this letter, whoever he was, had not yet himself got out of the era of discipline; but the grievousness of discipline must have been abundantly sweetened by all the divinely born hopes and assurances that would throng into his heart. All the considerations here pressed upon the suffering believer are meant to bring joy in the midst of discipline. Joy especially there should be in the certainty of fruit. Youthful discipline, however careful and however successful in appearance for the time, yet may show little of result in after life. Something that no discipline can avert spoils the manhood. But we have the joy of feeling sure that God's discipline of us cannot fail if we work together with him in submissive docility and patience. - Y.
I. THE LIABILITY TO FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. This condition is variously described in the text. "The hands which hang down," relaxed, enervated, incapable of vigorous or healthy action. "The feeble knees," tottering and paralyzed. "That which is lame" indicates, says Afford, "that part of the Church which was wavering between Christianity and Judaism." Christians are often faint and feeble in our own times. Piety may be sincere yet deficient in strength. A genuine Christian may suffer with lameness in some element of his character or some faculty of service. This feebleness may arise:
1. From the discipline to which we are subjected. We may faint when we are corrected by him (ver. 5). The first effect of discipline may be to discourage us, and this will probably lead to lack of earnestness and vigor in Christian life and service. Discipline misunderstood or resented may disable us for a time.
2. From the difficulties of our counsel.
3. From the neglect of the means by which hope and effort are sustained.
II. THE DANGER ARISING FROM FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. Cessation of Christian effort. Relaxed hands and tottering knees may cause the Christian runner to give up running, and to relapse into ignoble ease. Instead of imitating Gideon's heroic three hundred who were "faint, yet pursuing" their fleeing foes, the feeble may relinquish the pursuit altogether. Thus faintness may lead to failure.
2. Deviation from the Christian course. If the way be very rugged and tedious, requiring painful effort to walk in it, those who are lame may be turned out of it. The Christian race is easy when the runners are strong and the course is smooth. But oh, it is very difficult when the hearts are heavy, and the hands nerveless, and the limbs are lamed, and the way is rough and steep! Under such conditions it requires no little patience and heroism to keep moving onwards even at any pace; and the temptation to turn aside is very great.
III. THE DUTY TO BE PURSUED IN FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. To seek renewal of strength. "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." How shall we do this?
(1) By believing prayer to God. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength," etc. (Isaiah 40:29-31).
(2) By the recollection of former mercies. Memory may be used as an inspiration of hope and courage. "Because thou hast been my Help, therefore under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice."
(4) By contemplation of the great multitude who have reached the goal and won the prize (cf. ver. 1).
(5) By contemplation of "the prize of our high calling." Exercises such as these are calculated to inspire moral courage, and increase spiritual strength, and promote Christian progress.
2. To seek to keep each other in and help each other onward in the way. "Make straight paths Tot your feet, that that which is lame be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed." "The meaning seems to be," says Alford, "let your walk be so firm and so unanimous in the right direction, that a plain track and highway may be thereby established for those who accompany and follow you, to perceive and walk in (cf. Isaiah 35:8). If the whole congregation, by their united and consistent walk, trod a plain and beaten path for men's feet, these lame ones, though halting, would be easily able to keep in it, and, by keeping in the 'straight tracks,' would even acquire the habit of walking straight onward, and so be healed; but if the tracks were errant and confused, their erratic steps would deviate more and more, till at length they fell away out of the right way altogether."
1. Let not the faint yet sincere Christian yield to discouragement.
2. Let not the vigorous Christian despise the feeble and halting, but rather cheer and help them.
3. Let all Christians in the strength of God press onward to the goal and to the crown. - W.J.
I. PEACE AS AN OBJECT OF PURSUIT. "Follow after peace with all men." Peace here is the opposite of strife, division, or misunderstanding amongst Christian brethren. "Seek peace, and pursue it." "Behold, bow good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" etc. (Psalm 133.). Notice:
1. The importance of the object of pursuit. "Peace." It is essential to spiritual progress, to Christian usefulness, and to the enjoyment of the Divine presence. Discord drives away the Holy Spirit, and is fatal to personal growth in grace, to mutual edification, and to successful evangelization.
2. The extent of this pursuit. "With all men." The primary meaning is "all their fellow-Christians." The context shows this. Our text immediately follows the exhortation to guard against any feeble Christian being turned out of the way, and it immediately precedes the exhortation to take heed that no one should fall short of the grace of God. And if the "all signified all mankind, the exhortation under consideration would be exceedingly unconnected. It is clearly the brethren who are here meant by all," as in Romans 14:19, "Let us follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." But in applying it to ourselves may we not take it in its widest signification? "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
3. The limit of this pursuit. In our endeavors after peace we must not sacrifice anything which is essential to the pursuit of holiness. "First pure, then peaceable." Follow after peace, but not at the expense of Christian principle.
II. HOLINESS AS AN OBJECT OF PURSUIT. "Follow after... holiness," or, "sanctification." Delitzsch says, "Sanctification is not holiness, but is the putting on of it and becoming holy." But for popular speech we may use the term "holiness." Let us consider two inquiries.
1. What is holiness? It is, says Dr. Huntington, "that attribute which is the very crown of all the culture of humanity; for it carries the soul up nearest to the everlasting Fountain of wisdom, power, goodness, from which it came. It enters in only where repentance opens the way, and spiritual renewal puts the heart into wholesome relations with the Divine will. It is the peculiar gift for which the world stands indebted to revelation, and it is multiplied just in proportion as the heart is formed into the likeness of Christ's. It is the summit of manhood, but no less the grace of God. It is achieved by effort, because your free will must use the means that secure it; and it is equally the benignant inspiration of that Father who hears every patient petition."
2. How shall we pursue holiness? Not by efforts, however sincere and earnest, after self-reformation or self-improvement. It is assumed that the persons who are exhorted to follow after holiness have accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord. Supposing that we are sincere Christians, we should seek for holiness.
(1) By keeping our spiritual nature open to Divine impression and action. We must let Christ enter, and dwell, and work, and reign within us.
(2) By communion with Jesus Christ. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise." "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," etc. (2 Corinthians 3:18).
(3) By conscious and deliberate imitation of Christ. "Take my yoke upon you, anti learn of me." "I have given you an example," etc. (John 13:15). "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps." This imitation obviously includes endeavors to render complete and hearty obedience to the Divine will.
(4) By diligent use of Divine ordinances. The holy Book will be prayerfully and thoughtfully read, "the assembling of ourselves together" will be welcomed, and the ministry of the Word and the sacraments will be devoutly considered and accepted.
(5) This pursuit should be continuous. "It is not by fits and starts that men become holy. It is not occasional, but continuous, prolonged, and lifelong efforts that are required; to be daily at it; always at it; resting but to renew the work; falling but to rise again. It is not by a few rough, spasmodic blows of the hammer that a graceful statue is brought out of the marble block, but by the labor of continuous days, and many delicate touches of the sculptor's chisel. It is not with a rush and a spring that we are to reach Christ's character, attain to perfect saintship; but step by step, foot by foot, hand over hand, we are slowly and often painfully to mount the ladder that rests on earth and rises to heaven" (Dr. Thomas Guthrie).
(6) The pursuit both of peace and of holiness should be zealous. The word used by the writer in enjoining it shows this. It means to pursue rapidly, to follow eagerly, to earnestly endeavor to acquire. Half-hearted efforts are of little avail. As the miser seeks to amass temporal wealth, as the enthusiastic student strives after knowledge, so let us follow after peace and holiness. And with even greater eagerness should we pursue them because of their greater importance.
III. HOLINESS AS A QUALIFICATION FOR HEAVEN'. "Sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord."
2. Holiness is an essential qualification for the perception of this manifestation. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." "The pure heart," says Tholuck, "itself is the organ whereby the vision of God becomes attainable by us." Without holiness a person has no more fitness for heaven than a blind man has for the enjoyment of a beautiful picture-gallery or a glorious landscape.
3. If it were possible for an unholy soul to enter heaven it could find no peace or happiness there, but would realize intense misery. "Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man; How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! He would find no one like himself; he would see in every direction the marks of God's holiness, and these would make him shudder. He would feel himself always in his presence. He could no longer turn his thoughts another way, as he does now, when conscience reproaches him. He would know that the eternal eye was ever upon him; and that eye of holiness, which is joy and life to holy creatures, would seem to him an eye of wrath and punishment. God cannot change his nature. Holy he must ever be. But while he is holy, no unholy soul can be happy in heaven. Fire does not inflame iron, but it inflames straw. It would cease to be fire if it did not. And so heaven itself would be fire to those who would fain escape across the great gulf from the torments of hell. The finger of Lazarus would but increase their thirst. The very "heaven that is over their heads 'will be brass' to them" (Dr. S. H. Newman). Therefore, let Us "follow after peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." - W.J.
I. THE DILIGENT PURSUIT OF PEACE. This is a recommendation both to the individual and the Church. The maltreated man is very likely to have a settled feeling of anger against the man who maltreats him. That we should behave rightly under suffering is far more important than that we should escape suffering. Notice the intensive force of the verb. The same verb is used to signify persecution. The same pursuing energy that persecutors employed against Christians was to be employed by Christians themselves in preserving a feeling of settled peace towards the persecutors. Animosity and irritation towards others, however justified it may seem by their conduct, will destroy all peace in our own hearts. Even when the necessities of duty bring us into marked controversy with others, we must in the very height of the dispute show that our aim is concord, not discord.
II. THE EQUALLY DILIGENT PURSUIT OF HOLINESS. Holiness here may be taken as the equivalent of what is elsewhere called purity of heart. That is the blessedness of the pure in heart that they are made able to look on God. Our right state towards all men is to have perfectly peaceful inclinations towards them, and doing everything that shall incline them to reciprocate the peace. Our right state towards God is to have a heart perfectly consecrated to him. And the diligent pursuit of peace and holiness must go together. You cannot follow the one without following the other. That can be no true peace towards man which is gotten by compromising our position towards God. Nor can that be true holiness which is very profuse in services to God and yet leaves room to indulge animosities toward man.
III. WATCHFULNESS TO MAKE FULL USE OF THE DIVINE GRACE. We must not lose the loving favor of God. We must keep in such paths of spiritual courage and enterprise as will preserve to us continually his loving smile. What shall we be if God be against us? It will be a poor compensation to escape trial, if at the same time we miss God's help out of our life.
IV. WATCHFULNESS TO STOP THE BEGINNINGS OF CHURCH MISCHIEF. Watch the Christian community as you would watch a garden. You have not only to nourish what has been planted so that it may bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness, but you must watch against the entrance of noxious plants. In a large garden something of this kind may easily make headway unless there be the most vigilant eye upon it. All mischief must be stopped in the very beginning, if possible. - Y.
I. A SACRIFICE OF SACRED RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES FOR SENSUOUS SATISFACTION, "Esau for one mess of meat sold his own birthright" (cf. Genesis 25:29-34). Peculiar rights and privileges were inherited by the firstborn son.
(1) He received a double portion of the paternal property, which probably signifies twice as much as any other son received (Deuteronomy 21:17).
(2) The priestly office pertained to him, previous to the selection of the tribe of Levi to fulfill that office for the nation (Numbers 8:17-19).
(4) And in the case before us, the honor of being in the patriarchal line, and of transmitting the promises made to Abraham. These rights of primogeniture Esau sold for one meal of red pottage; and in the sale we have:
1. A sacrifice of a great and lifelong good for the satisfaction of present need and desire. Esau was tired, faint for want of food; there was the appetizing pottage; and there was the mean and subtle brother who craved the birthright, and saw his opportunity for gaining his end by disgraceful means, and who proposed that the birthright should be given to him for the mess of pottage, and who, deeming others as unprincipled as himself, would have the bargain ratified by an oath; and Esau yielded, and sacrificed the long future for the brief present. He allowed his strong impulse to overpower his reason and judgment.
2. A sacrifice of spiritual privileges for sensuous satisfactions. The cravings of his senses, his hunger and desire for the pottage, mastered the convictions of his soul. Carnal appetite conquered the claims of Esau's higher interests.
3. A sacrifice made upon the solicitation of his mean and crafty brother. Most discreditable was the action of Jacob in this transaction. If a darker guilt attaches to the tempter to evil than to him who, being tempted, yields, then Jacob's sin was greater than Esau's. Well does Dean Stanley inquire, "Who does not feel at times his indignation swell against the younger brother? 'Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he hath supplanted me these two times?' He entraps his brother, he deceives his father, he makes a bargain even in his prayer; in his dealings with Laban, in his meeting with Esau, he still calculates and contrives; he distrusts his neighbors, he regards with prudential indifference the insult to his daughter and the cruelty of his sons; he hesitates to receive the assurance of Joseph's good will; he repels, even in his lesser traits, the free confidence that we cannot withhold from the patriarchs of the elder generation." Thus tempted by hunger, by appetite, by opportunity, and by his astute and scheming brother, "Esau for one mess of meat sold his own birthright." "Thus Esau despised his birthright." To what a large extent do men still sin after the fashion of Esau's transgression! In our country there are multitudes who are bartering their spiritual interests for secular prosperity - renouncing godliness for worldly gain. What countless numbers are risking the salvation of their souls for the gratification of their senses! sacrificing their well-being in the endless future for their pleasure in the brief present!
II. A SACRIFICE WHICH INVOLVED IRREPARABLE LOSS. "For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected," etc. We have here:
1. Earnest desire for the forfeited blessing. "He would have inherited the blessing." Esau was neither so wicked nor so worldly as to contemn the blessing either of his lather's God or of his father. And when he was defrauded of that blessing by his brother, he sought for it with a most pathetic earnestness (Genesis 27:30-40).
2. Deep distress because of the loss of the forfeited blessing. Our text mentions the "tears" of his great sorrow. "He cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.... Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept."
3. Earnest desire and deep distress which were of no avail for the recovery of the forfeited blessing. "He was rejected: for he found no place of repentance." We do not understand by this either that Esau was unable to change his father's mind, or that he could not himself repent of his sins; but, as Alford expresses it, "that he found no way open to reverse what had been done: the sin had been committed and the consequence entailed, irrevocably. He might change, but the penalty could not, from the very nature of the circumstances, be taken off. So that repentance, in its full sense, had no place. And such is the meaning of the 'place of repentance,' wherever occurring. We do not mean by it an opportunity to repent in a man's own bosom, to be sorry for what he has done, for this may be under any circumstances, and this might have been with Esau; but we mean a chance, by repenting, to repair. There is an awful permanence in deeds. They cannot be undone. Words once spoken are beyond recall. Opportunities once lost are lost forever. Others may, perhaps, be granted; but those are irrevocably gone. Let us learn:
1. To curb strong impulses by reason and by conscience.
2. To maintain the forgiver relation between the present and temporary, and the future and abiding.
3. To keep the sensuous subordinate to the spiritual. This brings us to the practical point of the writer of the Epistle. Let us not forsake what is right and true to escape from any present difficulty or loss or pain, or, to secure any present pleasure. Let us not turn away from Christ to escape the cross. - W.J.
I. OUR FREQUENT THOUGHTLESSNESS AS TO OUR POSITION. Esau is called a profane person. A profane person is one who treats sacred things as if they were common. Esau was himself a sacred person as the firstborn, but the thought of his peculiar position never seems to have gained real entrance to his mind. And so it too often is with us. The serious and sublimer side of life, the side that connects us with God, Christ, and eternity, is too seldom in our minds. Too seldom! Why, that is too complimentary a word as regards many; they never seem to think of this side of life at all. And assuredly none of us thinks of it as we ought to do. We are more valuable in the eyes of God than we are in our own. God looks on each one of us as on a pearl of great price, but we view the pearl of our position with only swinish eyes.
II. THE ULTIMATE RESULT OF THAT THOUGHTLESSNESS. Man is made to think, and think deeply, on his position, duties, and destiny; and to this actual course of reflection he is driven sooner or later. Man cannot escape the necessities inherent in his nature. The hint here, in this parallel from Esau, is that these reflections may come too late. Omnipotence cannot bring back the past. If you have failed to sow in the spring, you cannot reap in the autumn. Nor will you be able to escape the bitterness of reflecting that this absence of the proper harvest is your own fault. Thousands in the curlier years of life do as Esau did. They barter the joys of self-denial and holy aspiration ton self-indulgence. The fragrance of worldly pleasures rises into their nostrils, and they never stop to consider the height and depth, the breadth and length, of a life redeemed by Christ and sanctified by his Holy Spirit. Then, when the passing pleasure is past and gone, they come face to face with eternal realities, and they are not ready for them. Yet the parallel with Esau must not be pushed too far. He found no place of repentance so far as the earthly birthright was concerned. But that is not to say that Esau has lost his share in spiritual and eternal realities. Isaac could not give him the blessing that belonged to another As long as he sought the earthly blessing he might well seek with tears, and seek in vain. Along with the folly, suffering, and futile regrets of Esau we must take the folly, suffering, and profitable repentance of the prodigal in the parable. - Y.
1. The sensuous at Sinai is contrasted with the spiritual at Zion. At Sinai the manifestations were palpable, visible, audible (vers. 18, 19); at Zion they were heavenly, and to some extent invisible and inaudible. The former appealed chiefly to the senses, the latter to the soul.
2. The rigorous at Shoal is contrasted with the gracious at Zion. The former mountain was palpable, but no one of the people might draw near unto it, and if even a beast touched it it was to be stoned. The whole of the proceedings were awful and terrible. The revelation was of Law. Love was there, for love was the fountain of the Law; but Law, solemn and inflexible, and not love, was conspicuous. But at Zion, love and not Law was conspicuous. "The Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." In the Christian dispensation grace is unmistakably clear and prominent. Here the voices are musical, the utterances are inviting.
3. The repellant at Sinai is contrasted with the attractive at Zion. At the giving of the Law, "they that heard entreated that no word more should be spoken unto them, And so fearful was the appearance that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake." But in this later dispensation men are drawn by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. To the sincere soul Christianity is bright, alluring, and blessed. Let us now consider the exalted privileges of sincere Christians as set forth in our text.
I. THEY ARE MEMBERS OF A DISTINGUISHED SOCIETY, "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." We do not apply these words to heaven, but to the Church upon earth, the kingdom of Christ here and now; because
(1) in the sacred Scriptures Mount Zion is not set forth as the antithesis of heaven, but of the Christian Church (Galatians 4:24-26); and
(2) the text affirms that Christians "are come unto Mount Zion," etc. It is the statement of a present fact, and not a future prospect. Mark the characteristics of this distinguished society.
1. It is spiritual in its constitution. "The heavenly Jerusalem." The qualification for admission into this society is spiritual, not carnal; a thing of character, not of circumstances; not physical descent from Abraham, but moral approximation to Christ. Its worship is not restricted by local limitations, or by conventional and artificial rules; but by spiritual conditions only. "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father.... The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipper shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth," etc. (John 4:21-24). Wherever there is a devout soul, there is the true Zion. The contrite heart can consecrate for itself a temple wherever it may be.
2. It is hallowed by the Divine presence. "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." Previous to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the name Mount Zion "was applied exclusively to the eastern hill, or that on which the temple stood." The glory of the Holy Land to the pious Hebrew was Jerusalem, and the glory of Jerusalem was Mount Zion, and the glory of Mount Zion was the temple, and the glory of the temple was the Shechinah (cf. Psalm 48:1-3; Psalm 80:1; Psalm 132:13, 14). "The Lord is in his holy temple." "He sitteth between the cherubim. The Lord is great in Zion." But in a higher sense he dwells in the consecrated heart, and in the Christian Church. "Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them."
3. Its members are individually consecrated to God. "To the Church of the Firstborn." The firstborn of Israel were dedicated to God as his priests (Exodus 13:1, 2, 11-15). Afterwards the tribe of Levi was selected for this service instead of the firstborn of all the tribes (Numbers 3:11-13). And it is characteristic of every Christian that he is consecrated to God; he is a priest unto God. "Ye are a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession."
4. Its members are heirs to a glorious inheritance. All Christians are called "firstborn" because they are all heirs of the heavenly inheritance. "We are children of God: and if children, then heirs," etc. Heirs "unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled," etc.
5. Its members are individually known unto God. They "are written in heaven." They are "not yet citizens of heaven who have taken up their full citizenship by passing through death, but persons to whom their citizenship is assured, they being as yet here below." This enrolment in the book of life is the sign that the citizenship of the Christian is in heaven, and that his name and character are known unto God. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." The good Shepherd "calleth his own sheep by name" (cf. Luke 10:20).
II. THEY ARE FAVOURABLY RELATED TO ANGELIC BEINGS. "Ye are come... to an innumerable company of angels." Notice:
1. The great number of angelic beings. The text speaks of" myriads of angels," an expression which is employed to indicate a great multitude. St. John in spiritual vision saw "many angels round about the throne;... and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands."
2. The joyful spirit of angelic beings. "And to myriads, the festal host of angels." Alford: "Πανήγυρις is the complete, multitudinous, above all, jubilant, festal, and blissful assembly." "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." They rejoice in the progress of the cause of Christ, in the extension of his Church, in the triumphs of his cross and Spirit.
3. The gracious relation of angelic beings to Christians. Angels were present at Sinai in great numbers, and assisted at the giving of the Law (cf. Hebrews 2:2; Deuteronomy 33:2; Galatians 3:19). But their ministry upon that occasion seems to have been majestic and terrible, fitted to awe but not to attract men. But their relation to Christians is gracious and engaging. We are come unto them. Invisibly yet beneficently they are present with us as out' spiritual helpers. "Are they not all ministering spirits?" etc.
III. THEY ARE SYMPATHETICALLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE PERFECTED SPIRITS OF THE GOOD. "And to the spirits of just men made perfect." We have here:
1. The noblest portion of human beings. "Spirits." Having laid down their bodies at death, these thinking, reflecting, loving, worshipping spirits live on in consciousness and in blessedness.
2. A commendable character of human beings. "Spirits of just men." Not innocent; but pardoned and purified from sin through the mercy of God. Spirits of all the just who have entered the eternal state, from righteous Abel down to the spirit which last responded to the home-call.
3. The most excellent condition of human beings. "Spirits of just men made perfect." Made perfect, not in degree, but in character and condition. Perfect as being without error and sin, but not as being incapable of further progress. They are without sin, but they will grow in holiness. They are without error, but they will increase in knowledge. "Made perfect;" then how different are they from even the best of men in this world! Many an imperfection will be put off by us at death; many an error will be corrected soon as we see things in the clear light of eternity. "We are come... to the spirits of just men made perfect." They are not lost to us. Life and immortality are brought to light in the gospel. Deep and tender is their interest in us. We are one with them in sacred and blessed sympathy.
"E'en now by faith we join our hands
IV. THEY HAVE GRACIOUS ACCESS TO THE GREAT GOD. "And to God the Judge of all." At Sinai the Israelites were terrified at the signs of his presence as Lawgiver; but in this later dispensation sincere Christians draw near to him with confidence even as the Judge of all. Nay, there is a sense in which this aspect of his being attracts them. They are yet in the world. They have enemies to contend against and wrongs to endure; and they look up to God as their righteous Judge, who will vindicate their right and their cause. We are come unto him. He is not a cold, impassive, remote being. He is near to us; he loves us, draws us to himself, and blesses us with his gracious presence. We confide in him, and realize our holiest impulses and most blessed experiences in fellowship with him.
V. THEY ARE SAVINGLY RELATED TO JESUS CHRIST. "And to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
1. We are come to him as our Mediator. By him God is brought so near to us, and we are reconciled to God. Through him we enter into the possession of all our exalted and rich privileges.
2. We are come to him who effected his mediatorial work by the sacrifice of his own life. The blood of sprinkling is his own precious blood, which he shed for us. "We have our redemption through his blood," etc. And this blood speaks of the infinite love of God, and the full and free forgiveness of sins, and spiritual perfection, and endless progress and blessedness.
CONCLUSION. Great privileges involve great responsibilities. - W.J.
I. THE SAME GOD MANIFESTS HIS PRESENCE IN TWO DIFFERENT WAYS. Zion is very different flora Sinai, but for all that Sinai must precede Zion. This, it may be said, is not true to every individual experience. Not true, perhaps, in strict sequence of time; but every human life must know something of Sinai if it would know Zion to the full. Every human being must know something of the Law coming by Moses, as well as the grace and truth coming by Jesus Christ. Let no complaint be made that preachers impose on the ignorant and the timid by fictitious and exaggerated terrors. Jehovah is none the less God of Sinai because since then he has become God of Zion.
II. SINAI IS MEANT FOR THE PASSING EXPERIENCE, ZION FOR THE PERMANENT ONE. The children of Israel came to Sinai for a very short time. God's anger with the wicked abides - he is angry with the wicked every day - but it would be clean against his character as a pitiful and long suffering God to have Sinai continually involved in smoking flame and roaring tempest. Sinai is God's appointed halting-place for us somewhere in the solemn and arduous journey of life. Zion is the goal of the journey. Many of those who trembled along with Moses at the literal Sinai have surely been gathered with Moses since upon the heavenly Zion.
III. NOTE POINTS IN THE CONTRAST. Sinai was in the wilderness, and there is some reason to suppose that it has now more of the wilderness than ever, that its desolation is greater than when the children of Israel camped there. Zion was in the city. Men lived about it all their lives. He who comes to Zion comes to an abiding company. The earthly Jerusalem where the ark dwells, typifies that heavenly Jerusalem where the God of the ark really dwells. Thence the messengers of God issue forth on their errands of righteousness and mercy, and thither they return to resume the service of the higher, holier sphere. At Sinai just men, struggling with their sense of sin, were made to feel their imperfection. On Zion just men are gathered in their purity of heart and spiritual completeness, enabled forever to look on the face of God. The two contrasted pictures must not be pushed too much into detail. Let the imagination rather try to group each as a whole. The passage suggests two frameworks, in one of which we may gather the peculiarities of the old covenant, and in the other the peculiarities of the new. - Y.
I. THIS GREAT CATASTROPHE OF THE FUTURE. Vain to speculate on the mode of its happening. Far more important to be well assured that this catastrophe is coming, and to rejoice that something inexpressibly glorious and beautiful lies beyond. Only then will the perfect men in Christ Jesus be constituted into the perfect society. Only some such revolution in human affairs as is here indicated can set things right finally and completely. Good and evil are not to be forever mingled. The Lord who has so often shaken the earth will shake both earth and heaven. Then it will be seen who is on the rock and who on the sand, who has built gold and silver and precious stones, and who wood, hay, and stubble.
II. THINGS WHICH CAN BE SHAKEN OUGHT TO RE SHAKEN. Shaken in order that they may be utterly removed from us. Each of the elect and glorified now within the walls of the new Jerusalem is there because he has known within his own experience what it is for both earth and heaven to be shaken. The whole process of life is but a continual loosening and steady progress towards the dissolution of all the corruptible frame. We are in the hands of both Builder and Destroyer. The spiritual life is strengthened and enriched, while the natural is weakened and diminished. That it is so shows that it ought to be so. All bitter and trying experiences only bring the weak and unworthy to the surface and cast it out. Like the corn placed in the ground, we must be ready to decay and die; that even as it presently breaks forth to the air and sunlight, so we may break away from our limitation and darkness into a sinless and sorrowless eternity. This truth may be illustrated
(1) from the physical frame;
(2) from the present mixed relations of life.
III. A very practical question is - HAVE WE EXPERIENCE OF THE UNSHAKEN THINGS? Do we know the work of the Lord Jesus to be our only secure refuge amid the tempests and earthquakes of our life? Can we look away through vicissitudes of time and sense, and feel that far out of their reach is a kingdom of eternal life, which the Lord fills with his life and love and power? Our citizenship must be in the heavenly Jerusalem. - Y.
the kingdom of Christ," "the kingdom of heaven." We also read, "The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." And again, "The Law," i.e. the Jewish economy, "was given by Moses; grace and truth," i.e. Christianity, "came by Jesus Christ." "Grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," are immutable and eternal; these are the elements which constitute the "kingdom which cannot be moved." Christian Churches may pass away; but Christianity ever abides and ever grows. Christian denominations and sects may die; but the Church of Christ ever lives and advances towards its position of supreme and world-wide sovereignty. Again, "grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," as realized by the individual Christian, are not constant and permanent. Our consciousness of these things may vary and fluctuate; but the things themselves cannot be moved. The presence of the sun in the heavens may be veiled from us; but the sun is there, calm and luminous as ever. Clouds may hide every star from our view, and present to us a canopy of pitchy blackness; but the stars are not lost - beyond and above the clouds they pursue their appointed courses. So the consciousness of the kingdom within us may be disturbed and suspended and lost fur a time; but the kingdom is not lost, or suspended, or disturbed. If we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we have "received a kingdom which cannot be moved." Let us now fix our attention upon some of the chief teachings of the text.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS A SOVEREIGN POWER. It is "a kingdom;" "the kingdom of God;" "the kingdom of Christ;" "the kingdom of heaven;" the "kingdom which cannot be moved." Jesus claims supreme authority over the heart and life of all men, and over all institutions and societies. He claims to be the King of men. Have we received Christianity as a ruling power in our lives? Some accept it only for purposes of study and speculation; others only by manifesting towards it a little respect and interest; others admit it to a limited measure of control over them. But none of these has received the "kingdom which cannot be moved." He who has not welcomed the Lord Jesus as his King has not truly welcomed him at all. Personal Christianity is a sovereign power and person in the soul, ruling the thoughts and words, the desires and feelings, the purposes and actions of our being - ruling, in a word, our whole life. Have we so received Christ?
II. CHRISTIANITY AS A SOVEREIGN POWER IS UNCHANGEABLE AND EVERLASTING. "A kingdom which cannot be moved." We have seen that this kingdom is "grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." These are immutable and abiding things; They are essential to the being and character of God, and he is unchangeable and eternal. And these things as possessed by his people are derived from him. Ephemeral is the seeming reign of falsehood and wrong; eternal is the reign of truth and righteousness - the kingdom of God. Amid change and decay, amid revolution and dissolution, here is an abiding thing, a sovereign and eternal thing. Have we received the "grace and truth," the "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost"? Then we have received the immovable kingdom, the kingdom which rests upon the eternal and unchangeable God.
1. Mark the blessedness of the true Christian. Amid all the painful uncertainties and changes of this life, he possesses the unalterable and the certain. He has a portion and an inheritance which shall nut be taken away from him. He will carry his wealth with him into eternity, and it will increase forever. "Grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," are incorporated with his very being, and will never pass away from him. The blessed and permanent "kingdom of God is within" him.
2. Here is the basis of an argument for the immediate acceptance of Christianity, or rather, of the Christ. Christianity is not to give place to any other remedial dispensation. The patriarchal form of religion passed away, and the Mosaic system followed; that in its turn passed away with the advent and growth of Christianity, which will never be removed until the end of time. God will not speak to us with any voice more attractive, persuasive, or convincing than that by which he now addresses us. "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not," etc. (vers. 25 - 27). Accept at once the blessings and obligations of this kingdom. - W.J.
I. THE CARNAL HOPES OF ISRAEL. We know well from the Gospels what notions the disciples had of a visible kingdom, with its center of power and glory in the earthly Jerusalem. It was a dominating thought among them down to the very departure of their master. They greeted him, getting ready for his ascension, with the inquiry whether he was about to restore the kingdom to Israel; And we may well suppose that among all the Hebrew Christians this hope prevailed to the last. A spiritual and invisible kingdom could not all at once become manifest. And as a visible kingdom retreated further and further into the region of improbabilities, this would add another trial to whatever came in the way of personal suffering. They had prayed the prayer, "Thy kingdom come," but prayed it too much after their own fancies. And now to their sorrowing eyes it looked a kingdom clean going forever.
II. THE CONTRASTED OBJECT OF EVERY CHRISTIAN'S HOPE. The writer has just been dividing existing things into the shaken and the unshaken. Naturally, therefore, considering what the hopes of Hebrew Christians had been, there follows a reference to an unshaken kingdom. The true Israelite does well to keep his thoughts fixed on a kingdom. But let him be careful not to neglect the reality for the phantom. God desires a kingdom based on something more than material force, for such kingdoms can only get built up through ambition, cruelty, violence, and injustice. God has promised a kingdom, and his promise cannot be broken; but it must be kept in his own way. That kingdom has its foundation in the accepted claim and power of Christ over the individual human heart. We may say of that kingdom what Paul says of the love of God in Christ Jesus, "that neither death, nor life,... nor things present, nor things to come. . . nor any other creature, should be able to shake the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ." It cometh without observation; the inspection of the natural eye will never discern it; the assaults of the natural man operate in another realm altogether.
III. THE EFFECT OF THIS RECEIVED KINGDOM. "Let us have grace," says the writer. What he really means is, "Let us show thankfulness." Instead of sorrowing over a corrupt ideal vanished, let us be deeply thankful for a Divine reality that cannot pass away. The old mode of serving God has gone forever. The old temple, with its altar and its holy place, its sacrifices and its priests, can never be aught but a memory. The foreshadowing service of outward ceremonies is gone, and the true spiritual service has forever taken its place. And recollect especially the same God remains. God appointed the old λατρεία (Hebrews 9:1) from amid all the terrors of Sinai. And he is not the less God of Sinai because he appears in the gentler aspect of Father of Christ Jesus. Israel's God Jehovah was a consuming fire upon occasion, and the same indignation and power reside in him still. Whatever outward form our λατρεία may fake - and there is much latitude in this - there must ever be a deep feeling of personal unworthiness and of humblest adoration. Outward pomp in itself, however costly, however laborious, cannot please the spiritual God; if it have no heart of spirituality and sincerity, the fires of his wrath will soon lick it all away. - Y.