Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE BEGINNING ALREADY MADE IN CHRISTIANITY. Here are six first principles or elements of Christianity, with which those persons to whom this letter is addressed are supposed to be acquainted. These elementary principles may be classified in three groups of two in each group.
(1) Two initial experiences of the Christian life.
(2) Two Christian symbolic customs.
(3) Two Christian doctrines of future events. Let us briefly notice each of these first principles.
1. "Repentance from dead works." Expositors differ as to whether these are the works of the Law, or the works of sin, which indicate spiritual death and lead on to eternal death. Probably the writer means the observances of the moral and ceremonial laws of the Jews, by which they sought to attain unto righteousness and to commend themselves unto God. And in our own times there are those who endeavor by the performance of righteous and praiseworthy actions to merit acceptance with God. Such works are dead unless they spring from a heart in vital sympathy with God. Repentance from these works is the renunciation of them as a ground of acceptance with God, and the withdrawal of our faith from them.
2. "Faith toward God. That this is the Christian faith in God is clear from the earlier clause - the principles of the doctrine of Christ." Probably, as Alford suggests, the best exposition of this faith in God is found in the words of St. Paul: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, iris faith is reckoned for righteousness" (Romans 4:5). It is faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. And as by repentance the Christian abandons the dead works of the Law as a reason for his acceptance with God, so by this faith he enters into vital and saving relation to the living God.
3. "The teaching of baptisms," or washings. There are three, or more, interpretations of this clause. That the baptisms are
(1) the baptism of John and the Christian baptism;
(2) the baptism of water and that of the Holy Spirit;
(3) the various washings of the ceremonial law of the Jews, and probably including the baptism of John and Christian baptism.
The nature and significance of these washings in their relation to Christianity would certainly be taught to Jewish converts to the Christian faith. The chief point for us is this, that all these washings and baptisms were symbols of spiritual cleansing. The one essential baptism, which is also the fulfillment of all other baptisms, is that of the Holy Spirit.
4. "The teaching of the laying on of hands. This may mean, as Alford says, the reference and import of all that imposition of hands, which was practiced under the Law, and found in some cases its continuance under the gospel." To us, however, it seems more probable that it indicates the impartation of spiritual gifts, and especially the gift of the Holy Ghost, of which the laying on of hands was the outward symbol, as in Acts 8:15-17; Acts 19:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6.
5. "The teaching of resurrection of the dead. This doctrine was brought into clear light by the great Teacher. The hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice," etc. (John 5:28, 29). The apostles also declared it: "There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Our Lord's resurrection forcibly confirmed the doctrine.
6. "The teaching of eternal judgment. A future and general judgment is certain. Jesus Christ pictorially described it (Matthew 25:31-46). St. Paul asserted it: God hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness," etc.; "We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ Each one of us shall give account of himself to God." This judgment is characterized as "eternal," probably because it is "part of the proceedings of eternity, and thus bearing the character and stamp of eternal." Its awards, moreover, are eternal (Matthew 25:46). Now, these six things belong to the beginning of Christian teaching and life; they are "first principles of the oracles of God." And they are to be left. How? Not in the sense of discarding them, but of advancing beyond them. Or, as in the figure employed in the text, they constitute a foundation, and are to be left behind as the foundation of a building is left as the superstructure rises towards completeness. "When we have once become settled in the first principles of our religion," says John Howe, "we need not be always exposing them to a continual extort (nation; for when shall that building be finished, the foundations of which must be every day torn up anew, upon pretence of further caution and more diligent search? Or when will he reach his journey's end, who is continually vexed with causeless anxieties about his way, and whether he began a right course, yea or no?"
II. THE GOAL YET TO BE ATTAINED IN CHRISTIANITY. "Let us go on unto perfection," or full growth, or maturity. This may be said to comprise:
1. Maturity of Christian knowledge. Advancement beyond the elementary principles unto the higher and deeper truths of the oracles of God. A clearer apprehension and a wider comprehension of religious truth.
2. Maturity of Christian experience. The truth apprehended by the intellect must be assimilated by the heart and soul. Mental perceptions must grow into spiritual convictions. From repentance and faith the Christian must press on into the enjoyment of "the fullness of the blessing of Christ" (cf. Ephesians 3:16-19).
3. Maturity of Christian conduct. The truth apprehended by the intellect and experienced in the heart, must be expressed in the life and practice. Growing religious faith and feeling should be manifested by words and actions of ever-increasing conformity to the holy will of God. In this respect let us imitate the example of St. Paul: "[Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect," etc. (Philippians 3:12-14). - W.J.
I. NOTICE THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF THE TEACHING WHICH THESE BELIEVERS HAD ENJOYED. The foundations had been laid in those essential truths which embraced" faith toward God," whose constant presence, glorious character, and matchless love in Christ Jesus shone upon their souls, and displaced the chili and darkness of unbelief. This led to the rejection of "dead works," which were works that had no life of God in them. Then followed the doctrine of baptisms; and they were taught the difference between proselyte baptism, the baptism of John, and that which was administered in "the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The "laying on of hands" was the solemn consecration of the candidate to God; and in the apostolic times was the ceremony connected with the gift of the Holy Ghost and the communication of supernatural powers (Acts 8:17). "The resurrection of the dead" was declared with explicitness, and the solemn event of the final judgment enforced, in which our Lord would review the life and determine the future condition of mankind. These truths involved many others which were needful to complete the course, and doubtless embraced the atonement of our Lord, the work of the Holy Spirit, personal and social means of grace, which consist of prayer, worship, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. From such a foundation there should arise the stable fabric of a noble life.
II. THE EXHORTATION TO ADVANCE DEPENDENT UPON THE DIVINE PERMISSION, The inspired writer places himself among other believers, and associates his purpose and hope to advance with them in the career of that spiritual improvement which shall be crowned with final success. He avows that opportunity and disposition depend upon God alone. It might be that some to whom he wrote had gone so far back and had relapsed into such conditions of neglect and apostasy that he could not positively affirm that they would be awakened to a nobler life and an ardent pursuit of salvation. The bodily life of himself and others was totally dependent upon the will of God, and even at the longest it was as a vapor, that appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away. Since there are signs in the Epistle that Jewish Christians had "no continuing city," and the predicted overthrow and destruction of Jerusalem might come suddenly, and the opportunities of teaching and worship might be rudely and finally ended, it behooved him to refer to the permission of God that he and ethers might press on to completer knowledge, larger faith, and nobler service. - B.
ἀρχὴ looks forward, as a matter of course, to a τελειότης: and. every true τελειότης, when looked into, reveals a right ἀρχή. Hence we have -
I. THE RIGHT STARTING-POINT. Presuming that perfection is wanted, we must start rightly; and there is here indicated, somewhat in detail, what that right start is. True, there is to us some obscurity in the detail. We cannot be sure of the exact meaning of each of the expressions, but of the great general drift there can be no doubt. The Hebrew had been for centuries in expectation of the Christ. The beginning of the Christ was really an immemorial thing. The Anointed of God, bringing in his train all good things, had been proclaimed by Divine messengers and. accepted by the people. And here in these details, called a foundation, are set forth the acts showing the acceptance of the Christ. Note how these details can be classified. There is what we turn from, and what we turn toward. In the proclamation of the Christ a summons to repentance was always implied. Turn away from dead works. Works of the hand, and not of the heart, were superstitious externalities. But if a man is to turn away effectively from useless endeavors, he must have some definite point to which to turn. And so there is the mention of trust in God as well as repentance. These are the two really important points in considering the start of a man's connection with Christ. Promptly, decidedly, and from the heart, he must forsake dead works; and in the same spirit he must trust in the living God.
II. THE CONTINUAL AIM. Completeness as an actual thing must ever be before the mind. "Onward and upward" is the burden of the New Testament everywhere. Foundations are laid that buildings may be erected on them, story climbing above story, till at last, roofed and furnished, they are ready for habitation and use. Very hard work was it to get these Hebrews to see how the old dispensation was only the foundation of the new. They did not like to lose sight of familiar institutions and symbols. But in this they were very much like the man who should keep to childish things. Jesus himself had his time of initiation. He needed not to repent from any dead works, yet he came to John to be baptized along with the sinning, repentant crowd. And when he had entered on his work, with what steadiness he went on! There was no standing still. Every day not only brought him nearer in time to the accomplishment of his decease at Jerusalem, but fitted him for that accomplishment; and so he was able to say, "It is finished." The peril in our case is that we shall go on and on, and when the time comes that we also should say, "It is finished," there will be nothing to show but foundations. And if foundations are foundations and nothing more, then they are really not even foundations. They are but melancholy bits of waste, on which is written, "This man began to build, and was not able to finish." - Y.
I. AN EXCELLENT RESOLUTION EXPRESSED.
1. The thing resolved upon is good. "This will we do;" i.e. leave the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and press on unto perfection. Wishing and hoping are of little avail without resolution.
2. The form of the resolution is good. "This will we do." The writer had himself long passed beyond the elementary principles of Christianity, and had made considerable progress towards perfection; but, placing himself by the side of his readers, he says, "This will we do." It is far more inspiring to say, "Let us do," than to say, "Do ye."
II. AN IMPORTANT CONDITION RECOGNIZED. "If God permit." This does not indicate any doubt on the part of the writer as to whether Christian progress was in harmony with the will of God or not. But it is a becoming acknowledgment of:
1. The absolute sovereignty of God. Our times are in his hand. "Man proposes, God disposes." The apostles frequently realized and expressed this. St. Paul: "I will return again unto you, if God will" (Acts 18:21; see also Romans 15:32; 1 Corinthians 4:19; James 4:15).
2. The uncertainty of human life and opportunities. "God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways." "Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust." "Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and. do this, or that."
3. Human dependence upon the Divine will and help. In the matter of Christian progress we depend upon him for many things; e.g. for the preservation of our reason, the continuance of the means of grace, the help of his Holy Spirit, etc. "Apart from me," said Christ, "ye can do nothing." Let all our plans be formed in subordination to the will of God. It is not necessary that we should frequently express this sentiment; in words, saying, "If God will," or "Please God," or "If God permit," or writing "D.V." Perhaps these expressions are most frequently used by those who but feebly realize their dependence upon him. It is to be feared that as used by many they are empty forms of speech, and that in the sight of Heaven their use is an insincerity, an irreverence, and a taking of the holy Name in vain. But in all things let us cultivate the spirit of humble and hearty dependence upon the holy will of God. - W.J.
I. AN EXALTED CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. "Those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift," etc. Here is a cumulative experience of gospel blessings.
1. Spiritual illumination. "Those who were once enlightened." The mind and heart of the unrenewed man are in a condition of spiritual ignorance and darkness. The wicked are "darkened in their understanding." In conversion men "turn from darkness to light." In the case described in the text man has been enlightened as to his spiritual state, his need of salvation, and. the salvation provided in Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:17, 18).
2. Experience of gospel blessings. "And tasted of the heavenly gift." Tasted is not to be taken in the sense of a mere taste, but personal experience, as in Hebrews 2:9, "Taste death for every man;" and 1 Peter 2:3, "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." In the case before us, man, through Christ, experiences the forgiveness of sins, and peace with God, and spiritual strength.
3. Participation in the presence and influences of the Holy Spirit. "And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost." They share in his instructing, comforting, sanctifying presence and power. "The Spirit of God dwelleth in" them (1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 8:9).
4. Experience of the excellence of God's Word. "And tasted the good Word of God." Probably there is a special reference to the comforting, encouraging, strengthening power of the inspired Word. Or the good "word." is the word of promise, and the tasting of it is the experience of its gracious fulfillment. The use of the Hebrew equivalents supports this view (see Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:15; Jeremiah 29:10; Jeremiah 33:14; Zechariah 1:13).
5. Experience of the spiritual powers of the gospel age. "And tasted the powers of the world to come," or "the age to come." The expression "signifies a personal experience of the mighty energy and saving power of the gospel." Here, then, the religion of Jesus Christ is exhibited as a gracious light in the intellect, a blessed experience in the heart, and a practical redemptive power in the life. How complete and exalted is the personal Christian experience thus delineated!
II. AN AWFUL SPIRITUAL POSSIBILITY. "If they shall fall away... they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
1. Of falling from an exalted spiritual condition. We have noticed the advanced development of Christian character and the full enjoyment of Christian privileges sketched by the writer; and now he speaks of falling away from these great and gracious experiences. The higher the exaltation attained, the more terrible will be the injury sustained, if one should fall from such a height.
2. Of incurring the darkest guilt. "They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was the blackest crime in all the dark annals of human wrong-doing. And if any one having really and richly enjoyed the blessings of the gospel of Christ should fall back into sin, renouncing Christ and Christianity, he would repeat in spirit that terrible crime. "It is often said," wrote F. W. Robertson, "'My sins nailed him to the tree' There is a sense in which this contains a deep truth The crisis of the conflict between the kingdoms of good and evil took place in the death of Christ: the highest manifestation of good in him, the highest manifestation of evil in the persons of those who saw the divinest excellence, and called it Satanic evil. To call evil good, and good evil, to call Divine good Satanic wickedness, - there is no state lower than this. It is the rottenness of the core of the heart; it is the unpardonable because irrecoverable sin. With this evil, in its highest development, the Son of man came into collision. He died unto sin. The prince of this world came and found nothing congenial in him. He was his victim, not his subject. So far as I belong to that kingdom or fight in that warfare, it may be truly said, the Savior died by my sin .... I am a sharer in the spirit to which he fell a victim." But is such a fall as this really possible? To us it seems that the teaching of the Bible and the moral nature of man admit of but one reply as to this possibility.
(1) The hypothesis of the text is not an idle one. It is inconceivable that the Holy Spirit of God should have inspired the writer to mention so awful a fall if it had been an utter impossibility.
(2) The many warnings against apostasy which are addressed to Christians in the sacred Scriptures witness to the possibility of such apostasy. This letter to the Hebrews is one long and powerful warning, persuasion, and exhortation against falling away from Christ.
(3) The constitution of our nature shows this fall to be possible. We are free either to loyally serve God or to wickedly rebel against him, and must ever remain so, or moral distinctions would no longer be applicable to us.
III. AN APPALING MORAL IMPOSSIBILITY. "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance." This "impossible" may not be enfeebled into "very difficult," or other similar expression, as may be seen by an examination of the other passages of this Epistle in which it is found (Hebrews 6:18; Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 11:6). The reason of this impossibility is the moral character and condition of those of whom (should there ever be any of such character) it is predicated. Having once experienced the Divine renewal, they have utterly fallen away from it, and now scornfully reject the only power by which their renewal could be effected. The mightiest spiritual influence in the universe, even the love of God in the death of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners, is derided by them. "They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." "They tear him out of the recesses of their hearts where he had fixed his abode, and exhibit him to the open scoffs and reproach of the world, as something powerless and common" (cf. Hebrews 10:29). Dr. Parker forcibly inquires, "If men have insulted God, poured contempt upon his Son, counted the blood of the covenant as an unworthy thing, grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit, what can possibly remain of a remedial kind? The inquiry is one on which reason may expend its powers. What remains after God has been exhausted?" Let the Christian earnestly heed the solemn warning of our text. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation;" "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for doing these things, ye shall never fall." The surest way of guarding against this terrible fall is to aim at and seek to realize constant spiritual progress. "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection," etc. - W.J.
Whatever this passage means, it contains nothing to discourage the true believer.
1. Because of the plain declarations that the believer cannot perish. This is not a confidence based on isolated texts, though, if any truth may rest on such, it is surely this; but it rests on the most fundamental facts of Scripture, viz. the purpose of the Father that all who believe should be saved; the mediation of the Son for securing the continued faith of his people; the work of the Spirit to the same end; the fact that it is eternal life which is bestowed on faith.
2. Because there are certain considerations here which are often overlooked; e.g. these words were written on purpose to encourage the Hebrews, and therefore to find discouragement in them must be to read them wrong; moreover, whatever evil it points to is with regard to those who "fall away," and not those who fall; and further, whatever impossibility to renew the apostate this speaks of, it is not impossibility on God's part - it is of man's impossibility that he is speaking. It is useless to reiterate these fundamental truths to those who close their ears to them; it is impossible to renew them unto repentance; but God is "not willing that any should perish." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin;" "Whosoever will, let him come;" "The things which are impossible to man are possible to God."
3. Because what is stated of the persons referred to here is true of non-believers, and the passage therefore may, without difficulty, be applied only to these; e.g. "were once enlightened;" others beside Christians are enlightened, as Balaam, "the man whose eyes were opened." "And have tasted of the heavenly gift," which, as John Owen says, is not eating nor digesting. "And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost;" that may refer, as in Acts 19:2, 6, to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost which were given to other than regenerate men, as Judas. "And have tasted of the good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come;" it is no misuse of language to apply this to those who, by the preaching of the gospel, are led to deep feeling and serious thought. So, however natural it may be to apply all this to the Christian, it does not necessarily apply to him; and when we find the tenor of Scripture is against such application, we accept the latter alternative fearlessly. Subject - The danger of apostasy arising from immature apprehension of Christian truth.
I. THE SOLEMN WARNING OF THE DANGER AND GUILT OF APOSTASY.
1. These men were in danger of "falling away," or there would be no meaning in the apostle's words. He would not have written the Epistle if he had not feared. He does not say the Christian could fall away, but he implies that these men could. He is not sure of their possession of vital godliness, only continuance is the test of vitality. All outward Christian characteristics may be ours, yet the apostate's guilt and doom may be ours.
2. But this "falling away is in reality the rejection of Christ. They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh;" i.e. reject him, repeat in effect for themselves the old cry," Away with him! crucify him!" Note that to turn the back on Christ is to repeat the guilt of the men of eighteen centuries ago, and the Savior's grief.
3. And this rejection is followed by the final judgment of God. "For the land which bath drunk in the rain," etc., equivalent to "to receive God's good gifts, and bring forth fruit as the result," is to ensure the Divine blessing; but to receive them and only produce thistles is to stand in danger of God's curse. What can be the hope of the rejecter of God's Son? What sin can be greater, or doom more terrible? The rejection of Christ is the great damning sin of all.
II. THE GRACIOUS HOPE OF THEIR PRESERVATION FROM THE SIN OF APOSTASY. "But, beloved, we are persuaded," etc.
1. Self-denying service for God may be an evidence of true Christian life. Religious activity is no proof of Christian life, but it affords reason for hope that the life is there. Where there is no religious activity there is little reason to believe in the existence of vital piety, for it is the genius of Christianity to spread itself.
2. One reward of this service is the bestowment of sustaining and delivering grace. Our works cannot claim anything of God, but he is pleased to reward them; and what if the reward for fidelity in a few things should be grace to be faithful in many things! In heaven, more glory will be the reward of service; on earth, more grace.
III. THE NECESSARY EFFORT, IF APOSTASY IS TO BE AVOIDED. The tenth verse shows that we are only kept from "falling away" by Divine grace; but since God gives grace through human instrumentalities, there is something for us to do if we are to be kept from this fatal evil. That fact is recognized here, for the former part of the parenthesis must be read with this; there we get the antidote to the tendency to apostatize.
1. Growth in the Divine life. You must either grow or decline. Growth is the only safeguard to "falling away." Those whose early vigor is becoming feebler and feebler are on the road to prove they never possessed Divine vitality, and to the crucifixion to themselves of the Son of God.
2. This growth is only possible through the deeper knowledge of Christ. Growth needs solid food. Milk may sustain life; only solid food can build up life. Growth in the knowledge of Christ is the secret of growth in his likeness. - C.N.
experience of some who have gone back from following Christ are very full and distinct. They include illumination, by which they were translated out of darkness into marvelous light. They had tasted of the heavenly gift of salvation, and had been justified freely by his grace. The Holy Spirit had dwelt within him. They had tasted the good Word of God in the precious promise of eternal life, and had enjoyed the possession of some miraculous powers which are described as "the powers of the age to come." Yet they fell away, and became bold and defiant contemners of the Son of God; and repeated as far as they could the crucifixion of our Lord by their bitter derision of his claims to be the true Messiah. In spirit and speech they put once more the crown of thorns on his brow, the reed in his hand, and cried, "Away with him!" Such daring impiety seems to present an example of the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is punished with judicial blindness and impenitency now, and the Divine anger in the life to come. It was impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they refused the only remedy which could restore them; and may have haply resembled some of the serpent-bitten Hebrews in the desert who rejected the Divine provision for their recovery, and paid the penalty of death for their unbelief and disobedience. The passage concludes with an illustration drawn from the cultivation bestowed on different kinds of soil. One is watered by the river of God, which is full of water and cherished by the sunlight, and produces crops for the use and comfort of man. Such soil has received and used the Divine blessing, and is an object of sabbatic delight to him who rejoices in the success of his plant and the comfort of mankind. Another kind of soil represents that nature which, with all the aids of heaven and opportunities of spiritual good, produces objections and disobedience; and "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." For such there is a "fearful looking for of judgment," which is foreshadowed in the curse pronounced upon rebellious Israel: "And that whole land is brimstone, and salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath" (Deuteronomy 29:23). By such varied motives and appeals does inspiration warn us against the sin and punishment of drawing back from Christ, and encourage us by the blessedness of abiding with him for safety and fruitfulness. - B.
I. THE BACKSLIDER, IN FALLING AWAY, HAS FALLEN FROM EXCEEDING GREAT PRIVILEGES. He who was enlightened by a great steady light, shining on him once for all, has yet fallen back into practical darkness. He is not in darkness because the light has gone, but because he has shut it more and more from the inward eye. The light is there, more and more rejoiced in by persevering believers, but he has become willingly negligent of the benefits. The free, peculiar gift of Heaven, Jesus Christ himself, once accepted, is now despised. The Holy Spirit of God, the great Pentecostal communication dwelling with the backslider, is yet shut out from the sympathies of his heart. Renewing and sanctifying work has ceased. The good Word of God, heavenly truth, heavenly promises, all that God has given as daily bread for the hungering inward life, all that shows how man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God, - all this has lost its relish. The powers of the age to come, so much greater than any powers of the present age, are little by little left unused. We have an actual instance of the backslider in Demas. "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." Demas had been put in the midst of heavenly light and heavenly food - nay, more; he was in the companionship of one who had received all these heavenly things to the full, and profited by them as much as any man ever profited. It is not a little treasure from which the backslider turns, under the dominion of carnal affections.
II. THE GREAT PROOF THEREBY AFFORDED OF HUMAN WEAKNESS. The theory of many is that if good things be put before a man he is sure at last to welcome them to his heart, and get all that they have to give, even to their innermost influences. But the fact for which God's Spirit would ever prepare us is that this present world is an object very fascinating. These glorious gifts of God in Christ Jesus mean that we must persevere in an arduous and lengthened effort to get at their fullness. The backslider is one who does not trouble to pierce the phenomena of grace, and so lay hold of the spiritual realities. He forgets his weakness, or rather he does not rightly believe how weak he is. Here is a new meaning of the saying, that when we are weak then we are strong; for, knowing our weakness, we distrust ourselves, and keep ourselves open to the inflowing of God.
III. THE GROUNDS OF HOPE THAT LIE HIDDEN IN THIS PASSAGE. It is impossible to renew the backslider again to repentance. So the passage plainly says; and if we take it in isolation and in bald literalness, it gives the backslider but a poor prospect. And yet the backslider is the very one who needs encouragement. We must not, therefore, let this word "impossible" so fill the field of thought as to exclude the most hopeful considerations. Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. But it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Therefore it is impossible for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. It must be distinctly put before the mind what a barrier worldly possessions are; and then the hope-inspiring word comes in, "With God all things are possible." Yea, with God it is possible to turn the backslider into the right way again, and set him forward with a recovered love and a strengthened heart. We do not know but what Demas came back again, and furnished in the end a crowning proof of how great are the powers of the world to come. - Y.
I. We are to imagine TWO MEN PUT INTO EXACTLY SIMILAR POSITIONS WITH REGARD TO THE BENEFITS OF DIVINE GRACE. Just as two contiguous pieces of land have the same copious showers falling on them, so two men may come under the same religious influences. There may, perhaps, be peculiar spiritual advantages in one district which are lacking in another, though even so much as this has to be said guardedly; for we must believe that in the end all men shall have enough light to throw upon them the responsibility of neglecting salvation. But one thing we do see, that men, so far as we can judge, under the same spiritual influences, meet those influences in quite different ways. One is attentive, the other negligent. One is receptive, the other unresponding. Nay, as the illustration puts it, both may be receptive, but differently receptive, so that there are very different ultimate results. The earth is represented as drinking in the oft-recurring showers. One man drinks in the grace and. truth of God so that they energize all the powers of his heart, and he puts forth corresponding fruit. Another drinks in God's truth, seems to appreciate it, but when the result is looked for nothing comes but noxious growths.
II. THE DECLARATION OF RESPONSIBILITY AND CORRESPONDING JUDGMENT. If one man is fruitful of good works, and another fruitful only of evil ones, then God will treat the men correspondingly. Compare with the illustration here, the parable of the talents. God is not arbitrary. It is we who determine how God shall treat us ultimately, for he treats men on great eternal principles. It is for men to be wise and diligent in time, and recognize the principles. It is sometimes asked why thorns and briers and wasting weeds have ever had existence. The answer may be that these were first of all made to be illustrations to men. Thorns and briers are burnt without hesitation, that the very seeds and germs of them may, if possible, be blotted out of existence. And if men will put out from their lives - from lives that have been so divinely blessed - nothing but thorny and briery products, then they must expect these to be for burning. All evil things must perish. Our folly is in building up the evil which must go, rather than the good which will remain. - Y.
I. THE PERSUASION AND PROOF OF THEIR HOPEFUL CONDITION. After the solemn and alarming appeals to their conscience, the inspired writer addresses them with brotherly affection, and, having styled them "beloved," expresses his persuasion that there was in them things that accompanied salvation. They gave clear evidence that they were in Christ, and therefore far from that state of profane contempt which exposed to such fearful retribution. This persuasion was founded upon their persevering love to believers; for they had ministered to them, and continued to express their kindness to the poor of the household of faith. They rendered gracious service to distressed Christians who, in times of persecution and amid the pressure of poverty, needed their help, which was doubtless tendered with sympathy and benignity of manner. Hereafter they would hear the voice of their Lord saying unto them, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." Such conduct showed faith, courage, and kindness, and redounded to the honor of the Name of God, and glorified him in the presence of the children of men. Mutual love among Christians was noticed as a peculiarity and distinction by Lucian and the Emperor Julian. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). In the spirit of Christ, who would not "break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax," the author of the Epistle notices the signs of their spiritual life, and instructs them to look forward to the time when they who cast their bread on the waters shall find it after many days; for God is not only not unrighteous to forget, but delighted to honor and recompense all service rendered to his people and for the glory of his Name.
II. THE EARNEST EXHORTATION TO THE REALIZATION OF THE PRIVILEGE OF CHRISTIAN HOPE. The scope of the appeal reminds us of the words of Paul, who said that he had not attained; but, leaving the things that were behind, he was pressing forward to those that were before. The ideal Christian, in the parable of our Lord, represents unbroken progress from blade to ear, and from the ear to full corn in the ear. Believers are to seek the full assurance of hope, which has a mighty and purifying power; for "we are saved by hope;" and if it is like a ship with outspread sails under a vigorous breeze, the vessel moves with speed to the desired haven. To enjoy this hope there must be a resistance to that torpor and drowsiness which lead us to say, "A little more sleep, a little more slumber, and a little more folding of the hands to sleep." The voice of inspiration is, "Be vigilant;" "Let us not sleep, as do others;" "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise, and Christ shall give thee light." Encouragement is supplied to perseverance from the success which others have attained. "The spirits of just men made perfect" are already reaping the blessed results of their earnest pursuit and unwearied diligence. Faith prompted them to begin and continue the career, and gave them patience to endure the contrast between present trial and future glory. To stimulate in this course, believers are urged to imitate their example, that they may share in the blessedness which they now enjoy. - B.
I. THE WRITER'S TONE OF AFFECTIONATE SOLICITUDE. He who has twice addressed his readers as brethren, now calls them beloved. His affection is hitherto implied; now it needs for a moment to be asserted; and the brotherhood must also be borne in mind, though not asserted. The readers of the Epistle might ask, "Why does this man lecture us so, calling us νωθροί, and exhibiting to us such dreadful possibilities of disaster?" The answer is that he does it all in true brotherly affection. The word pointing to safety and completeness must be spoken in time. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.
II. HIS WORDS OF HOPE AND CONFIDENCE. These people are in a state by no means satisfactory so far as Christian hope and aspiration are concerned, lingering among the beginnings instead of growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. But such people ought always to be approached in a conciliatory and encouraging spirit. The writer feels he has good ground for saying that the doom of the land bringing forth thorns and briers will not be theirs, He can see in them better things - things that belong to safety, not to destruction. Mark how the spirit of Christianity is never a fault-finding spirit. This has to be noticed all the more because the Spirit of God has to find so many faults in men - in the Christian, as a rule, more than others. But wherever there is good it is recognized and appreciated. Thus Paul, who had. so many hard things to say to the Church at Corinth, begins by thanking God that this same Church came behind in no gift. The bright, the creditable, the hopeful side must always be looked at. Then rebukes and warnings from an evidently pure motive will come with increased force. Notice, too, the ground for this hope. These people are genuine enough so far as the spirit of practical beneficence is concerned. There is love in their hearts towards God and Christian people. They have ministered, not without toil, to the wants of the saints; nor are they weary in well-doing, for they are ministering still. How could a Christian brother speak to any such save in a large-hearted spirit of hope?
III. THE NEED OF A DILIGENT REGARD TO THE CHRISTIAN'S DESTINY. We may minister to saints and yet not be in full sympathy with them. He who ministers to the saints does a good thing as far as he goes; but the pity is that very often he is ministering to those who have a far brighter hope than any he has. There are many loving-hearted, generous people in the world who are not Christians, who do not profess to know the Christian's repentance, the Christian's faith, the Christian's hope; and in the particular case here dealt with there is the curious contradiction of a Christian life existing as far as beneficence is concerned, but paralyzed as it were in the element of hope. Now, here is one sign of a normal, healthy Christian life, namely, that it is moving under the full assurance of hope. We should be looking forward, with a constant certainty of feeling, to the glories, the blessedness, and the perfection which await us. And this hope is only to come by activity of heart according to the will of God. If there is interest in Divine truth, increasing spiritual-mindedness, more power to discriminate between the temporal and eternal, the seen and the unseen, the outward man and the inward man, then hope will grow. A reasonably hopeful spirit is the sure result of fidelity, prayerfulness, insight into the purpose of the work of Christ; and the writer of this Epistle evidently felt that to be without this special Christian hopefulness was to be in a position, not only of loss and suffering, but even of peril unspeakable. - Y.
I. IN ITS EXEMPLARY EXERCISE. "Ye ministered unto the saints, and still do minister."
1. The nature of this ministry.
(1) Probably pecuniary aid to the poor. Saints may be in secular poverty. Lazarus the saint was an afflicted beggar; the man who was not a saint was "rich, clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." "Did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith?" etc. (James 2:5). The persons addressed in our Epistle probably sent contributions of money to certain of their fellow-Christians who were in poverty (see Acts 11:29, 80; Romans 15:25, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 8., 9.).
(2) Sympathy with the afflicted and persecuted. "Becoming partakers with them that were so used" (i.e. reproached and persecuted). "For ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds," etc. (Hebrews 10:32-34). A worthy tribute this to most noble and beautiful conduct. Such ministering to the saints was especially becoming in the disciples of him who "bore our griefs and carried our sorrows," and who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister," etc.
2. The continuousness of this ministry. "And still do minister." Their kind feeling did not expend itself in one effort or in one contribution. Their conduct in this respect is exemplary. We shall do well if we imitate them (cf. Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 13:16; 1 John 3:17).
II. IN ITS EXALTED MOTIVE. "The love which ye showed towards his Name." They ministered to the saints because they loved God. This is the noblest of motives. Let us consider it. It involves:
1. Gratitude to God. They ministered to those who were his, because he had done so much for them. Gratitude eagerly inquires, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?" We serve him by serving his saints.
2. Devotion to God. This ministry was expressive of more than gratitude to God. The Christian's love to God is more than gratitude to him. It includes reverent admiration of him, and willing consecration to him of the heart's holiest feeling and the life's best service. And ministry to his saints for the love which we have for him he accepts as ministry to himself. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it," etc. (Matthew 25:40, 45).
3. Recognition of the common relationship to God of both the givers and the receivers of this help. They showed their love toward his Name by this ministry, because they felt that they and those to whom they ministered were alike his children. They realized their common brotherhood, hence they voluntarily shared their afflictions. This is the most exalted motive for Christian service - love to God. It is most disinterested, most inspiring, most sustaining.
III. IN ITS CERTAIN REWARD. "God is not unrighteous to forget your work," etc. But did this ministry to the saints give the ministers a claim upon God for reward? Would he have been unjust if he had not remembered and rewarded their works? Two facts compel us to answer, "No;" viz.
(1) that all the good works of Christians are imperfect;
(2) that the inspiration for every good work proceeds from him. The righteousness of God spoken of in our passage, says Ebrard, "is that which leads, guides, and governs every man according to the particular stage of development which he occupies. It is here affirmed of God that he does not give up to perdition a man who can still in any way be saved, in whom the new life is not yet entirely extinct, and who has not yet entirely fallen away; but that he seeks to draw every one as long as they will allow themselves to be drawn." It would not be just in God to withdraw his gracious assistance from one who was producing the fruits of Christian faith; for he has pledged his word that he will save such persons, he will not forget their work and labor of love. "God will not forget you, for that would be ceasing to be God. If God were to forget for one moment, the universe would grow black - vanish - rush out again from the realm of law and order into chaos and night." Most encouraging are the declarations of this truth in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 4:31; Isaiah 49:14-16; Hebrews 13:5). This not forgetting their work and the love which they showed toward his Name implies:
1. Preservation from apostasy. This is the point of connection with the main argument. Their production of the fruits of Christian faith was an evidence that they were not falling away from Christ. And God would keep those who out of love to him ministered to his saints.
2. Generous recognition of their services... Nothing is overlooked, nothing of Christian work is unrecognized or unacknowledged by him.
1. An example of Christian ministry. Imitate it.
2. An example of a sure method of guarding against apostasy. Do not think of apostasy, but of continuous progress. Produce the fruits of good works out of love to God, and you most effectively preclude spiritual defection or decline. - W.J.
I. THE WRITER ENCOURAGES THE CULTIVATION OF CHRISTIAN HOPE. He says he is full of hope with regard to them, and desires that they would cherish that hope for themselves. (Note: It is remarkable, if the previous verses are aimed against assurance, that they should occur in a passage which reveals the writer's ardent desire not to destroy assurance, but to increase it!)
1. Hope must be preceded by faith. The Epistle is addressed to those who have faith, and to these it is said - Go on to hope. Hope is higher than faith. Faith reveals; hope anticipates.
2. Hope is, to a great extent, the fruit of spiritual diligence. "Diligence unto," etc. It is the work of the Spirit ("Abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost"), but it is also spoken of as though it were secured by human diligence. God gives this fruit in the soul's vineyard to human toil. Hope can be cultivated by an increase of Christian knowledge; its lack is due to neglect of Scripture. Also by constant meditation - meditation on the things we know about. Also by the right use of the discipline of sorrow, for sorrow carries in it the message, "Set your affections on things above." We can have hope if we are willing to pay the price for it.
3. Hope tends to the production of full assurance. It is the fruit of assurance, and bears a seed which sows itself in the heart, and produces assurance in its turn. Earthly hopes do not tend to assurance - they may disappoint; but the hope based on Scripture is declared to be the work of the Spirit; and since he could not deceive us, there must be a reality corresponding to this. "If it were not so, I would have told you."
II. THE WRITER AFFIRMS THAT THE GROUND OF CHRISTIAN HOPE IS THE INFALLIBILITY OF GOD'S WORD ABOUT CHRIST. In showing the ground on which hope is possible, the case of Abraham is introduced as an illustration. He was a conspicuous example of hope (Romans 4:18; Hebrews 11:10) and his hope is here said to have been founded on the Divine promise. Thus:
1. Christian hope is based on the Divine Word. Not on experience, feelings, attainments - these are sand; but on the infallible truth of God's utterance - that is rock.
2. This Divine Word is confirmed by an oath. God's oath is not more true than his simple declaration, but he condescends to it in pity for our infirm faith. God swears by himself, i.e. he appeals to the perfections of his own nature. Is not as much as that implied in every "Verily, verily, I say unto you"? Think of a soul refusing to trust God when - I say it reverently - he is on his oath!
3. The particular Word on which hope is based is the Word about Christ's high priesthood. Our hope is fixed on that which is within the veil, that is, Jesus. (Note: Before this parenthesis begins, the apostle was resting his argument on Psalm 110., "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever," etc. The perpetual high priesthood of Jesus was secured by the Divine oath. In this passage, therefore, the writer is, no doubt, referring to the same oath about Christ, with which the reference to Jesus within the veil corresponds.) In what capacity is Jesus within the veil? He is there as Redeemer, presenting his atoning blood which cries for mercy. He is there as Intercessor, the High Priest with the graven breastplate, and the incense of prevailing prayer for his people. He is there as Forerunner, pledge of his people's exaltation: "Where I am, there shall also," etc. God has said, promised, sworn all this. What an infallible ground of hope for those who simply flee for refuge to lay hold thereof!
III. THE WRITER POINTS OUT THE POWER OF THIS CHRISTIAN HOPE TO PRODUCE CHRISTIAN STEADFASTNESS. "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul." They are vacillating, in danger of falling away. Hope can hold them fast.
1. Hope prevents our drifting away with the current. In Christ we have reached the soul's haven, but even there - idly rocking on a peaceful sea - we are in peril. Life's calm may lull us to slumber, and noiseless currents carry us away to where he is not - where the soul makes shipwreck, and is saved only "on boards." The antidote to this evil is in the soul's hope fixed on Christ within the veil, the affections set on things above, "where Christ," etc.
2. Hope holds us safe in the storms. When a storm is gathering, ships enter the bay and anchor there in safety. Storms of temptation, and sorrow sweeping down on us with a cruel blast, are the time to fix our hope - our longing desire, calm confidence, eager anticipation - on Christ within the veil. To cast out anchor then, and wish for the day, is to ride out the storm unhurt.
3. Hope keeps us within cheering sight of the shore. You are come to the harbor, but not permitted to enter; but the anchor of hope holds you fast there, and the sweet sounds and gracious influences of the fair land, to be yours presently, are yours now. - C.N.
I. THERE ARE THOSE WHO HAVE ENTERED UPON THE POSSESSION OF THE BLESSINGS PROMISED BY GOD TO HIS FAITHFUL PEOPLE. "Them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." What are these promises? What is this inheritance? It is variously described. "Perfection" (ver. 1); "the joy of our Lord" (Matthew 25:21); a "mansion" in our "Father's house" (John 14:2); the rest which remaineth for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9); "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled," etc. (1 Peter 1:4). In a word, it is "eternal life" - heaven. There are some who have taken possession of tiffs inheritance. With them it is not future, but present; not believed in, but realized; not hoped for, but enjoyed. The eleventh chapter of this Epistle refers to a great number who have entered upon the inheritance. St. John saw "a great multitude, which no man could number," etc. (Revelation 7:9, 10). Millions more have joined them from prison-cells, from the martyr's gory block and fiery stake, from dread battle-fields, from wrecks on furious seas, from the wards of noble hospitals, and from the quiet chambers and gentle ministries of loving homes. The countless hosts are increasing every hour. How inspiring is this fact!
II. THEY HAVE ENTERED UPON THIS POSSESSION BY THE EXERCISE OF FAITH AND PATIENCE. Faith in the existence of the promised blessings and in the promise to bestow them, is what is meant here. Faith in the unseen, in the future life, in heaven, in God and his promises. Many who inherit the promises were giants in faith (Hebrews 11:33-35). And patience. They were sorely tried, but they patiently endured. They had to wait the fulfillment of the promises, and they waited patiently. But "patience" here does not simply mean passive endurance, but active fidelity; not merely quiet waiting, but diligent working. It is "patience in well-doing" (Romans 2:7). By these means they entered upon the inheritance - faith, patience, and diligence; believing, waiting, and working.
III. THESE INHERITORS OF THE PROMISED BLESSINGS ARE EXAMPLES TO US. "That ye be not slothful, but imitators of them," etc. We are greatly influenced by examples. We are imitators by nature. To a great extent we have become what we are by imitation. Unconsciously we imitate others. Unconsciously others imitate us. But as to intentional imitation - whom shall we imitate? There is but One whom we may imitate in all things; but one perfect Example. But to a certain extent all holy men are examples to us; all who have entered heaven are worthy of imitation in some respects. We tread the same path which they trod - "the King's highway of holiness." We aim at the same end - perfection, eternal life, heaven. They have gained their end, succeeded in their pursuit, reached the goal. Let us imitate them:
1. In their faith. Believe in God's promises of perfection and blessedness. But this involves faith in Jesus Christ; because
(1) he revealed to us perfection, eternal life, and heaven;
(2) he is for us the only way to perfection and heaven. "In none other is there salvation," etc. (Acts 4:12). Hold fast your confidence in eternal life, and trust in the Lord and Savior for its attainment.
2. In their patience. In darkness and tempest, in sin and sorrow, let us not lose heart or hope; but trust and wait. And, like theirs, let our waiting be joined with working. "Be not slothful." Their lives were active and earnest. Shall we be slothful in an age like this? slothful in a life like ours? slothful when heaven is at stake? Let us be imitators of the illustrious host who inherit the promises. "Be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," etc. (1 Corinthians 15:58). Are any of you imitators of those who inherit the threatenings? Change your course; for your way is evil and the end terrible. "Come thou with us, and we will do thee good," etc. - W.J.
I. THOSE WHO ARE TO BE IMITATED. "Followers" they are called in our version, but they are followers in that particular respect which is known as imitation. And if we are to imitate, we must have some distinct and sufficient view of those whom we imitate. Abraham is singled out here, and truly there could be no better example of the firm believer in God's promises. We have him receiving those promises, acting upon them as real messages coming from a veracious Being; excluding from his life any natural purposes of his own, and becoming the willing and docile agent of the purposes of God. But, after all, he is only one. Wherever we see any one who has grasped a promise of God, feeling all that there is of authority and supreme importance in it, there we look for the habit of faith, there we shall find a long-suffering endurance of the consequent trials. When a man goes forth under some deep conviction, we must trace that conviction to its practical result, and see what comes of it; for only so shall we know that he was not believing a lie. In other words, we must see the man believing, the man long-suffering, the man inheriting the promises.
II. WHY WE ARE TO IMITATE. Because promises are made to us also. This was what so grieved and alarmed the writer of the Epistle, that he saw his friends indifferent to the promises made to them. It is worth our while to search the New Testament through and see how it abounds in promises. Now, these promises must trove stood very conspicuously before these apostles - these men who in the first days of the gospel had such peculiar authority to proclaim and. enforce the essential elements of the Divine message. Hence the uncompromising, searching way in which the writer here presses a duty home. It is the same God who in Christ Jesus makes promises to us, who made promises so solemnly to Abraham of old. We have much need to study the course of such men as Abraham and Moses; for one day we shall be asked as to our treatment of the promises made to us in common with all who have come to know the New Testament Scriptures. Moreover, it will be asked why we so neglected to consider the inheritors of the promises.
III. HOW WE ARE TO IMITATE. By showing in our lives the same qualities as those which brought the inheritors of the promises to their inheritance. God keeps his promises to those who can believe and wait. God said after the Flood, "While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest shall not cease." But this very promise implied that men would have faith to sow the seed and patience to wait for the harvest. Here we are shown what God means by imitation. It is not copying outward appearance, but taking into the heart inward principles, which, if we only encourage them to take root and get fast hold, will show themselves more and more, keeping to the fulfillment of the promises. God's truth stands before us, exhibited in manifold ways, solemnly, lovingly, repeatedly. The first question is - Can we believe it? and the second - Can we wait God's time for him to make his righteousness clear as the light? God is true; the corresponding attitude on our part is to believe ever more deeply. God is loving and gracious; the corresponding attitude on our part is to wait as serenely and hopefully as we can. - Y.
I. THE EXAMPLE OF THE PROMISE AND OATH VOUCHSAFED TO ABRAHAM AND SINCE GLORIOUSLY REALIZED. The patriarch was called by the voice of God to offer up his son on Mount Moriah. It was the highest proof of his faith in Jehovah, and although he received him back in a figure of a nobler sacrifice, "to will was present," and God accepted the purpose of his believing soul. "In the mount of the Lord it was seen" that where there was the sternest trial of his faith there came the most blessed manifestations of the Divine favor, both for himself, his descendants after the flesh, and his more numerous spiritual progeny. God said, "By myself have I sworn, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore" (Genesis 22:16, 17). He waited patiently, and obtained the promise in the birth of Isaac; and afterwards he saw the day of Christ, the seed in whom all nations are blessed. The latest portions of the New Testament verify the promise contained in the earliest part of the Old; and John said, after the sealing of the hundred and. forty and four thousand of the tribes of Israel, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb" (Revelations 7:9, 10). "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29).
II. THE EXTENSION OF THE BLESSING CONTAINED IN THE PROMISE, AND SANCTIONED BY THE OATH, TO ALL BELIEVERS. The words of grace which were spoken to Abraham retain their force and application to all who are his children by a living faith. "The Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto us. The patriarch was the heir of the world, a trustee for the future generations of believers. The oath is still valid, and the promise is made by One who cannot lie, and whose self-sufficiency and omnipotence raise him above the temptation and possibility of deception. The oath in human affairs is final, and is an end of all strife; and, to remove all doubt, Jehovah condescends to adopt a human form of appeal, to assure believers of the immovable ground of confidence which they possess and enjoy. The freeness of the promise tends to confirm the confidence of the righteous; for it is the unexpected, unextorted utterance of Divine love to cheer and inspire believers in their way to heaven. Both furnish strong consolation, which is adequate to disarm all earthly sorrows and assaults of their terror, and recalls those cheering images of the Divine love which ancient psalmists often introduce in their exultation and gratitude after deliverance from adversaries, and with cheerful hope of future safety; for He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress: my God; in him will I trust" (Psalm 91:1, 2).
III. THE POWER AND CONNECTIONS OF CHRISTIAN HOPE. It is not unnatural to imagine that the writer may have thought of the wild and stormy ocean, from whose waves and turbulence the mariner hastens to a port of safety, and. then drops his anchor in the calm waters of the haven. The anchor descends below and grasps the solid earth, and holds the vessel fast amid the raging of the wind and the darkness of the sky. It resembles hope in its retentive capacity, which, amid winds of doctrine, failure of some who go back and walk no more with Christ, temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil, keeps the believer from leaving his position and surrendering his profession of the gospel. The thought of the anchor is qualified by the connection of our hope with heaven, which our Lord has entered. It attaches itself to him who has entered as the Forerunner. Here we note a striking and glorious difference between the high priest of the temple and the office of the Redeemer. The Aaronic high priest had no one with him in the holiest of all, and stood and ministered in awful solitude before God. Our Lord is the Forerunner, and awaits the arrival of his followers. He is the Captain of salvation, who will bring many sons into glory; for he is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, who, as a sublime type of the Lord Jesus, is presented to our consideration in the following chapter. - B.
I. MAN'S PERIL AND NEED. This is set before us in the striking words, "fleeing for refuge." There is one sort of escape by getting simply out of bondage; there is another by reaching a place of perfect security. Many a bird has escaped from a cage only to become the prey of some wild bird or beast. It has not been able to attain a refuge. The need is further suggested by the word "anchor (see Acts 27:29). The shipmen fear lest the ship will fall on the rocks, and so they flee to the anchors, of which they cast out four. There is the need of security; need of solid holding-ground for the anchor; need of an anchor which itself will not give way. Vain is the anchor without the anchorage; vain the anchorage without the anchor. Anchor itself, and cable, and connection with the ground, and connection with the ship, - all these must be seen to. Moreover, there is needed a calm sense of being in the right way; a composing assurance that when the anchor is thrown into the water and disappears it will find a hold. We need the strong παράκλνδις. We need to have a Divine power pressing on our hearts the right thing to do; to take from us all uncertainty, vacillation, trimming, yielding to plausible criticism from others. We need a calm, intelligent, apt use of the saving instruments which God puts into our hands. When sailors are out in mid-ocean they do not fling over the anchor; and when they are close to the rocks they do not behave as they would in mid-ocean.
II. GOD'S SUPPLY FOR THE NEED. Look first at the anchorage. We must not push the metaphor too far. The one great point in it is that it gives us such a clear illustration of what it is to find security in the invisible. The anchorage-ground is something unseen, and yet it gives a safety which is not to be found in anything that is seen. Indeed, the seen things are full of danger. There are the rocks; and the water in which the ship rests will not resist its progress towards them. And so our great hold and safety is to be in the invisible. We are to make sure of the reality of God's plan; that he has a plan, that it is a plan immutable; that it is indeed a plan of God, not subject to the collapses which come through human caprice, infirmity, and shortsightedness. Hence God announces and exhibits his plan through two immutable things. What are these? Surely one of them is the oath of God. We know that a man, always veracious and deliberate of speech, wants to be taken in an unusually serious way when he adds to what he has to say a solemn adjuration. And of course, when God speaks, his word is always serious; but he has his own way of calling man's attention to its seriousness. Then the other immutable thing is surely the priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus. Behind the veil constituted by the visible world there is a God who has sworn the solemn oath with respect to that inheritance which all inherit who by their faith are children of Abraham; and there also is the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." The anchorage thus being given, there is the anchor also to be considered. And here we are to consider the anchor, not so much as something which we fling into the unseen, as something which out of the unseen is realized to us. It is as if, when a ship is drifting towards a dangerous shore, a beneficent hand should suddenly reach out of the waves and fling a rope to be fastened to the ship. Our great confidence, hope, and joy should be in this, that Jesus, vanished into the unseen, has still a living and active connection with a needy world, Note how full this whole passage is of strong words. Examine the passage in the original, and this will come out very dearly. Strong words in ordinary speech are too often the resort of weak men; but here they have to be used at every turn in order to set before us the stable anchorage and the solid, well-forged anchor which have been furnished to us by God himself. - Y.
I. THE OBJECT OF THE CHRISTIAN'S HOPE. This is not explicitly stated in the text; but it is implied in it, and it may be gathered from the argument of the writer. We may define it as the attainment of his destiny, or the perfection of his being. But to mention some particulars:
1. Freedom from sin and suffering. The rest which remaineth for the people of God certainly includes deliverance from sin, and from pain of body, and distress of mind, and darkness and sorrow of spirit. We must become free from sin, or our salvation will be neither complete nor true; for sin would mar the fairest realms, and fill them with discord and misery.
2. Attainment of spiritual perfection. "Let us press on unto perfection" (ver. 1). We hope for more clear, more correct, more comprehensive knowledge; for purity of heart which will be perfect in its kind, though not in its degree; for love which shall be perfect in like manner; and for harmony between our purposes and performances, our willing and doing. We are inspired by the sublime hope of becoming like unto our Lord and Savior (1 John 3:2, 3).
3. Enjoyment of heavenly blessedness. Through Christ God will bring "many sons unto glory." Jesus, has entered heaven as our Forerunner, and we hope to follow him thither. We are "looking for the blessed hope," etc. (Titus 2:13). "God hath begotten us again unto a living hope," etc. (1 Peter 1:3-5). This glorious hope is "set before us" as a prize to be won; it is "set before us" to animate our spirits, to strengthen our bands in Christian work, and to quicken our feet in the Christian race, Contrast this with any inferior object of hope; e.g. worldly possessions, worldly pleasures, worldly honor's. These do not satisfy; that does. These degrade the soul; that exalts it. These will fail those who have attained and cherished them; that will lead to splendid and perpetual fulfillment.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN'S HOPE. "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil." This hope is the stay of the soul amid a tumultuous world. It is clearly implied:
1. That the voyage of life is marked by storms. These storms are occasioned by bodily afflictions, temporal anxieties and losses, family trials, domestic and social bereavements, and spiritual conflicts.
2. That these storms try and imperil the soul. There is danger of striking upon the hidden rock of some subtle and insidious sin, of being driven by the wild winds of passion against stern and stony cliffs, or of being hurried helplessly onward by fierce storms of sorrow. The dangers in navigating the sea of life are numerous and various. Many a noble soul has reached the desired haven sore damaged in life's storms, while some, alas! have "made shipwreck concerning the faith."
3. That the Christian's hope, as an anchor, will enable him safely to outride the storms. "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast," etc. Ebrard's note seems to us both true and beautiful: "Two figures are here, not so much mixed as, in a very elegant manner, combined. The author might compare the world to a sea, the soul to a ship, the future still concealed glory to the covered bottom of the sea, the remote firm land stretching beneath the water and covered by the water. Or he might compare the present life upon earth to the forecourt, and the future blessedness to the heavenly sanctuary, which is still, as it were, concealed from us by a veil He has, however, combined the two figures. The soul, like a shipwrecked mariner, clings to an anchor, and sees not where the cable of the anchor runs to, where it is made fast; it knows, however, that it is firmly fixed behind the veil which conceals from it the future glory, and that if it only keeps fast hold of the anchor, it will, in due time, be drawn in with the anchor by a rescuing hand into the holiest of all." This hope enables the Christian in deep distress to say, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" (Psalm 42:11). And in wildest storms it inspires him to sing, "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble," etc. (Psalm 46:1-3, 7).
"Hope, as an anchor firm and sure, holds fast
III. THE ASSURED REALIZATION OF THE CHRISTIAN'S HOPE. Two things assure us of the fulfillment of our hope.
2. The presence of Jesus as our Forerunner in heaven. "Within the veil, whither as Forerunner on our behalf Jesus entered." The veil spoken of is that which divided the holy of holies from the holy place. "Within the veil" is a figurative expression for heaven. The presence of the Son of man in heaven is a guarantee of the realization of the hope of every believer in him. He entered heaven as our Representative, and "as a Forerunner on our behalf." "Where I am, there shall also my servant be." "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you," etc. (John 14:2, 3). Mark, then, the absolute necessity of vital union with the Lord Jesus Christ. One with him by faith here, we shall be one with him in blessedness hereafter. "Christ in you, the Hope of glory.... Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our Life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory." - W.J.