"According to the Good Pleasure of His Will."
(Hebrews 10:7-10)7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. 8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; 9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.Although man is a finite and limited creature, yet eternity alone can satisfy his heart. We are not able to conceive of eternity, either that endless existence, which lies before us, orto use language which, inadequate and almost self-contradictory as it is, is the only one at our commandthe eternity which preceded time. And yet the human heart can only rest in the eternal love of God; in a love without beginning, which has its source not in time, and which shall endure for evermore; an ocean without shore, a fulness which cannot be exhausted. I must know, not merely that God loves me now, but that He will love me for ever; and not merely that the future is boundless, but that the divine love is from all eternity, its own cause and origin. In Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of God, beheld by the Father as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, God has chosen us unto eternal life and glory. In Him we behold and possess the mercy which is from everlasting to everlasting; in Him we have the assurance that God loves us with an eternal love (1 Peter 1:20; Eph 1:4; Psa 103:17; Jer 31:3).
This eternal character of the love of God in Christ Jesus is unfolded to us, especially in the writings of the apostles John and Paul, from different points of view, the one confirming and supplementing the other. The beloved disciple, brought up in the school of John the Baptist, who led him to the Saviour, seems, without any severe struggle or abrupt transition, to have found in Jesus the promised Messiah, and drawn by the gentle yet irresistible, the calm but heart-deep attraction of the Son of man, he leaned on His bosom: nearest to Him in human friendship and affection, he beheld with most solemn awe the glory of the Only-begotten. In his writings John, like an eagle soaring in loftiest and most radiant heights, looks down on the world, and presents to us truth in its divine and eternal aspect. Hence, he dwells on the contrast between the world and the Church, the world and the men out of the world, whom the Father gives unto the Son, the people who believe not, because they are not Christ's sheep, and the souls who, drawn by the Father, hear the Shepherd's voice; the contrast between the world, which lieth in the wicked one, the realm of darkness, and the believers, who overcome the world, and finally reign with Christ over a subdued and renewed earth.
In no other portion of Scripture is the contrast described, and traced to its ultimate reason as well as to its final issue with such stern distinctness. We have on the one hand God, Christ, they who are of God, who are born of Him, who have the divine seed remaining in them, who are not of the world, who are Christ's sheep, for whom He prays, for whom He dies, who shall walk with Him in white, and inherit all things. On the other the world, men who are not of God, who are of their father the devil, and whose end is, that they are cast into the lake of fire. It is as if to him the history of the world, the process of development had ceased, he ascends to the ultimate manifestation of the essence of things, and to the primary origin in the counsel of God.(1)
1. John is pre-eminently, as the ancient Church discerned, the theologian; he views all things theologically; that is, from the divine and eternal point. It is strange how an insipid latitudinarianism has pretended to have a special congeniality with this son of thunder.
The apostle Paul, in analogy with his own mental history, begins with man and ascends upwards. While John shows how the life which was with God from all eternity was made manifest, Paul describes how a sinful, guilty, condemned, yet self-righteous man is brought by grace to find in Jehovah righteousness and life. He ascends from earth to heaven. Hence as a guide, especially for those who are seeking the way of acceptance and life, the apostle Paul is more helpful; he enters, with the sympathy and lucidity of a most intense personal experience, into the difficulties and struggles of our hearts. Now let us see how from the experimental point of view the apostle Paul arrives at the eternal character of the gospel.
Jesus appeared to him, and what the law could not give himrighteousness in which to stand before God, life wherewith to serve and enjoy Godhe received as a free gift in Jesus. Old things thus passed away, and the covenant, the method, the dispensation in which he now stood, was newnew as contrasted with the law of Moses, the Levitical dispensation, the covenant of works made on mount Sinai.
This thought is most frequently and fondly expressed by the apostle. He shows that the promise given to Abraham was before the giving of the law; the covenant of grace preceded the covenant of works. But this priority again is based upon the essential and eternal priority of the dispensation or method of grace. The original and eternal plan of God is now manifested in the preaching of the gospel. The Scripture, as Paul personifies it, never meant anything but the gospel (Gal 3:8). It always had its eye fixed on the eternal, free, and all-comprehensive grace of God through Christ Jesus. But the covenant of grace is eternal in another and more mysterious sense.
The apostle naturally contrasted the old dispensation and the new method of salvation by grace in Christ Jesus. The unity of Scripture history, and of Scripture itself, revealed that the gospel was God's thought even from the very beginning. But his mind and our mind cannot stop there. All prophecy points to Messiah, to God becoming our Saviour, our Righteousness. This then was God's original and eternal thought, and thus prophecy and the fulfillment of prophecy are traced to the purpose of God, His eternal will and counsel. I remind you of such passages as these: "God hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself. . . . The mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself." "The hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour" (Eph 1:4,5-9; Titus 1:2; 2 Tim 1:9,10).
As the advent and work of Jesus Christ, salvation by grace, irrespective of works and merit, our adoption and glorification are rooted in the eternal counsel of God, so His own personal experience, both in his conversion and his subsequent life, force him in like manner into the region and atmosphere of eternity. He who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, obtained mercy. True, he had done it ignorantly in unbelief. But not merely was his ignorance wilful, and his unbelief culpable, but only the sovereign, free, and unmerited grace enlightened the ignorance and dispelled the unbelief; for, as he himself explains it, "the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." That is, faith and love were given and implanted by the Lord Himself. By grace was he saved through faith, and that faith not of himself, it was the gift of God. While this was to him a matter of experience and consciousness, the grace which thus visited him led still further to its origin. When the Lord called him, He said that Paul was a chosen vessel unto him; and so the apostle, looking back on this momentous crisis of his life, writes: "When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me." Hence he traces his conversion to the electing love of God, even as salvation is a free and perfect gift of divine righteousness and life. Thus he writes also to the Thessalonians, "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came unto you not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance."
But look to the subsequent life of the new-born soul. In the manifold trials and sufferings, in the fluctuating and distressing conditions of our spiritual life, in the fierce and subtle temptations of pride and of despondency, what is the consolation, the encouragement, the cordial of the Christian? Is it not this: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose"? And again, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?" And again, "He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." And again, "The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom." Is not the election of God that ocean of love which surrounds our earthly Christian life as an island, and which we can never lose out of sight for any length of time? Is it not our ultimate refuge in our weakness, in our afflictions, in our trials? Thus we ascend to the eternal counsel of God, whether we consider the character of the gospel dispensation in its relation to the law, or the divine righteousness and life through faith in the crucified Saviour, or the work of grace in conversion, or the spiritual experience of the believer. All things are of God. Infinite love from all eternity purposed to clothe us with divine and perfect righteousness, to renew us unto an incorruptible inheritance, and this through the gift and the self-devotedness of the Son.
Of the eternal counsel of God, Jesus crucified is the centre and manifestation. For, "Lo, I come," was the voice of the Son of God from all eternity. As the apostle had been speaking of Christ in this whole section, it cannot surprise us that he introduces (v 5) Christ speaking, without specially saying so; nor can we wonder that a word of David is quoted as the word and self-testimony of the Lord; for in this whole epistle the fundamental and all-comprehensive meaning of the Holy Ghost in the prophetic word is everywhere referred to, without dwelling on the mediating person and circumstances, in connection with which the passage originally occurs. Hence the mind with which the son of Jesse, anointed by God to be king, enters on his royal calling, and which finds its expression in the 4Oth Psalm, is viewed here as the expression of the eternal mind of David's Lord, with which He entered into the world. He came to offer unto God that which sacrifice and burnt-offering could only shadow forth. In the sin-offering, death, due to the offerer, was transferred to the sacrifice; in the burnt-offering, one already accepted expressed his will to offer himself wholly unto the will of God. How perfectly, and above all finite conception, was this twofold sacrifice fulfilled in Christ. The obedience which He rendered unto God was perfect; for it was the obedience of the Son of God, commencing in His eternal purpose, to do the salvation-will of the Father; the atonement, which He brought, was of infinite value and delight to the Father, for He offered Himself by the eternal Spirit
The contrast is between the sacrifices and a person. These typical sacrifices the Psalmist, or rather Messiah, declares that God would not have; now He offers Himself. This is the one offering which is perfect, and in which God is pleased. The Father prepared a body for Him. All creation and providence centre in Christ.(2)
The election of the Jewish nation and their whole history may be viewed as the body, the channel prepared by God, that through it Christ should come. But the chief meaning is, that the humanity of Christ was prepared of the Father, even as it was called into existence by the Holy Ghost and assumed by Himself. The original expression of the Psalmist, "Mine ears hast Thou bored," refers to the symbolical act by which a slave, who offered himself of his own accord to belong to his master, was set apart to willing obedience of his freely-chosen lord.
2. On the translation of the LXX., "A body hast Thou prepared me," for the original, "Mine ears hast Thou digged or bored for me," A. Pridham remarks: "The ancient translators, justly appreciating the expression as a metaphor of personal devotedness (compare
Exo 21:1-6), unwittingly furnished, in their very free version of this passage, the exactest expression of a truth far hidden from their sight. The Holy Ghost accordingly adopts it here as a just interpretation of His own prophetic words."
It points out the same fact, of which the prophets so frequently speak, that the Lord would come, the Divine One, sent by God, the perfect Servant of God; one whose ear the Lord had opened, who knew and loved and accomplished the will of God, though it implied sorrow, shame, agony, and death (Isa 41-53). When the insufficiency of all sacrifices had been proved, when the powerlessness of the law had been made manifest, in the fulness of time the Sent One came to fulfil that eternal counsel of which the volume of the bookthat is, the Scripturehad written. The original reference is doubtless to the Pentateuch, the roll of the law. Of this fundamental portion of Scripture it can be said emphatically, "In the roll of the book it is written of Me." It is with peculiar significance that Jesus said unto the Jews, "If ye believe not Moses' writings, how shall ye believe my words? Moses wrote of Me" (John 5:46). In these books of Scripture, containing the basis on which the whole subsequent superstructure rests, we have unfolded to us the plan of salvation, beginning with the most comprehensive and far-reaching promise of the Seed of the woman. Here we read of the Seed of Abraham, in whom all nations shall be blessed; the Shiloh, unto whom shall be the gathering of the nations; the Star of Jacob, whose shall be the dominion. In the books of Moses we have many types of Christ's sufferings and mediation. And as the books of Moses are evidently the commencement of a series of records of divine dealings with Israel, the volume of the book has a more extended meaning, and refers to the whole Scripture. The written Word of God is thus connected with God's eternal counsel, and the authority and inspiration of Scripture inseparably linked with the most hallowed and tender associations. Jesus, in all His acts and steps, in all His struggles and sufferings, not merely fulfilled the Scriptures, but, continually pondering them in His heart as the revealed counsel of His heavenly Father, and as the infallible testimony concerning Himself, His great purpose was to fulfil them. See how, after His resurrection, Jesus connects the counsel of God, the written Word, and the actual accomplishment (Luke 24:44-47).
"In the volume of the Book it is written of Christ"; because Christ was set up from everlasting in the counsel of the ever-blessed Godhead. When we think of this, we see the connection between our salvation and the eternal purpose of God, the manifestation of God's glory, the Father's good pleasure, and the Saviour's reward and crown. We then begin to feel how much is implied in the simple truth that God is well pleased with the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
From all eternity God, according to His good pleasure which He had purposed in Himself, chose us in Christ, that we should be to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:3-10
, especially 5 and 9). Notice the expression, "good pleasure." It was God's eternal delight, this purpose of self-manifestation in grace; His counsel and election centre in the Son of His love, in the Only-begotten. When, according to this eternal counsel, and the Father's good pleasure, the Word was made flesh, the whole life of Jesus on earth was the manifestation of the eternal counsel, the expression of the Father's will, and of the Son's free concurrence, and therefore the object of Jehovah's infinite delight. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," said the voice from the highest glory of the man Christ Jesus, the Incarnate Word; and again, on the mount of transfiguration, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him."
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
In this elect servant the Father had His delight, even as it was the meat of Jesus to do the will; that is, to carry out the salvation-purpose of the Father. Knowing the will of God, He delighted in it. He never hesitated, He never swerved. Perfect was His love, His gentleness, His patience, His alacrity; perfect was His manifestation of the divine purpose of love. He went on from strength to strength. His was the path which shined more and more unto the perfect dayyes, day; for that was the perfect day of light inextinguishable, of love invincible, of holiness unsullied, when the Father hid His countenance from Jesus, and He, deserted of God, continued to love the Father that sent Him.
It is a merciful arrangement of the divine benevolence that we do not see and know our sufferings before they come, and that we are distracted from the anticipation of sorrow and pain by the varied duties, cares, and joyous gleams of our lives. But our blessed Lord knew from the commencement of His earthly ministry the sufferings that awaited Him. Never for a moment did He lose sight of the cup, the sword, the cross. Every source of agony was present to His mind. The enmity of the Pharisees, the ingratitude of His nation, the weakness of His disciples, the betrayal of Judas, were foreseen by Him from the beginning. He foretold not merely His rejection, but all the detail of His last days; all the fearful features of Israel's ingratitude, hate, cruelty, and contempt. Yet He continued faithful to the Father's will; He abode in the love which had chosen sinners to be redeemed; He who was holy, harmless, and separate from sinners, was willing to lay down His life as a ransom for them; He who was higher than the heavens, and needed no sacrifice for Himself, was willing to enter through His blood into the holy of holies. Perfect is the offering, because Christ's humanity is perfect, because in perfect liberty He laid down His life for the sheep.
When Jesus offered Himself unto the Father, and as our Substitute bore our sins in His own body (that same body which the Father had prepared for Him, as the channel of obedience), Jesus, although made a curse for us, was unto God a sweet-smelling savour, He who in the mysterious hour of darkness had cried, "My God," returns again to the full consciousness and enjoyment of that word "Father," which, in its eternal and infinite depth, belongs only to the Son. Knowing that the Father was pleased, and that the full love of the Father was resting on Him because He laid down His life for the sheep, Jesus gave up the Ghost. Then God raised and exalted Him, for it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell in Christ. Now it is according to this same good pleasure, to this same eternal, free, infinite delight, that God calls and converts souls through the foolishness of preaching; that He gives unto us the adoption of children, and the forgiveness of sins: it is the Father's good pleasure to keep the little flock, and afterwards to give them the kingdom and the glory, together with Jesus. It is all in Jesus, for Jesus' sake, through Jesus; it is all a most joyous, free, loving gift, flowing out of the innermost eternal depths of the Godhead; and therefore God says so emphatically, "I, even I, am He that forgiveth thine iniquities; I, even I, am thy God." God is pleased (that is, in the Scripture sense of the word), God is infinitely delighted with Christ, as the incarnate Son and as the Saviour of believers. Here only is perfect peace. It is not merely that we are forgiven, but that for Christ's sake we are forgiven, through the God-pleasing obedience; it is not merely that we are acquitted and declared just, but that God has brought near His own righteousness, and clothed us with Christ Himself; it is not merely that we are renewed, but that we who died together with Christ, are co-risen with Him, and that the God and Father of Jesus is in Him our God and our Father.
How marvellous and heavenly is this salvation by grace through faith! Here all is gold, that is divine. We are found in Christ, and where is Christ found? Where else but in the bosom of the Father? We have nothing but what is divine, the righteousness, which is by faith in Christ and which is of God, and the life which Christ the risen Saviour has breathed into our hearts. And all this, and we in all this, are a joy to God. Lo, I come! was the voice of eternal filial love and obedience. How precious are we to the Fatherthe fruit of Christ's obedience, of that which for ever is most precious and fragrant unto the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is there any believer who has received the pardon of sin in Christ, and who yet goes doubting, mourning with a dull conscience, and with a heart that is not filled with the sweetness of God's peace? You cannot forgive yourself; you cannot forget your past; you cannot overlook your constant sins and failures, or cease to mourn over your indwelling corruption? By a strange duality there is in your soul an elder son, who does not understand why the prodigal should be arrayed with the best robe, and that now only the voice of melody and rejoicing should be heard? Do you not know that your frequent failures and falls do not hinder His love, that His peace is ever in you, though you are not always consciously in His peace? In Him as your representative and head the Father is pleased. God calls you no longer forsaken and desolate, but Hephzibah and Beulah. And when you behold this eternal, never-varying love of God which is in Christ Jesus; that love which was before time; that love which gave up the Son; that love which shall keep you for ever; when you behold the love of Jesus, combining all that is shadowed forth in the love of friend, of brother, of mother, of husband; that love which bore your sin on the cross, which bears you now on His High-priestly heart in heaven, which looks on you with sweet faithfulness and pity after you denied Him, then, though sin appear more loathsome and bitter, rest and rejoice in Christ, abide in the sanctuary, whither you have boldness to enter by the blood of Jesus. He is ever the same. There, where we doubt Him most, He is, if I may so say, strongest. "We doubt not His all-wisdom or His all-might. That He is all-love is difficult to believe when we feel our grievous sin." Yet is this His great (I had well-nigh said His only) grief with us, that we do not always run to Him with our burden, our unbelief, our many stains and falls. The only punishment Jesus imposeth upon sinning believers is, that they humble themselves to receive His love, and to be beautified with His salvation; He is not willing that they should remain in the gloomy night, but should return to the light of His countenance. Let all who mourn in Zion, turn constantly from the misery they feel, to the blessedness they trust in; from the sight of self, fragmentary and sinful, to the sight of Jesus, in whom we are holy and complete. While you say, I am vile, and abhor myself, say in meekness and faith, God delights in Jesus; God delights in me.
(Hebrews 10:5-18)5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. 8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; 9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. 15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, 16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.Again we look to heaven, and behold Jesus seated at the right hand of God; and again with adoring joy we say, "He hath perfected for ever by the one offering all that are sanctified." He who said, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me," is now seated on the throne of God. His very attitude proves that the work is finished. Fulfilled are the types, imperfect and needing constant repetition, and never bringing true purification and access unto God. The Aaronic high priest stood before the altar to repeat the same sacrifices, which could not take away sins. Christ has taken away and abolished sin, and at the right hand of God only one thing is before HimHis second advent in glory and power. He is now waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.(3)
3. "From henceforth" might also be translated "for the rest," or "besides." Thus Kurtz views it (comparing Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 3:1, 4, 8; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:1): Christ has finished the work of redemption. What is still wanting the subjugation of all enemies He can await quietly till God fulfills the promise. Christ is represented as sitting on the throne for ever (unless "for ever" is taken in connection with the One sacrifice for sins), and yet we believe that Christ will come to establish His kingdom on earth. Kurtz remarks that in His second advent the Lord comes on and with the throne of God, in His divine glory and power.
As under the Levitical dispensation, with its constantly-repeated sacrifices, and the yearly entrance of the high priest, there was no true, real, and final remission of sin, so now, since Christ is seated in heaven, the apostle argues, it follows that there is no more remembrance of sin. The Holy Ghost Himself witnessed by the prophet Jeremiah, that the new covenant was connected with complete and eternal forgiveness of sin. If so, there can be no more offering for sin. The characteristic feature of the New Testament standing of believers is, that they are free from sin in the sight of God, and that always and for ever. "No more remembrance of sin"; because Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
This is our sanctification; this is our standing before God. The sacrifice of Christ is perfect; it was based upon the eternal will of the Godhead. The Son said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will"; and in the eternal Spirit He offered Himself, thus fulfilling the salvation-will of God. The sacrifice, flowing out of eternal and infinite love, possesses absolute perfection, never-ceasing efficacy. And by this one offering we are set apart unto God. "Jehovah our Righteousness" is the name by which we call the Lord. In the Lord Christ are we ever before the Father, and in the light and perfection of Christ the Father regards us. Thus, although sins constantly interrupt our communion and our enjoyment of God's favour, nothing can interrupt our position before God, or the representative position of Christ, the Advocate with the Father. Our righteousness is unchangeable as it is perfect; it, or rather He, is always before the Father, and for us, and the Father Himself always loves us. Access to God is always open; the sin-laden and defiled child finds always the Father and the interceding Lord. Oh, it requires much humility, and it makes the heart bleed in great sorrow and contrition, to believe that while we sin and forget God, the throne remains unchangedthe throne of grace; that the love of the Father and of the Son never varies; that our Righteousness and Perfection in the once offered Victim remain always the same; that He loves us with an everlasting love; that He hath redeemed us with an everlasting redemption; that He remembers our sins no more; and that we are always before Him in Christ Jesus. Believers in Jesus Christ rest in the eternal love of God. "It is good to be here." Let us in the light of our chapter dwell again on this high and comforting truth.
True, the Son of God came in the fulness of time; in these last times the Lamb without blemish and without spot was manifest, and was crucified; but He was verily fore-ordained before the foundation of the world.
It was in time that we heard the call of the Gospel, that we trusted in Jesus, and received the adoption of sons; but the Father called us according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
Our salvation is of God, of the Father, who chose us before the beginning of time; and of the eternal Son, who, in the deep counsel of the ever-blessed Trinity, undertook to redeem us and to bring us unto glory; and of the Spirit, who in the same eternal love was appointed to enlighten, quicken, and renew the elect unto the blessedness of the everlasting inheritance.
This eternal, absolute, free, and unchanging love is revealed and given to us in the Lord Jesus, who by one offering has perfected for ever all who believe in His name. By His death He has separated us from our guilt and death, and brought us unto God. He has sanctified Himself for us, and us in Him (John 17:19). Believers have been sanctified and presented unblamable before the Father in the person of the Lord Jesus. The Father's good pleasure or delight rests now on the people for whom Jesus died.
Thus God is always beholding us in Christ, and with eternal love. He beholds neither iniquity in Jacob, nor doth He see perverseness in Israel; although we stand before Him in the brightness of the all-revealing light, He sees us clothed with white garments, and cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ His Son. And although we are constantly failing and falling, yet doth He behold our faith as never failing, and ourselves as firm as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but standeth fast for ever. With never-changing fervency and tenderness of love God beholds us chosen, redeemed, sanctified in Christ Jesus.
Perfection is now given to all who believe. God Himself is our salvation. Jehovah Himself is our righteousness. Christ's inheritance is our inheritance. The source is eternal love, self-moved, infinite, ocean without shore; the channel is free abounding grace, the gift is eternal life, even life by the Holy Ghost in oneness with Jesus; the foundation is the obedience of Christ, eternal in its origin, infinite in its value, and unspeakably God-pleasing in its character. How willing are we to forsake our own thoughts, to give up our own righteousness, to forget our works and feelings, and to stand still, in awe and joyous adoration beholding Jehovah bringing near His salvation and His righteousness! "Of God are we in Christ Jesus, whom God hath made for us wisdom, and righteousness, and santification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
But let me remind you, believers, and let me testify to you who are yet without the dear Lord, how this eternal love came to us. In Jesus, the Friend of sinners, the Good Shepherd, the light of eternity shone with gentle and healing rays into our hearts. The death of Jesus on the cross was the open page, in which we read the eternal love, the holy and yet gracious purpose of the Father. The voice which called the heavy-laden and weary ones attracted us, and He gave us rest, and thus the eternal counsel was revealed to us as babes. Stooping to our lowest need, and declaring to us the forgiveness of sins, Jesus lifted us up even unto the Father's house, and assured us of mercy which is from everlasting to ever lasting. Jesus is that sweet bosom of eternal love, where poor and needy sinners can rest; and in the wounds of Jesus, in His blood, we read our eternal election, and the infinite love of God to us.
And of this we have assurance in the Scripture. Will not God's written Word suffice? Behold, Jesus Himself lived and died to fulfill what was written; and it was to His mind the same thing to say, that the Scriptures are fulfilled, and that the eternal will of God is accomplished. He not merely meditated on the written Word of God with constant delight, He not merely used the Scripture as His one unfailing weapon against the adversary; but He fulfilled the Scripture, because in the volume of the book God's eternal will is written. He went up to Jerusalem to be crucified in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled. He did not ask of the Father to send Him legions of angels; for how then would the Scripture be fulfilled, that thus it must be? "The things that are written concerning Me must be accomplished." See then how Jesus regarded the Scripture as the perfect, most reliable, all-sufficient expression of God's eternal and secret will. What unbelief then is it on our part not to recognize in the written Word the very mind and will of God! No voice from heaven, no vision, no authority can be compared with the volume of the book which Christ came to fulfill by His death and resurrection. If we could have heard the counsel of eternity, the word of the Father to the Son, ere time began, we could have no greater certainty than now, when we listen to Scripture, the echo in time of the counsel in eternity. God Himself is here speaking; the word proceedeth out of His mouth.
Now as Christ said, "In the volume of the book it is written of Me," to come, to live, to die, to rise, so say, "In the volume of the book it is written of me: Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help"; and again; "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions"; and again, "Fear not: I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; thou art mine"; and again, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"; and again, "By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."
Thus between Jesus and believers there is a strong and tender tie which binds them to the Scripture. Jesus believed and fulfilled the written Word. According to that written Word, He obeyed and suffered; according to that written Word, He hoped and looked forward to His reward and exaltation. The last word uttered by the eternal Word on the cross was from the Scripture. What a sure and blessed word of prophecy is ours! It came from God; it was fulfilled by Jesus, and sealed with His own blood; it comes to us through the channel of Christ Himself; of Christ's faith, of Christ's prayers, of Christ's inmost spiritual heart-life, of Christ's broken body. We can rely on all its promises; our faith builds on the very words of the almighty and ever-blessed God; and in this also are we conformed to the image of His dear Son.
And this very aspect of truth, which has occupied us of late, the eternal counsel, is revealed to us in Scripture that we may have the more abundant assurance of the divinity of this written Word. Where but in Scripture do we breathe the atmosphere of eternity? Where but here is GOD revealed? Oh, with what majesty, and yet with what condescending familiarity, does God reveal Himself, and unfold to us His thoughts and His ways! God reveals His infinite majesty, His ineffable holiness, His sovereign glory, that the creature may be filled with humility, and veiling his face, adore with fear and trembling. God reveals His truth and justice, His goodness and faithfulness, His wrath and jealousy, that the sinner may confess in contrition his guilt, and cry out of the depths. But Jehovah delights in comforting His people, and speaking to the broken and wounded heart of Jerusalem. He desires truth in the hidden part, and therefore, after convincing us of our sin and wretchedness, He reveals His overwhelming and abounding grace, the fulness of His love, the grandeur of His salvation, that the poor and afflicted ones may go forth with perfect trust, with joyous self-surrender, to meet the Bridegroom.
How touching is the sweetness of God! Clouds and darkness are round about His throne, and He rebukes Israel, and testifies to them of their hardness and iniquity; but again and again the deepest thought of Godthat is, salvationand the never-changing method of Godthat is, mercyburst forth, and with motherly tenderness and comforting iteration, He says again and again, Fear not, I am the Saviour. And then He takes them into His confidence, He unveils to them His purpose, He speaks to them of His cherished plans, of that future glory which will be His joy and their blessedness. Behold, He says, where and how I have prepared all for you. Behold, my servant! I have made Him a leader and commander to the people. He tells us of that counsel between Himself and the Lord the Messiah, and how David's Son is to suffer and to die, and how God is to raise and reward Him, and to make Him Israel's everlasting glory and the light of the Gentiles. And then the soul is lifted above time, and its own thoughts, works, merit, and strength, into the eternal and infinite love, the salvation of God, the joy of God.
And in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, the message is still more perfect, more simple; He speaks with the utmost plainness, without parable; His words are with such condescension, transparency, homeliness, and sweetness, that the heart is perfectly satisfied, and all that is within us magnifies the Lord. "I came from the Father, and again I go to the Father." This is all. I came, according to eternal love, to die for you; I go again to the Father, that this eternal love may be yours for evermore.
The soul responds with the disciples, "Now speakest thou plainly." The eye is opened to behold Him, ascended to His God and to our God, to His Father and to our Father. We know now that the love with which the Father loved Jesus embraces us also, and folds us with everlasting safety and infinite tenderness. And the highest mystery is unveiled: "I in them, and thou in Me. I am the Vine, my Father is the Husbandman, ye are the branches."
The word "perfected" falls with a strange sound on those who are experiencing daily their sad imperfections. But the Christian is a strange paradox. We are unknown, yet well known; chastened, yet not killed; dying, and, behold, we live; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing all things. Let me speak to you then of this two-fold aspect of the Christian. You may be caught up into the third heaven, and yet the abundance of this revelation will not burn up the dross that is within you, or kill the old man, the flesh which warreth against the Spirit. On the contrary, there is the danger imminent and great, as there was to the apostle Paul, lest you be exalted above measure, and dream of victory and enjoyment while you are still on the battle-field, and called to fight the good fight of faith, to crucify every day the old man, and to have no confidence, still less complacency, in the flesh. The Psalms of David the son of Jesse are not yet ended; the Solomon period of peace and glory has not yet come. A Christian is known by his difficulties, struggles, conflicts, tears, groans, as well as by his thanksgiving and joy. We have died once in Christ, and in Christ are accepted and perfect; but our old nature is not dead, the flesh in us is not annihilated, there is still within us that which has no pleasure in the will and ways of God. Painful this struggle will ever be, though God is with us, and our joy is greater than our pain. And thus while our soul is rooted in God, in endless and changeless love, while we dwell in God, in the secret place of the Most High, and have by Christ been taken out of our own misery and wretchedness into the home and sanctuary above; yet are we kept in great humility, self-abasement, watching, and painfulness. We have in us the death of Adam, and we have in us the resurrection of Jesus Christ. By the one we are broken and tormented through sin, and darkness, and sluggishness, and earthliness, and gloom; by Christ we are raised, and strengthened, and comforted. We sin, we fall, we carry about with us a mind resisting God's will, criticising it, and rebelling; and we shall experience to the very last breath we draw on earth, that there is a conflict and that we must strive and suffer in order to be faithful unto death.
Hear how at the end of his journey the apostle says of himself, not that he was, but that he is, chief of sinners. Is he a saint? He calls himself less than the least of God's saints. Is he an apostle? he adds, I am not meet to be an apostle. So we confess daily our sin and our sins, and condemn ourselves whenever we appear before God; yet are we perfect in Christ Jesus. Deeper than all our grief is the melody of the heart, and always can we rejoice in God. And in this song of praise, in this joyous melody, is our deepest humility; for the new song says nothing else but "grace, grace." His love is always resting on us, though He is grieved at our falls, and has to hide His countenance and to chasten us; yet does He love us all the time. Even while we are forgetting and forsaking Him, His motherly pity and forethought prepare our welcome, while His priestly intercession keeps our faith from failing. Nay, His love has ordered it, that even our sins and backslidings should lose us no time; for He deepens His work in us, and through the bitter experience of transgressions and of our own weakness leads us to a greater sense of His love and to greater strength of obedience.
And you, dear Christian, if you can believe this will find that it will make sin very bitter to you, and yourself meek and quiet like a weaned child, and that you will wonder how such a one as you can be loved by God at any time, and at all times, without change and wavering. Then will your heart fear and be enlarged; you will be amazed how God has kept you, how Jesus has prayed for you, how the Holy Ghost has restored and comforted you for so many years, through so many days and weeks of your neglect, and coldness, and sin, and disobedience. You will be ashamed; you will not think of saying, your dross is consumed, and that you see nothing in yourself, but delight in Jesus; you will say, Thy grace, Lord Jesus, is sufficient for me! The robes are white; but it is because He loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.
Unto you also I lift up my voice in the love and compassion of my Lord; unto you who are still in the horrible pit and in the miry clay, who know not the royal clemency of the Sovereign God, eternal, infinite love to the sinner; nor Jesus, who became the sinner's Saviour and Brother, by taking upon Him our nature, and by dying as our Substitute, our Mother, bringing us forth by His soul-travail and agony on the cross. What a multitude of sicknesses, sorrows, fears, and evils lie upon you, and the remedy is near. There is forgiveness for sin, there is deliverance from death, there is renewal for the heart, there is the living God for the sinner in time and eternity. It is near you; the Word is in your mouth; God's Word on which you can rely. Behold Jesus! saith God, He who came to do my will, to fulfill my counsel for the sinner's salvation.
Faith, Hope, and Love
(Hebrews 10:19-25)19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.The apostle's great argument is concluded, and the result is placed before us in a very short summary. We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way; and we have in the heavenly sanctuary a great Priest over the house of God. All difficulties have been removed, perfectly and for ever. We have access; and He who is the way is also the end of the way; He is even now our great Priest, interceding for us, and our all-sufficient Mediator, providing us with every needful help.
On this foundation rests a threefold exhortation. 1. Let us draw near with a true heart, in the full assurance of faith. 2. Let us hold fast the profession of hope without wavering. 3. Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, labouring and waiting together, and helping one another(4)
in the unity of brethren. Faith, hope, and lovethis is the threefold result of Christ's entrance into heaven, spiritually discerned. A believing, hoping, and loving attitude of heart corresponds to the new covenant revelation of divine grace.
4. It would lead too far from the scope of the passage to enter into the connection subsisting between these three gifts of grace. Suffice it to remind the reader of their frequent conjunction in Scripture. Colossians 1:4, 5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Peter 1
1 Peter 1
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: 9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every manís work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, 21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
"Brethren," the apostle here significantly calls believers. He does not mean so much "his brethren"; but, including himself, he looks unto the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are sanctified. For, as he taught before, He who sanctified and they who are sanctified are of one; for which reason He took upon Him flesh and blood, He is not ashamed to call us brethren. Thus we who believe stand before the Father.
The eternal election-love of the Father in Christ; the present and everlasting delight of the Father in the accomplished sacrifice, and in the representative position of the Saviour; the perfect High Priestly mediation of the Lord, who remembers His earthly experience, sorrow, and temptationthese are now the bright and yet peaceful heights to which we lift our eyes. And we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus; for the Holy Ghost witnesses,(5)
that there is no more offering for sin, for the very reason, that God, on account of the one offering of Christ, will remember our sins no more (vv 15-18).
5. The expression μαρτυρει δε ημιν και το πνευμα το αγιον is very important. It is in harmony with the teaching of our blessed Lord in the Gospel of John, and with the Pauline teaching in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 2. It brings before us the following important and comforting truths:
- The personality of the Holy Ghost, who searcheth the deep things of God, of the Father, and of the Son.
- The relation subsisting between the Scripture and the Spirit. The words of Scripture are the testimony of the Spirit.
- The Spirit witnesses to the individual believer in and by the Scripture.
- The gracious object of the Holy Ghost is to show us our perfection in Christ Jesus.
Let us ever hold fast in a living and experimental faith the doctrine of the Divine Authority and inspiration of Scripture, and never be disturbed by high-sounding phrases of liberty and Spirit; for only where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty, and the Spirit is with and in the written Word.
There is now no barrier; we have a free and unfettered right of access.(6)
We are not as Israel of old; not even as the Levites, who were excluded from the Holiest; not even like Aaron, who only once a year entered, and that in darkness, and for a few moments; unto us is given boldness, right, permission, to enter into the presence of God; for the blood of Jesus Christ, by which He entered Himself, opened the door to us also. Jesus is both the way and the door, even as He is also the end of the way; and inside the door we are brought again into His gracious presence. That veil which hid the Holiest, which on the day of crucifixion "was rent in twain from the top to the bottom" (Matt 27:51), symbolized the flesh of Christ. It was in order to die that the Son of God took part of flesh and blood (Heb 2:14). The humanity in which the glory of the Only-begotten was revealed was, in its aspect of weakness and before His suffering of death, also a veil, separating Him as Son of Man and our Representative, as well as us, from the holy of holies. But when He tasted death for us, the veil was rent, and then Jesus with His own blood entered into the heavenly sanctuary, leaving an open way of access unto all believers. This is the new and living way consecrated by Christ. It is called new,(7)
6. It is evident that the expression παρρησια must be understood here objectively, not subjectively, else the subsequent exhortation would be unmeaning.
for before the death of our Lord no believer and worshipper was able to enter thus into the presence of the Most High. This "perfection," which pertains to the conscience, this absolute confidence, this acceptance in the Beloved, this standing in Christ, belongs to the new covenant, though grace prepared and kept the ancient believers under its safe and sheltering wings. The way is called new, because the efficacy and strength of Christ's atonement is ever the same. As the poet says, not so much by the power of imagination, as of faith, "dear dying Lamb"; as Luther often said, "It seems but yesterday that Jesus died on the cross."
7. προςφατος; literally, freshly slain, means also accessible.
It is called a living way, because all that symbolizes Christ must be represented as possessing vitality. Thus we read of Him as the living stone, and of the temple built on Him as growing. Thus He speaks of Himself as living bread, because He gives and sustains life to all His people. Christ is the living way, for He gives life and strength to walk by Him to the Father. Christ actually brings us, in repentance, trust, and soul-renewal, into the presence of God. Christ is all, and the sinner is really and truly transplanted out of the kingdom of sin, guilt, and death into the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and life.
But the second privilege, on which the apostle founds the exhortation is, that Jesus is not merely the way, but the end of the way, a living Saviour within the veil; the great, the all-glorious Priest,(8)
continuing in the heavenly sanctuary without intermission His priestly functions, interceding for His people, and bringing each of us individually, with our various need, infirmity, and sorrow, before the Father. He is the great Priest over the house of God. By the house of God believers are meant (Heb 3:6). Christ, as the Son, the Only-begotten of the Father, and the First-born among many brethren, is over His own house. What a consoling and encouraging thought is this, that on the throne of God is Jesus, Head of the House, and Head as Priestmerciful, faithful, sympathising, Guardian and Lord, Brother and Friend; nay more, One with the people, for whom He intercedes. And as Christ and the Church are viewed as the One House, Habitation, and Temple, so we know there is yet a future manifestation of the "place" which He is preparing for us. He is gathering now a congregation in the holy of holies; He is building now a spiritual and heavenly temple; and when the building is complete, then will be made manifest the threefold meaning of the tabernaclea heavenly localityChrist, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and Christ and the Church, the tabernacle of God.(9)
8. Thus in Hebrews 4:14 Christ is called great High Priest.
9. Compare Matthew 16:18; Acts 4:11; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:19; Revelation 21:22
Having thus received, through Christ's sacrifice and Christ's present priesthood boldness, a full right of access into the holy of holies, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. "The term draw near, in English, reads as a mere general term, but as addressed to the Hebrews it has peculiar significance. It is the term which is applied to the approach of a priest drawing near to offer sacrifice. The privilege is right of access unto God, the duty is that of approach; and no man values the right of access who does not desire to approach. There can be nothing which really satisfies the heart of any man in being told that he is at liberty to approach God, if he has no inclination to approach unto God" (Duncan, Sermons).
We can only approach with our heart, and by faith, which has its seat in the heart; with a heart which is in earnest, true, and purposeful in this very work of approach. What is meant by a true heart? Sincerity towards God is not the natural attribute of our heart. On the contrary, the heart is exceedingly deceitful with regard to God and to divine things. It requires divine grace to give the heart sincerity and unity of purpose. Only by grace can we say, I will seek Thee with my whole heart. Only a whole heart is true.
God desireth truth in the inward part. A true heart is a heart which accepts the testimony of God, which distrusts itself, which believes God's Word, declaring our sin, guilt, and helplessness, and which responds simply, and without reservation, humbly and joyfully to the divine gospel of the gift of God, eternal life through the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. A true heart is a heart purified by trust in Jesus. A true heart is a heart which desires to be with God and to live unto Him. Thus, while we desire this "truth," and say,"Oh for a heart to praise my God,believing in Jesus, we possess the true heart,
A heart from sin set free!""A heart that always feels the blood,A true heart rests in the mercy of God, and allows God to be all its righteousness and strength. It leaves itself to the heavenly Father, to the Bridegroom, and to the Spirit, to make it an abode of their glory, and to work in it of their good pleasure. A true heart is never pleased with itself, but is at peace, content that Jesus shall be all.
So freely shed for me."
What is meant by full assurance of faith? Nothing else but faith in full, vigorous, healthy exercise. Faith in what? Not faith in our having faith, in our being accepted; but faith that we have a right of access, that Jesus is the living way, and that He is the High Priest in the holy of holies. The object of faith, of the weakest and smallest spark of faith, as much as of faith in plenitude or full assurance, is not ourselves, but Christ in His person and work. That which I am to be fully assured about, on which my faith is to rest clearly and firmly is Christ, and what He is, and has done for sinners. Hence when timid hearts say, I cannot draw near with full assurance of faith, because I do not know that I have truly taken hold of Christ, the answer is, You are to draw near with full assurance of faith in Christ. It is not, "Seeing therefore we have evidence that we have been truly converted and renewed, let us in full confidence of our possessing true faith draw near; but seeing that we have received right of access by the blood of Christ, and that He is High Priest over God's house, let us exercise full trust in His glorious person and His finished work." Christ alone is the object of faith from beginning to end. Of Him we are to be perfectly sure, and then trust ourselves to this firm foundation. "We are called to exercise faith, but we are not called to look in on faith as a condition; we are called to exercise faith in looking out on the unmixed promise of God, which yet can be received only by believing." Therefore the apostle says at the end of his life, "I know whom I have believed." From his conversion to his last moment he trusted as a poor sinner in Jesus. Clearly and vividly as his conversion must have stood before his mind, indelible as must have been the impression of the heavenly vision, yet he was never tempted to substitute the reminiscence of grace received for the personal and loving Saviour, for the new and living way by which we constantly come to God. Hence when the disciples saw Jesus hands and feet they rejoiced, for all doubt was removed.(10)
10. "In primitive times an apostle could take for granted of a whole church that they all trusted. For, in writing to the Ephesians, does Paul make a single allusion to their unbelief? or does he employ a single exhortation in the way of persuasion to believe? or, from beginning to end of his epistle, does he hint at such a thing as prevailing distrust? No; in those days Christian men no more thought of refusing to trust in the Saviour than of denying the Word of truth. But now, is it not a frequent case that a man shall go by a Christian name, and practise Christian duties, and receive Christian privileges for years together, while he is so far from trusting in Christ with the confidence of faith, that he shall not only confess himself destitute of trust, but shall often express a fear lest full trust and confidence were an unwarranted and dangerous presumption? How strange this would have sounded in the apostles' time, when to trust in Christ, and to trust fully and for all salvation, was the very first exercise to which they called those who were awakened to seek in earnest for eternal life, and received the record of God concerning the way. The remarkable trust of the first Christians gave a perfection to their character we now seldom perceive."
The eye does not see itself; faith is not to stand on itself; your full assurance is to be that Christ's blood is precious, and that He has entered as the forerunner. Then you are at peace. Faith means trust, reliance, confidence, leaning. There is no other worthy of trust, none else reliable but Jesus. But if you wish to have an additional object of faith in your own progress and spirituality, you are, like Peter, looking away from Jesus unto the unstable sea.
Nor have I any other proof of my faith's genuineness yesterday, but my exercising faith this moment. It is an ever-present tense, "He that believeth hath eternal life."
But, alas! some who speak of not being sure of salvation, and wish to be persuaded not so much into assurance as comfort, have most likely never had any dealings with God. They wish deliverance from sorrow and punishment. They would like not so much to be brought nigh to God, but rather to have a title-deed, promising that they are and must be unfailingly saved! This would be salvation without God. This be far from us. God is our salvation. Our souls thirst for the living God. We draw near in full assurance of faith; for Jesus died and rose again, and sitteth at the right hand of God: we trust and are safe. Nay, while we are afraid, like the Psalmist, we will put our trust in Him. The feet may tremble, but the rock on which they are set standeth firm and immovable. Be not discouraged that you need the constant exercise of faith, as if this argued that you are not already accepted. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand."
The exercise of faith alone keeps the heart true. When we behold Jesus as the way and the priest, there is no guile in our spirit (comp. Psalm 32:1, 2). Thus have our hearts been sprinkled from an evil conscience; we have been freed from the sense of condemnation and guilt; and we have been set apart to the service of God; for as the priests were set apart by blood and water, so have our persons (Rom 12:1), body and soul, been washed by the virtue and efficacy of the Holy Ghost, who applied to us the atonement. This is signified and sealed to us in baptism; and the emphatic mention of the body (v 22) reminds us that the whole of our present life, with all its activities and energies, is to be a life of faith and heavenly-mindedness. The body belongs even now to Christ; and of this our personal sanctificationbody, soul, and spiritwe have the emblem and seal in baptism, in which we have also the pledge of the resurrection of the body. There is "pure, clean water." Not the water which putteth away the filth of the flesh, but the Spirit of God, who alone sanctifies by the blood of Christ.(11)
11. The apostle refers to the inward and to the outward purification as facts accomplished once for all. This is evident from the whole scope of these chapters, and from the participles perfect. A Jew who came to faith in Jesus, and was baptized, was transplanted into the kingdom of grace with body, soul, and spirit, separated inwardly and outwardly to the life and service of Christ.
Thus in the exercise of full confiding faith, in sincerity of heart, and in conscious separation of our whole persons unto God, let us draw near to the Father, who loves us, and to Jesus our great Priest, faithful and compassionate.
2. We are exhorted to hold fast the profession of our hope without wavering. Before the first advent believers looked forward in faith and hope to the good things to come. Believing the promise, they expected in hope the glory of Messiah's reign. With us this unity of faith and hope is substantially the same; but it appears now in a twofold manner. Faith rests on the past, the accomplished work of Jesus; hope looks to the future, the return of our Saviour. And the more we realize Jesus as the living Lord, the more shall we look forward, waiting for His coming, and going forth to meet Him. It we believe that He has come, we also hope that He will come. If we know the salvation-bringing grace of God which hath appeared, we shall with confiding hope look for the coming of our great God and Saviour. Thus "the hope " is the most comprehensive view of Christ's relation to a believer. Hence, when Paul said that "he stood and was judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers" (Acts 26:6), he spoke out of his inmost heart. A dead faith is without hope; it does not behold Christ living; it does not desire Christ's return; it has never known Christ crucified.
We have been born again unto a lively hope. We are saved by hope, and we are waiting for the adoption; that is, the redemption of the body. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, if our horizon is limited by earth, if we do not look forward unto the appearing of our great God and Saviour, ours is indeed a miserable existence.
The profession of our hope is most practical and testing. Hereby we profess that we are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, that we are seeking heavenly things, labouring for heavenly rewards, laying up for ourselves heavenly treasures. We must forsake the sins, pleasures, and honours of Egypt; we must purify ourselves, as Christ is pure. If we profess hope, we must also rejoice, though we be in tribulation; we must view the sufferings and trials of this present life as not worthy to be compared with the coming glory. Then hope, resting on faith, supports faith, and fills us with courage and patience. "Till I come," is the voice of the Saviour, when faith beholds His dying love; and going forth to meet Him, going forth out of the world's sin, bondage, gloom, is the response of the bride.
Hold fast then the profession of your hope; and as God is faithful who promised, so let us be faithful to the hope. Let us remember that we can only have one hope, one purpose, one God. Far be every thought of apostasy, of faint-heartedness, of hesitancy. Let us be strong and of a good courage, and when the soul is cast down and disquieted within us, let the spirit say, "Hope thou in God."
3. But in thus drawing near unto God, and holding fast the profession of our hope, we must bear in mind that we are called to be a brotherhood, and that faith and hope are to be exercised in love. We are the body of Christ, and members one of another. We are to please not ourselves, but our brother unto edification. The congregation of believers is ordered of God for the exercise of Christian love. We are to consider one another as fellow-pilgrims; to study our brother's need and sorrow, difficulty and trial; to exercise our mind on our duty and relation to him, that thus we may be helpful to him in his course, and stimulate and encourage him to good works.
To consider one another in the right spirit is to look above all at the Christian character of our brother; to regard him, not so much in the light of his natural disposition; to love him, not so much on account of qualities congenial and pleasing to us; still less to exercise criticism, and to cherish suspicion and uncharitable judgment; but to fix our thought on the one great fact of brotherhood in Christ, as the apostle Peter exhorts, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another fervently with a pure heart, being born again." We should dwell on their excellencies, on the fruits of the Spirit which they bear, on the features of Christ which they reflect; and every good thing that we discover in them should be to us as the voice of Christ, saying, "Follow Me." We should thus be benefited by every, even the humblest, Christian, and find it both easy and delightful in lowliness of mind to esteem each other better than ourselves. And running together in a holy rivalry the same race, we should behold in our brother features of Christian character and activity in which we are deficient.
And in this spirit of love we should cherish Christian communion; "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together." Christianity is eminently an individual heart-affair; but it is also eminently social. The promise of Christ's presence is to the assembly gathered in His name. As a congregation we are to show the death of the Lord. The voice of melody is heard in the assembly of saints. We are to encourage and exhort one another. "Let us remember to build our inward service upon God's blessed gospel, and to build up our outward profession upon inward heart-religion, and social communion upon a personal profession of believing" (Duncan).
In times of persecution or of lukewarmness, Christian fellowship is specially important; it is likewise a test of our faithfulness. Are we ashamed of the Lord, of His truth, of His followers, of His reproach? The Hebrews, it seems, needed this word of exhortation, and the apostle confirms it by the solemn addition, "For asmuch as ye see the day approaching." The apostle refers, doubtless, to the approaching judgment on Jerusalem, connecting it, according to the law of prophetic vista, with the final crisis. Because the Lord is at hand, we are to be patient, loving, gentle, exercising forbearance towards our brother, while examining with strict care our own work.
The second advent of our Lord is the most powerful, as well as the most constraining motive. Do we hope to be with Christ and all the saints in glory, and shall we not love the brethren, and minister unto them, while we are waiting together for His coming? Do we expect Christ to acknowledge us as His brethren, and shall we be ashamed of Christ's members, or treat them with cold neglect and indifference? Have we all to appear before the tribunal of Christ and to account for our stewardship, and shall we not be faithful and diligent in exercising whatever ministry is entrusted to us, as God hath bestowed unto each one of us his own measure and gift? Called to eternal fellowship of love in joy and glory, let us fulfill the ministry of love in suffering and service, and let every day see some help and consolation given to our fellow-pilgrim.
Christians "see the day approaching"; for they love Christ's appearing; and to them the day of light is not far off. Jesus said, "I come quickly." The long delay of centuries does not contradict this "quickly." Christ is looking forward unto His return, and unto nothing else. All events only prepare and further this great consummation. And the Christians of every period recognize that the mystery of ungodliness is already working, and that our only hope is the return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Let this hope separate us from the evil which is in the world, and strengthen and gladden us in all our sorrows and difficulties; let it bind us together in the fellowship and ministry of love. Let us exhort one another daily by word and by example.
Warning Against Apostasy(12)
12. Compare Lecture 13 of my first volume on Hebrews.
(Hebrews 10:26-39)26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Mosesí law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; 33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. 34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. 35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. 36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. 37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.The apostle now confirms the preceding exhortation, first by a severe and solemn warning against apostasy, and then by an affectionate and hope-inspiring remembrance of their past sufferings, and by the assurance of his confidence in their sincere faith. Before considering the awful words of warning which the apostle addresses here to professing believers, it may be useful to refer briefly to some misconceptions which prevent some readers of Scripture from receiving in a meek and docile spirit solemn admonitions of the Holy Ghost, such as the present.
(1.) There is an undue and one-sided haste to be happy and in the enjoyment of comfort. We are apt to forget that God's great object is to bring us and keep us nigh unto Himself, and that our true and only blessedness is in communion with the living God. In our present state, all Scripture consolation must contain exhortation. We must eat the sweet Pashcal Lamb with bitter herbs of repentance and self-abasement. The man who received the gospel immediately and with joy was right, both in at once accepting the message and in rejoicing. Thus did Saul of Tarsus, and the Ethiopian, and many others, who brought forth fruit with patience. But herein consisted the untrue and defective character of his immediate joy, that it was not out of a broken heart and in godly sorrow; and thus there is a morbid tendency, even among true believers, to take joy and calm as a "robbery," prematurely, superficially, and of their own power. It is to be feared that many who have never come truly to Jesus are resting in false security.
(2.) There is a one-sided and unscriptural forgetfulness of the actual position of the believer (or professing believer), as a man who is still on the road, in the battle; who has still the responsibility of trading with the talent entrusted, of watching for the return of the Master. Now there are many bye-paths, dangers, precipices on the road, and we must persevere to the end. Only they who overcome and are faithful unto death shall be crowned. It is not spiritual, but carnal, to take the blessed and solemn doctrines of our election in Christ and of the perseverance of the saints, given us as a cordial for fainting hours, and as the inmost and ultimate secret of the soul in its dealings with God, and place them on the common and daily road of our duties and trials, instead of the precepts and warnings of the divine Word. It is not merely that God keeps us through these warnings and commandments, but the attitude of soul which neglects and hurries over these portions of Scripture is not child-like, humble, and sincere. The attempts to explain away the fearful warnings of Scripture against apostasy are rooted in a very morbid and dangerous state of mind. A precipice is a precipice, and it is folly to deny it. "If we live after the flesh," says the apostle, "we shall die." Now, to keep people from falling over a precipice, we do not put up a slender and graceful hedge of flowers, but the strongest barrier we can; and piercing spikes or cutting pieces of glass to prevent calamities. But even this is only the surface of the matter. Our walk with God and our perseverance to the end are great and solemn realities. We are dealing with the living God, and only life with God, and in God, and unto God, can be of any avail here. He who brought us out of Egypt is now guiding us; and if we follow Him, and follow Him to the end, we shall enter into the final rest.
(3.) We must bear in mind that God in the gospel, and in the outward Church,(13)
deals with mankind, and not merely with the " elect," known only unto Him. The revelation of God in Christ places the whole world, unto which it is sent, in a peculiar position. It places professing Christians, whether they be genuine or not, in a position of most solemn responsibility. God alone can judge the heart. A man professing faith in Christ, and spiritual enjoyment of the truth, may be a hypocrite, or self-deceived, or in a state of temporary declension and apparent death. The Word, the message of God in Scripture, and through the ministry, places the same truth before all; the character of God; the only salvation in Christ Jesus; the necessity and evidence of the renewal of the heart; the final perdition of ungodly men. The apostle, seeing the danger in which the Hebrews were, places before them the awful position of those who, having professed the knowledge and enjoyment of the great and glorious salvation by the blood of Christ, turn away from the Saviour, and choose to live deliberately and continuously without the love and obedience of Christ. For such there is no more sacrifice for sin, and the wrath of God, which abideth on every one that believeth not on the Son of God, must fall with more fearful severity on those who, having been brought into contact with the love of God in Christhow near a contact we cannot judge, but very near according to their own professionhave forsaken the Lord and His service.
13. The doctrine of the visible Church has of late years been much overlooked by many, who are anxious to bring prominently forward the spiritual Church of the regenerate and true believer. But the position of professing Christians, of those who as children of believers or otherwise have been brought up in the Christian Church, is one of special privilege and responsibility. It is true, that if the fishes are bad, their having been in the net will not save them ultimately; but their being in the net places them in a special relationship to God and the Lord Jesus Christ, both at present and in the future judgment. The nations of Christendom, it must be admitted by all, stand in a different position from heathen nations; and what is true of the nation, is true of the individual. Whether he believes or not, the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost has been declared unto him and pronounced upon him.
The doctrine of the whole Word of God is, that the blood of Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth from all sin. Even in the Old Testament the expressions describing the guilt and aggravated character of the sins which Jehovah is ready to forgive are exceedingly strong and large, so that none should despair, but turn in trustful repentance unto Him who delights to pardon abundantly. But the New Testament expressions could not be more distinct and emphatic to show, that through the blood of Christ there is forgiveness for sin, sins, all sins, without distinction and limitation. If it were not so, who of us could have any peace or hope? Ours are not merely sins of ignorance and weakness, but sins against light, and against that grace which is given to us, and which is sufficient to overcome sin.
It is evident that the apostle refers here to the voluntary and determined choice of leading a sinful and God-estranged life, which choice is made by those who, having known to some extent, and having professed to have experienced the grace of Christ, turn away from the one and only Name in which we can be saved. If under the law of Moses death without mercy was the immediate recompense of the wilful transgressor, how much more fearful will be the punishment of him who has treated the Son of God with contempt, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, which for awhile he esteemed precious, an unholy thing, and has turned away the gracious Spirit under whose teaching and influence he has been? We know the holy and righteous indignation of the Almighty, who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." The Lord will judge His people.(14)
14. The quotations are from the book of Deuteronomy 32:35, 36 (compare Psa 135:14), announcing a special judgment on the apostate. The apostle quotes the passage in Romans 12:19 in the same way, from the Hebrew, and not the LXX.
Christ's sheep shall never perish; all God's children shall be kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation. It is by these stern and solemn warnings that the elect are kept. We know both from Scripture and sad experience, that even true Christians are not exempt from the danger of serious and protracted departure from the truth and love of God. And lastly, we know that men who were thought to be living and faithful members of the Church have fallen, at first into apathy and worldliness, then into heresy and sin, lastly into most bitter and fanatical opposition of Christ's gospel and flock. The apostolic epistles themselves, especially those last written, contain most melancholy and heart-stirring descriptions of apostates. Such wretched men belonged to the visible church, to the outward great house, and as such they must be judged.(15)
15. 1 John 2:19; 2 Peter 2
; Jude 10-16. The expression, "fall into the hands of the living God," used by humble and penitent David (2 Sam 24:14), refers there to the divine compassion which characterizes His judgment on His people. Here it refers to the omnipotence and punitive justice of God.
2 Peter 2
1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. 4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;
7 And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: 8 (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) 9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
10 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. 11 Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. 12 But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; 13 And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; 14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: 15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with manís voice forbad the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. 18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. 20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
The warning is necessary, for the actual condition of the Church embraces false professors. It is necessary and salutary for all, for young and weak believers as well as for the most experienced. It is above all true; for the gospel reveals to us the living and holy God, the earnestness and jealousy, as well as the tenderness of divine love.
It is the humble and true believer who marks these warnings and lays them to heart. It is he who says, "Lord, is it I?" And though sometimes he is betrayed into a despondency, in which a subtle unbelief turns away from the grace of the Lord Jesus, yet God comforts His people, and shows unto those who write bitter things against themselves, that His thoughts are thoughts of peace concerning them. Blessed are all who tremble at God's Word.
The believer beholds the precipice of apostasy, and clings close to God. He sees the divine justice and the fire of God's jealousy, and he prays to be delivered from all worldly affections and idols. He sees the way before him, and instead of resting on the enchanted ground, he forgets the things that are behind, and presses on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He does not boast that he has left the city of Destruction and spread out the fact of his conversion as a tent to rest in, but the pearly gates of the heavenly Jerusalem stand before the eyes of his heart, and from beyond the gates he hears the voice, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."
Mark now the bearing of our passage on the mere professor of Christianity.
If we follow our deceitful and sluggish hearts, we neither rejoice in God's promises, nor tremble at His threatenings. The world knows not the sweetness of divine love, nor does it stand in awe before God's wrath. And professing Christians also may forget that our God is a consuming fire, and that we must either serve Him with all our heart, or depart from Him as evildoers.
God sends now the message of peace; but this message rests on the full manifestation, and not upon a change, of His character. And hence the gospel brings to him who, in fear and trembling, and with faith, accepts it, salvation, blood-bought and wrought into us by a total and central renewal of our hearts; whereas it brings to him who rejects it a fuller disclosure of God's wrath, and a sterner announcement of everlasting perdition.(16)
16. It is worthy of notice, that the passages announcing the doctrine of everlasting punishment are chiefly in the New Testament.
The brighter light, the greater darkness; the greater blessing, the more fearful curse. It is written, "He that believeth shall be saved"; but it is likewise written, "He that believeth not shall be damned." It is written, "Blessed are all that trust in Jesus"; but it is also written, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema." It is written, "In my Father's house are many mansions"; but it is also written, that unbelievers have their portion in the burning lake. Capernaum was lifted up to heaven, because Jesus had come to them; but it shall be cast into hell, because they rejected Jesus.
The wrath of God is removed from all who believe in Jesus; but does it not remain on all who reject Jesus? Is not their rejection of Jesus the crowning sin of all sin?
He who, being taught the gospel, remains impenitent, unbelieving, worldly, rejects God. First, the Father; for He sent Jesus. The Father has no other message, no other channel of grace. In not accepting Christ as the Saviour, the Father's gift is despised. But the unbeliever, or the formalist, rejects also Jesus. He counts the blood of the Son of God an unholy, common, lifeless, powerless thing. By this blood sinners are cleansed, sanctified, brought nigh to worship, love, and serve God in liberty of spirit and peace of conscience. But he who, knowing of this precious blood, is without prayer, without holiness, without peace, is he not sinning against the blood of Christ? And lastly, the unbeliever does despite to the Spirit of grace. For the Spirit is constantly witnessing of the love of the Father in Jesus, of the grace of Jesus in His blood.
Now, if under the dispensation of Moses the holiness of God's good and loving law was vindicated, how much more will they be thought guilty who neglect the eternal gospel of the divine love, the new covenant sealed with the blood of the Son of God? No sacrifice for sins is on the path of unbelief; turning away from Jesus, there remains nothing but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. This warning has a bearing on all who are under the gospel dispensation. God has declared His name, He has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus. And by this revelation shall all men unto whom it is sent be judged.
Now there is a very common, though unexpressed, misconception, that the gospel, instead of revealing, modifies the divine character; that in the gospel God is represented as a less holy, awful, and jealous God, than in the Old Testament Scripture. People imagine that in the gospel there is nothing but grace and forgiveness, whether they believe it or not; whether they repent and are renewed or not. Now there could not be a more radical misunderstanding of God's Word. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith, because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; and to deliver us from this wrath God has sent His Son, and through His death provides righteousness for all who turn unto God in repentance and faith. The very salvation of God, the death of Jesus, reveals to us more clearly than the law of Moses, that God is just, and that even in the person of His own beloved Son, made a substitute for sinners, divine justice must be vindicated. The gospel-revelation is therefore the revelation of God, the only true and living God, of whom we read in Moses and the prophets. There is but One, and our God is a consuming fire. In the book of Revelation, given by the Lord Jesus Himself in His heavenly glory to the beloved disciple, we can readand blessed are they that read with reverential fear and unfeigned faiththat while believers, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, who have overcome, shall be united with their adorable Lord and Redeemer in everlasting joy and glory, the justice, holiness, and truth of God shall be made manifest in fearful judgment on all who do not submit themselves to His one and blessed gospel. In preaching therefore to the world we must present both sideslife and death, glory and judgmentthe marriage feast, and the wrath of the Lamb.
There is next the dangerous condition of the lukewarm Christian. Through the deceitfulness of sin, through spiritual sloth or pride, through the allurements of the world, through the subtlety of Satan, a Christian falls into a careless condition, in which his spiritual perceptions, affections, and energies are blunted. Prayer becomes a form, and Christ mourns over a lukewarm Laodicean. The most subtle and dangerous temptation for such a one is to fancy that he is safe in his present condition; that he may safely remain in his present departure from his first love; that it is not absolutely necessary for him to go out and weep bitterly; to repent and to do the first works.
What reason has such a one to believe that he is a true disciple, seeing that perseverance is the test of true discipleship? Does he not remember that many received the Word with joy, and yet did not endure, but fell away? Why does Jesus command us to remember Lot's wife, who was lost because her whole heart had not left Sodom, and she turned back? Do we not read of Demas, who, after being first a disciple, forsook the apostle, and became enamoured again of this present world?
But I will change my voice; for I am speaking to the Lord's people, beloved even during their faithlessness. Then tell me, Was it not better with you in the days of your first love? Was it not better with you when you rested on Christ Himself, when at the throne of God you poured out your heart, and the peaceful answer of God comforted you? Or what unfaithfulness have you found in God that you have forsaken Him? Or where is the bill of divorcement that God gave you, saying that He would no longer love and cherish you, and be your daily guide and blessing?
Return unto the Lord! When the soul awakes from its slumber and returns to the Saviour, a sweet and peaceful light rises within, truthful and trusty, and he beholds the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. The past and the future are illumined; for Jesus is with him, the light of life. Then, as the apostle proceeds here, we call to remembrance the former days, and look forward to the coming of Christ. When we are brought back into the current of life (not while on the shore of worldliness and unbelief), we remember, even as we feel again, our first faith and joy, and the afflictions and tests we were then enabled to endure. We hear a voice saying, "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals." And then the soul is able to praise God, who made the outgoings of the morning to rejoice.
We remember our first confession, "Thou art the Christ"; and the first salutation of the Saviour, "Blessed art thou." Jesus says again to us, "Feed my lambs," and "Follow thou Me." And then the end also appears approaching, Jesus Himself returning with His glorified saints.
The believers in Judaea, who at first found favour with the people on account of the evident presence of the Spirit of God among them, soon became the object of persecution. Their faith was tested. In the death of Stephen, the death of James, the brother of John, the imprisonment of Peter, the whole congregation suffered, and had to endure a great fight of afflictions; they were made a gazing-stock; they became companions of them that suffered for the sake of Christ. Paul himself had been pre-eminently the prisoner of the Lord; before the whole world he bore imprisonment and reproach, because of his testimony. The apostle reminds them of the grace which had been given unto them to bear their cross, and to sacrifice ease, honour, and possessions for the sake of the gospel and the hope. It is to encourage them to persevere to the end, that after the seed time in tears they may reap the harvest of joy.
Having thus reminded them in the tone of affectionate recognition of their first zeal, he concludes with the threefold exhortation: Cast not away your confidence; be patient; live by faith.
1. God hath given you in Jesus a joyous, child-like confidence, that you can call Him Abba, and rest peacefully in the love of the Saviour. You trust Him, who is able to keep that which you have committed to Him, your all, unto that day. This confidence itself is the earnest of the future inheritance. Faith is the forerunner of sight. As you trust, so you will receive.
2. You have need of patience; this is the time of waiting, of watching, of conflict, of sorrow; many difficulties and temptations surround you. But learn to be patient. Impatience is the result of ignorance, but you know why and for whom you have to wait. It is the result of pride, but you are to learn of the meek One, who was lowly in heart. Impatience arises out of an unbelieving and desponding heart; but through the Scripture you obtain patience and comfort, and hope is kept alive. Impatience arises from under-valuing the importance of the present; but you know that you are now doing the will of God, and that your present exercises of faith and your present sufferings are appointed by Him, who values and rewards them. The duties of our earthly life may often appear irksome and trifling; but as a faithful sentinel knows that his monotonous work is an act of obedience to him who has appointed him, and will release him at the right time; as dutiful children and pupils persevere with tasks which seem sometimes uninteresting and unimportant, exercising thereby faith in beloved parents and teachers, so will the Christian cherish patience and cheerfulness in fulfilling the Master's will.
The necessity, importance, and blessedness of patience are brought constantly before us by the Lord Himself and by His apostles. Jesus speaks of our bringing forth fruit with patience, and of our possessing our souls in patience during great trials and painful delays. From His heavenly throne He notices and commends the patience of Ephesus and Thyatira; and to Philadelphia He says, "Thou has kept the Word of my patience." The beloved disciple, who calls himself companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, exclaims twice in the book of Revelation, "Here is the patience of the saints."
The apostle Paul associates patience with hope, with comfort of the Scriptures, with the God of patience and consolation, with meekness and long-suffering, with tribulation, of which it is to be the blessed result. In the epistle of James patience is represented as the fruit of faith's trial, as that which perfects the Christian character, as the attitude of the believer who waits for the Saviour, as the exemplary quality of Job and the prophets (Rom 5:3, 15:4,5; James 1 and 4).
Quiet submission and persevering continuance in well-doing under difficulties and conflict is that will of God, according to which Christ's members are to follow the Master in His humility and suffering. When Jesus comes, they who have thus done the will of the Father will bear away triumphantly the prize of their high calling (v 36).
3. Meanwhile ours is the life of faith. Jesus will come. As it is written in the prophet: "Yet a little while"how very, very little!(17)
and He, whose name is the coming One, will come. Now the just live by faith; but if anyone draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.(18)
17. The reference is to Isaiah 26:20, and Habakkuk 2:3, 4. In the former passage, the LXX translate a small moment μικρον οσον οσον. Messiah was called by the Jews the coming One (Matt 11:3; Luke 7:19). Compare Psalm 40:7, 118:26; Zechariah 9:9; Malachi 3:1; Daniel 7:13.
18. The first part of this sentence is quoted from the prophet Habakkuk. The addition is suggested to the apostle by the somewhat difficult and obscure rendering of the LXX, When he draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him. The words added by the apostle, correcting the current translation, give a meaning in harmony with the scope of the exhortation. Thus we have in this latter clause, not so much a quotation as an adaptation of a well-known translation. A similar view is given by Calvin and Hofmann.
To the prophet Habakkuk, the first and second coming of the Lord were still coincident. He waited for the advent of Jehovah to deliver Israel from the Chaldeans, and to manifest His glory. The ungodly were lifted up with pride and self-reliance; God's people cried in great anguish, How long? but in humility, in deep sorrow, in sincere heart-dealing with Jehovah, asking Him why He contended with His people, the godly Israelite held fast the promise; he trusted, and this was his only and his true life. The prophet and all the godly ones were sorely tried. They saw nothing but violence, iniquity, strife, and contention. "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear!" Surely they had need of patience. And the Lord answered and comforted them by renewing the promise of His coming, and calling on His people to exercise faith, as the sole and decisive mark of the godly. "For the vision has a still future goal, and speaks of the last time without deceiving. Though it tarry, wait for it; He will surely come, the coming One; He will not tarry." Unbelief and sloth see delay, worldliness and pride mock, "Where is the promise of His coming? " But the just shall live by faith; he beholds in faith the Lord's advent.
The sentence in Habakkuk is very concise, and the apostolic comment in two important epistles (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11) brings out the fulness of the original meaning. Who is the just? We first read in Scripture of righteousness in connection with Abraham's faith (Gen 15:6). Abraham is the father of the godly. Believers then are the just ones; and by faith they are just. And the life which we now live is by faith, even as the full salvation shall be given at the Lord's coming to them that believe.(19)
19. In the Gemara Makkot it is narrated that David summed up the 613 commandments of the Mosaic law in eleven (Psa 15); Isaiah in six (33:15); Micah in three (6:8); but Habakkuk in one, "The just shall live by faith." (Delitzsch on Habakkuk, p. 53) The author of this remark was surely not far from the kingdom of God. Another ancient Jewish writer combines Psalm 118:19; Isaiah 26:2; Jeremiah 5:3; and Habakkuk 2:4.
And is not our position essentially the same, though one of much greater privilege? We are placed between the peaceful light of the cross of Christ and the glory and reward of the returning Saviour. This is historically the God-given position of Christendom, of all who have heard and of all who profess the gospel. Be it ours to believe and to hope; to look back in faith on the atonement; to look forward in hope to the glory. God's people do not look and turn back. He who draws back may appear to the eye of sense to be saving his life; but, as the Saviour often teaches us, whosoever will hate and lose his life for Christ's sake shall find and save it (Matt 1625; Luke 10:39, 17:33; Mark 8:35, 9:24; John 12:25).(20)
When Peter turns to look at John, the Master says emphatically, "Thou follow Me" (John 21:20-23). Let us follow the Lord, for "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:9).
20. This was evidently a saying which the Lord repeated frequently.
Faith and Things Hoped For and Unseen
(Hebrews 11:1)1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.The pre-eminence of faith is kept in view throughout this whole epistle, which the writer himself describes as a word of exhortation. For this purpose the apostle unfolds the glory of the Lord Jesus as the great Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary, that the Hebrews may continue in the faith, considering the great Apostle and High Priest of our profession, drawing near in full confidence to the throne of grace, realizing the true, substantial blessings of the new covenant, and waiting for the promised return of their Lord. Unbelief was the reason why the Jews, with whom God was grieved, could not enter into rest: if we believe not, as Isaiah had testified, we cannot be established. The apostle warned the Hebrews by the most solemn and awful arguments from their own Scriptures against unbelief. But as he exhorts them most earnestly, so he hopes also in the exercise of deep affection that they belong not to them who draw back unto perdition, but that they are of the true disciples who believe to the saving of the soul.
Live then by faith; for only by faith is it possible for the just to live. The things hoped for and the things not seen, which are now made manifest in full perfection by the gospel of Christ, can only be realized by faith, even as it was by faith that all the godly, since the beginning of the world, lived and suffered, obeyed and conquered. In order to encourage, stimulate, and comfort them in the midst of trial and temptation, he brings before them in rapid but most vivid and comprehensive sketches the history of the fathers, whom they regarded with the profoundest reverence and affection, showing them that theirs also was the life of faith. What was their greatness, but that they were men of God? and what made them men of God, but that they believed God, and waited for the fulfillment of His promise? Faith was the characteristic feature of all the saints. It is the attitude of heart, without which there is no communion with God, and without which we cannot please Him. The apostle gives therefore the most comprehensive definition of faith, describing the radical and essential disposition of heart Godwards, in whatever dispensation men lived, both before the first advent and in the Church period. It consists at all times in a firm confidence of unseen and future realities.
There are things hoped for in the future, in eternity; there are things not seen, both past and present. The latter expression is more comprehensive than the former. The second advent, our resurrection and glory, are future things hoped for; God, as the creator and upholder of all things, and all spiritual truths and heavenly realities, belong to the unseen, of which faith alone can have assurance. The heart of man, although since the fall gravitating towards the things which are seen and which are present, is never satisfied with the visible and temporary, but cannot rest except in the spiritual and eternal. God of His great mercy hath revealed unto us the things of God; eternal and spiritual realities have been manifested by God's Spirit. There is a divine revelation; the things which man's reason cannot discern or his imagination and intuition discover, have been unvailed. God revealed Himself, He spoke unto the fathers, and His revelation contained always a promise of future and never-ending blessings, as well as a manifestation of present spiritual and heavenly realities. The victory of the seed of the woman over the serpent was a future thing, the object of hope; the manifestation of Jehovah's holy love, combining mercy with judgment, was the manifestation of a present, though unseen, spiritual reality. The promise of the seed, in whom all nations are to be blessed, was a future thing; the assurance, "I am thy God, walk before Me," revealed a present unseen but much real blessedness. Now all communion with God was based upon the divine revelation of things hoped for, and things not seen.
How is this revelation received? What is the eye that sees, the organ that beholds and appropriates this gift? Faith is the eye that beholds the King in His beauty, and that sees the land that is afar off. Not man's intellect, not man's imagination, not man's conscience; all these become indeed most deeply, radically, and thoroughly the servants of faith; but that which discerns and beholds spiritual realities and appropriates them, that which beholds future blessings, and so grasps and cherishes them as to prefer them to things visible, and to make them the object and joy of life, is what Scripture calls faith.
Now faith appears at first sight a very simple thing; it is nothing else but receiving the Word of God. We know what it is to receive the word of a man, to believe statements, though strange and surpassing our experience, because we regard the character of him who makes them with respect and confidence. Faith in God's Word is receiving God's testimony. But then, remember, as God is greater than man, as God's Word is heaven-high above any human word, so the reception of this Word, the believing of this Word, is necessarily something quite different from the reception of any human word or testimony. As is the voice, so is the echo; as is the seal, so is the impression; as is the word, or revelation, so is the faith. The divine Word produces in the heart of man faith, which is divine in its nature and power. When God speaks, when God discloses to the soul the world of spiritual realities and of future blessings, this very word of His creates within the soul a new world of fear, shame, contrition, desire, reverence, longing, hope, trust, which no other word could call forth, perfectly unique in its character, as God's word is unique in its character. To assent to the Word of God is therefore to enter into a perfectly new life, a perfectly new mode and power of existence. Nothing but God's word could ever have called forth that which we call faith, and God's word, Spirit-given as it is, only when vitalized by the same Holy Ghost. Where then is the seat of faith? Not in the intellect, which sees the logical connection or the historic evidence; not in the imagination, which recognizes the beauty and organic symmetry, and reproduces the picture; not in the conscience, which testifies to the righteousness and truth of the revelation; but in a something which lies deeper than these, in which all these centre, and to which all these return. With the heart, as the Scripture teacheth, man believeth. There, whence are the issues of life, emotional, intellectual, moral, spiritual, in that secret place, to which God alone has access, God's word, as a seed, begets faith; God's word, as a light, kindles light, and the man becomes a believer. Believer describes the whole man. This is the characteristic and the power of the new lifewe believe in God.
See then how mistaken those are who fancy faith to consist in the mere assent of the understanding to doctrines and facts, seen to be true on sufficiently evidenced authority. See how no man can give faith to another; how the mere reception by reason, or sentiment, or fancy, of clear and pathetic statements of gospel truth is not faith. Without desiring the things future, without turning in sorrow and self-condemnation to the unseen Godrevealed without the heart clinging in trustfulness to God the Saviourthere is no faith. God speaks to the heart of Jerusalem, and faith is the heart hearing and responding.
In this faith, called forth by the Word of God, and brought forth by the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is from its very birth and commencement an element of certainty, conviction, light, which transcends the certainty of the senses or of the intellect. Human argumentations deal generally with words, abstractions, vessels of mere formal conceptions. God's Spirit reveals to us the things of God, and the things of God which are given to us; so that from the river which flows into our heart and lives, according to the promise of Jesus, we know with perfect certainty the eternal fountain of divine love, and the infinite ocean of endless blessedness, towards which we hasten. Where in the whole realm of thought and feeling is there anything to compare with the Christian's "I am persuaded that nothing can separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus"? Hence he who believes says, I know; or he says, I believe, and am sure, that thou art the Christ. When God speaks to the soul, and the soul, giving up its own judgment and thoughts, receives in humility the testimony of God, faith stands in the power of God. The Spirit demonstrates, that is, shows as realities the things of God. Faith is the evidence, the clear and all-sufficient demonstration,(21)
of things not seen; and it is an assured confidence in the fulfillment of things hoped for; so much so that the power and comfort of the future is even now realized, though it doth not yet appear what we shall be: faith stedfastly anticipates the fulfillment and possesses the substance.(22)
21. The apostle uses here a term which occurred in his day often in philosophy; the more so as the thing itself is wanting in all human metaphysics, proof, evidence, or demonstration which meets all objections and admits no doubt. Philosophy has no such demonstration of things invisible and unknown; it cannot give such certainty; the divine testimony brings with it such inward conviction; faith resting on divine testimony possesses such certainty.MENKEN, Homilien uber Heb. xi.
Human reasoning loves to give itself the appearance of perfect originality, and every new metaphysical system appears with some degree of assumption of having arisen out of the depths of a human mind and of being built up by necessary laws of thought. Perhaps nothing so fascinates and entangles young minds as this promise, "Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil." Hamann refers to this when he asks: Is your whole human reasoning any thing else but tradition? and does it require much to trace the succession of your bare and twice-dead opinions to the root of your genealogical tree?
Do not look upon assurance of faith, as it is called, as a subsequent addition to the original faith which first grasps the promise; all faith, and be it but as a grain of mustard seed, possesses the God-given certainty, trust, conviction, light. "O God, Thou art my God; I will put my trust in Thee."
22. The expression υποστασσς, substance, is used (1) in the sense of essence (Heb 1:3), and (2) in the sense of confidence (Heb 3:14; also 2 Cor 9:4, 11:17). Taken in the latter sense, the meaning of the passage would be, that faith is a standing, confiding expectation of future things, which as future are objects of hope. But the expression seems also to suggest the other aspect of faith, as realizing and possessing, even in the present, the blessings and powers of the future. The expression ελεγχος teaches that faith itself is to the believer a sure argument of the reality of those things which cannot be seen, or which cannot otherwise be discerned. An interesting passage is quoted by Delitzsch from Dante, Paradise, xxiv. on faith, a paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1. His words, in reply to the question how he obtained faith, are also memorable: "The flood, I answered, from the Spirit of God rained down upon the ancient bond and new. Here is the reasoning that convinceth me so feelingly; each argument beside seems blunt and forceless in comparison."
Thus all the children of God lived by faith. They knew God's character; they believed His mighty works in creation; they rejoiced in His presence; they realized the future blessings He promised. Israel beheld God, the invisible, and they waited for the Messiah. This was their whole life. This is the explanation of their self-denial, courage, patience. Though the present and actual condition was full of reproach and suffering, yet they knew God was theirs, and the future glory and inheritance remained secure. What shall we say of our father Abraham, and of his children? What else but that they were believers, receiving the promises by faith, even as by faith they realized the ever-present Jehovah? And just as the first mention of priesthood in Scripture is not in connection with the Levitical successional priesthood, but with Melchisedec, type of the Son of God, the true, real, personal Priest, so the word "righteousness," it occurs for the first time in the book of Genesis, as the apostle Paul notices exultingly, not in connection with law and works, but with grace and faith. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, and this golden sentence shines forth again in the pregnant declaration of the prophet Habakkuk, "The just shall live by faith"; and again in the fulness of the Pentecostal light Habakkuk's word is illumined in the epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, and in our chapter, where the whole Old Testament history is described as the history of men who lived by faith, confidently expecting things hoped for, and fully assured of the reality of things unseen.
But if the glory of the old covenant was great, much greater is the glory of the new dispensation. Greater and better things were reserved for us. Israel's future was the advent of Messiah, the descent of Jehovahthe coming of their king David, to give glory to Israel and light to the Gentiles; and Israel's unseen things were the salvation truths manifested in type and prophecy, in God's words and dealings. But contrast with this our position. Our future, though comprehending Israel's, contains new and peculiar elements. Messiah's first advent is past. Accomplished is His exodus at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31), finished His work in Golgotha; as Son of man He is now enthroned at the Father's right hand; and we expect Him now to return to receive His bride, that we may be glorified together with Him. To us it is said, "Go ye forth to meet the Bridegroom"; to us it is announced, "This same Jesus shall so come again in the clouds of heaven." Now that the incarnation and the death and ascension of the Son of God have been accomplished, how much brighter is our hope! how much clearer and more blessed are the things hoped for, and the things not seen! For if, like Stephen, dead to the world and filled with the love of Christ, we look stedfastly towards heaven, we see the glory of God, and Jesus at the right hand of the Father. This was the great object of our epistle, to reveal the things not seen, the glory and grace of the heavenly sanctuary. The throne of grace, the blood of Christ, the intercession of the Saviour, the spiritual blessings in heavenly places, are the things unseen; Christ's coming again, and we manifest with Him in glory, things hoped for.
It is clear why in this epistle the apostle gives such a general and comprehensive view of faith. The question of justification and sanctification is not before him. Christ the Priest, heaven the holy of holies, believers for ever perfected in Jesus, this is the all-important point towards which all his arguments tend; hence faith, and faith in its most general or root-sense, as beholding unseen and future things, is the great and constant theme of his exhortation.
We also need the faith explained in the epistles to the Romans and Galatians, to be deepened and quickened as well as tested by the faith explained in this epistle. The sinner, first brought to a knowledge of his guilt and misery, beholds the Lamb of God; through faith in His blood he is justified and filled with joy and peace, and this by the power of the Holy Ghost. This is indeed the very centre of faith, and that to our very last breath. But if we are really to continue in communion with God, to obey and to suffer, to work and to conquer, we must learn also the circumference of faith, beholding the things which are unseen and eternal: through Jesus we believe in God, we have our citizenship in heaven.
Faith is what Jesus sought in Israel; and when the Son of man cometh again He asks, Shall He find faith on the earth? How often did Jesus say, "Go in peace, thy faith hath saved thee!" Only believe! is His word of consolation as well as rebuke. And how harmonious is the testimony of the apostles. Peter cannot leave Jesus, because he believes and is sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; faith in the name of Jesus was what he preached in Jerusalem. "Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins," is his message when he opens the door to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. Faith was also the result of his preaching, as he writes, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."
In like manner John, the beloved disciple. Not even the apostle Paul gave a fuller and deeper testimony to the pre-eminence of faith. True, he was called to point out the relation between faith and works, law and gospel, the dispensation of Moses, and the dispensation of the Spirit, and hence for teaching and convincing men, the Jews, the self-righteous, the natural man in general, we must always go to the Pauline epistles. But the nature, essence, power, and victory of faith are nowhere described with such clearness and energy as in the writings of John. Let me remind you of a few of his golden words: "To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Faith is here represented as the gift of God, inseparably connected with the new birth and divine Sonship. Think again of the many declarations in his gospel in which the Lord connects faith with the (present and immediate) possession of eternal life (John 3:16, 5:24, 11:25). Then again the indwelling of God in us and our indwelling in God, and the witness of the Spirit, are connected with faith (1 John 4:15, 5:10). Again, if we believe in Jesus, the Lord says, rivers of living water shall flow out of us, or the Spirit of God shall be given to us abundantly, so that, filled with the Holy Ghost, our words, influence, and works will be like fertilizing streams. And in like manner, if we believe, we shall do the same works which Christ did, and greater works, because the glorified Son of man is now with the Father (John 7:38, 14:12). Again, faith is described as the victory which overcometh the world.
We see that Scripture speaks thus of faith in a very deep and comprehensive manner, and that it is indeed a wonderful, mysterious, powerful grace given of God. Inseparably connected with eternal life, the indwelling of God, the witness of the Spirit, the victory over the world, and the imitation of Christ. Such a view may at first discourage anxious and seeking souls. Let them remember that it is their need and guilt, and nothing else, to which the words of the Lord Jesus and His call are addressed.
Have we faith? We say, we need a stronger degree of faith. Yet Jesus says, when the disciples ask Him to increase their faith, "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye should say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, and it should be done" (Luke 17:6). We say that we have weak faith, because we are yet babes in knowledge, and have discovered yet little of the treasures of divine revelation; but Jesus says, "Have faith in God" (Mark 11:22). The most elementary truth is sufficient. Realize God's power and love. We need not so much deeper knowledge, as faith in the simplest truths. We say that we have not the faith of some of God's eminent servants, yet Jesus says, "Whosoever" (not merely an apostle or prophet) "shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith" (Mark 11:23). But let us remember for our comfort the great distinction between a dead or vain faith, and weak or little faith. The Lord rebukes the fearfulness and doubting of sincere disciples, yet He rebukes also the storm, and delivers His people from all their fears (Matt 8:24, 14:31). True faith takes hold of the divine Word; it is weak or strong, great or small, as it receives, keeps, and uses the Word of God. Abraham staggered not at the word of promise through unbelief, though it was a word most difficult, nay, impossible, for reason to receive, and thus Abraham was strong in faith. The source of weak faith is in the ignorance and slowness of the heart in reference to the divine testimony. The strength of faith is the humility of a helpless and broken heart cleaving to the promise. Worm Jacob becomes Israel; and a poor Syrophenician woman is transplanted "from the utmost corner of the land" to the foremost place by the Master's word, "O woman, great is thy faith!"
There was one who, next to the apostles, was perhaps the greatest gift of God to the Church, whom we all admire for his faith. And yet Martin Luther was wont to say, "Oh, if I had faith! If I could only believe that God is the Creator! If I could only say in faith, Our Father!" And often he confessed, that unless every day he read the Scriptures, and meditated on Christ, and repeated the Creed, and prayed the Psalms, his heart became dead and cold, full of dark and hard thoughts of God, and of dreary and tormenting doubts and fears. Let us dwell then on Christ; let us consider Him in stedfast, diligent, frequent meditation; let the Word of Christ dwell richly in our hearts, minds, and homes. Let us connect the world of unseen and future realities with our walk and conduct, with our daily duties and trials. Let the life which we now live in the fleshour present earthly life, with its work and troublebe a life of faith. Things hoped for, Jerusalem the golden, and the constant presence of the Prince; things not seen, the throne of God and the great High Priest, the spiritual blessings in heavenly placesthink of these things in your hearts, and with full purpose of will, all ye who sit by Babel's streams, with your harps on the willows; and though strangers and pilgrims, you will be able to sing the song of faith, you will go on from strength to strength.
Faith in God the Creator
(Hebrews 11:3)3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three." The apostle Paul has described the nature and power of these three fundamental, abiding, and inseparable gifts of grace in three chapters, which shine forth as bright stars in the firmament of Scripture.
Writing to the Corinthians, who were enriched in all utterance and in all knowledge, but who stood in danger of departing from the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus, and of falling into discord and lukewarmness, he showed the more excellent way by describing the pre-eminence, characteristics, and eternity of love in a hymn which proceeded from his inmost experience(23)
and which contains a portraiture of his own individuality (1 Cor 13
23. Notice the form of this chapter in the first person.
1 Corinthians 13
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Again in the epistle to the Romans (chap 8), after having shown the position of the believer justified before God, and separated from sin by the death of Christ, he shows how, in the midst of afflictions, and in the conflict with sin and the flesh, the believer is upheld by hope; from the high tower of hope, resting upon the sure foundation of faith, he beholds the manifestation of the sons of God, the redemption of our body, the regeneration of the whole creation, and he is persuaded that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. And in our chapter the same apostle brings before us the power of faith in a series of examples, which comprise the whole history of revelation from the beginning to the first advent. This wonderful exposition of the most fundamental of the fundamental graces stands before our eyes and hearts like a triumphal arch commemorating the beauty and the victory of faith. Faith, hope, love; these three inseparable gifts of the grace of God are brought before us continually in Scripture, and the simplest experience of the Christian recognizes their connection, as well as their relative position.
Faith comes first; for only when we believe the love of God, wherewith He loved us, we love Him and the brethren in Him. Only when we trust in Jesus we hope to see Him again. God speaks, God gives, the grace of God brings to us salvation. Since God begins, faith must needs be our beginning. "Salvation is of the Lord"; this itself implies the pre-eminence of faith. Jesus is the Christ; this itself implies that only by trusting in Him can we be brought nigh to God. We have seen how the apostle John, who dwells so fully on the love of God towards us and the God-given love of believers towards God, points out the root-nature of faith. For this purpose was his gospel written, that we may believe, and believing, have eternal life, and know that we have life. For this purpose were his epistles written, that we who believe may live and walk in love; for God is love. And for this purpose was the book of Revelation given by the Lord Jesus to the apostle, that believing and loving we may hope for the Bridegroom's advent, to receive us unto Himself. Blessed is he who, believing in Jesus, can say, "Father"; who, loving the Father and the brethren, can say, "Our Father"; who, hoping for the inheritance above, can say, "Our Father, which art in heaven."
Things unseen are not doubtful to faith; but faith is the evidence, the clear and sure beholding of the things of God, shown or demonstrated by the Holy Ghost. Things future are not vague and shadowy, for faith gives them substance; so that they influence, gladden, and uphold us in our earthly life. Not as the world giveth gives God unto us. Our faith is not a pale and uncertain light; it is not inferior to the knowledge of reason, or memory, or the senses; it is light, conviction, substance. We have the things we believe, and which God has freely given to us.
Now in illustrating the power of faith, the apostle begins with Abel and ends with the Maccabees. Israel's history commences, strictly speaking, with Abraham; but as Israel was chosen in Christ, and for the salvation of all nations, so the beginning of Israel's history is, more strictly speaking, from the very first believer in the Messiah. Jesus says, "Before Abraham was, I am"; and thus we may say, Before Abraham was, were Abraham's children, the seed of faith; so that the father of the faithful will rejoice, not merely over all the Gentiles who believe in the promised and now manifested Redeemer, but shall behold Abel and Enoch and Noah, and all the saints of the pre-Abrahamic period, numbered among his children. Yet the distinctness, and the peculiar position of Israel in the kingdom, remains an undoubted fact revealed in Scripture.
We may wonder why the list of believers does not commence with Adam. But the reason is obvious. Scripture is inspired, both in its narrative and in its silence. Moses does not mention Adam's faith in the promise, and his return to the favour and love of God. He implies it; and the reason of his not stating it fully is, because throughout the whole Scripture Adam is brought before us, not as an individual, but as the representative, the federal head of humanity, in whom we stood, in whom we fell, through whose disobedience sin and death came upon all. This is the sad but fundamental truth which we are to remember in connection with Adam. From him we are to look to Christ, the incarnate Son of God, as to the second Adam, our Righteousness and our Life. We have no doubt that Adam and Eve believed to the saving of their souls. But Adam's typical and federal character is so important that all other aspects are thrown into the shade.
But the apostle may have another reason. We inherit from Adam unbelief, distrust of God's Word, suspicion of His kind and loving purposes, the tendency to ask, Is it so? when God says it is so; and to say, I will not go, when God commands to go. The Father, the author of faith, is not Adam, but the Lord Jesus. Hence is it more appropriate and instructive to begin the series of believers not with Adam. And yet, as faith in God the Creator is mentioned before Abel's faith, there seems an allusion to Adam before the fall. As the Creator, God revealed Himself to our first parents. All knowledge possessed by creatures of creation is necessarily by faith in God's revelation. The very angels, who rejoiced when they beheld the six days work, were not witnesses of the first creation of heaven and earth, since they themselves were called out of non-existence into being. They also by faith understand that God created all things.
And this declaration of the apostle, as it remains true in every period of history, is more especially important in our day.
Reason cannot ascend from nature to nature's God. The most comprehensive observation of things seen (that is phenomena), of which we can take cognizance, and the most minute analysis of things to the most remote and simple elements, leave the question of creation or the origin of things perfectly untouched and unapproached. The step from matter to mind, from things which appear to that which is the cause, spring, origin of all, is one which reason cannot take. God reveals it; we believe.
Ancient mythologies and philosophy, as well as modern science and speculation, cannot rise to the conception of the original, free and infinite cause of all things. It cannot get beyond some primeval material substratum of elementary atoms, and by tracing developments from a lower to a higher form of existence, only removes by millions and billions of years the question which lies dormant in every child's mind: Who made all things?
Scripture announces in sublime simplicity: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen 1:1). Every house is built by some one; but He that built all things is God (Heb 4:24). By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear; that the visible world did not arise out of phenomenal matter. God created by His Word (as we read ten times, "And God said") all things, from the highest to the lowest. He created in the beginning, and all things which have a beginning form the world or creature. To conceive of the world as without beginning is to deify it; for in and before the beginning is only God, the Father, the Word, or the Son, or the Eternal Wisdom (Prov 8:14; John 1:1; Col 1:18; Rev 3:14), and the Holy Ghost (Gen 1:2). God created all things for His glory; the self-manifestation of God in the redeemed Church, of which Christ is Head, is the purpose which He purposed in Himself.
The fundamental truth of creation is unfolded in Scripture with increasing light and fulness, and as our insight into the counsel of God is enlarged, our faith takes firmer and deeper hold of this primary revelation of God's sovereignty, life, goodness, wisdom, power, and love. The doctrines of the Trinity, of man's relation to God, to angels, to the world, of redemption, of the first and second advent, of the future glory, are all most intimately connected with the doctrine of creation; so that here is not only the first lesson which we teach our children, but the ultimate and highest theme of adoration (Rev 4:11). The apostle declares in our passage that the very first statement of Scripture history can only be grasped by faith. By faith we understand,(24)
not merely that God created the world, but that He created the world by His word;(25)
24. νοουμεν (compare Matthew 15:17) to understand the reason and method.
for as we read in Genesis, every new species was called into existence by the creative Word of God. And this view, which faith receives, it receives in order to exclude(26)
25. The apostle uses the expression ρηματι, which of course is a different expression from the personal λογος. But what else can be the meaning of him who, in this same epistle (1:3), declared that God made the worlds by His Son? Though the apostle Paul does not use the word λογος, he teaches the same truth as John (1:3) in his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians.
the hypothesis into which all attempts of reason to account for the origin of the world resolve themselves; viz., the things visible developed out of things phenomenal.
26. ειςτο μη
By faith, through revelation, we understand this. It is not by our own reason or observation that we ascend to this knowledge. It is one of those "things not seen," for the perception of which faith only is the organ, and the evidence of which is only the testimony of God apprehended by a believing mind.
Even Christians take erroneous and superficial views of this fact. They say, only a fool can deny that the world must have had a Creator. They think that the beautiful design-argument must occur to every rational mind, and have force with every rational mind. If we look at a watch and its ingenious mechanism, we never doubt that an intelligent mind contrived and a skilful hand executed the design. Can this universe, in its marvellous and stupendous structure, and with its complicated and harmonious laws, be the result of chance, or its own cause?
Now this argument is very forcible to those whom Scripture has taught that God created. No heathen mind ascends thus from things seen to the infinite, self-existent Creator. We, whom revelation has lifted to the height of faith, are able to reach down arguments like ladders to those in the valley; but not by such ladders did we ourselves ascend. By faith, and through God's word, God is known as Creator.
God did not leave man to find Him from creation, to infer His existence from His works.(27)
He revealed Himself, and men, knowing God, did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful. Thus from their original knowledge of God, they by their own sin fell into idolatry; and one of the great results of this apostasy is the ignorance of man, of the most refined and gifted nations, of the most subtle and powerful intellects, of God as the Creator of the world.
27. Compare my remarks on the necessity of the Spirit's revelation in "Christ Crucified. Lectures on 1 Cor 2." As Pascal observed: "Scripture assures us, that in every instance, when the beauty of creation manifests its Author, it is not from the simple contemplation of natural objects, but owing to a divine illumination, which disposes the heart aright." We speak of man's unassisted reason, but it never was unassisted. The expression is correct only in a relative and limited sense. There is not merely the action of the Holy Ghost on the heart and conscience, there are not merely the traces of our original condition, but there was the primeval revelation, which left distinct marks in the traditions of antiquity. (p. 105.)
Hamann says: "To my mind, natural religion is a perfect nonentity, the same as natural (self-originated) language. Unbelief is the oldest and strongest, and, next to superstition, the only natural religion."
Now it may be said there are many people who do not believe in the Scriptures or in Jesus, and who yet believe that God created the world. To this my answer is twofold. First, Where did they obtain this knowledge? Reason often adopts the teachings of Scripture, and then, like a conjuror, pretends to have brought them out without assistance, and out of an empty receptacle. All the philosophy of man could never have written the first verse of Genesis. But reason and science will ultimately acknowledge the first chapter of Genesis to be a perfect revelation of truth.
But my second answer is more important, though sad. What is this belief worth, this rational, intellectual belief, that God is the Creatora belief independent of Scripture, and independent of the God of salvation revealed in Christ Jesus? Soonthus the history of human thought shows usthis belief vanishes, either before the lofty and alluring speculations of Pantheism, or the powerful and fascinating science of materialism.
We find it difficult to look from earth, from things visible, from second causes, to heaven, to spiritual and eternal realities, to the Lord, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift. And as civilization advances, as men who have not the love of God in their hearts become more fully acquainted with the laws of nature, the tendency to materialism becomes stronger; and, resting satisfied with the phenomenal and the secondary causes and powers, men fail to rise above the inanimate and visible unto the Fatherly heart in heaven, whose omnipotent love and wisdom day by day, hour by hour, cherishes, rules, and sustains all things.
Let me remind you of Israel's, of the Christian's or Church-faith. For as the Israelite believed in God, and waited for the advent of Messiah, so the Christian believes in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We believe that God is; for He has spoken to us, He has loved us, He has redeemed us. He was Abraham's guest and guide, his sure portion, and exceeding great reward. He brought Israel out of Egypt. He spoke unto the fathers as unto His chosen friends. Jehovah reveals to us, that He is the Lord, the Creator of heaven and of earth; that He made all things by the word of His power. He shows us His works; He points out their vastness, their grandeur, their beauty, their joyousness. He bids us lift up our eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things. When we murmur against Him, and question the wisdom of His impenetrable dealings, He asks us, like Job, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" We adore in humility, we behold God's sovereignty, and we say, It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth good in His sight. He shows us His wisdom, His power, His goodness in creation. When we are tempted to trust in the creature, to swerve from obedience to God's command, and to be anxious about the future, He explains to us creationthe heavens above; the sun, with its genial and joyous light; the mountains and rocks in their strength; the beneficent rain and snow which come down to earth; the mysterious seed, which brings forth fruit, as symbols of His own grace, love, faithfulness, of spiritual realities given to His people. He reveals to us that all things were made by His Son, and for Him, who is appointed Heir of all things; that not atoms, or an original matter, but Christ, is the beginning of creation, in whom all His counsel stood before Him from all eternity. And He assures us that He will make "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
And Israel responds: "My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth." And the Church responds: "I believe in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of heaven and earth." Israel responds: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth." And the Church confesses: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things were made by Him.
Israel replies: "What have I to do any more with idols? " "Cursed is he who trusteth in the arm of flesh." And the Church replies, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. . . . The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." Israel says: "Let the whole earth be filled with His glory"; "Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more." The Church says: "He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe, and to take to Himself the kingdom, and we shall reign with Him." Israel knows the Creator of heaven and earth as the giver of the new life, of repentance, and faith. "Turn me, and I shall be turned"; "Create in me a pure heart"; "Breathe, O Spirit, upon these slain." The Church says: "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." "Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth, that we might be the first-fruits of His creatures."
God is the Creator; this is the first note struck on the lyre of Revelation, with which all other strains are in harmony. It sounds throughout the whole anthem. In Christ we hear the full melody. In Him we behold both the eternal counsel of redemption, and the final consummation in glory.
He who made all things by His word has by the self-same word created us anew unto eternal glory. His promises, His sayings, are creative words, spirit and life. That same Almighty Father, by Christ and through the Spirit, will make new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. God is the Creator; with Him all things are possible. He calleth unto non-existent things, and they are; He doeth all in Christ, and for His glory.
Such are the apparently simple but inexhaustible and ever-blessed revelation-truths for the sinner seeking salvation, for the Christian in affliction, in temptation; for the day of warfare, the night of sorrow, the hour of death.
God is the Creator. We say to every human being: You are not your own; Christ is the Head of every man; return unto the Lord. Glorify God with your body and spirit, which are His.
And if he says, "I cannot," we answer: God is the Creator. With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. He can create a new heart, and put His Spirit within you. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.
And to the doubting, afflicted, perplexed believer we say: God is the Creator. "Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of His understanding." And again: "Behold the fowls of the air. Consider the lilies of the field. Are ye not much better than they?" "Shall not God much more feed and clothe you, O ye of little faith?" And again, God has made and upheld all things great and small. The very hairs of your head are numbered. He that made the heart, shall He not knew all its fears and its sorrows! Commit the keeping of your souls to Him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
And to the backslider, the lukewarm and world-loving, we say: Hast thou forgotten God, the Creator? and trustest and lovest and seekest thou the creature more than the Lord, putting thy trust and delight in uncertain riches? To the Laodicean, Christ speaks, as the beginning of the creation of God.
And to the dying, in his faintness, we say: God is the Creator; and we know that if this our earthly tent be taken to pieces, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Now may the eternal and the omnipotent, the faithful and all-wise Creator, who by the precious blood of Christ His Son has redeemed us, and by the power of the Holy Ghost through the Word has renewed us and grafted us into the living Vine, keep us through faith unto the glory and reward of the inheritance at the appearing of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. "Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."
Abel, Enoch, Noah
(Hebrews 11:4-7)4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. 5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.Israel was pre-eminently to be an historical people.(28)
They were always exhorted to remember and to consider their history. It was their solemn duty to cherish the memory of the past. The remembrance of the wonderful dealings of God was to be perpetuated from generation to generation. The Jewish nation lived in the remembrance of its early history. The annual festivals, the constantly-recurring sabbath-days, the very names of God, kept the fundamental facts of their marvellous history before their minds, and impressed them on their hearts. The children were encouraged to ask questions both in reference to memorial services and to memorial stones and institutions (Gen 18:19; Exo 12:26; Josh 4:6,7). "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee" (Deut 32:7) The whole book of Deuteronomy is a review of the past. Many psalms contain a synopsis of Jewish history from the days of Abraham to the election of David, whom the Lord took from the sheep-folds, and made king over Israel. Such psalms are either didactic in form, and inscribed Maschil, or lyrical songs of praise, extolling the ever-enduring mercy of the Lord. All the prophets were filled with a vivid and constant consciousness of Israel's past history. In their addresses to the people, and in their communion with God, the memory of Jehovah's past dealings with Israel is ever with them (Josh 23, 24; 1 Sam 12:6). Take for instance the sublime prayer of Daniel (Dan 9). He refers to the books of Moses and the prophecy of Jeremiah; but how full of life and concrete reality is the Scripture to him! He is himself in the current of divine history. Here all is of God, and supernatural; and yet here all is perfect liberty, and out of the inmost depths of the heart gush forth the confessions and ardent, importunate petitions of the loving patriot.
28. The difference in this respect between Israel and the other nations of antiquity is very marked. Bunsen says, "Historical writing was born in Israel." Niebuhr remarks that "the Old Testament is the only exception to the general patriotic untruthfulness of the other nations. It never disguises or passes over the reverses of the people of which it treats. Its truthfulness is the highest in historical literature. . . . The Old Testament is also the most accurate of all historical sources." It should be added that the Old Testament not merely records faithfully all calamities and defeats which Israel had to suffer, but where is there a national record which narrates and censures the national sins with such unsparing severity, which is thoroughly free from national conceit and self-righteousness, which lays the axe at the root of all pride and self-exaltation? I do not know any history except this one which announces on every page, We are a stiff-necked and rebellious people; and it is only owing to divine mercy and long-suffering that we are preserved.
To remember the past, and to wait for the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, was the attitude of God's children; thus Malachi concludes by pointing back to God's servant Moses on mount Horeb, and by pointing forwards to Elijah preparing the advent of Jehovah. For this is Israel's peculiarity, that the past is connected with a great and glorious future; that memory and hope dwell together in unity; that the older days are viewed not with regret but with the joyous anticipation of a coming era, fulfilling all the promise given in the morning of their history.
It is natural that this historical character of the Jewish mind should manifest itself most fully during a period of transition and crisis. The advent of the Lord was the turning-point in Israel's history. Hence the gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogical summary of Jewish history from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonish captivity, and from the exile to Mary, the mother of our Lord. Hence the historical character of the songs of Zechariah, of Mary, and of aged Simeon. After the death and resurrection of the Lord, the Jewish nation was still further tested by having the gospel preached unto them. And as the future development of Israel depended upon their acceptance or rejection of the divine message, we notice in the apostolic preaching always a reference to their past history and a solemn declaration that Israel had now arrived at the most important and awful crisis. The apostles recapitulated the past history of Israel, and showed the coming, the death, and resurrection of Jesus to be the culminating events of the dealings of God with the chosen nation. All the addresses of the apostles Peter and Paul, recorded in the book of Acts, are historical and not doctrinal. The living God, who had brought Israel up to this point, was now sending the gospel of His Son Jesus to bless them, in turning away every one of them from his iniquities.(29)
29. It is difficult for us fully to realize the historical and national character of the apostolic preaching to Israel. In the new covenant dispensation our thoughts are directed chiefly to truth in its eternal aspect. We meditate on the love of God, the grace of the Saviour, the indwelling of the Spirit, on the soul's relation to Christ, and on our union with Him in the coming glory. This is right, and yet there is a danger of substituting an abstract and doctrinal method for the concrete and historical method of Scripture, according to which the remembrance of Jesus, and the expectation of His return and kingdom, form the main elements of Christian teaching and life.
The apostles called upon the nation to believe in Him of whom all their prophets had testified, in whom the covenant was made with Abraham, and who was now in heaven waiting for the restitution of all things. It was the burning question of the day; the turning-point in Israel's history. Hence we can understand the speech of Stephen. In the face of death, and beholding by faith the glory of God, so that even to his enemies his countenance appeared irradiated by a heavenly beauty, Stephen addresses the rulers of the nation; and in this most solemn moment, and in the plenitude of the spirit, what is his address? He surveys the Jewish history. Calmly, deliberately, and with great fulness, he narrates the story of Abraham's call, and of Joseph's sufferings and exaltation, and of the youth of Moses, his flight into Midian, and of Israel's exodus and wanderings in the wilderness, and of David and Solomon. This is not the place to explain his selection of events and characters and the scope of his address; the only point of importance is the fact that Stephen at such a time dwelt on the past history of Israel; he speaks not of doctrines, but of history, facts, and the past dealings of God with the nation. How strong, how vivid, how ever-present must that past have been to the believers of the apostolic age!
In our chapter the past history of Israel is brought before us in a similar manner. The universal character of God's chosen people, and of the Scripture which records their history, is seen in many ways; and perhaps the most obvious is the fact, that as its prophecy comprehends all nations, so its history begins not with Abraham, but with Noah and with Adam; thus showing from the outset that it is a revelation for mankind, and of the dealings of God with man, and concerning the whole race. It is on account of this connection of Israel with the whole race that Jesus charges Jerusalem with all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias (Matt 23:35). And as the genealogy of our blessed Lord is traced not merely to Abraham, but to Adam, so is the history of Abraham's seed traced to the pre-Abrahamic believers.(30)
30. This portion of the book of Genesis must have appeared in a new light to the Jews, as the gospel in its universal character and world-wide application became dear to them. The references of our Lord to this section of the Word are very numerous; to the institution of marriage in Paradise, to Cain and Abel, to Noah, to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to Lot's wife. Again the patriarchal history appeared in a new light to the apostle Paul, as the history of our fathers, before the law came as a parenthesis and schoolmaster.
In this remarkable history, extending over so many centuries, there is a wonderful unity. It records God's dealings with man; and as God is unchangeable, and the human heart the same in every age, this history speaks to all times and nations; it is the most human history, as well as the most divine. This peculiarity of Scripture has been acknowledged by poets and philosophers; it has been felt by all nations and ages. There is no history, there are no characters with which the world has become so familiar, which have so wrought themselves into the very consciousness and heart of mankind.
But the Christian regards this characteristic from a higher point. "To the spiritually-minded, time and place are not. The Word of God is therefore, when spiritually apprehended, no history of successive generations having reference to various countries and divers persons. It becomes a living wholea picture of the dealings of God with man; of the great contest between good and evil; of the victory over evil by men in whom Christ dwells, and who hold communion with God."
Before the flood and the Abrahamic covenant God had a people on earth who lived by faith. Abel the first martyr, Enoch the seventh from Adam, and Noah the preacher of righteousness, are the three witnesses of this period whose lives are recorded. In Abel we behold faith's accepted sacrifice and worship; in Enoch faith's walk and triumphant ascension; in Noah faith's reverent, persevering obedience, and testimony. It is only with reference to this central grace of faith that we have here to consider these three characters.
The first believer who is brought before us in this gallery of God's saints is Abel, the shepherd, beloved of God; but hated without cause for righteousness' sake by his brother. He is a type of the Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, whom His brethren hated, becauseand not merely, althoughthere was no guile in Him. Jesus calls him "righteous Abel," and speaks of him as the first martyr, whose blood was shed in witness of God's truth. There is no figure in sacred Scripture so vividly impressed on our imagination from childhood. On the threshold of history we behold this silent, believing martyr. There is scarcely any incident here of man's doing, and yet it is full of instruction, full of testimony glorifying God. He brought a sacrifice, he worshiped, he was accepted, he died, and this by faith.
He was the first of the human family who tasted death. Fallen in Adam, he died; through Cain's sin he suffered death; but through faith in the sin-offering he overcame death. The first man, who had to descend into the grave, was carried through it on the arms of redeeming-love. The first son of Adam, who had to experience the divine sentence pronounced against sin, was to angels, and, may I say, to the Son of God Himself, a type of the great sacrifice of divine love to be fulfilled in the appointed time. Faith from the first rested in the Lamb of God. Between the revelation of God, the Creator, to Adam, and the first witness and example of faith, Abel, lies a catastrophe, a change, important, mysterious, and awful, which we can never understand, though in the sweet light of revelation, we can now think of it without despair. It is the fall of man, the entrance of sin and death into the world of man. Hence man cannot approach, worship, love and serve God without sacrifice. The Creator, the paternal and bountiful Lord, is also the Governor and Lawgiver; in holiness is His reign, and in justice and truth stands His kingdom. God Himself provided the remedy, and revealed the mediation. The eternal thought of the Three-One, love manifested in mercy through a Substitute, was declared to man before he was banished from Paradise. God gave the promise. God also gave the type of righteousness through the Substitute's death, when He clothed our fallen and guilty parents. The Lord covered them with the robe of righteousness. Abel, believing the word, approached God through the better sacrifice. In the book of Genesis we are simply told the facts, that "Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering." Here we have the explanation of the fact. What caused Abel to bring his offering? what else but faith? He believed that God is the Creator, the Lord, the source of all life and blessing; and how could he believe it without desiring to be in communion with Him? He believed that God is holy, that man is sinful and guilty; how then could he dare to come before God, or to appear with his sins, and with his imperfect and sin-stained gifts and works? He believed that God is love, gracious, and merciful, and that through sacrifice, through the suffering of a Redeemer yet to come, through the substitution of an innocent and pure life for his own forfeited one, God the just would justify and accept the guilty. Because he believed he brought the appointed sacrifice. Behold, the sacrifice is accepted, and Abel is declared righteousrighteous according to God's estimate, according to the perfection of that Sacrifice, of which Abel beheld only the symbol.(31)
31. When it is so frequently asserted that the reason why Abel's sacrifice was accepted was solely because it was offered in faith, it seems to be forgotten that faith consisted in the very fact that Abel offered the God-appointed sacrifice, and thereby showed his humility as a sinner, and his trust in divine mercy as a believer. The object of the apostle here is, however, not to teach the doctrine of expiation, but the character of faith.
Every one who believes in Jesus Christ, is an accepted worshipper. There is no other true and spiritual worship but the worship of a believer in Jesus, and this worship is always accepted. Let us therefore not speak doubtfully, whether God will accept our "poor prayers." We believe that God cannot accept us as we are in ourselves, for He cannot acquit the guilty and accept anything except perfection; but if we believe in Jesus, God accepts us in Him. His blood was shed for the remission of our sins. By His offering He has perfected us for ever. Of this, the only worship, Abel though dead yet speaketh. And of this also, that though God loves us dearly in His own Son, yet sufferings and affliction may be our portion. We who accept the sacrifice must be willing to become a sacrifice, and to know the fellowship of His sufferings.
The sinner, who through faith in the sacrifice is righteous before God, belongs now to God, and is an heir of eternal life. Sin and death have no more dominion over him. Thus Enoch, the seventh from Adam, walks with God. In this simple familiar expression, we have the description of the new life. It brings before us communion with God, dependence on His guidance, submission to His authority, confidence in His love and favour, continuous, habitual fellowship, and a mind conformed to God's mind, and delighting itself in the Lord. How can two walk together except they be agreed? God was Enoch's constant and loving companion, Lord, and strength. Enoch pleased God, and why? Because he trusted Him. He trusted Him as a reality, believing that He is, and as a faithful and loving God, the rewarder of all who diligently seek Him. Enoch walked with God only; for as his own prophecy, preserved to us by the Spirit in the epistle of Jude, shows, ungodliness was the characteristic of his age, "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed." Living in an age of ungodliness, of violent and defiant unbelief, Enoch not merely kept himself unspotted from the world, and communed with the Most High, but he was a bold and intrepid confessor, and declared the future things which he apprehended by faith. The contemplative and spiritually-minded believer is also a witness. The life which is hid in God must manifest itself also in conflict with the world. The disciple who rests on the bosom of Jesus is afterwards banished for his testimony. No doubt Enoch had to experience the opposition and hatred of an unbelieving age. As a lily among thorns, so was Enoch among the children of men; God regarded him with delight, because he lived by faith.
The constant repetition of the words, "and he died," in the fifth chapter of Genesis, is very striking. Although the duration of human life was still exceedingly long, as if the forfeited blessing of immortality was reluctantly leaving mankind, yet it is evident that, through the disobedience of one, death passed upon all men. But to show that the believer is not under the dominion of death, God took Enoch away and translated him into the eternal, peaceful region. "He was not; for God took Him." His life was short compared with those of his contemporaries, and this must have rendered his translation the more remarkable. Without seeing death he passed to the immortal state. Enoch and Elijah are types of the ascension of our Lord, an illustration of the truth, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." Thus shall it be when Christ comes; they who are living by faith at a time of which Christ says, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" they shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, transfigured in their bodies, glorified and beatified in a "moment, in the twinkling of an eye." And we all, who believe, belong no more to death. Christ has destroyed, that is, rendered powerless to us-ward, him who had the power of death, that is, Satan; Christ has taken away the sting of death; dying we do not see or taste death, but we see and taste Jesus, the life of our life, our eternal life.
Abel testifies of faith's sacrifice and worship, always accepted. Enoch of faith's walk and triumph, lifted above sin and death into fellowship with the holy God, the Lord of life. Noah's faith has again another testimony. He found gracefirst time the word is used in Scripturein the eyes of the Lord. The judgment of the flood was announced to him. Moved with fearnot the fear of terror, but the fear of reverence, of humility, and of trembling astonishment, both at the impending judgment and condescending mercy of God, he obeyed and built the ark. The element of true repentance was in that fear, as it must always be in faith; for Noah was a sinner, and in believing the judgment of God he acknowledged also his own unworthiness and guilt. Only a deep sense of sin could have acknowledged the justice and believed the approach of judgment. His faith, rooted in the contrite heart, and evidenced in his daily work and obedience, was tested by the opposition and mockery of the world, to whom he testified of sin, of judgment, of saving grace; declaring what he possessed himself, righteousness by faith. And by his faith he not merely saved himself, but also his household.
Abel, Enoch, Noah, are a threefold type both of Christ and of the believer. Jesus is the righteous One, Shepherd and Lamb, the Martyr, true and faithful Witness. He is put to death because He was holy, and His brethren were wicked. But Jesus, who died, is like Enoch, who after his walk with God is taken up to heavenly regions. He liveth now to God. And Jesus is like Noah, who saves the household, so that the punitive judgment on sinners does not reach them; but they dwell safely in the secret place of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty.
If we possess Abel's faith in the Lamb of God, then the history of our life and death can be summed up as Abel'sa sinner, who worshiped, who was accepted, who entered heaven through faith in the blood of the atonement. If God permits us to continue our life on earth, we walk with Godour light, our strength, our law, our consolation, and our joy. Walking with Him, we please Him, notwithstanding all our sinfulness and errors; our citizenship is in heaven; we belong to the realm of light, and when Christ comes we shall be taken by divine power, and delivered in a moment from earth's trials and the bondage of mortality. And, like Noah, looking forward to the fulfillment of the prophetic word, and possessing ourselves the righteousness which is by faith, we testify and call to the world: Flee from the wrath to come.
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