Chapter 8. Unbelief in the Wilderness
(Hebrews 3:7-19)7 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, 8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. 10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. 11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) 12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. 13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; 15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. 16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. 17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.The apostle has compared and contrasted Moses, the servant of God and the mediator of the old dispensation, with the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the Father, and the mediator of the new and everlasting covenant. Great was the glory of Moses, and whether we think of his marvellous history, of his unique position as prophet, priest, and king in Israel, of his grand and deep character, or of the fundamental and mighty work which was accomplished through him, we can easily understand why it is written, that there arose not a prophet like unto him until He came who is above all, the Lord from heaven. We judge of magnitude by comparison. It is because the Jews had some idea and appreciation of the greatness of Moses that the apostle avails himself of this, to point out to them the far higher glory of the Lord Jesus. Though in the life and character of Moses there are many striking excellencies and virtues, the faithfulness of Moses is the feature on which the apostle dwells. It is, indeed, the most important feature in our character as servants of God. This is the one thing required of us, to be faithful. And well were it for us if we laid more stress on faithfulness, and thought less of gifts and talents, or of success and results. For while it belongs to God to appoint unto each of us severally our position, to distribute gifts according to His wisdom and good pleasure, and to reward us with results and harvests, hundredfold, sixtyfold, or thirtyfold, it belongs to us to be faithful to God wherever He has placed us, and in the gift and task which His love assigns. We see the summary and result of the true disciple's life in the decisive words of the Master: "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things" (Matt 25:21). Moses was faithful in all God's house. In every branch of the work with which he was entrusted he carried out the commandments of God. He added nothing of his own to the instructions which he received; he left out nothing, but ordered all things as he was commanded. And though sorely tried by Israel's ingratitude, rebelliousness, and stubbornness, his faithfulness never wearied nor wavered. But while Moses was faithful as a servant, Jesus was faithful as the Son. Moses, sinful and imperfect, was himself part of the house; Jesus the Holy One, the Son of God, is Lord over the house. The dispensation of which Moses was mediator was temporary, preparatory, and typical of the new covenant, in which all things are eternal, substantial, and heavenly. Moses, as the Saviour testified, wrote of Christ. The whole law pointed to the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the law, because He was the Perfect Man, in whom alone the law in its depth and breadth was realised and manifested, and because He bore the curse and the condemnation which the law pronounces against transgressors. All the promises of salvation which the typical (or gospel) part of the Mosaic dispensation contained, all sacrifices, festivals, and priestly mediation, found its substance and fulfillment in Christ. How much greater then is He than Moses!
God spake with Moses face to face, yet is Jesus only The Prophet, for as the only begotten He declared the Father: we see the Father when we see Jesus. Moses was full of love and the priestly spirit; but Jesus was not merely willing to die for Israel, but actually laid down His life, and not for the nation only, but that He might gather in one all the children of God. Moses ruled as king in Jeshurun; but Jesus is the true King, who by the Spirit can make His people willing in the day of His power, and renew their hearts into living obedience. Moses is the servant, but Jesus the Son is Lord.(1)
The glory of Christ that excelleth is described by the apostle Paul (2 Cor 3:6-12), a passage which should be studied in connection with our chapter.
On this contrast between the Lord Jesus and Moses the servant of God, the apostle builds his earnest exhortation. Again he interrupts the course of his massive and sublime argument by most solemn and pathetic admonition. His great aim in this epistle is to exhort. He is bent, with all intensity of purpose and of watchful love, to beseech the Hebrews to be stedfast. He is moved with fear; his heart trembles with anxiety, while he points to the glory of the great High Priest; he is continually giving vent to the pent-up feelings of affection and solicitude with which he regards the dangerous condition of the Hebrew believers. Oh, it is so like Paul, the apostle of love! He seems to me to have had a thousand hearts. He loved each church as if it was the only one he possessed. He felt their burden, he rejoiced over their order, stedfastness, and gifts; he ceased not to give thanks for them, and to pray for the blessing and help which each of them needed; he remembered the names of their saints, he watched over them with the affectionateness of a tender mother and nurse. While he seems lost in the contemplation of divine truth, soaring like an eagle far above vale and mountain-peak, and gazing with stedfast eye into the brightness of the sun, he is always like his blessed and dear Lord, who in homely but most touching language compares Himself to a hen gathering her chickens under her wings (Matt 23:37).
In all Paul's epistles we feel the warm breath of affection; we hear the voice, tremulous with emotion, we see the earnest and loving countenance of the fatherly man. Even when he writes to the Romans, whom he had never seen, he says, "I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, that ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me" (Rom 1:11-12). What can exceed his tender love to the churches of Thessalonica and Philippi? or the soul-stirring expostulations which in anguish of mind he addresses to the Galatians, of whom he travails again in birth, that Christ may be formed in them? How fatherly, how considerate, how exquisitely delicate and sensitive is he in his treatment of the Corinthian church. In all his epistles he continually interrupts the doctrine with the expression of his love, his anxiety, his joy and sorrow; we see his heart bound up in the churches. So in this epistle he constantly exhorts and beseeches the Hebrews (and us also) to abide in Christ, to take heed unto ourselves, to be faithful unto the end.
Thus is it in all Scripture. The love of God, seeking our salvation, pervades all its teaching. Do we not throughout the whole Scripture hear God, as it were, sighing, "Oh that they were wise; that they hearkened unto my voice!" Do we not hear the tearful voice of Jesus saying, "If thou hadst known?" Do we not throughout behold the loving arms of God outstretched to receive us? May we return love with love, so that Christ's joy may be full in us.
The thought of Moses naturally suggests the Israelites in the wilderness. Faithful was the Mediator, through whom God dealt with them: but was Israel faithful? God spake: did they obey? God showed them wonderful signs: did they trust and follow in faith? And if Israel was not faithful under Moses, and their unbelief brought ruin upon them, how much more guilty shall we be, and how much greater our danger, if we are not faithful unto the Lord Jesus?
The history of the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness is most instructive. No Scripture is of private interpretation, but is catholic and eternal. Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning. Of this history especially, the apostle Paul, who dwells on it in his epistle to the Corinthians, tells us that all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come (1 Cor 10:11). According to the solemn words addressed by the glorified Saviour to the church of Thyatira, Israel's experience is to be a warning to all the churches. The books of Moses are thus of permanent importance to God's children. Israel's history in the wilderness is typical throughout. It is a marvellous history from beginning to end. The exodus out of Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the giving of the Law at mount Sinai, the manna, the pillar of cloud and fire, the victory over Amalek, the rock that followed them, the garments that never became old; all is miracle, full of the wondrous love and power of God, who is Israel's redeemer. Consider the Messenger, the Angel of the Covenant, Christ, who led them. Their whole life and history was a life and history by the word of God. Do you know this as a present experience?
It was a history of solemn and glorious privilege. God separated Israel unto Himself. They were shut up to God. Their daily need, their absolute dependence on divine help and bounty, the constant gift of manna, guidance and defence, which so visibly descended from the Lord, the giver of all; the daily beholding of God's mighty and gracious worksall this was a marvellous privilege, the life of faith was made near and easy. Dependence on second causes is a great snare to man; for since the fall the tendency of man is to forget the Creator. Israel in the wilderness had to live daily and exclusively by God's power and goodness. How solemn, yet how glorious, to be thus constantly depending on God and constantly beholding His omnipotent love. Is this not a picture of the Christian's life?
It is a sad history from beginning to end: continual murmuring, doubt, ingratitude, idolatry, sin; looking back unto Egypt and its pleasures, forgetting its degradation and bondage, doubting God's goodness and power, yielding to the temptations of lust and tempting the Lord Jehovah, the faithful and merciful Christ.(2)
It is a sad history, full of fearful judgments. Long, dark years, of most of which we know nothing but the ominous allusions in the prophetic books to the worship of Moloch and Remphan. And yet the Lord was with them all the days, and every day, ready to bless and to gladden them. Do you understand the parable?
Yet was there in Israel also faith and love; and God remembers the time of their espousals, when they followed Him in a land that was not sown. There were not merely murmurings, but hymns of praise and thanksgiving; there were willing offerings unto the Lord of gold and silver, there was victory over the enemies, there were Joshua and Caleb, who followed the Lord fully.
In the book of Psalms, which is to a certain extent a response to the five books of Moses, as well as the starting-point of the subsequent prophets, frequent reference is made to the history of the wilderness. It is remembered, first in order to ascribe glory to God, and to give thanks unto Him for His mercy and for His marvellous works. And secondly, to hold up the mirror to man, and especially Israel, that we may learn humility and faith. The apostle quotes Psalm 95, in which the exhortation, based upon Israel's disobedience and punishment, is peculiarly solemn and emphatic. You must have noticed how frequently the Psalms are quoted in this epistle. Our Saviour also singles them out as a special portion of Scripture. The church in all ages has honoured and loved the Psalms. David was chosen to be the sweet singer of Israel, not merely the old covenant Israel, but the whole Israel of God.
Here is perfect sympathy with all our weakness and fluctuating experience, and at the same time faithful and sure guidance; here we find a perfect expression of feeling and soul -experience; here are the deepest and truest utterances of repentance and of faithof the soul's mournful complaints in darkness and sorrow, and of jubilant rejoicing and thanksgiving in the sunshine of divine favour; here is a true analysis of the heart; here we behold the doubts and conflicting thoughts, the fear and tumult of the soulall that ever moves and agitates the saints of God. But the Psalter is not merely an expression of our feelings; it guides, corrects, and elevates us. David prays with us according to the mind of God. He is not merely our brother, but he is also a type of Christ. In the Psalms we learn the mind of Messiah in His union with His people. Hence the Psalter is the incomparable and comprehensive manual and hymn-book of the saints.(3)
The quotation is introduced (like all Scripture quotations in this epistle) as the word of God, "as the Holy Ghost saith." Even the subjective lyrical portions of Scripture proceed out of divine depths, as well as depths of the human heart. Holy men spake and not merely spake, but sang with human, real music, in joy, in sorrow, in gladness and in tears, and yet as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But in this quotation it is possible that the reference to the Holy Ghost has a special meaning and propriety; for it is the office of the Spirit (in the divine economy of grace) to glorify the Father and the Son, to direct us to Christ's word, to cause us to listen to the Father's voice. As the Father says of Christ, "Hear Him"; and as the Son always magnifies the Father's word, so the Holy Ghost testifies not of Himself, but of the Father and the Son.
The psalm begins with an exhortation to praise God. Joyous and festive is the tone in which it commences. It describes God in His greatness and power. It starts with the assurance that He is the Rock of our salvation. The Lord the Creator is also the Shepherd of His people. David calls on us to sing; and song is the expression of joy, peace, and love: "O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand" (Psa 96:1, 6, 7). But with a sudden transition the psalmist, or as the apostle Paul prefers to say, the Holy Ghost, exhorts us most solemnly not to harden our hearts as Israel did in the temptation.
Notice, (1) when we hear God's voiceand, oh, how clearly and sweetly does He speak to us in the person of His Son Jesus, the Word incarnate, who died for us in Golgotha!the heart must respond. The assent of the intellect, the admiration of the understanding, the fervour of the imagination, and even the conviction of the conscience, do not suffice. God speaks to the heart of Jerusalem (Isaiah 40, original). By this expression is meant the centre of our spiritual existence, that centre out of which thoughts and affections proceed, out of which are the issues of life, that mysterious fountain which God only can know and fathom. Oh that Christ may dwell there!
God's voice is to soften the heart. This is the purpose of the divine wordto make our hearts tender. Alas! by nature we are hard-hearted; and what we call good and soft-hearted is not so in reality and in God's sight. God wishes us to be delivered from hardness of heart, that is, from dulness of perception of His love and beauty, from ingratitude and lukewarmness towards Him, from pride and impenitence, from self-seeking and unrest. When we receive God's word in the heart, when we acknowledge our sin, when we adore God's mercy, when we desire God's fellowship, when we see Jesus, who came to serve us, to wash our feet, and to shed His blood for our salvation, the heart becomes soft and tender. For repentance, faith, prayer, patience, hope of heaven, all these things make the heart tender. Tender towards God, tender towards our fellow-men, tenderthink it not paradoxicaltowards ourselves; I mean that state of gentleness and meekness which David describes"Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty . . . Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother" (Psa 131:2). We live in the atmosphere of forgiving and merciful love, we become also tender and loving to our own true life, freed from that restless and feverish spirit of the worldly man who, indulgent to self, which is not his true and real self, rules harshly and impatiently over the desires and sorrows of the imprisoned spirit. Can we be hardthinking much of ourselves, discontented with our lot, envious or unforgiving, worldly and restlesswhen we hear the voice of God: "I am the Lord thy God; I have loved thee with an everlasting love; thou art mine." "As I have loved you, love one another"? The road may be narrow, and the sun nearly set, but hearing the voice of Jesus, the heart burns within us in love and hope.
Notice, (2) all sin begins in the heart. In the epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10) the apostle describes the rivers, the corrupt branches; there he speaks of Israel's murmuring, idolatry, and lust. Here the Spirit speaks of the fountain and root: "They do err in their hearts." And what is the error of the heart? What else but unbelief? God speaks, and the heart is to believe. If the heart is hardened, it believes not; and regarding neither the threatenings nor the promises, it leans not on the strength and love of God: unbelief is the mother of all sin and sorrow.
For (3) unbelief is departure from the living God. How simple is this! As long as you trust God, you are near Him. The moment you doubt Him, your soul has departed into the strange country. Faith is the link between God's fulness and strength and our emptiness and weakness. If the soul cries out, Abide with me, or Nearer to Thee, the answer of Jesus is, Only believe!
Unbelief cannot see and understand God.(4)Forty years Israel had seen the works of the Most High. Every day they beheld the manna and the pillar of His guiding presence. How many miracles they witnessed! At the end of this long period and these daily visitations the Lord says (in sorrow and disappointment, to speak humanly), "They do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways." They do not understand me. They have no eye to see my face, no perception, no sympathy; they do not understand my meaning, my thought, my character, myself, though I have been constantly speaking, revealing, manifesting, yet do they not perceive; it is hidden to them.
They tempted God. By fear and murmuring, by presumption and lust, by disobedience and idolatry, ten times their evil heart of unbelief manifested itself in tempting the Lord (Num 14:22). Although they had seen the mighty works of God, and were continually experiencing His mercy, they doubted both His power and love; they cherished bitter thoughts against Him, they challenged Him, and demanded signs, as if He had never shown unto them the wonders of His goodness.(5)
The Lord was grieved, and after the tenth temptationso great is His patienceswore in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest. Doubtless many of those who died in the wilderness turned to God in repentance and faith. We cannot but believe that many of them joined with heartfelt contrition in the prayer of Moses: "We are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance . . . O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Psa 90:7, 8, 14).
But the generation as such, a warning for all ages, died in the wilderness.
Again the apostle asks emphatically, Why did they not enter into rest? And the answer is, Because they believed not. He does not single out the sin of making and worshipping the golden calf; he does not bring before us the flagrant transgressions into which they fell at Baal-peor. Many much more striking and to our mind more fearful sins could have been pointed out; but God thinks the one sin greater than all is unbelief. We are saved by faith; we are lost through unbelief. The heart is purified by faith; the heart is hardened by unbelief. Faith brings us nigh to God; unbelief is departure from God. Does it seem strange? By faith we draw near and worship God; by faith we receive God's love; through faith the Holy Ghost is given unto us; by faith we obey and follow Christ. Yet is it so natural and so like the goodness of God that all should be by faith. For the Lord is our God; He is all. He is willing to be, to give, to do all; to be God for us, to us, in us. All He asks of us is to trust Him, to receive Him; to open our empty hand to His kind and bountiful hand, and our cold and dead heart to His heart, that spared not His own Son, but gave Him up unto death. By grace are we saved through faith; and even this trust is the gift of His blessed Spirit (Eph 2).
Unbelief prevented Israel's entering into the promised land. Then it follows that faith enters into rest. Believe with thy heart is the great lesson of the chapter. If we trust in God, then the wilderness will be converted into the garden of the Lord. See the true Israel, Jesus our Lord, who was tested in the wilderness. God proved and tried the Righteous One; Satan tempted Him. Then it was made manifest what was in Him, even a meek and lowly heart, strong in faith, tender and loyal towards His heavenly Father, learning obedience because He was Son. And though the wild beasts were with Him, and His body was exhausted and weary, and the tempter's voice cunning and subtle, yet no evil came nigh unto Him; for He dwelt in the secret place of the Most High, and abode under the shadow of the Almighty. The wild beasts dare not touch Him, the exhausted frame is upheld by the indwelling spirit; the Scripture is both the weapon with which He fights and a tent in which He dwells; the very angels of God come down and minister unto Him. Thus the Son of Man by faith converted the wilderness into paradise. He entered into rest, He enjoyed peace with God; and there was given Him power to tread upon the lion and adder, and to trample the dragon under His feet. Worshipping the Father He conquered; and the angels of God refreshed and gladdened His heart with their heavenly converse.
Such is to be your life. Only believe, only worship, only harden not your heart, when in the Scripture and in the Spirit's teaching and in God's daily dealings you hear God's voice, and though wild beasts, hunger and privation, weakness and temptation beset you, you are safe, you are blessed. God is with you; who can be against you? Angels are around you, and you can give thanks; for you are more than conquerors, through Him that loved you, and gave Himself for you.
Looking unto Jesus, I return to the commencement of the psalm, and end in praise. I will listen to its solemn admonition, I will stand in awe, when I see the carcases of them that fell in the wilderness through unbelief; I will humble myself when I think how often like Israel I have murmured and doubted, how often I have grieved and tempted the Lord; but I will believe, I will cleave to Jesus, I will remember that oath which the Lord sware by Himself; As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that he should turn and live. And again, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, He confirmed it by an oath, saying, "Surely, blessing I will bless thee." Let us whom God hath redeemed out of Egypt, not with gold and silver, but with the precious blood of Christ as of the true Paschal Lamb without blemish and without spot; let us who have been rescued out of death and the power of Satan by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; let us who have received the law of God, not as a letter which killeth, but by the outpouring of the Spirit and in the renewal of our heartsoh, come, let us, remembering our passover, our resurrection-day, our Pentecost, let us sing unto the Lord! Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
But let us listen to the solemn exhortation of the Spirit. To-day harden not your hearts. Yesterday is the past of sin and misery. To-day is the present of divine grace and man's faith. Tomorrow is eternity, full of joy and glory. To-day is the turning-point, the crisis, the seed-time. To whom can we go but unto Jesus Christ, with the past of our transgression, with the yesterday of the first Adam, with the to-day of our weakness and need, with the for ever of our endless destiny? He is Jehovah, the Saviour God, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Cleaving to Him we rest in mercy, which is from everlasting to everlasting.
The apostle warns us: Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief. He is anxious that not one single member of the professing Church should be lost; as he expresses it in another Scripturehe preaches Christ, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Col 1:28). The same spirit ought to animate the whole congregation. Each member has to take heed to himself and the whole community, to care anxiously and earnestly for each member, that none may be lost.
Exhort one another daily; encourage, help one another by counsel, by example, by sympathy, by brotherly aid, by united prayer and praise. Walking together in peace and harmony, keep before your eyes and hearts the end of the journey. Let us hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast to the end, let us keep our first faith, our first love, our first hope (1 Tim 5:12; Rev 2:4; Heb 3:6), that which was given unto us when the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant (1 Tim 1:14), even when we were made partakers of Christ.(6)In humility and fear, in self-abasement and self-distrust, let us during our wilderness journey cry out of the depths, and yet rejoice and be at peace; for we are in Christ, and the Lord for whom we wait is our light and our salvation.
Chapter 9: Fear and Rest
(Hebrews 4:1-11)1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. 5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. 6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: 7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.The two words which claim our special consideration in this section are, fear and rest.
1. We know only in part, in fragment. It is difficult for us to combine different aspects of truth. When doctrines apparently contradictory are presented to us, we are apt to attach importance to one, and to leave the other in the background, treating it with indifference and cold neglect. We cherish some portions of truth; we look but rarely and hastily on others. In our choice we are influenced by our natural temperament and conformation of mind, by preconceived notions, by the type of religious teaching in which we have been trained, and sometimes by our sinful tendencies, which shrink from some portions of Scripture and some aspects of divine truth, which avoid and hide themselves from the corrective and rebuking influence of some part of God's message.
It is part of our imperfection here that we cannot see the whole truth simultaneously, that we see truth in fragments, and that, while our eye rests on one phase or side of the revelation of God, the other portions are comparatively hid from our view. In eternity we shall see and know the Lord as He is. We shall behold at a glance the whole counsel of God; our light and love shall be perfect (1 John 3:2; 1 Cor 13:12).
It is salutary to remember our tendency to partiality and onesidedness in our spiritual life, in order that we may be on our guard, that we may carefully and anxiously consider the "Again, it is written"; that we may willingly learn from Christians who have received different gifts of grace, and whose experience varies from ours; above all, that we may seek to follow and serve the Lord Himself, to walk with God, to hear the voice of the good Shepherd. Forms of godliness, types of doctrine, are apt to become substitutes instead of channels, weights instead of wings. Here is the most subtle danger of idolatry. Doctrines and systems of doctrine are like portraits more or less faithful and vivid of a beloved and beautiful countenance. But they are necessarily imperfect. They recall some aspects, expressions, characteristics; they are helpful to recall the reality and fulness of which they are incomplete representations. But we must not substitute them in our minds and imaginations for the living face. Doctrines and circles of religious thought and experience are like channels; but we must not breathe the limited air of an enclosed space, but keep our hearts in communion with God, that out of the ocean of light and life, out of the living fountain, we may receive constant renewal and revival.
The exhortations of this epistle may appear to some difficult to reconcile with the teaching of Scripture, that the grace of God, once received through the power of the Holy Ghost by faith, can never be lost, and that they who are born again, who are once in Christ, are in Christ for ever. Let us not blunt the edge of earnest and piercing exhortations. Let us not pass them over, or treat them with inward apathy. "Again it is written." We know this does not mean that there is any real contradiction in Scripture, but that various aspects of truth are presented, each with the same fidelity, fulness and emphasis. Hence we must learn to move freely, and not to be cramped and fixed in one position. We must keep our eyes clear and open, and not look at all things through the light of a favourite doctrine. And while we receive fully and joyously the assurance of our perfect acceptance and peace, and of the unchanging love of God in Christ Jesus, let us with the apostle consider also our sins and dangers from the lower yet most real earthly and time-point of view.
The earnest counsel of the apostle in this chapter, Let us fear, may seem to be incompatible with his frequent and emphatic teaching that we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; that he is persuaded that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus; that we are to rejoice in the Lord, and that alway.
Yet a most superficial glance at the epistles, and at the Scriptures in general, will show that fear is an essential feature of the Christian.
The worldly man neither fears nor loves God. He sometimes imagines he loves God, because he is not afraid, because he is not awed by the holy majesty of God, and does not tremble at the righteous condemnation of the law. He mistakes his feeling of ease for a feeling of love to God, of whose character he has a false and shallow view. Absence of fear he mistakes for presence of love. The soul which is roused and convinced of sin fears God, His displeasure and punishment; fears the future, with its darkness and misery. This fear, created by the Spirit, has in it already elements, though concealed and feeble, of trust and affection. There is in it, as there is in repentance, a longing after the peace of God, a desire to be brought into harmony and fellowship with Him. There is in this fear, although dread and anxiety about self may predominate, reverence, conviction of sin, sorrow, prayer.
When Christ is beheld and accepted, there is peace; but is there not also fear? "With thee is forgiveness of sin, that thou mayest be feared" (Psa 130:4). Where do we see God's holiness and the awful majesty of the law as in the cross of Christ? Where our own sin and unworthiness, where the depth of our guilt and misery, as in the atonement of the Lord Jesus? We rejoice with fear and trembling.
Thus the apostle Peter says, "If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear. 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; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:17-19).
It is because we know the Father, it is because we are redeemed by the precious blood of the Saviour, it is as the children of God and as the saints of Christ, that we are to pass our earthly pilgrimage in fear. This is not the fear of bondage, but the fear of adoption;(7)not the fear which dreads condemnation, but the fear of those who are saved, and whom Christ has made free. It is not an imperfect and temporary condition; it refers not merely to those who have begun to walk in the ways of God. Let us not imagine that this fear is to vanish at some subsequent period of our course, that it is to disappear in a so-called "higher Christian life." No; we are to pass the time of our sojourn here in fear. To the last moment of our fight of faith, to the very end of our journey, the child of God, while trusting and rejoicing, walks in godly fear.
Likewise does the apostle Paul say, "Because God worketh in you to will and to do, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12, 13). Not the fear of the self-righteous, who are under the law, without peace and strength, but the fear of those in whom the Holy Ghost dwells with His light and energy. Fear is therefore compatible with faith and assurance. The children of God, who cry Abba, who praise the Lamb, who are sealed by the Holy Ghost, rejoice with fear and trembling.
Fear which is rooted in unbelief is evil; for it drives away from God. If we fear that God will not be faithful and fulfil His promises, if we doubt the efficacy of Christ's atonement, or the immovable firmness of His gracious word, we are sinning against God, and forsaking the Rock of our salvation. Looking to God, our loving Father, our gracious Saviour, our gentle and indwelling Comforter, we have no reason to be afraid. The only fear that we can cherish is that of reverence and awe, and a dread lest we displease, offend, and wound Him who is our Lord. But when we look at ourselves, our weakness, our blindness, our sinfulness; when we think of our path and our work, of our dangers and enemies, we may well fear, we may well feel that the time for repose and unmixed enjoyment has not come yet, and that, though sure of our ultimate triumph, we must watch anxiously and constantly; we must dread our own sinfulness and our temptations; we must fear worldly influences and estrangements; we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
But even this statement is not sufficient, and does not cover the Scripture teaching. It is true the Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are God's children. It is true the Saviour assures us that His sheep shall never perish; and, as the very expression implies, they who are born of incorruptible seed possess life eternal; they abide for ever; they dwell in God, and He dwelleth in them. But why are there so many warnings and exhortations addressed to those who profess to believe in the Saviour? Why does the Lord say, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away"? (John 15:2) Why does the apostle teach, "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die"? (Rom 8:13) Why does the apostle Peter say, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall"? (2 Peter 1:10) Some of the reasons are obvious; and if we are sincere and honest with ourselves, we must have discovered them.
The absolute safety, the fixed and unchanging position of the chosen people of God, can never be doubted. From the eternal, heavenly, divine point of view saints can never fall; they are seated in heavenly places with Christ; they are renewed by the Spirit, and sealed by Him unto everlasting glory. But who sees the saints of God from this point of view? Not the world, not our fellow-Christians. They only see our character and walk. Not we ourselves, except in the moments when the Spirit beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. True, we trust in Christ, we rejoice in His love, we lean on Him; but to make our calling and election sure, to hear the voice of the Saviour, "Thou art mine"; to see the seal, "The Lord knoweth them that are His"; this is the secret, hidden, constant prayer, the concentrated work of the Christian. From our point of view, as we live in time, from day to day, our earnest desire must be to continue stedfast, to abide in Christ, to walk with God, to bring forth fruit that will manifest the presence of true and God-given life. Hence the apostle, who says to the Philippians, "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (1:6), adds to a similar thought in another epistle, "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Col 1:23). In the one passage Paul's point of view is the heavenly, eternal one; in the other he looks from earth heavenwards, from time to eternity. And in what other way could he think, speak, exhort, and encourage both himself and his fellow-Christians but in this manner, which appears conditional, and as if it contradicted the fixed and eternal election, while to the conscience and heart of the saint there is no discord? For it is by these very exhortations and warnings that the grace of God keeps us. It is in order that the elect may not fall, it is to bring out in fact and time the (ideal and eternal) impossibility of their apostasy, that God in His wisdom and mercy has sent to us such solemn messages and such fervent entreaties, to watch, to fight, to take heed unto ourselves, to resist the adversary. The fight of faith is good; that is, beautiful, according to God's will, in God's strength, and of no uncertain issue: it must lead to victory. But it is a real fight. The enemy, the dangers, the wounds, the difficulties, the insidious and constant attacksall are real. And can there be such a fight without fear? No: and even the fearful destruction which would follow, on our yielding to the enemy and forsaking our Lord, must be contemplated, that we may cleave to God. My soul followeth hard after thee; to keep within sight of my Guide, nay, leaning on my Beloved, this is my desire.
Yet the man who feareth alway is blessed; for in the fear of the Lord, as the wise man saith, there is strong confidence. Strong confidence! For if you think that the Bible doctrine of the Christian's fear favours the notion that the child of God is not to have the knowledge of salvation, that he is not to be filled with joy and peace through believing, you are mistaken. All Christian life starts from faith, trust, thanksgiving; not from doubt and suspense. Because Jesus the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us, we live unto Him and serve Him. Moved with fear, like Noah, we enter into the ark, and we are safe, adoring the goodness and the holiness of our Lord and Redeemer. The fear which hath torment is that fear which turns its face from the light and love of God. And if any element of torment enters into our fear we are to turn to the Lord, and look at that perfect love which casteth out fear. Whatever time I am afraid, I will trust in the Lord, said David. When we feel our weakness, danger, and sin, we look unto the Lord Jesus, and hear His voice, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
2. But the believer has rest, now on earth, and hereafter in glory. Resting in Christ, he labours to enter into the perfect rest of eternity.
The apostle returns to the quotation from Psalm 95, feeling that he has not yet exhausted the meaning of this important testimony of the Spirit.
On account of unbelief Israel entered not into rest. The promise was theirs; they heard it, but they believed not what they heard (Isa 53:1).(8)The word of God is addressed to the heart, and the heart receives it by faith. The understanding assents, the imagination admires, the memory retains, and yet there is no reception of the Word, no inward appropriation, and hence no life or growth. The rain which falls on a roof produces no real and lasting effect; but when it falls on good ground, it maketh it bring forth and bud.
Israel received the Word only superficially, and not mixing it with faith, the word did not profit them. The application is obvious. We have received the word of promise; unless by faith we appropriate and assimilate it (mark and inwardly digest it), it will be of no use to us. By faith, then, we do enter into rest.
But what did God mean by calling it His rest? Not they enter not into their rest, but His own. Oh, blessed distinction! I hasten to the ultimate and deepest solution of the question. God gives us Himself, and in all His gifts He gives us Himself. Here is the distinction between all religions which men invent, which have their origin in the conscience and heart of man, which spring up from earth, and the truth, the salvation, the life, revealed unto us from above, descending to us from heaven. All religions seek and promise the same things: light, righteousness, peace, strength, and joy. But human religions think only of creature-light, creature-righteousness, of a human, limited, and imperfect peace, strength, and blessedness. They start from man upwards. But God gives us Himself, and in Himself all gifts, and hence all His gifts are perfect and divine. Does God give us righteousness? He Himself is our righteousness, Jehovah-tsidkenu. Does God give us peace? Christ is our peace. Does God give us light? He is our light. Does God give us bread? He is the bread we eat; as the Son liveth by the Father, so he that eateth Me shall live by Me (John 6:35). God Himself is our strength. God is ours, and in all His gifts and blessings He gives Himself. By the Holy Ghost we are one with Christ, and Christ the Son of God is our righteousness, nay, our life. Do you want any other real presence? Are we not altogether "en-godded," God dwelling and living in us, and we in Him? What more real presence, and indwelling, awful and blessed, can we have than that which the apostle described when he said: "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me"? (Gal 2:20) Or again, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me"? (Phil 4:13) Or as the Lord Himself in His last prayer before His crucifixion said to the Father, "I in them, and thou in me"? (John 17:23)
Thus God gives us His rest as our rest.
It is written in the book of Genesis that God rested on the seventh day, and that thus (in His rest)(9)all His works were finished. The rest of God is the consummation and crown of the creation. Without it the creation would not have been complete. In great condescension the loving God, by the Word and the Spirit, went out of Himself into the "all things" which He called forth. But they were created for Him and unto Him. Hence He returns unto Himself on the seventh day. Heaven and earth are to be filled with His glory. The rest of the seventh day declares the sovereignty, majesty, and blessedness of God, which all things according to their capacity are to show forth and to rejoice in. Hence, if you will think of it, this Sabbath of God is the substratum and basis of all peace and restthe pledge of an ultimate and satisfactory purpose in creation. Without this idea the world is nothing else but constant motion without progress, journey without end, toil without reward, question without answer. "Sabbathless Satan." In this word Milton expresses a great thought.
But this rest of God in creation was disturbed and marred by sin. For the rest of God means not cessation from exhausting exertion"He fainteth not, neither is weary" (Isa 40:28). It does not mean cessation from work"My Father worketh hitherto, and I also work" (John 5:17)but the joy and delight of God in His good and perfect work. God's rest is no longer in the first creation. It is in redemption's new creation, of which redemption Israel's deliverance out of Egypt and entrance into Canaan was a type. God said unto Israel, "Ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you. But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when He giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety," &c. (Deut 12:9, 10)." And referring to this promise, Joshua said unto the two and a half tribes, "Now the Lord your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as He promised" (Josh 22:4). David said, "The Lord God of Israel hath given rest unto His people, that they may dwell in Jerusalem for ever" (1 Chron 23:25). In this beautiful expression David refers to God's rest, as it is written: "For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it" (Psa 132:13, 14). When David looked back upon the past history of his people, full of vicissitudes and troubles, war and conflict, bondage and chastisement, and now contemplated the prospect of peace and quiet, worship and praise, his soul was filled with gratitude and joy. Now the ark was deposited in a permanent abode. Solomon was to be a man of peace. God would rest in His people and they in Him. But these were only types. For if Joshua had given them true rest, if the rest which God gave to Israel was not a mere imperfect shadow and type of the future, why should the Holy Ghost say by David, "To-day if you hear His voice, harden not your heart"? Why should God speak of entering into His rest?
God rests in Christ as the Redeemer and Restorer of fallen man. The Father was pleased in Jesus His beloved Son, and the Lord delighted in Him as His elect Servant. Jesus was the Tabernacle where God dwelt and found His rest. For our sins this Temple, holy and true, was broken; because of our justification it was built again. Now in the risen Jesus, the first-begotten from the dead, Head of the church, Heir of all things, the Father beholds His glory and the fulfillment of His counsel. In Him, as our risen Saviour, dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and where God's rest is, there also is ours. Hence Jesus promises to give unto all who come to Him rest and peace (Matt 11:28-30; John 14:27).(10)
Our souls long for rest. "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! Then would I fly away and be at rest!" is the sigh of every soul. And this rest is only in God's rest. Death brings no rest to our souls. It is Jesus Christ who alone can give rest to man; for only in Him we are restored and brought into communion with God. The reason of our unrest is nothing else but our fall, our abnormal condition, our alienation from God. The centre of our life is not fixed in God, and therefore there is no harmony and no peace; there is no health in us. For rest is not in sloth or unconsciousness, or in a life of half-roused energies. When we have no light for our mind, no peace in our conscience, no love in our heart, then are we disturbed; then there is no worthy central aim and guide of life. When we are wandering in the wilderness, without knowing the end or beholding the light to direct, then are we without rest. The great promise of Christ is rest. For He is the Restorer. He gives us light. Men of brilliant genius, extensive information, acute and penetrating intellect, have often no rest, because they see not the Light of the world, in whom alone God, immortality, and the way of peace and holiness are revealed. Men of piety and self-denial, who possess a high standard of morality, are not at rest, because they have not Christ, and in Him, the holy and righteous, yet merciful and loving forgiveness of God. The whole spiritual nature of man is without its centre until Christ is loved, and our life is a waiting for Him, and going forth to meet the Bridegroom.
We enjoy rest in Christ by faith. But the perfect enjoyment of rest is still in the future.(11)There remaineth a sabbatism for the people of God.(12) Believers will enter into rest after their earthly pilgrimage, labour and conflict, and the whole creation will share in the liberty and joy of the children of God. The substance and foretaste of this rest we have even now in Christ. In Him, as the glorified Head of the Church, the Father and the believers meet even now, and we have perfection and complete peace. But as Christ has entered into glory, we are to be glorified together with Him at His coming. Then will be perfectly satisfied the great and deep-seated desire of our heart for rest. By rest is not meant inactivity, but peace and harmony within and with all that is around us. We cannot conceive of God's children in eternity in a state of inactivity; for by reason of their union with Christ and with all angels, by reason of the central position given to the church, the glorified believers not merely behold and praise, but serve God day and night. Work is not opposed to rest. If we possessed perfect light, so that we saw clearly the end and the method of labour; if we possessed a perfect medium of work, so that mind and body were perfect and efficient tools for the directing will, so that reason, affection, and all our energies, soul and body were willing, adequate servants of the spirit; if we were endowed with sufficient and unfailing strength, so that there could be no painful exhaustion or disproportion between the design and the power of execution; and if the material to be worked upon was plastic and impressible, responsive to our thought, then work would be the greatest enjoyment, and in work would be a continued renewal of strength and an uninterrupted repose of thanksgiving. But all these conditions will be fulfilled in the renewed earth. The saints will be in light; seeing and knowing as they are known, they will possess minds and bodies, energies and powers, perfect and adequate instruments of their God-filled volitions, they will never be faint and weary, and all curse and obstructions will be removed. Thus while they praise and rejoice, they will work, while they execute God's commandments they will behold His countenance. They will both reign and rest with Christ.
But the great contrast between the sabbatism we wait for and the present period is this. In the present life we are to work out according to God's energy within us; we are to sow, to lay up treasure, to grow, and make increase. We have talents entrusted, and we are to trade with them. Death stereotypes our character and ends our labours. It is here on earth that through sufferings and discipline we are conformed to the image of Christ. As we have been faithful, so shall we be rewarded. As we have been faithful, so are we; whatever meekness, patience, love, humility, we have learned on earth, we shall possess throughout eternity. It is true of all God's saints, from the least to the greatest, that, delivered from the body of death, they are also freed from sin and the old man; beholding the glory of Christ, they become like Him whom they see. Yet, without contradicting this comforting truth, the Scriptures constantly connect our faithfulness, obedience, and discipline on earth with our eternal condition and blessedness, with the reward which sovereign grace will assign to the heirs of life. They who sow sparingly reap sparingly; they who sow abundantly reap abundantly. There is no sowing after death, no more laying out our talents on usury; no more development or growth. According to our life in the body is our glory; work therefore while it is day (2 Cor 5:10; John 9:4).
While this is a very solemn truth, stimulating us to diligence and watchfulness, we must ever hold fast the blessed assurance that all believers will be glorified with Christ. Believers differ in glory, and in this diversity and gradation there will be harmony and the exercise of love and enjoyment of communion. For they who are nearest Christ, and possessed of the highest glory, are most fully conformed to the image of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, and their delight is to enrich all their brethren out of the abundance of their knowledge and joy.
Have I brought before you apparently contradictory doctrines? Fear and the assurance of God's salvation, rest and labour? In Christ Jesus all contradictions are solved. Let us learn Christ. Look unto Him, and you will fear lest you displease and grieve Him, lest the heavenly Bridegroom should discern in you the heart of unbelief and the love of the world. And this very fear will draw you to lean on Him and to abide in Him, who is your only life and strength. Rest in Jesus, and resting in Him you will labour, you will serve Christ in the Church, you will look upon duties and trials as heavenly discipline to make you Christlike, as precious seed which will bring plentiful harvest. We can take nothing out of this world but Christ formed in us. And whatever may have been our calling and occupation, the only question is, Has it been made subservient to the formation of the Christ-man? Earthly things are to be viewed in their relation to spiritual and eternal realities. The sum and substance of all our experiences, actions and trials in time must needs be the character, the attitude of the heart, the strength and affection of the soul. If a Christian is in business, if he has many and complicated transactions, many difficult and important duties in which the welfare of others is concerned, large and complicated responsibilities, the question is, Has he learnt faithfulness, justice, kindness, self-restraint, generosity? has he been a steward of God's gifts? has he been heavenly-minded, fervent in spirit while not slothful in business? Then all his earthly work has been spiritual work, and his labour in time has wrought out eternal results.
Whatever our duties, trials, social position, our mental attainments may be, the Christian's one aim is, that through them all Christ should be formed in him. Thus the Christian is always feeding upon Christ, he is always eating and drinking spiritual nourishment; all things work together to promote his growth and his conformity to the Saviour. As we speak of making flesh, so we may speak of the Christian making Spirit; doing all things to the glory of God and in the name of Christ: he is continually labouring for the meat which endureth for ever. Though engaged in what is secular, temporal, and apparently transitory, his spiritual, eternal man is forming; he is preparing his everlasting and peculiar mansion and harvest. Christ is the Vine, and we are the branches; but the object, fruit, and glory of the vine is to produce wine. No emblem can set forth the truth fully; for as Christ is the Vine, so the love of Christ abiding in the heart and transforming the soul is also the ultimate blessedness and glory of believers. Even now we possess and enjoy this love; hence our labour is full of rest; and when at last we enter into the perfect rest, we shall be satisfied with His likeness when we behold His face in righteousness.
Chapter 10: The Word of God, Judging the Christian Below;
the Great High Priest's Sympathy and Help Above
(Hebrews 4:12-16)12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. 14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.Resting by faith in Jesus, and labouring to enter into that perfect rest which remaineth to the people of God, the Christian, during his pilgrimage through the wilderness, is guided by the word of God, which is in his hand, and upheld and encouraged by the intercession and sympathy of the great High Priest above.
The apostle, having based his earnest exhortation on the Scripture, on what the Holy Ghost saith in Psalm 95, naturally confirms it by reminding the Hebrews of the majesty and power of the word of God. They who are under the influence of the divine word must be decided, earnest, whole-hearted. For God's word is perfect; it enters into the inmost depths of the heart, it searches out every secret thought, and judges our life from its hidden root to all its manifestations. You who are in contact with the word of God, with the mind of Christ, with the depth-searching Spirit, are you more real and thorough than others? Does God find in you the truth He desires in the inward parts?
We are familiar with the word of God. Like Israel, we possess this treasure in our country, in our families. It is in our homes and schools. We know it from our childhood. The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth. How often have our lips uttered the very words of the living God. But, thankful as we ought to be for this great privilege, do we know also the majesty and the power of the word of God? Do we know that, in possessing, reading, and knowing the Scripture, we are under a mighty, solemn, and decisive influence, and that this word judges us now, and will judge us at the last day? Do we tremble at the word of Jehovah? Does the word judge and decide, mould and govern, guide and comfort? What are and do ye more than others, who know only human words and opinions, to whom Scripture also is but the word of man? Is it evident, from the effects the word has produced in you, that it is the word of the living God? Oh, blessed are they who, like the author of Psalm 119, can give to the word more than a hundredfold praise!
The expressions which are used here of the word of God are all applicable to Christ Himself; for He is living, He is the power of God, He came for judgment into the world, He is the Searcher of hearts, His eyes are like a flame of fire. But the reference is to the spoken and written word. For in this epistle the Lord is never called the Word, as in the gospel of John and in the book of Revelation. We know how intimate and essential is the connection between the eternal, living, personal word and the Scriptures. The Son is the Word, the revealer of God, the expression of His thought, the manifestation of His light and love. Christ is the Word of God, and therefore Christ is the sum and substance of Scripture. Of Him testify Moses and the prophets. The Spirit of Christ did signify, both in the types of the law and the prophecies, of His sufferings and glory. The Scripture, as the written word, is according to Christ and of Christ; and by it Christ is heard, received, and formed in the soul.
Of this written Word, of which Christ is centre and end, as well as author and method, which is inspired by the Holy Ghost and sent by God, the gospel message is the kernel. And hence it is this gospel which especially is called the Word. "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; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:24, 25). And is not all Scripture gospel? For even the law, convincing of sin and declaring condemnation, is only sent to prepare the heart for the reception of Christ's grace and salvation. And blessed are they who are wounded by Moses, for Jesus shall heal them.
The Word is living (Rev 1:18, Greek; John 5:26, 21 and 24, 6:63, 68). God is called the Living One; and Christ the Lord calls Him self the Living One. He is the life, He has life in Himself, and He came to quicken and to give unto us life abundantly. And the Word which proceedeth out of the mouth and heart of God, the Word of which Christ is the substance, and which is given and watched over by the Spirit, is also living; for God's words are spirit and life.
The Word is the seed, which appears insignificant, but which if received in good ground shows its vitality. Hence it is by this Word that souls are born again unto eternal life. They who receive the word of God (not texts and sermons) experience that this Word does not remain within them as a dead and inert mass, a mere addition to their previous knowledge, but that it produces within them life. All words, to a certain extent, may be compared to seed; but they cannot produce new, spiritual, divine, eternal life. They may add to the knowledge, excite the emotions, stimulate the energies, rouse the conscience of the old man; they cannot create the new life. The word of God quickens the dead. As the Word, applied by the Spirit, produces, so it also sustains and promotes life. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2). The Saviour, who is life, calls Himself not merely bread, but living bread; so the word of God. by which our life is sustained, is a living Word.
The living Word is powerful or energetic. It is compared to the seed which possesses vitality and power. It springs up and grows while men are asleep and unconscious of its operation. First comes the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. The word of God is continually active; it grows and energises in our thoughts and motives, it brings forth fruit in our words and actions, it impels to exertion, it sustains in trial. We can see the power or energy of the Word when it fills those that hear and receive it with strong emotions, filling them with fear and terror, with grief and contrition; we can see its power in the sudden and striking changes it produces, when the thoughtless and worldly, the selfish and depraved, are arrested and quickened by its mighty power. But while the earthquake and the fire declare the approach of the Lord, it is in the still small voice that the Lord at last appears to take up His permanent abode. There are the hidden flowers of humility, of forgiving love, of patience and meekness; there are the unseen and unknown daily conflicts and victories; there is the crucifixion of the old man, and the constant renewal of the resurrection-life; and these are especially the triumphs of the power of the Word.
The Word cannot be loving and energetic without being also a sword, dividing and separating with piercing and often painful sharpness that, which in our natural state lies together mixed and confused. The Word of God, by which all things were called forth, divided and separated darkness from light, the waters above from the waters below, the dry land from the sea. The Word of God, which came unto the fathers, tried and proved them; it was a heart-searching Word, which called forth conflict, and commanded separation from all ungodliness and all trust in the flesh. The Word of God, incarnate, was declared from His infancy set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. For before life enters into the soul, there is no separation, division, warfare; all things are chaotic, without form and void. The soul, or the lower intellectual and sentient life, is not distinguished from the spirit and the higher Godward and eternal life. We do not discern the inner man delighting in the law of God and the other law striving in our members. We call evil good, and do not know that there is only one good, even God. We savour the things that are of man and not of God; and while we think ourselves disciples, Jesus calls us Satan. We do not know nature and grace, flesh and Spirit, earth and heaven, self and Christ, Adam and the Lord, the quickening Spirit. We sing, but it is not the melody of the heart; we pray, but it is not in faith; we read the Scripture, but it is not hearing the voice of God; we preach, and visit, and work, as we call it, for Christ, and it is not as the servants who do not their own will, seek not their own glory, and rely not on their own strength. We imitate Christ, but not the real Christ, who sought only to please and honour God, who walked in love, who came not to do His own will. Oh, when the whole life of Jesus stands before the eyes of our heart, when we behold ourselves in this mirror, how deeply humbled do we feel! I think of the singleness of His aim, "I came to do not my will, but the will of Him that sent me" (John 6:38); I think of the uninterrupted calmness and fervour of His faith in God; I think of His absolute and inexhaustible love, which gave expecting nothing again, which was always ready to forgive and to bless; I think of Him as walking in love, love surrounding all His footsteps, love (and that in a sinful world which hated Him) the atmosphere in which He breathed, the constant manifestation of His heart, "And when mine eye seeth Him, I abhor myself" (Job 42:5, 6.) The word of God comes as a sword,(13)and separates and analyzes; it comes not to flatter and to soothe; it comes not to encourage us with half-true, half-false encomiums; it does not call the flesh Spirit, but condemns it as flesh and enmity against God. It leads you into the lower Christian life; it discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart, the hidden self-complacency, the hidden ambition and self-will; it enters into the very joints and marrow, the energies and sentiments, the motives and springs of our actions, the true character of our rejoicing and mourning, our elevations and depressions; and then you say with the apostle: I have no confidence in the flesh, in my old nature, in me, body, soul, and spirit as I am of Adam. I dare not trust the sweetest frame. I cannot call my "holy things" holy, for they are full of sin. The word of God enters into my inmost soul and heart-life, and as a judge both unveils and condemns; what hitherto was hidden, is uncovered; what was disguised, unveiled; what was falsely called good and spiritual, appears now in the bright light of God's countenance; the thoughts and intents of the heart are discerned. Thus am I brought into God's presence, as when I first was convinced of my sin and my guilt; but I feel more abased, and with a deeper knowledge and sorrow I exclaim: I am vile, and abhor myself in dust and ashes. Oh, where is Christ? I wish to be found in Him. I wish Him to live in me. What is there in me pleasing to God? Oh that Christ would sing, pray, love, live in me!
When the Word thus dwells in us, we give glory to God, and we are spiritually-minded. We live not on mere notions and impressions; we begin to apply our knowledge to our actual state and to our daily walk; we are delivered from hypocrisy, which is since the fall the great disease of mankind, especially those who enjoy the privilege of belonging to the congregation of God. What is hypocrisy but as the word signifies, living in a vain show, the semblance of things? As actors on a stage, who pretend they are kings, and possess power and large armies, who speak and demean themselves with great dignity; so men professing faith and godliness rest satisfied with a form and outline, without substance and fulness. The word of God suffers not such a semblance and shadowy deception. It brings us into the presence of Him who desireth truth in the inward part. The Christian, who is judged, chastened, and corrected, who is wounded and killed by this living and powerful Word, prays: "Search me, and try me, and see if there be any wicked thing in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa 139:23, 24).
Here alone is peace. Without this solemn awe and trembling at the word of God, there is no true rest in Christ. There may be much talk about peace and assurance, expressions which are exuberant, but proceed not out of a full heart, which sound strong and courageous, but are not of the Spirit, in whom alone is might. He who has confidence in the flesh does not rejoice in Christ Jesus. And to have no confidence in the flesh is the result of the pain-inflicting judgment of the Word. When we judge ourselves, we are not judged. When we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin. When we admit that we have denied Him thrice, we can say: "Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee."
The Word judges us on earth, and we are humbled; the Lord Jesus represents us in heaven; He intercedes for us, He sympathises with us. We look from earth and self to the sanctuary above, and find there nothing but love, grace, sympathy, and the fulness of blessings. He is our great High Priest. Israel in the wilderness, though full of sin, was brought nigh to God through the priesthood, and especially through the High Priest. We have the substance, of which tabernacle and priests were types. Christ is our great, eternal and all-sufficient High Priest in heaven. We must lift up our eyes and hearts to heaven in order to find peace and consolation. Jesus the Son of God (Heb 1:2), who by His sufferings and death became a merciful and faithful High Priest (2:17), has, according to the will and word of the Father (1:3, 13), passed through the created heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He, as our Lord and High Priest, is in heaven itself; He is called great, for Aaron and Melchisedek are but types, while He is the true and eternal Priest. The throne on which He is seated is the same throne which is called the throne of the majesty. But unto us it is now a throne of grace. The Father, the Lamb, and the Spirit, are One, the God of salvation. We who are justified by the blood of Christ are now in the presence of the Father. All divine attributes and perfections are now full of peace and consolation; we behold the throne of God as a throne of grace. As forgiven, accepted, nay, as the righteousness of God in Christ, we are before God. Beholding Jesus as our great High Priest, we shall have strength to hold fast our profession, notwithstanding all our difficulties and sins, and we shall have boldness to go to the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and help in the time of need.
Judged and humbled by the word on earth, we are strengthened and comforted by the great High Priest in heaven. Through suffering and temptation, through infirmity and conflict, the Son of man ascended high above all principalities and powers, thrones and dominions; high above all heavens, into the very presence and glory of God. He has entered into the holy of holies; He possesses now, as the Son of man, the glory which He had with the Father from all eternity. Far above all created heavens, far above all created angels, we behold now Him who first descended into the lower parts of the earth. Our Lord Jesus, who hungered and thirsted, who lived in the weakness and infirmity of the flesh, who sighed and wept, who prayed and agonized, who was tempted of the devil, who died on the cross, who was buried and descended into Hades, He is now in the most excellent glory, and He is there as our High Priest, Representative, and Head. "Glory to God in the highest," sang the angels; and in that highest regionif we may so call that which is above space as eternity is above timelives now our Lord, with whom we are one.
Think not of the quiet resting-place of the saints who, free from sin and toil, are asleep in Jesusthink not of the heavens of angels, who in strength and love execute God's commandmentbut high above them, in the sanctuary, in the palace, in the very throne of the glorious and ever-blessed Godhead, is the Man Christ Jesus. And we who were co-crucified with Him are there in Him. The Father beholds us in Christ; we are whiter than snow, and the beauty of the Lord shines on us.
In that sanctuary of blessedness and glory Jesus, who was tempted in all things as we are, apart from sin, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He remembers His earthly experience. He knows our frailty, the painfulness of the conflict, the weakness of the flesh."Where high the heavenly temple stands,He knows our danger, and that Satan hath desired to have us, that he may sift us as wheat. While the Saviour thus regards us with compassion and with sympathy, He has no lower standard for us, no lower aim, than He had for Himself. We are to be in the world as He was, to overcome as He overcame, and to end even where the Lord is; it is Christ's will, that where He is we who believe in Him should be likewise. As He was in heaven, even while He lived on earth, so He desires that, even while in the wilderness, we should have our citizenship in heaven. And as He overcame, and is set down on His Father's throne, so He desires that we should overcome and share His throne and dominion.
The house of God not made with hands,
A great High Priest our nature wears,
The Guardian of mankind appears.
"He who for men their surety stood,
And poured on earth His precious blood,
Pursues in heaven His mighty plan,
The Saviour and the Friend of man.
"Though now ascended up on high,
He bends on earth a brother's eye;
Partaker of the human name,
He knows the frailty of our frame.
"Our fellow-sufferer yet retains
A fellow-feeling of our pains;
And still remembers in the skies,
His tears, His agonies, and cries."
Remember both the tenderness of the High Priest's heart, and the comprehensive scope of His intercession. This indeed is true sympathy, not with the sin, but with the sinner. The perfectly holy and victorious One alone can give true sympathy, seeking our real, our highest good. Sympathy comes to us from the "very highest" heaven.
His intercession is perpetual, unceasing; it is sovereign, and part of the divine covenant-gifts. Even as He died for us, and rose again, and ascended into heaven for our salvation, so He ever liveth to intercede. It is not in answer to our prayer, it is not according to our works and merits, that He died for us. Even so is His intercession His own divine, gracious, sovereign gift. As His infinite and inexhaustible love brought Him from the throne of His glory to live and die upon earth, so the same love is now the source of His constant care and faithfulness, and of His never-ceasing intercession. We are upheld according to His lovingkindness, according to the multitude of His tender mercies. Justified by His blood, we are now much more abundantly saved by His life.
And having such a High Priest in heaven, can we lose courage? can we draw back in cowardice, impatience, and faint-heartedness? can we give up our profession, our allegiance, our obedience to Christ? Or shall we not be like Joshua and Caleb, who followed the Lord fully? Let us hold fast our profession; let us persevere and fight the good fight on earth. Our great High Priest in the highest glory is our righteousness and strength; He loves, He watches, He prays, He holds us fast, and we shall never perish. Jesus is our Moses, who in the height above prays for us, Jesus our true Joshua, who gains the victory over our enemies. Only be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed. In that mirror of the Word in which we behold our sin and weakness we behold also the image of that perfect One who has passed through the conflict and temptation, who as the High Priest bears us on His loving heart, and as the Shepherd of the flock holds us in safety for evermore. Boldly we come to the throne of grace. In Jesus we draw near to the Father. The throne of majesty and righteousness is unto us a throne of grace. The Lord is our God. In one aspect Christ tells us that He does not pray to the Father for us, because the Father Himself loveth us. We behold in Christ's intercession the Father's love, even as in the death of Christ we recognise the love of God. Our God then is enthroned in grace. There is not merely grace on the throne, but the throne is altogether the throne of grace. It is grace which disciplines us by the sharp and piercing Word; it is grace which looks on us when we have denied Him, and makes us weep bitterly. Jesus always intercedes; the throne is always a throne of grace. The Lamb is in the midst of the throne. Hence we come boldly.
Boldly is not contrasted with reverently and tremblingly; boldness is not contrasted with awe and godly fear. It means literally "saying all," with that confidence which begets thorough honesty, frankness, full and open speech. "Pour out your heart before Him." Come as you are, say what you feel, ask what you need. Confess your sins, your fears, your wandering thoughts and affections.
Jesus the Lord went through all sorrows and trials the heart of man can go through, and as He felt all affliction and temptation most keenly, so in all these difficulties and trials He had communion with the Father. He knows, therefore, how to succour them that are tempted. How fully and unreservedly may we speak to God in the presence and by the mediation of the man Christ Jesus.
The Lord Jesus is filled with tender compassion, and the most profound, lively, and comprehensive sympathy. This belongs to the perfection of His high-priesthood. For this very purpose He was tempted, He suffered. Our infirmities, it is true, are intimately connected with our sinfulness; the weakness of our flesh is never free from a sinful concurrence of the will; and the Saviour knows from His experience on earth how ignorant, poor, weak, sinful, and corrupt His disciples are. He loved them, watched over them with unwearied patience; prayed for them that their faith fail not; and reminded them the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. He remembers also His own sinless weakness; He knows what constant thought, meditation, and prayer are needed to overcome Satan, and to be faithful to God. He knows what it is for the soul to be sorrowful and overwhelmed, and what it is to be refreshed by the sunshine of divine favour, and to rejoice in the Spirit. We may come to Him expecting full, tender, deep sympathy, and compassion. He is ever ready to strengthen and comfort, to heal and to restore. He is prepared to receive the poor, wounded, sin-stained believer; to dry the tears of Peter weeping bitterly; to say to Paul, oppressed with the thorn in the flesh, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor 12:9).
We need only understand that we are sinners and that He is High Priest. The law was given that every mouth may be shut, for we are guilty. The High Priest is given that every mouth may be open, for Jesus receives sinners. He saves and upholds all who put their trust in Him. It is by reason of that secret pride and self-righteousness, which Satan as a subtle poison infuses into the human heart, that when we feel our sinfulness and transgression we do not go boldly to the loving and compassionate High Priest, to the throne of grace. And this latent self-righteousness often expresses itself in such regretful phrases as, Well, I must just depend on the mercy of God; as if the mercy of our God and Saviour was a last resource when other and better things have failed, as if it was not our only peace, joy, and glory, as if it was not the best robe and the unspeakable gift, as if Jesus was not all in all, as if our song in time and eternity were not"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. He loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood."
We come in faith as sinners. Then shall we obtain mercy; and we always need mercy. As pilgrims on earth we always need mercy, to wash our feet, to restore to us the joy of salvation, to heal our backslidings, and bind up our wounds. We shall obtain help in every time of need. For God may suffer Satan and the world, want and suffering, to go against us; but He always causes all things to work together for our good. He permits the time of need, that we may call upon Him, and, being delivered by Him, may glorify His name. He will send timely help before we succumb to the infirmities and temptations which beset us. For He, who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, will send deliverance at the right moment, when all the purposes of grace and chastening discipline have been secured. All the help we needwisdom, patience, strength, daily bread, all is treasured up for us in the heavenly places; the sanctuary is also the treasury; the High Priest is also King. From the throne of grace God will send it. Come boldly.
Jesus belongs to the sinner. From His infancy in Bethlehem's manger to the garden of Gethsemane, and from His agony on the cross to His ascension high above all heavens, He belongs to us, poor, guilty and helpless sinners, who trust in Him. He is altogether ours. He came to seek and to save us who were lost. His obedience, His life of sorrow and love, His prayers and tears, His sacrifice on the cross, His resurrection, all is ours, because we are the wayward and helpless sheep who went astray, and whom He found. And in the heavenly glory He is ours, and His love, sympathy, faithfulness and power, give unto us in our need and misery, all things which pertain unto life and godliness. It is with us sinners that the glorified Saviour is now constantly occupied. We are His thought, His care, His work, andoh that it were so more abundantly!His joy, His garden, His reward. In Jesus God is ours. In the ocean of His love, in the fulness of infinite covenant-grace, we can rejoice. The God with whom we have to do seeth and knoweth all things; He is a consuming fireand yet is He our God, Father, Saviour, indwelling Spirit; His throne is the throne of grace; nay, our very life is hid with Christ in God; we are in the bosom of Jesus, who is in the bosom of the Father. Hold fast, brother, and come boldly. Amen.
Christ, as Son of Man, Called and Perfected to Be our High Priest
(Hebrews 5:1-10)1 For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: 2 Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. 3 And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. 4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. 5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. 6 As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. 7 Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; 8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; 10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.We enter now on the third section of our epistle, which extends from chapter 5 to chapter 10:39, and which sets before us the Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the everlasting covenant, greater than the Aaronic priesthood. Twice already the apostle has referred to Christ as our High Priest, and he now enters on the development of the central theme of his epistle, Christ a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. But in order to explain the priesthood on which Christ entered after His death and resurrection, and of which not Aaron but Melchizedek was the type, it is necessary for him to show how the Lord Jesus fulfilled all that was typified of Him in the Levitical dispensation, and possessed in perfection all the requirements which, according to divine appointment, were needed in the high priest, and which could not be possessed in perfection by sinful men like the Aaronic priests.
The High Priest in Israel possessed these two qualifications: First, He was one of the people, taken from among men for men. Secondly, He was appointed expressly by God Himself. The Lord Jesus was accordingly man, and appointed by the Father to be High Priest. But in His case a third element is added. As our Lord is not only the High Priest, but the sacrifice, on the foundation of which He exercises in heaven the functions of the High Priest, it was necessary for Him to suffer and to enter into the lowest depth of agony and death. And after having in perfect obedience and faith endured all, He entered into heaven, to be the High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Before Israel was redeemed out of Egypt, sacrifices and offerings were brought unto God by the fathers of families, and the paschal lamb was offered in every household. The whole nation, redeemed by the blood of the lamb, was called to be a nation of priests; that is, they were separated unto God, and called to worship Him, and to offer unto Him sacrifice. It was only when the people became deeply conscious of their sins, guilt, and pollution, when the law revealed to them more fully the awful majesty and holiness of God, that the priesthood was appointed, typical of the true mediation between God and man. The priests were appointed by God, separated unto Him, or holy, to bring the people's sacrifices and offerings before God; they were permitted to draw near to God, and this as representatives and mediators. And they brought to the people God's gifts, viz., reconciliation and blessing.
Now it is evident that the priesthood suffered from two essential defects, and that it was only a shadow and type of our Lord.
In the first place, the priests were as sinful as the people whom they represented. It was on account of sin that Israel felt the need of a mediator. But Aaron and the priests were only officially holy, they were not in reality spotless and pure. Hence they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins and infirmities, as well as for those of the people.
Secondly, the mediator ought not merely to be perfect and sinless man, he ought also to be divine, in perfect and full communion with God, so that he can impart divine forgiveness and blessing. Only in the Lord Jesus therefore is the true mediation. And now that He has come and entered into the heavenly sanctuary as our High Priest, the word priest in the sense of sacerdotal mediator dare never be used any more. Through Jesus the whole congregations of believers have boldness to enter into the holy of holies. He who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, hath made us kings and priests unto God.
The two qualifications of the Aaronic high priest, that he was from among men and that he was appointed by God, were fulfilled in a perfect manner in the Lord Jesus. But in considering these two points, we are struck not merely by the resemblance between the type and the fulfillment, but also by the contrast.
First, Aaron was chosen from among men to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Jesus was true man, born of a woman and made under the law; He became in all things like unto His brethren. But whereas the Jewish high priest had to offer for himself, as he was a sinner, the Lord was harmless and undefiled, pure and spotless. His mediation was therefore perfect.The Aaronic high priest was able to have compassion on the ignorant and on them that were out of the way. The expression ignorance refers here to the great distinction which was made in Israel between sins for which there were sacrifices, and the sin of determined and presumptuous defiance of God's authority for which there was no sacrifice but judgment: "That soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him" (Num 15:22-31). The Aaronic high priest could have compassion on fellow-sinners, knowing and feeling his own infirmities and transgressions, and knowing also the love of God, who desireth not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn and live.
But this compassionate, loving, gentle, all-considerate, and tender regard for the sinner can exist in perfection only in a sinless one. This appears at first sight paradoxical; for we expect the perfect man to be the severest judge. And with regard to sin, this is doubtless true. God chargeth even His angels with folly. He beholds sin where we do not discover it. He setteth our secret sins in the light of His countenance. And Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, like the Father, has eyes like a flame of fire, and discerns everything that is contrary to God's mind and will. But with regard to the sinner, Jesus, by virtue of His perfect holiness, is the most merciful, compassionate, and considerate Judge. For we, not taking a deep and keen view of sin, that central essential evil which exists in all men, and manifests itself in various ways and degrees, are not able to form a just estimate of men's comparative guilt and blameworthiness. Nay, our very sins make us more impatient and severe with regard to the sins of others. Our vanity finds the vanity of others intolerable; our pride finds the pride of others excessive. And again, blind to the guilt of our own peculiar sins, we are shocked with another's sin, different indeed from ours, but not less offensive to God, or pernicious in its tendencies. Again, the purer and higher the character, the quicker its penetration and the livelier its sympathy, discovering and loving any element and tendency heavenward and godward. Again, the greater the knowledge of divine love and pardon, the stronger faith in the divine mercy and renewing grace, the more hopeful and the more lenient will be our view of sinners. And finally, the more we possess of the spirit and heart of the Shepherd, the Physician, the Father, the Brother, the deeper will be our compassion on the ignorant and wayward.
The Lord Jesus was therefore most compassionate, considerate, lenient, hopeful in His feelings toward sinners and in His dealings with them. He was infinitely holy and perfectly clear in His hatred and judgment of sin; but He was tender and gracious to the sinner. Beholding the sinful heart in all, estimating sin according to the divine standard, according to its real inward character, and not the human, conventional, and outward measure, Jesus, infinitely holy and sensitive as He was, saw often less to shock and pain Him in the drunkard and profligate than in the respectable, selfish, and ungodly religionists. Again, He had come to heal the sick, to restore the erring, to bring the sinner to repentance. He looked upon sin as the greatest and most fearful evil, but on the sinner as poor, suffering, lost, and helpless. He felt as the Shepherd towards the ignorant and erring, the wayward and foolish, the helpless and perishing; He felt as the Physician towards the guilty and sin-stricken; He felt the yearning of parental love and pity toward the children of Jerusalem; and even on the cross, when their sin appeared in its most fearful intensity, the Lord prayed"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"! (Luke 23:34). Again, He fastened in a moment on any indications of the Father's drawing the heart, of the Spirit's work. He loved the rich young man; for, though his words sounded most self-righteous, Jesus beheld Him, and saw he was not peaceful and calm in his soul. He knew how to stir up the hidden remnant, however small it was, of religious knowledge in the woman of Samaria, so that she asked Him about worship, and said, "I know that Messiah cometh"! (John 4:25). He rebuked Peter as Satan, and yet He knew and loved him as a true and sincere disciple. And thus, while Jesus, in His perfect holiness, judges most truly, lovingly, and tenderly of us, He knows by experience the weakness of the flesh, and the difficulty and soreness of the struggle. What a marvellous fulfillment of the Priest's requisite, that he should be taken from men! one to whom we can look with full and calm trust, our Representative, the man Christ Jesus, possessed of perfect, divine love and compassion.
Secondly, the High Priest is appointed by God. No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. The High Priesthood of Christ is identified here with His glory. Christ glorified not Himself to be made a High Priest. Blessed truth, that the glory of Christ and our salvation are so intimately connected, that Christ regards it as His glory to be our Mediator and Intercessor! This is Christ's glory, even as it is the reward of His suffering, that in Him we draw near to the Father, and that from Him we receive the blessings of the everlasting covenant. He rejoices to be our High Priest.
God called Him to the Priesthood. In Psalm 110:4 it is written: "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." When Jesus entered into the Holy of Holies, when He sat down at the right hand of God, then He actually entered on the exercise of His priesthood. But the calling of Jesus to the High Priestly dignity is based on His Sonship. For, as we have already seen, the true Priest or Mediator must be divine as well as human. Because Jesus is Son, He is the Prophet, perfectly revealing God; because He is Son, He is the true Sacrifice and Priest; for only the blood of the Son of God can cleanse from all sin, and bring us nigh unto God; and only through Christ crucified and exalted can the Fathers love and the Spirit's power descend into our hearts.
Here the comparison and contrast between the Lord and Aaron ends. The apostle now enters on that which is peculiar to our Saviour Jesus. The types and figures of the old covenant could not be perfect and adequate; for that which is united in Christ had necessarily to be severed and set forth by a variety of figures. The priests offered not themselves, but animals. Now the obedience, the conflict, the faith, the offering of the will in the true, real, and effective Sacrifice could not possibly be symbolised. Nor could any single symbol represent how Jesus, by being first the Sacrifice, became thereby the perfect, compassionate, and merciful High Priest. Christ was the victim on the cross. His whole previous life of obedience was the necessary preparation for His ultimate obedience unto death. And because He was the true sacrifice, and had learned obedience, He became the compassionate and faithful High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. Hence we must combine the Levitical types (regarding sacrifice, and the entrance of Aaron into the holy of holies) and the Melchizedek type (regarding priesthood), in order to obtain a true view of the work and person of our Lord. We must read Leviticus in the light of the gospels and epistles, rather than explain the fulfillment by the necessarily imperfect and fragmentary types; and in doing so we shall see as much contrast between the type and the reality as resemblance between the shadow and the substance.
Called of God to be a High Priest for ever, the Lord Jesus, though He was the eternal Son of the Father, and though He was returning to glory, even to the right hand of the Majesty on high, learned obedience by the things which He suffered. He knows the path of temptation, sorrow, and conflict. The following verses unfold to us that the Lord descended into the lowest depth of human weakness, anguish, and death, and that only through this dark path He entered into His heavenly priesthood. It is in like manner that in the epistle to the Philippians the mind which was in Christ Jesus is described. He who was in the form of God emptied Himself, and was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; and it is for this reason that the Father hath highly exalted Him. In one passage the emphasis is laid on His priesthood, in the other on His royal supremacy. In both the voluntary and perfect obedience of Jesus as the eternal Son of God is presented to us.
The Son of God, according to the eternal counsel, came into the world to be obedient even unto death. "Lo, I come to do Thy will" (Heb 10:7, 9). His obedience was characterized throughout by such continuity, liberty, and inward delight, that we are apt to forget that aspect of His life on which the apostle dwells when he says, that though Christ was a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered. The Lord Jesus was always doing the things which pleased the Father. There was no break or hesitation, no pause or retrogression in His path: it was the path of the just man, which is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. And as it was continuous, so it seemed without an effort, flowing forth abundantly and spontaneously out of the full well-spring of His heart. He seems refreshed and not exhausted by doing the will of the Father that sent Him.
And yet Jesus learned obedience, as He Him self said, He came not to do His own will. He who is Lord, eternal, infinite in power and glory, was made flesh, and with a human will, amid the toil and temptation incident to humanity, He continually submitted Himself to God His Father. Real and great were His difficulties, temptations, and sorrows; and from the prayers and complaints ascribed to Messiah in the psalms and prophets, we can understand somewhat of the burden which weighed on His loving and sensitive heart, and the constant dependence with which He leaned on the Father, and obtained from Him light and strength. Jesus believed; He lived not merely before, but by the Father.
Thus is Jesus the author and finisher of faith. He went before the sheep, He is the forerunner. He has experienced every difficulty, and tasted every sorrow. He knows the path in all its narrowness. Was Abraham a sojourner in the land of promise as in a strange land? Jesus, who was appointed heir of all things, had not where to lay His head. Did Moses refuse the treasures in Egypt? Jesus was offered the whole world, with all its kingdoms and glory. Did David, anointed by the Lord, experience what it is to be rejected, hated, and persecuted by the proud and ungodly? What enmity, contradiction, ingratitude had our Lord to bear! Did Jeremiah weep tears of bitter sorrow on account of Jerusalem's impenitence and the false security of Judah, misguided by false prophets? Jesus, foreseeing still greater judgment on Israel's apostasy, wept over the city, and loved the nation with a sorrowing and faithful heart. Jesus felt all our infirmities and sorrows, He bore our sicknesses, He sighed over the misery that is in the world through sin culminating in death, the great and last enemy; and while acknowledging divine justice His compassionate love rested on the sufferer. Jesus was all the days of His flesh(14)a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; but in the garden of Gethsemane He entered into an experience different from His previous suffering and conflict. He saw the cross from the beginning; He had set His face stedfastly towards Jerusalem, to go up and suffer there, and the anticipation of that awful cup sometimes filled His soul with fear; His soul was straitened until His baptism was fulfilled (Luke 12:50). When the Greeks came to the feast His soul was troubled; the earnest of the harvest, represented by the inquiring Gentiles, reminded Him that the corn of wheat must die first, and He cried to the Father, "Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour" (John 12:27).
The apostles had seen Jesus weep over Jerusalem; they had seen His tears and heard His groans at the grave of Lazarus. But there was something so overwhelming in the agony of Gethsemane, that the evangelists evidently struggle with the inadequacy of language to describe the impression left on the minds of the apostles who were witnesses of that awful hour. So heavy was this weight on His soul, that in most touching words He seeks the sympathy of His disciples' presence. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me" (Matt 26:38; Mark 14:34). He knelt down; He fell on His face; so great was His conflict that, as Luke the beloved physician notices, His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.
What a contrast to the calm strength and peaceful joy with which immediately before He had comforted His sorrowing disciples, whose hearts were troubled and full of fear and sadness! (John 14-17). He had spoken to them of His glory, of His going to the Father and sending to them the Spirit, of His joy being perfected in them, and of their abiding with Him for ever more. He had sung a hymn of praise with them. In the prayer which He had offered before them unto the Father there was no tone of sadness, there was nothing but peace and the calm assurance of victory.
But now, though never swerving from implicit submission to His Father, He is well-nigh overwhelmed by the prospect of death before Him. We know the reason. It was not the prospect of physical pain, excruciating as it was, and sensitive as was His pure and sinless body. It was not the anticipation of the external manifestations of Israel's ingratitude and hatred, deep as was His love to Jerusalem. It was not the shadow of the valley of death; for David and many saints are able to say, "Then I will fear no evil." No: Jesus, who is the adoration and strength of rejoicing martyrs, died not the martyr's death, He died the just for the unjust. That which men ordinarily mean when they speak of death had no terror for the Lord Jesus. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth," He said to His disciples (John 11:11), and, comforting them on that last evening, He spoke of His death as simply going to the Father, and exhorted them to rejoice because He went to His Father's house and throne. And with perfect calmness He finally committed His Spirit into the Father's hand. The enmity and opposition, the malice and contempt of His nation with their rulers, keenly as His loving heart felt it, had been known by Him for years, and He had borne it patiently and calmly, and with undisturbed hope and courage, knowing that by meekness He would conquer, and that the Father would cause His work to prosper. Fearlessness, such as must accompany perfect faith in God, had always characterized Him. He never feared man. As He exhorted His disciples not to fear them that can only kill the body, so He Himself met all danger and opposition with the most peaceful calmness and collectedness of implicit and uninterrupted faith in God. Whence the sorrow, the anguish, the overwhelming agony in the garden of Gethsemane?
He knew that on the cross, as our substitute, He would be left to suffer in connection with the judgment of sin; that His soul would be left without the light of the Father's countenance; and that which was His sole joy and strength, the very life of His life, would be taken from Him.
He tasted that death of which sin is the sting and the law the strength. When He saw what was before Himdeath in its organic connection with divine wrathHe trembled and was in agony.
Here we see, as nowhere else, how abhorrent He was of the iniquity which was about to be laid on Him, and how wonderful was His love to God and to us. The Lord Jesus, because He was the Son of God, and perfect, holy man, could not but shrink from that cup, the Father hiding His face from Him. He prayed with strong crying and tears. We behold Him as the Son of man. He felt that this was the hour and power of darkness. Satan doubtless used the fear of death, and presented it to the Lord's mind to throw anguish into His heart. The anticipation of His agony on the cross overwhelms Him. Yet He remains faithful. He cries unto God. His tears betoken the earnestness of His prayer; His prayer reveals the holy, submissive character of His tears.
Who can fathom the depth of Christ's prayer, or understand the full import of His tears and cries? Even in our infirmities the Spirit helpeth us, making intercession for us with groans which cannot be uttered. What must have been the petitions and the cries of the Lord Jesus when He offered Himself unto the Father! He sanctified the Lord His God in His heart, He hallowed His name, He magnified His holy justice, while He beheld His infinite love! He submitted Himself to His counsel, He surrendered Himself to suffer the most agonizing pain, and yet He trusted in His almighty and faithful deliverance! Here was the most wonderful combination in the human soul and spirit of Christ, that He most fully acknowledged and adored the holiness and the justice of God, while with perfect love He continued to identify Himself with guilty and lost sinners, and with unshaken confidence He trusted in the faithfulness of God, who would crown Him with glory, and give Him an innumerable multitude for His reward. And in this agony He learned to know fully what is the weakness of the flesh, and what is the real difficulty and painfulness of the struggle, even to surrender our own will, and to say, "Thy will be done" (Matt 26:42). Thus He entered into our lowest depth, and for this reason is He able now to have perfect sympathy with us.
He cried unto God, and because of his filial devotedness, which made the Father's will His own, He was heard. The Father sent an angel to strengthen Him. The anguish that well-nigh overcame Him was conquered. He rose, and set His face stedfastly to the work before Him. With meekness He bore the kiss of Judas; He went forth with calm majesty to meet the soldiers who were sent to take Him captive; He restrained the false zeal of Peter, as afterwards He remembered him, and looked upon him with forgiving and tender love; He witnessed a good confession before Pilate and the high priest; He called Jerusalem's daughters to repentance; He prayed for Israel's forgiveness; He heard the petition of the dying thief, commended Mary His mother to the care of the beloved disciple, and then entered into the mysterious darkness of His expiatory suffering.
With strong crying and tears(15)the Son of God offered up prayers and supplications unto Him that was able to save Him from death. In the depth of His weakness and anguish He looked unto the Father's power. He poured out all His heart before Him. He prayed not to be spared the suffering of death; He asked not for twelve legions of angels to deliver Him. He had made the will of God His own, and because of this perfect surrender of Himself to that death, which appeared to Him so awful, He was heard. The answer to Christ's prayer was fully given when God brought again from His grave that great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant. "Thou hast heard me" is in the twenty-second Psalm, the connecting link between the Beloved One forsaken and the Beloved One exalted, declaring the name of God to His brethren. Thus He learned the obedience through the things which He suffered. The mind which was in Christ from the beginning was the mind of perfect filial submission and obedience. He brought this mind with Him into the world, into His prophetic ministry, into the garden of Gethsemane, and to the cross of Golgotha. But in His sufferings this mind was tested, manifested, perfected. And now that He has offered the obedience, by which many are made righteous, and the Father, in answer to His prayer, has raised and exalted Him, He is fully fitted for and consecrated unto His High Priestly life.(16) The Father now addresses Him as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (v 10).(17)
The man Christ Jesus enthroned in heaven is now our perfect High Priest. He who endured all temptations, who glorified God in the midst of sin and suffering, who became acquainted with all sorrow and grief, who tasted the bitterness of death, who offered Himself by the most perfect surrender of His own will to the Father as our substitute, He by His obedience unto death has become the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him;(18)and unto all whom He has saved by His blood He is the Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
What marvellous insight does Jesus possess into all that is human! What tender sympathy is His, and how high and perfect is His aim, that God's will should be done by us, even while we are in the body and in a world of sin and trial!
With what power do the words come from His lips, "Only believe! Follow me!"
Thus the glory of His exaltation is full of consolation and peace for us. Because He was faithful, because He was obedient unto the death, because His love conquered every enemy and overcame every darkness, He is enthroned by the Father as the Lamb, He is solemnly addressed by Him as the High Priest, who is the perfect and eternal Mediator, by whom everlasting salvation is given to all who obey Him. The glory of Christ is the result of His obedience, and the fruit of the experience of earth, through which He went, is His perfect sympathy with us, and His all-sufficient grace, which is able to uphold us in every trial, and to carry us safely through all our conflicts, and present us unblameable in body, soul, and spirit before the Father. And herein we adore the love of God, who gave up His Son, who sent Him, who spared Him not, in order that He might become a perfect High Priest, merciful and compassionate. Herein is the marvellous love of the Father, that He gave His own Son to be not merely the Saviour, but the Brother, the Head, the source of strength, light, and consolation to those who believe in His name.
Let us therefore dwell on the perfection of our great High Priest; for, as throughout Scripture, so here, the glory of Christ is unfolded in order that we may have perfect peace, and that we may take out of His fulness, and grace upon grace. Our sorrows and our temptations, our weakness and our danger, are fully known and constantly remembered by Jesus, who most tenderly sympathizes with us. Our sins have not merely been pardoned, but our daily trespasses and infirmities, our constant sinfulness, the sins which we commit without being conscious of them, need not keep us at a distance from God, or take from us our confidence and peace. Let us confess our sins, let us in humility acknowledge the sinfulness within us, and the defilement which clings to all our actions, even our holy things, and Jesus will be to us a merciful, considerate High Priest, by whom we are not only forgiven, but healed, corrected, and chastened; so that while we are judged in the flesh, we are quickened in the Spirit. We are before the Father in Christ the High Priest. While our prayers and thoughts, the words of our mouth, and the meditation of our heart, and the work of our hands, are acceptable, because the Lord Jesus presents them to the Father; all blessings of the covenant, all needful light and strength, grace and consolation, are bestowed on us by our omnipotent Melchizedek from the heavenly Jerusalem.
Remember who He isthe High Priest, the God-manwhat He suffered, how in our nature He ascended, and then give thanks, and be of good cheer, and whatever clouds and difficulties may arise, however painful and heavy the burden of sin, of weakness, of work, never for a moment forget that nothing shall be able to separate you from the love of the Father, which is in Christ Jesus the Son of God, the Brother and High Priest of all who put their trust in Him.
We never know the strength and the love of Jesus until we lean on Him with the heavy burden of our sins, temptations, doubts, and sorrows; until in confiding trust and humble candour we speak to Him of all that oppresses and perplexes us. Then we experience that Jesus is the Man, who is God's equal, the Man of God's right hand, whom He hath made strong, mighty to save; that He is the Messenger of the covenant, the true Presence and Light, who guides us through the wilderness, while he sends down all blessings from the heavenly sanctuary. And then we experience the wonderful tenderness, the compassionate love, the perfect sympathy of Him who is not ashamed to call us brethren, who is afflicted in all our afflictions, who is constantly interceding for us in heaven, while He is constantly sustaining our inner life by His Spirit."The love of Jesus, what it isHe alone knows what is in man; the sorrow which lies too deep for human ministry He is able to understand and heal.
None but His loved ones know!"
When there is such a High Priest in heaven, when such a Man is seated at the right hand of God almighty, omniscient, all-loving; glorious in His holiness, power, and truth; unspeakably merciful, compassionate, brotherly; Son of God, and Son of Man; bringing the ocean of divine love through the channel of human brotherhood and sympathy, and the fulness of life and glory through the agony and the death He suffered on the cross; when such a Saviour of sinners, Friend and Guide, nay, Lover and Bridegroom of the soul, is revealed unto us, will any one of us continue to go through life alone, alone with sin and guilt, with the accusations of the past, the burden of the present, and the awful gloom of the future; alone with the thirst of the soul, and the sorrow of the heart and the afflictions, trials, and dangers of our path; alone with the guilt and power of sin, and the darkness of the grave and eternity? Oh for one simple look to Jesus, and He is yours, with His plentiful redemption, His peace, His life, His love! And you who believe in Him, and are in manifold afflictions and trials, lean on His grace and rest in His love."Thy risen life but fits Thee more
For kindly ministry;
Thy love unhindered rests upon
Each bruised branch in Thee."
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