It is indeed very blessed to be enabled to tell a poor awakened sinner, that in Jesus all things are ready which he needs for remission of sins, righteousness, and life. And it is not less blessed to be enabled to tell those who have so come to Jesus, that all things are ready for their worship in the holiest of all; that everything is there ordered by the blessed Jesus himself for their entrance therein, and that he himself has consecrated the way for their approach.
The time is coming when "many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Isa. 2:3.) But now is the time for believers to encourage one another to enter into the holiest of all — even into heaven itself, because Jesus is there. Come ye, say they, and let us draw near with a true heart.
Under the law, much of the priestly ministry was outside the tabernacle, and open to the view therefore of the worshipper. If he brought a burnt sacrifice, he was to bring it to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, where he was to kill it, and then the priests sprinkled the blood in his sight upon the altar that was by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. This part of the priest's work was visible to the outside worshippers. But he who could approach thus far was never satisfied as to his conscience. He came indeed to these sacrifices — he saw them offered; but they were utterly inefficacious as to the purging of the conscience. "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins." But now all on the outside has been once and for all accomplished; the priestly ministry is all within and invisible, and therefore only known to faith by the revelation of God.
Let us put ourselves in the place of a Hebrew worshipper, by God's grace taught to know Jesus as the one sacrifice for sin, and as the ever-abiding High Priest in the holiest of all. What a struggle must there often have been in his mind when approaching God, because he had no sacrifice to offer — nothing visible on which to lean — no victim to lay his hand upon. It must indeed have required real trueheartedness to Jesus to enable him to draw near — and to look at everything with which he had been formerly conversant as taken up in Jesus, so that all that he had seen before was now to be discerned by faith as fulfilled in Christ. And are we not often false to Jesus in this matter? Do we not often harbour the thought that something yet remains to be done — either by ourselves or by him — in order to our drawing near? Do we not often thus become occupied with the circumstantials of worship rather than with Jesus — the substance? Are we not often false to him in questioning our title to draw near, because we find distance in our own hearts, as if it was the warmth of our affections, instead of the blood of Jesus, which brought near?
But oh, beloved, how false to Jesus has the Church been! The worshippers are often pressed down by a burdensome ritual, and allowed neither to know that they are once and for ever purged, nor that all is prepared for their entrance into the holiest. They are turned back again to that which is visible, and go through the daily routine of service, never getting farther than the door of the tabernacle! They are set in the place of distant Jews, instead of that of priests sanctified for heavenly ministrations and worship
And how continually do we see souls led to put the act of worship in the place of Jesus. Surely this is not to draw near with a true heart. A doubt harboured as to the all-sufficiency of his sacrifice, or the perfect efficiency of his priesthood, or his tender sympathy and compassion, is not to draw near with a true heart. If we shrink back into a distant place after all he has done, are we true-hearted to Jesus But what positive treachery to Jesus is it to set up an order of men as in greater nearness to God than others — virtually putting them within, and virtually putting others without. To lean on priests, or ministers, in worship, as if they were needed to that end, is absolutely denying the virtue and the person and work of Christ. But such things are the necessary offspring of departure from the truth of a sinner's justification before God, by the one sacrifice of Christ. Distant worship necessarily follows imperfect justification. And if a sinner's justification before God by the blood of Jesus be not seen, much less will entrance into the holiest of all by the same blood for worship be allowed as the common portion of the saints. But even where the truth as to justification has been recovered and is preached, we still see a form and a ritual of worship altogether subversive of the truth. The access proclaimed in the gospel preached is not permitted to those who have believed that preaching. Thus the saints are practically kept in a place of distance, and thus taught to be false-hearted to Jesus? Surely we might say, if every church and chapel in the kingdom were closed, and all the ministers of the gospel shut up in prison, that true-heartedness to Jesus would lead his saints to assemble themselves together to worship, by faith, in the holiest of all — knowing that there the ministry of the Great High Priest can never for a moment be suspended. "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith."
As to this expression, "full assurance of faith," it by no means conveys the idea of a certain standard measure of faith as a matter of attainment. The reference is not to the measure of faith, but to its bearing on the right object. The faith may be the weakest possible, but let that, weak as it is, be in full bearing on its own proper object.
We have another form of the same word in the New Testament. It is said Abraham, "he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith giving glory to God and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform." So again — "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The moment the soul has laid hold on Jesus it is delivered from itself, and ought to be fully persuaded that all it needs is presented to it in the object before it — even Jesus.
It is this single eye to Jesus which we need in worship. The very things which man in his wisdom has thought to be helps to devotion are really its hindrances. Which of the senses do not men seek to gratify in the circumstantials of worship? Now the very object of the apostle here is to turn away the worshipper from the things of sight and sense, to which he had been accustomed, in order to concentrate his soul on one single object, in which he was to find everything that he needed.
We can never look at our title to worship God, but we see our salvation. How blessedly has God linked these things together, and how perversely does man rend them asunder, either by calling on all to worship, believers and unbelievers, or by binding believers to a form which negatives the sense of complete justification. What we need in order to happier and holier worship is more simple faith in Jesus. Are we fully persuaded that Jesus has done all that is needed to make an acceptable meeting-place between ourselves and God? — then let us draw near.
And what holy freedom and liberty attends this — "having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience." The leper to be cleansed, in order to restore him to the privilege of worship, needed to be sprinkled with blood. (Lev. 14:7.) The Israelite, who had touched anything which made him unclean, needed to have the water of purification sprinkled on him, but it only sanctified to the purifying of the flesh. (Heb. 9:13.) The priests at their consecration had the blood applied to them, that they might so draw near and minister before God. But what is all this compared with a heart sprinkled from an evil conscience by the blood of Jesus? It is no longer a purifying of the flesh, but a purifying of the heart by faith. The flesh purified for worship might co-exist with an evil conscience, but a sprinkled heart never could. How entirely is a good conscience alone maintained by that which is not of sight, even by the purging power of the blood of Jesus.
Before Aaron could put on the holy linen coat he must wash his flesh in water (Lev. 14:4); and so it is now — " Our bodies washed with pure water." We cannot put on our white robe unless we know what communion with the death of Jesus really is. How needful for us in our approach to our place of worship, even the holiest of all, habitually to remember that we have died, and that we are alive in Jesus. We have to do with the living God — and he too a consuming fire. All that is contrary to life has been set aside by the death of Jesus. "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." And it is as alive from the dead that we alone can approach him.
"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering." It is literally "of our hope," not faith, and has reference to the sixth chapter — "that we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil." Our hope is that we shall be there actually, the holiest of all being our own proper place as priests unto God: but by faith we now worship there in spirit.
But it is hard indeed to maintain a profession contradicted, so far as sight goes, by everything in us and around us. Jesus witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that he was a king, without any mark of royalty about him. His confession seemed contradicted by his appearance. Timothy had confessed a good confession before many witnesses (1 Tim. 6:12), and he needed to be reminded of it. And so do we. For how constantly do we forget that we are what we are in hope. We could not give satisfactory proof to another that we are what we confess to be. We can indeed give the soundest reason of the hope that is in us, because the forerunner is for us already entered within the veil; but we cannot satisfy the restlessness of our minds, or the minds of others, by evidence. No; blessed be God, he has provided for our hope on surer ground than any evidence we could produce, even on the ground of its own immutability and faithfulness; for he is faithful that hath promised.
The word is of great force, "let us hold fast," — let us tenaciously grasp. And why? Because our hope is that which Satan would try by all means to wrest from us. And has he not effectually done this in the Church at large by making that their hope, which is, in fact, the ground of their hope — even their justification. Present righteousness is the ground of Christian hope. The holiest of all is alone open to those who have been once and for ever purged. If our hope springs not from that within the veil, where is our steadfastness? Everything short of that may be shaken — and will be shaken. If therefore we know not accomplished righteousness, fitting us now for the holiest of all, the peace of our souls must be unsteady. An Israelite might approach the door of the tabernacle with a sacrifice to be offered, but that sacrifice had yet to be pronounced acceptable and to be accepted; but it was on the ground of an already offered and accepted sacrifice that the holiest of all was entered by the high priest. Thus it is with our title to enter within the veil the one offering of Jesus has for ever given us liberty to enter there. How amazing is the craft of Satan in his devices against the truth! When he could no longer keep out of sight the doctrine of justification by faith, he contrived to rob it of its real power, even where received, by practically putting it as the object of hope, instead of the present possession of all who have come to Jesus. The peace of the gospel is thus practically unknown, although the gospel itself is truly stated. And this hope of justification by faith always opens the door for distant worship. In how many real believers is the peace of the gospel hindered by their very acts of worship.
Let us therefore, beloved brethren, grasp and maintain this confession as our best treasure — Having present righteousness by faith, our hope is nothing short of the holiest of all; and there we worship in Spirit now. Our hope is independent of ourselves — it hangs on the immutable faithfulness of God — it is secured by the blood of Jesus, and it is already made fast within the veil; for Jesus is there, and there for us. Beware of mock humility, which is only the cover of unbelief and self-dependence. Look at yourselves and you are hopeless; yea, nothing is before you but a fearful looking for of judgment. Look at Jesus and know your hope; for where is he? In the holiest of all as the forerunner! Let this check all wavering, and answer every doubt and every difficulty. In spite of all appearances, hold fast the profession of the hope without wavering.
"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works." Here we are reminded that we have also to perform our priestly work. The priest had to consider, in cases of leprosy, — and so, as priests, we have to consider one another, not whether we are cleansed or not, for it has been authoritatively pronounced of us by the Great High Priest himself, "Now ye are clean," — but we are to consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. The expression is remarkable — "consider one another." There is but one, even the Lord himself, who stands in the authoritative place of the priest to the church, therefore we are to consider one another. How entirely is this exercise of our common priestly function nullified by again setting up an order of priesthood to prescribe to us. What is the Confessional? What the Absolution? — but the priest again pronouncing the leper clean! And how effectually does such a thought hinder our considering one another. We can only do this as standing in grace ourselves, and recognizing others as standing in the same grace and the same nearness to God. It is as together standing in the holiest of all that we are to consider one another. There we are thus to help each other to detect what is inconsistent with that our high and blessed standing. There is no room for rivalry now — all are priests; but abundant room for love; and our love for each other is to be measured by the love that has brought us where we stand. And as to good works, they also are to be judged by the same standard. No lower standard than the sanctuary itself must now be taken to determine what are good works. What becomes the holiest itself alone becomes those sanctified to worship therein. It is not what men call good works, but what God estimates as such, to which we have to provoke one another. The costly ointment poured on the feet of Jesus, wasteful and extravagant in the eyes of an ancient or modern utilitarian, was a good work in the eyes of Jesus; the two mites of the widow more costly than the splendid offering of the rich. How little of what men think good is really so before God; and how entirely what God esteems as precious is despised among men. Hence Christ was despised and rejected of men; and hence really Christian works are now despised of them. How needful then is it for us to be in spirit in the holiest of all, to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
But not only is there to be this constant provocation to love and to good works, it is also added, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is."
When Israel came into the land, they were not to offer their sacrifices, or to worship, at any place they might select, but at the place where the Lord should put his name only. Jerusalem was the place whither the tribes went up. Put yourself in the position of a believing Hebrew on a solemn feast day in Jerusalem — one of the three thousand converted by the first sermon of Peter. Multitudes from all quarters might be assembled around him — Jerusalem filled with worshippers — while he would be apart from all that which attracted them. But would not his soul have many a struggle in keeping away from the festive and religious throng? Would he not have almost appeared an enemy to his country and to the temple? But was it really so? Think farther of the contrast he must in his own soul have seen between the upper chamber, or any other unpretending locality, and the splendid temple. Must it not have needed much simple faith in Jesus, to meet together to break bread and worship with a number as unaccredited as himself, without any visible priest to order their worship, any sacrifice, any incense, any altar, any laver? Would not the multitude keeping holy-day give as it were the lie to the worship he had been engaged in, as if it had been no worship at all? Surely there is great force in the words, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is."
Yes; some drew back from acknowledging that as worship, which was without the outward form — some even who believed in Jesus. It cost too much to own Jesus as everything by disowning all the shadows. The assembling of themselves together thus was the great testimony against the religion of the world, and that Jesus was all. It was the profession that he was the substance of worship, and that worship must now be according to the place and power of his priesthood. The despised company in the upper chamber were feeding on the substance, while the religious world in their gorgeous temple were bowing before the shadows. That despised company had by faith access into the holiest of all; they knew that Jesus as the forerunner had entered there for them; and in this knowledge of him, they could meet at any time and at any place, for the name of the Lord was recorded in the place of their meeting. They were worshippers in the sanctuary, let the scene of their gathering on earth be where it may.
Hence we find that "on the first day of the week the disciples came together to break bread." (Acts 20: 7.) They might or might not have some one to minister the word unto them — that was accidental; their coming together was for a positive and specific object. Paul came in among them and preached, but that was by the way. They came together as disciples. And if man puts a hindrance in the way of disciples coming together, is it not treading under foot the Son of God, who has not only given them the liberty, but who has made their doing so the point of collective confession of his name? There is need of our exhorting one another as to this, for the danger is imminent of turning back to the old order. And the Spirit of God clearly saw the tendency of things that way, and that this would increase. That as the day approached when the Lord Jesus would be revealed, worship would become more and more worldly more and more after the ancient distant Jewish pattern. Hence the exhortation would in the progress of things be increasingly needed, to stand fast as disciples in the simplicity of grace. Nothing can be more gracious than the provision which the Lord has made against the increasing evil. Just in proportion as the thought in the minds of Christians has prevailed of a progression unto blessing in the world has worship adapted itself to the world. But when it has pleased God to open the eyes of any of his saints to see the steady progress in evil, and the great assumptions of the flesh, he has thrown them back more on Christian simplicity. And our exhortation the one to the other, as we see the day approaching, is to test everything by the light of that day, and to see that nothing will then really stand which is not of Christ. Surely the Lord intends to make his saints sensible of all that they have lost; but in doing so to make them as sensible of the value of what remains. If he had to say to his people of old, "Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?" This was not said to enfeeble, but to strengthen them. All the outward glory was gone, but still the Lord was there. And therefore it is said, "Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, and work; for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts: according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not." God remaineth unchangeably the same, and his original power in deliverance was real strength in the midst of weakness; so that out of weakness they became strong. And this is God's provision for the comfort and strength of the saints, as they see the day approaching, and everything unprepared to meet it, to exhort one another to the use of what remains unto them; and whilst Jesus abideth in the holiest of all, and now appears in the presence of God for them, they can always draw near. Yes, it is our privilege to do so, now that the dispensation has well nigh run its course, equally as much as in the apostle's days. Men indeed have, by their perverseness, put many things between themselves and God, but that which giveth nearness still remaineth, even the blood of Jesus. Let us then draw near.
Beloved, how much is this exhortation needed at this day! Simple worship, although our high privilege, is despised! Believers need something more than the presence of the Lord to induce them to come together. Jesus is not really to them the great substantial ordinance of God. They are not glad when they assemble themselves together. Let us not forsake this, for if we do we are in danger of forgetting that we are once and for ever purged worshippers, and that our place of worship is the golden sanctuary itself, also once and for ever purged. (Heb. 10:2, 14.) There we have such an High Priest, one who can bring us in at once to the throne of the majesty on high, to us a throne of grace, although he who sits thereon is holy, holy, holy.
Beloved, it is your place of confession to contradict all assumptions of priesthood, all repetition of sacrifice, and all repeated absolutions, by drawing near. Your worship is to be characterized no less by confident nearness to God than by reverence to his name. The day is approaching. Its approach is marked by a return to ordinances. Hold fast your profession, and let it be Jesus against every pretension. For be assured that whatever is not of him is nothing better than a carnal ordinance, to be utterly disowned by the Lord when he appears.
If we look forward as to worship, what do we see there? All the shadows passed away, and only the substance presented. "I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." So again, "The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him [worship him]: and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever." They shall serve and they shall reign at the same time. They shall then be manifestly priests and kings. But now in the acknowledgement that grace has already made them so, it is their privilege to approach by faith that glorious place in which they will in due time actually stand. Our best instruction is gathered by looking forward. It is the reality which is to be our pattern now. Not things on earth the patterns of the heavenly, but the substance known by faith stamping its impress on that which is present. Let us draw near "unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."