In that rich and precious Epistle to the Hebrews, in which we have so large an unfolding of the present place at God’s right hand on high of our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as of the value of His atoning death, there are several exquisite touches by the Spirit of God, which bring before us what He is morally, and some of these I desire to point out in their order.
First, we read in Hebrews 3:2, “Who was faithful to him that appointed him.” Now, this beautiful record does not relate so much to what was outward in His blessed ways as it does to the inner springs of His devoted life, “He was faithful.” The effects were, of course, visible to the eye of God, as also to others opened of Him; but this is the secret working of a deep, hidden spring, that upon which all that was outward revolved.
What characterised Him in the path He had taken as Man was faithfulness to God, Not only was He dependent, but the Spirit bears the testimony that He faithful.
Now, it may seem superfluous to say that He was marked by such a quality; how, indeed, could He be other than faithful? That may be true; nevertheless attention is drawn to the fact that He was so. And we are therefore invited to examine each detail of His perfect life and read therein but one living truth, namely, that He was faithful to God. His life was one bright unbroken course of this; and hence its moral beauty.
And when, beloved, we have learned ourselves a little; when a few years on the same path have sufficed to shew us, under God’s gracious teaching, to how very, very small an extent that term can be applied to any of us, and how that, if perhaps faithful on one occasion or in certain circumstances, we fail, alas! in others, how all this only leads us to admire and seek more closely to follow One, of whom it was only but always true, that “He was faithful to him that appointed him.” Yet it is a welcome testimony.
Passing on now to Hebrews 4:15, we read that He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
He was tempted. Now, temptation must be viewed in two lights: first, as mere outward trial; hence, “Count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations,” the effect of which is to try our faith; then, second, as an evil seduction, and as to this we read that “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man” (see James 1:2-13). Such temptation is of the enemy. We know it well, and there is in us that which responds only too readily to evil. There is in us the flesh, and outside us there are both Satan and his mighty weapon the world, between all of which there is a close affinity and an intimate correspondence. Hence, “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.”
Now, He was tempted—yes, tempted of the devil, too—but never tempted with evil. There was no response in Him to any outward snare, “and in him was no sin.”
Therefore our passage, runs, “In all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Now, this does not merely mean that He, when tempted, did not yield to it, or was without sinning; but it means that sin was apart, that it did not exist either in practice or in essence—it was not there. And yet He was tempted in all points like us!
Not that He had to learn patience by the trial as we have; but which of His most devoted followers ever trod the path of trial and sorrow, and tears and privations and desertion as He did? None. He was pre-eminent in trial as in every true accompaniment of the divine life and path.
And now He has passed through the heavens, and is our High Priest above. May we not say correctly, that He has learned how to sympathise with His poor tempted ones below?
“He knows what sorest trials are,
For He has felt the same.”
Then, third, in 5:5, “Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest.”
And yet, after all we have seen, who had such a right to the honour? He had been faithful, had passed through infinite trial; but now He glorified not Himself to be made High Priest! Ah! what an evidence of perfect humility—He sought not His own glory in this or in any other respect. No; but “He was called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.” God installed Him in that place of honour. There is something specially charming to the renewed mind in this self-denying quality of our blessed Lord. It is a wonderful thought that He, who had claim to all, renounced everything that He might receive it again at the hand of God in a new condition. The surrender was absolute, the reception anew a hundred-fold.
He made Himself of no reputation—He emptied Himself of all outward place and glory—and humbled Himself to the death of the cross—self-abasement could not have gone further; but now God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name above every name. The exaltation is proportionate, and more.
Such abnegation is lovely! It is natural to elbow our way upward, and hustle others out of our path, so that we may exalt ourselves at their expense. With our Master and Example it was just the opposite. His was the love that sought the good of others at all cost to Himself. “He who was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich.”
“He glorified not himself.” May we all, beloved, sit a little longer under His shadow, and catch His lowly spirit.
Fourth, in Hebrews 7:26 we read, “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.”
Leaving out what He has become, as higher than the heavens, we find in the first four qualities a galaxy of moral glories. He was holy, a word which here signifies the fulfilling properly of each relation. That was true of Him—and of Him alone!
Beloved reader, as you review your life and think of your varied relations, Godward and manward, can you say that you have fulfilled each correctly? Certainly not! You have failed in every department of life, and the more you have honestly striven to do your duty in it, the more you must own to failure. But He was “holy.”
Further, He was “harmless.” “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” “When he was reviled, he reviled not again.” “When he suffered, he threatened not.” He never did an injury, He healed multitudes, He wounded none. He supplied the need of crowds, He impoverished no man. He spoke words of truth, strong and searching, but never falsely. He was the Truth, and made it known.
Naturally we are harmful and hurtful and noxious; we grow, like dank and poisonous weeds, infecting the very ground beneath us. He was “harmless.”
Further, He was “undefiled.” He passed uncontaminated through this defiling scene. He could touch a leper and remain perfectly clean. He could hear and see all the evil around, and yet be untainted—a fuller proof, if proof were needed, that in Him there was nought responsive to external evil. Keenly sensible and alive to it, and deeply pained, as we may see at the grave at Bethany, by the dire effects of sin, He was morally outside its influence. “In the very midst of it, in grace, He was absolutely unaffected by it. He was undefiled.
And lastly, He was “separate from sinners” Yet in His separation there was no element of Pharisaism, no rigid philosophic standing aloof. True, neither was there any approach to identification with them. Psalm 1 was always true of Him, as the blessed Man; yet He was “the friend of publicans and sinners.” The poor sinner, as such, ever found a friend in Him, who was separate from them. The man or woman who owned guilt and took a low and repentant place at His blessed feet, was never spurned thence, nor sent unpardoned away. “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” said He in divine authority to a “woman of the city,” who had thus drawn near Him. “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” to the penitent malefactor!
Now He is actually separate from sinners; then, though in our midst, He was separate from them morally. Such an High Priest became us!
Finally, turning on to Hebrews 12:2, we read, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”
Of the many faithful acts in His ever faithful life, the cross alone is adduced here as the brightest of all! There the fire burned the hottest, and there the test fell the heaviest.
Endurance was strained to the utmost, and shame, reproach, and scorn combined together—yet He endured all the agony and despised the shame. He had a joy in prospect.
That “cloud of witnesses” that compasses us about presents many a fair and devoted example to the power and reality of the faith by which they lived and in which they died. One little parenthesis in the long chapter which records their testimony, places at once a glorious encomium upon them and a fearful condemnation on those of the other part; it says, “Of whom the world was not worthy.”
No; the world could stone them, could saw them asunder, could tempt, and slay them with the sword, could treat them shamefully—for so has faith ever been treated, whether in Old or New Testament times; but, if faith should please and glorify God, as it surely does, what must be the condition of those who have none; nay, who cruelly oppose it? The lack of faith in God is the deadliest of all sins.
Yet, however admirable may be the witnesses who form that cloud, we are told to look from them to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith—who in lowly grace trod the same path from first to last, its brightest and most honoured Witness!
The cross was both His greatest trial and His most glorious triumph!
There wicked man had his hour; there Satan exerted all the power of darkness; there sin was borne; there judgment was exhausted—God’s judgment in its infinity—but there love, the love of Christ, prevailed over all. He endured the cross and despised the shame!
Ah, beloved, we are His debtors for salvation from an eternal hell, to all the endless joys of the Father’s present favour and everlasting home!
What a mighty spring wrought in that tender heart, and how rich the outflow! “He endured.” May our spirits, in this vain and foolish day, become more deeply interested in the enduring of Gethsemane, of the palace, of the Praetorium, and, most of all, of Calvary. Such an intimacy must lead to a fanning of love’s flame, and to an endearing to our hearts of our lowly, self-emptied Saviour.
And then, as if to crown all, the Spirit adds, in Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” “The same.” The change of His circumstances to the right hand of the Majesty on high has by no means affected His heart. What He was, morally, He is today, and will be for ever! The lowly One of Bethany is the exalted One of heaven; but He is just the same now as then. What fullness and depth of meaning are to be found in that wondrous word, “the same.”