The Sanctified and their Worship
"Boldness to enter by the blood of Jesus"
"For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never by the same sacrifices which they offer perpetually, year by year, make the comers thereto perfect. For then would they not indeed have ceased to be offered? for that the worshipers having been once purged would have no longer any conscience of sins. But in these there is a calling to mind again of sins every year: for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins."
I have no doubt we often fail to remember this first verse in connection with the law, from the fact that we go back to the Old Testament with the light of the New. When we turn to the book of Leviticus, with all its sacrifices and ordinances, there seems such a beautiful harmony and unfolding of the truths of Christ that perhaps we forget it was all enacted centuries before the coming of our Lord Jesus. If we could obliterate from memory the knowledge of Himself and all the truths made known to us by the Holy Spirit in this present dispensation, we would find that the law was indeed a shadow; there was simply a contour, an outline of divine truth. This is not to cast a slight upon the perfect word of God, — perfect in its place, as surely it is, — but to show that until the coming of our blessed Lord everything was in abeyance. These were shadows of things to come; the body, the substance, is of Christ.
The apostle illustrates and emphasizes that in these verses. There was a shadowy forgiveness, a shadowy access to God, a shadowy putting away of sins, but there was not the very image of those things, as shown in the fact that these sacrifices were offered year by year continually. The effect was, that those who brought them could not be made perfect. This does not mean perfection of the person, of course, but perfection as to his standing and relation to God. It is the same kind of perfection that we have spoken of afterwards in connection with the work of Christ, where it says, "By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." The various sacrifices under the law could not give that perfection as to one's present and eternal acceptance. The apostle says, If it had given such perfection of conscience, they would have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers once purged should have no more conscience of sins. If those sacrifices had brought actual peace to the soul and conscious relationship with God, it would have been an insult to that sacrifice, and a denial of its value, to have repeated it. So the very repetitions were a witness of their utter ineffectiveness.
Now in the expression "the worshipers once purged" we have Christian truth, the very opposite of this imperfection which was under the law. An effectual substitutionary sacrifice having been made for sin, the conscience is at perfect rest in God's presence, so that the question of sin and relation to God is never raised again. Notice the expression. It is not "no more consciousness of sins" — which would be contrary to all our experience; for who is there that has not consciousness of sins — the countless sins against God in the days before his conversion, or since that time? who cannot remember with bitter sorrow again and again that which has dishonored a holy and a loving God? And who that knows his own heart, with the possibilities of evil that are in it, could doubt for a moment that if left to himself he may fall into that which would dishonor God again? But while there is consciousness, there is no conscience of sins; that is, sin is not resting upon the conscience as affecting our relationship with God, or our standing before Him. The work of Christ has perfectly settled that question; so that, in spite of the sin of the past life, in spite of the sinfulness of the heart, in spite of failures, nothing remains upon the conscience between the soul and God.
That is Christianity as contrasted with everything that had gone before; and I might say, also, as contrasted with every device of man, as to the ground of his relationship with God. Wherever you find anything that takes the place, confessedly or unconsciously, of the sacrifices that were under the law, you will find sin upon the conscience and the need of repetition over and over again. We have a glaring illustration of it in Romanism. It professes, in the sacrifice of the Mass, to repeat the sacrifice of Calvary. Here, in this city, there are professedly numbers of altars called Christian altars (dreadful misnomer!) where the bloodless sacrifice of the Mass is not offered up merely year by year, but day by day, continually. Mass is said, in which it is declared that the "body, blood, soul and divinity" (blasphemous expression!) of the Lord Jesus Christ are in the wafer which is offered up by the priest. Admit for a moment that it is true, what does the Word here tell us? It declares that if there is repetition of such sacrifice it is valueless. And if Rome's claim is true that her wafer is her God, whom she sacrifices upon her altars day by day, then the solemn and awful fact confronts them that it is utterly valueless, that it can give neither peace with. God nor rest of conscience.
That is a glaring, revolting illustration. But there are many ways in which people may, consciously or unconsciously, substitute something for, or would add to, the finished sacrifice of Christ. It may be the whole circle of their religious life, the attendance upon religious services, the offering of prayers, the giving of alms, anything that may have a certain value in their mind in connection with their standing before God. Now the moment anything adds value, in our mind or conscience, to the finished work of Christ, the conscience at once begins to condemn us. That is the great reason why religious people are unhappy. I use the term "religious" in the ordinary sense of the word — those who are going through a round of religious duties. Let them pray hours each day; let them go daily to church, or anything of that sort; let them deny themselves, fast, do everything to mortify the flesh; if it is at all an intrusion into the work of Christ, their conscience has no rest — for the simple reason that they are insulting the finished work of Christ.
Nay, we go further yet. If experience is made a makeweight; if our feelings, our happiness, our growth in grace, anything at all, is added to that one Sacrifice, it vitiates it in its effect upon the conscience, and the soul has no rest. Blessed be God for the solitary, eternal value of the sacrifice of Christ and nothing added to it! Everything else comes in its proper place afterwards — the experience, service, worship, everything that would flow from a blessed place of nearness to God, falls beautifully into place afterwards; but absolutely nothing is to be added to that one Sacrifice which alone purges the conscience forever, and by which God is glorified in our eternal redemption.
That is what is enlarged upon in the next scripture.
"Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then I said, Lo, I am come, (in the roll of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above, when he said, Sacrifices and offerings and burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein, (which are offered according to the law,) then he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second."
This is a quotation (an adaptation) from the fortieth psalm — the burnt-offering psalm, as the twenty-second is the sin-offering one. In this we see our blessed Lord looking at the whole array of sacrifices provided under the legal covenant. There are the peace-offerings, the meat-offerings, the burnt-offerings, and the sin-offerings. He looks at them all, and, "when He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not."
God in the prophets repeatedly declares the same thing — the negative side. In Isaiah, for instance (where we have the added thought of being a mere empty ritual, a carnal form without any piety or devotedness in it) He says, "I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams; I delight not in the blood of bullocks." That was because of the want of faith and piety in those who brought them, but still it suggests the truth that we are looking at here. God could not really take pleasure in these sacrifices. As David said, "Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it."
Look back over the whole history of Israel, and you might say that whenever they were in the path of obedience to God they were in the path of sacrifice. Trace sacrifice all through the Old Testament — in the days of Moses, follow it on through Joshua and Judges — wherever there was recovery to God, you find sacrifice. When you come to the Kings, it enlarges; there you have the burnt-offering constantly being offered. Look at the time of Solomon, when the myriads of offerings as it were concealed the very heavens by their smoke.
The history of Israel in the path of obedience was thus a history of sacrifice, of a sacrificing people; and what emphasis it puts upon this statement, "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not." It tells us that God could take no pleasure in mere animal sacrifice, but that He craved that which was to speak peace to the heart and conscience by the blood of Christ.
But notice another thing here: "When He cometh into the world He saith." It is not merely in the counsels of God and Christ in eternity past. Unquestionably there were such counsels; the heart prostrates itself in adoring worship as we allow ourselves to be conducted by the Holy Spirit back into that eternal past, in which so little can be made known to us because of our incapacity. But, reverently I would say it, as we see the persons of the Godhead looking down upon the race of men yet to be, foreseeing the sin and ruin that was coming into the world and the doom because of sin, we can somewhat understand how in the counsels of eternity God the Son offered Himself for the work of redemption how He would say to the Father, I will go and make atonement for the sin of that apostate world which is to be. We can understand how the blessed Spirit would add His seal to those counsels, to do His part of the work in regeneration, in witnessing of Christ, and in all that He has been accomplishing ever since. Of course, we dare not intrude here beyond what faith can lay hold of as enlightened by the word of God, but we know that in those eternal counsels, before the foundation of the world, the Lamb was foreordained to do the will of the Father.
But we have here more than that. It is "when He cometh into the world." At what time did He say this? I do not know the specific time but think of each period of His incarnation, — as the Babe in the manger; as the Man who grew up in Nazareth and the grace of God was upon Him; as the One who presented Himself to John at His baptism, when the heavens were rent asunder and the Spirit of God came down like a dove upon Him, — perhaps it was at that time that He said, "Lo, I am come. . . . Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me."
If we turn to the fortieth psalm we do not read, "A body hast Thou prepared Me," but "Mine ears hast Thou digged." Some have thought it an allusion to the boring of the ear of the servant in the twenty-first chapter of Exodus, where he refuses to go out free; when, from love to his master, to his wife and children, he will remain a servant forever. That is a very precious truth, and unquestionably is true of our blessed Lord. He might have gone out free, and left us in our need here; but instead He chose to be pierced, — not His ear to the doorpost, but by the nails and the spear on the cross, in order that He might abide a servant throughout eternity; in resurrection now, blessed be God, a Servant in eternal union with His redeemed family, and to that blessed God whose service He delighted in. These are precious thoughts, that I would not exclude from this passage, but I do not believe they are absolutely what is taught in the expression.
In the fiftieth chapter of Isaiah we have an expression where the Lord speaks of having His ear opened as the learner. There, again, is the thought of obedience, and how perfectly obedient He was in every particular we need not say. But when the Spirit of God quotes Scripture, He is quoting His own composition (if I may use such an expression), and He has the right to add to or alter in order to give a fuller thought. These quotations from the Old Testament are sometimes taken from the Septuagint — a Greek translation which was made prior to the coming of our Lord, and which has in it many suggestive and striking things not found in the Hebrew text as we know it today.
In quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, then, the Holy Spirit sometimes adds or omits certain words, to give fuller and clearer meaning, corresponding to the fulness and clearness of the New Testament revelation. That is what we have here. It is not merely the boring of the ear of an obedient servant; nor yet the opening of the ear to hear the Master's command; nor yet the formation of the ear, as though God had formed the ear for hearing; but it is the making of the whole body. "A body hast Thou prepared Me."
This is the precious truth we have here — the blessed Son of God, the Word made flesh, standing before the Father, and saying, "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not; this body, this temple, hast Thou prepared Me." It was the body which God prepared; not born according to the ordinary laws of creation, but formed by the power of the Holy Ghost, and without a stain or taint of sin upon it, though born of the Virgin. This opens up the whole blessed mystery of the incarnation.
Now He goes on again to say, "Lo, I am come, in the volume of the book it is written of Me, to do Thy will, O God." He comes to do God's will — which could not be accomplished by those sacrifices — which could not find an expression for His love save in one way.
Notice the parenthesis, "in the volume of the book it is written of Me." Here, again, some have suggested that it is the volume of God's eternal purposes, the archives of heaven, as you might say; in the volume of the book of God's eternal purpose it was written of Him that He should come into the world to do this mighty work. Very precious thought it is, and I would not exclude it absolutely; but is it not rather, after all, the volume of the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus, for instance — the book of all those sacrificial ordinances? When you get this thought you can go back to Leviticus and read there of the burnt-offering, of the sin-offering, and say, In the volume of the book it is written, not of the offering, but of Christ Himself. So whenever you come to that which speaks of the blood, from the time of Abel throughout the entire Old Testament record, you say, In the volume of the book it is written of Him. How precious it is thus to find Christ in every reference to sacrifice in the entire Old Testament Scripture!
He repeats again the list of sacrifices, and then, in the ninth verse, our blessed Lord says, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God:" thus He puts these two in direct contrast; "He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second." He takes away the sacrifices under the law, that He might establish the blessed will of God; and that will is our salvation. Did you ever notice in the sixth chapter of John what God's will is? "This is the will of Him that sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." God's will is our eternal security, the present possession of eternal life by every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; and that those so redeemed should be brought in resurrection into the presence of His own eternal glory.
And how is that will to be accomplished? Through the perfect obedience, unto death, of the Son to the will of the Father. We might call the Gospel of John the Gospel of the obedient One, shown to us in His burnt-offering character. In it He speaks of laying down His life; He asserts His own divine prerogative. Of His life He says, "No man taketh it from Me." It was not man; it was not the cruel Romans, who nailed and pierced Him upon the cross; it was not the Jews, who gave Him up to be crucified; it was not Pilate, who gave sentence that it should be done. "No man taketh it from Me; I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." But what does He say in this immediate connection? "This commandment have I received of My Father." O blessed obedient One! it was ever His Father's will; not merely His love for sinners even, precious as that is; not merely His pity as He looked upon a lost and guilty world, but the will of His Father: to let the love of that Father show itself out to the poor, wretched, lost and guilty ones. That will of God, that almighty onflowing torrent of divine purpose and love, how was it accomplished? By the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once.
Do you see the emphasis, then, put upon the next expression, "by the which will we are sanctified"? Not merely sanctified by the blood, by what Christ has done, though it is all through that, but by the which will we are sanctified — God's will, purpose, counsels, His almighty power, engaged in our eternal setting apart unto Himself! What are we? A little feather, floating upon a mighty torrent which nothing can stem. Our sins rose up like dark rocks to bar the way of that onflowing torrent, but in the work of Christ upon the cross those sins have been put away forever, and the mighty torrent of God's will bears us on its bosom to that great ocean of eternal love and joy where we shall know forevermore what the will of God is, what His purposes have accomplished for us through the work of His beloved Son. What holy, precious things are these! What joy it is to dwell upon them, and link thus the thought of the will of God with our eternal salvation on the ground of that perfect offering of Christ!
Thus you see we are linked with the Throne. As the apostle says in Galatians, "Christ gave Himself for our sins that He might redeem us out of this present evil world, according to the will of God." If it is according to the will of God that we are redeemed, it is unto obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. Peter, in his epistle, tells us of our whole pilgrim path; but it is a blood-sprinkled path, a path of obedience sprinkled by the precious blood of Christ, in order that we may tread it with confidence and assurance. Thus we have the most practical as well as most precious truth that Christ's work, in accomplishing the will of God in our redemption, secures a practical obedience in our daily life.
"By the which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering, and offering often the same sacrifices which can never take away sins; but he having offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down in perpetuity at the right hand of God; from henceforth waiting until his enemies be made the footstool of his feet: for by one offering he hath perfected perpetually those who are sanctified."
Here the same precious truth is dwelt upon, with a few thoughts added. Under the law, the priest stood. There was in the Tabernacle a table, a candlestick, an altar; but there was no seat. The priest was standing continually, as his work was never finished — always doing, never done. How like that is much of the work today, where there is no repose for the soul. Provision is made for doing, but never knowing that a work is done forever. In contrast with that, our Lord, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down. He is blessedly engaged in activity for us, we know — in intercession for His people's need, and all that; but so far as the sacrifice is concerned, He has offered that — it is finished. What could add to the value of that sacrifice? Can you conceive anything to be added to it? As I look at that Cross, how filthy are all the rags of human righteousness which man would dare to offer in connection with it! He offered one sacrifice for sins; there it stands in its solitary grandeur, and nothing can be added to it. Perfect, it stands in its value before God.
"After He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever sat down." Remove the comma, if it is in your Bible; it is not that He offered a sacrifice forever, because that suggests a perpetual offering; but when He had offered it once, then He forever sat down; His seat is eternal, so far as His work is concerned. He has forever sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Now He is waiting; He has done the work for His people, those who are the purchase of His blood; and as to His enemies, He is waiting for the time when they shall be made the footstool of His feet. The time is coming when those who despise and reject the Lord Jesus shall be beneath His feet. As the Lord Himself has said, those who stumbled at the Cross, who fall upon this Stone, shall be broken; those who have not faith in Him are broken — they are lost; but upon whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind them to powder. Those who openly reject Christ, despise and turn away from Him, when He makes His enemies His footstool, it is to grind them beneath His feet. A solemn and awful thought, reiterated in the book of Revelation, is "the wrath of the Lamb;" more terrible in a way than the wrath of God. The Lamb has been slain, He who once offered Himself for sin; but if rejected and despised, what will His wrath be? He that despised Moses' law, as we read a little later on, died without mercy. We will look at it there, but you see how it connects with this truth.
And so in the fourteenth verse the subject is summed up: by one offering He hath perfected forever. As He sat down forever, so He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. The sanctification is by His blood; we are set apart to God according to the value of His perfect work.
As we have seen before, sanctification is spoken of in many ways in Scripture. The Father's sanctification refers to His will and authority; the Spirit's sanctification refers to His work in us; the sanctification of the Word is that which practically cleanses our ways and conforms us in our walk to the will of God but the sanctification by the blood of Christ is that which sets us before God according to the value of His finished work: it is the sanctification of our standing as contrasted with the inward fruits of sanctification in our lives. This distinction is an important one.
Perfected forever! Every believer in Christ, every one who has come under the value of that precious blood, is perfected forever. It is the very word that is used of His sitting upon the throne. And who could take Him from that throne? Not all the rage and malice of Satan can remove the blessed Son of God from the seat which He occupies as our Redeemer. But if He has taken His seat there forever, He has perfected us forever. We look on down through the vista of time into the broad portals of heavenly glory, and on through the myriad cycles of eternity, to see ever-increasing joy and delight; and in connection with it all we say "perfected forever," clean forevermore by the precious blood of Christ!
"And the Holy Spirit also beareth us witness; for after what was said, This is the covenant that I will establish towards them after those days, the Lord saith, I will put my laws into their hearts, I will write them also in their minds, and their sins and their lawlessnesses I will remember no more. Now, where there is remission of these there is no longer an offering for sin."
We have already dwelt upon this passage, quoted from the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah in the seventh chapter of our Epistle, and therefore the mere mention of it is all that will be necessary. The testimony of the Holy Ghost is not the witness of the Spirit in our hearts, but the witness of the Spirit in the scripture quoted, which, of course, is brought home to our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. God will make a covenant with Israel, and we have the blessings of that covenant ministered to us, the law now written in the heart and mind, and sins and iniquities remembered no more. If God remembers sins and iniquities no more, then there is no more offering needed for sin. If a believer come to God today and say, O God, pardon my sins; might He not well ask, What about the work of Christ? Might He not well say, I have remembered your sins and iniquities when My beloved Son was bearing them on the cross, and they are to be remembered no more? So that the fresh request of pardon for sin in connection with salvation is an insult to His Word and the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. May the Lord keep us from such dishonor, and give us the full joy of knowing with absolute assurance, by His precious truth, that we are perfected forevermore.
"Having, therefore, brethren, boldness for entrance into the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by a new death-made and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and having a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water.
"Let us hold fast the confession of the hope without wavering (for he is faithful who hath promised); and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom is with some, but encouraging one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching."
Here you reach the highest point as to the believer's nearness and privilege. Looking back upon what we have seen, Christ has entered into heaven, into the presence of God, by His own blood. He has taken His seat at the right hand of God; and now what is there for us? We have boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus. The word here in the original is not only "the holiest," but "the holy places," both the holiest and the outer sanctuary. When the perfect work of Christ was finished, the veil was rent; thus the holy place and the most holy were united, and made one sanctuary for the priestly family.
The word for boldness means "all speech," speaking everything, no concealment — perfect liberty. We do not come as those who have some reserve in mind or heart, some things that have never been brought into the light of His presence and which we would be afraid to have brought out. Nay, the lips are opened wide in full confession of all sin; as the woman of Samaria said, "Come, see a man that told me all that ever I did." Those holy eyes, like flames of fire, pierced into the innermost parts of her being, dividing between soul and spirit, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart; nothing in His creation was hid from His holy view. He saw all about us; He knew the whole record of our past; He knows everything as to our present; His eyes scan the future too, and know all the way that we shall tread. What possibility of concealment is there in His holy presence? Yet we have boldness, we have all speech, to enter into His sanctuary by Christ's precious blood!
But confession is twofold. Not only we own our sins, the whole record of our lives, but, oh, we also confess the glories of Christ's precious name, while His praises fill the heart. Thus we have boldness, — not silence, not fear, not constraint, — but holy boldness in the power of the Spirit, as priests, to offer the fragrance, the preciousness of Christ before God.
But what is our title there? It is the blood of Jesus. Do I have boldness to draw near to God on the ground that I have known Him for many years? or that I have had a happy past experience? or that I have been doing faithful service for the Lord, and have honored Him? No! but by the blood of Jesus: that precious blood, which has glorified God, is our alone title to enter there.
This is a "new and living way" by which we enter, says the apostle; and this word "new" I must remind you, is not merely new in contrast with old, but literally it is "a newly sacrificed way," a way opened by the new sacrifice which Christ offered — new, in contrast with all the sacrifices under the law. Then, too, it is "a living way." Under the law, for one to draw near to the presence of God was death under Christ, it is death to stay away. What a blessed contrast! Under the law, anyone daring to draw near would be stricken with the fire coming out from the sanctuary: through the work of Christ we now draw near, and the way is a way of life. The nearer we live to our blessed God, the more we will realize the strength, the freshness and vigor of that life which we draw from a divine source. This new and living way is through the veil that was rent the veil was His flesh, as He tells us. You will remember, on the cross, when our Lord gave up His spirit, the veil was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. It was the flesh of Christ, His body, that was rent. As His spirit leaves His body, as He dies, the veil (that separated our soul from God, and that separated God from His people) is rent. His work is finished — His body broken — His blood shed — the veil is rent! A crucified Christ is the rent veil through which we draw near to God. The marks of the rending will ever abide. In the risen Lord we have the memorial of His finished work and the witness of His perfect humanity all there, not as a barrier to the soul, but as the very way of access to God.
We have seen that we have a sacrifice it is the one finished sacrifice of Christ. We have seen that we have a sanctuary, it is the holy place, the presence of God Himself, and absolute nearness to Him. Now we have a High Priest over the house of God. Let your mind run back upon what we have been gathering as to this priest. Think of Him as the Son of God in the first chapter, and all the perfections that are unfolded as to Him there. Think of Him as the Son of Man, as you have Him in the second chapter, humbled unto death, able to succor His tempted people. Think of Him as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, as you have Him in the third chapter. Think of Him as the great High Priest with a tender heart of sympathy, who has passed through the heavens, as you have Him in the fourth chapter as called of God unto that priestly place and saluted of God a High Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec, as in the fifth chapter. Think of Him as He has gone in within the veil, carried the anchor of our hope and fastened it securely there to the very throne of God, as in the sixth chapter. Think of all the unfolding of truth as to that Priest according to the order of Melchisedec in the seventh chapter, and gather all there is as to His sacrifice and work, as you have learned it in the ninth and tenth chapters then, beloved, as the heart revels in all these truths, you know something of what is meant by the expression "having a High Priest over the house of God." Oh, whom do I meet in the sanctuary, whom do I see there before God? I see the Priest in all the glory of His person, in the perfection of His life, in the fulness of His character, that has opened up this way for me who was far off, now made nigh by His blood. How these things stir our souls to praise Him for this new and living way in which we draw near to God!
Now what is the practical effect of all this? The apostle declares it to us in the three exhortations growing out of it. First of all, "Let us draw near." Under the law all the people removed and stood afar off, but we draw near: it is not even a command, but an invitation. The apostle, in introducing this subject, again addresses the Hebrews as his brethren, as he did in the third chapter — "holy brethren" now it is, "Let us, brethren, draw near in full assurance of faith, with all boldness."
Are we practically there, brethren? I speak not of certain meetings, though sometimes we may enter more fully into this than at other times but do you draw near daily in full assurance of faith, no waver of uncertainty, no shadow of unbelief in the heart at all? Does conscience suggest that there is sin? is conscience fully at rest, as purged from all sin by the blood of Christ?
We have now a thought which we have not had before in the Epistle, referring to the laver outside the door of the tabernacle. You will remember that when the priests were consecrated they were washed at the brazen laver, which speaks of the new birth and washing of regeneration, the work of the Spirit by the word of God cleansing the heart and mind, and fitting the man morally for fellowship with God, as he is also fitted, as to his standing, by the work of Christ. The body washed with pure water speaks, then, of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in new birth; and also, doubtless, of the practical cleansing in connection with the daily life as the priests, who were not only washed all over once for all at their consecration, but daily and constantly, as they ministered, used the water in the laver.
So, as our blessed Lord says in the thirteenth chapter of John, "He that is bathed," that is, washed once for all, "needeth not save to wash his feet;" that is, what comes in contact with this earth needs constantly to be cleansed by the word of God. Thus we draw near in full assurance of faith, the heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience, (a heart that does not accuse) and the work of the Spirit has fitted us morally for the enjoyment of the presence of God.
That is the first exhortation. Then he says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He is faithful that promised." Here is the hope set before us, the inheritance that awaits us in the future. He says, Let us not be uncertain, let nothing shake our confidence as to the future, as nothing can as to the past, or as to the sense of our present nearness to Him. If I am in the presence of God now, why should I be uncertain as to the future? Is He not fully able to carry us through, spite of all difficulties? So we are to hold fast that confession of hope, remembering that He is faithful that promised.
And now he exhorts, "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works." All this time the eye has been upon Christ. We have been occupied with the glories of the sanctuary, the nearness of our position, the wondrous privileges which are ours. We have looked forward as to the future, and been exhorted to hold fast the confession of our hope; and now comes in the place for our fellow-Christians. Notice it is at the close, not at the beginning. You cannot get your salvation from your fellow-Christians, nor your assurance: you cannot get your liberty of worship from them, nor your perseverance to the end. The eye must be fixed simply and ever upon Christ for all these things; and after you have all that in your soul, settled there by the Spirit of God, you can direct your eye to your brethren. For what purpose? To see if you can find their inconsistencies? — how much better you are, or more faithful? Ah, the Spirit of God never helps in work like that. We are not to consider one another to find out the faults, nor that we may see wherein this one or that one has failed, but in order that we may provoke to love and to good works. God desires to see us stir up one another — not provoking to anger, envy or strife, or malice, or discontent, but to provoke unto love, and good works.
Thank God, there is such a provocation; and when the eye is filled with Christ, as we see our Priest with ointment that has run down from His head even to the very skirts of His garment, there will be a practical unity amongst the saints; we will be knit together in love, as the precious ointment of the Spirit of God flows down from Him to us, and thus provoke unto love and to good works.
We are told to consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; in Galatians we are told to consider ourselves, lest we be tempted; and here it is our privilege to consider one another, to stir up to those activities that are the fruit of the divine life. One practical effect of this love and good works is seen in the next and last verse: "Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is." You will remember, when the two disciples turned their backs upon Jerusalem to go to Emmaus, that they sorrowed as they spoke of Jesus and His sufferings; and when the Lord Jesus drew near and talked with them, their hearts burned. But when they came to the house and entreated Him to remain with them, and He in breaking bread revealed Himself to them, what do you find is the practical effect of it? Immediately they retraced their steps to Jerusalem to meet their brethren. They went back where they knew they would meet them: Christ was before their eyes again. It was not a past Christ, so to speak, but a present Christ in resurrection who had revealed Himself to them; He was before their souls, and they go back to their brethren to bear their testimony, The Lord is risen, and to hear from them the same blessed word.
And so, if Christ fills the soul, the effect of it will be to draw us together. We read in the early part of Acts that they were with one accord in one place. With one accord they continued in prayer; everything was done with one accord. What was the reason? Christ touched the chord in their hearts, and it rung responsive in every heart that loved the Lord Jesus. We are not drawn together because we have similarity of taste in natural things, or are in the same circumstances of life, or have the same education, or the same nationality, or anything of that sort. What is it draws the saints of God and holds them together? It is Christ, and Christ alone. Thus we see how fitting it is that when the sanctuary and the Priest are before us, the exhortation comes in not to forsake the the assembling of ourselves together.
Why, some one says, is there any need of such an exhortation, "As the manner of some is?" There is a tendency even in the heart of those who know Christ, if they grow cold, to separate and remain apart. This we see in Thomas. He was not with the disciples at the first. It was only when they bore witness that Christ indeed was risen that his heart is kindled and he comes back, even in his doubt, to have his doubts removed by the Lord Himself. If we grow cold, or worldliness comes in, if anything obscures Christ from our vision, the manner of some is to turn away from the fellowship of saints. Thus we need that exhortation. Let us take it as an index of our state of soul that if we do not love to meet with the people of God, if we do not love to come together for prayer, for exhortation, and, above all, for remembering our blessed Lord, it shows He has not the supreme place in our souls; let us judge the root of it, and come back at once.
As we are thus gathered and united together, there is abundant ministry by the Spirit through the word of God for all our souls, and thus we can exhort one another, stir one another up, point out the needs and apply the word of God to one another; and so much the more as we see the day approaching. Those saints whose eyes were anointed could say, The end of all things is at hand. They knew that Christ had appeared in the end of the world; that soon the day would come when His enemies would be placed beneath His feet; and as they saw that day approaching, they stirred one another up all the more. What shall we say, then, we who live centuries later? How much nearer is that day for us! And as we see it approaching — with no terrors for us — how it ought to draw us away from the world toward which we are tempted to wander, to dwell in fellowship with our God, and the privileges of the sanctuary!