"Ye have need of patience"
The apostle has been gradually passing into exhortation, the form of which we have had occasion to look at, at some length, in the sixth chapter; but what we have here, presents some differences from what is dwelt upon there.
"For if we go astray wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no longer any sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and heat of fire about to devour the adversaries."
"Sin," in Hebrews, is not used in a general sense, but refers, rather, to that special form of sin to which those by nature Israelites were particularly exposed. Their danger was not so much falling into immorality, in any of its various forms, as falling away from Christ. The constant temptation and pressure upon them was to deny Him who had ever been a stumbling-block to His earthly people. To this there was every inducement that could appeal to the flesh: persecution was on one side, and all that natural affection could use on the other; so that according to nature, they were both driven and drawn away from Christ. What more effectual remedy could there have been for such temptation than the glorious truths upon which we have been dwelling? And we may be sure that one who has consciously entered into the full enjoyment of the sanctuary, realizing the value of the blood of Jesus as bringing us there, faultless before the presence of God's face as worshipers, could not be tempted to give up Christ.
As we have already seen, a full apostasy would indicate a soul that had never been moved by divine grace — in which there was no spark of life. Therefore, both in the sixth chapter and here, we find the apostle assuring the true-hearted among them, that he was persuaded better things of them. Only those who had merely made a profession, no matter how much it might have been accompanied with exuberance of joy and excitement at the time, were in danger of giving up that which they had received. To such, this admonition would have special meaning and weight.
On the other hand, we must not forget that even where complete apostasy is, through the grace of God, an impossibility, there is need to check any tendency in that direction which would produce bitter fruits in the life and testimony. Thus, the true-hearted never despise the chastening of the Lord or His admonitions. They welcome them as ever reminding them of that flesh which is still in them, and which is, as ever, "not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Therefore, instead of resenting, as unsuited to themselves, such warnings as we have here, or, on the other hand, being overwhelmed with fear lest they have committed this sin, or are in danger of committing it, they will bow in subjection to the truth of God and learn more than ever to "rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh." Good it is ever to be suitably exercised by whatever the word of God may have to say to us. Thus we are sanctified by the truth, and kept with "the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left." The enemy will be foiled, and we will go on with rejoicing in the ways of our God.
You notice the emphasis which is put upon the word, "wilfully." It is not slipping or being "overtaken in a fault," or even in an evil hour of self-confidence yielding, as Peter did, to pressure from without, and denying his Lord. Grievous and dreadful as this sin was, it was not wilful. The will of the renewed man shrank with horror from such dishonor to his Lord, and one look from the Lord Jesus brought the poor, self-confident one, brokenhearted back to Him. Thus it ever is where divine life is in the soul. "A just man falleth seven times and riseth up again."
Of course, we do not understand for a moment by this that Scripture makes the least provision for looseness or disloyalty to our blessed Lord. It should be worse than death to us in any way to compromise His name still more to deny it. But the sin contemplated here is one in which the will is deliberately involved that is, the whole man willingly, deliberately, intentionally goes with the rejection, the renunciation of Christ.
Dreadful and solemn thing, beloved, to contemplate the possibility that any who have in any measure heard the precious truths which we have been already dwelling upon should wilfully give them up! It only shows what the heart of man is, its irremediable wickedness and the perversity of that nature which, when everlasting love has poured out the riches of its stores before us, could yet turn from them all back again to that which is Christless and hopeless!
After the knowledge of the truth has been received — such truths as we have been dwelling upon here, of the Priesthood of Christ, His finished sacrifice, His purging our sins, His entrance into the Holiest, there appearing in the presence of God for us, by His one offering perfecting forever those who are sanctified, and our boldness to follow Him into the sanctuary of God, — where there has been a knowledge of these truths, what more can be done in the heart that is still untouched and would still turn away from such a Christ?
God Himself declares here that "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." All the Jewish sacrifices under the law have been shown to be valueless. Their worth consisted simply in the fact that they were divinely appointed types — shadows of the genuine Sacrifice which has now been offered. After the knowledge of that perfect Sacrifice has been received, Judaism and its sacrifices can avail no longer, even as a shadow. They are absolutely worthless, and the soul is left without any offering for sins, standing in all its naked guilt before a holy God doubly guilty, not only because of the sins which in all their blackness are arrayed against it, but because of its deliberate, absolute, final rejection of the only possible remedy for those sins.
No sacrifice then remains. In the place of waiting for the Saviour from heaven, as we saw at the close of the ninth chapter, there is nothing but a "fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." The future is one of terror, for there is nothing to mitigate the dreadful doom that awaits those who have arrayed themselves now on the side of the adversaries of God. What an awful thought it is that those who have heard the ministry of reconciliation, who have had put before them every witness of that divine Love which gave its only Son to be the propitiation for sin, should refuse that love! What can be left for them?
It is impossible to conceive of any future sacrifice for sins. What more could be done than God has done? Who could come out of heaven to lay down his life for the guilty now, if the Son of God Himself has been despised and rejected? The guilty soul is left in all its horror to await the certainty of that judgment, that fiery indignation which finds its expression in the awful "lake of fire," reserved for "the devil and his angels." In association with such are all apostates who, having received the knowledge of the truth, wilfully turn from Him who is the Truth.
Well may we cry to God that in this day of apostasy, where so many are giving up even that which they knew of Christ and turning away from Him who has been presented before them, there may be such an awakening that multitudes will be brought to a genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are hastening on to the final apostasy of the latter days, when the Antichrist who comes "in his own name" will be received by those who would not receive Him who came in His "Father's name." Already the moral signs of these last days are with us. The apostle Paul himself declares that the mystery of lawlessness already is at work, and will continue until its full development; and the apostle John declares, with holy jealousy for the Lord Jesus Christ, that already there are "many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." There is but one preventive against apostasy, and that is a divinely given and maintained faith in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nor can we be so unfaithful as not to remind those who are preachers and teachers in the midst of what claims to be the Church of Christ, that they have a fearful responsibility if they are preaching anything but the Christ of God as we find Him unfolded, for instance, in our Epistle. It is solemn enough to be apostates, but still more awful to be leading other souls astray. Does this sound unduly severe? Is there no occasion for it? It is a solemn and awful thought that there is only too much occasion for just such warning as the apostle gives us here!
"He that hath set at naught Moses' law dieth without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he hath been sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord and again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
As in the second chapter, the apostle compares sin under the law of Moses with apostasy, and shows how much more dreadful the latter is. "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses." "Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward." Is God less holy under grace than He is under law? Does He think less of denial of His holy, spotless Son than of the dishonor done to the commandments written and engraven in stone? What greater insult could be offered to the living God than to insult the Son of His love, and to intimate that He is an impostor and a liar?
It is well for men to be brought face to face with what is involved in the rejection of Christ. It is worse than all the sins forbidden in the decalogue. We need to be on our guard against any false thoughts of those who are deniers of Christ. Unitarianism may boast of its morality, its enlightenment, its liberality and philanthropy; but Unitarianism represents just that upon which we are dwelling at this time, for it had its origin in the bosom of that which professed to be the espoused bride of Christ. It has not come from heathenism, but owes its origin to the self-will of men in taking up the word of God and wresting it to their own destruction, until finally they become rejectors not only of the Christ who is presented in the Scriptures, but of the Scriptures themselves as the word of God. It is to be feared that the true people of God do not realize the unspeakably dreadful sin of those who deny the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we fully believed that the intellectual, amiable person who can speak so enthusiastically about the progress of the world, and the needs of the masses, is on his way to the lake of fire as an antichrist, would we not with holy fear seek to warn such an one to flee from the wrath to come? Visit the penal institutions where the law of the land punishes its criminals, and it is a solemn thought that such are not so guilty as those who have "trodden under foot the Son of God" and have "counted the blood of the covenant" as "a common thing."
Our beloved apostle uses no moderate language in characterizing this awful sin of apostasy. Christ is upon the throne of God, crowned with glory and honor, and all heaven is filled with the light of His glory; but those who turn away from Him, after having professed to be His, have Him beneath their feet so far as they themselves are concerned; or, as we have it in the sixth chapter, they have crucified afresh for themselves the Lord Jesus, who was crucified by His enemies when He was upon earth. What more dreadful description could be given of guilt? The murder of an innocent babe, treason to one's country, the burning of a city as Nero burned Rome, are not to be compared with planting the feet upon Him who is higher than the highest, the Son of God Himself.
That blood of the covenant which sanctifies unto God, which, as it were, has been sprinkled upon the mercy-seat — the very throne of God; which has purged the heavens and cleansed every guilty soul who has come beneath its value — what can be so holy or so precious? It is the basis upon which the very throne of God abides in the midst of His people. It is the foundation upon which the whole new creation rests immovable, and for eternity. Take the word of God and see what His thoughts are of the blood. Trace it all through the Old Testament, from the sprinkling of the blood upon the door-posts at the the Passover, through all the countless sacrifices provided; then pass into the New Testament and collect every reference that is given by the Spirit of God to the precious blood of Christ, and see what an unpardonable insult it is to count this an unholy thing! And notice it is not said that they count the blood an evil thing. The word is really a "common," as contrasted with a sacred thing — an ordinary matter, the blood of a mere martyr, of one who was living before his time and suffering the necessary persecution of those who would introduce reformation and break up the established order of things. There are plenty of men who would declare that the blood of Christ was this. Amongst his own kinsman according to the flesh we will find, at this time, those who will speak in terms of praise of "the liberality of Jesus," that He was a true Jew, a genuine patriot, that He suffered, as all leaders must suffer, at the hands of those who were reactionary and behind the time. If that is all they have to say of the blood of Jesus, they are counting it a "common thing."
We have heard the expression that the gospel of the grace of God, that which is based upon the precious blood of Jesus Christ, is "a religion of the shambles" and not for intellectual men. Oh, beloved, we can only say that if such expressions issued from those who once received the knowledge of the truth, who once confessed Christ, whom now they consider merely as a man, alas! — that is the apostasy spoken of here. The blood of the covenant has been despised and counted as a common thing!
In a similar category we must place all such thoughts as that the death of Christ is a perfect example; that the blood of the Lord Jesus is an exhibition, in a general way, of the love of God and not a real satisfaction to divine justice. There may be those who, in their ignorance or partial apprehension of divine truth, unintentionally put dishonor upon our Lord by using such expressions; but the character of them, when truly understood, is of the same nature as that of which we have been speaking.
You will notice, also, that the apostle says: "The blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified." As we have already seen, "sanctification," in Hebrews, is outward and positional rather than that work of the Spirit of God in the soul by new birth. So far as the efficacy of the work of Christ is concerned, it is of eternal value; but it is always presumed that the objects of this work have a saving faith wrought in their souls in connection with the new birth. Thus, if a man in Israel was associated with the nation, he participated in that outward sanctification or setting apart to God which was done for the whole nation. The Hebrew was familiar with this thought, and therefore the expression would have no difficulty to those to whom the apostle was primarily writing. Nor can it easily be misunderstood by any of us. Neither here, nor elsewhere, as we well know, does Scripture mean to say that a single sheep of Christ can ever perish. Our Lord's own words: "I give unto them eternal life," "neither shall any one pluck them out of My hand" give the seal to this. But there is such a thing as positional, outward sanctification, and this is what is contemplated by the apostle.
The Spirit of grace has borne witness to the value of that blood of the covenant: therefore, to deny its value is a direct insult to the Holy Spirit. It is through Him that the precious truth of the accomplished Sacrifice and the sprinkled blood has been declared. His testimony has been given, as we read in the sixth chapter: the works of the coming age have been done by the power of the Holy Spirit. His testimony was unequivocal in the companies of those who had been led to true faith in the Lord Jesus. Therefore, for one to turn away from Christ would be a distinct insult to that Spirit of grace who had made Him known. How true it is, also, that sin against one of the persons of the Godhead involves sin against all. Thus, if the Son of God has been trodden under foot, theHoly Spirit has also been insulted, and God the Father, giver of the Son, has been denied.
The fearful doom of apostates is again dwelt upon. We know the One who has said, "Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense:" and again, "The Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." He is long-suffering, His vengeance lingers, judgment is His strange work, for He delights in mercy; but "the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
But He will recompense. Just so surely as sin is committed, will it be punished; and just so surely as men depart from the only, the last remedy which divine love has provided, will they receive the full, and dreadful, and eternal recompense that is assured in this solemn Scripture. Jehovah is a Judge. He will judge His people. We read that judgment will begin at the house of God — amongst those who have professed to be His, as in Ezekiel's day.
Indeed, those who take the place outwardly of being His children are the first who will come under the searching, testing fire of that judgment. So true is this, that for us (of whom it is said we shall never come into judgment, but are passed out of death into life) our works will be appraised at the judgment-seat of Christ; and the same holiness, which will devour the adversaries and would consume us did we come before God to be personally judged, will test, and as a consuming fire burn up everything in our works that has not been "gold, silver or precious stones." It is in the light of this that the apostle says: "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." The judgment-seat of Christ is such a holy place, the searching eye of God pierces so completely into the innermost secrets and recesses of the heart, that the believer, from whose bosom all false dread has been removed, still realizes what a dreadful thing it would be to stand before that piercing eye to be judged. Therefore, knowing the terror of the Lord, he persuades men.
Who can describe the awful terror of those words: "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire"? Who can exaggerate the dread of the irresistible judgment of the Great White Throne? No wonder when the kings of the earth and all men, both great and small, think the day of the Lord has come, and the time for the visitation of His fierce wrath, that they cry to the mountains and hills to fall upon them and cover them! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." He is a silent God. Day by day the heavens pass silently over our heads, and night after night the silent stars look down upon us no voice from them. We travel the earth over, we witness evidence of God's presence in sea and shore, in the storm which breaks the rocks asunder and bows the trees of the forest before it, but we hear no voice of the living God. Men have come to believe that He is not a living God. They would fain think that He is removed so far from His creation that He can never again visit it. But our God does not slumber, though He is silent. The time is coming when He shall rise to shake terribly the earth, and who can describe the awful scene when the living God shall call men to answer for all their sin?
I have thus dwelt, beloved, upon the solemn thoughts which are suggested by this passage before us. We have sought to drink in the abundant consolation and joy from the precious truths of the sanctuary and the Priest upon the throne, and it ill becomes us to turn away with indifference from these solemn warnings which are put side by side with that precious comfort.
"But call to remembrance the former days, in which after having been enlightened ye endured a great conflict of sufferings; on the one hand, when ye were made a spectacle both in reproaches and afflictions; and on the other, when ye became par takers with those who were passing through them. For ye sympathized with those in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better and an enduring substance."
But the tender heart of our blessed God, speaking through one whom He had also touched with the same feeling, will not allow even the weakest among these Hebrew Christians to be oppressed or overwhelmed by the solemnity of this warning. He therefore, in this portion, goes on to recall to them the previous sufferings which they had endured for the sake of the Lord Jesus. "Call to mind the former days," the times of the first love, when they were first enlightened: when these truths of God first flashed into their souls and brought peace and joy and comfort, how they endured a great fight of afflictions: how their kinsmen according to the flesh, perhaps members of their own family, delivered them up to the council, and when (as the man in the ninth chapter of John) they confessed Christ, they found that their own parents had turned their backs upon them! How they were looked upon with suspicion by those who had previously looked upon them with regard, and how they were branded as blasphemers "against Moses" "and this holy place and the law," because they declared for Jesus and the resurrection.
They were made a gazing-stock, held up to the scorn and mockery of others, as Stephen was brought before the council, and while his face was lit up with the light of heaven itself, was railed upon and cast out of the city and stoned. So these Hebrew Christians had in some degree tasted similar sufferings. They were themselves either actually persecuted in this way or were companions of those who suffered like this. How the Spirit of God would dwell upon any degree of faithfulness there had been to the name of the Lord Jesus, even if it showed itself only in identification with those who were the direct objects of persecution! They sympathized with those who were in bonds. Like Onesiphorus, they were not ashamed of the prisoners of the Lord; and if their goods were taken, instead of resenting it or considering it a token of divine discipline from Him who had assured Israel according to the flesh that they would be blest in basket and store, they took it with joy, realizing in themselves that they had a more enduring inheritance in heaven.
Beautiful and sweetly simple description is all this of the manner in which faith receives the trials which only serve to strengthen it and to manifest that its portion is not here. Blessedly, too, does it remind us of that association with One whose pathway out of this world was by the cross, and who found nothing here but a borrowed tomb and the hatred and reproaches of those who, for His love, were His adversaries.
Thus the apostle stirs up all that had been wrought by the Spirit in the souls of these Hebrew saints: calling them back, if in any measure they had departed from it, to their first love, and thus guarding them from the dreadful danger which hung over them, as professors, of denying the Lord that bought them. And what more effectual way could there be of preventing dishonor to the Lord in those who really loved Him, than by reminding them of what they had already, by His grace, endured for His sake? This would not feed pride, but would stir them up to endure still more for Him, who had endured so much for them; would stir them up too, to run with patience the little that yet remained of the race, as they realized how they had already passed over, perhaps, the most thorny part of the way. Perhaps that which was specially tempting them at this time was not so much outward persecution, the enduring of a great fight of afflictions, as it was that more subtle and deadly allurement, that lethargy of soul which makes possible declension from the Lord.
"Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense; for ye have need of endurance in order that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise."
The apostle thus exhorts them not to throw away, not to cast off their confidence, because there is great recompense of reward laid up for them in heaven. They had a confidence; the grounds of it we have been dwelling upon. It is the same word which is translated "boldness" in the earlier part of this chapter: "Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus." They were not to cast away this boldness; they were to hold fast the rejoicing of their hope and their confidence steadfast unto the end. They had received no reward at present, save, of course, that blessed witness of the Spirit in the soul, which is its own reward; but the recompense remained. The rest was there, where God Himself was resting in His own eternal day. In a little while all the pressure of the way would be over, all the persecution for the name of Christ would be a thing of the past. How sweet in glory to be able to look back upon a course run in which Jesus had not been denied, confidence maintained, and now throughout eternity to enjoy the fulness of that blessing, the foretaste of which sweetened all their sorrows in this life! He reminds them that they have need of patience, as we all have; or as the word really is, of "endurance." And it is tribulation that "worketh patience, and patience experience." Experience and patience do not come from an unexercised life; and they needed that endurance which abode under every stress; that after they had done the will of God, after they had bowed to that will as expressed in the Gospel, had confessed and suffered for Christ, they would still cleave to Him, and thus obtain the promise which was laid up for them in heaven. All this is very simple. It needs not so much exposition as it does application, and I am sure it has a voice for our souls which will be most sanctifying if we bow to the truth which is here pressed home upon us.
"For yet a very little while he that cometh will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; and if he draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul."
Lastly, the apostle gives them the cheer that it is only a little while that there will be need for this endurance. The One who is coming, that One whose promise is, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself," will soon be here. There is no delay, for "the Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness." The patience of the present time is a patience of grace, "not willing that any should perish" — not indifferent, we surely need not say. At any moment, the welcome shout, with the voice of the trumpet, may be heard from heaven, and saints snatched from their place of trial will enter into the joy of the Lord. This very inducement is held out for perseverance. This sharp trial may be the last. This temptation to turn into an easier path may be followed by the coming of the Lord. It is only "a little while."
Meanwhile, faith is the principle upon which the righteous are to live. "The just shall live by faith." That is the principle which actuates the whole life and upon which the apostle enlarges in the following chapter. There is no other principle to control, no true power to actuate us. The opposite of that is drawing back — turning away from what was once known — giving up the precious truth. How important to see that the opposite of faith is apostasy; and if any one thus draw back, denying Christ, "My soul," says God, "shall have no pleasure in him." Whatever else there may be about him to attract the natural man, even amiability and morality, these things have no attraction for God where Christ is denied. It is most essential to realize this at the present time, when a strong current is drawing away from the great realities of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and contenting men with certain results in the life which seem to answer very much to the Christian virtues produced by a living faith; but wherever the root is gone, there is no real fruit, however much it may have that appearance. God has no pleasure in externals. If Christ has been given up, the soul is an apostate. Solemn and awful thought!
But our apostle, according to his manner, cannot leave the subject with those solemn words. There must be a word of cheer for true faith, and so, in the last verse, he identifies himself with them, with all true believers, in saying: "We are not of those who draw back unto perdition;" we are no apostates. For us, it is Christ now as ever. We are of those who believe, whose faith is not of that temporary character, like the seed upon the stony ground which endures for a season — which, under stress, withers away. We believe until the full, eternal outcome of faith is manifest; "the saving of the soul" in that day of glory, when all the fruitage of faith will appear to view.