The Continuing City — Outside the Camp
"Let us go forth unto Him."
"Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful of hospitality; for some have thereby entertained angels unawares. Remember those that are in bonds, as bound with them; and those evil-treated, as being yourselves also in the body. Let marriage be held every way in honor, and the bed be undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your manner of life be without covetousness, being content with such things as ye have: for himself hath said, I will never leave thee, neither will I forsake thee; so that we may say with confidence, The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid: what will man do unto me?"
In these verses the apostle speaks of the walk befitting the grace that has been unfolded. Everything is of a very simple character, suited to those who are pilgrims and strangers, subject to the trials and difficulties of the way.
You notice, he does not say, Have brotherly love, but, "Let brotherly love continue;" as the apostle says to the Thessalonians: "As touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another." The Spirit of God never contemplates the saints as being without love; but encourages them to let it abound, by putting no hindrance to the natural outflow of every renewed heart. It is to show itself practically, as in the next exhortation, as to hospitality. This refers to the familiar scene in the life of Abraham when he received the three guests at his tent door at Mamre, and round that he had been entertaining, unawares, the Lord Himself and His angelic messengers.
As these Hebrew saints had, through grace, opened their hearts to the love of the brethren, so also were they to open their homes to any one who might have need; a word appropriate to times of stress, when limited abilities might tempt them to selfishness.
There had been allusion already to the affliction and persecution to which some of them had been subjected, or in which they had had companionship with others who were passing through it. He exhorts them now to remember those who are in bonds not in mere pity, but in spirit partaking with those in affliction, although they themselves might be free. What a lovely identification of faith with the suffering people of God! "If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it" "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep."
He then reminds them that grace does not mean lawlessness. Holiness ever marks even the ordinary relationships of life, which have been established of God from the beginning. Anything else, God Himself will judge. There is no trifling with anything which would bring dishonor or reproach upon the name of Christ, and be a denial of what true grace is for grace ever secures holiness.
Now he comes to inward individual condition. "Let your conversation be without covetousness." A great temptation for Hebrews is to be gathering more and more. Prosperity in temporal things was the indication of God's favor, and therefore, passing through bitter trials, having their possessions taken from them, their temptation would be to doubt God's love.
How beautifully he gives them the remedy for any discontent of this sort: "Be content with such things as ye have have." Instead of reaching out after that which you have not, and having the spirit filled with discontent, remember One who has said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."
As we look around us today, we see that covetousness is characteristic of the whole world. The word "covetousness" in the original means "having more." It is not necessarily wishing for what some one else has, but wishing for more than I have; the root of all covetousness is being dissatisfied with what we already have.
Nothing can fill the heart in this world. If you turn to Ecclesiastes, you will find a man who had everything. He was king; all wealth and power were at his disposal, so he had only to make known his desire. What effect did all this wealth, knowledge, power, and pleasure have upon him? It filled his mouth with ashes, as it were it disgusted him with the whole world. He says: "Vanity of vanities all is vanity."
What will take the carking care out of our heart, and keep us from discontent? If we realize that we have Him who is the source of all wealth, the living God as our portion — if He fills the heart, there is no room for covetous desire. If we have Christ — Him in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells — what more can we have? Is God's creation of more value than Himself? Suppose you could have everything that your mind can conceive of in all creation, would you be happier? Look at the men of wealth today are they distinguished for contentment, peace of heart and joy of soul? We know that the resources of this world are but trash, so far as feeding the soul is concerned. But when we have the Source and Author of all blessing, as the meal may reach the bottom of the vessel, and the oil in the cruse be so little that it seems almost worthless even to pour it out, we hear Him saying to our widowed circumstances, "I" — oh, blessed substitute for all the hoarded wealth of this poor world — "I," the living God, "will never" — not merely at this time of need, or in these circumstances of strait, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." As that precious assurance takes possession of the soul, we can look care, need, poverty, distress and everything else in the face, and rejoice, as the prophet Habbakuk does when he says: "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
That is the blessed substitute and cure for all covetousness and discontent. As we think of that we can boldly say, "The Lord is my helper." Sometimes we are tempted not to be bold in this, but in our precious Epistle we are encouraged to all boldness, both in the presence of God and before the world.
Some may say, You do not know what the future may bring forth. Ah, —
"Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say:
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may.
"It can bring with it nothing
But He will see us through.
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people too.
"Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread."
Are we not ashamed of our unbelief, of the doubt that trembles under circumstances? Does employment fail for the time? Do things press upon us and look very dark this wintry weather? Do we feel we know not how we are going to have food for our little ones next week? Has the living God given His Son, or has He not? and "How shall He not with Him" — blessed association! — "freely give us all things?" Who has ever answered that question? Who can answer it?
We have our title to everything we need throughout our entire pilgrim journey in the gift of Christ Himself. "So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper" — no matter what are the circumstances; no matter what confederacies of men may do — whether the vast associations of wealth close down the little honest business in which you have been earning a livelihood, or labor unite and shut out of employment every one who will not bow to its mandates. Still we have the living God, the Lord and Master of all; and shall we not be in peace, and boldly say, "The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man" — one or all shall do unto me"? The Lord pour into our hearts the balm and stimulus of this precious truth!
"Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God, whose faith follow, considering the issue of their walk. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for the ages to come. Be not carried away with divers and strange doctrines; for it is good that the heart be established with grace, not meats, by which those have not been profited who walked in them."
It is very suggestive, and quite in accord with the spirit of the whole Epistle, that the apostle should three times in this last chapter speak of their guides: here they are told to remember them; later, to obey; and lastly, to salute them.
All through the Epistle the apostle had refrained from any mention of men, except to set them aside if they came at all, in the minds of the hearers, in competition with Christ. But now all those questions have been settled. Christ's preeminence has been declared; and, as in the eleventh chapter he was able to take up examples of faith, so now he can remind them of their guides.
God has guides for His people. It was notably so in connection with the whole history of the Jews. He always guided them through leaders. In days of ruin, when failure had come in, He would raise up a judge for the special emergency. The fact that we have Christ in glory and the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church down here, competent to control and lead His people, does not set aside human instruments whom God has endowed with special qualifications to be leaders, overseers, pastors, caretakers of the flock of God. There is no contradiction therefore in the thought of Christ having the supreme, the only place as Lord over all, and our recognizing those who labor among us and admonish us, and esteeming them "very highly in love for their works' sake."
The guides spoken of here are those who had passed. away. We may think of them as including Old Testament saints, though primarily referring to those who had spoken to them the word of God since their knowledge of Christ — as James, for instance, who had been "killed with the sword," and the early leaders at Jerusalem. This shows how we are to recognize a guide. He is to be known, not by mere human appointment, but in the fact that he speaks to us the word of God. He is not using his own authority or will. Sometimes we hear it said that people of strong minds and wills are the ones whom God can use. Those whom God uses are the channels for His word, which alone controls. Anything like the force of human will, or the expression of authority by majority, or names which people are accustomed to bow to, is contrary to the whole principle of Scripture. God guides His people by His Word, and guides are those who have spoken to us that Word.
He goes on to say that we are to imitate them, but not in detail; we are not to be Peters or Pauls. We are not to take some great Christian as our model, and imitate him. That will sooner or later result in shame to the one who attempts it. But we can always imitate their faith. "Whose faith follow." And so we can look at the whole list of servants who have gone before us: we can go back to the whole Old Testament history, as we did in the eleventh chapter, and say, Wherever I find one who had the word of God and walked in faith, in dependence upon God, I have one whose faith I can imitate. Thank God for guides. Some of them we knew and loved truly. The precious Word they spoke to us is with us yet. Let us imitate their faith! What was the end and whole power of their life? If it was a life of faith, it was, in one word, Jesus Christ. It was Christ for them to live; and we can imitate that faith which makes Christ the object for our lives. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." There is never any danger of being followers of men if we make use of our guides in such a way as this. We will never allow them to displace Christ. They minister Christ to us, and we esteem them because of that.
Now he goes on further. Those who had gone home to the Lord had been under the power of Christ in their life. The outcome of their life was Christ. Let it be the same with us, he says; and particularly he warns them as to the danger of being led astray by false doctrines. The eighth verse has this twofold connection. It shows what measures a believer's life and service, and is a safeguard against error. Christ is the sum of our life and testimony; and, thank God, He is the end of it too — it is to be with Christ on high.
He reminds them of the eternal stability of Christ Jesus, in the threefold way in which He is revealed to us — His past, present, and future; not, of course, going back into past eternity when "the Word was with God" and "was God," in His untreated Deity; but "that which was from the beginning," as we have it in John's Epistle. He is the same yesterday; that is, when He was here upon earth, ending with His work upon the cross. Consider Him as you see Him, coming on His errand of love, humbling Himself and taking the form of a servant in Bethlehem, a little babe. Watch Him as He grew into manhood. See how He honored God in everything He did, and how all that He did had reference to one thing — making known God's love to those who needed that love. It was the ministry of grace to sinners.
But follow our blessed Lord through all His gracious life. Sometimes one is tempted to say, If I had only been upon earth when the Lord Jesus was here, I would have gone to Him as the poor woman did in the seventh of Luke. I would have entreated Him for my dear ones, I would have brought them to Him to deliver from the power of Satan. I would have gone to Him with my own needs and wretchedness, and not have let Him go till all was answered.
Blessed be God, Jesus Christ is the same today that He was yesterday. You can look back upon His yesterday and know that He has not changed one iota; upon the throne of God He is the same gracious Saviour He was upon earth; He does now for us just what He did for poor wretches then. We can take up every illustration, every case of mercy bestowed upon the undeserving and the needy when He was on earth and say, Jesus Christ is the same today. That earthly life which closed with the cross, and all the blessed results of redemption, have the stamp of eternity upon them. Upon the throne of God, He is the same Jesus — the same as to His person and as to His work as when He was here.
And as to the future? Will it not be the Lord Jesus, with the same tender love, as He was in the past? Cast your eye forward as far as faith can reach, as far as the word of God unfolds the future to us, throughout the boundless ages of eternity, Jesus Christ abides the same. His yesterday on earth is the same as His today on the throne; and forever His future will present to us the One who never changes; the One who is, who was, and is to come — God and Man in two distinct natures, but one person forever.
As you dwell upon that, if there come in these strange doctrines, these thoughts of men (all kinds of doctrines as to man, as to his sin, his improvement, and his development; doctrines as to the world and its present condition, its future destiny and how it can be improved, — a thousand different doctrines, upon a thousand different subjects) what are you going to say to them all? Here is one who tells you there is a certain new wonderful revelation for the latter-day saints, and he leads astray multitudes of poor, silly people who do not know their Bibles. Another says, You must observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, for you are under law. Others tell you that all humanity will one day be restored; others, that the wicked are going to be annihilated; others, that there is no such thing as sickness, sin or death — that these are all chimeras of the mind. What does the light of God show, as all these things are presented? How does He test them? By Jesus Christ. He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever;" and, as the apostle John says, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and need not that any man teach you." We have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ and His truth. Why should we want anything to lead us in the way of truth when we have Him who is the truth?
So we are not to be "carried about with divers and strange doctrines." For the Hebrew Christians their special danger was in the familiar doctrines of Judaism which he had been dealing with in the body of the Epistle. They at one time had God's sanction, as His revelation for the time that then was; but they were only the "shadow of good things to come." Now the shadow is only a worthless husk if it is used as a substitute for Christianity. They have become "divers and strange doctrines" an intrusion upon those who have "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever."
So, "it is good that the heart be established with grace," — the grace that is centered in Christ. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is good to be so firmly rooted in the divine principles of redemption that "meats," and "clean and unclean," as connected with Judaism, will have no attraction; such as "touch not, taste not, handle not." These things "have not profited those who have been occupied therein."
Now he becomes, if I may use such an expression, bolder yet, and applies things more stringently than he had yet done.
"We have an altar whereof they have no right to eat who are serving the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest for sin are burnt without the camp; wherefore also Jesus, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have here no abiding city, but we seek the one that is to come. By him, therefore, let us offer a sacrifice of praise continually to God, that is the fruit of the lips confessing his name; but to do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
He had already spoken of the altar of Judaism, where their sacrifices under the law were offered; these "meats," ordinances of those sacrifices, had not profited those who had been occupied in them. But now, "we have an altar." It is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever." In Romans the apostle says, "Whom God hath set forth a propitiation," or mercy-seat, "through faith in His blood." So, then, Christ is also the altar. Christ has offered a sacrifice of infinite value; and as we think of that altar, of Christ Himself, we can feed upon the offering with delight.
There were sacrifices according to the law: burnt-offerings which went up wholly to God; sin-offerings which, in their full character, were burnt outside the camp, or, at the best, partaken of only by the priest — never by the offerer. Then there were the peace-offerings, which were shared in by all — the offerer, the priest, and God Himself. The fat was consumed upon the altar, and went up to Him. The priest had his portion, and the offerer also had his. Those serving at the altar ate of the altar; and so in Christianity we have Christ, and can feed upon the wave breast and the heave shoulder, the food for those who know Christ as theirs. We can feed upon the affections, "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge;" and upon that which gives strength, the shoulder, suggesting how the Lord upholds and bears us ever through this world. These things are our food, and those who serve in the Tabernacle have no right to eat these things. Those who are merely Jews have no part in our enjoyment of Christ.
Now he goes further. He had been speaking of the peace-offering. Next he speaks of the sin-offering, and shows us the place which has been given to us by it in a twofold way. The blood was brought into the sanctuary and sprinkled upon the mercy-seat as the witness of the perfect standing of those who have an interest in that blood. Christ has entered in by His own blood into the holy place, once having obtained eternal redemption. You will find in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus that the body of the sin-offering was taken outside the camp of Israel, and there burnt to ashes. So the apostle would apply this truth of the sin-offering to our adorable Lord.
We have seen how Christ has carried the value of His atoning work into the very presence of God. Now follow Him as He went outside the gate. Turn back your thoughts to Golgotha. Follow Him from Pilate's judgment hall, where He had been mocked, rejected by His own nation, they crying out, "Away with Him; away with Him; crucify Him:" the very leaders of the people giving their voice against Him; the voices of the people and the chief priests prevailing against Pilate's conviction, against his conscience and the testimony of God Himself through Pilate's wife. So Jesus is given up to be the Sacrifice, and there He is laden with His cross; — do you not envy one who was privileged to be associated with Him in bearing that cross? He goes without the gate unto Golgotha, "the place of a skull," the unclean place. Outside the gates of the city, yea, at a distance from God, Jesus suffered the full infliction of divine judgment: the Sacrifice was there completely burnt under the wrath of God.
Here are the two extremes, and well do we know what they mean. Out yonder, beyond the gate, we hear the cry of anguish, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" There, in the inner glory of God's presence, the veil is rent, and you hear Him saying, "I will declare Thy name unto My brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise Thee."
The apostle had unfolded the truth to them that they had boldness to enter into the sanctuary; and here is the other side, which speaks of their earthly connections. As Jesus suffered outside the gate, as He took the place of reproach, "Let us, therefore, go forth unto Him, without the camp, bearing His reproach."
"Unto Him." It is that which marks our separation. We talk about separating from this and that, and we must separate from many things; but, after all, the whole question of separation is settled for us by one word: we go forth "unto Him." It is a small matter whether you have left this company of people and associated yourself with that company, but it is everything if you are identified with Christ in His reproach. If we have come outside the camp, we are not thinking so much of what we have left as the One to whom we have come. We go forth unto Him, and it is His presence that marks the separation from everything that is not of Him. But oh, how sweet is this!
This expression takes us back again to an Old Testament occurrence. He reminds them that when the law had been given, — a very significant thing, — the first thing they did was to apostatize from it and make the golden calf; and when Moses came down from the mount and found the people in their idolatrous worship, he took the temporary tabernacle, the one where God had revealed Himself up to that time, and pitched it outside the camp, as though to declare that God's holiness could not be contaminated with the violation of the law. Here were those who had professed to keep the law; and yet, breaking it, they had crucified the Lord of glory. Can God's presence abide amongst them?
What is the camp? It is anything where Christ is in name, not in reality, not enthroned supreme. I care not how ancient the authority may be. It may have all the authority of the law that Judaism claimed for itself; it may have all the antiquity which Rome claims for itself; it may have rules and regulations which appeal to men's judgment as being right and proper; but wherever there is a human organization which displaces Christ, which is not according to the word of God as given us in the New Testament, — above all, wherever Christ is not directly and immediately recognized in absolute control by His Word and Spirit, — there you have the camp.
I have no question, of course, that primarily it had reference to Judaism; and the apostle boldly says to them, Now you have seen where Christ is; you have seen where He is gone within the veil, and the place which He had to take here, outside the camp: "Let us," he says, — it is not even a command, but an exhortation, just as you had in the tenth chapter, "Let us draw near" — "Let us go forth to Him." What an appeal to our loyalty, that we go forth unto Him! If the face is turned toward Him, the back will be turned upon everything that is not according to Him; and if Christ fills the heart, if the Lord Jesus is the sum and substance of my life, so that I can say, "To me to live is Christ," will it be a hard thing to give up that which is not Christ? Will it be a difficult thing to bear a little reproach? Whose reproach is it, after all? Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt. Let us do the same thing. Let us go forth unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
"Here we have no continuing city." Jerusalem was soon to be trampled under the Gentiles' feet. Of that temple, in which they boasted, soon not one stone would be left upon another. "Here we have no continuing city," but, like Abraham, we look for "the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." We seek one to come.
Then he goes further. If that is our attitude; if we are within the veil as to our position before God; if we are outside the camp as to our position toward all the religions of this world; if we are pilgrims seeking a city to come, what are we to be occupied with while we tarry here? Praise is to be our occupation. Think of it: people who, in the eyes of others, are looked upon as the offscouring of the world, as utterly repulsive, — think of them, priests unto God, whose happy employment is to be offering continually the sacrifice of praise unto Him!
We have here an important definition of praise. Sometimes people have an idea that it is the feeling in our own hearts; but that is its results, rather than praise itself. Praise is "the fruit of our lips confessing His name." God appreciates your joy, the happiness that fills your hearts and wells over; but there is one thing He appreciates infinitely beyond all our feelings, and that is Christ Himself confessed to God. It is a wonderful deliverance to realize that true praise is simply offering up to God the fragrance of Christ. That which delights God will delight the heart of every one who knows and loves Christ.
There is no limit to praise. It will endure throughout eternity, and shall we limit it here? Let your whole life be one of praise. It is never by anything — energy or skill — in ourselves. We offer it by Him whose name gives acceptance to the feeblest whisper that tells of His worthiness and beauty before God.
That is one part of the sacrifice we offer. Then, looking at the earth side of things a moment, the apostle says, Forget not to do good; forget not to communicate of your earthly substance. How divinely balanced, how accurate is Scripture! One might be overwhelmed with the thought of heavenly praise. We might say, Our face is up towards heaven, and then forget to look at what is in front of us here. You will always find that those whose eyes are in heaven are walking a straight path here. Thus the Spirit of God reminds us that this sacrifice of praise is to be supplemented by doing good and communicating to those who have need. Here you are, offering to God the infinite value of what Christ is, in praise to Him; and, linked with the fragrance of that, is our earthly service. With the little coin which you may give to a poor needy one you associate Christ's name, and it is well pleasing unto God. How delightful it is to think of the smallest service being linked with worship — any little ministry of Christ here being connected with the praises of heaven!
"Obey your leaders, and submit yourselves, for they watch over your souls as those that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with groaning, for this would be unprofitable for you.
"Pray for us: for we persuade ourselves that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to walk rightly. And I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner."
There is a submission to Christ shown in receiving whoever brings the word of Christ, in obeying those whom God has made overseers, made responsible for the welfare of the saints. We are to submit to the word of God that is brought. How important it is not to resent that! If we resent the ministry of those who would seek to bring the word of God to us, we are disobeying not man, but God who has given His Holy Spirit.
We are to obey them, "for they watch for your souls." Ah, brethren, do we? Are there any of us who thus realize that we are set to watch for souls? — not to watch for the slipping of saints; not to watch, as Peter says, "as busybodies in other men's matters;" but are we looking diligently lest any man is lacking in the grace of God? Are we so our brothers' keepers, that we must take up our brother's walk, or things connected with the testimony of God, or with that which would involve our Lord's honor, in the fear of God, and judge them as in His presence, and in accordance with His Word? Let the Lord stir us up to realize that if there is any reproach connected with this, it is the reproach of Christ, and we are to bear it as that. We are always responsible to associate ourselves with those who are set of God to watch for the spiritual prosperity of the saints, for they desire to do it "with joy, and not with grief; for this would be unprofitable for you:" — unprofitable to the one showing insubjection, and not to those who exercised their oversight with grief. The Lord give us to realize that grace does not set aside responsibility, and that there is such a thing as having to give account to God!
Then he very beautifully refers to his desire that they should pray for him, and the reason for it is very striking. Who is it that can ask that familiar favor, "I want an interest in your prayers"? The apostle says, "Pray for us; for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." His desire was to glorify Christ. If some one says, "Will you pray for me?" might we not well ask, "Have you a good conscience? Are you willing in all things to live honestly before God? Is it your desire to live according to God's will; or, do you want by prayer to have God's will turned around to your will? The essence of all prayer is submission. "Thy will be done" precedes the petition for daily bread.
Now comes this glorious benediction:
"Now, the God of peace, who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, perfect you in every good work to do his will, working in you what is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen."
God is known here as the God of peace. Blessed title! Peace has been purchased by the blood of Christ. God's glory, righteousness, holiness, and love are enlisted on our side; not one attribute is against us, and all His omnipotence is for us. So He is the God of peace, whose attitude toward us is ever peace; a peace which is eternal because it is based upon the finished work of Christ. God has declared His acceptance of that work by raising Him from the dead. This is the only direct reference to our Lord's resurrection in the Epistle. The everlasting covenant reaches back into eternity in the purposes of God; it takes in, in its blessed ministry, the whole family of the redeemed through all time, and will, throughout eternity, manifest its blessings to the earthly people and to the heavenly as well. It is not temporary, and can never grow old like the first covenant. It is sealed in the precious blood of Christ, and that blood was the ground on which God raised Christ from the dead. His resurrection declares God's acceptance of the blood. As Christ entered into heaven by His own blood, so, in virtue of that blood He was raised from the dead and has gone into heaven, the "great Shepherd of the sheep."
Pause a moment and think of "the Shepherd that died." Think of "the good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep;" think of Him coming out from the grave leading captivity captive, passing into fields of glory, leading up there His flock: "Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock, . . . shine forth." He has shone forth; He has led His flock out, and in the fields of heaven forever He has made the twenty-third psalm to be the pastoral for us. Is He not the great Shepherd? and what wolf or lion or bear can harm the sheep?
There is to be no half-hearted response to this grace. The prayer is that we may be made perfect in every good work: it is "to do His will." With all that grace has done for us, with all the display of the love of God, our hearts would still be barren unless it were God Himself who was working in us, "both to will and to do of His good pleasure." Thank God, He does work. Let us see to it that there is no hindrance on our part to the mighty working of that blessed Spirit who carries out the will of God in us. It is all "through Jesus Christ," the blessed One who has accomplished everything. If it is redemption, it is through Jesus Christ. If it is access to God, it is through Jesus Christ. If it is worship as priests, it is, "By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise." If it is service, if it is doing the will of God, it is still through that same precious One. And do not our hearts add their "Amen" to the doxology: "To whom be glory forever and ever?" Let His name be crowned with every glory!
"I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation." The apostle uses the familiar entreaty which we have already noticed several times — appropriate to those under grace, as contrasted with the stern demands of the law to which they were in danger of inclining. The whole Epistle is the word of exhortation of the strongest character, being emphazised by the fullest unfolding of the person and work of Christ. Such a theme will require eternity for its full enjoyment, and we can well understand how the apostle could speak of this Epistle as containing but a "few words." We are reminded of the close of the gospel of John, where the Evangelist is so filled with his theme that he declares that if all about Christ should be written, the very world itself could not contain the books. Thank God, we have a future ample enough for the delight which shall be ever fresh, as it is inexhaustible.
The apostle next refers to the release of "our brother Timothy," also a significant word for Hebrew Christians; for Timothy's father was a Gentile, but he himself was circumcised to meet the scruples of Jews in the quarters where he was known. He is their brother, by birth and by grace, and has been released from an imprisonment of which we read nothing elsewhere. It is an interesting allusion to one whose faithfulness, while marked, was coupled with a shrinking which was peculiar to his natural disposition, and which needed the encouragement and exhortation of the apostle. Using the expression in an entirely spiritual way, might we not say that the apostle was writing to those whom he desired to see released from a greater bondage than that of prison? — even from the chains of Judaism, which was now nothing more than a delusion for those who knew the better things which Christ has brought in.
"Now I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation; for it is in but few words that I have written to you. Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he should come soon, I will see you. Salute all your leaders and all the saints. They from Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen."
With Timothy, he hopes soon to visit them and to continue that precious ministry which, whether present or absent, it was his joy to be about. We can well imagine his thought to be that expressed to the Philippians: "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, in one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel."
Then follows the final greeting to their leaders of whom he had already spoken. These are to be saluted as objects of love and not of suspicion, and with them are associated all the saints.
"They of Italy salute you." Italy was a strange place for a salutation to come from. It was outside the camp, as it were. If there were Hebrews in Italy, they had left the land of earthly promise — a sort of witness that Jerusalem and Palestine were no longer the earthly centre. They, as pilgrims, send a greeting to encourage Hebrew saints to also take their place outside the camp. These closing salutations are so like the close of all Paul's Epistles, that it must be a perversion of will to refuse to recognize him as the author of this wondrous Epistle.
The fitting close is the simple yet full blessing pronounced: "Grace be with you all." In the knowledge of that grace and the joy of it, let us tread with unwearied feet and joyful heart the path which leads up to the presence of the Lord:
"Stand up my soul, shake off thy fears,
And put a cheerful courage on.
March to the gates of endless joy,
Where Jesus, thy great Captain's gone."