“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).
How cheering, refreshing, and establishing it is to be brought into contact with One who is infinite in goodness, grace, righteousness, holiness, and love; and who never can be different to that which, at our earliest introduction to Him, we found Him to be: One upon whom the lapse of ages leaves no mark of change! Such is JESUS, the subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which the old order, like a dissolving view, melts from before our vision, leaving to fill the scene that which is new and eternal, radiant with the glory of God.
And how often has the passage at the head of this paper spoken peace to the soul disquieted by the capricious and changeful nature of the selfish principles of the fallen creature, who no longer ago than yesterday may have been brimming over with evidences of most tender affection, and today may, in spirit and deportment, have become as cold, cutting, and severe as the January east wind. It has ministered comfort, consolation, and encouragement to thousands perplexed and weary with the ever-varying conditions of things with which we are compassed in this world of restlessness, confusion, envy and falsehood. It presents to the shipwrecked and hopeless mariner an island of peace in the midst of a turbulent and treacherous ocean. It is a shelter for the battered and toil-worn wayfarer, alone and lost in the pathless and storm-swept wilderness. It is an invulnerable citadel into which the besieged and war broken may retreat, and thus escape the anguish which is invariably the lot of chose who foolishly trust their happiness to the vicissitudes of a world in rebellion against God and agitated by the fell destroyer of the human race.
How good it is to be brought to the knowledge of this changeless Jesus! He came into this world, which was without moral foundations, that man should have a firm rock upon which he might plant the foot of faith, and be assured that amid the crash of everything that seems stable in the universe, it could not be shaken. He came to illuminate the benighted vision with the gracious light of God, and to warm into life the cold dead human heart with the holy love of God.
See Him at the well of Sychar, and hear Him speak of the gift of God to a poor sinful creature, for whom no one else had a word of comfort. There He is the Giver of the living water which alone can give satisfaction to a thirsty soul. See Him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7), the Creditor in the midst of His debtors, speaking only of forgiveness. See Him at the grave of Lazarus, the Resurrection and the Life, mingling tears of sympathy with those of the two bereaved women, before His almighty voice awoke the echoes of the dull domain of death and Hades, and called back the dead man to life. See Him amid a multitude of publicans and sinners, and hearken to the words of grace which proceed out of His lips, until you hear the throbbing of the heart of God, as He enfolds in the arms of His immortal love a prodigal come back from the far country, naked except for those rags which bore witness of his rebellious and disgraceful career. See Him in the temple and synagogue and in the streets and lanes of the city, and hear Him tell in the ear of devil-deceived men and women the grace and love of God. See how He feels for the diseased, the demon-possessed, the blind, and the broken-hearted, until you learn what those mean who say: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” See Him amid the gloom of Golgotha, dying for the ungodly, and praying for His murderers; and as you contemplate Him, “stricken, smitten of God and afflicted,” may you be able to say: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53). And then think of Him as the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
Oh, the deep, deep blessedness of knowing Him—learning Him in His pathway down here, and knowing that He is just the same blessed, living, lowly, gracious Saviour now that He is on the Father’s throne. May both reader and writer get to know Him better every day of our pilgrim journey through this world until we see Him face to face in courts of light.
But consider the setting of this short, simple, peace-imparting sentence. In verse 7 we are exhorted to remember them who had (not have) the rule over us, who spoke to us the Word of God. They have gone from our midst. Their voices are no longer heard amongst us ministering the living Word, but we are to call them to mind; and considering the issue of their conversation we are to imitate their faith. Then in verse 9 we are warned against those who would introduce diverse and strange doctrines. Between that needful exhortation and this very wholesome warning we have the brilliant and comforting truth shining like a silver star: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever.”
Whether it be the gospel to the world or ministry to the saints, Christ must ever be the subject (Rom. 16:25; Acts 28:31). He is the living Word, the spirit of all Scripture. It was Christ the apostles preached and taught, and there is nothing else for saint or sinner today; and He never changes. John writing to the babes, says, “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning” (1 John 2:24). The devil brings in novelties, and the human mind loves them and revels in them. And just because men love them, they flatter themselves that they are parts of the truth, but alas, they are but “sporting themselves with their own deceivings.” That which turns away the heart from Christ is a snare of the devil. We are told we must not hold too obstinately to old forms, but must advance with the times; but the whole truth has come to light in Jesus, and there is no change in Him.
It is affirmed by men of science that signs of decay are visible in some of the heavenly bodies. The sun seems to be giving evidence that he has passed the meridian of his years; the moon is a defunct world, the earth is in the sear and yellow leaf. This is just what Scripture tells us in those remarkable words which were addressed to Jesus, when in the sorrow of His soul He drew near to the gates of death, stricken for the transgression of believing sinners: “Thou Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands: they shall perish, but Thou remainest: and they shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed” (Ps. 102:25-27; Heb. 1:10-12). Peter tells us that the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, the elements melting with fervent heat, and that the earth also and all the works that are therein shalt be burned up, but that we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3).
The nature of the change which will pass over the universe has not been revealed to us, we do not need to know it. We are confident however of this, that He who built it at the beginning to serve His purpose, and Who in infinite wisdom allowed the enemy to defile it with the stain of sin, is able to cleanse it from the presence of that which is so hateful to Him and so ruinous to the creature, and to fill it with light and blessing, and make it the abode of righteousness. To accomplish this, and to set man in new and eternal relationships with God, He laid down His own life. The Creator is the Redeemer. He who stooped down to know what human weakness was, and who had His days shortened, is the same One who then, as now, was upholding all things by the word of His power. What creature mind could compass such a thought? No man knoweth the Son.
But not only must the material universe undergo a change, a much greater change must pass over man himself. The old order no longer occupies us; angels, Moses, Aaron, the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the covenant—in a word, the whole earthly order disappears before the face of Jesus, and we are exhorted to abandon the shadow for the substance, types which pass away for realities which abide for ever. And for this state of things a change must take place upon us. We are heirs of a kingdom which cannot be moved; but except a man be born again he shall never see it (John 3). Man must have a new nature, as born of God, or perish for ever.
The wonderful thing about man is that he can be changed. I do not for a moment doubt that God, who knew the end from the beginning, and had His counsels formed with regard to all His works before He put into operation His creative power, so made man that he could be changed in the whole principle of his being. We are not told anything about angels to lead us to believe such beings capable of being changed. Some of them have fallen away from God, and an opportunity of salvation does not seem to be granted to them. Man is the creature chosen of God in whom His workmanship of grace is to be displayed. What He has wrought as a Saviour will be brought to light in ransomed human beings.
And what a change He is capable of making in His rebellious and ruined creature! Hear what He says to the headstrong, intractable Simon Peter:—“When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shalt gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John 21:18). And what made that change? Age? Never. As to nature it is ever true: “The child is father of the man.” That change was wrought in Peter in the school of God, and by Him who Himself changes not.
And consider the insolent overbearing Saul of Tarsus; that proud, self-righteous, Christ-hating Pharisee. Wolfish in his nature, and getting the first taste of blood at the martyrdom of Stephen, he ever after seeks to satiate his ravenous appetite with the slaughter of the sheep of Jesus, until met on the highway of his merciless career by Him before whose subduing power nothing is able to stand. What meekness, gentleness, patience, tenderness, and lowliness were wrought in this striking subject of the grace of God! What ceaseless solicitude for the salvation of the lost! What care for the flock of Christ! What devotedness to that Holy Name once so hated and persecuted by him! And this wonderful change effected by Him who is the same yesterday, and today and for ever!
And has not the reader as well as the writer, come under the changing influence of this changeless Person? From that throat, which once was an open sepulchre, is exhaled the perfume of immortal love. That mouth, once “full of cursing and bitterness,” is now replete with blessing. That tongue, long accustomed to “deceit” now spreads abroad the word of truth and life. Those lips, which once concealed the deadly “poison of asps,” are now pregnant with life-imparting grace. Those feet, once “swift to shed blood,” now “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” run joyfully in the pathways of mercy. A new power, that of the Holy Spirit, has taken possession of the earthen vessel, the members have become instruments of righteousness, the will of God is done and the soul finds eternal rest. The glory of the Lord with all its life-giving and attractive power, shines full upon our hitherto benighted hearts, and we become changed into the same image (2 Cor. 3).
One more change will complete our blessing, and place us beyond the need of change for ever. I refer to the change which shall pass upon our mortal bodies. We look for the Saviour from heaven “who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body.” Then we shall be like the Lord and with Him for ever in those bright and blessed scenes where sin can never come.