(1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews.)
FIRST AND SECOND TIMOTHY.
1 Timothy 1. We enter now on the confidential communications of the apostle to some of his fellow-labourers, and tonight on the epistles to Timothy. The two have much in common, but they have also not a little that is distinct. The first epistle is characterized by laying down the order which becomes both individuals and the church of God viewed as His house. We shall find, I trust, how remarkably His care for godly moral order, which descends into the family, into the relations of children and parents, of servants and masters, of man and woman, is also bound up with some of the main doctrines of the epistle. At the same time, while this pertains more particularly to the first epistle, there is a striking expression which meets us on the very threshold, and belongs not merely to these two epistles, but also to that addressed to Titus. God is not here regarded as our Father, but as our Saviour God. We have in harmony with this none of the special privileges of the family of God. The relationships before us wear another character. Thus, we have nothing at all about the body of Christ; we hear nowhere again of the bride of the Lamb; but what tallies with God as a Saviour. It is not Christ our Saviour, though, of course, He is so; but there is broader truth pressed — even of God our Saviour, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This prepares for much that we shall find. God, as a Saviour God, is certainly in contrast with His dealings under law, or in government. Nevertheless it takes in also His preserving care, which extends far beyond believers, though very especially toward believers. It embraces also that which is much deeper than presidential care, even the salvation which is in course of accomplishment through Christ. I do not say accomplished; because salvation here, as elsewhere, must not be limited simply to redemption, but goes out into the results of that mighty work on the cross, whereby the soul is kept all the way through the wilderness, and the body of humiliation changed into the likeness of the Lord's glorious body.
Accordingly, Paul introduces himself as the "apostle of Jesus Christ by commandment of God." Authority has a large place in these epistles; thence the apostle shows it was not his writing to his child Timothy in this respect without the Lord. It was not merely love, it was not simply that the Spirit of God empowered him to meet need, but he styles himself in it the "apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Christ Jesus, our hope; to Timothy, my true child in faith: grace, mercy, and peace," etc.
Another feature of these epistles meets us in the place which is given to mercy. I do not merely now refer to what has been often observed — the introduction; but we shall find that mercy is wrought into the tissues and substance of the epistle. Mercy supposes the need, the constant wants, the difficulties, the dangers, of the saints of God. It supposes also that God is acting in love, and in full view of these difficulties. Hence we find that, while there is jealous care, there is also a remarkable tenderness, which appears every now and then, in these epistles; and this is just and beautiful in its season. The apostle was drawing toward the close of his career, and (although all be inspired, and he was a rare jewel even among the apostles) there is, I am persuaded, an evidence of a tone more suitable to the growing trials and necessities of the saints of God; a tenderness towards those that were faithful and tried, that is far more manifest here than in the earlier epistles. I do not say that all was not in its due time and measure, but we can well understand it. As a faithful servant, he had been for many years not only leading on, but sharing too the hardest of the fight, and had gone through perils such as had left many of his companions behind. Shame, afflictions, persecutions, the enticements of Satan too, had drawn away some that had been in the foremost ranks of old. He was now left with comparatively few of the familiar faces of those he had loved and laboured with so long.
We can easily understand, then, how calculated such circumstances were to draw out the expression of a love that was always there, but that would be in a more comely and suitable manner expressed at such a conjuncture of circumstances. This we shall find in these epistles. He writes to Timothy as his genuine child; it is not at all the usual way in the earlier epistles. It was his Bethany. Here and now was the opening of that long pent-up heart. At the same time he was also laying an important commission on one that was raised up of God for the purpose, who was comparatively young, who would soon have to fight his way without the sympathy and the countenance of one that had been so blest to him. Hence he says here, "Grace, mercy, and peace." He felt his need, but certainly the mercy was not lacking in God, but rich and ready to flow. "Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia." We see the love that even an apostle adopts towards his child in faith. It was not at all a peremptory word, though full of earnest desire for the work of the Lord. He wishes Timothy to stay, "that thou mightest charge some not to be teachers of other doctrine, nor to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than God's administration* which is in faith."
*The true reading, represented by (Cod. Sin.) and all other uncials save the Clermont, and almost if not all the cursive manuscripts, is οἰκονομίαν, dispensation, in the sense of administration, or stewardship. Even Matthaei joins the rest of the critics, with the Complutensian Polyglott, against the received οἰκοδομίαν, which he considers a mere blunder of δ for ν by Erasmus's printers. But this does not account for the Latin, Syriac (save later), Gothic, etc.; even supposing δ was the slip of the scribe. It is evident that "edification" is not the point in question, but the right order of the house of God, and this in faith. Internal evidence is thus as strong as external as to the true reading.
Then he explains what the nature of this charge was. Often, I fear, "commandment" gives the English reader a wrong impression. I do not say that "commandment" is not correct, but that so naturally do people in Christendom turn to what we call the Ten Commandments, or ten words of the law, that whenever the word "commandment" occurs, you may expect many, even children of God, who might and ought to know better, at once unconsciously turning back to the law. But so far was this from being the writer's thought here, that we shall find him in a moment deprecating most strongly that whole system of idea as a misuse of the law. What the apostle means by the commandment is the charge that he was laying on his child in the faith and fellow-labourer Timothy. The end of the charge or commandment "is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." It was, in point of fact, not merely that charge that he was giving him, but the charge touched the truth of the gospel; it was the care of the faith, jealousy for the revelation of God Himself, our Saviour God in Christ. The end of all this was "love, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned." And so then, as remarked already, far from leaving the smallest reason for any perversely to confound this with the law, the apostle instantly turns to that perverting of the law, which is so natural to the heart of man. "From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be law-teachers; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm;" and thereupon he parenthetically, as disposing of this matter, shows what the lawful use of the law is. They were not to suppose that he meant that God could make anything without a real use. As there is no creature of God that has not its value, so certainly the law of God has its right field of application, and its own proper use. Thus he vindicates God in what He has given, as well as afterwards in what He has made, and nowhere so much as in this epistle do we find this.
At the same time it is evident that he consigns the law to what we may call a comparatively negative use. The use of the law is to condemn, to kill, to deal with evil. This never could be the full expression of God. It does keep up a witness to God's hatred of evil no doubt; those that are presumptuous it leaves without excuse. But a Christian, who takes up the law as the rule of his own life, must in the very first instance give up his place as being in Christ, and abandon that righteousness of God which he is made in Him. The law was not enacted for the Christian. It is not, of course, that any Christian deliberately intends such folly; but this is really what the error implies. The very principle of taking the law for himself is the abandonment (without knowing or intending it) of all his blessing in Christ. To apply it thus is ignorance of the mind of God. It was never designed for such a purpose. But there remains the lawful use of the law. It was made not for the righteous, but for an unrighteous man. Clearly what Satan here aimed at was to put the saints under the law. But the apostle will not hear of it, treating it as simply condemnatory of the bad, and in no way either the power or the rule of what is good for the believer. "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for lawless and disobedient, for ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for smiters of fathers and smiters of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine."
A weighty sentence, and eminently characteristic also of these epistles. The time was appropriate for it. The saints (at Ephesus especially) had heard a great deal of heavenly truth. There was also an effort, as we see, to correct what was supposed to be a defect, in those that were living on heavenly fare, by supplementing their truth with the law. But this is all wrong, cries the apostle. It is an unwitting denial not only of Christians, but even of your place as righteous men. Very different from this is the true and divine principle. But "sound doctrine" is brought in here; and we shall see how very beautifully this is applied in the epistle at a later point. For a moment he just touches on the wholesome thought, then turns to a higher one. There is in Christ that which lifts entirely out of nature, and puts one before God according to all that is in his heart — his counsels of glory for us in Christ. In fact, immediately after this he calls what he preached the "gospel of the glory" ("the glorious gospel," as it is styled in our version,) "of the blessed God." "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust." He takes great pains to show that no glory that is revealed in Christ, no blessedness in our total clearance from flesh, no setting of the believer free before God in Christ Jesus, impairs, but, on the contrary, gives importance to "sound doctrine."
By "sound doctrine" we shall find that he brings in the nicest care for the least relations of this life, as flowing from the grace and truth of God. This is the true guard against an abuse of heavenly truth; not putting persons under law, which is inevitable bondage and condemnation, that brings no glory to God, nor power or holiness to the man. But at the same time heavenly truth, so far from being inconsistent, never shines so much as when it is seen in the smallest details of walk in the home, in the family, in the ordinary occupation, in the bearing and tone of a man in his life day by day. It is not merely in the assembly; neither is it in worship only; it is not certainly in ministerial work alone, but in the quiet home. The relationship of a servant to his master gives a blessed opportunity in its place for showing out what the truth of the glory is to faith, and what the strength of the grace which is come to man in Christ the Lord. This is what we shall find in these epistles to Timothy — that the apostle combines in his own wonderful way his reference to ordinary duty, and even enters into the smallest matters of this life, according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. He refers to his own case; for he was so much the better a preacher of the gospel, because he so deeply felt himself an object of the grace of God, who revealed it in Christ to him. What can be conceived more remarkably characteristic of the man? The bearing of the passage is therefore intensely personal and practical. "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me unto ministry." He does not forget this, but he takes care to assert another and a far nearer and more immediate want — "who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and insolent: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
This accordingly brings out a statement of the gospel: "Faithful is the word, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy." It is always mercy, as may be observed. It is not so much a question of righteousness; justification is not here prominent, as in other epistles. "I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." This draws out his ascription of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord; and then he repeats the words of the fifth verse: "This charge I commit unto thee." It is not the law, nor any supposed adaptation of it, to direct the path of those who receive the gospel. "This charge," he maintains, is the commandment of our Saviour God. It is that which He is sending out now, and nothing else. "This charge I commit to thee, child Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou mightest war the good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience, which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck."
There again we find the same mingling of the faith and good conscience as we had earlier. Some having put away, not the faith, but a good conscience, made shipwreck of the faith. Thus, no matter what you may hold or appear to delight in, abandoning jealousy over your ways, giving up self-judgment in the great or small matters which each day brings before us, is fatal. It may be a very little sin that is allowed, but this, where it is unjudged in God's sight, becomes the beginning of a very great evil. Having put away a good conscience, their ship no longer answers the helm, and as to faith they make shipwreck: "of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may be instructed not to blaspheme." Satan's power is regarded and really is in the outside world. The apostle had delivered these men to him. The power to torment and harass the soul with fears does not belong to the house of God, where, as we shall find, His presence is known, and this is incompatible with fear, with doubt, with question of acceptance and of blessing in His sight. The apostle had given up to the enemy these men, who had abandoned all that was holy, not only in practice, but also afterwards, as a consequence, in faith. They were consigned to Satan, not necessarily to be lost — surely not; but that they might be so troubled, by proving what the power of Satan is by the flesh, and in the world, that they might be thus brought back broken in all their bones, and glad to find a refuge again in the house of God. Better surely not to need such discipline; but, if we do need it, how precious to know that God turns it to account in His grace, that they might be thoroughly dealt with and exercised in the conscience!
In the next chapter (1 Tim. 2) the apostle carries on his care as to what was becoming. This, you will find, is a main topic of the epistle. It is not merely instruction for saints, or conversion of sinners, but also the comeliness that belongs to the saints of God — their right attitude toward those without as well as those within. In it we begin with what is toward those in authority, that are without. "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in eminence; that we may pass a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and gravity." May it not be a question whether we are sufficiently careful and exercised in heart, as to that which becomes us in this respect? Do we really enter on our due place of intercession, and exercise that which becomes us before God, as having so blessed a function — the mind of God in this world, and care for those that seem to be outside our reach? But in truth to stand in this world in known and near relationship with a Saviour God, with One that we know, at once brings before us also those that are outside. Christianity fosters no spirit of harsh unruly independence. And what then becomes us in respect of them? Prayer, intercession, even for the highest, let them be kings or in eminence; they need it most. Nothing but the strong sense of the infinite blessing of the place that grace has given us could lead to or keep up such prayer. But sometimes we are apt to settle down in the enjoyment of the grace, without reflecting on that which becomes us as to those outside it. From pre-occupation within, how often we forget those without!
But the reason goes deeper. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who desires that all men should be saved:" speaking now of His gracious willingness. Not His counsels but His nature rises before us. We must be blind if we fail to see that a great point in these epistles is the good and loving nature of God, that would have us look at all men without exception. It is another thing, how far the counsels of God work, how far the effectual work of His grace is applied; but nothing alters God's nature. And this is true both in the spirit of grace that becomes the saints, and also in their zealous care for the glory of God. Hence he says: "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men." This is always the ground and character of the First and Second of Timothy. It is not the Father and His family; it is God and man. And it is not merely God as He once dealt with Israel, for then this Mediator was not. There was a promise, but the Mediator of grace was not come. But now, apart from the heavenly relations that are ours, and much that we know and enjoy by the Holy Ghost in our hearts here below, there is this that needs to be looked after and maintained, that is, the public character — if we may so speak — of the Christian, and that which belongs to him thus broadly before men. It is the testimony of God as a Saviour God, of a God that has to do with men. Accordingly He has revealed Himself in a Mediator. Thus he speaks of Him: "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, the testimony in its own season. Whereunto I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not), a teacher of Gentiles in faith and truth."
His general exhortation is pursued, but still in view of the due and decent outward order, of that which met the eye even of an unconverted person. "I will therefore that the men" — that is, not women — "that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing." There are occasions and places where it would be wholly unsuitable for women to speak, but as to men they pray everywhere. There is no place where it is not in season, but let it be "without wrath and disputing" or "reasoning." Either would be altogether opposed to the spirit of prayer. Prayer is the expression of dependence on God; and wrangling on the one hand, and all angry feeling on the other, even supposing it might have some righteousness about it, still are unsuitable to prayer. Thus, what may have its place may really be uncomely in drawing near to God. A spirit of reasoning would be quite as out of place.
But with regard to woman he says, "In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in orderly guise, with modesty and sobriety; not with plaits and gold, or pearls, or costly array." It does not matter what may be the particular taste and habits of the day or of the country, the Christian woman, as much as the Christian man, ought to be above the age, and unlike the world. And indeed it is this very want that he here takes occasion to connect with Christianity itself in its outward order before man; so that we may truly desire that our Saviour God should not lose, as it were, His character in and by His people; for this is the great point that the apostle is so full of in these epistles. Such is the way in which a woman can contribute to a right and godly testimony as well as a man.
But he pursues it a little more. He says, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man." In truth he really goes somewhat beyond this. A woman might say, "I do not usurp authority; I only exercise it." But this precisely is what is wrong. It is forbidden to be exercised. Nothing therefore can be more exclusive. It does not matter, if the man may be weak and the woman strong; it would have been better they had thought of this before they became husband and wife. But even thus no excuse avails; the woman is not to exercise authority over the man; nor (need I add?) in any other relationship. For this he traces things to their roots. "Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being quite deceived was in transgression." That is, he decides things with that marvellous power which God gave him beyond any of the other apostles of tracking the stream to its source, both in man and to God; and this ruling of the case he deduces from the unquestionable facts of the beginning of divine history as to the man and woman. The man was not deceived, in a certain sense: so much the worse; he was a bold sinner. The woman was weak and misled by the serpent; the man deliberately did what he did — with his eyes open. Adam sinned against God knowingly. Of course it was dreadful and ruinous; nevertheless this shows the difference in their character from the outset. Men as a class are not so liable to be deceived as woman. She is more open to be taken in by appearance. The man may be ruder and worse — bolder in his sin, but still the Lord remembers this even to the last. At the same time the apostle mingles this with that which is the lot of women here below: "But she shall be preserved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." It is not merely if "she," but if "they" continue. How serious is the word for both man and woman! In the government of God He mingles the most solemn things with that which is the most thoroughly personal, showing how He would have the conscience exercised, and jealous care even on such a matter as this. I do not agree with those who refer the childbearing to the Incarnation.
And now he comes (1 Tim. 3), not so much to comely order as to the outside, or as to the relation of man and woman, but to the ordinary governments and helps of the saints. He takes up what was of a graver kind, and touching more on spiritual things, namely, bishops (or elders); then deacons; and this leads him naturally to the house of God. "Faithful is the word, If any one aspireth to oversight, he desireth a good work. The overseer then must be blameless, husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity." It is plain that this is not at all a question of spiritual gift. One might be endowed with a good gift and yet not have a well-regulated house. Perhaps the wife might not behave properly, or the children be unruly: no matter what his gift, if the wife, or the family were a dishonour, he could not be an overseer (for this is the simple and true meaning of bishop").
In early days persons were brought in to the confession of Christ who had been Pagans, and trained up in its habits. Some of these had more than one wife. A true and gifted Christian one might be; but if such were his unhappy position, he was precluded from exercising formal oversight. The evil of polygamy could not be corrected at that time by strong measures. (Since then in Christendom it is dealt with as criminal.) To dismiss his wives would be wrong. But the Holy Spirit by such an injunction applied a principle which was destined to undermine, as in fact it did undermine, polygamy in every form. There was a manifest censure conveyed in the fact, that a man with two or more wives could not be set in the charge of elder or deacon. A man was not refused as a confessor of Christ, nor was he forbidden to preach the gospel, because such might have been his sad circumstances at home. If the Lord called him by His grace, or gave him as a gift to the church, the church bowed. But an elder or bishop was to be one that not only had a suitable gift for his work, but also in the family or in his circumstances must be free from all appearance of scandal on the name of the Lord. He must have a good report, and be morally irreproachable in himself and his household. There might be trial or sorrow, — few families were without both; but what is spoken of here is something that damaged the public repute of the assembly. For this very reason the grand point for local oversight was moral weight. It was not only the ability to inform, counsel, or rebuke, but in order to do all this efficiently a certain godly influence proved at home and abroad. In the practical difficulties with which an elder or bishop would be called to interfere continually in an assembly, there should never be room for those whose conduct might be in question to point to flaws in his own home, or in his own open life and spirit. Thus wisely and holily did the Spirit demand that he should be a person of good report himself, that neither past ways nor present habits should in the least degree compromise the office; and again, with a stainless reputation as well as a man of some spiritual experience in his family — "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil." These things would not apply to a man's ministry in the word. A Christian may begin to preach almost as soon as he believed the word of truth, the gospel of salvation; but for one to be clothed with a public and responsible place as elder in an assembly is another thing altogether.
As a rule the apostle never appointed persons elders directly after they were converted. A certain time was needful for the Spirit of God to work in the soul, and discipline them in the midst of their brethren. They would then and thus manifest certain capabilities and moral qualities, and acquire weight, which would make them respected and valued, besides gaining experience in godly care for the well-being of the saints of God. All these things, where there were circumstantial requisites, relative and personal suitability, would mark out a person for this office.
Besides, though this is not said here, in order to be an overseer, one must be appointed by a valid authority; and the only one recognised by Scripture is an apostle or an apostolic delegate. Thus the Christians that a superficial observer of the present day might tax with inattention to godly order in these respects are in truth those alone who are really adhering to it. For manifestly to set up men in such a position of charge without a proper validating authority is really to vitiate all in its very springs. Those who refuse to exceed their powers are clearly in the right, — not those who imitate the apostles without warrant from the Lord. I am perfectly satisfied therefore that those now gathered to His name have been mercifully and truly led of God in not presuming to appoint elders or bishops. They do not possess the needful authority more than others; and there they stop, using, and blessing God for, such things as they have. Appointment must always raise the question, who they are that appoint. And it is impossible for an honest man of intelligence to find a scriptural answer, so as to sanction those who pretend to ordain, or those who claim to be duly ordained, in Christendom. There was no difficulty in primitive days. Here indeed (if we except a debatable allusion in another place) the apostle does not touch the subject of appointment as he does to Titus. He merely puts before Timothy the qualities requisite for both the local charges.
After the overseers he turns to the deacons. "Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved." The modern deacon in the larger and national bodies has no resemblance to this, and is indeed an unmeaning form. It is a mere noviciate for the so-called presbyters who compose the body of the clergy. Of old no inexperienced man ought to have been in such a position. Even though it was a function about outward things, still they were to be first proved. "Then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave." It is plain on the face of it that this is more particularly insisted on for the deacons than for the elders. The reason was, that as the deacons had to do more with externals, there was greater danger of their wives making mischief and heart-burning. They might interfere with these matters, which we know are apt to gender strife, as they cast a gloom over the Pentecostal Church at an early day. There was not the same temptation for the wives of the elders or overseers. Hence it is written here, "Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife." In this we find the same thing as was said of the elders: both must rule their children and their own houses well. "For they that have served well purchase to themselves a good degree, and much boldness in faith which is in Christ Jesus."
Then the apostle sums up these regulations, and says, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God," (may we, too, profit by his words, beloved brethren!) "which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." The church is the guardian of the truth, its sole responsible witness on the earth. The church owes all in the grace of our Lord Jesus to the truth. It may not be competent to define the truth: inspired men have done so. At the same time it is bound to hold forth God's word as the truth, and to allow nothing inconsistent with it in the doctrine or ways of the assembly. For we are called to be a manifestation of the truth before the world, even of that which goes beyond that of which the church is the embodiment. The acts done should always be an expression of the truth. It is a most important duty, therefore, and one requiring continual watchfulness. God alone can vouchsafe or keep it good.
Truly, there are often difficulties that arise in the church of God, and prudence might suggest many plans to meet the difficulty; but then it is the house of God, not merely the house of the prudent or the good. It is a divine institution. It has nothing in common with well-intentioned men doing their best. Let the matter be ever so simple, whether it be a question of discipline or order, it should express the truth of God applied to the case. This shows the exceeding solemnity of either advising or resisting any course that might be the will of God in any particular matter. Excellent desires, zeal, honesty, are in no way sufficient for the purpose. God can employ the most feeble member of the assembly; but still ordinarily one looks for better guides. One might expect that while God would give no allowance to a man presuming on gift or experience, — because the moment you begin to assume to yourself or to others, there is danger, — but nevertheless, surely one might expect that God would, by suitable means, bring out that which is wholesome, and true, and godly — in short, what would express His own mind on any given subject.
These are among the reasons why the apostle maintains it here. We have it viewed in its outward comely order in this world, but the principle of the maintenance of this, and nothing less than this, always remains true. No renewed state gives any reason for abandoning it. The great thing is never to let details swamp the principle. There is always a way for those who, consciously weak, distrust themselves; and this is to wait, to refuse to act until God shows His way. Faith waits till it gets a distinct word from God. No doubt it is hard to be at one's wits' end, but it is a good thing for the soul. So here: he bids Timothy to take heed to these things, in case he himself tarried.
And what is that truth especially which characterizes the church? This is another instance of the tone of the epistle. "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness." Mark the expression "mystery of godliness," or piety. It is not simply the mystery of Christ in the church, but the "mystery of godliness." "God* was manifested in flesh, was justified in Spirit, was seen of angels, was preached among Gentiles, was believed on in [the] world, was received up in glory." It is not God reigning over a people here below. This was no mystery, but the wonted expectation of all Israel, indeed, of saints before Israel. They expected the Messiah, the Redeemer to come, the One that would make good the promises of God. But now "God was manifested in flesh, was justified in Spirit." The power of the Holy Ghost had shown itself all through His life, had been proved to the uttermost in His death, and now marked Him out as Son of God in resurrection. He was "seen of angels," not of man alone; He was "preached among Gentiles," instead of being found on a throne amongst the Jews; He was "believed on in the world," instead of manifestly governing it by power. Another state of things altogether is present: it is Christianity; but Christianity viewed in the person of Christ Himself, in the grand bearings of His own person and His work; not as forming a heavenly body, nor even pursuing the special privileges of the habitation of God through the Spirit; but laying the foundation for the house of God, as the scene and support of His truth and moral order before the world. The whole matter is closed by Jesus, not only "believed on in the world," but "received up in glory."
* Cod. Sin. (א) agrees with the great authorities which give ὅς, "who" (or others, ὅ, "which") instead of Θεός, "God."
Now what is the reason why this is brought in here? It seems to be set in contrast with the speculations of men (1 Tim. 4) who wanted to interweave with Christianity certain dreams of a fancied spirituality above the gospel. What was this scheme? They fancied that the gospel would be a still better system if the converts would eat no meat; if they would not marry, and so on. This was their notion of bringing in some "higher life," superior to anything that the apostles had taught. How does he meet them? He shows here the "mystery of godliness;" but along with this, and immediately after it, he brings in the most necessary fundamental truth. This is the point that has much struck my mind in speaking of 1 Timothy at this time.
That is to say, there is a combination of God's revelation in Christ, in most essential and even lofty features, with the plainest and simplest truth of God as to creation. Now, you will find that the way in which false doctrine enters habitually is in contrast with this. Men thus break down, who despise common duties; they are far too good or too great for occupying themselves with the homely things that become a Christian man or woman. They may perhaps weave the love of Christ (we will suppose) into some high-flown speculations; but they set aside that which connects itself every day with moral propriety. Oh, how often this has been the case! how one could easily recount one name after another, if it would become any so to do! Such then is the way in which error is prone to show itself. The man who most of all brings out what is heavenly and divine is he who should be devoted and obedient in the simplest duties of every day. This very epistle is the witness of it. Whereas the moment one sanctions the principle of making little of the family relations, setting aside duty, neglecting it personally, and making it even a boast to do so, as if jealousy for the Lord's glory were mere legalism, the result will be that, while they set aside the common claims of every day's duty, the conscience is ruined, and shipwreck of the faith is inevitable. They first cast aside a good conscience, and then the faith itself comes to nothing.
Thus the apostle brings the reader into close juxtaposition with the mystery of godliness, or, as it is emphatically called, the mystery of piety. The glorious person of Christ is traced through from His manifestation in flesh, or incarnation, until He is beheld "received up in glory." The work of God proceeds in the church on earth founded on this. In contrast with it 1 Timothy 4 follows up: "But the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons; in hypocrisy of liars, cauterised in their own conscience, forbidding to marry, [bidding] to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving of those that are faithful and know the truth." Some necessary changes are here made, so as to convey what seems to me the meaning. Then he proceeds: "For every creature of God is good," etc. We can hardly descend to anything lowlier than this.
But these airy speculators had completely forgotten God. They despised the simple self-evident truth that every creature of God is good. So, too, we see that they put a disparagement on the basis of family life, and the social system — marriage. Not to marry through devotedness to God's work may be right and most blessed; but here it was a pretension to superior sanctity. As a principle and practice, Christian people were urged not to marry at all. Now the moment that this ground is taken, the same apostle who tells us what he believed to be the best thing (namely, to be free from fresh ties, so as to care only for the Lord), defends resolutely the sanctity of marriage, and resents the blow struck at the creatures of God. It was really a slight of His outward love, and of His providential arrangements. Danger threatens wherever there is a virtual setting aside of God's rights, no matter what the plea. Oriental philosophy, which tinctured some of the Greeks, fostered these high soarings of men. As usual, Paul brings in God, and the dream is dissipated. The moment you use anything so as to set aside the plain duty of every day, you prove yourself to be losing the faith, to have slipped from a good conscience, to have fallen a victim to the enemy's deceits; and what will be the end of it?
The apostle then gives personal counsel to Timothy, of a very salutary character. As he also desires that none should despise his youth, so he urges that he should be a model of the believers, in word, conversation, love, faith, and purity. He was to give himself to reading, to exhortation, to teaching, and not to neglect his gift, given him through prophecy, in the imposition of the hands of the presbytery or elderhood. Nothing simpler, nor more wholesome. It might have been thought that one so specially endowed as Timothy was not called to occupy himself thus, and be wholly in them, that his profiting should appear to all. But no; grace and gift create a corresponding responsibility, instead of absolving from it. Timothy must give heed to himself, as well as to the teaching; and he must continue in them, instead of relaxing after a rigorous beginning. Depend upon it that those who seek to give out had better take care that they take in; that both labourers and those laboured amongst may ever grow in the truth. Doing thus, Timothy would save both himself and those that heard him.
In 1 Timothy 5 the apostle gives needful directions to Timothy as regards an elder. He was not to be rebuked sharply, but to be entreated as a father. Undoubtedly Timothy stood in a prominent place of trust and service; but this gave no exemption from the comeliness that becomes every one — especially a young man. The apostle had maintained his post of honour in the preceding chapter; now he will not let him forget the due consideration of others. How often does over-frankness drop words which rankle in the memory of an elder, easily floated over when love flows freely, but when it ebbs, an occasion of shipwreck! Again, "younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity." Nothing more beautiful, more tender, more holy; nothing more calculated to edify and cement the saints to the glory of God, whilst His wisdom enters into all circumstances with an easy elasticity which is characteristic of His grace.
So too we find divinely-furnished regulations as to those who ought to be chargeable to the assembly — what was right in the case of the younger widows — what was desirable as to younger women in general; and then again the obligations toward elders, not now when faulty, but in their ordinary functions and service. "Let the elders that preside well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." But what if they were charged with wrong? "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." Prejudice and partiality must be eschewed at all cost. Finally, care, must be taken to avoid any compromise of the name of the Lord. Thus the well-known sign of blessing in the outward act of laying on hands was to be done circumspectly. "Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure."
There is condescension even to so small a point seemingly as to tell him not to be a water-drinker. It would seem that Timothy's scrupulous conscience felt the dreadful habits of those times and lands so as to bring him into bondage but the apostle, not in a mere private note, but in the body of the inspired letter itself, sets aside his scruples, and bids him "use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." I am aware that men have cavilled at this, yielding to their own thoughts of what they deem fit subjects for the pen of inspiration; but if we exclude anything whatever from the range of the Spirit of God, we make it to be merely a question of the will of man. And what must issue from this? There is nothing either too great or too little for the Holy Spirit. Is there anything that may not, that ought not, to be a question of doing God's will? Thus, if a person takes wine, or anything else, except to please God, and is not in danger on the score of morality, certainly he has lost all adequate sense of his own place as a witness of the glory of God. How happy ought we to be that God gives us perfect liberty! only let us see to it that we use it solely for His praise.
In the last chapter (1 Tim. 6) comes the question of servants and their masters, which also it was important to regulate; for we all know that a servant might turn to a selfish account that his master and himself were brethren in Christ. It is all very well for the master to say so; and certainly he should never act without bearing in mind his own spiritual relationship to his servant; but I do not think it becomes a servant to say "brother" to his master. My business is to know him as my master. No doubt it would be grace on his part to own me as his brother. Everything therefore where grace is at work will be found to have its blessed place. Whoever thought differently (and such have never been wanting) was puffed up, and could only suggest evil.
Then he touches on the value of piety with a contented mind in contrast with the love of money, and its various snares in this age as in all that are past. These things will be found dealt with successively, until at last the apostle calls on the man of God to flee these things himself, and to pursue the path of righteousness, etc., as well as strive in the good combat of faith; otherwise a man of God was in no degree free from danger. He was to lay hold of eternal life, to which he had been called, and had confessed the good confession before many witnesses, and this in view of the great event which will display our fidelity or the lack of it — the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which in its own time the blessed and only Potentate shall show. At the same time he calls on him to charge them that are rich neither to be high-minded nor rely on aught so uncertain. What would give weight to the charge? That he was above such desires himself, trusting in the living God, who affords us all things richly for enjoyment. Let them be rich in good works, liberal in distributing, ready to communicate, laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, that they may lay hold of what is really life. "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of false-named knowledge, which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee."
Turning to the SECOND EPISTLE, we find that, although there is the same grand truth of the Saviour God maintained, the state of things had become sensibly worse, and the hour for the apostle's departure from the world was drawing near. Accordingly, there is a depth of feeling that one may safely say far exceeds the first epistle, although it had shown so much tenderness and care both for Timothy and the faithful of those days. But now there were other reasons for it, namely, that Christians were neglecting godliness and order. They had been long accustomed to the truth, and alas! human nature began to show itself out in indifference. There was no longer the freshness of a new thing; and where the heart was not kept up in communion with the Lord, the value of divine things was less felt, if it did not quite fade away. Accordingly, in much grief of heart, the apostle writes to his tried and trembling child in the faith, and seeks to strengthen him, above all things not to be discouraged, and to make up his mind to endure hard things. "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise." (2 Tim. 1:1.) It is not "the commandment," as of authority, but "according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus." The crumbling away of everything here was before the apostle; and accordingly it is one of the peculiar features of this second epistle, that he brings out that which never can decay — which was before there was a world to dissolve — namely, that life which was in Christ Jesus before the world began.
Thus the apostle comes to the close of his ministry, and touches upon the line of St. John. There is no part of John's doctrine more strikingly characteristic than life in Christ. Now we see that when Paul was touching the confines of that difficult and most perilous moment when John was to be left alone, he brings out as his last note that very truth which John was to develop with special care and fulness. "To Timothy, my dearly-beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers," — what singular language this from Paul! How comes it so? Paul "the aged," as he says, was just about to leave this world. Activity of service was no longer before him. This he had known most extensively, but it was closed; no longer had he before him any prospect of having to fight the battles of the church of God. He had fought the good fight of faith. Others must do that kind of work in future. But now before his heart — just as in principle before the dying Lord Himself, wonderful to say — two things come together: a deeper sense of what is in God, as revealed in Christ Himself, before there was any creation at all; and on the other hand so much the deeper sense also of what could be owned in nature. Now these seem to many very difficult indeed to combine. They appear to think that if you hold life in Christ to be the one thing that is most precious, to be the prize that your heart reverts to, all owning of anything short of this would be out of place; but it is exactly the contrary. When the Lord was entering on His ministry He says, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" But when dying upon the cross, He calls to John to behold His mother. We find a precisely similar kind of combination in Paul. Of course it was infinitely higher, it is needless to say, in the Master; but the servant was as closely as possible following in His steps.
It is beautiful to trace this double working and current of the apostle — that is, what is imperishable, above and beyond nature; and, along with this, the utmost value put on everything that he would own in those naturally bound up with him — those of either family that feared God. "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers, with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears." He had not said a word about them before. There was infirmity in the character of Timothy. There might be a mixture of timid shrinking from pain and shame. He was one that needed to lean on an arm stronger than his own. It was a part of his lot. Thus it was that God had made him: there was no use denying it. But the apostle at the same time owns, and loves to own, that which another might perhaps despise. There was no despising natural links or spiritual here, far from it.
Timothy, again, winced under trials, — too sensitive to slights, disappointments, and the manifold griefs that came upon him. But the apostle remembered it all, felt deeply for if not with him, and greatly desiring to see him once more. His own desire after going to the Lord did not prevent this, but the reverse: "that I may be filled with joy: when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." I refer to this just to remark that such links as these, which are connected with nature, all come before the apostle's mind, at the very moment when a spurious feeling would have judged it precisely the time to banish and forget them. There are persons who think that the approach of death is intended to blot out everything here. Not so the apostle Paul. In that large heart which weighed so justly and with single eye, there was a deepening feeling as to all that he saw around him; there was a realizing of the importance of things of which he had said not a word before. For him the light of eternity already shone strongly on present things, instead of taking him completely out of them. And this, I believe, is much to be considered.
"I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear" (it was what Timothy was manifesting), "but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord" (there must, I suppose, have been some ground for the exhortation), "nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." Here we have him recurring to that which was entirely outside nature, and before its very platform existed. At the same time there is the carrying on his full notice of everything found here below that would be a source of comfort to one who anticipated the ruin of Christendom.
Afterwards he also speaks of his own work and of that which he was suffering. Instead of hiding either from Timothy, he points all out to him. He wants to accustom his mind to expect hardship instead of shirking it. He tells him further to "hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us." At the same time he shows also his sense of the kindness of a particular individual and his family. "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me." It appears it was not merely in Rome. "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day." The same tone of mercy is equally promised in this epistle as in the last. "And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well."
In the second chapter he turns to another theme, he instructs and exhorts Timothy as to communicating (not authority, or status, or gift, but) truth to others. It is not a question here about elders, but what would abide all the same when elders could not be duly appointed. He is now looking at the state of disorder in the house of God, instead of contemplating it in its public integrity, as in the first epistle. There was a state of things coming when it would be impossible to have local charges chosen according to the full sanction which they had in apostolic days. Indeed it may be well to remark here, that we never read of Timothy appointing bishops or elders. Possibly he did appoint them; but there is no scriptural proof of it. Titus, we know, did so; but God took care that it should never be positively stated about Timothy. The peculiar task confided to the latter was care of doctrine much more than of outward order. As far as appointment went, Titus had a commission to establish elders in each city of Crete; but not so Timothy, as far as the inspired records speak.
"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men." (2 Tim. 2:1.) We must not be afraid of a manifest duty because it has been abused. There are those who shrink from helping on others in order to the work and doctrine of the Lord. This I cannot but consider as a proof of want of faith. What is a man well taught in the truth for, if not to communicate his knowledge to others that are faithful, but not equally instructed in the word of God? Surely if it is an urgent call to convey what we know of Christ and the truth to those that know nothing, it is a great privilege to help to contribute a greater knowledge of the truth to those that know little. The great thing is to do the will of God, let others say what they please; and so the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy. It is to be supposed that the younger labourer cowered somewhat, unwilling to incur the odious charge, so easily made but hard to refute, of setting himself up and taking the place of some great one. This might deter a sensitive saint from his duty. But, says the apostle, "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." This was to touch the right chord in his heart. Had the Lord Jesus not sent him? Why then yield to the enemy? Assuredly he would rejoice to scare Timothy from the field of serving Christ, and would shrink from no means to secure it.
"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." He would not have him to be spreading doubtful opinions; but what he had heard from the apostle himself he need not scruple to give out freely. Let me remark, that there are comparatively few indeed that receive truth without help of others directly from God. A great many certainly flatter themselves that they are thus favoured; but the cases are uncommon where it is more than pretence. The fact is that God loves to make His children mutually dependent; and if we are only humble, there are very few saints from whom we may not derive some good, though not always in the same way. Nor do I at all see that any Christians should be above learning, if others can teach. At any rate the apostle presses this very strongly on Timothy. He was to communicate the things he had learnt of Paul, that they might be able to teach others also.
Next he comes to a more personal need. "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." To take pains and to endure are requisite even in what pertains to this life. "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life" (he must be unencumbered, and undivided in his object); "that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." He must take care of the manner in which he strives. And then again "the husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits." Rather he must "labour before he partake of the fruits." That is, he must first labour, and then partake of the fruits. God takes care of His people, and ensures them a blessed end. At the same time He will have them undividedly for Himself; and He is also jealous of the way in which they seek even the ends of God.
Then the apostle puts before them a blessed model of that which he had before his own soul. "Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel." This is a very striking word. For he does not say Jesus Christ simply in His connection with the church, but "of the seed of David," the fulfiller of the promises, and object of the prophecies. Even if we look at Him so, He was raised from the dead. Resurrection is the form and character of the lowest blessings of which Jesus is the dispenser; much more is He risen to exalt God in the highest. Death and resurrection, then, are thus put before this servant of God; the more remarkably, because the point here is a practical and not a doctrinal question. He was to remember, then, "that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel: wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil-doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound." Paul suffered as he taught: a single eye to Christ and His grace made him consistent. "Put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings."
It was thus Paul treated the proud reasonings and speculations of man; withal briefly touching on those that had gone entirely astray — Hymenaeus and Philetus. It was not merely now that they had made their consciences bad and slipped away from faith. Their own word would eat as a canker, and do harm to others as well as to themselves, "who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some." This was to reverse the lesson of a risen Christ, and to open the way for all laxity. It was a kindred error, though in an opposite direction, to that which false teachers sought to infuse among the Thessalonians: there that the day of the Lord was come, producing panic; here that the resurrection was past, leading, to ease. The one was suited to upset the young, the other to beguile the old.
Then the apostle brings out most important directions for the days that were then coming in, but now come, and more. Questions are before him more serious than a maintenance of order. How are we to walk so as to please the Lord when disorder reigns, claiming to be the only true order? In a measure, no doubt, the truth is in Christendom, and only there; for one cannot look for the truth in Judaism or heathenism now. Judaism had its divine institutions and hopes, but the truth is found in Christendom only: nevertheless in Christendom, who fails to discern Jewish elements and heathenish enormities? How is a man to walk in such a state of things as this? In the former epistle, Timothy was told how to behave in the house of God, as yet in order; but now we are told how to behave in such a state of things as the present disorder. "The foundation of God standeth sure [or, the firm foundation of God standeth], having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name" — not of "Christ," but — "of the Lord depart from iniquity." I must do so, if I own Him only in the indispensable truth of His Lordship — if I own Him simply as the One that has authority over my soul. And a less confession than this God never permitted the church to accept; nor in fact in Jerusalem itself was less ever accepted than the naming the name of the Lord. God had made Jesus to be Lord and Christ, preached Peter on that day of power, when as yet much lay hid, and the great instrument of the revelation of the mystery was still shrouded in the darkness of midnight. But, if one confesses the name of the Lord, the word is imperative: "let him depart from iniquity." The disorder might be so great that we might make mistakes in our anxiety; but "The Lord knoweth them that are his." On the other hand, if a soul confesses the name of the Lord, he must have done with iniquity.
This of itself indicates that the epistle provides for a time when it is no longer simply a question of recognising persons coming out of the world. It is needful to exercise judgment now. One must try disorders and prove profession. Truth and holiness and endurance are wanted, not authority or outward order. Why cannot a man be as simple now as in apostolic times? Why not baptize at once every soul around? It would not be accordant with the mind of God. It is a duty in the present state of confusion to use scriptural means; and here we have our warrant, as in the epistles we find more. Whatever therefore may be right in certain cases, the assembly of God ought never to be forced to put every case on the same dead level — ought never to be bound by any special process, as if it were unalterable. The cause of this is the present confusion, and accordingly the apostle brings a picture of it before Timothy's mind.
"In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." That is, it is not enough that I should walk with the Lord individually, but I must clear myself of association with that which is contrary to His name. Such is the meaning of purging himself. It is not the question of discipline — dealing with evil ways; but here we are in a state of things where we are in danger of being mixed up with vessels unto the Lord's dishonour. Nothing can sanction this. I am not at liberty of course to leave Christendom, I dare not get out of the great house at all; indeed I cannot (at any rate without becoming an apostate) leave the house of God, however bad its state may be. This is evidently not the true remedy — to abandon the confession of Christ: only an apostate could think of it. On the other hand, it is unholy to tamper with evil. Therefore it is incumbent for the Christian to look to this gravely, — never to be dragged by the fear of breaking unity into accrediting what dishonours the Lord. Now this is in particular a difficulty for saints, when they have revived before the soul the blessedness of maintaining the unity of the Spirit. It can never cease to be a Christian's duty to maintain the unity of the Spirit; but it is not maintaining the unity of the Spirit to couple with the name of the Lord that which is fleshly and sinful. It is well to be exclusive of sin, but of nothing else. It is well to maintain the largest heart for everything that is really of Christ. But we must exclude that which is contrary to His name; and the very same desire to prove one's love, one's faith, one's appreciation of Christ, will make one anxious not to be dragged into that which is not for His glory. "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work."
But then another thing. He lets Timothy know that while he laid this on others, he must look carefully to his own ways. "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace." It is not simply now to follow these, as urged in the first epistle (1 Tim. 6:11); but he adds a most characteristic word in the second epistle. And this, I apprehend, is the reason. He forbad his going on in association with those that dishonour the Lord with vessels to dishonour; but he tells him to follow these things "with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Therefore, isolation is never desirable, though it may be sometimes necessary. But no man ought to separate himself from the children of God, unless it be a dire necessity for the Lord; it is clearly not according to Christ. It seems to me, I confess, that if there were simplicity of faith, the Lord would give one eyes to see some at least that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.
Thus we have everything cared for here; the state of confusion is clearly depicted, as it then was beginning, and as results have proved yet more. How gracious of the Lord to point out the path for the saint, separate from that which grieves the Lord, yet enjoying all that He sees good for us of the privileges of Christianity! Otherwise this might have seemed to be (what unbelief taunts and stigmatizes it, spite of His sanction) pride of heart and presumption. And the comfort is that, if prepared to cleave to the will of the Lord alone, we shall have, through His grace, fellowship with the true-hearted. "Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And a servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting those that oppose, if perhaps God may give them repentance for acknowledgment of the truth, and they may for his will wake up out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him." This was always the becoming tone; but now it is imperiously necessary, as well as wise and good.
Then in 2 Timothy 3 he proceeds to show us not merely a picture of the condition that Christianity will fall into, but, besides, a state of things that would be produced by this confusion. Here we find the perilous times fairly brought before us. "Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." Things are very much taking this direction of late, and at the present moment. Take what is called physical Christianity — a stupid, gross, and heathenish phrase, but just enough to show where people are drifting to. It answers not a little to the kind of thing set forth here. As we know, there may be over it all a certain form of godliness, but underneath it is really wickedness. This the apostle guards Timothy against, and indeed ourselves, he warns him how seduction would go on more and more, but "from such turn away." No matter what the reasons or excuses for joining with them, "turn away."
Then he points out the two principal guards for the faithful, in such a perilous state. The first is the moral character of the source or channel whence Timothy had derived what he knew. "Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions." It is the whole spiritual experience, so to speak, of the apostle. He was to continue in the things which he had learned, and had been assured of, knowing of whom he had learned them — a very important point. Persons sometimes say it does not matter who taught; but God does not treat the matter so lightly. It is often a very great safeguard for the saint of God; for, after all, it makes no small difference who says this or that. A word altogether unbecoming in one mouth might be most proper in another. The apostle well knew that the God who had brought these glorious truths to man, the God that had manifested His grace, had given a witness of their reality in the man from whom he had learned them; and this was meant to have an enduring effect on the conscience and heart of Timothy. For it is not dogma pure and simple, it is not mere instruction; and we may thank God for it. It is an immense blessing that we have the truth not only in a book, but in a practical shape, the truth that comes out of the heart and from the lips of living men of God. Accordingly the apostle reminds Timothy of this.
At the same time there is not the smallest slight of the only and abiding standard. He brings out the infinite value of the Scriptures, that is of what was written, the one transcendent resource for perilous times when we have not the presence and personal help of apostles. It is not merely what had been preached, but what is in a permanent shape for the good of the saints of God here below, which elicits the remarkable assertion of its peculiar worth. "Every scripture" — for this is the proper force of the passage — "Every scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
The closing chapter (2 Tim. 4) then gives his solemn charge, and at the same time his own expression of what was before him. As Timothy was about to enter upon a new phase of his ministry, without the apostle's presence or living counsel, the latter charges him with great emphasis, "before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine." And the reason why he makes it so urgent not to be turned aside was, that the time would come when men would not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they should heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they should turn away their ears from the truth, and should be turned unto fables. "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." Thus he looks not to the coming of the Lord to receive him to Himself, but to the "appearing of the Lord," which is the usual side of the truth taken in these epistles. The reason is obvious. The coming of the Lord will in no way manifest the faithfulness of the servant; His appearing will. At "that day" will be the display of whatever has been endured, as well as done, for the Lord's sake.
With this prospect he comforts Timothy no less than his own spirit; but at the same time he speaks as to joining him, with a glance at one that had forsaken him. "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me." He was comparatively alone. If he does not hide the sorrowful view of an old fellow-labourer's cooling in zeal, with all its dangers, the consolation is also before Timothy both of those that go on in faithful labour, and of one at least restored. "Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry." So we find that God knows how to temper the bitter with the sweet, always doing the right thing in the right place and time.
Thus he comforts Timothy at the same time that he admonishes him. In the midst of all, he is told to bring the cloak that he left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, but especially the parchments. This again has stumbled the minds of men. They cannot understand an inspired apostle talking about a cloak in the midst of a divinely given pastoral charge. The reason is manifest: they themselves savour of the things of men, and not of God. There is nothing that more shows God than His ability to combine that which is eternal with care for the smallest things of this life. It was not then an indifferent matter to God. The Holy Spirit would make it to be most practical and precious. Be assured, that if you do not bring the Spirit of God into these matters, perhaps your cloak, perhaps a book, will become a snare to you. To many a man and woman has a little bit of dress done no small injury, just because they think it is too little for the Spirit of God to direct them in. "The cloke," then says he, "that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books," — not only the clothing, but even that which he is to read, — "especially the parchments;" — what he was going to write on, probably. "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words."
Finally, we have his assertion of the blessed Lord's care, and his confidence in Him that He would preserve him from all evil to His heavenly kingdom; closing this solemn and touching epistle (it would seem the last words he wrote) with salutations to various saints.
TITUS AND PHILEMON.
The epistle to Titus has much in common with those to Timothy, as all must observe; not only as being addressed to a fellow-servant, and indeed a son in the faith, but in general similarity of character. Like them, its objects are pastoral, as being addressed to a companion in labour, whose work lay among the assemblies of God. Nevertheless, there is no portion but what has its own special design; nor could there be a single scripture lacking without positive loss to the saints, and, indeed, to God's glory by us.
In writing to Titus, we shall see the apostle giving more prominence to external order than in the epistles to Timothy. We have observed already that although in these epistles the Holy Ghost does not develop the higher and special privileges of the saints of God, nevertheless the church, in its earthly place of responsibility, is brought largely before us. It is the house of God; first in order, next in disorder. The one gave the measure of responsibility; the other furnished provision for the guidance of those whose desire is towards the Lord, and who would shrink from the least approach to presumption. These are instructed of the Spirit to be faithful, without fear or favour; leaving with God all consequences, and judging simply as in conscience before Him. Hence they have it laid upon them as a positive obligation to carry themselves in such a way as the love and humbleness of a saint of God might have hesitated to take, without a peremptory word from the Lord. Of course, there is no real ground to charge such with presumption; but faith, in its language and ways alike, looks so to those who do not possess it. Much move are they open to it who despise His word, and ignore their own state. Those who purge themselves from the vessels of dishonour are found in the lowliest place of all — that of obedience.
But in writing to Titus the apostle does not take up so much the question of the house of God, either in its responsible order, or in the provision which the Lord makes for the worst of times. He introduces himself as "a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness." (Titus 1:1.) It is evident, therefore, that it is more a question of the truth here than of the house of God. It is that which is not only not perishable, but whose value is increasingly felt when in face of the ruins of Christendom. The house of God, alas! we know, might be grievously affected. Called to be the pillar and the support of the truth, it nevertheless might be grossly corrupted, as, in point of fact, it has been; but the faith of God's elect abides, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness is always a duty. In the very nature of things this does not change. God holds to it and maintains it, and so do those who bow to His word.
There is great force, therefore, in the description — "the faith of God's elect." I do not mean that the latter designation is limited to the epistle to Titus. The apostle employs it in the epistle to the Romans, and there, too, with very marked emphasis, in closing his grand recapitulation of the Christian privileges — the ordinary standing blessing of the saints of God — in presence of all that could harm them. He takes the ground of a challenger. Let what will be brought against them, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?" In the present case it is not a question of furnishing Christians with a knowledge of their privileges, and a maintenance of them against all antagonists, as in Romans 8, but the calm yet serious writing of the apostle to a confidential fellow-servant, in which, as at an earlier day, so now in one of his latest communications, he still holds this blessed word, "God's elect." But he adds another element — "the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness." There is no small importance in this acknowledgment. The faith of God's elect is not to be hidden under a bushel; it must be owned before men and the enemy, as well as learnt from God. It is to be confessed without compromise, no matter what the difficulty. The acknowledgment — not the belief only — of the truth must never be given up, and in its most practical shape — "the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began."
There we touch again that which came before us in the second epistle to Timothy; but a few words more may be now added. The occasion was exactly suitable for it. The value of eternal life is proved when all that is connected with the testimony of God among men has received a severe shock. In this lies the blessedness of seeing how truly that into which we are brought is of God. There was a creation formed of God on a ground of responsibility. Its tenure depended on the fidelity of man. Soon all was ruined; but in the midst of this havoc God wrought, according to His own wisdom, and in various ways, for the purpose of making manifest the whole question of the state of the creature in relation to Himself. Now, late in the world's history, the Son of God is come, who was Himself that eternal life which was with the Father, and has displayed it in every possible circumstance here below.
Here we have another order of things, the truth in fact revealed — grace and truth. Those who are called to follow and to confess the Saviour have themselves proved that, looked at in their responsibility, they too had brought shame and confusion on the name of the Lord. So far from God giving up His glorious counsels, the truth of eternal life is brought out far more fully in the decay of Christian profession. In the sad flood of evils that had swept over Christendom, this was just the moment when the Holy Ghost saw fit to call attention not merely to the grace of God saving sinners, and the faithfulness of God keeping His own children, but to the character of the life which was their portion in Christ. Thus, therefore, the apostle here refers to it in the introduction to this epistle. "In hope (says he) of eternal life, which God that cannot lie" — an expression evidently used because of the character of the persons to whom he is writing, who are, indeed, but a sample of what man has always proved himself, even such as bear the name of Christ. God, at any rate, that cannot lie, promised it, "before the world began." Nor can anything touch this life; but the value is now more, felt of this eternal life that was in Christ before the world began. It had come down into this scene; it had been utterly rejected by man; but it nevertheless became the possession of faith in Christ. Now it shines. It was not merely a reality, not merely that believers had it in Christ; but now the Holy Ghost causes them to take notice of it, brings out the value of it, and strengthens them in the confidence of it. After all, that eternal life in the hope of which they had been formed and called by the power of the Spirit of God, that eternal life which God who could not lie promised before the world began, was now their known portion. They had it in Christ. It is also of exceeding encouragement, and indeed a truth of immense import for souls, both in itself and in the fact, that the Holy Ghost brings us into the more distinct apprehension and enjoyment of the wondrous bliss of possessing the very eternal life of Christ, when all that can decay has already shown the most fatal symptoms at work.
In accordance with this, it may be profitable to observe the ways of God. It was before the world began, no doubt; but in due time it had been manifested. He had "in due time manifested His word through preaching." This gives us to see the very special place that Christianity has in the ways of God. We do not often take notice of what is after all a very striking and evident fact, that, for very much the largest period of this world's history, no such thing was known as preaching. We are so used to think of preaching, that we do not always weigh what it means, or what a light it casts on the character of God, and on that blessing which He has now given us in Christ. All through the previous history of the world, the creature as such was the object of the divine dealings. Now it is not so. Christ is the object before Him; and our best blessing of grace through redemption is that we have Him as our very life. Oh that God's children, with all simplicity, laid hold of this truth! What a place it gives us as passing through the world! I am not merely speaking of being secured. The heart continually lowers eternal life to a simple question of being delivered from wrath, and going to heaven, perhaps, through a process of judgment. Were this all true, how short of Christianity! How much more to know, with the authority of a God that cannot lie, and in all the breadth that preaching gives, that we no longer belong to this creation, in virtue of the only life we have as saints; that God has now made it a revealed certainty, that the eternal life which was in Christ, and which Christ was, is now for ever ours in Him. Accordingly God has manifested His word now through preaching showing the universality of the testimony of grace in contrast with the narrow limits of law. Thus, when the special separation of Christians takes place, when God attaches unto Himself His children here below, He makes them conscious that they do not belong to the world; yet is it coincident with the gospel sent forth everywhere. His church is gathered out from the world at the same time that His word goes all over the whole world. These two points are very characteristic of Christianity; and they are of immense importance for the soul to seize clearly, and not let slip.
Let me just sum up briefly again. First of all the life that we have received in Christ shuts us up, as it were, to Him, and gives us the consciousness that we belong as Christians to an order of being which never can be impaired or corrupted — of course, therefore, to that which has no connection whatever with the world, or with the creature that has slipped through sin into ruin. That eternal life, which is ours now, was in the Son of God, and this before there was a world made or lost. While man's probation in various forms went on, it was hidden; when the world was manifestly lost, as in the rejection of the Lord Jesus, it was manifested by preaching. Up to this time the dealings of God were comparatively narrow, and had either individuals or a particular race as their object — all this while there was no revelation of eternal life at all. Now there is, and with increasing distinctness, when it became evident that Christendom itself proved no exception to the past ages of man's failure. Thus, when all had closed in the cross, God still waits till Christendom was a judged thing, too, in principle. Then it is that the Spirit of God, not exactly gives us the life in Christ, but makes us know that we have the life that was true in Christ when the gospel went out. But when the gospel was being corrupted, as far as men could, or rather when there were the manifest germs of Christendom everywhere showing the ruin of the latest and highest testimony of God, then it is that God directs fresh attention to the kernel of the blessing conveyed to us. Come what will, eternal life is our portion. Let the world dissolve by judgment, let the creature perish morally by its own sin, eternal life never can. That eternal life was in Christ; that eternal life is now given to us; that eternal life God would have us to enter into more than ever, enjoying it at its fullest worth at the very time when there seems nothing else to enjoy, when it becomes simply a question of falling back on that which never can be lowered or destroyed. Such, then, is the "due time" when "he manifested his word through preaching."
Thus there is the other point — what goes out, as well as shuts us up to Christ, giving the true principle of separation to God in the most blessed manner: for it has nothing to do with assuming or pretending to anything. Setting up of ourselves is wholly excluded. How can a man, according to nature, vaunt of another who proves his own good-for-nothingness? All evil boasting, all that is injurious, is of self; but that which is our only just ground of exultation is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Consequently, though we have in Him a worthy object of boast, it flows from the grace of God, and is thus the fountain of genuine humility in His sight. We are thus shut up, so to speak, in the circle of divine life; it may seem a narrower one, but, in truth, there is nothing that can rival it in point of large and deep affection — not alone resting on those within, but actively going out; for along with the fact that we have Christ Himself as our actual and eternal life — life in the Son — our changeless portion, there is an increasing and world-wide manifestation through preaching.
True, you will find that, whenever children of God take up one of these truths to the exclusion of the other, there is invariably very great damage done to souls. Thus, take some whose hearts go out to what they consider the only desirable aim, that is, the spread of the good news through evangelizing. It is a blessed work; but it is never safe when exclusive. Again, look at another section of God's children, all whose comfort is confined to the circle of what is elect, or Christian. But the truth embraces both. It is excellent to hold fast Christ, and to know that we have eternal life in Him; but do you not see that when God was pleased to make this known, in the person of His Son, is just the time when the glad tidings are sent out by His grace to all men, breaking through every question of race, tongue, law, or any other distinction you please? When a ministration of death and condemnation was in question, a limit was good and wise; when eternal life, and remission of sins in Christ's name were the burden, God could not, would not, keep the good news pent up to one only class of the human family. "Preach the gospel to every creature."
It is evident that in all this, lower glories disappear from view. It is no longer a question of the Messiah as such. The title of Son of David did connect Christ with a particular nation. But now, when we behold a far deeper glory of Christ brought out, there is an unlimited manifestation of God's word through preaching, "which is committed unto me," says the apostle. In point of fact, it will be found that Peter, for instance, speaks but little of this great truth. He does tell us of life; he makes much of our blessed Lord Himself as the Living Stone; he treats of the saints of God as living stones, as also of their being begotten again by the word of God. But he never handles the subject either in the comprehensive, or in the precise, manner of the apostle Paul. If he writes, it is only to those that were of the dispersion. Both his epistles are addressed to believers of the circumcision. It would be unnatural, therefore, that there should be either depth or breadth comparable to that which appears when St. Paul presents it. I need not now dwell on James or Jude, who are manifestly distinct. John does take up the very point at which Paul leaves off; for his special work was to show life eternal. But then he traces it as a question, first, of divine life in the person of Christ, for the purpose of maintaining His glory; and, secondly, as that life, or divine nature, in the saints of God. He does not present it in its connection with the ruin of Christendom, neither does he treat it explicitly in his epistle as a testimony to man at large. Paul presents it both in the counsels and in the ways of God; John, rather as bound up with His nature, first in Christ, and then in the saints. Both are admirably suited to the objects of God, but they are different, however harmoniously they may blend.
The apostle then gives his salutation, "To Titus, mine own child in the common faith: grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour;" and next proceeds to instruct him as to the object for which he was writing. "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and establish elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot or unruly. For the overseer must be blameless." Here we have positive regulations, as well as principles laid down, that were to guide the conduct of Titus. One main part of his commission was the appointment of men in certain exterior charges.
A difficulty may be felt by some children of God. They may enquire, how is it, if these charges were not intended to be continued, that the Holy Ghost inspired these directions? I believe that they are of the utmost practical value in two ways: first, negatively, and second, positively; negatively, inasmuch as they enable us to judge the pretensions of those who appoint, and of those that are appointed. By their help, we can see that those who boast most of ministerial order are the very men who palpably offend against these scriptures as well as others. It will always be found, and more particularly in a day of difficulty and darkness, that there is no security except by dependence on the Lord and cleaving to His word. Not only do the simple and the humble find themselves kept of the Lord's grace, but the truest order will prove to be among them. Wherever order is confidently vaunted of be not surprised to discover a real departure from that which the Lord prescribes. His word invariably refutes, as His Spirit never formed, so self-complacent a tone.
But then there is a more direct value still. Undoubtedly there are some things wanting now; and I for one believe that it is of God that they should be wanting in the present state of Christendom. Where would be the moral fitness of sound exterior order, when the condition is deplorably bad, the world is rampant, the word exercises small authority, and the Spirit of God is systematically hindered and quenched? As to the matter of appointing these local officers, the apostles were the pillars of authority. The absence of apostles, and consequently of such a delegate as Titus, is fatal to those who set up to have everything fully and literally according to the word of God. For my part, far from considering this fatal for God's glory in the present state of Christendom, I believe that the presence of apostles would be an enormous anomaly. The reason is simple. Anything would be unseasonable now that tends to weaken the sense — first, that God's mind, God's truth — no matter what it may be about — abides unchangeable and obligatory; and, secondly, that God takes account of the present scattering of His children, and would have us to feel the havoc that has been wrought in Christendom. Now suppose the apostles (as we cannot but suppose they must) adhere to nothing but the word of God, what could keep them from seeming to deny the relationship of the mass of misled Christians, carried away by error, self-will, human tradition, etc., contrary to the word? God was pleased, in view of the corruption already begun, and still graver departure from His word that was impending, to cause that there should be no perpetuation of the apostles; that there should be consequently a lack felt, which could not be made good, yet essential to that outward order which men would most loudly pretend to when it was irreparably lost.
Thus the path of lowly obedience is easily proved to be the only safe and sound one; because it refuses to swerve from God's word; it acknowledges the absence of a validating authority which none on earth possesses; it justifies the Lord, who is adequate for all exigencies, and provides amply for every present need; it confesses the ruined state of God's testimony in the earth, while it owns whatever of Himself there may be, and wherever it is. Yet none the less, but the more, it adheres to the word of God, as the only and the sufficient warrant of faith and conduct in a state of ruin. The directions that the apostle gives are not in vain, though neither you nor I can do all that Titus did. To do so would be presumption. He was expressly left in Crete, and charged by the apostle to appoint elders there; and we are not. There is no disobedience nor neglect on our part, but rather fear of God, and maintenance of godly order in not exceeding our real powers. But there is manifest haughtiness in all who imitate an apostle, or an apostolic delegate, without warrant from the Lord, and infringing His word in that imitation. Who on earth now can authorize like Paul? Who can appoint like Titus? Certainly not a minister of the Crown, or an ordinary preacher, or a synod of preachers, still less a Christian congregation.
God took care that the direction should not be in a general epistle, nor in one addressed to an assembly. In the epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. no such orders are given, any more than in those of James, Peter, or John. When the apostle addresses the church in any place, he never lays down injunctions about the appointment of elders or bishops. Had it been so, either the leading brethren, or perhaps the saints as a whole, would have been too ready to take the matter into their own hands. As it is, there is no possible excuse for it. Directions are given to individuals who had a special place in the work and church of God. No other was qualified so to do. Thus Apollos and Silas never attempt it, while Titus does. An inspired epistle was addressed to him. No doubt there was a suitability in his gift; but besides that he has an outward authority and inspired credentials, on which he was entitled — nay, bound — to act. Where is there such a person at the present time? Hence, therefore, for any one to act upon the fact that Titus was thus empowered by the Spirit of God would be altogether invalid. But then for that reason these directions, far from being obsolete, are of permanent value.
To this use I would now direct attention, that although we cannot, in the absence of apostles, have the due outward authority to clothe men with local charges in this or that place, still, if we see those in whom the qualities are really found, — if we see men who possess that which the Spirit of God treats as suitable for the overseer or elder, it is evident that it is the positive duty of the children of God to own this in their persons. No doubt an unfaithful heart would take advantage of the fact that they had never been formally installed as elders. A believer with the spirit of godly obedience would if possible be more careful to own and honour in the absence of any such outward title. Thus a state of ruin always tests the heart more than when things are in primitive order. When all is in its normal state, even the careless, or those that sooner or later turn out refractory, are overawed by the strength of the current that runs in the right direction; but when that current becomes weaker, and shallows begin to show themselves, and all sorts of obstructions in the way, then is precisely the moment when real faith and humility of heart are not only displayed by the saints, but are specially honoured of the Lord. Observe it, for instance, in the messages to the seven churches; so that we may surely see that the grace of the Lord is never defeated or in vain.
We cannot now nominate, then, because we are not apostles, nor even apostolic delegates. Still we are wholly wrong if we do not profit by that which the word of God has laid down as to local charges. We can gather from these and other scriptures at least enough for our practical warning and guidance. We are thus kept from the confusion of gifts with them, which is the parent of the clerical system — Popish, national, or dissenting; and we can discern what remains and what exists no longer. "If any be blameless, husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly." Thus moral weight is the main point here. And this is much to be heeded. It is not a question of eminent gift. In dealing with the practical difficulties of the saints of God, spiritual power and experience, of course free from outward reproach, personal or relative, are of the greatest possible value. These are the men who really do act on souls for good day by day in the jar of circumstances, and justly so. Others may possess far more ability, either for spreading the gospel or for unfolding the word of God. I do not mean that in dealing with practical difficulties men are duly qualified for eldership who cannot aptly wield the word in application to passing things. But it is clear that an elder or bishop is not necessarily a teacher, though he should be apt to teach — able to use the word so as to convince gainsayers and encourage the weak. All this is evident on the surface of scripture; but it does not constitute exactly a doctoral gift. It might not go beyond house to house service. I believe therefore that it still remains a positive duty and an important part for the children of God to take heed that they be not absorbed in those that are called to a large public work. No doubt in Christendom generally the error is complete; but those who seek to purge themselves from the vessels to dishonour may not have considered this with the gravity it deserves.
While giving then evangelists and teachers their place, we should also value those who in a simpler and less obtrusive way are devoting themselves day by day to strengthen the links of affection, and to repress the sources of disorder which, as we all know, continually spring up in Christian assemblies. Now these are the persons that were of old by competent authority appointed elders or overseers, as it is said here, "the overseer must be blameless, as God's steward, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, not a striker not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." And if we see men of such ways and endowments labouring now, surely they are to be respected and acknowledged as the men who have the qualities and do the work of elders, though from circumstances their formal appointment is no longer possible.
What made this to be the more urgently needful, even for these Gentile minds, among the Cretans as well as elsewhere, was the Jewish element, the constant fruitful cause of trouble, and in two ways that we might not reasonably expect to see united. "There are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped." Not that I mean necessarily Jews, when speaking of the Jewish element. Alas! the evil of Judaism infects Gentiles; the spirit of tradition pervades some, legalism imbues others very largely. These are the persons who give especial trouble, "whose mouths," we are told, "must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." To this end is used the testimony of one of their own prophets. This witness, says the apostle, is true. One of themselves, not wanting in patriotism, had conscience enough to confess that "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." Therefore Titus was to rebuke them sharply. What sin and folly to brand care for their souls as lack of charity or love of domination! Let us remember the whole case for our own profit and guidance.
Although men have, alas! common qualities of evil, and, no matter where they are found, the same corrupt nature, the Spirit of God takes national character into account, and more particularly in practical service. This requires wisdom, and also experience, where our lot may be cast. So in connection with the overseers of whom he had been speaking. Elders are a local charge. They are not like teachers and preachers, many of whom went about visiting various lands and widely scattered towns in their wide circuit among the nations. Elders as such were necessarily limited in that function to the quarters in which they lived, though they might have gifts which would carry them elsewhere. For them it was of the utmost importance to bear in mind the particular tendencies of those among whom they lived and laboured. The apostle here acts and speaks on this himself. He refers to the sentiment uttered by one of their own poets; for a poet is often truer than a philosopher, and a religious zealot can never be trusted. Your boasted "thinker" loses himself for the most part in dreamy speculations of the closet. A poet may be frivolous indeed, but after all he lets out the real character; it may be in his own person, but at any rate he ordinarily expresses the feeling of the age and place in which he lives, if not the heart in its depths. And this was what one of their own poets, whom the apostle cites, tells about his countrymen. Here Paul was not writing to the church. It might be a matter of doubt whether to speak out so bluntly to themselves; but there could be no question of its importance as information for the fellow-servant to bear in mind in their midst.
Their national character must be taken into account; for though this is a small thing where the grace of the Spirit is in question, it becomes a serious handle to the enemy of souls, who turns the various workings of flesh to his purpose of opposition to the glory of Christ. Their slippery turn of mind would expose them to receive Jewish fables, as these would to misuse the law in general. This was the twofold mischief of which I wish to say a few words. Not merely does the law generate habits of tradition of slavish adherence to human prescription in the things of God, which so soon are apt to rise up to the destruction of practical faith, but along with this goes what might not at first be suspected — imaginativeness; Jewish fables, as he says. And it is remarkable how the famous repository of Rabbinisrn to this day wears this twofold character: on the one hand, the most servile adherence to the letter, without the least insight into the spirit of Holy Scripture; and, on the other hand, the wildest fictions to feed the fancies of women and children. How contrasted is the word of God, that affords the most healthy exercise for heart and conscience, according to the faith of God's elect!
There is nothing like scripture for delivering from both snares. The word of God never gives us a mere line of duty to be followed. In scripture the duties are the expressions of life, in the relationships wherein God has set us; and the main object of every teacher should be not to impose anything as a bare work, to be done blindfold and unintelligently, but to bind up with Christ Himself the course of God's will we have to follow, so that each servant may be led into direct communication with the Master, and look to His grace alone for all needed wisdom and strength, in carrying out whatever may be His call. Thus, even supposing the teacher disappears in any way, Christ abides, and that which is according to Him tells on the heart. The Christian might not have been able to see it without the teacher; but all else vanishes away when the man is, so to speak, brought face to face with Christ and His word.
Such, according to God, is the object of all teaching; never to interpose the teacher, nor the mere letter of a duty, between the soul and the Lord, but to blend the smallest practical duty with His will, and grace, and glory, who is our life. This is what the apostle did himself, as he sought also to guard Titus, and direct him, as his plenipotentiary — if I may so say — acting among the Cretans. And it is no easy task to keep souls from that which is the devil's substitute for the truth — fables; and the law misused. For these shut out the word of God, which is the one aliment of faith. On the one hand, the law appealed to man in flesh, instead of judging him for dead. On the other hand, Jewish fables filled the imagination, instead of the heart and mind being drawn out by the blessed entrance into the life of Christ, and carrying it out here below according to the word.
After this he adds another point of instruction: "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure." How true! Unbelief always degrades even the precious word of God, turns it into a path of self, and in effect severs it from Christ. This accordingly is to make nothing pure. On the other hand, the power of the saint of God is the Holy Spirit acting on that life which is in Christ. He is speaking of practical ways here below. How great then is the spring that the believer possesses! Would that those who teach always knew where their secret of strength lies! It is the ability to mingle Christ with everything that comes before us, and that is incumbent on us. Hence, in contrast with the power of faith, which makes all things pure to the pure, the apostle speaks most solemnly of the character of those that believe not. "They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." What a filling up of the picture Christendom manifests at this day!
The next chapter (Titus 2) turns from the question of those that guide and govern in each assembly and district to the saints themselves. Titus is exhorted to speak the things which become sound doctrine, taking in first aged men and aged women, and then young women and young men. It is all remarkably simple, homely, and wholesome. There is nothing that more marks Christianity than this very elasticity and breadth. Where there is not humility or true greatness, people are afraid of little matters; they shrink instinctively from touching on work-a-day details. The power of Christ makes everything sweet and precious, and lends dignity to the very smallest thing that occupies the heart and mind. How blessed that there is not a person you may have to do with who does not become to you an object for drawing out the grace of Christ. May we cultivate the desire that there may be the growing manifestation of our life, according to His image who is its source and only perfect exemplar!
Hence, therefore, the Holy Spirit, by the apostle, puts before Titus things and persons exactly as they were, and as He would have them be. "That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine; teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." There are those who might think these exhortations uncalled for, setting up their judgment, and regarding it as a slight on Christians, as if it were impossible that godly men and women could fall into such snares as taking too much wine, or violence in word and deed. But we must remember that the corruption of the best thing is the worst; and if Christianity has unbound fetters, liberty may be used to shameful excesses. It was wise and needful to exhort young women, among the rest, to be keepers at home, to mind their children, as well as to be obedient to their husbands. I believe you will find that the starting-point of many a Christian's ruin is apt to begin practically with high-minded inattention to the small duties of daily life. How many persons, who afterwards fell into the depths of gross sin, failed originally in something that looks trivial and commonplace, which even natural conscience would recognize and rebuke
The true safeguard, then, of the saints' well-being is an exercised conscience, in self-judgment before God, with dependence on Him, whilst withal the heart enters into that blessed truth which the apostle himself put before Titus — eternal life in Christ before the world began. What can be more completely out of the scene of present things than that which is here presented? But if there be what my soul knows I have got, unchanging, before time, and entirely outside the first creation, God reveals it to me that it may be proved and manifested in the family, with the children, with men at large, with the aged and the young of either sex. There is no relationship, there is not a single thing of the most ordinary kind, that does not become a test. And this is particularly shown in what follows: "Young men likewise exhort to be sober-minded. In all thing showing thyself a pattern of good works." For the example of an eminent servant of God is of great consequence; therefore he adds, "In doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you." But this also draws out in a remarkable way what to my mind is very characteristic of Christianity. I refer to the great price that God sets on the poor, yea, the very slave. None but God so thought of them then, though even infidelity has filched it from the Bible to work into the aggrandisement of the first man since, and at no time more than in our day, for the final struggle.
Writing to a cherished fellow-servant, when the apostle comes to the slaves, he breaks out into one of the finest developments of the doctrine of grace found in this epistle, or anywhere. If God pays particular attention to any, it is to those that man as such despised. If God makes much of one, it is because circumstances particularly expose that one to be passed by. "Exhort slaves," then says he, "to be obedient unto their masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining." What! Christian slaves? To what might not Satan tempt, and into what might not those fall, especially, who regard it as impossible! "Not answering again; not purloining but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." Here he opens to us the lovely view of what the doctrine of God our Saviour is. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation unto all men hath appeared, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age; looking for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
Thus we have in the most truthful, terse, and luminous terms the foundation, the walk, and the hope of the believer. The foundation is not a law which puts man to the proof, discovering his vanity and the impossibility of so standing in the presence of God, but holding out in its ordinances the pledges of good things to come. The good is come; the test of the first man, and the shadows are not before the Christian. They had their place in schooling the flesh, if it could be; but the time is arrived for realities, which never pass away; and the greatest reality of all is that which God has revealed to us in the Saviour, and His great salvation. It is the saving grace of God, therefore; for man deserves it not, and, as a lost sinner, has no claim on the God he despises and rebels against. But it holds out salvation unto all, and so it has appeared. It is neither hidden nor limited. When it was a question of the law, bringing death and condemnation, its range was restricted; when it is salvation that goes forth, how could a God of grace confine it in boundaries narrower than the need of ruined man? I do not speak of how far it takes effect, but I say that God sends it wherever there are wants, and that He loves to display it where there is the most palpable ruin.
The grace of God, therefore, that bears salvation to all men, has appeared, instead of a law directed to a particular nation. Nothing is farther from the revealed truth of God than the theory that, when we are saved of grace, we are put back again under the law. Rather does the grace which saves teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; for God will make us feel what we are, what our nature is; but then it is grace that makes us judge what we are, and most truly teaches us to detect its evil and lusts.
Observe, too, that it is not a question simply of fleshly but of worldly lusts. All was hatred to God, and discontentedness with that which He gives as our portion. Hence insatiable yearning is indulged after that which we have not. These are worldly lusts; but God's grace teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly as to ourselves, righteously as to those around us, godly in His sight, and all this in the present world where we find ourselves, once sinners but now brought to God.
Nor is this all. The heart wants that which may lift it above all present things; and God does not fail to supply it. He fills not the imagination but the heart, and this with a bright vision of divine and enduring glory, so much the more needed where there is, alas! the reality of sin and misery and sorrow all around. "Looking therefore for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ." If grace has appeared, we know that glory is about to appear. God does not mean to have the world always wretched; He intends to put down His enemies with a high hand; He will not consent that His saints shall ever more be exposed to the efforts and wiles of Satan, who lures men to his deceits and their own destruction. The falsehood of either ameliorating human nature or improving the world will soon end in worse confusion and in the sorest judgment. What a comfort for the Christian to have the certainty that God will take it in hand! It is His fixed mind so to do. Hence, therefore, we have a blessed hope, as sure as the faith that rests on His grace that has already appeared.
But when His glory appears, it will be that of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is the glory of no secondary God. Any subordinate sense is here repudiated explicitly. If there is any difference, there is always maintained in scripture the utmost care to assert the glory of the Lord Jesus. His humiliation in grace placed Him in circumstances where His supreme glory might be questioned; man readily took advantage of it; and Satan, always the antagonist of the Son of God, has prompted men to abuse His grace so as to deny His glory. But He, the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, is our great God as well as Saviour, and, if this be His glory, it is the very same Jesus who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Thus the heart, when it looks forward to the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, finds in Him who will usher in the glory the very One who gave Himself for us in self-sacrificing, atoning love. Hence the affections are kept in the liveliest play, and all dread, so natural to be felt at the approach of the glory of the great God and Saviour, is a denial of the love we have already and so fully proved in Him, "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity," etc. "These things," says he, "speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee."
In the last chapter (Titus 3) the exhortation is pursued, as to what was more outside. "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men." There are two reasons given to confirm the saints in this. The first is that we ourselves were once so evil; the second is that God has been so good to us. "For we ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another." What could be worse? "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done" — we have done the very reverse — "but according to his mercy he saved us," — and how? — "by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."
It is not to be thought that these two things are exactly the same. The washing of regeneration looks at our old condition, outside of which it places us; the renewing of the Holy Ghost looks more at that inward work which is made ours by the Spirit of God. The former appears to be set forth in baptism; the latter refers rather to our connection with the new creation. According to the language of the day, the one is a change of position or objective, the other is subjective and inward. This seems the difference between the two. And this is carried on in the next verse more fully. Speaking of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, it is added, "which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." It is not merely that God continues the work He has always wrought in souls. There never was a time, since sin came into the world and grace followed, when souls were not born again. It must be so, unless all were left to perish. None could enter the kingdom of God unless they had a nature capable of understanding and enjoying the true God. This, of course, the Christian has; but then the Christian should not only know that he has this new nature, but that he has it after the richest sort and fullest measure — "which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour."
Here we learn the blessed truth of Christianity. There is no disparagement done to what was of old among the saints; but, on the other hand, there is no hiding the transcendent blessedness of the Christian. Of no Old Testament saint could it be said that it was shed abundantly. This was suitable and only imparted when our Lord Jesus accomplished redemption. God would put honour on Christ and His cross in every way; so that, as the fruits of His infinite work, the richest blessing is lavished on the Christian now. This is what is referred to here — "which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Thus he binds together the doctrine which met us in the preface of the epistle with the rest; but that which comes before us at the close as at the first — eternal life, has justly an immense place here.
Then in the closing verses he gives some needed practical exhortations. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works." It is a beautiful trait to find the apostle, near the end of his course, so exceedingly simple. Not that the depths of truth were not prized by him or not intimated. But plain every-day need goes along with the deepest truth (and there is no deeper or more blessed way of looking at the saint than as having life in Christ which was before the world began). While the unearthly place of the saint is affirmed, there is the greatest care to maintain these small matters so often overlooked and neglected. Is not all this worthy of God? It tells its own tale to every heart that can appreciate what the blessedness of the truth is. How needful for us to be reminded of that which such high truth might seem to leave out of sight! But it is not so with the Spirit of God.
Nor does he speak only of those within. "Avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject." By "heretic" is not meant necessarily one who holds false doctrines.* Such is the sense that is in modern usage put upon the word. In scripture a "heretic" might be sound enough in doctrine. The evil is making his own particular views, etc. the occasion and badge of a party. Supposing, for instance, a person were to press his private opinions of the law of Moses, or the second coming of Christ, and make either these or anything else an indispensable condition for reception as a Christian, or of Christian fellowship, such a course would stamp him as a heretic. Nor am I now raising a question of his thoughts (right or wrong) either about the law or the Second Advent: the use made is the evil here. At the time one finds commonly that where men despise practical grace and godliness, their doctrine sooner or later is apt to turn out unsound. Fundamental error as to Christ is called in scripture antichrist. A man that overthrows His personal glory is not merely a heretic (in the Biblical meaning) but an antichrist; and this must be dealt with in the most stringent and peremptory manner if we pretend to obey God's word. Nothing less is due to Christ. 2 John goes far beyond 2 Thess. 3 or even 1 Cor. 5. It is not merely a question of our own soul, though it is certainly perilous for any to treat it lightly, but there is a holy duty to Christ; and it is our bounden obligation to the slighted Son of God that we never make terms of compromise or neutrality with His dishonour. The only scriptural procedure is to deal unsparingly with such evil doctrine as is fatal to the glory of our Lord and Saviour. Need I say that He ought to be infinitely dear to us — dearer than friends, life, or even the church itself?
* Pravity of doctrine, as to Christ's person at least, constitutes the ground of the darker guilt of an "Antichrist" in scripture.
But a "heretic" here is quite another thing. It supposes the making of a party. Disputes within lead to heresies without. (Gal. 5) When a man has turned his back on the assembly, when he leaves the table of the Lord, and this because of his own views, drawing others after him, you have not a schismatic only but the "heretic" of these passages. Consequently there is no question of removing such an one from the midst of the saints; he is away; he has gone himself, and would form a party outside. I fear that the present distractions of Christendom blind many to this sin. How often we hear believers indulging in words of this sort as to such: "Ah yes; but still he is a dear brother, and we ought to go after him and try to win him back." What does the apostle say of a man who is a heretic, even to such a confidential labourer as Titus? "After one first and a second admonition shun." Have nothing more to do with him. And this is the more instructive because certainly Titus was no common man. He stood in a post of special authority, and was surely gifted with suitable wisdom and power for the extraordinary office that the Lord called him to; but even he was not to be tampering with this evil thing. Titus himself is forbidden to have intercourse with him after a first and second admonition. And it is found constantly in practice, as I have known cases myself over and over again, that when a Christian presumes to trust his own mind, feelings, or instinct, in the face of such a warning as this, the result is not that the party-man is won, but that he gains another adherent. There are then two "heretics," we may say, instead of one. Our best wisdom is implicit subjection to God's word; whilst the man who, with the best of intentions, tries to correct according to his own mind and heart him that forms a party away from the Lord and His table, enters into temptation, and gets drawn into that evil or some other erratic course himself. There is neither fidelity nor even security except in rejecting such ways and persons, and the word of God is the only just and divine measure of rejecting. We must always stand on the authority, and seek simply the just application of the word of God. The one question for us is, "What is the case to which the scripture applies?" The moment you have ascertained that this or that is what the scripture means, then simply obey, trusting the Lord, no matter what may be the reproach. People may denounce or detract: if we cleave to the Lord and His word, it matters not. The reproaches of men are no more than the dust of the balance. The one thing is to do the will of God. He that does His will abides for ever.
The reason assigned here confirms what has been said, and makes all very plain. "A man that is a heretic after a first and second admonition shun; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." The whole root of it is self. He first takes up his own opinion and, contrary to the word of God, presses it on others. Not that it must be heterodox in itself; the opinion may be sound enough, but the use made is sectarian. He that prefers his own opinions and line to the church is self-condemned. Sometimes indeed the opinions may be quite erroneous; but this matters little. The question is not whether one's view is erroneous or not: to go out because of it is purely selfish, and contrary to Christ. The party-maker is pressing his will or view for ends of his own; and he that does so sins — yea, as it is said here, is self-condemned.
The word "heresies" in 1 Cor. 11:19 may confirm what is after all a very important point, especially at the present time, in regard to Christendom. The apostle tells the Corinthians that there were already divisions or schisms among them, and says that "there must be also heresies" among them. There is no connection whatever necessarily between a schism and a false doctrine; but there is a most vital link between a schism within leading to a party without. The schismatics still met at the same table of the Lord. But the apostle lets them know that if they made splits within, these are sure to work with increase of evil till the fomenters go without as a fixed party there. Divisions already existed within the Corinthian church. These if unjudged would end in open heresies or "sects" (as in the margin) outside. But the result would be in God's hand that the approved were to be made manifest.
This is a graver matter than many might imagine. What a call to us always and resolutely to resist the first germs of evil! It matters not what the occasion may be. Take that which may pain and grieve deeply: we are entitled in the grace of the Lord to be above it; and the more right we may be, the more we can afford to be gracious. Let us leave results in the hands of the Lord. If ever so right, still, if one fights for self, it will effectually hinder the vindication which the Lord can give in His own due time. From the very fact of your fighting people will never give you credit for singleness of eye. It always stirs up opposition in others. No sooner do you leave it in the hands of the Lord than He appears, and will make it perfectly manifest who is on His side and who is against Him.
There is another thing, too, that must claim our notice for a moment. The apostle speaks about sending a faithful labourer to Titus. "When I shall have sent Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for there I have determined to winter." Of course, such directions were in accordance with the action of the Holy Ghost. It is a great mistake to suppose that there may not be such a thing as arrangement in ministry. Need I say that what was wrong in itself would not be consecrated by an apostle's doing it? An apostle inspired by the Holy Ghost would never in writing call for a thing that was contrary to the mind of the Lord. Now Paul does speak of sending to Crete one or other of his fellow-labourers in whom he had confidence; and it was quite right. It is a matter that requires wisdom from above, because one might send a wrong person. But the principle is caring for the work of the Lord, and not leaving things as if it were contrary to truth and the Lord to have an interest even where you cannot be. The notion that such things must be untouched through fear of trenching on the Lord is a fallacy; it is contrary to this word of God and others also. Scripture authorizes care in this kind of way. If I could be a means of sending or inclining the heart of a servant of the Lord to a place where he was calling another servant from it, it would be my duty to do it. Not that this should be meddled with unless the Lord give assurance of His own mind in the matter; but it is not a thing to be left, as if it were contrary to faith to desire such a thing. The apostle here proves to my mind the clean contrary.
On the other hand, it is not everybody that possesses a competent judgment about such a matter; and there, too, is need of the Lord's own power. The word and the Spirit of God are amply sufficient, although we have neither apostles nor the charges that depended on them. Now, what He tells the apostle here is (and, I have no doubt, was meant in the long run) for the instruction of the saints of God. "When I shall send Artemas or Tychicus, bring Zenas the lawyer, and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them." He adds a few words of great practical moment: "Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful." It was not merely a question of man supplying his own wants; we ought to have a heart for others. It is a great joy that God uses one for the good of another; and as He does so spiritually, He would have the saints also consider the value of an honest occupation; not merely to provide for necessary uses, but also not to be unfruitful. What a joy is the joy of grace, the joy of believers over circumstances, the joy that makes us feel we are identified, in our measure, with the great and blessed work of God here below!
Various considerations call on me to be comparatively brief on the epistle to PHILEMON. This has altogether a different character from the epistles that have lately been occupying us. Here the Holy Ghost by the same apostle takes up a domestic matter, and makes it the occasion of the sweetest application of the grace of God.
From his prison he writes to one that evidently was his friend, one at a former day, yea, for ever, deeply indebted to him, inasmuch as he was brought to a knowledge of Christ through him. Now Paul informs him of another no less indebted to him in the grace of Christ, and this none other than Onesimus, the slave of Philemon. Wonderful ways of God! He had deserted, and probably otherwise defrauded (verse 18), his excellent master — an act which even the most worthless lord could not but punish with the utmost severity. Onesimus had left Philemon, we may be sure, for nothing justifiable, and thus proved himself a vile person, who could not appreciate goodness. But what is too hard for the Lord, who led him into Paul's path, converted him, and turned his heart and steps back to his master?
This circumstance becomes the occasion of an inspired epistle. The church throughout all ages profited, and the grace of Christ unfolded therein by Paul the apostle! Oh, what a God is ours! And what a word is His, delivering from the world, and from the thoughts and feelings of nature! How far have we derived blessing by it? Is this what would commend itself to our souls? Does aught else draw out the admiration and the thankfulness of our hearts?
"Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ:" thus he opens the letter. He would not put his request on the ground of his apostleship, lest he might bring in the force of authority, where all that would meet and reflect Christ in the matter must turn on the state and the willing answer of his heart to whom be was appealing in grace. "Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother," for the desire was not confined even to Paul, but Timothy gladly joined himself with this most touching communication of Paul — "unto Philemon our dearly beloved." There was no doubt as to right and wrong: Onesimus was inexcusable; but love abides, and can never fail. To love and count on love is of faith, and prevails. But Philemon was not only an object of tender affection, but a "fellow-labourer," and the nature of the case made it expedient, unlike the usual character of apostolic addresses, to add the household.
Again, observe, his wife is remembered. She would thus feel that she was not left out in the delicate ways of grace, but is included, as in the injury, so now in the good the apostle wished them to manifest. "And to our beloved Apphia." A mistress might have particular reason to feel the misconduct of a slave. Whatever the special motive, she, at any rate, is addressed, and coupled with her husband in it. She is thus given a direct interest in its new phase, but it was the interest of grace.
The apostle brings in Archippus also, honoured with the title of "our fellow-soldier." It is the same individual whom he exhorted at the close of Colossians to take heed to the ministry he had received in the Lord. Let him not forget to cast in whatever help he could render in this charge of grace. Small or great, let all be done to the Lord. Finally, Paul includes the church in Philemon's house. There were others in the Lord, either of the household or in the habit of meeting there.
How blessed is grace, and how large! And all this movement of heart about a runagate slave! Yet is it defined within the right bounds. The assembly, and only the assembly, in Philemon's house are comprehended in the appeal. The saints at Colosse are not included; — why, we can all appreciate. Further, mark the wisdom of it. In any other case the assembly had been the first; but here mark the lovely ways of God, who now pursues a different course. After all, the slave is Philemon's, who therefore is put first. There never is a change, not even of order, in the word of God, but what has some adequate divine motive, and the beauty of grace and truth in it. Never is an insertion or omission of a casual sort: all flows from a wise purpose, which would be impaired, though we may not all be spiritual enough to say how, were a single feature of it either left out or superadded. It is all a vital organism; every part of the living body of truth is needed for His own glory.
The formula usually introducing the longest epistle to the greatest assembly follows. "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Then Paul addresses Philemon personally: "I thank my God, making mention of thee always at my prayers, hearing of the love and faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints," (he was about to be tried whether his love would stand true toward all the saints,) "so that the communication of thy faith may become effectual in the acknowledging of every good thing which is [not "in you," which really gives no sense in the passage, but "which is] in us" (according to the best and most ancient authorities) unto Christ Jesus."
Thus Paul thoroughly acknowledges the grace and faith that was in him generally; but the question remained, whether Philemon would answer to that which was in Paul's heart in writing about Onesimus. His participation in the faith was owned; but was it now to operate in practical communion between them? Paul would do nothing as from authority in such a case: this would be to become a director, not an apostle of Christ. Everything here must be of grace. Hence he adds, "For we [or I] had [the best reading] great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother." Philemon seems to have been a man habitually given to acts of love, and thus a continual channel of refreshment by grace among God's children. But the most excellent of men have broken down occasionally by the pettiest things that entice or provoke self.
And now there was a matter which might touch Philemon's sense of injury — he might have and retain a keen sense of the wrong Onesimus had done him as a Christian master. How often persons who were amiability itself in all respects that had come to our view prove quite unprepared for something which grates against their feelings in an unexpected quarter! What the apostle desired was, for others as for himself, that they should live Christ in everything. So he says, "For love's sake I beseech thee, being such an one as Paul" — not merely "the prisoner," which had been already pleaded as to his actual circumstances, and soon to be repeated with emphasis, but now he takes another ground, Paul — "the aged." Would Paul, "the prisoner" and "the aged" have a feeble ineffectual claim on the heart of Philemon? Not Paul the apostle in any case; yet was he not a whit behind the chief. And indeed he proves how well he knew — not that he now forgot — the distinctive value of his apostleship, by keeping it hidden wherever the assertion of it might (not to say must) have marred the free exercise of grace. Accordingly "being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ, I beseech thee for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten;" and not this merely, but begotten "in my bonds." This would make him specially an object of interest and affection to one who venerated and delighted in the apostle. If Philemon loved Paul, he would love his child; and Onesimus was his child, as he says. He names him at least as emphatically his child as either Titus or Timothy; but more than this, he was a son born as neither Timothy nor Titus was — begotten in his bonds — bonds destined in the grace of God to be more fruitful for the instruction of saints than his most free service and world-wide labours; for Paul was never so honoured in the service of God for the leading up of the church of God as when he was bound a prisoner in Rome.
It was at this time, and under such circumstances, that Onesimus was born in the faith. It is true that once he "was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me" — an allusion to his name, as is well known, and which becomes yet more evident in verse 20. He had been unserviceable before, but now Paul assures himself that grace will not fail its effectual work — to whom I have sent back: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel; but without thy mind would I do nothing." The apostle would have Philemon's good to be not as of necessity but of willingness. The delicacy of feeling, and the sense of propriety that grace forms, are truly exquisite. There is nothing that maintains right so much as grace. At the same time it relinquishes its own dues, it maintains those of others! This is of all importance for our souls to heed. The contrary alas! habitually appears. A person abuses grace in humbling another: the use of grace is to humble one's self, showing all godly respect to every other in our place. I do not deny that there is that which becomes others in their place: surely no saint is exempt from the exercise of grace. But with this I have nothing to do in the way of dictation, whatever one's desires. I have to do with the grace that has reached my own soul; and this ever gladly accords to others that which is their due or more. There is nothing that truly delivers from the spirit of self but the mighty grace of God.
The apostle so writes to his friend and brother. "For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a slave, but above a slave, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?" There cannot be a more exquisite apology for one whose return might have recalled painful feelings, and who, in fact, was so guilty in law that his master would have been by it justified in the sternest measures. But the grace in Christ, while it makes evil more heinous, changes all, because it brings in that love which met our own yet greater need and guilt, and the mercy that has left no room for blessing, however feebly we enjoy and appreciate it. Onesimus had failed in the very first duty of a slave; he had denied, in fact, — his relationship to his master. But now the apostle takes simply and solely the ground of grace, and appeals to the heart of Philemon in the presence of all Christ had done for him, and through the same instrument who had been used toward his bondman. This he knew would dissipate the smallest cloud of suspicion that might otherwise have hung over Onesimus on his return to his master. As he says here, "If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides."
The great practical lesson, beloved, we ought all to gather from this is that it is not merely a question of doing the right thing, but of the way in which it should be done. It is too often thought by many that if only the object be right, this is enough. But not so: Christ is as much the way as He is the end. If it is not Christ along every step of the road, the best intentions often turn out productive of very grave disorder; and for this simple reason, that we are incompetent for anything of ourselves: Christ alone can guide us through.
This is just what is taught in the epistle before us. Who but God would have thought of bringing in Christ at every point of that which concerned Onesimus? But now, that He has so spoken, this is precisely the privilege of the Christian. It is the introduction of Christ, not merely for the regulation of elders and young men, widows, households, and the like. It is not merely the regulation of outward order by the application of the same name: Titus does this. But the epistle to Philemon lets us into another atmosphere, for it shows us Christ brought in, yea, the name of Christ and the grace of Christ bound up with all the relations of the family, with matters that might seem to belong solely to the domain of human rights or wrongs, wherein it was for a master in his generosity to forgive. Here, too, we are taught how to live Christ.
I am aware some, enamoured of theories, and savouring the things of men rather than of God, would think it dreadful to discuss or deal with the relations of a master and a slave. Why not condemn the whole principle, root and branch? But this is not Christ. The Spirit of God does not establish a mere code of human rights. Christianity is not a system of earthly righteousness; it is the unfolding of the grace of Christ, and of heavenly hopes. It is the bringing of souls to God, who by that cross delivers them from all wrongs, spite of their guilt and His most deserved judgment. It elevates them above these rights, not in pride of heart, but bowed down by the rich mercy of the Lord. Nothing so maintains the rights of others; but at the same time it is no question of adhering to our own. It is a question of using the grace of Christ, and thus of glorifying God. "Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt do also more than I say. But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you." Salutations follow in verses 23-25.
Throughout the Spirit speaks to the renewed affections. What the effect of this epistle may have been it is not for us to say, as not knowing. But it appears to me not doubtful. The heart that could stand out against such appeals of grace, from such a quarter, was far from Philemon. But is it not a call to you and to me, as living, fresh, applicable, and imperiously needed, if we value nothing so much as Christ? The literal circumstances are changed, no doubt; but why is it given here? Why is it that such an epistle should have been inspired? Why was it not a private communication? It is as necessary in its own place as any one of the epistles we have had before us: I do not mean to the same degree, but as necessary, if in truth our object is to glorify our Lord Jesus.
Hebrews 1 - 6
The epistle to the Hebrews differs in some important respects from all those which have been before us; so much so that many have questioned whether it be the writing of the apostle Paul, of Apollos, of Barnabas, etc. Of this my mind has no doubt. I believe that Paul, and no other, was the author, and that it bears the strongest intrinsic traits of his doctrine. The style is different, and so is the manner of handling the truth; but the line of truth, though it be affected by the object that he had in view, is that which savours of Paul beyond all: not of Peter, or John, or James, or Jude, but of Paul alone.
One good and plain reason which has graven a difference of character on the epistle is the fact, that it goes outside his allotted province. Paul was the apostle of the uncircumcision. If writing for the instruction of Jews, as here he clearly was, to believers or Christians that had once been of that nation, he was evidently outside the ordinary function of his apostolic work.
There is another reason also why the epistle to the Hebrews diverges very sensibly and materially from the rest of the writings of St. Paul, that it is not, strictly speaking, an exercise of apostleship at all, but of the writer (apostle though he were) as a teacher, and here a teacher clearly not of Gentiles, as he says elsewhere, but of Jews. Now it is plain, if he that was an apostle and preacher and teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth was led by the Holy Spirit to address the saints that were of the old Jewish fold, there must have been a marked departure from his usual methods in the manner of using and presenting the truth of God to these. But we have this blessed result of his acting outside his own ordinary sphere, that it is the finest and indeed the only specimen of teaching properly so called in the New Testament. It is not a revelation given by prophetic or apostolic authority; and for this reason, I presume, he does not introduce himself at all. It is always a failure when the teacher as such is prominent. The point for such an one is, that the teaching (not himself) should arrest and instruct. But in revealing truth the person whom God employs in that work is naturally brought before those addressed; and hence the apostle took particular care, even if he did not write an epistle, to put his name to it, introducing himself at the beginning through the amanuensis that he employed, and with scrupulous care adding his own name at the end of each epistle.
In writing to the Hebrew believers it is not so. Here the apostle is what indeed he was. Besides being apostle of the uncircumcision, he was a teacher; and God took care that, although expressly said to be a teacher of Gentiles, his should be the word to teach the Christian Jews too; and, in fact, we may be assured that he taught them as they never were taught before. He opened the scriptures as none but Paul could, according to the gospel of the glory of Christ. He taught them the value of the living oracles that God had given them; for this is the beautiful characteristic here. Indeed the epistle to the Hebrews stands unique. By it the believing Jew was led into a divine application of that which was in the Old Testament — that which they had habitually read in the law, Psalms, and prophets, from their cradle we may say, but which they had never seen in such a light before. That mighty, logical, penetrating, richly-stored mind! that heart with such affections large and deep, as scarce ever were concentred in another bosom! that soul of experience wonderfully varied and profound! — he was the one whom God was now leading in a somewhat unwonted path, no doubt, but in a path which, when once taken, at once approves itself by divine wisdom to every heart purified by faith.
For if Peter, as is known, were the apostle of the circumcision pre-eminently, it was through him that God first of all opened the door of the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles; and if the apostle Paul, with the concurrence of the heads of the work among the circumcision, had gone to the Gentiles, none the less did the Spirit of God (it may be without asking those who seemed to be somewhat at Jerusalem) employ Paul to write to the believers of the circumcision the most consummate treatise on the bearing of Christ and Christianity upon the law and the prophets, and as practically dealing with their wants, dangers, and blessing. Thus did God most carefully guard in every form from the technical drawing of lines of rigid demarcation to which even Christians are so prone, the love of settling things in precise routine, the desire that each should have his own place, not only as the proper sphere of his work, but to the exclusion of every other. With admirable wisdom indeed the Lord directs the work and the workmen, but never exclusively; and the apostle Paul is here, as just shown, the proof of it on one side as Peter is on the other.
What is the consequence under the blessed guidance of the Spirit? As the great teacher of the believers from among the Jews, we have, after all, not Paul, but through him God Himself left to address His own, in the words, facts, ceremonies, offices, persons so long familiar to the chosen people. Paul does not appear. This could hardly have been by any other arrangement, at any rate not so naturally. "God," says he, "having in many measures and in many manners spoken in time past to the fathers in the prophets, at the last of these days spoke to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." Paul, would show them thus the infinite dignity of the Messiah whom they had received. Never would Paul weaken the personal rights or the official place of the Anointed of Jehovah. Contrariwise, he would lead them on to find what they had never yet seen in their Messiah, and, wonderful to say, he founds his proofs, not on new revelations, but on those very words of God which they had read so superficially, the depths of which they had never approached, nor had they so much as suspected. The facts of Christianity they knew; the linking of all scripture with Christ's person, and work, and glory they had yet to discover.
But mark the manner of the writer. He is careful to establish the thread of connection with God's word and ways of old; and yet there is not a single epistle which more elaborately throughout its entire course sets the believer in present relationship to Christ in heaven; I think one might be bold to say, none so much. From the very starting-point we see Christ, not merely dead and risen, but glorified in heaven. There is no doubt that the writer meant his readers to hold fast, that He who suffered all things on earth is the same Jesus who is now at the right hand of God; but the first place in which we hear of Him is as Son of God on high according to Hebrews 1, and there it is we see Him as Son of man according to Hebrews 2. It was there, in fact, that Paul had himself first seen the Lord. Who then was so suitable to introduce Jesus, the rejected Messiah, at the right hand of God, as Saul of Tarsus? On the way to Damascus that staunchest of Jews had his eyes first opened — blinded naturally, but enabled by grace so much the more to see by the power of the Holy Spirit the glorified Christ,
It is to Christ in heaven, then, that Paul, writing to the Christian Jews, first directs their attention. But he does it in a manner which shows the singularly delicate tact given him. True affection is prudent for its object when peril is nigh, and delights to help effectively, instead of being indifferent whether the way of it wounds those whose good is sought. In no way are the former messages of God forgotten in the days of their fathers. Nor would one gather from this epistle that its writer laboured among the Gentiles, nor even that there was a calling of Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus. The epistle to the Hebrews never speaks of either. We can understand, therefore, how active-minded men, who occupied themselves with the surface — the method, the style, the unusual absence of the writer's name, and other peculiarities in the phenomena of this epistle, too readily hesitated to attribute it to Paul. They might not attach much moment to the general tradition which ascribed it to him. But they ought to have looked more steadily into its depths, and the motives for obvious points of difference, even were it written by Paul.
Granted that there is a striking absence of allusion to the one body here. But there was one nearer and dearer to Paul than even the church. There was one truth that Paul laboured yet more to hold up than that one body, wherein is neither Jew nor Greek — the glory of Him who is the head of it. Christ Himself was what made the assembly of God precious to him. Christ Himself was infinitely more precious than even the church which He had loved so well, and for which He gave Himself. Of Christ, then, he would deliver his last message to his brethren after the flesh as well as Spirit; and as he began preaching in the synagogues that He is the Son of God, (Acts 9) so here he begins his epistle to the Hebrews. He would lead them on, and this with gentle but firm and witting hand. He would deepen their knowledge lovingly and wisely. He would not share their unbelief, their love of ease, their value for outward show, their dread of suffering; but he would reserve each folly for the most fitting moment. He would lay a vigorous hand on that which threatened their departure from the faith, but he would smooth lightly lesser difficulties out of their way. But when he gained their ear, and they were enabled to see the bright lights and perfections of the great High Priest, there is no warning more energetic than this epistle affords against the imminent and remediless danger of those who abandon Christ, whether for religious form, or to indulge in sin. All is carried on in the full power of the Spirit of God, but with the nicest consideration of Jewish prejudices, and the most scrupulous care to bring every warrant for his doctrine from their own ancient yet little understood testimonies.
It is evident, however, even from the opening of the epistle, that though he does not slight but uphold the Old Testament scriptures, yet he will not let the Jews pervert them to dishonour the Lord Jesus. How had God spoken to the fathers? In many measures and in many manners. So had He spoken in the prophets. It was fragmentary and various, not a full and final manifestation of Himself. Mark the skill! He thereby cuts off, by the unquestionable facts of the Old Testament, that overweening self-complacency of the Jew, which would set Moses and Elias against hearing the Son of God. Had God spoken to the fathers in the prophets? Unquestionably. Paul, who loved Israel and estimated their privileges more highly than themselves, (Rom. 9) was the last man to deny or enfeeble it. But how had God spoken then? Had He formerly brought out the fulness of His mind? Not so. The early communications were but refracted rays, not the light unbroken and complete. Who could deny that such was the character of all the Old Testament? Yet so cautiously does he insinuate the obviously and necessarily practical character of that which was revealed of old, that at a first reading, nay, however often read perfunctorily, they might have no more perceived it than, I suppose, most of us must confess as to ourselves. But there it is; and when we begin to prove the divine certainty of every word, we weigh and weigh again its value.
As then it is pointed out that there were formerly many portions, so also were there many modes in the prophetic communications of God. This was, beyond doubt, the way in which His revelations had been gradually vouchsafed to His people. But for this very reason, it was not complete. God was giving piecemeal His various words, "here a little, and there a little." Such was the character of His ways with Israel. They could not — man could not — hear more till redemption was accomplished, after the Son of God Himself was come, and His glory fully revealed. Now when promises were given to the fathers, they did not go beyond the earthly glory of Christ; but known to Him were all things from the beginning, yet He did not outrun the course of His dealings with His people. But as they manifested themselves in relation to Himself, and alas! their own weakness and ruin, higher glories began to dawn, and were needful as a support to the people. Hence, invariably, you will find these two things correlative. Reduce the glory of Christ, and you equally lower your judgment of the state of man. See the total absolute ruin of the creature; and none but the Son in all His glory is felt to be a sufficient Saviour for such.
The apostle was now being led by the Holy Ghost to wean these believers from their poor, meagre, earthly thoughts of Christ — from that so common tendency to take the least portion of the blessing, contenting ourselves with that which we think we need, and which we feel to be desirable for us, and there sitting down. God, on the contrary, while He does adapt Himself to the earliest wants of souls, and the feeblest answer to Christ by the Spirit of God working within us, nevertheless has in His heart for us what suits His own glory, and this He will accomplish; for faithful is He who hath promised, and He will do it. He means to have all that love the Saviour like Him; and all that He purposes to do for the Saviour's honour, He has perfectly unfolded to us. No doubt, this supposes the resurrection state, and it never can be till then; but He graciously works now, that we may learn by degrees that only such a Saviour and Lord — the effulgence of His glory, and full expression of His substance, the Son of God Himself — could suit either God or us.
Accordingly, while he intimates thus that all was but partial, being piecemeal and multiform, in the revelations from God to the fathers, he lets them know, in the next verse, that the same God had, in the last of these days, "spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." If such and so great were His glory, what must not be the word of such a Son? What the fulness of the truth that God was now making known to His people by Him? Was this to slight the glory of the Messiah? Let them rather take heed that there be no oversight of Him on their part; none could justly put it to the account of God. For who was He, this Messiah, that they would fain occupy themselves with as a king, and would have confirmed, had it been possible, to aggrandize themselves — the ancient people of God? The brightness of God's glory, the express image of His substance; the upholder, not of Israel or their land only, but of all things "by the word of his power." But hearken — "when he had by himself purged our sins," was not the whole Jewish system blotted out by such a truth? — "when he had by himself purged our sins." It is to the exclusion of every other instrument. Help there was not; means there could not be. He Himself undertook and achieved the task alone; and, when He had thus done it, "sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they."
This furnishes the first part of the doctrine on which the apostle insists. If any beings had special account or stood highly exalted in a Jew's eye, the holy angels were they; and no wonder. It was in this form that Jehovah ordinarily appeared, whenever He visited the fathers or the sons of Israel. There were exceptions; but, as a rule, He who made known the will and manifested the power of Jehovah in these early days to the fathers is spoken of habitually as the angel of Jehovah. It is thus He was represented. He had not yet taken manhood, or made it part of His person. I do not deny that there was sometimes the appearance of man. An angel might appear in whatever guise it pleased God; but, appear as He might, He was the representative of Jehovah. Accordingly, the Jews always associated angels with the highest idea of beings, next to Jehovah Himself, the chosen messengers of the divine will for any passing vision among men. But now appeared One who completely surpassed the angels. Who was He? The Son of God. It ought to have filled them with joy.
We may easily understand that every soul truly born of God would and must break forth into thanksgiving to hear of a deeper glory than he had first perceived in Christ. We must not look on the Lord according to our experience, if there has been simplicity in the way God has brought us to the perception of His glory; we must endeavour to put ourselves back, and consider the prejudices and difficulties of the Jew. They had their own peculiar hindrances; and one of their greatest was the idea of a divine person becoming a man; for a man, to a Jew, was far below an angel. Are there not many now, even professing Christians (to their shame be it spoken) who think somewhat similarly? Not every Christian knows that a mere angel, as such, is but a servant; not every Christian understands that man was made to rule. No doubt he is a servant, but not merely one so accomplishing orders, but having a given sphere, in which he was to rule as the image and glory of God: a thing never true of an angel — never was, and never can be. The Jews had not entered into this; no man ever did receive such a thought. The great mass of Christians now are totally ignorant of it. The time, the manner, and the only way in which such a truth could be known, was in the person of Christ; for He became not an angel but a man.
But the very thing that to us is so simple, when we have laid hold of the astonishing place of man in the person of Christ — this was to them the difficulty. His being a man, they imagined, must lower Him necessarily below an angel. The apostle, therefore, has to prove that which to us is an evident matter of truth — of revelation from God — without argument at all. And this he proves from their own scriptures. "For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?" Now it is true that angels are sometimes called "sons of God," but God never singles out one and says, "Thou art my Son." In a vague general way, He speaks of all men as being His sons. He speaks of the angels in a similar way, as being His sons. Adam was a son of God — apart, I mean, from the grace of God — as a mere creature of God into whose nostrils He breathed the breath of life. Adam was a son of God, angels were sons of God; but to which of the angels did God ever speak in such language as this? No, it was to a man; for He was thus speaking of the Lord as Messiah here below; and this is what gives the emphasis of the passage. It is not predicated of the Son as eternally such; there would be no wonder in this. None could be surprised, assuredly, that the Son of God, viewed in His own eternal being, should be greater than an angel. But that He, an infant on earth, looked at as the son of the Virgin, that He should be above all the angels in heaven — this was a wonder to the Jewish mind; and yet what had in their scriptures a plainer proof? It was not to an angel in heaven, but to the Babe at Bethlehem, that God had said, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;" and, again, "I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son" — words said historically of David's son; but, as usual, looking onward to a greater than David, or his wise son, who immediately succeeded him. Christ is the true and continual object of the inspiring Spirit.
But next follows a still more powerful proof of His glory: "And again, when he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him." So far from any angel approaching the glory of the Lord Jesus, it is God Himself who commands that all the angels shall worship Him. "And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire." They are but servants, whatever their might, function, or sphere. They may have a singular place as servants, and a spiritual nature accomplishing the pleasure of the Lord; but they are only servants. They never rule. "But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Not a word is said about His fellows until God Himself addresses Him as God. The angels worshipped Him: God now salutes Him as God; for such He was, counting it no robbery to be on equality with God, one with the Father.
But this is far from all. The chain of scriptural testimony is carried out and confirmed with another and even more wondrous citation. "God" may be used in a subordinate sense. Elohim has His representatives, who are, therefore, called gods. Magistrates and kings are so named in scripture. So are they styled, as the Lord told the Jews. The word of God came and commissioned them to govern in earthly things; for it might be no more than in judicial matters. Still, there they were, in their own sphere, representing God's authority, and are called gods, though clearly with a very subordinate force. But there is another name which never is employed in any sense save that which is supreme. The dread and incommunicable name is "Jehovah." Is, then, the Messiah ever called Jehovah? Certainly He is. And under what circumstances? In His deepest shame. I do not speak now of God's forsaking Christ as the point of view in which He is looked at, though at the same general time.
We that believe can all understand that solemn judgment of our sins on the part of God, when Jesus was accomplishing atonement on the cross. But there was more in the cross than this, which is not the subject of Psalm 102, but rather the Messiah utterly put to shame by man and the people; nevertheless taking it all — for this was His perfection in it — from the hand of Jehovah. It is under such circumstances He pours out His plaint. Jehovah raised Him up, and Jehovah cast Him down. Had atonement, as such, been in view here as in Psalm 22, would it not be put as casting Him down, and then raising Him up? This is the way in which we Christians naturally think of Christ in that which is nearest to the sinner's need and God's answer of grace. But here Jehovah raised Him up, and Jehovah cast Him down, which evidently refers to His Messianic place, not to His position as the suffering and afterwards glorified Christ, the Head of the church. He was raised up as the true Messiah by Jehovah on earth, and He was cast down by Jehovah on earth. No doubt man was the instrument of it. The world which He had made did not know Him; His own people received Him not, neither would have Him. Jewish unbelief hated Him: the more they knew Him, the less could they endure Him. The goodness, the love, the glory of His person only drew out the deadly enmity of man, and specially of Israel; for they were worse than the Romans: and all this He, in the perfectness of His dependence, takes from Jehovah. For Himself, He came to suffer and die by wicked hands, but it was in the accomplishment of the will and purpose of God His Father. He knew full well that all the power of man or Satan would not have availed one instant before Jehovah permitted it. Hence all is taken meekly, but with none the less agony, from Jehovah's hand; and less or other than this had not been perfection. In the midst of Messiah's profound sense and expression of His humiliation to the lowest point thus accepted from Jehovah, He contrasts His own estate, wasted, prostrate, and coming to nothing. He contrasts it with two things. First, the certainty of every promise being accomplished for Israel and Zion He unhesitatingly anticipates; whilst He, the Messiah, submits to be given up to every possible abasement. He then contrasts Himself with the great commanding truth of Jehovah's own permanence. And what is the answer from on high to the holy sufferer? Jehovah from above answers Jehovah below; He owns that the smitten Messiah is Jehovah — of stability and unchangeableness equal with His own.
What need of further proof after this? Nothing could be asked or conceived more conclusive, as far as concerned His divine glory. And all that the apostle thinks it necessary to cite after this is the connecting link of His present place on the throne of Jehovah in heaven with all these ascending evidences of His divine glory, beginning with His being Son as begotten in time and in the world; then His emphatic relationship to God as of the lineage of David — not Solomon, save typically, but the Christ really and ultimately; then worshipped by the angels of God; next, owned by God as God, and, finally, as Jehovah by Jehovah. All is closed by the citation of Psalm 110:1, which declares that God bids Him sit as man at His right hand on high till the hour of judgment on His foes. It is one of the most interesting psalms in the whole collection, and of the deepest possible moment as preparatory both to what is now brought in for the Christian (which, however, is hidden here) and to what it declares shall be by-and-by for Israel. Thus it is a sort of bridge between old and new, as it is more frequently quoted in the New Testament than any other Old Testament scripture. "Therefore" (as should be the conclusion, though commencing the next chapter) "we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels" — clearly he is still summing up the matter — "was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward: how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard?" It is striking to see how the apostle takes the place of such as simply had the message, like other Jews, from those who personally heard Him: so completely was he writing, not as the apostle of the Gentiles magnifying his office, but as one of Israel, who were addressed by those who companied with Messiah on earth. It was confirmed "unto us," says he, putting himself along with his nation, instead of conveying his heavenly revelations as one taken out from the people, and the Gentiles, to which last he was sent. He looks at what was their proper testimony, not at that to which he had been separated extraordinarily. He is dealing with them as much as possible on their own ground, though, of course, without compromise of his own. He does not overlook the testimony to the Jews as such: "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and distributions of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will."
Now he enters on another and very distinct portion of the glory of Christ. He is not only the Son of God, but Son of man; and they are both, I will not say equally necessary, but, without doubt, both absolutely necessary, whether for God's glory or for His salvation to whomsoever it may be applied. Touch Christ on either side, and all is gone. Touch Him on the human side, it is hardly less fatal than on the divine. I admit that His divine glory has a place which humanity could not possess; but His human perfection is no less necessary to found the blessing for us on redemption, glorifying God in His righteousness and love. This accordingly the apostle now traces. Jesus was God as truly as man, and in both above the angels. His superiority as Son of God had been proved in the most masterly manner from their own scriptures in the first chapter. He had drawn his conclusions, urging the all-importance of giving heed, and the danger of letting slip such a testimony. The law, as he had said elsewhere, was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. He had just said, if it was firm, and every transgression and disobedience received just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? Outward infraction and inner rebellion met their retribution. The sanction of the gospel would be commensurate with its grace, and God would avenge the slightings of a testimony begun by the Lord, farther carried on and confirmed by the Holy Spirit with signs, wonders, powers, and distributions according to His will.
Now he takes the other side, saying, "Unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come." Whatever may have been God's employment of angels about the law, the world to come was never destined to be subjected to them. It is the good pleasure of God to use an angel where it is a question of providence, or law, or power; but where it comes to be the manifestation of His glory in Christ, He must have other instruments more suitable for His nature, and according to His affections. "For one has somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands." Thus we see the first question raised is one as to the littleness of man in comparison with that which God has made; but the question is no sooner raised than answered, and this by one who looks at the Second Man and not at the first. Behold then man in Christ, and then talk, if you can, about His littleness. Behold man in Christ, and then be amazed at the wonders of the heavens. Let creation be as great as it may be, He that made all things is above them. The Son of man has a glory that completely eclipses the brightness of the highest objects. But also He shows that the humiliation of the Saviour, in which He was made a little lower than the angels, was for an end that led up to this heavenly glory. Grant that He was made a little lower than the angels, what was it for? "We see not yet all things put under him. But we behold Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; so that by the grace of God he should taste death for everything." Nor was this the only object; He was "crowned with glory and honour" as fruit of His sufferings unto death; but it had a gracious object as well as a glorious end; "so that by the grace of God he should taste death for everything;" for thus was the only door of deliverance for what was ruined by the fall, and this because it was the only means of morally vindicating God, who yearned in love over every work of His hands. There can be otherwise no efficacious because no righteous deliverance. It may be infinitely more, but righteous footing it must have; and this the death of Christ has given. Flowing from God's grace, Christ's death is the ground of reconciliation for the universe. It has also made it a part of His righteousness to bring man thus out of that ruin, misery, and subjection to death in which he lay. It has put into the hands of God that infinite fund of blessing in which He now loves to admit us reconciled to Himself.
The apostle does not yet draw all the consequences; but he lays down in these two chapters the twofold glory of Christ — Son of God, Son of man; and following up the latter, he approaches that which fitted Him, on the score of sympathy, for the priesthood. I do not mean that Jesus could have been High Priest according to God because He was man. Not His manhood but His Godhead is the ground of His glory; nevertheless, if He had not been man as well as Son of God, He could not have been priest. As for atonement so for priesthood, that ground was essential. But it was for man, and therefore He too must be man. So it is here shown that it "became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." Remark, it is not "all one." We never reach that height in the epistle to the Hebrews; never have we the body here, any more than unity. For the body we must search into some other epistles of Paul, though unity we may see in another shape in John. But the epistle to the Hebrews never goes so far as either. It does what was even more important for those whom it concerned, and, I add, what is of the deepest possible moment for us. For those who think that they can live according to God on the truth of either Ephesians or of the epistles of St. John, without the doctrine of the epistle to the Hebrews, have made a miserable mistake.
Say what men will, we have our wants, as traversing this wilderness; and although we might like to soar, it cannot long, if at all, prosper. We have, therefore, the adaptation of Christ as priest to the infirmities that we feel, and so much the more because of an exercised conscience towards God, and a realizing of the desert sin has made — this defiled scene of our actual pilgrimage.
Accordingly, in the latter part of the chapter, the apostle begins to introduce the great truths which form so large a part of the epistle to the Hebrews. He speaks of Christ, the Sanctifier: "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." He means one and the same condition, without entering into particulars. "For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." There is a common relationship which the Sanctifier and the sanctified possess. It might be supposed, because He is the Sanctifier and they are the sanctified, that there could be no such communion. But there is: "for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." He never called them so, till He became a man; nor did He so fully then, till He was man risen from the dead. The apostle here most fittingly introduces Psalm 22, etc.: "Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him." He is proving the reality of this common relationship of the Sanctifier and the sanctified. He, like themselves, can say, and He alone could say as they never did, "I will put my trust in him." Indeed Psalm 16 was the expression of all His course as man — trust in life, trust in death, trust in resurrection. As in everything else, so in this, He has the pre-eminence; but it is a pre-eminence founded on a common ground. It could not have been true of Him, had He not been a man; had He been simply God, to talk of trusting in God would have been altogether unnatural and impossible. As for Him then, though the Sanctifier, He and they were all of one. And so further: "Behold! and the children which God hath given me." Here is again a different but equally good proof of mutual relationship.
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels." This last should be, that He does not take up angels; He does not help them. They are not the objects of His concern in the work here described; "but he takes up the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest" — here you have the object of all the proof of His being man — "in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people." I use the word "atonement, or expiation, as being decidedly preferable to reconciliation." You cannot talk of reconciling sins. It is not a question of making sins right. They are atoned for; people are reconciled. Those who have been sinners are reconciled to God; but as to sins they do not admit of being reconciled at all (which is a mistake). There is need of a propitiation, or expiation, for the sins of His people. "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted." Temptation to Him was nothing but suffering: He suffered, being tempted, because there was that intrinsic holiness which repelled, but, at the same time, most acutely felt the temptation.
Thus the apostle enters on the vast field that will come before us a little while longer tonight. He has laid the basis for the high-priesthood of Christ. He could not have been such a High Priest, had He not been both divine and human; and he has proved both, in the fullest manner, from their own scriptures.
But before he enters upon the unfolding of His high-priesthood, there is a digression (the two chapters that follow, I apprehend, linking themselves with the two we have considered). Thus, "Christ as Son over his own house" answers pretty much to the first chapter, as the rest of God by-and-by answers to the second chapter; for I hope to prove it is to be in the scene of future glory. In writings so profound as the apostle's, one generally hails the least help towards appreciating the structure of an epistle: let the reader consider it.
Hebrews 3. We need not dwell long on these intervening chapters. It is evident that he opens with our Lord as "apostle and high-priest of our confession," in contrast with the apostle and high priest of the Jews. Moses was the revealer of the mind of God of old, as Aaron had the title and privilege of access then into the sanctuary of God for the people. Jesus unites both in His own person. He came from God, and went to God. The holy brethren, then, partakers of a heavenly calling (not earthly like Israel's), are told to consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus, who is faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses in all his house. Moses, "as a servant," he takes care particularly to say, in everything shows the superiority of the Messiah. "For he was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by how much he that built it hath more honour than the house." He becomes bold now. He can venture, after having brought out such glory to Christ, to use plainness of speech; and they could hear it, if they believed their own scriptures. If they honoured the man who was God's servant in founding and directing the tabernacle (or house of God in its rudimentary state), how much more did the ancient oracles call attention to a greater than Moses — to Jehovah — Messiah, even Jesus. How plainly this chapter pre-supposes the proofs of the divine glory of Christ! We shall see also His Sonship presently. "And Moses was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of the things to be spoken after; but Christ, as Son over his house, whose house are we." Christ, being divine, built the house; Christ built all things. Moses ministered as servant, and was faithful in God's house; Christ as Son is over the house; "whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end."
There were great difficulties, circumstances calculated especially to affect the Jew, who, after receiving the truth with joy, might be exposed to great trial, and so in danger of giving up his hope. It was, besides, particularly hard for a Jew at first to put these two facts together: a Messiah come, and entered into glory; and the people who belonged to the Messiah left in sorrow, and shame, and suffering here below. In fact, no person from the Old Testament could, at first sight at least, have combined these two elements. We can understand it now in Christianity. It is partly, indeed, to the shame of Gentiles, that they do not even see the difficulty for a Jew. It shows how naturally, so to speak, they have forgotten the Jew as having a special place in the word and purposes of God. They consequently cannot enter into the feelings of the Jew; and by such the authority and use of this epistle was grievously slighted. It is the self-conceit of the Gentile, (Rom. 11) not their faith, that makes the Jewish difficulty to be so little felt. Faith enables us to look at all difficulties, on the one hand measuring them, on the other raising us above them. This is not at all the case with ordinary Gentile thought. Unbelief, indifferent and unfeeling, does not even see, still less appreciate, the trials of the weak.
The apostle here enters into everything of value for the way. Although it is perfectly true that the Son is in this place of universal glory, and in relation to us, Son over His house (God's house having an all-comprehending sense and a narrower one), he explains how it is that His people are in actual weakness, trial, exposure, danger and sorrow here below. The people are still travelling through the wilderness, not yet in the land. He immediately appeals to the voice of the Spirit in the Psalms: "Wherefore — (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in heart; and they have not known my ways. So I swear in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) — take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; while it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses."
What is pressed here is this: that the people of God are still in the path of faith, just like their fathers of old before they crossed the Jordan; that now there is that which puts our patience to the proof; that the grand thing for such is to hold fast the beginning of the assurance firm unto the end. They were tempted to stumble at the truth of Christ, because of the bitter experiences of the way through which they were going onward. To turn back is but the evil heart of unbelief; to abandon Jesus is to turn away from the living God. To be fellows or companions of the Messiah (Psalm 45) depends on holding fast the beginning of the assurance to the end; for, remember, we are in the wilderness. Following Christ, as of old Moses, we are not arrived at the rest of God. "But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief."
This leads us to the very important, but often misunderstood, Hebrews 4. What is the meaning of the "rest of God"? Not rest of soul, nor rest of conscience, any more than of heart. It is none of these things, but simply what the apostle says, God's rest. His rest is not merely your rest. It is not our faith seizing the rest that Christ gives to him that trusts Himself, as when He says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He did not say, "I will give you God's rest." It was not the time, nor is it of that nature. God's rest is the rest of His own satisfaction. His rest is a change of all, the present scene of trial and toil, the consequences of sin. Of course the people of God must be formed for the scene, as well as it for them. They are incomparably more to God than that which they are going to fill. But the scene has its importance too. It would not suit God, if it would suit us, to be ever so blessed in such a world as this. He means to have a rest as worthy of Himself as the righteousness we are made in Christ is worthy of Himself now. As it is His righteousness, so will it be His rest. Therefore it is not merely, as Gentiles are apt to suppose, the bringing of comfort into the heart, and the spirit filled with the consciousness of blessings from God and of His grace to us. The Jew, too, had, in another direction, a miserably inadequate conception of it; for it was earthly, if not sensual. Still, what a Jewish believer often staggered at, what he felt to be a serious riddle for his mind, was the contrast between the circumstances through which he was passing, and the Christ of which the prophets had spoken to him. Now the apostle does not in any way make light of the grief by the way, nor forget that the pilgrimage in the desert is the type of our earthly circumstances. He takes the scriptures that speak of Israel journeying toward, but not yet in, the pleasant land, applying them to the present facts, and at the same time he sets before them in hope the rest of God.
Hebrews 4. "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us were glad tidings preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we who have believed do enter into rest." That is, we are on the road. He does not say that we have entered, nor does he mean anything of the sort, which is clean contrary to the argument and aim. It is altogether a mistake, therefore, so to interpret the passage. The very reverse is meant, namely, that we have not entered into the rest, but, as the hymn says, we are on our way, I will not say to God, but assuredly to His rest. We are entering into the rest, having got it before us, and on to that rest we move; but we are not yet there. "We which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest." It is quite true that it is the Holy Ghost's object to bring the rest close to us, so as to make us always conscious of the little interval that separates us from the rest of God; but still, let the interval be ever so short, we are not there yet, we are only going towards it. For the present, our place, beyond controversy, is viewed as in fact in the wilderness. According to the doctrine of this epistle (as of the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Philippians) to present us as in heavenly places would be altogether out of place and season. To the Ephesians he does develop our blessing as in and with Christ in the heavenlies. There it was exactly consonant to the character of the truth; for it is truth, and of the highest order. But as far as the Epistle to the Hebrews goes, we should never have learnt this side of the truth of God, or its appropriation to us; for we are only regarded in our actual place, that is, marching through the desert.
Here objections, which might be founded on the scriptures of the Old Testament, are met. There were two, and only two, occasions of old whence it might be argued that there had been an entrance into God's rest.
The first was when God made the creation; but was there any entering of man into that rest? God, doubtless, rested from His works; but even God is never said then to have rested in His works. Was there anything that satisfied God or blessed man permanently? All was good, yea, very good; but could God rest in His love? Surely not, till all could be founded on the basis of redemption. Before all worlds God meant to have this. Nothing but redemption could bring into His own rest. Consequently, a rest capable of being spoilt, and all requiring to be begun over again in a new and more blessed way, never could meet the heart or mind of God. This, accordingly, is not His rest; it served as a sign and witness of it, but nothing more.
Then we come down lower to the second instance of deep and special interest to Israel. When Joshua brought the people triumphantly into the possession of Canaan, was this the rest of God? Not so. How is it disproved? By the self-same Psalm — "If they shall enter into my rest," written afterwards. So wrote David, "Today, after so long a time." Not only after the creation, but after Joshua had planted the people in the land, a certain day is determined in the future. For if Jesus [i.e., Joshua] had brought them into rest, he would not have spoken afterwards about another day. They had not entered into it yet.
The "rest" was still beyond. Is it not future still? What has there been to bring people into the rest of God since then? What is there to be compared with creation, or with His people settled in Canaan by the destruction of their foes? That which Gentile theology has brought into the matter, namely, the work of the Lord on the cross, or the application of it to meet the needs of the soul — precious as it was to the apostle, as it must be to faith — has no place whatever in the apostle's argument. If so, where does he bring it into the context? The idea that this is the point debated is so perfectly foreign and futile, that to my mind it demonstrates exceeding prepossession, if not looseness, of mind, as well as a lack of subjection to scripture, in those who allow their theories to override the plain word of God, which is here conspicuous for the absence of that infinite truth.
The apostle, therefore, at once draws the conclusion, that neither at creation, nor in Canaan, was the rest of God really come. The latter part of the Old Testament shows us how Israel got unsettled, and finally driven from their land; though it also predicts their future ingathering. The New Testament shows us the rejection of the Messiah, the ruin of Israel, the salvation of believers, the church formed of such in one body, (whether Jews or Gentiles,) but in the stronger contrast with the rest of God. Consequently, the rest is but coming, not come; it is future. This is the application: "There remaineth therefore a rest" (or sabbatism) "to the people of God. For he that hath entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his works, as God did from his own." I must ask you thus to alter the passage, the authorised version giving it wrongly. The emphasis is taken out of one place, and put into another, without the slightest reason.
What he deduces is, "Let us use diligence therefore to enter into that rest." The meaning is, you cannot be labouring and resting in the same sense and time. All must confess that when you rest, you cease from labour. His statement is that now is the time not for rest, but for diligence; and the moral reason why we labour is, that love — whether looked at in God Himself, in His Son, or in His children — love never can rest, where there is either sin or wretchedness. In the world there is both. No doubt for the believer, his sins are blotted out and forgiven, and hope anticipates with joy the final deliverance of the Lord. But as to the course of this age and all things here below, it is impossible to think or speak of rest as these are, not even for our bodies, as part of the fallen creation. There ought not to be rest, therefore, beyond what we have by faith in our souls. It would be mere sentimentalising; it is not the truth of God. I ought to feel the misery and the estrangement of the earth from God; I ought to go — however joyful in the Lord — with a heart sad, and knowing how to weep, in a world where there is so much sin, and suffering, and sorrow. But the time is coming when God will wipe away tears from all eyes, yea, every tear; and this will be the rest of God. To this rest we are journeying, but we are only journeying. At the same time we should labour: love cannot but toil in such a world as this. If there be the spirit that feels the pressure of sin, there is the love that rises up in the power of God's grace, bringing in that which lifts out of sin and delivers from it. So he says, "Let us be diligent therefore to enter into that rest."
Allow me to say a word to any person here who may be a little confused by old thoughts on this subject. Look again a little more exactly into the two chief calls of the chapter (verses 1 and 11), and let me ask you if it be safe and sound to apply them to rest for the conscience now? Are souls who have never yet tasted that the Lord is gracious to be summoned to fear? And how does the call to labour or diligence square with the apostle's word in Romans 4:4-5, where justification by faith, apart from works, is beyond cavil the point of teaching? What can be the effect of such prejudices of interpretation (no matter who may have endorsed them) but to muddle the gospel of God's grace? Thus it seems to me clearly and certainly such a notion is proved to be false. The test of a wrong notion is that it always dislocates the truth of God; often, indeed, like this, running counter to the plainest and most elementary forms of the gospel itself. Thus, take the text already referred to — "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly" — the popular misinterpretation sets people working to enter into rest for their conscience. But the doctrine is as false as the written word is true; and the meaning of that which is before us is, not rest now for the soul by faith, but the rest of God, when He has made a scene in the day of glory as worthy of Himself as it will be suited for those whom He loves.
Accordingly, we are next shown the provision of grace, not for the rest of glory, but for those who are only journeying on towards it here below. And what is that provision? The word of God, which comes and searches, tries and deals with us, judging the thoughts and intents of the heart; and the priesthood of Christ, which converts and strengthens, and applies all that is needed here — the grace and mercy of our God. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
And now (Heb. 5) we enter upon the priesthood; for it is a priest that we want who stands already accepted by sacrifice. Not a priest, but a sacrifice, is the foundation of all relationship with God; but we need along the way a living person, who can deal both with God for us and for God with us. Such a great High Priest who passed through the heavens, yet able to sympathize with our infirmities, we have in Jesus the Son of God. How little these Jews, even when saints, knew the treasure of grace that God had given in Him whom the nation abhorred! As previously, the apostle takes the proofs from their own oracles. It is not a question of revealing, but of rightly applying, by the Holy Ghost, the word they had in their hand.
"For every high priest taken from among men is established for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." It might seem scarcely credible that these words could be applied to Christ. But there is nothing too bad for the heart of man; and these are mistakes of the heart. They do not arise from intellectual feebleness. It would be folly so to judge of Grotius, for instance. They spring from unbelief. Call it ignorance of Christ and of the scriptures, if you will, but it is not found only with the ignorant, as men would speak. I am sure we ought to have great compassion for the honest ignorance of simple-minded men. But, as in other sad cases, the error is often combined with ample learning of the schools, though with lamentable lack of divine teaching even in foundation truth. I do not deny that God may deign to use anything in His service; but these men confide in their learning and their powers generally, instead of becoming fools that they may become wise, which is the truest learning according to God, if one may speak of "learning" in respect of that wisdom which comes down from the Father of lights.
Thus men, confident in their own resources, have dared to apply this description of priesthood to Christ. They have failed to see that it is a distinct contrast with Christ, and not at all a picture of His priesthood. It is evidently general, and sets before us a human priest, not Jesus — God's High Priest. If there be analogy, there is certainly the strongest contrast here. An ordinary priest is able to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring, since he himself also is compassed with infirmity. "And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins." Did Christ need to offer for Himself, yea, for sins? This blasphemy would follow, if the foregoing words applied to Christ. "And no one taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, even as Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest." Now he teaches a point of contact, as the other was of contrast. All you can procure from among men is one that can feel, as being a man, for men after a human sort. Such is not the priest that God has given us, but one who, though man, feels for us after a divine sort. And so, we are told, that Christ, while He was and is this glorious person in His nature and right, nevertheless as man did not glorify Himself to be made an high priest; "but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee; as he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
The same God who owned Him as His Son, born of the Virgin, owned Him also as Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. And in this order too: first, Son (on earth);* next, the true Melchisedec (in heaven, as we shall find). Albeit true God and Son of God, in everything He displays perfect lowliness among men, and absolute dependence on God: such also was His moral fitness for each office and function which God gave Him to discharge. Mark, again, the skill with which all is gradually approached — how the inspired writer saps and mines their exorbitant (yet after all only earthly) pretensions, founded on the Aaronic priesthood. Such was the great boast of the Jews. And here we learn out of their own scriptures another order of priesthood reserved for the Messiah, which he knew right well could not but put the Aaronic priesthood completely in the shade. "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
*I see no ground whatever for applying the citation from Psalm 2 to the resurrection of Christ. Acts 13, which is usually quoted to prove it, really distinguishes the raising up of Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God here below, from His resurrection which is made to rest on Isaiah 55 and Psalm 16. Neither does Psalm 2 set forth His eternal Sonship, all-important a truth as it is, and clearly taught by John above all.
At the same time, it is plain that there is no forgetfulness of the suffering obedience of Christ's place here below; but He is presented in this glory before we are given to hear of the path of shame which ushered it in. "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him, called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec." The apostle had much to say, but hard to be interpreted, because they were become dull of hearing. It is not that the word of God in itself is obscure, but that men bring in their difficulties. Nor does His word, as is often thought, want light to be thrown on it; rather is it light itself. By the Spirit's power it dispels the darkness of nature. Many obstacles there are to the entrance of light through the word, but there is none more decided than the force of religious prejudice; and this would naturally operate most among the Hebrew saints. They clung too much to old things; they could not take in the new. We may see a similar hindrance every day. What Paul had to say of the Melchisedec priesthood was hard to explain to them, not because the things were in themselves unintelligible, but they were dull in hearing. "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye again have need that one teach you the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God."
There is nothing, I repeat, which tends to make dulness in spiritual things so much as religious tradition. The next to it in dead weight, and in other respects more daringly dangerous, will be found to be philosophy. At any rate, it is remarkable that these are the two occasions of this reproach from the apostle. So he wrote to the Corinthians, who generally admired rhetoric, and had no small confidence, like other Greeks, in their own wisdom. They did not consider Paul, either in style or topics, at all up to the requirements of the age — at least in their midst. How cutting to hear themselves counted babes, and incapable of meat for grown men, so that, being carnal, they must have milk administered to them! The apostle had to put them down, and tell them, with all their high-flown wisdom, they were such that he could not discourse to them about the deep things of God. This, no doubt, was a painful surprise for them. So here the same apostle writing to the Hebrew believers treats them as babes, though from a different source. Thus we see two errors totally opposed in appearance, but leading to the same conclusion. Both unfit the soul for going on with God; and the reason why they so hinder is because they are precisely the things in which man lives. Whether it be the mind of man or his natural religiousness, either idolizes its own object; and consequently blindness ensues to the glory of Christ.
Hence the apostle could not but feel himself arrested by their state. He shows also that this very state was not merely one of weakness, but exposed them to the greatest danger; and this is pursued not on the philosophical side so much as on that of religions forms. We have already seen both at work in Colosse, as I have just pointed out the snare that the wisdom of the world was to the Corinthians. But on the Hebrews he presses their excessive danger of abandoning Christ for religious traditions. First of all these hinder progress; finally they draw the soul aside from grace and truth; and if the mighty power of God does not interfere, they ruin. This had been the course of some: they had better be watchful that it be not their own case. He begins gently with their state of infantine feebleness; and then in the beginning of the following chapter he sets before them the awful picture of apostasy. "For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
"Therefore," (adds he, in Hebrews 6) "leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on to perfection." He proves that we cannot safely linger among the Jewish elements when we have heard and received Christian truth; that not merely blessing, not simply power and enjoyment, but the only place even of safety is in going on to this full growth. To stop short for them was to go back. Let those that had heard of Christ return to the forms of Judaism, and what would become of them?
Then he speaks of the various constituents that make up the word of the beginning of Christ (i.e., Christ known short of death, resurrection, and ascension). He would have them advance, "not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith in God, of a teaching of washings and imposition of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." Not that these were not true and important in their place: no one disputed them; but they were in no way the power, nor even characteristic, of Christianity. They go in pairs; and a mere Jew would hardly object; but what is all this for the Christian? Why live on such points? "And this" (i.e. going on to full growth) "will we do if God permit. For it is impossible [as to] those once enlightened, and that tasted the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and that tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and fell away, to renew [them] again to repentance, seeing they crucify for themselves and expose the Son of God."
It is a question of persons drawn into apostasy after having enjoyed every privilege and power of the gospel, short of a new nature and that indwelling of the Spirit which seals renewed souls till the day of redemption. For them rejecting the Messiah on earth under Judaism God gave repentance and remission of sins; but if they gave up the risen and glorified Christ, there was no provision of grace, no third estate of Christ to meet the case. It is not the case of a person surprised into sin; nay, not even the very awful case of one who may go on in sin, sorrowful to think that it may be so with one of whom we had hoped better things. But here there is another evil altogether. They were those who might be ever so correct, moral, religious, but who, having confessed Jesus as the Christ after the outpouring of the Spirit, had lapsed back into Jewish elements, counting it perhaps a wise and wholesome check on a too rapid advance, instead of seeing that in principle it was an abandonment of Christ altogether. The full case here supposed is a thorough renunciation of Christian truth.
The apostle describes a confessor with all the crowning evidences of the gospel, but not a converted man. Not a word implies this either here or in 2 Peter. Short of this he uses uncommonly strong expressions, and purposely so: he sets forth the possession of the highest possible external privileges, and this in that abundant form and measure which God gave on the ascension of the Lord. He says it all, no doubt, about the baptized; but there is nothing about baptism as the ancients would have it, any more than, with some moderns, the progressive steps of the spiritual life. There is knowledge, joy, privilege, and power, but no spiritual life. Enlightenment is in no sense the new birth, nor does baptism in scripture ever mean illumination. It is the effect of the gospel on the dark soul — the shining on the mind of Him who is the only true light. But light is not life; and life is not predicated here.
Further, they had "tasted of the heavenly gift." It is not the Messiah as He was preached when the disciples went about here below, but Christ after He went on high; not Christ after the flesh, but Christ risen and glorified above.
But, again, they were "made partakers of the Holy Ghost." Of Him every one became a partaker, who confessed the Lord and entered into the house of God. There the Holy Ghost dwelt; and all who were there became partakers after an outward sort (not κοινωνοὶ, but μέτοχοι) of Him who constituted the assembly of God's habitation and temple. He pervaded, as it were, the whole atmosphere of the house of God. It is not in the least a question of a person individually born of God, and so sealed by the Holy Spirit. There is not an allusion to either in this case, but to their taking a share in this immense privilege, the word not being that which speaks of a joint known portion, but only of getting a share.
Moreover, they "tasted the good word of God." Even an unconverted man might feel strong emotions, and enjoy to a certain extent, more particularly those that had lain in Judaism, that dreary valley of dry bones. What fare was the gospel of grace! Certainly nothing could be more miserable than the scraps which the scribes and Pharisees put before the sheep of the house of Israel. There is nothing to forbid the natural mind from being attracted by the delightful sweetness of the glad-tidings which Christianity proclaims.
Lastly, we hear of "the powers of the age to come." This seems more than a general share in the presence of the Holy Ghost, who inhabited the house of God. They were positively endued with miraculous energies — samples of that which will characterize the reign of the Messiah. Thus we may fairly give the fullest force to every one of these expressions. Yet write them out ever so largely, they fall short both of the new birth and of sealing with the Holy Ghost. There is everything one may say, save inward spiritual life in Christ, or the indwelling seal of it. That is to say, one may have the very highest endowments and privileges, in the way both of meeting the mind, and also of exterior power; and yet all may be given up, and the man become so much the keener enemy of Christ. Indeed such is the natural result. It had been the mournful fact as to some. They had fallen away. Hence renewal to repentance is an impossibility, seeing they crucify for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.
Why impossible? The case supposed is of persons, after the richest proof and privilege, turning aside apostates from Christ, in order to take up Judaism once more. As long as that course is pursued, repentance there cannot be. Supposing a man had been the adversary of Messiah here below, there was still the opening for him of grace from on high. It was possible that the very man that had slighted Christ here below might have his eyes opened to see and receive Christ above; but, this abandoned, there is no fresh condition in which He can be presented to men. Those who rejected Christ in all the fulness of His grace, and in the height of glory in which God had set Him as man before them, — those that rejected Him not merely on earth, but in heaven, what was there to fall back on? what possible means to bring them to a repentance after that? There is none. What is there but Christ coming in judgment? Now apostasy, sooner or later, must fall under that judgment. Such is the force of the comparison. "For land which hath drunk in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is for burning."
"But we are persuaded better things of you, beloved." There might seem too much ground for fear, but of the two ends he was persuaded respecting them the better things, and akin to salvation, if even he thus spoke; for God was not unrighteous, and the apostle too remembered traits of love and devotedness which gave him this confidence about them. But, says he, "We earnestly desire that each of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end that ye be not slothful, but followers of those who through faith and long-suffering inherit the promises." Here is given a remarkable instance of the true character of the epistle; namely, the combination of two features peculiar to the Hebrews. On the one hand are the promises, the oath of God, taking up His ways with Abraham; and, on the other hand, the hope set before us, that enters into what is within the veil. We may account for the former, because the writer was not confining himself to that which fell within the proper sphere of his apostleship. But, again, had he been writing according to his ordinary place, nothing was more strictly his line of testimony than to have dwelt on our hope that enters within the veil. The peculiarity of the epistle to the Hebrews lies in combining the promises with Christ's heavenly glory. None but Paul, I believe, would have been suited to bring in the heavenly portion. At the same time, only in writing to the Hebrews could Paul have brought in the Old Testament hopes as he has done.
Another point of interest which may be remarked here is the intimation at the end compared with the beginning of the chapter. We have seen the highest external privileges — not only the mind of man, as far as it could, enjoying the truth, but the power of the Holy Ghost making the man, at any rate, an instrument of power, even though it be to his own shame and deeper condemnation afterwards. In short, man may have the utmost conceivable advantage, and the greatest external power even of the Spirit of God Himself; and yet all comes to nothing. But the very same chapter, which affirms and warns of the possible failure of every advantage, shows us the weakest faith that the whole New Testament describes coming into the secure possession of the best blessings of grace. Who but God could have dictated that this same chapter (Heb. 6) should depict the weakest faith that the New Testament ever acknowledges? What can look feebler, what more desperately pressed, than a man fleeing for refuge? It is not a soul as coming to Jesus; it is not as one whom the Lord meets and blesses on the spot; but here is a man hard pushed, fleeing for very life (evidently a figure drawn from the blood-stained fleeing from the avenger of blood), yet eternally saved and blessed according to the acceptance of Christ on high.
There was no reality found to be in those so highly favoured of the early verses; and therefore it was (as there was no conscience before God, no sense of sin, no cleaving to Christ) that everything came to nought; but here, there is the fruit of faith, feeble indeed and sorely tried, but in the light that appreciates the judgment of God against sin. Hence, although it be only fleeing in an agony of soul to refuge, what is it that God gives to one in such a state? Strong consolation, and that which enters within the veil. Impossible that the Son should be shaken from His place on the throne of God: so is it that the least believer should come to any hurt whatever. The weakest of saints more than conqueror is; and therefore the apostle, having brought us to this glorious point of conclusion, as well as shown us the awful danger of men giving up such a Christ as that which we have presented to us in this epistle, now finds himself free to unfold the character of His priesthood, as well as the resulting position of the Christian. But on these I hope to enter, if the Lord will, on another occasion.
HEBREWS 7 - 13.
The apostle now resumes his great theme, Christ called a Priest of God for ever after the order of Melchisedec. He alludes, in the beginning of our chapter, to the historical facts of Genesis. We must bear in mind that Melchisedec was a man like any other. There is no ground, in my judgment, for the thought of anything mysterious in the facts as to his person. The manner in which scripture introduces him is such as to furnish a very striking type of Christ. There is no necessity for considering anything else, but that the Spirit of God, forecasting the future, was pleased to conceal the line of Melchisedec's parentage, or descendants if any, of their birth or death. He is suddenly ushered upon the scene. He has not been heard of by the reader before; he is never heard of again in history. Thus the only time when he comes into notice he is acting in the double capacity here spoken of: King of righteousness as to his name, King of Salem as to his place, blessing Abraham on his return from the victory over the kings of the Gentiles in the name of the Most High God, and blessing the Most High God the possessor of heaven and earth in the name of Abraham.
The apostle does not dwell on the detailed application of His Melchisedec priesthood, as to the object and character of its exercise. He does not draw attention here to the account, that there was only blessing from man to God, and from God to man. He does not reason from the singular circumstance that there was no incense, any more than sacrifice. He alludes to several facts, but leaves them. The point to which he directs the reader is the evident and surpassing dignity of the case — the unity too of the Priest and the priesthood; and this for an obvious reason.
The time for the proper exercise of the Melchisedec priesthood of Christ is not yet arrived. The millennial day will see this. The battle which Abraham fought, the first recorded one in scripture, is the type of the last battle of this age. It is the conflict which introduces the reign of peace founded on righteousness, when God will manifest Himself as the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. This is, as is well known, the special characteristic of the millennium. Heaven and earth have not been united, nor have they been in fact possessed for the blessing of man by the power of God, since sin severed between the earth and that which is above it, and the prince of the power of the air perverted all, so that what should have been, according to God's nature and counsels, the source of every blessing, became rather the point from which the guilty conscience of man cannot but look for judgment. Heaven, therefore, by man's own conviction, must be arrayed in justice against earth because of sin. But the day is coming when Israel shall be no more rebellious, and the nations shall be no longer deceived, and Satan shall be dethroned from his bad eminence, and all idols shall flee apace, and God shall be left the undisputed and evidently Most High, the possessor of heaven and earth. In that day it will be the joy of Him who is the true Melchisedec, to bring out not the mere signs, but the reality of all that can be the stay and comfort of man, and all that sustains and cheers, the patent proof of the beneficent might of God, when "no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
But meanwhile, confessedly, the Spirit of God directs attention, not to the exercise, but to the order of the Melchisedec Priest. If we have to wait for the exercise at a future day, the order is as true and plain now as it ever can be. Indeed, at no time will its order be more apparent than at present; for I think there can be little doubt to any unbiassed Christian who enters with intelligence into the Old Testament prophecies, that there is yet to be an earthly sanctuary, and, consequently, earthly priests and sacrifices for Israel in their own land; that the sons of Zadok, as Ezekiel lets us know, will perpetuate the line at the time when the Lord shall be owned to be there, in the person of the true David their King, blessing His people long distressed but now joyful on earth. But this time is not yet come. There is nothing to divert the heart from Christ, the great High Priest in the heavens. No doubt all will be good and right in its due season then. Meanwhile Christianity gives the utmost force to every type and truth of God. The undivided place of Christ is more fully witnessed now, when there are no others to occupy the thought or to distract the heart from Him as seen by faith in glory on high.
Hence the apostle applies the type distinctly now, as far as the "order" of the priesthood goes. We hear first of Melchisedec (King of righteousness), next of Salem or peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy. Unlike others in Genesis, neither parents are recorded, nor is there any hint of descent from him. In short, there is no mention of family or ancestors, "having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" — neither is recorded in scripture; — "but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually."
The next point proved is the indisputable superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood to that of Aaron, of which the Jews naturally boasted. After all, the telling fact was before them that, whoever wrote the epistle to the Hebrews, it was not a Christian who wrote the book of Genesis, but Moses; and Moses bears witness to the homage which Abram rendered to Melchisedec by the payment of tithes. On the other hand, the priests, Aaron's family, among the sons of Levi, "have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham." Thus Melchisedec, "whose descent is not of Aaron nor of Levi," like Jesus, "received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises!" "And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better." No argument could be more distinct or conclusive. The other descendants of Abraham honoured the house of Aaron as Levitical priests; but Abraham himself, and so Levi himself, and of course Aaron, in his loins honoured Melchisedec. Thus another and a higher priesthood was incontestably acknowledged by the father of the faithful. "And, as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him."
This leads to another point; for the change of the priesthood imports a change of the law. "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" This change was clearly taught in the book of Psalms. It was not only that there had been at the beginning such a priest, but that fact became the form of a glorious anticipation which the Holy Ghost holds out for the latter day. Psalm 110, which, as all the Jews owned, spoke, throughout its greater part at least, of the Messiah and His times, shows us Jehovah Himself — by an oath, which is afterwards reasoned on — signifying that another priest should arise after a different order from that of Aaron. "The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest." Thus the Pentateuch and the Psalms bore their double testimony to a Priest superior to the Aaronic.
Further, that this Priest was to be a living one, in some most singular manner to be an undying Priest, was made evident beyond question, because in that Psalm it is said, "He testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." This was also a grand point of distinction. Where could they find such a Priest? where one competent to take up that word "for ever"? Such was the Priest of whom God spoke. "For," says he, "there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the law made nothing perfect)." He uses in the most skilful manner the change of the priest, in order to bring along with it a change of the law, the whole Levitical system passing away — "but [there is] the bringing in of a better hope." Such is the true sense of the passage. "For the law made nothing perfect" is a parenthesis. By that hope, then, "we draw nigh unto God."
But again the solemn notice of Jehovah's oath is enlarged on. "Inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (for those priests were made without an oath" — no oath ushers in the sons of Aaron — "but he with an oath by him that said as to him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant."
And, finally, he sums up the superiority of Christ in this, that "they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but he, because of his continuing for ever, hath the priesthood intransmissible." There was but one such Priest.
In every point of view, therefore, the superiority of the Melchisedec priest was demonstrated over the line of Aaron. The fulfilment of the Melchisedec order is found in Christ, and in Him alone. The Jews themselves acknowledge that Psalm 110 must be fulfilled in Christ, in His quality of Messiah. Nothing but stupid, obstinate, unbelieving prejudice, after the appearance of the Lord Jesus, could have suggested any other application of the Psalm. Before Jesus came, there was no question of it among the Jews. So little was it a question, that our Lord could appeal to its acknowledged meaning, and press the difficulty His person created for unbelief. By their own confession the application of that Psalm was to the Messiah, and the very point that Jesus urged upon the Jews of His day was this — how, if He were David's Son, as they agreed, could He be his Lord, as the Psalmist David confesses? This shows that, beyond question, among the Jews of that day, Psalm 110 was understood to refer to the Christ alone. But if so, He was the Priest after the order of Melchisedec, as well as seated at Jehovah's right hand — a cardinal truth of Christianity, the import of which the Jews did not receive in their conception of the Messiah. Hence throughout this epistle the utmost stress is laid on His being exalted in heaven. Yet there was no excuse for a difficulty on this score. Their own Psalm, in its grand prophetic sweep, and looking back on the law, pointed to the place in which Christ is now seated above; and where it is of necessity He should be, in order to give Christianity its heavenly character.
The doctrine follows: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost." He does not mean by this the worst of sinners, but saving believers to the uttermost, bringing through every difficulty those "that come unto God by him." A priest is always in connection with the people of God, never as such with those that are outside, but a positive known relation with God — "seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." This statement is so much the more remarkable, because in the beginning of this epistle he had pointed out what became God. It became Him that Christ should suffer. It became us to have a Priest, "holy, harmless, undefiled, made higher than the heavens."
What infinite thoughts are those that God's word gives; as glorifying for Himself as elevating for our souls! Yet who beforehand would have anticipated either? It became God that Christ should go down to the uttermost; it became us that He should be exalted to the highest. And why? Because Christians are a heavenly people, and none but a heavenly Priest would suit them. It became God to give Him to die; for such was our estate by sin that nothing short of His atoning death could deliver us; but, having delivered us, God would make us to be heavenly. None but a heavenly Priest would suffice for the counsels He has in hand. "Who needeth not daily," therefore says He, "as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's." He always keeps up the evidence of the utter inferiority of the Jewish priest, as well as of the accompanying state of things, to that of Christianity. "For this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law, a Son perfected (or consecrated) for ever." This was the very difficulty that the Jew pleaded; but now, in point of fact, it was only what the Psalm of Messiah insisted on, the law itself bearing witness of a priest superior to any under the law. Holy Scripture then demanded that a man should sit down at the right hand of God. It was accomplished in Christ, exalted as the great Melchisedec in heaven. If they were Abraham's children, and not his seed only, surely they would honour Him.
Hence, in Hebrews 8, the apostle draws his conclusion. "Now of the things that are being spoken of this is a summary: We have such an high priest, who is set down on [the] right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the holies, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." In Hebrews 1 it is written, that "having by himself made purification of our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." The point there is personal glory. No other seat was suitable to such a One. He sat down there as of His own right and title, but nevertheless making a part of His divine glory to be witnessed in, as indeed His person was necessary to make His blood efficacious to the purging of our sins. But in chapter 8 He sits there not merely as the proof of the perfectness with which He has purged our sins by Himself alone, but as the Priest; and accordingly it is not merely said "on high," but "in the heavens." Such is the emphasis. Accordingly observe the change of expression. He has been proved to be a divine person, and the true royal priest of whom not Aaron only but Melchisedec was the type. Hence the right hand of the throne is introduced, but, besides, "of the Majesty in the heavens." So that, let the Jews say what they might, there was only found what answered to their own scriptures, and what proved the incontestable superiority of the great Priest whom Melchisedec shadowed out, and of whom it was now for the Christian justly to boast. He is "minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not of man." Now the tone becomes bolder with them, and shows clearly that the Jew had but an empty form, a foreshadow of value once, but now superseded by the true antitype in the heavens.
Here, too, he begins to introduce what a priest does, that is, the exercise of his functions. "For every high priest is constituted to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not even be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve the representation and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was oracularly told when about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shown to thee in the mountain. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant." Thus, before he enters on the subject of the sacrifices at length, he takes notice of the covenants, and thence he draws a conclusion from the well-known prophecy in Jeremiah, where God declares that the days were coming when He would make a new covenant. What is the inference from that? He presses the fact of a new principle, as well as an institution established on better promises, upon the Jews. For why should there be a new covenant, unless because the first was faulty or ineffectual! What was the necessity for a new covenant if the old one would do as well? According, to the Jews it was quite impossible, if God had once established a covenant, He could ever change; but the apostle replies that their own prophet is against their theory. Jeremiah positively declares that God will make a new covenant. He argues that the word "new" puts the other out of date, and this to make room for a better. A new covenant shows that the other must have thereby become old, and therefore is decaying and ready to vanish away.
All this is a gradual undermining the wall until the whole structure is overthrown. He is labouring for this, and with divine skill accomplishes it, by the testimonies of their own law and prophets. He does not require to add more to the person and facts of Christ than the Old Testament furnishes, to prove the certainty of Christianity and all its characteristic truths with which he occupies himself in this epistle. I say not absolutely all its great truths. Were it a question of the mystery of Christ the Head, and of the church His body, this would not be proved from the Old Testament, which does not reveal it at all. It was hid in God from ages and generations. There are types that suit the mystery when it is revealed, but of themselves they never could make it known, though illustrating particular parts when it is. But whether we look at the heavenly supremacy of Christ over the universe, which is the highest part of the mystery, or at the church associated with Him as His body, composed of both Jew and Gentile, where all distinction is gone, no wit of man ever did or could possibly draw this beforehand from the Old Testament. Indeed, not being revealed of old, according to the apostle, it is altogether a mistake to go to the Old Testament for that truth.
Hence in Hebrews we never find the body of Christ as such referred to. We have the church, but even when the expression "church" occurs, it is the church altogether vaguely, as in Hebrews 2:12, or viewed in the units that compose it — not at all in its unity. It is the assembly composed of certain individuals that make it up, regarded either as brethren, as in the second chapter ("In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee"), or as the church of the first-born ones, as in Hebrews 12, persons who drew their title from Christ the first-born Heir. There we have those that compose the church, in allusion to Christ, contrasted with the position of Israel as a nation, because of the nearness which they possess by the grace of Christ known on high.
It may be observed, too, that the Holy Ghost appears but little in this epistle. Not of course that one denies that He has His own proper place, for all is perfect as to each person of the Trinity and all else, but never to this end. For a similar reason we never find life treated in the epistle, nor righteousness. It is not a question of justification here. We hear of sanctification often, but even what is thus spoken of throughout is rather in connection with separation to God and the work of Christ, than the continuous energy of the Holy Ghost, except, as far as I remember, in one practical passage — "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." In other cases the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of sanctification by God's call, and Christ's blood. I refer to the fact just to exemplify on the one hand the true bearing of the epistle, and what I believe will be discovered in it, and on the other hand to guard against the mistake of importing into it, or trying to extract from it, what is not there.
Hebrews 9 brings us into the types of the Levitical ritual, priesthood and sacrifice. Before developing these, the apostle refers to the tabernacle itself in which these sacrifices were offered. "There was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called holy of holies; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold." Carefully observe that it is the tabernacle, never the temple. The latter is not referred to, because it represents the millennial glory; the former is, because it finds its proper fulfilment in that which is made good in the Christian scheme now. This supposes the people of God not actually settled in the land, but still pilgrims and strangers on the earth; and the epistle to the Hebrews, we have already seen, looks emphatically and exclusively at the people of God as not yet passed out of the wilderness; never as brought into the land, though it might be on the verge; just entering, but not actually entered. There remains, therefore, a sabbath-keeping for the people of God. Thither they are to be brought, and there are means for the road to keep us moving onward. But meanwhile we have not yet entered on the rest of God. It remains. Such is a main point, not of Hebrews 4 only, but of the epistle. It was the more urgent to insist on it, because the Jews, like others, would like to have been settled in rest here and now. This is natural and pleasant to the flesh, no doubt; but it is precisely what opposes the whole object of God in Christianity, since Christ went on high till He come again, and therefore the path of faith to which the children of God are called.
Accordingly, then, as suiting this pilgrim-path of the Christian, the tabernacle is referred to, and not the temple. And this is the more remarkable, because his language is essentially of the actual state of what was going on in the temple; but he always calls it the tabernacle. In truth, the substratum was the same, and therefore it was not only quite lawful so to call it, but if he had not, the design would have been marred. But this shows the main object of the Spirit of God in directing us for the type that applies to the believer now to an unsettled pilgrim-condition, not to Israel established in the land of promise.
To what, then, is the allusion to the sanctuary applied? To mark that as yet the veil was unrent. "Into the second [goes] the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way of the holies was not yet made manifest, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing: which is a figure for the present time according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not, as pertaining to the conscience, make him that did the religious service perfect; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation." With all this Christianity is contrasted. "But Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, nor by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood entered in once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption." Here the words "for us" had better be left out. They really mar the sense, because they draw attention not to the truth in itself so much as its application to us, which is not the point in Hebrews 9, but rather of Hebrews 10. Here it is the grand truth itself in its own character. What is the value, the import, of the sacrifice of Christ viewed according to God, and as bearing on His ways? This is the fact. Christ has gone into the presence of God," having obtained eternal redemption." For whom it may be is another thing, of which he will speak by-and-by. Meanwhile we are told that He has obtained (not a temporary, but) "eternal redemption." It is that which infinitely exceeds the deliverance out of Egypt, or any ceremonial atonement ever wrought by a high priest for Israel. Christ has obtained redemption, and this is witnessed by the token of the veil rent from top to bottom. The unrent veil bore evidence on its front that man could not yet draw near into the holiest — that he had no access into the presence of God. This is of the deepest importance. It did not matter whether it was a priest or an Israelite. A priest, as such, could no more draw near into the presence of God in the holiest than any of the common people. Christianity is stamped by this, that, in virtue of the blood of Christ, once for all for every believer the way is made manifest into the holiest of all. The veil is rent: the believer can draw near, as is shown in the next chapter; but meanwhile it is merely pointed out that there is no veil now, eternal redemption being obtained.
Thus does the apostle reason on it: "For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh" (which the Jew would not contest): "how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to do religious service to the living God? And for this cause he is mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, the called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." Thus the power of what Christ had wrought was now brought in for future ends; it was not merely retrospective, but above all in present efficacy while the Jews refuse Christ.
The allusion in the last clause to the eternal inheritance (for everything is eternal in the Hebrews, standing in decided contrast with Jewish things which were but for a season) leads the Holy Spirit to take up the other meaning of the same word, which was and is rightly enough translated covenant. At first sight every one may have been surprised, especially those that read the New Testament in the language in which God wrote it, at the double meaning of the word which is here translated "covenant." It (διαθήκη) means "testament" as well as "covenant." In point of fact the English translators did not know what to make of the matter; for they give sometimes one, sometimes the other, without any apparent reason for it, except to vary the phrase. In my judgment it is correct to translate it both ways, never arbitrarily, but according to context. There is nothing capricious about the usage. There are certain surroundings which indicate to the competent eye when the word "covenant" is right and when the word "testament" is better.
It may then be stated summarily, in few words, unless I am greatly mistaken, that the word should always be translated "covenant" in every part of the New Testament, except in these two verses; namely, Hebrews 9:16-17. If, therefore, when you find the word "testament" anywhere else in the authorized version, you turn it into "covenant" in my opinion you will not do amiss. If in these two verses we bear in mind that it really means "testament," growing out of the previous mention of the "inheritance," I am persuaded that you will have better understanding of the argument. In short, the word in itself may mean either; but this is no proof that it may indifferently or without adequate reason be translated both ways. The fact is, that love of uniformity may mislead some, as love of variety misled our English translators too often. It is hard to keep clear of both. Every one can understand, when once we find that the word means almost always "covenant," how great the temptation is to translate it so in but two other occurrences, especially as before and after it means "covenant" in the same passage. But why should it be "testament" in these two verses alone, and "covenant" in all other places? The answer is, that the language is peculiar and precise in these same two verses, requiring not a covenant but a testament, and therefore the sense of testament here is the preferable one, and not covenant. The reasons will be given in a moment.
First of all, as has been hinted, that which suggests "testament" is the end of verse 15 — "They which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." How is it that anybody ordinarily gets an inheritance? By a testament, to be sure, as every one knows. Such has been the usual form in all countries not savage, and in all ages. No figure therefore would be more natural than that, if God intended certain persons called to have an inheritance, there should be a testament about the matter. Accordingly advantage is taken of an unquestionable meaning of the word for this added illustration, which is based on the death of Christ, "Where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." That the word (διαθέμενος) in this connection means "testator" appears to me beyond just question. I am not aware that it is, nor do I believe that it could be, ever used in such a sense as "covenanting victim," for which some contend. It often means one who arranged or disposed of property, or anything else, such as a treaty or covenant.
Let us next apply the word "covenant" here, and you will soon see the insuperable difficulties into which you are plunged. If you say, "For where a covenant is, there must also of necessity be the death of the covenanter" — the person. Now is it an axiom, that a covenant-maker must die to give it force? It is quite evident, on the contrary, that this is not only not the truth which all recognize when stated, but altogether inconsistent with the Bible, with all books, and with all experience. In all the covenants of scripture the man that makes it has never to die for any such end. Indeed both should die; for it usually consists of two parties who are thus bound, and therefore, were the maxim true, both ought to die, which is an evident absurdity.
The consequence is, that many have tried (and I remember making efforts of that kind myself, until convinced that it could not succeed) to give ὁ διαθέμονος, in the English Bible rightly rendered "the testator," the force of the covenanting victim. But the answer to this is, that there is not a single writer in the language, not sacred only but profane, who employs it in such a sense. Those therefore that so translate our two verses have invented a meaning for the phrase, instead of accepting its legitimate sense as attested by all the monuments of the Greek tongue; whereas the moment that we give it the meaning assigned here rightly by the better translators, that is, the sense of "testator" and "testament," all runs with perfect smoothness, and with striking aptitude.
He is showing us the efficacy of Christ's death. He demonstrates its vicarious nature and value from the sacrifices so familiar to all then, and to the Jew particularly, in connection with the covenant that required them. Now his rapid mind seizes, under the Spirit's guidance, the other well-known sense of the word, namely, as a testamentary disposition, and shows the necessity of Christ's death to bring it into force. It is true that victims were sometimes slain in ratifying a covenant, and thus were the seal of that covenant; but, first, they were not essential; and, secondly and chiefly, ὁ διαθέμενος, the covenanter or contracting party had in no case to die in order to make the contract valid. On the other hand it is notoriously true, that in no case can a testament come into execution without the testator's death — a figure that every man at once discerns. There must be the death of him who so disposes of his property in order that the heir should take it under his testament. Which of these two most commends itself as the unforced meaning of the passage it is for the reader to judge. And observe that it is assumed to be so common and obvious a maxim that it could not be questioned. "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." The addition of this last clause as a necessary condition confirms the sense assigned. Had he merely referred to the covenant (i.e. the sense of the word which had been used before), what would be the aim of the "also?" It is just what he had been speaking of throughout, if covenant were still meant. Apply it to Christ's death as the testator, and nothing can be plainer or more forcible. The death of Christ, both in the sense of a victim sacrificed, and of a testator, though a double figure, is evident to all, and tends to the self-same point. "For a testament is of force after men are dead (or, in case of dead men, ἐπὶ νεκροῖς): since it is never of force when the testator liveth."
But now, returning from this striking instance of Paul's habit of going off at a word (διαθήκη), let us resume the regular course of the apostle's argument. "Whereupon neither the first [covenant] was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself, and all the people, saying, "This [is] the blood of the covenant which God hath enjoined unto you. And he sprinkled likewise with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are according to the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the representations of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into holies made with hands, figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us."
Thus distinctly have we set before us the general doctrine of the chapter, — that Christ has suffered but once, and has been offered but once; that the offering cannot be severed from the suffering. If He is to be often offered, He must also often suffer. The truth on the contrary is, that there was but one offering and but one suffering of Christ, once for all; in witness of the perfection of which He is gone into the presence of God, there to appear for us. Thus it will be observed, at the end of all the moral and experimental dealings with the first man (manifested in Israel), we come to a deeply momentous point, as in God's ways, so in the apostle's reasoning. Up to this time man was the object of those ways; it was simply, and rightly of course, a probation. Man was tried by all sorts of tests from time to time God knew perfectly well, and even declared here and there, the end from the beginning; but He would make it manifest to every conscience, that all He got from man in these His varied dealings was sin. Then comes a total change: God takes up the matter Himself, acting in view of man's sin; but in Jesus, in the very Messiah for whom the Jews were waiting, he has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and has accomplished this mighty work, as admirably befitting the goodness of God, as it alone descends low enough to reach the vilest man, and yet deliver him with a salvation which only the more humbles man and glorifies God. For now God came out, so to speak, in His own power and grace, and, in the person of Christ on the cross, put away sin — abolished it from before His face, and set the believer absolutely free from it as regards judgment.
"But now once in the consummation of the ages," — this is the meaning of "the end of the world;" it is the consummation of those dispensations for bringing out what man was. Man's worst sin culminated in the death of Christ who knew no sin; but in that very death He put away sin. Christ, therefore, goes into heaven, and will come again apart from sin. He has nothing more to do with sin; He will judge man who rejects Himself and slights sin, as He will appear to the salvation of His own people. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."
It is perfectly true that, if we think of Christ, He was here below absolutely without sin; but He who was without sin in His person, and all His life, had everything to do with sin on the cross, when God made Him to be sin for us. The atonement was at least as real as our sin; and God Himself dealt with Christ as laying sin upon Him, and treating Him, the Great Substitute, as sin before Himself, that at one blow it might be all put away from before His face. This He has done, and done with. Now accordingly, by virtue of His death which rent the veil, God and man stand face to face. What, then, is man's actual estate? "As it is appointed unto men once to die," — wages of sin, though not all, — "but after this the judgment," or the full wages of sin, — "so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;" — this He has finished; — "and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation." He will have nothing more to do with sin. He has so absolutely swept it away for those who believe on Him, that when He comes again, there will be no question of judgment, as far as they are concerned, but only of salvation, in the sense of their being cleared from the last relic or result of sin, even for the body. Indeed it is only the body that is here spoken of. As far as the soul is concerned, Christ would not go up to heaven until sin was abrogated before God. Christ is doing nothing there to take away sin; nor when He comes again will He touch the question of sin, because it is a finished work. Christ Himself could not add to the perfectness of that sacrifice by which He has put away sin. Consequently, when He comes again to them that look for Him, it is simply to bring them into all the eternal results of that great salvation.
In Hebrews 10 he applies the matter to the present state of the believer. He had shown the work of Christ and His coming again in glory. What comes in between the two? Christianity. And here we learn the direct application. The Christian stands between the cross and the glory of the Lord Jesus. He rests confidingly on the cross, that only valid moral basis before God; at the same time he is waiting for the glory that is to be revealed. "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." No Jew could or ought to pretend to such purgation as its result.
I should like to ask whether (or how far) all the believers here assembled can take this as their place with simplicity. You, as a Christian, ought to have the calm settled consciousness that God, looking on you, discerns not one spot or stain, but only the blood of Jesus Christ His Son that cleanses from all sin. You ought to have the consciousness that there is no judgment for you with God by-and-by, however truly He, as a Father, judges you now on earth. How can such a consciousness as this be the portion of the Christian? Because the Holy Ghost bears this witness, and nothing less, to the perfectness of the work of Christ. If God's word be true, and to this the Spirit adheres, the blood of Christ has thus perfectly washed away the sins of the believer. I mean his sins now; not sin as a principle, but in fact, though it be only for faith. "The worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." It is not implied that they may not sin, or that they have no consciousness of their failure, either past or present. "Conscience of sins" means a dread of God's judging one because of his sins. For this, knowing His grace in the work of Christ for them, they do not look; on the contrary, they rest in the assurance of the perfection with which their sins are effaced by the precious blood of Christ.
This epistle insists on the blood of Christ, making all to turn on that efficacious work for us. It was not so of old, when the Israelite brought his goat or calf. "In those sacrifices," referring to the law to which some Hebrew Christians were in danger of going back, "there is a remembrance made again of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins." Therefore all such recurring sacrifices only call sins to remembrance; but what the blood of Christ has done is so completely to blot them out, that God Himself says, "I will remember them no more.
Accordingly he now turns to set forth the contrast between the weakness and the unavailingness of the Jewish sacrifices, which, in point of fact, only and always brought up sins again, instead of putting them away as does the sacrifice of Christ. In the most admirable manner he proves that this was what God was all along waiting for. First of all, "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 said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God." There we find these two facts. First, in God's counsels it was always before Him to have One more than man though a man to deal with this greatest of all transactions. There was but One that could do God's will in that which concerned man's deepest wants. Who was this One? Jesus alone. As for the first Adam and all his race, their portion was only death and judgment, because he was a sinner. But here is One who proffers Himself to come, and does come. "In the volume of the book it is written of me" — a book which none ever saw but God and His Son. There it was written, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." Redemption was the first thought of God — a counsel of His previous to the dealings with man which made the necessity of redemption felt. God meant to have His will done, and thereby a people for Himself capable of enjoying His presence and His nature, where no question of sin or fall could ever enter.
First, He makes a scene where sin enters at once. Because His people had no heart for His promises, He imposed a system of law and ordinances that was unjudged in them, which provoked the sin, and made it still more manifest and heinous. Then comes forth the wondrous counsel that was settled before either the sin of man, or the promises to the fathers, or the law which subsequently put man to the test. And this blessed person, single-handed but according to the will of God, accomplishes that will in offering Himself on the cross.
So it is said here, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first" (that is, the law), "that he may establish the second" (that is, God's will, often unintelligently confounded by men with the law, which is here set in the most manifest contradistinction). Next the apostle, with increasing boldness, comes to the proof from the Old Testament that the legal institution as a whole was to be set aside. "He taketh away the first." Was this Paul's doctrine? There it was in the Psalms. They could not deny it to be written in the fortieth psalm. "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 said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do, thy will, O God." All he does is to interpret that will, and to apply it to what was wrought on the cross. "By the which will" (not man's, which is sin, but God's) "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
This leads to a further contrast with the action of the Aaronic priest. "Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God." Jesus sits down in perpetuity. This is the meaning of the phrase, not that He will sit there throughout all eternity. Εἰς τὸ διηνεκές does not express eternity (which would be εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, or some such form of words) but "for continuance." He sits there continually, in contrast with the Jewish priest, who was always rising up in order to do fresh work, because there was fresh sin; for their sacrifices never could absolutely put away sin. The fact was plain that the priest was always doing and doing, his work being never done; whereas now there is manifested, in the glorious facts of Christianity, a Priest sat down at God's right hand, a Priest that has taken His place there expressly because our sins are blotted out by His sacrifice. If there was any place for the priest, one might have supposed, to be active in his functions, it would be in the presence of God, unless the sins were completely gone. But they are completely gone; and therefore at God's right-hand sits down He who is its witness.
How could this be disputed by one who simply believed Psalm 110? For there is seen not only the proof that the Messiah is the One whom God pronounced by an oath "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec," but the glorious seat He has taken at the right-hand of God is now worked into this magnificent pleading. Christianity turns everything to account. The Jew never understood his law until the light of Christ on the cross and in glory shone upon it. So here the Psalms acquire a meaning self-evidently true, the moment Christ is brought in, who is the truth, and nothing less. Accordingly we have the third use of the seat Christ has taken. In the first chapter we saw the seat of personal glory connected with atonement; in the eighth chapter it is the witness of His priesthood, and where it is. Here it is the proof of the perpetual efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. We shall find another use before we have done, which I hope to notice in its place.
But the Holy Ghost's testimony is not forgotten. As it was God's will and the work of Christ, so the Holy Ghost is He who witnesses to the perfectness of it. It is also founded on one of their own prophets. "This is the covenant," says he, "that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."
Then we hear of the practical use of all. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holies by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high 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 bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our hope [for so it should be] without wavering (for he is faithful that promised); and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." But the higher the privilege, the greater the danger of either despising or perverting it.
In Hebrews 6, we saw that the Spirit of God brings in a most solemn warning for those who turn their back on the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, as bearing witness of Christianity. Here the apostle warns those that turn their back on Christ's one sacrifice. It is evident that in these we have the two main parts of Christianity. The foundation is sacrifice; the Power is of the Holy Ghost. The truth is, that the Holy Ghost is come down for the purpose of bearing His witness; and he that deserts this for Judaism, or anything else, is an apostate and lost man. And is he better or safer that slights the sacrifice of the Son of God, and goes back either to earthly sacrifices or to lusts of flesh, giving a loose rein to sin, which is expressly what the Son of God shed His blood to put away? He who, having professed to value the blessing of God abandons it, and rushes here below into the sins of the flesh knowingly and deliberately, is evidently no Christian at all. Accordingly it is shown that such an one becomes an adversary of the Lord, and God will deal with him as such. As in chapter 6 he declares that he is persuaded better things of them, than that they would abandon the Holy Ghost; so here he expected better things than that they would thus dishonour the sacrifice of Christ. In that case, he says, God was not unrighteous to forget their work and labour of love; in this case, he lets them know that he had not forgotten the way in which they had suffered for Christ. There it was more particularly the activity of faith; here it is the suffering of faith.
This leads into the life of faith, which was a great stumbling-block to some of these Christian Jews. They could not understand how it was they should come into greater trouble than before. They had never known so great and frequent and constant trial. It seemed as if everything went against them. They had looked for advance and triumph and peace and prosperity everywhere; on the contrary, they had come into reproach and shame, partly in their own persons, partly as becoming the companions of others who so suffered. But the apostle takes all this difficulty by the horns, as good as telling them, that their having suffered all this was simply because it is the right road. These two things, the cross on earth and glory on high, are correlative. As they are companions, so do they test a walk with God; one is faith, the other is suffering. This, he maintains, has always been so; it is no novelty he is preaching. Accordingly the epistle to the Hebrews, while it does put the believer in association with Christ, does not, for all this, dissociate him from whatever is good in the saints of God in every age. Hence the apostle takes care to keep up the real link with the past witnesses for God in faith and suffering, not in ordinances.
In the beginning of Hebrews 11 we are told what faith is. It is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It is no definition of what it is to believe, but a description of the qualities of faith. "For by it the elders obtained a good report." How could any believers put a slight upon it? "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God;" — a simple but a most sublime truth, and one that man never really found out — that we are entirely dependent on faith for after all. The wise men of the present day are fast giving up the truth of creation. They do not believe that God called all things into being. The greater number of them may use the word "creation," but it must never be assumed that they mean what they say. It is wise and necessary to examine closely what they mean. Never was there a time when men used terms with a more equivocal design than at the present moment. Hence they apply some terms to the work of God in nature similar to what they apply to His work in grace. The favourite thought is "development;" and so they hold a development or genesis of matter, not a creation: matter continually progressing, in various forms, until at last it has progressed into these wise men of our day. This is precisely what modern research amounts to. It is the setting aside of God, and the setting up of man; it is the precursor of the apostasy that is coming, which again will issue in man taking the place of God, and becoming the object of worship, instead of the true Creator. Nor is it that redemption only is denied, but creation also; so that there is very great importance in maintaining the rights and the truth of God in creation.
Therefore it is well to stand clear of all men's schemes and thoughts, ever rising up more and more presumptuously, because they mainly consist of some slight in one way or another on the word of God. A simple word of scripture settles a thousand questions. What the wise men of antiquity, the Platos and Aristotles, never knew — what the modern sages blunder about, without the slightest reason, after all — the word of God has made the possession of every child of His. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
There is no indulgence of human curiosity. We do not know the steps of His work, until we come to the preparation of an abode for man. Nothing can be more admirable than this reserve of God. We are not told the details of what preceded the great week when God made the man and the woman. I am not going to enter into any statement of facts as to this now, but there is no truth in its own place more important than that with which the apostle commences in this chapter, namely, that "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." It is not only that we believe it, but we understand it thereby. There is nothing more simple; at the same time it is just one of those questions that God has answered, and this so as to settle the mind perfectly, and fill the heart with praise. Man never did nor could settle it without the word of God. There is nothing here below so difficult for the natural mind; and for the simple reason that man can never rise above that which is caused. The reason is obvious — because he is caused himself. Therefore is it that men so naturally slip into, or rest on, second causes. He is only one of a series of existing objects, and consequently never can rise above that in his own nature. He may infer that there must be; but he never can say that there is. Reason is ever drawing conclusions; God is, and reveals what is. I may, of course, see what is before my eyes, and may so far have sensible evidence of what exists now; but it is only God who can tell me that He in the beginning caused to be that which now is. God alone who spake it into being can pronounce upon it. This is just what the believer receives, feeds on, and lives accordingly.
"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." It is possible that the word "worlds," which is a Hebraistic word, belonging to the Alexandrian Jews particularly, may embrace dispensations; but undoubtedly the material world is included in it. It may mean the worlds governed by dispensations; but still that the idea of the whole universe is in it cannot be fairly contested by competent minds. "The worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen" — which would not be the case if it was only a dispensation — "were not made of things which do appear."
Having laid this as the first application of faith, the next question is — when man fell, how was he to approach God? The answer is, by sacrifice. This then is brought before us. "By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain."
The third point is how to walk with God, and this again is by faith. Thus in every case it is faith. It owns the creation; it recognizes sacrifice as the only righteous means of being accepted with God — the only means of approaching Him worthily. Faith, again, is the only principle of walk with God; as it is, again, the only means of realizing the judgment of God coming on all around us.
Here, it is plain, we have the chief lineaments of revealed truth. That is to say, God is owned in His glory, as Creator of all by His word. Then, consequent on the fall, comes the ground of the believer's acceptance; then his walk with God, and deliverance from His judgment of the whole scene, in the midst of which we actually are. Faith brings God into everything. (Verses 1-7.)
But then comes far more definite instruction, and, beginning with Abraham, the details of faith. The father of the faithful was the one first called out by promise. At first it was (ver. 8) but the promise of a land; but when in the land he received the promise of a better country, that is, a heavenly, which raised his eyes to the city on high, in express contrast with the earthly land. When he dwelt in Mesopotamia, he had a promise to bring him into Canaan; and when he got there, he had a promise of what was higher to lead his heart above. At the end of his course there was a still heavier tax on him. Would he give up the one that was the type of the true Seed, the progenitor, and the channel of the promised blessing, yea, of the Blesser? He knew that in Isaac his seed was to be called. Would he give up Isaac? A most searching and practical question, the very unseen hinge in God Himself on which not Christianity only, but all blessing, turns for heaven and earth, at least as far as the fallen creation is concerned. For what did the Jews wait in hope? For Christ, on whom the promises depend. And of what did Christianity speak? Of Christ who was given up to death, who is risen and gone above, in whom we find all the blessing promised, and after a better sort. Thus it is evident that the introduction of the last trial of Abraham was of all possible moment to every one that stood in the place of a son of Abraham. The severest and final trial of Abraham's faith was giving up the son, in whom all the promises were infolded, to receive him back on a resurrection ground in figure. It was, parabolically, like that of Christ Himself. The Jews would not have Him living. The Christians gained Him in a far more excellent way after the pattern of resurrection, as Abraham at the close received Isaac as it were from the dead.
Then we have the other patriarchs introduced, yet chiefly as regards earthly hopes, but not apart from resurrection, and its connection with the people of God here below. On these things I need not now dwell farther than to characterize all, from Abraham inclusively, as the patience of faith. (Verses 8-22.)
Then, having finished this part of the subject, the apostle turns to another characteristic in believers — the mighty power of faith which knows how to draw on God, and breaks through all difficulties. It is not merely that which goes on quietly waiting for the accomplishment of the counsels of God. This it was of all consequence to have stated first. And for this simple reason: no place is given herein to man's importance. Had the energetic activity of faith been first noticed, it would have made more of man; but when the heart had been disciplined in quiet endurance, and lowly expectancy from God, then he could be clothed with the energy of the Spirit. Both are true; and Moses is the type of the latter, as Abraham of the former. Accordingly we find everything about Moses, as well as done by him, extraordinary. His deliverance was strange; still more his decision and its results. He goes out, deliberately and knowingly, just at the time of life when a man is most sensitive to the value of a grand sphere of influence, as well as exercise of his powers, wherein, too, he could have ordinarily exerted all in favour of his people. Not so Moses. He acted in faith, not policy. He made nothing of himself, because he knew they were God's people. Accordingly he became just the more the vessel of divine power to the glory of God. He chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward." And what then? "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." This was in the ways of God the necessary moral consequence of his self-abnegation.
"Through faith he instituted the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned." These two last verses bear witness to the grace of God in redemption. In the blood of the Lamb, sprinkled on the door-posts of Israel, we see the type of God's judgment of their sins; next, in the passage of the Red sea, the exhibition of His power, which, in the most conspicuous way, saved them, and destroyed for ever their enemies. But whether the one or the other, all was by faith.
But mark another striking and instructive feature of this chapter. No attention is paid here to the march through the wilderness, any more than to the establishment in the land, still less to the kingdom. We have just the fact of their passing through the Red sea, and no more; as we have the fall of Jericho, and no more. The intention here was not to dwell either on the scene in which their waiting was put to the test, the wilderness, or on anything that could insinuate the settled position of Israel in the land. As to the pathway through the wilderness, it had been disposed of in Hebrews 4. The grounds why Canaan could not consistently be made prominent in this epistle as a present thing, but only as a hope, we have already seen.
This deeply interesting chapter closes with the reason why those who had thus not only lived but died in faith did not get the promise: "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." What was this "better thing"? Can there be a doubt that Christianity is meant? that good portion which shall not be taken away from those who cleave to the Crucified, who is now exalted in heaven? One can well understand that the apostle would leave his readers to gather thus generally what it must have been. God then has provided some better thing for us. He has brought in redemption in present accomplishment, and at the same time He has given scope for a brighter hope, founded on His mighty work on the cross, measured by Christ's glory as its present answer at the right hand of God. Hence He crowns the noble army of witnesses with Christ Himself. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking off unto Jesus the captain and completer of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
This is a different way of looking at His session there. In all the other passages of the epistle the meaning of the word is, that He took His seat, or simply sat down there. It is the fact that there He sat down; but in this place it will be observed that His taking His seat there is the reward of the life of faith. As the result of enduring the cross, having despised the shame, the word for sitting down here has a remarkably beautiful shade of meaning different from what is given in all the other occurrences. Its force implies that it is not merely what He did once, but what He is also doing still. Attention is drawn to the permanence of His position at the right hand of God. Of course it is true that Jesus took His seat there, but more is conveyed in the true form of the text (κεκάθικεν) here.
This, however, only by the way. Beyond question the Lord is regarded as the completer of the whole walk of faith in its deepest and, morally, most glorious form. Instead of having one person illustrating one thing, another person another, the Lord Jesus sums up the perfection of all trial in His own pathway, not as Saviour only, but in the point of view of bearing witness in His ways for God here below. Who ever walked in faith as He? For indeed He was a man as really as any other, though infinitely above man.
From this practical lessons of great value are drawn. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children." Thus the first part of the chapter shows us simply what God holds out to the new man; but the epistle to the Hebrews never looks at the Christian simply in the new man, but rather as a concrete person. From the beginning to the end of it the Christian in Hebrews is not thus dealt with apart from the old nature, as we may see him regarded in the ordinary epistles of Paul, where the old and the new man are most carefully separated. It is not the case in the epistles of James and Peter, with which so far the epistle to the Hebrews agrees. The reason I take to be, that the apostle meets the Jewish believer where he is, as much as possible giving credit for what was really true in the Old Testament saints, and so in the Jewish mind. Now it is evident that in the Old Testament the distinction was not made between flesh and spirit in the way in which we have it brought out in the general doctrine of Christianity.
The apostle is dealing with the saints as to their walk; and as he had shown how Christ alone had purged the sins of the believer, and how He is on high, as the Priest in the presence of God, to intercede for them in their weakness and dangers; so now, when he is come to the question of the walk of faith, Christ is the leader of that walk. Accordingly, this is an appeal to the hearts which cleave to Christ the rejected King, and Holy Sufferer, who is now in glory above. He necessarily completes all as the pattern for the Christian. But then there are impediments as well as sin, by which the enemy would keep us from the race set before us; whilst God carries on His discipline in our favour. And the apostle shows that we need not only a perfect pattern in the walk of faith, but chastenings by the way. This, he says, must be from a father who loves his true and faulty children: others enjoy no such care. First of all, it is love that calls us to the path that Christ trod; next, it is love that chastens us. Christ never needed this, but we do. He reasons that, while our parents only chastise us the best way they can (for after all their judgment might not be perfect), the Father of spirits never fails. He has but one settled purpose of goodness about us; He watches and judges for our good, and nothing but our good. He has set His mind upon making us patterns of His holiness. It is what He carries on now. Fully does He allow, as connected with this, that the chastening seems not joyous but grievous. We begin with His love, and shall end in it without end. He only removes obstructions, and maintains our communion with Himself; surely this ought to settle every question for the believer. If we know His perfect love and the wisdom of it, we have the best answer to silence every murmuring thought or wish of the heart.
There is nothing more serious than to set grace against holiness. Nowhere does the apostle give the smallest occasion for such a thought. So here he tells them to "follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man lack the grace of God." It is not a question of the law, which a Jew might naturally conceive to be the standard of the will of God now as of old for Israel. How easily we even forget that we are not Jews but Christians! Reason can appreciate not grace but law; and so people are apt, when things go wrong, to bring in the law. It is quite legitimate to employ it in an à fortiori way, as the apostle does in Ephesians 6. For assuredly if Jewish children honoured their father and mother on legal grounds, much more ought Christian children on grounds of grace.
Another great call was, to beware "lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." Thus you see, either corrupt passion on the one hand or profanity on the other, are unsparingly condemned by the grace of God. If the law could show little mercy in such a case, the grace of God views all sin as intolerable.
This leads him, from speaking of Esau's case, to add as a known fact, that afterward, when he desired to have inherited the blessing, he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it carefully with tears. That is, he sought carefully with tears the blessing given to Jacob; but there was no room left for repentance, simply in the sense of change of mind; for, I suppose, the word here has that sense, which sometimes, no doubt, it has. In its ordinary usage, it has a much deeper force. Every change of mind is far from being repentance, which doctrinally means that special and profound revolution in the soul when we take God's part against ourselves, judging our past ways, yea, what we are in His sight. This Esau never sought; and there never was one who did seek and failed to find it. Esau would have liked well to have got or regained the blessing; but this was given of God otherwise, and he had forfeited it himself. Arranged all beforehand, neither Isaac's partiality nor Jacob's deceit was able to divert the channel. His purpose utterly failed to secure the blessing for his profane but favourite son. He saw his error at last, and put his seal on God's original appointment of the matter.
And here we are favoured with a magnificent picture of Christianity in contrast with Judaism. We are not come to Sinai, the mountain that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and a voice more terrible than that of the elements. To what then are we come? To mount Zion. And what is its distinctive character as here introduced? If we examine the historical facts as found in the Old Testament story, what is it rises up before all eyes as to Zion? When does it first appear? After the people had been tried and found wanting; after the priests had wrought, if possible, greater corruption; after the king of Israel's choice had reduced them to the lowest degradation. It was therefore a crisis after the most painful accumulation of evils that weighed on the heart of Israel. But if people and priest and king were proved thus vain, God was there, and His grace could not fail. Their abject ruin placed them just in the circumstances that suited the God of all grace. At that very moment therefore the tide begins to turn. God brings forward His choice, David, when the miserable end of Saul and Jonathan saw the Philistines triumphant, and Israel disheartened as they had scarce been beyond that moment. The hill of Zion up to this time had been the constant menace of the enemy against the people of the Lord; but in due time, when David reigned, it was wrested out of the hands of the Jebusites, and became the stronghold of Jerusalem, the city of the king. Thenceforward how it figures in the Psalms and prophets! This then is the monument for such as we are. Let blinded Jews turn their sightless eyeballs to the mountain of Sinai. Let men who can see only look there, and what will be found? Condemnation, darkness, death. But what at Zion? The mighty intervention of God in grace — yea, more than that, forgiveness, deliverance, victory, glory, for the people of God.
For not merely did David receive from Jehovah that throne, but never were the people of God lifted out of such a state of distress and desolation, and placed on such a height of firm and stable triumph as under that one man's reign. He had beyond all mere men known sorrow and rejection in Israel; yet he himself not only mounted the throne of Jehovah, but raised up His people to such power and prosperity as was never reached again. For although outwardly, no doubt, the prosperity lasted in the time of Solomon, it was mainly the fruit of David's suffering, and power, and glory. God honoured the son for the father's sake. It remained for a brief season; but even then it soon began to show rents down to the foundations, which became apparent too, too quickly in Solomon's son. With Zion then the apostle justly begins. Where is the mountain that could stand out so well against Sinai? What mountain in the Old Testament so much speaks of grace, of God's merciful interference for His people when all was lost?
Rightly then we begin with Zion, and thence may we trace the path of glory up to God Himself, and down to the kingdom here below. Impossible to rise higher than the Highest, whence therefore the apostle descends to consequences. Indeed we may say that the whole epistle to the Hebrews is just this: we start from the foundation of grace up to God Himself in the heavens; and thence springs the certainty that the stream of grace is not exhausted, and that undoubtedly it will issue in unceasing blessing by-and-by for the earth, and for the people of Israel above all, in the day of Jehovah.
Accordingly we have a remarkable line of blessing pursued for our instruction here. "Ye are come unto mount Zion," which was the highest Old Testament point of grace on earth. Others doubtless could speak of their Ararat, their Olympus, their Etna; but which boasted of the true God that loved His people in the way that Zion could? But would a Jew infer hence that it was only the city of David he was speaking of? Let him learn his error. "And unto the city of the living God, (not of dying David,) the heavenly Jerusalem" (not the earthly capital of Palestine). This I take to be a general description of the scene of glory for which Abraham looked. He could know nothing of the mystery of the church, Christ's body, nor of her bridal hopes; but he did look for what is called here the "heavenly Jerusalem," that city "whose maker and builder is God." In this phrase there is no allusion whatever to the church; nor indeed anywhere in the Hebrews is there any reference to its distinctive portion in union with its Head. When it says that Abraham looked for the city, it means a blessed and ordered scene of glory on high, which eclipsed the Holy Land before his eyes. This, however, does not mean the church, but rather the future seat of general heavenly bliss for the glorified saints.
Then he adds: "And to myriads of angels, the general assembly" — for such is the true way to divide the verse — "and to the church of the firstborn," etc. This proves that the city of the heavenly Jerusalem does not mean the church, because here they are certainly distinguished from each other, which therefore completely settles all the argument that is often founded on Abraham's looking for a heavenly city. It was not the church, I repeat, but what God prepares above for those who love Him. True, the apostle John uses this very city as the figure of the bride. But this essential difference separates between the city for which Abraham looked and the bride so symbolised in the Apocalypse. When the apostle Paul, speaks of "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," he means the scene of future heavenly blessedness; whereas when John speaks of the new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, he means, not where but what we are to be. The difference is very great. The epistle sets before us the seat of glory prepared on high; the Revelation speaks of the bride represented as a glorious golden city with figures beyond nature. The one is what may be called the objective glory; the other is the subjective condition of those that compose the bride, the Lamb's wife.
Having brought us to see the "church of the firstborn which are written in heaven," the apostle next can only speak of "God the Judge of all." He describes Him thus in His judicial character. The reason appears to be, because he is going to tell us of the Old Testament saints. They had known God in His providence and dealings on the earth, though looking for a Messiah and His day. Hence, therefore, he now introduces us "to the spirits of just men made perfect." These evidently are the elders of olden times. None but the Old Testament saints, as a class, can all be in the separate state: not the church, or New Testament saints, for we shall not all sleep; nor the millennial saints, for none of them will die. The reference is therefore plain and sure.
Then we hear of "Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant" — the pledge of Israel's full and changeless blessing. Lastly, he points "to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better than Abel:" the assurance that the earth shall be delivered from its long sorrow and slavery.
Thus the chain of blessedness is complete. He has shown its the symbolic mount of grace in Zion, contrasted with Sinai the mountain of law. If the one figured the imposed measure of man's responsibility, which can only but most justly condemn him, in the other we behold the mountain of God's grace after all was lost. Then follows the heavenly glory, to which grace naturally leads; then the natural inhabitants of the heavenly land, namely, the angels — "and to myriads of angels, the general assembly." Then he shows us others higher than these, by a divine call — "and to the church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven." They do not belong to heaven like the angels; but God had an eternal purpose, which brought them by an extraordinary favour there. And then, in the centre of all, we have God Himself. But having looked up to Him who is above all, he speaks of the highest group next to God in His judicial character, namely, the Old Testament saints. Then he descends to a new or fresh covenant (not καινῆς, as elsewhere, but νέας), the recently inaugurated covenant for the two houses of the ancient people. Although the blood on which that covenant was founded may be now long shed, when the covenant comes into force for them will it not be as fresh as the day the precious Victim died and shed His blood? The reference here I cannot but regard as exclusively to the two houses of Israel. And as thus were shown the people immutably blessed (for salt shall not be wanting to that covenant) in the scene that will soon come, we finally hear of the earth itself joyful in the curse removed for ever. It is "the blood that speaketh better than Abel." For the martyred saint's blood the earth cried to God for vengeance; but Christ's blood proclaims mercy from God, and the millennial day will be the glorious witness of its depth, and extent, and stability, before the universe.
The rest of the chapter brings in, accordingly, the closing scene, when the Lord comes to shake everything, and establish that blessed day. But although it will be the shaking of all things, not of earth only but also heaven, yet, marvellous to say, such confidence of heart does grace give, that this, which may be regarded as the most awful threat, turns into a blessed promise. Think of the shaking of heaven and earth being a promise! Nothing but absolute establishment of heart in God's grace could have gazed on a destroyed universe, and yet call it a "promise." But it is the language for us to learn and speak, as we are called to rest on God and not on the creature.
The last chapter (Heb. 13) follows this up with some practical exhortations as to brotherly love continuing; then as to kindness to strangers, or hospitality; finally, as to pity for those in bonds. "Be mindful of those in bonds, as bound with them; and of those which suffer adversity." Again he insists upon the honour and purity of the marriage tie, and the abhorrence that God has for those that despise and corrupt it, and the sure judgment which will come upon them. He presses a conversation without covetousness, and a spirit of content, founded on our confidence in the Lord's care.
At the same time he exhorts the believers as to their chiefs, that is, those who guided them spiritually. It is likely that the Hebrew believers were somewhat unruly. And their relation to their leaders he puts forward in various forms. First, they were to remember those that once ruled them. Those were now gone from the scene of their trials and labours, of "whom, considering the issue of their conversation, imitate the faith."
This naturally leads the apostle to bring before them One that never ends — "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." Why should His saints be carried away with questions about meats and drinks? He is the same unchangingly and evermore, as He has ever been. "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established in grace." See how this word, this thought, always predominates in the epistle. Why turn back to "meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein?"
Had they been taunted with having no altar, possessing nothing so holy and so glorious in its associations? It was only owing to the blindness of Israel. For, says he, "we have an altar," yea, more than that, an altar, "whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." You that go after the tabernacle (as he persists in calling it, even though now the temple) have no title to our altar, with its exhaustless supplies. To us Christ is all.
But this becomes the occasion of a remarkable allusion, on which I must for a moment dwell. He draws attention to the well-known rites of the atonement day; at any rate, if not of that day exclusively, wherever there was a beast the body of which was burnt without the camp, and the blood carried within the veil. Do you not discern in this striking combination the distinctive features of Christianity? Alas! it is not the dulness of Jewish prejudice only, but exactly what is denied by every system of which men boast in Christendom. For these very features did Judaism despise the gospel. But let not the Gentile boast, no less unbelieving no less arrogant, against true Christianity. Christendom precisely takes the middle ground of Judaism between these two extremes. The mean looks and sounds well, but is utterly false for the Christian. The two extremes, offensive to every lover of the viâ media of religious rationalism, must be combined in Christianity and the Christian man, if he is to maintain it unimpaired and pure. The first is, that in spirit the Christian is now brought by redemption, without spot or guilt, into the presence of God. If you believe in Christ at all, such is your portion — nothing less. If I know what Christ's redemption has accomplished for all who believe, I must know that God has given me this. He honours the work of Christ, according to His estimate of its efficacy, as it is only according to His counsels about us for Christ's glory. Of this we saw somewhat in Hebrews 10. And what is the effect of it? As a Christian I am now free, by God's will, to go in peace and assurance of His love into the holiest of all — yes, now. I speak, of course, of our entrance there only in spirit.
As to the outer man also, we must learn to what we are called now. The apostle argues that, just as the blood of the beast was brought into the holiest of all, while the body of the same animal was taken outside the camp and burnt, so this too must be made good in our portion. If I have an indisputable present title of access into the holiest of all, I must not shrink from the place of ashes outside the camp. He that possesses the one must not eschew the other. In these consists our double present association by faith, while on the earth. The apostle earnestly insists on them both. We belong to the holiest of all, and we act upon it, if we act rightly, when we worship God; nay, when we draw near to God in prayer at all times. Brought nigh to God by the blood of Jesus, we have perfect access, so that there is nothing between God and us; for Christ suffered once to bring us to God, as He intercedes that we may have communion with Him in this place of nearness. Our being brought to God supposes, and is founded on the fact, that our sins are gone perfectly by His one offering; otherwise no madness is greater than indulging such a thought. If it be not the truth, it would be the height of presumption indeed. But far from this, it is the simple fact of the gospel. "He suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust," says another apostle, "that he might bring us" — not to pardon, nor to peace, nor to heaven, but — "to God." Compare also Eph. 2. We are brought, then, washed from our sins, to God, and, according to this epistle, into the holiest of all, where He displays Himself. The real presumption, therefore, is to pretend to be a Christian, and yet to doubt the primary fundamental truth of Christianity as to this.
But the bodies of those beasts were burnt without the camp: my place, so far as I in the body am concerned, is one of shame and suffering in this world.
Are those two things true of you? If you have and prize one alone, you have only got the half of Christianity — yea, of its foundations. Are they both true of you? Then you may bless God that He has so blessed you, and given you to know as true of yourself that which, if not so known, effectually prevents one from having the full joy and bearing the due witness as an unworldly and simple-hearted servant of Christ here below. It is true, He does not always call at once into the place of reproach and suffering. He first brings us into the joy and nearness of His presence. He satisfies us with the perfectness with which Christ has washed us from our sins in His blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father. But having done this, He points us to the place of Christ without the camp. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach." This was the very thing that these Jewish Christians were shrinking from, if not rebelling against. They had not made up their minds to suffer: to be despised was odious in their eyes. Nor is it pleasant to nature. But the apostle lets them know that if they understood their true blessing, this was the very part of it that was inseparably bound up with their present nearness to God, as set forth typically by the central and most important rite of the Jewish system. This is the meaning of the blood carried within, and of the body burnt without.
Let us then seek to combine these two things: perfect nearness to God, and the place of utter scorn in the presence of man. Christendom prefers the middle course; it will have neither the conscious nearness to God, nor the place of Christ's reproach among men. All the effort of Christendom is first to deny the one, and then to escape from the other. I ask my brethren here if they are looking to God strenuously, earnestly, for themselves and for their children, not to allow but to oppose as their adversary every thing that tends to weaken either of these truths, which are our highest privilege and our truest glory as Christians here below. What a surprise to the Hebrew believers to find such truths as these so strikingly shown out in type even in the Jewish system!
But the apostle goes farther, as indeed was due to truth. These characteristics he proves to be really found in Christ Himself. He is evidently gone into the holiest of all in His own person. But how? What had immediately preceded this? The cross. Thus the cross and heavenly glory must go together. The gracious Lord gives and designs that we should take His own place both in heaven and here. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp." This is just the closing practical word of the epistle to the Hebrews. God was going openly to set aside the Jewish system, as it had already been judged morally in the cross of Christ. When the Messiah was crucified, Judaism was in principle a dead thing: if it was in any sense kept up, it was no more than a decent time before its burial. But now God sends His final summons, founded on their own ritual, to His people who were hankering after the dead, instead of seeing the Living One on high. He as it were repeats, "Let the dead bury the dead." The Romans will do the last sad offices. But as for you who believe in Jesus, wait not for the Romans; let Judaism be nothing but a corpse, which does not concern you. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach."
This was a final call; and how gracious! If God had reserved the epistle to the Hebrews until after He sent forth His armies and burned up their city, destroying their polity root and branch, it might have been retorted that the Christians valued the Jewish ritual as long as it was available, and only gave it up when earthly temple and sacrifice and priest were gone. But God took care to summon His children outside — to abandon the whole system before it was destroyed. They were to leave the dead to bury their dead; and they did so. But Christendom has wholly failed to profit by the call, and is doomed to perish by a judgment yet more solemn and wide-spread than that which swept away the ancient temple.
Another point follows, connected with what we have had before us, and demanding our attention. Instead of pining after that which is about to be destroyed, or repining at the call to go out to the place of Christ's shame on earth, Christianity, which replaces Judaism now, may well cause us to offer "the sacrifice of praise to God continually." There are two kinds of sacrifice to which we are now called. "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, confessing his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." That may have a higher character, these a lower; but even the highest is never to supersede or make us forgetful of the lowest.
Then comes a second exhortation as to their guides, or leading men among the brethren. (Compare Acts 15:22.) Obey your leaders, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as those that shall give account." There is no sanction here, of course, of the vulgar and outrageous error that pastors give an account of the souls of their flock. It is an idea that superstition hatched, for the purpose of spuriously exalting a clerical order. The meaning is, that spiritual guides shall give an account of their own behaviour in watching over other souls; for it is a work that calls for much jealousy over self, patience with others, painstaking labour, lowliness of mind, and that hearty love which can bear all, endure all, believe all. There is then the solemn admonition of the account they are to render by-and-by. They watch as those that shall give an account. Now is the time for self-denying labour, and endurance in grace; by-and-by the account must be given to the Lord that appointed them. And the apostle would that their work of watching might be done with joy, and not groaning for this would be unprofitable for the saints.
But even the apostle felt his own need of the prayers of the faithful, not because he had gone wrong, but because he was conscious of no hindrance to his work from a bad conscience. "Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience; in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner."
Then he commends the saints to God. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect you in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of the ages."
Finally, he beseeches his brethren to hear the word of exhortation. Such is pre-eminently the bearing of this epistle to those who had no such frequent opportunities of profiting by his teaching as the Gentile churches. We can understand, therefore, both the delicacy that thus entreated them, and the meaning of the added words, "for also in few words I have written to you." Nor does it seem so natural for any as the great apostle to inform them of his child and fellow-labourer: "Know that the brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come pretty soon, I will see you. Salute all your leaders, and all the saints. They from Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen."
Thus the apostle closes this most striking and precious epistle, brimful to overflowing with that which had an especial and very touching interest to a Jew, but nevertheless needed as certainly by us, and as rich in instruction for us in this day as for those at any time that has passed away. For let me say this as a parting word, and I say it advisedly, because of circumstances that might well be before our hearts, — no deliverance, however enjoyed, no place of death to law, world, or sin, no privilege of union with Christ, will enable a soul to dispense with the truths contained in this epistle to the Hebrews. We are still walking here below; we are in the place therefore where infirmity is felt, where Satan tempts, where we may fail through unwatchfulness. The greater part of the affections of the Christian are drawn out toward our Saviour by all this scene of sin and sorrow through which we are passing on to heaven. If we formed our Christian character practically on such epistles as those to the Ephesians and Colossians alone, depend on it there may not be the hard lines of the law, but there will be very far from the fervent affections which become him who feels the grace of Christ. Be assured it is of the deepest possible moment to cherish the activity of Christ's present love and care for us, the activity of that priesthood which is the subject of this epistle. Holding fast the permanence of the blotting out of our guilt, may we nevertheless and besides own the need of such an One as Christ to intercede for us, and deal in grace with all our feebleness or faults. The Lord forbid that anything should enfeeble our sense of the value and necessity of such daily grace. There may be that which calls for confusion of face in us, but there is unceasing ground also for thanksgiving and praise, however much we have to humble ourselves in the sight of God.
London: W. H. Broom, Paternoster Row.