‘Do enter’ — but on a hundred gravestones you will read ‘He entered into rest’ on such and such a day, as a synonym for ‘He died.’ It is strange that an expression which the writer of this Epistle takes pains to emphasise as referring to a present experience should, by common consent, in popular use, have been taken to mean a future blessing. If nominal Christians had found more frequently that their faith was strong enough to produce its natural effects, they would not have so often misunderstood our writer. He does not say, ‘We, when we die, shall enter into rest,’ but ‘We who have believed do enter.’
It is a bold statement, and the experience of the average Christian seems to contradict it. But if the fruit of faith is repose; and if we who say we have faith are full of unrest, the best thing we can do is not to doubt the saying, but to look a little more closely whether we have fulfilled its conditions.
‘We which have believed do enter into rest.’
I. So, then, the first thing to be noted here is the present rest of faith.
I say ‘faith’ rather than ‘belief,’ because I wish to emphasise the distinction between the Christian notion of faith, and the common notion of belief. The latter is merely the acceptance of a proposition as true; and that is not enough to bring rest to any soul, though it may bring rest to the understanding. It is a great pity, though one does not quite see how it could have been avoided, that so frequently in the New Testament, to popular apprehension, the depth of the meaning. of that one requirement of faith is obscured because it is represented in our version by the word ‘believe,’ which has come to be appropriated to the mere intellectual act. But if you will notice that the writer of this Epistle uses two other words as interchangeable with ‘belief,’ you will understand the depth of his meaning better. Sometimes he speaks of our ‘confidence’ — by which he means precisely the same thing. Sometimes he speaks of our ‘obedience ‘ — by which he means precisely the same thing. So there is an element of voluntary submission implied, and there is an element of outgoing confidence implied in the word. And when he says, ‘We which have believed do enter into rest,’ he does not mean ‘We which acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, But we who, acknowledging, let our hearts go out to Him in trust, and our wills bow down before Him in obedience and submission. We thereby do enter into rest.’ Carry with you these two thoughts, then — ‘confidence’ and ‘obedience’ — as indispensable elements in the New Testament conception of faith, and then you can understand the great saying of my text.
Trust brings rest, for the trust which grasps Jesus Christ, not only intellectually, but with the reliance of the whole nature upon Him to do for me that which my understanding believes that He will do — that trust brings rest because it sweeps away, as the north wind does the banded clouds on the horizon, all the deepest causes of unrest. These are our perverted relation to God, and the alienation of our hearts from Him. Brother! there is no rest deep as life which does not flow from rejoicing confidence in Christ’s great sacrifice by which the innermost source of conflict and disturbance in our souls has been dealt with. Most of us are contented if there be a superficial appearance of calm, like the sunny vineyard on the slopes of a volcano, whilst-in the heart of it sulphurous fires are bubbling and boiling, and will burst out some day. What is the worth of a tranquillity which only survives on condition of our ignoring the most patent and most operative fact in our lives? It is only when you shuffle God out of your consciousness, and when you wink hard so as not to see the facts of your own moral condition and sinfulness, or when you sophisticate yourself into illogical and unreasonable diminution of the magnitude and gravity of your sins, that some of you know a moment’s rest. If the curtain were once drawn aside, and we were brought face to face with the realities of heaven and the realities of our own characters, all this film of apparent peace would break and burst, and we should be left to face the trouble that comes whenever a man’s relation with God is, consciously to himself, perverted and wrong. But trust brings rest; rest from the gnawing of conscience, rest from the suspicion of evil consequences resulting from contact with the infinite divine righteousness, rest from all the burden of guilt, which is none the less heavy because the man appears to be unconscious of it. It is there all the same. ‘We which have believed do enter into rest,’ because our trust brings about the restoration of the true relation to God and the forgiveness of our sins. Trust brings rest, because it casts all our burdens on another. Every act of reliance, though it does not deliver from responsibility, delivers from anxiety. We see this even when the object of our trust is but a poor creature like ourselves. Husbands and wives who find settled peace in one another; parents and children; patrons and protected, and a whole series of other relationships in life, are witnesses to the fact that the attitude of reliance brings the actuality of repose. A little child goes to sleep beneath its mother’s eye, and is tranquil, not only because it is ignorant but because it is trustful. So if we will only get behind the shelter, the blast will not blow about us, but we shall be in what they call on the opposite side of the Tweed, in a word that is music in the ears of some of us — a ‘lown place,’ where we hear not the loud winds when they call. Trust is rest; even when we lean upon an arm of flesh, though that trust is often disappointed. What is the depth of the repose that comes not from trust that leans against something supposed to be a steadfast oak, that proves to be a broken reed, but against the Rock of Ages? We which have ‘believed do enter into rests’ Trust brings repose, because it effects submission. The true reason for our restlessness in this world is not that we are ‘pelted by the pitiless storm’ of change and sorrow. A grief accepted loses most of its power to sadden, and all its power to perturb. It is not outward calamities, but a rebellious will that troubles us. The bird beats itself against the wires of its cage, and wounds itself, whereas if it sat still in its captivity it might sing. So when we trust we submit; and submission is the mother of peace. There is no other consolation worth naming for our sorrows, except the consolation that comes from submission. When we accept them, lie still, let him strike home and kiss the rod, we shall be at rest.
Trust brings repose, because it leads to satisfied desires. We are restless because each object that we pursue yields but a partial satisfaction, and because all taken together are inadequate to our needs. There is but one Person who can fill the heart, the mind, the will, and satisfy our whole nature. No accumulation of things, be they ever so precious, even if they are the higher or more refined satisfactions of the intellect, can ever satisfy the heart. And no endless series of finite persons is sufficient for the wants of any one of the series, who, finite as he is, yet needs an infinite satisfaction. It must be a person that shall fill all the cavities and clefts of our hearts, and, filling them, gives us rest. ‘My soul thirsteth for God,’ though I misinterpret its thirst, and, like a hot dog upon a road, try to slake my thirst by lapping at any puddle of dirty water that I come across in my path. There is no satisfaction there. It is in God, and in God only, that we can find repose.
Some of us may have seen a weighty acknowledgment from a distinguished biologist lately deceased which strikes me as relevant to this thought.
Listen to his confession: ‘I know from experience the intellectual distractions of scientific research, philosophical speculation, and artistic pleasures, but am also well aware that even when all are taken together, and well sweetened to taste, in respect of consequent reputation, means, social position, etc., the whole concoction is but as light confectionery to a starving man … It has been my lot to know not a few of the foremost men of our generation, and I have always observed that this is profoundly true.’ That is the testimony of a man who had tried the highest, least material forms of such a trust. And I know that there is an ‘amen’ to it in every heart, and I lift up opposite to all such experiences the grand summary of Christian experience: ‘We which have believed do enter into rest.’
II. Note, secondly, the energy of work which accompanies the rest of faith.
There is a good deal said in the context — a difficult context, with which we are not concerned at present, about the analogy between a man’s rest in God and God’s own rest. That opens wonderful thoughts which I must not be tempted to pursue, with regard to the analogy between the divine and the human, and the possible assimilation, in some measure, of the experiences of the creature with those of the Creator. Can it be that, between a light kindled and burning itself away while it burns, and fire which burns and is not consumed, there is any kind of correspondence? There is, however dim the analogy may be to us. Let us take the joy and the elevation of that thought, ‘My peace I give unto you.’
But the main point for which I refer to this possible analogy is in order to remind you that the rest of God is dealt with in Scripture as being, not a cessation from work, but the accomplishment of a purpose, and satisfaction in results. ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,’ said Jesus Christ. And modern speculation puts the same thought in a more heathenish fashion when it says ‘preservation is continual creation.’ Just as God rests from His creative work, not as if either needing repose or holding His hand from further operation, but as satisfied with the result; just as He rests in work and works in rest, so Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God in eternal indisturbance and repose, in token that He has fulfilled His work on earth. But He is likewise represented as standing at the right hand of God in attitude to help His servants, and as evermore working with them in all their toils.
In like manner we shall much misconceive the repose of faith, if we do not carry with us the thought that that repose is full of strenuous toil Faith brings rest. Yes! But the main characteristic of Christian faith is that it is an active principle, which sets all the wheels of holy life in more vigorous motion, and breathes an intenser as well as calmer and more reposeful activity into the whole man. The work of faith is quite as important as the rest of faith. It works by love, and the very repose that it brings ought to make us more strenuous in our toil. We are able to cast ourselves without anxiety about ourselves, and with no distraction of our inner nature, and no weakening of power in consequence of the consciousness of sin, or of unconscious sin — into the tasks which devolve upon us, and so to do them with our might. The river withdrawn from all divided channels is gathered into the one bed that it may flow with power, and scour before it all impurities. So the man who is delivered from restlessness is quickened for work, and even ‘in his very motion there is rest.’ It is possible to blend together in secret, sweet, indissoluble union these two partial antitheses, and in the midst of the most strenuous effort to have a central calm, like the eye of the storm which whirls in its wild circles round a centre-point of perfect repose. It is possible, at one and the same time, to be dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, and feeding our souls with that calm that broods there, and to be up to the ears in business, and with our hands full of pressing duties. The same faith which ushers us into the quiet presence of God in the centre of the soul, pushes us into the forefront of the battle to fight, and into the world’s busy workshop to labour.
So the rest which is Christian is a rest throbbing with activity; and, further, the activity which is based on faith will deepen repose, and not interrupt it. Jesus Christ distinguished between the two stages of the tranquillity which is realised by His true disciples, for He said ‘Come unto Me… and I will give you rest’ — the rest which comes by approach to Him in faith from the beginning of the approach, rest resulting from the taking away of what I have called the deepest cause of unrest. There is a second stage of the disciples’ action and consequent peace; ‘Take My yoke upon you… and ye shall find rear’ — not ‘I will give’ this time — ‘ye shall find’ — in the act of taking the yoke upon your necks — ‘rest to your souls.’ The activity that ensues from faith deepens the rest of faith.
III. Lastly, to consider the future perfecting of the present rest.
In a subsequent verse the writer uses a different word from that of my text to express this idea; and it is rather unfortunate for the understanding of the progress of the thought that our version has kept the same expression in both cases. ‘There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God’ —which follows a few verses after my text — had better have been rendered,‘There remaineth the keeping of a Sabbath to the people of God’; although probably the writer is pointing to the same facts there as in my text, yet he introduces a metaphor which conveys more clearly than the text does the idea of an epoch of rest following upon a week of toil.
So I may venture to say that the repose of faith which is experienced here, because the causes of unrest are taken away, and a new ally comes into the field, and our wills submit, and our desires are satisfied, is but the germ of that eternal Sabbath day to which we look forward. I have said that the gift spoken of here is a present thing; but that present thing bears in all its lineaments a prophecy of its own completion. And the repose of a Christian heart in the midst of life’s work and worry is the best anticipation and picture, because it is the beginning, of the rest of heaven.
That future, however it may differ from this present, and how much it differs none know except those who are wrapt in its repose, is in essence the same. Yonder, as here, we become partakers of rest through faith. There, as here, it is trust that brings rest. And no change of bodily environment, no change of the relations between body and spirit, no transference of the man into new conditions and a new world will bring repose, unless there is in him a trust which grasps Jesus Christ. Faith is eternal, and is eternally the minister of rest. Heaven is the perfecting of the highest and purest moments of Christian experience.
So, Christian men and women, the more trust the more rest. And if it be so that going through this weary world you have but little confirmation of the veracity of the great saying of my text, do not fancy that it is a mistake. Look. to your faith and see that it is deepened.
And let us all, dear friends, remember that not death but faith brings present repose and future perfecting. Death is not the porter that opens the gate of the kingdom. It is only the usher that brings us to the gate, and the gate is opened by Him ‘who openeth and no man shutteth; and who shutteth and no man openeth.’ He opens to them who have believed, and they enter in and are saved. ‘Let us labour, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.’
‘There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10. For He that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from His own works, as God did from His.’ — Hebrews 4:9, 10
WE lose much of the meaning of this passage by our superficial habit of transferring it to a future state. The ground of the mistake is in the misinterpretation of that word ‘remaineth’; which is taken to point to the ‘rest,’ after the sorrows of this life are all done with. Of course there is such a rest; but if we take the context of the passage, we cannot but recognise this as the truth that is taught here, that faith, and not death, is the gate to participation in Christ’s rest — that the rest remained over after Moses and Judaism, but came into possession under and by Christ.
It could not give the thing that it held forth. It could not, by the nature of the system. It could not, as is manifest from this fact — that years after they had entered into possession of the land, years after the promise had been first given, the Psalmist represents the entrance into that rest as a privilege not yet realised, but waiting to be grasped by the men of day whose hearts were softened to hear God’s voice. David’s words clearly, to the mind of the writer of the epistle, show that Canaan was not the promised ‘rest.’ David treats it as being obtained by obedience to God’s Word; and as not yet possessed by the people, though they had the promised land. He treats it as then, in his own ‘day,’ still but a promise, and a promise which would not be fulfilled to his people if they hardened their hearts. All this carries the inference that the Mosaic system did not give the ‘rest’ which it promised. Hence, says the author of the Hebrews, that ‘rest’ held forth from the beginning, gleaming before all generations of the Jewish people, but to them only a fair vision, remains unpossessed as yet, but to be possessed. God’s word has been pledged. He has said that there shall be a share in His rest for His people. The ancient people did not get it. What then? Is God’s promise thereby cancelled? ‘They could not enter in because of unbelief,’ but the unbelief of man shall not make the faith of God without effect. Therefore, as the eternal promise has been given, and they counted themselves unworthy, the divine mercy which will find some to enter therein, and will not be balked of its purposes, turns to the Gentiles; and the ‘rest’ provided for the Jews first, but unaccepted by them, remains for all who believe to partake.
And, still further, the writer establishes the principle that the rest promised to the Jew remains yet to be inherited by the Christian, on a second ground: ‘For,’ says he, in the tenth verse of the chapter, ‘for He that is entered into His rest, He also has ceased from His own works, as God did from His.’ How is that a proof? It is not a proof that there is a rest for us, if you interpret it as people generally do. But it is so if you give to it what seems to be the correct interpretation — by referring it to Christ and Christ’s heavenly condition. ‘He that has entered into His rest — that is Jesus Christ, ‘He has ceased from His own works’ — His finished work of redemption — ‘as God did from His’ His finished work of creation. And there is the great proof that there is a rest for us: not only because Judaism did not bring it, but because Christ hath gone up on high. We have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens. Christ our Lord has entered into His rest — parallel with the divine tranquillity after Creation. And seeing that He possesses it, certainly we shall possess it if only we hold fast by Him. ‘There remains a rest’ — proved by the fact that Christ hath gone into it, and carrying the inference, ‘Let us labour, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.’
We find here, then, three main points. First, the divine rest, God’s and Christ’s. Secondly, this divine rest, the pattern of what our life on earth may become. And lastly, this divine rest, the prophecy of what our life in heaven shall assuredly be.
I. In the first place, then, we have here the divine rest.
‘He hath ceased from His own works, as God did from His.’ The writer is drawing a parallel between God’s ceasing from His creative work and entering into that Sabbath rest when He saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good; and Christ’s ceasing from the work of redemption, and passing into the heavens to the Sabbath of His everlasting repose.
I need not dwell at any length upon a matter which, after all speech, remains for us but very dimly intelligible — the rest of God. ‘My rest’ — that rest belongs necessarily to the Divine Nature. It is the deep tranquillity of a nature self-sufficing in its infinite beauty, calm in its everlasting strength, placid in its deepest joy, still in its mightiest energy; loving without passion, willing without decision or change, acting without effort; quiet, and moving everything; making all things new, and itself everlasting; creating, and knowing no diminution by the act; annihilating, and knowing no loss though the universe were barren and unpeopled. God is, God is everywhere, God is everywhere the same, God is everywhere the same infinite, God is everywhere the same infinite love and the same infinite self- sufficiency; therefore His very Being is rest. And yet that image that rises before us, statuesque, still in its placid tranquillity, is not repellent nor cold, is no dead marble likeness of life. That great ocean of the Divine Nature which knows no storm nor billow, is yet not a tideless and stagnant sea. God is changeless and ever tranquil, and yet He loves. God is changeless and ever tranquil, and yet He wills. God is changeless and ever tranquil, and yet He acts. Mystery of mysteries, passing all understanding I And yet He says, ‘They shall enter into My rest!’ Now I believe, and I hope you believe, that the rest of Christ is like the rest of God, even in respect of this Divine and Infinite Nature. ‘He hath ceased from His works, as God did from His.’ Jesus Christ is ‘the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’ Whatsoever you can predicate of the settled tranquillity, and stable, necessary, essential repose of a divine nature, that you can predicate of Christ our Redeemer, of Christ the Son of God.
But still further. Besides that deep and changeless repose which thus belongs to the Divine Nature, there is the other thought which perhaps comes more markedly out in the passage before us — that of a rest which is God’s tranquil ceasing from His work, because God has perfected His work. When we read in the Old Testament, that at the end of the creative act, God rested upon the Sabbath day, and blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, of course the thought that comes into view is not that of a divine nature wearied with toil and needing repose, but that of a divine nature which has fully accomplished its intent, expressed its purpose, done what it meant to do, and rests from its working Because it has embodied its ideal in its work. It is the proclamation, ‘This creation of Mine is all that I meant it to be — finished and perfect’; not the acknowledgment of an exhaustion of the creative energy which needs to reinvigorate its strength by repose after its mighty ,effort. The rest of God is the expression of the perfect divine complacency in the perfect divine work.
And, in like manner, as after that creative act there came the Sabbath, when He saw that it was all very good, and the morning stars sang together for joy;-so after the mightier new-creative act of redemption, the Christ, who is divine, ceased and held His hand, not because Bethlehem and Calvary had wearied Him, not because after pain He needed rest, not because the Cross had tasked His powers, and His suffering had strained His nature; but because all that had to be done was done, and He knew it-because redemption was completed. The Sabbath on which God rested from His work, and the new Sabbath on which Christ rose from the dead, the conqueror of death, the destruction of sin, are parallel in this, that in either case the work was done, that in either case the Doer needed no repose after His finished task. And just as God, full of all the energy of being, operated unspent after creation, needed not that rest for His refreshment, but took it as the pledge and proclamation to the universe that all was done; so Christ, unwearied and unwounded from His dreadful close and sore wrestle with sin and death, sprung from the grave to the skies, and rests — proclamation and token to the world that His work is finished, that the Cross is enough for the race for ever more, that all is complete, and man’s salvation secured. As God hath ceased from His works, Christ hath ceased from His.
Still further: this divine tranquility — inseparable from the Divine Nature, the token of the sufficiency and completeness of the divine work — is also a rest that is full of work. When Christ was telling the Jews the principles of the Sabbath day, He said to them: ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ The creative act is finished and God rests; but God, in resting, works; even as God, in working, rests. Preservation is a continued creation. The energy of the divine power is as mightily at work here now sustaining us in life, as it was when He flung forth stars and systems like sparks from a forge, and willed the universe into being. God rests, and in His rest, up to the present hour and for ever, God works. And, in like manner, Christ’s work of redemption, finished upon the Cross, is perpetually going on. Christ’s glorious repose is full of energy for His people. He intercedes above. He works on them, He works through them, He works for them. The rest of God, the divine tranquillity, is full of work. There, then, is a parallel: the rest of the Father, who ceased from His work of creation, and continueth His work of preservation, is parallel with that of the Son, who ceased from His work of sacrifice, and continueth His work of intercession and of sanctifying. These two are one. ‘My rest’ is the rest of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Father. That still communion and that everlasting repose are a prophecy for our lives, brethren. The ancient promise, long repeated, has come sounding down through the echoing halls of the centuries, and rings in our ears as fresh as when first it was spoken, ‘There remaineth a rest for the people of God,’ they shall enter into the stillness and the secret of His tranquillity!
II. Then, in the second place, the text gives us, The rest of God and of Christ as the pattern of what our earthly life may become.
Like Christ, like God — can it be? It can be, with certain differences; but oh! the differences drop into insignificance when we think of the resemblances. Whether a man is capable of knowing absolute truth or not, he is capable of coming into direct and personal contact with the absolute Reality, the Truth of Truth. And whether here below we can know anything about God as He is or not, this at all events the New Testament teaches us, that we can come to be like Him — like Him in the substance of our souls; like Him — copy of His perfections; like Him — shadow and resemblance of some of His attributes. And here lies the foundation for the belief that we can ‘ enter into His rest.’ We cannot possess that changeless tranquillity which knows no variations of purpose or of desire, but we can possess the stable repose of that fixed nature which knows one object, and one alone. We cannot possess that energy which, after all work, is fresh and unbroken; but we can possess that tranquillity which in all toil is not troubled, and after all work is ready for yet greater service. We cannot possess that unwavering fire of a divine nature which burns in love without flickering, which knows without learning, which wills without irresolution and without the act of decision; but we can come to love deeply, tranquilly, perpetually, we can come to know without questioning, without doubts, without darkness, in firm confidence of stable assurance, and so know with something like the knowledge of Him who knows things as they are; and we can come to will and resolve so strongly, so fixedly, so wisely, that there shall he no change of purpose, nor any vacillation of desire. In these ways, in shadow and copy, we can resemble even the apparently incommunicable tranquillity which, like an atmosphere that knows no tempests, belongs to and encircles the throne of God.
But, still further: faith, which is the means of entering into rest, will — if only you cherish it — make your life no unworthy resemblance of His who, triumphant above, works for us, and, working for us, rests from all His toil. Trust Christ! is the teaching here. Trust Christ! and a great benediction of tranquil repose comes down upon thy calm mind and upon thy settled heart. Trust Christ! and so thy soul will no longer be like ‘the sea that cannot rest,’ full of turbulent wishes, full of passionate desires that come to nothing, full of endless meanings, like the homeless ocean that is ever working and never flings up any product of its work but yeasty foam and broken weeds; — but thine heart shall become translucent and still, like some land-locked lake, where no winds rave nor tempests ruffle; and on its calm surface there shall be mirrored the clear shining of the unclouded blue, and the perpetual light of the sun that never goes down. Trust Christ! and rest is thine — rest from fear, rest from toil and trouble, rest from sorrow, rest from the tossings of thine own soul, rest from the tumults of thine own desires, rest from the stings of thine own conscience, rest from seeking to work out a righteousness of thine own. Trust Christ, cease from ‘thine own works,’ forsake thine own doings, and abjure and abandon thine own righteousness; and though God’s throne be far above thee, and the depth of that Being be incommunicable to and uncopyable by thee, yet a divine likeness of His still, and blessed, and unbroken repose shall come down and lie — a solid and substantial thing — on thy pure and calmed spirit. ‘There remaineth a rest for the people of God.’ Say then, my Lord rests and my Father: I Will trust Him; I will rest in the Lord, and He shall keep me in perfect peace, because my mind is stayed on Him.
III. Finally: This divine rest is not only a pattern of what our earthly life may become, but it is a prophecy of what our heavenly life shall surely be.
I have said that the immediate reference of the passage is not to a future state. But that does not exclude the reference, unless, indeed, we suppose that the Christian’s life on earth and his condition in heaven are two utterly different things, possessing no feature in common. The Bible presents a directly reverse notion to that. Though it gives full weight to all the differences which characterise the two conditions, yet it says, There is a basis of likeness between the Christian life on earth and the Christian life in heaven, so great as that the blessings which are predicated of the one belong to the other. Only here they are in blossom, sickly often, putting out very feeble shoots and tendrils; and yonder transplanted into their right soil, and in their native air with heaven’s sun upon them, they burst into richer beauty, and bring forth fruits of immortal life. Heaven is the earthly life of a believer glorified and perfected. If here we by faith enter into the beginning of rest, yonder through death with faith, we shall enter into the perfection of it.
We cannot speak wisely of that future when we speak definitely of it. All that I suggest now as taught us by this passage is, that heaven will be for us, rest in work and work that is full of rest. Our Lord’s heaven is not an idle heaven. Christ is gone up on high, having completed His work on earth, that He may carry on His work in heaven; and after the pattern and likeness of His glory and of His repose, shall be the repose and glory of the children that are with Him. He rests from His labours, and His works do follow Him. He sitteth at the right hand of God ‘expecting’ — waiting patiently and in the confidence of assured triumph, ‘till His enemies become His footstool.’ But yet the dying martyr saw his Lord standing, not sitting, ready to help, and bending over him to welcome; and though He has ascended, and left the work of spreading the gospel to be done on earth, ‘the Lord works with us’ from His throne, nor is untouched by our troubles, nor idle in our toils. All the rest of that divine tranquillity, is rest in rapid, vigorous, perpetual motion. Ay, it is just as it is with physical things: the looker-on sees the swiftest motion as the most perfect rest. The wheel revolves so fast that the eye cannot discern its movements. The cataract foaming down from the hillside, when seen from half-way across the lake, seems to stand a silent, still, icy pillar. The divine work, because it is such work, is rest — tranquil in its energy, quiet in its intensity; because so mighty, therefore so still! That is God’s heaven, Christ’s heaven.
The heaven of all spiritual natures is not idleness. Man’s delight is activity. The loving heart’s delight is obedience. The saved heart’s delight is grateful service. The joys of heaven are not the joys of passive contemplation, of dreamy remembrance, of perfect repose; but they are described thus, ‘They rest not day nor night.’ ‘His servants serve Him, and see His face.’
Yes, my brother, heaven is perfect ‘rest.’ God be thanked for all the depth of unspeakable sweetness which lies in that one little word, to the ears of all the weary and the heavy laden. God be thanked, that the calm clouds which gather round the western setting sun, and stretch their unmoving loveliness in perfect repose, and are bathed through and through with unflashing and tranquil light, seem to us in our busy lives and in our hot strife like blessed prophets of our state when we, too, shall lie cradled near the everlasting, unsetting Sun, and drink in, in still beauty of perpetual contemplation, all the glory of His face, nor know any more wind and tempest, rain and change. Rest in heaven — rest in God! Yes, but work in rest! Ah, that our hearts should grow up into an energy of love of which we know nothing here, and that our hands should be swift to do service, beyond all that could be rendered on earth, — that, never wearying, we should for ever be honoured by having work that never becomes toil nor needs repose; that, ever resting, we should ever be blessed by doing service which is the expression of our loving hearts, and the offering of our grateful and greatened spirits, joyful to us and acceptable to God, — that is the true conception of ‘the rest that remaineth for the people of God.’ Heaven is waiting for us — like God’s, like Christ’s — still in all its work, active in all its repose. See to it, my friend, that your life be calm because your soul is fixed, trusting in Jesus, who alone gives rest here to the heavy laden. Then your death will be but the passing from one degree of tranquillity to another, and the calm face of the corpse, whence all the lines of sorrow and care have faded utterly away, will be but a poor emblem of the perfect stillness into which the spirit has gone. Faith is the gate to partaking in the rest of God on earth. Death with faith is the gate of entrance into the rest of God in heaven.
‘Let us labour therefore to enter into that feint, lest any man fall after the mine example of unbelief.’ — Hebrews 4:11.
WITH this simple, practical exhortation, the writer closes one of the most profound and intricate portions of this Epistle. He has been dealing with two Old Testament passages, one of them, the statement in Genesis that God rested after His creative work; the other, the oath sworn in wrath that Israel should not enter into God’s rest. Combining these two, he draws from them the inferences that there is a rest of God which He enjoys, and of which He has promised to man a share; that the generation to whom the participation therein was first promised, and as a symbol of that participation, the outward possession of the land, fell by unbelief, and died in the wilderness; that the unclaimed promise continued to subsequent generations and continues to this day. All the glories of it, all the terrors of exclusion, the barriers that shut out, the conditions of entrance, the stringent motives to earnestness, are one in all generations. Surface forms may alter; the fundamentals of the religious life, in the promise of God, and the ways by which men may win or miss it, are unchangeable.
That is a singular paradox and bringing together of opposing ideas, is it not, Let us labour to enter into rest? The paradox is not so strong in the Greek as here, but it still is there. For the word translated ‘labour’ carries with it the two ideas of earnestness and of diligence, and this is the condition on which alone we can secure the entrance, either into the full heaven above, or into the incipient heaven here.
But note, if we distinctly understand what sort of toil it is that is required to secure it, that settles the nature of the diligence. The main effort of every Christian life, in view of the possibilities of repose that are open to it here and now, and yonder in their perfection, ought to be directed to this one point of deepening and strengthening faith and its consequent obedience.
You can cultivate your faith, it is within your own power. You can make it strong or weak, operative through your life, or only partially, by fits and starts. And what is required is that Christian people should make a business of their godliness, and give themselves to it as carefully and as consciously and as constantly as they give themselves to their daily pursuits. The men that are diligent in the Christian life, who exercise that commonplace, prosaic, pedestrian, homely virtue of earnest effort, are sure to succeed; and there is no other way to succeed. You cannot go to heaven in silver slippers. But although it be true that heaves is a gift, and that the bread of God is given to us by His Son, the old commandment remains unrepealed, and has as direct and stringent reference to the inward Christian life as to the outward. ‘In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread,’ though it be at the same time bread that is given thee. And how are we to cultivate our faith? By contemplating the great object which kindles it. Do you do that?
By resolving, with fixed and reiterated determinations, that we will exercise it. ‘I will trust and not be afraid.’ Do you do that? By averting our eyes from the distracting competitors for our interest and attention, in so far as these might enfeeble our confidence. Do you do that? Diligence; that is the secret — a diligence which focuses our powers, and binds our vagrant wills into one strong, solid mass, and delivers us from languor and indolence, and stirs us up to seek the increase of faith as well as of hope and charity. Then, too, obedience is to be cultivated. How do you cultivate obedience? By obeying — by contemplating the great motives that should sway and melt, and sweetly subdue the will, which are all shrined in that one saying.
‘Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price,’ and by rigidly confining our desires and wishes within the limits of God’s appointment, and religiously referring all things to His supreme will. If thus we do, we shall enter into rest.
So, dear friends, the path is a plain enough one. We all know it. The goal is a clear enough one. I suppose we all believe it. What is wanted is feet that shall run with perseverance the race that is set before us. The word of my text which is translated ‘labour,’ is found in this Epistle in another connection, where the writer desires that we should show ‘the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.’ It is also caught up by one of the other apostles, who says to us, ‘Giving all diligence, add to your faith’ the manifold virtues of a practical obedience, and so ‘the entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ A more authoritative voice points us to the same strenuous effort, for our Lord has said, ‘Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you,’ and when the listeners asked Him what works He would have them do, He answered, bringing all down to one, which being done would produce all others, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’
So if we labour to increase our faith, and its fruits of obedience, with a diligence inspired by our earnestness which is kindled by the thought of the sublimity of the reward, and the perils that seek to rob us of our crown, then, even in the wilderness, we shall enter into the Promised Land, and though the busy week of care and toil, of changefulness and sorrow, may disturb the surface of our souls, we shall have an inner sanctuary, where we can shut our doors about us and enjoy a foretaste of the Sabbath-keeping of the heavens, and be wrapped in the stillness of the rest of 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.’ — Hebrews 4:16
IN the context are three great exhortations which bear a very remarkable and distinct relation to each other: ‘Let us labour to enter into rest’; ‘Let us hold fast our profession’; Let us come boldly to the throne of grace.
‘Let the much incense of Thy prayer On my behalf ascend.’
Truly we have a loving High Priest; let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace. Let us not use as a mere empty form those words ‘for Christ’s sake,’ but let us remember that these words do hold the very secret of all acceptable approach to God, and that’ no man cometh to the Father but by Me. There is reason enough, God knows, in your heart and mine, and in our poor, miserable, wretched, conventional, formal chatterings called prayers, for diffidence and distrust. Well, then, let us fully look that fact in the face, entertain untremblingly the fullest consciousness of the insufficiency and unworthiness of all we do, and all we are, and all we feel, and all we seek, and then wrenching ourselves away as it were from the contemplation of our own selves, which only land us in diffidence and despair, let us turn to Him, that we may have boldness and confidence in our access to the feet of Him who is our Great High Priest, passed into the heavens, and who now sits on the ‘throne of grace.’
Through waves and clouds and storms
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.’ — Hebrews 5:7
WE may take these great and solemn words as a commentary on the gospel narrative of Gethsemane. It is remarkable that there should be here preserved a detail of that agony which is not found in our Gospels. The strong crying and tears find no record in our evangelists, and so it would appear as though the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was not altogether dependent upon them for his knowledge of Christ’s life. In any case here we have independent witness to the story of Christ’s passion, and a very instructive hint as to the widespread and familiar knowledge of the story of our Lord’s suffering, which existed at the very early date of this Epistle in the churches, so that it could be referred to in this far-off allusive way with the certainty that hearers would distinctly understand what the writer was speaking about. So we get a confirmation of the historical veracity of the narrative that is preserved in our Gospel. But the value of such words as these is their bearing upon far deeper things than that. They point to Gethsemane as showing us Christ, as the companion of our sorrows and supplications, as a pattern of our submissive, devout resignation, and as a lesson for us all how prayer is most truly answered. First, then, take that great thought of my text, the Christ as being our companion in sorrow and in supplication. ‘In the days of His flesh — when He bore what I bear — in the days of His flesh He offered prayer and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death.’ Now I do not dwell at any length upon the additional contribution to the vividness and solemnity of the picture given us in the detail of the text before us, but I want to refer for one moment, and I will do it as reverently as I can, to the unapproachable narrative, and to make this one remark about it, that all the three evangelists who are our source of knowledge of that scene in the garden of Gethsemane employ strange, and all but unexampled, words in order to express the condition of our Saviour’s spirit then. Matthew, for instance, uses a word which, in our Bible, is translated ‘He began to be very heavy.’ Only once besides, as far as I know, is it employed in scripture, and it seems to mean something like ‘On the very verge of despair.’ And then Mark gives us the same singular expression, adding to it another one which is translated, ‘sore amazed.’ It has been suggested that a more adequate rendering would be ‘began to be appalled,’ and another suggestion has been, that it might be adequately rendered with the phrase ‘that He began to be out of Himself.’ Then comes Luke, with his word, which we have translated into English as ‘agony.’ And then there come Christ’s own strange words, ‘My soul is encompassed with sorrow almost up to the point of death.’ That is not a proverb; I take that to be a literal fact that one more pang and the physical frame would have given way. Now, I do not point to these things in any spirit of curious investigation. I feel, I hope, ‘Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ And yet I cannot help feeling that there is a tendency nowadays to say too little about the Gospel story of Christ’s sufferings; it is a reaction, no doubt, and prompted by good motives; it is a reaction from the preaching of a former time, when men used these sacred narratives of our Lord’s last days in the coarsest possible manner, and the climax of it is that horrible kind of preaching that Roman Catholic preachers used to indulge in — Passion sermons. And yet I cannot but feel that we are in danger of going to the other extreme and losing much by not sufficiently dwelling on the facts.
‘The Lord hath made to meet upon Him the iniquity of us all.’
And so with the weight of the sins and the sorrows of the world, He began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
And the last point I touch upon is this, that according to the teaching of this commentary upon that solemn scene, our Lord in it sets before us the lesson of what the true answer to prayer is. ‘He prayed unto Him that was able to save Him from death,’ and says my text: ‘He was heard.’ Was He? How was He heard? He was heard in this. There appeared unto Him an angel from heaven strengthening Him. He was heard in this because His prayer was not ‘Let this cup pass,’ but His prayer was, ‘Thy will be done,’ and God’s will was done.
And so there comes out the true heart of all true prayer, ‘Thy will be done.’ And the true answer that We get is, not the lifting away of the burden, but the breathing into our hearts strength to bear it, so that it ceases to be a burden. Let us make our prayers not petulant wishes to get our own way, but lowly efforts to enter into God’s way and make His will ours, so shall come to us peace and strength, and a power adequate to Our need. The cup will be sweetened, and our lips made willing to drink it. Christ was heard, and Christ was crucified.
Learn the lesson that if, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, we make. our requests known unto God, whatsoever other answer may be sent, or not sent, the real and highest answer will surely’ be sent, and the peace of God, which passeth understanding, shall keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
‘The earth, which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God.— Hebrews 6:7
THIS is a kind of parable or allegory in which echoes of many scriptures are gathered up. The comparisons of the process of forming character to the growth of a plant, of divine influences to the rain, of the discipline of life to husbandry, of holy deeds to fruit, are common to all languages; and recall many sayings of lawgiver and prophets, as well as many of the parables of our Lord. Especially there seems to be allusion here to the two parables of the Sower and the field that brought forth wheat and tares. But the old illustrations appear here with a somewhat new setting. The writer extends his vision beyond the fact of growth and fruitfulness to that which precedes it and to that which follows it. For fruitfulness there must be the drinking in of the rain from heaven. And if there be fruitfulness, there will be God’s blessing.
So, dear friends, to sum it all up, here is the condition of all fruit-bearing. The prime characteristic of a Christian heart ought to be this hungering and thirsting after larger bestowments of God’s influences. Alas! alas! for the professing Christians who are impervious to the rain that comes oft upon them. For God’s gifts are never inoperative. In countries where the timber has been unwisely felled, and the hillside stripped, the rain has nothing to lay hold of, and nothing to do, and it sweeps down the mountain side in a tawny torrent, bearing away the little superfluous soil that still clings to the rocks, and after a while these stand up gaunt and bare, neither sunshine nor rain can stimulate vegetation on their naked precipitous face, but only crumble them into slow decay. So either we are welcoming God’s influences into our hearts, and turning rain into fruit, or they are denuding the soil still more, and making us yet more infertile. The land’ that drinketh in the rain’ bears the fruit; the land that does not is thereby cursed into more barren barrenness.
II. Now note secondly, and only a word about that, the tillage.
My text speaks of ‘them for whom’ (not as our Authorised Version has it, ‘by whom’) it is dressed. And possibly there may be a distinction between those, whoever they may be, who are supposed to receive the fruit of the field, and those who carry on the labour of cultivation. If so, we should have a parallel thought to the many both in the Old and in the New Testament which represent God’s ministers and messengers as being labourers in His vineyard. But more probably the distinction between the owner and the labourers is neglected in our text, and we are simply to think of the ‘dressing’ as referring to another department of the divine operations. God not only pours upon us as from above these gracious skyey influences, which are to be received into our hearts, but He deals with us in our daily life, by external providences and discipline. So the text reminds us of ‘My Father is the husbandman,’ and of Paul’s word, ‘Ye are God’s husbandry,’ and the tillage that is here spoken of is the whole sum of the external circumstances of our lives, as contrasted with the rain, that represents the whole sum of the spiritual influences brought to bear upon us within.
There is the true point of view from which to look on life. It is God’s husbandry. The ploughshare has a very sharp edge, and it is dragged with unsparing accuracy in the straight, deep furrow; and it cuts through stiff soil, and sometimes turns up and divides hidden treasures that lie beneath. Nobody likes to have his fallow ground broken up; nobody likes to have the ploughshare of sorrow driven through the little warm nest that lay below the surface; nobody likes the discipline, but it is God’s husbandry. If there were no ploughing, if there were no harrows with their cruel multiplied teeth to be dragged clean across quivering hearts, there would not be any harvest. Do not lot us misunderstand the meaning of our sorrows. God by them is ‘dressing’ His own fields, and let us take care that, when we are thinking of the means by which He seeks to promote our fertility, we do not forget to set by the side of the gracious rain that distils from the heavens the better discipline that is exercised upon the earth.
III. Thirdly, note the fruitfulness.
There is only one crop from a man’s nature which God dignifies with the name of fruit. The rest, be it what it may, is thorns and thistles. One of the apostles talks about ‘the unfruitful fruit of darkness.’ Darkness has plenty of work; has it not? There are abundant results, some of them very satisfactory, very beautiful, very desirable, in a number of ways, from the lives of men who do not take in these divine influences. Are we not to call them fruit? Is every human life, except a life of consistent godliness and lowly faith manifested in works, a barren life? So the Bible says. And that cuts very sharp, and goes very deep, and rebukes a great many of us.
Culture is all very well. Refinement, education, business prosperity, taste, affection, etc., are all right in their places. If they come from, and are rooted in, faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience therefore to God’s will, they are fruit; if they do not, they are thorns, wild grapes and not true ones. The only thing that a man does that is worth calling fruit, because it is the only thing that will last, and the only thing that corresponds to his capacities and responsibilities, is that which he does for the sake of, and by the strength of, the dear Lord that loved him, and gave Himself for him. That is fruit; all the rest is sham — nothing but leaves.
Again, notice that great thought, that the deeds of a poor man, who has taken in these divine influences, are a harvest meet for, and acceptable to, the owner; or, to put it into words without metaphor, God delights in, and in some sense feeds upon, the righteous deeds of His children. That great thought is put in many ways and in many places in Scripture. ‘He came, being hungered, seeking fruit,’ on the fig-tree. ‘An odour of a sweet smell’ — another metaphor expressing the same idea — ‘acceptable to God.’ In the old ritual there was the singular institution of what we call the ‘shewbread,’ the ‘bread of the face,’ as the Hebrew means, which Was spread before God, and lay there in the sanctuary, typical of the righteous deeds of His children, which were offered up to Him. In the same sense my text speaks of ‘fruit meet for those for whom it is dressed’ — such a crop as corresponds to the desires of the owner, and to the care and husbandry that He has lavished upon His field.
A farmer is proud if the produce of his farm is taken for the royal table. Can there be a loftier conception of the possible greatness of the poorest, lowliest Christian service than this, that it is ‘meet for the Master’s use’; and that even He will find delight in partaking of it? And does not Jesus Christ say the same thing to us in other language when He says from heaven, ‘If any man open the door, I will come in and will sup with him’ — ‘He shall provide the meal, he shall spread the table, and I will partake of that which he brings.’ It is the highest motive that can be brought to bear upon us, to make our deeds, for His dear sake, pure and noble and lofty, that thereby they become, in His infinite mercy, not unworthy to be offered to Him, and capable of ministering delight to His heart. And it is a test, too, for if your work is not meet for Christ to accept, it is not meet for you to do.
IV. Lastly, mark the blessing from God.
My text is spoken in immediate connection with the statement of the writer’s purpose, to lead his hearers from the elements to the perfection of Christian truth. Such progress he considers the proper result of the earlier stages, and the statement of that principle is embodied in the metaphor of my text. Stripping it of its figure, it comes to this, that in the narrower view righteousness give an insight into truth, and in the wider view, that fruitfulness is rewarded by progress in the Christian life. I have no time, nor is there need, to dwell upon the elements of this blessing from God; let me put what I have to say in just two or three sentences.
The fruitfulness which is the result of the reception of the divine influences has for its consequence the Blessing which is more of these divine influences, therefore more fruitfulness and consequently more work. Faithfulness in the use of the less leads on to the assured possession of the greater, as is true in all regions of life, as is true as between earth and heaven, and as is true in the growth of the Christian soul here below. And as the reception of the blessing makes capable of a larger blessing, so the larger reception of these divine influences results in larger fruitfulness. The reward of fertility is greater fertility, and that is the highest reward that God can give us for it. It is the reward that makes heaven, for that is a sphere in which, with larger capacities, we shall bring forth nobler results of service and of character. The plant that is here an exotic is taken there into its native soil, and spreads a broader branch, and opens a greener leaf, and bends down boughs laden with richer and more abundant fruit, and in the fruit is neither spot nor blemish nor any such thing. The blessing of God is, most of all, the larger communication of His own sweet and precious influences, and consequently the growing fruitfulness which brings growing glory to Him, and growing gladness to ourselves. The reward for work is more work, and a wider sphere for nobler service. Add to that the consciousness of God’s smile reflected in the quiet of an unaccusing conscience, and the tranquillity that comes from a submissive will and unselfish consecration, and we have at least some of the elements of that ‘blessing from God.’
So, dear friends, there is a picture of what is possible for every one of us. We may all make our lives like what the Pentateuch describes the land of Israel as being, ‘a land which drinketh in of the water of the rain of heaven, a land which the Lord thy God careth for, for the eyes of the Lord thy God are on it continually.’ If we receive the influences we shall bring forth the fruit, and we shall get the blessing.
‘But, Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you. and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.’ — Hebrews 6:9.
THE writer has been describing, in very stern and solemn words, the fate of apostates, and illustrating it by the awful metaphor of’ the earth which…‘beareth thorns and briars,’ and which is, therefore, ‘rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.’ Then he softens, and knowing that rebukes are never so pointed as when the arrow is feathered by love, he changes his voice. ‘But, beloved’ — they needed to be assured that all the thundering and lightning did not mean anger, but affection — ‘we are persuaded better things of you, and those things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.’ Wherever, then, salvation is, certain other things will also be.
We shall be wise if we habitually test our Christian emotion by our conduct in the rough road of daily life, and if we gravely suspect the depth and genuineness of all feeling, however sweet and lofty it seems, which does not come out into action. If our Christian experience is worth anything, it will drive the wheels of self-sacrificing duty. It takes tons of pitchblende to make a drachm of radium, and it needs much experience of the possession of salvation, and many precious and secret inward emotions in order to produce the life of self-sacrifice which is the ultimate test of the worth of our religion. If these certain accompaniments are wanting, or are sparse and lacking in radiance in our lives, it is high time that we asked ourselves very seriously what the worth to us is of a salvation that does not produce in us ‘the things that accompany salvation.’
But the text suggests another thought to which we may now turn. It is that where these accompaniments of initial salvation are present, further salvation will follow. The whole of the context, including my text itself, goes upon the principle that whilst a holy life, or, to put it into other words, ‘good works,’ is, or are, the accompaniments of the initial salvation, they are the causes of a fuller salvation. For look what follows, and look what preceded our text. ‘The earth which drinketh in the rain’ — that is step number one and that drinking in of the rain is the initial act of faith which opens thirstily for the entrance of the initial salvation. Then follows — ‘and bringeth forth herbs’ — that is the second step, and corresponds to the holy life of which I have been speaking; and finally comes ‘receiveth a blessing from God,’ which corresponds to a fuller salvation. After the text we read: ‘God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love’ which implies a promise of rich reward. That is to say, if we have these accompaniments, and do our very best to make them conspicuous and continuous and more thoroughly the mainsprings of our actions, then we shall receive a fuller salvation, just because we have thus sought to appropriate and re develop the consequences in our conduct of the partial salvation with which we were started at first. Salvation is a great word which in Scripture is presented in many aspects. Sometimes it is spoken of as a thing in the past experience of the Christian; sometimes it is spoken of as a thing which he is progressively realising throughout his life: ‘The Lord added to the Church daily such as were being saved’; sometimes it is spoken of as an experience which is reserved for the future, ‘receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls,’ in that life beyond.
Now, this experience or possession, call it which you like, or state of spirit and heart, which has its roots in the past, and is being developed all through the Christian life, and is to be perfected in the future world, has for one chief cause of its progressive increase in our own consciousness, a holy life. And if we, as good ground, are trying ‘to bring forth herbs meet for Him by whom it is dressed,’ we shall be like the earth softened by the rain, and smiling with harvest, on which God smiles down in the sunshine of His approval, and which He visits with His benediction. We shall possess a fuller salvation. A firmer grasp of the great truths which bring salvation when received, and of all their consequences of peace and joy, and spiritual elevation and calm, a closer union with Jesus, a larger endowment of the Spirit, will ‘follow our faithful attempts to ‘perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord,’ and so to possess, and to present, more of ‘the things that accompany salvation.’ Good works are a cause of a fuller salvation.
The most fruitful Christians need to be warned against possible barrenness and apostasy.
‘We are persuaded better things of you, beloved’ — but yet, though persuaded, the writer felt that he must ‘thus speak.’ For we never get beyond the risk of fruitlessness. We never get beyond the need of effort to resist the tendencies that draw us away. We never get beyond the need of warnings. It is always safe for us to look at the field that is bristling ‘with briars and thorns, and is nigh unto cursing.’ Therefore the warning note is sounded, and it is sounded, thank God! in order that what it points to as possible, may never be actual for any of us.
We all need warning, but those of us who, like myself, are set to give it sometimes, have to remember that it loses all its force unless it is manifestly the warning of love. ‘Beloved I persuaded,’ as we are, ‘of better things of you,’ it yet is our solemn duty thus to speak, that thus it may never be with any of you. And it is the less likely to be the case with any of us that we shall bear but ‘thorns and briars,’ the more we remember that it is possible for us all, and will be possible until the very end.
‘We desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the fall assurance of hope unto the end.’ — Hebrews 6:11.
MANY of us have seen a picture in which the artist paints ‘Hope’ as a pale, fragile figure, blind, and bent, wistfully listening to the poor music which her own finger draws from a broken one-stringed lyre. It is a profoundly true and pathetic confession. So sad, languid, blind, yearning, self-beguiled is Hope, as most men know her.
‘Because I live ye shall live also.’
and they are built upon no dreams of our own, nor is the music drawn from the lyre by our poor fingers, but they are built on the steadfast word of the eternal God, to whom past, present, and future are one; and they are built on the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
And then, still further, the Christian hope is based, not only on these two strong pillars, but on a third — namely, on present experience.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, has, in two different places, a very interesting and instructive genealogy, if I might so call it, of Christian hope; and in both places (the fifth and the fifteenth chapters) he traces the hope of the Christian to a double and apparently opposite source. He says: ‘Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ And in the similar passage, in the other chapter, he speaks about being filled with ‘joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope.’ So then, there he traces the Christian hope to the present experience of forgiveness, and of access by faith into present grace; or, as he puts it in briefer words in the other place, to the present experience of ‘joy and peace in believing.’
But there is another side to our experience which likewise issues in hope.
‘And not only so, but we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience,’ — brave endurance, and that brave endurance of ours, inasmuch as it is something beyond our own reach and strength, works in us the proof of a divine power operating upon us; and that proof of a divine power operating upon us produces in us hope, and hope ‘makes not ashamed.’ That is to say, the dark as well as the bright side of the Christian. experience, its sorrows as well as its joys, the burdens which have been borne, the trials which we have survived, demonstrate to us that we are not left to fight alone, but that a mighty hand is ever around us, and a gracious arm holding us up, and therefore all these darker and sadder moments of the Christian life do likewise tend towards the enkindling in the spirit of a ‘hope that maketh not ashamed.’
So, both by reason of what we experience of peace and joy, and by reason of what we experience of trial, disaster, difficulty borne, and unwelcome duties done, in the might of God, we are entitled to say — we know that a rest remains, where trouble is done with, and all that was here tendency shall be perfected, and the divine and immortal elements of joy and peace shall enfold themselves completely in our happy experience. You can tell a cedar of Lebanon, though it is not yet bigger than a dandelion, and know what it is coming to. You can tell the infant prince. And the joy and peace of faith, feeble and interrupted as they may be in our present experience, have on them the stamp of supremacy and are manifestly destined for dominion over our whole nature. They are indeed experiences ‘whose very sweetness yieldeth proof that they were horn for immortality.’ I have often seen in rich men’s greenhouses some exotic plant grown right up to the roof, which had to be raised in order to let it go higher. The Christian life here is plainly an exotic, growing where it cannot attain its full height, and it presses against the fragile over-arching glass, yearning upwards to the open sky and the throne of God. So, because we can love so much and do love so little, because we can trust thus far and do trust no more, because we have some spark of the divine life in us, and that spark so contradicted and thwarted and oppressed, there must he somewhere a region which shall correspond to this our deepest nature, and the time must come when the righteous, who here shone but so dimly, shall ‘blaze forth like the sun in
the Kingdom of the Father.’
Blessed it is that this guiding torch of Christian hope can be kindled from both of these sources. We can light it both with the sunbeams of joy and peace, focused in the burning glass of faith, and with a spark struck by the sharp collision of the hard steel and flint, in the night of sorrow. Thus all the experience of a believing soul is evidence of the certainty of the Christian hope.
Brethren! do not trust yourselves to a hope that is less than certitude, nor grovel along these low levels, concerning which the warning is always to be repeated: ‘Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what the day may bring forth,’ but aspire and lift your hope to heaven, then you may be sure that ‘To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.’
II. Now let me say a word in the next place as to the assurance of the Christian hope.
Certainty is one thing, and assurance is another. A man may have the most firm conviction based upon the most unsubstantial foundation. His expectation may have no roots to it, and yet the confidence with which he cherishes the expectation may be perfect. There may be entire assurance without any certainty; and there may be what people call objective certainty with a very tremulous and unworthy subjective assurance.
But the only temper that corresponds to and is worthy of the absolute certainties with which the Christian man has to deal is the temper of unwavering and assured confidence. Do not disgrace the sure and steadfast anchor by fastening a slim piece of packthread to it that may snap at any moment. Do not build flimsy structures upon the reek and put up upon such a foundation canvas shanties that any puff of wind may sweep away. If you have a staff to lean upon which will neither give, nor warp, nor crack, whatever stress is put upon it, see that you lean upon it, not with a tremulous finger, but with your whole hand. The wavering, hesitating, half and half confidence with which a largo number of us grasp the absolute certainties of our hope, is a degradation to the hope and a disgrace to the hoper. There is nothing that is worthy of certitude but assurance; and he who knows that his hope is not vain ought to make a conscience of having a response to the outward certainty in the inward unwavering confidence. But so far is that from being the case that there is a type of Christian life, not so common nowadays, perhaps, as it used to be, which makes a merit of not being sure, and takes it as the sign of Christian humility not to venture on saying, ‘I know in whom I have believed and that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.’
O dear friends! these dim expectations, clouded all over with earthly doubts and indifference, those languid hopes with which we lift scarcely interested and almost incredulous eyes to the crown, are the opprobrium of our Christianity, and the weakness of our whole lives.
Be sure of this, that the more certain the assurance of hope, the more calm and sober it will be. It is the element of uncertainty in anticipation that makes it feverish. When it is fully confident and grasps the thing that it knows is coming, the pulse throbs no faster nor more irregularly, though, thank God I far more fully, by reason of the blessed hope. If we want to live in ‘sober certainty’ of coming bliss, and calmed, and steadied, and made ready for all service, endurance, and suffering, by the brightness of our hope, we must see to it that it is not dim and wavering, but sure and steadfast, certain as God, as the history of Christ, as the present. It is certain. Make it assured.
Let me remind you further that this assured hope is permanent. ‘The full assurance unto the end,’ my text says. ‘Unto the end.’ How many a lighthouse that you and I once steered towards is behind us now! As we get older, how many of the aims and hopes that drew us on have sunk below the horizon! And how much less there is left for us people with grey hairs in our heads and years on our backs to hope for, than we used to think there was! But, dear brethren, what does it matter though the sea be washing away the coast on one side the channel if it is depositing fertile land on the other? What does it matter though the earthly hopes are becoming fewer and those few graver and sadder, if the one great hope is shining brighter? Winter nights are made brilliant by keener stars than soft summer evenings show, and the violet and red and green streamers that fill the northern heavens only come in the late year. So it is well and blessed for us if, when the leaves fall, we see a wider sky; and if, as hope dies for earth, it revives and lives again for heaven. ‘The full assurance of hope to the end.’
III. Lastly, note here the culture of this certitude of hope.
My text is an exhortation to all Christian people ‘to show the same diligence’ in order to such an assurance. The same diligence as what? The same diligence as they had shown ‘in their work and labour of love towards God’s name.’ That is to say, the people to whom my Epistle was sent had been extremely diligent and vigorous in what I may call practical Christianity. The writer wants them to be as diligent in reference to the emotional and experimental side of Christianity. Now, that fits a good many of us. The fashionable type of a Christian to-day is a worker. By common consent theology seems put into the background, and by almost as common consent there is comparatively little said about what our fathers used to call, experimental religion,’ feelings, emotions, inward experiences, but everything is drive, drive, drive at getting people to work. God forbid that I should say one word against that. But ‘we desire that ye should show the same diligence’ as in your mission-halls and schools and various other benevolent operations, in cultivating the emotions and sentiments — yes, and the doctrinal beliefs of the Christian life, or else you will be lop-aided Christians.
Further, did it ever occur to you, Christian people, that your hope was a thing to be cultivated, that you ought to set yourselves to distinct and specific efforts for that purpose? Have you ever done so? How is it to be done? What I was saying a few minutes ago as to its grounds carries the answer to that question. Get into the habit of meditating upon the objects towards which it is directed, and the grounds on which it is built. If you never lift your eyes to the goal you will never be drawn towards it. If you never think about heaven it will have no attraction for you. If you never go over the basis of your hope your hope will get dim, and there will be little realisation or Hiring power in it. I believe that the great bulk of nominal Christians in England to-day rarely think about their future certainties, and, more rarely still, test their foundation and see that it stands firm. No wonder, then, that hope so seldom lends her light, and that such dim one, to shine upon their paths.
Let me say, lastly, in the matter of practical advice, that this cultivation of the assurance of hope is largely to be effected by pruning the wild luxuriance and earth-ward-stooping tendrils of our hope. The Apostle Peter has a wise word: — ‘Gird up the loins of your mind; be sober, and hope to the end.’ That is to say, the perfection of Christian anticipation and assurance is only possible as the result of effort, and rigid abstinence from many earthly treasures. If you want the tree to grow high, nip the side shoots and the leader will gain strength. If you desire that your hope should ever be vigorous you must be abstinent from, or temperate in, earthly things. Neither love nor hope can serve two masters; and if you are always occupied in forecasting earthly good, you will have little faculty left over, out of which to weave the far fairer fabric of eternal blessedness. If you pluck the wing feathers out of your hope, by your worldliness, by your selfishness, by your sin, it will be like some free forest bird, caught, clipped, and condemned to the barn-yard, only going about there picking up corn, instead of rising to heaven with its song.
Dear brethren, God has given every one of us this great and strange faculty of forecasting the future. Surely He gave it to us for some better purpose than that we should taste our earthly pleasures twice, or be impelled along our worldly course by a series of illusions. If you keep it flown on the low levels of the contingent and the perishable and the temporal, and send it out only to bring you hack tidings from the world, it will play you false; and you will find out that the disappointments of realised hopes are often as bitter as the disappointments of unfulfilled ones.
Do not be slaves of that pale, sad maiden with the blinded eyes and the broken lyre. Do not listen to the singing in your own ears and mistake it for heavenly music. There is one region where your hope can expatiate among certainties. Grasp Christ and you will then lift expectant eyes that will not look in vain to the Hand that reaches to you out of the blaze of the sunbeams, and is laden with blessednesses for the present which are sure promises for the future. The Christian man alone is certain of what he anticipates; and he alone will have to say ‘The half hath not been told me.’ For all others ‘their hope shall be cut off, and their trust shall be as a spider’s web.’
THIS is the end of a sentence, and the result of something that has been stated before. What is that? ‘We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.’ Diligence is the opposite of slothfulness, and the former is to be cultivated that the latter may not overtake us. But it is ‘the same diligence,’ and that expression raises the question — The same as what? Now the writer has just been praising his readers for ‘their work of faith and labour of love’ which they showed in ministering to the saints. And then he says, in effect, ‘I wish that you took as much trouble to cultivate your own Christian graces as you do to help other people in regard to these outward matters, for then there would be no fear of your becoming slothful, and you would be treading in the steps of those that have gone before, and who now inherit the promises.’
That is to say, there are a good many Christian people who spend a good deal more pains and effort upon the less central and deep things of Christian conduct than they do upon the keeping of the centre and mainspring of all in active operation. Some of us need the hint — ‘Look after your own Christian graces as diligently as you do after works of benevolence’
I. Note here, then, first, a danger that still threatens all Christians.
The words of my text in our Authorised Version are somewhat inadequately translated, and the first clause would much more truly read, ‘that ye become not slothful’ than that ‘ye be not slothful.’ The same somewhat peculiar word, which is here rendered ‘slothful,’ is employed a little before in the letter, where the writer is excusing himself for not entering upon some deep truths, because he says to his readers, ‘You have become dull of hearing.’ It is the same word that is employed here, and we might paraphrase the meaning somewhat thus: ‘You have become dull of hearing; take care lest you become dull all through. The palsy has begun in your ears, and it will spread to your eyes and your hands and your heart before long, if you do not ‘mind.’ The first sign of a growing torpor and indifference in the Christian life generally lies here — in carelessness in accepting the teaching of Christian truth. The ear becomes dull, and the whole man follows suit, and becomes languid. And this danger of becoming ‘slothful,’ not so much in the sense of not working, as of being dull and torpid, inert, having no feeling, having no active energy in the inner life; half asleep, paralysed — this is the danger that hangs ever over all of us, and is only to be faced victoriously in one way, and that is the way which the writer of this Epistle here points out — namely, by unslumbering diligence and continual watchfulness against the creeping on of this subtle palsy. As surely as friction will stop a train, unless there is the perpetual repetition of the impulse that drives it, as surely as the swing of the pendulum will settle into a vertical position, drawn by the gravitation of the earth, unless the mainspring urges it on moment by moment, so surely will the most vigorous, cheery, active Christian character gradually become duller and duller, until it settles down into a condition indistinguishable from death, except on condition of unslumbering vigilance and constant effort. We are all tending to become slothful, sluggish, and we may overcome the tendency if, and only if, we set ourselves with all our hearts to do it. If you take a ladleful of molten metal out of a blast furnace, and set it down on the ground and leave it, in half an hour’s time there is a scum on the top and its temperature has lowered, I know not how many degrees, and presently all heat will have gone from it. No warmth, no depth of feeling, no firmness of resolution, no joy of clear faith will last of itself. We have to keep the flame alight and alive. ‘We desire that every one do use the same diligence that ye become not’ — as you certainly will if you do not use it — ‘sluggish, or torpid Christians.’
II. The next point here is the way by which that tendency can be victoriously faced and overcome.
It was by ‘faith and patience’ that all the men of old had reached the true land of promise and entered on the inheritance of the saints in light. And these are still the means by which the ever-present pressure of that tendency to become slothful is to be overcome. Now it is important to remember that in this Epistle ‘faith’ predominately means that faculty by which we lay hold of the unseen, and realise future blessings as our own. So it is used in the great eleventh chapter, in which the writer, as it were, reads the muster-roll of the heroes of the faith in order to establish his contention that the bond between God’s saints and Him has always been one and the same — namely, faith. Of course, that shade of meaning of the word rises up quite naturally from the other aspect in which it is most frequently used in the New Testament — viz., the reliance upon Jesus Christ, for He Himself is for us the revealer of things unseen, and the certifier and assurer of the things hoped for in the future. But the predominant reference of the word in this letter is, as I say, to the attitude of mind by which we grasp the unseen, and make the future blessings which God premises to us our own by anticipation. And, says the writer, that faith which thus stretches out a long arm through the mists to lay hold of the solidities that are beyond the mists, that faith is the means by which we shall most effectually ward off the tendency to sluggishness and inertness, which will otherwise get the better of us all.
The word here employed for patience is not the ordinary one used for that virtue, which means chiefly perseverance in a given course of conduct in spite of many difficulties, and pressures of sorrows and troubles. But the word employed here is the same which is often rendered ‘long-suffering.’ This ‘patience’ is not to be regarded as something added to faith, but rather, it is the characteristic result of faith. The faith which, although the vision tarries, waits, and is not shaken, though many days may pass and we seem little nearer the realisation of our hopes; an obstinate, persistent, long-lasting confidence and realisation of the unseen and future good is what the writer recommends to us here as the sovereign antidote, which by our own efforts we may secure, against the tendency to slumber and to death. By faith which is long-breathed, and can live below the water for a long time, believing in the blue heavens that are above, a faith which is patient, we shall overcome the tendency to torpor, deepening to death, as in the case of a man who goes to sleep in a snowstorm.
So, dear brethren, we come to a very familiar thought rather duty of Christian men and women, systematically and consciously to cultivate for themselves the habit of realising the unseen, living in the presence of the solemn realities yonder. Oh! if we walked through this illusory and passing world of ours with that great white throne and Him who sits upon it ever blazing before us, do you think we would go to sleep then? If we cultivated the sense of belonging to that unseen order of things, and being but lodgers and strangers, passers-by for a night here, should we be able to fall asleep as we do? The man that goes to bed in a hotel, and says, ‘I am going away by express train in the middle of the night’ does not fall into a very sound sleep. If we realised, as we ought to do, where our affinities are, of what country we are really the citizens, to whom we belong, and where the things are that really are, then we should find it hard to be slothful and easy to march strenuously on the road that God marks out for us. Cultivate the habit of consciously realising that you are strangers and sojourners here, and ‘declare plainly that you seek a country,’ and seek it, not as those who may, perchance, not succeed in their quest, seek it, not as those do who are looking for a thing that is lost, and perhaps Will never be found, but seek it, as, indeed, the original plainly expresses, as those to whom that land of their search is the land of their nativity to which they belong, their fatherland, the mother-country of them all.
So let us cultivate not only the habit of thus realising the unseen, but of living in the conscious possession, even now, of the great things that God has promised for us. And let us see to it, dear friends, that that faith holds out with patience, and lasts all the long weary days, as they seem to us according to our poor measure of time, which may yet intervene between the present moment and our reaching home. The look-out man at the bow of the ship, as he gazes out on an empty ocean and sees not a sail nor anything but the long wash of the waves running to and indenting the horizon, gets drowsy. But let a little tip of white show itself away out on the blue, and all his senses are alert in a moment. If we clearly and constantly saw where we are going and what is coming to us, the salvation that is ‘being borne’ toward us, we should not sleep any more. Therefore, let us give diligence to cultivate the patient faith which will keep us awake. III. Lastly, note the encouragement to the effort of faith.
‘Be ye’ imitators of those who through faith and patience — these two graces which yet are one — ‘inherit the promises.’ The writer probably includes among these inheritors the sainted dead of the old Covenant, of whom he says in chapter 2. that they ‘died in faith, not having received the promise,’ and any of the new Covenant who had passed into the other world. And he declares, by the strong language of my text, which is even stronger in the original by the use of a present participle, the present blessedness of all the departed saints. They do now inherit the promises. The metaphor is drawn, consciously or unconsciously, from the old story of Israel’s possession of the Promised Land, and so suggests all the ideas of rest, of the wanderings being over, of victory, of peace, of society, of each man having his portion of the great land which belongs to all, which that story naturally brings with it, And for us there may come the encouragement of looking to those dear ones that have gone before us, knowing that they ‘stand in their lot’ in the
Canaan of God, and that we, too, may stand in ours. And so from the thought of their present blessedness in their present inheritance, we may gather cheer, whilst we struggle and tramp along the wilderness road. And, again, we may gather encouragement not only from the thought of where and how their wanderings have ended, but from the remembrance of the path that they trod. We have no strange road to walk, but one beaten by holy feet from the beginning, and plain for us too. They have passed along the King’s highway, and having passed, and having entered into their rest, they remain as witnesses that it is ‘the right way to the city of habitation.’
But we have to look higher than to them, and to take for our encouragement not only the pattern of all the pilgrims that have gone before us, but that of the Lord of the march, the ‘Breaker,’ who is gone up before us, and ‘looking off’ from the cloud of witnesses, to ‘look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith, who trod the road, every step of it, and left footprints not unstained with blood in which we may plant our poor feet, ‘having left us an example that we should follow in His steps.’
‘We… who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.’ Hebrews 6:18.
THE name of Christian was invented by outsiders. It is very seldom used in the New Testament, and then evidently as a designation by which Christ’s followers were known to others; and not as one employed by themselves. They spoke of each other as ‘disciples,’ ‘believers,’ ‘saints,’ ‘brethren,’ or the like. Sometimes they used more expanded names, of which my text is an example. It sets forth part of the characteristics of those whom the world knew as ‘Christians.’ Now that the name has been adopted by the Church and has lost a good deal of its original force in many minds, this description may serve to teach what is one essential feature in the description of a Christian. He is one Who has ‘fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before’ him. That strikes a good many off the list, does it not? Not birth, nor baptism, nor acceptance of a creed, nor association with a community makes a Christian, but the personal act of fleeing for his life and grasping the horus of the altar.
I confine myself to the plain, evangelical teaching, the acceptance in heart and life of which makes a man a Christian, whilst nothing else does. I want to ask you all-or, rather, I pray, that my poor words may help you to ask yourselves, and not rest till you have answered the question ‘Have I, thus, my very own self, fled for refuge to the hope that is set before me?’ An old divine said, ‘Preachers should preach, not for sharpening wits, but for saving souls.’ And that is what I want, God helping me, to try to do.
I. First of all, then, let me put a plain statement, and you will forgive the sharpness of the form in which I put it, because I want it to stick — You need a refuge.
There is nothing sadder than the strange power which men have of blinking the great facts of their own condition and of human life. I know few things that seem to me more tragic, and certainly none that are more contemptible, than the easy-going, superficial optimism, or the easy-going superficial negligence, with which hosts of people altogether slur over, even if they do not deny, the plain fact that every man and woman of us stands here in this world, though compassed by many blessings, and in the enjoyment of much good, and having many delights flowing into our lives, and being warranted in laughter and mirth, — still stands like an unsheltered fugitive in the open, with a ring of enemies round about that may close in upon him. Self-interest seems often to be blind, and in many, I am sure, of my hearers, it is blind to the plainest and largest truths’ with reference to themselves, their necessities, and their conditions. Ah, dear friends! after all that we say about the beauty, and the brightness, and the joyfulness of life, and the beneficence of God, we live in a very stern world. There are evils that may come, and there are some that certainly will come. You young people — thank God for it, but do not abuse it — are buoyant in hope, and take short views, and are glad, where older folk who have learned what life is generally have sober estimates of its possibilities, and our radiant visions have toned down into a very subdued grey. Sorrow, disappointment, broken hopes, hopes fulfilled and disappointed — and, that is worst of all — losses, inevitable partings when the giant-shrouded figure of Death forces its way in at the rose-covered portal, in spite of the puny effort of Love to keep it out, sicknesses, failures in business, griefs of many kinds that I cannot touch, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and all the ills that flesh is heir to, these lie wafting somewhere on the road for every one of us. Are you going to stand in the unsheltered plain, a mark for all these? Do you think you can front them in your own strength? Are you able, calmly and soberly, remembering the possibilities that lie in the black clouds over your head, to say, ‘Pour on! I will endure?’ Nay, verily; you need a refuge.
You carry your own worst danger buttoned up in your own waistcoats and gowns; you hear about with you in your hearts, in your passions, in your desires, a vase of combustibles amidst the sparks of a volcano, so to speak. And any one of these that fill the air may drop into it, and bring about a conflagration. No man that has measured himself, the irritability of his nerves, the excitability of his passions, the weakness of his will, and its ugly trick of going over to the enemy at the very critical moment of the fight, But, if he is a wise man, will say, ‘I need something stronger than myself to fall back upon, I need some damp cloth or other to be laid over the magazine of combustibles in my heart. I need a refuge from myself.’
You carry — no matter whence it came, or how it was developed; that is of no consequence, you have got it — you carry a conscience that is not altogether silent in any man, I suppose, and that certainly is not altogether dead in you. Its awful voice speaks many a time in the silence of the night, and in the depth of your own heart, and tells you that there are evil things in your past, and a page black in your biography which you can do nothing to cancel or to erase the stains from, or to tear out. ‘What I have written I have written.’ And so long as memory holds her place and conscience is not shattered altogether, there needs no other hell to make the punishment of the evildoer. You need a refuge from the stings of the true indictments of your own consciences.
Your conscience is a prophet. It is not, nowadays, fashionable to preach about the Day of Judgment — more’s the pity, I think. We say that every one of us shall give an account of ourselves to God. Have you ever tried to Believe that about yourself, and to realise what it means? Think that all, down to the cozy depths that we are ashamed to look at ourselves, will be spread out before the ‘pure eyes and perfect judgment of the all-judging’ God. O brother! you will need a refuge ‘that you may have boldness before Him in the Day of Judgment.’ These things that I have been speaking about, external ills, ungoverned self, the accusations of conscience, which is the voice of God, and that future to which we are all driving as fast as we can — these, things are truths. And, being truths, they should enter in, as operative facts, into your lives. My question is, have they done so?
You need a refuge; have you ever calmly contemplated the necessity? Oh l do not let that dogged ignorance of the facts bewitch you any longer. Do not let the inconsequent levity that cannot see an inch beyond its nose hide from you the realities of our own condition. People in the prisons, during the September massacres of the French Revolution, used to amuse themselves — although the tumbrils were coming for some of them to- morrow morning, and the headsman was waiting for them — used to amuse themselves as if they were free, and got up entertainments with a ghastly mockery of joy. That is something like what some of us do. One has seen a mule going down an Alpine pass, ambling quite comfortably along, with one foot over a precipice, and a thousand feet to fall if it slips. That is how some of us travel along the road. Sheep will nibble the grass, stretching their stupid necks a little bit further to get an especially succulent tuft on the edge of the cliffs, with eight hundred feet and a crawling sea at the bottom of it to receive them if they stumble. Do not be like that. ‘Be ye not as the horses or the mules that have no understanding,’ but look the facts in the face, and do not be content till you have acted as they prescribe.
II. You have the refuge that you need.
The writer of this Epistle describes it in my text as being ‘the hope set before us.’ Now, by ‘hope’ there, he obviously means, not the emotion, but the object upon which it is fixed. For it is something ‘set before’ him — that is to say, external to him, and on which, when it is set before him, he can lay an appropriating hand, so that by the hope here is meant the thing hoped for. That, of course, is a very common usage, in which we transfer the name of a feeling to the thing that excites it. So people talk about such and such a thing being their ‘dread.’ Or, affection gives its own name to its objects, and speaks about or to them as my love, my joy, my delight, in token of the completeness with which the heart has gone out to, and rests on, the thing which is thus identified, transported, as it were, with the emotion which grasps it. In like manner here it is the thing that Christians have laid hold of which is called ‘the hope set before us.’
In the context — that thing set Before men as the object of hope is the great and faithful promise of God, confirmed by His oath long ago, to the ancient patriarchs, the promise of divine blessings and of a future inheritance. And, says the writer, away down here, in the very latest ages, we have the very same solid substance to grasp and cling to that Abraham of old had. For God said to him, ‘Blessing I will bless thee,’ and He says it to us; and that is a ‘refuge.’ God said to him, ‘Thou shalt have a land for an inheritance,’ and He says it to us, and that is a refuge. The presence of God, and the promise of a blessed inheritance, are the elements of the hope of which the writer is speaking. Then, in his rapid way, he crowds figure upon figure, and, not content with the two of my text, the asylum and the strong stay, he adds a third, and likens this hope to the anchor of the soul, giving steadfastness and fixity to the man who clings, being in itself ‘sure’ so that it will not break, and ‘steadfast’ so that it will not drag. He goes on to say that this object of hope enters ‘into that within the veil.’ But notice that in the very next verse he speaks of some one else who entered within the veil — viz., Jesus Christ. So, as in a dissolving view, you have, first the figure of Hope, as the poets have painted her, calm and radiant and smiling; and then that form melts away, and there stands instead of the abstraction Hope, the person Jesus Christ. Which, being translated into plain words, is just this, the refuge is Christ, Christ, our hope. Mark, further, how the writer describes our Lord there as our forerunner and priest.
Now that exposition of the context opens out into important thoughts. Jesus Christ is our hope and refuge, because He is our priest. Ah, dear brethren! all other enemies and ills are tolerable, and a man may make shift to bear them all without God, though he will bear them very imperfectly, but the deepest need of all, the most threatening enemy of all, can only be dealt with and overcome by the gospel which proclaims the priest whose death is the abolition of death, whose sacrifice is the removal of sin, who ‘has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and by whose stripes we are healed.’ I pray you to recognise this fact, that there is no other way by which Christ can be a refuge and the hope of the world, than by His first dealing triumphantly with the fact of sin, which is the tap-root of all sorrows. It is because that dear Lord has died for every one of us, because in Him we have ‘redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins’; because, with Him on our side, we need not fear the accusations of conscience, nor have a fearful looking for of judgment, that He, and He only, is the refuge for the whole of this sinful world. Is He your refuge? and do you know Him as your priest? The acceptance and sufficiency of His sacrifice is witnessed by the fact that He has entered within the veil, and because thus He has entered He is for us our only hope, our all- sufficient refuge.
I need not remind you, I suppose, too, how utterly different all the inevitable ills and sorrows of this mortal life become when we lay hold on Him, and find shelter there. ‘A man shall be a refuge from the storm and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.’ We can bear sickness, and sorrows, and disappointments and failures and partings and all grief, and the arrow-heads are blunted, or, at all events, the poison is wiped off the barbs when we have Christ for our refuge and our friend.
And because He is our forerunner, and has passed within the veil, as the context says so impressively, ‘for us,’ we are emancipated, further, from the fear of death; and the dread of what lies beyond, and are emboldened to lift even eyes that weep tears of penitence and a face that is suffused with the blush of conscious unworthiness; and to behold within the veil the pledge of our entrance there in the person of Jesus Christ. So, brethren, for all the ills that flesh can bear, for all that sin entails, for the gnawings of our own conscience, and for the judgments of future retribution, we can betake ourselves to that Saviour and say with quiet confidence, ‘I have made the Lord my refuge, no evil shall befall me, nor any plague come nigh my dwelling.’
III. Lastly, I have said, you need a refuge. You , have the refuge you need. Let me put my last word into, not a command, but an entreaty — flee to it.
The writer, as I have occasion to remark, Mends two vivid metaphors here, the one of a fugitive unsheltered in the open, surrounded by foes, the other of a man grasping some strong stay. Look at the two pictures.
‘Fled for refuge.’ There probably is an allusion here to the Israelitish institution of the cities of refuge for the manslayer. But whether there be or not, the scene brought before us is that of a man flying for his life with the pursuer clattering at his heels, and his lance-point within a yard of the fugitive’s back. Grass will not grow under that man’s feet; he will not stop to look at the flowers by the road. The wealth of South Africa, if it were spread before him, would not check his headlong flight. It is a race for life. If he gets to the open gate he is safe. If he is overtaken before he reaches it he is a dead man. The moment he gets within the portal the majesty of law compasses him about, and delivers him from the wild justice of revenge. Surely, the urgency of flight and the folly of the hesitation and delay that mark some of us are vividly brought out by the metaphor. ‘By and by,’ kills its tens of thousands. For one man ‘that says,’ I am not a Christian, and, what is more, I never intend to be,’ there are a dozen that say, ‘Tomorrow! tomorrow!’ ‘Let me sow my wild oats as a young man; let me alone for a little while. I am busy at present; when I have a convenient season I will send for Thee’ What would have become of the man-slayer if he had curled himself up in his cloak, and lain down beside his victim, and said, ‘I am too tired to run for it?’ He would have been dead before morning.
A rabbi’s scholar, as the Jewish traditions tell us, once said to him, ‘Master! when shall I repent?’ ‘The day before you die,’ said the Rabbi. The scholar said, ‘I may die today.’ Then said the Rabbi, ‘Repent to; day.’ ‘Choose you this day’ whether you will stand unsheltered out there, exposed to the pelting hustling of the pitiless storm, or will flee to the refuge and be saved.
Look at the other picture, ‘to lay hold of the hope.’ Perhaps the allusion is to the old institution of sanctuary, which perhaps existed in Israel, and at any rate was well known in ancient times. When a man grasped the horns of the altar he was safe. If so, the two metaphors may really blend into one; the flight first, and then the clutching to that which, so long as the twining fingers could encompass it, would permit no foe to strike the fugitive. This metaphor speaks of the fixity of the hold with which we should grasp Jesus Christ by our faith. The shipwrecked sailor up in the rigging, with the wild sea around him, and the vessel thumping upon the sand, will hold on, with frozen fingers, for hours, to the shrouds, knowing that if he slips his grasp the next hungry wave will sweep him away and devour him. And so you should cling to Jesus Christ, with the consciousness of danger and helplessness, with the tight grasp of despair, with the tight grasp of certain hope. Brother! have you fled; do you grasp?
I remember reading of an inundation in India, when a dam, away up in a mountain gorge, burst at midnight. Mounted messengers were sent down the glen to gallop as hard as they could, and rouse the sleeping villagers. Those who rose and fled in an instant were in time to reach the high ground, as they saw the tawny flood coming swirling down the gorge, laden with the wrecks of happy homes and many a corpse. Those who hesitated and dawdled were swept away by it. My message to you, dear friends, is, ‘Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain. Escape to the mountains lest thou be consumed.’
‘Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast and which entereth into that within the veil.’ — Hebrews 6:19
THERE is something very remarkable in the prominence given by Christianity to hope as an element in the perfect character. The New Testament is, one may say, full of exhortations to ‘hope perfectly.’ It is regarded as one of the three virtues which sum up all Christian goodness. Nay! In one place the Apostle Paul lays upon it the whole weight of our salvation, for he says ‘we are saved by hope.’
Look at the anchorage, or holding-ground, that is to say, the reasons or the grounds on which these great objects become objects of hope to us.
Why is it that I may without presumption, and that I must, unless I would fall beneath my obligations, expect to be for ever like Jesus Christ? Why, here is the anchorage. ‘God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation.’ Or, to put it into other words, God’s solemn utterance of His will guaranteed to us by God’s putting all the majesty of His own being into pawn for the fulfilment of His promise is the ground on which we rest. There is the anchorage. Nothing can touch that. If we cleave to Jesus Christ we have anchored ourselves in the fastnesses of the divine nature. We have struck the roots of our hopes deep into the very being of God; and all that is majestic, all that is omnipotent, all that is tender, all that is immutable in Him goes to confirm to my poor heart the astounding expectation that whatsoever Christ is I shall become, and that wheresoever Christ is there will also His servant be. Oh! how this rock- foundation on which we may build makes all the other foundations upon which men rest their ruinable hopes seem wretched and transitory. Cursed be the man — and he is cursed, that is, wretched and miserable in the act — ‘Cursed be the man that maketh flesh his arm, and whose hope is in man. Blessed be the man whose hope is in the Lord his God, and whose trust the Lord is.’ This anchorage is safe in all weathers, and none that ever sheltered there have been driven on the iron-bound leeward rocks.
III. Again, still keeping the metaphor of the text, notice the cable.
The anchor is of no use unless it be fastened by a strong hawser or chain. All the faithfulness of the divine nature, and all the grandeur of the promises which Christ gives and is, are naught to us unless we attach ourselves to them by setting our hopes there. I have been speaking to you about the vanity, the disappointing misery of earthly hope. Those show that the obstinate faculty which, in spite of them all, persists is as plainly meant to be attached to Jesus Christ as the great iron chain that you see lying on the deck is obviously intended to be the anchor-chain. You are able to anticipate the future, and God has given you the ability in order that it may grapple you to your Lord and Master, by whom alone you will be lords of the future, and it be filled with peace. To do that, to attach yourselves thus to Jesus Christ by a persistent and triumphant hope is not an easy thing.
It means, first of all, detachment. You must get away from these lower and earthly anticipations of the paltry and immediate future on this side the grave, which fill so much of your onward gaze, if your eye is to see clearly that nobler future further ahead which is its legitimate and its only object. The habit of Christian hope needs diligent cultivation and strenuous effort. I think that there are few things that Christian men and women need to he exhorted to more earnestly than this that they should not waste upon the mean anticipations of to-morrow that wonderful faculty by which they may knit themselves to the most glorious and blessed realities in the remotest future. The wings of hope were given, not that we might flutter near the earth, but that we might rise to God. The clear eye that looks before was given us not that we should limit our vision to the near, But that we might send it forward to the most distant horizon. Do not let yourselves be so absorbed by anticipations of what you are going to do and where you are going to be tomorrow that you have no leisure to think of what you are going to do and where you are going to be through the eternities. We run our eyes along the low levels of earth, and we too seldom lift them to the great white summits that ring round the little plain on which our day is passed. Christian men and women, you are saved by hope. Live in the continual contemplation of that blessed future, and Him who makes it; and, according to the old exhortation sursum corda, ‘up with your hearts’ and your hopes, and fasten them to the anchor of your souls which hath entered within the veil.
IV. And now, lastly, a word as to the steadfastness of the ship that rides in any storm by thin anchor.
Hope is not usually a masculine faculty, nor one that on the whole is the ally of the stronger and nobler virtues. It does no doubt impel to action, and he that has ceased to hope has ceased to strive; but also, and quite as often, its effect is to disturb and flutter rather than to steady, to make impatient, to unfit for persistent application and toilsome service, to set the blood dancing through the veins, so that the hand can scarcely be kept steady. But this ‘Christian hope, if we rightly take the measure of it, and understand it, is an ally of all great, steadfast, calm, patient virtue.
For one thing it will put all the present in its true subordination. Just as when a man’s eye is fixed upon the reddening dawn of the morning sky, all the trees and objects between him and it are toned down into one uniform blackness, so when we have that great light shining beyond the earthly horizon all the colours of the objects between us and it will be less garish, and they will dwindle into comparative insignificance. It is not so hard to bear sorrow when the light of a great hope makes the endurance but for a little moment, and the exceeding and eternal weight of glory more conspicuous than it. It is not so hard to do duty when a great hope makes action for the time sublime, and makes difficulties dwindle and hardships sweet. It is not so hard to resist temptations when temptations have had their dazzling light dimmed by the greater brightness of the hope revealed. He that has anchored himself to Christ may be calm in sorrow and triumphant over temptation. Whatsoever winds may blow he may ride safe there, and however frowning may be the iron-bound rocks a cable’s length off, if he has cast out his anchor at the stern he may quietly wait for the day in the assurance that no shipwreck is possible for him. Your hope will be the ally of all, dignity, patience, victory, will steady the soul and make it participant, in some measure, of its own steadfastness and security.
And just as sailors sometimes send the anchor ahead that they may have a fixed point towards which to warp themselves, so, if our anchor is that Christ who has passed into the heavens, He will draw us, in due time, whither He Himself has gone. A calm steady hope fixed upon the enthroned Christ, our fore-runner, and the pattern of what we shall he if we trust Him, will make us steadfast and victorious in all our sorrows, Burdens, changes, and temptations. Without it life is indeed as ‘futile then as frail,’ and our only ‘hope of answer’ to its torturing problems, or of ‘redress’ of its manifold pains is ‘Behind the veil, behind the veil.’ Such a hope knits us to the true stay of our souls, and is a cord not easily Broken. As for men’s hopes fixed on earth, they are fragile and filmy as the spiders’ webs, which, in early autumn mornings, twinkle dewy in every copse, and are gone by midday.
My brother! you have this great faculty; what do you do with it, and where do you fix it? You have a personal concern in that future, whether you think about it and like it or not. What is your hope for that future, and what is the ground of your hope? Let me beseech you, fasten the little vessel of your life to that great anchor, Christ, who has died, and who lives for you. And then, though the thread between you and Him be but slender and fragile, it will not be a dead cable, but a living nerve, along which His own steadfast life will pour, making you steadfast like Himself, and at last fulfilling and transcending your highest hopes in eternal fruition of His own blessedness.