AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:18-21

Commentary on Hebrews 12:18-21

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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A The Inferiority of Judaism

(Hebrews 12:18, 19)

As there are certain parts of a country which offer less attraction than others unto tourists and sight-seers, so there are some portions of Scripture which are of less interest to most readers and writers. As there are some scenes in Nature which can be taken in at a glance while others invite a repeated survey, so there are verses in each Epistle which afford less scope than others unto the teacher. That is why almost every preacher has a sermon on certain favorite texts, whereas other verses are neglected by nearly all pulpits. But the expositor has not the same freedom to follow his inclinations as the textual sermonizer: unless he shirks his duty, he must go through a passage verse by verse, and clause by clause. Still more so is this the case with one who essays to write a commentary upon a whole book of the Bible: he is not free to pick and choose, nor yield to his personal preferences, but must give the same attention and enlargement to one part as to another.

The above reflections have occurred to the editor as he has pondered the verses which next claim our consideration in Hebrews 12. Their contents are not likely to make much appeal unto the ordinary reader, for there seems little in them which would be relished either by those who have an appetite for “strong meat” or by those preferring the “milk” of babes. Our passage neither sets forth any of the “doctrine of grace” nor presents any practical exhortation for the Christian life. Instead, it alludes to an historical incident which was chiefly of interest to the Jews, and multiplies details from the same which would be tedious unto the average churchgoer of this untoward generation. Nevertheless, it is a part of God’s Word, and as it lies in our immediate path through this Epistle we shall not ignore or turn from it. As the Lord enables, we shall endeavor to give it the same attention and space as what has preceded it.

The passage upon which we are about to enter (which reaches from Hebrews 12:18 to the end of the chapter) has been variously interpreted by different commentators. One class of more recent writers have, it seems to us, been far more anxious to read into it their own pet theory regarding the future, than to interpret these verses in accord with the theme of the Epistle in which they are found. It would indeed be strange for the apostle to introduce here a reference to some future “millennium:” the more so in view of the fact that he has studiously avoided the use of the future tense—note the emphatic “ye are come” (verse 22) and “but now” (verse 26). If due attention be paid unto the main line of the apostle’s argument in this treatise, then there should be no difficulty in arriving at a correct understanding—of the substance of it, at least—of this portion of it.

As we pointed out so frequently in the earlier articles of this series, the immediate and principal design of the apostle in this Epistle, was to prevail with the Hebrews in persuading them unto a perseverance in their profession of the Gospel, for therein they appear at that time to have been greatly shaken. Therefore does he warn them, again and again, of the various causes and occasions of backsliding. Principal among these were, first, an evil heart of unbelief, the sin which did so easily beset them. Second, an undue valuation of the excellency of Judaism and the Mosaical church-state. Third, wavering under the afflictions and persecutions which fidelity to the Gospel entailed. Fourth, prevalent lusts, such as profaneness and fornication. Each of these we have considered in the preceding sections.

The principal argument which the apostle had urged unto their constancy in Christianity, was the superlative excellency, glory, and benefit of the Gospel-state into which the Hebrews had been called. This he has accomplished and proved by setting forth the person and office of its Author, His priesthood and sacrifice, with all the spiritual worship and privileges belonging thereto. Each of these he compared and contrasted with the things that corresponded unto the same during the O.T. dispensation. Thereby he set over against each other the type and the antitype, the shadow and the substance, and by so doing made it unmistakably evident that the new economy was immeasurably superior to the old, that all the ordinances and institutions of the law were but prefigurations of those spiritual realities which are now revealed by the Gospel.

Having insisted so largely and so particularly on these things in the preceding chapters and brought his arguments from them to a plain issue, he now recapitulates them as a whole. In the passage which is now to engage our attention the apostle presents a brief scheme of the two states or economies (designated as “testaments” or “covenants”), balancing them one against another, and thereby demonstrating the conclusive force of his central argument and the exhortations which he had based upon it, unto constancy and perseverance in the faith of the Gospel. It is no new argument which he here proceeds with, nor is it a special amplification of the warning pointed by the example of Esau; still less is it a departure from his great theme by a sudden excursus into the realm of eschatology. Instead, it is a forcible summary, under a new dress, of all he had previously advanced.

The central design, then, of our passage as a whole, was to present one more and final antithesis of Judaism and Christianity. The contrast here drawn is virtually parallel with the one instituted in Galatians 4 between Hagar and Sarah, the figure of two “mounts” being used instead of the two women. The great honor and chief privilege of the Judaical Church-state whereon all particular advantages did depend, was their coming to and station in mount Sinai at the giving of the Law. It was there that Jehovah revealed Himself with all the insignia of His awe-inspiring majesty. It was there that they were taken into covenant with the Lord (Ex. 24), to be His peculiar people above all the world. It was there that Israel was formed into a national Church (Acts 7:38). It was there that they had committed unto them all the privileges of Divine worship. It is that very glory which the Jews boast of to this day, and whereon they rest in their rejection of the Gospel.

It was necessary, then, for the apostle to make direct reference unto that upon which the unbelieving Hebrews based all their hopes, and to which they were appealing in their efforts to get their believing brethren to apostatize from Christ. His argument had neither been complete nor conclusive unless he could undermine their confidence in the foundational glory of Judaism, take off their hearts from unduly admiring, and show that it had been succeeded by that which “excelleth.” He therefore directs attention to those features in connection with the giving of the Law, which so far from being calculated to win the affections, inspired with dread and terror. He points out a number of items which by their very nature intimated that the Divine communications vouchsafed at Sinai were not the full and final unveiling of the Divine character, such as the souls of awakening sinners longed for.

Our introduction has been a somewhat lengthy one, though briefer than that of J. Owen, which we have closely followed in the last paragraphs; yet we deemed it necessary. The details of our present passage cannot be viewed in their true perspective until they are rightly focused in the light of our Epistle as a whole. The scope of the passage must first be determined, before we are ready to examine its several members. This calls for time and real study, yet only as this preliminary work is properly executed will we be preserved from those errors which are inevitably fallen into when a passage is treated hurriedly and superficially. This is only another way of saying that, the foundation must be well and securely laid, if it is to bear successfully the superstructure which is raised upon it. Alas that such foundation-labor is so little appreciated today.

“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire” (v. 18). The apostle here returns to his central theme by an easy and natural transition. He had just been dehorting from back-sliding, pointed out by the solemn case of Esau. Now he urges unto constancy by appealing to the privileges they enjoyed. As Calvin well put it, “The higher the excellency of Christ’s kingdom than the dispensation of Moses, and the more glorious our calling than that of the ancient people, the more disgraceful and the less excusable is our ingratitude, unless we embrace in a becoming manner the great favor offered to us, and humbly adore the majesty of Christ which is here made evident. And then, as God does not present Himself to us clothed in terrors as He did formerly to the Jews, but lovingly and kindly invites us to Himself, so the sin of ingratitude will be thus doubled, except we willingly and in earnest respond to His gracious invitation.”

“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched.” The principal design which the apostle here had in hand was to set forth, in its most attractive form (see verses 22-24), that evangelical state where-unto the Hebrews had been called and into which they had entered. This he first does negatively, by describing the Church-state under the O.T., from which they had been delivered. Thus, before the “Ye are come” of verse 22, he introduces this “For ye are not come.” Two things were thereby noted: that order or system to which their fathers belonged, but from which they had been freed by their responding to the Gospel call. They were no more concerned in all that dread and terror, and their consideration of that fact supplied a powerful motive to their perseverance in the Christian faith.

Freely granting that a great privilege was conferred on their fathers at Sinai, the apostle observes “that it was done in such a way of dread and terror, as that sundry things are manifest therein: as, 1. That there was no evidence in all that was done of God’s being reconciled to them, in and by those things. The whole representation of Him was of an absolute Sovereign and a severe Judge. Nothing declared Him as a Father, gracious and merciful. 2. There was no intimation of any condescension from the exact severity of what was required in the law or of any relief or pardon in case of transgression. 3. There was no promise of grace in a way of aid or assistance for the performance of what was required. Thunders, voices, earthquakes and fire gave no signification of these things. 4. The whole was hereby nothing but a glorious ministration of death and condemnation (as the apostle speaks: 2 Corinthians 3:7) whence the conscience of sinners were forced to subscribe to their own condemnation, as just and equal.

“5. God was here represented in all outward demonstrations of infinite holiness, justice, severity and terrible majesty on the one hand; and on the other, men in their lowest condition of sin, misery, guilt and death. If there be not therefore something else to interpose between God and men, somewhat to fill up the space between infinite severity and inexpressible guilt, all this glorious preparation was nothing but a theater set up for the pronouncing of judgment and the sentence of eternal condemnation against sinners. And on this consideration depends the force of the apostle’s argument; and the due apprehension and declaration of, is a better explanation of vv. 18-21 than the opening of the particular expressions will amount to; yet they also must be explained.

“It is hence evident, that the Israelites in the station of Sinai, did bear the persons of convicted sinners under the sentence of the law. There might be many of them justified in their own persons by faith in the promise; but as they stood and heard and received the law, they represented sinners under the sentence of it, not yet relieved by the Gospel. And this we may have respect to in our exposition, as that which is that final intention of the apostle to declare, as is manifest from the description which he gives of the Gospel-state, and of those that are interested therein” (John Owen).

“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched.” It is both pathetic and amusing to read the various shifts made by some of the commentators to “harmonize” the opening words of our text with what is said in Exodus 19:12, “Thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall surely be put to death.” Some have pleaded that the little “not be touched” was inadvertantly dropped by a copyist of the Greek manuscript. Others insist our verse should be rendered, “Ye are come to a mount not to be touched.” But the only “discrepancy” here is in the understanding of the expositors. The apostle was not making a quotation from Exodus. but rather describing, negatively, that order of things unto which the Gospel had brought the believing Hebrews. In so doing, he shows the striking contrast between it and the order of things connected with the giving of the Law.

“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched.” The simple and evident meaning of this is: The Gospel has not brought you unto that which is material and visible, palpable and touchable by the physical senses, but only what is spiritual and can only be apprehended by faith. A “mount” is a thing of the earth; whereas the glory of Christianity is entirely celestial. The passage which most clearly interprets this clause is found in our Lord’s discourse with the woman at the well: “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21, 23). Judaism was the Church’s kindergarten, in which its infantile members were instructed, mainly, through their bodily senses. Christianity has introduced a far superior order of things.

“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched,” then, is a figurative way of saying that Christ has opened a way into something infinitely superior to a system which, as such, had nothing better than “a worldly sanctuary” and “carnal ordinances” (Heb. 9:1, 10). The Greek word for “come” in our text is that technical or religious term which had been used repeatedly by the apostle in this Epistle to express a sacred access or coming to God in His worship: see Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:1—last clause “comers thereunto.” Mount Sinai was a material thing, exposed to the outward senses, and was an emblem of the entire order of things connected with Judaism. As such, it was in complete contrast from that order of things brought in by Christ, which is wholly spiritually, invisible, and celestial. The one was addressed to the bodily senses; the other to the higher faculties of the soul. Spiritually speaking, Romanists and all other Ritualists are occupied with “the mount that might be touched”!

“And that burned with fire.” In their most literal sense those words allude to what transpired at Sinai. In Exodus 19:18 we read, “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire.” But it is with their figurative purport we are more concerned. In Scripture “fire” is the symbol of Divine wrath and judgment. As we are told in Deuteronomy 4:24, “The Lord thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God,” and the “jealousy” of God is, His holy severity against sin, not to leave it unpunished. With respect unto the law which He there gave—for Deuteronomy 33:2 declares “from His right hand went a fiery law”—it signified its inexorable sternness and efficacy to destroy its transgressors. Thus, the “fire” denoted the awful majesty of God as an inflexible Judge, and the terror which His law strikes into the minds of its violators with expectations of fiery indignation.

This was the first thing which the people beheld when they came to Sinai: God as a “consuming fire” presented to their view! Thus it is in the experience of those whom God saves. For many years, it may be, they lived in a state of unconcern: they had no heart-affecting views of the majesty and authority of God, and no pride-withering apprehensions of the fearfulness of their guilt. But when the Spirit awakens them from the sleep of death, gives them to realize Who it is with whom they have to do, and whose anger burns against sin; when the Law is applied to their conscience, convicting them of their innumerable offenses, their hearts are filled with dread and misery as they perceive their undone condition. There the law leaves them, and thence they must be consumed, unless they obtain deliverance by Jesus Christ.

And that was exactly what, by Divine grace, these believing Hebrews had obtained. The Redeemer had “delivered them from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). They were now as secure in Him as Noah was in the ark. The fire of God’s wrath had spent itself on the person of their Substitute. God was now reconciled to them, and henceforth they had an inalienable standing before Him—not as trembling criminals, but as accepted sons. To them the word was “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). No, as Christians, we have nothing more to do with the mount “that burned with fire,” but only with “the Throne of Grace.” Hallelujah! Alas that so many Christians are being robbed of their birthright. If Romanists and Ritualists are guilty of being occupied with “the mount that might be touched,” then those who are constantly presenting God before His people in His dread majesty—instead of as a loving Father—are taking them back to the mount “that burned with fire.”

“Nor unto blackness and darkness.” Here again the literal allusion is unto the awe-inspiring phenomena which attended the giving of the law. There was “a thick cloud upon the mount, . . . mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke” (Ex. 19:16, 18). Different commentators have resorted to various conjectures in their efforts to “harmonize” the “blackness and darkness” with the “fire:” some suggesting the one was followed by the other after an interval of time, others supposing the “darkness” was over the camp and the “fire” at the summit of the mount. But such theorizings are worthless in the face of Deuteronomy 5:22-23, “The Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness . . . ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, for the mountain did burn with fire.” The fact is this “fire” was supernatural: as that of Babylon’s furnace burned not while the three Hebrews were in it (Dan. 3), this glowed not—increasing the terror of its beholders because it emitted no light!

If the above explanation be deemed “far fetched,” we would appeal to the corroborating correspondency in the experience of those who have been saved. Was it not a fact that when we were shut up under guilt and terrified by the representation of God’s severity against sin, we looked in vain for anything in the Law which could yield relief? When the glory of God’s holiness shined into your conscience and His law was applied in convicting and condemning power, did you perceive His merciful design in the same? No, indeed; at that time, His gracious purpose was covered with “blackness,” and “darkness” filled your soul. You perceived not that the law was His instrument for flaying your self-righteous hopes (Rom. 7:10) and “a schoolmaster unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24). Your case appeared hopeless; and despite the fiery power of the law, you knew not how to “order your speech (before God) by reason of darkness” (Job 37:19).

“And tempest:” under this term the apostle comprises the thundering, lightnings, the earthquake which were on and in mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16, 18) all of which symbolized the disquieting character of so much that marked the Mosaic economy—in contrast from the peace and assurance which the Gospel imparts to those who believingly appropriate it. The order here agrees with the experience of those whom God saves. First, there is an application of the “fiery law,” which burns and terrifies the conscience. Second, there is the blackness and darkness of despair which follows the discovery of our lost condition. Third, there is the agitation of mind and turmoil of heart in seeking help by self-efforts and finding none. The soul has no light and knows not what to do. The mind is in a tumult, for no escape from the law’s just course seems possible. Not yet has Christ appeared to the distressed one.

“And the sound of a trumpet.” This too, we believe, was a supernatural one, emitting ear-splitting tones, shrill and loud, designed to inspire both awe and fear. It signified the near approach of God. It was to summon the people before Him as their lawgiver and Judge (Ex. 19:17). It was the outward sign of the promulgation of the Law, for immediately upon the sound of it, God spoke unto them. It was a pledge of the final judgment, when all flesh shall be summoned before God to answer the terms of His law. Experimentally, it is the imperative summons of the Word for the soul to answer to God’s call. Those who neglect it, will have to answer for the whole when they receive the final summons at the last day. Those who answer it now, are brought into God’s presence in fear and trembling, who then reveals to them Christ as an all-sufficient Savior.

“And the voice of words.” This is the seventh and final detail which the apostle here noticed. The “voice of words” was articulate and intelligible, in contrast from the dull roar of the thunder and the shrill tones of the trumpet. Those “words” were the ten commandments, written afterward on the two tables of stone: see Deuteronomy 5:22 and the preceding verses. Those “words” were uttered by the voice of the Lord God Almighty (Ex. 20:1), concerning which we are told, “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty; the voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars” (Ps. 29:4,5) etc. It was God declaring unto His Church the eternal establishment of His Law, that no alteration should be made in its commands or penalties, but that all must be fulfilled.

“Which voice they that heard entreated that the words should not be spoken to them any more.” This reveals the terror-stricken state of those who were encamped before Sinai. There was that on every side which inspired awe and dread: Nature itself convulsed and supernatural phenomena attending the same. This was intended to show the people that God had ascended His awful tribunal as a strict Judge. But that which filled them with intolerable consternation was the voice of God Himself speaking immediately to them. It was not that they refused to hear Him, but that they desired Him to speak to them through Moses, the typical Mediator. Experimentally, the sinner is overwhelmed when the voice of God in the law comes in power to his conscience.

The Inferiority of Judaism

(Hebrews 12:20, 21)

The Divine law was, for the substance of it, originally written in the hearts of mankind by God Himself, when their federal head and father was created in His own image and likeness. But through the fall it was considerably marred, as to its efficacious motions in the human heart. The entrance of sin and the corruption of our nature largely silenced its authoritative voice in the soul. Nevertheless, its unchanging demand and dread penalty were secured in the consciences of Adam’s depraved posterity. The law is so inlaid with the principles of our moral nature, so engrafted on all the faculties of our souls, that none has been able to completely get from under its power. Though the wicked find it utterly contrary to their desires and designs, and continually threatening their everlasting ruin, yet they cannot utterly cast off its yoke: see Romans 2:14, 15. Hence it is that, even among the most degraded and savage tribes, a knowledge of right and wrong, with some standard of conduct, is preserved.

Not only was the impression of the Divine law upon the human heart largely—though not totally—defaced by Adam’s apostasy, but from Cain unto the Exodus succeeding generations more and more flouted its authority, and disregarded its requirements in their common practice. Therefore, when God took Israel into covenant relationship with Himself and established them into a national Church, He restored to them His law, in all its purity, majesty, and terror. This He did, not only to renew it as a guide unto all righteousness and holiness, as the only rule of obedience unto Himself and of right and equity amongst men, and also to be a check unto sin by its commands and threatenings, but principally to declare in the Church the eternal establishment of it, that no alteration should be made in it, but that all must be fulfilled to the uttermost before any sinner can have any acceptance with Him.

As the Law was the original rule of obedience between God and mankind, and as it had failed of its end through the entrance of sin, the Lord had never revived and proclaimed it in so solemn a manner at Sinai, had it been capable of any abrogation and alteration at any time. Nay, He then gave many additional evidences of its perpetuity and abiding authority. It was solely for the promulgation of His law that the presence of God appeared on the mount, attended with such dreadful solemnity. The Ten Commandments were the only communication which God then gave directly unto the people themselves—those institutions which were to be repealed at a later date (the ceremonial laws) were given through Moses! Those ten commandments were spoken directly unto the whole nation with a Voice that was great and terrible. Later, they were written by His own finger on tables of stone. Thus did God confirm His law and evidence that it was incapable of dissolution. How it has been established and fulfilled the Epistle to the Romans makes known.

The different forms which the Lord’s appearances took in O.T. times were always in accord with each distinct revelation of His mind and will. He appeared to Abraham in the shape of a man (Gen. 18:1, 2), because He came to give promise of the Seed of blessing and to vouchsafe a representation of the future incarnation. To Moses He appeared as a flame in a bush which was not consumed (Ex. 3), because He would intimate that all the fiery trials through which the Church should pass would not consume it, and that because He was in it. To Joshua He appeared as a man of war, with drawn sword in His hand (Josh. 5:13), because He would assure him of victory over all his enemies. But at Sinai His appearing was surrounded by terrors, because He would represent the severity of His law, with the inevitable and awful destruction of all those who lay not hold of the promise for deliverance.

The place of this glorious and solemn appearing of the Lord was also full of significance. It was neither in Egypt not yet in Canaan, but in the midst of a great howling desert. Only those who have actually seen the place, can form any adequate conception of the abject dreariness and desolation of the scene. It was an absolute solitude, far removed from the habitation and converse of man. Here the people could neither see nor hear anything but God and themselves. There was no shelter or place of retirement: they were brought out into the open, face to face with God. Therein He gave a type and representation of the Great Judgment at the last day, when all who are out of Christ will be brought face to face with their Judge, and will behold nothing but the tokens of His wrath, and hear only the Law’s dread sentence announcing their irrevocable doom.

Sinai was surrounded by a barren and fruitless wilderness, wherein there was neither food nor water. Accurately does that depict the unregenerate in a state of sin: the Law brings forth nothing in their lives which is acceptable to God or really beneficial to the souls of men. The Mount itself produced nothing but bushes and brambles, from which some scholars say its name is derived. From a distance that vegetation makes an appearance of some fruitfulness in the place, but when it be more closely examined it is found that there is nothing except that which is fit for the fire. Thus it is with sinners under the law. They seem to perform many works of obedience, yea, such as they trust in and make their boast of; but when they are weighed in the Divine balance, they are found to be but thorns and briars, the dead works of those whose minds are enmity against God. Nothing else can the law bring forth from those who are out of Christ: “From Me is thy fruit found” (Hos. 14:8) is His own avowal.

Nor was there any water in the desert of Horeb to make it fruitful. Pause, my reader, and admire the “wondrous works” (Ps. 145:5) of God. When we are given eyes to see, we may discern the Creator’s handiwork as plainly in the desolate wastes of Nature as in the fertile fields and gardens, as truly in the barren and forbidding mountains as in the fruitful and attractive valleys. He whose fingers had shaped the place where His Son was crucified as “a place of a skull” (Matthew 27:33), had diverted from the desert of Horeb all rivers and streams. That water upon which the people of God then lived, issued from the smitten rock (Ex. 17:6), for it is only through Christ that the Holy Spirit is given: see John 7:28, 39, Acts 2:33, Titus 3:5, 6. They who reject Christ have not the Spirit: see Romans 8:9, Jude 19.

We may further observe that, the appearing of the Lord God at the giving of the Law was on the top of a high mountain, and not in a plain: this added to both the glory and the terror of it. This gave a striking adumbration of the Throne of His majesty, high over the people, who were far below at its base. As they looked up, they saw the mount above them full of fire and smoke, the ground on which they stood quaking beneath their feet, the air filled with thunderings and lightnings, with the piercing blasts of the trumpet and the voice of the Lord Himself falling on their ears. What other thought could fill their minds than that it was “a fearful thing” to be summoned to judgment before the ineffably Holy One? O that the preachers of our day could say with him who had experienced the reality of Sinai in his own soul, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

The Lord’s appearing on mount Sinai was only a temporary one—in contrast with His “dwelling” in Zion (Isa. 8:18). This shadowed-forth the fact that the economy there instituted was but a transient one—though the Law there promulgated is eternal. Those, then, who turn unto Sinai for salvation are left entirely unto themselves. “God dwells no more on Sinai. Those who abide under the law (as a covenant, A.W.P.) shall neither have His presence nor any gracious pledge of it. And all these things are spoken to stir us up to seek for an interest in that blessed Gospel-state which is here proposed to us. And thus much we have seen already, that without it there is neither relief from the cure of the law, nor acceptable fruit of obedience, nor pledge of Divine favor to be obtained” (John Owen, whom we have again followed closely in the above paragraphs).

Before turning to the final lines in the graphic picture which the apostle gave of the appearing of the Lord at Sinai, let us again remind ourselves of his principal design in the same. The immediate end which the apostle had before him, was to persuade the Hebrews to adhere closely to the Gospel, his appeal being drawn from the evident fact of the superlative excellency of it to the law. In particular, he was here enforcing his former exhortations unto steadfastness under afflictions, to an upright walk in the ways of God, to the following of peace with all men, and to persevere diligently that they failed not of the grace of God. This he does by pointing out that ancient order of things from which they had been delivered, for such is the force of his opening words “ye are not come unto” etc. (verse 18).

“For they could not endure that which was commanded” (verse 20). Having mentioned in the preceding verses seven things which their fathers came unto at Sinai, the apostle now describes the effects which those startling phenomena produced upon them. The first was, the people “entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more” (verse 19), the reason being “for they could not endure” it. The display of God’s terrible majesty, the distance from Him they were required to maintain, and the high spirituality of the Law then promulgated, with its fearful penalty attending the least infraction of it, completely overwhelmed them. So it is still: a view of God as a Judge, represented in fire and blackness, will fill the souls of convicted sinners with dread and terror. No matter how boldly and blatantly they have carried themselves, when the Spirit brings a transgressor to that Mount, the stoutest heart will quake.

When God deals with men by the Law, He shuts them up to Himself and their own conscience. As we pointed out in an earlier paragraph, God gave the Law to Israel neither in Egypt nor in Canaan, but in a desert, a place of absolute solitude, remote from the commerce of men. There the people could neither see nor hear anything but God and themselves. There was no shelter or place or retirement: they were brought out into the open, face to face with Him with whom they had to do. So it is now: when God has designs of mercy toward a sinner, when He takes him in hand, He brings him out of all his retreats and refuges, and compels him to face the just demands of His Law, and the unspeakable dreadful manner in which he has hitherto disregarded its requirements and sought to hear not its accusations.

When the Law is preached to sinners—alas in so many places today that which gives “the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20) is entirely omitted—it usually falls upon the ears of those who promptly betake themselves to various retreats and reliefs for evading its searching and terror-producing message. They seek refuge in the concerns and amusements of this life in order to crowd out serious and solemn thoughts of the life to come. They listen to the bewitching promises of self-pleasing, “the pleasures of sin for a season.” Or, they put far forward in their minds the “evil day,” and take security in resolutions of repentance and reformation before death shall come upon them. They have many other things to engage their attention than to listen to the voice of the Law; at least, they persuade themselves it is not yet necessary that they should seriously hearken thereto.

But when God brings the sinner to the Mount, as He most certainly will, either here or hereafter, all these pretenses and false comforts vanish, every prop is knocked from under him: to hide away from his Judge is now impossible. “Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place” (Isa. 28:17). Then it is that the sinner discovers that “the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it: the covering narrower than he can wrap himself in it” (Isa. 28:20). He is forced out into the open: he is brought face to face with his Maker; he is compelled to attend unto the voice of the Law. There is neither escape nor relief for him. His conscience is now held to that which he can neither endure nor avoid. He is made to come out from behind the trees, to find his fig-leaves provide no covering (Gen. 3:9-11).

As the stern and inexorable voice of the Law enters into his innermost being, “piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), the poor sinner is paralyzed with fear. The sight of the Divine Majesty on His throne, overwhelms him: the terms and curse of the Law slay his every hope. Now he experiences the truth of Romans 7:9, 10, “For I was alive (in my own estimation) without the law once; but when the commandment came (applied in power to the conscience by the Spirit) sin revived (became a living, raging, cursed reality) and I died (to all expectation of winning God’s approval). And the commandment, which was unto life, I found unto death.” Like Israel before Sinai, the sinner cannot endure the voice of the Law. The Law commands him, but provides no strength to meet its requirements. It shows him his sins, but it reveals no Savior. He is encompassed with terror and sees no way of escape from eternal death.

That is the very office of the Law in the hands of the Holy Spirit: to shatter the sinner’s unconcern, to make him conscious of the claims of the holy God, to convict him of his lifelong rebellion against Him, to strip him of the rags of his self-righteousness, to slay all hope of self-help and self-deliverance, to bring him to the realization that he is lost, utterly undone, sentenced to death. “Which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more; for they could not endure that which was commanded” (Heb. 12:19, 20). When the Holy Spirit applies the Law in power, the sinner’s own conscience is obliged to acknowledge that his condemnation is just. And there the Law leaves him: wretched, hopeless, terror-stricken. Unless he flies for refuge to Christ he is lost forever.

Reader, suffer us please to make this a personal issue. Have you ever experienced anything which corresponds, in substance, to what we have said above? Have you ever heard the thunderings and felt the lightnings of Sinai in your own soul? Have you, in your conscience, been brought face to face with your Judge, and heard Him read the fearful record of your transgressions? Have you received by the Law such a knowledge of sin that you are painfully conscious that every faculty of your soul and every member of your body is defiled and corrupt? Have you been driven out of every refuge, and relief and brought into the presence of Him who is ineffably holy and inflexibly just, who “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7)? Have you heard that dread sentence “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10)? Has it brought you down into the dust to cry, “I am lost: utterly, hopelessly lost; there is nothing I can do to deliver myself”? The ground must be ploughed before it can receive seed, and the heart must be broken up by the Law before it is ready for the Gospel.

In addition to the other terror-producing elements connected with the institution of Judaism, the apostle mentions two other features. “And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart” (verse 20). To increase the reverence which was due to the appearing of Jehovah on Sinai, the people were required to keep their distance at the base of the mount, and were strictly forbidden an approach beyond the bounds fixed to them. This command was confirmed by a penalty, that every one who transgressed it should be put to death, as a disobedient rebel, devoted to utter destruction. This restriction and its sanction was also designed to produce in the people awe and terror of God in His giving of the Law.

That to which the apostle referred is recorded in Exodus 19:12, 13, “Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever touchest the mount shall be surely put to death: There shall not a hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live.” As Owen well suggested, the prohibition respecting the cattle of the Israelites not only made the more manifest the absolute inaccessibleness of God in and by the Law, but also seemed to intimate the uncleanness of all things which sinners possess, by virtue of their relation to them. Everything that fallen man touches is defiled by him, and even “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 15:8).

The punishment of the man who defiantly touched the Mount was death by stoning, that of a beast by stoning or being thrust through with a dart. In either ease they were slain at a distance: no hand touched the one who had offended. This emphasized the heinousness of the offense and the execrableness of the offender: others must not be defiled by coming into immediate contact with them—at what a distance ought we to keep ourselves from everything which falls under the curse of the Law! How the whole of this brings out the stern severity of the Law! “If even an irrational animal was to be put to death in a manner which marked it as un-clean—as something not to be touched—what might rational offenders expect as the punishment of their sins? and if the violation of a positive institution of this kind involved consequences so fearful, what must be the result of transgressing the moral requirements of the great Lawgiver?” (John Brown).

“And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” (verse 21). The apostle now turns from the people themselves, and describes the effect upon their leader of the terror-producing phenomena that attended the institution of Judaism. Here was the very man who had dared, again and again, to confront the powerful monarch of Egypt and make known to him the demand of God, and later announced to his face the coming of plague after plague. Here was the commander-in-chief of Israel’s hosts, who had boldly led them through the Red Sea. He was a holy person, more eminent in grace than all others of his time, for he was “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). Now if such a man was overcome with dread, how terrible must be the severity and curse of the Divine Law!

Furthermore, let it be carefully borne in mind that Moses was no stranger to the Lord Himself: not only was he accustomed to receive Divine revelations, but he had previously beheld a representation of the Lord’s presence at the bush. Moreover, he was the Divinely-appointed intermediary, the mediator between God and the people at that time. Yet none of these privileges exempted him from an overwhelming dread of the terror of the Lord in the giving the Law. What a proof is this that the very best of men cannot stand before God on the ground of their own righteousness! How utterly vain are the hopes of those who think to be saved by Moses (John 9:28)! Surely if there be anything in all the Scriptures which should turn us from resting on the Law for salvation, it is the horror and terror of Moses on mount Sinai.

“And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake.” The fact that there is no record given in the O.T. of this particular item, occasions no difficulty whatever unto those who believe in the full inspiration of Holy Writ. Nor is there any need for us to have recourse unto the Romish theory of “unwritten tradition,” and suppose that a knowledge of the terror of Moses had been orally preserved among the Jews. That which had not been chronicled in the book of Exodus, was here revealed to the apostle by the Holy Spirit Himself, and was now recorded by him for the purpose of accentuating the awfulness of what occurred at Sinai; and this, that the Hebrews should be increasingly thankful that Divine grace had connected them with so different an order of things.

The scope and design of the whole of our passage should now be obvious to the reader. The purpose of the apostle was to show again how inferior Judaism was to Christianity. This he here does by taking us back to Sinai, where Judaism was formally instituted by the appearing of Jehovah at the giving of the law, and where the Mosaic economy was established by a covenant based thereon. All the circumstances connected with its institution were in most striking accord with the leading features and characteristics of that dispensation. At that time the nation of Israel was in a waste, howling wilderness, standing in speechless terror at the foot of the Mount. There Jehovah manifested Himself in His awful holiness and majesty, as Lawgiver and Judge; the people at a distance fenced off from Him. How profoundly thankful should Christians be that they belong to a much more mild and gracious order of things!

Sinai was “the mount that might be touched”—a symbol of that order of things which was addressed to the outward senses. The “blackness and darkness” which covered it was emblematic of the obscurity of spiritual things under the Mosaic economy, a thick veil of types and shadows hiding the substance and reality now revealed by the Gospel. The people being fenced off at the base of the mount denoted that under Judaism they had no way of approach and no access into the immediate presence of God. The thunderings, lightnings and fire, expressed the wrath of God against all who transgress His righteous Law. The “tempest” was a sign of the instability and temporariness of that dispensation, in contrast with the peace which Christ has made and the permanent and eternal order of things which He has brought in. The utter consternation of Moses gave clear proof that he was not the perfect and ultimate Mediator between God and men. All of which plainly intimated the need for something else, something better, something more suited unto lost sinners.

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:22-24

Commentary on Hebrews 12:22-24

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Superiority of Christianity

(Hebrews 12:22-24)

“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly; the Church of the firstborn, which are written in Heaven; and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). In these verses the apostle completes the last great contrast which he draws between Judaism and Christianity, in which he displays the immeasurable superiority of the latter over the former. Though there may not be in them much of personal interest to some of our readers, yet we feel it incumbent upon us to give the same careful attention to this passage as we have to the previous sections of this epistle.

The central design of the apostle in verses 18-24 was to convince the believing Hebrews of the pre-eminence of the new covenant above the old, that is, of the Gospel-economy over the Legal. To this end he first directed attention to the awful phenomena which attended the institution of Judaism, and now he sets before them the attractive features which characterizes Christianity. Everything connected with the giving of the Law was fearful and terrifying, but all that marks the Evangelical system is blessed and winsome. The manifestation of the Divine presence at Sinai though vivid and truly magnificent, was awe-inspiring, but the revelation of His love and grace in the Gospel prompts to peace and joy. Those pertained to things of the earth, these concern Heaven itself; those were addressed to the senses of the body, these call into exercise the higher faculties of the soul.

When going over verses 18-21 we sought to make clear the figurative meaning of their contents. Though there be in them an allusion to historical facts, yet it should be obvious that it is not with their literal signification the apostle was chiefly concerned. As this may not be fully apparent to some of our readers, we must labor the point a little—rendered the more necessary by the gross and carnal ideas entertained by some Bible students. Surely it is quite plain to any unbiased mind that when he said, “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire” (verse 18) the apostle had reference to something else than a mountain in Arabia. There would be neither force nor even sense in telling Christians “Ye are not come to mount Sinai”—why even of the Hebrew believers it is improbable that any of them had ever seen it.

If, then, the words “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched” refer not to any material mount, then they must intimate that order of things which was formally inaugurated at Sinai, the moral features of which were suitably symbolized and strikingly adumbrated by the physical phenomena which attended the giving of the Law. This we sought to show in the course of the two preceding articles. Now the same principle of interpretation holds good and must be applied to the terms of the passage upon which we are now entering. “But ye are come unto mount Sion” no more has reference to a natural mountain than “We have an altar” (Heb. 13:10) means that Christians have a tangible and visible altar. Whatever future the earthly Sion may yet have, it is the antitypical, the spiritual, the Heavenly Sion, which is here in view.

One of the hardest tasks which sometimes confronts the careful and honest expositor of Holy Writ is to determine when its language is to be understood literally and when it is to be regarded as figurative. Nor is this always to be settled so easily as many suppose: the controversy upon the meaning of our Lord’s words at the institution of the holy “Supper,” “This is My body” shows otherwise. It had been a simple matter for Him to say “This (bread) represents My body,” but He did not—why, is best known to Himself. Nor does this example stand by any means alone: much of Christ’s language was of a figurative character, and more than once His own apostles failed to understand His purport—see Matthew 16:5-7; Mark 7:14-18; John 4:31-34 and John 21:22, 23.

No, it is by no means always an easy matter to determine when the language of Scripture is to be regarded literally, and when it is to be understood figuratively. In previous generations perhaps there was a tendency to “spiritualize” too much: whether that be so or no, certainly the pendulum has now swung to the opposite extreme. How very often do we hear it said, “The language of Scripture means just what it says, and says just what it means”. Many believe that such a declaration is very honoring to God’s Word, and suppose that anything to the contrary savors strongly of “Modernism.” But, surely, a little reflection will soon indicate that such a statement needs qualifying, for there is not a little of the language of Scripture which must be understood other than literally.

To say nothing about many poetic expressions in the Psalms (such as “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”), and symbolic language in the Prophets (like “then will I sprinkle clean water upon you… I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh”), take such a saying of our Lord’s as this: “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children or lands, for My sake and the Gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children and lands, with persecutions” (Mark 10:29, 30)—the impossibility of literalizing such a promise appears, for example, in a man’s receiving or having a hundred mothers. Now if that statement is not to be interpreted literally, why should an outcry be raised if the writer presents good reasons for interpreting other verses figuratively?

After reading the above, some may be inclined to say, “All of this is very bewildering and confusing.” Our reply is, Then you must have sat under very superficial preaching. Any well-instructed scribe would have taught you that there is great variety used in the language of Holy Writ, and often much care and pains are required in order to ascertain its precise character. That is one reason why God has graciously provided “teachers” (Eph. 4:11) for His people. True, the path of duty is so plainly defined for us that the wayfaring man (though a fool) need not err therein; but that does not alter the fact that in order to ascertain the exact significance of many particular expressions of Scripture, much prayer, and comparing passage with passage, is called for. The Bible is not a lazy man’s book, and the Holy Spirit has designedly put not a little therein to stain the pride of men.

Now much help is obtained upon this difficulty by recognizing that many of the things which pertain to the new covenant are expressed in language taken from the old, the antitype being presented under the phraseology of the type. For instance, when Christ announced the free intercourse between Heaven and earth which was to result from His mediation, He described it to Nathanael in the words of Jacob’s vision: “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51)—not that the Lord Jesus was ever to present the appearance of a ladder for that purpose, such as the patriarch saw in his dream, but that spiritually there would be a like medium of communication established and the agency of a like intercourse maintained. In a similar manner, the death of Christ is frequently spoken of under the terms of the Levitical sacrifices, while the application of His atonement to the soul is called the “sprinkling of His blood on the conscience.”

Not until we clearly perceive that most of that which pertains to the new economy is exhibited to us under the images of the old, are we in the position to understand much of the language found in the Prophets, and many of the expressions employed by our Lord and His apostles. Thus, Christ is spoken of as “our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7) and as Priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:20). Paradise is described as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). The N.T. saints are referred to as “the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7) as “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), as “the Circumcision” (Phil. 3:3), as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9), and that “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). Such terminology as this should amply prepare us for “ye are come unto mount Sion,” and should remove all uncertainty as to what is denoted thereby.

“But ye are come unto Mount Sion.” In these words the apostle commences the second member of the comparison between Judaism and Christianity, which completes the foundation on which he bases the great exhortation found in verses 25-29. In the former member (verses 18-21) he had described the state of the Israelitish people (and the Church in it) as they existed under the Legal economy, taken from the terror-producing character of the giving of the Law and the nature of its demands: “they could not endure that which was commanded… and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake.” But now the apostle contrasted the blessed and glorious state into which believers have been called by the Gospel, thereby making manifest how incomparably more excellent was the new covenant in itself than the old, and, how infinitely more beneficial are its privileges unto those whom Divine grace gives a part therein. No less than eight of these privileges are here enumerated—always the number of a new beginning.

“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him” (Eph. 1:10). These words throw light on the passage now before us: all the spiritual things of grace and glory, both in heaven and in earth, have been headed up in Christ, so that they all now center in Him. By His mediatorial work the Lord Jesus has repaired the great breach which the sin of Adam entailed. Before sin entered the world there was perfect harmony between Heaven and earth, man and angels uniting in hymning their glorious Creator: together they formed one spiritual society of worshippers. But upon the fall, that spiritual union was broken, and not only did the human race (in their federal head) become alienated from God Himself, but they became alienated from the holy spirits which surround His throne. But the last Adam has restored the disruption which the first Adam’s sin produced, and in reconciling His people to God, He has also brought them back into fellowship with the angelic hosts.

Now because God has gathered together in one, recapitulated or headed up, “all things in Christ both which are in heaven and which are in earth,” when we savingly “come” to Christ, we at the same time, “come” to all that God has made to center in Him; or, in other words, we obtain an interest or right in all that is headed up in Him. Let the reader seek to grasp clearly this fact: it is because believers have been brought to Christ that they “are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels!” By their initiation into the Gospel state, Christians are also inducted into and given access unto all these privileges. Christ and His mediation are specifically mentioned at the close of the various privileges here listed (verse 24), to teach us it is on that account we are interested in them and as the reason for our being so interested.

Yes, it is to Christ and Him alone (though not, of course, to the exclusion of the Father and His eternal love or the Holy Spirit and His gracious operations) that the Christian owes every blessing: his standing before God, his new creation state, his induction into the society of the holy, his eternal inheritance. It was by Christ that he was delivered from the condemnation and curse of the law, with the unspeakable terror it caused him. And it is by Christ that he has been brought to the antitypical Sion and the heavenly Jerusalem. Not by anything he has done or will do are such inestimable blessings made his. Observe how jealously the Spirit of Truth has guarded this very point, in using the passive and not the active voice: the verb is “ye are come” and not “ye have come.” The same fact is emphasized again in 1 Peter 2:25—”ye were as sheep going astray; but are (not “have”) now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls”—because of what the Spirit wrought in us, we being entirely passive.

“But ye are come unto Mount Sion.” We need hardly say that this language looks back to the “Zion” of the O.T., the variation in spelling being due to the difference between the Hebrew and Greek. It is in fact to the O.T. we must turn for light upon our present verse, and, as usual, the initial reference is the one which supplies us with the needed key. The first time that “Zion” is mentioned there is in 2 Samuel 5:6, 7, “And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites the inhabitants of the land… thinking David cannot come in hither. Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion: the same is the city of David.” The deeper significance of this appears when we carefully ponder its setting: Zion was captured by David when Israel had been thoroughly tried and found completely wanting. It occurred at a notable crisis in the history of the nation, namely, after the priesthood had been deplorably corrupted (1 Sam. 2:22, 25) and after the king of their choice (Saul) had reduced himself (1 Sam. 28:7) and them (1 Sam. 31:1, 7) to the lowest degradation.

It was, then, at a time when Israel’s fortunes were at a low ebb, when they were thoroughly disheartened, and when (because of their great wickedness) they had the least reason to expect it, that God graciously intervened. Just when Saul and Jonathan had been slain in battle, when the Philistines triumphed and Israel had fled before them in dismay, the Lord brought forth the man of His choice. David, whose name means the “Beloved.” Up to this time the hill of Zion had been a continual menace to Israel, but now David wrested it out of the hand of the Jebusites and made it the stronghold of Jerusalem. On one of its eminences the temple was erected, which was the dwelling place of Jehovah in the midst of His people. “Zion,” then, stands for the highest revelation of Divine grace in the O.T. times.

Zion lay to the south-west of Jerusalem, being the oldest and highest part of that ancient city. It was outside of the city itself and separate from it, though in Scripture frequently identified with it. Mount Zion had two heads or peaks: Moriah on which the temple was erected, the seat of the worship of God; and the other, whereon the palace of David was built, the royal residence of the kings of Judah—a striking figure of the priestly and kingly offices meeting in Christ. Zion, then, was situated in the best part of the world—Canaan, the land which flowed with milk and honey; in the best part of that land—in Judah’s portion; in the best part of his heritage—Jerusalem; and in the best part of that metropolis—the highest point, the “city of David.” Let the interested reader carefully ponder the following passages and observe the precious things said of Zion: Psalm 48:2, 3; 50:2; 132: 13, 14; 133:3.

“Zion is, First, the place of God’s habitation, where He dwells forever: Psalm 9:11; 76:2. Second, it is the seat of the throne, reign and kingdom of Christ: Psalm 2:6; Isaiah 24:23. Third, it is the object of Divine promises innumerable: Psalm 125:1; 128:5, of Christ Himself: Isaiah 59:20. Fourth, thence did the Gospel proceed and the law of Christ come forth: Isaiah 40:9, Micah 4:2. Fifth, it was the object of God’s especial love, and the place of the birth of His elect: Psalm 87:2, 5. Sixth, the joy of the whole earth: Psalm 48:2. Seventh, salvation and all blessings came forth out of Zion: Psalm 14:7; 110:2; 128:5. Now these things were not spoken of nor accomplished towards that Mount Zion which was in Jerusalem absolutely, but only as it was typical of believers under the Gospel; so the meaning of the apostle is, that by the Gospel believers do come to that state wherein they have an interest in and a right to all the blessed and glorious things that are spoken in the Scriptures concerning and to Zion. All the privileges ascribed, all the promises made to it, are theirs. Zion is the place of God’s especial gracious residence, of the throne of Christ in His reign, the object of all promises. This is the first privilege of believers under the Gospel. They come to Mount Zion, they are interested in the promises of God recorded in the Scriptures made to Zion; in all the love and care of God expressed towards it, in all the spiritual glories assigned to it. The things spoken of it were never accomplished in the earthly Zion, but only typically; spiritually, and in their reality, they belong to believers under the new testament” (John Owen).

The contrasts between Sinai and Sion were very marked. The former was located in one of the dreariest and driest places on earth, a “howling desert”; the other was situated in the midst of that land which flowed with milk and honey. The one was ugly, barren, forbidding; the other was “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth.” Sinai was enveloped in “blackness and darkness,” while Sion signified “sunny” or “shone upon.” God came down on Sinai for only a brief moment, but He dwells in Sion “forever.” On the former He appeared in terrible majesty; in the other He is manifested in grace and blessing. At Sinai the typical mediator trembled and quaked; on Sion Christ is crowned with glory and honor.

“But ye are come to Mount Sion.” By this, then, we understand, First, that in being brought to Christ, the believer comes to the antitypical, the spiritual, Sion. Second, more specifically, we understand by this expression that believers are come to the Throne of Grace. Just as, originally, the historical Sion was a menace to Israel, so while we were under the curse of the law God’s throne was one of judgment. But, just as David (the “Beloved”) secured Sion for Israel and it became the place of blessing, where God abode in grace, so as the result of Christ’s work the Throne of Heaven has become the Throne of Grace, He being Himself seated thereon. Third, in its wider scope, it signifies that believers have a right or title to all the good and glorious things spoken of and to Sion in the O.T.

“And unto the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” by which we understand Heaven itself, of which the earthly Jerusalem—the seat and center of the worship of God—was the emblem. From earliest times the saints were taught by the Holy Spirit to contemplate the future blessedness of the righteous under the image of a splendid “City,” reared on permanent foundations. Of Abraham it is declared, “He looked for a city which hath foundation, whose Builder and Maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). The force of that statement is best perceived in the light of the previous verse: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.” Abraham was given to realize that Canaan was but a figure of his everlasting heritage, and therefore did he look forward to (verse 10), “seek” (verse 14), and “desire a better Country, that is, a heavenly” (verse 14). The eternal Abode of the blessed is there called both a “City” and a “Country.”

Many are the allusions to this “City” in the Psalms and the Prophets: we single out a few of the more prominent ones. “There is a river (The Spirit), the streams (His graces) whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High” (Ps. 46:4). “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness” (Ps. 48:1). “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (Ps. 87:3). “He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation” (Ps. 107:7). “We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks” (Isa. 26:1). It is to be noted that in several passages the “City” is mentioned with particular reference to “Zion,” for we can only have access to God via the Throne of Grace: John 14:6.

The “City of the living God” intimates the nearness of the saints to God, for Jerusalem was adjacent to Zion—their homes and dwellings were near to His. This figure of the “city” is also found in “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19)—see too Revelation 3:12. It is designated “the heavenly Jerusalem” in contrast from the earthly, the “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). It is referred to again in Hebrews 13:14. A “city” is a place of permanent residence, in contrast from the moving tent of the wilderness. In Bible times a “city” was a place of safety, being surrounded by strong and high walls; so in Heaven we shall be eternally secure from sin and Satan, death and every enemy. A city is well stocked with provisions: so in Heaven nothing is lacking which is good and blessed.

“But ye are come unto . . . the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” “The apostle herein prefers the privileges of the Gospel not only above what the people were made partakers of at Sinai in the wilderness, but also above all that they afterwards enjoyed in Jerusalem in the land of Canaan. In the glory and privileges of that city the Hebrews greatly boasted. But the apostle casts that city in the state wherein it then was, into the same condition with Mount Sinai in Arabia, that is, under bondage, as indeed it then was (Gal. 4:25); and he opposeth thereunto that ‘Jerusalem which is above,’ that is, this heavenly Jerusalem. This the second privilege of the Gospel-state, wherein all the remaining promises of the O.T. are transferred and made over to believers: whatever is spoken of the city of God or of Jerusalem that is spiritual, that contains in it the love or favor of God, it is all made theirs; faith can lay a claim to it all.

“Believers are so ‘come’ to this city, as to be inhabitants, free denizens, possessors of it, to whom all the fights, privileges, and immunities of it do belong; and what is spoken of it in the Scripture is a ground of faith to them, and a spring of consolation. For they may with consolation make application of what is so spoken to themselves in every condition. A ‘city’ is the only place of rest, peace, safety and honor, among men in this world: to all these in the spiritual sense we are brought by the Gospel. Whilst men are under the law they are at Sinai—in a wilderness where is none of these things; the souls of sinners can find no place of rest or safety under the law. But we have all these things by the Gospel: rest in Christ, peace with God, order in the communion of faith, safety in Divine protection, and honor in our relation to God in Christ” (John Owen).

The Superiority of Christianity– Continued

(Hebrews 12:22-24)

“But ye are come unto” etc. (verse 22). These words do not, in fact cannot, mean, that in some mystical sense believers are “in spirit” projected into the future, to something which will only be actualized in the future. The Greek verb has a specific significance in this Epistle, as may be seen by a careful reference to Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 11:6: “to come unto” here means to approach as worshippers. In the verses now before us we are shown the high dignity and honor of that spiritual worship which is the privilege of Christians under the Gospel dispensation. When they meet together in the name of the Lord Jesus, as His people, and with a due observance of His holy institutions, they “are come unto,” have access to, the eight privileges here enumerated: they draw nigh by faith to Heaven itself, to the antitypical holy of holies. But this is possible only to spiritual worshippers.

They who are strangers to experimental spirituality soon grow weary even of the outward form of worship, unless their eyes are entertained with an imposing ritual and their ears regaled by appealing music. This is the secret of the pomp and pageantry of Romanism-now, alas, being more and more imitated by professing Protestants; it is to attract and charm religious worldlings. Ritualists quite obscure the simplicity and beauty of true Gospel worship. Man in his natural estate is far too carnal to be pleased with a worship in which there is nothing calculated to fire the imagination and intoxicate the senses by means of tangible objects. But they who worship in spirit and in truth can draw nigh to God more joyously in a barn, and mingle their praises with the songs of Heaven, than if they were in a cathedral.

How vast is the difference between that spiritual adoration which issues from renewed hearts and that “form of godliness” which is associated with altars and candles, choirs and surpliced ministers! Only that is acceptable to God which is produced by the Holy Spirit through sinners washed in the blood of the Lamb. Under grace-magnifying and Christ-exalting preaching, the spiritual senses of real Christians are exercised; as they behold the Savior’s glories in the glass of the Gospel, as they hear His voice, they have an inward impression of His presence, they taste afresh of His goodness, and His name is to them as ointment poured forth, perfuming their spirits. In this joyous frame, their hearts are drawn Heavenwards, and their songs of praise mingle with those of the holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect.

“But ye are come unto Mount Sion.” David, after having taken Mount Zion from the Jebusites, made it the place of his residence, so that it became “the city of the great king.” There he reigned and ruled, there he issued his laws, and thence he extended the sway of his peaceful scepter over the whole of the holy land. From that circumstance, Mount Zion became the great type of the kingdom of God, of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head and Sovereign. As David ruling upon Mount Zion in the palace built there as his royal seat, issuing his commands which were obeyed all over the land, so our blessed Redeemer has been exalted according to God’s promise “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion” (Ps. 2:6 and cf. Hebrews 2:9); and there sitting as King in Sion, issues His mandates and sways His peaceful scepter over the hearts of His obedient people.

“And unto the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Most of the older writers understood these terms to refer to the Church, but we think this is a mistake, for the Church is referred to, separately, in a later clause. As pointed out in the preceding article, we regard this language as signifying Heaven itself, as the residence of God and the eternal abode of His people. “The living God” is the true and only God, the Triune Jehovah, the Fountain of all life, the One who is “from everlasting to everlasting,” without beginning or end: this title is given to each of the eternal Three-Matthew 16:16, 1 Timothy 4:10, 2 Corinthians 6:16, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16. As “Zion” was the seat of David’s throne, so “Jerusalem” was the dwelling place of Jehovah in the midst of His covenant people. “Jerusalem” signifies “the Vision of Peace,” and in Heaven the “sons of peace” (Luke 10:6) will behold the glory of God in the face of the Prince of peace.

“And to an innumerable company of angels.” This is the third great privilege enjoyed by the worshippers under the Christian economy: having mentioned the place to which Divine grace has brought believers, the Holy Spirit now described the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem. The angels, who are worshippers of God and His Christ, are perhaps mentioned first because they are in closer proximity to the Throne, because they are the original denizens of Heaven, and because they are greatly in the majority. The reference is, of course, to the holy angels who kept their first estate and sinned not when some of their fellows apostatized. They are “the elect angels” (1 Tim. 5:21), and although they have not been redeemed by the atoning blood of the Lamb, it appears highly probable that they were confirmed in their standing by the incarnation of the Son, for God has united in Christ both elect men and elect angels (Eph. 1:10), that He might be “the Head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10).

“Ye are come unto . . . an innumerable company of angels.” This sets before us a further contrast between that which characterizes Christianity, and what obtained under the Mosaic economy-that is, so far as the Israelitish nation as a whole was concerned. It is clear from several passages that “angels” were connected with the giving of the Law, when Judaism was formally instituted. We read, “the Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined from mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints: from His right hand went a fiery law for them” (Deut. 33:2): and again, “The chariots of God are twenty thousands, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai” (Ps. 68:17). But while many “thousands” of the heavenly hosts attended Jehovah upon Sinai, this was very different from the “innumerable company” with which we are connected, namely the “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” of Revelation 5:11. And even to the many thousands of angels at Sinai the Nation did not “come”: instead, they were fenced off at the foot of the mount.

Redeemed sinners who have fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit, are of one spirit with all the heavenly hosts, for there is a union of sentiment between them. Christians have been brought into a state of amity and friendship with the holy angels: they are members of the same family (Eph. 3:15), are united under the same Head (Col. 2:10), and joined together in the same worship (Heb. 1:6; Revelation 5:9-14). We are “come unto” them by a spiritual relation, entering into association with them, sharing the benefits of their kind offices, for “are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). The angels are “fellow servants” with believers “that have the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 19:10). Wondrous fact is this that sinners of the earth, while here in this world, have communication with the angels in Heaven, for they are constantly engaged in the same worship of God in Christ as we are: Thus there is perfect oneness of accord between us.

As we pointed out in the preceding chapter, the Church’s spiritual union with the holy angels-being united together in one spiritual society and family-is due to the atoning work of Christ, who by putting away the sins of His people has restored the breach made by Adam’s fall and “reconciled all things unto Himself” (Col. 1:20). Hence we believe that in the verse now before us there is not only a contrast drawn between Judaism and Christianity, but that its ultimate reference is to the immense difference brought in between the offense of the first Adam and the righteousness of the last Adam. Upon the transgression of Adam we read “So He drove out the man: and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24). There God made His “angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire” (Heb. 1:7) to execute His vengeance against us; but now these same angels are our associates in worship and service.

God is “the Lord of hosts” (Ps. 46:7), myriads of holy celestial creatures being in an attendance upon Him-“an innumerable company of angels:” how this should help us to realize the majesty and grandeur of that Kingdom into which Divine grace has brought us. In this expression we may also discern a word to encourage our trembling hearts in connection with our wrestling against the “hosts of wicked spirits” (Eph. 6:12): numerous as are the forces of Satan assailing us, an “innumerable company of angels” are defending us! This was the blessed truth by which Elisha comforted his fearing servant “they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16, 17). “When the thought of Satan and his legions brings fear, we ought to comfort ourselves with the assurance that more in number and greater in power are the loving and watchful angels, who for Christ’s sake regard us with the deepest interest and affection” (A. Saphir).

Before turning to the next item a word should be said in refutation of the blasphemous error of Romanists concerning our relation to the angels. They teach that we are “come unto” the angels with our prayers, which is one of their empty superstitions-there is not a word in Scriptures to countenance such an idea. Though it be true that the angels are superior to us in dignity and power, yet in communion with God we are their equals-“fellow-servant’, (Rev. 22:9), and, as Owen pointed out, “Nothing can be more groundless than that fellow-servants should worship one another”-the worshipping of angels is condemned in Colossians 2:18, Revelation 22:8, 9. Well did Owen also point out, “It is the highest madness for any one to pretend himself to be the head of the church, as the pope does, unless he assume also to himself to be the head of all the angels in Heaven,” for we belong to the same holy society.

“To the general assembly.” This expression occasions some difficulty, for in the first place it is not quite clear as to what the Spirit specifically alludes unto. In the second place, the Greek word (pangueris, a compound one) occurs nowhere else in the N.T., so that we are not able to obtain any help from its usage in other passages. In the third place, it is not very easy to decide whether this clause is to be linked with the one immediately preceding or with the one following it. In its classical usage the Greek word was employed in connection with a public convocation, when all the people were gathered together to celebrate a public festival or solemnity. Most of the commentators link this word with what follows: “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn,” understanding the reference to be unto the (“general”) union of believing Jews and believing Gentiles in one Body. Personally, we think this is a mistake.

First, such language would be tautological, for if the “general assembly” points to the middle wall of partition being broken down, and converted Jews and Gentiles being joined together in one Body, that would be “the Church.” Second, the denomination “church of the firstborn” takes in the totality of God’s elect and redeemed people of all ages. Third, there is no “and” between the “innumerable company of angels” and the “general assembly,” as there is in every other instance in these verses where a new object is introduced. Personally, we regard this third expression as in apposition (the placing together of two nouns, one of which explains the other) to the former, thus: “unto an innumerable company of angels-the general assembly.” There are various ranks and orders among the angels: principalities and powers, thrones and dominions, seraphim and cherubim, and the “general assembly” of them would be the solemn convocation of all the angelic hosts before the throne of God-compare “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment (a special convocation) was set, and the books were opened” (Dan. 7:10).

No doubt this amplifying expression (of the “innumerable company of angels”) also emphasizes another contrast between the privileges of Christianity and that which obtained under Judaism. Perhaps the contrastive allusion is a double one. First, from the general assembly of Israel at Sinai, when the whole of the nation was then formally assembled together-in fear and trembling. Second, to the general assembly of all the male Israelites three times in the year at the solemn feasts of the O.T. Church (Ex. 34:23, Deuteronomy 16:16) which was called “the great congregation” (Ps. 22:25, 35:18, etc.)-in joy and praise. But each of these were on earth, by men in the flesh; whereas Christians, in their worship, unite with all the holy hosts of Heaven in blessing and adoring the Triune God.

“And Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven”: that is, to the entire company of God’s redeemed. “This is that church whereunto all the promises do belong; the church built on the rock, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; the spouse, the body of Christ, the temple of God, His habitation forever. This is the church which Christ loved and gave Himself for, which He washed in His own blood, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). This is the church out of which none can be saved, and whereof no one member shall be lost” (John Owen).

This is the only place in the N.T. where the election of grace is designated “the Church of the firstborn ones” (plural number in the Greek). Why so here? For at least three reasons. First, so as to identify the Church with Christ as the “Heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). The prominent idea associated with the “firstborn” in Scripture is not that of priority, but rather excellency, dignity, dominion, and right to the inheritance. This is clear from “Reuben, thou art my firstborn,… the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power” (Gen. 49:3); and again “I will make Him My firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). For the “firstborn” and the “inheritance” see Genesis 27:19, 28, 29 and cf. Hebrews 12:16; Deuteronomy 21:16; 1 Chronicles 5:1. Second, this title intimates the Church’s glory is superior to that of the celestial spirits: redeemed sinners and not fallen angels are God’s “firstborn ones.” Third, this points a further contrast from Judaism: Israel was God’s “firstborn” (Ex. 4:22) among the nations of the earth; but the Church is His “firstborn” among the inhabitants of Heaven!

The Church is raised to the highest created dignity: superior privileges and a nobler dignity of son-ship pertain to its members than to the holy angels. This is solely due to their union with Christ, the original “Firstborn”: Psalm 89:26, 27; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6. Christians have been made “kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:6), which compromises the whole right of the inheritance. The entire election of grace, by God’s gratuitous adoption, are not only members of His family, but “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), and thus given an inalienable title to the heavenly inheritance. This was equally true of the saints of all generations from the foundation of the world, yet a much clearer and fuller revelation thereof has been made under this Christian economy: “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).

“Which are written in Heaven,” announcing that they are genuine Christians-in contrast from mere professors, whose names are recorded only upon the church-scrolls of earth. Just as the registering of men’s names on the rolls of corporations, etc., assures them of their right to the privileges thereof (for example, to vote-which we believe is something that no child of God should do), so our names being written in Heaven is the guaranty of our title to the celestial heritage. It was to this Christ referred when He said, “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The apostle Paul also speaks of those “whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3): that Book of Life (cf. Revelation 3:5 and 13:8) is none other than the roll of God’s elect, in His eternal immutable designation of them unto grace and glory. “Written in Heaven” points another contrast from Judaism: the names of Jews (as such) were only written upon the synagogue scrolls.

“And to God the Judge of all.” The reference here is not (as some recent writers have supposed) unto the person of Christ, but rather unto God the Father in His rectoral office as the high Governor of all. Does this seem to spoil the harmony of the passage? had we not much preferred it to read “and to God our Father”? No, coming to “God the Judge of all” in nowise conflicts with the other privileges mentioned: it is a vastly different thing to be brought before a judge to be tried and sentenced as a criminal, from having a favorable access to him as our occasions and needs may require. Such is the meaning here: we are come not only to the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the Church, but also the supreme Head of the heavenly society-the Author and End of it.

“And to God the Judge of all,” that is, the Majesty of Heaven itself. It was God as Judge who appointed Christ to death, and it was God as Judge who accepted His sacrifice and raised Him from the dead. To God as “Judge” believers have been reconciled and by Him they were justified (Rom. 8:33). Concerning Christ our Exemplar, we read “when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). The apostle reminded the saints that “it is a righteous thing for God (as “Judge”) to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” (2 Thess. 1:6). Now it was as Judge that God ascended His awful tribunal at Sinai, and that the people could not endure: but Christians draw nigh to Him with holy boldness because His law has nothing against them-the requirements of His justice were fully met by Christ. How great is the privilege of that state which enables poor sinners, called by the Gospel, to approach the Judge of all upon His “bench” or throne without fear! Only by faith is this possible.

“And to the spirits of just men made perfect.” It is blessed to note that this comes immediately after mention of “the Judge of all”-to show us the saints had nothing to fear from Him, “for there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ” (Rom. 8:1). The reference is to the O.T. believers, who have passed through death: that N.T. saints are “come” to them is clear from Ephesians 2:19. Of course that “made perfect” is relative and not absolute, for their resurrection and full glorification is yet future. As Owen defined it: First, they had reached the end of the race wherein they had been engaged, with all the duties and difficulties, temptations and tribulations connected therewith. Second, they were completely delivered from sin and sorrow, labor and trouble, which in this life they had been exposed to. Third, they had now entered their rest and reward and were, according to their present capacity, in the immediate presence of God and perfectly happy.

“And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant:” His personal name is used here because it is in this character He saves His people from their sins-compare our exposition of 9:15-17. Here again a contrast is drawn from that which obtained under the old covenant. Moses was the middle person between Israel and God: chosen by the people (Ex. 20:19, etc.) and appointed by Him to declare His mind unto them; unto him they were all baptized (1 Cor. 10:2). But Moses was merely a man, a fallen descendant of Adam: he delivered God’s law to the people, but was incapable of magnifying and making it honorable by a perfect personal obedience. Nor was he that “surety” of the covenant unto God for the people, as Christ was; he did not confirm the covenant by offering himself as a sacrifice to God, nor could he give the people an interest in heavenly privileges. How far short he came of Christ!

By being brought unto “Sion,” Christians are come to all the mercy, grace and glory prepared in the new covenant and presented in the promises of it. Herein lies the supreme blessedness and eternal security of the Church, that its members are taken into such a covenant that they have a personal interest in the Mediator of it, who is able to save them unto the uttermost. This is the very substance and essence of Christian faith, that it has to do with the Mediator of the new covenant, by whom alone we obtain deliverance from the old covenant and the curse with which it is accompanied. It is both the privilege and wisdom of faith to make use of this “Mediator” in all our dealings with God: He it is who offers to God our prayers and praises and brings down the favor of God upon His people.

“And to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” The blood of Christ is referred to thus in allusion unto the various sprinklings of blood Divinely instituted under the old covenant, the three most signal instances of which are recorded in Exodus 12:22; 24:6-8; Leviticus 16:14, the principal reference here being to Exodus 24, where the old covenant was thus ratified. All of those instances were eminent types of the redemption, justification and sanctification of the Church by the blood of Christ. The specific thing denoted by the “sprinkling” (in contrast from its “shedding”) is the application to believers of its virtues and benefits. The more the Christian exercises repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, the more will he experience the peace-speaking power of that precious blood in his conscience. The blood of Christ “speaketh” to God as a powerful Advocate: urging the fulfillment of the Mediator’s part of the everlasting covenant, His perfect satisfaction to Divine justice, the full discharge from condemnation purchased for His people.

The contrast here is very impressive: the blood of Abel called for vengeance (Gen. 4:10), whereas the blood of Christ calls for blessing to be bestowed on those for whom it was shed. Even the blood of the wicked if unrighteously shed, calls to God for it to be recompensed. But Abel was a saint, the first martyr, and his blood cried according to the worth that was in him, for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” If then the blood of a saint speaks so forcibly to God, how infinitely more powerfully must the blood of “the King of saints” (Rev. 15:3) plead! If the blood of a single member of Christ’s Body so speaks to God, what will the blood of the Head Himself! Moreover, Abel’s blood only cried to God “from the ground,” where it was shed, but Christ’s blood speaks in Heaven itself (Heb. 9:12).

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:25-27

Commentary on Hebrews 12:25-27

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Call to Hear

(Hebrews 12:25, 26)

“See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh: for if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from Heaven” (verse 25). In these words we find the Holy Spirit moving the apostle to make a practical application unto his readers of what he had just brought before them in the previous verses. The degree or extent of the privileges enjoyed, is the measure of our responsibility: the richer the blessing God grants us, the deeper is our debt of obligation to Him. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48): it was of this principle and fact the Hebrews were now reminded.

The apostle had just completed drawing his final contrast between Judaism and Christianity (verses 18-24), in which he had again shown the immeasurable superiority of the latter over the former, and now he uses this as a basis for an exhortation unto faith and obedience, or faithfulness and perseverance. Herein we have another example of the apostolic method of ministry: all their teaching had a practical end in view. Their aim was something more than enlightening the mind, namely, the moving of the will and ordering of the walk. Alas that there is so little of this in present-day teaching and preaching. The design of the pulpit now seems to be entertaining the people, and rarely does it go further than instructing the mind—that which searches the conscience or calls for the performance of duty, that which is solemn and unpalatable to the flesh, is, for the most part, studiously avoided. May it please the Lord to grant His servants all needed grace for deliverance from a compliance with this “speak unto us smooth things.”

The grander the revelation which God is pleased to make of Himself, the more punctual the attendance and the fuller the response which He requires from us. In the verses which are now before us we find the apostle improving his argument by pointing out the weighty implications of it. Therein he returns to his main design, which was to urge the professing Hebrews unto steadfastness in their Christian course and conflict, and to steadily resist the temptation to lapse back into Judaism. This deeply important and most necessary exhortation he had urged upon them again and again; see Hebrews 2:1, 3; 3:12, 13; 4:1; 6:4-6; 10:26-29; 12:1, 15. Therein the servant of God may learn another valuable lesson pointed to by the example of the apostle, namely, how God requires him to go over the same ground again and again where the practical duties of the Christian are concerned, and hesitate not to frequently repeat the exhortations of Holy Writ! This may not increase his popularity with men, but it will meet with the Lord’s approval; and no faithful minister can have both!

“See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh.” The Greek word for “see” is rendered “take heed” in Hebrews 3:12; the word for “refuse” signifies “deprecate”—do not disregard, still less reject. Now not only is this argument based upon the statement made in the preceding verses, but the motive for complying with it is to be drawn therefrom. It is because we “are not come unto the mount that might be touched and that burned with fire” (v. 18), that is, unto that order of things wherein the Divine righteousness was so vividly displayed in judicial manifestion; but because we “are come unto mount Sion,” which speaks of pure grace, that we are now thus exhorted, for holiness ever becometh God’s house. It is in the realization of God’s wondrous grace that the Christian is ever to find his most effectual incentive unto a godly walk; see Titus 2:11, 12.

“See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh,” which is the negative way of saying “Hear Him”—Heed Him, by believing and yielding obedience to what He says. This exhortation looks back to “I will raise them up a Prophet, from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in His mouth: and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which He shall speak in My name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:18, 19); cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37. This is what the apostle now reminded the Hebrews of: take heed that ye hear Him, for if you fail to, God will consume you with His wrath. A similar charge was given by God after Christ became incarnate: “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him” (Matthew 17:5).

“This is the foundation of all Gospel faith and obedience, and the formal reason of the condemnation of all unbelievers. God hath given command unto all men to hear, that is, believe and obey His Son Jesus Christ. By virtue thereof, He hath given command unto others to preach the Gospel unto all individuals. They who believe them, believe in Christ; and they who believe in Christ through Him, believe in God (1 Pet. 1:21), so that their faith is ultimately resolved into the authority of God Himself. And so they who refuse them, who hear them not, do thereby refuse Christ Himself; and by so doing, reject the authority of God, who hath given this command to hear Him, and hath taken on Himself to require it when it is neglected; which is the condemnation of all unbelievers. This method, with respect unto faith and unbelief, is declared and established by our Savior: ‘he that heareth you, heareth Me; and He that despiseth you, despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me:’ Luke 10:16” (John Owen).

“See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh”—note carefully the present tense: not “that spoke.” Christ is still speaking through His Gospel, by His Spirit, and instrumentally through His own commissioned servants, calling upon all who come under the sound of His voice to serve and obey Him. There are many ways in which we may “refuse” to hear and heed Him. First, by neglecting to read daily and diligently the Scriptures through which He speaks. Second, by failing to attend public preaching where His Word is faithfully dispensed—if so be we live in a place where this holy privilege is obtainable. Third, by failing to comply with the terms of His Gospel and yield ourselves unto His authority. Fourth, by forsaking the Narrow Way of His commandments and going back again to the world. Fifth, by abandoning the truth for error, which generally ends in total apostasy. How we need to pray for an hearing ear, that is, for a responsive heart and yielded will.

“For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth. much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from Heaven.” In these words the apostle continues to emphasize the contrast which obtains between Judaism and Christianity. What we have here is an echo from the keynote struck in the opening words of our epistle: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1, 2). It is in the light of that statement our present verse is to be read and interpreted. The Speaker throughout is one and the same, namely, God (the Father), but the mouthpieces He employed differed greatly: under Judaism He spoke through mere men, the “prophets,” but in connection with Christianity He speaks in and by His own beloved “Son.”

This difference in the respective mouthpieces employed by God was in accord with and indicative of the relative importance of the two revelations given by Him. Judaism was but a religion for earth, and a temporary arrangement for the time being: accordingly, human agents were God’s instruments in connection therewith. But Christianity is a revelation which concerns a heavenly calling, heavenly citizenship, a heavenly inheritance, and exhibits eternal relations and realities: appropriately, then, was the everlasting Son, “the Lord from Heaven,” the One by whom its grand secrets were disclosed. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). The primary reference there is a dispensational one. Under Judaism God dwelt behind the veil; but under Christianity “we all with unveiled face” behold, as in a glass, “the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). Under the old covenant men were unable to go in to God; but under the new covenant God has, in the person of Christ, come out to men.

But blessed and glorious as is the contrast between Judaism and Christianity, equally solemn and terrible is the contrast between the punishment meted out to those who refuse God’s revelation under each. God speaks now from a higher throne than the one He assumed at Sinai: that was on earth; the one He now occupies is in Heaven. Therefore it must inevitably follow that the guilt of those who refuse to heed Him today is far greater, and their punishment must be the more intolerable. Not only do higher privileges involve increased obligations, but the failure to discharge those added obligations necessarily incurs deeper guilt and a heavier penalty. This is what the apostle presses here, as he had in “For if the word spoken by angels (at Sinai) was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb. 2:2, 3). If, then, we in any wise fear God’s vengeance or value His favor how it behooves us to most seriously heed the grace proffered in the Gospel!

Though Christianity has in it far less of what is terrifying than had Judaism and far more in it which exhibits the grace and mercy of God, nevertheless, apostasy from the one cannot be less terrible in its consequences than was apostasy from the other. There is as much to be dreaded in disregarding the authoritative voice of God now as there was then; yea, as we have pointed out, the rejection of His message through Christ involves a worse doom than despising of His word through Moses and the prophets. “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?” (Heb. 10:28, 29). True, God does not now speak amid thunderings and lightnings, but rather by a tender appeal to our hearts; yet the rejection of the latter is fraught with more direful consequences than was the refusal of the former.

Alas that this weighty truth is so feebly apprehended today, and so little emphasized by the pulpit. Is it not a fact that the idea now generally prevailing is, that the God of the N.T. is far more amiable and benevolent than the God of the O.T.? How far from the truth is this: “I change not” (Mal. 3:6) is the Lord’s express avowal. Moreover, it is under the new covenant (and not the old) that we find the most awe-inspiring and terror-provoking revelation of the righteous wrath of a sin-hating God. It was not through Moses or the prophets, but by the Lord Jesus that the everlasting fires of Hell were most vividly depicted: He it was who spoke the plainest and the most frequently of that fearful place wherein there is “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” If Christ was the One to most fully reveal God’s love, He was also the One who most fully declared His wrath.

“They escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth.” No, even though they had enjoyed such unparalleled privileges. They had been brought out of the house of bondage, delivered from the enemy at the Red Sea, ate of the heavenly manna and drank of the water from the smitten rock; yet we are told “But with many of them God was not well-pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5). The apostle had already reminded the Hebrews that it was of them God had declared, “They do always err in their heart, and they have not known My ways. So I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest” (Heb. 3:10, 11). And this was because “they refused Him that spake” to them. They were disobedient at Sinai, where, so far from submitting to the Divine authority to have “no other gods,” they made and worshipped the golden calf. They were unbelieving at Kadesh Barnea, when they listened to the scepticism of the ten spies.

“Much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven.” Again we say, how greatly at variance with this is the idea which now obtains so generally. The great majority of professing Christians suppose there is much less danger of those bearing the name of the Lord being severely dealt with under the milder regime of Christianity, than there was for renegades in the days of Moses. But our text says, “much more shall not we escape!” Though it be true that Christianity is essentially a system of grace, nevertheless the requirements of holiness and the claims of justice are not thereby set aside. The despisers of grace must be and will be as surely punished as were the despisers of Law; yea, “much more” so because their sin of refusal is more heinous. It is “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16) which the despisers of the Gospel—its invitations and its requirements—will have to reckon with: so far as mount Sion excels mount Sinai so will the punishment of Christ-scorners exceed that of those who despised Moses.

Ere passing on to our next verse we must anticipate a “difficulty” which our passage is likely to raise in the minds of some readers: How are we to harmonize the eternal security of the saints with this “much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from Heaven?” Alas, that such a question needs answering: those who frame it betray a lamentable ignorance of what the “security of saints” consists of. God has never promised any man to preserve him in the path of self-will and self-pleasing. Those who reach Heaven are they who follow (though stumbling by and with many falls) the only path which leads there, namely, the “Narrow Way” of self-denial. Or, to put it in another way, the only ones who escape the everlasting buntings are they who heed Him that speaketh from Heaven, for “He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him” (Heb. 5:9).

The writer believes firmly in the blessed truth of “the eternal security of the saints,” but by no means all who profess to be Christians are “saints.” This raises the question, how may I know whether or not I am a saint? The answer is, By impartially examining myself in the light of Holy Writ and ascertaining whether or no I possess the character and conduct of a “saint.” The Lord Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). A “saint” or “sheep” of Christ, then is one who hears HIS voice above all the siren voices of the world, above all the clamorings of the flesh, and gives evidence that he does so by following Him, that is, by heeding His commandments, being regulated by His will, submitting to His Lordship. And to them, and to none other, Christ says, “And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

Should it be asked, But was not the apostle addressing the “saints,” “sheep,” “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1) here in Hebrews 12:25? And if so, why did he present before them such an awful threat? First, these solemn words were addressed to all who come under the sound of the Gospel, and the response made by the hearer or reader serves as an admirable test. The proud and self-confident, who rely wholly upon a profession made by them years ago, ignore it to their own undoing, supposing those words have no application to them; whereas the lowly and self-distrustful lay it to heart with trembling, and are thereby preserved from the doom threatened. Second, in the preservation of His people from destruction God uses warnings and threatenings, as well as promises and assurances. He keeps His people in the Narrow Way by causing them to heed such an exhortation as this, “Be not high-minded, but fear; for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee” (Rom. 11:20, 21).

What is meant by turning away from “Him that speaketh from Heaven”? First, it describes the attitude of that large class who come under the sound of the Gospel and dislike its exacting terms: Christ is far too holy to suit their carnal hearts, His call for them “to forsake all and follow Him” pleases not their corrupt nature; so He is “despised and rejected” by them. Second, it depicts the conduct of the stony-ground hearers, who under the emotional appeals of high-pressure evangelists “receive the Word with joy,” yet have “no root” in themselves, and so they quickly “fall away:” the scoffings of their godless companions or the appeal of worldly pleasures are too strong for them to continue resisting. Third, it denotes the lapse of those who having “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are again entangled therein and overcome” so that “the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (2 Pet. 2:20). Fourth, it announces the apostasy of those who, under pressure of persecution, renounce the Faith.

“Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven” (verse 26). There are some points about this verse and the one immediately following which are far from easy to elucidate, yet their main purport is not difficult to determine. In ceasing to “speak on earth” and in now “speaking from Heaven” God gave therein intimation that the old covenant had been supplanted by the new: that He had done with Judaism and established the “better thing” in its place. This was what the pious Hebrews found so hard to perceive, for Judaism had been instituted by God Himself. Nevertheless, He only designed it to fulfill a temporary purpose “until the time of reformation” (Heb. 9:10), and that time had now arrived. It was to demonstrate and establish this important fact that God moved His servant to write this Epistle.

Once more we would call attention to the method employed: Paul did not simply press his apostolic authority, though that had been sufficient of itself; instead, he referred his readers to the written Word of God, quoting from Haggai—in this too he has left an admirable example for all ministers of the Gospel to follow: the words of God Himself are far more weighty than any of ours. At every vital stage of his argument the apostle had referred the Hebrews to the O.T. Scriptures. When he affirmed that Christ was superior to the heavenly hosts, he quoted, “Let all the angels of God worship Him” (Heb. 1:6). When he warned of the danger of apostacy, he referred them to Psalm 95 (Heb. 3:7-11). When he insisted that Christ’s priesthood excelled Aaron’s, he cited, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 7:17). When he declared that the old covenant was an imperfect and temporary one, he reminded them that Jeremiah had foretold the “new covenant” (Heb. 8:8-10).

When he dwelt upon Christ coming to earth with the express purpose of supplanting all the Levitical sacrifices by offering Himself unto God, the apostle showed that Psalm 40 had fore-announced (Heb. 10:5-7) this very truth. When he called upon the Hebrews to walk by faith, he quoted Habakkuk 2:4, and then devoted the whole of the 11th chapter to illustrate the fact that all of the O.T. saints had so walked. When he admonished them for fainting under the chastening rod of God, he bade them remember the exhortation of Proverbs 3:11 (Heb. 12:5). When he would prove to them the inferiority of Judaism to Christianity, he dwelt upon the Exodus record of the terrifying phenomena which accompanied the appearing of the Lord at Sinai, where He entered into covenant with their fathers (Heb. 12:18-21). And now that he affirmed that God no longer spake to them “on earth,” but rather “from Heaven,” he appeals again to their own Scriptures to show this very change had been Divinely predicted.

What an amazing knowledge of the Scriptures Paul possessed! and what a splendid use he made of it! He did not entertain his hearers and readers with anecdotes or by relating some of the sensational experiences through which God had brought him, still less did he descend to “pleasantries” and jokes in order to amuse them. No, he constantly brought them face to face with the Holy Word of the thrice Holy God. And that, by grace, is the unvarying policy we have sought to follow in this magazine: not only do we sedulously avoid any cheapening of the glorious Gospel of Christ, but we endeavor to furnish a proof text for every statement we make; for we ask no one to believe any doctrine or perform any duty on our mere say-so. Some may complain that there is “too much repetition” in our articles, or that they are “too introspective,” or “too Calvinistic,” but their quarrel is not with us, but with Him whose Word we expound and enforce.

“Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven” (verse 26). The simplest and surest way of discovering the meaning of this verse and the force of citing Haggai 2:6, is to keep in mind the particular design which the apostle had before him. That was twofold: to enforce the exhortation he had just given in the previous verse, and to continue emphasizing and demonstrating the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. We will consider its terms, then, from each of these viewpoints. First, Paul emphasizes the terribleness of turning away from God in Christ: if He who “shook” the earth is to be feared, much more so is He who “shakes” Heaven! Then let us beware of ignoring His voice: by inattention, by unbelief, by disobedience, by apostasy.

“Whose voice then shook the earth” is a figurative reference to God’s omnipotence, for His “voice” here has reference to the mighty power of God in operation: let the reader carefully compare Psalm 29:3-9, where he will find the wondrous effects of Providence ascribed to the “voice” of God. In particular, the apostle here alludes to the declaration of God’s authority and the putting forth of His great strength at the time the Law was given: Sinai itself was convulsed, so that “the whole mount quaked greatly” (Ex. 19:18). Yet more than the earthquake is included in the words of our text: the entire commotion involved, with all the particulars enumerated in Hebrews 12:18-21, is comprehended therein. It is designated “shook the earth” because it was all on the earth, and involved only earthly things—it did not reach to Heaven and eternal things.

“But now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also Heaven.” This clause has presented a hard riddle to the commentators, and scarcely any two of them, ancient or modern, agree in the solutions they have offered. Personally, we think they created their own difficulties. First, through failing to perceive that the “but now” is to be understood in connection with the subject the apostle was then discussing, and not as something God was then promising to make good in the future. Second, through failing to give proper attention and weight to the term “promised,” which is surely enough to show that the final destruction of this scene (when the doom of the wicked will be sealed) cannot be the subject of which Haggai was prophesying. Third, through a slavish adherence to literalism—recent writers especially—which caused many to miss the meaning of “the earth” and “Heaven” in this passage. But these are points of too much importance to dismiss hurriedly, so we must leave their consideration till the next article.

The Passing of Judaism

(Hebrews 12:26, 27)

It is exceedingly difficult, if not quite impossible, for us to form any adequate conception of the serious obstacles presented to the mind of a pious Jew, when any one sought to persuade him that Judaism had been set aside by God and that he must turn his own back upon it. No analogy or parallel exists in our own experience. It was not merely that the Hebrews were required to turn away from something which their ancestors had set up, and around which twined all their own sentiments and affections of national patriotism, but that they were called upon to abandon a religious system that had been appointed and established by Jehovah Himself. That institution, a theocracy, was unique, sharply distinguished from all the idolatrous systems of the heathen. It was God’s outstanding witness in the earth. It had been signally honored and favored by Him. It had existed for no less than fifteen centuries, and even when Christ appeared, He acknowledged the temple—the center and headquarters of Judaism—as “My Father’s House.”

We cannot but admire the tender grace of God in the gentle and gradual way in which He “broke the news” to His people, little by little preparing their minds to receive the truth that His purpose in Judaism had been completely accomplished. Intimations were given through the prophets that the order of things with which they were connected would give place to another and better. To the same effect the Lord Jesus dropped one hint after another: as, for example, when He pointed out that the old bottles were incapable of receiving the new wine, or when He declared, not that which enters into a man defileth him (as the ceremonial law had taught!) but that which issues from the heart, or when He announced “The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” (John 4:21; and finally, when He solemnly affirmed “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).

The rending of the temple veil by a Divine hand was full of deep meaning for those who had eyes to see. The word given through Stephen that “the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48), was another clear ray of heavenly light on the same subject. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and the commissioning of him as an apostle to the Gentiles, intimated the direction in which the stream of Divine mercy was now flowing—it had burst the narrow banks of Judaism! The vision granted to Peter (Acts 10) and his message to Cornelius (v. 35), was a further advance along the same line. The important decision of the apostles and elders of the Church at Jerusalem in Acts 15:23-29 not to bind the ceremonial law upon the Gentile converts, was another radical step in the same direction.

Yet Jerusalem still survived, the temple was yet intact, and its services continued. Moreover, the leaders of the Nation had rejected Christ and denounced Christianity as a device of Satan. Many of the Jewish Christians were sorely puzzled and deeply exercised, for the Roman yoke had not been removed. As yet the followers of Christ were but few in number, and for the most part, poor and despised. The Hebrew believers were being hotly persecuted by their unbelieving brethren, and God had made no manifest interposition on their behalf. They were therefore almost ready to conclude that, after all, they had made a dreadful mistake in forsaking the religion of their fathers, and that the sore afflictions they were passing through were a Divine judgment upon them. It was to allay their fears, to more thoroughly instruct their minds, to establish their hearts, that God moved the apostle to write this particular epistle to them—the great theme of which is a display of the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and its chief design being a call to perseverance and a warning against apostasy.

But even in this epistle the apostle did not come right out and say plainly “God has discarded Judaism.” No, the path of faith is never an easy one. Faith can only thrive while it fights (1 Tim. 6:12). There must be that which deeply exercises the heart if the soul is to be kept in the place of complete dependence upon God! Nevertheless, God always grants sufficient light unto a truly exercised soul to indicate the path which is to be followed; He always provides a foundation for faith to rest upon. Though He may not remove the chief obstacle (as He did not for the Hebrews while the temple still stood!) and grant a complete solution to our difficulties, yet He graciously furnishes the humble soul sufficient help to circumvent them. Thus it was in this epistle. Though no explicit statement is made that God had done with Judaism, yet sufficient proof was furnished that He had set up something better in its place. This comes out again and again in almost every chapter, notably so in the passage now before us.

What has been pointed out in the last paragraph presents a principle and a fact which it is deeply important for true Christians to lay hold of today. Not a few of the Lord’s people are now confronted with similar problems, which if not so acute as the Hebrews faced, are just as real to them: problems relating to church-fellowship, baptism, the Lord’s supper, Sabbath observance. For thirty years a situation existed in Israel which produced two parties, neither of which could convince the other; and, as usual, the larger party was in the wrong. On the one hand was the long-established Judaism, which contained the great majority of the Nation; on the other hand was the handful of God’s faithful servants with the few who had sufficient grace to receive their teachings and walk by faith. Had the latter been regulated by ancient custom, or by mere numbers, or by the logic of circumstances (the outward providences of God), they had missed God’s will for them and had “forsaken their own mercy” (Jon. 2:8).

The little company of converted Hebrews who had left Judaism for Christ were faced with a perplexing and trying situation. No doubt in the case of many of them, their loved ones still adhered reverently and vigorously to the religion of their fathers. Nor could either party convince the other of its error by a simple and direct appeal to Holy Writ. Each side had some Scripture to support it! Nowhere in the O.T. had God expressly said that He would yet do away with Judaism, and nowhere in the N.T. had He openly declared that He had now set Judaism aside. No, dear reader, that is rarely God’s way! In like manner, Christendom is now divided on various points both of doctrine and of duty, and each side is able to make out a real “case” by an appeal to Scripture, and often, neither can cite one decisive verse proving the other to be wrong. Yet one is wrong! Only by earnestly waiting upon God individually can His mind be discovered.

But why has God ordered things thus? Why are not the Scriptures so worded that there would be no room for controversy? To try our hearts. The situation which confronted the converted Hebrews was a real test as to whether they would be followers of men or pleasers of God. The self-righteous Pharisees could appeal to a long-established system of religion in justification of their rejection of Christ; and there are those in Christendom today who vindicate their adherence to what God has never commanded and which is dishonoring to His Son, by an appeal to a long line of godly men who have believed and practiced these very things. When others seek to show that an opposite course is required by Scripture, they profess to be “unable to see” what is quite clear to simple and humble souls, and ask for some verse which expressly forbids what they are doing; which is like those who, in the face of His miracles, said, “If Thou be the Christ tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

No doubt it had made matters much easier for the Hebrews if the apostle said plainly, “God has completely finished with Judaism:” that had “settled the matter” for hesitating ones who were halting between two opinions—and poor fallen human nature loves to have things so “settled” that there may be an end to perturbation of mind and exercise of heart. Moreover, the converted Hebrews would then have had a clear proof-text which must have silenced those who differed from them—and we love to have a verse which will close the mouths of those who agree not with us, do we not? Or, God could have allowed the Romans to capture Jerusalem and destroy the temple thirty years sooner than they did: that also had “settled the matter”—yes, and left the Hebrews to walk by sight, instead of by faith! Instead, He gave them this epistle, which called for prayer, study, meditation, and for more prayer.

Let us now very briefly review the line of the apostle’s argument in Hebrews 12:18 and onwards. First, he informs the believing Hebrews “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched” and which was so “terrible” that even Moses quaked “exceedingly” (verses 18-21): no, Divine mercy had delivered them from that system. Second, Paul assures them “But ye are come unto mount Sion (verses 22-24): God had brought them unto an order of things where the Throne of Grace predominated. It is ever the Lord’s way to reserve the best wine for the last. Third, the apostle reminds them that increased privileges involve additional obligations, and that failure to discharge those obligations incurs greater guilt; therefore does he urge them to take heed unto God speaking to them in the person of Christ, warning them that failure so to do would bring down upon them the Divine wrath more surely than did the disobedience of Israel of old (verse 25).

“Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven” (verse 26). This verse has occasioned much difficulty to the commentators, scarcely any two of them (ancient or modern) agreeing in their interpretation of it. Many of them suppose that the ultimate, if not the prime, reference in the quotation here made from Haggai relates to the final destruction of the earth and the heavens connected with it, as it is described in 2 Peter 3:10-12. But to suppose that Paul here made a declaration which concerned the then far-distant future, is not only to break the unity of this passage, but is to charge him with making a quotation which had no real relevancy to the immediate subject he was discussing. In pondering Hebrews 12:26-29 our first concern must be to trace the connection with the context.

Now in the context the apostle had been treating of two things: the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and what this involved concerning the responsibility of those who were the subjects of this higher and grander revelation. These same two things are still before the apostle in the closing verses of our chapter: he continued to show how immeasurably the new covenant excels the old, and he continued to enforce the pressing call which he had made in verse 25. First, he had intimated the vast difference which obtained between the mouthpieces which God employed in connection with the two revelations (verse 25): namely, “Moses” (Heb. 10:28) and “His Son” (Heb. 1:2). Second, he had shown the great disproportion between those two teachers, by pointing out the respective positions they occupied (verse 25). “Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2) was “on earth,” whereas Christ speaks as seated upon His mediatorial throne “from Heaven.”

Two things were intimated by God in the different seats or positions occupied by the messengers He had employed. First, inasmuch as He now spake through the Son from Heaven, God denoted that He had finished with Judaism, which was entirely a thing of the earth. Second, that Christianity was of Divine origin, and had to do solely with celestial things. From one angle, this call in Hebrews 12:25 was very similar to that exhortation “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1, 2). Before their conversion, the affections of the Hebrews had been centred upon the temple—notice how the disciples, just before the crucifixion, came to Christ “for to show Him the buildings of the temple” (Matthew 24:1); but they were to be “thrown down!”—Christ had returned to Heaven, and thither their hearts must follow Him. Thus, the heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20), heavenly inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4), instead of the earthly concerns of Judaism, were now to engage the hearts and minds of the regenerate in Israel.

Next, in the verses now before us, the apostle brings out the vastly different effects produced through the two messengers. This is the central fact in verses 26, 27: the Voice “from Heaven” produced proportionately greater results than did the voice which spake “on earth.” God through Christ speaks more powerfully and effectually than He did through Moses. Let us be careful not to lose sight of this general idea when pondering the details. A much greater and more far-reaching “shaking” was produced by the latter than was the case with the former. We believe that Matthew Henry was on the fight track when he said, “It is by the Gospel from heaven that God shook to pieces the civil and ecclesiastical state of the Jewish nation, and introduced a new state of the church, that cannot be removed, shall never be changed for any other on earth, but shall remain till it be made perfect in heaven.” The apostle is still supplying proof that the Hebrew believers were no longer connected with Judaism, but were come to the antitypical Zion.

“Whose voice then shook the earth.” Here is the connecting link with the context: the “then” referring to the instituting of Judaism. “But now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” The “but now” is not so much a time-mark as it is an adverbial expression, relating to the theme under immediate discussion, namely, the establishment and super-excellency of Christianity. Thus, to show once more the infinitely surpassing and glorious effects of power and majesty which issued from the voice of Christ, speaking from heaven by the Gospel, and so as to give a more lively representation of the same, the apostle compares them with the greatly inferior effects that accompanied the deliverance of the Law. As the right understanding of this “But now” has an important bearing upon all that follows, we subjoin the comments of another thereon.

“The word now does not denote the period when the promise was made, but the period to which the promise referred, which was now, opposed to then when the Law was established. It was equivalent to ‘But with regard to the present period, which is the commencement of a new order of things, He has promised, saying.’ This use of the word now in the apostle’s writings is common: Romans 3:21; 16:26 etc.” (John Brown). There is, then, an opposition of the “But now” to what occurred at the “then” at the beginning of the verse. It is to be carefully noted that Paul did not say “He hath now promised,” i.e. that in the apostle’s day God had announced He was going to do something in the far-distant future; instead, it is “But now He hath promised:” the “now” relating to the fulfillment of what Haggai had foretold, and not to some promise given through the apostle.

“But now He hath promised, saying.” This “saying” which the apostle at once quotes from Haggai he styles a “promise,” and that for at least three reasons. First, because what was but a prophecy in Haggai’s day had received its actual accomplishment in the apostle’s time, in connection with the establishment of Christianity. Second, because this was therefore something for faith to lay hold of, and that is what he was seeking to persuade the Hebrew believers to do. Third, to prevent any misconception on our part: had the apostle been pointing out that the prophecy of Haggai contained a yet deeper meaning and more ultimate reference, even to predicting the final destruction of this world and all its works, he had surely been very far from designating such an unparalleled Divine judgment as that, by the term “promise!” A “promise” always refers to something that is good, and never to a calamity!


“Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” Let us now inquire, What is denoted by this “shaking” of earth and heaven? This is a figure which is used in the O.T. quite frequently to express a great change, produced by the providences and power of God in the affairs of men. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Ps. 46:1, 2), which is explained in “The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered His voice, the earth melted” (verse 6). “Thou hast made the earth to tremble: Thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof, for it shaketh” (Ps. 60:2): what is signified by that metaphorical language is indicated in the next verse, “Thou hast showed Thy people hard things: Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.” “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place” (Isa. 13:13)—language which signifies a tremendous commotion among the nations—compare Joel 3:16. Such vivid imagery is common in the Prophets.

“He stretched out His hand over the sea,” which is interpreted in the next sentence “He shook the kingdoms” (Isa. 23:11). “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down” (Isa. 24:1)—words, we need hardly say, which are not to be taken literally. “At His wrath the earth shall tremble,” explained in the following clause, “and the nations shall not be able to abide His indignation” (Jer. 10:10). “Arise, contend thou with the mountains: and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye O mountains, the Lord’s controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth” (Mic. 6:1, 2): such language is not to be understood literally, as the next clause shows “For the Lord hath a controversy with His people.” “For the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:26). Even Mr. Darby admitted (in his “Synopsis”), “This shaking of all things—whether here (Heb. 12:26, 27) or in the analogous passage in 2 Peter—evidently goes beyond Judaism, but has peculiar application to it”—italics ours.

“Whose voice then shook the earth.” The immediate reference is to Sinai at the time the law was given. But, as we have seen, that material mount was emblematic of the entire economy which was then established. Thus the “shaking” of the “earth” denoted the great outward change which took place in the days of Moses. The external state of Israel was then greatly altered. They were organized into a kingdom and church-state (Acts 7:38), into a theocracy. Yet glorious as was that change, it reached not to “heaven,” that is to say, it affected not their inner man and was not concerned with spiritual and eternal relations. “The economy established at Sinai, viewed by itself, was a temporal covenant with a worldly nation, referring to temporal promises, an earthly inheritance, a worldly sanctuary, a typical priesthood, and carnal ordinances” (J. Brown).

“But now (in relation to Christianity) He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” The careful reader will observe that the prophet had said, “I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land” (Hag. 2:6), whereas the apostle was moved by the Holy Spirit to word it—for the sake of his emphasis—”I shake not the earth only, but also heaven,” hence a shaking of both “earth” and “heaven” was here in view. “The voice in heaven produces more extensive and more permament effects. It shakes both earth and heaven—effects a change both on the external and spiritual circumstances of those who are under it; and it effects a permament change, which is to admit of no radical essential change forever” (J. Brown).

Though a great change had been produced in connection with the giving of the old covenant, a far greater change had been effected in the establishing of the new covenant. That had affected but one nation only, and that, merely in its external and temporal circumstances: this reaches unto God’s people among all nations, and affects their spiritual and eternal interests. It was reserved for God’s Son to bring this about, for in all things He must have the preeminence. A much greater commotion and convulsion in human affairs has been brought in by Immanuel, yea, it was then as though the very universe was shaken to its center. In order to the establishing of that kingdom of Christ’s which shall never be moved, there were tremendous revolutions, both in connection with Judaism and the idolatrous systems of the heathen—”These that have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) was the charge preferred against the apostles.

Now as the great change in the temporal affairs of Israel at the instituting of Judaism had been adumbrated by the quaking of Sinai, so the far greater alterations introduced by the establishing of Christianity were also shadowed forth in the various physical phenomena and angelic appearances. “At His birth a new star appeared in the heavens, which filled the generality of men with amazement, and put those who were wise to diligent inquiries about it. His birth was proclaimed by an angel from heaven, and celebrated by ‘a multitude of the heavenly hosts.’ In His ministry the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the shape of a dove. These things may answer that mighty work in heaven which is here intimated. On the earth, wise men came from the east to inquire after Him; Herod and all Jerusalem were shaken at the tidings of Him. In the discharge of His work He wrought miracles in heaven and earth, sea and dry land, on the whole creation of God. Wherefore in the first coming of Christ the words had their literal accomplishment in an eminent manner.

“Take the words metaphorically for great changes, commotions and alterations in the world, and so also were they accomplished in Him and His coming. No such alteration made in the world since the creation of it as was then, and in what ensued thereon. All the ‘heavens’ of the world were then shaken, and after a while removed: that is, all their gods and all their worship, which had continued from time immemorial, which were the ‘heavens of the people,’ were first shaken, and then utterly demolished. The ‘earth’ also was moved, shaken and changed: for all nations were stirred up, some to inquire after Him, some to oppose Him, whereon great concussions and commotions did ensue; till all the most noble parts of it were made subject to Him.

“But, as we observed before, it is the dealing of God with the church, and the alteration which He would make in the state thereof, concerning which the apostle treats. It is therefore the ‘heaven’ of Mosaic worship and that Judaical church-state, with the ‘earth’ of their political state belonging thereunto, that are here intended. These were they that were ‘shaken’ at the coming of Christ, and so shaken as shortly after to be removed and taken away, for the introduction of the more heavenly worship of the Gospel, and the immovable evangelical church-state. This was the greatest commotion and alteration that God ever made in the ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ of the church. This was far more great and glorious than the shaking of the ‘earth’ at the giving of the law. Wherefore, not to exclude the senses before mentioned, which are consistent with this, and may be respected in the prophecy as outward signs and indications of it, this is that which is principally intended in the words, and which is proper to the argument in hand” (John Owen).

“And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (verse 27). This is the apostle’s inspired commentary on Haggai’s prophecy. He points out that the “yet once more” denoted there had previously been a great change wrought in Israel’s fortunes, and also that now another radical alteration had been made therein. He insists that the “shaking” was in order to effect a removal of what was only transient, and that the great change was only in order that that which is unchangeable might remain—that the permanent might be fixedly established.

The Establishing of Christianity

(Hebrews 12:27)

The Divine incarnation was not some sudden, isolated, and unexpected event. The advent of our blessed Lord, and with it the dawn of Christianity, marked a climax and consummation. The world was prepared through long processes for the coming of the One and the preaching of the other: from Eden to Bethlehem the centuries were preparing for the appearing of Immanuel. As the processes of creation fitted the earth for man to live upon it, so all history paved the way for the birth of the God-man. The Holy Scriptures focused the Divine preparation in one race, yet all peoples shared in the process: outside of the elect nation God was at work, and all streams converged to a single center. The march of events was both slow and complicated, yet eventually the stage was fully set and a suitable background made for the appearing of the promised Savior.

“When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). This signifies much more than that the time appointed by the Father had now arrived when He would put an end to the Mosaic economy and replace the shadows and types by the substance and Antitype. It denoted that conditions were peculiarly suitable for the introduction of a new and enlarged dispensation, that everything was now ripe for the execution of God’s great purpose. All the foundations had been laid. The long night of preparation had now run its course. The chrysalis was ready to burst its bonds; the fields were white unto the harvest; the olive tree was ready for the grafting of other branches into it (Rom. 11). The “fullness of time” intimates both ripeness of opportunity and consummation of need. The advent of God’s Son to this earth and the proclamation of the Gospel far and wide, not only introduced a new era, it also marked the climax of the old.

In its relation to the immediate context this expression, “the fullness of time,” signifies that the Church on earth had been prepared for the coming of God’s Son by having now outgrown the conditions of her childhood and minority, making her feel the irksomeness of the bonds upon her and to long for the liberty of maturity. The legal economy was merely a “schoolmaster unto Christ,” and it had now served its purpose. The old economy had decayed and waxed old, and was “ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). Aged Simeon was a representative of that godly remnant who were “waiting for the Consolation of Israel,” for there was a Divinely prepared company that then “looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38). The favored Nation as a whole had lost its liberty, being under the yoke of the Romans, and seemed on the point of relinquishing its mission; the need for the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies was real and pressing.

There was a remarkable combination of circumstances tending to prepare the world for the Gospel, and a fearful climax in the world’s need of redemption. The break up of old heathen faiths and the passing away of the prejudices of antiquity, disposed men for a new revelation which was spiritual, humane, non-provincial. The utter failure of Pagan religion from immorality, and of Pagan philosophy from its impotency to cure that immorality and the miseries it entailed, called loudly for some new Faith, which should be both sure and powerful. The century immediately preceding our Lord’s advent was probably the most remarkable in all history. Everything was in a state of transition; old things were passing away; the fruit of the ancient order was rotting upon the tree, though without yielding the seeds of a new order. There were strange rumors afloat of coming relief, and singular hopes stirred the hearts of men that some Great One was about to appear and renovate the world.

“The fullness of time was come.” First, the world had reached its climacteric of sin. History has given a faithful record of the terrible moral conditions which obtained among men in the century that immediately preceded our Lord’s advent. At Rome, which was then the metropolis of the world, the Court of Caesar was steeped in luxury and licentiousness. To provide amusement for his senators six hundred gladiators fought a hand to hand conflict in the public theater. Not to be outdone, Pompey turned five hundred lions into the arena to engage an equal number of his braves, and “delicate ladies” sat applauding and gloating over the blood that flowed. Children were the property of the state, to be disposed of as was deemed best for the public interests. The aged and infirm were banished to an island in the Tiber. Marriage was wholly a matter of sensual caprice; divorce was so frequent, it was customary for women to count them by the number of rings worn on their fingers. About two thirds of the entire civilized world were slaves, their masters having absolute power over them.

Conditions in Greece were even worse. Sensual indulgence and every species of cruelty were carried to the highest pitch. Gluttony was an art. Fornication was indulged without restraint. Parents were at liberty to expose their children to perish from cold and hunger or to be eaten up by wild beasts, such exposure being practiced frequently, and passed without punishment or censure. Wars were carried on with the utmost ferocity: if any of the vanquished escaped death, slavery of the most abject kind was the only prospect before them; and in consequence, death was considered preferable to capture. “The dark places of the earth were filled with the habitations of cruelty” (Ps. 74:20). The world had reached its climacteric of sin, and this provided a dark background from which could shine forth the Light. Oftentimes a disease cannot be treated until it “comes to a head.” In view of the above conditions, the world was ready for the appearing of the great Physician.

“The fullness of time was come.” The world had reached its consummation of want. It had been predicted of old that the Messiah should be “the Desire of all nations:” to this end there must be a complete exposure of the failure of all human plans for deliverance. This time had arrived when Christ was born. Never before had the abject misery and need of humanity been so apparent and so extensive. Philosophy had lost its power to satisfy men, and the old religions were dead. The Greeks and Romans stood at the head of the nations at the time our Lord appeared on earth, and the religious state of those peoples in that age is too well known to require any lengthy description of it. Polytheism and Pantheism were the popular concepts: innumerable deities were worshipped, and to those gods were attributed the most abominable characteristics. Human sacrifices were frequently offered upon their altars.

Judaism was also fully ripe for the accomplishment of Messianic prophecy. Sadduceeism had leavened the ruling classes and affected the nation with rationalism and skepticism. Phariseeism, which represented the ideas and ideals of the popular party, was too often only formal and hypocritical, and at best was cold and hard, “binding heavy burdens” and laying on men’s shoulders a load which they refused to touch with their fingers (Matthew 23:4). The nation was under the government of Rome, and was thoroughly discouraged. Was there, then, no eye to pity, no arm to save? Was God unmindful of the tragic condition of mankind? No, blessed be His name, the “fullness of time was come:” a platform was then ready on which the glories of Divine grace might be exhibited, and now arose “the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2).

“The fullness of time was come.” The needed preparations were completed, and the high-water mark was reached. Side by side with the preliminary movements in Israel, Divine providence had also been at work in heathendom, making ready the world for the dawn of Christianity. Political conditions were singularly favorable for the coming of the Gospel. Most of the then known earth was within the bounds of the Roman empire. Everywhere the Romans went good roads were made, along which went the soldier, and after him the merchant and scholar. In a short time commercial intercourse fused various peoples. Previously, old national distinctions had bound up religious prejudices, each country having its own gods, and any attempt to foist a foreign religion upon a nation was bitterly resented. But national barriers were now broken down by Roman prowess and international intercourse, and religious exclusiveness was greatly weakened. All of this facilitated the task of the missionaries of the Cross. The Roman roads became highways for the evangelists, and Roman law afforded them protection.

Parallel with the growth of the Roman empire was the spread of Grecian culture. The Grecian tongue was the one most extensively used as the language of learning: all educated people were supposed to understand it. This was a most suitable medium by which the Christian messengers could speak to a great multitude of peoples, without enduring the tedious delay of learning new languages. In Syria, Egypt, Phrygia, and Italy, as well as Greece and Asia Minor, the heralds of Christ could make themselves understood everywhere by using the common tongue employed by all teachers of that day. Moreover this language was so delicately modulated as to surpass all other forms of speech in its capacity for expressing new ideas. It was therefore exactly what was needed for the setting forth of a new revelation to the world at large.

It was the same with Judaism. Now had arrived the time for the fulfillment of its mission: the giving to the world of the O.T. Scriptures, and the realization of the Hope which they presented. Judaism was to give birth to Christianity: out of the old soil the new order was to spring. The position of the Jews at that time wonderfully facilitated the spread of the Gospel, for they were already dispersed abroad everywhere. In the days of Augustus there were forty thousand Jews at Rome, and by the time of Tiberius double that number. The Jewish synagogues furnished a means of communication between Christian gospelers and the heathen world. A synagogue was to be found in almost every town throughout the Roman empire, and to it the evangelists first went; and thus a suitable language was provided for communicating with all peoples, and centers of work were to be found in every city.

In such a striking conjunction of favorable providences we cannot but behold and admire the controlling hand of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. They served to greatly lessen the severe shock which the displacing of the old order of things and the introduction of the new order was bound to bring, for the claims of Christ are of a very radical nature and His demands revolutionizing. Even so, the establishing of Christianity is spoken of as a shaking of “not the earth only, but also heaven” (verse 26): though such language be figurative, nevertheless it refers to that which was intensely real and drastic. Our assertion that the last clause of verse 26 is not to be understood in a material sense (as is now widely supposed), calls for some further expository remarks thereon, particularly concerning its setting here, its original, and its connection.

At verse 25 the apostle began an exhortation which was based upon what had been pointed out in verses 18-24, and which he re-enforces by additional considerations. The exhortation consists of a call to hear and heed God’s message to us through Christ. God is the Author of Old and New Testaments alike: in the former He spoke through Moses and the prophets; in the latter by the Son, His final Spokesman. The manifestation which God made in Christ and the message He has given us through Him, completes the revelation of His will. This final message was declared neither by man nor angel, but by the only begotten Son. Then let us beware of treating such a revelation in a manner ill-fitting its high character. The superior dignity of the Messenger and the supreme importance of His message must ensure severer punishment to those who despise and reject Him.

The urgency of this call for us to hear Christ is intimated by pointing out that since those who had disregarded God’s message through Moses escaped not, a far worse punishment must be the portion of those who turn a deaf ear unto Him speaking through the Son (verse 25). The superiority of God’s revelation by the Son to the message given through Moses was evidenced by the phenomena which attended each, and the different effects which followed their appearing: the Voice “from heaven” (by Christ) produced proportionately greater results than did the Voice which spake by Moses, “on earth.” The Voice through each produced a “shaking,” but that through the latter was far more extensive than that through the former (verse 26). In proof of this declaration the apostle quoted and commented upon a striking prediction found in Haggai, the pertinency and scope of which we would now consider. For a better understanding thereof we will turn to its original setting.

In chapter 1 Haggai rebukes the indifference of the Jewish remnant (who had returned to Palestine from the Babylonish captivity) for their neglect to rebuild God’s house. This stirred them up to proceed therewith. In chapter 2 the prophet comforts them. The rebuilding of the temple had then proceeded far enough for it to be made manifest that in its outward glory it was far inferior to Solomon’s. A great lamentation ensued, and the prophet asks, “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Heb. 2:3). The people greatly feared that Jehovah had deserted them, and to re-assure them Haggai declared, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts: according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not” (Heb. 2:4, 5); and then it was that he set before them the grand hope of the Messiah’s appearing.

“For thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet once, it is a little while and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, saith the Lord of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:6-9). Here was a message of comfort to the sorrowing remnant of the prophet’s day, and from it the apostle quotes in Hebrews 12.

The first thing we would note in the above prediction is the statement “a little while and I will shake,” which makes it evident that the “shaking” did not look forward to the final and universal convulsion of nature at the end of time; rather was the reference to that which preceded and was connected with the establishing of Christianity, which was comparatively an impending event in Haggai’s day. Second, the “shaking” was not to occur in the material world, but in the political and religious realms, as is clear from the closing verses of this very chapter. “I will shake the heavens, and the earth” (verse 21) is at once defined as “and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen” (verse 22)—this commenced shortly afterwards, for the axe lay at the root of the Persian empire. Third, there was the express promise that the glory of the temple built in Haggai’s day should exceed that of Solomon’s.

That third item needs to be very carefully weighed by us, for it is of great importance. This was the chief point of comfort in Haggai’s prediction. His fellows were deeply distressed (see Ezra 3:12) at the comparative meanness of the house of God which they were erecting, but he assures them it should yet possess a glory that far excelled that of Solomon’s. That greater glory was not a material one, but a spiritual: it was expressly said to be the coming to it of “the Desire of all nations.” It was by the appearing of the Messiah that the real “glory” would accrue unto the second temple, and that must be while it still stood! Haggai’s temple was enlarged and beautified by Herod three hundred years later, but the original structure was never destroyed, so that it continued one and the same “house;” and to it Christ came! The “little while,” then, of Haggai 2:6 was parallel with the “suddenly” of Malachi 3:1.

The fourth and last thing was “and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts” (Heb. 2:9). That also was spiritual: referring to the peace which Christ should make “through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20) between God and His people, and the amity which should be established between believing Jews and believing Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14-16) in the same worship of God. This was the principal work of Christ: to put away sin (which was the cause of enmity and strife) and to bring in peace. Finally, the manner in which all this was to be effected was by a great “shaking,” not only in the midst of Israel, but also among the Gentiles. Observe carefully the “yet once” of Haggai 2:6: there had been a great “shaking” when the first covenant was instituted, but there would be a still greater at the establishing of the new covenant. Thus the “yet once” signifies, first, once more; and secondly, once for all—finally.

Now from the above prophecy of Haggai Paul quotes in Hebrews 12:26. The apostle’s object was a double one: to supply additional proof for the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and to give further point to the exhortation he had made in verse 25. Evidence is here given from the O.T. to show that the voice of God speaking by Christ had produced far greater effects than His word had through Moses. The contrasts, then, between the old and new covenants, and the excelling of the latter over the former, may be summed up thus: the one was connected with Sinai, the other brings us unto Sion (verses 18-24); the one was inaugurated by Moses, the other by the Son; the one was God speaking “on earth,” the other “from heaven;” the one “shook the earth,” the other “heaven” itself (verse 26); the one is “removed” the other “remains” (verse 27); therefore, HEAR the Son!

How far astray, then, are those commentators who suppose that Haggai’s prophecy refers to the final judgment at the last day, when the whole fabric of nature shall shake and be removed! First, such a terrifying event was altogether alien to the scope of Haggai’s purpose, which was to comfort his sorrowing brethren. Second, such a prediction had been entirely irrevelant to the apostle’s scope, for he was comparing not the giving of the law with the Day of Judgment, but the giving of the law with the promulgation of the Gospel by Christ Himself; for his whole design was to exhibit the preeminence of the Evangelical economy. Third, nor would such dreadful doom be designated a “promise” (Heb. 12:26). Fourth, the apostle clearly intimated that Haggai’s prophecy was now fulfilled (verse 28). Finally, there is no reason whatever why we should regard the shaking of heaven and earth here as a literal one: it was spiritual things of which the apostle was discoursing—such as issue in that unshakable kingdom which believers receive in this world.

Let us admire the striking appropriateness of Haggai’s prophecy to the purpose the apostle then had in hand. Haggai’s prediction concerned the person and appearing of Christ: “The Desire of all nations shall come.” There it was announced that God would do greater works than He had performed in the days of Moses (Hag. 2:5-7). God shook Egypt before He gave the law, He shook Sinai at the giving of it, He shook the surrounding nations (especially in Canaan) just after it. But in “a little while” He would do greater things. The prophet’s design was to fix the eyes of the Jews upon the first advent of Christ, which was their great expectation, and to assure them that their temple would then possess a glory far excelling that of Solomon’s. Meanwhile, God would overthrow “the throne of kingdoms and destroy the strength of the heathen” (verse 22), as the forerunning signs of Christ’s advent during the short season which intervened before His appearing.

How pertinent and well-suited, then, was Haggai’s prophecy to the subject Paul was developing! That prediction had been fulfilled: Christ had come and made good its terms: conclusive proof of this is found in the changing of the verb—the prophet’s “I will shake” being altered to “I shake,” for the apostle regarded the “shaking” as present and not future. A “promise” had been given that a greater work of Divine power, grace and glory should be wrought at the appearing of the Messiah than what took place in connection with the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the law, and this was now accomplished. How clearly and how forcibly did this demonstrate the pre-eminency of the new covenant above the old: so far as the glory of the second temple excelled that of the first was Christianity superior to Judaism! Finally, how well did this “shaking” of heaven intimate the permamency and finality of Christianity, for the shaking was in order that the unshakable might abide (verse 27).

It now remains for us to weigh the comment which the apostle made upon this citation from Haggai: “And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (verse 27). Incidentally, let it be pointed out that here we have a helpful illustration of the province and task of the teacher: in expounding God’s Word he not only compares passage with passage and defines the meaning of its terms, but he also indicates what legitimate inferences and conclusions may be drawn, what its statements imply as well as directly affirm. This is exactly what the apostle does here: he argues that the word “once” (used by the prophet) not only signified “once more,” but that it also denoted the setting aside of the order of things previously existing.

There is a fullness in the words of Holy Writ which can only be discovered by prolonged meditation and careful analysis. The prophecy of Haggai had said nothing expressly about the “removing” of anything, yet what was not stated explicitly was contained therein implicitly. The apostle insists that a “removing” was implied in the terms of Haggai’s prediction. The very fact that God had “shaken” the Mosaic economy to its very foundations—the preaching and miracles of Christ (and later by His apostles) had caused thousands to leave it, the Lord’s denunciation of the religion leaders and His exposure of their hypocrisy had undermined the confidence of the masses, while the rending of the temple veil by a Divine hand had clearly and solemnly signified the end of the Levitical system—was plain intimation that He was on the eve of setting the whole aside, and that, for the purpose of setting up something better in its place; what that something is, we must leave for our next chapter.

N.B. Had some of our twentieth century Christians been present they would have taken issue with the apostle and said, “Paul, you are taking undue liberties with the Word of God, which we cannot consent to. The Holy Spirit through Haggai spoke of a “shaking,” whereas you change it to “removing.” Had the apostle replied, “I am simply pointing out what the prophet’s language clearly implies, drawing an obvious inference from his statement.” The rejoinder would be, “We do not need to do any reasoning upon the Word. Moreover, any simple soul can see that shaking and removing are very different things, and had the prophet meant the latter he would have said so, and not used the former.” An expositor of Scripture often encounters such quibbling today: it is worse than ignorance, for it deceives not a few into supposing that such slavish adherence to the letter of Scripture (being occupied with its sound, instead of seeking its sense) is honoring the same.

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:28-29

Commentary on Hebrews 12:28-29

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Kingdom of Christ

(Hebrews 12:28)

We hope that we made clear in the preceding articles the general idea contained in the citation from the O.T. which the apostle made in Hebrews 12:26, namely, that under the proclamation of the Gospel there would be a more radical and far-reaching effect produced, than was the case at the giving of the Law, thereby manifesting the superiority of the one over the other. The more specific meaning of Haggai’s prediction (Heb. 2:6) was that the Jewish church and state would be dissolved, for both the ecclesiastical and civil spheres of Judaism (“heaven and earth”) were “shaken.” Its wider significance comprehended the convulsions which would be produced in heathendom (the “sea” of Haggai 2:6, and cf. verses 21, 22). The great design of God in the Divine incarnation was the setting up of Christ’s kingdom, but before it could be properly established there had to be a mighty shaking in order that the shadows in Judaism might give place to the substance, and that sinners among the Gentiles be made spiritual.

The appearing of the Messiah introduced and necessitated a total dissolution of the entire Judaic economy: the Levitical institutions being fulfilled in Christ, they had now served their purpose. This was solemnly signified by the Divine rending of the temple veil, and forty years later by the total destruction of the temple itself. But in the meanwhile it was difficult to persuade the Hebrews that such was the case, and therefore did the apostle clinch the argument he had made in 12:18-24 and the exhortation he had given in verse 26 by quoting a proof-text from their own Scriptures. Haggai’s language that the Lord would “shake the heavens” referred, as we have seen, not to the starry heavens or celestial planets, but to the Judaical constitution under the ceremonial law—called the “heavens” because they typed out heavenly things! Ultimately God would “shake” and remove all dominions, thrones and powers which were opposed to the kingdom of Christ—as, for example, He later did the Roman empire.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved” (verse 28). The design of the Holy Spirit in the whole of this passage (Heb. 12:18-29) was to enhance in the Hebrews’ estimation the supremacy and excellency of Christ’s kingdom, which His Gospel has “brought to light,” and of which the believers have been given the right and assurance, for it was to make way for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom that those mighty “shakings” occurred. Paul insists that God’s “shakings” were in order to “remove” that which hindered the manifestation and development of Christ’s kingdom. Here, then, is further proof that, so far from Haggai’s prophecy looking forward to the universal convulsion of nature at the last day, it has already had its fulfillment: believers now actually obtain the fruit of that “shaking,” for they “receive” the unshakable kingdom, namely the kingdom of Christ which cannot be moved. We trust this is now so plain to the reader that further effort on our part to establish the same is unnecessary.

But not only did the prophecy of Haggai announce the superiority of Christianity over Judaism and the necessary setting aside of the one for the other, but it also clearly intimated the finality of the Christian dispensation. This is plain from the words of Hebrews 12:27, “yet once more.” According to modem dispensationalists Paul should have said, “yet twice more,” for their view is, that just as the Mosaic dispensation was followed by the Christian, so the Christian will be succeeded by a revived and glorified Judaism in “the Millennium.” But “once more” means once only, and then no more. Christianity is the final thing which God has for this earth. The last great dispensational change was made when the Gospel was given to all the world: hence Peter could say, “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7), for God has now spoken His last word to mankind. Hence also John said, “It is the last hour” (1 John 2:18), which had not been true if another dispensation is to follow the one we are now in.

“And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (verse 27). Here the apostle explains Haggai’s “Yet once it is a little while (cf. the “now” of Hebrews 12:26) and I will shake the heavens” etc. When Paul refers to the things shaken and removed “as of things that are made,” he was far from adding a superfluous clause: it emphasized again the contrast he was drawing. The phrase “as of things that are made” is elliptical, needing the added words “made” (by hands) to bring out its sense. Everything connected with Judaism was made by human hands: even the tables of stone on which were inscribed the ten commandments, God commanded Moses to “hew” (Ex. 34:1), while the tabernacle and all connected with it was to be “made” according to “the pattern” God showed him (Ex. 25:8, 9). In sharp and blessed contrast, the immaterial and spiritual things of Christianity are “not made with hands” (2 Cor. 5:1), but are “made without hands” (Col. 2:11).

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved let us have grace whereby we may serve God.” The apostle here draws an inference from what had just been pointed out concerning the shaking and removing of Judaism and the establishing of Christianity. First, here is a great privilege into which Christians have entered, namely, a spiritual state under the rule of Jesus Christ—whom God hath anointed and set as king upon His holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6)—here called a “kingdom.” Second, the essential character of this kingdom, in contrast from all others, namely its immoveability—its finality and permanency. Third, the way of the believer’s participation of it: we “receive” it. “This kingdom, then, is the rule of Christ in and over the Gospel-state of the church, which the apostle hath proved to be more excellent than that of the Law” (John Owen). This kingdom we must now consider.

At the beginning of human history God’s kingdom was realized on this earth, so that there was no need to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” God’s kingship was established in Eden, and all the blessings that flow from subjection to His dominion were then enjoyed. The supremacy of God was gladly and spontaneously acknowledged by all His creatures. But sin entered, and a radical change ensued. Man repudiated the kingship of God, for by transgressing His commandments Adam rejected His sovereignty. By so doing, by heeding the suggestions of the Serpent, the “kingdom of Satan” (Matthew 12:26) was set up in this world. Shortly afterwards, God established His mediatorial kingdom, Abel being its first subject.

Since the Fall there have been two great empires at work on this earth: the “world” and “the kingdom of God.” Those who belong to the former own not God; those who pertain to the latter, profess subjection to Him. In O.T. times the Israelitish theocracy was the particular sphere of God’s kingdom on earth, the domain where His authority was manifested in a special way (Judg. 8:23, 1 Samuel 12:12, Hosea 13:9, 10, etc.). But subjection to Him, even there, was, on the part of the Nation as a whole, but partial and brief. The time soon came when Jehovah had to say to His servant, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). Then it was that the Lord appointed human kings in Israel as His representatives, for while the Sinaitic convenant (Ex. 19:6) continued in force Jehovah remained their King—it was the “King which made a marriage feast for His Son” (Matthew 22:2)! Though Saul, David, and his successors, bore the regal character, and thus partly obscured the Divine government, yet it was not abolished (see 2 Chronicles 13:8). The throne on which Solomon sat was called “The throne of the kingdom of the Lord” (1 Chron. 28:5).

Through Israel’s prophets God announced that there should yet be a more glorious display of His government than had been witnessed by their fathers of old, and promised that His dominion would take a more spiritual form in the establishing of the Messianic kingdom. This became the great theme of the later predictions of the O.T., though the nature and character of what was to come was necessarily depicted under the figures and forms of those material things with which the people were familiar and by those objects of Judaism which were most venerated by them. The setting up of the spiritual and immoveable kingdom of Christ was the issue and goal of all the prophets declared: see Luke 1:69, 70 and cf. Daniel 2:44. “The Lord reigneth, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded Himself: the world (i.e. the “world to come” of Hebrews 2:5, the new “world” brought in by Christ) also is established, that it cannot be moved” (Ps. 93:1, which is parallel with “we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved” (Heb. 12:28).

But though it had been clearly revealed through the prophets that the Lord Messiah would be a King and have a universal empire, yet the bulk of Abraham’s natural descendants entertained a grossly mistaken conception of the true design of Christ’s appearing and the real nature of His kingdom, and this mistake produced a most pernicious influence upon their tempers and conduct when the gracious purpose of His advent was fulfilled. The sense which they affixed to the Messianic prophecies was one that flattered their pride and fostered their carnality. Being ignorant of their spiritual needs and puffed up with a false persuasion of their peculiar interests in Jehovah’s favor on the ground of their fleshly descent from Abraham (John 8:39, 41), the lowly life and holy teaching and claims of the Lord Jesus were bitterly opposed by them (John 8:48, 59; Luke 19:14).

Though God had made many announcements through Israel’s prophets that the Messiah would occupy the regal office, yet clear intimation was given that He would be very different from the monarchs of earth (Isa. 53:2). Though the Messiah’s dominion and reign had been described under material symbols, yet was it made plain that His kingdom would not be “of this world.” Through Zechariah it was announced, “Behold, Thy King cometh unto thee: He is just and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Heb. 9:9). How different was that from the imposing splendor assumed by earth’s sovereigns! what a contrast was His ass from their magnificent chariots and state-coaches! How plainly did the poverty and meanness of Christ’s regal appearance intimate that His kingdom was not of a temporal kind! The Maker of heaven and earth, the Lord of angels, disdained such things as are highly esteemed among men.

The fatal mistake made by the Jews respecting the true nature of the kingdom of the Messiah lay at the foundation of all the opposition with which they treated Him, and of their own ultimate ruin. How it behooves us, then, to prayerfully seek right views of Christ’s kingdom, and to resist everything which tends to secularize His holy dominion, lest by corrupting the Evangelical Economy we dishonor the blessed Redeemer, and be finally punished as the enemies of His government. As the main cause of the Jews’ infidelity was their erroneous notion of a temporal kingdom of the Messiah, so the principal source of the corruption of Christianity has been the attempt made by Rome and her daughters to turn the spiritual kingdom of Christ into a temporal one, by uniting church and state and seeking to extend it by earthly means.

In John’s Gospel (which gives the spiritual side of things more than do the first three Gospels, being specially written to and for believers), there is a most significant word after the account of our Lord’s regal entry into Jerusalem on the back of an ass: “These things understood not His disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him” (John 12:16). So prejudiced were the apostles by the erroneous teaching of the Pharisees, that even they did not rightly apprehend the nature of Christ’s kingdom till after His ascension. They, too, were looking for a material kingdom, expecting it to appear in external pomp and glory; and hence they were at a complete loss to apprehend those scriptures which spoke of Christ’s kingdom as of a mean and lowly appearance. Well did Matthew Henry say, “The right understanding of the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom of its powers, glories, and victories, would prevent our misinterpreting and misapplying of the Scriptures that speak of it.”

Alas, how blind men still are as to what constitutes the true glory of Christ’s kingdom, namely, that it is a spiritual one, advanced by spiritual means, for spiritual persons, and unto spiritual ends. “To subdue hearts, not to conquer kingdoms; to bestow the riches of His grace to poor and needy sinners, not, like Solomon, to heap up gold and silver and precious stones; to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him, not to spread ruin and desolation over countless provinces (as did Ceasar, Charlemagne, Napoleon—A.W.P.); to be surrounded with an army of martyrs, not an army of soldiers; to hold a court where paupers, not princes, are freely welcome” (J.C. Philpot). Only those favored with true spiritual discernment will be able to perceive what the real honors and glories of the Lamb consist of.

The Mediatorial King must of necessity have a kingdom: even at His birth He was proclaimed as “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), and the first inquiry made of Him was “where is He that is born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Christ’s Kingship and kingdom follow from a twofold cause. First, His sovereignty as God is essential to His Divine nature, being underived, absolute, eternal, and unchanging. Second, His sovereignty as Mediator is derived, being given to Him by the Father as the reward of His obedience and sufferings. It has two distinct aspects: first, in its wider and more general application it embraces all the universe; second, in its narrower and more specific administration it is restricted to the Church, the election of grace. In addition to these distinctions, it is important to note Christ never affirmed that the setting up of His kingdom on this earth was in any way dependent upon the attitude of the Jews toward Him: no, the eternal purpose of God was never left contingent upon the conduct of worms of the dust.

“When the Jews refused Jesus as the Messiah, He did not say that the founding of the kingdom would be postponed until His second coming, but He did say the kingdom should be taken from them and given to the Gentiles!” (W. Masselink, “Why the Thousand Years?”). “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures. The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the Head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:42, 43). Moreover, every passage in the epistles which speak of Christ’s kingdom as a present reality, refutes the theory that His kingdom has been postponed until His second advent: see Colossians 1:13, Revelation l:9—Christ’s kingdom existed in the days of John, and he was in it! Christ is now “the Prince of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). He has already been “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9).

In consequence of the entrance of sin, God has set up a kingdom in antagonism to the kingdom of Satan. It is essentially different from the kingdoms of the world, in its origin, nature, end, method of development and continuance. It is essentially a kingdom of righteousness, and its central principle is the loyalty of heart of its subjects to the King Himself. It is not a democracy, but an absolute monarchy. The special agency for the extension of it is the organized churches of Christ with their regular ministry. By His providential operations the Lord Jesus is working in every sphere and causing all the historic movements of peoples and nations, civilized and uncivilized, to further its interests and advance its growth; though at the time of such movements this is hidden from carnal sense. Its consummation shall be ushered in by the return of the King, when His servants shall be rewarded and His enemies slain.

“There is but one kingdom or spiritual realm in which Christ reigns forever, and which in the end shall be eternally glorious in the perfect glory of her King; yet in Scripture there are three distinct names used to set forth the excellencies and the blessedness of that realm in various aspects, namely, the Kingdom, the Church, and the City of God” (A. A. Hodge). Of the three terms the word “kingdom” is the most flexible and has the widest range in its N.T. usage. It designates, first, a sphere of rule, a realm over which the government of Christ extends. It signifies, second, a reign or the exercise of royal authority. It denotes, third, the benefits or blessings which result from the benevolent exercise of Christ’s regal authority. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink”—the reign of Christ does not express itself in that kind of activity; “but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17)—these are the characteristics of His realm.

That Christ’s kingdom is of an altogether different nature and character from the kingdoms of this world is clear from His own teaching: “But Jesus called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45). And again, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36): observe He did not say “My kingdom is not in this world,” but “not of it.” It is not a provincial thing, nor a political institution; it is not regulated by territorial or material considerations, nor is it governed by carnal policy; it is not made up of unregenerate subjects, nor is it seeking mundane aggrandizement. It is purely a spiritual regime, regulated by the Truth. This is seen from the means He used at its first establishment, and His appointments for its support and enlargement—not physical force, but gracious overtures.

Some men who are fond of drawing innumerable distinctions and contrasts under the guise of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth,” draw a sharp line between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ. But this is clearly confuted by “hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5:5), and again “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15 and cf. 12:10). Its spiritual nature is plainly seen from Jehovah’s statement, “they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7): His throne and scepter was an invisible one. In like manner when the Jews said of Christ, “We will not have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14), they intimated that they were unwilling to surrender their hearts to His moral sway. So too when Paul said, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Cor. 4:19, 20) he obviously meant, “the spiritual power thereof felt in your hearts.”

The reign of Christ has a twofold application. First, He sustains the relation of a gracious Sovereign to His redeemed people, ruling them in love, maintaining their interests, supplying their needs, restraining their foes; training them for His service now and for the glory awaiting them in Heaven. Second, He is the moral Governor over the world, for however unconscious they may be of His operations, all men are controlled by Him and their schemings and actions over-ruled for His own ends. Even earth’s potentates are obliged to obey His secret will: “by Me kings reign, and princes decree justice” (Prov. 8:15); “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Prov. 21:1). His government over the world, yea, over the entire universe, is administered by a wisely adapted series of means, appointed and directed by Him.

It is important to recognize this twofold scope of Christ’s reign. To the Father He said, “As Thou has given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him” (John 17:2). The kingdom of Christ as it is spiritual and inward is peculiar to the elect, but His kingdom as it is judicial and outward is universal. The two things are distinguished again in Psalm 2: “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion” (verse 6), and “Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession” (verse 8). Christ is not only “King of saints” (Rev. 15:3), but He is also “King of nations” (Jer. 10:7). He reigns over all mankind, and those who do not submit themselves to Him as Redeemer, shall yet stand before Him as Judge. “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:9): this speaks of the judiciary acts of His power. Joseph in Egypt typed out the same: the power of all the land was made over to him (Gen. 41:43), but his brethren had a special claim upon his affections.

Now this kingdom of Christ, considered in its spiritual and inward aspect, believers are said to “receive,” that is, they participate in its privileges and blessings. As Christ’s kingdom is “not of the world” but “heavenly” (2 Tim. 4:18), so its subjects are not of the world but heavenly. From the Divine side, they enter by means of the Spirit’s quickening, for “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). From the human side, they enter when they throw down the weapons of their rebellion and take Christ’s yoke upon them, for “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). It was when we transferred our allegiance from Satan to Christ that it could be said, “The Father hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13). They who have received the Gospel into an honest and good heart have been admitted into and made participants of the kingdom of Christ.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved.” In seeking to define more closely the “we receiving,” let us remember the threefold meaning of the term “kingdom.” First, it signifies that we are admitted into that realm or sphere where Christ is owned as Supreme. Second, it signifies that we have surrendered to the reign or scepter of Christ, for Him to rule over our hearts and lives. Third, it signifies that we now participate in the blessings of Christ’s government. This word “receiving” also denotes that we have this kingdom from Another: “walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12); “hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom?” (James 2:5); “Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34); all bring out this thought.

In affirming that this is a kingdom “which cannot be moved” the apostle emphasized once more the great superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and also showed wherein the kingdom of Christ differs from all the kingdoms of earth, which are subject to commotions and convulsions. This “kingdom which cannot be moved” is but another name for “those things which cannot be shaken” that “remain” of verse 27: it is the substance and reality of what was typed out under the Mosaic economy. “We have received a kingdom that shall never be moved, nor give way to any new dispensation. The canon of Scripture is now perfected, the Spirit of prophecy is ceased, the mystery of God is finished: He hath put His last hand to it. The Gospel-church may be made more large, more prosperous, more purified from contracted pollution, but it shall never be altered for another dispensation; they who perish under the Gospel, perish without remedy” (Matthew Henry).

The Final Warning

(Hebrews 12:28, 29)

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” A brief analysis of these verses reveals the following weighty points. First, the inestimable blessing which believers have been made the recipients of: a kingdom which is eternal. Second, the obligation devolving upon them: to serve God with true veneration and pious devotedness. Third, the warning by which this is pointed: because there can be no escape from the Divine wrath which overtakes apostates. In his helpful commentary J. Brown pointed out that “to receive an immoveable kingdom is but another mode of expressing what is meant by ‘ye are come to mount Sion’ (verse 22). It is another descriptive figurative mode of expressing that the privileges and honors under the new covenant men obtain by the faith of the truth as it is in Jesus.” In support of this: “they that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion: they shall never be moved” (Ps. 125:1).

Now there is a twofold “kingdom” which believers have “received:” a kingdom of grace, which is set up in the heart of the saint, where Christ reigns as supreme Sovereign, and a kingdom of glory, prepared for us in Heaven, where we shall reign as kings with Christ forever. John Owen insisted that the former only is here intended, Ezekiel Hopkins threw the emphasis almost entirely upon the latter; personally we believe that both are included, and shall expound it accordingly, condensing the main points from each of these writers.

Christians are already possessors of the kingdom of grace, for Christ has established His dominion over them. Though He sits personally upon the Throne of heaven, yet He rules in believers by His spirit (who has received commission from Him), and also by His Word energized in them by the Spirit. The interest of believers in this kingdom is called their “receiving” it, because they have it by gift or grant from their Father: Luke 12:32. First, they receive its doctrine, truth, and law: they own its reality and submit to its authority: Romans 6:17. Second, they receive it in the light, grace, and spiritual benefits of it: they enjoy its privileges of righteousness, peace, and joy: Romans 14:17. Third, they receive it in its dignities and securities: they are kings and priests unto God (Rev. 1:6), and so safe are they as to be “kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Pet. 1:5). Fourth, they receive it by a supernatural initiation into its spiritual mysteries (1 Cor. 4:20), the glory of which is immediate access to God and heart enjoyment of Him.

The privileges which Christians receive by their believing the Gospel are inconceivably grand. They are in the kingdom, the kingdom of God and Christ, a spiritual and heavenly kingdom; enriched with inexhaustible treasures of spiritual and celestial blessings. Christians are not to be measured by their outward appearance or worldly circumstances, but rather by the interest they have in that kingdom which it was their Father’s good pleasure to give them. It is therefore their privilege and duty to conduct themselves and behave as those who have received such wondrous privileges and high dignities from God Himself: far should they be from envying poor millionaires and the godless potentates of this earth. Our portion is infinitely superior to the baubles of time and sense. Though the world knows us not, unto God we are “the excellent of the earth” (Ps. 16:3), the crown-jewels of His Son, those whom angels serve or minister unto. O for grace to conduct ourselves as the sons and daughters of the Almighty.

In what sense or senses has the believer “received” the kingdom of glory? First, by the immutable Word of Promise. To the believer the promise of God is as good security as the actual possession. The poor worldling cannot understand this, and he regards the confidence of the Christian as naught but fanaticism. But the simple trusting soul already possesses the kingdom of glory because God has infallibly assured him “in black and white” of the possession of it. It is the immutable Word of Promise which gives him the right and title to the inheritance, and therefore as it now belongs to him by right and title, he may well call it his. When God has promised anything, it is all the same to a believer whether He saith it is done or it shall be done.

Second, the believer has “received” the kingdom of glory by grace giving him the earnest and firstfruits of it. The comforts and graces of the Spirit are referred to again and again under these figures: appropriately so, for an “earnest” is a part (an instalment) of what is agreed upon, and the “firstfruits” are a sample and pledge of the coming harvest. Now grace and glory are one and the same in essence, differing only in degree: grace is Heaven brought down into the soul, glory is the soul conducted to Heaven. Grace is glory commenced, glory is grace consummated. Probably one of the meanings of “Light is sown for the righteous” (Ps. 97:11) is, the “light” of everlasting life and bliss is now in the graces of regenerated souls as in their seed, and they shall certainly bud and blossom forth into perfect fruitage.

Third, the believer has “received” the kingdom of glory by the realisation of Jaith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Here is a spiritual grace which brings distant things near and gives to the future a present reality. Faith brings into the soul what lies altogether outside the reach of our natural senses. It is a supernatural faculty which is quite beyond the ken of the natural man. Faith beholds what the eye cannot see, it grasps that made without hands; it supplies demonstration or proof of that which the infidel scoffs at.

Fourth, the believer has “received” the kingdom of glory by the embraces of hope. In Scripture, the grace of “hope” is something far better than a vague longing for something we do not yet possess: it is a sure expectation, a definite assurance of what God has promised. Hope supplies a present anticipation of the future realization. Faith believes, hope enjoys those things which God has prepared for them that love Him. Therefore hope is called the “anchor of the soul… which entereth into that within the veil” (Heb. 6:19), for it lays hold on that glory which is there laid up for us. Hope is the taster of our comforts, and excites the same delight and complacency as the fruition itself will impart—the same in kind, though not in degree.

The particular property of this kingdom which is here emphasized by the Holy Spirit (in accordance with the thought of the context) is, that it “cannot be moved”; therein does it differ from all other kingdoms—here, as everywhere, does our blessed Redeemer have the” pre-eminence.” Owen pointed out that. “No dominion ever so dreamed of eternity, as did the Roman Empire; but it hath not only been shaken, but broken to pieces and scattered like chaff before the wind: see Daniel 2:44; 7:14, 27″—so terribly so, that today, the closest students of history are unable to agree as to its actual boundaries. But nothing like that shall ever happen to the Savior’s dominion: therefore do we read of “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11). No internal decays can ruin it; no external opposition shall overthrow it. Yet the language of our verse goes even further than that: God Himself will not remove it.

“That which is here peculiarly intended is, that it is not obnoxious unto such a shaking and removal as the church-state was under the old covenant; that is, God Himself would never make any alteration in it, nor ever introduce another church-state or worship. God hath put the last hand, the hand of His only Son, unto all revelations and institutions. No addition shall be made unto what He hath done, nor alteration in it: no other way of calling, sanctifying, ruling, and saving of the church, shall ever be appointed or admitted; for it is here called an immovable kingdom, in opposition unto that church state of the Jews which God Himself first shook, and then took away—for it was ordained only for a season” (John Owen). Here again we perceive the superiority of Christianity over Judaism: the one was mutable, the other immutable; the one was evanescent, the other eternal; the one was founded by Moses, the other is established by Him who is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

The fact that Christ’s kingdom is an “everlasting” one (2 Pet. 1:11), that it shall “never be moved” (Heb. 12:28), and that “of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:33), has occasioned difficulty to some, in the light of “then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father” (1 Cor. 15:24). But the difficulty is at once removed if we bear in mind the distinctions pointed out in our last article. The sovereign dominion which Christ has over all creatures as a Divine person, is something of which He can never divest Himself. Likewise, that dominion over His own people which belongs to Him as the incarnate Son, is also eternal: He will remain forever the Head and Husband of the Church; nor can He relinquish the Mediatorial office. But that dominion to which He was exalted after His resurrection, and which extends over all principalities and powers (John 17:2, Matthew 28:18), will be relinquished when its design is accomplished: this is clearly seen in the remaining words of 1 Corinthians 15:24, “When He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet.” Thus, the “kingdom” which Christ delivers up to the Father is that rule of His over His enemies.

The immovability and eternality of Christ’s kingdom holds good of it equally whether we consider it in its present grace aspect or its future glory aspect, for we have received “a kingdom which cannot be moved.” The kingdom of grace is so Divinely fixed in the heart of believers that all the efforts of sin and all the attacks of Satan are unable to overthrow it: “the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19); “being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will finish it” (Phil. 1:6). It is absolutely impossible that one of Christ’s sheep should perish: in the day to come He will exclaim, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me” (Heb. 2:13). If this be true of the kingdom of grace, then much more so of the kingdom of glory, when sin shall be no more and Satan shall never again tempt the redeemed.

Now from the glorious nature of this “kingdom” the apostle proceeds to draw an inference or point a practical conclusion: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably.” As J. Brown pointed out, to “receive a kingdom” is to be invested with royalty, to be made kings and priests unto God (Rev. 1:6). Since, then, royalty is the most exalted form of human life, the most dignified honor known upon earth, how it behooves us to seek from God that aid which shall enable us to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.” Once again we are reminded of the inseparable connection between privilege and duty, and the greater the privilege the stronger the obligation to express our gratitude in a suitable and becoming manner: not merely in emotional ecstasies or fulsome words, but by obedience and worship, that we may “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

The commentators differ considerably as to what is denoted by “let us have grace,” yet it seems to us, its meaning is quite simple and obvious. Its signification may be ascertained by three considerations involved in what immediately follows. First, this “grace” is essential unto the serving of God “acceptably” and, as we shall see, this “service” has a principal reference to our worshipping of Him. Second, this “grace” is the root from which proceeds “reverence and godly fear,” so that it must point to something more than simple gratitude for what God has already done for us—which is how many of the writers limit it. Third, this “grace” is imperative if we are not to be consumed by Divine wrath—the “consuming fire” of verse 29. We therefore understand this expression to mean, let us persevere in the faith and duties of the Gospel, whereby we are alone enabled to offer acceptable worship to God; let us endeavor after an increase of Divine aid and succor; let us strive after a continual exercise of the grace He has given us; let us seek to bring our hearts more and more under its sanctifying power.

We believe the key to our present passage is found in Exodus 19:10, 11, 15. Under the old covenant the way and means in which Israel was to make a solemn approach unto God in worship was specifically defined: they were to reverently prepare themselves by purification from uncleanness and separation from fleshly indulgences. That was an outward adumbration of the spiritual purity which God now requires from us both internally and externally. Because God has revealed Himself in Christ in a far more glorious manner to us than He manifested Himself before Israel at Sinai, we ought to earnestly endeavor after a more eminent preparation of heart and sanctification of our whole persons in all our approaches to the Most High. There must be in us the spiritual counterpart of what was shadowed out in them ceremonially. The fear of God was wrought in Israel by the terrors of His law: though our fear be of another kind, it ought to be none the less real and effectual in us to its proper ends.

The great end in view is, that “we may serve God acceptably.” In this particular epistle the Greek word used here signifies that service unto God which consists in His worship, in prayer and praise, and the observance of all the institutions of Divine worship. For example, “in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience” (Heb. 9:9); and again, “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle” (Heb. 13:10); while in 10:2 the word is actually rendered “worshippers.” Nor is this meaning of the Greek word peculiar to the Hebrews epistle: “She was a widow of about four score and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37); “who change the truth of God into a lie, and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). The specific reference, then, is had unto the worship of God according to the Gospel, as superseding the institutions under the old economy. Needless to say, such worship cannot proceed from any who are not walking in Gospel obedience.

Now it is in order to our being so fitted for the Divine service that we may worship God “acceptably,” that the exhortation comes, “let us have grace.” There is a double reference: that our persons may be acceptable, and that our worship may be pleasing in His sight. An intimation is hereby given that there may be a performance of the duties of Divine worship when neither the persons who perform them, nor the duties themselves, are accepted by Him. So it was with Cain and his sacrifice, as it is with all hypocrites always. The principal things required unto this acceptance are, first, that the persons of the worshippers be accepted in the Beloved. Second, that the actual performance of worship must, in all the duties of it, be in strict accord with what God (and none other) has appointed. Third, that our spiritual graces be in actual exercise, for it is in and by this, in the discharge of all our religious duties, that we give glory unto God. How can our worship be pleasing unto Him if we be in a backslidden state?

That which is here specifically singled out as necessary unto our worship being acceptable is, that we serve God “with reverence and godly fear.” As John Owen wisely pointed out, these “may be learned best from what they are opposed unto. For they are prescribed as contrary unto some such defects and faults of Divine worship, as from which we ought to be deterred, by the consideration of the holiness and severity of God as is manifest from the next verse, ‘for our God is a consuming fire.’” The sins from which we ought to be deterred by a consideration of these Divine perfections are, First, the want of a due sense of the awe-inspiring majesty of Him with whom we have to do. God provided against this evil under the old economy by the terror wrought in the people at the giving of the Law, by the many restrictions interposed against their approaches to Him (none being allowed to enter the holy of holies), and by all the outward ceremonies appointed; and though all these are now removed, yet a deep spiritual sense of God’s holiness and greatness should be retained in the mind of all who draw nigh to Him in worship.

Second, the lack of a due sense of our own vileness, and our infinite distance from God both in nature and state, which is always required to be in us. The Lord will never accept the worship of a Pharisee: while we are puffed up with a sense of our own importance and filled with self-righteousness or self-complacency, He will not accept our approaches unto Him. And nothing is more calculated to hide pride from us and fill our hearts with a sense of our utter insignificance as a sight and realization of the ineffable purity and high sovereignty of God. When Isaiah beheld Him “high and lifted up,” he exclaimed “Woe is me! for I am undone” (Isa. 6:5); when Job beheld the Almighty, he cried, “Behold, I am vile” (Job 40:4).

Third, carnal boldness in a formal performance of sacred duties, while neglecting an earnest endeavor to exercise grace in them, which is something which God abhors. O the daring impiety of worldly professors taking upon their polluted lips the ineffable name of God, and offering unto Him “the sacrifice of fools” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). What a marvel it is that He does not strike dead those blatant and presumptuous souls who vainly attempt to deceive Him with their lip service while their hearts are far from Him. It is to prevent these, and other like evils, that we are here exhorted to worship God “with reverence and godly fear,” that is, with a holy abasement of soul, having our minds awed by a sense of the infinite majesty of God, our hearts humbled by a consciousness of our vileness and our creaturely nothingness.

No exhortation in this epistle is more needed by our perverse generation than this one. How this imperative requirement “with reverence and godly fear” rebukes the cheap, flippant, irreverent “worship” (?) of the day. O what unholy lightness and ungodly familiarity now marks the religion of Christendom: many address the great Deity as though they were His equals, and conduct themselves with far less decorum than they would show in the presence of an earthly monarch. The omission of bowing the head in silent prayer when we take our place in the congregation, the vulgar glancing around, the unseemingly whispering and chattering, the readiness to smile or laugh at any remarks of the preacher’s which may be wrested, are all so many instances of this glaring and growing evil. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all about Him” (Ps. 89:7).

The Greek word for “reverence” is rendered “shamefacedness” in 1 Timothy 2:9. This, in extraordinary instances, is called a “blushing,” a “being ashamed,” a “confusion of face” (Ezra 9:6; Daniel 9:7); yet, the essence of it, ought always to accompany us in the whole worship of God. “Godly fear” is a holy awe of the soul when engaged in sacred duties, and this from a consideration of the great danger there is of our sinful miscarriages in the worship of God, and of His severity against such heinous offenses. God will not be mocked. A serious soul is hereby moved unto watchfulness and diligence not to provoke so great, so holy, so jealous a God, by a neglect of that reverence and godly fear which He requires in His service, and which is due unto Him on account of His glorious perfections. If the seraphim veil their faces before Him (Isa. 6:2). how much more should we do so!

“For our God is a consuming fire” (verse 29). This is the reason given why we must serve God with reverence and fear. The words are taken from Deuteronomy 4:24, where they are used to deter Israel from idolatry, for that is a sin God will not tolerate. The same description of God is here applied by the apostle unto those lacking grace to worship Him with the humility and awe which He demands. If we are graceless in our persons, and devoid of reverence in our worship, God will deal with us accordingly. As a fire consumes combustible matter cast into it, so God will destroy sinners. The title “our God” denotes a covenant relationship, yet though Christians are firmly assured of their interest in the everlasting covenant, God requires them to have holy apprehensions of His majesty and terror: see 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11.

The twin graces of love and fear, fear and love, should be jointly active in the believer, and it is in preserving a balance between them that his spiritual health largely consists. So it is here: observe the remarkable conjunction: “our God,” in covenant relationship, our Father; and yet “a consuming fire,” to be trembled at! The first is to prevent despair from considering God’s ineffable purity and inflexible justice; the latter is to check a presumptous irreverence unto which a one-sided occupation with His grace and love might embolden us. Thus, the principal exhortation “let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably” is urged by two widely different motives: because we have “received a kingdom” and because God is a “consuming fire.” Carnal reason would ask, If we have received a kingdom which cannot be moved, why should we fear? But if God be such “a consuming fire” how can we ever expect such a kingdom, since we are but a stubble? But the Spirit-taught have no difficulty in perceiving why the apostle joined together these two things.

The Christian’s interest in His favor, is no warrant for casting off a solemn fear of God: though He has laid down His enmity against him, He has not cast off His majesty and sovereignty over him. “Even those who stand highest in the love and favor of God, and have the fullest assurance thereof and of their interest in Him as their God, ought, nothwithstanding, to fear Him as a sin-avenging God and a consuming fire” (Ezek. Hopkins, 1680). Though God has taken His redeemed into intimate nearness to Himself, yet He requires that they always retain a due apprehension of the majesty of His person, the holiness of His nature, the severity of His justice, and the ardent jealousy of His worship. If we truly dread falling under the guilt of this awful sin of irreverence, our minds will be influenced unto godly fear. The grace of fear is in nowise inconsistent with or an impediment to a spirit of adoption, holy boldness, or godly rejoicing: see Psalm 2:11, Matthew 28:8, Philippians 2:12.

“Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably,” for without it there will be neither “reverence” nor “godly fear.” Without Divine aid and unction we cannot serve God at all, for He accounts not that worship which is offered by graceless persons. Without grace in actual operation we cannot serve God acceptably, for it is in the exercise of faith and fear, love and awe, that the very life and soul of spiritual worship consists. O how earnestly do we need to seek an increase of Divine “grace” (2 Cor. 9:8; 12:9), and keep it operative in all duties of the worship of God: that in view of His awful wrath, we may have a dread of displeasing Him; in view of His majesty our hearts may be humbled; and in view of His love, we may seek to honor, please and adore Him. “Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13 and cf. Matthew 10:28).

John Newton (1725-1807): Grace in the Blade

Grace in the Blade.
John Newton (1725-1807)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch.

Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

This is the first “letter” to an unnamed recipient of a three-part series by John Newton.  John Newton is the slave trader-become-Christian  who also wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.

According to your desire, I sit down to give you my general views of a progressive work of grace, in the several stages of a believer’s experience; which I shall mark by the different characters A, B, C, answerable to the distinctions our Lord teaches us to observe from the growth of the corn, Mark iv. 28. ” First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” The Lord leads all his people effectually and savingly to the knowledge of the same essential truths, but in such a variety of methods, that it will be needful, in this disquisition, to set aside, as much as possible, such things as may be only personal and occasional in the experience of each, and to collect those only which in a greater or less degree are common to them all. I shall not therefore give you a copy of my own experience, or of that of any individual; but shall endeavour, as clearly as I can, to state what the Scripture teaches us concerning the nature and essentials of a work of grace, so far as it will bear a general application to all those who are the subjects of gracious operations.

By nature we are all dead in trespasses and sins, not only strangers to God, but in a state of enmity and opposition to his government and grace. In this respect, whatever difference there may be in the characters of men as members of society, they are all, whether wise or ignorant, whether sober or profane, equally incapable of receiving or approving divine truths, 1 Cor. ii. 14. On this ground our Lord declares, “No man can come unto me, except the Father who has sent me draws him.” Though the term Father most frequently expresses a known and important distinction in the adorable Trinity, I apprehend our Lord sometimes uses it to denote God, or the Divine Nature, in contradistinction from his humanity, as in John xiv. 9. And this I take to be the sense here: “No man can come unto me unless he is taught of God,” and wrought upon by a divine power. The immediate exertion of this power, according to the economy of salvation, is rather ascribed to the Holy Spirit than to the Father, John xvi. 8—1 1. But it is the power of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: and therefore severally attributed to the Father, Son, and Spirit, John v. 21. and ch. vi. 44—63; 2 Cor. iii. 18; 2 Thess. iii. 5.

By A, I would understand a person who is under the drawings of God, which will infallibly lead him to the Lord Jesus Christ for life and salvation. The beginning of this work is instantaneous. It is effected by a certain kind of light communicated to the soul, to which it was before an utter stranger. The eyes of the understanding are opened and enlightened. The light at first afforded is weak and indistinct, like the morning dawn; but when it is once begun, it will certainly increase and spread to the perfect day. We commonly speak as if conviction of sin was the first work of God upon the soul that he is in mercy about to draw unto himself. But I think this is inaccurate. Conviction is only a part, or rather an immediate effect of that first work; and there are many convictions which do not at all spring from it, and therefore are only occasional and temporary, though for a season they may be very sharp, and put a person upon doing many things. In order to a due conviction of sin, we must previously have some adequate conceptions of the God with whom we have to do. Sin may be feared as dangerous without this; but its nature and demerit can only be understood by being contrasted with the holiness, majesty, goodness, and truth, of the God against whom it is committed. No outward means, no mercies, judgments, or ordinances, can communicate such a discovery of God, or produce such a conviction of sin, without the concurrence of this divine light and power to the soul. The natural conscience and passions may be indeed so far wrought upon by outward means, as to stir up some desires and endeavours; but if these are not founded in a spiritual apprehension of the perfections of God, according to the revelation he has made of himself in his word, they will sooner or later come to nothing; and the person affected will either return by degrees to his former ways, 2 Peter ii. 20; or he will sink into a selfrighteous form of godliness, destitute of the power, Luke xviii. 11. And therefore, as there are so many things in the dispensation of the Gospel suited to work upon the natural passions of men, the many woeful miscarriages and apostasies amongst professors are more to be lamented than wondered at. For though the seed may seem to spring up, and look green for a season, if there be not depth for it to take root, it will surely wither away. We may be unable to judge with certainty upon the first appearance of a religious profession, whether the work be thus deep and spiritual or not; but “the Lord knows them that are his”; and wherever it is real, it is an infallible token of salvation. Now, as God only thus reveals himself by the medium of Scripture truth, the light received this way leads the soul to the Scripture from whence it springs, and all the leading truths of the word of God soon begin to be perceived and assented to. The evil of sin is acknowledged; the evil of the heart is felt. There may be for a while some efforts to obtain the favour of God by prayer, repentance, and reformation; but, for the most part, it is not very long before these things are proved to be vain and ineffectual. The soul, like the woman mentioned, Mark v. 26. wearied with vain expedients, finds itself worse and worse, and is gradually brought to see the necessity and sufficiency of the Gospel-salvation. A, may soon be a believer thus far: That he believes the word of God, sees and feels things to be as they are there described, hates and avoids sin, because he knows it is displeasing to God, and contrary to his goodness; he receives the record which God has given of his Son; has his heart affected and drawn to Jesus by views of his glory, and of his love to poor sinners; ventures upon his name and promises as his only encouragement to come to a throne of grace; waits diligently in the use of all means appointed for the communion and growth of grace; loves the Lord’s people, accounts them the excellent of the earth, and delights in their conversation. He is longing, waiting, and praying, for a share in those blessings which he believes they enjoy, and can be satisfied with nothing less. He is convinced of the power of Jesus to save him; but through remaining ignorance and legality, the remembrance of sin committed, and the sense of present corruption, he often questions his willingness; and, not knowing the aboundings of grace, and the security of the promises, he fears lest the compassionate Saviour should spurn him from his feet.

While he is thus young in the knowledge of the Gospel, burdened with sin, and perhaps beset with Satan’s temptations, the Lord, “who gathers the lambs in his arms, and caries them in his bosom,” is pleased at times to favour him with cordials, that he may not be swallowed up with over-much sorrow. Perhaps his heart is enlarged in prayer, or under hearing, or some good promise is brought home to his mind, and applied with power and sweetness. He mistakes the nature and design of these comforts, which are not given him to rest in, but to encourage him to press forward. He thinks he is then right, because he has them, and fondly hopes to have them always. Then his mountain stands strong. But ere long he feels a change: his comforts are withdrawn; he finds no heart to pray; no attention in hearing; indwelling sin revives with fresh strength, and perhaps Satan returns with redoubled rage. Then he is at his wit’s end; thinks his hopes were presumptuous, and his comforts delusions. He wants to feel something that may give him a warrant to trust in the free promises of Christ. His views of the Redeemer’s gracefulness are very narrow; he sees not the harmony and glory of the divine attributes in the salvation of a sinner; he sighs for mercy, but fears that justice is against him. However, by these changing dispensations, the Lord is training him up, and bringing him for ward. He receives grace from Jesus, whereby he is enabled to fight against sin; his conscience is tender, his troubles are chiefly spiritual troubles; and he thinks, if he could but attain a sure and abiding sense of his acceptance in the beloved, hardly any outward trial would be capable of giving him much disturbance. Indeed, notwithstanding the weakness of his faith, and the prevalence of a legal spirit, which greatly hurts him, there are some things in his present experience which he may perhaps look back upon with regret hereafter, when his hope and knowledge will be more established. Particularly that sensibility and keenness of appetite with which he now attends the ordinances, desiring; the sincere milk of the word with earnestness and eagerness, as a babe does the breast. He counts the hours from one opportunity to another; and the attention and desire with which he hears may be read in his countenance. His zeal is likewise lively; and may be, for want of more experience, too importunate and forward. He has a love for souls, and a concern for the glory of God; Which, though it may at some times create him trouble, and at others be mixed with some undue motions of self, yet in its principle is highly desirable and commendable; John xviii. 10.

The grace of God influences, both the understanding and the affections. Warm affections, without knowledge, can rise no higher than superstition; and that knowledge which does not influence the heart and affections, will only make a hypocrite. The true believer is rewarded in both respects; yet we may observe that though A, is not without knowledge, this state is more usually remarkable for the warmth and liveliness of the affections. On the other hand, as the work advances, though the affections are not left out, yet it seems to be carried on principally in the understanding. The old Christian has more solid, judicious, connected views of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the glories of his person and redeeming love; hence his hope is more established, his dependence more simple, and his peace and strength, cateris paribus, more abiding and uniform, than in the case of a young convert; but the latter has, for the most part, the advantage in point of sensible fervency. A tree is most valuable when laden with ripe fruit, but it has a peculiar beauty when in blossom. It is spring-time with A; he is in bloom, and, by the grace and blessing of the heavenly husbandman, will bear fruit in old age. His faith is weak, but his heart is warm. He will seldom venture to think himself a believer; but he sees and feels, and does those things which no one could, unless the Lord was with him. The very desire and bent of his soul is to God, and to the word of his grace. His knowledge is but small, but it is growing; every day. If he is not a father or a young man in grace, he is a dear child. The Lord has visited his heart, delivered him from the love of sin, and fixed his desires supremely upon Jesus Christ. The spirit of bondage is gradually departing from him, and the hour of liberty, which lie longs for, is approaching, when by a further discovery of the glorious Gospel, it shall be given him to know his acceptance, and to rest upon the Lord’s finished salvation. We shall then take notice of him by the name of B, in a second letter, if  you are not unwilling that I should prosecute the subject.

John Newton (1725-1807): Grace in the Ear

Grace in the Ear
John Newton (1725-1807)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch.

Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

This is the second “letter” to an unnamed recipient of a three-part series by John Newton.  John Newton is the slave trader-become-Christian  who also wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.

The manner of the Lord’s work in the hearts of his people is not easily traced, though the fact is certain, and the evidence demonstrable, from Scripture. In attempting to explain it, we can only speak in general, and are at a loss to form such a description as shall take in the immense variety of cases which occur in the experience of believers. I have already attempted such a general delineation of a young convert, under the character of A, and am now to speak of him by the name of B.

This state I suppose to commence, when the soul, after an interchange of hopes and fears, according to the different frames it passes through, is brought to rest in Jesus, by a spiritual apprehension of his complete suitableness and sufficiency, as the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption of all who trust in him, and is enabled by an appropriating faith to say, “He is mine, and I am his.” There are various degrees of this persuasion; it is of a growing nature, and is capable of increase so long as we remain in this world. I call it assurance, when it arises from a simple view of the grace and glory of the Saviour, independent of our sensible frames and feelings, so as to enable us to answer all objections from unbelief and Satan, with the apostles words, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Horn. viii. 34. This, in my judgment, does not belong to the essence of faith, so that B should be deemed more truly a believer than A, but to the establishment of faith. And now faith is stronger, it has more to grapple with. I think the characteristic of the state of A is desire, and of B is conflict. Not that B’s desires have subsided, or that A was a stranger to conflict; but as there was a sensible eagerness and keenness in A’s desires, which perhaps, is seldom known to be equally strong afterwards; so there are usually trials and exercises in B’s experience, something different in their kind, and sharper in their measure, than what A was exposed to, or indeed had strength to endure. A, like Israel, has been delivered from Egypt by great power and a stretched-out arm, has been pursued and terrified by many enemies, has given himself up for lost again and again. He has at last seen his enemies destroyed, and has sung the song of Moses and the Lamb upon the banks of the Red Sea. Then he commences B. Perhaps, like Israel, he thinks his difficulties are at an end, and expects to go on rejoicing till he enters the Promised Land. But, alas! his difficulties are in a manner but beginning; he has a wilderness before him, of which he is not aware. The Lord is now about to suit his dispensations to humble and to prove him, and to show him what is in his heart, that he may do him good, at the latter end, and that all the glory may redound to his own free grace.

Since the Lord hates and abhors sin, and teaches his people whom he loves to hate it likewise, it might seem desirable, (and ail things are equally easy to him,) that at the same time they are delivered from the guilt and reigning power of sin, they should likewise be perfectly freed from the defilement of indwelling sin, and be made fully conformable to him at once. His wisdom has, however, appointed otherwise. But from the above premises, of his hatred of sin, and his love to his people, I think we may certainly conclude, that he would not suffer sin to remain in them, if he did not purpose to over-rule it, for the fuller manifestation of the glory of his grace and wisdom, and for the making his salvation more precious to their souls. It is, however, his command, and therefore their duty; yea, further, from the new nature he has given them, it is their desire to watch and strive against sin; and to propose the mortification of the whole body of sin, and the advancement of sanctification in their hearts, as their great and constant aim, to which they are to have an habitual persevering regard. Upon this plan B sets out. The knowledge of our acceptance with God, and of our everlasting security in Christ, has in itself the same tendency upon earth as it will have in heaven, and would, in proportion to the degree of evidence and clearness, produce the same effects, of continual love, joy, peace, gratitude, and praise, if there was nothing to counteract it. But B is not all spirit. A depraved nature still cleaves to him, and he has the seeds of every natural corruption yet remaining in his heart. He lives likewise in a world that is full of snares, and occasions, suited to draw forth those corruptions; and he is surrounded by invisible spiritual enemies, the extent of whose power and subtlety he is yet to learn by painful experience. B knows, in general, the nature of his Christian warfare, and sees his right to live upon Jesus for righteousness and strength. He is not unwilling to endure hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ; and believes, that though he may be sore thrust at, that he may fall, the Lord will be his stay. He knows, that his heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked;” but he does not, he cannot know at first, the full meaning of that expression. Yet it is for the Lord’s glory, and will in the end make his grace and love still more precious, that B should find new and mortifying proofs of an evil nature as he goes on, such as he could not once have believed had they been foretold to him, as in the case of Peter, Mark xiv. 29. And, in effect, the abominations of the heart do not appear in their full strength and aggravation, but in the case of one, who, like B, has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and rejoiced in his salvation. The exceeding sinfulness of sin is manifested, not so much by its breaking through the restraint of threatenings and commands, as by its being capable of acting against light and against love. Thus it was with Hezekiah. He had been a faithful and zealous servant of the Lord for many years; but I suppose he knew more of God, and of himself, in the time of his sickness, than he had ever done before. The Lord, who had signally defended him from Sennacherib, was pleased likewise to raise him from the borders of the grave by a miracle, and prolonged the time of his life in answer to prayer. It is plain, from the song which he penned upon his recovery, that he was greatly affected with the mercies he had received; yet still there was something in his heart which he knew hot, and which it was for the Lord’s glory he should be made sensible of; and therefore he was pleased to leave him to himself It is the only instance in which he is said to have been left to himself, and the only instance in which his conduct is condemned. I apprehend, that in the state of B, that is, for a season after we have known the Lord, we have usually the most sensible and distressing experience of our evil natures. I do not say, that it is necessary that we should be left to fall into gross outward sin, in order to know what is in our hearts; though I believe many have thus fallen, whose hearts, under a former sense of redeeming love, have been as truly set against sin, as the hearts of others who have been preserved from such outward falls. The Lord makes some of his children examples and warnings to others, as he pleases. They who are spared, and whose worst deviations are only known to the Lord and themselves, have great reason to be thankful. I am sure I have; the merciful Lord has not suffered me to make any considerable blot in my profession during the time I have been numbered amongst his people. But I have nothing to boast of herein. It has not been owing to my wisdom, watchfulness, or spirituality, though in the main he has not suffered me to live in the neglect of his appointed means. But I hope to go softly all my days under the remembrance of many things, for which I have as great cause to be abased before him, as if I had been left to sin grievously in the sight of men. Yet with respect to my acceptance in the Beloved, I know not if I have had a doubt of a quarter of an hour’s continuance, for many years past. But, Oh! the multiplied instances of stupidity, ingratitude, impatience, and rebellion, to which my conscience has been witness! And as every heart knows its own bitterness, I have generally heard the like complaints from others of the Lord’s people with whom I have conversed, even from those who have appeared to be eminently gracious and spiritual. B does not meet with these things perhaps at first, nor every day. The Lord appoints occasions and turns in life, which try our spirits. There are particular seasons when temptations are suited to our frames, tempers, and situations; and there are times when he is pleased to withdraw, and to permit Satan’s approach, that we may feel how vile we are in ourselves. We are prone to spiritual pride, to self dependence, to vain confidence, to creature attachments, and a train of evils. The Lord often discovers to us one sinful disposition by exposing us to another. He sometimes shows us what he can do for us and in us; and at other times how little we can do, and how unable we are to stand without him. By a variety of these exercises, through the over-ruling and edifying influences of the Holy Spirit B is trained up in a growing knowledge of himself and of the Lord. He learns to be more distrustful of his own heart, and to suspect a snare in every step he takes. The dark and disconsolate hours which he has brought upon himself in times past, make him doubly prize the light of God’s countenance, and teach him to dread whatever might grieve the Spirit of God, and cause him to withdraw again. The repeated and multiplied pardons which he has received, increase his admiration of, and the sense of his obligations to, the rich sovereign abounding mercy of the covenant. Much has been forgiven him, therefore he loves much, and therefore he knows how to forgive and pity others. He does not call evil good, or good evil; but his own experiences teach him tenderness and forbearance. Lie experiences a spirit of meekness towards those who are overtaken in a fault, and his attempts to restore such, are according to the pattern of the Lord’s dealings with himself In a word, B’s character, in my judgment, is complete, and he becomes a C, when the habitual frame of his heart, answers to that passage in the prophet Ezekiel, chap. xvi. 63. “That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, (to boast, complain, or censure.) because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.”

John Newton (1725-1807): The Full Corn in the Ear

The Full Corn in the Ear
John Newton (1725-1807)
Copyright: Public Domain

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This is the third “letter” to an unnamed recipient of a three-part series by John Newton.  John Newton is the slave trader-become-Christian  who also wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.

By way of distinction, I assigned to A the characteristic of desire, to B that of conflict. I can think of no single word more descriptive of the state of C than contemplation. His eminence, in comparison of A, does not consist in the sensible warmth and fervency of his affections: in this respect many of the most exemplary believers have looked back with a kind of regret upon the time of their espousals, when, though their judgments were but imperfectly formed, and their views of Gospel-truths were very indistinct, they felt a fervor of spirit, the remembrance of which is both humbling and refreshing; and yet they cannot recall the same sensations. Nor is he properly distinguished from B by a consciousness of his acceptance in the Beloved, and an ability of calling God his father; for this I have supposed B has attained to. Though, as there is a growth in every grace, C having had his views of the Gospel, and of the Lord’s faithfulness and mercy, confirmed by a longer experience, his assurance is of course more stable and more simple, than when he first saw himself safe from all condemnation. Neither has C, properly speaking, any more strength or stock of grace inherent in himself than B, or even than A. He is in the same state of absolute dependence, as incapable of performing spiritual acts, or of resisting temptations by his own power, as he was at the first day of his setting out. Yet in a sense he is much stronger, because he has a more feeling and constant sense of his own weakness. The Lord has been long teaching him this lesson by a train of various dispensations; and through grace he can say, He has not suffered so many things in vain. His heart has deceived him so often, that he is now in a good measure weaned from trusting to it and therefore he does not meet with so many disappointments. And having found again and again the vanity of all other helps, he is now taught to go to the Lord at once for “grace to help in every time of need,” Thus he is strong, not in himself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

But C’s happiness and superiority to B, lies chiefly in this, that by the Lords blessing on the use of means, such as prayer, reading and hearing of the word, and by a sanctified improvement of what he has seen of the Lord, and of his own heart, in the course of his experience, he has attained clearer, deeper, and more comprehensive views of the mystery of redeeming love; of the glorious excellency of the Lord Jesus, in his person, offices, grace, and faithfulness; of the harmony and glory of all the divine perfections manifested in and by him to the church; of the stability, beauty, fulness, and certainty of the Holy Scriptures, and of the heights, depths, lengths, and breadths of the love of God in Christ. Thus though his sensible feelings may not be so warm as when he was in the state of A, his judgment is more solid, his mind more fixed, his thoughts more habitually exercised upon the things within the Vail. His great business is to behold the glory of God in Christ; and by beholding, he is changed into the same image, and brings forth in an eminent and uniform manner the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. His contemplations are not barren speculations, but have a real influence, and enable him to exemplify the Christian character to more advantage, and with more consistence, than can in the present state of things be expected either from A or B. The following particulars may illustrate my meaning.

I. Humility. A measure of this grace is to be expected in every true Christian: but it can only appear in proportion to the knowledge they have of Christ and of their own hearts. It is a part of C’s daily employment to look back upon the way by which the Lord has led him; and while he reviews the Ebenezers he has set up all along the road, he sees, in almost an equal number, the monuments of his own perverse returns, and how he has in a thousand instances rendered to the Lord evil for good. Comparing these things together, he can without affectation adopt the apostle’s language, and style himself ” less than the least of all saints, and of sinners ”the chief.” A and B know that they ought to be humbled; but C is truly so, and feels the force of that text which I mentioned in my last; Ezek. xvi. 63. Again, as he knows most of himself, so he has seen most of the Lord. The apprehension of infinite Majesty combined with infinite love, makes him shrink into the dust. From the exercise of this grace he derives two others, which are exceedingly ornamental, and principal branches of the mind which was in Christ.

The one is, submission to the will of God. The views he has of his own vileness, unworthiness, and ignorance, and of the divine sovereignty, wisdom, and love, teach him to be content in every state, and to bear his appointed lot of suffering; with resignation, according to the language of David in a time of affliction, “I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.”

The other is tenderness of spirit towards his fellow Christians. He cannot but judge of their conduct according to the rule of the word. But his own heart, and the knowledge he has acquired of the snares of the world, and the subtlety of Satan, teach him to make all due allowances, and qualify him for admonishing and restoring, in the spirit of meekness, those who have been overtaken in a fault. Here A is usually blamable; the warmth of his zeal, not being duly corrected by a sense of his own imperfections, betrays him often into a censorious spirit. But C can bear with A likewise, because he hath been so himself, and he will not expect green fruit to be ripe.

II. Spirituality. A spiritual taste, and a disposition to account all things mean and vain, in comparison of the knowledge and love of God in Christ, are essential to a true Christian. The world can never be his prevailing choice; 1 John ii. 13. Yet we are renewed but in part, and are prone to an undue attachment to worldly things. Our spirits cleave to the dust, in defiance to the dictates of our better judgments; and I believe the Lord seldom gives his people a considerable victory over this evil principle, until he has let them feel how deeply it is rooted in their hearts. We may often see persons entangled and clogged in this respect, of whose sincerity in the main we cannot justly doubt; especially upon some sudden and unexpected turn in life, which brings them into a situation they have not been accustomed to. A considerable part of our trials are mercifully appointed to wean us from this propensity; and it is gradually weakened by the Lord’s showing us at one time the vanity of the creature, and at another his own excellence and all sufficiency. Even C is not perfect in this respect; but he is more sensible of the evil of such attachments, more humbled for them, more watchful against them, and more delivered from them. He still feels a fetter, but he longs to be free. His allowed desires are brought to a point; and he sees nothing worth a serious thought, but communion with God and progress in holiness. Whatever outward changes C may meet with, he will in general be the same man still. He has learned with the apostle, not only to suffer want, but, (which is perhaps the harder lesson) how to abound. A palace would be a prison to him, without the Lord’s presence, and with this a prison would be a palace. From hence arises a peaceful reliance upon the Lord; he has nothing which he cannot commit into his hands, which he is not habitually aiming to resign to his disposal. Therefore he is not afraid of evil tidings; but when the hearts of others shake like the leaves of a tree, he is fixed, trusting in the Lord, who he believes can and will make good every loss, sweeten every bitter, and appoint all things to work together for his advantage. He sees that the time is short, lives upon the foretastes of glory, and therefore accounts not his life or any inferior concernment dear, so that he may finish his course with joy.

III. A union of heart to the glory and will of God, is another noble distinction of C’s spirit. The glory of God and the good of his people are inseparably connected. But of these great ends the first is unspeakably the highest and the most important, and into which every thing else will be finally resolved. Now, in proportion as we advance nearer to him, our judgment, aim, and end, will be conformable to him and his glory will have the highest place in our hearts. At first it is not so, or but very imperfectly. Our concern is chiefly about ourselves; nor can it be otherwise, The convinced soul inquires, What shall I do to be saved? The young convert is intent upon sensible comforts; and in the seasons when he sees his interest secure, the prospect of the troubles he may meet with in life makes him often wish for an early dismission, that he may be at rest, and avoid the heat and burden of the day. But C has attained to more enlarged views; he has a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which would be importunate if he considered only himself; but his chief desire is, that God may be glorified in him, whether by his life or by his death. He is not his own; nor does he desire to be his own; but so that the power of Jesus may be manifested in him, he will take pleasure in infirmities, in distresses, in temptations: and though he longs for heaven, would be content to live as long as Methuselah upon earth, if, by any thing he could do or suffer, the will and glory of God might be promoted. And though he loves and adores the Lord for what he has done and suffered for him, delivered him from, and appointed him to; yet he loves and adores him likewise with a more simple and direct love, in which self is in a manner forgot, from the consideration of his glorious excellence and perfections, as he is in himself. That God in Christ is glorious over all, and blessed for ever, is the very Joy of his soul; and his heart can frame no higher wish, than that the sovereign, wise, holy will of God may be accomplished in him, and all his creatures. Upon this grand principle his prayers, schemes, and actions, are formed. Thus C is already made like the angels; and, so far as is consistent with the inseparable remnants of a fallen nature, the will of God is regarded by him upon earth, as it is by the inhabitants of heaven.

The power of divine grace in C may be exemplified in a great variety of situations. C may be rich or poor, learned or illiterate, of a lively natural spirit, or of a more slow and phlegmatical constitution. He may have a comparatively smooth, or a remarkably thorny path in life; he may be a minister or layman; these circumstantials will give some tincture and difference in appearance to the work; but the work itself is the same; and we must, as far as possible, drop the consideration of them all, or make proper allowances for each, in order to form a right judgment of the life of faith. The outward expression of grace may be heightened and set off to advantage by many things which are merely natural, such as evenness of temper, good sense, a knowledge of the world, and the like; and it may be darkened by things which are not properly sinful, but unavoidable, such as lowness of spirit, weak abilities, and pressure of temptations, which may have effects that they who have not had experience in the same things cannot properly account for. A double quantity of real grace, if I may so speak, that has a double quantity of hindrances to conflict with, will not be easily observed, unless these hindrances are likewise known and attended to; and a smaller measure of grace may appear great when its exercise meets with no remarkable obstruction. For these reasons, we can never be competent judges of each other, because we cannot be competently acquainted with the whole complex case. But our great and merciful High-priest knows the whole; he considers our frame, ” remembers that we “are but dust;” makes gracious allowances, pities, bears, accepts, and approves, with unerring judgment. The sun, in his daily course, beholds nothing so excellent and honourable upon earth as C, though perhaps he may be confined to a cottage, and is little known or noticed by men. But he is the object and residence of divine love, the charge of angels, and ripening for everlasting glory. Happy C! his toils, sufferings, and exercises, will be soon at an end; soon his desires will be accomplished; and he who has loved him, and redeemed him with his own blood, will receive him to himself, with a “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

If this representation is agreeable to the Scriptures, how greatly are they mistaken, and how much to be pitied, who, while they make profession of the Gospel, seem to have no idea of the effects it is designed to produce upon the hearts of believers, but either allow themselves in a worldly spirit and conversation, or indulge their unsanctified tempers, by a fierce contention for names, notions, and parties. May the Lord give to you and to me daily to grow in the experience of that wisdom which “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good works, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”