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IV. DRIFTING

 

 

"We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip."-HEBREWS ii. 1

 

SALVATION is a great word; and it is one of the keywords of this Epistle. Heirs of salvation (i.14); so great salvation (ii. 3); Captain of salvation (ii. 10); eternal salvation (v. 9); things that accompany salvation (vi.9); salvation to the uttermost (vii. 25); and his appearance the second time without sin unto salvation (ix. 28).

Sometimes it is salvation from the penalty of sin that is spoken of. The past tense is then used, of that final and blessed act by which, through faith in the blood of Jesus, we are forever placed beyond fear of judgment and punishment; so that we are to the windward of the storm, which spent itself on the head of our Substitute and representative on Calvary, and can therefore never break on us. "By grace have ye been saved through faith" (Eph. ii. 8, R.v.).

Sometimes it is salvation from the power of sin. The present tense is then employed, of the long and gradual process by which we are set free from evil, which has worked itself so deeply into our system. "Unto us which are being saved the word of the cross is the power of God" (1 Cor. i. i8, R.v.). Sometimes salvation from all physical and other evils is implied. The future tense is then summoned into requisition, painting its splendid frescoes on the mists that hang so densely before our view, and telling us of resurrection in our Saviour's likeness and presentation in his home, faultless, with exceeding joy. "We know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (i John iii. 2). "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed: the night is far spent; the day is at hand" (Rom. xlii. 11, 12).

In the above passage the word "salvation"includes the entire process, from its beginning to its end; though perhaps it is especially tinctured with the first thought mentioned above. And if we follow out the figure suggested by the rendering of the first verse of this chapter in the Revised Version, we may compare salvation to a great harbor, past: which we are in danger of drifting through culpable neglect. "We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them." "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation!"

CONSIDER GOD'S SCHEME OF SALVATION AS A GREAT HARBOR.-After a wild night, we have gone down to the harbor, over whose arms the angry waves have been dashing with boom of thunder and in clouds of spray. Outside, the sea has been tossing and churning; the cloudrack driving hurriedly across the sky; the winds howling like the furies of olden fable. But within those glorious walls, the barks which had put in during the night were riding in safety; the sailors resting, or repairing rents in sail and tackle, whilst the waters were unstirred by the storm raging without. Such a refuge or harbor is a fit emblem of salvation, where tempest-driven souls find shelter and peace.

It is great in its sweep.   Sufficient to embrace a ruined world. Room in it for whole navies of souls to ride at anchor. Space enough for every ship of Adam's race launched from the shores of time. He is the propitiation for the whole world." "Whosoever will." Already it is becoming filled. There a vessel once manned by seven devils, a pirate ship, but captured by our Emmanuel; and at her stem the name, Mary of Magdala. And here one dismasted, and almost shattered, rescued from the fury of the maelstrom at the last hour; on her stem the words, The Dying Thief And there another, long employed in efforts to sap the very walls of the harbor, and now flying a pennon from the masthead, Chief of Sinners and Least of Saints. And all around a forest of masts, "a multitude which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues."

It is great in its foundations.   The chief requisite in constructing a sea-wall is to get a foundation which can stand unmoved amid the heaviest seas. The shifting sand must be pierced down to the granite rock. But this harbor has foundations mighty enough to inspire strong consolation in those who have fled to it for refuge; the promise, and as if that were not enough, the oath, of God (Heb. vi. 17, 18). Hark, how the storm of judgment is rising out there at sea! "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" Fear not! there is no room for alarm. The waves may wash off some mussel-shells, or tear away the green sea-lichen which has incrusted the moldings on the walls; but it would be easier to dig out the everlasting hills from their base than make one stone in those foundations start.

It was great in its cost.   By the tubular bridge over the Menai Straits stands a column, which records the names of those who perished during the construction of that great triumph of engineering skill. Nothing is said of the money spent, only of the lives sacrificed. And so, beside the harbor of our salvation, near to its mouth, so as to be read by every ship entering its inclosure, rises another column, with this as its inscription: "Sacred to the memory of the Son of God, who gave his life a sacrifice for the sin of the world." It seems an easy thing to be saved: "Look unto me, and be ye saved." But we do not always remember how much happened before it became so easy-the agony and bloody sweat; the cross and passion; the precious death and burial.

It has been great in its announcement.   The Jews thought much of their Law, because of the majesty of its proclamation. Spoken from the inaccessible cliffs of Sinai, with its beetling crags, its red sandstone peaks bathed in fire; while thunders and lightnings, thick clouds and trumpet-notes, were the sublime accessories of the scene. It was the authorized belief also that the Law was given through angels (Deut. xxxiii. 2 ; Acts vii. 53; Gal. iii. 19 ; Heb. ii. 2). And the thought that these strong and sinless beings were the medium of the Almighty's will served, in the eyes of all devout Hebrews, to enhance the sanctity and glory of the Law.

Compared with this, how simple the accessories of the words of Jesus! Spoken in sweet and gentle tones, falling as the soft showers on the tender grass, and distilling quietly as the dew; not frightening the most sinful, nor startling little babes, they stole as the melody from silver bells, borne on a summer wind into the ears of men. The boat or hill-slope his pulpit; the poor his audience; the common incidents of nature or life his text.

But in reality there was a vast difference. The announcement of the Law was by angels. The announcement of the Gospel was by the Son. If the one were august, what must not the other have been! If the one were made sure by the most tremendous sanctions, what should not be said of the other! Proclaimed by the Lord; confirmed by Apostles and eye-witnesses; testified to by the Almighty himself, in signs and wonders, and gifts of the Holy Ghost how dare we treat it with contumely or neglect? Or, if we do, shall not our penalty be in proportion to the magnitude of our offense? "If the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them."

It will be great in its penalties.   The tendency of our age is to minimize God's righteous judgment on sin. It seems to be prevalently thought that, because our dispensation is one of love and mercy, therefore there is the less need to dread the results of sin. But the inspired writer here argues in a precisely contrary sense. Just because this age is one of such tender mercy, therefore sins against its King are more deadly, and the penalties heavier. In the old days no transgression, positive, and no disobedience, negative, escaped its just recompense of reward; and in these days there is even less likelihood of their doing so. The word spoken by the Son is even more steadfast (i.e., effective to secure the infliction of the punishment it announces) than the word of angels. My readers, beware! "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God!" (x. 28, 29.)

THE DANGER TO WHICH WE ARE MOST EXPOSED.-"Lest haply we drift away" (ii. 2, R.v.). For every one that definitely turns his back on Christ, there are hundreds who drift from him. Life's ocean is full of currents, any one of which will sweep us past the harbor-mouth even when we seem nearest to it, and carry us far out to sea.

It is the drift that ruins men.   The drift of the religious world. The drift of old habits and associations; which, in the case of these Hebrew Christians, was setting so strongly toward Judaism, bearing them back to the religious system from which they had come out. The drift of one's own evil nature, always chafing to bear us from God to that which is earthly and sensuous. The drift of the pressure of temptation.

The young man coming from a pious home does not distinctly and deliberately say, "I renounce my father's God." But he finds himself in a set of business associates who have no care for religion; and, after a brief struggle, he relaxes his efforts and begins to drift, until the coastline of heaven recedes so far into the dim distance that he is doubtful if he ever really saw it.

The business man who now shamelessly follows the lowest maxims of his trade was once upright and high-minded. He would have blushed to think it possible for such things to be done by him. But he began by yielding in very trivial points to the strong pressure of competition; and when once he had allowed himself to be caught by the tide, it bore him far beyond his first intention.

The professing Christian who now scarcely pretends to open the Bible or pray came to so terrible a position, not at a single leap, but by yielding to the pressure of the constant waywardness of the old nature, and thus drifted into an arctic region, where he is likely to perish, benumbed and frozen, unless rescued, and launched on the warm gulf-stream of the love of God.

It is so easy, and so much pleasanter, to drift. Just to lie back, and renounce effort, and let yourself go whither the waters will, as they break musically on the sides of the rocking boat. But, ah, how ineffable the remorse, how disastrous the result!

Are you drifting? You can easily tell. Are you conscious of effort, of daily, hourly resistance to the stream around you, and within? Do the things of God and heaven loom more clearly on your vision? Do the waters foam angrily at your prow as you force your way through them? If so, rejoice! but remember that only divine strength can suffice to maintain the conflict, and keep the boat's head against the stream. If not, you are drifting. Hail the strong Son of God! Ask him to come on board, and stay you, and bring you into port.

AN UNANSWERABLE QUESTION.  "How shall we escape, if we neglect?" The sailor who refuses lifeboat and harbor does not escape. The self-murderer who tears the bandages from his wounds does not escape. The physician who ridicules ordinary precautions against plague does not escape. "How then shall we escape?"

Did the Israelite escape who refused to sprinkle the blood upon the doorposts of his house? Did the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath-day escape, although he might have pleaded that it was the first offense? Did the prince who had taken the Moabitess to wife escape, though he bore a high rank? Did Moses and Aaron escape, though they were the leaders of the people? No! None of these escaped. "Every transgression and disobedience received its just recompense of reward." "How then shall we escape?"

Is it likely that we should escape? We have neglected the only Name given under heaven among men by which we can be saved. We have added contumely to neglect in refusing that which it has cost God so much to give. We have flouted his only Son, our Lord; and our disrespect to him cannot be a small crime in the eye of the Infinite Father. "How shall we escape?"

No, if you neglect (and notice, that to neglect is to reject), there is no escape. You shall not escape the storms of sorrow, of temptation, or of the righteous judgment of God. You shall not escape the deserved and necessary punishment of your sins. You shall not escape the worm which never dies, nor the fire which is never quenched. Out there, shelterless amid the rage of the sea; or yonder, driven to pieces on the rocks: you shall be wrecked, and go down with all hands on board, never sighted by the heavenly watchers, nor welcomed into the harbor of the saints' everlasting rest.

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