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XXV. DRAWING BACK

 

 

"The just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him."-HEBREWS x. 38.  (Read verses 19- 39.)

 

THE Epistle has been for some time glowing with ever-increasing heat; and now it flames out into a vehement expostulation, which must have startled and terrified those Hebrew Christians who were still wavering between Judaism and Christianity. As we have had more than one occasion to remark, it had become a great question with some of them whether they should go back to the one, or go on with the other. The splendid ceremonial, venerable age, and olden associations of Judaism, were fighting hard to wean them away from the simplicity and spiritual demands of the later faith. But surely the retrograde movement would be arrested, and the impetus toward Christ accelerated, by these sublime and soul-stirring remonstrances.

 

THE THREEFOLD CONCLUSION ALREADY ARRIVED AT IS summed up in three momentous propositions.

 

We may boldly enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus. The holiest was the chamber of innermost communion with God. To enter it was to speak with God face to face. And its equivalent for us is the right to make our God our confidant and friend, into whose secret ear we may pour the whole story of sin and sorrow and need. Nor need the memory of recent sin distress us; because the blood of Jesus is the pledge of the forgiveness and acceptance of those who are penitent and believing. We may go continually, and even dwell, where Israel's high priests might tread but once each year.

 

Jesus has inaugurated a new and living way. The veil of the Temple was rent when Jesus died, to indicate that the way to God was henceforth free to man, without let or hindrance, and without the intervention of a human priest. Priests have tried to block it, and to compel men to pay them toll for Opening it. But their pretensions are false. They have no such power. The way stands open still for every trembling seeker. It is new, because, though myriads have trodden it, it is as fresh as ever for each new priestly foot. It is living, because it is through the living Saviour that we come to God. "No man cometh unto the Father but by me." Stay here to note that the veil, with its curious workmanship, was a symbol of the body of Christ. "The veil, that is to say, his flesh." We get near to God through the death of that Son of man who, in real human sorrow, hung on the cross for us.

 

We have a Great priest. We belong to the household of God by faith; but we need a Priest. Priests need a Priest. And such a one we have, who ever liveth to make intercession for us, and to offer our prayers on the golden altar, mingled with the much incense of his own precious merit. These are the three conclusions which recapitulate the positions laid down and proved up to this point.

 

THE THREEFOLD EXHORTATION FOUNDED ON THE PREVIOUS CONCLUSIONS, "Let us draw near" (ver. 22). "Let us hold fast" (ver. 23). "Let us consider one an-other" (ver. 24). And each of these three exhortations revolves around one of the three words which are so often found in combination in the Epistles-Faith, Hope, and Love (R.V).

FAITH consists of two parts belief, which accepts certain declarations as true; and trust in the person about whom these declarations are made. Neither will do without the other. On the one hand, we cannot trust a person without knowing something about him; on the other hand, our knowledge will not help us unless it leads to trust, any more than it avails the shivering wretch outside the Bank of England to know that the vaults are stored with gold. A mere intellectual faith is not enough. The holding of a creed will not save. We must pass from a belief in words to trust in the Word. By faith we know that Jesus lives, and by faith we also appropriate that life. By faith we know that Jesus made on the cross a propitiation for sin; and by faith we lay our hand reverently on his dear head and confess our sin. Faith is the open hand receiving Christ. Faith is the golden pipe through which his fullness comes to us. Faith is the narrow channel by which the life that pulses in the Redeemer's heart enters our souls. Faith is the attitude we assume when we turn aside from the human to the divine.

We ought not to be content with anything less than the full assurance of faith. The prime method of increasing it is in drawing near to God. In olden days the bodies of the priests were bathed in water and sprinkled with blood ere they entered the presence of God. Let us seek the spiritual counterpart of this. Relieved from the pressure of conscious guilt, with hearts as sincere and guileless as the flesh is clean when washed with pure water, let us draw near to God and keel) in fellowship with him; and in that attitude faith will grow exceedingly. It will no longer sit in the dust, but clothe itself in beautiful garments. It will wax from a thread to become a cable. No longer the trembling touch of a woman's hand, it will grasp the pillars of the Temple with a Samson's embrace.

HOPE is more than faith, and has special reference to the unknown future which it realizes, and brings to bear on our daily life. The veil that hides the future parts only as smitten by the prow of our advancing boat; it is natural, therefore, that we should often ask what lies beyond.

Foreboding is the prophet of ill; Hope of good. Foreboding cries, "We shall certainly fall by the hand of; Hope replies, "No weapon that is formed against us shall prosper." Foreboding cries, "Who shall roll away the stone? " Hope sings merrily, "The Lord shall go before us, and make the crooked places straight." Foreboding, born of unbelief, cries, "The people are great and tall, and the cities walled up to heaven"; Hope already portions out the land and chooses its inheritance. But Christian hope is infinitely better and more reliable than that of the worldling. In ordinary hope there is always the element of uncertainty; it may be doomed to disillusion and disappointment; things may not turn out as we expect: and so, being the characteristic of youth, it dies down as the years advance. But Christian hope is based on the promise of God, and therefore it cannot disappoint; nay, it is the anchor of the aged soul, becoming brighter and more enduring as the years pass by, because "he is faithful that promised."

But how may we increase our hope, so as never to let it slip, but to hold it fast with unwavering firmness? There is nothing which will sooner strengthen it than to consider his faithfulness whose promises are hope's anchorage. Has he ever failed to fulfill his engagements? Do not the stars return to their appointed place to a hairbreadth of their time? Have not good men given a unanimous testimony to the fidelity of the covenant-keeping God? He has never suffered his faithfulness to fail-and never will. Our hope, therefore, need not falter, but be strong and very courageous.

LOVE comes last. She is queen of all the graces of the inner life. Love is the passion of self-giving. It never stays to ask what it can afford, or what it may expect to receive; but it is ever shedding forth its perfume, breaking its alabaster boxes, and shedding its heart's blood. It will pine to death if it cannot give. It must share its possessions. It is prodigal of costliest service. Such love is in the heart of God, and should also be in us; and we may increase it materially by considering one another, and associating with our fellow-believers. Distance begets coldness and indifference. When we forsake the assembly of our fellow- Christians we are apt to wrap ourselves in the chill mantle of indifference. But when we see others in need, and help them; when we are willing to succor and save; when we discover that there is something attractive in the least lovable; when we feel the glowing sympathy of others-our own love grows by the demands made on it, and by the opportunities of manifestation.

Let us seek earnestly these best gifts; and that we may have them and abound, let us invoke the blessed indwelling of the Lord Jesus, whose entrance brings with it the whole train of sweet Christian graces.

 

THE THREEFOLD REMONSTRANCE. Go forward! otherwise penally (ver. 26). If a man unwittingly broke Moses' law, he was forgiven; but if he willfully despised it, he died without mercy. What then can be expected by those who sin willfully, not against the iron obligations of Sinai, but against the gracious words which distill from the lips of the dying Saviour! The heart that can turn from the love and blood-shedding of Calvary, and ignore them, and trample them ruthlessly under foot, is so hard, so hopeless, so defiant of the Holy Spirit as to expose itself to the gravest displeasure of God, and can expect no further offering for its sins. There is no sacrifice for the atonement of the sin of rejecting Calvary.

 

Go forward! otherwise past efforts nullified (ver. 32). These Hebrew Christians had suffered keenly on their first entrance into the Christian life. The martyrdom of the saintly Stephen; the great havoc wrought in the Church by Saul of Tarsus; the terrible famines that visited Jerusalem, causing widespread destitution. They had become even a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions. But they had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, not shrinking from the ordeal. To go back to Judaism now would annul the advantages which otherwise might have accrued from their bitter experience; would miss the harvest of their tears; would counterwork the respect with which they were being regarded; and would rob them of the reward which the Lord might give to them, if they only endured to the end. "Cast not away your boldness, which hath great recompense of reward."

 

Go forward! the Lord is at hand (ver. 36). Jesus was about to come in the fall of Jerusalem, as lie will come ere long to close the present age; and every sign pointed to the speedy destruction of the Jewish polity by the all-conquering might of Rome. How foolish then would it be to return to that which was on the eve of dissolution: to the Temple that would burn to the ground; to sacrifices soon to cease; to a priesthood to be speedily scattered to the winds!

There was only one alternative: not to go back to certain perdition, to the ruin of all the nobler attributes of the soul, to disgrace and disappointment and endless regret; but to go on through evil and good report, through sorrow and anxiety and blood, until the faithful servant should be vindicated by the Lord's approval, and welcomed into the realms of endless blessedness.

Are we amongst those who go on to the saving of the soul? Here, as so often, the salvation of the soul is viewed as a process. True, we are in a sense saved when first we turn to the cross and trust the Crucified. But it is only as we keep in the current that streams from the cross, only as we remain in abiding fellowship with the Saviour, only as we submit ourselves habitually to the gracious influences of the divine Spirit, that salvation pervades and heals our whole being. Then the soul may be said to be gained (R.V., marg.), i.e., restored to its original type as conceived in the mind of God before he built the dust of the earth into man, and breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living soul.

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