LISTEN! GOD SPEAKS!
"For ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words: which voice they that heard intreated that no word more should be spoken unto them: for they could not endure that which was enjoined, If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned; and so fearful was the appearance, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake (Deut. 9:19).
"But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel.
"See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not, when they refused him that warned them on earth, much more shall not we escape, who turn away from him that warneth from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain.
"Wherefore receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:18-29).
When God speaks man must hearken. Each time God's word is preached we are personally addressed by Him. Then always our small self is directly confronted by His great Divine Self, and every such time is an hour of decision. A decision is made whether we mean to hearken or not, to obey God or ignore Him, to harden ourselves or recognize in practice His claim and redeeming authority over us.
Most imposing and grand is the introduction to the second part of the book of Isaiah, this greatest prophet of the Old Testament, this bold "evangelist of the Old Covenant."
"The voice of one that crieth" (Isa. 40:3).
"The voice of one saying" (Isa. 40:6).
"Lift up thy voice with strength" (Isa. 40:9). Say:
"Behold, your God" (Isa. 40:9).
"Behold, the Lord God will come" (Isa. 40:10).
"Behold, His reward is with Him" (Isa. 40:10).
Let us note:
Thrice: "Voice, voice, voice! "
Thrice: "Behold, behold, behold!"
These words strike our spiritual ear like six mighty blasts of a trumpet.
Listen! There is something you must hear! Pay attention! Let us hearken!
Look! There is something to be seen. Watch carefully! Let us observe!
Or, as it is written in the seven Letters to the churches in the book of the Revelation: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (Rev. 2 and 3). This means: whosoever possesses any ability to perceive the things of God in his heart, whosoever possesses a spiritual organ to receive God's word in his soul, must now hearken. Whosoever, indeed, has a "receiving station" in his spiritual life for the "waves" from eternity, must hearken. Therefore again: When God speaks, man must listen. He must acknowledge that it involves an hour of decision.
This is the special message of the final section of Hebrews 12. "See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh" (Heb. 12:25).
"Let us look unto Jesus." Let us hearken unto Him!
Four impressive reasons strengthen this command. They stand there like four shining golden exclamation marks to emphasize this New Testament warning and exhortation. One cannot avoid hearing and seeing them. At the same time the holy text looks back into the Old Testament and draws the conclusion: If in those earlier times the people were required to listen, how much more reason have we to listen to God's voice now! If the Old Testament saints, who lived in the introductory times of the preparation of salvation, were bound to hearken and to exercise practical obedience in faith, how much more we who live today in the times of the New Testament fulfilment! It is just this connexion and comparison between our being called "today" and God's call in the redemptive history of "yesterday" which makes this New Testament command so impressive and powerful: "Hearken, God speaketh."
First of all, however, the Scripture brings before us the riches of salvation which believers possess and for which they are held responsible before God.
I. The Heavenly Riches of the Church of God
Three marvellous facts shine forth before our vision with ever increasing brilliance.
1. As believers we have become spiritual possessors. The letter to the Hebrews says: "Ye are come unto Mount Zion" (Heb. 12:22). It is a perfect tense that is used (Gk. proselelythate). Thus something of vital importance has already happened. There is already an actual fact. A position of grace is occupied. A place of firm standing has been reached. You have already received something. It is a position at the foot of the heavenly mount of God. Even though the climbing to and reaching of the summit will not be completed before we get to glory, yet this present position, firmly connected with eternity, has already been given to us by grace as the basis and starting-point for our future exaltation.
It has been rightly said that believers are the only class of persons in the world who really possess anything. For all earthly "possessions" are only lent to us. At best we may be allowed to make use of them until the end of our life. But then we are forced to forsake every earthly property, and we shall leave this world just as empty as we came into it.
Furthermore: even during this limited period of time in which we can use earthly things, these never become bound up inextricably with the essence of our inward man. Possessor and possession remain always distinct and separate: they confront each other as subject and object, but they never become one. No earthly goods become organically or spiritually bound up with the central essence of man's personality. For this reason Jason calls all earthly property "foreign" things, i.e. they do not really enter into our soul, they do not become one with our spiritual essence and its deepest interests, and therefore are not really "our own" (Luke 16:12), but belong, so to speak, to "another." The relationship never reaches oneness but always remains that of a duality.
But heavenly goods enter into our very nature. Therefore we have not only "received" light but we "are" become light (Eph. 5:8). We have not only "been given" righteousness but "are" righteousness in Him (II Cor. 5:21). The heavenly possession of salvation has been personally and organically grafted into us by Christ through the Holy Spirit. In this sense real believers are truly possessors.
2. As possessors of spiritual blessings we have already received heavenly goods of the coming world. We have come to "Mount Zion," the "city of the living God," the "heavenly Jerusalem," to "innumerable hosts of angels, the general assembly," which is living in eternity (Heb. 12:22,23). We have already arrived in principle where in full reality we shall be for ever. The future is already the present. In today we possess tomorrow. On earth we own heaven. We have been translated into the "heavenly places" with Christ (Eph. 2:6). We have not only been crucified with Him, buried, and raised again with Him (Rom. 6:3-6), but through the Holy Spirit we have spiritually experienced His ascension in our union with Him. Eternal life belongs to us in the very midst of time (John 3:16,36;5:24).
The expression "heavenly places" occurs only in the Ephesian letter, where it is used five times. Literally the original Greek says only, "in the heavenlies." So one has sought to supplement this expression by translating "heavenly goods" or "heavenly blessings" or "heavenly kingdom," especially in Eph. 1:3. But the other contexts in which this expression appears, show quite clearly that it has a definite reference to the idea of "region, sphere, place," in, as it were, a certain "local" sense. In the same Ephesian letter Paul, using exactly the same expression (Gk. en tois epouraniois), says that God has "set Christ at His right hand in the heavenlies," which can only mean "in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:20). And in Ephesians 2:6 he writes that God "raised us up with Him and made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus." Similarly, this can mean only, "in the heavenly places." In the third chapter of the same epistle the apostle speaks of "the principalities and the powers in the heavenlies" who are to recognize the wisdom of God in the church (v. 10), and in chapter 6 he mentions the "spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies" against whom we wrestle. All these Scriptures allow of only one interpretation, namely "heavenly places, regions, or spheres."
The impressive thought which lies at the bottom of all this is that the Christian by his new birth has been born into a heavenly life. His citizenship is in heaven. His entire life is conditioned by heaven. His joy is of a heavenly nature. His life's aim is heaven itself (Phil. 3:20). Just as Christ, the last Adam, is "the Heavenly One" so we, being members of His body which is the new mankind, are also "the heavenly ones" (I Cor. 15:48).
Thus the Christian, as long as he is on earth, lives in two worlds. He belongs to heaven and to earth simultaneously. Therein lies his nobility. Therein lies also the tension of his life. He knows that Christ his Redeemer, as the exalted One, is in heaven (Phil. 2:9; Eph. 4:10), and yet is indwelling him here on earth (Eph. 3:17). And he himself, the redeemed one, is still living here on earth (John 17:11), and yet he is translated with Christ to the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6).
The living connexion between these two sides of the Christian standing is the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit came down from the risen "Christ above us," from heaven to earth (Acts 2:33), and the Spirit, as the "Christ in us," leads us up from earth to heaven (Col. 1:27; II Cor. 3:17,18).
Only on this foundation is it possible to be practically heavenly-minded. As long as the believer does not understand his heavenly position in Christ, he will always vacillate between worldliness and legality. For either he will neglect his fellowship with the Lord and his connexion with the heavenly world and allow himself to be captivated by earthly things, seeking and setting his mind on that which is below, or he will endeavour in his own strength to hold on to the heavenly above, but in a legal, slavish, joyless manner. It must result that he will never reach a really victorious life, simply for want of clear look of faith and spiritual understanding as to his position in grace and the heavenly resources which are at his disposal. What we need is a thankful recognition of the free grace given us in Christ, a practical acknowledgment of our heavenly standing, a trustful laying hold of the gifts of God in an attitude of devotion of heart and life. Thus a true heavenly-mindedness will inspire all areas of our life and permeate them in all directions and relationships.
Therefore give thanks for the redemption already received. If sin assails you do not first ask for victory but at once thank the Lord that He has made you free from the slavery of sin. When Jehoshaphat went to war against the Moabites and the Ammonites, before the commencement of the battle he ordered the singers and the harriers to praise the Lord in holy adornment, and the Lord gave His people the victory (II Chron. 20:21,22). Thus joy in the Lord will be also our strength.
And still more:
3. As possessors of blessings of the coming eternal worldwithin this sphere of the heavenly-we have been set in association not just with some high level of this eternity, but even with its most important, indeed, its central and supreme regions and persons. Sevenfold is the description of the Old Testament Mount Sinai, as given in Heb. 12. Those Israelitish hearers had come
to a mountain that might be touched,
to burning fire,
to thick darkness,
to the sound of a trumpet,
to the voice of words, which voice they that heard could not endure (Heb. 12:18-20).
Eightfold is the description of the New Testament heavenly heights of salvation. Ye are come
to Mount Zion,
to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
to innumerable hosts of angels, the general assembly,
to the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God, the judge of all,
to the spirits of just men made perfect,
to Jesus, the Mediator of a New Covenant,
to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24).
Two groups of heavenly realities can be clearly distinguished here. The first group comprises six, and the second group the last two members of this golden chain.
Transcendancy and heavenly nature characterize the first group, and grace the second. Glory is predominant in the former and salvation in the latter.
The first contains something twofold: we have been brought to the most central heavenly regions: Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem: and
to the most glorious of spiritually glorified beings, that is to persons who either live themselves in heaven, or in the region of heavenly blessings, namely to God, the judge of all, the angels innumerable, the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, the spirits of just men made perfect.
That in the midst of the description of New Testament glories God is called "the judge of all" does not mean that, in spite of our salvation there is after all to be faced something terrible which may rob us of all our joy, as if finally everything were still uncertain and God as our judge might possibly some day condemn us: no, it means that the great gift of the gospel is precisely this, that we are already reconciled with the judge, that we can come into His presence without fear and live in His good pleasure. The great community of which we are citizens is ruled over by righteousness. Its head is the Divine judge who puts away all injustice, who helps and liberates the oppressed, and who gives everyone his due position and gift according to His own Holy Divine order of justice.
Some expositors suggest that, in addition to this, a still greater and far higher blessing is expressed here. The phrase "ye have come" which introduces the eight blessings, enumerated in connexion with this golden chain of heavenly persons, realities and blessings, has, in all the seven other cases quite apparently the meaning "ye are come to share in these dignities mentioned." "Ye are come to share in the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem," "Ye are come to share in the blessings of the New Covenant," "Ye are come to share in the saving results of the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel." So, interpreting these clauses with uniformity, the following may be the sense of the statement, "ye are come to God the judge of all"; " Ye are come to share with Him the honour of the office indicated by this title." Ye are come to share God's office as judge. "The saints are to judge the world and even angels (I Cor. 6:2,3). The apostles are assured of this office in relation to Israel as a nation (Luke 22:28-30). The same thought is suggested by the promise of sitting upon the throne with Christ, the Judge (Rev. 3:21); that is, by the dignity of kingship being conferred, for of old the king was the chief judge of the people; and by such a promise as that to the saints who overcome, that they shall rule the nations (Rev. 2:27). In the administration of His mighty kingdom, and in the adjusting and rewarding of the affairs of the ages of human and angelic history, the glorified saints will be associated with the King in glory" (G. H. Lang).
The "church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" are obviously the believers living in the present dispensation here on earth. Also in all other Scriptures where the word "ecclesia" (church) refers to men only (only rarely it refers to angels, as in Psa. 89:6), it signified the body of the redeemed as they are living in their present form of spiritual and organic fellowship of life and faith here on earth. It indicates the invisible heavenly side of the church, its eternal nobility which the church possesses already today while still living in this world and not yet in the world to come. The believers "are" not yet in heaven but they are already "enrolled" in heaven. By grace they have a right to heaven. Their name, although not yet their person, is already in heaven. They have their home-country in heaven, their citizen rights are in heaven, and their goal is heaven (Phil. 3:20). They are registered in heaven. If it were meant to refer to any already living as perfected ones in heaven itself, the expression that their names are "written" in heaven would scarcely have been used. For this designation undoubtedly emphasizes the contrast between the high calling of the group of persons referred to here and their present lowly situation and the battle which they have yet to win on this earth.
In the same way Paul says of "fellow-labourers" in the gospel that "their names are in the book of life" (Phil. 4:3), thus using this expression of contemporaries of his own life and time, and therefore of members of the church of Christ who still lived on earth. Likewise the Lord said to the Seventy whom He had sent out, and who then returned to Him full of joy after having done miracles and cast out evil spirits in His name: "Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). So also here this expression is used with regard to people who were living on earth, believing in Christ.
True believers belong in the reality of things to the ranks and regions which have as their centre the throne of God and of the Lamb (Gal. 4:26; Eph. 2:18). Although they are still on earth and dwell in the perishing tabernacle of this body, yet they are far less distant from the face of God, from the enjoyment of the treasures of His house, and from the fellowship of all those around Him, than the people of the Old Covenant were, when they were allowed to approach the mountain on which the glory of God appeared, but which they were forbidden to touch under penalty of death. Their "approaching" remained "a standing at a distance."
It is, however, the wonderful privilege of the New Testament salvation that faith gives us true access to and real, present entrance into God's world. Thus we are far closer to the heavenly Mount Zion which we cannot see, than the people of Israel were to the earthly Mount Sinai which they could see with their bodily eyes.
In connexion with this people of God living on earth, there are named also "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:23). Thus the perfected ones in heaven are linked together with the church on earth. God's people "above" and God's people "below" are regarded as one unity. For God's kingdom links up heaven, paradise and earth, and past and present. Even death cannot dissolve and break the unity of the kingdom of God. Its "spaces" such as heaven, paradise and earth, and its "times" such as past and present, form one uniform organism which has harmony and unity embracing aeons and dispensations, time and eternity.
The last two links in our great golden chain of Heb. 12 speak of grace and salvation: of Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, of the blood of sprinkling which speaketh better than that of Abel. Thus the description of the heavenly Mount Zion ends by referring to the redemptive work of the Saviour, and three most important mountains rise before our spiritual vision:
the flaming, thundering Mount Sinai,
the radiant Mount Zion of the heavenly Jerusalem, and
the simple hill called Golgotha.
This, however, is the wonderful way of salvation: The work of the Saviour accomplished on the earthly hill Golgotha has brought all that believe into contact with the heavenly Mount Zion-excluding all the works connected with the Old Testament Mount Sinai.
Thus the whole riches of heaven stand before our vision:
the highest heavenly regions,
the most glorious heavenly persons,
the inexhaustible heavenly springs and resources of grace and salvation.
And all this has been opened up to us by the blood of Jesus our Substitute and Redeemer, His precious blood shed for our sakes on the cross of Calvary.
We are not intended to live only in heaven's "frontier provinces," so to speak, in the outer districts, in the suburbs of the heavenlies, but in the central royal castle of the Most High Himself, in His eternal city, in the heavenly Jerusalem: just as the residence and royal palace of King David stood at one time in the earthly Jerusalem on Mount Zion. It is God's will to join us to Himself. We are called to reign with Christ and to live in His heavenly Capital, in the city of the living God, in the centre of the super-cosmos, in the glorious metropolis of the transcendent world of Eternity. For this reason Christ will write the name of the city of His God on the foreheads of the overcomers, "the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God" (Rev. 3:12). Paul declares: "The Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother" (Gal. 4:26).
How could we attain all this if the blood of the Son of God had not flowed, the "blood of sprinkling which speaketh better than that of Abel," the blood by means of which He has become "the Mediator of a new covenant"? The blood of Abel cried for vengeance (Gen. 4:10), the blood of Jesus for grace.
Heaven is open, my soul, oh knowest thou why?
Because Jesus, thy Saviour, once bled and did die.
The well-known preacher of the gospel, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who for many decades preached Sunday by Sunday the message of salvation to thousands of hearers in his vast Tabernacle in London, was undoubtedly one of the most gifted and most learned among God's servants. Spiritually and intellectually his person and ministry stood out in a most remarkable and unique manner. What, however, was his confession at the end of his blessed life? When he lay upon his death-bed, after so many years of fruitful service, he said to his friends who visited him: "My brethren, my theology has become very simple. It consists of four words:
"Jesus died for me."
This, indeed, will be truly the confession of all real believers: "Jesus died for me." This will be the main melody in all the hymns of thanks of all the redeemed in the heavenly glory. Unto all the aeons of eternity the main theme of all worship and praise on the heavenly Mount Zion will be the suffering and work of the Saviour accomplished on the earthly "Mount" Golgotha. "And I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 2:11,12).
But all this is only one side of the truth considered. To emphasize the present and the coming, the spiritual and the eternal glories of God's salvation is actually not the main object of our Scripture when considered in the whole context of the passage (Heb. 12:18-22). Although undoubtedly contained here and plainly expressed, it does not stand in the foreground of the holy text. Let us notice that this whole section of Scripture is introduced by the small word "for." "For ye are not come (unto the mount of the Old Testament) ..., but ye are come unto (the heavenly mountain)." The whole is thus not an independent line of thought, complete in itself, but an argument of reasoning. As such it is subject to other main thoughts, the correctness and impressiveness of which it has to emphasize by this "for," which introduces the following words as an establishment of proofs. This main line of thought is, in the clear context of our passage, the command to practical holiness: "Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down, and the palsied knees.... Pursue [follow after] peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord. . . . FOR ye are not come unto" the Old Testament Mount Sinai of the law, but to the New Testament glorious Mountain of salvation. This is the leading idea.
It brings before our vision the main message of the final section of this chapter. The reference to the glorious standing of the redeemed in grace is used to underline the seriousness of their personal responsibility. Just because we have become so rich in Christ and because the eternal prize is so glorious, therefore practical, complete devotion is required of us. Just because a heavenly goal is offered by the Divine Umpire, the runner in the "arena of faith" has to press on.
II. The Holy Obligation of those Called to Heavenly Glory
Here too we can recognize three aspects.
1. Riches involve obligations. "Noblesse oblige." For the very reason that we have received so much blessing from God, all the more devotion and sanctification are expected of us. In ordinary earthly life debts usually arise from poverty; in spiritual life, however, our "debts" arise out of our riches! Paul declares in Romans: "I am a debtor" (Rom. 1:14). He is speaking there of his personal missionary commission; but the principle remains valid in general. Because we possess the message of salvation, we are "indebted" to pass it onto others. Because we possess the fulness of blessing, we are "indebted" to live in the power of spiritual victory. Because we have become kings we are "indebted" to live up practically to our high royal standing. Nobles must conduct themselves nobly. He who intends to reach the goal must behave himself according to the nature and character of this goal. Because we are appointed to heaven and glory, we must live on earth "worthily" of our glorious heavenly calling (Eph. 4:1).
The greater the riches, the more comprehensive the obligations. The more bountiful the gifts of grace, the more serious the responsibility of the receiver. "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required" (Luke 12:48).
To emphasize this most serious demand the holy text shows us four impressive reasons, comparing the Old Testament and New Testament spiritual situations.
Listen! God speaks! Pay the more attention! For the New Testament STANDING IN SALVATION is higher.
If already the Old Testament saints had to be obedient, how much more we! If in those ancient times they had to listen to the voice of Him that spoke to them, how much more should we listen today! Therefore: "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh." Now in our present time, in the New Testament dispensation of salvation, attention and obedience are required to such an extent as never before in the whole history of revelation. In this obedience of faith the New Testament saints should excel all preceding generations of believers in devotion and sanctification.
This is the meaning of the comparing and contrasting of Mount Sinai to the heavenly Mount Zion in our passage. Ye should press on to sanctification, "for" ye are not come to the mountain of the Law but to the heavenly mountain of Divine salvation and glory. Freedom from the law does not make men a law unto themselves, but all the more zealous and actively holy. It is the same as when Paul says: "Sin shall not have dominion over you: for (!) ye are not under law [Mount Sinai], but under grace [New Testament standing of salvation, the heavenly Mount Zion] " (Rom. 6:14).
The New Testament revelation takes the fact that we are "under" grace in its full reality and weight. Grace is "above" us. Grace has become our ruler. Grace claims to govern "royally" (Rom. 5:21. Gk. basileuein, cf. basileus, king). We have to be subject to grace, we have to obey her. Let us hearken to Jesus: He is our Lord!
But still more.
Listen! God speaks! Pay the more attention! For the PLATFORM OF THE NEW TESTAMENT DIVINE SPEAKER is higher.
Long ago God spoke from the height of an earthly mount; but now He speaks from heaven through Christ His Son, who has been exalted to the heavenly Divine Throne. The designation in the text of Mount Sinai as a mount which "might be touched" (Heb. 12:18) is intended to characterize it as something outwardly perceptible and earthly. But Mount Zion, the city of the living God above, is, in contrast, something transcendental, super-sensible, and heavenly. God spoke to the Jews from a mountain which might be touched, which was earthly, and used as His interpreter an earthly man, Moses. In the New Covenant, however, He speaks from heaven, using as interpreter His only begotten Son, whom He had sent down from heaven to accomplish the redemptive work, and who, having been exalted again by His Father to heaven's glory, now speaks through His Spirit to His own (Heb. 1:1).
This means at the same time a considerable increase of responsibility, compared to that of the Old Testament hearers. "For if they escaped not when they refused him that warned them on earth, much more shall not we escape who turn away from him that warneth from heaven" (Heb. 12:25).
Undoubtedly God is the speaker also here. The holy text does not intend to point to a difference in the Divine persons who speak in the Old and New Testament revelations, but rather to a difference in the Divine methods of revelation. The speaking of "God" and the speaking of "Christ" are not to be fundamentally distinguished as separated from or opposed to each other. God speaks in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Each time God's Word is being preached, Christ "comes" to us through the Spirit of God (Eph. 2:17).
We must be prepared to hear the Divine voice as speaking from heaven. Though perhaps sitting in an earthly meetingroom, chapel, or church building, and listening to the message delivered by God's servants, it is not the word of men which is being preached, nor mere Bible expositions, spiritual meditations, or Biblical thoughts about God's Word, but the very Word of God itself. That is the high nobility and at the same time the serious responsibility of every proclamation and preaching of the gospel. "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God" (I Pet. 4:11). "We thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe" (I Thess. 2:13). "As the Lord liveth, what my God saith, that will I speak" (II Chron. 18:13). "Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord" (Acts 10:33).
If, however, our oral proclamation of the Word has to be not merely a speaking "about" God's word, but "word of God" itself, it must contain the following spiritual characteristics:
the truth of the message of God,
the love of the heart of God,
the tact of the wisdom of God,
the leading of the Spirit of God,
the power of the authority of God, and above all and in all:
the presence of the Person of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
In the King's word is power. In His word alone! Not in the words of His servants, however experienced and sanctified they may be. What we need in increased measure is the holy consciousness that, as God's witnesses, we are at the same time God's mouth. What the world needs is not learned lectures, elegant speeches, homilectically well thought out, even though these may be valuable in due time and place, but a powerful, living witness which goes from heart to heart, kindled by the life of God and guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. "Give the people bread; for they do not wish straw, nor do they eat flowers" (Prof. Warneck). Only thus our oral preaching and witnessing, private as well as public, will prove to be that which it ought to be. Then opening of doors in countries and among nations, the conversion of sinners, and the sanctification of believers will be more and more a living proof, renewed daily, of the truth and reliability of the Divine promise: "For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa. 55:10,11).
And how manifold and all-inclusive is the speaking of the great God! He speaks through
the symbolic language of nature (Rom. 1:19,20; Psa. 19:1-3);
the historical language of experience, both in national and individual life;
the inward language of man's conscience (Psa. 32:3,4; Rom. 2:14,15);
the personal language of His witnesses (II Cor. 5:20);
the book language of the written Word, the Bible (II Tim. 3:16);
the direct language in Christ the living Word (Heb. 1:1; Eph. 2:17);
and one day He will speak to men through
the legal language of the judgment to come (Psa. 2:5).
Furthermore: The writer of Hebrews continues to prove the higher New Testament responsibility by comparing a third aspect of the Old Testament word with the New Testament.
Listen! God speaks! Pay the more attention! For the SPHERE OF ACTION of the New Testament Divine Word is more comprehensive, indeed, is universal.
In both cases certain effects upon nature and creation in general are connected with God's Word. In this the effects upon nature wrought by the Old Testament word of Mount Sinai were restricted to the earth-to fire and storm, darkness and thick blackness, earthquake and the voice of trumpets. But the effects upon nature to be brought about one day by the New Testament word of God, will extend into the heavens: "Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heaven" (Heb. 12:26).
Listen! God speaks! Pay the more attention! For the EFFICACY of the New Testament Divine Word is mightier.
At Sinai the earth was only "shaken" (v. 26), but in the endtimes heaven and earth will be "changed," "removed" by God's Word (Heb. 12:27). "Changing" or "removing," however, is something more fundamental than only "shaking."
With these four chief arguments the holy text has given an overwhelming demonstration of the greater responsibility of the New Testament hearers in contrast to the receivers of the Old Testament revelation. These four points of view are
the New Testament standing of salvation is nobler; Christologically:
the platform of the New Testament Divine Speaker is higher; cosmologically:
the sphere of action of the New Testament Divine word is more comprehensive (heaven, not only earth); eschatologically:
the efficacy of the New Testament Divine word is mightier (changing and perfecting of the world, not only shaking). Therefore once more:
Listen! God speaks!
Men who are called to such heavenly destinies, who are to receive an eternal kingdom that cannot be shaken, who are addressed, through the Word and the Holy Spirit, by such an exalted Majesty as God Himself, whose voice comes from His own Throne of Glory, and thus from the Central Source of the universe, from the Holiest of Holies of Heaven and Eternity, such men must be heavenly-minded! According to God's will they have to be watching and waiting; with the pilgrim's staff in their hands, their lamps trimmed and shining, ready to go out to meet the Bridegroom (Luke 12:35); men and women who regard "the last things" as the "first" and who wait for the returning Lord, who "always live in the eleventh hour of the day" (Soren Kierkegaard). No doubt they will perform their earthly duties conscientiously and with care, and yet their real goal is heaven. On earth they are examples of correctness, faithfulness, reliability; but joyfully they look forward to the revelation of the kingdom of God. They know: "Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory" (Phil. 3:20,21).
Therefore: "Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Pet. 1:13). Our attitude of mind should be that of a man who has girded up his loose, wide, outer garment with his belt, so as to be better able to stride forward unhindered. That means that our attitude of mind should be purposeful. In holy concentration we should aim at the one thing necessary-eternity. Our attitude should be steadfast, not wavering, light-hearted, distracted. We must press forward in Spirit-wrought energy of will, just as Paul, the great servant of Christ, declares of his own striving and pressing on: "Forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect [full-grown], be thus minded" (Phil. 3:13-15).
In all this, however, it is not simply left to our own choice whether or not we are inclined to press on in the arena of faith, to obey or disobey the Lord. No, great and weighty consequences are bound up with our decision. We are placed before an unavoidable alternative-whether we will rise up towards heaven, or sink down, whether we will win or lose, become established or be shaken. This is the fundamental law of all spiritual life. It flourishes only when in practical contact with its Divine source. In ourselves there is no guarantee of anything. The guarantee for our being kept and perfected lies in Christ alone. Therefore everything is dependent upon our constant life-fellowship with Him, every step forward and every victory, all progress in spiritual growth.
2. Riches present no mechanical guarantees. You may have begun in spiritual blessing and may now live in misery and poverty. You may have had sunny times of joy in Christ, and of victory, and yet now be lying down in defeat and dark depression.
Just this is the historical background of our passage in Hebrews. Only for this reason was the whole Hebrews letter written. Therefore take this message earnestly to heart and conscience: Riches present no undisputed guarantees! In spite of most blessed beginnings we may get into spiritual decline and impoverishment. In the past you may have borne witness to Christ with courage and joy: today perhaps you are standing back in cowardice. Formerly you may have loved your brethren and sisters; today you may have contention and strife with them. In days gone by you may have read and received God's word into your heart carefully: today it is a closed book to you. Hitherto you may have been an "ornament" of the gospel, "adorning," as Paul says, the doctrine of God our Saviour (Titus 2:10): today you are perhaps a stumbling-block for others, and your walk in life may "profane" the name of the Lord among men (cf. Ezek. 36:22). Indeed, you may have left your "first love" (Rev. 2:4).
But keep in mind: Blessed experiences of the past are no guarantees for equal fulness of blessings in the present and future. A Christ of only "yesterday" does not help you, but the living Christ of "today" always does. Our vision must not be directed only backwards-however fundamental our former experiences may be-but upwards and forwards. "It is not the beginning but the end that crowns the Christian's pilgrimage."
Thus, while fully enjoying the abundance of His grace, live in holy earnestness. These two things always belong together: certainty of salvation and the fear of God, joy and seriousness.
Joy without earnestness would become superficiality; earnestness without joy might develop into pessimism. Certainty of salvation without the fear of God becomes Pharisaism; fear of God without certainty of salvation tends to legalism and slavish anxiety. In reality, however, each of these characteristics is only present, in its God-intended spiritual sense, when the other is also present. Either we bear both in our hearts or none. And the measure of the one determines the measure of the other.
It is an alarming fact that in many Christian circles, whatever their name, holy reverence among believers is to a large extent lacking. General chattering about everyday matters precedes and follows many services. Not seldom spiritual hymns are sung thoughtlessly and mechanically without real attention to their contents. Sometimes, while singing, one is not even conscious that the hymn is a prayer to God. And sometimes there is a danger that even the ministry of the Word is presented in an irreverent way, as a self-pleasing talk "about" God's word, instead of being a holy proclamation of God's Word itself, delivered with the consciousness of responsibility, and Spiritwrought, earnest, prayerful, in the authority of the Holy Ghost.
And how often, at the end of the service there come the "fowls of the air," in the form of superficial conversations, talks about business or politics, discussions about family matters and everyday life, and these steal away the seed which had been sown in the hearts? (Matt. 13:4,19).
How can this be helped? What can be the remedy?
Only a renewed listening to God, a fresh recognition of the authority of His commands, a restored conscious devotion and dedication of our hearts and lives to Him.
"Let us look unto Jesus!"
Let us hearken to His word.
Thus shall we receive at the same time new commissions from the Lord. New life and activity will enter our life. We shall learn to regard the riches of salvation which we have received from the Lord as a heavenly capital which has been deposited in our life and with which we have to trade for Him.
3. Riches must be realized. "Therefore receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe (godly fear)" (Heb. 12:28). This "therefore" emphasizes the practical consequence.
The Greek word for "grace" (Gk. charis) means in addition "thanks." There are passages in which both translations of the word fit. Thus in this Scripture also.
The fundamental root meaning of the word is "something which gives joy." The root of charis is related to the Greek chara, joy (cf. chairein, to rejoice), and since for the Greek scarcely anything brought greater joy than beauty, the word received the meaning "graciousness, loveliness," e.g., Luke 4:22; Eph. 4:29. From this its root meaning its application was extended to designating the attitude of a man who causes joy, that is "benevolence, favourable inclination," especially in the case of persons in high positions, i.e., high officials, mostly kings. And as the oriental ruler had an unrestricted power and sovereignty, such an expression of his favour, which proceeded from his own free will alone, was at the same time an unearned gift, that is "grace, " an undeserved present which brought with it fulness, glory, joy, and exaltation for the receiver. Since, however, the normal reaction to such unmerited liberality of the giver is the thankfulness of the receiver, the word "favourableness" received also the meaning of "gratitude." Thus on the one side it expresses the favourable inclination of the giver to the receiver, and on the other side the confession of the favourable inclination of the receiver to the giver.
This usage of the word is deeply significant. Therefore in the New Testament the word for "grace" is the same as for "thanks." To thank means: "to look up from the gift to the giver, to rejoice in his goodness, and to devote oneself to him with the sentiments of one's heart and with the deeds of one's life."
In this sense both meanings are true:
Since we have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken, we desire to prove ourselves thankful and to serve Him in sincerity and reverence who has given us His gifts and who is still blessing us so abundantly. Therefore, "Let us have thankfulness!" (R.V. footnote), And:
Since we have received such a kingdom, we long to live wholly for Him and to glorify His name, but we know that we can do this only in His own strength, in the power which His grace bestows upon us. Therefore: "Let us have grace!" (A. and R.V.)
Thus joyful sanctification results. All is sunshine. Grace is radiant above us, and gratitude is like an atmosphere of light in us. Grace descends from above; gratefulness ascends from below. He who really has understood grace, cannot be but grateful. He who is grateful receives grace ever anew.
Thus sanctification and joy go together. Lack of sanctification clouds real joy; true Spirit-filled joy, however, lends wings to sanctification.
Ungrateful Christians receive no new blessings. Although the Lord is a generous and willing giver, the measure of our actually being blessed is dependent upon our practical gratefulness and devotion.
How foolish therefore to lament and groan instead of rejoicing in God's goodness. By worrying we are robbing ourselves. Unthankfulness leads to spiritual poverty. But our whole life should be a constant practical thank-offering full of joy.
And how impressive is the whole context in which the Spirit of God has placed this, His exhortation. He begins the description of the riches of the New Testament by pointing to heaven and glory, and He finishes it by referring to judgment: "for our God is a consuming fire ! " God's grace at the beginning, God's flaming Zeal at the end, and in the middle the exhortation: "Listen ! God speaks!" The words "heavenly Jerusalem" (v. 22) and "consuming fire" (v. 29) enclose this impressive command like a frame.
All this is written by a co-worker of the apostle Paul (cf. Heb. 13:23), that is, of the apostle of free grace (!). It is written to Jewish Christian believers in the dispensation of the church. In the church, however, there is no difference in principle between the believers from Israel and the believers from the nations as to their standing in Christ. This has been repeatedly expressed in the teachings of Paul. So also we as Gentile Christians have to apply to ourselves the spiritual message of the letter to the Hebrews (Eph.2:13-22; 3:6; Acts 28:28; cf. Acts 10:47;11:17;15:9-11).
Therefore let us not blunt the edge of this warning ! Let us accept the Divine word in its full weight! We do not believe that our Scripture teaches the possibility of a believer being eternally lost in case of his personal, practical failure. But on the other hand, we as believers have to face most serious consequences if we are unfaithful and disobedient.
Therefore away with all fleshly religious self-security! The truth of the eternal salvation of the regenerate must never be made a soft pillow for superficiality and self-sufficiency. It is true that those who believe in Christ have passed from death to life; but as to the standard and measure of their glorification the following principle and exhortation is valid: "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (II Pet. 1:10). "Follow after the sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12). What we need is a permanent attitude of faith, a continual, practical "Yes" to the Lord, which at the same time means an actual "No" to sin, a living, practical fellowship with Christ as the Crucified and Risen One. "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:11).
There is full salvation in Christ. In Him is life and victory. His word is not only commandment but is at the same time a creative source of strength. It is order and gift, precept and promise, commission and equipment.
To preach Him, this Redeemer, to mankind is our task under the New Covenant. He Himself is the essential contents of God's Word (II Cor. 4:5). He is the Victor, the Truth in Person, the Salvation of the world. He lightens up the souls of those who are perishing in darkness. He stills their longings, quickens their hearts, frees them from sins, makes them holy and pure. Through Him they have recovered the lost Paradise. Their past is ordered, their present is illuminated, and their future is secured. Therefore God says: "Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delighteth; I the Lord have called thee in righteousness ... and given thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles" (Isa. 42: I, 6). And in New Testament times the Father declared at the transfiguration of the Incarnate on the holy mountain, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
"Hear ye Him!" (Matt. 17:5).
"LET US LOOK UNTO JESUS!"
|Previous Chapter||Table of Contents||List of Books|