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The Way Into The Holiest
Expositions Of The Epistle To The Hebrews
by F. B. Meyer
This Epistle bears no name of author, or designation of church. But it needs neither. In every sentence we can detect the Authorship of the Holy Ghost: and feel that it has a message not to one age, but to all; not to one community, but to the universal Church.
We do not therefore discuss questions which are amply treated in every commentary; but set ourselves at once to derive those great spiritual lessons which are enshrined in these sublime words.
And probably there is no better way of vindicating the authority of the Pentateuch than by showing that it lay at the basis of the teaching of the early Church; and that especially the Book of Leviticus was the seed-plot of New Testament Theology.
There are two strong tendencies flowing around us in the present day: the one, to minimize the substitutionary aspect of the death of Christ; the other, to exaggerate the importance of mere outward rite. To each of these the study of this great Epistle is corrective. We are taught that our Lord's death was a Sacrifice. We are taught also that we have passed from the realm of shadows into that of realities.
These chapters are altogether inadequate for the treatment of so vast a theme; but such as they are, they are sent forth, in dependence on the Divine Blessing, in the fervent hope that they may serve to make more clear and plain to those who would find and enter it, the Way into the Holiest of all.
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The Word of God
"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." Hebrews 1:1,2
GOD. What word could more fittingly stand at the head of the first line of the first paragraph in this noble epistle! Each structure must rest on him as foundation; each tree must spring from him as root; each design and enterprise must originate in him as source. "IN THE BEGINNING GOD," is a worthy motto to inscribe at the commencement of every treatise, be it the ponderous volume or the ephemeral tract. And with that name we commence our attempt to gather up some of the glowing lessons which were first addressed to the persecuted and wavering Hebrews in the primitive age, but have ever been most highly prized by believing Gentiles throughout the universal Church. The feast was originally spread for the children of the race of Abraham; but who shall challenge our right to the crumbs? In our endeavor to gather them, be thou, 0 God, Alpha and Omega, First and Last. In the original Greek, the word "God" is preceded by two other words, which describe the variety and multitudinousness of his revelation to man. And the whole verse is full of interest as detailing the origin and authority of the Word of God, and as illustrating the great law which appears in so many parts of the works of God, and has been fitly called the law of VARIETY IN UNITY.
That law operates in Nature. The earliest book of God. No thoughtful man can look around him without being arrested by the infinite variety that meets him on every side. "All flesh is not the same flesh; ...there are celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one; and the glory of the terrestrial is another. One star differeth from another star in glory." You cannot match two faces in a crowd; two leaves in a forest; or two flowers in the woodlands of spring. It would seem as if the molds in which natural products are being shaped are broken up and cast aside as soon as one result has been attained. And it is this which affords such an infinite field for investigation and enjoyment, forbidding all fear of monotony or weariness of soul.
And yet, amid all natural variety, there is a marvelous unity. Every part of the universe interlocks by subtle and delicate links with every other part. You cannot disturb the balance anywhere without sending a shock of disturbance through the whole system. Just as in some majestic Gothic minster the same idea repeats itself in bolder or slighter forms, so do the same great thoughts recur in tree and flower, in molecule and planet, in diatom and man. And all this because, if you penetrate to Nature's heart, you meet God. "Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things." "There are diversities of operations; but it is the same God which worketh all in all." The unity that pervades Nature's temple is the result of its having originated from one mind, and having been effected by one hand, the mind and hand of God.
That law also operates throughout the Scriptures. There is as great variety there as in Nature. They were written in different ages. some in the days of "the fathers"; others at "the end of these days" for us. In the opening chapters, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, Moses has embodied fragments of hallowed tradition, which passed from lip to lip in the tents of the patriarchs; and its later chapters were written when the holy city, Jerusalem, had already been smitten to the ground by the mailed hand of Titus.
They were written in different countries: these in the deserts of Arabia; those under the shadow of the pyramids; and others amid the tides of life that swept through the greatest cities of Greece and Rome. You can detect in some the simple pastoral life of Palestine; in others the magnificence of Nebuchadnezzar's empire. In one there is the murmur of the blue Aegean; and in several the clank of the fetter in the Roman prison cell.
They were written by men belonging to various ranks, occupations, and methods of thought, shepherds and fishermen, warriors and kings; the psalmist, the prophet, and the priest; some employing the stately religious Hebrew, others the Chaldaic patois, others the polished Greek, every variety of style, from the friendly letter, or sententious proverb, to the national history, or the carefully prepared treatise, in which thought and expression glow as in the fires, but all contributing their quota to the symmetry and beauty of the whole.
And yet, throughout the Bible, there is an indubitable unity. What else could have led mankind to look upon these sixty-six tractlets as being so unmistakably related to each other that they must be bound up together under a common cover? There has been something so unique in these books that they have always stood and fallen together. To disintegrate one has been to loose them all. Belief in one has led to belief in all. Their hands are linked and locked so tightly that where one goes all must follow. And though wise and clever men have tried their best, they have never been able to produce a single treatise containing that undefinable quality which gives these their mysterious oneness; and to lack which is fatal to the claims of any book to be included with them, or to demand the special veneration and homage of mankind.
The world is full of religious books; but the man who has fed his religious life upon the Bible will tell in a moment the difference between them and the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The eye can instantly detect the absence of life in the artificial flower; the tongue can immediately and certainly detect the absence or presence of a certain flavor submitted to the taste; and the heart of man, his moral sense, is quick to detect the absence in all other religious books of a certain savor which pervades the Bible, from Genesis, the book of beginnings, to the Apocalyptic announcements of the quick coming of the King.
And in the possession of this mysterious attribute, the Old and new Testaments are one. You cannot say there is more of it in the glowing paragraphs of the Apostle Paul than in the splendid prophecies and appeals of the great evangelic prophet, Isaiah. It is certainly in the Gospels; but it is not less in the story of the Exodus. Throughout, there is silence on topics which merely gratify curiosity, but on which other professed revelations have been copiously full. Throughout, there is no attempt to give instruction on science or nature; but to bend all energy in discussing the claims of God on men. Throughout, the crimson cord of sacrifice is clearly manifest, on which the books are strung together as beads upon a thread. And throughout, there is ever the subtle, mysterious, ineffable quality called Inspiration: a term which is explained by the majestic words of this opening verse, "God, having spoken of old to the fathers, hath at the end of these days spoken to us."
Scripture is the speech of God to man. It is this which gives it its unity. "The Lord, the mighty God, hath spoken, and called the earth." The amanuenses may differ; but the inspiring mind is the same. The instruments may vary; but in every case the same theme is being played by the same masterhand. We should read the Bible as those who listen to the very speech of God. Well may it be called "the Word of God."
But the Scripture is God's speech in man. The heavenly treasure is in vessels of earth. "He spake unto the fathers in the prophets... He hath spoken unto us in his Son." It is very remarkable to study the life of Jesus, and to listen to his constant statements as to the source of his marvelous words. So utterly had he emptied himself, that he originated nothing from himself; but lived by the Father, in the same way as we are to live by him. He distinctly declared that the words he spake, he spake not of himself; but that words and works alike were the outcome of the Father, who dwelt within. Through those lips of clay the eternal God was speaking. Well might he also be called "the Word of God"!
And here the words of the prophets in the Old Testament are leveled up to the plane of the words of Jesus in the New. Without staying to make the least distinction, our writer tell us, beneath the teaching of the Spirit, that he who spake in the one spake also in the others. Let us then think with equal reverence of the Old Testament as of the New. It was our Saviour's Bible. It was the food which Jesus loved, and lived upon. He was content to fast from all other food, if only he might have this. It was his one supreme appeal in conflict with the devil, and in the clinching of his arguments and exhortations with men. And here we discover the reason. The voice of God spake in the prophets, whose very name likens them to the up rush of the geyser from its hidden source.
As God spake in men, it is clear that he left them to express his thoughts in the language, and after the method, most familiar to them. They will speak of Nature just as they have been accustomed to find her. They will use the mode of speech whether poem or prose which is most habitual to their cast of thought. They will make allusions to the events transpiring around them, so as to be easily understood by their fellows. But, whilst thus left to express God's thoughts in their own way, yet most certainly the divine Spirit must have carefully superintended their utterances, so that their words should accurately convey his messages to men.
In many parts of the Bible there is absolute dictation, word for word. In others, there is divine superintendence guarding from error, and guiding in the selection and arrangement of materials: as when Daniel quotes from historic records; and Moses embodies the sacred stories which his mother had taught him beside the flowing Nile. In all, there is the full inspiration of the Spirit of God, by whom all Scripture has been given. Holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify" (2 Tim. iii. 16; 2 Pet. i. 20,21; 1 Pet. i. 2).
We need not deny that other men have been illuminated; but the difference between illumination and inspiration is as far as the east is from the west. Nor do we say that God has not spoken in other men, or in these men at other times; but we do say that only in the Bible has God given the supreme revelation of his will, and the authoritative rule of our faith and practice. The heart of man bears witness to this. We know that there is a tone in these words which is heard in no other voice. The upper chords of this instrument give it a timbre which none other can rival.
The revelation in the Old Testament was given in fragments. This is the meaning of the word rendered in the Old Version sundry times, and in the Revised divers portions. It refers, not to the successive ages over which it was spread, but to the numerous "portions" into which it was broken up. No one prophet could speak out all the truth. Each was intrusted with one or two syllables in the mighty sentences of God's speech. At the best the view caught of God, and given to men through the prophets, though true, was partial and limited.
But in Jesus there is nothing of this piecemeal revelation. "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." He hath revealed the Father. Whosoever hath seen him hath seen God; and to hear his words is to get the full orbed revelation of the Infinite.
The earlier revelation was in many forms. The earthquake, the fire, the tempest, and the still small voice, each had its ministry. Symbol and parable, vision and metaphor, type and historic foreshadowing, all in turn served the divine end; like the ray which is broken into many prismatic hues. But in Jesus there is the steady shining of the pure ray of his glory, one uniform and invariable method of revelation.
Oh the matchless and glorious Book, the Word of God to men to us; revealing not only God, but ourselves; explaining moods for which we had no cipher; touching us as no other book can, and in moments when all voices beside wax faint and still; telling facts which we have not been able to discover, but which we instantly recognize as truth; the bread of the soul; the key of life; disclosing more depths as we climb higher in Christian experience: we have tested thee too long to doubt that thou art what Jesus said thou wast, the indispensable and precious gift of God.
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The Dignity Of Christ
"Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Being made so much better than the angels." HEBREWS i. 3, 4.
In these few lines we can but lightly touch on the majestic titles which a loving and adoring heart here heaps around the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The theme might well engage a seraph's tongue! Yet our hearts may glow with ardor of the same nature, if not of the same amount. And perhaps we may be conscious of elements of rapture which the sons of light may never know, because of his near kinship to us. "My heart overfloweth with a goodly matter: I speak the things which I have made touching the King."
SON. " He hath spoken unto us in his Son." God has many sons, but only one Son. When, on the morning of his resurrection, our Lord met the frightened women, he said, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God." But, as he used the words, they meant infinitely more of himself than they could ever mean of man, however saintly or childlike. No creature wing shall ever avail to carry us across the abyss which separates all created from all uncreated life. But we may reverently accept the fact, so repeatedly emphasized, that Jesus is "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father" (John i. i8). He is Son in a sense altogether unique.
This term, as used by our Lord, and as understood by the Jews, not only signified divine relationship, but divine equality. Hence, on one occasion, the Jews sought to kill him, because he said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God (John v. i8). And he, so far from correcting the opinion as he must have done instantly, had it been erroneous, went on to confirm it and to substantiate its truthfulness. The impression which Jesus of Nazareth left on all who knew him was that of his extreme humility; but here was a point in which he could not abate one jot or tittle of his claims, lest he should be false to his knowledge of himself, and to the repeated voice of God. And so he died, because he affirmed, amid the assumed horror of his judges, that he was the Christ, the Son of God. "He counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God." It was his right.
His dignity is still further elaborated in the words which follow. He is THE BEAM OF THE DIVINE GLORY, for so might the word translated effulgence be rendered. We have never seen the sun, but only its far traveled ray, which left its surface some few minutes before. But the ray is of the same constitution as the orb from which it comes; if you unravel its texture, you will learn something of the very nature of the sun; they live in perpetual and glorious unity. And as we consider the intimacy of that union, we are reminded of those familiar words, which tell us that though no man hath seen God at any time, yet he has been revealed in the Word made flesh. We hear our Master saying again the old, deep, mysterious words: "I and my Father are one. We will come and make our abode." And we can sympathize with the evening hymn of the early Church, sung around the shores of the Bosphorus:
"Hail! gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,
Who is the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Blest."
He is also THE IMPRESS OF THE DIVINE NATURE. The allusion here is to the impression made by a seal on molten wax; and as the image made on the wax is the exact resemblance, though on another substance, of the die, so is Christ the exact resemblance of the Father in our human flesh. And thus he was able to say, "He that bath seen me hath seen the Father." The Life of Jesus is the Life of God rendered into the terms of our human life; so that we may understand the very being and nature of God by seeing it reproduced before us, so far as it is possible, in the character and life of Jesus. These two images complete each other. You might argue from the first, that as the ray is only part of the sun, so Christ is only part of God; but this mistake is corrected by the second, for an impression must be coextensive with the seal. You might argue from the second, that as the impression might be made on a very inferior material, so Christ's nature was a very unworthy vehicle of the divine glory; but this mistake is corrected by the first, for a beam is of the same texture as the sun. Coextensive with God, of the same nature as God; thus is Jesus Christ.
He is, therefore, superior to angels (ver. 4). Lofty as was the esteem in which Hebrew believers had been wont to hold those bright and blessed spirits, they were not for a moment to be compared with him whose majestic claims are the theme of these glowing words.
He surpasses them in the glory of Divine Nature. Turn to Psalm ii. one of the grandest miniature dramas in all literature. Probably composed on some marked episode in the reign of David, there is a glow, a sublimity, in the diction which no earthly monarch could exhaust. We are not, therefore, surprised to find the early Church applying it to Christ (Acts iv. 25). In reading it, we first hear the roar of the mob and the calm decision of the throne; and then our attention is centered on him who comes forward, bearing the divine autograph to the decree which declares him Son. Nothing like this was ever said to angel, how ever exalted in character or devoted in service. It is only befitting, then, that the unsinning sons of light should worship him; and as we hear the command issued, "Let all the angels of God worship him," we are still further impressed by the immense distance between their nature and his.
Do we worship him enough? During his earthly life he was constantly met by expressive acts of homage, which, unlike Peter in the house of Cornelius, he did not repress. The almost instinctive act of the little group, from which he was parted on the Mount of Olives in his ascension, was to worship him (Luke xxiv. 52). And no sooner had he passed to his home than there burst from the Church a tide of adoration which has only become wider and deeper with the ages. The Epistles, and especially the Book of Revelation, teem with expressions of worship to Christ. And the death cries of martyrs must have familiarized the heathen mind with the homage paid to Christ by Christians. Of the worship offered him in catacombs, or in their secret meetings, amongst dens and caves, paganism was necessarily ignorant. But the behavior and exclamations of the servants of Jesus, arraigned before heathen tribunals, and exposed to the most agonizing deaths, were matters of public notoriety.
Some years ago, beneath the ruins of the Palatine palace, was discovered a rough sketch, traced in all probability by the hand of a pagan slave in the second century. A human figure, with the head of an ass, is represented as fixed to the cross; while another figure, in a tunic, stands on one side, making a gesture which was the customary pagan expression of adoration. Underneath this caricature ran the inscription, rudely written, Alexamenos adores his God. But what a tribute to the worship paid in those early days to our Saviour, amidst gibes and taunts and persecution!
The hymns which have come down to us ring with the same spirit. Pliny writes to tell the Emperor that the Christians of Asia Minor were accustomed to meet to sing praise to Christ as God. As each morning broke, the believer of those primitive days repeated in private the Gloria in Excelsis, as his hymn of supplication and praise: "Thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father." The early Church did not simply admire Christ, it adored him.
Is not this a great lack in our private devotions? We are so apt to concentrate our thoughts on ourselves; and to thank for what we have received. We do not sufficiently often forget our own petty wants and anxieties, and launch down our tiny rivulet, until we are borne out into the great ocean of praise, which is ever breaking in music around the person of Jesus. Praise is one of the greatest acts of which we are capable; and it is most like the service of heaven. There they ask for naught, for they have all and abound; but throughout the cycles of glory the denizens of those bright worlds fill them with praise. And why should not earthly tasks be wrought to the same music? We are the priests of creation; it becomes us to gather up and express the sentiments which are mutely dumb, but which await our offering at the altar of God.
Let a part of our private and public devotion be ever dedicated to the praise of Jesus; when we shall break forth into some hymn, or psalm, or spiritual song, singing and praising Christ with angels and archangels and all the hosts of the redeemed. On that brow, once thorn crowned, let us entwine our laurels. Upon that ear, once familiarized with threats and scorn, let us pour the fullness of our adoring devotion. So shall we gain and give new thoughts of the supreme dignity of the Lord Jesus. "Thou art worthy to receive, honor."