AS we read the lives of patriarchs and prophets we are filled with wonder at the triumphs faith achieved in that twilight age, and we ask ourselves whether it be possible for us, who rejoice in the noontide of the Christian revelation, to rise to any higher level. What then shall we say about the "others" of whom the closing verses of the chapter speak? For of them it is that the words are written, "Of whom the world was not worthy" - humble saints many of them, whose very names are lost to us, but who are credited in heaven with still grander triumphs.
"And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephtha; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets; who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:32-38)
Within the era of sacred Hebrew history the periods of deepest gloom were lightened by prophetic testimony, for the prophets were accredited ambassadors of heaven. And yet there were intervals during which there was "no open vision" - times when the twilight of that age was darkened by clouds that covered all the sky. And throughout the centuries between the last of the Hebrew prophets and the preaching of the Baptist, the silence of heaven was unbroken. And in those times of deepest gloom it was that faith achieved some of its noblest victories. For the faith that suffers is greater than the faith that can boast an open triumph And has this no voice for us today? Is it not deplorable that in the full light of the Christian revelation, we
"before whose eyes Jesus Christ
was openly set forth crucified,"(Galatians 3:1)
should crave for spirit manifestations, or even for subjective experiences, to confirm the truth of the promises of God? And yet tidings reach us from all lands that earnest and spiritual Christians are being deluded, and thrown into a frenzy of exultation, by the meaningless mutterings of what is called the "gift of tongues," or by other proofs of a spiritual presence from the unseen world. It is a perilous characteristic of our times. During last century there were many religious movements of this character, and there was not one of them that did not end in disaster. If real spiritual power, bringing ecstatic joy and peace to its votaries, could accredit a religious movement as divine, the Irvingite apostasy had credentials incomparably superior to any that can be appealed to by similar revivals today.
The story of that movement is as pathetic as it is solemn. Its leaders were eminent both as men and as Christians, no feather-headed fanatics, but staid and well-known Englishmen - lawyers, merchants, bankers, etc. They were accustomed to meet for prayer in the early morning, not in twos and threes, but in hundreds. And the authentic records of the movement tell us of the deep peace and ecstatic joy they experienced when, seemingly in answer to their yearning prayers for Pentecostal blessing, "the power fell on them," and signs and wonders awed them gifts of tongues, gifts of prophecy, gifts of healing. It behooves us to profit by these lessons of the past. "Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools will learn in no other." But Christians are called upon to walk "not as fools, but as wise"; and wisdom consists in "understanding what the will of the Lord is." And the supreme purpose of God is the exaltation of Christ; "that in all things He might have the preeminence." The cult of the Spirit, therefore, is a departure from the line of that divine purpose, and its votaries fall an easy prey to the "seducing spirits" of the latter days. (1 Timothy 4:1)
The intelligent observer of what is passing in Christendom today may find tokens clear and many that the lists are preparing for the great predicted struggle of the latter days between the old apostasy and the new - the religious apostasy of the Professing Church, claiming to be the oracle of God, and the infidel apostasy which, though pandering for a time to that venerable superstition, will eventually turn against it. And in the development of this final apostasy Satan will energize evil men, and accredit them with "all power and signs and lying wonders." "For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect." (Matthew 24:24)
These awfully solemn words of Christ are ignored by the vast majority of Christians. And yet the signs are many that Satan is preparing the way for this his last great master-stroke. To this end the Professing Church has been leavened by one of the profanest heresies of all the ages - that in certain vitally important portions of His teaching, the Lord of Glory was the blind dupe of Jewish superstition and ignorance and error. And the "old Serpent" of Eden further deludes men by hiding behind the mythical monster of ancient Babylonian paganism; and by teaching them that demons are base and filthy creatures who help that bogie devil to degrade mankind.1 But the real Satan - the Satan of Scripture- is the god of this world, the corrupter, not of morals, but of faith. And the real demons are the same that embarrassed the Lord by their homage; for, we read, "the unclean spirits whensoever they beheld Him fell down before Him and cried saying, Thou art the Son of God." (Mark 3:11, R.V.) And these are the seducing spirits of the latter times, that we are warned against in Scripture. Their influence is plainly seen in the revival of Theosophy and Spiritualism, and in the rise of "Christian Science," "the New Theology," and "Millennial Dawnism." True it is that all these movements deny the Lord Jesus Christ; but the mysterious fact that demons confessed Him when He appeared on earth is no proof that they would confess Him in these days when the advent of the false Christ is drawing near. And yet, in order to delude the Christian, they may confess Him still.
This it was that deceived the great and good men who were the leaders in the Irvingite revival: how then are their imitators of today to escape the snare? The answer will be found in the opening words of Hebrews 12. The emphatic "wherefore" that begins the chapter links up all that has gone before in enforcing the exhortation to "lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us." Every weight - all that holds us back; and the easily encompassing sin - the sin of unbelief, the special sin of the Epistle to the Hebrews. And it is a sin which has no more subtle phase than that of "tempting God" by claiming proofs and tokens of His power and presence. Athletes may sometimes value stimulants, but to turn aside to seek for them is not the way to win a race! And if God should deign to grant us "Pentecostal gifts," and the "frames and feelings" which they may excite, let us receive them with grateful hearts. But to speak of "claiming" them is to give up faith for sight. Our part is to run the race that is set before us, and to run it "with patience," not; petulantly craving for spiritual stimulants, but looking to Him who has trod the same path of unfaltering trust. "Looking unto Jesus," not here as our great High-priest, nor yet as the Son of God, nor even as the Son of Man, but as the man who was in all points tried as we are.2
The importance of the subject has led to this departure from the main scheme of these pages. And indeed the character of the closing chapters forbids a strict adherence to that scheme, for they contain passages which claim special notice, although they have no special relation to the types. Such, for example, is the passage beginning with Hebrews 12:5. The closely allied words here rendered chasten, chastise, correct, relate primarily to the parental training of a child. But such discipline often leads to punishment; and so paideuo came to have that meaning, and it is so used in Luke 23:16 and 22. But our A.V., by importing that meaning into Hebrews 12:8, has led to the popular perversion of the entire passage. With the Oriental the word "son" was not a mere synonym for child?3 It connoted a position which was denied to a man’s illegitimate offspring. But it is absurd to suppose that such children had immunity from punishment. Of chastisement they would probably have had more than their share, but what they did not receive was chastening - the kindly nurture and discipline of the parental home. The practical importance of the distinction is very great. For many Christian lives are saddened, and not a few are embittered, by the belief that our trials and sorrows are "chastisements," and therefore betoken divine displeasure. And there is no more cruel or mischievous phase of this error than the doctrine which is being assiduously taught in many quarters, that sickness is a proof of sin. Some of the truest and purest and holiest of His people are among the greatest sufferers from physical infirmities.
The reference to Esau, which follows in chapter 12, is generally either neglected or misread. It is intended as a warning, not to worldlings, but to the Hebrew Christians whom the whole Epistle is addressed. Do both the descriptive words here used of him refer to the same crisis in his life, when for a single meal he sold his birthright? This is a disputed point. But as the words which immediately follow relate to that one act of profanity, the introduction of any other element would seem to weaken their force. For the solemnity of the Christian life is the great lesson that the passage is meant to teach. It was "his own birthright" that Esau bartered for a passing sensual gratification - not a hope of something he might have gained, but: a place that was assured to him. His "profanity" consisted in putting so vile a price on the great position which God had actually granted him. And every Christian who has a real spiritual history will appreciate the warning. For the blessing always goes with the birthright. The true effort of the Christian life is not to attain "the calling wherewith we are called," but to walk worthy of it. (Ephesians 4:1)
And the passage which follows the Esau warning reminds us of the solemnities of that calling, solemnities incomparably greater and more awe inspiring than those of Sinai. And the recital of these solemnities leads to a repetition of that other warning with which the second Chapter opens. A warning which is specially addressed to the Christian. For the "escape" here intended is not from the "eternal destruction" which will be the doom of all who shall be arraigned before the "Great White Throne," but points to that other Judgment-seat before which the redeemed must stand, and to "the Father’s" judgment now and here. (See 2 Corinthians 5:8-11 (the passage must be read in the R.V.), and 1 Peter 1:17)
There are few passages more needed today, and few that are more misunderstood. For while the old theology tends to minimize and obscure the great truth that eternal life is the gift of God, assured to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the theology of the revival - exulting in that truth, and recognizing that, as regards the supreme issue of life or death, the believer "shall not come into the judgment" - is prone to belittle the reality of "the judgment-seat of Christ," and the solemnity of the Christian’s life on earth in view of that judgment.
The concluding words of the Chapter are intended, not to lessen the Christian’s confidence, "which hath great recompense of reward," (Chap. 10:35) but to deepen his reverence for God. They are addressed to us as "receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved." And this is the basis of the exhortation which follows: "Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." The reference is to the God of Sinai, (Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:24) but it is as our God that we know Him.
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