« הקודםהמשך »
HEBREWS xii. 1.
Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a
cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us ; and let us run with pa
tience the race that is set before us. My brethren, the Holy Spirit proposes to us in the words we have read, distinguished duties, excellent models, and wise precautions. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us. These are the distinguished duties. We are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses. These are the excel. lent models. Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us. These are the wise precautions.
I frankly acknowledge, my brethren, that on comparing the design of my text with the character of some among my hearers, I ought to suspend for a moment the thread of my discourse ; lest the diffi. culty of success should deter me from attempting the execution. We are going to preach perseverance to men, of whom so great a number live in supineness and indolence, and to whom it is much more proper to say, Return unto the testimonies of the Lord, and continue to follow them. ing to propose the most excellent models, the exam.
We are go
ple of the Abrahams, the Moseses, the Davids, of whom so great a number hitherto propose to them. selves, if I may so express myself, only negative models; I would say, who make it all their glory in not being altogether so bad as the worst of the human kind; they consider themselves in some sort as saints, when they can allege some one who surpasses them in wickedness. In short, we are going to prescribe the best precautions to people, who expose both their flanks to the enemy of their salvation; and who in the midst of beings, leagued for our everlasting ruin, live in the same security as if the profoundest peace prevailed, as if they were walking in the only way which leads to eternal felicity.
Again, when we consider people of this character, for whom we have so just a cause to fear destruction, we ought to enrol ourselves in the little number, that associating ourselves among the disciples of wisdom, according to the example of Jesus Christ, we might hope to say to God as he did, Behold, I, and the children which God hath given me. Heb. ii. 13. and Isa. viii. 18. But when I consider the limits in which the greatest saints among us include their virtues, the scanty bounds which comprise their duties, I am afraid they will revolt against the doctrine of my text. And you, who carry piety to the highest degree, have you fully entered into the spirit of the exhortation which St. Paul addresses to you to-day? You, who on the pressing entreaties of Eternal Wisdom, which says, give me thy heart, labour with yourselves not to be. stow on an only son sentiments which you owe solely to the giver, you have not yet carried divine love to the most eminent degree: it is not enough that you inspire your son with the fear and love of God, you must acquire the disposition of the father of the faithful, who obeyed this command ; Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt-offering. Gen. xxii. 2. You who, rather than abjure the truth, have sacrificed one part of your
fortune, you have not yet carried divine love to the highest degree ; you must acquire the disposition of those extraordinary men, some of whom were stoned for religion, others were sawn asunder, others were killed with the sword, others wandered about in sheep-skins, and in goat-skins, others were afflicted and tormented. These are the grand models, on which St. Paul wished to form the piety of the Hebrews, when he addressed them in the words of my text: it is on the same models we would wish to-day to form your piety. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us ; and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
These words may be considered in two different points of view, the one respects the Hebrews to whom they were addressed, the other respects the whole christian community.
1. They have peculiar references to the Hebrews, to whom they were addressed. These Hebrews had embraced christianity, at a time of general exclamation against the christians. They were very sincere in the profession of christianity ; but there is a difference between the sincerity, and the constancy to which the disciples of Jesus Christ are called, particularly when the church seems abandoned to the fury of its persecutors. The grand design of the apostle, in this epistle, was to inspire them with this constancy, and to prevent the fear of punishments from causing them to fall into apostacy.
This design is apparent from the illustrious character he gives of this Jesus, to whom they had devoted themselves by embracing the christian religion. He is not merely a man, not an ordinary prophet, not an angel; but the Lord of men, and of angels. For God, says the apostle at the commencement of this epistle, who spake in time past unto the futhers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds. 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, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at 'any time, Thou art my son, this day huve I begotten thee? Heb. i. 1....5.
This design is further apparent, as the apostle apprizes the Hebrews concerning the difficulty, and even the impossibility of obtaining mercy after an abjuration accompanied with certain aggravating circumstances, which time does not permit me here to enumerate. The sense is asserted in these words: It is impossible for those, who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance. Heb. vi. 4....6. To fall away, here signifies, not the repetition of a criminal habit
we had hoped to reform, (and who could expect salvation if this was the meaning of the apostle?) but professing again the errors we had renounced on becoming christians, and abjuring christianity. i.
This design appears likewise, from the care the apostle takes to exalt the christian economy above that of Moses : hence he infers, that if the smallest offences, committed against the Levitical economy, were punished with rigour, there cannot be punishments too severe for those who shall have the baseness to abjure christianity. If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, their remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a cer. tain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indig.
nation which shall devour the adversaries. Heb. x. 26, 27. The sin, into which we wilfully fall, does not mean those relapses, of which we shall presently speak, as the ancient Fathers believed ; whose severity was much more calculated to precipitate apostates into the abyss from which they wished to save them, than to preserve them from it. But to sin wilfully, in this place signifies apostacy: this is the sense of the words which immediately follow the passage. He that despised Moses' law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses ; of how much sorer punishment, suppose, ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace? Heb. x. 28, 29. The whole is descriptive of apostacy. The Jews, having prevailed with any of their nation who had embraced christianity to return to Judaism, were not satisfied with their abusing it; they required them to utter blasphemies against the person of Jesus, and against his mysteries, as appears from the ancient forms of abjuration which the learned have preserved.
All these considerations, and many more, of which the subject is susceptible, demonstrate, that the grand design of St. Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, was to prevent apostacy, and to prompt them to confess the truth amidst the most cruel torments to which they might be exposed by the profession. This is the design of my text.
text. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us : that is, let neither persecutions the most severe, nor promises the most specious, be able to induce you to deny christianity, nor any con. sideration deter you from professing it.
On this first design of the apostle, we shall merely conjure those, with whom there may remain some doubt as to the horrors of apostacy, and the necessity imposed on all christians either to leave the places which prohibit the profession of the truth, or endure