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and for garments that they may be clothed"." It suffers none to bring any price in their hands, but requires them to receive every thing "without money and without price." Nor does it merely require this of men at their first conversion: it prescribes the same humiliating system to the latest hour of our lives: whatever our attainments be, we must renounce them all in point of dependence, and place our whole dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." We must have no more in ourselves than the branch of a vine has; but must receive every thing from the stem into which we have been engrafted. We must "receive every thing out of the fulness that is in Christ," and must "live altogether by faith in the Son of God, who has loved us, and given himself for us'."
But all this is very humiliating. Proud man does not like to be brought so low, as to depend wholly on another, and not at all on himself. We wish to have something of our own whereof we may boast. And to be reduced to a level with the vilest of the human race, so as to acknowledge ourselves as much indebted to Divine grace as they, is a humiliation to which we cannot endure to submit. Could we be saved in a way more congenial with our own feelings, we should be satisfied but when it is said, "Wash and be clean," instead of accepting the tidings with gratitude, we spurn at them like Naaman, and go away in a rage.
To this however we must "submit";" for there is no other way of salvation for any child of mani: and, if we will not come to Christ upon his own terms, we must remain for ever destitute of the blessings he has purchased for us*.]
2. By not obeying its self-denying doctrines
[Though the Gospel gives salvation freely, it does not leave us at liberty to neglect good works; on the contrary, "it teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." Indeed, the sanctification it requires of us is as offensive to our carnal and worldly hearts, as the humiliation it imposes on us is to our pride. The object of the Gospel is, not merely to save men from death and hell, but to bring them back to a state of holy allegiance to their God, such as Adam experienced in Paradise. For this end it requires us to give up ourselves as living sacrifices unto God, and to be as entirely dedicated to his service as the burnt-offerings were, which were
b Rev. iii. 17, 18.
e John i. 16.
h Rom. x. 3.
k Rom. ix. 30-32.
c Isai. lv. 1.
d John xv. 5.
g 2 Kings v. 10—13. i Acts iv. 12. 1 Cor. iii. 11.
wholly consumed on the altar. It enjoins us "neither to live unto ourselves, nor die unto ourselves;" but both in life and death to be altogether at the Lord's disposal, for the accomplishment of his will, and for the promotion of his glorym.
Now to this measure of holiness we have by nature a deep and rooted aversion. We have many earthly and sensual appetites, which plead for indulgence: and when we are required to "cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye," and to "be holy as God himself is holy," we reply, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" To "mortify our members upon earth," and to "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts," is a work, which, as the very terms in which it is expressed intimate, is painful to flesh and blood: and to be told that without this we never can be Christ's disciples, is most grating to our ears". But nothing less than this will suffice for the approving of ourselves upright in the sight of God.
I beseech you then, brethren, to "look diligently" to this matter, and not to come short of what the Gospel requires of you; for if you comply not both with its doctrines and its precepts, you can never partake of its privileges and its blessings.]
But respecting this Gospel, we are further cautioned,
II. Not to dishonour it after we have embraced itWe are in danger of dishonouring it,
1. By heretical opinions
[It is to these chiefly, though not exclusively, that I suppose the root of bitterness" to refer. The expression is adopted from the Old Testament, where Moses cautions the Israelites against any "root among them bearing gall and wormwood," and operating to the production of idolatry". Such sprang up very early in the Christian Church; even as St. Paul forewarned the elders of Ephesus to expect: "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them P." Some there were who blended the Mosaic rites with the Gospel; others, who "denied the resurrection, saying that it was past already;" others "denied the Lord who bought them:" and great was "the trouble," and extensive the defilement, which these heretics occasioned in the Church of Christ".
Such teachers there have been ever since in the Church, even to the present hour: and there is need of the utmost n Gal. v. 24.
1 Rom. xii. 1.
• Deut. xxix. 19.
m Rom. xiv. 7, 8.
P Acts xx. 29, 30.
9 Gal. v. 7-10. 2 Tim. ii. 10-18. 2 Pet. ii. 1, 2.
care that we be not drawn aside by any of them "from the simplicity that is in Christ." Nothing can be more simple than the Gospel, when it is received in a humble child-like spirit. It requires nothing but a life of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of love both towards God and man for his sake. The whole is comprehended in those words, "faith working by love." But men are fond of making the Gospel a theatre for disputation; and they care not how far they divert the minds of their followers from "the truth as it is in Jesus," if only they may but prevail upon them to receive their dogmas. This is the true root of all the heresies which have distracted and defiled the Church of God in all ages.
But be ye on your guard, brethren, lest any such "root of bitterness" spring up among you. It is well called "a root of bitterness," for nothing that ever yet divided the human race has caused more "bitterness than that which calls itself religion, but which, in fact, is only some partial or erroneous view of religion, which conceit has propagated, and bigotry enforced.]
2. By ungodly practices
[Grievous have been the falls of many who have professed religion; and shocking the scandals which have at times prevailed in the Christian Church. Evils, which obtained amongst the ignorant and licentious Gentiles, were indulged, and vindicated, by them after they had embraced the Gospel of Christ; and many, like profane Esau, bartered away the inheritance of heaven for some worthless perishable good.
Thus it is at this day. Many things are pleaded for, which are as opposite to the holy nature of the Gospel as "fornication" itself: and the vanities of time are yet daily exchanged for the glories of eternity. In vain are we reminded how bitterly Esau at last bewailed his error; or how fruitless were his efforts to remedy the evil he had committed. We see nothing in his example which speaks to us; nor have we any ears for the instruction it conveys to us. The influence of temptation is too strong for us: our earthly and sensual hearts will plead for gratifications which the Gospel of Christ does not allow and thus multitudes relinquish all the blessings of eternity, through their undue attachment to the things of time and sense.
But let not such be found amongst you. It is melancholy to see that Demas, after being twice united with Luke in the salutations of St. Paul, should be found, "through love to this present world," "making shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience." But such instances occur in every age of the
r 2 Cor. xi. 3.
Church and it requires continual watchfulness over our own hearts, and over each other too, to prevent the more frequent recurrence of similar apostasy. To all then I would recommend the example of St. Paul, who "kept his body under, and brought it into subjection, lest, after having preached to others, he himself should become a cast-away"."]
The solemn hint with which our text concludes will furnish us with matter suited to ENFORCE the preceding subject
1. Think what will ere long be your views of your present conduct, if you neglect the cautions which have been now suggested
[Lightly as Esau once thought of his birthright, he saw at last that it was worthy to be "sought," yea, to be "sought carefully" too, and that "with tears." And what will be your views of heaven when you are lying on a bed of sickness, or, at all events, the very instant that your soul enters upon the invisible world? Will an obedience to the Gospel then appear so hard a condition, that all the glory of heaven could not recompense you for complying with it; or the mortification of some forbidden lust so insupportable a task, that hell itself, with the indulgence of that lust, was a better portion than heaven with the mortification of it? No: the pangs of Esau will be your pangs, when you find how bitter are the consequences of your folly, and how irreversible the doom that has been pronounced.
Not that repentance, provided it had been genuine, would have been unavailing for Esau as far as related to his eternal state. Isaac had, though unwittingly, conferred the rights of primogeniture on Jacob; and he would not reverse his word, notwithstanding all the bitter cries with which Esau importuned him to do so. And this is what is meant, when it is said, that Esau " found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." Had he repented before God, he might have obtained pardon with God: as we also may do, through our Lord Jesus Christ. But, if we do not turn to God through Christ with our whole hearts, we shall find ere long the door of mercy shut against us, and in vain implore admission to that bliss which now we have despised '.]
2. Yield to the Gospel, without delay, the obedience which it requires
[Infinite are the blessings which it offers to us. And what are the sacrifices which we are called to make?
s 1 Cor. ix. 27.
t Luke xiii. 24-27.
they ever so difficult or self-denying, they are not worth a thought in comparison of "the grace that shall be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ." The wise merchantman parted with all for the pearl of great price. Do ye the same: and determine through grace, that whatever it may cost, you will not come short of it by refusing to make the sacrifices, or suffer either men or devils to rob you of it.]
THE TRANSCENDENT EXCELLENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION.
Heb. xii. 18-25. Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (for they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake :) but ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.
IN explaining the Holy Scriptures, it is often requisite that we carefully bear in mind, not only the immediate context, but the whole scope of the book in which any particular passage occurs. This is of the first importance in considering several expressions in the Epistle of St. James, and it is not unimportant in the passage before us.
The general scope of the Epistle to the Hebrews is, to encourage the Jewish Christians to hold fast their profession in the midst of all the persecutions they endured. And the principal argument used for their encouragement is, the great superiority of the Christian religion above that which they had