PRESSING ON TO THE MARK!
"Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down, and the palsied knees; and make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned out of the way; but rather be healed. Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking carefully lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled" (or poisoned) (Heb. 12: 12-15).
CHRISTIANITY is eternity in time. With the appearance of Christ a new sprig was planted into the withered ground of the world of man. And all who have been grafted into it have become partakers of eternal life. Thus Christians have found the fountain of eternal youth. The genuine life of faith never grows old. " Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day" (II Con 4: I6). "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa. 4o: 3I). A really healthy life of faith is like one running in an arena whose freshness of the starting-post is maintained to the finish.
And yet! The Christians of the letter to the Hebrews had grown tired. After a richly blessed start (Heb. 10:32) their inward life had begun to droop. Their hands were hanging down and their knees had become feeble (Heb. 12:12). The attendance at their gatherings had decreased (Heb. 10:25). Their life of faith was no longer to be compared to running in an arena but rather to the slow and painful walk of a sick or paralysed person. Instead of looking towards the goal, they began to turn their eyes to times gone by. Instead of looking forward to the consummation at the coming of Christ, they looked backward to the Old Testament ages of preparation. Instead of considering the glories of the Spirit and the fulfilment of all prophecy in Christ's person and work, they began to yearn for the types and symbols of the Divine service of the Old Covenant which they had known as so beautiful and impressive. So the glory of grace had become darkened for them. It appeared desirable to them to return to the law. The danger of "being hardened" had arisen (Heb. 3:13). Indeed, they had even to be told: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God" (Heb. 3:12).
How can they be helped?
Only by renewed contact with the Fountain of power. The exceeding glory and reality of the New Testament salvation must come before their minds and hearts as a fresh vision. They must be brought to acknowledge that leaving the ground of grace means robbing oneself, returning to the old is sinking into the depth, turning back to the past is losing the future. Only grace can lead to the goal. Only the New Testament type of salvation can guarantee the promised eternal glory.
For this reason the main purpose of Hebrews is, as to its essence, a message of "reformation." No doubt the letter to the Hebrews contains a good deal of doctrine. In fact, it is the document of the New Testament which gives us the deepest insight into the inward relationships of preparation and fulfilment, of shadow and reality, of Old Testament sacrifices and the New Testament priesthood of Christ. But the chief object is not that of instruction but of renewal, not that of doctrinal presentation but of practical restoration, not that of leading the readers for the first time into the knowledge of full salvation, but rather that of leading them back to that which they had already acknowledged and experienced from the very start of their Christian life. Here the reader is not encouraged to lay hold on salvation but rather to hold it fast. It is not so much the matter of being "formed" as of being "re-formed."
For this reason Hebrews is, within the New Testament, the sister letter to the Epistle to the Galatians. In both letters the purpose is the same. They are the main "reformatory" epistles of the New Testament.
In the Galatian letter, as also in the Hebrews, people are dealt with who were in danger of falling back from the New Testament heights of salvation to the Old Testament introductory stages of Divinely revealed history. The main difference is that the Galatian Christians were originally heathen who had since come under wrong Hebrew-Christian influences, while the leaders of the letters to the Hebrews were Israelites who had accepted the Messiah, perhaps even priests or Levites (Acts 6:7).
This made a different type of presentation of thought necessary.
"Law and grace" is the theme of both letters. But the Galatian letter treats it with special reference to the moral laws of the Mosaic dispensation, while the Hebrews speaks especially of its ceremonial laws. The Galatian letter refers chiefly to jurisdiction, Hebrews to worship and cult (Divine Service).
In Galatians Paul points out that it is not allowable in law to alter testamentary documents which have already been officially recognized (Gal. 3:15-20), and he speaks of legal forms of the educational system of antiquity (Gal. 3:23-29), and of the respective legal position of slaves and of sons before they become of age (Gal. 4:1-7). So the Galatian letter uses pictures and comparisons taken more from the legal practice, but Hebrews (especially chs. 5-10) refers more to the symbolical language of the Old Testament forms of Divine Service, to priesthood, sacrifice, tabernacle. Galatians places us more in a law-court, Hebrews in a temple.
But the theme is the same: the relationship of law to grace, the greater glory of grace, freely bestowed, and, as the result of this, the holy demand and serious warning: Never go back! "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no one take thy crown" (Rev.3:11).
I. PARALYSING POWERS
How did it come about that the Hebrew Christians lost their original freshness of faith? How happy they had been at the beginning! What would they not have done for Christ in those early days? They received into their houses the persecuted witnesses of Christ (Heb.10:34). They endured personally all sorts of indignities and trials (Heb.10:33). Even the loss of their possessions on account of their Christian confession they had endured, and had done it not only without complaining, but, indeed, with rejoicing. "Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods" (Heb. 10:34).
And now everything had become different. Instead of the former freshness and vigour, their hands hung down, instead of marching manfully onwards, a paralysis had set in. They no longer pressed on, running on the racecourse, but had halted, and indeed were in danger of stagnation. In fact many had definitely become backsliders (Heb.12:12,13). The enemy had begun his work of inducing paralysis.
I. The external difficulties had been used by him in order to weaken and to eliminate these joyful witnesses of God. Again and again they had to meet with bitter hatred against Christ. Continually the world mocked at and despised them. Ever and again outward loss, social ostracism, and injury in their business or professional standing made them feel the lack of legal rights. By all this the enemy had been able to wear them down. It was not the first shock of suffering that brought him this success but the continuing pressure of persecution.
However, the extremity of persecution had not yet been reached. Martyrs' blood had not yet flowed. And this fact is used by the writer of the Hebrews letter to encourage them: "ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb.12:4). This is not intended to mean that "You have not yet taken seriously enough the struggle against your own sin which is within yourselves. You have not yet shown sufficient energy of faith, readiness for service, devotion, initiative, and resolution in your personal sanctification." But the sin which is spoken of here is the persecuting might of the enemy and the world which approaches from outside. It is meant not as the subjective, but as the objective power of evil, of the enmity of the world; so that the meaning is that "the battle has not yet become so fierce that some of you have had to die for the sake of the testimony of Christ." So far there has not been shedding of blood. Though the situation was hard enough, they had thus far been spared the hardest of all.
But they must remember that others had made this supreme sacrifice! The immediately preceding chapter, Hebrews 11, had spoken of those who had been "stoned" or "sawn asunder," who had been tortured, or put to death by the sword, and who had accepted no deliverance, though they could have obtained it easily, if only by one word or one action they had denied their faith (Heb.11:35-37). But they refused to do this in order "that they might obtain a better resurrection" than such an earthly deliverance, which last might have been comparable to a "resurrection" by being immediately freed from prison and martyrdom. And now, though certainly recognizing the seriousness of your present situation, how much less are your difficulties! Therefore do not overestimate your hardships!
And have we today not much more reason to keep in mind this same exhortation? What are our sufferings for the testimony compared with those of many men and women in the glorious history of the heroes of the church of former times?
In the course of my travels I have often visited places where Christians in times gone by suffered death for their faith. Think of the dreadful subterranean prison cells hewn into the frightful fortress of the Spilberg in Brünn (Moravia). Or think of Prague, where 27 crosses, composed of small stones in the pavement in front of the old Town Hall, remind us today of the "Bloody Judgment" of Prague (1620, two years after the beginning of the Thirty Years' War). Small paving-stones mark also the exact spot of the scaffold on which the 27 leaders of the Protestants were beheaded. They are in the form of a large crown of thorns, with two long, crossed judgment swords. Think of the cells of the Bloody Tower on the Thames in London, where one can still see under glass plates verses of the Bible and comforting words which were carved into the walls by those men in the times of their greatest distress. Or I think of the market-place in Florence where the gallows and stake of the great Italian forerunner of the Reformation, Savonarola, stood. I remember walking through the catacombs of ancient Rome, with the secret meeting-places of the early Christians during the times of the persecutions, and in the arena of the Colosseum in Rome where hundreds of witnesses to the faith in the second and third centuries allowed themselves to be torn in pieces by wild animals. Only a few years ago I stood in the evening twilight in the graveyard of the Scottish town of Kilmarnock at the side of the graves of seven whose blood was shed about 300 years ago for their unflinching stand for their Biblical evangelical faith. Just before this we had held an open-air meeting in the market-place of the town at which I had opportunity to give my testimony. The place where we stood with our gospel caravan and loudspeaker was very significant to me. It was just over against the spot where the "Covenanter," John Lisbet, was executed in 1688 (14th of April), a man who had pledged himself not to deny the Biblical "covenant" of faith and who had been willing to suffer the sentence of death. Here again the exact spot where the gallows stood is marked by special small paving-stones. Many of these heroic Scottish Covenanters signed with their own blood their "covenant" never to deny Christ or His word. And now we stood on exactly the same spot and proclaimed exactly the same message for the sake of which this man had laid down his life. Afterwards I went with a Scottish friend to an old, historic cemetery. The stars had already come out and quietly we stood at the gravesides of seven others of these witnesses of Christ. Special framed inscriptions show the site.
How small and feeble one feels, standing on such spots! A feeling of veneration and reverence comes over one for these heroes of God in whom the might of Christ was so powerful! Those were men and women for whom Christ meant more than their own life. And we ourselves are often so timid and do not give a clear testimony. How often we tend to make compromises!How easily we are afraid of being put at a disadvantage, or of not being promoted in life and profession, or of having to hear a sarcastic remark or getting a "superior" look, a shrug of the shoulders, or even only to be smiled or laughed at. But the Lord wants fighters, men who really sacrifice themselves for His interests, men who have counted the cost of true Christianity and who are prepared to pay it. In truth we are in the same position as the Hebrew Christians: we have not yet resisted unto blood. Blood has not yet been demanded from us. Therefore we must not overestimate the difficulties which we take upon ourselves for Christ's sake. On the other hand, come what may, we want to be ready for anything.
The real reason, however, for the signs of fatigue, noticeable amongst the Hebrew Christians, was not so much their externally difficult situation, but their internal reaction to it. Inwardly they had become weak. And therein lay the real root of the danger of their failure.
2. Inward weakness and signs of fatigue. Their prayer life had slackened, the numbers at their gatherings had decreased, and their spiritual energy had fallen off. They were to be compared to a pilgrim who had roused himself to leave the "City of Destruction" in order to go to the heavenly Jerusalem but who had become tired and weary on the way and could now only force himself forward with "feeble knees" (Heb.12:12).
Their actions and ambitions were no more those of the athlete in a race. They were in danger of giving up the battle altogether. No longer were they runners who were "pressing on." Old attractions of their former worship which had long since been eclipsed, and had lost their glory by Christ having risen as the Sun in their hearts, began to shine again. Their whole life of sanctification had become problematic, and with this also their attaining the radiant goal and their abundant entry into the high glories of their heavenly calling. So that it was necessary to exhort them: "Follow (lit., pursue) ... the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb.12:14). Run in the race (v. 1).
And what shall we do? It is not our task to rebuke these Hebrew Christians. Is it not a fact that the picture of their situation is far too often an exact description of our own inward state? What about our own zeal? How often do we go to hear God's word and to pray? Do we regularly take part in the prayer-meetings of our churches and assemblies, striving together by prayer in the battle of the Lord? If we do not, our knees are "paralysed." Does peace rule among us? Do we watch over our fellow-pilgrims to help them in love? Is it our earnest desire to be a blessing to others? If this is not the case we have ourselves grown weary. All quarrelling among believers is a sign of spiritual slackness. Instead of our making use of all our energies in the front line of battle, the enemy has succeeded in getting "agents" of his demoniac power behind our lines and these inspire divisions amongst us, so that valuable energy is spent in this battle dealing with the "partisans" behind the front lines.
How can all this be overcome?-this faint condition without victory can never be the normal state of a sound Christian!
Here only continual reformation can help-only an ever renewed and fresh vision of Christ, only keener devotion and increased practical surrender of our life to our Lord. "Let us look unto Jesus!"
II. QUICKENING POWERS
"Therefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble (lit., paralysed) knees."
The picture at the beginning of our chapter is perhaps still valid. One cannot "run" in the arena of faith, "pursue" and press on to the goal of sanctification-as in the very next verses we are called to do-if our knees are feeble and our hands hang down. For "wrestling matches" require strong hands, and "athletic races" demand knees which do not grow tired.
Thus a real and manly renewal of strength in the power of God is required. With verve, indeed even with rhythm, is this brought out in the poetical language of the verse in which this renewal is demanded. The author of this passage becomes quite poetical in his exhortation, clothing it in the original language in the form of a Greek hexameter. As with a clarion trumpet call he wakes up the sleepers and the lingerers:
And make straight paths for your feet,
Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way,
But let it rather be healed.
Looking unto Jesus gives us renewed freshness. The fatigue disappears. The paralysis is overcome. Those who have strayed from the way or who are wounded are "healed" (Heb.12:12,13). New courage and confidence fills our souls. We get the right standard to estimate our troubles. We do take them seriously; but we no longer overestimate them. Overestimation of difficulties is always a sign of fatigue. But looking unto Jesus brings strength. Only from His hand can we receive the true yard-stick. After all, the extent of our sufferings is not appointed and destined by the enemy but by the Lord. Golgotha proves that God loves us, and should not God, who did not spare His only begotten Son, give us with Him all things? (Rom.8:32). Thus we gain new courage, and looking away to the great Immanuel, the eternal "God with us," who suffered for us on the cross and won the victory, we receive new joy, and we experience the truth of the prophet's word: "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty" or, literally translated: "Jehovah, thy God, is in thy midst, a saving hero-warrior." "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart" (Psa. 97:11).
Looking unto Jesus gives us peacefulness and fellowship. All strife wears us out. Conflicts between the redeemed rob us of our verve. All self-seeking controversy about things of but illusory value consumes spiritual energy. This is the connexion between the necessity to overcome all signs of fatigue and the exhortation: "Follow (pursue) peace with all men" (Heb.12:14).
By the word "follow on, pursue eagerly" (Gk. diokete) the writer of Hebrews resumes the picture of the race from the beginning of the chapter. Paul uses this same word twice in Philippians 3, where he describes the Christian life as a holy race in such detail as he does in no other portion of his epistles: "I press on! ... I press on! (Gk. dioko ... dioko) toward the goal unto the prize" (vv. 12-14). Just as Paul in Philippians 3, had in view the final end, the heavenly prize, so the writer of Hebrews regards here the leading of a life of peace with all men as an immediate object necessary to reaching that final object. "The believer is to be as zealous in walking in peace as the racer is to secure the crown. In a world marked by greed and contention this is indeed a strenuous affair. It will not be obtained haphazard, but only by such as pursue it as an all-worthy, all-desirable object, and who make every sacrifice to secure it" (G. H. Lang).
Difficulties amongst believers can always be overcome. Looking unto the Reconciler makes us conciliatory. There is no time to quarrel but rather to love. "Let us look unto Jesus."
"Peace" is here classed together with sanctification. "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord." Striving after peace brings with it a right attitude towards our fellow-men, striving after holiness a right attitude towards God. Peace gives unity and fellowship here below; holiness arises out of fellowship with the Lord who is above. Both are indispensable. But neither peace nor sanctification are to be won without effort and diligence. Both are attained only by steadfast "running." Therefore: "Press on!"
"Peace," in the full meaning of the Biblical word, is more than mere absence of strife. Peace is harmony, inward working together, being tuned in to one another, heart fellowship, love.
The church was born out of eternal love. She owes her life to the act of love on Golgotha. She lives by love and is therefore also ordained to live in love. Love is one-mindedness, a desire for fellowship, the highest form of inward unity and heart-felt oneness. Where this love does not exist, all outward formal unity is mere self-deception and lifeless pretence.
We believe in the one holy, universal church. There is one foundation-the sacrifice of Golgotha; there is one power of God in her-the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is one object and goal-the rapture and the perfecting. There is one Lord and Master-Jesus Christ, our common Redeemer. Therefore we must also be of one mind in our attitude of love, and, regardless of all the differences amongst us, we must find the way of peace with each other. We must cultivate practical unity, offer one another the right hand of fellowship and receive one another as Christ received us.
Loving is, however, not simply "loving at a distance" by means of which one imagines oneself to be in fellowship with all the world, but at the same time forgetting to seek the brother who is one's neighbour. This notion of love is very nebulous. We must guard against thinking more of the absent ones than those who are present with us.
Love is not simply a "denominational affair." It is not enough to be enthusiastic for showing unity and fellowship between the various circles of believers, but at the same time not being able to have real fellowship with the individual child of God. Love is nothing sentimental or merely a matter of feeling. It is not something vague and indefinite, but something very real. Love is will, is practical action, is the purposeful energy of God, is the manifestation of God's world in the midst of the world here below.
Love seeks the brother. Love believes in the work of Christ in his soul, and we must humble ourselves deeply and, in repentance before God and men, confess that we have often been too slow in this seeking of our brother, and that, with all our faith in God, in this sense we have often been too unbelieving in our belief.
Love is able to bury old strife between brethren. Love can forget the dark past and make a new start. Love kills, in the power of the life of God, all fatal division. Love is the soul of all peace and fellowship amongst believers. Love brings together. Love unites the hearts and leads to fellowship in work at home and abroad, in our own assemblies and churches as well as on the mission-field. Love leads to combined effort in order to reach the great aims of God.
Every one of your fellow-men is to be compared to a mirror. He reflects what is confronting or shining upon him. Every unkindness on your part causes a shadow on his face, even if only for a second; but every act of love brings out brightness in the expression of his countenance, and this brightness will shine back into your own heart. "Through service to joy!"--this word of old "Father Bodelschwingh" may well be engraved in our own hearts, wills, and souls.
Love and service are forces which draw hearts nearer together. People who are cold always feel cold; people who are warmhearted create a warm atmosphere around them. In what sort of a relationship do you stand to your surroundings? Do you feel yourself being treated coldly or warmly by the others? Seek to a great extent in your own heart the reason for the answer to this question.
Our pursuit of peace and holiness enables us at the same time to serve others. Here again the relationships in the Biblical text are very dear and deep: "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification . . . looking diligently lest any man fall short of the grace of God " (Heb. 12:14,15). Only he who strives after holiness, and tries to live in harmony with his neighbours, has the authority and capacity to serve others. Only service which is done in this attitude of mind has any chance of being fruitful. And this leads to a further consideration.
Looking unto Jesus brings new commissions. Our eyes begin to see the needs and distresses round about us. We recognize our responsibility that we should be active in helping those around us in so far as they have become feeble, tired, and paralysed. We begin to see the necessity and possibility of mutual brotherly care and discipline. Looking to the greatest proof of love which ever has been given by love in the history of the whole universe, opens our eyes to the necessity, the privilege, and the many opportunities of ourselves giving practical proofs of watchful love and selfless service in mutual spiritual and bodily care for one another. Looking unto Jesus gives us a new outlook upon the world. It opens our eyes. "Look diligently!" "Lift up the hands which hang down and the feeble knees!"
In the context it is obvious that not so much the hands and knees of the readers themselves are meant, as if they are exhorted to make a fresh decision in order to get new freshness and life, but it speaks of the hands and knees of others. The readers are expected to be a help for the reviving of these others, "that that which is lame be not turned out of the way; but rather be healed ... Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong! Fear not! " This passage, taken from the prophets and here quoted in Hebrews, is the background of our exhortation (Isa.35:3,4).
There may be many in your neighbourhood who are spiritually lame and weary. Keep in mind that you ought to be the means in God's hands of their restoration and revival. Do not pass by their external and internal need. Your eyes ought to see their dangers. Looking unto Jesus sharpens our eyesight concerning the distresses of our brethren. "Look carefully lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person, as Esau" (Heb.12:15,16). "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24).
In this spirit of love let us become active Christians. We must awake from our sleep of pious self-centred idleness. It is not enough to affirm the commandment of God with mere feelings. Our Christian life must have muscles. Our strength must become evident in everyday life. God and the world want to see actions.
But work costs effort. He who shuns the heat of the day is no workman. The man who only sits on the spectator's seat will never become victor. During the race in the arena all our energy must be mobilized. Even in ordinary human life it is a true saying, "What is worth doing at all is worth doing well." Work that we do for others but that does not cost us anything, is scarcely worth doing. Thus Scripture says that we should give "all diligence" (II Pet. 1:10), that we should fight, do battle, pursue after, and press forward (cf. Phil 3:12), that we should put forth the "labour of love," that we should be "zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). Idlers are a ubiquitous people. There are many lazy spectators and passive critics, but "the labourers are few," says the Lord (Matt. 9:37). And what sort of a person are you, my reader? Are you a labourer or a spectator? Are you an active fighter or a mere onlooker?
Work requires self-denial. Many are quite willing to be active for Christ and His interests as long as it involves no self-sacrifice. This kind of service has in reality no true value: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it" (Matt.i6:25). Only those who sow with tears will reap with joy (Psa.126:5). We can easily do light work, work which does not cost us any effort, or pain, or sacrifice; but if this is our only work for Christ we need not be surprised if at the great harvest-home we shall appear with empty hands.
The aim, however, of this mutual spiritual love and care is not merely the recovery of the individual but the preservation and protection of the whole. This is the meaning of the words: "Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many (= the majority) be defiled." This does not mean that this mutual shepherding will hinder bitter feelings arising in the heart of the individual-although this, of course, can and should be attained where such spiritual mutual care is present--but the author means here apparently persons whom he calls "roots." He is referring in a free type of translation to a word of the Old Testament law, well-known to his Jewish readers (Deut.29:18).
In this passage Moses warns of the danger of there being "among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away from the Lord ... lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood." And it might even happen that a man who is such a "root" would feel very selfconfident and say in his heart, "I shall have peace" (Deut. 29:19), but God will not forgive and will not spare him: "The anger of Jehovah and His jealousy shall smoke against that man" (vs.19,20). The relationship between the text in Hebrews, speaking of the "root of bitterness," and that in Deuteronomy, speaking of the "root that beareth gall and wormwood" is obvious. Both passages speak of persons who, although living within the people of God, turn away from God and become a spiritual hindrance and a stumbling-block to their fellow-Christians. Thus it is a matter not so much of certain feelings in the soul-life of the individual but rather of the individual himself as a person and a member of a fellowship.
It is easily possible that a member of the people of God fails and "comes short of the grace of God" and exercises a harmful influence upon the others, so that he infects his surroundings like a "plant with bitter sap and bitter fruits." Thus a Christian who lives in an unspiritual state of heart, poisons God's vineyard, the church, like a root that bears gall and wormwood. Apparently the author has in mind the picture of a poisonous plant or rather of a plant infected with a ruinous disease, which, when it is mature, harms everything around it. Every failure of an individual is a twofold danger, not only to himself but also to others, because his sin might cause these others also to fall. A single member of the church can, if he is given over to sin and allowed to go on with it, exercise such a dreadful influence on the whole circle that the many individuals which make up this fellowship become defiled by sin. This should be prevented by mutual spiritual care. Thus shepherding the individual soul is at the same time a preservation and help for the whole community.
And in this you must see quite clearly that it is therefore possible for yourself to become such a "root of bitterness." Growing weary in spiritual life is an infectious illness. Through the bitter fruit which arises in your life, poison and weeds can be sown in the lives of others. Either you are a help to your environment or a hindrance. Either you lift up the others or you weigh them down, either you further sanctification or you are a seed of defilement. Some kind of influence always radiates from us, even if unconsciously. Either you are "salt of the earth" or you may become "pepper for the world," either useful or annoying, either a fruit-tree or a poisonous plant, either a channel of blessing or a means of harm.
On the other hand if you devote yourself to holy service for others, you may be sure that being a blessing to others brings blessing to yourself. If we work for the revival of others we are ourselves revived. You will overcome the signs of fatigue in yourself if you give yourself up wholly to the Lord to be commissioned by Him to overcome paralysis and feebleness in others. He who loves and nurses his Ego makes himself spiritually old. Selfishness makes weary. The service of love keeps us young.
Further, looking unto Jesus brings with it new spiritual initiative and power of resolution. Let us note the clear commands: "Lift up!... Make straight paths!... Pursue peace!" (Heb. 12:12-14). To own a Bible involves effort. Hearing God's Word imposes obligations. Perhaps many of us need new devotion. One does not overcome weariness by remaining weary. We must "awake" from our sleep (Eph. 5:14). We must respond to God's call. There must be a new turn towards a more definite attitude of faith and increased active faithfulness. In this deep spiritual sense of the word, we must personally return to "that which was from the beginning," that is Christ Himself (I John 1:1).
It is true that mere good intentions will not help us very far. How often we have become bankrupt! But the Scripture says dearly that "with purpose of heart" we should cleave to the Lord (Acts 11:23). Such Spirit-wrought purposes of heart are required. For devotion is not something which God does in our stead, but it has to be done on our part. Christ devoted Himself in order that we should follow His steps and in like manner devote ourselves to God. "I sanctify Myself that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19). It may be necessary that we get alone with God and ourselves, bow our knees in prayer, and re-dedicate in a practical sense our life and will to the Lord. This is not, of course, a "second conversion." For conversion in the sense of new birth is an act which takes place once and for all in our life and remains the basis for our whole later spiritual development. But it is a new Spirit-wrought declaration of our will to live in purer and deeper sanctification.
And is it not a fact that even after our new birth we have often be come lukewarm, superficial, and weary to such an extent that the great things of our great God, as the all overpowering and all over shadowing realities, no longer overwhelm us? Have we not also often experienced the fact that the mere acknowledgment of weaknesses and shortcomings did not themselves produce progress? Perhaps we have been too afraid of making "good resolutions" and have therefore not had the spiritual energy to come to a holy "purpose of heart" (Acts 11:23) and thus to make a new start by a definite act of personal devotion. Spiritual awakening and remaining fresh do not come automatically or by magic. No, you must yourself act-not of course in a dead, legal manner, but definitely, in faith. Start again to serve your Redeemer and Lord anew and faithfully. Deny yourself and bear witness to Him. Then continue ! You will yourself advance experimentally: one learns prayer by praying, witnessing by witnessing, serving by serving, helping by helping. And your life will become fresher. Your days will become useful, and your heart happy.
You yourself must, however, really desire this and give to it your whole will without any reservation (Rev. 22:17). The Bible says nowhere that the will of man must be "broken." Such expressions sound very devoted and humble and are, no doubt, meant sincerely by those who use them, but in reality no one is helped by such unscriptural terms-neither believers nor those who are willing to believe, and certainly not the opposers or despisers of the Christian faith. What Scripture shows is that it is not the "will" which has to be broken but rather the egocentric "self-will," not our personal energy, but rather man's rebellion against God. As to the will itself, the regulation principle is that it has to be brought into line with the will of God. Our will should certainly remain "will," but has only by the power of the Holy Spirit to will what God wills. And just in this "willing of the will of God" it will become a real and strong will, that is, a powerful energy of a true personality. As long as it remained "self-will" it was not really a will at all, but merely a plaything in the hands of the mighty power of sin which oppressed and forced it to do its will (Rom. 7: i9, 20). At the highest estimate, it was only a striving, a searching, a wishing, and a yearning-for sin degrades and enervates us. But in Christ we awaken to ourselves. In Him alone do we become "personalities" in the real God-planned sense of the word. Only by subjecting ourselves to the Lord of Lords, do we creatures receive a real "will."
Also in the life of the church as a whole all signs of fatigue must be overcome. It is a fact which almost regularly repeats itself in the history of the people of God that every new generation of the church is accompanied by a crisis. Very often the third generation especially of a spiritual movement has failed. It has so often given up spiritual energies and Biblical truths and convictions which by the pioneers of their movement, the fathers of earlier revivals, had been held to be precious and holy. One can recognize this in Old Testament history. "And the people served Jehovah all the days of Joshua [first generation], and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua [second generation] who had seen all the great work of Jehovah that He had wrought for Israel. . . . And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another [the third] generation after them which knew not Jehovah, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel ... and they forsook the Lord the God of their fathers . . . and followed other gods" (Judges 2:7,10,22). How very grave! Let us not lull ourselves to sleep in false security. No group of Christians, whether arising out of State church or Free church, whether organized or unorganized, has any guarantee of retaining the freshness and vigour which it had at its beginning. Every new generation in the local churches as well as in spiritual movements in general must "lay hold" (I Tim. 6:12) afresh for themselves, quite directly, personally and individually, of the blessings which had been received and held fast by their spiritual fathers. Spiritual possessions cannot be merely "inherited."
The letter to the Hebrews itself grew out of the crisis connected with the arising of a new generation. The letter is a warning and an appeal by the Spirit of God to that second generation to hold fast the confession in witness and life of the first generation.
A "crisis" need not of necessity be a "catastrophe." Trials are opportunities for victories. The ever-available power of the omnipresent Christ, which never grows old, is at hand for new times and new people.
This is at the same time the meaning of the well-known verse, " Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever" (Heb. 13:8). This word should be read in connexion with Heb. 11 and 12, and in relationship to its own context. It had just been said: "Remember them that had the rule over you, who spake unto you the word of God, and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith" (v. 7). Immediately after this text follows that radiant word dealing with the ever-living, mighty, Divine Lord of all times and all history.
This means: Men and women are called away. Generations sink into the grave. The leaders of past generations are no longer here. But Christ remaineth. In the midst of the coming and going of the generations He is the rock of His church. He is far above all changes in situations and persons. He is the One Who binds the generations together. He is the living link between "yesterday" and "today" in the history of His people, the connexion between each generation at any given time and all generations before and after. He is the Head who unites all the redeemed through the generations past, present, and future. So He is the living, personal uniting principle of the church. This is true from the view-point of the contemporary "horizontal" cross-sections of the church, that is, of each generation living simultaneously in all parts of the earth. It is also true from the view-point of the "vertical" longitudinal sections of the church's history, that is, throughout the successive centuries and generations forming the entire development of the church from the day of its founding to its completion, rapture, and perfecting at His coming. This means that in spite of all individual changes in detail, the spiritual essence of the life of the church remains in Christ unchanged throughout all generations. The death of the heroes of faith, those forerunners, leaders, and examples (Heb. 13:7,17,24), does not cause the slightest loss in the essence of the life and faith of the people of God. Even though the teachers go, the teaching remains the same. It is true, as I read on John Wesley's tomb in Westminster Abbey, that "God buries His labourers but His labour and work goes on." Therefore, do not grow weary l The Lord is ever present.
Years ago I visited in Stuttgart the widow of the well-known German Christian writer, Professor Bettex. In the study of this brave confessor of Christ I saw a picture which Professor Bettex had painted himself. It represented a rock in the midst of the wildest waves. The waves are represented as surging mightily against this rock. But they flow back broken and smashed.
Friedrich Bettex was an author who helped thousands of his readers by his numerous apologetic works, which were most reliable in their many scientific statements, Biblically sound, and deeply impressive and persuasive in their witness to Christ. By this picture he wished to show the main object of his own life: In the midst of time stands Christ, the Rock of Ages. The billows of doubt and the waves of hatred of God and Christ surge against Him, but it is the waves that are broken. He, the Rock, is unmoved.
Thus Christ gives His own the victory. One can throw His servants in this world into prison; one can banish them to scorching deserts or freezing steppes. They are "stoned, sawn asunder, tempted" (Heb. 11:37). But their experience will always be the same as that of the men in the fiery furnace: One is with them who comes down from heaven and who is able to keep them from hurt and harm, in any case inwardly, though He does not always do so outwardly (Dan. 3:20-27). "They looked unto Him and were lightened" (Psa. 34:5). "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Rom. 8:37).
This encourages us greatly. It should be also a holy stimulus and incentive. For if Christ our Saviour is such a firm rock, our hearts also should be strong and firm (Heb. 13:9). Christ will never forsake His people. Therefore His people must never forsake Him. The younger generation especially must take this to heart. Faithfulness for faithfulness! The "today" of the church is under obligation on account of its "yesterday," and both are under obligation because of the faithfulness of Christ, who was and is "the same yesterday, and today, yea and for ever."
This is the reason why the words about the bygone human leaders and the eternally living Saviour (Heb. 13:7,8) are immediately followed by the exhortation and encouragement: "For it is good that the heart be established by grace" (v. 9).
The homecall of faithful servants of God brings with it a holy obligation for all those who remain behind.
Our life is short. Our days fly by. Earthly things are not the real things. That which really matters lies somewhere else, not in time, but in eternity, not in that which passes by, but in that which remains, not in the past or the present, but in the future. Thus we must press forward with a serious turn of mind and yet inwardly comforted, not trusting in ourselves and yet full of courage, not looking at our own powerlessness but looking to Christ's victorious power. "Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we have obtained mercy, we faint not" (II Cor. 4:1).
When Abraham at the end of his life wanted to win a bride for his son Isaac, he sent the eldest of his servants to his relatives in Mesopotamia. Then, before leaving, this servant asked him: "Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land [Canaan]: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land whence thou camest?" (Gen. 24:5). Abraham answered--and in the Bible report one can feel and sense the energy of his will and the strength of his emotions and sentiments--"Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again! and if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only thou shalt not bring my son thither again!" (Gen. 24:6,8).
"Not thither again!" "Beware thou!" "Not thither again!" These three expressions show the intensity of the decision and the feelings of the Patriarch. The father of faith demands of the coming generations the practical recognition of the irrevocability of the patriarchal call. What the first generation has attained in faith must never be given up by the second or third generations. The children must show themselves worthy of the attitude and devotion of their spiritual fathers. The following generation should faithfully administer the inheritance of their forefathers in the faith.
We often deplore-and unfortunately often rightly so-that the people of God in our time show so little of being really alive and keen for Christ. We recognize that we are lacking the spirit of revival and that the last twenty years of the last century and the first ten years of the present century, generally speaking, saw more of the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. In those times many more people awoke out of their sleep of sin than today. There were leaders and shepherds in private and public Christian life in a measure unknown today. We think of the times of Finney, Moody, Torrey, Baedeker, George Muller, Spurgeon, and many others. But with all this recognition and regret perhaps we remain ourselves unchanged. Our yearning and desire may be honest, but is apparently not Spirit-filled enough. We wait, and probably also pray, for the Lord to send a revival. And in the last analysis it begins to appear as though God were the real cause of there being no wide spread revival, simply because He does not answer our prayers.
And yet the situation is really quite different!
Nowhere is it taught in the Bible that we should wait for a revival. Revivals must be! But the children of God have not to take up a waiting attitude towards them. Never does Holy Scripture place the emphasis on practical holiness and on witnessing in the future, either near or distant. It brings us a present Christ, a Saviour who desires to make our life fruitful and to fill us with power today and now. For if the revival were to come only after some years' time (God grant that it may come sooner) what should we be doing in the meantime? No, we dare not forget the "today." The past exists in our memory, the future in our expectancy; what we possess is the present. Mastering the ever-present moment means mastering life. And if you do not serve the Lord today there is no guarantee that you will serve Him tomorrow.
The King's business is urgent. What we can do today, let us not put off till tomorrow. If the Spirit incites us today to witness for the Lord in order to win a soul for Him, let us obey today. When tomorrow comes the enemy will certainly have found a thousand new reasons why we should not follow the voice of God. It belongs to true service to God that we should have a heart and mind clearly determined to do God's will today. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Eccles. 9:10). "Go, work today in the vineyard" (Matt. 21:28).
Then new blessings will come. When you yourself have been awakened, you will be able to wake up others, and so small circles of spiritually awakened Christians will arise, little cells from which the light can be spread further. You should belong to such. The Lord wants to use you, even though perhaps, in the sight of man, you may not have a conspicuous position, simply because God wishes you to do in obscurity a hidden and quiet service. In eternity you will be surprised that God could effect so much through your life only because it was really devoted to Christ, revived and remaining full of life till the goal was reached. That is God's will. Therefore it must be your will and decision also, and this just now and today.
We read in the life-story of Isaac: "And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: And he called their names after the names by which his father had called them" (Gen. 26:18).
This is spiritually our situation. Our fathers in the faith digged "wells" and named them with names. The well of the word of God, the well of prayer, the well of fellowship of the saints, the well of happy witnessing, the well of missionary service-all these were heavenly springs from which they drew water and which kept their personal life of faith fresh, as well as the life of their churches.
But the first generation has been called away and the "Philistines" have come-sin, worldliness, strife among brethren, lukewarmness, lack of interest in God's word and work, cowardice in witness, want of sacrifice and missionary spirit-and the "wells" of the fathers have been stopped. Withering of the life of faith, lack of prayer and unfruitfulness in witness, spiritual stagnation in church life, subjection under the bondage of human tradition, narrowness of horizon, are the consequences.
What shall we do?
We must dig again the wells of the fathers. We must learn to pray again as our fathers prayed. We must bear witness as they did. We must sacrifice for the spread of the word of God and for missionary service as they used to do. We must love the brethren as they loved and practised the fellowship of the saints. We must listen afresh to God's Word and open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit. Our place in church or chapel must not be empty. Our contribution towards church and missionwork must always be given with readiness of heart. Our prayers must be regular and sincere. Our mouth must not be silent. We must witness for Christ and be soul-winners just as the former generations of believers, who, in spite of failures and shortcomings which, of course, had been in their lives as in ours, had yet seen the mighty deeds of God.
"Isaac" must dig again "Abraham's" wells. Then new water of life will flow in our churches, and this promise of Scripture will be fulfilled in an ever deeper, richer degree:
"And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in dry places and make strong thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in" (Isa. 58:11,12).
Therefore once again: "Lift up the hands which hang down! Make straight paths! Press on!"
In the arena of faith:
"Let us look unto Jesus."
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