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God sanctions the use of oaths in concerns which are of great moment, and which cannot be settled in any other way. We are even assured that God himself has condescended to adopt this very method of confirming and establishing the minds of his people. From the Apostle's account of this astonishing transaction, we shall be led to consider,
I. The description here given us of God's people— They are described by,
1. Their state
[They once were, like others, children of wratha:" but they have been regenerated by God's Spirit, and adopted into his family. "Being thus his sons, they are also heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ"." The promises, temporal, spiritual, eternal, are their inheritance. Hence they are justly called, "the heirs of promise." To this happy state they have been brought in consequence of God's eternal counsels. But they have nevertheless attained to it in the use of means d.]
2. Their conduct
[Eternal life has been set before them in the Gospel; and Christ has been declared to be the only way in which that life can be found. This record they have believed: and, feeling their utter need of mercy, they have sought it in Christ. They have regarded him as the city of refuge, in which the man-slayer found protection from the avenger of blood; and have fled to him with holy earnestness as their only hopes. In this way they have "laid hold" of God's promised mercy; and have attained to that state in which they may assuredly expect it.]
That these are the most highly favoured of all people will appear, if we consider,
II. The regard which God manifests towards themHe wills that they should enjoy "strong consolation"
[He would not that they should be held in doubtful suspense, or be harassed by fluctuations of hope and fear. He wishes rather that they should enjoy the privileges of their high station. Though they have in themselves much cause
to fear, yet in HIM they have reason to exult and triumph. They should "know in whom they have believed, and that he is both able and willing to keep what they have committed to him "."]
In order to this he would have them persuaded of "the immutability of his counsel❞—
[Nothing more contributes to the comfort of God's people than a view of every thing as subjected to his unchanging will and irresistible controul. If only they learn to refer every thing to his overruling agency or righteous permission, all cause for disquietude will cease. Do the dispensations of his providence appear dark? the soul will be satisfied when it can say, This hath God done. If events seem to contradict the promises, the reflection that God's ways are unsearchable will silence every murmur, and dispose us to trust God, till he shall be pleased to unfold his purposes to our viewk
"Who shall separate me from the love of God?" is the triumphant challenge that will be given to all our enemies, as soon as ever we see God appointing every thing with immutable and unerring wisdom'.]
For this purpose God confirms his promise with an oath
[His promise could not be made more sure. But we are prone to unbelief. On this account he condescends to consult our weakness, and to swear by himself, that we may be the more firmly persuaded of his veracity. Even though God had not sworn, he never could have receded from his engagements, seeing "it is impossible for God to lie." But his oath is calculated to satisfy the most fearful mind; and must convince us, beyond a possibility of doubt, that he will never leave us nor forsake us m.]
1. How astonishing is the condescension of God!
[That God should voluntarily lay himself under any obligations at all to us, may well excite our astonishment. But that he should so far indulge those who doubt his veracity, as to confirm his promises with an oath, with a view to their more abundant consolation and encouragement, is a condescension of which we could have formed no idea. In this He has cast a reflection, as it were, upon his own character, in order that
* Heb. xi. 17-19. Abraham's faith as described in these verses will admirably illustrate the subject.
1 Rom. viii. 33.
m Heb. xiii. 5.
he might silence their unreasonable doubts. But he is God and not man, and therefore He could submit to such a degradation. O let all of us admire and adore him! And let us be careful that we "receive not this grace of God in vain"."]
2. How great is the sin of unbelief!
[Unbelief says, in fact, not only that "it is possible for God to lie," but that He is indeed "a liar." How would such an indignity be borne by us, especially if we had never given the slightest occasion for it, but had fulfilled every promise that we had ever made? No doubt then God must be displeased whenever we cast such a reflection upon him. And if now, after that he has confirmed his promise with an oath, we disbelieve him, the affront will be aggravated in a tenfold degree, and our guilt be proportionably increased. Let us know then, that "not one jot or tittle of his word can fail;" and rest assured, that, if we trust in him, we shall never be confounded P.] 3. How wide is the difference between God's people and the world at large!
[There may be but little visible difference between them: but they do differ very widely; nor is the difference the less real because it is invisible. The godly have fled for refuge to Christ as their only hope: they make the promises of God in Christ their boast, and their inheritance: and, while God regards them as his heirs, he fills them with a peace that passeth all understanding. But what hope have the careless and ungodly world? What consolation have they from the immutability of God? All their comfort is founded on the hope that God may lie Hence, instead of children and heirs of God, they are children of the wicked one, and inheritors of his portion. Let these awful truths sink deep into our minds. And let us not be of those who turn back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of their souls."]
Heb. vi. 19, 20. Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the vail; whither the Forerunner is for us entered.
THIS life, we know, is but a passage to a better world; a wilderness state, leading to the heavenly
Canaan. In it we meet with trials, which are necessary for the exercise of our faith and patience: but in the midst of trials, we are favoured with consolations and supports, perfectly adequate to our necessities, and sufficient for our wants. The lives of Abraham and the patriarchs are very instructive to us, in this view. They had promises in abundance; but did not actually possess the things promised. They were called to endure much, before their course was run; and "through faith and patience they inherited the promises." Thus are we also to "walk by faith, and not by sight;" and "patiently to endure" our destined trials, in the assured expectation of" obtaining in due season the promised blessings"." In the mean time, like mariners, we have " an anchor" provided for us, which shall hold us fast amidst the storms and tempests with which we are assailed, and secure our ultimate arrival at the desired haven. This is declared in the words which we have just read; and which will lead me to shew you,
I. What is "the anchor" here spoken of
The universal voice of commentators has, together with our English version, determined it to be "hope;" and from such an host it seems the greatest presumption to differ. Nor indeed would we be guilty of such presumption, if we could by any means acquiesce in the general sentiment. But the word "hope" is printed in italics, to shew that it is not in the original; and, consequently, the only question is, What is the word which should have been supplied from the foregoing context? or, What is the antecedent to which the relative in our text refers? I will, with the diffidence that becomes me, state my view of this question and leave every one to adopt, or reject, my alteration, as he shall see fit.
I will first, then, state my reasons why I think the word "hope" is not the word to be supplied.
The word "hope," in the preceding context, must unquestionably mean the object of hope; but in
the text it is put for the grace of hope: for it is something within ourselves which we have as" an anchor," and which is to be cast by us on something that is without. But to use the relative in a sense so essentially different from that in which its antecedent is used, is a construction that should never be admitted, without an absolute and indispensable necessity.
If it be said, that in the text it may be used for the object of hope, I answer, that it cannot with any propriety; for it can scarcely be made sense. Moreover, if taken in that sense, it will be the same as the Forerunner, who is said to have entered where that is.
The true antecedent, I conceive, and consequently the proper word to have been inserted, is, the word "consolation:" and this will appear from a minute consideration of the context. It is true, the word "hope" occurs in the last member of the preceding sentence, whilst the word "consolation" is more remote; but the member of the sentence immediately preceding the text is nothing but a periphrasis for "we," or a description of the persons spoken of; and if the word "WE" be taken without that particular description annexed to it, the connexion between the relative and antecedent will be perfectly clear: "God has confirmed his promise with an oath, that we might have strong consolation; which consolation we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast." The remarkable parallelism also between the words-a parallelism sufficiently observable in the translation, but still more marked in the original-renders this construction yet more obvious. God designed "that we should HAVE consolation; which consolation we HAVE:" he designed that we should have STRONG consolation; and strong it is, even an "anchor of the soul, both SURE and STEADFAST." Thus, to say the least, there is nothing forced in this construction; but, on the contrary, it is plain and simple, and such ἰσχυρὰν παράκλησιν ἔχωμεν, ἣν ὡς ἄγκυραν ἔχομεν ἀσφαλῆ τε καὶ βεβαίαν.