The Word of Exhortation
From Notes of Addresses
The Epistle to the Hebrews, taken as a whole, is evidently of the nature of an exhortation. This we judge from the closing words, “I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation; for I have written a letter unto you in a few words.” It is also seen in the fact that again and again we get sentences beginning, “Let us . . . ,” and that is pre-eminently an hortatory expression.
“Let us . . . !” This is one of the most powerful forms of exhortation because there is in it an encouragement to mutual purpose and action as between the exhorter and the exhorted. The successful officer in an army is not the one who stands aloof from his men, saying from a plane of superiority, “Go on!” but one who associated himself with the men that he would carry along with him. Crediting them with having the same desires as himself, he says, “Come on!” Not, “You go and do it,” but, “Let us go and do it.” There is no incentive in the former but there is a powerful one in the latter. Nothing encourages to activity like the example of one who will take the initiative and give a lead at a critical moment.
So in this epistle the writer constantly encourages to faithfulness and boldness and courage in just this way, and nowhere more strikingly than in verses 19 to 25 of chapter 10.
Another word which is like a key to the epistle is the word, having. It occurs several times in these particular verses. He had in view folk whose hands were hanging down and whose knees were feeble, and who were in danger of weariness and fainting fits. So he incited them to courage, not only by linking their weak faith to his own spiritual energy, and saying, “Let us hold fast,” but by reminding them of all that they possessed by the grace of God. It is good to observe the connection between “having” and “let us” in these verses.
Having is what may be called one of the present tenses of the spiritual life. We are apt to associate Christian life with had—something once possessed in the past, or with shall have—something to be possessed in the future; and so we may lose the blessing and power of having in present possession. Spiritual wealth, like every other form of riches, does not consist in mere possession, but in knowledge and use. Grace needs to be appropriated to be operative; hence closely connected with the “having” (appropriation) is the “let us” (operation). If we have it, then let us act on it.
In these verses we have the words, “Let us,” used in connection with the three Christian graces, faith, hope and love. But all is based upon our “having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, and our “having an High Priest over the house of God.” The one perfect offering perfects in perpetuity the sanctified, and the Holy Ghost is here to witness that all our sins, which had caused so great a distance, have been removed; and He who removed them has gone into the holiest, as a great Priest over God’s house.
As a result the first exhortation is, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Here we have our upward attitude. The blood of Jesus is our title. Where the blood has gone we may go. If the blood is on the mercy-seat and in the holiest of all, there we may approach, and that not as though it were a venture and there were a chance of our being refused, but with all boldness. Faith perceives the perfect value of the blood of Christ and gives us a full assurance.
And further, we have what we may call a moral fitness to be there, “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Now a man is what his heart is. We do not know a person until we know his heart, for “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” When God’s heart was made known, God was made known. Our hearts—we ourselves—have been cleared from an evil conscience by the sprinkled blood, and we have come under the washing of regeneration—we have been born again. We have a new nature given that we may enjoy the place of nearness, that it is ours to enter into.
So let us approach. It is not something which we do once for all, but something that is to be constantly done. The holiest of all is the very presence chamber of God. In the tabernacle it was that inner shrine that had practically but one bit of furniture, though it could be looked at in its three parts, ark, mercy-seat, and cherubim. There the ark was seen in its own setting and circumstances, and not as wrapped in its coverings and travelling with Israel through the wilderness. So when we draw near to the holiest Christ comes before us, not as coming down in His great grace into our circumstances, but as dwelling in His own circumstances. It is one thing to have the Lord with me in my every day pathway, and another for me to know Him in His own surroundings. We are to draw near and have that joy.
When we do thus draw near and take our place inside the veil, it is as those who are associated with Christ, as sons before the Father. We do not come as merely being saved sinners, but rather as those that He is not ashamed to call His brethren, as His friends to whom He makes known all His Father’s will and purpose. Nor do we come as suppliants, making known our need, but rather as worshippers with something to offer. In Hebrews 4:16, we read of our coming as tried saints in the wilderness journey—coming for what we can get, and getting it. There Christ is the High Priest sympathizing with us in our infirmities. Here He is the Priest over the house of God, the Minister of the Sanctuary, sustaining us in our praises and presenting our worship to God.
The second exhortation is, “Let us hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering” (N.Tr.). This we may speak of as the forward attitude of the Christian. What is the hope? In Acts 26:6-7; 28:20, we find Paul speaking of “the hope of Israel.” Their hope was the realization of all that had been promised by God to their fathers, in the way of earthly blessing. The hope before us is the expectation of entering into all the wealth of heavenly blessing to which we have been called in Christ. We are addressed in chapter 3 as “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” God has called us to His eternal glory, and our blessings are heavenly and spiritual. We hope for association with Christ in heavenly glory.
The confession of the hope is our heavenly calling boldly confessed and declared: not a mere passive profession but a decided and active confession. Some people speak under their breath when divine things are in question, and one would gather that they are half apologetic for being Christians at all. What is contemplated here is far from that, for we are to “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (3:6). We are not only to hold to the hope and be recognized as Christians but to be filled with the boldness and gladness which the hope gives.
The kind of thing which should mark us is illustrated in chapter 11. We are shown how some of those Old Testament worthies were governed, not by the things amongst which they walked day by day, but by the wonderful promises which God had made, to be realized outside their present surroundings. They saw them afar off; they were great realities to them; they embraced them—that is, they appropriated them by faith—and they confessed that they sought a heavenly country, which made them strangers and pilgrims on earth. Then comes a very remarkable statement concerning them—“God is not ashamed to be called their God.” We often say, “Our God,” but are we as bold in our confession of our heavenly calling as they were? What if our confession of the hope should be so feeble that God should be ashamed to be called OUR God?
In contrast with this we find the Apostle, at the end of Philippians 3, deploring those whose God was their own belly and who were minding earthly things. We may not have gone as far as they. We may not be utterly carried away by the world nor have done anything outwardly gross which would warrant our being excluded from Christian fellowship, yet we may become self-centred and earthly-minded and walking on so low a level that those who are not Christians at all may keep company with us and not be distinguishable. The Philistines filled Isaac’s wells with earth (Gen. 26:15). How often when we would approach God in the holiest do we find that our wells of praise are choked with earth!
This exhortation to hold fast the confession of the hope was never needed more than it is today. When the hope is realized at the coming of the Lord we shall find ourselves actually in heaven; in the meantime we may draw near in the holiest and even now get a foretaste of heaven; and we may give to God through the Lord Jesus a foretaste of what He shall have, when as we sometimes promise Him,
“Yet Saviour, Thou shalt have full praise,
We soon shall meet Thee on the cloud.”
The third exhortation is, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” This deals with the attitude of the Christian within. The Christian circle is to be the abode of love. It is not let us criticize one another! “Criticism is a great danger. A dear old servant of God used to say, “Directly the spirit of criticism gets into a company it is fatal to its prosperity and unity.” We are to consider one another, making allowance, not for sin, but rather for each other’s needs, taking circumstances and difficulties into consideration. And mark the words, “one another!” This does not merely mean that you must make allowances for me, but I for you, and you for me.
In this way we shall provoke to love and to good works. Again and again we hear people saying, “How provoking!” Yes, but what does it provoke—love or temper? There is a consideration of others that will incite them to love and good works, and the way is to go ahead and take the initiative in it when others will follow. The rendering of Romans 12:10, in the New Translation, is, “As to honour, each taking the lead in paying it to the other.” This it is easy to do, if we esteem others as more excellent than ourselves.
If this spirit prevailed amongst us we should find it a panacea for the sorrows that afflict the people of God. In that atmosphere rivalry could not breathe, and division would die. We may depend upon it, the big, tall, fleshly “I” is at the bottom of these troubles, whether in ourselves or in others. “I am not getting the attention I ought to get. I am not appreciated as much as I feel I ought to be. I have not the place I think I should have!” This is not the thought, nor the language, of one who is obedient to this verse.
Besides this mutual help and encouragement there is public identification with the people of God in their confession of the hope before the world. There are collective privileges and responsibilities as well as individual ones. So we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, “as the manner of some is;” or “as the custom is with some” (N.Tr.); or, “as some habitually do” (Weymouth); Have we not today to bow our heads with shame and confess it is habitual not only with some but with many.
How encouraging it is for us to meet with, and greet, each other. It is indeed good and pleasant “for brethren to dwell together in unity . . . for there the Lord commanded the blessing” (Ps. 133). Not one of us then is able to say, “I have no need of thee.” The result of this unity is divine blessing, and we may say the converse is true: no unity, no blessing!
There are seasons when we may assemble together for the purpose of exhorting and encouraging one another. It is spiritually natural for us to do so; for not only are we of the body of Christ and of the house of God, but we belong to the one flock with one Shepherd, and to the one family with one Father. As sheep we have the gregarious nature. There is one great bond that unites the family, and that is love. It is natural for members of one family to cleave together.
Then it adds, “So much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” As the day approaches we find the dangers and difficulties abounding and increasing, and therefore so much the more we ought to be together. Don’t we know the different feeling we have when we come away from a hall that has been well filled with saints bent on helping and encouraging one another, from that which we have when the saints are cold and the hall mainly empty?
Compare the company that is present on Sunday mornings with that which turns out on week nights or to a prayer meeting!
You may tell me that I don’t understand the practical difficulties, Well, if I don’t, the Lord does, and He bids us encourage one another by often getting together, and as the day approaches and difficulties increase, more and more often assembling. So let us do it.