“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10, 22-25).
You will find in these words four exhortations, four demands or points of exhortation which the writer wishes to impress upon the hearts and minds of the Lord’s people. I want to look at those four, and they shall be my headings.
By way of introduction, let me explain why this epistle to the Hebrews needed to be written. It is because there is always in man a desire to make a great deal of fuss about outward show in matters of religion. There is something in the fallen heart of man that loves outward ceremony. They’re not content with simply a clerical collar and a dark suit but they want to have special robes, embroidered robes, and then they want a chain with a cross round the neck. And they’re not content with plain meeting houses called Christian churches, they want crucifixes and a statue here and there, and then stained glass windows to portray the saints and the angels – and so it goes on, more and more and more. Then they start to burn incense and the plain worship of the gospel has been completely changed.
Something of this order, I think, lay in the minds of the people called the Hebrews, to whom this letter was written. There was a temptation to hanker after Old Testament forms of religion. After all, the gospel is simple and plain; it consists of spiritual worship. We don’t have priests with decorative clothes; we don’t have buildings with ornamental structures, as the temple was. We don’t have outward sacrifices; we have simply Christ above, who has done his work and continues to do it still. But there is something always in man that wants to increase the embroidery and the decoration and the ceremonial. You only have to go into certain Churches of England and Roman Catholic Churches and you see at once what the human heart longs for. They would think that what we are doing here today is very boring, very unimportant – ‘Where is your organ?’ and ‘Where is the grandeur?’
That was the trouble with these Hebrews I think. They wanted to get back to the old majesty and glory of the temple – sacrificial services, priesthood, ceremonies, festival days and so forth. The writer spends his time in this epistle showing that the glory of the gospel is that it is the finished work of Christ. He is the glory; He is the priest. It is His person that is the excellence of true worship. We don’t need these Old Testament things. They were simply child’s play until Christ would come. They were all right while the church was in its infancy, but now he has come, he has finished his work. We are not children any more, we are mature. We can come straight to the throne of grace without these adornments and these typological symbolical methods of approach to God which used to be there.
So the epistle, really, shows the superiority of Christianity over Judaism in every way – in every conceivable way – especially because Christ is who He is, the incarnate God, the great High Priest over the house of God who ever lives to make intercession for us. We can say goodbye to Old Testament forms and types and shadows. We have the substance, we have the Head; we have the reality. But having said all that, this tendency in human nature is ever present. You see it in the Middle Ages; it all came back again. The ceremonial was brought in with a vengeance. Every conceivable adornment was brought into churches before the Reformation. It took John Knox, Calvin, Luther and so on, to sweep them away again. But they’ve come in again! You see they came in with what we call the Tractarian Movement, or the Oxford Movement, of the early nineteenth century. Churches of England before that were plain and simple but then in came the ceremonial – and the same thing is happening today. Can you believe it? In America in the Presbyterian churches – and they are not the only places – there is a desire to get back to ceremonial and these superstitious things.
I think that what I say is not irrelevant to our own situation. Pure religion consists of holding to the gospel and to pure worship, to truth, to holiness of life. These are the real values that God esteems and enjoins upon us. I say these things so that we may set our compass, as it were, for our thinking this beginning of a new year. Let’s be on guard against the desire to depart from gospel worship, gospel ordinances, gospel truth and gospel love.
So that’s really the background to these four exhortations. The writer has given us the doctrine and now he comes to the application – four things, as I mention, beginning at verse 22. Let me give you the four and then say a little about each.
First he says: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (text – v.22). Now there’s the first point we’re going to look at in a moment – assurance of faith.
The second is in the following verse: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering” (text – v.23). That’s the second thing – holding to the truth.
Then the third thing is in the following verse: “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (text – v.24). That is to encourage one another in doing the work of the Lord.
And the fourth thing is in the following verse again: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (text – v.25). That is the importance of being regular, disciplined and consistent in our attendance upon the means of grace. Let those be our headings, and we shall take each one in that order.
1. ASSURANCE OF FAITH
“Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (text – v.22). My dear friends, worldly people talk about making good resolutions – there’s nothing wrong with that. The trouble is, of course, as worldly people say smilingly, they don’t last. People make their New Year’s resolutions and they maybe last for two weeks or if they are really determined they may last till the end of January, and then they peter out. Now what’s the trouble with good resolutions? The problem is not the resolutions but the weakness of human nature, the frailty and inconsistency of human nature. You see, we need the grace of God to make these resolutions and to adhere to them and to stick to them and to keep to them.
The first good resolution which I would impress upon everyone here, as upon myself too, is the importance of getting, having and keeping Assurance of Salvation. My dear friends, I am not speaking at all sharply or severely, I hope not unkindly, but you know it is our duty to get assurance of salvation. Maybe you’ve never heard it put that way before, but it is. It is our duty to do something. If we are deeply religious people and in our secret heart of hearts we love Christ, and if in our heart of hearts we trust in Him and pray to Him then, my dearly beloved, it is our duty to get full assurance of salvation – assurance. There’s no doubt that that’s what is being enjoined upon us and spoken about here. “Let us draw near,” he said, “with a true heart, in full assurance of faith” (text). If any one of us here does not have this, here’s your good resolution that I set before you most affectionately. This is the year for getting it. Get it with all your heart; get it with all your mind. Set yourself to get this full assurance. It is going to be of great value to you, and it will be of great value to your families, to your children and to the whole congregation of the people of God, because it is something that you may get and ought to get.
You mustn’t allow yourselves to get into that state of mind in which we are like a ship in the doldrums – maybe that’s a phrase no longer used, but in the old days of sailing ships they were dependent entirely upon wind and wave, and if the wind was not blowing then the ship wouldn’t move and it was said to be ‘in the doldrums’ and it had to wait, maybe for weeks, until a favourable wind blew again (or even an unfavourable one; but they couldn’t move at any rate when there was no wind). They were becalmed, as they said, and they had just to wait. Don’t be in that position! Cry to God to send the winds to blow your ship in the direction of assurance. We are not the victims of circumstance in the matter of assurance. It is no virtue to lack assurance as the people of God.
I’m not talking to those who are godless; they don’t deserve assurance; they mustn’t be given assurance until they’ve got Christ. Assurance is not for the wicked but for the believer. But having said all that, you and I have a duty to get assurance and – those of us that have it – to get more of it, to get such assurance as we shall be filled with assurance. Do I have assurance like Calvin and Luther and Knox and John Welsh of Ayr? I don’t! So we must all of us – I too, and you – press on to get this full assurance. Don’t drift along like a ship that hasn’t got any motivation or propulsion or any wind in the sails. Open the sails of your soul to these heavenly breezes, dear friends. Cry to God that he will move you from this static state into a condition in which you are filled with this assurance.
He gives us the clue to how to get it. You are quite right to ask me ‘How can I do this? What do I do?’ It’s all to do with the conscience. You must get your conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ; that’s the metaphor he uses. You see, as long as your conscience condemns you, you can never be assured – it’s impossible to be assured – you must bring your conscience under the power of the blood of Christ, and don’t let your conscience contradict the Word of God. The Word of God tells you that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” (1 John 1, 9) and that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ…” (Romans 8, 1). When your conscience contradicts that, speak against your conscience and silence it. Get a hammer and hit your conscience on the head with it! Give it a kick! Don’t let your conscience dictate to you. Your conscience is not a Saddam Hussein, to be a dictator to you. Your conscience must be subservient to the Word of God. Those who believe are forgiven – that’s the Word of God, over and over and over again. Collect the texts that refer to this and plead with God to authenticate these texts powerfully to your conscience until your soul is sweetly at rest.
You must know what John Wesley experienced one day in London, in 1738 I think. He said – and he lacked assurance at that point, he didn’t have assurance – but that day he was in a meeting, a small meeting like this, maybe smaller than this, and he said, “My heart was strangely warmed.” He got assurance there and then, and what a difference! He turned the world upside-down. He wasn’t perfect; his doctrine was imperfect, but what a man of God he was, notwithstanding that. What a preacher he was. Oh, there’s a good resolution.
2. HOLDING TO THE TRUTH
The second one is: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering” (text – v.23). What does that mean? Well, it means we must hold fast to the good old truths of the Word of God. You could put it another way: it means standing on the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. You know, it’s a terrible generation we’re living in. Even people professing to enter the ministry and the offices of the free churches and the other churches of this country today, there’s a tendency to be apologetic for the doctrines of the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith. You know this as soon as people open their mouths. You go to hear them preach and you hear them on the radio occasionally, and you wouldn’t think there was such a thing as a Bible or a Westminster Confession of Faith. Where are the truths of God’s Word? The God of heaven, in all His glory – where’s the reference to Him these days? The Christ who is God and man and fully able to save to the uttermost – where is He? The power of His blood, the cross, the death, the intercession – where’s the reference to these things? The sinfulness of sin, hell as well as heaven – you’d think there was a conspiracy of silence never to mention hell, as though it’s some sort of word forbidden to the language. The devil – where is he? Nobody ever hears of him these days. He’s vanished! We live in a sort of colourless, odourless atmosphere in which there is no doctrine.
Well, says the writer here, hold fast to the doctrine, the truth, the Word, the Catechism, the Confession, the good old ways. Get these old books out if we’re in danger of forgetting these things; read them again and study them up. Get the great old writers – Calvin’s Institutes, Charles Hodge, the Institutes of Thomas Chalmers, the Sermons of McCheyne – these standard writers – Thomas Boston. If we’re in danger of forgetting these things, get the books out and study them – get together and read them together.
Do you know that in America and in this country today, even amongst evangelicals, there’s a drift away from the doctrine of Justification by Faith. Can you believe it possible? If there was time I would explain how the drift has come about but I can assure you that evangelicals and Calvinists – well, professing Calvinists – they’re drifting away from the doctrine of Justification. Hold fast, hold fast, to the old T.U.L.I.P. – Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and P for Perseverance – the old T.U.L.I.P. is where we need to put our anchor if we’re going to stay in the right path, in the Christian way. These metaphors coming from nautical subjects have somehow entered my mind today – I can’t explain why but there they are – but they’re appropriate – the anchor of truth. Hold fast, otherwise you and I will be drifting, drifting with the spirit of the age. People don’t like the word ‘Calvinistic’ any more. They don’t like the word ‘Reformed’ any more. People are afraid of standing out. Lack of faith! Lack of courage! Lack of truth! Lack of the knowledge of God! Faintheartedness is the sin of our age. So there’s the second thing: holding fast in the storm.
3. ENCOURAGING ONE ANOTHER
The third thing is: “Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works” (text – v.24). The word ‘provoke’ can of course have a good sense or a bad sense. I can put it in words that I once heard a certain professor in our Free Church College, years ago when I was a student, say. He said, “Some people bring out the best in you and some people bring out the worst in you.” Now this is what’s meant by a provoking. It’s perfectly true. You would all nod and agree with that, wouldn’t you? There are some people, and when you meet them they bring out the very worst in you; they make you irritable, bad tempered, they make you impatient, you want to stamp your foot. You can’t say why they do it; it’s just something in them. Their manner is so awkward. They’re so difficult. Now, he says, “Provoke one another to love and to good works.” How do we do that?
We must do it by loving one another genuinely. “Let love be without dissimulation” (Romans 12, 9). May we truly love one another and all the people of God, even those that may have gone in a different direction to ourselves. If they’re the people of God let us love them. That is our duty – even to those that speak evil of us – to love them as far as we possibly can and to show them all kindness and to be at peace with them as far as we possibly can. And to stir one another up by good example – amazing, the power of example, isn’t it? – especially amongst young people. If young people see an example of something they think is attractive they’ll go for it. It’s amazing, the funny clothes that they’ll wear, isn’t it? Why do they put on these weird clothes, as we would think? Well, it’s because other people have done it. They’ve been provoked to do it. Why do they have these astonishing hair styles which are sometimes most weird? Why do they do it? The answer is: they’re watching one another; they don’t want to be out of step with all the rest. They are being provoked to do these things by the example and practice of others. Well, says the writer: Provoke one another to this, “to love and to good works” – excel in doing good and setting the example to one another of doing and being good.
4. THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR ATTENDANCE UPON THE MEANS OF GRACE
Then there is the fourth thing: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is” (text – v.25). This is a dangerous subject for any preacher because what I have to say from this text is – don’t neglect the services of the house of God, and remember the prayer meetings also. As soon as I say that, people will go home and say, “Ah, the minister was saying something as a side slap to me.” No, no, I’m not – this is not a side slap to anyone. I’m very imperfect myself. We’re all very imperfect. We have to take account of the fact that health enters into it, our circumstances enter into it. There are situations in which we have to care for others, and that prevents us of course. We have duties to do in this world, especially those in the medical profession – nurses and doctors – they can’t be at every service. Life today is very different from what it was in the days of our grandparents when people lived in villages and we only had to walk one hundred yards to the church. Today we’re all far flung and we have all sorts of duties, night and day. Some people have night duties. Some people have to travel far from home in the course of a week. We must understand that.
How then do we apply these words today? Well the answer is this: let us as far as possible be at the services of God’s house. Let us as far as is possible try and organise our affairs in this life that we can get, normally, in usual circumstances, to the meetings where God’s people are. Why should we do that? – because we need it more than we know, and because it is our duty to God not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Church services are what he means. You don’t need me to tell you that the practice has almost completely broken down in this country. If you go back to the 1930s, attendance in Scottish society would have been maybe of the order of 60% of people going to church. Go back to the First World War, it would be even higher. All over Scotland people would be going to church on the Lord’s Day, apart from a small number – and they were a minority. But how many go to church today in this town or city? – a small fraction! Go further south to the cities of the south and it’s even worse. Go to London and it is worse still.
That’s what’s happened. This is “the manner of some” (text – v.25) says the writer. The manner of some is that they’ve given up going to the house of God. They’ve given up going to services and listening to preaching, and worshipping God. Well, you understand I say these things with a spirit of utter love and desiring in no sense to put my elbow into somebody’s ribs and to say something which is too personal. This is not a personal thing to anyone. It is the Word of God to me and to us all, “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another” (text – v.25) – that is, we are to encourage one another to do these things. There is a blessing in these things. This is the way to heaven. The way to hell is by neglecting them and by turning away from them. It’s for our highest good that we should be frequent, regular, well ordered in our lives. That’s what comes down, you see, to the way the Bible exhorts us to live. It is so that we might have a well ordered life, a pattern of life which respects all the things that God has given to us.
We are to do this, he says – and with this I close – we are to do this, he says at the end: “So much the more as ye see the day approaching” (text – v.25). What does it mean by “the day approaching”? Well of course he’s talking about the Day of Judgment, the day when you and I will stand before God.
In the last week or so, thousands of people have very suddenly been swept out of this world into eternity [referring to the recent Tsunami disaster] and they have had to appear before God, multitudes of them without any preparation, and I’m sure the most guilty of them all were those English people who go to these warm countries just to enjoy themselves with drinking and things that I couldn’t mention. They went there for pleasure. They went there to have a good time and suddenly their souls were called into the presence of God. They had no thought of the day approaching. These poor wretches are now who knows where. The Day of God will reveal it. But as you see the Day of God coming nearer, says the writer, be more careful not less. Be more urgent in disciplining your lives than you were before, because the day is approaching.
My friends, time is running out. Two thousand and five years or so since the birth of Christ – perhaps a little more but we won’t bother with the fine print – but certainly two thousand and five according to the regular reckoning of things. And it’s not going to go on for ever. God’s Word tells us that the Day of Judgment is coming very fast upon the whole world. Therefore, my dearly beloved, he says, do these things. And what are these four things? Well, here they are:
First of all, to seek assurance – what a strength it will be to everyone if everyone here who has faith has assurance of faith – what a strength that will be to the congregation, and to you, and to the children, and to everybody.
And the second thing we are to do is, we’re to hold fast to the truth of the gospel. Let nothing make you budge. Oh, we’re living in an age when everything is changing – the way people dress, the way people appear in the house of God, the way they conduct services of worship, the way they preach – everything is going down hill, isn’t it? Just about everywhere. There are a few honourable congregations here and there – not simply of our own connection, I don’t mean for a moment, but of other connections – but we honour them, those that hold fast to the standards of the truth. We honour them whoever they are and they are to be honoured. Let us see that we also keep a standard up. Hold fast to the good old ways. Let’s not slip and slide and slither, which is the common practice today.
The third thing: we are to encourage one another in love and good works and to be bright examples to one another in how it should be done in the service of God. And then, finally, we are to respect the services of worship and the meetings which are held – not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is. And all of these things, he says, we are to do, not less as the time goes by but more as the time goes by, because the Day of Judgment is approaching. Time is hurrying on and you and I must appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ.
Well, my dear friends. Suffer the word of exhortation. Let this be the way we set our compass in the coming days, and may God Almighty answer all your prayers and give you the desires of your heart, and may this year now begun be a year in which everyone here will be greatly blessed – you and your families, your children, your loved ones, this congregation and all our brethren and all true churches – the Free Churches of Scotland, the Free Presbyterian Churches and all the other churches that are seeking to hold fast to these things. May God bless them and help them in this year now begun, to the glory of God. Amen.