In the all-important argument which occupies this epistle, Paul assumes, what the believing Hebrews had already profest, that Jesus of Nazareth is the true Messiah. To prepare them for the consequences of their own principle–a principle involving nothing less than the abolition of their law, the subversion of their state, the ruin of their city, the final extinction of their carnal hopes–he leads them to the doctrine of their Redeemer’s person, in order to explain the nature of his offices, to evince the value of his spiritual salvation, and to show, in both, the accomplishment of their economy which was now “ready to vanish away.” Under no apprehension of betraying the unwary into idolatrous homage by giving to the Lord Jesus greater glory than is due unto His name, the apostle sets out with ascribing to Him excellence and attributes which belong to no creature. Creatures of most elevated rank are introduced; but it is to display, by contrast, the preeminence of Him who is “the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person.” Angels are great in might and in dignity; but “unto them hath he not put in subjection the world to come. Unto which of them said he, at any time, Thou art my son?” To which of them, “Sit thou at my right hand.” He saith they are spirits, “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. But unto the Son,” in a style which annihilates competition and comparison–“unto the Son, he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.”
Brethren, if the majesty of Jesus is the subject which the Holy Ghost selected for the encouragement and consolation of His people, when He was shaking the earth and the heavens, and diffusing His gospel among the nations, can it be otherwise than suitable and precious to us on this occasion? Shall it not expand our views, and warm our hearts, and nerve our arm in our efforts to exalt His fame? Let me implore, then, the aid of your prayers, but far more importunately the aids of His own Spirit, while I speak of the things which concern the King: those great things contained in the text–His personal glory–His sovereign rule.
His personal glory shines forth in the name by which He is revealed; a name above every name: “Thy throne, O God.” …
Messiah’s throne is not one of those airy fabrics which are reared by vanity and overthrown by time: it is fixt of old; it is staple, and can not be shaken, for it is the throne of God. He who sitteth on it is the Omnipotent. Universal being is in His hand. Revolution, force, fear, as applied to His kingdom, are words without meaning. Rise up in rebellion, if thou hast courage. Associate with thee the whole mass of infernal power. Begin with the ruin of whatever is fair and good in this little globe. Pass hence to pluck the sun out of his place, and roll the volume of desolation through the starry world. What hast thou done unto Him? It is the puny menace of a worm against Him whose frown is perdition. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.”
With the stability which Messiah’s Godhead communicates to His throne, let us connect the stability resulting from His Father’s covenant.
His throne is founded not merely in strength, but in right. God hath laid the government upon the shoulder of His holy child Jesus, and set Him upon Mount Zion as His King forever. He has promised and sworn to build up His throne to all generations; to make it endure as the days of heaven; to beat down His foes before His face, and plague them that hate Him. “But my faithfulness,” adds He, “and my mercy shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. Hath he said it, and will he not do it? Hath he spoken it, and shall it not come to pass?” Whatever disappointments rebuke the visionary projects of men, or the more crafty schemes of Satan, “the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” The blood of sprinkling, which sealed all the promises made to Messiah, and binds down His Father’s faithfulness to their accomplishment, witnesses continually in the heavenly sanctuary. “He must,” therefore, “reign till he have put all his enemies under his feet.” And altho the dispensation of His authority shall, upon this event, be changed, and He shall deliver it up, in its present form, to the Father, He shall still remain, in His substantial glory, a priest upon His throne, to be the eternal bond of our union, and the eternal medium of our fellowship with the living God.
Seeing that the throne of our King is as immovable as it is exalted, let us with joy draw water out of that well of salvation which is opened to us in the administration of His kingdom. Here we must consider its general characters, and the means by which it operates.
The general characters which I shall illustrate are the following:
1. Mystery. He is the unsearchable God, and His government must be like Himself. Facts concerning both He has graciously revealed. These we must admit upon the credit of His own testimony; with these we must satisfy our wishes and limit our inquiry. To intrude into those things which he hath not seen because God has not disclosed them, whether they relate to His arrangements for this world or the next, is the arrogance of one vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. There are secrets in our Lord’s procedure which He will not explain to us in this life, and which may not perhaps be explained in the life to come. We can not tell how He makes evil the minister of good; how He combines physical and moral agencies of different kind and order, in the production of blessings. We can not so much as conjecture what bearings the system of redemption, in every part of its process, may have upon the relations of providence in the occurrences of this moment, or of the last. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us: it is high, we can not attain it. Our Sovereign’s way is in the sea, and His path in the deep waters; and His footsteps are not known. When, therefore, we are surrounded with difficulty, when we can not unriddle His conduct in particular dispensations, we must remember that He is God–that we are to “walk by faith”; and to trust Him as implicitly when we are in the valley of the shadow of death, as when His candle shines upon our heads. We must remember that it is not for us to be admitted into the cabinet of the King of kings; that creatures constituted as we are could not sustain the view of His unveiled agency; that it would confound, and scatter, and annihilate our little intellects. As often, then, as He retires from our observation, blending goodness with majesty, let us lay our hands upon our mouths and worship. This stateliness of our King can afford us no just ground of uneasiness. On the contrary, it contributes to our tranquillity.
2. For we know that if His administration is mysterious, it is also wise. “Great is our Lord, and of great power; his understanding is infinite.” That infinite understanding watches over, and arranges, and directs all the affairs of His Church and of the world. We are perplexed at every step, embarrassed by opposition, lost in confusion, fretted by disappointment, and ready to conclude, in our haste, that all things are against our own good and our Master’s honor. But “this is our infirmity”; it is the dictate of impatience and indiscretion. We forget the “years of the right hand of the Most High.” We are slow of heart in learning a lesson which shall soothe our spirits at the expense of our pride. We turn away from the consolation to be derived from believing that tho we know not the connections and results of holy providence, our Lord Jesus knows them perfectly. With Him there is no irregularity, no chance, no conjecture. Disposed before His eye in the most luminous and exquisite order, the whole series of events occupy the very place and crisis where they are most effectually to subserve the purposes of His love. Not a moment of time is wasted, nor a fragment of action misapplied. What He does, we do not indeed know at present, but, as far as we shall be permitted to know hereafter, we shall see that his most inscrutable procedure was guided by consummate wisdom; that our choice was often as foolish as our petulance was provoking; that the success of our own wishes would have been our most painful chastisement, would have diminished our happiness, and detracted from His praise. Let us study, therefore, brethren, to subject our ignorance to His knowledge; instead of prescribing, to obey; instead of questioning, to believe: to perform our part without that despondency which betrays a fear that our Lord may neglect His, and tacitly accuses Him of a less concern than we feel for the glory of His own name. Let us not shrink from this duty as imposing too rigorous a condition upon our obedience.
3. A third character of Messiah’s administration is righteousness. “The scepter of his kingdom is a right scepter.” If “clouds and darkness are around about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” In the times of old, His redeemed “wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; but, nevertheless, he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.” He loves His Church and the members of it too tenderly to lay upon them any burdens, or expose them to any trials, which are not indispensable to their good. It is right for them to go through fire and through water, that He may bring them out into a healthy place–right to endure chastening, that they may be partakers of His holiness–right to have the sentence of death in themselves, that they may trust in the living God, and that His strength may be perfect in their weakness. It is right that He should endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; that He should permit iniquity to abound, the love of many to wax cold, and the dangers of His Church to accumulate, till the interposition of His arm be necessary and decisive. In the day of final retribution, not one mouth shall be opened to complain of injustice. It will be seen that the Judge of all the earth has done right; that the works of His hands have been verity and judgment, and done, every one of them, in truth and uprightness. Let us then think not only respectfully but reverently of His dispensations, repress the voice of murmur, and rebuke the spirit of discontent; wait, in faith and patience, till He become His own interpreter, when “the heavens shall declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory.”
You will anticipate me in enumerating the means which Messiah employs in the administration of His kingdom:
1. The gospel, of which Himself, as an all-sufficient and condescending Savior, is the great and affecting theme. Derided by the world, it is, nevertheless, effectual to the salvation of them who believe. “We preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” The doctrine of the cross connected with evangelical ordinances–the ministry of reconciliation; the holy Sabbath; the sacraments of His covenant: briefly, the whole system of instituted worship–is the rod of the Redeemer’s strength, by which He subdues sinners to Himself, rules even in the midst of His enemies, exercises His glorious authority in His Church, and exhibits a visible proof to men and angels that He is King in Zion.
2. The efficient means to which the gospel owes its success, and the name of Jesus its praise, is the agency of the Holy Ghost.
Christianity is the ministration of the spirit. All real and sanctifying knowledge of the truth and love of God is from His inspiration. It was the last and best promise which the Savior made to His afflicted disciples at the moment of parting, “I will send the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth; he shall glorify me, for he shall take of mine and shall show it unto you.” It is He who convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment: who infuses resistless vigor into means otherwise weak and useless. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, God the Spirit, to the pulling down of strongholds. Without His benediction, the ministry of an archangel would never convert one sinner from the error of his way. But when He descends with His life-giving influence from God out of heaven, then “foolish things of the world confound the wise; and weak things of the world confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, yea, and things which are not, bring to naught things which are.” It is this ministration of the Spirit which renders the preaching of the gospel to men dead in trespasses and sins a reasonable service. When I am set down in the valley of vision, and view the bones, very many and very dry, and am desired to try the effects of my own ability in recalling them to life, I will fold my hands and stand mute in astonishment and despair. But when the Lord God commands me to speak in His name, my closed lips shall be opened; when He calls upon the breath from the four winds to breathe upon the slain that they may live, I will prophesy without fear, “Oh, ye dry bones, hear the words of the Lord”; and, obedient to His voice, they shall come together, bone to His bone–shall be covered with sinews and flesh–shall receive new life, and stand up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. In this manner, from the graves of nature, and the dry bones of natural men, does the Holy Spirit recruit the “armies of the living God,” and make them, collectively and individually, a name, and a praise, and a glory to the Captain of their salvation.
3. Among the instruments which the Lord Jesus employs in the administration of His government, are the resources of the physical and moral world.
Supreme in heaven and in earth, “upholding all things by the word of his power,” the universe is His magazine of means. Nothing which acts or exists, is exempted from promoting in its own place the purposes of His kingdom. Beings rational and irrational, animate and inanimate; the heavens above, and the earth below; the obedience of sanctified, and the disobedience of unsanctified men; all holy spirits; all damned spirits; in one word, every agency, every element, every atom, are but the ministers of His will, and concur in the execution of His designs. And this He will demonstrate to the confusion of His enemies, and the joy of His people, in that great and terrible day when He shall sit upon the throne of His glory, and dispense ultimate judgment to the quick and the dead.
Upon these hills of holiness the stability of Messiah’s throne, and the perfect administration of His kingdom, let us take our station, and survey the prospects which rise up before the Church of God.
When I look upon the magnificent scene, I can not repress the salutation, “Hail, thou that art highly favored!” She has the prospect of preservation, of increase and of triumph.
The long existence of the Christian Church would be pronounced, upon common principles of reasoning, impossible. She finds in every man a natural and inveterate enemy. To encounter and overcome the unanimous hostility of the world, she boasts no political stratagem, no disciplined legions, no outward coercion of any kind. Yet her expectation is, that she shall live forever. To mock this hope and blot out her memorial from under heaven, the most furious efforts of fanaticism, the most ingenious arts of statesmen, the concentrated strength of empires, have been frequently and perseveringly applied. The blood of her sons and her daughters has streamed like water; the smoke of the scaffold and the stake, where they won the crown of martyrdom in the cause of Jesus, has ascended in thick volumes to the skies. The tribes of persecutors have sported over her woes and erected monuments, as they imagined, of her perpetual ruin. But where are her tyrants, and where their empires? The tyrants have long since gone to their own place; their names have descended upon the roll of infamy; their empires have passed, like shadows over the rock–they have successively disappeared, and left not a trace behind.
But what became of the Church? She rose from her ashes fresh in beauty and in might. Celestial glory beamed around her; she dashed down the monumental marble of her foes, and they who hated her fled before her. She has celebrated the funeral of kings and kingdoms that plotted her destruction; and, with the inscriptions of their pride, has transmitted to posterity the record of their shame. How shall this phenomenon be explained? We are, at the present moment, witnesses of the fact; but who can unfold the mystery? This blest book, the book of truth and life, has made our wonder to cease. The Lord her God in the midst of her is mighty. His presence is a fountain of health, and his protection a wall of fire. He has betrothed her, in eternal covenant, to Himself. Her living head, in whom she lives, is above, and His quickening Spirit shall never depart from her. Armed with divine virtue, His gospel, secret, silent, unobserved, enters the hearts of men and sets up an everlasting kingdom. It eludes all the vigilance, and baffles all the power of the adversary. Bars and bolts, and dungeons are no obstacle to its approach. Bonds, and tortures, and death can not extinguish its influence. Let no man’s heart tremble, then, because of fear. Let no man despair, in these days of rebuke and blasphemy, of the Christian cause. The ark is launched, indeed, upon the floods; the tempest sweeps along the deep; the billows break over her on every side. But Jehovah-Jesus has promised to conduct her in safety to the haven of peace. She can not be lost unless the Pilot perish. Why, then, do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Hear, O Zion, the word of thy God, and rejoice for the consolation. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”
Mere preservation, however, tho a most comfortable, is not the only hope of the Church; she has the prospect of increase.
Increase–from an effectual blessing upon the means of grace in places where they are already enjoyed; the Lord saith, “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offering; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the watercourses.”
Increase–from the diffusion of evangelical truth through pagan lands. “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see and flow together, and thy heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.”
Increase–from the recovery of the rejected Jews to the faith and privileges of God’s dear children. Blindness in part has happened unto Israel; they have been cut off, for their unbelief, from the olive-tree. Age has followed age, and they remain to this hour spread over the face of the earth, a fearful and affecting testimony to the truth of God’s word. They are without their sanctuary, without their Messiah, without the hope of their believing ancestors. But it shall not be always thus. They are still “beloved for the father’s sake.” When the “fulness of the Gentiles shall come in,” they too shall be gathered. They shall discover, in our Jesus, the marks of the promised Messiah; and with from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God; it must make you meet for the inheritance of the saints, or it shall fearfully aggravate your condemnation at last. You pray, “Thy kingdom come.” But is the “kingdom of God within you?” Is the Lord Jesus “in you the hope of glory?” Be not deceived. The name of Christian will not save you. Better had it been for you not to have known the way of righteousness; better to have been the most idolatrous pagan; better, infinitely better, not to have been born, than to die strangers to the pardon of the Redeemer’s blood and the sanctifying virtue of His Spirit. From His throne on high He calls–calls to you, “Look unto me, and be ye saved; for I am God, and there is none else. Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
On the other hand, such as have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them, are commanded to be joyful in their King. He reigns, O believer, for thee. The stability of His throne is thy safety. The administration of His government is for thy good; and the precious pledge is, that He “will perfect that which concerneth thee.” In all thy troubles, and in all thy joy, commit thy way unto Him. He will guard the sacred deposit. Fear not that thou shalt lack any good thing. Fear not that thou shalt be forsaken. Fear not that thou shalt fall beneath the arm of the oppressor. “He went through the fires of the pit to save thee.” Sing, then, thou beloved, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.”
And if we have “tasted that he is gracious”; if we look back with horror and transport upon the wretchedness and the wrath which we have escaped, with what anxiety shall we not hasten to the aid of our fellow men, who are sitting in “the region and shadow of death.” What zeal will be too ardent, what labor too persevering, what sacrifice too costly, if, by any means, we may tell them of Jesus, and the resurrection, and the life eternal? Who shall be daunted by difficulties, or deterred by discouragement? If but one pagan shall be brought, savingly, by your instrumentality, to the knowledge of God and the kingdom of heaven, will you not have an ample recompense? Is there here a man who would give up all for lost because some favorite hope has been disappointed, or who regrets the wordly substance which he has expended on so divine an enterprise? Shame on thy coward spirit and thine avaricious heart! Do the holy Scriptures, does the experience of ages, does the nature of things justify the expectation that we shall carry war into the central regions of delusion and crime, without opposition, without trial? Show me a plan which encounters not fierce resistance from the prince of darkness and his allies in the human heart, and I will show you a plan which never came from the inspiration of God. If missionary effort suffer occasional embarrassment; if impressions on the heathen be less speedy, and powerful, and extensive than fond wishes have anticipated; if particular parts of the great system of operation be, at times, disconcerted; if any of the ministers of grace fall a sacrifice to the violence of those whom they go to bless in the name of the Lord–these are events which ought to exercise our faith and patience, to wean us from self-sufficiency, to teach where our strength lies, and where our dependence must be fixt; but not to enfeeble hope nor relax diligence. Let us not “despise the day of small things.” Let us not overlook, as an important matter, the very existence of that missionary spirit which has already awakened Christians in different countries from their long and dishonorable slumbers, and bids fair to produce, in due season, a general movement of the Church upon earth. Let us not, for one instant, harbor the ungracious thought that the prayers, and tears, and wrestlings of those who make mention of the Lord, form no link in that vast chain of events by which He “will establish, and will make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” That dispensation which is most repulsive to flesh and blood, the violent death of faithful missionaries, should animate Christians with new resolution. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” The cry of martyred blood ascends the heavens: it enters into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. It will give Him no rest till He rain down righteousness upon the land where it has been shed, and which it has sealed as a future conquest for Him who “in his majesty rides prosperously because of truth, and meekness and righteousness.”
For the world, indeed, and perhaps for the Church, many calamities and trials are in store, before the glory of the Lord shall be so revealed that all flesh shall see it together. “I will shake all nations,” is the divine declaration–“I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” The vials of wrath which are now running, and others which remain to be poured out, must be exhausted. The “supper of the great God” must be prepared, and his “strange work” have its course. Yet the missionary cause must ultimately succeed. It is the cause of God and shall prevail. The days, O brethren, roll rapidly on, when the shout of the isles shall swell the thunder of the continent; when the Thames and the Danube, when the Tiber and the Rhine, shall call upon Euphrates, the Ganges, and the Nile; and the loud concert shall be joined by the Hudson, the Mississippi, and the Amazon, singing with one heart and one voice, “Alleluia, salvation! The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”
Comfort one another with this faith and with these words.
Now, “Blest be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doth wondrous things. And blest be his glorious name forever: Let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen.”
John Mitchell Mason, the eminent divine of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, was born in New York City in 1770. He completed his studies and took his degree at Columbia College and thence proceeded to take a theological course at Edinburgh. Ordained in 1793, he took charge of the Cedar Street Church, New York City, of which his father had been pastor. In 1807 he became editor of the _Christian Herald_, and in 1821 was made president of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He died in 1829.