God's Means to Keep Us in the Path of Faith

Hebrews 12  •  30 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It is of the deepest importance that the Christian should have a true estimate of the world through which he is passing, while ever keeping before him the blessedness of the world to which he is passing on.
If, however, we are over-occupied with the increasing evil of a world that is ripening for judgment, with the solemn state of Christendom, so soon to be spued out of the mouth of Christ, and with the confusion and scattering amongst the people of God, we shall hardly escape being depressed and disheartened.
In this chapter the fact is recognized that it is possible for the Christian to be cast down by reason of the trials by the way. Moreover, truth is presented that will meet this snare. The apostle evidently saw that those to whom he was writing were in danger of sinking under the pressure of trials and giving way in conflict with the enemy. He speaks of “weights” that drag down, of sin which besets us, and of difficulties that may arise in the Christian circle.
In the presence of these trials he sees there is a grave danger that believers may be hindered in running the race that is set before them; that they may grow weary and faint in conflict with the enemy; that they may faint under the dealings of the Lord; that their knees may become feeble; and that their listless hands and feeble knees may lead to wandering feet that turn aside into some crooked path.
To preserve us from being overcome of evil, the apostle brings before us certain great truths which, if held in power, will sustain and encourage us to run the race from earth to heaven, in spite of every trial and opposition.
EB 12:1{Hebrews 12:11Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1). Our feet are in the path that lies between the present world, upon which we have turned our backs, and the world to come, towards which our faces are set. This path is viewed as “the race.” It is not “a race” that we have to set before ourselves, but “the race that lies before us.” Many appear to think that, while there is only one way of being saved, there are many ways of traveling through this world; and that each Christian is at liberty to choose the way that he prefers. Scripture shows that God has His way of saving people out of the world, and His way of taking them through the world. Our great concern should be to discern the path that God has marked out for His people, and then run “the race that is set before us.
It is evident, as we read the Epistle to the Hebrews, that God’s path for His people is entirely outside the Jewish camp. It is equally evident that Christendom has returned to a camp order of things, and hence the direction in the final chapter to go without the camp still has its application. But as then, so now, to go outside the religious world of the day entails reproach, and it may be suffering, and naturally we shrink from reproach and suffering.
Moreover, there are hindrances to taking this path. The apostle says, “Let us lay aside every weight and sin which so easily entangles us” (KJV and JND). Here are two things that often hinder us in wholeheartedly taking the path that God has marked out—“weights” and “sin.” Weights are not things morally wrong. Anything that hinders the soul from accepting God’s path or running with patience when in the path is a weight. Perhaps the quickest way for each one to find out what is a hindrance to our spiritual progress is to start running. A runner in the games will strip himself of all unnecessary clothing. Things that would be no weight in the ordinary life would become a weight on the racetrack. Moreover, we are exhorted to lay aside “every weight.” We are ready enough to lay aside some weights and yet retain others.
The other great hindrance is sin. This is not what we sometimes speak of as a besetting sin, as our somewhat defective translation might lead us to think. It should not be “the sin,” but simply “sin,” the principle of which is lawlessness or doing our own will. Nothing will so hinder in taking the outside path of reproach as unjudged self-will. God’s path must be one in which there is no room for the will of man.
The existence of these hindrances will call for energy and endurance, if they are to be overcome. The apostle therefore says, “Let us run with endurance.” Running supposes spiritual energy, and combined with this we need endurance. It is easy to make an energetic start; it is hard to endure day by day in the presence of difficulties and discouragement. In order that we may overcome these hindrances and put forth the needed energy to run with endurance the race that is set before us, the Spirit of God brings before us in this chapter the different means God uses to this end.
First, we have for our encouragement a cloud of witnesses to the path of faith. If we have enemies to oppose us, trials to meet, and difficulties to overcome, let us remember that others have gone before in this path of faith; others have walked in the light of the coming glories; others have had to meet yet greater trials—cruel mockings, bonds, imprisonments, persecution and death—and by faith have overcome. We are thus compassed about with a cloud of witnesses to the faith that can rise above every kind of trial in this present world, and run with patience the race that leads to another world.
EB 12:2{Hebrews 12:22Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2) Second, far above and beyond all earthly witnesses, there is Jesus in the glory and, in order to encourage us in the path of faith, our eyes are turned to Him, “the leader and completer of our faith.” The apostle does not imagine that, having taken the path outside the camp, we shall be able to keep the path in our own strength. On the contrary, his exhortation clearly implies that, having overcome the hindrances and commenced running, we can only continue by looking steadfastly on Jesus. The One who attracts us outside the camp to Himself is the only One who can sustain us when we have gone forth unto Him. Others have trodden the path of faith, but they have not reached the ultimate goal: they are not yet “made perfect” (Heb. 11: 40). “Looking unto Jesus” we see One who has trodden every step of the path and reached the goal. The Old Testament worthies are shining examples, but they are neither “leaders” nor “completers”; Jesus is both. In His path of suffering and shame He was sustained by the joy of that which lay before Him. As He trod the path He could say, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
The witnesses of Hebrews 11 encourage us by their example, but not one of these witnesses can be an object of faith, nor minister grace to help in time of need. Jesus is not only the perfect example of One who has trodden the path of faith and reached the goal, but He is also One who, from the place of power “at the right hand of God,” can minister sustaining grace to those who are in the path. The cloud of witnesses have passed from the scene: they live to God, but so far as this world is concerned, they are dead. Jesus ever lives. We have wonderful examples behind us; we have a living Person before us.
EB 12:3-4{Hebrews 12:3-43For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. 4Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:3‑4). Third, we have the encouragement of the perfect path of Jesus. We are not only exhorted to look to Jesus where He is, but also to consider Jesus where He was. “Consider well” is the better translation. Considering His path, we shall see that from beginning to end He was opposed by the “contradiction of sinners against Himself.” We, too, if we take the path of faith outside the camp to run the race that is set before us, will surely find that we have to meet the perversity of men on every hand, the contradiction of sinners against Christ, and even the opposition of the people of God to sharing His reproach. Continual opposition is very wearying; and when wearied, the tendency is to faint and give way. Let us then “consider Him” lest we faint. There is nothing we have to meet, whether from opposing sinners or failing saints, that He has not already met in full measure. He could say, “Mine enemies reproach Me all the day; and they that are mad against Me are sworn against Me” (Psa. 102:88Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me. (Psalm 102:8)). We have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin.
The Lord shed His blood rather than give way to the contradiction of sinners and fail in obedience to the will of God. The sinners that surrounded the cross said, “Save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Had He done so, He would have failed in doing the Father’s will, and would not have finished the work that was given Him to do.
EB 12:5{Hebrews 12:55And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: (Hebrews 12:5). In the presence of these dealings of the Father, there are two dangers against which we are warned. On the one hand, we are in danger of despising the trial; on the other hand, we may faint under the trial. We are not, in the spirit of pride, to take the trial in a stoical way as being common to mankind; nor are we to sink under the trial in a spirit of hopeless despair.
EB 12:6-8{Hebrews 12:6-86For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (Hebrews 12:6‑8). Being warned of these two dangers, we are next reminded of two truths that will keep us from either despising or fainting in adversity. First, we are told that love is behind every trial for, it is written, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” The hand that smites is moved by a heart that loves. How, then, can I despise what perfect love sees fit to do? Why should I faint, for cannot love support in the trial that love sends? Second, we are told that in our trials God deals with us as sons. We see in our children the working of their wills and certain evil tendencies which need to be checked. In like manner God sees in His children everything that is contrary to His holiness—the evil tendencies and habits that we may little suspect, the impatience and irritability, the petty vanity and pride, the boastfulness and self-confidence, the hardness and selfishness, the lust and covetousness—and in His great love He deals with us so that we may be partakers of His holiness. The pains the Father takes with us in training and forming our character in conformity to His own holy nature is the outcome of His great love for His children. His love is not simply a passive love; it is active on our behalf. We too often think and speak of His love when spared some trial or relieved from some difficulty. This truly may be His tender loving mercy, but here we learn that it is equally His love that sends the trial.
The apostle speaks of chastening and scourging. The scourging may be more the governmental dealing of God in rebuking and correcting for positive failure. The chastening is not necessarily for any sin, but rather to develop in us that which is according to the nature of God, that we may partake of His holiness.
EB 12:9-11{Hebrews 12:9-119Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:9‑11). We are then instructed in two truths whereby we may gain the benefit of God’s dealing in chastening. First, we are told to “be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live.” Our earthly fathers dealt with the flesh; the Father of spirits deals with us in chastening to form within us a right spirit that we may live to Him. To get the full blessing of these dealings we must entirely submit to what God allows. By bowing to God in the trial, we keep God between ourselves and the trial; if we rebel and question God’s way, the trial will get between us and God, and instead of our souls being sustained in life we fall into darkness. Second, having submitted to that which God allows, we are to be “exercised thereby.” In the day to come we shall see all the way He has led us, and fully understand the trials and the sorrows by which He has trained and blessed us. Then, indeed, we shall be able to sing,
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustered with His love.
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
While, however, this is true, God desires that we should have present blessing from His dealings with us, and for this we need present exercise. The blessings are that we may be partakers of His holiness and enjoy the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The holiness of which the apostle speaks in verse 10 is the quality of holiness which leads us, not only to refrain from unholiness, but also to hate all unholiness, even as God does. The hatred of evil will lead to practical righteousness, which in turn brings forth the fruit of peace, in contrast to the restlessness of an unrighteous world through which we are passing.
EB 12:12-17{Hebrews 12:12-1712Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; 13And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. 14Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; 16Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. 17For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. (Hebrews 12:12‑17). Third, we have for our encouragement some very practical exhortations to enable us to meet special dangers and difficulties which may arise amongst those who take the path of faith. While seeking to walk in obedience to the Word, and refusing to lower the standard of the Word, we are not to suppose that we shall find a company free from all weakness or failure. To aim at securing a company from which all but the most spiritual are eliminated would only end in forming a pretentious company of self-centered and self-satisfied saints.
Thus, this Scripture indicates that we may find in the Christian path:
Some who lack Christian energy—their hands hang down and their knees are feeble;
Some who walk in a crooked path;
Some who raise discord;
Some who fail in practical holiness;
Some who fail in the grace of God;
Some who form unholy alliances with the world;
Some who treat divine things as common
How, then, are we to act in the presence of these different evils into which any one of us may fall but for the grace of God?
First, the apostle says, “Lift up” the listless hands and the feeble knees. If spiritual energy is flagging, then encourage others by lifting up your own hands. May we not apply this exhortation to prayer? Writing to Timothy, the apostle says, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim. 2:88I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Timothy 2:8)). Hands that hang down, and knees that are feeble, may well speak of hands seldom lifted up in prayer, and knees seldom bent in prayer. Of old the prophet had said, “The youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40:30-3130Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: 31But 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; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30‑31)). Are we not, too often, powerless in public because prayerless in private?
Second, practice must follow prayer, so the word continues, “Make straight paths for your feet.” In a day when many are prone to wander into crooked paths, let us see that we are careful to make straight paths for our feet, so that none be turned out of the way. There are many who may be lame and halting in their walk; they are not sure of the path they are treading, and have no clear perception of the place they are in. Such are easily turned aside on small provocation. How important, then, that there should be no occasion of stumbling by the pursuit of some dubious course. It is easy for an older saint, by an unwise act, to open a door through which the younger saints may pass, and so be turned out of the way.
Third, if there are those who take a course that makes for discord, let us see that we follow peace with all. The Christian is to seek to pass through this world quietly, not interfering with this world’s politics, nor expressing strong opinions about things which, as a stranger in the world, are not his concern. There is in fallen human nature an innate love of engaging in strife. The Christian is not only to refrain from all that would stir up strife, but also to pursue peace by taking a course that promotes peace.
Fourth, let us see that we follow practical holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor; but this supposes a normal walk in holiness. Any allowance of unholiness will obscure the vision. Without holiness we shall not see the Lord. Peace and holiness must be held together, as in this passage, otherwise we may follow peace at the expense of holiness or holiness without peace.
Fifth, the apostle exhorts us to look “diligently” against anyone lacking the grace of God. Failing of the grace of God is losing confidence in God’s grace and the practical enjoyment of what God is for us. In result some root of bitterness may spring up and trouble the saints, and many be defiled by entertaining bitter thoughts of one another.
EB 12:16-17{Hebrews 12:16-1716Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. 17For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. (Hebrews 12:16‑17). Sixth, we are to watch against any unholy alliance with the world, prefigured by fornication. Finally, we are warned against treating divine things as if they were common This is profanity, of which Esau is a solemn example; for some present, passing advantage he treated the birthright lightly—as if it were of little account. This surely was a solemn warning to these Hebrews, as indeed it is to all who have made a profession, against lightly throwing aside the blessings of Christianity. Alas! Christendom is fast falling into the profanity of Esau, to find, like Esau, they will be rejected. It was not, let us note, repentance that Esau earnestly sought with tears, but rather the blessing when it was too late. Christendom will find that there is no place of repentance for apostasy.
However, let us remember that, without going the length of apostasy, we may fall into profanity by treating divine privileges as of small account. Are there not those who have set aside the Lord’s Supper as being of little account because we are not saved thereby? Is this not one instance of modern-day profanity?
EB 12:18-21{Hebrews 12:18-2118For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, 19And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: 20(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: 21And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) (Hebrews 12:18‑21). Finally, to lift our souls above all the trials, the sorrows, and the exercises of this present world, the apostle unrolls before us the blessedness of the world to come. At present, everything in this world of bliss, the world to come, lies outside the region of sight and sense. Thus, when the apostle says we have come to these great realities, he surely means we have come to them in the apprehension of faith. In chapter 2: 5 the apostle definitely speaks of “the world to come,” an expression which signifies the vast inheritance of Christ in millennial days.
It embraces everything over which Christ as Man will have dominion, whether in heaven or earth, for there is the heavenly side, as well as the earthly side, of the world to come.
Before, however, speaking of these realities, the apostle speaks, in verses 18 to 21, by way of contrast, of the things to which Israel came—things to which the Christian has not come. At Sinai, God was declaring unto the people of Israel the covenant and setting forth what He commanded them to perform, even the ten commandments (Deut. 4:10-1310Specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. 11And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. 12And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. 13And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. (Deuteronomy 4:10‑13)). For this reason the presence of God on earth was accompanied with symbols of His majesty and holy, destructive judgment against disobedience and sin. These symbols—the fire, the gloom, the darkness and the tempest—struck terror into the hearts of men. Everything at Sinai was against us.
Moreover, everything at the first Mount appealed to sight and sense. We Christians have not come to the mount which “might be touched” (verse 18); nor to things which might be heard, such as “the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words” (verse 19); nor have we come to things which might be seen (verse 21). The natural man cannot endure the presence of God. Any glimpse of the glory of God is overwhelming when accompanied with a demand from man. Israel could not endure it; even Moses found the sight terrible and said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.”
The great realities to which we have come in Christianity can neither be touched, nor heard, nor seen, by the natural man; they can only be known by faith. This fact must have been specially testing for these Hebrew believers, accustomed as they were to a religious system in which everything was designed to appeal to man in the flesh.
Now they found themselves introduced to that which was entirely new, and which set aside all the things that appeal to sight. They had to learn that the things of Judaism were but the shadows, and the unseen things of Christianity are the substance. Everything for sight is gone, and they, with ourselves, are brought into a wonderful circle of blessing which only faith can apprehend.
1. Mount Zion;
2. The City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem;
3. An innumerable company of angels, the universal gathering;
4. The church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven;
5. God, the Judge of all;
6. The spirits of just men made perfect;
7. Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant;
8. The blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
1. Mount Zion.
As we look on, in the faith of our souls, to the world to come, the Spirit of God first brings us to Mount Zion, the earthly Jerusalem, representing the earthly saints. Furthermore, Mount Zion sets forth as a symbol the ground on which all saints, earthly and heavenly, will come into blessing. Two Psalms, 78 and 132, will give us light as to the spiritual significance of Mount Zion. In Psalm 78 we have the account of the utter failure of Israel on the ground of responsibility. Everything is lost on the ground of their own works. The tabernacle is forsaken (verse 50); the ark goes into captivity (verse 61); the land comes under judgment, and the people are consumed (verses 62-64). Then, as recorded in verse 65, a great change in the circumstances of the people takes place, wholly brought about by Jehovah, as we read, “The Lord awakened as one out of sleep,” and began to act “like a mighty man.”
Hitherto, God had acted towards Israel on the ground of their works, but when they had involved themselves in utter ruin, God falls back on His sovereignty and acts from Himself for their blessing. So we read, He “chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which He loved,” and again, “He chose David.” This is the sovereignty of divine mercy, exercising sovereign choice for the blessing of man. A mount is symbolic of power; Mount Zion is symbolic of mighty power exercised in sovereign grace.
Psalm 132 presents a further great truth in connection with Mount Zion. This Psalm celebrates the occasion when David brings the ark to Zion. The ark is not only recovered from the hands of the enemy, but is set in its rightful place on Mount Zion. The Psalmist says, “For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He bath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” Immediately upon the ark being set upon Zion, we have the blessing flowing out to the people. “I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.” Here again we have the thought of sovereign choice connected with Zion, but with the additional thought that it is connected with the ark. The ark, with its mercy seat, speaks of Christ, and thus we learn that the full symbolic meaning of Mount Zion is the power of God’s sovereign grace exercised for the blessing of man through Christ. When everything has been lost for man through his failure, then all blessing is secured through the sovereign grace of God righteously flowing to us on the ground of all that Christ is and has done. Such is the solid ground of blessing for the world to come, and to this we have come in the faith of our souls.
2. The city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Having begun with the sovereign grace that meets man in his utter ruin, we now pass by faith into heavenly scenes, and find ourselves in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This city is symbolic both of the heavenly saints and their dwelling in the world to come. The earthly blessing of millennial days will be administered through this city—the nations will walk in the light of it. In contrast to earthly cities, it is called the city of the living God. Earthly cities are composed of dying men and therefore, like themselves, their cities are subject to death and decay. This city derives its life from the living God, and is therefore beyond the power of death and decay. In faith this glorious city rises up before our souls; we see what is coming by sight we look around and see the misery, the squalor, the violence and the corruption of men’s cities: by faith we look on and see this glorious city where sin-soiled feet have never trod. It comforts our hearts to know that, when the nations walk in the light of this city, the misery will be gone and the blessing of the world to come will be established.
3. An innumerable company of angels, the universal gathering.
Having come to heaven we find ourselves in the presence of an innumerable company of angels. This will be the universal gathering of these spiritual beings. Every class and order of these glorious beings will be there. This innumerable company of angels exists already, and in the faith of our souls we have come to the conscious knowledge of their existence.
Angels are the divine guardians of God’s people and will have this special service in the world to come. Psalm 34:77The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. (Psalm 34:7) presents this guardian care. There we read, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” The history of Elisha illustrates this guardian care. When compassed about by his enemies at Dothan, his servant was in great fear, but, says Elisha, “Fear not: for they that be for us are more than they that be with them.” The Lord, in answer to prayer, opened the young man’s eyes to see that the whole mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:1717And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)). Elisha had already come to them by faith; the young man came to them by sight. Daniel, in his day, knew the guardian care of angels, for an angel was sent to shut the lions’ mouths that he should not be hurt (Dan. 6).
The Lord as Man was in the guardian care of angels, as we read, “He shall give His angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways” (Psa. 91:9-129Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; 10There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. 11For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. 12They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:9‑12)). Angels waited upon Him at His birth: angels ministered unto Him in the Garden of Gethsemane: angels guarded His tomb and were in attendance at His ascension.
At the present time believers are under the guardian care of angels, as we read, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” In the world to come they will still exercise their guardian care, for they stand at the gates of the heavenly city, and will pass between heaven and earth, ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
4. The church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.
Traveling yet farther into the depths of glory we come by faith to the assembly of the firstborn which are written in heaven. In this vast system of heavenly glory there are those who have a special and distinct place. They are spoken of as the firstborn, giving the thought of preeminence. Seven times in Scripture Christ is spoken of as the Firstborn or First-begotten, for He must ever be preeminent. Here the word is in the plural, and refers to the saints who compose the church. They will have a preeminent place among the heavenly saints, even as Israel is called Jehovah’s firstborn as having a pre-eminent place amongst the nations (Ex. 4:2222And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: (Exodus 4:22)). The names of these firstborn ones are registered in heaven, speaking of their heavenly home, for we belong where our names are written. As the heavenly Jerusalem, the church is seen administering blessing in connection with earth; so the assembly of the firstborn, the church, is viewed as worshipping in connection with heaven.
5. God, the Judge of all.
Mounting yet higher, we come in the faith of our souls “to God, the Judge of all.” God is seen, as one has said, “looking down from on high to judge all that is below.” This surely has no reference to God exercising sessional judgment, as at the great white throne, but as the One who will govern the earth in righteousness. Thus Abraham speaks of God as Judge, when he says, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:2525That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25)). So in the world to come men will say, “Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth.” Again, it will be said, “Lift up Thyself, thou Judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud” (Psa. 58:1111So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth. (Psalm 58:11); Psa. 94:22Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud. (Psalm 94:2)). Under man’s rule righteousness is too often divorced from judgment; under God, the Judge of all, righteousness will return to judgment, for “with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isa. 11:3-53And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. (Isaiah 11:3‑5)).
6. The spirits of just men made perfect.
The world to come would not be complete without the Old Testament saints. There will be the earthly saints, finding their center in Mount Zion: there will be the assembly, pre-eminent among the heavenly saints, and there will be the saints of all ages before the cross. They are spoken of as the spirits of just men made perfect, intimating that they have all passed through death and have now received their bodies of glory after having been in the unclothed state.
7. Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.
In the faith of our souls we have come to Jesus, the One through whom all the blessing of the world to come is secured, whether earthly or heavenly. What would the world to come be without Jesus? He is the center of that vast scene of blessing, the Object who will fill and satisfy the heart of every saint, and administer His kingdom for the glory of God.
8. The blood of sprinkling.
Finally, we have come to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than the blood of Abel. This is the righteous and everlasting basis of all blessing for the world to come. Abel’s blood was sprinkled on the earth, and cried aloud to God for vengeance on the one who shed it. The blood of Christ has been sprinkled on the mercy seat under the eye of God and, instead of crying for vengeance, it cries for pardon for those who shed it. “The very spear that pierced Thy side drew forth the blood to save.” All who believe in God’s acceptance of the blood will come under the blessing that the blood secures and have their part in the world to come.
Thus there is opened up before our souls a wonderful vista of the fullness of times, when the counsels of God for the glory of Christ and the blessing of all His saints will have their fulfillment. And in the faith and affection of our souls we are permitted to see the earthly saints, the heavenly saints, the Old Testament saints, the great host of angelic beings, God over all, Jesus the Mediator of every blessing even as His precious blood is the basis of all.
EB 12:25-29{Hebrews 12:25-2925See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: 26Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. 27And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25‑29). Having set before us the glorious prospect to which the believer has already come in faith, the apostle utters a solemn warning against turning away from the One who speaks from heaven of these things If there was no escape from judgment for the one who disobeyed the voice of God when He spoke on earth, requiring righteousness from man, much less will there be any escape from judgment for those who refuse the voice of God now that He is speaking from heaven in grace that brings blessing to man. As Samuel Rutherford said, “The vengeance of the Gospel is heavier than the vengeance of the law.”
Moreover, we are warned of what is involved in this coming judgment. The holiness of God’s judgment was, in a symbol, set forth by the shaking of the earth at Sinai. The future judgment will shake not the earth only, but also heaven. We are then definitely told that this shaking signifies the removal of what is shaken. Everything that is not the result of the sovereign grace of God will be removed in judgment. The old creation defiled by sin will finally be removed to leave only God’s new creation, the result of His own grace. The kingdom that is received by Christians is established in righteousness, through grace, and therefore cannot be moved. Let us then serve God with reverence and godly fear, realizing the sanctity of the things of God, and walking in true piety. Let us not forget that, though we know God in grace, nevertheless, “our God is a consuming fire.” He will burn everything that is not of Himself, whether it be the flesh in His people or a creation defiled by sin.