The Unchanging One

Hebrews 13:8  •  23 min. read  •  grade level: 7
EB13:8 A CLOSE examination of the Epistles skews us that each one of them has a motto which expresses its teaching in a special way. I think we shall see that the verse I have just read gives us one special line in this Epistle to the Hebrews.
I will read in paraphrase verse 7, which elucidates verse 8, and which is not the same as verse 17: "Remember them who have had [I read "had," as they were now dead] the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: considering the end of whose conversation, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines," &c.
We thus see that the apostle is alluding to teachers who have passed away, and sums up their lives, adding that we are "not to be carried about with divers and strange doctrines," because " Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." Thus verse 8 links together 7 and 9, and becomes the foundation on which verse 9 is based.
Having called your attention to the context, I now seek to connect the verse with the teaching of the whole epistle.
No verse in the whole Scripture has been more comfort to the saints of God than this. In the changes and vicissitudes of life, how we love to come back to such a passage as this to comfort and console our hearts!
But turning back, first of all, to the commencement of the epistle, we have, in chapter 1., the divinity of our blessed Lord, and, in chapter 2., His humanity. In chapter i. we have a wonderful catalog of the glories of Christ. Take, for example, verse 2. He is the Son, the Heir, the Creator; and in verse 8 He is addressed: " Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." And," Thou, Lord, in the beginning halt laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish, but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail." Thus we get His unchangeable character as a divine Person presented before us. All things may pass away, but He remains the same: unchangeable, divine, the Creator.
In chapter 2. we find in every verse, from verse 5, the humanity of our blessed Lord. "Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified, are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." And especially verse 14: " Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." And again, in verse 17: " Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted."
We have thus, beloved, the full proof of the Person of Christ brought out to us in these two chapters. Had He not been man, He could not have died for sinners. Had He not been God, His sacrifice could not have availed for all His people. And the Person of Christ is always the same: " Thou remainest." " Yesterday " He was in a past eternity; " to-day" He sits on the throne of God, and to-morrow He still abides-the same throughout all ages. To-day He is a Man sitting on the throne of God for us, and we rejoice in it; but especially do we rejoice in the fact, that through all eternity He will never cease to be a Man. And though He is thus Man, He is also God, and He will never cease to be. " Very God and very man." The same that He was down here on earth, that same will He be when we are in glory with Him, and see Him face to face.
But when the blessed Lord and Savior was down here on earth, it was rather the presentation of God to man; now that He is up there in heaven, it is more the presentation of man to God. In that passage in John 17, so familiar to us, He prays: " Glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." He is there praying that as Man He might be glorified with the glory that He had with God before the world was. And we never understand Christianity, unless we take hold of the fact, that the blessed Lord is seated as Man at the right hand of God.
Thus, taking the first two chapters of the epistle in their general aspect, we can say that He is in His Person " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
Passing on to the next division of the epistle, we find that, as to His Priesthood, He is the same-the " Priest for over, after the order of Melchisedec."
However, I should say, in passing, that the Epistle to the Hebrews is only and entirely in the wilderness. The moment that we get the person of the priest introduced to us, we get the people shown to us in the wilderness. " Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Passing on to chapter 5., we find that He "glorified not himself:" " So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec." As a Priest He abides forever; so that " Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever," as the Priest.
Allow me to direct your attention to one or two passages as to the Priesthood, as it regards ourselves. We read in chapter 9.: " For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." That is to say, the blessed Lord, as Priest, is before God as the representative of His people.
This will be clear, if we allude for one moment to the Aaronic priesthood. The names of the twelve tribes of the people of Israel were on the high priest's breastplate, and on his shoulders, so that they were always presented before God when the priest appeared before Him. In like manner now, Christ presents before God every one of His people, and upholds them there with everlasting strength and everlasting love. Aaron goes right into the presence of God, bearing His people's names upon his breast, so that God cannot look at Aaron without seeing the names of His people. So now God cannot look upon Christ without seeing His people. What joy to our hearts to remember that whenever God looks upon Christ, He sees our names on His presence of God for us.
Now, are not some of us disheartened at times? Sick ones, for instance, who cannot pray. It may be that they cannot pray; but there is One in the presence of God who is always presenting them before Him, and who is there to make intercession on their behalf. And be it remembered that the more intensely the light beats upon that breastplate, only the more distinctly do our names come out in His presence. "In the light, as he is in the light," but presented there in all the perfection of Christ Himself. The names were written in Aaron's breastplate on precious stones, and we know that the brighter the light, the more the beauty of precious stones appears. Just so, God not only sees our names distinctly, but also sees them encompassed with all the beauty and preciousness of Christ. I may change, I may be disheartened today; I may be cast down tomorrow; but I am always presented there in all the beauty of Christ. He is " the same yester day, and to-day, and forever," in the presence of God.
We read, He is " touched with the feeling of our infirmities." This is another aspect of the Priesthood. He is able to sympathize with His people because He has passed through similar experiences to our own, only apart from sin. We get this twofold truth: the blessed Lord passed through every possible experience of man, but apart from sin. We do not need sympathy for sin, we need to judge it. It is for our infirmities we desire sympathy.
His sympathy is unfailing. I suppose all of us have felt in times of trial and isolation that there is no one, absolutely no one, who can enter into our sorrow and depression. No one understands me, we say; sympathy I want, but there is no one to sympathize with me. But He is not One who cannot enter into my feelings! Why do the saints, perhaps, fail to enter into my feelings? It is that I may learn the blessedness of being able to say:
" Jesus, Thou art enough
The mind and heart to fill."
When we learn His sympathy-I will not say we shall not want the sympathy of the saints, for it is good for us to have, and to love to have, the sympathy of others-but we shall learn to be independent of it, and satisfied with His alone. My trial may go on for days, months, years, and human sympathy cannot be kept up to the same point forever; so here only we find a sympathy that never changes; the sympathy of One who is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." I find an antidote here to all my sorrows; I have One who understands me; One who enters into my ease; One who is always by me, and enters into my condition; He is not one who cannot be touched with the feeling of my infirmities, but One who
" Knows what sore temptations mean,
For He has felt the same."
I just touch on one more aspect of the priesthood, which we find in chapter vii, "And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." Here we get the unchangeableness of the Priesthood. All is contrast in this epistle. Under the old dispensation the priest was living to-day, and dead to-morrow. If Aaron, who had taken up our cause, were to die, our cause lapsed for the moment. But our great High Priest is able to save His people all the way through the wilderness, because " He ever liveth to make intercession for them." It is therefore not presumption for me to say, I am sure I shall be brought safe into God's rest, because I have to do with One who ever lives for me. Such an One is our High Priest; He is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
Allow me to put a question to you, as well as to myself, before I pass on to the next point. Has His Priesthood its true weight with our hearts? You do not get it brought out, for example, in Ephesians, for there we are not represented as down here, waiting for the Lord, but as seated in Him already in the heavenlies. Where-ever we are shown as waiting for the Lord Jesus, we are in the wilderness, going on to Him, and the Priesthood insures at the same time our safe passage through the wilderness, until we reach Him. There are many difficulties by the way, and Satan suggests the doubt, Are you sure you will ever get through? I answer, No, I am not sure that I can do anything; but I measure the difficulties and the trials of the way not by myself, but by Him" who is able to save me to the uttermost." What consolation! He is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever "!
In chapter 8. we get the introduction of the new covenant with Israel, and then, in chapter 10.,, comes the efficacy of the sacrifice. After introducing it in chapter 9., with the words, " Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year," he goes on: " And every priest standeth daily ministering, and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
The one sacrifice of Christ avails forever. We get here the everlasting efficacy of that sacrifice, in contrast with the non-efficacy of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. The fact that the sacrifice of Christ is not repeated, and that He retains His seat at the right hand of God, proves that the efficacy of His sacrifice never ceases.
Now I am going back to the A of christian knowledge. What is this A? It is that our sins are forgiven. And yet many saints do not know it! Once under the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ, I can nevermore be brought in guilty before God. God never, never imputes sin as guilt to those who are cleansed in the blood of Christ. We get it in this scripture: " By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." There is no question any more between us and sin. Truly sin is in me, and will be in me till the Lord comes; but the sacrifice of Christ cleanses me once and for all before God, as to its condemning power. This is the A of Christianity.
But, beloved, let me put another question to you: How many of us are living in the sunshine of this simple truth, that, as to imputing sin, there is no possibility of a shade between God and myself? I am made whiter than snow-as white as God Himself can make me. True, if we walk badly, God will come in, and chasten, but He will never more impute sin: it is " By one offering perfected forever." Even if I am betrayed into sin, yet, if I know the full value of the blood of Christ, I shall know that God will never impute it to me as guilt. I would not for a moment lessen the character of sin, but, on the other hand, never let us lower the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. In eternity itself we shall have to trace all back to the cross of our blessed Lord. There, in the new creation, in the full blessedness of it all, we shall ever go back, as the cause of all, to the cross of Christ, and acknowledge it as the ground of all our blessing.
As we thus view the efficacy of the blood of Christ, we again say, He is "The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
We now pass on to the twelfth chapter. In the eleventh we get examples of faith who have passed away. In the twelfth He abides the same, our example forever. We have a long category in chapter 11., not of good deeds, but of acts of faith. And why so? That we may see that Christ surpasses them all. Angels, Moses, Aaron, Abraham, David, all are brought before us in this epistle, that they may disappear as the stars before the sun. So these heroes of faith vanish away before the excellency of the One with whom they are compared, or rather contrasted. Thus, after the long catalog of faithful ones we read: " Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which cloth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking 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."
Great as these were, illustrious as they have been, our eyes are not to be directed to them, but to Christ. He is the complete example of the life of faith. He said: "If any man will serve me, let him follow me." He is the Man of faith; and He is brought before us that we may take Him as our example: " He hath left us an example that we should follow his steps." It is wonderful how He is brought out in the word of God, and yet not wonderful when we consider who He is. We may well pray that He should fill the vision of our souls. The Bible presents Christ to us everywhere, and at every turn. In the world sometimes one and sometimes another is brought before our minds as an object of admiration, but in the Bible it is always Christ.
John says: " He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." He is always the example of His people, so that in this respect again He is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
Passing on to another branch of this subject, I will just go over the epistle as to the points we have been considering, before going on to the consequences of this unchangeableness.
We have, then, seen that Christ is ever the same as to His Person, in chapters 1. and 2. He is the same as to His Priesthood in chapters 5 and 7. He is the same as to the efficacy of His sacrifice in chapters 9. and 10. He is the same as to being the example of His people. And now let us look at the consequences to us of His being " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
Everything that is connected with Christ partakes of what He is in Himself, and therefore abides forever because He is eternal. We sometimes speak of souls " passing into eternity," but this expression is not a true one. As soon as a soul is converted it passes into eternity. Eternity commences for the believer as soon as he is in Christ. From that moment he has life everlasting. An unconverted person when he dies passes into eternity, but a believer is in eternity as soon as he is in Christ. " He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." Our salvation is eternal because He is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." It is an " eternal salvation." The contrast no doubt is as to the temporal deliverance of God's people in old time, but the word " eternal " has its special significance from its connection with Him who is eternal. It is not being saved to-day and lost to-morrow. A Christian said to me lately: "It is quite possible to be saved to-day, but it depends on me whether or not I am lost to-morrow." What an error! It depends on Christ! The salvation that He bestows on His people possesses the same unchangeable character that He has Himself. It is a perfect thing, and will not be more perfect than it is now even when we stand in the presence of the Lord in glory.
In chapter 9. we get two other things which are said to be eternal: "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." And " For this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." Redemption, you see, is eternal, and also the inheritance.
And one other passage, in chapter 8.: " Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant." " Everlasting " is here the same word; it is eternal.
The point I call your attention to is, that the redemption, the inheritance, and the covenant are all eternal. The covenant is with His ancient people Israel, but we get the spiritual blessings of it. Everything connected with Himself is eternal, because He is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." It takes our eyes away from ourselves, and directs them to Him and what He is; that gives the character to everything that we have in Him.
I pass now to the exhortation: " Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines: for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein."
I take first the exhortation in the last verse I have read. We see from this that there can be no divers and strange doctrines in the church of God. Christ is always the same, so the truth connected with Him must be always the same. Of course there may be development of it, opening of it out, and the truth may be lost and recovered in that sense; but a new doctrine is a false doctrine. A thing that bears the stamp of novelty must be false, because He is always " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
A saint may think he is in no danger from false doctrines because he is resting upon the sacrifice of Christ; but what is it that alone preserves us? The being grounded in the truth of the Person of Christ.
Take for instance the doctrine of the non-eternity of punishment. It is a new doctrine, and therefore I doubt its truth. But people are carried away by it because it suits their natural mind. Satan speaks to us of " advanced truth," of " liberal opinions," and so on. But all we have to understand and to hold to is what the apostles had and taught in the beginning. The more thoroughly we are grounded in the teaching of God's word, the more resolutely we shall refuse the divers and strange doctrines that are brought to us.
Teachers pass away; Christ never passes away. They were very dear to the hearts of the saints, and the apostle says: "Remember them." They are dear to the heart of God, and they ought to be dear to ours. But, suppose I base my faith upon a teacher, however dear, he may pass away. Suppose Paul were here now, and I based my faith upon him, he might die and pass away. Do not forget that behind the teacher Christ is there, and He never passes away. The time is coming when, if the Lord tarries, all whom we now value will pass away; but if I am on this rock nothing will disturb me, for I have Christ, who will never pass away. In these days it is exceedingly important that we should have hold of this truth.
In chapter 12. we read, in relation with earthly government: " And this word, Yet once more, significth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain." Our kingdom cannot be moved. We daily see the transitory character of earthly kingdoms. The dagger of the assassin carries terror to the heart of every sovereign in Europe. The governments which were thought the most safe, that were deemed to be built on a rock as men would say, are being shaken to their very foundations. But we have a kingdom that can never be moved. No foe can ever touch its foundations.
He is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever," and hence, those things which cannot be shaken are ours.
I would fain add one other word; how much the faith of the saints of God has been tried in these days. But suppose every teacher that God has given His church were to make shipwreck to-morrow, what should we lose? Christian fellowship is very sweet, and we should lose it; but we do not lose Christ. It is this only-fellowship with Him in the power of the Holy Ghost-that can lift us up above everything through which we are passing. Then, though friends change (and they must change, one failing us to-day and another to-morrow), though assemblies are wrecked here and there, still the Spirit takes me and sets me on the unfailing rock-Christ. And then, whatever may be the experiences through which I may pass, and the sorrow too, I have One with me who walks upon the waves of the sea, and more still, who can make me walk upon the waves of the sea so long as my eye is upon Him.
This is the word upon my heart. If we are in company with the unchanging One, we shall be calm as we go on our way, because it is not a question of friends, it is not a question of assemblies, it is a question of Christ, and He will never fail us: He is " The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." (E. D.)