Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmaties; but was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin.--Heb. iv. 14. 15.
THE Hebrew Christians were expectants of sore trials. Because, their nation had rejected the Messiah, they pleased not God, and were contrary unto all men; therefore, wrath was to come upon them to the uttermost. Their City was to be thrown down, its foundations ploughed up, and their Temple burnt.-- St. Luke xxi. 22., calls these days, "days of vengeance, that all things that are written may be fulfilled."
This dreadful calamity fell upon the Jews, by the hand of Titus, the Roman General, under the reign of Vaspasian, about the year 70. When there perished in Jerusalem by sword, famine, and pestilence, during the seige about 1,100,000. Our Saviour foretold those days and directed his followers, when they saw Jerusalem compassed about with armies, to flee to the mountains; and it is worthy of observation, that not one Christian was known to have suffered death in this great calamity. The Epistle to the Hebrews, was written but a few years before Jerusalem was taken. In our text, the Apostle (who was a Hebrew of the Hebrews) includes himself with his Brethren in his exhortation: and no doubt, in view of those troubles, connected with others, to which they would be subjected, he exhorts, them to hold fast their profession. But he does not stop here, but offers some very important considerations why they should do so: namely, then seeing "we have a great High Priest which is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmaties; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."
In the prosecution of this subject, I shall notice,
I. The duty enjoined.
II. Offer some considerations why it should be performed.
I. The duty enjoined, is to hold fast our profession. But as there is great danger of professing without possessing religion; I will first present you with the ground work of a safe profession. A profession, which it is the duty of every one to hold fast.
There are many of the human family, too ready to make a profession. They, like the stoney ground hearers, believe too soon: they believe before they have investigated the subject: and in time of temptation fall away. They profess, before they have counted the cost--before they have felt the burden of their guilt and depth of their own depravity--before they have consented to be saved alone by the merits of Christ--before they have felt the renewings of the Holy Ghost--before they have calculated the trials of the way to heaven, and before they have learned to trust him who said, strength shall be equal to your day. They have set out or professed what they have never possessed; and no marvel, that when the sun of persecution arises, they having no root in themselves, become offended and fall away.
But there are others who are too tardy or slow in making a profession of religion; they may be true Christians, but they have seen so many hasty professors fall away, they are extremely timid, and although real friends to Christ, yet, they are friends secretly through fear: such was Nicodemus, and such are many others in our day, and by being too slow to come out publicly on the Lord's side, connect themselves with the Church, and take upon them the badge of Christianity, their graces and comforts are often weakened, and they are rendered more liable to be tempted of the Devil.
Union is strength: one Christian is weak, and easily overcome, but when united with others, great additional strength is secured. One can chase but a thousand, while two can put ten thousand to flight. The devil's agents seldom go alone, a band of evil doers generally infest the Church, interrupting her public assemblies. A small stream is easily passed over, but add stream to stream and an Amazon is formed. It is the duty of all who really posses religion, to make it known to all the world, with meekness and fear. But that this congregation may know when to profess, let me present you with the evidences of possession.
1st, Every person who would make a safe profession of religion, must renounce every known sin;f or Jesus saith, he that forsaketh not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple. Every sin must be not only forsaken, but hated. Perhaps some may be ready to say, this is but a little sin, there is not much harm in it. A little sin, (if any be little,) affords but little gratification, and is easily forsaken, and therefore, the greater guilt lies at the door. We may suppose Adam's first sin was a small one, he only eat a little fruit that was pleasant to the eye, good for food, and to make one wise; surely said the Devil, there cannot be much harm in it. Yet small as he might have thought it at first, he felt at last that it ruined himself, and involved the world in wretchedness. He had plenty of other fruit; there was no necessity for that his eye could have been better gratified without eating it, and as to wisdom, he knew his Creator, and that was enough for him to know and to constitute him happy; it would have been so easy for him to have refused the evil, therefore, it was the great sin. Every sin must be forsaken if you would make a safe profession of religion. But religion not only consists in ceasing to do evil, but also in learning to do well.
2nd, Therefore, those who would make a safe profession of faith in Christ, must engage in the performance of every known duty. There is no duty so small or so great that the individual who professes religion, must not approve and engage to perform.
3rd, This course must be resolved on for life: a month, year or ten years will not do; it must be for life, and that person who does not engage for life, ought not to make a profession of religion.
4th, When an individual thus engages to forsake every sin and engage in the performance of every known duty for life, he must not depend on any thing he has done or can do to save him; but when he has done all he can, he is an unprofitable servant, he has only done his duty, and when he has only done his duty, he has merited nothing, and when he has merited nothing, he has no ground of dependence in himself.
5th, And lastly he that would make a safe profession of religion, must depend on Christ alone for salvation, not only for the pardon of his sins, but for grace to help in time of need: for it is only through Christ that he can do all things. I can with the greatest safety, admonish those who have made a profession of religion, on the above ground work, to hold fast their profession.
The duty to be performed, in important in a world like this and it can only be performed by faith and works. Faith and works are the two hands of the soul, and the soul is capable of these two exercises. Faith engages divine agency to work for us, and works engage our own. The history of the Church will inform us how unsuccessful she has been when attempting to sustain her religious character by depending on either of those exercises without the other; and the experience of every Christian has taught him the same lesson. When the Church has depended on faith altogether, and the general feeling and language was, God must and will do all, and we will do nothing. The church and the individual Christian have universally declined; but after learning that faith alone would no do, works or human agency has been employed and relied on, and the hand of faith has been palsied; how soon have we seen a declension. But when faith and works have been united, success has always been the result.
O how important it is that when we preach or pray or engage in any other duty, that we have strong faith in the God of Jacob. God must work in us before we can work--God will work in us to will and to do of his good pleasure and we must work out what he works within us, we must be co-workers with God--but how often do we wish to live at ease and let God do all, and in this situation we often wonder why we have not revivals in the church, and prosperity in our own souls; but would we examine ourselves we would learn the cause. On the other hand, we preach and pray, labor and toil, we act justly and benevolently; but have but little or no dependence on God, and we wonder why the cause does not prosper--the reason is obvious, we have nothing but human agency employed to do God's work and our own too. Faith and works must both be employed, and when both are constantly employed, both will be strong, and when both are strong we hold a firm grasp on the cause we espouse. This subject can be illustrated by a familiar figure, the boatman that would stem the current knows that some resistance must be made by the boat or the current will carry her down--to secure that resistance he places an oar on one side only, by the use of that oar he gives the boat motion, but by the motion he turns the boat round and the current carries her down: an unskilful observer cries out the oar is on the wrong side; he makes the change but finds that the resisting power only turns the boat the other way, and the current still bares her down, he at length places equal power on each side and in the exercise of those powers he stems the current and reaches the Port. So must the Christian do--for as relates to this world, he goes up stream, and his agency alone will not be sufficient resistance to the current he has to oppose, he greatly needs divine agency--and without faith divine agency cannot be employed, and that faith that secures the operation of divine agency must have works to correspond with it: for by works faith is made perfect. "Show me thy faith without thy works and I will show thee my faith by my works." The life of a Christian is neither idle nor easy, he must run, strive, wrestle, fight and hold fast his profession. By faith and good works let "us hold fast our profession"--let us hold fast the form of sound words--let us hold fast the radical doctrines of Christianity, the unity of God--the trinity of God--the divinity and humanity of Jesus--his vicarious sufferings as the only ground of pardon for us sinners, let us never give up the doctrine of divine efficiency on the human heart. All men seem to believe in the doctrine of evil agency upon the heart of man, and some professed Christians who believe the evil spirit has free access to the heart of man deny divine agency, any communication to the soul of man, or that man needs his aid, especially since the canon of revelation has been completed; but brethren if ever we let go divine agency, by whom shall we overcome and by whom will Zion arise? Surely not by man alone. Let us maintain conviction for sin only by the Spirit of God whose office it is to convince the world of sin &c.
Let us hold fast the doctrine of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Justification by faith in his blood, adoption by free grace, the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and a life of practical godliness, a day of Judgment and a state of future rewards and punishments.
Let us hold fast our profession however perilous the circumstances may be.
Let us hold fast sensible, humble feeling, experimental religion, witnessed by the Holy Spirit, a sensible pardon, an internal and holy change of heart, a perfect hatred to sin, supreme love to God, heavenly conversation, humble deportment, a filial fear, a strong faith, a purifying hope and constant burning love. Let us not cast away, but hold fast our confidence which hath great recompence of reward.
Let us hold fast practical religion--let us strive to know the will of God concerning us and make haste to keep his commandments--let us love the brethren in deed and in truth--let us love our enemies praying for them that hate us and blessing them that curse us--let us, like our master, render good for evil--let us not be overcome of evil; but always overcome evil with good.
Where we are insulted let us not avenge ourselves, but in all cases of insult leave our God to be both judge and executioner.
II. I will offer some considerations why we should hold fast our profession.
The considerations offered in the text are to be found in the first part of the 14th verse, and the whole of the 15th. "Seeing that we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our profession." The law of God is too holy, and we are too sinful--our enemies are too mighty, and we are too weak--the gate is too straight, and the way too narrow for us to maintain our Christian profession alone, and therefore it would be useless for me to introduce arguments to excite us to hold fast to our profession, if there were no help for us in God. All the aid we could afford each other on earth would be in vain, if we had no High Priest in heaven, to secure all the energies above in our behalf. But seeing we have the Son of God seated at his Father's right hand; clothed in a body like ours, which still bears the marks of being slain for us: and which plead above what he suffered for us below--let us hold fast to our profession.
Man by the fall of Adam became guilty, ignorant and rebelious and is by no means able to atone for his guilt, cure his ignorance or conquer himself, all which must be done in order to his salvation. Jesus the Son of God to remedy those evils assumed the office of a Prophet, Priest and King. The Kingly office is founded on the prophetic, the prophetic on the priestly. By officiating as a priest we who deserved death and had no right to any favor, become elligible to regeneration and are placed under his authority as King to rule in and reign over us, to subdue all his and our enemies. The three-fold offices of Christ were made known to the world during the Patriarchal age, which lasted some 2500 years, until the days of Moses, during that age the head of the family executed all those offices, he was a Priest, Prophet and King to his family. The church then existed in families, not united together as a visible body.
By Moses the families of Israel were united together and the church assumed a united visible form, and those three offices executed by the head of the family, and designed to represent the Son of God and Saviour of the world in his threefold offices until he should come, was divided amongst the Tribes of Israel. Judah was appointed to hold the sceptre. The Prophetic office was divided amongst the several Tribes, and by a special appointment of God, the Priesthood was to rest on the Tribe of Levi, and family of Aaron until Shiloh or the Saviour should come, one Priest was to succeed another until the Great High Priest should be consecrated who by one offering should finish transgression and make an end of sins. It was therefore necessary, as he was not of the tribe of Levi, nor to be consecrated a priest after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchizadeck who had none to precede or succeed him of his family, that the Levitical Priesthood appointed by divine authority should be legally transfered to him by one of the sons of Levi consecrated a high Priest after the order of Aaron, and especially appointed by God for that purpose. He was the prophet that Moses speaks of, like unto himself, him should they hear in all things whatsoever he should say unto them, and as this office was not confined to any particular Tribe, he descending from one of the Tribes according to the flesh claimed the office without a transfer. As relates to his kingly office he needed to transfer for he was of the Lineage of David and of the Tribe of Judah, who should hold the sceptre and was a legal heir of the Tribe of his father David, and it was no doubt on this account that Herod sought to take his life, who was not a legal heir to the throne, he was an Idumean and only a Jewish proselyte and therefore troubled at the thought and knowledge of his birth.
Many of the Jews believed him to be the King of the Jews, and one inquired of him, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel. They believed him to be a temporal king and, that he would assume the reigns of civil government and deliver the Jews from the Roman yoke, for Judah at this time was a Roman province; but Jesus came to establish a spiritual kingdom; and although he had the right to claim the reigns of civil government, it was not his design to exercise it, for the civil sceptre was only the Type of the spiritual, as the Priesthood of Aaron was the Type of his priesthood.
The temple of Solomon, was dedicated to Jehovah, and one of the prophets declared "the Lord shall suddenly come to his temple. This was Christ's coming to the temple that was dedicated to him by Solomon, and when in person he road into Jerusalem on an ass and a colt, the foal of an ass, the people strewed the way with garments and palm branches and, cried "Hosannah, blessed is her that cometh in the name of the Lord." (It was customary then to honor kings, when annointed, he was annointed with the Holy Ghost above measure) a spirit of inspiration seized the disciples and others, and they shouted about in the streets of Jerusalem, 'Hosannah' or God save the king of the king of the Jews, or Jehovah save us thy people from the oppression of the Romans. Some of the Pharisees were displeased at the noise of such a mighty shout, and ordered him to rebuke his disciples, but Jesus replied if these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out, the stones of the Temple, he no doubt meant would cry out and proclaim the Lord has come to his Temple, the Lord has come to his Temple, the Temple that was dedicated by Solomon to Jehovah. Jesus claimed this Temple as his own, and after he had made a scourge of small cords he threw out the money changers and overturned the seats of them that sold doves, and said "my house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves." here was kingly authority exercised in his own house; but how mild, when he for a moment assumed the regal authority he made a scourge of small cords, (not knotty whips) and drove bad men out of his own house or Temple (not good men) but his great object in being a king was to conquer Satan, sin and the wicked heart of man, and bring him to sit down at his feet, and to love God and his neighbor.
But as relates to his priesthood, though he as a spiritual High Priest over the house of God had none to precede nor succeed him, yet for a time this high office was by special appointment of God typified by Aaron, and it was necessary that by a special appointment of God it should be transferred to him. John the Baptist was his forerunner to open the way for him unto this office, he was the son of Zachariah, the High Priest, and six months older than our Saviour, according to the flesh, and was six months in office before him, and being a Priest according to the law, and being particularly appointed to prepare highways, or the way of the Lord was the proper person, legally to transfer the Levitical Priesthood to him, and for this purpose Jesus came to him to be baptised; but when he claimed it of him John forbade him saying, I have need to be Baptised of thee and comest thou to me, and Jesus said "suffer it to be so now for it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness," and then perhaps John for the first time understood the whole design of his mission. Righteousness always refers to some law expressed or understood, the law understood was the Levitical law, and the fulfilment of that law by Christ related to the Levitical Priesthood being his type until he should come, he had now come, and had a right to the type, and the person he replied to had the right of inaugurating into the office as Jewish Priest and by the same authority that appointed the Levitical Priesthood as representation of the Son of God who is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizadeck. He was authorised to make the transfer of that Priesthood into the hands of Christ, that he might make one offering for sins, and for ever sit down at the right hand of God, and we are certain that the Levitical Priesthood so far represented Christ, and was transferred to him that when he offered himself heaven no longer required Aaron or any of his sons to wear their priestly robes or make the Jewish altars smoke with the blood of slain Beasts for the sins of the people.
The principle requisitions for the priestly office were: 1st That the person be of the family of Aaron: 2nd That he be without blemish: and 3rd That he be annointed by proper authority. Jesus was not of the family of Aaron, but received the office from one of Aaron's sons, legally inaugurated into the office, and was appointed by divine authority to make the transfer of the Levitical Priesthood to the Lord Jesus Christ the antetype of that Priesthood. 2nd He was holy harmless and undefiled, and he offered himself without spot to God. 3rd He was annointed with the Holy Ghost above measure and of him alone can it be said, that "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us."
For this cause let us hold fast our profession. Christ has an unchangeable Priesthood and having offered himself to God in the outer court, a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savor, and thereby having obtained eternal redemption for us, and now pleading the virtue of his own blood in heaven, itself in our behalf will not such intercession secure for us all the aid that we need to hold fast our profession. Then let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
But I would offer another consideration to encourage us to hold fast our profession. This Great High Priest is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, for he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. He not only knows our trials, but he knows them experimentally. In all our afflictions he was afflicted, he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, he experimentally knows all our temptations, all our afflictions, he knows what it is to weep, for he wept himself (though he was never known to laugh, yet he was often known to weep) he was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. O, how tender is his heart, how sensibly does he feel what we feel. O, my brethren shall we ever grow weary or dispondent and suffer the hands of our faith and works to hang feebly down, and shall we say we can do nothing. God has forgotten to be gracious, Heaven feels no interest in our happiness, will we renounce our profession as thought he duty was impossible. Impossible it would be if there were no help to be obtained from above. But "seeing we have a great High Priest touched with the feeling of our infirmities, having been tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin, let us hold fast our profession." Christ was afflicted tempted and tried as we are, but he did not sin, he did not repne, he opened not his mouth, he did not speak inadvertently with his lips, he said while he suffered, "not my will be done but thy will O God." Let us be silent before our God in all our tribulations for God is good when he smiles, and no less good when he seems to frown. Let us never arraign the Almighty at the Bar, of our own reason.
Let us be patient in tribulation, instant in prayer, distributing to the necessities of saints, given to hospitality. Let us bless when we are cursed, and pray when we are despitefully used. Let us always go about, doing good, and in all things imitate him who is meek and lowly in heart, and by a firm profession endeavor by all means to save some. Let us hold fast. The present times demand we should, error in many of its hideous forms appears amongst us and because iniquity abounds the love of many waxes cold. Let us consider him who indured such contradictions of sinners against himself (Jesus Christ) lest we be weary and faint in our minds, for if Jesus the Son of God experimentally knows all our temptations in this world, and is now at the right hand of power. That love which moved him to enter our world in a servant's form, and suffer for us while we were sinners will still influence him to plead for and advocate our cause, seeing we are now his, reconciled to God by the death of his Son. "Much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life." A very brief improvement will conclude the subject.
1. It is important in view of this subject that we posses religion before we profess. That when we possess we ought to profess, and when we profess we ought to hold the profession fast.
2. In view of this subject we have the greatest encouragement to hold fast our profession. Our great high Priest is above, touched with the feeling of our informities, sensible of all our wants and the Spirit of God below to witness with our spirits, and comfort and carry on the work of sanctification until we are matured for a seat at the feet of our great high Priest in heaven Jesus the Son of God.
In conclusion, this subject may be improved to the advantage of those who have never professed religion nor even possessed it. Our great high Priest offered himself a sacrifice for all, he tasted death for every man, and by virtue of that death he intercedes for sinners. He is a friend to publicans and sinners, come sinners, come by faith to Jesus the Son of God, for he is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him.
[Source: Cumberland Presbyterian Pulpit. A Series of Original Sermons, by Clergymen of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Volume II, Sermon IX, pages 113-122]