"When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty of high." (Hebrews 1:3)
Perhaps there has been greater disputation about the authorship of this epistle, than about any other book in the Scriptures. Some have thought, by some expressions in it, that it could not have been written by the Apostle Paul. Others contend that he must have been the author of it, and have shown that some of the expressions contained in this epistle are found in his other epistles.
It opens in a different way from other epistles in the New Testament--in its abruptness; yet glorious way in which it commences. (ver. 1) "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds. (How beautiful the language; may I not reverently say, how grand!) The other epistles commence in a different way. Most of them tell us who are the authors of them, but the first word here--how great, how immense, how wonderful; how past human comprehension is this one word God! The scope of the epistle was to wean, the believing Jews from their old dispensation, and some say it was in pure Hebrew, and not in Greek as the other epistles were; it was to lead the people from their own sacrifices which God had appointed, to the one great sacrifice for sin. We do not wonder that some believing Jews hesitated in regard to discontinuing the practices in which they had been brought up, of offering sacrifices and such things, because they might reasonably say: The Lord appointed it for our fathers, it is all the Lord's work, and it is right for us to adhere to, and practice the same things.
The Apostle is showing that all the sacrifices pointed to Him that died on Calvary; to that Christ that before they were brought to fear the Lord, they had despised and set at nought. What a revolution must have taken place in the mind of a Hebrew. (or Jew) He had been taught in childhood and youth to despise the Nazarene; he hated the very name of Him; and the fathers, too, did not believe that He was the expected Messiah. To be turned from all in which they had been instructed, confirmed and established; to believe in that very same person that they had slighted and treated with scorn, what a change of mind; what a turning about; to turn their backs upon all they had been taught in regard to the Messiah; to love Him, believe in Him, cleave to Him, and trust their salvation with Him! We as Gentiles can scarcely conceive the great change that must have taken place in the mind of these Jews. The Lord was pleased to direct His servant to prove to them from Old Testament Scriptures that Christ was the Messiah; and that if they trusted in Him they would be saved; notwithstanding their former hatred of Him. Do not we see here, that however desperate our state may have been before we feared the Lord, that it is no obstacle in the way of our salvation. It was no obstacle in the way of the salvation of these believing Hebrews; whatever they might have said of Christ, however they might have contended that He was not the Messiah, or how much they might have abhorred His holy Name ignorantly, and in unbelief; it was all set aside when their hearts were turned to the Lord. So, sinner, whatever sins we may have committed (and we may perhaps have blasphemed that holy Name by which the Church is called,) if we are brought to repentance, if we are brought to believe in this Christ, it is no obstacle to our salvation. How often even believers find that the sins of their youth haunt them almost all their days, and are brought to their remembrance as if that would be a hindrance to their salvation. Not at all. He that believeth on the Son is not condemned; whatever his previous character and conduct may have been, he is not condemned; but is saved and blest.
In regard to our text this morning, we shall first notice this glorious Person, of whom it is said Himself purged our sins; it was He Himself.
In the second place, we shall notice His wondrous work: "When He had by Himself purged our sins." Every word is fraught with comfort to them that believe.
Then thirdly, we shall notice His eternal exaltation. "When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." How sweet to reflect, to read of Christ's exaltation as it is in the word of God! O, may our faith and our hearts follow Him today up to His glorious exalted state, and look forward to the time when the Scriptures tell us He will say to His Heavenly Father: Here am I and the children which Thou hast given Me, which are for signs and wonders.
Every Christian is a wonder to himself when he considers the great change which has taken place in his heart, in his feelings, his views, his prospects, his anticipations. O, how wonderful, how beautiful, how glorious, is the religion of the Cross!
First--This glorious Person; and how shall we enter into the subject? Hear the beautiful language the man of God made use of in setting it forth: Who being the brightness of His glory. We always thought that glory was bright, and brightness in itself; but it is said of the Lord Jesus that He is the brightness of God's glory. The word brightness signifies something shining, of some luster, something that dazzles our sight; that draws forth the admiration of the beholder. So with Christ. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; but it was for our sakes; it was for us who now believe on His great and holy Name. Was He the same person of whom we read, that when here, He said without complaining, but expressive of His deep destitution: "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." (Luke 9:58) Is this the same person set forth in this way? Is this the man of whom they said: He hath a devil and is mad, why hear ye Him? Is this the person we read of, whose holy heart was so affected at the death of Lazarus, that for once in the Scriptures it is said "Jesus wept." Did He so sympathize with those sorrowing sisters, and the Jews weeping around that all His affection seemed centered and concentrated in that one event, the death of His friend? Was he then the brightness of God's glory? It did not appear to be so to human eyes; there did not appear to be much glory in Him to mortals, but if He chose to emit His glory, to let a little of it appear to His disciples (for none else were favored to see it) on the Mount of Transfiguration, they had just a glimpse of His brightness, His luster, His glory; they fell to the ground overwhelmed with it. And thou, poor Christian, art wishing that thou couldst go to heaven as thou art, that there might not be any death between thee and heaven. You could not endure the brightness of His glory in your present state, therefore it is necessary we should be unclothed, to be clothed upon, that the body should become spiritual, that we might behold Him and His glory too. The doctrine of the resurrection is a very beautiful doctrine to the saints. Of course, in the day and in some countries where heretics (as those that loved Christ were called) were buried at, their ashes were scattered hither and thither, because their persecutors did not believe in the resurrection; but the Lord watches the bodies of His saints, and He will raise them again at the Great Day.
"And the express image of His Person." Christ is the express image of God. O, what a Christ! Can we not trust Him? Can we not leave ourselves in His hands? "Express image" was a Jewish phrase, to set forth anything exactly like the original. So Christ, the Man of Sorrows; the weeping Saviour; the bleeding Saviour, is said to be the express image of the person of Deity. We shall never find a sweeter theme than the person and work of Christ. (I know that we have troubles; and if we had none we should begin to think that we were wrong altogether without them--we should think "we," were out of the way.)
"And upholding all things by the word of His power." Chrysostom says of these words that they include not only the creation, but sustaining, supporting, bearing, and carrying. So with our precious Christ; it is said He upholds all things by the word of His power. If it be so, and believers are in His hand, why should we fear we shall be lost. Let all vegetation wither, let all creation die, let the world go back to its original nothing, still the child of God is safe in the Redeemer's hands; of whom it is said in regard to His glorious person that He is upholding all things by the word of His power. We are made to feel our weakness, and to mourn over it; but the Lord deals with His people in the right way to bring them to know that their safety is of the Lord. Did not our Lord Himself say, when He was here on earth, when He compared those that fear His name to sheep; None shall pluck them out of My hand; My Father which gave them Me is greater than all (because at this time Jesus was in His state of humiliation,) and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one. (John 10:28-30) And yet, poor child of God, you are afraid that you will not hold out to the end! You read in the Scriptures, He that endureth to the end shall be saved, and you mark the word endureth, that implies that there is some trial or trouble enduring, or continuing to the end, and one is ready to say, Can I hold out in my Christian course? But we read as set over against that, "My grace is sufficient for thee," (2 Cor. 12:9) that is, if you are so crushed and troubled, that all your physical and mental spirits fail, if you feel that you have no strength to bear up under the trials and temptations of the way, My grace is enough. Precious words, how many times have they comforted my heart. So, you see believers will not fail; those that trust in Him can never fall away. My grace (He said.) Lord, how we need it! and, as if the Lord said, I intend that you should need it. Now we see why believers are sometimes tried, why they have so many cares, so many anxieties; it is that they may know His grace, and what it can do. O, Christian, believe this and leave all with Him.
"Here, Lord, I give myself away,
'Tis all that I can do."
The Lord, our exalted, our precious Christ, in His glorious person is above all. There is not His equal to be found. He has always been the great and glorious One, though in His humiliation He appeared more despised than any man, so that it brought from Him whole nights of prayer and supplication because He had to pass that way.
"None but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good."
Then we do trust in Him, and what does the Scripture say? "Shew Thy marvellous loving-kindness, O Thou that savest by Thy right hand them which put their trust in Thee, from those that rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of the eye." (That was the Psalmist's prayer when he called upon God.) "Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings." I had almost said every prayer and every breath of the soul seemed to be wrapped up in the expression, "To be kept as the apple of God's eye, and to be hidden under His shadow." Now it is said, the Lord saved them. He teaches them to put their trust in Him. But my sins are so great; I still feel sin working within me, and iniquity beneath. I cannot restrain my thoughts. I know I stray from the Lord almost continually; but it is said of Jesus, this glorious Person, this wondrous One in our text, "When He had by Himself purged our sins." Of course, the Hebrew would understand this. What did the blood of beasts mean, when the High Priest made atonement? It was purgation: putting away; typical of putting away the sins of the people. What does the scapegoat and other things for instance mean? Why did the High Priest lay his hand upon the head of one, and confess the sins of the people there, and then have it led away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness, whilst the other was slain. It was typical of this in our text when He had (not by the scapegoat, not by the blood of beast on Jewish altars slain, not as you were instructed in your childhood, but when He had without any blood of yours) by Himself expiated, cleansed, purified and purged away all our sins; every one of them. How many times have we made use of some of these words--
"What sacred Fountain yonder springs
Up from the Throne of God,
And all new covenant blessings brings?
'Tis Jesus' precious blood.
"What mighty sum paid all my debt,
When I a bondman stood,
And has my soul at freedom set?
'Tis Jesus' precious blood.
"What stream is that which sweeps away
My sin, just like a flood,
Nor lets one guilty blemish stay?
'Tis Jesus' precious blood.
"What voice is that which speaks for me,
In heaven's high Court for good,
And from the curse has made me free?
'Tis Jesus' precious blood.
"What theme my soul shall best employ
Thy harp before thy God,
And make all heaven to ring with joy?
'Tis Jesus' precious blood."
Oh, how precious; because it sweeps away my sins like a flood. Over them all, I am forgiven--I am blest--there is not one stain left; because of this purgation, because of this glorious work. It is done; and done for ever, child of God, for thyself and myself, that believe in Him. My faith did not put away my sins. No! no Father Confessor could do it. No! there was no creature on earth could put it away: it was all done before, and so we pass by all human means and human inventions, and look on Him who by Himself did it when he expired on Calvary, and said, "It is finished," bowed His head and gave up the ghost. It is all gone, believer. "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." (Rom. 8:1) Belief of this brings about the obedience of faith. I do not care what obedience you talk about, if it be not the obedience of faith. Faith in obeying the Lord; in looking to this glorious Saviour; in trusting our whole salvation in His hand, and feeling within us a peace that nothing else could impart. Here we have the evidence of it; here we understand the meaning of the words, when it said, "When He had by Himself purged our sins." Oh, what a glorious word; and whilst we feel that sin is such a trouble to us, if one sinner feels so much, what must all the sinners in the world that are convinced of sin feel? What is the amount of their sin and guilt? If guilt presses the conscience of one, what is the weight of guilt that is pressing the conscience of thousands? What the sin and guilt that has been felt from the foundation of the world by the people of God till now. We think of Dr. Watts words:--
"Sinners are pointing to the skies
And bidding defiance to the Majesty of Heaven;
And yet the blood,
The precious blood, the sufferings,
The great work of the Redeemer
Has purged them all away."
We read in the Scriptures of truth, "Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee;" (Songs 4:7) and the Saviour said, "And ye are clean, but not all." (John 13:10) Amongst the disciples there was a Judas, whose conscience had not been purged, cleansed, and purified by the precious blood, and it seems to tell us that there may some, professing to be the people of God, and walking with them, to whom such words will apply, "but not all." We ask ourselves if we are cleansed; if He has pardoned us--if He has forgiven us? That is the question; believers want a sweet assurance of this. Have you ever thought of it? The children of God want to know this. It is their chief concern. You were thinking the other day about Christ and His sufferings. There is nothing so attractive as Calvary and His great work. You often think of it and wonder if He died for you. Now when this great work was done, the Church of God was purified and purged from all her sins: and in due time the Holy Ghost convinces us that we want this work. You feel that; I feel it too. I want to know for myself, without any doubt, that when He died on Calvary all my sins were put away. You want to know it. All believers want to know it, and oh, when He gives us faith to realize it, faith to rest upon Him, and the heart is drawn forth in affection to Him, what can we then sing of but that we were reading just now--
This is why God's people attend to the ordinance of the Lord's supper. There is no merit in it; we do not come professing to merit it, we would not set aside this great work of Christ by human merit! We only go there to show that we trust Him, that we rely upon Him for salvation; that we love Him; and oh, we fain would love Him more. It is only a memorial of His death. He Himself instituted it. It is the order of God in His holy Word, and He said (whatever others may say,) "Drink ye all of it." It is yours, child of God, to show forth the Lord's death till he come. Sin was purged when the Redeemer died on Calvary; it was all put away, and so effectually, that the Lord, the just and holy God says Your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more. (Heb. 10:17) Oh! sweet mercy; He is so satisfied with the work of His dear Son, this glorious person mentioned in our text, that He will never think of the believer's sin again; He will never remember it against him; there is no condemnation when the conscience is purged by the grace of God and the faith of Christ; and we feel in ourselves that He died for us. Then it is the height of our ambition to glorify Him.
Lastly, we have to notice His eternal exaltation.
It is said when that He had done all this of which we have been speaking, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty of high. What precious words are here. The Majesty on high must of course mean the Eternal Father; the great and glorious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now He is resting from His labors. We never read this of any High Priest under the old dispensation; standing is the word there, offering sacrifices which could not in any way put away sins; the work was never finished; the High Priest was not allowed to sit down during His work, because it was never completed. But the work is complete, and He has sat down; where? At the right hand of the Majesty on high. Now we have the same thing, I think, mentioned five times in this epistle, not exactly the same words, but here is another (13th ver.) To which of the angels said He at any time, Sit on My right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. He never said that of the angels (chap. 8:1) Now of the things of which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens a minister of the Sanctuary, and of the true Tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man. Again we find (chap. 10:12) "But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God." Now we know the right hand is the place of honor; the place of authority and power. Jesus is there; we read of this as long ago as the days of Jacob, (Gen. 48) when he was blessing the sons of Joseph, and it is said (17th ver.) And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim it displeased him (it was not right in his sight; it does not say that he was angry, but he thought it was not right;) And he held up his father's hand to remove it from the head of Ephraim to the head of Manasseh. And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. (Give him the honor of the family; bless him.) And his father refused and said, I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great, but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. And he blessed him that day saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh, and he set Ephraim before Manasseh." He laid his right hand upon him, gave him the place of honor and of power, that he should be greater than the other.
Then in that sweet song about the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians (Exod. 15:5) "The depths have covered them (the Egyptians) they sank into the bottom as a stone; Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power; Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy." Psalm 110: "The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at My right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord, shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion, rule thou in the midst of thine enemies." Take this power, this authority, thou hast saved thy saints, purged their sins, and put them all away; now show thy mighty power. What is the effect of this power? Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. (Ps. 110:3) We come to ourselves, willing for what? made willing to do what? If a person is willing, there is something connected with it; made willing to be saved by Christ, to be saved through His blood; willing that the Lord should reign and rule in us; and oh! tried Christian, may He make us willing to endure all His holy will. He can and will do it. This is the same doctrine the Apostles taught after Christ was gone to glory. It is the same in Acts 2:37,38: This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses, therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear. Again, chap. 5:30, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree, Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." Christ at God's right hand has all authority in heaven and in earth. Sweet thought. God is the believer's friend. Has He never befriended us in a God-like way, turned our darkness into light; taken away our troubles, and given us peace, taken anxiety from our minds and given us goodness. Do we not feel and enjoy His authority and His ruling power? He is at God's right hand to subdue all the foes of the Church. Have you enemies? Leave them with Him. Have you trouble?
May He give you grace to leave that with Him. No one can injure the believer, because Christ is now exalted, and set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. How wonderful! This was the theme of the Apostles. Read Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, and you will find the same great doctrines. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8) O! to know that our souls are in His hand, our circumstances there; and that He is interested in our eternal welfare. He is a Friend, a Brother born for adversity. (Prov. 17:17) May we be enabled to adore and bless His great name. It is said of the Church, "On thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir." (Ps. 45:9) "That they all may be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou has loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." (John 17:21-24) We leave ourselves in His hand, and we glory in His exaltation, enjoying the sweet confidence that He will direct us safely through the wilderness: that He will meet us at death, the old Jordan of death which we have so often feared and dreaded; and you say Israel went through at the time of the overflowing. They did, but it will be with you as then. At the word of God the stream was driven back up to the city of Adam, miles nearer its source, and Israel went through dry shod. They took stones out of the bed of the river, and pitched them as a monument of their gratitude and thankfulness to God; and so with believers. Till we meet there, may we be enabled to live upon these precious and glorious things, and the Lord shall have the praise.