In this installment we wish to make a few concluding remarks on the meaning of the verses 24 and 25 of this chapter.
First of all, let us bear in mind, that the precepts given in these verses are not at all the precepts of the law, which a man must do to live by the same. The admonitions and the exhortations given here in these verses, as well as in all the exhortations of the gospel, are those that come to us by virtue of the accomplished work in Christ and because they are a part of the ministry of reconciliation. They are, therefore, most emphatically precepts of the gospel; they call to positive faith in Christ Jesus and His meritorious labors, and, thus, they call to repentance which is a godly sorrow to have transgressed against the holy law of God and a true joy in God through Jesus Christ our Lord. And thus these precepts are means employed by the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of the risen, and glorified Christ, to fill us with His fullness of grace and truth. By means of these precepts He writes and continues to write His law in our hearts as the new Covenant enacted upon better promises.
Now the point in these two verses to which we would call attention in this essay is, that we are admonished and exhorted unto a certain activity of faith and love. We are to give heed unto each other unto the sharpening of love and good works.
Now the question here is: what is this love of which the text speaks? Our answer to this is, that in view of the fact, that the writer does not give any qualifying limitations to the term love, such as love for good, love for the truth, or love of the brethren, but that he simply writes: sharpening of love, we understand the meaning of love to be the manifestation of love in its broadest sense. No matter which aspect of love one may wish to suggest or mention, love here is the love in each of these senses. It is the love of God as it is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. And it is the love for God above all, love with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and love for our neighbor as for ourselves. It is the love of the golden rule: As ye would have men do unto you, do ye even so to others. And this rule must then not be understood again in a certain formal utilitarian sense, but in the deep sense of love, the love that is the tie that binds in ethical perfection. It is love as the fulfillment of the law of God, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Such is the love of which the text here speaks.
And this love is, as must not be overlooked, the energy of our living faith in Christ. It is the energy, the living impetus of the faith that is everywhere in Holy Writ denominated being a new creature in Christ Jesus. Such is the faith mentioned in the context of our verses. And this same love is also that which gives us the assurance that the hope which is ours will not put us to shame. For this love is the activating power of both faith and love. Only where this love is, is there a living faith and hope, and only where this love is activated and sharpened, is there a strong and vigorous faith, revealing itself in beautiful and God-glorifying works. Here alone will there be love in good works of faith.
This is good gospel truth. It is the truth as it is in Jesus. It is the truth of the nature of the saving work of Jesus in His vicarious suffering and death, in His glorious resurrection and ascension and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It is the truth of the saving work of Christ in regenerating our hearts through the Holy Spirit, softening the obdurate and hard heart, bending and making wonderfully pliant and willing the obstinate will, enlightening our sin-darkened mind so that we may behold the loveliness of God’s precepts, as these are adapted to fill the heart with great delight. It is the good gospel truth concerning the only way in which we experience the full cup of the blessing of God, that we have our joy constantly filled from the fullness of Christ.
Such is the truth in Jesus in our text.
For let it never be forgotten, that it is exactly hatred, envy, strife, malice, fornication, covetousness that are the bitter root in our lives that rob us of all our joys. The bitterness of life is not in the circumstances. But these are in our evil hearts that are loveless. And thus we do not taste the power of the Cross of Jesus as this comes to us through the Holy Spirit in the ministry of reconciliation. For in this hatred there is nothing of the beauty of grace and of the power of love. In this hatred for God and for our neighbor there is the awful flesh, the flesh that cannot be pleasing to God. Even the most holy confesses that in his flesh there dwells no good at all. This is very manifestly so. Life is rife with this lovelessness. Yea, who of us, that knows himself by the light of the perfect law of God as he is by nature, has not observed and does not constantly observe this lovelessness in himself toward others, even to the point of glorying in the misery of others? And then, what is worse, we even cover over this heinous sinfulness with the rationalizing crutch: Misery likes company. Forsooth, this saying is far from the obeying the precepts of the gospel! Yes, (O, horror!) we are so evil by nature that we not only do these things but ere we realize it we even have a co-delight in those who do this. Thus is the mind of natural man; it is the reprobate mind that will not keep God in knowledge. Such is our stark blindness by nature. Let us beware!
Wherefore awake, thou that steepest, from such reprobate pursuits. Awake from all hatred and works of the flesh to the pursuits of works proceeding from love for God and for our neighbor. Only such works are lovely and beautiful in the sight of God before whom all things are naked and open. All other works reek with the vile and filthy stench of sin. And this is abominable in the holy nostrils of God. Wherefore let us put off all sordid filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness in heartfelt and godly sorrow. Then only will we be able to walk in good works and be able to receive, with all of the saints, the implanted word that is able to save our souls from death. For only thus shall we be in the spiritual state of mind to receive the pure milk of the word and the admonitions of the gospel to grow through the same. Then only shall we see the commandment of God as something holy, just, spiritual and good.
Unto this our text admonishes us. We are to joy in one another’s joy and thus dwell together in sweet accord. Then we shall walk in the love and truth as it is in Jesus; then the truth of the word of the cross shall lift up our hearts to the higher plane, to the Rock that is higher than we are. And our lives shall be such, that they are full of good fruits, without hypocrisy and partiality. Our works will then be commendable by Him who alone is able to say: Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord. And instead of the sordid aftermath of an evil and polluted conscience to grieve over, if not worse, our works do then follow us, so that the glory of the nations is carried into the New Jerusalem.
Always we must give heed unto each other in view of sharpening unto love and good works. For such will be the life of heaven presently in the ages to come, and such must also be our life now in view of entering into the kingdom presently. Dear reader, such is the avowed purpose of this little essay. It is an attempt to give heed unto this word of the writer to the Hebrews to give heed unto one another. It would be the stupidity of sin and the blindness of iniquity not to give heed to this admonition while commenting on it. No one can write about the truth and on the truth without subjecting himself to it, without understanding that we are indeed each moment to live according to it. That is our spontaneous and constantly blessed task. And, therefore, we desire to be obedient to this exhortation and give heed also by this article unto one another unto the sharpening of love and good works.
With a view to such heeding on one another unto love and good works it is necessary that we keep in touch with each other as saints in Christ. It is necessary that we bow before the one Word of the gospel and the precepts of the gospel. The whole church in this world, as she is saved by sovereign grace, must seek to keep this unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace. We may not just arbitrarily make divisions in the church where Christ has said: Father that they all be one! We may not live contrary to the intercessory prayer of the great High Priest and apostle of our faith. Only when we can say: They are no church, may we separate!
It seems that this was a passible fault among the believers of the Hebrews. They separated themselves from the believers of the Gentiles. That is sinful. And it is most dangerous. For it is separation from the church of the living God. Also in the controversy of the truth we must hold the bond of peace, the unity of the Spirit. That is true from the oftentimes contentious men society unto the sometimes not less quarrelsome Classis and Synod. It may be difficult to apply this rule. But the difficulty is in our flesh, in our flesh in which no good dwells.
Now this may not be. We must always speak the truth in love. And each one must be fully convinced and assured in his mind. Let each one work out his salvation with fear and trembling. Let him be as sensitive spiritually as the sensitive touch of a blind Helen Keller when she differentiates the birds that are nestled in the branches singing their morning song to the glory of their maker! Dear reader: Do you ever fear and tremble before God. Tremble before Him in godly fear, and thus in beauty of holiness worship the Lord?! Then you will seek the brethren and you will not easily be absent where saints are want to meet.
Yes, always we must give heed to each other to the sharpening of love and good works. And with a view to this sharpening of love it is necessary that we keep in touch with one another. We need not go to Jerusalem to the temple that is earthly. That is a thing of the past. Wherever men call upon the name of the Lord in Spirit and in truth there God is in their midst. But we must be where this gathering is. We must desire to be in the midst of the saints. Otherwise the love of God does not dwell in us. And then we do not dwell in the secret place of the Most High and under the shadow of the Almighty.
Not to will to come with the saints is willful sinning! Such must not be our walk. We must be in the gathering of the saints. And we must be amongst the brethren of our own congregation. Here the bread of life is broken. Here we meet our God in the preaching of the Word and in the administration of the sacraments. Here we call upon the Name of Lord.
Here we exhort one another unto love and good works. And this we here do the more in the same measure that we see the day of Jesus Christ our Lord draw nigh.