NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLING OF YOURSELVES (Hebrews 10:25)
Really this is still the same subject as we treated in our former essay. It deals with the only possible manner in which we can consider one another. It also deals with the only sphere where this is possibly performed, namely, the highly spiritual task of considering one another! The writer casts this into a participial clause. Fact is, that he employs two different participles in the present tense. These participles really show the circumstances in which this “considering one another unto provoking unto love and good works” takes place. It shows time and place, to wit, the God-appointed time and place. The place is in the congregation. The time is: assembling together, seeking one another’s fellowship in the risen Lord.
To see the enormity of the sin. of forsaking the assembling of “yourselves” we ought to notice carefully the nature of this “assembling.” The term in the Greek is very expressive. It is from a verb which means a lead (ago) to which are appended two prepositions, called compound prepositions. These prepositions are “with” (sun) and “upon” (epi). The resultant meaning is “To lead together upon a given place.” This refers to the ingathering of the Church by the Son of God, and to the congregating of this church on the Sabbath Day. Calvin stresses the meaning of this term a bit too far. He would have the (sunago) Synagogue, the O.T. church to which was added (epi) the believers out of the Gentiles, so that the writer would be referring to the New Testament Church, composed of both believers out of Jews and Greeks. This is as Paul writes in Rom. 1:16 “First the Jew and also the Greek.” Now we agree with the interpretation that this is such a Church, but we fail to see how this can be distilled from the preposition which means “added.” Sometimes this preposition emphasizes place upon. In any case it is a horrible sin against God’s Christ to forsake the assembling of the saints. This is the manifestation of a deep attitude of hatred and rebellion against the living God in Christ!
When Jesus stands in the temple in the last day of His public ministry, he mentions this deep rebellion of the false prophets and unbelievers against His work of gathering the church throughout the entire time from Abel to His very day. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered (episunagagein) thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthews 23:37) Here Jerusalem, which is spiritual Sodom and Egypt, is upbraided and condemned for refusing to be gatherers of the flock of God under Christ. They killed the prophets, and stoned them which were sent to them. Official Jerusalem, with “Its petrified priesthood, would not have Christ gather together the church. We learn here that the “gathering together” of the saints in Christ’s Name is far more than a mere meeting. It is where Christ gathers with the saints, by His Word and Spirit. Here he is with his godhead, grace, power and Spirit in their midst.
In a sense this is part of the great gathering together of all the saints unto Himself around the great white Throne in the blood of the Lamb. They are being gathered to mount Zion, the city of the living God in faith and hope. (Hebrews 12:22-24) On the very doorstep of heaven they are gathered each Sunday in the services, on the Lord’s Day. This is suggested in the text “and that so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” Keeping the Sabbath is a very spiritual activity of those who have a purified conscience and who cling in hope to the promise of the eternal Sabbath.
Small wonder that the prophets sang of this gathering of the elect out of every tongue and tribe and nation already in the Old Testament. They looked for the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham “In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Thus the Scriptures before preached the gospel to Abraham. (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8) This salvation in its universality is heralded by the prophet Zachariah “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD. And many nations shall be joined unto the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.”
So great is this gathering of the saints, and their gathering together of themselves, that this work finds its consummation in the final resurrection of the saints from the dead. Paul connects this final gathering of the church in glory with the Parousia, when the church shall ever be with the Lord. Writes he “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him (episunagogees). . . . ” Here the final gathering together will be in that great day the eternal Sabbath. This is what Jesus teaches us concerning the end of the ages, and final gathering of the church in the great Sabbath-rest of God, when the tabernacle of God shall be with man, when he says “And he shall send his angels with the great sound of the trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one- end of heaven to the other.” (II Thess. 2:1; Matt. 24:31) It is interesting to notice that the Patriarchs do not simply die, they are “gathered to their people” (Gen. 25:8, 17; Gen. 35:29; Gen. 49:29, 33 etc.)
From the foregoing we gain the Scriptural perspective of the importance of faithfully being where Christ gathers His people to him on the doorstep of heaven each Sunday; he gathers those together whom he has raised from the dead and has made to sit together with Christ in heavenly places. Here we draw nigh with true hearts, sanctified lips into the very presence of God. No, we do not merely come to hear the preacher pray and preach. We begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.
The writer to the Hebrews is not speaking here of a mere “neglecting of the means of grace.” That is bad enough, and is a very grievous evil under the sun. However, this is far worse. It is a forsaking of the assembling of the saints, a turning of their backs to this assembling, leaving the people of God where Christ gathers them, forever! Such is the truth of the matter as appears from the term used as well as from the entire context!
As for the term used it ought to be crystal clear that the term even in English is different from mere neglect. To forsake one’s wife is quite different from neglecting to help her. Besides, the current usage of the term “forsake” in Scripture is very strong and refers to an abandoning of the church, leaving the small church in the world, and caring not that the saints are exposed to the perils of the spiritual conflict with Satan and all his demonical hosts!
The term is used to express negatively the faithfulness of our covenant God to us. Writes the writer of this Epistle “So that we may boldly say, The LORD is my helper” Why? “Because He hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'” (Hebrews 13:5, 6). God would be leaving us in the lurch if He did not hasten to our help. Once God did forsake his church in the depths of hellish agony. And that was at Calvary. Here in Christ the church cried out “My God, my God, why hast thouforsaken me?” And the answer is: that by paying the debt of sin, and meriting eternal life for us, we should never more be forsaken. This demonstrates the force of the term “to forsake” in Scripture.
Now if the church will “consider one another unto love” then should there be a tendency to weak knees and trembling hands, to forsake, then the exhortation is “stop constantly any forsaking” of the church. For that is tantamount to counting the blood of Jesus a common thing! (compare Joshua 24:20).
Against this back-ground we begin to see the enormity of the sin of leaving the assembling of the saints where the Word is purely preached, the sacraments are administered and discipline is exercised—even upon those who refuse to walk in love and good works, as becometh saints. For this forsaking of the assembling of the saints had become the “manner” of some. Thank God, not the manner of all! The term translated “manner” is also translated “custom.” This manner of some is more than an occasional lapse in faithfulness. It is a manner of life; the die is cast and they have crossed the Rubicon. They have come to the point of no return. They may be people of different temperament, but they have this in common, that they do not love the saints in Christ. They are selective of their own church. They walk in their own chosen ways.
Calvin writes of such in his remarks on this phrase as follows:
We may at the same time gather from this passage a general doctrine: It is an evil which prevails everywhere among mankind, that everyone sets himself above others, and that especially that those who seem in anything to excel cannot well endure their inferiors on an equality with themselves. And then there is so much morosity almost in all, that individuals would gladly make churches for themselves if they could; for they find it so difficult to accommodate themselves to the ways and habits of others. The rich envy one another; and hardly one in a hundred can be found among the rich, who allows the poor the name and rank of brethren. Unless similarity of habits or some allurements or advantages draw us together, it is very difficult to maintain a continual concord among ourselves. Extremely needed, therefore, by us all is the admonition to be stimulated to love and not to envy, and not to separate from those whom God has joined to us, but to embrace with brotherly kindness all those who are united to us in faith. And, surely, it behooves us the more earnestly to cultivate unity, as the more eagerly watchful Satan is, either to tear us by any means from the church, or stealthily to seduce us from it. And such would be the happy effect, were no one to please himself too much, and were all of us to preserve this one object, mutually to provoke one another to love, and to allow no emulation among ourselves, but that of doing good works. For doubtless the contempt of the brethren, moroseness, envy, immoderate estimate of ourselves, and other sinful impulses, clearly show that our love is very cold, or does not at all exist.
This citation from Calvin is found on pages 240, 241 of “Calvin’s Commentary on Hebrews.” When I read this I wept with sorrow and confessed the sins of our people, of many in our churches. Yes, I saw the picture here of my own sinful flesh. And I thought of the many spots in our lives before the face of God.
We do well to ponder these words of Calvin.
It seems that he wrote them looking at us, and saying “Every one who is an enemy of my enemy is not therefore my friend.” Real friendship is a friendship which is cultivated where the unity and the love of the brethren is in evidence, where Christ gathers his church on the door-step of heaven, each Sunday morning and evening!