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THE CLAIMS OF THE GOSPEL AND HOPELESSNESS OF NEGLECTING IT.
Hebrews ii. 1-4. Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.
STRICT arrangement would be likely to include this passage in the preceding chapter. The apostle had just been arguing that Christ was superior to the angels; here we have a practical application of that proposition to the great purpose for which he wrote. This is done first by way of exhortation, and secondly by way of argument. Our attention shall first be taken up with the exhortation-" Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard."
The things here spoken of doubtless mean, what was spoken by the Son, as declared in the opening of the first chapter. This seems to be clearly intimated in what follows, where Paul speaks of "so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord." "Salvation" is a term used in the Scriptures sometimes with a more restricted, and at others with a more compendious meaning. In the text it is obviously intended to signify the Gospel, in its widest sense.
We then understand the apostle to exhort to a diligent attention to the Gospel of Christ. We are to listen to its instructions and inform ourselves of its teachings. This is a matter which the generality of men are only too prone to neglect. Lamentable indeed is the indifference and inattention manifested toward the communications of the Savior. There is scarcely a subject, however incon siderable or trifling, so little regarded as the message of salvation. When an essay or treatise is written on some scientific subject, it is ardently sought for and greedily devoured. When some new work of fiction or romance is issued, youth and beauty, at the expense of repose-sighs-and tears, pore with incessant eagerness
over its sickly and corrupting pages. When literary lectures are given, the audiences are generally thronged; when theatres are opened, there is scarcely room to accommodate the multitudes who press in; whilst all is attention and intense anxiety to catch from the speaker's lips each word and syllable which is uttered. But let a serious work, or a scriptural dissertation be published, and it is soon sent away to the topmost or some obscure shelf to moulder beneath the thick dust of neglect. Let a sermon be preached, and except by a man distinguished for his eloquence, or by some pecu liarity in the doctrines which he teaches, the congregations are ordinarly small-the attention is languid and the principal portion of the hearers are found possessed of such extremely treacherous memories, as to leave the sanctuary without being able so much as to recollect the text, much less the leading thoughts, doctrines, or duties presented.
Quite a different state of things and course of conduct is made the subject of exhortation in the text. Men are to hear the Gospel with care-candor-and deep solicitude. The simple but sublime fact, that it is a message of grace from the supreme Sovereign of the universe to a province of perishing rebels, entitles it to such attention and regard. The infinite glory it reveals, with the transporting prospects which it holds out to the smitten sinner, strongly present its imperious claims, and press them upon us with peculiar emphasis. It is altogether the gospel's most righteous due, that we should study the blessed truths which it contains, and familiarly acquaint ourselves with the sublime doctrines which it teaches.
But this giving "the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard," implies something more than the mere outward hearing of the Gospel. It also conveys the idea of the diligent and conscientious practice of those sacred teachings. We are to give the more earnest heed to the practical observance of the things which we have heard. The religion of Jesus is a practical religion. And whether we contemplate the end at which it aims-the means which it employs-or the morality which it teaches, this stands out as a bold characteristic. The simple hearing of the word with the outward ear, whilst the heart remains unmoved, will profit nothing. "Not every one that saith Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of the Father which is in heaven." The mere theoretical knowledge of the truth, without its
practical application to our feelings-lives-and general conduct, is of but little consequence. As well might we excuse the murderer because he knew that if he killed his neighbor he would be hanged, as to expect reward from God simply because we listened to his word without obeying it. The very devils have a more full and comprehensive acquaintance with the will of God than the wisest saint; but devils do not practice obedience thereto, and what does their knowledge avail them. There must be a conformity of all the feelings of our hearts, and of the whole deportment of our lives to the teachings and requisitions of the Gospel. And "if ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
But now for the arguments by which this exhortation is enforced. Why give this diligent and earnest attention to the things which we have heard? What motives are urged for the study and practice of the precepts of religion? The first reason why we should earnestly attend to the Gospel, is drawn from the loss which the negligent must inevitably sustain.. We must give heed, "lest at any time we should let them slip." Notwithstanding all that has been done for our salvation, there is still a possibility of our coming short of eternal life. It is not absolutely certain because a Savior has been provided, that all will be saved-or because a Gospel has been proclaimed, all will reap its benefits. Like the waters of the stream, the season and the privileges of salvation will glide away from the careless, and the messages of truth fade fruitlessly from their memories, leaving their souls in darkness profound as though not one single ray of heavenly light had ever reached our benighted world. The fact that Jesus came from heaven to speak to the fallen progeny of Adam will not save us, unless we heed his instructions. And though the consolations of the Gospel are free and abundantthough the waters of life are sending forth their purling streams through all the earth, making glad the solitary place, filling the desert with fragrant bloom, and waking up the voices of thanksgiving and praise at every advance—though the angel of mercy as he flits along the course of time cries to every successive generation, "Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters;" yet shall we pine away and die unless we give the most earnest heed. Though the Divine messenger has visited our prison-thrown open its massive doors-broken the chains that bound us-and rung the joyful tidings in our ears, Go forth to light, and life, and liberty! Yet shall
we sink to the grave beneath our irons, unless we heed and obey the voice, All the instructions-comforts-benefits-and great redemption of the Gospel will pass by the negligent, without inspiring one glad hope, or imparting the least substantial joy.
If then there be anything in the Gospel deserving of our consideration; if there be any virtue in its provisions-anything substantial in its comforts-anything desirable in the ineffable joys and holy associations of the heaven which it holds out to our hopes, surely there is reason for giving it our attention. To neglect it, all this must be lost. And it is in consideration of this incalculable lossthe loss of Jesus and of heaven, that we are to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.
But this is not the only motive which the apostle urges for obedience to his exhortation. He refers also to the positive and inevitable punishment which the negligent must incur. "For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will." Paul's argument here is of that kind which logicians term "argumentum a fortiore." He first affirms a thing which his readers admitted to be true under adverse and unpromising circumstances, and thence argues that the same fact is far more credible under likelier circumstances. If transgression and disobedience received their merited punishment in inferior and imperfect dispensations, as they really did; how confidently may it be inferred that sin and neglect of duty will be justly punished in the more complete and holy economy of the Gospel? If the angelic ministry was steadfast, and its neglect provoked the wrath of God, how shall we escape if we neglect the ministry of the Son of God?
In order then to the more effectual elucidation of the apostle's meaning, it will be important for us to dwell a little upon the point, that the Gospel scheme is a superior scheme-a great salvation. Upon this point I have already had occasion to make some observations. But there are still a few additional considerations to which I will here refer.
1st. The superior greatness of the Gospel may be seen in the universality of its application. All former religious institutions were restrictive in their regulations. In the Mosaic economy, none but the members of the Hebrew nation-none but the circumcised and the initiated could participate of its blessings. But the provisions of the Gospel are free as the air we breathe, and extend to all who will accept or receive them. It is one of the distinguishing and blessed features of the New Testament, that it knows no restrictions, and has no territorial limits. Christ Jesus has tasted death for every man. The benefits of his mediation are confined by no boundaries, no seas, no landmarks. They extend to polar realms and equatorial climes, overlook all national distinctions, and cover the entire area of the world. With Jesus there is "neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scy thian, bond nor free." The blessings of his atonement extend as well to the Hindoo-to the Chinee-to the African-to the savage inhabitants of the isles and the mountains, as to the Jew who trod the sacred walks of Jerusalem, or to European kings amid the glory of their palaces. In every land, and isle, and mount, and vale, everywhere that living man has set his foot or sinful wretch is found, the Gospel extends its saving efficacy, and proclaims to the believer a free and full salvation. Nor is there any want either natural, spiritual, or social, in the whole catalogue of human infirmity and need, which it does not provide for. Every tear of anguish it wipes away. Every pain it either removes or alleviates. And every wound of bruised and suffering humanity it kindly binds up and heals. So that looking at the universality of its application both as respects all men, and as respects all the wants of men, we may well call it a "great salvation."
2nd. The great expense at which the Gospel was procured and salvation provided also tends to enhance its greatness. It was not by an easy process, or by a little expenditure that the work of redemption was accomplished. It has cost more than arithmetic can calculate or finite mind conceive. As to the labor bestowed upon it, multiplied thousands including angels-patriarchs-prophetspriests and kings have lived and toiled for its completion. The Son of God himself also gave it years of personal and unceasing attention and labor. As to self-denial, it cost the Savior the unaccountable humiliation of a temporary resignment of his seat in glory,