Online Text Sermon - God's Solemn Oath, Hebrews ch.6 vv.15-20
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||God's Solemn Oath|
|Text||Hebrews ch.6 vv.15-20|
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"And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Hebrews 6, 15-20).
Hebrews 6 deals with two different subjects and they are in marked contrast one to the other. In the first half of Hebrews 6 we have one of the sternest and most dreadful warning passages anywhere in the Bible. You can see from the reading how awesome it is. There are some people it says whom it is impossible to renew to repentance because they crucify Jesus Christ to themselves afresh. But the last half of Hebrews 6 is exactly the opposite in character: not a warning passage but a reassuring passage; a passage giving comfort.
We are all inclined to doubt God. We are all inclined to let his promises and his words go in one ear and come out of the other. It really is terrible how little we take God seriously when reading and studying His Word. These doubts are dishonouring to God but even the best of believers have these sinful doubts at times. I am sure you all remember there was an occasion when Peter was in the boat with the other disciples and Christ was seen walking towards them on the water - on the Sea of Galilee. Remember that Peter said: "Lord, if it be thou, bid me to come unto thee on the water" (Matthew 14, 28). Peter climbed out of the ship and, by the power of Christ, began to walk on the waves. As he had made a number of paces on to the water, he began to look at the way the waves were swelling under his feet and as he did so his faith turned to doubt. As he doubted he began to sink, and he cried out, "Lord, save me" (Matthew 14, 30). The Lord put forth his hand and said to him, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 14, 31). That question comes to us all - Why do we doubt God?
We must confront our doubts. Doubts never come from God, they come from the devil. I would remind you of what happened in the very beginning when our first father, Adam, and Eve were in the garden and in came the devil. What was the way he approached our first parents? "Yea," he said, "hath God said?" (Genesis 3, 1) - casting doubt on what God had said. That's an old sin. Today we are apt to call it "liberalism" or "the higher critical" view of the Bible. The devil has his servants in most of the pulpits of Scotland, without any doubt whatsoever, because in the majority of pulpits in Scotland (maybe England and other countries too) they don't take the Bible seriously. They have doubts as to its reliability; they have doubts about its authenticity and those doubts come from the devil.
Remember the devil's way of speaking to Jesus our Lord in the desert when he tempted Him for 40 days. Satan said, "If you are the Son of God, then do this.... If you are the Son of God then come down.... If you are the Son of God, then turn this into bread..." and so on. If... if... if... - doubts, in other words. My friends, doubts I'm afraid are the things which all too often characterise our lives. This evening I want to show from my text that God assures his own people of the truth of the Gospel by which we are saved. I say it again: God assures his people; God loves to give assurance to believers as to the truth of the Gospel. It is not God who inspires men and women with doubts, but the devil. On the other hand, God's kindness is such, that he loves men and women who are believers to receive assurance. Be clear on this point: God desires all who trust in Christ to be assured of that fact. Our doubts do not come from God - wherever they come from - from our own frailty no doubt and sometimes the suggestion of the devil, as I have said. Wherever they come from, they do not come from God if we are genuine believers.
That's the subject before us in this text. He is here describing how it is that God gave assurance of salvation to Abraham. Abraham is not a name plucked at random; he is the father of all believers in a spiritual sense. Abraham is a sort of paradigm, a sort of standard or outstanding example to us all. He is a kind of model believer in many ways and what God did for Abraham is significant for all believers. We have this phrase - "the immutability of his counsel"; let me show you where that is. He talks about the immutability of his counsel here: "Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath" (text). My subject here is the way in which God reassures believers; the way in which God gives inward certainty to believers that they are safe. When God uses this phrase here, "the immutability of his counsel", He is referring to the Gospel; He is referring to Abraham's faith in the promises of God - Abraham's believing God and being justified. It's true for us all, because we are all the heirs of salvation if we believe in Christ. We are in a spiritual sense, as I have said, all children of Abraham when we believe in Christ. So the "immutability of his counsel" means that the Gospel is rock-solid and that it cannot let us down. It is "immutable", meaning it cannot be changed - that is the meaning of immutable. His counsel is His gracious salvation given freely to all those who, by their faith, wish to receive it - of whom Abraham was an eminent example.
The Gospel, we are told here, is a promise. You see where that is found? (v.17-18): "God," he says, "willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation" (text). Here he refers to the promise that God gives of everlasting life. My dear friends, God loves people to be saved and He loves those who are saved to be reassured of that fact. He doesn't love to keep people in the dark. God loves to have people fully assured. That's why He gives us this promise. The Gospel is a promise, that whosoever believes in Jesus shall have everlasting life; it is a promise. That's the way God comes to us - a promise of everlasting good. In that way, God reassured Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham, I will be to you a God. I will bless you and I will multiply you," which is exactly what has happened, because the Jews are Abraham's children. There's the proof of it. There are millions of Jews in the world today, and these are the spiritual seed - at least heirs of promise. Not all of them believers but there were many of them in the Old Testament, and in a certain sense they are a peculiar people still - but there they are. God has given this promise to Abraham that He will be to him a God, but said to Himself as it were, that it was not enough of a reassurance. Therefore, God has added a second reassurance. What is that? It's one of these two immutable things. The first one is this promise and the second one is an oath. It is confirmed by an oath.
Boys and girls, it may be you don't know what an oath is so let us just find out. An oath is a very solemn statement, which you only make for very special reasons; it is a very solemn promise. Whether they still do it I don't know, but years ago in a court of law, if you were a witness in a court of law what happened to you is this: you stood up and a Bible was opened for you in the full view of everybody in the court. Then you put your hand on the Bible and said these words, "I swear by Almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God." That is called an oath because you are swearing solemnly to the truth of what you say. You don't speak like that every day of the week - it wouldn't be appropriate to do so; we are not to take rash and careless oaths. However, in serious things and on serious occasions we must take oaths.
Here is the point that our writer is giving to us in our text. He says God Almighty has taken an oath. Isn't that amazing? He has not only promised to believers that they shall certainly be saved, but in order to give us a double reassurance He has confirmed the promise with an oath: God has sworn. When you and I take an oath, we swear by God because He is the ultimate, the absolute. God is the end of all things - higher than all, greater than all, more exalted than all, sovereign over all - so, when we take a solemn oath we take our oath in the name of God: "I swear by God Almighty to tell the truth..." and so on. When God makes an oath He cannot swear by anything else because there is nothing greater than Himself. He cannot swear by the sun or by the moon or by the angels, because they are much beneath Him. So, says our writer, when God made an oath to Abraham and to His people, because He could swear by no greater, He swore by himself. He used this pattern of words, "Surely blessing I will bless thee" (v.14). The oath is in that word 'surely'. He is not only giving us affirmation and confirmation of what He says He will do by giving us a promise, but He also adds to the promise an oath. We are told that these are two immutable things -the oath and the promise - in which God cannot lie.
Let me speak to those of you, my dearly beloved friends, who find it very difficult to say that you are a Christian; you find it very difficult to say to yourself even, that you are a genuine Christian. You would wish to be a Christian, let us say, but you find it very hard to reassure yourself that you are. I want to say to you, if you truly have placed your faith in Christ then you must take the reassurance which God has given to all believers. If you have given your heart to Christ and you rest for salvation upon his finished work, in life and death and resurrection, then you must take to yourself this reassurance which God loves to give to believing sinners like ourselves. It takes this twofold form: the oath and the promise - "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Hebrews 8, 10). You must not stagnate in a state in which you never make any progress. Oh, my dearly beloved friends - don't allow yourself to become stagnant. Don't allow yourself to get in a situation in which you make no progress of any kind. Go on - go on pleading with God to make personal to you the promises and the certification of His oath and His certain affirmations to you.
How does all this reassure us? How are these promises of reassurance to us? Like this - we are certain that God cannot lie. We are certain of that fact. It is impossible for God to lie. God is the God of truth. It is one of the things that God cannot do, to say anything which is untrue. We sometimes, alas, say things that are untrue - sometimes because of our ignorance and other times because we may be tempted to twist the truth and that of course is sinful. We must say that, at times -alas, alas - we may have been guilty of that. But in any case, God is never, never guilty of twisting the truth, or adjusting the truth, or mishandling the truth. His promises are sure; His promises are certain.
An oath is more than a promise, and so God intends us to see that, not only has he promised to give eternal life to believers, but he has added this strengthening confirmation: "Certainly I will do it. Most definitely I will do it." He says: "I engage myself as the great Jehovah to ensure that every promise I make to you I will fulfil - to the uttermost - when you put your trust in Me." There is no higher authority than God and therefore He swears, as I say, by Himself. Because this is so, we who are believers may rest on this bedrock of certainty. My friends, we are not building upon sand but upon the solid rock of truth. Doesn't Jesus use that illustration? He talks about the two builders. One builds upon the sand. He makes a good job of the house and it looks fine until the rain descends, the winds blow and the floods arise, then the house falls and is washed away. The other builds upon the rock; he is secure. What is He talking about with that illustration? He is talking about the true believer and the spurious believer - the one who is really born again and the one who isn't; the one with saving faith and the one with temporary faith. He is making this illustration: if men build upon anything but upon a sound believing in Christ then they will come to nothing but, on the other hand, God will not lie, he will not falsify his promises.
Dear friends, this is something you will not always find in this world. You will find friends and already doubtless you have experienced that you can find friends in this world who will be very sweet to you, and say very nice things to you, for a while - they may smile at you for a while - and then, you wait, they will turn round and their smiles will vanish and evaporate and they will turn to dust Judas Iscariot is a perfect example of this: a false friend who betrayed his Master with a kiss - can you believe it - and there are people like that. One day they are shouting "Hosanna", the next day they are shouting, "Crucify". Don't be surprised if men sometimes are like that. Sometimes you get it in friendships. You even get it in marriage: people make vows on their wedding day to be faithful to their spouse and when years have gone by they falsify that by their conduct. Well, that's part of the sadness of this world - this imperfect world - but God will never falsify His promises. God will never tell a lie - no, not a syllable of a lie, nor a millionth part of a syllable of a lie! His words are true.
You see this reflected in the Bible - that's one reason why we should study the Bible. You will see that everything God says in the Bible comes to pass. Go back to Genesis 3. What did God say to Adam and Eve? God said that one day there would be a Saviour who would bruise the serpent's head. They believed it and were saved. It took hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, but He came - the Lord from heaven - He came. Jesus Christ our Lord came from the excellent glory and fulfilled the Word of God. What you see all through the prophecies of the Old Testament are true. Our Lord was born in Bethlehem - just as the prophets had said. Our Lord came from the family of David - just as the prophets had said. Our Lord was crucified - exactly as the prophets had said, and not a bone of Him was broken - just as the prophecies had said. And He was raised again on the third day, and all His words were fulfilled.
It shows how irrational it is, and how stupid it is not to believe the Bible. If anyone ever comes across your path and says to you, "You can't believe the Bible," all you need to do is to say to them, "Well, my friend, study the prophecies! Did they come to pass or not?" and they will be forced, if they are honest people, to say, "Yes, they did, they did." And if they did then they will! All the promises of God in the past have come true, and all the promises related to the future will yet come true.
Secondly, why is it necessary for God to assure His people in this way? Why does God need to assure His people by the oath and by the promise? Well, I'll tell you. It's because we are so slow to believe what God says. You may remember an incident in Luke 24 when Christ had raised Himself from the dead. Two men were on the road to Emmaus and they were very sad-looking. They hadn't yet heard of the resurrection and they were talking about Jesus and how sad it was that He had been crucified - then they met a stranger, you remember? He said to them that they were very sad-looking and He asked them why that was. They said they thought that Jesus of Nazareth was going to do some great thing for them all, and instead He had been crucified. They had put him to death and it was a tragedy. He began to ask some questions and draw them out and explain the prophecies to them. Then he said to them, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24, 25-26). After he had said the grace with them, you remember, they saw who He was. They leapt to their feet, ran to Jerusalem and told the apostles what they had seen: "The Lord is risen indeed" (Luke 24, 34).
That's what Jesus said to them, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe" (Luke 24, 25). Am I speaking to someone here tonight of whom it could be said, with tenderness and with love - and yet with a touch of reproof and a touch of rebuke - "Why are you so slow to believe the Word of God? Why are you so slow to believe the assurance that God gives to us?" He has confirmed his word by an oath and by a promise. Sometimes, you know, we make a virtue of not believing the Word of God. You meet people like this who say, "Oh yes, the Bible is true and the Bible is holy but then who am I? Who am I to believe all those wonderful things?" - as though this was a virtue. Dear friends, don't make a virtue out of a sin. It is no virtuous thing to say we are so humble and we are so much a 'nobody' that we are in no position to believe the great things that God has said. Of course we are in a position to believe it! Why ever should God give us all these promises except for our good? Why did God say these things but because He loves men and women to be saved and to be assured? That's why He tells us these very things. Yet, you know, even the best of Christians are slow to believe the promises of God. Let me remind you of Acts 12. If you've not read it for a while, I'll summarise part of it for you. Peter was arrested for preaching. It doesn't yet happen in this country but who knows how soon it will. He had been preaching, and he was arrested and put into the prison in Jerusalem.
So what happened? All the church had a big prayer meeting, and I dare say it was a real prayer meeting. They were agonising to God - pleading with God for the release and protection of Peter. If we had been living then, you and I would have been in the prayer meeting with the rest, pleading for Peter's deliverance and so on. After an hour or two they heard a knocking on the door; and a girl, Rhoda, at the door, asked, "Who's that?" Peter said, "It's me, Peter." For very gladness she couldn't believe it, so she ran to the company - she must have interrupted the prayer meeting - she said, "Peter's right here, outside this door!" "Oh," they said, "it couldn't possibly be, it must be his ghost, his angel [which I think means his ghost]." Sure enough, when they opened the door, there he was. Their prayer had been answered. God had wrought a miracle. Angels were sent; the doors of the prison had swung open; Peter's chains had fallen off; he had gone free. It was like a dream to him. It was so wonderful the church couldn't believe it - even the church in its heyday, even the apostolic church - they couldn't believe the wonder of what God had done. It shows how slow we are to believe, and that is why God gives us these promises.
May I remind you of the nature of the promises of God? The Bible says at least two wonderful things about them. It says, these are "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1, 4). Isn't that true? My friends, what is it that God is promising us? God is saying to us this: "It doesn't matter how sinful you've been, it doesn't matter how wicked your life has been; the moment you believe in My Son Jesus Christ, I promise you - the moment you believe in Him and in His blood and death - at that moment all your sins will be forgiven. He promises that when you die He will take you to glory, that when the trumpet sounds at the end of history He will raise you from the dead and bring your body with you to glory. He promises you will have everlasting life in heaven. He promises it. He swears by Himself that it is so. He declares it to be so. He promises it, He swears it on oath. How much more can God say to reassure us? Abraham received these promises in embryo and he believed them. My friends, you and I must also believe them and be blessed in believing and desire the full assurance of salvation to be given to us - "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1, 4).
What is the other thing said about the promises of God? It is this. The Bible says, "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen" (2 Corinthians 1, 20). What does that mean? It means what we have said before: the promises of God are cast iron; the promises of God are solid gold! The promises of God are absolute truth - no exaggeration, no touching the edges to make them look better than they are. That is what they do in advertisements, isn't it? You get the magazine that you didn't want - it was pushed through the letterbox. It is telling you to buy a better car; it tells you that the car you have is very second-rate. "The car I've got to offer you," says the leaflet, "is ten times better - more economical, better colour, better paint, better steering, better wheels, better tyres, better brakes, better everything! You had better get rid of yours and buy mine!" That's what the leaflet says. When you've done all of that - if you're a fool - you might discover you've wasted a great deal of money unnecessarily.
Are God's promises like that? No! What God promises is true, absolutely. He says to you my dearly beloved - every one of you, every boy and girl, every man and woman - God tells us to believe in Jesus and He promises you, you will be with Him in glory. Oh yes, you have to suffer a bit now for a short time in this life, that is true. We have to suffer the unkindness of unbelievers. They will not be sweet toward you. They will not like it if you follow Christ; they will be unkind to you; they will misrepresent you and they may say lies against you. Many a time you will be weeping as you are lying in bed thinking of the cruelty of people - I know all about it, I've done all of that myself - tears, tears, tears. The Apostle Paul wept many times. Christ Himself wept many times; He was a weeping Saviour. You cannot be a Christian in this world without some tears - perhaps even many tears - but those tears will be wiped away when the promise comes to meet you.
It is like this, you see. Maybe you have a pen friend as some boys and girls do. A pen friend could be, let us say, in America - a young boy or a young girl. You have never met them and you've been writing letters across the Atlantic, let us say, for three or four years, exchanging photographs and news and family items and titbits. Then you get the opportunity to meet them. They are coming to London, so you go down to London and you meet this young man or young woman as they really are. There they are! They've come to meet you. When you look at them you find that they are far better than you thought they were. They are far nicer than you ever imagined they would be. They are much better friends than they appeared to be in their letters - excellent, wonderful friends! They came to meet you.
So it is my friends, when the Christian dies and leaves this world: all the promises, one after another, come to meet us. They are like pen friends. We just believe them but we have not yet enjoyed their full friendship. However, when we die, all these promises will come to meet us like old friends, and they will shake our hand and they will say, "Come," and they will take us into glory and they will show us heaven: the new heaven and the new earth, the Saviour in His throne and the Holy Ghost in His glory, the Father in his glory and all the saints. These promises will say now, "Take your place. Take your inheritance in the glory with these saints of old - Abraham, and Isaac, and David, and Paul - there's your place reserved in heaven for you." These promises will all come to light, and every one of them will be found to be rock-solid. Not a promise will ever crack or crumble, even at the edges. All will be true.
Further, let me say the way in which God's gracious promises and this assurance are a help to us is this. You see where he refers to the "heirs of promise": "Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath" (text). Now, who are these heirs of promise? They are Christians! You and I, if we believe, are the heirs of the promise. All believers - Old Testament and New - all believers of all ages - we are the heirs of promise. How do these promises and how does this oath help us? What good does it do to us? It says that "by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation" (text). Do you know what the word 'consolation' means? It means a 'rich comfort'.
A little child has been crying because he has lost his mother. He has been in a shop and let go of his mother's hand. All the people were milling about and the child lost his mother. So he starts to cry, as all of us did when we were children and lost our mothers - we begin to cry. Some person seeing us takes pity upon us and rings the bell and a Tannoy message comes across: "Is there a mother here who's lost a child? Go to the information desk." There's the child - he doesn't understand what's happening - crying his eyes out - thinks the end of the world has come because he has lost his mother. Then mother comes and the arms go out and they throw themselves into each other's arms. That's a strong consolation. The child doesn't care for anything in the shop; his mother is his world! Now that's what the Christian will do. When we get out of this world, my friend, what consolation! We shall see Christ coming for us, waiting for us in the glory, and we shall hurl ourselves into His arms and He will embrace us - the consolation of knowing He loves me with an everlasting love and with lovingkindness He has drawn me to Himself. That's the first part of it, but there's more.
He says here, if you notice: "who have fled for refuge..." (text). Fled for refuge? What does that mean? It's referring to the fact that, as believers, we have fled to Christ who is the City of Refuge of all believers. In other words, He is the place of safety. We have fled from the wrath of God and we have come to Christ. We are in the City of Refuge - Jesus Christ; and we are safely there, now, in this world. But there is more, there is more than that. He says, "who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (text). We lay hold upon it. That is to say, we take our hands and, believing, lay hold of the promises of God. Isn't that what a drowning man does in the water when you throw a lifebelt to him? If he can do, he will lay hold upon it with both hands. That's what it's talking about: Christ is that lifebelt. We were drowning in the sea of our own sinfulness and wickedness. We lay hold upon Christ and we hold tight to Him with all our might and main. That's what he's telling us.
Then he goes on, "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul" (text). Now an anchor saves the ship from being blown about in every direction. Doubts and fears blow us about. We have plenty of those - we doubt this, we doubt that, we doubt the other - and we are like a ship without an anchor, blowing about at sea. But when we lay hold upon Christ as our salvation we have Him as the anchor of our soul. It's not an anchor we throw downwards but, rather, it's an unusual anchor we throw upwards because it penetrates into the heavens. It goes through the veil, he says. It enters into the veil - that is, heaven - where the forerunner is already entered.
Jesus Christ is the forerunner; He is the first one to get into the excellent glory. He is the firstfruits; He is the one first to enter into heaven. We are all running after Him. He is miles ahead of us; He is 2,000 years ahead of us, but we are slowly, in our little way, running, running, running after Him. He is already in the glory and He is waiting for us to join Him. "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14, 2-3). You see, He's the forerunner, the first one. We are told that He is already entered and that He is "an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (text), which in a word means He is a priest forever. He will never stop being a priest until all His children who trust in Him are saved, to sin no more.
It is like this: Christ is our beloved Husband and when we put our trust in Him we know that He is ready to receive us into the matrimonial home above. You cannot see it, but there it is - a house not built with hands, eternal in the heavens. Our Husband is in the house and He is waiting for us to join Him. On the way in this world we have many ups and downs, many fears and tears, many trials and sorrows. That's where He is: a priest forever, waiting till His people join Him at the right hand of God, and then He will say, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25, 34) - you who have loved Me in this dark and evil world, you who have testified to Me by life and word in this dark and evil generation. "Come, ye blessed of my Father" (Matthew 25, 34) and I will receive you into everlasting mansions and your hope and your faith will never be disappointed. Well, there it is. There's my text.
Let me close by reference to Stephen of whom all these things were true. His great speech in Acts 7 was a wonderful speech but it annoyed and infuriated the Jewish authorities. They couldn't stomach what he said. You recall what they did: they rose up as one man and laid bodily hold upon him. Propelling him out of the Sanhedrin, they took him to a designated spot. They put him on a pedestal and, standing around him, they took up stones. One after another they stoned him on his head until he fell down. Dying now on the ground, they were still stoning him. Stephen looked up to heaven and said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7, 56). They hated him all the more and stoned him all the harder. "Lord Jesus," he said, "receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7, 59-60). Jesus in glory is said to have stood up to receive this faithful martyr into the glory.
The promises of God to all believers are solid rock that cannot budge. My beloved friends, I call upon you all to believe in this God, and believe in His promises, and go forth into the world reassured that what God has said, He will most certainly perform. And blessed be His name.
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