In old days. God spoke to our fathers in many ways and by many means, through the prophets; now at last in these times he has spoken to us, with a Son to speak for him; a Son, whom he has appointed to inherit all things, just as it was through him that he created this world of time; a Son, who is the radiance of his Father's splendour, and the full expression of his being; all creation depends, for its support, on his enabling word. Now, making atonement for our sins, he has taken his place on high, at the right hand of God's majesty, superior to the angels in that measure in which the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Did God ever say to one of the angels, You are my Son, I have begotten you this day? And again, He shall find in me a Father, and I in him a Son? Why, when the time comes for bringing his first-born into the world anew, then, he says, Let all the angels of God worship before him. What does he say of the angels? He will have his angels be like the winds, the servants that wait on him like a flame of fire. And what of the Son? Your throne, O God, stands firm for ever and ever; the sceptre of your kingship is a rod that rules true. You have been a friend to right, an enemy to wrong; and God, your own God, has given you an unction to bring you pride, as none else of your fellows. And elsewhere: Lord, you have laid the foundations of the earth at its beginning, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all be like a cloak that grows threadbare, and you will lay them aside, like a garment, and exchange them for new; but you are he who never changes, your years will not come to an end. Did he ever say to one of his angels, Sit on my right hand, while I make your enemies a footstool under your feet? What are they, all of them, but spirits apt for service, whom he sends out when the destined heirs of eternal salvation have need of them?
More firmly, then, than ever must we hold to the truths which have now come to our hearing, and run no risk of drifting away from them. The old law, which only had angels for its spokesmen, was none the less valid; every transgression of it, every refusal to listen to it, incurred just retribution; and what excuse shall we have, if we pay no heed to such a message of salvation as has been given to us? One which was delivered in the first instance by the Lord himself, and has been guaranteed to us by those who heard it from his own lips? One which God himself has attested by signs and portents, manifesting his power so variously, and distributing the gifts of his Holy Spirit wherever he would?
We are speaking of a world that is to come; to whom has God entrusted the ordering of that world? Not to angels. We are assured of that, in a passage where the writer says, What is man, that you should remember him? What is the son of man, that you should care for him? Man, whom you have made a little lower than the angels, whom you have crowned with glory and honour, setting him in authority over the works of your hands? You have made all things subject at his feet. Observe, he has subjected all things to him, left nothing unsubdued. And what do we see now? Not all things subject to him as yet. But we can see this; we can see one who was made a little lower than the angels, I mean Jesus, crowned, now, with glory and honour because of the death he underwent; in God's gracious design he was to taste death, and taste it on behalf of all. God is the last end of all things, the first beginning of all things; and it befitted his majesty that, in summoning all those sons of his to glory, he should crown with suffering the life of that Prince who was to lead them into salvation. The Son who sanctifies and the sons who are sanctified have a common origin, all of them; he is not ashamed, then, to own them as his brethren. I will proclaim your renown, he says, to my brethren; with the church around me I will praise you; and elsewhere he says, I will put my trust in him, and then, Here stand I, and the children God has given me. And since these children have a common inheritance of flesh and blood, he too shared that inheritance with them. By his death he would depose the prince of death, that is, the devil; he would deliver those multitudes who lived all the while as slaves, made over to the fear of death. After all, he does not make himself the angels' champion, no sign of that; it is the sons of Abraham that he champions. And so he must needs become altogether like his brethren; he would be a high priest who could feel for us and be our true representative before God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. It is because he himself has been tried by suffering, that he has power to help us in the trials we undergo.
Brethren and saints, you share a heavenly calling. Think, now, of Jesus as the apostle and the high priest of the faith which we profess, and how loyal he was to the God who had so appointed him; just as Moses was loyal in all the management of God's house. In any household, the first honours are reserved for him who founded it; and in that degree, Jesus has a prouder title than Moses. Every household has its founder, and this household of creation was founded by God. Thus the loyalty of Moses in the management of all God's house was the loyalty of a servant; he only bore witness to what was to be revealed later on; whereas Christ's was the loyalty of a Son in a household which is his own. What is that household? We are, if only we will keep unshaken to the end our confidence, and the hope which is our pride.
Come, then, the Holy Spirit says, If you hear his voice speaking to you this day, do not harden your hearts, as they were hardened once when you provoked me, and put me to the test in the wilderness. Your fathers put me to the test, made trial of me, and saw what I could do, all those forty years. So I became the enemy of that generation; These, I said, are ever wayward hearts, these have never learned my lessons. And I took an oath in my anger, They shall never attain my rest. Take care, brethren, that there is no heart among you so warped by unbelief as to desert the living God. Each day, while the word To-day has still a meaning, strengthen your own resolution, to make sure that none of you grows hardened; sin has such power to cheat us. We have been given a share in Christ, but only on condition that we keep unshaken to the end the principle by which we are grounded in him. That is the meaning of the words, If you hear his voice speaking to you this day, do not harden your hearts, as they were hardened once when you provoked me; those who provoked him were the people (some, though not all of them) whom Moses had rescued from Egypt. Who was it, during all those forty years, that incurred his enmity? Those who sinned; it was their corpses that lay scattered in the wilderness. To whom did he swear that they should never attain his rest? Those who refused to believe in him. We see, then, the consequences of unbelief; this it was that denied them entrance.
The promise, therefore, still holds good, that we are to attain God's rest; what we have to be afraid of, is that there may be someone among you who will be found to have missed his chance. The promise has been proclaimed to us, just as it was to them. The message which came to them did them no good, because it was not met by belief in what they heard, and this rest is only to be attained by those who, like ourselves, have learned to believe; that is why he said, I took an oath in my anger, They shall never attain my rest. God's rest, from what? From labours which were over and done with, as soon as the world was founded; in another passage he has said of the sabbath, God rested on the seventh day from all his labours; and yet in this passage he is still saying, They shall not attain my rest. It is still left for some, then, to attain it, and meanwhile, those to whom the message first came have been excluded by their unbelief. So he fixes another day, To-day, as he calls it; in the person of David, all those long years afterwards, he uses the words I have already quoted, If you hear his voice speaking this day, do not harden your hearts. (Josue cannot have brought them their rest, or God would not still be talking of a fresh To-day, long afterwards.) You see, therefore, that God's people have a sabbath of rest still in store for them; to attain his rest means resting from human labours, as God did from divine.
We must strive eagerly, then, to attain that rest; none of you must fall away into the same kind of unbelief. God's word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts. From him, no creature can be hidden; everything lies bare, everything is brought face to face with him, this God to whom we must give our account.
Let us hold fast, then, by the faith we profess. We can claim a great high priest, and one who has passed right up through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. It is not as if our high priest was incapable of feeling for us in our humiliations; he has been through every trial, fashioned as we are, only sinless. Let us come boldly, then, before the throne of grace, to meet with mercy, and win that grace which will help us in our needs.
The purpose for which any high priest is chosen from among his fellow-men, and made a representative of men in their dealings with God, is to offer gifts and sacrifices in expiation of their sins. He is qualified for this by being able to feel for them when they are ignorant and make mistakes, since he, too, is all beset with humiliations, and, for that reason, must needs present sin-offerings for himself, just as he does for the people. His vocation comes from God, as Aaron's did; nobody can take on himself such a privilege as this. So it is with Christ. He did not raise himself to the dignity of the high priesthood; it was God that raised him to it, when he said, you are my Son, I have begotten you this day, and so, elsewhere, You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchisedech. Christ, during his earthly life, offered prayer and entreaty to God who could save him from death, not without a piercing cry, not without tears; yet with such piety as won him a hearing. Son of God though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering, and now, his full achievement reached, he wins eternal salvation for all those who render obedience to him. A high priest in the line of Melchisedech, so God has called him.
Of Christ as priest we have much to say, and it is hard to make ourselves understood in the saying of it, now that you have grown so dull of hearing. You should, after all this time, have been teachers yourselves, and instead of that you need to be taught; taught even the first principles on which the oracles of God are based. You have gone back to needing milk, instead of solid food. Those who have milk for their diet can give no account of what holiness means; how should they? They are only infants. Solid food is for the full-grown; for those whose faculties are so trained by exercise that they can distinguish between good and evil.
We must leave on one side then, all discussion of our first lessons in Christ, and pass on to our full growth; no need to lay the foundations all over again, the change of heart which turns away from lifeless observances, the faith which turns towards God, instructions about the different kinds of baptism, about the laying on of hands, about the resurrection of the dead, and our sentence in eternity. Such will be our plan, if God permits it. We can do nothing for those who have received, once for all, their enlightenment, who have tasted the heavenly gift, partaken of the Holy Spirit, known, too, God's word of comfort, and the powers that belong to a future life, and then fallen away. They cannot attain repentance through a second renewal. Would they crucify the Son of God a second time, hold him up to mockery a second time, for their own ends? No, a piece of ground which has drunk in, again and again, the showers which fell upon it, has God's blessing on it, if it yields a crop answering the needs of those who tilled it; if it bears thorns and thistles, it has lost its value; a curse hangs over it, and it will feed the bonfire at last. Beloved, of you we have better confidence, which does not stop short of your salvation, even when we speak to you as we are speaking now. God is not an unjust God, that he should forget all you have done, all the charity you have shown in his name, you who have ministered, and still minister, to the needs of his saints. But our great longing is, to see you all showing the same eagerness right up to the end, looking forward to the fulfilment of your hope; listless no more, but followers of all those whose faith and patience are to bring them into possession of the good things promised them.
Such was Abraham. God made him a promise, and then took an oath (an oath by himself, since he had no greater name to swear by), in the words, More and more I will bless you, more and more I will give you increase; whereupon Abraham waited patiently, and saw the promise fulfilled. Men, since they have something greater than themselves to swear by, will confirm their word by oath, which puts an end to all controversy; and God, in the same way, eager to convince the heirs of the promise that his design was irrevocable, pledged himself by an oath. Two irrevocable assurances, over which there could be no question of God deceiving us, were to bring firm confidence to us poor wanderers, bidding us cling to the hope we have in view, the anchorage of our souls. Sure and immovable, it reaches that inner sanctuary beyond the veil, which Jesus Christ, our escort, has entered already, a high priest, now eternally with the priesthood of Melchisedech.
It was this Melchisedech, king of Salem, and priest of the most high God, who met Abraham and blessed him on his way home, after the defeat of the kings; and to him Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils. Observe, in the first place, that his name means, the king of justice; and further that he is king of Salem, that is, of peace. That is all; no name of father or mother, no pedigree, no date of birth or of death; there he stands, eternally, a priest, the true figure of the Son of God. Consider how great a man was this, to whom the patriarch Abraham himself gave a tenth part of his chosen spoil. The descendants of Levi, when the priesthood is conferred on them, are allowed by the provisions of the law to take tithes from God's people, although these, like themselves, come from the privileged stock of Abraham; after all, they are their brothers; here is one who owns no common descent with them, taking tithes from Abraham himself. He blesses him, too, blesses the man to whom the promises have been made; and it is beyond all question that blessings are only given by what is greater in dignity to what is less. In the one case, the priests who receive tithe are only mortal men; in the other, it is a priest (so the record tells us) who lives on. And indeed, there is a sense in which we can say that Levi, who receives the tithe, paid tithe himself with Abraham; as the heir of Abraham's body, he was present in the person of his ancestor, when he met Melchisedech.
Now, there could be no need for a fresh priest to arise, accredited with Melchisedech's priesthood, not with Aaron's, if the Levitical priesthood had brought fulfilment. And it is on the Levitical priesthood that the law given to God's people is founded. When the priesthood is altered, the law, necessarily, is altered with it. After all, he to whom the prophecy relates belonged to a different tribe, which never produced a man to stand at the altar; our Lord took his origin from Juda, that is certain, and Moses in speaking of this tribe, said nothing about priests. And something further becomes evident, when a fresh priest arises to fulfil the type of Melchisedech, appointed, not to obey the law, with its outward observances, but in the power of an unending life; (you are a priest in the line of Melchisedech, God says of him, for ever). The old observance is abrogated now, powerless as it was to help us; the law had nothing in it of final achievement. Instead, a fuller hope has been brought into our lives, enabling us to come close to God. And this time there is a ratification by oath; none was taken when those other priests were appointed, but the new priest is appointed with an oath, when God says to him, The Lord has sworn an irrevocable oath, You are a priest for ever; all the more solemn, then, is that covenant for which Jesus has been given us as our surety. Of those other priests there was a succession, since death denied them permanence; whereas Jesus continues for ever, and his priestly office is unchanging; that is why he can give eternal salvation to those who through him make their way to God, he lives on still to make intercession on our behalf. Such was the high priest that suited our need, holy and guiltless and undefiled, not reckoned among us sinners, lifted high above all the heavens; one who has no need to do as those other priests did, offering a twofold sacrifice day by day, first for his own sins, then for those of the people. What he has done he has done once for all; and the offering was himself. The law makes high priests of men, and men are frail; promise and oath, now, have superseded the law; our high priest, now, is that Son who has reached his full achievement for all eternity.
And here we come to the very pith of our argument. This high priest of ours is one who has taken his seat in heaven, on the right hand of that throne where God sits in majesty, ministering, now, in the sanctuary, in that true tabernacle which the Lord, not man, has set up. After all, if it is the very function of a priest to offer gift and sacrifice, he too must needs have an offering to make. Whereas, if he were still on earth, he would be no priest at all; there are priests already, to offer the gifts which the law demands, men who devote their service to the type and the shadow of what has its true being in heaven. (That is why Moses, when he was building the tabernacle, received the warning, Be sure to make everything in accordance with the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain.) As it is, he has been entrusted with a more honourable ministry, dispenser as he is of a nobler covenant, with nobler promises for its sanction. There would have been no room for this second covenant, if there had been no fault to find with the first. But God, you see, does find fault; this is what he tells them: Behold, says the Lord, a time is coming when I will ratify a new covenant with the people of Israel, and with the people of Juda. It will not be like the covenant which I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand, to rescue them from Egypt; that they should break my covenant, and I (says the Lord) should abandon them. No, this is the covenant I will grant the people of Israel, the Lord says, when that time comes. I will implant my law in their innermost thoughts, engrave it in their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. There will be no need for neighbour to teach neighbour, or brother to teach brother, the knowledge of the Lord; all will know me, from the highest to the lowest. I will pardon their wrong-doing; I will not remember their sins any more. In speaking of a new covenant, he has superannuated the old. And before long the superannuated, the antiquated, must needs disappear.
The former covenant, to be sure, had its own ceremonial observances, its own earthly sanctuary. There was an outer tabernacle, which contained the lamp-stand and the table and the loaves set out before God; sanctuary was the name given to this; and then, beyond the second veil, the inner sanctuary, as it is called, with the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant, gilded all round. In the ark rested the golden urn with the manna in it, Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets on which the covenant was inscribed; above were the Cherubim, heralds of the divine glory, spreading their wings over the throne of mercy. We have no time to treat of these more particularly, but this was the general fashion of it. Into the outer tabernacle the priests made their way at all times, in the performance of their duties; into this other, only the high priest, once a year, and even then not without an offering of blood, for the faults which he and the people had committed unknowingly. The Holy Spirit meant us to see that no way of access to the true sanctuary lay open to us, as long as the former tabernacle maintained its standing. And that allegory still holds good at the present day; here are gifts and sacrifices being offered, which have no power, where conscience is concerned, to bring the worshipper to his full growth; they are but outward observances, connected with food and drink and ceremonial washings on this occasion or that, instituted to hold their own until better times should come. Meanwhile, Christ has taken his place as our high priest, to win us blessings that still lie in the future. He makes use of a greater, a more complete tabernacle, which human hands never fashioned; it does not belong to this order of creation at all. It is his own blood, not the blood of goats and calves, that has enabled him to enter, once for all, into the sanctuary; the ransom he has won lasts for ever. The blood of bulls and goats, the ashes of a heifer sprinkled over men defiled, has power to hallow them for every purpose of outward purification; and shall not the blood of Christ, who offered himself, through the Holy Spirit, as a victim unblemished in God's sight, purify our consciences, and set them free from lifeless observances, to serve the living God?
Thus, through his intervention, a new covenant has been bequeathed to us; a death must follow, to atone for all our transgressions under the old covenant, and then the destined heirs were to obtain, for ever, their promised inheritance. Where a bequest is concerned, the death of the testator must needs play its part; a will has no force while the testator is alive, and only comes into force with death. Thus the old covenant, too, needed blood for its inauguration. When he had finished reading the provisions of the law to the assembled people, Moses took blood, the blood of calves and goats, took water, and scarlet-dyed wool, and hyssop, sprinkled the book itself, and all the people, and said. This is the blood of the covenant which God has prescribed to you. The tabernacle, too, and all the requisites of worship he sprinkled in the same way with blood; and the law enjoins that blood shall be used in almost every act of purification; unless blood is shed, there can be no remission of sins. And if such purification was needed for what was but a representation of the heavenly world, the heavenly world itself will need sacrifices more availing still. The sanctuary into which Jesus has entered is not one made by human hands, is not some adumbration of the truth; he has entered heaven itself, where he now appears in God's sight on our behalf. Nor does he make a repeated offering of himself, as the high priest, when he enters the sanctuary, makes a yearly offering of the blood that is not his own. If that were so, he must have suffered again and again, ever since the world was created; as it is, he has been revealed once for all, at the moment when history reached its fulfilment, annulling our sin by his sacrifice. Man's destiny is to die once for all, nothing remains after that but judgement; and Christ was offered once for all, to drain the cup of a world's sins; when we see him again, sin will play its part no longer, he will be bringing salvation to those who await his coming.
What the law contains is only the shadow of those blessings which were still to come, not the full expression of their reality. The same sacrifices are offered year after year without intermission, and still the worshippers can never reach, through the law, their full growth. If they could, must not the offerings have ceased before now? There would be no guilt left to reproach the consciences of those who come to worship; they would have been cleansed once for all. No, what these offerings bring with them, year by year, is only the remembrance of sins; that sins should be taken away by the blood of bulls and goats is impossible. As Christ comes into the world, he says, No sacrifice, no offering was your demand; you have endowed me, instead, with a body. You have not found any pleasure in burnt sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do your will, O my God. First he says, You did not demand victim or offering, the burnt sacrifice, the sacrifice for sin, nor have you found any pleasure in them; in anything that is, which the law has to offer, and then: I said, See, my God, I am coming to do your will. He must clear the ground first, so as to build up afterwards. In accordance with this divine will we have been sanctified by an offering made once for all, the body of Jesus Christ. One high priest after another must stand there, day after day, offering again and again the same sacrifices, which can never take away our sins; whereas he sits for ever at the right hand of God, offering for our sins a sacrifice that is never repeated. He only waits, until all his enemies are made a footstool under his feet; by a single offering he has completed his work, for all time, in those whom he sanctifies. And here the Holy Spirit adds his testimony. He has been saying, This is the covenant I will grant them, the Lord says, when that time comes; I will implant my laws in their hearts, engrave them in their innermost thoughts. And what follows? I will not remember their sins and their transgressions any more. Where they are so remitted, there is no longer any room for a sin-offering.
Why then, brethren, we can enter the sanctuary with confidence through the blood of Christ. He has opened up for us a new, a living approach, by way of the veil, I mean, his mortality. A great priest is ours, who has dominion over God's house. Let us come forward with sincere hearts in the full assurance of the faith, our guilty consciences purified by sprinkling, our bodies washed clean in hallowed water. Do not let us waver in acknowledging the hope we cherish; we have a promise from one who is true to his word. Let us keep one another in mind, always ready with incitements to charity and to acts of piety, not abandoning, as some do, our common assembly, but encouraging one another; all the more, as you can see the great day drawing nearer. If we go on sinning wilfully, when once the full knowledge of the truth has been granted to us, we have no further sacrifice for sin to look forward to; nothing but a terrible expectation of judgement, a fire that will eagerly consume the rebellious. Let a man be convicted by two or three witnesses of defying the law of Moses, and he dies, without hope of mercy. What of the man who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has reckoned the blood of the covenant, that blood which sanctified him, as a thing unclean, mocked at the Spirit that brought him grace? Will not he incur a punishment much more severe? It is one we know well, who has told us, Vengeance is for me, I will repay; and again, The Lord will judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Remember those early days, when the light first came to you, and the hard probation of suffering you went through. There were times when you yourselves were publicly exposed to calumny and persecution; there was a time when you took part with those who had the same path to tread. You showed your sympathy with those who were in bonds; and when you were robbed of your goods you took it cheerfully, as men who knew that a higher, a more lasting good was yours. Do not throw away that confidence of yours, with its rich hope of reward; you still need endurance, if you are to attain the prize God has promised to those who do his will. Only a brief moment, now, before he who is coming will be here; he will not linger on the way. It is faith that brings life to the man whom I accept as justified; if he shrinks back, he shall win no favour with me. Not for us to shrink away, and be lost; it is for us to have faith, and save our souls.
What is faith? It is that which gives substance to our hopes, which convinces us of things we cannot see. It was this that brought credit to the men who went before us. It is faith that lets us understand how the worlds were fashioned by God's word; how it was from things unseen that the things we see took their origin. It was in faith that Abel offered a sacrifice richer than Cain's, and was proved thereby to be justified, since God recognized his offering; through that offering of his he still speaks in death. When Enoch was taken away without the experience of death, when God took him and no more was seen of him, it was because of his faith; that is the account we have of him before he was taken, that he pleased God; and it is impossible to please God without faith. Nobody reaches God's presence until he has learned to believe that God exists, and that he rewards those who try to find him. When Noe received a warning about dangers still unseen, it was faith that made him take alarm, and build an ark to preserve his family. Thus he proved the whole world wrong, and was left heir to the justification which comes through faith. And he to whom the name of Abraham was given showed faith when he left his home, obediently, for the country which was to be his inheritance; left it without knowing where his journey would take him. Faith taught him to live as a stranger in the land he had been promised for his own, encamping there with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of a common hope; looking forward all the while to that city which has true foundations, which is God's design and God's fashioning. It was faith that enabled Sara, barren till then, to conceive offspring, although she was past the age of child-bearing; she believed that God would be faithful to his word. Here is one man, a man for whom life is already over; and from him springs a race whose numbers rival the stars of heaven, or the uncounted grains of sand on the sea-shore. It was faith they lived by, all of them, and in faith they died; for them, the promises were not fulfilled, but they looked forward to them and welcomed them at a distance, owning themselves no better than strangers and exiles on earth. Those who talk so make it clear enough, that they have not found their home. Did they regret the country they had left behind? If that were all, they could have found opportunities for going back to it. No, the country of their desires is a better, a heavenly country. God does not disdain to take his title from such names as these; he has a city ready for them to dwell in.
Abraham showed faith, when he was put to the test, by offering up Isaac. He was ready to offer up an only son, this man who had made the promises his own, and received the assurance, It is through Isaac that your posterity shall be traced. God, he argued, had the power to restore his son even from the dead; and indeed, in a hidden sense, he did so recover him. It was by faith that Isaac, in blessing Jacob and Esau, foretold what was to come; by faith that Jacob, on his death-bed, made reverence to the top of Joseph's staff, as he blessed his two sons in turn; by faith that Joseph, when he, too, came to the end of his life, spoke of the Israelites' escape from Egypt, and gave orders for the removal of his bones. The parents of Moses showed faith, in making light of the king's edict, and hiding their child away for three months, when they saw what a fine child he was. And Moses showed faith, when he grew up, by refusing to pass for the son of Pharao's daughter. He preferred ill usage, shared with the people of God, to the brief enjoyment of sinful pleasures; all the wealth of Egypt could not so enrich him as the despised lot of God's anointed; he had eyes, you see, for nothing but the promised reward. It was in faith that he left Egypt behind, defying the royal anger, made strong as if by the very sight of him who is invisible; in faith that he performed the paschal rite, and the sprinkling of the blood, to leave Israel untouched by the angel that destroyed the first-born; in faith that they crossed the Red Sea as if it had been dry land, whereas the Egyptians, when they ventured into it, were drowned. Faith pulled down the walls of Jericho, after seven days spent in marching round them, faith saved Rahab, the harlot, from sharing the doom of the disobedient, because she had given the spies a peaceable welcome.
What need is there to say more? Time will fail me if I try to go through all the history of Gedeon, of Barac, of Samson, of Jephte, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Theirs was the faith which subdued kingdoms, which served the cause of right, which made promises come true. They shut the mouths of lions, they quenched raging fire, swords were drawn on them, and they escaped. How strong they became, who till then were weak, what courage they showed in battle, how they routed invading armies! There were women, too, who recovered their dead children, brought back to life. Others, looking forward to a better resurrection still, would not purchase their freedom on the rack. And others experienced mockery and scourging, chains, too, and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were cut in pieces, they were tortured, they were put to the sword; they wandered about, dressed in sheepskins and goatskins, amidst want, and distress, and ill usage; men whom the world was unworthy to contain, living a hunted life in deserts and on mountain sides, in rock-fastnesses and caverns underground. One and all gave proof of their faith, yet they never saw the promise fulfilled; for us, God had something better in store. We were needed, to make the history of their lives complete.
Why then, since we are watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of all that weighs us down, of the sinful habit that clings so closely, and run, with all endurance, the race for which we are entered. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the origin and the crown of all faith, who, to win his prize of blessedness, endured the cross and made light of its shame, Jesus, who now sits on the right of God's throne. Take your standard from him, from his endurance, from the enmity the wicked bore him, and you will not grow faint, you will not find your souls unmanned. Your protest, your battle against sin, has not yet called for bloodshed; yet you have lost sight, already, of those words of comfort in which God addresses you as his sons; My son, do not undervalue the correction which the Lord sends you, do not be unmanned when he reproves your faults. It is where he loves that he bestows correction; there is no recognition for any child of his, without chastisement. Be patient, then, while correction lasts; God is treating you as his children. Was there ever a son whom his father did not correct? No, correction is the common lot of all; you must be bastards, not true sons, if you are left without it. We have known what it was to accept correction from earthly fathers, and with reverence; shall we not submit, far more willingly, to the Father of a world of spirits, and draw life from him? They, after all, only corrected us for a short while, at their own caprice; he does it for our good, to give us a share in that holiness which is his. For the time being, all correction is painful rather than pleasant; but afterwards, when it has done its work of discipline, it yields a harvest of good dispositions, to our great peace. Come then, stiffen the sinews of drooping hand, and flagging knee, and plant your footprints in a straight track, so that the man who goes lame may not stumble out of the path, but regain strength instead. Your aim must be peace with all men, and that holiness without which no one will ever see God. Take good care that none of you is false to God's grace, that no poisonous shoot is allowed to spring up, and contaminate many of you by its influence. None of you must be guilty of fornication, none of you earthly-minded, as Esau was, when he sold his birthright for a single dish of food; afterwards, you may be sure, he was eager enough to have the blessing allotted to him, but no, he was rejected. He pleaded for it in tears, but no second chance was given him.
What is the scene, now, of your approach to God? It is no longer a mountain that can be discerned by touch; no longer burning fire, and whirlwind, and darkness, and storm. No trumpet sounds; no utterance comes from that voice, which made those who listened to it pray that they might hear no more, (daunted by the command, that if even a beast touched the mountain it should die by stoning. Moses said, in terror at the sight, I am overcome with fear and trembling.) The scene of your approach now is mount Sion, is the heavenly Jerusalem, city of the living God; here are gathered thousands upon thousands of angels, here is the assembly of those first-born sons whose names are written in heaven, here is God sitting in judgement on all men, here are the spirits of just men, now made perfect; here is Jesus, the spokesman of the new covenant, and the sprinkling of his blood, which has better things to say than Abel's had. Beware of excusing yourselves from listening to him who is speaking to you. There was no escape for those others, who tried to excuse themselves when God uttered his warnings on earth; still less for us, if we turn away when he speaks from heaven. His voice, even then, made the earth rock; now, he has announced to us that it shall happen again, only once; he will shake earth and heaven too. Only once again; that means that what is shaken, this created universe, will be removed; only the things which cannot be shaken are to stand firm. The kingdom we have inherited is one which cannot be shaken; in gratitude for this, let us worship God as he would have us worship him, in awe and reverence; no doubt of it, our God is a consuming fire.
Let brotherly love be firmly established among you; and do not forget to show hospitality; in doing this, men have before now entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as if you were prisoners too; those who endure suffering, since you have mortal bodies of your own. Marriage, in every way, must be held in honour, and the marriage-bed kept free from stain; over fornication and adultery, God will call us to account. The love of money should not dwell in your thoughts; be content with what you have. God himself has told us, I will never forsake you, never abandon you; so that we can say with confidence, The Lord is my champion; I will not be afraid of what man can do to me.
Do not forget those who have had charge of you, and preached God's word to you; contemplate the happy issue of the life they lived, and imitate their faith. What Jesus Christ was yesterday, and is to-day, he remains for ever. Do not be carried aside from your course by a maze of new doctrines; what gives true strength to a man's heart is gratitude, not observances in the matter of food, which never yet proved useful to those who followed them. We have an altar of our own, and it is not those who carry out the worship of the tabernacle that are qualified to eat its sacrifices. When the high priest takes the blood of beasts with him into the sanctuary, as an offering for sin, the bodies of those beasts have to be burned away from the camp; and thus it was that Jesus, when he would sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered beyond the city gate. Let us, too, go out to him away from the camp, bearing the ignominy he bore; we have an everlasting city, but not here; our goal is the city that is one day to be. It is through him, then, that we must offer to God a continual sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips that give thanks to his name. Meanwhile, you must remember to do good to others and give alms; God takes pleasure in such sacrifice as this.
Obey those who have charge of you, and yield to their will; they are keeping unwearied watch over your souls, because they know they will have an account to give. Make it a grateful task for them: it is your own loss if they find it a laborious effort. Pray for us; we trust we have a clear conscience, and the will to be honourable in all our dealings. And I make this request the more earnestly, in the hope of being restored to you the sooner. May God, the author of peace, who has raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, that great shepherd, whose flock was bought with the blood of an eternal covenant, grant you every capacity for good, to do his will. May he carry out in you the design he sees best, through Jesus Christ, to whom glory belongs throughout all ages, Amen. I entreat you, brethren, bear patiently with all these words of warning; it is but a brief letter I am sending you. You must know that our brother Timothy has been set at liberty; if he comes soon, I will bring him with me when I visit you. Greet all those who are in authority, and all the saints. The brethren from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all. Amen.