Sermon 1 on Hebrews
by Thomas Goodwin
"God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds."
I will not spend much time to shew who is the author of this Epistle, which indeed among divines is doubtful; our translation hath prefixed Paul's name to it, being most probable that it is his. And though the author of it be not certainly known, yet it is not to be excluded from the canon, for there are other books of Scripture that the authors of them are not known, or at least not prefixed by themselves; as the Epistles of John, his name is not mentioned in them; prefixed it is by the church, from one age to another, known by the style that it is his. The reason why I chose to speak out of this epistle is, because it doth mention and speak of Christ and of his offices, but especially of his priesthood, more than any other book of Scripture I know. I will not profess an exact handling of all things therein contained, but raise here and there some observations and meditations.
The scope of the apostle may appear, if we consider to whom he wrote he wrote to the Hebrews, which were Jews. He did not write to the Hebrews not yet converted, as may appear by all the passages in the whole Epistle. But he spake to those that had been already enlightened and knew Christ, that had entertained the doctrine of the gospel. And this we may observe, that no book of the Scripture was written to any other but professors, believers, not to unbelievers. Now the Jews did stick most to the law, ceremonies, and legal sacrifices, all which were but types of Christ, and they were ignorant of the true excellency, nature, worth, and prerogative of Christ revealed to them, and especially of his priesthood and sacrifice which he offered up above all the rest. The apostle's scope is to set up the gospel above the law, to raise up their hearts to a high esteem of Christ, to shew that Christ was the end of the ceremonial law; so that all types should now cease. And because he wrote to the Jews in that regard, whatsoever he doth speak he doth prove out of the Old Testament through the whole book, and it is qnoted upon all occasions; because the Old Testament had authority with the Jews, and he doth make everywhere now and then a short use of the doctrinal points he doth deliver. He doth spend this chapter to prove that the Lord Jesus Christ was God as well as man, and he doth make this short use of it, chap. ii., ver. 1, ‘Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard.'
The first chapter doth prove that the Lord Jesus Christ is more than a man; though he speaks something of him in this first chapter, which belongs to him only as God, yet all the rest that he speaks of him as mediator doth argue him to be more t
han a man. The second chapter proves him to be man, so that as you have the scope of the two first chapters, so of the whole epistle.
In the first verse he breaks in upon the argument of the whole epistle, being to advance the gospel, and Christ and the doctrine of the gospel, before the doctrine of the law, and that by reason of Christ revealed in it, and Christ revealing it.
He makes a comparison between the times of the law and the time of the gospel, and he prefers the time of the gospel before the time of the law; ‘God spake unto the fathers by the prophets, but unto us by his Son.' Now look, how much the Son of God doth exceed the prophets, so much the doctrine of the gospel the doctrine of the law ; and look, how much the sun, which is the fountain of light, doth exceed the stars, and the light of the sun the light of the stars, so much doth the light that Christ hath brought us in the gospel exceed the light of the law.
Secondly, he spake to the fathers but by degrees, ‘by parcels;' they had a little light now, and anon a little more light, but they had not all at once. But in the time of the gospel all is poured out to you at once.
Thirdly, under the time of the law the Lord did speak by several ways and manners, but now ye have but one way, and that a plain way. Before, in the Old Testament, he revealed himself obscurely, he was fain to mould his speech into many forms. As men, when they have notions that are something obscure, are fain to use several expressions to make them plain, so the law being dark and obscure, God was fain to deliver it several manner of ways, as in a riddle, by Urim and Thummim, by the prophets, &e. ; ‘but now he speaks,' plainly and clearly, ‘ by his Son;' therefore he is called the brightness of his glory,' the image, the character, and lively expression of God.
Obs. 1. The same God that spake in the Old Testament speaks in the New ; he that spake to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he speaks to you now; that God that spake by the prophets, speaks now by his Son ; therefore certainly the faith of the fathers is not contradictory to the faith of us. Heb. xiii., ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and the same for ever ;‘ the same Christ from the begiuning of the world, the same God that spake ; therefore all the promises that are in the Old Testament, ye may apply them all now. Why? Because it is the same God which spake to them, and speaks now to us; that God that heard the prayers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Old Testament, and granted their petitions, with whom they were so familiar; we may have fellowship with the same God. That promise that was made to Joshua in particular, ‘ I will not leave thee nor forsake thee,' chap. i. the apostle, Heb. xi., doth apply to all believers; and it is founded upon this, that the same God which spake in the Old Testament, speaks in the New. Look over all the Old Testament, and look what a God you find him there, the same God you shall find him in the New. Look what punishments he brought on them of the old world, the same he will now. And look how he dealt with his servants, as he was angry with Moses for a small sin, so in the same manner he will deal with you, if you walk in the same ways. And as he pardoned men under the Old Testament, so also will he under the New. And as we have the same God, so we have the same faith, 2 Cor. iv. 13, ‘We have the spirit of faith,' &e.;
Obs. 2. Onr great God doth not speak immediately unto men, but immediately by others. Before, he spake to men by his prophets, but now by his Son, who took our nature upon him, that he might be a fit speaker. As we cannot see God and live, so we cannot hear God and live. The Lord, when he delivered his law, began first to speak himself, and the people hear his own voice, Deut. xviii. 15, 16, Exod. xx., but the people could not hear God's voice, for they said to Moses, ‘Speak thou with us and we will hear but let not God speak with us, lest we die.' They being sinners, as we are, they were not able to hear God from heaven, for his voice speaks thunder, and striketh dead. Upon this request that the people made to Moses, see what God says, Deut. xviii. 17, ‘ They have well spoken that which they have spoken. Therefore what will he do? I will raise them up a prophet from amongst their brethren,' &c. See his mercy; upon their request he takes an advantage of promising the Messias, being one of the clearest promises that they had till now. It is true, he would send many prophets before, as forerunners of Christ, but in the end he would send Christ, which should be a prophet like unto Moses, to speak unto them, &c. God doth take advantages to make promises, when the poor people did shiver and quake, because God spake to them. What doth he promise? He promises Christ. Thus the Lord takes a small occasion to make the greatest promise of Christ.
Use 1. Therefore, seeing the Lord, when he doth speak, doth speak by others, and tbere is a great deal of reason for it, because it is your own request, let not God fare the worse in delivering his word; do not contemn it because men are fain to deliver it to you, for it is your own request. If he should speak himself, he would strike you dead at every word; therefore do not take advantage because God doth not back it with thunder, but receive the word as the word of God; for God himself would speak to you, if you were able to bear him ; but because you are not, therefore he speaks by others.
Use 2. It should teach ministers not to abuse God's voice ; they should take heed that they speak nothing but what God hath revealed. Though false prophets speak what is contrary to God's will, and God hear for a while and doth not manifest his wrath (for be can for a while dispense with himself), yet the time will come when God's wrath shall wax hot against them. They are not to abuse the people in venting their own thoughts instead of God's. For see what God says of such, Dent. xviii. 20, ‘That prophet that shall presume to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, even that prophet shall die.
Obs. 3. God spake in his prophets; we translate it by them, but the onginal is in them. A king, though he be never so far off, and is not by to back it, yet he may be said to speak by, though not in the ambassador; but when the Lord speaks by his faithful ministers, he doth not only sit in heaven, and speaks by them, but be speaks in them, assisting them; he is in their hearts, and upon their tongue, God goes along with the word into the hearts of the hearers.
Use. Lest ministers therefore labour to get the Holy Ghost into their own hearts, that he may not only speak by them (for so he doth by wicked men), but in them, that that Spirit which takes possession of them as saints may speak in them as ministers, that so the word which they deliver may be the adminisration' of the Spirit to the hearts of those that hear them.
Obs. 4. We come to the manner how God spake to them of old, he spake, by parcels, by piecemeal, by many parts, for so the word signifies. The Lord at first brought in but one promise, and that obscure; he let drop but one word to Adam in paradise of the promised seed, He gave only an intimation, a hint that there should a Messias come. Then he went on further, and when he came to Abraham he renewed that promise, and added a little more, Heb. vi. 18, he added an oath; and he shewed to Abraham, not only that he should be a man, but that he should come of his seed, and that ‘in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed;' thus he enlarged the former promise. Bn all this while there was no sacrament; here was a promise and. au oath, but no sacrament; then he goes on and gives Abraham circumcision, which answers to our baptism; afterwards he adds the passover, which answers to the supper of the Lord; and then he reveals to Moses divers types of the ceremonial law. Then he reveals more clearly te David the resurrection and ascension of Christ; then to Isaiah, that he should be born of a virgin, chap. liii., that he should be circumcised, that he should bear our sorrows, and be a ‘man of sorrows,' and ‘pour out his soul even unto death.' Unto Zechariah he revealed his poverty, and unto Malachi his forerunner. Thus by piecemeals he reveals, not all at once. The old world began with a little knowledge; they had the worship of God and the sacrifices, and they knew the day of judgment, as Enoch the seventh from Adam prophesied of it. They knew some fundamental truths, the grounds of faith, but they knew Christ by piecemeal. They knew something of themselves, because Adam fell but the other day; but they knew little of Christ, that was revealed unto them by piecemeal.
Thus the Lord doth use to reveal himself; he hath done thus with the church in general. Although he did reveal all, for the matter contained in the New Testament, that shall be revealed to the end of the world, yet in regard of the light whereby this is discerned, God hath gone on by piecemeal. Consider the recovery of the light of the gospel from under popery, how it was by piecemeal. Men at first knew but a little, their hearts were only set against images and popery, they knew but a few pieces of the truth; but Wickliffe and John Huss went further. In Luther's time they knew justification by faith, and then popery fell down about Luther's ears, and he said, if they would grant that he would go on further; but when God had unreaved all the tiles, that popery was ready to be pulled down, then Calvin comes in, and more was revealed.
Thus God doth go on to reveal himself; and as he dealt with the people of the Jews in regard of the matter, and as with us for the manner (for the Jews had the matter revealed to them by piecemeal, but we had the matter given at once), so with particular Christians, he doth discover to them first themselves, and then they think that at their first conversion they see a great deal in their hearts; yet he goes on further to reveal more corruption unto them, and then he reveals Christ and his electing love to them, he leads them like scholars through several forms; and though at first in the centre, they know all that is necessary to salvation, yet things are beaten out afterwards unto a circumference. They know enough of Christ at first to save them, and of themselves enough to humble them; yet God suffers the wheel to go over them again and again. In reading the Scripture, observe it; read a chapter to-day, and when a man getteth his heart into a spiritual frame he will see many truths; let him read it the next day, and he will see something more, &c.: the reason is because God reveals himself by piecemeal.
Reason. Because indeed men are incapable of all at once, John xvi. 12. Our Saviour, though he came to reveal all fulness, yet how incapable were the apostles to apprehend it. He was fain to deliver over some of them to the Comforter. Paul, when he came to preach to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. iii. 2, he had many truths which he could not reveal unto them, for so long as they were carnal they were not capable of all truths, but as the flesh is emptying out of a man, so knowledge grows; so Isa. xxviii. 13, he was fain to speak by piecemeal, ‘line upon line, and precept upon precept;' as ye teach young children a little now and a little then, for they cannot endure to be held long to their books; so is God fain to do with his. And as in teaching young scholars, what do tutors? They do read over first a compendium, some short grounds of logic, and then another book which is a systema, and then direct them to such commentaries that do enlarge truths. So God doth teach first by catechisms, which contain short fundamental truths, and then he goes over many truths in a larger manner in their hearts. A painter draws at the first but a few lines with a black coal; he will draw the shape of a man's face, but afterwards he goeth over it with colours and oil; so God doth with his church, and with private men, even as a master doth with his apprentice, he will not teach him all his knowledge at first, but he reserves something, that happily he will not teach him before he be to go out of his trade, he teacheth him by degrees; so God hath bound himself by covenant to teach you to know him; but something ye shall not know till you are to go from under his tuition. And this he doth, first, to humble his people; he will have them know but in part. Though young converts have but a little knowledge, how proud are they! Much more if they had all at once.
And likewise, secondly, to show the treasures in himself. In Christ are treasures that will hold digging to the end of the world; men would be weary if they had the same light still, therefore God goes on to discover, though the same truth, yet with new and diverse lights. Thus God reveals himself by piecemeals.
Use 1. Let us labour to grow in knowledge; God reveals himself by piecemeal, do not therefore stick in the first principles of religion; it is the apostle's
exhortation to the Hebrews, chap. vi. There is a great deal of ignorance, therefore labour to go on to perfection, and grow in Christ; he reveals himself by piecemeal, not as if he had already obtained; therefore there is more knowledge to be had; the greatest part of that you know is the least part of what you know not.
Use 2. It may teach ministers to raise the age that they live in, in knowledge, though of the same truths, in a clearer manner, Mat. xiii. 52. It is said he that is a right scribe, that is fit to do service in the church of God, is like a householder, which bringeth forth things new and old; there is no than but God discovereth to him more, or the same by a further light, than to another.
Use 3. It may humble young Christians, that think, when they are first converted, that they have all knowledge, and therefore take upon them to censure men that have been long in Christ; and out of their own experience they will frame opinions, comparing but a few notes together. Alas, ye know but a piece of what you shall know! When you have been in Christ ten or twenty years, then speak; then those opinions which you have now will fall off, and experience will shew them to be false. They think themselves as Paul, that nothing can be added unto them; but what says Paul, 1 Cor. xiii. 11? ‘When I was a child,' &c. He takes a comparison from a child, as being a man, but raised up to his spiritual estate, and thou also wilt then ‘put away childish things.'
Use 4. If God in former ages did reveal himself but by piecemeal, and if that piecemeal knowledge, which they had by inch and inch, did make them holy; for how holy was Enoch and Abraham that had but one promise; then how much more holy should we be, that have had so full a discovery! If one promise wrought so much on their hearts, how much more should so many promises on ours!
Use 5. Here we see that God doth work on men by degrees. It is Solomon's comparison, that righteousness shineth as the dawning of the day, till it come to perfect day. Conversion out of the state of nature into the state of grace is called coming ‘out of darkness into light.' Now light comes into the world by degrees. A man that sitteth up in the night, when the first break of day is he cannot discern; but half, or a quarter of an hour after he begins to see light. Thus it is with many poor souls; they have light break in upon them; they can tell that they were in darkness, but the instant when this light brake in they know not, because God reveals himself by degrees.
I am now to shew how God reveals himself. He did cast himself and his revelations into several moulds and shapes, into several ways of expressing himself, that so he might reveal himself to the people. As Ulysses was able to cast himself into several moulds in his several dealings with men, so likewise God hath revealed himself after several ways.
Thus he did under the Old Testament. In Hos. xii. 10 it is said, that he ‘multiplied visions,' because he was various in it; he used divers likenesses and expressions of himself while he spake by the prophets. We have it more plain in Num. xii. 6, ‘If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream.' Thus you see that there are several ways that God did speak to men by, by visions and dreams, and in dark speeches; but when he came to Moses, who was a type of Christ (for he is said to be a type in this particular, when it is said, ‘I will raise up a prophet like unto thee'), it is said, that he spake to him ‘mouth to mouth, as a man speaks to his friend,' Num. xii. 8, he speaks to him in an apparent manner; but by all the prophets he did speak in dark speeches, in riddles. So in the vision of the great eagle, Ezek. xvii. 2, it is called a riddle. He spake sometimes by visions and sometime by dreams; yet the visions were more clear things than speaking by dreams; therefore it is said, ‘The young men shall see ‘visions, and the old men shall dream dreams;' the young men had more acute parts, and therefore they had more clear revelation. Thus God reveal himself to Joseph in dreams, and therefore he is called the dreamer, of his brethren; yet it is called the ‘word of God,' Pa. cv. 19. So a hint in prayer, when it comes in with evidence, it is the word of God, as that was to Joseph. He did reveal himself by dreams, to shew, first, that he can do that which no other teacher in the world can; for no teacher else can teach their scholar when they are asleep, but so the Lord did, and so he can still do. Secondly, he did it, to shew that, in revealing his message, reason should be asleep, and that should be subject to the revelation of God. He revealed himself likewise by visions, and in thst regard the prophets are called Seers; and he revealed himself likewise by Urim and Thummim; only those revelations were not for matter of doctrine, but of practice, when they were to deal in such and such a business. He revealed himself likewise by types; all the ceremonial law was but types of things to come. All these several ways did the Lord reveal himself to men in former times, The reasons of it are these.
Reason 1. Because he would shew forth, as the apostle in another case, Eph. iii. 10, ‘his manifold wisdom.' It is the property and ability of a wise man to be able to represent himself several ways, and God hath always delighted so to do when he would reveal himself. He went two ways to work revealing himself: First, in the work of creation, Rom. i. 20, it is said, that the invisible things of God are seen clearly, being understood by the things that are made,' &c.; yet this light is but a dark light. And therefore, secondly, he revealed himself in the law, wherein the image of his holiness, justice, and wisdom appeared. And theae two things are the angels' catechisms (as I may so call them), which they and the old world have studied a long time; and in the end there came out another edition of himself, and all that is in him, and that is the gospel; and the text saith that he hath done this, to shew forth his manifold wisdom. Thus God hath more ways than one to represent himself to the people.
Reason 2. Secondly, because there are varieties of apprehensions; one man will be more taken by one way of revealing, and another by another. Thus the wise men were led to Christ by a star, God working on them according to their apprehensions. So the apostles, being fishermen, when they had caught a great draught of fish, Christ spake to them in their own language, and said ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Now there are several gifts in the church, which are but so many several ways of God's revealing himself; and as in ministers there are several gifts, so in the hearers there are several apprehensions; some love a rousing ministry, others a more rational. As men's apprehensions are, so do they favour and relish men's gifts; and because men have several apprehensions, therefore hath he appointed several gifts. Thus God doth in converting men; he converts one man by affliction, another man he converts by his word, another man by the good example that he sees in another: 1 Pet. iii. 1, ‘That they may, without the word, be won by the chaste conversation,' &e. So that the Lord hath several ways to bring his work about, revealing himself. So God lets man fall into manifold temptations, temptations of several sorts. God's dealings are exceeding various; some men he humbles with afflictions, others he overcomes with mercies; sometimes he deals in one way, and sometimes in another, so that if God hath given Christ to thee, thou mayest not stand to think at what door thou enterest in, what wind blew thee into heaven, for God hath many ways to bring thee in.
Use. It should teach ministers thus much, to mould truths into several forms and shapes, because they have several apprehensions to speak to. God himself used variety of similitudes by his prophets, to this end, that he might speak to the people's apprehenhension. Thus we are to do, for God did it. Christ used many parables to the same purpose, expressing faith to us under several expressions, as sometimes ‘coming to Christ,' by ‘eating of his flesh, and drinking of his blood;' sometimes by ‘trusting on him,' and ‘believing in him;' and why? Because in believers there are several apprehensions. ‘Receiving Christ,' is the notion that expresseth the work of faith in one man; in another, ‘coming to Christ,' is the notion that expresseth his faith; in another, ‘eating Christ' savours with his apprehension. Thus Christ hash moulded it into several ways to suit several believers. Again, it is said ‘he spake by the prophets to the fathers.' Those under the Old Testament are called fathers, because they were ‘first in Christ,' as Eph. i. 12. It is an honour now to be an old convert, and therefore he puts it in, ‘who first trusted in Christ'; therefore they are renowned, and their memory is everlasting. The saints under the New Testament, since the apostles' time, many or most of them, their memory is quite gone; but because these were they that first believed, we have a record of all the old worthies to the end of the world; and they are called fathers. And therefore it is an honour to be first in Christ, that so we may be patterns and examples to others; and it is a great motive to turn and to come into Christ soon, for it is said, ‘They obtained a good report through their faith,' Heb. xi.; for to begin to believe first, when there were few examples and encouragements before them, is a great honour to faith, and it gives faith a good report. Thus Adam believed, having but one promise; and Abraham, being called out of a heathenish country, and having but few promises, he being the first example of all that believed, he is called ‘the father of the faithful;' God honoured him for it. But these, though they are called fathers, yet in comparison of the times of the gospel, are called but children; it is the apostle's expression, Gal. iv. 3. The privileges of men under the gospel are exceeding far above theirs; though they were fathers, yet those things are revealed unto us which were not unto them. It is said in 1 Pet. . 11, 12, that ‘they ministered unto us;' so likewise, though those that did live many of them more near the primitive times than we that live in these times, though we honour their memories and call them fathers, yet we may truly say that there is more of the glory of the gospel revealed to us, in the days of Reformation, than was to them. Though they were fathers, and saw afar, yet we being set upon their backs, see further, though children.
And he mentions the fathers, because the Jews did so stick to the religion of their fathers; because Moses's law was given to their fathers, and was their religion. The apostle therefore, to take away this, because they stuck to religion simply because it was the religion of their fathers, say. that ‘God spake to them by the prophets, but to us by his Son.' Thus may be revealed unto the children which was not unto the fathers; so we that live in these days have greater and clearer light than our fatheit had, that lived under popery.
Home - Back