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And once again, glancing through the eleventh into the twelfth chapter, we do not fail to find that, after many incitements and encouragements are given to lead a religious life according to the gospel, the admonition is again resumed : “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words ;” – these circumstances, under which the law was given at Sinai, were truly terrible, but they were by no means 80 grandly solemn as those which gather about the gospel, and into the midst of which you are brought.
“ But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprink. ling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Ye have come to all these in the gospel. These are the things which the gospel familiarly reveals, about which it is constantly employed, and into close connection with which it brings its believers—things of heaven and earth, of God and man, of eternity and time-things infinitely more sublime than the mere tokens of Jehovah's presence, on the top of one of earth's mountains. The admonition implied in this statement is then explicitly given : “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him which speaketh from heaven.”
Thus, looking through this Epistle, we perceive that the warning first sounded near its beginning, recurs at intervals to the end of the writing. We see that admonition is a pervading element of the Epistle. This may be called its solemn undertone, not at once perceived by the casual listener, but becoming perceptible upon our attentive listening, and sounding all the more distinctly and impressively in proportion as we heed it. This is the deep, rhythmic bass in the grand harmony of the Epistle, making its music awful in impression.
Let us go to the sea-side. Standing there alone, let us yield ourselves to the influence of our position. Let us listen to the music of the sea, “ those hollow tunes it plays against the land,” and soon that music will analyze itself to our ears. First, beneath the sound of the wind, which comes moaning and sighing from afar, will be heard the shrill crackling of the water, as the broken waves, in their last motion landward, send their contents rolling and spreading along the hard sandy beach. This is the treble of the music. Then, presently, beneath this, will be heard a lower tone, the sound of washing, washing, as the waters in ten thousand broken parts roll over each other, or roll back upon each other from the land. It is the tenor of the preceding treble. Then, beneath all else, will be perceived still another part, giving grandeur to this music. The great body of ocean's waters, roused into motion by mighty storms far out at sea, sends mountain billows landward in chasing flight. Onward they go, all unobstructed, till suddenly a continent unmasks its front, at once to meet and to annihilate them. And it is the sudden and expiring voice of these monster billows, massing themselves against the shore and rending into fragments, whose concurrent groans create the thunder of the sea. There is thus a solemn bass, a grand undertone, in the harmony of the music of the sea.
Or, let us visit Niagara, and learn the wonders which the Falls possess, as well for the ear as for the eye. Listening, that deafening roar will soon become the music of the cataract. There is no treble here, but there is the same sound of washing, washing, as the superficial waters glide over those beneath them; then there is a deeper sound, as the great body of waters tear themselves from the river's bed, and over the rocky edge of the precipice rush to their doom; and then, once more, beneath all, and down, as if about earth's foundations, where the solid rocks meet the descending mass of ponderous waters and cast them back, there is Niagara's voice of solemn bass, her undertone, giving grandeur to her music.
Ah! that undertone, in every sublime anthem, played or sung by Nature's many instruments and voices, or by human hands and lips, it may be the part last distinetly recognized, yet when recognized it is the last to be lost from hearing. There it is evermore, and we hear it sounding on, giving foundation and law and life to all the parts and voices that roll and swell above it.
And conceiving of the divine writing under consideration as an anthem of God's truth, sounded forth for man's salvation, and an anthem of many voices, its undertone of recurrent, solemn warning, seems no less grand, and no less vital to the full force of the music. It is a blessed and majestic truth that our Saviour is the Son of God, clothed with all adorable perfections; and let that truth be proclaimed in song as a melody of music worthy of angelic lips. But if the Saviour be thus exalted, what dignity must attach itself to his work. How absolutely necessary must be his work in order to man's salvation, and what a glorious salvation must that be which his work provides, and how great must be the grace which prompted him to provide it-even by the tremendous sacrifice of himself, and then what loss and what guilt must be incurred by those who neglect or despise this salvation. And thus begins the undertone of this music. “O, what great salvation," sounds the delightful melody, “provided by the only and the beloved Son of God!” And the undertone is heard, deeply rolling its words of warning, "Ah, how shall we escape, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?" And so continues the heavenly melody through this sacred writing; of Christ our merciful High Priest, able to succor every tempted sonl; of Christ our Eternal High Priest, able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him; of the new and living way opened into the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus, through which we draw nigh to God; of a complete and glorious salvation for every humble soul, desiring and trusting in Jesus: thus sings the heavenly melody. Yet, at the same time, and all along, is heard the undertone, sounding louder as it sounds longer, proclaiming the truth that the greatness of God's grace lays man under increased weight of obligation, and that the rejection of his grace calls for a vengeance as sore as the grace is wonderful, and exhorting that we refuse not him that speaketh.
And is it not, we ask, this underlying truth that chiefly makes impressive the truth above it? Is it not the alternate truth which gives evident and deep significance to the principal truth? Is it not the dark background which brings into light the figures on the foreground? We might revere and extol, with delighted heart, the blessed truth of God's tender compassion, of his forgiving mercy, of his long-suffering kindness, not willing that any should perish; but is it not when we see this truth in contrast with his awful holiness, his strict and eternal justice, his solemn purpose by no means to clear the guilty-is it not then that the former truth takes it firmest and fullest possession of our souls? And is it not when, in this Epistle, we see the God of our salvation, in all the glory of his adorable mercies, pouring out the treasures of his heart for our blessing, and longing for our salvation, and yet, at the same moment, hear this declaration, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," and this, “For our God is a consuming fire"-is it not, then, that our souls become burdened with the truth of God's compassions? Is it not the undertone of warning, sounding its low thunder, that profoundly moves our souls with its reverberations ?
I No doubt the peculiar element of teaching in this Epistle referred to, had a special significance for those Jews, or Jewish Christians, to whom the Epistle was at first addressed. They had heard the gospel preached, and many of them had professedly embraced it; yet they were tempted to renounce their profession, or, if they had not professed Christ, they were tempted to disclaim any interest which they had once felt in the Christian religion. They were tempted to return to Judaism and rest there. That was a religion which, on many accounts, pleased them better than Christianity. So, while the writer of this Epistle endeavors to convince them that the Christian religion is true, that it is the reality of which Judaism was but the shadow, and that it is the only true religion; and while, arraying his matchless arguments for this end, he, at the same time and by the same act, exhibits with wonderful fulness and force the great truths of the gospel; he also interposes the warnings here found, because those exact warnings were specially needed by the persons to whom he wrote, and because the truths which he had exhibited were exactly adapted to enforce such warnings. In their careless preference of Judaism over Christianity, they did not see how great a salvation that is which the gospel provides; and hence, wben the apostle exhibits its greatness as seen in the dignity of Christ's person, he also warns them, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?” So again, the apostle declares that by rejecting Christianity and going back to Judaism, they would re-enact the tragedy of Christ's crucifixion. They would approve the murderous act of their countrymen, who thus declared, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” And thus deliberately rejecting Christianity, after they had been enlightened to know its real character, thus crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh and putting him to an open shame, it would be out of the question for them ever to be saved. Such apostacy would be final and hopeless. So, still further, the apostle shows that as the Old Testament rites had been done away by the sacrifice of Christ, and no longer had any force, those who went back from Christianity to Judaism renounced a reality for a nothing; rejecting the sacrifice of Christ, which was a real atonement, and which turned away the wrath of God, there was for them no sacrifice whatever, there was nothing to come between them and the wrath of God, so that “there remained” only “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation which should devour the adversaries ;” and they were warned that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Thus these admonitions had a special adaptation to those who were tempted to renounce Christianity for Judaism.
Yet this special adaptation relates to the form, rather than to the substance of these warnings. As the principal teachings of this Epistle concerning the person and work of Christ are of universal and perpetual interest, so the warnings which answer to these teachings have a full application wherever men, for any reasons whatever, are disposed to neglect or reject the gospel. And knowing how prone men are to prefer religions of their own to that of the Bible, knowing how ready they often are to go back from the doctrine of Christ the Son of God sacrificed for our sins, and faith in him as the only way of salvation, and to take up the idea of God's general mercy, or of man's goodness, or of the merit of human penances and sacrifices, or of what not?—knowing