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and institutions of worship for beauty and glory to be erected; sup-
plies of the Spirit at all times, and all ages and places, for its in-
crease in grace and holiness, were to be granted, with other things
innumerable; which nothing but divine power could effect. Con-
sider but this one thing, whereas all the parts of this house are sub-
ject to dissolution, the persons whereof it consists do and must all
die, he that builds this house must be able to raise them all from
the dead, or else his whole work about the house itself is lost. Now,
who can do this but he that is God? They who think this is the
work of a mere man, know nothing of it; indeed, nothing of God,
of themselves, of the Spirit of God, of faith, grace, redemption, or
reality of the gospel as they ought. It is but a little dark view I



566 AN EXPOSITION OF THE [CIIAP. III.

can take of the wisdom and power that are laid out in this work, and
3'et I am not more satisfied that there is a God in heaven than I
am th;it he that built this thing is God. And herein also may we
see whence it is that this building goes on notwithstanding all the
opposition that is made unto it. Take any one single believer, from
the foundation of the world, and consider the opposition that is made,
by sin, Satan, and the world, in temptations and persecutions, unto
his interest in this house of God, and doth it not appear marvellous
that he is so preserved, that he is delivered? How hath it been in
this matter with our own souls, if we belong unto this house? That
we should be "called out of darkness into marvellous light;" that we
should be preserved hitherto, notwithstanding our weakness, faint-
ings, infirmities, falls, sins, etc., — is there not some secret, hidden
power that effectually, in ways unknown to us, unperceived by us,
puts forth itself in our behalf? Take any particular church in any
age, and consider the persons of whom it is composed ; — commonly
the poor, the weak, the foolish in and of the world, are the matter
of it. The entanglements and perplexities that it meets withal from
the remainders of its own darkness and unbelief, with the reproach
and persecution which for the most part it meets withal in the world,
seem enough to root it up, or to overwhelm it every moment, yet it
abides firm and stable. Or consider the whole church, with all the
individual persons belonging thereunto, and that in all ages, through-
out all generations, and think what it requires for its preservation
in its inward and outward condition. Divine power shineth forth in
air these things. Not one stone of this buildiwg is lost or cast to
the ground, much less shall ever the whole fabric of it be prevailed
against.

III. The greatest and most honourable of the sons of men that
are employed in the work of God in his house are but servants, and
parts of the house itself: Verse 5, " Moses verily as a servant."

Moses himself, the great lawgiver, was but a servant. And if
he were no more, certainly none that followed him under the old
testament, being all inferior unto him (seeing there arose not a pro-
phet in Israel like unto him, Deut. xxxiv. 10), were in any other
condition. So did the principal builders of the church under
the new testament declare concerning themselves. " Servants of
Jesus Christ," was their only title of honour; and they professed
themselves to be servants of the church for Christ's sake, 2 Cor.
iv. 5. And on that ground did they disclaim all dominion over
the faith or worship of the church, as being only "helpers of their
joy," 2 Cor. i. 24; "not lords over the Lord's heritage, but en-
samples to the flock," 1 Pet. v. 3; — all according to the charge laid
upon them by their Lord and Master, Matt. xx. 25-27. And this
appears, —



VP:U. 3-6.] EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 567

First, Because no man hath any thing to do in this house but by
virtue of commission from him who is the only Lord and Ruler of it.
This bespeaks them servants. They are all taken up in tlie market-
place from amongst the number of common men by the Lord of the
vineyard, and sent into it by him. Neither are they sent to rest or
sleep there, nor to eat the grapes and till themselves, much less to
tread down and sj)oil the vines; but to work and labour until the
evening, when they shall receive their Avages. All things plainly
prove them servants; and their commission is recorded, Matt, xxviii.
18-20, which ought carefully to be attended unto.

Secondly, It is required of them, as servants, to observe and ohe^
the commands of their Lord; and nothing else are they to do, have
they to do in his house. It is required of them that they be faith-
ful; and their faithfulness consists in their dispensation of the
mysteries of Christ, 1 Cor. iv. 1, 2. Moses himself, who received
such a testimony unto his faithfulness from God, did nothing but
what he commanded him, made nothing but according to the pattern
showed him in the mount. Nor were the builders under the new
testament to teach the church to do or observe any thing in the
house of God but what the Lord Christ commanded them, Matt.
xxviii. 20. This is the duty of a faithful servant, and not to pre-
tend his own power and authority to ordain things in the house, for
its worship and sacred use, not appointed by his Lord and Master.
There is a strange spiritual fascination in this matter, or men could
not at the same time profess themselves to be servants, and yet not
think that their whole duty consists in doing the will of their Lord,
but also in giving out commands of their own to be observed. Tliit-i
is the work of lords, and not of servants. And if it be not forbidden
them Ipy Christ, I know not what is.

Thirdly, As servants they are accountable. They must give an
account of all that they do in the house of their Lord. This theif
Master often and solemnly warns them of. See Matt. xxiv. 45-51 ^
Luke xii. 42-48. An account he will have of the talents committed to
them, — of their own gifts, and of the persons or souls committed to
their charge, his sheep; an account of their labour, pains, dih-
gence, and readiness to do and suffer according to his mind and wi'l.
An account they must give, Heb. xiii. ] 7, and that unto the chief
Shepherd when he comes, 1 Pet. v. 4. It is to be feared that th;3
is not much in some men^s thoughts, who yet are greatl}' concerned
in it. They coimt their profits, advantages, preferments, wealth ;
but of the account thay are to make at the last day they seem fo
make no great reckoning. But what do such m.en think? AiO
they lords, or servants? Have they a Master, or have they not?
Are they to do their own wills, or the will of another? Do they
fight uncertainly and beat the air, or have they some certain scopo



568 AN EXPOSITION OF THE [CIIAP. III.

and aim before them ? If they have, what can it be but how they
may give up their account with joy? — -joy, if not in the safety of
all tlieir flocks, through the sinful neglect and miscarriages of any
of them, yet in their own faithfulness, and the testimony of their
consciences thereunto.

Fourthly, As servants they shall have their retvard, every one
his penny, that which he hath laboured for; for although they are
but servants, yet they serve a good, just, great, and gracious Lord,
who will not forget their labour, but give unto them a crown at his
appearance, 1 Pet. v. 4.

See hence the boldness of the "Man of sin" and his accomplices,
whose description we have exactly. Matt. xxiv. 48, 49., — an "evil ser-
vant, who says in his heart that his Lord delayeth his coming, and so
smites his fellow-servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken." He
pretends, indeed, to be a SERVANT OF SERVANTS, but under that speci-
ous title and show of voluntary humility takes upon him to be an abso-
lute lord over the house of God. There are but two sorts of domi-
nion ; — first, that which is internal and spiritual, over the faith, souls,
and consciences of men; and then that which is external, over their
bodies and estates: and both of these doth he, this SERVANT of
SERVANTS, usurp in the house of God ; and thereby sits in it, making
ostentation of himself to be God. And two ways there are whereby
supieme dominion in and about things sacred may be exercised ; —
one by making laws, ordinances, and institutions, religious or divine;
the other by corporeal punishments and corrections of them who
observe them not: and both these doth he exercise. What the
Lord Christ commandeth to be observed in his church,. he observeth
not, nor sutfereth those to do so who would; and what he hath not
appointed or commanded, in instances innumerable he enjoineth
to be observed. A wicked and evil servant, whose Lord 'in* due
time will call him to an account! Is this to be a servant, or a
tyrant ?

Others also would do well to ponder the account they are to
make. And well is it with them, happy is their condition, who.se
greatest joy in this world, on solid grounds, is that they are in this
work accountable servants.

IV. The great end of all Mosaical institutions was to represent
or prefigure and give testimony unto the grace of the gospel by
Jesus Christ.

To this end was Moses faithful in the house of God, namely, to
give testimony unto those things which were afterwards to be
spoken. The demonstration of this principle is the main scope
of this epistle so far as it is doctrinal, and the consideration of it
will occur unto us in so many instances as that we shall not need
here to insist on the general assertion.



VER. S-C] EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 5f^9

y. It is an eminent privilege to be the house of Christ, or a part
of that hoMse: " Whose house are we."

This the apostle minds the Hebrews of, that a sense of their pri-
vilege therein and advantage thereby might prevail with them unto
the duties which he presseth them unto. And it is thus an advan-
tage, —

First, Because this house is God's building: 1 Cor. iii. 9, " Ye are
God's building ;"-^a house that he built, and that in an admirable
manner. The tabernacle of old was thus far of God's building that
it was built by his appointment, and that according to tlie pattern
that lie gave of it unto Moses. But this building is far more glori-
ous: Heb. ix. 11-, "A great and perfect tabernacle, not made with
hands; that is to say, not of this building."

Again; it is so of God's building that none is employed in a way
of authority/ for the carrying of it on but the Lord Christ alone, the
Son and Lord over his own house. And he takes it upon himself:
Matt, xvi. IS, "I will build my church." But it may be objected,
' That it is thus also with the whole world. It is the building of God,
and was built by the Son, the eternal Word, by whom all things were
made, and "without whom was not any thing made that was made,"
John i. 2, 3. Yea, it was built to be Qiov cr/.7^Tripiov, — a habitation
for the divine glory, in the providential manifestations of it.' I an-
swer. All this is true. It is so, and is therefore excellent, and won-
derfully sets out the glory of God, as hath been declared in the fore-
going chapter. But yet this house whereof we speak on many
accounts excelleth the whole fabric of heaven and earth; for, —

First, It is not barely a house, but it is a sacred house, a temple, —
not an ordinary, but a holy, a dedicated dwelling-place. " Ye are
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ
himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly
framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord," Eph. ii.
20, 21. This is God's mansion, when all other things of the world
are let out to farm unto the sons of men. They are cottages for
flesh and blood to dwell in ; this is God's place o/ constant and spe-
cial residence.

Secondly, .li is a special hind of tensile; not like that built of old
by Solomon, of stones, cedar wood, silver, and gold, but it is a s^ji-
ritual house, 1 Pet. ii. 5, made up of living stones in a strange and
wonderful manner, — a temple not subject to decay, but such as
grows continually in every stone that is laid in it, and in the daily
new addition of living stones unto it. And although these stones
are continually removed, some from the lower rooms in this house
in grace, to the higher storeys in glory, yet not one stone of it is, or
shall be, lost for ever.

Thirdly, The manner of God's habitation in this house ispecuHar



570 AN EXPOSITION OF THE [CHAP. Ill

also. He dwelt, indeed, in the tabernacle and temple of old, but
how? By sacrifices, carnal ordinances, and some outward appear-
ances of glory. In this house he dwells hy his S}nrit: " Ye are
builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit," Eph.
ii. 22 ; and, " Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that
the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" 1 Cor. iii. 16. Unspeakable,
tlierefore, is this privilege; and so are the advantages which depend
thereon.

VI. The greatness of this privilege requires an answerableness of
duty.

Because we are this house of God, it becometh us to "hold fast our
confidence unto the end." This is particularly expressed; but the
reason is the same unto many other duties which on the account of
our being the house of God are incumbent on us; as, — 1. Universal
holiness, Ps. xciii. 5. 2. Especial purity of soul and body, becom-
ing a habitation of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. iii. 16, 17, vi. 19, 20.
3. Endeavours to fill up the place, state, condition, and relation
that we hold unto the house, for the good of the whole, Col. ii. 19,
Eph. iv. 15, 16. For besides the general interest which all be-
lievers have in this house, which is equal in and unto them all, every
one hath his especial place and order in this building. (1.) In the
peculiar season, age, or generation wherein our service in this house
is expected ; and these require several duties, suited unto the light,
enjoyments, and trials, of the whole in them: (2.) In the especial
places or offices that any hold in this house: (.3.) In the respect that
is to be had unto the particular or especial assembly of this house
whereunto any living stone doth belong: (4.) With respect unto
advantages that any are intrusted withal, for the increase or edifica-
tion of the house in faith and love; all which call for the discharge
of many especial duties.

VII. In times of trial and persecution, freedom, boldness, and con-
stancy in profession, are a good evidence unto ourselves that we
are living stones in the house of God, and duties acceptable unto
him.

" Hold fast," saith the apostle, " your rrapprialav," — ' your free, bold
profession of the gospel, and your exultation in the hope of the great
pi'omises of it which are in it given unto you.' This duty God hath
set a singular mark upon, as that which he indispensably requireth
and that wliereby he is peculiarly glorified. A blessed instance we
have hereof in the three companions of Daniel. They beheld on the
one side, " vultum instantis tyranui," " the form of whose visage was
changed with fury," " furiis accensus, et ira terribilis;" on the other,
a fiaming, consuming furnace of fire, that they wei'e instantly to be
cast into if they let not go their profession. But behold their rmppri-
eixy, their "boldness" and "confidence" in their profession : Dan. lik



VER. 3-6.] EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 571

1 G-18, " They answered and said unto the king, Nebucha(lnez7ar
we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it l^e .so, dur
God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery i'uv-
nace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, king. But if not,
be it known unto thee, king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor
worship the golden image which thou hast set up." They do not
ask a moment's space to deliberate in this matter. And a blessed
end they had of their confidence. So Basil answered Julian, when
he would have given him space to consult. " Do," said he, " wiiat
ynu intend, for I will be the ^ame to-morrow that I am this day."
This is readiness and alacrity to witness a good confession with
boldness. So it is observed of Peter and John, Acts iv. ] 3. The
Jews were astonished, observing their irappT^stav (the word in the
text, which we there translate " boldness"), that is, their readiness
and promptitude of mind and speech, in their confession of the name
of Christ, when they were in prison and under the power of their
adversaries. Hence also they that fail in this duty are termed hiiXoi,
" fearful ones," and are in the first rank of them who are excluded
out of the new Jerusalem, Rev. xxi. 8. Peter, indeed, instructs us to
be " ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh us a
reason of the hope that is in us, iMiTo. foZov," — "with fear," 1 Epist. iii.
15 ; that is, withrevereuoe unto God and the sacredaess of those things
wherein his name is concerned. But we must not do it (x,iTa buXicK;,
with "a pusillanimous fear," a fear of men, or respect unto what from
them may befall us for our profession. These biiXoi, " fearful ones,"
are those " meticulosi" which shake and tremble at the report of
danger ; so that when persecution ariseth, straiglitway they are
offended, and give over their profession.

And in our discharge of this duty is the glory of God greatly con-
cerned. The revisnue-of glory,, wMcUCod hath from any in this
world ariseth principally, if not solely, from that profession which
they make of the gospel and of the>r faith in the promises thereof.
Hereby do they testify unto his authority, goodness, wisdom, grace,
and faithfulness. Other way of giving glory unto God we have not,
but by bearing witness unto his excellencies; that is, glorifying him
as God. Now, when persecution and trouble arise about these
things, a trial is made whether we indeed believe and put our trust
in what we profess of God,ilnd whefher we value his promises above
all present things whatever. ^/ And hereby is our heavenly Father
glorified. This, therefore^ i^^a singular griyiMHi^ .when it is given to
.i)elievers, Phil. i. 29. - ''^■'■^ -"-.^'^-^ ^- - — -^.^v^^^^r^,.^,

Agdin ; by this means the souls of the saints have a trial and ex-
periment of their own grace, of what sort it is; as Abraham had of
his own faith and obedience in the great experiment which God
gave him of it by his command for the sacrificing of Isaac. Tried



572 AN EXPOSITION OF THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. [cJIAi'. III.

graces are exceeding precious, 1 Pet. i. 6, 7, and are evidences that
those in whom they are do belong to the house of God.

There are other ol)servations, which the words tender unto us,
that shall only be named.

VIII. Interest in the gospel gives sufficient cause of confidence and
rejoicing in every condition. *' Hold fast the rejoicing of your hope."
The riches of it are invaluable, eternal, peculiar, such as outbalance
all earthly things, satisfactory to the soul, ending in endless glory;
and he that is duly interested in them cannot but have abundant
cause of "joy unspeakable " at all times.

IX. So many and great are the interveniences and temptations
that lie in the way of pi'ofession, so great is the number of tiiem that
decay in it, or apostatize from it, that as unto the glory of God, and
the principal [discovery] of its truth and sincerity, it is to be takea
from its permanency unto the end: "Whose house are we, if we
hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the
end."



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Online LibraryJohn OwenThe works of John Owen (Volume 12) → online text (page 70 of 70)