Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hebrews' Message to the Individual Christian

Chavasse, Francis James. “Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Lessons to the Individual Christians.” Pages 314-17 in The Official Report of the Church Congress, Held at Wolverhampton, on October 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1887. Edited by C. Dunkley. London: Bembrose, 1887.

At the time of this address, Francis James Chavasse (1846-1928) was the Rector of St. Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford. He founded St. Peter’s College at Oxford. He late became the second Bishop of Liverpool (1900-1923) where he was instrumental in building the Anglican cathedral.

The epistle was written to Hebrew Christians at Jerusalem who facing persecution and were in danger of drifting into the apostasy of their former Jewish faith. Likewise, today the epistle calls us to stand fast and not make shipwreck of our faith. Today we meet many challenges. Criticism has called into question ancient interpretations of God’s Word, and despite nineteen centuries since Christ the vast number of people are still heathens. Many are distracted by the pressures of secular business and the struggle for existence, and the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. We have become weary in our ceaseless struggle against secularity. Hebrews has a message to address these issues of our age.

First, the epistle “fixes our eyes on the living, ascended, and glorified Christ, Who has passed by the path of suffering to His throne at God’s right hand” (315). Christ’s humiliation was not the goal, but the passage to the exaltation. We do not worship a dead Christ, but one who is alive, who lives to aid, bless, and intercede for us; who identifies with us; “to Whom we are to look every hour for forgiveness, guidance, sympathy, and strength; before Whom we are to spread our doubts, fears, cares, and ignorances; to Whom we are to commit the keeping of our souls” (315).

Second, the epistle insists on the “undivided unity of the Kingdom of Christ.” The unseen world is real; the church militant and church triumphant are one. The saints who have preceded us are models of faith to be followed and they are interested onlookers on our race and conflict. We have come to “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, and to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven . . . and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb 12:22-23). We lose out if we limit “our Church horizon to the little company of those who worship or agree with us, to those who are called by the same name or use the same forms. We lose even by thinking only of God’s people on earth. God’s servant here are but a small fraction of His vast host” (316). We share a common faith. We should never feel discouraged or lonely, for we are one with “the innumerable multitude of the saints.”

Third, in order to break the power of worldliness, the epistle calls us to a service of love. We should “not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12). God remembers our work and love in ministering to the saints (6:10). He urges us to provoke one another to “love and good deeds” (10:24). We should translate our belief into a life of love, caring for those for whom Christ died. “A service of love expands the heart, clears the eye of the soul, strengthens the spiritual understanding, and subdues self. It solves difficulties, heals sorrows, reveals truths. The selfishness of much of our modern Christianity lies at the root of half our spiritual depression and dejection” (316). A life of ministry will rejuvenate our spiritual sluggishness.

Although Chavasse spoke these words well over a century ago, he seems to speak to the struggles of our own day and age.

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