(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
~ Romans 9:11-13
And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
~ Genesis 25:31-34
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;
~ Deuteronomy 4:9
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
~ Proverbs 4:23
Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;
~ Deuteronomy 29:18
Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
~ 1 Corinthians 10:8
And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?
~ Genesis 27:36
And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.
~ Genesis 27:38
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
~ Romans 2:4
He was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
~ Hebrews 12:17 c,d
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
~ Matthew 7:23
General Exhortation and Warning, by John Brown. The following contains an excerpt from Section 1, on Hebrews 10:19 to Hebrews 12:29, of his work, “An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, Volume 2″.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
~ Hebrews 12:15-17
As a further means of preventing apostasy, the Apostle exhorts the Christian Hebrews to watch over each other with a holy jealousy. Vers. 15-17. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled ; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected : for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”
The natural order in explaining such a passage as that now before us, is to attend, first, to the evils against which the Apostle exhorts the Hebrew Christians to guard ; and then to the manner in which they are to guard against them. The evils to be guarded against are: “any man’s failing of the grace of God”, any root of bitterness which should trouble and defile them”,”any profane” or sensual “person” rising up among them, who should for present enjoyment sacrifice future happiness.
The Hebrew Christians are exhorted to guard against “any man’s failing of the grace of God.” Here two questions meet us: What is the grace of God ? and what is it to fail of the grace of God?
The grace of God, in the language of systematic theology, is either divine influence, or the effect of divine influence. In the Scriptures, the grace of God is the divine kindness, or some effect of the divine kindness. In the passage before us, I apprehend, the grace of God, or this grace of God, refers to that effect of divine favour or kindness mentioned in the preceding verse : seeing the Lord-obtaining the celestial blessedness, which consists in the knowledge of, conformity to, and fellowship with, Christ. And to fail of this grace of God, is just to come short of heaven.
Now, the Hebrew Christians were to watch over each other, lest any of them should, by not following holiness, by not cultivating devotedness to God, fail of attaining that state of perfect holy happiness in the immediate presence of the Lord, which is the prize of our high calling.’
They were to watch particularly “lest any root of bitterness springing up should trouble them, and thereby many be defiled.”
The Apostle’s language is figurative, and borrowed from a passage in Deuteronomy: “Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations ; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.”
“A root that beareth gall and wormwood,” is just another name for a secret apostate, a false-hearted professor of the true religion ; or, as Moses expresses it, “a man or woman whose heart turneth away from the Lord our God.” For such a root to “spring up,”, is for such individuals to manifest their apostatizing tendencies by their words or their conduct. When circumstances call these forth—as when persecution for the word’s sake arises—then such persons trouble the Church. Their false doctrines and their irregular conduct trouble their brethren, not only by producing grief and regret, but also in many cases by introducing strife and debate, and all the innumerable evils that rise out of them. And by this means “many are defiled.” The “root of bitterness” has as it were a power of contaminating the plants in the neighbourhood of which it puts forth its bitter leaves and brings forth its poisonous fruits. A false-hearted professor, introducing false doctrines, or sinful practices, is very apt to find followers. “Evil communications corrupt good manners ;” and “ a little leaven,” when allowed to ferment, will go far to “ leaven the whole lump.” “ Profane and vain babblings increase unto more ungodliness.”
But they were to guard not only against speculative irreligion and error, to which I apprehend there is a direct reference in the words just explained, but also against practical ungodliness and immorality. They are to “ look diligently, lest there be among them any fornicator, or profane person, like Esau, who for a morsel of bread sold his birthright.” Esau is not in the Old Testament represented as a fornicator, but the Jewish interpreters with one consent accuse him of incontinence; and his marrying two Canaanitish wives against the will of his pious parents, certainly does not speak favourably either for his continence or piety.
It is strange that fornicators and profane persons should be in any way connected with a Christian church. They certainly have no business there. In a Christian church, where anything approximating to primitive discipline prevails, they will not be allowed to remain when they appear in their true colours. But it would appear that at a very early period such persons did find their way into the Christian Church ; and it is deeply to be regretted that such persons are still to be found in her communion–persons who, while they make a profession of Christianity, are secretly the slaves of impurity, lightly regard the promises and threatenings of religion, and, where they think themselves safe, can speak contemptuously of its doctrines and laws. Esau was such a person; and he manifested his character by relinquishing all claim and title to the privileges connected with primogeniture, for a trifling and temporary enjoyment. You have an account of the facts referred to in the 25th chapter of Genesis, vers. 29, etc.
The case of Esau is introduced not only for the purpose of the awfully impressive warning which follows, but also to suggest this thought to the Christian Hebrews : “Beware of permitting sensual and profane men to find their way into, or to retain their place in, your society; for whenever the temptation occurs, they will act like Esau: they will openly apostatize; to avoid present suffering, or to obtain present enjoyment, they will make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. Such are the evils against which the Apostle exhorts the Hebrew Christians to guard.
The means which he recommends them to use for this purpose is to look diligently. The word rendered “looking diligently” is the same which in 1 Pet. v. 2 is translated “taking the oversight,” and from which the word usually employed to designate the rulers of the Church is taken-bishops, or overseers. A careful discharge of their official duties on the part of the elders, is one of the best safeguards of the Christian Church against the evils here referred to. But it seems plain that the Apostle is not here addressing the elders among the Hebrew Christians in particular, but the whole brotherhood; and of course he does not refer principally, if at all, to official superintendence, but to the common care and oversight which all the members of a Christian church should exercise in relation to each other. The relation in which the members of a Christian church stand to each other, gives rise, like every other relation established by God, to a set of corresponding duties ; and this duty of mutual superintendence is one of the most important. Every member of such a society should consider himself as his “brother’s keeper;” and recollecting that not only the best interests of the individual but of the society are concerned–that his own interests, and, what is of highest consideration, the interests of his Lord and Master, are concerned–every member of a Christian church should “look earnestly lest any” of his brethren “fail of the grace of God.” If he discovers anything in his opinions, or temper, or language, or conduct which endangers his final salvation, he ought to attend to our Lord’s rule, by first speaking to the individual by himself; then, if this does not serve the purpose, by speaking to him in the presence of one or two of the brethren ; then, if this does not serve the purpose, by bringing the matter before the assembly appointed for that purpose, that is, according to our views of Church discipline, the assembly of the elders. In this way a constant watch should be kept “lest any man fail of the grace of God;” “lest any root of bitterness spring up;” “lest there be any profane” or sensual “person,” who in the day of trial will abandon his profession.
I am afraid that a great deal of that impurity of Christian communion which is one of the worst characters of the Christianity of our times, and produces such deplorable results in many ways, is to be traced to a neglect of this mutual superintendence. I do not mean to exculpate those who are officially overseers; but it must be obvious that all their attempts, however honest, to secure purity of communion will be of but little avail, if they are not seconded by the brotherly oversight of the members themselves. This is a duty very plainly commanded in the passage before us; and this is by no means the only passage of Scripture where it is enjoined. See Heb. ii. 13; 1 Thess. v. 14; 1 Cor. xii. 24, 25.
The words in the 17th verse are obviously intended to strike terror into the minds of those who might be induced, like Esau, to sacrifice spiritual privileges for worldly advantages; and the general idea is, ‘ A time will come when you will bitterly, but in vain, regret your foolish choice and conduct. Esau did so. When he found that, by the overruling providence of God, the blessings connected with primogeniture were given to Jacob, he earnestly sought to inherit the blessing; and when he was told it was impossible, he still sought, even with tears, to make his father repent, or change his mind. But in vain. He had despised and sold his birthright, and must take the consequences.
In like manner, the profane and sensual professor of Christianity, who for present enjoyment gives up the promised inheritance in heaven, will one day regret, and vainly regret, his choice: Luke xii. 25-28. He will “find no room for repentance;” i.e., no means of altering the divine determination, that the man who prefers earth to heaven while here, must, when he leaves earth, go to hell and not to heaven. This passage, rightly interpreted, throws no obstacles in the way of a sinner who has made and long persisted in a foolish choice, making a wise one now. “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” If you wish to inherit the blessing, you may ; but there is only one way in which you can—the way of faith, repentance, and obedience. Eternal life is yours if you choose it, not otherwise. Eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord; and nothing but an obstinate refusal to receive it shall exclude any man who hears the Gospel from its enjoyment.