Fellowship

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
~ Matthew 18:20, Acts 2:42, Hebrews 3:13

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
~ James 5:8, 1 Peter 4:7, 2 Peter 3:11

John Owen’s Exposition on Hebrews 10:25.

΄ὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγἡν ἑαυτῶν, καθὼς ἔθοσ τισὶν, ἀλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες, καὶ τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον ὅσῳ βλέπετε ἐγγίζουσαν τὴν ἡμέραν.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
~ Hebrews 10:25

The words contain an enforcement of the preceding exhortation, in a caution against what is contrary thereunto, or the neglect of the general duty, which is the principal means to further us in all the things that we are exhorted unto, and without which some of them cannot at all be performed. And there is in the words, 1. The neglect and evil which they are cautioned against; that is, “forsaking the assembling of ourselves.” 2. This is exemplified,

(1.) In an instance of some that were guilty of it; “As is the manner of some.”

(2.) By the contrary duty; “But exhorting one another.”

(3.) The degree of this duty; “So much the more.”

(4.) The motive unto that degree; “As ye see the day approaching.” In the FIRST there is,—

1. The thing spoken of, ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν, well rendered by us, “the assembling of ourselves together;” for it is not the church-state absolutely, but the actual assemblies of believers, walking together in that state, which the apostle intends. For as the church itself is originally the seat and subject of all divine worship, so the actual assemblies of it are the only way and means for the exercise and performance of it. These assemblies were of two sorts:

(1.) Stated, on the Lord’s day, or first day of the week, 1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:7.

(2.) Occasional, as the duties or occasions of the church did require, 1 Corinthians 5:4.

(1.) The due performance of all solemn stated, orderly, evangelical worship, in prayer, preaching of the word, singing of psalms, and the administration of the sacraments.

(2.) The exercise of discipline, or the watch of the church over its members, with respect unto their walking and conversation, that in all things it be such as becomes the gospel, and give no offense: so to admonish, exhort, and “provoke one another to love and good works;” to comfort, establish, and encourage them that were afflicted or persecuted; to relieve the poor, etc. Such assemblies were constantly observed in the first churches. How they came to be lost is not unknown, though how they may and ought to be revived is difficult.

Two things are evident herein: —

(1.) That those assemblies, those comings together in one place, were the only way whereby the church, as a church, made its profession of subjection unto the authority of Christ in the performance of all those duties of sacred worship whereby God was to be glorified under the gospel. Wherefore a voluntary neglect and relinquishment of those assemblies destroys any church-state, if it be persisted in.

(2.) That those assemblies were the life, the food, the nourishment of their souls; without which they could neither attend unto the discipline of Christ, nor yield obedience unto his commands, nor make profession of his name as they ought, nor enjoy the benefit of evangelical institutions: whereas in a due observance of them consisted the trial of their faith in the sight of God and man. For as unto God, whatever reserves men may have in their minds, that they would still continue to believe in Christ though they attended not unto his discipline in these assemblies, he regards it not; because therein men do openly prefer their own temporal safety before his glory. And as unto men, it is not so much faith itself, as the profession of it in those assemblies that they hate, oppose, and persecute. Wherefore believers in all ages have constantly ventured their lives in the observance of them through a thousand difficulties and dangers, esteeming them always aliens from their communion by whom they were neglected.

2. Wherefore, secondly, the apostle’s charge concerning those assemblies is, that we should not forsake them. There is a twofold forsaking of these assemblies: (1.) That which is total, which is the fruit and evidence of absolute apostasy.

(2.) That which is so partially only, in want of diligence and conscientious care in a constant attendance unto them according as the rule and their institution do require. It is the latter that the apostle here intends, as the word in part signifies; and of the former he speaks in the following verses. And this is usually done on some of these accounts: —

(1.) From fear of suffering. These assemblies were those which exposed them unto sufferings, as those whereby they made their profession visible, and evidenced their subjection unto the authority of Christ; whereby the unbelieving world is enraged. This in all ages hath prevailed on many, in the times of trial and persecution, to withdraw themselves from those assemblies; and those who have done so are those “fearful and unbelieving” ones who in the first place are excluded from the new Jerusalem, Revelation 21:8. In such a season, all the arguings of flesh and blood will arise in the minds of men, and be promoted with many specious pretences: life, liberty, enjoyment in this world, will all put in to be heard; reserves concerning their state in this frame, with resolutions to return unto their duty when the storm is over; pleas and arguments that these assemblies are not so necessary, but that God will be merciful unto them in this thing. All which, and the like false reasonings, do carry them away to ruin. For notwithstanding all these vain pleas, the rule is peremptory against these persons. Those who, as to their houses, lands, possessions, relations, liberty, life, prefer them before Christ, and the duties which they owe to him, and his glory, have no interest in gospel promises. Whatever men pretend that they believe, if they confess him not before men, he will deny them before his Father which is in heaven.

(2.) Spiritual sloth, with the occasions of this life, is the cause in many of this sinful neglect. Other things will offer themselves in competition with the diligent attendance unto these assemblies, If men stir not up themselves, and shake off the weight that lies upon them, they will fall under a woful neglect as unto this and all other important duties. Such persons as are influenced by them will make use of many specious pleas, taken for the most part from their occasions and necessities. These things they will plead with men, and there is no contending with them. But let them go to Christ and plead them immediately unto himself, and then ask of themselves how they suppose they are accepted. He requires that we should attend unto these assemblies diligently, as the principal way and means of doing that and observing that which he commands us, — the certain, indispensable rule of our obedience unto him. Will it be accepted with him, if, in a neglect of that, we should say unto him, we would have done so indeed, but that one thing or other, this business, this diversion, this or that attendance in our callings, would not suffer us so to do? This may, indeed, fall out sometimes where the heart is sincere; but then it will be troubled at it, and watch for the future against the like occasions. But where this is frequent, and every trivial diversion is embraced unto a neglect of this duty, the heart is not upright before God, — the man draws back in the way unto perdition.

(3.) Unbelief working gradually towards the forsaking of all profession.

This is the first way, for the most part, whereby “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” doth evidence itself; which the apostle on this consideration warns the Hebrews of, Hebrews 3. I say, hereby usually it first evidenceth itself. It hath unquestionably put forth its power before, within, and in a neglect of private duties, but hereby it first evidenceth itself unto others And if this course, from this principle, be persisted in, total apostasy lies at the door; whereof we have multiplied instances.

Obs. 1. Great diligence is required of us in a due attendance unto the assemblies of the church for the ends of them, as they are instituted and appointed by Jesus Christ. — The benefit we receive by them, the danger of their neglect, sense of the authority of Christ, concernment of his glory in them, with the vanity of the pretences for their neglect, call aloud for this diligence.

Obs. 2. The neglect of the authority and love of Christ in the appointment of the means of our edification, will always tend to great and ruinous evils.

3. The apostle exemplifies the sin which he warns them against, in an instance of those who are guilty of it: “As the manner of some is.” The church of the Hebrews, especially that at Jerusalem, had been exposed to great trials and persecutions, as the apostle declares verses 32, 33. During this state, some of the members of it, even in those early days, began so far to decline from their profession as not to frequent the assemblies of the church. They were afraid to be taken at a meeting, or that their known persecuting neighbors should take notice of them as they went unto or came from their assemblies. And it should seem they were not a few who were fallen into this sinful neglect; for the apostle speaks of it as a thing which was well known among themselves Again, there were among the Hebrews at that time great disputes about the continuance of the temple- worship, with the rites and ceremonies of it, which many were entangled withal; and as that error prevailed in their minds, so did they begin gradually to neglect and forsake the worship and duties of the gospel; which ended with many in fatal apostasy. To prevent the effects of these two evils was the principal design of the apostle in writing this epistle, which is filled with cogent arguments against them. This was the later cause of their declension, before intimated, namely, unbelief secretly inclining unto a-departure from the living God. And this is marked here as the ordinary beginning of an entrance into final apostasy, namely, that men do forsake the assemblies of the saints. Only observe, that it is not an occasional dereliction of them, but that which they accustomed themselves unto; it was ἔθος, their “manner,” — it was an ordinary way and manner of walking, which they accustomed themselves unto.

Obs. 3. No church-order, no outward profession, can secure men from apostasy. — Persons were guilty of this crime in the first, the best, the purest churches.

Obs. 4. Perfection, freedom from offense, scandal, and ruinous evils, is not to be expected in any church in this world.

Obs. 5. Men that begin to decline their duty in church relations ought to be marked, and their ways avoided.

Obs. 6. Forsaking of church assemblies is usually an entrance into apostasy.

Secondly, The apostle illustrates this great evil by the contrary duty: ᾿αλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες. All the duties of these assemblies, especially those which are useful and needful to prevent backsliding and preserve from apostasy, are proposed under this one, which is the head and chief of them all.

The nature of this mutual exhortation among Christian believers in church societies hath been discoursed on Hebrews 3 : Here it is opposed unto the evil dehorted from, “Forsake not, …… but exhort one another.” Wherefore it is comprehensive of the general nature of all the duties of believers in church societies, and it hath a special respect unto constancy and perseverance in the profession of the faith, and diligent attendance unto the duties of gospel-worship, as is evident from the whole context This is the duty of all professors of the gospel, namely, to persuade, to encourage, to exhort one another unto constancy in profession, with resolution and fortitude of mind against difficulties, dangers, and oppositions; — a duty which a state of persecution will teach them, who intend not to leave any thing of Christ’s. And it is never the more inconsiderable because the practice of it is almost lost out of the world, as we said before.

The motive unto these duties is, “the approach of the day.” Wherein we have,

1. A degree added unto the performance of these duties from this motive, τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον, — “So much the more.”

2. The motive itself, which is, “The approach of the day.”

3. The evidence they had of it, “Ye see.”

1. There is from this motive an especial degree to be added unto the performance of the duties before mentioned. ‘They are such as ought always to be attended unto, howbeit this is a season wherein it is our duty to double our diligence about them.’For this, “so much the rather,” refers distinctly unto all the duties before mentioned, being to be repeated, ἀπὸ τοῦ κοινοῦ. Wherefore, although the word of Christ, in his institutions and commands, doth make duties constantly in their performance necessary unto us, yet there are warnings and works of Christ whose consideration ought to excite us unto a peculiar diligence in attendance unto them. And, —

(1.) Such warnings of Christ there are unto his church, both by his word and by his providence. For although he speaks not now immediately unto them by revelations, yet he speaks unto them mediately in his word. All the warnings he hath left on record in the Scripture, given unto his churches in the various conditions wherein they were, — as, for instance, those in the second and third of the Revelation, — are given likewise unto all the churches now that are in the same state or condition wherein they were. And he doth it by his providence, in threatenings, efficacious trials, and persecutions, 1 Corinthians 11:30-32.

(2.) The principal end of these warnings is, to stir us up unto more diligence in attendance unto the duties of his worship in the assemblies of the church; as is manifest in all his dealings with the seven churches, as types of all others. For,

(1.) Our neglect therein is the cause of that displeasure which he in his warnings and trials calls us unto: “For this cause many are weak and sickly, and many sleep.” “Because thou art lukewarm, I will do so and so.”

(2.) Because without a diligent care we cannot pass through trials of any nature, in persecution, in public calamities, unto his glory and our own safety; for by a neglect of these duties all graces will decay, carnal fears will prevail, counsel and help will be wanting, and the soul will be betrayed into innumerable dangers and perplexities.

(3.) Without it, it will not be to the glory of Christ to evidence his presence amongst them in their trials, or give deliverance to them.

Wherefore we may consider what belongs unto this, “and so much the rather,” what additions unto our performance of those duties is required from this motive: —

(1.) A recovery of ourselves from outward neglects in attendance upon church-assemblies. Such there have been amongst us, on various pretences: which if, on renewed warnings, we recover not ourselves from, we are in danger of eternal ruin; for so the case is stated in this place.

(2.) A diligent inquiry into all the duties which belong to the assemblies of believers is comprised here by the apostle, under the general head of mutual consideration, provocation, and exhortation, that we be not found defective through our ignorance and unacquaintedness with what he doth require.

(3.) Spiritual diligence in stirring up our hearts and minds unto sincerity, zeal, and delight in the performance of them; in all laboring after a recovery from our decays and backslidings: which is the design of most of the epistles of Christ unto the seven churches. Wherefore, —

Obs. 7. When especial warnings do not excite us unto renewed diligence in known duties, our condition is dangerous as unto the continuance of the presence of Christ amongst us.

2. The motive itself is, “the approach of the day.” Concerning which we must inquire,

(1.) What day it is that is intended.

(2.) How it did approach. And then, how it did evidence itself so to be, as they saw it.

(1.) The day, τὴν ἡμέραν, “an eminent day.” The rule whereby we may determine what day is intended is this: It was such a day as was a peculiar motive unto the Hebrews, in their present circumstances, to attend diligently unto the due performance of gospel duties. It is not such a day, such a motive, as is always common to all, but only unto those who are in some measure in the same circumstances with them. Wherefore it is neither the day of death personally unto them, nor the day of the future judgment absolutely that is intended: for these are common unto all equally, and at all times, and are a powerful motive in general unto the performance of gospel duties; but not an especial, peculiar motive at some time unto peculiar diligence. Wherefore this day was no other but that fearful and tremendous day, a season four the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, city, and nation of the Jews, which our Savior had forewarned his disciples of, and which they had in continual expectation.

But it may be said, ‘How should the approach of this day, wherein all things seem to be dissolved, the church to be scattered, the whole nation to be consumed with blood and fire, be a motive unto redoubled diligence in attendance unto the duties of Christian assemblies? It should now seem rather to have been a time for every one to shift for himself and his family, than to leave all at uncertainties, and unto ruin, whilst they looked after those assemblies.’

Ans. (1.) Whatever desolations and destructions may be approaching, our best and wisest frame will be to trust unto God, in the discharge of our duty. All other contrivances will prove not only vain and foolish, but destructive unto our souls. The day here intended was coming on the city and nation for their neglect and contempt of the gospel; it was the revenge of their murder, unbelief, and obstinacy against Christ: wherefore if any that made profession of the gospel were now negligent and careless in the known duties of it, they could have no evidence or satisfaction in their own minds that they should not fall in the fire of that day. They who will in any degree partake of men’s sins, must in some degree or other par take of their plagues. (2.) It is impossible that men should go or be carried through a day of public calamity, a destructive day, comfortably and cheerfully, without a diligent attendance unto those known duties of the gospel.. For,

1st. The guilt of this neglect will seize upon them when their trial shall come; and they will wish, when it is too late, that they had kept at a distance from it.

2dly. Let men pretend what they will, this decay in those duties argues and evidenceth a decay in all graces, which they will find weak, and unfit to carry them through their trials; which will bring them unto an unspeakable loss in their own minds.

3dly. The Lord Christ requireth this from us in a way of testimony unto him, that we are found faithful in our adherence unto his institutions upon the approach of such a day; for hereby do we evidence both the subjection of our souls unto him, as also that we value and esteem the privilege of the gospel above all other things.

4thly. Because the duties prescribed, in a right discharge of them, are the great means for the strengthening and supporting of our souls in that part of the trial which we are to undergo.

For such a day as that intended hath fire in it, to try every man’s work of what sort it is, and every man’s grace both as to its sincerity and power.

Therefore all ways and means whereby our works may be tried and our graces exercised are required of us in such a season. Wherefore, —

Obs. 8. Approaching judgments ought to influence unto especial diligence in all evangelical duties.

(2.) How did this day approach? It was approaching, coming, drawing nigh, it was “in procinctu,” — gradually coming upon them: warnings of it, dispositions towards it, intimations of its coming, were given them every day. This I have before given an account of, and how the drawings nigh of this day were upon them when this epistle was written, and how in a short time it brake forth upon them in all its severity.

3. And these things were so evident, as that, in the last place, the apostle takes it for granted that they themselves did see openly and evidently the approaching day. And it did so in these five things:

(1.) In the accomplishment of the signs of its coming foretold by our Savior. Compare Matthew 24:9, etc., with verses 32-34 of this chapter. And besides, all the other signs mentioned by our Savior were entering on their accomplishment.

(2.) In that things were at a great stand as unto the progress of the gospel among the Hebrews. At the first preaching of it “multitudes” were converted unto Christ, and the word continued in efficacy towards them for some season afterwards; but now, as our apostle plainly declares in this epistle, the case was changed among them. “The elect obtained, the rest were hardened,” Romans 11:7. The number of the elect among that people was now gathered in; few additions were made unto the church, — not “daily,” nor in “multitudes,” as formerly. And believers knew full well that when their work was all accomplished, God would not leave the people in their obstinacy, but that “wrath should come upon them unto the uttermost.”

(3.) They saw it approaching in all the causes of it. For the body of the people, having now refused the gospel, were given up unto all wickedness, and hatred unto Christ; an account whereof is given at large by the historian of their own nation.

(4.) The time and season did manifest itself unto them. For whereas the body of that people were to be “cut off,” and “cast off,” as the apostle expressly declares, Romans 9-11, this could not be done until a sufficient tender of the gospel and of grace by Christ Jesus were first made unto them. Notwithstanding all their other wickednesses, God would not surprise them with an overturning destruction. He had before, as types of his dealing with them, warned the old world by Noah, and Sodom by Lot, before the one was destroyed by water and the other by fire. He would also give them their day, and make them a sufficient tender of mercy; which he had now done towards forty years. In this space, through the ministry of the apostles, and other faithful dispensers of the word, the gospel had been proposed unto all persons of that nation throughout the world, Romans 10:16-20. This being now accomplished, they might evidently see that the day was approaching.

(5.) In the preparations for it. For at this time all things began to be filled with confusions, disorders, tumults, seditions, and slaughters, in the whole nation, being all of them entrances of that woful day, whose coming was declared in them and by them.

Obs. 9. If men will shut their eyes against evident signs and tokens of approaching judgments, they will never stir up themselves nor engage into the due performance of present duties.

Obs. 10. In the approach of great and final judgments, God by his word and providence gives such intimations of their coming as that wise men may discern them. “Whoso is wise, he will consider these things,” and “they shall understand the loving-kindness of the LORD .” “The prudent foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.” “How is it that ye discern not the signs of the times?”

Obs. 11. To see evidently such a day approaching, and not to be sedulous and diligent in the duties of divine worship, is a token of a backsliding frame tending unto final apostasy.

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