HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS
Mr. S. Delves
“Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith. Today if ye will hear his voice. Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” Hebrews 3.7-8
This is a very remarkable scripture. It is much more remarkable than would appear from a cursory reading. I must say that I have never seen it in so remarkable a light as it has come to me at this time to bring before you. We are so accustomed to the scriptures that we read over the surface of them without penetration. There is a wonderful fulness in the Word of God that we hardly realize, even in those scriptures with which we are so familiar.
There are four voices speaking in this text and they are speaking to us today. “Today if ye will hear his voice.” There is first His voice, the voice of Jesus Christ; He it is who speaks to men in this gospel day and dispensation. The whole of the gospel in every part of it – doctrine, precept, promise, exhortation, admonition, warning – is all the voice of Jesus Christ. It is His voice who spake as never man spake, as man never will speak. But implicit in that phrase “His voice”, there is always another voice. Though it is not distinctly mentioned it is there; and for that I must remind you of the commencement of this epistle, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” Where the Son speaks. God speaks, and if His voice, the voice of jesus Christ, is in this text, the voice of God is in it, for God speaks to men by His Son. Where in the Scriptures you read of God as God without any reference to any distinct personality; that means the whole divine nature as such, the one glorious, eternal and ever blessed God. But where you have reference to God in distinction from the Son or the Holy Spirit, then it means God the Father, that distinct and blessed person in the glorious Trinity. So when you read “God, who hath spoken unto us by his Son”, it means God the Father hath spoken unto us by His Son, and that is exactly according to the word of Jesus Christ Himself, when He said “I speak the words of him that sent me.” Jesus Christ in the gospel is the voice of God the Father as well as speaking for Himself as the Son.
So in this text “His voice” is not only the voice of Jesus Christ, but of God the Father speaking by His dear Son. For this is a distinctive feature of this dispensation and it gives it an excellency
over the old dispensation in which God spoke to men by Moses and the prophets. The message of that dispensation, although it was sublime, could be adequately expressed by human instrumentality; Moses and the prophets would do for that dispensation. But God had a far deeper, richer, holier and more blessed word to speak to men in the gospel dispensation and no man was sufficient or adequate to speak that word but His own dear Son. God sent His Son into the world not only to be the gospel in His life and death and resurrection, but to preach the gospel in this dispensation.
Now, there is another voice. “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith.” Now here is the voice of the Holy Ghost, the blessed Spirit of God, the third person in the ever glorious Trinity. The Holy Ghost speaks in this text. The original Greek for this sublime name is more emphatic than appears in this verse; it really means this “Wherefore as the Spirit, the Holy saith”, for the Spirit of God is essentially and intimately the Holy Spirit. “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith.” Now when did the Holy Ghost say this? The Holy Ghost said this in the old dispensation; it is a quotation, as you may see, from the 95th Psalm. For the Holy Ghost spoke in that dispensation, although then the Holy Ghost spoke as I have said by the prophets and the others that God raised up to speak. Holy men of old spoke as well as wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. So that with regard to the scriptures, the old testament and the new are equally inspired by the Holy Ghost, only the Holy Ghost spoke in the old dispensation through men and in the new dispensation in the person and in the voice of the Son of God.
What a proof this is beyond all question of the inspiration of the scriptures; the old testament as well as the new. And not only the inspiration of the scriptures, but the verbal inspiration of the scnptures, for you must know that there is a school of thought that will admit the inspiration of the scriptures, but denies its verbal inspiration. They will say “Yes, certainly holy men of old were inspired, but the Holy Spirit influenced their minds and then they just wrote as they talked and as they felt. It was an inspiration of thought and feeling, but not an inspiration of expression.” But when we speak of the verbal inspiration of the scriptures, we mean the inspiration not only of the truth but of the very words that express it. Of course, we understand that as meaning the words of the original language of the scriptures of which we have a translation. Now we believe this very emphatically, and this word plainly shows it. “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith. Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation”. The Holy Ghost said that word for word, and that puts the inspiration of the scriptures on the highest possible level. There are minor degrees of inspiration; I believe in some sense every feeling and every thought that we have in regard to spiritual things, has something in it of the nature of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You get the same in one of our hymns,
“Holy Ghost, inspire our praises”
that is, influence our hearts with such liveliness of thought and feeling that our praises have in them the influence of the Holy Spirit as well as the feeling of our own hearts. I believe the Holy Spirit in a lesser measure inspires all faithful ministers of the word, at least when they preach with that gracious sense of life and feeling and power and warmth and affection which comes alone from the influence of the Holy Spirit. But that does not mean that every word a minister says is inspired and infallible.
In the scriptures there is verbal inspiration. It does not say “Wherefore the Holy Spirit influenced David to write like that”, but He said it – “Wherefore the Holy Ghost saith”; that is the voice of the Holy Ghost. There are a few things with regard to the voice of the Holy Ghost that I want to mention, and the first is that only the Holy Ghost fully knows the purport and meaning of His own inspired words, and it is only the Holy Ghost that can lead us into their real spiritual meaning. If you are a thoughtful reader of the New Testament, you may be sometimes a little surprised at unexpected quotations from the Old Testament, such quotations as you and I would probably never make in the connection in which they are made; but that shows that there is far more in the Old Testament than we perceive. There are surprising quotations from the Old Testament in the New which imply that only the Holy Spirit knew all that He meant in the Old Testament scriptures. There are meanings there that are not apparent.
I would like to say to my whole congregation that I try to impress upon the young people at the Bible study that to understand the scriptures, the enlightenment of the mind and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. There is no man capable of understanding the Bible unless the Holy Spirit gives him spiritual discernment and direction. The Holy Spirit has the key to all the mysteries in the Bible, and only He can open them to our understanding so that we understand the scriptures aright. “Wherefore the Holy Ghost saith” what is in the Bible, and therefore the Holy Ghost alone can really instruct us in the meaning of what He has said. That is the voice of the Holy Ghost.
There is another point here. The voice of the Holy Ghost always relates to the voice of Jesus Christ. “Wherefore He saith -wherefore the Holy Ghost saith.” What does the Holy Ghost say? The Holy Ghost saith “Hear His voice, the voice of Jesus Christ.” It does not say “Hear my voice” although we are to hear His voice, but we are to hear the voice of the Holy Ghost as that voice directs us to the voice and person and truth and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, today if ye will hear His voice.” So that not to hear the voice of Jesus Christ is to go against the voice of the Holy Ghost, and to grieve and to quench and to sin against that most blessed Spirit. This is again exactly according to the word of Jesus Christ concerning the Holy Ghost. He said, “He shall not speak of himself, he will shew you things to come.” “He shall receive of mine and shew it unto you.”
Is it clear to you? The very nature of the work and teaching of the Holy Spirit relates to the person and work and teaching of Jesus Chnst. Now, if you are observant of your own spiritual feelings in these matters, you can discern this, that when the Holy Spirit guides and directs and influences your heart, it will all lead to Jesus Christ, it will lead you to Him. If the Spirit teaches you, painfully teaches you the bitterness of the sin that is in you. He will lead you to the Saviour. If He makes sin appear vile, it will lead you to the Fountain. If he causes you to feel poor and empty it will lead you to Him who is all fulness. If He causes you to feel dark and ignorant – and you will feel that – it will lead you to Him who is the light of life and the fountain of truth.
If I could convey nothing more to you than that, it would indeed be much to receive, that the nature and purpose and direction of the work of the Holy Ghost in the soul is always related to the voice of Jesus Christ. “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith. Today if ye will hear his voice” – the voice of Jesus Christ.
Then there is a fourth voice in this text, and that is the voice of the writer, the apostolic writer of this epistle to the Hebrews, and we may regard his voice as being representative of the voice of the ministry. The voice of the ministry speaks in this text, and you will see if you observe carefully that from the first word of this seventh verse “Wherefore” to the commencement of the twelfth verse, there is a parenthesis. If you leave out the parenthesis you will get it like this: “Wherefore take heed brethren lest there be in you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” Everything in that parenthesis, from the seventh to the eleventh verse, is the voice of the Holy Ghost. From the beginning of the seventh verse, “Wherefore”, and from the twelfth verse it is the voice of the ministry. “Wherefore” is the voice of the apostle. There is no question that the voice of the apostle was under the direction of the Holy Ghost, but it was the apostle who was saying, “Wherefore.” And this also is very solemn when you come to think about it, and it acts very solemnly on my own heart, too. We who stand to preach do not stand to preach anything and everything that we may think. We have a word, a message to deliver. It needs to be delivered with all faithfulness, with no part of the counsel of God being kept back; and with all solemnity, for anything of a light and foolish spirit very ill becomes the Lord’s messengers who bear such weighty matters.
There is also here a spirit of deep concern, of affection, of love;
“Wherefore take heed brethren.” The apostle was anxious that the Hebrews should hear the voice both of the Holy Ghost directing them to the voice of Jesus Christ and his own words doing the same. As though he were saying, “O listen, carefully consider, lay this to heart, neglect it not, for if the Holy Ghost speaketh, how vitally important it is to listen”.
Consider also that every word in my text, is full of meaning. What a wonderful text this is. “Wherefore.” That is the voice and feeling of the apostle. Then he said “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost
saith.” Does it not strike you as being wonderful that the voice of the ministry and the voice of the Holy Ghost should agree, that what the ministry saith is what the Holy Ghost saith, and that which the Holy Ghost saith is that which the ministry is called upon to deliver in the Lord’s name? Brethren, if ever I say anything to you that does not agree with what the Holy Ghost saith, may the Lord expunge it from your minds and from your memory. But if what I say to you is as the Holy Ghost saith, then I must tell you if you neglect that it will cost you something, it will cost you your soul. And that to me – well, it makes me tremble at this moment to realize it, that one should be called upon to speak as the Holy Ghost saith. If I were to speak as this man said or as that man said, or that eminent preacher taught, or that wonderful commentator explained – what would that be? That might be right, that might be wrong; it would simply be one frail mortal man saying what another frail mortal man has said. But O, to speak as the Holy Ghost saith, to have the Holy Spirit’s witness and testimony and confirmation that that is as though the Holy Ghost said it.
Now I hope I have explained clearly to you then, there are four voices that speak in this text; the voice of Christ, of the Father speaking in and by Him, of the Holy Ghost directing our hearts and minds to the voice of Jesus Christ, and the voice of the ministry agreeing with the voice of the Holy Ghost. Now we have the substance of the text to consider.
“Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith. Today if ye will hear his voice.” It is the voice of Jesus Christ that the Holy Ghost calls upon us today to hear. It is the voice of Jesus Christ that all faithful ministers call upon their hearers to hear – His voice. A voice is directed; a voice does not speak into the air, it were to no purpose if it did. A voice has direction, someone is spoken to; it is intended for some ears to hear and some hearts to receive. Who is this intended for? “If ye.” Who are the “ye”? It is often considered that this word speaks to the unconverted, that it is a word of direction to them to take heed lest they harden their heart against the voice of Jesus Christ. But the Holy Ghost said this in the Old Testament not to the heathen nations, but to the people of God in that dispensation. The Holy Ghost spoke that to those who were in that sense the Lord’s own people. And we must remember that the epistle to the Hebrews was not directed particularly to unbelievers, in fact there are comparatively few references to unbelievers as such in the epistle to the Hebrews, it is almost entirely directed to Hebrew Christians.
Was there any need then that the Holy Ghost should speak like :this, and the apostle write like this to the Christians, the Hebrew Christians? “Harden not your hearts as in the provocation, as in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” My brethren, there is such a thing as a Christian hardening his heart against the voice of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit directing this word to him:
‘Harden not your hearts, you who have professed Jesus Christ and
faith in Him, harden not your hearts.” It would seem that this has some special reference to the Hebrews because there are indications throughout the epistle of their instability. They were under temptation in regard to continuance in the faith, partly because of the persecutions which they endured, and partly because of the subtle infiltration of Judaising doctrine weakening and undermining their faith, as well as persecution opposing it. They appear to have been in grave danger of going back from their profession of Jesus Christ. That is very evident from the solemn warnings and encouragements of this epistle.
There are warnings directed in this epistle to the Hebrews about the danger of going back from their faith, and nothing would be more likely to bring about their apostasy, than the hardening of their hearts against the warnings that the Holy Spirit sets before them in this word.
Now, it is not good, it is not profitable to take off the edge of certain scriptures by mis-applying right doctrines to them; to say “a child of God will never apostatize, he is in the covenant, he is appointed unto salvation, he is ordained unto eternal life, and there is a work of God and of grace in his heart that can never be overthrown and brought to nothing.” That is true; that is true doctrine. But how terribly wrong to suggest that there is no need for these warnings and these admonitions; there is the danger. That suggestion only takes the edge off this searching word. That is a mis-application of right truth and doctrine to dull what was intended to have a very solemnizing effect upon the conscience. For this reason I do not regard this scripture by any manner of means as being exclusive to unbelievers. “Harden not your hearts as in the day of provocation.” I believe the Holy Ghost says this to believers, and especially with regard to their constancy and their faithfulness in their profession of the gospel. Besides, suppose it should prove that any of us (which may God prevent) should go back from the ways of God and from Jesus Christ and give way to our temptations and unbelief, and in that way our hearts become hardened from God’s fear. What would that prove? That a child of God might finally perish? That one of the redeemed of the Lord would finally sink into endless ruin? Of course not. What it would prove was that we were never amongst them, that we were never one of them, that we never were redeemed by Jesus Christ, that we never were effectually called by His grace, and that we never really did with a faith which is the gift of God believe in His precious Name. It would not disprove the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, but it would disprove our personal religion from beginning to end.
My friends, we must not harden our hearts against this nor any other word of the scripture. “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, harden not your hearts.” And even though we do not apostatize from the truth so as to perish finally, if we harden our hearts we suffer for it, we certainly do. A hard heart is its own punishment for hardening the heart. A hard unfeeling heart is a bitter, bitter
weight to carry. For the impressions, the sweet and gracious impressions of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the sweetness of His name, the preciousness and the effects of His blood, the heavenliness of communion with Him – you can never feel and enjoy in a hard heart. If I should be left to harden my heart; what if God left me to a hard heart the rest of my days, even if I reached heaven at last, what a miserable life spiritually that would be for me to live. I am sure I say right when I say a hard heart is its own sore punishment to him that hardens it. It is much easier to harden your heart than to get near to Him; to grieve the Holy Spirit than it is to feel again His benign and heavenly influences in your heart.
How needful it is then to give the most careful and prayerful attention to this loving yet solemn warning,
“Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.”