J. C. Philpot (1802-1869)
Preached at Eden Street Chapel, Hampstead Road, London,
July 24, 1853.
And this word. Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. –Hebrews 12:27-28.
When God gave the law upon Mount Sinai it was with fearful accompaniments. Inanimate nature herself gave tokens of recognition of her Almighty Creator, and trembled at His fearful presence. “And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.”
To these visible tremblings of the earth before her awful Creator the Psalmist alludes, Psalm lxviii. 8, “The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.” So also Psalm lxxvii. 18, “The voice of Thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook.” To this fearful display of God’s terrible majesty at Mount Sinai the Apostle Paul refers in the chapter before us: “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words” (Heb. xii. 18).
Now these accompaniments, when Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke and flame, and the solid earth shook, were to denote God’s majesty, holiness, and justice, in the giving of the law. But there was something more intimated in the shaking of the earth. It was typical and figurative of the shaking of the foundations on which men rested. When the stable earth itself was shaken, all hopes built upon that earth were shaken with it. It also denoted the shaking of that earthly idolatrous worship which was prevalent, in order to make way for the Levitical dispensation which was to last until the coming of the promised Messiah. We gather this from the remarkable prophecy of Haggai, to which the apostle refers in our text, and explains. As this forms the groundwork of our subject, and is the key to our text, we will devote a few moments to it.
In Haggai ii. 6, 7, we find the following prediction: “For thus saith the Lord of hosts: Yet once, and it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” In these striking words Haggai refers to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, when the voice of God shook the earth. “But now,” says the apostle, quoting and explaining Haggai’s words, “He hath promised saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” When was this prophecy fulfilled? Clearly at the coming of Christ, for when God shook the heavens, “the desire of all nations should come,” and the temple then building was to be filled with glory, which it was when the glorious Son of God, in human form, entered into its courts. But how were the heavens and earth then shaken’? Were they not literally so at Christ’s crucifixion, when the sun withdrew his light, when the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent? These visible commotions in heaven and earth were, to a certain extent, fulfillments of the prophecy. But the apostle takes a wider scope, and explains the prediction spiritually, as referring to the shaking and consequent removing of the Levitical dispensation.
This interpretation of the apostle will form the groundwork of our subject, in which there are five distinguishing features.
I. The removing of those things which may be shaken.
II. The remaining of those things which cannot be shaken.
III. The receiving of a kingdom which cannot be moved.
IV. The holding it fast by the power of divine grace.
V. The fruits and effects that spring out of receiving and holding an immovable kingdom.
I must ask your attention this evening. The links in this chain are so very closely connected, that unless you give me your attention you will perhaps be hardly able to see the beauty and blessedness of the subject brought by the apostle before us.
I. The apostle lays it down as a fundamental axiom that that which is shaken, or may be shaken, is to be removed. You will perceive that I adopt both the rendering of the text and the reading in the margin. The text reads, “are shaken:’ the margin, “may be shaken.” Both are good, but the latter is more extensive in meaning. Now, this principle is of great extent and wide application. It holds good in the things of time and sense. An earthquake takes place: buildings are shaken; a rent is made in the wall of some public edifice. That rent speaks to the eye, and says, “This wall must be taken down; it endangers the passers by.” A bridge shakes as you pass over it. It is unsafe: it must be removed and a new one built. How simple, and yet how universal is the principle! Whatever is shaken or may be shaken is unstable; whatever is unstable may be, must be, removed. When God then shook the heavens they were to be removed. But what heavens? Where God dwells in glory’? No. This heaven can neither be shaken nor removed. But the typical heaven, the temple with all its rites and sacrifices, the framework of the Levitical dispensation, could be both shaken and removed. The holy of holies was a type of heaven; and that sanctuary was shaken when the veil across it was rent asunder. Its holy privacy was then shaken, and its sacred contents laid bare. When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, His train filled the temple, evidently showing that the temple was the type and representation of heaven, God dwelling mystically there between the cherubim. This typical heaven, therefore, was first shaken at the crucifixion of Christ, and by the Romans forty years afterwards removed by fire.
i. But we may extend the axiom laid down by the apostle and apply it to a variety of things, for it admits of a very wide application. Take it thus, “Whatever may be shaken is to be removed.” Now apply this fundamental principle to every earthly good.
1. Let it be health. Cannot that be shaken? Broken health, shattered nerves, a shaken frame; these are words in everyday use. The shaking of the tent pole and the flapping of the canvas show that it is not a fixture. Thus Paul speaks of the present body as a tent or tabernacle; but of the future, the glorified body, as a “building” (2 Cor. v. 1). Every ache, twinge, or pain, every sickness or sore is a shaking of the tent pole, a flapping of the canvas, certain marks that it is to be removed.
2. Look again at property of every kind, little or much, from the wealthy capitalist to the toiling stitch-woman. It is all shaking, fluctuating, wavering with every breath. A bank failing ruins hundreds; a change of fashions, a factory burnt down, a sudden rise of prices, throws thousands out of employment.
3. Take again our dearest natural comforts, our social ties, wife and children, house and home. What a shaking of these idols, these household gods, when death comes in at the door and bears away our own flesh and blood to the cold, silent grave. But what is there which may not be shaken’? Long friendships, family connections, mutual confidence, the highest natural integrity, and the finest moral character, aye, the noblest intellect and the most powerful mind may all become a wreck and a ruin, fit only to be removed and taken away like the rubbish of a fallen house.
ii. But we may carry the axiom a step further still. The apostle applies it to the shaking and consequent removal of the Jewish heaven, the temple at Jerusalem, and that form of ritual and ceremonial worship which Moses introduced. So now there is a legal religion, a ceremonial lip-service, a pharisaic self-righteousness, a form of godliness which, in the case of God’s children, He first shakes, then removes and takes away this legal religion. He shakes as He shook Mount Sinai, by the law. The wall built upon a sandy foundation and daubed over with untempered mortar is rent by the stormy wind and overflowing shower, and brought down to the ground (Ezek. xiii. 10-14). What is the rubbish then fit for but, like the leprous house, to be carted away?
iii. But carry the principle farther still. Natural faith, high or low, Calvinistic or Arminian, sound in the letter of truth or unsound, if it be but natural can be shaken, and is to be shaken that it may be removed. It will do for fair weather, but not for foul; stands firm in a calm, but gives way in a storm. So with natural hope. It is with it as Bildad describes, Job viii. 14, 15: “Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider’s web. He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand: he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure.” The same is true of the whole of a fleshly religion, root and branch. When the Lord takes the soul in hand, He shakes the whole tree, shivers the stem, breaks off the branches, overthrows it from the roots, hacks up the stump, and carries it away.
But why all this? Because there must be a removing of the “things that are made.” A made religion–man’s own handiwork, manufactured to order by earthly fingers, has no place in the kingdom of God. Vital godliness, the religion which saves the soul, is not made but given; the donation of God, not the fabric of man. It is like the temple at Jerusalem, and the temple of Christ’s body. The one was made by human hands, therefore to be shaken and taken away. The other was not made by hands and therefore eternal and immortal. So there is a religion made by hands, and a religion not made by hands; the one is shaken, the other immovable; the one falls, the other stands; the one is taken away, the other lives throughout eternity.