"Knowing that ye yourselves have a better possession and an abiding one."—Hebrew X. 34 (R.V.).
The Revised Version has rightly struck out the intruded words "in heaven," but in the judgment of some it would have done still better if the renderings in its text and margin had changed places. The latter reads "knowing that ye have your own selves for a better possession," and suggests a deep though somewhat unusual thought, namely, that a Christian, and only a Christian, really owns himself. The same thought is repeated a few verses later, where we read of "them that believe unto the saving of the soul," or, as is the more accurate rendering, "to the acquiring " or possession "of the soul." The soul is gained by faith, and the believer has himself for a possession. Is not that exactly what Jesus said: "In your patience ye shall possess your souls." And is not the same thought, that a man never has himself but when he is trusting to Jesus Christ, expressed in the other solemn words: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose himself?" What awful future retribution by external conditions may be included in that stern phrase we know not now, and God grant that none of us may ever know! But, whatever these are, let us not forget that the tragic fate dimly shadowed in it is primarily an inward experience, the loss not only of blessedness, but of self.
We possess ourselves by self-control. Popular language goes on that assumption, for he who has the mastery of inclinations, emotions, and passions is called "self-possessed," which is just to say that he who governs himself by temperate reason, firm will, and pure conscience, and only he, owns himself. A drunkard resolves against his vice, and a whiff of the smell of drink shatters his resolutions. Does he own himself? No; his tyrannous craving dominates, and, in a very deep sense, "he cannot call his soul his own." His reason, his will, his conscience, are all drowned out of sight by the flood of ungoverned passion that comes rushing from his indulged animal appetite, like winter torrents from the recesses of the hills, that cover fertile lands with hideous slime and sterile gravel. "Whoever committeth sin is the slave of sin," and slaves belong not to themselves but to their owners.
We possess ourselves when we sacrifice ourselves. From a selfish point of view it is a mistake to make self our aim and centre. "Who pleasure follows, pleasure slays," says the poet. The surest way to gratify and satisfy all that is good in myself is to put the satisfaction of self out of sight and to yield myself up to something higher and nobler. Whoever makes self the aim of his vision and of his effort thereby defeats his own end and ceases to possess himself. The poignant joys that thrill in a heart, inflamed by enthusiasm for any great cause, are nobler and rarer by far than any which are experienced on the low levels of self-indulgence. The secret of self-possession and of happiness is self-oblivion, as the Pleiades are better seen by looking a little on one side of them.
But the perfection of self-government and of selfoblivion is attained when the heart has yielded itself to Jesus Christ, and, smitten by His great love, like Moses' rock, has been melted down, and flowed out in a gush of self-surrender to Him. So he who gives himself utterly away, in will and affection and obedience to Jesus, thereby first truly owns himself. For he will have new power of self-control, and to him will come the deep-joy of enthusiasm for the living Person of Incarnate Perfection; and all the blessedness that wells up from lower forms of selfcontrol and self-sacrifice will be multiplied and brightened a thousand-fold. If we give ourselves to Him, He gives us back to ourselves, calmed, hallowed, ennobled. The altar sanctifies the gift, which returns to the giver with new fragrance and worth.
Jesus Christ gives us, if we yield ourselves to Him, a new self, to dwell in us, and that is Himself, to be the life of our lives, the very spirit of our spirits, and the very core and centre of our being. And so "ye," and only ye, "have yourselves for a possession." If you are "of them that believe," ye have therein gained your own souls.
This ownership of ourselves is our best possession. The writer of this epistle has just spoken of the Hebrews as taking joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and he uses a word for "goods" which is closely related to that rendered "possession." So that in the verse which we are considering he is pointing back, and suggesting that what had been taken was little in comparison with what they retained. They had lost farthings; they had kept pounds. Their possession of themselves was best, because it was within and not without. What a man possesses in outward fashion is not possessed in any real sense, and it would often be truer to say that it possesses its so-called owner than that he possesses it. We say of a rich man that "He has mills or capital amounting to so many thousands or millions," when it would be a great deal truer to say, "The mills, and the capital, and the millions have him." He is not their owner; he is their slave. But even when outward possessions do not become tyrants, it is still true that whatever lies outside of us is less precious than what we have within. Love is more than money; peace is better than plenty; a quiet heart is better than full coffers. Inward wealth is the true wealth, and nothing will really enrich us but having that life in our spirits which is given through faith in Jesus Christ, and makes a man "lord of himself, if net of lands." A fountain in the courtyard is better than a far-off well, where we have to go with a pitcher, and at the best bring back a scanty, hot, and impure supply. "A good man shall be satisfied from himself," says the Book of Proverbs; and that is better than being a pauper, dependent on the contingent satisfactions that come from anything outside of us.
That possession is better because it is enduring. Nothing can deprive us of ourselves but ourselves. The fiercest hurricane may blow, but it will only sweep dead leaves from the tree and toss the branches, while stems and roots are unmoved. The wealth which the world can neither give nor take away is better than all the fading sweets and "uncertain riches" which it offers. That last change, which takes away all that men have, leaves* them possessed of all that they are. "His glory shall not descend after him." The dead hands that clutched are straightened out, open and empty for evermore; but we take ourselves with us —what we have made of ourselves, and what Christ in us has made of us. "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord ... for their works do follow them," and their wealth goes with them.
Such a possession lifts us above all loss or change. The context points in that direction. "Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods," says the writer, speaking to his hearers of some persecutions, long faded out of history, which had led to financial losses. "Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods." How came it that they were so turned about from man's usual attitude as to welcome what most people resist, or at least regret? How came it? Why—" knowing that ye had yourselves for a better and an enduring possession." It does not matter much to the man that has vaults on vaults full of sacks of bullion, whether a few shillings may be lost in the course of a day's work. It does not matter much to the merchant who has his warehouse piled with goods, though one or two day's transactions may be unprofitable. And if we have the durable riches in the possession of our own selves, we can afford to look—and we shall look—with comparatively quiet hearts on the going of all that can go, and be able to bear losses and sorrows, and "all the ills that flesh is heir to," in an altogether different fashion from what we should do,-if we could not fall back upon the wealth within, and feel that nothing can touch that.
If we rightly understood the mission of loss, pain, or sorrow, and that each was intended to make us possess more fully the only true riches, that each was meant to make us better, more masters of ourselves, and enriched by such possession, we should not so often murmur or faint when the blows come, nor be so ready to exclaim, "Oh, the mysteries of Providence!" but rather be quick to say, "All things work together for good to them that love God." For if my "loss" of outward things makes me "gain" in patience, in refinement, in fixed faith in Jesus Christ, in quiet submission to Him, then I enter the item on the wrong page if I put it upon the "losses" side of the book. I should put it on the "profits" side; for it profits a man more to gain himself than to gain or keep the whole world.
So the right understanding of what our wealth is, and the right understanding of the relation of sorrow and pain and loss to the true wealth in ourselves, make us take not only patiently but "joyfully" all possible disaster and loss. And we may come to reproduce that heroism of glad faith which the old prophet showed when he sang, "Though the fig-tree shall not blossom, and there be no fruit in the vine; though the labour of the olive shall fajl, and there be no meat in the field; though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stall, yet shall I rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation."