The opening words of chapter 12 bring us face to face with the
application to ourselves of all that has preceded in chapter 11. All
these Old Testament heroes of faith are so many witnesses to us of its
virtue and energy. They urge us on that we may run the race of faith in
our day, even as they did in days before ours.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Christian service is spoken of under the
figure of a race; here Christian life is the point in question. It is a
figure very much to the point since a race requires energy,
concentration, endurance. So here the exhortation is, “let us run with
patience,” and patience has the sense of endurance . The
normal Christian life is not like a brief sprint of 100 yards, but
rather like a long distance race in which endurance is the decisive
In this matter of endurance there were disquieting symptoms
manifested amongst these Hebrew believers, as the latter part of
chapter 10 has shown us. Verse 36 of that chapter begins, “For ye have
need of patience.” Then faith is mentioned as the energizing principle
of Christian life, and this is followed by the long dissertation on
faith in chapter 11. Thus chapter 11 is a kind of parenthesis, and in
the words we are considering in the first verse of chapter 12 we are
back again on what we may call the main line of the exhortation.
We can only run the race with patience if we lay aside every
weight and the sin which entangles. Sin is a very effectual hindrance.
It is likened to an obstacle which entangles our feet so that we fall.
In the first place however weights are mentioned, as though they were
after all the greater hindrance. Many things which could by no means be
classified as sins prove themselves to be weights to an earnest
Christian; just as there are many things quite right, and allowable to
the ordinary individual, which are wholly discarded by the athlete. He
strips himself of everything which would impede his progress to the
goal. And every Christian should consider himself a spiritual athlete,
as 2 Timothy 2:5 also shows.
We have heard chapter 11 spoken of as “the picture gallery of
faith,” and the opening words of the second verse of our chapter as
setting before us “the great Master-piece which we find at the end of
it.” As we walk down the gallery we can well admire the portraits that
we see, but the Master-piece puts all the others into the background.
No other than JESUS is the Author – i.e., the beginner, originator,
leader – and Finisher of faith. The others displayed certain features
of faith; flashes of it were seen at different points of their career.
In Him a full-orbed faith was seen, and seen all the time from start to
finish. The little word “our” in the AV is in italics you notice, since
there is no such word in the original, and here it only obscures the
The One who was the perfect exemplification of faith is set
before us as our goal, and as the Object commanding our faith. In this
we have an immense advantage over all the worthies mentioned in
chapter 11, for they lived in a day when no such Object could be known.
We have noticed that faith is the eye, or the telescope, of the soul;
that it is faith that sees. Well, here faith looks to Jesus.
If He fills the vision of our souls we shall find in Him the motive
energy that we need for the running of the race.
Moreover He is our Example. Every kind of obstacle confronted
Him when He trod on earth the path of faith. There was not only the
contradiction of sinners to be faced but also the cross, with all the
shame that it entailed. The shame of the cross was a small thing to
Him: He despised it. But who shall tell what was involved in the cross
itself? Some of us used to sing,
The depth of all Thy suffering
No heart could e'er conceive,
The cup of wrath o'erflowing
For us thou didst receive;
And oh! of God forsaken
On the accursed tree:
With grateful hearts, Lord Jesus,
We now remember Thee.
Yet though we cannot conceive all that the cross meant to Him, this we know, that He endured it.
In the enduring of these sufferings for sin the Lord Jesus
stands absolutely alone, and it is impossible to speak of Him as an
Example. In the lesser sufferings which came upon Him through men He is
an Example to us, for in one way or another we suffer as following Him.
He went to the extreme limit, resisting unto blood rather than turning
aside from the will of God. The Hebrews had not been called to
martyrdom up to the time of the writing of this epistle, nor have we
been up to today; still we need to consider Him.
In this connection another thing has to be taken into account.
We are so apt to consider suffering as something in the nature of a
very awkward liability – as being all loss. But it is not this. It may
rather be written down on the profit side of the account, since God
takes it up and weaves it into His scheme of things, using it for our
training. This thought fills verses 5 to 11 of our chapter.
Three words are used in this passage: – chastening, rebuking,
scourging. The last does of course mean a whipping, and the second
means a reproof. But the first, though it may sometimes be used for a
beating, primarily means discipline in the sense of child-training; and
it is worthy of note that, whereas each of the other two words is used
but once in these verses, this one is used no less than eight times.
This then is the predominant thought of the passage. We ARE children of
God and hence we come under His training, and must not forget the
exhortation addressed to us in that capacity.
The exhortation quoted comes from the third chapter of
Proverbs. Turn up the passage and you will see how Solomon addresses
the reader as, “my son.” Here however it is assumed to be the voice of
God Himself addressing us, just as again and again in the first chapter
of our epistle we had the words, “He saith,” introducing a quotation of
Old Testament Scripture. We might say perhaps that it is the voice of
the Spirit of God, for later in the Epistle we have had such
expressions as, “The Holy Ghost saith,” “The Holy Ghost this
signifying,” “The Holy Ghost is a Witness to us.” The point however is
this, that what looks like being but the advice of a Solomon to his son
is assumed by the New Testament to be the Word of God to us .
We are then to take this chastening from the hand of God as
being the normal thing. It is a proof to us that we are His children.
Hence when we come under His chastening we are neither to despise it
nor to faint under it, but to be exercised by it, as verse 11 tells us.
If we are naturally lighthearted and optimistic, our tendency will be
to disregard the troubles, through which God may see fit to pass us. We
put a bold face on and laugh things off, and do not recognize the hand
of God in them at all. In so doing we despise His chastening. If, on
the other hand, we are naturally pessimistic and easily depressed, our
spirits faint under quite small troubles and our faith seems to fail
us. This is going to the opposite extreme, but equally with the other
it means the losing of all the profit, into which our troubles were
designed to lead us.
The great thing is to be exercised by our troubles.
Chastening means trouble, for we are plainly told that “no chastening
for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous.” And exercise means
that we turn our troubles into a sort of spiritual gymnasium; for the
Greek word used here is the one from which we have derived our English
word, gymnasium. Gymnastics for the body have in them some profit, as
1 Timothy 4:8 tells us. Gymnastics for our spirits have in them great
spiritual profit in the direction of both holiness and righteousness.
By them we become partakers of the very holiness of God Himself; and we
are led into paths of righteousness. Righteousness itself bears fruit
which is peaceable, even though the disciplinary process, through which
we passed in order to reach it, was of a stormy nature.
The tendency with the Hebrews evidently was to faint under
their troubles, hence in verse 12 comes the exhortation, in the light
of these facts about God's chastening, to renewed energy in the race.
Observe those runners at the start of a Marathon race. Their arms are
firmly lifted by their sides: their step is elastic, and their knees
strong. Now look at them as they approach the finish an hour or two
later. Most of them have run themselves out. Their hands hang down and
their knees tremble, as doggedly they stumble on.
“ Wherefore lift up …” We are to
renew our energies just because we know what God's discipline is
designed to effect. We might have imagined that to talk to a poor
feeble stumbling believer about God's chastening would be just the
thing to cast him down, whereas it is just the thing, if rightly
understood, to lift him up. What can be more encouraging than
to discover that all God's dealings have as their object the promotion
of holiness and righteousness, and also our being preserved from the
sin and the weights which would impede our progress in the race?
Moreover we are to consider the welfare of others and not
merely our own. Verses 13 to 17 turn our thoughts in this direction;
and two classes are spoken of – the lame and the profane. By the former
we understand believers who are weak in faith; and by the latter those
who may have made a profession and come amongst Christians, but all the
while they really prefer the world. Verses 16 and 17, in fact,
contemplate just that class that already has been alluded to in this
Epistle – chapters 6 and 10 – who cannot be renewed to repentance, and
who have nothing but judgment in prospect. Esau is the great Old
Testament example of such, and Judas Iscariot is the example in the
We need to watch against those profane people lest they damage
others beside themselves, by becoming roots of bitterness. If we read
John 12:1-8, we may see how very easily Judas might have become a root
of bitterness, had not the Lord at once intervened. Those who are
spoken of as lame need however very different treatment. We should aim
at the healing of such and take every care that straight paths are set
before them. We all need these straight paths, and we are to make them.
There are some, alas! who seem to find a joy in making things as
difficult and complicated as possible, whereas the path of
righteousness and holiness is ever a very straight and simple one. And
all this we are to do because we are come, not to the order of things
connected with the law, but to that connected with grace.
The two systems are summed up for us in verses 18 to 24 –
Sinai on the one hand and Sion on the other. Now the forefathers of
these Hebrews had come to Sinai, and the Hebrews themselves, before
their conversion, had come to it in this sense; that it was to God,
known according to the display of Himself at Sinai, that they came,
when they drew near to Him, as far as they might do so in those days.
But now all was changed, and in drawing near to God in the
wonderfully intimate way which the Gospel permits, they came upon
another ground, and in connection with another order of things
entirely. Mount Sion had become symbolic of grace just as Sinai had
become symbolic of law; so that believing the Gospel, and standing in
the grace of God, we may be said to have come to Sion.
It is not easy to see the connection between all the things
mentioned in verses 22 to 24, but it may help us to notice that the
little word “and” divides the different items the one from the other.
Hence for instance, it is the innumerable company of angels which is
spoken of as “the general assembly,” and not the church which is
mentioned immediately following.
We are regarded here as being under the new covenant, and
hence as having come to all that which is clearly revealed in
connection with it. Eight things are mentioned, and each is stated in a
way calculated to bring home their superiority, as compared with the
things which the Hebrews knew in connection with the law.
The Jew could boast in the earthly Jerusalem, which was
intended to be the centre of Divine rule on the earth: but we have come
to the heavenly city whence God's rule will extend over heaven as well
as earth. The Jew knew that angels had served in the giving of the law:
but we have come to the universal gathering of the angels in their
myriads, all of them the servants of God and of His saints. Israel was
God's assembly in the wilderness and in the land: but we belong to His
assembly of firstborn ones whose names are written in heaven. A
heavenly citizenship is ours.
So too, Moses had told Israel that, “The Lord shall judge His
people” (Deut.32:36): but we have come to God as the Judge of all – a
vastly greater thing. The old order dealt with just men living on the
earth: we have come to the same, but as made perfect in glory. Lastly,
for us it is not Moses the mediator of the law covenant, and the blood
of bulls and of goats, but Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and
His precious blood of infinite value.
To all this have we come in faith, and we await the
hour of manifestation which is surely drawing nigh. Israel came to
Sinai in a visible way and were greatly affrighted. Our coming in faith
to Sion, and all connected therewith, is no less real, and in coming
we are greatly comforted and established.
Yet there is a serious side to this matter, inasmuch as it
adds great emphasis and solemnity to all that God says to us today. He
spoke in time past to the fathers through Moses and the prophets, but
now He has spoken from heaven. The fact that He has now spoken in His
Son, making known to us His grace, does not lessen the solemnity of His
utterance but rather increases it, as we saw when reading the second
and third verses of chapter 2.
If we turn away from His heavenly voice we certainly shall not
escape. At Sinai He spoke, formulating His demands upon men, and then
His voice shook the earth. Now He has spoken in the riches of His
mercy. But in the days between these two occasions He spoke through
Haggai the prophet, announcing His determination to shake not only the
earth but the heavens also. He will in fact so shake that everything
that can be shaken will be shaken. Only the unshakeable things will
remain. Our God – the Christian's God – is a consuming fire, and
everything that is unsuited to Him will be devoured in His judgment.
Can we contemplate that day with calmness of spirit? Indeed we
can. The feeblest believer is entitled to do so, for we receive, one
and all, a kingdom which cannot be shaken. And just because we have an
immovable kingdom we are to have grace to serve God with reverence and
true piety. Let us all take it to heart that reverence becomes us in
our attitude towards God, even though He has brought us into such
nearness to Himself. Indeed it becomes us because we are brought into such nearness.
Also let us take note that we are exhorted to serve God
acceptably, not in order to have the kingdom made sure to us, but
because we have received it, and it never can be moved. The very
certainty of it, far from making us careless, only incites us to serve.