“Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that has endured such gainsaying of sinners against themselves, that you wax not weary, fainting in your souls. You have not yet resisted to blood, striving against sin: and you have forgotten the exhortation, which reasoneth with you as with sons,
My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved of Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.
It is for chastening that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chastens not? But if you are without chastening, of what all have been made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us as seemed good to them; but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. All chastening seems for the present to be not joyous, but grievous: yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit to them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness. Why lift up the hands that hang down, and the palsied knees; and make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed. Follow after peace with all people, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord: looking carefully lest there be any man that falls short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one mess of meat sold his own birthright. For you know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it diligently with tears.” — Heb. xii. 1–17 (R.V.).
The author has told his readers that they have need of endurance; but when he connects this endurance with faith, he describes faith, not as an enduring of present evils, but as an assurance of things hoped for in the future. His meaning undoubtedly is that assurance of the future gives strength to endure the present. These are two distinct aspects of faith. In the eleventh chapter both sides of faith are illustrated in the long catalogue of believers under the Old Testament. Examples of people waiting for the promise and having an assurance of things hoped for come first. They are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. In some measure these witnesses of God suffered; but the more prominent feature of their faith was expectation of a future blessing. Moses is next mentioned. He marks a transition. In him the two qualities of faith appear to strive for the pre-eminence. He chooses to be evil entreated with the people of God, because he knows that the enjoyment of sin is short-lived; he suffers the reproach of Christ, and looks away from it to the recompense of reward. After him conflict and endurance are more prominent in the history of believers than assurance of the future. Many of these later heroes of faith had a more or less dim vision of the unseen; and in the case of those of whose faith nothing is said in the Old Testament except that they endured, the other phase of this spiritual power is not wanting. For the Church is one through the ages, and the clear eye of an earlier period cannot be disconnected from the strong arm of a later time.
In the twelfth chapter the two aspects of faith exemplified in the saints of the Old Testament are urged on the Hebrew Christians. Now practically for the first time in the Epistle the writer addresses himself to the difficulties and discouragements of a state of conflict. In the earlier chapters he exhorted his readers to hold fast their own individual confession of Christ. In the later portions he exhorted them to quicken the faith of their brethren in the Church assemblies. But his account of the worthies of the Old Testament in the previous chapter has revealed a special adaptedness in faith to meet the actual condition of his readers. We gather from the tenor of the passage that the Church had to contend against evil people. Who they were we do not know. They were “the sinners.” Our author is claiming for the Christian Church the right to speak of the people outside in the language used by Jews concerning the heathen; and it is not at all unlikely that the unbelieving Jews themselves are here meant. His readers had to endure the gainsaying of sinners, who poured contempt on Christianity, as they had also covered Christ Himself with shame. The Church might have to resist to blood in striving against the encompassing sin. Peace is to be sought and followed after with all people, but not to the injury of that sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord. The true people of God must go forth to Jesus without the camp of Judaism, bearing His reproach.
This is an advance in the thought. Our author does not exhort his readers individually to steadfastness, nor the Church collectively to mutual oversight. He has before his eyes the conflict of the Church against wicked people, whether in sheep’s clothing or without the fold. The purport of the passage may be thus stated: Faith as a hope of the future is a faith to endure in the present conflict against people. The reverse of this is equally true and important: that faith as a strength to endure the gainsaying of people is the faith that presses on toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The connecting link between these two representations of faith is to be found in the illustration with which the chapter opens. A race implies both a hope and a contest.
The hope of faith is simple and well understood. It has been made abundantly clear in the Epistle. It is to obtain the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham and renewed to other believers time after time under the old covenant. “For we who believe do enter into God’s rest.” “They that have been called receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” “We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” In the latter part of the chapter the writer speaks of his readers as having already attained. They have come to God, and to the spirits of just people made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant. In the first verse he urges them to run the race, so as to secure for themselves the blessing. He points them to Jesus, Who has run the race before them and won the crown, Who sits on the right hand of God, with authority to reward all who reach the goal. Both representations are perfectly consistent. People do enter into immediate communion with God on earth; but they attain it by effort of faith.
Such is the aim of faith. The conflict is more complex and difficult to explain. There is, first of all, a conflict in the preparatory training, and this is twofold. We have to strive against ourselves and against the world. We must put away our own grossness, as athletes rid themselves by severe training of all superfluous flesh. Then we must also put away from us the sin that surrounds us, that quite besets us, on all sides, whether in the world or in the Church, as runners must have the course cleared and the crowd of onlookers that press around removed far enough to give them the sense of breathing freely and running unimpeded in a large space. The word “besetting” does not refer to the special sin to which every individual is most prone. No thoughtful man but has felt himself encompassed by sin, not merely as a temptation, but much more as an overpowering force, silent, passive, closing in upon him on all sides, — a constant pressure from which there is no escape. The sin and misery of the world has staggered reason and left people utterly powerless to resist or to alleviate the infinite evil. Faith alone surmounts these preliminary difficulties of the Christian life. Faith delivers us from grossness of spirit, from lethargy, earthliness, stupor. Faith will also lift us above the terrible pressure of the world’s sin. Faith has the heart that still hopes, and the hand that still saves. Faith resolutely puts away from her whatever threatens to overwhelm and impede, and makes for herself a large room to move freely in.
Then comes the actual contest. Our author says “contest.” For the conflict is against evil people. Yet it is, in a true and vital sense, not a contest of the kind which the word naturally suggests. Here the effort is not to be first at the goal. We run the race “through endurance.” Mental suffering is of the essence of the conflict. Our success in winning the prize does not mean the failure of others. The failure of our rivals does not imply that we attain the mark. In fact, the Christian life is not the competition of rivals, but the enduring of shame at the hands of evil people, which endurance is a discipline. Maybe we do not sufficiently lay to heart that the discipline of life consists mainly in overcoming rightly and well the antagonism of people. The one bitterness in the life of our Lord Himself was the malice of the wicked. Apart from that unrelenting hatred we may regard His short life as serenely happy. The warning which He addressed to His disciples was that they should beware of people. But, though wisdom is necessary, the conflict must not be shunned. When it is over, nothing will more astonish the man of faith than that he should have been afraid, so weak did malice prove to be.
To run our course successfully, we must keep our eyes steadily fixed on Jesus. It is true we are compassed about with a cloud of God’s faithful witnesses. But they are a cloud. The word signifies not merely that they are a large multitude, but also that we cannot distinguish individuals in the immense gathering of those who have gone before. The Church has always cherished a hope that the saints of heaven are near us, perhaps seeing our efforts to follow their glorious example. Beyond this we dare not go. Personal communion is possible to the believer on earth with One only of the inhabitants of the spiritual world. That One is Jesus Christ. Even faith cannot discern the individual saints that compose the cloud. But it can look away from all of them to Jesus. It looks to Jesus as He is and as He was: as He is for help; as He was for a perfect example.
1. Faith regards Jesus as He is, — the “Leader and Perfecter.” The words are an allusion to what the writer has already told us in the Epistle concerning Jesus. He is “the Captain or Leader of our salvation,” and “by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” He leads onward our faith till we attain the goal, and for every advance we make in the course He strengthens, sustains, and in the end completes our faith. The runner, when he seizes the crown, will not be found to have been exhausted by his efforts. High attainments demand a correspondingly great faith.
Many expositors think the words which we have rendered “Leader” and “Perfecter” refer to Christ’s own faith. But the words will hardly admit of this meaning. Others think they are intended to convey the notion that Christ is the Author of our faith in its weak beginnings and the Finisher of it when it attains perfection. But the use which the Apostle has made of the words “Leader of salvation” in chap. ii. seems to prove that here also he understands by “Leader” One Who will bring our faith onward safely to the end of the course. The distinction is rather between rendering us certain of winning the crown and making our faith large and noble enough to be worthy of wearing it.
2. Faith regards Jesus as He was on earth, the perfect example of victory through endurance. He has acquired His power to lead onward and to make perfect our faith by His own exercise of faith. He is “Leader” because He is “Forerunner;” He is “Perfecter” because He Himself has been perfected. He endured a cross. The author leaves it to his readers to imagine all that is implied in the awful word. More is involved in the Cross than shame. For the shame of the Cross He could afford to despise. But there was in the Cross what He did not despise; yea, what drew tears and strong cries from Him in the agony of His soul. Concerning this, whatever it was, the author is here silent, because it was peculiar to Christ, and could never become an example to others, except indeed in the faith that enabled Him to endure it.
Even in the gainsaying of people there was an element which He did not despise, but endured. He understood that their gainsaying was against themselves. It would end, not merely in putting Him to an open shame, but in their own destruction. This caused keen suffering to His holy and loving spirit. But He endured it, as He endured the Cross itself in all its mysterious import. He did not permit the sin and perdition of the world to overwhelm Him. His faith resolutely put away from Him the deadly pressure. On the one hand, He did not despise sin; on the other, He was not crushed by its weight. He calmly endured.
But He endured through faith, as an assurance of things hoped for and the proving of things not seen. He hoped to attain the joy which was set before Him as the prize to be won. The connection of the thought with the general subject of the whole passage satisfies us that the words translated “for the joy set before Him” are correctly so rendered, and do not mean that Christ chose the suffering and shame of the Cross in preference to the enjoyment of sin. This also is perfectly true, and more true of Christ than it was even of Moses. But the Apostle’s main idea throughout is that faith in the form of assurance and faith in the form of enduring go together. Jesus endured because He looked for a future joy as His recompense of reward; He attained the joy through His endurance.
But, as more than shame was involved in His Cross, more also than joy was reserved for Him in reward. Through His Cross He became “the Leader and Perfecter” of our faith. He was exalted to be the Sanctifier of His people. “He has sat down on the right hand of God.”
Our author proceeds: Weigh this in the balance. Compare this quality of faith with your own. Consider who He was and what you are. When you have well understood the difference, remember that He endured, as you endure, by faith. He put His trust in God. He was faithful to Him Who had constituted Him what He became through His assumption of flesh and blood. He offered prayers and supplications to Him Who was able to save Him out of death, yet piously committed Himself to the hands of God. The gainsaying of people brought Him to the bloody death of the Cross. You also are marshalled in battle array, in the conflict against the sin of the world. But the Leader only has shed His blood — as yet. Your hour may be drawing nearly! Therefore be not weary in striving to reach the goal! Faint not in enduring the conflict! The two sides of faith are still in the author’s thoughts.
It would naturally occur to the readers of the Epistle to ask why they might not end their difficulties by shunning the conflict. Why might they not enter into fellowship with God without coming into conflict with people? But this cannot be. Communion with God requires personal fitness of character, and manifests itself in inward peace. This fitness, again, is the result of discipline, and the discipline implies endurance. “It is for discipline that you endure.”
The word translated “discipline” suggests the notion of a child with his father. But it is noteworthy that the Apostle does not use the word “children” in his illustration, but the word “sons.” This was occasioned partly by the fact that the citation from the Book of Proverbs speaks of “sons.” But, in addition to this, the author’s mind seems to be still lingering with the remembrance of Him Who was Son of God. For discipline is the lot and privilege of all sons. Who is a son whom his father does not discipline? There might have been One. But even He humbled Himself to learn obedience through sufferings. Absolutely every son undergoes discipline.
Furthermore, the fathers of our bodies kept us under discipline, and we not only submitted, but even gave them reverence, though their discipline was not intended to have effect for more than the few days of our pupilage, and though in that short time they were liable to error in their treatment of us. How much more shall we subject ourselves to the discipline of God! He is not only the God of all spirits and of all flesh, but also the Father of our spirits; that is, He has created our spirit after His own likeness, and made it capable, through discipline, of partaking in His own holiness, which will be our true and everlasting life. The gardener breaks the hard ground, uproots weeds, lops off branches; but the consequence of his rough treatment is that the fruit at last hangs on the bough. We are God’s tillage. Our conflict with people and their sin is watched and guided by a Father, The fruit consists in the calm after the storm, the peace of a good conscience, the silencing of accusers, the putting wicked people to shame, the reverence which righteousness extorts even from enemies. In the same book from which our author has cited far-reaching instruction, we are told that “when a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
Here, again, the Apostle addresses his readers as members of the Church in its conflict with people. He tells them that, in doing what is incumbent upon them as a Church towards different classes of people, they secure for themselves individually the discipline of sons and may hope to reap the fruit of that discipline in peace and righteousness. The Church has a duty to perform towards the weaker brethren, towards the enemy at the gate, and towards the Esaus whose worldliness imperils the purity of others.
1. There were among them weaker brethren, the nerves of whose hands and knees were unstrung. They could neither combat a foe nor run the race. It was for the Church to smooth the ruggedness of the road before its feet, that the lame things (for so, with something of contempt, he names the waverers) might not be turned out of the course by the pressure of the other runners. Rather than permit this, let the Church lift up their drooping hands and sustain their palsied knees, that they may be healed of their lameness.
2. As to enemies and persecutors, it is the duty of the Church to follow after peace with all people, as much as in her lies. Christians may sacrifice almost anything for peace, but not their own priestly consecration, without which no man shall see the Lord Jesus at His appearing. He will be seen only by those who eagerly expect Him to salvation.
3. The consecration of the Church is maintained by watchfulness against every tendency to alienation from the grace of God, to bitterness against God and the brethren, to sensuality and profane worldliness. All must watch over themselves and over all the brethren. The danger, too, increases if it is neglected. It begins in withdrawing from the Church assemblies, where the influences of grace are manifested. It grows into the poisonous plant of a bitter spirit, which, “like a root that bears gall and wormwood,” spreads through “a family or tribe,” and turns away their heart from the Lord to go and serve the gods of the nations. “The many are defiled.” The Church as a whole becomes infected. But bitterness of spirit is not the only fruit of selfishness. On the same tree sensuality grows, which God will punish when the Church cannot detect its presence.
From the stem of selfishness, which will not brook the restraints of Church communion, springs, last and most dangerous of all, the profane, worldly spirit, which denies and mocks the very idea of consecration. It is the spirit of Esau, who bartered the right of the first-born to the promise of the covenant for one mess of pottage. The author calls attention to the incident, as it displays Esau’s contempt of the promise made to Abraham and his own father Isaac. His thoughts never rose above the earth. “What profit shall this birthright do to me?” We must distinguish between the birthright and the blessing. The former carried with it the great promise given to Abraham with an oath on Moriah: “In your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Possession of it did not depend on Isaac’s fond blessing. It belonged to Esau by right of birth till he sold it to Jacob. But Isaac’s blessing, which he intended for Esau because he loved him, meant more especially lordship over his brethren. Esau plainly distinguishes the two things: “Is not he rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” When he found that Jacob had supplanted him a second time, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and sought diligently, not the birthright, which was of a religious nature, but the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine, and the homage of his mother’s sons. But he had sold the greater good and, by doing so, forfeited the lesser. The Apostle recognises, beyond the subtilty of Jacob and behind the blessing of Isaac, the Divine retribution. His selling the birthright was not the merely rash act of a sorely tempted youth. He continued to despise the covenant. When he was forty years old, he took wives of the daughters of the Canaanites. Abraham had made his servant swear that he would go to the city of Nahor to take a wife to Isaac; and Rebekah, true to the instinct of faith, was weary of her life because of the daughters of Heth. But Esau cared for none of these things. The day on which Jacob took away the blessing marks the crisis in Esau’s life. He still despised the covenant and sought only worldly lordship and plenty. For this profane scorn of the spiritual promise made to Abraham and Isaac, Esau not only lost the blessing which he sought, but was himself rejected. The Apostle reminds his readers that they know it to have been so from Esau’s subsequent history. They would not fail to see in him an example of the terrible doom described by the Apostle himself in a previous chapter. Esau was like the earth that brings forth thorns and thistles and is “rejected.” The grace of repentance was denied him.
 ὑπομονή (x. 36).
 Chap. xii. 14.
 Chap. xiii. 13.
 Chap. iv. 3.
 Chap. ix. 15.
 Chap. x. 19.
 ὄγκον (xii. 1).
 Chap. xii. 2.
 ἀρχηγόν (ii. 10).
 τετελείωκεν (x. 14).
 πρόδρομος (vi. 20).
 τετελειωμένον (vii. 28).
 Reading εἰς ἑαυτούς (xii. 3).
 ἀναλογίσασθε (xii. 3).
 Chap. ii. 13.
 Chap. iii. 2.
 εἰς παιδείαν ὑπομένετε (xii. 7, where the verb is indicative, not imperative).
 Num. xvi. 22.
 Prov. xvi. 7.
 τὸ χωλόν (xii. 13).
 Chap. ix. 28.
 ἐπισπκοποῦντες (xii. 15).
 ὑστερῶν ἀπό.
 Deut. xxix. 18.
 Chap. xiii. 4. Cf. Rom. i. 18 sqq.
 Gen. xxv. 32.
 Gen. xxii. 18.
 Gen. xxvii. 36.
 ἀδόκιμος (vi. 8).
 Chap. vi. 6.
From the Epistle to the Hebrews by Thomas Charles Edwards, D.D., Principal of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury in MCMIV. Digitally produced by Marcia Brooks, Colin Bell, Nigel Blower and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2013.
Insights of the past for the present
To the Hebrews - T.C. Edwards
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.