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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 12 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER Twelve

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER.

THE apostle, having illustrated the nature and power of faith in the previous chapter, proceeds in this to exhort those to whom he wrote to apply tile same principles to their own case, and to urge them to manifest the same steady confidence in God and perseverance in their holy walk. For this purpose he adverts to the following arguments or considerations:—

I. He represents the ancient worthies who had so faithfully persevered, and so gloriously triumphed, as witnesses of their strife in the Christian race, and as cheering them on to victory, Heb 12:1.

II. He appeals to the example of the Saviour, Heb 12:2-4. This was a more illustrious instance than any of those which had been adverted to, and is not referred to with theirs, but is adduced as deserving a separate and a special specification. The circumstances in his case which are all encouragement to perseverance in the Christian conflict are these.

(1.) He endured the cross, and is now exalted to the right hand of God.

(2.) He bore the contradiction of sinners against himself, as those were called to do to whom Paul wrote.

(3.) He went beyond them in his trials and temptations, beyond anything which they could have reason to apprehend —for he had "resisted unto blood, striving against sin."

III. He encourages them by showing that their trials would result in their own good, and particularly that the hand of a Father was in them, Heb 12:6-13. Particularly he urges

(1.) that God addressed those who suffered as his sons, and called on them not to receive with improper feeling the chastening of the Lord, Heb 12:5;

(2.) that it was a general principle that the Lord chastened those whom he loved—and the fact that we received chastening was to be regarded as evidence that we are under his paternal care, and that he has not forsaken us, Heb 12:6-8;

(3.) that they had been subject to the correction of earthly fathers, and had learned to be submissive, and that there was much higher reason for submitting to God, Heb 12:9,10;

(4.) and that however painful chastisement might be at present, yet it would ultimately produce important benefits, Heb 12:11. By these considerations he encourages them to bear their trials with patience, and to assume new courage in their efforts to live a Christian life, Heb 12:12,13.

IV. He exhorts them to perseverance and fidelity, by the fact that if they should become remiss, and renounce their confidence in God, it would be impossible to retrieve what was lost, Heb 12:14-17. In illustrating this, he appeals to the case of Esau. For a trifling consideration, when in distress, he parted with an invaluable blessing. When it was gone it was impossible to recover it. No consideration could induce a change, though he sought it earnestly with tears. So it would be with Christians, if, under the power of temptation, they should renounce their religion, and go back to their former state.

V. He urges them to perseverance by the nature of the dispensation under which they were, as compared with the one under which they had formerly been—the Jewish, Heb 12:18-29. Under the former everything was fitted to alarm and terrify the soul, Heb 12:18-29. The new dispensation was of a different character. It was adapted to encourage and to win the heart. The real Mount Zion —the city of the living God—the New Jerusalem—the company of the angels—the church of the firstborn—the Judge of all—the great Mediator—to which they had come under the new dispensation, all these were fitted to encourage the fainting heart, and to win the affections Of the soul, Heb 12:22-24. Yet, in proportion to the sacredness and tenderness of these considerations, and to the light and privileges which they now enjoyed, would be their guilt if they should renounce their religion—for under this dispensation, as under the old, God was a consuming fire, Heb 12:25-29.

Verse 1. Wherefore. In view of what has been said in the previous chapter.

Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses. The apostle represents those to whom he had referred in the previous chapter as looking on to witness the efforts which Christians make, and the manner in which they live. There is allusion here, doubtless, to the ancient games. A great multitude of spectators usually occupied the circular seats in the amphitheatre, from which they could easily behold the combatants. See Barnes "1 Co 9:24, seq. In like manner the apostle represents Christians as encompassed with the multitude of worthies to whom he had referred in the previous chapter. It cannot be fairly inferred from this that he means to say that all those ancient worthies were actually looking at the conduct of Christians, and saw their conflicts. It is a figurative representation, such as is common, and means that we ought to act as if they were in sight, and cheered us on. How far the spirits of the just who are departed from this world are permitted to behold what is done on earth—if at all—is not revealed in the Scriptures. The phrase "a cloud of witnesses," means many witnesses, or a number so great that they seem to be a cloud. The comparison of a multitude of persons to a cloud is common in the classic writers. See Homer's Il. iv. 274, xxiii. 133; Statius, i. 340, and other instances adduced in Wetstein, in loc. Comp. See Barnes "1 Th 4:17".

 

Let us lay aside every weight. The word rendered weightogkon— means that which is crooked or hooked, and thence anything that is attached or suspended by a hook—that is, by its whole weight, and hence means weight. See Passow. It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The word is often used in the classic writers in the sense of swelling, tumour, pride. Its usual meaning is that of weight or burden; and there is allusion here, doubtless, to the runners in the games, who were careful not to encumber themselves with anything that was heavy. Hence their clothes were so made as not to impede their running, and hence they were careful in their training not to overburden themselves with food, and in every way to remove what would be an impediment or hindrance. As applied to the racers, it does not mean that they began to run with anything like a burden, and then threw it away—as persons sometimes aid their jumping by taking a stone in their hands to acquire increased momentum—but that they were careful not to allow anything that would be a weight or an encumbrance. As applied to Christians, it means that they should remove all which would obstruct their progress in the Christian course. Thus it is fair to apply it to whatever would be an impediment in our efforts to win the crown of life. It is not the same thing in all persons. In one it may be pride; in another, vanity; in another, worldliness; in another, a violent and almost ungovernable temper; in another, a corrupt imagination; in another, a heavy, leaden, insensible heart; in another, some improper and unholy attachment. Whatever it may be, we are exhorted to lay it aside; and this general direction may be applied to anything which prevents our making the highest possible attainment in the divine life. Some persons would make much more progress if they would throw away many of their personal ornaments; some if they would disencumber themselves of the heavy weight of gold which they are endeavouring to carry with them. So some very light objects, in themselves considered, become material encumbrances. Even a feather or a ring—such may be the fondness for these toys—may become such a weight that they will never make much progress towards the prize.

And the sin which doth so easily beset us. The word which is here rendered "easily beset" —euperistatoneuperistaton—does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It properly means, "standing well around;" and hence denotes that which is near, or at hand, or readily occurring. So Chrysostom explains it. Passow defines it as meaning, "easy to encircle." Tindal renders it, "the sin that hangeth on us." Theodoret and others explain the word as if derived from peristasivperistasis—a word which sometimes means affliction, peril—and hence regard it as denoting that which is full of peril, or the sin which so easily subjects one to calamity. Bloom, field supposes, in accordance with the opinion of Grotius, Crellius, Kypke, Kuinoel, and others, that it means "the sin which especially winds around us and hinders our course," with allusion to the long Oriental garments. According to this, the meaning would be, that as a runner would be careful not to encumber himself with a garment which would be apt to wind around his legs in running, and hinder him, so it should be with the Christian, who especially ought to lay aside everything which resembles this that is, all sin which must impede his course. The former of these interpretations however, is most commonly adopted, and best agrees with the established sense of the word. It will then mean that we are to lay aside every encumbrance, particularly or especially—for so the word Kai," and," should be rendered here—the sins to which we are most exposed. Such sins are appropriately called "easily-besetting sins." They are those to which we are particularly liable. They are such sins as the following:

(1.) Those to which we are particularly exposed by our natural temperament or disposition. In some this is pride, in others indolence, or gaiety, or levity, or avarice, or ambition, or sensuality.

(2.) Those in which we freely indulged before we became Christians. They will be likely to return with power, and we are far more likely, from the laws of association, to fall into them than into any other. Thus a man who has been intemperate is in special danger from that quarter; a man who has been an infidel is in special danger of scepticism; one who has been avaricious, proud, gay, or ambitious, is in special danger, even after conversion, of again committing these sins.

(3.) Sins to which we are exposed by our profession, by our relations to others, or by our situation in life. They whose condition will entitle them to associate with what are regarded as the more elevated classes of society, are in special danger of indulging in the methods of living and of amusement that are common among them; they who are prospered in the world are in danger of losing the simplicity and spirituality of their religion; they who hold a civil office are in danger of becoming mere politicians, and of losing the very form and substance of piety.

(4.) Sins to which we are exposed from some peculiar weakness in our character. On some points we may be in no danger. We may be constitutionally so firm as not to be especially liable to certain forms of sin. But; every man has one or more weak points, in his character; and it is there that he is particularly exposed. A bow may be in the main very strong. All along its length there may be no danger of its giving way—save at one place where it has been made too thin, or where the material was defective—and if it ever breaks, it will of course be at that point. That is the point, therefore, which needs to be guarded and strengthened. So in reference to character. There is always some weak point which needs especially to be guarded, and our principal danger is there. Self-knowledge, so necessary in leading a holy life, consists much in searching out those weak points of character where we are most exposed; and our progress in the Christian course will be determined much by the fidelity with which we guard and strengthen them.

And let us run with patience the race that is set before us. The word rendered "patience" rather means in this place perseverance. We are to run the race without allowing ourselves to be hindered by any obstructions, and without giving out or fainting in the way. Encouraged by the example of the multitudes who have run the same race before us, and who are now looking out upon us from heaven where they dwell, we are to persevere as they did to the end.

{1} "lay aside" 2 Co 7:1

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