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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 12 - Verse 4
Verse 4. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. The general sense of this passage is, "You have not yet been called, in your Christian struggles, to the highest kind of sufferings and sacrifices. Great as your trials may seem to have been, yet your faith has not yet been put to the severest test. And since this is so, you ought not to yield in the conflict with evil, but manfully resist it." In the language here used, there is undoubtedly a continuance of the allusion to the agonistic games—the strugglings and wrestlings for mastery there. In those games, the boxers were accustomed to arm themselves for the fight with the caestus. This, at first, consisted of strong leathern thongs wound around the hands, and extending only to the wrist, to give greater solidity to the fist. Afterwards these were made to extend to the elbow, and then to the shoulder; and, finally, they sowed pieces of lead or iron in them, that they might strike a heavier and more destructive blow. The consequence was, that those who were engaged in the fight were often covered with blood, and that resistance "unto blood" showed a determined courage, and a purpose not to yield. But though the language here may be taken from this custom, the fact to which the apostle alludes, it seems to me, is the struggling of the Saviour in the garden of Gethsemane, when his conflict was so severe, that great drops of blood fell down to the ground. See Barnes "Mt 26:42, seq. It is, indeed, commonly understood to mean that they had not yet been called to shed their blood as martyrs in the cause of religion. See Stuart, Bloomfield, Doddridge, Clarke, Whitby, Kuinoel, etc. Indeed, I find in none of the commentators what seems to me to be the true sense of this passage, and what gives an exquisite beauty to it, the allusion to the sufferings of the Saviour in the garden. The reasons which lead me to believe that there is such an allusion are briefly these.
(1.) The connexion. The apostle is appealing to the example of the Saviour, and urging Christians to persevere amidst their trials by looking to him. Nothing would be more natural, in this connexion, than to refer to that dark night when, in the severest conflict with temptation which he ever encountered, he so signally showed his own firmness of purpose, and the effects of resistance on his own bleeding body, and his signal victory, in the garden of Gethsemane.
(2.) The expression, "striving against sin," seems to demand the same interpretation. On the common interpretation, the allusion would be merely to their resisting persecution; but here the allusion is to some struggle in their minds against committing sin. The apostle exhorts them to strive manfully and perseveringly against sin in every form, and especially against the sin of apostasy. To encourage them, he refers them to the highest instance on record where there was a "striving against sin"—the struggle of the Redeemer in the garden with the great enemy, who there made his most violent assault, and where the resistance of the Redeemer was so great as to force the blood through his pores. What was the exact form of the temptation there, we are not informed. It may have been to induce him to abandon his work even then, and to yield, in view of the severe sufferings of his approaching death on the cross. If there ever was a point where temptation would be powerful, it would be there. When a man is about to be put to death, how strong is the inducement to abandon his purpose, his plans, or his principles, if he may save his life! How many, of feeble virtue, have yielded just there! If to this consideration we add the thought that the Redeemer was engaged in a work never before undertaken; that he designed to make an atonement never before made; that he was about to endure sorrows never before endured; and that on the decision of that moment depended the ascendency of sin or holiness on the earth, the triumph or the fall of Satan's kingdom, the success or the defeat of all the plans of the great adversary of God and man; and that, on such an occasion as this, the tempter would use all his power to crush the lonely and unprotected Man of sorrows in the garden of Gethsemane, it is easy to imagine what may have been the terror of that fearful conflict, and what virtue it would require in him to resist the concentrated energy of Satan's might, to induce him even then to abandon his work. The apostle says of those to whom he wrote, that they had not yet reached that point. Comp. See Barnes "Heb 5:7".
(3.) This view furnishes a proper climax to the argument of the apostle for perseverance. It presents the Redeemer before the mind as the great Example; directs the mind to him in various scenes of his life—as looking to the joy before him—disregarding the ignominy of his sufferings— enduring the opposition of sinners—and then in the garden as engaged in a conflict with his great foe, and so resisting sin that, rather than yield, he endured that fearful mental struggle which was attended with such remarkable consequences. This is the highest consideration which could be presented to the mind of a believer to keep him from yielding in the conflict with evil; and if we could keep him in the eye, resisting even unto blood, rather than yield in the least degree, it would do more than all other things to restrain us from sin. How different his case from ours? How readily we yield to sin! We offer a faint and feeble resistance, and then surrender. We think it will be unknown; or that others do it; or that we may repent of it; or that we have no power to resist it; or that it is of little consequence, and our resolution gives way. Not so the Redeemer. Rather than yield in any form to sin, he measured strength with the great adversary when alone with him in the darkness of the night, and gloriously triumphed! And so would we always triumph if we had the same settled purpose to resist sin in every form, even unto blood.
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