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Hebrews Chapter 12:12-17

12. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

12. Quare manus remissas et genua soluta surrigite;

13. And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

13. Et rectasfacite vias pedibus vestris, ne claudicatio aberret, sed magis sanetur.

14. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

14. Pacem sectamini cum omnibus et sanctimonium, sine qua nemo videbit Dominum:

15. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

15. Curam agentes ne quis deficiat a grtia Dei, no quae radix amaritudinis sursum pullulans obturbet et per eam inquinentur multi;

16. Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

16. Ne quis scortator vel profanus, ut Esau, quo pro uno edulio vendidit primogenituram suam.

17. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

17. Nostis enim quod quum postea vellet haeriditariam obtinere benedictionem, reprobatus sit, poenitentae enim locum non invenit, etiamsi cum lachrymis quaesiisset eam.

 

12. Wherefore, lift up, etc. After having taught us that God regards our salvation when he chastises us, he then exhorts us to exert ourselves vigorously; for nothing will more weaken us and more fully discourage us than through the influence of a false notion to have no taste of God’s grace in adversities. There is, therefore, nothing more efficacious to raise us up than the intimation that God is present with us, even when he afflicts us, and is solicitous about our welfare. But in these words he not only exhorts us to bear afflictions with courage, but also reminds us that there is no reason for us to be supine and slothful in performing our duties; for we find more than we ought by experience how much the fear of the cross prevents us to serve God as it behooves us. Many would be willing to profess their faith, but as they fear persecution, hands and feet are wanting to that pious feeling of the mind. Many would be ready to contend for God’s glory, to defend what is good and just in private and in public, and to do their duties to God and their brethren; but as danger arises from the hatred of the wicked, as they see that troubles, and those many, are prepared for them, they rest idly with their hands as it were folded.

Were then this extreme fear of the cross removed, and were we prepared for endurance, there would be nothing in us not fitted and adapted for the work of doing God’s will. This, then, is what the Apostle means here, “You have your hands,” he says, “hanging down and your knees feeble, because ye know not what real consolation there is in adversity; hence ye are slow to do your duty: but now as I have shown how useful to you is the discipline of the cross, this doctrine ought to put new vigor in all your members, so that you may be ready and prompt, both with your hands and feet, to follow the call of God.” Moreover, he seems to allude to a passage in Isaiah, (Isaiah 35:3;) and there the Prophet commands godly teachers to strengthen trembling knees and weak hands by giving them the hope of favor; but the Apostle bids all the faithful to do this; for since this is the benefit of the consolation which God offers to us, then as it is the office of a teacher to strengthen the whole Church, so every one ought, by applying especially the doctrine to his own case, to strengthen and animate himself. 252252     The words are neither from the Hebrew nor from the Septuagint, but the order is more according to the former than the latter. The Hebrew is “Brace ye up the relaxed hands, and the tottering knees invigorate;” and the Sept., “Be strong, ye relaxed hands and paralyzed knees.” The literal rendering of this passage is, “Therefore the enfeebled (or relaxed) hands and the paralyzed knees restore; i.e., to their former vigor, so that you may contend with your enemies and your trials and run your race.” They had before acted nobly as it is stated in chapter 10:32-34; he now exhorts them to recover their former vigor and strength. It is rendered by Macknight, “Bring to their right position.” The verb ἀνορθόω literally means no doubt to make straight again, and is so used in Luke 13:13; but it has also the meaning of renewing or restoring to a former state, or of rebuilding. See Acts 15:16. And in this sense Schleusner takes it in this passage. It is used in the Sept. in the sense of establishing confirming, making firm or strong. See Jeremiah 10:12. Hence Stuart gives this version,—
   “Strengthen the weak hands and the feeble knees.”

   But the idea of repairing, or restoring or reinvigorating, gives the passage the most emphatic meaning. The Apostle in this instance only borrows some of the words from Isaiah, and accommodates them to his own purpose. — Ed.

13. And make straight paths, etc. He has been hitherto teaching us to lean on God’s consolations, so that we may be bold and strenuous in doing what is right, as his help is our only support; he now adds to this another thing, even that we ought to walk prudently and to keep to a straight course; for indiscreet ardor is no less an evil than inactivity and softness. At the same time this straightness of the way which he recommends, is preserved when a man’s mind is superior to every fear, and regards only what God approves; for fear is ever very ingenious in finding out byways. As then we seek circuitous courses, when entangled by sinful fear; so on the other hand every one who has prepared himself to endure evils, goes on in a straight way wheresoever the Lord calls him, and turns not either to the right hand or to the left. In short, he prescribes to us this rule for our conduct, — that we are to guide our steps according to God’s will, so that neither fear nor the allurements of the world, nor any other things, may draw us away from it. 253253     Having spoken of strength, he now tells them how to use that strength. Be strong, and take a right course; go along the straight way of duty. See Appendix T 2. — Ed.

Hence be adds, Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, or, lest halting should go astray; that is, lest by halting ye should at length depart far from the way. He calls it halting, when men’s minds fluctuate, and they devote not themselves sincerely to God. So spoke Elijah to the double­minded who blended their own superstitions with God’s worship, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21.) And it is a befitting way of speaking, for it is a worse thing to go astray than to halt. Nor they who begin to halt do not immediately turn from the right way, but by degrees depart from it more and more, until having been led into a diverse path so they remain entangled in the midst of Satan’s labyrinth. Hence the apostle warns us to strive for the removal of this halting in due time; for if we give way to it, it will at length turn us far away from God.

The words may indeed be rendered, “Lest halting should grow worse,” or turn aside; but the meaning would remain the same; for what the Apostle intimates is, that those who keep not a straight course, but gradually though carelessly turn here and there, become eventually wholly alienated from God. 254254     This interpretation is given by Grotius, Macknight and Stuart; but Beza, Doddridge and Scott, take the view given in our version regarding the lame or weak person as intended by τὸ χωλὸν. So is the Vulgate, “that no one halting may go astray, but rather be healed.” — Ed

14. Follow peace, etc. Men are so born that they all seem to shun peace; for all study their own interest, seek their own ways, and care not to accommodate themselves to the ways of others. Unless then we strenuously labor to follow peace, we shall never retain it; for many things will happen daily affording occasion for discords. This is the reason why the Apostle bids us to follow peace, as though he had said, that it ought not only to be cultivated as far as it may be convenient to us, but that we ought to strive with all care to keep it among us. And this cannot be done unless we forget many offenses and exercise mutual forbearance. 255255     It has been justly observed that διώκω is to follow or pursue one fleeing away from us. It means not only to seek peace but strive to maintain it. Psalm 34, we have pursuing after seeking, “Seek peace and pursue it,” i.e., strive earnestly to secure and retain it. Romans 12:18, is an explanation.
   But this strenuous effort as to peace is to be extended to holiness; not chastity, as Chrysostom and some other fathers have imagined, but holiness in its widest sense, purity of heart and life, universal holiness. The word ἁγιασμὸς is indeed taken in a limited sense, and rendered “sanctification” 1 Thessalonians 4:3, and it may be so rendered here as it is in those places where it evidently means holiness universally, 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2. The article is put before it in order to show its connection with what follows, “and the (or that) holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord.” — Ed

As however peace cannot be maintained with the ungodly except on the condition of approving of their vices and wickedness, the Apostle immediately adds, that holiness is to be followed together with peace; as though he commended peace to us with this exception, that the friendship of the wicked is not to be allowed to defile or pollute us; for holiness has an especial regard to God. Though then the whole world were roused to a blazing war, yet holiness is not to be forsaken, for it is the bond of our union with God. In short, let us quietly cherish concord with men, but only, according to the proverb, as far as conscience allows.

He declares, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord; for with no other eyes shall we see God than those which have been renewed after his image.

15. Looking diligently, or, taking care, or, attentively providing, etc. 256256     It means properly overseeing and is rendered “taking the oversight,” in 1 Peter 5:2, where alone it occurs elsewhere. The word bishop comes from it. It is rendered, “taking heed,” by Erasmus; “Diligently attending,” by Grotius; “Taking care,” by Beza; “Looking to it,” by Doddridge; “carefully observing,” by Macknight; and “Seeing to it.” By Stuart. Considering what follows, “Taking heed” would be the best version. — Ed. By these words he intimates that it is easy to fall away from the grace of God; for it is not without reason that attention is required, because as soon as Satan sees us secure or remiss, he instantly circumvents us. We have, in short, need of striving and vigilance, if we would persevere in the grace of God.

Moreover, under the word grace, he includes our whole vocation. If any one hence infers that the grace of God is not efficacious, except we of our own selves cooperate with it, the argument is frivolous. We know how great is the slothfulness of our flesh; it therefore wants continual incentives; but when the Lord stimulates us by warning and exhortation, he at the same time moves and stirs up our hearts, that his exhortations may not be in vain, or pass away without effect. Then from precepts and exhortations we are not to infer what man can do of himself, or what is the power of freewill; for doubtless the attention or diligence which the Apostle requires here is the gift of God.

Lest any root, etc. I doubt not but that he refers to a passage written by Moses in Deuteronomy 29:18; for after having promulgated the Law, Moses exhorted the people to beware, lest any root germinating should bear gall and wormwood among them. He afterwards explained what he meant, that is, lest any one, felicitating himself in sin, and like the drunken who are wont to excite thirst, stimulating sinful desires, should bring on a contempt of God through the alluring of hope of impunity. The same is what the Apostle speaks of now; for he foretells what will take place, that is, if we suffer such a root to grow, it will corrupt and defile many; he not only bids every one to irradiate such a pest from their hearts, but he also forbids them to allow it to grow among them. It cannot be indeed but that these roots will ever be found in the Church, for hypocrites and the ungodly are always mixed with the good; but when they spring up they ought to be cut down, lest by growing they should choke the good seed.

He mentions bitterness for what Moses calls gall and wormwood; but both meant to express a root that is poisonous and deadly. Since then it is so fatal an evil, with more earnest effort it behooves us to check it, lest it should rise and creep farther. 257257     See Appendix U 2.

16. Lest there be any fornicator or profane person, etc. As he had before exhorted them to holiness, so now, that he might reclaim them from defilements opposed to it, he mentions a particular kind of defilement, and says, “Lest there be any fornicator.” But he immediately comes to what is general, and adds, “or a profane person;” for it is the term that is strictly contrary to holiness. The Lord calls us for this end, that he may make us holy unto obedience: this is done when we renounce the world; but any one who so delights in his own filth that he continually rolls in it, profanes himself. We may at the same time regard the profane as meaning generally all those who do not value God’s grace so much as to seek it and despise the world. But as men become profane in various ways, the more earnest we ought to strive lest an opening be left for Satan to defile us with his corruptions. And as there is no true religion without holiness, we ought to make progress continually in the fear of God, in the mortifying of the flesh, and in the whole practice of piety; for as we are profane until we separate from the world so if we roll again in its filth we renounce holiness.

As Esau, etc. This example may be viewed as an exposition of the word profane; for when Esau set more value on one meal than on his birthright, he lost his blessing. Profane then are all they in whom the love of the world so reigns and prevails that they forget heaven: as is the case with those who are led away by ambition, or become fond of money or of wealth, or give themselves up to gluttony, or become entangled in any other pleasures; they allow in their thoughts and cares no place, or it may be the last place, to the spiritual kingdom of Christ.

Most appropriate then is this example; for when the Lord designs to set forth the power of that love which he has for his people, he calls all those whom he has called to the hope of eternal life his firstborn. Invaluable indeed is this honor with which he favors us; and all the wealth, all the conveniences, the honors and the pleasures of the world, and everything commonly deemed necessary for happiness, when compared with this honor, are of no more value than a morsel of meat. That we indeed set a high value on things which are nearly worth nothing, arises from this, — that depraved lust dazzles our eyes and thus blinds us. If therefore we would hold a place in God’s sanctuary, we must learn to despise morsels of meat of this kind, by which Satan is wont to catch the reprobate. 258258     It is said that “for one morsel of meat,” literally, “for one eating,” or, “for one meal,” as rendered by Doddridge, “he sold his birthright,” or according to Macknight, “he gave away his birthrights.” In this reference the Apostle gives the substance without regarding expressions, though he adopts those of the Septuagint in two instances, — the verb, which means to give away, used in the sense of selling, — and birthrights, or the rights of primogeniture. The word in Hebrew means primogeniture, used evidently by metonymy for its rights and privileges. Not only a double portion belonged to the first-born, but also the paternal blessing, which included things temporal and spiritual. The notion that the priesthood at that time and from the beginning of the world belonged to the first-born, has nothing to support it. Abel was a priest as well as Cain, and a better priest too. — Ed.

17. When he would have inherited the blessing, etc. He at first regarded as a sport the act by which he had sold his birthright, as though it was a child’s play; but at length, when too late, he found what a loss he had incurred, when the blessing transferred by his father to Jacob was refused to him. Thus they who are led away by the allurements of this world alienate themselves from God, and sell their own salvation that they may feed on the morsels of this world, without thinking that they lose anything, nay, they flatter and applaud themselves, as though they were extremely happy. When too late their eyes are opened, so that being warned by the sight of their own wickedness, they become sensible of the loss of which they made no account.

While Esau was hungry, he cared for nothing but how he might have his stomach well filled; when full he laughed at his brother, and judged him a fool for having voluntarily deprived himself of a meal. Nay, such is also the stupidity of the ungodly, as long as they burn with depraved lusts or intemperately plunge themselves into sinful pleasures; after a time they understand how fatal to them are all the things which they so eagerly desired. The word “rejected” means that he was repulsed, or denied his request.

For he found no place of repentance, etc.; that is, he profited nothing, he gained nothing by his late repentance, though he sought with tears the blessing which by his own fault he had lost. 259259     Though many such as Beza, Doddridge, Stuart etc. regard this “repentance” as that of Isaac, yet the phrase seems to favor the views of Calvin, “he found not the place of repentance,” that is the admission of repentance; it was inadmissible, there was no place found for it. The word τόπος has this meaning in chapter 8:7, “there should be no place (or admission) have been sought for the second.” The same sense is given to the word in Ecclesiasticus 38:12, “give place” (or admission) to the physician — ἱατρῷ δὸς τόπον. We may give this rendering, “for he found not room for repentance;” he seemed to repent of his sin and folly, but his repentance availed nothing, for it could not be admitted; there was in his case no repentance allowed, as the account given in Genesis testifies.
   The difficulty about “it” in the following clause is removed, when we consider that here, as in some previous instances, the Apostle arranges his sentences according to the law of parallelism; there are here four clauses; the first and last are connected, and also the middle clauses, —

   “For ye know,
That even afterwards wishing to inherit the blessing,
He was rejected,
For he found no room for repentance,
Though with tears he sought it, (i.e., the blessing.)”

   Though Macknight gave the other explanation of “repentance” yet he considered the blessing as the antecedent to “it” in the last line. Though with the tears of repentance he sought the blessing, yet he was rejected: the door to repentance was as it were closed up, and it could not be opened — Ed.

Now as he denounces the same danger on all the despisers of God’s grace, it may be asked, whether no hope of pardon remains, when God’s grace has been treated with contempt and his kingdom less esteemed than the world? To this I answer, that pardon is not expressly denied to such, but that they are warned to take heed, lest the same thing should happen to them also. And doubtless we may see daily many examples of God’s severity, which prove that he takes vengeance on the mockings and scoffs of profane men: for when they promise themselves tomorrow, he often suddenly takes them away by death in a manner new and unexpected; when they deem fabulous what they hear of God’s judgment, he so pursues them that they are forced to acknowledge him as their judge; when they have consciences wholly dead, they afterwards feel dreadful agonies as a punishment for their stupidity. But though this happens not to all, yet as there is this danger, the Apostle justly warns all to beware.

Another question also arises, Whether the sinner, endued with repentance, gains nothing by it? For the Apostle seems to imply this when he tells us that Esau’s repentance availed him nothing. My reply is, that repentance here is not to be taken for sincere conversion to God; but it was only that terror with which the Lord smites the ungodly, after they have long indulged themselves in their iniquity. Nor is it a wonder that this terror should be said to be useless and unavailing, for they do not in the meantime repent nor hate their own vices, but are only tormented by a sense of their own punishment. The same thing is to be said of tears; whenever a sinner sighs on account of his sins, the Lord is ready to pardon him, nor is God’s mercy ever sought in vain, for to him who knocks it shall be opened, (Matthew 7:8;) but as the tears of Esau were those of a man past hope, they were not shed on account of having offended God; so the ungodly, however they may deplore their lot, complain and howl, do not yet knock at God’s door for mercy, for this cannot be done but by faith. And the more grievously conscience torments them, the more they war against God and rage against him. They might indeed desire that an access should be given them to God; but as they expect nothing but his wrath, they shun his presence. Thus we often see that those who often say, as in a jest, that repentance is sufficiently in time when they are drawing towards their end, do then cry bitterly, amidst dreadful agonies, that the season of obtaining repentance is past; for that they are doomed to destruction because they did not seek God until it was too late. Sometimes, indeed, they break out into such words as these, “Oh! if — oh! if;” but presently despair cuts short their prayers and chokes their voice, so that they proceed no farther.


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