Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843): Consider The Apostle And High Priest Of Our Profession

Consider The Apostle And High Priest

Of

Our Profession
By
Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch.  Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

Sermon II

Consider The Apostle And High Priest Of Our Profession

“Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” HEB. 3:1.

WHEN a traveller passes very rapidly through a country, the eye has no time to rest upon the different objects in it, so that, when he comes to the end of his journey, no distinct impressions have been made upon his mind,—he has only a confused notion of the country through which he has travelled.

This explains how it is that death, judgment, eternity, make so little impression upon most men’s minds. Most people never stop to think, but hurry on through life, and find themselves in eternity before they have once put the question, “What must I do to be saved?” More souls are lost through want of consideration than in any other way.

The reason why men are not awakened and made anxious for their souls is, that the devil never gives them time to consider. Therefore God cries, Stop, poor sinner, stop and think. Consider your ways. “Oh that you were wise, that you understood this, that you considered your latter end!” And, again He cries, “Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.”

In the same way does the devil try to make the children of God doubt if there be a Providence. He hurries them away to the shop and market. Lose no time, he says, but make money. Therefore God cries, Stop, poor sinner, stop and think; and Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; consider the ravens, which have neither storehouse nor barn.”

In the same way does the devil try to make the children of God live uncomfortable and unholy lives. He beguiles them away from simply looking to Jesus: he hurries them away to look at a thousand other things, as he led Peter, walking on the sea, to look round at the waves. But God says, Look here, consider the Apostle and High Priest of your profession; look unto me and be ye saved; run your race, looking unto Jesus; consider Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

I. Believers should live in daily consideration of the greatness and glory of Christ

(1.) There was once a time when time was not,—when there was no earth, neither sun, nor moon, nor star; a time when you might have wandered through all space, and never found a resting-place to the sole of your foot,—when you would have found no creatures anywhere, but God everywhere,—when there were no angels with golden harps hymning celestial praises, but God alone was all in all.

Ques.—Where was Jesus then? Ans.—He was with God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” He was near to God, and in perfect happiness there. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. Then I was by Him as one brought up with Him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before Him.” He was in the bosom of God: “The only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father.” He was in perfect glory there: “O Father, glorify Thou me with thyself, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was!”

Ques.—What was Jesus then? Ans.—He was God. The Word was with God, and “was God.” He was equal with the Father. “He thought it no robbery to be equal with God.” He was rich. “He was the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person.”

Now, brethren, could I lift you away to that time when God was alone from all eternity; could I have shown you the glory of Jesus then,—how He dwelt in the bosom of the Father, and was daily his delight; and could I have told you, “That is the glorious Being who is to undertake the cause of poor lost sinners,—that is He who is going to put himself in their room and stead, to suffer all they should suffer, and obey all they should obey,—consider Jesus, look long and earnestly, weigh every consideration in the balance of the soundest judgment,—consider his rank, his nearness, his dearness to God the Father,—consider his power, his glory, his equality to God the Father in everything,—consider, and say do you think you would entrust your case to Him? do you think He would be a sufficient Saviour?”—oh, brethren, would not every soul cry out, He is enough—I want no other Saviour?

(2.) Again, there was a time when this world sprang into being,—when the sun began to shine, and earth and seas began to smile. There was a time when myriads of happy angels springing into being, first spread their wings, doing his commandments,—when the morning stare sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

Ques.—What was Jesus doing then? Ans.—“Without Him was not anything made that was made.” “By Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him.” Oh, brethren, could I lift you away back to that wonderful day, and show you Jesus calling all the angels into being, hanging the earth upon nothing;—could you have heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Let there be light, and there was light;”—and could I have told you, “That is He who is yet to undertake for sinners; consider Him, and see if you think He will be a sufficient Saviour; look long and earnestly;”—good news, good news for sinners, if this mighty Being undertake for us!—I can as little doubt the sureness and completeness of my salvation as I can doubt the sureness of the solid earth beneath my feet.

(3.) But the work of creation is long since passed. Jesus has been upon our earth. And now He is not here—He is risen. Eighteen hundred years and more have passed since Christ was upon the earth.

Ques.—Where is Jesus now? Ans.—“He is set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He is upon the throne with God in his glorified body, and his throne is for ever. A sceptre is put into his hand—a sceptre of righteousness, and the oil of gladness is poured over Him. All power is given to Him in heaven and on earth.

Oh, brethren, could you and I pass this day through these heavens, and see what is now going on in the sanctuary above,—could you see what the child of God now sees who died last night,—could you see the Lamb with the scars of his five deep wounds in the very midst of the throne, surrounded by all the redeemed, every one having harps and golden vials full of odours,—could you see the many angels round about the throne, whose number is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, all singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,”—and were one of these angels to tell you, “This is He that undertook the cause of lost sinners; He undertook to bear their curse and to do their obedience; He undertook to be the second Adam,—the man in their stead; and lo! there He is upon the throne of heaven;—consider Him,—look long and earnestly upon his wounds—upon his glory,—and tell me, do you think it would be safe to trust Him? do you think his sufferings and obedience will have been enough?”—Yes, yes, every soul exclaims, Lord, it is enough! Lord, stay thy hand! Show me no more, for I can bear no more. Oh, rather let me ever stand and gaze upon the almighty, all-worthy, all-divine Saviour, till my soul drink in complete assurance that his work undertaken for sinners is a finished work! Yes, though the sins of all the world were on my one wicked head, still I could not doubt that his work is complete, and that I am quite safe when I believe in Him.

I would now plead with believers.—Some of you have really been brought by God to believe in Jesus. Yet you have no abiding peace, and very little growing in holiness. Why is this? It is because your eye is fixed anywhere but on Christ. You are so busy looking at books, or looking at men, or looking at the world, that you have no time, no heart, for looking at Christ.

No wonder you have little peace and joy in believing. No wonder you live so inconsistent and unholy a life. Change your plan. Consider the greatness and glory of Christ, who has undertaken all in the stead of sinners, and you would find it quite impossible to walk in darkness, or to walk in sin. Oh what mean, despicable thoughts you have of the glorious Immanuel! Lift your eyes from your own bosom, downcast believer,—look upon Jesus. It is good to consider your ways, but it is far better to consider Christ.

I would now invite anxious souls.—Anxious soul! have you understood all the glory of Christ? Have you understood that He undertook for guilty sinners? And do you doubt if He be a sufficient Saviour? Oh, what mean views you have of Christ if you dare not risk your soul upon Him!

Objection.—I do not doubt that Christ has suffered and done quite enough, but I fear it was for others, and not for me. If I were sure it was for me, I would be quite happy. Ans.—It is nowhere said in the Bible that Christ died for this sinner or that sinner. If you are waiting till you find your own name in the Bible, you will wait for ever. But it is said a few verses before that, “He tasted death for every man;” and again, “He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Not that all men are saved by Him. Ah! no; the most never come to Jesus, and are lost; but this shows that any sinner may come, even the chief of sinners, and take Christ as his own Saviour. Come you then, anxious soul; say you, He is my refuge and my fortress; and then, be anxious, if you can.

II. Consider Christ as the Apostle or Messenger of God The word apostle means messenger,—one ordained and sent on a particular embassy. Now Christ is an Apostle, for God ordained mid sent Him into the world.

In the Old Testament, the name by which He is oftenest called is the Angel of the Lord, or the Messenger of the Covenant. He is called God’s Elect, chosen for the work; He is called God’s Servant; He is called the Messiah, or the Christ, or the Anointed, because God anointed Him and sent Him to the work. In the New Testament, over and over again Christ calls himself the Sent of God. “As Thou hast sent me into the world, so have I sent them into the world, that the world may know that Thou hast sent me.” “And these have known that Thou hast sent me.” All this shows plainly that it is not the Son alone who is interested in the saving of poor sinners, but the Father also. “The Father sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.”

Objection.—True, Christ is a great and glorious Saviour, and able to accomplish anything to save poor sinners; but perhaps God the Father may not agree to pour out his wrath upon his Son, or to accept of his Son as a surety in our stead. Ans.—Look here, Christ is the Apostle of God. It is as much God the Father’s work, as it is Christ’s work. It occupied as much of the heart of God as ever it did of the heart of Christ. God loved the world as much and truly as ever Christ loved the world. God gave his Son, as much as Christ gave himself for us. So God the Holy Spirit is as much interested in it as the Father and Son. God gave his Son,—the Spirit anointed Him and dwelt in Him without measure. At his baptism God acknowledged Him for his beloved Son,—the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove.

Oh! brethren, could I lift you away to the eternity that is past,—could I bring you into the council of the Eternal Three; and as it was once said, “Let us make man,” could I let you hear the word, “Let us save man,”—could I show you how God from all eternity designed his Son to undertake for poor sinners; how it was the very plan and the bottommost desire of the heart of the Father that Jesus should come into the world, and do and die in the stead of sinners; how the Holy Spirit breathed sweetest incense, and dropped like holiest oil upon the head of the descending Saviour,—could I show you the intense interest with which the eye of God followed Jesus through his whole course of sorrow and suffering and death,—could I show you the anxious haste with which God rolled away the stone from the sepulchre while it was yet dark, for He would not leave his soul in hell, neither suffer his Holy One to see corruption,—could I show you the ecstasies of love and joy that beat in the bosom of the infinite God when Jesus ascended to his Father and our Father; how He welcomed Him with a fulness of kindness and grace which God alone could give, and God alone could receive, saying, “Thou art my Son, this day have I ‘begotten Thee; Thou art indeed worthy to be called my Son; never till this day wast Thou so worthy to be called mine; thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; sit Thou on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool;”—O sinner, will you ever doubt any more whether God the Father be seeking thy salvation,—whether the heart of Christ and of his Father be the same in this one grand controversy? O believer, consider this apostle of God,—meditate on these things,—look and look again, until your peace be like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea,—till the breathing of your soul be, Abba, Father!

III. Consider Christ as the High Priest of our profession

The duty of the high priest was twofold: 1st, to make Atonement; 2nd, to make Intercession.

When the high priest slew the goat at the altar of burnt offerings, he did it in presence of all the people, to make atonement for them. They all stood around, gazing and considering their high priest; and when he gathered the blood into the golden basin, and put on the white garments, and passed away from their sight within the veil, their eye followed him, till the mysterious curtain hid him from their sight. But even then the heart of the believing Jew followed him still. Now he is drawing near to God for us; now he is sprinkling the blood seven times before the mercy-seat, saying, Let this blood be instead of our blood; now he is praying for us.

Brethren, let us also consider our great High Priest.

(1.) Consider Him making Atonement.—You cannot look at Him on the cross as the disciples did; you cannot see the blood streaming from his five deep wounds; you cannot see Him shedding his blood that the blood of sinners might not be shed. Yet still, if God spare us, you may see bread broken and wine poured out,—a living picture of the dying Saviour. Now, brethren, the atonement has been made, Christ has died, his sufferings are all past. And how is it that you do not enjoy peace?

It is because you do not consider. “Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” Consider,—has Jesus died in the stead of guilty sinners, and do you heartily consent to take Jesus to be the man in your stead? then, you do not need to die. Oh, happy believer, rejoice evermore! Live within sight of Calvary, and you will live within sight of glory; and, oh, rejoice in the happy ordinance that sets a broken Saviour so plainly before you!

(2.) Consider Christ as making Intercession.—When Christ ascended from the Mount of Olives, and passed through these heavens, carrying his bloody wounds into the presence of God,—and when his disciples had gazed after Him, till a cloud received Him out of their sight,—we are told that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. What! are they joyful at parting with their blessed Master? When He told them He was to leave them, sorrow filled their hearts, and He had to argue with them and comfort them, saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; it is expedient for you that I go away.” How, then, are they changed? Jesus has left them, and they are filled with joy. Oh! here is the secret,—they knew that Christ was now going into the presence of God for them, that their great High Priest was now entering within the veil to make intercession for them.

Now, believer, would you share in the great joy of the disciples? Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. He is above yon clouds, and above yon sky. Oh that you would stand gazing up into heaven, not with the bodily eye, but with the eye of faith! Oh, what a wonderful thing the eye of faith is! It sees beyond the stars, it pierces to the throne of God, and there it looks on the face of Jesus making intercession for us, whom having not seen we love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Oh! if you would live thus, what sweet peace would fill your bosom! And how many droppings of the Spirit would come down on you in answer to the Saviour’s prayer! Oh! how your face would shine like Stephen; and the poor blind world would see that there is a joy which the world cannot give, and the world cannot take away,—a heaven upon earth!

DUNDEE, 1836.

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Andrew Bonar (1810-1892): Kept by the Power of God

Kept by the Power of God
By
Andrew Bonar (1810-1892)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Kept by the power of God

1 Peter 1: 5

ARE there any believers here who are afraid that they will some day bring disgrace on their profession? Let them study these words. ‘Kept’ is the whole history of a believer’s life. It tells us we are very weak, for we need to be kept; but, at the same time, it is a most comforting word, for it tells us we are worth keeping. God counts us a treasure worth keeping. It has wonderful power to give energy to believers. Rightly viewed, it bears on the interests of holiness in a wonderful manner. There may be ups and downs in the degrees of our faith and of our love, but we cannot be lost, for we are ‘kept by the power of God.’ The word throws emphasis on the mighty power that grasps us and keeps us; it is ‘garrisoned by the power of God.’ It is God’s own power that encompasses us. None shall pluck us out of His hand.

What from Christ the soul can sever,

Bound by everlasting bands?

Once in Him, in Him for ever,

Thus the eternal covenant stands.

None can pluck us from the Strength of Israel’s hands.

I. We are kept by the power of God.

We are in the arms of omniscience and omnipotence, for it is literally ‘kept in the power of God.’ We are lying upon that power, and we need it all. The power of the devil is tremendous, the power of the world is tremendous. Its current often carries us away. No wonder if we sometimes say, ‘I shall one day perish.’ We are ‘kept by the power of God.’ If you want to know the workings of that power, read Eph. 1:19-23. What a defence! better than ten legions of angels; and yet we have that too. But Jude says, ‘Keep yourselves.’ We are to keep ourselves, but how? ‘By faith.’ God keeps us by making us keep ourselves ‘by faith.’

II. We are kept by faith.

God’s part is to put forth His power; our part is to put forth faith. God enables us to have faith, and He keeps it in us continually, and not all the power of hell can pluck that faith out of our heart. It never decays. We get power continually from God to go on believing from day to day. Our faith will not vanish. It may grow weaker, but it will not disappear. If we give way to unbelief we are letting go our hold of the chain that fastens us to the omnipotent arm. Faith implies that our eye is daily looking to the Cross of Christ – not looking to our feet, not looking about at what might terrify us, but ‘looking unto Jesus.’ We think of the righteousness He gives us, every day. We think of the blood shed to put away our sin, every day. We think of the new and living way opened to us by Christ, every day. Faith is always looking, not only to the work of Christ, but to His Person. ‘He ever liveth to make intercession for us.’ He lives to keep His vine and water it every moment. All the way along we may say–

‘There is life for a look at the Crucified One’ – new life, every day. We are on the battlefield still, but we may sing ‘God is our refuge and our strength.’

When sickness comes we may feel ready to fail, but He will keep us. When death comes we may not be able to think at all, but it does not matter. He will keep us. Preparation for death is almost an imagination. A believer does not prepare for death at all. Christ does it for him. The believer prepares for life. Beware only of slipping back. If you begin to think about yourself, about your frame of mind, about your cares, you may slip; but you will not fall. He who restored Peter will restore you. The fishermen in Brittany have a prayer they use when their boats are going out: ‘O our God, keep us, for our boat is very small, and the ocean is very wide.’ We shall be ‘kept’ till the salvation is revealed, and that may be at any moment. It is all ready – like a statue all complete, only waiting to be unveiled. God will keep us till then for our inheritance. He will not have an unlet house in New Jerusalem, no mansion where the grass grows before the door. Each mansion is reserved for some one. Our inheritance is ‘reserved in heaven for us.

John Newton (1725-1807): Assurance of Faith

Thoughts on Faith and the Assurance of Faith

By

John Newton (1725-1807)

Copyright: Public Domain

THOUGHTS ON FAITH, AND THE ASSURANCE OF FAITH.

We may easily conceive of a tree without fruit, but the idea of fruit is naturally connected with that of some tree or shrub which produces it. In this sense, assurance is of the essence of faith; that is, it springs from true faith, and can grow upon no other root. Faith likewise is the measure of assurance. While faith is weak, (our Lord compares it in its first principle, to a grain of mustard seed,) assurance cannot be strong.

Jesus Christ the Lord is a complete all-sufficient Saviour. His invitation to the weary and heavy laden is general, without exception, condition, or limitation. He has said, Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out. God not only permits but commands us to believe in the Son of his love. The apostle affirms that he is able to save to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him. When Moses raised the brazen serpent in the wilderness, the direction to the wounded Israelites was very short and simple;—it was only, Look, and live. Thus the Gospel addresses the sinner, Only believe, and thou shalt be saved.

Why then does not every sinner who is awakened to a sense of his guilt, danger, and helplessness, and whose desires are drawn towards the Saviour, believe with full confidence, even upon his first application for mercy? Is not the remedy fully adequate to the malady? ls not the blood of Jesus able to cleanse from all sin? Is not the word of the God of truth worthy of entire credit? Yet with such a Saviour exhibited before the eyes of his mind, and with such promises sounding in his ears, he continues to hesitate and fluctuate between hope and fear. Could he rely as firmly on the word of God, as he can on the word of a man, who, he thinks, means what he says, and is able to make good his promises, he would immediately be filled with joy and peace in believing. But experience and observation may convince us, that, however rational and easy this assurance may seem in theory, it is ordinarily unattainable in practice, without passing through a train of previous exercises and conflicts.

It is true, young converts are often favoured with comfortable impressions, which lead them to hope that their doubts and difficulties are already ended, when perhaps they are but just entering upon their warfare. They are brought, as it were, into a, new world; a strong and lively sense of divine things engrosses their attention; the world sinks into nothing in their esteem; the evil propensities which discourage them are overpowered for a season, and they hope they are quite subdued, and will trouble them no more. Their love, gratitude, praise, and admiration, are in vigorous exercise. An aged, experienced Christian may recollect, with a pleasing regret, many sweet sensations of this kind, in the early stages of his profession, which he cannot recall. But he now knows that the strong confidence he felt in these golden hours was not the assurance of faith;—it was temporary and transient;—it was founded upon what we call a good frame. Though his comforts were strong, his faith was weak; for when the good frame subsided, his fears returned, his hope declined, and he was at his wit’s end. Then, perhaps, he wondered at his own presumption, for daring to hope that such a creature as himself could have any right to the privileges of a believer. And if, in the warmth of his heart, he had spoken to others of what God had done for his soul, he afterwards charged himself with being a hypocrite, and a false witness both to God and man. Thus when the Israelites saw the Egyptians, (who had pursued and terrified them,) cast up dead upon the shore of the Red Sea, they praised the Lord, and believed. They were little aware of the wilderness they had to pass through, and the trials they were to meet with, before they could enter the promised land.

But strong faith and the effect of it, an abiding persuasion of our acceptance in the beloved, and of our final perseverance in grace, are not necessarily connected with sensible comfort.—-A strong faith can trust God in the dark, and say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Yet it is not to be maintained without a diligent use of the instituted means of grace, and a conscientious attention to the precepts of the Gospel. For notions of truth, destitute of power, will not keep the heart in peace. But this power depends upon the influence of the Holy Spirit; and if lie is grieved by the wilful commission of sin, or the wilful neglect of the precepts, he hides his face, suspends his influence, and then confidence must proportionably decline, till he is pleased to return, and revive it. There are likewise bodily disorders, which, by depressing the animal spirits, darken and discolour the medium of our perceptions. If the enemy is permitted to take advantage of these seasons, he can pour in a flood of temptations, sufficient to fill the most assured believer with terror and dismay. But ordinarily, they who endeavour to walk closely and conscientiously with God, attain, in due time, an assurance of hope to the end, which is not easily nor often shaken, though it is not absolutely perfect, nor can be while so much sin and imperfection remain in us.

If it be inquired, why we cannot attain to this state of composure at first, since the object of faith and the promises of God are always the same?—several reasons may be assigned.

Unbelief is the primary cause of all our inquietude, from the moment that our hearts are drawn to seek salvation by Jesus. This inability to take God at his word, should not be merely lamented as an infirmity, but watched, and prayed, and fought against as a great sin. A great sin indeed it is; the very root of our apostasy, from which every other sin proceeds. It often deceives us under the guise of humility, as though it would be presumption, in such sinners as we are, to believe the declarations of the God of truth. Many serious people, who are burdened with a sense of other sins, leave this radical evil out of the list. They rather indulge it, and think they ought not to believe, till they can find a warrant from marks and evidences within themselves. But this is an affront to the wisdom and goodness of God, who points out to us the Son of his love, as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, without any regard to what we have been, or to what we are, excepting that broken and contrite spirit which only himself can create in us. And this broken spirit, though unbelief perverts it to our discouragement, is the very temper in which the Lord delights, and a surer evidence of true grace than those which we are apt to contrive for ourselves. It is written, He that believeth not the record which God hath given of his Son, maketh him a liar. Why do we not start with horror at the workings of unbelief, as we should do at a suggestion to commit murder, or the grossest outward enormity?

Again, our natural pride is a great hindrance to believing. If we acknowledge ourselves to be sinners, and are sensible of our need of mercy, we are not easily brought to see that we are so totally depraved, so exceedingly vile, so utterly destitute of all good, as the word of God describes us to be. A secret dependence upon prayers, tears, resolutions, repentance, and endeavours, prevents us from looking solely and simply to the Saviour, so as to ground our whole hope for acceptance upon his obedience unto death, and his whole mediation. A true believer Mill doubtless repent and pray, and forsake his former evil ways, but he is not accepted upon the account of what he does or feels, but because Jesus lived and died, and rose, and reigns on the behalf of sinners, and because he is enabled by grace to trust in him for salvation. Further, pride leads us into that spirit of vain reasoning, which is contrary to the simplicity of faith. Till this is renounced, till we become in some measure like little children, and receive the doctrines of Scripture implicitly, because they are from God, requiring no farther proof of any point than a Thus saith the Lord; we cannot be established in our hope. Naaman was very desirous to be healed of his leprosy; but if the Lord had not mercifully over-ruled his prejudices, he would have returned a leper as he came. Before he went to Elisha, he had considered in his own mind, how the prophet ought to treat him; and not having the immediate attention paid to him that he expected, he was upon the point of going away; for his reason told him, that if washing could effect his cure, the waters of Syria were as good as those of Jordan. “It seems,” to use the words of a late ingenious writer, “that the Gospel is too good ‘to be believed, and too plain to be understood, till our pride is abased.”

It is difficult to determine, by the eye, the precise moment of day-break: but the light advances from early dawn, and the sun arises at the appointed hour. Such is the progress of divine light in the mind: the first streaks of the dawn are seldom perceived; but, by degrees, objects, till then unthought of, are disclosed. The evil of sin, the danger of the soul, the reality and importance of eternal things, are apprehended, and a hope of mercy through a Saviour is discovered, which prevents the sinner from sinking into absolute despair. —But for a time all is indistinct and confused In this state of mind, many things are anxiously sought for as pre-requisites to believing, but they are sought in vain, for it is only by believing that they can be obtained. But the light increases, the sun arises, the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ shines in upon the soul. As the sun can only be seen by its own light, and diffuses that light by which other objects are clearly perceived; so Christ crucified is the sun in the system of revealed truth; and the right knowledge of the doctrine of his cross satisfies the inquiring mind, proves itself to be the one thing needful, and the only thing necessary to silence the objections of unbelief and pride, and to afford a sure ground for solid and abiding hope.

Once more; we cannot be safely trusted with assurance till we have that knowledge of the evil and deceitfulness of our hearts, which can be acquired only by painful, repeated experience. The young convert, in his brighter hours, when his heart is full of joys, and he thinks his mountain stands too strong to be removed, may be compared to a ship with much sail spread, and but little ballast. She goes on well while the weather is fair, but is not prepared for a storm. When Peter said, “Thou hast the words of eternal life, we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ,” and when he protested, “Though all men should forsake thee, yet will not I,” he undoubtedly spoke honestly; but the event showed that he did not know himself. His resolution was soon and sorely shaken in the hall of the high- priest, so that he denied his Lord with oaths and imprecations. He was left to fall; that he might learn he did not stand by his own strength. The parable of the prodigal may be accommodated for an illustration of this point. The Scripture says, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.” But we often want to know at first, and at once; and suppose,—If I was but sure that I am right, and accepted in the Beloved, I could go on with more spirit and success. Many rejoice greatly when they seem to obtain this desire, but their joy is short-lived. They soon resemble the prodigal; they become vain, rash, and careless; they forsake their father’s house; their attention to the means of grace is slackened; they venture upon smaller deviations from the prescribed rule, which, in time, lead them to greater. Thus their stock of grace and comfort is quickly exhausted. They begin to be in want; and, after having been feasted with the bread of life, are reduced to feed upon such husks as the world can afford them. Happy, if at length they are brought to their right minds! But, oh! with what pungent shame and humiliation do they come back to their Father! He, indeed, is always ready to receive and forgive backsliders; but surely they cannot easily forgive themselves for their ingratitude and folly. When he has healed their broken bones, and restored peace to their souls, it may be expected that they will walk softly and humbly to the end of their days, and not open their mouths any more, either to boast, or to censure, or to complain.

For, a man who possesses a Scriptural and well grounded assurance in himself, will evidence it to others by suitable fruits. He will be meek, unassuming, and gentle in his conduct before men, because he is humbled and abased before God.—Because he lives upon much forgiveness, he will be ready to forgive. The prospect of that blessed hope assuredly laid up for him in heaven, will make him patient under all his appointed trials in the present life, wean him from an attachment to the world, and preserve him from being much affected either by the smiles or the frowns of mortals. To hear persons talk much of their assurance, and that they are freed from all doubts and fears, while they habitually indulge proud, angry, resentful, discontented tempers, or while they are eagerly grasping after the world, like those who seek their whole portion -in it, is painful and disgusting to a serious mind. Let us pity them, and pray for them; for we have great reason to fear that they do not understand what they say, nor whereof they affirm.

July 11, 1795.                                                                                                              OMICRON,

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:1-2

Commentary on Hebrews 12:1-2

By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Demands of Faith

(Hebrews 12:1)

Our present verse is a call to constancy in the Christian profession; it is an exhortation unto steadfastness in the Christian life; it is a pressing appeal for making personal holiness our supreme business and quest. In substance our text is parallel with such verses as Matthew 16:24, Romans 6:13, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Philippians 3:12-14, Titus 2:12, 1 Peter 2:9-12. This summarization of the Christian’s twofold duty is given again and again in the Scriptures: the duty of mortification and of vivification, the putting off of the “old man” and the putting on of the “new man” (Eph. 4:22-24). Analyzing the particular terms of our text, we find there is, first, the duty enjoined: to “run the race that is set before us.” Second, the obstacles to be overcome: “lay aside every weight” etc. Third, the essential grace which is requisite thereto: “patience.” Fourth, the encouragement given: the “great cloud of witnesses.”

The opening “Wherefore” in our text looks back to Hebrews 10:35, 36, where the apostle had urged, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” That exhortation had been followed by a lengthy proof of the efficacy of persevering faith to enable its possessors to do whatever God commands, however difficult; to endure whatever God appoints, however severe; to obtain what He promises, however seemingly unattainable. All of this had been copiously illustrated in chapter 11, by a review of the history of God’s people in the past, who had exemplified so strikingly and so blessedly the nature, the trails, and the triumphs of a spiritual faith. Having affirmed the unity of the family of God, the oneness of the O. T. and N. T. saints, assuring the latter that God has provided some better thing for us, the apostle now repeats the exhortation unto steadfast perseverance in the path of faith and obedience.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us.” Here the apostle applies the various illustrations given in the preceding chapter, making use of them as a grand motive to perseverance in the Christian faith and state. “If all the saints of God lived, suffered, endured, and conquered by faith, shall not we also? If the saints who lived before the Incarnation, before the redemption was accomplished, before the High Priest entered the heavenly sanctuary, trusted in the midst of discouragements and trials, how much more aught we who know the name of Jesus, who have received the beginning, the installment of the great Messianic promise?” (Adolph Saphir). Herein we are shown that only then do we read the O. T. narratives unto profit when we draw from them incentives to practical godliness.

In Hebrews 11 we have had described at length many aspects and characteristics of the life of faith. There we saw that a life of faith is an intensely practical thing, consisting of very much more than day-dreaming, or being regaled with joyous emotions, or even resting in orthodox views of the truth. By faith Noah built an ark, Abraham separated from his idolatrous neighbors and gained a rich inheritance, Moses forsook Egypt and became leader of Israel’s hosts. By faith the Red Sea was crossed, Jericho captured, Goliath slain, the mouths of lions were closed, the violence of fire was quenched. A spiritual faith, then, is not a passive thing, but an active, energetic, vigorous, and fruitful one. The same line of thought is continued in the passage which is now before us, the same branch of truth is there in view again, only under a figure—a figure very emphatic and graphic.

“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Here the Christian is likened unto an athlete, and his life unto the running of a race. This is one of a number of figures used in the N.T. to describe the Christian life. Believers are likened to shining lights, branches of the vine, soldiers, strangers and pilgrims: the last-mentioned more closely resembling the figure employed in our text, but with this difference: travelers may rest for awhile, and refresh themselves, but the racer must continue running or he ceases to be a “racer.” The figure of the race occurs frequently, both in the O. T. and N. T.: Psalm 119:32, Song of Solomon 1:4, 1 Corinthians 9:24, Philippians 3:14, 2 Timothy 4:7. Very solemn is that word in Galatians 5:7, “ye did run well”: the Lord, in His mercy, grant that that may never be said of writer or reader.

The principal thoughts suggested by the figure of the “race” are rigorous self-denial and discipline, vigorous exertion, persevering endurance. The Christian life is not a thing of passive luxuriation, but of active “fighting the good fight of faith!” The Christian is not called to lie down on flowery beds of ease, but to run a race, and athletics are strenuous, demanding self-sacrifice, hard training, the putting forth of every ounce of energy possessed. I am afraid that in this work-hating and pleasure-loving age, we do not keep this aspect of the truth sufficiently before us: we take things too placidly and lazily. The charge which God brought against Israel of old applies very largely to Christendom today: “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1): to be “at ease” is the very opposite of “running the race.”

The “race” is that life of faith and obedience, that pursuit of personal holiness, to which the Christian is called by God. Turning from sin and the world in penitence and trust to Christ is not the finishing-post, but only the starting-point. The Christian race begins at the new birth, and ends not till we are summoned to leave this world. The prize to be run for is heavenly glory. The ground to be covered is our journey through this life. The track itself is “set before us”: marked out in the Word. The rules to be observed, the path which is to be traversed, the difficulties to be overcome, the dangers to be avoided, the source and secret of the needed strength, are all plainly revealed in the holy Scriptures. If we lose, the blame is entirely ours; if we succeed, the glory belongs to God alone.

The prime thought suggested in the figure of running the race set before us is not that of speed, but of self-discipline, whole-hearted endeavor, the calling into action of every spiritual faculty possessed by the new man. In his helpful commentary, J. Brown pointed out that a race is vigorous exercise. Christianity consists not in abstract speculations, enthusiastic feelings, or specious talk, but in directing all our energies into holy actions. It is a laborious exertion: the flesh, the world, the devil are like a fierce gale blowing against us, and only intense effort can overcome them. It is a regulated exertion: to run around in a circle is strenuous activity, but it will not bring us to the goal; we must follow strictly the prescribed course. It is progressive exertion: there is to be a growth in grace, an adding to faith of virtue, etc. (2 Pet. 1:5-7), a reaching forth unto those things which are before.

“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” We only “run” when we are very anxious to get to a certain place, when there is some attraction stimulating us. That word “run” then presupposes the heart eagerly set upon the goal. That “goal” is complete deliverance from the power of indwelling sin, perfect conformity to the lovely image of Christ, entrance into the promised rest and bliss on High. It is only as that is kept steadily in view, only as faith and hope are in real and daily exercise, that we shall progress along the path of obedience. To look back will cause us to halt or stumble; to look down at the roughness and difficulties of the way will discourage and produce slackening, but to keep the prize in view will nerve to steady endeavor. It was thus our great Exemplar ran: “Who for the JOY that was set before Him” (verse 2).

But let us now consider, secondly, the means prescribed: “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” That might be tersely expressed in several different forms: let us relinquish those things which would impede our spiritual progress; let us endeavor with might and main to overcome every hindering obstacle; let us attend diligently unto the way or method which will enable us to make the best speed. While sitting at our ease we are hardly conscious of the weight of our clothes, the articles held in our hands, or the cumbersome objects we may have in our pockets. But let us be aroused by the howlings of fierce animals, let us be pursued by hungry wolves, and methinks that none of us would have much difficulty in understanding the meaning of those words “let us lay aside every weight!”

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” While no doubt each of these expressions has a definite and separate force, yet we are satisfied that a certain school of writers err in drawing too sharp and broad a line of distinction between them, for a careful examination of their contentions will show that the very things they consider to be merely “weights,” are, in reality, sins. The fact is that in most quarters there has been, for many years past, a deplorable lowering of the standard of Divine holiness, and numerous infractions of God’s righteous law have been wrongly termed “failures,” “mistakes,” and “minor blemishes,” etc. Anything which minimizes the reality and enormity of sin is to be steadfastly resisted; anything which tends to excuse human “weaknesses” is to be rejected; anything which reduces that standard of absolute perfection which God requires us to constantly aim at—every missing of which is a sin—is to be shunned.

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” is parallel with, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24), and “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1). In other words, this dehortation is a calling upon the Christian to “mortify the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13), to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). There are two things which racers discard: all unnecessary burdens, and long flowing garments which would entangle them. Probably there is a reference to both of these in our text: the former being considered under “weights,” or those things we voluntarily encumber ourselves with, but which should be dropped; the latter, “the sin which doth so easily beset us” referring to inward depravity.

“Let us lay aside every weight” is a call to the sedulous and daily mortification of our hearts to all that would mar communion with Christ: it is parallel with “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12). Everything which requires us to take time and strength away from God-appointed duties, everything which tends to bind the mind to earthly things and hinders our affections from being set upon things above, is to be cheerfully relinquished for Christ’s sake. Everything which impedes my progress in running the race which God has set before me is to be dropped. But let it be carefully recognized that our text makes no reference to the dropping of duties which we have no right to lay aside. The performing of real and legitimate duty is never a hindrance to the spiritual life, though from a wrong attitude of mind and the allowance of the spirit of discontent, they often become so.

Many make a great mistake in entertaining the thought that their spiritual life is being much hindered by the very things which should, by Divine grace, be a real help to them. Opposition in the home from ungodly relatives, trials in connection with their daily work, the immediate presence of the wicked in the shop or office, are a real trial (and God intends they should be—to remind us we are still in a world which lieth in the Wicked one, to exercise our graces, to prove the sufficiency of His strength), but they need not be hindrances or “weights.” Many erroneously suppose they would make much more progress spiritually if only their “circumstances” were altered. This is a serious mistake, and a murmuring against God’s providential dealings with us. He shapes our “circumstances” as a helpful discipline to the soul, and only as we learn to rise above “circumstances,” and walk with God in them, are we “running the race that is set before us.” The person is the same no matter what “circumstances” he may be in!

While the “weights” in our text have no reference to those duties which God requires us to discharge—for He never calls us to any thing which would draw us away from communion with Himself; yet they do apply in a very real sense unto a multitude of cares which many of God’s people impose upon themselves—cares which are a grievous drag upon the soul. The artificial state in which many people now live, which custom, society, the world, imposes, does indeed bind many heavy burdens on the backs of their silly victims. If we accept that scale of “duties” which the fashion of this world imposes, we shall find them “weights” which seriously impede our spiritual progress: spending valuable time in reading newspapers and other secular literature in order to “keep up with the times,” exchanging “social calls” with worldlings, spending money on all sorts of unnecessary things so as to be abreast of our neighbors, are “weights” burdening many, and those “weights” are sins.

By “weights,” then, may be understood every form of intemperance or the immoderate and hurtful use made of any of those things which God has given us “richly to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Yes, to “enjoy” be it noted, and not only to use. The Creator has placed many things in this world—like the beautiful flowers and the singing birds—for our pleasure, as well as for the bare supply of our bodily needs. This should be borne in mind, for there is a danger here, as every where, of lopsidedness. We are well aware that in this age of fleshly indulgence the majority are greatly in danger of erring on the side of laxity, yet in avoiding this sin, others are in danger of swinging to the other extreme and being “righteous over much” (Ecclesiastes 7:16), adopting a form of monastic austerity, totally abstaining from things which Scripture in nowise prohibits.

Each Christian has to decide for himself, by an honest searching of Scripture and an earnest seeking of wisdom from God, what are “weights” which hinder him. While on the one hand it is wrong to assume an haughty and independent attitude, refusing to weigh in the balances of the sanctuary the conscientious scruples and prejudices of fellow-Christians; on the other hand it is equally wrong to suffer any to lord it over our consciences, and deprive us of our Christian liberty. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” It is not the lawful use of God’s creatures, but the intemperate abuse of them which Scripture condemns. More die from over eating than over drinking. Some constitutions are injured as much by coffee as by whiskey. Some are undermining their health by a constant round of exertions; others enervate themselves by spending too much time in bed.

The Greek word for “weights” is “tumor or swelling,” so that an excresence, a superfluity, is what is in view. A “weight” is something which we are at liberty to cast aside, but which instead we choose to retain. It is anything which retards our progress, anything which unfits us for the discharge of our God-assigned duties, anything which dulls the conscience, blunts the edge of our spiritual appetite, or chokes the spirit of prayer. The “cares of this world” weigh down the soul just as effectually as does a greedy grasping after the things of earth. The allowance of the spirit of envy will be as injurious spiritually as would an attendance at the movies. Fellowshipping at a Christ-dishonoring “church” quenches that Spirit as quickly as would seeking diversion at the dance hall. The habit of gossiping may do more damage to the Spiritual life than the excessive smoking of tobacco.

One of the best indications that I have entered the race is the discovery that certain things, which previously never exercised my conscience, are a hindrance to me; and the further I “run,” the more conscious shall I be of the “weights”; and the more determined I am, by God’s grace, to reach the winning post, the more readily shall I drop them. So many professing Christians never seem to have any “weights,” and we never see them drop anything. Ah, the fact is, they have never entered the race. O to be able to say with Paul, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). When this is true of us, we shall not find it difficult, but rather easy to obey that injunction, “Go from the presence of a foolish man (or woman) when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge” (Prov. 14:7); and so with many other scriptural exhortations.

“And the sin which doth so easily beset (Greek “encompass”) us.” As we have already pointed out, the writer regards the “weights” as external temptations which have to be resisted, evil habits which are to be dropped; and “the sin” as referring to indwelling corruption, with a special reference (as the whole context suggests) to the workings of unbelief: compare Hebrews 3:13. It is true that each of us has some special form of sin to which we are most prone, and that he is more sorely tempted from one direction than another; but we think it is very clear from all which precedes our text that what the apostle has particularly in mind here is that which most seeks to hinder the exercise of faith. Let the reader ponder John 16:8, 9.

“This is confirmed by the experience of all who have been exercised in this case, who have met with great difficulties in, and have been called to suffer for, the profession of the Gospel. Ask of them what they have found in such cases to be their most dangerous enemy; what hath had the most easy and frequent access unto their minds, to disturb and dishearten them, of the power thereof they have been most afraid; they will all answer with one voice, it is the evil of their own unbelieving hearts. This hath continually attempted to entangle them, to betray them, in taking part with all outward temptations. When this is conquered, all things are plain and easy unto them. It may be some of them have had their particular temptations which they may reflect upon; but any other evil by sin, which is common unto them all, as this is, they can fix on none” (John Owen).

But how is the Christian to “lay aside” indwelling sin and its particular workings of unbelief? This injunction is parallel with Ephesians 4:22, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” And how is that to be done? By heeding the exhortation of Romans 6:11, 12, “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” In other words, by faith’s recognition of my legal oneness with Christ, and by drawing from His fullness. Indwelling sin is to be “laid aside” by daily mortification (Rom. 8:13), by seeking grace to resist its solicitations (Titus 2:11, 12), by repenting, confessing, and forsaking the effects of its activities (Prov. 28:13), by diligently using the means which God has provided for holy living (Gal. 5:16).

“Run with patience the race that is set before us.” Perseverance or endurance is the prime prerequisite for the discharge of this duty. The good-ground hearer brought forth fruit “with patience” (Luke 8:15). We are bidden to be “followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). The “race” appointed is a lengthy one, for it extends throughout the whole of our earthly pilgrimage. The course is narrow, and to the flesh, rough. The racer often becomes disheartened by the difficulties encountered. But “Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).

But how is this needed “patience” to be acquired? A twofold answer is given, the second part of which will be before us in the next article. First, by heeding the encouragement which is here set before us: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses let us lay aside… let us run.” The reference is to the heroes of faith mentioned in the previous chapter: they compose a testimony for God, and speak unto future generations to be constant as they were. They witness to how noble a thing life may be when it is lived by faith. They witness to the faithfulness of God who sustained them, and enabled them to triumph over their foes, and overcome their difficulties. In likening these numerous witnesses unto a “cloud” there is no doubt a reference unto the Cloud which guided Israel in the wilderness: they followed it all the way to Canaan! So must we follow the noble example of the O.T. saints in their faith, obedience, and perseverance.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us.” This is mentioned as an incentive, to console and assure us we are not alone. As we look around at the empty profession on every side, and behold the looseness and laxity of so many who bear the name of Christ, Satan seeks to make us believe that we are wrong, too “strict,” and rebukes us for our “singularity.” No doubt he employed the same tactics with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses; but they heeded him not. Nor should we. We are not “singular”: if faithful to Christ we are following “the footsteps of the flock” (Song 1:8). Others before us have trod the same path, met with the same hindrances, fought the same fight. They persevered, conquered, and won the crown: then “let us run.” That is the thought and force of the opening words of our text.

“We who have still to walk in the narrow path which alone leads to glory are encouraged and instructed by the cloud of witnesses, the innumerable company of saints, who testified amid the most varied circumstances of suffering and temptation, that the just live by faith, and that faith is the victory which overcometh the world. The memory of those children of God, whose lives are recorded for our learning and consolation, animates us, and we feel upheld as it were by their sympathy and by the consciousness, that although few and weak, strangers and pilgrims on earth, we belong to a great and mighty, nay, a victorious army, part of which has already entered into the land of peace” (Adolph Saphir).

The Object of Faith

(Hebrews 12:2)

The verse which is now to engage our attention continues and completes the important exhortation found in the one which was before us in the last article. The two verses are so closely related that only the requirements of space obliged us to separate them. The latter supplies such a blessed sequel to the former that it will be necessary to present a summary of our comments thereon. We saw that the Christian life, the life of faith and obedience, is presented under the figure of a “race,” which denotes that so far from its being a thing of dreamy contemplation or abstract speculation, it is one of activity, exertion, and progressive motion, for faith without works is dead. But the “race” speaks not only of activity, but of regulated activity, following the course which is “set before us.” Many professing Christians are engaged in multitudinous efforts which God has never bidden them undertake: that is like running round and round in a circle. To follow the appointed track means that our energies be directed by the precepts of Holy Writ.

The order presented in Hebrews 12:1 is the negative before the positive: there must be the “laying aside” of hindering weights, before we can “run” the race set before us. This order is fundamental, and is emphasized all through Scripture. There must be a turning from the world, before there can be a real turning unto the Lord (Isa. 55:7); self must be denied before Christ can be followed (Matthew 16:24). There must be a putting off the old man, before there can be any true putting on of the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). There has to be a “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,” before we can “live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world” (Titus 3:12). There has to be a “cleansing of ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” before there can be any “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We must “be not conformed to this world,” before we can be “transformed by the renewing of our mind,” so that we may “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2, 3).

Before the plants and flowers will flourish in the garden weeds must be rooted up, otherwise all the labors of the gardener will come to naught. As the Lord Jesus taught so plainly in the Parable of the Sower, where the “thorns” are permitted to thrive, the good Seed, the Word, is “choked” (Matthew 13:22); and it is very searching and solemn to note, by a careful comparison of the three records of it, that Christ interpreted this figure of the “thorns” more fully than any other single detail. He defined those choking “thorns” as “the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches,” “the lust of other things and pleasures of this life.” If those things fill and rule our hearts, our relish for spiritual things will be quenched, our strength to perform Christian duties will be sapped, our lives will be fruitless, and we shall be merely cumberers of the ground—the garden of our souls being filled with briars and weeds.

Hence it is that the first call in Hebrews 12:1 is “let us lay aside every weight.” “Inordinate care for the present life, and fondness for it, is a dead weight for the soul, that pulls it down when it should ascend upwards and pulls it back when it should press forwards” (Matthew Henry). It is the practical duty of mortification which is here inculcated, the abstaining from those fleshly lusts “which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). The racer must be as lightly clad as possible if he is to run swiftly: all that would cumber and impede him must be relinquished. Undue concern over temporal affairs, inordinate affection for the things of this life, the intemperate use of any material blessings, undue familiarity with the ungodly, are “weights” which prevent progress in godliness. A bag of gold would be as great a handicap to a runner as a bag of lead!

It is to be carefully noted that the laying aside of “every weight” precedes “and the sin which does so easily beset us”, which has reference to indwelling corruption. Each Christian imagines that he is very anxious to be completely delivered from the power of indwelling sin: ah, but our hearts are very deceitful, and ever causing us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. A criterion is given in this passage by which we may gauge the sincerity of our desires: our longing to be delivered from indwelling evil is to be measured by our willingness and readiness to lay aside the “weights.” I may think I am earnestly desirous of having a beautiful garden, and may go to much expense and trouble in purchasing and planting some lovely flowers; but if I am too careless and lazy to diligently fight the weeds, what is my desire worth? So, if I disregard that word “make not provision for the flesh unto the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14), how sincere is my desire to be delivered from “the flesh!”

“And let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” For this two things are needed: speed and strength—”rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race” (Ps. 19:5): the one being opposed to sloth and negligence, the other to weakness. These are the prime requisites: strength in grace, diligence in exercise. Speed is included in the word “run”, but how is the strength to be obtained? This “race” calls for both the doing and suffering for Christ, the pressing forward toward the mark set before us, the progressing from one degree of strength to another, the putting forth of our utmost efforts, the enduring unto the end. Ah, who is sufficient for such a task? First, we are reminded of those who have preceded us, many, a “great cloud”: and their faith is recorded for our instruction, their victory for our encouragement. Yet that is not sufficient: their cases afford us a motive, but they do not supply the needed power. Hence, we are next told:

“Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (verse 2). “The cloud of witnesses is not the object on which our heart is fixed. They testify of faith, and we cherish their memory with gratitude, and walk with a firmer step because of the music of their lives. Our eye, however, is fixed, not on many, but on One; not on the army, but the Leader; not on the servants, but the Lord. We see Jesus only, and from Him we derive our true strength, even as He is our light of life” (Adolph Saphir). In all things Christ has the pre-eminence: He is placed here not among the other “racers,” but as One who, instead of exemplifying certain characteristics of faith, as they did, is the “Author and Finisher” of faith in His own person.

Our text presents the Lord as the supreme Example for racers, as well as the great Object of their faith, though this is somewhat obscured by the rendering of the A.V. Our text is not referring to Christ begetting faith in His people and sustaining it to the end, though that is a truth plainly enough taught elsewhere. Instead, He is here viewed as the One, who Himself began and completed the whole course of faith, so as to be Himself the one perfect example and witness of what faith is. It was because of “the joy set before Him”—steadily and trustfully held in view—that He ran His race. His “enduring of the cross” was the completest trial and most perfect exemplification of faith. In consequence, He is now seated at the right hand of God, as both the Pattern and Object of faith, and His promise is “to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

It is to be duly noted that the little word “our” is a supplement, being supplied by the translators: it may without detriment, and with some advantage, be omitted. The Greek word for “Author” does not mean so much one who “causes” or “originates,” as one who “takes the lead.” The same word is rendered “Captain of our salvation” in Hebrews 2:10, and in Acts 3:15, the “Prince of life.” There its obvious meaning is Leader or Chief, one going in advance of those who follow. The Savior is here represented as the Leader of all the long procession of those who had lived by faith, as the great Pattern for us to imitate. Confirmation of this is found in the Spirit’s use of the personal name “Jesus” here, rather than His title of office—”Christ.” Stress is thereby laid upon His humanity. The Man Jesus was so truly made like unto His brethren in all things that the life which He lived was the life of faith.

Yes, the life which Jesus lived here upon earth was a life of faith. This has not been given sufficient prominence. In this, as in all things, He is our perfect Model. “By faith He walked, looking always unto the Father, speaking and acting in filial dependence on the Father, and in filial reception out of the Father’s fullness. By faith He looked away from all discouragements, difficulties, and oppositions, committing His cause to the Lord, who had sent Him, to the Father, whose will He had come to fulfill. By faith He resisted and overcame all temptation, whether it came from Satan, or from the false Messianic expectations of Israel, or from His own disciples. By faith He performed the signs and wonders, in which the power and love of God’s salvation were symbolized. Before He raised Lazarus from the grave, He, in the energy of faith, thanked God, who heard Him alway. And here we are taught the nature of all His miracles: He trusted in God. He gave the command, ‘Have faith in God’, out of the fullness of His own experience” (Adolph Saphir).

But let us enter into some detail. What is a life of faith? First, it is a life lived in complete dependence upon God. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding… in all thy ways acknowledge Him” (Prov. 3:5, 6.) Never did any so entirely, so unreservedly, so perfectly cast himself upon God as did the Man Christ Jesus; never was another so completely yielded to God’s will. “I live by the Father” (John 6:57) was His own avowal. When tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger, He replied “man shall not live by bread alone.” So sure was He of God’s love and care for Him that He held fast to His trust and waited for Him. So patent to all was His absolute dependence upon God, that the very scorners around the cross turned it into a bitter taunt.—”He trusted in the Lord that He would deliver Him, let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him” (Ps. 22:8).

Second, a life of faith is a life lived in communion with God. And never did another live in such a deep and constant realization of the Divine presence as did the Man Christ Jesus. “I have set the Lord always before Me” (Ps. 16:8) was His own avowal. “He that sent Me is with Me” (John 8:29) was ever a present fact to His consciousness. He could say, “I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art My God from My mother’s belly” (Ps. 22:10). “And in the morning, rising a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). From Bethlehem to Calvary He enjoyed unbroken and unclouded fellowship with the Father; and after the three hours of awful darkness was over, He cried “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.”

Third, a life of faith is a life lived in obedience to God. Faith worketh by love (Gal. 5:6), and love delights to please its object. Faith has respect not only to the promises of God, but to His precepts as well. Faith not only trusts God for the future, but it also produces present subjection to His will. Supremely was this fact exemplified by the Man Christ Jesus. “I do always those things which please Him” (John 8:29) He declared. “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49) characterized the whole of His earthly course. Ever and anon we find Him conducting Himself. “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” He lived by every word of God. At the close He said, “I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:10).

Fourth, a life of faith is a life of assured confidence in the unseen future. It is a looking away from the things of time and sense, a rising above the shows and delusions of this world, and having the affections set upon things above. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), enabling its possessor to live now in the power and enjoyment of that which is to come. That which enthralls and enchains the ungodly had no power over the perfect Man: “I have overcome the world” (John 16:31), He declared. When the Devil offered Him all its kingdoms, He promptly answered, “Get thee hence, Satan.” So vivid was Jesus’ realization of the unseen, that, in the midst of earth’s engagements, He called Himself “the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13).

“And so, dear brethren, this Jesus, in the absoluteness of His dependence upon the Father, in the completeness of His trust in Him, in the submission of His will to that Supreme command, in the unbroken communion which He held with God, in the vividness with which the Unseen ever burned before Him, and dwarfed and extinguished all the lights of the present, and in the respect which He had ‘unto the recompense of the reward’; nerving Him for all pain and shame, has set before us all the example of a life of faith, and is our Pattern as in everything, in this too.

“How blessed it is to feel, when we reach out our hands and grope in the darkness for the unseen hand, when we try to bow our wills to that Divine will; when we seek to look beyond the mists of ‘that dim spot which men call earth,’ and to discern the land that is very far off; and when we endeavor to nerve ourselves for duty and sacrifice by bright visions of a future hope, that on this path of faith too, when He ‘putteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them,’ and has bade us do nothing which He Himself has not done! ‘I will put My trust in Him,’ He says first, and then He turns to us and commands, ‘Believe in God, believe also in Me’” (A. Maclaren, to whom we are indebted for much in this article).

Alas, how very little real Christianity there is in the world today! Christianity consists in being conformed unto the image of God’s Son. “Looking unto Jesus” constantly, trustfully, submissively, lovingly; the heart occupied with, the mind stayed upon Him—that is the whole secret of practical Christianity. Just in proportion as I am occupied with the example which Christ has left me, just in proportion as I am living upon Him and drawing from His fullness, am I realizing the ideal He has set before me. In Him is the power, from Him must be received the strength for running “with patience” or steadfast perseverance, the race. Genuine Christianity is a life lived in communion with Christ: a life lived by faith, as His was. “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21); “Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20)—Christ living in me and through me.

There are four things said in our text about the Savior’s life, each of which we need to ponder carefully. First, the motive or reason which prompted Jesus to do and suffer, wherein He is presented as our example and encouragement: “who for the joy that was set before Him.” Here is made known to us what was the final moving cause in His mind which sustained the Savior to a persevering performance of duty, and of the endurance of all sufferings that duty entailed. Various definitions have been given of that “joy,” and probably all of them are included within its scope. The glory of God was what the Redeemer preferred above all things: Hebrews 10:5-9, but that glory was inseparably bound up with the personal exaltation of the Redeemer and the salvation of His Church following the accomplishment of the work given Him to do. This was “set before Him” in the everlasting covenant.

Thus the “joy” that was set before Jesus was the doing of God’s will, and His anticipation of the glorious reward which should be given Him in return. Hebrews 12:2 sustains the figure used in the previous verse: it is as the model Racer our Savior is here viewed. At the winning-post hung a crown, in full view of the racers, and this was ever before the eye of the Captain of our salvation, as He pursued the course appointed Him by the Father. He steadily kept before Him the cheering and blissful reward: His heart laid hold of the Messianic promises and prophecies recorded in Holy Writ: He had in steady prospect that satisfaction with which the travail of His soul would be fully compensated. By faith Abraham looked forward to a “City” (11:10); by faith Isaac anticipated “things to come” (11:20); by faith Moses “had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (11:26); and by faith, Jesus lived and died in the enjoyment of that which was “set before Him.”

Second, He “endured the cross.” Therein we have the Commander’s example to His soldiers of heroic fortitude. Those words signify far more than that He experienced the shame and pain of crucifixion: they tell us that He stood steadfast under it all. He endured the cross not sullenly or even stoically, but in the highest and noblest sense of the term:—with holy composure of soul. He never wavered or faltered, murmured or complained: “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it” (John 18:11)! And He has left us an example that we should “follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21), and therefore does He declare, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24). Strength for this task is to be found by “looking unto Jesus,” by keeping steadily before faith’s eye the crown, the joy awaiting us.

Third, “despising the shame.” Therein we see the Captain’s contempt of whatever sought to bar His progress. We scarcely think of associating this word “despising” with the meek and lowly Jesus. It is an ugly term, yet there are things which deserve it. The Savior viewed things in their true perspective; He estimated them at their proper worth: in the light of the joy set before Him, He regarded hardship, ignominy, persecution, sufferings from men, as trifles. Here, too, He has left us “an example.” But alas, instead of scorning it, we magnify and are intimidated by “the shame.” How many are ashamed to be scripturally baptized and wear His uniform. How many are ashamed to openly confess Christ before the world. Meditate more upon the reward, the crown, the eternal joy—that outweighs all the little sacrifices we are now called upon to make.

Fourth, “and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here we witness the Captain’s triumph, His actual entrance into the joy anticipated, His being crowned with glory and honor. His “sitting down” denoted three things. First, rest after finished work, the race run. Second, being invested with dominion: He now occupies the place of supreme sovereignty: Matthew 28:18, Philippians 2:10. Third, being intrusted with the prerogative of judgment: John 17: 2, Acts 17:30. And what have these three things to do with us, His unworthy followers? Much indeed: eternal rest is assured the successful racer: Revelation 13:14. A place on Christ’s throne is promised the overcomer: Revelation 3:21. Dominion too is the future portion of him who vanquishes this world: Revelation 2:26, 27. Finally, it is written “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? “Do ye not know we shall judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:2, 3). “Joint heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).

One other word in our text yet remains to be considered: “looking unto Jesus the Author (Captain) and Finisher (Perfecter) of our faith.” We have already seen from the other occurrences of this term (in its various forms) in our Epistle, that it is a very full one. Here, we believe, it has at least a twofold force. First, Completer: Jesus is the first and the last as an example of confidence in and submission unto God: He is the most complete model of faith and obedience that can be brought before us. Instead of including Him with the heroes of faith in chapter 11, He is here distinguished from them, as being above them. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending: as there was none hitherto who could be compared with Him, so there will be none hereafter. “Author and Finisher” or “Captain and Completer” means Jesus is beyond all comparison.

The fact that we are bidden to be looking unto Jesus as “the Leader and Finisher of faith” also denotes that He perfects our faith. How? First, by His grace flowing into us. We need something more than a flawless Model set before us: who can in his own strength imitate the perfect Man? But Christ has not only gone before His own, He also dwells in their hearts by faith, and as they yield themselves to His control (and only so) does He live through them. Second, by leading us (Ps. 23:3) along the path of discipline and trial, drawing our hearts away from the things of earth, and fixing them upon Himself. He often makes us lonesome here that we may seek His companionship. Finally, by actually conducting us to glory: He will “come again” (John 14:2) and conform us to His image.

“Looking unto Jesus.” The person of the Savior is to be the “mark” on which the eyes of those who are pressing forward for the prize of the high calling of God, are to be fixed. Be constantly “looking” to Him, trustfully, submissively, hopefully, expectantly. He is the Fountain of all grace (John 1:16): our every need is supplied by God “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Then seek the help of the Holy Spirit that the eye of faith be steadfastly fixed on Christ. He has declared “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” then let us add, “The Lord is my Helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5, 6). Salvation is by grace, through faith: it is through “faith” we are saved, not only from Hell, but also from this world (1 John 5:4), from temptation, from the power of indwelling sin—by coming to Christ, trusting in Him, drawing from Him.

What are the things which hinder us running? An active Devil, an evil world, indwelling sin, mysterious trials, fierce opposition, afflictions which almost make us doubt the love of the Father. Then call to mind the “great cloud of witnesses”: they were men of like passions with us, they encountered the same difficulties and discouragements, they met with the same hindrances and obstacles. But they ran “with patience,” they overcame, they won the victor’s crown. How? By “looking unto Jesus”: see Hebrews 11:26. But more: look away from difficulties (Rom. 4:19), from self, from fellow-racers, unto Him who has left us an example to follow, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, so that He is able to succor the tempted, strengthen the weak, guide the perplexed, supply our every need. Let the heart be centered in and the mind stayed upon HIM.

The more we are “looking unto Jesus” the easier will it be to “lay aside every weight.” It is at this point so many fail. If the Christian denies self of different things without an adequate motive (for Christ’s sake), he will still secretly hanker after the things relinquished, or ere long return to them, or become proud of his little sacrifices and become self-righteous. The most effective way of getting a child to drop any dirty or injurious object, is to proffer him something better. The best way to make a tired horse move more quickly, is not to use the whip, but to turn his head toward home! So, if our hearts be occupied with the sacrificial love of Christ for us, we shall be “constrained” thereby to drop all that which displeases Him; and the more we dwell upon the Joy set before us, the more strength shall we have to run “with patience the race that is set before us.”

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:3-4

Commentary on Hebrews 12:3-4

By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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A Call to Steadfastness

(Hebrews 12:3, 4)

At first sight it is not easy to trace the thread which unites the passage that was last before us and the verses which are now to engage our attention: there appears to be no direct connection between the opening verses of Hebrews 12 and those which follow. But a closer examination of them shows they are intimately related: in verses 3, 4 the apostle completes the exhortation with which the chapter opens. In verse 1 the apostle borrowed a figure from the Grecian Games, namely, the marathon race, and now in verse 4 he refers to another part of those games—the contest between the gladiators in the arena. Second, he had specified the principal grace required for the Christian race, namely, “Patience” or perseverance; so now in verse 3 he is urging them against faintness of mind or impatience. Third, he had enforced his exhortation by bidding the saints to “look unto Jesus” their great Exemplar; so here he calls on them to “consider Him” and emulate His steadfastness.

Yet, the verses which are now before us are not a mere repetition of those immediately preceding: rather do they present another, though closely related aspect of the Christian life or “race.” In verse 1 the racers are bidden to “lay aside every weight,” and in verse 3 it is the “contradiction of sinners” which has to be endured: the former, are hindrances which proceed more from within; the latter, are obstacles which are encountered from without. In the former case, it is the evil solicitations of the flesh which would have to be resisted; in the other, it is the persecutions of the world which have to be endured. In verse 1 it is “the sin which doth so easily beset” or “encircle us”—inward depravity—which must be “laid aside”; in verse 4 it is martyrdom which must be prepared for, lest we yield to the “sin” of apostasy.

Now the secret of success, the way to victory, is the same in either case. To enable us to “lay aside” all that hinders from within, there has to be a trustful “looking unto Jesus,” and to enable us to “endure” the oppositions encountered from without and to “strive” against inconstancy and wavering in our profession, we must thoughtfully “consider Him” who was hounded and persecuted as none other ever was. As the incentive to self-denial we are to be occupied with our great Leader, and remember how much He “laid aside” for us—He who was rich for our sakes became poor; He who was “in the form of God” divested Himself of His robes of glory and took upon Him “the form of a servant.” We are not called on to do something which He did not He vacated the throne and took up His cross! Likewise, the chief source of comfort and encouragement when we are called upon to suffer for His sake, is to call to mind the infinitely greater sufferings which He endured for our sakes.

The more we endeavor to emulate the example which the Lord Jesus has left us, the more shall we be opposed from without; the more closely we follow Him, the greater will be the enmity of our fellow-men against us. Our lives will condemn theirs, our ways will be a perpetual rebuke to them, and they will do all they can to discourage and hinder, provoke and oppose. And the tendency of such persecution is to dishearten us, to tempt us to compromise, to ask “What is the use?” Because of this, the blessed Spirit bids us, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Let the experiences through which Christ passed be the subject of daily contemplation. The record of His unparalleled temptations and trials, His endurance, and His victory, is to be the grand source of our instruction, comfort and encouragement. If we have grown “faint and weary” in our minds, it is because we have failed to properly and profitably “consider Him.”

Supremely important is a knowledge of the Scriptures concerning the Lord Jesus: there can be no experimental holiness, no growth in grace apart from the same. Vital godliness consists in a practical conformity to the image of God’s Son: it is to follow the example which He has left us, to take His yoke upon us and learn of Him. For this, there must needs be an intimate knowledge of His ways, a prayerful and believing study of the record of His life, a daily reading of and meditating thereon. That is why the four Gospels are placed at the beginning of the N.T.—they are of first importance. What we have in the Epistles is principally an interpretation and application of the four Gospels to the details of our walk. O that we may say with ever-deepening purpose of heart, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). O that we may “follow on to know the Lord” (Hos. 6:3)

“For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3, 4). The whole of this is a dehortation or caution against an evil, which if yielded to will prevent our discharge of the duty inculcated in verses 1, 2. That which is dehorted against is “be not wearied”—give not up the race, abandon not your Christian profession. The way whereby we may fall into that evil is by becoming “faint” in our minds. The means to prevent this is the diligent contemplation of our great Exemplar.

In verses 1, 2 the apostle had exhorted unto a patient or persevering pressing forward in the path of faith and obedience. In verses 3-11 he presents a number of considerations or motives to hearten us in our course, seeking particularly to counteract the enervating influence which difficulties are apt to exert upon the minds of God’s tried people. The tendency of strong and lasting opposition and persecution is to discourage, which if yielded unto leads to despair. To strengthen the hearts of those tried Hebrews, the apostle bade them consider the case of Christ Himself: He encountered far worse sufferings than we do, yet He patiently “endured” them (verse 3). Then they were reminded that their case was by no means desperate and extreme—they had not yet been called to suffer a death of martyrdom. Finally, their very difficulties were the loving chastisement of their Father, designed for their profit (verses 5-11). By what a variety of means does the blessed Spirit strengthen, stablish, and comfort tried believers!

Are you, dear reader, disheartened by the hard usage you are receiving from men, yea, from the religions world; are you fearful as you anticipate the persecutions which may yet attend your Christian profession; or, are you too ready to show resentment against those who oppose you? Then “consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” The connecting “For” has the force here of “moreover:” in addition to “looking unto Jesus” as your Leader and Perfecter, consider Him in His steadfastness under relentless persecution. Faith has many actings or forms of exercise: it is to reflect, contemplate, call to mind—God’s past ways with us, His dealings with His people of old, and particularly the recorded history of His beloved and incarnate Son. We are greatly the losers if we fail to cultivate the habit of devout consideration and holy meditation. The Greek word for “consider” is not the same as the one used in Hebrews 3:1 and Hebrews 10:24; in fact it is a term which occurs, in this form, nowhere else in the N.T.

The Greek word for “consider” in our text is derived from the one rendered “proportion” in Romans 12:6. It is a mathematical term, signifying to compute by comparing things together in their due proportions. It means: form a just and accurate estimate. “For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself:” draw an analogy between His sufferings and yours, and what proportion is there between them! Weigh well who He was, the place He took, the infinite perfection of His character and deeds; and then the base ingratitude, the gross injustice, the cruel persecution He met with. Calculate and estimate the constancy of the opposition He encountered, the type of men who maligned Him, the variety and intensity of His sore trials, and the spirit of meekness and patience with which He bore them. And what are our trifling trials when compared with His agonies, or even to our deserts! O my soul blush with shame because of thy murmurings.

“Consider Him” in the ineffable excellency of His person. He was none other than the Lord of glory, the Beloved of the Father, the second person in the sacred Trinity, the Creator of heaven and earth. Now, since He suffered here on earth, why should you, having enlisted under His banner, think it strange that you should be called on to endure a little hardness in His service! Consider his relationship to you: He is your Redeemer and Proprietor: is it not sufficient for the disciple to be as his Master, the servant as his Lord? If the Head was spared not trial and shame, shall the members of His body complain if they be called on to have some fellowship with Him in this? When you are tempted to throw down your colors and capitulate to the Enemy, or even to murmur at your hard lot, “Consider Him” who when here “had not where to lay His head.”

The particular sufferings of Christ which are here singled out for our consideration are, the “contradiction of sinners” which He encountered. He was opposed constantly, by word and action; He was opposed by His own people according to the flesh; He was opposed by the very ones to whom He ministered in infinite grace and loving-kindness. That opposition began at His birth, when there was no room in the inn—He was not wanted. It was seen again in His infancy, when Herod sought to slay Him, and His parents were forced to flee with Him into Egypt. Little else is told us in the N.T., about His early years, but there is a Messianic prophecy in Psalm 88:15 where we hear Him pathetically saying, “I am afflicted and ready to die from My youth up!” As soon as His public ministry commenced, and during the whole of its three years’ course, He endured one unbroken, relentless, “contradiction of sinners against Himself.”

The Lord Jesus was derided as the Prophet, mocked as the King, and treated with the utmost contempt as the Priest and Savior. He was accused of deceiving (John 7:12) and perverting the people (Luke 23:14). His teaching was opposed, and His person was insulted. Because He conversed with and befriended publicans and sinners, He was “murmured” at (Luke 15:2). Because He performed works of mercy on the sabbath day, He was charged with breaking the law (Mark 3:2). The gracious miracles which He wrought upon the sick and demon-possessed, were attributed to His being in league with the Devil (Matthew 12:24). He was regarded as a low-born fanatic. He was branded as a “glutton and winebibber.” He was accused of speaking against Caesar (John 19:12), whereas He had expressly bidden men to render unto Caesar what rightly belonged to him (Matthew 22:21). Though He was the Holy One of God, there was scarcely anything about Him that was not opposed.

“For consider Him who endured such contradiction” Here is emphasized the greatness of Christ’s sufferings: “such contradiction”—so bitter, so severe, so malicious, so protracted; everything which the evil wits of men and Satan could invent. That word “such” is also added to awaken our wonderment and worship. Though the incarnate Son of God, He was spat upon, contemptuously arrayed in a purple robe and His enemies bowed the knee before Him in mockery. They buffeted Him and smote Him on the face. They tore His back with scourgings, as was foretold by the Psalmist (Ps. 129:3). They condemned Him to a criminal’s death, and nailed Him to the Cross, and that, between two thieves, to add to His shame. And this, at the hands of men who, though they made a great show of sanctity, were “sinners.”

Christ felt keenly that “contradiction,” for He was the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. At the end, He exclaimed “reproach hath broken My heart” (Ps. 69:20). Nevertheless, He turned not aside from the path of duty, still less did He abandon His mission. He fled not from His enemies, and fainted not under their merciless persecution: instead, He “endured” it. As we pointed out in our exposition of the previous verse, that word is used of Christ in its highest and noblest sense. He bore patiently every ignominy that was heaped upon Him. He never retaliated or reviled His traducers. He remained steadfast unto the end, and finished the work which had been given Him to do. When the supreme crises arrived, He faltered not, but “set His face as a flint to go up to Jerusalem” (Isa. 50:7, Luke 9:51).

Do you, tried reader, feel that your cup of opposition is a little fuller than that of some of your fellow Christians? Then look away to the cup which Christ drank! Here is the Divine antidote against weariness: Christ meekly and triumphantly “endured” far, far worse than anything you are called on to suffer for His sake; yet He fainted not. When you are weary in your mind because of trials and injuries from the enemies of God, “consider” Christ, and this will quieten and suppress thy corrupt propensities to murmuring and impatience. Set Him before thy heart as the grand example and encouragement—example in patience, encouragement in the blessed issue: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). Faith’s consideration of Him will work a conformity unto Him in our souls which will preserve from fainting.

“Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” There is no connecting “and” in the Greek: two distinct thoughts are presented: “lest ye be wearied,” that is, so discouraged as to quit; “faint in your mind,” states the cause thereof. The word for “weary” here is a strong one: it signifies exhausted, being so despondent as to break one’s resolution. In its ultimate meaning, it refers to such a state of despondency as an utter sinking of spirit, through the difficulties, trials, opposition and persecution encountered as to “look back” (Luke 9:62), and either partially or wholly abandon one’s profession of the Gospel. In other words, it is another warning against apostasy. What we are cautioned against here is the opposite of that which the Lord commended in the Ephesian Church, “And for My name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted” (Rev. 2:3)—here there is perseverance in the Christian profession despite all opposition.

At different periods of history God has permitted fierce opposition to break out against His people, to test the reality and strength of their attachment to Christ. This was the case with those to whom our Epistle was first addressed: they were being exposed to great trials and sufferings, temptations and privations; hence the timeliness of this exhortation, and its accompanying warning. Reproaches, losses, imprisonments, scourgings, being threatened with death, have a strong tendency to produce dejection and despair; they present a powerful temptation to give up the fight. And naught but the vigorous activity of faith will fortify the mind under religious persecution. Only as the heart is encouragingly occupied with Christ’s endurance of the “contradiction of sinners against Himself,” will our resolution be strong to endure unto the end: “In the world ye shall have tribulations: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“Faint in your minds.” This it is which, if not resisted and corrected, leads to the “weariness” or utter exhaustion of the previous clause. This faintness of mind is the reverse of vigor and cheerfulness. If, under the strong opposition and fierce persecution, we are to “endure unto the end,” then we must watch diligently against the allowance of such faintness of mind. There is a spiritual vigor required in order to perseverence in the Christian profession during times of persecution. Hence it is that we are exhorted, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” (1 Pet. 4:1); “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wicked spirits in the heavenlies. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand” (Eph. 6:12, 13); “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Any degree of faintness of mind in the Christian results from and consists in a remitting of the cheerful actions of faith in the various duties which God has called us to discharge. Nothing but the regular exercise of faith keeps the soul calm and restful, patient and prayerful. If faith ceases to be operative, and our mind be left to cope with difficulties and trials in our own natural strength, then we shall soon grow weary of a persecuted Christian profession. Herein lies the beginning of all spiritual declension—a lack of the due exercise of faith, and that in turn, is the result of the heart growing cold toward Christ! If faith be in healthy exercise, we shall say, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), realizing that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17); ah, but that consciousness is only “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (verse 18).

“Consider Him:” there is the remedy against faintness of mind; there is the preservative from such “weariness” of dejection of spirits that we are ready to throw down our weapons and throw up our hands in utter despair. It is the diligent consideration of the person of Christ, the Object of faith, the Food of faith, the Supporter of faith. It is by drawing an analogy between His infinitely sorer sufferings and our present hardships. It is by making application unto ourselves of what is to be found in Him suitable to our own case. Are we called on to suffer a little for Him, then let our eye be turned on Him who went before us in the same path of trial. Make a comparison between what He “endured” and what you are called to struggle with, and surely you will be ashamed to complain! “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Admire and imitate His meekness—weeping over His enemies, and praying for His murderers!

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (verse 4). The persons here immediately addressed—the “ye”—were the Hebrews themselves. Because of their profession of Christianity, because of their loyalty to Christ, they had suffered severely in various ways. Plain reference to something of what they had already been called on to endure is made in 10:32-34, “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly whilst ye were made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods.” Thus, the Hebrew saints had been sorely oppressed by their unbelieving brethren among the Jews; it is that which gave such point to the exhortation and warning in the previous verse.

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Here is the second consideration which the apostle pressed upon his afflicted brethren: not only to ponder the far greater opposition which their Savior encountered, but also to bear in mind that their own sufferings were not so severe as they might have been, or as possibly they would yet be. It is an argument made by reasoning from the greater to the less, and from comparing their present state with that which might await them: what could be expected to sustain their hearts and deliver from apostasy when under the supreme test of death by violence, if they fainted beneath lesser afflictions? We, too, should honestly face the same alternative: if unkind words and sneers make us waver now, how would we acquit ourselves if called on to face a martyr’s death!

The present state of the oppressed Hebrews is here expressed negatively: “ye have not yet resisted unto blood.” True, they had already met with various forms of suffering, but not yet had they been called upon to lay down their lives. As Hebrews 10:32-34 clearly intimates, they had well acquitted themselves during the first stages of their trials, but their warfare was not yet ended. They had need to bear in mind that word of Christ, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1); and that exhortation of the Holy Spirit, “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood.” The apostle here hinted to the Hebrews what might yet have to be endured by them, namely a bloody and violent death—by stoning, or the sword, or fire. That is the utmost which fiendish persecutors can afflict. Men may kill the body, but when they have done that, they can do no more. God has set bounds to their rage: none will hound or harm His people in the next world! Those who engage in the Christian profession, who serve under the banner of Christ, have no guarantee that they may not be called unto the utmost suffering of blood on account of their allegiance to him; for that is what His adversaries have always desired. Hence, Christ bids us to “sit down and count the cost” (Luke 14:28), of being His disciples. God has decreed that many, in different ages should be martyred for His own praise, the glory of Christ and the honor of the Gospel.

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” “Sin” is here personified, regarded as a combatant which has to be overcome. The various persecutions, hardships, afflictions, difficulties of the way, in consequence of our attachment to Christ, become so many occasions and means which sin seeks to employ in order to hinder and oppose us. The Christian is called to a contest with sin. The apostle continues his allusion to the Grecian Games, changing from the racer to the combatant. The great contest is in the believer’s heart between grace and sin, the flesh and the spirit (Gal. 5:17). Sin seeks to quench faith and kill obedience: therefore sin is to be “striven against” for our very souls are at stake. There is no place for sloth in this deadly contest; no furloughs are granted!

“Striving against sin.” That which the Hebrews were striving against was apostasy, going to the full lengths of sin—abandoning their Christian profession. Persecution was the means which indwelling depravity sought to use, to employ in slaying faith and fidelity to Christ. That terrible wickedness was to be steadfastly resisted, by fighting against weariness in the conflict. O to say with the apostle, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13): but in order to reach that state of soul, there has to be a close walking with Him day by day, and a patient bearing of the minor trials. “If thou hast run with the footmen and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5).

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:5-6

Commentary on Hebrews 12:5-6

By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Divine Chastisement

(Hebrews 12:5)

The grand truth of Divine Chastisement is inexpressibly blessed, and one which we can neglect only to our great loss. It is of deep importance, for when Scripturally apprehended it preserves from some serious errors by which Satan has succeeded (as “an angel of light”) in deceiving and destroying not a few. For example, it sounds the death-knell to that wide-spread delusion of “sinless perfectionism.” The passage which is to be before us unmistakably exposes the wild fanaticism of those who imagine that, as the result of some “second work of grace,” the carnal nature has been eradicated from their beings, so that, while perhaps not so wise, they are as pure as the angels which never sinned, and lead lives which are blameless in the sight of the thrice holy God. Poor blinded souls: such have not even experienced a first “work of Divine grace” in their souls: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

“My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:5, 6). How plain and emphatic is that! God does find something to “rebuke” in us, and uses the rod upon every one of His children. Chastisement for sin is a family mark, a sign of sonship, a proof of God’s love, a token of His Fatherly kindness and care; it is an inestimable mercy, a choice new-covenant blessing. Woe to the man whom God chastens not, whom He suffers to go recklessly on in the boastful and presumptuous security which so many now mistake for faith. There is a reckoning to come of which he little dreams. Were he a son, he would be chastened for his sin; he would be brought to repentance and godly sorrow, he would with grief of heart confess his backslidings, and then be blest with pardon and peace.

The truth of Divine chastisement corrects another serious error, which has become quite common in certain quarters, namely, that God views His people so completely in Christ that He sees no sin in them. It is true, blessedly true, that of His elect it is stated, “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” (Num. 23:21) and that Christ declares of His spouse “Thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee” (Song 4:7). The testimony of Scripture is most express that in regard to the justification or acceptance of the persons of the elect, they are “complete in Him”-Christ (Col. 2:10); “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6)-washed in Christ’s blood, clothed with His righteousness. In that sense, God sees no sin in them; none to punish. But we must not use that precious truth to set aside another, revealed with equal clearness, and thus fall into serious error.

God does see sin in His children and chastises them for it. Even though the non-imputation of sin to the believer (Rom. 4:8) and the chastisement of sin in believers (1 Cor. 11:30-32) were irreconcilable to human reason, we are bound to receive both on the authority of Holy Writ. Let us beware lest we fall under the solemn charge of Malachi 2:9, “Ye have not kept My ways, but have been partial in the law.” What could be plainer than this, “I will make Him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for Him for evermore, and My covenant shall stand fast with Him. His seed also will I make to endure forever and His throne as the days of heaven. If His children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My loving kindness will I not utterly take from Him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail” (Ps. 89:27-33). Five things are clearly revealed there. First Christ Himself is addressed under the name of “David.” Second, His children break God’s statutes. Third, in them there is “iniquity” and “transgression.” Fourth, God will “visit” their transgression “with the rod!” Fifth, yet will He not cast them off.

What could express more clearly the fact that God does see sin in believers, and that He does chastise them for it? For, be it noted, the whole of the above passage speaks of believers. It is the language, not of the Law, but of the Gospel. Blessed promises are there made to believers in Christ: the unchanging loving-kindness of God, His covenant-faithfulness toward them, His spiritual blessing of them. But “stripes” and the “rod” are there promised too! Then let us not dare to separate what God has joined together. How do we know anything concerning the acceptance of the elect in Christ? The answer must be, Only on the testimony of Holy Writ. Very well; from the same unerring Testimony we also know that God chastises His people for their sins. It is at our imminent peril that we reject either of these complementary truths.

The same fact is plainly presented again in Hebrews 12:7-10, “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily, for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” The apostle there draws an analogy from the natural relationship of father and child. Why do earthly parents chastise their children? Is it not for their faults? Can we justify a parent for chastening a child where there was no fault, nothing in him which called for the rod? In that case, it would be positive tyranny, actual cruelty. If the same be not true spiritually, then the comparison must fall to the ground. Hebrews 12 proves conclusively that, if God does not chastise me then I am an unbeliever, and I sign my own condemnation as a bastard.

Yet it is very necessary for us to point out, at this stage, that all the sufferings of believers in this world are not Divine rebukes for personal transgressions. Here too we need to be on our guard against lopsidedness. After we have apprehended the fact that God does take notice of the iniquities of His people and use the rod upon them, it is so easy to jump to the conclusion that when we see an afflicted Christian, God must be visiting His displeasure upon him. That is a sad and serious error. Some of the very choicest of God’s saints have been called on to endure the most painful and protracted sufferings; some of the most faithful and eminent servants of Christ have encountered the most relentless and extreme persecution. Not only is this a fact of observation, but it is plainly revealed in Holy Writ.

As we turn to God’s Word for light on the subject of suffering among the saints, we find it affirmed, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). Those “afflictions” are sent by God upon different ones for various reasons. Sometimes for the prevention of sin: the experience of the beloved apostle was a case in point, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). Sometimes sore trials are sent for the testing and strengthening of our graces: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2, 3). Sometimes God’s servants and people axe called on to endure fierce persecution for a confirmatory testimony to the Truth “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

Yet here again we need to be much on our guard, for the flesh is ever ready to pervert even the holy things of God, and make an evil use of that which is good. When God is chastising a Christian for his sins, it is so easy for him to suppose such is not the case, and falsely comfort himself with the thought that God is only developing his graces, or permitting him to have closer fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. Where we are visited with afflictions personally, it is always the safest policy to assume that God has a controversy with us; humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand, and say with Job, “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (10:2); and when He has convicted me of my fault, to penitently confess and forsake it. But where others are concerned, it is not for us to judge-though sometimes God reveals the cause to His servants (Amos 3:7).

In the passage which is to be before us, the apostle presents a third consideration why heed should be given unto the exhortation at the beginning of Hebrews 12, which calls to patient perseverance in the path of faith and obedience, notwithstanding all the obstacles, difficulties, and dangers which may be encountered therein. He now draws a motive from the nature of those sufferings considered in the light of God’s end in them: all the trials and persecutions which He may call on His people to endure are necessary, not only as testimonies to the truth, to the reality of His grace in them, but also as chastisements which are required by us, wherein God has a blessed design toward us. This argument is enforced by several considerations to the end of verse 13. How we should admire and adore the consummate wisdom of God which has so marvelously ordered all, that the very things which manifest the hatred of men against us, are evidences of His love toward us! How the realization of this should strengthen patience!

O how many of God’s dear children have found, in every age, that the afflictions which have come upon them from a hostile world, were soul-purging medicines from the Lord. By them they have been bestirred, revived, and mortified to things down here; and made partakers of God’s holiness, to their own unspeakable advantage and comfort. Truly wondrous are the ways of our great God. Hereby doth He defeat the counsels and expectations of the wicked, having a design to accomplish by their agency something which they know not of. These very reproaches, imprisonments, stripes, with the loss of goods and danger of their lives, with which the world opposed them for their ruin; God makes use of for their refining, consolation and joy. Truly He “maketh the wrath of man to praise Him” (Ps. 76:10). O that our hearts and minds may be duly impressed with the wisdom, power and grace of Him who bringeth a clean thing out of an unclean.

“In all these things is the wisdom and goodness of God, in contriving and effecting these things, to the glory of His grace, and the salvation of His Church, to be admired” (John Owen). But herein we may see, once more, the imperative need for faith-a God-given, God-sustained, spiritual, supernatural FAITH. Carnal reason can see no more in our persecutions than the malice and rage of evil men. Our senses perceive nothing beyond material losses and painful physical discomforts. But faith discovers the Father’s hand directing all things: faith is assured that all proceeds from His boundless love: faith realizes that He has in view the good of our souls. The more this is apprehended by the exercise of faith, not only the better for our peace of mind, but the readier shall we be to diligently apply ourselves in seeking to learn God’s lessons for us in every chastisement He lays upon us.

The opening “And” of verse 5 shows the apostle is continuing to present motives to stir unto a perseverance in the faith, notwithstanding sufferings for the same. The first motive was taken from the example of the O.T. worthies (verse 1). The second, from the illustrious pattern of Jesus (verses 2-4). This is the third: the Author of these sufferings-our Father-and His loving design in them. There is also a more immediate connection with 5:4 pointed by the “And:” it presents a tacit rebuke for being ready to faint under the lesser trials, wherewith they were exercised. Here He gives a reason how and why it was they were thus making that reason the means of introducing a new argument. The reason why they were ready to faint was their inattention to the direction and encouragement which God has supplied for them-our failure to appropriate God’s gracious provisions for us is the rise of all our spiritual miscarriages.

The Hebrew Christians to whom this epistle was first addressed were passing through a great fight of afflictions, and miserably were they acquitting themselves. They were the little remnant out of the Jewish nation who had believed on their Messiah during the days of His public ministry, plus those Jews who had been converted under the preaching of the apostles. It is highly probable that they had expected the Messianic kingdom would at once be set up on earth, and that they would be allotted the chief places of honor in it. But the millennium had not begun, and their own lot became increasingly bitter. They were not only hated by the Gentiles, but ostracized by their unbelieving brethren, and it became a hard matter for them to make even a bare living. Providence held a frowning face. Many who had made a profession of Christianity had gone back to Judaism and were prospering temporally. As the afflictions of the believing Jews increased they too were sorely tempted to turn their back upon the new Faith. Had they been wrong in embracing Christianity? Was high heaven displeased because they had identified themselves with Jesus of Nazareth? Did not their sufferings go to show that God no longer regarded them with favor?

Now it is most blessed and instructive to see how the apostle met the unbelieving reasoning of their hearts. He appealed to their own scriptures, reminding them of an exhortation found in Proverbs 3:11, 12: “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastenings of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). As we pointed out so often in our exposition of the earlier chapters of this Epistle, at every critical point in his argument the apostle’s appeal was to the written Word of God-an example which is binding on every servant of Christ to follow. That Word is the final court of appeal for every controversial matter, and the more its authority is respected, the more is its Author honored. Not only so, but the more God’s children are brought to turn to its instruction, the more will they be built up and established in the true faith. Moreover, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4): it is to them alone we must turn for solid comfort. Great will be our loss if we fail to do so.

“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you.” Note well the words we have placed in italics. The exhortation to which the apostle referred was uttered over a thousand years previously, under the Mosaic dispensation; nevertheless the apostle insists that it was addressed equally unto the New T. saints! How this exposes the cardinal error of modern “dispensationalists,” who seek to rob Christians of the greater part of God’s precious Word. Under the pretense of “rightly dividing” the Word, they would filch from them all that God gave to His people prior to the beginning of the present era. Such a devilish device is to be steadfastly resisted by us. All that is found in the book of Proverbs is as much God the Father’s instruction to us as are the contents of the Pauline epistles! Throughout that book God addresses us individually as “My son:” see Hebrews 1:8, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, etc. Surely that is quite sufficient for every spiritual mind-no labored argument is needed.

The appositeness of Proverbs 3:11, 12 to the case of the afflicted Hebrews gave great force to the apostle’s citing of it here. That passage would enable them to perceive that their case was by no means unprecedented or peculiar, that it was in fact no otherwise with them than it had been with others of God’s children in former ages and that long before the Lord had graciously laid in provision for their encouragement: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction: For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a Father the son in whom He delighteth” (Prov. 3:11, 12). It has ever been God’s way to correct those in whom He delights, to chastise His children; but so far from that salutary discipline causing us to faint, it should strengthen and comfort our hearts, being assured that such chastening proceeds from His love, and that the exhortation to perseverance in the path of duty is issued by Him. It is the height of pride and ingratitude not to comply with His tender entreaties.

But the apostle had to say to the suffering Hebrews, “Ye have forgotten the exhortation.” To forget God’s gracious instruction is at least an infirmity, and with it they are here taxed. To forget the encouragements which the Father has given us is a serious fault: it is expressly forbidden: “Beware lest thou forget the Lord” (Deut. 6:12). It was taxed upon the Jews of old, “They soon forgat His works… They forgat God their Savior, which had done great things in Egypt” (Ps. 106:13, 21). Forgetfulness is a part of that corruption which has seized man by his fall: all the faculties of his soul have been seriously injured-the memory, which was placed in man to be a treasury, in which to lay up the directions and consolations of God’s Word, has not escaped the universal wreckage. But that by no means excuses us: it is a fault, to be striven and prayed against. As ministers see occasion, they are to stir up God’s people to use means for the strengthening of the memory-especially by the formation of the habit of holy meditation in Divine things.

Thus it was with the Hebrews, in some measure at least: they had “forgotten” that which should have stood in good stead in the hour of their need. Under their trials and persecution, they ought, in an especial manner, to have called to mind that Divine exhortation of Proverbs 3:11, 12 for their encouragement: had they believingly appropriated it, they had been kept from fainting. Alas, how often we are like them! “The want of a diligent consideration of the provision that God hath made in the Scripture for our encouragement to duty and comfort under difficulties, is a sinful forgetfulness, and is of dangerous consequence to our souls” (John Owen).

“Which speaketh unto you as unto children.” It is very striking indeed to observe the tense of the verb here: the apostle was quoting a sentence of Scripture which had been written a thousand years previously, yet he does not say “which hath spoken,” but “which speaketh unto you!” The same may be seen again in that sevenfold exhortation of Revelation 2 and 3, “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith (not “said”) unto the churches.” The Holy Scriptures are a living Word, in which God speaks to men in every generation. Holy Writ is not a dumb or dead letter: it has a voice in it, ever speaking of God Himself. “The Holy Spirit is always present in the Word, and speaks in it equally and alike to the church in all ages. He doth in it speak as immediately to us, as if we were the first and only persons to whom He spake. And this should teach us, with what reverence we ought to attend to the Scriptures, namely, as to the way and means whereby God Himself speaks directly to us” (John Owen.)

“Which speaketh unto you as unto children.” The apostle emphasizes the fact that God addresses an exhortation in Proverbs 3:11 to “My son,” which shows plainly that His relation to the O.T. saints was that of a Father to His children. This at once refutes a glaring error made by some who pose as being ultra-orthodox, more deeply taught in the Word than others. They have insisted that the Fatherhood of God was never revealed until the Son became incarnate; but every verse in the Proverbs where God says “My son” reveals their mistake. That the O.T. saints were instructed in this blessed relationship is clear from other passages: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). This relation unto God is by virtue of their (and our) union with Christ: He is “the Son,” and being one with Him, members of His body, they were “sons” too.

This precious relationship is the ground of the soul’s confidence in God. “If God speaks to them as to children, they have good ground to fly to God as to a Father. and in all time of need to ask and seek of Him all needful blessings (Matthew 7:11), yea, and in faith to depend on Him for the same (Matthew 6:31, 32). What useful things shall they want? What hurtful thing need such to fear? If God deal with us as with children, He will provide for them every good thing, He will protect them from every hurtful thing, He will hear their prayers, He will accept their services, He will bear with their infirmities, He will support them under all their burdens, and assist them against all their assaults; though through their own weakness, or the violence of some temptation, they should be drawn from Him, yet will He be ready to meet them in the mid-way, turning to Him-instance the mind of the father of the prodigal towards him” (W. Gouge).

Divine Chastisement

(Hebrews 12:6)

The problem of suffering is a very real one in this world, and to not a few of our readers a personal and acute one. While some of us are freely supplied with comforts, others are constantly exercised over procuring the bare necessities of life. While some of us have long been favored with good health, others know not what it is to go through a day without sickness and pain. While some homes have not been visited by death for many years, others are called upon again and again to pass through the deep waters of family bereavement. Yes, dear friend; the problem of suffering, the encountering of severe trials, is a very personal thing for not a few of the members of the household of faith. Nor is it the external afflictions which occasion the most anguish: it is the questionings they raise, the doubts they stimulate, the dark clouds of unbelief which they so often bring over the heart.

Very often it is in seasons of trial and trouble that Satan is most successful in getting in his evil work. When he perceives the uselessness of attempting to bring believers under the bondage in which he keeps unbelievers, he bides his time for the shooting at them of other arrows which he has in his quiver. Though he is unable to drag them down to the commission of the grosser outward forms of sin, he waits his opportunity for tempting them to be guilty of inward sins. Though he cannot infect them with the poison of evolutionism and higher criticism, he despairs not of seducing them with questions of God’s goodness. It is when adversity comes the Christian’s way, when sore trials multiply, when the soul is oppressed and the mind distressed, that the Devil seeks to instill and strengthen doubtings of God’s love, and to call into question the faithfulness of His promises.

Moreover, there come seasons in the lives of many saints when to sight and sense it seems as though God Himself had ceased to care for His needy and afflicted child. Earnest prayer is made for the mitigation of the sufferings, but relief is not granted. Grace is sought to meekly bear the burden which has been laid upon the suffering one; yet, so far from any sensible answer being received, self-will, impatience, unbelief, are more active than ever. Instead of the peace of God ruling the heart, unrest and enmity occupy its throne. Instead of quietness within, there is turmoil and resentment. Instead of “giving thanks always for all things unto God” (Eph. 5:20), the soul is filled with unkind thoughts and feelings against Him. This is cause for anguish unto the renewed heart; yet, at times, struggle against the evil as the Christian may, he is overcome by it.

Then it is that the afflicted one cries out, “Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord, why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1). To the distressed saint, the Lord seems to stand still, as if He coldly looked on from a distance, and did not sympathize with the afflicted one. Nay, worse, the Lord appears to be afar off, and no longer “a very present help in trouble,” but rather an inaccessible mountain, which it is impossible to reach. The felt presence of the Lord is the stay, the strength, the consolation of the believer; the lifting up of the light of His countenance upon us, is what sustains and cheers us in this dark world. But when that is withheld, when we no longer have the joy of His presence with us, drab indeed is the prospect, sad the heart. It is the hiding of our Father’s face which cuts to the quick. When trouble and desertion come together, it is unbearable.

Then it is that the word comes to us, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). Ah, it is easy for us to perceive the meetness of such an admonition as this while things are going smoothly and pleasantly for us. While our lot is congenial, or at least bearable, we have little difficulty in discerning what a sin it is for any Christian to either “despise” God’s chastenings or to “faint” beneath them. But when tribulation comes upon us, when distress and anguish fill our hearts, it is quite another matter. Not only do we become guilty of one of the very evils here dehorted from, but we are very apt to excuse and extenuate our peevishness or faintness. There is a tendency in all of us to pity ourselves, to take sides with ourselves against God, and even to justify the uprisings of our hearts against Him.

Have we never, in self-vindication, said, “Well, after all we are human; it is natural that we should chafe against the rod or give way to despondency when we are afflicted. It is all very well to tell us that we should not, but how can we help ourselves? we cannot change our natures; we are frail men and women, and not angels.” And what has been the issue from the fruit of this self-pity and self-vindication? Review the past, dear friend, and recall how you felt and acted inwardly when God was tearing up your cozy nest, overturning your cherished plans, dashing to pieces your fondest hopes, afflicting you painfully in your affairs, your body, or your family circle. Did it not issue in calling into question the wisdom of God’s ways, the justice of His dealings with you, His kindness towards you? Did it not result in your having still stronger doubts of His very goodness?

In Hebrews 12:5 the Christian is cautioned against either despising the Lord’s chastenings or fainting beneath them. Yet, notwithstanding this plain warning, there remains a tendency in all of us not only to disregard the same, but to act contrary thereto. The apostle anticipates this evil, and points out the remedy. The mind of the Christian must be fortified against it. But how? By calling to remembrance the source from which all his testings, trials, tribulations and troubles proceed, namely, the blessed, wondrous, unchanging love of God. “My son, despise not thou the chastenings of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him. FOR whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” Here a reason is advanced why we should not despise God’s chastening nor faint beneath it—all proceeds from His love. Yes, even the bitter disappointments, the sore trials, the things which occasion an aching heart, are not only appointed by unerring wisdom, but are sent by infinite Love! It is the apprehension and appropriation of this glorious fact, and that alone, which will preserve us from both the evils forbidden in 5:5.

The way to victory over suffering is to keep sorrow from filling the soul: “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). So long as the waves wash only the deck of the ship, there is no danger of its foundering; but when the tempest breaks through the hatches and submerges the hold, then disaster is nigh. No matter what floods of tribulation break over us, it is our duty and our privilege to have peace within: “keep thy heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23): suffer no doubtings of God’s wisdom, faithfulness, goodness, to take root there. But how am I to prevent their so doing? “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), is the inspired answer, the sure remedy, the way to victory. There, in one word, we have made known to us the secret of how to overcome all questionings of God’s providential ways, all murmurings against His dealings with us.

“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” It is as though a parent said to his child, “Keep yourself in the sunshine:” the sun shines whether he enjoys it or not, but he is responsible not to walk in the shade and thus lose its genial glow. So God’s love for His people abides unchanging, but how few of them keep themselves in the warmth of it. The saint is to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17); “rooted” like a tree in rich and fertile soil; “grounded” like a house built upon a rock. Observe that both of these figures speak of hidden processes: the root-life of a tree is concealed from human eyes, and the foundations of a house are laid deep in the ground. Thus it should be with each child of God: the heart is to be fixed, nourished by the love of God.

It is one thing to believe intellectually that “God is love” and that He loves His people, but it is quite another to enjoy and live in that love in the soul. To be “rooted and grounded in love” means to have a settled assurance of God’s love for us, such an assurance as nothing can shake. This is the deep need of every Christian, and no pains are to be spared in the obtaining thereof. Those passages in Scripture which speak of the wondrous love of God, should be read frequently and meditated upon daily. There should be a diligent striving to apprehend God’s love more fully and richly. Dwell upon the many unmistakable proofs which God has made of His love to you: the gift of His Word, the gift of His Son, the gift of His Spirit. What greater, what clearer proofs do we require! Steadfastly resist every temptation to question His love: “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Let that be the realm in which you live, the atmosphere you breathe, the warmth in which you thrive.

This life is but a schooling. In saying this we are uttering a platitude, yet it is a truth of which all Christians need to be constantly reminded. This is the period of our childhood and minority. Now in childhood everything has, or should have, the character of education and discipline. Dear parents and teachers are constantly directing, warning, rebuking; the whole of the child-life is under rule, restraint and guidance. But the only object is the child him-self—his good, his character, his future; and the only motive is love. Now as childhood is to the rest of our life, so is the whole of our earthly sojourn to our future and heavenly life. Therefore let us seek to cultivate the spirit of childhood. Let us regard it as natural that we should be daily rebuked and corrected. Let us behave with the docility and meekness of children, with their trustful and sweet assurance that love is behind all our chastenings, that we are in the tender hands of our Father.

But if this attitude is to be maintained, faith must be kept in steady exercise: only thus shall we judge aright of afflictions. Sense is ever ready to slander and belie the Divine perfections. Sense beclouds the understanding and causes us to wrongly interpret God’s dispensations with us. Why so? Because sense estimates things from their outside and by their present feeling. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous” (Heb. 12:11), and therefore if when under the rod we judge of God’s love and care for us by our sense of His present dealings, we are likely to conclude that He has but little regard for us. Herein lies the urgent need for the putting forth of faith, for “faith is the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the only remedy for this double evil. Faith interprets things not according to the outside or visible, but according to the promise. Faith looks upon providences not as a present disconnected piece, but in its entirety to the end of things.

Sense perceives in our trials naught but expressions of God’s disregard or anger, but faith can discern Divine wisdom and love in the sorest troubles. Faith is able to unfold the fiddles and solve the mysteries of providence. Faith can extract honey and sweetness out of gall and wormwood. Faith discerns that God’s heart is filled with love toward us, even when His hand is heavy and smarts upon us. The bucket goes down into the well the deeper, that it may come up the fuller. Faith perceives God’s design in the chastening is our good. It is through faith “that He would show thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is” (Job 11:6). By the “secrets of wisdom” is meant the hidden ways of God’s providence. Divine providence has two faces: the one of rigor, the other of clemency; sense looks upon the former only, faith enjoys the latter.

Faith not only looks beneath the surface of things and sees the sweet orange beneath the bitter rind, but it looks beyond the present and anticipates the blessed sequel. Of the Psalmist it is recorded, “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before Thine eyes” (Ps. 31:22). The fumes of passion dim our vision when we look only at what is present. Asaph declared, “My feet were almost gone, my steps had well-nigh slipped; for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2, 3); but when he went into the sanctuary of God he said, “Then understood I their end” (verse 17), and that quieted him. Faith is occupied not with the scaffolding, but with the completed building; not with the medicine, but with the healthful effects it produces; not with the painful rod, but with the peaceable fruit of righteousness in which it issues.

Suffering, then, is a test of the heart; chastisement is a challenge to faith—our faith in His wisdom, His faithfulness, His love. As we have sought to show above the great need of the Christian is to keep himself in the love of God, for the soul to have an unshaken assurance of His tender care for us: “casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). But the knowledge of that “care” can only be experimentally maintained by the exercise of faith—especially is this the case in times of trouble. A preacher once asked a despondent friend, “Why is that cow looking over the wall?” And the answer was, “Because she cannot look through it.” The illustration may be crude, yet it gives point to an important truth. Discouraged reader, look over the things which so much distress you, and behold the Father’s smiling face; look above the frowning clouds of His providence, and see the sunshine of His never changing love.

“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (verse 6). There is something very striking and unusual about this verse, for it is found, in slightly varied form, in no less than five different books of the Bible:—”Happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17); “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of Thy law” (Ps. 94:12); “Whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:12); “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19). Probably there is a twofold reason for this reiteration. First, it hints at the importance and blessedness of this truth. God repeats it so frequently lest we should forget, and thus lose the comfort and cheer of realizing that Divine chastisement proceeds from love. This must be a precious word if God thought it well to say it five times over! Second, such repetition also implies our slowness to believe it; by nature our evil hearts are inclined in the opposite direction. Though our text affirms so emphatically that the Christian’s chastisements proceed from God’s love, we are ever ready to attribute them to His harshness. It is really very humbling that the Holy Spirit should deem it necessary to repeat this statement so often.

“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” Four things are to be noted. First, the best of God’s children need chastisement—”every son.” There is no Christian but what has faults and follies which require correcting: “in many things we all offend” (James 3:2). Second, God will correct all whom He adopts into His family. However He may now let the reprobate alone in their sins, He will not ignore the failings of His people—to be suffered to go on unrebuked in wickedness is a sure sign of alienation from God. Third, in this God acts as a Father: no wise and good parent will wink at the faults of his own children: his very relation and affection to them oblige him to take notice of the same. Fourth, God’s disciplinary dealings with His sons proceed from and make manifest His love to them: it is this fact we would now particularly concentrate upon.

1. The Christian’s chastisements flow from God’s love. Not from His anger or hardness, nor from arbitrary dealings, but from God’s heart do our afflictions proceed. It is love which regulates all the ways of God in dealing with His own. It was love which elected them. The heart is not warmed when our election is traced back merely to God’s sovereign will, but our affections are stirred when we read “in love having predestinated us” (Eph. 1:4, 5). It was love which redeemed us. We do not reach the center of the atonement when we see nothing more in the Cross than a vindication of the law and a satisfaction of justice: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). It is love which regenerates or effectually calls us: “with loving kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). The new birth is not only a marvel of Divine wisdom and a miracle of Divine power, but it is also and superlatively a product of God’s affection.

In like manner it is love which ordained our trials and orders our chastisements. O Christian, never doubt the love of God. A quaint old Quaker, who was a farmer, had a weather-vane on the roof of his barn, from which stood out in clear-cut letters “God is love.” One day a preacher was being driven to the Quaker’s home; his host called attention to the vane and its text. The preacher turned and said, “I don’t like that at all: it misrepresents the Divine character—God’s love is not variable like the weather.” Said the Quaker, “Friend you have misinterpreted its significance; that text on the weather-vane is to remind me that, no matter which way the wind is blowing, no matter from which direction the storm may come, still, “God is love.”

2. The Christian’s chastisements express God’s love. Oftentimes we do not think so. As God’s children we think and act very much as we did when children naturally. When we were little and our parents insisted that we should perform a certain duty we failed to appreciate the love which had respect unto our future well-being. Or, when our parents denied us something on which we had set our hearts, we felt we were very hardly dealt with. Yet was it love which said “No” to us. So it is spiritually. The love of God not only gives, but also withholds. No doubt this is the explanation for some of our unanswered prayers: God loves us too much to give what would not really be for our profit. The duties insisted upon, the rebukes given, the things withheld, are all expressions of His faithful love.

Chastisements manifest God’s care of us. He does not regard us with unconcern and neglect, as men usually do their illegitimate children, but He has a true parent’s solicitation for us: “Like as a father pitieth his children so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). “And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:3). There are several important sermons wrapped up in that verse, but we have not the space here to even outline them. God brings into the wilderness that we may be drawn nearer Himself. He dries up cisterns that we may seek and enjoy the Fountain. He destroys our nest down here that our affection may be set upon things above.

3. The Christian’s chastisements magnify God’s love. Our very trials make manifest the fullness and reveal the perfections of God’s love. What a word is that in Lamentations 3:33; “He doth not afflict willingly”! If God consulted only His own pleasure, He would not afflict us at all: it is for our profit that He “scourges.” Ever remember that the great High Priest Himself is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities”; yet, notwithstanding, He employs the rod! God is love, and nothing is so sensitive as love. Concerning the trials and tribulations of Israel of old, it is written, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9); yet out of love He chastens. How this manifests and magnifies the unselfishness of God’s love!

Here, then is the Christian supplied with an effectual shield to turn aside the fiery darts of the wicked one. As we said at the beginning, Satan ever seeks to take advantage of our trials: like the fiend that he is, he makes his fiercest assaults when we are most cast down. Thus it was that he attacked Job—”Curse God and die.” And thus some of us have found it. Did he not, in the hour of suffering and sorrow, seek to remind you that when you had become increasingly diligent in seeking to please and glorify God, the darkest clouds of adversity followed; and say, How unjust God is; what a miserable reward for your devotion and zeal! Here is your recourse, fellow-Christian: say to the Devil, “It is written, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’ “

Again; if Satan cannot succeed in traducing the character of God and cause us to doubt His goodness and question His love, then he will assail our assurance. The Devil is most persevering: if a frontal attack falls, then he will make one from the rear. He will assault your assurance of sonship: he will whisper “You are no child of His: look at your condition, consider your circumstances, contrast those of other Christians. You cannot be an object of God’s favor; you are deceiving yourself; your profession is an empty one. If you were God’s child, He would treat you very differently. Such privations, such losses, such pains, show that you cannot be one of His.” But say to him, “It is written, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’”

Let our final thought be upon the last word of our text: “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” The one whom God scourges is not rejected, but “received”—received up into glory, welcomed in His House above. First the cross, then the crown, is God’s unchanging order. This was vividly illustrated in the history of the children of Israel: God “chose them in the furnace of affliction,” and many and bitter were their trials ere they reached the promised land. So it is with us. First the wilderness, then Canaan; first the scourging, and then the “receiving.” May we keep ourselves more and more in the love of God.

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:7-9

Commentary on Hebrews 12:7-9

By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Divine Chastisement

(Hebrews 12:7, 8)

The all-important matter in connection with Divine chastenings, so far as the Christian is concerned, is the spirit in which he receives them. Whether or not we “profit” from them, turns entirely on the exercises of our minds and hearts under them. The advantages or disadvantages which outward things bring to us, is to be measured by the effects they produce in us. Material blessings become curses if our souls are not the gainers thereby, while material losses prove benedictions if our spiritual graces are enriched therefrom. The difference between our spiritual impoverishment or our spiritual enrichment from the varied experiences of this life, will very largely be determined by our heart-attitude toward them, the spirit in which they are encountered, and our subsequent conduct under them. It is all summed up in that word “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).

As the careful reader passes from verse to verse of Hebrews 12:3-11, he will observe how the Holy Spirit has repeatedly stressed this particular point, namely, the spirit in which God’s chastisements are to be received. First, the tried and troubled saint is bidden to consider Him who was called upon to pass through a far rougher and deeper sea of suffering than any which His followers encounter, and this contemplation of Him is urged “lest we be wearied and faint in our minds” (verse 3.). Second, we are bidden to “despise not” the chastenings of the Lord, “nor faint” when we are rebuked of Him (verse 5). Third, our Christian duty is to “endure” chastening as becometh the sons of God (verse 7). Fourth, it is pointed out that since we gave reverence to our earthly fathers when they corrected us, much more should we “rather be in subjection” unto our heavenly Father (verse 9). Finally, we learn there will only be the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” issuing from our afflictions, if we are duly “exercised thereby” (verse 11).

In the previous articles we have sought to point out some of the principal considerations which should help the believer to receive God’s chastisements in a meet and becoming spirit. We have considered the blessed example left us by our Captain: may we who have enlisted under His banner diligently follow the same. We have seen that, however severe may be our trials, they are by no means extreme: we have not yet “resisted unto blood”—martyrdom has not overtaken us, as it did many who preceded us: shall we succumb to the showers, when they defied the fiercest storms! We have dwelt upon the needs-be for Divine reproof and correction. We have pointed out the blessed distinction there is between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement. We have contemplated the source from which all proceeds, namely, the love of our Father. We have shown the imperative necessity for the exercise of faith, if the heart is to be kept in peace while the rod is upon us.

“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (verses 7, 8). In these verses another consideration is presented for the comfort of those whom God is chastening. That of which we are here reminded is, that, when the Christian comports himself properly under Divine correction, he gives proof of his Divine sonship. If he endure them in a manner becoming to his profession, he supplies evidence of his Divine adoption. Blessed indeed is this, an unanswerable reply to Satan’s evil insinuation: so far from the disciplinary afflictions which the believer encounters showing that God loves him not, they afford a golden opportunity for him to exercise and display his unquestioning love of the Father. If we undergo chastisements with patience and perseverance, then do we make manifest, both to ourselves and to others, the genuineness of our profession.

In the verses which are now before us the apostle draws an inference from and makes a particular application of what had been previously affirmed, thereby confirming the exhortation. There are three things therein to be particularly noted. First, the duty which has been enjoined: Divine chastisements are to be “endured” by us: that which is included and involved by that term we shall seek to show in what follows. Second, the great benefit which is gained by a proper endurance of those chastisements: evidence is thereby obtained that God is dealing with us as “sons:” not as enemies whom He hates, but as dear children whom He loves. Third, a solemn contrast is then drawn, calculated to unmask hypocrites and expose empty professors: those who are without Divine chastisement are not sons at all, but “bastards”—claiming the Church for their mother, yet having not God for their Father: what is signified thereby will appear in the sequel.

“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons.” This statement supplements what was before us in verse 5. Both of them speak of the spirit in which chastisements are to be received by the Christian, only with this difference: verse 5 gives the negative side, verse 7 the positive. On the one hand, we are not to “despise” or “faint” under them; on the other hand, they are to be “endured.” It has become an English proverb that “what cannot be cured must be endured,” which is but another way of saying that we must grit our teeth and make the best of a bad job. It scarcely needs pointing out that the Holy Spirit has not used the term here in its lowest and carnal sense, but rather in its noblest and spiritual signification.

In order to ascertain the force and scope of any word which is used in Holy Scripture neither its acceptation in ordinary speech nor its dictionary etymology is to be consulted; instead, a concordance must be used, so as to find out how it is actually employed on the sacred page. In the case now before us, we do not have far to seek, for in the immediate context it is found in a connection where it cannot be misunderstood. In verse 2 we read that the Savior “endured the cross,” and in verse 3 that He “endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” It was in the highest and noblest sense that Christ “endured” His sufferings: He remained steadfast under the sorest trials, forsaking not the path of duty. He meekly and heroically bore the acutest afflictions without murmuring against or fainting under them. How, then, is the Christian to conduct himself in the fires? We subjoin a sevenfold answer.

First, the Christian is to “endure” chastisement inquiringly. While it be true that all chastisement is not the consequence of personal disobedience or sinful conduct, yet much of it is so, and therefore it is always the part of wisdom for us to seek for the why of it. There is a cause for every effect, and a reason for all God’s dealings. The Lord does not act capriciously, nor does He afflict willingly (Lam. 3:33). Every time the Father’s rod fails upon us it is a call to self-examination, for pondering the path of our feet, for heeding that repeated word in Haggai “Consider your ways.” It is our bounden duty to search ourselves and seek to discover the reason of God’s displeasure. This may not be a pleasant exercise, and if we are honest with ourselves it is likely to occasion us much concern and sorrow; nevertheless, a broken and contrite heart is never despised by the One with whom we have to do.

Alas, only too often this self-examination and inquiring into the cause of our affliction is quite neglected, relief therefrom being the uppermost thought in the sufferer’s mind. There is a most solemn warning upon this point in 2 Chronicles 16:12, 13, “And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great; yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but the physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers.” How many professing Christians do likewise today. As soon as sickness strikes them, their first thought and desire is not that the affliction may be sanctified unto their souls, but how quickly their bodies may be relieved. We do not fully agree with some brethren who affirm that the Christian ought never to call in a doctor, and that the whole medical fraternity is of the Devil—in such case the Holy Spirit had never denominated Luke “the beloved physician,” nor had Christ said the sick “need” a physician. On the other hand, it is unmistakably evident that physical healing is not the first need of an ailing saint.

Second, the Christian is to “endure” chastisement prayerfully. If our inquiry is to be prosecuted successfully, then we are in urgent need of Divine assistance. Those who rely upon their own judgment are certain to err. As our hearts are exercised as to the cause of the chastening, we need to seek earnestly unto God, for it is only in His light that we “see light” (Ps. 36:9). It is not sufficient to examine ourselves: we must request the Divine physician to diagnose our case, saying “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23, 24). Nevertheless, let it be pointed out that such a request cannot be presented sincerely unless we have personally endeavored to thoroughly search ourselves and purpose to continue so doing.

Prayer was never designed to be a substitute for the personal discharge of duty: rather is it appointed as a means for procuring help therein. While it remains our duty to honestly scrutinize our hearts and inspect our ways, measuring them by the holy requirements of Scripture, yet only the immediate assistance of the Spirit will enable us to prosecute our quest with any real profit and success. Therefore we need to enter the secret place and inquire of the Lord “show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (Job 10:2). If we sincerely ask Him to make known unto us what it is in our ways He is displeased with, and for which He is now rebuking us, He will not mock us. Request of Him the hearing ear, and He will tell what is wrong. Let there be no reserve, but an honest desire to know what needs correcting, and He will show you.

Third, the Christian is to “endure” chastisement humbly. When the Lord has responded to your request and has made known the cause of His chastening, see to it that you quarrel not with Him. If there be any feeling that the scourging is heavier than you deserve, the thought must be promptly rejected. “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment (or chastisement) of his sins?” (Lam. 3:39). If we take issue with the Most High, we shall only be made to smart the more for our pains. Rather must we seek grace to heed that word, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God” (1 Pet. 5:6). Ask Him to quicken conscience, shine into your heart, and bring to light the hidden things of darkness, so that you may perceive your inward sins as well as your outward. And then will you exclaim, “I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75).

Fourth, the Christian is to “endure” chastisement patiently. Probably that is the prime thought in our text: steadfastness, a resolute continuance in the path of duty, an abiding service of God with all our hearts, notwithstanding the present trial, is what we are called unto. But Satan whispers, “What is the use? you have endeavored, earnestly, to please the Lord, and how is He rewarding you? You cannot satisfy Him: the more you give, the more He demands; He is a hard and tyrannical Master.” Such vile suggestions must be put from us as the malicious lies of him who hates God and seeks to encompass our destruction. God has only your good in view when the rod is laid upon you. Just as the grass needs to be mown to preserve its freshness, as the vine has to be pruned to ensure its fruitfulness, as friction is necessary to produce electric power, as fire alone will consume the dross, even so the discipline of trial is indispensable for the education of the Christian.

“Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9). Keep before you the example of Christ: He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, yet before His shearers He was “dumb.” He never fretted or murmured, and we are to “follow His steps.” “Let patience have her perfect work” (James 1:4). For this we have to be much in prayer; for this we need the strengthening help of the Holy Spirit. God tells us that chastisement is not “joyous” but “grievous”: if it were not, it would not be “chastening.” But He also assures us that “afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11). Lay hold of that word “afterward”: anticipate the happy sequel, and in the comfort thereof continue pressing forward along the path of duty. “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

Fifth, the Christian is to “endure” chastisement believingly. This was how Job endured his: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Heb. 1:21). Ah, he looked behind all secondary causes, and perceived that above the Sabeans and Chaldeans was Jehovah Himself. But is it not at this point we most often fail? Only too frequently we see only the injustice of men, the malice of the world, the enmity of Satan, in our trials: that is walking by sight. Faith brings God into the scene. “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13). It is an adage of the world that “Seeing is believing:” but in the spiritual realm, the order is reversed: there we must “believe” in order to “see.” And what is it which the saint most desires to “see”? Why, “the goodness of the Lord,” for unless he sees that, he “faints.” And how does faith see “the goodness of the Lord” in chastisements? By viewing them as proceeding from God’s love, as ordered by His wisdom, and as designed for our profit.

As the bee sucks honey out of the bitter herb, so faith may extract much good from afflictions. Faith can turn water into wine, and make bread out of stones. Unbelief gives up in the hour of trial and sinks in despair; but faith keeps the head above water and hopefully looks for deliverance. Human reason may not be able to understand the mysterious ways of God, but faith knows that the sorest disappointments and the heaviest losses are among the “all things” which work together for our good. Carnal friends may tell us that it is useless to strive any longer; but faith says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). What a wonderful promise is that in Psalm 91:15, “I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him.” Ah, but faith alone can feel that Presence, and faith alone can enjoy now the assured deliverance. It was because of the joy set before Him (by the exercise of faith) that Christ “endured the cross,” and only as we view God’s precious promises will we patiently endure our cross.

Sixth, the Christian is to “endure” chastisement hopefully. Though quite distinct, the line of demarcation between faith and hope is not a very broad one, and in some of the things said above we have rather anticipated what belongs to this particular point. “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8:24, 25). This passage clearly intimates that “hope” relates to the future. “Hope” in Scripture is far more than a warrantless wish: it is a firm conviction and a comforting expectation of a future good. Now inasmuch as chastisement, patiently and believingly endured, is certain to issue in blessing, hope is to be exercised. “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10): that is the language of confident expectation.

While it be true that faith supports the heart under trial, it is equally a fact—though less recognized—that hope buoys it up. When the wings of hope are spread, the soul is able to soar above the present distress, and inhale the invigorating air of future bliss. “For our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:17, 18): that also is the language of joyous anticipation. No matter how dark may the clouds which now cover thy horizon, ere long the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. Then seek to walk in the steps of our father Abraham, “who against hope, believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18).

Seventh, the Christian is to “endure” chastisement thankfully. Be grateful, my despondent brother, that the great God cares so much for a worm of the earth as to be at such pains in your spiritual education. O what a marvel that the Maker of heaven and earth should go to so much trouble in His son-training of us! Fail not, then, to thank Him for His goodness, His faithfulness, His patience, toward thee. “We are chastened of the Lord (now) that we should not be condemned with the world” in the day to come (1 Cor. 11:32): what cause for praise is this! If the Lord Jesus, on the awful night of His betrayal, “sang a hymn” (Matthew 26:30), how much more should we, under our infinitely lighter sorrows, sound forth the praises of our God. May Divine grace enable both writer and reader to “endure chastening” in this sevenfold spirit, and then will God be glorified and we advantaged.

“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons.” This does not mean that upon our discharge of the duty enjoined God will act toward us “as with sons”; for this He does in the chastisements themselves, as the apostle has clearly shown. No, rather, the force of these words is, If ye endure chastening, then you have the evidence in yourselves that God deals with you as sons. In other words, the more I am enabled to conduct myself under troubles as becometh a child of God, the clearer is the proof of my Divine adoption. The new birth is known by its fruits, and the more my spiritual graces are exercised under testing, the more do I make manifest my regeneration. Furthermore, the clearer the evidence of my regeneration, the clearer do I perceive the dealings of a Father toward me in His discipline.

The patient endurance of chastenings is not only of great price in the sight of God, but is of inestimable value unto the souls of them that believe. While it be true that the sevenfold description we have given above depicts not the spirit in which all Christians do receive chastening, but rather the spirit in which they ought to receive it, and that all coming short thereof is to be mourned and confessed before God; nevertheless, it remains that no truly born-again person continues to either utterly “despise” the rod or completely “faint” beneath it. No, herein lies a fundamental difference between the good-ground hearer and the stony-ground one: of the former it is written, “The righteous also shall hold on his way” (Job. 17:9); of the latter, it is recorded, “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, immediately he is offended” (Matthew 13:21).

A mere suffering of things calamitous is not, in itself, any evidence of our acceptance with God. Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards, so that afflictions or chastisements are no pledges of our adoption; but if we “endure” them with any measure of real faith, submission and perseverance, so that we “faint not” under them—abandon not the Faith or entirely cease seeking to serve the Lord—then do we demonstrate our Divine sonship. So too it is the proper frame of our minds and the due exercise of our hearts which lets in a sense of God’s gracious design toward us in His chastenings. The Greek word for “dealeth with us as with sons” is very blessed: literally it signifies “he offereth Himself unto us:” He proposeth Himself not as an enemy, but as a Friend; not as toward strangers, but as toward His own beloved children.

“But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (verse 8). These words present the reverse side of the argument established in the preceding verse: since it be true, both in the natural and in the spiritual realm, that disciplinary dealing is inseparable from the relation between fathers and sons, so that an evidence of adoption is to be clearly inferred therefrom, it necessarily follows that those who are “without chastisement” are not children at all. What we have here is a testing and discriminative rule, which it behoves each of us to measure himself by. That we may not err therein, let us attend to its several terms.

When the apostle says, “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers,” it is obvious that his words are not to be taken in their widest latitude: the word “all” refers not to all men, but to the “sons” of whom he is speaking. In like manner, “chastisement” is not here to be taken for everything that is grievous and afflictive, for none entirely escape trouble in this life. But comparatively speaking, there are those who are largely exempt: such the Psalmist referred to when he said, “For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men” (Ps. 73:4, 5). No, it is God’s disciplinary dealings which the apostle is speaking of, corrective instruction which promotes holiness. There are many professors who, whatever trials they may experience, are without any Divine chastisement for their good.

Those who are “without chastisement” are but “bastards.” It is common knowledge that bastards are despised and neglected—though unjustly so—by those who illegitimately begot them: they are not the objects of that love and care as those begotten in wedlock. This solemn fact has its counterpart in the religious realm. There is a large class who are destitute of Divine chastisements, for they give no evidence that they receive them, endure them, or improve them. There is a yet more solemn meaning in this word: under the law “bastards” had no right of inheritance: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:2): No cross, no crown: to be without God’s disciplinary chastenings now, means that we must be excluded from His presence hereafter. Here, then, is a further reason why the Christian should be contented with his present lot: the Father’s rod upon him now evidences his title unto the Inheritance in the day to come.

Divine Chastisement

(Hebrews 12:9)

The apostle Paul did not, like so many of our moderns, hurry through a subject and dismiss an unpleasant theme with a brief sentence or two. No, he could say truthfully, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.” His chief concern was not to please, but to help his hearers and readers. Well did he know the tendency of the heart to turn away quickly from what is searching and humbling, unto that which is more attractive and consoling. But so far from acceding to this spirit, he devoted as much attention unto exhortation as instruction, unto reproving as comforting, unto duties as expounding promises; while the latter was given its due place the former was not neglected. It behooves each servant of God to study the methods of the apostles, and seek wisdom and grace to emulate their practice; only thus will they preserve the balance of Truth, and be delivered from “handling the Word deceitfully” (2 Cor. 4:2).

Some years ago, when the editor was preaching a series of sermons on Hebrews 12:3-11, several members of the congregation intimated they were growing weary of hearing so much upon the subject of Divine chastisement. Alas, the very ones who chafed so much at hearing about God’s rod, have since been smitten the most severely by it. Should any of our present readers feel the same way about the writer’s treatment of this same passage, he would lovingly warn them that, though these articles may seem gloomy and irksome while prosperity be smiling upon them, nevertheless they will be well advised to “hearken and hear for the time to come” (Isa. 42:23). The sun will not always be shining upon you, dear reader, and if you now store these thoughts up in your memory, they may stand you in good stead when your sky becomes overcast.

Sooner or later, this portion of Holy Writ will apply very pertinently unto each of our cases. God “scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” None of the followers of “The Man of sorrows” are exempted from sorrow. It has been truly said that “God had one Son without sin, but none without suffering.” So much depends upon how we “endure” suffering: the spirit in which it be received, the graces which are exercised by it, and the improvement which we make of it. Our attitude toward God, and the response which we make unto His disciplinary dealings with us, means that we shall either honor or dishonor Him, and suffer loss or reap gain therefrom. Manifold are our obligations to comport ourselves becomingly when God is pleased to scourge us, and many and varied are the motives and arguments which the Spirit, through the apostle, here presents to us for this end.

In the verse which is now to be before us a further reason is given showing the need of the Christian’s duty to meekly bear God’s chastenings. First, the apostle had reminded the saints of the teaching of Scripture, verse 5: how significant that he began with that! Second, he had comforted them with the assurance that the rod is wielded not by wrath, but in tender solicitude, verse 6. Third, he affirmed that God chastens all His children without exception, bastards only escaping, verses 7, 8. Now he reminds us that we had natural parents who corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Our earthly fathers had the right, because of their relationship, to discipline us, and we acquiesced. If, then, it was right and meet for us to submit to their corrections, how much more ought we to be in subjection unto our heavenly Father when He reproves us.

“Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (verse 9). The opening “Furthermore” is really humbling and searching. One would think sufficient had been said in the previous verses to make us be submissive under and thankful for the tender discipline of our God. Is it not enough to be told that the Scriptures teach us to expect chastisements, and exhort us not to despise them? Is it not sufficient to be assured that these chastisements proceed from the very heart of our Father, being appointed and regulated by His love? No, a “furthermore” is needed by us! The Holy Spirit deigns to supply further reasons for bringing our unruly hearts into subjection. This should indeed humble us, for the implication is clear that we are slow to heed and bow beneath the rod. Yea, is it not sadly true that the older we become, the more need there is for our being chastened?

The writer has been impressed by the fact, both in his study of the Word and his observation of fellow-Christians, that, as a general rule, God uses the rod very little and very lightly upon the babes and younger members of His family, but that He employs it more frequently and severely on mature Christians. We have often heard older saints warning younger brethren and sisters of their great danger, yet it is striking to observe that Scripture records not a single instance of a young saint disgracing his profession. Recall the histories of young Joseph, the Hebrew maid in Naaman’s household, David as a stripling engaging Goliath, Daniel’s early days, and his three youthful companions in the furnace; and it will be found that all of them quitted themselves nobly. On the other hand, there are numerous examples where men in middle life and of grey hairs grievously dishonored their Lord.

It is true that young Christians are feeblest, and with rare exceptions, they know it; and therefore does God manifest His grace and power by upholding them: it is the “lambs” which He carries in His arms! But some older Christians seem far less conscious of their danger, and so God often suffers them to have a fall, that He may stain the pride of their self-glory, and that others may see it is nothing in the flesh—standing, rank, age, or attainments—which insures our safety; but that He upholds the humble and casts down the proud. David did not fall into his great sin till he had reached the prime of life. Lot did not transgress most grossly till he was an old man. Isaac seems to have become a glutton in his old age, and was as a vessel no longer “meet for the Master’s use,” which rusted out rather than wore out. It was after a life of walking with God, and building the ark, that Noah disgraced himself. The worst sin of Moses was committed not at the beginning but at the end of the wilderness journey. Hezekiah became puffed up with pride near the sunset of his life. What warnings are these!

God thus shows us there is no protection in years. Yea, added years seem to call for increased chastenings. Often there is more grumbling and complaining among the aged pilgrims than the younger ones: it is true their nerves can stand less, but God’s grace is sufficient for worn-out nerves. Often there is more occupation with self and circumstances among the fathers and mothers in Israel, and less talking of Christ and His wondrous love, than there is among the babes. Yes, there is, much need for all of us to heed the opening “furthermore” of our text. Every physician will tell us there are some diseases which become more troublesome in middle life, and others which are incident to old age. The same is true of different forms of sinning. If we are more liable to certain sins in our youth, we are in greater danger of others in advanced years. Undoubtedly it is the case that the older we get, the more need there is to heed this “furthermore” which prefaces the call of our being in subjection to the Father of spirits. If we do not need more grace, certain it is that we need as much grace, when we are grown old as while we are growing up.

The aged meet with as many temptations as do young Christians. They are tempted to live in the past, rather than in the future. They are tempted to take things easier, spiritually as well as temporally, so that it has to be said of some “ye did run well.” O to be like Paul “the aged,” who was in full harness to the end. They are tempted to be unduly occupied with their increasing infirmities; but is it not written “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities”! Yet, because this is affirmed, we must not think there is no longer need to earnestly seek His help. This comforting word is given in order that we should frequently and confidently pray for this very thing. If it were not recorded, we might doubt His readiness to do so, and wonder if we were asking “according to His will.” Because it is recorded, when feeling our “infirmities” press most heavily upon us, let us cry, “O Holy Spirit of God, do as Thou hast said, and help us.”

In this connection let us remind ourselves of that verse, “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things: so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103:5) The eagle is a bird renowned for its longevity, often living to be more than a hundred years old. The eagle is also the high-soaring bird, building its nest on the mountain summit. But how is the eagle’s youth renewed? By a new crop of feathers, by the rejuvenation of its wings. And that is precisely what some middle-aged and elderly Christians need: the rejuvenation of their spiritual wings—the wings of faith, of hope, of zeal, of love for souls, of devotedness to Christ. So many leave their first love, lose the joy of their espousals, and instead of setting before younger Christians a bright example of trustfulness and cheerfulness, they often discourage by gloominess and slothfulness. Thus God’s chastenings increase in severity and frequency!

Dear friend, instead of saying, “The days of my usefulness are over,” rather reason, The night cometh when no man can work; therefore I must make the most of my opportunities while it is yet called day. For your encouragement let it be stated that the most active worker in a church of which the editor was pastor was seventy-seven years old when he went there, and during his stay of three and a half years she did more for the Lord, and was a greater stimulus to him, than any other member of that church. She lived another eight years, and they were, to the very end, filled with devoted service to Christ. We believe that the Lord will yet say of her, as of another woman, “She hath done what she could.” O brethren and sisters, especially you who are feeling the weight of years, heed that word, “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season, we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).

“Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us and we gave them reverence.” It is the duty of children to give the reverence of obedience unto the just commands of their parents, and the reverence of submission to their correction when disobedient. As parents have a charge from God to minister correction to their children when it is due—and not spoil them unto their ruin—so children have a command from God to receive parental reproof in a proper spirit, and not to be discontented, stubborn, or rebellious. For a child to be insubordinate under correction, evidences a double fault; the very correction shows a fault has been committed, and insubordination under correction is only adding wrong to wrong. “We gave them reverence,” records the attitude of dutiful children toward their sires: they neither ran away from home in a huff, nor became so discouraged as to quit the path of duty.

From this law of the human home, the apostle points out the humble and submissive conduct which is due unto God when He disciplines His children: “Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits?” The “much rather” points a contrast suggested by the analogy: that contrast is at least fourfold. First, the former chastening proceeded from those who were our fathers according to the flesh; the other is given by Him who is our heavenly Father. Second, the one was sometimes administered in imperfect knowledge and irritable temper; the other comes from unerring wisdom and untiring love. Third, the one was during but a brief period, when we were children; the other continues throughout the whole of our Christian life. Fourth, the one was designed for our temporal good; the other has in view our spiritual and eternal welfare. Then how much more should we readily submit unto the latter.

“Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits?” By nature we are not in subjection. We are born into this world filled with the spirit of insubordination: as the descendants of our rebellious first parents, we inherit their evil nature. “Man is born like a wild ass’s colt” (Job 11:12). This is very unpalatable and humbling, but nevertheless it is true. As Isaiah 53:6 tells us, “we have turned every one to his own way,” and that is one of opposition to the revealed will of God. Even at conversion this wild and rebellious nature is not eradicated. A new nature is given, but the old one lusts against it. It is because of this that discipline and chastisement are needed by us, and the great design of these is to bring us into subjection unto the Father of spirits. To be “in subjection unto the father” is a phrase of extensive import, and it is well that we should understand its various significations.

1. It denotes an acquiescence in God’s sovereign right to do with us as He pleases. “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth: because thou didst it” (Ps. 39:9). It is the duty of saints to be mute under the rod and silent beneath the sharpest afflictions. But this is only possible as we see the hand of God in them. If His hand be not seen in the trial, the heart will do nothing but fret and fume. “And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so? And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: How much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him” (2 Sam. 16:10, 11). What an example of complete submission to the sovereign will of the Most High was this! David knew that Shimei could not curse him without God’s permission.

“This will set my heart at rest,

What my God appoints is best.”

But with rare exceptions many chastenings are needed to bring us to this place, and to keep us there.

2. It implies a renunciation of self-will. To be in subjection unto the Father presupposes a surrendering and resigning of ourselves to Him. A blessed illustration of this is found in Leviticus 10:1-3, “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.” Consider the circumstances. Aaron’s two sons, most probably intoxicated at the time, were suddenly cut off by Divine judgment. Their father had no warning to prepare him for this trial; yet he “held his peace!” O quarrel not against Jehovah: be clay in the hands of the Potter: take Christ’s yoke upon you, and learn of Him who was “meek and lowly in heart.”

3. It signifies an acknowledgment of God’s righteousness and wisdom in all His dealings with us. We must vindicate God. This is what the Psalmist did: “I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75). Let us see to it that Wisdom is ever justified by her children: let our confession of her be, “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgments” (Ps. 119:137). Whatever be sent, we must vindicate the Sender of all things: the Judge of all the earth cannot do wrong. Stifle, then, the rebellious murmur, What have I done to deserve such treatment by God? and say with the Psalmist, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). Why, my reader, if God dealt with us only according to the strict rule of His justice, we had been in Hell long ago: “If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark (“impute”) iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Ps. 130:3).

The Babylonian captivity was the severest affliction which God ever brought upon His earthly people during O.T. times, yet even then a renewed heart acknowledged God’s righteousness in it: “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before Thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all Thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day. Howbeit Thou art just in all that is brought upon us: for Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:32, 33). God’s enemies may talk of His injustice; but let His children proclaim His righteousness. Because God is good, He can do nothing but what is right and good.

4. It includes a recognition of His care and a sense of His love. There is a sulking submission, and there is a cheerful submission. There is a fatalistic submission which takes this attitude—this is inevitable, so I must bow to it; and there is a thankful submission, receiving with gratitude whatever God may be pleased to send us. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71). The Psalmist viewed his chastisements with the eye of faith, and doing so he perceived the love behind them. Remember that when God brings His people into the wilderness it is that they may learn more of His sufficiency, and that when He casts them into the furnace, it is that they may enjoy more of His presence.

5. It involves an active performance of His will. True submission unto the “Father of spirits” is something more than a passive thing. The other meanings of this expression which we have considered above are more or less of a negative character, but there is a positive and active side to it as well, and it is important that this should be recognized by us. To be “in subjection” to God also means that we are to walk in His precepts and run in the way of His commandments. Negatively, we are not to be murmuring rebels; positively, we are to be obedient children. We are required to be submissive unto God’s Word, so that our thoughts are formed and our ways regulated by it. There is not only a suffering of God’s will, but a doing of it—an actual performance of duty. When we utter that petition in the prayer which the Savior has given us, “Thy will be done,” something more is meant than a pious acquiescence unto the pleasure of the Almighty: it also signifies, may Thy will be performed by me. Subjection “unto the Father of spirits,” then, is the practical owning of His Lordship.

Two reasons for such subjection are suggested in our text. First, because the One with whom we have to do is our Father. O how profoundly thankful we should be that the Lord God stands revealed to us as the “Father”—our Father, because the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and He rendered perfect obedience unto Him. It is but right and meet that children should honor their parents by being in complete subjection to them: not to do so is to ignore their relationship, despise their authority, and slight their love. How much more ought we to be in subjection unto our heavenly Father: there is nothing tyrannical about Him: His commandments are not grievous: He has only our good at heart. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1), then let us earnestly endeavor to express our gratitude by dutifully walking before Him as obedient children, and no matter how mysterious may be His dealings with us, say with the Savior, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

The particular title of God found in our text calls for a brief comment. It is placed in antithesis from “fathers of our flesh,” which has reference to their begetting of our bodies. True, our bodies also are a real creation on the part of God, yet in connection therewith He is pleased to use human instrumentalities. But in connection with the immaterial part of our beings, God is the immediate and alone Creator of them. As the renowned Owen said, “The soul is immediately created and infused; having no other father but God Himself,” and rightly did that eminent theologian add, “This is the fundamental reason of our perfect subjection unto God in all afflictions, namely, that our very souls are His, the immediate product of His Divine power, and under his rule alone. May He not do as He wills with His own?” The expression “Father of spirits,” refutes, then, the error of traducianists, who suppose that the soul, equally with the body, is transmitted by our parents. In Numbers 16:22 He is called “the God of the spirits of all flesh” which refers to all men naturally; while the “Father of spirits” in our text includes the new nature in the regenerate.

The second reason for our subjection to the Father is, because this is the secret of true happiness, which is pointed out in the final words of our text “and live.” The first meaning of those words is, “and be happy.” This is clear from Deuteronomy 5:33, “Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess:” observe the words “prolong your days” are added to “that ye may live,” which obviously signifies “that ye may be happy”—compare Exodus 10:17, where Pharaoh called the miseries of the plagues “this death.” Life ceases to be life when we are wretched. It is the making of God’s will our haven, which secures the true resting-place for the heart. The rebellious are fretful and miserable, but “great peace have they which love Thy law and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165). “Take My yoke upon you,” said Christ, “and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Alas, the majority of professing Christians are so little in subjection to God, they have just enough religion to make them miserable.

“Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?” No doubt words of this verse point these to a designed contrast from Deuteronomy 21:18-21, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place . . . And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die.” “The increase of spiritual life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, is that whereunto they (the words “and live”) tend” (John Owen).