An Appeal to Heed the Old Testament Examples, Aided by God's Chastisement. Heb. 12, 1-13.

The example of the believers of old and of Christ: V.1. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, v.2. 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. V.3. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. On the basis of the example of faith as set before us in the believers of the Old Testament, the appeal of the author to be like-minded rests: Wherefore also we, having so great a cloud of witnesses encompassing us, let us likewise lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that clings to us, and through patience let us run the race set before us. Though the sacred writer, as he himself states, has cited but a few of the many cases of strong faith in the Old Testament history, yet even these are shining examples which envelop us like a bright cloud. It is a vast multitude of witnesses that have testified to the worth of faith, and wherever we may turn, we find their encouraging example. And just as they pursued their course unflinchingly and persistently till they reached their goal, so we also should be found running forward toward the heavenly object of our striving with steadfast, courageous patience. The course must be run, and it requires the very strongest endurance. We must accept the appointed course, cheerfully recognize the difficulties that beset it, and prepare our hearts and minds accordingly. Like an athlete that trains for a race with the greatest care, lest he bear even an ounce of flesh too much, so must we lay aside every encumbrance of this life, every weight, every burden that tends to hold us back in the appointed course. The greatest of these encumbrances is sin, our old evil nature, for this surrounds us, it clings to us and hinders the free use of our spiritual members, just as a long and heavy mantle which would always be in the way of an athlete running a race. Our constant endeavor, therefore, must be that we renounce this sin daily, shake off, throw aside its obstructing power.

Our success in this most necessary activity, as we must renew it daily, by daily contrition and repentance, depends upon one condition: Having our eyes fixed on the Leader and Perfecter of faith, Jesus, who, in consideration of the joy which was set before Him endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. An athlete cannot afford to have his gaze toward the goal drawn aside to the consideration of various other interests. Even so we Christians cannot afford to have distractions draw our steadfast gaze away from Jesus, who beckons us on toward salvation. For it was He that not only set us an example of unwavering faith, but also leads us in the paths of perfect trust in God; it is He in whom faith finds its perfect embodiment. He that began the good work of conversion and sanctification in us will also perfect it until the day of the final revelation of glory. His example consists in this, that He willingly endured the cross, the entire burden of the Passion culminating in His crucifixion, at the same time disregarding the shame and disgrace which men were heaping upon Him. For during all this time Jesus kept before Him the prize, the eternal joy and bliss which would be His on the completion of His task, Phil. 2, 9. And He received His reward; He was, also according to His human nature, elevated to the position of honor and glory at the right hand of God. Having held this position by virtue of His divine nature from eternity, He now holds it also by virtue of His human nature. Of His example we must never lose sight.

Just why the example of Jesus is able to serve us so well in the course which is appointed to us is also shown: For consider (your position) by comparing Him who steadfastly endured at the hands of sinners such terrible contradiction against Himself, lest you grow weary, fainting in your souls. The author wants us to consider carefully, to make our comparison in view of the example of Christ, this being the highest inducement which he has to offer. The force of the appeal lies in this, that Christ during His whole life suffered with the repudiation of His claims. Coming to men with the full love and mercy of His heavenly Father, He told them time and again that He was the promised Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. But He met only with derision, with blasphemous denial, the few disciples excepted that remained true to Him. Just as Jesus did not grow weary in His work of saving souls, so we also must not let spiritual fatigue take hold of our souls nor permit our hearts to grow faint in the great work of sanctification. His spirit should live in us and enable us to follow in His steps.

The chastening of God to assist us: V.4. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. V.5. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; v.6. for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. v.7. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? V.8. but if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. The inspired writer here adds another thought to his appeal, namely, that his readers have by no means tasted the worst form of persecution yet: Not yet unto blood have you resisted, striving against sin. The Hebrew Christians of Judea were indeed suffering to some extent, both by reason of their isolation from others and by reason of the scorn which was heaped upon them. The fact that they were striving against sin in every form, especially against that of unbelief in Christ Jesus the Messiah, brought them many enemies. But the persecution had not yet reached the point that a great many of them had suffered death in the cause of Christ, the church in Judea had not yet become a martyr church as such. They might expect still worse conditions for them to endure.

Another thought is here brought in for the consideration of the readers: And you have altogether forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons, My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, nor faint when being corrected by Him; for whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives. The Christians are here reminded that their sufferings are tokens of God’s fatherly love and care. They must never forget the exhortation and comfort which is contained in the words of the Lord, Prov. 3, 11. 12. These words are addressed to sons, to children, and that in itself is a distinction, to be called sons of God. The believers should not make light of, should not despise, the discipline of the Lord, His entire method of training and educating His children, particularly through the necessary chastising. There must be no fainting, no despondency, no failure of faith when He reproves by word or deed. For it is necessary that all the children of God be subjected to the same discipline; it is a token of God’s love, a treatment which He accords only to such as He receives into His heart and cherishes with all the wonderful love of His fatherly mercy.

The author now presents his conclusion: It is for discipline that you are enduring, as sons God is dealing with you. For what son is there whom the father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then are you bastards and not sons. This is the view which the believers should hold: their sufferings are evidence that God considers them His sons and treats them as such; they need such training in order that their sonship may be maintained. In fact, if there were a child in the house and the father would not take his chastening, disciplining, into his hand, a person might draw the inference that such a child is not a genuine son, but a bastard, one that is not accorded the same treatment as the true sons. In the same way believers, far from resenting the disciplining which God lays upon them, should rather be thankful for this evidence of their heavenly Father’s regard and interest.

The object of God’s chastening: V.9. 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? V.10. 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. V.11. Now, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. V.12. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, v.13. and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Another consideration of the argument is here introduced: Further, fathers of our flesh we had to discipline us, and we gave them reverence; should we not much rather subject ourselves to the Father of spirits and live? The conclusion is from the smaller to the greater. We Christians, with the average run of humanity, had human fathers, parents of our own flesh and blood, who had charge of our training, including the necessary chastening, which cannot be omitted without disastrous results. To these fathers we gave honor and respect according to the Fourth Commandment. But if we did so much for our earthly fathers, who were, after all, merely human, does it not follow that our attitude toward the heavenly Father, the Father of spirits, whom we worship, with whom we come in contact, in the spirit, should be one of cheerful and obedient subjection? For in doing so, aside from the fact that the duty seems so obvious, this obedient relation toward God, flowing out of faith as it does, gives us the true spiritual life.

That this thought is altogether reasonable, and should appeal to all readers at once, the author now shows: For they, indeed, for a few days disciplined us as it seemed best to them, but He for our advantage, that we may be partakers of His holiness. The truth of the comparison is obvious. The earthly fathers had charge of our training for only a short while, during the short period of childhood and youth, and the training which they gave during this time was certainly done in accordance with the ideals which they had set before them, subject nevertheless, however, to mistakes, especially as to the means employed and the degrees of severity used in various instances. But the discipline of God is without fail, always to our advantage; He never makes a mistake in the kind and in the amount of suffering which He has us endure. For it is by this training that we are brought to that degree of holiness which He desires us to possess. His chastening constantly reminds us of the duty which we owe Him, and we are thus trained in His discipleship more and more.

The author here answers an objection which some reader may make: All discipline, indeed, seems for the time to be not joy, but grief; but afterwards it yields, to those that are disciplined by it, the peaceable fruit of righteousness. The writer has throughout spoken of God’s discipline in a most enthusiastic strain, and his ardor is not dampened by the objection which will tend to arise, at least in the hearts of such as are still weak in faith, that suffering of all kinds is a most unpleasant experience. That, indeed, is true: while the discipline lasts, while God permits the suffering to strike us, it certainly is a matter of pain and not of joy. But without training, correction, wholesome restraint, strict regulations, and an occasional punishment the aim of God cannot be accomplished with regard to His children. It is therefore solely in our interest that He uses this method. The result invariably is that those who are exercised and trained by it will be able to bear such peaceable fruit of righteousness as is well-pleasing to the heavenly Father. It is through this training of the Lord that our faith is rendered pure, true, precious, that we ourselves are thoroughly prepared, strengthened, founded unto eternal salvation, 1 Pet. 1, 6-9; 5, 10; Rom. 8, 25; 5, 3-5.

This being true, the appeal may be made with full force: Wherefore lift up the listless hands and the paralyzed knees, and make the paths straight for your feet to walk in, that the lame be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed. Listless, nerveless hands and weak, paralyzed knees are not the members which should be found in true Christians, Is. 35, 3. Knowing that the Lord always has thoughts of peace with regard to them, they can rely upon His promise, which He will keep without fail, Is. 40, 29-31. Instead of walking with unsteady feet, as under the weight of a heavy load, which tends to bear him down to the ground, every Christian should let his feet go straight before him along the path of sanctification as prepared by Christ, swerving neither to the right nor to the left, Prov. 4, 26. 27; Is. 30, 21. If this is the case, then also the lame and limping, those Christian brothers that are still weak in the faith, will not be discouraged and turned quite out of the way, but will be given an opportunity of being healed of their spiritual infirmity. If the stronger believers are always firm and steadfast in all matters pertaining to sanctification and the discipleship of Christ, then their example will serve as an aid to the weaker brethren, causing them to follow the Master without doubt and without flinching until they reach the goal above, Is. 35, 5. 6.

A Warning against Apostasy on the Basis of the excellency of the New Covenant. Heb. 12, 14-29.

The warning example of Esau: V.14. Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, v.15. looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God: lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; v.16. lest there be any fornicator or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. V.17. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. From the passage in Proverbs, to which the author has just referred, Prov. 4, 26. 27, the author now takes another thought, namely, that of maintaining peaceful relations with others: Follow peace with all and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord. It seems that the characteristics of the Hebrews made them impatient of weakness, a feeling which might easily bring on alienation and lead to quarrels. But God wants His Church to be built up in peace, Rom. 12, 18; 2 Tim. 2, 22, a peace based upon the unity of faith and making for holiness in general, for true consecration to the Lord and His cause, Eph. 5, 5; Matt. 5, 8. Sanctification grows out of faith from the same seed, the Word of God, and without this holiness it is impossible to see the Lord, to be accepted by Him as His child. Only he that has accepted the vicarious sacrifice of Christ in such a spirit as to make him a partaker of the mind which lived in Christ will finally stand in the presence of the Lord and see Him face to face.

This is not a matter to be taken lightly, for the author continues: Watching lest any man fall short of the grace of God, lest some root of bitterness growing anew trouble you and thereby many be defiled. Christians must ever be on the alert, always watch carefully, lest one of their number fall away from the grace of God. The danger is always there that the one or the other may turn aside to some sin. But the believers should always be a closed company, held closely together by their faith and fellowship in Christ. That one of their number should turn aside, should miss the grace of God, must be a matter of grave concern to them all. And as they thus keep to the path together, they also guard against such pollution, such defilement, as follows the springing up in their midst of roots of bitterness. The words at this place are borrowed from Deut. 29, 18. The introduction of evil, sinful practices in their midst would be much like that of a poisonous root and plant, through whose pollution they would not only be troubled, but through which they would also be rendered unfit to approach to God and to enter into fellowship with Him. Cp. Gal. 5, 9.

In just what way this might happen the author now states: Lest there be any fornicator or a profane person, like Esau, who for a single meal sold his birthright; for you know that afterward, though he wished to inherit the blessing, he was repudiated, for he found no room for a change of mind (in his father), although he sought it earnestly with tears. Here are examples of the bitter roots, of the poisonous plants of sin and evil, as they may spring up in a Christian congregation. There may be some one that will be overcome and stricken down by the sin of fornication, against the Sixth Commandment. Or some person may be tempted and fall into the sin of profaning such things as are sacred in the eyes of God. When the rich feast of God’s grace and mercy is spread in the same congregation for one or two generations, there is always danger that some one may become surfeited and barter away his salvation for the enjoyment of sin for a season. That was the sin of Esau, who considered the right of the first-born, though it included the fact that the first-born was also the bearer of the Messianic blessing, so lightly that he sold his birthright for a single meal, for a mess of pottage, Gen. 25, 29-34. His case illustrates the danger of missed or rejected opportunities. For when Esau afterwards made an attempt to get the blessing of the first-born for himself, he did not succeed, Gen. 27, 30-40. He made a very serious effort to get the blessing which had been given to Jacob for himself, beseeching his father with tears to change his mind. But Isaac remained firm; he realized that it was the will of God that Jacob should have the blessing of the first-born and the Messianic promise and therefore refused to change his decision. “I do not say that he was not saved, but that he could not obtain the blessing which he had once lost, in spite of all tears.” 14)

The covenant of fear contrasted with that of grace: V.18. For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, v.19. and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words, which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more; v.20. (for they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart; v.21. and so terrible was the sight that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake;) v.22. but ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, v.23. to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn which are written in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, v.24. and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. Here is another reason for the entire appeal and warning as contained in this chapter, namely, the fact that grace is the compelling motive in the Christian’s life, and not fear: For you have not approached to the mountain that can be touched and burns with fire, to darkness and gloom and hurricane, and to the sound of a trumpet and to a voice sounding in words, which they that heard earnestly begged that further speech might not be added to them. The reference is evidently to the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, Ex. 19; Deut. 4. That was a solemn, a fearful occasion, for the mountain itself was burning with fire, Deut. 4, 11, and yet the rest of the country in the neighborhood was covered with a misty gloom, with a heavy darkness, while a stormwind having the proportions of a hurricane made every heart quake, Deut. 4, 11; 5, 22. To this fearsome scene was added the sound of a trumpet, in itself calculated to make even a stout heart shrink under such conditions, Ex. 19, 16. 19; 20, 18, and then the voice of words which were spoken from the top of the mountain, Ex. 20; Deut. 5, 4-22. No wonder that the children of Israel were filled with such terror that they earnestly entreated and begged Moses to arrange in some way that this fearful voice might not sound for them any more, Ex. 20, 18. 19; Deut. 5, 23-27. The very enumeration of the various phenomena gives some idea of the terrifying character of the spectacle.

How great the terror of the people was, is indicated in the following verses: For they could not bear that which had been ordered, If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, Ex. 19, 12. 13. It was a day when all hearts quaked with a fear that could not be quieted, since all nature seemed in an uproar, and the Lord Himself appeared to be their threatening enemy. So inexpressibly great was the glory and majesty of God on Mount Sinai that Moses, upon returning from the presence of God with the two tables of the Law, and finding that the people had so far forgotten themselves as to become guilty of the basest idolatry, was terrified by the very thought of God’s possible revenge upon them, and cried out: I am extremely afraid and tremble, Deut. 9, 9. 15-19. That is a picture which properly characterizes the Law with its terrible threats and curses of damnation.

Fortunate are the Christians that they are no longer under the Law, the very giving of which struck abject terror into the hearts of a whole nation: But you have drawn near to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the perfected righteous, and to the Mediator of a new covenant, Jesus, and to the blood of sprinkling, whose message is more excellent than Abel’s. The contrast between the old and the new covenant is brought out by every expression. For the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, is not an earthly, visible mountain, but a fellowship of saints, whose excellence can be but feebly indicated by attributes of human speech. Because David, the forefather of Christ, lived on Mount Zion and in the city of Jerusalem, and because the salvation of the Messiah was to take its beginning from this neighborhood, therefore the congregation and communion of saints, where God lives with His salvation in Christ, is commonly called Mount Zion, the city of God, in the prophecies, Ps. 9, 11; 76, 2; 110, 2; Is. 2, 2. 3; Micah 4, 1. 2. The ideal Zion is the place where God manifests His presence, the fullness of His grace in Christ. It is the heavenly Jerusalem, since it is not earthly and made with hands, and yet will be the final abode of all believers, Gal. 4, 26. God has His home, the throne of His mercy, in the midst of His Church, Rev. 14, 1; 21, 2; 1 Cor. 3, 16; 2 Cor. 6, 16. Into this communion the believers have entered. They are thus united with many thousands of angels in a fellowship of bliss, heaven and earth being united through the coming of Christ, Col. 1, 20; Eph. 1, 10. We belong, by faith, to the great festival assembly, to the congregation of God’s first-born children, those that have been converted to faith in the foremost First-born, the eternal Son of God. We have come to God, the Judge of all men, and are able to stand before Him in trusting confidence by virtue of the justifying faith which has been kindled in our hearts through the Gospel. We are even one great congregation with the spirits of the saints that have reached the final perfection, the last goal, the bliss of heaven, Luke 23, 43; 2 Cor. 5, 8; Phil. 1, 23. All this, however, is possible because we have come to the great Mediator of the New Testament, to Jesus, who restored mankind to the original relation of children to the heavenly Father, through His own holy, innocent blood, with which we have been sprinkled in faith. The blood of Abel may indeed act as a witness and as such have value for this life, chap. 11, 4. But the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed us from all sins, and therefore pleads before God with a voice so loud and persuasive that it secures perfect righteousness for us. Thus the inspired writer brings home to us the fact that we have come to the pleasant, merciful, saving Gospel. What a glorious privilege!

The need of reverence and godly fear: V.25. See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven, v.26. whose voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. V.27. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. V.28. Wherefore we, receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; v.29. for our God is a consuming fire. On the basis of the truths brought out in the last paragraph, of the fact that the Gospel with the fullness of God’s mercy in Christ is now preached to the world and has been given to the believers, the author launches into a final appeal: See to it that you do not try to turn from Him that speaks; for if those people did not escape who turned from Him that was uttering His oracles on earth, much less shall we, if we repudiate Him who speaks from heaven. This is a most solemn admonition, bidding the Christians by all means to heed the voice of the Lord, who is now speaking to us through His Son, through the Gospel. For if in the Old Testament they that refused to hear the Word of the Lord which He spoke here on earth, the Word of the Law, did not escape punishment, then there will be no chance whatever for the person who now, when the riches of God’s mercy are offered without stint and without condition, should refuse to hear His kind invitation. It cannot be emphasized too often or too strongly that the one sin which really condemns to everlasting damnation at the present time is the sin of unbelief, which turns from the Lord’s outstretched hand of mercy and refuses the gift of His love.

Every believer should remember: Then His voice shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. When the Lord gave His Law from Mount Sinai, the ground was shaken by mighty earthquakes, Ex. 19, 18. But that was as nothing beside another manifestation of His power which He has promised for the time of the New Testament, saying that He would shake heaven and, earth once more, Hag. 2, 7. Cp. Is. 64, 1-3; Micah 7, 15; Hag. 2 22. 23. For, as the author says: That word “once more” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken as of things that have been made, in order that those things which are not shaken may remain. Only once more does God intend to reveal Himself before the world in the splendor of His almighty majesty, on the last day of the world. On that day, when God will shake the foundations of earth and heaven, all created things will be removed, will pass away in the form which they had for this present world. Then will only that which is not shaken, namely, the kingdom of Christ, the inheritance of the Christians, abide in all eternity, 1 Pet. 1, 4; Luke 1, 33; Is. 65, 17-19; 2 Pet. 3, 13; Rev. 21, 1-5.

This being true, that the perishable things of this world must pass away: Wherefore we, receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by means of which we may acceptably serve God, with reverence and fear; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. Ours is an immovable kingdom, the kingdom of His grace and glory; in it we shall reign with Him as kings, Rev. 1, 6. By virtue of our membership in this glorious communion, the festival assembly of all angels and saints, we are assured of the grace, of the merciful love of God in Christ Jesus. In possession of this grace we can serve God in the proper manner, as it is well-pleasing to Him, with devout reverence and fear, Col. 1, 12. And let no man forget that we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for our God is a God whose wrath is a consuming fire, Deut. 4, 24, upon all those that reject His mercy and repudiate the remission of sins in Christ Jesus. Thus the author lays upon all believers the greatest obligation to live a godly life and not to let the saving faith in Jesus leave their hearts.

Summary. The sacred writer appeals to all Christians to heed the example of the Old Testament believers and of Christ and to be strengthened in holiness by the chastisement of God; he warns against apostasy, referring to the example of Esau and showing the greater excellency of the covenant of grace as compared with the covenant of fear.