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Hebrews 12

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-29

How rightly now Chapter 12 admonishes the saints of God to act by faith; for where faith is in godly exer-cise, every honorable and true responsibility will be willingly assumed, with the confidence of Divine help to enable its faithful discharge. "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of wit-nesses, 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, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of 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." This "great cloud of witnesses" are those of whom we have read in Ch. 11. Our advantage is how much greater than theirs; for they were not provided with such a host of examples of faith as we are. But faith in Christ has put us on the racecourse, where endurance is so necessary an asset. Indeed, are the features of the race not seen beautifully in Ch. 11, a host pressing on toward brighter things than the entire world could offer? A racer must lay aside every weight, not because weights are contrary to the rules of the race, but because by these he will hinder his own progress. Hence weights are not sins, but the cares of this world, occupation with things merely ma-terial, which so engage the time that the exercise of faith is hindered. But if weights are assumed, sin will more easily beset us, for the energy of faith is not present to outdistance sin's temptations. Some Christians may be content to take a very slow pace Heavenward, weighted down by present desire for some earthly advantage or comfort; and like Peter "following afar off" find themselves suddenly caught in sin's cunning trap. F. W. Grant points out that if we thought of sin as a pack of wolves at our heels, we should certainly not choose to carry heavy weights with us.

Verse 2 speaks of Jesus as "the Leader and Completer of faith" as it may be translated. Such is the blessed Object or Goal of the saint, - "looking unto Jesus." Many others have been witnesses: He is the one Leader, the perfect exemplification of faith in all His path on earth; the Completer, He Who Himself will culminate every path of faith in blessed fulfilment of all the promises of God. In Him faith will have its complete answer and reward. Indeed, this wonderful conclusion of God's coun-sels in infinite blessing, with its future joy unspeakable, was a wonderful incentive to the Lord Jesus Himself, to endure the cross, the awful judgment of God for our sins; "despising the shame," that is, thinking lightly of the contempt and persecution of men, considering it nothing in comparison to the glory that would later be revealed. How blessed an Object for our own faith! And now He sits at God's right hand, His own sufferings over, but waiting yet the fulfilment of the fruits of His great work. Is it a great thing therefore for us to patiently en-dure? The end in view is no less certain for us, with its indescribable joy.

"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." Here is the blessed antidote to all discour-agement, simply the honest consideration of the Lord Jesus. The Master had been persecuted: what else could His disciples expect? Moreover, the Master had resisted unto death all the efforts of sinful men to influence Him to surrender to sin's mastery. The Hebrews had not yet been called to go this far: would they give up for the sake of clinging to a few moments of earthly comfort? "Striving against sin" here is not the personal struggle ofRomans 7:1-25; Romans 7:1-25, the individual fighting to free himself from sinful thoughts and feelings. In this case he must learn not to fight. but submit to the power and grace of the Lord Jesus, applying the cross of Christ to all that he is in the flesh. Nor is it here the conflict ofEphesians 6:1-24; Ephesians 6:1-24, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. For that conflict is in reference to gaining and holding the truth of God in its purity and uncorruptness, against which Satan so cunningly fights. But here rather it is standing with firmness against men's persecuting efforts to entangle our souls in the same sin they prefer to serve. It is a battle, but faith is the principle that overcomes.

But another aspect of suffering is considered from verse 5 to verse 11: "And ye have forgotten the exhor-tation 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: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." If they suffered persecution from sinners, yet it was God who was allowing this means by which to train His own to conform to His own thoughts: this was "the chastening of the Lord." Blessed is that faith that looks far deeper than the surface of things, to see that every bit of trial and affliction, though it may be occasioned by the grossest wickedness of men, is under the perfect control of our God and Father, being the very thing our own souls need to form them in the pattern God has planned. A child may little understand the reasons for his father's dealings, but if the father has proven himself perfectly kind and trustworthy toward his child, then the child may have fullest confidence that those dealings are to be trusted.

Yet, let us note that this is to be with no spirit of mere lightness or unconcern: we are not to "despise the chastening of the Lord," because it is for a purpose. Nor are we, on the other hand, to "faint," that is, to become discouraged and give in to a spirit of complaint. It is God's love that is responsible for these afflictions, and every son He receives must have his share in this.

"If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasten-eth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers. then are ye bastards, and not sons." Enduring here is therefore neither despising nor rebelling, but taking it as from the hand of God. In this spirit alone can we enjoy the proper privileges of our relationship as sons of our God and Father, and reap the benefits of His dealings with us. It will be observed too in verse 11 that this "enduring" involves exercise of soul, in godly concern as to God's dealings. But if one were to find no testings of faith after professing to be a believer, it would indicate he was not a son of God at all.

"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 as seemed good to them (margin); but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness." God has Himself designed this human relationship as a type of that which is much higher, and spiritual. Correction of a child is absolutely essential for the good of the child, though this depends on the attitude of the father: whatever seems suitable to him will govern his training of the child. However, God's training is perfection itself: its object is the pure profit of the child, and no detail of it can be a mistake. Blessed indeed to be in such a hand! Only thus we learn to conform to God's own character of holiness, to honestly love what is good, and to hate evil.

"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." The chastening, as we have seen, re-fers to those outward circumstances of sorrow, trial, persecution, every element that is allowed to give dis-tress or pain to the soul. These will grieve the heart rather than cause joy, though faith is able to triumph even while the trial is present, when the eye is simply upon Christ. Indeed, in the face of persecution we are told to "rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:11-12). At least, where godly exercise has wrought its work in recognizing the hand of God in these things, the blessed result will be "the peaceable fruit of righteousness." The storm will give place to the quiet calm of solid, true blessing. God's hand must be recognized in the trial, and the soul be drawn to seek His mind concerning it, or we can expect no blessing as a result of it: we should be guilty of resisting God's goodness in designing such things in view of our greatest blessing.

"Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed." In the knowledge of God there is no room for discouragement: hands are for active work: our knees should have strength to enable us to stand with firm decision: our feet are for walking, and should have "straight paths" in order that there be no mere aimless wandering, but definite purpose. Moreover, an un-even. tortuous path would itself discourage "that which was lame." We may be guilty of discouraging others by our failure to hold fast to the straight paths of the Word of God. Certainly the straight path itself is never re-sponsible for discouragement: it would tend rather to heal; and our walking in such paths will tend to restore and heal those who falter.

"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." Peace and holiness are normal fruits of Christianity: if they are entirely ab-sent, one has not known the Lord, nor will he stand in His presence. But let the believer follow these things in wholehearted devotion. Too often also souls may divorce these things, and insist on peace while ignoring holiness, or insist on holiness while ignoring peace. The former involves a friendly tolerance of sin, the latter a conten-tious spirit of legality. Our preservation lies in godly concern to follow both peace and holiness.

"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; lest there be any fornicator or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was re-jected; (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it carefully with tears." Godly watchfulness is only becoming to the people of God, for the enemy is ever active in seeking to tear down from inside. One may "fail of the grace of God," that is, though he has known that grace in theory, yet his heart has not embraced it: he is outwardly a disciple, but not so in heart. In such soil, "a root of bitterness" may easily spring up, a revul-sion against the pure, precious Word of God and against the holy Person of the Lord Jesus. If such should occur among Christians. how easily others may be defiled, - not perhaps going to the same lengths as the bitter offender, yet badly affected by his unholy ways. The person spoken of as "a fornicator or profane person, as Esau" is of course not a believer at all, though he may have passed as one, and for this reason can be dangerous.

The test manifested Esau as an unbeliever: he sold his birthright to fill his stomach. That which God had given him he regarded with indifference, if not contempt: he despised the grace of God. Yet he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, and evidently expected to do so in spite of his having willingly forfeited it. Such is the perversity of the flesh. He shed tears of anguish in desire for the blessing, but he found no place of repentance. Not that he sought repentance: it was the blessing he sought, but did not care to repent of his proud contempt of the grace of God, which indeed is the only ground upon which God will allow the blessing.

"For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more. (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; and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake.") Esau sought the blessing on the ground of mere human rights, with no repentance: this would be in principle coming to Mount Sinai, where one must expect to meet with the most forbidding, repelling anger of God. Merely touching the mount meant death. Fire signified the burning holiness of God in judgment. Blackness and darkness denotes the utter absence of light in any mere legal position as before God: while the tempest indicates a state of troubled unrest. The sound of the trumpet and the voice of words is the ringing declaration of truth without mercy, which implanted awful fear in the hearts of the hearers. They could not endure what was com-manded. Note too that even a beast, which is not a morally evil creature, could not approach the mount: indeed no creature, even unfallen (as the angels of God) can approach the holy presence of God on the basis of creature merit: how much less man, who is sinful! Even Moses, the mediator, type of Christ, was filled with quaking fear. In all of this too it is most striking that no form is seen, and no face: God is hidden. This is the mount to which Israel came, where they received the law, under which they remained responsible until such time as God would in grace reveal Himself in the Person of His Son.

"But ye have come to Mount Sion; and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and to myr-iads of angels, the universal gathering; and to the as-sembly of the firstborn who are enregistered in Heaven; and to God, Judge of all: and to the spirits of just men made perfect; and to Jesus, Mediator of the new cove-nant; and to the blood of sprinkling, speaking better than Abel" (N. Trans.). The eternal value and blessed-ness of these eight subjects is in wonderful contrast to what goes before, in which no ray of actual, true bless-ing to mankind could penetrate the gloom: indeed nothing but the curse could actually accompany pure law. But pure Divine grace manifests both the marvelous counsels of God, the great blessings of God, and the glory of His Person. And to this believers have come. First, Mount Sion (meaning 'sunny' rather than dark) is the earthly center of blessing in Jerusalem promised of God for the coming day of Israel's glory, a state of settled blessing for the nation. Faith even now, believing in the unshakeable character of the counsels of God, rests in anticipation of this. Not that our place will be in the earthly city, but both Jewish and Gentile believers today have title to rejoice in the certainty of God's counsels of grace concerning the eventual blessing of earth. Secondly however, "the city of the living God, the heav-enly Jerusalem," gives us the certainty of future heavenly blessing for all those for whom God has prepared that city. For though no doubt it is the Bridal city, named for the Bride, the church, yet it includes all saints of past ages, and martyrs also of the tribulation period. Thirdly, "myriads of angels, the universal gathering," would widen our vision further, to see greater multitudes still rejoicing in unity of worship and adoration, the fruit of God's counsels of grace. Let us notice again, all of this involves the precious anticipation of faith.

Fourthly, "the church of the firstborn, enregistered in Heaven," involves the actual blessing enjoyed now by grace, by the church, whose blessings are on a heavenly level. Fifthly, "to God the Judge of all." Not only are we blessed in being linked with the marvelous administra-tion of God's counsels of grace, but we are brought without fear to the Great Judge, the Administrator Himself. The thick darkness no longer hides Him: He is "in the light." Sixthly, "to the spirits of just men made perfect." This expression can refer only to Old Testament saints, as a class, who have waited in disembodied form all through the dispensation of grace, for the future day of resurrection, when they will be made perfect. Without them God's counsels of grace would be incomplete, and we rejoice in prospect of their blessing too.

Seventhly, "to Jesus the Mediator of the new cove-nant" This precious Name of moral grace and beauty emphasizes the reality of His Manhood, as the one Mediator between God and men. For if we see revealed in His Person, on the one hand, the perfect light of the knowledge of the glory of God - that is, eternal Deity, - yet on the other hand is the wonder of His human per-fection as the only possible Mediator acceptable with God. To Him we are brought in righteousness and peace, with no cloud to intervene. In the eighth place (number of new creation) is "the blood of sprinkling, speaking better than Abel." Here is the precious witness of an accomplished work, the necessary basis upon which every blessing in grace becomes effective, - blood that maintains an eternal value, and for which our hearts shall be filled with unceasing thanksgiving to God for eternity! Marvelous, infinite completeness of blessing!

"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. Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also Heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things that cannot be shaken may remain." The exhortation here is most solemn. When God had spoken on earth, that is, in the giving of the law, with all the awesome accompaniments that inspired terror in the children of Israel, and in such a manifestation of His power and holiness, refusal meant stern judgment; then how much more so now that God has spoken from Heav-en, His own great glory revealed in the Person of His Son. His nature of infinite love displayed in the blessed sacrifice of that Son. Blessed, Heavenly revelation! How dreadfully culpable then the guilt of turning away from such matchless, infinite grace.

For grace is no indulgent toleration of rebellion. God will maintain His rights as Sovereign Judge and Creator. If His voice shook the earth at Sinai, it will yet shake more than the earth. "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 2:10). Reaching for the moon or the planets will be no escape from this dire judgment: man's only hope is in Him who is "made higher than the heavens," the Lord Jesus Christ.

The quotation from Haggai 2:6, "Yet once more" is shown to indicate that this will mean the removal of all that is temporary, that only what is eternal may remain. For it is only "once" then the results can be nothing but eternal. We have seen the word used before in Hebrews in the same final, absolute way.

"Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire" Blessed such a kingdom of eternal character, but received now by faith. "My kingdom is not of this world," the King Himself has declared (John 18:36), for "the world passeth away, and the lust thereof" (1 John 2:17). Since this kingdom cannot be moved, let us not be moved either, but draw from God the grace to serve Him acceptably, that is, in a manner acceptable to Him, consistent with His eternal nature and counsels. And a becoming reverence is to be accompanied by godly fear, a wholesome, serious regard for the awful majesty of God. For He is a consuming fire, fearful in holiness, consuming all that will not stand the test of eternity. The display of His grace by no means involves the slightest giving up of His holiness.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.