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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Hebrews 12

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAP. XII.

An exhortation to constant faith, patience, and godliness. A commendation of the New Covenant above the Old.

Anno Domini 63.

BY aboldand beautiful rhetorical figure, the apostle, in the beginning of this chapter, represents the patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, and righteous men, whose faith he had celebrated in the preceding chapter, after having finished their own combats with fidelity to God, as standing round and looking on the Hebrews while running in the Christian race. He therefore exhorted them to exert themselves strenuously in the presence of such spectators: but above all to fix their attention on Jesus, whom also he represents as looking on; because his sacred virtues and sufferings were infinitely more remarkable, and far more worthy of imitation, than those of the ancients, whose great actions he had celebrated, Hebrews 12:1-4.

Next, for the consolation of such of the Hebrews as were in affliction, the apostle put them in mind of the view which their own scriptures gave them of the afflictions allotted to the people of God. They are chastisements which God, from love, administers to his children, to improve and strengthen their holiness and virtues. And, from that consideration, he exhorted them meekly and courageously to bear all the evils to which they were exposed on account of the gospel, Hebrews 12:5-13.—and to pursue peace with all men, and holiness; because without holiness no man shall see and live with the Lord in the heavenly country, Hebrews 12:14.—and to be careful to preserve each other from sin, especially the sin of apostacy, by admonishing such as were in danger of falling away, or who shewed a disposition to sensuality and profanity, like Esau, who, despising his birth-right, sold it for one meal, Hebrews 12:15-17.

Having mentioned Esau's selling his birth-right, to prevent the Hebrews from parting with their birth-rights as the spiritual seed of Abraham, whether from the love of pleasure or from the fear of persecution, the Apostle explained to them the privileges belonging to their birthright. They were entitled to inherit, not an earthly country after death, but a heavenly country; and were, if faithful, to become inhabitants of the city of the living God, the city which Abraham expected, Hebrews 11:10 and were there to live with God for ever; expressed Hebrews 12:14 of this chapter by their seeing God; and were to associate with angels, and with the spirits of just men made perfect, and with Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant; and to enjoy all the blessings procured by the shedding of his blood, Hebrews 12:18-24.

In the beginning of this epistle the apostle had affirmed, that the same God who spoke to the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son Jesus. And this affirmation he had established in the progress of the epistle, by removing all the objections which the unbelieving Jews broughtto set aside the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God. In this place therefore, as the improvement of his doctrine concerning the Sonship of the adorable Jesus, the apostle exhorted the Hebrews to beware of disobeying God, who was speaking to them by his own Son, and commanding them to obey his gospel. And to enforce this exhortation, the apostle put them in mind of what befel their fathers in the wilderness, when they refused to obey God's command to go into Canaan. If, said he, the Israelites did not escape unpunished, who in Kadesh disobeyed the sacred oracle which Moses delivered to them from God, ordering them to go up immediately and take possession of the promised inheritance, we, who have that example of disobedience and punishment before our eyes, shall much less escape unpunished, if we turn away from God speaking the gospel to us from heaven by his eternal Son, who now sits at his right hand as the Governor of the world, Hebrews 12:25. But, because to embrace the gospel was in effect to relinquish the law of Moses, and because the unbelieving Hebrews were greatly prejudiced against the gospel on that account, the apostle, to persuade them to forsake the Mosaic law and embrace the gospel, quoted a prophesy of Haggai, in which God, who gave the law, declared that he would set it aside, and put an end to the kingdom of the Jewish princes who supported it; and also destroy the Heathen idolatry and the kingdoms of the Heathen rulers by whom it was upheld: His voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once I shake not the earth only, but also the heaven, Hebrews 12:26.—Haggai adds, chap. Hebrews 2:6 and the sea and the dry land. 7. And I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come. That this is a prophesy of the abrogation of the law of Moses, and of the destruction of the Heathen idolatry, we learn from God himself, who thus explains what he meant by the shaking of the heavens and the earth, Haggai 2:21. Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth. 22. And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the Heathen: For, from this it is plain, first, That the shaking of the heavens, at the coming of the Desire of all nations, means that at his coming, the throne of the kingdom of the Jewish princes who supported the law of Moses, was to be overthrown. Next, That the shaking of the earth means that the strength of the kingdoms of the Heathen princes who upheld idolatry, was to be destroyed by the preaching of the gospel.—Farther, Seeing in the expression, Haggai 2:6. Yet once it is a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, there is a reference to a former shakingof the earth, namely, that which happened at the giving of the law, the interpretation given, Haggai 2:21-22 of the shaking of the heavens and the earth, by the preaching of the gospel after the coming of the Desire of all nations, leads us to consider the shaking of mount Sinai, at the giving of the law, as emblematical of the destruction of the Heathen idolatry, bythe introduction of the law of Moses. The apostle, for the farther information of the Hebrews, told them, that the promise, Yet once I will shake the heavens and the earth, implied that the things shaken and overthrown were to be removed, in order that the things not to be shaken, the Christian church and gospel-form of worship, may remain firmly established to the end of time; so that there are to be no more changes made in the religion of the world, Hebrews 12:27.

Having finished his address to the unbelieving Hebrews, the apostle directed his discourse to such of the nation as professed the gospel, Saying, Wherefore we, having received a dispensation of religion which is never to be altered, ought to hold fast the gift of that most excellent dispensation, whereby we can worship God acceptably with reverence and religious fear, Hebrews 12:28.—For under the gospel, God is as much a consuming fire to those who disobey him by infidelity, or who affront him by apostacy, as he was to the rebellious Israelites under the law, Hebrews 12:29.


Verse 1

Hebrews 12:1. Wherefore, seeing The word also in our translation of this verse should by all means be expunged. The connection is this: "Seeing, therefore, that we Christians are, as it were, surrounded with this great number of believers, as the spectators and witnesses of our conduct, who at the same time encourage us to follow the example of their faith and patience, that we may be hereafter rewarded with them; Let us lay aside every thing that would hinder us, &c." The word witnesses refers to the Olympic race, where persons not only stood in great crowds to observe the contest, but many were appointed to stand at the goal or mark, to observe who reached it first, and give evidence in favour of the conqueror, who obtained the crown according to their testimony. Preserving this allusion, the words laying aside every weight, or incumbrance, will need no further illustration. We must not understand by the word Ογκος, rendered weight, any particular vice, such as pride, vanity, ambition, or whatever may elate us (which this term sometimes signifies); but any thing and every thing which is burdensome to a Christian in acting steadily and uniformly, according to the will of our Lord: and consequently the word sin is to be understood, not as spoken of any one sin, but of every sin which is apt to get round us, and entangle us, and thus to hinder us in our course;— ευπεριστατον . "This is a very difficult word, says Parkhurst, being found in no Greek writer before the time of the apostles. After examining various interpretations of it, both ancient and modern, I acquiesce (says he) in Chrysostom's exposition;—which easily encompass or surrounds us." It seems very probable, that in this epithet the apostle alludes to the long flowing garments of the ancients, which if not put off in running a race, would cling about their legs, and impede their course.


Verse 2

Hebrews 12:2. Looking unto Jesus As an example of patience under sufferings, which ought to be imitated by his disciples; as one gloriously recompensed in his human nature for the sufferings that hesustained in it; and as one who will give to his faithful people the same happy repose after their sufferings; He having, as the Author of their faith promised, and being able, as the Finisher of their faith, to confer, that glorious recompence, ch. Hebrews 10:35-36. It is not said of our faith, but only της πιστεως, of the faith, or faith in general. The word αφορωντες, looking, properly signifies, our taking off our regard to other things, that we may fix them upon Christ. Some have thought that Christ is called the author and finisher of our faith, in allusion to the judges of the games, Hebrews 12:1 who set laws before the contenders, whereby they were to govern themselves, and then adjudged the crowns to the conquerors. Thus Christ eases his faithful people of their burdens, animates their faintness, retards the progress of their enemies, and will at length set upon their heads that beautiful diadem which he hath purchased with his own blood. Dr. Heylin, and several others, render the next clause, Who, instead of the joy that lay before him,—meaning the honour and happiness that he might have enjoyed in the present world; but the word προκειμενης has so evident a reference to the first verse, that it renders this interpretation very unlikely: besides, the word αντι may well signify set against that joy; and then the meaning will be, that he despised the shame of the cross, in comparison of the joy set before him. Nor can we imagine any love more disinterested than that, which should make his recovering sinners to God and happiness the great joy of his heart; and, in subserviency to the divine glory, the great motive of his actions and sufferings.


Verse 3

Hebrews 12:3. Consider him The original word αναλογισασθε is very emphatical: it is a metaphor taken from arithmetical and geometrical propositions; so that it signifies the great accuracy and exactness, with which they should consider the Author and Finisher of their faith, and especially the analogy between his case and their o


Verse 4

Hebrews 12:4.— The apostle having encouraged the Hebrews by the examples of others who had patiently suffered for truth and holiness, especially that of Christ, now adds, that they were not yet called out to suffer to the death, and they ought to look on their sufferings as chastisements of a father's hand, and patiently endure them for two reasons; both because every father corrects his children, and because God designed to promote their welfare by chastising them. If others did not faint, when they suffered to the death in the cause of truth and holiness, much less should the Hebrew Christians faint, when they were not called to resist unto blood, or to lay down their lives for the gospel.

Ye have not yet resisted, &c.— "Your case, trying as it may seem to you, does not come up to that of your Saviour: you have not yet resisted in the contests for Christ's religion so far as to lose your lives. Though wicked men have troubled you, and you have endured much struggling, in opposing their wickedness, yet hitherto your lives have been safe." Several commentators have observed, that there are many Agonistical terms in this context. The passage before us may allude to the boxers, who fought erect, with their hands stretched out, and were often not only besmeared with blood, but sometimes killed by the blows of the cestus.


Verse 6

Hebrews 12:6. For whom the Lord loveth, &c.— There seems to be a beautiful gradation in these words: to receive, here signifies to have a particular regard for. Comp. Isaiah 42:1 in the LXX. and see Proverbs 3:11-12.


Verse 8

Hebrews 12:8. Then are ye bastards, and not sons The meaning is, "No care is taken of you; no concern is shewn about your welfare."


Verse 9

Hebrews 12:9. Furthermore, we have had fathers, &c.— The awful, yet tender insinuation at the end of the verse, of the terrible consequences of rebellion against the Father of Spirits, (in which there is an allusion to the capital punishments to be inflicted on a disobedient child, (Deuteronomy 21:18.) is very remarkable; and an instance of the apostle's forcible manner of suggesting the most weighty thought, sometimes in an oblique way, and in very few words. Some would read this verse interrogatively: Have we then had fathers in the flesh, &c. and reverenced them? &c.


Verse 10

Hebrews 12:10. For a few days For a short time; during our childhood. They kept us under discipline, as they thought most proper. The phrase for a few days, may be applied both to our earthly parents, and our Heavenly Father; and it contains a beautiful and comfortable intimation, that this whole life, when compared with our future being, is but as a few days; indeed infinitely less than the days of childhood to those of the longer life of man upon earth. For the last clause, see 1 Peter 1:15-16. 1 John 3:2.


Verse 11

Hebrews 12:11. It yieldeth the peaceable fruit, &c.— "Though at first all chastening is in itself matter of grief, and not of joy, yet afterwards it produces quiet of mind, and such inward peace, in the progress of holiness and goodness, as abundantly compensates the grief at first felt by those who are exercised thereby; γεγυμνασμενοις ; not only corrected, but instructed and edified; setting themselves to search out the proper lessons, which afflictive dispensations are intended to teach." As it is plain from this word, that the apostle alludes to the Grecian games, possibly by the peaceable fruits of righteousness, he may refer to the crowns of olive given to the victors in the Olympic races, which was an emblem of peace.


Verse 12

Hebrews 12:12. Wherefore, lift up the hands, &c.— It is certain that these are likewise Agonistic phrases: Dr. Heylin renders the verse, Invigorate then your hands which are remiss, and your knees which are feeble. "It is a proverbial phrase, says he, importing the renewed force with which a man is animated, when he makes a firm and solemn resolution."


Verse 13

Hebrews 12:13. And make straight paths, &c.— Dr. Heylin paraphrases the verse thus: Make even paths for your feet, that the lame ancle may not be sprained, but on the contrary recover strength; that is, says he, "Order your course of life so, as to avoid the occasions of sin; those especially, wherein you are more liable to relapse, either by constitutional infirmity, or evil habits before indulged." Such dangerous occasions are spoken of as offendicula, stumbling-blocks in our way;—the metaphor is continued in the sequel, which instructs the sincere believer or genuine penitent in a matter of great moment, and very pertinent to what was said just before, of making fresh resolutions, &c. It also coincides with the important admonition in the beginning of this chapter, that we should cast aside every weight, &c.


Verse 14

Hebrews 12:14.— The sacred writer now proceeds to exhort the Hebrew Christians to the exerciseofuniversalpeacewith believing Gentiles, as well as with the believing Jews, and to the practice of holiness, that so they might not fail of that glorious reward which was purchased and provided for them by the atonement of the blood of the covenant. He sets home this exhortation, by observing, that they were not now called to the profession and privileges of Judaism, but of Christianity; and that therefore they ought to live in peace with all Christians, and to receive the uncircumcised believers into their communion in a peaceable manner, and to keep themselves interested in the favour of God, by the experience and practice of sincere and universal holiness.


Verse 15

Hebrews 12:15. Looking diligently, &c.— "I have been earnestly exhorting you to cultivate holiness in your own hearts and lives; and I must farther press it upon you, that you endeavour to maintain a friendly and brotherly inspection over each other. Look to it, therefore, with the greatest attention and care, for yourselves and one another, lest any one, by apostacy from the Christian religion, fall short of the grace of God, under the day of grace and dispensation of the gospel; lest any root of bitterness and poison, springing up unheeded, occasion trouble to the society in general, and by it, before you are aware, many be disturbed and defiled, through the contagion of so bad an example."


Verse 16

Hebrews 12:16. Lest there be any fornicator We must not imagine that the apostle here mentions Esau as an example of the crime of fornication; for nothing appears in the history to shew that Esau was more guilty of this sin than any one else, who in those days had many wives; though polygamy is utterly inconsistent with the gospel dispensation. Esau is called a profane person, because, as a prophetic blessing went with the birth-right, there was a most profane contempt of it in the infamous bargain here referred to: and as an eagerness in the gratification of appetite would naturally imply a contempt of spiritual and divine blessings, sacrificed to such gratifications; it was properly expressed by profaneness. Instead of one morsel, the Greek may be more properly rendered one mess. Dr. Heylin renders it a single meal. The apostle keeps in view the point of falling from the grace of God; which if any man do, it may be no more in his power to retrieve it, than it was in Esau's to recover the blessing which he had despised.


Verse 17

Hebrews 12:17. For ye know And you know that afterwards, when he was desirous to inherit the benediction, he was judged unworthy of it; nor could he find any way to change the mind of Isaac, although he sought it earnestly, and with tears. Heylin.


Verse 18

Hebrews 12:18. For ye are not come, &c.— What here follows is assigned as a reason to confirm the preceding advice; namely, that they should follow peace with all men, and continue in the grace of God, Hebrews 12:14-15. The motive hereto is briefly this: "Because you are not come to Sinai, but to Sion. You must maintain peace with, and receive to your communion, not only your brother Jews, but also the uncircumcised believers; because you are not come, as your ancestors once came, to mount Sinai, where the law was given to none but the Jews; but you are come to mount Sion, to which all believers pertain." When the apostle exhorted them not to fall from the grace or favour of God, Hebrews 12:15 he thereby represented the gospel, as the dispensation of the grace of God. He now sets himself to prove this, by observing, that the law spoke nothing but terror, Hebrews 12:18-21 whereas the gospel discovers abundant grace, particularly a Mediator,—his atoning blood,—the happiness of heaven, and the eternal glories of the New Jerusalem: (Hebrews 12:22-24.) and every thing the apostle says concerning these two different states, will be found to answer one or other, and often both of his purposes; namely, to excite the Hebrews to follow peacewith all men, and to continue in the grace of God. Instead of the mount that might be touched, Dr. Heylin reads very properly, to a palpable mountain: For the apostle does not mean that it was lawful or allowed that the Israelites should touch this mountain, while the law was giving; (for he observes this was forbidden, Hebrews 12:20.) but that it was a real, material, earthly mountain, whichwas in itself capable of being touched or felt; while mount Sion is a spiritual thing which cannot be touched.


Verse 21

Hebrews 12:21. And so terrible was the sight, &c.— "The appearance was so dreadful that Moses himself,who was happy in such unparalleled degrees of the divine favour, and accustomed to converse with God in so intimate a manner, when urged by the people to act as their mediator in this awful transaction, said, though I consent to undertake the charge, I do nevertheless exceedingly fear and tremble." This circumstance is not recorded in the Mosaic history; but most probably it was well known to the Hebrews by the means of tradition: for they had so great a veneration for the character and honour of Moses, that they would have been vehemently enraged with the apostle, if they had not themselves been conscious of the truth of the apostle's assertion.


Verse 22

Hebrews 12:22. But ye are come unto mount Sion, &c.— There seems to be throughout this whole period a reference to the manifestation which God made of himself upon mount Sion, as being milder than that upon mount Sinai, and the heavenly society with which Christians are incorporated, is considered as resembling the former, (that is, mount Sion,) in those circumstances in which it was more amiable than the latter. Sion was the city of God: in the temple which stood there, cherubims were the ornaments of the walls, both in the holy and most holy place, to signify the presence of those myriads of angels, who attended at the giving of the law, and are present in the true heavens. There (in the city of Sion) was a general assembly and congregation of the priests, who were substituted instead of the first-born: there was God, as the supreme Judege of controversies, giving forth his oracles; the high-priest was the mediator between God and Israel; and the blood of sprinkling was daily used.


Verse 23

Hebrews 12:23. To the general assembly The word Πανηγυρις properly signifies a stated convention upon some joyful and festive occasion; particularly it is applied to the concourse at the Olympic games: in which view it expresses a very elegant and lively opposition to the case of the Israelites; who were struck with a general terror, when they were convened before mount Sinai. The first-born are all such as inherit the birth-right; that is, all the faithful saints of God. The words, of all, are thought to have a peculiar emphasis here; implying that God will judge all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles. (See Romans 3:30.) whence the inference is easy, that we ought to follow peace with all men, and to receive to communion all such as God justifies, The spirits of just men made perfect means the souls of such as enjoy complete happiness with God in heaven, so far as may consist with the separate state.


Verse 24

Hebrews 12:24. To the blood of sprinkling, We who have joined ourselves to Christ, have engaged ourselves to adhere to the blood of Christ, offered by him, either as our High-priest in heaven, or as ratifying the covenant of which he is the Mediator—Blood, which though shed by wicked hands, yet has a quite different tendency from that of righteous Abel: for Abel's blood cried unto God from the ground for vengeance, and the consequence was, that Cain was hid from God's face; whereas the blood of Christ speaks goodness and favour, comfort and peace, and the enjoyment of God's presence for ever.


Verse 25

Hebrews 12:25. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. That is, Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant. Dr. Sykes paraphrases the verse well, thus: "Look to it, therefore, and see that you do not, as your fathers did, refuse to attend to him who hath now spoken to you [by this gracious dispensation]; for if every transgression received a just recompence of reward, and your fathers were so strictly punished, who refused to regard him that spake to them from mount Sinai, how much more may we expect to be punished, if we pay no regard to him who came down from heaven,—even the Son of God, who in these last days hath spoken to us from the Father." See ch. Hebrews 2:2-3. John 3:13.


Verse 26

Hebrews 12:26. Whose voice then shook the earth: It is generally granted by the spiritual commentators, that the person who spoke on earth, and he who spake from heaven, is the same great Messenger of the covenant; in which view the argument of the apostle is taken from the different manner of speaking: his speaking on earth being accompanied with earthly signs and circumstances; whereas his speaking from heaven means his coming down from heaven, appearing in the human nature, and declaring heavenly things, more glorious than the law. The speaking here mentioned, refers particularly to the alterations made in the constitution of religion, and to the new dispensation; and must be considered not as introductory to, but consequent upon the coming of the Messiah.


Verse 27

Hebrews 12:27. And this word, Yet once more, &c.— "And it is evident that this expression, Yet once more, or, For the last time, not only signifies the removal and change of the things there said to be shaken,—(that is, of the ordinances of Moses,) as of things which were made and constituted only for a time; but also strongly intimates, that he would introduce thereby a dispensation tobe changed no more; that the thing not to be shaken any more, might be set up and remain fixed on a perpetual basis; even that eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace, which God hath established by Christ Jesus his Son." See Exodus 19:18. Haggai 2:6-7.


Verse 28-29

Hebrews 12:28-29. Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom, &c.— "As therefore we have received such an unshaken kingdom, which shall never be removed to make way for any different establishment, and which gives to the faithful the assurance of a reign in eternal glory; Let us see to it; that we have grace, whereby we may serve God, from whom we receive it, in an acceptable manner.—As that grace is so freely offered to us in the gospel, let us not be so wanting to ourselves as to fall short of it: and while we feel our heartsinspired with all that gratitude and confidence which suit the genius of so merciful a dispensation, let them be attempered with a becoming mixture of reverence and pious fear; that we may not, by an unworthy abuse of the gospel, deprive ourselves of its invaluable blessings, and sin beyond all possibility of further remedy: For though our God manifests himself in the beams of such mild majesty, he is still possessed of that tremendous power, which was so awfully displayed at mount Sinai, and will break forth as a consuming fire against all those who presumptuously violate his laws, and despise his gospel." See ch. Hebrews 4:16. Deuteronomy 4:23-24. Instead of let us have grace, Heylin, Sykes, &c. read, let us give thanks. Compare 2 Timothy 1:3.

Inferences.—How great is our encouragement to faith and patience! We have a cloud of eminent examples in the Old Testament saints, and the brightest of all in our suffering Lord and Saviour, to animate our running the Christian race through all difficulties till it be completed. In order hereunto, let us cast off every thing that would incumber us, and every sin which we are most liable to, and look to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, for all assistances, victory, and triumph, that we may be conformable to him, who, for the joy which was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now exalted to his throne. Our sufferings have not yet been unto death, as they might have been, and were in many of the antient worthies, and in our blessed Lord himself; and whatever they be, if we continue the children of God, they shall be all wisely and graciously over-ruled by our heavenly Father, for our amendment in this world. For what son is there whom the Father chastens not for his faults? But O how difficult is it to steer right between despising the chastenings of the Lord, and fainting under them! And with how much greater reverence and submission should we receive the corrections of the Father of our spirits, than can be due from children to their fathers of the flesh! Though such chastenings are in their own nature grievous, they are nevertheless profitable, to make us partakers of his holiness, and to produce the peaceable fruits of righteousness, for living to him here, and with him hereafter. How deeply concerned therefore ought we to be, that no afflictions may ever turn us aside from the way of God's testimonies, or make us halt in our holy profession; but that we may advance forward with vigour in the straight paths of truth and duty, and may be exemplary, and encouraging to others, under their fears, despondencies, and dangers! And what amiable companions are peace and holiness! These should be unitedly pursued: but if we cannot obtain peace, upon good terms with men, we should remember that holiness is absolutely necessary to the beatific vision and enjoyment of God. And how dreadful is it to fall short of his grace under the gospel dispensation! All principles and practices which lead to apostacy, will one way or other be a root of bitterness, and endanger infection to the church of Christ, whenever they break out. How should we dread the first beginnings of apostacy, lest at length it should run into all uncleanness, and profane contempt of every thing that is sacred, like Esau's despising and selling his birth-right, which could never be recovered! How terrible is the voice of the law, as delivered at mount Sinai, and as roaring in the consciences of awakened sinners! it spreads blackness and darkness through their souls; burns like a tormenting fire within them; overwhelms them like a horrible tempest; summons them, as with the sound of a trumpet, to appear at God's awful bar for judgment; and makes them dread to hear of any thing more of its rigorous terrors, which they know not how to bear. Yea, the holiest of men, like Moses himself, must tremble, when they think of God's infinite purity and unyielding justice, as considered only according to the tremendous revelation of them in his righteous law. But how encouraging, comforting, and glorious, are the discoveries and blessings of gospel grace! Here deliverance from the law and all its terrors, and the richest privileges, are set before condemned sinners; and believers in Jesus have free admission to all heavenly blessings with the New Testament church: for the living God dwells after a more spiritual and excellent manner in them, than ever he did in the temple on mount Sion, and in the beloved city of Jerusalem. They have delightful and beneficial communion by faith and love with innumerable myriads of holy angels; and with the spirits of departed saints, which are made perfect in happiness and holiness; yea, with the whole church triumphant in glory: and they have humble boldness of access to God, the Judge of the whole world, as they come by faith to him through the Mediator of the new covenant, under the sprinklings of his Blood, which speaks better things than the blood even of Abel's sacrifice. How should we rejoice and bless God for the gospel dispensation, which brings us to our only remedy against the terrors of the law, and to a happy communion with God and his Christ, angels, and saints! This is a constitution of a spiritual and heavenly nature, and is revealed and confirmed immediately from heaven by our blessed Lord, whose voice shook the earth in delivering the law at mount Sinai, and who made a most excellent revolution, which may be called his shaking heaven as well as earth, in setting aside the Mosaic dispensation, and introducing that of the gospel state in its stead. How firmly is this glorious dispensation of light and grace established, to continue without any change to the consummation of all things! It consists of such a spiritual church state, with respect to its worship and ordinances, privileges and blessings, as cannot be shaken. O with what spirituality and solemnity should we worship God according to this heavenly establishment! Though he is a reconciled God and Father in Christ to all sincere believers, he is a devouring fire to all neglecters and abusers of his grace, and particularly to all hypocrites, and all apostates, who finally fall from grace. How highly therefore does it concern us to receive, and hold fast the gospel of the kingdom with faith and love; and to have the genuine power of grace in our own souls; whereby we may be enabled to serve God acceptably, through Christ, with all devotional reverence of his sacred Majesty, and filial fear of offending him!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Having proposed to them such bright examples, the apostle urges the Hebrews,

1. To imitate their faith, patience, and perseverance. Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, who, having finished the glorious course themselves, are now looking on our conduct, let us, animated by their examples, and roused to an imitation of their excellencies, lay aside every weight that would retard our speed, all inordinate attachment to earth and earthly things, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, that which from our circumstances, station in life, connections, and constitution, is ever soliciting our consent, and would ensnare our souls; particularly the great and capital sins, unbelief, pride, and lust, under whatever specious pretences they may appear; and let us run with patience, not discouraged at difficulties, nor fainting under temptation, but eager to finish the race that is set before us, and to win the glorious prize. Note; (1.) We have a race before us; the course is circumscribed by our mortal days; the word of God marks out our path; saints and angels are spectators; death is the goal, and glory the reward of fidelity. What services then can we refuse? What sufferings shall dismay us? (2.) Faith and patience are the mighty graces which can enable us to hold on, and to hold out, till we finish our course with joy.

2. The only way that in faith and patience we can persevere, is here described—Looking unto Jesus ( αφορωντες ), turning away our eyes from sin, the world, and every ensnaring object which would seduce our affections, and keeping him singly in our view, who is the author, and alone can be the finisher of our faith, by grace and strength derived from him, enabling us to follow his perfect pattern; who for the joy that was set before him, that God's perfections might be glorified, full satisfaction made to Divine justice, his faithful saints' eternal salvation secured, and himself, as Mediator, be crowned with glory and honour, endured the cross, with all its horrors, exercising the most astonishing patience and unshaken fortitude, despising the shame of that ignominious tree, and is now, in consequence thereof, sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, exalted to the highest dignity and majesty in the heavens. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, compare your sufferings with his, the infinite disproportion between your persons and him; the invincible patience and undisturbed composure with which he bore every insult and torment; reflect upon this often and deeply, lest ye be weary and faint in your minds; and let the eye of faith, fixed on him, draw out of his fulness the needful supplies of strength to follow his blessed footsteps. Note; (1.) When we properly consider what the Son of God for our sakes freely endured, we shall be ashamed to complain of the comparatively trivial cross which we sustain, and boldly set our faces as a flint against all sufferings and reproaches, which for his sake we may be called to bear. (2.) Great and long-continued trials are apt to weary out our feeble minds, so that we are ready to sink under them: but Jesus is before us; he saith, Look unto me; and that reviving sight uncloses the dying eyes, re-animates the dejected spirit, rouses the fainting heart, and, inspired with renewed vigour, we run our heavenly race, made more than conquerors through his love.

2nd, In support of what he had said before, the apostle,

1. Suggests the most engaging arguments to persevere:

[1.] God had hitherto preserved them in life. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin; and as he had not called them to the severest conflicts, it would be shameful indeed if they sunk under lesser trials. Note; (1.) Our warfare lies against sin, the deadly foe, who, if not vanquished, will destroy us body and soul for ever. We need be resolute, therefore, when our all is at stake. (2.) We are to acknowledge with thankfulness the kindness of our adored Lord, who proportions our trials to our strength.

[2.] The sufferings they had endured were the kind chastisements of a father's rod, however evil the instruments might be who were the immediate authors of them. And ye have forgotten, or Have ye forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children? My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord; neither, on the one hand, slighting the affliction, unsuitably affected thereby, or stubborn under the rod; nor, on the other, faint when thou art rebuked of him, sinking under unbelief, impatient under the trial, or overwhelmed with despair. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth for their good, and scourgeth every sin whom he receiveth into the bosom of his love. If ye endure chastening, far from counting it a token of wrath, God herein dealeth with you as with sons, with the kindest intention of your correction and amendment: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? There is no child of God but needs the gracious scourge; and our heavenly Father will not, like a foolishly fond parent, spare the needful stroke: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all the true members of his family are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons: to be neglected, and not counted worth correction, would prove you to be an obstinate, rebellious people, whom God abandons to their own ways. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence, were in duty bound to submit to their paternal discipline, and to love them the more for their care in rebuking the evil that they discovered in us: shall we not much rather then be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, from whose immediate hand our immortal souls are derived; meekly submitting to him, whose authority over us is so much greater; and this, that we may live in a state of holy communion with him, and subjection to him, till he shall have purged out all our evil, and prepared us for a place in his better house above. For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; and much passion, self-will, and weakness, mingled with their corrections; but he, who is infinitely wise as well as boundless in love, scourges us for our profit, that, as the blessed issue of the afflictions which he is pleased to lay upon us, we might be partakers of his holiness, cleansed from the dross of corrupt affections, and renewed after his blessed image. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, and the flesh cannot but groan under the scourge: nevertheless, while faith supports us comfortably under the trial, we afterwards continually see cause to bless God for our suffering; since afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness, unto them which are exercised thereby; and we can say, by happy experience, it is good for me that I have been afflicted. Note; (1.) God's corrections must not be made light of on the one hand, nor should we on the other despair on account of them; but, humbling our souls under the mighty hand of the Lord, should patiently wait, in confidence that he will lift us up. (2.) God's chastisements are all sent out of pure love to his children; and therefore should be received with dutiful submission and lowly resignation. (3.) If we are bound to reverence our earthly parents, and submit to their often arbitrary and self-willed corrections, how much more should the chastisements of out heavenly Father be embraced with thankfulness, to whom we owe so much higher reverence; who never strikes without cause, and so wisely and graciously orders his afflictive dispensations in time, manner, and measure, as is exactly suited to our wants, and tends to our profiting. (4.) Far from judging of God's anger by the severity and length of our trials, we should rather from thence conclude that his love is great toward us. He visits that he may purge us thoroughly from our dross; and faith can make us rejoice even in the fires, under the confidence that peaceable fruits of righteousness will be produced out of those trials which to flesh and blood are most grievous.

2. He exhorts them not to faint or be disheartened, but to be vigorous in their Christian course. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; cast away every desponding fear, and press with eagerness to the goal, encouraging each other nobly to persevere in the face of every difficulty and danger, depending on Almighty Grace. And make straight paths for your feet, labouring to remove every obstacle at which yourselves or your brethren might stumble, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way of truth and righteousness, and the weak offended or perverted from the paths of godliness; but let it rather be healed, the feeble-minded supported, the disheartened encouraged, the weak confirmed, the fallen lifted up and restored again. Note; We should labour to be assisting to each other in our heavenly way, and attentive to the good of our brethren's souls, as to our own.

3. He particularly directs them what to pursue. Follow peace with all men, desiring earnestly to maintain it in every relation and with all persons, as far as is consistent with a good conscience; and holiness in heart and life and all manner of conversation, without which no man shall see the Lord, or be admitted to the beatific vision in glory everlasting. Note; Peace and holiness are essential to our hopes as Christians; we deceive ourselves if we think we can ever be saved, whilst enslaved by passion and vile affections.

4. He gives them a solemn caution against apostacy, enforced by Esau's fearful example. Looking diligently, watching over each other with holy jealousy, lest any man fail of the grace of God, and apostatize from the faith; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled, seduced by their heresies, or perverted by their ill examples: lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birth-right, to be the progenitor of the great Messiah, despising the sacred as well as civil privileges which were annexed thereto; and his punishment was suited to his crime, for ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, and prevailed upon his father to retract what he had given to Jacob, he was rejected by him, for he found no place of repentance, nor would Isaac change his mind or reverse his word, though he sought it carefully with tears. Note; (1.) Apostates from the truth are the most dangerous enemies, and bitter opposers. (2.) Many, for the gratification of a bestial appetite, have, like Esau, renounced their sacred birth-right, and too late will they rue their sin and folly.

3rdly, To guard the Hebrews particularly from revolting back to Judaism, he sets before them the excellence of the gospel church and worship above the Judaical.

1. He reminds them of that dispensation of terror and bondage from which they had been delivered. For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, which was a palpable earthly substance, and not like the spiritual Zion, and that burned with fire, when God in terrible pomp descended thereon; nor unto blackness and darkness, which covered that typical dispensation; and tempest, emblematical of the storms of wrath which hang over the heads of the transgressors; and the sound of a trumpet, which with louder and still louder blasts spread terrible dismay throughout the hosts of Israel; and the voice of words, in the most awful manner articulately pronouncing the ten commandments; which voice they that heard, entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more; so terrified were they at it, and begged that Moses might be their mediator, and that through him they might receive the revelation of the divine will: (for they could not endure that which was commanded, so unable did they think themselves to answer the demands of these laws, and dreaded their awful sanction; particularly that fearful edict, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, during the time that the Divine Presence is there manifested, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart. And so terrible was the sight, that Moses himself said, I exceedingly fear and quake,) so dark and terrible was that dispensation under which they had been held; and this should with hearty eagerness engage them to receive and hold fast that milder, brighter, spiritual dispensation of gospel grace, when God, without one terror spread around him, invited poor sinners, through his dear Son, to approach his throne and live. This more glorious state the apostle,

2. Describes. But ye are come unto mount Sion, the spiritual gospel church, where God, well pleased, takes up his blest abode, and accepts the worship and service there performed; and unto the city of the living God, built on Christ the foundation, and blest with the most transcendent privileges; the heavenly Jerusalem, where all the inhabitants are spiritualized in temper and affections, and made meet for their eternal mansions in glory; and to an innumerable company of angels, your fellow-servants, who minister unto the heirs of salvation; to the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven, the noble army of saints triumphant in glory; and to God the Judge of all; who on the great day shall judge the world by him to whom all judgment is committed, and to whom you are now reconciled in the Son of his love; and to the spirits of just men made perfect, now entered into their eternal rest, with whom you maintain communion, as influenced by the same Spirit, justified by the same Blood, members of the same body, pursuing the same end, and longing to join their services in the immediate presence of God and the Lamb; and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, through whom all these invaluable privileges and blessings are derived down to us; and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel: his blood cried for vengeance, but the Blood which Jesus shed, sprinkled by faith upon our consciences, speaks peace and blessedness: as it infinitely exceeds in excellence that of Abel's sacrifice, much more shall it obtain acceptance and favour with God for all those, who, sprinkled therewith, boldly appear in the presence of the Most High and Most Holy.

3. From these considerations he proceeds to exhort them to take heed to themselves. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh in the gospel: for if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, even Moses who delivered the sacred oracles of the law to the people, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven, that Lord of life and glory who came down from heaven, and is returned thither again; and by the inspiration of his Spirit, which in such an astonishing manner he hath sent from thence, speaks now in his gospel word: whose voice then shook the earth, when Sinai trembled at his presence: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven, the Jewish church, with all their civil and ecclesiastical polity. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, not for a perpetuity, but for a while only, as was the case of the Jewish tabernacle and economy; that those things which cannot be shaken may remain, and that the gospel church, worship, and privileges, may endure unalterable unto the end of time. Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, and by faith admitted to a participation of the privileges of that kingdom of gospel grace, which will issue shortly to the faithful in a kingdom of glory, let us remember, esteem, and value our distinguished mercies, and have grace to hold fast the doctrine of truth, and beg a more abundant measure of the Spirit, whereby we may serve God acceptably, through Jesus Christ, with reverence and godly fear, under a sense of our own unworthiness. For our God is a consuming fire, and will execute fearful vengeance on every apostate from the faith and practice of the gospel. Note; (1.) Constant worship and waiting upon God, is the appointed way wherein he hath promised to bestow on us the grace which can enable us to serve him acceptably. (2.) The fire of eternal vengeance will assuredly light down upon the apostate and impenitent soul.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/hebrews-12.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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