Hebrews 12:1 MEANING

Hebrews 12:1
(1) Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about.--Rather, Therefore let us also--since we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses--having put away all encumbrance and the sin . . . run with patient endurance the race that is set before us, looking, &c. (In so difficult a verse as this we need an exactness of translation which might not otherwise be desirable.) It is plain that the chief thought is, "Let us run our race with patient endurance, looking unto Jesus the Author . . . of our faith;" so that here again we have the thought which the writer is never weary of enforcing, the need of faith and patience for all who would inherit the promises. The connection is chiefly with the last verses of Hebrews 11, which are, indeed, a summary of the whole chapter. The purpose of God has been that those who throughout the past ages obtained witness of Him through their faith should not reach their consummation apart from us. To that consummation, then, let us press forward. Present to us in the view of Christ's accomplished sacrifice, it is all future in regard of personal attainment. As those who have preceded us reached the goal, each one for himself, by faith and patient endurance, so must we. The thought of persevering effort crowned by a recompence of reward (Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 6:18; Hebrews 10:35-39) very naturally suggested the imagery of the public games (by this time familiar even to Jews), to which St. Paul in his Epistles so frequently alludes. (See 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:12-14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; comp. Hebrews 10:32-33.) In these passages are called up the various associations of the great national festivals of Greece--the severe discipline of the competitors, the intenseness of the struggle, the rewards, "the righteous judge," the crowd of spectators. Most of these thoughts are present here (Hebrews 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:4), and new joints of comparison are added, so that the scene is brought vividly before our eyes. It has been often supposed that the word "witnesses" is used in the sense of spectators of the race. To an English reader this idea is very natural (as "witnesses" may simply mean beholders), but there is no such ambiguity in the Greek word (martyres). The Greek fathers rightly understood it to signify those who bear witness, and the chief point of doubt seems to have been whether the sense is general, or whether the word bears its later meaning--martyrs, who have borne testimony with their blood. Those who thus encompass us, a countless "host (a "cloud" of witnesses), have had witness borne to them through their faith, and in turn stand forth as witnesses to faith, bearing testimony to its power and works. One and all 'they offer encouragement to us in our own contest of faith, and for this reason they are mentioned here. That the idea of the presence of spectators may be contained in the other words, "compassed about with so great a cloud," is very possible; but no interpretation must be allowed to interfere with the chief thought--that the runner's steadfast gaze is fixed on Him who has Himself traversed the course before us, and is now the Judge and Rewarder.

Every weight.--The Greek word was sometimes used by Greek writers to denote the excessive size and weight of body which the athlete sought to reduce by means of training; but may also signify the encumbrance of any burden, unnecessary clothing, and the like. It is here best taken in a general sense, as denoting anything that encumbers, and thus renders the athlete less fitted for the race. In the interpretation we might perhaps, think of the pressure of earthly cares, were it not that the writer seems to have in mind the special dangers of the Hebrew Christians. The "divers and strange teachings" spoken of in Hebrews 13:9, in which would be included the Judaising practices which they were tempted to observe (such as St. Peter described as a "yoke" too heavy to be borne), will probably suit the figure best.

And the sin which doth so easily beset us.--The last six words are the translation of a single adjective, which does not occur elsewhere. The Greek commentators, from whom we might expect some light cm. the phrase, seem to be entirely reduced to conjecture. Chrysostom, for example, adopts in various places two altogether different meanings, "sin which easily (or, completely) surrounds us," "sin which is easily overcome." To these Theophylact adds a third, "sin through which man is easily brought into danger." The prevailing opinion amongst modern writers appears to be that the word signifies well (or, easily) surrounding; and that the writer is comparing sin with a garment--either a loosely fitting garment by which the runner becomes entangled and tripped up, or one that clings closely to him and thus impedes his ease of movement. This view of the meaning is taken in our earlier English versions, which either follow the Latin (Wiclif, "that standeth about us;" Rhemish, "that compasseth us"), or render the words, the sin that hangeth on, or, that hangeth so fast on. The sense is excellent, but it is very doubtful whether the Greek will admit of such a rendering. Though the exact word is not found elsewhere, there are words closely allied as to the meaning of which there is no doubt Analogy clearly points to the signification much admired (literally, well surrounded by an admiring crowd). It is not impossible that even with this meaning the words "lay aside" or put away (often applied to putting off clothing) might still suggest a garment; if so, the allusion might be to a runner who refused to put off a garment which the crowd admired, though such an encumbrance must cause him to fail of the prize. It is more likely that the writer speaks of sin generally as an obstacle to the race, which must be put aside if the runner is to contend at all. If we look at the later exhortations of the Epistle, we shall find repeated mention of the reproach which the followers of Christ must bear. Even in the history of Moses (Hebrews 11:26) there are words which suggest the thought. (See also Hebrews 10:33; Hebrews 13:13). So in the next verse we read of the cross of Jesus and the shame which He despised. Over against this "reproach" is set the sin which is sure to win man's favour and applause--the sin of which we have read in Hebrews 10:26 (comp. Hebrews 11:25), which, seemingly harmless in its first approaches, will end in a "falling away from the living God." The rendering with which the Authorised version has made us familiar is full of interest, but cannot (at all events as it is commonly understood) be an expression of the sense intended. Whatever view be taken of the one peculiar word, it does not seem possible that the phrase can point to what is known as a "besetting sin," the sin which in the case of any one of us is proved to possess especial power.

12:1-11 The persevering obedience of faith in Christ, was the race set before the Hebrews, wherein they must either win the crown of glory, or have everlasting misery for their portion; and it is set before us. By the sin that does so easily beset us, understand that sin to which we are most prone, or to which we are most exposed, from habit, age, or circumstances. This is a most important exhortation; for while a man's darling sin, be it what it will, remains unsubdued, it will hinder him from running the Christian race, as it takes from him every motive for running, and gives power to every discouragement. When weary and faint in their minds, let them recollect that the holy Jesus suffered, to save them from eternal misery. By stedfastly looking to Jesus, their thoughts would strengthen holy affections, and keep under their carnal desires. Let us then frequently consider him. What are our little trials to his agonies, or even to our deserts? What are they to the sufferings of many others? There is a proneness in believers to grow weary, and to faint under trials and afflictions; this is from the imperfection of grace and the remains of corruption. Christians should not faint under their trials. Though their enemies and persecutors may be instruments to inflict sufferings, yet they are Divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to answer by all. They must not make light of afflictions, and be without feeling under them, for they are the hand and rod of God, and are his rebukes for sin. They must not despond and sink under trials, nor fret and repine, but bear up with faith and patience. God may let others alone in their sins, but he will correct sin in his own children. In this he acts as becomes a father. Our earthly parents sometimes may chasten us, to gratify their passion, rather than to reform our manners. But the Father of our souls never willingly grieves nor afflicts his children. It is always for our profit. Our whole life here is a state of childhood, and imperfect as to spiritual things; therefore we must submit to the discipline of such a state. When we come to a perfect state, we shall be fully reconciled to all God's chastisement of us now. God's correction is not condemnation; the chastening may be borne with patience, and greatly promote holiness. Let us then learn to consider the afflictions brought on us by the malice of men, as corrections sent by our wise and gracious Father, for our spiritual good.Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about,...., As the Israelites were encompassed with the pillar of cloud, or with the clouds of glory in the wilderness, as the Jews say; See Gill on 1 Corinthians 10:1, to which there may be an allusion, here, since it follows,

with so great a cloud of witnesses; or "martyrs", as the Old Testament saints, the instances of whose faith and patience are produced in the preceding chapter: these, some of them, were martyrs in the sense in which that word is commonly used; they suffered in the cause, and for the sake of true religion; and they all bore a noble testimony of God, and for him; and they received a testimony from him; and will be hereafter witnesses for, or against us, to whom they are examples of the above graces: and these may be compared to a "cloud", for the comfortable and reviving doctrines which they dropped; and for their refreshing examples in the heat of persecution; and for their guidance and direction in the ways of God; and more especially for their number, being like a thick cloud, and so many, that they compass about on every side, and are instructive every way. Hence the following things are inferred and urged,

let us lay aside every weight; or burden; every sin, which is a weight and burden to a sensible sinner, and is an hinderance in running the Christian race; not only indwelling sin, but every actual transgression, and therefore to be laid aside; as a burden, it should be laid on Christ; as a sin, it should be abstained from, and put off, with respect to the former conversation: also worldly cares, riches, and honours, when immoderately pursued, are a weight depressing the mind to the earth, and a great hinderance in the work and service of God, and therefore to be laid aside; not that they are to be entirely rejected, and not cared for and used, but the heart should not be set upon them, or be over anxious about them: likewise the rites and ceremonies of Moses's law were a weight and burden, a yoke of bondage, and an intolerable one, and with which many believing Jews were entangled and pressed, and which were a great hinderance in the performance of evangelical worship; wherefore the exhortation to these Hebrews, to lay them aside, was very proper and pertinent, since they were useless and incommodious, and there had been a disannulling of them by Christ, because of their weakness and unprofitableness. Some observe, that the word here used signifies a tumour or swelling; and so may design the tumour of pride and vain glory, in outward privileges, and in a man's own righteousness, to which the Hebrews were much inclined; and which appears in an unwillingness to stoop to the cross, and bear afflictions for the sake of the Gospel; all which is a great enemy to powerful godliness, and therefore should be brought down, and laid aside. The Arabic version renders it, "every weight of luxury": all luxurious living, being prejudicial to real religion:

and the sin which doth so easily beset us; the Arabic version renders it, "easy to be committed"; meaning either the corruption of nature in general, which is always present, and puts upon doing evil, and hinders all the good it can; or rather some particular sin, as what is commonly called a man's constitution sin, or what he is most inclined to, and is most easily drawn into the commission of; or it may be the sin of unbelief is intended, that being opposite to the grace of faith, the apostle had been commending, in the preceding chapter, and he here exhorts to; and is a sin which easily insinuates itself, and prevails, and that sometimes under the notion of a virtue, as if it would be immodest, or presumptuous to believe; the arguments for it are apt to be readily and quickly embraced; but as every weight, so every sin may be designed: some reference may be had to Lamentations 1:14 where the church says, that her transgressions were "wreathed", "wreathed themselves", or wrapped themselves about her. The allusion seems to be to runners in a race, who throw off everything that encumbers, drop whatsoever is ponderous and weighty, run in light garments, and lay aside long ones, which entangle and hinder in running, as appears from the next clause, or inference.

And let us run with patience the race that is set before us. The stadium, or race plot, in which the Christian race is run, is this world; the prize run for is the heavenly glory; the mark to direct in it, is Christ; many are the runners, yet none but the overcomers have the prize; which being held by Christ, is given to them: this race is "set before" the saints; that is, by God; the way in which they are to run is marked out by him in his word; the troubles they shall meet with in it are appointed for them by him, in his counsels and purposes; the mark to direct them is set before them in the Gospel, even Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, whom they are to look unto; the length of their race is fixed for them, or how far, and how long they shall run; and the prize is determined for them, and will be given them, and which is held out for their encouragement, to have respect unto: and it becomes all the saints, and belongs to each, and everyone of them, to "run" this race; which includes both doing and suffering for Christ; it is a motion forward, a pressing towards the mark for the prize, a going from strength to strength, from one degree of grace to another; and to it swiftness and agility are necessary; and when it is performed aright, it is with readiness, willingness, and cheerfulness: it requires strength and courage, and a removal of all impediments, and should be done "with patience"; which is very necessary, because of the many exercises in the way; and because of the length of the race; and on account of the prize to be enjoyed, which is very desirable: the examples of the saints, and especially Christ, the forerunner, should move and animate unto it.

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