Great Texts of the Bible
The Race Set before Us
Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a clo of witnesses, 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 perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.—Hebrews 12:1-2.
1. There is no more brilliant turning of the flank of an opponent’s position in all controversy than that which we have in the preceding chapter—the eleventh. Throughout the Epistle the writer is reasoning with converts from Judaism who were threatening to go back. Their old Jewish position had powerful prejudices in its favour, and powerful arguments too. The first tide of their Christian enthusiasm had abated, and the pressure of persecution for Christ’s sake was telling against them, and driving them back to their old beliefs and positions. Point by point the writer reasoned the question out between the old religion and the new, showing in each particular how the new was better. There remained, however, one stronghold of the old creed which seemed impregnable. It had surely the great, the venerated, names of Jewish antiquity in its favour. “We have Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah on our side,” they said. It was an immense matter for a Jew to be certain that he had the Fathers on his side. They surely lived and died within the Mosaic dispensation, under the covenant of works. It was good enough for them; they found satisfaction and inspiration in it. “No,” says the writer; “in heart these men belonged to us—not to the Judaists. These all died in faith.” Though they lived under the forms of the old economy, they wrought with the inspiration of the new; and he shows that it was so. He claims all the immense force of the argument from antiquity for himself and for Christianity, whereas the drift of these Hebrews was towards traditionalism, sacerdotalism, externalism. Then he brings his argument to a close with a powerful appeal to his readers to endure as their great fathers did; and he directs their eyes to Jesus as at once the inspiration of faith and its most glorious example.
2. The figure that the writer employs is, of course, a reference to the famous Olympic games, with which all Greek-speaking people in his day, and for many generations before him, were perfectly familiar. No product of the Greek genius held a higher place in the interest and esteem of that remarkable people. To s gain a prize in the athletic contests at Olympia was one of the most cherished ambitions of youth. There games were celebrated every fifth year, and all persons of Hellenic blood, no matter to what particular nationality they happened to belong or from what corner of the earth they came, were eligible to compete. They must have presented an inspiring spectacle, watched as they were by huge concourses of people assembled tier on tier around the great amphitheatre. Veterans of bygone similar occasions were given places of honour from which to view the achievements of a younger generation, and it must have been no small glory to the victors in the several events to receive the applause of the renowned athletes who had preceded them in the same arena. This is the idea that the writer of Hebrews seizes hold of to illustrate our spiritual experience. Earth, he says, is the arena wherein great things are being wrought out from age to age by the sons of God.
A Race that All must Run
“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
1. Life is a race: an individual effort, not a fatality. Every man is what his life is; and his life is just how he has run his race. The road is his; the opportunity is his; the means and appliances are his; and if he fails, the fault is his. To all alike God gives the race, and gives to each the properties for success. Men are differently constituted and gifted, but all have gifts and talents committed to them whereby to run the race of life. To be humble as this world goes is no test of the capacities with which a man is qualified for running the race.
The coarsest reed that trembles in the marsh,
If Heaven select it for its instrument,
May shed celestial music on the breeze
As clearly as the pipe of virgin gold.
2. What do we see in a race? Muscles strained; veins like whipcords; beaded perspiration; strenuous, intense, earnest speed. The reality in the mental and spiritual man corresponding to these symbols in the physical man—that is our aim. The figure of the Olympian athlete means a life in earnest or it means nothing. Useful service in life, or duty well done—that is our goal. Temptation met and resisted and conquered—that is our goal. Power to love, to be just, to be pure, to be true, to control external life and internal life—that is our goal. Honest success in the vocation of life which we follow—that is our goal. The success of the Christian lawyer, of the Christian business man, of the Christian artificer, of the Christian scholar, is just so much power added to the personality which he consecrates to the cause of God and to the uplifting of humanity in the world. We should therefore look upon success in our daily vocation as a duty which we owe to God and man. We should push our business or our study, or our practice, or our manual toil until it has become a success. To reach success in every case will take hard work; but to do hard and healthful work is the purpose of God in bringing us into the world. Hard work has always been the condition of success in all the departments of life. No man ever became a Bunsen or a Faraday in the laboratory apart from endless experimenting with chemicals. No man or woman ever went up the way of the violin, or the way of the piano, or the way of the organ, or the way of the orchestra, except by labour. The Beethovens, the Mendelssohns, the Mozarts, the Haydns, and the Handels, who cheer human life with their sweetness of music, were all incarnated energy and ambition and push.
The end of Mozart’s life can be compared to nothing but a torch burning out rapidly in the wind. Unwearied alike as a composer and an artist, he kept pouring forth symphonies, sonatas, and operas, whilst disease could not shake his nerve as an executant, and the hand of death found him unwilling to relinquish the pen of the ready writer. In April, 1783, we find him playing at no less than twenty concerts. The year 1785 is marked by the six celebrated quartets dedicated to Haydn. In 1791 he entered upon his thirty-sixth and last year. Into it, amongst other works, were crowded La Clemenza di Tito, Il Flauto Magico, and the Requiem. His friends looked upon his wondrous career, as we have since looked upon Mendelssohn’s, with a certain sad and bewildered astonishment. That prodigious childhood—that spring mellow with all the fruits of autumn—that startling haste “as the rapid of life shoots to the fall”—we understand it now. He would constantly remain writing at the Requiem long after his dinner-hour. Neither fatigue nor hunger seemed to rouse him from his profound contemplation. At night he would sit brooding over the score until he not infrequently swooned in his chair.… One mild autumn morning his wife drove him out in an open carriage to some neighbouring woods. As he breathed the soft air, scented with the yellow leaves that lay thickly strewn around, he discovered to her the secret of the Requiem. “I am writing it,” he said, “for myself.” A few days of flattering hope followed, and then Mozart was carried to the bed from which he was never destined to rise. Vienna was at that time ringing with the fame of his last opera. They brought him the rich appointment of organist to the Cathedral of St. Stephen, for which he had been longing all his life. Managers besieged his doors with handfuls of gold, summoning him to compose something for them—too late. He lay with swollen limbs and burning head, awaiting another summons. On the night of December 5, 1791, his wife, his sister, Sophie Weber, and his friend Süsmayer, were with him. The score of the Requiem lay open upon his bed. As the last faintness stole over him, he turned to Süsmayer—his lips moved freely—he was trying to indicate a peculiar effect of kettle-drums in the score. It was the last act of expiring thought; his head sank gently back; he seemed to fall into a deep and tranquil sleep. In another hour he had ceased to breathe.1 [Note: H. R. Haweis, Music and Morals, 314.]
3. This race is appointed for the follower of Jesus. He also finds that he cannot choose his own way to the goal; the race is set before him, marked out for him, measured and staked in by a power not his own. His birth, his natural condition, temperament, and talents, his opportunities, the vicissitudes of fortune he encounters are all arranged for him—that is the course set before him, and he must win the prize by running in it. He may not leap the ropes, and try a short cut; he may not demand some softer course, some more elastic turf; he may not ask that the sand be lifted and a hard beaten surface prepared for him; he may not require that the ascents be levelled and the rough places made smooth; he must take the course as he finds it. In other words, he must not wait till things are made easier for him; he must not refuse to run because the course is not all he could wish; he must recognize that the difficulties of his position in life are the race set before him. The Christian must open his eyes to the fact that it is in the familiar surroundings of the life we now actually lead that God calls us to run; in the callings we have chosen, amid the annoyances we daily experience, where we are, and as we are, from the very position we this day occupy, our race is set before us.
Stewart closely resembled his hero Livingstone in his unfailing reliance upon God and prayer and the Bible in his hours of need. Converse with God in African solitudes had fostered his piety, his self-knowledge, and self-reliance. Under the depression of fever he used to calm his mind by prayer, and so restore it to a quiet confidence in God. In one of his journeys he was deserted by many of his carriers who took with them some articles which he needed, and which he could not replace. He thought that he must turn back at once. But on that day he was reading Hebrews 12:1 : “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with patience (endurance, holding on and holding out) the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.” The words came to him as on angels’ wings: he marched right on and reached his goal. From the very first he bore himself as a hero of the Dark Continent. In the originality of his career, in tenacity of purpose, in his habit of never quailing before difficulties, in splendid audacity of programme, in energy, in sanctified common sense, and in his inexhaustible faith in the elevation of the African, Stewart set an inspiring example to missionary pioneers.1 [Note: J. Wells, Stewart of Lovedale, 92.]
4. We must not suppose that the race is a very distinguished and splendid career of Christian enterprise, which only some apostle or missionary or reformer might be thought able to undertake. The people to whom the author writes were ordinary Christians, poor Jewish converts, most probably people of less than average means and pretensions. They had no resources at their command. Their names are unknown. They were mere Hebrews. Their career and influence, whatever it was, must have been confined to the narrowest limits. And though the writer speaks somewhat grandly of what was set before them, and brings them into connexion with Jesus, and the great forefathers of their race who subdued kingdoms and wrought righteousness, they were probably very pitiable persons, so far as the world’s judgment would go; and some of us might have been rather shy of associating much with them. Therefore the race set before them cannot have had anything very extraordinary in it.
Nevertheless, it was the same race as that run by the Lord Himself—the race of faith. In His case it was faith in God, the God of salvation; the faith of One conscious of being the Messiah, the Redeemer, entering with the Father into the great and merciful purpose of salvation, which He could accomplish in no other way than by coming down into the family of men, and running this race of faith as their forerunner and the leader of their salvation. In the case of the Hebrews it was faith in God the Saviour, and in His Son the Redeemer, as the leader of salvation, and the author and finisher of the faith. Even the faith of Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, was not the isolated faith of a mere individual out of connexion with other men. It was the faith of the Messiah, one with men, the leader of their salvation conscious of His relations to men, their forerunner, the author and finisher of the faith. And thus the course of the Hebrews, though nothing but the ordinary believing life of very mean persons, becomes to the writer’s mind something great, and even one with the life of the Lord Himself.
It is not because, like many others, Jesus is a moral example to us, but because He represents something more—the impassioned struggle of humanity after the impossible, after that which the moral law only tells us of, but does not show us how to attain—the spiritual, imaginative, and fine perfection we shall become when the bitter struggle of life for righteousness and joy is closed in victory. In realizing that ideal for us, in giving inspiration to our souls, in His inward support of the battle by which we press forward towards the mark as men to a city encompassed with a host of foes, He is dearer to us than He is as our moral example.1 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke.]
The Conditions of Successful Running
“Let us … lay aside every weight.”
1. We are to lay aside every “weight.” This term means that which is superfluous, that which exceeds the proper extent or mass of anything; in the case of a runner, it would refer to unnecessary clothing or undue fleshiness of body. These impede the runner; and as the athlete in the race wears the scantiest clothing, and, if he be in training, keeps his body under, and submits cheerfully to the trainer’s rules, denying himself even the little indulgences which other men allow themselves, so here the Christian is exhorted to lay aside every weight, everything that would be a hindrance in running the race set before him. He must not carry an ounce of unnecessary weight. He will need all his spirit, all his vigour, all his dash, all his buoyancy for this enterprise. If he handicaps himself by putting weights in his pockets, or sewing them into his garments, he has no prospect of prominence in the race. He may still, of course, struggle stolidly on, but anything like a brilliant effort will be effectually discouraged. Wherefore, first and foremost, let us lay aside every encumbrance.
Pleasures, friendships, occupations, habits, may be in themselves innocent enough, but if they hinder our running well they must be given up. Carlyle once said, “Thou must go without, go without; that is the everlasting song which every hour all our life, though hoarsely, sings to us”; and those words are true of the Christian life.1 [Note: G. S. Barrett, Musings for Quiet Hours, 57.]
(1) There are certain weights that are a help and not a hindrance to our progress. They impart a certain momentum to the character, and carry a man through obstacles victoriously. There are men who by nature are light-weights, with little chance, in this hard world, of prospering, and God has to steady them with burdens sometimes, if they are to run with patience the race that is set before them.
I should not like to travel in a train if I were told that it was light as matchwood. I should not like to put to sea in a great steamer if I were informed there was no ballast in her. When there are curves to be taken or storms to be encountered, when the way is beset with obstacles or perils, you need a certain weight to ensure safety, and you need a certain weight to give you speed. I have no doubt that this is the explanation of many of the weights that we must carry. They steady and ballast us; they give us our momentum as we drive ahead through the tempestuous sea. Life might be lighter and gayer if we lacked them; but, after all, there are better things than gaiety. It is a real weight to a young man, sometimes, that he has to support an aged relative. There is much that he craves for which he can never get so long as that burden at home is on his shoulders. But has not that burden made a man of him—made him strenuous and serious and earnest? He might have run his race with brilliance otherwise, but he runs it with patience now, and that is better.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, 321.]
(2) Sometimes the things that we call weights are of the most insignificant and trifling kind. They are like the weights beside a chemist’s scales, so tiny as hardly to be visible. What would a thorn turn the scale at? There would be a good many thousands to the pound. Caught in the fleece of a sheep upon the hills, it would not hinder it from freest movement. But plunged in the flesh of a great saint like St. Paul, it hampers and retards at every turn, till even the thorn for St. Paul becomes a weight, and drives him in entreaty to the Throne. There are few things sadder in the world than the trifling nature of much that hinders men. There are thousands who would run well if it were not for only one thing between them and freedom. And that is often such a little thing that the pity is that a man should be so near and yet, from the triumph of it all, so far.
2. “The sin which doth so easily beset us” has to be laid aside. There is some doubt as to the exact meaning of the Greek word translated in our Version by “doth so easily beset us,” for it is found only here in the New Testament. It may mean what our translation gives as its rendering, or it may be as the margin of the Revised Version gives it—sin which “doth closely cling to us,” or sin which “is admired of many,” popular sin, as it may be called.
Whichever rendering we may take, the lesson is the same. We have not only to put on one side all those weights which, sinless in themselves, would hinder our running, but we have also to lay aside every sin, however closely it clings to us, and whatever may be the struggle it costs to free ourselves from it. We cannot run at all if we are cumbered with conscious sin. We cannot turn to God unless we turn away from sin. Coming to Christ always means leaving something behind, and that something always includes sin. Many are not saved, and never begin to run the heavenly race, because they are afraid of this condition, giving up sin. And yet they must make the choice; they must give up sin, or they will have to give up Christ.
One of the New Testament Revisers has told me that in order to get at the literal meaning of this word we shall have to invent an almost grotesque expression; he says the only words which represent the idea in his mind are these, “Let us lay aside the well-stood-arounded sin”; that is to say, the popular sin. There is the sin, and round it there is a band of admirers, and round that band there is another, and around that band there is a third cordon; and so the throng swells and extends, and this sin becomes the well-stood-arounded sin, the sin that everybody likes, praises, cheers.1 [Note: Joseph Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 122.]
It is said that the electric current, though invisible and to our senses inappreciable, when passed through a wire or substance, disposes every one of its particles differently from what they were before. It is wholly altered, though to the eye the same. And the subtle influence of sin, even when unknown, gives a new disposition to the powers of the mind, puts it into a frame incompatible with that other frame which is faith in Christ. The two cannot exist together. And, therefore, in order to faith, sin must be laid aside.2 [Note: A. B. Davidson, Waiting upon God, 312.]
3. We are to run with patience. The ancients had their virtue—fortitude. It was more active than passive, for the standpoint of ancient ethics was self-sufficingness. In the Christian idea of patience, the passive element of it is as prominent as the active; even more prominent, for first, the life we live on earth is often a life of suffering; and secondly, the idea of humility—wholly foreign to antiquity—is one of the roots of Christian ethics.
The very pace of the runner is itself the foe of patience. It calls, seemingly, for impetuosity, and the more impetuous the runner, we are accustomed to think, the better. Its certain effect is to heat the blood and fire the nerves. Behold the athlete with every muscle taut, every line of his face hard-set, his eye intense and eager, the applauding crowd urging him on! How can he be poiseful and self-controlled? Indeed, patience would seem impossible, and impatience the very price of the prize. And yet every athletic man knows that this is the talk of a novice. If there is anything the runner needs it is self-control, to be able “to keep his head,” as we say, to command his nerves, to hold his strength in check at the first and let it out toward the finish, to keep from being unnerved by the shouts of the crowd, to be equal to any unforeseen turn the race may take or any condition before unreckoned with that may appear. And does it not always turn out that a running match is at bottom chiefly a question of self-command—muscle, wind, nerve, mind, and even heart—and the winner ever found to be the one who has run the race with the greatest patience?
Self-control may be developed in precisely the same manner as we tone up a weak muscle—by little exercises day by day. Let us each day do, as mere exercises of discipline in moral gymnastics, a few acts that are disagreeable to us, the doing of which will help us in instant action in our hour of need. These daily exercises in moral discipline will have a wondrous tonic effect on man’s whole moral nature. The individual can attain self-control in great things only through self-control in little things. He must study himself to discover what is the weak point in his armour, what is the element within him that ever keeps him from his fullest success. This is the characteristic upon which he should begin his exercise in self-control. Is it selfishness, vanity, cowardice, morbidness, temper, laziness, worry, mind-wandering, lack of purpose?—whatever form human weakness assumes in the masquerade of life he must discover. He must then live each day as if his whole existence were telescoped down to the single day before him. With no useless regret for the past, no useless worry for the future, he should live that day as if it were his only day—the only day left for him to assert all that is best in him, the only day for him to conquer all that is worst in him. He should master the weak element within him at each slight manifestation from moment to moment. Each moment then must be a victory for it or for him. Will he be King, or will he be slave?—the answer rests with him.1 [Note: W. G. Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control, 11.]
Have you ever thought, my friend,
As you daily toil and plod
In the noisy paths of men,
How still are the ways of God?
Have you ever paused in the din
Of traffic’s insistent cry,
To think of the calm in the cloud
Of the peace in your glimpse of the sky?
Go out in the quiet fields,
That quietly yield you meat,
And let them rebuke your noise,
Whose patience is still and sweet.
The Cloud of Witnesses
“Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.”
1. The word “witness” has two meanings in our language, and out of that double meaning has come some confusion, and a misunderstanding of the text. The word means one who looks on and sees—a spectator; it also means one who gives his evidence. It is easy to see how the word came to have the double meaning. He who gives evidence must have some personal knowledge of the matter, and that personal knowledge comes mostly by seeing. But the Greek word which is used here has but one meaning, and that is clear and unmistakable. The word itself has been adopted into our language—“martyr”: seeing we are compassed about by so great a cloud of martyrs—confessors, witnesses who have borne their testimony to the power of faith in their own lives. The word runs through the eleventh chapter, variously translated—witness, testimony, testifying, evidence. The author of the Epistle puts Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and these other great saints into the witness-box, and they tell us what faith has done for them. Then he turns to us as the jury as if to say, “Sirs, you have heard what these have said, these, who have come as near to a true and worthy life as any that ever lived. I have a great many other witnesses who are all prepared to give similar testimony if time permitted. Wherefore, then, seeing that we are compassed about with so great a cloud of those who have shown us what faith has done for them, let us turn to ourselves and run the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith.”
When immortal Bunyan makes his picture of the persecuting passions bringing in their verdict of guilty, who pities Faithful? That is a rare and blessed lot which some greatest men have not attained, to know ourselves guiltless before a condemning crowd—to be sure that what we are denounced for is solely the good in us. The pitiable lot is that of the man who could not call himself a martyr even though he were to persuade himself that the men who stoned him were but ugly passions incarnate—who knows that he is stoned, not for professing the Eight, but for not being the man he professed to be.1 [Note: George Eliot, Middlemarch.]
2. To what do they witness?
(1) They are witnesses to a Divine, invisible, eternal life; witnesses to something that many of us do not see at all, to something that most of us see only vaguely, dimly, occasionally. They are witnesses to a great truth in the faith of which they walk, by which they were inspired, which perhaps we fail to see, or see only at special times and on special occasions.
Walking along the street, you see a group of men standing, looking up into the heavens; and you are pretty sure they see something, and you wonder what it is, and stop and look where they are looking. So we see men gathered in monasteries, gathered in closets, gathered in houses of worship, drawn together by a vision, looking up into the heavens at something invisible to most of us in the dust and darkness of life. And because these men are looking we are sure there is something they see. A man without any love of music may come into a concert-room, and the music which is sounding out from the platform may mean nothing to him, but surely he cannot look upon this audience rapt in attention and not know that there is something in music, whether he appreciates it or not? So it is impossible for any man to look out upon the great worshipping congregations of all ages and all times, seeing men stirred not only with a momentary passion, a temporary enthusiasm, but lifted up into a higher, nobler, and grander life, and not feel sure that there is a truth, a reality, in spiritual life.1 [Note: Lyman Abbott.]
(2) They are by their very lives witnesses to the power that inspired them. They are witnesses to what God can make out of common men and women. In the sculptor’s studio you see the form shaped by his skilful hands, and your heart is touched, your soul is lifted up; you receive through the clay, but not from the clay, a new thought or a new emotion. You see what a great sculptor can make out of common clay. Put a violin in the hands of a poor player, and you will put your fingers in your ears to keep out the dissonance. Put the same instrument in the hands of a skilful player, and you will feel the soul breathing through the instrument. It is the player that makes the difference. Look all along the line of human history, and you may see what kind of figures God can make out of clay like yours; you may hear what kind of music He can play on instruments such as you are. The great and good men of the world are witnesses to the power, not ourselves, but which is in ourselves—to the power that makes men great.
The writing-master sits down at the desk, and says to the child, “See how I hold my pen,” and shows his pupil how to place the fingers on the penholder, and with what freedom and flexibility, and yet with what steadiness, the letters are formed; and then he says, “Now you sit down and try.” And the boy sits down, and takes the pen, and the teacher stands and looks over his shoulder to see how well he has learned his lesson. So the sainted father or mother or pastor or friend sits down at our side, and says, “I will show you what life means.” Or, rather, God in them sits before us, saying, “I will show you what life means.” And then, having given us a momentary glimpse of life, they step on one side, and look over our shoulder, to see whether we have learned the lesson well or not.2 [Note: Ibid.]
The Force that had been lent my Father he honourably expended in manful well-doing: a portion of this Planet bears beneficent traces of his strong Hand and strong Head; nothing that he undertook to do but he did it faithfully and like a true man. I shall look on the Houses he built with a certain proud interest: they stand firm and sound to the heart, all over his little district: no one that comes after him will ever say, Here was the finger of a hollow Eye-servant. They are little texts, for me, of the Gospel of man’s free-will. Nor will his Deeds and Sayings, in any case, be found unworthy, not false and barren, but genuine and fit. Nay, am not I also the humble James Carlyle’s work? I owe him much more than existence; I owe him a noble inspiring example (now that I can read it in that rustic character); it was he exclusively that determined on educating me, that from his small, hard-earned funds sent me to School and College; and made me whatever I am or may become. Let me not mourn for my Father; let me do worthily of him; so shall he still live, even Here, in me; and his worth plant itself honourably forth into new generations.1 [Note: Carlyle, Reminiscences, i. 3.]
The Supreme and Inspiring Example
“Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of faith.”
1. The “author of faith,” says the writer. It is the same word as is translated “the Prince of life” in the Acts of the Apostles, and, in another part of this letter, “the Captain of salvation.” It means literally one who makes a beginning, or who leads on a series or succession of events or of men. And when we read of the “author of faith” (for the word “our” in the Authorized Version is a very unfortunate supplement), we are not to take the writer as intending to say that Christ gives to men the faith by which they grasp Him—for that is neither a Scriptural doctrine nor would it be relevant to the present context—but to regard him as meaning that Jesus Christ is, as it were, the Captain of the great army that has been deployed before us in the preceding chapter. He came first in order of time, yet, like other commanders-in-chief, He rides in the centre of the march; and He is the first that ever lived a life of perfect and unbroken faith. So He is the Leader of the army, and in the true sense of the name, which is usurped by a very unworthy earthly monarch, is the “Commander of the Faithful.”
The term “Captain” (rather than “Author”) suggests one who goes before us and cripples the common enemy and makes a way for His followers through the thick of the fight. It suggests one who fights from the same level and by His superior strength wins victory for Himself and others; the strong swimmer who carries the rope ashore, and so not only secures His own position but makes rescue for all who will follow; the daring man who goes first and treads down the drifted snow, leaving a lane for the weaker to walk in; the originator of salvation to all, by Himself leading the way from the present actual life of men in this world to the glory beyond. There is only one path by which any one in human nature can reach his destiny, and that lies through temptation and the suffering which temptation brings. Christ being leader must take this way. He was human and obliged to make growth in human righteousness, made under the law, subject to human conditions and exposed to all human temptations, finding His strength not in Himself but in another even as we, needing faith as we need faith.1 [Note: Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, 63.]
2. We are to run while ever “looking unto Jesus.” The Greek expression is most peculiar, for it includes the idea of looking away from everything else and fastening the soul’s gaze upon the Lord alone. We are all tempted to look at the things behind; to consider the difficulties, the trials, the sorrows, the sins of life thus far prosecuted. Remorse bids us catalogue our crimes. Discouragement bids us remember the past obstacles. Unbelief constrains us to believe every tale of all the embarrassment which in the life of faith and the labour of love we have met. The writer commands us to look away from the things that are past. “Forgetting those things which are behind … press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling in God in Christ Jesus.” There is nothing religious in the remembrance of past sins or past sorrows. It clothes the soul with sadness, it deprives it of strength, it disqualifies it for energy and action. From all—no matter how dense has been the darkness through which we have passed, no matter how deep the sloughs of despond through which we have stumbled, no matter how high the mountains of our’ divisions that we have already crossed—we are to look away. The life that God has given us from His own glory is to accomplish the purposes for which we are sent.
Just as the modern conqueror of the air trusts to a power that surpasses human strength, so is it with the man who would rise above a purely mundane existence. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me,” says St. Paul. He finds that the motor-power of the Spirit of God is sufficient to raise him far above the levels of the old life. Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of his faith, he finds that the frail craft of his life is borne aloft, and so strong is the unseen motor-force impelling it that it is no longer buffeted about by every wind of doctrine, but is carried steadily forward against the many gusts that threaten to upset its equilibrium.1 [Note: M. G. Archibald, Sundays at the Royal Military College, 261.]
3. The joy of victory lies in front. The man bent upon reaching the Pole spends no pity on himself; the martyr, bent upon establishing some new republic of virtue and truth, has neither the desire nor the instinct to recount his wounds. They move with a sort of ecstasy towards that goal which they have set before them. They know a solemn exaltation of spirit which makes them indifferent to wounds and death. It may almost be said that they scarcely feel what to another would be dreadful pain; spirit has so far conquered sense that the very edge of pain is blunted. No one who reads the story of martyrdom can doubt that the martyr often reached a condition of sublime ecstasy, in which the ideal he loved had become so real to him that the real had almost ceased to be a part of himself. And it was so with Jesus. The joy set before Him was so real and vivid that He endured the cross and despised the shame—the tragic and the agonizing being swallowed up in the triumphant.
When I was at a public school, we used to have a great system of paper-chases, especially in the Easter term, when there was not quite so much football. I used to be very fond of running in these. They were generally rather long and tiring, and you needed to be in very good training for them. One custom we always had was, when we were a mile or two from the college, to form up in a line and race home; and very hard and exhausting work it was. But I well remember one thing about those “runs in,” as we called them, and that was how wonderfully you seemed to forget fatigue and exhaustion the moment the college towers came in sight. We saw our goal clear before us, and it seemed to put new life into us. It was a real help, just when we most wanted it. It helped one to keep going strongly and make a good finish.2 [Note: F. S. Horan, A Call to Seamen, 128.]
Why those fears? behold, ’tis Jesus
Holds the helm and guides the ship;
Spread the sails, and catch the breezes
Sent to waft us o’er the deep
To the regions
Where the mourners cease to weep.
Could we stay when death was hov’ring,
Could we rest on such a shore?
No, the awful truth discov’ring,
We could linger there no more:
We forsake it,
Leaving all we loved before.
Though the shore we hope to land on
Only by report is known,
Yet we freely all abandon
Led by that report alone:
And with Jesus
Through the trackless deep move on.
Render’d safe by His protection,
We shall pass the wat’ry waste;
Trusting to His wise direction,
We shall gain the port at last,
And with wonder
Think on toils and dangers past.
The Race Set before Us
Archibald (M. G.), Sundays at the Royal Military College, 253.
Barrett (G. S.), Musings for Quiet Hours, 55.
Brooke (S. A.), Short Sermons, 166.
Brown (C), The Message of God, 272.
Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, ii. 346.
Dale (R. W.), The Jewish Temple and the Christian Church, 242.
Davidson (A. B.), Waiting upon God, 305.
Dawson (W. J.), The Reproach of Christ, 194.
Dods (M.), Christ and Man, 61.
Ewing (J. F.), The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 20.
Fairweather (D.), Bound in the Spirit, 195.
Fürst (A.), True Nobility of Character, 315.
Gregg (D.), Our Best Moods, 159.
Hamilton (J.), Faith in God, 262.
Horne (C. S.), The Rock of Ages, 233.
Houchin (J. W.), The Vision of God, 92.
Howatt (J. R.), A Year’s Addresses to the Young, 41.
Hull (E. L.), Sermons, iii. 144.
Jenkins (E. E.), Life and Christ, 297.
Lidgett (J. S.), Apostolic Ministry, 73.
Love (J. C), Talks to Children, 121.
Macfarlane (W. H.), Redemptive Service, 297.
Maclaren (A.), The Victor’s Crowns, 93.
Morrison (G. H.), The Wings of the Morning, 319.
Parker (J.), The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 117.
Pearse (M. G.), The Gospel for the Day, 18.
Ryle (J. C), The Christian Race, 154.
Selby (T. G.), The Strenuous Gospel, 160.
Stephen (R.), Divine and Human Influence, ii. 191.
Christian Commonwealth, xxxi. (1911) 589 (R. J. Campbell).
Christian World Pulpit, xxxvi. 216 (M. Dods); xl. 353 (G. C. Morgan); xlix. 325 (C. Gore); lxxiii. 74 (L. Abbott); lxxv. 216 (M. Dods); lxxxiv. 209 (A. F. W. Ingram).
Guardian, lxviii. (1913) 1226 (A. F. W. Ingram).
Presbyterian, Dec. 12, 1912 (J. Kelman).