1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
When Paul said we are "encompassed with so great a cloud of witnesses," he did not mean that we are surrounded by spirits in the air; but that we have a great company of people to look back to who have borne witness to the truth before us. You will see this if you consider the context.
He had enumerated many faithful men, beginning with Abel and coming down to the time of the Maccabees, who had suffered for the truth, of whom he said the world was not worthy, and who were all laid away, waiting the time when they should be glorified together. See the list in Heb. 11.
Having completed the list, he says,
"Seeing we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,"
be ye strong also;
"let us lay aside every weight of the sin which doth so easily beset us, looking unto Jesus,"
who, like them,
"for the joy set before him endured the cross."
It is not that dead men are looking upon us but we have it in our power to look upon them, and to take courage from their good example.
The Christadelphian, Dec 1898
Let us lay aside every weight
While taking care to use the means to keep awake, it is necessary to avoid the things that tend to draw us into the universal slumber. On this head, there are books not to be read, companions not to be kept company with, pleasures not to be followed, pursuits not to be engaged in, habits not to be practised, objects not to be aimed at.
There are "weights" to be "laid aside"-to use another of Paul's figures when comparing the calling in Christ to a race. Every earnest man will be able to recognise these for himself. They are discernible by the simple test of whether they interfere or not with the growth of Christ dwelling in our heart by faith.
By this test, novel-reading will be abandoned. There is no more powerful spiritual sleeping draught than this. It conjures a fictitious picture before the mind. It invests human life with a beauty that does not exist in fact, and teaches men to be interested in trifles, and to be interested even in important things and in men from the wrong point of view. It excludes God from sight, draws a veil over real wisdom, and hides the glory to be revealed.
The Bible appears a very dull object to the eyes of man or woman just turned from the dazzle of brilliant story-telling.
So companions who know not God, and have consequently no symphony with divine objects, motives, and prospects of life; pleasures that excite a narrow-minded emulation, or bring us into friendly relation with godless people; pursuits in politics or science that would give us an interest in the property of the present order of things, or in other directions;
pursuits that have an ill-savour, or exact too much of our time and energy; habits that identify us with the unholy, debase the mental powers, defile nature, or make holiness a dim idea; objects which, in the process of their attainment, would require us to sacrifice all opportunities of the service of Christ, or in their realisation would expose us to a dangerous fellowship with the world (such as aiming to be wealthy)-all these are things to be avoided, and that will be avoided, by those who have earnestly set their faces for the kingdom of God.
Such are not to be scared away from the path of wisdom by outcries which have their origin elsewhere. We have to remember that the world at large have not only forgotten the theory of the truth, but that they have never realised to what it is that men are called when they are called to be sons of God, and brethren of Christ, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
From this unenlightened world most brethren have but recently come. Consequently they are liable to bring the world's maxims with them. Casting about for the right one, the only safe plan is to rely for guidance on the word only. Brethren are only trustworthy in so far as they echo its sentiments and principles.
What will be our answer as we stand before the Lord and have to answer for things that we have done? Things that we have put ahead of things of the Truth? What was so important that we could not be with the brethren and sisters on every available occasion in the work of the vineyard?
... The race that Paul speaks of includes every phase of our life. All needs to be examined. The people we spend time with, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the hobbies on which we consume time, the things we read, the pleasures we pursue. We have to consider in each case, "would the Lord himself do the same?"
Let us, with Paul, cast away these weights. Just cast them aside.
Bro Don Newcomer - Occupy Till I Come
Men of the high calling will leave the engrossments of merely literary or scientific or any other kind of life apart from the gospel, which though interesting in some respects, has a tendency to take up all the time and absorb all the mind, and which when life is gone, is worth nothing at all. There will be plenty of time for intellectual sweets, when we have attained to life eternal. To gain this, we have now to neglect many other things. We have to choose the disagreeable.
We are not fools in doing so. A man will always choose the disagreeable if he sees something good at the end; a man will go down into a mine and endure darkness, and fatigue, and danger, if he thinks it will set him up for the rest of his life.
And a person who sees in his mind's eye, Christ, the future ruler and possessor of the world, will be very glad to share in the sufferings of Christ in this present time; knowing that this is exacted as one of the conditions of participating in the glory to be revealed.
The Christadelphian, Apr 1872
3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
Consider how high and great is the position offered to the friends of Christ, and that death will never terminate their felicity. Realizing this, we cannot marvel that we are called on to suffer now. It is a rule among men that the severity of a mans training is in proportion to the eminence of the position for which he is intended. If you want farm laborers, there is no need for training of any kind. Any education or no education will do; but if you want a man to lead an army or guide a state, you must bring to bear much preparatory discipline.
Now, though the qualifications required in men for divine use are very different from that which human employment calls for, the same necessity exists for discipline and preparation- The use to which God intends to put His chosen is great and lasting, and, therefore, the trial is sharp and long. Peter tells us to 'think it not strange'. We are enabled to catch his thought by such reflections as these. Apart from these reflections, we are liable to 'think it strange' very strange < that God should hide His face and leave those who seek and love Him in affliction. Human nature < weak and blind < is apt to grow weary and doubtful under the process.
...The Scriptures enable us to endure with patience. They do so by the perceptions they impart. Wherever we dip into them, we find something to aid us in this matter.
Exhort Bro Roberts - Fortified to Endure..
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
God is here speaking to His people. If there is evil, it is of God; and there is a reason. Usually it is a warning against, and a punishment of, sin. It is to make men think, and examine themselves: to make them realize that God is all-seeing and all-powerful - that none can successfully ignore His righteous laws, or set themselves against Him. Such evil on God's people is really a blessing of His love; an evidence of His Fathership and care-the chastisement of beloved sons (Heb. 12:6).
Evil is not always an indication of sin, but sometimes of welldoing-
"Every branch that beareth not fruit my Father taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (Jn. 15: 2).
But its purpose is always the same: to teach something; to bring out inner characteristics; to test and strengthen faith by giving scope to its manifestation and exercise; to reveal to us our weakness and need; to manifest the uncertainty and brevity of present things.
Bro Growcott - Seek the Lord, and Ye Shall Live
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
To be without chastisement is to be without God.
This is the argument of Heb. 12:5-8. Chastisement is an indispensable item in our preparation for the Kingdom of God. Chastisement is productive of much good;
"it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
Christ forcibly expressed in figure the working of chastisement-
"Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."
How easy is it to recognise this in theory! but how difficult to do so in practice. How many have taken umbrage when God has put His method into operation! Let us endeavour to succeed where others have failed. Let us not forget the Scripture which says;
"If ye endure chastising God dealeth with you as with sons."
We should not faint under chastisement, for God is as pitiful with us as a father is with his children. In receiving correction, as in everything else, we want to exhibit Christ's spirit. As evil crosses our path we require to feel that it either comes from God or is regulated by Him for our highest good. We should be able to say as calamity arises:
"Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above."
Bro AT Jannaway
The Christadelphian, Jan 1888
12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
We ought to follow after righteousness with a careful and even a painful strictness, knowing that even "the righteous shall scarcely be saved" (1. Pet. iv. 18), and that "without holiness, no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. xii. 14).
But at the same time, we must not shut our eyes to the fact that "like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him, for he knoweth our frame: he remembereth that we are dust," and that "as heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy towards them" all of whom will say at last, "he hath not dealt with us after our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Psa. ciii. 10-14).
... "If any have caused grief . . . ye ought rather to forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such an one should be swallowed up with over-much sorrow" (2 Cor. ii. 5, 7).
The Christadelphian, Oct 1894. p393
14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
Holiness is compulsory on the members of the house of Christ-holiness in everything-"in all manner of conversation" "in both body and spirit." These are apostolic definitions and according to reason.
Whatever is physically offensive or tends to lead away from Christ (as smoking, drinking, theatre-going, novel reading, court summonsing, &c.) is inconsistent with holiness, and will be decisively repudiated by the truly enlightened son of God.
What if some brand holiness as "bigotry" and "prejudice:" it is nothing new for good to be called evil. If we are to please the carnally-minded, we shall soon be the friends of the world, and in a state of spiritual shipwreck. Life as it now is will soon be gone. Christ's standard will decide all at last. We must conform now.
There is no popery in declaring the truth.
15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
17 For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
The apostle cites the case of Esau as a warning to believers lest any of them should "fail of the grace of God." All who are Abraham's seed by being in Christ have obtained the birth right; and are thereby entitled to the blessing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that hereafter
"people should serve them, and nations bow down to them; and that they should be lords over their brethren."
But, if for some temporal advantage they should "sin wilfully," and thus barter it away,
"there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26-27).
There is no scope afforded to such for repentance; for they have placed themselves precisely in Esau's position. Hence, the apostle exhorted his brethren to look diligently to it, that none of them proved to be
"a profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright: "for," said he, "ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no possibility of a change of (Isaac's) mind though he sought it carefully with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17)
God is merciful; but He is also jealous; and "will by no means clear the wilful." If His children sell their birthright to the world for anything it can tempt them with, His mind, like Isaac's, is immovable; and transgressors cannot change it, though they may seek carefully to do so with tears, and prayers, and with great and exceeding bitter cries.
Elpis Israel 2.3.
The reference to Esau shows the meaning. The man who deliberately bargains himself out of the divine covenant is doubtless in a hopeless position. This was Esau's case. He "sold" his birthright. Believers may do the same.
There were many in times of persecution who bartered away their title to the kingdom by some overt act of conformity to the dominant diabolism required at their hands as the condition of immunity: such as formally denying Christ, or formally doing homage to Cæsar, or openly taking part in the lascivious festivals of the gods.
A man bargaining himself out of Christ for any present advantage is in Esau's position doubtless, but this is a different thing from those acts of infirmity which are the grief of a righteous man's soul, and for which he makes daily petition of forgiveness.
The Christadelphian, Oct 1894. p391-393.
22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
Now, the children in Isaac become the children of the heavenly Jerusalem by believing "the exceeding great and precious promises" set forth in "the manifold wisdom of God." They hope to see Canaan and Jerusalem under the new covenant, which will constitute them both heavenly.
...but it is as yet only in spirit, that is, by faith and hope: and as the city and land will be made heavenly by the Lord from heaven, their glorious attributes are in truth "above;" to believe, then, in what will be brought down to the city from above, is for the children of the promise in Isaac to stand related to "Jerusalem which is above, the mother of them all" (Gal.4:26).
Hence, the apostle exhorts them, saying, "If then ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead (to earthly things) and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then, shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
Elpis Israel 2.2.
We do not know where the angels live.
This need be no difficulty. There is plenty of room. Even if some of them live upon the earth, which is possible, seeing they manage it at present, we would not be likely to see them, as they are sensitive as to the intrusion of mortals and have the power of veiling themselves from sight.
We shall see plenty of them if we have only patience to wait long enough. There will be myriads in attendance upon Christ in the day of his coming: but whether they will be our friends or the mere distant well-bred officials of the heavenly court, will depend upon whether Christ feels justified in confessing us before them or not.
The Christadelphian, Dec 1898
23 To the general assembly and ecclesia of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
"SPIRITS OF JUST MEN MADE PERFECT"
This is one of several things to which Paul alleges the Hebrews had "come."-(Heb. xii. 22.) The Hebrews had not "come" to any of them in the literal sense. They had come to them in the sense in which they had "not come unto the mount that might be touched and burned with fire, &c." (ver. 18); that is, in the relative sense.
The faith they embraced in Christ had no relation to the literal Sinai, at which Moses received the law, but had relation to the Mount Zion and Jerusalem of the heavenly order of things on earth, to come, when "the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously."-(Isaiah xxiv, 23.)
Most of the things enumerated, have their place in that time to which at present we are only related by faith. "The spirits of just men made perfect," is one of the things. To perceive the meaning of it, we must keep in mind that it is introduced with the others, in contrast to what obtained under the law of Moses. With this in view, we get at a ready solution. Paul says in an earlier part of this same epistle, (chap. vii, 19, ) "The law made nothing perfect." It accomplished nothing effectually for those who served it. It did not procure the remission of sins unto life eternal. A righteousness capable of elevating the sinner above the operation of the established law of death, was impossible under it. Righteousness could not come by the law.-(Gal. iii, 21.)
Paul distinctly says "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (Gal. ii, 21.) The law could not make just men perfect in their spiritual relations: "Under it were offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience."-(Heb. ix, 9.) If perfection could have come by the law, we should have had no dispensation through Christ. "If the first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second."-(Heb. viii, 7.)
But the first was entirely faulty, as a means of healing the breach between man and his Maker. It was never designed to accomplish this object. It was a purely provisional arrangement of things to pave the way for the real work.-(Gal. iii, 24.) It only typified the real work which is now in progress. It contained no arrangement by which the law of God might be upheld in the death of Adam's race and yet the goodness of God made effective in resurrection and eternal life-nothing by which He could be "just and yet the justifier of those who" were under condemnation.-(Rom. iii, 26.) It pointed allegorically to the way in which this was to be done; and that was Christ, who is the substance and end of the whole matter.
Under the new covenant, the spirits of just men are made perfect, whether they lived under the law of Moses, (in faith) or live now, or are yet to live. Christ's sacrificial and mediatorial work, (which is the basis of the new covenant,) removes the weight of the law of sin and death, from which none of the just men of ancient times could deliver themselves by their own righteousness.-(Rom. viii, 1, 3.)
"How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? And for this cause, he is the mediator of the new testament (or covenant), that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament (or covenant), they who are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance."-(Heb. ix, 14, 15.)
[Next is the explanation for 'the spirits of just men made perfect'].
To this glorious arrangement, the Hebrews who were formerly in a legal sense, under the "mount that might be touched," had "come" by the faith of Christ; and the hope of realising the substance of it, in the glory, honour, and immortality of the kingdom, was the anchor on which their minds rested.
Should you [orthodox believers] object to all this, and say that "the spirits of just men made perfect," were the immortal souls or the righteous in heaven, you get into fog and difficulty inextricable. In what sense were the Hebrews come to the glorified immortal souls of the righteous?
And if in any sense, were their just forefathers under the law, not equally "come" to the same thing, seeing at their death they went to glory, and are now "safe in the promised land?"
And what contrast in that case between the spiritual destiny of men under the law, and those under the gospel? And if just men were made perfect at that time, what is the meaning of Paul's statement, "They without us, shall not be made perfect; (Heb. xi, 40.) and of John, concerning the sounding of the seventh angel, "The time of thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldst give reward to thy servants, the prophets, and to them that fear Thy name, both small and great."-(Rev. xi, 18.)
The Ambassador of the Coming Age, Dec 1867. p318-19
24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
But Cain was a genuine "seed of the serpent." The thinking of the flesh, called by Adam the serpent, was strong within him. "He talked with Abel," who, doubtless, pleaded for the things repudiated by Cain. But Cain's reasonings were perverse; well-doing was not at all to his taste; so that, having no faith in the promise, he preferred to follow his own waywardness; and being determined to rid himself of his brother's expostulations, he mingled his blood with the dust of the ground.
Thus was slain by a brother's hand the protomartyr of the faith, a righteous man, respected and beloved of God. His only offence was that, in believing the promises of God and doing well, his brother was reproved. The fleshly mind hates righteousness, and those who practice it; so that between the two parties the truth and righteousness of God (Matt. 6:33; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21, 22, 25, 26) lie as an apple of discord. Abel was the first of Eve's sons of whom honorable mention is made on account of "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:25-26; 1:5).
As Cain was of the evil one by transgression so Abel was of God by the obedience of faith, which evinced that "God's seed remained in him." Hence, though both of them were born of Eve according to the flesh, their spiritual paternity was as opposite as light and darkness. Cain was a man of sin; and Abel, an accepted son of God. In these characters, they stood at the head of two divisions of their father's family; and proximately represented the seed of the serpent, and the Seed of the woman. Cain bruised his brother's heel; but God appointed a substitute for Abel in the person of Seth, by whom Cain's headship was bruised, and his posterity superseded in the earth.
Eve, says Moses, "bare a son, and called his name Seth: for, said she, God hath appointed ME another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew." She had many other sons, but none of them are mentioned except Cain, Abel, and Seth. When, therefore, we are informed, that Seth was "'appointed, instead of Abel," and trace the posterity of Seth terminating through a certain line in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, we are taught that Cain lost his excellency by sin, and was therefore, set aside, and Abel provisionally appointed to be the progenitor of the Seed, who is to bruise the serpent's headship over the world.
But, Abel having been bruised in the heel, it became necessary, in order to carry out the divine purpose, and to answer allegorically the indications of the sentence upon the serpent, to appoint another son of Eve in the place of Abel. According to this arrangement, Abel became the type of Jesus, wounded in the heel, but whose sprinkled blood speaks better things than Abel's (Heb. 12:24), which cried only for vengeance, while Seth typifies Him in His re-appearance among the sons of men to bruise sin under foot, and to exterminate in the course of His reign, the serpent's seed from the face of the earth.
Elpis Israel 1.4.