Chapter 12

In this twelfth chapter to which we now come, the Spirit of God directs our gaze unto the Lord Jesus Himself, who trod the entire path of faith from beginning to end, without a break. These worthies of former times did but trust occasionally and with effort, at such periods as have been specially named to us. But there was no such inconstancy in Jesus. His path, like His work, was one whole. His advance along that path was continuous and unswerving. No matter what arose to tempt Him to turn aside, still on and on He went, even though He sank into deeper sorrow and trouble at each succeeding step. His enemies multiplied, and His friends became fewer, yet His faith in God was unshaken. How beautiful to holy intelligences above, must have been the path of the Holy One of God, as they watched Him pass along through a world where, since the day of Adam’s distrust of God, and belief of Satan’s lie, God had been distrusted and dishonoured! How they must have joyed as they beheld His unfailing faith in God, and his unfaltering steps in the way marked out for Him to tread, even when the clouds gathered thicker and thicker around, and the Cross loomed in His view! Yea, when that Cross was reached, when earth had rejected Him, and heaven seemed to give no response to His cry, He still confided in God, and refused to deliver Himself. Forsaken by God, allowed to sink even into death itself, His faith wavered not. His expiring cry was, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Then, but not till then, did God break His silence. ‘ He “raised Him from the dead, and gave Him glory.” God’s answer to that life of unwavering obedience and perfect dependence, was resurrection glory, and this in order that our “faith and hope might be in God” (1 Pet. 1:21). Thus He is our great Exemplar, “the Author and Finisher of faith”—not our faith, for the translation should be “The Beginner and Completer of the faith, the Divine Leader of the host of faith’s pilgrims, who trod the entire course from end to end. And thus, as has been often and well remarked, the Holy Ghost’s great delight in this epistle is, to set aside one person after another, in order that He may bring in Jesus, and fix the eye stedfastly upon Him. Angels, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, all give place to Jesus, and now the eye is taken from these worthies of Old Testament time, enumerated in chapter xi., to be fixed on the one solitary Example, who implicitly, and at all times, confided in His Father’s love and care.

The “cloud of witnesses “are not—as is often erroneously represented in hymns and otherwise—watching us, but witnessing unto us. The testimony borne is not by Angels, but by faith’s witnesses in the preceding chapter, to whose trust God gave response, which we beholding, should be encouraged to trust Him also.

“Looking off unto Jesus”—is not here a word to direct the sinner’s eye from self to Christ. Although that is true enough, it is not the lesson here. Rather is it, that we need not tarry longer at such imperfect and wavering acts of faith as those of chapter xi., but, “looking off” to the one perfect Pattern, the Beginner and Completer of faith, Jesus, press on along the same road, even if God continues silent, and foes increase. He will yet speak out. Look up to the throne! He has set down there the One who dared to please and trust Him here, who “endured the Cross, despising the shame,” and so He will to all who follow in the same path.

Verses 3, 4, “Consider Him”—not now up there, as the Apostle and High Priest, as chapter 3:1,—but the One “who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” O how He “endured” it all, silently and patiently! He was a “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Yet for the “joy set before Him,” He wavered not, but went onward to the Cross. We have not yet “resisted up to blood” in our siding with God, against the world and sin. Let His example and His promise —“Be thou faithful unto death,” that is, up to blood, “and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10)— animate us to go boldly forward in this blessed path. O how every step of it will shine out in golden lustre, in the day when God tells out His full estimate of all that has been of and for Him, in His people’s ways down here.

Verses 5-11. Even here, God makes use of the very trials that our faithfulness to Him brings us into, for our discipline. The very trials that in chapter 11 are from men, are here traced to be from a Father’s hand. The “chastisement” here, is not the whip for disobedience, but rather the pruning-knife, with the gracious design, that the subjects of it may be partakers of His holiness. Separation to God from everything that is not of Him, is the end in view, in all the Father’s dealings with His children. All had to suffer somewhat even in former times, Abel, Abraham, Joseph, David, but now that His love has been fully told out, and His own children received so tenderly, He “scourges “them. In those who are, by the Father’s chastisement, “exercised”—trained as in a gymnasium—“the peaceable fruits of righteousness” are brought forth. We are not to faint when we are “convicted”—it is not rebuked—“of Him.” His object is to wean us from everything that takes His place, and to cast us the more on Himself.

“Blest is the sorrow, kind the storm,
That casts me more on Him.”

To “endure chastening”—that is, stay under it, instead of avoiding or despising it, although for the time it is very “grievous”—will yet yield its fruit, and train us to know experimentally the Father’s love. Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of Thy law” (Psalm 94:12). Chastening alone weighs us down: teaching apart from chastening, might lift us up: together they form God’s way of training His children. Paul was caught up to the third heaven, where he heard unspeakable words, then he got a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being exalted above measure. “The Father of spirits” tells of our new relationship, our regeneration, like as that word in 1 Peter 4:9, “as unto a faithful Creator,” tells of our re-creation.

Verses 12, 13, “Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down.” God would have us to encourage our souls in Him, and press on. The road may be rough, but it cannot be long, and yonder at the end is the glory. Therefore, let us go straight forward in the path divine. As the kine that took the straight path to Bethshemesh (Judges 6:12), so let us “make straight paths” for our feet, turning neither to the right nor to the left. If we go aslant, if we diverge from the path of obedience, ever so slightly, who can tell where we may drift? O then, let us seek to “make straight paths,” and to be upright with our God.

Verse 14, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” All men, even the wicked, shall see Him in a sense, but not in His loveliness and beauty. None but His saints have the capacity to see Him then, none else have it now. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Not only are we to stand up for spiritual doctrine, but holiness, without which no man, whoever he is, shall see the Lord. Peace is to be followed, but to holiness are we called. That “God is love,” is precious, but it is not everything. Nor must it be separated from “God is light.” How can we see Him now, or dwell with Him then, or how expect His companionship, if we are walking in darkness, or if we are not walking in the truth. There is no other way of holiness than in the path of obedience.

Verses 15-17, “Looking diligently”—literally “oversee each other”—act the bishop, in order that we may stand fast in the grace to which, by faith in Christ, we have access, yet which most, even of religious professors, despise, because it would lift them out of this world and up to God, whereas they wish to be citizens of earth, for their hearts are set on earthly things. These spiritual fornicators, or worldly religious men, and these profane Esaus, who prefer some passing trifle, some fleshly satisfaction to God’s abiding favour, are on every side of us. Their maxim is to “make the best of both worlds,” but it is a vain thought. Too late they will learn that their love of the present world, their “one morsel” of present indulgence, has cost them much. When at last the terrible words ring in their ears, “I never knew you, depart from Me, ye who work lawlessness,” they will learn how grossly they have been deceived, but their chance is gone for ever. Esau’s rejection was consequent upon his long obduracy. He wept, not because he had sold his birthright, but because he had lost it: not because he was a sinner, but because he was a loser. There are such tears in hell, but they effect no change. The die is there cast for ever.

Verses 18-24.—Not to the bondage, fear, and darkness of the mount of law, but to the very presence of God. The blood has brought us there; yea, we are at home in the innermost, uppermost circles of blessing. “Ye are come;” already we are at home in all the gradations of glory to which these verses introduce us. Thus would God detach us from this sin-cursed world, and allure us upward to His very throne. Here follows a beautiful millennial picture. First, there is “Mount Zion,” which will be the joy of the whole earth “(Psa. 48:2), “exalted above the hills” (Isa. 2:2), the highest peak of the millennial earth, and nearest to the overshadowing heavenly glory (Isa. 4:5). There, in the highest, holiest spot of earth, we shall be at home. Higher still, “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”; there too are we welcome. Yea, there is our citizenship. “To an innumerable company,” to myriads “of angels, to their general assembly.” The angels will not then be God’s administrators of this world; they are here seen to be at a greater distance from it than those who then reign with the Son of Man. Higher than all, is “the Church of the first-born,” whose names are enrolled in heaven, in a glory above, and nearer to God than angels. For it will be observed that the saints of the present dispensation are twice mentioned in this picture; in a glory nearer to earth than angels, as kings, ruling; and in a glory above angels, as priests, worshipping. And “to God, the Judge of all,” whose omniscient gaze we can challenge, and who will give to each His reward (1 Pet. 1:17). Then descending from that throne on the other side, we come to the spirits of the just, perfected at length in resurrection bodies—those just men of chap, 11, who shall be raised together with us in the first resurrection. Lower down on that side is “Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant”—the fresh covenant which shall in those days be made with Israel, and closer still to the earthly people is “the blood of sprinkling,” on which they gaze, and to which they, like us, have first to come. To all these glories we have already come, amid them all we are at home.

Verses 25-29.—“See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh.” That enthroned Sin-Purger is speaking now from heaven: on earth He is rejected, in highest glory He is crowned. You must either hear Him, or take sides with worldly Christianity, and reject His salvation. There is no middle ground.