"Looting unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith."—Heb. xii. 2.
WE have heard, in the previous chapter, the great musterroll of the heroes of the faith, whose lives of heroic endurance and supernatural strength are laid as the basis of the exhortation in the previous verse : " Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us."
They are figured as a luminous "cloud of witnesses." They are witnesses, inasmuch as they testify how noble a thing life may be made when inspired by faith ; inasmuch, too, as they testify of the faithfulness of God, Who never left them, even in their sorrows, and Who now bears witness to them that they were righteous. They compass us like a luminous cloud, or like that background of one of Raphael's great pictures, which at first sight seems only a bright mist, but looked at more closely is all full of calm angel-faces. But here in our text one solitary figure shines out, and all the "cloud of witnesses" fades away like morning mist.
Christ's place is apart from theirs. They stand grouped together, the army of the faithful; He stands alone, its Captain and Commander. Their lives may be a motive for perseverance, and we may say "seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud ... let us run with patience." But He gives the power by which we can run, and "looking unto Jesus" is the condition on which alone we can fulfil the command.
And so we have to consider the remarkable aspects and relationships in reference to our faith, in which Christ is here set forth.
I.—First we have Him as Leader and Commander of the great army of the faithful—"Jesus, the Author of our faith."
Now, I need not remind many of you, I suppose, of two facts bearing upon the interpretation of these words. First, that that little word "our" is a supplement, and may without detriment, and with some advantage, be omitted; and second, that the word "author " here does not mean so much " one who originates" or " causes " as " one who begins and leads."
It is the same expression as that which is employed, as some of you know, in the second chapter of this epistle, and is rendered, there " the Captain of our salvation "; and is employed once more in the Acts of the Apostles, and is there translated "the Prince of Life." In all these passages the most natural meaning is, beginner, leader, or forerunner, one coming in advance of those who follow. And so Christ is here represented, not so much as one Who originates faith in men's hearts, but as the Leader of all the long procession of those who live by faith. He is the " Commander of the faithful," "the Captain of the Lord's host" of believing souls. True, the heroes whose names are enrolled in the glorious catalogue of the preceding chapter were before Him in time. But the commander may march in the centre, as well as in the van, and even in order of time, He is the Beginner or Leader, inasmuch as He is the first Who ever lived a perfect life of faith. Jesns, then, is here presented to us as Himself exercising faith, as being the great Pattern and Example of it.
And bearing upon this remarkable conception of our Lord, observe the use here of the personal name Jesus, not the name of office, Christ. Stress is thereby laid upon the humanity of our Lord. The Man Jesus was so truly one of ourselves that He, too, lived the life which He lived in the flesh by faith.
This is the only place in the New Testament in which faith is attributed, in so many words, to our Lord. But in this same epistle, in an earlier chapter, we find the writer adducing it as one of the clearest proofs of His true manhood and brotherhood with us, that the words of the psalm " I will put my trust in Him" may stand as the embodiment of the very spirit of His life. We do not give sufficient prominence in our thoughts of Christ's earthly life, to this aspect of it—that it was one of faith. He is our Pattern in this as in all that belongs to humanity. He proved His manhood not only by His participation in our corporeal necessities, though his share in them does touchingly show us how really He was our Brother. He sat wearied by the well, He hungered, He thirsted, He slept, He felt pain, He died. Nor are we to look upon His participation in our common human emotions as being the selectest proof of His humanity; precious as it is to know that He sorrowed and rejoiced and wept, and was grieved, and wondered and pitied, and was angry. But we are to see His brotherhood in this, that all which binds us men to God in the acts of humble dependence and filial trust belonged to His experience, and that, as He is pattern in all else, He is pattern in this too. His life was a life of faith, and its life breath was prayer.
For faith is dependence upon God, and surely never did human being so utterly hang upon the Father, nor submit himself so absolutely to be moulded and determined by Him, nor yield his will up so completely to that will as did He Who could say, "The living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father."
Faith is communion, and surely never did a spirit dwell in such deep and constant realisation of a Divine presence and a Divine sustaining as did that Christ Who could say "the Father hath not left Me alone, for I do always the things that please Him." That pure mirror, without a flaw, without a distortion, ever reflected the brightness of the Father's face ; and the unbroken continuity of Christ's communion with God by faith is witnessed to us by that exceeding great and bitter cry which He put forth on the Cross, when the weight of a world's sin snapped even that strong bond ; and with a strange new sense of desolation, He had to say, "My God ! why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
Faith is the vivid realisation of the unseen ; and surely never was there a life lived amidst the shows and gauds and illusions of time which so manifestly and transparently was all passed in the vivid consciousness of that unseen world, as was the life of that Son of Man, Who, in the midst of all earth's engagements, could call Himself "the Son of Man which is in Heaven."
Faith is a life of assured confidence in an unseen future, and surely never was there a life which was so entirely dominated by that unseen hope, as His life, Who, as the next clause says: "For the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame,"
And so, dear brethren, this Jesus, in the absoluteness of His dependence upon the Father, in the completeness of His trust in Him, in the submission of His will to that Supreme command, in the unbroken communion which He held with God, in the vividness with which the Unseen ever burned before Him, and dwarfed and extingnished all the lights of the present, and in the respect "which He had unto the recompense of reward;' nerving Him for all pain and shame, has set before us all the example of a life of faith, and is our Pattern, as in everything, in this too.
How blessed it is to feel, when we reach out our hands and grope in the darkness for the unseen hand, when we try to bow our wills to that Divine will; when we try to look beyond the mists of "that dim spot which men call earth," and to discern the land that is very far off; and when we try to nerve ourselves for duty and sacrifice by bright visions of a future hope, that on this path of faith too, when He "putteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them," and has bade us do nothing which He Himself has not done !" I will put My trust in Him," He says first, and then He turns to us, and commands, "Believe in God, believe also in Me."
II.—But that is not all that our text gives us. This relationship between Christ and faith, that of pattern and example, by no means exhausts the truth. So we have added a very significant expression, which leads us to consider Christ next as being set forth here as the "Finisher," or Perfecter "of faith."
That word has received a great many explanations, with •which I do not need to trouble you; but instead of the translation of our Authorised Version, "Finisher," which is ambiguous, we may adopt that given in the Revised Version, "Perfecter." How then does Christ perfect faith? I think we may answer that He does so in a twofold-way.
First, Christ perfects our faith inasmuch as by His own grace flowing into us He sustains it and leads it to sovereign power. It would be a very poor affair if all we had to say to men was :—" There is a beautiful example; follow it I" Models are all very well, only unfortunately
there is nothing in a model to secure its being copied. You may have a most exquisite piece of penmanship lithographed on the top of the page in a child's copybook, but what is the good of that if the poor little hand is trembling when it takes the pen, and if the pen has got no ink in it, or the child does not want to learn? Copybooks are all very well, but you want something more than copybooks. There are plenty of good examples in this world. The world is not damned for want of good examples, but these are not all that is needed. A socalled Christianity that has nothing more to say about Jesus Christ than that He is the perfect example of all human excellences, and of faith too, is not the one for a poor man that has found out the plague of his own heart, and the weakness of his own will. He wants something that will come a great deal closer to Him than that. And so my text tells us that Jesus is not only "the Leader of faith," but the "Perfecter" of it too. He will set you the pattern, and then, if you will let Him, He will come into your hearts, and make you able to copy the pattern. He will bridge over the great hopeless gulf that lies between the perfect Example and our depraved tastes and sluggish wills and limited and shattered powers and He will come and put His Spirit into our spirits. If you only begin to trust Him in the very smallest degree, that will be the opening of the chink through which He will pass, and in passing will widen the aperture, that more of His grace and love may come into your hearts. He will perfect faith by the implanting in your hearts of His own spirit and His own life.
He will lead our faith to sovereign power in our lives, if we will only let Him do it, by another way, too—by the path of discipline and of sorrow; drawing away our hearts from earthly things and fixing them upon Himself; making the world dark that the sky above may be brighter, and revealing Himself to our loneliness as the all-sufficient Companion. So He perfects our faith.
And He will do it in another way too, by the rewards and blessings which He will give to the imperfect and tentative exercise of our confidence, over-answering our petitions, and flooding us with more than we expected when we tremulously tried to trust in Him; and so indacmg us to be bolder in our confidence, and to venture further afield. Thus, He draws us further out into the great sea of His love. As a boy learning to swim, after trying in the shallows and finding that the water bears him up, has confidence to strike out into deeper water, so Christ perfects our faith by rewarding it; and with a smile, when we are surprised at the greatness of His bestowments, says to us: "The Lord is able to give thee much more than these." "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it."
And not only so, but in another aspect that dear Lord is the Perfecter of our faith, inasmuch as He gives to our faith at the last the full salvation which is its aim and end. A thing may be said to be perfected when it either reaches its highest degree, or when it attains its object. And so Christ is the Perfecter of our faith, not only in the sense that He raises and educates it up to its loftiest form, but also that He bestows upon it at the last that which is, as Peter says, its "end," or " perfecting," " even the salvation of our souls." And in this aspect we may almost take the word " Perfecter" here to be equivalent to that of the other idea of Rewarder. Our faith is perfected when the unseen things are unveiled, when the communion with God is complete, when we see Christ as He is and clasp Him in the close embrace of Heaven, and when the crown of life is bestowed which He has promised to them that love Him.
But that consummation of faith in the full salvation is
not its termination, for faith will live through eternity, not in the form of realising and hoping for an unseen future, but in the form of confidence in God ; and for ever it will be true—" Now abideth these three; Faith, Hope, Charity." And His work of perfecting our faith, which assuredly He shall crown with the laurel of victory, seeing that He sustains it amidst the conflicts of earth, is made certain for us by the fact referred to in the immediate context, that He is now sitting at the right hand at the Throne of God. The words which follow my text seem to refer to both portions of it—" Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame,"—there is the Leader of our faith—" and is set down at the right hand of the Throne of God,"—there is the Rewarder of our faith. Because He is there He will bring us there. We look to the toiling, the patient, suffering, earthly Christ, and we see in Him the Captain Who calls us to follow Him in the good fight of faith. We lift our eyes to the Heavenly throned Christ, and we see in Him the Forerunner, Who for us has entered into the rest and glory, and we rejoice in confidence that His triumph is the pledge of ours, that He will sustain our faith that it fail not, and at last will crown even our poor trust with the crown of life.
III.—That leads me to say one last word about that "looking to Jesus " which is the indispensable condition of "running the race that is set before us."
The occupation of heart and mind with Jesus Christ is the secret of practical Christianity. The measure in which I think about Him, and in which the thought of Him has power in my daily life, is accurately the measure of my religion. That and no more is the extent to which I am a Christian, How much are you a Christian? "Looking unto Jesus "—once a week, on a Sunday morning? For five minutes, now and then, when there is nothing else to do? In a formal prayer when you get up in the morning; in a wearied prayer before you tumble into bed at night? Is that the extent of it ?" Looking unto Jesus" as a propitiation, Who died for you, that— somehow or other—you may get pardon, and do not much mind whether you get holiness or not? Is that your "looking unto Jesus"? That is not the looking unto Jesus that will ever help you to run the race of a noble life, or will bring you a crown at the last There must be a loving, believing, habitual look.
Look to Him as your pattern, and be ashamed ; look to Him as your pattern and be instructed; look to Him as your pattern and be encouraged. It is an education to love Him and live with Him. Transformation comes by beholding. The eye that looks upon the light has an image of the light formed upon its ball, and the man that looks to Christ gets like Christ, and " beauty born of " that gaze "shall pass into his face."
Look to Him as the Sustainer of your faith. In your feebleness, when life is low, when hope is almost dead, when temptations are tyrannous and strong, think of Him, and think in trust. And if you will cry to Him, " Lord! I believe ! help Thou mine unbelief," you will be able thankfully to repeat after one of old, "When I said, my foot slippeth, Thy mercy, 0 Lord, held me up." Look to Him as your Rewarder, and be of good cheer and let the prospect of that great crown stimulate and sustain and lift you above the ills and the sorrows of life.
And last of all, there is an untranslated preposition in one of the words of my text to which, perhaps, it is not straining too much to give emphasis. The full rendering of the expression "looking" is looking away. That points to the need of looking off from something else, that we may look up to Him.
It always takes a resolute effort fixedly to contemplate, and to bring heart and mind really into contact with, unseen things and unseen persons. And it takes a very strenuous effort to bring the unseen Christ before the mind habitually, and so as to produce effects in the life. You have to shut out a great deal besides in order to do that; as a man will shade his eyes with his hand in order to see some distant thing the more clearly. Keep out the cross lights, that you may look forward. You cannot see the stars when you are walking down a town street, and the gas-lamps are lit. All those violet depths and calm abysses and blazing worlds are concealed from you by the glare at your side—sulphurous and stinking. So, my brother! if you want to see into the depths and the heights, to see the Great White Throne and the Christ on it Who helps you to fight, you have to go out unto Him beyond the camp, and leave all its dazzling lights behind you.
"Look off unto Jesus." Look away from other patterns and examples, look away from the illusory joys of earth— the golden apples which hinder us in the race. Look away from other helpers and supports, precious and dear as they may be. Look away from the difficulties and dangers. When a man is walking along some narrow ledge amongst the Alps with the precipice at his side, the guide will say to him: "Do not look down, or you perish."
Your only hope is looking up. When Peter saw the water boisterous, he began to sink. Fix your eye on Christ, and then your tottering faith will go in safety.
Look away from yourselves. You will get no strength by looking at your own weakness, no righteousness by looking at your own sinfulness, no healing by contemplating your own disease. The only cure is to turn away your eyes from the world and yourself, from all other helpers and patterns, to forget both the army of the faithful and the army of the aliens, and to look at the Commander, and take your example and your stimulus, yonr hope and your strength from Him.
And oh, then, dear friends, be sure of this, that if amid all our weakness and weariness, our solitude, our sorrow, and our sin, we look up to Him with trustful hearts and recognise Him in all the fulness and variety of His manifold relations to us and to our faith, the old experience •will be fulfilled in us: and of us it will be true :—" This poor man cried and the Lord heard him. They looked unto Him, and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed."