"Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."—Heb. xii. 2.
OUR Lord is described in the former part of this verse as sustaining a double relation to our faith, viz., as being in some sense the Leader of the army of the faithful, the Pattern for all believers; and secondly, as being the Perfecter of their faith.
These two aspects of our Lord's work are further set forth in these words, the former of which presents Him with more detail as the Pattern whom believers have to follow; and the latter as set at the right hand of God, that from thence He may help those who are still struggling here below.
I may then complete the former sermon by looking at this further expansion of the leading ideas with which it was occupied.
•We have set forth here, then, as the great object of contemplation which will assist Christians "in running the race set before them," first, the Commander's conflict, and our share in it; and second, the Commander's triumph, and our share in that.
I.—First, the Commander's conflict: "Whoforthe joythat was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame."
Now, there are three points about our Lord's life set forth in these three clauses, which, taken together, present another phase of it than that which is most common in Scripture. We have the motive of His sufferings given as being an unseen reward for Himself, which He brought vividly before Him by the exercise of His faith. We have His sufferings presented, not in reference to their saving power, but solely as an instance of heroic patient endurance. And we have the contumely and shame of His death adduced not as showing to us His willing selfabasement and His loving lowliness, but as revealing to us the scorn with which He looked upon all hindrances that sought to bar His path and shake His resolute will.
These three things then, thrown together, present to us a somewhat unfamiliar, but most blessed and most true and helpful aspect of our Lord's character and sufferings. Let us look at each one of them as a pattern for us.
First, then, we have our Lord's whole life represented as being shaped and influenced by a vivid realisation of an unseen reward; which vivid realisation He owed to His faith. What was this unseen reward? The "joy that was set before Him." The image of the race is carried on here from the previous verses. At the winning post hangs the glittering crown, full in the view of the runners ; so shining afar, and ever in the eye of that fighting, struggling Captain of our salvation, hung the gleaming glories of the "joy that was set before Him."
And what was the joy? I think the subsequent words of the text must be taken as being the answer to it, for "the joy that was set before Him" is naturally interpreted as the joy into which He has entered, viz., His session at the right hand of God, or in other words, the lifting up of His Manhood into a participation with Divinity.
Now that is not the motive for Christ's sufferings which is generally set before us in the New Testament. We have them usually traced to one of two great and solemn motives,—the one, obedience to God, and the other, love to man. But there is no contradiction between the more common representation and that of our text. The one motive does not exclude the others. Though the immediate object of the author in this context leads him to bring out here one motive alone, he presents the others in other parts of his letter, and has much to say about the brotherly love and filial obedience and priestly pity which impelled Jesus to His sufferings. Here these others are presupposed, and we have to combine all these various representations, and to remember that along with the strong impulse of obedience to the will of the Father, and in perfect harmony with selfforgetting and supreme love to the whole world, •another strand of the golden cord which bound our great Sacrifice to the horns of the altar was the thought of the joy that was to come to Himself, which was His sitting at the right hand of the Throne.
And if this seems to introduce an element of selfregard into our Lord's passion, which strikes cold on our hearts, let us not forget that all that exaltation is for our sakes, that it had all been left for our sakes by the Incarnate Word, and that all which He won by His cross and passion, was but the entrance of His manhood into the glory which was His own before the world was. Nor are we to forget that He is "for us entered" within the veil, nor that His exaltation is in order to His saving to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him. As He did not look upon His equality with God, before His incarnation, as a thing to be eagerly retained, so He did not look upon His sitting on the Father's Throne, after His passion, as a thing to be eagerly desired for Himself alone, but chiefly because by it He could carry on and complete His great work. So that we may allowably say that the joy of the Lord is the salvation of His servants. "He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied." The joy of the shepherd when he bears the lost sheep on his shoulders, and the joy of the householder when the lost treasure is recovered, and the joy of a true elder brother when the prodigal comes home—are all blended in that great motive which nerved Jesus for His cross, and form not only a part, but the chief part of the joy that was set before Him.
This issue of our Lord's life He had to keep before Himself by a constant effort. He trod the same path which others have to tread. He, too, like Abraham and Moses, and the others in the previous chapter, had to keep his conviction of an unseen good, bright and powerful, by an effort of will, while surrounded by the illusions of time and sense. His faith grasped the unseen, and in the strength of that conviction impelled Him to do and suffer.
We have the same path to tread. We too, if we are to do anything in this world befitting or like our Master, must rule our lives in the same fashion as our Master ruled His. That is to say, we must subordinate rigidly the present, and all its temptations, fascinations, cares, joys and sorrows to that far-off issue discerned by faith and by faith alone, but by faith clearly ascertained to be the one real substance, the thing for which it is worth while to live and blessed to die. A life of faith, a life of effort to keep ever before us the unseen crown will b e a life noble and lofty. We are ever tempted to forget it. The " Man with the muck-rake," in John Bunyan's homely parable, was so occupied with the foul-smelling dung-heap which he thought a treasure, that he had no eyes for the crown hanging a hair's breadth over his head. A hair's breadth? Yes! And yet the distance was as great as if the universe had lain between.
Every man's life is ennobled in the measure in which he lives for a future. Even if it be a poor and near future, in so far as it is future, such a life is better than a life that is lived for the present. A man that gets his wages once in a twelve-month will generally be, in certain respects, a higher type of man than he who gets them once a week. To take far-off views is, pro tanto, as far as it goes—an elevation of humanity. To be absorbed in the present moment is to be degraded to the level of the beasts.
And you Christian people may have ever before you as your aim the loftiest of all future objects. The Christian "prize," which faith makes clear to us, has the great advantage over all other objects of pursuit—that it is too far off ever to be reached and left behind. Men in this •world win their objects or lose them; but in either case they pass them and leave them in the rear. Whether is it better to creep, like the old mariners, from headland to headland, altering your course every day or two, or to strike boldly out into the great deep, steering for a port on the other side of the world, that you never beheld, though you know it is there? Which will be the nobler voyage? If one looks at the lives of most professing Christian people, yours and mine, it seems as if we had but a very dim vision of this glory. And surely, surely, if there is one thing that needs to be rung into your ears, dear brethren, compassed about as you are by the fascinations, temptations, and occupations of this life, it is that old exhortation, never more needed than by the worldlyminded Christians of this day, "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth." Take Christ for your example, and live, "having respect unto the recompense of the reward."
We have also our Lord's life set forth before us here as being the Captain's great pattern to His soldiers of heroic endurance. "He endured the Cross." And that does not merely mean "experienced the pain," but it means stood steadfast under, endured in the fullest and noblest sense of the word. Many a man endures suffering in the lower sense who does not endure it in the higher ; but Christ did so in both. And, of course, that endurance of the Cross was not confined to the moments of His life when the actual physical pain of the Crucifixion was upon Him, but stretched through His whole career. For if we believe the testimony of the Apostle John, the certainty of the Cross was before Him from the very beginning of His work ; and it was in the opening hours of His ministry that He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up;" and to the Jewish ruler: "As Moses lifted up the serpent so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Therefore we may apply this "endurance" of my text, not only to the moment of actual suffering of the physical fact of the Crucifixion, but to the whole of our Lord's earthly career.
The word emphasises, in accordance with the whole strain of the context, the patient, heroic steadfastness with which He bore them. That is an aspect of our Lord's character that is not often enough presented to our minds. The velvet glove has hidden the iron hand in popular apprehension. That will like adamant could not be moved, could not be broken, and never faltered. Temptations which shatter feebler resolutions, as the waves some crumbling dyke, broke like the vain spray against that breakwater. His fixed will led Him to tread, from the beginning to the end of His career, a path every step of which was strewed with hot ploughshares and sharp swords. He trod it with bleeding and with seared feet, but without a quiver, and without a falter. As the hour drew near, we read that "He steadfastly set His face "—made it hard as a flint—to go to Jerusalem, impelled by that threefold, mighty force of obedience to the Father, love to man, and vision of the glory, so that. His disciples were struck with wonder and awe at the fixed determination stamped on the settled countenance, and manifested in the eager steps which outran them on the rocky road to the Cross.
Brethen, that heroic endurance must be ours too, if we are not to rot in selfish and inglorious ease. Life at first may seem gay and brilliant, a place for recreation, or profit, or pleasure, but we very soon find out that it is a sand-strewn wrestling ground. Many flowers cannot grow where are the feet of the runner and the strife of the combatants. The first thing done to make an arena for wrestlers is to take away the turf and the daisies, then to beat the soil down hard and flat. And so our lives get flattened, stripped of their beauty, and their fragrance, because they are not meant to be gardens, but wrestling grounds. There come to every life that is worth living hours of sacrifice when duty can only be done at the cost of a bleeding heart. Every man that is not the devil's servant has to carry a cross, and to be fastened to it, if he will do his Master's work. Besides which crucifixion in service, there are all the other common sorrows storming in upon us, so that sometimes it is as much as a man can do not to be swept away by the current but to keep his footing in mid-channel. Brethren! If you are to run the race that is set before you, the first lesson to learn is this: you have to "endure the cross," and the way to endure the cross is to look unto the crown, and the Christ.
The last of the points in which our Lord here is set forth as the Captain Whose struggles are the pattern for His people, is in what I may call the wholesome and wise contempt for the ills that bar His progress :—" despising the shame."
Contempt is an ugly word, but there are things which
deserve it; and though we do not often associate the idea of it with the meek and gentle Christ, there were things in His life on which it was exercised. He despised the contumely. That is to say: He reduced it to its true insignificance by taking the measure of it, and looking at it as it was. And that is what I want you to feel we all of us have in our power. There are hosts of difficulties in our lives as Christian men, which will be big or little, just as we choose to make them. You can either look at them through a magnifying or a diminishing glass. The magnitude of most of the trifles that affect us may be altered by our way of looking at them. Learn the practical wisdom of minimising the hindrances to your Christian career, pulling them down to their true smallness. Do not let them come to you and impose upon you with the notion that they are big and formidable. The most of them are only white sheets with a rustic boor behind them, like village ghosts. Go up to them and they will be small immediately. "Despise the shame," and it disappears.
And how is that to be done? In two ways. Go up the mountain, and the things in the plain will look very small; the higher you rise the more insignificant they will seem. Hold fellowship with God, and live up beside your Master, and the threatening foes here will seem very, very unf ormidable.
Another way is—pull up the curtain, and gaze on what is behind it. The low foot-hills that lie at the base of some Alpine country may look high when seen from the plain, as long as the snowy summits are wrapped in mist, but when a little puff of wind comes and clears away the fog from the lofty peaks, nobody looks at the little green hills in front. So the world's hindrances, and the world's difficulties and cares, look very lofty till the cloud lifts But when we see the great white summits, everything lower does not seem so very high after alL Look to Jesus, and that will dwarf the difficulties.
II.—And now, I have only space for a word or two about the second thought, the Commander's triumph, and our share in it. He is set down " at the right hand of the throne of God."
I need not dwell at any length upon the great ideas attached to that wonderful phrase, but just ask you to remember that the new thing which accrued because of Christ's Incarnation and sacrifice was that, as our text puts it with great emphasis, "Jesus sat at the right hand of the Throne "; or, to put it into other words, that the humanity of our Lord and Brother was lifted up to a participation in Divinity and the rule of the universe. That "sitting" expresses Rest, as from a finished and perfect work; a Rest which is not inactivity; Dominion extendiRg over all the universe, and Judgment. These three, Rest, Dominion, Judgment, are the prerogatives of the Man Jesus. That is what He won by His bloody passion and sacrifice.
And now what has that to do with us? We are to think of this triumph of the Commander as being, first of all, a revelation and a prophecy for us. Nobody knows anything about the future life except by means of Jesus Christ. We have no knowledge of another world except as we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His Ascension up on high. We may have dreams, we may have hopes, we may have forebodings, we may argue from analogy, we may get the length of saying "peradventure," "probably"; but we cannot say we know, unless we will consent to take all our light, and all our knowledge, and all our certitude, and all our hope from that great Lord Whose death and resurrection are to the whole world the only guarantee of the future, Whose presence there is the only light in all the darkness.
In His exaltation to the Throne a new hope dawns on humanity. If we believe that the Man Jesus sits on the throne of the universe, we have a new conception of what is possible for His brethren. If a perfect human nature has entered into the participation of the Divine, our natures too may be perfect, and what He is and where He is, there, too, we may hope to come. So this Epistle in the second chapter, quoting the grand words of the Psalm, which sometimes and in some moods seem more like irony than revelation: "Thou hast crowned Him with glory and honour; Thou hast put all things Tinder His feet," comments: "We see not yet all things put under Him." Nay, much the contrary. Look at all this weary world, with its miseries and its cares. What has become of the grand dream of the psalm? Has it all gone into moonshine and vapour ?" We see not yet all things put under Him." Weary centuries have rolled away, and it does not seem a bit nearer. "But we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour." He, and not all these failures and abortions of existing manhood,—He is the type of what God means us to be, and of what we all may one day become. This crowned Jesus has " tasted death for every man." And so, brethren, sad, and mad, and bad as men may be, the conquering Captain at the right hand of God's Throne is the measure and the pattern of what the worst of us may hope to be.
And, still further, Christ's triumphal entrance into the heavens is not only prophecy of ours but it is power to fulfil its own prophecy. He has gone up on high, sitting at the right hand of the Throne of God to work for us. His •work is not done. True, on the Cross He proclaimed "It is finished," but the ending of the work on the Cross was but the beginning of a form of His work for us, which shall never cease until the trumpet of victory shall sound "It is done," when the world has yielded to His love. He •works for us, with us, and in us, as Lord of Providence and King of Grace, sustaining and upholding us in all our weakness, and tending the smoky flame of our dim faith till it bursts into clear radiance. The Captain has gone up from the field, and His soldiers are still in it. But He has not left them to struggle alone. He sits on high, looking down on us still fighting in the arena with wild beasts; but He does not only behold but also helps our conflict, as Stephen, looking up, saw Him " standing," not sitting, at the right hand of God, as if He had sprung to His feet to succour and receive the martyr's spirit. Nor is He exalted only to work for, and in us, or to shed on our hearts the plenteous rain of His heavenly influences. He has entered within the veil as our Great High Priest, to make intercession for us, so making us confident that Hia great sacrifice is ever present to the Divine mind, as determining its acts towards those who trust in Christ. Nor is our share in His exaltation limited by these great privileges, for He has gone to prepare a place for us, and dimly as we know what that means, we know, at all events, that but for Christ's presence there Heaven would be no place for us.
Nor is this all, for, if we have given our hearts to Him and are joined to the Lord by faith, we are, in a very profound sense, one Spirit with Him. So real is the union between us and Jesus, that it cannot be that the Head shall be glorified and the members have no share in the glory. The Captain of Salvation is laurelled and crowned, and all His soldiers, the weakest and the sinfullest amongst them, if only they are knit to Him by humble faith, share in His victory, receive from His Throne showers of grace and blessing, which He pours down upon them, are inspired by His continual presence Who "teaches their hands to war and their fingers to fight," and will be brought at last by Him coming for them again, to a share in His throne.
And so each of us, if only we take Christ for our Lord and Commander, may say, in the calmness of a confident hope, what David's soldier said to him in the heroism of his self-devotion, "As my Lord the King liveth, in what place soever my Lord the King shall be, whether in life or death, there also shall thy servant be."