Looking unto Jesus."—Heb. xii. 2.
IN the preceding chapter the writer has been calling over the muster-roll of the heroes of faith. In this one he proceeds to draw the practical lessons from their lives. "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses, let us run the race set before us." We are in the arena, appointed to run, to wrestle, or to fight. They, like the spectators in the amphitheatre, fill the crowded benches, rising tier upon tier above the sand, like a luminous cloud. They are witnesses as well as spectators, for they testify to the power of God by which they have overcome, and in their calm repose they witness to the end of a faithful life.
But they are not all that look upon us, or on whom we are to look. One figure parts itself from the clouds; and though it is that of a man who fought, still He stands distinct, and His brightness dims all else. It is as it was on the Mount of Transfiguration, where, for a brief space, the Lawgiver and the Chief of the Prophets stood by the side of the Christ; and then the three Apostles "lifted up their eyes, and saw no man any more save Jesus only." The cloud melts; the sun shines out. "We are compassed with witnesses " ; but we are "looking unto Jesus."
I. So we have here the one object of Christian contemplation.
We have to carry with us the metaphor which underlies the whole representation. There, on the benches of the amphitheatre, sit not only the multitudinous ranks of the spectator-witnesses, but yonder in the midst, parted off from them by the purple curtains, and surrounded by lictors with their flashing axes, is throned the Emperor. It is to Him that gladiator and athlete and runner are to look. And what if the Emperor was Himself once a fighter, and was down there where they now are, before He sat yonder on the throne? Nero lost caste, if I may so say, and was disgraced even in the eyes of his flattering courtiers, because he once condescended to dress himself in the vesture, and to fill the part, of a gladiator in the arena. But our King has been down in the strife, and, as the writer immediately goes on to say, "He is the author and the finisher of faith."
So, then, the main aspect in which it concerns a Christian fighter to look steadfastly to Jesus is as being Himself the perfect Example of the conflict and the race. Christianity as a revelation is all condensed and concentrated in Jesus, so that it is no exaggeration to say Christianity is Christ. And Christianity as a life may almost all be gathered up, with regard at all events to the inner side of it, in this one expression of my text— gazing upon Christ.
It is not in vain, nor with any rhetorical exaggeration, that the words appropriate to bodily vision are transferred unhesitatingly, in the New Testament, to the vision which belongs to the gladsome eye of faith. For it is possible that we may have a sight as real, as direct, as immediate as, and more reliable than, the sight that is given to us by sense when, with believing hearts and thoughts, we realise for ourselves the past of that Christ who fonght, the present of that Christ who reigns.
But this great idea, which is wrought out in the subsequent part of our verse, is not a familiar one to very many Christian hearts. The "author of faith," says the writer. It is the same word which is translated in the Acts of the Apostles "the Prince of life," and in another part of this letter, " the Captain of salvation." It literally means 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 Authorised 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." This is the only place in Scripture, so far as I know, in which faith is directly predicated of the Man Jesus, and as being the very secret of His human life. But there is a closely parallel passage in the earlier part of this letter, where the writer adduces it as one of the signs of our Lord's true brotherhood that He takes upon His own lips the ancient Psalmist's words, " I will put my trust in Him."
So faith, which we regard mainly and usually as finding its Object in Christ, finds also its Example and its Pattern in Him. For what is faith? Is it dependence upon God? If so, was there ever a life which more absolutely hung on the Father than did the life of the Man Christ Jesus, who said, when He would lay bare the deepest secret of His personality, "I live by the Father "? Is faith communion with God? Was there ever a life which kept up so unbroken a conscious fellowship with Him, as that of the Man who could say, " The Father hath not left Me alone, for I do always the things that please Him "? Is faith "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," a vivid realisation of the future? Is there anything more manifestly stamped on the human life of Christ, as recorded for us, than the continual presence to Him of the Invisible, so that it might truly be said of Him that, even whilst He walked here amongst us, He " was the Son of man which is in Heaven "? Is faith a realisation of the future reward? Then this very context tells us that the secret of Christ's patient suffering was that, " for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross." Thus, from whatever side we contemplate that great Christian idea of faith, Jesus Christ is the Example of it; and we are to look to Him as its perfect Pattern.
But there is another thought suggested also by the context. We are not only to realise and make our own by contemplation the past of the Jesus who fought, but the present of the Jesus who reigns. Sight, in its lowest sense, of course, cannot travel thither, and in the mere physical signification of the word, He is to us, by an altogether unique and unparalleled experience, the Christ "whom, having not seen, we love." There is nothing in the whole world the least like that strange fact that love, which in general needs the air of corporeal vision, at some stage or other, should, perfectly independently of that, gush out in such exuberant streams towards a Man that has been dead for nineteen centuries, and whom none of His lovers have ever beheld. The gathering mists of oblivion wrap all other great names around. Contrast the poor, pale, phantom regards which we have for any other of the great names of the past, with the warm, solid, living grasp which Christian hands lay on the unseen hand of the Lord, and you will understand something of the uniqueness of the Christian relation to the Christ. But whilst thus the lower kind of sight fails, the higher kind survives, and all the more because of the defect and dropping away of the other. So that it is no piece of rhetorical rhodomontade when this writer says, "We see not yet all things put under Him"—that is, with the bodily eye—" but," as he triumphantly goes on to say, "we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour." And that coronation of the Christ is the pledge that we, too, if we look to Him, shall one day sit amongst the witnesses lapped in rest and adorned with glory.
Let me press upon you, brethren, that this, the suffering and exalted Christ, is to be the object of our habitual contemplation. Nothing great reveals itself to a hasty glance. No great book can be read by snatches. No great picture can be understood or felt by the man, who runs through a gallery and looks at a hundred in half an hour. The secrets of no fair landscape will impart themselves to the hasty tripper, who casts a lack-lustre gaze for a minute over it. This modern life of ours, with its hurry and its bustle, about which so many people are so proud, is fatal, unless we exercise continual watchfulness over ourselves, to all deep and noble things. The most of us spend our lives as some amateur photographers do their days, in taking snapshots ; and, of course, the mystery, and the beauty, and the secret, and the power escape us. Sit down and let the loveliness soak into you, if you want to understand the fairest scenes of Nature. Sit down in front of Jesus Christ, and take your time, and as you look you will learn that which no hasty glance, no couple of minutes in the morning before you go to work, no still more abbreviated and drowsy moments at night before you go to sleep, will ever reveal to you. You must " summer and winter " with Him
"ere that to you
He will seem worthy of your love."
II. And now, secondly, note the resolute shutting-off of other objects needed to secure this vision.
Many of you, no doubt, know that the word rendered "looking" is a compound expression which would be fully represented by "looking off," looking away from other things, in order to look on to Jesus Christ. Now, that is no more than every object of pursuit, either in the intellectual or in the practical world, demands for its successful prosecution. Science will give no favours to vagrant suitors. If we are to hold anything we must relinquish much that we have ; to concentrate ourselves and to give up the attempt to "intermeddle with all knowledge " if we would know any one thing thoroughly. So that Christianity is doing no more than your shop, your business, your profession, or than your studies, your pursuits, your recreations even, demand, when it demands the exclusion of much in order that you may truly hold it. Astronomers put what they call diaphragms into their telescopes, which narrow the field of vision. What for? In order to secure a sharper definition. And we have to do the same thing, to shut off a great deal, to do as a man does that is looking at the white gleam, for instance, away yonder questionable on the horizon, which may be the foam of a billow or a gull's wing, or the ship that he is expecting. He puts his hand to his brows, in order to shut out everything else, and fixes his gaze. That is what we have to do. Look off if you would look on. Look away from the intrusive and vulgar brilliancy of "the things that are seen and temporal." You will never see the stars in a street blazing with electric lamps; and you will never see Christ as you ought to see Him, if your thoughts and desires and aims are all squandered upon this fleeting present. A worldly Christian—and, alas! that is the right name of thousands of them, and of many of us— a worldly Christian will see but a dim Christ. Such, and nothing more, is the Christ that a great many of you have seen. The little things near shut out the great things remote. I know that I am speaking to many a one who has so turned his or her current of life to the things of this present world, as that there is no force left to drive the wheels of a higher life. I beseech you, do not be like John Bunyan's man with the muck-rake, who was so busy in piling together the manure and the rotten straw that he never lifted his eye to the crown that was dangling above, but never would alight on, his heedless and earth-turned head. Look away from the present if you would see Christ.
Look away from the cloud of witnesses—from the men living and dead whose examples may, in some measure, stimulate, but who have no power to reproduce in us their own likenesses.
Look away from the living. They can do much for us. Thank God for human love, and earthly companionship, and family ties, and friendship and all its sweetness. But each human soul needs more than any human soul can give. Never mind men's judgments. The racer has to neglect the crowd, whether they roar applause or yell disapprobation, as he speeds past them. They cannot help us; Christ can. Look away from them, and look to Him.
Look away from difficulties. No race will be run, if we begin by counting up the roughnesses and the obstacles. There is nothing more weakening than that habit of anticipating difficulties in our course. "He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap." The difference between the successful and the unsuccessful man consists largely in this, that the one looks out from the harbour, and is so frightened with the crests of the white seahorses outside that he will not put forth into them, or loses his head if he does ; and that the other looks at them, and gathers himself up to front them. Difficulties? they are things to be overcome. The climber that looks down will go down, in many cases. The only safety is to look up, away from the arena, and up to the Emperor.
Look away from yourselves. You will never make yourselves strong by groaning over your weaknesses. You may get some hints as to what you should avoid and so forth, by self-examination, and I am not dehorting from that. But I say there are few more widely operative causes of imperfect and unprogressive Christian lives than that habit of always looking at ourselves, and recounting to ourselves our own failures. That is not the way to get strength. "Look off unto Jesus."
III. And now there is only one last thought to which I point, that is—the strength for duty which comes from the look.
The construction of my text shows that "looking unto Jesus" is the principal means which the writer suggests for "running with patience the race that is set before us." That look will bring to us the strength that comes from the contemplation of a perfect Example. "When we try to grasp the unseen hand in the darkness; when we try tremblingly to bow our wills, and to say, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him "; when we try to nerve ourselves for duty and for sacrifice; when we try to shut out the gaudy brightnesses of to-day, and to make solid the vision of the future, and to "endure the cross," "despising the shame," it is a priceless source of inspiration and of power to us to think that Jesus Christ in all these things went before us, and did the very same.
Lives of great men all remind us—and of good men still more—how we may make our lives great and good; but they have little power to help us. Jesus Christ can help us, and His example is more than example.
That look will bring to us the strength of a continual presence with us. Our yearning hearts often ask, Are our dead near us? We get no answer. But Jesus Christ is near us, and as surely as the man who lifts his face to the sun has his face irradiated and his eyes illuminated by its brightness, so surely will Jesus Christ lift up the light of His countenance on every eye that looks to Him and make it glad.
"The sun, whose beams most glorious are,
Disdaineth no beholder,"
and every eye has the bright ray coming straight to itself through all the distant fields of space.
That look will give strength for the race by making us certain of the prize. "The Forerunner hath for us entered." So, brethren, look off to Jesus. The stars do give light, but the sun drowns their twinkle. He is the Example ; therefore looking to Him will give us instruction and strength. He is the goal; therefore looking to Him will be no hindrance, nor will it entangle our feet. He is the Judge; therefore looking to Him will stimulate. He is the Reward; therefore looking to Him will wing our feet with hopes which are certainties. If from the dust of earth we look up to Him from afar, He will make our feet like hinds' feet; and when the race is run, He will carry us thither whither our looks and our hearts have travelled before. And then the far-off gaze from this dim spot will be changed for the closer vision, which shall transform the beholder into the image of that which is beheld, and the great promise will be fulfilled: "As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness."
Help us, 0 Lord, we beseech Thee, to look unto Christ in all our conflict and struggle. Turn away our eyes from seeing vanity; and may we, looking unto Him from the ends of the earth, be saved.