Weight of It All

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible Commentary on Hebrews 12:1

Wherefore – In view of what has been said in the previous chapter.

Seeing we also are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses – The apostle represents those to whom he had referred in the previous chapter, as looking on to witness the efforts which Christians make, and the manner in which they live. There is allusion here, doubtless, to the ancient games. A great multitude of spectators usually occupied the circular seats in the amphitheater, from which they could easily behold the combatants; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In like manner, the apostle represents Christians as encompassed with the multitude of worthies to whom he had referred in the previous chapter. It cannot be fairly inferred from this that he means to say that all those ancient worthies were actually looking at the conduct of Christians, and saw their conflicts. It is a figurative representation, such as is common, and means that we ought to act as if they were in sight, and cheered us on. How far the spirits of the just who are departed from this world are permitted to behold what is done on earth – if at all – is not revealed in the Scriptures. The phrase, “a cloud of witnesses,” means many witnesses, or a number so great that they seem to be a cloud. The comparison of a multitude of persons to a cloud is common in the classic writers; see Homer II.:4:274, 23:133; Statius 1:340, and other instances adduced in Wetstein, in loc.; compare notes on 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Let us lay aside every weight – The word rendered “weight” – ὄγκον ogkon – means what is crooked or hooked, and thence any thing that is attached or suspended by a hook that is, by its whole weight, and hence means weight; see “Passow.” It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The word is often used in the classic writers in the sense of swelling, tumour, pride. Its usual meaning is that of weight or burden, and there is allusion here, doubtless, to the runners in the games who were careful not to encumber themselves with anything that was heavy. Hence, their clothes were so made as not to impede their running, and hence, they were careful in their training not to overburden themselves with food, and in every way to remove what would be an impediment or hindrance. As applied to the racers it does not mean that they began to run with anything like a burden, and then threw it away – as persons sometimes aid their jumping by taking a stone in their hands to acquire increased momentum – but that they were careful not to allow anything that would be a weight or an encumbrance.

As applied to Christians it means that they should remove all which would obstruct their progress in the Christian course. Thus, it is fair to apply it to whatever would be an impediment in our efforts to win the crown of life. It is not the same thing in all persons. In one it may be pride; in another vanity; in another worldliness; in another a violent and almost ungovernable temper; in another a corrupt imagination; in another a heavy, leaden, insensible heart; in another some improper and unholy attachment. Whatever it may be, we are exhorted to lay it aside, and this general direction may be applied to anything which prevents our making the highest possible attainment in the divine life. Some persons would make much more progress if they would throw away many of their personal ornaments; some, if they would disencumber themselves of the heavy weight of gold which they are endeavoring to carry with them. So some very light objects, in themselves considered, become material encumbrances. Even a feather or a ring – such may be the fondness for these toys – may become such a weight that they will never make much progress toward the prize.

And the sin which doth so easily beset us – The word which is here rendered “easily beset” – εὐπερίστατον euperistaton – “euperistaton” – does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means, “standing well around;” and hence, denotes what is near, or at hand, or readily occurring. So Chrysostom explains it. Passow defines it as meaning “easy to encircle.” Tyndale renders it “the sin that hangeth on us.” Theodoret and others explain the word as if derived from περίστασις peristasis – a word which sometimes means affliction, peril – and hence, regard it as denoting what is full of peril, or the sin which so easily subjects one to calamity. Bloomfield supposes, in accordance with the opinion of Grotius, Crellius, Kype, Kuinoel, and others, that it means “the sin which especially winds around us, and hinders our course,” with allusion to the long Oriental garments. According to this, the meaning would be, that as a runner would be careful not to encumber himself with a garment which would be apt to wind around his legs in running, and hinder him, so it should be with the Christian, who especially ought to lay aside everything which resembles this; that is, all sin, which must impede his course. The former of these interpretations, however, is most commonly adopted, and best agrees with the established sense of the word. It will then mean that we are to lay aside every encumbrance, particularly or especially – for so the word καὶ kai “and,” should be rendered here “the sins to which we are most exposed.” Such sins are appropriately called “easily besetting sins.” They are those to which we are particularly liable. They are such sins as the following:

(1) Those to which we are particularly exposed by our natural temperament, or disposition. In some this is pride, in others indolence, or gaiety, or levity, or avarice, or ambition, or sensuality.

(2) those in which we freely indulged before we became Christians. They will be likely to return with power, and we are far more likely from the laws of association, to fall into them than into any other. Thus, a man who has been intemperate is in special danger from that quarter; a man who has been an infidel, is in special danger of scepticism: one who has been avaricious, proud, frivolous, or ambitious, is in special danger, even after conversion, of again committing these sins.

(3) sins to which we are exposed by our profession, by our relations to others, or by our situation in life. They whose condition will entitle them to associate with what are regarded as the more elevated classes of society, are in special danger of indulging in the methods of living, and of amusement that are common among them; they who are prospered in the world are in danger of losing the simplicity and spirituality of their religion; they who hold a civil office are in danger of becoming mere politicians, and of losing the very form and substance of piety.

(4) sins to which we are exposed from some special weakness in our character. On some points we may be in no danger. We may be constitutionally so firm as not to be especially liable to certain forms of sin. But every man has one or more weak points in his character; and it is there that he is particularly exposed. A bow may be in the main very strong. All along its length there may be no danger of its giving way – save at one place where it has been made too thin, or where the material was defective – and if it ever breaks, it will of course be at that point. That is the point, therefore, which needs to be guarded and strengthened. So in reference to character. There is always some weak point which needs specially to be guarded, and our principal danger is there. Self-knowledge, so necessary in leading a holy life, consists much in searching out those weak points of character where we are most exposed; and our progress in the Christian course will be determined much by the fidelity with which we guard and strengthen them.

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