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Great Christian Works:     Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life   By A. B. Simpson

A. B. Simpson

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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson

The Heavenly Race

"Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God."   Hebrews 12:1, 2


THIS is a description of the heavenly race, which is to be run "looking off unto Jesus." This season has been especially full of races. There have been many competitions by sea and by land, some of them creditable, many of them disreputable. They have had a strange fascination for all classes and they have been entered into with all the zest and enthusiasm that human nature is capable of. So much so, that it is almost a question whether our great universities have been more bent on educating the heads or the heels of their students.

Baseball seems to be one of the greatest arts taught in some of them. Every evil thing, however, has been the outgrowth and perversion of something that was good. God has planted in human nature, for wise purposes, a desire to aim at the highest excellence and to get the greatest reward. Two principles underlie these things, to be and to get the best. Rivalry in certain directions is a good thing. This is what the figure in the text means. Without this endeavor for higher and better things, our spirits become dwarfed, and stunted and morbid, and we are liable to degenerate toward weakness and death.

We should turn toward things that are worth possessing, and press forward after them, never satisfied until we obtain the highest good, which will be the greatest purity and power in heart and life. Be the highest, whether you win a prize or not. To be judged a winner is as great as to get a reward. To be judged worthy of the highest place is something to struggle and aspire after. The old astronomer, Kepler, cared little if he was misjudged by the people of his times. It made little difference to him how much they ridiculed and laughed at him. He knew he was right.

He had discovered the great secret of the stars, and honest posterity would judge him rightly. He had gained the highest place, although he had not won the prize. God would have us press forward and reach out, not only after excellence, but after the highest excellence. He would have us be the best that His grace can make us. This is a right aspiration for human ambition and should be the one great aim of the human race.


God has recompenses for the winners in this race. There is something for us beyond being simply excellent and true. This is precious, but God has more for us. There are diadems of beauty to be given as rewards. There will be plaudits of victory to be sounded throughout all eternity. "Well done, thou good servant, because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities." There are rewards for us as well as attainments. There are marks of honor to be given out, which shall be as valuable as the character they are to adorn. And it is a great defect in our lives to fail to understand this. Salvation is a free gift as we are plainly taught, but, in addition, God teaches us that there are recompenses for faith, and self-denial, and spiritual strength, and for every consecration to God.

We ought to desire the prizes as much as God desires to give them. He offers them freely, and He does not want His children to slight them, or not care about them. If we say: "These things make no difference to us so long as we are saved," it shows that we do not understand the Father's heart. In proportion to the spiritual struggles which we put forth the efforts we make to do and be the best, the singleness of our aim to please Him, the patience in overcoming evil, will be the reward the loving Father gives us. The prizes are given out to those who suffer; to those who endure temptation; to those who give the cup of cold water to the fainting ones, and to those who do any service, however small, for the love of God or His disciples. The rubies and jewels of rare value in these rewards may be crystalized drops of martyr blood.

The hard places of your lives may be turned into the sweetest memorials of the Redeemer's love. The rewards that God shall give are infinitely greater than any that could be won in the arenas of earth. Strive after these prizes, beloved. Do not be content with salvation only, but press on, and gain from His hand, at last, laurels that shall never fade, and crowns that shall be incorruptible. Pause a moment, dear friends, and ask yourselves how much the power of these things is affecting your individual lives. Are you pressing forward, determined to be satisfied with nothing less than excellence; determined to have, as your reward at last, nothing less than you are able to win and God is able to give?


The apostle tells us of the qualifications that the competitors need in running this great race. They are to lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us. A trainer takes great pains in preparing the runners for the races. If they win the prize it will be the reward of much self-denial, and a good deal of hard work. This is true of all competition, whether in a rowing match or in brain work, or in the spiritual race. Something is to be sacrificed; something must be laid aside if the race is to be won; this must to be done for a time at least. A soul that is bent on indulging the natural inclination of the mind cannot run in the heavenly race without laying this aside. The garments that are tainted with self or sin must be laid aside before the race begins.

The apostle is very clear and definite about this. It is the sin which doth so easily beset us. There is no such thing as saying "we will lay aside most of the evil in our lives, but we cannot help clinging to some besetting sin." Some think that the habit of sinning cannot be overcome in all things, and that the Christians who believe it can are straining matters a little. They look at sin as a general principle, but do not believe that in all small matters it can be put away. Too many will not come down to particulars in this thing as they should. They will not look at the little things that concentrate their power for evil in our lives, but think of sin too much in general as a great tap-root which is to be cut. The many little sins which waste our lives so much, which fasten themselves upon us and feed on our very being are often overcome by combined attacks upon them in one great battle-field.

The great wars are not won by battling all over the land, but are usually determined by one great victory. Russia, thirty years ago, was a country of sixty millions of people. The allied forces did not attempt to penetrate the interior; they assailed Sebastapol on the uttermost coast of the empire. But the Czar was obliged to mass the forces of his dominions in its defense, and when Sebastapol fell, all was lost. Sin does not fight us all over the battle ground. It attacks us in one place where we are weak, and which the devil understands better than we. It encamps before us there, and, if that Sebastapol falls, it is as great a defeat for us as if we had been conquered at every point.

The apostle James says in reference to the tongue: "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." If we are able to be victorious there the devil lets us alone at that point. He tries us always at the weakest place. If we fail him, it is by taking the grace of God to overcome him. He finds a salient point against us in the very weaknesses that we cling to so tenderly. We may be sure that these are the places where the battle is to be decided. If we have strength to resist him there, we shall go through our entire life, and triumph until the end.

God's love will show to us the lines in which we must be victorious, and the places where it will be hardest for us to stand. If we stumble over every little thing which comes in our way, God only can show us the cause of this, and where the camp of the enemy is who is pitted against us. It may be in some little matter, like the loss of patience or of self-control, and He is saying to us: "Meet that honestly, and conquer it forever. Then you will be able to go on in strength and victory to the very end."

It is not enough, however, to lay aside the sin which so easily besets us. There is something much less than sin which must be put away also, and that is the weight that hampers us. These are not wicked things, but infirmities, which cling to our mind as weights. They are not apparent, perhaps, to others, but they are to ourselves, and they may not trouble us at all times. Still, they are to be laid aside. We may think that there is no harm in them, but if they hinder us at all in running the race they must be laid aside. If the robe is not right it must be altered. It may be too loose or flow too luxuriously. A robe for the chamber is not a fit dress running a race. It may do for the rocking-chair in the evening, but it is not a robe to run in. It is a weight, not a sin, but it must be laid aside.

The question is not if it is really wrong, but if it makes it harder for you to take a difficult place; if it is gradually causing you to become effeminate in nature, or self-indulgent and timid. If it has any of these effects it is hindering you in the race, and it must be laid aside. It may be rich and beautiful, but it is stopping your feet from running as they should, and is hindering your onward course. It may be relaxation that you are indulging in unwillingly; it may be some beautiful taste which is not wrong, but which is hindering a little in the path of duty. It may be some duty neglected; some failure to visit a sick friend; some letter that should be written and which you have postponed; some little thing said, which, at the time, you thought had no harm in it. Ah, these are all weights, and it is impossible to tell how greatly they may hinder us in the race.

If it should require the stroke of strong self-denial to lay them aside, do not be afraid to give it. We must keep in vigorous training, with strong muscles and firm flesh if the prize is to be won. You have seen people, no doubt, running in a sack race, and have watched them tumble heels over head, to the amusement of all spectators. Many Christians are running the heavenly race in sacks, and they wonder why it is that they stumble and fall so often. The difficulty is that their robes are not right. They impede their progress and hinder them from running rapidly.

The way to settle whether anything is good or evil in our life is to ascertain how it effects the higher nature; what influence it has upon our relations to God, and our duty to our fellow-men; whether it has a tendency to strengthen or to weaken us for daily life; whether it increases our faith and strengthens our zeal to be used in God's service, and to be sacrificed for Him. If it has a tendency to keep us down, to increase our struggles to rise toward God, let others say what they will, it is a weight that hinders us in the heavenly race. In ten thousands of cases, Christian lives are made weak and ineffectual towards God by failing to lay these things aside, and the crowns which should be won are lost or gained by others.

Dear friends, lay aside every weight that nothing shall hinder you in running this heavenly race. A story is told of two Irish chieftains who both claimed a beautiful mountain lake, and, in order to settle the question of its ownership, one of the chieftains challenged his rival to a competition. They were both to row across the lake, and the one who first touched the opposite shore was to be the winner. The boat of one fell behind in the race, and seeing his antagonist about to land, he cut off his right hand and flung it to the shore, exclaiming: "I have touched the shore first, I have won the prize." His adversary was baffled, but, in great admiration for the courage of the other, yielded his claim to victory in the race.

So, if, in running the heavenly race, we find it necessary to lay aside anything, even if it be cutting off the right hand, let it go. God will show us what it is necessary to thus dispense with. Do not get in bondage about it. Whatever is elevating or strengthening to the soul, God forbid that you should fetter your conscience about. But whatever has an opposite tendency and should be laid aside, no matter whether it is great or small, may He give you the grace to put away, however great the cost.


There is a little word in connection with this race, which I wish you would notice especially. It is the word patience. It is not a fight so much of manliness, and agility, and strength, as of patience. The question in it is not so much what we can do as how much we can bear; how still, and trusting, and patient we can be in the midst of trouble. If we would win the highest prize in the race we must be possessed of passive virtues as well as of active ones, and so the apostle points us to our great example, the Lord Jesus Christ, who endured the cross, despising the shame, and the great lesson to us is to hold on in the struggle. It is not a strong effort made now and then, but it is a row across the Atlantic. It is a long pull, and we have need of patience if we expect to win the race.


The next thought is one of encouragement. It looks at the race from the divine side instead of the human; it calls our attention to the myriads of people who have gone before us, and who with palms in their hands, are looking down upon us, as a great cloud of witnesses. Yonder are great throngs of men and women, who, awhile ago, were struggling where you and I are toiling today. They are living and real to us this morning. They are looking down upon us, not as examples merely for us to follow, but as spectators also of the race that we are running. The serried ranks of witnesses are watching us throughout the struggle.

From the open heavens are looking down upon us the eyes of father or mother or pastor or teacher, who, perhaps led you in early youth to enter into this heavenly race. They sat by your side, and spoke to you from the depths of consecrated hearts, and they are waiting now to see the effect upon your life. Napoleon said to his troops in Egypt: "Men of France, from yonder pyramids forty centuries are looking down upon you, to see you do your duty." How grandly would we bear ourselves in the race if we did but realize that our Master was saying to us: "From yonder battlements more than forty centuries are looking down upon you, and watching your efforts in the race."

It is no harder in New York today than it was in Antioch eighteen hundred years ago. Are the easy lives and grand dresses of today harder to bear than the garb in which the Christians walked to the Colosseum then? The men who lived on earth hundreds of years ago had no greater encouragement in their lives than we have in ours. Jacob had as hard a time to overcome the evil in his nature, to grow saint-like in his spirit, and loving and gentle in heart, as have any of us today. Joseph knew what it was to bear oppression and wrong, and yet come through it, and in spite of it all be a prince and a saviour.

Joshua knew what it was to fight against the enemy without the ammunitions of war that are at our command. David was environed with hatred and surrounded with enemies. He knew what it was to be a king, and yet be obliged to wait for his crown. Every man had as hard a conflict in his time as we have in ours, and some of them a great deal harder. And their message to us today would be, seeing that we are compassed about with such examples, to fail in no respect to be worthy of our place of opportunity and honor.


The last thought which I believe God would write upon our hearts this morning is, that the greatest witness of all those who are beholding us is Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith, 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." Let us learn these few lessons about Him today.

1. He had, in every respect, the same trials that we have. "He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."

2. He despised every hindering thing that came in His way. He paid no attention whatever to anything that would have a tendency to distract Him from the work that lay before Him.

He looked ahead beyond this life to the glory that awaited Him, and so was able to endure the contradiction of sinners and of circumstances against Himself. And so everything was made to be helpful in His onward progress. Just what His life was, ours may become. He gained by the disciplines that came into His life. So many people run to tell everybody of the difficulties they are in. Supposing, instead of that, you do just the opposite. Refuse to look upon it, just as Jesus did. Despise it, turn your back upon it. Do you suppose He ever let anybody sympathize with Him because the race was so hard? When we can learn to take our eye off from everything that would charm us by its ugliness, off the things by which Satan would turn us back, and keep the eye fixed only upon Jesus, we too shall be winners in the race. No matter how gloomy the panorama which the devil would spread out before us, refuse to look upon it, even if the effort be like going through the fire.

3. He looked ahead to the joy which was beyond. When we learn always to look away from the clouds toward the sun and keep our eye ever fixed on the glorious morning, we too shall be filled with eternal joy. If we can press on in the race in this way, it will end in blessed victory, and we shall be so glad at its close that we were not frightened at the difficulties in the way, and did not turn back from the prospect that lay ahead. When we really enter the land of beauty and gain the glorious crown, we shall be very thankful that our eye was ever kept upon the joy before us.

4. The crowning thought and the best thought of all, is that Jesus is not only our example as He walked before us in His earthly life, but He is still walking with us in the race. He comes back to us, not only as a living example, but as the author, and the leader, and the finisher of our faith. He comes by our side, as our helper; nay, more, He comes to dwell within us; to be the life in our blood, the fire in our thought, the faith within us, both in inception and consumation. Thus He becomes not only the recompense of the victor, but the resources of the victory. He is the captain and the overcomer in our lives.

If we have caught any help that has relieved us of a troubled morning, it has been of Him. He lifts our eyes unto Himself, and delivers us from apathy, from discontent and from fears. He is always the helper in this heavenly competition, and will be the great reward in all the ages to come. If our life is hidden with Him we shall have to go through the same trials that He went through, but we shall not find them too hard. If once we take Him fully as the strength of our life and our all in all, we shall be able to lay aside all the hindering things that press upon us day by day.

We shall be able to draw new patience and courage from Him until we shall not behold the cloud of witnesses around us, but shall have taken our place among them as one of the victors, and shall be able to sing from the depths of grateful hearts, "Hallelujah! He hath given us the victory." May God help you to find this true in your experience, dear friends. No matter how hard the trouble you are in, it has been just as hard for some one else, and Jesus has triumphed in that very place. Take it then and lay it at His feet, and gain from Him the victor's crown.

Chapter 15  

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