The Secret Of Strength
Dr. Daniel W. Paterson
Hebrews 12:1-4 and Judges 16:6
The path of faith has never been easy. In past dispensations as well as the present, courage and strength has always been called for. Natural strength avails not. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, the young men shall stumble and fall; but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength (cf. Isaiah 40:30,31). Well-known words.
This brief word study is to notice particularly the presentation of the Lord Jesus Himself as a model. The verses which open the 12th chapter of Hebrews remind us of the Christian 'race' - a word which somewhat hides its true character. Elsewhere in the Scriptures 'race' is translated as 'fight'. Paul fought the 'well worthwhile fight' in 2 Tim. 4:7, the Thessalonians received the gospel with 'much contention' (1 Thess. 2:2), our blessed Lord Jesus Himself in the Garden prayed in an 'agony', as indeed did Epaphras in Col. 4:12. It is understandable therefore that any of us who embark on this 'race' need to prepare for it-laying aside every weight. It is not so much putting on the tracksuit as getting into training, 'arming ourselves with the mind to suffer'.
Sin in Hebrews is primarily unbelief, and we need to face up to the fact that unbelief too often marks us rather than 'full assurance of faith' (10:22). Above all we are to be found 'looking unto Jesus'-another word of practical import. It means that, with definite purpose of mind and will, we take our eyes off everything and everyone else and fix them upon 'Jesus'. Here again care is needed. The Spirit of God is remarkably precise, need we say, down to the smallest detail. The word 'Jesus' is found about 900 times in the New Testament, but it is in the gospels, with 600 references approximately, only about 30 times is the Lord given His fuller title. An example is in the resurrection scenes in Luke where they found not the body of the Lord Jesus. When we turn to the Acts and the Epistles, about 300 references, only about 30 times is the Lord spoken of as Jesus, that name which tells us of the blessed lowly humble One in manhood down here. In Hebrews we have 'Jesus' about 10 times. This is one of them.
So we look here upon the One who is the Author and Finisher of faith, a real Man. Again, as we would expect, the Spirit of God is careful to preserve the unique distinctive glory of our blessed Lord. In the original language 'author 'occurs only four times in the New Testament (Acts 3:15, 5:31; Heb. 2:10 and here), also translated as 'Prince' and 'Captain'. Here it is Author because He sets the matter on. But He is also the Finisher and this time, the word is reserved for Himself alone - the only one who has finished the race! This should be no difficulty to us who believe. Wonderful as it is 'to depart and be with Christ', far better, or to be 'absent from the body and present with the Lord', or 'to be put to sleep in Jesus', the saint who dies is still in an unclothed state (2 Cor. 5:4 KJV). The Lord Jesus is the only One so far who has this glorified body but He is, to be sure, the assurance that we also shall have ours, either by death or by change (1 Cor. 15:51). He is the Author and the Finisher of faith, and is 'set down at the right hand of the throne of God'-a pattern for us for we shall share His glory.
We must now ask our beloved Lord Delilah's question (Judges 16:6) 'tell me, I pray thee, the secret wherein thy great strength lieth?'. The answer is readily given:- He always trod His pathway with the 'joy of the Lord' as His strength. We may well ask, what are the ingredients of that joy? We can identify at least three elements:-
1) the joy of returning to the place from which He had come. In a wonderful way He gives His own the credit of understanding this. 'If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said I go unto the Father' (John 14:28).
2) The joy he knew in finishing the work that the Father had given Him to do-the basis laid for all blessing, even to the new heavens and new earth (Isa. 66:22 and Rev. 21:1).
3) The joy of securing a portion for His own heart in the assembly-the pearl of great price even if it meant paying the full price and going to the lowest depths to secure it (Matt. 13:45,46).
This, then, it is clear, is the first secret of the Lord's strength - strength to endure the contradiction of sinners against Himself, strength to endure the shame, strength to meet the enemy of our souls and to bear the full weight of God's holy judgment against sin.
'Oh what a load was Thine to bear
alone in that dark hour'
The second ingredient of His strength was that He accepted it. His was a 'body prepared' (Heb. 10:5). Christ must suffer and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. He was born to die, and this was the experience of His from the beginning. 'Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?' The bridegroom must be taken away (Luke 5:35). 'let us go hence' were His words as He went forward to the cross (John 14:31). Did He feel it? Unquestionably! 'Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say, Father, save me from this hour. but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father glorify Thy name'. Heaven's voice was heard. 'I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again'. Precious words indeed. 'not my will, but thine' (Luke 22:42, John 12:27-28). And this is ever the pathway of victory and strength-the ready acceptance of the path mapped out by the eternal love and wisdom of our God.
The Lord Himself shows the way but now let us consider two witnesses, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament who tells us precisely the same story. The first is Abraham, the father of the faithful. The God of glory appeared to him (Acts 7:2). We cannot say exactly how He appeared to him, but Abraham received, and became the depository of, unconditional promises; stars suggesting the heavenly company, and dust and sand suggesting the earthly companies. Of Abraham we read, '. he looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God' (Heb. 11:10). That was the joy set before him. But what was the path mapped out for him? 'and he went out not knowing whither he went' (Heb. 11:8). That is the path of faith and he accepted it. But we notice his journey was marked by three things:
1) a tent, illustrating his pilgrim character,
2) an altar, for he was a worshipper,
3) he dug wells, telling us in a figure of the refreshment he enjoyed in his pathway.
All these things come home to us who are true children of the father of the faithful, and we may well seek grace to walk in the steps of Abraham.
The New Testament example is Paul, the apostle, although of course there are many other witnesses. The joy set before him he briefly describes as 'a prize' (Phil. 3:14) -not a prize for him as an apostle, but the same prize which is in store for all of us who love the Lord's appearing. The prize, simply stated, is full conformity to our blessed Lord, words quickly said, but in the full light of Christianity, brought to us by Him and continued in the ministries of Peter, Paul and John. Conformity to Christ in the coming glory is a very wonderful prospect indeed! But what of Paul's pathway? 'I will show him how much he must suffer for my name' (acts 9:16 N.Tr.). He did not tell him beforehand what all those sufferings would be-that would have been too much! But Paul accepted what the Lord Jesus had planned, he counted all but loss when first he was met by the Saviour. But later, preparing to finish his course, he still counted the sufferings in the same way (Phil. 3:7,8). He accepted the sufferings, glorying in the cross (Gal. 6:14). Well might he say: 'be my imitators' (1 Cor. 4:16 N.Tr.). Paul, that is just exactly what we want to be! We remember indeed there is only One who can say, 'Follow me'. This would be our ambition and even if, as so often, we follow afar off. Our scripture in Heb 12 says 'lest ye be weary and faint in our minds'. That is where the enemy attacks us: in our minds. Are we tempted at times to throw it all up and give up the fight? May the Lord graciously hear our cry and strengthen us all in the inner man, by His Spirit according to the riches of His glory, and with all might according to His glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering, with joyfulness (Eph 3:16, Col. 1:11) and with Christ dwelling in our hearts (Eph. 3:17) by faith may He liberate our souls into all the fullness of God to His praise and glory, as we wait His sure and near return.
This, we believe is the constant and repeated lesson for us. If we are to learn the secret of strength we must keep our eye on the goal before us, and in the meantime accept gladly the promised cross.