Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us…looking unto Jesus — Heb_12:1-2
Sins and Weights
When the writer speaks of the sin which doth beset us, he is not referring to one particular sin. The thought that one sin may be especially perilous is not present in his mind at all. He is thinking of all sin, of sin in its largest compass, and he says of all sin that it easily besets us which probably means that, like a binding garment, it clings to us and hinders us from running. Notice that he does not say, “Let us lay aside our weights, even the sins that so easily beset us.” He puts an “and” between the words to indicate that the one obstruction may differ from the other. All sins are weights, but all weights are not sins; and both alike have to be laid aside.
A moment’s thought ought to make plain to us this great distinction between weights and sins; it is one that vitally concerns our progress. There are some things that everywhere are right, and there are other things that everywhere are wrong. No matter who does them or why they may be done, their relation to the law of God is fixed. They do not take their moral tone from circumstances nor are they relative to a man’s place or powers. There are things that are everywhere and always fight, and there are things that are everywhere and always wrong. Now could we take every detail of human conduct and place it in one or other of these categories, life would present a very simple problem; but the complexity of life consists in the fact that there are acts innumerable which cannot be so classified. There are a thousand things that no man dare call wrong, for they show none of the characters of sin; on the contrary, they may be precious gifts which in other circumstances might be rich in blessing; but if they hinder you when you struggle for the best and burden you so that you run unworthy, then they are weights and must be laid aside.
Blessings Can Be Twisted into Curses
That this is also the teaching of our Lord is evident from some of His memorable sayings: “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off”; “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Is there anything sinful in the hand and eye? Are they not instruments and avenues of blessing? Of all the gifts that man has had from heaven, there are few that can be matched with hand or eye. In the right hand has waved the sword of freedom. In the right hand has been grasped the pen of genius. By the right hand is wrought that common toil that sets a hundred temptations at defiance—yet “if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off; if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Do not misinterpret that deep word of Jesus. He spoke as a poet speaks, who through the concrete has visions of abstract and universal truth. He meant that even the choicest of our blessings may be so twisted and turned into a snare that a man may have to say, “This is a weight for me,” and with swiftness of farewell, lay it aside.
The Blessings of Burdens
Of course we shall remember that there are certain weights which are a help and not a hindrance to our progress. They impart a certain momentum to the character and carry a man through obstacles victoriously. There are men who by nature are lightweights with little chance of prospering in this hard world, and God has to steady them with burdens sometimes if they are to run with patience the race that is set before them. I would not like to travel in a train if I were told that it was light as matchwood. I should not like to put to sea in an ocean liner if I were informed there was no ballast in her. When there are curves to be taken or storms to be encountered, when the way is beset with obstacles or perils, you need a certain weight to ensure safety, and you need a certain weight to give you speed. I have no doubt that this is the explanation of many of the weights that we must carry. They steady and ballast us; they give us our momentum as we drive ahead through the tempestuous sea. Life might be lighter and brighter if we lacked them; but, after all, there are better things than gaiety. It is a real weight to a young man, sometimes, that he has to support an aged relative. There is much that he craves for which he can never get so long as that burden at home is on his shoulders. But has not that burden made a man of him—made him strenuous and serious and earnest? He might have run his race with brilliance otherwise, but he runs it with patience now, and that is better. There are few weights like the weight at a father’s heart when his little and well-beloved child falls sick. It is with him when he wakens in the morning, and it hangs about him heavily all day. But how often does it touch his heart with tenderness and call in his roving and unworthy passion, making him vow to be a better father, and bringing him back to the secrecy of prayer. There are weights that are helps then, and not to be cast aside. They are of God’s appointing and must be carried bravely. There are burdens which we know in our conscience to be hindrances; but there are others which in the eyes of God are blessed.
Nor is this a matter in which one who is wise will ever dare to pass judgment on another. We can tell as the days go by what are weights to us; we can never tell what are weights to other men. The thing that vexes us at every turn and causes us wearily to sigh for freedom, may to another man be a good of God that sends him singing and happy on his journey. If you were to clothe a modern army officer in the chain-armor of a mediaeval knight, it would be almost insupportable to him and would prove itself an intolerable weight. But the knight himself, “pricking o’er the plain” or dashing into combat with the Saracen was safe and strong when girded with that mail. There are few who could handle the sword of Sir William Wallace; it is so massive and of such a weight, yet in the hand of Wallace it used to flash like lightning—to him it was not a burden but a joy. Never, then, judge others in such matters and never permit others to judge you. In things indifferent it is a sign of weakness to be quickly influenced by the report of others. The personal test which one should boldly use when he is doubtful of any act or habit is to ask himself, “Is this a help or hindrance in the patient running of the race?” If he can honestly say it is a help, then probably it would be cowardice to reject it. There are times when it is the duty of a Christian to insist bravely upon his Christian liberty. But if his conscience tells him that it is a hindrance, then let him dismiss it though it should take the sunshine from the morning and silence all the singing of the birds.
Weights May Be Tiny but Burdensome
Sometimes, too, these things that we call weights are of the most insignificant and trifling kind. They are like the weights beside a chemist’s scales, so tiny as hardly to be visible. I wonder what a thorn would weigh? There would be a good many thousands to the pound. Caught in the fleece of a sheep upon the hills, it would not hinder it from freest movement. But plunged in the flesh of a great saint like Paul, it hampers and retards at every mm till even the thorn for Paul becomes a weight and drives him in entreaty to the throne. I think there are few things sadder in the world than the trifling nature of much that hinders men. There are thousands who are within an ace of running well, with one thing only between them and freedom. And that is often such a little thing—such a trifle, such an insignificancy—that the pity is that a man should be so near, and yet, from the triumph of it all, so far.
Oh the little more, and how much it is!
And the little less, and what worlds away!
If men were ruined only by great sins there would be a tragic splendor in existence. No one can study a tragedy of Shakespeare without being purified at heart. But men are not only ruined by great sins; they are also beaten in the race by little weights, and it is just the relative lightness of the weight that is the pity of a thousand lives. If that should describe your case, my brother, I plead with you to lay aside that weight. It may be hard; indeed it is often harder to lay aside the little than the great one. Others may smile at you not grasping what it means; they say, “What does it matter, it is such a trifle?” But in the sight of heaven and at the bar of conscience, you know it is keeping you from running well.
“Looking Unto Jesus”
But someone will say to me, “That is good advice, but I have had as good advice before. It is not advice I want, but it is power to do it, for I have tried a dozen times and failed.” Well, I believe you—I have had that experience; but never since I saw what this text meant. “Lay aside every weight, looking unto Jesus “—there is the open secret of success. Depend upon it, if you look at the weight only, you will never have the heart to lay it down. It will never seem to you so fixed and firm as in the hour you are determined to reject it. And once rejected, all that you had against it will be so overborne in wild desire that with greedy hands you will draw it back again to find it doubly sweet because forsworn. That is the certain path towards darkness and tears, for every such failure leaves the conscience poorer. The saddest hour is not when a man is beaten; it is when he says, “O God, this is impossible”; but there is no such hour, even for the weakest, if he will only act as this text bids him, and “lay aside, looking unto Jesus.” Keep your gaze fixed on Jesus Christ the crucified. Direct every power of your heart towards Him. Believe in His nearness, His love, His mighty power—He carried the weight of the world’s guilt triumphantly. It is wonderful, if one will but do that, how the weight that seemed to be soldered will grow movable so that a man may cast it from him and waken the next morning—free!
And now I have just one other word to say. It is about these weights which we cannot lay aside. It is about these things which really may be hindrances and which yet we dare not or cannot put away. It may be perhaps some bodily defect. It may be some relationship at home. It may be the result of folly long ago; and today it hangs about us like a weight, and we know we shall never lose it till the grave. Such things we cannot or dare not lay aside. What then? Must they always and to the end be weights? Ah, whether a thing shall be a weight or not depends enormously on how we carry it. Suppose you take a truck-load of steel plates and empty these steel plates into the sea. They sink immediately. They are far too heavy a weight to be borne by the yielding and never-resting ocean. But fashion a thousand such plates into a vessel; hammer and rivet them into a ship of steel; and the ocean will bear them as she would an almond-branch and never feel that weight upon her bosom. It is not the thing itself that is the weight; far more often it is the way we carry it. If we be selfish and loveless and out of touch with God, the very grasshopper may be a burden. But if we believe; if we have hope and charity; if we trust in the love of God and look to Jesus; these weights which we cannot lay aside will become light just because carried well.