Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Hebrews 12:1-4

This post opens with the Fr. Mac’s brief analysis of Hebrews chapter 12, followed by his notes on verses 1-4. Text in purple represents his paraphrase of the scripture he is commenting on.


In this chapter, the Apostle points out the practical instruction which the Hebrews should derive from the examples of the illustrious heroes of faith, who served at the same time as witnesses of its great efficacy. It is this; that they should, like them, enter on the spiritual struggle, with patience and alacrity (1). He also animates them by the prospect of the rewards, which Jesus holds out for them (2), and by the example of suffering which he set them (3). He adduces the testimony of the Holy Ghost, wherein is set forth the advantage of affliction, in order to console them under persecution and suffering (5–8). He institutes a comparison between the correction administered to us by our earthly parents, and that administered by God, and the effects of both (8–10). He shows that the effect of our present affliction, although bitter at present, shall be, in the end, most sweet and agreeable (11).

From the foregoing, he exhorts them to advance straightforward with courage and vigour in the path of Christian perfection (12, 13), to cultivate peace and purity of heart (14), to correspond with God’s grace, and by prudent vigilance and circumspection, to see that there be found amongst them neither impure nor impious men, who may, like Esau, be reprobated and lose their eternal inheritance (15–17).

He institutes a comparison between the New and the Old Testaments, with a view of exhorting them to purity of life and morals, corresponding with the dignity of the better and more perfect covenant to which they belonged; or, perhaps, as appears from verse, 25, with a view of deterring them from apostasy, by showing the grievousness of that crime, and the heavy punishment in store for such transgressions (18–25). He points out, with the same view, the rigours of future judgment (29).

Heb 12:1  And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us:

Having, therefore, so great a multitude of illustrious witnesses, bearing testimony to the excellence and efficacy of faith, surrounding and enveloping us in every direction, like a cloud; let us, casting away all weight of sensual, terrene affections, all grossness of ideas respecting faith and sin entangling us in our inward course, by patient endurance, enter on the path marked out for us.

“A cloud of witnesses,” for, in what direction soever we look, some of these illustrious heroes meet us, bearing testimony to the excellence and efficacy of faith. “And the sin that surroundeth us,” probably refers to the disposition to commit the sin of apostasy, to which so many temptations were impelling them; or, it might refer to the external provocations and seductive examples, which were urging them on to sin. To these, he opposes the examples of the saints of old. “That surrounds us;” in the Greek, ευπεριστατον that easily besets us, as flowing garments impede men in their onward course. It is needless to remark, that there is an agonistic allusion, contained in this verse. “By patience, run to the fight,” &c. In Greek, run the contest, i.e., race, proposed to us. The Apostle frequently represents the Christian’s progress, as in a race-course, in which men are striving for the prize of eternal life. The innumerable multitude of the saints of old are, like the spectators of the agonistic exercises in the amphitheatre, placed over our heads, and encouraging us in the combat. And Jesus himself is the distributor of the prizes to such as comply with the prescribed conditions of the race. In this race, two things are to be removed, viz., all unnecessary weight, and all obstacles that lie in the way.

Heb 12:2  Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God.

Keeping a steady eye on the master of the race, Jesus himself, who is both the author of our faith—having by his merit secured the graces necessary for it; and its finisher—because he will reward and bring it to a happy issue; who instead of the joy, upon which, in a different order of things, he might have entered, freely and voluntarily bore the cross; and having despised the ignominy attached thereto, now sits at the right hand of the throne of majesty in heaven.

Jesus is the distributor of the prizes to such as win according to the prescribed laws of the contest. “Who having joy set before him,” which is interpreted by some, who, in consideration of the joy set before him, as the reward of his sufferings. The interpretation in the Paraphrase is more in accordance with the Greek, αντι της χαρας, “who,” instead of the joy, which, in a different order of Providence, it was free for him to select, “endured the cross,” &c. Of course, there is question of the joy which he might enjoy, as man; for, as God, he necessarily enjoyed the glory of the Divinity.

Heb 12:3  For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds.

For, reflect diligently on the example he has given you, who, although Son of God, has borne such persecution in the way of bodily suffering, contempt, and reproaches against himself from sinners, so that by the contrast you will feel ashamed to yield or despond in mind, under the trifling privations which you are doomed to endure.

They are not to look upon Jesus, merely in the light of one holding the prize of eternal life for the victor (verse 2), but they should also regard him as their model in suffering. “Think diligently upon him,” i.e., upon the exalted dignity of him who “endured such opposition,” i.e., torments persecution, reproaches, &c. He is the eternal Son of God. From whom did he endure it? “From sinners,” in whose behalf he suffers. All our present sufferings will appear trifling, if compared with the sufferings of the Son of God, and in meditating on his sacred passion, we should never lose sight of these two thoughts. Who, is it that suffers? and why, is it he suffers? The sufferer is the Eternal God, the Creator of the universe. He suffers torments, which he could not merit, to save us from the eternal excruciating torments we justly merited, and to which we should be otherwise infallibly subjected without hope of alleviation; nay, with the certain knowledge, every moment we suffered, that these tortures should be for eternity, as long as God would be God. Ut servum redimeres, filium tradidisti. How the consideration of Christ’s Passion, with all its circumstances, should humble his sinful creatures, and challenge their everlasting love and gratitude!

Heb 12:4  For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

For, while he has poured out the last drop of his sacred blood, you have not yet shed a single drop in the spiritual contest, in which you have been engaged against sin.

The confiscation of property and the ignominious treatment which they had hitherto endured, were comparatively light trials. They did not yet pour out their blood, in their resistance to sin. By “sin,” some understand, sinners, the abstract, for the concrete. Others, more probably, think that the word “sin,” is personified as an adversary, with whom they are contending (for, the agonistic metaphor referred to, verse 1, is here again introduced); and, then, this adversary, “sin,” refers to the temptation and allurements, held out to them by the false doctrines and pernicious examples of apostates.

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One Response to Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Hebrews 12:1-4

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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