John Brown on the Christian Race
“The whole of the Christian duty is represented as a race – a race set before them, which they must run, and “run with patience.” The principal ideas suggested by this figurative view of Christian duty are the following: It is active, laborious, regulated, progressive, persevering exertion.
“The duties of the Christian are of a kind that call for the vigorous exertion of all the faculties of his nature, both intellectual and active. The Christian life is a race, in which the powers of movement require to be fully put forth. Christianity does not consist, as too many seem to think it does, in abstract or mystical speculation, enthusiastic feeling, and specious talk. It no doubt does interest the understanding and the heart; but it proves the hold it has of both by unlocking the sources of activity which they contain, and making them flow forth abundantly in useful exertion. It leads the man to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,’ and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly;” “to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with his God.”
“Christianity is laborious as well as active exertion. The angels never tire in their race, but it is otherwise with even the most thoroughly sanctified of the children of God in the present state. In their but imperfectly renewed natures, as well as in external circumstances, they have numerous causes which tend to check the rapidity and regularity of their movement. “Without are fightings, within fears.” They are in danger of stumbling and falling; their attention is in danger of being called off by surrounding objects; and through continued exertion they are apt to become “weary and faint in their minds.”
“To represent the Christian life as an unvaried scene of pleasurable employment, is equally to contradict the declarations of Scripture and the lessons of experience. There is pleasure, higher pleasure than aught that the world can afford, even in the most laborious parts of Christianity duty, if performed under the influence of Christian principle; but there is toil and difficulty also. It is no easy matter to “flesh and blood” to deny self, to take up the cross, to follow Christ, to cut off the right hand, to pluck out the right eye, to “mortify our members which are on the earth,” to “crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts.”
“Christian duty, still further, is regulated exertion. A man may make active and laborious exertion by running up and down in various directions, but this is not to run a race. The racer must keep to the course prescribed; he must “run the race set before him,” else his exertions, however active and laborious, will serve no good purpose. Christian duty must be regulated by the law of Christ. It consists not merely in doing, but in doing what Christ has commanded; not merely in suffering, but in suffering what Christ has appointed.
“Progression is another idea suggested by the figurative representation here given of Christian duty. A man may be very active and laborious without moving from the spot where he stands, but this is not a race. The Christian must make progress; he must grow in knowledge, and faith, and humility, and usefulness, and universal holiness; he must, to use the language of one Apostle in reference to himself, “forget the things which are behind, and reach forth towards those which are before, and press toward the mark” – or along the prescribed course – “for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus;” or, to borrow the language of another Apostle in prescribing the duty of Christians, he must “add to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly-kindness, and to brotherly-kindness charity.”
“Finally, Christian duty is here represented as persevering exertion. This idea is suggested by the very term race; for no race is won in which the runner does not continue running till he reach the goal. But it is still more distinctly brought out in the exhortation, “Run with patience the race set before you.””
– John Brown, ‘Hebrews.’ Formatting and emphasis added.