The Race

a Preparation Sermon Rev. Samuel Rutherford, before the communion, at Kirkcudbright, in the year 1634
published by Rev. Andrew A Bonar, Glasgow, 1876 (reproduced in https://archive.org/stream/fourtcomm00ruth);
minimally updated, edited and footnoted by JJ Lim
Part 2 of 3: Laying Aside Weights & Sins


“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, &c”(Hebrews 12:1-5).

[In the first part of this sermon, Rev. Rutherford expounded on the apostle’s call to run the race. Towards the end of the first part, he speaks of three kinds of runners who fail to reach the finishing line: (1) those who start not; (2) those who fall out of the way; and (3) those who wishes to run encumbered. This leads us to where we are. --JJL]

Question: What then shall we do to be quit of these weights? In answer,

1st Direction: The world is a foul way, like deep-watery new-tilled ground, where pound weights hang to every heel of the traveller, and retard him; and as he shakes off one, another comes on, so that he cannot go fast on his way. Now the affections are the feet of the soul; take heed to your feet, and come off the deep-wet land. Use the world as if you used it not. There is a dry way to heaven; hold off the deep way, and be content with food and raiment. Go the way that Christ and the saints went before you; who scarce ever wet their feet. Indeed Jesus was never wet-shod in the world; He had so good mind of His errand, and His home, that the world got no room in His heart. They who will not keep this clean dry causeway, it is no marvel to see them stick in the miry world, be drowned, and never win home. It is with many, as was said, Their adulteries lie between their breasts; the world in a great bunch lies betwixt their breasts all night (Hos 2:2). Is it any wonder to see such heavy-headed [gossipers][1] get the goods in this race? like stiff horses, unmeet for a journey. And how can they once give a trot? Nay, they but walk in a circle.

2nd Direction: Satan and the world will play you foul play, and cast their feet before you, and give you a fall. But care not for that, rise again. But, I pray you, beware of sore falls, or sins against the conscience, light, and love. For the conscience is like an earthen vessel if you break it, you will not mend it again. Some, in their race, give their conscience such a backstroke, that they break their legs, and are never meet for the race again. But, whatever you do, keep the conscience whole.

3rd Direction: Cast off all things that make you heavy: make yourself light, that you may be nimble, skip, and spur away. Run, run, look not behind you, remember Lot’s wife. Although you should be like to burst, tarry not. You will mend of a sweat, and a heat. God has a napkin to rub the sweat of you, and He has a chair and a cushion for you, against the race be ended, and He will lay your head in His bosom. Take a little pains in the day, for I promise you, you shall get rest at even.

Cast off the sin that doth so easily beset us;” or goes round about us.—This is the body of sin that remains in our nature; he speaks of it, as if one had us clasped in his arms. For original sin has us in fetters as captives; it is a thing we cannot win from, go where we please. It is like a ghost, ever in our eye: behind us, pulling us back; before us, standing in our way; at our right hand, hindering us to hear, pray, believe, repent, hope. It is like the wind in our face, or in the face of a weak traveller, that blows him some steps back, where he goes one forward. It is as a man going round about us. It is in the mind, darkening the judgment; in the will, [throwing][2] it in the contrary way. God bids us walk in the lowest room, down in the affections: but we do the contrary. And this sin, as weedbind[3] goes about a tree, wraps about us in every good way. It is a serpent biting our heel, and cries, “A lion in the way!” When God draws, sin holds under, at meat, drink, and sleep. It is a joker;[4] it promises us much, but gives us the wind, and yet we believe it.

But here a question may be asked. How does the Apostle bid us shake off this sin, which dwells in us so long as we live? It is death and the kirkyard[5] that makes us quit of this sin: How is it then that we can shake it off?

1st Answer: The dominion of it we break by grace. Every woe heart we have, for this indwelling sin, breaks a bone of old Adam, gives his back a crack, and makes him cry. As we repent, and advance in holiness, we break a leg, or an arm of this sin; but for the root of it, God only, in death, can pluck it out. Yet we must be hacking, and cutting the branches, and roots of it, else we cannot make progress in our race. We must not take this defiling sin forward with us in our race. We must leave it when we start, and deliver it over to Christ, that He may put it on His cross, and nail it to His gallows.

2nd Answer: He speaks of sin, as of a thing going about us, like a stone wall, in our very way to heaven. Till, by regeneration, Christ make a gap in the wall, that we may pass over, there is no possibility of going one foot. And even when the wall is broken, we shall see this sin hanging on our legs and arms. This sin keeps a lodge by the gate for Satan, and is a common robber, who slays many by the way. (1) Some it tricks out of the way, and lays asleep in security; like a drunken traveller, who sleeps in a moor, till the sun be down, then he awakes from his sleep and cries. (2) It blinds some, as Paul, while a Pharisee, and Papists, and chases them a wrong way (to hell instead of heaven), when they make a fashion of repentance to slay their sins; and go again to their old pass. Such are those who, with willingness, walk softly, and go to sin again. Now, he sets down the exhortation, “Let us run the race.” This is more than to walk and step at our own leisure. Running shows there is a set time, which will go away, a short day; and that the way is long, and we have much to do to get sin slain. And therefore, we must to the way with speed, and run fast. In Matthew 11:12, The kingdom of heaven is said to be taken with violence. “Strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24). The word is, fight and throng in by force. When God by faith lets a man see heaven, he resolves that in he must be, come what will. “Reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press forward toward the mark” (Phil 3:13-14). The word is, “I follow after,” I reach out my hand. The apostle means he ran that so his head and breast pressed forward before his feet, and his two arms reached out to catch hold of Christ. To speak so, he chases Christ and heaven, and they seem to flee from him, and he follows: so should we do. Then chase on; the prize seems to flee from us; but it cannot flee further than to heaven’s gates, there we will get a hold of it.

But how will they do who say, “Hooly[6] and fair conies home against even?” And what needs all this din; all these prayers, and these flockings to communions? I hope to be in heaven as soon as the best of you. Answer. Beguile not yourselves, Loiterers, and drowsy persons, who go not one mile of twenty in a year; such as walk in a circle round about from pride, to lust; from lust to drunkenness; from that to covetousness; and from that to pride again; like as if they were in a fairies’ dance, and run not at all. Can men come to heaven lying on their back? “The good lucky old religion made a sonsy[7] world,” say they. Yes, they use religion like a post-horse; as one wears out of fashion, they take another.

Heaven must be taken by violence. He speaks of heaven as of a fortified place, that must be forced by fire and sword, ere they render it up. We are like drunken travellers, cast twenty miles behind; sometimes with lust, and sometimes with pride; and such companions cannot be put to the gate. They have a friend to Satan’s messengers within; and when they knock, he cries, Coming, Master. Men have gotten a gate of their own (“like neighbour” —another, “the good old use and wont,”) to walk as they please; and they are no gluttons of religion, neither of the word, nor communions. Religion, to them, is a good custom of going to the kirk.

The race set before us”—This race is, by our Lord, set before us in His word; for men set the way to hell before themselves. God’s word sets hell before no man as a way that He allows of. He sets not that before us, but behind our back. But men turn their face to hell, and not to heaven. Know, therefore, that this is a race of God’s choosing, and not of our own; and the ill roads, the deep waters, the sharp showers, and the bitter, violent winds that are in our face, are of God’s disposing. We will not get a better road, than our Lord allows us. He has called us to suffering, and not a stone is in our way by chance; but by His wise providence, all the waters are told; all the streams, the storms, and stones, that are in our way are written in His book. Our wanderings are numbered. It is our comfort that our Lord is looking on. God is like the nobleman who lays the cup in pawn;[8] and appoints the bounds. He sets down the race in His word, with all the way-marks, and sets His Son at the end of the way, holding up in His hand the Crown of glory, and crying to the runners, To the gate with speed! See the prize. Win, and have it. As in a horse race, many are galloping and posting from one sin to another till they be at hell! and Satan, out of his own stables, furnishes them with fresh horses; and aye as one tires, immediately another is brought! But not a step should we go, but as God has directed us. The kirk does not set this race before us: neither may king or kirk change our King Jesus’ way, to cast us about dykes, into Rome’s foot roads, and Antichrist’s by-ways. Scotland’s race is set down, Jeremiah 8:6, “Every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth in to the battle.” The commonality are galloping on covetousness, the nobles on oppression, and the whole land on strange apparel; and some of all ranks in the three kingdoms are posting to hell on idolatry and masses.

When God’s temple was last measured in this land, much was taken from Him. Either we must change our course, or look (1) to lose the prize; or (2) to want Christ’s company and convoy; or (3) to get leave to go all upon horseback in an ill course with patience. There is a necessity for hope and patience to wait on; because, at the place where they start, men see not the gold in the race: but must run the first mile; and not only the first, but to the end, before they sit down. He that falls back, within his own length of the score, or draws his bridle and sets up within a quarter of a mile, loses the race. We see not the prize here, neither is it before our senses, nor hard by our hand, but it is out of sight; we have nothing but God’s promise for it, and some small [earnest][9]. Behold, “The husbandmen waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth.” We must wait on, winter, spring, and summer, till harvest come; for howbeit ill weather, and a rainy season come, yet the husbandman folds not his hands, nor lays up the plough by the walls; and with patience works for the harvest; for he knows God may, and will send a good and full crop. And what of a winter storm! What albeit they mock and persecute us, and Satan send out his dogs to bark at us, to make us take a house over our heads? Let us be going forward; it will blow up fair again. Read Luke 21:19, “In patience possess ye your souls;” verse 28, “Lift up your heads; for the day of your redemption draweth nigh.” This condemns such as will not run one foot in this race, except the gold be in their hand, and they will have God paying interest, and giving wages in hand. But faith trusts God, and if you get but one kiss of Him in this life, or the welcome of His bowels, with a sweet smile, and embrace in His arms, it is worth all you can suffer for Him in this life. Got not Abraham a promise of the land of Canaan, and yet got it not in this life, but dwelt in tents, and hung by hope! Ay, you will not play, except God give you heaven in your hand; as if God were a child, to give you the garland, ere the race be run. No, God’s on-waiters come to honour in God’s court; the more the good servant is faithful he has the more to crave. He who takes all at once, and forenails[10] all before the term, will be a poor man. We, like fools, would forenail our heaven; but it is best that God keeps all until the term day; for he is a rich servant who, in the end, has his heaven to crave. No marvel then, that patience be needful. Satan runs up and down like a great warship, with twenty pieces of ordnance, shooting at all who are sailing for Canaan; and roaring out, Surrender. But give not up; suffer, suffer, take a shot, hold out Christ’s white flag; Christ will mend the gap that Satan’s bullet has made. We fear ill upon the land, for the abuse of the gospel; and indeed that there will be an onset. Have patience and you will win the field

… to be continued

 



[1] Orig. “mardels.”

[2] Orig. “Thrawing.”

[3] Prob. “climbing or twining weed.”

[4] Prob. “mocker.”

[5] I.e. “Churchyard,” prob. referring to the graveyard in the church premises.

[6] I.e. Cautious and soft.

[7] I.e. Lucky, fortunate or happy.

[8] A “pawn” in Scots dialect refers to “a narrow curtain fixed to the top or the bottom of a bed.” Here it prob. refers to the trophy being set on a decorated display table by the nobleman who is calling the race.

[9] Orig. “arles.”

[10] I.e. “To spend on credit before the money is gained”