The Besetting Sin - Hebrews 12:1

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Signs of the Times : August 4, 1887 

“Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” The apostle here takes the figure from the running course, where the contestant before starting in the race would lay aside every superfluous thing. Nothing was retained that would in the least hinder his progress. So we must lay aside everything that would hinder our progress in the divine life. These weights are of various kinds; some we have by nature, and others we voluntarily assume. Their number is legion, comprising every sin and evil tendency common to mankind. Barnes well says that, “some very light objects, in themselves considered, become material and weighty encumbrances. Even a feather or a ring—such may be the fondness for these toys—may become such a weight that those who wear them will never make much progress toward the prize.” The original signifies something that may be hooked or fasted on. Constant watchfulness, therefore, is required on the part of the runner, lest, after he has laid aside a certain weight, Satan, who is ever on the alert, may fasten it on again.
In addition to the “weights,” of which different people have different kinds, there is a constantly recurring sin, to which all are liable, and which not only hinders our progress, but effectually stops it. If we trace the connection between Hebrews 12 and the two preceding chapters, we cannot fail to see that the sin to which the apostle here refers is the sin of unbelief. Chapter 10 closes with these words: “Now the just shall live by faith; but if any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; of them that the leave to the saving of the soul.” The eleventh begins with a definition of faith, and continues with notable examples of it, showing that without faith it is impossible to please God. Then, the exhortation, which we are now considering. Many suppose that by “the sin which doth so easily be beset us,” the apostle means some especial sin to which have differed persons are liable, differing in different cases. So we hear of impatience as the besetting sin of one person, and covetousness as the besetting sin of another. But the apostle speaks of “the sin,” and not of the sin, which so easily besets us. It is a fact that may be demonstrated, that lack of faith is the greatest source of trouble with every person, manifesting itself, of course, in many different ways. Lack of faith keeps back thousands from being Christians, and causes many professed Christians to stumble and fall by the way.
The word, which is rendered “easily beset,” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means, “the surrounding,” and has been defined, “easy to encircle.” Tindal renders it, “the sin that hangs on us.” Bloomfield supposes that it means “the sin which especially winds around us and hinders our course,” with reference to the longer garment worn by the ancients, which, if not removed or fastened up, would wind around the legs of the runner, and cause him to fall. In harmony with this view is the exhortation given to “gird the loins of your mind,” meaning to have faith.
How few there are who believe with all their heart. But a belief that admits of a doubt is not faith. True faith is that condition into which not the slightest element of disbelief enters. Who has the faith of Abraham, or Noah, or Moses? We think we have faith because we assent to the most prominent doctrines of the Bible, or to what is known as the “Third Angel’s Message.” A simple belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and that all the Ten Commandments are still as binding as when they were given, will not save anybody. “The devil’s believe and tremble,” their belief is not imputed to them for righteousness; they are devils still. Genuine faith in the Third Angel’s Message is evinced by a practical reception and of all the truths brought out by it. Among them may be mentioned the spirit of the prophecy. One who does not believe in this is not a believer in the message; it is one of the main points. Compare Revelation 12:17 with Revelation 19:10. But this also involves a practical belief in true temperance, that is a vital part of the Third Angel’s Message. True temperance, or health reform, as it is termed, has been declared to bear the same relation to the last message that the right arm does to the body. Then if we do not believe and practice it, our faith is a crippled faith.
We may also show our lack of faith by neglecting to render to God his dues. Among nearly all denominations the tithing system is now recognized as the Bible plan of supporting those who labor in the cause of God. It is founded on the same principle as the Sabbath—the right of property. “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord;” whoever uses that time for himself takes that to which he has no right. So also “the tithe is the Lord’s,” and whoever does not return it to him is guilty of robbery. Men who would scorn to defraud their neighbors of a dime, will systematically rob God, and think there is no wrong done. The Bible bears no uncertain testimony on this point. In astonishment the prophet says, by direct inspiration from God, “Will a man rob God?” Someone will say, No; a man cannot rob God. But listen: “Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.” Malachi 3:8, 9. Abraham did not do so, for he paid tithes to the Lord’s servant. Noah, in gratitude for his preservation, sacrificed not merely one-tenth, but one-seventh of his property. The neglect to honor the Lord with our substance, and with the first fruits of all our increase (Proverbs 3:9), is a most flagrant manifestation of unbelief. God makes his care for us temporal and spiritual, dependent on our remembering him; but if we do not thus honor him, we intimate that we have no faith in his ability or willingness to care for us, or else that we lightly esteemed his protection.