Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. I Cor. 9:24-27

I so run, declared the apostle. He refers to the race set before him and his brethren by the Lord. To bring this race into sharp relief, he avails himself of a figure taken from the Greek game of running-match. There are in a purely formal sense certain points of convergence between the Christian race and the aforesaid Greek game. The Greek athlete ran with a view to obtaining a crown; so, too, the believer. During some months that preceded the race, the Greek athlete would be temperate in all things. The believer keeps under his body and brings it into subjection. Only one of all the athletes who participated, obtained the prize. Only some of those who run the Christian race obtain the crown.

This agreement however is purely formal. There is an essential difference between the Christian race and the race of the Greek athletes. He, of the latter, who gained the mastery, received a corruptible prize. The crown, which the believers obtain, is incorruptible. There is essential difference between this preliminary engagement of the Greek athlete—an engagement that consisted in keeping under his body—and the same action as done by the believer. It all means that the Christian race is the reality.

“I so run. . . .” Consider that the apostle was a minister of the gospel, the shepherd of sheep. With great boldness he can admonish his brethren, the sheep, to so run that they might obtain, as he so runs. So then, what we have to do with here is an admonition of a pastor who can say that he does the thing he bids his sheep to do, that he will to be bound by the word with which he comes to them. He is a shepherd, therefore, who can direct the minds of the sheep to his person and say, Do as I do. So run that ye may obtain. Let us now direct our attention to the manner of Paul’s running.

As has already been suggested, the apostle has before his eye the race, set before us by the Lord. What is this Christian race? Wherein does the running consist? Can this race be known, singled out and defined? It surely can or how could it be run? This race can be known as it is set before our eye by the Lord in His Word. It was the sacred writer of the Hebrews, who in the twelfth chapter of his epistle, admonished his readers to run this race. A careful study of the surroundings of this exhortation brings to light that this race is the aggregate of all that the child of grace experiences in this hostile world on account of his confessing the name of His Savior and of his witnessing for the truth. This race, is a way or course of cross-bearing, of suffering with Christ and for the sake of His name, a way of trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonment for some; for others of being stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, of wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins, of being destitute, afflicted, tormented. For all it is a way of suffering. For it is a way of witnessing for the truth, of being strangers and pilgrims in the earth, of keeping His commandments. But for this reason it is also a way of walking with God, of walking in the light of His countenance, of fellowship with Him, of being kept by His power and thus a way of spiritual triumph. For consider that by faith the walls of Jerusalem fell down. By faith some in this course subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again; but—others were tortured. . . .

This then is the course set before us. Did Christ not say, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me? This cross is the symbol of suffering. We take it up and follow Him. Whither? To the Father’s house through fire and water.

The running of this race consists in living in that particular place of this earth where the Lord stations us, from the principle of faith and in agreement with His Word. Everyone occupies a place in this earthy, in the state, in society, in the church. The place of the minister of the Gospel in the congregation of Christ is that of the servant of the Word. And the will of God for him is that as constrained by love of Christ he declare the full counsel of God, properly divide the Word, take home to his own heart the truth he proclaims to others and thus crown his confession with a godly conversation. Doing so, he confesses Christ’s name in the circle of his flock and thus runs the race that is set before him. The minister of the Gospel must know that for him, too, the only way that leads home is this course of cross-bearing. He, too, must suffer for the sake of the truth for which he witnesses. How could it be otherwise. Consider that he is pastor, keeper of the sheep entrusted into his care, that thus he is in duty bound to station himself at the head of his flock and run the race. He therefore leads the way and is thus the first to encounter the thief who cometh to steal and to kill and to destroy. And if he be a good shepherd, he fleeth not when he sees the wolf coming, but holds his grounds and lays down, if need be, his life for the sheep.

It was with a view to this race or course and the running in it that the apostle wrote to his brethren at Corinth, Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Of all those who run, there was one who first reached the goal. He only received the prize. The reason for the failure of the others was that they had not sufficiently exerted themselves. The race had proven too exacting. Some had dropped exhausted by the way. Others, losing heart, had voluntarily given up the strife. In a word, these others, for whatever reason, had not run properly, had not so run as to obtain.

With these failures before his eye, the apostle, passing in his mind from the figure to the reality, exhorted his brethren to so run that they might obtain. This exhortation must imply that not all who run in this true race, obtain. Someone may ask, is this possible? In view of the fact that all who run are children of God, must not all receive a crown? Would not failure on the part of anyone of these mean that an elect one perishes? But the saints persevere. Hence all obtain.

Now it is certain that all the elect receive a crown, which means that all these persevere to the end. There is a prize not merely for the lone runner, but for the many. And they all must obtain. Consider that the incorruptible prize forms the content of Christian hope, of the promise; that this hope, as an anchor of the soul, lies buried, so to say, in the unchangeable counsel of the Almighty. The crown was merited by Christ for all true Christian athletes. All without a single exception must therefore obtain. The crown is theirs. To it they have a right that cannot be disputed; for with Christ they were crucified, buried, risen and set in heaven where they were blessed with all spiritual blessings. This crown is theirs so that they run not to merit but to obtain. Their grant upon it is a gift of grace. And they run in the power of their Savior.

But is there not danger of any of their number being destroyed by the wolves among whom they are sent before the race is run and the goal reached? Have no fear. Even the race is a gift of grace. It is one of the treasures merited; for unto them it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict. Hence no wolf may kill before the race is run; no wolf can kill before the goal is reached. For the power of the adversary is Christ’s. Without His will, it cannot destroy. When the destroyer kills, the race has been run, the prize obtained and the spiritual athlete is translated into a blessed eternity. It is utterly impossible for these not to so run that they obtain. However not all who run are true children of God. There are the sham athletes whose running is not true. Rightly considered they run not at all; neither are they truly in the race on the course that leadeth to the celestial city but on a way of corruption that ends in eternal night.

But seemingly they run. And as far as men can judge, they run well, like the Pharisees of Christ’s day, who made long prayers, compassed sea and land to make one proselyte, cast their gifts in the treasury of the temple, payed tithe of mint, made clean the outside of the cup and the platter, built the tombs of the prophets. How well apparently some of these men at first do. They hear the word and anon with joy receive it. They say, Lord, Lord; prophesy in His name, in His name cast out devils, and do many wonderful works. They are enlightened, taste of the heavenly gift, are made partakers of the Holy Ghost, taste the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. And yet they obtain no crown; for they do not so run.

It was with these runners before his eye, that the apostle directed to his brethren the exhortation, Ye know that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. Likewise they who run in the spiritual race run all, but only some receive the crown incorruptible. So run that ye may obtain. The apostle here addresses himself to the true children of God, the real spiritual athletes. These, as was said, must obtain. The certainty of this, however, does not render the exhortation with which we here have to do superfluous. These true athletes have need of this word. For though they must obtain, they can derive no comfort from this blessed necessity unless they know that they are truly Christ’s. Will they know, they must so run; for it is only in combination with their hallowed efforts that the Spirit of God testifieth with their spirit that they are His children. Hence, they must so run would they have this assurance.

But even the true spiritual athlete does not always so run except in principle. For he has but a small beginning of the true obedience. Sin still worketh in his members. When the ego joins the principle of sin, the body of this death prevails and the race is not being properly run. This occurs. And though it is God who causes them to depart from His ways, for God doeth all things, yet are they held accountable for their deflections. The admonition is thus needful and proper. The true athlete hears. As invigorated by grace he runs with new zeal.

So run therefore. The running must be properly done. It must be accompanied by a certain self- discipline and frame of mind and heart if it be properly done. What is this frame of mind? Wherein does this self-discipline consist? And the answer of the apostle, I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection. . . .

I so run, not as uncertainly. . . . He who so runs is uncertain whether he would run at all. A firm resolve is lacking to him. His frame of heart is that of doubt. We know from ordinary life the behavior of a man who walks or runs in this state of mind. The man is on his way, let us say, to the home of some friend and the journey is perilous. So he is undecided whether or not to pursue his way to the end. Hence his walking is sporadic. There is no spring to his step. His feet lag as if of lead. He slackens his pace. From his mouth proceed strange mutterings. His visage betokens a soul filled with reasonings. The man debates with himself. And the issue debated is whether or not the journey shall be continued. The man cannot make up his mind, so he finally comes to a complete standstill and lies down beside the way, a bundle of conflicting sentiments. The outcome is that he finally rises to his feet and makes for home. It is reasonable to assume that the behavior of this man finds its explanation in the circumstance that the home of his friend did not sufficiently attract, that there were other interests that pulled at the strings of his heart, that this pull was so strong as to have completely broken down his morale; that mental state and moral condition which renders a man capable of endurance and of exhibiting courage in the presence of danger. This man walked as uncertainly and the sub-soil of his manner of conduct was his double mind.

So there are spiritual athletes who run as uncertainly. They are the people of whom James wrote, the double minded men, unstable in all their ways, the men with two faces and two hearts, who think it possible to serve two masters, not considering that only one of the masters can and is being actually loved. And the master loved is always mammon, the world. And the things upon which the affections are being set, are without exception the things on earth, not the things above. Rightly considered therefore they are men with only one hart, a heart whose treasure house is this world. Is it to be wondered at that these men, though seemingly in the race, do not so run, that the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, so that they become unfruitful; that when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, they are offended and take to cover and at the first opportunity rush back into the world and return like a sow that was washed to their wallowing in the mire?

The apostle was not one of these. He walked as certainly. In this race, he exerted himself, bended every effort, strained every muscle. Forgetting those things which are behind, he reached forth unto those things which are before and pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. For he was a man with one heart and the affections of that heart were set on the crown. His treasure house was the sanctuary above. What things were gain to him —his having been circumcised the eighth day, his being of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, his being a Pharisee as touching the law, his being blameless as touching the righteousness which is in the law, yea, all things—he counted loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord for whom he suffered the loss of all things and did count them but dung, that he might win Christ. . . . if by any means he might know Him in the power of His resurrection of the dead. . . .

He ran as certainly; for he was decided. The one thing that had captivated his hallowed imagination was the crown. The only interests that pulled at his heart were the interests of God. The only treasure he possessed was in heaven. The only master he loved and served was Christ. There was a spring to his step. His feet had wings; for the reasonings of his heart were, I must so run that may obtain. So he ran with patience the race that was set before him, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of his faith and considering that He for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised the shame and was set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The apostle so ran. Yet it must not be supposed that he was not a man of like passions as we, that there was not to him a body of this death with which to contend, that thus he was a saint of such near perfection that he fell completely outside our class. Sin also worked in his members. There was also to him a body that had to be kept under and brought into subjection. But the excellency of Paul the Christian consisted in this that with all the hallowed vigor that was his, he set himself against the man of sin in him. The reason he so ran and ran so well is that in the power of God and by the grace of his Christ he disciplined with ever increasing earnestness that body of his.

“But I keep my body under and bring it into service.” The body is not the same as the old man of sin, for the latter is not brought into service but must be put off; nor are we to think here of the flesh as it, too, must be mortified. However, the connection between the body that is to be brought into service and the old man of sin is so close that when the former is buffeted the latter is being put off. The body of which the apostle here speaks is the soul with its faculties together with the body and all its members through which the soul functions. The soul sees through the eye, hears through the ear and casts its thoughts in the framework of a human language through the physical organs of speech. Now the entire man, according to soul and body, is a slave to sin. In all the members of this man sin operates, in the mind, will and affections. Through the physical organs of the soul sin attains to self-expression. Therefore it is written that the throat of man is an open sepulcher, that with his tongue he uses deceit, that the poison of asps is under the lips, that his mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, that his feet are swift to shed blood, that destruction and misery is in his way, that the way of peace he knows not, that there is no fear of God before his eye.

But the apostle keeps under his body and brings it into service. It means that he smites these members, his eye, his ear, his hand and his feet and -his will, mind and affections whose organs these physical members are and thus through the smiting of these members mortifies his flesh, the old man of sin in him, with the result that sins grip weakens so that these members, as released, the whole man as to body and soul, are now set by the renewed person of the spiritual athlete as instruments of righteousness to God.

Wherein does this buffeting consist. Not certainly in literally smiting the ear, the foot and the ear, but it consists in saying to the eye when it would behold sin, to the ear when it would hearken unto the voice of sin, to the mouth when it would curse, to the tongue when it would sting, to the throat when it would emit the filth of that hidden sepulcher, to the feet when they would swiftly run to shed blood, it shall not be. It consists, this buffeting of the body, in the new man setting himself against and crushing the evil thought, desire, inclination and affection. But to this something must be added. Consider that, irrespective of how earnestly the spiritual athlete buffets his body, his complaint continues to be, For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I know not. For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Such was the complaint of Paul. If there are holiest men, this is the kind of a saint that he was. This complaint of his is the evidence that he knew self: and this self- knowledge was the fruit of earnest heart searchings. He knew his thoughts, his desires, the impulses of self, the motives from which actions spring. He was aware that his most hallowed thoughts, his loftiest desires, his noblest impulses and best motives were so contaminated with the contagion of sin, so mixed with the issues of the flesh. Knowing self as he did, it was a way with him to repent constantly in dust and ashes, to hide himself in his Savior, to petition the Throne for power to carry on as spiritual athlete, to buffet ever more tellingly his body and to bring it into subjection. And we can imagine him resolving, “I will hear the work that Thou hast wrought, my eye will be continually upon Thee. My tongue shall declare thy righteousness and thy praise all the day. With my feet I will walk in wisdom’s ways. I will lift up my rand to Thy sanctuary. Thy righteousness will be the girdle of my loins. With thy gospel will I shod my feet. Hope will be my helmet, and righteousness my breastplate. So did the Spirit of Christ resolve through him.

Well did Paul understand that Christ strove through him, that if his deliverance had to come forth from self, he was doomed, that his hope therefore was Christ. The same man therefore who complained, O wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death? also joyed, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This spiritual exercise, certainly, forms an important element in this buffeting of the body.

In the battle he waged with his body, Paul did not fight as one that beateth the air. So the children of the world fight. For, consider that, as has already been suggested, they, too, run in a race on a course that ends in eternal death. It is the course or way of sin, of worldly ambition, of a serving of the flesh and the devil, a way of worldly pleasure. The crown that they who run this course set before their eye is a crown corruptible; wealth, honor, earthly renown and the like. And how some of these children buffet their bodies, discipline self, that as runners they may be fit. As Paul says, they are temperate in all things, temperate in their eating, in their drinking, in all their enjoyments. How they steel themselves to curb their appetites. Knowing that they cannot achieve without the aid and goodwill of their fellow men, they bridle their tongues and their tempers and throw off any habit that stands between them and success. They are gentle, kind and engaging, liberal and big-hearted. They flatter, praise and cajole all in the attempt to work their way into the good graces of men. They adorn their visage with a permanent smile. How well they succeed, while achieving, in keeping under the body.

But they are ever beating the air. They love the very man they bind. Even in binding this man, they set their members as instruments of unrighteousness to self. Self they seek. In self they end. Self they exalt. Before self they prostrate themselves. For self is their god. They therefore do not, rightly considered, buffet the real self, the sinful self, the body of this death, the man of sin. This man they love. They thirst after righteousness and God. They do not therefore combat the real foe but for selfish reasons merely curb for a time a few of its accesses. They therefore beat the air.

Their combat is therefore vanity. All is vanity here: the course run, for the way of the ungodly will perish; the crown obtained, for the world and all that is out of the world will pass away; the running, for the course run is a way of death, a slippery place upon which the Almighty casts them down into eternal destruction; the runners themselves, for all their thoughts are that there is no God.

But as to Paul, as to the true Christian athlete, it is the man of sin upon whom he rains his blows. His desire is to be delivered of this man, for he loves God and knows that only the pure of heart can see God. Hence, he sanctifies himself. He therefore beats not the air. For Christ who combats through him will deliver him from the body of death, when the course is run.

So run that ye may obtain—a crown incorruptible. Bring into subjection the body. It is reasonable that you do so. For you run in a race. Even the children of the world are temperate in all things to obtain a corruptible crown. Will we not buffet our bodies to obtain the incorruptible prize. Such is the apostle’s reasoning.

I so run. . . . lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. The irony of this, should it occur. But it could not occur for Paul was Christ’s. This he himself knew, because he so ran and thus made sure his eating and election.