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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Hebrews 11

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Hebrews 11:1-2

Now faith is the substance

The use of history:

Hitherto the Jewish Christians had continued to celebrate the ancient ritual, and their presence in the temple and the synagogue had been tolerated by their unbelieving countrymen; but now they were in danger of excommunication, and it is hardly possible for us to conceive their distress and dismay.
Their veneration for the institutions of Moses had not been diminished by their acknowledgment of the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus; for them, as well as for the rest of their race, an awful sanctity rested on the ceremonies from which they were threatened with exclusion. Therefore, the writer of this Epistle calls up the most glorious names of Jewish history to confirm his vacillating brethren in their fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ. It was not by offering sacrifices, nor by attending festivals, nor by the pomp and exactness with which they had celebrated any external rites and ceremonies, that the noblest of their forefathers had won their greatness, but by their firm and steadfast trust in God
. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

What is faith?

The word “faith” is sometimes used for the object of faith, for the thing to be believed; as when it is said in Acts, “A great company of priests were obedient to the faith.” But it is quite evident, from the whole series of the examples by which the definition is followed, that it is not of the thing believed, but of the act of believing, that the apostle speaks in the chapter before us. Yet when used of the act of believing, faith will be found to have different senses. Thus it is applied to what may be called historical faith--a bare assent to the truths revealed in Scripture; and this would seem to be the strict use of the term when St. James says, “Faith, if it have not works, is dead.” Then, besides historical faith, there is what may be called temporary faith--faith which for a time seems productive of true fruits, and then comes to nothing. There is also another kind of faith mentioned in the New Testament; but it does not similarly occur amongst ourselves. This is what divines call the faith of miracles, belief in some particular promise or power, through which, whether as an instrument or as a condition, some supernatural work is wrought. Many had faith in Christ’s power to heal their bodies who knew nothing of Him as the Physician of their souls. But, confining ourselves to the cases of historical faith and temporary faith, as being those which are but too likely to pass with us for saving faith, will either of the two answer strictly to the definition which constitutes our text? Let us look carefully at the definition. It consists of two parts; and the one is not to be considered as a mere repetition of, or a different way of putting the other. First, the apostle calls faith “the substance of things hoped for.” Now “things hoped for” are things which have no present subsistence; so far as our enjoyment or possession of them is concerned, they must be future. But “faith,” the apostle says, “is the substance of things hoped for.” It is that which gives a present being to these things. It takes them out of the shadowy region of probability, and brings them into that of actual reality. Faith is, moreover, the “ evidence of things not seen.” By “things not seen” we understand such as are not to be ascertained to us by our senses, or even by our reason--not seen either by the eye of the body or by the far more powerful eyeof the mind. These are the truths and facts revealed to as by the Word of God, and of which, independently on that Word, we must have remained wholly ignorant. Its province is with invisible things, and of these it is “the evidence”--the demonstration, or conviction--as the original word signifies. It serves as a glass by which we can see what we cannot see without a glass; not putting stars where there are none, but enabling us to find them where we saw none. Now will the historical faith, or the temporary faith answer to this description of faith? We may put out the case of temporary faith, for this is excluded not so much by not corresponding to the definition while it lasts, as by not lasting. We may not be able to show its defects while alive, but we can of course detect them when dead. But historical faith--the believing what is represented of Jesus Christ, in the same sense, mode, or degree as they believe what is represented of Julius Caesar--this, which passes with many men for the faith which Scripture demands--will this answer to the Scriptural definition of faith? Is, then, this historical faith “the substance of things hoped for”? Nay, the heart, the affections must be interested, before there can be “ things hoped for.” And, by a similar brief process, we may prove the want of correspondence between historical faith and the second clause of St. Paul’s definition. Is such faith “the evidence of things not seen”? Does it make things not seen as certain to a man as things seen?--for this is the force of the definition. Does it, for example, make hell, which is not seen, as certain to the sinner as the gallows, which is seen, to the criminal given over to the executioner? None of you will maintain this. Unseen things, which, if they exist at all, must immeasurably transcend things seen, cannot be as certain to a man as things seen, if that man give them not the preference, and far more if he treat them with neglect: Now this turns the definition in our text to good account, forasmuch as it operates to the separating historical faith from saving faith, the faith of the great mass of men from that intended by the apostle when he said, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” If, then, we now turn to justifying faith, we shall have to give it a seat in the heart as well as the mind--and see whether this will not make it correspond with the apostle’s definition. And when a man thus believes with the heart as well as with the mind, faith will be to him “the substance of things hoped for.” The things on which his expectation rests will be the things promised in the Bible. These, as the chief good, will seem to him immeasurably preferable to any good already in possession. They will, therefore, be the objects of his hope. But will they be mere shadows, brilliant and beautiful, but perhaps only meteors, which may cheat him to the last, and vanish within his grasp? Not so; faith gives them a present subsistence. And this “faith is” moreover “the evidence of things not seen”; it gives to the invisible the sort of power possessed by the visible. A thing may be unseen and yet have just the same power as if it were seen. Let me be only sure that a man concealed by a curtain is taking aim at me with a murderous intent, and I am moved with the same fear, and make the same spring for my life, as if the curtain were away and I were face to face with the assassin. Now faith takes away the curtain; not that faith which is only the assent of the understanding, for this may leave me indifferent as to the emotions of the mind, but that faith which, having its seat in the affections, must excite dread of danger and desire to escape. This faith takes away the curtain; not so, indeed, as to make the man visible, but so as to make me as sure of his being there, and with the purpose of bloodshed, as if he were visible. Therefore is such a faith the conviction of things not seen; and the believer, he who believes in God’s Word with the heart as well as with the understanding, may be said, in virtue of that great principle, to draw back the veil which to every other eye hangs so darkly between the temporal and the spiritual, and therefore suited to inspire him with confidence. It is in this way, then, that faith, which is such an assent of the mind to the truth of God’s Word as flows into the heart, and causes the soul to build upon that Word, answers thoroughly to both parts of that definition of faith which St. Paul has ]aid down in our text. But now you will say to me, Is this justifying faith? have I not rather given a description generally of faith, than of that particular faith which is represented as appropriating the blessings of the gospel? Not so. True, saving faith has for its object the whole revealed truth of God, though we call it justifying faith, as it fixes specially on the promise of remission of sins by the Lord Jesus Christ. It may be my faith in one particular declaration or doctrine which justifies me, but, nevertheless, my faith in that one particular doctrine is noways different from my faith in every other doctrine similarly announced and similarly established. The “things hoped for” from Christ are especially the pardon of sin, the gift of righteousness, and admission to the kingdom of heaven. Of these things is faith the substance; to these it gives a sure and present subsistence, making them as though not only promised, but performed; so strong while faith is in true exercise, is the sense of acceptance, the assurance of being “heirs of God,” yea, “joint heirs with Christ.” And the “things not seen” are the past work of Christ in His humiliation and the present work of Christ in His glory. But of these “things not seen” faith is the evidence or conviction. The believer is just as sure of Christ’s having died for him, as if he had seen Him die; just as sure of Christ’s ever living for him, as if, with Stephen, he “ saw heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” There is, however, one caution which should be here introduced; for otherwise, whilst we wish to give instruction, we may but darken knowledge, and minister to anxiety. You are not to confound faith and assurance, as though no man could be saved by believing, unless he believe himself saved. “It seems,” says Archbishop Usher, “that justifying faith consisteth in these two things, in having a mind to know Christ and a will to rest upon Him; and whosoever sees so much excellency in Christ, that thereby he is drawn to embrace Him as the only rock of salvation, that man truly believes unto justification. Yet it is not necessary to justification to be assured that my sins are pardoned and that I am justified, for that is no act of faith as it justifieth, but an effect and fruit that followeth after justification. For no man is justified by believing that he is justified--he must be justified before he can believe it; no man is pardoned by believing that he is pardoned--he must be pardoned before he can believe it. Faith as it justifieth, is a resting upon Christ to obtain pardon. But assurance, which is not faith in Christ, but rather faith in my faith, may, or may not follow on the justifying faith. You see, then, that our text accurately defines what is justifying faith, though it does not distinguish that faith from faith generally, neither does it leave us to confound it with assurance. You are not to go away and say, “Oh! saving faith is something altogether strange and mystical, unlike any other species of faith; it is not a kind by itself, it is peculiar only in its object. All faith which is not merely historical, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”; and he who has this faith in the truth that God made him, has the principle of which he has but to change the direction, and he has faith in the truth that Christ redeemed him. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Faith:

This is the only place in the Bible where we have what we can call a definition of faith. That faith which is the foundation of all other Christian graces--the title by which we keep our place as Christians--the inward working which has its fruit in good works--the hand by which we lay hold on God and on Christ, is here said to be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen; and by substance, no doubt, is here meant firm confidence, and by evidence is meant conviction. Faith is the laying hold of the future in the midst of the present, of the unseen in the midst of the seen. It is this which marks the true disciple of Christ, that he walks by faith and not by sight. If the world were what it ought to be, there would be little trial of this faith. But though the world was made very good, and though all that cannot be touched by the influence of our sins is still very good, yet the world, as we have made it, is by no means like the handiwork of God. We see all around us a strange contradiction to what we are told, that justice, and truth, and goodness are the most precious of all things known to man. We see often wrong prevail over right; we see the highest honour constantly given to what we know not to be the highest desert; we see mere strength, whether of body or mind, receive the consideration which ought to be reserved for real goodness. How often do we see plain instances of the success of mere rude strength; sometimes of forwardness; sometimes eve,, of cunning and want of strict truth. Nor is this all. Besides this incessant evidence that good does not govern the world, we are perpetually betrayed in the same thought by a traitor within ourselves. At every moment temptation comes; and the temptation is ever close at hand; the evil consequences of yielding seem far away. However much we may be convinced that in the end obedience to duty is better than sin, we find it hard to remember our conviction at the moment that it is wanted. But in the midst of all this, in spite of what our eyes perpetually tell us, and in spite of the strange forgetfulness which our inclinations perpetually cast over Us, in spite of contradictions without and weakness within, there is a voice from the depths of our own souls that never ceases to repeat that right is really stronger than wrong, and truth is better than falsehood, and justice is surer than injustice. To believe this voice, and to obey it; to surrender to it the guidance of the life in the firm conviction that it will guide us to the true end of our being; to do this is faith. This trusting to the voices that speak within, even when they flatly contradict the voices that speak without, is obviously not peculiar to Christians. The Jew had put into his hands the Word of God as far as it was then written. He was put under a system which God had commanded to be observed. Both in one and in the other he found much that was unintelligible, much that seemed either without a purpose or with a purpose not worth pursuit. Through all that was strange and dark, and even contradictory, it was impossible not to know in his heart that the Spirit which inspired the Bible was the same Spirit as that which sometimes whispered and sometimes thundered in his own conscience, an authority which he could not awe, and could not influence, entering into the very secrets of his soul, and yet no part of himself, and that this Spirit was the voice of God. To throw himself unreservedly on the power which was thus revealed to him, both from within and from without, to accept with unconditional submission the guidance of that Word: of God which was, in fact, the fuller expansion of the message given by conscience, to trust in Him who was thus revealed, in spite of every trial and every temptation; this was the faith of the Jew. Their revelation was imperfect. There still remained one question unanswered. The enemy which is hardest for us to encounter is not after all the sight of this world’s wrong and injustice. It is when conscience, at the very moment of demanding our obedience, proclaims also our sinfulness. We would believe, and live by our belief, in spite of all the contradictions and evil with which the world is filled: but we are so weak, so wicked, so hampered with the fetters both of nature and of habit. Will that awful voice, whose authority we dare not doubt, really lead us to peace or to our own destruction? The gospel gave the answer. We read there of One whose life, and words, and death force us to confess that He is the express image of that Father of whom our own conscience, and the prophets of old, have ever told us. We read of One who laid hold on human nature and made it His own, and consecrated it with a Divine power. We read His promises exactly corresponding to that very need which our souls feel every day more keenly. And all this is written down not merely in words but in the deeds of a history such as never man passed through beside, of a history whose every word touches some feeling of our heart, echoes some whisper of our spirit. He bids us surrender ourselves to Him, following His leading, trust in His protection, His power; He promises us by sure, though it may be by slow degrees, but with the certainty of absolute assurance, to join us to His Father and to Himself: He promises not merely to undo some day the riddle of the world, and give the good and the just a visible triumph over the evil and the wrong, but, what we need much more, He promises to give us the victory over sin within ourselves, and to prove to us that God has forgiven us by the infallible token of His having cleansed us. To throw ourselves on these promises, to purify ourselves in the full assurance that Christ’s love can carry us through all that we shall encounter, to cling to Christ not only in spite of pain and darkness, and strange perplexity, but in spite of our own sins also, this is our substance of things hoped for, this is our evidence of things not seen, this is Christian faith. This is, St. John tells us, the victory which overcometh the world. This is the power which, both in great things and in small, both in hard trials and in easy, ever supports the disciple of Christ by bringing within his reach all the strength of his Master. (Bp. Temple.)

Faith defined:

I. FAITH IS THE CONFIDENT PERSUASION OF UNSEEN THINGS. The word translated “ substance” occurs in Hebrews 3:14; 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:17, and is translated “confidence.” The word translated “evidence” is from a verb which signifies “to convince.” “Faith is the confidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

1. Faith is not belief on the evidence of the senses.

2. Faith is not credulity. God is essential truth, then it is reasonable to repose in what He has said.

3. Faith is not a mere assent of the understanding.

II. FAITH IS THE SOURCE OF ALL SPIRITUAL ACHIEVEMENT. “By it the elders” achieved all that this chapter records. Faith was the secret of what they were and did.

1. The New Testament ascribes all Christian life to faith. “Whosoever believeth shall not perish,” &c.; “sanctified by faith”; “this is the victory that,”&c.; “wherein believing ye rejoice,” &c.; “kept by the power,” &c.

2. This is due to the fact that all Christian life is the result of heavenly influences, and faith lifts it into these. It raises the soul into the heavenly world; brings future things near, and makes Christ live before us. The effect of this on our spiritual nature is its development, like that of a tropical plant brought from a cold land into its native clime and proper conditions.

III. FAITH IS THE MEANS OF SECURING THE DIVINE COMMENDATION. “Obtained a good report.”

1. This shows our personal responsibility with regard to faith.

2. This is a strong consolation to infirm and secluded believers. (C. New.)

Saving faith:

There were those who one time asked the Saviour, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” To this He replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” The issue, then, between God and men is narrowed down to this--“only believe.”

I. THE MEANING OF THE TERM.

1. Sometimes the word refers merely to a creed, with no notion in it of spiritual experience at all (1 Timothy 4:1; Jude 1:3).

2. When the Bible speaks of faith, it sometimes means mere belief in facts (Hebrews 11:3). This kind of faith is necessary, in a certain sense, to salvation: “for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” The facts of the Saviour’s life are to be received in that way. But this is not saving faith at all.

3. Again; faith sometimes means that conviction of the understanding which results from proofs laid before it, or arguments adduced. This is that which the woman wrought among her neighbours when she came back from the conversation with Jesus at Jacob’s well. This also is the faith which Thomas had when asked to put his hand in the side of his Lord. But this is not saving faith; for our Lord immediately added, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

4. And sometimes the Bible means the faith of miracles. This was a peculiar gift, bestowed by Christ upon His immediate followers. Now, whatever was the nature of this peculiar endowment, it is evident enough that there was no grace in it to save the soul; for the Saviour Himself declared Matthew 7:22-23).

5. Then, lastly, the Bible means saving faith; the true belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, through which we are justified, and by which we live.

II. THE NATURE OF THIS EXERCISE. The old writers used to say that faith was composed of three elements: a right apprehension, a cordial assent, and an unwavering trust. Let me seek to exhibit these in turn in a very familiar way.

1. To apprehend is really a physical act, and means to seize hold of. When applied to mental operation, it signifies to conceive clearly any given object, and hold it before the mind for examination and use. It does not always include a full comprehension. A drowning man may catch a rope that hangs near him, and be rescued by it, without knowing who threw it to him, or who will draw it in, or what vessel it trails from. He apprehends it, but he does not comprehend it. He sees it, but he does not see all with which it is connected. The two essential things for every man to apprehend, are his own need and Jesus Christ’s fitness to supply it. There is the inward look, and then there is the outward look. I cannot help myself, and the Saviour can help me are the two thoughts that must lie buried deep in his soul. It matters little how these things are learned.

2. Then comes the second element of faith, already mentioned--namely, assent. This is a step in advance of the other. A simple illustration will make plain what is meant by it. An invalid is sometimes very unwilling to admit his danger, even when he has nothing to oppose to the reasoning of one who proves it. He feels his weakness, but he resorts to a thousand subterfuges to avoid yielding to the physician. His judgment is convinced, but his will is unbroken. He apprehends his danger, and knows the remedy; but he refuses to be helped. What he needs now is assent; and this requires humility and the renunciation of self-will. Faith includes this. It calls for a cheerful submission to God’s requirements, the moment we apprehend them, no matter how humiliating the assertion of our ill-desert may be.

3. The third element of saving faith is trust. By this I mean reliance on the truth of what God said He would do; a quiet resting on His promises to accomplish all we need for salvation.

III. THE USE TO BE MADE OF THIS ANALYSIS comes next to view. Your experience hitherto has been something like this. You have seen your need; you have gone in prayer to Jesus confessing it. You said in your prayer, “O Lord, I am vile, I come to Thee; I plead Thy promise that Thou wilt not cast me out; I give myself away in an everlasting surrender; I leave my soul at the very foot of the Cross!” And then you rose from your knees, murmuring, “Oh, I am no better; I feel just the same as before!” You saw that you had made a failure. Now, where was the lack? Simply in the particular of trust. You would not take Jesus at His word. When you have given yourself to Christ, leave yourself there, and go about your work as a child in His household. When He has undertaken your salvation, rest assured He will accomplish it, without any of your anxiety, or any of your help. There remains enough for you to do, with no concern for this part of the labour. Let me illustrate this posture of mind as well as I can. A shipmaster was once out for three nights in a storm; close by the harbour, he yet dared not attempt to go in, and the sea was too rough for the pilot to come aboard. Afraid to trust the less experienced sailors, he himself stood firmly at the helm. Human endurance almost gave way before the unwonted strain. Worn with toil, beating about; worn yet more with anxiety for his crew and cargo; he was well-nigh relinquishing the wheel, and letting all go awreck, when he saw the little boat coming with the pilot. At once that hardy sailor sprang on the deck, and with scarcely a word took the hehn in his hand. The captain went immediately below, for food and for rest; and especially for comfort to the passengers, who were weary with apprehension. Plainly now his duty was in the cabin; the pilot would care for the ship. Where had his burden gone? The master’s heart was as light as a schoolboy’s; he felt no pressure. The pilot, too, seemed perfectly unconcerned; he had no distress. The great load of anxiety had gone for ever; fallen in some way or other between them. Now turn this figure. We are anxious to save our soul, and are beginning to feel more and more certain that we cannot save it. Then comes Jesus, and undertakes to save it for us. We see how willing He is; we know how able He is; there we leave it. We let Him do it. We rest on His promise to do it. We just put that work in His hands to do all alone; and we go about doing something else; self-improvement, comfort to others, doing good of every sort. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Faith convinced of the invisible

I. No faith will carry us through the difficulties of our profession, from oppositions within and without, giving us constancy and perseverance therein unto the end, BUT THAT ONLY WHICH GIVES THE GOOD THINGS HOPED FOR A REAL SUBSISTENCE IN OUR MINDS AND SOULS. But when by mixing itself with the promise which is the foundation of hope, it gives us a taste of their goodness, an experience of their power, the inhabitation of their first-fruits, and a view of their glory, it will infallibly effect this blessed end.

II. The peculiar specificial nature of faith, whereby it is differenced from all other powers, acts, and graces in the mind, lies in this, THAT IT MAKES A LIFE ON THINGS INVISIBLE. It is not only conversant about them, but mixeth itself with them, making them the spiritual nourishment of the soul (2 Corinthians 4:18).

III. THE GLORY OF OUR RELIGION IS, THAT IT DEPENDS ON AND IS RESOLVED INTO VISIBLE THINGS. They are far more excellent and glorious than anything that sense can behold or reason discover (1 Corinthians 2:9).

IV. GREAT OBJECTIONS ARE APT TO LIE AGAINST INVISIBLE THINGS, WHEN THEY ARE EXTERNALLY REVEALED. Man would desirously live the life of sense, or at least believe no more than what he can have a scientifical demonstration of. But by these means we cannot have an evidence of invisible things; at best, not such as may have an influence into our Christian profession. This is done by faith alone.

1. Faith is that gracious power of the mind, whereby it firmly assents unto Divine revelations, upon the sole authority of God the revealer, as the first essential truth, and fountain of all truth.

2. It is by faith that all objections against invisible things, their being and reality, are answered and refuted.

3. Faith brings into the soul an experience of their power and efficacy, whereby it is cast into the mould of them, or made conformable unto them Romans 6:17; Ephesians 4:21-23). (John Owen, D. D.)

Shadow and substance

I. THE HOPE OF ATTAINING A PERFECT LIFE IS ONLY TO BE REALISED BY FAITH IN CHRIST.

II. THE HOPE OF PERFECTING OUR LIFE-WORK CAN ONLY BE REALISED BY FAITH IN CHRIST.

III. THE HOPE OF PERFECTING OUR HAPPINESS IS ONLY TO BE REALISED BY FAITH IN CHRIST. (R. Balgarnie, D. D.)

Faith;

First, then, this chapter shows us the different ways and modes of the working of faith. And secondly, it speaks to all characters of persons, showing the manner in which faith will affect particular characters. New men declare faith to be unreasonable. “Acting on trust! “ says a godless man, “how strange a mode of acting! Surely those who do it are trusting to some vague fancy or feeling, they scarce know what, and call it faith.” I answer, Although the thing which we believe, the object of faith, is most marvellous, yet faith itself, belief in the object, is no such strange or unusual thing. Every man constantly acts on faith, and the very man who laughs at another for acting on faith acts on faith himself every day.

1. That man trusts his memory. He does not now see or feel what he did yesterday, yet he has no doubt it happened as he remembers it.

2. Again, when a man reasons he trusts his reasoning powers; he knows one thing is true, and sees clearly that another follows from that. For example, he sees long shadows on the ground; then he knows the sun or moon is shining without looking round to see. But some one raises an objection. He says, “Very true; but in memory, reason, and daily life we trust ourselves; in religion we trust the word of another, and that is hard.” But there is no real difficulty. In this world we act on the evidence of others. What do we know without trusting others? Are there not towns and cities within fifty miles of us we never saw, yet we fully believe they are there. (E. Munro.)

Faith:

Out of the first clause let me observe--That a lively faith doth give such a reality and present being to things hoped for and yet to come, as if they were already actually enjoyed. And thus it is said of Abraham John 8:56).

I. How DOES FAITH GIVE A SUBSISTENCE OR PRESENT BEING TO THINGS HOPED FOR? How can we be said to have that happiness which we do but expect?

1. By a lively hope it doth as it were sip of the cup of blessing, and foretaste those eternal delights which God hath prepared for us, and affects the heart with the certain expectation of them, as if they were enjoyed. It appears by the effect of this hope, which is rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8).

2. Faith takes possession, and gives a being to the things hoped for in the promises. There is not only the union of hope, but a clear right and title; God hath passed over all those things to us in the covenant of grace. When we take hold of the promises, we take hold of the blessing promised by the root of it, until it flows up to full satisfaction. Hence those expressions, believers are said “to layhold of eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12-19), by which their right is secured to them; “And he that heareth My words, and believeth in Me, hath eternal life” (John 5:24). Christ doth not only say, He shall have eternal life, but he hath a clear right and title to it, which is as sure as sense, though not as sweet. Faith gives us heaven, because in the promise it gives us a title to heaven; we are sure to have that to which we have a title; he hath a grant, God’s Word to assure him of it. He is said to haste an estate that hath the conveyance of it, but it is not necessary he should carry his land upon his back.

3. We have it in our Head. That is a Christian’s tenure; he holds all in his head by Christ. Though he be not glorified in his own person, he is glorified in his Head, in Jesus Christ. Therefore as Christ’s glorification is past, so in a sense a believer’s glorification is past; the Head cannot rise, and ascend, and be glorified without the members (Ephesians 2:6).

4. Faith gives being in the first-fruits. The Israelites had not only a right to Canaan given them by God, but had livery of Canaan, where the spies did not only make report of the goodness of the land, but brought the clusters of grapes with them; so doth God deal with a believing soul, not only give it a right, but give it some first-fruits. A believing soul hath the beginnings of that estate which it hopes for; some clusters of Eschol by way of foretaste in the midst of present miseries and difficulties. This is the great love of God to us, that He would give us something of heaven here upon earth, that He wil make us enter upon our happiness by degrees.

II. THE BENEFIT AND ADVANTAGE OF THIS ACT, AND THE USE OF FAITH IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE.

1. It is very necessary we should have such a faith as should substantiate our hopes, to check sensuality, for we find the corrupt heart of man is all for present satisfaction. And though the pleasures of sin be short and inconsiderable, yet because they are near at hand, they take more with us than the joys of heaven, which are future and absent.

2. It gives strength and support to all the graces of the spiritual life. The great design of religion is to bring us to a neglect of present happiness, and to make the soul to look after a felicity yet to come; and the great instrument of religion, by which it promoteth this design, is faith, which is as the scaffold and ladder to the spiritual building.

Use 1. To examine whether you have this kind of faith or no, which is the substance of things hoped for. To discover how little of this faith there is in the world, consider

Use 2. To exhort you to work up faith to such an effect, that it may be the substance of things hoped for.

Use 3. To press you to get this faith. There are some means and duties that have a tendency hereunto.

Faith a substance

I. FAITH IS A SUBSTANCE. I know this is not generally received, for such are the vague, carnal, infidel notions that are abroad in the world, that not a grace of the Holy Spirit is owned; and instead of faith being admitted to be a principle of grace, it is spoken of as nature’s actings, and is sometimes said to consist merely in the credence of a revealed fact. An opposite party, however, makes faith to consist in a crouching, a cringing, and a conformity to a crafty priesthood. Now I have no such faith as either of these. The one is the faith of the infidel; the other is the faith of heathenism. And they neither of them have any substance. I want a faith that will manifest itself as having substance. I have seen it printed that faith is nothing more than the credence of a revealed fact. But we know that infidels and devils have that sort of faith; for infidels credit thousands of revealed facts, and cannot deny them as matters of fact, yet they have no faith after all. Faith is a substance; and they who are taken up with shadows and vanities do not know the value of it. They cannot value it. They cannot possess it. Faith is a substance worth more than all the miser’s stores, than all the monarch’s revenue, than all the wealth of India. Faith is a substance that can never be frittered away. It overcomes all the world, repels all the devils in hell, and lays hold on eternal life. But, most probably, you will better understand what I mean by this substance of faith if I lead your attention to its origin and its object. Its origin: It grows not in nature’s garden. It is not the produce of the schools. It is not hereditary from father to son. It is far above that. Like every good gift, and every perfect gift, it cometh down from the Father of Lights. It is of the operation of the Holy Ghost, and its object will prove its substance. Its object is Christ; the Person of Christ; the official character of Christ; the perfect work of Christ; the covenant headship of Christ. And the faith of God’s elect fastens on all these. Further, the object of faith lies greatly in the enjoyment of Christ as well as in confidence in Him. And this will perhaps bring the nature of your faith to the test better than any other principle. I must have a Christ who will bring heaven to me on earth in the enjoyment of Him here. And this will prove whether your faith is a substance or not. The soul which possesses this living, saving faith, sighs, waits, and cannot be satisfied without the sensible enjoyment of the presence of Christ. That faith which is a substance hath a saving power communicated with it. Hence it is called, sometimes properly, sometimes improperly, a saving faith. Bring your faith up to this test again. It is spiritual faith--the substance of things hoped for, that discovers all that is in Christ; the wisdom, the righteousness, the sanctification, and the redemption that are in Him: the pardon, the peace, the justification, the joy, the security, the victories, the triumphs of all the Church of God in Christ, seen wholly in His Person.

II. This saving faith which so discovers and appropriates Is SURE TO GO AND PLEAD BEFORE THE THRONE IN EXERCISE “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” and cannot be acceptable before God; and there it pleads the merits, the name, the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ for acceptance, relying upon the declaration of the precious Lord Himself, “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, believing, ye shall receive.” Now I pray you let us look closely into this substance, and raise the inquiry, Does it belong to me? “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Then the first part of the interrogation here would be, What are the things that I hope for? I know if I were to ask the worldling this question, he would reply that he thinks upon worldly prospects, emoluments, and personal gratifications. But not so the Christian; not so the household of faith. Well, now, if I might simplify this, and put it in the plainest possible manner, I should say that the believer hopes to know more and to enjoy more of Christ to-day than he did yesterday, or than ever he had done before. Faith is the substance of it. The believer in Jesus hopes to be more conformed to the image of Christ; “that as he has borne the image of the earthly, he shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” Faith is the substance of that. The believer in Jesus--the real Christian--hopes to attain to more intimacy with heaven and to have a measure of heaven began in the soul on earth. Let us inquire as regards experimental participation. There is such a thing as the joy of faith. There is such a thing as the triumph of faith. There is such a thing as the race of faith, and it is always a winning race. There are joys experienced in this substance which none but the possessor can know. I hasten on to mark its sanctifying operations. The apostle says concerning this, in his account of the progress of the gospel, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, that God “put no difference” between Jews and Gentiles, “purifying”--mark the expression--“purifying their hearts by faith.” That faith that will not purify the heart, is not the substance. It may illumine your head till you are giddy; it may enlighten your understanding till you are as proud as Lucifer; it may inflame your pride as a professor till you are as vain as the devil can wish you to be; but if it does not purify the heart, it is not of God--“purifying their hearts by faith.”

III. I will now proceed to speak of THE WEALTH WHICH THIS FAITH REALISES. It is a substance. Now, most people are ready to travel a good many miles in order to learn how to acquire wealth. They forego much carnal ease to get riches. But, after all, they make a terrible mistake. This is not true wealth. Riches make to themselves wings, they fly away, and defy all control. But the wealth which faith realises is altogether of a different kind. It has no wings. It is not subject to thieves. It cannot be hoarded up and be useless to its possessor; for it is that good principle which works by love. And thus faith realises the inheritance both of grace and of glory, and by it the title deeds to both are clearly read and lodged in the bosom of Deity. Oh, happy man, who goes so far in the attainment of faith! The wealth which faith realises is an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for all who are kept by the power of God through faith. I am not fond of relating anecdotes in the pulpit, but I cannot refrain on the present occasion from telling you one which I heard from my dear father’s lips when I was a boy. It was of a godly man who possessed much wealth, and used it for the glory of God, but who lived to prove that he could not clip its wings. All flew away, and he was reduced to living in a furnished room, where he was supported entirely by the charity of his friends. One of his visitors who had been very kind to him, once asked him this question, “How is it that I find you to be as happy now as when you were in possession of all your wealth?” His immediate answer was, “When I possessed all this world’s goods I enjoyed God in all; and now I possess none I enjoy all in God.” Now that is faith; that is substance; a fine specimen, a fine witness of it. (J. Irons.)

Faith

1. Faith is the confidence--the firm persuasion--of things hoped for. In the ancient games the runner hoped to win the race, to wear the crown of pine or olive leaves around his brow, and to have his name handed down as victor to untold generations; so, in the confidence of this, he strained every nerve and sinew to reach the goal. That was natural faith. The student hopes to win the prize and find his name in the honours list, and he gives his days and nights to reading. The farmer ploughs the land and sows the field, in hope that in due season he shall put in the sickle and gather the harvest. The merchant and tradesman hope to gain a competency or to make a fortune, and put forth their efforts day by day. These are illustrations of natural faith. So it is with the faith that has to do with spiritual things. The Christian sets before him, not the crown of fading leaves, but the crown that shall never fade away, which the Lord will place upon the brow of all who endure unto the end. He seeks for the smile and approbation of the Saviour, for the treasures in heaven, for the bags which wax not old. This is spiritual faith.

2. Faith is the demonstration of things not seen. Columbus believed that there was another world in the western hemisphere; he was as fully assured of its existence as if it had been demonstrated by mathematical proof. Yet he had not seen the new world; he had never looked upon its mighty rivers, or upon the broad expanse of its prairies and savannahs. He had not ever seen in the dim distance the peak of any of its mountains, or the outline of its coast. No navigator had told him, “I have seen the new world; I have cast anchor in its harbours; I have set foot upon it.” Yet, in the full conviction that there was another world, he toiled and waited many years, until his eye rested upon it and he landed on its shores. This was natural faith--the demonstration of things not seen. Some years ago the astronomers, Mr. Adams of Cambridge, and M. Leverries of Paris, were convinced that there must be a large planet that had never been seen through a telescope or marked down in any star-map; so they watched the midnight heavens in a certain direction until the planet came within the range of their glass. This was the way the planet Neptune was discovered. This was natural faith. It is even so with the faith that has to do with spiritual things. God is unseen; His glory is dimly reflected in His works. We see the work of His fingers in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Creation is a book in which we may read, page after page, His handwriting, His own Divine autograph; but the Almighty Writer is unseen. In the flowers of the field we see the forms of beauty which He has pencilled and coloured and enamelled; the Divine Artist we see not. We stand and gaze with wonder and admiration upon a part of this beautiful temple of creation, but we see not the Divine Architect; yet, as in St. Paul’s Cathedral, we read of the architect, Sir Christopher Wren, “If you seek his monument, look around,” so we see in the skill and wisdom displayed in this glorious creation the monument of the Almighty Builder. We believe that God is, and that He is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. We believe in the great love which He has towards us, which He has revealed in Jesus Christ; that, like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him; that He watches over us by day and by night, that His ear is open to our prayer, His arm stretched out for our defence. We believe that He is present with us in the house of prayer, and we can say with the confidence of Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place,” &c. We believe that He has given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that we may be partakers of the Divine nature; and that, although the heaven and the earth pass away, not one of these promises will fail. We believe in an unseen Saviour, &c. (W. Bull, B. A.)

Evangelical faith

I. THE THINGS TOWARDS WHICH FAITH IS DIRECTED ARE INVISIBLE.

II. SOME OF THE INVISIBLE THINGS ARE AT ONCE DESIRABLE AND ATTAINABLE.

III. THOSE INVISIBLE THINGS, WHICH ARE DESIRABLE AND ATTAINABLE, FAITH MAKES POWERFUL IN THE PRESENT LIFE. (Homilist.)

The value and importance of faith

Faith is the source of all truly religious feeling, and the ground of all acceptable service. Without it we can neither come to God nor perform any work which is acceptable to Him.

1. Faith is the condition of justification: “Being justified by faith”; “He that believeth is not condemned; he that believeth not is condemned already.”

2. It is the source of spiritual life: “The just shall live by faith.” “He that believeth hath everlasting life; he that believeth not shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

3. It puts us in possession of every Christian privilege.

4. It is the source of all Christian feeling and action. Our hearts are “purified by faith.” Our prayers to be acceptable must be offered “in faith.” If we would ask successfully, we must “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” (W. Landels, D. D.)

What is faith:

Faith has many workings, many results, many frets--and some select one of these and call it faith itself. But the text goes to the source when it says, “What faith is this.” The word here rendered “substance,” means properly the act of “standing under” so as to support something. Thus in philosophical writings it was applied to the essence which forms, as it were, the substratum of the attributes; that supposed absolute existence (of thing or person) in which all the properties and qualities, so to say, inhere, and have their consistence. In this way the word is once applied in Scripture, in the third verse of this Epistle, to the essence of God Himself, and the Divine Son is said to be “the express image of His person”--the very “impress,” as it might be otherwise rendered, “of His essence.” But there was another use of the word, in which it meant the act of the mind in standing under (so as to support, and bear the weight of) some statement or communication, making, as we say, a heavy demand upon the faculty of believing. It thus passes from the idea of “ substance” into that of “assurance” or “confidence.” It is thus used by St. Paul in two passages of the second Epistle to the Corinthians, where he speaks of his “confidence” in the readiness of their alms-giving, and again of the “confidence of his glorying,” though it be in weakness, about himself. And so, once again, in the third chapter of this Epistle to the Hebrews, we find the expression, “If we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” There can be no question as to the meaning of the word in the verse now before us. “Faith is the assurance of (confidence in) things hoped for.” Faith is that principle, that exercise of mind and soul, which has for its object things not seen but hoped for, and which, instead of sinking under them as too ponderous, whether from their difficulty or from their uncertainty, stands firm under them--supports and sustains their pressure--in other words, is assured of, confides in and relies on them. It is not the Christian only who lives by faith. Faith is no dreamy, imaginative, or mystical thing, which it is fanciful if not fanatical to talk of. The schoolboy who expects a holiday, to be earned by his diligence or forfeited by his misconduct, exercises faith in that expectation the husbandman who expects the harvest is exercising that “confidence in things hoped for” which is faith. The parent who anticipates the manhood of his child is an example of that “walking by faith” which only madmen and fools disparage or dispense with. When Christ bids us to be men of faith, He is not contradicting nature, He is not even introducing into the world a new principle of action; He is only applying a principle as old as Nature herself, to matters beyond and above nature, which it needed a new revelation from the God of nature to disclose and to prove to us. If this proof be given us, it becomes as reasonable to anticipate and to prepare for eternity as it is reasonable to anticipate and to prepare for a holiday or a harvest, a wedding, or a profession. “Faith is confidence in things hoped for”; and whether the expected future be a later day of this life, or a day which shall close this life and usher in an everlasting existence, the principle which takes account of that future is one and the same--only debased or elevated, profaned or consecrated, by the length of the vision and by the character of the object. We must walk by faith if we would not be the scorn and laughingstock of our generation. The only question is, What, for us, are those “things hoped for,” which faith makes its object? Are they the trifles of time, or are they the substances of eternity? Are they the amusements, the vanities, the luxuries, the ambitions, which make up the life of earth--or are they the grand, the satisfying, the everlasting realities which God has revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ--such as the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, victory over evil, the communion of saints, a growing likeness to Christ, a death full of hope, and a blessed immortality in God’s presence? (Dean Vaughan.)

Faith the substance and evidence:

An unseen and heavenly world is required to correspond to our faith just as much as a material world to correspond to our senses. I stand in the midst of nature on some lovely spring morning. The fragrance of flowers from every bright and waving branch, dressed in pale and crimson, floats to me. The song of matin birds falls on my ear. All this beauty, melody, and richness are the correspondence to my nature of the material world through my senses. Now there are inward perceptions and intuitions just as real as these outward ones, and requiring spiritual realities to correspond with them, just as much as the eye requires the landscape, or as the ear asks for sounds of the winds and woods and streams, for the song of birds, or the dearer accents of the human voice. To meet and answer the very nature of man, a spiritual world, more refined modes of existence, action, happiness, must be, else his nature, satisfied and fed in one direction, and that the lowest, is belied and starved in another direction, and that the highest. But, without illustrating further, in this general way, the rooting of faith in the primary ground of our being, let me show the peculiar light in which the great doctrines and practical influences of religion are brought to us, by thus considering “faith” itself as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And first the great doctrine or fact of the being of a God is one of the things that corresponds to our faith, of which faith itself, as a faculty of the soul, is the basis and evidence. We want no other reason for believing in God. Faith itself is the reason, and the best reason. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.” We need nothing put under our faith to support that, any more than under our direct outward perceptions, our positive knowledge, the dictates of our consciences, or the affections of our hearts, going forth to fix upon their appropriate objects. Like them, it is a radical part of our very constitution--only a part which Christ has come specially to bring out, enrich, and ennoble with the truth he utters, and the actual objects he presents. To the man in whom this principle or sentiment of faith is thus enlivened by meditation, prayer, and the whole stimulus of the gospel, the Supreme One does not appear simply as a first Cause, an original Creator, far back out of our present reach, but as the perpetual Sustainer and Renewer of all things, to whom he joins with the angelic choir of the poet in singing, “Thy works are beautiful as on the first day.” His God is near him, nay, with him; breathes upon him in the freshness of the morning; folds him tenderly in the shades of night, and answers every entreating or confiding desire which he silently ejaculates, with peace, sanctity, assurance that can be felt; “the benediction from these covering heavens falling upon him like dew.” As, sailing in northern latitudes, the needle dips to an unseen power, so his heart inclines to the unseen power of heaven and earth. With an ever-quickening sense of the Divine Being, comes also, through this vitally unfolded power of faith, the feeling of a share in the permanence of that Being; a persuasion, and, so far as in the flesh such a thing can be, realisation of the immortality of the soul. As we believe in the world below because we have senses, and not because somebody attempts logically to prove it to us, so we believe in the world above by the inner perceptions of faith. In fine, the same faith, while convincing us of this durableness of our real life, redeems us from the bondage of death, to which many, all their lifetime, are subject. Thus the apostle declares of Christ, that he “ abolished death.” For just in the degree that, through a religious faith, the feeling of immortality grows in the soul, the death of the body loses power to disturb or alarm it. Principles and affections are developed, on which, we know and are inwardly assured, death cannot lay that icy finger which must chill every flowing drop in the circulation of animal life. The spirit, alive to its relations to God and to all pure beings, is conscious of nothing in common with the grave, has nothing that can be put into the grave save the temporary garment that it wears; and its mounting desires, its ardent love, its swelling hopes, its holy communings, are not stuff woven into the texture of that garment, but are as separable from it as the lamp from its clay vase, as the light of heaven from the clod it for a passing moment illumines. In fact, in this state of inward life, the ideas of the spirit and death, of dust and the soul, cannot be brought together, any more than can the ideas of virtue and colour, thought and material size. (C. A. Bartol.)

Faith, the substance of things hoped for:

It is a certain and evident fact that every one of us is living, every moment, in two worlds: a material world and a spiritual world. All nature, all with which our bodies only have to do is one; all thought and memory and hope, and the inner workings of the mind, all that lies far away out of sight, all beyond the grave, all that concerns other worlds than this, that is the other world. The spiritual world which we cannot see is as real as the material world which is always before us. The power which makes the spiritual world a fact, by which we realise it, is “faith.” And that power is one with which it has pleased God to endow us all for that end. And where that “ faith” is in full exercise, the unseen becomes more real than the seen--for the seen can only be when it is actually present, and must cease with our natural life, while the unseen, though invisible now, will soon be all that we shall see, and will last for ever. Hence, “faith,” which is the sight of the mind, is a far greater thing than the sight of the eyes; for it has to do with the inner nature of a man which he carries with him everywhere, which is always going on: and it takes in, and makes real and present, God and heaven, and all that God hath said and done, or will say and will do; and all the grandnesses of the eternity. It makes “substance” of all these things, and gives “evidence” of our hope that these substances are ours. If I had to define “faith” I should call it a loving trust, a loving, personal approbation, merging into a holy life. But what is the groundwork of faith? what is its warrant? what justifies you in believing all this? God’s voice. How does God’s voice speak to me? Partly in His word, partly in His works, partly in His whisperings to my soul. There are two things which must never be forgotten about “faith.” The one is that though faith is a reasonable and intellectual exercise of the mind, nevertheless it lies more in the heart than in the head. It is not written without a distinct point and sufficient reason, “The evil heart of unbelief.” How can you believe and sin? The belief comes from God only. And the second and most important consideration is that all “faith” is a gift. However much you may read and study and think, you will never obtain faith except by prayer. It lies in the sovereignty of God. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Faith a sign of human progress:

Faith is really a sign of human progress. It is the first thing that distinguishes us from the beasts of the field. Let me use an illustration: If there is grass for the ox, the ox feeds; if there be none it dies. It knows nothing of tillage or preparation of the soil for its provender. It knows no future. So, in a measure, is it with the savage. In his rudest state he is only one step above the brute. He hunts for his food, or gathers the wild fruit of the earth. Then take the stage of human life next above this--the simple, wandering, pastoral life. The shepherd or herdsman has to shift his flock from one district to another. He looks forward but a very little. Then comes the agricultural life, in which some provision has to be made for the future. The field is ploughed and sown in prospect of the next year’s harvest. Then comes a more civilised age, that of building and teaching. The pious ecclesiastic lays the foundations of some grand cathedral, in which he has faith to believe that future generations will worship. The poet or the prophet speaks, content that men unborn shall acknowledge the truth of his message or his song. And this indicates the onward progress. According as a man is animated by some lofty purpose, so his view is wide and far-reaching. As he is simply selfish, and believes only in his present gains and in what serves his present purpose, so his view and place is small. It is faith, or trust in what is distant and unseen, which alone raises him and makes him great. (H. Jones, M. A.)

Faith a well-worn word scarcely realised in meaning:

These key-words of Scripture meet the same fate as do coins that have been long in circulation. They pass through so many fingers that the inscriptions get worn off them. We can all talk about faith and forgiveness and justifying and sanctifying, but how few of us have definite notions about what these words that come so easily from our lips mean. There is a vast deal of cloudy haze in the minds of average church and chapel goers as to what this wonder-working faith may really be. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Faith not blind confidence:

Faith--true, living faith--is not mere blind confidence; it is confidence for a reason. (Hy. Dunn.)

The repose of faith

Faith might perhaps, not improperly, be denominated the repose of the intellect and the repose of the affections; i.e., the understanding perfectly admitting the Divine testimony and the heart confidently trusting the Divine assurances. (T. Binney)

The evidence of things not seen

Faith, the evidence of things not seen

I. First, concerning the ACT. Faith is said to be “ the evidence.” It is a grace that representeth the things of religion with such clearness and perspicuity of argument, that a believer is compelled to subscribe to the truth and worth of them; as a man yieldeth, when he seeth clear evidence to the contrary. There are in faith four things:

1. A clear light and apprehension. As soon as God converteth the soul, He puts light into it.

2. Faith is a convictive light, that findeth us corrupt and ill-principled, and full of prejudices against the doctrine of the gospel; and it is the work of faith to root out of the soul those carnal prejudices, counsels, reasonings, and carnal excuses which shut out that doctrine which the gospel offereth to us.

3. It is an overpowering and certain conviction, that is, such as dispossesseth us of our corrupt principles, and argueth us into a contrary opinion and belief.

4. It is a practical conviction. He that believeth is so convinced of the truth and worth of these things, that he is resolved to pursue after them, to make preparation for his eternal condition.

Use: To put us upon examination and trial, whether we have such a faith or no, as is an evidence or convincing light; you may try it by the parts of it. There is the assent of faith and the consent of faith; a clear light and firm assent, and a free consent to the worth of the things of God.

1. There is a clearness and perspicuity in the light of faith, which doth not only exclude the grossly ignorant, but those that have no saving knowledge.

2. We may know whether faith be an evidence by the firmness of our consent. If men were more convinced there would be a greater conformity in their practices to the rules of religion.

II. I come to the OBJECT, “Things not seen.” Faith is an evidence, but what kind of evidence? of things that cannot be otherwise seen, which cloth not disparage the evidence, but declare the excellency of faith. “Not seen,” that is, not liable to the judgment of sense and reason. What are those “things not seen”? Things may either be invisible in regard of their nature, or of their distance and absence from us. Some things are invisible in their own nature--as God, angels, and spirits; and all the way and work of the Holy Ghost in and about the spiritual life. Other things are invisible in regard of their distance and absence; and so things past and to come are invisible; we cannot see them with our bodily eyes, but they are discovered to us by faith. In short, these “ things not seen,” are either matters of constant practical experience, which are not liable to outward sense, or principles of knowledge, which are not suitable to natural reason.

1. Matters of practical experience. The blessings of religion as the enduring substance (Hebrews 10:34), the benefit of affliction, the rewards and supplies of the spiritual life, answers of prayer, they are things not seen in regard of the bodily eye and carnal feeling; but faith expects them with as much assurance as if they were corporeally present, and could be felt and handled, and is assuredly persuaded of them, as if they were before our eyes.

2. Principles of knowledge. There are many mysteries in religion above reason; until nature put on the spectacles of faith, it cannot see them.

That the evidence of faith is conversant about things unseen by sense or natural reason.

1. Because much of religion is past, and we have bare testimony and revelation to warrant it; as the creation of the world out of nothing, the incarnation, life, and death of Christ; these are truths not liable to sense, and unlikely to reason--that God should become a man and die. Now upon the revelation of the word, the Spirit of God makes all evident to faith.

2. Much of religion is yet to come, and therefore can only be discerned by faith. Fancy and nature cannot outsee time, and look beyond death (2 Peter 1:9); unless faith hold the candle to hope we cannot see heaven at so great a distance. Heaven and the glorious rewards of religion are yet to come; faith only can see heaven in the promises and look upon the gospel as travailing in birth with a great salvation.

3. That of religion which is of actual and present enjoyment, sense or reason cannot discern the truth or worth of it; therefore faith is still the evidence of things unseen.

If the object of faith be things unseen, then

1. Christians should not murmur if God keep them low and bare, and they have nothing they can see to live upon. As long as they do their duty, they are in the hands of God’s providence.

2. In the greatest extremity that can befall us there is work for faith, but no place for discouragement; your faith is never tried till then.

3. A Christian is not to be valued by his enjoyments, but by his hopes. “He hath meat and drink which the world knows not of” (John 4:32).

4. Christ may be out of sight, yet not out of mind.

Reproof to those that are all for sense and for present appearance.

1. Such as “do not believe without present feeling.

2. Such as cannot wait upon God without present satisfaction.

Take these directions to discover it.

1. How doth it work as to Christ now He is out of sight? Alas! to most Christians Christ is but a name, a fancy, or an empty conceit, such as the heathens had of their topical gods, or we of tutelar saints, some for this country and some for that. Do you pray as seeing Him at God’s right hand in heaven pleading your cause, and negotiating with God for you?

2. How doth it work as to His coming to judgment? Is the awe of that day upon your hearts? and do you live as those that must give aa account even for every idle word, when the great God of recompenses shall descend from heaven with a shout?

3. How can you comfort yourselves in the midst of all your straits and sorrows with the unseen glory of another world? Do not you faint in your duty, but bear up with that courage and constancy which becomes Christians (2 Corinthians 4:16). 4, How doth it work as to the threatenings of the Word? Can you mourn for a judgment in its causes, and foresee a storm when the clouds are but a gathering?

5. How doth your heart work upon the promises in difficult cases? Thereby God tries you, and thereby you may try yourselves (John 6:5-6).

6. You may try your assent to the promises by the adventures you make upon God’s word.

7. You may know whether you have this faith, which evidenceth things to come, and find out the weakness or strength of it by observing the great disproportion that is in your affections to things of sense, and things of faith. It is true, a Christian is not all spirit, and therefore sensible things work more with the present state of men than things spiritual. But yet certainly in a child of God, one that believes, that hath the evidence of things not seen, there will be some suitableness.

8. You may know whether you have this faith by your thoughts of the ways of God, when they are despised or opposed. Faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, can see a great deal of beauty in a despised way Of God, and glory in a crucified Christ; as the good thief upon the cross could see

Christ as a king, when he hung dying on the cross in disgrace (Luke 23:42).

To press you to get this faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, that you may believe that which God hath revealed in His Word, and that solely upon God’s authority and the account of His Word; to quicken you to get this faith, which is of such great use to you.

1. Consider that all the difficulty in assenting to doctrines of Scripture was not only in the first age.

2. Consider the benefit of a sound conviction. A clear evidence of the mysteries of salvation is a great ground of all reformation of life.

3. The more faith depends upon the warrant of God’s Word the better; and the fewer sensible helps it hath, the more it is prized (John 20:29).

4. Sensible things will not work, if we do not believe the Word; those that think Moses and the prophets are but a cold dispensation in comparison of this, if one should come from the dead, for then they would repent and turn to God, let them read (Luke 16:29-31).

5. We have need now to look after this faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, because the great reigning and prevailing sin is infidelity and unbelief; which is seen by our cavilling at every strict truth, by our carelessness in the things of God, by the looseness and profaneness of those that would be accounted Christians.

6. We ought to look to this faith, because none are so resolved in the great matters of faith, but they may be more resolved; no man doth so believe but he may believe more (1 John 5:13).

Direction to get and increase this faith.

1. Beg the illumination of the Spirit of God to show you the truth of the Word, and the good things offered therein. This evidence is from the Spirit; thereof Paul prays for the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:17-18).

2. Employ your reason, serious consideration, and discourse. The devil throws the golden ball in our way, of honour, pleasure, and profit, to divert us from heavenly things; and the intention of the mind being diverted, the impressions of religion are weak and faint.

3. Labour to get a heart purged from carnal affections. Where there is more purity there will be more clearness (Matthew 5:8). (T. Manton, D. D.)

Faith:

What a mighty thing as a motive-power this faith must be! If a man is possessed by it, that something can be done; in some sure sense, it is done already, and only waits its time to come into visible existence in the best way it can. Just as one of those noble groups John Rogers fashions for us is done the moment the conception of it has struck his heart with a pang of delight, though he may not have so much as the lump of clay for his beginning; while I might stand with the clay in my hand to doomsday, and not make what he does, because I could not have the “ Faith … the evidence of things not seen.” What cannot be done, cannot be of faith. There can be no real faith in the soul toward the impossible; but make sure that faith is there, and then you can form no conception of the surprises of power hidden in the heart of it. And, trying to make this thing clear to you, I know of no better way to begin, than by saying, that faith is never that airy nothing which often usurps its place, and for which I can find no better name than fancy--a feeling without fitness, an anticipation without an antecedent, an effect without a cause, a cipher without a unit. A mere fancy, to a pure faith, is as the “Arabian Nights” to the Sermon on the Mount. Then faith is not something standing clean at the other extreme from fancy, for which there is no better name than fatalism--a condition numbers are continually drifting into, who, from their very earnestness, are in no danger of being sucked into the whirlpools of fancy; men who glance at the world and life through the night-glass of Mr. Buckle; who look backward and there is eternity, and forward and there is eternity; and feel all about them, and conclude that they are in the grasp of a power beside which what they can do to help themselves is about what a chip can do on the curve at Niagara. And yet their nature may be far too bright and wholesome to permit them to feel that the drift of things is not on the whole for good. They will be ready even to admit that “our souls are organ-pipes of diverse stop and various pitch, each with its proper note thrilling beneath the self-same touch of God.” But, when a hard pinch comes, they smoke their pipe, and refer it to Allah, or cover their face and refer it to Allah; but never fight it out, inch by inch, with all their heart and soul, in the sure faith that things will be very much after all what they make them--that the Father worketh hitherto, and they work. And these two things--the fancy that things will come to pass because we dream them, and the fatalism that they will come to pass because we cannot avoid them--are never to be mistaken for faith. It is true that there is both a fancyand a fatalism that is perfectly sound and good--the fancy that clothes the future to an earnest lad with a sure hope; that keeps the world fresh and fair, as in nature like that of Leigh Hunt, when to most men it has become arid as desert dust;--the bloom and poetry, thank God, by which men are converted, and become as little children. And there is a fatalism that touches the very centre of the circle of faith--which Paul always had in his soul. When sounding out some mighty affirmation of the sovereignty of God, he would go right on, with a more perfect and trusting devotion to work in the line of it. Fancy and fatalism, are the strong handmaidens of faith; happy is the man whose faith they serve. But what, then, is faith? Can that be made clear? I think it can. A young man feels in his heart the conviction, that there in the future is waiting for him a great destiny. Yet that destiny depends on his courage, and that courage on his constancy; and it is only when each has opened into the other, that the three become that evidence of things not seen, on which he can die with his soul satisfied--though all the land he had to show for the one promise was a graveyard;and all the line for the other, a childless son. Another feels a conviction, that here at his hand is a great work to do--a nation to create out of a degraded mob, and to settle in a land where it can carry out his ideas and its own destiny. But the conviction can be nothing without courage; and courage, a mere rushing into the jaws of destruction, without constancy. Only when forty years had gone, and the steady soul had fought its fight, did conviction, courage, and constancy ripen into the full certainty which shone in the eyes of the dying statesman, as he stood on Nebo, and death was swallowed up in victory. And yet it is clear, that, while courage and constancy in these men was essential to their faith, faith again was essential to their courage and constancy. These were the meat and drink on which the faith depended; but the faith was the life for which the meat and drink were made. A dim, indefinable consciousness at first it was, that something was waiting in that direction, a treasure hid in that field somewhere, to be their own if they durst but sell all they had, and buy the field. Then, as bit by bit they paid the price in the pure gold of some new responsibility or sacrifice, the clear certainty took the place of the dim intimation, and faith became the evidence of things not seen. This is the way a true faith always comes. Conversing once with a most faithful woman, I found that the way she came to be what she is lay at first along the dark path, in which she had to take one little timid step at a time. But, as she went on, she found all the more reason to take another and another, until God led her by a way she knew not, and brought her into a large place. Yet it was a long while before any step did not make the most painful drafts on both her courage and constancy. And so the whole drift of what man has done for man and God is the story of such a leading--first a consciousness that the thing must be done, then a spark of courage to try and do it; then a constancy that endures to the end; and then, whatever the end may be--the prison or the palace, it is all the same--the soul has the evidence of things not seen, and goes singing into her rest. Now, then, we want to make sure of three things, then we shall know that this faith is our own

1. That God is at work without me--that is, the Divine energy--as fresh and full before I came, as the sea is before the minnow comes.

2. That He is at work through me--that is, the Divine intention--as certainly present in my life as it was in the life of Moses; and

3. That what we do together is as sure to be a success as that we are striving to make it one. There may be more in the graveyard than there is in the home. In the moment toward which I have striven forty years with a tireless, passionate, hungry energy, my expectation may be cut off, while my eye is as bright and my step as firm as ever. It is no matter. The energy is as full, the intention as direct, and the accomplishment as sure, as though God had already made the pile complete. And when, with the conviction that t can do a worthy thing, and the courage to try and the constancy to keep on, I can cast myself, as Paul did, and Moses and Abraham, into the arms of a perfect assurance of this energy, intention, and accomplishment of the Eternal--feel, in every fibre of my nature, that in Him I live and move and have my being--I shall not fear, though the earth be removed, because

“A faith like this for ever doth impart

Authentic tidings of invisible things;

Of ebb and flow, and ever-during power,

And central peace, subsisting at the heart

Of endless agitation.”

(R. Collyer, D. D.)

The evidence of things not seen

I. THE OBJECT IS SOMETHING NOT SEEN. Things unseen are not only such things as are invisible, and such as cannot be received by the eye, but also such as are not perceivable by any of our senses. Neither are things insensible meant, but such as are above the reach of reason. So that things unseen are such as are neither perceivable by the sense nor reason, so as to have either an intuitive or demonstrative knowledge of them. These are such as are conveyed to the soul by Divine revelation, without which man could not have known them; and such propositions as the connection of the terms depend upon the will of God.

II. FAITH IS THE EVIDENCE OF THESE THINGS UNSEEN because we, having a certain knowledge of God’s veracity, and His revelation of these things, are as certainly persuaded of the truth of them; and give as firm assent unto them as if they were seen and intuitively and demonstratively known unto us. Yet here you must consider

1. That though the things and propositions be above reason, yet this persuasion or firm assent and this certain knowledge of the Divine revelation are acts of reason, and in the book of reason are they written.

2. That this object is of greater latitude than the former. For things hoped for, which are to come, are not seen; and not only they, but many things past and present.

3. That the things not seen in this place are not all things not seen, but such as God hath revealed to be the matter and object of our Divine faith.

4. That though substance and evidence may differ, yet both are a firm assent; but in respect of the things hoped for, may include a firm confidence and a certain expectation; for in respect of that object, that assent is more practical than this evidence which respects things unseen; so that here wants but little of a perfect definition.

5. The faith here defined is Divine faith in general, not that which is called justifying as justifying, for that is but a particular branch of this general, looking at a particular object, which is Christ’s sacrifice and His intercession. (G. Lawson.)

Faith proving and reproving:

In the realm of the unseen faith examines and discriminates. Faith is not credulity. Faith is not the promiscuous acceptance of this, that, and everything which lies out of sight. Faith is the criterion and touchstone of things unseen. When one comes to her with a professed doctrine, saying, “In the world out of sight, the world of spirit and heaven, there exists such or such a truth, such or such a reality, such or such a being;” faith, the faculty by which we take account of the unseen, applies herself to the subject, puts it to the test of Scripture, asks its evidences and examines them, rejects the worthless, ratifies the true, and finally gives judgment upon the result and upon the issue. Faith has lived long enough to know--even from Scripture--how confident sometimes are “lying wonders,” how easy it is to find evidences for any folly, how far we might drift from the moorings of truth and duty if we gave heed to every doctrine which professed to rest (as St. Paul once expressed it)upon “spirit, or word, or letter as from us.” It is the office of Faith to test and to discriminate things unseen--to decide whether they belong to the revealed invisible, or to the conjectured, imagined, fancied invisible--and according to her judgment upon this question, so to determine the further question, Shall I accept, or shall I refuse? Faith takes God’s Word, and tests every professed truth by it. Faith is the touchstone of all matters lying in the region of spirit--she decides whether, for her, they are true or false, by seeing whether they agree, or whether they conflict, with her own one guide, which is the revelation, the inspiration, of God. This exercise of faith implies, then, one earlier. Before faith can test things unseen by the Word of God, she must have that Word, and she must know it. (Dean Vaughan.)

Things not seen:

“Things hoped for” are “things not seen.” St. Paul says in the 8th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, “Hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” But the “unseen” is not coextensive with the “hoped for.” There are “things not seen” elsewhere than in the future. Faith is wider than hope. Faith has other spheres than futurity. Whatever is invisible, whether past or present or future, is an object of faith. Every fact in history is apprehended by faith. Every past event, every record of birth and death, of battle and revolution, of dynasty founded and fallen, of historical person and character, can be grasped, can be accepted, only by faith. To be assured that certain portions of this island were successively occupied by Roman, by Saxon, by Dane, by Norman--that the established religion of this country was once Pagan, once Romanist, once Puritan--that a sovereign of this country was executed at Whitehall and buried at Windsor--that there ever was such a person as Alexander or Caesar or Napoleon--is an exercise, a strong exercise, of faith. That which is not at this moment seen and handled and tasted--that storm or that Shipwreck or that fire which the public paper tells of as having happened a month ago or happened yesterday, but which we ourselves did not see happen and can only know of by testimony--belongs, for that reason, to the realm of faith. The province of faith is coextensive with “things not seen.” And those unseen things may be either future, or past, or present. It is idle to deny that there are such. If we spoke only of earthly existences, how many of these, of the most certain of these, are at this moment out of our sigh! The friend from whom you heard yesterday--the person dearest to you in the world, not now by your side--it is faith, it is not sight, which represents that existence to you as real.But which of us, of the most sceptical of us, denies the fact of spiritual existences, spiritual agencies, which are of necessity, not by accident, but essentially, not now only, but always, things unseen? Faculties, habits, feelings, affections, motives, principles, processes and conditions of thought, laws of cause and consequence, souls and spirits of the dead and living, beings above us, a God of creation and providence, a Father and Saviour and Comforter--in whatever degree, to whatever extent, we have information or conviction of any of these, however confidently or however tentatively we have hold upon any of these, it is faith, faith alone, which grasps or deals with them--they too belong to that vast realm of the unseen, for the contemplation of which faith is the one faculty--that faith which is not only the assurance of things hoped for, but also--it is a far larger and wider term--“the evidence of things not seen.” (Dean Vaughan.)

The visions of faith:

Faith is a certain image of eternity; all things are present to it; things past and things to come are all so before the eyes of faith, that he in whose eyes that candle is enkindled beholds heaven as present, and sees how blessed a thing it is to die in God’s favour, and to be chimed to our grave with the music of a good conscience. Faith converses with the angels, and antedates the hymns of glory. Every man that hath this grace is as certain that there are glories for him, if he persevere in his duty, as if he had heard and sung the thanksgiving-song for the blessed sentence of doomsday. (Bp. Jeremy Taylor.)

The prospect of faith:

Faith, having seated itself upon the high tower and mountain--God’s omnipotency and all-sufficiency--hath a great prospect. It can look over all the world, and look into another world too. (W. Bridge.)

The tense of faith:

Faith altereth the tenses, and putteth the future into the present tense. (J. Trapp.)

Faith a telescope:

Faith is to sight and reason what the telescope is to the naked eye. By the use of this wondrous instrument the most distant planets are now made known to us in detail. A map of Mars has been published showing canal-like seas, islands and large mountains or table-lands covered with snow. Faith brings the distant near, makes the spiritual the most real, and gives us to dwell in heavenly places. (H. O. Mackey.)

Faith a corrective:

Men who see the invisible, estimate the more correctly the things temporal and the things eternal. (T. B.Stephenson, LL. D.)

Believing in the unseen:

Dr. Parker, preaching when a dense fog prevailed, said “the fog had taught him to believe in the unseen world more than ever before. Close to him there were oak trees that were hidden the previous day by mist. But he knew them to be there. Men might say, ‘If they were there we could see them.’ But they are there and you cannot see them! A schoolbay would have laughed in his face if he had said the trees did not exist because the fog hid them. Yet there are men going on to old age who deny the unseen world because they cannot see it. But the trees are there and so are the angels!” (Christian World.)

An appeal to the great names of the past:

We know the power of any appeal to the great names of our secular history. There is no scholar, however humble or obscure, whose exhausted energy is not renewed when he is reminded of the famous students of former times. The honours which cluster and thicken, as the ages roll by, sound the names of great poets, artists, philosophers, statesmen, stimulate the enthusiasm and sustain the energy of those who, in distant times and countries, strive for the same glory. When nations are struggling for freedom, it is not living patriotism alone which gives strength to their arms and daring to their hopes--the memory of the patriots of other lands and of other centuries kindles enthusiasm and inspires heroic endurance. Defeated, while living, in their conflicts with tyranny, they triumph gloriously after death. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

By it the elders obtained a good report

A good report obtained by faith

I. THE FATHERS UNDER THE LAW HAD THE SAME KIND OF FAITH THAT WE HAVE. The same promises; upon the same terms; through the same merit of the blood of Christ.

II. THE APOSTLES ASCRIBE THEIR RENOWN IN THE CHURCH TO THEIR FAITH. Though the private soldiers do worthily in the high places of the field, yet the general bears away the honour, he gets the battle and wins the day; so here, all graces have their use in the holy life, all do worthily in their order and place; love worketh, hope waiteth, patience endureth, zeal sparkleth, and obedience urgeth to duty; but faith bears away the prize, this is the chiefest pin and wheel in the whole frame of salvation. Partly because it is the grace of reception on our part, by which we receive all the influences of heaven, and partly because it directs and quickens all other graces. It feeds hope, it teaches patience to wait, it makes zeal to sparkle, it gives relief to self-denial, and encourageth obedience. Faith is like a silken string, which runs through the chain of pearl; or like the spirits that run with the blood throughout all the veins.

III. THE FAITH OF THE ELDERS WAS AN ACTIVE FAITH, that discovered itself by good fruits and gracious actions; otherwise it could not have brought them into credit with the Church. God only knows the heart. It is actions that discover their faith, and the strength of their assent.

IV. ONE OF THE REWARDS OF AN ACTIVE FAITH IS A GOOD REPORT.

1. For the reasons of God’s ordination and appointment. I shall touch upon those that are of a chief regard and consideration.

2. In what manner doth the Lord dispense this privilege? And it is grounded upon an objection, that may be framed thus; the servants of God are often clouded with black reproaches, “They took away the spouse’s Song of Solomon 5:7), that is, her honour and name. David complains (Psalms 22:6). Therefore how doth God give in this recompense to the active faith? I answer, in several propositions.

3. Whether in the exercise of faith we may eye a good report? is not this vain-glory? I answer in four things.

Uses:

1. Prize this blessing; it is a sweet encouragement to you in the work of God. I observe that usually men first make shipwreck of a good name, then of a good conscience.

2. Be careful how you prejudice the good name of a believer; you cross God’s ordination. How ought you to tremble, when you go about to take off the crown which God hath put on their heads!

3. To press you to this active faith. There is great reason for it upon these grounds.

The renown of faith

I. INSTANCES OR EXAMPLES ARE THE MOST POWERFUL CONFIRMATIONS OF PRACTICAL TRUTH.

1. Who these “elders” were is put beyond dispute by the ensuing discourse. All true believers from the foundation of the world, or the giving of the first promise, unto the end of the dispensation of the Old Testament, are intended.

2. This testimony was given them in the Scriptures; that is, it is so in particular of many of them, and of the rest in the general rules of it.

II. THEY WHO HAVE A GOOD TESTIMONY FROM GOD SHALL NEVER WANT REPROACHES FROM THE WORLD.

III. IT IS FAITH ALONE WHICH FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD WAS THE MEANS AND WAY OF OBTAINING ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD.

IV. The faith of true believers from the beginning of the world, WAS FIXED ON THINGS FUTURE, HOPED FOR, AND INVISIBLE THAT IS, ETERNAL LIFE AND GLORY IN AN ESPECIAL MANNER.

V. That faith whereby men please God ACTS ITSELF IN A FIXED CONTEMPLATION ON THINGS FUTURE AND INVISIBLE, from whence it derives encouragement and strength to endure and abide firm in profession, against all opposition and persecutions.

VI. HOWEVER MEN MAY BE DESPISED, VILIFIED, AND REPROACHED IN THE WORLD, YET IF THEY HAVE FAITH, IF THEY ARE TRUE BELIEVERS, THEY ARE ACCEPTED WITH GOD, AND HE WILL GIVE THEM A GOOD REPORT. (John Owen, D. D.)

Faith and its exploits

I. FAITH GREATENS MEN.

II. FAITH MIGHTILY AFFECTS OUR ORDINARY HUMAN LIFE.

III. FAITH IS POSSIBLE TO ALL CLASSES.

IV. FAITH IS CONSISTENT WITH VERY DIFFERENT DEGREES OF KNOWLEDGE.

V. FAITH CAN MASTER INSUPERABLE DIFFICULTIES. Stormy seas forbid our passage; frowning fortifications bar our progress; mighty kingdoms defy our power; lions roar against us; fire lights its flaming barricade in our path; the sword, the armies of the alien, mockings, scourgings, bonds and imprisonment--all these menace our peace, darken our horizon, and try on us their power; but faith has conquered all these before, and it shall do as much again. Reckon on God’s faithfulness. Look not at the winds and waves, but at His character and will. Get alone with Him, steeping your heart and mind in His precious and exceeding great promises. Be obedient to the utmost limit of your light. Walk in the Spirit, one of whose fruits is faith. So shall you be deemed worthy to join this band, whose names and exploits run over from this page into the chronicles of eternity, and to share their glorious heritage. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The best acquirement

1. All obtain some kind of report.

2. Some obtain a great report.

3. All may obtain a good report.

4. All ought to endeavour to obtain a good report.

5. A good report is not easily and at once obtained.

6. A good report is the best of all things that can be obtained. It is the only passport to heaven, and the only imperishable possession. (D. Thomas.)

The faith of the ancient worthies:

Christ crucified for us forms the great object of faith under the Christian dispensation. But the apostle’s words, no less than the facts of the case, forbid the supposition that all God’s testimony concerning His Son was embraced in the faith of these ancient worthies. In the case of Enoch, for example, the faith which the apostle’s argument attributes by implication to him is the general belief “that God is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” In Noah’s case no mention is made of any testimony or object of faith, except the Divine warning concerning the coming flood. In the case of Rahab, again, there is nothing in the book of Joshua, or in what the apostle says of her here, which can be construed as pointing to the Messiah. But supposing that in these cases, at least, their faith did not consciously embrace the Messiah, because the Messiah had not been revealed to it, it does not therefore follow either that they were saved in virtue of their faith as a meritorious act, or that they were saved independently of Christ. It is to be noticed, moreover, that the reason why their faith did not embrace so much as we are required to believe, was not because of anything defective in that faith, viewed as a mental act--the effects it produced forbid that supposition--but simply because of the want of a fuller revelation. They had not received the promise in its full and perfect form. Compared with that which we enjoy, their light was but as the dim dawn. And it is a striking testimony to the excellence of the principle, that a faith to which so little was revealed should sometimes so far surpass ours in the wonders which it wrought. Their faith is in fact a model for our own. It was proportioned to the degree of light which they possessed. They believed God’s Word in so far as God had spoken to them. It was not that they received only one part of the Divine testimony, and wilfully rejected another--true faith never does that, but receives with equal readiness and confidence whatsoever God says. To believe only so much of what God says as suits our wishes, or accords with our prejudices, or commends itself to our reason, is not to believe the Divine testimony. The result of our own judgment, or our own fancy, it is in no sense faith. He is in no sense a believer who receives only so much of God’s Word as pleases him, and gives the lie to all the rest. We insist the more on this because of the practical issues which it involves. Not only is our faith worthless, if it be not ready to give credence to all that God has said, but it will prove ineffectual for salvation, however much it may embrace, if it receive not the one truth which assures us of the freeness of the Divine love to us through Christ Jesus--that truth which constitutes the burden and substance of the gospel message. Even the faith of those earlier saints, limited as was the testimony presented to it, tended to this result. The revelations of God which they had received, declared or implied His righteousness and His friendship for man--a righteousness which would not allow sin to pass with impunity, and a friendship which promised mercy to those who would repent of sin and seek after God. Faith in these would naturally suggest to the believing soul the difficulty of their being exercised consistently with each other. But it would also convince them that, notwithstanding that difficulty, the Divine promise would be fulfilled. If the revelation given said how it was to be done, the same faith would receive its testimony. But if not--if the dim foreshadowing of the coming Saviour left them in ignorance of how God’s promise could be fulfilled consistently with His righteousness--faith would nevertheless assure them of its fulfilment, and calmly receive it and rely on it, leaving Him to determine how it was to be accomplished; for the province of faith is to receive what God says, simply because He says it, not to show how God’s Word can be true. In this way, we imagine, the faith of some of these earlier saints operated. Believing in God’s righteousness, and yet believing His promise to forgive and receive those who came to Him, they verbally and by sacrifice made confession of their sins and evil deserts, and yet trusted to Him to find a way of rendering the fulfilment of His promise consistent with His own righteousness. Thus their faith wrought in them reconciliation to, and trust in God, and thereby proved the means of their salvation. It will now appear how it is that, although they might be saved, without conscious and intelligent faith in Christ we cannot--how it is that the revelation we are favoured with places us in a position entirely different from theirs. It is because that revelation is a test of the true state of our minds in relation to God. Possessed of it, if we do not believe in Christ we reject the Divine testimony, and prove that we have no faith in anything which God says, but are still in a state of unbelief and rebellion and enmity. In fine, in the absence of a revelation, confidence in God and submission to His will were possible, though under the circumstances faith in Christ was impossible. Whereas, in possession of a revelation, the want of faith in Christ shuts us out from a state of confidence in God, and submission to His will, and must therefore debar us from the enjoyment of salvation. (W. Landels, D. D.)

Antiquity of faith:

The “for,” like so many “fors” in Scripture, rests upon a word or two unwritten. As if it were said, “A mighty grace”--“An ancient grace”--“A worldwide and an age-long grace”--“for by it”--or rather, “in it,” on the subject of it, on the strength of it--“the elders,” they of the old time, the saints and servants of God from the very beginning, “obtained a good report”; “were attested,” were borne witness of, received an approving testimony, from Him who alone is the faithful and true witness, God Himself in His holy Word. In many things they and we are widely separated. But this verse teaches us the unity of all ages and all countries in one single comprehensive principle. In this “faith,” the apostle says, to which I exhort you--his “faith” of which you will have so special a need in these coming days of trial and temptation--in this “faith” they lived and died to whom God in Scripture bore His emphatic testimony: in this, and no other--this same assurance of things not possessed but hoped for--this same discrimination of things not seen nor touched nor handled, yet existing in all the changeless reality of a world indestructible because immaterial, eternal because Divine. If we would ever know unity, we must seek it in the life of faith. Unbelief, like sin--unbelief, which is sin--is division, is disunion, at once. No two unbelievers, no two sinners, can be at one. Unity is to be found only in faith. Two men who are distinctly conscious of one God, one Lord, one Spirit--two men who are resolutely bent upon giving up everything contrary to the Divine Will as they read it--two men who are living holy lives in the pursuit of a life beyond death, everlasting and eternal--are at one with each other, whether they know it or not--for they are both living that life of faith in which the elders, like the men that are now, obtained a good report. (Dean Vaughan.)

Faith the foundation and strength of character

Character is man’s noblest possession, the accomplished design of renewing grace, the crown and glory of human life. By virtue of it a man takes rank with the peerage of heaven, and holds an estate in the general goodwill. It is much more true that character is power than that knowledge is power. History teaches us that moral forces are the real rulers of the world. The influence of wealth is feeble in comparison with the influence of tried worth. No one is shut out from obtaining this best of all distinctions, this most priceless of all possessions. Every one should aim to deserve a good report. The text admonishes us how it is to be obtained. “By faith” the elders attained that excellence of character which gave them favour in the sight of God and man. Faith is declared to be the foundation and strength of character.

I. FAITH MAKES MEN MASTERS OF THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES. There are some persons who seem to have no character of their own. When hemmed in by moral restraints and moving in an atmosphere of religion, they exhibit a negative colourless goodness; but let them be thrown into a tide of dissipation and they yield without a struggle, and go with the multitude to do evil. The first truth, then, for faith to grasp is this: “I am a spiritual and immortal being, with power to choose my own lot, determine my own course, and form my own character. If I allow myself to be the sport of circumstances, I shall be unstable as water and never excel; but if I have faith in the invisible might of energy, and in the ultimate success of perseverance, I shall obtain the prize of my high calling.”

II. NEXT COMES THE CONVICTION OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR THE USE OF THIS POWER. A great many wise decisions and virtuous struggles with temptation go to the building up of a good character. Human nature is a marshy soil for such a structure, and needs a great deal done under ground and out of sight before its ,stability can be secured. There must be a strong foundation of moral concrete, of conscientiousness. But this cannot be laid without frequent appeals to conscience, and its judgments will be wavering and obscure unless faith unstops the ear to hear the sanction of God’s voice. It is a sheet-anchor to a man in temptation, if he have sufficient faith in God’s presence and authority to make him say, “How shall I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Again, faith in God as our omnipotent Father and the Judge of all, creates a habit of referring everything to conscience. Believe that for every opinion you adopt you will be called to answer before God, and you will be careful not to take up hastily with any, and not to hold them in the clenched fists of prejudice.

III. MOST MEN WHO HAVE ATTAINED A GOOD REPORT HAVE HAD A DEFINITE PURPOSE IN LIFE, AND A CLEARLY DEFINED NOTION OF THE PLACE GOD INTENDED THEM TO FILL. Our forefathers had a deep impression of the Divine hand shaping the course of an ordinary man’s life; hence they spoke of his business or occupation as his “calling.” So long as a man’s trade is useful to the community, fitted to serve the comfort or refinement of society, he has as much reason to believe that God has called him to it as he has to believe that God designed the earth to bring forth food for man’s support. And, depend upon it, man will turn out all the better work, and do his duty with all the greater care, for believing that God accepts it as a service to Himself. In every walk of life we shall find scope for a career of usefulness and happiness, provided we buy up its opportunities. To begin with the duty lying nearest to us is the way to fulfil our mission.

IV. FAITH IN THE IMPERISHABLE WORTH OF TRUTH is another most necessary element in the formation of an honourable character. Integrity in word and deed is the backbone of character, and loyal adherence to veracity its most prominent characteristic. Seldom has a finer eulogium been pronounced upon any man than was spoken by the late Duke of Wellington on the occasion of the death of Sir Robert Peel. He said: “I was long connected with him in public life. We were both in the councils of our sovereign together, and I had long the honour to enjoy his private friendship. In all the course of my acquaintance with him, I never knew a man in whose truth and justice I had greater confidence or in whom I saw a more invariable desire to promote the public service. In the whole course of my communication with him I never knew an instance in which he did not show the strongest attachment to truth; and I never saw, in the whole course of my life, the smallest reason for suspecting that he stated anything which he did not firmly believe to be the fact.”

V. BY FAITH, FEELING THEIR OWN WEAKNESS, THE EXCELLENT OF THE EARTH LAID HOLD ON THE STRENGTH OF GOD. In reference to all the distinctive traits of Christian character, we may say without the slightest qualification, “Severed from Christ, and without faith in His helpful Spirit, you can do nothing.” These heavenly fruits of character do not grow on the wild olive-tree of humanity, but only after it has been grafted into the good olive-tree, the Lord Jesus Christ. They imply the possession of so much which a man who has only the prudential virtues, after the fashion of the world, is wholly destitute of. They imply faith in God’s omniscience and care and a hope of eternal glory; they imply convictions which have broken the heart, made it jealous for God’s honour, humbled it at the feet of Divine mercy, and inspired it with a love of peace and gentleness. Without these convictions and sentiments such traits of character are impossible. There is neither motive for them nor meaning in them. They are the fruits of the Spirit, and only possible, therefore, in those who have the Spirit. But in every age God has given His Holy Spirit to such as sought His aid. (E. W.Shalders, B. A.)

The roll-call of the illustrious dead:

Auvergne, a Breton warrior, called Grenadier of France, died fighting for his country. As a memorial, his comrades decided that his name should still stand on the rolls. It was regularly called, and a comrade answered for him, “Dead on the field.” So is Hebrews 11:1-40., a roll-call of the victorious dead, a regimental register of God’s heroes.

The victories of faith

In almost every capital of Europe there are varieties of triumphal arches or columns upon which are recorded the valiant deeds of the country’s generals, its emperors, or its monarchs. You will find, in one case, the thousand battles of a Napoleon recorded, and in another you find the victories of a Nelson pictured. It seems, therefore, but right that faith, which is the mightiest of the mighty, should have a pillar raised to its honour, upon which its valiant deeds should be recorded. The apostle undertook to raise the structure, and he erected a most magnificent pillar in the chapter before us. It recites the victories of faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 1-3

Verse 3

Hebrews 11:3

The worlds were framed by the word of God

Spirit in matter:

The whole order of the natural world and man’s physical being may be said to be the expression of chemical combination, and of the various forces resulting therefrom.
The whole is presented to us, after scientific examination, as a most elaborate and exquisite piece of mechanism. Some would also explain man’s mental and moral life as only a higher development of this same mechanism. To prevent misunderstanding, I may state that, while I am willing to admit that these higher parts of man’s life are affected by, and partly dependent upon, this mechanism of things, it seems to me certain that the phenomena of human life require us to believe that there is, over and above that which is mechanical, a “free spirit.” What I seek at present is a common ground with scientists, from which to start in an inquiry; and that I find in admitting the mechanism of all physical being. This mechanical and orderly system of being is generally known as the material world. All parts of the universe are in an intimate relation with each other. This relation is commonly conceived of as government by laws. There are, for example, what are termed the laws of gravitation and magnetic attraction, and the laws of combining proportion. Now, it is necessary to keep before us the strictly scientific idea of the laws of nature; that they are in fact nothing more than the observed mode of action of the forces in nature. They have no real existence of themselves, apart, that is, from the things in which they are observed. For example, there is, so far as science teaches, no material bond between the stone and the earth which are attracted to each other; no link like a string reaching from the one to the other. The stone is not drawn by an elastic-like band which connects it with the earth; but something in the inner nature of the matter causes them to approach. The same is true of magnetic attraction, and also of chemical affinity. So far we have kept strictly to the results of science. It is now that we proceed a step further by inference from what science has taught explicitly to something which its teaching implies. We find that the stone and the earth, the magnet and the iron, and also chemical atoms, enter into those relations which result from attraction or affinity
only by reason of what is in them. What, then, is in them by which they can do these things? The earth attracts the stone which has been thrown a distance from it, and the stone, instead of continuing to ascend, comes back of itself towards the earth. This attraction is because the stone is affected by the earth, by a body of matter which is in a certain direction. The effect of the earth’s presence is sufficient to direct the stone to itself; i.e., the earth so affects the inner state of the stone that it is sensible of an attraction of a certain degree and in a particular direction. It knows it is attracted, and its movement is the result of that consciousness. And it knows in what direction it is attracted, and so takes the right path. The phenomena of gravitation and magnetism evidence therefore a degree of conscious life in matter. But the most comprehensive and fundamental kind of attraction is chemical affinity, since all material organisation is built up from it. And it is also the most wonderful, and even skilful, in operation. The atoms which combine by affinity to form water must have a sense of affinity sufficient to cause them to unite; they must be aware of the effect upon them of the other’s presence, or they would remain unmoved. And so with all chemical combinations, both of atoms and molecules; they must have a degree of consciousness to enter into union, to remain in union, and also to allow them to be disunited chemically. The action and reaction of all parts of the physical universe, because it is from the inner states of matter, necessitates the existence of a certain measure and kind of consciousness and intelligence in all matter. We have thus crossed the boundary into a spiritual sphere; but we must advance yet further. That these inner states of atoms, which we find to be conscious states, are not separate and independent of each other, science shows most clearly. All atoms of any given element act exactly alike and are affected exactly alike. There is then one conscious mind in each kind of element. But to go another step” we observe in the chemical combinations of various elements that they have all an inner relation to each other, according to which each element is affected, and affected in one particular way, by its combinations with others. There is, in other words, a necessity in the relations of all chemical elements to each other--a necessity which is the ruling of their inner states. All these inner states and their movements and combinations are in some sort Of unity. And as it is the unity of conscious being in manifoldness, there is a large consciousness which is inclusive of all. But we must examine these atoms a little closer. What they are we have seen to some extent. Can we find out more about them? Can we discover their origin? We are informed that atoms--all atoms--are vortices of ether. Ether is something which pervades all space and permeates all things. It is, and yet is itself non-phenomenal--it has none of the properties of matter. It is therefore the invisible substans, or that which stands under all atomic being as its cause and foundation. It is a living entity, with consciousness and will, and the power to create out of itself an order of life different from itself. Here we come to the fact of spiritual Being as the basis and origin of the vast mechanism of nature; for mechanism never makes mind, but always proceeds from mind. And yet we do not say that ether is God, or that God is ether; but we say that it is essential to those functions which ether is credited with, that it shall be pervaded by that living and moving consciousness which demands the idea of God. We see, then, how science permits us, and indeed requires us, to believe that “things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”; and that the position to which faith leads us is borne out by the facts of science--that “the worlds were framed by the word of God.” “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is still, and ever will be, true for us; as also that “ He upholdeth all things by the word of His power.” His works rivet our gaze and excite our wonder; yet not they, but He is the object of our worship and our chief good. Before Him, higher than all creation, yet present in all, so that He is not far from any one of us--before Him we bow in deep adoration. (R. Vaughan, M. A.)

The mystery of creation revealed to faith

The word rendered “worlds” means “life,” then that through which life extends--“an age,” a cycle of ages, and next the stage on which life appears--“the world.” Of course the author of this Epistle was not thinking of the worlds which modern astronomy has discovered in the heavenly bodies, but of this world in its successive ages, and possibly of unseen worlds inhabited by spiritual intelligences. To “frame” means to found or create, as a city may be said to be created by its founder. “Things which do appear,” is the translation of a word which is naturalised in our own language as “phenomena.” We might, then, read the text thus: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were created by the word of God, so that that which is seen--the visible universe--did not originate from existing phenomena.” The present order of things--the configuration of rocks and hills, of rivers, seas, and plains--has been brought about by the altered disposition of previous land andwater; the vegetation which clothes the earth, and the living creatures which roam upon it or swarm in its waters, are all descended from former generations of vegetable and animal life--the whole of that which is now seen has sprung immediately from similar phenomena; but it has not always been so. The living “world we see around us was originally founded by the Word of God. This is one way of reading the text. Another is, to understand it as denying the eternity of matter, and affirming the creation of the world out of nothing. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” when there was nothing to make them with. “He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast.” But whether we understand the phrase, “things which do appear,” to stand for natural phenomena or for the material elements, the conclusion is the same, that the visible order of creation came into existence by the simple fiat of the Almighty. Our knowledge of such a fact may be a spiritual intuition or it may rest solely on the testimony of revelation. Either way, it is knowledge of a thing not seen and only perceived by faith. The origin of all we behold around and above us must ever be an undiscoverable secret to the researches of the astronomer, the geologist, and the chemist. For though science may some day learn to read the changeful history of our globe with tolerable accuracy, it can never extract from it the story of its birth. All it can do is to take things to pieces. But simply taking a watch to pieces will tell us nothing of the nature and origin of the metals and gems of which it is made; neither will anatomy discover the nature of life, nor chemical analysis explain the origin of the ultimate forms of matter. They are as inscrutable by such analysis as metals and gems are by the tools of the mechanic. Creation out of nothing is at once inexplicable and incomprehensible. No strictly creative act comes under our observation in any of the phenomena of nature. Philosophy, unaided by the higher teaching of faith, has always taken for granted the eternity of matter. It has uniformly declared that things which are seen were made of things which do appear. The first philosopher with whose speculations we are acquainted maintained that water was the origin of all things. The substitution of gases for water is the necessary result of modern chemistry; it does not make the speculation one whit the wiser, nor, again, the resolution of these gases into primordial atoms. The later speculation which ascribed the origin of all things to fire or heat is just as plausible and just as false. The authors of these theories, ancient or modern, were all on the wrong track. They were seeking in the paths of observation and inductive reasoning the answer to a question which is beyond their range. The only certain answer is that which faith may have guessed, and which revelation endorses. The most illiterate peasant who hears and ponders the declaration of God’s Word, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is as wise in this matter as the most learned scientist the world contains. Observe, how strictly practical revelation is. That which no science could discover, which only minds finely organised and deeply imbued with spiritual feeling could guess, but which still was necessary for men to know, that they might give to God the glory due to His name, it reveals; but what human intelligence and perseverance would be sure in time to discover, it leaves untouched. The Scripture account of creation is a retrospective prophecy, turning its gaze towards an unknown past instead of towards an unknown future. I regard the Mosaic narrative as a sublime poem on God’s creative work, as accurate in the letter of it as was consistent with its being intelligible to minds unacquainted with scientific discovery, and truer to the real moral significance of creation than any account which science has yet been able to render. But I am concerned to give this subject a more practical bearing. To doubt the opening words of Scripture, “In the beginning,” &c., is not your temptation; but it is your temptation, for it is every man’s, to feel and act as though the things that are seen were made of things which do appear. In one sense, indeed, they are, but in another and more important sense, they are not. In one sense, all you see has come from things like them whence you can trace their origin; and, whatever the forms of animate or inanimate objects around you, they all consist of materials which were in existence before them. Properly speaking, no new materials have been called into existence since God first weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance. The original atoms of our globe still exist. They are neither more nor fewer than in the first moment of creation. Ever entering into fresh combinations, they are either held in solution in the air and form the rainbow arch, or having fallen and mingled with the soil they appear in the lowly herb and spreading tree; thence they are assimilated to nourish or protect animal life, and are cast off again to pursue the same round of endless change. But the power which gives them substance and form, the force which imparts to light, heat, and electricity their characteristic energies, the plastic power which possesses plants and animals, so that they appropriate surrounding materials and mould them after their own form and structure--in short, the vital energy which fills all nature, is a thing unseen, by which all we behold is made and sustained in existence. By the Word of God the worlds were made, and by that Word they stand fast. Things seen are not made of things that appear, in anything more than the order of their appearance. They spring from the unseen creative energy of God, operating through those familiar methods which His wisdom has adopted. (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)

The work of creation:

I. WHAT SCRIPTURE IS TO BE ACTUALLY CONSIDERED AS TEACHING US RESPECTING THIS SUBJECT.

1. Let us set out by remarking that the object of this inspired account of the world’s framing or formation is not scientific, but religious. The Bible is meant for the instruction of those of every age, country, and class; it is not meant to teach only a few superior minds, but to afford spiritual food for the whole human race. It is meant to be a book of duty, not a system of natural philosophy.

2. It is also to be borne in mind that the sacred narrative of the creation is chiefly and prominently to be regarded as of a moral, spiritual, and prophetical kind. Man’s original relation to his Maker, as a responsible being, is directly taught; his restoration from moral chaos to spiritual beauty is figuratively represented; while, as a prophecy, it has an extent of meaning which will only be fully unfolded at a period yet future; perhaps that spoken of as “ the times of the restitution of all things.”

II. THE MANNER IN WHICH GOD’S WORK IN CREATION DISPLAYS AND CALLS UPON US TO CONSIDER HIS PERFECTIONS.

1. Creation exhibits to us God as supreme in power. When we reflect how much labour and difficulty generally accompany the forth-putting of human power, the idea of creative power becomes peculiarly impressive. Surely reverence and adoration should be prompted, together with humility and trust.

2. The work of creation also exhibits to us God as supreme in wisdom. Everywhere we trace the working of One who is “perfect in knowledge.” In even the smaller parts of the Creator’s workmanship we trace the operation of a wisdom, alike in larger and in smaller objects; in the star, and in the insect; in the elephant, and in the fly; in the mightiest of forest trees, and in the smallest tuft, or even blade of grass. There is nothing lost sight of; nothing has been imperfectly done; each thing answers a defined end. This wisdom of God shown in creation is assuredly not meant to be devoid of influence upon His rational, responsible creatures; it should teach submission on the part of man, and beget pious trust in his heart.

3. The work of creation likewise exhibits to us God as supreme in goodness. Most justly is the earth said to be “full of the goodness of the Lord”; inasmuch as throughout the system of things we behold what must, at the least, be pronounced, on the whole, to be fitted to promote the good of both rational and animated beings. There are what may seem to be defects; but the latter arise out of the infirmity, sinfulness, and dereliction of the creature. (A. R. Bonar.)

Faith revealing God as Creator

I. CONSIDER THE STATEMENT THAT IT IS ONLY THROUGH FAITH WE KNOW THAT THE WORLD WAS CREATED BY GOD.

1. Reason could not discover the Creator.

2. Scripture reveals the Creator.

3. Faith knows God as Creator by her simple dependence on

Scripture declaration.

II. CONSIDER THE PRACTICAL USES OF THIS TRUTH.

1. It teaches the nature of faith.

2. It teaches the character of God.

3. It teaches the consolation of the saints.

4. It teaches the condemnation of the impenitent. (C. New.)

Faith apprehending the mystery of creation

The province of faith is the unseen. The past and the future lie all out of sight, and are therefore its undisputed domain. The present is a mixed and compound thing--shared between faith and sight. The apostle takes his first example of faith from the past. Everything that we ourselves have not seen, though it be the most strongly attested of all facts is apprehended by us through faith alone. That which the senses cannot tell us can only be accepted on testimony. The facts of history come to us in books. In many cases there is a conflict of testimony, occasioning either a perpetual difference of opinion or an occasional reversal of opinion with regard to the events or the characters of a past nearer or more remote. Christian faith also rests upon testimony.

In this it is like all belief in things not seen. The difference lies in the source of the testimony. History is written and received on what professes to be human testimony. Christian faith believes itself to have the word of God Himself for its evidence and its authority. To ascertain this Divine testimony is an anxious and responsible task. First of all these disclosures for which faith is demanded, is that one of which the text speaks--the creation of the universe by the fiat of Almighty God. We have here--none can dispute it--a subject lying altogether in the province of faith. Either faith, or nothing, can apprehend this fact. Not only is it a thing out of sight, as all the past is; not only is it a thing belonging to the most remote past, inasmuch as it involves that fact which is the condition of all facts: more than this--it is that one fact of which by the nature of the case there can be no human testimony; the origination of the creature itself is the very subject of the revelation, and if it be true--in other words, if it have any witness--that truth must be one of God’s “mysteries,” that witness must be God alone. We will look for a moment into the particulars of the statement. “By faith.” It is by an exercise of that principle which has been called above the assurance of things unseen. “By faith we understand,” we apprehend, or grasp with the mind, that fact which follows. Here mind is set in motion by faith. And that as to a fact--a fact of the pre-Adamite past--a fact which may lie long millenniums before human existence--but a fact, of which the results and consequences still are and are mighty. What is this fact? “That the worlds have been framed,” settled, or fitted in order and coherence, “by a word of God.” The word here used for “the worlds” is very peculiar. It is that word which, properly meaning “ages” or “periods,” is applied to the material universe as an existence not in space only but in time--having a vast succession of ages and periods inside eternity, as well as a vast expansion of parts and substances inside immensity. The same word occurs in the first chapter--“By whom also He made the worlds.” Now the point of the statement lies in this--not that faith apprehends the existence of matter, or the order, the beauty, the variety, the adaptation of matter, or even the fact, taken by itself, of the non-eternity of matter: these things are not in the special province of faith; some of them are matters of sight, others are matters of theory; the action of faith is this--she grasps the revealed fact, that the material universe, seen to exist, surveyed by the senses in its manifoldness and its harmony, was originally framed “by a word of God.” Once more, the end and result of this “framing by a word.” “So that things which are seen”--or, according to the true reading, “the thing which is seen”--speaking of the whole sum of created being, the vast mass and aggregate of the material universe--“the thing which is seen hath not come into being out of things which appear.” The original of the universe was itself created. God Himself is the alone eternal, as He is the alone self-existent. The subject before us is deeply important, specially seasonable, and directly practical.

1. First of all, it is essential to the right posture of the creature towards the Creator.

2. Not only the posture of the soul, but the whole management of the life, depends upon this primary principle. A thousand motives of self-interest and of gratitude conspire to teach the duty of obedience. We disparage none of these--we want them all. But there is one groundwork of duty which lies at the root of all--and that is, the living vital apprehension of the relationship which cannot be modified of the creature to the Creator.

3. Finally, it is this faith in creation which furnishes the strongest presumption of the truth of redemption itself. He who thought it worth while, having a clear foresight of everything, to call into existence, out of nothing, a world that should be the theatre, and a creature that should be the agent, of sin, may be believed when He says (though we durst not have said it for Him) that He counts us worth redeeming--that He intends to restore to holiness and happiness lives and souls made originally in His image--nay, by a process most wonderful to beings nearest His throne, to introduce “a dispensation of the fulness of times,” in which to gather together all the scattered elements in Jesus Christ, and “in the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us” in the Son of His love. It is thus that faith in an unseen past allies itself with faith in an invisible future, and breathes forth in one petition the whole of its confidence and the whole of its hope--“I am Thine: oh save me!” (Dean Vaughan.)

Understanding God’s works:

This chapter teaches much by what it omits as well as by what it includes. There is no mention of Adam, or of Lot, or of faith during the forty years in the wilderness (see the gap between Hebrews 11:29-30). There are several most suggestive associations. Faith is associated with hope (Hebrews 11:1), with righteousness (Hebrews 11:4), with holiness (Hebrews 11:5), with diligence (Hebrews 11:7), with trial (Hebrews 11:17), and with conflict (Hebrews 11:32-37). The element of assured confidence runs right through the chapter. Abel “obtained witness”; Enoch received a “testimony”; Abraham “looked for a city,” and many of the patriarchs were “persuaded” (Greek, πειθω--the same word in Romans 8:38) that there was reality in God’s promises, and that they would be fulfilled. “The evidence” (R. V., “the proving”) “of things not seen.” Those who believe in God’s Word are not in doubt as to the existence of the things He has promised. His Word is proof positive of their reality, and if we believe that Word they become realities to us. We are just as sure of their existence as we should be if we could see them.

I. FAITH WELL GROUNDED. The Hebrews knew of but one ground of faith. It was their habit to ask, “What saith the Scriptures?” (John 7:42). The writer of this Epistle would know this, and when he spoke of faith he meant faith in the declarations of the Old Testament. This chapter from beginning to end takes us back to this Divine standard, and, without discussing the question, assumes, what every Jew would readily grant, that its statements are absolutely true. The faith of this chapter is therefore belief in the testimony of God.

II. FAITH ENLIGHTENING THE MIND. “Through faith we understand” (Greek, νόεω). Atheism is folly (Psalms 14:1). To be without faith in God’s Word is to be “void of understanding” respecting His works. The history of human philosophy consists largely of a series of records of the vain efforts of men to account for the universe apart from the true cause of its origin. The variety of opinions expressed by sceptics upon the subject of the origin of the world casts discredit upon the whole of these opinions, just as half a dozen discordant testimonies in defence of a prisoner would cast discredit upon the whole case for the defence. By the light of philosophy we guess, we speculate; but “by faith we understand.” Well, might the Psalmist say, “The entrance” (or opening)” “of Thy Word giveth Psalms 119:130). Faith sees a beginning of the universe (John 1:1). It sees “in the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1). It sees God as a Creator (“God created” Genesis 1:1). It sees Him as the author of order (“the worlds were framed”; Greek, καταρτίζω, to make thoroughly right or fit). It sees His continuous working (“the world”; Greek, αἰὼν--age. The birth of worlds was the birth of time, and therefore the history of worlds is fitly called that of the ages).

III. FAITH CONSONANT WITH REASON. The understanding approves what faith makes clear, just as the eye takes in the minute objects revealed by the microscope. It could not have seen those objects without the aid of the microscope, but, having seen them, it can admire them, and the mind, instructed by the eye, can realise and rejoice in the beauty and fitness of what is so revealed. There is much in what faith reveals that reason demands and requires. Reason tells us, for instance, that there can be no effect without a cause, and that no cause can give to an effect what it has not in itself. If we see personality in an effect, reason says there must have been personality in the cause. We see personality in man, and therefore we infer that the author of his being must have been a person. Faith satisfies this demand of reason by the revelation of a personal God. Reason connects order with the operations of mind. Type set up for the printing of a book must, it cannot but infer, have been set up by a person possessed of an amount of intelligence equal to the task. A thousand infidels could not convince a rational being that the setting up of the type was the result of chance, or that it could have been brought about in any way without the direction of a mind. Reason sees in nature the most absolute order, and it infers that if a mind is required to produce order in the setting up of the type, it is much more required in this vaster display of order which is apparent everywhere in the material universe. Faith endorses the wisdom of this inference as it gazes at nature in the light of revelation, and says with Milton:

“These are Thy glorious works,

Parent of good, Almighty!

Thine this universal frame.”

Faith speaks of God ordering things “according to the good pleasure of His Ephesians 1:5), and reason hears and is satisfied.

IV. FAITH ABOVE REASON. Reason has no opportunity of observing the process by which something is made out of nothing, and so it has made the rule, “Ex nihilo, nihilfit”--out of nothing nothing comes, Now in opposition to this axiom faith recognises God as a Creator. Faith sees more than reason does, as a man looking at the stars through a good telescope sees more than another who looks with his unaided sight. One sees farther than the other, but the view spread out before the one is not necessarily in conflict with that seen by the other.

V. FAITH REGARDING THE UNSEEN. He who believes in God as the framer of the universe believes in what he has not seen. He was not present at the time of the creation. (Note the question in Job 38:4.) He has not seen, and yet he believes. This is, however, what men are doing every day. A man takes a ticket on a steamer bound for New Zealand. He has never seen New Zealand, but he so thoroughly believes in its existence that he spends his money and enters upon a long voyage that he may get there. Sight doesn’t always secure certainty, and there may be the most absolute certainty without it. (H. Thorne.)

Faith’s attitude towards the creation:

I. IT IS A NECESSARY EXERCISE FOR THE CHILDREN OF GOD TO TURN THEIR MINDS TO THE CREATION.

1. It discovereth much of God.

2. It is a wonderful advantage to faith to give us hope and consolation in the greatest distresses.

3. It puts us in mind of our duty.

II. WE UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH AND WONDERS OF THE CREATION BY FAITH, AND NOT BY REASON.

1. There are three sorts of lights which God hath bestowed upon men: the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory. There is the daylight of glory, which is the sun when it arises in its strength and brightness; and there is the light of faith, which is like the moon, a light which shines in a dark place; then there is the weak and feeble ray of reason, which is like the light of the lesser stars. By the first light, we see God as He is in Himself; by the second, God as He hath discovered Himself in the Word: by the third, God as He is seen in the creature.

2. In this world reason had been enough, if man had continued in his innocency. His mind then was his only bible, and his heart his only law; but he tasted of the tree of knowledge and hereby he and we got nothing but ignorance. It is true, there are some relics of reason left for human uses, and to leave us without excuse (John 1:9). But now in matters of religion, we had need of external and foreign helps. Man left to himself would only grope after God.

3. The only remedy and cure for this is faith, and external revelation from God. The blindness of reason is cured by the Word; the pride of reason is cured by the grace of faith. Revelation supplies the defect of it; and faith takes down the pride of it, and captivates the thoughts into the obedience of the truths represented in the Word; so that reason now cannot be a judge; at best it is but a handmaid to faith.

4. The doctrine of the creation is a ,nixed principle; much of it is liable to reason, but most of it can only be discovered by faith. If by faith only we can understand the truth and wonders of the creation, then

Of the work of creation

I. WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY CREATION, or what it is to create.

1. It is not to be taken here in a large sense, as sometimes it is used in Scripture, for any production of things wherein second causes have their instrumentality, as Psalms 104:30.

2. We are to take it strictly for the production of things out of nothing, or the giving a being to things which had none before.

II. THAT THE WORLD WAS MADE, THAT IT HAD A BEGINNING AND WAS NOT ETERNAL. This the Scripture plainly testifies (Genesis 1:1). And this reason itself teacheth: for whatsoever is eternal, the being of it is necessary, and it is subject to no alterations. But we see this is not the case with the world; for it is daily undergoing alterations.

III. WHO MADE THE WORD AND GAVE IT A BEGINNING? That was God, and He only.

1. The world could not make itself; for this would imply a contradiction, namely, that the world was before it was: for the cause must always be before its effect.

2. The production of the world could not be by chance.

3. God created all things, the world, and all the creatures that belong to it. He attributes this work to Himself, as one of the peculiar glories of His Deity, exclusive of all the creatures (Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12; Isaiah 40:12-13).

None could make the word but God, because creation is a work of infinite power, and could not be produced by any finite cause: for the distance between being and not being is truly infinite, which could not be removed by any finite agent, or the activity of all finite agents united.

IV. WHAT GOD MADE. All things whatsoever, besides God, were created Revelation 4:11). The evil of sin is no positive being, it being but a defect or want, and therefore is not reckoned among the things which God made, but owed its existence to the will of fallen angels and men. Devils being angels, are God’s creatures; but God did not make them evil, or devils, but they made themselves so.

V. OF WHAT ALL THINGS WERE MADE. Of nothing; which does not denote any matter of which they were formed, but the term from which God brought them; when they had no being He gave them one (Col Romans 11:36).

VI. How ALL THINGS WERE MADE OF NOTHING. By the word of God’s power. It was the infinite power of God that gave them a being; which power was exerted in His Word, not a word properly spoken, but an act of His will commanding them to be (Genesis 1:3; Psalms 33:6; Psalms 33:9).

VII. IN WHAT SPACE OF TIME THE WORLD WAS CREATED.

VIII. FOR WHAT END GOD MADE ALL THINGS. It was for His own glory Proverbs 16:4; Romans 11:36). And there are these three attributes of God that especially shine forth in this work of creation, namely, His wisdom, power, and goodness.

IX. IN WHAT STATE WERE ALL THINGS MADE? I answer, They were all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The goodness of the creature consists in its fitness for the use for which it was made. In this respect everything answered exactly the end of its creation. Again, the goodness of things is their perfection; and so everything was made agreeable to the idea thereof that was formed in the Divine mind. There was not the least defect in the work; but everything was beautiful, as it was the effect of infinite wisdom as well as almighty power. Inferences:

1. God is a most glorious being, infinitely lovely and desirable, possessed of every perfection and excellency. Whatever excellency and beauty is in the creatures is all from Him, and sure it must be most excellent in the fountain.

2. God’s glory should be our chief end. And seeing whatever we have is from Him, it should be used and employed for Him: For “all things were created by Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).

3. God is our Sovereign Lord Proprietor, and may do in us, on us, anal by us, what He will (Romans 9:20-21).

4. We should use all the creatures we make use of with an eye to God, and due thankfulness to Him, the Giver; employing them in our service, soberly and wisely, considering they stand related to God as their Creator, and are the workmanship of His own hands.

5. There is no case so desperate, but faith may get sure footing with respect to it in the power and Word of God. Let the people of God be ever so low, they can never be lower than when they were not at all (Isaiah 65:18).

6. Give away yourselves to God through Jesus Christ, making a cheerful and entire dedication of your souls and bodies, and all that ye are and have, to Him as your God and Father, resolving to serve Him all the days of your life: that as He made you for His glory, you may in some measure answer the end of your creation, which is to show forth His praise. (T. Boston, D. D.)

The fact of creation an object of faith

Our object is to inquire what is implied in our really believing the fact of the creation. There is the widest difference between your believing certain truths as the results of reasoning or discovery, and your believing them on the mere assertion of a credible witness, whom you see and hear, especially if the witness be the very individual to whom the truths relate. The truths themselves may be identically the same. But how essentially different is the state of the mind, and how different the impression made on it!

I. WE MAY ILLUSTRATE THE DIFFERENCE BY A SIMPLE AND FAMILIAR EXAMPLE. Paley makes admirable use of an imaginary case respecting a watch. He supposes you to be previously unacquainted with such a work of art. You hold it in your hand; you begin to examine its structure, to raise questions in your own mind, and to form conjectures. How did it come there, and how were its parts so curiously put together? You at once conclude that it did not grow there, and that it could not be fashioned by chance. You feel assured that the watch had a maker. You gather much of his character from the obvious character of his handiwork. You search in that handiwork for traces of his mind, his heart. You speculate concerning his plans and purposes. But now, suppose that while you are thus engaged, with the watch in your hand, a living person suddenly appears before you, and announces himself, and says, It was I who made this watch--it was I who put it there. Is not your position instantly changed? Your position, in fact, is now precisely reversed. Instead of questioning the watch concerning its maker, you now question the maker concerning his watch. You hear not what the mechanism has to say of the mechanic, but what the mechanic has to say of the mechanism. You receive, perhaps, the same truths as before, but with a freshness and a force unknown before. They come to you, not circuitously and at second hand, they come straight from the very being most deeply concerned in them.

II. NOW, LET US APPLY THESE REMARKS TO THE MATTER IN HAND. YOU are all of you familiar with this idea, that, in contemplating the works of creation, you should ascend from nature to nature’s God. It is most pleasing and useful to cultivate such a habit as this. Much of natural religion depends upon it, and holy Scripture fully recognises its propriety. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament showeth his handicraft.” “All Thy works praise Thee, Lord God Almighty.” “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold, Who hath created these things.” “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.” It is apparent, however, even in these and similar passages, that created things are mentioned, not as arguments, but rather as illustrations; not as suggesting the idea of God, the Creator, but as unfolding and expanding the idea, otherwise obtained. And this is still more manifest in that passage of the Epistle to the Romans which particularly appeals to the fact of creation, as evidence of the Creator’s glory evidence sufficient to condemn the ungodly (Romans 1:20-21). So that the Scriptural method on this subject is exactly the reverse of what is called the natural. It is not to ascend from nature up to nature’s God, but to descend from God to God’s nature; not to hear the creation speaking of the Creator, but to hear the Creator speaking of the creation. We have not in the Bible an examination and enumeration of the wonders to be observed among the works of nature, and an argument founded upon these that there must be a God, and that He must be of a certain character and must have had certain views in making what He has made. God Himself appears and tells us authoritatively what He has done, and why He did it. Thus “ through faith we understand that the worlds were made by the Word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” We understand and believe this, not as a deduction of reasoning, but as a matter of fact, declared and revealed to us. For this is that act of the mind which, in a religious sense, is called faith.

III. But it may be said, ARE WE, THEN, NOT TO USE OUR REASON ON THIS SUBJECT AT ALL? That cannot be, for the apostle himself enjoins you, however in respect of meekness you are to be like children, still in understanding to be men. Certainly you do well to search out all those features in creation which reflect the glory of the Creator. Nay, you may begin in this way to know God. It is true, indeed, that God has never in fact left Himself to be thus discovered. He has always, as He did at first, revealed Himself, not circuitously by His works, but summarily and directly by His Word. We may suppose, however, that you are suffered to grope your way through creation to the Creator. In that case you proceed to reason out from the manifold proofs of design in nature’s works the idea of an intelligent Author, and to draw inferences from what you see respecting His character, purposes, and plans. Still, even in this method of discovering God, if your faith is to be of an influential kind at all, you must proceed, when you have made the discovery, just to reverse the process by which you made it; and having arrived at the conception of a Creator, you must now go back again to the creation, taking Him along with you, as one with whom you have personally become acquainted, and hearing what He has to say concerning His own works. He may say no more than what you had previously discovered. Still, what He does say, you now receive not as discovered by you, but as said by Him. You leave the post of discovery, the chair of reasoning, and take the lowly stool of the disciple; and then, and not before, even on the principles of natural religion, do you fully understand what is the real import, and the momentous bearing of the fact, that a Being, infinitely wise and powerful, and having evidently a certain character as just and good, that such a Being made you, and is Himself telling you that He made you, and all the things that are around you; “that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

IV. THUS, IN A RELIGIOUS VIEW, AND FOR RELIGIOUS PURPOSES, THE TRUTH CONCERNING GOD AS THE CREATOR MUST BE RECEIVED, NOT AS A

DISCOVERY OF YOUR OWN REASON, FOLLOWING A TRAIN OF THOUGHT, BUT AS A DIRECT COMMUNICATION FROM A REAL PERSON, EVEN FROM THE LIVING AND PRESENT GOD. This is not a merely artificial distinction. It is practically most important. Consider the subject of creation in the light simply of an argument of natural philosophy, and all is vague and dim abstraction. But consider the momentous fact in the light of a direct message from the Creator Himself to you. Are you not differently impressed and affected?

1. More particularly--see, first of all, what weight this single idea, once truly and vividly realised, must add to all the other communications which He makes on other subjects to you. Does He speak to you concerning other matters, intimately touching your present and future weal? Does He tell you of your condition in respect of Him, and of His purposes in respect of you? Does He enforce the majesty of His law? Does He press the overtures of His gospel? Oh! how in every such case is His appeal, in its solemnity, and its power, enhanced with tenfold intensity, if you regard Him as, in the very same breath, expressly telling you, I who now speak to you, so earnestly and so affectionately, I created all things--I created you.

2. Again, on the other hand, observe what weight this idea, if fully realised, must have, if you regard the Lord Himself as saying to you, in special reference to each of the things which He has made: I created it, and I am now testifying to you that I created it. What sacredness will this thought stamp on every object in nature, if only you are personally acquainted with the living God; and especially if you know Him as the Lawgiver, the Saviour, the Judge. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

That the world was framed in an accurate, orderly, and perfect manner

I. To ILLUSTRATE THIS BY SOME SIMILITUDES OUT OF SCRIPTURE.

1. The perfection and order of the world is compared to the body of a man (1 Corinthians 12:12).

2. It is compared to an host or army (Genesis 2:1).

3. It is compared to a curious house (Job 38:4-6).

II. WHEREIN THIS ORDER AND BEAUTY OF THE WORLD DOTH CONSIST.

1. In the wonderful multitude and variety of creatures, distributed into so many several excellent natures and forms, they all do proclaim the beauty and order of the whole world.

2. The beauty and artificial composition of all things.

3. The disposition and apt placing of all things.

4. The wonderful consent of all the parts, and the proportion they bear one to another.

5. The mutual ministry and help of the creatures one to another.

6. The wise government and conservation of all things according to the rules and laws of creation.

III. IF GOD MADE THE WORLD IN SUCH HARMONY AND ORDER, WHENCE CAME ALL THOSE DISORDERS THAT ARE IN THE WORLD? We see some creatures are ravenous; other creatures are poisonous; all are frail, and still decaying and hasting to their own ruin. Whence come murrains, sicknesses, and diseases? Whence come such dislocations, and unjointings of nature by tempests and earthquakes? All these confusions and disorders of nature are the effects of sin. Our sins are as a secret fire that hath melted and burnt asunder the secret ties and confederations of nature.

1. It discovers the glory of God. The whole world is but God’s shop, where are the masterpieces of His wisdom and majesty; these are seen very much in the order of causes, and admirable contrivance of the world.

2. It showeth us the excellency of order; how pleasing order and method is to God: God hath always delighted in it. All order is from God; but all discord and confusion is from the devil. Order is pleasing to Him in the state and civil administrations in the Church, and in the course of your private conversations.

3. It discovers the odiousness of sin that disjointed the frame of nature. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Faith realising the invisible Creator:

In that beautiful part of Germany which borders on the Rhine there is a noble castle which lifts its old grey towers above the ancient forest, where dwelt a nobleman who had a good and devoted son, his comfort and his pride. Once when the son was away from home, a Frenchman called, and, in course of conversation, spoke in such unbecoming terms of the great Father in heaven as to chill the old man’s blood. “Are you not afraid of offending God?” said the baron, “by speaking in this way.” The foreigner answered with cool indifference, that he knew nothing about God, for he had never seen Him. No notice was takes of this observation at the time; but the next morning the baron pointed out to the visitor a beautiful picture which hung on the wall, and said, “My son drew that!” “He must be a clever youth,” returned the Frenchman, blandly. Later in the day as the two gentlemen were walking in the garden, the baron showed his guests many rare plants and flowers, and, on being asked who had the management of the garden, the father said, with proud satisfaction, “My son; and he knows every plant almost, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop on the wall!” “Indeed!” observed the other. “I shall soon have a very exalted opinion of him.” The baron then took his visitor to the village and showed him a neat building which his son had fitted up for a school, where the children of the poor were daily instructed free of expense. “What a happy man you must be,” said the Frenchman, “to have such a son!” “How do you know I have a son? “asked the baron, with a grave face. “Why, because I have seen his works; I am sure he must be both clever and good, or he would not have done all you have shown me.” “But you have never seen him!” returned the baron. “No, but I already know him very well, because I can form a just estimate of him from his works.” “I am not surprised,” said the baron, in a quiet tone; “and now oblige me by coming to this window and tell me what you see from thence.” “Why, I see the sun travelling through the skies and shedding its glories over one of the greatest countries in the world; and I behold a mighty river at my feet, and a vast range of woods, and pastures, and orchards, and vineyards, and cattle and sheep feeding in rich fields.” “Do you see anything to be admired in all this?” asked the baron. “Can you fancy I am blind?” retorted the Frenchman, “Well, then, if you are able to judge of my son’s good character by seeing his various works, how does it happen you can form no estimate of God’s goodness by witnessing such proofs of His handiwork?”


Verse 4

Hebrews 11:4

By faith Abel offered

External worship rendered by two kinds of men

I.
CARNAL MEN MAY JOIN WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD IN EXTERNAL DUTIES OF WORSHIP.

1. Natural conscience will put men upon worship.

2. Custom will direct to the worship then in use and fashion.

3. Carnal impulses will add force and vigour to the performances.

1. It serves to inform us that the bare performance of the duties of religion is no gracious evidence. Cain may sacrifice as well as Abel. A Christian is rather tried by his graces than by his duties; and yet this is the usual fallacy that we put upon our own consciences. Use

2. If it be so, that carnal men may join with the people of God in duties of worship, here is direction: in all your duties put your hearts to this question, Wherein do I excel a hypocrite? So far a natural man may go. As Christ said (Matthew 5:47).

II. THAT THERE IS A SENSIBLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE GODLY AND THE WICKED IN THEIR SEVERAL DUTIES AND PERFORMANCES.

1. Why is it so?

2. Wherein lies the difference between the worship of the godly and the worship of carnal men that live in the Church. I answer, In three things mainly--in the principle, in the manner, and in the end.

(a) A general end, and that is twofold; to glorify God and to enjoy God; the one is the work of duty, and the other is the reward of duty. Now carnal men are content with the duty instead of God and satisfy themselves with the work wrought, though there be no intercourse between God and their souls. Therefore a godly man looks at this, what of God he hath found. You must not be content with the duty instead of God.

(b) There is a peculiar aim, and that is always suited to the particular part of worship, and that is a right intention.

III. THIS SENSIBLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE DUTIES OF THE GODLY AND THE WICKED IS OCCASIONED BY THE INFLUENCE AND EFFICACY OF FAITH. Here I shall state

1. There was a faith of his being accepted with God when his service was suited to the institution. Such a promise was intimated to them, as appears by God’s expostulation with Cain (Genesis 4:7).

2. It was a faith in the general rewards and recompenses of religion. Abel looked to the good things to come, and so his hopes had an influence upon his practice: Cain’s heart was altogether chained to earthly things, therefore he looks upon that as lost which was spent in sacrifice.

3. It was a faith in the Messiah to come.

For the reasons of the point, Why faith makes this difference between worship and worship, that it makes the duties and worship of believers to be so different from that of carnal men?

1. I answer, because it discerneth by a clearer light and apprehension. Faith is the eye of the soul. A beast liveth by sense, a man by reason, and a Christian by faith.

2. Faith receives a mighty aid and supply from the Spirit of God. Faith plants the soul into Christ, and so receives influence from Him; it is the great band of union between us and Christ, and the hand whereby we receive all the supplies of Jesus Christ. Christ lives in us by His Spirit, and we live in Him by faith.

3. As it receives a mighty aid, so it works by a forcible principle, and that is by love; for “Faith works by love” (Galatians 5:6). We live by faith, and we work by love. Where faith is, there is love; and where love is, there is work. Affection follows persuasion, and operation follows affection.

4. It discourseth and pleads with the soul with strong reasons and enforcements. Faith is a notable orator to plead for God; it pleads partly from the mercies, and partly from the promises of God. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Abel’s offering

I. THE NATURE OF ABEL’S OFFERING.

II. THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH HE WAS ACTUATED IN PRESENTING IT.

III. THE TOKEN OF THE ACCEPTANCE OF ABEL’S SACRIFICE. Learn:

1. The value of religious observances.

2. In order to be accepted, our observances must proceed from right views.

3. It is not on the footing of innocence we are accepted, but of expiation.

4. Your services are not less acceptable because there may be others who engage in the same acts of worship whose character is such as God cannot approve.

5. However holy your character may be, it is hereafter, not here, that you are to look for your reward. (R. Brodie, M. A.)

Abel; or, man’s religion

I. THE RELIGION OF MAN HAS TO DO WITH SACRIFICE.

II. THE RELIGION OF MAN IS VALUABLE ONLY AS IT IS BASED ON EVANGELICAL FAITH.

III. THE RELIGION OF MAN HAS EVER BEEN OF IMMENSE WORTH. Paul speaks of faith as doing three things.

1. Giving Divine acceptableness to existence.

2. Giving moral righteousness to existence.

3. Giving an honourable and lasting significance to existence. (Homilist.)

The voice of Abel

I. ABEL’S FAITH SPEAKS. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Homage to the all-wise Creator, gratitude to the all-bountiful Benefactor, submission to the all-powerful Ruler, sacrifice to the all-loving Father, are not enough. The first and indispensable element in all acceptable service is faith in the Redeemer, and implicit confidence in “Him who justifies the ungodly.”

II. ABEL’S OFFERING TESTIFIES: “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). It was an embodiment of the truths which were afterwards more fully developed in the sacrificial system of the Mosaic economy, and which are now revealed in the gospel in all their clearness, simplicity, and fulness. Not that Abel understood them in all the height and depth, length and breadth of their spiritual significance. Abel looked upon the bud: we behold the flower. Christ having come, and having offered up Himself as a sacrifice for human sin, “a lamb without spot and blemish,” a light is reflected back upon all the sacrificial offerings of ancient days, which enables us to see that one grand truth was prefigured by them all, and that one solemn voice was uttered by them all. “‘Without shedding,” &c.

III. ABEL’S ACCEPTANCE HAS A VOICE: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted unto righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The important point is, that God gave him evidence of his acceptance in response to his faith. And what was this but another version of the great gospel doctrine that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” yet not by a faith which is unaccompanied by works, but by a faith which reveals itself through works? Abel believed God’s promise, and complied with God’s prescription as to offering a bleeding sacrifice; and Abel’s faith was counted unto him for righteousness: that is, God, in justifying Abel, had regard to faith.

IV. ABEL’S DEATH CRIES: “They who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). The account of Abel’s untimely end is simply given (Genesis 4:8). It was an early and a bitter fruit of sin, a ghastly revelation, and a woeful foretaste of the promised enmity between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s. A decisive indication that these two seeds were to be found in two different sections of the human family. That fratricide was the first blow in the world-wide and time-long conflict that had already been predicted. The culmination of the battle was when Christ despoiled the principalities and powers of evil by His cross. Yet the enmity is not ended. In consequence of Christ’s death the victory of the seed of the woman is secure; but till the final triumph comes, they must suffer persecution. Just because they are the woman’s seed and Christ’s seed, the thing is inevitable.

V. ABEL’S GRAVE SHOUTS: “The Lord will avenge the blood of His servants” (Deuteronomy 32:43). God regards the saints as His peculiar possession, as the work of His hands. Christ esteems His people, not simply as His servants, disciples, followers, friends, but as members of His body, linked to His heart by the most tender ties of sympathy. Hence He watches over them with jealous care, protects them when in danger, feels for them and with them when they suffer, and avenges them when they are wronged. Sometimes in His wise but mysterious Providence He may suffer their liberties to be destroyed and their lives to be spilt; but “Vengeance is mine; I will repay!” saith the Lord. Witness Cain, Pharaoh, Ahab, Jezebel, Haman, Belshazzar, Herod, Nero, and others.

VI. ABEL’S MEMORY ECHOES: “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance” (Psalms 112:6). For sixty centuries at least the name of Abel has been enshrined in affectionate remembrance, not for great deeds done, but for simple faith cherished, and for bitter suffering endured. Worth observing that being and suffering are sometimes as sure passports to renown as doing. Not the great actors on time’s stage alone have their names transmitted to posterity, but the great sufferers as well. Not those alone who have lived brilliantly, but those also who have walked humbly. And this perhaps is right, for after all it may be questioned if to believe strongly, to live humbly, and to suffer patiently are not greater achievements than to act largely and to speak loudly. (Thomas Whitelaw, M. A.)

Accepted of God

I. EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE IN SUFFERING SHALL ADD TO THE GLORY OF THE SUFFERER and those who suffer here for Christ without witness, as many have done to death in prisons and dungeons, have yet an all-seeing witness to give them testimony in due season. “The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance”; and nothing that is done or suffered for God shall be lost for ever.

II. WE ARE TO SERVE GOD WITH THE BEST THAT WE HAVE, the best that is in our power, with the best of our spiritual abilities; which God afterwards fully confirmed.

III. God gives no consequential approbation of any duties of believers, BUT WHERE THE PRINCIPLE OF A LIVING FAITH GOES PREVIOUSLY IN THEIR PERFORMANCE.

IV. OUR PERSONS MUST BE FIRST JUSTIFIED, BEFORE OUR WORKS OF OBEDIENCE CAN BE ACCEPTED WITH GOD for by that acceptance He testifies that we are righteous.

V. THAT THOSE WHOM GOD APPROVES MUST EXPECT THAT THE WORLD WILL DISAPPROVE THEM, and ruin them if it can.

VI. Where there is a difference within, in the hearts of men, on the account of faith and the want of it, THERE WILL FOR THE MOST PART BE UNAVOIDABLE DIFFERENCES ABOUT OUTWARD WORSHIP. SO there hath been always between the true Church and false worshippers.

VII. GOD’S APPROBATION IS AN ABUNDANT RECOMPENSE FOR THE LOSS OF OUR LIVES.

VIII. THERE IS A VOICE IN ALL INNOCENT BLOOD SHED BY VIOLENCE.

Abel’s offering

I. ABEL’S OFFERING HAD REFERENCE TO A DIVINE COMMAND AND PROMISE. Abel acknowledged his sin, and believed what God had said in reference to pardon, hence his sacrifice was one of faith.

II. THE COMPARATIVE WORTH OF ABEL’S OFFERING. By faith he offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. The meaning is that it was a fuller sacrifice, it embraced more, it meant more than that presented by Cain. “Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof.” The latter phrase evidently indicates that the life was taken before the sacrifice was offered. Hereby was admitted

1. The deadly nature of sin. Sin leads to destruction. The fact of atonement being necessary proves the enormity of sin.

2. The hope of pardon. To Abel it became apparent that there was a way by which man could rise, a plan by which he could become reconciled to God.

III. THE ASSURANCE OF ACCEPTANCE ABEL RECEIVED. “He obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.” This assurance would probably be twofold, the outward and the visible, and the inward and spiritual. The witness from without would be given by fire descending and consuming the sacrifice. But there was also the inward testimony Abel receives. He obtained witness that he was righteous. His sins were blotted out, he was at peace with God, and the Spirit of God was his witness that he was accepted. He was made a partaker of the righteousness, which is by faith.

IV. ABEL, BECAUSE OF HIS FAITH AND SERVICE, IS YET SPOKEN OF. “He being dead, yet speaketh.” (Richard Nicholls.)

Abel’s sacrifice

I. WHAT WAS THE SPECIAL OCCASION OF THIS SACRIFICE? That may be gathered out of the phrase used (Genesis 4:3). God taught Adam by revelation, and he his son by instruction, that men should at the year’s end, in a solemn manner, sacrifice with thanks to God, when they had gathered in the fruits of the earth. This tradition was afterwards made a written law Exodus 22:29). These solemn sacrifices at the end of days had a double use.

1. To be a figure of the expiation promised to Adam in Christ.

2. To be a solemn acknowledgment of their homage and thankfulness to God.

1. The general use of these sacrifices was to remember the seed of the woman, or Messiah to come, as the solemn propitiatory sacrifice of the Church. And indeed there was a notable resemblance between those offerings and Jesus Christ: Abel offered a lamb; and Christ is the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). And because of these early sacrifices, therefore is that expression used (Revelation 13:8). And He also is the first-fruits (Psalms 89:27). Though God had other children by creation besides Christ, yet He is the first-born. What shall we gather from hence? That in all our addresses to God we must solemnly remember and honour Christ. We must do duties to God, so as we may honour Christ in them. It may be you will ask, How do we honour Christ in doing of duties?

2. The special use of this worship was to profess their homage and their thankfulness to God. They were to come as God’s tenants, and pay Him their rent. Therefore God puts words into the Israelites’ mouths Deuteronomy 26:10). The note from hence is--That in the times of our increase and plenty we must solemnly acknowledge God. The best way to secure the farm, and keep it in our possession, is to acknowledge the great Landlord of the whole world--Lord, I have been a poor creature, and Thou hast blest me wonderfully. There is a rent of praise and a thank-offering due to God.

II. The second question is, WHAT WAS THE WARRANT OF THIS WORSHIP? Was it devised according to their own will, or was it commanded by God? The reason of the inquiry is because some say that before the law the patriarchs did, without any command, out of their private good intention, offer sacrifice to God; and they prove it, because the Gentiles that were not acquainted with the institutions of the Church used the same way of worship. But this opinion seemeth little probable

1. Because this is above the light of corrupt nature to prescribe an acceptable worship to God.

2. It was by some appointment; for no worship is acceptable to Him but that which is of His appointment.

3. There could have been else no faith nor obedience in it, if the institution had been wholly human; there is no faith without some promise of Divine grace, no obedience without some command.

4. The wonderful agreement that is between this first act of solemn worship and the solemn constitutions of the Jewish Church doth wonderfully evince that there was some rule and Divine institution according to which this worship was to be regulated, which, probably, God revealed to Adam, and He taught it, as He did other parts of religion, to His children: therefore it was done by virtue of an institution. Abel looked to the command of God, and promise of God, that so he might do it in faith and obedience.

The note from this--That whatever is done in worship must be done out of conscience, and with respect to the institution. But you will say, What is it to do a thing by virtue of an institution? For answer

1. I shall show you what an institution is. Every word of institution consists of two parts--the word of command, and the word of promise.

2. What is it to do a duty in respect to the institution? I answer, it is to do it in faith and obedience: faith respects the word of promise, obedience the word of command. But now how shall I know when I do duty in faith and obedience?

I answer

1. You come in obedience when the command is the main motive and reason upon your spirit to put you upon the duty. It is enough to a Christian to say, “This is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

2. Would you know when you come in faith? when you look to the word of promise? You may know that by the earnest expectation and considerateness of the soul.

III. The third question is, WHEREIN LIES THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO SACRIFICES?

1. In the faith of Abel. Abel’s principle was faith, Cain’s distrust.

2. In the willing mind of Abel. Cain looked upon his sacrifice as a task rather than a duty; his fruits were brought to God as a fine rather than an offering, as if an act of worship had been an act of penance, and religion was his punishment.

3. In the matter offered. It is said of Cain’s offering (Genesis 4:3), “That he brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.” The

Holy Ghost purposely omits the description of the offering. Being hastily taken, and unthankfully brought, it is mentioned without any additional expression to set off the worth of them; it should have been the first and the fairest. But for Abel, see how distinct the Spirit of God is in setting forth his offering (verse 4); not only the firstlings, that the rest might be sanctified, but he brought the best, the chiefest, the fattest. All these were afterwards appropriated to God (Leviticus 3:16-17).

Now observe from hence--That when we serve God, we must serve Him faithfully, with our best.

1. God must have the best of our time. Consider, we can afford many sacrilegious hours to our lusts, and can scarce afford God a little time without grudging. Is not there too much of Cain’s spirit in this?

2. With your best parts. You come to worship God not only with your bodies, but your souls, with the refined strength of your reason and thoughts (Psalms 108:1). (T. Manton, D. D.)

Abel:

The text carries us back to the world’s youngest days, and it introduces us to the world’s earliest brothers, the children of the first man. But how different the after history of the brothers who were thus named! Cain, the fondly imagined destroyer of the serpent, growing up into his slave; Abel, the first to experience death, and the first to triumph over it by a power that was mightier than his own. Cain, the first rebel--Abel, the first pardoned sinner; the one Divinely branded as “that wicked one who slew his brother,” the other bearing his appropriate and lasting surname of “righteous Abel.”

I. FIRST, HE IS BROUGHT BEFORE US AS OFFERING AN ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE. Perhaps the main difference will be found in the fact that Cain’s was a eucharistic, Abel’s an expiatory sacrifice. In the one there was a recognition, in the other there was a refusal of the ordinance of God, that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin. Moreover, the apostle declares that the sacrifice of Abel was offered in faith. Now, faith must have respect to some revelation that has been previously given, as well as to some other blessing which the future will reveal. Some have wondered sometimes why, if sacrifice were of Divine origin, there should be no express enactment on record. But even if there be no record of it, it would be rash to conclude that there was therefore no revelation. There lurks in this supposition the fallacy of believing that the book of Genesis bore to the Jewish the same relation which the book of Leviticus bore to the Mosaic dispensation--that it was written not by the historian but by the law-giver. But we cannot imagine that the patriarchs knew no more of truth than is recorded in the historian’s narrative. Indeed, we know they did; for Abrabam had revelations of a future state, and Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, as we learn from the New Testament, concerning the coming of the Lord in judgment. Neither of these things is recorded in the book of Genesis. Whatever this promise is, it is a promise of spiritual blessing. You look into it further, and you discover that there is in it a promise of a Redeemer--a promise of a Redeemer of superior nature to the destroyer, and yet to be of the seed of the woman. You look further into the promise, and find that He is to be bruised. If His essential power is greater than the power of His adversary, then any suffering that comes upon Him must be endured by His own consent. If it be voluntary, then this leads you to another step in the argument--it must be vicarious; it must be undertaken for some one else; undertaken as a substitute for some one whom He has voluntarily pledged Himself to redeem. Then here comes the great idea of satisfaction--suffering endured by a Saviour in the room and in the stead of another. But if vicarious, you go further still. In such a Being--in a Being of such acknowledged power, it must be available; it must be efficacious for the destruction of the evils that were introduced by the adversary. Now, if you will just think of this argument, I fancy you will find that it will hold, and that it is not improbable that, in the absence of direct revelation our first parents discovered in the earliest promise the Divine nature of the Redeemer, the mystery of His incarnate life, and outlines of that grand and wonderful scheme of redemption by which He offered Himself, the Just, or the unjust, that He might bring us to God. Here, then, is the foundation of the rite of sacrifice; and you cannot wonder that the faith of Abel, resting upon the scheme of mediation, should find visible expression, analogous to the way in which the offering was to be wrought out, by the offering of the firstling upon the altar, nor that God attesting that sacrifice, and honouring the spirit which prompted it, should have accepted it in the consuming fire.

II. We find, in the second place, THE RESULTS OF THIS FAITH--THAT GOD GAVE HIM A TESTIMONY. He received a Divine testimony: “by it he obtained witness that he was righteous--God testifying of his gifts.” God is said to have testified to the acceptance of his offering, and to have witnessed to his own personal acceptance as well. The manner of this testimony is not distinctly stated, but the analogy would be that it was given by fire. God testified to his gifts and to his faith. God testified to his gifts; and those gifts were the gifts of blood. He was the first saved sinner, and he stands typal and exemplary of all the rest. God set His seal thus early upon the one method of reconciliation that all the ages might learn the lesson. Human nature, if it would be accepted in heaven, must not come and stand in its erectness, as if it had never sinned; it must be contrite in its trust; it must be firm in its reliance upon the sacrifice which has purged its sin away. Here is salvation costlier than human price can buy; here is salvation fuller than imagination can conceive; here is salvation lasting through all the ages of eternity; and it is offered--offered upon understood and easy terms. Here is a Redeemer gifted with every qualification, and infinite in His willinghood of love. And this Redeemer wills to save you; He has paid the price; He does not want any paltry price of yours.

III. Abel is presented in the text as EXERTING AN UNDYING INFLUENCE. “By it he being dead yet speaketh.” He is brought before us as an historical exemplification of the power of faith. He has gained by it an undying memory; he is thrown by it among the moral heroes of the olden times. There issues from him, because of it, an influence which spreads and grows for ages. He teaches to after generations many great lessons; he teaches the lesson of contrition, and of gratitude, and of humble hope, and of far-sighted reliance which fastens its gaze upon the Cross, and stays its spirit there! (W. M. Putxshort.)

Abel:

The great lesson we learn is this: there is one appointed way of approaching God, and only one; no other way devised by human cunning or human invention can or will bring us to God; and faith is the principle by which we do thus approach God. There are two classes which this speaks to

1. Those who are convinced of the right way to heaven, and willing to walk in it.

2. Those who are wholly mistaken as to the way of salvation. Of the latter first. There is an inclination in man to strike out a way of his own, and that, usually, exactly contrary to God’s appointed way to final happiness.

Thus here is God the Creator appointing a way for man to walk in, and man refusing to walk therein is therefore lost. The common occasion on which men will choose their own way is in the means of salvation being by Christ, in the necessity of the aid of the Spirit, in the necessity of showing forth that work of the Spirit by holy living; very often such men begin their whole scheme of contradiction by denying the doctrine of original sin. By this means men try to make their way to heaven, What in these particulars is God’s appointed way?

1. Man says he is not a sinner by birth and practice, root and branch a sinner, but he is only very weak, very various, some better than others, and so forth. God says, “There is none that doeth good; no, not one.”

2. Or again, some say, Your amiability and morality are so great you need not think of any means of salvation; you may deserve heaven by the beauty of your own character or the force of your own works.

3. Again, some men talk of their own unaided strength helping them to perform good works.

4. And again; some men tell us there is no need of good works at all, but that a man may live in the constant habit of sin, and yet please God, and consider himself a servant of God; what says the Word of God? “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” “We are His workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

Thus, then, man’s way in the world greatly differs from God’s way of salvation. But again, the example of Abel speaks to Christians too. Do I speak to some such now--men who will not accept the means which God has appointed to bring them near to Himself? who wish to belong to Him, and try to be reconciled, and believe Christ only can do it, and yet will not go to the means ordered by God, but strike out ways of their own, and then wonder why they do not gain their end?

1. There are some such who will not receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, choosing to expect a fitness which the Bible does not speak of: and thus, though Christ has appointed this way of approaching Him, they persist in refusing to walk in it. How is it you dare thus to trifle with God? How can you hope to be better or happier while, like Cain, you will come to God in your own devised manner, however well arranged, and not in His revealed, appointed method of approach?

2. Or again; some men will not pray; they think hearing is enough, or knowing is enough, or feeling is enough, or thinking is enough. They will not pray, while prayer is the very life of the soul.

3. Or again; some men will not read the Bible; the call of business or domestic life is the excuse they plead against ever reading the Word of God; and yet we are told to “search the Scriptures.”

4. Again; some men will not come to church, thinking they can serve God as well at home, not seeing how it can matter, if they pray at home, whether they pray there or at church; not seeing that the whole consists in one being God’s appointed means, the other not. Thus do men, good on the whole, sin as Cain, by choosing their own ways, in certain particulars, to approach God, and despising and neglecting others. Remember, it is by faith you will follow Abel. Use God’s appointed means--faith. (E. Monro.)

Abel

I. ABEL AT THE ALTAR.

1. The principle of the offerer--“Faith.”

2. The material of the offering--“A more excellent sacrifice.”

(a) The privileges of both were the same.

(b) The mother esteemed Cain, but ignored Abel.

(c) Revelation was very meagre.

(d) The bad example of a constant associate. Wickedness is contagious. The religion of Abel was sin-proof. The Divine in him was mightier than the satanic in his brother.

II. ABEL THE RECIPIENT OF A DIVINE TESTIMONIAL. Previously we saw Abel giving to God; here we see him receiving from God. Those who give also get (John 1:12).

1. The testimonial. “Righteous”--justified--absolved from all wrong--accepted as one right in all his relationships--with conscience, the world, death, judgment, God.

2. The testifier, “God.” The authority is the highest and the truest. The keys of destiny hang at His girdle. His smile is heaven.

III. ABEL THE PROCLAIMER OF DIVINE TRUTH. “Being dead, yet speaketh.” Most men speak before death; many speak when dying; but Abel speaks after death. There is a peculiarity in the influence of Abel. He teaches

1. That fallen man may again approach God.

2. That worship must be through the medium of sacrifice.

3. That acceptance with God is the highest favour.

4. That a godly life is immortal in its influence. (B. D. Johns.)

Faith the secret of accepted worship:

Faith is spiritual sight. It is the apprehension of the unseen. It is the realisation of the Invisible. “By faith,” by an exercise of that soul’s sight which faith is, “Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” The Searcher of hearts saw in Abel, saw not in Cain, that sight of the Invisible which is the condition of worship. The difference lay not in the form of the offering, but in the spirit of the offerer. In vain we obtrude our poor human assistance for the discrimination of the two sacrifices. God required no outward sign, no visible or tangible material, to inform or to guide His judgment. His eye could pierce, at once and by intuition, to the discerning of soul and spirit. And here we read what He judged by--not the substance of the sacrifice, but the heart’s heart of the worshipper. “By faith”--by that soul’s sight of which the Omniscient alone can take knowledge--“Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” “By which” sacrifice--or, “by which “faith--for the relative is ambiguous in the Greek--“he obtained witness that he was righteous”--“he was attested as righteous”--the testimony of God, in Holy Scripture, was borne to him as being righteous--“God testifying of his gifts.” It was not the sacrifice which made him “righteous”--it was the “righteousness” which offered, and which consecrated the offering. “He was attested as righteous, God testifying of His gifts.” We know not how, by what visible or invisible token, the acceptance, the “ respect,” was evidenced to the one offerer, and its absence indicated to the other. The reference of the text is to the record in Scripture. “And by it he being dead yet speaketh.” The same ambiguity rests upon “by it” as upon “by which” above. “By the sacrifice”? or, “by the faith”? By the sacrifice offered in faith? or, by the faith in which the sacrifice was offered? It is a distinction without a difference as regards the doctrine. We have three lessons to learn.

1. “By faith Abel offered.” Faith has a province in the present. The past belongs wholly to her--the future belongs wholly to her--the present belongs to her in part. There are things present of which sight and sense can take notice. But the spiritual, the heavenly, the Divine, is ever present--and of this the senses tell nothing. There are two kinds of worship, asthere are two characters and classes of worshippers. There are those who come to worship with “earthly, sensual, diabolical “ minds. There are those who bring something in their hands--it may be a few herbs or flowers, it may be a sheaf of corn or a bag of money, it may be the bread and wine of a Sacrament, it may be the bended knee or the uttered liturgy of a Church calling itself Reformed, calling itself Evangelical--and who yet never “stir up themselves to lay hold of” the Invisible and the Eternal--come together with earthward eyes and earth-bound souls--do not speak one word to God Himself as Spirit and Life and Love--do not breathe really into His ear one syllable of deep heartfelt confession, praise, or prayer--go as they came, self-satisfied or else murmuring, earth-filled or else empty, giddy and trifling or else disconsolate--at all events, without that faith which is the realisation of God Himself--and therefore to them and to their offering He has not, cannot have, respect.

2. “God testifying of His gifts.” There is a worship to which God “has respect.” That worship varies in shape and form. Once it was embodied in ritual. A service of rule and ceremony, of incense and vestment, of gift and sacrifice. Now it is a service of greater simplicity--of words read from a book, of Psalms recited or chanted, of hymns sung and accompanied, of instruction and exhortation spoken and listened to. Yet the idea of worship is one and the same. Six thousand years ago Abel worshipped: we worship to-day. The idea, as the object, of worship, is unchanged. If it is effectual, if it is successful, God “testifies” of it still. Generally, in His Word--assuring us of its acceptance if it be this and this. Personally, in the soul--giving an answer of peace--calming, satisfying, strengthening, comforting, according to the need of each one.

3. Finally, “he being dead yet speaketh.” The immortality of faith is a voice also. Abel speaks still. He, you will say, has a place in the Bible--and the text is of course exceptionally true of Scripture saints. Those to whom God hath borne witness in that Book which hath immortality, of course share the immortality of the Book and of its Author. It is true even of the wicked--even of the bad immortality which a place in the Bible gives if it givenot the good. It is true of the Cains as well as the Abels--of the Ahabs as of the Elijahs--of the Gallios and the Demases as much as of St. Luke and of St. Paul. But we speak now of the undying voices of the faithful. Is it not true of them that they almost gain in audibility by distance? When did Paul himself ever speak as he spoke in the great Reformation, fifteen hundred years after he fell on sleep, quickening Luther and Calvin, quickening Germany and England, with that life which has carried mind and might with it across two hemispheres? Nor is it only of inspired men, or of Bible characters, that the words of the text are true. “Being dead he yet speaketh” has an application, not to heroes of faith alone, but to very common inmates of very obscure homes. This will be in exact proportion as they have been enabled to live and to die in the light of a Divine revelation which is no respecter of persons. It is not only where biographies have kept alive the memory, and made the example of some Brainerd or Swarz, some Martyn or Patteson, vocal for ever to Christian homes and Christian Churches. (Dean Vaughan.)

The sacrifices of Cain and Abel:

Both these sacrifices were in themselves acceptable to God, for under the Levitical institutions, wheat and barley were offered by the Divine command, as well as lambs, and bullocks, and goats. But the” faith” of Abel made his sacrifice” more excellent” than that of Cain; and “by his faith,” not by his sacrifice, “he obtained witness that he was righteous God” in some way, “bearing testimony” to him when he was presenting” his gifts.” (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Abel’s faith

God is not taken with the cabinet, but with the jewel; He first respected Abel’s faith and sincerity, and then his sacrifice; He disrespected Cain’s infidelity and hypocrisy, and then his offering. (S. Charnock.)

He being dead, yet speaketh

Posthumous influence

1. It is a natural desire of the human heart to prolong its relations to the world after death. All expect to die, but no one desires to be forgotten. We want to get the better of death.

2. This is, in one sense, a strange desire. Can we not trust our fellows without stretching out one dead hand from the grave to guide? Would it not be better to be forgotten? Still, we do not love to think of sundering wholly our relations with this world.

3. The desire for posthumous influence is an instinct implanted by God, a sign of the grandeur of the human soul, and suggestive of its destiny.

4. This desire of posthumous influence can be realised in three ways.

5. The influence that lives after us is not always what we intended it should be. In a moment of forgetfulness or passion we may speak that which will be remembered when all the good words we have uttered are forgotten.

Lessons:

1. We infer from these solemn facts the immense extension of responsibility. “Plant a tree, Jamie,” said Sir Walter Scott, “it will be growing while you are sleeping.” So with our acts.

2. Those who have left us are still with us by their posthumous influence.

3. Remember that this continued activity of the dead is not the whole of the idea of a future life. We have a grander goal. There is another shore beyond the blue horizon, which the ship will surely reach; another nest to which we fly, where our ears again shall be gladdened by songs from those we have known, and by those whom, not having known, we influence. Those whom God has taken, who were, still are. (E. B. Coe, D. D.)

The teaching of the dead

I. THAT ALL THOSE PROJECTS AND ANTICIPATIONS, THOSE PURSUITS AND ENJOYMENTS, WHICH HAVE NOT A REFERENCE TO OUR ETERNAL STATE, ARE

VAIN, FOOLISH, AND DELUSIVE. Ambitious men! some of these dead cry to you,--I have been surrounded by that glory which dazzles you; I have possessed those dignities for which you are struggling; I have been eulogised and applauded by men: but whither have all my honours conducted me? To the tomb! Whither will yours conduct you? To the tomb!” Covetous men! listen to what some of these dead cry to you: “I have accumulated riches; I have acquired revenues almost exhaustless. But of them all, what have I carried with me to the grave? A coffin and a shroud! What will you carry with you of the riches that you are amassing? A coffin and a shroud!” Sensualists! listen to what some of these dead cry to you: “I have indulged myself in every pleasure; I have refused nothing to my senses; I have rioted in sensual joys. But where did these joys terminate? In the tomb, in remorse, in perdition! What you are, I have been; what I am, you will shortly be.”

II. THAT LIFE IS BOTH SHORT AND UNCERTAIN, Visit the repositories of the dead, and learn that “ man that is born of a woman, is of few days: that he fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not.” Do you not there hear those who were most advanced in age saying to you: “My associates spoke of the length of my life, of the number of my years, but now that I compare this life with the eternity which for me has swallowed up all time, how does it appear? Less than an atom, compared to the immensity of the universe; less than a drop of water, compared to the extended ocean.” (H. Kollock, D. D.)

Influence after death

Those who spend their days on earth usefully and well, live after death by their example. A father’s worth, and a mother’s care, and a neighbour’s kindness, will be remembered long, and, in many cases, be imitated by those who come after. The upright live after death by their precepts. They may have been wholly disregarded by those to whom they were first addressed; but the good seed will take root, and, sooner or later, yield fruits of increase. On the other hand, we are told that “the name of the wicked shall rot” (Proverbs 10:7). Their influence may have been exceedingly great, but it shall become less and less, until it wholly dies away. If any one desires, then, that his name shall be remembered after death with feelings of gratitude and satisfaction, let him strive to be good.

I. A MOTHER’S influence after death. “When I was a little child,” says one, “my mother used to bid me kneel beside her, and place her hand upon my head while she prayed. Before I was old enough to know her worth, she died, and I was left too much to my own guidance. In the midst of temptations, whether at home or abroad, I have felt myself, again and again, irresistibly drawn back by the pressure of that same soft hand. A voice in my heart seemed to say: ‘ Oh, do not this wickedness, my child, nor sin against God! ‘ I did not dare to disregard the call.” Who has not heard of reprobate sons, after years of vice, stopped short in their course by remembrances of scenes of innocence and peace, in which a mother’s anxious concern, a mother’s reproving look, and a mother’s gentle voice, speaking from the dead, exerted an influence more powerful than she could possibly have possessed while sitting under her own roof, and by her own fireside? Let Christian parents use this influence well, and the effect of their instructions shall never die.

II. TEACHER’S influence after death. The instructor’s office is seldom estimated aright. How many difficulties to be overcome! How much discretion to be used! The tear of fond regret will glisten in the eye as the scholars, grown to adult age, make mention of their old teacher--the teacher in his grave. “He, being dead, yet speaketh.” Have not instructors a high incentive to prove themselves faithful?

III. The PHILANTHROPIST’S influence after death. Kind and compassionate ones, go on in your useful ways. You are purchasing for yourselves immortality.

IV. An AUTHOR’S influence after death. “Books,” says Addison, “are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind.” The author dies. Not so his works. He still speaks through many lands by many tongues. Though already entered into his rest, he is, in reality, vigorously at work. He is moulding the minds, and influencing the hearts of untold thousands.

V. The CLERGYMAN’S influence after death. His life may have passed noiselessly away. His spirit--the fragrant memory of his life--lingers with his flock, and “He, being dead, yet speaketh.”

VI. The influence of every GOOD PERSON after death. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

The moral influence we exert after death:

Every man that plays a part in the great drama of human life, leaves, at his departure, an impress and an influence, more or less extensive and lasting. No fact is more self-evident, or more universally admitted, than the text; and no fact withal is more generally disregarded by the living. And, just in proportion to the width of the sphere in which the departed moved, and the strength of intellectual and moral character they possessed and developed, will be the duration and the plastic power of that influence they have left behind them. This is the fair side of the portrait; and were the influence left behind by the dead universally of this holy character, then would men be throughout their biography like visitant angels of mercy passing athwart our miserable world, distilling balm and scattering light among men’s sons; or as transient gales from the spicy lands of the East, or glorious meteors arising in rapid succession amidst the moral darkness of the earth, imparting light and fearlessness to its many pilgrims, and this would be bettered by every successive generation, till it arose and expanded to its millenial blessedness and peace. But alas! if many of the dead yet speak for God, and for the eternal welfare of humanity, many, many also speak for Satan, and ply after, as before their death, the awful work of sealing souls in their slumber, and smoothing and adorning the paths that lead to eternal death. Thus the departed sinner, as well as the departed saint, “being dead yet speaketh.” Thus our sins as well as our virtues survive. Thus we exert a posthumous influence which adds either an impulse upon the advancing chariot of salvation, or throws stumblingblocks and obstacles in its way. If any earth-born joys are admitted as visitants amid the celestial choirs, the joy that springs from having written saving and sanctifying works, is the sweetest that reaches the hearts of the saved. And I can fancy a Baxter, a Newton, a Scott, a Rutherford, rejoice with exceeding joy when the angels that minister to them that are to be heirs of salvation, bring word that, in consequence of the “Awakening Call to the Unconverted,” or “The Force of Truth,” or the “Letters from the Prison of Aberdeen,” some sinner has been aroused from his lethargy, and made a partaker of grace, and mercy, and peace. And if, as we believe, any poignant recollections from this side “the bourne whence no traveller returns,” roach the memories of the lost, not the least bitter will be the remembrance of having written volumes which are circulated by every library, and sold by every vender, in which the foundations of morality are sapped, and the youth of our world poisoned throughout the whole range of their moral economy. Oh, it will be the sorest sting of that worm which never dies, that their name, and their creed, and their principles after them, gather converts on earth, and carry fell desolation to homes that had otherwise been happy, and corruption to hearts that had else beat high with philanthropy and piety. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

A voice from the grave

I. THE FAITHFUL CHRISTIAN MINISTER “BEING DEAD, YET SPEAKETH” IN HIS WRITINGS.

II. A CHRISTIAN MINISTER “BEING DEAD, YET SPEAKETH” BY THE MOUTH OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BORN AGAIN UNDER HIS MINISTRY.

III. THE FAITHFUL MINISTER OF CHRIST “BEING DEAD, YET SPEAKETH” THROUGH HIS EXAMPLE. It IS said of the virtuous and amiable Fenelon, that his life was even more eloquent than his discourses.

IV. A FAITHFUL MINISTER “BEING DEAD, YET SPEAKETH,” THROUGH THE MEMORY AND CONSCIENCE OF THEM THAT HEARD HIM. (M. Leishman.)

The speech of the dead

St. Paul seems to make it part of the recompense of Abel that he speaketh, though dead. The speaking after death appears given as a privilege or reward; and it will be both interesting and instructive to survey it under such point of view.

I. Let us, therefore, examine, in the first place, THE FACT HERE ASSERTED OF ABEL, and then consider it as constituting a portion of his recompense--a recompense which, if awarded to one of the righteous, may lawfullybe desired by all. We conclude that Adam was not left to invent a religion for himself when he carried with him from Paradise a prophetic notice of the seed of the woman. In the words which precede our text, the apostle states that “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” It would be hard to define wherein the faith was exhibited, if not in the nature of the offering. Cain, as well as Abel, displayed faith in the existence of God, and owned in Him the Creator and Preserver. But Abel alone displayed faith in an appointed expiation, conforming himself, on a principle of faith, to what had been made a fundamental article in the theology of the guilty. So that, by and through his sacrifice and its consequences, was Abel the energetic preacher of the great scheme of redemption, the witness to our race, in the very infancy of its being, of a Mediator to be provided and a Mediator to be rejected. And not only then. He sealed his testimony with his blood, but he was not silenced by death. We still go to his sepulchre when we seek an eloquent and thrilling assertion of the peril of swerving from the revealed will of God. He rises up from the earth, which drank in the blood of his offering and then of himself, and warns the self-sufficient that their own guidance can lead them to nothing but destruction. I hear the utterances of this slaughtered worthy. They are utterances, loud and deep, against any one amongst us who is too philosophical for the gospel or too independent for a Redeemer. They denounce the rationalist who would make his theology from creation, the self-righteous who would plead his own merit, and the flatterer who would think that there may be a path to heaven which is not a path of tribulation.

II. And now let us consider the fact alleged in our text under THE LIGHT OF A RECOMPENSE TO ABEL. The manner in which the fact is introduced indicates that it was part of the reward procured to Abel by his faith, that he should be a preacher to every generation. But that with which a righteous man is rewarded must be a real good, and, as such, may justly be sought by those who copy his righteousness. This opens before us an interesting field of inquiry. If Abel were recompensed by the being appointed, as it were, a preacher to posterity, it seems to follow that it may fitly be an object of Christian desire to do good to after-generations, and that it is not necessarily a proud and unhallowed wish to survive dissolution and be remembered when dead. It cannot indeed become us as Christians to make our own fame or reputation our end; but it is another question whether Christianity afford no scope for the passion for distinction which beats so high and prompts to so much. Let it be, for example, a man’s ruling desire that he may be instrumental in spreading through the world the knowledge of Christ, and we may say of him that he is actuated by a motive which actuates the Almighty Himself, and that there is something in his ambition which deserves to be called god-like. It is not possible that a grander aim should be proposed, nor a purer impulse obeyed, by any of our race. And where this ambition is entertained--and it is an ambition in which every true Christian must share--can there lawfully be no consciousness of the worth, no desire for the possession of the recompense awarded to Abel? We believe of this worthy that, having his own faith fixed on a propitiation for sin, he must have longed to bring others to a similar confidence. Would it then have been no recompense to him had he been assured that the memory of his sacrifice was never to perish? Could it have been a recompense only on the supposition that he craved human distinction and longed, like candidates for earthly renown, to transmit his name with honour to posterity? Not so. It has been for the good of the Church that Abel has preached, and still preaches, to the nations. Many, in every age, have been strengthened by his example, many animated by his piety, many warned by his death. Thus the result of his surviving his dissolution has been the furtherance of the objects which we may suppose most desired by Abel. And the like may be declared of others. I take the case of some great champion of the faith, some bold confessor, who zealously published the truth and then sealed it with his blood. The place where this man preached, and that where he died, are hallowed spots; and the tomb in which his ashes sleep is an altar on which successive generations consecrate themselves to God. The martyr survives the stake or the scaffold, and leads on in after-ages the armies of the Lord. The, tyrant who crushed him made him imperishable, and he died that he might be life to the faith of posterity. And is it not reward to the worthies of an earlier time that they are thus instrumental in upholding the doctrines which they contended for as truth; that they still publish the tenets in whose support they lifted up their voices till the world rang with the message; and that districts or countries are so haunted by their memories, that the righteous seem to have them for companions and to be cheered by their counsels? And who further will doubt that a reputation such as this, thus precious and profitable, might be lawfully desired by the most devoted of Christ’s followers. There is something grand and ennobling about such ambition. It seems to me that the man who entertains and accomplishes the desire of witnessing for truth after death, triumphs over death in the highest possible sense. I could almost dare to say of such a man that he never dies. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Speech from the speechless:

These are strange words, are they not?--a dead man speaking. Yet they are true, although Abel has been dead a long time. But we must attend to what Abel is saying just now to us, for he being dead is yet speaking.

1. He says, “Take care how you worship God.” Do not be misled by bad examples. When you come to worship, come as Abel did, to worship before the Lord, and to hear what He says, and try to do it.

2. But Abel speaks this also--“Beware,” he says, “of envy.” The Bible tells us that Cain hated Abel, because Abel’s works were good, while his were evil. Bad people always hate good people, just because they are good, and so different from themselves. They begin with envy, then envy becomes prejudice, and prejudice grows into spite, and then spite becomes hatred.

3. Abel’s tone gets graver still when he says, “There are some things that can never be mended.” No, never I When once Cain had struck that blow at his brother, could he bring Abel back to life again? When you are ten years old, can you go back and become just nine? When a man is thirty years old, can he ever again become ten? No; you see there are some things that can never be undone. Now the Lord says, they that seek Him early shall find Him.

4. But Abel also says, There is not such a thing as a secret. Cain thought, maybe, he could easily hide his crime. But no! God saw it. (J. R. Howatt.)

Earthly immortality:

Very little is known of Abel, of whom this is spoken, except that he represented before God the spiritual element, while his brother represented the carnal and the secular. He must have been a man whose moral nature was impressive, mild, gentle. Yet he produced an effect, not only upon his own time, but upon after times. This living after a man is gone, may almost be said to be a universal aspiration. Almost all men, when they rise out of the savage state, begin to come under the influence of this ambition. We are not content, either, with our individual sphere. We desire to be known and felt outside of ourselves, outside of our household, outside of our neighbourhood. And our satisfaction grows if we find that our life affects the life of larger communities, and goes out through the nation and through the world. To a highly poetic nature, it seems as though it were a kind of earthly immortality. There is, however, a great difference in men’s ambitions for such prolonged life. There is a great difference in the moral values of this longing for extended being and influence. If it be the ambition of vanity; if men desire, while alive, to be felt in order that they may be praised; if their thought of other persons is simply how to draw from them revenue for themselves, or how they can make themselves idols, and make men believe that they are gods--if it be this, then it is a base and perverted form of that which is a very good thing in its nobler and higher form. And such men are very poor indeed, and contemptible, after death. Selfishness, by its own law, not only moves in simple circles, but is short-lived. What men do for themselves is soon expended, and is soon forgotten. Only that part of a man’s life which includes other men’s good, and especially the public good, is likely to be felt long after he himself is dead. The physical industries of this world have two relations in them--one to the actor and one to the public. Honest business is more really a contribution to the public than it is to the manager of the business himself. Who built that old mill which has ground the bread of two generations? Men do not know. His name may be on some mouldering stone in the graveyard. But it is the man who built it that is working in it still. It was his skill and engineering industry that put it up. The builders of stores, and warehouses, and shops, and dwellings, are not building them for wages merely. They build them upon contract, to be sure; but their interest in them does not expire with the fulfilment of that contract. It is not how much these things have done for them that limits their interest in them, but how much they were able, through these things, to make the brain work in the future, and so to incorporate their usefulness into the lower ranges and economies of human life. So not alone are those men benefactors who are warriors, and statesmen, and scholars, and poets. These other men, too, in a humbler way, but really, ought to have a share of our thought and credit. They who promote industry, and make it more prolific of profit, are benefactors. Oh! that men might know how much benefit there is in mechanical operations and in benevolent art! Oh! that men might take comfort in knowing that when they are dead they shall yet speak. Experience shows that these advances in physical things are more beneficently felt by the poor than by others. They are felt by the rich; but everything that contributes to the convenience and prosperity of the community, and so raises it in the scale, is, first or last, a greater benefit to the poor than to any others. It is not the selfish or personal element that prolongs one’s life. A man that is dead is not to be remembered simply because he invented something. He is to be remembered because that which he invented goes on working benefit after he is dead. And so long as it is doing good to men, so long he is to be remembered. It is that which we do for the public good that makes our physical industries virtuous and beneficent. Next, men who organise their money into public uses, live as long as the benefaction itself serves the public. There is many a man who, having money, says to his right hand, to which the Lord denied the sculptor’s art, “Thou shalt carve a statue”; and he takes some poor unfriended artist from the village, and endows him, and sends him to Rome, and brings him back, and puts him into life. Powers and Jacksons carve beauteous figures to last for generations; and it is the rich man who patronised them who is working through the men that he fashioned and formed. There is many a man who says, “Oh, tongue I thou art dumb; but thou shalt have tongues that shall speak.” And he searches out from among the poor those that are ambitious to learn, and that are likely to become scholars, and puts them forward, and sees that they are educated. And thereafter this worthy minister, this true statesman, that wise and upright lawyer, and this unimpeachable judge, become, as it were, an extension of its own self. A man has the gift of wealth-amassing; and he says to himself, “Selfish gains will die with me, and be buried with me so far as I am concerned.” And he thinks of the village where as a boy he played, and remembers its barrenness from want of taste and from poverty, and says, “I will go back there, and that village shall be made beautiful.” And not only does he build there, within moderation, and with taste and beauty, a dwelling, but his house becomes the measure and the mark of all the houses in the neigbourhood. It is his fence that set all the people in the village putting their fences right. And more generous ideas in regard to houses and grounds are instilled into the minds of the young. And the young men and maidens, when they get married and settle down in life, exercise better taste in fitting up their homes. Their houses, though small and plain, are more tastefully planned, and there are more trees about their grounds, and more flowers in their gardens. There springs up on every side an imitation of that rich man’s example. And in the course of twenty or twenty-five years, he will have generated the taste of the community. Or he goes beyond that. He inspires in all the neighbourhood a disposition for beauty by planting trees along the highway. And when he shall have been dead a hundred years, he will be remembered as the man who made that long walk of beauty. Not only may wealth be organised into institutions of secular pleasure and comfort and beauty, but it may be organised still more potently into institutions of mercy--into houses of refuge; into retreats for the unfortunate; into hospitals for the sick; into orphan asylums; into houses of industry and of employment. You will die in a score of years, perhaps; but not a score of centuries need slay the institution which you have reared. Oh I what a benefaction for any man that has money, and has faith to see how it can work after he has gone, and a heart to set it to work. Being dead, he speaks, and speaks chorally. But even more important are those institutions which go before society, march ahead, as it were, and by distributing intelligence and promoting virtue, prevent suffering. Take, for instance, that single foundation, the Bampton Lectures. A New England man, dying, left a fund the income of which every year was to be devoted to paying for a course of lectures which were to vindicate the authenticity of the Scriptures and the divinity of our Lord, and the evangelical religion. From that fund there has sprung a line of lectures that constitutes one of the most noble monuments of learning and piety that has been known in any language on the globe. Could money be made to work such important results in any other way? These endowments have in them immortality on earth. This is the reason why I say that men ought not to be poor if they can be rich. We may rise to a higher grade and to a more familiar ground, therefore, since it is more frequently inculcated in the pulpit. As virtue and spirituality are higher than physical qualities; as the wealth of society lies more in the goodness of Christian institutions and Christian men than in ease, or abundance, or pleasure, so he most wisely prolongs his life to after-days who so lives as to give form and perpetuity to spiritual influences. Whoever makes the simple virtues more honourable and attractive among men, prolongs his own life. The evil of untruth I need not expound to you. He who makes truth beautiful to men in his day; he who makes men want to be true, and seek after truth, and believe in it, becomes a benefactor. So that I think one single character in Walter Scott’s novels is worth more than all the characters put together of many more fashionable novels. All who have opened the Divine nature to men; all who have developed to men higher moral truths, and made them like their daily bread; all who have lifted the life of the world up into a higher sphere--they, although dead, yet speak. They may not be spoken of; but, what is more to the point, they themselves speak, and speak the same language; and all the better, because when a man is dead the prejudices and the imperfections that fingered about him are dead too. And then his voice becomes clearer, and his testimony is more widely received. Lastly, those who have the gift of embodying moral truths and noble experiences (which are the best truths that ever dawn on the world) in verse; those who have the power to give their higher thoughts and feelings the wings of poetry--they, being dead, speak far back. We hear Homer chanting yet, and chanting the best things that men knew in his day. And the world is still willing to listen to the oldest poet. And: he who has had permission to write one genuine hymn, to send forth one noble sonnet, to sing one stately epic, may well fold his wings and his hands, and say, “Now let Thy servant depart in peace.” What are you doing? Young man, what do you propose? Will you build pyramids of stone, or will yon build pyramids of thought? He that puts his life into doing good; he that would purify men; he that would suffer for the sake of suffering men; he that puts the enginery of feeling and the power of business into the work of beneficence in this world, though he may be subject to obloquy, though he may be under a cloud, though he may lose himself, will be remembered when he is dead. The time will come when his name will shine out brighter than the morning star. (H. W. Beecher.)

Abel, the model speaker:

From what the apostle says of Abel in our text, we may consider him as the model speaker. It may seem strange to take this view of him when we do not know a single word that he ever spoke. “Actions speak louder than words.”

I. THE MATTER OF ABEL’S SPEAKING, or what he spoke about. When a person is going to make a speech, it is very important for him to choose a good subject. Abel did this. The thing to which the apostle here refers, as that by which Abel speaks to us, is the sacrifice which he offered. Abel was a model speaker because, by what he did, he spoke about Christ and His death. And this is the most important thing that any one can ever speak about.

1. This is an important subject to speak about, because we cannot be good till we know about Jesus and His death.

2. We cannot be happy till we know about Christ and His death.

3. We cannot be safe till we know about Jesus and His death.

II. Abel was a model speaker also because of the MANNER of his speaking. He spoke by his life, or actions; and there are three ways in which this made him a model speaker.

1. In the first place, it made him a plain speaker. Everybody who has heard what the Apostle Paul says about Abel’s sacrifice, understands what it meant. When he spoke by that action, Abel was speaking plainly.

2. This made him a loud speaker. He spoke so loudly by that act, that all round the world, wherever the Bible has gone, the voice of what he did has been heard. And if we wish to speak so loudly, that we may be heard for a long time and to a great distance, we must speak by our actions, by doing what God tells us to do.

3. Abel was a model speaker, because the action by which he spoke made him an effectual speaker. The action of Abel in offering his sacrifice spoke very effectually to the Apostle Paul. And nothing that Abel could have said by words about the sacrifice of Christ would have had so much effect in making people feel the importance of that sacrifice as his quiet action in standing by his altar and presenting on it the sacrifice which God had commanded to be offered. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The dead speaking

There is a double solemnity in the life that we lead. We believe we are to be judged at God’s bar for the deeds done in the body; but by those same deeds we are doomed to help or hurt all with whom we are or shall be connected here below. This is not an arbitrary decree: it is the necessary condition of human life. It is a monitory, and at the same time a cheering doctrine. One might think the joyful side of the alternative would alone suffice to make every man good and faithful. As the tree dies, but in its very decay nourishes the roots of a new forest; as the little silkworm dies, but his fine fabric does not perish; as the coral-insect dies, but his edifice breaks the angry wave that has traversed the ocean, and becomes the foundation of greenness and future harvests: so, when you die, be your place lofty or lowly, your self-sacrificing endeavours shall leave enduring riches and a moral bulwark. With what new interest does this thought clothe all the relations of human life! It speaks to you, parents. The dead speak, however brief the term of the moral career, and even though that career be closed while the moral nature still sleeps in God’s own charge. The little child, fading like a tender plant, has not wholly perished even from the earth. Though it came but to smile and die, yet has it left an influence not fleeting, but long abiding. That gentle image of innocence, that strange power of patience, shall soften your heart, and make it move with tender sympathy to the distresses of your kind, even to the end of your own days. But a peculiar power belongs to those who have been wayfarers upon earth, who have fought the battle of life, and gained the victory over temptation. They encourage me in my toils; they say to me, “Here is the end of thy griefs”; they warn me against the indulgence of my errors and sins

“Soft rebukes in blessings ended,

Breathing from their lips of air.”

What, then, are we doing, what principles cherishing, what dispositions manifesting? How shall we reappear to the contemplative eye of those who shall here outlive us? How would you return in the survivor’s memory, were you now to receive from God your summons? As a faithful father who let slip no opportunity to train up his offspring in the way of virtue, who never sacrificed the welfare of his family to his own pursuit of profit and pelf, but sought for them the treasure that is better than gold? And how would it be with you, children, were you called out of the world? You would not utterly vanish. Your parents, at least, would still behold you? Would it be with unmingled satisfaction that your reappearing images would inspire them? But the appeal is to every mortal. “No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” Place thyself in thought on the other side of the grave, and, with reverted eye, mark how it will be. From that position, dost thou look back, and see selfishness, meanness, pride, envy, lust, passion, absorbing love of the world, all from thy life working ruin according to their nature, on thy associates and fellow-men? God forbid! (C. A.Bartol.)

Posthumous influence:

Who can estimate the influence of the great departed on successive generations? Achilles, the Grecian hero, as described by Homer, is said to have formed Alexander, and Napoleon had the Macedonian conqueror ever before his mind. Julius Caesar was the hero of Wellington, and the Commentaries of that Roman general were, like the Iliad to Alexander, his constant text-book. Socrates and Plato, Aristotle and Euclid, have long held sway in the schools of the learned, and continue to form the minds of modern youth as they did those of old. Moses moulded Hebrew legislation, and David gave to his nation a character. Luther breathed his ardent spirit into the piety and church of his fatherland, and Calvin’s clear intellect and systematic thought pervaded a large portion of Christendom. The myriad-minded Shakespeare, the sententious Bacon, the translators of the Bible in their expressive Saxon, moulded English literature, while the galaxy of illustrious statesmen, warriors, and merchants of bygone days, made England what it has become. Wallace and Bruce, Knox and Melville, are the representative men of Scotland, and the fathers of their country. (S. Steel.)

Dead, yet living:

“The cedar,” says a Christian writer, “is the most useful when dead. It is the most productive when its place knows it no more. There is no timber like it. Firm in the grain, and capable of the finest polish, the tooth of no insect will touch it, and Time himself can hardly destroy it. Diffusing a perpetual fragrance through the chambers which it ceils, the worm will not corrode the book which it protects, nor the moth corrupt the garment which it guards; all but immortal itself, it transfuses its amaranthine qualities to the objects around it. Every Christian is useful in his life, but the goodly cedars are the most useful afterwards. Luther is dead, but the Reformation lives. Bunyan is dead, but his bright spirit still walks the earth in his ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Baxter is dead, but souls are quickened by the ‘Saints’ Rest.’ Elliot is dead, but the missionary spirit is young. Howard is dead, but modern philanthropy is only commencing its career. Raikes is dead, but the Sunday-schools go on.”

Infuence lost in form but not in force

The Amazon, the River Plata, Orinoco, Mississippi, Zaire, Senegal, Indus, Ganges, Yangtsee, or Irawaddy, &c., &c.

these, and such like stupendous rivers, extend their influence to a considerable distance from the coast, and occasionally perplex and delay the navigator in open sea, who finds himself struggling against a difficulty wholly unconscious of the cause. The River Plata, at a distance of six hundred miles from the mouth of the river, was found to maintain a rate of a mile an hour; and the Amazon, at three hundred miles from the entrance, was found running nearly three miles per hour, its original direction being but little altered, and its water nearly fresh. We are reminded by this of other influences which also lose their form, but not their force. Though the man dies, his influence still lives. He no longer acts upon the world in the capacity of public speaker, writer or statesman, but his influence has gone forth and joined the great ocean of thought. The sect or party changes its form and loses its individuality, but its influence has gone forth and is felt in the current of opinion. All the separate and distinct influences of men and sects become universalised in the great sea of eternity. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)

The ministry of the dead to the living:

When, says Louis Figuier, the leaves have performed their functions, when the fruits have appeared, matured, ripened, vegetation has entered into a new phase; the leaves lose their brilliant green and assume their autumnal tint. A certain air of sadness pervades these ornaments of our fields which proclaims their approaching dissolution. The leaves, withered and deformed, will soon cumber the ground to be blown hither and thither by the wind. But when separated from the vegetable which has given birth to and matured them, they are not lost to the earth which receives them. Everything in nature has its use, and leaves have their uses also in the continuous circle of vegetable reproduction. The leaves which strewed the ground at the foot of the trees, or which have been disseminated by the autumn winds over the country, perish slowly upon the soil, where they are transformed into the humus, or vegetable moulds, indispensable to the life of plants. Thus the debris of vegetable purposes for the coming and formation of a new vegetation. Death prepares for new life; the first and the last give their hands, so to speak, in vegetable nature, and form the mysterious circle of organic life which has neither beginning nor end. When man has performed his functions here and ended his labours, he too fades like the leaf, and is borne away by the cold breeze of death. But like the leaf in death, so man, though dead, ministers to the living. He has not merely consumed so much of the productions of the earth, leaving nothing in return. He has left behind him his thoughts, his act, his example, his experiences, written or unwritten, and these will all perform their valuable ministration to the living, as do those leaves of autumn to the younger life which grows over their graves. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols)

Dead, yet speaking:

About the middle of the seventeenth century, the venerable John Flavel was settled at Dartmouth, where his labours were greatly blessed. On one occasion he preached from these words: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, maranatha.” The discourse was unusually solemn. At the conclusion of the service, when Mr. Flavel arose to pronounce the benediction, he paused, and said, “How shall I bless this whole assembly, when every person in it who loveth not the Lord Jesus Christ is anathema, maranatha?” The solemnity of this address deeply affected the audience, and one gentleman, a person of rank, was so much overcome by his feelings, that he fell senseless to the floor. In the congregation was a lad named Luke Short, then about fifteen years old, a native of Dartmouth, who, shortly after the event just narrated, entered into the seafaring line, and sailed to America, where he passed the rest of his life. Mr. Short’s life was lengthened much beyond the usual term; and when a hundred years old, he had sufficient strength to work on his farm, and his mental faculties were very little impaired. Hitherto he had lived in carelessness and sin; he was now a “sinner a hundred years old,” and apparently ready to “die accursed.” But one day, as he sat in his field, he busied himself in reflecting on his past life. Recurring to the events of his youth, his memory fixed upon Mr. Flavel’s discourse, already alluded to, a considerable part of which he was able to recollect. The affectionate earnestness of the preacher’s manner, the important truths which he delivered, and the effects produced on the congregation, were brought fresh to his mind. The blessing of God accompanied his meditations; he felt that he had not “loved the Lord Jesus Christ”; he feared the dreadful “anethema”; conviction was followed by repentance, and at length this aged sinner obtained peace through the blood of Christ, and was found “in the way of righteousness.” He joined the Congregational church in Middleborough, and till the period of his death, which took place in his one hundred and sixteenth year, he gave pleasing evidence of true piety. (K. Arvine.)

Posthumous influence:

Da Vinci’s famous painting of “The Lord’s Supper,” originally adorning the dining-room of a convent, has suffered such destruction from the ravages of time, war, and abuse, that none of its original beauty remains. Yet it has been copied and engraved; and impressions of the great picture have been multiplied through all civilised lands. Behold a parable of posthumous influence. (New Cyclopaedia of Illustrations.)

Posthumous influence:

Some stars are so distant that their beams may have occupied thousands of years in journeying to the earth, and yet these bodies, if suddenly annihilated, would still continue to shine upon us for thousands of years to come. So, too, there are great men whose existence has long since terminated, but the influence of whose spirit still irradiates our world. Milton, Shakespeare, and Christ, though gone from our sphere, still shine upon it as spiritual stars of the first magnitude. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)

Influence seen after many days:

Between the sowing and the reaping there may be a long interval. The hand that gave either the rich man’s abundance or the poor widow’s farthing for the spread of the gospel, and the lip that either falteringly or eloquently spoke for Christ, may lie cold in the grave; but the good seed sowed in God’s husbandry shall yet yield a glorious harvest. I have seen a little four-paged tract, written half a century ago, that recently found its way into a heathen hamlet, and converted a whole household. There lives on yonder Pacific coast a faithful follower of Jesus whose youthful waywardness brought down a parent’s grey head in sorrow to the grave. But the while her weeping words of prayer had buried themselves deep in the boy’s bosom; and when they told him of her death it was as if a spirit had come back from eternity to glide through his chambers of imagery, breathing again her tender words, and looking on him with her eyes of weeping love--and the strong man was a child again, a child of grace--yea, a child of glory. (C. Wadsworth.)

The after-glow of life:

When the sun goes below the horizon he is not set; the heavens glow for a full hour after his departure. And when a great and good man sets, the sky of this world is luminous long after he is out of sight. Such a man cannot die out of this world. When he goes he leaves behind much of himself. Being dead he speaks. (H. W. Beecher.)


Verse 5

Hebrews 11:5

Enoch was translated.

Enoch:

I. A CAREER DISTINGUISHED FOR ITS GODLINESS. “Walked with God.” His life was an embodiment of the Divine.

1. Devoted to God.

2. Satisfactory to God.

3. Commended by God.

II. A CAREER REMARKABLE IN ITS TERMINATION. “Translated.”

1. Exempted from the great trial of life. He was too full of the living God to die.

2. Removed from the world in a unique manner.

(a) That there is a future state.

(b) That the body and soul exist hereafter.

(c) That the departed good dwell with God for ever. (B. D. Johns.)

Enoch, one of the world’s great teachers

1. It is strange that so little is said about Enoch.

2. The comparative shortness of his stay upon earth.

3. The manifest singularity of the life he lived.

I. HE TAUGHT THE WORLD BY HIS LIFE.

1. He walked with God. This implies

2. He pleased God. As the loadstar seems to beam more brilliantly in the firmament the darker grow the clouds that float about it, so Enoch’s life must have been a luminous power in his age of black depravity.

II. HE TAUGHT THE WORLD BY HIS TRANSLATION

1. That death is not a necessity of human nature.

2. That there is a sphere of human existence beyond this.

3. That there is a God in the universe who approves of goodness.

4. That the mastering of sin is the way to a grand destiny.

III. HE TAUGHT THE WORLD BY HIS PREACHING.

1. The advent of the Judge.

2. The gathering of the saints.

3. The conviction of sinners. (Homilist.)

Faith the secret of holy life and triumphant death

I. THE FAITH BY WHICH THIS HOLY LIFE WAS MAINTAINED.

1. It was a belief in the nature of God. Enoch believed Him to be real, with a belief which reverenced, obeyed, trusted, loved Him.

2. It was also a belief in God’s gifts to all who seek them.

II. THE HOLY LIFE WHICH RESULTED FROM THIS FAITH.

1. Faith led him to please God.

2. This pleasing God was accompanied with the testimony that he pleased Him.

3. This testimony enabled him to walk with God.

III. THE TRIUMPHANT DEATH WHICH RESULTED FROM THIS HOLY LIFE.

1. This death is promised to faith.

2. It is the natural consequence of a holy life.

3. It is assured by the Divine love to those who please God. (C. New.)

God’s testimony to the faith of Enoch:

I. By WHAT AGENCY THIS STATE OF EXISTENCE IS SECURED. It must always be regarded as of the first consequence to ascertain the sources of human characters and human habits, and to what supports they are indebted for their permanence. For many purposes it is important to ascertain and to acquire information with respect to what we may call the secondary virtues of man--that is, those virtues which do not affect his relation towards God; but infinitely more important respecting those dispositions of mind which tend towards futurity. It is, then, above all things important to know how men are led to please God.

1. And here, it must be observed, that men never attain to the state of existence which is now to be described, whilst they are left to the ordinary operation of their own faculties, and governed by the ordinary impulses of their own passions and desires. While men remain in their original condition, under the government of the primitive tendencies of their nature, they are in fact the uniform and positive objects of Divine disapprobation.

2. This fact having been established, we are prepared to advert to a corresponding fact, which may also be scripturally established, namely, that men are brought into a state of existence that is pleasing to God, they are placed in it, and continued in it, solely and entirely by the exertion of the power of the Spirit of God Himself.

II. BY WHAT CHARACTERISTICS THIS STATE OF EXISTENCE IS DISTINGUISHED.

1. It comprehends faith in the Divine testimony. Faith has a peculiar connection with the approbation of God, in consequence of its being the ordained means of imputing to man the merit of a justifying righteousness, that in itself is sufficient to secure his final acceptance as the Judge of the universe.

2. This state of existence also comprehends obedience to the Divine commandments. It cannot be justly questioned by any one that the pleasure of God in man is connected with the conformity of man in heart and in life to the laws of God. The Being who, by the necessity of His moral nature, abhors iniquity, by the same necessity of His moral nature must delight in holiness. But one thing must be remarked by the way of caution. God is not pleased with men’s holiness because there is anything of original or independent merit in it; He is pleased with it because He contemplates in it His own work; just as He was pleased when, after the Creation, He is said to have looked on it, and pronounced that it was all “very good”: He is pleased with it, because it sheds His own lustre, and reflects back the beauty of His own perfections: He is pleased with it, because it advances the revenue of His glory, because it secures the happiness of those in whom it dwells.

3. This state of existence comprehends gratitude for the Divine goodness. The offering of praise by believing men to God cannot but be pleasing in His sight; it is so with the gratitude which is offered in heaven, and At cannot but be so with the gratitude offered on earth.

III. BY WHAT ADVANTAGES THIS STATE OF EXISTENCE IS COMMENDED.

1. Those who exist in a state that is pleasing to God are privileged with near and intimate communion with God.

2. Those who exist in this state possess also the consolations and supports of God in all times of difficulty and of danger.

3. Those who exist in the state which is now described have the security of eternal and perfect happiness in heaven. Pleasing God has an especial connection with the joy of God. (J. Parsons.)

Enoch’s translation

I. THAT THE END AND THE GREAT PRIVILEGE OF FAITH IS TO BE “TRANSLATED OUT OF THE WORLD INTO THE HAPPINESS OF THE ETERNAL STATE.

1. I shall prove the point by Scripture: “Receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9). Heaven is there proposed as the chief reward of faith; all that we do, all that we suffer, all that we believe, it is with an aim at the hope of the salvation of our souls. The last article of our creed is everlasting life.

2. I shall by a few reasons prove the interest of believers in eternal life, and why faith gives a title to glory.

Use 1. To press you to get faith upon this ground and motive, it will give you an interest in heaven.

Use 2. It serves to direct you how to exercise and act faith in order to the everlasting state. Five duties believers must perform.

Use 3. To exalt the mercy of God to believers; once sinners, and by grace made believers. Observe the wonderful love and grace of God in three steps

Use 4. Comfort to God’s children against wants, and against troubles and persecutions, and against death itself.

II. THOSE THAT WOULD LIVE WITH GOD HEREAFTER MUST LEARN TO PLEASE GOD ERE THEY DEPART HENCE.

1. What it is to please God. It implies both coming to God, and walking with God.

2. The necessity of pleasing God.

(1) Because this is the means and condition without which we shall never come to enjoy God; it is the way to fit the sons of God for glory, though not the cause of glory (Hebrews 12:14).

3. The necessity of pleasing God in the present life--“For before his translation,” it is said, “he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” There is a time for all things, and the time of pleasing God is in the present life.

4. The sooner we begin the better.

(a) Here. The sooner you begin to please God, the sooner you have an evidence of your interest in His favour, more experience of His love, more hopes of being with Him in heaven; and these are not slight things.

(b) The sooner you begin with God, the greater will your glory be hereafter; for the more we improve our talents here, the greater will be our reward in heaven (Luke 19:16-19).

Use 1. If there be such a necessity of pleasing God, and giving up ourselves to the severities of religion, then it serves for reproof of divers sorts of persons; as

Use 2. If there be no hope of living with God without pleasing God, oh, then make it the aim and scope of your lives to please the Lord!

Faith exceptionally rewarded

I. WHATEVER BE THE OUTWARD DIFFERENT EVENTS OF FAITH IN BELIEVERS IN THIS WORLD, THEY ARE ALL ALIKE ACCEPTED WITH GOD, approved by Him, and shall all equally enjoy the eternal inheritance.

II. GOD CAN AND DOTH PUT A GREAT DIFFERENCE AS UNTO OUTWARD THINGS, BETWEEN SUCH AS ARE EQUALLY ACCEPTED BEFORE HIM. Abel shall die, and Enoch shall be taken alive into heaven.

III. THERE IS NO SUCH ACCEPTABLE SERVICE UNTO GOD, NONE THAT HE HATH SET SUCH SIGNAL PLEDGES OF HIS FAVOUR UPON, AS ZEALOUSLY TO CONTEND AGAINST THE WORLD IN GIVING WITNESS TO HIS WAYS, HIS WORSHIP, AND HIS KINGDOM, OR THE RULE OF CHRIST OVER ALL.

IV. IT IS A PART OF OUR TESTIMONY TO DECLARE AND WITNESS THAT VENGEANCE IS PREPARED FOR UNGODLY PERSECUTORS and all sorts of impenitent sinners, however they are and may be provoked thereby.

V. The principal part of this testimony CONSISTS IN OUR OWN PERSONAL OBEDIENCE, OR VISIBLE WALKING WITH GOD IN HOLY OBEDIENCE, according to the tenor of the covenant (2 Peter 3:11; 2 Peter 3:14).

VI. As it is an effect of the wisdom of God to dispose the works of His providence, and the accomplishment of His promises, according to an ordinary established rule declared in His Word, which is the only guide of faith; so SOMETIMES IT PLEASES HIM TO GIVE EXTRAORDINARY INSTANCES IN EACH KIND, BOTH IN A WAY OF JUDGMENT AND IN A WAY OF GRACE AND FAVOUR. Of the latter sort was the taking of Enoch into heaven; and of the former was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven. Such extraordinary acts, either the wicked security of the world, or the edification of the Church, do sometimes make necessary.

VII. FAITH IN GOD THROUGH CHRIST HATH AN EFFICACY IN THE PROCURING OF SUCH GRACE, MERCY, AND FAVOUR IN PARTICULAR, AS IT HATH NO GROUND IN PARTICULAR TO BELIEVE. Enoch was translated by faith; yet did not Enoch believe he should be translated, until he had a particular revelation of it. So there are many particular mercies which faith hath no word of promise to mix itself withal, as unto their actual communication unto us; but yet keeping itself within its bounds of reliance on God, and acting by patience and prayer, it may be, and is, instrumental in the procurement of them.

VIII. THEY MUST WALK WITH GOD HERE WHO DESIGN TO LIVE WITH HIM HEREAFTER or they must please God in this world who would be blessed with Him in another.

IX. THAT FAITH WHICH CAN TRANSLATE A MAN OUT OF THIS WOULD, CARRY HIM THROUGH THE DIFFICULTIES WHICH HE MAY MEET WITHAL, IN THE PROFESSION OR FAITH AND OBEDIENCE IN THIS WORLD. Herein lies the apostle’s argument. And this latter the Lord Jesus Christ hath determined to be the lot and portion of His disciples. So He testifies (John 17:15). (John Owen, D. D.)

The translation of Enoch:

After the testimony borne to the life of Enoch, his translation scarcely surprises us. We almost look for some such apotheosis of his exalted virtues. Already he has more of the celestial than the earthly in his character; and is more fit to be the companion of angels than to associate with an apostate race. Even the outer nature has experienced the transforming influence of a long course of faith and devotion. Refined and purified beyond the ordinary state of a mortal body, we can conceive of it as fitly entering on immortality without undergoing the purification which death effects. Through a less trying ordeal it may soar to its place among the sons of God; and our moral sense is not shocked when such a superhuman reward is granted to one possessed of such superhuman excellence. Heaven must attract towards itself that which so much resembles itself. And what if the attraction be so strong, that the process of dying and the long waiting for the resurrection be dispensed with, and Heaven at once takes to itself that which is so manifestly its own? Although permitted to enter heaven by a path different from that which ordinary mortals tread, his body would no doubt undergo the change necessary to fit it for the kingdom into which flesh and blood cannot enter--a change in all probability similar to that which takes place in the bodiesof the saints who are alive at the coming of the Lord. We have no account of how or where Enoch’s translation took place. Perhaps it was promised before as the reward of his holiness, and that his faith in the promise might sustain him under his trials. In that case it would be a long-expected, much desired event. Or, perhaps, it was unexpected, and he was ignorant of what was taking place until the glories of heaven burst upon his view. But the conjecture most pleasing to us is that it was while he was entranced in devotion. When his soul left the world for awhile and soared upward to hold intercourse with God, when loth to disturb the vision and return to battle with the cares, and to be pained with the wickedness of the world, his body rises too, caught up by an invisible power, changing as it ascends, until it becomes pure as the home to which it hastens. Whether it came thus, or otherwise, is of small consequence. Come when and how it might, the transition must have been unspeakably glorious. His translation must have been designed to serve some important purposes. To him it was at once a dispensation of mercy and a mark of honour. A dispensation of mercy, because it severed him from the scenes of wickedness, which had vexed his righteous soul. God took him: properly, took him away. Away from the society of ungodly men, from their taunts and persecutions. Away from the wickedness over which he mourned. Away from the privations of this wilderness state. Away from the many ills to which flesh is heir, and the peculiar troubles which afflict the just. God had tested the fidelity of His servant. He took him away to be with Himself, and the weary one had rest. A mark of honour--for had not God sought to honour him, He might have removed him from all occasions of suffering in the ordinary way. To his neighbours his translation was a testimony to the truth of his prophecy. That prophecy (Jude 1:14-15) was addressed, without doubt, to the ungodly men of his own generation, and predicted the punishment which awaited them because of their ungodliness. And when even this terrible prediction failed to check them in their downward career, how fitted was his translation to make them pause and consider. From the apostle’s words “he was not found,” we suppose that the event was known, as if he had been missed by the men of his neigh-bourhood from his accustomed haunts. Doubtless there were eye-witnesses of the event, by whom the manner of his removal would be made public. And thus his absence would be a standing testimony to the truth of his prediction. Most forcibly would it say--Death is not the end of man; for Enoch, though not dead, has departed. As regards ourselves it is fitted most powerfully to commend to us the principle which produced in him such remarkable results. His character was a noble testimony to the power of faith; but his translation shows more impressively what wonders faith can achieve. See in this mighty work the evidence and illustration of the truth that all things are possible to him that believeth. And remember that a faith like Enoch’s can only be acquired through fellowship with God. While there must be faith in order to fellowship, fellowship fosters and strengthens faith. (W. Landels, D. D.)

The translation of Enoch

Did you ever witness the transit of a planet across the disc of the sun? Ah! but the transit of a soul from truth to truth, by what glass shall we notice that? By what glass shall we tell how the mind marches in its orb--how the spirit advances in its sphere? By what chronology shall we estimate the translation of the soul? But here we have that wonderful fact in the history of man--the history of a soul’s translation. On this world God will never allow His children to be found longer than they can be useful, either for His glory or their own growth. Even on earth, amidst all the blunders of our most imperfect sociology, what the man is after his translation, is, in more sensible circles, to be inferred from what he was before. There is a young man in my chapel who, to-morrow, will vacate an old inferior seat, held for many years at his desk, and mount to that envied and coveted place--first in the office; second only to that confidential post in the second room. Yesterday, in the office of the principal of the firm, his vigilance, his conscientiousness, his disposition, were all subjects of praise; and before this translation he has had this testimony--that he has pleased his employer. Among the long dun wolds of Kent there was great and unusual merry-making, on the farm of Henry Gibbons, this Christmas; for, although he was leaving his farm of one hundred and fifty acres, he was going to one of five hundred acres. To him, six months since, said his landlord, “Henry, you know at Christmas the farm of Beechy Hollow will be vacant, and I love that farm. I was born and brought up there, and I must have somebody there I can trust. Now, that farm you shall have, for I can trust you.” Thus in all the translations that are exemplary on earth, and which are removed from the influences of corruption and error, in every state of the advance the progressive spirit has this testimony--that he has pleased before his translation. What right have we to expect a higher rank before we have filled our present duty? You covet more. You have, I assure you, as much honour as you can bear. You have as many duties as you can fulfil. Believe me, there is an exact relation between your power of profitable possession and your power of expenditure. “He had this testimony, that he pleased God.” It was the testimony of faith. “By faith Enoch was translated.” In the scale of greatness, by which we rise to please God, the first place is assigned to faith, because it interprets the life; amidst abounding iniquity and hardness of heart, he yielded himself to God, to God’s pleasure and will. “He pleased God.” He walked with God. By this sublime phrase, I believe something more is intended than we can understand. Amidst the sublime scenes of those primeval woods and vales, what secret communings he held! There were then few illustrious progenitors: kings, statesmen, seers, and poets--he could not walk with those; he could only walk with God, With him now, the simple, poor man, to whom the Bible unfolds its treasures and prayer its armoury, and meditation its sacred refectory, and paradise its distant gleaming palace--with him may this man compare. Like Enoch, he walks alone with God in his simplicity and holy dignity. “He pleased God”--he was a preacher of righteousness, and part of his sermon has come down even to our own age. Very dreadful are the words of a man who comes from intimate fellowship with Divine holiness, to pour his pathos and his pity and his indignation over a lost world. Like Jonathan Edwards, a soul--a pity--a heart of holiness--a hermit existence--and a speech of fire. And then God took him--after three hundred and sixty-five years had been given to him, God took him; to show to the ungodly world that he was not limited to the ordinary operations of the laws of Nature, and to proclaim to the race of giants, the children of Cain, His authentication of His servant’s life--He translated him. (E. P. Hood.)

Walking up to our ascension

There may be a little difficulty in seeing how the “translation,” or “ascension” of Enoch, was the result of Enoch’s “faith.” Did he believe in an “ascension”? and was it given to his trust and expectation of that very thing? Where did he learn it? Yet, “by faith Enoch was translated.” We must enlarge the question. It is not always necessary, in order to secure a blessing, that we have “a faith” in that particular gift. No doubt a special “ faith,” in a special thing, is often given and sometimes required. But “faith” goes to a certain level, while God goes far beyond the level of the “ faith.” And it is a comfort to know that a general trust in God commands and secures individual mercies. You east yourself universally upon God’s faithfulness: and, beyond a doubt, God will fill in the details, which you never thought of, and which details He sees that you want. And death is a solemn thing. Death may be bitter, even to a child of God! Else, it would not have been said, as a part of the mercy, to Enoch, that he was ,, translated that he should not see death.” Nor would it be made the running over of the cup of Jesus’s sorrow, that “He tasted death for every man.” Nevertheless, if it please my heavenly Father to order otherwise, and that I should pass through my grave and gate of death to my body, it will be all well! There is no danger! there is nothing to fear! no real solitude! but only just enough to draw out my Saviour’s love! It very little matters whence I ascend, or how: I only care for the whither. But “who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” Pray for the gift of the “faith” in your ascension. See the degrees of “faith” as they are laid out in the opening of this chapter of “faith’s” triumphs. The understanding “faith” in the Omnipotence of creation (Hebrews 11:3). Then the justifying “faith” in sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4). And then, in the third degree, translating “ faith”--the faith of glory (Hebrews 11:5). “Walk” the walk of faith higher and higher--above the things that are seen. “Walk,” as Enoch walked--“walk,” as Elijah walked--“walk,” as Jesus walked--“walk” up to your ascension! (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Enoch opposing the current opinions of the day:

The mare and grand distraction between the child of God and the servant of sin is, that the one lives by faith and the other by sight.

1. A man is sometimes dishonest because the object which he sees engrosses his attention beyond the fear of punishment, which is a matter of faith; and he defrauds or steals. Again, in their judgments men of sin act by sight, not by faith, though men who do these things are compelled sometimes to declare them wrong, and to pronounce a judgment against their actions. They settle those things to be sins which appear to do the most immediate harm, and those to be less sins, or none at all, which do not cause so much immediate perceptible harm. Again, in their religion men of sin act on sight, and men of God on faith. See the worldly man in his religion, as he calls it. It is all the sight parts of religion, none of the faith parts.

1. He judges sin by the law of God; he knows coveting is as bad as stealing, because it leads to it; and he knows God condemns the evil thought as well as the evil action.

2. In his duties he acts on faith. He foregoes the indulgence of angry passion, remembering the greater happiness and peace of a loving spirit and the favour of the Saviour who has declared the peacemaker blessed.

3. Above all, in his religion behold the man of faith. What he does is not to be seen of men, but of his Father in heaven, who shall reward him openly.

I. The 11th chapter of Hebrews is, as it were, a bright roll, unfolding to us the men who, in days gone by, have lived by faith and not by sight; they shine like fixed stars in the dark expanse of human life. Let us contemplate the character of Enoch, as showing forth a character influenced by faith, and behold in him another fruit of faith.

1. It seems to mean he knew God, had a just knowledge of God.

2. But it seems to mean, too, that he was intimate and familiar with God.

3. And again, “he pleased God.” His religion was not only feeling, taken up to-day, put down to-morrow; his religion influenced his practice, altered his conduct, helped him to stand forth the bold supporter of truth in the midst of a wicked generation. Such was his character. Now how was this the result of faith? This character, through a coming Saviour, procured for him translation to glory. He lived above the present world, and apart from the present people, by faith; that is, the tastes, the conversation, the occupation of all around would naturally have made his mind the same with theirs, had it not been for the exercise of the principle of faith. This was Enoch’s character, and this is the way it was affected by faith. Now let us apply this to ourselves. The fruit or working of faith, which Enoch’s character shows, consists in living separate from the opinions and practices of the day we live in, and protesting against the errors of that day by word or example; and this by faith.

But, in matters of practice, there are false opinions about in the world, which are against God’s revealed Word, and which consequently are to be rebuked and opposed by the man of faith.

1. Men tell us all devotion is enthusiasm. If a man spend much time in prayer; if a man give up the world’s society; if he be cheerful under affliction; if he have his happiness fixed in another world, not this, the world calls him an enthusiast pursuing a phantom, a dreamer, wholly mistaken as to what religion is, not a soberminded man. Now what does the man of faith answer? what does Enoch answer to the false report of an undiscriminating world? Behold the man of faith. He reads such passages as these, “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

2. But again, it is a prevailing error of the day that men need not give up the world; that the doing so is gloomy, melancholy and unnecessary. The man who is directed by faith, whose eye is looking for the unseen hereafter, who is not dazzled by the lamps of present pleasure and excitement, answers the erroneous opinion of the world by an appeal to the Bible.

The man that is missed when he is gone:

The suggestion is very beautiful as to the way in which he was wanted and missed when he was gone. It seems to point to some scene, veiled in one of God’s august silences, when Methuselah and the other sons and daughters found the tent or the chamber empty, sought the saintly father everywhere and found him not--found not even the body--could but infer, till God inspired and wrote it down, that which had happened--namely, that the life was so full of God, the walk with God so close and so intimate, the sight of God by faith so constant and so intuitive, that it had pleased the Divine Companion to “make a new thing in the earth,” to “send down a hand from above” and deliver His servant “out of the waters” of time, from the surrounding of the “strange children” of an “untoward generation,” and to carry him by a short and direct passage to the land of an everlasting rest and peace. We who know what one righteous man may be, in a house or in a city--how dear to his own, how necessary to a wider circle, whose counsellor, whose oracle, probity and wisdom and piety have made him--can faintly picture that sorrowful morning, when “Enoch was not found, because God had translated him; “ when the life of that household, that neighbourhood, that country, must henceforth be lived without him--without his help, without his example, without his sympathy, without his prayers. I know not that we ought to desire to be missed when we are gone; but I know that, whether desiring this or no, we ought all so to live as that we shall be wanted when we are “not found.” There is no replacing, on earth, of the really missed one. That house, that town, that Church must learn to do without him. If the loss really leads any one to inquire into the secret of it--to ask why he was so much to others and to his own--to discover the royal road, which honest prayer is, into the sanctuary which he frequented, and into the companionship which was his strength; then the life, and the “translation,” will together have explained the mystery of the Divine purpose in ordaining both. (Dean Vaughan.)

Enoch:

He changed his place, but not his company, for he still walked with God, as in earth, so in heaven. (J. Trapp.)

Enoch’s translation:

Referring to the translation of Enoch, Rev. J. Chalmers, M.A., spoke of the two ways by which men have been taken from this world: the one, “the golden bridge “ of translation, which only a few have been privileged to cross: the other, the” dark tunnel” of death, by which way the majority have had to go. But whether by the one way or the other, all who walked with God reach their glorious end--are with God. (King’s Highway.)

He pleased God

He pleased God

I. THE NECESSITY FOR PLEASING GOD. There is a God to please--a living God, who takes a continual interest in all human things; who thinks, feels, loves, and is grieved; and whose great endeavour, by all this complicated world-work that He carries on, is to educate human spirits, that they may, like Him, hate the wrong and love the right, and do it. There is a God who is pleased always when the least cause for pleasure is presented to Him. Just as we are glad when a child succeeds in a lesson; when a boy takes a prize; when a young man does some difficult work in a noble way; when a girl is like her mother in goodness; so God is glad when His children do well. All this shows, surely, that there is a necessity for pleasing God; that no man can be right, safe, happy, who does not aim to do this; and, in a measure, succeed in doing it. If God is not pleased with us, we cannot be right. Some say that the attempt to please God is an inferior aim, and that the real end we ought to keep in view is, to be right in everything. Let a man try to be right without any regard to God, and how far will he go? How do we know fully and clearly what is right without God’s gracious information? A little we know by our native moral sense, but for the perfect ideal of goodness we are indebted solely to Him. Therefore we must try to please Him. God, being God, is an infinite, absolute, all-perfect Being; holding in Himself all principles, all relations, all truth, order, and beauty; to please Him must, in the very nature of the case, be to do right.

II. NOW, as to THE METHOD of this; of course I do not pretend to give a full description of the method. That would be to describe the whole Christian life; for all duty, service, and suffering are with a good man parts of the one grand endeavour to please God. But I will say this, that it is not difficult to please God if only we take the right way of it. He is not a hard master. I believe we have no idea how simple, how natural, how human-like in the best sense is the joy of God in the obedience of His children. We have only to attain a simple, purified sincerity as to the motive, and then put a glow into the action, when God, beholding, will say, “It is well.” “I am pleased; pleased with the action--with the worker--above all, because I can now give the reward.” But we shall suppose the case of one who has not yet pleased God at all. How must he begin to do Song of Solomon 7:1-13 I should say that to him the first feeling, if he is now wishing to do the will of God, would be a feeling of regret that he has not done it, a feeling of unfeigned sorrow; in other words, repentance. Then faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as representing the will of the Father, as communicating the Father’s grace, as crucified for our offences, and raised again for our justification. He is the propitiation for our sins, and the rectifier of our lives, and the guide of our steps, Redeemer from sin, and death, and hell. Then, after repentance and faith, there comes the whole process of practical obedience, filial and loving. When the yoke is taken in this spirit, it is easy; when the burden is lifted so, it is light. And life then is simple. It is but to “ walk with God” and “please” Him so. It is but to see Him where He is; to hear Him when He speaks; but to serve and enjoy Him with a loving heart. That God will be pleased with such a course is just as certain as that a good father or mother will approve a loving obedience in a child. Just as certain as it is that God loves order and beauty, and goodness and truth.

III. THE RESULTS of doing this will be manifold, and very good.

1. We shall in this way please ourselves as we never can do in any other. It is well when a man brings himself up to the bar of his better self. There is something of God in a good man; the enlightened conscience is the echo of the Divine authority and will. A noble ideal is surely to be cherished, a generous purpose is to be held fast, and the soul is to be encouraged in doing this in every possible way. Now there is no way so direct and sufficient as the way of pleasing God; by a loving obedience to Him we reach and please and satisfy our better self.

2. Then, further, if we please God, we shall ourselves have pleasure in life and the world. He can make our enemies to be at peace with us, and He will, if we please Him. In the world we are to have tribulation, and yet we may be of good cheer, for we are victors.

3. Finally, come what may in this life, that always is sure. “He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” He is the great rewarder even in this life.

Do but a little service heartily to Him, and He will come to you with His rewarding love. You cry in wonder of so much munificence, “My cup runneth over.” All this will God give into your bosom and pour about your life, even here and now. Then what will He do hereafter to those who love and please Him? Earth does not hold the secret. It is “reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The duty of pleasing God

I. If we ask WHOM WE ARE TO PLEASE, reason, uninstructed by revelation or experience, would immediately say ourselves, or if reason did not say so, feeling would. We accordingly find that man, as soon as he begins to act, acts solely with a view to his own gratification. It would never enter his mind to act otherwise were he left alone. But then none of us are left alone. We are mixed up with our fellow-men, and are trained from our earliest infancy more or less to please them. And these two things, pleasing ourselves and pleasing our fellow-men, we contrive to carry on together. We please the world, and in doing so, we please ourselves, for we gain something that we desire from the world by pleasing it--if nothing more, its good opinion. But God comes in and disturbs all this. “Please me,” says self. “Please me,” says the world; and while we are striving to obey both, there is a voice from heaven which says,” Neither must be obeyed: you must approve yourselves to Me.” There appears before us a third competitor for our powers of pleasing; one of whom we never thought, and to whom not a feeling or principle of our nature inclines us to listen. So perverse are we that we cannot do it. “They that are in the flesh,” says the Scripture, “cannot please God.” You see then that we have no merely moral, half-heathen duty before us; it is a Christian duty.

II. How WE ARE TO PLEASE GOD.

1. We must begin with accepting the offers of His grace. We know that in order to please a fellow-creature we must fall in with his disposition and character. If he is a man of a kind disposition, we must on no account repulse his kindness, but yield ourselves up to it, and let him do us all the good he will. Now the great God of heaven is a God of infinite kindness towards us. “Here is pardon for you,” He says; “here is peace; here is My love for you, My presence, My likeness, My joy, My kingdom. Look through My universe--there is everything for you that is worth your having.” Now to please Him is to accept these offers. It is to let Him see that we value His kindness and care for His blessings.

2. To please God, we must conform ourselves to His mind and will. And this will show itself by our ceasing to be angry and discontented with His dealings with us; and still more clearly by our efforts to do His will. He pleases God the most who places himself entirely in God’s hands, and who strives the most after the holiness which God loves.

3. To please God we must aim to please Him supremely, far above all. Our first, supreme desire must be to approve ourselves in God’s sight.

III. WHY WE SHOULD THUS SEEK TO PLEASE GOD RATHER THAN ANY ONE ELSE.

1. It is easier to please Him. Only let us once accept the offers of love He has made us in His Son, and we can please Him; anything that we offer will be acceptable in His sight; the mere desire to please will give Him pleasure. Is it difficult for a child to put pleasure into a father’s heart? Does a mother require much from her infant to afford her delight? But what is a father’s or a mother’s love to the love of the great God for us? As a shadow to a substance. His mighty love for us then makes it easy for us to please Him. But turn to the world. It is hard work to please that. What a multitude there is in it to gratify! every one wanting to be gratified in his own way, regarding you as nothing but the mere instrument of his pleasure. We may sacrifice ourselves on the world’s altar, but, alas! we shall gain nothing; the greater part of the world will be angry because the sacrifice has not been made for them only or as they would have it made. And then what a weathercock is the mind of man! How light and mutable! What pleases him today, he is tired of to-morrow, and offended with the day after. He who seeks to please God, has only one to please instead of multitudes; and He One who is considerate and merciful, and never requires us to hurt ourselves in order to please Him, and is always of one mind. That which pleases Him once will please Him for ever.

2. It is better to please God than any one else, more for our advantage. Think how little man can do for us, even if he is disposed and continues so, to do his best. Our greatest sorrows he can do little indeed to lighten, and our heaviest wants he car do nothing at all to supply. We cling to him as though he were all in all to us; an hour will come when we shall feet him to be a shadow. But think what God is. He is that God who made heaven and earth, and who could in a moment unmake them, bring them all into nothing again. He governs all things. He can give us whatsoever He will, and withheld from us whatsoever He will.

3. It is more ennobling to please God than to please any one else. The effort to please Him elevates the soul; seeking to please others debases it. We become like God by seeking to please Him. By keeping Him constantly before us we are changed into His image. This is not theory. I may appeal to every-day facts. Take the poor cottager whose heart God has touched, and taught to seek His favour. Apparently with everything around him to depress him, there is often an elevation in that man’s mind which constrains us to wonder at him. He has risen to a loftiness of thought and feeling which we can scarcely understand. And it is his piety alone which has raised him, his simple and earnest desire to please his Lord. And then look at some of the world’s great men, men who live on the world’s favour and applause. How low do we frequently see them sink! We marvel at the littleness they betray.

4. Hence we may observe that a supreme desire to please God conforms us more than anything else to Christ our Lord. He “pleased not Himself,” the Scripture says. As we read His history we never suspect Him of having done so. It was not His own gratification that brought Him out of His Father’s world and kept Him in our world amid pollution and sorrow. He sought not His own honour here, He did not His own works, He would not speak even His own words. And a careful reader of His history will never suspect Him of having been a pleaser of men. He points upwards to His Father, and says, “I do always those things that please Him.” Now there is a blessed resemblance between Christ and His people. They have the same spirit that He had, and it is their joy and delight to have it. We say that it forms their character, they feel that it is a main part of their happiness. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Pleasing God

I. HE WHO WOULD BE HAPPY MUST PLEASE GOD.

1. God is a pleasable Being.

2. God is pleasable by man.

II. HE WHO WOULD PLEASE GOD MUST COME TO HIM. Christ is the way into the loving presence of the Great Father. Man pleases Him by trusting in His Son, cherishing His Spirit, and following His example.

III. HE WHO WOULD COME TO HIM MUST BELIEVE ON HIM.

1. In the fact of His existence.

2. In the fact of His retributive ministry. (Homilist.)

Pleasing God

I. THE PRE-REQUISITES TO THAT STATE IN WHICH WE SHALL ACTUALLY PLEASE GOD.

1. A principle of faith in the revealed testimony of God.

2. A distinct faith in Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Advocate, and

Redeemer.

3. The Divinely-formed elements of a new character within us.

II. THE COURSE OF THOSE PERSONS WHO ACTUALLY PLEASE GOD.

1. Righteousness predominating.

2. Devotion accompanying.

3. Zeal inflaming and animating.

III. THE TESTIMONY GIVEN OF THIS FACT.

1. The inspired declarations of Holy Writ.

2. Conscience divinely aided and corroborated.

3. The outward events of life, as proved from the ordinary history, and from the experience and lives of God’s people. (J. Leifchild.)

What makes men please God?

There are four things which must concur to please God--all which are accomplished by faith, and by nothing else.

1. The person of him that pleaseth God must be accepted of God (Titus 1:15). God had respect unto Abel (Genesis 4:4).

2. The matter that pleaseth God must be agreeable to His will (chap. 13:21; Romans 12:2).

3. The manner of doing that which pleaseth God must be with due respect to God, and that is in these and other like particulars

4. The end, which is God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The foresaid four general points are those four causes whereby everything is made perfect. Faith is the means whereby all of them may be effected and accomplished.

Enoch’s religion:

His religion was not a speculation or a theory, which he took up to-day and laid down to-morrow. It was not the vain dream of enthusiasm, which is founded on no steady and tried principles of reason, by which he was actuated. It was not the momentary impulse which induced him to take God’s side to-day and which left him at liberty to desert it to-morrow. It was rather a religion of reason and deliberation; a religion of faith in the Divine character and promises; a religion which influenced, and guided, and sustained him, at one moment as at another. It was the allegiance of the heart, flowing from the decisions of the understanding. It was the obedience and homage of the soul. It was the tribute of dependence, gratitude, and love. It was the sacrifice of the whole man, a reasonable and acceptable service. Probity, and truth, and righteousness were its bright results. Hence Enoch pleased God--God graciously owned his allegiance and accepted his intercourse. His aim was to please God, and it was accepted as such. He was the child of mercy, the disciple of truth and charity. Whatever might be the judgment which men formed of his character, God was ready to avow, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” (G. T. Noel, M.A,)


Verse 6

Hebrews 11:6

Without faith it is impossible to please Him

The nature and importance of faith

I.
THIS NATURE OF FAITH IN GENERAL. NOW the term, faith, “expresses a confidence or persuasion of the truth of anything not self-evident, received upon the testimony of another.” To have faith in the subjects of human testimony, requires a certain comprehension of the nature of the subjects, and a confidence in the credibility of the testimony under which those subjects are presented to our knowledge. Precisely the same circumstances appear to take place in reference to Divine testimony. We are satisfied as to the credibility of the testimony--that it comes from God. But the objects presented to us upon that testimony will become the actual objects of our faith, exactly to the extent and no further in which we understand them. Our comprehension of the object will always be the limit of our faith; and this faith will diminish or augment in the very degree in which our perception is clear or confused. But it is needful here to remark that the Divine testimony, though depending upon precisely the same process of mind as to its existence, and growth, and contraction, is far more difficult of acquirement and of retention than faith in human testimony. Is it inquired wherefore? The answer is that sin has crippled our power of judgment--that sin has deadened the spiritual sensibility which is absolutely essential to the perception of Divine truth. Supposing, therefore, the powers of understanding and of imagination to be equal in any two persons, he will comprehend the Christian revelation the most clearly who has the purest affections, who is in the highest degree detached from human objects, and who is the most conversant with the objects of the heavenly world. The purity of God; the evil of sin; the love of Christ; the manifestation of that Jove to the human soul; the hidden and holy intercourse of the heart with God; the necessity for atonement; the freeness of Divine grace; the renovation of the heart by the power and compassion of the great Comforter; the value of prayer; the fervour of gratitude; the desire to be with Christ; the secret calm of confidence in His eternal love--these, and many other subjects embodied in the testimonies of God, aresubjects with which an unholy, earthly heart cannot come into full contact. There may be a distant perception, indeed, even of these; but the affections that are low and sensual cannot perceive them so as to taste their value. And such is essential to their perception. The value which the Scriptures attach to faith, is hence no ground of surprise to him who has felt Christianity to be dear and healing to his heart. It has been by a Divine influence that he has come into contact with the spiritual meaning of Christianity; and his faith in that spiritual meaning has been the medium through which he came into such contact. He is therefore aware that no language can do justice to the worth of faith. It will thus appear that to faith belong all the essential blessings of Christianity. We come into intercourse with God; we rest under the shelter of the atonement; we are renewed in our tastes and inclinations; we acquire a home, a refuge; we regard the future as serene and bright; these blessings we acquire by faith, and by faith only. Nor is there any other conceivable way of embracing all the great and consoling realities of the gospel. Faith is, hence, the confidence of the penitent, and devout, and affectionate heart, as it reposes its weary sensations amidst the gracious assurances of God! It is farther evident from these statements, that faith will be often progressive, and often retrograde. Let the true Christian become unduly eager about earthly emoluments; let him diminish voluntarily the time he passes in secret converse with God; let him call away his thoughts from the character and friendship of his Saviour; let him thwart the precious influences of the Holy Spirit--and his faith will necessarily contract its operations; the finer and more ethereal parts of Christianity will begin to grow indistinct; his affections will be disordered; he will believe less, in reference to God and eternity, than he did before; his faith will shrink, or will vacillate as to real good and evil. On the other hand, let him grow more familiar with the lofty thoughts and aspirations of the gospel; let him discover more of the glory of Christ; let him derive from Him larger accessions of holy peace and joy; let the earth remove farther from his interior fellowship--and heaven, with all its bright anticipations, come into closer union with his understanding and his affections; and he will necessarily believe more of Christianity than he did before--he will know more of its hidden worth, as the increased purity of his affections is throwing down more of the barrier which sin had interposed between his soul and God; or, which is the same thing, between him and the richer parts of Christianity.

II. THE MORE LIMITED SENSE OF THE TERM FAITH, in the passage of Scripture before us. Faith in this chapter has special reference to those tenets of Christianity which unveil the future world--the triumph and the” rest” of the righteous; and in the text it seems to refer more specially to the confidence of the soul as to God’s intentions to render it eternally happy. The man who thus confides believes that God is, not simply that He exists, but that He exists as a kind, compassionate, generous God, to the soul that seeks Him.

III. THE INFLUENCE OF THIS FAITH UPON OUR HABITUALLY PLEASING GOD. NO one can read the Scriptures with attention without being struck by the intense anxiety of God to produce and perpetuate confidence in His mercy and grace. The whole of God’s intercourse with man is to excite his gratitude and attachment; to prove to him that God’s thoughts, in reference to generosity and Compassion, are far higher than the thoughts of men; and to rectify the fatal mistake that happiness lies in external objects, and in the emoluments of earth. Christianity is the exhibition of the Divine character. Its chief feature is holy mercy. Hence faith is essential to our intercourse with God. He who doubts God’s goodness, he who voluntarily severs himself from God’s care, and casts himself as an orphan upon his own resources, thus forces back the hand which is lifted up in his defence, and rejects the succours of omnipotence. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Is it then presumption to believe God’s assurances, and to rest the full burden of our hopes upon His promises? Shall we still cling to the deceptive assurances of the world, and rest upon the poor broken reeds of earth? Earthly blessings, moderately enjoyed and gratefully received, may embellish and smooth in part the rugged journey of life; but they cannot build up a final dwelling-place; they cannot occupy the place of God in the heart; they cannot fill up the deep void which sin has left in the human soul. They can have no fellowship with all its inner necessities. They can carry no balm to the wounds of conscience; they can draw out no sting from death; they can achieve no victory over the grave. This is the work of God; this is the victory of Jesus Christ! Thrice happy those whom God has made willing to confide in His power. “Their defence is the munition of rocks.” The outward walls may crumble to decay; but nought can touch “their citadel of peace in Jesus’s blood.” (G. T. Noel, M. A.)

Of the nature of faith in general

I. WE WILL CONSIDER THE CAUSE OF FAITH, OR THE ARGUMENT WHEREBY IT IS WROUGHT.

1. Sense; hence it is commonly said that “seeing is believing,” that is, one of the best arguments to persuade us of anything. That faith may be wrought by this argument appears both from the nature of the thing, nothing being more apt to persuade us of anything than our senses, and from several expressions in Scripture. I will instance in one for all (John 20:8).

2. Experience, which, though it may be sensible, and then it is the same argument with sense, yet sometimes it is not, and then it is an argument distinct from it. As for example, a man may by experience be persuaded or induced to believe this proposition--that his will is free, that he can do this, or not do it; which is a better argument than a demonstration to the contrary, if there could be one.

3. Reasons drawn from the thing; which may either be necessary and concluding, or else only probable and plausible.

4. The authority and testimony of some credible person. Now two things give authority and credit to the relation, or testimony, or assertion of a person concerning anything; ability and integrity.

II. The second thing to be considered is THE DEGREES OF FAITH, AND THE DIFFERENCE OF THEM. NOW the capacity or incapacity of persons are infinitely various, and not to be reduced to theory; but supposing a competent capacity in the person, then the degrees of faith or persuasion take their difference from the arguments, or motives, or inducements which are used to persuade. Where sense is the argument, there is the firmest degree of faith, or persuasion. Next to that is experience, which is beyond any argument or reason from the thing. The faith or persuasion which is wrought in us by reasons from the thing, the degrees of it are as the reasons are: if they be necessary and concluding, it is firm and certain in its kind; if only probable, according to the degrees of probability, it hath more or less of doubting mixed with it. Lastly, the faith which is wrought in us by testimony or authority of a person takes its degrees from the credit of a person, that is, his ability and integrity. Now because “all men are liars,” that is, either may deceive, or be deceived, their testimony partakes of their infirmity, and so doth the degree of persuasion wrought by it; but God being both infallible and true His testimony begets the firmest persuasion, and the highest degree of faith in its kind. But then it is to be considered, that there not being a revelation of a revelation in infinitum, that this is a Divine testimony and revelation we can only have rational assurance; and the degree of the faith or persuasion which is wrought by a Divine testimony will be according to the strength of the arguments which we have to persuade us that such a testimony is Divine.

III. For the efficacy or operation of faith we are to consider, THAT THE THINGS WE MAY BELIEVE OR BE PERSUADED OF ARE OF TWO SORTS. Either,

1. They are such as do not concern me; and then the mind rests in a simple belief of them, and a faith or persuasion of such things has no effect upon me; but is apt to have, if ever it happen that the matter do concern me: or else,

2. The thing I believe or am persuaded of doth concern me; and then it hath several effects according to the nature of the thing I am persuaded of, or the degree of the persuasion, or the capacity of the person that believes or is persuaded. If the thing believed be of great moment the effect of the faith is proportionable, and so according to the degree of the persuasion; but if the person be indisposed to the proper effects of such a persuasion by the power of contrary habits, as it often happens, the effect will be obtained with more difficulty, and may possibly be totally defeated by casting off the persuasion; for while it remains it will operate, and endeavour and strive to work its proper effect.

IV. FOR THE KINDS OF FAITH, THEY ARE SEVERAL, ACCORDING TO THE VARIETY OF OBJECTS OF THINGS BELIEVED. I shall reduce them all under these two general heads.

1. Faith is either civil or human, under which I comprehend the persuasion of things moral, and natural, and political, and the like; or,

2. Divine and religious; that is, a persuasion of things that concern religion. I know not whether these terms be proper, nor am I very solicitous, because I know none fitter, and tell you what I mean by them. (Abp. Tillotson.)

Of a religious and divine faith:

I. A PERSUASION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL RELIGION, such as the light of nature could discover; such are the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and a future state.

1. Whether it may truly and properly be called faith or not? If the general notion of faith which I have fixed before, viz., that it is a persuasion of the mind concerning anything, be a true notion of faith, then there is no doubt but this may as properly be called faith, as anything can be; because a man may be persuaded in his mind concerning these things that there is a God, that our souls are immortal, that there is another state after this life. But besides this, if the Scripture speaks properly, as we have reason to believe it does, especially when it treats professedly of anything as the apostle here does, then this question is fully decided; for it is evident to any one that will but read this verse that the apostle doth here in this place speak of this kind of faith; that is, a belief or persuasion of the principles of natural religion.

2. What are the arguments whereby this faith, or the persuasion of these principles of natural religion, is wrought? They are such reasons as may be drawn from things themselves to persuade us hereof; as either from the notion and idea which we have of a God, that He is a being that hath all perfections, whereof necessary existence is one, and consequently that He must be; or else from the universal consent of all nations, and the generality of persons agreeing in this apprehension, which cannot be attributed reasonably to any other cause than to impressions stamped upon our understandings by God Himself; or (which is most plain of all) from this visible frame of the world, which we cannot, without great violence to our understandings, impute to any other cause than a Being endowed with infinite goodness, and power, and wisdom, which is that we call God. As for the other two principles of natural religion, the immortality of the soul, and a future state, after we believe a God we may be persuaded of these from Divine revelation; and that doth give us the highest and firmest assurance of them in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

3. Whether this faith or persuasion of the principles of natural religion admit degrees or not? And what differences are observable in them? That it does admit degrees, that is that a man may be more or less persuaded of the truth of those principles, is evident from the heathens, some of whom did yield a more firm and unshaken assent to them; others entertained them with a more faint persuasion of them, especially of the immortality of the soul and a future state, about which most of them had many qualms and doubts. Of all the heathens Socrates seems to have had the truest and firmest persuasion of these things; which he did not only testify in words, but by the constancy, and calmness, and sedate courage which he manifested at his death. So that this faith and persuasion admits of degrees the difference whereof is to be resolved partly into the capacity of the persons who believe, and partly into the strength, or at least appearance of strength, in the arguments whereby it is wrought.

4. What are the proper and genuine effects of this faith or persuasion? Now that, in a word, is natural religion which consists in apprehensions of God suitable to His nature, and affections towards Him suitable to these apprehensions, and actions suitable to both.

5. In what sense this faith or persuasion of the principles of natural religion may be said to be Divine? In these two respects:

II. The second sort of faith, which I call A PERSUASION OF THINGS SUPERNATURALLY REVEALED, OF THINGS WHICH ARE NOT KNOWN BY NATURAL LIGHT, BUT BY SOME MORE IMMEDIATE MANIFESTATION AND DISCOVERY FROM GOD. Thus we find our Saviour (Matthew 16:15-17), opposeth Divine revelation to the discovery of natural reason and light.

1. Whether this may truly and properly be called faith? And that it may is evident, because the general definition of faith agrees to it; for a man may be persuaded in his mind concerning things supernaturally revealed; and the Scripture everywhere calls a persuasion of these matters by the name of faith. Bat besides this, it seems this is the adequate and only notion of faith as it hath been fixed by the schools, and is become a term of art. For the definition that the schools give of faith is this, that it is an assent to a thing credible, as credible. Now, say they, that is credible which relies upon the testimony of a credible person; and consequently a human faith is that which relies upon human testimony; and a Divine faith that which relies upon the testimony or authority of God.

2. What is the argument whereby this faith or persuasion of things supernaturally revealed is wrought in us? And this, by the general consent of all, is the testimony or authority of God some way or other revealing these things to us; whose infallible and unerring knowledge, together with His goodness and authority, gives us the highest assurance that He neither can be deceived Himself, nor will deceive us in anything that He reveals to us.

3. As to the degrees of this faith. Supposing men sufficiently satisfied that the Scriptures are the Word of God, that is, a Divine revelation; then all those who are sufficiently satisfied of this do equally believe the things contained in the Scriptures. Supposing any man be unsatisfied, and do make any doubt whether these books called Holy Scriptures, or any of them, be the Word of God, that is a Divine revelation; proportionably to the degree of his doubting concerning the Divine authority of the Scriptures, there will be an abatement of his faith as to the things contained in them. And upon this account I think it is that the Scripture speaks of degrees of faith; of growing and increasing in faith; of a strong faith; and of a weak faith, that is such a faith as had a great mixture of doubting; by which we are not to understand that they doubted of the truth of anything of which they were satisfied by a Divine revelation; but that they doubted whether such things were Divine revelations or not.

4. What are the proper and genuine effects of this faith? The proper and genuine effects of the belief of the Scriptures in general is the conformity of our hearts and lives to what we believe; that is, to be such persons and to live such lives as it becomes those who do heartily believe, and are really persuaded of the truth of the Scriptures. And if this be a constant and abiding persuasion it will produce this effect; but with more or less difficulty according to the disposition of the subject, and the weakness or strength of contrary habits and inclinations. More particularly the effects of this faith are according to the nature of the matter believed. If it be a history or relation of things past, or prophecy of things to come, it hath an effect upon men so far as the history or prophecy doth concern them. If it be a doctrine, it hath the effect which the particular nature and tendency of such a doctrine requires.

5. In what sense this faith of things supernaturally revealed may be said to be a Divine faith? blot only in respect of the matter and object of it, which are Divine things, such as concern God and religion and in respect of the Divine effects it hath upon those who believe these things (for in these two respects a persuasion of the principles of natural religion may be said to be a Divine faith); but likewise in respect of the argument whereby it is wrought, which is a Divine testimony. (Abp. Tillotson.)

Of the faith or persuasion of a Divine revelation

I. WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY A DIVINE REVELATION. A supernatural discovery or manifestation of things to us. I say supernatural because it may either be immediately by God, or by the mediation of angels; as most if not all the revelations of the Old Testament were; a supernatural discovery or manifestation, either immediately to our minds and inward faculties, or else mediately to our understandings, by the mediation of our outward senses; as by an external appearance to our bodily eyes, or by a voice and sound to the sense of hearing.

II. WHETHER A PERSUASION OF A DIVINE REVELATION MAY PROPERLY RE CALLED FAITH? To this I answer, that according to the narrow notion of faith which the schools have fixed, which is an assent to anything grounded upon the testimony and authority of God revealing it, a persuasion of a Divine revelation cannot properly be called faith, because it is irrational to expect that a man should have another Divine revelation to assure him that this is a Divine revelation; for then, for the same reason, I must expect another Divine revelation to assure me of that, and so without end. But according to the true and general notion of faith, which is a persuasion of the mind concerning anything, a persuasion of the mind concerning a Divine revelation may as properly be called faith as anything else, if men will but grant that a man may be so satisfied concerning a Divine revelation, as verily to believe and be persuaded that it is so.

III. How WE MAY COME TO BE PERSUADED OF A DIVINE REVELATION THAT IT IS SUCH or by what arguments this persuasion is wrought in us?

1. As to those persons to whom the revelation is immediately made, the question is by what arguments or means they may come to be assured that any revelation which they have is really and truly such, and not a delusion or imposture.

2. What assurance can other persons, who have not the revelation immediately made to them, have of a Divine revelation? To this I shall answer by these propositions:

(a) Otherwise it would signify nothing, but only to the person that immediately had it; which would make void the chief end of most revelations, which are seldom made to particular persons for their own sakes only, but, for the most part, on purpose that they may be made known to others, which could not effectually be done unless there be some means whereby men may be assured of revelations made to another.

(b) None could be guilty of unbelief but those who had immediate revelation made to them. For no man is guilty of unbelief that is not obliged to believe; but no man can be under any obligation to believe anything, who hath not sufficient means whereby he may be assured that such a thing is true.

IV. WHETHER THIS FAITH CONCERNING A DIVINE REVELATION MADE TO OTHERS NO ADMIT OF DEGREES? That it doth is evident from these expressions which the Scripture useth, of “increasing faith,” of “growing in it,” of “a weak and strong faith,” all which plainly supposeth degrees. And here it will be proper to inquire what is the highest degree of assurance which we can have concerning a Divine revelation made to another, that it is such; whether it be an infallible assurance, or only an undoubted certainty.

1. That infallibility is not essential to Divine faith, and necessarily included in the notion of it; which I prove thus. Divine faith admits of degrees, as I have showed before; but there can be no degree of infallibility. Infallibility is an impossibility of being deceived; but there are no degrees of impossibility, one thing is not more impossible than another; but all things that are impossible are equally so.

2. That the assurance which we have of the miracles wrought for the confirmation of the gospel is not an infallible assurance.

3. That an undoubted assurance of a Divine revelation that it is such, is as much as in reason can be expected. No man pretends to a Divine revelation that there is a God; but only to have rational satisfaction of it, such as leaves no just or reasonable cause to doubt of it. And why then should any desire greater assurance of a Divine revelation than he hath of a God?

4. An undoubted assurance is sufficient to constitute a Divine faith. Do not men venture their estates in traffic to places they never saw, because they have it from credible persons that there are such places, and they have no reason to doubt their testimony; and why should not the same assurance serve in greater matters if an undoubted assurance of a lesser benefit and advantage will make men venture as much? Why should any man desire greater assurance of anything than to have no just reason to doubt it; why more than so much as the thing is capable of? I shall only add this: that nothing hath been more pernicious to Christian religion than the vain pretences of men to greater assurance concerning things relating to it than they can make good; the mischief of which is this--that when discerning and inquisitive men find that men pretend to greater matters than they can prove, this makes them doubt of all they say, and to call in question Christianity itself. Whereas if men would be contented to speak justly of things, and pretend to no greater assurance than they can bring evidence for, considerate men would be apt to believe them.

V. WHAT IS THE PROPER AND GENUINE EFFECT OF THIS FAITH OF A DIVINE REVELATION? I answer, a compliance with the design and intention of it.

VI. IN WHAT RESPECT THIS MAY BE CALLED A DIVINE FAITH. TO this I answer, not only in respect of the object of it, and the argument whereby it is wrought, and the effect of it; but, likewise, in respect of the author and efficient of it, which is the Divine Spirit. (Abp. Tillotson.)

Of the testimony of the Spirit to the truth of the gospel

I. IN RESPECT OF THE OUTWARD EVIDENCE WHICH THE SPIRIT OF GOD GIVES US TO PERSUADE US TO BELIEVE. And if this be not that which divines mean by the testimony of the Spirit in this matter, yet I think it is that which may most properly be so called. Now the Spirit of God did outwardly testify concerning Jesus, that He was the Messias, and came from God; and that the doctrine which He taught was Divine.

1. In the voice from heaven, which accompanied the descending of the Spirit upon Him (Matthew 3:17).

2. In those miracles which Christ Himself wrought by the Spirit of God, which were so eminent a testimony of the Spirit of God, that the resisting of the evidence of those miracles, and the attributing of them to the devil, is by our Saviour called a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.

3. In the great miracle of His resurrection from the dead.

4. In the effusion of the Spirit upon the apostles, who were to preach Christ and His doctrine to the world; and that it might carry its evidence along with it.

II. FAITH IS IN A PECULIAR MANNER ATTRIBUTED TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD, IN RESPECT OF THE INWARD EFFICACY AND OPERATION OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT UPON THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THOSE WHO SINCERELY AND EFFECTUALLY BELIEVE AND ENTERTAIN THE GOSPEL.

1. By strengthening the faculty, that is, raising and enabling our understanding to yield assent to the gospel. God is said, in Scripture, to “enlighten the eyes of our understandings,” which we may, if we please, understand in this sense; although that may be done by propounding such truths to us as we were ignorant of before, and could not have discovered, unless they had been revealed.

2. By enlightening and discovering the object, or thing to be believed. In the case we are speaking of, the object or thing to be believed is the gospel: now we may imagine the Spirit of God may work a faith or persuasion of this in us, by revealing or discovering to us this proposition, that the gospel is true.

3. By propounding and offering to us such arguments and evidence as are apt to persuade us of the truth of the gospel. And this, the Spirit of God, which inspired the writers of the Scripture, doth mediately by the Scriptures, and those characters of Divinity which are in the doctrines contained in them; and by those miracles which are there credibly related to be wrought by the Spirit of God, for the confirmation of that doctrine. And besides this, the Spirit of God may, when He pleaseth, and probably often doth, immediately suggest those arguments to our minds, and bring them to our remembrance.

4. By holding our minds intent upon this evidence, till it hath wrought its effect upon us.

5. By removing the impediments which hinder our effectual assent to the gospel. And in this and the last particular I conceive the work of the Spirit of God, in the producing of faith, principally to consist.

6. By furthering and helping forward the efficacy of this persuasion upon our hearts and lives, in the first work of conversion and regeneration, and in the progressive work of sanctification afterward, both which the Scripture doth everywhere attribute to the Spirit of God, as the author and efficient cause.

Lessons:

1. We may learn from hence to attribute all the good that is in us, or that we do in any kind, to God.

III. THOUGH “FAITH” BE “THE GIFT OF GOD,” YET THOSE THAT BELIEVE NOT ARE FAULTY UPON THIS ACCOUNT, THAT THEY QUENCH AND RESIST THE BLESSED MOTIONS OF GOD’S SPIRIT, and the influence and operation of the Spirit of God, which accompany the truth of the gospel to the minds of men, and produce their effect wherever they are not opposed and rejected by the prejudice and perverseness of men.

IV. Let us depend upon God for every good gift, and EARNESTLY BEG THE ASSISTANCE AND INFLUENCE OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT, WHICH IS SO NECESSARY TO US TO BEGET FAITH IN US, AND TO PRESERVE AND MAKE IT EFFECTUAL UPON OUR HEARTS AND LIVES. Bread is not more necessary to the support of our natural life, than the Holy Spirit of God to our spiritual life. For our encouragement to ask this gift of God’s Holy Spirit, our Saviour hath told us that God is very ready to bestow it upon us (Luke 11:11-13). (Abp. Tillotson.)

The efficacy, usefulness, and reasonableness, of Divine faith

I. WITHOUT FAITH THERE CAN BE NO RELIGION. And this will appear by inquiring into the nature of all human actions, whether civil or religious; and this is common to both of them, that they suppose some kind of faith or persuasion. For example, husbandry, or merchandise; no man will apply himself to these, but upon some belief or persuasion of the possibility and necessity, or at least usefulness and convenience, of these to the ends of life. So it is in Divine and religious things; nothing is done without faith. No man will worship God unless he believe there is a God; unless he be persuaded there is such a being, which, by reason of his excellency and perfection, may challenge our veneration; and unless he believe the goodness of this God, that “He will reward those that diligently serve Him.” So likewise no man can entertain Christ as the Messias and Saviour of the world, and yield obedience to His laws, unless he believes that He was sent of God, and ordained by Him to be a Prince and a Saviour. So that you see the necessity of faith to religion.

II. THE INFLUENCE THAT A DIVINE FAITH HATH UPON MEN TO MAKE THEM RELIGIOUS.

1. A true Divine faith supposeth a man satisfied and persuaded of the reasonableness of religion. He that verily believes there is a God, believes there is a being that hath all excellency and perfection, that is infinitely good, and wise, and just, and powerful, that made and preserves all things. Now he that believes such a Being as this, cannot but think it reasonable that He should be esteemed and adored by all those creatures that are sensible and apprehensive of these excellences; not only by constant praise of Him, but by a universal obedience to His will, and a cheerful submission to His pleasure. For what more reasonable than gratitude? And seeing He is truth itself, and hath been pleased to reveal His will to us, what can be more reasonable than to believe all those discoveries and revelations which “ God, who cannot lie,” hath made to us, and to comply with the intention of them? And seeing He is the original pattern of all excellency and perfection, what can be more reasonable than to imitate the perfections of the Divine nature, and to endeavour to be as like God as we can? And these are the sum of all religion.

2. A true Divine faith supposeth a man satisfied and persuaded of the necessity of religion; that is, that it is necessary to every man’s interest to be religious; that it will be highly for our advantage to be so, and eminently to our prejudice to be otherwise; that if we be so we shall be happy, if we be not we shall be miserable and undone for ever.

1. This shows why there is so little of true religion in the world; it is for want of faith, without which it is impossible for men to be religious. If men were verily persuaded that the great, and holy, and just God looks continually upon them, and that it is impossible to hide from Him anything that we do, they would not dare to commit any sin in His sight, and under the eye of Him who is their Father and Master, their Sovereign and their Judge, their Friend and Benefactor; who is invested with all these titles, and stands to us in all these relations, which may challenge reverence and respect. Did men believe that they shall live for ever, and that after this short life is ended they must enter upon eternity; did men believe this, would they not with all possible care and diligence endeavour to attain the one and avoid the other? Did men believe the Scripture to be the Word of God, and to contain matters of the highest importance to our everlasting happiness, would they neglect it and lay it aside, and study it no more than a man would do an almanac out of date.

2. If faith have so great an influence upon religion, then the next use shall be to persuade men to believe. No man can be religious that doth not believe these two things:

Faith

The old Assembly’s Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and its answer is, “To glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” The answer is exceedingly correct; but it might have been equally truthful if it had been shorter. The chief end of man is “to please God”; for in so doing he will please himself. He that pleases God is, through Divine grace, journeying onward to the ultimate reward of all those that love and fear God; but he who is ill-pleasing to God must, for Scripture has declared it, be banished from the presence of God, and consequently from the enjoyment of happiness. If then, we be right in saying that to please God is to be happy, the one important question is, how can I please God? And there is something very solemn in the utterance of our text: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” That is to say, do what you may, strive as earnestly as you can, live as excellently as you please, make what sacrifices you choose, be as eminent as you can for everything that is lovely and of good repute, yet none of these things can be pleasing to God unless they be mixed with faith.

I. First, for the EXPOSITION. What is faith?

1. The first thing in faith is knowledge. “Search the Scriptures,” then, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Christ”; and by reading cometh knowledge, and by knowledge cometh faith, and through faith cometh salvation.

2. But a man may know a thing, and yet not have faith. I may know a thing, and yet not believe it. Therefore assent must go with faith; that is to say, what we know we must all agree unto, as being most certainly the verity of God.

3. But a man may have all this, and yet not possess true faith; for the chief part of faith lies in the last head, namely, in an affiance to the truth; not the believing it merely, but the taking hold of it as being ours, and in the resting on it for salvation. Recumbency on the truth was the word which the old preachers used. You will understand that word. Leaning on it; saying, “This is truth, I trust my salvation on it.” Now, true faith, in its very essence rests in this--a leaning upon Christ. It will not save me to know that Christ is a Saviour; but it will save me to trust Him to be my Saviour.

II. And now we come to the ARGUMENT--why, without faith, we cannot be saved.

1. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” And I gather it from the fact that there never has been the case of a man recorded in Scripture who did please God without faith.

2. But the next argument is, faith is the stooping grace, and nothing can make man stoop without faith. Now, unless man does stoop, his sacrifice cannot he accepted. The angels know this. When they praise God, they do it veiling their faces with their wings. The redeemed know it. When they praise God, they cast their crowns before His feet.

3. Faith is necessary to salvation, because we are told in Scripture that works cannot save. To tell a very familiar story, and even the poorest may not misunderstand what I say: a minister was one day going to preach. He climbed a hill on his road. Beneath him lay the villages, sleeping in their beauty, with the cornfields motionless in the sunshine; but he did not look at them, for his attention was arrested by a woman standing at her door, and who, upon seeing him, came up to him with the greatest anxiety, and said, “Oh, sir, have you any keys about you? I have broken the key of my drawers, and there are some things that I must get directly.” Said he, “I have no keys.” She was disappointed, expecting that every one would have some keys. “But suppose,” he said, “I had some keys, they might not fit your lock, and therefore you could not get the articles you want. But do not distress yourself, wait till some one else comes up. But,” said he, wishing to improve the occasion, “have you ever heard of the key of heaven?” “Ah! yes,” she said, “I have lived long enough, and I have gone to church long enough, to know that if we work hard and get our bread by the sweat of our brow, and act well towards our neighbours, and behave, as the catechism says, lowly and reverently to all our betters, and if we do our duty in that station of life in which it has pleased God to place us, and say our prayers regularly, we shall be saved.” “Ah!” said he, “my good woman, that is a broken key, for you have broken the commandments, you have not fulfilled all your duties. It is a good key, but you have broken it.” “Pray, sir,” said she, believing that he understood the matter, and looking frightened, “What have I left out? … Why,” said he, “the all-important thing, the blood of Jesus Christ. Don’t you know it is said, the key of heaven is at His girdle; He openeth, and no man shutteth; He shutteth, and no man openeth”? And explaining it more fully to her, he said, “It is Christ, and Christ alone, that can open heaven to you, and not your good works.” “What, minister,” said she, “are our good works useless, then?” “No,” said he, “not after faith. If you believe first, you may have as many good works as you please; but if you believe, you will never trust in them, for if you trust in them you have spoilt them, and they are not good works any longer. Have as many good works as you please, still put your trust wholly in the Lord Jesus Christ, for if you do not, your key will never unlock heaven’s gate.”

4. Again: without faith it is impossible to be saved, and to please God, because without faith there is no union to Christ. Now, union to Christ is indispensable to our salvation. If I come before God’s throne with my prayers, I shall never get them answered, unless I bring Christ with me.

5. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” because it is impossible to persevere in holiness without faith.

III. And now in conclusion, THE QUESTION, the vital question. Have you faith?

1. He that has faith has renounced his own righteousness.

2. True faith begets a great esteem for the person of Christ.

3. He that has true faith will have true obedience. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Faith essential to pleasing God

I. THE APOSTLE ASSERTS THAT FAITH IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO THE PLEASING OF GOD.

1. For, first, without faith there is no capacity for communion with God at all. The things of God are spiritual and invisible; without faith we cannot recognise such things, but must be dead to them.

2. Without faith the man himself is not pleasing to God. Faith in Christ makes a total change in our position towards God--we who were enemies are reconciled; and from this comes towards God a distinct change in the nature of all our actions: imperfect though they be, they spring from a loyal heart, and they are pleasing to God.

3. Remember that, in human associations, want of confidence would prevent a man’s being well-pleasing to another. When the creature dares to doubt his Creator, how can the Creator be pleased?

4. Unbelief takes away the common ground upon which God and man can meet. According to the well-worn fable, two persons who are totally different in their pursuits cannot well live together: the fuller and the charcoal-burner were obliged to part; for whatever the fuller had made white, the collier blackened with his finger. If differing pursuits divide, much more will differing feelings upon a vital point. It is Jesus whom Jehovah delights to honour; and if you will not even trust Jesus with your soul’s salvation, you grieve the heart of God, and He can have no pleasure in you.

5. Want of faith destroys all prospect of love.

6. Want of faith will create positive variance on many points.

7. By what means can we hope to please God, apart from faith in Him? By keeping all the commandments? Alas! you have not done so. If you do not believe in Him you are not obedient to Him. We are bound to obey with the mind by believing, as well as with the hand by acting. Remember the impossibility of pleasing the Lord without faith, and do not dash your ship upon this iron-bound coast.

II. THE APOSTLE MENTIONS TWO ESSENTIAL POINTS OF FAITH. He begins by saying, “He that cometh to God must believe that He is.” Note the key-word “must”: it is an immovable, insatiable necessity. Before we can walk with God, it is clear that we must “come to God.” Naturally, we are at a distance from Him, and we must end that distance by coming to Him, or else we cannot walk with Him, nor be pleasing to Him. Believe that God is as truly as you are; and let Him be real to you. Believe that He is to be approached, to be realised, to be, in fact, the great practical factor of your life. Hold this as the primary truth, that God is most influential upon you; and then believe that it is your business to come to Him. But there is only one way of coming to Him, and you must have faith to use that way. Yet all this would be nothing without the second point of belief. We must believe that “He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” We seek Him, first, when we begin by prayer, by trusting to Jesus, and by.calling upon the sacred name, to seek salvation. Afterwards we seek God by aiming at His glory, by making Him the great object for which we live.

III. WE WILL NOW GATHER A FEW LESSONS FROM WHAT THE APOSTLE HAS TAUGHT US.

1. First, then, the apostle teaches us here by implication that God is pleased with those who have faith The negative is often the plainest way of suggesting the positive.

2. Learn, next, that those who have faith make it the great object of their life to please God.

3. Next, note, the apostle teaches us here that they who have faith in God are always coming to God; for He speaks of the believer as “He that cometh to God.” You not only come to Him, and go away from Him, as in acts of prayer and praise; but you are always coming; your life is a march towards Him.

4. God will see that those who practise faith in Him shall have a reward. God Himself is enough for the believer.

5. Those who have no faith are in a fearful case. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Trust gratifies

The “Cottager and Artisan” gives the following anecdote of the late Lord Shaftesbury:--“I was one day,” he said, “about to cross the street in one of the great thoroughfares of London. It was very crowded, and a little girl all alone was much puzzled as to how she was to get over. I watched her walking up and down, and scanning the faces of those who passed to see if there were any whom she could trust, but for a long time she seemed to scan in vain. At last she came to me, and looking timidly up in my face, whispered, ‘Please, sir, will you lift me over?’ And,” Lord Shaftesbury adds, “that little child’s trust was the greatest compliment I ever had in my life.”

Value of faith

A New-Year’s wish of Romaine for his people and for himself was: “God grant that this may be a year famous for believing.” That is a wish that the most advanced century will never outgrow. Such a year will be famous indeed. Mighty works and mighty men are found where there is famous faith. The measure of the possibility of a year great in believing is the measure of the Infinite God Himself. (Sword and Trowel.)

He that cometh to God

Access to God:

It is a wonderful idea, the idea of the infinite, almighty, eternal Being, as to be approached and communicated with by man. If we might allow ourselves in such an imagination, as that the selected portion of all humanity, the very best and wisest persons on earth, were combined into a permanent assembly, and invested with a sovereign authority--the highest wisdom, virtue, science, and power thus united--would not a perfectly free access for the humblest, poorest, most distressed, and otherwise friendless, to such an assemblage, with a certainty of their most kind and sedulous attention being given--of their constant will to render aid--of their wisdom and power being promptly exercised--would not this be deemed an inestimable privilege to all within the compass of such an empire? But take a higher position, and suppose that there were such an economy that the most illustrious of the departed saints held the office of being practically, though unseen, patrons, protectors, assistants, guides, to men on earth; that the spirits of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, could be drawn, by those who desired it, to a direct personal attention, and to an exercise of their benignity and interference--would not this appear a resource of incalculable value? But there is another far loftier ascension. We are informed of a glorious order of intelligences that have never dwelt in flesh; many of whom may have enjoyed their existence from a remoteness of time surpassing what we can conceive of eternity; with an immense expansion of being and powers; with a perpetual augmentation of the goodness inspired by their Creator; and exercising their virtues and unknown powers in appointed offices of beneficence throughout the system of unnumbered worlds. Would it not seem a pre-eminent privilege, if the children of the dust might obtain a direct communication with them; might invoke them, accost them, draw them to a fixed attention, and with a sensible evidence of their indulgent patience and celestial benignity? Would not this seem an exaltation of felicity, throwing into shade everything that could be imagined to be derived to us from the benevolence and power of mortal or glorified humanity? Now, here we are at the summit of created existence; and up to this sublime elevation we have none of these supposed privileges. What, then, to do next? Next, our spirits have to raise their thoughts to an awful elevation above all subordinate existence in earth and heaven, in order to approach a presence where they may implore a beneficent attention, and enter into a communication with Him who is uncreated and infinite; a transition compared to which the distance from the inferior to the nobler, and then to the noblest of created beings, is reduced to nothing; as one lofty eminence on an elevated mountain--and a higher--and the highest--but thence to the starry heavens! But think, who is it that is thus to “come to God?” Man! little, feeble, mortal, fallen, sinful man! He is, if we may speak in such language, to venture an act expressly to arrest the attention of that stupendous Being. The purpose is to speak to Him in a personal manner; to detain Him in communication. The approaching petitioner is to utter thoughts, for God to admit them into His thoughts! He seeks to cause his words to be listened to by Him whose own words may be, at the very time, commanding new creations into existence. But reflect, also, that it is an act to call the special attention of Him whose purity has a perfect perception of all that is evil in the creature that approaches Him; of Him whom the applicant is conscious he has not, to the utmost of his faculties, adored or loved: alas! the very contrary! What an amazing view is thus presented of the situation the unworthy mortal is placed in, the position which he presumes to take, in “coming to God.” A sinful being immediately under the burning rays of Omnipotent Holiness! The idea is so fearful, that one might think it should be the most earnest desire of the human soul that there should be some intervention to save it from the fatal predicament. No wonder, then, that the most devout men of every age of the Christian dispensation have welcomed with gratitude the doctrine of a Mediator, manifested in the person of the Son of God, by whom the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man are, as it were, kept asunder; and a happy communication can take place through the medium of One who stands before the Divine Majesty of Justice, in man’s behalf, with a propitiation and a perfect righteousness. Thus far, and too long, we have dwelt on the wonderfulness of the fact and the greatness of the privilege of “coming to God.” We have to consider, a little, with what faith this is to be done. “Must believe that He is.” Must have a most absolute conviction that there is one Being infinitely unlike and superior to all others; the sole Self-existent, All-comprehending, and All-powerful; a reality in such a sense that all other things are but precarious modes of being, subsisting simply in virtue of His will;--must pass through and beyond the sphere of sense, to have a spiritual sight of “Him that is invisible”; and, more than merely a principle held in the understanding, must verify the solemn reality in a vitally pervading sentiment of the soul. And what a glory of intellect and faith thus to possess a truth which is the sun in our mental sphere, and whence radiate all the illuminations and felicities that can bless the rational creation! And what a spectacle of debasement and desolation is presented to us, when we behold the frightful phenomenon of a rational creature disbelieving a God! But how easily it may be said, “We have that faith; we never denied or doubted that there is such a Being.” Well; but reflect, and ascertain in what degree the general tenor of your feelings, and your habits of life, have been different from what they might have been if you had disbelieved or doubted. The effectual faith in the Divine existence always looks to consequences. In acknowledging each glorious attribute, it regards the aspect which it bears on the worshipper, inferring what will therefore be because that is. It is not a valid faith in the Divinity, as regarded in any of His attributes, till it excite the solicitous thought, “And what then?” He is, as supreme in goodness; and what then? Then, how precious is every assurance from Himself that He is accessible to us. Then, is it not the truest insanity in the creation to be careless of His favour? Then, happy they who obtain that favour, by devoting themselves to seek it. Then, let us instantly and ardently proceed to act on the conviction that He is the “rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” This faith is required in consideration of the intention (might we presume to say, reverently, the sincerity of the heavenly Father in calling men to come to Him. “I have not said, Seek ye Me in vain.” To what purpose are they thus required to make His favour the object of their eternal aspiration; to forego all things rather than this. Why thus summoned, and trained, and exercised, to a lofty ambition far above the world? Not to frustrate all this labour, not to disappoint them of the felicity to which they continually aspire! They “must believe that He is a rewarder”; that He is not thus calling them up a long, laborious ascent, only that they may behold His glorious throne, come near to His blissful paradise, do Him homage at its gate, and then be shut out. Consider again: it is because there is a Mediator, that sinful men are authorised to approach to God, seeking that--no more than that--which the mysterious appointment was made, in Divine justice and mercy, for the purpose of conferring on them. Then they must believe that this glorious office cannot but be availing to their success. What has been appointed, in the last resort, in substitution and in remedy of an antecedent economy, because that has failed, must be, by eminence, of a nature not itself to fail. They that “ come to God” in confidence on this new Divine constitution, will find that He, in justice to His appointment of a Mediator, will grant what is promised and sought in virtue of it; in other words, will be a “ rewarder “ for Christ’s sake. And what is that in which it will be verified to them “ that He is a rewarder”? For what will they have to adore and bless Him as such? For the grandest benefits which even He can impart in doing full justice to the infinite merits of the appointed Redeemer. But the important admonition, to be repeated here in concluding, is, that all this is for them “ that diligently seek”; so habitually, importunately, perseveringly, that it shall in good faith be made the primary concern of our life; so that, while wishes and impulses to obtain are incessantly springing from the busy soul in divers directions, there shall still be one predominant impulse directed towards heaven. And, if such representations as we have been looking at be true, think what might be obtained by all of us, who have them at this hour soliciting our attention, on the supposition that we all should henceforward be earnest applicants to the Sovereign Rewarder. Think of the mighty amount of good, in time and eternity, as our collective wealth; and of the value of every individual share. (John Foster.)

Postulates of prayer

“He that cometh to God”--this is a special characterisation of prayer. It seems to localise the omnipresent God. To come to Him is to be vividly conscious of Him, and to realise His goodness and grace; to touch Him, and speak to Him.

I. The first postulate of prayer is BELIEF IN THE PERSONALITY OF GOD. If I think of God as a universal ether, as a highly-sublimated steam which pervades and works the machine of the universe, I can no more pray to Him than I could pray to the steam of the locomotive to put me down at such and such a station. If I think of God as an unconscious something, idea, or what else, which is necessarily and unconsciously developing itself into the universe, I can no more pray to that than I can to the principle of evolution. If God be not a person, if He be a mere force, as pray to that I might as well say to gravitation, which has broken my head, “Heal me,” or to time, which has left me behind, “Wait for me.”

II. We must not only believe that God is, but also that He is the rewarder of them that seek after Him, which involves as a second postulate of prayer that GOD HAS POWER TO HEAR AND ANSWER PRAYER. Prayer, it is said, has a great reflex action. It certainly has. Going over and giving thanks for God’s mercies excites my gratitude, even though there be no God to receive my thanks. But I would not so befool myself as to give thanks, if I did not believe God is to reward my thanks by receiving them. A celebrated scientific lecturer, while insisting on the operation of law, once said: “The united voice Of this assembly could not persuade me that I have not at this moment the power to lift my arm if I wished to do so.” And if, in spite of gravitation, man has this power, surely we cannot deny a corresponding power to God. In answer to my child’s prayer I can lift my arm, though gravitation operates to keep it down. And in answer to my prayer, God my Father, being no less personal than I, can do what is analogous to my lifting my arm. He can subordinate, combine His laws according to His mighty power and wisdom, so that, without dishonouring, but rather honouring them in using them, He brings about the result, which is the reward of my prayer.

III. But to reward, there must be something more than the power; there must be the grace. We note, then, as the third postulate of prayer, GOD’S WILLINGNESS TO REWARD. Some, learning that this earth is but a small part of the solar system, and the solar system but a mote in the sunbeam of the universe, say, with more than the psalmist’s meaning: Well, what is man that God should be mindful of him, or the son of man that God should visit him? Why should God answer the prayers of one so insignificant? The question would have force if man were nothing more than matter. But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of God hath given him understanding; we are His offspring. A solar system, therefore, might expire, but it would touch God less than the cry of one of His children. Insignificant man is materially, but not spiritually. He has a quality transcending all matter; he has a life which shall flourish with immortal energy when the fires of the sun are sunk into cold ashes. God will hear His child, though the child be small. Ah, but we are sinful, and He is holy; will He suffer us to come near Him? Verily, God is willing that the sinful, being penitent, should draw near to Him. Why, has He not drawn near to them in every inviting word and gracious deed of prophet and saint? Has He not drawn near to them in Christ Jesus? Yea, does He not draw near to us sinful now? What is that loathing of sin which sometimes comes upon the sinner? What is that sense of shame and feeling of disgust which sometimes fills him? What is that longing for good, that wistful looking back to the days when the heart was pure? What are these but God coming to the sinner? What are our hungerings for righteousness, our longings for truth, our aspirations for goodness, but God in us, working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure? To meet, then, such operations is to fulfil His own desires; to reward such feelings is to satisfy Himself. If God has come thus to us, how can we doubt that He will reward us coming to Him? How can He deny our prayer, when to fulfil it is to fulfil His own will? (A. Goodrich, D. D.)

The existence of God

1. First, the belief in His existence is universal, and what is a universal belief has the force of a law of nature. This belief we see alike in the savage and the highly civilised. The soul has it sunk into itself that it is an uncompounded spiritual substance. But this impersonalness in the soul implies a personalness in Him who made it.

2. Our moral nature attests the same thing. Conscience in every man says: “Thou shalt and thou shalt not.” We are conscious of responsibility, and this implies a personal being to whom we are responsible. This is the testimony of the moral nature. Besides, there is an instinct of the infinite in every mind. This, indeed, is the highest part of our nature. Unless there is an answering reality in God, that part is an enigma--eyes without light, lungs without air.

3. We see, thirdly, a progress in history. It is absurd to suppose that all the tangled elements of early European history--Greek, Phoenician, Roman, Scythian--of themselves made Europe’s present civilisation, as to suppose that a combat of Arctic and Tropic winds could have made the Yale College of now.

4. We see, fourthly, the Scriptures coming to assert a God, not proving Him, but bringing Him to light; affording an explanation of all things in Him, and it is in a sense a proof.

5. We have, fifthly, evidence that God is of the highest purity and holiness. We must have that answering fact in Him, for it is in us. This leads us to ask how we may find Him? Discern Him? It is the greatest of questions, for all of our highest living depends on it.

On coming to God

I. IT IS THE NATURE OF FAITH TO MAKE A MAN COME TOWARDS GOD, AND TO GET COMMUNION WITH HIM THROUGH CHRIST.

1. “What it is to come to God. Coming to God notes three things, for it is a duty always in progress.

2. There is no coming to God but by Christ (John 10:9), “I am the door”; there is no entrance but through Him (John 14:6).

II. THAT THE FIRST POINT OF FAITH, IF WE WOULD HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH GOD, IS TO RELIEVE THAT THERE IS A GOD. This is the primitive and supreme truth, therefore let me discuss it a little; the argument is not needless.

1. Partly because the most universal and incurable disease of the world is atheism; it is disguised under several shapes, but it lies at the root, and destroys all practice and good conscience.

2. Because supreme truths should he laid up with the greatest certainty and assurance. Christians are mistaken very much, if they think all the difficulty of religion lies in affiance, and taking out their own comfort, and in clearing up their own particular interest. Oh, no; a great deal of it lies in assent; there is a privy atheism at the root, and therefore doth the work of God go on so untowardly with us--therefore have we such doubtings and so many deformities of life and conversation.

3. I would handle this argument, that there is a God, because it is good to detain the heart a little in the view of this truth, and to revive it in our souls.

How to seek God

1. Only: “Aut Caesar, aut nullus”--Him only shalt thou serve. We must not with Ahaziah seek to Beelzebub, the god of Ekron: but to Jehovah, the God of Israel.

2. We must seek Him diligently, as Saul did his father’s asses, the woman her lost groat: there must be no stone unrolled, as the Ninevites, who cried with all their might.

3. At all times. In health, in wealth, in honour (Hosea 5:1-15.). “In their affliction they will seek Me diligently: in health as well as in sickness.” We will seek to a man so long as we need him: we need God at all times, therefore at all times let us seek unto Him.

4. In time, not as the five foolish virgins, who sought too late, and could have no admittance into the marriage feast. (W. Jones, D. D.)

Believe that He is

Faith in God:

The apostle commences this chapter by defining the nature of faith; and then proceeds to adduce, from the narratives of the Old Testament, a variety of instances wherein this grace had been prominently exhibited. But he pauses in his enumeration, that he may indicate, in the words of the text, that, apart from the possession of this qualification, it can be to no purpose that men use the language of prayer. And yet, when immediately afterwards he comes to explain what the measure of that faith is, without which we cannot acceptably betake ourselves to the footstool of our Maker; it seems certainly, at first sight, as though exceedingly small demands were made upon us in this direction. The first requisite, in “ coming to God,” is stated to be, that we are to “believe that He is.” Now, might it not have been supposed that the specifying of such a condition as this would have been altogether superfluous? You will notice, however, that the thing demanded was not that there should be belief in the existence of some Supreme Intelligence, who presides over the affairs and movements of the universe; but that the Deity Himself was to be the object of faith. Now, you cannot believe that “God is,” without bringing your conceptions of His character into accordance with the delineations of it given in the Inspired Volume. And, when this is borne in mind, can it be affirmed with certainty that Christians, in the present day, stand in need of no caution in relation to this very point? One man, for instance, lets his mind be wholly occupied with impressions Of the love of God. He cannot think that the Being who has stored the universe with such abundant demonstrations of His benevolence, will eventually, on the score of transgressions unrepented of, consign any to the abode of the fire and of the worm. Now, is it not evident that the man fails to recognise the Deity of the Scriptures, in the Being concerning whose future proceedings he thus conjectures?--and that, so long as he confines himself to this one-sided view he cannot “come to God,” since “he that cometh to God must believe that He is,”--must recognise Him in all the comprehensiveness of His revealed character,--must beware of the substitution of an idol of the fancy, for the Lord of heaven and earth. But another man is thoroughly persuaded that he is walking along the road which will conduct him to eternal life: and this, simply, because he bears a fair character for morality, and is not chargeable with any flagrant crime. He may devote little or no attention to those religious exercises, public and private, which can with safety be neglected by none; but still it seems not to occur to him that he is endangering the interests of his soul. Now, remembering that they that worship God, must worship Him in spirit and in truth”; and that “there is none other name given among men, whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus”; you will perceive that the individual who unhappily abandons himself to spiritual indifference, must be necessarily, meanwhile, far from the kingdom of heaven. And if he believes not, therefore, in the God of the Bible, in what terms shall we address him, and what course shall we mark out for his guidance? Oh! the man must indeed be directed to “come to God”; but nothing beyond what is essential will be uttered, when, at the same time, he is informed that before he can “come to God,” he “must believe that God is.” And how frequently is it the case, that the most solemn words of prayer are repeated by the lips, and yet quite unfelt by the heart! Now, is it not so manifest as scarcely to require to be dwelt upon, that if God have connected a large amount of efficacy with earnest prayer, then they who, notwithstanding the proclamation, persist in disbelieving, either wholly or in part, the fact, do not recognise, in the object of their nominal adoration, the prayer-hearing “Lord of all power and might”; that imagination has created an unfaithful representation of Him; that thus the Divine reality is kept out of view; and that, accordingly, before they can “come to God,” they must, in the first place, “believe that He is.” Such, as you will perceive, is the doctrine of our text; wherein the apostle, who had, in the preceding verses, given two instances of the happy results of faith, remarks parenthetically, ere continuing his list, that, if destitute of this gift, man cannot possibly find acceptance; since, in order to his doing so, he must recognise the Deity--recognise Him, of course, as described in His holy Word; and must thus approach Him as “a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (H. B. Moffat, M. A.)

Two things presupposed in coming to God:

“He that cometh to God”--and that is religion; “he that is perpetually approaching God,” as aworshipper, as an applicant, as one who would live with Him and walk with Him, and that continually; “must believe”--must (the phrase is) “have believed,” first of all and once for all--“that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” There are two parts, then, in this primary, this preliminary belief. First the existence of God. A man cannot “come to “ a phantom, to an idea, to a non-entity. It is self-evident. ‘The very phrase here used for religion implies the reality of the Object. “He that cometh to God”--and that is religion--must know and feel that he comes to some one. He that would “walk with” God--and that is religion--must know and feel that that desired Companion exists. The other part of the belief is less obvious, but no less instructive. It is the certainty of blessing for the seeker. “That He is a rewarder,” a recompenser, “to them that diligently seek Him.” It is no humility, it is an irreverence, to doubt God’s will to bless. It is one thing to be conscious of a want of “diligence “ in “seeking”--it is another thing, altogether, to mistrust the willingness of God to be found. To suppose Him reluctant to bless, is to paint Him in a repulsive form; is to make Him less gracious, less merciful, less bountiful, than any very ungracious, unmerciful, ungenerous, and churlish man; is to deny to Him one of those attributes which make Him God. (Dean Vaughan.)

Faith in God

What an odd conceit was that of the Cretians, to paint their Jupiter without either eyes or ears I And what an uncertainty was she at that prayed, “O God, whoever thou art, for whether thou art, or who thou art I know not” (Medea). This uncertainty attending idolatry caused the heathens to close up their petitions with that general “Hear, all ye gods and goddesses!” And those mariners (Jonah 1:5), every man to call upon his god; and lest they might all mistake the true God, they awaken Jonah to call upon his God. (J. Trapp.)

Faith in God’s personality

A certain famous German, at a certain stage of his spiritual life, though he was at the time a critical writer on the side of Christianity, said to one of us, “Oh that I could say Thou to my God, as you do!” (C. Stanford, D. D.)

Faith and prayer

Prayer is the voice of faith. (J. Home.)

Belief in God and prayer

It is worthy of note that the very day after M. Renan wrote that the God of Victor Hugo was a God to whom it may be useless to pray, Victor Hugo himself, with one stroke of his pen, from the shadow of the grave, overturned this laboured and subtle rhetoric. “I ask,” he wrote, “for prayers from all souls. I believe in God.”

God and atheism

God’s character, as portrayed in the Bible, is the most beautiful and perfect conceivable. He is there represented as at once righteous and merciful, a just God and a Saviour. I admire this character as one worthy of the Creator of the world; so much so, that if, when in another state I were assured that the God of the Bible was nowhere to be found, I should ask, with amazement, Who, then, is God? If, instead, there were pointed out to me any other, such as Heathen, Mohammedan, or Papist gods, I should not find it possible, in my nature, to render the homage required, even at the peril of my life. The atheist is so foolish and blind, that he can no more than a mole discern the eternal power and Godhead in the wonderful structure of his own frame, in the curious formation of leaf and flower, or in the marvellous glory of all created things; therefore he comes to the conclusion that there is no God. So may the mole, who has never seen them, make sure there is neither king nor palace. Thou atheistic mole, who hast never travelled nor inquired enough to decide there is no God, all thou canst say is, that thou hast not yet seen Him, and hast no desire to see. How knowest thou that His existence is not so manifest beyond the river of death, and throughout the whole realm of eternity, that denial or even doubt is impossible. The mole may, of course, maintain that there is no Grand Lama in Thibet, because he has never been so far in his travels; but his testimony would have no sort of value. So the atheistic worm must have been through all the regions of death, misery and destruction, and explored all the realms of happiness through the Heaven of heavens, embracing in the circuit of his travels the whole of time and eternity, and able also to comprehend all the modes and forms in which it is possible for Deity to exist, before he can successfully deny the existence of a God. (Christmas Evans.)

Believing prayer:

Is it not a sad thing that we should think it wonderful for God to hear prayer? Much better faith was that of a little boy in one of the schools in Edinburgh, who had attended a prayer-meeting, and at last said to his teacher who conducted it, “Teacher, I wish my sister could be got to read the Bible; she never reads it.” “Why, Johnny, should your sister read the Bible?” “Because if she should once read it, I am sure it would do her good, and she would be converted and be saved.” “Do you think so, Johnny?” “Yes,! do, sir, and I wish the next time there’s a prayer-meeting, you would ask the people to pray for my sister that she may begin to read the Bible.” “Well, well, it shall be done, John.” So the teacher gave out that a little boy was very anxious that prayer should be offered that his sister might begin to read the Bible. John was observed to get up and go out. The teacher thought it very rude of the boy to disturb the people in a crowded room, and so the next day when the lad came, he said, “John, I thought it was very rude of you to get up in the prayer-meeting and go out. You ought not to have done so.” Oh, sir,” said the boy, “I did not mean to be rude; but I thought I should just like to go home and see my sister reading her Bible for the first time.” Thus we ought to believe, and watch with expectation for answers to our prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Faith in prayer:

Prayer is the bow, the promise is the arrow: faith is the hand which draws the bow, and sends the heart’s message to heaven. The bow without the arrow is of no use; and the arrow without the bow is of little worth; and both, without the strength of the hand, to no purpose. Neither the promise without prayer, nor prayer without the promise, nor both without faith, avail the Christian anything. What was said of the Israelites, “They could not enter in, because of unbelief”; the same may be said of many of our prayers: they cannot enter heaven, because they are not put up in faith. (H. G. Salter.)

God answers prayer:

Canon Wilberforce, referring to the struggle preceding the abolition of the slave trade, said he was in a position to state that the leaders in that great movement never took a single step in it without earnest and constant communion with their Lord. On the very night when the leader went down to the House of Commons to plead with silver voice and tender eloquence for the abolition of the evil, on that very night in a little chamber there was gathered a band of praying men; and that night was the night of victory in the House of Commons. (Proctor’s Gems.)

Confidence in prayer

A negro slave in Virginia, whose name we will call Jack, was remarkable for his good sense, knowledge of the leading truths of the gospel, and especially for his freedom from all gloomy fears in regard to his future eternal happiness. A professing Christian, a white man, who was of a very different temperament, once said to him, Jack, you seem to be always comfortable in the hope of the gospel. I wish you would tell me how you manage to keep steadily in this blessed frame of mind.” “Why, massa,” replied Jack, “I just fall fiat on the promise, and I pray right up.” We recommend Jack’s method to all desponding Christians, as containing, in substance, all that can be properly said on the subject. Take ground on the promises of God, and plead them in the prayer of faith--pray “right up.” (K. Arvine.)

A Rewarder

God a rewarder:

This God taketh upon Him.

1. That every one might have a reward. No creature can be too great to be rewarded of Him, and the greatest needs His reward. On the other side,

God is so gracious, as He accounteth none too mean to be rewarded of 1 Samuel 2:8; Luke 16:21-22).

2. That believers might be sure of their reward. For God is faithful Hebrews 10:23; Ephesians 6:8).

3. That the reward might be worth the having. For God in His rewards con-sidereth what is meet for His Excellency to give, and accordingly proportions His reward. (W. Gouge.)

Rewards in religion

The Christian religion holds out rewards to encourage our obedience. Now how far should rewards and punishments be motives of action? The man of reason immediately informs us, that goodness derived from such motives is no goodness at all--that it is merely the desire of happiness, and the fear of misery. He will add perhaps, as the devil said formerly with regard to Job, that the Christian does not serve God for nought: but that proper rewards are judiciously set before him, to keep his disinterested virtue from swerving. Had the rewards, which the Christian religion places before its worshippers, been such as the Arabian impostor promised--sensual pleasure in all its full-bloom delights--the objection might have weight. The expectation of such rewards iscalculated certainly to debase the mind. But if the reward be holy, the expectation of it, or, if you please, the making it a motive of action, must be virtuous likewise. Now it is the excellence of the object that elevates the pursuit. We put youth on the acquirement of learning, and have no conception that the attainment of knowledge, which is the reward annexed, can debase his mind. It has a contrary effect. In the same manner, with regard to the rewards of another world, the very pursuit of them is health to the soul; as the attainment of them is its perfection. They are pursued through the exercise of these great principles of faith and trust in God. These virtues, which have nothing earthly about them, tend to purify the mind in a high degree. They abstract it from earthly things, and fix it on heavenly. It might also be shown that the fear of future punishment is a just motive of action. To the wicked, indeed, it is the natural dread of those consequences which attend guilt; and serves merely to rouse them to a sense of their wickedness. But when it acts upon a well-disposed mind, it consists in the fear of displeasing God. A just, rational, and religious motive of action. (W. Cilpin, M. A.)


Verse 7

Hebrews 11:7

Noah

Faith moving to obedience

I.
IT IS A HIGH COMMENDATION TO FAITH, TO RELIEVE THINGS ON THE WORD OF GOD, THAT IN THEMSELVES AND ALL SECOND CAUSES ARE INVISIBLE, AND SEEM IMPOSSIBLE (Romans 4:17-21).

II. No OBSTACLE CAN STAND IN THE WAY OF FAITH WHEN IT FIXETH ITSELF ON THE ALMIGHTY POWER OF GOD AND HIS INFINITE VERACITY Romans 11:23; Titus 1:2).

III. IT IS A GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT AND STRENGTHENING UNTO FAITH WHEN THE THINGS WHICH IT BELIEVES AS PROMISED OR THREATENED, ARE SUITABLE UNTO THE PROPERTIES OF THE DIVINE NATURE, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS, GOODNESS, AND THE LIKE SUCH AS IT BECOMETH GOD TO DO. Such was the destruction of the world when it was filled with wickedness and violence.

IV. WE HAVE HERE A PLEDGE OF THE CERTAIN ACCOMPLISHMENT OF ALL DIVINE THREATENINGS AGAINST UNGODLY SINNERS AND ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH, THOUGH THE TIME OF IT MAY BE YET FAR DISTANT, AND THE MEANS OF IT MAY NOT RE EVIDENT. Unto this end is this example made use 2 Peter 2:5).

V. A REVERENTIAL FEAR OF GOD, AS THREATENING VENGEANCE UNTO IMPENITENT SINNERS, IS A FRUIT OF SAVING FAITH, AND ACCEPTABLE UNTO GOD.

VI. IT IS ONE THING TO FEAR GOD AS THREATENING WITH A HOLY REVERENCE ANOTHER TO BE AFRAID OF THE EVIL THREATENED, MERELY AS IT IS PENAL AND DESTRUCTIVE, WHICH THE WORST OF MEN CANNOT AVOID.

VII. FAITH PRODUCETH VARIOUS EFFECTS IN THE MINDS OF BELIEVERS ACCORDING TO THE VARIETY OF OBJECTS IT IS FIXED ON SOMETIMES JOY AND CONFIDENCE, SOMETIMES FEAR AND REVERENCE.

VIII. THEN IS FEAR A FRUIT OF FAITH WHEN IT ENGAGETH US UNTO DILIGENCE IN OUR DUTY, AS IT DID HERE IN NOAH: “BEING MOVED BY FEAR, HE PREPARED AN ARK.”

IX. THAT ALL THESE THINGS TEND TO THE COMMENDATION OF THE FAITH OF NOAH. Neither the difficulty nor length of the work itself, nor his want of success in preaching, nor the scorn which was cast upon him by the whole world, did discourage him in the least from going on with the work whereunto he was divinely called. A great example it was to all that may be called to bear testimony for God in times of difficulty.

X. WE HAVE HERE AN EMINENT FIGURE OF THE STATE OF IMPENITENT SINNERS, AND OF GOD’S DEALING WITH THEM IN ALL AGES.

1. When their sins are coming to the height, He gives them a peculiar space for repentance, with sufficient evidence that it is a season granted for that end.

2. Dining this space, the long-suffering of God waits for their conversion, and He makes it known that it doth so.

3. He allows them the outward means of conversion,, as He did to the old world in the preaching of Noah.

4. He warns them in particular of the judgments that are approaching them, which they cannot escape, as He did by the building of the ark. And such are the dealings of God with impenitent sinners in some measure in all ages. They, on the other side, in such a season

XI. THE VISIBLE PROFESSING CHURCH SHALL NEVER FALL INTO SUCH AN APOSTASY, NOR BE SO TOTALLY DESTROYED, BUT THAT GOD WILL PRESERVE A REMNANT FOR A SEED TO FUTURE GENERATIONS (Isaiah 6:11-13; Romans 9:27; Revelation 18:4).

XII. LET THOSE THAT ARE EMPLOYED IN THE DECLARATION OF GOD’S PROMISES AND THREATENINGS TAKE HEED UNTO THEMSELVES TO ANSWER THE WILL OF HIM BY WHOM THEY ARE EMPLOYED, WHOSE WORK IT IS WHEREIN THEY ARE ENGAGED.

XIII. IT OUGHT TO BE A MOTIVE UNTO DILIGENCE IN EXEMPLARY OBEDIENCE THAT THEREIN WE BEAR TESTIMONY FOR GOD AGAINST THE IMPENITENT WORLD WHICH HE WILL JUDGE AND PUNISH. (John Owen, D. D.)

The wicked warbled of judgment:

When we look around us on the world, there seems to be in it a great deal of disorder; and yet it is all under the direction of Him who does everything with the most perfect wisdom. Study, for instance, the science of botany, and you will perceive how correctly He has classified the boundless variety of plants and flowers and trees that spring out of the earth. Read over the pages of natural history, and you will observe the same order existing amongst the equally astonishing diversity of birds and beasts and creeping things. And as it is in the natural so it is also in the moral world. To a mere superficial observer there seems to be a great deal of confusion--a promiscuous mingling of truth and error, of virtue and vice, of pious and wicked people; and yet they are all classified by God. “The Lord knoweth them that are His,” and the Lord knoweth them that are not His; for “His eyes go to and fro in the earth, beholding the evil and the good”; and all the attributes and perfections of His nature have been employed from generation to generation, in rewarding the righteous and in punishing the wicked. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary judgments of this kind which ever was inflicted upon the earth, was that universal deluge by which it was once visited.

I. THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT WAS MADE OF THIS THREATENED CALAMITY. “Noah” was “warned of God”; whether by a dream or by a vision, or by an audible voice, is not stated. He was “ warned of God of things not seen as yet”--quite different from anything which had previously transpired in the world. Prior to his receiving this intimation, rain had descended in genial showers, fructifying the earth and causing it to bring forth and bud, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; and every stream and every rill and every river had flowed back again to the great ocean from whence they had proceeded, and yet it kept within the limits assigned it, when God said, “Hitherto shall thou go, but no farther.” But, at length, this regularity was to suffer interruption. The cause was this: … The sons of God had intermarried with the daughters of men”--the professors of the true religion had united themselves with those who made no pretension to religion; the consequence was a speedy and universal degeneracy of morals--and hence God determined that He would sweep them away with therod of extermination. What is this intended to typify to us? There seems to be something of a similarity between our circumstances and those in which Noah was placed. We also have been “ warned of God of things not seen as yet.” Since we have known the world, it has continued much the same as it was at the beginning of our existence. That sun has regularly risen in the morning and set in the evening, and risen in the eastern and set in the western sky; these heavens have continued to present much the same serene or cloudy aspect, according to the state of the weather; and every hill and mountain and valley present the same appearance to-day as when we first saw them. It is true that other things have been more fragile; that tree has been withered and stripped of its luxuriant foliage; death, too, has made a vast change in our family circles, and amongst our friends and acquaintances. This, however, is only as it has been always. No interruption has been given by all this to the general course of the world; that still goes on as if nothing of the kind had occurred. But a period is coming when you will see, in those heavens and upon this earth, an entirely different spectacle--when you will see these mountains and hills and valleys becoming victims of fire. Now, when Noah was “warned of God of things not seen as yet,” he believed; he gave credence to it immediately; and so ought we, when we look for these still more solemn events which are shortly to come to pass. And yet, alas! how many are there over whom these truths have no practical influence whatever? If an astronomer tells them, as the result of his calculations, that a comet will appear, they mount their observatories, and get ready their telescopic instruments, and they anxiously wait for the extraordinary luminary; and yet, when we tell them of “ signs in heaven and signs on earth,” the sign of the Son of Man coming to judge the world in righteousness, they regard it as “a cunningly-devised fable.” Noah’s faith influenced his passions--he was “ moved with fear,” his mind was solemnly impressed with awe while contemplating the approaching judgments of the Almighty. And yet there are many in our days who are neither moved by fear nor charmed by love. Noah’s faith influenced his actions; he “ prepared an ark,” God having given him directions how it was to be made. Now, this would require considerable expense and considerable labour; and it would expose him to the ridicule of his surrounding neighbours; but he commenced, and he carried on until it was completed. We are not required, it is true, to build an ark; but we are required to repair to one--to “fly for refuge, and lay hold on the hope set before us.” And in order to this, we must cherish a lively apprehension of our danger. We observe, further, that Noah, by his conduct, “condemned the world.” How did he do this? He was a preacher of righteousness; and he gave them line upon line, precept upon precept, and expostulation upon expostulation. He condemned them, too, by preparing the ark; for every time they saw it rise from one stage to another, and every time they heard the sound of his implements they were warned. Precisely in the same way is the world condemned now. Thank God! there are preachers of righteousness still; and there is no blessing which you ought more highly to appreciate. And then there are righteous people still; and whenever you come into contact with a believer in Jesus Christ, you hear a warning addressed to you; and if you continue in a state of impenitence, this will be one ground of your condemnation--that you saw people living in the same world, living in the same neighbourhood, living to God and getting ready for heaven, when you were walking on in your trespasses. Oh, there is something irresistibly convincing in an holy life!

II. THE BLESSEDNESS WHICH RESULTED FROM NOAH’S BELIEVING GOD. Upwards of a century--nearly a hundred and twenty years--had elapsed, and no interruption whatever had been given to their sensual delights, and they ate and they drank, and they married wives and they were given in marriage. But though the deluge came slowly, it came surely; AND at length the hour arrived when God said to Noah, “Come, thou and all thy house, into the ark; and the Lord shut him in”--He who openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth. And then the ancient landmarks of the sea were taken away, and then the windows of heaven were opened and the rain came down, not in gentle and genial showers, but in appalling torrents. Oh, what a scene was this! Parents weeping for their children, and children weeping for their parents; husbands lamenting for their wives, and wives lamenting for their husbands; and the sound of music, and the voice of social converse, and all the delights of companionship subsiding in a moment into the dismal howlings of death! And still the waters continue to prevail, until the summits of the everlasting hills were overtopped; but the ark arose majestically above. Still the beautiful vessel floated on the surface of the great deep, till at length it had landed all its inhabitants in safety upon Mount Ararat. And thus you see, by believing God, Noah and his house were preserved safe from the deluge, and he became heir of righteousness which is by faith--entitled to all the blessedness and privileges of a true believer. Thank God there is no difference in religion now! Noah was saved by faith then, and we are saved by faith now. What, then, are we to learn from this? You have heard that a day of judgment is to come. There is no appearance of it at present. The destruction of the old world by water, was a specimen or emblem of the destruction that now is, by fire. There are not; only reservoirs of water beneath the earth, but there are also magazines of flame. What mean those subterraneous fires that issue from Mounts Etna and Vesuvius? They bear testimony to this fact. And then there are fires in these heavens as well as water. What mean those vivid flashes of lightning which you sometimes see gleaming through the vast expanse, and menacing you with ruin? They bear testimony to this fact. And hence the apostle Peter very properly argues “ The heavens and the earth that are now, by the same word” that announced the destruction of the antediluvian world, “are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” Oh, what a day will that be to the wicked! Parents will again be seen weeping for their children, and children weeping for their parents. Oh, what a day it will be to the righteous! You will see them in the ark completely safe! (John Watson.)

Noah’s faith and ours

The creed of these Old Testament saints was a very short one, and very different from ours. Their faith was the very same. And that is a principle well worth getting into our minds, that the scope of the creed has nothing to do with the essence of the faith.

I. Look FIRST AT NOAH’S FAITH IN REGARD TO ITS OBJECT. His faith grasped the invisible things to come, only because it grasped the Invisible Person, who was, is, and is to come, and who lifted for him the curtain and showed him the things that should be. So is it with our faith, whether it lays hold upon a past sacrifice on Calvary, or upon a present Christ dwelling in our hearts, or whether it becomes telescopic, and stretches forward into the future, and brings the distant near, all its various aspects are but aspects of one thing, and that is personal trust in the personal Christ that speaks to us. What he says is a matter of secondary importance in this respect. The contents of God’s revelations vary; the act by which man accepts them is always the same. So the great question for us all is--do we trust God? Do we believe Him, and therefore accept His words, not only with the assent of the understanding, which of all idle things is the idlest, but do we believe Him, revealing, commanding, promising, threatening, with the affiance of our whole hearts? Then, and then only, can we look with quiet certainty into the dim future, which else is all full of rolling clouds, that sometimes shape themselves to our imaginations into the likeness of stable things, but alas! change and melt while we gaze. Only then can we front the solemn future, and say: “I do not expect only, I know what is there.”

II. Still further, notice NOAH’S FAITH IN ITS PRACTICAL EFFECTS. If faith has any reality in us at all, it works. If real and strong, it will first effect emotion. By “ fear” here we are not merely to understand, though possibly it is not to be excluded, a dread of personal consequences, but much rather the sweet and lofty emotion which is described in another part of this same book by the same word: “Let us serve Him with reverence and with godly fear.” Such holy and blessed emotion, which has no torment, is the sure result of real faith. Unless a man’s faith is warm enough to melt his heart, it is worth very little. A faith unaccompanied by emotion is, I was going to say worse, at any rate it is quite as bad, as a faith which is all wasted in emotion. It is not a good thing when all the steam roars out through an escape pipe; it is perhaps a worse thing when there is no steam in the boiler to escape. I am very sure that there is no road between a man’s faith and his practice except through his heart, and that, as the apostle has it in a somewhat different form of speech, meaning, however, the same thing that I am now insisting upon, “faith worketh by love.” Love is the path through which creed travels outward to conduct. So we come to the second and more remote effect of faith. Emotion will lead to action. “Moved with fear, he prepared and ark.” If emotion be the child of faith, conduct is the child of emotion.

III. AND SO, LASTLY, LET ME POINT TO NOAH’S FAITH, IN REGARD TO ITS VINDICATION. “He condemned the world.” And so the faith of the poor, ignorant, old woman that up in her garret lives to serve Jesus Christ, and to win an eternal crown, will get its vindication some day, and it will be found out then which was the “ practical” man and the wise man. And all the witty speeches and smart sayings will seem very foolish even to their authors, when the light of that future shines on them. And the old word will come true once more, that the man who lives for the present, and for anything bounded by Time, will have to “leave it in the midst of his days,” and “ at his latter end shall be a fool.” Whilst the “foolish “ man that lived for the future; when the future has come to be the present, and the present has dwindled away into the past, and sunk beneath the horizon, shall be proved to be the wise, and shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever. (A Maclaren, D. D.)

Noah’s faith, fear, obedience, and salvation

I. First, notice that in Noah’s case FAITH WAS THE FIRST PRINCIPLE. The text begins, “By faith Noah.” We shall have to speak about his being “ moved by fear”; we shall also remember his obedience, for he “ prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” But you must take distinct note that at the back of everything was his faith in God. His faith begat his fear: his faith and his fear produced his obedience. Nothing in Noah is held up before us as an example, but that which grew out of his faith. To begin with, we must look well to our faith.

1. Notice, first, that Noah believed in God in his ordinary life. Before the great test came, before he heard the oracle from the secret place, Noah believed in God. We know that he did, for we read that he walked with God, and in his common conduct he is described as being “a just man, and perfect in his generations.” To be just in the sight of God is never possible apart from faith; for “the just shall live by faith.” It is a great thing to have faith in the presence of a terrible trial; but the first essential is to have faith for ordinary every-day consumption.

2. Note, next, that Noah had faith in the warning and threatening of God. Faith is to be exercised about the commandments; for David says, “I have believed Thy commandments.” Faith is to be exercised upon the promises; for there its sweetest business lies. But, believe me, you cannot have faith in the promise unless you are prepared to have faith in the threatening also. If you truly believe a man, you believe all that he says.

3. Furthermore, Noah believed what seemed highly improbable, if not absolutely impossible. There was no sea where Noah laid the keel of his ark: I do not even know that there was a river there. He was to prepare a sea-going vessel, and construct it on dry land. How could water be brought there to float it? That faith which believes in the probable is anybody’s faith: publicans and sinners can so believe. The faith which believes that which is barely possible is in better form; but that faith which cares nothing for probability or possibility, but rests alone in the word of the Lord, is the faith of God’s elect. God deserves such faith, “for with God all things are possible.”

4. Noah believed alone, and preached on, though none followed him.

5. Noah believed through a hundred and twenty solitary years.

6. Noah believed even to separation from the world.

II. FEAR WAS THE MOVING FORCE.

1. A loyal reverence of God.

2. A holy fear of judgment.

3. A very humble distrust of himself.

III. OBEDIENCE WAS THE GRACIOUS FRUIT. Faith and fear together led Noah to do as God commanded him. When fear is grafted upon faith, it brings forth good fruit, as in this case.

1. Noah obeyed the Lord exactly.

2. Noah obeyed the Lord very carefully.

3. Noah obeyed at all costs.

4. Noah went on obeying under daily scorn.

5. Noah’s obedience followed the command as he learned it.

IV. RESULTS DID NOT FAIL TO COME.

1. He was saved and his house.

2. He condemned the world. His preaching condemned them: they knew the way, and wickedly refused to run in it. His warning condemned them: they would not regard it and escape. His life condemned them, for he walked with the God whom they despised. Most of all, the ark condemned them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Noah: activity in providing for the real interests of oneself and family

This description of the faith of Noah involves several distinct parts

1. The warning of God.

2. The motive of Noah--fear.

3. The preparing the ark--the result of fear.

4. The consequence of this--the saving of his house.

5. The work this did for others around--condemned them.

I. THE WARNING OF GOD. The men whom God had made had all rebelled against Him; the world was turned against its Maker. As men grew older and more experienced they increased in arts and sciences, but they decreased in religion and the fear of God. These men lived by sight, not by faith. God determined to punish the godless world, and looking around, He saw only one man worth saving. Only one family worth saving! I doubt not many then would have said it was uncharitable to say there are few who would be saved; uncharitable to say that among many professors there were few who from the heart feared God. But “God seeth not as man seeth.” Such, then, was the warning of God. Now is not this account like that of our day? “As it was in the days of Noah,” so is it now. Is not the advance of trade, and science, and agriculture, and knowledge, thought of before the advance of religion? Now see the part of Noah. He obeyed the warning, and prepared the ark, and saved his family. God ordered an ark to save Noah, and Noah made it; he did not trust to the invention of his own brain as to what would be the best thing in all probability to save him from the water, but he made the ark. God had ordered an ark, and the ark of gopher wood, and Noah made it; the ark--only the ark, could save Noah from death. Why? Not because it was the most scientific mode of salvation, not because it was the most learned way of safety, not because it was the most likely means of salvation; no, it was not on this account that Noah made the ark; he made it because it was the appointed means of safety, because God had ordered it.

2. Noah was active in his work, and while he worked he preached. Why was Noah active? Because he feared God and loved his family.

Now some men invent one way of escaping the last deluge of fire, and some another.

1. Some say God’s mercy shall be our ark, which we will hope for without seeking.

2. Some say, our own works shall be our ark, an ark we will provide by our own labour, but not after the fashion God has ordered, an ark not made of gopher wood.

3. Some say, we will make an ark with our works like what God orders, but we will mot begin it yet, we will wait till the clouds begin to darken for the storm, that will be soon enough; we will repent on a death-bed.

4. Some say, we will make something like an ark, but we will not take much trouble about it; we will make it after the material God orders, but we will be satisfied with a mere framework, we will trust to our general religious character to bear us safely through the dreadful fire; we will not concern ourselves about individual acts.

5. Some say, we will have none; no flood will come. Such are all the schemes we have to provide against the last flood. But what shall happen to them?

(4) Those who are satisfied with the outward framework, will find the fire pierce through every open crevice of the ark, and they shall be burnt up in the ark which they have made.

(6) And then, who shall be saved? Only he who shelters in the true ark, that only rides upon the waters safe and secure; the ark made according to God’s direction.

II. But again, THE MOTIVE which induced Noah to build the ark--fear, produced by faith, and love, inducing fear. “By faith in things not seen as yet, Noah moved with fear, prepared an ark, wherein eight souls were saved.” He believed God’s word. Faith, then, was the spring of all. If he had not believed, he would have been idle, as the idle world. His faith produced works. And again, it awakened him as to the real interest of his family; he was not concerned about their present pleasure, but about their future safety. (E. Monro.)

Noah: things not seen as yet

I. The things not seen as yet are THE GREATEST THINGS IN HUMAN HISTORY.

1. The greatness of human nature.

2. The solemnity of human life.

II. Some of the things not seen as yet are DIVINELY REVEALED TO MAN AS ARTICLES OF FAITH.

1. The universal triumph of the gospel in the world.

2. The termination of that mediatorial system of things under which the human race has been living ever since the fall.

3. The separation of the righteous from the wicked.

III. Man’s faith in the things not seen as yet is CAPABLE OF EXERTING A MIGHTY INFLUENCE UPON HIS LIFE.

1. Noah’s faith in the unseen impelled him to the most trying work. It was trying to his

2. His faith impelled him to the most serviceable work. In carrying out God’s idea, he saved the world.

3. Sin-condemning work.

4. Self-rectifying work. (Homilist.)

Noah:

I. A GOOD MAN IS THE SPECIAL OBJECT OF THE DIVINE FAVOUR. “Being warned,” &c.

1. Information of the approach of coming evil.

2. Instructions to prepare for the coming evil.

3. Assurance of safety from the coming evil. God condescended to bind Himself by an agreement that was comprehensive and everlasting.

II. A GOOD MAN IS AN OBEDIENT SERVANT TO THE DIVINE WILL. “Moved with fear,” &c.

1. He was actuated by the sublimest motive. Profound regard for the truthfulness of the Divine admonitions, and implicit trust in the power of God to carry out His threatenings. He was extraordinarily subservient to the Divine plan.

In spite of cost, labour, care, ridicule, long delay, other engagements, his faith triumphed over all. There was no arguing, no murmuring, no relapsing, no desponding, but daily work, and daily progress, and daily trusting, until at last the huge ship was ready for its cargo, voyage, and destination.

III. A GOOD MAN IS THE EFFICIENT MEDIUM OF THE DIVINE PURPOSE. By faith and works Noah influenced the whole of the world. He fixed universal destiny.

1. He was the efficient medium in preserving his family.

2. He was the efficient medium in punishing his contemporaries.

3. He was the efficient medium promoting himself. (B. D. Johns.)

Faith the power for right-doing

I. LOOK AT THE SIMPLICITY AND STRENGTH OF NOAH’S FAITH.

1. The Divine word predicted what seemed unlikely to happen.

2. The fulfilment of this prediction was long delayed.

3. The belief of the prediction was opposed by the ungodly atmosphere in which he lived.

II. NOTICE THE RIGHTDOING WHICH NOAH’S FAITH ENABLED HIM TO FULFIL.

1. The discharge of arduous duties. Building, peopling, stocking the Ark.

2. The endurance of severe trials. Scorn and mockery from his contemporaries.

3. The rebuke of a wicked world. “Preacher of righteousness.”

III. REMEMBER THAT THE RIGHT-DOING BY FAITH IN NOAH’S CASE REVEALS THE POWER FOR ALL RIGHT-DOING. Have you hard things to do? You need faith.

1. Faith in the grace of God. That is, in your acceptance by Him through Christ. The love in that is the sufficient motive for right-doing.

2. Faith in the character of God. God is good, wise, faithful, loving. He cannot, therefore, call us to any duty or experience which is not in harmony with what He is.

3. Faith in the word of God. That what He has promised (of help, &c.) He will certainly perform. That is encouragement and support in right-doing. Conclusion. Where did Noah get this victorious faith? Faith comes from knowing God; the more we know Him the better we trust Him; we know Him the more the more we are with Him. (C. New.)

Noah’s faith

I. THE REVELATION WITH WHICH NOAH WAS FAVOURED.

1. It is characterised as a warning.

2. It was a warning from God.

3. It was a warning from God which concerned “ things not seen as yet.”

II. THE MANNER IN WHICH NOAH IMPROVED THE REVELATION WITH WHICH HE WAS FAVOURED.

1. He believed it.

2. He was “moved with fear.”

In the affairs of this life a prudential, stimulating fear is not only permitted, but applauded. Hence the child who so fears his parents as always to obey, is beloved; the scholar who so fears his master as always to excel, is admired; the merchant who, through fear, lingers in the port because he knows that a powerful pirate scours the neighbouring seas, is commended; the tradesman who, through fear, refuses to trust his property in doubtful hands, is accounted wise; and the traveller who, through fear, takes a circuitous route because he knows that the nearest road is infested with robbers, is deemed prudent. Since this is the case in the affairs of this life, how comes it to pass that the fear of the Lord is so generally despised? And why are those who live under its influence so generally regarded as men of mean and melancholy minds? Is it because the rod of a mortal is more to be dreaded than the wrath of God? Is it because the loss of earthly property is a greater evil than the loss of the soul?

3. He prepared the ark.

III. THE EFFECTS WHICH RESULTED FROM NOAH’S DILIGENT IMPROVEMENT OF THE REVELATION VOUCHSAFED TO HIM BY GOD.

1. He saved his house. Let all heads of families aim at the same thing. See that your domestic arrangements and private conduct be such as shall entail the blessing, and not the curse, of God upon your offspring.

2. “He condemned the world.”

3. He “became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” The righteousness of which Noah is said to have become “heir,” or possessor, is in other places called “the righteousness of God”; “the righteousness which is of God by faith”; “the gift of righteousness which is by Christ”; and sometimes simply, “the righteousness of faith”; by all which expressions is meant, that free justification from all past guilt which we obtain when we believe on Him that justifieth the ungodly. That Noah not only believed all that was revealed concerning the flood; but also all that was made known respecting the perfections of God, the fall of man, and the scheme of redemption by Jesus Christ, is evident from the sacrifice which he offered on quitting the ark, and the gracious acceptance which it obtained from God. (P. McOwan.)

How to receive God’s warnings:

What entertainment did Noah give to this warning? Did he contemn it or set light by it in his heart? No verily; he reverenced it. We must reverence the judgments of God. When Daniel pondered in himself the fearful fall of Nebuchadnezzar, that such a fair arid beautiful tree which reached to heaven should be cut down, he held his peace by the space of one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. When the angels were to blow their trumpets, there was silence in heaven, they were stricken with a kind of astonishment, and could not speak. When the book of the law was read before Isaiah, his heart melted at it, he reverenced the judgment denounced in it. When this proclamation was made in Nineveh, yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed, they all reverenced it, from the king to the beggar, &c., they put on sackcloth, fasted, and prayed to God. Noah hearing of a flood to come, fears it after a godly manner, and provides against the coming of it. But some there be that are no more moved with them than the stones in the church wall (Jeremiah 36:24). Let the preacher thunder out God’s judgments against abominable swearing, lying, flattering, and dissembling, and other sins that reign among the people. Some laugh at it in their sleeves; tell them of the day of judgment, when as all nations shall appear before the Son of Man; they set not a straw by it, they are worse than Felix: he trembled when St. Paul discoursed of righteousness and the judgment to come. They are worse than the devils, for they believe that there is a God, and tremble at it. There is great difference between trembling and reverencing. (W. Jones, D. D.)

Judgment preceded by warbling:

God never brought a judgment upon any nation without previous, distinct, and intelligible warnings. This is a principle of the Divine government, illustrated by the whole history of the Church and the world. Lot warned Sodom; the Israelites, Egypt; their prophets, the Israelites; Jonah, Nineveh; Jesus and His apostles, Jerusalem and Judaea. And thus Noah, both by his actual declaration of the “ word of the Lord “and his building in the view of the people the vessel of safety, testified the Divine intentions, and warned the world of the “ coming wrath.” (T. Binney.)

Faith accepts all God says:

Faith, in the simple and practical view we are attempting to take, consists in a regard to the whole of the Divine testimony, to whatever that testimony relates. If, for example, the truth specifically contemplated be a simple intellectual announcement, faith is the acquiescence of the understanding in its absolute certainty. If it be a promise of good, faith is confidence in its fulfilment. If it be a threatening of evil, combined as all threatenings are with the merciful provision of a method of escape, faith is apprehension concurring with flight to the appointed refuge. It was thus that it first operated in the mind of Noah. (T. Binney.)

Warning despised:

Not far from the place of St. Paul’s shipwreck in the Mediterranean, a noble frigate once set sail. A gallant admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, was her commander, and thought himself fully competent to guide her course. But there was an experienced seaman on board who knew better than he the dangers which surrounded them. However, on his venturing to say so, he was immediately hanged at the yard-arm for his impertinence. Not long did the cruel commodore survive him. In the darkness of the night the ship struck on the fatal rock concerning which the seaman had uttered his warning voice, and soon became a total wreck. A few escaped a watery grave, but the greater part, with the headstrong Sir Cloudesley himself, were drowned. (J. Lange.)

Moved with fear

Fear as a motive in religion:

Here is an instance of a man, in his relations to God, acting under the impulse of fear, and good came of it. Of course this is not one and the same thing as saying that in the moral sphere fear is the highest motive. A thing may be good, without being the best. Men start from different levels, and they live upon different levels. Some “there are who never know what it is to turn unto God from the low plane of immorality. Others, again, take their first step heavenward from the very mouth of the pit. And this varied inception of the Christian life is proof enough that fear cannot be held up as the general or even the best motive. There may be those who never felt it, who have never needed to feel it. There may be those who run in the paths of obedience and righteousness, urged only by a higher and nobler impulse. Neither is it necessary to hold here, when looking upon an example of its beneficent operation, that fear must remain a permanent moral motive even in such a case. An apostle speaks of a “love” which “casteth out fear.” So the one who commences in fear may rise unto this love. The one ascending from the earth in a balloon, gradually but surely rises above the smoke and mist which lie in low clouds over the earth’s surface. Soon he moves, he sails in the clear abyss of the heavens. So with the human life, as it rises unto truth and virtue and God. It may rise above the murky atmosphere of its first motives and earlier days. But let us turn to the direct consideration of the subject in the text.

I. Let me say, first of all, THAT THERE IS FOUNDATION LAID IN THE HUMAN CONSTITUTION FOR THE OPERATION OF THE MOTIVE WHICH WE ARE CONSIDERING. Fear is a universal attribute of human nature. It is as natural for a man to fear as to hope, or trust, or love. And this susceptibility, like all other natural capacities of human life, must have been conferred upon man for beneficent ends. She holds as good a title to her place as does hope; both are patents issued by the hand of the Creator; and not only are they of equally high origin, they are also co-ordinate in dignity, mutually dependent and helpful. If it were not for hope, man would hold back from attainable good. If fear were wanting, he would rush headlong upon invincible danger. Hope cries unto man: “Dare it, dare it!” But some risks are foolhardy, and fear points these out. Man is saved by hope, being swept forward; he is saved by fear, being held back. And now, from the survey of this great law upon the lower levels, I ask: Why scout at fear in the moral realm? Why attempt to scourge her from the temple of religion? Has God bestowed upon your soul a useless or misleading sense, a susceptibility to be devoted unto inactivity and death? Why, He has not done such a thing in the body; and surely the Creator has shown as much wisdom in the adaptation of your spirit to its surroundings as in the adaptation of your body to the material world. Why not, then, grant unto these intimations in these two different spheres equally solemn audience? When in this world Fear cries out: “There is the danger of poverty ahead; there is the possibility of suffering ahead; there is the loss of reputation ahead”--you are not unmindful of her warnings. But again this same Fear, through the voice of Concience, cries out: “Wrath is coming; judgment lies ahead, and the great eternity.” In this case also, why not listen to her signal notes? Unmanly to fear! You say so, with the great cyclones of the awful forces of the universe, boiling, sweeping around you! Unmanly to fear! Then God made you an unmanly man. Irrational to be influenced by fear! Then are you showing yourself a fool every day.

II. THE RELATION OF DEITY TO MAN LEGITIMATISES THE MOTIVE OF FEAR. TWO revelations of God have been given--one in the moral constitution of man, and one in the Bible. These two revelations agree in this, that they present God in the act and attitude of one warning men of possible danger. First, the Bible does this. “Flee to this voice; give it your fullest confidence.’” But shall men love the God who loves, trust the God who promises, and not fear the same God when He warns?

III. THE PUBLIC TEACHING AND LIFE OF JESUS OF NAZARETH BEARS IN THE MOST EMPHATIC MANNER UPON THIS SUBJECT. We notice two things. First, Jesus was no fanatic. On the contrary, never was character so well balanced as His. From such a character would you expect an exaggerated statement of an uncertain dogma, of an unessential partialism? Then, again, consider His great sympathy with men, His measureless benevolence. Yet concerning future punishment and suffering He spake some of the most awful words which this world has ever heard. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’” And the revelation of Nature does the same. It shows physical law relentlessly pursuing the transgressor. If lifts up the picture of human suffering before the eye. It stirs the conscience of the individual and the race with the apprehension of possible evil and suffering beyond the present world. And now, what will you do? Mind, I do not ask you to ignore any other attribute of Deity which has been revealed to man. There is love shining forth in most beautiful characters. Answer this, as you ought, by hope and trust and gratitude. There are words of sweetest invitation written upon the pages of the Bible. Sweetly let your heart respond.

IV. IN A SUBJECT SO INDEFINITE AS THIS, DEMONSTRATION IS, OF COURSE, IMPOSSIBLE. It seems to me, however, that the suggestions which have been made are so many grave intimations to every thoughtful mind. But comes there up in reply from any human life the voice: “I cannot fear, I see the flashing danger-signal--I mark its lurid light. I hear those awful words as they drop from the lips of Jesus. I see it all, I hear it all; and yet no apprehension of danger is awakened within me”? In reply let me say, perhaps you do not need to fear. The Divine Father has many ways of drawing men unto Himself. Possibly in your case love is doing its work. If this be so, all is well. But the spectacle of a human life unto which the mandatory word of God has come in vain, which is consciously moving forward in disobedience, consciously out of harmony with itself and moral law--for any such life as this to lift up the words, “I cannot fear”--this is a very different matter, and this, it seems to me, is passing strange. What shall I say to you? Exhort you to fear? Stand up here and cry: “Be afraid, be afraid”? This were absurd. Emotions cannot” be manufactured to order in the laboratory of the will. This let me say: Perhaps your fear is artificially, unnaturally repressed. Perhaps it is, by the hand of a moral thoughtlessness, or a moral bravado, battened down in the hatchways of your being. The ship had crashed into an iceberg, and immediate death seemed inevitable to every one on board. A gentleman from out that scene said to me: “Very few were calm in that hour; there were very few who did not fear then.” But, possibly, had these same terror-stricken ones spoken on the subject an hour before the collision, many of them would have said: “As a moral being I am incapable of fear.” Nevertheless fear was in them. So it may be with you. Again, let me say that inability to fear may be due to moral hurt. The hand may become so callous that a living coal of fire can beheld within the palm, and no pain felt. Through paralysis the arm may die, so that the heaviest blow gives no sensation. So the Bible declares that the moral nature may be so seared as to be past feeling. Perhaps this is the case with some who say they cannot fear. Perhaps a false and unworthy life has smitten you with moral paralysis. In either case, whether it is due to unnatural repression or moral paralysis, this inability to fear is not something to be satisfied with, much less to boast of. The paralytic does not run about with his dangling arm, crying out: “Pinch it; I do not feel! Hit it; your blow hurts me not! Ha, ha, I cannot feel!” Neither should the moral paralytic so boast. Rather let him betake himself to the electric battery of moral law, and see if he cannot quicken the insensate nerves, irrigate with new life the callous tissues of his moral being. Closely connected with this subject is an insinuating delusion which is exercising the most pernicious influence upon thousands. Human voices cry out: “The spirit of the age is against this whole matter of fear, indeed forbids it.” I cannot appreciate the force of this retort, or see what the spirit of the day has to do with the great matter of a man’s relation to his Creator and Judge. The age of Louis

XIV. had its spirit; so had the age of Charles II. and of Frederick the Great.What were these spirits? Thin, vaporous films, blown from the mouths of men, curling for a brief moment around the everlasting mountain of Bible truth. And the spirit of our day, if it is contradictory of the living Word, shall prove as evanescent. The spirit of the age is the atmosphere through which walks the creature of a day. It extends upward from earth--say, as high as a man’s heart; say, as high as his head; while all above this, all around this, are the awful depths of the moral ether, unchanged since the days of Noah--ay, unchangeable, as is the God whose breath they are. The spirit of the age to be called in to modify the eternal conditions of the moral universe! The six-foot atmosphere of this our little world to beat over, to pour itself through, to reprortion the shoreless, soundless ocean of the eternal nature of things! The very thought is enough to awaken laughter throughout the universe of God! The spirit of the age, forsooth! A few hours’ cholera, a few days’ fever, a falling brick, a runaway horse, a passing locomotive may sweep away a human life out of it, and for ever. Let us not make fools of ourselves. We are not too big to be warned of God, and we shall not belittle ourselves by giving thoughtful heed to His warning. (S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)

Use of fear

The Houourable Robert Boyle, distinguished alike as a philosopher and as a Christian, acknowledged (though “he blushed it was so”)that his fear, during a tremendous thunderstorm in the night, while he resided in Geneva, “was the occasion of his resolution of amendment”--a resolution to which he faithfully adhered through life. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Fear in religion

The testimony of one of the most genial and successful of preachers is that “of all the persons to whom his ministry had been efficacious only one had received the first effectual impressions from the gentle and attractive aspect of religion; all the rest from the awful and alarming ones--the appeal to fear.” Take again the testimony of one of the wisest and most successful of our schoolmasters. “I can’t rule my boys,” he says, “by the law of love. If they were angels or professors I might; but as they are only boys, I find it necessary to make them fear me first, and then take my chance of their love afterwards. By this plan I find that I generally get both; by reversing the process I should in most cases get neither.” And God does not deal with us now as He will do when perfect love has cast out its preparative fear. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)

Fear

The tragic event that led to Peter Waldo’s conversion reminds us of the similar circumstance that awakened in Luther’s mind the conviction of sin. On a certain day he was sitting at a banquet of distinguished citizens when one of the guests at his side suddenly became a corpse. The solemn emotion that seized all present became a life-long force in the heart of Peter Waldo. He gazed forward in fear to the account he must himself give at the bar of God. His sins rose in remembrance before him. How shall I appease an awakened conscience? was the question that filled his soul. The Romish Church had its answer ready: “By almsgiving”; and Waldo from that day devoted part of his wealth to the relief of poverty. Every quarter of the town felt his beneficence: but his heart was not at peace: his alms-deeds could not assure him of the forgiveness of sins. (C. A. Davis.)

Salutary influence of fear:

That Luther was not an angel in his youth we may know, for he tells of himself that he was whipped fifteen times in one day in his first school. But all this did not beat grace into his heart, though it may have beaten letters into his head. He made brilliant progress in study, and at twenty years of age received his degree at the university as a Bachelor of Arts. Up to this time his heart was in the world. His father designed him for the law, and his own ambition no doubt aspired to the honours within easy reach in that line of life. God designed otherwise. Just at that critical time, when the very next step would be the first in a life-long profession, one of his fellow-students, dear to him as a brother beloved, one Alexis, was assassinated. The report of this tragic affair coming to Luther’s ear, he hurried to the spot and found it even so. Often before, conscience, and the Spirit in his heart, had urged him to a religious life, in preparation for death and the judgment. And now, as he stood gazing upon the bloody corpse of his dear friend Alexis, and thought how in a moment, prepared or unprepared, he had been summoned from earth, he asked himself the question, “What would become of me if I were thus suddenly called away?” This was in A.D. 1505, in summer. Taking advantage of the summer’s vacation, Luther, now in his twenty-first year, paid a visit to Mansfeldt, the home of his infancy. Even then the purpose of a life of devotion was forming in his heart, but not yet ripened into full and final decision. On his way back to the university, however, he was overtaken by a terrific storm. “The thunder roared,” says D’Aubigne; “a thunderbolt sank into the ground by his side; Luther threw himself on his knees; his hour is perhaps come. Death, judgment, eternity, are before him in all their terrors, and speak with a voice which he can no longer resist. ‘ Encompassed with the anguish and terror of death,’ as he says of himself ‘ he makes a vow, if God will deliver him from this danger, to forsake the world, and devote himself to His service.’ Risen from the earth, having still before his eyes that death must one day overtake him, he examines himself seriously, and inquires what he must do. The thoughts that formerly troubled him return with redoubled power. He has endeavoured, it is true, to fulfil all his duties. But what is the state of his soul? Can he, with a polluted soul, appear before the tribunal of so terrible a God? He must become holy”--for this he will go into the cloister, he will enter a convent, he will become a monk and a priest in the Augustinean order. He will there become holy and be saved. (W. E. Boardman, D. D.)

Conversion and fear:

One dear old man, who at the ripe age of seventy-eight, became a humble childlike Christian, and who twice in the week used to walk eight miles to hear me, had one favourite version of the words which caused his conversion, to which he adhered with frightful fixity and retailed to every one he met. “There were three of us old men a-settin’ together, and you turned and you shook your little finger at us, and you said, ‘You old men there, you are going to hell as fast as your old legs can carry you!’ I never felt so afeared in my life, and I have been a changed man ever since.” (Ellice Hopkins.)

Fear and faith:

Fear and faith do not at first sound very likely companions. It is just because we think this, because we fancy ourselves a little wiser than God’s Word, that our fear and our faith fail to act as they ought. Let us try to learn a better lesson now; and it will help us to do this if we set about studying what Noah did a little more closely than perhaps we have done before. We will take his fear first, for I suppose it would come first. He heard the tremendous words of wrath from the God whom he walked with, and he knew He would not speak without acting. He said to himself “Is not God’s word gone forth, ‘I will destroy all flesh’? I cannot rest easy; what shall I do? what can I do?” I think Noah must have had a longer or a shorter time when fear was overwhelming--but it was not allowed to go long uncorrected. Almost in the same breath with the threat, we hear the voice which called out the faith. Imagine him told to make an ark. He may have said to himself, It is strange--it is what man never did before--but I know that my God would not tell it me and mean me to be a mere laughing-stock to the world. The triumph shall be on my side in the end. So we see his fear made ready for his faith, and his faith told his fear how far it was to go and what it was to do. They showed him his own helpless state--they took him to God for help. And now see what his action was. It was simply doing his little part in God’s great plan. And what was the result? A specimen of that great Divine plan--God’s strength and our weakness hand in hand; the saving of his house; the keeping at bay of all the terrific onsets of those torrents of rain and buffetings of waves. That is how faith and fear do work together. In the first place the sense of fear is a most necessary thing, and a thing we are not often left to go without. Does it come home to us--the truth of an offended Father who will by no means clear the guilty, and whom it is absurd to think we can satisfy. Faith then comes in and applies this very helplessness, this very sinfulness, this very fear. Faith bids us look within and see the things which are unseen--put present likings, strong temptations, selfish instincts, stifling voices aside, and see that there are joys to come, and there is a wrath to come--that there has been a marvellous work done, which eye never saw the like of, and which mind cannot take in--a work of love whereby God came down from heaven and took upon Him man’s lowly likeness and suffered for sin, in order to help the helpless, in order to provide an ark which shall float over the very waves of God’s justice and be lifted up by them out of harm’s reach. But what will be the working of the fear and the faith? Noah built the ark and entered into it. We have but to do a very little thing, but that we must do--not even to build an ark at God’s bidding--but in the first place simplyto enter in and be on the safe side of the door which God will close upon us. That entering in is not quite nothing; it means feeling very helpless: but only seek you to be taught your own unsatisfactory self, and can you find it so hard to win safety by casting off all refuges but the only safe one. Now I think we see how faith and fear go together. Fear is not dismay--and faith is not self-security. Safe within the ark of Christ’s Church--safe in the love of Christ Himself, you yet “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” That very fear ought to strengthen our faith, to drive us out of any holdfast but the one only one, and make us unite ourselves with Him under whose leadership we are the surer to conquer, the surer we are of our weakness. (John Kempthorne, M. A.)


Verses 8-10

Hebrews 11:8-10

Abraham

The faith of Abraham

I.
THE FAITH EXHIBITED BY ABRAHAM IN HIS OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE CALL. It was neither poverty, nor restless discontent with the monotony of daily toil, that sent him out of Ur of the Chaldees. Nor does Scripture drop any hint of persecution. The simple urgent reason was a Divine command, “Get thee out,” &c. Mighty consequences hung upon his obedience. It was the first link in a long chain of acts of faith by which the knowledge of the true God was to be preserved in the earth, and the redemption of mankind accomplished. The greatest and happiest consequences have flowed from single acts of righteousness and faith. Men simply did their present duty; they took counsel with none but their own conscience; one step before them on life’s path stood clearly revealed, and they ventured, notwithstanding all being dark beyond. By faith they acted thus, believing that if a man can only see his way a yard before him in the path of duty, he may step it as boldly as though the whole road were clear right up to the gate of heaven. When Wicliff, the pioneer of the English mind in that unknown land of promise which lay hid in the Bible, first led the way by translating it into his mother-tongue, he went forth in faith, not knowing whither. When John Hampden resisted the unrighteous impost of ship-money, he-committed himself in faith to a struggle the issue of which no sagacity could predict. Little did he think that he was making himself a name as chief among the founders of his country’s liberties; it was the duty of the hour, and that was enough for him. When the crew of the Mayflower left our shores to seek a home in the New World, they went out not knowing whither; in their grandest dreams they could never have imagined what a stronghold of civil and religious liberty would arise out of the foundation they were laying in obedience to conscience and by their faith in God.

II. ABRAHAM’S SOJOURN IN CANAAN, AS IN A LAND NOT HIS OWN, THOUGH IT WAS THE LAND OF PROMISE. Similar trials of faith have fallen to the lot of other men who, obeying God and conscience, have gone out not knowing whither, Not always have they found the promised land. Many have died without witnessing the accomplishment of their hopes, sometimes without catching a glimpse of the splendid results to which their faith and courage ultimately led. Exemption from such trials must not be expected. Brave lives are sacrificed in the forefront of battle that the soldiers in the rear may pass on to victory; so in every battle of principle the faith and courage of many a good soldier appear to be spent without result. Without result indeed they would be, if the conflict ended with their lives and their example perished. But since, in every contest for truth and right, the victory has first to be won inwardly, in the hearts of many earnest men, before it can be made palpable to eye and ear, so those who help the spiritual preparation contribute as much to the victory as they who actually accomplish it. (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)

The obedience of faith:

Obedience--what a blessing it would be if we were all trained to it by the Holy Spirit! How fully should we be restored if we were perfect in it! Oh, for obedience! It has been supposed by many ill-instructed people that the doctrine of justification by faith is opposed to the teaching of good works, or obedience. There is no truth in the supposition. We preach the obedience of faith. Faith is the fountain, the foundation, and the fosterer of obedience. Obedience, such as God can accept, never cometh out of a heart which thinks God a liar, but is wrought in us by the Spirit of the Lord, through our believing in the truth and love and grace of our God in Christ Jesus. There is a free-grace road to obedience, and that is receiving by faith the Lord Jesus, who is the gift of God, and is made of God unto us sanctification. We accept the Lord Jesus by faith, and He “Leaches us obedience, and creates it in us. The more of faith in Him you have, the more of obedience to Him will you manifest.

I. THE KIND OF FAITH WHICH PRODUCES OBEDIENCE.

1. It is, manifestly, faith in God as having the right to command our obedience. He has a greater claim upon our ardent service than He has upon the services of angels; for while they were created as we have been, yet they have never been redeemed by precious blood.

2. Next, we must have faith in the rightness of all that God says or does. We hear people talk about “minor points,” and so on; but we must not consider any word of our God as a minor thing if by that expression is implied that it is of small importance. We must accept every single word of precept or prohibition or instruction as being what it ought to be, and neither to be diminished nor increased. We should not reason about the command of God as though it might be set aside or amended. He bids: we obey.

3. Furthermore, we must have faith in the Lord’s call upon us to obey. We, who are His chosen, redeemed from among men, called out from the rest of mankind, ought to feel that if no other ears hear the Divine call, our ears must hear it; and if no other heart obeys, our soul rejoices to do so.

4. Obedience arises out of a faith which is to us the paramount principle of action. The kind of faith which produces obedience is lord of the understanding, a royal faith. The true believer believes in God beyond all his belief in anything else and everything else.

II. THE KIND OF OBEDIENCE WHICH FAITH PRODUCES.

1. Genuine faith in God creates a prompt obedience. “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed.” There was an immediate response to the command. Delayed obedience is disobedience.

2. Next, obedience should be exact. “Abraham, when he was called to go out … went out.” That which the Lord commands we should do--just that, and not another thing of our own devising. Mind your jots and tittles with the Lord’s precepts. Attention to little things is a fine feature in obedience: it lies much more as to its essence in the little things than in the great ones.

3. And next, mark well that Abraham rendered practical obedience. The religion of mere brain and jaw does not amount to much. We want the religion of hands and feet. I remember a place in Yorkshire, years ago, where a good man said to me, “We have a real good minister.” I said, “I am glad to hear it.” “Yes,” he said; “he is a fellow that preaches with his feet.” Well, now, that is a capital thing if a preacher preaches with his feet by walking with God, and with his hands by working for God. He does well who glorifies God by where he goes and by what he does; he will excel fifty others who only preach religion with their tongues.

4. Next, faith produces a far-seeing obedience. Note this. “Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance.” How great a company would obey God if they were paid for it on the spot! Those who practise the obedience of faith look for the reward hereafter, and set the greatest store by it. To their faith alone the profit is exceeding great. To take up the cross will be to carry a burden, but it will also be to find rest.

5. Yet, remember that the obedience which comes of true faith is often bound to be altogether unreckoning and implicit; for it is written, “He went out, not knowing whither he went.” Even bad men will obey God when they think fit; but good men will obey when they know not what to think of it. It is not ours to judge the Lord’s command, but to follow it.

6. The obedience which faith produces must be continuous. Having commenced the separated life, Abraham continued to dwell in tents and sojourn in the land which was far from the place of his birth. His whole life may be thus summed up: “By faith Abraham obeyed.” He believed, and therefore walked before the Lord in a perfect way. Do not cultivate doubt, or you will soon cultivate disobedience. Set this up as your standard, and henceforth be this the epitome of your life--“By faith he obeyed.”

III. THE SORT OF LIFE WHICH WILL COME OF THIS FAITH AND OBEDIENCE.

1. It will be, in the first place, life without that great risk which else holds us in peril. A man runs a great risk when he steers himself. Rocks or no rocks, the peril lies in the helmsman. The believer is no longer the helmsman of his own vessel; he has taken a pilot on board. To believe in God, and to do His bidding, is a great escape from the hazards of personal weakness and folly. Providence is God’s business, obedience is ours. What harvest will come of our sowing we must leave with the Lord of the harvest; but we ourselves must look to the basket and the seed, and scatter our handfuls in the furrows without fail.

2. In the next place, we shall enjoy a life free from its heaviest cares. If we were in the midst of the wood, with Stanley, in the centre of Africa, our pressing care would be to find our way out; but when we have nothing to do but to obey, our road is mapped out for us. Jesus says, “Follow Me”; and this makes our way plain, and lifts from our shoulders a load of cares.

3. The way of obedience is a life of the highest honour. By faith we yield our intelligence to the highest intelligence: we are led, guided, directed; and we follow where our Lord has gone. Among His children, they are best who best know their Father’s mind, and yield to it the gladdest obedience. Should we have any other ambition, within the walls of our:Father’s house, than to be perfectly obedient children before Him and implicitly trustful towards Him?

4. But this is a kind of life which will bring communion with God. Obedient faith is the way to eternal life; nay, it is eternal life revealing itself.

5. The obedience of faith creates a form of life-which may be safely copied. As parents, we wish so to live that our children may copy us to their lasting profit. Children usually exaggerate their models; but there will be no fear of their going too far in faith or in obedience to the Lord.

6. Lastly, faith working obedience is a kind of life which needs great grace. Every careless professor will not live in this fashion. It will need watchfulness and prayer, and nearness to God, to maintain the faith which obeys in everything. “He giveth more grace.” The Lord will enable us to add to our faith all the virtues. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Abraham forsaking the world

I. THE RESULT OF ABRAHAM’S FAITH, which we are now called upon to consider. There are three distinct points before us:

1. The first part of what is mentioned as the work of Abraham’s faith, showing the Christian what he should give up.

2. What he should bear.

3. What he should live for. What had Abraham to give up?” Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.” What a command! Consider what he had to forsake. And in the eyes of his family how absurd and fanciful must his scheme have been! But Abraham was supported by a certain hope. “He looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

Thus, then

1. Abraham gave up the world and endured hardships.

2. Lived on the hope of a future blessing, which he did receive.

3. And all this he did by faith.

II. AND NOW LET US APPLY ABRAHAM’S CASE AND CONDUCT TO OUR OWN. First, then, what is the world you have to give up? It is the world, the objects to which we are drawn, the objects around us, which draw forth our sinful inclinations, which we are now to consider.

1. It depends upon different dispositions what becomes our world. To one man nature is his world: he has a mind to enjoy extremely the beauties and the works of nature. The feelings produced by a rich sunset or a beautiful view are his very religion; he gazes at the beauty of a flower till he thinks he worships the God who made it; he forgets the Creator in the creature, and mistakes the one for the other. Poetry is his religion, or sentiment, or some such natural feeling. Now suppose such a man called by duty, i.e. by God, to live in a place where he is cut off from all such objects of admiration, to live quietly and without excitement amid what are to him the dull realities of life, obliged to give up all his taste and refinement, and put up with quiet, dull, sober, everyday work--at least what is so to him naturally; and suppose this man refuses to do it, or lingers in doing it: he thinks if he gives up nature and his admiration that all his religion will go too. All his religion depended on a place, and nature is that man’s world. It is what Abraham’s family and home were to him, and if he refuse to desert it at the call of duty, he is not living above the world.

2. Again: in another man applause and praise is his world; he lives for this, and has lived for it all his life; every act of his life is governed by what men think of it. Now suppose such a man withdrawn from the sphere in which he had been admired, courted and flattered; suppose him called by duty to work in a sphere where his brightest acts would be unknown, and there would be none to admire even his most creditable denials; and suppose he hesitated to do this--then that man’s world would be human applause.

3. Or again; to some men mere worldly success is their world, what they call getting on in life; they live for this; their whole views of right and wrong are almost bounded by their chance of success in their profession, their trade, their farm, their place.

4. But to some, like Abraham himself, their family is their world. If your family interfere with any single duty to God, that family is your world.

5. To others--in the common use of the word--pleasure is their world; society, whose only object it; is to gratify the sense or entertain the imagination. Good-natured society; dissipated society; intellectual society; idle society, whose object it is to pass away the dull hours of life by the empty reading of novels, or by lounging in listless carelessness through the precious fleeting hours of time. Ambitious society, whose great object it is to surpass each other in display of wealth.

6. To some, activity is a kind of world.

7. To some a particular set of circumstances connected with religion is their world, a particular minister, whom they almost worship, particular religious friends, whose word, with them, would almost surmount the authority of Scripture. This, then, is what he must do and give up for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s. The believer must show forth his faith, like Abraham, by forsaking and coming out from the world.

III. AND UNDER THIS WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN’S HOPE?

IV. BUT ALL THIS IS THE RESULT OF FAITH. By faith Abraham gave up the world and rested on future promises. And by faith you must give up the world and rest on future promises. For example

1. If your world is the admiration of nature, of trees and hills, and the objects of the earth around you; then, if called by duty to cease to spend days in contemplating these, to work in a line which to you is dull and uninteresting, faith helps you by opening your eyes to see a world where are objects like those you yield, which you shall enjoy freely hereafter; where are hills without their toil, suns without their burning, trees without their dying, flowers without their fading, nature unstained by sin, unvisited by death, in the very presence of death for ever.

2. If your world is the praise of man, you are called to give it up; faith offers you the praise of God instead, the approval of your Saviour.

3. If your world is success m your earthly calling, and you are called by conscience to resign hopes of high success here, faith points through the veil of humiliation to the everlasting hills, where you shall reign as kings and priests for ever.

4. If your world is your family, whose affections God calls you willingly and cheerfully to resign, faith points to a re-union in heaven.

5. If your world is society, with its vain, empty, delusive, dissipating pleasure, faith points you to a society whose whole object is God, whose whole religion is praise, and whose whole will is obedience; a society of angels and saints, gathered from the earliest ages, and purified by the influence of the Spirit.

6. If your world is activity, and passive suffering to the call of God, faith offers a field of active service before God for ever.

7. If your world is a particular sphere of religious circumstances, faith points you to God, and bids you trust in Him, not in man. (E. Monro.)

Self-renunciation at the call of God

I. It becomes the infinite greatness, and all-satisfactory goodness of God, at the very first revelation of Himself unto any of His creatures, TO REQUIRE OF THEM RENUNCIATION OF ALL OTHER THINGS, AND OF THEIR INTEREST IN THEM, IN COMPLIANCE WITH HIS COMMANDS.

II. THE POWER OF SOVEREIGN GRACE, IN CALLING MEN TO GOD, AND THE MIGHTY EFFICACY OF FAITH COMPLYING THEREWITH.

III. IT IS THE CALL OF GOD ALONE THAT MAKES A DISTINCTION AMONGST MANKIND, AS UNTO FAITH AND OBEDIENCE, WITH ALL THE EFFECTS OF THEM. Abraham thus believed and obeyed God, because he was called. And he was called, not because he was better, or wiser than others, but because it pleased God to call him and not others (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

IV. THE CHURCH OF BELIEVERS CONSISTS OF THOSE THAT ARE CALLED OUT OF THE WORLD. The call of Abraham is a pattern of the call of the Church Psalms 45:10; 2 Corinthians 6:17-18).

V. SELF-DENIAL IN FACT OR RESOLUTION, IS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL SINCERE PROFESSION. Abraham began his profession in the practice of this, and proceeded unto the height of it in the greatest instances imaginable. And the instruction that our Saviour gives herein (Matthew 10:37-38; Matthew 16:24-25), amounts but unto this--If you intend to have the faith of Abraham, with the fruits and blessings attending it, you must lay the foundation of it in the relinquishment of all things, if called thereunto, as he did.

VI. THERE IS NO RIGHT, TITLE, OR POSSESSION, THAT CAN PRESCRIBE AGAINST THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN THE DISPOSAL OF ALL INHERITANCES HERE BELOW AT HIS PLEASURE.

VII. GOD’S GRANT OF THINGS UNTO ANY, IS THE BEST OF TITLES, AND MOST SURE AGAINST ALL PRETENCES OR IMPEACHMENTS ( 11:24).

VIII. POSSESSION BELONGS UNTO AN INHERITANCE ENJOYED. This God gave unto Abraham in his posterity, with a mighty hand, and stretched out arm; and He divided it unto them by lot.

IX. AN INHERITANCE MAY BE GIVEN ONLY FOR A LIMITED SEASON. The title unto it may be continued unto a prefixed period. So was it with this inheritance; for although it is called an everlasting inheritance, yet it was so only on two accounts.

1. That it was typical of that heavenly inheritance which is eternal.

2. Because, as unto right and title, it was to be continued unto the end of that limited perpetuity which God granted unto the church-state in that land; that is, unto the coming of the promised Seed, in whom all nations should be blessed; which the call and faith of Abraham did principally regard.

X. THAT IT IS FAITH ALONE THAT GIVES THE SOUL SATISFACTION IN FUTURE REWARDS, IN THE MIDST OF PRESENT DIFFICULTIES AND DISTRESSES. So it did to Abraham, who, in the whole course of his pilgrimage, attained nothing of this promised inheritance.

XI. THE ASSURANCE GIVEN US BY DIVINE PROMISES IS SUFFICIENT TO ENCOURAGE US TO ADVANCE IN THE MOST DIFFICULT COURSE OF OBEDIENCE. (John Owen, D. D.)

I. THE HARD TASK TO WHICH ABRAHAM WAS CALLED.

Faith the power for severing old ties

1. It involved painful separation from the past.

2. It involved the risk of being misunderstood in the present.

3. It involved great uncertainty for the future.

II. THE SIMPLE FAITH BY WHICH THIS HARD TASK WAS FULFILLED.

1. This faith was based on a Divine call.

2. Sustained by abundant promises.

3. Expressed by absolute surrender.

III. THE WONDERFUL BLESSING TO WHICH THIS SIMPLE FAITH LED. What came of this act of obedience? All the blessedness the world has ever had. (C. New.)

Abraham’s prompt obedience to the call of God

I. WHAT WAS ABRAHAM’S SPECIAL EXPERIENCE WHICH LED TO HIS BECOMING SO REMARKABLE A SAINT?

1. He had a call.

2. He obeyed it.

3. He obeyed it because he believed God.

II. WHAT WAS THERE PECULIAR IN ABRAHAM’S CONDUCT?

1. That he was willing to be separated from his kindred.

2. That he was ready for all the losses and risks that might be involved in obedience to the call of God.

3. That he waived the present for the future.

4. That he committed himself to God by faith.

5. What he did was done at once.

III. THE RESULT OF ABRAHAM’S ACTION. Did it pay? That is the inquiry of most people, and within proper bounds it is not a wrong question. Our reply is, it did so gloriously. True, it brought him into a world of trouble, and no wonder: such a noble course as his was not likely to be an easy one. What grand life ever was easy? Who wants to be a child and do easy things? Yet we read in Abraham’s life, after a whole host of troubles, “And Abraham was old and well stricken in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” That is a splendid conclusion--God had blessed Abraham in all things. Whatever happened, he had always been under the Divine smile, and all things had worked for his good. He was parted from his friends, but then he had the sweet society of his God, and was treated as the friend of the Most High, and allowed to intercede for others, and clothed with power on their behalf. What honour, also, the patriarch had among his contemporaries; he was a great man, and held in high esteem. How splendidly he bore himself; no king ever behaved more royally. His image passes across the page of history rather like that of a spirit from the supernal realms than that of a mere mad; he is so thorough, so childlike, and therefore so heroic. He lived in God, and on God, and with God. Such a sublime life recompensed a thousandfold all the sacrifice he was led to make. Was not his life a happy one? One might wisely say, “Let my life be like that of Abraham.” As to temporal things the Lord enriched him, and in spirituals he was richer still. He was wealthier in heart than in substance, though great even in that respect. This very day, through his matchless seed, to whom be glory for ever and ever, even Jesus Christ of the seed of Abraham, all tribes of men are blessed. His life was, both for time and for eternity, a great success; both for temporals and for spirituals the path of faith was the best that he could have followed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Adventuring for God:

We can hardly read those words without at once thinking how all this common life around us would be both simplified and made noble if men generally, in laying out their plans and carrying on their ordinary work, were moved and guided in the same Divine way!--i.e., if they inquired first, at every important decision, every new start and every new turn in the road, where their Lord called them to go; and then, leaving all other questions aside, were to go straight on, no matter what comfort, like the familiar country that the patriarch was leaving, they might be obliged to give up, and no matter how untried or bleak the regions before. I suppose one chief hindrance to its having this effect on most of us will be the difficulty of our realising that, with respect to each one of us, in our personal insignificance, God just as truly has a plan and a particular place, both of work and of communion, as He had for Abraham or Moses, for Enoch or Samuel, for St. John or St. Paul, for any hero or any saint. But He has. Ours may not be so high a place or so much honoured with usefulness as theirs. We have no concern with that; but the whole tenor of our Christian religion tells us our place is there; that when He created us God designed each one, in every station of society, of either sex, in all kinds of employment, for a particular service in His Church, in His family on earth, and in His heaven for ever. You may forfeit it by not believing in it, and by trying to live and die for yourself; God may hereafter fill up the vacancy and finish the full harmony of His heavenly multitude by the river of life without you. But in the millions of wayward lives entangled with each other He will never for one instant lose sight of the thread of yours. He formed you with a loving intention, and all His affection and mercy to the rest have not diminished a particle His affection and mercy for you. Next observe the large meaning of one small word--the word out.” This faithful man was “called to go out,” and he went out.” We are to draw from that a new inference, viz., that in his journeying one place did not look to him just like another, equally attractive and desirable. On the contrary, between the past and the future there was a contrast. What he must leave behind is familiar; what he must turn toward is strange. What he must leave behind is known, tried and safe and agreeable; what he must encounter is hazardous. Going out implies a giving up of something like a home, with the warm, bright, sheltering, endearing attributes always associated with that beloved name. Within are security and comfort; without are exposure, peril, sacrifice. Here, then, is a new rule for the Christian life. Where that life is regenerate, what a Christian life ought to be, fulfilling the gospel idea, it does not merely run on from one scene to another on the same level, nor does it consist in merely moving about through the routine of aa easy experience without progress, without trying new difficulties, gaining greater heights, or by fresh sacrifices coming into a closer and more spiritual sympathy with Christ. Every step needs faith in God, faith in the better country to come, faith in the end to be reached, or else he would look back and perhaps sink down in the road. Take in, then, with this another strong element in the doctrine of the text--the superiority, in this going forward of the disciple after his Lord, of faith over knowledge. We knew the low country we left by eyesight, by the senses, or the intellect; but what lay before was always unknown, invisible, a land of promise, only believed in. In all our approaches to God, in making up our minds to come out on Christ’s side in an open confession, in baptism in maturer years, in coming to be confirmed, in every victory over the evils of the world, we cannot depend merely on the understanding. “He went out, not knowing whither he went.” That was the crown and the glory of his obedience. He did know who tailed him, and in whom he believed, and that was enough. It might seem, at first sight, in reading this passage, as if the principal stress were laid on the obedience. And then some of you who are more advanced in the higher privileges of the gospel, and accustomed to> discriminate in spiritual matters, might say: No; obedience is a low and elementary stage; obedience is of the law; we are not under the law, but under grace; we are not Jews; Christ has come, and it is the faith and love which go out to Him for what He is in the beauty of His holiness, and what He has done for us in the atonement of the Cross, that constitute the special advantage of our position in the Christian Church. Nothing can be more true than this. The whole object of this chapter is to celebrate, not the bare keeping of commandments, but faith in the invisible, and the glory of acting freely with reference to the absolute God rather than present profits, or any outward reward. Hence it runs all through the passage that there are two kinds of obedience, not distinguished from each other by the outward appearance of the obedient action--for this may be precisely the same in the two cases--but by the motive which prompts the obedience, or the feeling that impels us to act as we do. Two different kinds of character are produced by these two sorts of obedience. One is the obedience of calculation; the other is the obedience of faith. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)

Abraham’s faith:

What did God mean to teach Abraham, by calling him out of his country, and telling him, “I will make of thee a great nation”? I think He meant to show him, for one thing, that that Babel plan of society was utterly absurd and accursed, certain to come to nought, and so to lead him on to hope for a city which had foundations, and to see that its builder and maker must be, not the selfishness or the ambition of men, but the will, and the wisdom, and providence of God. Let us see how God led Abraham on to understand this--to look for a city which had foundations; in short, to understand what a state and a nation means and ought to be. First, God taught him that he was not to cling, coward-like, to the place where he was born, but to go out boldly to colonise and subdue the earth, for the great God of heaven would protect and guide him. Again: God taught him what a nation was: “I will make of thee a great nation.” As much as to say, “Never fancy, as those fools at Babel did, that a nation only means a great crowd of people--never fancy that men can make themselves into a nation just by feeding altogether, and breeding altogether, and fighting altogether, as the herds of wild cattle and sheep do, while there is no real union between them.” For what brought those Bable men together? Just what keeps a herd of cattle together--selfishness and fear. Each man thought he would be safer forsooth in company. Each man thought that if he was in company he could use his neighbour’s wits as well as his own, and have the benefit of his neighbour’s strength as well as his own. And that is all true enough; but that does not make a nation. Selfishness can join nothing; it may join a set of men for a time, each for his own ends, just as a joint-stock company is made up; but it will soon split them up again. Each man, in a merely selfish community, will begin, after a time, to play on his own account, as well as work on his own account--to oppress and over-reach for his own ends, as well as to be honest and benevolent for his own ends, for he will find ill-doing far easier and more natural, in one senses and a plan that brings in quicker profits, than well-doing; and so this godless, loveless, every-man-for-himself nation, or sham nation, rather, this joint-stock company, in which fools expect that universal selfishness will do the work of universal benevolence, will quarrel and break up, crumble to dust again, as Babel did. “But,” says God to Abraham, “I will make of thee a great nation. I make nations, and not they themselves.” So it is: this is the lesson which God taught Abraham, the lesson which we English must learn nowadays over again, or smart for it bitterly--that God makes nations. The Psalms set forth the Son of God as the King of all nations. In Him all the nations of the earth are truly blessed. He the Saviour of a few individual souls only? God forbid! To Him all power is given in heaven and earth; by Him were all things created, whether in heaven or earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers; all national life, all forms of government, whether hero-despotisms, republics, or monarchies, aristocracies of birth, or of wealth, or of talent--all were created by Him, and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist and hold together. Believe me, it takes long years, too, and much training from God and from Christ, the King of kings, to make a nation. Everything which is most precious great is also most slow in growing, and so is a nation. But again: God said to Abraham, when He had led him into this far country, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” This was a great and a new lesson for Abraham, that the earth belonged to that same great invisible God who had promised to guide and protect him, and make him into a nation--that this same God gave the earth to whomsoever He would, and allotted to each people their proper portion of it. How this must have taught Abraham that the rights of property were sacred things--things appointed by God; that it was an awful and heinous sin to make wanton war on other people, to drive them out and take possession of their land; that it was not mere force or mere fancy which gave men a right to a country, but the providence of Almighty God! Now, Abraham needed this warning, for the men of Babel seem from the first to have gone on the plan of driving out and conquering the tribes around them. Now, in Genesis 14:1-24. there is an account of Abraham’s being called on to put in practice what he had learnt, and, by doing so, learning a fresh lesson. We read of four kings making war against five kings, against Chedorlaomer, king of Elam or Persia, who had been following the nays of Nimrod and the men of Babel, and conquering these foreign kings and making them serve him. We read of Chedorlaomer and four other kings coming down and wantonly destroying other countries, besides the five kings who had rebelled against them, and at last carrying off captive the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot, Abraham’s nephew. We read then how Abraham armed his trained servants, both in his own house, three hundred and eighteen men, and pursued after these tyrants and plunderers, and with his small force completely overthrew that great army. Now, that was a sign and a lesson to Abraham, as much as to say, “See the fruits of having the great God of heaven and earth for your protector and your guide; see the fruits of having men round you, not hirelings, keeping in your company just to see what they can get by it, but born in your own house, who love and trust you, whom you can love and trust; see how the favour of God, and reverence for those family ties and duties which He has appointed, make you and your little band of faithful men superior to those great mobs of selfish, godless, unjust robbers; see how hundreds of these slaves ran away before one man, who feels that he is a member of a family, and has a just cause for fighting, and that God and his brethren are with him.” Now, as sure as God made Abraham a great nation, so if we English are a great nation, God has made us so; as sure as God gave Abraham the land of Canaan for his possession, so did He give us this land of England, when He brought our Saxon forefathers out of the wild barren north, and drove out before them nations greater and mightier than they, and gave them great and goodly cities which they builded not, and wells digged which they digged not, farms and gardens which they planted not, that we too might fear the Lord our God, and serve Him, and swear by His name; as sure as He commanded Abraham to respect the property of his neighbours, so has He commanded us; as sure as God taught Abraham that the nation which was to grow from him owed a duty to God, and could be only strong by faith in God, so it is with us: we English people owe a duty to God, and are to deal among ourselves, and with foreign countries, by faith in God, and in the fear of God, “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” sure that then all other things--victory, health, commerce, art, and science--will be added to us. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

The spiritual production and practical development of true religion

I. THE SPIRITUAL PRODUCTION OF TRUE RELIGION.

1. Divine sovereignty.

2. Special revelation.

3. Earnest faith.

II. THE PRACTICAL DEVELOPMENT OF REAL RELIGION.

1. Renunciation of old mode of life.

2. Adoption of new.

Faith making light of present privations

I. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE OFTEN CALLED TO STRANGE PRIVATIONS.

1. One hard feature of these privations was that they had come in the way of obedience to God.

2. Moreover, they seemed to involve unfulfilled promise on God’s part.

II. THESE PRIVATIONS ARE, HOWEVER, ACCOMPANIED WITH BRIGHT PROSPECTS.

1. The present and visible does not limit our history.

2. The future will be as good as even God can make it.”

3. In that future the delayed promises will be fulfilled, and the fruit of present obedience and discipline enjoyed.

III. FAITH DWELLING ON THIS PROSPECT CAN ENDURE THE PRIVATIONS.

1. Assuring us of this future, faith gives songs in present trouble. With the joy of hope we can sing as we suffer.

2. Lifting us unto this future, faith dwarfs present need. “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy,” &c.

3. Showing us the possibilities of this future; faith endures present discipline. Discipline is to make the future greater. “These light afflictions work for us a far more,” &c. “While we look,” &c. Conclusion: Feed and exercise this faith that it may grow. By it often climb the mount and see the land that is very far off. (C. New.)

Abraham’s faith and pilgrimage

I. THE OBJECT OF ABRAHAM’S DESIRE: “A city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.” This was the view under which the future state was presented to him; and it suggests

1. The immortality of its inhabitants. The city “ hath foundations,” and shall evermore endure.

2. The changelessness of its enjoyments. This is also intimated by the term “foundations.” Its happiness is permanent.

3. The glory of the state. “Whose Builder is God,” that is, in a special sense. It displays, in a peculiar degree, His power, wisdom, and goodness.

4. Common participation. There is society. This multiplies happiness to angels and saints.

5. Perfect moral order. “Whose Maker is God.”

II. PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS WHICH THIS SINGULAR, BUT INSTRUCTIVE, CONDUCT OF ABRAHAM SUGGESTS. He chose the pilgrim’s life, and dwelt in tents rather than inhabit a city on earth.

1. We are taught by this conduct of Abraham the true ground of the eminent piety of God’s ancient saints.

2. We are taught to regulate our choice in life by our superior regard to the interests of the soul.

3. We are taught a noble indifference to the accommodation of our pilgrimage.

4. We are taught to be willing to make sacrifices for the religious good of others. (R. Watson.)

Abraham’s faith

I. Where faith enables men to live unto God, as unto their eternal concerns, IT WILL ENABLE THEM TO TRUST UNTO HIM IN ALL THE DIFFICULTIES, dangers, and hazards of this life. To pretend a trust in God as unto our souls and invisible things, and not resign our temporal concerns with patience and quietness unto His disposal, is a vain pretence.

II. If we design to have an interest in the blessing of Abraham, WE MUST WALK IN THE STEPS OF THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM. Firm affiance in the promises for grace, mercy, and eternal salvation, trust in His providence for preservation and protection in this world, with a cheerful resignation of all our temporal and eternal concerns unto His disposal, according to the tenor of the covenant, are required hereunto.

III. WHERE FAITH IS ONCE DULY FIXED ON THE PROMISES, IT WILL WAIT PATIENTLY UNDER TRIALS, AFFLICTIONS, AND TEMPTATIONS, FOR THEIR FULL ACCOMPLISHMENT as did that of Abraham, which is here celebrated.

IV. FAITH DISCERNING ARIGHT THE GLORY OF SPIRITUAL PROMISES, WILL MAKE THE SOUL OF A BELIEVER CONTENTED AND WELL SATISFIED WITH THE SMALLEST PORTION OF EARTHLY ENJOYMENTS, &C. (John Owen, D. D.)

On travelling

There is a time when a man may leave his own country and travel into strange countries, yet great circumspection is to be had in it.

1. A man must be called to it: we must do nothing without a calling. Not as if every one should expect such a calling as Abraham had by God’s immediate voice. We have our callings, but mediate. If a man be employed in an ambassadage to a foreign prince, he hath a calling to leave his country for a time. If a man cannot live in his own country, and can more conveniently maintain himself and his charge in another, he may go to it, so as he make not shipwreck of religion. If a man abound in wealth, and be desirous of tongues, arts, and sciences in another country, he hath a calling to it.

2. We must take heed that our families in the mean season be not neglected. He that careth not for them of his house is worse than an infidel. A man under pretext of travelling may not run away from his wife and children.

3. We must have no sinister respect in it. We must not make travelling a cloak to cover theft, murder, adultery, and other gross and notorious vices. God can find us out in all places; for whither shall we fly from His presence?

4. We must not imagine our travelling to be meritorious, as pilgrimages were in former times.

5. Let us take heed in travelling that we travel not away faith and good conscience; wheresoever we become, let us keep ourselves undefiled of the superstitions and corruptions that be in other countries. Let us keep our religion safe and sound, that the least crack be not found in it. Travelling is a dangerous thing. Let us not take it on us unless we be some way or other called to it, as Abraham was. (W. Jones, D. D.)

The illusiveness of life

I. GOD’S PROMISES NEVER ARE FULFILLED IN THE SENSE IN WHICH THEY SEEM TO HIVE BEEN GIVEN. Life is a deception; its anticipations, which are God’s promises to the imagination, are never realised; they who know life best, and have trusted God most to fill it with blessings, are ever the first to say that life is a series of disappointments. And in the spirit of this text we have to say that it is a wise and merciful arrangement which ordains it thus. Abraham had a few feet of earth, obtained by purchase--beyond that nothing; he died a stranger and a pilgrim in the land. Isaac had a little. So small was Jacob’s hold upon his country that the last years of his life were spent in Egypt, and he died a foreigner in a strange land. His descendants came into the land of Canaan, expecting to find it a land flowing with milk and honey; they found hard work to do--war and unrest, instead of rest and peace. During one brief period in the history of Israel the promise may seem to have been fulfilled. It was during the later years of David and the earlier years of Solomon; but we have the warrant of Scripture itself for affirming that even then the promise was not fulfilled. In the Book of Psalms David speaks of a hope of entering into a future rest. They who believe that the Jews will be restored to their native land, expect it on the express ground that Canaan has never been actually and permanently theirs. A certain tract of country--three hundred miles in length, by two hundred in breadth--must be given, or else they think the promise has been broken. To quote the expression of one of the most eloquent of their writers, “If there be nothing yet future for Israel, then the magnificence of the promise has been lost in the poverty of its accomplishment.” I do not quote this to prove the correctness of the interpretation of the prophecy, but as an acknowledgment which may be taken so far as a proof, that the promise made to Abraham has never been accomplished. And such is life’s disappointment. Its promise is, you shall have a Canaan; it turns out to be a baseless, airy dream--toil and warfare--nothing that we can call our own; not the land of rest, by any means. But we will examine this in particulars.

1. Our senses deceive us; we begin life with delusion. Our senses deceive us with respect to distance, shape, and colour. That which afar off seems oval turns out to be circular, modified by the perspective of distance; that which appears a speck, upon nearer approach becomes a vast body. All experience is a correction of life’s delusions--a modification, a reversal of the judgment of the senses: and all life is a lesson on the falsehood of appearances.

2. Our natural anticipations deceive us--I say natural in contradistinction to extravagant expectations. Every human life is a fresh one, bright with hopes that will never be realised. There may be differences of character in these hopes; finer spirits may look on life as the arena of successful deeds, the more selfish as a place of personal enjoyment. With man the turning-point of life may be a profession--with woman, marriage; the one gilding the future with the triumphs of intellect, the other with the dreams of affection; but in every case life is not what any of them expects, but something else. It would almost seem a satire on existence to compare the youth in the outset of his career, flushed and sanguine, with the aspect of the same being when it is nearly done--worn, sobered, covered with the dust of life, and confessing that its days have been few and evil. Where is the land flowing with milk and honey? With our affections it is still worse, because they promise more. Man’s affections are but the tabernacles of Canaan--the tents of a night; not permanent habitations even for this life. Where are the charms of character, the perfection, and the purity, and the truthfulness, which seemed so resplendent in our friend? They were only the shape of our own conceptions--our creative shaping intellect projected its own fantasies on him: and hence we outgrow our early friendships; outgrow the intensity of all: we dwell in tents; we never find a home, even in the land of promise. Life is an unenjoyable Canaan, with nothing real or substantial in it.

3. Our expectations, resting on revelation, deceive us. The world’s history has turned round two points of hope; one, the first, the other, the second coming of the Messiah. The magnificent imagery of Hebrew prophecy had described the advent of the Conqueror; He came--“a root out of a dry ground, with no form or comeliness; and when they saw Him there was no beauty in Him that they should desire Him.” The victory, predicted in such glowing terms, turned out to be the victory of submission--the law of our humanity, which wins by gentleness and love. The promise in the letter was unfulfilled. For ages the world’s hope has been the Second Advent. The early Church expected it in their own day. “We, which are alive, and remain until the coming of our Lord.” The Saviour Himself had said, “This generation shall not pass till all things be fulfilled.” Yet the Son of Man has never come; or rather, He has been ever coming. Unnumbered times the judgment eagles have gathered together over corruption ripe for condemnation. Times innumerable the separation has been made between good and bad. The promise has not been fulfilled, or it has been fulfilled, but in either case anticipation has been foiled and disappointed. There are two ways of considering this aspect of life. One is the way of sentiment; the other is the way of faith. The sentimental way is trite enough. Saint, sage, sophist, moralist, and preacher, have repeated in every possible image, till there is nothing new to say, that life is a bubble, a dream, a delusion, a phantasm. The other is the way of faith: the ancient saints felt as keenly as any moralist could feel the brokenness of its promises; they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims here; they said that they had here no continuing city; but they did not mournfully moralise on this; they said it cheerfully, and rejoiced that it was so. They felt that all was right; they knew that the promise itself had a deeper meaning; they looked undauntedly for “a city which hath foundations.”

II. THE MEANING OF THIS DELUSIVENESS.

1. It serves to allure us on. Could a man see his route before him--a fiat, straight road, unbroken by bush, or tree, or eminence, with the sun’s heat burning down upon it, stretched out in dreary monotony--he could scarcely find energy to begin his task; but the uncertainty of what may be seen beyond the next turn keeps expectation alive. The view that may be seen from yonder summit--the glimpse that may be caught, perhaps, as the road winds round yonder knoll--hopes like these, not far distant, beguile the traveller on from mile to mile, and from league to league. In fact, life is an education. The object for which you educate your son is to give him strength of purpose, self-command, discipline of mental energies; but you do not reveal to your son this aim of his education; you tell him of his place in his class, of the prizes at the end of the year, of the honours to be given at college. These are not the true incentives to knowledge; such incentives are not the highest--they are even mean, and partially injurious; yet these mean incentives stimulate and lead on, from day to day and from year to year, by a process the principle of which the boy himself is not aware of. So does God lead on, through life’s unsatisfying and false reward, ever educating: Canaan first; then the hope of a Redeemer; then the millennial glory.

2. This non-fulfilment of promise fulfils it in a deeper way. The account we have given already, were it to end there, would be insufficient to excuse the failure of life’s promise; by saying that it allures us would be really to charge God with deception. Now, life is not deception, but illusion. We distinguish between illusion and delusion. We may paint wood so as to be taken for stone, iron, or marble; this is delusion: but you may paint a picture, in which rocks, trees, and sky are never mistaken for what they seem, yet produce all the emotion which real rocks, trees, and sky would produce. This is illusion, and this is the painter’s art: never for one moment to deceive by attempted imitation, but to produce a mental state in which the feelings are suggested which the natural objects themselves would create. Let us take an instance drawn from life. To a child a rainbow is a real thing--substantial and palpable; its limb rests on the side of yonder hill; he believes that he can appropriate it to himself; and when, instead of gems and gold hid in its radiant bow, he finds nothing but damp mist--cold, dreary drops of disappointment--that disappointment tells that his belief has been delusion. To the educated man that bow is a blessed illusion, yet it never once deceives; he does not take it for what it is not, he does not expect to make it his own; he feels its beauty as much as the child could feel it, nay, infinitely more--more even from the fact that he knows that it will be transient; but besides and beyond this, to him it presents a deeper loveliness; he knows the laws of light, and the laws of the human soul which gave it being. He has linked it with the laws of the universe, and with the invisible mind of God; and it brings to him a thrill of awe, and the sense of a mysterious, nameless beauty, of which the child did not conceive. It is illusion still; but it has fulfilled the promise. In the realm of spirit, in the temple of the soul, it is the same. All is illusion; “but we look for a city which hath foundations”; and in this the promise is fulfilled. And such was Canaan to the Israelites. To some doubtless it was delusion. They expected to find their reward in a land of milk and honey. They were bitterly disappointed, and expressed their disappointment loudly enough in their murmurs against Moses, and their rebellion against his successors. But to others, as to Abraham, Canaan was the bright illusion which never deceived, but for ever shone before as the type of something more real. And even taking the promise literally, though they built in tents, and could not call a foot of land their own, was not its beauty theirs? Were not its trellised vines, and glorious pastures, and rich olive-fields, ministers to the enjoyment of those who had all in God, though its milk, and oil, and honey, could not be enjoyed with exclusiveness of appropriation? Yet over and above and beyond this, there was a more blessed fulfilment of the promise; there was “a city which had foundations”--built and made by God--toward which the anticipation of this Canaan was leading them. The kingdom of God was forming in their souls, for ever disappointing them by the unreal, and teaching them that what is spiritual and belongs to mind and character alone can be eternal. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Mysteriousness of life

It is not unusual for captains to receive their commands from their country to set sail, especially in times of war and danger, knowing not their destination. They cannot open their commission, perhaps, until they have reached a solitary, silent part of the great ocean. And we “sail under sealed orders”; we all go out “not knowing whither we go.” (E. P. Hood.)

Reason may hinder faith

I suppose you will all say that if a man were able to go a journey of two or three hundred miles a-foot, he were a very good footman; yet if you will tie him to carry a child of four or five years old with him, you will say it would be a great luggage to him; and the man would say, “Pray, let this child be left alone; for though he may run along in my hand half a mile, or go a mile with me, yet notwithstanding I must carry him the rest of the way; and when I come at any great water, or have to go over any hill, I must take him upon my back, and that will be a great burden to me.” Thus it is between faith and reason. Reason at the best is but a child to faith. Faith can foot it over mountains and difficulties, and wade through afflictions, though they be very wide; but when reason comes to any affliction, to wade through that and to go over some great difficulties, then it cries out, and says, “Oh Faith, good Faith, go back again; good Faith, go back again.” “No,” says Faith, “but I will take thee upon my back, Reason.” And so Faith is fain to do, indeed, to take Reason upon its back. But oh, what a luggage is Reason to Faith! Faith never works better than when it works most alone. The mere rational considering of the means, and the deadness thereof, is a great and special enemy to the work of believing. (William Bridge.)

Faith stimulating endeavour

See the spider casting out her film to the gale; she feels persuaded that somewhere or other it will adhere and form the commencement of her web. She commits the slender filament to the breeze, believing that there is a place provided for it to fix itself. In this fashion should we believingly cast forth our endeavours in this life, confident that God will find a place for us. He who bids us pray and work will aid our efforts and guide us in His providence in a right way. Sit not still in despair, O son of toil, but again cast out the floating thread of hopeful endeavour, and the wind of love will bear it to its resting-place.

The tent life:

The tent life will always be the natural one for those who feel that their mother country is beyond the stars. We should be like the wandering Swiss, who hear in a strange land the rude old melody that used to echo among the Alpine pastures. The sweet sad tones kindle home sickness that will not let them rest: no matter where they are, or what they are doing, no matter what honour they have carved out for themselves with their swords, they throw off the livery of the alien king which they have worn, and turning their backs upon pomp and courts, seek the free air of the mountains, and find home better than a place by a foreign throne. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

A city which hath foundations

The way to the city:

There are some men who are like the patriarch Abraham in this--they have no fixed dwelling-place in the earth. They go from one city to another at the different seasons of the year, arranging to come to each just at the season of its highest bloom. This is thought to be a pleasant, but it is a very poor way of spending life. Men who are always seeking pleasure are never happy. They soon wear all freshness out of their hearts. Better far be at the hardest work all the year round than be such a man. In the intervals of work, however, it is a good thing to see, as one can, the famous cities of the world. It is a relief to leave the well-known streets and the scenes of accustomed occupation for a time; and some expansion of the mind is attained amid the new and varied scenes which come into view. Now, suppose a man on pilgrimage going through a number of such cities, and coming at last of purpose to the best. May we not suppose such a man pausing and saying, “Is this all? Have I seen the strongest that man can build, the fairest that he can paint? Is there no other city which I have not seen, no fairer lands than those which I have traversed? I have been refreshed, I am thankful; but alas for my immortality if this be all! ‘Could you not suppose such a man, at such a time, rejoicing in the privilege of taking his place beside Abraham, and “looking for a city which hath foundations”?

I. THE CITY. How far we are to carry forward the ideas which we have about a city on earth, and fix them on that celestial place which God has prepared for the dwelling of His people through all eternity, it is difficult to say. It is with this as it is with the natural and spiritual body: there is a resemblance and yet a difference. To transfer our ideas just as they are, without purification or expansion, would be to vulgarise and degrade heaven. But to rise by their means to higher ideas like them, is just what the teaching of Scripture enables us to do. “A city.” Let us thank God for that word--or these: “a country,” “a better country, that is, an heavenly.” How do these familiar terms fill up for us the dim and vast obscure I They make a home for our wandering thoughts. They give an answer to our wondering inquiries.

1. This city is very ancient. Not the plan of it merely in Divine thought, nor parts of it merely in course of construction, but the whole city was built and finished, and Abraham journeyed to it through the quietness of the patriarchal days, just as a man now might journey to Paris or Rome.

2. This city is very strong and stable. “It hath foundations.” It is designedly put in contrast with those frail and movable structures in which Abraham dwelt during his pilgrimage. And what a contrast with the strongest cities and securest abodes of men! Nature and time wear down all man’s works. As soon as a house is finished, it begins to vanish away. As soon as a tower is erected, it begins to decay. Man is still weaker than his house. His outward man is perishing far more rapidly than walls and towns, and rooms and pictures. It is to a being mortal in himself, and dwelling thus amid things, that this grand vision is revealed of “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

3. This city is all built by God. He is Architect and Artificer. He designs and builds. How grand is this conception of heaven as the masterpiece of Divine skill! a meet dwellingplace for those who have been cleansed and perfected by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

II. THE WAY to the city. The way to the city is to “look for it,” to “expect it.” It is the way of faith. Without faith, showing itself by a life-long looking, we have no interest in the place. If we do not look, we reject the whole. This is the way in which heaven is lost to innumerable multitudes. The heart, the soul is in the look, and where a man looks his soul will go. A whole city for a look! Only it must be the look of the whole soul, continued through the whole life, until the city appears. There are those who would be willing enough to think themselves into a celestial city, to speculate concerning a future life, its probable scenes and characteristics, and then to have it as their fancy had feigned. That is not the way to the city. There are those who would be very willing to buy themselves into it. They would give a great many religious services, much money, and some suffering to get there. Neither is that the way to the city. “It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof.” They cannot discern it by knowledge. They may measure and weigh the heavenly bodies with the lines and balances of their thought; they may analyse those beams of light which are shot down on us, and describe the chemistry of the stars; but after they have said all, and told all they know, there is still no sign of the city. They cannot win it by strength. Men do not ascend the snowy summits of the mountains, and then go up to a nobler world. Alas! they all go downwards--down, down to the grave. They cannot win it by merit. Do men so live in this world that they would be justified in saying, “We do not need to look beyond this life. There must be another world prepared for us, and we can well afford to wait for the day of entrance”? Benjamin Franklin said, “As this world was all prepared for me before I came here, so the world to which I am going will be ready when I go there.” But there is a fallacy in this reasoning; it is to place a man who has lived responsibly, who has, of his own will, chosen good or evil for threescore years, in the same category as an infant who has never lived at all. God has said that this is the way to the city, the way of the faith-look; and if we are to be wise, we must walk in this way, on and on, until the city comes in sight. This “looking” is the whole soul acting in faith, rising in desire, answering to the word and assurance of God in reference to the life to come. No test of a man’s state could be deeper or truer than this, and therefore it is good and worthy Of God to make faith the condition of salvation, and to give a city of eternal glory for a life-long look. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The hope of Abraham:

It is an interesting fact, that though Abraham was selected by Providence to be the head of a great nation, and though he had in those days of his much cattle and a great company of dependents, yet he had no special or particular home in the land he traversed. His habitation was a tent, like that of the traveller of the desert; and this he pitched in the “ land of promise,” as a pilgrim “in a strange country.” The reason given by the apostle for this conduct is expressed in the words, “He looked for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.” Here we have the object of the patriarch’s faith; and in considering it briefly, let us notice a few of its peculiar features, as well as the nature of his faith itself.

I. OBSERVE IT IS A CITY OF DIVINE ORIGIN.

1. Abraham may not have had any mysterious vision of this city as St. John had of the heavenly Jerusalem, described in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation. But it is possible that he might have thought of that which is distinguished by the peculiar advantages of a city; such as a central spot of splendour, of security, of unity, in which the tribes of earth could meet together in social harmony and friendship; and, lastly, as the seat of government. It is not impossible but what one of the most beautiful cities of the Canaanites might have suggested the idea to his mind. But be that as it may, he readily drew a distinction between an earthly and a heavenly city. The earthly he well knew would perish. But the heavenly city, having God for its Builder and Creator, its foundations and its glory would be eternal. Thus it would stem that Abraham had a belief in the soul’s immortality, by his having an expectation of permanent rest and happiness after death. Hence Christians of the present age are linked to Abraham through centuries long past by this simple faith and hope in the glorious future.

2. As the city is Divine in its origin, so we may rightly conclude that its inhabitants would correspond in character with its Supreme Founder. Abraham no doubt included this view of the city in his expectations. He must have well known that if the character of the heavenly citizens did not differ from that of the earthly ones, he could neither expect within its walls rest, nor security, nor permanency. Consequently, while expecting it he must have disciplined himself in all goodness, and in all obedience to the commands of God, as a qualification for entering it and for associating with its inhabitants.

II. THINK UPON THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM.

1. It induced a purpose worthy of a life like that of Abraham. This purpose was to realise the glory and greatness of the object which faith acknowledged. Can we imagine a purpose of life more inspiriting, more fraught with greatness, and more suited to give an elevation to thought and feeling? The purposes generally for which men live here, when properly considered, are beneath the capacity, the calling, and the destiny of man.

They are very limited as to their duration, and very uncertain as to their possession. But the purposes of a Christian life are eternal; and the very certainty of the promise on which they rest leaves no regret or disappointment in the hour of death. What brighter vision can pass before the spirit, when leaving its earthly tabernacle, than the home-city of the faithful, whose Maker and Builder is God?

2. The faith of Abraham, furthermore, induced his co-operation with the Divine purposes and power. No doubt many of his neigh-hours derided him for what they might have thought an act of folly; and it is more than probable that in travelling over wide and lonely deserts he felt the difficulty of his undertaking. But Abraham did not turn back, neither did his faith fairer, nor did the peril of the day or of the night change his purpose. Thus we are taught a lesson of co-operation, by giving a ready obedience to the Divine will in the use of means adapted to meet the ends of Christian faith and worship. We are called upon to come out from the world, from its spirit, and to separate ourselves from its hurtful maxims, and from its dangerous companionship.

3. The faith of Abraham was childlike and humble. A faith which led him in its moral influence to tread only in one path, and that path was Christ. It is not a broad way, giving a wide scope to earthly passions, and favouring the selfish ease which knows not the force of the struggle between the downward tendency of the flesh and the upward strivings of the renewed spirit, but it is a narrow way. Yet withal, though the way is in some places steep and rugged, it is safe, and its end is peace and rest for evermore. (W.

D. Heywood.)

The believer’s earnest desire for heaven

I. WHY HEAVEN IS LIKENED TO A CITY. The description implies

1. Safety. Its walls are too high to be sealed by the wily foe, too firmly built to be beaten down; its gates are too strong to be forced, and He who possesses the keys too wise not to discover a friend from a foe, under whatever disguise, when seeking admittance. He that laid the foundations of the holy city is Himself its Guardian.

2. Society. It is a delightful thing to think of meeting with our Christian friends who have long since gone to their rest, to see the prophets who foretold the day of Christ..

3. The permanence of its enjoyments. Heaven is a city that stands; the stream of time, the ocean of eternity, as it washes its base, shall in vain attempt to undermine it, for it has foundations that cannot be moved.

II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THE EXPRESSION THAT ABRAHAM LOOKED FOR THE CITY.

1. A belief in its existence.

2. A desire to have a place in it.

3. An actual preparation for it.

III. THE EFFECTS RESULTING FROM THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE HEAVENLY STATE.

1. It should moderate our attachment to worldly objects.

2. It should endue us with patience under all the afflictions and trials which it may be ours to suffer.

3. It should make us anxious to lead others to seek it. (James Clason.)

The heavenly city:

I. A CERTAIN EXPECTATION OF THE HEAVENLY REWARD, GROUNDED ON THE PROMISES AND COVENANT OF GOD, IS SUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE THE SOULS OF BELIEVERS UNDER ALL THEIR TRIALS IN THE WHOLE COURSE OF THEIR OBEDIENCE.

II. HEAVEN IS A SETTLED QUIET HABITATION. A suitable dwelling for them that have had a life of trouble in this world.

III. ALL STABILITY, ALL PERPETUITY IN EVERY STATE HERE AND HEREAFTER, ARISETH FROM THE PURPOSE OF GOD, AND IS RESOLVED THEREINTO.

IV. This is that which recommends to us the city of God, the heavenly state, THAT IT IS, AS THE WORK OF GOD ALONE, SO THE PRINCIPAL EFFECT OF HIS WISDOM AND POWER. (John Owen, D. D.)

The expected city

I. THE CITY IS DESCRIBED FROM THE STABILITY AND THE BUILDER THEREOF. A city is sometimes taken for a multitude and vicinity of buildings: sometimes it is taken for a political community; sometimes it is taken for the condition and estate of these societies. In this place the word “city” must be taken spiritually, for such a kind of habitation, society, and estate as is not found in this world.

1. It hath foundations; for nothing can be firm which is not firmly fixed upon an immovable ground. This cloth difference it from tabernacles and tents, and also from all other buildings, habitations, societies, states, kingdoms, and their prosperity; for they are obnoxious to change, decay, and ruin. Experience doth sufficiently prove this by the ruin of so many castles, palaces, cities, societies, states, and kingdoms, which have flourished in great splendour, power, and strength, yet now lie in the dust and do not appear. This city is no such thing; but the place of abode, the persons, and their felicity, endure for ever.

2. The Builder and Maker is God. All other cities, societies, and their condition is from men; but in this man hath no hand at all; for God made it according to the model contrived by Himself. These words are added to inform us

II. ABRAHAM’S EXPECTATION OF THIS CITY BY FAITH. This looking for, or expectation, includes many things; as

1. He had a title to it by virtue of God’s promise and his qualification; and this was not a mere title, but something more; for there was a time limited in the grant of the full enjoyment, and he had received the first fruits of glory.

2. He desired and lounged after the enjoyment of this city far more than for anything in this world.

3. These desires were very effectual and working upon his soul, and stirred him to seek this city, and constantly to use all means appointed by God for to attain it; and the whole course of his life was a continued approach towards this eternal rest and glorious estate.

4. The actual possession of this blessed estate was deferred; yet he with patience did wait for it, and made no doubt but to attain that which he so much desired. And here it is to be observed

The hope of Abraham:

Abraham, the friend of God and the father of the faithful, was homeless man in a strange country, dwelling in tents like an Arab or a Tartar. This fact, though not inexplicable, is so far singular as to deserve our particular attention.

1. Why, then, was Abraham a wanderer, a homeless man, a sojourner in the land of promise? I remark that it was not on account of poverty. Abraham was rich, by inheritance, by acquisition--rich by the blessing of God on the increase of his possessions, and rich through the favour of the kings and chiefs whose friendship he enjoyed.

2. Was it, then, because he had no real estate, no landed property, to which he could lay claim and on which he might reside? The whole land of

Canaan was in one sense his own. It was his by express grant from Jehovah--made sure to him and to his heirs for ever.

3. We read that when Abraham first crossed the Jordan from the East, “the Canaanite was in the land.” The Hivite, the Hittite, the Jebusite, the Amorite, and other sons of Canaan, had possession of the country. And so thickly were they settled, in the central part at least, that there was not room for Abraham and Lot to live together. May it not be, therefore, that these actual possessors of the country would not suffer him to dwell among them? Had they known his pretensions, or, to speak more properly, his rights, they might have hated him and driven him away. But as he made no efforts to enforce those rights, and as he came among them from the East with flocks and herds, and as an independent chieftain, they received him with respect, and this respect increased. It was not, therefore, on account of any enmity between him and the Canaanites that, instead of founding a great city, he preferred to live a wandering life. There must be other reasons for his course.

4. It may be suggested that his perseverance in a wandering course shows him to have been a mere barbarian, one who was unable to appreciate the comforts of a settled life, or rather, who had never had experience of them. Thus we find that in Arabia there are tribes of Bedouins who regard their wandering life as the most honourable possible, and laugh to scorn those pleasures and advantages of civilised society about which they know nothing by experience. But let it be observed that these tribes inhabit the Arabian desert, where cultivation exists only in detached spots, and where the herdsman is obliged to change his pasture-ground and home continually. Abraham, on the other hand, was in a fertile, cultivated, thickly settled country full of proud cities, walled towns of inferior size, and villages innumerable. It was not because he knew no better that he obese to dwell in tents instead of houses, and to govern an encampment, not a city or a kingdom.

5. Was it, then, because he thought it wrong to lead a settled life in towns and cities, that he dwelt in tents? There is no trace of such a doctrine in the Word of God, and Abraham was too well grounded in the Divine will to hold it as a superstition. He was no ascetic.

6. To some the thought may here occur that we are searching for the explanation of a fact which needs none. Why should Abraham’s wandering be considered stranger than the wandering of any other Eastern chief? And as those of the: highest rank lead such a life to this day, it need not be regarded as below the dignity even of the Father of the Faithful and the Friend of God. He came inter the country with his flocks and herds; and as the land was densely peopled, he was under the necessity of frequently changing his encampment and his pasture. This would be wholly satisfactory but for the apostle’s mention of the patriarch’s unsettled life as a remarkable evidence of faith.

7. Having thus determined negatively that it was neither poverty nor want of title to the land, nor opposition on the part of the inhabitants, nor ignorance, nor mere ascetic self-denial, nor a regard to temporal convenience that induced him to reside in tents rather than in a palace and a city worthy of so great a prince, we are ready to receive the explanation of the text, which is this: “he looked,” or was looking, “for a city.” The sense is not that Abraham was wandering in search of a city upon earth, but that, he lived in quiet expectation of a city. “If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” It was this “ patience of hope” that rendered Abraham indifferent to the walled cities of the Canaanites around him whose antiquity was of ancient days, and whose defence was the munition of rocks. Nothing so effectually breeds indifference to present objects as the hope of better things to come. The traveller pressing homewards after a long absence can pass, with a contemptuous smile or absolute unconsciousness, those very objects which the homeless traveller dwells upon with rapture.

8. And what sort of s city did he look for, in contempt of those around him? How did the city of his expectations differ from the cities of the Canaanites and the Philistines, from old Damascus, and from Ur of the Chaldees? It had foundations. And had not they foundations? In one sense they had none. They were liable to change. In the same sense, Abraham’s city, which he looked for, had foundations--has them now; for observe the present form of the expression. It was a city, therefore, not of this world; for in this world there are no foundations time-proof. And whence had the city of his hopes these firm foundations? From the Architect.

9. Whose Builder and Maker is God. God does not build like man. The foundations of His structures are laid deep in His decrees, and the cement has been growing hard from all eternity. His power over the materials He uses is not merely the disposing power of a builder, but the absolute power of a maker. What He builds He creates. The city of which He is the Maker and Builder is eternal; it has foundations which decay can never weaken, and which laugh at the violence of storm and earthquake. And who are its inhabitants? (Revelation 21:24-26). And are none to be excluded? Ah, Revelation 21:27). This is the grand distinction of the city for which Abraham looked. It is a city free from sin. In this it differs from all earthly cities, And why is it called a city? Because with a city we associate ideas of substantial strength, immense wealth, regular government, social intercourse, refinement of manners, and external splendour. But what are all these, in the cities of the earth, to the surpassing glories of that city for which Abraham looked, and where the saints shall be enthroned as kings and priests unto God?

10. Here, then, we begin to see a marked resemblance between his case and our own. However remote from our experience what has hitherto been said of his condition, at last we are alike, we are all sojourners and strangers upon earth, we seek the same city as the patriarch. However well we may be pleased with it, however fully satisfied with what it can afford, we know that our abode in it is only for a time; it is not the place of our rest. And of this we are receiving constant admonitions.

11. Now this feeling of uneasiness, this sense of homelessness, is, as you well know, incompatible with happiness. In order to be happy you must have a home, either present or in prospect. Have you such a home? Remember that earthly homes, in reference to eternity, are nothing worth. Look at the households breaking up around you, and say whether these can be your solace and your stay for ever. What will you do then? Will you waste yourselves in misanthropic discontent! No! do as Abraham did: look forward to the city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. The more unsatisfactory you find this world, look the more eagerly and steadfastly on that which is to come.

12. But here let us guard against a fatal error--the error of imagining that mere expectation is alone required. Believe me, multitudes have looked for that city who have never reached it. There is but one path to it through the wilderness of life, and that path is a narrow one. It was by that path that the Father of the Faithful gained the object of his faith and hope. If you would gain it likewise, you must walk in the footsteps of the Friend of God. Do you ask what path he travelled? I reply, the:path of humble, childlike faith.

13. And now let me turn to you who have your faces turned to Zion, and are already looking for that city to which Abraham aspired, and where he reigns in glory. It is said that when the caravan of pilgrims to the sepulchre of Christ cross the mountains of Judaea, worn with hunger and fatigue, they are sometimes ready to relax their efforts, and despair of safe arrival. They may even repent of their own folly in attempting so adventurous a journey, and wish themselves in safety at their own distant firesides. But these thoughts all vanish when the summit is attained, and from the mountain’s brow they catch a glimpse of Olivet and Zion, and the forsaken city seated in her widow’s weeds upon her throne of hills. That sight reanimates their courage and renews their strength. With simultaneous energy they rise and hasten onward, and the roughness of the journey is forgotten in the presence of Jerusalem. Oh! we are also strangers and pilgrims, and our way through the world may be precipitous and rugged, and so long as we look only at the things around us, our hearts may well grow faint and our knees feeble. But amidst these discouragements, look upward to the heavenly hills, and, through the dust and smoke of this world’s troubles, keep the eternal city steadfastly in view. That sight will make your hearts beat with new vigour. It will nerve your arm for battle and your bosom for resistance. It will enable you to look down with contempt upon the pleasures and temptations of the world; it will preserve you from illusions, painful even to the Christian, and, ah! how often fatal to the unbeliever. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)

The city Abraham looked for:

Here he had a tent, but there he looked for a city; τήν, for that city which alone deserves the name of a city. It excels all earthly cities. Aholiab and Bezaleel made the tabernacle, Hiram the temple; carpenters and masons set up these cities; but God Himself is the Maker and Builder of this city. These cities may be overthrown by waters; the sea may come in tumbling and sweep them away; these towns and cities may be consumed with fire, there be burnings almost every day; these may be sacked with the enemy, and made even with the ground, as Jerusalem and the temple are, which were the wonder of the world; we may be driven by famine and pestilence out of those towns and cities. Howsoever they stand awhile, and we in them; the time shall come when the earth, with all the goodly buildings that be on it, shall be burned with fire. Therefore let us use these cities as we used them not. Let our hearts and affections be in this city, whose Maker and Builder is God. We have not here an abiding city. London is no abiding city; York, Norwich, no town is an abiding town. Death will give us a remove out of all towns. But in this city we shall abide for ever, and reign with Christ for evermore; therefore let us all long for it. He cloth not say that he believed there was such a city; but he looked for it ( 5:28). We look out of our windows on sights in the streets, gardens, orchards, etc., but not out of the windows of our hearts for this city. He that looks shortly for a new ,coat, will not be much in love with his old; for a fair house, will not care for a cottage. We look after our wool and cloth, houses, and lands, &c. Let us look daily for Christ’s coming; that will put us in possession of this city. (W. Jones, D. D.)

A hold upon eternity:

As in some sea-weed, far out in the depths of the ocean, the tiny frond that floats upon the billows goes down, and down, and down, by filaments that knit it to the basal rock; so the most insignificant act of our fleeting days has a hold upon eternity, and life in all its moments may be knit to the permanent. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verses 8-19

Verse 11-12

Hebrews 11:11-12

Sara

Faith triumphing over physical incapacity

I.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF FAITH IN THIS CASE: The desired good was contrary to

1. Nature.

2. Experience.

3. Personal worthiness.

II. THE BASIS OF THIS FAITH. Grounded entirely on God’s will. The removal of the difficulty may be

1. The subject of distinct promise.

2. Necessary for obedience to certain commands.

3. The secret purpose of God, which faith leaves Him to fulfil, if so He pleases.

III. THE RESULT OF THIS FAITH.

1. Itself a source of victorious power.

2. Rewarded by God with victorious power. (C. New.)

Sarah’s faith

I. THE PERSON BELIEVING. A woman, weak in sex, may be strong in faith.

1. Many times the word doth not work presently: Sarah laugheth at first, but afterwards believeth. Some that belong to the purposes of grace may stand out for a while against the ways of God, till they are fully convinced; as Sarah laughed till she knew it to be a word not spoken in jest, but a promise made in earnest.

2. Usually before the settling of faith there is a conflict. “Shall I have a child who am old, my lord being old also?” Reason opposeth against the promise. So it is usual when we come to settle the heart in the belief of any promise. Look, as when the fire beginneth to be kindled we see smoke first before flame, so it is here before our comforts be established, we are full of doubts; so that doubtings are a hopeful prognostic--it is a sign men mind their condition.

3. With great indulgence, God hideth the defects of His children and taketh notice of their graces.

II. THE COMMENDATION OF HER FAITH. From the influence of her faith.

1. “She received strength to conceive seed.” Learn hence

2. From the effect of this influence--“And was delivered of a child”--I observe hence

3. From the application of her faith. “When she was past age.” There were two difficulties--she was naturally barren (Genesis 11:30) and she was now ninety years of age, and it ceased to be with her “after the manner of woman”; and therefore here lay the excellency of her faith, that she could believe that she should be the mother of a mighty nation. Barren I say she was by natural constitution, and now no better than dead, having so long outlived the natural time of bearing children. Learn hence--That no difficulty or hindrance should cause a disbelief of the promise. The reasons, are two--partly from God, that maketh the promise; partly from faith, that receiveth the promise.

III. THE GROUND OF HER FAITH. Because she judged Him faithful that had promised. Hence observe

1. Wherever we put forth faith we must have a promise, otherwise it is but fancy, not faith. It is not a ground of expectation barely what God is able to do, but what God will do. As the two pillars of Solomon’s house were called Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7:21)--the one signifies “Strength,” and the other “He will establish it.”

2. In closing with the promise, we should chiefly give God the honour of His faithfulness.

Faith triumphing over difficulties

I. FAITH MAY BE SORELY SHAKEN AND TOSSED AT THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF DIFFICULTIES LYING IN THE WAY OF THE PROMISE, WHICH YET AT LAST IT SHALL OVERCOME. And there be many degrees of its weakness and failure herein. As

1. A mere recoiling, with some disorder in the understanding, unable to apprehend the way and manner of the accomplishment of the promise.

2. It ariseth to a distrust of the event of the promises or their accomplishment, because of the difficulties that lie in the way.

3. When there is for a season an actual prevalency of unbelief. So it was with the apostle Peter, when he denied his Master, who yet was quickly recovered. It is therefore our duty

II. ALTHOUGH GOD ORDINARILY WORKETH BY HIS CONCURRING BLESSING ON THE COURSE OF NATURE, YET HE IS NOT OBLIGED THEREUNTO. Yet

III. IT IS NO DEFECT IN FAITH, NOT TO EXPECT EVENTS AND BLESSINGS ABSOLUTELY ABOVE THE USE OF MEANS UNLESS WE HAVE A PARTICULAR WARRANT FOR IT as Sarah had in this case.

IV. THE DUTY AND USE OF FAITH ABOUT TEMPORAL MERCIES ARE TO BE REGULATED BY THE GENERAL RULES OF THE WORD, WHERE NO ESPECIAL PROVIDENCE DOTH MAKE APPLICATION OF A PROMISE.

V. The mercy here spoken of, concerning a son unto Abraham by Sarah his wife, WAS ABSOLUTELY DECREED, AND ABSOLUTELY PROMISED YET GOD INDISPENSABLY REQUIRES FAITH IN THEM FOR THE FULFILLING OF THAT DECREE, and the accomplishment of that promise.

VI. THE FORMAL OBJECT OF FAITH IN THE DIVINE PROMISES IS NOT THE THINGS PROMISED IN THE FIRST PLACE, BUT GOD HIMSELF IN HIS ESSENTIAL EXCELLENCIES OF TRUTH, OR FAITHFULNESS AND POWER.

VII. EVERY PROMISE OF GOD HATH THIS CONSIDERATION TACITLY ANNEXED TO IT, “IS anything too hard for the Lord?” There is no Divine promise, but when it comes unto the trial, as unto our closing with it, no promise of the new covenant, but we apprehend as great a difficulty and improbability of its accomplishment unto us, as Sarah did of this.

VIII. Although the truth, veracity, or faithfulness of God be in a peculiar manner the immediate object of our faith, yet IT TAXES IN THE CONSIDERATION OF ALL OTHER DIVINE EXCELLENCIES FOR ITS ENCOURAGEMENT AND CORROBORATION. (John Owen, D. D.)

Faith counting all things possible:

That which is elsewhere made characteristic of Abraham is in this one place ascribed to Sarah. It may have been in the mind of the apostle to suggest to his readers, at this point of his appeal, the thought that “in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.” Woman, no less than man, needs, and is capable of, the grace of faith. The soul’s life of woman, redeemed and glorified by the gospel, is a life of faith, in every submission, and in every effort, and in every heroism, of the soul’s life of man. “Through faith Sarah also herself”--Sarah in her proper sphere, as Abraham in his--became the inheritor of that privilege of blessing, from which sprang a vast nation, to be the trustee of God’s oracles, and the country, on earth, of Christ Himself. This is that example of faith--and it is instructive to remember it--to which the explicit testimony is attached, “He believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” It was not that first exercise of faith, which triumphed over the attractions of home, and reconciled the patriarch Abraham to a life of exile and wandering. It was not that third exercise of faith, which triumphed over the love of offspring, and enabled the father to give back by his own act the precious life of his child into the hand of Him whose very promise that obedience seemed to be defeating. Neither of these self-devotions is connected in the sacred records with the faith that “justifies.” It is the mental act--it is the looking up into that clear night-sky, and responding, in heart, to the Voice which says, “Count those stars--so shall thy seed be”--it is this, the most elementary and the most entirely secret “taking God at His word”--it is that particular state of the mind, which has no action at all in it--which is altogether, and from first to last, mental--just the standing instead of sinking under God’s disclosure and God’s promise--it is this which God looks at. All else is consequence, natural consequence: the obedience which leaves the home--the obedience which sacrifices the son--all this is but the expression in action of the mind’s mind and the soul’s soul.

1. What Abraham believed was a physical impossibility. Over that difficulty his faith triumphed. The impossibility presented to our faith is not physical but spiritual. We have to believe, not in the suspension of what we call “ laws of nature”--in other words, of God’s ordinary methods of procedure in regard to suns and stars, to water and earth, to disease and infection, to life and death--but in certain other things, which, to eyes spiritually enlightened, are at least as difficult. We have to believe in the actual forgiveness of things actually done. We have to believe that that black hateful thing done or said yesterday--even though it had fever in its breath and corruption in its influence--can be, shall be, obliterated in the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, shed, outpoured, for that very purpose. We have to believe in the power of sanctification through the Eternal Spirit. We have to believe that that bad habit, formed in boyhood, weakly yielded to in manhood, still predominant, can by the grace of God--shall by the grace of God--be vanquished in us, burnt out of us, sothat we shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us. These are the improbabilities, the impossibilities- not physical perhaps, but worse than physical--worse, because invisible, worse, because entering into a nature more intricate, more sensitive, more suffering, than any most thrilling fibre, most throbbing nerve, of this body--which we Christians, not by guess-work, but by proof--not by wishing or willing, but by receiving and embracing on the authority of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Sanctifier--have to apprehend, to realise, and to live by. This, this is faith.

2. There is one peculiarity in the instance before us, and that is the connection which it indicates between spiritual faith and physical consequence. Other Scriptures tell of the rewards and recompenses of faith in a world out of sight. But this passage says, Because of a faith in Him who had promised, “therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable.” You may say, The promise was of a supernatural birth. The promise was physical. It looked not beyond earth, and the consequences were “in the like material.” God makes not these sharp distinctions between the life that is and the life that shall be. “Godliness,” St. Paul tells us, “hath promise” of both. And though we would not so read that text as though it offered riches and pleasures and honours to the righteous, whose very faith counts all these gifts not only precarious but perilous; still it certainly says that God’s gifts to His own are not all future: there is a reward for His people here; there is a supernatural offspring, there is a birth, not of accident, not of circumstance, not of the self-will, but all of grace, which turns the thing that is into a foretaste and promise of the thing that shall be: there is a love, and there is a happiness, and there is a home, which derives all its lustre from the ideal and antitype of these out of sight: by faith man and woman, born again of water and of the Spirit, receive back, the second time, out of God’s fulness, that which before had been grasped eagerly out of the hand of Nature and of the Fall--and, so receiving, find in each thing a grace and a beauty unseen, unfelt before--find in Faith itself, not the opposite, but the complement, of sight, and enjoy twice over the thing that God created, and the thing that God redeemed and that God sanctifies. (Dean Vaughan.)

Faith, sense, and reason:

It is the nature of faith to believe God upon His bare word, and that against sense in things invisible, and against reason in things incredible. Sense corrects imagination, reason corrects sense, but faith corrects both. (J. Trapp.)

Therefore sprang there even of one

The increase of the Church

I. WHEN GOD IS PLEASED TO INCREASE HIS CHURCH IN NUMBER, IT IS ON VARIOUS ACCOUNTS A MATTER OF REJOICING UNTO ALL BELIEVERS, and a subject of their daily prayers, as that which is frequently promised in the word of truth. This blessing of a numerous posterity is variously set forth, illustrated, and heightened.

1. From the root of it. It was one, one man, that is, Abraham. Unto him alone was the great promise of the blessing Seed now confined. And he, though but one, was heir of all the promises.

2. From the consideration of the state and outward condition of that one, when he became the spring of this numerous posterity: “of him as good as dead.” His body naturally was as useless unto the end of the procreation of such a posterity as if it had been dead.

II. GOD OFTENTIMES BY NATURE WORKS THINGS ABOVE THE POWER OF NATURE IN ITS ORDINARY EFFICACY AND OPERATIONS. So by weak and dead means He often produceth mighty effects. (John Owen, D. D.)


Verse 13-14

Hebrews 11:13-14

These all died in faith

The attachments and detachments of faith

I.
How FAITH FILLS EYE AND HEART WITH THE FUTURE. AS some traveller topping the water-shed may see far off the white porch of his home, and wave a greeting to it, though it be distant, while his heart goes out over all the intervening, weary leagues; or as some homeward-bound crew catch, away yonder on the horizon, the tremulous low line that is home, and welcome it with a shout of joy, though many a billow dash and break between them and it, these men looked across the weary waste, and saw far away; and as they saw their hearts went out towards the things that were promised, because they “judged Him faithful that had promised.” And that is the attitude and the act which all true faith in God ought to operate in us. So, then, here are two things to think about. One, faith’s vision; the other, faith’s greeting. People say, “Seeing is believing.” I should be disposed to turn the aphorism right round, and to say, “Believing is seeing.” The sight that faith gives is solid, clear, certain. If I might so say, the true exercise of faith is to stereoscope the dim ghost-like realities of the future, and to make them stand out solid in relief there before us. Well, then, still further, there is suggested that this vision of faith, with all its blessed clearness and certitude, is not a direct perception of the things promised, but only a sight of them in the promise. And does that make it less blessed? Does the astronomer, that sits in his chamber and when he would most carefully observe the heavens looks downwards on to the mirror of the reflecting telescope that he uses, feel that he sees the starry lights less really than when he gazes up into the abyss itself and sees them there? Is not the reflection a better and a more accurate source of knowledge for him than even the observation direct of the sky would be? And so, if we look down into the promise, we shall see, glittering there, the starry points which are the true images adapted to our present sense of reception of the great invisible lights above. And then, still further, let me remind you that this vision of faith varies in the measure of our faith. It is not always the same. Refraction brings up sometimes, above the surface of the sea, a spectral likeness of the opposite shore, and men stand now and then upon our southern coasts, and for an hour or two, in some conditions of the atmosphere, they see the low sand-hills of the French or the Belgian coast, as if they were in arm’s length. So faith, refracting the rays of light that strike from the throne of God, brings up the image, and when it is strong the image is clear, and when it flags the image “fades away into the light of common day”; and where there glowed the fair outlines of the far-off land, there is nothing but a weary wash of waters and a solitary stretch of sea. My brother! do you see to it that this vision of faith be cultivated by you. Do you choose whether you shall, like John Bunyan’s man with the muckrake, have your eyes fixed upon the straws and filth at your feet, or whether you will look upwards and see the crown that is glittering there just above your head, and ready to drop upon it. “These all in faith saw the promises.” Yes! And when they saw them they greeted them. Their hands and their hearts went out, and a glad shout came to their lips as they beheld the fair vision of all the wonder that should be. And so faith has in it, in proportion to its depth and reality, this going out of the soul towards the things discerned. They draw us when we see them.

IX. How FAITH PRODUCES A SENSE OF DETACHMENT FROM THE PRESENT. “They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” A “stranger “ is a man who, in a given constitution of things--in some country with a settled government, owes allegiance to another king, and belongs to another polity. A “pilgrim” or a “sojourner is a man who is only in the place where he now is for a little while. So the one of the two words expresses the idea of belonging to another state of things, and the other expresses the idea of transiency in the present condition. But the true Christian consciousness of being “a stranger and a sojourner” comes, not from any thought that life is fleeting, but from the better and more blessed operation of the faith which reveals the things promised, and knits me so closely to them that I cannot but feel separated from the things that are round about me. Men that live in mountainous countries, when they come down into the plains, be it Switzerland, or the Highlands, or anywhere else, pine and fade away, sometimes with the intensity of the “Heinweh,” the homesickness which seizes them. And we, if we are Christians, and belong to the other order of things, shall feel that this is not the native soft, nor here the home in which we would dwell.

III. HOW THIS SAME FAITH TRIUMPHS IN THE ARTICLE OF DEATH. “These all died in faith.” That is a very grand thought as applied to those old patriarchs, that just because all their lives long God had done nothing for them of what He had promised, therefore they died believing He was going to do it. So for us the end of life may have a faith nurtured by disappointments, made more sure of everything because it has nothing; certain that he calls into existence another world to redress the balance of the old, because here there has been so much of bitterness and woe. And our end like theirs may be an end beatified by a clear vision of the things that “ no man hath seen, nor can see”; and into the darkness there may come for us, as there came of old to another, an open heaven and a beam of God’s glory smiting us on the face and changing it into the face of an angel. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

An inscription for the mausoleum of the saints:

“These all died in faith.” Believers constitute a class by themselves--“These.” They are the people that dwell alone, and shall not be numbered among the nations. Believers are a class by themselves, even when they die. It is idle to think that we can mark out a spot in the cemetery where none but saints shall sleep; but yet there is a truth at the bottom of that folly. There is a separation even in death between the righteous and the wicked. As for those who died without faith, they died indeed; but as for His people, a glorious resurrection awaits them.

I. DYING IS FAITH. What does it mean?

1. Does it not mean that when they came to die, they had not faith to seek, but having had faith in life, they had faith in death? I will pronounce no opinion upon death-bed repentance. I would not like to lie upon a sick-bed, much less upon a dyingbed, and have a Saviour to seek there. The pains and dying strife are usually enough to occupy a man’s thoughts.

2. They did die, however, although they had faith, for faith is not given to us that we should escape death, but that we may die in faith.

3. These all persevered to the end.

4. Does it not mean, also, that they never got beyond faith?

5. But then, while they did not get beyond faith, the mercy is that they never got below it.

II. WHAT WAS THE FAITH THAT THEY DIED WITH?

1. They had received a great deal, but they had not received the fulness of the promises.

2. Yet they saw them. Faith touched their eyes with eye-salve.

3. They were persuaded of them.

4. They embraced them. The Greek word signifies “salutes,” as when we see a friend at a distance, In the clear atmosphere of Mentone, I have sometimes stood on quite a lofty mountain, and seen a friend down in the valley, and I have spoken his name; and at first it was greatly to my astonishment when he replied, “Where are you?” I held a conversation with him readily. I could not have actually reached him for a long time, but I saluted him from afar. At times we can see God’s promises afar off, and we salute them. We are within hail of the glory-land, and we send up rockets in the dark; or, if it be daylight, we signal to the shore.

III. THE FAITH TO LIVE WITH--the life of faith.

1. We are strangers by nature. Born from above, our life differs from those about us. “The world knoweth us not.” We are in it, but not of it.

2. We are strangers as to citizenship. Here we are aliens and foreigners, whose privileges are connected with another city, and not with earth.

3. We are strangers as to pursuits. We are wayfaring men hurrying through this Vanity Fair. The men of the fair cry, “Buy! buy I “ but they have no wares that we care to purchase. We buy the truth, and they do not trade in that commodity.

4. We are pilgrims in object. We have not come hither for a pleasure excursion; we are journeying to the temple to behold the face of our Lord. Our cry is, “Onward! Hinder me not. I must away to the glory-land, where my home is, where my God is!”

5. We are pilgrims as to continuance. We do not expect to be here long. Do not wonder if you are found to be strangers as to usage, for the world uses foreigners roughly; and they that are really of Christ must expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented.

IV. And what is THE FAITH BY WHICH WE ARE ABLE TO ENDURE SUCH A LIFE AS THIS? Why, it is this faith: “They that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.” Our faith is one which we dare to avow. We declare plainly that we seek a country. We are not ashamed to say that this is not our rest, that we do not expect to find pleasure here. We are speeding over this stormy sea to the Fair Havens, where we shall cast anchor for ever. We are not ashamed to say this, however others may ridicule our hope. And we say it because we believe it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Dying in faith

I. It is the glory of true faith, that it will not leave them in whom it is, THAT IT WILL NOT CEASE ITS ACTINGS FOR THEIR SUPPORT AND COMFORT IN THEIR DYING when the hope of the hypocrite doth perish.

II. THE LIFE OF FAITH DOTH EMINENTLY MANIFEST ITSELF IN DEATH, WHEN ALL OTHER RELIEFS AND SUPPORTS DO FAIL.

III. THAT IS THE CROWNING ACT OF FAITH, THE GREAT TRIAL OF ITS VIGOUR AND WISDOM, NAMELY, IN WHAT IT BOTH IN OUR DYING.

IV. HENCE IT IS THAT MANY OF THE SAINTS, BOTH OF OLD AND OF LATE, HAVE EVIDENCED THE MOST TRIUMPHANT ACTINGS OF FAITH IN THE APPROACH OF DEATH.

V. The due understanding of the whole Old Testament, with the nature of the faith and obedience of all the saints under it, depends on this one truth, THAT THEY BELIEVED THINGS THAT WERE NOT YET ACTUALLY EXHIBITED NOR ENJOYED. This is the line of life and truth that runs through all their profession and duties; the whole exercise of their faith and love, without which it was but a dead carcase. It was Christ in the promise, even before His coming, that was the life of the Church in all ages.

VI. GOD WOULD HAVE THE CHURCH FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD TO LIVE ON PROMISES NOT ACTUALLY ACCOMPLISHED. For although we do enjoy the accomplishment of the great promise of the incarnation of the Son of God, yet the Church continues still to live on promises which, in this world, cannot be perfectly fulfilled.

VII. WE MAY RECEIVE THE PROMISES AS TO THE COMFORT AND BENEFIT OF THEM, WHEN WE DO NOT ACTUALLY RECEIVE THE THINGS PROMISED (Hebrews 11:1).

VIII. As OUR PRIVILEGES IN THE ENJOYMENT OF THE PROMISES ARE ABOVE THEIRS UNDER THE OLD TESTAMENT, SO OUR FAITH, THANKFULNESS, AND OBEDIENCE, OUGHT TO EXCEL THEIRS ALSO.

IX. No DISTANCE OF TIME OR PLACE CAN WEAKEN FAITH AS UNTO THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF DIVINE PROMISES. There are promises still left unto us upon record that are, it may be, afar off; such as those which concern the destruction of antichrist, and the glory of the kingdom of Christ in the latter days. The rule of faith concerning them is given us (Habakkuk 2:3-4).

X. QUIET WAITING FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF PROMISES AT A GREAT DISTANCE, and which most probably will not be in our days, IS AN EMINENT FRUIT OF FAITH. He that believeth will not make haste.

XI. This firm persuasion of the truth of God in the accomplishment of His promises unto us, upon a discovery of their worth and excellency, is the SECOND ACT OF FAITH, WHEREIN THE LIFE OF IT DOTH PRINCIPALLY CONSIST. (John Owen, D. D.)

Faith triumphant:

This chapter is a little book of martyrs. It discovers the life and death of the holy patriarchs, and by what means God’s children are brought into possession of that that they have an interest and right unto upon earth. It is by faith. There is one faith from the beginning of the world. As there is one Christ, one salvation, so there is one uniform faith for the saving of our souls. We hope to be saved by Jesus Christ as they were. Then again, here is implied a continuance and perseverance in faith. Faith first makes a Christian, and then after, he lives by faith. It quickens the life of grace, and then he leads his life by that faith. He continues in it till he come to death, which is the period of all, and then he dies by that faith. “They died in faith.” In the faith of the Messiah, in faith of Canaan, in faith of heaven. When death closed up the eyes of their bodies, then with the eye of faith they looked upon Christ, upon God in Christ reconciled to them.

I. THE GRACE OF FAITH, IT IS SUCH A GRACE THAT IT CARRIES A CHRISTIAN THROUGH ALL THE PASSAGES OF THIS LIFE. It enableth him to hold out to the end, to suffer those things that he is to suffer, and in the end by it he dies. And when all things else leave him in death, when riches, friends, honour, and great places leave him, when his life and senses leave him, yet faith will never leave him till it have put him in full possession of heaven, and then it ceaseth when it hath done the work it hath to do, which is to bring us to heaven. What is it to die in faith? To die in faith is to die in the Lord by faith; and it looks to the time past, present, to come.

1. To the time past. To die in faith is to die in assurance of the forgiveness of sins, when by faith and repentance we have pulled out the sting of sins past. For faith looks upon Christ, and Christ hath taken the sting of death in His own, and death ever since hath been stingless and harmless to His members.

2. For the present. In the present instant of death, to die in faith is to see God reconciled to us in Christ, and with the eye of Stephen, to see Christ ready to receive our souls (Acts 7:59). This is to die in faith; to see ourselves there with our Head, where we shall be ere long. Therefore our flesh rests in hope till the resurrection; because God did not suffer His Holy One to see corruption. This is to die in faith.

3. And for the time to come. To die in faith is by faith to overcome all the horror of death. Faith seeth the faithfulness of God, that God in Christ hath taken these bodies of ours in trust. “I know whom I have believed, and He is able to keep that I have committed to Him” (2 Timothy 1:12). And then for the pangs of death, which nature trembles at, faith considers of them as the pangs of child-birth. Now, what is death but the birth to immortality, the birth of glory? It is a little dark passage to an eternal glorious light. Then for the parting of two friends, soul and body, faith sees that it is but for a while, and then that that parting is a bringing in a better joining; for it brings the soul immediately to her beloved, our Saviour Christ Jesus. And then for friends. Faith sees, indeed, that we shall part with many sweet friends; but faith saith we shall have better friends. We go to God, we go to the souls of perfect men, we go to [an] innumerable company of angels (Hebrews 12:22), we go to a better company a great deal. And for all the employments we have here, that we have below, faith sees that there will be exercise in heaven. We shall praise God with angels and all the blessed and glorious company of heaven. So consider what you will that is bitter and terrible in death, faith conquers it. It sees an end of it, and opposeth to it better things; because, notwithstanding death cuts off many comforts, yet it brings better. And it is the beginning of happiness that shall never end. So, indeed, faith sees that the day of death is better than the day of birth. When we come into misery, it is not so good as when we go out of misery, and enter into happiness. This is to die in faith. This should stir us up, if this be so, to get this grace of faith; above all graces, to get assurance that we are in Christ Jesus, that so we may live with comfort, and end our days with comfort and live for ever happy in the Lord. It is only faith that will master this king of fears--this giant that subdues all the kings of the earth to him. Oh, let us labour, therefore, to get it while we live, and to exercise it while we live, that we may live every day by faith. It is not any faith that we can die by. It must be a faith that we have exercised and tried before. It is a tried, a proved faith, that we must end our days by. For, alas! when death comes, if we have not learned to live by faith before, how can we end our days in faith? Let us all labour for this faith; for though it cannot be said of us that we die rich, or that we die great in the world, perhaps we may die a violent death, as there be divers diseases that lead the body into distempers. It is no matter how we die distempered, and in any estate, so it may be said of us we die in a blessed faith. It is said here, they “all died in faith.” He saith not they all died in feeling. A man may die in faith, and yet not die in feeling; and sometimes the strongest faith is with the least feeling of God’s love. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises.” For God promised them Canaan, and they died many hundred years before. Their posterity came into Canaan. He promised them Christ, and they died long before Christ came. He promised them heaven, and they entered not into heaven till death. So they received not the promises, that is, they received not the things promised; for else they received the promise, but not that that was promised. They received not the type, Canaan, nor the things typified--Christ and heaven. This is added as a commendation of their faith, that though they received not the things that they looked for, yet notwithstanding they had such a strong faith, that they continued to live by faith and died in faith. The promises here are taken for the blessed things promised. This should teach us this lesson, that God’s promises are not empty shells; they are real things. And then, whatsoever God promiseth it is not barely propounded to the soul, but in a promise. It is wrapped up in a promise. He gives us not empty promises nor naked things; but He gives us promises of things which we must exercise our faith in, in depending upon Him for the performance of them till we be put in possession. “They received not the promises.” He speaks in the plural number, though he mean but one main promise, that is, the Messiah, for all other were types of Him. Believers are called “ children of the promise” (Galatians 4:28). Here they are called promises, for the repeating of them. The promise of the same thing it was made oft: there was no new promise. The promise of the same thing it was seven times repeated and renewed to Abraham presently one after another. So they are called promises, to show that the promise can never be too much thought on, though it be the same promise of life everlasting; the same promise of grace and of comfort; the same promise of the resurrection, etc. All the promises of good things to come we cannot think of too oft, nor receive the sacrament, the seal of the promise, too oft. “They received not the promises.” They were comforted notwithstanding, that their posterity should receive them. Canaan was a type of Christ and of heaven. I observe this by the way that God doth not reveal all things at all times. God doth leave diverse things to be revealed in diverse ages of the Church. God doth not reveal everything in every time, to comfort all ages of the Church. We see not everything in our times; we must be content. “They saw them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them,” etc. This is the order of God’s Spirit; first to open the eye to see, and by sight to persuade, and upon persuasion to stir up the heart and affections to embrace; for good things are brought into the soul through the understanding, by the spiritual sight of the understanding, and from that into the will and affections by embracing the things we know. This is God’s course daily. Therefore he saith they first saw them, and then were persuaded of them, and then embraced them. “They saw them afar off.” By what eye? By the eye of faith. Faith makes things present, though in themselves they be far off. It is the nature of faith to make things that are absent to be present to the believing soul; and it affects the soul somewhat as if it were present. It sees things far off in place. Faith sees things in heaven; it sees Christ there; it sees our place provided for us there; it sees God reconciled there; by it we see ourselves there, because we shall be there ere long. Faith sees all this; it breaks through and looks through all; it hath most piercing beams, the eye of faith. And it works in an instant; it goes to heaven in a moment and sees Christ. And for distance of time, the eye of faith it sees things past and things to come. It sees things past. It sees the creation of the world; it sees the redemption of us by Jesus Christ; it sees our sins there punished in Christ our surety; it sees us crucified with Christ Jesus; it sees all discharged by Him. When we believe Christ was crucified for us and died for us, faith makes it present. And so for the time to come, faith hath an eye that looks afar off. It sees the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Faith sees the general judgment. If sees eternal happiness in heaven; it sees things afar off. It is the evidence of things not seen. What is the reason of it? It makes things not otherwise seen to be seen, and presently seen; it gives a being to things. It is a strange power that faith hath. The Spirit works an eye of faith in the soul, and then it discovers to it the things of God. “They saw them afar off.” God created a new eye in the soul, a new sight which they had not by nature; for even as the natural eye cannot see things that are invisible, so the natural man cannot see the things of God, which are seen not by a natural but by a supernatural eye (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). The eye therefore that must see things afar off, it must be a supernatural eye; and the light that must discover them must be the light of God’s truth. For reason cannot see the resurrection of the body, and the life to come, and such glorious things as the Word of God reveals to us. If you ask why this sight of faith is so necessary, this supernatural sight, I answer, nothing can be done in religion without the supernatural eye of the soul; for a man may see heavenly things with a natural eye and be never a whit the better. A man may see the joys of heaven, and think, Oh, these are good things; but yet notwithstanding he doth not see these things with a supernatural eye; he doth not see these things to be holy and gracious, and to be fit for him; he wisheth them with conditions, but not with the altering of his disposition. Our duty, then, is to labour to have our faith clear, to have this eye of faith, to have a strong faith, a strong sight. When is the sight of faith strong? When it is as the faith of these patriarchs was. There are three things that make a strong sight, that make us conceive that the sight of faith is a strong sight.

Now to help our sight to heaven, this sight of faith, that we may every day ascend with the eye of our souls with this blessed sight

1. Let us take heed of the god of this world, Satan, that he do not with the dust of the world dim our sight.

2. And withal desire God to open our eyes every day, to take the scales from the eye of our souls, that we may see the promises, that we may see Christ, that we may see God shining on us in Christ; that He would take away the veil from the things by exposition, that He would open the truth to us by His ministers.

3. Then, again, to help our sight of Christ and happiness, let us get a fresh sight of our corruption and sin every day; let us every day look on the terrifying object of our corruption of nature, hang it in the eye of our souls as an odious object, to humble us. “They were persuaded of them.” It was such a sight of the things as was with convincing, with persuasion. And indeed this follows well upon sight, for sight of all other senses persuades best. All the men in the world cannot persuade the weakest man in the world when it is day or night, when the sun shines or it is dark, that it is not so. When he sees it, he will believe his own eyes more than all the world besides. And as it is in sensible things we believe our own eyes, so much more in spiritual things we believe our eyes. When there is a spiritual light of revelation in the word discovering such things, and also to spiritual light a spiritual eye, when the Spirit puts an eye into the soul to see supernatural things that reason cannot attain to, then there is persuasion.

Persuasion comes divers ways. There be divers degrees tending to persuasion.

1. The poorest degree of the apprehension of things is conjecture, a guessing that such a thing may be so or otherwise, but I guess it rather to be so.

2. Beyond conjecture there is opinion, when a man thinks it is so, upon more reasons swaying him one way; and yet in opinion there is fear on the contrary, that it may be otherwise.

3. And the third degree beyond opinion is certain knowledge. That is science and knowledge when the mind is persuaded by arguments. But that is not so much here meant, the persuasion by argument.

4. There is another degree then of knowledge, which is by the authority of the speaker, a persuasion from thence. When I know not the thing by the light of the thing so much, because I see the reason of the thing, but because I know such a one saith it, that is the persuasion of faith; when one is persuaded of a thing not so much out of his own knowledge, out of the principles of the thing, setting out the causes of the thing, as out of the credit of the person that speaks. Now, this persuasion riseth out of faith in the authority of the person. We conceive that he is wise, and holy, and able withal; one that we trust. If together with this knowledge and persuasion from the authority, and truth, and goodness, and wisdom of the speaker, there be joined sense and experience, we see it proved; and when there is experience, there is reason why we should believe that he saith, because we have found the thing to be so. Now, both are here meant in some degrees, “they saw the things afar off,” both by the authority of the promise, as likewise by their own sight, and some taste they had. For God reserves not all for heaven. God gives His children some taste and feeling, some little joy and comfort, the “ first-fruits of the Spirit “ here (Romans 8:23). So they were persuaded from the authority of the speaker, and some sense and feeling of the thing in some measure. “And embraced them.” They embraced the promises, the good things promised: Christ’s coming in the flesh, and Canaan, the type of heaven, and heaven itself. Though they had not these things, yet they embraced what they had, they embraced the promises. That is the nature of faith. If it have not that it looks for, as it hath not till it come to heaven, yet it makes much of that it hath; it embraceth the promises, and in the promises the thing itself promised. Now these things follow one another in a most natural order; for sight brings persuasion, sight and conviction bring strong persuasion, and persuasion breeds embracing. For we embrace that in our affections that we are persuaded of to be good. According to the strength of conviction and persuasion is the strength of the affections. Let us try the truth of our estate by our affections, by our embracing of good things, by opening our hearts to the best things, by our joy and delight in them. Is there a holy wonderment at them? “O how I love Thy law!” (Psalms 119:97); and “One day in Thy courts is better than ten thousand elsewhere” (Psalms 84:10); and “O the depth of His mercies!” (Romans 11:33); and “ One thing have I desired of the Lord; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Psalms 27:4). When the soul stands in admiration of God and good things, when it is ready to welcome Christ and heavenly things and the state of religion: now away all former vanities! away all lusts of youth! away all confidence in beauty, and strength, and riches! The soul had seen better things. There is a discovery of better things; and now the respect of all other things falls down in the soul when there is a discovery of better things. Let us therefore labour more and more to have our affections wrought upon. As we are in our affections, we are in religion. It is impossible that a Christian should be spiritually convinced that there are such excellent things belonging to religion, and that he hath his part and portion in them, and not be transformed to a spiritual state and frame of soul, to love and delight in holy things, and to despise that which is contrary. What be the affections whereby the soul embraceth these good things it is persuaded of? The soul embraceth these things in the affections of faith and hope in the first place; for faith is an empty grace in itself; it is carried to somewhat out of itself that it embraceth and layeth hold on; and hope is with faith alway. Together with the work of faith and hope there is a sanctified affection of the embracing soul; there is a love of the things promised, which is embracing, and a love of the means, and likewise joy and delight in them expressed by thankfulness. How shall this be wrought upon the soul? This embracing we see it follows upon persuasion, and persuasion follows seeing: “They saw them far off, and were persuaded of them, and thereupon they embraced them.” Therefore let us labour for a clear understanding of Divine things. That which the eye sees, the heart grieves for in ill, and that that the eye sees the heart embraceth in good. And in what measure our eyesight of heavenly things is clearer, and our persuasion stronger, in that measure our embracing is lovely and full of joy and delight. Therefore let us labour to grow in knowledge, that our persuasion may be stronger every day, that our affections will grow, and will be carried to the things discovered. And there is nothing more effectual to commend knowledge to us than this, that it is a means to work a holy and heavenly disposition and temper in us, especially if it be spiritual. And let us meditate upon what we seem to know and are persuaded of. “They confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.” These words contain what they were in regard of earthly things; their disposition and carriage to all things besides the promises, to the things below. They were strangers and pilgrims in regard of their condition below. It sets down how they apprehend themselves to be, and how they discovered themselves to the world to be. They were in regard of heaven indeed, heirs of happiness, heirs of a kingdom; in regard of the world and earthly things they were “ strangers and pilgrims.” And as they were, so they made themselves to be no better than they were. They confessed it. They apprehended themselves to be as they were, and they carried themselves answerable. Their life and course spake as much as their tongues. They confessed both in word and in deed that they were “strangers and pilgrims.”

II. IT IS THE DISPOSITION OF HIM THAT HATH TRULY INTEREST IN BETTER THINGS TO BE A STRANGER AND A PILGRIM IN REGARD OF ALL THINGS HERE BELOW. If a man were on the top of a great mountain, he would see the things below to be very little, and the things above would appear greater to him; so when the soul is raised up to see great things, though they be afar off, as these did with the eye of faith, at the same time, his soul looking to things below must needs apprehend them to be little in quantity, as indeed they are. If a man were in body lifted up to heaven, and should look upon the earth, what were the earth but a poor silly point, the whole earth itself, much more a man’s own possession; so when the soul is lifted up to heaven by faith--which sets a man in heaven before his time--when it looks from thence to the earth and earthly things, it must of necessity consider them, as they are, to be poor mean things. Therefore this follows, that being persuaded of the promises, that is, of the good things promised in religion in the Word of God, to earthly things they were “strangers and pilgrims.”

1. First of all, a stranger is travelling to another country--to join both in one; for the one follows the other. He that is a stranger, that apprehends what he is, and apprehends that he hath a country to go to, he travels towards it.

2. A stranger that is travelling homeward, he is content with his present condition, for he knows he shall have better at home.

3. So he will be patient if he meet with unkind usage: he will not stand quarrelling by the way, and so hinder himself in his journey; he will be patient in the injuries and wrongs in this life. If a prince be misused in another country, he is contented, and thinks with himself, I have a country where I shall be more respected; and therefore he bears it the more willingly. So a Christian is a king, he is an heir; and being a stranger, he shall meet with dogs in this world; as, who do dogs bark at but at strangers?

4. Likewise the knowledge of this that we are strangers and pilgrims, it will make a man not only content and patient, but thankful for any kindness he finds in this world; that God sweetens his pilgrimage on earth somewhat: what a mercy is this! He is thankful for any contentment; he is thankful to the world, to those that do anything for him, that afford him any courtesy here that may help him in his pilgrimage, and make it less troublesome.

5. He that is a stranger, he is glad of any good company. Oh, if he meet with a man of his own country, he is a man alone for him; so it is with a Christian that walks in the way to heaven with him, he is comforted much in it.

6. A stranger, he hath his prime intention home to his country, and what he doth in the way, it is in virtue of his prime intention, though he doth not, in every particular action that he doth, think of it. A traveller when he rides on the way he doth not think of home in every step. Ay, but he doth that that he doth in virtue of his prime intention when he first set out, and calls to remembrance ofttimes as he goes home; he thinks of his journeys.

7. And hence it is that there is another property of a stranger that is going to a place, perhaps he may step out of the way, yet notwithstanding, by virtue of his first intention, he gathers himself homeward again. If he take other matters in hand, he gathers home still, though he go out of his way, in he comes; he considers, this is not my way. So a child of God, sometimes he diverts and turns aside, yet notwithstanding he considers, doth this way lead to Godward, to heavenward? Be these actions Christian actions? Are they the way to heaven? If he see they be not, though he have stepped awry, he comes in again, and is gathering homeward.

8. A- traveller and stranger provides beforehand for all encumbrances. He knows though he meet not with troubles, yet he may, therefore he will be sure to go with weapons, and he will go with that that may sustain him by the way. Religion teacheth a man to gather out of the Word of God comforts beforehand, and munition beforehand, to carry with him. When we travel, and are going on in our journey towards heaven, it is good to consider higher things, it is a good meditation. Therefore to go on a little further.

9. A traveller and stranger is inquisitive of the way, whether he be in the way or out of the way. He asks not at random. That doth not content him, whether he go west, or north, or south, or east: it doth not content him to ask where lies my country, eastward? &c. No; but he will ask the particular towns, and particular turnings, how he may avoid going out of his way, and which is the right way, and he will ask upon every occasion, because he knows if he go but a little out of his way it will be a long time ere he shall recover it, and he will be ashamed to come back again; and the more he goes out of the way, the more trouble it is to come back again. So it is with a Christian, he doth not only desire to know in general, but he desires to have daily direction, what shall I do in such a case of conscience, and in such a case? How shall I overcome such a temptation if I meet with it? And so he is willing to have daily direction how to walk with God day by day, that he go not out of his way in anything.

10. And even as a traveller considers of things by the way as they make to his end, to further his journey or hinder his journey, he looks to heaven as his country that he hopes for, and therefore he doth not tangle himself with any more than may help him home. If they hinder him once, away they go; if they may help him, he takes them. If I find that things, though they be indifferent in themselves, if they trouble me in my way to heaven (it may be they are not so to another, but they are to me), though another can do it, yet I must consider whether I can do it, and find myself enlarged to heaven as at other times. If not, away with it. It is not indifferent to me, because it hinders my journey to heaven.

11. Again, he that accounts himself a stranger here, he doth not value himself by outward things. Faith teacheth a man, when he is an heir of heaven, not to value himself by earthly things. He thinks himself a stranger in his own house, as David did, though he were a king, as I said. Every Christian is a stranger at home. He values not himself by his honours, nor dignity, nor by the things that he hath here; nor he doth not disvalue himself by poverty or disgrace. He knows he is a stranger; he is going home; therefore he values himself by that he hath at home.

12. A traveller in his way must of necessity have refreshings by the way, or else he will fail; therefore sometimes he sings, and sometimes useth other refreshings. Now, what said David? “Thy statutes have been my song in the house of my pilgrimage” (Psalms 119:54); that is, when I want other comforts, they are my song, my joy, my delight. A traveller must needs have comforts that may revive him in his fainting; he must have some pleasant walks for meditation. Let us therefore, when we grow weary, refresh ourselves in walking, in holy meditation. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)

Faith eying the promises in life and death

I. WHAT IS IT TO DIE IN FAITH? It is a great question, a man’s all depends upon it. To die mistaken in this is to die mistaken for ever.

1. It is not to die barely in a profession of faith. To die owning Christ and His cause, bearing witness to the truth, exhorting our Christian friends “ that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord “,. this is sweet dying. It is not what a man believes of Christ that saves, but his believing in Him, yielding up himself only and wholly to Him. To die in an outward barren profession of faith, is not to die in faith.

2. Nor is it necessary always that there be a transporting joy arising from a sense of interest in Christ in order to a believer’s dying in faith. A man may die in faith when he doth not die in feeling. There may be no assuring sense of God’s love, and yet a strong and firm dependence on His promise. The strength of faith is most where there is least of sight; every believer finds the path of life (Psalms 16:11), but every one does not see it as he walks through Jordan.

3. To “die in faith,” is to die trusting Christ, and commending our souls to him by faith. All faith includes trust, though it is not necessarily connected with joy.

II. WHAT IS THE GREAT SUPPORT OF A BELIEVER, CONSIDER HIM EITHER AS LIVING OR DYING? The text says, the promises are so, though the blessings contained in them are not received. Two things faith sees in the promises which support and comfort the soul though the promised blessings are not received.

1. Faith sees God’s Christ and salvation in the promise, therefore in the absence of promised good it supports the soul.

2. Faith sees God’s heart in the promise. What is a promise but an expression of the love of God’s heart in word (2 Samuel 7:21). That is the secret in all God’s promises, and none but a believer can spell it out.

III. HOW, IN PARTICULAR, FAITH ACTS TOWARDS THE PROMISES IN A BELIEVER’S SUPPORT, LIVING OR DYING?

1. Faith sees the promises afar off. It does not require the presence of the thing, but only the promise of it. Christ was not manifest in the flesh till many hundred years after; but faith beheld these things as present in God’s counsel, His covenant, His word of promise, and fixed and centred in them. Is anything too hard for God? Did His promise ever fall to the ground? Is He not truth itself? Are not all His paths judgment? This is the reasoning of faith.

2. It is persuaded of these things. They are realities, though invisible to every one but the man who has the eyes of his understanding enlightened.

3. “It embraces them”; the word signifies “to salute,” a metaphor taken from the manner of parting between two intimate friends. Two things are implied in it.

(2) But principally is meant endearing affection. The will chooses them, cleaves to them, and if any delight a believer has it is in them.

Use 1. Did all these “die in faith”? Have you this faith? It is sad to have faith to seek when you need it to use. If thou art a stranger to Christ, thou art a stranger to faith. Hath thou given up thy soul to Him now? Then thou mayest trust Him with body and soul both another day.

Use 2. How little just ground is there for a believer in Christ to fear death? The love of God, the covenant of grace, the care of Christ, the being and stability of the promise, the life and faith, all last till death.

Use 3. What a slight character do most of this world leave behind them; though thou diest rich, honourable, esteemed, easy, what is this to dying in faith!

Use 4. What need have believers of the help of the blessed Spirit in life and at death? The spiritual eye is His gift, and all spiritual persuasion is His work: Scripture arguments will be of no avail if the Spirit of God does not make the application.

Use 5. Think more of home, and live more above life: if you profess to be heirs of God’s promise, live above the crosses and comforts of life too. (John Hill.)

Of dying in faith

1. In the profession of the faith. They held fast the truths of God to the death. They denied not, they made not shipwreck of faith; they suffered not Satan or his instruments to cheat them of it; exchanged it not for fancies, delusions; made not their opinions subservient to carnal interests; did not tack about, not carried about with every wind. Judgments firmly anchored in truth could ride out foul weather, bear up against storms.

2. In the state of faith. As they lived, so they died, believers. Having begun in the Spirit, they did not end in the flesh. They lost not the habit of faith, but bore on towards perfection; that when their outward man decayed, faith increased, and was strongest in the greatest weakness, in death.

3. In the expression of faith.

4. In the exercise faith. As they acted faith in their life, so in their death. Their life was the life of faith, as Paul (Galatians 2:20). Faith had an influence into every act of their life. Abel sacririced by faith (Hebrews 11:4); ordinary acts: Abraham’s travel (Hebrews 11:8); extraordinary: Noah’s building an ark (Hebrews 11:7). What they did, they did by faith, i.e., depending upon Christ for strength, believing the promise for assistance and success. Thus they lived, and thus they died in faith, with confidence that God would perform what He had promised, even after their death, to them or theirs.

Directions:

1. What you may live and die in the faith of Christ, take this golden rule: “Receive the truth in the love of it” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). If you would continue in the truth, and have the Lord establish you in it, love the truth for itself, and love it above all inferior respects whatsoever.

2. That you may live and die in the state of faith, get into that happy state. Get faith rooted and grounded in your hearts, and then you are sure: “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

3. That Son may live and die in the expression of faith; i.e., that you may not deal unfaithfully in the covenant; consider how horribly wretched such unfaithfulness is. Whose that use to deal unfaithfully with men, lie, or forswear, to get some advantage, there may be some temptation to this; but he that deals unfaithfully with God deals unfaithfully with God to ruin himself.

4. That ye may die in the exercise of faith,

Faith constraining to a pilgrim life

I. THE DISTANT FULFILMENT OF UNFULFILLED PROMISES.

II. THE ATTITUDE OF FAITH WITH REGARD TO THIS.

1. Faith assured them that the city was their fatherland.

2. Faith recognises the promised blessings in the city.

3. Faith reaches forth with eager desire towards these promised blessings.

III. THE REARING OF THIS FAITH ON OUR PRESENT LIFE. It makes “strangers and pilgrims” of us. A pilgrim life includes

1. A pressing on through the present to the future. The great concern of the pilgrim is concerning the home to which he is going. The road and the present accommodation are something, but not chief.

2. An endurance of privation by the prospect of the coming satisfaction. The discomforts of the way are a small matter when we are going home. A lively faith goes far to break the power from time-sorrows.

3. A growing happiness in the consciously advancing journey. Men do not naturally like to get old. That, in the Christian’s case, must arise from limiting the view of life by what is seen. Let faith go beyond the seen, and make real to our hearts the glory there, and we shall pass on with joy and hope and quickened step. (C. New.)

The power of the future upon the present

I. GOD’S REVELATION TO MAN UNFOLDS. A FUTURE. This meets both

II. SOME OF THE EVENTS OF THE FUTURE WHICH GOD’S REVELATION DISCLOSES, MAY NOT COME TO PASS UNTIL WE HAVE SLEPT FOR AGES IN OUR GRAVES.

1. God’s plans are independent of our efforts.

2. Success is not the rule of duty.

III. HOWEVER. DISTANT IN THE FUTURE THOSE EVENTS MAY BE, FAITH IN THEM WILL HAVE A PRACTICAL POWER OVER OUR PRESENT LIVES. Observe

1. The description of their faith in these promises.

2. The influence of this faith. (Homilist.)

The feelings of the ancient saints

I. THEIR FEELINGS GODWARD. They believed in Him, and that with a strong faith, whereby they gave glory to His name. Their faith and patience were severely tried; but they knew that it was “a good thing both, to hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”

II. THEIR FEELINGS EARTHWARD. “And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

1. Their affections were not set on earthly things.

2. Their happiness was not derived from earthly objects.

3. They were not conformed to earthly habits.

III. THEIR FEELINGS HEAVENWARD. “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country,” &c. Their knowledge of a future state is here clearly involved. But to know that there is a state of blessedness beyond the grave is one thing, and for that knowledge practically to influence the whole of our present course and conduct is another thing. These worthies declared in the most unmistakable manner that their great concern was to reach it. It is said of Cicero and Demosthenes, that when the one was banished from Rome and the other from Athens, they wept whenever they thought of their own country. Alas! that the spirit of patriotism should be so much stronger in them than the spirit of the gospel is in us. (Expository Sermons.)

Living and dying in faith

I. GOD’S PROMISES SEEM, AT FIRST, TO ASSURE EARTHLY GOOD. I would not discourage you from seeking the cheer of such promises, for “godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” But I may say this, Let the years pass on, and you will surely find that God is dealing with you so as to purify all your hopes. Your Canaan will come to be a “better country, that is a heavenly.” Your Jerusalem will be the “holy city, new Jerusalem, which comes down from God out of heaven,” into which “ there shall in no wise enter any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie.”

II. LIFE BUT SELDOM FULFILS THE PROMISES JUST AS WE SHAPE THEM.

1. Life seldom is, even in its outward circumstances, what we picture to ourselves that it will be. F.W. Robertson, with some intensity of expression says, “Herein lies a principle, which, rightly expounded, can help us to interpret this life of ours. God’s promises never are fulfilled in the sense in which they seem to have been given. Life is a deception; its anticipations, which are God’s promises to the imagination, are never realised; they who know life best, and have trusted God most to fill it with blessings, are ever the first to say that life is a series of disappointments.”

2. Life seldom permits any great work to be accomplished right through by the man who begins it. Moses must climb Nebo to die before his lifework was completed in the possession of Canaan. Joshua died before the whole country was cleared of the idolatrous inhabitants. David died before the Temple could be built. There is even a sense in which our Lord’s life was “cut off,” and He left an unfinished work to be completed by His apostles. Indeed, to do any entire work from beginning to end seems to be too great an honour, too high a trust, for any one man.

III. GOD, BY THE SEEMING FAILURE, GRACIOUSLY LIFTS US UP TO THE HIGHER VIEW OF THE PROMISES. How failure can open men’s eyes! How disappointment with life as we find it, tends to lift our eyes away from earth, and make us feel that this is not our rest! As one thing after another disappoints, we begin to see that the time and place for God’s fulfilment of His promises is--yonder and there; not here and now. We begin to repeat after the storm-tossed Psalmist and say, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” We even begin to find out that the, seeming, earthly look of the promises in reality only veiled the heavenly meaning for us; veiled it until we had grown strong enough to bear the light. Is not this just the sanctifying work that advancing life does for us all under God. (The Weekly Pulpit.)

Dying gladly:

Behold here the secret of dying! “These all died in faith.” Bad men die reluctantly; life is extorted from them as if by main force. The believer dies willingly; his will is sweetly submitted to his Father’s will; he makes it a religious act to die. Just as Jesus Himself commended His human soul to His Father, saying, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46): so His believing disciple commends his soul to Jesus, and through Him to the Father. Here, I repeat, is the secret how to die happily. To those who know not that secret, it is a fearful thing to die. It is a serious matter for any. But to the worldly-minded and ungodly, if not past feeling, to die must be, as one of the heathen philosophers (Aristotle) confessed it, “of all formidable things the most formidable.” Only mention a neighbour’s death in a gay circle; lo, you have thrown a gloom over the whole assembly--all are evidently sorry that the topic was introduced. The ancient Romans would not mention death in plain words, if they could avoid it, but only by circumlocution and implication. Even serious Christians are often in bondage through fear of death. It is such a venture; a mistake may be so fatal; to go before God is so awful; judgment will bring to light such secrets, that many think, How can I die? Yet you all must. Be persuaded, give your soul to Jesus now; do it again from day to day: and then, when your dying day is come, again approach the Saviour, and say, “Lord, I hear Thee calling for my spirit; I see the waggons sent to fetch me home to Thee; in the hand of death I recognise Thy hand of love; Thou askest for my soul; take it, for it is Thine. Do with it what Thou wilt, I have given it to Thee to be washed in Thy blood, and sanctified by Thy Spirit; I am sure Thou wilt do it no harm!” (J. Hambleton.)

Dying in faith:

The friends of Archbishop Whately said, with unbecoming praise, when they visited him as he lay on his death-bed: “You are dying as you lived--great to the last.” He replied, “I am dying as I lived--in the faith of Jesus.” At another time it was said: “The great fortitude of your character supports you.” “No,” was his reply, “it is not my fortitude that supports me, but my faith in Christ.”

The soul committed to Christ in death:

The emigrant who sees the blue hills of his native land sink beneath the wave, and goes away to the land of gold, has seen and handled the gold dug from the mines or washed from the waters of that distant land. He has seen those who have been there; he has seen them go out poor and come back rich; he has seen them go out empty and come back full. These have taught him to believe in a land beyond the waters; but I believe in a land, not beyond the seas, but beyond the grave, to which I have seen hundreds go, but none come back to unveil its secrets. I believe in a Saviour I never saw, and never saw the man that saw; and commit to His keeping, not my money, but what is more precious than all the gold of the Bank of England--I commit to Him my precious soul. (T. Guthrie.)

The forecasting of faith

The discovery of the New World, as the continent of America and its islands are called, was not, like many discoveries, an accident; it was the reward of faith--the reward of Christopher Columbus’s faith. He found fruits on the shores of Western Europe, cast up by the Atlantic waves, and brought there, as we now know, by the Gulf Stream, perfectly diverse from any that the temperate, fiery, or frozen zones of the Old World produced. So one day, let me say, strolling by the sea-shore, he saw a nut. He takes it in his hand and looks at it; he takes it into his capacious mind, and out of that little seed springs his faith in another world beyond that watery horizon, where, as he believed, and events proved, the sea had pearls, and the veins of the earth were filled with silver, and the rivers that flowed through spicy groves ran over sands of gold. (T. Guthrie.)

Dying in faith

"My father’s death,” says the son and biographer of Caesar Malan, “will remain for those who witnessed it the most astonishing of all his actions. The doctor, on quitting him, said to me one day: ‘I have just seen what I had heard spoken of, but what I had not seen before. Now I have seen it, as I see this stick which I hold in my hand.” ‘And what, then, have you seen?’ I asked him. ‘I have seen faith. I say the faith, not of the theologian, but of the Christian. I have seen it with my eyes,’ he replied.” (Tinling’s Illustrations.)

Faith sees eternal life:

As he that is to pass over some broad and deep river must not look downward to the current of the stream, but must set his foot sure, and keep his eye on the bank, on the farther shore; so he that draws near death must look over the waves of death, and fix his eye of faith on eternal life. (Cawdray.)

Faith in death

A monk near his end was heard to exclaim, “I care little for earthly things now; soon I shall travel among the stars.” (H. O.Mackey.)

Dying in faith

It has often been my privilege to test the power of religion when I have been sitting by the bedside of the dying. There is a young girl in heaven now, once a member of this our church. I went with one of my beloved deacons to see her when she was very near her departure. She was in the last stage of consumption. Fair and sweetly beautiful she looked; and I think I never heard such syllables as those which fell from that girl’s lips. She had had disappointments and trials; but all these she had not a word to say about, except that she blessed God for them: they had brought her nearer to the Saviour. And when we asked her whether she was not afraid of dying, “No,” she said, “the only thing I fear is this, I am afraid of living, lest my patience should wear out. I have not said an impatient word yet, sir: I hope I shall not. It is sad to be so very weak; but I think, if I had my choice, I would rather be here than be in health, for it is very precious to me. I know that my Redeemer liveth; and I am waiting for the moment when He shall send His chariot of fire to take me up to Him.” I put the question, “Have you not any doubts?” “No, none, sir; why should I? I clasp my arms around the neck of Christ.” “And have you not any fear about your sins? “No, sir,” they are all forgiven; I trust the Saviour’s precious blood.” “And do you think that you will be as brave as this when you come actually to die?” “Not if He leaves me, sir; but He will never leave me, for He has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’” (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims

Faith’s pilgrimages:

You have here, in few words, the “Pilgrim’s Progress” from the wilderness of this world to an everlasting “city of habitation.” You learn what it is which induces him to commence the journey; in what manner he complies with that inducement; what sustains his hope as he proceeds; and in what state of mind he finishes his course. True faith includes five things:

I. A SIGHT OF DISTANT, PROMISED BLESSINGS. Not that the believer is left destitute of comforts and privileges connected with the present life. Nevertheless, his greatest prize is yet to come: he “sees” it indeed, but he has not yet received it--it is “afar off.”

II. A PERSUASION OF THEIR REALITY. God is able to keep His word; and therefore, after all the mockery of an ungodly world, I come to the deliberate conviction that “Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily He is a God that judgeth in the earth.”

III. AN ACTUAL EMBRACING OF THEM. “Oh yes! “ says the worldly man, “to be sure I believe the Bible--I have no doubt that good people will go to heaven!” And perhaps you might not find it easy to convince him that he disbelieves these things: but you have no difficulty in discovering that he takes no interest in them. Here, then, is a faith “persuaded” of the truth, but not “embracing” the truth! Do you ask, then, “How shall I embrace the salvation thus offered?” The answer is plain--“By coming to Christ for it, in the way prescribed--repenting, converting, trusting in Him.”

IV. A VISIBLE INFLUENCE ON THE HEART, THE LANGUAGE, AND THE LIFE. Let a man gaze upon the sun till he can without pain examine its splendours; he will find, on recalling his eyes to this lower world, that their power is gone for a season. And such is the effect where faith is in full exercise: one upward glance at “the glory that shall be revealed” is enough to eclipse the most glittering earthly bauble.

V. A STEADFAST RELIANCE ON THEM EVEN IN DEATH. After “seeing,” “being persuaded,” “embracing,” and walking as “pilgrims and strangers,” the black river of death still remains to be crossed, before we “receive the promise.” But “the righteous hath hope,” even then; and they that “walk by faith” will assuredly “die in faith.” (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Strangers and pilgrims on the earth:

I. AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF HUMAN CONDITION. The fact which it asserts, it is a very easy thing to acknowledge in words; but nothing can be harder than to realise it particularly. The truth is admitted indeed, just because the denial of it would be utterly beyond hope. Every funeral procession, every tolling bell, furnishes a memorial of what awaits each one of us in our turn. Infirmities, to which our flesh is heir, and ailments, are nothing else but God’s messengers to accomplish God’s sentence of universal mortality. And there is evidence in the restless and the far-reaching character of human wishes, that the whole sphere of our being cannot possibly lie within the horizon which now circumscribes our dwelling-place. Man looks to the future; he draws on the expectation of other days for the enjoyment of the present. What we have to labour for, is not the admission of the truth, but the imparting to it an operative influence. The brevity of human -life is a matter which belongs to observation and not to experience; we see it in others, but as yet we know nothing of it in ourselves. But it is very hard to bring home to our bosoms the certainty that the hearts which are now full of hopes and fears and wishes shall soon cease to beat. No man believes himself to be immortal; and yet there is no truth so difficult to get embodied as one’s own mortality. And all this while the world present environs us about and shuts us in closely on every side. It is visible to the eye of sense; it excludes the world unseen and spiritual. And we remember what Scripture tells us concerning one who, through his usurpation, is called “the prince of this world.” We know that it is his business to separate the souls of men from Him who is the only source of their happiness and their good. And he accomplishes his end in the most effectual way when he casts about them the fetters of an utter worldliness, preventing the free spirit from soaring aloft into a better atmosphere and into communion with the Father of all spirits, by binding it down gradually closer and closer to the concerns and the interests of this earth that we tread. He does much indeed for his object, when he can plunge men into sensuality, when he can entangle them in vicious pursuits; for then they must needs, if they would be at peace, administer an opiate to conscience. But we entreat you to remember that the peril arises not merely from things which are in themselves bad and forbidden; but from things in themselves and in their commencement blameless or even praiseworthy--the business of daily life, its thousand schemes and its thousand toils, in the midst of which a man may move forward with his integrity unimpeached, maintaining a character for honour that has never known a stain. He forgets the world that is to be. Now these considerations will furnish, as you will immediately perceive, a great motive why we should enforce the assertion of our text. But it is not the eloquence of the advocate, nor the urgency of the appeal, nor the frequency of the warning, that can dislodge the earthliness of mind whereof we have spoken. The grace of God must come into the heart of man, “teaching him so to number his days that he may apply his heart unto wisdom.”

II. AN AVAILING MOTIVE FOR HUMAN CONDUCT. We must, as a preliminary, call upon you to observe that the text includes a reference to the future. The patriarchs believed not merely that they had “no abiding city here”; they believed also that “ God had prepared for them a city,” “which hath foundations, whose Maker and Builder is the Lord.” And the information of the Bible are more and wider and of greater encouragement than what would be contained in a mere detail of the world’s barrenness and insufficiency. It sets faith in operation; of which the apostle says, it is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” And it so wrought in the patriarchs of old time, who are the subjects of our chapter, that “they that said such things declared plainly that they sought a country.” Now what we find operative in the case of godly people many centuries ago, is still the only availing principle whereby we can turn men aside from pursuits and pleasures unsatisfying and perilous, and bring them to follow after Him who alone can satisfy an immortal and redeemed spirit. We cannot turn them aside from the love of this present world, its business or its painted vanities, by sermons alone on its insufficiency; we must tell them of a world that shall be hereafter, where all is true and good and lovely. And whatsoever may have been the man’s particular object of pursuit, there is most mercifully provided for him in the gospel something better in that very department, which shall so through the grace of God lay hold upon his very heart as to separate it from the things whereby it was once enslaved. And if you will think awhile you cannot but perceive that there is a remarkable safety in looking unto that “rest which remaineth for the people of God.” It is like the home thoughts which come into the heart of an exile, and which return again and again with the potency of an irresistible charm; they come about the heart of the wanderer, sometimes to preserve him from seductions which would otherwise be insurmountable. And sometimes they sustain him under suffering, carrying him through weary days through the power of the principle of hope, which is strong in his bosom. And thus while God’s pilgrims are passing through a world thickly set with perils, encompassed on all sides by foes, they are safe while they think of the land where there are holy affections and dutiful obedience, where there is no sin, where there are no tears, and where trial cannot come any more. And if these things are truly impressed upon the heart, not merely shall we believe the fact which is asserted in our text, but we shall make a correspondent movement. We shall immediately prepare for our journey. And whoever has these thoughts upon his heart will remember that a reckoning must follow. He possesses all things in stewardship; he possesses nothing as a proprietor. “All things are of God,” and to be used for His glory. And, finally, in the enumeration of the various motives brought to bear upon the heart of man through the receiving practically the truth which is affirmed in our text, we must by no means forget the sympathy with the great family of man which is thus engendered in the heart. Points of difference may have seemed considerable while we lived as though there were no scene to be entered on but the present; but let us only read our own poverty and dependence and the transitory nature of everything we possess, and straightway there is a brotherhood established large enough to embrace all men--a wider and a wider circle, till it includes every individual of the whole race of man. (S. Robins, M. A.)

Strangers and pilgrims:

“Wherefore they are not to be heard,” says the seventh article of our Church, “which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises.” It is well known that in all ages of the Church there have been men who have taken this unworthy view of Old Testament theology-believing that the saints of the Old Testament did look for transitory promises, and nothing else. On what ground have they come to such a conclusion? Well, they took down the Books of Moses; they searched them from beginning to end; and what did they find there? Anything about heaven? Anything about hell? Anything about a great scheme of retribution, such as we have brought before us in the parables of our Lord, or in the writings of St. Paul? No, they found nothing of this. They saw that rewards were temporal, that punishments were immediate; the whole economy of moral government seemed to be constructed only upon present recompenses, limited to the present life, and never pointing at any other. Now if these objectors had taken the pains to understand the genius of Old Testament teaching, or the nature and design of Old Testament types--if they had mastered the simple fact which every devout Jew well understood, that the dispensation under which he lived was to be succeeded by another--this their difficulty would have vanished. For then they would have seen that the land of Canaan, the great subject of Old Testament promise, was a declared and understood type of the heavenly city. They would have understood further that all the historical antecedents of the Jewish people were typical also. Their wilderness wanderings were to be a type of man’s life to the end of time. Their warfare in the desert was an emblem of man’s constant struggles with the power of evil. Their redemption from Egypt was a sign of man’s deliverance from the bondage of sin: and their settlement in the good land shadowed forth the blessedness and repose of heaven. Hence you will observe, that in the chapter before us, the apostle does not hesitate to attribute to all the children of faith under the Old Testament an insight into the spiritual purposes of God. He supposes them to understand that a great scheme of pictorial truth was being brought before their eyes, even in the facts of their external history. They dwelt in tents because they knew there were mansions in store for them. They knew that there was to be a more complete development of God’s purpose. They knew that His promises were to have a spiritual fulfilment. They saw the day of Christ afar off. They were persuaded of all the blessings promised to them in and through Him: they embraced these promises. Thus while in possession of those temporal privileges, which God in His mercy had vouchsafed unto them, they learned to sit loosely to them, because they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

I. THE IMAGE WHICH IS HERE GIVEN US OF LIFE. Notwithstanding their possession of these outward advantages, the fathers confessed that they were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Other Scriptures express the same thought (Psalms 39:12; 1 Peter 2:11).

1. Such an idea of life would be suggested by the very nature of the human constitution, and the relation in which we stand to the world around us; for everything in that world will be found to suggest the conclusion of this being a passage world, and not a resting world. For this world cannot satisfy those higher instincts with which God has endued us.

2. Such an idea of life would be suggested by its constant changeableness and instability. The strange admixture of good and evil which we experience in our passage through life is no chance arrangement. Our world seems to be evidently arranged upon the principle that we should have so much of good in our lot as to enable us to bear the evil, and yet so much of evil commingled therewith that our hearts may not be unduly set upon the good. Now, all this exactly answers to the pilgrim’s condition.

3. The text would suggest to us an infinite and everlasting existence; for he that is a stranger in a country has another country which he calls his own; and he that is a pilgrim has a place and destination towards which he is hastening.

II. PRACTICAL LESSONS SUGGESTED BY SUCH A VIEW OF LIFE.

1. The duty of contentment--the duty of acquiescence in that lot which God has appointed for us, whether it be fixed here or there--a holy indifference whether, in the arrangements of the social household, we be set down in a higher or a lower room.

2. Reference should be constantly had to Divine guidance and direction. We are not pilgrims only, says the apostle, but strangers. Now, the stranger in a strange land does not know his way. Misled by delusive appearances, he may take a way which seemeth right unto him, “but the end thereof are the ways of death.” He takes one path for its smoothness, and he finds that it is beset with perils and hidden snares; he takes another path for its shortness, and afterwards finds that he has but gone so far out of the way. Oh! how wisely does the prophet remind us, “The way of man is not in himself. It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps!”

3. The duty of exercising in all things a holy moderation and sobriety. The patriarchs might have lived in tents in Chaldea, or they might have lived in palaces in Canaan, but they would not have palaces, and they would not return to Chaldea. Why? Because these tents were designed of God to be a standing protest against a worldly spirit, even as Canaan itself was also to be an emblem of the spiritual and eternal state. They kept to their tents because they would testify to the simplicity of the patriarchal character, because they would witness against the pride, the covetousness, and the ostentation too often found to accompany a season of prosperity. And thus we are to “let our moderation be known unto all men.” Be sober in your joys, sober in your griefs, sober in your gains, sober in all the pursuits of life.

4. Having no continuing city here, being strangers and pilgrims upon the earth, we should seek one to come. The patriarchs had no home in Canaan, and yet they loved it. Why? It was not the fertility of its valleys, nor the beauty of its hills, nor the wealth of its fig-trees, nor the luxuriousness of its vines, that made them love the land in which they were strangers. It was because Canaan was typical of the rest of the covenant. It was because it was the place where God had promised to honour and meet and bless His people. It was because it was associated in their minds with the most inspiring tokens of the Divine presence, as well as all their most lofty anticipations of the life of the world to come. (D. Moore, M. A.)

Strangers and pilgrims

I. THE CHARACTER OF OUR PRESENT CONDITION.

1. Aliens. Not of same race as world; not having same desires, aims, thoughts, affections.

2. Travellers. Only staying for a time; ever passing on from one stage to another.

II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS STATE.

1. Fearless, independent. The world is almost a matter of indifference. It can neither give nor take away anything worth possessing.

2. Earnest ambition for a better state.

3. Patient resignation. When a state will so soon be over it matters little what is its nature.

III. THE INCUMBENT DUTY. “They confessed.” This implies a realisation of the important truth. The great cause of our indifference and negligence and consequent loss is a failure to realise our state and to apprehend what our actions involve. (Homilist.)

I. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE METAPHOR.

Saints pilgrims on the earth

1/ The pilgrim’s original home was in the city of destruction.

2. His pilgrimage commenced through the influence of the gospel on his heart.

3. By faith in God’s testimony he set his face towards the heavenly Zion.

4. As a pilgrim he claims no possession in the country through which he passes.

5. As a pilgrim he travels onwards towards the city of habitation.

II. THE QUALIFICATIONS AND DUTIES INVOLVED IN IT.

1. A pilgrim’s heart. And that is a renewed heart; one delivered from the love of sin and the world.

2. A pilgrim’s head. A knowledge of his way; of the good old way; the way revealed in the Holy Scriptures; a way written in the luminous words of God; a way trodden by all preceding pilgrims journeying to Zion.

3. A pilgrim’s spirit. The spirit which has animated every child of God.

4. A pilgrim’s resources.

Application:

1. How really happy is the Christian pilgrim; his sorrows and crosses will soon be over, and that for ever: his present comforts and blessings are rich and numerous.

2. How glorious the end of his journey. The heavenly Jerusalem; the city of God; world of light, and life, and glory.

3. Urge sinners to set out on this spiritual pilgrimage. (J. Burns, D. D.)

Strangers and pilgrims

I. ALL, MEN, BOTH GOOD AND BAD, ARE STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS ON THE EARTH. “The life of man is a kind of pilgrimage,” are words which Plato quoted as proverbial; and Cicero puts this speech into the mouth of one of his characters: “Our departure from this life is like leaving not our home but an inn, for nature hath given us this world as a place to rest in, but not that we should fix here our permanent habitation.” In how many respects does this life resemble a pilgrimage! How full of labour, of inconvenience, of privation! Even when no particular calamity presses; when we are free from bodily suffering, from anxiety, even then there is a vacuity, a certain unsatisfactoriness in our very prosperity itself. Men endure in this world sorrow enough, and pain enough, disappointment enough, to convince them that they are strangers and pilgrims here. One of the greatest pleasures of travel consists in our meeting with good and agreeable people, whom we feel it is a privilege to have met. But one of the pains of travel is, that these persons must be parted with so soon; as if we had enjoyed just enough of the pleasures of their society to qualify us for feeling the pain of losing it. The societies of this life, its closest relations, even those of families and bosom friends, what are they but the casual meeting of travellers at an inn?

II. ALL ARE STRANGERS HERE IN FACT THE SAINTS ALONE ARE STRANGERS IN SPIRIT. Others must die and leave this state like them-they would leave it. They hold the world by that loose grasp--they view it in that light as merely a temporary residence, as a tabernacle or tent to dwell in, that they feel no deep regret when it is taken down; nay, they long ofttimes for its dissolution (2 Corinthians 5:1-21.). They converse with the end of life. It is a door of hope. Why should the captive, burdened with the load of mortality, weep when about to put off that burden? Although “ to be absent from the body” were some pain in itself, it becomes a pleasure when it is the condition of our being “at home with the Lord.”

III. THOUGH THE SAINTS CONFESS THEY ARE STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS ON THE EARTH, THEY ARE NOT WITHOUT A HOME. It is their prospect of something higher, more glorious, which exiles the affections of holy men from the earth. Their tastes have been purified and exalted, till this world has become unfit for them, and they have become unfit for it, except to be disciplined in it. Whenever our perceptions are so corrected as to apprehend what good is, it is from that moment impossible we should be at home anywhere but in heaven, in which the illuminated eyes of the mind Ephesians 1:18) discern every character of a secure and eternal habitation. There sin is not, and the soul, punting for release from that burden, sees in heaven the land of its liberty. There God, who is “light,” dwells no more in “light inaccessible,” and there the spirit is at home who earnestly desires to know God, to enjoy God, to be like him. Lessons:

1. Though the saints are dissatisfied with this earth, as their home, yet they are content, yea, cheerfully resigned to endure it as their schoolhouse.

2. As we are strangers and pilgrims here, let our thoughts and affections be more set on the place which is our home, being the house of our heavenly Father.

3. Let us, knowing this is not our country in which we dwell, take care to behave ourselves innocently and circumspectly.

4. Is there not good reason to apprehend that many who profess to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth, are so as Nabal was, and as Saul was, and as Ahab was, only because they cannot help it? If not, why such deathless animosities? Such grasping to get and to keep the mammon of unrighteousness? Such holding to this world? Such forgetfulness of the next? Such intemperance? Such sensuality? Is this the character of strangers and pilgrims? (R. Lee.)

Strangers and pilgrims

I. THE POSSESSOR OF FAITH IS A STRANGER IN THE EARTH. What a change! In unbelief we were strangers to God (Ephesians 2:12). By faith strangers to world. Because

1. We are now more sensible of our frailty. “Make me to know how frail I am.”

2. Our Master was a stranger. His love made Him a stranger.

3. We, like Him, are born from above. Life Divine will re-seek its source. Sparks fly to sun.

4. The true Christian even now lives elsewhere. He is a non- conformist to the world. Thus an enigma.

II. THE LIFE OF FAITH IS A PILGRIMAGE ON THE EARTH.

1. A well-trodden path of pilgrimage.

2. A brief pilgrimage.

3. A pilgrimage in which we have an excellent guide.

III. THE EXPECTATION OF FAITH IS A COUNTRY BETTER THAN THE WORLD.

1. Heaven is our legal inheritance.

2. Heaven is our rest.

3. Heaven is our “city of foundations.”

4. Heaven is the ultimate “place of assembly” of God’s people.

IV. THE DUTY OF FAITH IS TO CONFESS THIS TO THE WORLD.

1. By word (Hebrews 11:14; Numbers 10:29).

2. By conduct.

Strangers and pilgrims

This is a confession which all the patriarchs made; if not in words, more emphatically in deeds. We find it expressly made on five occasions in the Old Testament.

I. The first two instances of this confession occur in historical narratives, and may be considered by themselves.

1. Abraham says to the sons of Heth: “I am a stranger,” &c. (Genesis 23:4). You are alone, and would fain be let alone, in your grief. You care not for companionship; you shrink from it. “Leave me to myself,” may be your instinctive cry. “Only give me liberty in quietness to bury my dead. Earth may have many things attractive to you: for me, it can furnish only one thing I care for; a grave for my dead.” This may be a morbid frame; and it may have a fascination for the mourner; and such a fascination as is apt to grow. It may become the luxury of woe; and, like all luxury, it will enervate and enslave. It is to be resisted in its beginning. As a lover of men, you have much to live for; to do good as you have opportunity. As a lover of Christ, you have more; for to you to live is Christ. In this spirit, you may well and warrantably use the language of the patriarch; with fullest fellowship and sympathy, “Have pity upon me, O my friends!” “You may have been wont to regard me simply as a stranger; separated from you; moving in a different sphere, and following different ways. You may have seen perhaps, with some not unnatural grudge, my prosperous state; thinking it hard that such an uninvited intruder into your country should possess such wealth in flocks and herds: or the simple worship of my household may have provoked your indignation or contempt. I was not one of you. You saw me as a stranger; as one whom you did not understand, and could not altogether like. But see me now, a stricken mourner, a desolate old man, fain to come to you and ask from you a grave in which to bury my dead.” There is that in sorrow which makes men kind; which makes them kin. How precious, in this view, may a season of distress be to one labouring among his neighbours on behalf of Christ!

2. The Lord says to Israel, “The land is Mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). This may be regarded almost as a kind of rejoinder to the pathetic appeal which we have heard Abraham making to the sons of Heth. “Thou art here again, ‘after a long interval, in the land where thou wast once a wanderer. Then thou was a stranger and sojourner with the sons of Heth. Now thou art a stranger and sojourner with Me. Then thou didst acknowledge them to be thy hosts, and thyself to be their guests. Now thou art to feel that I am thy Host, and thou art My guest. For the land is Mine. Thou sojournest with Me.” There is comfort in this thought applied retrospectively. Thou didst indeed then succeed in purchasing a few feet of ground, that thou mightest bury thy dead in no borrowed tomb, but in a sepulchre thou hadst by purchase made thine own. But, after all, it was in a land possessed by alien tribes, a land of strangers.

Is it not a satisfaction, solace, to reflect now that it was in a land which is the Lord’s? This comfort may be yours, believer. You too bury your dead in a land that is the Lord’s. And the land is the wide earth; for the earth is the Lord’s. Whenever you have to bury your dead, it is in a land of which the Lord says, It is Mine. To leave loved remains on a foreign strand, slowly and sadly to lay down the brave where the foe is sullenly firing; to lose the weary adventurer in the wild jungle, abandoned to his fate among its beasts of prey; to cast with measured plunge into the deep sea the cold form which you prize above all its treasures: ah! what a hard sore trial of love and faith. But courage. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof! “ There is admonition also in the thought. If you were hospitably received in some great and good man’s house, seated at his table, and allowed the full range of his wide domains, you would not think of taking liberties as if all were your own. You would be on your guard, lest you should abuse his hospitality. You would beware of encroaching on his condescension. And you would pay him the decent compliment of showing how much you valued him and his company above all his goodly fare. Then again you would be careful not to set your heart too much upon your temporary residence, and its temporary entertainment. You would moderate your taste for the enjoyments and indulgences which are yours only for a brief and uncertain time; allowed to you by him whose guest you are. And you would not think of giving away to foolish friends the goods stored up in his cellars; or cutting down the timber of his woods for your own pleasure or aggrandisement. This figure or parable may explain and enforce the right and safe way of using this world without abusing it. As the Lord’s guests you cannot be indifferent or stand neutral in the great strife that is going on in the land of which He says, It is Mine. You must take a side. Nor can there be room for doubt what the side is to be. The buried bones of your pious dead, whose graves are all over the field of battle, forbid all hesitancy or indecision, all cowardice or compromise. The earth is indeed the Lord’s. And it is ere long to be triumphantly vindicated and gloriously Occupied as His. But meanwhile it is the Lord’s, as a kind of debateable territory, every inch of which has to be fought for, to be won and kept as it were, by force of arms; like the parcel of ground which Jacob bought, but which, nevertheless, his sons had to conquer by their swords and their bows. And it has in its bosom a countless multitude of redeemed bodies, belonging to redeemed souls; bodies now vile perhaps, but destined to be conformed to the Lord’s own glorious body. You cannot be idle while the battle is raging that is to end in such a victory. Two things in particular you must have much at heart. The first is to break every tie that ever bound you, or could bind you, to the usurper’s service; the service of the prince of this world. You cannot now be brought under Satan’s bondage; for greater is He that is for you than all they that can be against you. You cannot now be blindfolded by the great deceiver. You know the truth, and the truth makes you free. Surely now you will not betray your Host with whom you dwell, by shrinking from knowing His name and defending His cause, or by keeping up a treacherous correspondence with the enemy. Rather, secondly, knowing His mind and heart, seeing how intensely He longs to clasp to His bosom, and welcome into His home, and entertain as His guests each and all of those fighting in the rebel host, will you not be ever appealing to every one of them whom you meet with, every stranger wandering afar off, every unwary youth enlisting himself as a recruit?

II. The three other instances of this confession of the text occur in devotional exercises, and they may be made to fit into one another.

1. “We are strangers before Thee and sojorners, as were all our fathers” 1 Chronicles 29:15). Here the thought “ we are strangers before Thee and sojourners “ is brought in to heighten the admiring and grateful joy with which David contemplates the amazing goodness of God, in permitting him and his people to do so much, to do anything, for the building of His house and the glory of His name. What grace, what condescension, is there in this! The Proprietor and Lord of all things enables and inclines us who are His guests, sojourning with Him in the land that is His own, to offer as our gift what already, as His property, belongs to Him alone; and most generously consents to accept the offering!

2. “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not Thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were” (Psalms 39:12). This is your sad cry as you suffer under the inevitable evils of a stranger’s lot, even though you may have the blessedness, in the land in which you are strangers, of being sojourners with him whose land it is. For, however hospitably he with whom you are sojourning may entertain you, it is still, as it were, within the precincts of an inn, nor can you expect to escape the vexations and troubles inseparable from that mode of accommodation. Then you must remember that the land in which as strangers you are for the present entertained as sojourners, is the earth which has been cursed for your sin, and on which, with whatever mitigation, the sentence still lies. You may think it strange, perhaps hard, that you should be thus lodged, even temporarily; in the midst of creation’s groans, mingling with your own. But for wise ends your gracious entertainer considers this to be right. And may you not always be appealing to Him, and reminding Him of your relation to Him?

3. “I am a stranger in the earth: hide not Thy commandments from me” Psalms 119:19). The point and pith of this prayer would seem to lie in the continual need which one who is a stranger on the earth has of communion with Him whose guest he is; with whom, as a stranger, he is a sojourner. In that character, as a stranger on the earth, I do not now desire to have more fellowship with the people of the land than is necessary for pious ends; for the comely burial of my dead, or for the discharge of my duty of love to the living. I would rather converse with Him who says, “The land is Mine.” And the medium of conversation with Him is His word, or His commandments. His commandments, His communications of whatever sort, precepts, promises, histories, prophecies, warnings, encouragements, all sayings of His, for they are all commandments, I desire to use as means of real personal converse with Him. But I cannot do so unless He opens my eyes. Therefore, I pray, “Hide not Thy commandments from me.” (R, S. Candlish, D. D.)

Of living as strangers:

The people of God are strangers and pilgrims.

1. In respect of their station, the place of their abode. While they are in the world they are in a strange country; while they are present in the world they are far from home. The world is a strange country, and their habitations in it, how much soever their own in civil respects, are but as inns in that journey homeward. The world is a strange country to the people of God, and the men of the world are men of a strange language, strange customs, strange laws, far differing from that of their own country.

2. In respect of their design, their motion, it is still homewards. This strange country likes them not, nor they it; they are travelling towards another, that which is, that which they account, their home, that better country, that heavenly country, that city prepared for them, that city whose builder and maker is God.

3. In respect of their enjoyments. They are but accommodated here like strangers. Much would be a burden, a hindrance to them in their journey; they have more in hopes than hand. Their treasure, their crown, their glory is at home, their Father’s house; till they come there they are strangers.

4. In respect of their usage. They are not known in the world, and so are often coarsely used. In this strange country they meet with few friends, but many injuries. Their habit, language, practices, must be after their own country fashion, such as become heaven; now this being contrary to the world, meets with opposition, scorn, reproaches, hatred.

5. In respect of their continuance. Their abode on earth is but short. They dwell but as Abraham in tabernacles (Hebrews 11:9), in tents, moveable dwellings, quickly, easily removed; no dwelling that has a foundation, that is lasting, durable, till at home (Hebrews 11:10).

6. In respect of their relations. Their dearest relations are in another country. Their Father, their Husband, their Elder Brother, their dearest Friend, their Comforter, and the far greatest part of their brethren and fellow-members, are all in heaven.

Use 1. Reproof of those who profess themselves to be the people of God, and yet live not like His people; live on earth as though earth was their home, and mind heaven as little as they mind a strange country; suffer their thoughts, affections, endeavours, to be so taken up with the earth, and the things of it, as though the world were all the home they expect; instead of being strangers to the world, are strangers to the thoughts of, to the employments of, to the endeavours for heaven; rise up early, &c., to lay up treasure on earth, and lap up their hearts and souls with it.

Use 2. Exhortation to the people of God. You are strangers and pilgrims, oh endeavour to live as strangers. You expect to die in the faith, oh live then as you may so die.

Christian pilgrims

I. CHRISTIANS NO EXERCISE A TRUE FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.

1. The faith of Christians in the promises of God implies that they understand them.

2. Their faith in the promises of God implies that they have a full and undoubting Conviction of their truth and certainty.

3. The faith of true Christians in the promises of God implies a cordial approbation of them.

II. Such A FIRM AND CORDIAL RELIEF IN THE GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISES OF GOD LEADS CHRISTIANS TO LIVE AND ACT AS STRANGERS ON THE EARTH.

1. Pilgrims never feel at home. They find no place which they can call their own; where they can reside as long as they please. They are constrained to go from stage to stage, and to change their situation from day to day. And though they may sometimes find pleasant and desirable places, yet they can find no place at which they can feel at home.

2. Pilgrims feel very much alone in the world. They find but a few travelling their way; and if some now and then fall into their company, yet they are strangers to their views and feelings, and afford them but very little comfort or entertainments and generally they obstruct rather than animate and quicken them in their journey.

3. Pilgrims always feel themselves exposed to danger. Travelling in a foreign country, they are unacquainted with the disposition of the inhabitants, and unused to their customs and manners. On these accounts, they never know when or where they are safe. They cannot place entire confidence in those with whom they converse, whether they wear a friendly or unfriendly aspect. They are exposed to contempt from the great, to fraud from the unjust, and to every evil from the lawless and malevolent.

4. Pilgrims feel thankful for all the agreeable accommodations which they meet with on their way. They are sensible of their dependence on Providence, and on the favour and assistance of their fellow.men. They are thankful for plain and smooth paths, for pleasant weather, and for good stages for rest and refreshment. And they are thankful to every stranger who faithfully directs them and kindly treats them.

5. Pilgrims take nothing with them but what they deem necessary for their journey. They throw aside the superfluities as encumbrances.

6. Pilgrims never think of turning back on account of any difficulties which they meet with in their way. If they are lame, or sick, they stop only till they recover, and then go forward. If the season be unfavourable, they wait only till it becomes better. Or if the roads be obstructed, they wait only till the obstructions are removed.

Improvement:

1. If those who cordially embrace the promises of God are real pilgrims, then it is to be expected that they will profess their faith before men, and confess that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth.

2. If those who profess to be Christians at the same time profess to be pilgrims, then there is a great impropriety as well as criminality in professors of religion being conformed to the world.

3. If all real Christians are pilgrims, and live and act as such, then they are living monitors to sinners. They admonish both by their profession and practice.

4. If all real Christians are pilgrims, then those have little reason to think that they are pilgrims who do not make it appear so in the sight of the world.

5. If Christians are pilgrims, who are entitled to the great and precious promises of God, then they will be peculiarly happy when they finish their pilgrimage, and reach their long home. All their labours, and dangers, and trials, and sufferings, will work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Soul-pilgrimage

I take the idea of pilgrimage to illustrate the life of a true soul in the world.

I. Soul-pilgrimage involves a DEPARTURE.

1. From a dominant materialism.

2. From controlling selfishness.

3. From practical atheism.

II. It involves a PURSUIT. Not of wealth or happiness, but of godliness. Following on to know the Lord. Pressing toward the mark. (Homilist.)

The pilgrim

I. WHAT IS IT TO FEEL AND CONDUCT OURSELVES AS STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS ON THE EARTH. It is to feel and conduct ourselves as not being at home in the flesh, but as travelling on a journey to the world above. A wise pilgrim will not encumber himself with a load of toys which will only impede his progress towards home; which, instead of adding to his enjoyments, will only perplex him on his journey; and which at last he cannot carry into his Father’s house to possess, but must lay down and leave at the threshold. A stranger on earth, if he is wise, will not expend his all in procuring the riches of the country which he cannot carry with him when he returns, as he shortly must to his native land. His principal object will be (besides those temporary supplies which will support him by the way) to lay in copiously those riches which he can carry with him when he returns to his abiding habitation.

II. SOME REASONS WHY WE OUGHT TO FEEL AND CONDUCT OURSELVES AS STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS ON THE EARTH.

1. A- pilgrim’s way is the only way to heaven. We are by nature as far from home as we are from God. In order then to find an entrance into the peaceful doors of our Parent’s house, we must say with the prodigal, “I will arise and go to my Father.”

2. Heaven is the only good worth setting our hearts upon--the only place where unsullied enjoyment is to be had--the only spot where untainted excellence is found. It alone contains pleasures which will never fade away.

3. There is a sweetness in feeling ourselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth. It is sweet to feel ourselves not at home in the flesh, just on the wing to be gone, and arising to a better habitation. It is sweet to feel the world beneath our feet, to stand above it and converse with God. The man that does this is not indebted to the unsteady shifting objects of time and sense for his principal satisfaction, but possesses a happiness which the world can neither give nor take away. He can remain unruffled amidst the changes of life.

4. A stranger and pilgrim on earth has everything that he needs; why then should he wish for any closer alliance with the world? “God’s favour is life, and His loving-kindness is better than life.” He who enjoys Him has all and needs no more.

5. To relax into friendship with the world, to feel earth our home, and to say, It is good to be here, is very dangerous; as it draws the soul from God, clouds out of sight the glory of spiritual objects, exposes us to temptation, and is the chief cause of all our miseries.

6. We are here in an enemy’s country, while our dearest friends are in heaven.

7. This earth was never designed for the Christian’s home. It is a field in which he is sent to labour.

8. The more of strangers we are on the earth, and the more intercourse we have with heaven while here, the more welcome and happy shall we be when we arrive at glory.

III. THE DUTY OF BELIEVING AND TRUSTING IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.

1. To believe and trust in the promises of God is an exercise of faith and an essential mark of a Christian.

2. We should not distrust the promises of God on account of their not being yet fulfilled, or because at particular times we cannot see the fulfilment of those which relate to the present life. It was never designed that the promises which relate to the life to come should be fulfilled at present. It is not fit we should receive our reward till our work is done.

3. The want of a realising belief in the Divine promises is the great reason of our impatience at the thought of being strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

4. There is a sweetness in believing and trusting in the promises of God. The Christian then feels as secure and immovable as unchanging truth and almighty power can make him.

5. The promises of God are absolutely unfailing. And dare any who have the Bible in their hands deny their truth? Let us then

God’s people are strangers:

1. A stranger is no medler in the country wherein he is; he takes that which is requisite for hint; he looks to his own business; but he doth not interpose himself in the affairs of the commonwealth, he leaves them to those that be of the country. Even so being strangers in the world, let us meddle no more with the world than needs must. But we are drowned in the world, our minds are on the world all the week, all the year long; we meddle little with the Scripture, with prayer, heavenly meditations; we are altogether in and about the world.

2. Strangers must not think to bear sway in the town and country where they dwell, the natural inhabitants will not digest that (Genesis 19:9); the Sodomites could not endure that Lot should be asking among them. So we, being strangers in the world, must not make account to domineer in it, to have all men at our control, we must be content to be underlings here that we may be aloft hereafter; the faithful are often put to the wall and the wicked are lords over them. This we must take patiently because we are strangers.

3. Strangers and pilgrims are wont to be abstemious (1 Peter 2:11); a stranger, a traveller, if he be a wise man, doth not set his mind on feasting and banquetting, he takes a morsel, and so away. So, being strangers here, we must lead a sober life, take no more of the world than will serve us for our journey; we must reserve our feasting till we come to that place where we shall eat bread with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

4. Strangers must look for no great love; for the most part they are hated in the country where they be, and they are wished to be out of it; even so the world loveth her own; we are not of the world, we are men of another world, therefore marvel not that we find little friendship in the world.

5. Strangers have a longing desire to be at home. If an Englishman be in Spain, Turkey, India, he thinks every day two till he be in England. Oh that I were with my wife and children, with my friends and neighbours at home! So, being strangers in this world, let us not make too great account of it; let us desire to be at home in our heavenly Jerusalem; let us say with St. Paul, I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, which is best of all.

6. Strangers do not heartily love that country wherein they be; they may love it in some sort, but nothing to their own country; so being viatores we may take viaticum; but let us not love the world; let us use it as if we used it not. Let the heavenly Canaan, our native country, have all our love.

7. If a stranger come to an inn he looks about hint and says, This is a fair inn, here I have a goodly chamber; I fare well for my money; but this is no place for me to tarry in. So we should think and say of the world, I have a convenient dwelling, meat and drink enough; I thank God I want nothing; but this is not my place of abode, I am but a stranger here, all these things I must forego. I would to God that this were deeply engraven in the hearts of us all that we did effectually consider we were strangers on the earth. We say we are strangers, but we live as lords. A strange thing that strangers should be so bewitched with a strange country as we are with the earth. (W. Jones, D. D.)

The journey of life

I. OUR PASSAGE THROUGH LIFE IS COMPARED IS HOLY SCRIPTURE TO VARIOUS THINGS--sometimes to an arrow flitting through the air--sometimes to a flower which is to-day in the field, tomorrow cut down and withered. But no figure, I think, more comprehensively describes it than that of a journey.

1. The first great resemblance may be found in the various stage of each. In the common journeys of this world some are long, and marked, of course, with a great variety of circumstances. Others, again, are short, quickly performed, and little varied with any particular occurrences. Exactly thus is our great journey through life. In our great journey through life we cannot make the stages as we please. They are laid out for us. We have only to prepare ourselves properly for them.

2. A second great resemblance which may be traced between a journey and our passage through life arises from the various roads which present themselves in both. Every one accustomed to travelling knows there are various roads commonly leading to the same place. Some are bad, others indirect, while there is generally but one which is the best, and which every prudent traveller would wish to pursue. Such too is our journey towards eternal life. Ask any who are not quite abandoned and they will tell you they hope to go to heaven--that this at least is their aim; but through what a variety of paths do they often pursue it! It may be hoped indeed that all these wanderers will in time see their error, and at length arrive safely at their heavenly home. But what toil, what distress might they have prevented if they had not suffered themselves to be led astray through all the bye-paths of pleasure or worldly allurements; but had from the first pursued the direct road!

3. As a journey thus resembles our passage through life in being a progress through various stages to a destined end, so does it resemble it in the many difficulties and inconveniences with which it is incommoded. No man can pass through life without meeting them. From our early youth they begin, and as we advance our difficulties increase. The cares and mischances of the world--or the knavery and malice of mankind--or sickness--or the ingratitude of friends--or the miscarriages, if not of ourselves, at least of our near connections, present us with a great variety of distress. Then again, they who are of a feeling nature have their compassion daily exercised by their fellow-travellers whom they see toiling under various burdens and cannot relieve. As we advance towards the end of life new distresses arise. The infirmities of age and the difficulty of mixing with a younger generation, all tend to lessen our relish for the world and teach us more and more to depend on happiness hereafter.

4. Another resemblance, nearly allied to the last, between a journey and our passage through life arises from the different manner in which its different stages affect us. At first, during the warmth and inexperience of youth, everything strikes us with pleasure. The world is new to us--our spirits are high--our passions are strong--the gaieties of life get hold of us--and it is happy, if we can enjoy them with moderation and innocence. Now and then we meet a rebuke from the world, but we lay it not to heart; youth is prone to forget untoward circumstances, and other objects catch our attention. But as years come on--as the inconveniences of life increase and the satisfactions arising from it diminish--we grow fatigued with so tiresome a march, and if we are those strangers and pilgrims upon earth of whom the text speaks we begin to think with pleasure of finishing our earthly toil.

5. From these inconveniences which meet us in every stage another resemblance arises, the last I shall suggest, which is, that we must never expect to find in a journey the comforts we look for at home. Many people have no idea of a heavenly home. Of them I speak not. They must, if they choose it, wander about in this world without any aim till they drop into their graves, and must take the consequence.

II. IF THEN LIFE IS A JOURNEY AND CAN BE COMPARED SO PROPERLY TO NOTHING ELSE, LET US CONSIDER IT AS SUCH.

1. In the first place, let us not set our hearts upon anything in it.

2. If, again, life is a journey, let us not loiter in it.

3. Lastly, if life be a journey, let us keep the great end continually in view. We are journeying to our great home--the eternal mansion of spirits. What is there here to detain us from such an end? Our valuables are not about us; they are at home, at the end of our journey. Where our treasure is, there then let our hearts be also. (W. Gilpin, M. A.)

The pilgrim not a hermit:

It seems a very common thing to take the word “pilgrim” in its religious sense as very nearly identical with the word “hermit”; but the two not only differ, but in some respects very strongly contrast. The hermit is a personage who never appears in the Bible, or if he does appear, it is in some very distant glimpses indeed. He is not found, either in the Old or the New Dispensation, as having any part in the appointments of the people of God; but the hermit is one of the favourite institutions of heathenism, and was, in olden times, prevalent over all the great ancient countries. The idea was early adopted in Egypt, and from Egypt it diffused itself over all the West, even to our own country. The hermit is one who has a quarrel with human society, and takes it to be his business to get as far away from mankind as circumstances will permit him. He may effect the separation by locality, by getting into a desert; he may effect it by confining himself within the walls of a convent, by getting up a tree, or living on the top of a pillar, as has sometimes been done. He may confine that separation to costly and particular habits and vows; but still his great idea is, to separate himself from human society and so cut out that part of human nature that does not lie built up within the four walls of his own person. Now, this is by no means the character of the pilgrim. The pilgrim is quite another personage. He has no quarrel with human society. He does not purpose to separate himself from mankind. On the contrary, pilgrims have been remarkable in every age and nation for being social, for seeking in their pilgrimage as many companions as they can possibly gather together, and for cheering their pilgrimage with as many comforts as they can carry through the journey, and with as many songs, and as much intercourse, and as much vivacity and pleasure of every kind as they can possibly command. But the pilgrim is one who has a point at which he is aiming, and a purpose for which he aims at it; and no matter what land he has to traverse, however pleasant it may be, it must not tempt him to stay, or however foul it may be, it must not discourage him so that he turn back. He has to go on; if it be a desert, to cross it in spite of its difficulties; if it be a garden, to cross it in spite of its flowers, and still to go on. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

An exile on earth

A holy indifference to present things makes it easy to part with them, and death less fearful. Chrysostom, in a letter to Ciriacus, who was tenderly sensible of his banishment, wrote to him, “You now begin to lament my banishment, but I have done so for a long time; for, since I knew that heaven was my country, I have esteemed the whole earth as a place of exile. Constantinople, from which I am expelled, is as distant from paradise as the desert to which they send me.”

Home yet distant

A father, with his little son, is journeying overland to California, and when at night he pitches his tent in some pleasant valley, the child is charmed with the spot, and begs his father to rear a house and remain there; and he begins to make a little fence about the tent, and digs up the wild flowers and plants them within the enclosure. But the father says, “No, my son. Our home is far distant. Let these things go, for to-morrow we must depart.” Now, God is taking us, His children, as pilgrims and strangers, homeward; but we desire to build here, and must be often overthrown before we can learn to seek “the city that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.” (H. W. Beecher.)

They seek a country

Longings for the heavenly city:

I. THE LONGING WHICH THE GODLY HAVE FOR SOMETHING BETTER THAN THIS WORLD CAN GIVE. Here we may notice first of all the difference in kind between this longing and sinful discontent on the one hand, and the difference between it and the noble aspirations of worldly minds on the other.

1. Discontent is the spirit of self-will, displeased with the ordinances of God, or denying a providence and complaining of its destiny. This temper is insubordinate, for it would remove the disposal of things out of God’s hands: it is proud and selfish, for so far from being willing to take an humble place in the universe, it would take the highest, and bend everything to its own arrangements: it is worldly, for the excessive desire of earthly good, which by the nature of the case must be ungratified, gives it birth: it is not only miserable in itself, but the source of new misery, for it leads the soul to look on the dark side of its earthly lot, and to make the most of whatever counteracts the desires. Compare with this discontent the temper of the godly man, as he looks with dissatisfaction upon this world. He is not like the chained beast which howls with rage and bites his chain, nor even like the caged bird that sings as he flies about the walls of his little prison but seizes the first chance to escape: he is rather like the soldier in the garrison, with whom he has often been compared, weary, it may be, with the constant vigilance and the toilsome defence, but stationary until his commander allows him to depart, and giving himself up meanwhile, with energy of will, perhaps with heroic joy, to the defence of the fortress.

2. The feeling of the godly man towards this world, so unlike the spirit of discontent, resembles much more the higher aspirations of mere human nature. There are men who seem to have by nature a high standard of character and attainment, who, if they lived alone and were uneducated, would have a certain dignity about them which is not allotted to all. These men are not made to be worldlings; the toils of covetousness, the intrigues of ambition they despise. Now these men have this resemblance to the godly who are our true pilgrims, that they are at a wide remove from earthly-mindedness in its worst sense, that they never reach the goal of their choice, and that thus they gather a dissatisfaction, often a very great dissatisfaction, with themselves and the world., But they differ from them in this; that they have not surrendered their native self-will, and that their standard, however lofty, is not spiritual.

II. The text leads us to remark in the second place THAT THE GODLY HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO RETURN TO THEIR FORMER STATE AND MAKE THIS “WORLD AGAIN THEIR PORTION. By not doing this they show that they seek a heavenly country. The confessions which proceed from their lips and lives prove that the world has not yet satisfied them. But if their earthly desires are not controlled by heavenly principles, they have abundant facilities for making new experiments upon the world. They can immerse themselves it again, as they did in their days of thoughtlessness. The world is ready to welcome them back, for it does not relish the silent reproofs which a non-conformist to its rules utters, as he withdraws from it. But he with opened eye is seeking for a better country, that is a heavenly. It is not the extent of his dissatisfaction with the world, or the strength of his resolution, or the force of circumstances, or a peculiar nature which leads him on in his chosen course, but the conviction that there is a better country to which he can attain. And it is better not simply because it promises a greater amount of good, or more lasting good such as the earth gives for a few years, but because it lays before his hopes another kind of good, as different from earthly as possible. This difference between spiritual and temporal good was always a reality of infinite importance, but he could not perceive it until his eye was opened and his affections transferred. Since that great revolution in his character, weak and tempted and often vacillating as he has been, he has resisted the invitations of the world to return to his old plan of life, because his desires are fastened on a new object, on the heavenly inheritance, which comprises all that is holy and truly blessed.

III. Owing to these heavenly desires, to this spiritual mind of the Christian, GOD IS NOT ASHAMED TO BE CALLED HIS GOD. As his God and Protector, God takes care of his interests by preparing for him a city. The man of God dwells in a tent or tabernacle in this world, and not only wants no city here, but feels that he can find none. Still his nature longs for something abiding. Death, decay, change, uncertainty are alien from his nature, they run counter to the longing for immortality which is within him. Such an abidingplace God, his God, hath provided for him. It is a permanent home. Again it is a city which is prepared for the godly man, in distinction from a lonely tent among strangers. So that his feeling of being by himself away from his best friends will have an end. As the traveller in the East passes from the bazaars and thronged streets of some capital, to the border of the wilderness, where the Bedouin is encamped for a season, he finds a new sort of people, who have no turn for city life, who are retired from the haunts of men, and when nearest to cities feel wholly estranged from them. Something so do godly men feel amid all the ties and joys of this world. Its spirit is unlike theirs. They have no home-feeling in its neighbourhood; they have, while they live closest to it, an unsatisfied sense of absence from something most akin to them, a sense of emptiness for which hope alone furnishes a relief. The city which God, their God, hath prepared for them fills up this want. There they are to be among friends, in whom they can fully confide--with God, Christ, and the redeemed--there they will no more have that sense of loneliness which saddened them in their night-wanderings through this world. (T. D.Woolsey.)

The faith of the patriarchs:

It is in the power of actions as well as of words to declare plainly; and the patriarchs of this chapter made it as plain by what they did as by what they said, whither it was that their desires and their affections were tending. Nothing could be more explicit of this than the practice of Abraham--who gave up the place of his nativity; and tore himself away from all its charms and endearments; and became a pilgrim in an unknown land. What is very well termed a man’s general drift, stood most palpably out on the whole of his history. And, in the same way, every human being has a prevailing drift, that may in most instances be pretty accurately gathered from certain obvious indications, which are ever obtruding themselves on the notice of bystanders. But there is a distinction to be remarked here. It may sometimes not be so very plain what the particular interest is which a man is prosecuting with the main force of his ambitious desires--whether it be the love of money, or the love of power, or the love of acceptance in society, or the love of eminence above his fellows by the lustre of a higher literary reputation. I may not be able to pronounce of the most bustling and ambitious member of our city corporation, whether his heart is most set on the acquirement of a princely fortune, or on a supreme ascendency over all his compeers in the political management of this great community. But whether it be the one or the other, I can say on the instant, that the great theatre of his favourite exertion is this, the place of our habitation--that is here--that it is among home society around him where he seeks to signalise himself, whether by wealth or by influence, or by popularity; and not in any remote or distant society with whom no sympathies are felt, and for u-hose homage either to his dignity or to his opulence, no anxiety whatever has been conceived. One would need to be profoundly intimate with the hidden mysteries of our nature to trace the numerous shadings and varieties of worldliness that obtain in our species. But it may be a matter of the most obvious recognition to the most simple of men, that worldliness, in some shape or other, is the great pervading element of all its generations. This much at least may be seen, without the piercing eye either of scholar or of satirist; and while the apostle said of the faithful whom he was enumerating., how they declared plainly that they were seeking a future and a distant country--we may say of nearly all whom we know, and of all whom we look upon in society, that they declare as plainly the world to be the only scene on which their hopes and their wishes do expatiate. It is not either that man is actually satisfied with present things. It is not that he has set him down in placid acquiescence among the creatures and the circumstances by which he is for the moment surrounded. We see nothing of the repose of full and finished attainment with any of our acquaintances. There is none of them, in fact, who is not plainly stretching himself forward to some one distant object or other; and, as the tokens of one who is evidently on a pursuit, do we behold him in a state of motion and activity and busy endeavour. But when we come to inquire into the nature of the object that so stimulates his desires and his faculties, do we find it to be a something which lies within the confines of mortality--a something suited only to such senses and such powers of enjoyment as death will extinguish--a something that he may perhaps hand down to posterity, but which afew rapid years will wrest away from himself, and that by an act of everlasting bereavement. Surely it is one of the strangest mysteries of our nature, and, at the same time, one of the strongest tokens of its derangement, that man should thus embark all his desires in a frail and crazy vessel so soon to be engulfed. But to alleviate this gross infatuation, it may be said, and with plausibility too, that the region of sense and the region of spirituality are so unlike the one to the other--that there is positively nothing in our experience of the former which can at all familiarise our minds to the anticipation of the latter. And then, as if to intercept the flight of our imaginations forward to eternity, there is such a dark and cloudy envelopment that hangs on the very entrance of it. Ere we can realise that distant world of souls, we must pierce our way beyond the curtain of the grave--we must make our escape from all the warm and besetting urgencies, which, in this land of human bodies, are ever plying us with powerful solicitation; and force our spirits across the boundaries of sense, to that mysterious place where cold and evanescent spectres dwell together in some incomprehensible mode of existence. We know not if there be another tribe of beings in the universe who have such a task to perform. Angels have no such transition of horror and mystery to undergo. There is no screen of darkness like this intrposed between them and any portion of their futurity however distant; and it appears only of man, that it is for him to drive a breach across that barrier which looks so impenetrable, or so to surmount the power of vision as to carry his aspirings over the summit of all that vision has made known to them. Now if this be the work of faith, you will perceive that it is not just so light and easy an achievement as some would apprehend. Think for one moment of the apostolical definition of faith. It is the substance of things hoped for, anti the evidence of things not seen--or, as it should have been rendered, it is the confident expectation of things hoped for, and the clear and assured conviction of things not seen. It is that which gives to an interest that is future all the urgency and deciding power upon the conduct which belong to an interest that is present. And should the future interest be greater than the present, and they come into competition, the one with the other, faith is that which resolves him who is under its influence to give up the immediate gratification for the sake of the distant advantage. Thus it is, essentially and by its very nature, a practical principle; and no sooner does it take possession of the heart of any individual, than it holds out the plain attestation of itself upon its history--and not by his dogmata, but by his doings. Heaven is held out in the gospel not in bargain as a reward to our performance of God’s precepts, but simply in anticipation as a fulfilment to our hope of God’s promises; and what place, it may be asked, is there for seeking after this? How shall we seek that which is already gotten? or what conceivable thing is there to do in quest of a benefit that is offered to our hand; and on the honesty of which offer we have merely to lay an unfaltering reliance? We can understand how to go about it, when the matter is to seek that which we must work for. But if heaven be not of works but of grace, what remains but to delight ourselves in the secure anticipation of that which we should count upon as a certainty, instead of labouring for it as if it were a contingency that hung upon our labours? And yet they are promises, and nothing else, which put all the patriarchs into motion. It was just because they saw these promises afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth--it was just because of all this that they declared plainly, both by their desires and by their doings, that they sought a country. Eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord--a thing not purchased by us but purchased for us by another--a matter so gigantically beyond any price that man could render for it, that, if held up to him in this aspect it would look to his despairing eye as if placed in the region of impossibility away from him. Grace has been charged with ministering to human indolence. But it is free grace, and nothing else, which unfastens this drag--which releases man from the imprisonment that formerly held him--which brings him out to a large and open space, and sets an object of hopefulness before him that he knows to be accessible--which breaks him loose from the grasp of that law, from whosecondemnation and whose penalties he felt so inextricable. So that, instead of doing nothing for heaven, when the gulf of a pathless separation stood in the way of it, he can now embark on a career of approximation, where, by all his doings, and by all his seekings, he may declare plainly that heaven is indeed the country to which he is travelling. It is said of the patriarchs in this chapter that they were not only persuaded of the promises, but that they embraced them. To be persuaded of them was to believe in the truth of the promises; to embrace them was to make choice of the things promised. Abraham chose his prospects in a distant country, rather than his possessions in the country of his father; and, in the prosecution of this choice, did he abandon the latter, and plainly declare, by all his subsequent doings, that he was seeking and making progress towards the former. And a believer nowadays, is not only persuaded that he has heaven for the acceptance of it; but he actually accepts, and, in so doing, he, like the father of the faithful, makes a preference between two objects which stand in competition before him. The man who chooses heaven rather than earth, chooses what is essentially characteristic of heaven, rather than what is essentially characteristic of earth; or, in other words, he makes choice of the piety of heaven, and the purity of heaven, and the benevolence of heaven. It is not by these that he purchases a place for himself in paradise; but it is by these that he prepares himself both for the doings and for the delights of paradise. It is by these that he brings his taste and his temper into conformity with that which is celestial. It is by these that he becomes a fit recipient for all those sensations of blessedness which are current there. The point at which heaven is accepted as a gift, so far from marking that place in the history of a believer when he gives up his activity because he has now gotten all that he wants, marks the place of his breaking forth on a career of activity--at the entrance of which he was before bound by a spell that no exertion of his could dissipate. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Seeking heaven:

One told Socrates that he would fain go to Olympus, but he distrusted his sufficiency to go the length of the journey. Socrates said, “Thou walkest every day little or much; continue this walk, forward thy way, and a few days shall bring thee to Olympus.” Every day every man takes some pains. Let him bestow that measure of pains in travelling to heaven; and the further he goes the more heart he gets, till at last he enters through the gates into the city.” (T. Adams.)

Interest in heaven:

If you expected to make California your home in the next six months, would you not be interested in that country? I once knew an old man whose son went out to Oregon, where he became prosperous, purchased a great farm, and was getting it under magnificent cultivation. He often wrote home to his family about Oregon and his prosperity. By and by he sent for his brother to come out there and live with him; and then he sent for his sister and her husband. One by one, all the boys and their wives, and all the sisters and their husbands, were settled and prospering in Oregon. That old man was far more interested in Oregon than Indiana, where he was born and had lived all his days. He had many books on Oregon; he studied Oregon, its climate and soil, its increasing population, its commerce and prospects. Presently the son wrote to the old man, “We are coming for you, father.” After that the old man was more interested than ever. He talked about Oregon more and more, when he went to visit his neighbours or his neighbours came to visit him; he talked to his farm hands; up and down the streets he talked about Oregon, until some people thought he had well-nigh gone crazy. Do we not often forget that “our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”? (Philippians 3:20). Have we not sometimes forgotten that He said, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also”? (John 14:1-31). Oh, what interests we have there! (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

Heaven a country and a city

It is a country and it is a city. A country. That thought throws before us at once the great idea of breadth and vastness. As we are passing to the other world, we are not passing to a confined sphere, but to one where there will be wide places for the powers of every man and of every woman called to unite in the work of that land, wide places for all to exercise their power, and for all to dwell in it. It is a city. It is not a lonely place, but a place of society. It is a city: it is not an undefended place, but a place with its walls and bulwarks, and eternal fences. It is a city: it is not a place built by chance and without arrangement, but a place built upon a plan. It is a city that hath a builder and a maker; that is, as we should say in our modern language, both an architect and a builder. The word translated “builder “ means the architect who builds the structure first within his soul before it is ever built outside. An oration, a sermon, a grand scheme, or a palace, is in the first place produced within the soul of a man, and there it stands, and grows, and shines, perhaps far nobler than it ever does in the outer world. And so that city has its Architect, the great God; for, in what He would delight in the midst of His own, in what He Himself would dwell, where His children should be housed, in what streets the princes of God should walk, in what abbey the multitudes of the happy should assemble, and with what defences and adornments the city of the ,Great King should shine upon the eyes of His own for ever, He formed this first, and then He made it. Both architect and constructor is God; and that city and that country are His country and His city. (W. Arthur, M. A.)


Verse 15-16

Hebrews 11:15-16

If they had been mindful of that country

The past and the future

I.
THE FEELINGS OF A SAINT IN REFERENCE TO THE PAST. “And truly if they be mindful of that country, from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.” That is to say, the believing man has not forgotten the past; the past has not become a blank to him--his home, his country, his kindred, his honours, his comforts--all these are remembered. Moses remembered Egypt, Abraham remembered Chaldea; but though remembered, these things were not regretted--they were no longer coveted. It is not with us as with Lot’s wife, casting a longing look behind. There is no looking back for the purpose of return; our face is steadfastly set to go up to Jerusalem. We are often tempted to -think of returning, and to repent our departure, but we yield not for a moment. We rejoice in the separation, we would not have it otherwise.

II. THE FEELINGS OF A SAINT IN REFERENCE TO THE FUTURE. “Now they desire a better kingdom, that is, an heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16). The believing man desires a better country; he says, 1 must have something better, higher, heavenlier, than anything which I have hitherto possessed. Nothing else can content me, or fill this soul of mine. His faith has taken hold of the premises--it is to him the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. And with his faith his heart has gone up, to fix itself upon the things above; he cannot stay below. It is not that there is a continued compulsion forcing upon him the consideration of things to come; it is the necessity of his new nature which thus brings him irresistibly into connection with the things of God.

III. THE RECOMPENSE OF FAITH. “Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.” God might “well have been ashamed of them, for what was there in them that deserved His notice, far less such a recompense as this? Little indeed, yet that little He delights in. The special thing, because of which He is not ashamed, is their walk of faith, for the connection of this statement with the previous verse manifestly is intended “to bring out this. They trusted His bare promise just as Abraham did when he forsook Chaldea for an unknown inheritance. And this trusting the bare promise, without a sign or token given, so honours God that because of it He rejoices to be called their God. Such is the reward of faith that throws itself entirely upon God, and takes His promise as its all. And now let us learn these three things in reference to what faith does.

1. It turns our back upon the world, and draws us out of Egypt, nor does it allow us to think of returning. Remember what that world is that you profess to have left, and remember that in leaving it you severed links between you and it never to be replaced.

2. Faith keeps our face towards the kingdom. Our desires go upward to the better, even the heavenly, country.

3. Faith realises the kind of recompense and lives upon it. It not merely receives the truth that there is a recompense, but it realises that recompense, and sees that it is just such a recompense as meets our case, and makes up for the very things that we were called upon to relinquish when we left Egypt. We are strangers here, dwelling in tents; faith realises a city, as our abode hereafter, and such a city as earth has not seen--the New Jerusalem, a city provided for us by God. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

They desire a better country

Longing for heaven

I. THE CONDITION OF THE CHRISTIAN IN THIS WORLD IS GOOD. Implied in the word “better.”

1. His sufferings are good.

2. His privileges are good.

II. THE CONDITION OF THE CHRISTIAN IN THE NEXT WORLD WILL BE SUPERIOR TO THIS.

1. The Christian is to live in the future.

The life of the Christian in the future will be glorious.

(a) Fellowship with Christ without an intervening medium.

(b) Uninterrupted companionship with the perfect good.

(c) Engagement in perfect service. More strength. A pure soul in a perfect body. Boundless sphere of activity.

III. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE FUTURE TO THE PRESENT CREATES IN THE CHRISTIAN A WISH TO ENTER UPON IT.

1. The nature of the desire. A wish for something not in possession. This feeling is quite consistent with consecration to work here, and yet so much stronger as ever to be rising above it and triumphing over it. No ordinary attainment.

2. The influence of the desire.

(a) There should be no needless accumulation of temporal things.

(b) There should be no complaint if we do not possess much of them.

(c) Our chief enjoyment should not be found in using them.

(d) We should be prepared to leave them.

The better country

I. THE STATE OF SOUL HERE SPECIFIED. “They desire. That word denotes an ardent longing for the possession of something which we have not now, but which we may come ultimately to call our own, and when used as here to designate the attitude of a believing soul toward heaven, it is to be noted that it is a positive thing. It is not to be confounded With that dislike of the evils of the present life which is frequently mistaken for it. It is something altogether different from the mere absence of the desire to live, which many foolishly take to be a virtue. One may be repelled from earth without being attracted to heaven, and, indeed, the feelings of many more than himself were described by Voltaire when he said: “I hate life, but I dread death”; yet in neither of these emotions have we anything of that element of positive longing in which desire consists. Similarly we must not suppose that we can use that term to designate that submission to the inevitable which makes a man say, that if he must leave this world, though he would greatly prefer to stay in it, he would rather go to heaven than hell. Even true Christian resignation is not desire. We may bow to the will of God out of reverence to Him, and in the faith that it will somehow be ultimately for the best, and yet there may be no desire that, irrespective of its issue, the thing submitted to should come upon us. Unlike Paul (Philippians 1:23), we have a desire to remain with our friends and our work, but if God so wills we are resigned to depart. Here, there is submission without desire, here, feeling quite compatible with great enjoyment, and activity in the present life, and yet so much stronger than these as to be evermore rising above them and triumphing over them.

II. THE OBJECT TOWARDS WHICH” THIS STATE OF HEART IS DIRECTED. “The better land, that is, the heavenly.” I waive altogether such curious questions as those which relate to the locality of heaven. The language of the apostle does not imply that this world is not a goodly land. True, it is sometimes likened to a wilderness, but then it is a wilderness in which God has made streams to flow for us from the rock, and manna to fall for us from the heavens, and through which He is guiding us by the pillar-cloud of His providence and His Spirit. The Christian is happy in this world. What then, to him, are the best things in this world? ‘They are those in which he has the most of Christ, and they may be summed up under these three classes: Christian ordinances, Christian fellowship, and Christian work. In heaven we shall have all these in a higher degree than we have them here, and without the alloy with which they are here mingled, or the drawbacks to which they are here subjected.

III. THE INFLUENCE OF THIS DESIRE ON THOSE WHO CHERISH IT. “They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” That confession has a threefold influence.

1. It keeps those who make it from regarding the things of this life as supreme. They do not build themselves into the world, or bound all their aims by the horizon of time.

2. It sustains the Christian under present afflictions. He is willing to put up with privation now, because he knows there is something better in store for him.

3. It gives consolation in bereavement, and joy in death. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The desire for a better country:

It may be said that all men have this desire for a better country. How is it, then, that it is the peculiar desire of those who are described to be heroic of faith? We shall find our answer by considering the nature of the true desire.

1. The true Christian’s desire is for that which is sovereign in the better country, and that is character. This is the motto over the gate of that heavenly city: Within enters nothing “that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie.” It is the pure desire for a better country that should be the supreme motive in the Christian’s heart. It is a desire to be like our God. The Buddhist has a desire for the extinction of his personal consciousness so that he may be for ever at rest in Nirvana. The Mahammedan desires to reach his ideal paradise. The business man desires success in his business enterprises. But the Christian’s desire is for character; and he who desires that desires truly the better country.

2. Then this must be a strong desire, not a mean, lazy, languid wish. The intensity of our desire is measured by an earnest striving, by vigorous working. The Christian shows the true desire to be like God by a living faith in His Son, and by thorough consecration to His service; by fervent prayer to God and by confidence in Christian friends. By these means we are to fit ourselves for the better country. Do you desire to cross the ocean? You enter the steamship and commit yourself to the care of the captain. Do men desire wealth? How they work for it, giving the best years of their life to its accumulation! Or fame? How they strive to attain it! Now, are you willing to work to enter that better country where character is the supreme good? Have you a great and strong desire, a steady and energetic reaching forward of the soul for a character that is ever true and pure?

3. Again, this must ‘be an unselfish desire; a desire which seeks to benefit others as well as self. If a man simply wishes to go himself to this better country, he has not the true desire. He must seek to help others there. Right here is the origin of all missionary work. It is in a desire that the world may enter the heavenly country and have a right to the tree of life. This is the desire for a better country that God approves. This is the desire that Christ had, who tried to lift men to the highest and best life. A desire for this true character will always be accompanied by a desire that all others may rejoice in the same noble character. This is the desire that discriminates character. It is first pure, then mighty, then unselfish. This is like the character of God, seeking to enrich and ennoble man. With this desire comes fortitude, whereby the Christian can stand strong against all foes. Nothing can trouble him then. Fear of death itself is swallowed up; for what is death to one who has this better country in view I It is this desire that builds up character. Show men lad with a strong purpose ever before him, and I will show you a life that will be crowned with success. It is here that the world has its strongest power over us for evil, in holding us back from the supreme desire for holiness. Out of this desire springs that earnest entreaty that will not let the Spirit go except it bless us. God chooses many ways to keep this motive supreme in our hearts. How often the disappointments and trials of life are used to lead us up to this desire! So the world itself, with all its sadness, its heartbreakings, its open graves, may lead us upward toward the sky. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

On the hope of heaven

I. The desire of this better country TENDS TO ANIMATE US TO MAINTAIN A STRICT AND WATCHFUL ATTENTION TO OURSELVES, that we may not be misled or ensnared by any of the temptations which surround us.

II. The real desire of the better country in heaven TENDS TO INSPIRE US WITH UNAFFECTED LOVE AND MERCY TO THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE, and to dispose us to the habitual exercise of these good affections.

III. The desire of future happiness TENDS TO COMPOSE OUR MINDS TO A GENEROUS INDIFFERENCE TOWARDS ALL THE DECEITFUL PLEASURES AND SATISFACTIONS OF THE PRESENT STATE. It disposes us to regard them in no higher a view than as the means of lightening the heaviness of our journey through this world.

IV. The earnest desire of heaven WILL DISPOSE OUR MINDS TO A READY COMPLIANCE WITH THE WILL OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE, and to a becoming resignation under all the calamities of the present state.

V. The hope of future happiness TENDS MOST EFFECTUALLY TO ARM OUR MINDS AGAINST THE APPROACH OF DEATH, and to extinguish all its terrors. (John Drysdale, D. D.)

The better country

I. THE CHRISTIAN IN THE EXERCISE OF LIVELY FAITH PRACTICALLY REGARDS HEAVEN AS A REALITY. AS faith in man’s testimony can make us act as if there was such a place as London, so faith in God’s testimony can make us think, and feel, and act, as if there was such a place as heaven. The mind can bring itself under the same conviction that there is a God as that there are such beings as men; the same conviction that God has testified of the invisible realities of another world, as we have that men tell us of things we have never seen; and the same conviction that what God says is reality as we have that what men say is real. When we give up the mind to God’s testimony, as we give it up to man’s testimony, then we have faith in God--the faith that gives reality to what He testifies. Faith, then, brings heaven to view, opens its gates, and looks in upon its glories. It sees the order, the harmony, the purity, and the joys of blessed spirits made perfect; it sees the Redeemer of men in exaltation there, and God in that fulness of His glory which imparts to heaven its raptures. Earth with heaven thus realised to the mind retires into the background of contemplation, and sinks away into comparative obscurity.

II. FAITH LEADS THE CHRISTIAN TO REGARD HEAVEN AS A SATISFYING PORTION. The man of the world looks not beyond this life for happiness. Exclusively devoted to schemes, s of earthly enjoyment, his cares and desires and efforts centre in their accomplishment. Not so with the Christian. By faith he is led to see by contrast with heaven how vain this world is, and to abandon it as his portion. True, he does not refuse--he gratefully receives--the blessings which Divine goodness provides for him. But then he does not regard them as essential to his happiness. He habitually looks beyond these, and regards his treasure as laid up in another world. The same principle leads him to form a just estimate of the trials of life. Shocks severe to nature may be received; and though not without emotion, yet not with despair, not with repining. He does not feel under the sorest bereavement that all is lost. His sufferings are but the chastisement of a paternal hand, and anything that promotes his fitness for the world of his hopes can be welcomed as a blessing. He seeks a better country. There will be no disappointment. Heaven will afford all the happiness his soul desires. “Already he kens its hills of salvation, where reigns eternal day, and where everlasting spring abides.” Gird thyself, then, O my soul! and hold on thy course. Heaven will make ample amends for all the toils and sufferings of the way to it.

III. FAITH LEADS TO ARDENT DESIRES AND CHEERFUL EXPECTATIONS OF HEAVENLY HAPPINESS. Amid all the hopes of heavenly happiness cherished in this world, there is but little just conception of the nature of that happiness. All hope to go to heaven when they die, and to be happy there. But few inquire what heaven is, in what its happiness consists, and what qualifies for its enjoyment. Their hope is a vague, undefined hope of deliverance from dreaded evil. It has no warrant but their own wishes--wishes fixed, to say the least, with equal strength on continuance in sin as on exemption from its punishment. Not so with the Christian. Between his taste and the nature of heavenly happiness there is a holy correspondence. Heaven is just such a heaven as he desires and loves to think of. His soul in its affections and tastes accords with the pure and holy joys of that world, and his meditations of them are sweet. The Christian desires heaven as a place of perfect freedom from sin and of perfection in holiness. He looks to it as the place where the rays of the Deity will be softened to his inspection, where, surrounded with His glory, every desire will expire in the bosom of his God, and where, in the triumphs of perfect holiness, God’s own blessedness will become the portion of his soul. Inseparable from all this are the desires of the Christian for the society and the employments of heaven with its more particular sources of happiness. The society of that world will be made up of an innumerable company of angels, and of redeemed men from “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” Of this bright host of happy spirits he hopes to be one. There, too, he expects to meet all the pious, redeemed from among men--those with whom he has prayed, and suffered, and taken sweet counsel in this vale of tears. There he hopes to be re-united to those pious friends, if such he had--a husband, wife, parent, child--who have gone before or shall comeafter him; all those who, as labourers together with God, are accomplishing His designs of mercy in this guilty world--all these he hopes to meet as friends and companions for ever. Not less delightful to him is the anticipation of the employments of heaven. These consist in active beneficence and in the pure and perfect worship of God. Remarks”

1. What support under the trials of life has the Christian in the exercise of lively faith? What if the world deceives and disappoints his hopes, heaven is a reality. What if poverty with its evils afflicts and depresses, a rich and a heavenly inheritance is his portion. What if the world afflicts in any shape, how light must appear all its trials with the prospect of eternal glory ever dawning on the soul!

2. We may see why Christians derive so little present consolation from the prospect of future happiness which the Bible reveals. It is not that the reality of such a world is not sufficiently evinced to their understandings--it is not that there is not enough in it as an anticipated possession to gladden every step of their earthly pilgrimage. It is that their affections are still so strongly fixed on the world that their conceptions of happiness are in such a degree confined to the enjoyments which earth can give. With such a state of mind it is impossible that they should see heaven in that aspect of reality, and of course with those desires and expectations which elevate the soul above this world.

3. The Christian desires heaven as the world in which God’s glory--His capacity to bless His moral creation--will be fully displayed. There all that is comprehensive in the wisdom of God shall be revealed, without a cloud to obscure it, in the view of the happy beings assembled to behold it. There the glory of His power is seen in removing every evil--in creating every good--in enlarging the capacity of creatures for purer and higher joys--in lavishing to bless, the wonders of Omnipotence upon them. There the glories of His justice shall shine as the pledge and security of the everlasting perfection of the holy. There the holiness of God in all its lustre will beam forth to illuminate every mind and transform it into His own image from glory to glory. There will be seen the glory of His goodness, telling all in the ecstasies of heaven that “ God is love.” In a word, there all the attributes of the Deity are fully expressed; the glory scattered throughout the universe will be collected as in a sun, making that world the scene of His glories. And there, with an emphasis which the reality only can give to the inspired thought, it will be seen and felt by all in heaven that “God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.” (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)

Heaven a better country

I. THE COUNTRY REFERRED TO. “A better country, that is an heavenly.” Sometimes heaven is described as a city--a kingdom--a temple--an inheritance. In the text it is called a country, doubtless in allusion to the country of Canaan, which was a striking type of the heavenly rest.

1. It is a more exalted country. The most glorious part of the Creation.

2. It is a more holy country. No sin within its happy territories.

3. It is a more healthful country. No bodily, no mental, no spiritual afflictions there.

4. It is a more happy country. Sources of disquietude, grief, and pain, unfeared and unknown.

5. A more abiding country. Not to be pilgrims, but residents.

6. It is a better country, as it is the region of perfection and of consummate glory. Perfect capacities--perfect enjoyments-perfect security--perfect employments. Bliss unchanging and unchangeable.

II. BELIEVERS DESIRE THIS BETTER COUNTRY.

1. They have secured a title to it. By faith in Christ Jesus they are accepted of God, are His children, and if children, then heirs, &c.

2. They are labouring for a meetness to enjoy it.

3. They labour and pray for it.

4. They converse of it, and live in the hope of its eternal enjoyment. Application:

1. Encourage believers to go forward, diligently, with cheerfulness, until an abundant entrance is administered unto them through the gates into the city.

2. Endeavour to persuade the thoughtless children of this vain world to become interested in matters relative to their immortal welfare, and to seek this better country. (J. Burns,D. D.)

The better country

I. ITS NAME (Revelation 2:7).

II. ITS LOCALITY (Psalms 140:13).

III. ITS CLIMATE (Isaiah 33:24).

IV. ITS PRODUCTIONS (Revelation 22:2).

V. ITS EXTENT (Luke 14:27).

VI. ITS SECURITY (Deuteronomy 33:28). (Homilist.)

Heaven the country of the Christian’s desire

I. THE REVELATION CONCERNING HEAVEN.

1. A heavenly place. Habitation of God.

2. A state.

II. IN WHAT RESPECTS IS IT A BETTER COUNTRY THAN THIS?

1. It is a sinless country.

2. It is a healthful country.

3. It is a country inhabited by perfect beings.

4. It is a country of better enjoyments.

III. THE DESIRE WHICH ALL TRUE BELIEVERS HAVE FOR ITS POSSESSION. Others may wish, but the true Christian really desires it. This desire

1. Is formed in regeneration, Born for and from above. New nature tends upwards.

2. Is cultivated by sanctifying grace. Growing in grace is growing in meetness, &c.

3. Is heightened by spiritual visits to it. He ascends in prayer, in faith, in hope.

4. Is exhibited in holy diligence to obtain it. He labours to enter; he gives all diligence.

Application:

1. This better country is offered to all who will set out on the heavenly pilgrimage.

2. How truly blest are all the children of the heavenly Zion.

3. There is a worse country, the world of woe, of darkness, of despair, of endless death. Flee from it now. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The better country:

I. A LAND OF LIFE. The glorious company of the redeemed who inhabit that country shall never be broken up. The fear of death shall never cast a shade upon their happiness to all eternity. The life that is the portion of all who dwell there is pure, perfect, unmingled with a single taint of evil.

II. A LAND OF REST. What your fireside is to you after a long and busy day, when every bone is aching; what home is to a soldier, soiled, and worn out after a long campaign; or to a sailor, after a long, a perilous voyage--all this, and infinitely more, is “ the rest that remaineth “ to the child of God at the close of his pilgrimage. The better country, where this rest will be enjoyed, is not, however, a land of idleness. It will be, I believe, a land of manifold and ceaseless activity. Every power will find full scope and constant employment, but, without any hindrance, opposition, or drawback from within or without, without any weakness or imperfection, will find rest in activity.

III. A LAND OF PLENTY. How much of our time and strength here is consumed in procuring the means to buy food and raiment! Most men need the stimulus of want to make them work; and this stimulus it is which swells the ceaseless tide of emigrants from our own to distant climes. Is it not a blessed thought, that in the better country we shall be freed from these earthly cares?

IV. THE LAND OF EVERLASTING REUNIONS. (John Kelly.)

Heavenly-mindedness:

1. I shall first desire you to consider the nature and the magnitude of that bliss which is reserved for good men in that better country towards which they are tending. It is to consist in seeing and knowing God, in being made better acquainted with His ways and works and the wonders of the Creation in the highest intellectual and moral improvements--in better opportunities of being extensively useful--in living and reigning with Christ, and sharing in that glory to which He is raised as our Redeemer. But what most deserves our attention with respect to this happiness is, that it will be eternal in its duration. This makes the value of it properly infinite. Through boundless ages we are to be improving and rising under the eye and care of the Almighty. I must add that we have reason to depend on this happiness as certain to be enjoyed. God, who cannot lie, has promised it to us, and His Sen came into the world to acquire the power of recovering us from death and of introducing us to it. Think now what a happiness this is. Need I ask you whether if does not invite or demand your warmest ambition and wishes?

2. In order to render ourselves more sensible of this, let us compare with it the happiness we enjoy in this world, and the circumstances of imperfection that attend the present state. It is an infant and probationary state. Our faculties being net yet fully opened, and our situation not admitting of our looking far into the Creation, we understand nothing fully. Difficulties obstruct us in our inquiries, and distressing doubts often perplex us. The present state is also a state in which we are subject to much trouble; and dangers surround us in it, against which we are obliged to be perpetually on our guard. But what is worst of all is, that the present world is a wicked world. It exhibits to us a sad scene of guilt and degeneracy. Again, this life is of short duration. Were our happiness in it ever so great, the time for enjoying it is short. Such is the present state. What then is it when viewed in competition with that which I have before described? Can we prefer darkness to light, tumult to quietness, and slavery to liberty?

3. I am lad from hence to observe that an earthly-minded temper is low and sordid, but that the contrary temper confirms the highest dignity and honour. Not to aim at the perfection we are made for--to suffer ourselves to creep on the earth, though capable of aspiring to heaven--what can be more base? Heaven is your home, there let your affections be. Heaven is your country, there let your desires tend. Be not so cruel to yourselves as to suffer any temptation to turn off your attention from your best and highest good. Be not so ungrateful to God, as, notwithstanding His goodness in designing you for a glorious immortality, to declare by your actions that you care not for it.

4. I would point out to you the advantages, with respect to our present interest, which will attend such a temper as I am recommending. The worst that can happen to us here will appear trifling to one who considers with a lively faith that our present afflictions, which are for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Heavenly-mindedness, therefore, will give the best support under afflictions. Amidst the storms of this world it places us in the situation of a person elevated to the upper regions of the air, who there sees the clouds spread at his feet, and hears the thunder roar below him.

5. In the next place it should be considered that heavenly-mindedness will be one of the best proofs of our fitness for heaven and title to it. If you would know where your treasure is, you must inquire where your hearts are.

6. Lastly, let me set before you the particular obligations we are under, as Christ’s disciples, to cultivate heavenly-mindedness. The design of the gospel is to draw off our affections from things temporal. It teaches us that we are strangers and pilgrims, and therefore commands us to abstain from fleshly lusts. (R. Price, D. D.)

The better country

I. HEAVEN IS A PLACE OF FREEDOM FROM ALL EVIL. NO sin, and therefore no suffering. What a “better” world this would be if both were at an end, and God’s will done as it is done in heaven. Wars would cease; national and individual animosities; tyranny and anarchy; intemperance and every form of vice; heathenism and superstition, with their manifold horrors--all would disappear, and Divine love and peace would rule in every heart.

II. HEAVEN IS THE CHRISTIAN’S HOME AND FATHERLAND.

III. HEAVEN IS THE CHRISTIAN’S PROMISED INHERITANCE. God’s people have an heritage (Psalms 61:5); they enjoy an earnest of it here, but wait for full possession till they enter on their majority.

1. Its nature, “Incorruptible.”

2. Its splendour. It is a “mansion”--which indicates its stability as well as its grandeur.

3. Its extent may be inferred from many passages of Scripture.

IV. HEAVEN WILL BE THE:FULFILMENT OF MAN’S DESIRE FOR PERFECTED LIFE AND IMMORTALITY. (John Doggins.)

Heaven desirable

No one cries when children, long absent from their parents, go home. Vacation morning is a jubilee. But death is the Christian’s vacation morning. School is out. It is time to go home. It is surprising that one should wish life here, who may have life in heaven. (H. W.Beecher.)

Ready for death:

The Christian, at his death, should not be like the child, who is forced by the rod to quit his play, but like one who is wearied of it, and willing to go to bed. Neither ought he to be like the mariner, whose vessel is drifted by the violence of the tempest from the shore, tossed to and fro upon the ocean, and at last suffers wreck and destruction; but like one who is ready for the voyage, and, the moment the wind is favourable, cheerfully weighs anchor, and, full of hope and joy, launches forth into the deep. (Gotthold.)

Detaching--attaching:

Are you not very conscious of the detaching power of sorrow? Ah! but it is attaching too--only the attaching to things not seen. (F. R. Havergal.)

Desiring heaven:

It is said of Tully, when he was banished from Italy, and of Demosthenes, when he was banished from Athens, that they wept every time they looked towards their own country; and is it strange that a poor deserted believer should mourn every time he looks heavenward?

The hope of heaven

What has been the great, and what is now one of the strongest and most influential powers or motives in the human heart? A desire to find some better place, some lovelier spot, than we now have. For what does the tradesman toil? For what does the physician practise? For what does man hope at the decline and the close of life? Some sheltered nook, some quiet spot, where, if he cannot have a rest that will never be moved, he may have, at least, a foretaste and foreshadow of it. What was it that carried Columbus across the western wave, amid insubordination within his ship, and the unexpectedly wild waves that roared and curled around and without? What sustained him on the unsound sea, amid the untraversed waste of waters? The hope of a better country. What was it that sustained the hearts of the Pilgrim Fathers, when, driven forth from this land by stern ecclesiastical persecution, they went to the far distance, and across the western wave, and feared not the ironbound coast or the rugged and unknown territory on which they set foot? It was the hope and prospect of a better, even a free and peaceful country. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

Heaven better than earth:

There is light without darkness, joy without grief, desire without punishment, love without sadness, satiety without loathing, safety without fear, health without disease, and life without death. (J. Quarles.)

Scripture better understood in heaven:

Heaven is the more desirable, because there I shall better understand the Scriptures than here I can ever hope to do. To leave my Bible, and go to the God and heaven which the Bible reveals, will be no otherwise my loss than to leave the picture for the presence of my friend. (R. Baxter.)

The joy of the better country:

He (Rev. W. Marsh, D.D.) told us of Mr. Simeon’s mode of describing a Christian’s death. “Who are you?” (looking back). “Sorrow.” “And who are you?” “Sighing.” Then stretching his hands upward--“And who are you? Joy.” “And who are you? Gladness.” “Then, farewell, Sorrow, farewell, Sighing; Joy and Gladness, I will go with you!” (Miss Marsh.)

What is heaven?

Four elements enter into the Christian conception of the blessed life.

1. That of rest from the anxiety and care, the strife and pain of our present existence; but, as Baxter says, not “the rest of a stone,” or as a later theologian, Dr. Strong, writes, “A rest consistent with service, an activity without weariness, a service which is perfect freedom.” This is one of the earliest and is also one of the most current modes of representing heaven.

2. Next comes the idea of fellowship with and conformity to Christ, and all that is Christly; the actualising of the ideal of life and character, involving a progress in knowledge, in goodness, in gentleness, in purity, and in love. Paul and Bernard, Luther and Wesley were gladdened and sustained in heroic and self-sacrificing service by the anticipation of such an eternal life.

3. Emerson tells the story of a woman coming from a midland town to the sea, and exclaiming, “Thank God, at last I have seen something of which there is enough.” A similar gratitude seems to have been inspired by the visions of the endless life given to men. At its best our earthly life is partial, fragmentary, broken and splintered; but that is a perfect whole, a complete unity, a joy-giving harmony. The apostles John and Paul, and the Puritan, John Howe, represent hosts of yearning spirits that have felt the spell of the complete life of the heavenly world.

4. But no statement of Christian opinion concerning heaven would be true that left out the expectation of service, “His servants do Him service.” Pascal did not hesitate to assert that the want of occupation for our moral energies in the future would turn heaven into hell. Maurice, on being told his lifework was ended, said, “If I may not preach here I may preach in other worlds.” On Mr. Dobney’s tombstone is the affirmation, “He hath obtained a better ministry.” One phase of that manifold service is illustrated in the history of the doctrine of Christ’s descent into Hades. Christian interpreters of the second and nineteenth centuries have clung to the idea that the activities of Christians in the eternal state will be directed to the revelation of Christ to those who have passed out of this life without enjoying the privilege of attaining to that highest knowledge. Peter, Irenaeus, Martensen, Delitzsch, Luckock, and many others might be cited in support of this position. I only mention this as one item in the evidence, showing that the dominant conception of eternity amongst enlightened Christians is not that of “ idleness and uselessness.” (J. Clifford, D. D.)

A bright change:

An aged Christian, living in the poorhouse, while conversing with a minister, showed signs of much joy. As a reason for it, she said, “Oh, sir! I was just thinking what a change it will be from the poorhouse to heaven!” (New Cyclopaedia of Illustrations.)

New senses may be developed in heaven

It does not seem unphilosophical to anticipate that with the new mode of existence, new organs of sense will be developed, in nature and numbers beyond conjecture, opening to our knowledge glorious phases and phenomena of the material universe, which we, now endowed with only five senses, are at present unable to perceive. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

Enlarged abilities in heaven

Sir William Hamilton makes the following quotation from one of Voltaire’s Philosophical Romances: “Tell me, says Micromegas, an inhabitant of one of the planets of the Dog Star, to the secretary of the Academy of Sciences, in the planet Saturn, at which he had recently arrived in a journey through the heavens, “Tell me how many senses have the men on your globe? … We have seventy-two senses,” answered the academician, “and we are every day complaining of the smallness of the number. Our imagination goes far beyond our wants. What are seventy-two senses? And how pitiful a boundary, even for beings of such limited perceptions, to be cooped up within our ring and our five moons. In spite of our curiosity, and in spite of as many passions as can result from six dozen senses, we find our hours hang very heavily on our hands, and can always find time enough for yawning.” “I can very well believe it,” says Micromegas, “for in our globe we have very near one thousand senses; and yet, with all these, we feel continually a sort of listless inquietude and vague desire, which are for ever telling us that we are nothing, and that there are beings infinitely nearer perfection.” (Lectures on Metaphysics.)

Heaven to be desired

In the reign of Queen Mary a man named Palmer was condemned to die. He was earnestly persuaded to recant, and among other things, a friend said to him, “Take pity on thy golden years and pleasant flowers of youth before it is too late.” His beautiful reply was, “Sir, I long for those springing flowers which shall never fade away.”

Not ashamed to be called their God

The law of righteousness in God governs His will:

We perceive here a reference to these two ideas. First, that there belongs to God the perfection of moral character--the character which we denote when we say that He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. And secondly, that He exhibits this character, by acting in a public capacity, in the view of the moral universe, who will be constituted, if I may so speak, the judges of His acts. As thus lying open to the knowledge and the judgment of all moral beings, He is not ashamed to be called the Rewarder of the men of faith and of righteousness.

I. THERE IS IN GOD THE BASIS OF A TRULY RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER. There belongs to Him the reality of righteousness in its highest perfection. In order to mean anything by this language, we must understand it to assert that He possesses in the highest measure the character which we denote by the word righteousness, when we apply it to men. There is in God the same rule of moral judgment which we find in ourselves. The law of righteousness in God is no more the creation of His will than the law of righteousness in man is the creation of man’s will. The law of righteousness in God as much governs the acts of His will as the law of righteousness in man is required to govern the acts of man’s will. We thus make the foundations of moral truth the great law of righteousness, independent of any will whatever. We lodge them in the eternal Divine nature; in the necessary being and perfection of God; that perfection which belongs to Him as the Possessor, independently of His will, of all moral ideas. This is the only way in which we can think of God with a becoming reverence. Thus alone can we give significance to the question of Abraham: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

II. LET US NEXT CONTEMPLATE GOD AS ACTING IN A PUBLIC CAPACITY, IN THE VIEW OF HIS CREATURES, AND EXHIBITING TO THEM HIS MORAL PERFECTION. In this way He constitutes His creatures, in some sort, the judges of His acts. Of course, I cannot mean that He renders Himself amenable to any partial and prejudiced judgments of His creatures, or that He encourages in any way a presumptuous and self-confident spirit on the part of men. But I mean, that in proportion as we and other mortal beings will judge broadly and wisely, according to the best light we can get, and the best opportunities which our growing experience and observation may supply, both we and they shall see the ever-accumulating proofs of His perfect moral character. We have, then, in the text a two-fold argument to show that God, in His public capacity as moral Governor and Judge, will deal righteously with all His creatures. The argument is drawn conjointly from the law of righteousness in God, and from the relation in which He has placed Himself to the moral universe. As a moral Governor, He stands pledged to all other moral beings to administer His government over each and all of them according to the rules of perfect wisdom and righteousness. In the word righteousness we include also every consistent manifestation of goodness. We will illustrate this double security for the perfection of the Divine administration, by referring to some of t, he ways in which God acts publicly, in the view of His creatures, and thus gives them an opportunity of judging His acts. Everything in His treatment of moral agents belongs here. But we will now confine ourselves to the view of Him, first, as rewarding the righteous, and secondly, as punishing the wicked; for we shall thus embrace somewhat of His previous conduct towards both classes. God, we are told, will render to every man according to His deeds. There is included in the idea of rewards and of punishments a reference to the particular character and conduct of each one, and a like reference to the means and opportunities enjoyed by each for ascertaining his duty and forming his character aright. Now, in relation to those whom He will accept as His children, and admit to His fellowship and favour, the language and spirit of our text justify us in saying that He will make an open exhibition of His perfect righteousness, mingled suitably with His goodness and mercy. We may be confident that He will reward nothing but virtue, and we can further tell in what the reward will consist. It will be no mere arbitrary exaltation, nothing which is not in due proportion and correspondence to the righteous character itself. All this we may conclude from the fact that the righteous Rewarder of men will make a public illustration of His own character in assigning the rewards. He will do nothing in the way of favouritism; everything will be determined by the rules of moral fitness. So also with the retributions which may overtake the wicked. All these will be determined by the rules of moral fitness. There will be nothing in their nature and severity, and nothing in their duration, which the Scriptures speak of as eternal, to which the enlightened conscience of the moral universe will not respond. (D. D. Sheldon, D. D.)

God not ashamed to be called His people’s God:

Doctrine

I. THAT HOWEVER MEAN AND LOW THOSE RE WHO HAVE FORSAKEN THIS WORLD FOR GOD, LOOKING FOR A BETTER, GOD IS NOT ASHAMED OF THEM, OR ON THEIR PART, TO BE CALLED THEIR GOD.

1. To explain the import of this their privilege. It imports

2. To give the reasons of the point. Among other reasons, there are the following:

3. Improve this point. Hence, see

II. THAT WHATEVER HARDSHIPS HIS PEOPLE MAY SUFFER FOR HIS SAKE, HE IS NOT ASHAMED ON HIS PART TO BE CALLED THEIR GOD, HAVING PREPARED FOR THEM THE HEAVENLY CITY, WHICH WILL MAKE UP ALL LOSSES.

1. To show in what respects the heavenly city is prepared for the pilgrims who have forsaken this world for God, looking for a better.

2. To give the reasons of the point

(I) Because the happiness of the city, if they were once come there, will more than balance all the hardships in their pilgrimage that they had to undergo for His sake. Why should He be ashamed to be called their God, be their lot in the world as bad as it can be? The glory of the city will more than balance all the contempt, reproach, &c.

3. To improve this point. It serves

(a) In that they reckon it wisdom not to quit a seen advantage for an unseen one, certainty (as they call it) for hope (Psalms 4:6).

(b) In that they are ready to be ashamed of God’s people, because of the hardships they are laid under in their pilgrimage through the world. This their way is their folly; for whatever their lot be God is not their God and portion.

(a) Be not ashamed of Him, to be called His people (Mark 8:38).

(b) Be not ye a shame and dishonour to Him, by your cleaving to the world, and the way of the world (Romans 2:24).

(c) Do not decline the hardest piece of the doing-work of religion for Him. Engage in the whole without exception. Have respect to all His commandments (Psalms 119:6).

(d) Shift not the Cross of Christ, but be ready to suffer for Him as He may call you (2 Timothy 2:12).

(e) Walk like the expectants of heaven, citizens of the city above prepared for you by your God. This city will far more than compensate for your sufferings, for all the difficult and hard steps ye may have in your way thither.

(f) Spend the time of your sojourning in making ready, and preparing for that city which the Lord has prepared for His people. (T. Boston, D. D.)

Man’s true nobility:

This stretching forth of the soul’s hand after a heavenly country is man’s patent of nobility. God might be ashamed of the poor grovelling thing which, having intellect, having reason, having a heart and a soul, can rest in things seen. God might be ashamed of the creature that is satisfied with the created, and finds in human honour and human love the fulfilment of capacities capable of the everlasting. But God is not, cannot be, ashamed of the creature that feels itself on earth an exile and a sojourner; feels that it hath here neither citizenship nor yet abiding-place; feels that nothing can satisfy but the Spring and Source of Being; feels that “with Him is the fountain of life, and that in His light alone it can ever see light.” He is “not ashamed” of these, “to be surnamed”--to add to His other titles of glory and Deity, the appellation, self-chosen, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” “Not ashamed,” and He proved it--“for He prepared for them”--there is no “hath” in the Greek--“prepared” for them, that is, in the eternity that is behind--prepared for them when the “foundations” of the everlasting “city” were laid before the world was--“He prepared for them” in that invisible past a “city.” Not a “country “ alone, which they might recognise as their natal and ante-natal home; but a state and a polity too, which is more than a place, more than a dwelling--having laws also, and institutions, and citizens--even that “kingdom” of God Himself, which is the revelation of Christ in the gospel. (Dean Vaughan.)

He hath prepared for them a city

Heaven prepared for the righteous

I. GOD HAS PREPARED FOR HIS PEOPLE A FUTURE AND HEAVENLY HABITATION.

1. Divine revelation brings immortality to light.

2. That the God of our salvation has prepared a city of habitation for the saints beyond the grave, appears evidently from the design of our Saviour’s sufferings, and the infinite merit of His atoning sacrifice. His blood was the price paid for their heavenly inheritance, and by dying He obtained their eternal redemption.

3. As our Lord Jesus Christ, by the shedding of His own blood, has purchased the heavenly inheritance for His people, so His resurrection from the dead is a sure pledge of their eternal triumphs over death and the grave.

4. That there remains a city of habitation prepared for the righteous in Christ, may be proved from many plain promises of Scripture, given by Him who cannot lie, and yielding strong consolation to those who have fled to the Saviour.

II. CONTEMPLATE THAT FUTURE ABODE OF THE SAINTS AS A BETTER AND AN HEAVENLY CITY.

1. This comparison of heaven to a city prepared for the righteous, includes rest from all the fatigues of their journey.

2. A city also implies society and fellowship, and leads forward our contemplations to the happy intercourse of the glorified above.

3. This comparison of heaven to a city implies safety and privilege.

4. Finally, heaven is styled a city, to distinguish it from the tents in which travellers lodge for a night, and to denote the perpetuity of future happiness.

III. How important it is for all those who expect heaven, TO LIVE EVERY DAY UNDER THE LIVELY IMPRESSIONS AND PROSPECTS OF THE FUTURE AND BETTER WORLD.

1. The first advantage is increasing sanctification. They are excited to holiness by the powerful consideration, that without it no man can see the Lord.

2. The expectation of heaven promotes the Christian’s patience and tranquillity of spirit.

3. The believing expectation of heaven promotes the Christian’s triumph and joy, amidst the depressing events of life. (A. Bonar.)

The city of God, the true object of faith always and everywhere

The first outline of that future city of God was suggested to Abraham’s mind by the words of promise: “I will bless thee,… and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” The hope held out to him was a hope, in which not he only, nor his descendants only, but all the families of the earth, were interested. The prospect was vague, but large. Its largeness was its glory. Its power to elevate grew out of this. The city of God, you will readily see, is another name for the kingdom of God; or, more exactly, both are names for the same eternal reality. Only the two names present the same thing to us under two somewhat different aspects. The phrase, “The Kingdom of God,” suggests at once the thought of the king and his royal rule, its righteousness, its wholesome severity, its abounding all-embracing love. The phrase, “The city of God,” suggests not so much this, as the thought of organisation, that which is described in the twelfth chapter of the Epistle, as the “General assembly and Church of the first-born enrolled in heaven”; each citizen, and each group of citizens, having an appointed place in the vast organism, a work to do, a function to discharge. It is not difficult to see with what ennobling power this thought must have come to the soul of Abraham: I, then--even I--insignificant atom of humanity that I am; I, and my descendants have a place in this great city, whose Constructor is the great God Himself. We are links in the vast chain, which reaches from the hoar past to the boundless future. It is for us to receive and transmit the Divine blessing. But if I have estimated Abraham’s vision of the city of God with any correctness whatever, we can hardly fail to confess how lamentably imperfect our own vision of that eternal city too often is: especially in that we think of our own relation to that city, as possible citizens of it, in the future after death; but do not think of it, as that to which we belong now, as truly as we shall belong to it hereafter; and as that, in which all men have the liveliest interest along with ourselves. Thus we are ever in danger of losing out of our field of view the very elements of life and power, which wrought so mightily for good upon the soul of Abraham. And, in so far as this is the case, we miss the regenerating influences which came to him through his faith in that city. It will be a blessed thing for our religion, when we learn to substitute for our own vague natural notions about heaven and about going to heaven when we die, the true Scriptural conceptions of the city and the kingdom of God. It is no easy matter to do this. The magnitude and grandeur of the Scriptural ideas overpower and awe us. We shrink from them into something slighter, nearer, more trivial and commonplace. But the Bible will never have justice done to it--will never exercise its full native power upon us to elevate and heal; until, instead of reading our own notions into it, as we are so apt to do, we learn to receive by steady, docile contemplation the thoughts which it was designed to impress upon us. Meanwhile, we can at least be sensible of our ignorance, and open our hearts humbly to further light. There is no reason why, from this moment forwards, we should not recognise and bow before the vastness and the mystery of that kingdom and city and heavenly country, to which by our spirits we even now belong, and in which we may, even now and here, become loyal and obedient citizens. Then will that city of God begin to exercise its natural attraction upon us. It will draw us upwards out of our selfish, sinful nature; just as it drew Abraham, and Jacob, and Joseph, and the long line of saints, and heroes, commemorated in this muster-roll of the great and good. It will be true of us, as of them: “God is not ashamed to be called their God.” (D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Heaven purchased:

Like as if a man were assured that there were made for him a great purchase in Spain or Turkey, so that, if he would but come thither, he might enjoy it, he would adventure the dangers of the sea, and of enemies also, if need were, that he might come to his own; even so, seeing that Christ Jesus hath made a purchase for us in heaven, and there is nothing required of us but that we will come and enjoy it, we ought to refuse no pains or fear in the way, but carefully strive to get it. (Cawdray.)

Heaven, what it is

A scoffing infidel of considerable talents, being once in the company of a person of slender intellect, but of genuine piety, and supposing, no doubt, that he should obtain an easy triumph in the display of his ungodly wit, put the following question to him: “I understand, sir, that you expect to go to heaven when you die; can you tell me what sort of a place heaven is?” “Yes, sir,” replied the Christian; “heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people; and if your soul is not prepared for it, with all your boasted wisdom, you will never enter there.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)

For whom heaven is prepared

A man dreamed that he stood beside the guarded gate of heaven, when the spirit of a rich man came and sought admittance on the ground of his wealth and local fame. He was reminded that those things belong to time only, and turned away in despair. Another sought entrance on the ground of his integrity, but was repulsed by the angel, saying, “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” A third pleaded his denominational zeal, fervent prayers, and deep feeling, but was refused with the remark, “There is no name given under heaven, or among men, whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus.” At length, a spirit was seen winging its way through the air, all the while crying, “The blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin.” To it the gates of heaven flew wide open; and the angel said, “An abundant entrance is ministered to you into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (New Cyclopaedia of Illustrations.)

The Christian’s right to heaven:

The late Rev. Robert Thomas, of Hanover, was once asked if he felt sure of going to heaven when he died. We heard him reply, “Where else can I go?(J. Idrisyn Jones.)

The city of the saints

A city is a place of genial associations. In a lonely hamlet one has little company. In a city, especially where all the inhabitants shall be united in one glorious brotherhood, the true communism of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity may be realised in the purest sense and highest possible degree. In a city such as this there are plentiful occasions for intercourse, where mutual interests shall enhance mutual joy. “He hath prepared a city.” It is a city too possessing immunities, and conferring dignity upon its residents. To be a burgess of the city of London is thought to be a great honour, and upon princes is it sometimes conferred; but, we shall have the highest honour that can be given, when we shall be citizens of the city which God has prepared. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 17-19

Hebrews 11:17-19

Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac

Abraham offering Isaac

I.
ABRAHAM WHEN HE WAS TRIED. Some lives abound in tests, others are marvellously free from trial. Some are let off with few lessons, others destined for exalted service have hard tasks to master and difficult problems to solve. Observe how Abraham had been tried all along. When at the outset he left his country, and during his subsequent journeyings, the Divine command became more and more explicit. Meanwhile, as a providential antithesis, Abraham was gradually stripped of his earlier associates. His father died at Haran. Then came to him the repetition of the old command, with the significant addition to leave his “father’s house.” This involved his leaving his brother Nahor and family. Later on even Lot separated from him under conditions which must have made the separation doubly painful. When, therefore, the command came to offer up Isaac the trial reached its greatest depth and intensity. There are crucial tests in every true life, for which every preceding trial has prepared the way. Such was this supreme test in Abraham’s life. The greatness of the test appears in the exceptional character of the demand. It appeared as a direct contradiction of God’s promise. The detail was painful in the extreme.

II. THE OBEDIENCE OF ABRAHAM WAS

1. Prompt. The command came in the night. Early in the morning Abraham “rose up,” &c. Nothing was said to Sarah, to Isaac, or to the young men, that would have made Abraham’s obedience to that command more difficult. The obedience was as spontaneous as the command startling.

2. Persistent. Abraham had the sustaining force which enabled him to maintain his purpose unwaveringly during the trying period of suspense between the command and the full obedience to it.

3. Perfect. When Abraham lifted up the knife the sacrifice was complete. Isaac had already been sacrificed upon the altar of a father’s heart. Only the tragedy, and not the real sacrifice, was prevented.

III. Further, GOD SUPPLEMENTED ABRAHAM’S OBEDIENCE, AND COMPLETED THE PROVISION FOR THE SATISFACTION OF HIS OWN COMMANDMENT, BY POINTING TO THE RAM IN THE THICKET. The great principle had already been enunciated by Abraham, “God will provide

Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” The question of Isaac which called forth this answer--“Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”--is the representative question of the world. Man in all ages has been seeking a lamb for a burnt offering. Abraham’s answer is the reply of God in Jesus Christ. The history of sacrifices outside the Christian religion is the history of man offering sacrifices to God; the story of the Christian religion is that of God offering a perfect sacrifice for man. (D. Davies.)

Abraham’s faith

I. THE SUPPORTS WHICH ABRAHAM’S FAITH DERIVED FROM PAST EXPERIENCE.

1. Consider the call and the promises given to him in Genesis 12:1-7. These were satisfactory and convincing, when we consider them in detail, and likewise who made them.

2. Consider the circumstances of the promises made to him, and the covenant entered into with him (Genesis 15:1-21.).

3. Abraham had the experience of a third call of gracious promises made to him, and a covenant-seal appended to both (Genesis 17:1-8). The seal of circumcision is appended in verse 10. Here is not only promising and entering into covenant, but giving proof and sensible experience. What could be more encouraging than the intercourse with God in these transactions?

4. What could be more experimentally satisfactory than the communion which Abraham had with the three angels?

5. Then follows the scene referred to in our text, and the trial of Abraham’s faith, so much celebrated in Scripture.

II. Considering all the foregoing circumstances, we may perceive THE WARRANT WHICH ABRAHAM HAD TO TRUST IN HIS COVENANT GOD IN ALL TIME TO COME,

1. He could not otherwise have been convinced of the benevolence of Him who condescended to eat and drink with him “ under the tree.” Such condescension and humility must have convinced him of the goodness of that God who had showed him such favour and friendship.

2. He must have been convinced of the tender regard of that God who had heard his prayer in behalf of Ishmael--had changed his wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah--promised that she should have a son--and mentioned his name (Genesis 17:15-21).

3. He must have been convinced of the compassion of God to men, from the six different answers to his prayer for the inhabitants of Sodom.

4. He must have been convinced of the power and goodness of that Lord, who had, contrary to all human appearance, both made and fulfilled the promise of granting him Isaac.

5. Abraham was fully convinced “that God was able to raise Isaac up even from the dead”; and that, as He had given him, He had full right to take him away, as He might think best.

Improvement:

1. Such as would imitate the faith of Abraham, should take notice of God’s dealings with them in the course of His providence.

2. Such as notice not the dealings of God with them are in the dark as to the length which they have proceeded in the Divine life; and, if they continue in this state, must die in darkness at last. (James Kidd, D. D.)

The excellency of Abraham’s faith and obedience

I. THE FIRMNESS AND STEADFASTNESS OF HIS FAITH will appear, if we consider what objections there were in the case, enough to shake a very strong faith. There were three great objections against this command, and such as might in reason make a wise and good man doubtful whether this command were from God.

1. The horrid nature of the thing commanded.

2. The grievous scandal that might seem almost unavoidably to follow upon it.

3. And the horrible consequence of it, which seemed to make the former promise of God to Abraham void.

II. We will consider THE CONSTANCY OF HIS RESOLUTION TO OBEY GOD, notwithstanding the harshness and difficulty of the thing. He was to offer up his son but once; but he sacrificed himself and his own will every moment for three days together. It must be a strong faith, and a mighty resolution, that could make him to hold out three days against the violent assaults of his own nature, and the” charming presence of his son, enough to melt his heart as often as he cast his eyes upon him; and yet nothing of all this made him to stagger in his duty, but “being strong in faith, he gave glory to God,” by one of the most miraculous acts of obedience that ever was exacted from any of the sons of men.

III. I come to consider THE REASONABLENESS OF HIS FAITH, in that he was able to give satisfaction to himself in so intricate and perplexed a case. The constancy of Abraham’s faith was not an obstinate persuasion but the result of the soberest consideration. As for the objections I have mentioned.

1. The horrid appearance of the thing, that a father should slay his innocent son. Why should Abraham scruple the doing this at the command of God, who, being the author of life, hath power over it, and may resume what He hath given, and take away the life of any of His creatures when He will, and make whom He pleaseth instruments in the execution of His command?

2. As to the scandal of it, that could be no great objection in those times, when the absolute power of parents over their children was in its full force, and they might put them to death without being accountable for it.

3. As to the objection from the horrible consequence of the thing commanded, that the slaying of Isaac seemed to overthrow the promise which God had made before to Abraham, that in Isaac his seed should be called; this seems to him to be the great difficulty, and here he makes use of reason to reconcile the seeming contradiction of this command of God to His former promise. So the text tells us that “he offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called; reasoning that God was able to raise him up from the dead.”

IV. SOME OBSERVATIONS AND INFERENCES.

1. Human nature is capable of clear and full satisfaction concerning a Divine revelation. For if Abraham had not been fully and past all doubt assured that this was a command from God he would certainly have spared his son.

2. The great and necessary use of reason in matters of faith. For we see here that Abraham’s reason was a mighty help to his faith. Here were two revelations made to Abraham, which seemed to clash with one another; and if Abraham’s reason could not have reconciled the repugnancy of them, he could not possibly have believed them both to be from God; because this natural notion that “God cannot contradict Himself,” every man does first and more firmly believe than any revelation whatsoever. I know there hath a very rude clamour been raised by some persons against the use of reason in matters of faith; but how very unreasonable this is will appear to any one that will but have patience to consider these following particulars:

3. God obligeth no man to believe plain and evident contradictions as matters of faith. Abraham could not reasonably have believed this second revelation to have been from God, if he had not found someway to reconcile it with the first.

4. The great cause of the defect of men’s obedience is the weakness of their faith. Did we believe the commands of God in the gospel, and His promises and threatenings, as firmly as Abraham believed God in this case; what should we not be ready to do, or suffer, in obedience to Him?

5. We have great reason to submit to the ordinary strokes of God’s providence upon ourselves, or near relations, or anything that is dear to us. Most of these are easy compared with Abraham’s case; it requires a prodigious strength of faith to perform so miraculous an act of obedience.

6. We are utterly inexcusable if we disobey the easy precepts of the gospel. (Abp. TiIlotson.)

The supreme test of faith

I. THAT GOD ALONE KNOWS HOW TO ASCRIBE WORK AND DUTY PROPORTIONATE UNTO THE STRENGTH OF GRACE RECEIVED. He knew that Abraham’s faith would carry him through this trial, and thereon He spared him not. As He will enjoin nothing absolutely above our strength, so He is not obliged to spare us in any duty, be it never so grievous, or of what difficult exercise soever it be, which He will give us strength to undergo; as He did here to Abraham.

II. THAT OFTTIMES GOD RESERVES GREAT TRIALS FOR WELL-EXERCISED FAITH. So this trial betel Abraham, when his faith had been victorious in sundry other instances. So He hath called many to lay down their lives by fire, blood, and torments, in their old age.

III. THAT FAITH MUST BE TRIED AND THAT OF ALL GRACES IT IS SUITED SUITED UNTO TRIAL.

IV. THAT GOD PROPORTIONS TRIALS FOR THE MOST PART UNTO THE STRENGTH OF FAITH.

V. YEA, GREAT TRIALS IN BELIEVERS ARE AN EVIDENCE OF GREAT FAITH IN THEM, THOUGH NOT UNDERSTOOD EITHER BY THEMSELVES OR OTHERS BEFORE SUCH TRIALS.

VI. TRIALS ARE THE ONLY TOUCHSTONE OF FAITH, WITHOUT WHICH MEN MUST WANT THE BEST EVIDENCE OF ITS SINCERITY AND EFFICACY, AND THE BEST WAY OF TESTIFYING IT UNTO OTHERS.

VII. WE OUGHT NOT TO BE AFRAID OF TRIALS BECAUSE OF THE ADMIRABLE ADVANTAGES OF FAITH IN AND BY THEM (see James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

VIII. LET THEM BE JEALOUS OVER THEMSELVES WHO HAVE HAD NO ESPECIAL INSTANCES OF THE TRIAL OF THEIR FAITH.

IX. TRUE FAITH, BEING TRIED, WILL IN THE ISSUE BE VICTORIOUS.

X. DIVINE REVELATIONS DID’ GIVE SUCH AN EVIDENCE OF THEIR BEING IMMEDIATELY FROM GOD TO THOSE WHO RECEIVE THEM, THAT THOUGH IN ALL THINGS THEY CONTRADICTED THEIR REASON AND INTEREST, YET THEY RECEIVED THEM WITHOUT ANY HESITATION.

XI. The great glory and commendation of the faith of Abraham consisted in this, THAT WITHOUT ALL DISPUTE, HESITATION, OR RATIONAL CONSIDERATION OF OBJECTIONS TO THE CONTRARY, BY A PURE ACT OF HIS WILL HE COMPLIED WITH THE AUTHORITY OF GOD, which in some sense may be called blind obedience wherein the soul resigns the whole conduct of itself to another.

XII. IT IS A PRIVILEGE AND ADVANTAGE TO HAVE AN OFFERING OF PRICK TO OFFER TO GOD, IF HE CALL FOR IT. And such are our lives, our names, our reputations, our relations, estates, liberties, as Abraham had his Isaac. It is so, I say, if we have hearts to make use of it.

XIII. OBEDIENCE BEGUN IN FAITH, WITHOUT ANY RESERVES, BUT WITH A SINCERE INTENTION TO FULFIL THE WHOLE WORK OF IT, IS ACCEPTED. WITH GOD AS IF IT WERE ABSOLUTELY COMPLETE. SO the confessors of old, delivered--by Divine providence from death, when the sentence of it was denounced against them, were always reckoned in the next degree to martyrs.

XIV. THE POWER OF FAITH IN ITS CONFLICT WITH, AND CONQUEST OVER NATURAL AFFECTIONS, WHEN THEIR UNAVOIDABLE BENT AND INCLINATIONS ARE CONTRARY TO THE WILL OF GOD, WHEREBY THEY ARE EXPOSED TO RECEIVE IMPRESSIONS FROM TEMPTATIONS, IS AN EMINENT PART OF ITS GLORY, AND A BLESSED EVIDENCE OF ITS SINCERITY. (John Owen, D. D.)

The sacrifice of Isaac:

I. WE OFTEN TALK OF TRIALS. It may be questioned whether there ever was a trial of the kind at all equal to this. All ages, says Bishop Hall, have stood amazed at it; and still the mystery of the Divine mandate is not greater than the strength of Abraham’s faith.

1. This command has reference to a son, an only son; and what is more, the son of Abraham’s old age; and what is still more, for aught that appears, a dutiful, obedient son: one who must have been beloved for his unobtrusive excellences.

2. In addition to this you are to bear in mind that this son was the embodiment of a promise and covenant that Abraham held dearer than all earthly good, dearer than his own life. When you consider that that covenant had in it the germ of the covenant of grace, it is clear that he looked upon Isaac as, in some sort, an incarnate representation of salvation. His loss was enough to shake the very foundations of the father’s faith.

3. We may remark that Abraham was commanded to perform this act with his own hand. It must not be entrusted to another. He must be the priest to immolate this innocent victim.

4. You are to observe further that it was a protracted trial. A three days’ journey, with all its painful exercises of mind, must be interposed to try Abraham’s faith and obedience.

5. You must notice the cruel nature of the sacrifice itself. There must be first the knife, and afterwards the fire. A father’s hand carried them both.

6. Analyse the command itself, and you will see that it amplifies every circumstance calculated to harrow up the father’s feelings. The very terms in which God makes known His will are expressly chosen to touch every fibre of his heart, and set his subsequent obedience in the strongest light.

7. Look at the scandal it would involve; scandal upon God, upon religion, and upon himself. Did none of these painful consequences suggest themselves to the patriarch’s mind, and stagger his resolution? He may have thought of them, but they did not move him. He knows and believes that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and that it is his province only to obey.

II. Let us turn to glance at THE CONDUCT OF ABRAHAM UNDER THIS FEARFUL DISPENSATION.

1. We read of no remonstrances, no expostulations, no questionings, no doubts, no evasions, no appeal by prayers.

2. Observe his promptitude and diligence in the duty. He rose up early in the morning to begin the most doleful journey he ever performed. Who would not have thought that to be a little leisurely would have been a pardonable delay? What a strange haste is this on such a terrible errand!

3. Observe farther how steadfastly he keeps out of his way everything that might obstruct him in his purpose. We do not find that he informed Sarah whither he was going, or with what object. He would not expose his resolution to her natural tears and importunities. A little further on he is careful to dismiss even the young men that attended them, that he may be spared their entreaties, and perhaps reproaches, at least till it shall be too late to alter his resolution. What man but Abraham would have cleared his way so carefully of all lawful excuses and impediments. Who does not see his determination to seek no deliverance, but that which comes distinctly and directly from God.

4. Again, notice the terms in which he dismisses these attendants: “Abide ye here; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again unto you.” Take this in connection with what the apostle tells us, and you will see the secret of his fortitude; it was his faith. He accounted that God was able to raise him up even from the dead. Still he trusts in the covenant.

5. Let us proceed a little further; there is one yet more piercing trial for the heart of the patriarch. Unsuspecting Isaac, bearing his heavy burden, like our blessed Redeemer carrying His own Cross, as yet little dreaming that he must soon meet a disclosure enough to scorch the father’s lips to utter, as the son’s ears to hear; Isaac, I say, pondering upon the intended sacrifice, begins to wonder where the victim is to be found, “We have the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb?” Oh, cutting stroke! Can Abraham bear this and yet dissemble? Does not suppressed nature assert itself yet, in a burst of uncontrollable emotion? Did neither eye, nor cheek, nor manner, betray the horrid secret? No; calm, collected, determined, he still conceals, and where he meant evasion, prophesies, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.”

6. How that disclosure was made at last, I know not; but it must have been made. How Abraham prevailed on his son to submit, I know not. No doubt, “Isaac helped to build the altar whereon he must be consumed.” No doubt he considered that “the author was God; the actor, Abraham; the work, a sacrifice”; and “approved himself a son of Abraham” by a voluntary submission. Just when the stroke was about to descend, the voice was heard from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham, lay not thine hand upon the lad” &c. So easily, so quickly can the Lord turn sorrow into joy! “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

III. Let us now proceed to consider THE DESIGN OF THIS TRANSACTION, AND THE PRINCIPAL INSTRUCTION IT CONVEYS.

1. In the first place we may inquire whether it is not reasonable to suppose that God intended to give, by the sacrifice of Isaac, a shadow of the great redemption? To this question we reply by appealing, first, to the fulness of its signification considered in this view; secondly, to the general consent of Jewish expositors themselves; thirdly, and chiefly, to the strange and revolting nature of the command given to Abraham, which is hard to be vindicated, or even understood, on any other supposition. On these grounds we plead for a mystical interpretation of the subject. We invite you to contemplate in this shadow the sacrifice which God the Father made when He gave up His only beloved Son to death for your sakes; and the voluntary subjection of Christ, who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, that He might take away your sins. You may even behold in Isaac an image of your Saviour bearing His own Cross; and see him preparing to suffer almost upon that very hill which afterwards became the altar whence the greater victim sent up to heaven the virtue of His atonement, to plead for ever on behalf of a guilty world.

2. In this transaction a great example of faith and obedience is proposed for our consideration. Abraham exhibits a confidence in the Divine promises, which could not be shaken either by his reason or by his afflictions. There are such times of trial in the experience of every believer; and then it is seen who are the seed of Abraham. When God is trusted still amidst the wrecks of human hope; when His covenant is held fast, though Providence be wrapt in impenetrable mystery, and every earthly interest sacrificed on the altar of His service; I see revived the spirit of the patriarch, and recognise that filial resemblance which hinds up in his family the whole Church of God, in both dispensations, from his own age to the end of time.

3. We may observe that this narrative exemplifies the essential connection between faith and works.

4. “When reason fighteth against faith, is wisdom to quit that reason which would make us quit the promises.” Reason is limited and fallible; and, therefore, it is bound to pay homage to Divine authority. May not this darling idol be the very Isaac which you are called upon to sacrifice? If you withhold it, when God commands, you cannot be blessed with faithful Abraham.

5. And finally, let all Christians remember, in times of tribulation, that God often reserves delivering mercy till their greatest extremity. Wait, believe, obey; in these three words lies the whole scope of piety. May they be realised in our experience and practice, for Christ’s sake. (D. Katterns.)

Character tested:

The surest way to know our gold is to look upon it and examine it in God’s furnace, where He tries it for that end that we may see what it is. If we have a mind to know whether a building stands strong or no, we must look upon it when the wind blows. If we would know whether that which appears in the form of wheat has the real substance of wheat, or be only chaff, we must observe it when it is winnowed. If we would know whether a staff be strong, or a rotten, broken reed, we must see it when it is leaned on, and weight is borne upon it. If we would weigh ourselves justly, we must weigh ourselves in God’s scales, that He makes use of to weigh us. (Jonathan Edwards.)

Abraham’s faith:

He founded his faith upon God’s fidelity and omnipotency. These are the Joachin and the Boaz, the two main pillars whereupon faith resteth. (J. Trapp.)


Verse 20

Hebrews 11:20

Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau

Character and faith of Isaac:

Isaac was a devout man.
Mention is made in his history of positive acts of worship by which devotion is expressed; and in his walking out to meditate at eventide, we have a beautiful picture of an act by which devotion is sustained. The good man left his tents, and forsook his associates, and walked out, thoughtful and alone, to admire the affluence of Providence, and to look upon the works and the wonders of nature. His faith was sometimes overcome by the force of temptation, but it speedily acquired its wonted ascendancy; it was, at others, darkened by defects in his character; but upon the whole, the life of Isaac was marked by comparative simplicity and innocence; that at last he slept with his fathers in a good old age; that he died with confidence in the promise, amid the tears and the benedictions of his household. In the text the apostle specifies one particular act in which the faith of Jacob was shown, “He blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”

1. The first thing to be noticed is the faith displayed by Isaac in his readiness and desire to bless his children at all, to bless them in the name, and according to the previous communications of Jehovah. This was a pious determination, resulting from continued confidence in God--from the practical persuasion of his truth--from reliance upon the consistency of His moral character; or, in one word, from faith, properly so called--that sentiment of the heart which leads a man to feel the absolute certainty of whatever he knows to be the sayings of God. In this, therefore, Isaac’s faith was right though his feeling was wrong. He intended the chief blessing for the elder son, and he pronounced it with the thought that he was thus actually conveying it. But the time was now come for him to be corrected upon the point which he had either not known, or had neglected to keep sufficiently in view.

2. The second circumstance, therefore, which it becomes us to observe, is the obedience of faith which he manifested in respect to this point, when the Divine will was clearly and fully revealed in relation to it. In blessing Jacob, though he might be prompted to the act simply by the devout determination of principle, he felt himself, while performing the act, to be under the direction of a Divine impulse. When Esau afterwards approached and informed him of the actual state of the case, the whole truth seemed to flash at once upon his mind. What he had been led to do, though unconscious of it at the moment, revealed to him the purposes of God, and the direction of the promises with respect to his sons. “I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed”; as if he had said, “I have been the unconscious instrument of imparting to myself a knowledge of the will of Him whom I serve; to that will I bow with ready and voluntary obedience. ‘I have blessed him,’ and I cannot bless another to the same extent; I have been the medium through which the God of our fathers has now repeated and enlarged His promises, and these, I believe, will assuredly be fulfilled. He has declared the line in which they are to pass, and that line He had a right to select; I approve of what He has done, and I confide in what He has said, as I have often approved and confided before. The things which my lips have uttered are as certain and immutable as are all the intentions and purposes of God; I have blessed him, yea, and he shall be blessed! “ Let us now make a remark upon the last clause of the text; Jacob and Esau were blessed respecting “ things to come.” They were both blessed, for both of them, as men, were objects of pre-determined benediction in the Divine mind; though previous to their birth, that the purpose of God according to election might stand--it was declared that the younger should be the greater Of the two. The expression “things to come,” is intended to signify things which were so emphatically future that they related not so much to the individuals themselves as to the posterity to descend from them. Both were to be the founders of nations; these nations were to be remarkably distinguished from each other; and in them were to be realised the circumstances--the prosperity, and the vicissitudes--which had been so clearly and so copiously described in the language of Isaac.

Looking at the two prophecies pronounced over Jacob and Esau respectively, they appear to include the following things.

1. In the first place, they may be said either to presuppose, or to predict, the separate existence of the posterity of the two brothers as nations. Jacob is as a field which the Lord hath blessed; in him were to be fulfilled the promises given to Abraham. Esau is represented as living by his sword. The one expression describes a people organised and religious: the other a people of habits and manners rude and predatory; and such, in fact, was the case--the Jews descending from Jacob, and the Edomites from Esau.

2. The second circumstance is, that both nations were to possess very nearly the same local and physical advantages, which was at first also the fact.

3. The third thing is, the reduction, by the other branch, of the posterity of Esau to submission and servitude. This, after frequent advances towards it, was fully accomplished by David.

4. But the fourth and last particular to be observed is, that at length this yoke should be broken off from the neck of the degraded race, when they should obtain dominion, that is, when they should steadily range themselves under a leader, as a strong and united people. This, too, actually occurred; it took place in the reign of Jehoram.

After making these observations explanatory of the text, we propose in the second place to deduce from them a few others of a practical character.

1. In looking at the comparatively calm and unruffled history of Isaac you may learn that the life most favoured of Providence is still required to be a life of faith. In prosperity, faith will render us grateful, moderate, and cautious, as under other circumstances it will inspire fortitude and prompt acquiescence: it will take the form of filial confidence in the continuance of good, so long as that good shall be seen to be consistent with higher purposes. Above all, since the most distinguished lot can never adequately meet the demands and capacities of our spiritual nature, faith in a future world must be ever felt by the devout man to be the only means by which he can endure, so to speak, even the highest happiness of this.

2. You learn from the history of Isaac the propriety of seasons of retirement for collected and serious thought.

3. From the history of Isaac you may learn the pernicious consequences of parents pursuing a system of favouritism with respect to their children.

4. By the nature and the circumstances of the fact to which the text refers--the blessing pronounced by Isaac upon Jacob and Esau--we arereminded of the variety of the proofs that may be adduced in support of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. There are two connected with the present subject.

5. In the last place, from a comparison of the portions of the two brothers let us learn to aspire after the best blessings which God can confer. It will be of no lasting advantage to us to have the portion of Esau, unless we have the portion of Jacob along with it. (T. Binney.)

The faith of Isaac

I suppose it was natural and right that Isaac should take his place next to Abraham in this record of men of faith; he stands next in the historical line of patriarchs who handed on the promise from one to another. And yet we cannot help feeling that in passing from Abraham to Isaac we are descending to a lower level. He seems to have possessed a timid, yielding disposition--a nature calculated to obey rather than to command--to follow rather than to lead. Wherever he comes before us in history we see a character just the opposite to that of Abraham--quiet, meditative, shrinking from everything like individual action, andtimorously yielding to every pressure put upon him. Here was poor material, one might think, for faith to work with; such a man seems ill-calculated to sustain the tradition of faith so gloriously begun in Abraham, and to play a worthy part in handing on the covenant of Divine promise. And yet he is unhesitatingly placed in this glorious line of believers--he also was a man of faith, in his own measure loyal to God and to His covenant. The stream of faith flowed on through him to his successors unchecked and unpolluted. Just as a stream, when flowing through a mountainous and rocky country, is broken into swift-flowing rapids and dashing cataracts, harmonising in their picturesque grandeur with the surrounding features, but on reaching the plain below flows quietly along through green pastures where flocks are peacefully grazing, so the faith, which in Abraham’s rugged character comes out in striking and impressive scenes, in the quiet life of Isaac assumes the form of an unobtrusive principle, giving an air of calm assurance and peace to his whole life. Faith now, as then, has to work through a variety of temperaments. The trees, the flowers, the corn, the grass, all are different manifestations of the same life; it assumes various forms, according to the nature of the organism through which it works; so the life of God takes hold of the constitution of a man, and develops results in harmony with the nature God has given him. Some of the most beautiful effects of faith have often been wrought out in retiring characters like Isaac’s. There are some delicate forms of spiritual beauty that require a reposeful spirit to blossom in, just as there are flowers growing in sheltered retreats that would perish on the rough mountain-top. We should learn to admire the grace of God in all its manifestations. To return to Isaac. We have no record in his case of any great feats of faith accomplished, any striking deeds done, as in the case of some of the other patriarchs. His faith never rose to that white heat of enthusiasm which leads a man to do immortal deeds. There was an even tenor about his life which was never broken by any special crisis of any stirring event. It is significant of the character of the man that he is celebrated in this chapter by an act of blessing. The most that could be said of him was that he held fast by the faith of his father, that he cherished the heavenly covenant as a precious heirloom which he had faithfully to preserve, and when his failing strength warned him that he would soon have to pass away, his chief thought was to transmit the promise to his posterity. And in many lives to-day faith manifests itself in the same fashion. The most that some men do is to cherish their faith as a source of strength and joy in their own hearts and their own homes, and seek to pass it on as a spiritual legacy to their children. There are many who have neither the opportunity nor the gifts to do great and bold things for God in the world; their efforts must be confined within a narrow circle; if their faith is to be useful at all, it must be in the influence it exerts in the home. And this is not the least fruitful kind of religious life. Some of the most blessed work that has ever been done for God and humanity has been done in the home circle, by those who have never made any great stir in the world or done any great thing in the Church. Quiet, unobtrusive lives have often been blessedly useful in fostering that choicest fruit of faith--family religion. Let every Christian man set this before him as a sacred ambition--to leaven his family with his own faith and leave it as a legacy to those who shall come after him. The blessing which Isaac pronounced upon his sons was something more than the ordinary form of blessing--something more than a pious wish or prayer that prosperity and peace and the favour of heaven might attend them. It was a blessing in which prophetic insight was blended with holy desire and intercession; the illumination of the Spirit enabled him to pronounce an effectual benediction which remained as a permanent good upon the head of him who received it. And every human life ought to end like Isaac’s--with a blessing. Some lives end with a curse; they leave behind them a baneful influence which goes on blighting the lives of those that come after. A man’s real legacy to posterity is the influence of his character. The bit of parchment which disposes of his material accumulations is not half so important as the distribution of that influence which has been silently accumulating through all the years of his life. In how many hearts there is a memory more cherished than the richest earthly possession--the memory of one who still lives to bless and influence them, to restrain from evil and incite to good I This is the kind of legacy we should strive to leave behind. And if we would do this we must begin to lay up the sacred treasure now. Such wealth is not accumulated in a day. It is the work of years; it is the product of “patient continuance in well doing.” (J. T. Hamly.)

Faith supporting the saint in the frailties of ages

I. FAITH UNDIMINISHED BY ADVANCING YEARS.

1. The worth of a man’s creed fully tested at the close of life.

2. The blessedness of that, our confidence in which increases with increased experience.

3. The continuance of spiritual energy when the physical powers fail. God’s people die “full of life.”

II. FAITH HANDING ON THE BLESSING TO THOSE THAT COME AFTER.

1. The Divine word qualifies all God’s people to be prophets of blessing.

2. It is only by faith in God that we can impart a blessing to others.

3. Thus we can leave blessings on those we love when we are dying. Faith’s legacies are surer than any.

III. FAITH TRIUMPHING OVER LIFE’S UNFULFILLED HOPES.

1. Promises so far unfulfilled.

2. The strongest possible assurance, even in death, of the things hoped for.

3. Thus faith enables the saint to enter with eager anticipation into the unseen world.

4. As we look back on the subsequent history of the descendants of the patriarchs we see how abundantly their faith was justified. We judge of God’s faithfulness too soon. Time will prove Him true. (C. New.)


Verses 20-40

Verse 21

Hebrews 11:21

Jacob, when he was a dying

The death-bed of Jacob:

In this chapter St.
Paul sets himself to the collecting, from the history of patriarchs and others, examples of the power of faith. Inspired as be was, we may not doubt that the instances which he selects are at least as strong as any which the histories present. Yet they do not always seem so. In many cases, had the selection been left with ourselves, we should not have fixed on the same example as St. Paul; so that we have cases in which what men would account best is not so accounted by Him who readeth the heart. In regard, for instance, to our text: the life of the patriarch Jacob was a singularly eventful one; many and great were the occasions which it furnished for the exercise of faith. Would this, we ask, have been the fact on which an uninspired writer would have fastened when choosing out of the history of Jacob what might best illustrate the faith which the patriarch had in God? Hardly, I think; more especially as Jacob blessed his own sons as well as those of Joseph; so that, even if we fix on the dying scene as most demonstrative of faith, we should probably not have taken the benediction on Ephraim and Manasseh in preference to that on some one of the twelve tribes. Indeed, when you remember that in blessing his son Judah Jacob delivered the illustrious prediction, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh come,” and thus displayed faith in the promised Messiah, it may not be easy to understand how his faith could be more conspicuous in blessing Joseph’s sons, seeing that he seems to have predicted their temporal increase and greatness. This, however, it is which we must now endeavour to do. We may not, indeed, be able to prove to you that the selected instance is the strongest which the history furnishes, but we may at all events ascertain that it thoroughly establishes the power of the principle which it is quoted to illustrate. Now there is one very marked point on which we may fasten, to draw from it an illustration of the patriarch’s faith; and this is, the adoption of Joseph’s children for his own--an adoption, you observe, on which the dying man dwells with all possible earnestness; for, not content with having already said, “Thy two sons are mine,” he makes it part of his final benediction, as though the “ redeeming Angel” could do nothing more glorious for the lads: “Let my name be named on them, and the name of my father’s Abraham and Isaac.” And what shall we say of this eagerness of Jacob to engraft into his own family Manasseh and Ephraim? He seems to make it his object, and to represent it as a privilege, that he should take the lads out of the family of Joseph, though that family was then among the noblest in Egypt, and transplant them into his own, though it had no outward distinction but what it derived from its connection with the other. It seems to me, as I stand by the bedside of Jacob, as though two wholly different processions must have passed before his mind--the one a procession of human power and pomp, the other of poverty and shame, though with the favour of God and employment in His service. In the first procession, the procession of splendour and even sovereignty, the sons of Joseph seem born to take part. They had only to remain incorporated among the Egyptians, and theirs, in all human probability, would be the wealth and the majesty which passed with so stately a step before the dying man’s vision. In the second procession, the procession of tribulation and hardship, the leading figures are those of Jacob’s own children; the failing father discerns Judah and Simeon and Dan amongst the victims of oppression and the wrestlers for liberty. And it is for Jacob to determine whether he shall frame his parting blessing so as to leave Manasseh and Ephraim in the first procession, or so as to transfer them to the second. And was there no temptation to prefer the present to the future--the dignities of earth to the less palpable advantages of being numbered with a people set apart by God? There was but one principle which could have nerved the patriarch for doing as he did; nay, but one which could have justified him therein. Had he not been thoroughly confident in the Word of the Lord; had he not possessed an un-doubting assurance that no amount of temporal advantages could compensate the want of spiritual blessing--that poverty and contempt endured in the service of God were incalculably preferable to opulence and glory enjoyed in the service of sin--he could hardly have been bold enough, and we could hardly have applauded him, in the desire that his own name and the name of his father Isaac might be named upon the lads. But whilst we admit this we equally admit the greatness of the exhibited faith when the expiring patriarch decided for the procession made up of the suffering people of God, and not for that which was composed of the great ones of the earth. You have but to contemplate Jacob as executing a deed by which Manasseh and Ephraim were transferred from a position of almost regal eminence to one of dependence and poverty, and you must all acknowledge that it was by faith--aye, and by faith so conspicuous and illustrious, as that it deserved to be singled out when an apostle was searching through past ages for examples--that it was “by faith” that “Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph.” We should further observe the peculiarity of the language which he employs with regard to his Preserver, and his decided preference of the younger brother to the elder, notwithstanding the remonstrance of Joseph. There was illustrious faith in both. He speaks of the “Angel which had delivered him from all evil”; and desires that this Angel might bless his grandsons. And whom did Jacob mean by this “Angel”? Certainly no finite, no created being. He speaks of this Angel as God; as having “ redeemed him from all evil.” There is music, there is gospel in this word “redeemed.” It were hard to persuade me that it had no reference to the finished work of Christ. Redemption from all evil--this redemption attributed to an Angel or Messenger, whose appearance had been that of a man, but in whom the patriarch recognised God--what is this but the New Testament on the page of the Old? But whilst thankful for our own superior advantages, we ought greatly to admire that faith which could apprehend something of the mystery of redemption when there were but yet few and feeble notices of God’s wondrous design; which could trace the movements of a Divine Being in the rare appearance of the Angel of the covenant; which could detect in strange and solemn actions parables of the world’s deliverance from the consequence of the Fall. And thus was Jacob’s faith displayed in his parting benediction. Though, as we have said, it was not only in the words that he uttered that Jacob showed faith. There was faith in the disposition of the hands, in the guiding them wittingly, so that the left was on the elder’s head, the right on the younger. Not, we believe, without a typical design was it so often ordered of God that the younger son should be preferred to the elder. Such a preference was almost characteristic of the earlier dispensations. It occurred so frequently that we can hardly doubt that God designed to fix attention upon it as illustrating in some way His purposes towards the world. And if the preference of the younger to the elder were a type under the earlier dispensations of that great revolution which should follow the introduction of the gospel, does it not add vastly to the exhibition of faith in the patriarch Jacob, that when speaking of the redeeming Angel he should have “guided his hands wittingly,” and have refused, though entreated, to follow the order of nature, and bless Manasseh and Ephraim according to the birthright? Coupling the words with the action--the mention of a Divine Being, which redeemed him from all evil, with the resolute preference of the younger to the elder--I could almost say that we have the gospel preached, and the effect of the preaching accurately predicted. And I take it as a proof of the faith of Jacob that he persisted in setting Ephraim before Manasseh. His own father, Isaac, had acted differently; for though aware that Jacob, the younger, was to be preferred before Esau, the elder, he still sought to gratify parental partiality, and would have given, had not his purpose been defeated, the blessing to the firstborn; but Jacob betrayed no wavering on this occasion, though it could not have been other than painful to him to thwart the wishes of Joseph, and thus to make his last act on earth one of disappointment to the son whom he so tenderly loved. It was faith which upheld the dying man, and caused his parting word and deed to be so significant. Stand by the dying patriarch. What speaks he of? “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil.” Nay, whom is he addressing if not the Lord Jesus Christ, though it required indeed a strong vision to “see Christ’s day,” then so remote? How guides he his hands, though Joseph would change the direction? He is transferring the birthright, preferring the younger to the elder, and thus predicting not merely what must pain Joseph, as showing Ephraim greater than Manasseh, but what must pain himself, as showing the Jews, his
own descendants, giving place to the Gentiles. Ah! see and hear all this, and you will see, I think, that St. Paul, commemorating what was most illustrious in the faith of early days, should have given as one example--“By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph.” But the apostle adds one more passage, which we have not taken into the account: whilst endeavouring to make you aware of the faith displayed by Jacob, he speaks of the patriarch as “worshipping, leaning upon the top of his staff.” The fact, first of all, of Jacob’s worshipping may be taken as proving his faith. For what has the dying man to do with worshipping unless he be a believer in another state of being; unless he believe that death is not annihilation, but that he is about to appear before God in judgment? In the act of dissolution a man can have nothing to ask of God if he suppose himself about to perish with the brute. Whilst living he would have to worship God, though he were not or might not know himself immortal; but when dying he must at least think it possible that the soul will survive the body, else there is no place whatsoever, no subject for prayer. But it is commemorated of Jacob, not only that he worshipped, but that he worshipped “leaning upon the top of his staff.” This leaning upon the staff is given as an additional evidence of Jacob’s faith. But what made it such? Indeed, this is not easy to answer; but we may conjecture where we can make no pretention to certainty.

Jacob had known much of poverty and trouble; as an exile from his home, he had wandered in strange lands, with only his staff for his companion; and he may have always preserved this staff as a memento of eventful pilgrimage. When appealing earnestly to God before his meeting with Esau, he says, “With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands.” He contrasts, you see, his former with his present condition. He had then nothing but his staff, whereas now his numerous family and flocks make up “two bands.” The staff is appealed to as the emblem of his poverty. May it not, then, have been always such to Jacob? May it not have been kept in the days of his prosperity as a memento of the days of his adversity? (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Jacob’s deathbed

I. SEE JACOB, WHEN A-DYING, LEANING UPON THE TOP OF HIS STAFF. What a picture of human frailty! What an illustration of the touching words of the ninetieth psalm, that the very “strength “ of old men “ is labour and sorrow!” “The glory of young men is their strength”; but they have need to consider that in extreme age “the keepers of the house tremble,” and even “ the grasshopper is a burden.” But we have more here than the patriarch’s bodily frailty. He was worshipping; and he had studiously put his body, though in his feebleness it required no small effort to do so--into the best posture for that solemn work. In worship bodily attitude profiteth little. But it is not, therefore, a matter of absolute indifference. God is to be glorified in our bodies as well as in our spirits. The seraphim are represented as covering their faces and their feet with their wings when they adore in His presence.

II. SEE JACOB, WHEN A-DYING, WORSHIPPING. Men generally die as they live; and Jacob’s death-bed exercise was in fine keeping with his life. He had his infirmities; but he was a man who, with all his infirmities, had ted a devout life, a life of worship. He raised his altar to God wherever he went; he breathed much of the atmosphere of that “ better country,” the ceaseless employ of which is worship; and now that he was on the verge of it, we behold him worshipping.

1. It doubtless included confession--humble self-denying, self-abasing confession. Some persons talk much of looking back from a death-bed on a well-spent life. The good man, in so far as he has differed from others, knows who made him to differ. But in the review of the past, Oh, how little he sees that he can contemplate with satisfaction; and how much to lay him in the dust, and to strip him of all confidence in the flesh!

2. It doubtless included thanksgiving. What grateful emotions must have fired his bosom, as he thought of all the way in which the Lord had led him, so signally fulfilling the promises made to him.

3. It doubtless included prayer, properly so called, that is, petition, supplication. He had yet to take the solemn step into eternity. And we may be sure that, in view of it, he implored dying grace, with all the importunity of “a prince with God.”

III. SEE JACOB, WHEN A-DYING, BLESSING THE SONS OF JOSEPH. What is that to us? Much in many ways: in particular, it reads to u q one great lesson. It says to us, Be ye useful to the last. Be ambitious to do good, be ambitious to bless, not only living, but dying. And what opportunities of good-doing does a death-bed like Jacob’s furnish? If it shall be our lot to be laid on such a death-bed; if we shall have the possession of our reason; if we shall have freedom from agonising pain; if we shall have the requisite strength of body; if we shall be surrounded by dear friends eager to catch every syllable that shall fall from our lips:--Oh, will it not be well that our words be words of blessing? Will it not be well that they hear them rising to the throne for a blessing on them; and directing, entreating, and charging them to walk in the way in which the blessing runs? Parting words, words uttered in death’s parting, how peculiarly impressive and memorable they are, and what a blessing has often been in them!

IV. SEE JACOB, WHEN A-DYING, EXEMPLIFYING THE POWER OF FAITH. In all that we have now been looking at, we have been witnessing the working, the solace, the joy, the victory, of faith. And a great sight it is, to see faith not only enduring to the end, but supporting and cheering the heart when “ the earthly house of this tabernacle” is falling, and triumphing in the last and solemn hour. (W. Marshall, D. D.)

Dying in faith

I. IT IS AN EMINENT MERCY WHEN FAITH NOT ONLY HOLDS OUT TO THE END, BUT WAXETH STRONG TOWARDS THE LAST CONFLICT WITH DEATH, as it was with Jacob.

II. It is so also to be able by faith, in the close of our pilgrimage, TO RECAPITULATE ALL THE PASSAGES OF OUR LIVES, IN MERCIES, TRIALS, AFFLICTIONS, SO AS TO GIVE GLORY TO GOD WITH RESPECT TO THEM ALL, as Jacob did in this place.

III. THAT WHICH ENLIVENS AND ENCOURAGETH FAITH AS TO ALL OTHER THINGS IS A PECULIAR RESPECT TO THE ANGEL, THE REDEEMER BY WHOM ALL GRACE AND MERCY IS COMMUNICATED TO US.

IV. IT IS OUR DUTY SO TO LIVE IN THE CONSTANT EXERCISE OF FAITH, AS THAT WE MAY RE READY AND STRONG IN IT WHEN WE ARE DYING.

V. Though we should die daily, yet THERE IS A PECULIAR DYING SEASON, WHEN DEATH IS IN ITS NEAR APPROACH, WHICH REQUIRES PECULIAR ACTINGS OF FAITH.

VI. In all acts of Divine worship, whether solemn or occasional, it is our duty TO DISPOSE OUR BODIES INTO SUCH A POSTURE OF REVERENCE AS MAY REPRESENT THE INWARD FRAME OF OUR MINDS. SO did Jacob here, and it is reckoned as an act of duty and faith.

VII. THERE IS AN ALLOWANCE FOR THE INFIRMITIES OF AGE AND SICKNESS, IN OUR OUTWARD DEPORTMENT IN DIVINE WORSHIP, SO THAT THERE BE AN INDULGENCE TO SLOTH OR CUSTOM, BUT THAT AN EVIDENCE OF A DUE REVERENCE OF GOD AND HOLY THINGS BE PRESERVED. These postures which are commended in Jacob would not, it may be, become others in their health and strength. (John Owen, D. D.)

Jacob worshipping on his staff

“When he was a dying.” Death is a thorough test of faith. Beneath the touch of the skeleton finger shams dissolve into thin air, and only truth remains; unless indeed a strong delusion has been given, and then the spectacle of a presumptuous sinner passing away in his iniquities is one which might make angels weep. The text tells us that the patriarch’s faith was firm while he was a-dying, so that he poured forth no murmurs, but plentiful benedictions, as he blessed both the sons of Joseph. May your faith and mine also be such that whenever we shall be a-dying our faith will perform some illustrious exploit that the grace of God may be admired in us.

I. His BLESSING.

1. His blessing the sons of Joseph was an act of faith, because only by faith could he really give a blessing to any one. He believed God. He believed that God spoke by him; and he believed that God would justify every word that he was uttering. Faith is the backbone of the Christian’s power to do good: we are weak as water till we enter into union with God by faith, and then we are omnipotent. We can do nothing for our fellow-men by way of promoting their spiritual interests if we walk according to the sight of our eyes; but when we get into the power of God, and grasp His promise by a daring confidence, then it is that we obtain the power to bless.

2. Not only the power to bless came to him by faith, but the blessings which he allotted to his grandsons were his upon the same tenure. His legacies were all blessings which he possessed by faith only. He had, as a matter of fact, neither house nor ground in Palestine, and yet he counts it all his own, since a faithful God had promised it to his fathers. Faith is wanted to enable us to point men to the invisible and eternal, and if we cannot do this how can we bless them. We must believe for those we love, and have hope for them; thus shall we have power with God for them, and shall bless them. Our legacies to our sons are the blessings of grace, and our dowries to our daughters are the promises of the Lord.

3. Jacob in his benediction particularly mentioned the covenant. His faith, like the faith of most of God’s people, made the covenant its pavilion of delightful abode, its tower of defence, and its armoury for war. If you have no faith you cannot plead the covenant, and certainly if you cannot plead it for yourselves you cannot urge it with God for a blessing upon your sons and your grandsons. It was by faith in the covenant that the venerable Jacob blest the two sons of Joseph, and without it we can bless no one, for we are not blessed ourselves. Faith is the priest which proclaims the blessing without fear.

4. Jacob showed his faith by blessing Joseph’s sons in God’s order. Faith prefers grace to talent, and piety to cleverness; she lays her right hand where God lays it, and not where beauty of person or quickness of intellect would suggest. Our best child is that which God calls best; faith corrects reason and accepts the Divine verdict.

5. Notice that he manifested his faith by his distinct reference to redemption. He alone who has faith will pray for the redemption of his children, especially when they exhibit no signs of being in bondage, but are hopeful and amiable.

6. Jacob showed his faith by his assurance that God would be present with his seed. How cheering is the old man’s dying expression, made not only to his boys, but concerning all his family. He said, “Now I die, but God will be with you.” It is very different from the complaints of certain good old ministers when they are dying. They seem to say, “When I die the light of Israel will be quenched. I shall die, and the people will desert the truth. When I am gone the standard-bearer will have fallen, and the watchman on the walls will be dead.” Many in dying are afraid for the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof; and, sometimes, we who are in good health talk very much in the same fashion as though we were wonderfully essential to the progress of God’s cause.

II. HE WORSHIPPED BY FAITH.

1. First, while he was dying he offered the worship of gratitude. How pleasing is the incident recorded in the tenth and eleventh verses. Ah, yes, we shall often have to say, “O Lord, I had not thought that Thou wouldst do as much as this, but Thou hast gone far beyond what I asked or even thought.”

2. He offered the worship of testimony when he acknowledged God’s goodness to him all his life.

3. Notice, too, how reverently he worships the covenant messenger with the adoration of reverend love. We owe all things to the redeeming Angel of the covenant. The evils which He has warded off from us are terrible beyond conception, and the blessings He has brought us are rich beyond imagination. We must adore Him, and, though we see Him not, we must in life and in death by faith worship Him with lowly love.

4. If you read on through the dying scene of Jacob you will notice once more how he worshipped with the adoration of earnest longing, for just after he had pronounced a blessing on the tribe of Dan the old man seemed thoroughly exhausted, but instead of fainting, instead of uttering a cry of pain and weakness, he solemnly exclaims, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.”

III. His ATTITUDE. He worshipped on the top of his staff--leaning on it, supporting himself upon it. In Genesis you read that he “bowed himself upon the bed’s head.” It is very easy to realise a position in which both descriptions would be equally true. He could sit upon the bed, and lean on the top of his staff at the same time. But why did he lean on his staff? I think besides the natural need which he had of it, because of his being old, he did it emblematically. That staff was his life companion, the witness with himself of the goodness of the Lord, even as some of us may have an old Bible, or a knife, or a chair which are connected with memorable events of our lives. But what did that staff indicate? Let us hear what Jacob said at another time. When he stood before Pharaoh he exclaimed, “Few and evil have been the days of my pilgrimage.” What made him use that word “pilgrimage”? Why, because upon his mind there was always the idea of his being a pilgrim. He had been literally so during the early part of his life, wandering hither and thither; and now, though he has been seventeen years in Goshen, he keeps the old staff, and he leans on it to show that he had always been a pilgrim and a sojourner like his fathers, and that he was so still. While he leans on that staff he talks to Joseph, and he says, “Do not let my bones lie here. I have come hither in the providence, of God, but I do not belong here. I am in Egypt, but I am not of it. Take my bones away. Do not let them lie here, for if they do, my sons and daughters will mingle with the Egyptians, and that must not be, for we are a distinct nation. God has chosen us for Himself, and we must keep separate. To make my children see this, lo, here I die with my pilgrim staff in my band.” The longer you live the more let this thought grow upon you: “Give me my staff. I must begone. Poor world, thou art no rest for me; I am not of thy children, I am an alien and a stranger. My citizenship is in heaven.” Singular enough is it that each descendant of Jacob came to worship on the top of his staff at last, for on the paschal supper night, when the blood was sprinkled on the lintel and the side posts, they each one ate the lamb with their loins girt and with a staff in his hand. The supper was a festival of worship, and they ate it each one leaning on his staff, as those that were in haste to leave home for a pilgrimage through the wilderness. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Jacob worshipping

I. THE TIME HAD COME WHEN LIFE NEEDED A STAFF. How strange it seems, when we can walk, leap, run, when the agile limbs can obey the swift behest of the will, to think that the time will come when these limbs will refuse their easy and familiar work. A staff! how much it suggests to us! Leaning. In many senses a staff seems to hurt our pride, and it is very natural not to like to take to spectacles, or to a staff’ till we are quite obliged. Yet leaning is beautiful in many senses, as on the staff of Christian friendship, or the staff of God’s precious promises. Yes I “ Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Say what we will, the Bible keeps its old place in this respect. You will lean on it, rest on it, and the staff will be all-sufficient for you as it has been for multitudes before you.

II. THE WORSHIPPING SPIRIT KNOWS NO SEASON OF DECLINE. It is most vigorous in age. Well has Montgomery said, “We enter heaven with prayer.” Worship is the highest occupation of which ou