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1. Now faith, etc. Whoever made this the beginning of the eleventh chapter, has unwisely disjointed the context; for the object of the Apostle was to prove what he had already said that there is need of patience. (200) He had quoted the testimony of Habakkuk, who says that the just lives by faith; he now shows what remained to be proved — that faith can be no more separated from patience than from itself. The order then of what he says is this, — “We shall not reach the goal of salvation except we have patience, for the Prophet declares that the just lives by faith; but faith directs us to things afar off which we do not as yet enjoy; it then necessarily includes patience.” Therefore the minor proposition in the argument is this, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, etc. It is hence also evident, that greatly mistaken are they who think that an exact definition of faith is given here; for the Apostle does not speak here of the whole of what faith is, but selects that part of it which was suitable to his purpose, even that it has patience ever connected with it. (201) Let us now consider the words.
He calls faith the hypostasis, the substance of things hoped for. We indeed know that what we hope for is not what we have as it were in hand, but what is as yet hid from us, or at least the enjoyment of which is delayed to another time. The Apostle now teaches us the same thing with what we find in Romans 8:24; where it is said that what is hoped for is not seen, and hence the inference is drawn, that it is to be waited for in patience. So the Apostle here reminds us, that faith regards not present things, but such as are waited for. Nor is this kind of contradiction without its force and beauty: Faith, he says, is the hypostasis, the prop, or the foundation on which we plant our foot, — the prop of what? Of things absent, which are so far from being really possessed by us, that they are far beyond the reach of our understanding.
The same view is to be taken of the second clause, when he calls faith the evidence or demonstration of things not seen; for demonstration makes things to appear or to be seen; and it is commonly applied to what is subject to our senses. (202)
Then these two things, though apparently inconsistent, do yet perfectly harmonize when we speak of faith; for the Spirit of God shows to us hidden things, the knowledge of which cannot reach our senses: Promised to us is eternal life, but it is promised to the dead; we are assured of a happy resurrection, but we are as yet involved in corruption; we are pronounced just, as yet sin dwells in us; we hear that we are happy, but we are as yet in the midst of many miseries; an abundance of all good things is promised to us, but still we often hunger and thirst; God proclaims that he will come quickly, but he seems deaf when we cry to him. What would become of us were we not supported by hope, and did not our minds emerge out of the midst of darkness above the world through the light of God’s word and of his Spirit? Faith, then, is rightly said to be the subsistence or substance of things which are as yet the objects of hope and the evidence of things not seen. Augustine sometimes renders evidence “conviction,” which I do not disapprove, for it faithfully expresses the Apostle’s meaning: but I prefer “demonstration,” as it is more literal.
(200) Griesbach makes the division at the thirty-eighth verse of the last chapter, and this is no doubt what the subject requires. — Ed.
(201) “Faith is here generally described, not only as it justifies, but also as it acts towards God and lays hold on his promises, works, and blessings revealed in his word, past, present, and future." — Pareus.
(202) The two words “substance” and “evidence” have been variously rendered, though the meaning continues materially the same: “substinance” and “demonstration” by Beza: “confident expectation” and “conviction” by Grotius and Doddridge: “confidence” and “evidence” by Macknight: “confidence” and “convincing evidence” by Stuart. When the primary meaning of words is suitable, there is no necessity of having recourse to what is secondary. The first word means properly a foundation, a basis, a prop, a support: and what can be more appropriate here? Faith is the basis or the prop (as Calvin renders it in his exposition) of things hoped for; that is, faith is the foundation of hope; it is the fulcrum on which hope rests. The other word is properly “demonstration” a proof supported by reasons — what is made clear and evident. Conviction is the result of demonstration. So, then, the meaning is this — faith sustains hope, and exhibits to view things unseen: it is the basis on which the objects of hope rest, and the demonstration or manifestation of what is not seen.
The word “substance” is derived from the Vulgate: though its etymological meaning corresponds with the original, yet its received meaning is quite different. The original word occurs five times in the New Testament, and is rendered “confidence” in 2 Corinthians 9:4; Hebrews 3:14, — “person” in Hebrews 1:3, — and here “substance;” but why not its more literal meaning, “foundation?”
The things “hoped for” include the promises; but the things “not seen,” all that is revealed as to what is past and is to come, — the creation, the future destiny of man, etc. — Ed.
2. For by it the elders, (203) etc. He handles this subject to the end of the chapter — that the fathers obtained salvation and were accepted by God in no other way than by faith.
The Jews indeed had some reasons for paying great deference to the fathers; but a foolish admiration of the fathers had so prevailed among them, that it proved a great hindrance to a thorough surrender of themselves to Christ and to his government. It was occasioned either by ambition or superstition, or by both. For when they heard that they were the blessed and holy seed of Abraham, inflated with this distinction they fixed their eyes on men rather than on God. Then added to this was a false emulation; for they did not consider what was mainly worthy of imitation in their fathers. It thus happened that they became attached to the old ceremonies, as though the whole of religion and perfect holiness consisted in them. This error the Apostle exposes and condemns; and be shows what was the chief excellency of the fathers, in order that their posterity might understand how they might become really like them.
Let us then bear in mind that the main point and the very hinge on which the Apostle’s argument turns is this, — That all the fathers from the beginning of the world, were approved by God in no other way than by being united to him by faith: and this he shows, that the Jews might know that by faith alone they could be bound together in holy unity with the fathers, and that as soon as they renounced faith, they became banished from the Church, and that they were then no longer the legitimate children of Abraham, but a degenerate race and bastards. (204)
(203) Macknight and Stuart render the word “ancients” and more suitably in our language. The word “elders” most commonly refers to age, but “ancients” to time: those meant here were such as lived before and under the Law. — Ed.
(204) The verb rendered in our version “obtained a good report,” is rendered by Calvin, “obtained a testimony;” by Beza, “were approved;” by Macknight “were born witness to;” and Stuart, “obtained commendation”. It is better to retain the idea of a testimony, as a reference is made either to the written testimony of Scripture, or to some express testimony given by God, as in the case of Abel. As the verb is everywhere used in a good sense, as referring to a good testimony, “the good report” of our version, or “the honorable testimony” of Doddridge, seems to convey the right meaning. — Ed.
3. Through, or by, faith we understand, (205) etc. This is a most striking proof of the last verse; for we differ nothing from the brute creation, if we understand not that the world has been created by God. To what end have men been endued with understanding and reason, except that they might acknowledge their Creator? But it is by faith alone we know that it was God who created the world. No wonder then that faith shone forth in the fathers above all other virtues.
But it may be here asked, Why does the Apostle assert that what even infidels acknowledge is only understood by faith? For the very appearance of heaven and earth constrains even the ungodly to acknowledge some Maker; and hence Paul condemns all for ingratitude, because they did not, after having known God, give him the honor due to him. (Romans 1:25.) And no doubt religion would not have so prevailed among all nations, had not men’s minds been impressed with the convictions that God is the Creator of the world. It thus then appears that this knowledge which the Apostle ascribes to faith, exists without faith.
To this I reply, — that though there has been an opinion of this kind among heathens, that the world was made by God, it was yet very evanescent, for as soon as they formed a notion of some God, they became instantly vain in their imaginations, so that they groped in the dark, having in their thoughts a mere shadow of some uncertain deity, and not the knowledge of the true God. Besides, as it was only a transient opinion that flit in their minds, it was far from being anything like knowledge. We may further add, that they assigned to fortune or chance the supremacy in the government of the world, and they made no mention of God’s providence which alone rules everything. Men’s minds therefore are wholly blind, so that they see not the light of nature which shines forth in created things, until being irradiated by God’s Spirit, they begin to understand by faith what otherwise they cannot comprehend. Hence most correctly does the Apostle ascribe such an understanding to faith; for they who have faith do not entertain a slight opinion as to God being the Creator of the world, but they have a deep conviction fixed in their minds and behold the true God. And further, they understand the power of his word, not only as manifested instantaneously in creating the world, but also as put forth continually in its preservation; nor is it his power only that they understand, but also his goodness, and wisdom, and justice. And hence they are led to worship, love, and honor him.
Not made of things which do appear. As to this clause, all interpreters seem to me to have been mistaken; and the mistake has arisen from separating the preposition from the participle φαὶνομένων. They give this rendering, “So that visible things were made from things which do not appear.” But from such words hardly any sense can be elicited, at least a very jejune sense; and further, the text does not admit of such a meaning, for then the words must have been, ἐκ μὴ φαινομένων: but the order adopted by the Apostle is different. If, then, the words were rendered literally, the meaning would be as follows, — “So that they became the visible of things not visible,” or, not apparent. Thus the preposition would be joined to the participle to which it belongs. Besides, the words would then contain a very important truth, — that we have in this visible world, a conspicuous image of God; and thus the same truth is taught here, as in Romans 1:20, where it is said, that the invisible things of God are made known to us by the creation of the world, they being seen in his works. God has given us, throughout the whole framework of this world, clear evidences of his eternal wisdom, goodness, and power; and though he is in himself invisible, he in a manner becomes visible to us in his works. (206)
Correctly then is this world called the mirror of divinity; not that there is sufficient clearness for man to gain a full knowledge of God, by looking at the world, but that he has thus so far revealed himself, that the ignorance of the ungodly is without excuse. Now the faithful, to whom he has given eyes, see sparks of his glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing. The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of the divine glory.
(205) That is “We, by faith in God’s word which gives the record, understand, or know how the world was made.” This the heathens did not know by the light of reason, and yet they might have known this, as the Apostle declares in Romans 1:20. The reference here, according to this view, is to the fact, to the case as it was, but in the Romans to what ought to have been the case.
Why “worlds?” the same word, though in the plural number is rendered “world” in Romans 11:36 and 1 Corinthians 10:11, and so here by Beza and others. The universe, the whole visible creation, is what is meant, as it appears from “seen” in the next clause: and the word αἰὼν, in the singular number, says Stuart, is not employed to designate the “world” that is the universe. It is said to be used plurally to express the various parts of which the world is composed. But the term “world” in our language comprehends the whole: it means the whole visible creation.
The verb “framed,” is rendered “compacted” by Beza — “adjusted” by Doddridge — “produced” by Macknight — and “formed” by Stuart. Calvin has “fitted” or joined together, aptata, the word used by the Vulgate. It is justly said by Leigh, that the verb properly means to compact or knit together disjointed parts, either of a body or a building. But it is used also in the sense of adjusting, fitting, preparing, setting in order, and perfecting, or completing. It is most commonly used in the sense of making perfect or complete. But we may render the words “the world was set in order by the word of God.” — Ed.
(206) Moderns no less than the ancients differ from Calvin as to this clause; and yet his explanation is more suited to the passage, and especially to εἰς τὸ which means properly, to the end that, or, in order to, denoting the object or final cause. But there is no authority for making ἐκ and φαινομένων one word as he proposes: yet if the transposition of μὴ be admitted, which both ancient and modern critics allow, the meaning advocated by Calvin may still be defended: “in order that of things not apparent there might be things visible;” the things not apparent or visible being the power, wisdom and goodness of God, in exact harmony with Romans 1:20, where God’s power and divinity are said to be “invisible things ” — τὰ ἀόρατα: they are things not apparent.
Again, the verb κατηρτίσθαι denotes not creation, but the fitting or adjusting, or setting in order of things previously created: it seems to designate the work done, not as described in the first verse of Genesis, but in the following verses: so that the object or design of this adjustment or arrangement is what is expressed in this clause; it was, that there might be visible things as evidence or manifestations of things invisible.
It may be further said, that the world is said to have been set in order by the word of God: and so it is recorded in Genesis: but this word or fiat is not mentioned in the first verse of that book, in which the heavens and the earth are said to have been created. It hence appears that the reference here is to the setting in order of this world, and not to the first creation of its materials; and if so, the second clause cannot refer to the creation of the world out of nothing, as it is necessarily connected with what the first clause contains.“
Faith” then refers here, if this view must be taken, not to the fact that the world was made by God, which even heathens admitted, but to the design of God in creation, the manifestation of his own glory. “The heavens,” says the Psalmist “declare the glory of God,” etc. — Ed.
4. By faith Abel offered, etc. The Apostle’s object in this chapter is to show, that however excellent were the works of the saints, it was from faith they derived their value, their worthiness, and all their excellences; and hence follows what he has already intimated, that the fathers pleased God by faith alone.
Now he commends faith here on two accounts, — it renders obedience to God, for it attempts and undertakes nothing, but what is according to the rule of God’s word, — and it relies on God’s promises, and thus it gains the value and worth which belongs to works from his grace alone. Hence, wherever the word faith is found in this chapter, we must bear in mind, that the Apostle speaks of it, in order that the Jews might regard no other rule than God’s word, and might also depend alone on his promises.
He says, first, that Abel’s sacrifice was for no other reason preferable to that of his brother, except that it was sanctified by faith: (207) for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odor, pacify God. The Scripture indeed shows plainly, why God accepted his sacrifice, for Moses’s words are these, “God had respect to Abel, and to his gifts.” It is hence obvious to conclude, that his sacrifice was accepted, because he himself was graciously accepted. But how did he obtain this favor, except that his heart was purified by faith.
God testifying, etc. He confirms what I have already stated, that no works, coming from us can please God, until we ourselves are received into favor, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus, — God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God. (208)
This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outward masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.
By it he being dead, etc. To faith he also ascribes this, — that God testified that Abel was no less the object of his care after his death, than during his life: for when he says, that though dead, he still speaketh, he means, as Moses tells us, that God was moved by his violent death to take vengeance. When, therefore, Abel or his blood is said to speak, the words are to be understood figuratively. It was yet a singular evidence of God’s love towards him, that he had a care for him when he was dead; and it hence appears, that he was one of God’s saints, whose death is precious to him. (209)
(207) “Abel’s offering was more acceptable than that of Cain, because he had faith.” — Grotius.
The word “sacrifice,” θυσία, means properly an offered victim, but sometimes anything offered to God. Indeed Abel’s sacrifice is called in Genesis 4:4, an offering. The word πλείων is literally more, but is used in the sense of more in number, quantity or excellency. The last is evidently the meaning here; for Abel’s offering, according to the account given, was not in the number or quantity, but in quality. Then a better or a more excellent sacrifice, and not a fuller, as some have rendered it, is the right version. — Ed
(208) What the Apostle evidently refers to are these words, “the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering.” He calls this “testifying.” How this was done, we are not told. The divine approbation was in some way conveyed; there was respect had to Abel and to his offering, but not to Cain nor to his offering. The Apostle says here first, that Abel “obtained a testimony that he was righteous,” and then he adds by way of explanation: God testifying of his gifts. It seems then that the approbation of his gifts was the testimony he received that he was righteous, this was evidently the meaning of the Apostle. Now the question is, how was this testimony as to that sacrifice. What was it? Such, we may reasonably conclude as was given in other recorded instances; it was by fire sent from heaven to consume the sacrifice. See Leviticus 9:24; Genesis 18:38; 2 Chronicles 7:1.“
By which,” and “by it,” are commonly referred to faith, but the passage would be plainer, by referring them to “the sacrifice.” It was by the means or medium of the sacrifice, that the testimony was given, and it was on the account of it that Abel was put to death; “and through it, having died, he yet speaketh;” that is, though he died, owing to his sacrifice being approved, he yet speaketh, that is, by his example as a believer, say some, in the atonement; as a sufferer in behalf of the truth, say others. — Ed.
(209) Though this view has been taken by Grotius and many others, yet the one suggested above is what has been mostly adopted. It is Abel himself who here speaks as a man of faith; it is the voice of his blood that is referred to in Hebrews 12:24. Instead of the received reading, the preponderance of copies is in favor of λαλεῖ — Ed
5. By faith Enoch, etc. He chose a few of the most ancient, that he might make a transition to Abraham and his posterity. He teaches us that through faith, it was that Enoch was translated.
But we ought especially to consider the reason why God in so unusual a manner removed him from the earth. The event was remarkable, and hence all may know how dear he was to God. Impiety and all kinds of corruptions then prevailed everywhere. Had he died as other men, it would have not occurred to any, that he was thus preserved from the prevailing contagion by God’s providence; but, as he was taken away without dying, the hand of God from heaven, removing him as it were from the fire, was openly manifested. It was not to then an ordinary honor with which God had favored him. Moses indeed tells us, that he was a righteous man, and that he walked with God; but as righteousness begins with faith, it is justly ascribed to his faith, that he pleased God. (210)
As to the subtle questions which the curious usually moot, it is better to pass them over, without taking much notice of them. They ask, what became of these two men, Enoch and Elijah? And then, that they may not appear merely to ask questions, they imagine that they are reserved for the last days of the Church, that they may then come forth into the world; and for this purpose the Revelation of John is referred to. Let us leave this airy philosophy to those light and vain minds, which cannot be satisfied with what is solid. Let it suffice us to know, that their translation was a sort of extraordinary death; nor let us doubt but that they were divested of their mortal and corruptible flesh, in order that they might, with the other members of Christ, be renewed into a blessed immortality. (211)
(210) “He reasons thus: — He who pleases God is endued with faith; Enoch pleased God; then Enoch was endued with faith.” — J. Capellus.
(211) It is the Sept. that is followed by the Apostle. Instead of “he walked with God,” we have here, “he pleased God;” and for, “he was not,” the phrase is “he was not found.” One part of the verse is nearly a literal quotation, “and he was not found, because God had translated him;” and this ought to be put parenthetically, for what follows is connected with the first clause, as it contains a reason for what is there asserted; Enoch was through faith translated, for he had a testimony that he pleased God; and to please God is an evidence of faith, as proved by the following verse.
Strange are the vagaries of learned men! Some of the German divines have attempted to prove that Enoch was not translated without dying. Though no words can express the event more clearly than those of the Apostle. This is an instance of what men will do to support a false system, when once fully imbibed. — Ed.
6. But without faith, etc. What is said here belongs to all the examples which the Apostle records in this chapter; but as there is in the passage some measure of obscurity, it is necessary to examine its meaning more closely.
But there is no better interpreter than the Apostle himself. The proof, then, which he immediately subjoins, may serve as an explanation. The reason he assigns why no one can please God without faith, is this, — because no one will ever come to God, except he believes that God is, and is also convinced that he is a remunerator to all who seek him. If access then to God is not opened, but by faith, it follows, that all who are without it, are the objects of God’s displeasure. Hence the Apostle shows how faith obtains favor for us, even because faith is our teacher as to the true worship of God, and makes us certain as to his goodwill, so that we may not think that we seek him in vain. These two clauses ought not to be slightly passed over, — that we must believe that God is, and that we ought to feel assured that he is not sought in vain. (212)
It does not indeed seem a great matter, when the Apostle requires us to believe that God is; but when you more closely consider it, you will find that there is here a rich, profound, and sublime truth; for though almost all admit without disputing that God is, yet it is evident, that except the Lord retains us in the true and certain knowledge of himself, various doubts will ever creep in, and obliterate every thought of a Divine Being. To this vanity the disposition of man is no doubt prone, so that to forget God becomes an easy thing. At the same time the Apostle does not mean, that men ought to feel assured that there is some God, for he speaks only of the true God; nay, it will not be sufficient for you to form a notion of any God you please; but you must understand what sort of Being the true God is; for what will it profit us to devise and form an idol, and to ascribe to it the glory due to God?
We now then perceive what the Apostle means in the first clause; he denies that we can have an access to God, except we have the truth, that God is deeply fixed in our hearts, so as not to be led here and there by various opinions.
It is hence evident, that men in vain weary themselves in serving God, except they observe the right way, and that all religions are not only vain, but also pernicious, with which the true and certain knowledge of God is not connected; for all are prohibited from having any access to God, who do not distinguish and separate him from all idols; in short, there is no religion except where this truth reigns dominant. But if the true knowledge of God has its seat in our hearts it will not fail to lead us to honor and fear him; for God, without his majesty is not really known. Hence arises the desire to serve him, hence it comes that the whole life is so formed, that he is regarded as the end in all things
The second clause is that we ought to be fully persuaded that God is not sought in vain; and this persuasion includes the hope of salvation and eternal life, for no one will be in a suitable state of heart to seek God except a sense of the divine goodness be deeply felt, so as to look for salvation from him. We indeed flee from God, or wholly disregard him, when there is no hope of salvation. But let us bear in mind, that this is what must be really believed, and not held merely as a matter of opinions; for even the ungodly may sometimes entertain such a notion, and yet they do not come to God; and for this reason, because they have not a firm and fixed faith. (213) This then is the other part of faith by which we obtain favor with God, even when we feel assured that salvation is laid up for us in him.
But many shamefully pervert this clause; for they hence elicit the merits of works, and the conceit about deserving. And they reason thus: “We please God by faith, because we believe him to be a rewarder; then faith has respect to the merits of works.” This error cannot be better exposed, than by considering how God is to be sought; while any one is wandering from the right way of seeking him, (214) he cannot be said to be engaged in the work. Now Scripture assigns this as the right way, — that a man, prostrate in himself, and smitten with the conviction that he deserves eternal death, and in selfdespair, is to flee to Christ as the only asylum for salvation. Nowhere certainly can we find that we are to bring to God any merits of works to put us in a state of favor with him. Then he who understands that this is the only right way of seeking God, will be freed from every difficulty on the subject; for reward refers not to the worthiness or value of works but to faith.
Thus, these frigid glosses of the Sophists, such as, “by faith we please God, for we deserve when we intend to please,” fall wholly to the ground. The Apostle’s object was to carry us much higher, even that conscience might feel assured that it is not a vain thing to seek God; and this certainty or assurance far exceeds what we can of ourselves attain, especially when any one considers his own self. For it is not to be laid down as an abstract principle, that God is a rewarder to those who seek him; but every one of us ought individually to apply this doctrine to himself, so that we may know that we are regarded by God, that he has such a care for our salvation as never to be wanting to us, that our prayers are heard by him, that he will be to us a perpetual deliverer. But as none of these things come to us except through Christ, our faith must ever regard him and cleave to him alone.
From these two clauses, we may learn how, and why it is impossible for man to please God without faith; God justly regards us all as objects of his displeasure, as we are all by nature under his curse; and we have no remedy in our own power. It is hence necessary that God should anticipate us by his grace; and hence it comes, that we are brought to know that God is, and in such a way that no corrupt superstition can seduce us, and also that we become assured of a certain salvation from him.
Were any one to desire a fuller view of this subject, he should make his commencement here, — that we in vain attempt to try anything, except we look to God; for the only true end of life is to promote his glory; but this can never be done, unless there be first the true knowledge of him. Yet this is still but the half of faith, and will profit us but little, except confidence be added. Hence faith will only then be complete and secure us God’s favor, when we shall feel a confidence that we shall not seek him in vain, and thus entertain the certainty of obtaining salvation from him. But no one, except he be blinded by presumption, and fascinated by selflove, can feel assured that God will be a rewarder of his merits. Hence this confidence of which we speak recumbs not on works, nor on man’s own worthiness, but on the grace of God alone; and as grace is nowhere found but in Christ, it is on him alone that faith ought to be fixed.
(212) To “come to God,” is very expressive, and is literally the word. To “approach to” by Doddridge, and “to worship,” by Macknight, are no improvements, but otherwise. God is represented as sitting on the throne of grace; hence the idea of coming to him. Enoch walked with God, as though God was a friend and a companion; hence to come to him is the appropriate expression. Stuart says, that it is a metaphor derived from the practice of coming to the temple to worship, God being represented as there present. — Ed.
(213) “Certainly there is no true faith in the doctrine of salvation, unless it be attended with this magnetic force, by which it draws the soul to God.” — Archb. Leighton
(214) Calvin does not connect “diligently” with seeking, as in our version. Merely to seek, is what the verb means. It is rendered in Acts 15:17, “to seek after,” and so in Romans 3:11, and carefully is added to it on Hebrews 12:17. It is found often in the Sept. in the sense of seeking, and stands for a verb in Hebrew, which means simply to seek. See Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalms 14:2; Jeremiah 29:13. Stuart’s version is, “Who seek him?” and so is Beza’s — Ed.
7. By faith Noah, etc. It was a wonderful example of magnanimity, that when the whole world were promising themselves impunity, and securely and unrestrainedly indulging themselves in sinful pleasures, Noah alone paid regard to Gods vengeance though deferred for a considerable time, — that he greatly wearied himself for a hundred and twenty years in building the ark, — that he stood unshaken amidst the scoffs of so many ungodly men, — that he entertained no doubt but that he would be safe in the midst of the ruin of the whole world, — yea, that he felt sure of life as it were in the grave, even in the ark. It is briefly that I shall touch on the subject; each one can better for himself weigh all the circumstances.
The Apostle ascribes to faith the praise of so remarkable a fortitude. He has been hitherto speaking of the fathers who lived in the first age of the world; but it was a kind of regeneration when Noah and his family emerged from the deluge. It is hence evident that in all ages men have neither been approved by God, nor performed anything worthy of praise otherwise than by faith.
Let us now then see what are the things he presents to our consideration in the case of Noah. They are the following, — that having been warned of things to come, but not yet made visible, he feared, — that he built an ark, — that he condemned the world by building it, — and that he became the heir of that righteousness which is faith. (215)
What I have just mentioned is that which especially sets forth the power of faith; for the Apostle ever reminds us of this truth, that faith is the evidence of things not seen; and doubtless it is its peculiar office to behold in God’s word the things which are hid, and far removed from our senses. When it was declared to Noah that there would be a deluge after one hundred and twenty years, first, the length of time might have removed every fear; secondly, the thing in itself seemed incredible; thirdly, he saw the ungodly heedlessly indulging in sinful pleasures; and lastly, the terrible announcement of a deluge might have appeared to him as intended only to terrify men. But Noah attended so much to God’s word, that turning away his eyes from the appearance of things at that time, he feared the destruction which God had threatened, as though it was present. Hence the faith which he had in God’s word prepared him to render obedience to God; and of this he afterwards gave a proof by building the ark.
But here a question is raised. Why does the Apostle make faith the cause of fear, since it has respect to promises of grace rather than to threatening? For Paul for this reason calls the Gospel, in which God’s righteousness is offered to us for salvation, the word of faith. It seems then to have been improperly stated, that Noah was by faith led to fear. To this, I reply, that faith indeed properly springs from promises; it is founded on them, it rests on them. We hence say that Christ is the real object of faith, for through him our heavenly Father is reconciled to us, and by him all the promises of salvation are sealed and confirmed. Yet there is no reason why faith should not look to God and reverently receive whatever he may say; or if you prefer another way of stating the subject, it rightly belongs to faith to hear God whenever he speaks, and unhesitatingly to embrace whatsoever may proceed from his sacred mouth. Thus far it has regard to commands and threatening, as well as to gratuitous promises. But as no man is moved as he ought and as much as is needful, to obey God’s commands, nor is sufficiently stirred up to deprecate his wrath, unless he has already laid hold on the promises of grace, so as to acknowledge him as a kind Father, and the author of salvation, — hence the Gospel is called the word of faith, the principal part being stated for the whole; and thus is set forth the mutual relation that there is between them both. Faith, then, though its most direct regard is to God’s promises, yet looks on his threatening so far as it is necessary for it to be taught to fear and obey God.
Prepared an ark, etc. Here is pointed out that obedience which flows from faith as water from a fountain. The work of building the ark was long and laborious. It might have been haltered by the scoffs of the ungodly, and thus suspended a thousand times; nor is there a doubt but they mocked and derided the holy man on every side. That he then bore their wanton insults with an unshaken spirit, is a proof that his resolution to obey was not of an ordinary kind. But how was it that he so perseveringly obeyed God except that he had previously rested on the promise which gave him the hope of deliverance; and in this confidence he persevered even to the last; for he could not have had the courage willingly to undergo so many toils, nor could he have been able to overcome so many obstacles, nor could he have stood so firm in his purpose for so long a time, had he not beforehand possessed this confidence.
It hence appears that faith alone is the teacher of obedience; and we may on the contrary draw this conclusion, that it is unbelief that prevents us to obey God. And at this day the unbelief of the world exhibits itself dreadfully in this way, for there are a very few who obey God.
By the which he condemned the world, etc. It were strange to say that Noah’s deliverance condemned the world, and the context will hardly allow faith to be meant; we must then understand this of the ark. And he is said on two accounts to have by the ark condemned the world; for by being so long occupied in building it, he took away every excuse from the wicked; — and the event which followed proved how just was the destruction of the world; for why was the ark made the means of deliverance to one family, except that the Lord thus spared a righteous man that he should not perish with the ungodly. Had he then not been preserved, the condemnation of the world would not have been so apparent. Noah then by obeying God’s command condemned by his example the obstinate disobedience of the world: his wonderful deliverance from the midst of death, was an evidence that the world justly perished; for God would have doubtless saved it, had it not been unworthy of salvation
Of the righteousness which is by faith. This is the last thing in the character of Noah, which the Apostle reminds us to observe. Moses records that he was a righteous man: history does not expressly say that the cause and root of his righteousness was faith, but the Apostle declares that as arising from the facts of the case. And this is not only true, because no one ever devotes himself really and sincerely to God’s service, but he who relies on the promises of his paternal kindness, and feels assured that his life is approved by him; but also on this account, because the life of no one, however holy it may be, when tried by the rule of God’s law, can please him without pardon being granted. Then righteousness must necessarily recumb on faith.
(215) This is a very clear statement of the case of Noah. Many learned critics have given a different view, among moderns, Stuart and Dr. Bloomfield. The word rendered very correctly in our version, “being moved with fear,” they have rendered “with reverence” connecting it with “prepared.” The only other instance in which it occurs, it has the meaning of fear or dread, as to the consequences, see Acts 23:10. Besides, the whole tenor of the passage comports with this meaning: what was the warning? It was that of a dreadful judgment; and how is judgment to be regarded, but with fear? Faith, as Calvin will tell us presently, regards judgments as well as promises. Men are exhorted to flee from the wrath to come: when they believe that there is a wrath to come, do not they fear? Doddridge and Scott coincide with Calvin.
The other difference is, as to δἰ ἦς, “by which,” before “condemned.” This is not so manifestly wrong as the other, yet the meaning which Calvin gives is the most obvious, and the most suitable. Stuart refers “which” to faith, while it ought evidently to be referred to the ark; Noah by building the ark which he did by faith, condemned the conduct of others in neglecting to provide for the coming destruction. His preparation, done by faith, condemned their neglect, which was owing to unbelief.
As to the word “heir,” it means an heir in prospect, and an heir in possession, as in Hebrews 1:2. So it is evidently to be understood here. Noah became heir or possessor of the righteousness, which is by faith. The rendering of Stuart is nothing so expressive as the literal, “and obtained the justification which is by faith.” — Ed.
8. By faith Abraham, etc. He comes now to Abraham, who is the chief father of God’s church on earth, and in whose name the Jews gloried, as though by the distinction of being the holy race of Abraham alone, they were removed from the common order of men. But he now reminds them of what they ought to possess as the main thing, that they might be counted among his children. He therefore calls their attention to faith, for Abraham himself had no excellency which did not proceed from faith.
He first teaches us that faith was the cause why he immediately obeyed God when he was commanded to remove from his own country; and then that through the same faith it was that he went on without wavering, according to what he was called to do even to the end. By these two things, — his promptness in obeying, and his perseverance, was Abraham’s faith most clearly proved.
When he was called, etc. The old Latin translator and Erasmus apply this to his name, which is extremely tame and frigid. On the contrary, I refer it to the oracle by which he was called from his own country. He indeed did in this way undergo a voluntary exile, while yet he did nothing but by God’s command; and no doubt it is one of the chief things which belong to faith, not to move a step except God’s word shows us the way, and as a lantern gives us light, according to what David says. (Psalms 119:105.) Let us then learn that it is a thing to be observed through life, that we are to undertake nothing to which God does not call us.
To go out into a place, (216) etc. To the command was added a promise, that God would give him a land for an inheritance. This promise he immediately embraced, and hastened as though he was sent to take possession of this land. It is a no ordinary trial of faith to give up what we have in hand, in order to seek what is afar off, and unknown to us. For when God commanded him to leave his own country, he did not point out the place where he intended him to live, but left him in suspense and perplexity of mind: “go”, he said, “into the place that I will show thee.” (Genesis 12:1.) Why did he defer to point out the place, except that his faith might be more and more exercised? Besides, the love of his native land might not only have retarded the alacrity of Abraham, but also held him so bound to it, so as not to quit his home. His faith then was not of an ordinary kind, which thus broke through all hindrances and carried him where the Lord called him to go.
(216) This is differently connected by Calvin, his version is “by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed, so that he went forth,” etc. Bloomfield by supposing ωστε understood before ἐξελθεῖν, seems to be of the same opinion. Beza renders the verb by a gerund, “abiendo,” by departing. This construction is more agreeable to the location of the words; the other introduces an unnatural transposition. Besides, the idea is somewhat different. There are thus two things in the verse stated more directly, as evidences and proofs of faith, — his departure from his own country, and his ignorance as to the country where he was going. His faith was such that he obeyed, so as to leave his own country, and also to go to a country, of which he knew nothing. — Ed
9. By faith he sojourned, etc. The second particular is, that having entered into the land, he was hardly received as a stranger and a sojourner. Where was the inheritance which he had expected? It might have indeed occurred instantly to his mind, that he had been deceived by God. Still greater was the disappointment, which the Apostle does not mention, when shortly after a famine drove him from the country, when he was compelled to flee to the land of Gerar; but the Apostle considered it enough to say, as a commendation to his faith, that he became a sojourner in the land of promise; for to be a sojourner seemed contrary to what had been promised. That Abraham then courageously sustained this trial was an instance of great fortitude; but it proceeded from faith alone.
With Isaac and Jacob, etc. He does not mean that they dwelt in the same tent, or lived at the same time; but he makes Abraham’s son and grandson his companions, because they sojourned alike in the inheritance promised to them, and yet failed not in their faith, however long it was that God delayed the time; for the longer the delay the greater was the trial; but by setting up the shield of faith they repelled all the assaults of doubt and unbelief. (217)
(217) The preposition μετὰ may often be rendered “as well as.” See Matthew 2:3; Luke 11:7, 1 Corinthians 16:11; “dwelling in tents, as well as Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs to the same promise.” It means not here the same time, says Grotius, but parity as to what is stated. — Ed
10. For he looked for, etc. He gives a reason why he ascribes their patience to faith, even because they looked forward to heaven. This was indeed to see things invisible. It was no doubt a great thing to cherish in their hearts the assurance given them by God respecting the possession of the land until it was after some ages realized; yet as they did not confine their thoughts, no, not to that land, but penetrated even into heaven, it was still a clearer evidence of their faith.
He calls heaven a city that has foundations, because of its perpetuity; for in the world there is nothing but what is transitory and fading. It may indeed appear strange that he makes God the Maker of heavens as though he did not also create the earth; to this I answer, that as in earthly buildings, the hands of men make use of materials, the workmanship of God is not unfitly set in opposition to them. Now, whatever is formed by men is like its authors in instability; so also is the perpetuity of the heavenly life, it corresponds with the nature of God its founder. (218) Moreover, the Apostle teaches us that all weariness is relieved by expectation, so that we ought never to be weary in following God.
(218) The words, “builder and maker,” are rendered by Calvin, “master builder and maker.” The terms seem reversed. The first word means the maker or worker; and the second, the master-builder or planner. Beza’s version is, “the maker, (artifex) and the founder, (conditor).” The order is, according to what is very common in Scripture, the effect mentioned first, then the cause, of the maker first, then the contriver. The last word, no doubt used in the sense of a worker or maker, but also in the sense of an architect or planner; but the former word means a skillful worker or artificer, but not a master-builder. In order, therefore, to give a sistant meaning to each, the sentence is to be thus rendered, — “Whose maker and planner is God;” he not only made it, but also planned and contrived it. — Ed.
11. Through faith also, Sarah herself, etc. That women may know that this truth belongs to them as well as to men, he adduces the example of Sarah; which he mentions in preference to that of others, because she was the mother of all the faithful.
But it may seem strange that her faith is commended, who was openly charged with unbelief; for she laughed at the word of the angel as though it were a fable; and it was not the laugh of wonder and admiration, for otherwise she would not have been so severely reproved by the angel. It must indeed be confessed, that her faith was blended with unbelief; (219) but as she cast aside her unbelief when reproved, her faith is acknowledged by God and commended. What then she rejected at first as being incredible, she afterwards as soon as she heard that it came from God, obediently received.
And hence we deduce a useful doctrine, — that when our faith in some things wavers or halts, it ceases not to be approved of God, provided we indulge not the spirit of unbelief. The meaning then is, that the miracle which God performed when Isaac was born, was the fruit of the faith of Abraham, and of his wife, by which they laid hold on the power of God.
Because she judged him faithful, etc. These reasons, by which the power and character of faith are set forth, ought to be carefully noticed. Were any one only to hear that Sarah brought forth a child through faith, all that is meant would not be conveyed to him, but the explanation which the Apostle adds removes every obscurity; for he declares that Sarah’s faith was this, — that she counted God to be true to his word, that is, to what he had promised.
There are two clauses to this declaration; for we hence learn first, that there is no faith without God’s word, for of his faithfulness we cannot be convinced, until he has spoken. And this of itself is abundantly sufficient to confute the fiction of the sophists respecting implicit faith; for we must ever hold that there is a mutual relation between God’s word and our faith. But as faith is founded chiefly, according to what has been already said, on the benevolence or kindness of God, it is not every word, though coming from his mouth, that is sufficient; but a promise is necessary as an evidence of his favor. Hence Sarah is said to have counted God faithful who had promised. True faith then is that which hears God speaking and rests on his promise.
(219) “The same thing is affirmed of Abraham, Genesis 17:17. The truth is the first annunciation, that a child would spring from them, occasioned both in his and Sarah’s mind a feeling of incongruity, of impossibility, that the course of nature should be so reversed. Subsequent consideration brought both to a full belief in the reality of the promised blessing.” — Stuart.
It is remarkable, that at the first announcement Abraham laughed, as Sarah did afterward; and not only so, but he also said, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” evidently showing that he did not then believe the promise which had been made to him. In the following chapter, Genesis 18:10, the promise is repeated, when Sarah laughed. And in order to confirm them both, they were reminded of God’s power, Genesis 18:14. Then faith overcame unbelief. — Ed.
12. Therefore sprang there even of one, etc. He now also reminds the Jews, that it was by faith that they were the descendants of Abraham; for he was as it were half dead, (220) and Sarah his wife, who had been barren in the flower of her age, was now sterile, being far advanced in years. Sooner then might oil be expected to flow from a stone, than a nation to proceed from them: and yet there sprang from them an innumerable multitude. If now the Jews are proud of their origin, let them consider what it was. Whatever they are, everything is doubtless to be ascribed to the faith of Abraham and Sarah. It hence follows, that they cannot retain and defend the position they have acquired in any other way than by faith.
(220) Calvin renders ταῦτα adverbially “quidem,” “and indeed dead;” Doddridge “in his repeat;” Macknight, “to these matters;” Stuart “as to these things.” But the word is rendered in Luke 6:23, “in the like manner;” and this would be the best rendering here. Abraham was like Sarah, “dead” as to the power of begetting children, — “Therefore even from one, and him in a like manner dead, there sprang so many as the stars,” etc. — Ed
13. These all died in faith, etc. He enhances by a comparison the faith of the patriarchs: for when they had only tasted of the promises, as though fully satisfied with their sweetness, they despised all that was in the world; and they never forgot the taste of them, however small it was either in life or in death. (222)
At the same time the expression in faith, is differently explained. Some understand simply this that they died in faith, because in this life they never enjoyed the promised blessings, as at this day also salvation is hid from us, being hoped for. But I rather assent to those who think that there is expressed here a difference between us and the fathers; and I give this explanation, — “Though God gave to the fathers only a taste of that grace which is largely poured on us, though he showed to them at a distance only an obscure representation of Christ, who is now set forth to us clearly before our eyes, yet they were satisfied and never fell away from their faith: how much greater reason then have we at this day to persevere? If we grow faint, we are doubly inexcusable”. It is then an enhancing circumstance, that the fathers had a distant view of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, while we at this day have so near a view of it, and that they hailed the promises afar off, while we have them as it were quite near us; for if they nevertheless persevered even unto death, what sloth will it be to become wearied in faith, when the Lord sustains us by so many helps. Were any one to object and say, that they could not have believed without receiving the promises on which faith is necessarily founded: to this the answer is, that the expression is to be understood comparatively; for they were far from that high position to which God has raised us. Hence it is that though they had the same salvation promised them, yet they had not the promises so clearly revealed to them as they are to us under the kingdom of Christ; but they were content to behold them afar off. (223)
And confessed that they were strangers, etc. This confession was made by Jacob, when he answered Pharaoh, that the time of his pilgrimage was short compared with that of his fathers, and full of many sorrows. (Genesis 47:9.) Since Jacob confessed himself a pilgrim in the land, which had been promised to him as a perpetual inheritance, it is quite evident that his mind was by no means fixed on this world, but that he raised it up above the heavens. Hence the Apostle concludes, that the fathers, by speaking thus, openly showed that they had a better country in heaven; for as they were pilgrims here, they had a country and an abiding habitation elsewhere.
But if they in spirit amid dark clouds, took a flight into the celestial country, what ought we to do at this day? For Christ stretches forth his hand to us, as it were openly, from heaven, to raise us up to himself. If the land of Canaan did not engross their attention, how much more weaned from things below ought we to be, who have no promised habitation in this world?
(222) “These all” must be limited to Abraham, and those mentioned after him, for to them the promises had been made; and he speaks only of such. So Beza and Stuart. — Ed.
(223) Mention is made of “promises;” and then “heavenly country” is the only thing afterwards specified. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had received many promises which were not fulfilled to them — a numerous seed, the land of Canaan, the Messiah, the resurrection (implied in the promise of being their God) and the heavenly country. There is no reason why all these should not form the “promises” which they saw afar and embraced, though the promise of the heavenly country is alone afterwards, expressly mentioned, it being as it were the completion of all the other promises, and suitably referred to after the acknowledgment they made of being strangers and sojourners on the earth. Their faith embraced all the promises, while it had a especial reference to the eternal inheritance, which though they entered into rest, as to their spirits, they have not yet attained, and which shall not be attained either by them, or by us, until Christ’s second coming, when we shall together be introduced into the heavenly country. See a Note on the 39 th and 40 th verses. — Ed.
15. And truly if they had been mindful, etc. He anticipates an objection that might have been made, — that they were strangers because they had left their own country. The apostle meets this objection, and says, that though they called themselves strangers, they yet did not think of Mesopotamia; for if they had a desire to return, they might have done so: but they had willingly banished themselves from it, nay, they had disowned it, as though it did not belong to them. By another country, then, they meant, that which is beyond this world. (224)
(224) “But now they desire,” etc. The historical present is used here instead of the past tense — “But now they desired, etc.” So Beza, Grotius, and others. — Ed.
16. Wherefore God is not ashamed, etc. He refers to that passage, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6.) It is a singular honor when God makes men illustrious, by attaching his name to them; and designs thus to have himself distinguished from idols. This privilege, as the Apostle teaches us, depends also on faith; for when the holy fathers aspired to a celestial country, God on the other hand counted them as citizens. We are hence to conclude, that there is no place for us among God’s children, except we renounce the world, and that there will be for us no inheritance in heaven, except we become pilgrims on earth; Moreover, the Apostle justly concludes from these words, — “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,” that they were heirs of heaven, since he who thus speaks is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
17. By faith Abraham, etc. He proceeds with the history of Abraham, and relates the offering up of his son; and it was a singular instance of firmness, so that there is hardly another like it to be found. Hence for the sake of enhancing it, he adds, when he was tempted, or tried. Abraham had indeed already proved what he was, by many trials; yet as this trial surpassed every other, so the Apostle would have it to be regarded above all his trials. It is then as though he had said, “The highest excellency of Abraham was the sacrificing of his son:” for God is said to have then in an especial manner tried him. And yet this act flowed from faith; then Abraham had nothing more excellent than faith, which brought forth such extraordinary fruit.
The word, tempted or tried, means no other thing than proved. What James says, that we are not tempted by God, is to be understood differently, (James 1:13;) he means that God does not tempt us to do evil; for he testifies that this is really done by every man’s own lust. At the same time he says not that God does not try our integrity and obedience, though God does not thus search us, as if he knew not otherwise what is hid in our hearts; nay, God wants no probation that he may know us; but when he brings us to the light, that we may by our works show what was before hid, he is said to try or prove us; and then that which is made openly manifest, is said to be made known to God. For it is a very usual and frequent mode of speaking in Scripture, that what is peculiar to men is ascribed to God.
The sacrificing of Isaac is to be estimated according to the purpose of the heart: for it was not owing to Abraham that he did not actually perform what he was commanded to do. His resolution to obey was then the same, as though he had actually sacrificed his son.
And offered up his only-begotten Son, etc. By these various circumstances, the Apostle intended to show, how great and how severe the trial of Abraham was; and there are still other things related by Moses, which had the same tendency. Abraham was commanded to take his own son, his only begotten and beloved son Isaac, to lead to the place, which was afterwards to be shown to him, and there to sacrifice him with his own hands. These tender words God seems to have designedly accumulated, that he might pierce the inmost heart of the holy man, as with so many wounds; and then that he might more severely try him, he commanded him to go a threedays’ journey. How sharp, must we think, was his anguish to have continually before his eyes his own son, whom he had already resolved to put to a bloody death! As they were coming to the place, Isaac pierced his breast with yet a new wound, by asking him, “Where is the victim?” The death of a son, under any circumstances, must have been very grievous, a bloody death would have still caused a greater sorrow; but when he was bidden to slay his own, — that indeed must have been too dreadful for a father’s heart to endure; and he must have been a thousand times disabled, had not faith raised up his heart above the world. It is not then without reason, that the apostle records that he was then tried.
It may, however, be asked, why is Isaac called the only begotten, for Ishmael was born before him and was still living. To this the answer is, that by God’s express command he was driven from the family, so that he was accounted as one dead, at least, he held no place among Abraham’s children.
And he that received the promises, etc. All the things we have hitherto related, however deeply they must have wounded the heart of Abraham, yet they were but slight wounds compared with this trial, when he was commanded, after having received the promises, to slay his son Isaac; for all the promises were founded on this declaration, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” (Genesis 21:12;) (225) for when this foundation was taken away, no hope of blessing or of grace remained. Here nothing earthly was the matter at issue, but the eternal salvation of Abraham, yea, of the whole world. Into what straits must the holy man have been brought when it came to his mind, that the hope of eternal life was to be extinguished in the person of his son? And yet by faith he emerged above all these thoughts, so as to execute what he was commanded. Since it was a marvelous fortitude to struggle through so many and so great obstacles, justly is the highest praise awarded to faith, for it was by faith alone that Abraham continued invincibly.
But here arises no small difficulty, How is it that Abraham’s faith is praised when it departs from the promise? For as obedience proceeds from faith, so faith from the promise; then when Abraham was without the promise, his faith must have necessarily fallen to the ground. But the death of Isaac, as it has been already said, must have been the death as it were of all the promises; for Isaac is not to be considered as a common man, but as one who had Christ included in him. This question, which would have been otherwise difficult to be solved, the Apostle explains by adding immediately, that Abraham ascribed this honor to God, that he was able to raise his son again from the dead. He then did not renounce the promise given to him, but extended its power and its truth beyond the life of his son; for he did not limit God’s power to so narrow bounds as to tie it to Isaac when dead, or to extinguish it. Thus he retained the promise, because he bound not God’s power to Isaac’s life, but felt persuaded that it would be efficacious in his ashes when dead no less than in him while alive and breathing.
(225) The words literally are “In Isaac shall be called to thee a seed.” But the Hebrew ב and the Greek ἐν, mean often by or through, or by the means of: and the Hebrew verb, to be called, as well as the Greek, may sometimes be rendered to be. Hence Macknight seems to have been right in his version of the clause, “By Isaac a seed shall be thee;” which is better than that of Stuart, “After Isaac shall thy seed be named,” for this is less literal, and the meaning is not conveyed. — Ed
19. From whence also, etc. As though he said, “Nor did hope disappoint Abraham, for it was a sort of resurrection, when his son was so suddenly delivered from the midst of death. The word figure, which is here used, is variously explained. I take it simply as meaning likeness; for though Isaac did not really rise from the dead, yet he seemed to have in a manner risen, when he was suddenly and wonderfully rescued through the unexpected favor of God. (226) However, I do not dislike what some say, who think that our flesh, which is subject to death, is set forth in the ram which was substituted for Isaac. I also allow that to be true which some have taught, that this sacrifice was a representation of Christ. But I have now to state what the Apostle meant, not what may in truth be said; and the real meaning here, as I think, is, that Abraham did not receive his Son otherwise than if he had been restored from death to new life.
(226) The meaning given by Stuart and some others is very far fetched, though said to be natural, that “Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, because he had, as it were, obtained him from the dead, i.e., he was born of those who were dead as to these things.” Hence the rendering given is “comparatively.” Abraham had, as to his purpose, sacrificed him, so that he considered him as dead; and he received him back from the dead, not really, but in a way bearing a likeness to such a miracle. This sense is alone compatible with the former clause, which mentions Abraham’s faith in God’s power to raise his son from the dead; he believed that God was able to do this; and then it is added that Abraham had received back his son as though he had sacrificed him, and as though God had raised him from the dead. What actually took place bore a likeness to the way which he had anticipated. Costallio gives the meaning, “it was the same as though he had sacrificed him, and received him also in a manner he received him.” — Ed.
20. By faith Isaac, etc. It was also the work of faith to bless as to future things; for when the thing itself does not exist and the word only appears, faith must necessarily bear rule. But first we must notice of what avail is the blessing of which he speaks. For to bless often means to pray for a blessing. But the blessing of Isaac was very different; for it was as it were an introduction into the possession of the land, which God had promised to him and his posterity. And yet he had nothing in that land but the right of burial. Then strange seemed these high titles, “Let people serve thee, and tribes bow down to thee,” (Genesis 27:29;) for what dominion could he have given who himself was hardly a free man? We hence see that this blessing depended on faith; for Isaac had nothing which he could have bestowed on his children but the word of God.
It may, however, be doubted whether there was any faith in the blessing given to Esau, as he was a reprobate and rejected by God. The answer is easy, for faith mainly shone forth, when he distinguished between the two twins born to him, so that he gave the first place to the younger; for following the oracle of God, he took away from the firstborn the ordinary right of nature. And on this depended the condition of the whole nation, that Jacob was chosen by God, and that this choice was sanctioned by the blessing of the father.
21. By faith Jacob, etc. It was the Apostle’s object to attribute to faith whatever was worthy of remembrance in the history of the people: as, however, it would have been tedious to recount everything, he selected a few things out of many, such at this. For the tribe of Ephraim was so superior to the rest, that they in a manner did lie down under its shade; for the Scripture often includes the ten tribes under this name. And yet Ephraim was the younger of the two sons of Joseph, and when Jacob blessed him and his brother, they were both young. What did Jacob observe in the younger, to prefer him to the first born? Nay, when he did so, his eyes were dim with age, so that he could not see. Nor did he lay his right hand by chance on the head of Ephraim, but he crossed his hands, so that he moved his right hand to the left side. Besides, he assigned to them two portions, as though he was now the Lord of that land, from which famine had driven him away. There was nothing here agreeable to reason; but faith ruled supreme. If, then, the Jews wish to be anything, they should glory in nothing else, but in faith.
And worshipped on the top, etc. This is one of those places from which we may conclude that the points were not formerly used by the Hebrews; for the Greek translators could not have made such a mistake as to put staff here for a bed, if the mode of writing was then the same as now. No doubt Moses spoke of the head of his couch, when he said על ראש המטה but the Greek translators rendered the words, “On the top of his staff” as though the last word was written, mathaeh. The Apostle hesitated not to apply to his purpose what was commonly received: he was indeed writing to the Jews; but they who were dispersed into various countries, had changed their own language for the Greek. And we know that the Apostles were not so scrupulous in this respect, as not to accommodate themselves to the unlearned, who had as yet need of milk; and in this there is no danger, provided readers are ever brought back to the pure and original text of Scripture. But, in reality, the difference is but little; for the main thing was, that Jacob worshipped, which was an evidence of his gratitude. He was therefore led by faith to submit himself to his son. (227)
(227) Various have been the opinions on this clause. It is clear that the words here refer to a time different from that mentioned in Genesis 47:31. They are connected in Genesis with the oath which Joseph made to his father to bury him in Canaan; but here with the blessing of his sons recorded in the following chapter, Genesis 48:15. These were two separate transactions, and the words only occur in the first; and it seems from the words of the Apostle, that the act and position of Jacob were also the same in the second instance.
The points are of no authority; and the Apostle adopted the Septuagint version, and thus sanctioned it: and there is no reason to dispute that sanction. David is said to worship upon his bed, (Genesis 1:47;) but the word for bed there is different. All the difficulty here vanishes, if we throw aside as we ought to do, the points. The word for worship in Hebrew means to prostrate one’s self on the ground, the humblest mode of adoration; but it is used also to designate merely an act of worship. See 1 Samuel 1:3; Genesis 5:5. The reason why Jacob is said to have worshipped unable to adopt the usual posture. — Ed.
22. By faith Joseph, etc. This is the last thing which Moses records respecting the patriarchs, and it deserves to be particularly noticed; for wealth, luxuries, and honors, made not the holy man to forget the promise, nor detained him in Egypt; and this was an evidence of no small faith. For whence had he so much greatness of mind, as to look down on whatever was elevated in the world, and to esteem as nothing whatever was precious in it, except that he had ascended up into heaven. In ordering his bones to be exported, he had no regard to himself, as though his grave in the land of Canaan would be sweeter or better than in Egypt; but his only object was to sharpen the desire of his own nation, that they might more earnestly aspire after redemption; he wished also to strengthen their faith, so that they might confidently hope that they would be at length delivered.
23. By faith Moses, etc. There have been others, and those heathens, who from no fear of God, but only from a desire of propagating an offspring, preserved their own children at the peril of life; but the Apostle shows that the parents of Moses were inducted to save him for another reason, even for this, — that as God had promised to them, under their oppression, that there would come some time a deliverer, they relied confidently on that promise, and preferred the safety of the infant to their own.
But he seems to say what is contrary to the character of faith, when he says that they were induced to do this by the beauty of the child; for we know that Jesse was reproved, when he brought his sons to Samuel as each excelled in personal appearance; and doubtless God would not have us to regard what is externally attractive. To this I answer, that the parents of Moses were not charmed with beauty, so as to be induced by pity to save him, as the case is commonly with men; but that there was some mark, as it were, of future excellency imprinted on the child, which gave promise of something extraordinary. There is, then, no doubt but that by his very appearance they were inspired with the hope of an approaching deliverance; for they considered that the child was destined for the performance of great things.
Moreover, it ought to have had a great weight with the Jews, to hear that Moses, the minister of their redemption, had been in an extraordinary manner rescued from death by means of faith. We must, however, remark, that the faith here praised was very weak; for after having disregarded the fear of death, they ought to have brought up Moses; instead of doing so, they exposed him. It is hence evident that their faith in a short time not only wavered, but wholly failed; at least they neglected their duty when they cast forth the infant on the bank of the river. But it behaves us to be more encouraged when we hear that their faith, though weak, was yet so approved by God as to secure that life to Moses, on which depended the deliverance of the Church.
24. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, etc. The example of Moses ought to have been remembered by the Jews, more than that of any other; for through him they were delivered from bondage, and the covenant of God was renewed, with them, and the constitution of the Church established by the publication of the Law. But if faith is to be considered as the main thing in Moses, it would be very strange and unreasonable that he should draw them away to anything else. It hence follows that all they make a poor proficiency in the Law who are not guided by it to faith.
Let us now see what the things are for which he commends the faith of Moses. The first excellency he mentions is, that when grown up, he disregarded the adoption of Pharaoh’s daughter. He refers to his age, for had he done this when a boy, it might have been imputed to his levity, or his ignorance; for as understanding and reason are not strong in children, they heedlessly rush headlong into any course of life; young people also are often carried here and there by unreflecting ardor. That we may then know that nothing was done thoughtlessly, and without a long deliberation, the Apostle says, that he was of mature age, which is also evident from history. (228)
But he is said to have disregarded his adoption; for when he visited his brethren, when he tried to relieve them, when he avenged their wrongs, he fully proved that he preferred to return to his own nation, rather than to remain in the king’s court: it was then the same as a voluntary rejection of it. This the Apostle ascribes to faith; for it would have been much better for him to remain in Egypt, had he not been persuaded of the blessing promised to the race of Abraham; and of this blessing, the only witness was God’s promise; for he could see nothing of the kind with his eyes. It hence appears, that he beheld by faith what was far removed from his sight.
(228) Literally it is “when he became great,” that is, in age or in years: he was, as it appears from Acts 7:23, about forty years of age. The word “great,” both in Hebrew and Greek, has sometimes this meaning. “When arrived at mature age,” by Stuart, is better than “when he was grown up,” by Doddridge and Macknight.
It is said that he refused, that is by his conduct. He acted in such a way as to show that he rejected the honor of being adopted son of Pharoah’s daughter. The verb means to deny, to renounce, to disown. He renounced the privilege offered to him. Others are said to “deny the power” of godliness, that is by their works. 2 Timothy 3:5. — Ed.
26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches, etc. This clause ought to be carefully noticed; for we here learn that we ought to shun as a deadly poison whatever cannot be enjoyed without offending God; for the pleasures of sin he calls all the allurements of the world which draw us away from God and our calling. But the comforts of our earthly life, which we are allowed by pure conscience, and God’s permission to enjoy, are not included here. Let us then ever remember that we ought to know and understand what God allows us. There are indeed some things in themselves lawful, but the use of which is prohibited to us, owing to circumstances as to time, place, or other things. Hence as to all the blessings connected with the present life, what is ever to be regarded is, that they should be to us helps and aids to follow God and not hindrances. And he calls these pleasures of sin temporary or for a time, because they soon vanish away together with life itself. (229)
In opposition to these he sets the reproach of Christ, which all the godly ought willingly to undergo. For those whom God has chosen, he has also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his own son; not that he exercises them all by the same kind of reproaches or by the same cross, but that they are all to be so minded as not to decline to undertake the cross in common with Christ. Let every one then bear in mind, that as he is called to this fellowship he is to throw off all hindrances. Nor must we omit to say, that he reckons among the reproaches of Christ all the ignominious trials which the faithful have had to endure from the beginning of the world; for as they were the member of the same body, so they had nothing different from what we have. As all sorrows are indeed the rewards of sin, so they are also the fruits of the curse pronounced on the first man: but whatever wrongs we endure from the ungodly on account of Christ, these he regards as his own. (230) Hence Paul gloried that he made up what was wanting as to the sufferings of Christ. Were we rightly to consider this, it would not be so grievous and bitter for us to suffer for Christ.
He also explains more fully what he means in this clause by the reproach of Christ, by what he has previously declared when he said, that Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God. He could not have otherwise avowed himself as one of God’s people, except he had made himself a companion to his own nation in their miseries. Since, then, this is the end, let us not separate ourselves from the body of the Church: whatever we suffer, let us know that it is consecrated on account of the head. So on the other hand he calls those things the treasures of Egypt, which no one can otherwise possess than by renouncing and forsaking the Church.
For he had respect unto the recompense of the reward, or for he looked to the remuneration. (231) He proves by the description he gives, that the magnanimity of Moses’ mind was owing to faith; for he had his eyes fixed on the promise of God. For he could not have hoped that it would be better for him to be with the people of Israel than with the Egyptians, had he not trusted in the promise and in nothing else.
But if any one hence concludes, that his faith did not recumb on God’s mercy alone, because he had respect to the reward; to this I answer, that the question here is not respecting righteousness or the cause of salvation, but that the Apostle generally includes what belongs to faith. Then faith, as to righteousness before God, does not look on reward, but on the gratuitous goodness of God, not on our works but on Christ alone; but faith, apart from justification, since it extends generally to every word of God, has respect to the reward that is promised; yea, by faith we embrace whatever God promises: but he promises reward to works; then faith lays hold on this. But all this has no place in free justification, for no reward for works can be hoped for, except the imputation of gratuitous justification goes before
(229) This clause is rendered by Doddridge, “than to enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin:” by Macknight, “than to have the temporary fruition of sin,” which is literal rendering; so Beza. Schleusner thinks the “sin” to have been that of idolatry: but the words seem rather to refer to the sin of indulgence in vain and demoralizing pursuits, too commonly prevalent in royal courts.— Ed
(230) The “The reproach of Christ” is differently understood: —
The reproach of the anointed, that is the people of Israel, called God’s anointed, Psalms 105:15; Hebrews 3:13. — Grotius.
The reproach like that of Christ: as Christ, though rich, became poor to redeem mankind, so Moses despised the treasures of Egypt, for the purpose of delivering Israel from bondage. A similar construction is found in 2 Corinthians 1:5. “The sufferings of Christ,” that is, like those of Christ. — Stuart.
The reproach for Christ, that is, for avowing his expectation of him in common with the distressed people. Macknight, Scott, Bloomfield. For this opinion there is not a particle of evidence from the account we have in Exodus. The Egyptians knew nothing of the redeemer; they therefore could not have reproached the Israelites on his account.
The reproach of Christ’s people, the word Christ being sometimes taken for his Church, 1 Corinthians 12:12; and this seems to be the view of Calvin.
The second view is the most satisfactory, and is confirmed by Hebrews 13:13, “bearing his reproach,” that is, a reproach like his. — Ed.
(231) The words are very striking, “For he looked away,” that is, from difficulties or present trials, “unto the retribution,” the rendering of the recompose. What was the retribution? It was what corresponded with what he did by faith: he engaged by faith in the work of delivering his brethren from bondage. His retribution in this work was, no doubt, then undertaking for his own nation. What his faith in God’s promise enabled him to look to, was the deliverance of his people, which was to be his retribution. In this respect he acted, though in a business infinitely inferior, on the same principle with the Savior, “who for the joy (of redeeming mankind) that was set before him, endured the cross,” etc. Hebrews 12:2 — Ed.
27. By faith he forsook Egypt, etc. This may be said of his first as well as of his second departure, that is, when he brought out the people with him. He then indeed left Egypt when he fled from the house of Pharaoh. Add to this, that his going out is recorded by the Apostle before he mentions the celebration of the Passover. He seems then to speak of the flight of Moses; nor is what he adds, that he feared not the wrath of the king, any objection to this, though Moses himself relates that he was constrained to do so by fear. For if we look at the beginning of his course he did not fear, that is, when he avowed himself to be the avenger of his people. However, when I consider all the circumstances, I am inclined to regard this as his second departure; for it was then that he bravely disregarded the fierce wrath of the king, being armed with such power by God’s Spirit, that he often of his own accord defied the fury of that wild beast. It was doubtless an instance of the wonderful strength of faith, that he brought out a multitude untrained for war and burdened with many incumbrances, and yet hoped that a way would be opened to him by God’s hand through innumerable difficulties. He saw a most powerful king in a furious rage, and he knew that he would not cease till he had tried his utmost. But as he knew that God had commanded him to depart, he committed the event to him, nor did he doubt but that he would in due time restrain all the assaults of the Egyptians.
As seeing him who is invisible. Nay, but he had seen God in the midst of the burning bush: this then seems to have been said improperly, and not very suitable to the present subject. I indeed allow, that Moses was strengthened in his faith by that vision, before he took in hand the glorious work of delivering the people; but I do not admit that it was such a view of God, as divested him of his bodily senses, and transferred him beyond the trials of this world. God at that time only showed him a certain symbol of his presence; but he was far from seeing God as he is. Now, the Apostle means, that Moses so endured, as though he was taken up to heaven, and had God only before his eyes; and as though he had nothing to do with men, was not exposed to the perils of this world and had no contests with Pharaoh. And yet, it is certain, that he was surrounded with so many difficulties, that he could not but think sometimes that God was far away from him, or at least, that the obstinacy of the king, furnished as it was with so many means of resistance, would at length overcome him.
In short, God appeared to Moses in such a way, as still to leave room for faith; and Moses, when beset by terrors on every side, turned all his thoughts to God. He was indeed assisted to do this, by the vision which we have mentioned; but yet he saw more in God than what that symbol intimated: for he understood his power, and that absorbed all his fears and dangers. Relying on God’s promise, he felt assured that the people, though then oppressed by the tyranny of the Egyptians, were already, as it were, the lords of the promised land. (232)
We hence learn, that the true character of faith is to set God always before our eyes; secondly, that faith beholds higher and more hidden things in God than what our senses can perceive; and thirdly, that a view of God alone is sufficient to strengthen our weakness, so that we may become firmer than rocks to withstand all the assaults of Satan. It hence follows, that the weaker and the less resolute any one is, the less faith he has.
(232) It is said that he “endured,” rather persevered; for the reference is not to sufferings, but to trials and difficulties: he was made strong by faith in an invisible God to resist and surmount them all. “He was strengthened,” Doddridge; “he courageously persevered,” Macknight; “he continued steadfast,” Stuart. The word is only found here. — Ed.
28. Through faith he kept the Passover, etc. This ought to have availed much to commend faith to the Jews; for they held this first sacrifice of the Passover in the highest esteem. But, he says, that it was kept by faith, not because the Paschal lamb was a type of Christ, but because its benefit did not appear, when he sprinkled the doorposts with blood: when therefore the effect was yet hid, it was necessarily looked for by faith. Nay, it might have seemed strange, that Moses should set a few drops of blood, as a remedy, in opposition to God’s vengeance; but being satisfied with God’s word alone, that the people would be exempt from the scourge that was coming on the Egyptians, he did not hesitate. Hence the Apostle justly commends his faith in this respect.
They who explain that the Passover was by faith celebrated by Moses, because he had respect to Christ, say indeed what is true; but the Apostle here records simply his faith, because he acquiesced in God’s word alone, when the effect did not appear: therefore out of place here are philosophical refinements. And the reason why he mentions Moses alone, as celebrating the Passover, seems to be this, that God through him instituted the Passover. (233)
(233) Some render the words, “by faith he instituted the Passover.” The verb is properly to make, but like עשה in Hebrew, it is used in a variety of senses. Doddridge has “celebrated;” Macknight, “appointed;” and Stuart, “observed.” To make the Passover is, no doubt, to keep or observe it; for such is the meaning of the phrase, as it appears from Numbers 9:10. The word πάσχα is doubtless a Syriac term, and derived originally from the Hebrew פסה which means to pass over; though several of the Greek fathers derived it from πάσχειν, to suffer. It sometimes means the paschal feast, Luke 22:11, and sometimes the paschal Lamb, Mark 14:12; 1 Corinthians 5:7 — Ed
29. By faith they passed, etc. It is certain, that many in that multitude were unbelieving; but the Lord granted to the faith of a few, that the whole multitude should pass through the Red Sea dryshod. But in doing the same thing, there was a great difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians; while the former passed through safely, the latter coming after them were drowned. Whence was this difference, but that the Israelites had the word of God, and that the Egyptians were without it. The argument then derives its force from what happened to the contrary; hence, he says, that the Egyptians were drowned. That disastrous event was the punishment of their temerity, as on the other hand, the Israelites were preserved safe, because they relied on God’s word, and refused not to march through the midst of the waters.
30. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, etc. As he had before taught us, that the yoke of bondage was by faith broken asunder, so now he tells us, that by the same faith the people gained the possession of the promised land. For at their first entrance the city Jericho stood in their way; it being fortified and almost impregnable, it impeded any farther progress, and they had no means to assail it. The Lord commanded all the menofwar to go round it once every day, and on the seventh day seven times. It appeared to be a work childish and ridiculous; and yet they obeyed the divine command; nor did they do so in vain, for success according to the promise followed. It is evident, that the walls did not fall through the shout of men, or the sound of trumpets; but because the people believed that the Lord would do what he had promised.
We may also apply this event to our benefit and instruction: for it is not otherwise, than by faith, that we can be freed from the tyranny of the Devil, and be brought to liberty; and by the same faith, it is that we can put to flight our enemies, and that all the strongholds of hell can be demolished.
31. By faith the harlot Rahab, etc. Though at the first view, this example may seem, on account of the meanness of the person, hardly entitled to notice, and even unworthy of being recorded, yet it was not unsuitably, nor without reason, adduced by the Apostle. He has hitherto shown that the Patriarchs, whom the Jews most honored and venerated, did nothing worthy of praise except through faith; and that all the benefits conferred on us by God, even the most remarkable, have been the fruits of the same faith: but he now teaches us, that an alien woman, not only of a humble condition among her own people, but also a harlot, had been adopted into the body of the Church through faith.
It hence follows, that those who are most exalted, are of no account before God, unless they have faith; and that, on the other hand, those who are hardly allowed a place among the profane and the reprobate, are by faith introduced into the company of angels.
Moreover, James also bears testimony to the faith of Rahab, (James 2:25,) and it may be easily concluded from sacred history, that she was endued with true faith; for she professed her full persuasion of what God had promised to the Israelites; and of those whom fear kept from entering the land, she asked pardon for herself and her friends, as though they were already conquerors; and in all this, she did not consider men, but God himself. The evidence of her faith was, that she received the spies at the peril of her life: then, by means of faith, she escaped safe from the ruin of her own city. She is mentioned as a harlot, in order to amplify the grace of God.
Some, indeed, render זונה a hostess, as though she kept a public house, or an inn; but as the word means a harlot everywhere in Scripture, there is no reason why we should explain it otherwise in this place. The Rabbis, thinking it strange and disgraceful to their nation, were it said, that the spies entered into the house of a harlot; have invented this forced meaning. (234) But such a fear was groundless; for in the history of Joshua, this word, harlot, is expressly added, in order that we may know that the spies came into the city Jericho clandestinely, and concealed themselves in a harlot’s house. At the same time this must be understood of her past life; for faith is an evidence of repentance.
(234) And it has been adopted by many of the German divines, who seem in many instances to follow any vagary, Rabbinical or heathen, rather than the word of God. There is nothing in Scripture that countenances this notion. The word is never used in the sense of a hostess: and the ancient versions ever render the Hebrew word by πόρνη, a harlot. — Ed
32. And what shall I say more? etc. As it was to be feared, that by referring to a few examples, he should appear to confine the praises of faith to a few men; he anticipates this, and says, that there would be no end if he was to dwell on every instance; for what he had said of a few extended to the whole Church of God.
He first refers to the time that intervened between Joshua and David, when the Lord raised up judges to govern the people; and such were the four he now mentions, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah.
It seemed indeed strange in Gideon, with three hundred men to attack an immense host of enemies, and to shake pitchers appeared like a sham alarm. Barak was far inferior to his enemies, and was guided only by the counsel of a woman. Samson was a mere countryman, and had never used any other arms than the implements of husbandry: what could he do against such proved conquerors, by whose power the whole people had been subdued? Who would not at first have condemned the rashness of Jephthah, who avowed himself the avenger of a people already past hope? But as they all followed the guidance of God, and being animated by his promise, undertook what was commanded them, they have been honored with the testimony of the Holy Spirit. (235)
Then the Apostle ascribes all that was praiseworthy in them to faith; though there was not one of them whose faith did not halt. Gideon was slower to take up arms than what he ought to have been; nor did he venture without some hesitation to commit himself to God. Barak at first trembled, so that he was almost forced by the reproofs of Deborah. Samson being overcome by the blandishments of a concubine, inconsiderately betrayed the safety of the whole people. Jephthah, hasty in making a foolish vow, and too obstinate in performing it, marred the finest victory by the cruel death of his own daughter. Thus, in all the saints, something reprehensible is ever to be found; yet faith, though halting and imperfect, is still approved by God. There is, therefore, no reason why the faults we labor under should break us down, or dishearten us, provided we by faith go on in the race of our calling.
Of David, etc. Under David’s name he includes all the pious kings, and to them he adds Samuel and the Prophets. He therefore means in short to teach us, that the kingdom of Judah was founded in faith; and that it stood to the last by faith. The many victories of David, which he had gained over his enemies, were commonly known. Known also, was the uprightness of Samuel, and his consummate wisdom in governing the people. Known too were the great favors conferred by God on prophets and kings. The Apostle declares that there are none of these things which ought not to be ascribed to faith.
But it is to some only of these innumerable benefits of God that he refers, in order that the Jews might from them draw a general conclusion, — that as the Church has always been preserved by God’s hand through faith, so at this day there is no other way by which we may know his kindness towards us.
It was by faith that David so many times returned home as a conqueror; that Hezekiah recovered from his sickness; that Daniel came forth safe and untouched from the lions’ den, and that his friends walked in a burning furnace as cheerfully as on a pleasant meadow. Since all these things were done by faith, we must feel convinced, that in no other way than by faith is God’s goodness and bounty to be communicated to us. And that clause ought especially to be noticed by us, where it is said that they obtained the promises by faith; (236) for though God continues faithful, were we all unbelieving, yet our unbelief makes the promises void, that is, ineffectual to us.
(235) The history of Gideon we have in Jude 6:11 : of Barak, in Jude 4:6 : of Samson, in Jude 13:24 : and of Jephthah, in Jude 11:1. Thus we see that the order of time in which they lived is not here observed, it being not necessary for the object of the Apostle. Barak was before Gideon, Jephthah before Samson, and Samuel before David. — Ed.
(236) The previous sentence, “wrought righteousness,” is differently understood. Some refer it to a righteous and upright course of life, and others to the conduct of rulers and judges. The latter is the most suitable meaning here; and the words may be rendered “executed justice.” Samuel was an example of this.
To “obtain promises” is to receive the things promised. — Ed.
34. Out of weakness were made strong, etc. Chrysostom refers this to the restoration of the Jews from exile, in which they were like men without hope; I do not disapprove of its applications to Hezekiah. We might at the same time extend it wider, that the Lord, by his hand, raised on high his saints, whenever they were cast down; and brought help to their weakness, so as to endue them with full strength.
35. Women received, etc. He had already mentioned instances in which God had remunerated the faith of his servants, he now refers to examples of a different kind, — that saints, reduced to extreme miseries, struggled by faith so as to persevere invincible even to death. These instances at the first view widely differ: some triumphed gloriously over vanquished enemies, were preserved by the Lord through various miracles, and were rescued by means new and unusual from the midst of death; while others were shamefully treated, were despised by almost the whole world, were consumed by want, were so hated by all as to be compelled to hide themselves in the coverts of wild beasts, and lastly, were drawn forth to endure savage and cruel tortures: and these last seemed wholly destitute of God’s aid, when he thus exposed them to the pride and the cruelty of the ungodly. They seem then to have been very differently treated from the former ones; and yet faith ruled in both, and was alike powerful in both; nay, in the latter its power shone forth in a much clearer light. For the victory of faith appears more splendid in the contempt of death than if life were extended to the fifth generation. It is a more glorious evidence of faith, and worthy of higher praise, when reproaches, want, and extreme troubles are borne with resignation and firmness, than when recovery from sickness is miraculously obtained, or any other benefit from God.
The sum of the whole is, that the fortitude of the saints, which has shone forth in all ages, was the work of faith; for our weakness is such that we are not capable of overcoming evils, except faith sustains us. But we hence learn, that all who really trust in God are endued with power sufficient to resist Satan in whatever way he may assail them, and especially that patience in enduring evils shall never be wanting to us, if faith be possessed; and that, therefore, we are proved guilty of unbelief when we faint under persecutions and the cross. For the nature of faith is the same now as in the days of the holy fathers whom the Apostle mentions. If, then, we imitate their faith, we shall never basely break down through sloth or listlessness.
Others were tortured, etc. As to this verb, ἐτυμπανίσθησαν, I have followed Erasmus, though others render it “imprisoned.” But the simple meaning is, as I think, that they were stretched on a rack, as the skin of a drum, which is distended. (237) By saying that they were tempted, he seems to have spoken what was superfluous; and I doubt not but that the likeness of the words, ἐπρίσθησαν and ἐπειρὰσθησαν, was the reason that the word was added by some unskillful transcriber, and thus crept into the text, as also Erasmus has conjectured. (238) By sheepskins and goatskins I do not think that tents made of skins are meant, but the mean and rough clothing of the saints which they put on when wandering in deserts.
Now though they say that Jeremiah was stoned, that Isaiah was sawn asunder, and though sacred history relates that Elijah, Elisha, and other Prophets, wandered on mountains and in caves; yet I doubt not but he here points out those persecutions which Antiochus carried on against God’s people, and those which afterwards followed.
Not accepting deliverance, etc. Most fitly does he speak here; for they must have purchased a short lease of life by denying God; but this would have been a price extremely shameful. That they might then live forever in heaven, they rejected a life on earth, which would have cost them, as we have said, so much as the denial of God, and also the repudiation of their own calling. But we hear what Christ says, that if we seek to save our lives in this world, we shall lose them for ever. If, therefore, the real love of a future resurrection dwells in our hearts, it will easily lead us to the contempt of death. And doubtless we ought to live only so as to live to God: as soon as we are not permitted to live to God, we ought willingly and not reluctantly to meet death. Moreover, by this verse the Apostle confirms what he had said, that the saints overcome all sufferings by faith; for except their minds had been sustained by the hope of a blessed resurrection, they must have immediately failed. (239)
We may hence also derive a needful encouragement, by which we may fortify ourselves in adversities. For we ought not to refuse the Lord’s favor of being connected with so many holy men, whom we know to have been exercised and tried by many sufferings. Here indeed are recorded, not the sufferings of a few individuals, but the common persecutions of the Church, and those not for one or two years, but such as continued sometimes from grandfathers even to their grandchildren. No wonder, then, if it should please God to prove our faith at this day by similar trials; nor ought we to think that we are forsaken by him, who, we know, cared for the holy fathers who suffered the same before us. (240)
(237) The τύμπανον was, according to Schleusner, a machine on which the body was stretched; and then cudgels or rods, and whips were used. This appears from the account given in Genesis 6:19. It is said that Eleasar, rather than transgress the Law, went of his own accord “to the torment ” — ἐπὶ τὸ τύμπανον, and in the 30 th verse mention is made of stripes or strokes — πληγαῖς, and of being lashed or whipped — μαστιγούμενος. This was to be tympanized or tortured. — Ed
(238) This conjecture not countenanced by any MSS. that are considered to have much weight. What has led to this conjecture has evidently been a misunderstanding as to the import of the word in this connection. Being a word of general import, it has been viewed as inappropriate here among words of specified meaning: it refers to the temptation or trial to which those who were condemned for their religion were commonly exposed — the offer of life and of favors and recantation: that seems to have been the special temptation here intended. — Ed.
(239) The verse concludes with these words “that they might obtain a better resurrection,” — better than what? Better than the resurrection referred to at the beginning of the verse, when it is said that “women received their dead raised to life again;” or better than the life promised by persecutors to those doomed to die, in case they renounced their religion. The former is the view taken by Scott and Stuart, and the latter by Doddridge: but as deliverance and no deliverance are facts in contrast, the first is the most obvious meaning.— Ed.
(240) The conclusion of the 37 th verse is, “being destitute, afflicted, tormented:” this is said of those who “wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins.” They were destitute, they had been oppressed or persecuted and unjustly dealt with. Wrong treatment and oppression or persecution drove them from there homes and destitution followed. This is the way in which things are often stated in Scripture; the effect or the present state first, and then the cause or what led to it. The words are rendered “destitute, afflicted, maltreated,” by Macknight, — and “suffering want, afflicted, injuriously treated,” by Stuart. The second word often means oppression or persecution. The third word is found only here and Hebrews 13:2 where it is rendered “suffer adversity.” It is found in the Sept., in Genesis 2:26, twice and Genesis 11:39. It is used by Aqula in Exodus 22:22, and in Job 37:23. Its meaning properly is, to be ill or wrongfully treated. — Ed.
38. Of whom the world was not worthy, etc. As the holy Prophets wandered as fugitives among wild beasts, they might have seemed unworthy of being sustained on the earth; for how was it that they could find no place among men? But the Apostle inverts this sentiment, and says that the world was not worthy of them; for wherever God’s servants come, they bring with them his blessing like the fragrance of a sweet odor. Thus the house of Potiphar was blessed for Joseph’s sake, (Genesis 39:5;) and Sodom would have been spared had ten righteous men been found in it. (Genesis 18:32.) Though then the world may cast out God’s servants as offscourings, it is yet to be regarded as one of its judgments that it cannot bear them; for there is ever accompanying them some blessing from God. Whenever the righteous are taken away from us, let us know that such events are presages of evil to us; for we are unworthy of having them with us, lest they should perish together with us.
At the same time the godly have abundant reasons for consolation, though the world may cast them out as offscourings; for they see that the same thing happened to the prophets, who found more clemency in wild animals than in men. It was with this thought that Hilary comforted himself when he saw the church taken possession of by sanguinary tyrants, who then employed the Roman emperor as their executioner; yea, that holy man then called to mind what the Apostle here says of the Prophets; — “Mountains and forests,” he said, “and dungeons and prisons, are safer for me than splendid temples; for the Prophets, while abiding or buried in these, still prophesied by the Spirit of God.” So also ought we to be animated so as boldly to despise the world; and were it to cast us out, let us know that we go forth from a fatal gulf, and that God thus provides for our safety, so that we may not sink in the same destruction.
39. And these all, etc. This is an argument from the less to the greater; for if they on whom the light of grace had not as yet so brightly shone displayed so great a constancy in enduring evils, what ought the full brightness of the Gospel to produce in us? A small spark of light led them to heaven; when the sun of righteousness shines over us, with what pretense can we excuse ourselves if we still cleave to the earth? This is the real meaning of the Apostle. (241)
I know that Chrysostom and others have given a different explanation, but the context clearly shows, that what is intended here is the difference in the grace which God bestowed on the faithful under the Law, and that which he bestows on us now. For since a more abundant grace is poured on us, it would be very strange that we should have less faith in us. He then says that those fathers who were endued with so remarkable a faith, had not yet so strong reasons for believing as we have. Immediately after he states the reason, because God intended to unite us all into one body, and that he distributed a small portion of grace to them, that he might defer its full perfection to our time, even to the coming of Christ.
And it is a singular evidence of God’s benevolence towards us, that though he has shown himself bountifully to his children from the beginning of the world, he yet has so distributed his grace as to provide for the wellbeing of the whole body. What more could any of us desire, than that in all the blessings which God bestowed on Abraham, Moses, David, and all the Patriarchs, on the Prophets and godly kings, he should have a regard for us, so that we might be united together with them in the body of Christ? Let us then know that we are doubly and treble ungrateful to God, if less faith appears in us under the kingdom of Christ than the fathers had under the Law, as proved by so many remarkable examples of patience. By the words, that they received not the promise, is to be understood its ultimate fulfillment, which took place in Christ, on which subject something has been said already.
(241) This is materially the view taken by Beza, Doddridge, Scott and Stuart. The “promise” is deemed to be especially that of Christ. The ancients heard of him, believed in his coming, but did not witness it. The “some better thing” is considered to be the same with the promise, or to be the Gospel as revealed, or in the words of Stuart, “the actual fulfillment of the promise respecting the Messiah.”
Still there is something unsatisfactory in this view as to “the promise,” as Stuart seems to intimate. There are two verses, Hebrews 10:36, which seem to throw light on this subject: by the first we find that “the promise” is future to us as well as to the ancient saints; and by the second, that “the better thing” is the atoning death of Christ, which was to the ancient saints an unfulfilled event, but to us fulfilled and clearly revealed, and yet its benefits extended to them as well as to us.
The “promise” throughout this Epistle is that of “the eternal inheritance” and “the promises” in Hebrews 11:13 include this and others, and especially “the better things,” that is the Gospel, or fulfillment of what was necessary to attain the inheritance, even the death and resurrection of Christ; or we may say that it is “the better hope,” (Hebrews 7:19) or the “better covenant, which was established on better promises,” (Hebrews 8:6.) The verses may be thus rendered —“
And all these, having obtained a good report through faith, have not received the promise: 40. God having foreordained as to us something more excellent, so that they without us might not be perfected;” that is, in body as well as in soul.
The sentiment seems to be this, — “the ancient saints believed God’s promise, respecting an eternal inheritance after the resurrection: they died in hope of this, they have not yet obtained it, and for this reason, because God had designed to fulfill to us what he had also promised to them, even the coming of a Redeemer; it is necessary that this more excellent thing than what had in this world been vouchsafed to them, should take place, as on it depended everything connected with the promise of the ‘heavenly city:’ so that without the more excellent thing fulfilled to us, their perfect state, in body as well as in soul, was not to be attained.”
Their souls are perfect, for we as Christians are said to have come “to the spirits of just men made perfect,” (Hebrews 12:23;) they who die in the Lord are said to “rest from their labors,” and are pronounced blessed or happy. (Revelation 14:13.) But they are not in possession of the inheritance promised them, neither the ancients nor those who now die in the Lord.The promise as to both will not be fulfilled until the glorious day of the resurrection. Then all the saints, whether before or after the coming of Christ, will at the same time, with pure and immortal bodies, united to pure spirits, be together introduced into their eternal inheritance which he promised to Abraham and his seed, when he said that he would be their God. Christ referred to that declaration as an evidence of the resurrection. (Luke 20:37.) Then the Patriarchs believed that there would be a resurrection. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent