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Bible Commentaries

Philpot's Commentary on select texts of the Bible

Hebrews 11

Verse 1

Heb 11:1

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Heb 11:1

Wherever there is faith, there is desire; and as faith embraces heavenly realities, desire embraces that of which faith testifies. Now as the soul is wrought upon by a divine power, and faith is drawn forth into blessed exercise upon the promises of which it is persuaded and which it embraces, desire is kindled for their enjoyment.

True religion is not a burdensome, painful, melancholy, wearisome, and toilsome task or employment as many think. It has indeed its trials, temptations, afflictions, cutting griefs, and depressing sorrows; but it has its sweetness, its peace, its delights, and its enjoyments. And it is the sweetness that we feel, the enjoyment that we have, and the delighting ourselves in the things of God, which hold our head up and encourage us still to persevere and travel on through the wilderness.

It is not all bondage, nor distress of mind, nor sorrow of heart, nor perplexity of soul which the heirs of promise feel. There are sips and tastes, drops and crumbs, and momentary enjoyments, if not long nor lasting, yet sweet when they come, sweet while they last, and sweet in the recollection when they are gone. The Lord gives that which encourages, strengthens, comforts, and delights, and enables us to see that there is that beauty, blessedness, and glory in him which we have tasted, felt, and handled, and which we would not part with for a thousand worlds.

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Heb 11:1

What an eminent grace is the grace of faith! I call it, sometimes, the Queen of graces; for faith seems to lead the van, though hope and love follow almost side by side. But still, faith, as the Queen, seems to go in the foremost rank, and to claim the most eminent place. Now, what is faith? That is a question of questions, for on it hangs heaven or hell. God himself has given us a clear definition of it, where he says, "faith is the substance of things hoped for." In other words, faith in the soul gives a realization to the things in which we are brought to hope, takes what to most men are airy shadows, mere words and names, and gives them a substantial existence, a firm abiding place in the heart and conscience. The Apostle calls it also "the evidence of things not seen." That is, faith, by believing the testimony of God, is to us an internal eye, whereby we see those things, which to the natural eye are invisible.

Thus adopting the Apostle’s definition, we may call faith the eye of the soul, as we read, "By faith he endured, seeing him who is invisible." For it is only by faith that we see either God, or the precious things of God. It is only by faith that we feel their power. It is only by faith that we know they have a real subsistence, or that we ourselves have a substantial saving interest in them. But this faith is the special gift of God. It is not the exercise of any intellectual faculty. It is not the result of reasoning or argument. Nor does it spring from any historical proof. It is a special gift of God, a grace of the Spirit raised up by the power of God in the soul, and acting upon the truth of God as the blessed Spirit draws it forth. Jesus is the Author; Jesus is the finisher of it; and we have no more, and I believe no less faith, than he himself, by his almighty power, is pleased to grant and to sustain.

But, looking at faith and some of its properties, we may branch out a little in describing how faith acts. There is an expression of the Apostle’s that casts a sweet light upon the work of faith, where he says, "Unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it." Here he brings forward a special operation of faith, in that it mixes with the word of truth. And it does it thus. God the Holy Spirit applies God’s word to the conscience. He thus raises up the grace of faith; this grace of faith embraces God’s testimony, and so intermingles itself with this testimony that it enters into it, appropriates it, and gives it a substantial realization and personal indwelling.

See how this was done in the instance of Abram. God comes to him in the night visions, and says to him, "Fear not, I am your shield and exceeding great reward." But Abram, in a fit of unbelief, says, "What will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eleazar of Damascus?" The Lord then takes him abroad and shows him the stars of the sky, and tells him, "So shall your seed be." Now here was the testimony of God in a certain promise to Abram’s conscience; upon this, faith immediately sprang up in his soul; for we read, "Abram believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." When God spoke to his soul, Abram believed it by the operation of God’s Spirit on his heart. So it is with every child of God. He believes what God speaks to him, he inwardly, spiritually credits it, because he feels what God the Spirit, applies to his soul with power; for the same Spirit that applies God’s word to his heart raises up the faith in his soul that mixes with the word applied, and thus gives the word a substantial realization, a firm abiding place in his conscience.

Verse 13

Heb 11:13

"These all died in faith." — Heb 11:13

When death came it did not rob them of their faith. They held with their believing hand in death every truth which they had held with their believing hand in life. It is in death that the gospel is such a blessing when held by a believing hand. What would we do upon a dying bed, with all our sins staring us in the face in all their dreadful magnitude, accused by Satan, condemned by conscience, terrified by a holy law, and frowned upon by an indignant God? What must be our end upon the bed of death if we had nothing to look to but a God who is a consuming fire, with nothing but the bitter recollection of past sins to agonize the mind and distress the conscience? O, if ever faith is needed, it will be needed then; if ever the gospel embraced, embraced then; if ever Christ looked to, looked to then; if ever laid hold of by the hand of faith, laid hold of then! Now if you know what faith is, and your faith has embraced the Son of God, and love has worked by that faith, and Christ in that faith has made himself precious, that faith will never give up the spirit in a dying hour. False faith will then expire; but the faith of God’s elect will not leave you in the hour of death, but support you as you pass through the dark valley, and land you safe on that happy shore where faith is turned into sight, hope into enjoyment, and love abides in its fullest manifestation.

Verse 16

Heb 11:16

"But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Heb 11:16

In desiring a better country these ancient pilgrims wanted something heavenly, something that tasted of God, savored of God, smelt of God, and was given of God—a heavenly religion, a spiritual faith, a gracious hope, and a love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit—something which came from heaven and led to heaven; which gave heavenly feelings, heavenly sensations, heavenly delights, and heavenly joys, whereby the heart was purified from the love of sin, carnality, and worldliness by having something sweeter to taste, better to love, and more holy to enjoy.

It is these heavenly visitations, droppings-in of the favor, goodness, and mercy of God, which keep the soul alive in its many deaths, sweeten it amid its many bitters, hold it up amid its many sinkings, and keep it from being drowned while conflicting with many waters.

A carnal mind has no taste for heavenly things, no sweet delight in the word of God; no delight in the Lord Jesus as revealing himself in the word; no delight in closet duties, secret meditation, searching the Scriptures, communion with God, or even in the company of God’s dear family. There must be a ’heavenly element’ in the soul to understand, realize, enjoy, and delight in heavenly things. The Holy Spirit must have wrought in us a new heart, a new nature, capable of understanding, enjoying, and delighting in heavenly realities, as containing in them, that which is sweet and precious to the soul.

They desired, therefore, a better country, that is, a heavenly, a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God; where pleasures are at God’s right hand for evermore; where the pure river of the water of life ever flows; where the tree grows on which are found leaves for the healing of the nations; such a city as John describes in the book of Revelation, where all is happiness, harmony, and peace.

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Bibliographical Information
Philpot, Joseph Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". Philpot's Commentary on select texts of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jcp/hebrews-11.html.