Sunday, June 4th, 2023
Simeon's Horae Homileticae Horae Homileticae
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ shh/ hebrews-11.html. 1832.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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THE NATURE OF FAITH
Hebrews 11:1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
CONSIDERING how much the Scriptures speak of faith, one is surprised that the subject of faith so little occupies the attention of the world at large, or even of the religious world. But the truth is, that the nature of faith is but little known. The world at large consider it as no more than assent upon evidence; whilst the religious world confine their views of it almost exclusively to the office of justifying the soul before God. But faith is of a far more comprehensive nature than even good men generally suppose. It extends to every thing that has been revealed; and is the one principle that actuates the Christian in every part of the divine life. From not adverting to this, the description given of faith in our text has been frequently misunderstood. The precise import of the passage will best appear by considering the context. The Apostle is encouraging the believing Hebrews to hold fast their profession. He tells them that faith is the only principle that will enable them to do this: he then proceeds to shew them in a great variety of instances, how faith will act, and how certainly, if duly exercised, it will prevail for the carrying of them forward even to the end.
It is in this general view, and not in the light of justifying the soul, that the Apostle calls it, “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”
Let us then in this enlarged sense consider,
The nature of faith—
Within its proper and legitimate scope is all that God has revealed in his blessed word—
[Faith comprehends within its grasp the past, the present, and the future. By it, the Christian knows that the universe, but a few thousand years ago, had no existence, and that it was created out of nothing by the word of God. By it, he sees every thing upheld and ordered by the hand that formed it, and not so much as a hair of our head falling to the ground without his special permission. By it, he foresees that all the human race which have in successive ages passed away shall be recalled into existence at the last day, and be judged according to their works.
But more particularly faith views that great mysterious work, the work of redemption. It beholds the plan formed in the eternal councils of the Father and of the Son; and in due season with gradually increasing light revealed to man. It sees the incarnation, the death, the resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sending forth of the Holy Spirit in all his miraculous and new-creating powers, to attest that the work was finished, and to render it effectual for the salvation of a ruined world. This work it still beholds carrying on in heaven by the Lord Jesus as our great High-priest within the vail, and as the living and life-giving Head of his Church and people. And, carrying its eye forward to future ages, it sees the Redeemer’s kingdom universally established, and every subject of his empire seated with him upon his throne of glory.
All intermediate matters it beholds fulfilled in their season, and is assured, that, of every thing that God has spoken, not one jot or tittle shall ever fall to the ground.]
Of all this it brings a full conviction to the mind, and, as far as it can be desired, a full experience to the soul—
[Faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” By “evidence” is meant such a proof as silences all objections. Of the past, the present, or the future, what could reason declare? Nothing with any certainty. Of the mystery of redemption more especially, it could determine nothing. With our bodily senses we could ascertain nothing. Every thing is apprehended by faith only. Yet is it therefore uncertain? No: it is as clear to the mind of a believer, as if it had been demonstrated to his reason, or subjected to his sight. Having assured himself from reason, that the Scriptures are the word of God, and that the great mystery of redemption, as apprehended by him, is revealed in them, he has no doubt concerning it: his fall in Adam; his recovery by Christ; his restoration to the Divine image through the influences of the Holy Spirit; these things appear so worthy of God, and so suitable to man, that no doubt respecting them exists in the mind: and all the objections which pride and ignorance have raised against them are scattered like mists before the rising sun.
But it is not only as true that faith presents these things to the mind, but as good, as desirable, and as promised: and it so apprehends them, as to give them an actual subsistence in the soul: it is “the substance of things hoped for.” These things, as far as they are good, and future, are the objects of hope; and therefore, as we might suppose, unpossessed. But, though future, they are made present by the exercise of faith; and, though only hoped for, are actually enjoyed. This is a wonderful property of faith. Consolations, victories, triumphs, glory, though remote in ultimate experience, are by anticipation rendered present, so that the first-fruits, the pledge, the earnest, the foretaste are in actual possession; and whilst the grapes of Eschol assure the soul of the final possession of Us inheritance, the views of Pisgah transport it thither, and enable it to realize its most enlarged hopes and expectations.]
From this description of faith we may see,
Its aspect on the welfare and stability of the soul—
As entering into every part of the divine life, its influence might be pointed out in an almost infinite variety of particulars. But we will content ourselves with specifying two, which will, to a certain degree, give an insight into all:
It renders us indifferent to all the concerns of time and sense—
[Whilst we are in the body we cannot be absolutely indifferent to earthly things; but comparatively we may. The unbeliever has respect to nothing else: he sees nothing, knows nothing, cares for nothing, but what is visible and temporal. He is “of the flesh,” and “savours only the things of the flesh.” His hopes, his fears, his joys, his sorrows, are altogether carnal. So it once was with the believer: but it is now so no longer. By faith he now views other things, which fully occupy his mind, and engage all the powers of his soul. Earthly vanities once appeared as grand and glorious as the starry heavens. But they are fled from his sight: they are all eclipsed by the splendour of the Sun of Righteousness which has arisen upon his soul. There indeed they are; and were the light of God’s truth withdrawn from his soul, they would again resume a measure of their former importance. But they are now reduced to insignificance: and the things which “once appeared glorious in his eyes, have now no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth.” Ignorant persons are ready to impute the believer’s withdrawment from the world to superstition, to moroseness, to pride, to enthusiasm, to gloom and melancholy. But he renounces the world as an empty vanity, and an ensnaring “lie,” that deceives all who follow it, and ruins all who trust in it. Once “a deceived heart had turned him aside, so that he could not deliver his soul, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” but now he knows, that what he formerly grasped, was a mere shadow; and that there is nothing substantial but what is apprehended by faith. Hence “What was once gain to him, is now accounted loss; yea all things are now but as dung, that he may win Christ, and be found in him.” Such are now his views of the cross of Christ, and of the glory that shall be revealed, that “the world is crucified to him, and he is crucified unto the world [Note: Galatians 6:14.].”]
It strengthens us both for action and for suffering in the service of our God—
[Before that faith has brought a man to a view of the things which are invisible and eternal, he has no zeal for God, no fortitude to suffer shame for the sake of Christ. But when once the realities of the eternal world are open to his view; when once heaven with all its glory, and hell with all its terrors, are apprehended by him; who shall stop him? who shall intimidate him? who shall persuade him? Bid him relax his diligence, and give way to carnal ease and pleasure; he will say, ‘Go, offer your advice to one that is running in a race, or fighting for his life: will he listen to you? expect not me then to listen, who am running for eternity, and fighting for my soul.’ Is he called to suffer? He knows for whose sake it is that he is called to take up his cross; and he takes it up with cheerfulness, and “rejoices that he is counted worthy to bear it.” Has he made considerable advance in the ways of God? He does not on that account relax; but “forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to that which is before, he presses on towards the mark for the prize of his high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.].” These are the things which are chiefly insisted on throughout the whole of this chapter: and, as such were the operations of faith in the days of old, such also they are at this hour; and such will they be to the very end of time.]
See you not then, beloved,
How little there is of true faith in the world?
[If you will believe the report which men give of themselves, there is no want of faith at all. Every one who calls himself a Christian, considers it as a matter of course that he possesses faith. But how would faith operate under other circumstances? Let a man believe that a house in which he is sitting is on fire; or that a vessel in which he is embarked is ready to sink; will he not evince the truth of his faith by some efforts to escape? But here men profess to believe all that God has spoken about the danger of their souls, and the way opened for their deliverance, and yet are as unconcerned about either the one or the other as the beasts that perish. Alas! how fearfully do they deceive their own souls!
But even in the religious world there is an awful want of faith. For how little are men actuated by the truths which they profess to believe! How strong is the hold which earthly things yet retain of the believer’s soul, and how faint are his impressions of eternity! — — — Well might our Lord say, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth [Note: Luke 18:8.]?” Know ye, brethren, that “if you had faith but as a grain of mustard-seed, it should remove mountains:” and, consequently, you may judge of the smallness of your faith by the slender effects which it has produced upon your souls. Pray ye then to Him who alone can give you faith; “Lord, help my unbelief;” “Lord, increase my faith.”]
In what way alone you can hope to vanquish all your spiritual enemies?
[It is “by faith that you are to walk, and not by sight.” In order to form a correct judgment of things, listen not to the report of sense, but consult the testimony of faith. Send faith as a spy to search out the heavenly land that is before you. If you attend to the voice of unbelief, it will tell you of nothing but Anakims that are invincible, and “of cities that are walled up to heaven.” But if you ask for the account which faith will give, it will tell you, “They are bread for us [Note: Numbers 14:9.],” and shall be as easily devoured, and as profitably to our souls, as the food that is put into our mouths. What the effect of this principle shall be upon your souls, you may see in the case of the Apostle Paul. Greater trials than his you cannot expect to encounter: and greater supports you cannot need. But whence arose his supports? He was animated by “a spirit of faith:” by that, he foresaw the issue of his conflicts: and by that he was upheld: and, through the influence of that, all his afflictions appeared but light and momentary, yea, and the very means of augmenting his happiness and glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:13-18.] — — — Thus shall faith operate in you: it shall “work by love:” it shall “purify the heart;” it shall “overcome the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.].” Only “live by faith:” and if at any time you be ready to stagger through unbelief, remember that “he is faithful who hath promised;” and “be strong in faith, giving glory to God.” For of this you may be perfectly assured, that the more lively your faith is, the more abundant will be its fruits; and that in every hour of trial “according to your faith it will be done unto you.”]
ABEL’S OFFERING INSTRUCTIVE TO US
Hebrews 11:4. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
IN reading the history of the saints under the Old Testament dispensation, we are constrained to admire their conduct on many occasions, and to regard them as excellent patterns for our imitation. But we should not readily have traced all their diversified excellencies to one principle, and still less to the principle of faith, if it had not been done for us by an inspired writer. But, now that it is done, we see the truth, and the importance too, of the suggestion; and are stirred up to cultivate the same principle in order to the attainment of their virtues.
The Apostle, in adducing instances of the power of faith from the beginning of the world to the close of the Jewish records, omits all mention of Adam, who, we doubt not, both lived and died in faith. But his aim in this part of his epistle is to encourage the believing Hebrews to persevere in their holy profession, notwithstanding all the trials to which they might be subjected on account of it: and, as nothing particular is recorded concerning Adam’s faith, and Abel was a martyr for the faith, it was more to his purpose to commence his catalogue of worthies with the name of Abel; of whose offering we are now more particularly called to speak. To illustrate what the Apostle says concerning it, I shall shew,
In what consisted the peculiar excellence of Abel’s offering as contrasted with that of Cain—
By referring to the account given us in the book of Genesis, we find,
That Abel’s offering differed widely from that of Cain—
[Cain brought only “of the fruits of the ground [Note: Genesis 4:3.].” Now this he might have done even in Paradise; since it was only a tribute of gratitude towards his heavenly Benefactor, and an acknowledgment of dependence on him for a continuance of his favours. But Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat [Note: Genesis 4:4.]” by which he acknowledged himself a sinner deserving of death, and his hope of mercy only through the intervention of a vicarious sacrifice. By this act, he professed his faith in that Saviour who was in due time to die for the sins of the whole world, and whom the sacrificial ordinances already instituted were intended to prefigure. That sacrifices had been ordained of God, is evident, from its being said that Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith:” for had Abel offered this sacrifice of his own mind, there could have been no scope for the exercise of faith; since faith necessarily has respect to some divine declaration; and in this instance must have had respect to a command from God to present such an offering, and a promise from God to accept it. When the command was first given, we are not certainly informed: but I conceive it to have been immediately after the Fall, when, as we are told, “the Lord God made coats of skins, to clothe” our first parents [Note: Genesis 3:21.]. It is evident that living creatures were then slain; and slain by God’s command: and, if we suppose those living creatures then offered in sacrifice, we have the most complete exhibition of the way of salvation that is contained in all the sacred records: since, as the sin of our first parents was atoned for by the blood of those sacrifices, and the shame of their nakedness was covered by their skins, so are our sins expiated by the blood of our great Sacrifice, and our souls are clothed in the robe of his unspotted righteousness. At all events the fact is clear, that such an institution had been formed by God; else Abel’s faith could not have had respect to it: and no other period for the commencement of it seems so proper as that to which we have referred, because it is the only period mentioned in the inspired history, and because, if not instituted till the time of Abel, our first parents must have been left many years without that instruction and consolation which such an ordinance was calculated to convey.
It is evident then that Abel’s offering excelled that of Cain in two most important respects, namely, in the matter of it, and in the disposition with which it was offered: his being “a firstling of his flock,” whilst Cain’s was only “of the fruits of the ground;” and being offered with an express view to the sacrifice which was in due time to be offered, whilst Cain had no respect whatever to himself as needing salvation, or to the Saviour by whom alone he could find acceptance with God.]
That God had respect to Abel’s offering, and not to Cain’s—
[In what way God testified his acceptance of Abel’s offering we are not informed: we are sure however that it was in some way clearly understood by Abel, and as clearly by Cain also; since it was the means of filling him with envy and wrathful indignation. It is probable, that God sent fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice of Abel. This in after ages was frequently done by God; as at the first offering of sacrifices by Aaron in the tabernacle [Note: Leviticus 9:24.], and at the first offering of sacrifices also in the temple of Solomon [Note: 2 Chronicles 7:1.]. Whatever the testimony was, God shewed, by it, that he accepted both the person and the offering of Abel, whilst neither the person nor the offering of Cain were at all acceptable in his sight [Note: Genesis 4:4-5.].]
Such being the acknowledged superiority of Abel’s sacrifice, let us consider,
What instruction the pre-eminent acceptance of it conveys to us—
We are told that “by it, he being dead yet speaketh.” The whole record concerning it shews,
That man, how righteous soever he may be, needs a sacrifice—
[Abel is characterized by our blessed Lord himself as eminently righteous; being designated by the name “righteous Abel [Note: Matthew 23:35.].” And in our text it is said, that “God bore testimony to him as a righteous man.” But did he on account of his distinguished piety not need an atonement? or did he think himself entitled to approach his God in any other way than as a self-ruined sinner, that could be saved only through the blood of a vicarious sacrifice? No; it is remarkable that Cain, who was at heart a murderer, thought he might find acceptance with God without such a sacrifice; whilst “righteous Abel” dared not to hope for mercy in any other way than through the sacrifice of Christ: and at this very hour none more deride the necessity of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in his atoning blood, than those who are hostile in their hearts to all vital godliness. But, however moral any may have been, they are sinners before God, and must seek for mercy solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ: for an Apostle expressly tells us, that “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins [Note: Hebrews 9:22.].” Let this then be remembered by us all: for it is by no means so deeply considered as it ought: there lurks in all of us a self-righteous disposition: we, no less than the Jews of old, are averse to “submit to the righteousness of God,” and make the Lord Jesus Christ “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.” But there is “no way to the Father but by him [Note: John 14:6.],” nor “any name under heaven but his whereby any man can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.].”]
That a sacrifice has been appointed of God for the sins of the whole world—
[It has been before shewn, that Abel’s “faith” necessarily pre—supposes a divine institution as the object of his faith. And what was the sacrifice that was ordained of God? Was it to the blood of bulls or goats that men were taught to look? “The blood of bulls and of goats,” as the Apostle tells us, “could never take away sins.” That same person who was foretold to Adam as “the Seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head,” was to effect that victory by having his own heel first bruised [Note: Genesis 3:15.], or, as Saint Paul expresses it, he was “through death to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil [Note: Hebrews 2:14.]:” in a word, he was to “redeem us to God by his blood,” and to be the propitiation not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. He it was who, both in Abel’s sacrifice, and in all the sacrifices under the law, was shadowed forth; and who is therefore called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Note: Revelation 13:8.].” Before he came into the world, his sacrifice had a retrospective, as at the time of its being offered it had a prospective, efficacy for the salvation of all who trusted in it; so that, from the beginning to the end of time, he is the only Saviour of sinful man.]
That through that sacrifice all who believe in it shall assuredly be saved—
[We are told that the record concerning Abraham’s having his faith imputed to him for righteousness, “was not written for his sake alone, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead [Note: Romans 4:23-24.].” And we may be perfectly sure, that the record concerning the efficacy of Abel’s faith, and the testimony given to him from God respecting the acceptableness of his sacrifice, was not for his honour merely, but for our encouragement. It shews to us how pleasing in God’s sight the humble Publican is in comparison of the self-applauding Pharisee, especially when he rests all his hopes of mercy on the atoning blood of Christ. It shews us, that God “will fill the hungry with good things, whilst the rich he will send empty away.” In a word, it shews us, that “the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse from all sin;” that “whosoever cometh unto God by him shall in no wise be cast out;” and that “all who believe in him shall be justified from all things.” Thus, whilst it directs us to the blood of Christ as the ground of our hope, it assures us, that that “blood speaketh not only as much and as satisfactorily as the blood of Abel did, but far better things than that ever did or could speak [Note: Hebrews 12:24.].”]
There is one thing not yet noticed in our text, which deserves particular attention, and which will serve us for an APPLICATION of the subject to our souls—
“By his faith,” and the consequent acceptance of his sacrifice, “Abel, though dead, yet speaketh to us.”
Hear then Abel as now speaking to you from the dead.
[‘Brethren, though dead, I yet live; and though I have been dead almost six thousand years, I would speak to you as though I had died but yesterday. I am concerned that you should profit by my experience. You are all assembled to worship and serve your God: and you are ready to conceive, that on that account you are all rendering unto God an acceptable service. But I must declare to you that this is far from being the case. Your outward forms, considered independently of the frame of mind in which you engage in them, are of no value in the sight of God. You may “kill an ox in sacrifice, and be only as if you slew a man: you may sacrifice a lamb, and be as if you cut off a dog’s neck: you may offer an oblation, and be as if you offered swine’s blood: you may burn incense, and be no more accepted, than if you blessed an idol [Note: Isaiah 66:3.].” God looks not at the act, but at the heart: and if that be not right with him, your sacrifices, how costly soever they may be, are only “an abomination to him [Note: Proverbs 21:27.].” Of all this you may be assured from what is related concerning my brother Cain and myself. He, as you have been told, was not accepted, whilst I was honoured with tokens of God’s merciful approbation. What was it that made the difference? Why did God look on me with complaccncy, and with abhorrence on him? It was because I approached him as a sinner, whose hopes were founded solely on the sacrifice of his Son, whilst my brother approached him without any such exercise of repentance and faith. And so it is with you. On those who draw nigh to him with a broken and contrite spirit, and with their eyes fixed on the Lamb of God to take away their sins, he looks with delight: he will even give to them sweet tokens of his acceptance, and testimonies of his love: and, if he do not give the same visible demonstrations of his love to them, as he did to me, he will not leave them without witness even in the minds of their enemies: for he will so enrich their souls by his grace, as shall make it evident, that God is with them of a truth. But on the proud self-righteous formalist he will look with scorn and indignation. Yes, to those of you who have come up hither merely to perform a duty which custom has prescribed, he says, “Ye hypocrites, in vain do ye worship me, seeing that, whilst you draw nigh to me with your mouths, and honour me with your lips, your hearts are far from me [Note: Matthew 15:7-9.].” I warn you then not to deceive your own souls: for assuredly, whether ye will believe it or not, God will ere long make the same distinction between you that he did between me and Cain: the contrite and believing worshippers shall have a testimony of his approbation before the whole assembled universe; but the impenitent and unbelieving shall be marked out as monuments of his everlasting displeasure. As for you who worship him in faith, he may for the present leave you in the hands of the ungodly, who from envy may be incensed against you; he may even suffer your “greatest enemies to be those of your own household;” yea, he may leave you even to be put to death, and to suffer martyrdom for your fidelity to him. But let not that deter you from confessing him openly before men. I have never regretted the sufferings I endured for him; nor will you ever regret any thing which you may be called to sustain. Even the testimony which you shall now enjoy in your own conscience, shall be an ample recompence for all: what then shall that testimony in the day of judgment be, when he shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord?” Go on then without fear, and “hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering.” “Be faithful unto death; and he will give you a crown of life [Note: Revelation 2:10. If this be the subject of a Funeral Sermon, it may be proper here to shew what the deceased person did say, or would say.].” ’
Such we may well conceive to be the strains in which Abel would now address you: and I pray God that they may sink down into our ears, and produce a saving effect upon our souls. Are there any here who are “going in the way of Cain [Note: Jude, ver. 11.],” and “hating those who are more righteous than themselves [Note: 1 John 3:11-12.]?” Ah! think what misery attaches to such a state of mind, both in this world and the next. Even here, as God has said, “there is no peace to the wicked; but they are like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.]:” and what will they be hereafter? What does Cain now think of that piety that he despised, and of that enmity with which he persecuted it even unto death? Now he knows who was right: and so will ye ere long, whether ye will now learn it or not. But O! stop ere it be too late: and have recourse to that sacrifice which will avail for all who trust in it. And ye who are suffering for righteousness’ sake, “marvel not as though some strange thing happened unto you, but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Abel’s sufferings and of Christ’s also, that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy [Note: 1 Peter 4:12-13.].”]
Hebrews 11:5. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
AMONGST those who obtained a good report through faith, Enoch bears a very distinguished placc. He was a prophet, and bore testimony against the abominations which obtained around him, with the utmost possible fidelity. His prophecy, indeed, is preserved to us, as it were, by miracle: for neither Moses, nor any other writer of the Old Testament, makes any mention of it; nor is it referred to by any of the evangelists, or in the Acts of the Apostles: but Jude, who wrote only one short epistle, records it, and thus throws light upon the “faith” which in my text is ascribed to Enoch: he shews that Enoch had a view of Christ as the Judge of quick and dead, and of the judgment itself as passed in perfect accordance with the character and conduct of every individual of mankind [Note: Jude, ver. 14, 15.].
Enoch, though the seventh from Adam in descent, is here introduced immediately after Abel; in order to shew, that, as in Abel the operations of faith were illustrated, so in Enoch might be seen its reward. Indeed, the translation of Enoch took place very soon after the death of Adam; that so, whilst God’s hatred of sin was manifested in the one, his love of holiness might be displayed in the other.
In considering the translation of Enoch, I shall notice it,
As a testimony to him—
Enoch doubtless had received many tokens of God’s approbation before—
[To Abel’s offering God had borne witness, as being more acceptable to him than that of Cain [Note: ver. 4.]. And, no doubt, many testimonies of Divine approbation had been vouchsafed to Enoch also. Did Enoch “walk with God [Note: Genesis 5:22; Genesis 5:24.]?” No doubt, God also walked with him “as a Friend [Note: James 2:23.],” “manifesting himself to him as he did not unto the world [Note: John 14:21-23.],” and “witnessing with his spirit that he was a child of God [Note: Romans 8:15-16.]” — — — Indeed, there is no one who “draws nigh to God, but God will also draw nigh to him [Note: James 4:8.],” and “hold sweet fellowship with him [Note: 1 John 1:3.],” and “lift up upon him the light of his countenance [Note: Psalms 4:6.],” and “shed abroad his love in his heart [Note: Romans 5:5.]” — — —]
But, in his translation, such a testimony was borne to his character, as carried conviction with it to the minds of others also—
[A man, by inward tokens of God’s approbation, “has the witness of it in himself [Note: 1 John 5:10.]:” but here was an expression of it, which carried its own evidence along with it to all who were then living upon earth, and has from that moment stamped the character of Enoch as a most distinguished favourite of heaven. No man was ever thus honoured before; and only one other person even to the present hour. By this translation to heaven, the sentence of God against sin was reversed: for death was disarmed of its power over this holy man; and he was borne to heaven, both in body and soul, without ever encountering the agonies or terrors of dissolution. What were the circumstances attendant on his removal, we know not; but, as in the case of Elijah, it must have been witnessed by some one of undoubted credibility; else the effect of it would have been lost: and, from its being said, that “he was not found,” it is evident, that, as in Elijah’s case also, a search was made for him, lest he should have been transported to some remote place only, instead of being borne, as they were taught to believe, into the very presence of his God [Note: 2 Kings 2:10; 2 Kings 2:16-17.]. But the fact itself, whatever its circumstances were, is a standing proof to the whole world, that this holy man had so walked as to please his God.]
But let us view this event,
As an instruction to us—
Two things it obviously teaches us:
That there is a future state of existence, both for our souls and bodies—
[It is clear that the future judgment was known to Enoch; and therefore it is most probable that he was informed as to the resurrection of the body. But, at all events, his translation gave to those of his day, and to all future ages, an evidence, that the body was capable of participating in all the glory and felicity of the soul. Of course, some change was made in him, even as there shall be in those who shall be living at the time of our Lord’s advent to judge the world. At that time, all who are alive “will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.].” But it was essentially the same body, even as that of our blessed Lord was at the time of his ascension to heaven [Note: Philippians 3:21.]: and, though our bodies shall be consumed by worms, yet shall they be raised again, and be the subjects either of happiness or misery, according as they were employed, either in the service of God, or in rebellion against him [Note: Daniel 12:2.].]
That those who have pleased God in this world shall assuredly dwell with God in the world to come—
[The eminent piety of Enoch was well known. What, then, did his translation announce, whether to that or future generations? God said by it, ‘Behold how I will act towards those who serve and honour me: I will not leave you to guess at it, as a matter above your comprehensions: ye shall see it; ye shall have it brought so manifestly before your eyes, that you shall have no doubt whatever respecting it. Did he believe in me? Did he serve me? Did he walk with me? Did he, in the whole of his life and conversation, strive to honour me? In a word, did he “please” me? See then, in him, the felicity that awaiteth you: for I have set him forth as a pattern to all future ages, and as a pledge, that “whoso honoureth me, shall be honoured by me [Note: 1 Samuel 2:30.];” and that “to him who ordereth his conversation aright, I will shew the salvation of God [Note: Psalms 50:23.].” ’]
What now shall I add? What, but these two things? Learn—
What must be your aim in life—
[You have seen what it was in Enoch that pleased God: you have seen, that he really “believed” in God; and that his whole life was one continued walk with God. “He walked, not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth the reins.” So walk ye, and ye shall please him too; yes, and shall have such tokens of his approbation, as shall richly recompense all that you may either do or suffer for him, though it were a thousand times more than was ever yet done or suffered by mortal man — — —]
What should be your comfort in death—
[What is death to a child of God? It is not death: no; it is a sleep, a “falling asleep in Jesus [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:14.Acts 7:60; Acts 7:60.].” This it is, as it respects the body; which shall surely “awake from the dust [Note: Isaiah 26:19.],” and be re-united to the soul [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.]. And what shall it be to the soul? A translation, such as Enoch’s was. Could you but see what takes place at the departure of a real saint, you would see the angels waiting to catch his spirit at the instant of its departure from the body, and bearing it on their wings into the presence of its God. And is not this an object to be desired? Do you wonder that Paul “desired to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better [Note: Philippians 1:23.]” than any state on earth can be? Regard ye death, then, in this view: and learn to number it amongst your treasures [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-22.]; and in the daily habit of your minds, “be looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of Christ [Note: 2 Peter 3:12.]” — — —]
THE NECESSITY OF FAITH
Hebrews 11:6. Without faith it is impossible to please [God.]
THIS whole chapter is one continued commendation of faith: which is marked, throughout, as the one source of every good action, and as the certain prelude to everlasting felicity. But, in what is spoken of Enoch, there seems, to a superficial observer, to be no connexion with faith: for his translation was a mere act of God’s favour: and, though it is said that “he pleased God,” it may be supposed that it was by his works that he approved himself to God, and not by any actings of faith. But, in my text, the Apostle proves that faith was in Enoch the leading principle from which his works proceeded, and the true object of God’s peculiar approbation. His argument may be thus stated in a few words: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” But Enoch did please God: therefore it is clear that Enoch believed; and that his works, whatever they were, were the fruits of faith. Now, in confirmation of this momentous truth, I will shew,
What is that “faith, without which we cannot please God”—
Let the Apostle himself be heard in the words following my text. Three things he points out, as the objects of true and saving faith. It has respect to God,
As having an independent and immutable existence—
[The believer does not conceive of God as resembling the gods of the heathen, or as having a derived existence; but as existing necessarily from everlasting; and as immutable in every one of his perfections; “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”]
As being the Moral Governor of the universe—
[This is implied in the regard he manifests to those who seek him. For, if he were not observant of the ways of men, and if he did not inspect the most secret motions of their hearts, he could not “reward” men according to their works.]
As fulfilling, for our good, all his covenant engagements—
[This is very particularly intended in our text. For how could he “reward” men, if they were not first “accepted in his beloved Son?” Men are sinners; and, as sinners, condemned; and utterly incapable of removing their guilt and condemnation by any thing which they themselves can do. It is through the atonement which Christ has offered for them, that they obtain reconciliation with God; and through Christ alone can any work of theirs come up with acceptance before God. But the mediation of Christ was agreed upon between the Father and Son from all eternity; Christ engaging to “make his soul an offering for sin;” and the Father engaging, for his sake, to accept the person and services of all that should believe in him [Note: Isaiah 53:10.]. This, therefore, is essential to saving faith: and, in order to “please God,” we must unite these three things: a belief in God’s eternal and immutable existence; a belief in him as the Moral Governor of the universe; and a belief in him as fulfilling to us all his covenant engagements.]
Now, “without such faith,” we are told, “it is impossible to please God.” Let me then proceed to shew you,
Why it is so indispensable for that end—
Without such faith, we cannot have any right dispositions towards God—
[What can we possess of love to an unknown being? or what of fear, towards one who neither regards, nor will ever take cognizance of, our actions? What can we feel of gratitude towards one, to whom we can trace no obligations? or of affiance in one, of whose agency in the affairs of men we are altogether ignorant? It is obvious, that, so far as respects religious feelings, we are no better than “Atheists in the world [Note: Ephesians 2:12. the Greek.].” How, then, can God be “pleased” with such wretches as these? — — —]
Without such faith we cannot render unto God any acceptable service—
[Any service, in order to be accepted of God, must be such as he himself has required: it must have respect to his authority, as commanding it; to his word, as the rule to which it is to be conformed; and to his glory, as the end for which it is to be done. But, if we possess not faith in God, how can we have respect to his authority? or how can we conform to his word? or how can we desire to advance his glory? Any pretence of this kind must be downright hypocrisy or delusion: and, whatever the service be, it can be no better, in God’s estimation, than “the cutting off a dog’s neck for sacrifice, and the offering of swine’s blood [Note: Isaiah 66:3.].”]
Inquire, then, I pray you,
Into the nature and reality of your faith—
[Men, if they inquire into their state at all, are apt to confine their attention to their works. But here we see how necessary it is to inquire into our faith; since, if that be not sound and scriptural, nothing else can be right before God. Inquire, whether you have any deep conviction even of the existence of God; and still more, of his moral government, and of his inspecting every thing in order to judge the world in righteousness at the last day. Inquire still further, what views you have of God, as covenanting with his Son to expiate our guilt, to renovate our souls, and to present our services to him perfumed with the incense of his own merits, and rendered acceptable through his prevailing intercession. Indeed, my brethren, these should be subjects of our most anxious inquiry from day to day. St. Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.].” And I also would say the same: for, if “without a true faith it is impossible to please God,” you cannot but feel the indispensable importance of having this matter clearly ascertained, and distinctly determined.]
Into the fruits and effects of your faith—
[It is here taken for granted, that the believer “comes to God:” and it is certain that true faith will bring us to God, in deeply penitential sorrow, and in earnest cries for mercy. If we really believe in God, we shall “diligently seek him” in the use of all his appointed ordinances, and in the name of his only dear Son. Yes, and we shall have our expectations of mercy greatly enlarged. We shall delight to view God, not merely as a Sovereign, but as “a Rewarder,” who is at all times waiting for opportunities to express the utmost possible love towards his obedient people. Say now, brethren, whether such be your views, your contemplations, your joys? Of what value is your faith, if it be not productive of these fruits? If it operate not in this way, it is no better than the faith of devils [Note: James 2:19.]. “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak [Note: Hebrews 6:9.].” “But we desire that every one of you” make these things a subject of most earnest inquiry; that so, after a diligent and candid examination, ye may discern your real state before God; and may be brought “to a full assurance of hope” that ye are really “pleasing God” in this world, and shall be “rewarded by him” in the world to come [Note: Hebrews 6:11.].]
Hebrews 11:7. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
OF all the principles which operate in the Christian’s mind, faith is the most distinguished. In some respects indeed love claims a preference, because it is the very image of the Deity [Note: 1 John 4:8.], and will exist when faith and hope shall be no more [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:13.]. But as faith is that grace which most of all honours God, so it is that which God most delights to honour. On many occasions wherein a bright assemblage of graces shone forth, our blessed Lord overlooked all others, and commended the faith [Note: Matthew 8:10; Matthew 15:28. Mark 10:52.Luke 7:50; Luke 7:50.]. The chapter before us recounts the exercises of faith in the most eminent saints from the beginning of the world to the days of the Apostles. We shall call your attention at present to the faith of Noah; and,
The different things here spoken respecting it require us to notice—
He credited the “Divine warning”—
[God had declared to him his intention to destroy the world by a deluge. And how did he receive the warning? Did he indulge vain reasonings about the practicability of such an event; or pretend to be more merciful than God? No. Though there was not the remotest appearance of such a thing, he believed it would certainly take place: and though to proud reason it seemed hard that all living creatures, old and young, men and beasts, should be involved in one undiscriminating ruin, yet he doubted not but that it should be as God had said; and was persuaded that “the Judge of all the earth would do right.”]
He was “moved with fear” on account of it—
[He had nothing to fear respecting his eternal state, because he was a perfect and upright man, and walked in holy fellowship with his God. But God was incensed by the wickedness of his creatures, insomuch that “he repented he had made them:” and he determined to pour out his fury upon them to the uttermost. Did it not then become Noah, as well as others, to fear and tremble? Did it become him to be so absorbed in selfishness as to be unconcerned about the destruction, the sudden, and perhaps everlasting, destruction, of all the human race? Indeed a dread of the Divine judgments was necessary, to stir him up to use the proper means for his own safety: and it was an unequivocal proof of his crediting the declarations of God concerning them.]
He exerted himself in God’s appointed way—
[God commanded him to construct a vessel of an immense size, and such an one as had not been seen from the foundation of the world [Note: It was above one hundred and sixty yards long, twenty-seven broad, and sixteen high.]. The expense of building it must be exceeding great, so as to swallow up all his fortune. The time it would occupy would be many years; during all of which the people would be scoffing at him as a deluded visionary, and taking occasion from the very forbearance of God to load him with grosser insults [Note: 2 Peter 3:4.]. But he regarded not any labour, any odium, any sacrifice in the path of duty: he was intent only on executing the Divine mandate, and on providing for the security of those who should believe his testimony.]
Its effects and consequences—
He “condemned the world”—
[During the hundred and twenty years that he was engaged in building the ark, he preached to the world with much earnestness and fidelity: and therefore doubtless condemned them often in his discourses. But he condemned them yet more by his example. His faith condemned their unbelief; his fear, their security; his obedience, their disobedience. If he had not spoken one word with his lips, his constructing the ark would have been a tacit, but keen, and continual reproof to all around him.]
He “saved his family”—
[At the appointed time the flood came. The world, notwithstanding all the warnings given them, were as far as ever from expecting the event [Note: Matthew 24:38-39.]. It is probable that their contempt of Noah’s superstition and folly (as they would call it) had risen to its height, when they saw this immense vessel built, and filled with all different kinds of animals, and provisioned for many months; and Noah with his little family enclosed in it, before the smallest symptom of any inundation had appeared. But in the midst of their revels the flood came and swept them all away: and Noah only, with his family, were preserved. That his family owed their preservation to him is clear; not only because it was ascribed to the exercise of his faith, but because one at least of them was as deserving of God’s wrath as the generality of those who perished.]
He “became an heir of righteousness”—
[Noah knew that the whole of that mysterious dispensation was typical of the salvation which is given us in Christ Jesus [Note: 1 Peter 3:20-21.]. He saw that a more terrible deluge was about to overwhelm an ungodly world: and that Christ was the ark which God had prepared for us. Into that ark he entered by faith: and thus, being “found in him [Note: Philippians 3:9.],” and “preserved in him [Note: Jude, ver. 1.],” he “became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith;” or, in other words, he was accepted, justified, and saved through the Saviour’s merits.]
While we call you to admire the faith of Noah, we would also,
Commend it to your imitation—
Our circumstances being wholly different from his, there must be many particulars in his faith which we cannot imitate, but the substantial parts of it are imitable by all.
Believe God’s testimony respecting the judgments which he will bring upon the world—
[There are great and terrible judgments denounced against the ungodly, yea, “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men [Note: Psalms 9:17; Psa 11:6 and Romans 1:18.]” — — — Nor shall gross wickedness only be the object of God’s wrath: a state of unregeneracy, whether attended with more or less open sin, will certainly involve us in the general doom [Note: John 3:3.]: nor shall one of all the human race, at least not one to whom the Gospel has been preached, escape, unless he get into the ark prepared for him [Note: Acts 4:12.].
Now do not presume to dispute against this. Do not, because there is no appearance at present of such calamities, imagine that they shall never come. Do not pretend to be more merciful than God, and to say, God will never execute such tremendous judgments: for “he has said, and he will do it; he has spoken, and he will make it good.” It may appear as improbable as the deluge; but, however improbable it may appear, it shall come to pass; and all who will not believe it now, shall experience the truth of it to their cost.]
Use the means of safety which God has appointed—
[You have not to build an ark: there is one constructed and provisioned by God himself; and the door is open for you to enter in, Do not absurdly ask, “How can that vessel save me?” neither attempt to form another for yourself: nor flee to this or that mountain for safety: but go to Christ: seek an interest in him by faith: commit yourself wholly and cheerfully to him: and then you may defy all the storms and billows that menace your destruction. Moreover, delay not to place yourself beyond the reach of danger; because, while you are loitering, “the door may be shut,” and all entrance into it may be barred for ever [Note: Matthew 25:10-12.]. It is not at all improbable that many who had derided Noah, or perhaps assisted in constructing the ark, clung to it when the floods came; and cried to Noah, “Open to us, and take us in:” and doubtless, if that were the case, Noah would pity their deplorable condition when he heard their cries or saw their unavailing endeavours. But God had shut the door; and Noah was not at liberty to open it: so that, one after another, they all “sank like lead in the mighty waters.” Thus many in the last day will say, “Lord, Lord, open to us;” or “they will cry to the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb [Note: Revelation 6:16.]:” but the judgments they once despised, will come upon them irresistibly, and for ever. Cultivate then a holy fear; and enter into the ark while it continues open to you.]
Suffer nothing to divert you from your purpose—
[We have said that Noah incurred much odium as well as much expense in this exercise of faith. And it is certain, that you also will be called to make some sacrifices for your God. Not your reputation only, but your interests also, may be materially affected by your obedience to Christ. But what did Noah lose in the issue? What concern did he feel either about the reflections cast on him, or the labour and money he had bestowed, when he found himself safe in the ark, and saw the whole world perishing in the waters? Still less will ye feel, when we shall see the floods of divine vengeance deluging the ungodly, and yourselves, as “heirs of righteousness,” placed beyond the reach of harm. Fear not then to be singular in a good cause. It is better to condemn the world by a holy singularity, and to be condemned by them on account of it, than to be condemned with them, and endure the wrath of an incensed God.]
ABRAHAM’S LIFE A PATTERN FOR OURS
Hebrews 11:8-10. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
THERE can scarcely be proposed to our consideration any subject more important than the practical efficacy of faith. It is the one subject which pervades this whole chapter: and it is set before us in the most advantageous way that can be imagined, being exhibited in living examples, in whom it was so embodied as to be visible, as it were, before our eyes. Had the Apostle launched forth into a general description of it, we might possibly be thought to lay an undue stress on any expressions which he has used: but, when he merely refers us to historic fact as illustrative of the point, we feel, that there is no room for misapprehension on the part of any candid inquirer.
The Apostle has already adduced instances which occurred before the flood: and now he comes to specify others which took place at different and distant periods, almost to the apostolic age. At the head of these is the case of Abraham, who, both in this chapter, and in other parts of Scripture, is more celebrated for his faith than any other of the children of men. We propose to consider,
His conduct under the influence of faith—
It is but a partial view that we shall be led to take at present of Abraham’s faith, because other, and yet more remarkable, circumstances will come under our consideration at a future time. We now notice only two things:
His departure from his own country—
[Whilst Abraham was in Ur of the Chaldees, God appeared to him, and said, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land which I will shew thee [Note: Gen 12:1 and Acts 7:3.].” Whether this was done in a vision, or by a voice, we are not informed: but it is clear that it was done in such a way as not to leave the smallest doubt upon Abraham’s mind, that the command proceeded from Jehovah, the only true and living God. It was a command which required much self-denial: for every man naturally feels attached to his country, and his kindred, and his possessions; and, unless induced by the prospect of some great advantages, is averse to leave them. But the self-denial was the greater, because he was not informed whither he was to go: it was to a land which should afterwards be shewn him. What would all his friends and relatives think of him, when he told them that he was about to forsake them all, and did not so much as know whither he was going? Would they not account him mad? Yet did he obey, without hesitation, and without a murmur. God, at the same time that he issued this command, had engaged to “make of him a great nation,” and to raise up from his loins the promised “Seed, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed [Note: Genesis 12:2-3.]:” and of God’s power or fidelity he had no doubt [Note: Romans 4:18-21.]: he therefore went forth, willingly renouncing all present comforts in obedience to his God, assured that, however despised or ridiculed his conduct might be, it would prove in the issue to be the path of happiness and wisdom.]
His sojourning in the land of promise as in a strange country—
[When he went forth from his own country, he took with him Sarah his wife, and Terah his father, and his nephew Lot. But though he went towards Canaan, he stopped short of it in Haran; and there abode five years, till his father’s death: when he proceeded to Canaan [Note: Acts 7:4.], where, except when driven from it by a famine, he abode during the remainder of his days. But did he then merely change one inheritance for another? No; he had not there the smallest inheritance, “no, not so much as to set his foot on.” He had not even a stationary abode; but dwelt in tents, which were moved from one place to another, as occasion required: thus avowing himself to be a mere pilgrim and sojourner there, and to be “looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” The city which he had left in his native land, and those which were in the land of promise, had their foundation in the dust, to which they would all in time be reduced t but the heavenly city, which God had formed for his own habitation and the eternal residence of his saints, would continue for ever: and to that he looked as his home; content to have no abiding place here, if only he might attain to that as his eternal rest [Note: Hebrews 13:14.]. Nor was it for himself only that he chose this unsettled mode of life, but for his children also, even for “Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise:” for what he desired for himself, he desired for them also, the enjoyment of the Divine favour, and the possession of an unseen, but everlasting inheritance.]
But whilst we contemplate his conduct in these respects, it will be proper to shew,
How far his example is a pattern for us—
It is evident that the whole catalogue of saints here enumerated is intended to illustrate the nature and efficacy of faith. Yet in considering the conduct of the individuals, we must make due allowance for the difference of circumstances, and rather mark the principle by which they were actuated, than the particular acts in which it was displayed. If, for instance, we should imagine that we were called to forsake our country and kindred in the way that Abraham did, we should greatly err. But I conceive, that, in the two following respects, all will confess we are bound to follow him:
The authority of God should in our minds be paramount to every other authority—
[As he “consulted not with flesh and blood,” when once the Divine will was intimated to him, so neither should we: it should be sufficient for us that God hath commanded any thing: there should then be no inquiry whether the command be easy or not; nor should there be any regard to consequences in obeying it: there should be in us a fixed determination of heart to fulfil his will at all events. If, for instance, the Lord Jesus Christ say to us, “If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me;” we must not stand to inquire into the extent of the self-denial that may be requisite, or the weight of the cross which we may have to bear, but leave that to his wise and gracious disposal, being intent on nothing but the performance of our duty to him. If he add, that we must “forsake all, and follow him,” not only not loving, but actually hating, in comparison of him, our own nearest and most honoured relatives, yea, and “our own lives also,” we must not reply, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” but must set ourselves instantly to fulfil in all its extent whatever he has required of us. If men, who know not God, despise, and revile, and persecute us, we must be ready to welcome it all for his sake; and to reply to the menaces of the most ferocious adversaries, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” In a word, we must spare no pains to ascertain the mind of God; and, that once learned, neither men nor devils should deter us from labouring to fulfil it.]
The interests of the eternal world should be paramount to every other interest—
[Abraham had never seen the heavenly city; but, in the hope of reaching it, he counted all earthly possessions, interests, or pleasures, as unworthy of notice. We too are ignorant of what awaits us in the eternal world: we have no conception of the glory that shall be revealed to us at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But by faith we may even now get such views of it, that all earthly glory shall vanish before it, as the stars before the meridian sun. How empty did all the glory of Egypt appear to Moses, when he had respect unto the recompence of reward which awaited him in a better world [Note: ver. 26.]! And to St. Paul all his accumulated afflictions appeared lightness itself, whilst he looked, not at “the things which are visible and temporal, but at those which are invisible and eternal [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.].” And thus it will be with us: it will be a small thing to us that we have no inheritance here, or even that we are called to give up an inheritance we already possess. We shall even “take joyfully the spoiling of our goods, knowing that we have in heaven a better, and an enduring, substance [Note: Hebrews 10:34.].” We shall contentedly live as pilgrims and sojourners here, and seek our rest only in the world above.]
Let us then take occasion from this subject to inquire,
Whether we be children of Abraham—
[Our blessed Lord has told us, that, “if we be Abraham’s children, we shall do the works of Abraham [Note: John 8:39.].” Do we then these works? Do we in these respects “walk in the steps of Abraham [Note: Romans 4:12.]?” Inquire what authority has God’s word with you? Do you set yourselves to obey every command of his as soon as you know it? and are you anxious to know his will in order that you may obey it? Inquire also, what influence the world has over you? If you belong to Christ, though you are in the world, you are not of it: “you are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world [Note: John 17:14-16.]:” you love it not, nor any thing that is in it: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, are shunned by you as ensnaring, and despised by you as unsatisfying [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.].” “The very friendship of it you avoid, as enmity with God [Note: James 4:4.]:” you “come out from it [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.];” and will “not be conformed to it [Note: Romans 12:2.]:” you are even “crucified unto it, and esteem it as a crucified” object in your eyes [Note: Galatians 6:14.]. Say, is it thus with you? and do you regard it thus in reference to your children, as well as unto yourself; contented that your children after you should live in tents, if only they may attain an everlasting inheritance? The description of all true Christians is, “They walk by faith, and not by sight [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:7.]”. And surely it is no difficult thing to ascertain what your habits are in this respect. Oh! remember, that if you are not Abraham’s sons, you have another father, even the devil. This may sound harsh; but it is the declaration of Him who “spake as never man spake [Note: John 8:38-44.].” I pray you, leave not such an interesting subject any longer in suspense: nor rest till you have given evidence that you are “Abraham’s seed,” by walking as Abraham “walked, and as Christ himself also walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].”]
How you may become so—
[It was by faith that Abraham was brought into a justified state: and by faith are we also to be made partakers of that happiness. By our works we must prove our relation to him; but by faith only can we obtain an admission into his family. We must believe in the promised Seed, as he did; and then shall we be Christ’s, as he was: “And, if we be Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise [Note: Galatians 3:6-7; Galatians 3:29.].” Now it is of the utmost importance that we understand this matter well. For there are many who imagine, that to sequester themselves from the world is meritorious, and to live as monks or hermits is to secure the favour of their God. But this is a fatal error. There is no acceptance with God but by Jesus Christ, even by faith in his atoning blood. The Apostle especially guards us on this head. Abraham was circumcised: yet his righteousness came not by circumcision, but by the faith which he had whilst he was yet uncircumcised [Note: Romans 4:9-11.]. So it is not by any obedience of ours that we are to purchase an inheritance in heaven; we must receive it as the free gift of God through Christ Jesus; and then press forward towards it in the way of his commandments. Let us walk with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in this world, and then we shall “sit down with them for ever in the kingdom of our God.”]
THE PRACTICAL EFFICACY OF FAITH
Hebrews 11:13. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
THE precepts contained in Scripture may be supposed to admit of a latitude of interpretation favourable to the views of those who profess to regard them; but the examples that are recorded there, exhibit a light, which the ingenuity of man in vain attempts to obscure. Who that reads the history of the patriarchs, and the commendations bestowed upon them, can doubt the efficacy of faith to produce obedience, or the nature of that obedience that ought to be produced? After all the allowance that must of necessity be made for a diversity of situation between them and us, the principle by which they were actuated remains the same, and its operation also must be the same, as far as the circumstances in which we are agree with theirs. It is manifest that the catalogue which is here given us of holy men, was not recorded merely for the sake of historical information, but for our instruction in righteousness, and as an incentive to imitate their virtues. The passage before us relates to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who alone “had opportunity to return to the country which they had left:” confining therefore our attention to them, we shall shew,
Wherein they excelled—
From the account given of them in the text, we are led to admire,
The strength of their faith—
[They were taught to expect a numerous seed, and the possession of the land of Canaan: and, together with these temporal blessings, others of a far sublimer nature were promised; namely, a descendant in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed; and an everlasting inheritance in heaven — — — These promises they did not see accomplished: yea, not even the temporal blessings did they receive: for in the space of two hundred and forty years their posterity in the promised line amounted to but seventy; and Jacob, after sojourning as a stranger in Canaan, died in Egypt. But the patriarchs “walked by faith, and not by sight;” and, notwithstanding all their discouragements and delays, held fast their confidence even unto death: “they all died in faith.”]
Its practical effects—
[Expecting higher blessings than this world could afford, they disregarded the things of time and sense as of little value — — — They considered themselves as mere “pilgrims and sojourners on the earth,” and repeatedly “confessed” this to be their true and proper character [Note: Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9.]. This correspondence between their principles and their practice marked both the sincerity and efficacy of their faith, and was, in fact, their highest commendation.]
It will be easily seen from hence,
Wherein they should be imitated—
We are certainly not required to resemble them in their wandering unsettled kind of life; but we should imitate them,
In the state of their minds—
[We have promises, as they also had; and promises which yet remain to be fulfilled to us. God has not only assured us of acceptance with him in and through his beloved Son, but has engaged to send his Holy Spirit into our hearts, for the carrying on and perfecting his work within us. We meet with many delays and difficulties, which at times disquiet our minds, and lead us almost to doubt the truth of the promises themselves: but we should “against hope believe in hope:” yea, we should “hold fast the rejoicing of our hope firm unto the end.” If God be true to his word, and able to perform it, “not one jot or tittle of it can ever fail.” Convinced of this, we should say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”]
In the habit of their lives—
[The name “pilgrims and strangers” was not given to the patriarchs merely on account of their sojourning in a strange land; for David, after he was established on his throne, and had subdued all his enemies on every side, assumes the same title [Note: 1 Chronicles 29:15.]; and the same appellation is given to us also under the Christian dispensation [Note: 1 Peter 2:11.]. Though we are not called to dwell in moveable habitations, we, as much as the patriarchs themselves, should answer to the character of pilgrims. We should feel only indifference to the things of this world — — — We should be daily advancing towards the heavenly world — — — And we should look forward to death as the consummation of all our happiness — — —]
THE CHRISTIAN’S DESIRE
Hebrews 11:16. Now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.
WHEREVER the Gospel is faithfully declared, it is generally known that we are to be saved by “the same faith as that which dwelt in our father Abraham:” but it is not so generally understood, that we are to “walk in the steps of Abraham;” and that, in the most self-denying acts of his life, he was intended to be an example to us [Note: Romans 4:12.]. But in its fruits, as well as in its object, our faith must resemble his. Now, amongst his most eminent virtues we must reckon his superiority to the world, in that he willingly left his own country to “sojourn in the land of promise, as in a strange land;” and continued, with Isaac and Jacob, to the very end of his days, to walk as a pilgrim and a sojourner there, in the assured hope and expectation of a better country, which he had in view [Note: Hebrews 11:8-10.]. Both he and his family “had opportunities in abundance to return” to their own land, if they had been so disposed: but they knew themselves to be under the Divine guidance and direction; and regarded nothing in comparison of God’s favour, and the ultimate possession of that recompence to which they had respect.
In them, then, we may see,
The character of every true Christian—
The Christian seeks a better portion than this world can give him—
[He is in the world, and performs the duties of his station, like others: and, as to external appearance, he differs not materially from the sober part of mankind. He does not make an unnecessary parade of his religion; nor does he affect needless singularities: but he moves quietly and unostentatiously in the sphere which God has assigned him. But, in “the spirit of his mind,” he is widely different from every unconverted man. “His affections are set on things above, and not on things below [Note: Colossians 3:2.].” He sees the emptiness and vanity of all earthly things: he has weighed them in a balance, and found them wanting in every respect. He has seen how uncertain they are, both in the acquisition and enjoyment; how wholly unsatisfying to a. spiritual mind; and how soon they pass away. Heavenly things, on the contrary, he has found to be every way worthy of his pursuit: and he has determined, through grace, to disregard every thing in comparison of them. He has learned to regard this world as a mere wilderness; a land through which he is passing to his own native country [Note: πατρίδαconveys this precise idea, ver. 14.]; the country where his Father dwells, and which is the place of his ultimate abode. The conduct of the patriarchs gives, in this respect, a just idea of the Christian. They dwelt in tents, and not, like those around them, in cities: and thus they shewed to all, and indeed avowed [Note: Confessed, ver. 13.], that they were travelling towards a better land. Thus the Christian takes not up his rest in any thing here below; but shews, by the whole of his spirit and conduct, that he is indeed looking for “a better country, that is, an heavenly.”]
In this he is distinguished from all other persons whatsoever—
[Others may be weary of the world through disappointment and vexation; or they may feel an indifference towards some things that are in it. But there is no man, except the Christian, that is uniformly and universally dead to the world, at the same time that he has every opportunity to enjoy it. No person, but the true Christian, compares the two worlds together, so as to give a deliberate and determined preference to that which is above. The glories of the eternal world are seen by none but him, and therefore are coveted by him alone. Others, in their judgment indeed, will acknowledge the superior excellence of the eternal world: (in truth, there is no man so stupid and brutish as to entertain a doubt of it:) but in their hearts they do not love it; and in their lives they do not seek it. The true Christian, on the contrary, does seek it above all. And in this there is no difference to be found between saints of any country, or any age. The mind of the Patriarchs is the mind of every Christian under heaven. The same sentiment prevails among the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned, the healthy and the dying. There may be a difference in many points both of faith and practice: but in this there is none. Every individual that is truly converted to God will say, “I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner, as all my fathers were [Note: Psalms 39:12.].”]
If the Christian be exalted in his character above others, so also is he in,
The high honour conferred upon him—
God is, by way of eminence, his God—
[Jehovah is the God of all the universe: there is not a creature in heaven, earth, or hell, that is not subject to his controul. But he is in a peculiar manner the God of those who consecrate themselves to him, and endeavour to walk according to his will. This is particularly declared in reference to the point before us; a separation, in mind and spirit, from the unbelieving world. “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God; and they shall be my people [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16-18.].” See what God was to Abraham: how he conversed with him as a friend; admitted him to the closest fellowship; heard and answered his prayers; protected him from every enemy; and finally admitted him to his beatific presence in heaven. Thus will he do to all, who, like Abraham, endeavour to maintain a constant fellowship with him. Yea, whatever God himself possesses, even all his own infinite perfections, shall be employed in behalf of the believing soul, as much as if there were not another creature in the universe to engage his attention. Thus will he do, I say, in this life: and, in the life to come, “he has prepared for the heavenly-minded Christian a city,” a fixed habitation, a habitation suited to him, and worthy of God himself.]
Nor will God be ashamed to avow himself his God—
[God would be utterly ashamed to acknowledge a worldling as standing in such a relation to him; just as we should to acknowledge as our friend and favourite a notorious robber, or an abandoned prostitute. The worldling does “rob God” in ten thousand respects. He robs him of his heart, his time, his service [Note: Malachi 3:8.]: and commits whoredom and adultery, as the Scripture expresses it, with every base thing which solicits his regards [Note: James 4:4.]. How is it possible that God should approve of such base proceedings, or profess himself the friend of such worthless creatures? Our Lord tells us, that “of those who are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed, when he shall come in the glory of his Father with his holy angels [Note: Mark 8:38.].” He will turn from them with indignation, saying, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” But of a faithful servant, neither God the Father, nor the Lord Jesus Christ, will ever be ashamed. On the contrary, “both the Father and the Son will come to him, and make their abode with him [Note: John 14:23.].” Indeed, God rather loves to be called his God, and chooses to be designated by that very name. When Moses asked of God, by what name he should make him known to the children of Israel, God replied, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel; the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you. This is my name for ever; and this is my memorial unto all generations [Note: Exodus 3:15.].” Individual believers indeed are not, nor can be, mentioned in Scripture, as these patriarchs are: but it is as true of one as of another: and God will put no difference between one and another, any further than the fidelity of each individual shall justify a distinction in his behalf.]
Those who set their hearts on earthly things—
[How unlike are you to the saints of former days! Compare your life, or rather your spirit, with that of the persons mentioned in my text. Do not mistake, as though their call was peculiar, and nothing resembling it is given to you. I know you are not called to go out from your country, and to dwell in tents: but you are called to “desire a better country,” and that supremely; yea, and not only to desire it, but to seek it; to seek it with your whole hearts. And is there not just occasion for you to seek it? Compare the present with the future world: can you doubt which should have the preference in your esteem? You cannot. Why, then, do you not act agreeably to your convictions? Do you not know, that you can never have any hope of heaven if you do not desire it: you can never possess it, if you do not labour for it? I must further say, that, if you will not be the Lord’s people, you can have, no hope that he will give himself to you as your God. You are afraid, perhaps, that your names will be cast out as evil if you renounce the world, and live m it as pilgrims and sojourners. To be ridiculed as righteous overmuch is, in your eyes, too formidable an evil to be encountered. But, if you are ashamed to be called God’s servants, will not he be ashamed to be called your God? No doubt he will: and I wish you to consider this, ere it be too late. Without a surrender of yourselves to him, you can never hope that he will give himself to you.]
Those who are endued with patriarchal virtue—
[There are some, I trust, who, like the patriarchs, desire, and shew too by their lives that they do “desire a heavenly country.” Go on, beloved, in your heavenly way; and whatever opportunities be afforded you to go back, regard them not: yea, if even the fiercest opposition be made to you, let it not impede your course one moment. What if people despise, and hate, and persecute you, shall that be suffered to divert you from your purpose? Do you not remember what is said of our Lord, that “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross and despised the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God [Note: Hebrews 12:2.]?” Do ye, then, walk in his steps; and, like him, in due time you shall “inherit the glory prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”]
ABRAHAM OFFERING UP ISAAC
Hebrews 11:17-19. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
THE whole life of the patriarchs was an apt illustration of the life of faith; because, when they had abundant opportunities of returning to the country from whence they had come out, they refused to do so, and preferred living as strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land, testifying plainly to all around them, that they regarded not this world as their home, but were in pursuit of a better, that is, an heavenly country [Note: ver. 13–16.]. The Apostle, having shewn us this, returns to the case of Abraham, of whose faith he had already spoken in terms of high commendation, but whose principal act of faith remained yet to be noticed, as being the most illustrious exercise of that grace which the world had ever seen. This we are now to consider: and it will indeed be found profitable to mark,
The wonderful transaction here recorded—
God issued a command to Abraham to offer up his son—
[This was such a command as was sufficient to confound his reason, and to excite in his mind a doubt whether it could proceed from a God of truth and love. The account is given us in the 22d chapter of Genesis, where all the circumstances that attended it are recorded. Abraham had a son given to him in his old age, when neither he nor his wife, according to the common course of nature, could hope for any progeny. This son was constituted the appointed medium for bringing into the world “the Seed, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed.” Yet this son was Abraham to take, and with his own hands to offer him up a burnt-offering to the Lord. Upon the delivery of this command, we might suppose him almost of necessity to say, Can this proceed from God? Can he not only take away thus the life of an innocent youth, but require me, the father of that youth, to be his executioner? Surely the suggestion comes rather from Satan, who seeing that this youth is to be the progenitor of the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world, would take advantage of my desire to please God, and make me his instrument to defeat the purposes of the Almighty, by destroying the very person to whom the promises are made. But he had no doubt whence the voice proceeded; and therefore]
This command he instantly set himself to fulfil—
[He “conferred not with flesh and blood:” he listened not to the dictates of carnal reason, nor consulted for a moment the judgment of his wife; but addressed himself to his arduous duty with readiness, with perseverance, and with a fortitude that was invincible. “He rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him [Note: Genesis 22:3.].” But so distant was the appointed place, that he reached it not till the third day. What a time was here for meditation and reflection! and what conflicts may we suppose him to have experienced in his soul between parental love and duty to his God! Yet he persevered: yea, when the beloved youth, seeing in his father’s hands the knife that was to slay the sacrifice, and the fire that was to consume it, put to him the touching question; “My father, behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?” still he maintained his resolution; and, waving any direct answer to it, proceeded to the place. There, no doubt, he revealed the matter to his son, who acquiesced in the Divine appointment; and then, having laid the wood in order, and bound his son, raised the knife to inflict the fatal wound. With what more than human firmness must he have been endowed, to execute an act so revolting to all the feelings of his nature, and so likely to transmit his name with infamy to the remotest posterity! How was it that he acquired strength to perform the act? We are told,]
In the execution of it he was animated and upheld by faith—
[To this principle his obedience is expressly ascribed: “By faith he offered Isaac.” Mere reason would suggest to him, that, in destroying his son, he would annihilate the hopes of the whole world, founded as they were on the progeny that should hereafter spring from his loins. But by faith he was so persuaded both of the truth of God in his promises, and of his power to accomplish them, that he hesitated not to obey the Divine mandate; assured that, though his son were slain and burnt to ashes, God would rather raise him up to life again than suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail. What though no instance of such an interposition had ever yet existed? that was no reason that it should not exist, if it were necessary to the performance of the Divine promises. Indeed an interposition little short of that, had already existed in the very birth of Isaac, who had been given to him, when neither he nor Sarah could, according to nature, have any hope of an offspring: and as Omnipotence had given that son in accomplishment of a promise, so the same Almighty Power both could, and would, restore him even from the dead.
Nor was he in this respect disappointed of his hope: for, in the moment his hand was lifted up to slay his son, God arrested his arm, and forbad the execution of his purpose, accepting the will for the deed, and accounting that as actually done which in an instant of time would have been irrevocably done, if the same authority that enjoined it had not interposed to prevent it: so that Abraham is always spoken of as having actually offered up his son; and as having, “in a figure, received him again from the dead.”]
Now, as in this transaction there are several different points to be attended to, so will there be a corresponding diversity in,
The instruction to be derived from it—
We may learn,
From his trial, the use and intent of trials—
[God is said to have “tempted Abraham.” But we are not to understand from this that he did any thing with a view to lead Abraham to the commission of evil: in that sense “God never tempts any man: and if any man be drawn to the commission of sin, it is only through the influence of his own in-dwelling corruptions [Note: James 1:13-14.].” But God gave him this command, in order that it might be seen, both by Abraham himself and by the world at large, whether he had grace to execute it. God, in all his dispensations towards the Jews in the wilderness, had the same object in view, as Moses informed them at the commencement of their journeying in the wilderness [Note: Exodus 16:4.], and afterwards reminded them just previous to their entrance into Canaan [Note: Deuteronomy 8:2.]. He warned them also that at all future periods they must be on their guard not to be drawn aside from Jehovah by persons pretending to a divine authority, even though they should work miracles in confirmation of their word, or utter prophecies that should eventually come to pass; for that God would suffer such impostors to arise, in order to put their fidelity to the test, and to give them an opportunity of evincing what was in their hearts [Note: Deuteronomy 13:1-3.]. God himself indeed needed not for his own information such events; for he knew what was in man, whether it was brought forth into act, or not: but they themselves could know it only by seeing the actual operation of their own principles: and therefore, for the comfort of some, and the humiliation of others, he suffered their principles to be brought to the test, and afforded by his own dispensations an occasion for their internal graces or weaknesses to display themselves [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:31.]. It is for the same end that God at this day suffers obstacles of various kinds to be put in the way of his people; he does it, that their faith may be tried; and that, if it stand the trial, redoubled benefits may accrue unto them [Note: 1 Peter 4:12-13.]. Know ye then that these temptations, which are to so many an occasion of falling, are intended of God to be to you an occasion of approving your fidelity to him. The prospect of some advantage, or of the gratification of a forbidden appetite, presents itself to you: and by it God says, “Now, which will you prefer, my honour or your own lust? Look to it, that you be steadfast in your obedience to me.” In like manner, when persecution arises becauses of the word, or when any who profess godliness make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, it is all permitted by God, as far as you are concerned, on purpose to detect your hypocrisy, if you are unsound at heart; or to evince the steadfastness of your faith in him. Make then this improvement of every temptation, that you may come out of it as gold from the furnace, and prove by means of it “the sincerity of your love [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:8.].”]
From the graces which carried him through it, the different offices of faith and fear—
[The particular end of this temptation was, to discover whether Abraham truly “feared God [Note: Genesis 22:12.]:” and God acknowledges that that point was by the obedience of his servant clearly ascertained. Now by “fear,” is meant such a reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, as swallows up all other considerations, and determines us to fulfil God’s will at all events. It annihilates all other fear, and constrains the soul to reply to its persecutors, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye; for I cannot but proceed in my duty to him, though the whole world should combine to oppress me [Note: Acts 4:19-20.].” But fear alone would be ineffectual to prevail in so great a warfare: therefore faith comes to its aid; and presents to the mind the promises of God; the promise of effectual aid in the conflict, and of an abundant recompence after it. Without this succour, our spirit would soon fail: but under an assurance that God will fulfil his word, we are enabled to go forth “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” and to defy the whole universe to “separate us from the love of Christ.” The two should always be united; the one to operate as a stimulus, and the other as an encouragement. If either be wanting, our obedience will be very imperfect: it will want that holy reverence which we should ever maintain even in the midst of our most exalted joys, or that filial confidence which so peculiarly pleases and honours God. See then, brethren, that, however difficult the service be which God requires of you, it be performed resolutely and without delay. Let no consideration under heaven weigh with you, any more than the dust upon the balance, in opposition to any known command. And whilst you labour to obey God’s precepts, hold fast his promises with a confidence that nothing can shake. Listen not to any carnal reasonings, however specious they may be, when once you know what the word of God requires. Duty is yours: events are God’s. Labour you to execute your part; and leave him to fulfil his, in his own way, and in his own time. Let it suffice for your encouragement, that “he is faithful who hath promised;” and, that “what he hath promised he is able also to perform.”]
From the issue of his trial, the benefit of approving ourselves faithful to our God—
[“By this act of his he was justified.” As a sinner, indeed, he had been accepted of God forty years before, as soon as ever he believed in that promised “Seed who was to descend from him, and in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed:” and in that sense he was justified by faith only [Note: Romans 4:3-5; Romans 4:9-11; Romans 4:20-22.]. But St. James says truly, that “he was justified by works also, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar [Note: James 2:21-23.];” for by that act he was justified in his own conscience, and justified before the whole world. A tree may be good: but how shall it be known to be good but by its fruit? It is then only perfect when it is laden with fruit, and thus demonstrated to be good. And Abraham, though previously pardoned and accepted by his God, was then proved and evidenced to be a righteous character, and in a state of acceptance with God, when by this astonishing act of obedience he displayed the reality and efficacy of his faith. From that time he was honoured with that glorious appellation, “The friend of God:” and, for his farther encouragement, God confirmed all his promises to him with an oath [Note: Genesis 22:16.]; that by these two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, he might have the stronger consolation. Nay more, his Isaac, whom, in his mind and purpose, he had sacrificed, was now restored to him: and O! to what unspeakable advantage! What delight would he henceforth feel in a son so given, and so restored to him as from the dead!
And shall we find it in vain to sacrifice any thing to the Lord? Shall we not, in proportion to the greatness of our sacrifices, and the willingness with which they have been offered, have an evidence in our souls that we are in favour with God? Will not the very exercise of such grace demonstrate to us the truth and efficacy of the grace we have received? And, when we have shewn such love to God, can we entertain any doubt of God’s love to us? Shall we feel any difficulty in concluding, that, if we have so chosen and loved God, “he has first chosen and loved us [Note: John 15:16. 1 John 4:10.]?” Moreover, God will give unto us the witness of his Spirit, assuring us that we are indeed his children, and his friends [Note: Romans 8:16. 1 John 3:24.]. This is what St. Paul has plainly taught us to expect: He tells us, that “tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience [Note: δοκιμὴν.]; (that is, an evidence arising from trial, such an evidence as the gold has of its purity after having stood the trial of the fire;) and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us [Note: Romans 5:3-5.].” Fear not then, any of you, to sacrifice your very Isaac to the Lord, if called to it. The trial may be painful at the time, but “it shall be to your praise and honour and glory, as well as unto the praise and honour and glory of your God, at the appearing of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.].”]
From the typical aspect of the whole, the transcendent love of God to man—
[It is said, that “Abraham received Isaac from the dead in a figure [Note: ἐν παραβολῇ.].” This expression many interpret as importing that the whole of this history was a type or figure of our redemption by Christ. Whether that be the true import of the expression or not, I can have no doubt but that the whole transaction was typical of that most astonishing and incomprehensible mystery, the gift of God’s only-begotten Son to “die for our sins, and to be raised again for our justification.” Behold, then, the love of God in this! Do we admire the obedience of Abraham to the Divine command? O! what shall we say of the love of Almighty God, who, without any necessity on his own part, or any solicitation on ours, gave his only-begotten Son, not to die by a wound which inflicted pain only for a moment, but under the curse due to sin, even to the sins of the whole world? From all eternity did he ordain this sacrifice; and never drew back from his purpose. When his Son entreated with strong crying and tears to have the cup taken away from him, it was not removed; but was given him to drink, even to the dregs. With his own hand too did the Father inflict the fatal wound: yes, “it pleased the Lord Jehovah to bruise him [Note: Isaiah 53:10.].” For Isaac, the Lord accepted a substitute, a ram caught in the thicket: but no substitute was found for the Lord Jesus Christ, seeing that he himself was the substitute for a guilty world: and, in token that his sacrifice had made a full atonement for sin, he was raised from the dead, and exalted to heaven, to carry on and perfect there the work which he had begun on earth. What shall we say to this love? The height, the depth, the length, the breadth of it, how unsearchable! how utterly incomprehensible! Turn then your eyes from Abraham to Abraham’s God: or, if you look at Abraham at all, let it be not so much to admire, as to imitate, his obedience. “He saw by faith the day of Christ, and seeing it, he rejoiced;” and counted no sacrifice too costly wherewith to honour him. Your views of Christ, and of the Father’s love in him, are incomparably clearer than ever Abraham’s were: and therefore, if it be possible, your obedience should be proportionably more prompt, more self-denying, and more firm. Let then every lust be sacrificed to God without reserve, and every interest too that may stand in the way of your duty to him. So shall you be children of Abraham indeed, and be acknowledged the friends of God by him, who will reward every man according to his works.]
Hebrews 11:24-26. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
IT is a great advantage to us to be conversant with the Holy Scriptures, not only because from them we learn the principles of religion, which can be derived from no other source, but because we see in them examples which have upon them the stamp and impress of God’s approbation, and which therefore we cannot presume to disapprove. Had any individual of the present day acted as Moses did in the instance before us, we should, I doubt not, have all agreed in condemning him as inconsiderate, enthusiastic, and unwise. Not knowing his motives, or not giving him credit for them, we could not have formed a correct judgment of his actions: but we are sure that the choice which Moses made, however absurd it might appear to those more immediately connected with him, was truly commendable. In bringing it before you, I shall endeavour,
To explain it—
Two things must here be noticed:
[He was, next to Pharaoh, the first man in the whole land of Egypt, having been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter as her son, and being regarded as such by Pharaoh himself. All the pleasures, the riches, and the honours that man could possess, with the exception only of the imperial diadem, were within his reach, or rather he was in the actual enjoyment of them. Yet the whole of these did he renounce: and not at a season when by reason of youth he was unable to form a just estimate of them, or by reason of age was incapable of enjoying them, but in the very prime of life, at the age of forty, when he had arrived at full maturity both of body and mind [Note: Exodus 2:11.Acts 7:23; Acts 7:23.]: and when, from “being learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians [Note: Acts 7:22.],” he was able to relish them with a zest, which a vulgar and uninstructed mind knows nothing of, and which nothing but refinement can bestow. All these he sacrificed voluntarily and with a determined purpose, “refusing” to be recognised any longer under the august character of Pharaoh’s daughter, and choosing rather to appear in his own proper character as a child of Abraham.
Whilst Moses was in this exalted station, his brethren according to the flesh were suffering under the most grievous oppression. To unite himself with them, was to subject himself to all the reproach and cruelty under which they groaned. Yet he acknowledged them as his kindred: and voluntarily participated with them in their lot: descending thus at once from the highest eminence in the kingdom to the lowest state of degradation and infamy.]
To obtain a just view of this conduct we must notice,
The principle from which it proceeded—
[We are told that he acted thus “by faith.” By faith, he saw that the Hebrews were exclusively “the people of God;” and that, as such, whatever they might endure from man, they were and must be happy; since God, the God of the whole earth, was their God, and esteemed them as his own peculiar treasure. He saw too, that the reproach that was cast upon them was “cast upon them for the sake of Christ,” in whom they professed to believe as their future Messiah, the Saviour of the world. Had they chosen to intermarry with the Egyptians, and become one people with them, they would have suffered nothing from Pharaoh, but would have fared as the rest of his subjects: but, holding fast their regard for Abraham as their father, and their expectation of Christ as to spring from one of his descendants, they exposed themselves to all the injuries which an envious, cruel, and despotic monarch could inflict: so that their reproach was properly “the reproach of Christ,” Christ himself being the object of it, and suffering it, as it were, in the person of his people [Note: See Acts 9:4.Colossians 1:24; Colossians 1:24.]. He saw yet further, that the afflictions which they endured for Christ’s sake should in due time be recompensed; and, that all who participated in their sufferings, should partake also of their reward. As the patriarchs looked by faith to a heavenly city, and a heavenly country, so did Moses look to a heavenly reward; in the prospect of which he was willing to forego all that this world could give him, and to sustain all that his most potent and malicious enemies could inflict upon him. Indeed in this view he esteemed reproach to be “riches,” “great riches,” yea, “greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.”]
But as the wisdom of this conduct may be doubted, I shall proceed,
To vindicate it—
It may be thought that this measure was unnecessary, inexpedient, and absurd: but,
It was not unnecessary—
[Circumstanced as he was, it became him to act as he did. He was, I grant, greatly indebted to Pharaoh’s daughter: and he was bound to regard her with all the duteous affection which belonged to the relation into which he had been adopted by her. But his duty to the God of Abraham was paramount to every other: and he would have sinned, if he had merged his fidelity to God in his regards for any creature whatsoever. All the pleasures which he had enjoyed, however innocent in themselves, were “pleasures of sin,” as long as he continued to acknowledge the God of the Hebrews as his God, and the faith of the Hebrews as his faith. The neglecting to confess his God was, constructively, to deny him: and, if he continued any longer to deny God, he could expect nothing but to be denied of God in the day of judgment. The measure therefore which he adopted was not unnecessary, but absolutely necessary, both for his peace in this world, and his happiness in the world to come.]
It was not inexpedient—
[It might be supposed, that if he had continued, like Joseph, at the head of the Egyptian government, he might have mitigated their sorrows, even though he should never be able to effect their release. But he had a secret intimation from God, that the time of their deliverance drew nigh, and that he was to be the instrument by whom they should be delivered. And so strong was this impression upon his mind, that he engaged in the work rashly and prematurely, without any direction from God; and thereby reduced himself to the necessity of fleeing to a foreign land, to avoid the punishment to which his own unwarrantable temerity had exposed him [Note: Acts 7:24-29.]. The question in his mind was, What duty to his God required? and he was not at liberty to calculate then on matters of expediency, or to weigh in the balance of carnal reason the possible or probable issues of different events. His duty was to obey God; and to leave to God to save his people in his own time and way, according to his own infallible and eternal counsels.]
It was not absurd—
[Moses looked beyond the concerns of time, and acted with eternity in view. He knew that his pleasures, riches, and honours, how great soever they were, were only “for a season;” and that the afflictions to which he was about to subject himself, were also “for a season” only; whereas the recompence which his sacrifices would insure him, was eternal. What comparison then could there be between these things? or what room was there for hesitating one moment which he should prefer? If he gained the whole world, what would it profit him, if he lost his own soul? or if, by sacrificing the whole world, his soul should be saved, what reason could he have to regret the sacrifice? His choice then was that which sound wisdom dictated, and true piety inspired.
In truth, this is no other choice than what all the Prophets and Apostles in their respective ages have approved. David “would rather be a door-keeper in the house of his God than dwell in the tents of ungodliness [Note: Psalms 84:10.]:” And why? Because, as he tells us in another psalm, “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked [Note: Psalms 37:16.];” better in its possession, better in its operation, better in its end. Solomon was of precisely the same mind [Note: Proverbs 15:16-17.]. St. Paul, like Moses, actually “suffered the loss of all things, and accounted them but dung, that he might win Christ [Note: Philippians 3:8.].” Having made a sacrifice of every thing, so far was he from feeling himself impoverished by his loss, that, “when he had nothing, he accounted himself as possessing all things [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.];” and actually “took pleasure in all his necessities and distresses, from a consideration of the benefit which would accrue from them to himself, and the glory to his Lord and Master [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.].” St. Peter confirms this view of the subject most fully, and in terms too which are peculiarly applicable to the case before us: for he declares, that the sufferings of God’s people are “Christ’s sufferings;” that from them arises much honour to God, and much benefit to the soul; and that they are rather to be accounted grounds of joy, than occasions of sorrow and regret [Note: 1 Peter 4:12-14.]. To these I will only add the testimony of our Lord himself, who, in the epistle to the Church of Smyrna says, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty; but thou art rich [Note: Revelation 2:9.].”
After such testimonies as these, we cannot but approve the conduct to which our text refers.]
From this subject then we may see,
How erroneous are the views of worldly men!
[The men of this world set a high value on the things of time and sense, whilst sin appears in their eyes but a light and venial evil. By them, suffering is more dreaded than sin: and the loss of an opportunity of honouring God is of no account in comparison of the loss of great honours and great emoluments. They will strain every nerve to combine the irreconcileable services of God and mammon: and, if the one or the other must be sacrificed, they will hold fast their pleasures, their riches, and their honours, instead of parting with them for the Lord, “To forsake all and follow Christ,” is to them a hard lesson, which they cannot, and will not, learn. But the example of Moses must be followed by us all, so far at least as our circumstances are similar to his. We must all confess Christ openly before men. We must all unite ourselves to his people, and take our portion with them. Whatever cross may lay in our way, we must take it up cheerfully, and bear it after him, “going forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach [Note: Hebrews 13:13.].” We are not indeed of necessity called to renounce the highest distinctions: because they may be held, and the most important offices in the state may be executed, in perfect consistency with our duty to God; as no doubt they were by Daniel: but if the hope of acquiring eminence, or the fear of losing it, deter us from the performance of any duty, or lead us to a compliance with any sin, we are then called to take the decided part that Moses did, and to forsake all for Christ. Let us then not seek great things either for ourselves or our children: or, if we possess them, let us not seek our happiness in them, but in God alone. If we possess not his favour, though we had kingdoms in our possession, we are poor: but if he be our God, then, though bereft of every thing else, we are rich.]
How blessed they are who live by faith!
[True it is that the whole of their life is foolishness in the eyes of unconverted men: and they must of necessity meet with many reproaches and persecutions for the truth’s sake. But, notwithstanding all that they are, or can be, called to endure for righteousness’ sake, the very worst of their portion is better than the best of the portion of ungodly men: the best that the world can give, is its treasures: and the worst that the believer can receive, is its reproaches and persecutions: yet is the reproach which the believer sustains for Christ’s sake, greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt. How superior then must the believer’s portion be in the eternal world! If the believer in a dungeon is richer, and happier, than the unbeliever on a throne, what must his portion in heaven be when compared with the unbeliever’s in hell! Be not dejected, then, ye who are despised or persecuted for Christ’s sake, but by faith view your privileges, and expect your reward. Our blessed Lord has set forth the worst of your portion, and pronounced you in the midst of all “blessed.” And he has set forth the best of the unbeliever’s portion, and denounced nothing but “woes” against him in the midst of all [Note: Luke 6:20-26.]. Take but eternity into your estimate of things, and have respect unto the recompense of your reward in heaven; then will every sacrifice be small, every suffering light, every service easy. In such a frame you will rejoice to suffer shame for Christ’s sake, and account death itself, though of the most violent and cruel kind, a subject of desire rather than of fear, of self-congratulation rather than of sorrow [Note: Philippians 2:17.].]
FAITH SEEING THE INVISIBLE GOD
Hebrews 11:27. He endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
NOT any one of all the catalogue of worthies in the Old Testament, not even Abraham himself, stands higher than Moses; who, when possessed of all that rank and affluence could confer on man, abandoned it all, that he might participate the lot of his oppressed and persecuted brethren. He was assured, indeed, that God would compensate to him all the losses which he sustained; and “he had respect to the recompence of that reward.” But he would not have been able to maintain his stand as he did, if he had not found a present support from God. On his first attempt to deliver Israel, about forty years before, he had failed, partly through precipitation, in killing the Egyptian, and partly through fear, in fleeing from the grasp of his enraged enemies. But now he maintained his steadfastness, and executed his commission with undaunted courage; because he saw, by faith, that God who is invisible to the eye of sense: “he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.”
This remarkable expression will lead me to shew,
The peculiar faculty with which believers are endowed—
By nature, they possess no other faculty than is common to the unregenerate world: and to represent piety as proceeding from, or as indicative of, a new sense, is to open a way for the grossest enthusiasm, or rather for the entire exculpation of all who do not possess it: for, a man who never possessed the sense of seeing or hearing could contract no criminality whatever by acting as one who was blind or deaf. Yet, if I may be allowed to follow the paradoxical expression of my text, the believer has a faculty peculiar to himself, a faculty of “seeing” an object that is invisible, even “God himself, who is invisible.”
Believers do see the invisible God—
[God, it is true, is, in his essence, invisible: “he dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto; and no man hath seen him, or can see.” Yet does faith bring him so powerfully before the mind of believers, that they may be said to “see” him; because they are as much assured of his presence, as if they beheld him with their bodily eyes. We all know the effect of glasses of different forms; either as magnifying an object, so as to make it visible, notwithstanding its smallness; or as bringing it near to us, notwithstanding its vast distance, within the reach of our visual organs. I mean not to say that there is any just comparison between these artificial aids and faith; but, when we consider what we ourselves can effect by such helps, we may, without any great difficulty, imagine the power which God himself has given to faith.]
They have a realizing sense of his presence with them—
[It is manifest that Moses saw God with him, just as Elisha “saw the chariots of fire and horses of fire” that encompassed him. Thus does every believer, in proportion as his faith is lively and operative, view God present with him. God is with his people, as a witness, to observe their conduct: he is with them, as a protector, to deliver them from danger: he is with them, as a provider, so that, “though lions do lack and suffer hunger, they that serve him shall want no manner of thing that is good.” He is with them, too, as a comforter, who will make their consolations to abound above all their afflictions: and as a rewarder will he recompense into their bosom all that they either do or suffer for him. In all these views, Moses, no doubt, beheld him: and to the very end of time will he thus reveal himself to all his believing people.]
This being their exclusive privilege, I will proceed to state—
The advantage they derive from it in the divine life—
From this realizing view of the Divine presence, believers obtain,
Firmness in acting—
[Moses was undaunted by the menaces of Pharaoh [Note: Exodus 10:28-29.]. Nay, more: he, in his turn, warned Pharaoh, that all the first-born of Egypt, even of Pharaoh’s own household, should die that very night; and that the very courtiers around the throne should come bowing to him, and entreating him with all the children of Israel, to depart out of the land: and that then he would go, whether Pharaoh should consent to it or not [Note: Exodus 11:4-8.]. Such is the firmness which a sense of the Divine presence will give to every believer. Whoever it be that threatens him, or whatever the threat contain, his answer will be, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but do the things which God has required of us [Note: Acts 4:19-20.].” Thus it was that faith operated in the Hebrew Youths. In vain was the furnace lighted before them: they could not be diverted from their purpose to serve the Lord. Their reply to the enraged monarch was decisive: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods [Note: Dan 3:17-18].” Trials to the same extent are not at this day experienced amongst us: but there will be enough to prove the courage of all who profess to serve the Lord: and whilst the unbelieving are intimidated and turned back, the true believer will “endure, as seeing Him that is invisible.”]
Composure in suffering—
[It was no grief to Moses that he had given up all the treasures of Egypt, or that he had undertaken to “suffer affliction with the people of God.” “The yoke of Christ to him was both light and easy.” And thus it is to every true believer. The Apostles, when beaten for their fidelity to Christ, “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his sake [Note: Acts 5:41.].” And Paul and Silas, with their feet in the stocks, and their backs torn with scourges, “sang praises to God at midnight [Note: Acts 16:25.].” Thus, in all cases where a man has a realizing sense of the Divine presence, the cross which he has to bear, is rather a ground of glorying than of complaint [Note: Galatians 6:14.], and causes him to “rejoice and leap for joy [Note: Matthew 5:12.].” The light of God’s countenance lifted up upon him, infinitely more than counterbalances any bodily pains; so that, however his afflictions may abound, his consolations outweigh them all.]
Confidence in conflicting—
[Moses, as we have seen, had no doubt about the issue of the contest between him and Pharaoh. And to every true believer this will be a self-evident truth: “If God be for me, who can be against me [Note: Romans 8:31.]?” Extremely animated is the prophet’s description of this state of mind: “The Lord God will help me: therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me: who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me: who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old like a garment; the moth (the weakest creature in the universe) shall eat them up [Note: Isaiah 1:7-9.].” To this effect St. Paul speaks at large, defying all the creatures in the universe to separate him from the love of Christ [Note: Romans 8:33-39.]. So, let the weakest of true believers be able to say, “I have set the Lord always before me;” and he may confidently add, “Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved [Note: Psalms 16:8.].”]
Let me now address,
[“ Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy Maker [Note: Isaiah 51:12-13.]!” Is he not present with you, as well as with others? or, “Is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear; or his hand shortened, that it cannot save?” Dishonour him not by unbelief. Consider how awful will be the fate of “the fearful and unbelieving, when they shall take their portion in the lake of fire and brimstone [Note: Revelation 21:8.]:” and “fear not him who can only kill the body, and after that has no more that he can do; but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him [Note: Luke 12:4-5.].”]
The enduring saint—
[How was God glorified in Moses, when he thus braved the wrath of Pharaoh, and took on him the charge of carrying the whole nation of Israel to the promised land! His extremities were great: but was he ever forsaken? Was not the sea opened for him; and manna rained down from heaven; and water given him from the stricken rock? Go ye then forward; and know, that “your strength also shall be according to your day [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.].” Your trials may succeed each other, like the waves of the sea: but “he that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved [Note: Matthew 24:13.].”]
MOSES’ FAITH IN RELATION TO THE PASSOVER
Hebrews 11:28. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
PERSONS, when speaking upon the comparative excellences of faith and works, are very apt to overlook the relation which they bear to each other: whereas there is no true faith which is not productive of good works; nor are there any works truly good, which do not proceed from faith as their root and principle. Supposing that they could exist separately, the preference might justly be given to good works: because they are the end, whilst faith is only the means to that end. Detach from each other the root and fruit of a tree; and no one will hesitate to prefer the fruit. But they cannot be separated; they are to each other as the cause and effect: and in proportion as any one values good works, he ought to value faith, as their originating and productive cause. True it is that there are works which are reputed good, and which may be done by an infidel or a heathen: and these, imperfect as they are, are certainly better than a barren and inoperative faith: but works that are truly good can proceed from faith alone: and the peculiar excellence of faith is, that it is the spring and source from whence all good works proceed; and from whence they will naturally proceed, as its genuine fruit and offspring. It is on this account that the Apostle accumulates in the chapter before us so many instances of a lively faith. A person ignorant of true Christianity would expatiate only upon the works: but the Apostle traces the streams to the fountain-head; and fixes our attention upon that faith from whence they flowed.
In considering the faith of Moses as recorded in the text, we shall mark,
The particular act by which it displayed itself in him—
God had determined to destroy the first-born both of man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt, with the exception of those belonging to his own oppressed and afflicted people. But when the destroying angel should be sent forth to execute this judgment, how should the Hebrews be distinguished by him? And how should he know where to strike, and where to forbear?
For the preservation of his people God appointed peculiar means—
[The whole account is given us in the twelfth chapter of Exodus. A lamb was to be killed by every family of the Hebrews. Its blood was to be poured forth into a bason, and to be sprinkled with hyssop upon the lintel and the side-posts of their doors; (not upon the threshold; for that sacred blood was not to be trampled on by any:) and the flesh of the lamb was to be eaten, (not raw, or sodden, but roast with fire,) with bitter herbs, and with certain forms, which it is not to our present purpose to specify. The blood so sprinkled was to serve to them as a pledge of their security, and to the angel as a token that he was to pass over that house which was so protected. And in remembrance of this deliverance, the ordinance so instituted was ever after to be called the Passover.]
These means Moses used in faith—
[He gave the necessary directions to the Jewish people, who instantly carried them into effect. In this both Moses and the people shewed the power of faith. Moses doubted not but that in the space of a few hours God would inflict the threatened vengeance on all the first-born of Egypt: nor did he doubt but that the simple means proposed would prove effectual for the preservation of the Hebrews. He did not attempt to station any centinel at the door of one single family for the purpose of calling the attention of the angel to the blood that had been sprinkled; but with perfect confidence addressed himself to the observance of the ordinance that had been appointed, having no thought that any other precaution was necessary, nor any fear that the destroying angel would through ignorance or inadvertence exceed the commission he had received.]
And these means proved effectual—
[At midnight the judgment was executed throughout all the land of Egypt, so that there was not a single house wherein the first-born was not dead, even from the first-born of Pharaoh himself to the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon. But of the first-born belonging to Israel, not one was hurt; “the destroyer had not touched so much as one of them.”]
Without dwelling unnecessarily upon this peculiar act, by which faith displayed itself in Moses, I shall proceed to notice,
The corresponding act by which it is to shew itself in us—
The whole human race, as transgressors of the law, are obnoxious to the wrath of an avenging God.
But God has appointed means of safety to all who will make use of them in faith. He has sent his own Son to die a sacrifice for sin; and has appointed HIM to be the only means of our preservation.
We are to seek deliverance through him, precisely as the Hebrews did through the paschal lamb—
[This is told us by St. Paul, who says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us [Note: 1 Corinthians 5:7.],” thus identifying the Lord Jesus with the paschal lamb as the type, of which He is the great antitype.
Now the first thing we have to do, is to sprinkle our souls with his blood. There is no other protection than this for any human being. We may bring all the good works which ever were wrought by any mortal man, and they will not avert the stroke of divine justice. No means will suffice, but those which God himself has appointed. Whether we see any suitableness in the means or not, they are to be used, and used in faith. Nothing is to be substituted as more conducive to the end; nothing to be added, to increase the efficacy of this simple ordinance. The Lamb of God is slain: his blood is poured forth: we are by faith to sprinkle it on our souls, assured that, when we have put ourselves under that safeguard, “there can be no condemnation to us [Note: Romans 8:1.];” but that, “Christ will be to us as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land [Note: Isaiah 32:2.].” If we attempt to substitute any thing for this, or to add any thing to it, we destroy its efficacy altogether, and render it of no avail [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.Galatians 5:2-4; Galatians 5:2-4.].
We must also feast upon the flesh of this great Sacrifice, in token of the full confidence which we have in our safety through him, and as the means of deriving fresh supplies of strength from him. How strongly has our blessed Lord himself inculcated this truth; “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you [Note: John 6:53-56.].” We must eat it indeed, “with the bitter herbs” of repentance, and “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth [Note: Exodus 7:8. with 1 Corinthians 5:8.].” But we must eat it as “a feast,” yea, as “a feast of fat things [Note: Isaiah 25:6.];” and we shall then find it a source of all needful strength unto our souls [Note: Isaiah 25:4.].]
We shall then find in him the same security—
[Of all the first-born that belonged to Israel, the destroyer “touched not” so much as one. And who ever perished, after having fled to Christ for refuge, and sprinkled their souls with his atoning blood? In what instance did the destroyer ever overlook the sign, or the sign prove an ineffectual guard against his uplifted arm? If Christ be “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” and his blood be able to cleanse from all sin, then may all trust in him as “able to save them to the uttermost; nor shall any one that trusts in him be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]
Here then we see, in a striking point of view,
In what an awful state they are who neglect the Gospel of Christ!
[The people of Egypt, unconscious of the impending judgment, or unconcerned about it, retired to rest as secure as usual. But at midnight, when they were all asleep, it came upon them; so that “there was a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt: for there was not a house where there was not one dead [Note: Exodus 12:30.].” In that instance the cry was amongst the survivors. But amongst ourselves, when persons are summoned to their great account, there is no apprehension excited, lest they should have fallen as monuments of God’s wrath. We mourn the loss of them as relatives; but as for the vengeance that may have seized them in the midst of their security, we think not of it. But of the thousands that are daily swept away, how fearful is the doom of the generality! What shrieks, what cries are uttered by them on their first entrance into the presence of their God! Could we but hear one of them, O how would it pierce our inmost souls! Yet, if we did hear it, our terror would operate with no more abiding effect, than did that of the Egyptians; who no sooner found that the Israelites were “entangled in the land,” than they pursued after them with the most vindictive wrath to destroy them. But, beloved, know that the judgments of God will be executed, whether ye believe it or not. Your presumptuous security will avail you nothing. What did it avail the antediluvian world? Did not the deluge come the very same day that Noah entered into the ark? and did not all experience the fate which they had been warned to expect? Yes; every day and hour brought it nearer to them: and in like manner “your judgment also lingereth not, and your damnation slumbereth not [Note: 2 Peter 2:2-5.].” Awake then from your slumbers, ye foolish virgins, ere the Bridegroom come: and as ye know not at what hour he will come, lose not another in fleeing from the wrath to come, and laying hold on eternal life.]
How happy and secure they are who truly believe in Christ!
[Realize to yourselves one moment the different states of the Israelites and the Egyptians on that night, when the angel was spreading death and destruction all around him. Behold the consternation that pervaded all the families of Egypt; and then look within the houses of the Hebrews, and behold their serenity and joy. O what a contrast! And all through the influence of faith! So it is at this hour with those who truly believe. They know what judgments are coming on the whole world of the ungodly: they know, that they themselves deserve them, as much as any other persons whatsoever: they know, that nothing which they can do can avert the stroke of Divine justice: but they know that God has appointed means of safety: they know that, however inadequate according to our vain conceits the means may be to the end, they are, and shall be, effectual to all who use them in faith: they are conscious that they have used them; and that they renounce every other ground of hope, and place their dependence solely on the blood of the Paschal Lamb. They are feasting too from day to day on the flesh of that Paschal Lamb; and they have no wish but to cast off the yoke of Egypt, and to prosecute their journey to the promised land. The peace which others have, if it may be called peace, is owing to their disbelief of their danger: but the peace of the godly arises from their view of the sufficiency of Christ to save them, and of the faithfulness of God to all who hope in his promised mercy. Take ye then, my beloved brethren, the Israelites for your example. Take them at that precise moment, with “their loins girt, and shoes on their feet, and staves in their hands, and eating their sacrifice in haste,” ready at any instant to obey the Divine mandate, and to go forth to Canaan under the Divine guidance and protection. Then shall ye be Christ’s disciples indeed: and then “shall ye eat, whilst others are hungry; and drink, whilst others are thirsty: then shall ye rejoice, whilst others are ashamed; and sing for joy of heart, whilst others cry for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit [Note: Isaiah 65:13-14.].”]
With what delight we should all welcome the return of this day [Note: This conclusion is adapted only to Easter Day, on which the twelfth chapter of Exodus is read as the First Lesson for the day.]!
[To the people of Israel this day was enjoined to be observed even to the latest generations as the most memorable day in the whole year. And well might that night be termed, “a night to be much observed unto the Lord [Note: Exodus 12:42.].” Methinks, the annual return of it, to those who bore in remembrance the mercies then vouchsafed to them, could not fail of filling their souls with the most lively joy, since then, and not till then, was their deliverance complete. But what was their redemption when compared with that which we have experienced, and which was completed as on this day, when our Lord and Saviour rose from the dead? Till then, he himself lay a captive in the grave: but then he triumphed over all his enemies, and “led captivity itself captive.” If you say, ‘True, but my enemies still live and are mighty; and they still follow me, and will reduce me again to my former bondage:’ fear not; for though they will follow you, they shall not prevail against you; and shall only follow, in order that God’s power may be the more magnified in their final destruction. Assert then your liberty: go forth under the Divine protection: harbour no unbelieving fears. Is there a sea before you? it shall open, and afford a dry path for your feet. Is there then nothing but a dreary wilderness before you, where you will be exposed to all manner of dangers and necessities? Fear not; for “you shall dwell on high: your house of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given you, and your waters shall be sure: your eyes too shall behold your King in his beauty; they shall behold the land also that is very far off [Note: Isaiah 33:16-17.].” Are ye laden with any measure of Egyptian gold? Bring it forth with you, and consecrate it to the service of your God, It was with that that Moses furnished the tabernacle of old: and God will make use of your talents also, whatever they may be, for the enriching of his sanctuary, and the advancement of his glory. Come then, ye who know the value of redemption, and pant after perfect liberty; and behold the Paschal Lamb, now already roasted by the fire of God’s wrath, and set before you, as it were, on the table of the Lord. There is the very Paschal Lamb: come feast upon it with love and gratitude: eat it, and be satisfied: eat it, and be strengthened: eat it, and live for evermore: for Christ himself invites you: “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up to the enjoyment of it at the last day: for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”]
THE WALLS OF JERICHO THROWN DOWN BY FAITH
Hebrews 11:30. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.
HOW intelligent creatures should be affected by any principle, is easy to be conceived; because the human mind is susceptible of the strongest impressions from every thing that is submitted to its consideration. But what connexion any principle can have with inanimate creatures, any farther than through its influence on human agents, does not at first sight appear. Take the principle of love, for instance. We may love the flowers which are growing in our garden: but any farther than our love operates to secure attention to those flowers, they will be altogether unaffected by it. But there is a peculiarity in the principle of faith which does not attach to any other principle whatever; namely, that it has respect to God, and calls forth his power; and is therefore capable of influencing every thing, whether in heaven or earth. A surprising effect of it is mentioned in reference to the walls of Jericho, which, through its powerful operation, were thrown down.
In speaking of faith as illustrated by that event, we shall be led to notice,
Its distinguishing properties—
Wherever a living faith exists in the soul, it will approve itself by,
A patient observance of the appointed means—
[The means appointed for the capture of that fortress were certainly very peculiar. The Israelites, who were encamped against it, were to walk in procession around it seven successive days in perfect silence; the trumpets only blowing. On the seventh day, they were to go round it seven times, and then to shout: and at the precise moment that they shouted, the walls were to fall, and open for them a free passage into the city. These means they used. They did not pour contempt upon them as unsuited to the end: nor did they grow weary in the use of them: nor did they attempt to add any thing to them. They felt that it was not for them to canvass the wisdom of God’s appointments, but to obey them: and therefore they followed implicitly the Divine command [Note: Joshua 6:1-16.], and “compassed the city seven days.”
Such is universally the operation of true faith. God has appointed means for the salvation of the soul. He requires that we should repent of all our past sins; that we should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as having offered an atonementfor sin; and that we should give up ourselves to Christ, to be washed by his blood, and to be renewed by his Spirit. In order to further this work within us, he has prescribed means to be used by us both in public and in private: in public, we must attend on his ordinances; because, as he is peculiarly honoured by them, so he is pleased to make them in a more especial manner the channels of his gracious communications to our souls: in private, we must read his blessed word, and meditate upon it, and pray over it; and, through the influence of his Spirit, endeavour to mortify the whole body of sin. We are not to be questioning the use and efficacy of these means, but to use them in obedience to our God. True faith will not say, like Naaman, “Are not Abana and Pharpar better than all the waters of Israel? and may I not wash in them and be clean [Note: 2 Kings 5:12.]?” but it will go to Jordan, according to the direction given, and expect the blessing only in the use of those ordinances which God has prescribed.]
A confident expectation of the promised end—
[At the appointed time the Jewish army “shouted,” not doubting but that they should see the predicted event accomplished [Note: Joshua 6:20.]. In all the instances of faith recorded in this chapter, this is a very prominent feature. Noah believed that he should be saved in the ark: and Abraham believed that Isaac should be restored to him even from the dead.
Thus it is at this day. Faith never questions either the power or veracity of God: it assures itself, that “he is faithful who has promised;” and that what he has promised he is “able also to perform.” It is not from the means that faith expects the end; but from God, in and by the means. The adequacy of the means to the end comes not within its contemplation. If a posterity, innumerable as the stars of heaven, is promised to Abraham and Sarah, they consider not their own advanced age, but believe, that the promise, however improbable according to the course of nature, shall be fulfilled. Though the promise, after it was first given, was deferred for twenty years, they still hold fast their faith, and expect its accomplishment in due season. Thus shall we also, whatever difficulties may arise in our Christian course, expect a successful issue, assured, that “none who come to God through Christ shall ever be cast out,” and that “of those whom the Father has given to Christ, not one shall ever be plucked out of his hands.” This is the very description which the Prophet Isaiah gives of faith as to be exercised under the Christian dispensation: “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God! we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For in this mountain (the Church) shall the hand of the Lord rest; and Moab (the representative of all the Church’s enemies) shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill: and he shall spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim: (making the very resistance of his enemies the means of advancing his own glory:) and he shall bring down their pride together with the spoils of their hands: and the fortress of the high fort of thy walls (be they even as strong as those of Jericho,) shall he bring down, lay low, and bring to the ground, even to the dust [Note: Isaiah 25:9-12. The image of swimming is worthy of particular notice.].”]
In addition to the properties of faith, our text leads us to notice,
Its sure effects—
If exercised to the end without wavering, it will surely issue in,
The believer’s triumph—
[Down fell the walls of Jericho at the appointed moment, and its garrison became an easy prey to the Jewish army. And what is there which the believer cannot effect under its influence? “If he have but faith as a grain of mustard-seed, he can remove the most deep-rooted mountains with a word, or plant a sycamore-tree in the depths of a tempestuous ocean.” Nothing can stand before it. Mountains of guilt, though so high as to reach unto the heavens, are “cast by it into the very depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:19.].” Lusts, though deeply rooted as hell, shall be plucked up [Note: Rom 6:14 Ezekiel 36:25-27.], and the tender plants of divine grace have stability, and growth, and fruitfulness amidst all the storms and tempests, whether from without or from within, that can disturb and agitate the soul [Note: Hebrews 13:9. 1 Peter 5:10.]. Does Satan summon all his forces to withstand its power? He finds the believer inaccessible to his assaults [Note: Eph 6:16. 1 John 5:18.], and is put to flight before him [Note: James 4:7.]: and in a little time “he shall be bruised under the feet” of the least and weakest of God’s people [Note: Romans 16:20.]. “All things are possible to him that believeth,” because his faith brings down Omnipotence to his aid; so that, though earth and hell combine against him, he sets them at defiance, and is “more than conqueror over all [Note: Romans 8:37.].” See this exemplified in the combat of David and Goliath. In the eye of sense, it was impossible for David to succeed: in the eye of faith, it was impossible for him to fail. The issue is well known: the stripling slew the giant, and cut off his head with his own sword. And so shall the weakest stripling among the soldiers of Christ prevail, making the very weapons of his adversaries the means of advancing and completing his own triumphs.]
The glory of God—
[The whole land of Canaan trembled at this event, just as they had before done at the report of all the wonders which had been wrought in Egypt [Note: Joshua 2:10-11. with 6:27.]. Had any thing been left for the Jewish army to execute, the glory might, in appearance, have been shared by them: but when nothing but a shout proceeded from them, the work was manifestly the Lord’s alone.
And thus it is that God will work in behalf of all who trust in him. He makes our faith the measure of his communications, saying to us, “According to your faith be it done unto you.” It is owing to our want of faith that we behold so few manifestations of his power and grace: “He does not many mighty works amongst us because of our unbelief [Note: Matthew 13:58.].” But where faith is in exercise, he honours it with peculiar approbation, passing by all other graces that are combined with it, and commending faith alone: “O woman, great is thy faith;” “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace [Note: Matthew 15:28. Luke 7:50.].” This is the grace which, above all others, honours God; and, as “they who are strongest in faith give most glory to him [Note: Romans 4:20.],” so to those who exercise it he will not fail to give the brightest discoveries of his glory: for what he said to Martha, he says to every one of us, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God [Note: John 11:40.]?” Yes, he does say it, and will fulfil it, not only in the progressive triumphs of his grace, but in the ultimate and everlasting possession of his glory. Men may deride our expectations, as it is probable the men of Jericho, after a few days, did the harmless processions of the Jewish hosts: but God will in due time make bare his arm, and gain himself the glory and the victory.]
We will now endeavour to improve this subject,
In a way of caution—
[Every one imagines that he has faith. But, if we come to inquire into the objects and grounds of men’s faith, we find it for the most part, nothing but presumption. They expect heaven; but not in the way of God’s appointment, but in some way of their own, which he has never prescribed. Instead of repenting deeply of their former sins, and fleeing to Christ for refuge, and living in the constant observance of public and private ordinances, according to God’s command, they are supine and careless, as if nothing at all was to be done by them as evidential of their faith. Now I would ask, what would have been the event, if the Jewish army had proceeded on this plan? Suppose they had said, ‘We think it absurd to look for the destruction of this fortress by faith alone: we will form a trench round the city, and batter it down with the implements of war:’ would they have succeeded? Or suppose they had said, ‘We will expect the city to fall, as God has said; but to what purpose are these repeated processions? We shall spare ourselves that fruitless trouble, which will only expose us to the derision of our enemies:’ Or suppose they had said, ‘We will use the appointed means; but in order to make success doubly sure, we will form a trench, which shall both add to our security, and prevent their escape:’ Do we imagine that on any one of these plans they would have been crowned with success? We feel no hesitation in saying, that they would have been disappointed of their hope; because they proceeded not according to the commands of God: yea, we doubt not but that the wrath of God would have broke forth against them, as it did on Uzza, because David in carrying up the ark was inattentive to the order that Moses had prescribed [Note: 1 Chronicles 15:13.]. Know then that, however confident our expectations of heaven be, they will end in disappointment, if we presume to alter, or neglect, or add to, the means which God himself has ordained. I pray you all to consider this: you especially, who have never yet repented in dust and ashes; you who have never given yourselves to reading, and meditation, and prayer; you who are not yet daily prostrating yourselves at the foot of the cross, and relying on Christ as your only hope; I beseech you to consider, how awfully you delude your own souls, whilst you promise yourselves the enjoyment of the heavenly Canaan. The same too I must say to those, who, whilst they profess to rely on Christ, are making their own works either a joint ground of their hope, or a warrant for their faith in Christ. Your victory can be gained only in the way that it was gained at Jericho: you must use all the means which God has enjoined, without either taking from them or adding to them: but you must expect success from God alone, and be content that he alone be glorified.]
In a way of encouragement—
[Many are discouraged because of their own extreme weakness, and because, though they have diligently used the appointed means, they seem not to have advanced at all, or to have any nearer prospects of success. But what if Israel had yielded to such discouragements, and ceased from their labours before their work was done? True it is, that the precise time for the interposition of Jehovah was made known to them; but it is concealed from you: nevertheless it is as much fixed m the Divine counsels with respect to you, as it was to them: and “in due season you shall surely reap, if you faint not.” What if you are unequal to the task; was not the sound of rams’ horns, and the shout of the people, weak? Only be content to be weak, and you will then be strong; because “God will perfect his own strength in your weakness.” See how God himself chides, yet supports, your fainting mind [Note: Isaiah 49:24-25.] — — — And see what a frame of mind, though in the midst of all your conflicts, you are privileged to possess [Note: Isaiah 50:7-9.] — — — Follow then the advice which God himself gives you; and, “though walking in darkness, stay yourselves upon your God.” And, if still unbelieving fears arise, chide yourselves, like David, and say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God [Note: Psalms 43:5.].” In a word, let this saying sink down into your ears, and animate and sustain your souls; “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper [Note: 2 Chronicles 20:20.].” Only go on a little longer in a patient continuance in well-doing, and the victory is yours; and glory, and honour, and immortality are yours also.]
RAHAB CONCEALING THE SPIES
Hebrews 11:31. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
FAITH is usually considered merely as an assent to testimony; human faith having respect to human testimony, and divine to that which is divine. Hence the subject of faith is supposed to lie within a small compass. But there is not a more comprehensive subject within the whole circle of man’s duties: for whilst faith has respect to every thing which God has spoken, it operates in every thing which man does. The chapter before us shews how inexhaustible the subject is. Faith was the one principle by which all the saints there enumerated were influenced: and in every distinct instance its operations were widely different: so that, though in appearance the same subject is brought under discussion, it is presented to us in so different a light as to assume a new character.
In considering the fate of Rahab, we shall be led to shew,
To what it had respect—
The whole account of Rahab is continued in the second chapter of Joshua: and to that chapter we must refer as forming the groundwork of this discourse — — — It will there be found, that, though she was an inhabitant of Canaan, and had in her earlier life been notoriously dissolute, she was now a believer in the God of Israel. What she had heard of him had fully convinced her, that he was the only true God. This she openly avowed to the spies whom she had received: “The Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath [Note: Joshua 2:11.].” But it was not in a mere general way that she acknowledged Jehovah: she had just and distinct views of him; and had respect to,
His purposes as sure—
[She knew that God had “given to Israel the land” of Canaan for their inheritance [Note: ver. 9.]: and that his purpose respecting it should infallibly be accomplished. As the Creator and Governor of the universe, he had a right to dispose of every thing in it: and, having transferred the land to Israel, he would surely invest them with the possession of it. Thus will true faith present God to our view as a mighty Sovereign, who orders every thing both in heaven and earth. It will discover him to us as having shewn distinguishing favour to his peculiar people, in that, whilst he has passed by the angels who sinned, and left the greater part of mankind also in utter darkness, he has revealed to them a Saviour, yea, and “revealed him in them” also as the hope of glory [Note: Galatians 1:16.]. He has also prepared an inheritance for them from the foundation of the world, even the heavenly Canaan; and called them to take possession of it as his special gift, through the merits and mediation of his Son Jesus Christ [Note: Romans 6:23.]. The manner of taking possession of it also he has ordained, even by faith in Christ; by whose blood they shall be justified, and by whose Spirit they shall be renewed. All this will faith regard as unalterably fixed in the Divine counsels; so that those who possess the first-fruits here, shall infallibly reap the harvest of salvation in a better world [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.].]
His perfections as unbounded—
[Whilst she was convinced that his power was irresistible, she, though of an accursed race and of an abandoned character, had no doubt but that God’s mercy would extend even to her, if she sought it with her whole heart. Hence of her own accord she received, and hid, the spies, and dismissed them in peace, in hopes that she and her family might be spared: and all the security she required was, an oath in Jehovah’s name, that no evil should be inflicted on her, when the threatened vengeance should be poured out on all beside. And is she not here also an example to us? Yes: by faith we must survey him in all his glorious perfections: we must view him as a God of all grace, whose mercy is infinite; who delights in the exercise of mercy; who “waits to be gracious” to the very chief of sinners, “keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin,” and following them with this tender expostulation, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” “As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.” To this our faith should have especial respect; because it is our great encouragement to seek his face. To know that “the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse from all sin;” that “whosoever cometh to God by him shall in no wise be cast out;” and that “where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound;” to know this, I say, and to realize it by faith, is the richest consolation which a broken-hearted sinner can enjoy. At the same time we should, like her, assure ourselves, that “God’s counsels shall stand, and that he will do all his will:” we should bear in mind the records of his former interpositions, and from them be convinced that “there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord [Note: Proverbs 21:30.].” Theoretically indeed we do acknowledge this: but how few feel it practically! How few are so impressed with the idea as to despair of escaping his wrath, but by casting away the weapons of their rebellion, and laying hold on his proffered mercy!]
But this part of our subject will come more properly before us, whilst, in our further investigation of her faith, we shew,
How it operated—
From the instance to which the text directs our attention, we see, that it operated in a way,
Of holy fear—
[Rahab did not merely participate the terror which had seized all the inhabitants of Jericho, a terror that served only to harden their hearts, but a fear associated with a consciousness of her demerits, and a determination to seek for mercy. And, till this is wrought within us, there is no true faith in our souls. The very first work of the Holy Spirit is “to convince us of our sins;” to shew us our desert and danger; to make us sensible that “we are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Till we are brought to the condition of those on the day of Pentecost, who “were pricked to the heart,” and with a deep sense of their guilt and misery cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” there is nothing done effectually towards our conversion to God, nothing that can give any hope of the salvation of our souls.]
Of intense desire—
[Her desire of mercy swallowed up every other consideration. She forgot all which passes under the name of patriotism, conceiving that she had a prior and a paramount duty to the God of Israel. So sure was she that God’s purposes should be fulfilled, that she did not for a moment imagine that any efforts of hers to destroy the spies would at all avail for the protection of her countrymen. She saw that this was an opportunity afforded her for the preservation of her soul; and, if she let it pass unimproved, she should only involve herself in the ruin that could not possibly be averted. She therefore sided with Jehovah and his people against those who were related to her according to the flesh; and determined at the risk of her life to cast in her lot with the people of the Lord. Thus should we also postpone every consideration under heaven to the honour of God and the salvation of our souls. The love of our country is confessedly an important duty, as the love of our parents also is: but when our duty to God stands in opposition to the wishes or interests of our earthly superiors, the line of duty plainly is to serve God at all events. The direction given to the Church under the character of a spouse, is this: “Hearken, O daughter, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty: for he is thy Lord God: and worship thou Him [Note: Psalms 45:10-11.].” Our Lord’s declaration to his followers is plainer still: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple [Note: Luke 14:26.].” The kingdom of heaven is a pearl, for which faith will part with all in order to possess it.]
Of unreserved obedience—
[Every direction that was given her she readily complied with; and in no instance departed from the terms on which alone she was encouraged to expect mercy. Nor will any one who truly believes that he shall be an object of sparing mercy, account “any of God’s commandments grievous.” His determination through grace will be to be found in God’s appointed way, fulfilling all righteousness, and “walking in all the statutes and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” One particular commandment given to her I will here notice as of more than ordinary importance, namely, that of binding the scarlet line in her window, as the memorial of her faith, and the means of her preservation. Had this been neglected, she had perished with the rest of her countrymen: but by this her safety was secured. There is a corresponding command given to every one that desires to obtain mercy, which above all he will be anxious to obey, namely, that of believing in Christ [Note: 1 John 3:23.], and “abiding in him,” as the branch abides in the vine [Note: John 15:4-7. The injunction to abide in him is repeated four times.]. Faith will teach him, that, if he be not found in Christ, the sword of divine vengeance will surely cut him off, as that of the destroying angel did the first-born, whose doors were not sprinkled with the blood of the paschal lamb. In a word, as soon as true faith is formed in the soul, the one inquiry will be, “Lord, what will thou have me to do [Note: Acts 9:6.]?” and from that time the believer’s desire will be to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”]
In the account given of her faith, we see,
What it obtained—
A deliverance from that destruction which came on all her unbelieving neighbours—
[In Jericho nothing that breathed was left alive, with the exception of Rahab and her family: but to them the promised mercy was vouchsafed. And who that believes in Christ shall perish? Against the unbelieving world the deluge of God’s wrath will prevail, and sink them all without exception into everlasting perdition: but to those who are in Christ, no evil shall accrue. They are in the true ark, against which the winds and waves shall beat in vain. In the great day of the Lord, there will be a separation made between the sheep and the goats; nor shall one of either flock be found through any mistake confounded with those whose nature so widely differs from his own: not a lamb shall be found amongst the goats; nor a kid amongst the sheep: but each will have the portion assigned him by the Judge of all,—the unbelievers in the lake of fire and brimstone; the believers in the regions of eternal bliss. Amongst “the chaff that shall then be burnt up with unquenchable fire,” not the smallest grain of wheat shall be found [Note: Amos 9:9.].]
A portion among the chosen people of the Lord—
[This is particularly noticed in the subsequent history of Rahab: she was incorporated with Israel, and made a partaker of all their privileges [Note: Joshua 6:25.]. So, though we have been aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, we shall be made nigh by the blood of Christ, as soon as we believe in him; and from being “strangers and foreigners shall become fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God [Note: Ephesians 2:12-13; Ephesians 2:19.].” Look through the Holy Scriptures, and see all that belongs to the saints, either in this world or the next, and you will read only the catalogue of your own possessions: for “all things are yours, when ye are Christ’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22-23.].”]
The transcendent honour of being brought into the nearest relation to Christ himself—
[Who would have thought that this poor Canaanite, of an accursed nation, and once of an abandoned character, should be chosen of God to be an instrument of bringing into the world the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world? Yet so it was: Salmon, one of the progenitors of Christ, married her: and their son Boaz married Ruth, the Moabitess, from whom descended in an immediate line Obed, Jesse, David. And will the parallel hold good here also? Shall we, on believing in Christ, become thus intimately united with him? Yes, and far more intimately; for she, as his ancestor, was one with him only corporeally; whereas by faith we become “one spirit with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.].” As relating to the flesh, we are no nearer to him than others; but as relating to the spirit, “we are members of his body, even of his flesh and of his bones [Note: Ephesians 5:30.].”]
From this subject then we learn,
How sovereign God is in the dispensation of his gifts!
[Of all that were in Jericho, we read not of any to whom true faith was given. Others, like the devils, believed, and trembled: she alone “believed unto righteousness.” It is pleasing to reflect, that, amongst the most avowed enemies of God and his Christ, there may be some hidden ones, whose heart God has touched with true repentance, though their views of salvation be very indistinct; and who shall be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, whilst millions, who have enjoyed the brighter light of the Gospel, will be cast out into outer darkness. It is a rich consolation also to know, that the most abandoned sinner in the universe is not beyond the reach of mercy; but that, as God’s grace is his own, and he divides to every one severally as he will, we may all without exception look to him for mercy with a full confidence of acceptance through the Son of his love. Let any one that is discouraged through a sense of his own unworthiness, remember Rahab, and, like her, cast himself upon the mercy of the God of Israel.]
How certainly faith shall avail for the salvation of the soul!
[We are told by St. James, that “Rahab was justified by her works [Note: James 2:25.].” But can any one suppose that the mere act of receiving the spies, and dismissing them in peace, formed her justifying righteousness before God? Assuredly not: for it was attended with great infirmity, seeing that she had recourse to falsehood to conceal her conduct, because she knew not how to trust in God to protect her from the consequences of it [Note: Joshua 2:4-6.]. But, imperfect as her works were, they evinced the sincerity of her faith, and proved her to be indeed in a justified state before God. If then a faith, so obscure as her’s was, and so imperfect in its actings, justified her before God, let no one doubt but that a full affiance in the Lord Jesus Christ shall assuredly bring him into a state of acceptance with God, and ultimately prevail for the salvation of his soul.]
How certainly faith will also be productive of good works!
It is in confirmation of this sentiment that St. James adduces the examples of Abraham and of Rahab as justified by their works. He is shewing that faith without works is dead; and that their works proved them to be possessed of a living faith. Undoubtedly her faith was, as we have before observed, not very distinct, though we doubt not but that it was afterwards enlarged, as her knowledge of the Mosaic writings increased. But indistinct as it was, it wrought, and powerfully too, yea, so powerfully as to overbalance every other consideration that could operate upon her mind. And thus it will do in every one: it will work, and effectually too, to overcome the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.], and purify the heart [Note: Acts 15:9.]. If then it do not evidence itself by such fruits as these, let us not imagine that we are possessed of it: if it work not thus, our faith is no better than the faith of devils. Whoever then professes to be interested in “the grace of God which bringeth salvation,” let him learn from it, what it invariably teaches to all who have received it, “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world [Note: Titus 2:11-12.].” If any have this hope in him, let him walk as Christ walked, and “purify himself even as he is pure [Note: 1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:3.].”]
POWER OF FAITH
Hebrews 11:32-35. And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets; who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.
THIS is a surprising chapter altogether. Respecting faith, as a principle, the generality of men think but little. Indeed, a considerable degree of prejudice exists against it in the minds of many; as though it were a mere conceit, which tended to discourage all human efforts, and to generate delusions in all who give themselves up to its influence. But the account here given of it is truly surprising. The Apostle himself seems to have been at a loss for utterance on so vast a subject. The instances of it which he had enumerated, and those which crowded upon his mind, almost overwhelmed him: “What shall I more say? for the time would fail me to declare” all that my recollection suggests to me.
That we may enter in some little measure into the Apostle’s views of this divine principle, let us consider,
How marvellous are its records—
We will not go to the instances above recited; for then indeed the time would fail us: nor will we enter at all minutely into those which are heaped together in my text; for then also it would be impossible for us to do justice to them in one discourse. I will only, and as briefly as possible, call your attention to,
The persons enumerated—
[These are not placed in the order of time in which they lived; for Barak was before Gedeon, and Jephthae before Samson, and Samuel before David: the Apostle mentions them just as they occurred to his thoughts: as he did also the facts to which he afterwards refers: for they also are promiscuously specified, without any reference to the persons whom he had mentioned, or the times at which the events themselves occurred. But they all afford most astonishing instances of the power of faith. Gedeon, with only three hundred men, and with no other weapons than trumpets, and pitchers with lamps concealed in them, and these broken, with a shout, “The sword of the Lord and of Gedeon,” with no other weapons, I say, than these, prevailed over all the hosts of Midian [Note: Judges 7:7; Judges 7:19-22. with 8:10.]. Barak, with no more than ten thousand men, subdued an immense army, of whom not so much as one was left alive [Note: Judges 4:6-16.]. Samson also, when the Spirit of God came upon him, slew thirty Philistines, and one thousand more with the jaw-bone of an ass, and three thousand more at his death [Note: Judges 14:19; Judges 15:15; Judges 16:27-30.]. Jephthae, too, under the same divine influence, subdued the Ammonites [Note: Judges 11:23-33.]. As for David, his victories were numberless. And Samuel, though not a warrior, shewed himself strongly under the influence of faith [Note: 1 Samuel 12:16-25.]; as did Elijah, and Elisha, and many other prophets in their season. If it be asked, in what respect were these examples of faith? I answer, All these exploits were done in obedience to a divine impulse, and in dependence on God’s promised aid.
But, without dwelling on the acts of these individual worthies, let us notice, rather, what my text leads us to,]
The acts specified—
[Who would imagine that faith should ever possess such powers as are here ascribed to it? Who would suppose that by it men should “put to flight mighty armies,” and “subdue whole kingdoms?” Yet this has been done, and done by faith also: for all the kingdoms of Canaan were subdued by Joshua’s faith; as were the surrounding kingdoms of Moab, and Syria, and Edom, with many others, by the faith of David. And who would think that this principle should prevail to shut the mouths of lions; yes, and to quench the violence of fire, so that a furnace heated to the utmost extent of man’s ability, should not be able to singe a hair of a person’s head? Yet was the former of these done by the faith of Daniel; as was the latter, by the faith of his three companions, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abed-nego. Even to the raising of the dead has this availed: for, through the exercise of it, Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath [Note: 1 Kings 17:17-24.], and Elisha the son of the Shunamitish woman [Note: 2 Kings 4:18-37.].
Now of these things I say, they are utterly incredible: and, in declaring them, I seem to demand an assent that is perfectly unreasonable. For, how should it be that such a hidden principle of the mind should ever enable a man to work such miracles as these? Verily, the whole account seems to be nothing but “a cunningly-devised fable,” that yet can impose on none who give to it one moment’s consideration. But it is true, and the very truth of God. Nor will it appear incredible, if we duly consider the way in which it operates. It is God himself who engages to do the thing: and faith calls into action his Almighty arm (and with him all things are possible). So that, inasmuch as faith, insures his effectual aid, it may be truly said, that “all things are possible to him that believeth.”]
But let us further notice,
How diversified its operations—
There is nothing to which it may not be applied, and nothing for which it will not equally avail. It will alike enable us,
To do any thing—
[By it has “righteousness been wrought,” in its utmost extent. Not only has political righteousness been given for the government of kingdoms, as to Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah, but moral righteousness, in a degree never produced by any other principle under heaven. Where do we find such characters as those recorded in the Scriptures? Yet it was faith which made them what they were: and faith, in proportion as it exists in the soul, enables every child of God to resemble them. The weakest of the human race shall “out of weakness be made strong;” and prevail, not only over men, but over all the powers of darkness also [Note: Romans 8:37. Ephesians 6:16. James 4:7.], if only he rely on the promise of a faithful God. His faith, though it were only small as a grain of mustard-seed, would be abundantly sufficient for all the powers that the occasion called for [Note: Matthew 17:20.].]
To obtain any thing—
[By it “have promises been obtained;” even such as, according to human expectation, could never have been fulfilled. To Abraham and Sarah was the birth of a son delayed, till there remained not the smallest probability of its accomplishment, nor a possibility, according to the course of nature. And David’s establishment on the throne of Israel was as unlikely, according to man’s estimate of things, as any event that could be conceived. But never, in any single instance, did a promise, apprehended by faith, fail him who relied upon it [Note: Joshua 23:14.]. Take, then, the promises of God (no matter how great they are, or how small); and only rely on them, and plead them before God in prayer; and sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than you be disappointed of your hope. “Ye may ask what ye will,” provided only it be contained in a promise, and “it shall assuredly be done unto you.”]
To suffer any thing—
[It is scarcely to be conceived what sufferings men have inflicted on the people of God. Of these we have many instances mentioned in the verses after my text [Note: ver. 36, 37.]. But, perhaps, the instance more immediately referred to in my text is one recorded in the book of Maccabees, respecting a woman and her seven sons, who endured all that the cruel tyrant Antiochus could inflict upon them; and refused all his offers of deliverance; having an assured prospect of a recompence from God, even an eternal recompence, which would infinitely outweigh all that it was in the power of man to grant [Note: 2 Macc. ver. 7.]. Similar instances we have had in our own favoured land, in the days of popish persecution: and God alone knows to what any of us may yet be called, before we die. But, if faith will enable men to bear up under such sufferings as we read of in the Scriptures of truth, how much more will it qualify us for sustaining the common evils of life; yea, and enable us to “glory in tribulation,” so far as God shall see fit to subject us to its assaults.]
To all this I may add,
How extensive its benefits—
There is not a blessing to the body or the soul, for time or for eternity, which faith will not secure. Do we not want,
[There is not a sin of which we may not obtain forgiveness, if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, “whose blood cleanseth from all sin.” The declaration of an inspired Apostle is, “All that believe are justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.].”]
[“Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Romans 5:1.];” yea, by “believing in this unseen Saviour, we may rejoice in him with a joy that is unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].”]
[Every part of holiness will faith supply. It will “work by love,” and “overcome the world,” and “purify the heart [Note: Acts 15:9.].” It is by faith only that we can “behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ:” and by that shall we be “changed into his image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]
[Never shall the believer die; never perish; never come into condemnation [Note: John 3:16; John 11:25-26.]. Eternal life is his, both in title and in the actual commencement; and it shall be his in the great day of Christ’s appearing. Then shall that be said to you, as it was to blind Bartimeus, and to her who washed her Saviour’s feet with her tears; not, ‘Thine importunity, or thy penitence, hath saved thee;’ but, “Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace.”]
Now, let me press upon you a due improvement of this subject. Concerning faith, I would say, strive,
To ascertain its existence—
[True is that declaration of the Apostle, “All men have not faith [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:2.].” Nor is it true of those only who professedly reject the Gospel, but of multitudes also who profess to have received it. It was to such that St. Paul addressed those words: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.].” “You are not to imagine that a mere assent to the Gospel is the faith that is required of you. Saving faith is a divine principle in the soul—a principle productive of such fruits as were brought forth by the worthies enumerated in this chapter. In order to ascertain whether your faith be genuine, read the chapter carefully; and, after every successive instance of faith, inquire how far it has operated the same change in you. In truth, if we compare our experience with that of the saints of old, the best amongst us, instead of valuing himself upon his faith, will find reason to doubt whether he has yet attained any faith at all.]
To appreciate its importance—
[Lightly as men in general think of faith, there is no principle whatever that is of such importance to the soul as that. Love, indeed, is in some respects greater than faith; but it must be remembered, that faith is the root from which alone true love can spring. Where faith is wanting, there can be no union with Christ, and consequently no Christian grace: for “without Christ we can do nothing.” “Without faith, whatever we may do, it is impossible to please God [Note: ver. 6.]:” and, consequently, without faith we can have no hope of eternal life. How terrific are those words which our blessed Lord commissioned his Disciples to proclaim throughout the world! “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned [Note: Mark 16:15-16.].” Know ye then, that, in this subject, life and death are set before you: and that, as in this world, so to all eternity, “According to your faith it will be unto you.”]
To obtain its increase—
[Very remarkable is the answer given by the Disciples to an injunction which they had received relative to the forgiving an offending brother. When he told them, that if a brother should offend seven times in a day, and as often repeat his acknowledgments, they should renew to him their pardoning grace, they said, “Lord, increase our faith [Note: Luke 17:5.].” But what had faith to do with this? One would rather suppose that they would have said, “Lord, increase our love.” But their request argued a juster view of divine truth. They did indeed stand in need of love; but it could spring from nothing but faith; and would infallibly be produced by faith: and hence they presented the fittest petition that it was possible for them to offer. Let the same petition, then, proceed continually from your lips. Unbounded are your calls for this divine principle; and the more you excel in that, the more will you excel in every Christian grace.]
To have it as the one governing principle of your life—
[It is “by faith you are to walk,” “by faith to stand,” by faith to live continually: as the Apostle says, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” You have seen how wholly the saints of old gave themselves up to its influence: do ye go and do likewise; that, having lived by faith, and “died in faith,” you may receive “the promise which God has promised you, even eternal life [Note: ver. 39.].”]
GOD’S ESTIMATE OF HIS PEOPLE
Hebrews 11:38. Of whom the world was not worthy.
THESE words are introduced in a parenthesis; and are intended to obviate an objection, which might weaken, if not make void, the foregoing statement. The Apostle has been insisting upon the operations and fruits of faith; and has adduced a great variety of instances in which its power has been displayed.
Those who wrought such stupendous works by the power of faith might be supposed to be objects of high and deserved admiration; but those who suffered so many things under its influence might be thought to have merited their afflictions: whereas, in truth, the world itself, even that very world by which they were so persecuted, was not worthy of them.
Let us consider,
God’s record concerning them—
It is obvious that there is an immense difference between God’s estimation of his people, and that in which they are held by an ignorant and ungodly world.
The world accounts the saints unworthy of it—
[This appears from the manner in which the world uniformly treats the saints. In the days referred to by the Apostle, multitudes of the saints were tortured on account of their piety; many “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth [Note: ver. 35–38.].” And these are the persons to whom this testimony is given, that “the world was not worthy of them.”
In the days of Christ and his Apostles, the same enmity against vital godliness betrayed itself continually. Our blessed Lord, though confessedly without spot or blemish, was “despised and rejected of men:” his whole “nation abhorred him,” and combined to demand his crucifixion; preferring even a murderer before him. His Apostles too, as he himself had forewarned them, were “hated of all men for his sake,” and were counted as “the filth of the earth and the off-scouring of all things,” precisely as the godly in the days of Jeremiah had been before them [Note: Compare Lamentations 3:45. with 1 Corinthians 4:13.]. St. Paul was certainly not behind any in wisdom or piety; yet of him was it said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live [Note: Acts 22:22.].”
And is it not thus at this time also? I appeal to all, Whether the very circumstance of a person being zealously devoted to the service of his God do not uniformly bring a stigma upon his character, so that, even though he should be the most active, and benevolent, and blameless of mankind, he will he regarded as weak and noxious in that particular? If from peculiar circumstances a man of piety be led to take a prominent part in the diffusion of true religion, I ask, Will not the world account him unworthy of their esteem, their company, their protection? Let the opprobrious names which are given to such characters, and the contempt with which they are treated, and the injuries which with impunity are inflicted on them, determine this point. He can know little either of the sentiments or conduct of those around him, who does not see, that at this hour, no less than in former times, “they who are born after the flesh persecute those who are born after the Spirit;” and that “the enmity of the serpent’s seed against the Seed of the woman” is as strong as ever.
But, whilst the world thus accounts the saints unworthy of it,]
God, on the other hand, pronounces the world unworthy of them—
[God regards the saints as “his peculiar treasure above all people upon the face of the earth.” In his estimation they are as lights in a dark world, and as “salt” which keeps the great mass of the ungodly from utter putrefaction [Note: Matthew 5:13-14.]. Nay further, he sends them as leaven to diffuse piety all around them [Note: Matthew 13:33.], and to impart to others the blessings which they themselves have received. But the world is unworthy of them: for they know not their value; and are regardless of all the advantages which they might derive from them; yea, they are insensible of the benefits which they are daily receiving from them; and they requite all their kindness with nothing but hatred and contempt.
We have not time to enter minutely into these different particulars: yet we must not pass them over without a few words to elucidate and confirm them. Go back to the days of the Apostles: see in what light those distinguished servants of God were regarded: see at what a low rate all their labours were appreciated in every city, not of Judζa only, but of the whole world. What benefits might the people in every place have received, if they would have listened to the instructions and followed the examples of those holy men! So at this day might they be benefited by the saints and ministers of the Lord, so far at least as those saints and ministers are themselves conformed to the doctrines and examples of the primitive saints? Indeed the world is, though unwittingly, benefited by the saints in a very high degree: for by them the tone of morals is raised, wherever they come: and a multitude of Institutions for the temporal and spiritual welfare of mankind are set on foot; Institutions, which would never have been carried forward, if the zeal and piety of the godly had not led the way, and the envy and jealousy of the careless been provoked to tread in their steps [Note: The Societies for the Diffusion of the Holy Scriptures, for sending forth Missions to the Heathen, for the Conversion of Jews to Christianity, and for the Education of the Poor, abundantly illustrate this truth.]. How far the words of our Lord respecting Jerusalem are applicable to the present day, I pretend not to say: but in that day, the tribulation that came on Jerusalem was greater than had existed since the beginning of the world, insomuch that “if those days of trouble had not been shortened, no flesh would have been saved: but for the elect’s sake those days were shortened [Note: Matthew 24:21-22.].” And if only ten righteous men had been found in Sodom, both that city, and all the other cities of the plain, would have been spared. Who can tell then what judgments would be poured out upon the ungodly world, if the saints by their piety and their prayers did not stay the hand of an avenging God [Note: Genesis 19:22.]? But how these benefits are requited, it is needless to observe. Suffice it to say, that God’s estimation of his saints is the same as ever; and his declaration concerning them is, that “the world is not worthy of them.”]
Let us then proceed to state,
The sentiments with which this record should inspire us—
It should teach us,
To disregard the indignities that are cast upon us—
[Man has his “day:” but God has his also: and in the prospect of the ultimate decision of an infallible Judge, it should be a small matter to us to be judged of man’s judgment [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3. the Greek.]. When men pour contempt upon us, we should say as our blessed Lord, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” In reference to the persecutors of that immaculate Lamb, the Apostle says, that “through ignorance they persecuted him,” and that, “if they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” So, if men really knew what God has done for his chosen people, and how “precious their blood is in his sight,” they would not venture to oppose them in the way they do. Men are beguiled by their own prejudices: they persuade themselves that piety is hypocrisy; and that, to diffuse it, is to “turn the world upside down:” and, in opposing it, “they think they really do God service.” Towards them therefore we should feel pity, rather than resentment: and on our own account we should feel nothing but exceeding joy; since we only participate the lot of God’s chosen people [Note: Matthew 5:11-12.], and are rendered conformable to the example of Christ himself [Note: 1 Peter 4:13.].]
To adore and magnify our God, who has so distinguished us—
[Who is it that has made any of us to differ from the world around us [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]? Verily, “he that hath wrought us to the self-same thing is God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.].” In ourselves we were no better than others: we were “dead in trespasses and sins,” like all around us; and were “children of wrath, even as others.” But he pitied us; “he looked upon us whilst lying in our blood, and bade us live [Note: Ezekiel 16:5-6.].” O how should we bless and adore him for such amazing love! “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God [Note: 1 John 3:1.].” Let us enter into the full spirit of these words of the loving and beloved Apostle: and let us never cease to call on “all that is within us to bless” and magnify our adorable Benefactor [Note: Psalms 103:1-3.].]
To walk worthy of our high and heavenly calling—
[“What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness!” Has God called us to glory and virtue? has he made us “a peculiar people on purpose that we should shew forth both the praises and the virtues of him that has called us [Note: 1 Peter 2:9. the Greek.]?” Let us then “walk as becometh saints,” and “walk as becometh the Gospel of Christ.” If we profess to have received such mercies at the Lord’s hands, the world have a right to expect that we should surpass them as much in real excellence, as we do in the privileges of which we make our boast. “What do ye more than others?” is a question which they have a right to ask, and to which we ought to be able to return a satisfactory answer. Yea, our very lives should supersede the necessity of a verbal answer; we should be “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” If indeed the world be not worthy of us, let them see their inferiority by our lives; and be constrained from what they behold in us to acknowledge, that “the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour.” If the difference between them and us be so immense as the Apostle represents it to be [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.], let us labour to comply with his direction, and to shine before them with all the splendour of a holy people [Note: Philippians 2:14-15. This passage must be particularly marked.].]
To exert ourselves in bringing others to a participation of the benefits which we enjoy—
[“Our light is not to be put under a bed, or under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that all around us may receive the benefit.” The importance of this in relation to the blessings of civilization is generally acknowledged: and is it less important in reference to the blessings of salvation? Let every one of us then say with the Church of old, “Draw me, and we will come after thee;” that is, if God draw me, I will not come alone, but will draw all I can along with me. If men despise our efforts, and shew an utter disregard of the blessings which we hold out to them, let it only stir us up to augmented zeal, and plead with us the more powerfully to exert ourselves the more in their behalf. Let us expostulate with them, as the prophet does, “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” And then, if they requite your labours only with hatred and persecution, determine through grace, that you “will gladly spend and be spent for them, though the more abundantly you love them, the less you be loved.”]
THE ADVANTAGES ENJOYED UNDER THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION
Hebrews 11:39-40. These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
WHEN we hear or read of the saints of old, we excuse our want of resemblance to them, from the idea that they were more highly favoured than we; and that it would be unreasonable to expect from us of these later days, such high attainments as they made by reason of their peculiar and more exalted dispensation. But this excuse is altogether founded on a mistake: for the disparity between their dispensation and ours is altogether in our favour, as we are expressly told in the passage before us; which will naturally lead me to shew,
What good things God vouchsafed to his people of old—
God has been gracious to his people in every age:
He gave them exceeding great and precious promises—
[The promise given to Adam in Paradise was gradually unfolded by successive revelations, till there was such a body of prophecy as exhibited the Saviour with the utmost possible precision. His person, work, and offices were all set forth so minutely; that, if the detached prophecies were collected and arranged, there would be found in the Old Testament as just a representation of him as in the Gospel itself. These formed a ground of hope to the Lord’s people, who were thus instructed to look to their Messiah as “their Prophet, like unto Moses,” to instruct them; their Priest, after the order of Melchizedec, to make atonement for them; and their King, who, sitting as on David’s throne, should reign over them, and in them, for evermore.
He enabled them to live by faith upon these promises—
[Faith, in whomsoever it is found, is the gift of God: and it was richly bestowed on many, as appears from the chapter before us. We are even astonished at the strength with which it was exercised in many instances, and at the realizing views which it gave of invisible things to those in whom it was found. The instances recorded of it are still the brightest patterns for the imitation of the Christian Church [Note: Reference may here be made to two or three of those contained in the preceding context.] — — —]
He testified his acceptance of their faith so exercised—
[This is noticed in the beginning of this chapter, and again repeated at the close of it [Note: ver 2. with the text. See the Greek.]. God testified his acceptance of their faith by invariably accomplishing those objects which he had encouraged them to expect, so that in no single instance was any one believer ever disappointed of his hope. However hopeless or even impossible the events might appear according to the judgment of man, every difficulty vanished, and every expectation was fulfilled, as soon as ever the faith of his people had been sufficiently tried, and the time for God’s interposition was arrived. He further testified his acceptance of it by the witness of his Spirit in their souls. There can be no doubt but that they enjoyed in their souls a peace flowing from their affiance in God, and a sense of his love shed abroad in their hearts, together with an assurance of his approbation in the day of judgment. This appears from their “looking for a city which hath foundations, and a heavenly country,” as “the recompence of their reward;” and from their refusing deliverance from present trials in full expectation of “a better resurrection” to life eternal. And what a testimony has he given in the record which is contained in this chapter; a record which will transmit their names with honour to the end of time!]
But, that we may form a just estimate of our blessings, I will proceed to shew,
What “better thing he has provided for us” under the Christian dispensation—
Certainly our privileges are far superior to theirs; for,
We have in possession that Saviour whom they only looked forward to in the promise—
[The first advent of Christ was held forth to them as an object of faith and hope, just as his second advent is to us. But the promise relating to that is now fulfilled. We have seen him accomplishing every prophecy, and performing in himself all that was shadowed forth in the infinitely diversified types of the ceremonial law: and we have, in this very circumstance, such a proof of his Messiahship, as no considerate and candid person can withstand. We have heard all his gracious instructions relative to the way of life; and have already seen his kingdom established in the world. We have seen “the stone that was cut out without hands, becoming a mountain, and filling the whole earth.”
What an unspeakable advantage is this! If Abraham rejoiced when he saw only by faith, and very indistinctly, the days of the Son of man, what reason have we to rejoice in having this adorable Saviour fully revealed in all his beauty, and excellency, and glory! Well does our Lord himself congratulate his believing people, saying, “Blessed are your eyes which see the things which ye see, and hear the things which ye hear [Note: Luke 14:23-24.].”]
We have in perfection those blessings which they enjoyed only in their commencement—
[They knew not what solid peace was: their sacrifices, however rich and abundant, could not impart this blessing: they were rather “remembrances of sin,” than real expiations; and “could make no man perfect as pertaining to the conscience.” “The law made nothing perfect; but the bringing in of a better hope did [Note: Hebrews 7:19.].” Their access to God was that of a servant, who keeps at a distance; ours is that rather of a child, who comes to the very bosom of his father [Note: Ephesians 3:12.]. Their communications from him were as darkness, in comparison of the light which we enjoy [Note: 1Co 2:9-10. 1 John 2:8.]. The prophets themselves did not understand their own prophecies, as we do [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.]. Not even John the Baptist, who pointed out Jesus as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” had such just conceptions of him as we have: in this respect “even the least believer that is to be found in all the kingdom of God, is greater than he.” All, not excepting even the Apostles themselves, till the day of Pentecost, had a veil upon their hearts, so that they could not behold the glory of God in the face of their Divine Master: “but we, with open and unveiled face, behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and are changed by it into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]
In the view of these glorious advantages, I would yet further draw your attention to them in a way,
Of solemn inquiry—
[What report does God, and what report does conscience, give respecting us? Are we walking in the footsteps of the saints of old, even of those saints, who “by faith obtained a good report?” We are not to imagine that, whilst faith wrought so powerfully in them, it will have no visible influence on us. Be assured, that its operation is the same in all ages. Let me then ask, What effects it has wrought in you? Take the examples of Noah, of Abraham, and of Moses, as set forth in the preceding part of the chapter, and see what resemblance you bear to them — — — How inferior to them are we in our practice, notwithstanding the superiority of our advantages! — — — Have we not reason to blush and be ashamed at a review of our past lives, and at our misimprovement of the advantages which we enjoy? — — —]
Of affectionate admonition—
[If ever you would “be made perfect,” you must both live by faith, and “die in the faith.” To be “walking by sight, when you should walk by faith only,” will surely bring you to a far different end from that which you desire and expect. Oh! “listen not to flesh and blood;” but obey unfeignedly, and without reserve, the commandments of your God. Set before you the invisible God, who marks all your ways, and tries your very reins and heart. Set before you also the invisible realities of the eternal world, the glories of heaven and the miseries of hell; and consider which of them is the portion prepared for you. What a lamentable thing will it be in the day of judgment to see such an one as Rahab, an accursed Canaanite and a harlot, admitted into the kingdom of heaven, and you yourselves cast out! I pray you avail yourselves of the advantages which you enjoy; and let them not issue in your heavier condemnation. The promise of Christ’s coming to judge the world will as surely be fulfilled, as that of his coming to save the world has been. And if you look forward to that event, and to the everlasting separation of the righteous from the wicked, O think “what manner of persons ye ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness;” and “be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” — — —]