Click here to join the effort!
What faith is. Without faith we cannot please God. The worthy fruits thereof in the fathers of old time.
Anno Domini 63.
THE apostle, in the end of the foregoing chapter, after mentioning the persecutions to which the Hebrews were exposed, had comforted them by suggesting a remarkable saying of the prophet Habakkuk; The just by faith shall live. In this chapter he illustrates that saying, by bringing into the view of the Hebrews examples from their own scriptures, of persons who by a strong faith in God and in his promises, resisted the greatest temptations, sustained the heaviest persecutions, were preserved in imminent dangers, performed the most difficult acts of obedience, and, at length, obtained a distinguished reward. This beautiful discourse, therefore, may be considered as an animated display of the triumphs of faith over the allurements and terrors of the world.
And, first of all, to shew that this noble grace of faith is attainable through the Spirit of God by men in every age and country, the apostle tells us that it consists in such a firm persuasion of the things which God hath declared and promised, as clothes them with an evidence equal to that of sense, Hebrews 11:1.—and as examples of this faith in the declarations of God, Abel, Enoch, and Noah are mentioned, who were all so firmly persuaded of the truth of the things made known to them by God, that through grace theyregulated the whole tenor of their lives by them, Hebrews 11:3-7.—Next, as an illustrious example of faith in the promises of God, the apostle mentions Abraham, who left his native country and kindred at God's command, and set out for a land which he was afterwards to inherit, not knowing whither he was going. And being come into the promised country, he lived there all his life, with his children Isaac and Jacob the joint-heirs of the same promise, as in a land belonging to other people, because he knew that it was promised to him chiefly as the type and pledge of a better country, Hebrews 11:9-10.—In like manner Sarah, Abraham's wife, to whom God promised that she should be the mother of nations, lived long in the faith of that promise, though it was not performed to her till she was ninety years old, when she brought forth Isaac, who became the father of children innumerable, Hebrews 11:11-12.—All these patriarchs died, without receiving the country that was promised to them, yet they died in the faith that they should receive it; and by confessing themselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth, they declared that in the promise they looked for a better country than Canaan, even a heavenly country; consequently, that they expected to be raised from the dead to enjoy that better country.—Moreover, Abraham, when tried by the command to offer up Isaac, the very son for whom he had waited so long, and by whom he was to have the numerous seed, obeyed without hesitation, firmly believing that after his son was burnt to ashes on the altar, God would raise him from the dead, Hebrews 11:17-19.—The same Isaac, and his son Jacob, and his grandson Joseph, when dying, expressed the strongest faith in the promise of God. Particularly Joseph did so. For, before his death, he commanded the Israelites at their departure from Egypt to carry his bones with them into Canaan, Hebrews 11:20-22.
Farther, the apostle describes the faith of the Israelites in Egypt; and especially of Moses, who, although educated in the court of Egypt, when he came of age, through the faith which he had in God's promises to Abraham and his seed, refused to be called any longer the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and thereby at once renounced all the grandeur and pleasures of the court of Egypt, which as the son of Pharaoh's daughter he might have enjoyed; choosing rather to be evil-treated with the people of God, than to enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin, Hebrews 11:23-26.—By faith, Moses carried the Israelites out of Egypt, not afraid of the wrath of Pharaoh who pursued them with the armies of Egypt, Hebrews 11:27-28.—By the same principle the Israelites were emboldened to pass through the Red Sea, which, the Egyptians essaying to do, were drowned, Hebrews 11:29.—And with respect to the Israelites who entered into Canaan, although their fathers disbelieved and disobeyed God in the wilderness, they went round Jericho sounding their trumpets, in the firm faith that the walls thereof would fall down by miracle, according to God's promise, Hebrews 11:30.—By faith also Rahab received the Israelitish spies in peace, and did not perish with the unbelievers, when Jericho was sacked, Hebrews 11:31.
Many likewise of the Israelitish judges, prophets, and kings, were most remarkable for their faith. But, because to speak of every individual separately would have been tedious, the apostle introduces them in one group; and, in a noble strain of eloquence, celebrates their fortitude, their victories, and their rewards, all obtained under grace, through the influence of their faith, Hebrews 11:32-34.—not forgetting to mention some women whose faith was honoured with particular marks of the divine approbation, Hebrews 11:35.—And having thus praised the ancient worthies for the great actions which they performed through faith in God and in his promises, and for the signal deliverances which they obtained, the apostle speaks with equal rapture of the reproaches, afflictions, persecutions, tortures, and death, which others, in later times, endured for the sake of the true religion; so that they were as illustrious for their passive, as the former were for their active virtues, Hebrews 11:35-38.
And all these ancient saints and servants of God have received an honourable testimony from him in their respective generations, and in the infallible records of the sacred oracles which are handed down to us, relating to the signal obedience, sufferings, and achievements, which they were animated to by means of the steadfastness and lively exercise of their faith: but yet they never received the actual accomplishment of the grand promise, so as to live to see the exhibition of Christ in the flesh, to fulfil the great work of atonement, and introduce all the glories of the gospel-state through the gift and great outpouring of the Spirit of God, Hebrews 11:39.—Now, the reason why God, in his infinite wisdom, did not fulfil the promise of the Messiah and of the Spirit in their days was, because he had a view to us, and has accordingly provided for us, who believe with the heart in Christ as now actually come in the flesh, this better thing, with which they were not favoured in their state of nonage under that preparatory dispensation, Hebrews 11:40.
Thisadmirablediscourse,thoughmoreimmediatelydesignedfortheinstructionand consolation of the Hebrews, is most valuable on account of its use to the church in every age. For, in the first place, by putting us in mind, that Abel was declared a righteous person by God himself, that Enoch pleased God, and that Noah became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith, we are taught that the justification of mankind by faith did not begin in Abraham, but was the method appointed for the salvation of sinners, from thebeginning of the world.—Secondly, By shewing that faith has for its object, not the discoveries of revelation alone, but the manifestation also of the will of God by Christ as the light of the world, and by the general operations of the Holy Spirit, the apostle has displayed the catholic nature and influence of faith, and has taught us, that men of all ages and countries, and under all dispensations, may, through divine grace and the infinite merit of Christ, attain such a degree of faith as is pleasing to God. This instruction was very necessary to those of the Hebrews, who were unwilling to allow that the Gentiles might be saved by faith without obedience to the law of Moses.—Thirdly, By celebrating the great actions and sufferings of the ancients the apostle has taught us, that faith is by no means an inoperative speculative belief of the doctrines of true religion, but an active principle, which leads to the greatest fortitude in doing, and patience in suffering every thing which God commands: in which account of faith St. Paul is supported by St. James, who has in so many words taught that faith without works is dead.—Fourthly, By calling faith the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, we are taught that it is faith through grace which gives to the invisible and distant things of the life to come, set forth in the promises of God, the power of operating upon our mind, as if they were actually present to our senses.—Lastly, From the account here given of the faith of Abraham and of his immediate descendants, we learn that these ancient patriarchs knew that the promise of giving to Abraham and to his seed all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, was a promise, not of the earthly country alone, but of a far better country, even a heavenly, of which the earthly country was only a type and pledge; and that as they all died in the firm expectation of inheriting that blessed country, they died in the belief of their resurrection from the dead. Wherefore, the views and expectations of the people of God, evenin the most ancient times, though not so full and clear, were not in substance differentfrom the views and expectations which believers now entertain through the more perfect revelation of the gospel.
Hebrews 11:1-2. Now faith is the substance, &c.— These verses may be paraphrased thus: "As I have now observed, that faith avails to the salvation of the soul, and intend, in the next place, largely to prove it; it cannot but be proper here to acquaint you what that faith is, of which I speak. It is such a firm persuasion, as gives, as it were, a substance or present existence to the good things which we hope for, and which are not yet in being; and as engages us to depend upon the truth of unseen things as really as upon ocular demonstration. That this faith will avail to the salvation of the soul is evident, because the scripture has testified, that on the account of this faith through grace, the celebrated men who lived long ago were acceptable to God." By the description of faith, Heb 11:1 the apostle shews what that faith is, which he said ch. 10:39 would avail to the saving of the soul. It is not such a wavering and uncertain notion as wicked men may have, which is not accompanied with the power of godliness, and does not lead them to act conformably to what they profess to believe; but it is such a real and firm persuasion of the truth of divine revelation through the grace of God, as puts a man in the same temper and disposition of mind as demonstration or eye-sight would do.
Hebrews 11:3. Through faith we understand, &c.— "By faith we understand that the worlds were adjusted by the word of God, and the several revolutions of them directed by the operations of his secret providence; as the whole universe was at first created by his power, wisdom, and goodness, and the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. It is certain that no visible cause could produce these things, which would be in effect to suppose them to have produced themselves: we therefore by faith refer them to a divine invisible original." Ihave no doubt but By the word of God, ρηματι Θεου, is meant, by the word of the Divine Logos. This will appear by comparing the present passage with chap. Heb 1:2-3 of this epistle, where the same word ρηματι is used by the apostle, when he describes the Son as upholding all things by the word of his power, and as the glorious Person by whom the Father made the world. So Philo, speaking of the framing of heaven and earth, says, "God made them both, by his illustrious and splendid Logos, ρηματι, with a word," that is, by the word of his power. Now whether this word ρημα, be the word of the Father speaking to the Son or Logos, or the word of the Logos himself, saying with power, Let them be made, and they were made, it is hence evident, that this Logos must be a Person, and not an attribute. It was this Logos or eternal Word and Son of God, who by the word of his power produced out of a confused chaos all the visible things of the creation, such as the sun, moon, and stars, the earth, and all the objects of our senses: and that chaos itself he created by the same word of his power, when nothing had existed from eternity but GOD.
Hebrews 11:4. Abel offered, &c.— The divine original sacrifice seems not only strongly insinuated, but plainly demonstrable from this place. It has been inferred from the words πλειονα θυσιαν,— which may be rendered a greater, or fuller sacrifice,—that Cain contented himself with presenting only the mincha,—a bread-offering without a victim; whereas Abel sacrificed both; and by presenting a lamb, shewed his faith in the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God. There can be no doubt from the words of the sacred writer, that in whatever Abel's sacrifice consisted, it was his faith which gave its excellence to it. For the next clause, see Genesis 4:4. It is added, And by it (his faith), he bring dead, yet speaketh,—recommending to us in all ages, that believing regard to the great Atonement, which he expressed by bringing an animal sacrifice, while Cain contented himself with the fruits of the earth; and though Abel became the early victim of Cain's rage, yet that circumstance, in conjunction with the declaration thathe received of the divine acceptance and favour, is very instructive, in that it affords so powerful an evidence of a future state. And as his blood cried to God for vengeance against his murderer, (Genesis 4:10-11.) so it warns others, in all ages, that the righteous blood of God's servants will cry to him for vengeance against them that shed it. See 1 John 3:11-12.
Hebrews 11:5. And was not found,— "Any longer among the inhabitants of this lower world." The circumstances of Enoch's translation are not mentioned; but some have thought this to intimate that he was privately translated, and sought for as Elijah afterwards was. See 2Ki 2:17 and the passages in the margin.
Hebrews 11:6. But without faith it is impossible to please him:— This verse is added by the apostle, to complete his reasoning in that which precedes. He had there said, that God translated Enoch without dying, on accountof his faith. The proof alleged in that verse was only this, that Moses says He pleased God: still it remained to be proved that his pleasing God was an evidence that he had faith. To prove this, the apostle here adds, that it is impossible to please him without faith. The argument now is still and convincing, and stands thus: "The scripture says, that Enoch pleased God, and that on this account God translated him: but this his pleasing God is a demonstration of his faith, since without faith he could not have pleased him; consequently, he was translated upon account of his faith." The apostle adds the next clause, For he that cometh, to prove his first position in this verse; and the strength of the argument is very obvious. The word rendered cometh, προσερχομενον, according to Raphelius, signifies, the coming to God by prayer; and it is used in ch. Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:22 Heb 12:22-23 for approaching to God in any act of divine worship: he therefore justly observes, that it may here be taken in a larger sense, and refer to that steady course of piety and holiness, which is implied in pleasing God, or walking with him. We may just observe further, that what the apostle says in this verse illustrates the account that he gave of faith, Hebrews 11:1. The believing that God is, is a faith of something unseen, and invisible; Rom 1:20 and the believing that he will, in another world, be the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him, is a faith of something hoped for, which is yet at a distance.
Hebrews 11:7. Moved with fear,— This instance is fully to the apostle's purpose; because it is evident, from what Noah actually did, that he had a real faith in the being and revelations of God. His faith in God's threatening an universal deluge moved his fear,— ευλαβεια, his religious fear, and reverential regard to God,—(ch. Hebrews 12:28.) so strongly, that it actually influenced him to prepare a method for the saving himself from the destruction which was coming upon mankind. His faith was truly the evidence, or conviction of things unseen: he was, in his day, a preacher of righteousness; while all the world about him were grown desperately wicked. When he warned them of the universal deluge, they would not believe his prediction; therefore the flood came, and swept them all away. Noah's faith then condemned the unbelievers, in the same sense as every good man's holiness, virtues, and exhortations condemn such, as will not attend to and imitate him. The unbelievers were condemned by Noah, as he carefully avoided their practice, which he justly looked upon to be evil, and as their sins were aggravated upon the account of his repeated admonitions. See Titus 3:11. 1 Peter 3:20. By this same faith he became an heir of that righteousness which is by faith. And, when the apostle says, that by faith Noah became heir of the righteousness which is by faith, he is not guilty of any tautology; but plainly means that Noah, by his own personal faith, became heir of the righteousness which is reckoned to every one who has real faith, or, to every believer. Bishop Cumberland observes, that Noah is the first to whom the name of righteous man is applied in scripture.
Hebrews 11:8. By faith Abraham, &c.— Abraham was called to go into a land which God promised to shew him. What land that was, did not appear till after he had travelled to Canaan; when God assured him that that was the land which he designed to give him; so that he went out from his father's house, purely upon the principle of faith in God, not knowing whither he went.
Hebrews 11:9. By faith he sojourned, &c.— Abraham went from Mesopotamia, at the command of God, and came to Haran, where he dwelt: thence he removed to the land of Canaan, and travelled to the south-west parts of it, where he lived in tents. The phrase, Παροικειν εις την γην, is not the same as the phrase εν τη γη; but implies his sojourning all along, before he got to Canaan, even till he came to it, as well as in it: so that this expression shews a continued act of trust in God, from his first setting out from Mesopotamia to Haran, and from thence to Canaan; as a strange land αλλοτριαν, signifies a land in which he had no property or claim of right, and in which consequently he dwelt in tents, the proprietors of any settlements generally erecting houses and other buildings, which indicate the land to be their property, and their possession to be permanent. It is plain from the account of the lives of Isaac and Jacob, that Jacob was born fifteen years before Abraham died.
Hebrews 11:10. For he looked for a city, &c.— "He had dwelt in Canaan, I say, as in a strange country; for he expected, according to God's promise, to dwell in the city of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is not removed from place to place, like a tent, but has solid and unshaken foundations; the builder or maker of which city is God himself, who can preserve it for ever." The grounds of Abraham's expecting to dwell in an eternal state of blessedness in the heavenly Jerusalem, do not appear to have been any arguments suggested by natural reason, but the express promise of God; for his faith here mentioned, is his faith in divine revelation, as faith signifies throughout the chapter. All that he expected in another world, is promised in God's covenant with Abraham to be his God. There is a strong and beautiful contrast between the expression in this verse, and that of dwelling in tabernacles in the preceding verse. Tents or tabernacles have no foundations; the buildings of a city have. See Hebrews 11:16.
Hebrews 11:11. Because she judged him faithful who had promised.— It may seem a difficulty, that the apostle should here tell us that Sarah judged him faithful who had promised, whereas in the history she seems not to have credited what was promised. But the answer is, Supposing that she did not at first believe the possibility or probabilityof her having a child at that time of life, yet if she afterwards believed, as there is no doubt but she did, upon the more full declaration of Jehovah, it fully answers the design of the apostle.
Hebrews 11:12. Therefore sprang there, &c.— "By this mighty principle of faith in her, and in Abraham, there sprang even from one father, and he, in this respect, as it were dead, a posterity in multitude as the stars of the heavens, &c. according to that divine promise, which carried its efficacy into so many remoter ages, and retains it even to this day." See my Annotations on the promises made to Abraham, as recorded in the book of Genesis.
Hebrews 11:13. These all died in faith,— Dr. Heylin paraphrases the words thus: These all died without receiving the good things promised; but by faith they saw them, and believed them, and saluted them at a distance; professing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Hebrews 11:14. Declare plainly that they seek a country.— This translation by no means comes up to the spirit and beauty of the original. The word πατριδα (derived from πατερ, a father,) does not signify a country in general, but such a country as a man's fatherdwells in, and possesses as rightfully his own; and wherein consequently his children have a right to dwell withhim. This their father's own country is opposed to a strange or foreign country, Heb 11:9 wherein they looked upon themselves as strangers, sojourners, pilgrims, or travellers; Hebrews 11:13. Their father's country, and what therefore those obedient children of God might in a sense call their native country, or their proper home, is the blessed place where God their Father will dwell with them for ever; even the city of the heavenly Jerusalem. See Revelation 22:3-5.
Hebrews 11:16. But now they desire a better country,— This made them carry their thoughts still further; and since they did not enjoy Canaan, nor see how Canaan could answer their expectations, they desired and expected a better country, that is, an heavenly. They had opportunities enough of returning to their own country, had they thought that the promises made to them were to be fulfilled in that country; but since they were persuaded of the truth of what was promised, and did so sincerely embrace it, and yet declared themselves strangers and sojourners here, they must expect a better country, that is, a heavenly, in which they might receive their reward. They knew that God cannot lie or deceive; they knew that God is a rewarder of them that seek him; and yet Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, notwithstanding the particular promises made to them, received nothing here which could in this sense be called a reward. They had not any possession in Canaan; no, not a place to set a foot on, that they could call their own; Acts 7:5. Could any thing be more obvious, than to turn their thoughts upon some place very different from that they lived in?—a better place of abode, wherein they might be made happy? None of them met with any such place here, and therefore they expected and desired a heavenly city,—a place of sure reward; and they had the more reason to expect this, because God called himself their God:—Wherefore God does not make them ashamed, in being called their God. It may be said, that their reward, or the good things promised them, were all things of this world; (see Genesis 12:3.) but to be called any one's God, or exceeding rich reward, must imply some advantages or privileges more than those worldly ones. There was therefore something more than the things of this world promised by God to Abraham, when he was pleased to call himself the God of Abraham. It is added, for he hath prepared them a city. Neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, had any place in Canaan which they could claim as their own, except a burying-place bought with their money; and if their posterity four hundred years afterwards had possession of Canaan, yet the patriarchs themselves were no more than travellers, and lived in tents: to be therefore their God, or their exceeding great reward, must imply something which did not happen to them upon earth; therefore it was something in a future state, which they expected, and really believed that they should have.
Hebrews 11:17. By faith Abraham—offered up Isaac:— See the passages in the margin. It is part of the office of history to assign the causes of the facts related. In those facts thereforewhichhave several causes, of which the principal cannot be sufficiently told, the inferior come in properly to take its place. Thus, though it be very evident that the principal design of the command was to reveal to Abraham, by action instead of words, the redemption of mankind; yet as this was a favour of a very high nature, and conferred on Abraham at his earnest request, it was but fit that he should approve himself worthy of it by some proportionable trial, agreeable to what we find in scripture (to) be God's way of dealing with his faithful servants. On this account, therefore, God was pleased, bythe very manner in which this mystery was revealed, to tempt or try Abraham: where the making the favour itself the trial of his deserving it, has all the superior elegance and beauty, which is to be conceived in the dispensations of divine Wisdom only. Now, as the principal reason of the command could not be conveniently told by the sacred historian, this inferior one of the trial is assigned by him, and the apostle from him, with striking truth and propriety. And it is to be observed, that the very manner of recording this reason shews it to be indeed what has been suggested, an inferior one. For it is not said that God gave this command to try Abraham, which expresses a principal reason; but that in giving the command God did try him, which at most implies an inferior one.
Hebrews 11:19. Accounting that God, &c.— Reasoning, that God, &c. Doddridge. Archbishop Tillotson observes, that Abraham's faith was in this respect the more admirable, as, so far as we can learn, there never had been one single instance of a resurrection from the dead in or before the days of Abraham; "whose will," says Heylin, "made a full oblation of his son: his obedience was consummate, and his heart, if we may so speak, was at all the expence of sacrifice." The word παραβολη, rendered figure, is literally a parable, a mode of information either by words or actions, which consists in putting one thing for another. Now in a writer who regarded this commanded action as a representative information of the redemption of mankind, nothing could be more fine or easy than this expression. For though Abraham did not indeed receive Isaac restored to life after a real dissolution, yet the son being in this action to represent Christ suffering death for the sins of the world, when the father brought him safe from mount Moriah after three days, (during which the son was in a state of condemnation to death,) the father plainly received him under the character of Christ's representative, as restored from the dead. For as his being brought to the mount, his being bound, and laid on the altar, figured the sufferings and death of Christ; so his being taken from thence alive, as properly figured Christ's resurrection from the dead. With the highest propriety therefore and elegance of speech, might Abraham be said to receive Isaac from the dead in a parable or representation. See Parkhurst on the word Παραβαλη .
Hebrews 11:20. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau— He was persuaded that God would one way or other make good his promises to them, though he could not certainly tell how.
Hebrews 11:21. By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, &c.— He blessed each of them particularly. Moses tells us, that he strengthened himself and sat upon the bed on that occasion, Genesis 47:31; Genesis 48:2. When Jacob was sick, it was told Joseph, and he went to him, and carried his two sons with him; and Jacob exerted himself, and sat upon the bed, and blessed the children, and made them his own. It was, no doubt, in this last illness that he laid the obligation upon his son Joseph not to bury him in Egypt, and even made him swear not to do it. And upon this occasion it is said, that Israel bowed himself upon his bed's head: supposing him lying along, with his head on his pillow, in this recumbent posture, when Joseph brought his children to him, he raised himself up, and laid his hands upon them, leaning upon the top of his staff. It may be observed here, that the same Hebrew word, without the vowels, signifies a bed, and a staff. See the note on Genesis 47:31.
Hebrews 11:22. By faith Joseph, when he died,— When he was dying. See Genesis 50:24. Joseph shewed the reality of his faith by ordering his bones to be carried into Canaan, when the Israelites should depart thither. This proves that he fully depended upon the divine revelation, and so was a proper instance for the apostle to produce in this place.
Hebrews 11:23. By faith Moses, &c.— The instance of faith here, is that of Moses's parents. It is not improbable, that Moses's father knew what had been promised to Abraham, Genesis 13:16. Now reckon by the generations, and by the series of years passed from the covenant with Abraham, and it is plain that the time of servitude was then drawing toward its end. Moses's parents therefore, believing the promises made to Abraham, and seeing the infant a comely fine child, they concealed his birth, and did not make away with him, as Pharaoh had commanded. However, the sacred historyitself takes no notice of anyother reason for their preserving the child, but only his exceeding comeliness or fairness. See Acts 7:20.
Hebrews 11:24. When he was come to years,— St. Stephen informs us, that Moses was forty years old when it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel, Acts 7:23. At this age the apostle might well say he was come to years, or was become great as the expression in the original may be literally rendered; and as it is used in the LXX. version of Exo 2:11 and which is common among Greek authors, to express the time of manhood.
Hebrews 11:25. Choosing rather to suffer affliction— Three months after Moses was born, he was exposed in a bed of bulrushes on the river Nile. Pharaoh's daughter coming by, and guessing it to be one of the Hebrew children, committed him to the care of a nurse of that nation. As he grew up, Pharaoh's daughter had him educated, and adopted him for her own son: and Pharaoh, havingno male child, designed him for the heir of his kingdom. Thus arrived to maturity of age, brought up in a manner which kindles the fires of ambition, and surrounded with dignities and honour, he deliberately refused to be the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, and to succeed to so opulent a kingdom. The Egyptians he knew, from what had happened to Joseph, were so strongly bigoted to idolatry, that they would not be persuaded to quit it: and unless he complied with the national religion, he was certain that he could not possess the throne. He nobly rejected the offer; he not only rejected this offer, but likewise chose to suffer with the Hebrews, a circumstance which illustrates his character. For, had he refused the kingdom, and chosen the quiet condition of a subject in the middle vale of life, his self-denial had not been so great; and it is too rare to find a man that would choose rather to be oppressed and persecuted, than to receive honour, and to command reverence.
Hebrews 11:26. Esteeming the reproach of Christ— This signifies "reproach suffered for the sake of Christ," as the marks of the Lord Jesus are the marks of the stripes which were borne for the sake of Jesus. See Galatians 6:17. Dumont supposes, that the Israelites expected deliverance by the Messiah, and that the Egyptians insulted them on that account. The recompence of reward could not be temporal grandeur, which he might have had with much greater security and advantage in Egypt;—nor the possession of Canaan, which he never obtained: it must therefore be the eternal inheritance, which was discovered to him by the divine principle here so largely described and recommended.
Hebrews 11:27. By faith he forsook Egypt,— The history here referred to by the apostle, is that of the Israelites going out of Egypt under the conduct of Moses; at which time it is evident Moses had strong faith, and no fear. See Exodus 14:13-14. "Moses, not afraid of the king's wrath or threats, Exodus 10:28-29. εκαρτερησε, persevered, and strengthened himself, as if the invisible Being, who governs all, had been immediately present to his sight."
Hebrews 11:28. Through faith he kept the passover— That is, through faith in the promise recorded, Exodus 12:12-23.
Hebrews 11:29. By faith they passed through the Red sea— "By faith operating in Moses, and in its degree in them likewise, they passed over the Red sea, sedately, as if they had marched on dry land, while its waters by the Divine command divided, and left the channel bare to them, so that they completed their march through it, and arrived safelyon the opposite shore; which the Egyptians making an insolent and rash attempt to do, were all drowned, and sunk like lead in the mighty waters, which returned upon them with irresistible violence."
Hebrews 11:30. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down,— The faith which the apostle here commends, was the faith not only of Joshua, but also of all the pious priests, and of all the religious people. They believed God, that if they, according to his directions, did march round Jericho for seven days together, blow the trumpets and shout, at the time appointed, the walls of itwould thereupon fall to the ground. This their faith was perfectly rational, because the promise of the miracle was made by God; to whose infinite power, and not to the probability of the means, they were to look for the accomplishment of it.
Hebrews 11:31. By faith the harlot Rahab— She believed in the God of Israel, who had done so great things for his people; and therefore she entertained the spies who were sent to search the land. See on Joshua 2:10-11.
Hebrews 11:33. Wrought righteousness,— We have the same expression used by St. Peter, Acts 10:35. In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, &c. The apostle, in this place, does not speak of the general character common to all believers, but has two or three particular persons in his eye, of whom this may be said in an especial manner: as it is of others, that they subdued kingdoms, or stopped the mouths of lions, &c. The persons particularly referred to, are Abraham and Phineas, of whom the scripture expressly says, that their faith was imputed to them for righteousness: Genesis 15:6. Psa 106:31 while the Old Testament does not expressly say this of any other. Some have indeed interpreted this, not only of their leading lives exemplary for holiness, but administering justice to others. But I do not know that the phrase has ever that signification.
Hebrews 11:34. Out of weakness were made strong,— Weakness is a general word, which implies sickness and ill habit of body, or want of power and strength to resist a superior force. If the former of these be intended, Hezekiah may be the person particularly in view. If it signifies, as it naturally may, an inability to resist enemies, through a smallness of power, (as when a few have been attacked by much superior numbers, or small armies have engaged and been enabled to overcome greater forces,) we have instances in Joshua 11:0; Judges 4:7. The last expression is not a very usual one:—turned to flight the encampments of strangers: the meaning is, "They have attacked armies encamped, and have put them to flight." Probably the allusion is to Jonathan's attacking the Philistines' garrison, 1Sa 14:13-15 and to Gideon's attacking the camp of the Midianites, Judges 7:19. See also 2 Samuel 5:9-25.
Hebrews 11:35. Women received their dead raised to life again:— By a resurrection; by a restoration to life. What kind of punishment, or rather cruel usage, is alluded to in the next clause, or whether the word be used as a general term for torturing and putting to extremity of pain, may be hard to say: but as here are several particular kinds of cruelty mentioned, it seems probable that this is one of that sort. They appear to interpret the word very naturally, who understand it of beating with clubs till the poor man dies. The word indeed is used in a more extensive sense, for putting to death in any violent manner, without taking in the idea of being beaten to death with clubs: but in this place it seems to be used in its proper sense. The history of Eleazer may be alluded to, who is said to have come of his own accord, επι το τυμπανον, which we render, to the torment. 2Ma 6:19; 2Ma 6:28. It is certain that he is said to have been ready to die with stripes, and that he endured sore pains in body by being beaten; but by stripes we are not to imagine him ready to die from the effects of whips or thongs, or such sort of small instruments, but ταις πληγαις, with bruises, such as arise from being stricken with a great stick or club, Hebrews 11:30. And when it is said that he came of his own accord to the τυμπανον, to the torment, it means that he came voluntarily to the suffering of this horrid bastinading. It is well known that this punishment is still used in the east, and is common among the Turks at this day. See 2Ma 8:11; 2Ma 8:14 and Parkhurst on the word Τυμπανιζω .
Hebrews 11:36. Trial of cruel mockings— There can be no doubt but that these mockings were cruel; but there was no occasion to add this word to the text, as it is not in the original. See 2 Kings 2:23. Gen 21:9 compare with Gal 4:29 and 2 Chronicles 36:16.
Hebrews 11:37. They were sawn asunder, &c.— Calmet understands by this expression, being torn in pieces, as it were, under a threshing instrument, consisting of wooden rollers, full of sharp iron teeth like a harrow. Compare Isaiah 41:15; Isaiah 28:27. 2 Samuel 12:31. Some have supposed that the phrase they were tempted, is an error in the manuscripts, imagining that the climax is thereby entirelybroken. But those who wish above all things to be entirely devoted to God, would prefer any torment to poignant temptations which might greatly endanger their fidelity to him. And ecclesiastical history informs us of tyrants who took every possible method to tempt the pious to sin against their God. The LXX, in the case of Elijah, translate the word which we render mantle, by μηλωτη, a sheep-skin. That sheep-skins, and goat-skins, or at least the skins of some animal, were frequently worn by the ancient prophets, is intimated Zechariah 13:4. The sacred writer having already spoken of the variety of torments which good men through faith had undergone, goes on to speak of other sorts of evils which they had endured; and he uses a word, in conclusion, of a larger signification than what torments implies; namely, that they underwent all sorts of evils, κακουχουμενοι .
Hebrews 11:39-40. And these all, having obtained, &c.— "All these pious heroes, in different ages, were supported under their respective trials, severe and extreme as they were, by the exercise of a firm and lively faith in the fidelity of God, and the invisible rewards and glories of a future state: and it was by this, under divine grace, that, having obtained a good report, they persevered to the end: but they did not receive the full accomplishment of the promise made to their fathers; God having, according to the counsels of his infinite wisdom, provided something still better for us in the gospel revelation; that sothe beauty of his conduct and administration might be the more apparent, and that they without us might not be made perfect, but that all might end with the greatest dignity and propriety to the glory of God in Christ Jesus." See Acts 13:32-33.
Inferences.—Let the many glorious examples of faith which are here set before us, animate our souls to imitation, and excite in us a generous desire of acting upon that noble and sublime principle, without which it is impossible to please God. And O, may what we call our faith be not merely a speculative and ineffectual assent to the truth, even of the most weighty propositions; but a firm persuasion of their certainty, and a deep conviction of their importance and of our interest in them, that we also may obtain a good report.
May we believe in God as the Former and Upholder of universal nature, as most assuredly existing, and as most bountifully rewarding all that seek him with sincerity and diligence. So shall our sacrifices be acceptable to him, as those of Abel were, while with him we look to that great sacrifice and atonement, of which his victim was the appointed representation. Like Enoch, we shall then be animated to walk with God, and favoured with divine intercourse and communications; and, like Noah, find our safety in the midst of a dissolving world, and, while sinners are condemned, be found the heirs of righteousness.
While we wait for this happiness, let us endeavour to approve ourselves the genuine children of Abraham, the father of the faithful. Ever attentive to the divine call, may we, in obedience to it, be willing to go forth, though we do not particularly know whither; and with an intrepidity like his, may we even be ready to exchange worlds at the command of God, ignorant as we are of what lies beyond the grave; thinking it enough, that we know it is a land which God hath promised as the inheritance of his faithful children. It is indeed a city that hath foundations, in comparison of which all the most magnificent and established buildings of the children of men are but mean and moveable tents.
God glories in the title of its Builder and Maker, having formed and fashioned it for the highest displays of his glory and his love; and in reference to it he is not ashamed to be called our God; for by bestowing it upon his faithful people, he answers all which that high and glorious title might import. May we ever desire this as our better country, and live as its citizens ought; confessing ourselves, in reference to it, to be pilgrims and strangers upon the earth. And though we here receive not the accomplishment of the promises, may we keep our eyes on the objects they exhibit, how distant soever they seem; and being persuaded of them, may we embrace them; embrace them even with our dying arms, and breathe out our prepared and willing spirits, in full assurance that we are going to receive and possess them.
2nd, Let these glorious instances of faith be preserved in our memory, and have their due influence upon our hearts. When God calls us to resign our greatest comforts, let us think of that heroic act of faith by which Abraham offered up Isaac, and seemed in him to sacrifice all the promises as well as his son. Yet he therein acted a part the most strictly rational; as rightly concluding, that God could with infinite ease call him back to life again, and make a person, who had poured forth all his blood on the altar, and been reduced to ashes there, the father of many nations. Let dying parents commit their children to the care of the ever-living God, like Jacob; and worship him who hath fed them all their lives long, and who will never forsake those that put their trust in him. Let those who are called to glorify God by opposing the unjust commands of great and powerful men, remember the parents of Moses, and remember their illustrious child. Does he now repent that wonderful choice which he made at an adult age? does he now wish that he had been called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, rather than the servant of God, faithful in all his house? does he wish that he had secured the treasures of Egypt, and the temporary pleasures of sin, and declined that reproach of Christ, which has ended in eternal glory? Our hearts, our consciences will soon answer; let us then, like him, have respect unto the recompence of reward. Let us endeavour more frequently to direct our regards to God, and live as seeing him who is invisible.
And while our faith is thus viewing him, let us look with pleasure to the Blood of sprinkling, which places us under his protection; which introduces us to his favour; which secures us from the destroying angel. He will lead us on safely to his heavenly Canaan, if we fall not by unbelief. He will open our passage through seas of difficulty; he will send down upon us every suitable supply, and would much sooner command the skies to rain down bread, or the flinty rock to melt into streams of water, than desert his faithful people in the wilderness. Let all his wonders of power, and of love to Israel of old, animate our faith; and let them all quicken our obedience; and under a sense of our own weakness, and the importance of this leading, this princely grace, let us daily pray, Lord, increase our faith.
3rdly, Is it possible that we should read this animated chapter without feeling our hearts glow with a sacred ambition of acting as becomes those who have heard such tidings and beheld such examples? If the triumphs of faith in Rahab, and Gideon, and Barak, and Sampson, and Jephtha, cannot move us, nor even those of David and of Samuel; if we are insensible of the martial prowess which they exerted in firm dependance on the Lord God of hosts; let us behold other combats, in which they who seemed weaker, became yet more gloriously victorious. Let us remember, not only the mouths of lions stopped, but the violence of fire quenched, when the faithful servants of God were thrown into it. Yea, let us behold those who endured its unquenched violence, and turned all those painful and terrible sensations, into an heroic occasion of expressing the superior ardour of their love to God, and the steadfastness of their faith in him. Let us remember those women, and youths, and children, among the rest of these worthies, indeed among the worthiest of them, who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.
In vain were all the terrors of persecuting rage and cruelty opposed to these triumphs. They submitted to imprisonment, and banishment, how dear soever their liberty and their native country might be; they quitted their commodious habitations for rocks and caves, and their comfortable apparel for sheep-skins and goat-skins. And when desarts and dens could no longer shelter their wretchedness, but they were seized by their blood-thirsty enemies, they beheld, and endured, undismayed, the most horrid instruments of death. When the piercing sword entered their vitals, when overwhelming stones dashed them in pieces, when the torturing saw was tearing out their very entrails, there was a principle within superior to all these, which nothing could pierce, which nothing could rend away, which nothing could overwhelm. God hath done an honour to our nature in raising up such illustrious persons, of whom the world was not worthy, and whose distinguished worth could never have been manifested in the eyes of their fellow-creatures, had it not been called out to such rigorous trials. Well might they rejoice on any terms in their dismission from a state of existence so far beneath the elevation of their views. And though their names may be perished from among men, and the distinct history of each lost in the crowds of countless multitudes, yet are they all in remembrance before God; and the death of each of his saints, in such circumstances, peculiarly precious in his sight. They are now bathing in those rivers of delight, which flow through the celestial paradise, and waiting the full consummation of their hope in that better resurrection, in the views of which they suffered so bravely.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have,
1. An account of the nature and effects of divine faith. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, giving such a realizing view of the promises, and such a subsistence of them to the mind, as if they were actually in our possession; and the evidence of things not seen, demonstrating the certainty of the invisible things revealed in the divine word, with such a full persuasion, as to act upon the mind, in a great measure, as if they were present.
2. All the saints, from the beginning, have lived under its blessed influence: For by it the elders obtained a good report, and were enabled so to walk as to obtain God's approbation of their conduct, this from the first being the divine principle on which alone any work acceptable to God could ever be performed.
3. One of the first articles of faith is this, That the worlds were framed by the word of God, who spake them into being, when nothing existed before; so that the things which are seen, even all the visible objects of creation, were not made of things which do appear, but from that chaotic mass, which was originally brought into being at the word of the Almighty.
2nd, The apostle begins to instance the power of divine faith in many of the eminent servants of God, and he begins with the antediluvian worthies.
1. Abel. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, who only brought of the fruit of the ground, but offered no atoning sacrifice in acknowledgment of his sins; whilst Abel to his mincha, or meat-offering, added the blood of the firstlings of his flock, the type of the great atonement whereon his faith relied; by which he obtained witness of God that he was righteous, either by some visible token, as fire from heaven on his sacrifice, or by the witness of the Spirit in his heart, God testifying of his works, that they were accepted through the righteousness of faith; and by it he being dead, yet speaketh; the record of it in the scripture instructs us, that, since the fall of man, the only way of access to God is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; and also that vengeance awaits the murderer and persecutor, against whom the blood of innocence and the cries of oppression call for judgment. Note; (1.) The only access to God for sinners, from the beginning, was through the blood of Jesus. (2.) There is a great difference between those who worship God in formality, and those who worship him in faith. It is not the act, but the way and the spirit in which we present our prayers, which makes the acceptable offering. (3.) They who are righteous by faith, and have obtained witness from God, may expect the world's enmity. The first most eminent saint recorded in scripture, was a martyr for religion.
2. Enoch. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, caught up to the paradise of God in body and soul, instantly undergoing the change that fitted him for an eternal mansion in glory; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation to the realms of bliss, he had this testimony, that he pleased God, in a course of humble and holy walking under the influence of divine faith in the expected seed of the woman; see Jude 1:14-15. But without faith it is impossible to please God: for he that cometh to God, in any act of religious worship, must believe that he is such as he hath revealed himself to the sons of men; and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, in the use of all the ordinances which he hath appointed. Note; (1.) No service can please God, but what springs from faith as its origin. (2.) God is the portion and exceeding great reward of all his faithful people. (3.) There are appointed means, in which God hath told us, they who wait upon him shall assuredly obtain his blessing; and in the use of them we cannot be too diligent.
3. Noah. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, which reason could never have suggested, nor mortal known but by divine revelation, moved with fear and religious awe at the apprehension of the approaching judgments, prepared an ark according to God's direction, in defiance of the scoffs of the men of that generation, to the saving of his house from the approaching deluge; by the which he condemned the world; his preaching and labours in building the ark witnessed against that unbelieving world who paid no regard to his works or word during the space of a hundred and twenty years, and thus he left them without excuse; while he himself became hereby heir of the righteousness which is by faith, entitled to the salvation which the infinite merit of that Redeemer in the fulness of time should purchase, whom the ark represented and he by faith apprehended. Note; (1.) God sends his warnings before his judgments: the latter come not till the former have been despised. (2.) Faith begets holy fears, silences all objections, and sets us to work for God in defiance of all opposition. (3.) They who will ever be saved from the deluge of wrath, must by faith take shelter in Christ their ark, for out of him there is no hope.
3rdly, From the antediluvian patriarchs the apostle passes on to consider the case of the great father of the faithful, an example that should have peculiar weight with those who valued themselves on being his descendants.
1. He mentions Abraham's call. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out from the land of his nativity into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed without hesitation, fully persuaded of the truth, power, and grace of God to fulfil his promises: and he went out, under divine guidance, and trusting on divine direction; not knowing whither he went, neither the country itself, nor the way which led to it. Note; (1.) Implicit faith is due to God's word; and though we know not how, yet we may be assured, however improbable it may appear to sense and reason, it shall be fulfilled in the appointed season. (2.) They who would go to the heavenly Canaan, must, at God's call, come forth out of a world that lieth in wickedness.
2. His sojourning in Canaan. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, though proprietor of it by the divine grant, yet not holding the least part in possession; dwelling in tabernacles, without any settled abode, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise, Jacob being fifteen years old at Abraham's death. For he looked for a city which hath foundations, even the state of eternal glory above, which is represented as a city, (Revelation 22:14.) whose builder and maker is God, he having prepared the heavenly mansions for all his faithful saints. Note; (1.) The saints of God are here resident in tabernacles of clay, but mansions of glory await them in a better world. (2.) Faith, which realizes our hopes above, necessarily draws forth our affections and desires after that blest world to which we are tending. (3.) All the trials of this mortal state will be regarded by us as light and transient, when we abidingly keep in view the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
3. The faith of Sarah is observed as closely connected with that of her husband Abraham. Through faith also Sarah herself, though naturally barren, and now past the time of child-bearing, received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, being ninety years old; because notwithstanding she at first hesitated and laughed, as if the thing was impossible or improbable, yet her faith soon got the better of her unbelief; for she judged him faithful who had promised, and that he was able to perform what he had said. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead through old age, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea-shore innumerable. Note; Nothing is impossible with God: when he promises, we may trust, and not be afraid.
4. These all, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob, died in faith, not having received the promises, neither possessing the land of Canaan, nor having seen the Messiah incarnate; but they rested in the fullest assurance that what God had spoken, was as good as done, and sure in the event, having seen them afar off, looking forward to the distant ages when the time of their accomplishment should arrive; and were as fully persuaded of them as if they had lived to see them fulfilled, and embraced them with confidence and holy joy; and, under the influence of them, confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, regarding themselves as such, looking for their heavenly home, and living above the world on the glorious hopes which God through Christ had given to them. For they that say such things, and professedly and practically die to the world, declare plainly that they seek a country, and took to a better world as their native land. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned to Ur of the Chaldees again; but now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly, even that inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, which God in Christ, as their covenant God, had revealed unto them, and which they by faith embraced. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, in a peculiar and most endeared relation: for he hath prepared for them a city, a glorious abode with himself, eternal in the heavens. Note; (1.) In this world we live by faith, not by sight; and yet the certain approach of the promised inheritance can even here, as if possessed, fill us with joy and peace in believing. (2.) True faith has ever this effect, to make us overcome the world, and live as strangers and pilgrims on the earth; we place not our affections upon it, but pass through it as a foreign land, with a holy indifference about its gains, honours, or interests; contentedly put up with any accommodations which we meet with, hasten on with diligence towards our native home, consort with our own countrymen who are travelling the same road and speak the same language, and are happy the nearer we arrive to that land where our affections are placed, and whither our footsteps bend. (3.) The heavenly country may well be the object of the believer's desires, when every thing there is so infinitely preferable to what can ever be found in this miserable world. (4.) They who perseveringly live in faith, will die in faith; that which carries them victorious through the conflicts of life, will make them triumphant over the terrors of death. (5.) If God be our God, therein is comprehended all possible blessedness: more the heart cannot desire, nor imagination conceive.
5. The apostle returns to mention another and the most eminent instance of Abraham's faith. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, as never mortal was before, to prove the strength and truth of his faith and obedience, offered up Isaac, took every step which evidenced his intention fully to comply with the divine command (see Genesis 22:0.): and he that had received the promises, offered up his only-begotten son, in whom alone these promises were to have been fulfilled; of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called; amidst innumerable objections, which sense, reason, nature, even religion, might seem to suggest, he staggered not: looking to the uplifted knife, we still shudder with horror and distress; and what must he then feel that stands ready to plunge it in that dear sacrifice, thy son, thy only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest! We start from the scene; but Abraham dares obey; his faith triumphed over every suggestion, accounting, (λογισαμενος, ) reasoning and concluding from the most substantial grounds of evidence, that God, by whose command he knew with the most infallible assurance that he now acted, was able to raise him up even from the dead, from whence also he received him in a figure; he knew that God could as easily re-animate Isaac on the altar, as produce him from the bodies of his parents, that were, in this respect, as good as dead; and he rested in the fullest confidence that the divine promise should somehow or other receive its accomplishment. Note; (1.) God knows the purposes that are in the hearts of his people; and what they design in obedience to his will, he regards as acts really performed. (2.) Where God commands, we must stop our ears to all the reasoning of unbelief, fear and selfishness. Duty is ours; events are in his disposal. (3.) Isaac was the figure and type of the death and resurrection of Christ. (4.) We marvel at Abraham's obedience to God's command, though his son is spared; with what astonishment and wonder then should we contemplate the love of God, who spared NOT his own son, but even for us sinners gave him up to death, even the death of the cross?
4thly, The apostle proceeds to other eminent instances of faith.
1. Isaac. He had been mentioned before; another instance of his faith is given, when, in the confidence of the promise, he left his parting benediction with his children, and by divine determination, though undesignedly, being blind, conveyed the principal blessing to his younger son. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come; to Esau he gave the fatness of the earth, but to Jacob the unspeakable honour of being a progenitor of the Messiah.
2. Jacob. By faith in the promises of God to Abraham, Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph, by a prophetic spirit foretelling the superior greatness of Ephraim, crossing his hands designedly that his right hand might rest on the head of the youngest; and worshipped God, leaning upon the top of his staff. Note; (1.) The worship of God will be the faithful believer's exercise to the last: when old age and weakness will not permit him to bend his knees, he will still bow upon his bed, or lean upon his staff, and pour out his humble prayer. (2.) Patents cannot more properly finish their course than by leaving with their children, that surround their dying beds, the profession of their faith, and their final benediction.
3. Joseph. By faith Joseph, when he died, firmly persuaded of that inheritance in Canaan which was assigned to Abraham and his seed, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel out of Egypt, and gave commandment concerning his bones, solemnly charging them, under the sanction of an oath, that, when in the expected future day they departed to possess the promised land, his bones might be carried thither. The dust of Canaan was more eligible in his eyes than the noblest sepulchres of Egypt. Note; The testimony of dying saints to the truth of God's promises, is a happy means to confirm the faith of their surviving brethren.
4. The parents of Moses. By faith Moses, when he was born, ordained to be the great lawgiver and deliverer of Israel, and a most eminent type of Jesus their spiritual Redeemer, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child, or fair to God, eminently beautiful, and probably some divine tokens appeared of his future greatness; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment, though, if discovered, their lives had paid for their disobedience to his bloody edict. They were persuaded that by a Hebrew, God would work their deliverance; and probably by some divine intimation perceived that this child should be the person. Note; (1.) When parents are eminent for their faith, there is a happy prospect that their children will rise up heirs of the same grace. (2.) In days of suffering we may lawfully use every prudent means for our preservation. (3.) An ingenuous countenance often bespeaks the ingenuous mind.
5. Moses. Much is spoken of him; for he is famous among the worthies, and has his name in the first rank. Four eminent instances of his faith are here recorded.
[1.] By faith in the promises made to his ancestors, and in the blessings of a better world, Moses, when he was come to years, arrived at maturity, highly honoured, and eminent for wisdom and learning, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, with all the dignities and advantages thence arising, perhaps even of succeeding to the throne of Egypt; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, as a despised Hebrew, than to enjoy all the glories of the highest human grandeur, and the pleasures of sin, however alluring, which are but for a season, and must in their issue plunge both body and soul into eternal misery; esteeming the reproach of Christ, and all the contempt, scorn, and persecutions, which for the sake of their fidelity to his worship, and faith in his promises, Israel endured, greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, and what in the issue would prove unspeakably his gain in the eternal world; for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward, and looked off from the tempting objects of a flattering but deceitful world, to the substantial portion which he expected in the enjoyment of God for ever and ever. Note; (1.) Faith appears then most gloriously triumphant over the world, when, in the midst of greatness and grandeur, the soul can look down on these trifles, and be ready to part with all for the sake of Christ and his cause. (2.) The pleasures of sin, of the sweetest sin, are momentary; but the punishment of them is eternal. They judge therefore as wisely as religiously, who live in holy self-denial. (3.) As the greatest advantages cannot pay us for the least sin, so are the greatest sufferings to be chosen rather than to offend God; and we shall never see cause to regret what we forego or endure for our fidelity to him. (4.) The reproach of Christ is our truest honour: far from being ashamed of it, we should glory therein as our greatest riches. (5.) There is a recompence of reward, the prospect of which should ever animate our souls, and teach us to count every thing else comparatively as dung and dross, so that we may but gain the glorious prize.
[2.] By faith he forsook Egypt, carrying up with him the children of Israel, confident of the Lord's protection, and not fearing the wrath of the enraged king, nor the mighty hosts with which he pursued them in their way; for he endured undismayed and unshaken, as seeing him who is invisible, higher than the kings of the earth, and able to save to the uttermost. Note; (1.) They who will be faithful to God, must expect troubles, and be fearless of the wrath of man. (2.) A believing view of the invisible God will strengthen us, amidst all present difficulties, steadily to persevere.
[3.] Through faith in God's deliverance of his people from Egypt, and of the greater redemption which should be obtained for Israel by the Lamb of God, the great Messiah, he kept the passover, and observed the peculiar rite then enjoined of the sprinkling of the blood on the door-posts of their houses; lest he that destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians, should touch them, if the blood prevented not his entrance. Note; (1.) Christ is our passover. (2.) His blood upon our consciences is our only protection from the wrath of God.
[4.] By faith in the power and promise of God, Moses stretched forth his rod, and the divided waters opened a passage for the discouraged hosts of Israel; and under his guidance, while he led the way, they passed through the Red-Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians daringly assaying to do, were drowned, the waters closing upon them, and every man of that terrible host perished. Note; They who persecute God's Israel, only rush upon their own ruin.
6. By faith, which Joshua, Caleb, and others exercised in God's power and veracity, the walls of Jericho fell down of their own accord, when they blew and shouted, after they were compassed about seven days, according to the divine command. Note; (l.) When God is for us, all opposition must fall before us. (2.) The weakest means in his hands are sufficient to bring about the greatest events.
7. Rahab, a woman, a Canaanite, brings up the rear of these faithful worthies: By faith in the promise that God would assuredly give the land of Canaan to the Israelites, the harlot Rahab, now turned unto God, whose grace abounds toward the chief of sinners who return to him, perished not with them that believed not, of the Canaanites; but with her whole family was preserved, when she had given that real proof of her faith, in that she received, concealed, and dismissed the spies of Israel in peace. Note; (1.) The ruin of sinners is their unbelief. (2.) They who cleave to God's people, and faithfully determine to share their weal and woe, will never have reason to repent their choice.
5thly, Unable to enter particularly into the case of every eminent believer recorded in the Old Testament, the apostle recites a cluster of distinguished names, and of the mighty effects which their faith produced.
1. He recites some of their distinguished names. And what shall I more say, when the field is so vast? For the time would fail me, if I enlarged on every individual,—to tell of Gideon and his noble exploits, recorded (Judges vi, vii, 8:;) and of Barak, who before him was eminent for his faith and victory, (Judges 4:0.) and of Sampson, in life and death so signally remarkable, (Judges 14:19; Judges 16:27-30.) and of Jephthae, before whose faith the routed Ammonites fell, (Judges 11:23-33.) and of David also, so famous in sacred history for dependance on God, (2 Samuel 23:0 l-5.) and Samuel, and of the prophets, who acted and suffered so nobly in the cause of God and truth, under the mighty influence of divine faith.
2. He mentions many of the glorious acts of faith, which these and other worthies like them, shewed; and any one conversant in the book of God may apply them to several there recorded: Who (1.) through faith subdued kingdoms, as Joshua, David, &c. (2.) Wrought righteousness in their private and public capacities, governing with equity; and in their conversation were examples of every thing good and gracious: (3.) Obtained promises, God remarkably appearing for them, as he had assured them he would in the hour of trial: (4.) Stopped the mouths of lions, as David, Sampson, Daniel; and still the same faith will produce the same effects, in stopping the mouth of the old lion, that he cannot devour: (5.) Quenched the violence of fire, so as to remain unhurt in the midst of the flames, (Daniel 3:13-27.) (6.) Escaped the edge of the sword, when in the most imminent danger of their lives: (7.) Out of weakness were made strong, their national affairs restored from the nearest prospect of ruin; their bodily health recovered, when their disease seemed desperate, (2 Kings 20:1-7.) and though, in comparison with their foes, weak as infancy, yet, in divine strength, they became more than conquerors: (8.) Waxed valiant in fight, and, trusting in the Lord, marvellously overcame in the day of battle: (9.) Turned to flight the armies of the aliens, though more, and, to human view, incomparably mightier than they: (10.) Women received their dead raised to life again, as in the cases of the widow of Zarephath and the Shunamite: and with respect to the power of faith, as evident in the most acute sufferings, we read that, (11.) Others were tortured, willingly submitting to the most dreadful torments, not accepting deliverance, when only to be obtained at the price of their conscience and some base compliances, rather welcoming death itself than deny the faith, that they might obtain a better resurrection, the prospect of eternal glory raising them superior to all the pangs of nature, and all the terrors of death: (12.) And others had trial of cruel mockings, ridiculed, treated as despicable, and loaded with every opprobrious name; and withal smarted under severe scourgings, yea, moreover, endured the pain and shame of bonds and imprisonment: such has been the portion of saints, more or less, in every age: (13.) They were murdered in a variety of ways: They were some of them stoned; they were sawn asunder, as the Jewish traditions affirm Isaiah was, at the command of the cruel Manasseh; they were tempted to deny their profession and save their lives, by complying with the commands of their persecutors; they were slain with the sword of tyrants and blood-thirsty men; and, where some escaped the fury of their foes by flight, their life was embittered as far as man could embitter it, and made scarcely preferable to death itself: for, (14.) They wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, having no better covering to protect them from the inclemency of the skies, being destitute of any abode, of clothes, and necessary food, afflicted with various miseries, and tormented with endless insults and abuses, (of whom indeed the world was not worthy,) nor deserved so great a blessing as their examples, prayers, and admonitions; and by the wicked they were treated as unfit for human society, and driven out from among men to dreary solitudes; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth, seeking refuge among wild beasts, more hospitable than their savage persecutors; and in the midst of all their sufferings, faith enabled them to persevere, and brought them at last to their eternal rest. For,
3. Their faith was at last crowned with the enjoyment of that Redeemer in whom they trusted. These all having obtained a good report through faith, enrolled in the sacred records as names held up for imitation to the latest ages, received not the promise, saw not that Messiah incarnate in whom their faith centered; God having provided some better thing for us, the manifestation of his Son in the flesh, to whom they had constantly respect, that they without us should not be made perfect; since not by the legal sacrifices, but by the offering of the body of Jesus, both their sins and ours were expiated; and by the same grace revealed in us by his Spirit, we may be saved under our higher dispensation with a greater and more complete salvation. According therefore to the peculiar advantages which we enjoy under the gospel, a peculiar obligation is laid upon us, that our faith should be suitably operative, engaging us to all cheerful obedience, and making us willing sufferers for our Redeemer's sake.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent