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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. On the senses in which the word ὑπόστασις (translated "substance") may be used, see under Hebrews 1:2. As to the sense intended here, views differ. There are three possible ones, expressed in the text and margin of the A.V., substance, ground, and confidence. The first is understood by the Fathers generally, the idea being supposed to be that, inasmuch as things not yet experienced, but only hoped for, become real to us by faith, faith is metaphysically their substance, as substantiating them to us. So Theophilus: Οὐσίωσις τῶν μήπω ὄντων ὑπόστασις τῶν μὴ ὑφεστηκότων: and Chrysostom, who illustrates thus: "The resurrection has not yet taken place, but faith substantiates (ὑφίστησιν) it in our souls." So also Dante, following St. Thomas Aquinas, in a striking passage quoted by Delitzsch ('Paradise,' 24.70-75)—
"Le profonde cose
Che mi largiscon qui la lor parvenza
Agli occhi di laggiu son si nascose,
Che l'esser lore ve in sola credenza,
Sovra la qual si fondu Palta spene:
E pero di sustanza prende Fintenza."
"The things profound
That here vouch safe to me their apparition
From all eyes here below are so concealed
That all their being is in faith alone,
Upon the which high hope doth base itself:
And therefore faith assumes the place of substance."
The rendering ground, which involves only the simpler idea of faith being the foundation on which hope is built, has not much support from the use of the word elsewhere, nor does it seem suitable here. For it is not the things hoped for, but rather our hopes of them that are grounded on our faith. The subjective sense, confidence, or assurance, is most in favor with modern commentators, principally as being the most usual one (cf. Hebrews 3:14; 2Co 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:17; also Psalms 38:11, Ἡ ὑπόστασις μου παρὰ σοῦ ἔστιν: Ezekiel 19:5, Ἀπώλετο ἡ ὑπόστασις αὐτῆς: Ruth 1:12, Ἔστι μοι ὑπόστασις τοῦ γενεθῆναι με ἀνδρί). One objection to this sense of the word here is that it is usually followed, when so intended, by a genitive of rite person, not of the thing; though Ruth 1:12 is an instance to the contrary. But apart from this consideration, the consensus of the Greek Fathers is a weighty argument for the retention of the rendering of the A.V. Either rendering, be it observed, gives the same essential meaning, though under different mental conceptions. Faith is further said to be the evidence of things not seen; ἔλεγχος meaning, not as some take it, inward conviction of their existence, but in itself a demonstration, serving the purpose of argument to induce conviction. So Dante, in continuation of the passage quoted above—
"E da questa credenza ci conviene
Sillogizar senza avere ultra visa;
E pero intenza d'argomento tiene."
"And from this credence it is fit and right
To syllogize, though other sight be none:
Therefore faith holds the place of argument."
Is this meant as a definition of faith, or only a description of its effect and operation, with especial regard to the subject in hand? Virtually a definition, though not in the strict logical form of one. At any rate, "the constituents and essential characteristics of faith are here laid down" (Delitzsch); i.e. of faith in its most general sense—that of belief in such things, whether past, present, or future, as are not known by experience, and cannot be logically demonstrated. "Licet quidam dicant praedicta apostoli verba non esse fidei definitionem, quia definitio indicat rei quidditatem et essentiam, tamen si quis recte consideret, omnia ex quibus fides potest definiri in praedicta descriptione tanguntur, licet verba non ordinentur sub forma definitionis" (St. Thomas Aquinas, 'Secunda Secundae,' qu. 4, art. 1). Faith, in the general sense indicated, is and has ever been, as the chapter goes on to show, the very root and inspiring principle of all true religion. And be it observed that, if well grounded, it is not irrational; it would rather be irrational to disregard it, or suppose it opposed to reason. Even in ordinary affairs of life, and in science too, men act, and must act, to a great extent on faith; it is essential for success, and certainly for all great achievements—faith in the testimony and authority of others whom we can trust, faith in views and principles not yet verified by our own experience, faith in the expected outcome of right proceeding, faith with respect to a thousand things which we take on trust, and so make ventures, on the ground, not of positive proof, but of more or less assured conviction. Religious faith is the same principle, though exercised in a higher sphere; and it may be as well grounded as any on which irreligious men are acting daily. Various feelings and considerations may conspire to induce it: the very phenomena of the visible universe, which, though themselves objects of sense, speak to the soul of a Divinity beyond them; still more, conscience, recognized as a Divine voice within us, and implying a Power above us to whom we are responsible; then all our strange yearnings after ideals not yet realized, our innate sense that righteousness ought to triumph over iniquity, as in our disordered world it does not yet;—which things are in themselves prophetic; and, in addition to all this, the general human belief in Deity. And when, further, a revelation has been given, its answering to our already felt needs and aspirations, together with the usual considerations on which we give credence to testimony, induces faith in it also, and in the things by it revealed; natural faith is thus confirmed, and faith in other verities is borne in upon the soul; which is further itself confirmed by experience of the effects of entertaining it. In some minds, as is well known, and these of the highest order, such faith may amount to certitude, rendering the "things unseen" more real to them than "the things that do appear." It cannot be said that to accept such faith as evidence is contrary to reason; our not doing so would be to put aside as meaning nothing the deepest, the most spiritual, the most elevating faculties of our mysterious nature, by means of which, no less than by our other faculties, we are constituted so as to apprehend the truth. And we may observe, lastly, that even to those who have not themselves this "fullness of faith," its very existence in others, including so many of the great and good, may surely be rationally accepted as evidence of realities corresponding to it.
For in this (i.e. faith, ἐν ταύτῃ) the elders obtained a good report; literally were witnessed of; i.e. it was in respect of their faith, which inspired their deeds, that they were praised. (For a similar use of the preposition ἐν, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:22, ἐπαινέσω ἐν, τούτῳ). Thus is introduced the illustrative review of Old Testament instances, the purpose of which has been explained above. It begins from the beginning, Abel being the first example. But in the Old Testament the account of the creation precedes that first recorded instance; and, therefore, it is in the first place fittingly referred to, the existence of an unseen creative power mentally perceived beyond things visible, being the primary article—the very foundation—of all religious faith (cf. below, Hebrews 11:6).
By faith we perceive that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen (or, that which is seen) have (or, has) not been made of things which do appear. "By the word of God" has reference to "and God said," of Genesis 1:1-1.1.31., which chapter enunciates the primary article of all definite religions faith, viz. the existence and operation of God, as the unseen Author of the visible universe. Even without a revelation to declare this, faith's office is to apprehend it from observation of the phenomena themselves; as is intimated in Romans 1:20, where even to the Greek "the invisible things of God from the creation of the world" are said to be "clearly seen, being understood [νοούμενα: cf νοοῦμεν in the passage before us] by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." The drift of both passages is the same, viz. this, and no more—that faith recognizes an unseen power and Godhead behind, and accounting for, the seen universe. Commentators, who—taking μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων as equivalent to ἐκ μὴ φαινομένων, and hence seeking to explain what is meant by "non-apparent things"—perceive here a reference either to the formless void (Genesis 1:2) out of which the present creation was evolved, or to the Platonic conception of eternal ideas in the Divine mind, read into the text what is not there.
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which (i.e. faith, not sacrifice, "faith" being the ruling idea of the whole passage) he obtained witness (literally, was witnessed of) that he was righteous, God testifying of (literally, witnessing upon, or, in respect to) his gifts: and through it (faith) he being dead yet speaketh. In the traditions preserved in Genesis of the dim and distant antediluvian period, three figures stand out prominently as representing the righteous seed in the midst of growing evil—Abel, Enoch, and Noah. These are, therefore, first adduced with the view of showing that it is in respect of faith that they are thus distinguished in the sacred record. With respect to Abel, it is not necessary to inquire or conjecture whether the bloody character of his offering is to be considered as constituting its superior excellence. The record in Genesis simply represents the two brothers as offering each what he had to offer in accordance with his occupation and pursuits, the only difference being that Abel is said to, have offered his firstlings and the fat thereof, while nothing is said of Cain having brought his first fruits or his best. Then, in the account of the result, we are only told that unto one the LORD had respect, and not to the other, without mention of the reason why. It is usual to find a reason in the nature of Abel's offering as signifying atonement, and to suppose his faith manifested in his recognition of the need of such atonement, signified to him, as has been further supposed, by Divine command. This view of the intention of the narrative is indeed suggested by the description of what his offering was, viewed in the light of subsequent sacrificial theory; but it is not apparent in the narrative taken by itself, or in the reference to it in the passage before us. The acceptableness of the offering is here simply attributed, as of necessity, to the faith of the offerer, without any intimation of how that faith had been evinced. And with this view of the matter agrees the record itself, where it is said that "unto Abel and his offering the LORD had respect;" i.e. to Abel first, and then to his offering—the offering was accepted because Abel was, not Abel on account of his kind of offering. "Crone quod datur Deo ex dantis mente pensatur … Neque enim sacrum eloquimn dicit, Respexit ad munera Abel et ad Cain mqnera non respexit, sed prius air quid respexit ad Abel, ac deinde subjunxit, 'et ad munera ejus.' Idcirco non Abel ex muneribus, sed ex Abel munera oblata placuerunt" (St. Gregory, quoted by Delitzsch). "And he being dead," etc., refers plainly to Genesis 4:10, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." The same voice of innocent blood, which appealed at the beginning of human history to the God of righteousness, cries still through all the ages; it sounds in our own cars now, telling us that faith prevails on high, and that "right dear in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." Cf. Hebrews 12:24 for an allusion again to the cry of the blood of Abel. The word αλεῖν is there also used, supporting the reading λαλεῖ, rather than the λαλεῖται of the Textus Receptus here.
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; literally, hath been witnessed of that he had been well-pleasing to God. The allusion is, of course, to the testimony in Genesis (Genesis 5:24), the LXX. being closely followed, which has, Εὐηρέστησεν Ἐνὼχ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ οὐχ ηὑρέσκετο διότι μετέθηκεν ἀυτον Ὁ Θεός, whereas the literal translation of our Hebrew text is, "Enoch walked with God; and he was not, because God took him."
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. The purpose of this verse, in connection with the conclusion of the last, is to show that the Scripture record does imply faith in Enoch, though there is no mention of it there by name: it is of necessity involved in the phrase, εὐηρέστεσε τῷ Θεῷ. The expression in the Hebrew, "walked with God" (be it observed), involves it equally; so that the argument is not affected by the quotation being kern the LXX.
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear (εὐλαβηθεὶς), prepared an ark to the saving of his house; through which (i.e. faith) he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (κατὰ πίστιν). The "things not seen as yet" were the divinely predicted events of the Deluge. The word εὐλαβηθεὶς (translated as above in the A.V) is taken by many commentators as implying godly fear, a sentiment of piety, with reference to the previous χρηματισθεὶς, since the noun εὐλαβεία seems to have this special sense in Hebrews 12:28, μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας (see what was said under Hebrews 12:7, where the word occurred); so too the adjective, εὐλαβὴς, Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5; Acts 8:2. Hence the emendation, "moved with godly fear," in the recent "Revised Version." But, inasmuch as the verb εὐλαβείσθαι has in the New Testament, as elsewhere, only its original import of caution or circumspection, there is no need to suppose here a further meaning (cf. Acts 23:10, the only other passage in the New Testament where the verb occurs). Ebrard, taking only prudent forethought to be expressed, enlarges on the lesson thus conveyed to the effect that he who acts on simple faith, regardless of the world's opinion or of ridicule, is the one who is truly prudent. And we may add that such prudence legitimately comes in as a motive in the religious life. The antecedent of "which" (δἰ ἧς), though the ancients generally understand κιβωτὸν, is taken as above by most moderns; the reason being, not only that faith (see in Acts 8:4) is the ruling idea of the whole passage, but also that it suits better the expressed results, especially the second, "became heir," etc. For to say that he became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith through the ark, as being the evidence of his faith, or as being the means of his preservation, is less intelligible than to say that through faith he became so. The sense in which Noah "condemned the world" is illustrated by Matthew 12:41, Matthew 12:42, "The men of Nineveh," etc., "The queen of the South," etc. (cf. Romans 2:27). His becoming "heir," etc., rests on the view of the fulfillment of primeval promise being transmitted as an inheritance to the faithful. Noah, as he appears in Genesis, was eminently heir in this sense, as alone in his day appropriating it and as transmitting it to his seed. In like manner Abraham, who is next mentioned, was the prominent heir among the subsequent patriarchs (cf. Romans 4:13). The idea running through the whole Old Testament is that, in the midst of a sinful world, an inheritance of salvation was transmitted through a chosen seed, till the Christ should come as the "Heir of all things," the perfected Head and Representative of all redeemed humanity. The word δικαιοσύνη as that of which Noah was heir, may have been suggested with reference to him by his being the first who is called δίκαιος in Genesis 6:9, and by this being his usual designation (Ezekiel 14:14, Ezekiel 14:20; Ec 44:17; Wis. 10:4, 6, Sir. 44:17; cf. 2 Peter 2:5, κήρυξ δικαιοσύνης). The whole phrase, τῆς κατὰ πίστιν δικαιοσύνης, may be taken to imply the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, which may be supposed to have been familiar to the readers of this Epistle, having been already fully enunciated by St. Paul, and dwelt on by him as especially exemplified in Abraham. St. Paul, indeed, does not use this exact phrase, but δικαιοσύνης πίστεως (Romans 4:11, Romans 4:13); ἐκ πίστεως (Romans 10:6); ἐπὶ τῆ πίστει (Philippians 3:9); but still the meaning may be the same. The correspondence is an instance of Pauline thought in this Epistle, while the difference of phrase affords a presumption, though by no means in itself conclusive, against Pauline authorship.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed (literally, when called, obeyed to go out, etc); and he went out, not knowing whither he went. The reference is to the first call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1), his obedience to which is the first instance of the faith which the whole life of the father of the faithful so eminently exemplifies. The fact of the place he was to go to being so far unrevealed (intimated only as "a land that I will show thee") enhances the faith displayed, He followed the Divine voice as it were blindly, not seeing whither it was leading him, knowing only that it was right to follow it. So to those who walk by faith now the future may be unknown or dim.
"Lead thou me on.
... I do not ask to see
The distant scene;
one step enough for me."
Hebrews 11:9, Hebrews 11:10
By faith he sojourned in (rather, went to sojourn in) the land of promise, as in a strange country (literally, as one belonging to others; i.e. not his own; "As in an alien land" (Wickliffe); cf. Genesis 23:4, "I am a stranger and sojourner with you"), dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations (literally, the foundations) whose Builder and Maker is God. Of course, here, "with Isaac and Jacob" means "as did also Isaac and Jacob." The three successive patriarchs are presented in Scripture as representing the period of nomadic life in the land of promise, not yet possessed; alike supported by faith in the Divine word; and hence they are ever grouped together (of. Genesis 28:13; Genesis 32:9; Genesis 48:15;Genesis 1:1-1.1.31. Genesis 1:24; Exodus 3:6; Deuteronomy 9:5; 1 Kings 18:36, etc; also Matthew 22:32; Luke 13:28). The meaning of their history to us, and the object of their common hope, are further set forth in Genesis 23:13-1.23.17, and will be under them considered. In the mean time an instance of Abraham's faith, peculiar to himself, is adduced.
Hebrews 11:11, Hebrews 11:12
By faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, even when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea-shore innumerable. The vitality of Abraham's faith is represented as evinced by its surviving and triumphing over a succession of trials, over apparent impossibilities. One such peculiar trial was the long delay of the birth of a legitimate heir through whom the promise of an innumerable seed might be fulfilled, and this till it seemed out of the question in the natural course of things. Yet "he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief … being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able to perform" (see Romans 4:17-45.4.23, which is a fuller statement of the idea of this verse, including the use of the words νενεκρώμενον and νέκρωσις to express effeteness, and ἐδυναμώθη, corresponding to δύναμον ἔλαβε here. This is a further instance of Pauline thought in this Epistle—ideas already enlarged on by St. Paul being taken for granted as understood) In Romans Abraham's faith in this regard is treated as typifying Christian faith in the resurrection from the dead (verse 24), as is also, in the chapter before us (verse 19), his faith displayed on the occasion of the offering of Isaac. For to us also our inability to conceive the mode of accomplishment of what well-grounded faith assures us of is no just cause for staggering. "How are the dead raised up? and with what kind of body do they come?" was asked by the Corinthian doubters. St. Paul directs them, in reply, to faith in "the power of God" to accomplish his purposes and fulfill his promises in ways unknown to us, transcending, though analogous to, the mysterious processes of nature that we see before our eyes. For "with God all things are possible." Sarah is here joined with Abraham, as also "receiving power" by faith, i.e. her own faith, as the structure of verse 11 seems evidently to imply. But how is this consistent with the account of her in Genesis, where she is nowhere held up as an example of faith; nay, is censured for incredulity (Genesis 18:12-1.18.16) with respect to the promise cf. offspring? The answer may be that her temporary unbelief is concluded to have been succeeded by faith, as proved by the result, viz. that she "received power." And, indeed, her laughter recorded in Genesis 18:1-1.18.33, does not seem intended to imply any permanent "heart of unbelief;" for even Abraham had laughed as she did when the same announcement had been previously made to him (Genesis 17:17), and the "laughter" associated with her memory has quite a different meaning given it when that of temporary incredulity was changed into that of joy on the birth of the promised son, who was consequently called Isaac (equivalent to "laughter"). It is, however, Abraham himself who is put prominently before us as the great example of faith; Sarah is only introduced by his side (with the words καὶ αὐτὴ) as sharing it and cooperating to the result. To him singly the writer returns in Genesis 18:12, Διὸ καὶ ἀφ ἑνὸς, etc.
These all (i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the nomadic patriarchs, not in-eluding the antediluvian heroes, to whom what is further said does not apply) died in faith (literally, according to faith, κατὰ πίστιν, as in Hebrews 11:7), not having received the promises, but having seen and greeted them from afar off (omitting the ill-supported καὶ πεισθέντες of the Textus Receptus), and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. The reference is to the confession of Abraham to the sons of Heth (Genesis 23:1-1.23.20. Genesis 23:4), "I am a stranger and a sojourner with yon," together with Jacob's words to Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9), "The days of the years of my pilgrimage," etc. The import of such confession, intimated in the preceding part of the verse, is now educed.
For they that say such things declare plainly (or, make manifest ) that they seek a country (i.e. a native country, a fatherland, πατρίδα). And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now (i.e. as it is) they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God (see refs. under Hebrews 11:9): for he hath prepared for them a city. In consideration of the drift of the whole of this interesting and suggestive passage (Hebrews 11:9, Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:13-58.11.17), the question arises whether the patriarchs are represented as actually themselves looking forward to a heavenly inheritance. In their history as given in Genesis, as, indeed, in the Old Testament generally (at any rate, in the earlier books), there is, as is well known, no distinct recognition of the life to come. The promise to Abraham seems to imply only an innumerable seed, its possession as a great nation of the earthly land of promise, and through it some undefined blessing to all the families of the earth. Nor are the patriarchs represented as looking forward to a fulfillment of the promise beyond the limits of the present world. Even so their history is singularly instructive. They lived in hope of things not seen through faith in the Divine promise. The very fact that they were content to die without themselves attaining, if so God's purpose might be accomplished to their seed, invests them with a peculiar grandeur of unselfishness. Their faith was essentially the same principle as that of Christians, even though the final object of Christian hope were hidden from their eyes; while their dwelling in tents as strangers, and the home and city seen afar off, are apt emblems of the present life and the heavenly citizenship of Christians. It may be that this is all that is intended in the Epistle, the history being allegorized, as that of Isaac and Ishmael is in the Epistle to the Galatians. If so, the apparent attribution of a heavenly hope to the patriarchs themselves must be accounted for by a blending of the actual history with its ideal meaning, such as was observed in the chapter about Melchizedek. But it is difficult to understand the expressions used as implying no more than this. Abraham is said to have himself looked for the "city that hath the foundations," of which God is the Builder—a description which cannot but denote the "heavenly Jerusalem," of which the city whose foundations were on the holy hills below is regarded elsewhere as but a type and emblem (cf. Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 13:14; Galatians 4:26; Revelation 21:14; also infra, Hebrews 8:2, where ἢν ἔπηξεν ὁ Θεὸς is said of the heavenly tabernacle). This interpretation is further supported by our finding in Philo similar views of a heavenly counterpart to Jerusalem as the final object of Israel's hope. Again, the country desired by the patriarchs is, in verse 16, distinctly called a heavenly one. Nor is the view at all untenable that, notwithstanding the silence of the ancient record on the subject, they did look forward to a life after death with God, seeing in the promised earthly inheritance an emblem and earnest of a heavenly one. Well known is Bishop Warburton's argument that a belief in a future state, which was so ancient and universal, and so prominent especially in the religion of Egypt must almost of necessity have been shared in by the race of Abraham, and hence that the silence about it in the Mosaic record must be due, not to its absence from the creed of Israel, but to the peculiar purpose of the Mosaic dispensation. Worthy of attention also are Dean Stanley's words (Lect. 7. on 'Jewish Church') "Not from want of religion, but (if one might use the expression) from excess of religion, was this void left. The future life was not denied or contradicted, but it was overlooked, set aside, overshadowed, by the consciousness of the living, actual presence of God himself." £But though such void there is, however to be accounted for, there are still, even in the Pentateuch (as certainly in the Psalms and prophets), occasional glimpses of the hope of immortality. The mystic tree of life in the midst of the garden, the predicted bruising, of the serpent's head, the mystery of Enoch's departure from the world, and notably (as our Lord himself points out) God still calling himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob after they had been long ago gathered to their fathers, are intimations, even in the Pentateuch, of a belief in man's immortal hopes. And it may be added, with reference to the history immediately before us, that Jacob's application of the idea of his being a" sojourner "—used by Abraham with reference to the abode in Palestine—to the whole course of his life upon the earth, in itself suggests the meaning attached to such language in the Epistle. Hence no violence is done to the meaning of the history rather it may be that its deeper meaning is brought out, if the patriarchs are regarded as entertaining a hope of a heavenly inheritance to themselves, and seeing beyond the earthly types. But even f we suppose such immortal hopes as having been in them at the most but vague and dim, still their faith in and longing for a fulfillment of the promise in any sense was really a longing and reaching after the eternal realities which the first fulfillment typified. Compare the view taken in Hebrews 4:1-58.4.16. of the meaning of "God's rest." Delitzsch thus enunciates this view of the passage before us: "The promise given to the patriarchs was a Divine assurance of a future rest. That rest was connected, in the first instance, with the future possession of an earthly home; but their desire for that home was at the same time a longing and a seeking after Him who had given the promise of it, whoso presence and blessing alone made it for them an object of desire, and whose presence and blessing, however vouchsafed, makes the place of its manifestation to be indeed a heaven. The shell of their longing might thus be of earth; its kernel was heavenly and Divine, and as such God himself vouchsafed to honor and reward it."
From the general mode of life of the patriarchs the review now passes to particular acts of faith, beginning with Abraham's memorable one, the offering of Isaac.
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up (literally, hath offered up, denoting an accomplished act of which the significance continues) Isaac: and he that had received (rather, accepted, implying his own assent and belief) the promises offered up his only begotten son, he to whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. The above rendering varies slightly from the A.V. in Hebrews 11:18, Hebrews 11:19. For, in Hebrews 11:18, πρὸς ὃν is more naturally connected with the immediate antecedent, ὁ ἀναδεξάμενος, than with μονογενῆ: and, in Hebrews 11:19, there is no need to supply "him" after ἐγείρειν: the Greek seems obviously to express belief in God's general power to raise from the dead, not his power in that instance only. The offering of Isaac (specially instanced also by St. James, if. 21), stands out as the crowning instance of Abraham's faith. The very son, so king expected, and at length, as it were, supernaturally given,—he in whose single life was bound up all hope of fulfillment of the promise, was to be sacrificed after all, and so seemingly all hope cut off. Yet Abraham is represented as not hesitating for a moment to do in simple faith what seemed God's will, and still not wavering in his hope of a fulfillment somehow. Such faith is here regarded as virtually faith in God's power even to raise the dead. (For a similar view of Abraham's faith as representing "the hope and resurrection of the dead," comp. Romans 4:17, Romans 4:24) The expression, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (literally, "In Isaac shall be called to thee a seed"), quoted from Genesis 21:12, means, not that the seed should be called after the name of Isaac, but that the seed to be called Abraham's should be in Isaac, i.e. his issue. The concluding phrase, "Whence also he received him in a figure" (literally, "in a parable," ἐν παραβολῇ), has been variously interpreted. Notwithstanding the authority of many modern common-taters, we may certainly reject the view of παραβολῇ carrying here the sense borne by the verb παραβάλλεσθαι, that of venturing or exposing one's self to risk, or that of the adverb παραβόλως, unexpectedly. Even if the noun παραβολή could be shown by any instance to bear such senses, its ordinary use in the New Testament as well as in the LXX. must surely be understood here. It expresses (under the idea of comparison, or setting one thing by the side of another) an illustration, representation, or figure of something. Its use in this sense in the Gospels is familiar to us all; elsewhere in the New Testament it occurs only in this Epistle, Hebrews 9:9, where the "first tabernacle" is spoken of as a παραβολή. Still, the question remains of the exact drift of this expression, ἐν παραβολῇ. It surely is, that, though Isaac did not really die, but only the ram in his stead, yet the transaction represented to Abraham an actual winning of iris son from the dead; he did so win him in the way of an acted parable, which confirmed his faith in God's power to raise the dead as much as if the lad had died. For such use of the preposition ἐν we may compare 1 Corinthians 13:12, βλέπομεν δἰ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, which may mean (notwithstanding the different view of it given doubtfully by the distinguished commentator on the Epistle in the 'Speaker's Commentary'), "We see, not actually, but in the way of an enigmatical representation, as through a mirror." The above seems a mere natural meaning of the phrase, ἐν παραβολῇ, than that of the commentators who interpret it "in such sort as to be a parable or type of something else to crone," viz. of the death and resurrection of Christ. It does not, of course, follow that the transaction was not typical of Christ, or that the writer does net so regard it; we are only considering what his language fit itself implies. Rendered literally, and with retention of the order of the words, the sentence runs: "From whence [i.e. from the dead] him [i.e. Isaac, αὐτόν being slightly emphatic, as is shown by its position in the sentence, equivalent to illum, not eum; and this suitably after the general proposition preceding] he did too in a parable win [ἐκομίσατο, equivalent to sibi acquisivit; cf. verse 39, οὐκ ἐκομίσαντο τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν]." With regard to what we may call the moral aspect of this peculiar trial of Abraham's faith, a few words may be said, since a difficulty naturally suggests itself on the subject. How, it may be asked, is it consistent with our ideas of Divine righteousness, that even readiness to slay his son should be required of Abraham as a duty? How are we to account for this apparent sanction of the principle of human sacrifices? To the latter question we may reply, in the first place, that the narrative in Genesis, taken as a whole, affords no such sanction, but very much the contrary. All we are told is that the great patriarch, in the course of his religious training, was once divinely led to suppose such a sacrifice to be required of him. The offering of sons was not unusual in the ancient races among where Abraham lived; and, however shocking such a practice might be, and however condemned in later Scripture, it was due, we may say. to the perversion only of a true instinct of humanity—that which suggests the need of some great atonement, and the claim of the Giver of all to our best and dearest, if demanded from us. That Abraham should be even divinely led to suppose for a time that his God required him to express his acknowledgment of this need and this claim by not withholding from him as much as even the heathen were accustomed to offer to their gods, is consistent with God's general way of educating men to a full knowledge of the truth. But the sacrifice was ill the end emphatically forbidden by a voice from heaven; to Abraham thenceforth, and to his seed for ever, it was made dearly known that, though God does require atonement for sin and entire submission to his will, he does not require violence to be done to tender human feeling, or any cruel rites.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even (or, also) concerning things to come. Here the word καὶ (omitted in the Textus Receptus) gives force to what is meant; words uttered by the patriarchs in the spirit of prophecy being now adduced as further evidence of their faith. To those inspired by this spirit even the distant future is realized as present; and faith is not only a condition of such prophetic visions being granted to them, but is also evinced by their trusting the visions as Divine revelations, and speaking with confidence accordingly. The prophet seems as though able himself to control the future by giving or withholding blessing (cf. Jeremiah 1:10); but it is really that his mind and will are at one with the mind and will of God: a Divine voice speaks within him, and through faith he is receptive of it and gives it utterance. Thus it was that even the future characters, and changing relations to each other, of the yet unborn races of Israel and Edom are represented as having been foreshadowed in the blessings of that dying patriarch.
By faith Jacob, when he was a-dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff. Here two distinct incidents are referred to, both at the close of Jacob's life. That first mentioned, the blessing of the sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:2), closely resembles the dying act of Isaac already spoken of, and has a similar significance. In both cases, too, human intention is overruled, in that the younger son obtains the higher blessing; and each patriarch accepts alike the Divine intimation to this effect, thus further evincing faith in a power and a will above his own. The latter part of the verse, "and worshipped," etc., is quoted from Genesis 47:31, and refers to a previous instance of the dying Jacob's faith, in his charge to Joseph to bury him with his fathers in the land of promise. The reversal in the text of the historical order of the two instances may be because the one referred to first is cognate with the instance of Isaac's faith which has gone before, the other with that of Joseph's which follows. For the benedictions of Isaac and Jacob, when a-dying, expressed faith in revelations made to them about the several races of their future seed; the deathbed charges of Jacob and Joseph expressed faith in the chosen seed's inheritance of the Promised Land. Though in the verse before us Jacob's charge to Joseph, with a view to this inheritance, is not mentioned, yet the quotation from the account of it in Genesis, "and worshipped," etc., would be sufficient, in this concise summary of instances, to recall it to the mind of readers, and so intimate the writer's meaning. The variation of the LXX., which is here followed as usual, from the Massoretic text, in reading "staff" instead of "bed," is due to the ambiguity of the Hebrew word, which has one meaning or the other according to its pointing. "Bed" seems more likely to have been intended, inasmuch as the bed on which the patriarch lay is twice again mentioned (Genesis 48:2; Genesis 49:33) in the account of the closing scene; and we find also a similar expression used of David in his old age (1 Kings 1:47). Bat the variation is unimportant, the essence of the passage being in the word translated "bowed himself," which in the Hebrew as well as the Greek certainly expresses an act of worship. The only difference is that, according to one rendering, this worship was expressed by his bowing over the staff on which he leant as he sat upon the bed (Genesis 48:2); according to the other, by his turning round to prostrate himself with his head upon the pillow. The view of some of the Fathers, who, adopting the LXX. rendering and supposing the staff to be Joseph's, regard the act as expressing reverence to Joseph himself, in fulfillment of Gem Genesis 38:5-1.38.11, has little probability in its favor, and is controverted by St. Augustine. But so Chrysostom, and apparently Theodoret. And suitably to this idea, the Vulgate has in Hebrews, "et adoravit fastigium virgae ejus," though in Genesis, "adoravit Israel Deum, conversus ad lectuli caput." Quite untenable, and only worthy of mention because of the use that has been made of it in support of image-worship, is the idea that Joseph's staff was surmounted by some sacred image which Jacob adored.
By faith Joseph, when dying, made mention of the departing (Exodus) of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. The reference is to Genesis 50:24, Genesis 50:25, which, after what has been said above, requires no further comment.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw that he was a proper (ἀστεῖον, the word used of the child in Exodus 2:2, there translated "goodly," and in Acts 7:20, "fair") child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment. Here the usual following of the LXX. again appears in the hiding being attributed to both parents (this is certainly the meaning of πατέρων, not—as some interpret because of the masculine form—father and grandfather). In the Hebrew it is the mother only that is spoken of as hiding him; whereas in the LXX. the verbs are in the plural, ἰδόντες δὲ, etc., though with no expressed nominative. It is not necessary to understand a special faith in the fulfillment of the promises through the child thus hidden to be implied, though it may be so intended. But the mere fearlessness in obeying the dictates of heart and conscience in the face of danger, and the mere reliance on Providence, thus displayed, expressed faith.
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 (or, of) Egypt; for he had respect unto (literally, looked away to) the recompense of reward. As in the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-44.7.60), so here, the narrative in Exodus is supple-merited from tradition, such as is found also in Philo. Moses' refusal to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, i.e. his renunciation of his position in the court in order to associate himself with his oppressed fellow-countrymen, is not mentioned in the original history, though it is consistent with it, and indeed implied. St. Stephen further regards his taking the part of the Israelite against the Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-2.2.13) as a sign that he was already conscious of his mission, and hoped even then to rouse his countrymen to make a struggle for freedom. The reproach he subjected himself to by thus preferring the patriot's to the courtier's life is here called "the reproach of Christ." How so? Chrysostom takes the expression to mean only the same kind of reproach as Christ was afterwards subjected to, in respect of his being scouted, and his Divine mission disbelieved, by those whom he came to save. But, if the expression had been used with respect to Christian's suffering for the faith (as it is below, Hebrews 13:13), it would certainly imply more than this; viz. a participation in Christ's own reproach, not merely a reproach like his. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:5, τὰ παθήματα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, and Colossians 1:24, τῶν θλίψεων τοῦ Χριστοῦ, where there is the further idea expressed of Christ himself suffering in his members) And such being the idea which the phrase in itself would at once convey to Christian readers, and especially as the very same is used below (Hebrews 13:13) with reference to Christians, it must surely be somehow involved in this passage. But how so, we ask again, in the case of Moses? To get at the idea of the phrase we must bear in mind the view of the Old and New Testaments being but two parts of one Divine dispensation. The Exodus was thus not only typical of the deliverance through Christ, but also a step towards it, a preparation for it, a link in the divinely ordered chain of events leading up to the great redemption. Hence, in the first place, the reproach endured by Moses in furtherance of the Exodus may be regarded as endured at any rate for the sake of Christ, i.e. in his cause whose coming was the end and purpose of the whole dispensation. And further, inasmuch as Christ is elsewhere spoken of as the Head of the whole mystical body of his people in all ages—all to be gathered together at last in him—he may be regarded, even before his incarnation, as himself reproached in the reproach of his servant Moses. Compare the view, presented in Hebrews 3:1-58.3.19, of the Son being Lord of the "house" in which Moses was a servant, and the comprehensive sense of "God's house" implied in that passage. Nor should we leave out of consideration the identification, maintained by the Fathers generally (see Bull, 'Def. Fid. Nic.,' I. 1), of the Angel of the Pentateuch, of him who revealed himself to Moses as I AM from the bush, with the Second Person of the holy Trinity, the Word who became incarnate in Christ. (Cf. John 1:1-43.1.15; also John 8:58, read in connection with Exodus 3:14; and 1 Corinthians 10:4, where the spiritual rock that followed the children of Israel in the wilderness is said to have been Christ) Whatever, however, be the exact import of the expression, "reproach of Christ," in its application to Moses, it is evidently selected here with the view of bringing his example home to the readers of the Epistle, by thus intimating that his faith's trial was essentially the same as theirs.
By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. This forsaking of Egypt must, because of the order in which it comes and of Moses alone being mentioned, be his flight related in Exodus 2:15, not the final Exodus. The only seeming difficulty is in the expression, "not fearing the wrath of the king," whereas in the history Moses is represented as flying in fear from the face of Pharaoh, who sought to slay him. But the two views of his attitude of mind are reconcilable. The assertion of his fearlessness applies to his whole course of action from the time when he elected to brave the king in behalf of Israel. In pursuance of this course, it became necessary for him to leave Egypt for a time. In this, as well as in staying, there was danger; for the king might pursue him: he might, perhaps, have secured his own safety by returning to the court and giving up his project; but he persevered at all hazards. And thus the apprehension of immediate danger under which he fled the country with a view to final success, was in no contradiction to his general fearlessness. Further, his being content to leave Egypt at all, and that for so many years, and still never relinquishing his design, was an additional evidence of faith, as is expressed by the word ἐκαρτέρησε, "he endured." The vision through faith of the unseen heavenly King kept alive his hope through those long years of exile: what was any possible wrath even of the terrible Pharaoh to one supported by that continual vision?
Hebrews 11:28, Hebrews 11:29
By faith he kept (literally, hath kept, πεποίηκεν, the perfect being used rather than the historical aorist, as denoting an accomplished act, with continuing effect and significance (cf. προσενήνοχεν, Hebrews 11:17). But πεποίηκεν does not mean, as some suppose, "hath instituted," ποιεῖν τὸ Πάσχα being the usual expression for the celebration) the Passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea, as by dry land; which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. The faith of Moses himself is still mainly intended here, though the conjunction of πίστει with seems διέβησαν to imply faith in the people too. Nor is this inconsistent with the narrative; for, though they are represented as having cried out in their sore fear, and even reproached their leader for bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, yet on his exhortation, "Fear ye not, stand still, dud see the salvation of the LORD," they may be supposed to have trusted him, and caught something of the inspiration of his faith. Moses, indeed, stands out as a prominent example (and this is one point in the moral teaching of his history) of the strong faith of one great man, not only availing in behalf of others, but also in some degree infecting a whole community, little disposed at first to make heroic ventures.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were compassed about seven days (see Joshua 6:1-6.6.21). The capture of Jericho may be selected for mention, not only because of its extraordinary character, but also as being the beginning of the campaign in Canaan, the first necessary conquest that opened the way to the rest. The history is not further pursued in detail, this being sufficient to suggest it all. Only, for a special reason, the case of Rahab has attention drawn to it.
By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient, when she had received the spies with peace. Rahab is instanced also by St. James (James 2:25) as having shown her faith by works. Such special notice of her is accounted for by her being so remarkable an instance of a heathen, an alien, one of the very doomed Canaanite race, being through faith adopted into the commonwealth of Israel, so as even to become an ancestress of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5). Faith is thus exhibited as the acceptable principle of religious action, not in Israel only, but in all races, as in all times. Rahab's faith was in the omnipotence and supremacy of the God of Israel, induced by evidence of which she could not resist the force (Joshua 2:9-6.2.12). Her consequent action was to protect the spies, of course with great risk to herself, lest she should oppose the Divine will as she believed it. Her fellow-countrymen had the same evidence before them; but it caused them only to lose courage and faint, not to act on faith at all, either in their own gods or in the LORD; hence they are hero called "those who were disobedient (τοῖς ἀπειθήσασι)," i.e. resisted God's will—the same expression as is used of the Israelites who fell in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:18), and of the contemporaries of Noah (1 Peter 3:20; cf. Acts 19:9). That Rahab was, at the time when she thus evinced her faith, a harlot (such is certainly the meaning of πόρνη); that she lied to the King of Jericho's messengers (Joshua 2:4, Joshua 2:5); and that she treacherously aided the invaders of her country;—have been felt as difficulties with regard to the position assigned her among the faithful. In reply to such aspersions on her character, it is usual to allege as follows: As to her harlotry, there is no reason to suppose that her profession was held in any disrepute among the Canaanites, or that she was aware of there being any harm in it; and that, at any rate after her conversion, she became the honorable wife of a chief in Israel. As to her lying, strict truthfulness in all circumstances was not likely to be known to her as a necessary virtue; Michal, not to mention others, lied to Saul's messengers in order to save David's live, and even some Christian casuists allow falsehood in such cases. As to her treachery, what she held to be her religious duty properly took precedence of any sentiment of hopeless patriotism; and, after all, what she did was only to save the spies from a cruel death, not to correspond with the enemy or open the gates of her city to them. Such excuses for what might seem amiss in her are valid. But the main point to be observed is this—that, whatever her enlightenment, as a heathen, in principles of morality familiar to us Christians, she stands out in the sacred record as having been saved and admitted into Israel on account of her faith in the one true God, and action in accordance with her faith. What is said of Jael (Dr. Arnold's 'Sermons on Interpretation of Scripture') may be still more said of her: "They who serve him honestly up to the measure of their knowledge are according to the general course of his providence encouraged and blessed; they whose eyes and hearts are still fixed upwards, on duty, not on self, are precisely that smoking flax which he will not quench, but cherish rather, till the smoke be blown into a flame." Be it observed, however, that Jael's murderous deed—much less easily defensible than Rahab's conduct—is nowhere adduced in the New Testament as an instance of faith. Among the names that follow here Barak is mentioned, but not Jael. The only ground for supposing her to be approved in Scripture is her being called "blessed" in Deborah's triumphal song, uttered in the flush of victory. But we are not bound to accept that "prophetess," however inspired for her peculiar mission, as an oracle on questions of morality.
And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak and Samson and Jephthah; and of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the months of lions, quenched the power (δύναμιν) of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight (literally, were made strong in war), turned to flight armies of aliens. The names thus mentioned are meant as prominent specimens of the long array of Israel's heroes to the end of the sacred history, though, for the avoidance of prolixity, the list is not continued beyond the foundation of the kingdom under David and Samuel. Among the judges, Gideon is mentioned first, though he came after Barak, probably as being the most famous hero, as well as more remarkable in the history for faith and heroism. "The day of Midian" is referred to by Isaiah (Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26) as the memorable triumph of ancient days. Hence (the arrangement of the τες and καιs of the Textus Receptus being retained) Gideon is first mentioned singly, and is succeeded by two groups—viz. Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, representing the period of the judges generally; then David and Samuel, representing that of the kings and prophets. The deeds enumerated in the following verses need not be appropriated exclusively to particular heroes, but may be rather taken as denoting generally the kind of exploits by which faith was evidenced throughout the history. Some, however, seem to have special references, as the stopping of lions' mouths, and quenching the power of fire, to the incidents recorded in the Book of Daniel. "Escaped the edge of the sword," though peculiarly applicable to Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14, "have slain thy prophets with the sword, and I, even I, only am left," etc), has, of course, many other applications. Some see in "out of weakness were made strong" a special allusion to Samson's recovery of his strength, but it is better taken in general reference to the frequent instances of the weak things of this world being enabled through faith to confound the strong, and the few to prevail against the many. Numerous expressions to this effect in the Psalms, when the psalmist rises out of the depths of humiliation and weakness into confident reliance on Divine aid, will suggest themselves at once; and the instances of Gideon, Jonathan, David, and others, will occur readily to the mind. In the four concluding clauses of verse 34, Delitzsch supposes the Maccabean heroes to be specifically alluded to—partly because of the word παρεμβολὴ being used here, as it is also frequently in 1 Maccabees, in the sense of "encamped army," instead of its proper and usual one of "camp" as in Hebrews 13:11, Hebrews 13:13 (cf. Acts 21:10; Acts 23:1-44.23.35. Acts 23:10) This coincidence of usage does add to the probability that the Maccabean history, to which all the expressions are very suitable, was at any rate included in the writer's view. But in the history of Gideon too (Judges 7:2) the LXX. has παρεμβολὴ for the host encamped; καὶ ἔδραμεν πᾶσα ἡ παρεμβολὴ. Allusion to Maccabees is more distinctly evident; in verse 35, as will be seen. The expression, "obtained promises (ἐπέτυχον ἐπαγγελιῶν)," surely expresses having promises fulfilled to them, not merely having promise made to them. "Promises" being in the plural, and without an article, so as to include all prophetic promises even of a temporal character, such as that to David that he should reign instead of Saul,—there is no need here to reconcile the assertion with that of verse 39, "received not the promise (οὐκ ἐκομίσαντο τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν);" on which expression, however, see below.
Women received their dead raised to life again (literally, from, or, out of resurrection. The A.V. gives the sense in good English; only the force of the repetition of the word "resurrection" at the end of the verse is lost); and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. The first part of this verse evidently refers to 1 Kings 17:22 and 2 Kings 4:36—the memorable instances in the Old Testament of mothers having had their sons restored to them from death. The latter part is as evidently suggested at least by the narrative of 2 Macc. 7; where it is recorded how, under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, seven sons of one mother were tortured and lint to death; how one of them, in the midst of his tortures, having deliverance and advancement offered him if he would forsake the Law of his fathers, courageously refused the offer; and how both they and their mother, who encouraged them to persevere, reiterated their hope of a resurrection from the dead. The "better resurrection" means the resurrection to eternal life by them looked for, which was "better" than the temporary restoration to life in this world granted to the sons of the widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite; while the article in the Greek before "deliverance" (τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν) may be due to the thought of that which is recorded to have been offered to those in the writer's immediate view. There is some doubt as to the exact import of the word ἐτυμπανίσθησαν (translated "tortured"). The usual meaning of the Greek word is" to beat," as a drum is beaten, from τύμπανον, a drum or drumstick: and ἀποτυμπανίζειν means "to beat to death." But, inasmuch as the instrument of torture to which Eleazar was brought is called τὸ τύμπανον (6:19, 28), it has been supposed that the punishment referred to was the stretching of the victims, in the way of a rack, on a sort of wheel called a tympanum, on which they were then beaten to death, as Eleazar was. So Vulgate, distenti sunt. The fact that the seven of 2 Macc. 7. were not so martyred, but by fire and other tortures, is not inconsistent with this view; for our author need not be supposed to confine his view to them, but uses the word suggested by Eleazar's case. Whatever be the exact import of the word, the A.V. ("were tortured") sufficiently gives the generally intended meaning.
And others had trial of 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 sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (rather, evil-entreated); (of whom the world was not worthy:) wandering in deserts, and mountains, and dens, and the eaves of the earth. In this general review particular cases may again have suggested some of the expressions used. The mention of "mockings" is prominent in the Maccabean history; "bonds and imprisonments" recall Hanani, Micaiah, and Jeremiah; "they were stoned" recalls Zachariah son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:20; cf. Matthew 23:1-40.23.39. Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51; also Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34). "They wandered in sheepskins (μηλωταῖς) and in deserts" peculiarly suggests Elijah (his mantle being called μηλωτής in the LXX., 2 Kings 2:13, 2 Kings 2:14), though the Maccabean heroes also took refuge in "deserts and mountains" (1 Macc. 2). "Sawn asunder" most probably refers to a well-known tradition about Isaiah, who is said to have so suffered under Manasseh. Alford thus gives the notices found elsewhere of this tradition: "Justin Martyr 'Trypho,' § 120; Tertullian, 'Cont. Guest. Scorpiac.,' 8, and 'De Patient.,' 14; Origen, 'Ep. ad African;' Lactantius, 'Inst.,' 4.11; Psalm-Epiphanius, 'Vit. Proph; 'Augustine, 'De Cir. Dei,' 18.24; Jerome, on Isaiah 57:1." Jerome calls it a "certissima traditio apud Judaeos," and says that this passage in the Epistle was by most referred to the passion of Isaiah. The tameness and apparent inappropriateness of the verb ἐπειράσθησαν ("were tempted") in verse 36, in the midst of an enumeration of cruel modes of death, has led to a prevalent view that it is a corruption of the original text. Various conjectures have been made, the most tenable being
(1) that it is an interpolation, arising from the repetition by some copyist of ἐπρίσθησαν, which was afterwards altered to ἐπωιράσθησαν: or
(2) that it is a substitution for some other word through error in transcription, the most likely conjecture as to the word originally written being ἐπρήσθησαν or ἐπυράσθησαν, equivalent to "were burnt." Either form, especially the latter, might easily be changed to ἐπειράσθησαν: and thus death by fire would have been originally included in the enumeration, which was likely to have been the ease, especially since it is mentioned prominently in the account of the martyrdom of the seven sons. But, as there is no authority of any manuscript for a different word, this is mere conjecture; though the omission of the word altogether in some few manuscripts and versions, and variations of reading in others, suggest some uncertainty as to the original text. The word ἐπειράς θησαν if genuine, may possibly have been suggested by alliteration, and by thought of the temptations to apostatize prominent in the account both of Eleazar and of the seven sons.
Hebrews 11:39, Hebrews 11:40
And these all, having obtained a good report (literally, having been witnessed of, as in Hebrews 11:2) through faith, received not the promise: God having provided (or, foreseen) some better thing for (literally, concerning) us, that they without us should not be made perfect. There is no contradiction between the assertion here made, that none of the saints of old "received the promise (ἐκομίσαντο τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν) "and its being said of Abraham (Hebrews 6:15) that he did "obtain the promise (ἐπέτυχε τῆς ἐπαγγελίας)." For though in both passages "the promise," i.e. the great Messianic promise (not "premises," as in Hebrews 11:33, supra), is spoken of—or at any rate, in the ease of Abraham, ultimately referred to—yet the verbs used are different and have different meanings, He "obtained" or attained to it, in the sense of having it confirmed and assured to him and his seed (see note on Hebrews 6:15); but he did not actually get it so as to reduce it to possession and enter into the enjoyment of it. The realization of all that is meant by the word here used is, indeed, even to Christian believers, still future (for cf. Hebrews 10:36, ἵνα κομίσησθε τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν). Nay, it is future also in its fullness, even to the saints at rest; for in the passage just quoted it is plainly intimated that the entire fulfillment will not be till "he that shall come" comes; i.e. till the second advent. The redeemed whose probation on earth is over are indeed, in one sense, said to be already "perfected" (cf. Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 12:23); but still the "perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul" is nowhere in the New Testament contemplated till "the end." In the mean time, even the saints under the heavenly altar still cry, "Lord, how long?" and the Spirit and the bride say, "Come, Lord Jesus." The full idea, then, of Hebrews 11:40 may be that, according to the eternal Divine purpose, the promise of redemption should not be fully realized till the number of the elect shall be accomplished, and all the redeemed of all ages since the world began shall be gathered together through Christ in one, and God shall be all in all.
The nature and power of faith.
In the close of the previous chapter, the apostle has spoken of faith as the principle of spiritual life, and the spring of patient endurance. He has quoted a great saying from Habakkuk, "The just shall live by faith;" and he now proceeds to vindicate its truth in a series of brilliant biographical illustrations. First of all, however, the apostle supplies a theoretic definition or description of saving faith.
I. THE NATURE OF FAITH. (Verse 1) Faith is a natural principle of the mind. All men exercise it with regard to earthly things. But spiritual faith has for its objects a higher class of realities—the truths of religion revealed in the Bible. In the text this faith is looked at in the most general and comprehensive way. It is viewed, not so much as an act, but as a state of mind, and as antithetical to sight.
1. Faith is the eye of the soul. It is "the conviction of things not seen"—the organ by which we look upon the invisible and the eternal. And, if faith is the eye, the Bible is the eye-glass through which faith looks. The objects of spiritual faith are all supernaturally revealed truths—"the things of God," "the things of the Spirit." These embrace all the great truths concerning God, man, the way of salvation, the Church, the last things. The believer's conviction of these "things not seen" rests upon the testimony of God, given not only outwardly—by the lips and pens of inspired men, but inwardly—by the witness of the Spirit himself within the soul. "Seeing is believing" in the world of sense; but in the domain of faith this maxim is reversed, for in spiritual things "believing is seeing."
2. Faith is the hand of the soul. It is "the confidence of things hoped for." The universe of the unseen contains those glorious realities which are the objects of spiritual hope. And those realities faith grasps. Saving faith is appropriating faith. The "things hoped for" are all involved in the coming of Christ's kingdom, which shall bring with it the final triumph of truth over error, and of good over evil. They include also, in subordination to this crowning hope, whatever is necessary for the spiritual cleansing and culture and comfort of the individual believer; as e.g. the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, victory over indwelling evil, growing likeness to Christ, the communion of saints, and the prospect of a blessed immortality. The man whose heart reposes on these hopes will be no longer dominated by the things "which are seen" and "temporal." He will become heavenly-minded. His faith will make him the longer the more humble, pure, laborious, courageous, meek, long-suffering, forgiving. "The just shall live by faith."
II. THE FOUNDATION-DOCTRINE OF FAITH. (Verse 3) Here the author specifies, as one of the great objects of faith, what is really the fundamental truth of all religion, as it is also the first utterance of revelation (Genesis 1:1)—the doctrine of the creation of the world by the living God. For our knowledge of this truth we are indebted exclusively to the Bible. Human theories regarding the origin of the universe have been mere conjectures. Heathen philosophers have dreamed of the eternal existence of matter; or they have taught, in some form or other, the doctrine "that what is seen hath been made out of things which do appear." Unaided reason has never ascended by the steps of the design-argument "up to nature's God." Paley's famous illustration of the watch suggests a conclusive syllogism only to the Christian theist. What, then, does the apostle assert here regarding creation?
1. That all that exists in time and space was skillfully framed and finished by a simple fiat of the Almighty.
2. That it follows that the universe was not formed out of any pre-existing materials whatsoever, but was created by God out of nothing. The question of the mode in which "the worlds have been framed" is one, when regarded from the spiritual point of view, of very slight importance. It matters little whether "what is seen" assumed its present form in connection with a series of creative acts, or by a process of evolution. What faith lays stress on is this, that the universe is in no sense self-existent, but owes its genesis to the will of a personal Creator or Evolver. Ancient paganism deified the power of nature, and atheistic evolution in our own time sees in matter the "promise and potency" of all life. But the candid, sober confession of science still is, that "behind and above and around the phenomena of matter and of force, remains the unsolved mystery of the universe." Now, revelation explains this mystery. The doctrine of a personal Creator is the foundation-doctrine of faith. If this truth be accepted, it follows that miracles are possible, and that a supernatural revelation is not an unlikely blessing. If God has made us in his own image, then surely we are heirs of immortality; and, although we have gone astray from him, peradventure he may hear us when we call upon him, and may graciously receive us back into his favor.
III. THE POWER OF FAITH TO FORM CHARACTER. (Verse 2) The "things not seen" and "hoped for" control the life of the believer. They engage his attention. They call forth his energies. They mould his habits. They direct his affections. The conviction and the confidence which make his character what it is are grounded, not upon knowledge, but upon testimony. This truth receives splendid illustration in the lives of the saints who lived during the twilight before the rise of the Sun of righteousness. "The elders" are the Hebrew fathers, and "the world's gray fathers" of antediluvian times. They trusted in a Savior who was yet only "hoped for," and in a sacrifice for sin that was "not seen." Although they lived so very long ago, and although the truth which they rested on was still but imperfectly developed, yet theirs was saving faith, and it was vigorous, valiant, victorious. For, faith is the belief of a Divine testimony, whatever that testimony may be. Under every dispensation the believer has ventured his eternal interests upon the bare word of God. "The elders had witness borne to them," i.e. the approving testimony of God and his Word. And the apostle proceeds, in the verses which follow, to name some of these illustrious eiders, and to show that their excellence of character was due to the moral power of their faith. This chapter, accordingly, may be said to point out some of the great constellations which blazed in the firmament of the Jewish dispensation. Or it may be compared to a national picture-gallery of the soldiers of faith, and their battles. Or its verses may be likened to the epitaphs on the ancient monuments in the fair and venerable abbey of the Old Testament Church. In conclusion, have we this faith? The assent of the intellect to Bible truth is not enough. Faith for us means personal trust in a personal Savior. Spiritual faith is a grace; it is God-given. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to be guided, in our whole walk and conduct, by the unseen and eternal realities.
Faith of the antediluvian saints.
The apostle, having gone to the first page of the Bible for the foundation-doctrine of faith, has only to turn the leaf to find his first historical illustrations.
I. THE EXAMPLE OF ABEL. (Hebrews 11:4) In what respect was Abets sacrifice "more excellent" than Cain's?
1. Some answer—Because its materials were more valuable, and also more carefully selected. Cain presented an oblation el vegetables, taking the first that came to hand; while Abel offered an animal sacrifice, and the choicest which iris flock could supply.
2. Others judge that Abel's sacrifice was "more excellent" because of the living faith of which it was the expression. He worshipped in spirit and in truth; whereas Cain's offering was that of a formalist and a hypocrite.
3. But the true view, we apprehend, must go deeper than either of these. Abel's sacrifice was better, not merely because he brought it in faith, but because his faith led him to select an offering which was in itself more appropriate than that of Cain. "The Lord had respect unto Abel" for what he himself was, as reflected in what he gave (Genesis 4:4). His offering, we may presume, was an act of faith resting upon the Divine testimony regarding "the seed of the woman," and the necessity of atonement by blood. But Cain, in presenting only fruit, declared thereby his disbelief in the gospel promise, and his repudiation of the appointed way of salvation. So, God bore visible witness to Abel "that he was righteous" (Genesis 4:4-1.4.12); and the first martyr has in consequence become distinguished as "righteous Abe!" (Matthew 23:35; 1 John 3:12). Indeed, Abel still speaks to the whole Church by his faith. He teaches us that we can only approach God through the propitiation of Christ, and that in pleading the one propitiation we must bring also the sacrifice of "a broken spirit."
II. THE EXAMPLE OF ENOCH. (Hebrews 11:5, Hebrews 11:6) What a contrast between the end of Abel's earthly life and that of Enoch! And what a pleasant break in the melancholy monotone of Genesis 5:1-1.5.32., "And he died," are the sweet words used regarding Enoch's removal: "He was not, for God took him" (Genesis 5:24)! Here we have:
1. A statement regarding Enoch's translation. (Genesis 5:5) His faith is represented as the reason on account of which he was transported to heaven without tasting of death. His wonderful removal was the reward of his singularly holy life; and that, in turn, was the fruit of his faith.
2. An argument in support of this statement.
(1) Such is the representation of the Old Testament (Genesis 5:5). Enoch's translation is there said (Genesis 5:24) to have taken place in consequence of the peculiar favor of God. Scripture bears witness to him "that he had been well-pleasing unto God" before it informs us of his glorification.
(2) It is self-evident that none but a believer can obtain the Divine favor (Genesis 5:6). The spring of holiness is always faith. Enoch, like Abel, had met with the unseen Jehovah over a bleeding sacrifice. He had lived under a sense of the Divine presence, He had confided in God, and cultivated congeniality with him. He had been a witness for hint to a sensuous and ungodly world. The apostle mentions in this connection two indispensable articles of faith regarding God. First, his being. To believe in God is to be convinced of a truth "not seen," and made evident only by revelation. Secondly, his benevolence. To believe in God as "a Rewarder" is to cherish "the confidence of things hoped for." But the gospel revelation alone assures us of Jehovah's accessibility, and. of the principles of his moral administration. Yet Enoch, albeit he lived in the scanty twilight of the patriarchal economy, firmly grasped these great doctrines; and the faith of them led hint on, step by step, until he found himself in the glorious presence of God in heaven.
III. THE EXAMPLE OF NOAH. (Genesis 5:7) The name of Noah is associated with a stupendous catastrophe, the faith of which, while it was "not seen as yet, "brought deliverance to himself and his family, and constituted him the second lather of the human race.
1. Noah's faith was severely tried. The Deluge, of which he was forewarned, was an unprecedented event, and could only take place by a miracle. Then, for more than a century after the warning was given, and. indeed until the very day when it began to be fulfilled, there were no premonitions of its fulfillment. During all that time, too, Noah had to labor at the gigantic task of constructing the ark, amid the jeers of an ungodly world.
2. His faith bravely triumphed. The victory is seen in his "godly fear," and his unquestioning obedience. It appears in his invincible perseverance as the builder of the ark, and. as "a preacher of righteousness." It is reflected in the confidence with which he obeyed the Divine summons to enter the ark while the sky was yet cloudless. And Noah's triumphant faith "condemned the world;" for the event showed that the doom of its unbelief was just.
3. His faith was richly rewarded. It brought him the highest honor. It was the means of confirming his already eminent piety, and of certifying his possession of "righteousness." It made him an "heir of God."
LESSONS. In Abel, we see faith as the condition of acceptable worship; in Enoch, as the root of godliness; in Noah, as the principle of separation from the life and destiny of the ungodly. Again, Abel's faith condemns the spirit which denies the necessity of an expiatory atonement; Enoch's, the spirit of secularism, positivism, agnosticism; Noah's, the spirit which stumbles at the possibility of miracles.
Faith of the Hebrew Pilgrim Fathers.
What Anglo-Saxon could look without emotion on the granite boulder at New Plymouth—"the corner-stone of a nation"—upon which the Pilgrim Fathers of New England stepped ashore from the Mayflower? And, in like manner, what Jew can think but with enthusiasm of those three glorious names—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The verses before us were well fitted to stir the hearts' blood of the Hebrews to whom this treatise was addressed. And they should stir ours too; for these patriarchs are the Pilgrim Fathers of all the men of faith. We shall consider the passage chiefly in connection with Abraham, the father of the faithful. In his spiritual life there were at least four great crises—four occasions upon which his faith was severely tried, and came forth victorious. The apostle introduces his reference to each of these with the expression which is the refrain of the whole chapter—" By faith" (Hebrews 11:8, Hebrews 11:9, Hebrews 11:11, Hebrews 11:17).
I. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS SHOWN IN HIS EMIGRATION. (Hebrews 11:8) It was a hard command which he received, to leave his native country, and to cast himself upon the bare promise of God for another home. He had to break the ties which bound him to the scenes of his youth. He was at first ignorant as to what country he was going. His long journey would expose him to hardships and dangers. Yet Abraham did not hesitate to obey. He gathered his flocks together, and set out with his household caravan. It was impossible that he could have comprehended the large plan of Providence, of which only one little corner was unfolded in his call; but the precept and the promise were sufficient to determine his action. So he put his hand trustfully into the great hand of God, and allowed him to guide his feet. Abraham's emigration was the first link in the golden chain of the triumphs of his faith. It teaches us such lessons as these—that personal religion
(1) takes its rise in God;
(2) is the fruit of a Divine revelation; and
(3) is the product of an earnest faith.
II. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS SHOWN IN HIS LIFELONG PILGRIMAGE. (Hebrews 11:9, Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:13-58.11.16) When he arrived in Canaan, the patriarch found that he was not to receive immediate possession of the land. Indeed, while he lived, it remained stilt but "the land of promise." He dwelt in tents. He did not build any walled city. The only piece of ground which he ever acquired was a burying-place. But his view of the meaning of the covenant expanded with his spiritual experience. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, gradually learned that the promise of an inheritance in the literal Canaan was in their own case an illusion. Yet they did not conclude that it had been a delusion. They learned to understand the promises spiritually, and were persuaded that God would fulfill his word even to themselves, in a deeper way than at first they had dreamed. So they steadfastly maintained their faith; and, viewing Canaan as a type of heaven, "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Abraham was content to feel always from home in this world. Although he became immensely wealthy, he continued spiritually a pilgrim. His maxim was not that of sense, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; "rather, as a prince of the men of faith," he looked for the city which hath the foundations." The fatherland for which he longed was not the place of his birth, else he could easily have recrossed the Euphrates (Hebrews 11:15). "The heirs of the promise" sought their home in heaven. And so, "These all died in faith," is the epitaph common to all the monuments in Patriarchs' Corner of the abbey church of the Old Testament. And because they so died, God condescended to take one of his great Bible-names from those Hebrew Pilgrim Fathers—"The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
III. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS SHOWN DURING HIS PROTRACTED CHILDLESSNESS. (Hebrews 11:11, Hebrews 11:12) This severe trial Sarah shared with him. If the faith of Abraham forms, as it were, the magnificent frontispiece of the volume of Jewish history, Sarah's faith occupies the positron of the vignette upon the title-page (Isaiah 51:2). The time came when the birth of a child to them was, humanly speaking, doubly impossible; and yet God said that the covenant would not be fulfilled in the line of Ishmael. Had it not been for their faith, accordingly, Sarah's son Isaac would never have been born; and the promise could not have been realized that Abraham should have a posterity—both natural and spiritual—numerous as the stars in the Eastern sky, or as the sand-grains upon the shore of ocean.
IV. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS SHOWN IN THE SACRIFICE OF HIS SON. (Hebrews 11:17-58.11.19) This extraordinary event was the final strain to which his faith was subjected. It was a dreadful ordeal, and one from which even most good men would have recoiled with horror. The patriarch was commanded to offer up the most precious of all sacrifices. He was to perform a deed abhorrent to the most sacred human affection. He was required to put to death the heir of the Divine promise, and thus appear to destroy the hopes which clustered round him. Yet by faith Abraham sustained this last and crowning trial. His submission was entire. His obedience was perfect. The apostle says definitely that he "offered up Isaac;" for the sacrifice was completely accomplished in the patriarch's will before the angel stayed his hand. And what was the faith which comforted his heart and nerved his arm, at this unparalleled crisis of his spiritual life? Abraham accounted that "God is able to raise up, even from the dead." He was sure that Isaac would be restored to life again, rather than that the promise should fail. Isaac's resurrection would not be a greater miracle than his birth had been. And, the apostle adds, the patriarch really did receive Isaac from the dead, figuratively speaking (Hebrews 11:19). An achievement so sublime evinced that complete self-consecration and submission to God's will which belongs only to perfect faith, and thus certifies Abraham's right to the lofty title of "father of the faithful."
1. Are we ready to obey any call of God, whether relating to our outer life or to our soul-life?
2. Do we feel ourselves to be "strangers and pilgrims on the earth," or could we take an eternity of our present life, provided our material circumstances were comfortable?
3. Have we the faith which can laugh at impossibilities rather than disbelieve the Divine promise?
4. Have we unreservedly consecrated to God our soul, our life, our all? Happy is each heart that can "make melody to the Lord" in the words of the hymn—
"The God of Abraham praise,
At whose supreme command
From earth I rise, and seek the joys
At his right hand.
I all on earth forsake,—
Its wisdom, fame, and power;
And him my only Portion make,
My Shield and Tower."
Faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Each of these patriarchs died in the firm confidence of "things hoped for," and pronounced prophetic blessings upon his descendants accordingly. The patriarchal benedictions were the expressions of a faith in the promises of the covenant, which was strong enough to bear the test of a death-bed.
I. ISAAC'S BLESSING. (Hebrews 11:20) The prophecy here referred to was divinely inspired. It was not the utterance merely of parental love. The Holy Spirit revealed to Isaac the fortunes of his two sons; and, believing the revelation, he felt himself impelled by an irresistible impulse to declare it. The sin of Rebekah and Jacob in intercepting for the latter what his father had intended for Esau did not make the promise of none effect. Had Isaac been announcing only his own pleasure, he would most certainly have recalled the words which Jacob had appropriated so treacherously; but the patriarch felt that he dared not do so. He was persuaded that he had been made only the mouthpiece of the Divine will respecting the person who stood before him at the time. He saw that the blessing of the firstborn had been providentially directed towards his younger son, and he confessed his inability to reverse it (Genesis 27:33). Isaac blessed his sons "by faith" in the revelation regarding them of which he was the recipient.
II. JACOB'S BLESSING. (Hebrews 11:21) It was faith in a Divine testimony made in turn to Jacob that caused him (Genesis 48:5, Genesis 48:15-1.48.20) both to predict that Joseph should have a double portion in Israel through his two sons, and to bestow the larger blessing upon Ephraim, the younger. The patriarch knew that it would be a greater honor to these two young men to become each the head of a little Israelitish clan, than even to take rank through their mother as Egyptian princes. And behind this benediction of his grandsons there lay also Jacob's firm faith in that provision of the covenant which gave the land of Canaan to his posterity. He had exacted from Joseph a promise upon oath that he should not be buried in Egypt, far from the graves of his kindred; and he devoutly thanked God, "leaning upon the top of his staff," for the assurance that his body should rest in the land of promise (Genesis 47:29-1.47.31). All this shows Jacob's faith in the future return of the Hebrews to Canaan as the land of their inheritance. And his faith looked also, we are persuaded, to the "heavenly country" of which the land promised to Abraham was only the type.
III. JOSEPH'S BLESSING. (Hebrews 11:22) Amid the stern realities of the dying hour, the illustrious Joseph evinced the same bright and strong faith which had distinguished his father and his grandfather. It had never counted for much to him that he was Pharaoh's prime minister. He had always been at heart a Hebrew, not an Egyptian. His hope was in the covenant promises. So, foreseeing the affliction of his people in Egypt, and their eventual exodus, he resolved that his body should not be buried in that land. His embalmed remains must be made useful, during the whole period of their bitter bondage, as a witness to Israel of the faithfulness of the God of Abraham. And the tribes must carry his bones with them when they go to take possession of their inheritance. Joseph's faith is so great that he is content that his coffined clay should meanwhile remain unburied. So he died, leaving with his brethren this blessing: "God will surely visit you" (Genesis 1:24, Genesis 1:25). His tender farewell shows us how steadfastly the eye of his faith was gazing upon the unseen.
CONCLUSION. The Christian Hebrews of the first century needed "like precious faith" with these three patriarchs, to enable them to discharge the duties and endure the sufferings to which they were called in connection with their Christian discipleship. And so also do we Gentile believers of these last times. Only faith in "things to come"—confidence in the life and immortality which have been brought to light through the gospel—will enable us to live obediently and to die triumphantly.
The faith of Moses.
These verses exhibit specimen deeds of faith done in connection with the redemption of Israel from Egypt. None of the heroes of faith in this illustrious roll is more eminent than Moses, and no other biography is more dramatic. He shines amongst the constellations of "the elders" as a star of the first magnitude. Consider—
I. THE FAITH OF MOSES' PARENTS DURING HIS INFANCY. (Hebrews 11:23) Had it not been for their piety, the child would have perished. The preservation of his infant life was due to an act of faith in the covenant God of their fathers. On what revelation did this faith rest? It may be that Amram and Jochebed saw in the pre-eminent beauty of the child a forecast of the Divine favor. More probably, however, they had received a revelation from heaven respecting him, and had been taught to regard his beauty as a sign for the confirmation of their faith. So their confidence in the God of Abraham, and in the promise of deliverance from bondage, and in the testimony regarding the part which their newly horn son was to act in the emancipation, led them to disregard Pharaoh's cruel edict. Jochebed was quite consciously resting the floating cradle of papyrus in the hollow of God's hand when she left it among the reeds on the brink of the Nile. She believed that he would protect the child, although she herself could do so no longer. And the romantic rescue of Moses, and his adoption by Pharaoh's daughter, were the reward which God gave to his parents' faith.
II. THE FAITH OF MOSES, AS SEEN IN HIS LIFE-CHOICE. (Hebrews 11:24-58.11.26) Being himself the only free Hebrew of his time, he occupied the unique position of having it within his power to make a life-choice. And he did this "when he was grown up;" i.e. after his judgment had ripened, and as the result of sober and manly deliberation. Moses elected to acknowledge Jehovah as his God, and to claim kindred with the Hebrews as God's peculiar people. His choice was purely voluntary, and in making it he was actuated by principle and impelled by conscience. Notice:
1. His choice involved him in tremendous sacrifices. (Hebrews 11:24) Moses' prospects in Egypt were very brilliant. He was a man of great natural genius and of extraordinary attainments (Acts 7:22). Wealth, refinement, ease, pleasure, power, were within his reach. He might have become a great statesman—perhaps Pharaoh's grand vizier. Josephus says that he was destined for the throne itself; and in those days Egypt was the most powerful of kingdoms. Yet, without any misgiving, he forsook the court, and renounced forever these dazzling prospects.
2. His choice exposed him to sore afflictions. (Hebrews 11:25) It involved his identifying himself with a nation of wretched slaves, who were oppressed by a grinding tyranny. It brought him into close contact and companionship with hordes of ignorant bondmen. It called him to undergo persecution as the leader of the movement for their emancipation. Moses made his choice at the risk of his life; for, when he had avowed it in act, by killing the Egyptian slave-driver, "Pharaoh sought to slay" him (Exodus 2:15).
3. It was a heavenly-minded choice. (Hebrews 11:25, Hebrews 11:26) It was not patriotism alone that dictated it, although Moses was passionately patriotic. Neither was it mere sympathy with his distressed countrymen, although he had a tender and feeling heart. His choice was determined by his faith in Christ, in the future of his people, and in the realities of the unseen and eternal world. Moses chose
(1) "reproach on account of Christ." He was, so to speak, a Christian before Christianity. He knew about the promised Messiah, although he might not know him by that name. He believed on him as the Deliverer that was to come; as the "Prophet" who was to be "raised up;" as the seed of Abraham, in whom all nations were to be blessed. And he resolved, through grace, to adhere to the cause of Christ, however greatly it might be despised. He chose
(2) to join "the people of God." Moses had learned from his mother-nurse of the glorious destiny of the Israelitish nation; and had become persuaded that to belong to that nation, even in its miserable exile, was a greater honor than to stand upon the topmost step of the Egyptian throne. So, when he took God for his Portion, he allied himself with the people of God, whose were "the adoption" and "the promises." He chose
(3) "the recompense of reward." Moses' faith looked beyond the grave. His eye searched the eternal future until it rested upon the heavenly Canaan. Realizing that "better and abiding possession," he felt [hat he could not remain a prince of the house of Pharaoh. To him even those pleasures of the court which were in themselves innocent would be "the pleasures of sin;" and these, such as they were, he could enjoy only for a few short-lived years. So, after comparing the best of the world with the worst of religion, Moses decisively resolved to choose Jehovah as his God and heaven as his final home. And this life-choice, from whatever point of view we regard it, is thus seen to have been determined by his faith.
III. THE FAITH OF MOSES AS SEEN IN HIS LIFE-WORK. (Hebrews 11:27-58.11.29) For he not only took Jehovah for his Portion; he served him courageously, and to the end.
1. His faith inspired the Exodus. (Hebrews 11:27) "He forsook Egypt," the reference being, as we judge, to his final departure at the head. of the Hebrew nation. Moses believed the Divine promise regarding Israel's redemption. His confidence in God nerved him for the unparalleled enterprise. He felt that he could not seriously be afraid of Pharaoh, for his faith saw always the approving smile of the invisible Lord. Had it not been, however, for his trust in Jehovah, the great leader could not for forty years have sustained so nobly his onerous offices. It was this humble confidence in the I AM who had sent him, that kept Moses from either developing into a despot or degenerating into a demagogue.
2. His faith prompted to the celebration of the Passover. (Hebrews 11:28) Moses believed the Divine threatening respecting the destruction of the firstborn of the Egyptians, and- the promise of exemption for every blood-besprinkled Hebrew dwelling. His trust in God was the root of his fearless courage in observing the Passover feast amidst the bustle and. excitement of that last eventful night in Egypt.
3. His faith, together with that of the Israelites, led to the passage of the Red Sea. (Hebrews 11:29) There was much unbelief, doubtless, mixed with the faith of the mass of the host, when they stood before the waters through which they were to march. Still, the fact of their obedience to the command to "go forward" did evince some faith on their part. The confidence of Moses, however, never wavered. And it was his faith and theirs that moved [he arm of the Almighty to prepare a pathway for them through the bed of the sea. The Egyptians, pursuing them, sank in the sands and waves; for Pharaoh had received no revelation and no promise, and his pursuit was not an act of faith, but of presumption.
CONCLUSION. The chief lesson of this section centers in the choice of Moses. It requires faith still to enable one to make the right life-choice; for worldly advantage does not always seem to be on the side of godliness. The question is sometimes asked, "Is it possible to make the best of both worlds?" And from the point of view of sense the answer is—No. Moses certainly did not make the best of this world, according to a worldly estimate of his life. He did not follow the principle of self-help, in the secular way in which unspiritual men do. Rather, his choice led him "to be evil-entreated," and to endure "reproach." But from faith's point of view the unhesitating answer to the same question is—Yes. "Godliness is profitable for all things;" although the benefit of it in "the life which now is" consists almost certainly in the profit of affliction and tribulation, the profit of taking up the cross, and of treading in the footsteps of the Man of sorrows.
Exploits and endurances of faith.
The last two specific examples here cited are connected with the entrance of Israel into Canaan under Joshua.
1. The fall of Jericho. (Verse 30) That stronghold was not reduced as the result of a long siege. It was not successfully assaulted with engines of war. The only means employed were processions, trumpets, and shouts. But the Israelites did not doubt that the word of Jehovah would be fulfilled; and, as the Divine reward of their faith, which they had shown in a sevenfold or perfect manner in "compassing Jericho about seven days," the wall fell down fiat.
2. The safety of Rahab. (Verse 31) Rahab had been a heathen woman, and at one time a woman of abandoned character; but she is now known to the world only as a heroine of faith. The object of her faith was the God of Israel himself, and his purpose to procure Canaan for the chosen people. The ground of it was the miraculous passage of the Red Sea, and the overthrow of the Amorites. Its fruit was seen in her determination at whatever risk to befriend the two scouts, as being Jehovah's servants. And the reward of Rahab's faith lay in her preservation amid the general destruction, and the honor which she received in becoming an ancestress of the Messiah.—In this chapter the author had begun at the beginning of Genesis; and he has been turning over the Old Testament Scriptures almost page by page, and finding everywhere noble specimen-deeds of faith. But the time would fail him were he to continue as he began. Although the galleries of Hebrew history are crowded with portraits of spiritual heroes, our inspired guide tells us that we may not linger any longer over individual pictures. He will permit us only a very hurried walk through the exhibition; for he is anxious to introduce us to the masterpiece of the whole—the portrait of "Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). What a splendid sentence, or group of sentences, this in verses 32-38! How rhetorically resonant, and how spiritually triumphant! These verses may be said themselves to form "one great, magnificent picture, full of figures individually striking, and admirably disposed with regard to one another" (Dr. Lindsay).
I. SUMMARY OF DEEDS DONE THROUGH FAITH. (Verses 32-34) The men of faith are all workers or soldiers.
1. Six famous heroes are mentioned by name (verse 32). These are, four eminent judges; David, the illustrious king; and saintly Samuel, the first of "the prophets."
2. There follows a condensed and. vivid description of the achievements of the heroes of faith (verses 33, 34). The preacher may verify every one of these references from those great eras of Jewish history which extended in succession from the time of Joshua to the age of the Maccabees.
II. SUMMARY OF SUFFERINGS BORNE THROUGH FAITH. (Verses 35-38) For the workers and soldiers of faith are also sufferers. Each expression in this eloquent. epitome may be amply vindicated from the same eras of Hebrew history, and especially from the later periods, the time of the prophets, of the Captivity, and. of the restoration. It is evident that the apostle has here prominently in view the sufferings of Judas Maccabaeus and his brave compatriots in the days of that monster of cruelty, Antiochus Epiphanes. The parenthesis in verse 38, while it is in itself a sweetly beautiful exclamation, also sums up the character of the men of faith in a weighty monograph. Their persecutors condemned them as unworthy of living in the world; but, instead of that, the world was not worthy of them. These godly exiles and martyrs were "the salt of the earth." Their lives decked humanity, even in its periods of gross darkness, with a coronal of spiritual light. The apostle's design in this chapter is to convince his readers that in trusting Christ, and daring and bearing all things for him, they are exercising the very same principle that made "the elders" of the Jewish nation the men they were. The apostle stops at the time of the Maccabees. But it is for us to remember that the exploits and endurances of faith have been as great—in some respects greater (John 14:12)—in New Testament times than in the ages before Christ. We are prone to draw oftentimes too sharp a line between what we call "sacred history" and "profane history," and we sometimes forget that the living God is as really present in the one as in the other. Reflect then, in closing, upon the triumphs of faith:
(1) In the first century. E.g. John the Baptist; the multitudes whom Christ healed; the holy women who ministered to him; the apostles after Pentecost. Think of the faith of
(2) the world's explorers and colonizers. Columbus, the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, Livingstone, etc.
(3) Our men of science. Newton, Kepler, Faraday, etc.
(4) The reformers. Wickliffe, Luther, Knox, Wesley, Chalmers, Howard, William Lloyd Garrison, etc;
(5) The missionaries. Columba, Xavier, Williams, Martyn, Patteson, Moffat, Alexander Duff, etc.
(6) The martyrs. Polycarp, Huss, Tyndale, Savonarola, Bunyan, the Covenanters of Scotland, etc.
(7) God's "hidden ones." E.g. the business man who will rather lose his trade than soil his conscience; the Bible-woman, working amid squalor and vice in the back lanes of our cities; the dying believer, showing amid the pains of dissolution a beautiful resignation to the Divine will. There are multitudes living just now in obscurity, "of whom the world is not worthy," and of whom, until time shall have run its course, the world will never know.
Hebrews 11:39, Hebrews 11:40
Perfection through the promise.
In discoursing upon this confessedly difficult text, we shall not discuss the various interpretations that have been given to it, but simply unfold what we ourselves humbly judge to be its meaning. Consider—
I. THE PROMISE. (Hebrews 11:39) That is, the fulfillment of the promise, or the promised blessing. The apostle can refer in this expression only to the great substantive promise of the Old Testament dispensation, that of the coming of the Messiah. It is the promise of "the seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15) and the seed of Abraham (Genesis 22:18); the promise of the setting up of the kingdom of heaven by the "Child born" (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:7), and of the "pouring out of God's Spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:28).
II. THE DISADVANTAGEOUS POSITION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS IN RELATION TO IT. "These all," whose names appear in this chapter, are honorably mentioned in Scripture for their exploits and endurances as believers. The promise had been constantly made to them, and they "had seen it, and greeted it from afar" (Hebrews 11:13). But:
1. They "received not the promise." (Hebrews 11:39) Successive generations of godly men hoped for the advent through the weary centuries, and passed away before the Messiah had been born, or the true sacrifice offered, or the way into the holiest made manifest, or the great gift of the Spirit bestowed. They continued to the end of their lives under the temporal and preparatory economy—the dispensation of law and ceremony and shadow.
2. They were "not made perfect." (Hebrews 11:40) Old Testament believers, while on earth, did not obtain the clear knowledge of gospel doctrine which we possess who have received "the Spirit of truth;" and they did not attain to the high level of spiritual happiness which is within our reach, now that Christ has sent us "the Comforter." And even in heaven, as this passage seems to imply, their knowledge and joy did not become full until the realization of the promise, through the finished work of the Lord Jesus. There is, of course, no warrant in Scripture for the patristic and Romish doctrine of the limbus patrum. The souls of Old Testament saints, after they departed this life, did not experience a dreamy sort of existence in some dreary under-world until the time of Christ's ascension. Abel and Abraham, Moses and David, passed at once from earth to glory. This is true; and yet it would appear, from the apostle's language in the verse before us, that these ancient heroes had to hope and wait for their perfection in knowledge and blessedness, until the death and resurrection and exaltation of the Son of God. Although safe in heaven, they continued to long and pray, as they had done on earth, for the coming of "the fullness of the time." Just as the entire humanity of the believer shall not be "made perfect" until the morning of the general resurrection, so even "the spirits of just men" (Hebrews 12:23) under the Jewish economy were not "made perfect" until the accomplishment of Christ's atoning work, at the beginning of the Christian era.
III. THE CORRESPONDING ADVANTAGE ENJOYED BY NEW TESTAMENT BELIEVERS. God has "provided some better thing concerning us" (Hebrews 11:40). That is, we have received the fulfillment of the great gospel promise. Christ has come. He has achieved our redemption. He has sent to the Church his Holy Spirit. He has given us a completed Bible. He has founded a dispensation which is evangelical and spiritual, catholic and permanent. He has opened heaven over the world; and we see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Nor is this earthly life of higher privilege the only advantage which we possess. For at death the believer's spirit now goes at once to be with Christ—a blessing which, prior to the advent, was in some mysterious sense denied to Old Testament saints. His soul has not to wait for its beatification. Immediately after death it is "made perfect." In the presence of the glorified Christ, nothing whatever is wanting to complete its blessedness, except only the resurrection of the body.
IV. THE PERFECTION AND UNITY OF THE CHURCH SINCE THE ADVENT. (Hebrews 11:40) When the promise of an accomplished salvation was fulfilled to the Church on earth, its fulfillment brought long-looked-for perfection to the Church in heaven. The coming of Christ, while it may be said to have cut the world's history in twain, was at the same time the meeting-place of the two great dispensations of religion, and of the universal Church of God. The centuries circle round the cross, and in it the Church of all ages finds its unity. The fulfillment of the promise in the earthly work of Christ raised both the Church militant and the Church triumphant to a much loftier level than either had occupied before. The ancient heroes of faith could not have attained their new position except in connection with our accession of privilege. And thus all the saints who are now gathered in heaven, whether nurtured at first in the Jewish Church or in the Christian, have alike been "made perfect," and form one undivided society. It follows, too, that believers of all nations who are presently on earth are in real union with this united society of glorified spirits. The Church militant and the Church triumphant constitute "one army of the living God."
CONCLUSION. Although "the elders" labored under great disadvantage, as regards the extent of their privileges, compared with the Christian Hebrews of the first century and with us, their confidence in the promise was vigorous and persistent, valiant and victorious. They cherished this faith while on earth, and they continued to cling to it in heaven until it became changed to sight. How shameful, then, will it be to us, if we allow our faith to decline! For God has already largely fulfilled his promise of salvation. The first advent is now matter of history. Christendom presents to our view an ever-accumulating mass of Christian evidence. Our encouragement to perseverance is much greater than any which Jewish believers enjoyed under the old covenant. How miserably infatuated, therefore, shall we be if we allow our faith and hope in the Lord Jesus and in the second advent to fail, or even to vacillate!
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The nature of faith.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for," etc. This is not a definition or description of what is called, in theological phrase, saving faith. It does not set forth faith in Jesus Christ in particular, but faith in its general meaning and its comprehensive exercise. The text teaches us that—
I. FAITH IS THE DEMONSTRATION OF INVISIBLE REALITIES. It is "the evidence of things not seen;" Revised Version, "the proving of things not seen." There are two classes of unseen things:
1. Things which are absolutely invisible. Of these we may mention:
(1) God, a Being of almighty power, of infinite wisdom, of perfect holiness, etc. "No man hath seen God at any time." "Whom no man hath seen, nor can see."
(2) The human soul. That part of his being which thinks and feels, hopes and fears, loves and hates, no man in our present state has seen.
(3) Spiritual truth is Invisible to our bodily eyes. We perceive it, but we cannot see it.
2. Things which are relatively invisible.
(1) There are great historical facts which are invisible to us. Some of these are mentioned in this chapter; e.g. the Creation, the Deluge. But those are of the greatest importance to us which are connected with the life and work, the suffering and death, the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ—the great facts in the accomplishments of human redemption. These were witnessed by many, but to us they are invisible. Our attitude in relation to them is a thing of the utmost moment to us. If we accept them, it must be by faith.
(2) There are important future events which are invisible to us at present. The heaven into which our Lord has entered, and where God is enthroned, is at present hidden from our eyes. And Hades, the great world of departed spirits, is impenetrably veiled from men in the flesh. The great and solemn judgment, and the different abodes and states of men after the judgment, are as yet invisible to our senses. Now, faith is the evidence, the "demonstration," the "actual proof," of these invisible things which are declared in the sacred Scriptures. "It is an act which itself gives the knowledge and proof of the existence of those things not seen." "The essential meaning of the word," says Mr. Matthew Arnold, "is 'power of holding on to the unseen.'" It is a deep and intense conviction of the existence and reality of things and persons which are not apprehensible by the senses.
II. FAITH IS THE ASSURANCE OF DESIRABLE POSSESSIONS. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for;" Revised Version, "the assurance of things hoped for." It is a firmly grounded confidence of things hoped for. Two observations are suggested:
1. Some of these invisible things which are apprehended by faith are regarded as desirable and attainable. They are "hoped for." Hope is the "desire of good with a belief that it is obtainable;" it is" well-grounded desire." We hope to receive in this present life Divine grace and guidance, provision and preservation, spiritual help in our daily work and warfare, and illuminating and sanctifying influences. And in the life that is to come, we hope for heaven and all its blessedness; its entire freedom from sin and suffering; its perfect purity and peace; the holy and delightful fellowship of glorified saints; the perpetual presence of our adorable Savior and Lord; and the enrapturing manifestation of God (1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:3). We regard these things as attainable because they are promised to the sincere believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we hope for them through him.
2. Faith gives assurance of these desirable and attainable things. It appropriates such of them as may be obtained at present, and confidently anticipates those that are reserved for the future. It was well said by Ambrose, "The heir must believe his title to an estate in reversion before he can hope for it; faith believes its title to glory, and then hope waits for it. Did not faith feed the lamp of hope with oil, it would seen die." And more, it brings future blessings into our present experience, and it gives to us foretastes of heavenly blessedness, which are a pledge and an earnest that our holiest and brightest hopes will meet with full and glorious fruition—
" Where faith is sweetly lost in sight,
And hope in full, supreme delight,
And everlasting love."
The creation of the visible universe.
"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed," etc. The text suggests:
1. That God existed before the visible universe. As the architect must have lived before the edifice which he designed was built, so he who designed and "built all things" existed before any of his creations. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world," etc.
2. That God's existence is distinct from and independent of the visible universe. God and nature are not identical. Nature is not God. God is not a poetic name for an infinite and impersonal spirit of the universe. He thinks, wills, and works; and the universe is the expression and embodiment of his thoughts. The painter does not lose his personality in the productions of his imagination and his pencil. And the Divine Artist existed before his works, and exists independently of his works. The text teaches:
3. That God is the Creator of the visible universe. "The worlds were framed by the Word of God," etc. Very early in this Epistle this truth is asserted. "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands," Our text brings before our notice—
I. THE ABSOLUTENESS OF THE CREATION. "Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." This statement implies:
1. That matter is not eternal. The universe was not made by God out of pre-existent materials.
2. That the visible universe is neither self-originated nor the product of chance. On this point Archbishop Tillotson forcibly observes, "How often might a man, after he had jumbled a set of letters in a bag, fling them out upon the ground before they would fall into an exact poem? How long might one sprinkle colors upon canvas, with a careless hand, before they would make the exact picture of u man? How long might twenty thousand blind men, who should be sent out from the remote parts of England, wander up and down before they would all meet on Salisbury plain, and fall into rank and file, in the exact order of an army? And yet this is much more easy to be imagined, than how the innumerable blind parts of matter should rendezvous themselves into a world."
3. The universe was absolutely created by Go& He not only formed and arranged its materials into order and beauty, but he created the materials themselves. As to the alleged impossibility or difficulty of creation in this absolute sense, Cudworth has well said, "It may well be thought as easy for God, or an omnipotent Being, to make a whole world, matter and all, ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, as it is for us to create a thought or to move a finger, or for the sun to send out rays, or a candle light, or, lastly, for an opaque body, to produce an image of itself in a glass of water, or to project a shadow; all these imperfect things being but the energies, rays, images, or shadows, of the Deity. For a substance to be made out of nothing by God, or a Being infinitely perfect, is not for it to be made out of nothing in the impossible sense, because it comes from him who is all."
II. THE VAST EXTENT OF THE CREATION. "The worlds were framed by the word of God." Not simply our world, but all worlds. It is stated that in our sky there are one hundred millions of stars visible by the aid of a telescope, each of which is the center of a cluster of tributary stars, making together "a great multitude which no man can number." All these worlds were created by the Almighty. And the probably far more numerous host of worlds as yet undiscovered by man he created. How amazing is the extent to which the creative energy of God has been exercised!
III. THE BEAUTIFUL ORDER OF THE CREATION. "The worlds were framed," or arranged, or adjusted by the word of God. How perfect are the relations of the worlds to each other! Carlyle says, "A star is beautiful ... It has repose; no force disturbs its eternal peace. It has freedom; no obstruction lies between it and infinity." May we not say this of all stars? How beautifully and beneficently are all things framed and ordered in our world! The earth upon which we tread, and from which we derive our subsistence, has been fashioned in infinite wisdom and goodness to the natures and necessities of the creatures which dwell upon it. In its structure it is not only useful but beautiful. It ministers to the needs of both our physical and our spiritual natures. It stimulates thought; it awakens admiration, etc.
IV. THE DIVINE, INSTRUMENT OF CREATION. "The worlds were framed by the word of God." "God said, Let there be light; and there was light." "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made," etc. "He spake, and it was done," etc. This mode of expression is suggestive of the case with which creation was effected. There was no painful effort in the production of the universe; no struggle to overcome difficulties in framing the countless hosts of worlds. God has but to utter his command, and that command at once becomes an embodied and- beautiful reality. The continuous activities and developments of nature illustrate and confirm the fact that the creative acts of God are accomplished with sublime ease. All the forces of nature work without friction, with regularity and order, with highest efficiency and deepest repose. Now, these truths concerning God and his creation are not the discoveries of human reason, but the disclosures of Divine revelation. F.W. Robertson says, "Man may tell us of the development of the world from the theistical or atheistical point of view, but the simplest and most religious way is to look at this world as the expression of the will of God. It is sufficient if we feel that the light reveals to US something of the will of the Eternal; enough if the beauty of nature can speak to us of the mind of God; if the blue heaven above and. the green earth below tell of our Father's home; if day and night, light and darkness, are symbols of the word God has spoken out of himself in the creation of the world." And these aspects of the visible universe we apprehend by faith. We credit the Scripture testimony, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Thus "by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God," etc.—W.J.
The sacrifice of Abel.
"By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice," etc. The text brings before our notice three chief points.
I. THE SUPERIORITY OF ABEL'S SACRIFICE. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." This superiority was manifest:
1. In the sacrifice which was offered. In itself Abel's sacrifice was "more excellent" than that of Cain. In endeavoring to ascertain in what respect it was more excellent, it seems to us that we are not justified in going beyond the statements of the sacred Scriptures. And we are not aware of any satisfactory reasons for entertaining the opinion that Cain and Abel had a knowledge of the significance of the different kinds of sacrifices corresponding to that which was communicated by the Mosaic legislation. The narrative in Genesis 4:1-1.4.26. shows in what the superiority of Abel's offering consisted. "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof." Each brought of his own. Cain, being "a tiller of the ground," offered of the things which the earth had yielded as the result of his culture; Abel, being a shepherd, offered from his flock that which had been reared as the result of his care. This seems appropriate. But Abel selected the best of his flock for his offering, while Cain does not appear to have made any such selection, but to have offered that which was most readily obtained. Gurnall states the case well: "Abel is very choice in the matter of his sacrifice; not any of the flock that comes first to hand, but the firstlings. Neither did he offer the lean of them to God, and save the fat for himself, but gives God the best of the best. But of Cain's offering no such care is recorded to be taken by him." When the heart is right even the best of our possessions will seem too poor to offer unto God.
2. In the spirit of the offerer. This is the chief thing. The quality or the quantity of the offering itself is of little importance as compared with the spirit in which it is offered. "By faith Abel offered." This is the grand distinction. Abel had faith in God, while it is clearly implied that Cain had not. Abel seems to have been humble; Cain was manifestly proud and presumptuous. This is clear from his anger at the non-acceptance of his offering, and his dreadful daring in bandying words with Jehovah. How could an offering from such a character be acceptable to God? In his sight it is not the material but the moral and spiritual qualities that determine the worth or worthlessness of an offering. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar," etc. (Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24).
II. THE DIVINE TESTIMONY TO ABEL'S CHARACTER. "By which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts."
1. The matter of this testimony. "That he was righteous." He was a true believer in God, a sincere and humble worshipper of him, an upright and honorable man. Our Lord spake of him as "Abel the righteous;" and St. John says that his works were righteous. "Jehovah had respect unto Abel and to his offering."
2. The manner of this testimony. "God testifying of his gifts." In what way did God manifest his acceptance of Abel's offering? Many suppose that it was consumed by fire from heaven, while that of Cain remained untouched. But this seems to us very improbable; for the descent of fire to consume a sacrifice was very exceptional, and if it had taken place on this occasion it would almost certainly have been recorded. We are acquainted with only six cases recorded in the Bible in which a sacrifice was consumed by fire of supernatural origin (Genesis 15:17; Le Genesis 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1Ki 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1). And each of these cases was an extraordinary one. That no mention is made in the Scriptures of such fire in connection with Abel's offering points to the conclusion that there was no such fire. Alford says, "We must rather think of some appearance or word of Jehovah by which the preference was shown." Probably Abel was conscious that his offering was accepted by God, and Cain that his was rejected, by an inward witness; the acceptance and rejection were intimated to the offerers by the direct action of the Divine mind upon their minds.
III. THE ABIDING INFLUENCE OF ABEL'S LIFE. "By it he being dead yet speaketh." By reason of his faith his life is a permanent power for good to men. He speaks to us truths of the greatest importance; e.g.:
1. That God will graciously accept the worship of sinners when it is offered in a right spirit.
2. That faith is essential to the true spirit of worship. "By faith Abel offered unto God," etc. "Without faith it is impossible to please him," etc.
3. That when the true spirit of worship exists man will offer his best to God. Abel offered "of the firstlings of his flock and. of the fat thereof." When we feel aright toward God we shall humbly and heartily present unto him the best of our thoughts, affections, services, and possessions.—W.J.
The character and the translation of Enoch.
"By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death," etc. That Enoch should immediately succeed Abel in this record of the ancient heroes of faith is not a little significant. How remarkable is "the contrast between the fate of Abel and Enoch! The one was crushed to the earth by the hand of a brutal and ferocious murderer; the other was conveyed to heaven, most likely by the ministry of some benevolent intelligence. The one met death in its most repulsive form, and will probably be the longest tenant in the sepulcher; the other entirely escaped it, and was the first to possess the happiness of perfect and immortal humanity. There is something instructive in these characters being placed side by side on the page of revelation. The contrast seems to furnish an illustration of the mysterious diversities of fact and circumstance, which are perpetually occurring in the moral government of God." £ Our text brings before us—
I. THE CHARACTER OF ENOCH'S LIFE UPON EARTH. "Before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." It is a great and blessed thing that it is possible for man to please God. We know that we have grieved him by our many and heinous sins; and it is a fact full of encouragement that we may so live as to yield him positive satisfaction. In his infinite condescension he is so interested in us that our character and conduct are viewed by him either with delight or with sorrow. That man should please God implies:
1. A revelation of his will. Enoch had no portion of the sacred Scriptures. His revelation of God was small and dim as compared with ours. But evidently he believed in the existence of the Supreme Being, was convinced "that he is," and he knew something of his holy will. We live in the clear and full light of Divine revelation. "God hath spoken unto us in his Son." We know without any uncertainty what to do and what not to do, if we would please God.
2. Personal sympathy with him. The moral separation which sin causes between the soul and God had been removed in the case of Enoch. The consciousness of the Divine presence was not painful to him, but blessed. "Enoch walked with God." The will of God must have appeared to him not tyrannical or harsh, but reasonable and gracious; for otherwise his life could not have been brought into such relations with it as would please God. And still moral sympathy with him is an indispensable condition of pleasing him. While we regard him with suspicion or distrust, while we esteem his commandments as grievous, our lives cannot be viewed by him with complacency. As a first step towards pleasing God we must heartily "receive the reconciliation" which he offers to us m Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10, Romans 5:11).
3. Sincere effort to do his will. To know and approve the will of God without cordial and continuous effort to conform to it cannot be pleasing to him. Enoch embodied his religious knowledge in his practical life; he translated his convictions into actions. And so must every one who would please God (cf. John 14:21-43.14.24; James 1:25). It was by faith that Enoch pleased God. He walked by faith, not by sight. The Lord Jesus Christ presents to us the supreme and perfect example of pleasing God. His joy was to do the will of him who sent him. Twice the Father testified of him from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him." Him the Father ever viewed with infinite complacency, He is also the Reconciler of man unto God. Moreover, "he giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength," that they may please God in their lives. Let us trust him, accept him, imitate him.
II. THE NATURE OF ENOCH'S REMOVAL FROM EARTH. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had translated him." Notice two points.
1. The nature of this translation. We have no means of satisfying all the inquiries which curiosity may make as to how this man of God was translated; but we may bring together a little of the light which the Scriptures shed upon it. It is certain that he did not pass from earth by the same way as other men; that he entered heaven without passing through "the gates of death." But his body must have undergone some great change; for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven." This change was probably similar to that which is reserved for those who are alive at the coming of our Lord. "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," etc. (1 Corinthians 15:50-46.15.54). St. Paul says, "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." What the properties and characteristics of the spiritual body are we know not as yet. But we think that the body of Enoch was spiritualized by God. Its vital relations with earth were severed; it underwent an essential change or changes. Previously it was mortal and corruptible; then it became immortal and incorruptible. Previously it was of the earth, earthy; then it became of heaven, heavenly. So changed was it that Enoch was no longer fit for earth; his body, as well as his spirit, unable to find its true sphere on earth, rose heavenward, Godward. His body was so refined and purified by God as to be capable of the blessedness and glory of heaven. And thus "he was not; for God took him." "He was not found, because God translated him."
2. The design of this translation. Why was Enoch thus removed from earth?
(1) His translation was a distinguished honor and reward to Enoch himself. By it he was taken from that dark wickedness and daring blasphemy (Jude 1:14, Jude 1:15) which must have been so painful to a soul in sympathy with God, as was Enoch's. But two men of all the departed myriads have been honored by God with a triumphant entrance into Paradise without passing through the gloomy portals of death. Of these, Enoch was one. His character was extraordinary, and extraordinary was his reward. There is a beautiful propriety in such a reward for such a life. It is remarkable that the only two men who passed from this world without tasting of death were distinguished as prophets fearless in rebuking evil-doers and asserting the Divine claims, and each in an age of dominant wickedness. And it would seem that their translation was a decided testimony from Heaven that he who stands unmoved, though alone, for God, is the man whom the King delights to honor.
(2) His translation was fitted to impress beneficially the men of that age. Enoch was a prophet to a race of daring sinners. His serene and holy walk had failed to benefit them; his prophetic exhortations and rebukes had embittered them against him; and now perhaps his sudden and strange removal from them will give new and additional emphasis and energy to the words which he had spoken, and the life which he had lived amongst them. They were living in the material and temporal alone; this translation was suited to impress them with the reality and importance of the spiritual and eternal. They were atheistic, some of them anti-theistic; but this extraordinary removal of the holy prophet of God from sublunary scenes would perhaps force upon them, at least for a time, the conviction of the existence and presence of a Power unacknowledged by them heretofore. Let us, through Jesus Christ, seek in this life to please God, and then, through Jesus Christ, death will prove our introduction to an everlasting, ever-increasing, and ever-brightening life.—W.J.
The impossibility of pleasing God without faith.
"But without faith it is impossible to please him," etc. The fact that Enoch walked by faith, and that his life was well pleasing to God, suggested to the writer this general axiom on the indispensableness of faith in order to secure the Divine complacency. Two principal observations will bring before us the chief teaching of our text.
I. THE APPROACH OF THE SOUL TO GOD IS ESSENTIAL TO OUR PLEASING HIM. "Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God," etc. Having asserted that apart from faith man cannot please God, the writer proceeds to show this by affirming that he who comes to God must believe certain truths concerning him, thus clearly implying that we cannot please God without coming to him.
1. Coming to God implies distance from him. The unrenewed soul is far from God by sin. Sin against him generates suspicions concerning him, dread of him, and so banishes the soul far away from him. Like the prodigal son, the sinner wanders away from the gracious Father "into a far country." The expression, "them that seek him," also suggests that the seekers have not the consciousness of his presence and favor; they do not always realize his nearness unto them, or they would not need to seek after him.
2. Coming to God is the approach of the soul unto him. As the implied distance from him is not local but moral, so the coming to him is not physical but spiritual. It is the soul drawing near to him in thought and desire, in affection and devotion. The penitent thus comes to him with confession and prayer for pardon. The poor and needy, with petitions for succor and supply. The thankful, with warm tributes of gratitude and praise. The pious, with lowly loving adoration.
3. This approach of the soul to God is gratifying unto him. That his creatures, created in his image and for fellowship with himself, should stand aloof from him in distrust, or suspicion, or indifference, or by reason of absorption in other things, is painful to him. His fatherly heart yearns for the confidence and love of his children. He welcomes the first approach of the penitent sinner to him, even as the father of the returning prodigal saw him "while he was yet afar off, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." He is pleased when his children regard him with assured confidence and warm affection, and come to hint in their necessities and satisfactions, their sorrows and joys, etc.
II. THE EXERCISE OF FAITH IN GOD IS ESSENTIAL TO OUR APPROACH TO HIM. "For he that cometh to God must believe that he is," etc. Ebrard says wisely concerning this faith, "Precisely the faith that there is a God, and One who will reward those who seek after him, found place in Enoch, and could find place in him. Far front intending to ascribe to Enoch the New Testament faith, the author defines the faith here in its general form as it applied to the time of Enoch." The faith which is essential to the approach of the soul to him is:
1. Faith is, his Being. "Must believe that he is." And we have the amplest anti firmest ground upon which to base this article of our faith. The Bible says "that he is;" the universe witnesses to the same great truth; and human consciousness confirms the testimony.
2. Faith in his entreatableness. "That he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." This implies faith in his accessibility; the belief that we may approach unto him; that our prayers will reach his ear. He hears the sigh of sorrow, the moan of misery, and the whispered aspiration of the pious heart. He is perfectly acquainted with the godly "soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed." He not only hears prayer, but he also answers it. The teaching of the sacred Scriptures on this point is both full and explicit (Psalms 37:4; Psalms 1:1-19.1.6. 15; Matthew 7:7-40.7.11; Matthew 18:19; Matthew 21:22; John 15:7; John 16:23, John 16:24; James 1:5,James 1:6; James 5:16-59.5.18; 1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15). The testimony of the godly is no less clear and decisive. "He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." This means more than that the exercise of prayer to God in itself exalts and enriches, calms and cleanses the praying soul. The reflex benefits of prayer are undoubtedly very great and precious, but their existence depends upon the belief that God hears and answers prayer. Prayer would lose its reality and become a mere pretence, offensive to all honest souls, if we had not faith in God as "a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." But the seeker must be diligent; he must be earnest. "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." The prayer must be fervent and persevering, or it may fail of its reward. "When prayer mounts upon the wing of fervor to God, then answers come down like lightning from God."
Thus we see that "without faith it is impossible to please God." Our subject shows:
1. The necessity of cultivating and exercising faith in God.
2. The advantages of believing prayer to God.—W.J.
The faith of Noah.
"By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet," etc. Very exalted was the character of Noah as briefly described in Genesis 6:8, Genesis 6:9. And his purity and piety are the more conspicuous and commendable by reason of the terrible corruption and violence which were universal in his age (Genesis 6:5-1.6.7, Genesis 6:11-1.6.13). Our text leads us to look at the faith of Noah in three aspects.
I. IN ITS BASIS. Noah was "warned of God of things not seen as yet." His faith rested upon a Divine communication (Genesis 6:13-1.6.21).
1. This basis was exclusive. Noah had nothing else upon which to ground his faith—nothing which could serve as an auxiliary support to it. On the other hand, matters were not lacking which were calculated sorely to test his confidence; e.g.:
(1) The entire absence of any precedent of an event corresponding to that which had been announced to him. The world had existed long, but no such devastating flood had ever occurred.
(2) The uniformity of the courses and operations of nature. It surely would not have been strange if he had reasoned thus with himself—
"Not but by a miracle
Can this thing be.
The fashion of the world
We heretofore have never known to change;
And will God change it now?"
(3) His own soul might have suggested serious doubts. Would God destroy all his human creatures—the creatures whom he had created in his own likeness? True, the race had become terribly depraved, men were great sinners; but could he not save them? Would he destroy the innocent child as well as the hardened rebel? And would he wreck the beautiful and fertile earth which he had made and embellished? Or the question may have arisen—Why should he and his family alone be spared in the universal destruction? He was conscious of imperfections and sins, his family too were sinners; then why should the Almighty bestow his mercy upon them, and upon them only? To meet doubts and questionings of this or any other kind, Noah had simply the word of God which had been made known unto him, and his faith rested upon that word.
2. This basis was sufficient for Noah. He founded his faith upon the communication which he had received from God, as upon a rock; and his faith remained firm and steadfast throughout its protracted and severe trials. God had spoken to him, and that was enough for him.
II. IN ITS EXPRESSION. Noah, "moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house." He manifested his belief in the Divine communication by his obedience to the directions therein conveyed (Genesis 6:14-1.6.16). His faith was expressed in an appropriate and very remarkable course of action. That we may the more fully realize the strength of his conviction, let us notice that the work in which it found expression was:
1. A work of great magnitude. The dimensions of the ark are stated in Genesis 6:15. If we take the cubit to be twenty-one inches, "the ark would be five hundred and twenty-five feet in length, eighty-seven feet six inches in breadth, and fifty-two feet six inches in height. This is very considerably larger than the largest British man-of-war. The Great Eastern, however, is both longer and deeper than the ark, being six hundred and eighty feet in length, eighty-three in breadth, and fifty-eight in depth." £
2. A work of long duration. From Genesis 6:3, some have concluded that one hundred and twenty years intervened between the commencement of the ark and the coming of the Deluge. But the interpretation of that verse on which this conclusion is based is doubtful. Yet the work of preparing the materials for and constructing the ark must have been a very long one—a work of many years. And through all those years he was nerved and sustained by faith, and faith alone.
3. A work involving very great expenditure. The building of such an ark in any age and in any circumstances would have been utterly impossible apart from great expense of time and toil and wealth. But to these demands also the faith of Noah was equal.
4. A work prosecuted despite of derision. There were probably men of science and philosophy who pronounced the predicted deluge an impossibility, and pitied the prophet as a deluded fanatic. And there were men of a lower type who would greet him with scoffs and jeers, and make him the butt of their scornful laughter and contemptuous sarcasm. Yet the faith of the man of God failed not. The great work was steadily prosecuted, and in due time was fully accomplished.
III. IN ITS RESULT. "By which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."
1. The condemnation of the unbelieving world. "His holy fear condemned their security and vain confidence; his faith condemned their unbelief; his obedience condemned their contempt and rebellion. Good examples will either convert sinners or condemn them."
2. The acquisition of a character eminent for righteousness. "Became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." "Noah was a just man and upright" before he was commanded to build the ark; but in that work his faith was splendidly exemplified and his righteousness greatly increased. His righteousness was great as his faith. It is important to observe that the faith of Noah which was manifested in such an extraordinary and exemplary manner, and by reason of which and in the measure of which he was regarded as righteous, was not fixed upon the coming Messiah as its special object, but upon the communication which he had received from God concerning the Flood. He fully accepted the Divine testimony and nobly acted upon it, and as a consequence God accepted him as righteous. "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." And he who believes in God now will accept his Son whom he hath sent. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."
3. The salvation of himself and his family. While all other human beings were destroyed by the flood, he and his wife, his three sons and their wives, were saved in the ark which he had built.
Many are the lessons which our subject suggests. We mention a few of them.
1. That there is justice as well as mercy, severity as well as kindness, in God.
2. That it is foolish, and it may be ruinous, to refuse to believe a thing because it seems to us improbable, or is to us incomprehensible.
3. The sacred Scriptures announce the coming of events of stupendous importance and solemnity—the destruction of the world, the judgment of mankind, etc. Let us believe the announcement.
4. A secure Refuge is provided for man in view of these coming trials, and it is adequate for all, open to all, and free for all—even Jesus Christ. Let us enter in by faith, and eternal security and blessedness will be ours.—W.J.
The faith of Abraham.
"By faith Abraham, when he was called," etc. Abraham was a good and a great man. "He was called the friend of God." Even amongst the heroes of religious faith he is conspicuous as a believer in God. St. Paul speaks of him as "the father of all" the faithful. Let us consider the exhibition of his faith which our text presents. We discover it—
I. IN HIS OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE CALL. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed," etc. The summons here mentioned is recorded in Genesis 12:1-1.12.5. This call was
(1) of Divine origination. It was not solicited from God by Abraham, but addressed by God to Abraham. The initiative was Divine, not human. Every summons to the true and good is from above. Every aspiration and effort after holiness and usefulness is the result of Divine influence. This call was
(2) a Divine communication. How it was addressed to Abraham, whether through his bodily senses or direct to his spiritual consciousness, we know not. But we know the fact that the summons came to him, and was felt by him to be a sacred and Divine command. A mysterious and mighty impulse came upon him, and he felt that it was from God. The call was to depart from his country and kindred to a land whither God would lead him. And it seems that either then or formerly he was called to a truer and higher life. Whether he was ever an idolater we cannot tell; but if such were the case, he was summoned from polytheism to monotheism. Most glorious and animating was the destiny which was set forth for him and his posterity (Genesis 12:2, Genesis 12:3). But at present we have to do with his call to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees, and to follow whithersoever the unseen hand might lead him. In his prompt and pious obedience to that call we have an impressive illustration of his faith.
1. He obeyed, notwithstanding the fact that his obedience involved considerable sacrifices. Unto a man like Abraham it could not have been a light thing to depart "from his country, and from his kindred, and from his father's house." It must have been a trial to him to go forth from places which were hallowed by precious and sacred memories, to sever many close and tender social associations, and without any prospect of returning to these cherished friends and familiar scenes again. Yet he obeyed the heavenly call. His faith in God was mightier than his strongest human feelings.
2. He obeyed, notwithstanding his ignorance of his destination and of the way by which it was to be reached. Abraham must, we think, have had some idea as to the direction and destination of his journey. But he was called, not to any country which is named in the call, but "unto a land that I will show thee." "And he went out, not knowing whither he went." The distance he might have to travel, the difficulties and dangers he might have to encounter, the scene and circumstances in which his journey would end, he knew not. Yet he went out, obedient to the voice which faith alone could hear, and guided by the hand which faith alone could see. The Divine call is addressed at some time or other to every man. The summons from carnal existence to spiritual life, from selfish pursuits to generous sympathies and services, from the local and temporal to the universal and eternal, from sin to holiness,—the call to God by Christ Jesus sounds at some time in the soul of every man. It is addressed by various voices and at different times; to some it comes again and again; and it is variously treated by those who hear it. Be it ours like Abraham to attentively hear, heartily believe, and promptly obey the heavenly mandate. If we have believing]y received the summons, let us not hesitate to go forward, though the way be unknown to us. Complying with the Divine command, the Divine conduct will never fail us.
II. IN ITS CONTINUED EXERCISE, NOTWITHSTANDING THE LONG-DELAYED FULFILMENT OF THE PROMISE. "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country," etc. When Abraham arrived in Canaan Jehovah appeared unto him, and promised to give that land to him and to his seed (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15, Genesis 13:17; Genesis 15:18); yet he never possessed that land. Very forcibly is this fact stated by Stephen: "And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: and he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child." Once in the life of Abraham the fact that he had no actual possession in that land was very forcibly and feelingly expressed. In his great and sacred sorrow by reason of the death of his beloved wife, he had to purchase a place in which to bury her mortal remains. "And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." And he paid four hundred shekels of silver for the field and the cave of Machpelah for a possession of a burying-place (Genesis 23:1-1.23.20). The points which we wish to bring out as taught in Genesis 12:9 are these:
1. Though the land was promised to him, yet he never possessed it. "He sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country;" or, "as in a land not his own."
2. Though he dwelt in the land, it was as a stranger. He became a sojourner there, not a settler or a citizen. He had no home there. He did not attempt to build a fixed dwelling-place, but took up his abode in tents, which could easily and speedily be removed from place to place.
3. Yet he believed God—lived "by faith" in God and in his promise. Now, as Robertson says, "the surprising point is that Abraham, deceived, as you might almost say, did not complain of it as a deception; he was even grateful for the non-fulfillment of the promise; he does not even seem to have expected its fulfillment; he did not look for Canaan, but 'for a city which had foundations;' his faith appears to have consisted in disbelieving the letter, almost as much as in believing the spirit of the promise." Abraham's life in Canaan as exhibited in the ninth verse may be viewed
(1) as a picture of our life upon earth. There is no abiding-place for man in this world; and the Christian's treasure is in heaven, not upon earth; his inheritance also is not here, but is "reserved in heaven for" him. This part of Abraham's life may be viewed
(2) as a pattern for our life upon earth. We should emulate the spirit of the illustrious patriarch. "Seek the things that are above," etc. (Colossians 3:1, Colossians 3:2).
III. IN THE SUBLIME HOPE WHICH IT INSPIRED. "For he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." We must not attribute to Abraham views of the future state as full and clear as those which are unfolded in the New Testament. Yet it is evident that the writer of this Epistle intended to teach that he and the other patriarchs expected the fulfillment of the promise of Canaan in something higher than any earthly city. Abraham believed God's promise; but by faith he looked for even more than its literal fulfillment. His faith hoped for and anticipated a more glorious inheritance than the earthly Canaan, and a fairer, firmer, and diviner city than was ever designed by human skill or constructed by human strength. He looked forward to:
1. A state of social blessedness. "He looked for the city." A city is suggestive of society. In Canaan Abraham was a sojourner amongst strangers; he anticipated being a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, and at home in congenial society. Heaven is a scene of the most delightful fellowships.
2. A state of permanent blessedness. "The city which hath the foundations." The inhabitants of the heavenly world are immortal; and their "inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away." The crowns which the faithful wear in that high realm are "crowns of glory that fade not away." Its holy enjoyments are everlasting.
3. A state of Divine blessedness. "Whose Builder," or Architect, "and Maker is God." As an edifice illustrates the mind of the architect and the character of the builder; so in the new Jerusalem will be specially displayed the skill and the strength, the goodness and the glory, of the great God. "He hath prepared for" his people this city. Its securities and sanctities, its occupations and enjoyments, are all from him. "And he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, their God." This state Abraham was eagerly expecting. The sublime hope of it sustained him in his earthly sojourn. To us a fuller, clearer, brighter revelation of the future is given. If we have obeyed the Divine call and are following the Divine guidance, let us hold fast and cherish the inspiring hope of perfect holiness and perpetual blessedness, in "the city which hath the foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God."—W.J.
Hebrews 11:13, Hebrews 11:14
The Christian's condition in this world.
"These all died in faith, not having received the promises," etc. By "these all" we understand Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. They died in faith. Their faith, though at times it was sorely tried, continued unto death. And their death was according to or consistent with their faith. They departed this life still believing in the promises, and anticipating their fulfillment in the life beyond. We take what is said of the patriarchs in these two verses as descriptive of the Christian's condition in this world.
I. THE CHRISTIAN DOES NOT REALIZE HIS GREAT HOPES HERE, BUT ANTICIPATES THEIR REALIZATION HEREAFTER. The patriarchs "all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar." They did not inherit Canaan. The promises of God to them were not fulfilled in this life. The hopes which those promises awakened were not realized when they died. But our text teaches:
1. That they firmly believed in the blessings promised to them. By faith they saw them from afar.
2. They anticipated the possession of these blessings. They "greeted them." "From afar," says Delitzsch, "they saw the promises in the reality of their fulfillment; from afar they greeted them as the wanderer greets his longed-for home, even when he only comes in sight of it at a distance, drawing to himself as it were magnetically and embracing with inward love that which is yet afar off. The exclamation, 'I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord (Genesis 49:18), is such a greeting of salvation from afar." "The image is that of sailors who, catching a glimpse of the shores they wish to reach, salute them from a distance." Cowper expresses the idea. He speaks of
"The savage rock,…
That hides the seamen in his hollow clefts
Above the reach of man. His hoary head,
Conspicuous many a league, the mariner,
Bound homeward, and in hope already there,
Greets with three cheers exulting."
Such was the attitude of the patriarchs to the blessings promised unto them by the Lord. And in this respect Christians to some extent resemble them. The highest and brightest hopes of the Christian are not attained here. This world is the scene of the pursuit rather than the attainment of the divinest satisfactions. Is there any one whose brightest and best hopes have been realized in this world? Is our life as good and glad and great a thing as we pictured it in our early days? Are we as true and pure, as brave and noble, as we hoped and expected to be? Verily, we have not attained; we are not satisfied; we have not received the promised blessings. But these blessings still beckon us onward. We long and hope for the realization of them. Dr. Martineau profoundly and truly says, "So far as we are religious, we are in a state of aspiration and unsatisfied desire In disappointment ever renewed, in thoughts and affections ever transcending all our possibilities, consist all the noble unrest, the progressive goodness, the immortal capacities of our nature, rendering it the creator of poetry and the moral creature of God." We anticipate the fruition of our hopes hereafter. "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness."
II. THE CHRISTIAN IS NOT A RESIDENT HERE, BUT A SOJOURNER—A PILGRIM. "Confessed that they were pilgrims on the earth" (cf. Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9), All men are pilgrims in this world. David, in the height of his power, confessed this (1 Chronicles 29:15). Whether they will or not, every man is moving ever onward from the seen to the unseen, from the temporal to the eternal. Some are unwilling pilgrims. If they could they would be citizens here, not sojourners. But if they attempt to settle down, some sharp shock soon reminds them that their condition here is not stationary, but itinerant and changeable. The Christian cheerfully recognizes the fact that he has no continuing city here; he confesses that he is a pilgrim on the earth. Mark some of the features of this pilgrimage.
1. It is irretraceable. There is no opportunity of going back to past scenes and experiences. The movement is invariably onward.
2. It is continuous. There are no stoppages on this journey. Life never pauses in its motion.
3. It is rapid. Compared with the work to be done in it, and with the boundless and solemn future to which it leads, how brief is life!
III. THE CHRISTIAN IS NOT AT HOME HERE, BUT A STRANGER SEEKING HIS HOME ELSEWHERE. "Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek after a country of their own." They seek a fatherland, a home. There is much in this world which is uncongenial to the true Christian. He has desires which this world cannot satisfy. He does not want to stay here permanently, He does not feel at home here. But he is seeking his home in heaven; he is pressing onward to his Father's house. There many of his best and dearest friends have already entered; there many of his spiritual kinsfolk dwell; there the elder Brother and the heavenly Father are at home; and as he journeys thither he sings-
"There is my house and portion fair,
My treasure and my heart are there,
And my abiding home."
While on the journey let the Christian pilgrim rejoice:
1. In the excellence of the way on which he travels. "A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness," etc.
2. In the attractiveness of the prospects which beckon him forward.
3. In the delightfulness of the companionships of the journey. "He himself shall be with them, walking in the way the redeemed shall walk in it."
4. In the blessedness of the destination to which He travels. They "shall come to Zion with songs," etc. (Isaiah 35:10)
Hebrews 11:15, Hebrews 11:16
The Christian's attitude in this world.
"And truly if they had been mindful of that country," etc. These words, telling us how the patriarchs regarded the country which they had left and the country for which they looked, suggest to us that the Christian's attitude in this world is that of—
I. RESOLUTE RENUNCIATION OF THE THINGS WHICH ARE BEHIND. And truly if the patriarchs "had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to return." Though having no possession in Canaan, they did not wish to go back to Ur of the Chaldees. Though strangers in Canaan, they did not desire to return to their old home to seek for friendships there; for had they wished to do so, opportunities were not lacking for the realization of such a wish. There are at least two senses in which the Christian has renounced the things which are behind.
1. He has no desire to return to a life of worldliness or of sin. He could do so if he wished, but he is not disposed to do so. He has no relish for those pursuits and pleasures of this world, which are followed without any thought of the life and the world which lie beyond. And a life of sin is abhorrent to him. To go back to the old life would be to pass from light into darkness, from liberty into bondage, from noble unrest to seek for ignoble satisfactions, and the true Christian will not entertain such an idea.
2. He has no desire to return to the past season, s and experiences of life. There may be times when he has a brief and unhealthy longing for the lost innocence of childhood, or for the too-fleeting enjoyments of youth, or for the recurrence of past opportunities which were neglected or only partially improved. There are, we conceive, few persons but at times have painfully felt such longings. But the calm, considerate desire of the Christian is not to go back to any of these things. His judgment assures him that if he could return to the past, or recall departed seasons and opportunities, he would probably make no better use of them than he has already done. Hence, like St. Paul, he endeavors to "forget those things which are behind."
II. EAGER DESIRE FOR THE THINGS WHICH ARE BEFORE. "But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city."
1. The object of their desire. "They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly." Heaven is better than the best of earthly countries or homes. It is better:
(1) In its society. The Christian will not feel himself a stranger there; for he will be with kindred spirits. Good people here are not always agreeable; but in heaven the society is always genial and refreshing.
(2) In its services. The service of God is delightful at present, though that which we render is very imperfect in its character, and often interrupted in its exercise, and very contracted in its sphere. But hereafter we shall consecrate our perfected powers to him, and "serve him day and night in his temple," without weariness and with joy unspeakable.
(3) In its enjoyments. "In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." The heavenly enjoyments are distinguished for their purity, their plenitude, and their perpetuity.
(4) In its security. Sickness, sorrow, death, and sin, the prolific parent of suffering, cannot enter heaven. Verily, the heavenly is a better country.
2. The propriety of their desire. They who have received the Divine call, as the patriarchs had and the sincere Christian has, should aim at the end of their calling; they should seek to realize it, and endeavor to act up to it. In seeking the better country Christians are doing so; "wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God." It is fitting that the children should long for their Father's house; "wherefore God is not ashamed of them," etc.
3. The blessedness of their desire. It will end in full fruition. The longing which is never satisfied is only a protracted pain. The longing for what is worthy, and which is lost in its fulfillment, issues in blessedness. Such is the desire of the Christian. "God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city." If God by his promises had kindled their hopes only to disappoint them, he might be "ashamed to be called their God." If he was their God and Father, yet provided no home for his children, he might be "ashamed to be called their God." But he has provided for the satisfaction of the hopes which he has awakened; and the home for which they long he has established. "He hath prepared for them a city."
Since we are journeying homeward:
1. Let us not be much concerned for either the pleasures or the possessions of this world.
2. Let us not count it a strange thing if we have some discomforts on the way.
3. Let us yet dread death, for it is the gate of admission into the city which God hath prepared for his people.—W.J.
Faith sorely tried and sublimely triumphant.
"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac," etc. Our subject naturally divides itself into two branches.
I. FAITH SORELY TRIED. The supreme trial of Abraham's faith will appear if we consider the sacrifice which be was summoned to make. He was commanded:
1. To offer up as a burnt offering his only and much-loved son, Isaac. "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac; yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son." Isaac was called his "only son" because Ishmael had been finally sent forth from the paternal home, and because Isaac was the only son which Sarah the wife of Abraham bare unto him. He was now a young man, and inexpressibly dear to the hearts of his parents; and his father is commanded by God to offer him up as a sacrifice. Being a human sacrifice, Abraham's conviction of the sacredness of human life would rise up against the fulfillment of the command. Can such a behest proceed from him who had so solemnly asserted the sacredness of human life (Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:6)? Being his own son, his only son, his Isaac, the laughter of his heart, his deep and pure and strong paternal instincts would rebel against the dread summons. Is it possible that the holy and Divine Father can make such a demand upon any human father?
2. To offer up his son who was in a special sense the gift of God to him. Isaac was the child of Divine promise, and he was born when his parents were far advanced in years, and when in the ordinary course of nature his birth was impossible (cf. Hebrews 11:11, Hebrews 11:12; Genesis 17:16-1.17.19; Genesis 18:10, Genesis 18:14; Genesis 21:1-1.21.3). For twenty-five years Abraham had waited for the fulfillment of the promise; twenty-five years more had elapsed since the birth of Isaac, during which he had been growing ever more and more precious and beloved; and now God is asking back the gift so long waited for, and which had become so inexpressibly dear. Can such a demand proceed from that God whose "gifts are not repented of"? Can it be that he should try his servant thus?
3. To offer up his son upon whose life the fulfillment of the hopes which God had inspired seemed to depend. Isaac was not only the son of promise, but the other promises made to Abraham were connected with him as to their fulfillment. The promise that he should inherit Canaan, that he should be the father of a countless posterity and the founder of a great nation, that in his posterity all nations should be blessed,—all these were to be fulfilled in Isaac. "To whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Only the descendants of Isaac were to be known as Abraham's seed, and only in them were the promises to be fulfilled (cf. Genesis 17:19, Genesis 17:21; Genesis 21:12). These promises the patriarch "had gladly received." "He had as it were with open arms accepted and taken to himself each and all of the promises;" he had drawn from them assured hopes—hopes which he had cherished during many years. But if Isaac be sacrificed as a burnt offering, how shall these hopes be realized?—nay, how shall they not each and all expire, leaving the soul of the patriarch in dark disappointment? It seems that God is asking him to give back the promises which he had made to him, and which had so long sustained and cheered him. But is it possible that "the faithful God, which keepeth covenant with them that love hint and keep his commandments to a thousand generations," should make a demand like this? Can it be his voice that summons to the terrible sacrifice?
4. And there is a sore aggravation of this trial. Abraham is himself to be the sacrificing priest. He is to kill and to present this precious and awful offering. The knife that was to slay the victim must be driven into the heart by the hand of his own father, and the same hand must kindle the fire for the consumption of the sacrifice. When Ishmael seemed near unto death in the wilderness of Beersheba, his mother laid him "under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him at the distance as it were of a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the boy. And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept." But for Abraham there is no such relief. He must "see the death of " his beloved son; and more terrible, himself must strike the death-inflicting blow. Can it be God, the good and the holy One, that commands this? And is it possible that any loving father can comply with the terrible requirement?
II. FAITH SUBLIMELY TRIUMPHANT. Abraham made the awful sacrifice. "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac... his only begotten son." Virtually he as fully offered Isaac as if he had sheathed the knife in his heart and consumed his body on the altar. And he did it by faith. The triumph was the triumph of faith.
1. Faith in the righteousness and supremacy of the authority of God. Abraham believed that God had a right to his obedience in this also; that "the Judge of all the earth" would not command what was wrong. The reason of the command to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering was dark and utterly mysterious to the patriarch; moreover, it pierced his inmost soul with sharpest and bitterest sorrow, and convulsed his being with fierce agony; yet God was supreme and righteous, therefore he would obey him. Faith was victorious.
2. Faith in the unlimited power of God. "By faith Abraham offered up Isaac,… accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead." How extraordinary and astonishing was this faith in that early age!
3. Faith in the unchanging fidelity of God to his word. Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promises, however unlikely or even impossible that fulfillment might appear to him. How he would do so after Isaac was sacrificed the patriarch knew not. But he felt assured of the fact. And so by faith he obeyed the dread command, and offered up to God his only begotten son. Faith in God triumphed over doubts and fears, the questionings and reasonings of the intellect, and the pathetic pleadings and passionate appeals of the heart. And how God honored this sublime and conquering faith! Isaac was truly offered to God, yet he was untouched by the sacrificial knife. He was given by his father to God, and then given back by God to his father unhurt, and inestimably more beloved and more sacred. And high is the encomium given to Abraham: "Now I know that thou fearest God," etc. (Genesis 22:12). We know what it was that God required of Abraham. It was not the sacrifice of Isaac, but the complete surrender of himself to God. When that was made the Divine purpose in this awful trial was accomplished, and" the last and culminating point in the Divine education of" the patriarch was attained. And still God requires this from us. He demands the unreserved surrender of ourselves to him, "Whatever is dearest to us upon earth is our Isaac." And when God summons us to give that Isaac up to him, his object in so doing is to lead us to present ourselves wholly and heartily to him as "living sacrifices." "He that loveth father or mother more than me," etc. (Matthew 10:37-40.10.39).—W.J.
Faith giving serenity and magnanimity in death.
"By faith Jacob, when he was a-dying," etc. Let us notice—
I. THE IMPORTANT EVENT. "He was a-dying." In any circumstances and in any case death is an important and solemn event. It is so for several reasons.
1. Think of the mysteriousness of death. There is the mystery of the dissolution of the soul from the body. There are the mysteries of Hades. Where is Hades? What is it? What is the mode of human existence there? There is no authoritative response to our inquiries.
2. Think of what death terminates. It ends our visible association with earthly scenes, circumstances, and societies; it writes "finis" upon all the privileges of this life; it concludes our opportunities for the discharge of the duties of this life.
3. Think of what it inaugurates. It introduces us to the retributionary and eternal state. Yes, death is important and solemn. Jacob's death is worthy of study; it is interesting, instructive, and sublime.
II. THE INTERESTING ATTITUDE. "Leaning upon the top of his staff." Some things of little worth in themselves are yet very precious by reason of their associations. Such in all probability was this staff. It was rich in associations, fruitful in suggestions. It was, perhaps, the same one that is mentioned in a former portion of his life: "With my staff I passed over this Jordan." Probably he took it with him when he left his home and his parents with a guilty and sorrowful spirit; with him, perhaps in his hand, at Luz when he slept with the stones for his pillow, and dreamed, etc; with him that other night, when "there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." It supported his feeble frame when he met his long-lost Joseph at Goshen; and now it is with him in the "last scene of all," as he worships leaning upon the old staff. What associations clustered round it! What emotions it would evoke! what gratitude! trust! etc.
III. THE SUBLIME ENGAGEMENT. The venerable patriarch was engaged:
1. In blessing men. "Blessed each of the sons of Joseph." The meaning of this may be ascertained by referring to Genesis 48:15-1.48.20. The blessing comprised petition, benediction, and prediction of good. A bequest like this is better than proud titles or vast domains. The richest human bequest is the blessing of a holy man. Parents, bestow upon your children this. Children, prize this. "My boast is not that I deduce my birth From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth; But higher far my proud pretensions rise—The son of parents passed into the skies." (Cowper)
Now turn to the staff for a minute. In blessing the lads Jacob thought and spake of God's goodness to himself. Would not the staff inspire him with confidence in assuring that goodness to others? As it reminded him of that sad departure from home, and of other trials, and of the way in which God had led him and sustained him and prospered him, it would fill him with assurance and hope for these two grandchildren. Observe how self-forgetful and magnanimous the patriarch was in this. He has not a thought or purpose for himself. He does not seek to be ministered unto, but he ministers unto others. Such is his attitude towards men in dying. He passes from this world pronouncing benedictions upon men.
2. In worshipping God. "And worshipped." In this also the staff would stimulate the aged saint, as it revived his recollections of the fidelity and forbearance, the mercy and munificence, of the dealings of God with him. Towards God his dying attitude was religious and reverent. He died devoutly adoring him. How different is the death of the impenitent! and of those who, although penitent, have to seek God on the bed of death! "Let me die the death of the righteous," etc. But how may we do so?
IV. THE MEANS BY WHICH JACOB ACCOMPLISHED THIS. "By faith." This is true as regards:
1. The blessing. Unbelievers would pronounce his blessing an absurd superstition, empty sentiment, wasted breath. The patriarch believed in the power of intercessory prayer, and so he prayed for the sons of Joseph. He believed that God often conveys his blessing to men through men, that he blesses man by man. So he utters words of blessing on the lads. Do you think they were vain? I am sure they were not. The memory of them would be a mighty influence for good in their lives. And as their father would tell them in after days of their grandfather and his blessing, high and holy purposes would kindle within them.
2. The worship. Jacob believed in the Being of God. God was a reality to him, or he would not have worshipped. He believed in the holiness and spiritual beauty of God, that he is worshipful, or he could not have worshipped him.
3. The dying. That by faith the aged saint worshipped God and blessed men "when he was a-dying" is a point of importance. Life and immortality were not brought to light then as they are now. The revelation as to the departed was very dim. Yet by faith Israel died calmly, victoriously. It was by faith in God rather than in immortality. He could trust all his interests and all his being to God. He was confident that he would do well and wisely and kindly with him and for him; and so he fell asleep in the everlasting arms. Faith in God is the secret of victory both in life and in death. Let us cultivate it.—W. J.
The faith of Joseph; or, assured confidence in the close of life.
"By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention," etc. We have here—
I. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING IN ASSURED HOPE OF THE FULFILMENT OF THE PROMISES OF GOD TO HIS PEOPLE, The end of Joseph's life upon earth was at hand, and he was well aware that such was the case. Very extraordinary had been his career—remarkably checkered and eventful, now dark and anon dazzling, now full of trial and anon full of triumph, useful beyond any other in that age, and very illustrious; yet it is now nearly ended. It reminds us that the most distinguished and powerful, the most holy and useful life, must come to an end here. At this time Joseph's glances were not cast back regretfully to the greatness and grandeur which he was about to leave, but forward hopefully to a splendid future. He had a firm assurance that a great future awaited his family, and this faith rested upon that God who in his providence had so wonderfully led him and so richly blessed him. "By faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel." "And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die; and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."
1. This assurance forms a fitting conclusion to a life of distinguished piety. The faith which had sustained him in the changeable and often trying experiences of life is clear and vigorous in its closing scenes. In Joseph's case the testimony of his active and public life, and the testimony of his last hours, beautifully harmonize.
2. This assurance was suited to the needs of his kinsfolk at this time.
(1) As a caution against entertaining the notion that Egypt was to be their home. The Israelites at this time were peaceful and very prosperous in the land. They were in danger of losing sight of the destiny to which God had called them, and of endeavoring to find a final settlement in the land of their temporary sojourn. The word of Joseph was fitted to guard them against this peril. It is in worldly comfort and prosperity that men are most prone to be unmindful of their heavenly calling.
(2) As a comfort to them under the loss of his protection. It would not have been strange if the Israelites had feared for their peace and safety when their kind brother and powerful patron was removed by death. But Joseph's calm assurance would encourage them to believe in God's continued interest in them, in his providential care over them, and in the fulfillment of the promises which he made to their fathers. When friends die, when great and good men are summoned home, let this be our encouragement, that God ever lives to save his people and to carry on his work.
II. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING WITH A BEAUTIFUL DESIRE FOR CONTINUED IDENTIFICATION WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Joseph was a great man in Egypt. His elevation and honor, the triumph of his genius and the success of his plans, his prosperity and power, had all been won and enjoyed in Egypt. He had contracted a distinguished marriage with an Egyptian princess. Pharaoh "gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On." In Egypt "the priestly caste was the royal caste also." In authority and rank, in state and splendor, in greatness and power, Joseph was inferior only to the king himself. Yet he wished both in life and in death to be numbered amongst the Israelites. Hence he "gave commandment concerning his bones." "And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence." We discover in this an evidence of:
1. His warm affection for his family. For some years of his life, for more than seven years of his prosperity and power, we have no evidence of any interest taken by Joseph in his father and brothers; but now he manifests a tender and tenacious attachment to them. This is the more worthy of commendation when we call to mind the grievous injury which his brothers had done him aforetime. Joseph loves his kindred who had treated him so ill more than the Egyptians who had treated him so well. "Love as brethren."
2. His unwavering fidelity to his God. Joseph's faith in Jehovah had not been undermined or shaken by his residence in idolatrous Egypt. Through life and in death he was faithful to the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. "Be thou faithful unto death," etc.
III. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING WITH A SUGGESTIVE INTIMATION OF THE HOPE OF IMMORTALITY. Joseph "gave commandment concerning his bones." He "took an oath of the children of Israel" that they would carry his dead body with them, when God should lead them into the land which he had promised unto their fathers. Why should so wise and good a man be so concerned concerning his body? Such concern in such a man is inexplicable apart from the craving of the human heart for immortality; and not for a vague, shadowy existence after death, but for immortality associated with a distinct and recognizable form. The same craving found expression amongst the Egyptians in their embalming of their dead. Joseph must have had some measure of faith in such an immortality. This craving is met in Christianity. "Our Savior Jesus Christ hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." "There shall be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust." "The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth," etc. Both the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body are revealed to us as facts in the Christian Scriptures. Therefore, with our clearer revelation and richer privileges, as the end of our earthly life draws nigh we may realize a failer and firmer assurance than he did whose faith we have been considering. "For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:1).—W.J.
The faith of the parents of Moses.
"By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid," etc. The writer now passes from Joseph to Moses; from the time of the peace and prosperity of the Israelites in Egypt to the time of their heavy oppression and bitter persecution. This persecution culminated in the terrible edict that all their male children that should be born should be cast into the Nile. It was at this time that Moses was born. Hence the Jewish proverb, "When the tale of bricks is doubled then comes Moses." Some of our own proverbs set forth the same truth. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." "The darkest hour of the night is that which precedes the dawn." Our text tells how by faith the parents of Moses protected their child from the fate decreed by Pharaoh, and preserved his life in infancy. We notice—
I. FAITH IN THE DIVINE INTEREST IN HUMAN LIFE. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a goodly child." They seem to have believed that their lovely child was the gift of God, and that he was not unmindful of the gift which he had bestowed. Moses was distinguished for his beauty. "He was a goodly child" (Exodus 2:2). "He was exceeding fair," or "fair unto God" (Acts 7:20). Josephus tells that when the daughter of Pharaoh saw the babe, "she was greatly in love with it, on account of its largeness and beauty." He also tells that when he was three years old every one who saw him was "greatly surprised at the beauty of his countenance: nay, it happened frequently that those who met him as he was carried along the road were obliged to turn again upon seeing the child; that they left what they were about, and stood still a great while to look on him; for the beauty of the child was so remarkable and natural to him on many accounts, that it detained the spectators, and made them stay longer to look upon him." £ Probably his parents believed that so strikingly beautiful a child was destined by God for some great and good end. They may have had a presentiment that God designed him for the accomplishment of some important work. His beauty was to them a presage of his illustrious career. It awakened or strengthened their confidence in the Divine interest in the life of the child. A truth of unspeakable preciousness is this. God is interested deeply and graciously in every human life. He cares not only for the young life before which a great career extends, but for the obscurest and feeblest human creature. "The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works." There is not a sparrow which "is forgotten in the sight of God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." "He careth for you."
II. FAITH IN THE DIVINE POWER AS TRANSCENDING THE AUTHORITY AND MIGHT OF HUMAN SOVEREIGNS. The parents of Moses believed that God could protect their child notwithstanding the cruel edict of the mighty Pharaoh. They showed their faith by concealing their cherished treasure in their house for three months. They showed it yet more clearly and impressively when they placed that treasure in its frail little vessel amongst the flags on the brink of the Nile. They committed their beloved child, not to the margin of the river and its flags, but to the ever-observant and almighty providence of God. Their faith was as reasonable as it was strong. God can either preserve from danger or deliver out of the very midst of it. The most determined edicts of the mightiest monarchs are utterly powerless against his counsels. "He shall cut off the spirit of princes; he is terrible to the kings of the earth." "He poureth contempt upon princes." "God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another." He is able to guard his faithful servants against the wrath and the power of fierce sovereigns. He can preserve his people unhurt in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:19-27.3.27); or can make even hungry lions to be unto them as gentle companions (Daniel 6:16-27.6.23). Trust in him is, therefore, the highest wisdom; for his gracious interest in humanity is infinite, and his power to defend and save is almighty.
III. FAITH IN GOD INSPIRING HUMAN INGENUITY AND COURAGE. It did so in the parents of Moses. Notice:
1. Their ingenuity. For three months they successfully concealed their beloved babe. They managed to hide the infant from Egyptian eyes, and to prevent his cries from reaching Egyptian ears. They skillfully constructed the ark, and judiciously selected a refuge for it. They did these things by faith. Faith stimulates ingenuity; it quickens the inventive faculties. And when, as in the case before us, love is engaged as well as faith, and the object of affection is in danger, then the inventive faculties are stirred to their highest and utmost exercise. Great inventions and discoveries are impossible apart from great faith.
2. Their courage. "They were not afraid of the king's commandment." It has been well said that "faith has an eagle's eye and a lion's heart. It has a lion's heart to" confront the difficulties and dangers of the present, and it has an eagle's eye to descry the success and blessing of the future. The servant of Elisha was terrified when he saw the Syrian army surrounding Dothan; but Elisha was perfectly calm, because by faith he beheld the hosts of his heavenly guardians. Faith nerves the soul with invincible courage. The most earnest believers are the greatest heroes. The ancient religious believers "through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness," etc. (Hebrews 11:33-58.11.38). How splendidly was the faith of the parents of Moses vindicated! God kept the infant in safety during the three months in which it was concealed in the house. His eye was fixed on that little ark of bulrushes on the brink of the Nile, making it more secure than if it had been enclosed by castle walls or guarded by hosts of mailed warriors. His hand, unseen and unsuspected, led Pharaoh's daughter to that part of the river where the frail barque with its priceless treasure floated. And in his providence he ordered all things for the protection and education of the life of that Hebrew child, and for the fulfillment of his great destiny. Therefore, "trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."—W.J.
The great choice of Moses.
"By faith Moses, when he was come to years," etc. In the providence of God the adoption of the infant Moses by the daughter of Pharaoh was the means by which he received the education and training necessary for the great work for which God had destined him. To the human mind, taking into consideration the condition of the Israelites at that time, there ages not seem to have been any other means by which he could have obtained instruction so complete and discipline so thorough. "By means of this princely education," says Kitto, "he became a person most accomplished in his temper, demeanor, and intellect; he was also trained in that largeness of view and generosity of spirit which are supposed to result from such relations, and which qualified him to sustain with dignity and authority the offices of ruler of a people and general of armies, which eventually devolved upon him. This education, also—involving, as it must have done, an intimacy with the highest science and philosophy of Egyptian sages—was well calculated to secure for him the attention and respect of the Egyptians when he stood forth to demand justice for an oppressed race." "Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; and he was mighty in his words and works" (Acts 7:22). The choice of which our text speaks was his calm and deliberate decision to separate himself from the Egyptians among whom he had hitherto lived, and to identify himself with the Israelites to whom he belonged by descent and parentage. He freely chose the oppressed people of God as his people. This involved the great avowal that their God was his God; that he rejected the gods of Egypt, and reverently and heartily accepted Jehovah as his God—the Sovereign of his being and his Supreme Good. But brought up in the Egyptian court, instructed by Egyptian teachers, how would Moses become acquainted with his connection with the Israelites, with their history anti their hopes, and with the sublime character of the God whom they acknowledged? In the providence of God it was so ordered that his own godly mother was his nurse, and she would instill these things into his active and receptive mind, and teach him the simple and holy faith of their religion. Moreover, when we call to mind the place which, in the Divine purposes, he was to occupy and the work he was to do, we cannot but conclude that God communicated directly with his mind and. spirit, and he received immediate enlightenment and impulse from him. And thus prepared, in due season he makes the great decision actual, and openly chooses the living and true God for his own and only God, and the down-trodden people of God for his people. Several aspects of this choice are mentioned in the text.
I. IT WAS MADE AT A SIGNIFICANT SEASON OF LIFE. "When he was grown up." "When he was full forty years old" (Acts 7:23). Moses made the great choice neither in the heat and impulsiveness of youth, when the judgment is immature and the decisions hasty, nor in the decadence of age, when the faculties are failing, and the mind no longer perceives with its former clearness or considers with its former comprehensiveness and force. He came to the great decision at a time when his mental faculties may reasonably be held to have been in full maturity and vigor, and when he was able correctly to estimate the significance and importance of that decision. Moreover, the choice was made at a time when it would require an effort to break away from old associations and modes of life. Generally speaking, a person's habits are formed and fixed at forty years old; and he does not easily take to new circumstances and associations and customs. But Moses did so. These considerations point to the conclusion that the choice was made intelligently, deliberately, and with entire decision.
II. IT INVOLVED GREAT SACRIFICES.
1. Eminent position and brilliant prospects. "Moses … refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter." He was the adopted son of the king's daughter; but he sacrificed that princely position. If Jewish traditions are at all reliable, he occupied a position of great eminence and influence amongst the Egyptians. His prospects also were dazzling. Some say that he would probably have succeeded to the throne. All these things he renounced in making his great choice.
2. The pleasures of the world. Moses declined "to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." What are these?
(1) The gratifications which are prohibited by God: "The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."
(2) The pursuits which are condemned by conscience. "To him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." "He that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: and whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:14, Romans 14:23).
(3) Anything which diminishes spiritual susceptibility or strength, or retards spiritual progress. There is pleasure in some of the things which are divinely prohibited. There are gratifications connected with sin. It were folly to deny it. But they are only "for a season." They will not bear reflection even in this present life. They will have no existence in the future life. All these pleasures Moses cast aside.
3. The treasures of the world. Moses turned away from "the treasures of Egypt." It seems beyond doubt that he must have lived in affluence in Egypt; and as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, he must have had prospects of great wealth for his own portion. How strong the fascination of riches is for many persons! And this fascination is more fully realized when men have reached the age of Moses than in earlier days. At the age when he made his great decision it costs no small effort to relinquish voluntarily the almost certain prospect of great wealth. Yet Moses did so.
III. IT INVOLVED THE PROBABILITY OF GREAT SUFFERINGS.
1. The endurance of evil treatment. Moses was well aware that by reason of his choice he would very likely have "to suffer affliction with the people of God." The Israelites were treated by the Egyptians as slaves; they were an oppressed, a cruelly ill-used people. Moses knew this when he determined to cast in his lot with them. "To be evil entreated" was almost certain to be his portion; but it would be "with the people of God." An important fact that. They were a people of a pure faith, sustained by a mighty hand, and inspired by a glorious destiny.
2. The endurance of bitter reproach Moses looked forward to "the reproach of Christ" as a probable result of his choice. "He would be exposed to ridicule for his folly in leaving his brilliant prospects at court to become identified with an oppressed and despised people." "The writer," says De Wette, "calls the reproach which Moses suffered the reproach of Christ, as Paul (2 Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24) calls the sufferings of Christians the sufferings of Christ, i.e. of Christ dwelling, striving, suffering, in his Church as in his body; to which this reproach is referred according to the idea of the unity of the Old and New Testaments, and of the eternal Christ (the Loges) already living and reigning in the former." Reproaches do not strip a man of his worldly goods or break his bones; but to some they are even harder to bear than these things. They enter terribly into the soul. Thus David cried, "Reproach hath broken my heart."
IV. IT WAS ASSOCIATED WITH A GREAT EXPECTATION, Moses "had respect unto the recompense of reward." He looked forward to the fulfillment of the promises made unto their fathers—that they should possess the land of Canaan, that they should be a great and independent nation, and that in them all nations should be blessed. And beyond earth and time he looked for a great reward and an eternal. He had yearnings for immortality. And his hopes reached beyond the bounds of time and space to a perfection heavenly, everlasting, and Divine. This was not the grand motive for his great choice. He did not consecrate himself to the true God because of the rewards of his service. Higher and purer were the motives which determined his choice. But the prospect of these rewards encouraged him in making the choice. And as to ourselves, we should choose to believe the true, do the right, lore the beautiful, and reverence the holy, even if no advantage accrued to us by so doing. But there is an advantage in godliness, there is a peerless prize for the faithful servant; and we may take encouragement in the duties and difficulties, the sufferings and crosses of life, by the contemplation thereof.
V. IT NECESSITATED A GREAT EXERCISE OF FAITH. If he had been guided by his senses, Moses would have viewed these matters in an entirely different light, and have made the directly opposite choice. He was guided by his soul. He listened to the higher voices of his being, and complied with them. He looked at things with the eye of faith. By faith he saw the vanity and transitoriness of the things he was renouncing, the reality and righteousness, the essential and abiding worth of the things he was embracing, and he made the choice—the true, the wise, the blessed choice. Let those who are not yet decidedly religious copy the example of Moses. To be guided simply by sight and sense in making the great election is irrational and ruinous. Let faith and reason be brought into exercise, and then your choice will be hearty and earnest for the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.—W.J.
Seeing the invisible One.
"He endured, as seeing him who is invisible." These words suggest the following observations.
I. THAT GOD IS ESSENTIALLY INVISIBLE TO THE SENSES. He is the invisible One. "God is a Spirit;" and the physical eye cannot behold pure spirit. Organs of sense have no fitness for immediate dealing with the great verities of the spiritual realm. Truth, holiness, love, cannot be perceived by the senses; for they have neither material form nor visible color, Neither can the Infinite Spirit be seen by our finite sense. When he is represented as manifesting himself to man (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 18:1), it does not mean that the essence or substance of God was seen by human eye, but that he assumed some visible form in which he communicated with man. When Jacob is said to "have seen God face to face" (Genesis 32:30), and a statement of similar import is made of Moses (Exodus 33:11), we must understand thereby that he drew near to them in a very remarkable theophany, that he granted to them some full and clear manifestation of the Divine, and at the same time admitted them to intimate spiritual communion with him. To Moses himself the Lord said," Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33:20). "No man hath seen God at any time," etc. (John 1:18). He is" the King eternal, immortal, invisible;' "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16). We infer the unlawfulness of any attempt to represent God to the senses. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," etc. (Exodus 20:4, Exodus 20:5); "To whom will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?" (Isaiah 40:18).
II. THAT GOD MAY BE PERCEIVED BY THE SOUL. Moses "endured as seeing him who is invisible." The Infinite Spirit cannot be sensuously apprehended, but he may be spiritually apprehended. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." The pure heart is the organ by which the invisible One may be seen. "There is another vision beside the vision of the body; faith itself is sight; and where faith is complete, there is a consciousness of God's presence throughout our life and service which amounts to a distinct vision of God's personal presence and government." Thus may we blessedly realize his presence in our hearts and lives. Thus did Enoch, as he "walked with God." And David, "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." "I will fear no evil: for thou art with me." And Paul, "The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me."
III. THAT THE VISION OF GOD SUPPLIES THE SOUL WITH ITS STRONGEST AND SUBLIMEST INSPIRATIONS. "He endured, as seeing him who is invisible." This realization of the Divine presence:
1. Raises the soul above the fear of man. By faith Moses did "not fear the wrath of the king; for he endured," etc. This enabled the psalmist to utter the triumphant challenge, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do unto me?" (see also Daniel 3:13-27.3.18; Acts 4:18-44.4.20; Acts 5:27-44.5.29).
2. Inspires the soul with patience in the trials of life. It enables the Christian to say even of severe sufferings, "Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen," etc. (2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18).
3. Inspires the soul with energy and perseverance for the difficult duties of life. Sometimes the sympathetic presence of a friend is very encouraging and helpful in arduous and dispiriting labor. But the consciousness of God's presence and approbation always imparts courage to the heart, resolution to the will, and energy to the arm of his faithful servants.
4. Exalts the tone and spirit of the entire life. "Seeing him who is invisible," a life of unworthy aims or sinful practices will be impossible. Realizing his presence, both character and conduct must grow in purity and power, in piety and usefulness.—W.J.
Unquestioning faith expressed and vindicated.
"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down," etc. Let us endeavor to exhibit the principal features of this example of the exercise of faith.
I. FAITH IN THE DIVINE WORD OF DIRECTION AND PROMISE, Directions were given by the Lord to Joshua for the taking of Jericho, with the promise that on their fulfillment the wails of that city should fall to the ground (Joshua 6:2-6.6.5). This communication Joshua conveyed to the people; and they believed it, they received it as a message from God. They exercised faith
(1) in his righteous authority over them;
(2) in his power to fulfill his promises; and
(3) in his fidelity to his word.
In these respects their faith is exemplary; for his authority is supreme, his power is almighty, and his faithfulness infinite.
III. FAITH IN THE DIVINE WORD WHEN THERE WAS NO NECESSARY RELATION BETWEEN THE DIRECTIONS GIVEN AND THE RESULT PROMISED. Generally speaking, in the Divine arrangements the means ordained are wisely adapted to accomplish the ends for which they are employed. But it is quite the opposite in the case now before us. The course of action prescribed and the consequence promised cannot possibly be regarded as cause and effect. The marching round the city, the blowing of rams' horns, and the uttering of great shouts, cannot by any stretch of imagination be looked upon even as means for leveling strong city walls to the ground. Such proceedings have no necessary relation with such a result. If related at all, the relation is altogether arbitrary. The things enjoined upon the Israelites were simply conditions with which they were to comply—tests of faith and obedience; and the Lord guaranteed a certain result upon the fulfillment of the conditions. And without raising any objections or proposing any questions they believed his word.
"Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why."
And if we are assured of his will in any matter, we should follow it irrespective of appearances and of probabilities as they present themselves to our minds. When he commands, it is ours to obey. When he promises, it is ours to accept the promise, leaving the method of its fulfillment to him.
III. FAITH MANIFESTED IN PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. The Israelites proved the reality of their faith in the Divine communication by complying with its requirements. "It came to pass, when Joshua had spoken to the people, that the seven priests," etc. (Joshua 6:8-6.6.20). Genuine faith always leads to a course of conduct in harmony with its own character (cf. James 2:14-59.2.26).
IV. FAITH LEADING TO PERSEVERING OBEDIENCE EVEN WHEN NO APPARENT EFFECT WAS PRODUCED BY THEIR ACTION. The Israelites went round the city as they were directed, "but not a brick of the walls fell; and they went round a second time, and a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time, and still all the bricks were there, firmly cemented, and the walls stood. The defenders of Jericho would look on those wonderful walkers, and one can imagine them saying, 'It is a new mode of assault you are adopting. We wonder how long you will have to walk before the walls fall; Jericho will stand for a long time if it is to be taken by walking.' Nevertheless, the Israelites held in their hands the promise, and they felt it in their hearts," and they persevered in their obedience notwithstanding the utter absence of any sign of success. They completed the prescribed process, and then their obedience was rewarded with success. And in our case, faith and obedience must be persistent, though our discouragements be great. We are called to be "imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." "Ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise" (cf. Matthew 10:22; Romans 2:7; Revelation 2:10).
V. FAITH COMPLETELY VINDICATED BY GOD. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down." When the Israelites had completely carried out the directions which the Lord had given them, "the wall fell down fiat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city." Thus the result fully justified their confidence and their conduct. And no one ever trusted God in vain. Faith, resting upon God's word or character, honors him and gratifies him; and he will not, he cannot, fail the soul that trusts him. If we honor him with our hearty confidence, he will honor us with his glorious salvation.—W.J.
The faith of a heathen woman.
"By faith the harlot Rahab perished not," etc. What did Rahab believe? What does the Bible teach us concerning her faith? She exercised:
1. Faith in Jehovah as the true and supreme God. She believed in him not simply as a superior and powerful local or national deity, but as supreme over all beings universally. This is her confession, "Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11).
2. Faith in the fidelity and power of Jehovah to fulfill his purposes in relation to his people. "She said unto the men, I know that Jehovah hath given you the land" (Joshua 2:9); and therefore she was confident that they would actually come into possession of it.
3. Faith in the fidelity of the worshippers of Jehovah. She showed kindness to the spies, entered into an important agreement with them, and fulfilled her part of the agreement, evidently expecting them to fulfill their part (Joshua 2:12, Joshua 2:13, Joshua 2:21). Three aspects of the faith of Rahab are suggested by our text.
I. FAITH IN AN UNLIKELY PERSON.
1. Rahab was an idolatrous Canaanite. She had not been blessed with parental instructions and home influences inclining her heart to faith in the true and holy God; but the reverse. She was the daughter of heathen parents, instructed in a loathsome and degrading idolatry, and belonged to a people whose "abominations and iniquities had become full, so that the land spued out its inhabitants, and the Lord could deal with them only in sheer destruction." Yet she believed sincerely and strongly in the living and true God.
2. Rahab was a known harlot. Whether she was such at the time she received the spies we know not, probably she was not; but if not then, she had been formerly, and was still known by the disgraceful title of "Rahab the harlot." But, as Bishop Hervey remarks, "it is very possible that to a woman of her country and religion such a calling may have implied a far less deviation from the standard of morality than it does with us; and, moreover, with a purer faith she seems to have entered upon a pure life." £ We should not have expected true religious faith in such a woman, much less conspicuous faith; but such faith she exemplified. Learn that the outwardly moral and respectable may be further from the kingdom of God than the openly disreputable. "A woman which was in the city, a sinner," was accepted by the blessed Savior much more than the prosperous, respectable Pharisee, Simon (Luke 7:36-42.7.50). Jesus said unto "the chief priests and the elders of the people... Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you," etc. (Matthew 21:23, Matthew 21:31, Matthew 21:32).
II. FAITH CLEARLY ENVINCED. Rahab manifested the reality of her faith:
1. In receiving the spies. She would not have shown courteous hospitality to any of the Israelites, who were dreaded and detested by her countrymen, but for her faith. "By faith Rahab received the spies with peace."
2. In concealing and delivering the imperiled spies at her own risk. (Joshua 2:2-6.2.7, Joshua 2:15, Joshua 2:16, Joshua 2:22) Grave objection has been raised to the conduct of Rahab in telling a lie in order to conceal and protect the spies. We have no wish to apologize for falsehood; but the objection is not a reasonable one. "Strict truth," says Bishop Hervey, "either in Jew or heathen, was a virtue so utterly unknown before the promulgation of the gospel, that, as far as Rahab is concerned, the discussion" of her conduct in deceiving the King of Jericho's messengers with a false tale is quite superfluous. The objection also overlooks a very precious truth as to the relations and dealings of God with man. "God demands not of the feeble at the beginning the great works of consummate faith; he beholds even in the imperfect act the faith which prompts it, if faith is actually operating in its performance." St. James inquires, "Was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?" (James 2:25).
3. In entering into a solemn contract with the spies and carrying out the terms of that contract. The compact she agreed to was a thing of life or death to her; and she kept her part of the compact, and exhibited even to the end steady confidence in the fidelity of the two spies to their engagement. Her actions proved the reality and strength of her faith.
III. FAITH RICHLY REWARDED.
1. In the preservation of herself and her kindred when her fellow-citizens were destroyed. (Joshua 6:22, Joshua 6:23, Joshua 6:25) "By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient." Her fellow-citizens had heard the reports of what God had done for Israel, and of the remarkable victories which the Israelites had achieved, but they believed not in the God of Israel. "They believed not that Israel's God was the true God, and that Israel was the peculiar people of God, though they had evidence sufficient of it." Or, as Alford expresses it, "The inhabitants of Jericho were disobedient to the will of God manifested by the signs and wonders which he had wrought for Israel; as is implied by Rahab's speech (Joshua 2:9-6.2.12)." And they perished. But Rahab and her family were saved.
2. In the honorable distinction to which she attained. She is exhibited in this Epistle as an example of distinguished faith, and by St. James (James 2:25) as an example of conduct consistent with her faith. And, far higher than these commendations, as the wife of Salmon and the mother of Boaz she became an ancestress of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our subject is full of encouragement for sinners to turn (o God by faith in Jesus Christ. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord," etc. (Isaiah 55:6, Isaiah 55:7).—W.J.
The excellent of the earth.
"Of whom the world was not worthy." The text teaches that the world could not bear comparison in respect to worth with the persons named and referred to in this chapter; their character was elevated far above that of the world in general. Let us look at our text—
I. AS THE STATEMENT OF AN HISTORICAL FACT. In all ages there have been men "of whom the world was not worthy." Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Samuel, et al., are examples. In the apostasy and exile of the Jews there were Jeremiah and Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Amongst the Greeks there was Socrates. Amid the corruptions of the Papal Church there was Savonarola, and after him Martin Luther. And at present there are many who are far superior to the world; who are in the world, yet far above it.
II. As AN HISTORICAL FACT OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE TO THE WORLD. Without the presence in the world of men "of whom the world is not worthy," it would hasten to its doom. A few scientific men "of whom the world is not worthy" save it from scientific stagnation and death. Some of the statesmen of the past who were much abused by the world, and far superior to it, are now recognized as its great benefactors. And as for the heroes of faith, the godly amongst men, they are the saviors of society—" the salt of the earth," arresting its progress towards utter moral corruption, "the light of the world," saving it from unrelieved moral darkness. The presence of ten righteous men would have averted the doom of the cities of the plain. The world knows not its benefactors and saviors. For those who prophesy smooth things to it, it has crowns of honor and thrones of power; but for those who proclaim the truth, it has crowns of thorns, and for a throne the cruel cross. So it treats the men of whom it is not Worthy; so it treated the Divine Man (cf. Matthew 10:24, Matthew 10:25; John 15:18-43.15.20; John 19:1-43.19.18).
III. THE GREATER THE UNWORTHINESS OF THE WORLD THE MORE URGENT IS ITS NEED OF MEN OF WORTH. The darker the night the greater is our need of the street lamps. When the night is darkest and the storm most furious, the lonely watcher in the lighthouse most diligently trims and tends his lamp. So in the darkest moral night God has often lit and sent forth some of the brightest stars in the firmament of the Church. Israel was in a terrible condition under Ahab and Jezebel, and God raised up the intrepid and holy Elijah. When vice was rampant in the Romish Church God summoned forth the fearless and faithful Martin Luther. At a more recent date, when religion seemed almost extinct in our land, God called and commissioned the Wesleys, and Whitefield, and Fletcher of Madeley, and Selina Countess of Huntingdon. It was because of the unworthiness of the world that Jesus Christ came into it.
IV. THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD SO LIVE THAT THE TEXT WILL BE TRUE OF AIM. Is it not true that the world is perfectly worthy of many "who profess and call themselves Christians"? In business, in amusements, in politics, is their standard higher than that of the world? Let us test this question in the matter of gambling: are our hands clean of it? Is it not spreading amongst professedly Christian people in the forms of card-playing, raffling, and lotteries? But listen to our Lord: "Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world;" "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." And St. John: "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Let us live above the world; let us live to God. Be this our ideal, "For to me to live is Christ."
V. FOR MEN OF WHOM THIS WORLD IS NOT WORTHY THERE IS A WORLD WHICH IS WELL WORTHY. Into heaven the worthy of all peoples and all ages are gathered. There men are treated according to their own inherent worth. The worthy are worthily received and honored. How the judgments of earth are reversed in that world! All true worthiness is "by faith "—by faith in the unseen, in the soul, in truth, in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the great and gracious God. Let us cultivate this faith. Let us live up to such measure of it as we already possess.—W.J.
Hebrews 11:39, Hebrews 11:40
Successive stages in the dispensation of God's blessings to man.
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith," etc. Let us consider—
I. THE GOOD REALIZED BY THE OLD TESTAMENT BELIEVERS. The better thing provided for Christians implies that some good thing was bestowed upon the godly under the former covenant. They had:
1. Divine promises. Many were the promises made to the ancient saints; e.g. promises of temporal good, of providential guidance and oversight, of spiritual forgiveness and help, etc. These promises encouraged their hopes, and raised the tone and character of their lives.
2. Fulfillments of Divine promises. Many of the blessings promised to the saints of the earlier dispensation were received and enjoyed by them. They "obtained promises" (Hebrews 11:33); i.e. they obtained certain promised blessings. A glance at the names mentioned in this chapter will at once show that this was the case. Abraham received the promised son; Jacob was blessed in his worldly circumstances, purified and ennobled in his character, and brought to the goal of his pilgrimage in a good old age, in peace and in honor. Joseph was wonderfully preserved, guided, exalted, etc.
3. Divine commendations. They "obtained a good report through faith." They "had witness borne to them through their faith." Each one mentioned or referred to in this chapter was commended for some distinguishing excellence, and every one for faith. Abel "had witness borne to him that he was righteous," etc. (Hebrews 11:4). Enoch "had witness borne to him that he had been well-pleasing unto God" (Hebrews 11:5). They had within themselves the witness of a good conscience; they enjoyed the smile of the Most High; and in his holy Word God has expressed his approbation of their character and conduct.
II. THE BETTER PORTION REALIZED BY NEW TESTAMENT BELIEVERS. The heroes and heroines of faith who are mentioned or referred to in this chapter "received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us." The promise which they received not, and the better thing provided for us, we take to be the actual fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah, and the blessedness of the gospel age. "Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not." Our portion is a better thing:
1. Because the realization of any genuine good is better than the anticipation of it.
2. Because of the clearer revelation of redemptive truth. "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son" (Hebrews 1:1-58.1.4). "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." He embodied the will of the Father in his character and words and works. He revealed the heart of the Father toward us his sinful and suffering children.
3. Because of the greater fullness and power of redemptive influence. Atonement for sin is now accomplished. The mighty influences of the love of God in the sacrifice of Christ are now brought to bear upon us. Our restraints from sin are more pathetic and powerful than were theirs of the earlier dispensation; our incentives to righteousness and reverence and love are more exalted and constraining than theirs.
III. THE BEST BLESSINGS IS WHICH BOTH THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE NEW TESTAMENT BELIEVERS ARE SHARERS. "That apart from us they should not be made perfect." This perfection is the holiness and blessedness of the saints in light. "The writer implies," says Alford, "as indeed Hebrews 10:14 seems to testify, that the advent and work of Christ has changed the estate of the Old Testament fathers and saints into greater and perfect bliss; an inference which is forced on us by many other places in Scripture. So that their perfection was dependent on our perfection: their and our perfection was all brought in at the same time when Christ 'by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified.' So that the result with regard to them is, that their spirits from the time when Christ descended into Hades and ascended up into heaven, enjoy heavenly blessedness, and are waiting, with all who have followed their glorified High Priest within the veil, for the resurrection of their bodies, the regeneration, the renovation of all things." Then all God's people of all ages and of all lands shall enter into the joy of their one Lord, and participate in the blessedness and glory unspeakable and eternal.—W.J.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Faith in its relation to the future and the unseen.
I. FAITH IN ITS RELATION TO THE FUTURE.
1. Nothing is more to be desired than a hopeful outlook towards the future. The future may be regarded doubtfully, fearfully, or even despairingly; on the other hand the question rises if it be not possible to regard the future with a hope which shall become a duty. Doubtless there are many who do look hopefully forward, but they are hopeful simply because of a disposition constitutionally sanguine. They may even make a brightness where there is nothing in the circumstances to warrant it. They think it is quite as likely chance may bring to them success as failure. But this sort of hope never can become a duty, a feeling which a man ought to have, potent and governing in his breast. We do not want a future dependent on chance, or natural endowments, or favorable circumstances. We want a future which shall become bright to every human being because of his humanity, because of his character, because one of the elements in bringing it about is his own choice.
2. This bright outlook towards the future is secured by Christian faith. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." More correctly, faith is a substance of things hoped for. Bengel alleges that the metaphor is taken from a pillar standing under a heavy weight. We accept the explanation, only adding to it that this heavy weight rests on more pillars than one, and all of them are necessary. The things hoped for will never come into existence for us unless they be related to us by a present, practical faith. Suppose to each of two men a quantity of seed is given. One of them sows his portion, and then to him a harvest is among the things hoped for, his hope being reasonable and based upon an act of faith when he put his seed into the ground. The other, not sowing, if he hopes for a harvest, is clearly under a delusion. The thing he hopes for has no substance; he has done nothing to show real faith. The thing indicated by the word "faith" is something practical; not a man merely saying he believes, but showing his faith by his works. Such a faith becomes a matter of conscience. God gives to the man who wishes for the gift a peculiar insight, a deep conviction in the heart, which is worth more than any argument. The course taken may not satisfy others, may provoke their laughter, their wonder, their pity; but after all the one thing needful is not that our course should be clear to others, but clear to ourselves. If we go wrong in our course through neglect of the Divine voice speaking within us, it is we who suffer the most. We must look to God altogether, and he will give us the right impulse, and concentrate our faculties so that we shall not drift through life, but rather speed onward with a definite aim, concerning which, in our own best moments, we shall have a full assurance that we cannot miss it. These heavenly certainties are not to be revealed by flesh and blood. So much turns on faith that it is no wonder it is so much dwelt on in the New Testament. Of what a glorious life, of what beatific imaginations, does unbelief deprive us?
II. FAITH IN ITS RELATION TO THE UNSEEN. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for;" it is not called the substance of things unseen. For it is in no sense the substance of things unseen. They exist, whether we believe them to exist or not. But faith may become to our hearts the evidence of these unseen things. Certainly there can be no other evidence. To all our natural faculties there is presented nothing but a bundle of phenomena, and whatever we may think of beyond them comes into our minds simply because we are unable to believe that there is nothing beyond them. There is an outward man, perceptible to the senses, feeling through the senses a like pleasure and pain; but there is also an inward man, a deep, invisible existence, to which God and Christ appeal, as having the proper sphere of its life in the great invisible outside c f it. It is by faith that the invisible in us is to profit by the invisible outside of us. Prayer is a recognition of the invisible. We are to endure as seeing him who is invisible. The only source of inspiration for a real and full Christian life is to be found in the invisible. And when the invisible rules, when faith lays hold of its riches, then even the visible becomes a more glorious and profitable thing than it ever can do while sense rules alone.—Y.
The great characteristic of the elders.
I. THE TERM BY WHICH THEY ARE INDICATED. The elders. Those spoken of are these who had lived the life of the flesh centuries before, but the term is not used merely to indicate this fact. We know from the subsequent illustrations that the men of long ago are meant; but there is a much more comprehensive meaning in their being spoken of as πρεσβύτεροι. Πρεσβύτερος is a relative word, its correlative being νεώτερος (see 1 Peter 5:5). The elder and the younger are to be taken together—as part of one community, and the younger are to be in subordination to the elder. These elders are to be thought of, not as the dead, but as the still living. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are among these elders, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God, not of the dead, but of the living. Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or any other of the glorified believers, could have appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration as easily as Moses or Elijah, had this been the necessary thing. And these elders, who have received a good report through faith, are not to be made perfect without us.
II. THEIR RELATION TO FAITH. They received a good report. They had witness borne to them. Surely there is great inclusiveness in this word.
1. Their faith stood to them in the place of evidence from experience or observation. They were at the beginning of things. They had no histories, traditions, and customs to fall back on. They had to trust the deepest impulses of their own hearts. We are the inheritors of discoveries and benefits which, in the beginnings of them, can have had little ground but faith.
2. Their faith is the great element which makes them memorable. The good men among them were better men because they were believers. Indeed, the only goodness that can be anything more than a matter of fashion and convention must come through faith. Take faith out of the lives of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and you have nothing that should lift these men out of the common multitude. Testimony could be borne as to their faith; but we know that testimony could not be borne to other very desirable qualities in human character. Abraham had no very great regard for truth, and Jacob was utterly disingenuous. But they were believers, and in this one fact was sufficient leverage to secure their ultimate salvation, and make them adequate agents for the Divine purposes.
3. In their faith they become witnesses to us. We see plain results of their faith up to a certain point. We see Noah justified in building the ark. We see Abraham justified in leaving his own country. We see Joseph justified in giving commandment concerning his bones. We do see that he who sows in bare faith reaps a harvest corresponding to his faith. And so we must take heed lest these elders, now being witnesses to us, may one day become witnesses against us.—Y.
Faith beginning where science ends.
In the first verse of the chapter things not seen are spoken of. Faith is the evidence of these things not seen. There can be no other evidence, for things not seen are eternal; they are beyond the ken of our senses; if we cannot be certified of them by spiritual intuitions, we cannot be certified of them at all (2 Corinthians 4:18). But the things that are seen have also to be dealt with; we want to know the connection of the seen with the unseen; and the origin of the seen we also want to know. Faith has something to say concerning the ου βλεπόμενα; what has it to say in respect to the βλεπόμενα? The answer is that as faith gives our only resource for being sure of the reality of unseen things, so faith gives our only resource for being sure of the origin of seen things. The seen things, at least as to the surface of them and certain manifestations of them, lie before us. Especially there are before us those seen things which have life in them. We see them spring into being, have their time of growth, maturity, decay; and then they pass out of any life that we can see. They are not only seen things, but also φαινομένα, things that appear. Yesterday they had not appeared; today they appear; to-morrow they will disappear. And yet in disappearing they leave behind them that out of which will come a succession of phenomena like themselves. Thus generation is mysteriously linked to generation, and the world goes on. Suppose we have before us a field of grain. A little time ago that stretch of waving stalks was not; nothing but an extent of broken soil. We look for an antecedent; and the first antecedent we find is the seed that has been sown. We do know that if grain-seed is sown in the earth the result will be a crop of grain, but to say this does not satisfy us. The heart cannot believe that natural observation has the last word to say on the matter. Scientific inquiry goes as far as it can into the seen, and then faith spreads its wings for a flight into the unseen, and declares that if generation so regularly succeeds generation, and age so regularly succeeds age, it must be because God is joining them all together—framing the ages, as in this verse it is sublimely expressed. The verse must be taken as referring, not only to the original creation of the world and all that is therein, but also to the continuance and reproduction of life. The first origin of life is not more mysterious than the continuance of it. And faith says that the word of an unseen God has to do with these mysteries, and the word "God" carries all the rest that has to be said. To say that God speaks the life-giving word is to say that all is spoken in love, in wisdom, and in all-comprehending power.—Y.
The faith of Abel.
I. In his action there was NO RELATION MEASURABLE BY HUMAN REASON BETWEEN MEANS AND ENDS. Where something is done perceptible to the senses, and the result is also perceptible to the senses, then reason can see that there is a relation between means and ends. But here, while the something done is perceptible to the senses, the result is in no way perceptible to any natural faculty of man. To the pure rationalist, the killing of a beast in sacrifice must ever seem an aimless, resultless act, always a mere superstition, always a waste. It is rational to kill a beast in self-defense, and plausible reasons may be urged why beasts should be killed for food; but there is no reason, save that of a deep, inward, authoritative impression, why a beast should be killed in sacrifice. Abel certainly could give no other reason. And yet, looked at in the light of the subsequent death of Christ, certain great principles of sacrificial action are seen in this first recorded sacrifice, and all the numberless similar ones which followed. There is the acknowledgment of human fault as well as of Divine goodness. There is the acknowledgment of Divine goodness in giving back to God what God first of all had given. But this might have been done by an offering like that of Cain. There has to be something more, and it is reached when a life is taken. The innocent suffers for the guilty. Granted that Abel's state of mind is one inconceivable to us, one which we cannot imagine being produced in us, yet it may have been appropriate enough to that stage in human history. If we had been in Abel's place we should have done right in following Abel's example.
II. THE FAITH THAT IS REQUIRED FOR THE TAKING AWAY OF ANY LIFE, Life is taken away recklessly, thoughtlessly, upon very slight occasion—even human life. And yet, as a child is reported once to have said, it ought to require great faith to put a man to death—a very clear conviction that the thing is right and necessary. Liberty, if wrongly taken, can be restored. Life, however taken, is gone forever. And there should be consideration, surely, in taking the life of even a brute beast. Hence, whenever there was real obedience in such a sacrifice, there must have been a very deep faith. Faith that what looked like waste was really using a brute life to the very best purpose. The natural life was yielded up, and there came back an accession of spiritual life. The brute was for the time of greater service as a sin offering than in any other way.
III. THE EXTENT OF ABEL'S FAITH. It cost him his life. He died through it. The first example of faith that the writer finds is one where the believer loses his life through his faith. Moreover, he loses his life through faith that had Divine testimony borne to it. God makes it plain that he accepts the true obedience, but he does not preserve the natural life of him whom he thus accepts. The path of faithful obedience may be the path to natural death.
IV. CAIN'S UNBELIEF. By the results of that unbelief Cain still speaks. He did not believe that a sin offering was needed. Then came the results of the unbelief.
1. Non-acceptance of what he did offer.
2. Consequent envy and malice of his brother, who had been witnessed to as righteous.
3. Malice leads to actual murder.
4. Cain, filled with remorse, looses the links that bind him to his fellow men. Abel's faith has to be looked at, not only in its results to him, but in contrast with the results of Cain's unbelief.—Y.
The faith of Enoch.
Of Enoch we know next to nothing in one sense. We are ignorant of the details of his life; not even one great striking event is preserved to us. But of the great principle and result of his life we are not ignorant, and it is quite permissible for us to make conjectures by way of illustration. In considering what is here said, we must notice the order of the argument.
I. WHAT HAPPENED TO ENOCH. He was translated so as not to see death. This must have happened in some way manifest to his neighbors, so that they might take knowledge of the event and profit by it. The translation is to he looked on in the light of a reward; but, after all, this may not be its chief significance. It may have been for the sake of others, to whom God's approval of Enoch had to be made manifest. It is no slur upon Enoch to imagine that men as holy as he have been on the earth, yet they have had to die; perhaps live in privation, and die in pain. Therefore we can hardly be wrong in assuming that Enoch's translation was in such a public way as to teach those willing to be taught, and act as a rebuke to the unbelieving. There is something eminently evangelical in such an operation of God. He would draw men to faith in him by showing what can happen to his believing ones. He shows the way of blessing before he shows the way of cursing. The translation of the holy, righteous man comes before the drowning of an impenitent race.
II. WHAT THERE WAS IN ENOCH'S LIFE TO MAKE THIS TRANSLATION POSSIBLE. "He pleased God." Long before his translation he had had proof of this. God does not defer the signs of his pleasure. He has made us so that the way of obedience is the way of pleasantness, even while we walk in it. But all that God had thus given Enoch by the way was for his own sake. The common unheeding world knew nothing of the joys coming to Enoch through his religion. Now at last, in his translation, something shall be given for a joy to Enoch, and at the same time an instruction to the world. Enoch might have pleased God and yet not been translated; but he could not have been translated unless he had pleased God. Then from this inference the writer proceeds to yet another—that Enoch must have lived a life of faith. To please God certain conditions are requisite, and in the very front of these is faith. We cannot please God unconsciously, as the heavenly bodies do in their movements, or a plant in its growth. We must do such things as the will of the Invisible requires. He will not be pleased with anything we do simply because we do our best according to the light of nature. But this is a matter which may be dealt with in a homily by itself.
III. ENOCH'S EXPECTATIONS. God translated Enoch, but it does not follow that Enoch expected to be translated. All that Enoch could be sure of was that a good present would be followed by a better future. Enoch left this world by a gate that has been very rarely opened—a gate the mode of whose opening we can hardly comprehend. It may never be opened again till that day which is hinted at in 1 Thessalonians, when Christ's people then living will be caught up to meet their Lord in the air. If Enoch had expected translation without the pains of death, he would not have been showing the spirit of true faith. True faith will go on humbly serving God on earth, and feeling that entrance to heaven will come in God's good time.—Y.
Faith needed to please God.
I. IT IS, THEN, POSSIBLE TO PLEASE GOD. Some there are who care nothing whether he be pleased or not. God's will, God's delight in the obedience of men, never enters into their thoughts. They live to please themselves. They can even understand that some object may be served by trying to please other men. And yet those who live for self-pleasure are sure to be disappointed. God has meant our pleasure to come through first of all pleasing him. The great law of man's being is that he should serve the purposes of God, and he can only serve those purposes by finding out what they are, and taking God's means to carry them into effect. If, then, it is God's will that we should please him, he will surely show us what to do and how to do it. There ought to be in our hearts a desire to please God. We are not without the wish to stand well with our fellow men, to have their good word. How much more, then, we should desire to become acceptable to him who is perfect goodness! If Enoch pleased God, we may do it. And the first thing to be considered is, not whether it be difficult or easy to do it, but whether it be possible.
II. How GOD IS TO BE PLEASED. Remember always that, in the writings of apostles and evangelists, when God is spoken of Jehovah is meant. Jehovah as over against the gods of heathendom. Their priests taught that it was possible to please them, and showed how the thing was to be done, by offerings of all sorts, and by adding constantly to the wealth of their shrines. The offerings in themselves were reckoned good; and well they might be, for they made many priests rich. Jehovah also received offerings, but to him the offerings had no value except as expressive of intelligent obedience. The offerings were for the sake of men rather than of God himself. He must be pleased by something different from mere gifts of what he has himself created. And here the writer gives us one of the essentials towards pleasing God. Apart from faith we cannot please him. There are many elements in the character that is pleasing to God, and one element is made prominent at one time, another at another. We know that Enoch must surely have been a loving man, for without love it is impossible to please God. Here the important thing was to insist on his being a believer. Idols could be approached without faith, for they were really not approached at all; no heart of man ever came into living contact with them. But of God there was no image; the worshipper had to believe that there was a real existence all unseen. Suppose for a moment that we had set before us for search and discovery an object perceptible by the senses. Before beginning the search, should we not be wise in assuring ourselves on the following points?
1. The real existence of the object.
2. The probability of finding it.
3. A corresponding reward for the possible toil of the search.
There has been faith on these points which has had no rational basis, and of course has ended in disappointment; e.g. the enthusiastic searching for the philosopher's stone. But here is an object, the object supreme of all—God, the Fountain of being and blessedness; and this object cannot be known by the senses. There are many so-called arguments for the existence of a God, but men who think that they therefore really believe in the existence of a God are self-deceived. Believing in the existence of a Being to whom this name of God is given must be an act of pure faith. Men must say, "I cannot believe otherwise; I cannot believe the contrary." Then to this must be added the practical impulse to come in contact with him. Note here exactly what is demanded, as the ordinary version fails to give us quite the meaning. He that comes to God must believe in God's existence, and that when men seek him out and come to know him in actual experience and service, he gives them most real, substantial rewards. For the seeking out diligence is of course required, but diligence is not the quality primarily referred to. "Seek out" is only a more suggestive way of saying "find."—Y.
The faith of Noah.
Going from Enoch to Noah, we pass from a mere hint as to character into the greatest fullness of detail. Enoch's faith we have to take upon trust, for no act of his life is recorded from which we could infer his faith. Noah's faith, on the other hand, we can see for ourselves. It is set before us in a great and notable action, and not to see it would argue great spiritual blindness on our part. Note—
I. THE TRUE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DELUGE. There is much about the Deluge that we cannot understand, never shall understand. Its mode, its details, its extent, we shall have to leave unsettled questions. Difficulties inherent in the record we must confess. But at the same time, our ignorance and perplexity will be a small matter if only we take care not to lose the spiritual significance of the record. We have in the Deluge great illustration of human faith on the one side, human unbelief on the other. Noah had a revelation, an intimation of impending destruction, which he believed to be from God and to be the truth. Straightway he began to show his faith by his works, thus becoming by his very action a prophet to his neighbors and a lest of their disposition. Noah, the believer, is the great central figure in connection with the Flood, and the narrative of it is given, not for the sake of recording a stupendous physical change, but for the sake of illustrating how the character of one man may influence the destiny of a whole race.
II. NOAH HAD NO GROUND FOR ACTION EXCEPT PURE FAITH. Everything in the way of human experience and ordinary probability was against him. He was not guarding against any of those things which men take trouble to guard against. Possibly the certainty of a greater evil led him, comparatively speaking, to neglect smaller ones. It would seem to the world that he might have employed his time more profitably, and also his substance. He could not make his work appear a prudent or a rational one; as he went on with the work and felt his loneliness, he would often be compelled to ask whether he was deluding himself, or was really in the path of duty.
III. THE CORRESPONDENCE OF NOAH'S ACTION WITH HIS PROFESSED FAITH. It does not appear that he went about proclaiming destruction. The revelation was made to him to secure his own safety. His real belief in the Deluge was shown in the most convincing way by his building of the ark. Many beliefs are only in word; they do not at all influence life; nay, more, the stress of necessity may bring action that contradicts them. We have to watch what a man does if we would know what he really believes.
IV. NOAH'S IMPLICIT CONDEMNATION OF OTHERS. In building the ark, he condemned the world. The believer cannot help condemning the unbeliever. He does not wish to condemn, but his very action is a censure; and the more full of spirituality the action, the more does it look like a censure of others. And in the case of Noah the condemnation was unusually manifest. For if he was right, then all round him, on every side, ark-building ought to have begun. The condemnation indeed was mutual, and only time could show which condemnation was grounded in right and authority.
V. NOAH'S RESPONSIBILITY. He built an ark for the saving of his house. To neglect the Divine demand for faith will not only ruin us, but may bring suffering to others. Noah had his family to think of. Blessing and security came to his children through his obedience. The highest things can, of course, only come by individual faith and submission, but something will come to others if only we believe. The believer, while he serves himself, cannot but be of service to others.—Y.
The faith of Abraham going forth into the unknown.
We have to notice what Abraham's faith rested on.
I. ON A DIVINE CALL. It was not an impulse of his own. Not in ambition, not in discontent, not in self-will, did he go forth. Nor was it a suggestion from some other human being. The voice came from above, speaking to what was inmost in him. Jehovah had chosen him for a purpose of his own, and therefore made the authority of the summons indisputably clear. It is the fact of this Divine call at the beginning which makes the observation of Abraham's subsequent course so interesting. We desire to see what God will make out of a man to whom he gives a special summons. It is a great deal when any of us can be quite sure, amid the difficulties and perplexities of life, that we are where God has put us.
II. ON A DIVINE PROMISE. The promises of God give a better resting-place for faith than any projects of our own. God had said definitely to Abraham that there was a land of inheritance for him. Abraham, so far from going out on the great journey of life with nothing better than a peradventure, really had the best of prospects. All he had to do was to show the obedience of faith. God always presents us with a hope when he calls us to a duty. He sets before us great ends corresponding to our nature and to his interest in us.
III. ON DIVINE GUIDANCE. This was the element in the Divine call which would try Abraham most, that he knew not where he was going. This would expose him to the wonder and the ridicule of his neighbours. Human prudence seems such an excellent principle of action, seems to keep men out of so many troubles, seems to achieve such satisfactory results, that men can hardly think of a higher and a better one. But then human prudence has its value only in a certain path. We cannot begin by choosing our path according to God's directions and then going on in it according to our own judgment. Everything must be begun, continued, and ended in God.—Y.
Hebrews 11:9, Hebrews 11:10
The tent and the city.
I. OBSERVE THE CONTRAST UNDERLYING THESE VERSES. The tent is in one place in the morning, and may be miles away at night. The city always remains in the same place. Thus there is forcibly indicated an altogether different kind of occupation and interest for the dweller in tents from that for the dweller in cities. As the one class of men increases the other must decrease. The fathers dwell in tents; the children in cities. He who dwells in a tent can have no particular interest in the land where he happens to be at the time. If it supplies his wants for the passing day, that is all he needs to care for. But he who has a house built in that land must feel the deepest interest in its fame, prosperity, and development.
II. THE PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF A PROMISE. He who called Abraham gave him a promise, and guided him, brought him at last into the land of promise. He dwelt in the land of promise, in however imperfect and fugitive a way. Thus we see how God gives us all that can be given under present conditions. The time had not yet come to possess the land—the seed of Abraham had to be immensely increased and vigorously disciplined before that was possible—but, nevertheless, Abraham could dwelt in the land. Satisfaction and joy would begin the moment obedience began. And have not we also entered in part on our inheritance? Do not the blessings of the heavenly state stream down upon us even now? Abraham enjoyed Canaan; he himself and his dependants got food, and there was abundant herbage for his cattle. He was happier in Canaan, even as a wanderer, than he could have been anywhere else in this world, for he was there by the will of God.
III. THE FIRMER GRASP OF A PROMISE. Abraham probably had always led a nomadic life. Even in the land of his nativity and earlier days he would be more or less of a wanderer. The wandering spirit would be in him by nature, habit, tradition. Therefore as far as he personally was concerned, Canaan gave him all that earth could provide for the wishes of the heart. But he rises above the individual and the present. As he advances in obedience, the aims of God, the possibilities of his own life, the needs of all his posterity, rise more distinctly before his mind. For himself and his children, and all the families of the earth that are to be blessed in him, he looks for something better than a land to live in for a few years and then be buried in. There is a correspondence which cannot fail to be noted between what the writer of the Epistle says here concerning the tent and the city of foundations, and what Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:1) concerning the tent and the eternal, heavenly building of God.
IV. PATIENCE HAVING ITS PERFECT WORK. He discerned that the city which was to have foundations worth calling foundations must come, not from the wisdom and power of men, but from the planning and fabricating of God. And foundation-work of this kind went on very slowly, according to human computation. The great thing to be remembered is that the foundation of this city of God lies outside the limits of the seen and the temporal. The city of God is to be looked at in a similar way to the rest provided for God's people already spoken of (Hebrews 4:1-58.4.16). There remaineth a city which hath foundations, a house of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Waiting is our great duty, rejoicing in the present indwelling of God's Spirit as the earnest, and knowing that the fullness will come in its own order.—Y.
The two fatherlands.
I. THAT FROM WHICH THEY HAD COME. The writer of this Epistle has been a student of the recorded experiences and habitual feelings of his devout ancestors. Many of the descendants of Abraham had no devoutness in them. They cared nothing where they lived so long as they could get gain and their fill of the pleasures of life. Such were really not reckoned in the exceeding multitude at all. They that are of faith are the children of faithful Abraham. And few as they were probably out of the bulk of Abraham's descendants according to the flesh, nevertheless they may have been a great number, more than we have any idea of. The Lord's people, though far from being as many as they ought to be, are yet more numerous than we think. Remember Elijah's ignorance of the seven thousand who had not bowed to Baal. Such people must ever express their longings for something far beyond what any earthly locality can supply. And as the writer says, these longings are ever expressed in the spirit of faith. Looking away from earth, and from self, and from the present, they see what an abundance of promises is theirs. They dwell in Canaan as strangers and sojourners dwell in a land. They pass through it as seeking something which they do not expect to find in it. It is part of the necessary way; it does not contain the journey's end. All travelers have a choice; they can press forward into the unknown or they can go back. Israelites might have sought the home of Abraham, on the possibility that there might be found a peace and satisfaction not to be found in Canaan. There is something in the power of fatherland. Englishmen will go to live abroad for many years, but they like to come back for the last chapter of life. We all know the popular belief that people out of health may benefit by going to their native air.
II. THE HEAVENLY FATHERLAND. Our Father in heaven makes in heaven the satisfying provision for his children. All the meaning of the passage here is only to be apprehended by bearing in mind the fatherhood of God. Spiritual relations are more than natural ones; heavenly relations than earthly ones. Abraham left the land of his fathers because only by doing so could the seeds of a new, a better condition of things be sown. And then little by little it must have become clear that outward change was to make clear the need of something more—individual, inward change. Spiritual aspirations, strongly expressed because they are deeply felt, draw forth God's response of special interest in those who cherish such aspirations. God holds forth the heavenly land, the land of his full manifestation and his unobscured glory, before all believers. Prophecy is full of that which encourages faith in this respect. As to the nature of the heavenly state, the Lord's true people may have been in much ignorance; but as to the satisfying reality of it they were fully assured. God never asks for faith without giving something corresponding to cheer his people, to lift them above the attractions, the delusions, and the temptations of the present.—Y.
Abraham's faith in offering Isaac.
This is to be considered here as an illustration of faith. All our modern difficulties as to the right and wrong of Abraham's conduct never occurred to the writer of this Epistle. A human sacrifice was not abhorrent to Abraham's views of religious necessity. Here we have simply to look at the faith a father showed when called to give up his only son. See—
I. FAITH TRIUMPHING OVER NATURAL INCLINATIONS. Not over natural affections; for Abraham, having loved his son, loved him to the end. The very depth and intensity of his natural affection make his faith appear the stronger. We must not for a moment admit that natural affection could be even deadened in his heart to allow him to do such a thing. But assuredly his natural inclinations must have had a struggle with his faith before they surrendered. It is an almost universal tendency among parents to wish that their children should have the rewards and comforts of life. Wherever failure and suffering may come, they are not to come to them. The mother of James and John showed this feeling very strongly. This is the way in which natural affection gets spoiled and made a hideous thing through selfishness. This is the way in which natural affection often defeats itself, and instead of doing the best thing for children does the worst. Here surely is an example for parents in dealing with their children. Let them try to find out what God would have them do, what is really best upon a large view of the future, and not what seems best, not what is easiest and most comfortable. God called both Abraham and his son to self-sacrifice, and his view was far better than any inclination or judgment of their own.
II. FAITH TRIUMPHING OVER PLAUSIBLE OBJECTIONS. Was there ever a finer chance for the tempter to make the worse appear the better reason, to strengthen natural inclination by plausible representations as to what was the Divine will? It seems most reasonable to say, "Isaac is the child of promise: the future for generations depends on his life; whatever else may happen to him, it is clear he is not to die now." And only too often in life plausible reasons for what turns out in the end an utterly wrong course are found with very little ingenuity. It is not enough that a way should seem right to love and prudence. Opportunities may come seeming on the surface of them to have signs of Providence, and yet all the time the real pointings of Providence may be neglected. The mind gets led away with unconscious sophistries. Now, it is in view of just such circumstances that God comes in with his clear authority to take the place of our plausible views and arguments. There are times when distinct, impressive intimations are not needed, when ordinary common sense and right feeling are quite enough. But also there are times when one clear, significant word from above will settle everything to the humble and docile mind.
III. FAITH ASSURED OF THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD. Notice that God did not come in with this trial of faith at the beginning of his dealings with Abraham. He showed him first of all much of his power and his guiding hand. The child whom he asked in sacrifice had first of all been given in miracle. Divine demands are always proportioned to strength and to previous experiences. And so, however hard the trial might be to the feelings of the father, yet it had its eminently reasonable side when it appealed to the experience of the believer. God was putting honor upon Abraham in judging him fit for such a demand as this.—Y.
A blessing for each.
The emphatic word here is "both," or, as the Revised Version much better puts it, "each." We see this emphasis at once on reading the narrative in Genesis 48:1-1.48.22. Jacob had a blessing for each of his own sons, but when he comes to Joseph he individually is passed over as it were, because Manasseh and Ephraim cannot be comprehended in a common blessing. All these blessings of Joseph are, of course, to be taken as predictions, having a particular emphasis, solemnity, and memorable character as the words of a dying man concerning sons and grandsons. The distinctions then made could not be afterwards ignored or destroyed. There was a correspondence between the blessings and the after history of the tribes. Jacob did not thus speak because of some peculiar interest of his own in Ephraim and Manasseh. The father and the grandfather assumed the prophet while he spake the blessings. He laid his right hand on the head of the younger, his left on the head of the elder. He did it wittingly,' contrary to the wish of his son. If we would have God's blessing, we must leave God to apportion it according to his own purposes. Jacob knew nothing at the time of the way in which Levi would be merged as it were in the other tribes, and so leave a place for Ephraim to come in. But he knew that somehow or other a place of distinction was reserved for Ephraim. Thus faith transcends all natural anticipations, and contradicts oftentimes natural probabilities. Then it is worthwhile noting how the triumph of faith is blended with the work of retribution. Here is the true exaltation of Joseph. Here is the true fulfillment of those dreams which brought him so much suffering. Something he got of honor in Egypt; but beyond this and more significant is the position of his two sons as being each the founder of a tribe. God can bring to a permanent exaltation those whom jealousy would humble. As to the eminence of Ephraim, notice that it begins even in the wilderness, where the numbers of Ephraim exceed those of Manasseh (Numbers 1:1-4.1.54). And as to the importance of Ephraim in after history, it may be enough to cite the position of this tribe in the prophecies of Hosea.—Y.
The faith of the dying Joseph.
I. FAITH OCCUPYING ITSELF WITH THE PERSONAL FUTURE. Joseph had lived long in Egypt, been held in great honor there, and had brought his kinsfolk into great comfort. All the ordinary probabilities pointed to a continued residence of the descendants of Jacob in Egypt. Who had better chances than they? One might compare them with the Dutch companions of William of Orange who came over with him at the Revolution, and many of whose descendants now stand high in rank and wealth amongst Englishmen. Joseph, however, had the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob distinctly before his mind. The solemn and unique experiences of father and grandfather and great-grandfather were doubtless frequent topics of meditation. Canaan, not Egypt, was the destined home of his people. Anti in this future, though he knew not how it was to come about, he felt he had a share. And a feeling of this sort should prevail in our hearts as we ponder the future of the Church of Christ. We, while we have our day of earthly opportunity, are bound to contribute towards the manifestation of the inheritance of the sanctified, and we must do it ever with the distinct conviction that we have a part in the inheritance. We do something for those who have lived before us, and something for those who have come after us. And so also our successors will do something for us. Each generation of believers adds its part to the capacious and magnificent building in which, when completed, all believers are to dwell together in immortality and glory.
II. FAITH TAKING AN UNNECESSARY PRECAUTION. It really mattered nothing, as to the essence of the inheritance and the promise, where Joseph's bones were laid. But that is a view, which to Joseph himself would probably have been quite unintelligible. Sentiment is almost omnipotent in these matters. The dead are taken hundreds of miles, over land and sea, to repose with their own kindred. Joseph's faith, therefore, was not a perfectly instructed faith. But we may even be glad of this, for the very error of his anticipations only makes the reality of his faith in the essential truth more manifest. We must labor to get rid of all error, but intellectual error is a small matter if only our hearts have hold of spiritual truth. We may be cured of a great many vain traditions and popular superstitions, yet not be one whit nearer to a part in the place which Christ is preparing for his people.—Y.
Faith in an infant's destiny.
I. THE POSSIBILITIES IN EVERY INFANT LIFE. These must often be in the view of every thoughtful parent, and the view must be mixed with a good deal of confidence and sanguine expectation. Parents sometimes wish to stamp their own views and purposes on their children, and it is a dreadful shock to them when they find individuality, originality, strength of will, asserting themselves in wholly unexpected directions. Where one thing is expected another thing is found. Where much is expected little is found. And, on the other hand, where little is expected much is found. One knows not what may have been lost to the world through the deaths of so many in early life. The possibilities need to be constantly borne in mind. Not that we are to be particularly on the look-out for genius and exceptional ability. As a rule, these have to be manifested and strongly asserted before they are recognized. But we never know what the opportunities of people of ordinary abilities and acquirements may be, and so all children should be guided in the ways of Christ and guarded from the snares of evil, so far as guiding and guarding will avail for this.
"Men think it is an awful sight
To see a soul just set adrift
On that drear voyage from whose night
The ominous shadows never lift;
But 'tis more awful to behold
A helpless infant newly born,
Whose little hands unconscious hold
The keys of darkness and of morn."
II. THE CERTAINTIES WITH RESPECT TO SOME CHILDREN. MOSES is by no means the only child mentioned in Scripture for whom a memorable future might be predicted. Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptist, all stand in the same category. And if we believe that there is a Divine purpose in every human life, then in every generation we are certain some will be raised to do a great work. There will come the needful correspondence between character, circumstances, and opportunities. And one very noticeable point in the biographies of some distinguished men is their neglected childhood. They seem to have grown up anyhow—plants that should have been in a garden left to the chances of the wilderness. But all the time God is really watching over them, guiding them in a way they know not, making hindrances and vexations to turn out for their good. As we look back on the past of the world and count up its eminent saints, its evangelists, its philanthropists, its discoverers, its pioneers in paths of usefulness, we may assure our hearts with the confidence that the future will not be lacking in men of the same sort. We have not the wisdom, and there is no need, to make predictions with respect to particular individuals. But we may infer the future from the past, and say that somewhere now there are "proper children" who will rise to do their work in the Church, the senate, the university, the exchange, in every place where men may be made better and the legitimate comforts of life increased.—Y.
Hebrews 11:24, Hebrews 11:25
Moses relinquishing earthly advantages.
I. THE CRITICAL MOMENT IN EVERY HUMAN LIFE. Moses has come to manhood, has passed through all the perils of infancy and childhood, perils in which the prudence and courage of others count for the effective safeguards, to find himself at last face to face with the worst perils that can beset a human life. The edict of a tyrant is not so dreadful an evil as the temptations to self-advancement. The hour of temptation is the hour when all available considerations of duty and interest should be gathered together to fortify the heart. The peril to Moses as an infant was practically nothing; Jehovah's miraculous intervention could come in any moment to shield him. But the peril to Moses as a man was very great when the prospect of high rank in the Egyptian court stood right before his eyes. Nay, more; from Moses we may pass to Jesus. Jesus was in no real peril when Herod sent out his band of destroyers to Bethlehem; but in those after years, when he had to face the prospect of toil and suffering, there was a real peril to his inner man—the pressure of considerations which only the peculiar strength of his nature enabled him to resist.
II. THE SERVICE OF FAITH IN SUCH A CRITICAL MOMENT. The spirit of the world says, "Look at the position which you at present occupy—a position thousands would give anything to attain." Moses is the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and what more can he have but the kingdom? If he gives up his position, what has he left? Nothing, truly, unless he has had the revelations given to faith. And these revelations we are sure Moses must have had in abundance. If Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, had revelations of the coming inheritance and glory of their people, is it credible Moses would not also have revelations such as would effectually strip the aspect of the court wherein he lived of all its glitter? When we have the spirit of faith in us, the discouragements of the present are dwarfed before the attractions of the future. It is seen that the life of faith has joys beside which the joys of the life of sight are poor indeed. What are the Pharaohs of Egypt compared with Moses? Mere names. Whereas Moses has contributed to the coming of Christ, that is, to the uplifting and purifying of the whole world. When the critical moment came, the eye of Moses was so purged that he saw where his own real interest lay. He saw which was the better thing for him to choose for his own sake. He saw that, in choosing affliction with the people of God, he was choosing an exceeding great reward, which would more and more manifest itself as such.
III. THE CONSEQUENT NEED FOR A CONSTANT CULTIVATION OF FAITH. We know not when the critical moment may come, therefore we must be ever ready for it. Men must not leave the making of weapons for the day of battle. The experience of a lifetime makes the physician wise and successful in the hour of disease. We must be assiduous in laying up treasures of faith against the day when the persuasions of this world will try us.—Y.
Faith and presumption in terrible contrast.
I. A WAY MADE WHERE NONE SEEMS POSSIBLE. It must be remembered how completely the Israelites were shut in. The land had shut them in; mountains on each side which they could not overpass; the sea in front of them; the Egyptian host behind. Something they must do—either turn upon their pursuers, or march on into the sea, or submit without a struggle. The choice which God gave to them was that of trust in him or destruction. As it were he drove them into the necessity of faith. He did not first of all make the channel through the waters and let the whole of Israel see it, fur in that there would have been no calling forth of faith. They were told to go forward while as yet there was no sign of escape. God never makes interferences with the ordinary course of nature unless for a sufficient reason, and therefore he does not make them before the time. Enough was done if the waters opened to let God's people pass and closed again the moment they were through. Our business is to listen and wait for the Divine command telling us what to do. That is our only safety when difficulty and danger appear in every direction. There are many positions in life when human prudence will do something; there is at least a choice between going on in the lower path of human prudence or changing to the higher one of conformity with the will of God. But there are also positions when acceptance of God's provisions is the only chance of safety. After all, difficulty and danger are relative words. They only indicate our weakness. They are meaningless in relation to the power of God. To him there is neither ease nor difficulty, danger or absence from danger. The greatest difficulty and danger men have to face come from being opposed to God. God can make a way through the deepest waters for his friends, and where his enemies appear to have a smooth and straight way he can suddenly fill it with causes of the worst disaster.
II. A WAY CLOSED WHERE ONE SEEMS OPENED. "When two do the same thing, it is not the same thing," says Bengel. The Israelite is one sort of man, the Egyptian quite another. The Israelite is involved in a covenant, a purpose, and a plan. He has not come into this present strait by a kind of chance; he has not drifted there by his own negligence, or rushed there by his own folly. Therefore a way is made for him through the sea. But the Egyptian goes down into this way through the sheerest presumption. The conduct of the Egyptian host is perhaps never sufficiently considered when this narrative is being dealt with. The power of Jehovah, the miracle itself, so fills the mind that the amazing rashness of the Egyptians does not appear. And yet how rash they were! Their recollections of the immediate past should have combined with their present observations to make them pause while yet they were safe. True it is that God destroyed them, but equally true is it that they were self-destroyed. A man cannot be reckoned presumptuous when he acts in accordance with the nature of things, but here were people presuming on the continuance of a miracle. The greatest unbelievers are ever the greatest presumers.—Y.
Hebrews 11:30, Hebrews 11:31
Believers and unbelievers at Jericho.
I. BELIEVERS OUTSIDE. No illustration of faith is given from the wanderings in the wilderness. In truth, those wanderings were conspicuous for unbelief rather than faith, for apostasy rather than fidelity. At times the people mounted high in faith, and then they fell as low. Just at the time they came to Jericho there was everything in the circumstances of their outward life to inspirit them. They were escaped from the wilderness, they had crossed the Jordan, the land of promise was under their feet. The faith asked from them, it will be observed, did not involve anything very difficult in practice. All they had to do was to march in a certain order for seven days round a fortified city. Still though the deed was not difficult, it was a deed of real faith. For the people might well ask what connection there could be between marching round the city and the downfall of it. And assuredly there was no connection of cause and effect between the mere marching and the mere falling. Another company might have marched till the day of doom without producing the slightest result. In the great works of the Church of Christ instruments are nothing save as the occasions of faith.
II. UNBELIEVERS INSIDE. Our attention is specially called to their unbelief. The world would say, "Why should they be anything else than unbelieving? If Israel had come with all the regular appliances of siege, then the people of Jericho would have felt there was something to believe. Then a real danger would be reckoned as present." We have always to be on our guard against the deceitfulness of appearances, and especially against the appearances of safety. It was not by might, but by the word of Jehovah, that Jericho was to fall, and the procession round the city only signified that the word of doom had gone forth. The procession was a sign of the times. Who knows what might have happened in those seven days if only Jericho had wakened up to inquiry, repentance, and negotiation? Whereas the attitude of the people indicated the most complete self-confidence. It is one of the worst follies of unbelief that unbelievers are so assiduous in guarding against visible, external evils, and so negligent, so indifferent, with respect to the worst evils of all.
III. ONE BELIEVER INSIDE. One, and only one. A woman of no very good reputation, and yet able to discern afar off the ill that was coming. What an encouragement to sinners the faith of Rahab is! For if in her heart could be lodged the power of faith, then what heart should be reckoned impenetrable? Rahab, with all her faults, stood far higher than many reputable people in Jericho. She had the one thing needful by way of beginning. Her faith saved her in the hour of temporal destruction to the other inhabitants of Jericho. But, of course, in the end her faith would do her no good unless it led to a life of righteousness and full obedience. Faith saved many in physical matters who came in contact with the miraculous workings of Jesus. But another power must come in, working conviction of sin and spiritual need. Then the faith which was found so mightily operative in the lower sphere will be found equally operative in the higher one.—Y.
A summary of the sufferings and trials of believers.
I. HOW THIS WRITER SPEAKS FROM FULLNESS OF KNOWLEDGE. AS one might think, he has already been tolerably copious, but he hints that there is really much more to tell. He has looked through all the records of God's people, and he finds faith everywhere. Thus has been produced in his mind a strong conviction of what man can do when he believes in the right way. And might we not attain to a similar fullness of knowledge? Reading ecclesiastical history, in the widest sense of the term, we should see how much stronger is the man of simple faith than the man of this world, with all his resources and ingenuity. As knowledge and experience of the right things grow, so must convictions with respect to them deepen.
II. HOW HE CLASSIFIES THE EXAMPLES OF FAITH. He shows us faith active and passive—what it can do and what it can bear. By his function the prophet had to be a man of action, and as the result of his action he had also to be a man of suffering. God sent him out to do special deeds—deeds beyond ordinary resources—and then he had also to make ready for sufferings out of the ordinary way. He who would do great things in the sight of God must be ready also to suffer great things. Live on the level of the world, and you may escape much in the way of toil and strain; but try to achieve the things which Christ sets before you, and then you will find you must not only have strong hands, but a brave and patient heart.
III. THERE IS PLENTY OF WORK FOR FAITH YET TO DO. There are kingdoms to be overcome, not by physical force, not by disciplined armies, but by those who, having yielded first of all to truth, know its claims and its power, and believe in persistent pressing of that truth on others. Righteousness has to be worked out, promises have to be appropriated; and if we would inherit the promises, we must accept the conditions of faith and patience. Our faith can achieve great things, and therefore great things are set before it. The faith of a simple, humble Christian has far greater things within its reach than anything to be attained by the unaided human intellect even at its best.
IV. SIMILARLY THERE IS PLENTY OF TRIAL FOR FAITH YET TO ENDURE. The more there is to be done, the more there is to be suffered. Ingenious torments and cruel deaths there may not be, but the spirit of the world is unchanging. Let a man persevere as seeing the invisible one, and he will have to suffer. He may not be stoned, but he will be pelted with the sneers of thoughtless and ignorant men. Those who through mere self-respect would refrain from a blow with the fist yet delight in the most cutting words.—Y.
Seeming unworthiness, real worthiness.
I. THE APPEARANCE OF UNWORTHINESS. Men going about in sheepskins and goatskins, wandering in deserts and mountains, sheltering themselves in dens and caves, have had this judgment passed upon them, in effect if not in form, that they are not worthy of the world. They are banished from this world's social toleration, being held to trouble their fellow men concerning existing institutions and habits without sufficient reason. The world knows no higher standard whereby to judge a man than its own accepted code. If he travels beyond that code of traditions, proprieties, and decencies, he must be ready to be put down among fanatics, madmen, and incomprehensible people generally. In setting out upon a genuine Christian life, we must reckon among other dements in counting the cost that of our relation to the world's good opinion. If we will not go anywhere or do anything that may lose us the world's good opinion, then we may at once spare ourselves the trouble and effort of being Christians. If we, living in the world, would be reckoned worthy by the living world around us, then we must be conformed to the world. We must consult its fashions, its prejudices, its vested interests. Originality will be pardoned so long as it keeps to the sphere of the intellect; but once let the conscience break forth into originality and individuality, seeing a right and a wrong where the world has not troubled to consider whether there be right or wrong at all, then henceforth for such a daring spirit, faithful to the light from on high, there is banishment from tolerance by the world. To speak the words "for Christ's sake" from the very heart means persecution. For then one cannot keep to mere generalities; renewing of the mind brings that transformation which is itself a loosening of those common projects and views that have bound us to the common society of men.
II. REAL WORTHINESS. By a decisive expression the writer turns the tables on the calm assumptions of worldly criticism. The world says of the Christian, "This man is not worthy of me; he does not correspond with my attainments, my philosophy, my art, my refinements; he says unappreciative, not to say rude, things about them." But now the Spirit of God steps in to pass a judgment on this same judging spirit of the world. The lamp that has been kindled from light of human making presents but a poor show when set beside the lamp kindled from him who is the true Light of the world. Everything in this matter depends upon the eye with which we look at things. Many there must have been in Jerusalem to lament the dreadful change from Saul the Pharisee to Paul the disciple of Jesus. To them it meant apostasy from all that was godly, honorable, and true. But we know that Christian character, shining by its own light, is its own justification. And we also know that the man of this world, fully exposed in the light of actual Christian character, is his own condemnation. Out of his own avowed and justified words and acts he is condemned. The very fact that he thinks himself right proves how utterly he is wrong.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent