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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Hebrews 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-40

Types of the Unseen

Hebrews 11:3

Then they were made of things which do not appear, and if they were made of things which do not appear they must be in some way types of things unseen; that is to say, the thing moulded must be like the mould out of which it came. From this view of the case let us try to find our way at once to the truth, that the things which are seen may help us in some degree to understand the things which are not seen; it we pay attention to what is visible, we may get at least a dim hint of the things that are not visible; time may help to give some hint of eternity; earth may be a dim symbol of heaven; man may be the figure through which we may see something of God. This will be found to be a truth of very wide application. As children need toys, so men need helps to get at things unseen. The whole realm of the invisible must come to us by type and symbol. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto------." The kingdom of heaven is not that, as a mere matter of literal fact, but it is like it, and yet unlike it: for the finite cannot be wholly like the infinite. The danger is that we mistake the literal for the spiritual, or that we force parables and signs into exaggerated uses. Our object should be to seize the spiritual intent and meaning of the parable, and to leave all that is of the nature of drapery or accessory quite in a secondary place.

Let children take it in this way: The other day a very small bird heard me talking about Westminster Abbey, and the little creature asked me what the Abbey was like. So I said to the bird, "I think I cannot tell you better what it is like than by asking you to look at your own cage; now think that the roof of your little house is about fifty thousand times bigger than itself-----," but the little bird stopped me, and said it was too much for its tiny head to do. That is just the way with ourselves, We try to multiply thousands of billions of ages by thousands of billions of millenniums to get an idea of eternity, and we become lost amongst the endless and bewildering figures. Yet the truth symbolically lies along that line, but oh, how far along! In another sense it does not lie along that line at all, for arithmetic utterly perishes in its attempts to convey any idea of the Eternal. Still, that is the only help which we have at present. Our arithmetic is in that regard a Bible. If we had no arithmetical figures we could do nothing in the way of computation, and yet when we have done all that is permitted by arithmetical figures we leave eternity untouched.

Let children a little older take the truth in this way: A young man whose sight was nearly lost asked me to describe heaven to him as a place. He was nearly blind. On a very bright day he could distinguish a bed of flowers from a plot of grass, and dimly see the outlines of the trees. I took him one summer morning to see a lovely garden, with soft green meadows stretching far away beyond; and I said, "Think of this emerald being spread all over the world, and over a world millions of times larger than ours, and think of all these colours never fading, this bloom never perishing, this odour never lessening, this sky never clouding, these bird-songs never ceasing,"—but he stopped me, and said, "How can I?" He was lost in amazement He exaggerated the poor little fact before him until it became an impossibility, and fell to pieces under the torture of his imagination. Yet this is the only way in which God can, so to say, get access to our minds. We have no adequate powers with which to take hold of spiritual realities; we need help; and the best help is poor; so we see but parts of things, and the parts we do see are upside down and discoloured. The danger is that we mistake the type for the thing typified; that we seize the letter and miss the spirit, and that thus we stand amidst forms and shadows, and do not enter into the inner and hidden sanctuary, where the sacred Truth sits in infinite beauty and infinite calm.

Let a still older class of students take the matter in this way: we can only think of God through our own individuality as men. The very idea of God brings with it at once the human form as its only possible expression. It Isaiah , too, the greatest help we can have: for man was made in the image and likeness of God. Yet God protests against the abuse of this help again and again, asking if he is a man that he should do this or that; he is not a man that he should lie, he is not the Son of Man that he should repent. But try to think of God as a conscious, merciful, righteous, holy Being, and you must, by some necessity, hardly to be explained in words, think of him as an infinite Prayer of Manasseh , an almighty Prayer of Manasseh , an effulgent and magnificent man. What is his form? You think of it as human. You speak of his eyes and mouth, his hands and feet; he rises, he sits; he walks, he rides, he comes down, he calls, he grieves, he rejoices;—all these are human expressions, and are limited by human uses, and they bring with them subtle and tremendous dangers. God is a Spirit; there is no similitude with which he may be worthily compared; no image represents him; no imagination can encompass the fulness of his might and glory: yet he says he is a father, a king, a shepherd, and a man of war.

With the poor illustrations and terms accessible to us we have to work; they are blurred and misty lenses through which we have to look at the sun. We could better think of Lebanon through a withered leaf, of the sea through a drop of putrid water, of landscapes inexpressibly beautiful through one handful of barren soil. Yet we have no other image and likeness of God; through this, or through nothing external, we must see our Creator and Lord. So with heaven. We want to know what it Isaiah , and we cannot be fully told. We think of fair lands gleaming in everlasting light, of angelic hosts, throng upon throng beyond computing, of the friends we have parted from waiting for us on a golden shore, clothed in pure linen whiter than snow, of trumpets and harps, of anthems and peans of victory, of crystal streams, of gates lustrous with precious stones, of crowns that vie in splendour with all that we have ever seen or imagined; and when we have thought of all this we have but seen a landscape with the light of a candle, or looked upon the sea when hidden under an impenetrable cloud. We know nothing. We are thrown back upon an inextinguishable hope, and we must die to see what heaven is.

The practical lessons which come out of these reflections are clear and simple: for example, that the movement of life is from the less to the greater. We are moving towards something that is exaggerated by symbols, but towards something which is imperfectly expressed by them. "The half hath not been told us." "To die is gain." "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." "Hereafter ye shall see." We are thus called upon to live a life of hope. We thank the flower for its beauty, and tell it how nearly it sets forth the better flowers not seen just now. We err vitally in supposing that the earth shows us the end of anything. What is the earth but as a board on which diagrams are drawn by an invisible hand, giving us some rude outline of things that are yet to be shown to us in all their sweep and grandeur? All nature is a parable. Blessed are they who have the seeing eye and the hearing ear, that all the beauty and poesy of the parable may be secured. The four seasons are four gospels to the man who can read them with spiritual intelligence. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what God hath prepared for them that love him. Whatever may be the spiritual meaning of this, and however much it may have been revealed to us by the indwelling Spirit, yet in relation to all the great disclosures which God has to make, the words are to be taken as showing that here and now we know nothing in its reality and in its completeness. Here we have no continuing city, yet the city in which we dwell gives us some hint of law, order, security, and the harmonious operation of all manner of ministries and agencies. Here we cannot see the celestial paradise, but every cluster of flowers that we do see may be taken as the beginning of a line which continues itself throughout infinity. In the best sense of the term, tomorrow shall be as this day, and more abundant—more abundant in visions, in light, in music, in opportunity of service, and in opportunity of study. All the longest days have yet to come. We are moving towards them through tunnel and cloud and difficult pathway, but beyond—how little beyond, who can tell?—lies the land which knows no winter, shines the day which knows no night. Our motto Isaiah , Excelsior; or our motto Isaiah , Beyond—always beyond—farther and farther beyond. What has been seen is as nothing compared with what has yet to be revealed.

Then the second lesson is that we must allow for different ways of expressing our ideas of invisible things. We do not express ourselves alike about things visible: how then should we use the same words about things that are not seen? The vital thing is to believe in the invisible, to endure as seeing the invisible, to clothe the invisible with such features and attractions as shall commend it with supreme fascination to our hope and our loyalty. "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." The Kingdom of Heaven does not reveal itself to all men in the same aspect or in the same degree; con. sequently we have endless differences of expression in words, regarding the nature, extent, and obligations of that Kingdom. Out of this difference of conception and expression comes all that we mean by Christian denominationalism. That denominationalism is urged to mischievous uses when it is set up as being the only orthodoxy; but it may be used with great advantage when the truth is recognised that every man sees God for himself—that Isaiah , in a way in which no other man sees him; that no one man is the whole Church of God, but that all sections and communions must be brought together in their totality in order to represent the revelation of the divine kingdom as it has been apprehended by the human mind. If we cannot agree as to a form of words regarding the substance of nature, the operation of law, the uses and bearings of facts, events, and circumstances, which make up what we call the story of daily life, how can we be expected to speak the same words, in the same number, and with the same emphasis, and with the same accent, regarding things invisible, spiritual, and eternal? Here we must have room for variety of expression, and here we must hail every man"s utterance as a distinct contribution to the sum-total of God"s revelation.

Another lesson is that we shall know that we are making a right use of the invisible by the effect it produces upon our use of things visible. Are they diminished in importance? Does the invisible make our sorrows seem as light afflictions which art but for a moment? Does it bless us with a spirit of glad solemnity? Does it enable us calmly to remit all present tumults and controversies to a grand arbitrament, that shall be merciful and just? Does it spread itself over us, over our yearning and expectant souls, like a firmament full of stars—stars that may be homes of the good and true, washed in the infinitely sufficient and precious blood of God the Son? Does it encompass us like a sky, star-rich, with hospitality written over its immeasurable expanse? Does the grave look like but a black speck when seen in its glory? If this be our view of the Invisible, truly it is to us a tender and blissful revelation of Heaven.

Prayer

Almighty God, we have offended thee with manifold offences; we have been cruel to thee, as if with malignant determination to wound thy gentle heart. We have been cowardly in our Christian testimony, poor in our Christian service, selfish even in our religious considerations. But for thy mercy, broader than the earth, higher than the heavens, more enduring than our own life, we should surely die; but the blood of Jesus Christ, thy Song of Solomon , cleanseth from all sin. That we may now feel its cleansing power is our heart"s desire unto God. Thou wilt do exceeding abundantly above pardoning us; thou wilt even make us holy after thine own perfection; thou wilt take our sins away as if they had never been, and cast them for ever into the depth of the sea. This is our joy and this our triumph over sin. Thou wilt make us without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, so that the signature of the devil shall not be found upon us at all; our sins will be forgotten, and thy great mercy will shine in our imperishable holiness. Sanctify us then, O Holy Spirit, and we shall be holy. Teach us the mystery of holiness; we know nothing of it; we have but heard of holiness. Do thou lead us into understanding what is meant by the purity of God. Help us to hate sin with infinite and unquenchable hatred; may we abhor that which is evil, and may all evil men find our presence a judgment upon them, and feel that we torment them whilst we are in their sight. Help us to torment with infinite torture all evil spirits, all devils, all hellish dispositions; may those who have them and suffer from them cry out to us by reason of our holiness, "What have we to do with you, ye sons of God?" Thus make us preachers of the truth, signs and testimonies on behalf of righteousness, and may those who are doing evil fear us, and those who are doing well be made glad in the light of our countenance. We all want blessings; there is hunger in every heart; there is a void in every nature. O thou dear, gentle Christ, who didst carry the fulness of the Godhead bodily, fill us with thy fulness, and we shall be satisfied. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 11:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/hebrews-11.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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