View Hebrews 11 in the note window.
It is not a definition of this principle, that the epistle gives us at the
commencement of chapter 11, but a declaration of its powers and action.
Faith realises (gives substance to) that which we hope for, and is a
demonstration to the soul of that which we do not see.
There is much more order than is generally thought in the series given here
of examples of the action of faith, although this order is not the
principal object. I will point out its leading features.
1st. With regard to creation. Lost in reasonings, and not knowing God, the
human mind sought out endless solutions of existence. Those who have read
the cosmogonies of the ancients know how many different systems, each more
absurd than the other, have been invented for that which the introduction
of God, by faith, renders perfectly simple. Modern science, with a less
active and more practical mind, stops at second causes; and it is but
little occupied with God. Geology has taken the place of the cosmogony of
the Hindoos, Egyptians, Orientals, and philosophers. To the believer the
thought is clear and simple; his mind is assured and intelligent by faith.
God, by His word, called all things into existence. The universe is not a
producing cause; it is itself a creature acting by a law imposed upon it.
It is One having authority who has spoken; His word has divine efficacy.
He speaks, and the thing is. We feel that this is worthy of God; for, when
once God is brought in, all is simple. Shut Him out, and man is lost in the
efforts of his own imagination, which can neither create nor arrive at the
knowledge of a Creator, because it only works with the power of a creature.
Before, therefore, the details of the present form of creation are entered
upon, the word simply says, " In the beginning God created the heavens and
the earth." Whatever may have taken place between that and chaos forms no
part of revelation. It is distinct from the special action of the deluge,
which is made known to us. The beginning of Genesis does not give a history
of the details of creation itself, nor the history of the universe. It
gives the fact that in the beginning God created; and afterwards, the
things that regard man on the earth. The angels even are not there. Of the
stars it is only said, " He made the stars also ;" when, we are not told.
By faith then we believe that the worlds were created by the word of God.
But sin has come in, and righteousness has to be found for fallen man, in
order that he may stand before God. God has given a Lamb for the sacrifice.
But here we have set before us, not the gift on God's part, but the soul
drawing near to Him by faith.
By faith then Abel offers to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain-a
sacrifice which (founded on the revelation already made by God) was offered
in the intelligence which a conscience taught of God possessed, with regard
to the position in which he who offered was standing. Death and judgment
had come in by sin, to man insupportable, although he must undergo them. He
must go therefore to God, confessing this; but he must go with a substitute
which grace has given. He must go with blood, the witness at the same time
both of the judgment and of the perfect grace of God. Doing this, he was in
the truth, and this truth was righteousness and grace. He approaches God
and puts the sacrifice between himself and God. He receives the testimony
that he is righteous- righteous according to the righteous judgment of God.
For the sacrifice was in connection with the righteousness that had
condemned man, and owned too the perfect value of that which was done in
it. The testimony is to his offering; but Abel is righteous before God.
Nothing can be more clear, more precious on this point. It is not only the
sacrifice which is accepted, but Abel who comes with the sacrifice. He
receives from God this testimony, that he is righteous. Sweet and blessed
consolation! But the testimony is made to his gifts, so that he possessed
all the certainty of acceptance according to the value of the sacrifice
offered. In going to God by the sacrifice of Jesus, not only am I righteous
(I receive the testimony that I am righteous), but this testimony is made
to my offering, and therefore my righteousness has the value and the
perfection of the offering, that is, of Christ offering Himself to God. The
fact that we receive testimony on God's part that we are righteous, and at
the same time that the testimony is made to the gift which we offer, (not
to the condition in which we are), is of infinite value to us. We are now
before God according to the perfection of Christ's work. We walk with God
By faith, death having been the means of my acceptance before God, all that
belongs to the old man is abolished for faith; the power and the rights of
death are entirely destroyed - Christ has undergone them. Thus, if it
please God, we go to heaven with out even passing through death. (Compare 2
Cor. 5:1-4.) God did this for Enoch, for Elijah, as a testimony. Not only
are sins put away, and righteousness established by the work of Christ, but
the rights and power of him who has the power of death are entirely
destroyed. Death may happen to us-we are by nature liable to it; but we
possess a life which is outside its jurisdiction. Death, if it come, is but
gain to us; and although nothing but the power of God Himself can raise or
transform the body, this power has been manifested in Jesus, and has
already wrought in us by quickening us (compare Eph.1:19); and it works in
us now in the power of deliverance from sin, from the law, and from the
flesh. Death, as a power of the enemy, is conquered; it is become a "gain"
to faith, instead of being a judgment on nature. Life, the power of God in
life, works in holiness and in obedience here below, and declares itself in
the resurrection or in the transformation of the body. It is a witness of
power with regard to Christ in Romans 1:4.
But there is another very sweet consideration to be noticed here. Enoch
received testimony that he pleased God, before he was translated. This is
very important and very precious. If we walk with God, we have the
testimony that we please Him; we have the sweetness of communion with God,
the testimony of His Spirit, His intercourse with us in the sense of
His presence, the consciousness of walking according to His word, which we
know to be approved by Him -in a word, a life which, spent with Him and
before Him by faith, is spent in the light of His countenance and in the
enjoyment of the communications of His grace and of a sure testimony,
coming from Himself that we are pleasing to Him. A child who walks with a
kind father and converses with him, his conscience reproaching him with
nothing-does he not enjoy the sense of his parent's favour?
In figure Enoch here represents the position of the saints who compose the
assembly. He is taken up to heaven by virtue of a complete victory over
death. By the exercise of sovereign grace he is outside the government and
the ordinary deliverance of God. He bears testimony by the Spirit to the
judgment of the world, but he does not go through it. (Jude 14, 15) A walk
like that of Enoch has God for its object, His existence is realised-the
great business of life, which in the world is spent as if man did
everything-and the fact that He is interested in the walk of men, that He
takes account of it, in order to reward those who diligently seek Him.
Noah is found in the scene of the government of this world. He does not
warn others of the coming judgments as one who is outside them, although he
is a preacher of righteousness. He is warned himself and for himself; he is
in the circumstances to which the warning relates. It is the spirit of
prophecy. He is moved by fear, and he builds an ark to the saving of his
house. He thus condemned the world. Enoch had not to build an ark in order
to pass safely through the flood. He was not in it: God translated
him-exceptionally. Noah is preserved (heir of the righteousness which is by
faith) for a future world. There is a general principle which accepts the
testimony of God respecting the judgment that will fall upon men, and the
means provided by God for escaping it: this belongs to every believer.
But there is something more precise. Abel has the testimony that he is
righteous; Enoch walks with God, pleases God, and is exempted from the
common lot of humanity, proclaiming as from above the fate that awaits men,
and the coming of Him who will execute the judgment. He goes forward to the
accomplishment of the counsels of God. But neither Abel nor Enoch, thus
viewed, condemned the world as that in the midst of which they were
journeying, receiving themselves the warning, addressed to those who were
dwellers therein. This was Noah's case: the prophet, although delivered, is
in the midst of the judged people. The assembly is outside them. Noah's ark
condemned the world; the testimony of God was enough for faith, and he
inherits a world that had been destroyed, and (what belongs to all
believers) righteousness by faith, on which the new world too is founded.
This is the case of the Jewish remnant in the last days. They pass through
the judgments, out of which we, as not belonging to the world, have been
taken. Warned themselves of God's way of government in the earth, they will
be witnesses to the world of the coming judgments, and will be heirs of the
righteousness which is by faith, and witnesses to it in a new world,
wherein righteousness will be accomplished in judgment by Him who is come,
and whose throne will uphold the world in which Noah himself failed. The
words, " heir of the righteousness which is by faith," point out, I think,
that this faith which had governed a few was summed up in his person, and
that the whole unbelieving world was condemned. The witness of this faith
before judgment, Noah passes through it: and when the world is renewed, he
is a public witness to the blessing of God that rests on faith, although
outwardly all is changed. Thus Enoch represents the saints of the present
time; Noah, the Jewish remnant. [see note #32]
The Spirit, after establishing the great fundamental principles of faith in
action, goes on (ver. 8)to produce examples of the divine life in detail,
always in connection with Jewish knowledge, with that which the heart of a
Hebrew could not fail to own; and, at the same time, in connection with the
object of the epistle and with the wants of Christians among the Hebrews.
In the previous case we have seen a faith which, after owning a
Creator-God, recognises the great principles of the relations of man with
God, and that onwards to the end upon earth.
In that which follows, we have first the patience of faith when it does not
possess, but trusts God and waits, assured of fulfillment. This is from
verse 8 to 22. We may subdivide it thus:-first, the faith which takes the
place of strangership on earth, and maintains it because something better
is desired; and which, in spite of weakness, finds the strength that is
requisite in order to the fulfillment of the promises. This is from verse 8
to 16. Its effect is entrance into the joy of a heavenly hope. Strangers in
the land of promise, and not enjoying the fulfillment of promises here
below, they wait for more excellent things-things which God prepares on
high for those who love Him. For such He has prepared a city. In unison
with God in His own thoughts, their desires (through grace) answering to
the things in which He takes delight, they are the objects of His peculiar
regard. He is not ashamed to be called their God. Abraham not only followed
God into a land that He shewed him, but, a stranger there, and not
possessing the land of promise, he is, by the mighty grace of God, exalted
to the sphere of His thoughts; and, enjoying communion with God and the
communications of His grace, he rests upon God for the time present,
accepts his position of strangership on earth, and, as the portion of his
faith, waits for the heavenly city of which God is the builder and the
founder. There was not, so to speak, an open revelation of what was the
subject of this hope, as was the case with that by which Abraham was called
of God; but walking closely enough with God to know that which was enjoyed
in His presence, and being conscious that he had not received the
fulfillment of the promise, he lays hold of the better things, and waits
for them, although only seeing them afar off, and remains a stranger upon
earth, unmindful of the country whence he came out.
The special application of these first principles of faith to the case of
the christian Hebrews is evident. They are the normal life of faith for
The second character of faith presented in this part is entire confidence
in the fulfillment of the promises- a confidence maintained in spite of all
that might tend to destroy it. This is from verse 17 to 22.
We next find, the second great division, that faith makes its way through
all the difficulties that oppose its progress. (Ver. 23-27.) And from verse
28 to 31 faith displays itself in a trust that reposes on God with regard
to the use of the means which He sets before us, and of which nature cannot
avail itself. Finally, there is the energy in general, of which faith is
the source, and the sufferings that characterise the walk of faith.[see note #33]
This general character belongs to all the examples mentioned, namely, that
they who have exercised faith have not received the fulfillment of the
promise; the application of which to the state of the Hebrew Christians is
evident. Further, these illustrious heroes of faith, however honoured they
might be among the Jews, did not enjoy the privileges that Christians
possessed. God in His counsels had reserved something better for us.
Let us notice some details. Abraham's faith shews itself by a thorough
trust in God. Called to leave his own people, breaking the ties of nature,
he obeys. He knows not whither he is going: enough for him that God would
shew him the place. God, having brought him thither, gives him nothing. He
dwells there content, in perfect reliance on God. He was a gainer by it. He
waited for a city that had foundations. He openly confesses that he is a
stranger and a pilgrim on earth. (Gen. 23:4) Thus, in spirit, he draws
nearer to God. Although he possesses nothing, his affections are engaged.
He desires a better country, and attaches himself to God more immediately
and entirely. He has no desire to return into his own country; he seeks a
country. Such is the Christian. In offering up Isaac there was that
absolute confidence in God which, at His command, can renounce even God's
own promises as possessed after the flesh, sure that God would restore them
through the exercise of His power, overcoming death and every obstacle.
It is thus that Christ renounced His rights as Messiah, and went even into
death, committing Him self to the will of God and trusting in Him; and
received everything in resurrection. And this the Hebrew Christians had to
do, with respect to the Messiah and the promises made to Israel. But, if
there is simplicity of faith, for us the Jordan is dry, nor could we indeed
have passed it if the Lord had not passed on before.
Observe here that, when trusting in God and giving up all for Him, we
always gain, and we learn something, more of the ways of His power: for in
renouncing according to His will anything already received, we ought to
expect from the power of God that He will bestow something else. Abraham
renounces the promise after the flesh. He sees the city which has
foundations; he can desire a heavenly country. He gives up Isaac, in whom
were the promises: he learns resurrection, for God is infallibly faithful.
The promises were in Isaac: therefore God must restore him to Abraham, and
by resurrection, if he offered him in sacrifice.
In Isaac faith distinguishes between the portion of God's people according
to his election, and that of man having birthrights according to nature.
This is the knowledge of the ways of God in blessing, and in judgment.
By faith Jacob, a stranger and feeble, having nothing but the staff with
which he had crossed the Jordan, worships God, and announces the double
portion of the heir of Israel, of the one whom his brethren rejected-a type
of the Lord, the heir of all things. This lays the ground of worship.
By faith Joseph, a stranger, the representative here of Israel far from his
own country, reckons on the fulfillment of the earthly promises.[see note #34]
These are the expressions of faith in the faithfulness of God, in the
future fulfillment of His promise. In that which follows we have the faith
which surmounts every difficulty that arises in the path of the man of God,
in the way that God marks out for him as he journeys on towards the
enjoyment of the promises.
The faith of the parents of Moses makes them disregard the king's cruel
command, and they conceal their infant; whom God, in answer to their faith
preserved by extraordinary means when there was no other way to save it.
Faith does not reason; it acts from its own point of view, and leaves the
result to God.
But the means which God used for the preservation of Moses placed him
within a little of the highest position in the kingdom. He there came to be
possessed of all the acquirements which that period could bestow on a man
distinguished alike by his energy and his character. But faith does its
work, and inspires divine affections which do not look to surrounding
circumstances for a guide of action, even when those circumstances may have
owned their origin to the most remarkable providences.
Faith has its own objects, supplied by God Himself, and governs the heart
with a view to those objects. It gives us a place and relationships which
rule the whole life, and leave no room for other motives and other spheres
of affection which would divide the heart; for the motives and affections
which govern faith are given by God, and given by Him in order to form and
govern the heart.
Verse 24-26 develop this point. It is a very important principle; for we
often hear Providence alleged as a reason for not walking by faith. Never
was there a more remarkable Providence than that which placed Moses in the
court of Pharaoh; and it gained its object. It would not have done so if
Moses had not abandoned the position into which that Providence had brought
him. But it was faith (that is to say, the divine affections which God had
created in his heart), and not Providence as a rule and motive, which
produced the effect for which Providence had preserved and prepared him.
Providence (thanks be to God !) governs circumstances; faith governs the
heart and the conduct.
The reward which God has promised comes in here as an avowed object in the
sphere of faith. It is not the motive power; but it sustains and encourages
the heart that is acting by faith, in view of the object which God presents
to our affections. It thus takes the heart away from the present, from the
influence of the things that surround us (whether they are things that
attract or that tend to intimidate us), and elevates the heart and
character of him who walks by faith and confirms him in a path of
devotedness which will lead him to the end at which he aims.
A motive outside that which is present to us is the secret of stability and
of true greatness. We may have an object with regard to which we act: but
we need a motive outside that object-a divine motive- to enable us to act
in a godly way respecting it.
Faith realises also (ver. 27) the intervention of God without seeing Him;
and thus delivers from all fear of the power of man-the enemy of His
people. But the thought of God's intervention brings the heart into a
greater difficulty than even the fear of man. If His people are to be
delivered, God must intervene, and that in judgment. But they, as well as
their enemies, are sinners; and the consciousness of sin and of deserving
judgment necessarily destroys confidence in Him who is the Judge. Dare they
see Him come to manifest His power in judgment (for this it is, in fact,
which must take place for the deliverance of His people)? Is God for us the
heart asks-this God who is coming in judgment? But God has provided the
means of securing safety in the presence of judgment (ver. 28); a means
apparently contemptible and useless, yet which in reality is the only one
that, by glorifying Him with regard to the evil of which we are guilty, has
power to afford shelter from the judgment which He executes.
Faith recognised the testimony of God by trusting to the efficacy of the
blood sprinkled on the door, and could, in all security, let God come in
judgment-God who, seeing the blood, would pass over His believing people.
By faith Moses kept the passover. Observe here that, by the act of putting
the blood on the door, the people acknowledged that they were as much the
objects of the just judgment of God as the Egyptians. God had given them
that which preserved them from it; but it was because they were guilty and
deserved it. No one can stand before God.
Verse 29. But the power of God is manifested, and manifested in judgment.
Nature, the enemies of God's people, think to pass through this judgment
dry-shod, like those who are sheltered by redeeming power from the
righteous vengeance of God. But the judgment swallows them up in the very
same place in which the people find deliverance-a principle of marvelous
import. There, where the judgment of God is, even there is the deliverance.
Believers have truly experienced this in Christ. The cross is death and
judgment, the two terrible consequences of sin, the lot of sinful man. To
us they are the deliverance provided of God. By and in them we are
delivered and (in Christ) we pass through and are out of their reach.
Christ died and is risen; and faith brings us, by means of that which
should have been our eternal ruin, into a place where death and judgment
are left behind, andwhere our enemies can no longer reach us. We go
through without their touching us. Death and judgment shield us from the
enemy. They are our security. But we enter into a new sphere, we live by
the effect not only of Christ's death, but of His resurrection.
Those who, in the mere power of nature, think to pass through (they who
speak of death and judgment and Christ, taking the christian position, and
thinking to pass through, although the power of God in redemption is not
with them) are swallowed up.
With respect to the Jews, this event will have an earthly antitype; for in
fact the day of God's judgment on earth will be the deliverance of Israel,
who will have been brought to repentance.
This deliverance at the Red Sea goes beyond the protection of the blood in
Egypt. There God coming in the expression of His holiness, executing
judgment upon evil, what they needed was to be sheltered from that
judgment-to be protected from the righteous judgment of God Himself. And,
by the blood, God, thus coming to execute judgment, was shut out, and the
people were placed in safety before the Judge. This judgment had the
character of the eternal judgment. And God had the character of a Judge.
At the Red Sea it was not merely deliverance from judgment hanging over
them; God was for the people, active in love and in power for them. [see note #35]
The deliverance was an actual
deliverance: they came out of that condition in which they had been
enslaved, God's own power bringing them unhurt through that which otherwise
must have been their destruction. Thus, in our case, it is Christ's death
and resurrection, in which we participate, the redemption which He therein
accomplished, [see note #36] which introduces us into an entirely new condition
altogether outside that of nature. We are no longer in the flesh.
In principle the earthly deliverance of the Jewish nation (the Jewish
remnant) will be the same. Founded on the power of the risen Christ, and on
the propitiation wrought out by His death, that deliverance will be
accomplished by God, who will intervene on behalf of those that turn to Him
by faith: at the same time that His adversaries (who are those also of His
people) shall be destroyed by the very judgment which is the safeguard of
the people whom they have oppressed.
Verse 30. Yet all difficulties were not overcome because redemption was
accomplished, deliverance effected. But the God of deliverance was with
them; difficulties disappear before Him. That which is a difficulty to man
is none to Him. Faith trusts in Him, and uses means which only serve to
express that trust. The walls of Jericho fall down at the sound of trumpets
made of rams' horns, after Israel had compassed the city seven days,
sounding these trumpets seven times.
Rahab, in presence of all the as yet unimpaired strength of the enemies of
God and His people, identifies herself with the latter before they had
gained one victory, because she felt that God was with them. A stranger to
them (as to the flesh), she by faith escaped the judgment which God
executed upon her people.
Verse 32. Details are now no longer entered into. Israel (although
individuals had still to act by faith), being established in the land of
promise,furnished less occasion to develop examples of the principles on
which faith acted. The Spirit speaks in a general way of these examples in
which faith re-appeared under various characters and energy of patience,
and sustained souls under all kinds of suffering. Their glory was with God,
the world was not worthy of them. Nevertheless they had received nothing of
the fulfillment of the promises; they had to live by faith, as well as the
Hebrews, to whom the epistle was addressed. The latter, however, had
privileges which were in no wise possessed by believers of former days.
Neither the one nor the other was brought to perfection, that is, to the
heavenly glory, unto which God has called us, and in which they are to
participate. Abraham and others waited for this glory; they never possessed
it: God would not give it them without us. But He has not called us by the
same revelations only as those which He made to them. For the days of the
rejected Messiah He had reserved some better thing. Heavenly things have
become things of the present time, things fully revealed and actually
possessed in spirit, by the union of the saints with Christ, and present
access into the holiest through the blood of Christ.
We have not to do with a promise and a distinct view of a place approached
from without, entrance to which was not yet granted, so that relationship
with God would not be founded on entrance within the veil-entrance into His
own presence. We now go in with boldness. We belong to heaven; our
citizenship is there; we are at home there. Heavenly glory is our present
portion, Christ having gone in as our forerunner. We have in heaven a
Christ who is man glorified. This Abraham had not. He walked on earth with
a heavenly mind, waiting for a city, feeling that nothing else would
satisfy the desires which God had awakened in his heart; but he could not
be connected with heaven by means of a Christ actually sitting there in
glory. This is our present portion. We can even say that we are united to
Him there. The Christian's position is quite different from that of
Abraham. God had reserved some better thing for us.
The Spirit does not here develop the whole extent of this " better thing,"
because the assembly is not His subject. He presents the general thought to
the Hebrews to encourage them, that believers of the present day have
special privileges, which they enjoy by faith, but which did not belong
even to the faith of believers in former days.
We shall be perfected, that is to say, glorified together in resurrection;
but there is a special portion which belongs to the saints now, and which
did not belong to the patriarchs. The fact that Christ, as man, is in
heaven after having accomplished redemption, and that the Holy Ghost, by
whom we are united to Christ, is on earth, made this superiority granted
to Christians easily understood. Accordingly even the least in the kingdom
of heaven is greater than the greatest of those who preceded it.