Hebrews 11Observe here, 1. The thing described, or the subject spoken of, and that is faith; that faith whereby the just man lives, the apostle here speaks of, though not as justifying, but as it is effectually useful in our whole life, especially unto constancy and perseverance in the Christian profession, which was the great duty urged and enforced in the foregoing chapter.
Observe, 2. The description itself, it is the substance of things hoped for.
1. That is, it is a confident and firm expectation of the good things which God has promised, giving the good things hoped for, a real subsistance in our minds and souls.
2. It is the evidence of things not seen; that is, it evidences the reality and certainty of future things, it realizes the invisible realities of another world unto our minds, and causes us to believe them as strongly as what we see with our bodily eyes.
Learn hence, That a lively faith gives such a reality, certainty, and present being to things hoped for, and yet to come, as if they were visibly seen and actually enjoyed.
Having in the former verse described faith, in this and the following verses he enters upon the just praise and deserved commendation of this divine and excellent grace, which has such an universal influence into all the parts of the Christian life.
In this verse, to commend that faith which he had in the former verse described, he brings in the experience of the elders, or Old Testament saints, all true believers from the foundation of the world, who by faith obtained from God a good testimony, recorded in the holy Scriptures. By it, or through it, as a condition appointed and ordained of God; not for it, or by the worth and influence of it, as the meritorious cause, the elders or saints of God, from the beginning of the world, obtained a good report.
Learn hence, 1. That the Old Testament saints had the same kind of faith that we have, and were saved in the same manner that we are; they had the same promises, the same terms of grace, the same meritorious purchase by the blood of Christ: He is therefore called the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, slain in God's purpose and decree, slain in the types and figures of his death; though his blood was not actually shed, yet was it decree to be shed, and so was as effectual to them as to us.
Learn, 2. That the renown of the Old Testament saints was their faith, that made them famous; not their priority in living before us, not their longevity in living many years beyond us, not upon the account of their other graces, which yet rendered them truly excellent, are they said to obtain a good report, but upon the score and account of their faith. Abel was famous for righteousness, Enoch for walking with God, Abraham for obedience, Moses for meekness, but the crown is set upon the head of their faith only; by it the elders obtained, &c.
The design of the apostle in these words is to prove, that faith satisfies itself in the world be now visible, and the things contained in it are said to be seen, yet the original framing and making of the world has a principal place among things not seen.
Learn hence, That by faith assenting to divine revelation, and not by reason, we understand the truth and wonders, the seasons and causes, the manner and end of the world's creation. Reason indeed tells us that there was a creation, consquently a Creator; but reason without divine revelation could never have discovered the circumstances and manner of the creation, which wholly depended upon the will of God.
Reason and nature could never have known them, had not God in his word first revealed them: The old Heathens could never determine who made the world, nor when, nor how it was made, or whence, and out of what it was made. Reason may profound the question, how was the world made, and all things herein? But revelation must resolve it. A poor child learns more by its catechism, than all the philosophers ever learn by their profound researches, and painful studies.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed, it follows, by the word of God, that is, both by his external and imperial word, his word of command, saying Let it be; He spake and it was done, Ps 33:9. And also by his essential and substantial word, Jesus Christ, by whom God made the worlds, Heb 1:2 in that order which Moses has historically related.
Observe lastly, How and after what manner the world was made, not out of any prejacent or pre-existent matter, but out of nothing: That which was not at all, could not be seen: The things that are seen, were not made of things that do appear.
Here note, That the power of God framed many things out of nothing, as the heaven of heavens, the dwelling place of God and angels, immediately; other things mediately out of the chaos, that is, such rude, indisposed, and unfit matter, as had no disposition to receive such a form, as it did actually receive from the power of God; and may therefore deservedly be called a creation, out of nothing.
Learn hence, That in the work of creation, though other attributes of wisdom and goodness visibly appeared, yet none were so eminently conspicuous as the power of God. Well might St. Paul say, Rom 1:20 That herein was manifested his eternal power and Godhead.
From a general declaration of the nature of faith in the foregoing verses, our apostle proceeds to give instances of the efficacy and power of faith in particular persons, in this and the following verses. And he begins here with Abel.
But why not with Adam?
Because Adam was the first sinner, and the greatest of sinners; and although received to grace and mercy, yet after his fall Moses speaks little of him, nothing very notable; neither did Almighty God put that honour upon Adam which he put upon his son Abel; he had the honour to shed his blood for Christ, and for testifying his faith in him; and accordingly Abel is here represented as the first evangelical believer, By faith Abel, &c.
Observe farther, 1. The action which Abel performed, he offered sacrifice to God; he offered a sacrifice most excellent and he offered it by faith.
But did not Cain bring his offering of faith too?
Yes, no doubt, he believed the being of God, and considered him as a Creator and Preserver, and accordingly offered the fruits of the earth, as an acknowledgment that all these things were made, preserved, and bestowed on man by God. But Abel's faith was fixed on God, not only as a Creator, but as a Redeemer also, accompanied with a sense of sin and guilt, trusting in the ways of redemption and recovery which God hath provided.
Here note, That the performance of the outward duties of divine worship, is not the rule of the acceptance of men's persons with God, but a difference and distinction is made from the inward principle, whence those duties do proceed. Cain and Abel both offered sacrifice, but not from a like principle, nor yet for a like end.
Observe, 2. The effect and fruit of Abel's faith, it procured a testimony and witness from God himself that he was righteous; he testified that he had respect to his person by the approbation of his suffering. Our persons must be justified before our performances can be accepted. God has first respect to the offerer, then to the offering; for the person must recommend the gift, not the gift recommend the person.
Observe, lastly, the privilige of Abel's faith; by it, being dead, he yet speaketh. Some understand the words in a passive sense, he is spoken of; he being dead, there is an honourable mention of him. Religion is the truest honour, and the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.
Others in an active sense, and so the words import, that the dead saints do yet speak, and that somewhat worthy to be heard and observed; they speak by the precious graces with which they by the good works they wrought, by the eminent services they did for God and man, by their sharp trials, by their bitter sufferings; by these they speak, to the honour of religion, and to the furtherance of the gospel. God's Abels, his dead saints, do thus speak when laid in the dust.
The second instance is Enoch, concerning whom our apostle affirms, that he was translated, and that he was translated by faith; translated from one condition to another; from grace to glory, from earth to heaven. He was gathered by God, both in body and soul, to himself; and in a way of eminent grace and favour free from death. Hereby God gave the world a convincing testimony, that the body is capable of eternal life and happiness.
But how was he translated by faith?
Ans. Not efficiently; faith was not the efficient cause of his translation. That was an immediate act of divine power; not meritoriously, for it is recorded as an act of sovereign grace and favour; but instrumentally only; he was by faith brought into that state and condition of favour and acceptance with God, as to have this peculiar privilege conferred upon him. Some we find are carried to heaven by special prerogative, by privileged dispensation; By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death.
But observe farther, What went before his translation, and that was his pleasing God: Before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. Such as would live with God hereafter, must study and seek to please God by walking with him here; would we come where Enoch is, we must walk as Enoch did. There is no hope of living with God in heaven, if we do not please him here on earth.
Without faith, that is, without justifying faith, without faith in the Messiah, for that is the faith here spoken of, there is no possibility of pleasing God, and if so, then no possibility of being saved without faith. This appears partly from the divine constitution, God has so appointed it, partly from the nature of the thing itself; faith being the first regular motion of the soul towards God, no works, no duties, no performances whatsoever can please God without faith. He that cometh to God, that is, hath any access or approach to him in a way of worship, or any access or acceptance into his grace and favour, he must believe:
1. God's being.
2. God's bounty: That he is: And that he is a rewarder of such as diligently seek him.
Learn hence, 1. That the first point of faith, if we would have anything to do with God, is firmly to believe that there is a God: He that cometh to God, must believe that he is.
Learn, 2. That the fountain of all obedience and service to God, is a firm belief of his being a rewarder of all them that diligently seek him.
Learn, 3. That the whole issue of our finding God when we seek him, depends upon our diligently seeking of him; he is a rewarder of them, of all and only them, that diligently seek him.
Observe here, 1. The person spoken of, Noah, an eminent person in the line of the church, and one that walked with God, and found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
Observe, 2. What was spoken of him; he was warned of God, touching his design and purposes to destroy and drown the old world.
Observe, 3. What was the effect of this warning, it produced in Noah fear and obedience: Fear of the threatening, and obedience to the command; he was moved with fear, and prepared the ark.
Observe, 4. The exercise, yea, eminent exercise of Noah's faith: Neither the difficulty of the work, nor the length of time, and hundred and twenty years, nor his want of success all that time of preaching, nor the contempt and scorn cast upon him by the whole world, could weaken his hands or discourage his heart, in the least, from going on with his work.
Observe, 5. The consequent of Noah's faith and obedience with respect unto the world: He condemned the world; not as a judge, properly and authoratively, but as a witness, by plea and testimony; he condemned it by his doctrine, by his example, an left it altogether without excuse.
Observe, 6. The fruit and effect of Noah's faith and obedience with reference to himself; He became heir of the righteousness which is by faith; that is, of the happiness promised to them who are justified by faith; he was evidenced and declared to be a righteous person.
The next illustrious instance of the efficacy of faith we have here in the person of Abraham, who obeyed the call and command of God in leaving his own native country, to go he knew not whither, and to receive an inheritance he knew not when.
Where note, 1. The foundation of Abraham's faith and obedience, and that was the call of God; he had an immediate command to go out of his own country into a certain place, with a promise to receive it for an inheritance: Get thee from thy country, relations, friends, and all outward enjoyments, is a command becoming the greatness of God to give; and self-denial in fact or resolution to comply with such a command from the great God, is the foundation of all sincere profession.
Note, 2. What was the principle of Abraham's obedience in complying with this call of God, and that was his faith: By faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed. True faith, wherever it is, bringeth forth sincere obedience; these two can no more be separated then the light and the sun, than the fire and heat; obedience is the daughter of faith, and faith the parent and principle of obedience.
Note, 3. The difficulty, and therein the excellency, of his obedience; He obeyed, and went out, not knowing whither he went. If faith be once satisfied in the call and command of God, it will follow him when he cannot see a step of its way; over hills and mountains, through dales and vallies, fearing nothing. He that has God's call, need not fear God's conduct.
The apostle spake of the place which Abraham was called from, in the foregoing verse, namely, out of Ur of the Chaldees: here he speaks of the place he was called to, Canaan, styled the Land of Promise, that is, the land which God had newly promised to give unto him.
Where note, 1. Abraham's act of obedience: He sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country; he was there as a sojourner, not an inheritor, moving up and down from place to place, until God thought fit to settle him and his posterity. Abraham was a sojourner both in his condition of life, and in his dispositon of heart. Canaan was a type of heaven, accordingly Abraham expected a better country, with a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Note, 2. The manner of his sojourning in this land, dwelling in tabernacles. This was both an act of policy, and an act of piety; of policy, that they might live peaceably, occasioning any envy or grudge from them; and of piety, to express their hopes and desires of a better country.
Note, 3. Abraham's companions, his fellows and followers, in this act of obedience; he sojourned with Isaac and Jacob as heirs of the same promise.
Where mark, How all the saints of God are of the same spiritual disposition; they are animated by the same spirit, governed by the same laws; they act from the same principle, and for the same end, and desire nothing more that to live together, and to enjoy God and one another.
Note, 4. The reason rendered why Abraham esteemed himself but as a stranger in Canaan, because his thoughts ran much upon heaven, of which Canaan was but a type: He looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Where observe, 1. Abraham's act of expectation: he looked for it, he rationally expected it; it was not a blind hope, but well built on the power and promise of God.
2. What he looked for, a city; not Jerusalem, an earthly city, as some would have it, for that was not possessed until eight hundred years after, and then only by his posterity for a limited time: but an heavenly city, a settled quiet habitation, a suitable dwelling for them that have had a life of trouble in this world.
3. The city itself described, 1. by the nature of it; it has foundations, in opposition to tents and tabernacles, which had no foundations, but where moving, ambulatory dwellings, supported only by stakes and cords; this city is bounded upon the eternal power, the infinite wisdom, and immutable counsel of God.
2. By the maker and builder of it, God, he is the contriver, framer, and erector of this city; and as he is the maker, so he is the disposer of it also; please God, and he will give it thee, none can give it thee without him, and he will never give it thee without pleasing of him.
Our apostle having spoken of Abraham's faith before, makes an honourable mention of his wife Sarah's faith here. It is a blessed thing when husband and wife are one in the faith, as well as one flesh; when the constant companion of our life draws with us in the same yoke of religion.
Note, 1. The person whose faith is here commended, Sarah herself, a woman, a barren woman, and a barren woman well stricken in age; a woman weak in sex may be strong in faith. Though Sarah at first laughed, yet she afterwards firmly believed. And the apostle takes no notice of the former, but applauds the latter. Oh? with what great indulgence doth God cover the failings of his children, but proclaims aloud their graces to the world! Men do not thus: they will overlook all that is good in others, and report only what is amiss. Sarah's laughing, Rahab's lie, Job's impatience, are not mentioned, but their graces are remembered. Who would not serve such a gracious master, that winks at our failings, but accepts and rewards our weak services and sincere graces?
Note, 2. The commendation and fruit of Sarah's faith, she received by it strength and ability for conception; probably she recovered the youthful vigour, and received a general restoration of nature, to an ability for all its primitive operations, which was before decayed by age; she received strength to conceive seed when past age.
Learn, That it is the property of faith to expect a blessing absolutely above the use of means, when we have a particular and special warrant from God so to do, as Sarah had in this case.
Note, 3. The ground of Sarah's faith, Because she had judged him faithful that had promised; that is, she resolved her faith into, and rested upon, the veracity of God in the accomplishment of the promise, which is the proper and immediate object of faith.
Learn, That wherever we exercise and put forth faith, we must take care and be sure that we have a promise to exercise it upon, otherwise it is not faith, but fancy; God's promise, and not God's power, is the ground of faith; it is not what God can do, but what he will do, and what he has engaged and promised to do, that is the ground of faith; he can quench all the fire in hell; but where has he said he will do it? She judged him faithful who had promised.
These words acquaint us with that gratuitous remuneration and gracious reward which God gave Abraham and Sarah, as the fruit of the faith, namely, the blessing of a numerous posterity; there sprang of them, and both of them, as good as dead, with reference to the procreation of children, a numerous issue like the stars of heaven, and the sands of the sea.
Hence learn, That the God of nature, at his own pleasure, works things above the power of nature in its ordinary efficacy and operations; by weak and dead means he often produces mighty effects.
Learn, 2. That whatever difficulties and oppositions lie in the way of the accomplishing of God's promises, they shall have an assured accomplishment on God's part, if faith be kept up in lively exercise on our part.
That is, all the before-mentioned saints, Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, they all died in the faith of the promised Messiah, believing he should come, and expecting salvation by his coming. It is not enough for a Christian to live in the faith, but he must also die in the faith; and to die in the faith is an honourable happy manner of dying; it is a greater happiness to die in the Lord, than to die for the Lord; if a man die for the Lord, and be not in the Lord, he is not blessed in his death: a man may die for the Lord's cause, yet not for the Lord's sake, but out of vain glory.
Observe here, the great trial which the faith of the Old Testament saints was put unto: they died, not having received the promises; that is, they went to their graves before the great blessings God had promised were accomplished. Faith is contented with the promise, though it wants actual possession of the good things promised. God would have believers in all ages of the church to live by faith, and promises not actually performed: and it is a great honour to God, when we are ready to die, to go to the grave with assurance, and to profess our confidence that God will make them good: These all died not having received the promises.
Yet observe, The actings and exercises of their faith towards these promises, which they had not yet received in their accomplishment:
1. They saw them afar off: at a great distance: it is the property of faith to eye the blessings promised at a distance; so that no distance of time or place can weaken faith as to the accomplishment of divine promises.
2. They were persuaded of them: this imports the mind's satisfactory acquiescing in the truth of God for the accomplishing of his promises; a firm persuasion of the truth of God's promises, and a quiet waiting for the accomplishment of them at a great distance, is an eminent fruit of faith.
3. They embraced them; the word signifies, they saluted and hugged them.
Whence note, That faith is an act of the will, as well as of the understanding; there is in faith adherence as well as assent; an embracing as well as a persuasion; the heart cleaves to the promise with love, delight, and complacency.
And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth; so they were in outward condition, wandering from place to place; so they were in affection and disposition, looking upon this world as their pilgrimage, and heaven as their home and proper country, because thence they are born; there lies their inheritance, there are all their kindred, there is their longest abode. Christians should not only account but confess themselves pilgrims, and discover it by their journeying and mending their pace heavenward.
As if the apostle had said, "They that say such things, namely, that they, even in the land of promise, are pilgrims and strangers, do declare plainly that they seek a country where they may rest and dwell, when this their pilgrimage on earth is ended." Now this country was not Chaldea, but heaven; a glorious city, which God prepared for them, as an abundant recompence for their earthly country, which they left at God's command.
Here note, 1. That heaven is the Christian's proper country; they are born form heaven, their conversation is in heaven, their eternal habitation is there; their head and husband, their friends and kindred, are there: and it is theirs by a right of donation, by a right of purchase, by a right of possession, and by a right of conquest.
Note, 2. That this heavenly country is by far the better, yea, the best of countries; best in regard of the safety and security of it; best in regard of the order and government of it; best in regard of the company and society dwelling in it; all saints: best in regard of the immunities and privileges belonging to it, and in regard of the duration and continuance of it; a country that can never be invaded, never be conquered.
Note, 3. That sincere Christians have strong desires after, and vehement longings for, this better, this best of countries: Now they desire a better country: and God is not ashamed to be called their God--they that by their faith give glory to God in acknowledging his faithfulness in this life, he will never be ashamed of them, either in life or at death, or after death.
Learn, 1. That it is the privilege, honour, and advantage that any can be made partakers of, that God will hear the name and title of their God.
2. God's owning of believers as his, and of himself to be their God, is an abundant recompence of all the hardships which they undergo in this their pilgrimage. The top and sun of all happiness, is to have the Lord for our God.
The next person instanced in, for the fame of his faith, is Abraham who was deservedly styled the father of the faithful; him God tries in a very extraordinary manner, by putting him upon offering up his son Isaac.
Where note, That where God gives much grace, he tries grace much; the greater the faith, the greater the trial; strong faith must prepare for strong trials. Here Abraham's faith was tried, whether he would yield to God's command against nature; his love was tried, whether his affection was not more strong to his son than to his God; and his fear was tried, whether he did reverentially acknowledge and stand in awe of God, by adoring his sovereignity and dominion over him. Trials are the best touchstone of faith, without which men will want the best evidence of its sincerity: and great trials in believers are an evidence of great faith.
Observe farther, The excellency of Abraham's faith and obedience upon this trial: he offered up his son Isaac: that is, he did it in part, and was ready to have done it thoroughly, had not God countermanded him.
Learn hence, that where there is a divine command obliging us to obedience, it is the wisdom and duty of faith to close its eyes against all insuperable difficulties and dangers. Abraham objected not against the horrid nature of the command to kill a son, his own son, his only son, the son of the promise, but deliberately, and upon due consideration, was ready to execute what God required.
Lord! what a strong faith was here, fortified with an impregnable resolution, that could make Abraham hold out three days against the violent assaults of his own nature, and the charming presence of his son, enough to melt his heart; yet nothing made him stagger in his duty, but he performs a most miraculous act of obedience, in defiance of all difficulties.
Observe lastly, The fruit and success of Abraham's faith; he believed God could and would raise Isaac from the grave, and he receive him again in a figure as one snatched out of the very jaws of death. There is no such way to enjoy the continuance of an earthly comfort, as by resigning it up to God; Accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead, from whence also he received him in a figure.
Note, That there is a blessing by way of prayer, and a blessing by way of prophecy, foretelling what shall befall persons in time to come; of this kind is Isaac's blessing. The patriarchs were in a peculiar manner directed and guided by God, and their blessing was a conferring of a right to the parties blessed.
Thus Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come, that is, concerning the great and future things which should happen to their posterity after them.
Note here, Esaus, wicked men, have their portion in outward blessings as well as Jacobs, as well as the best and holiest of men; partly, as they are God's creatures, partly as they descend from parents in covenant with God, and partly because they make some profession of the name of God. And God will be behindhand with none, but so far as they do good they shall see good.
Observe here, in dying Jacob, the frame and carriage of holy men in their dying and seasons, to bless their children, and worship their God. Jacob blessed Joseph and his two sons, laying hold on the covenant made with Abraham. It is no small privilege to be born of parents taken into visible covenant with God, and no small comfort, when God comes to take away such parents form us, to have the benefit of their blessings and prayers. Jacob, when dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and as he blessed them, so he worshipped God with religious worship, and in a devout manner, leaning upon the top of his staff.
Learn hence, That our addresses to God ought to be exceedingly reverent, both as to the frame of our souls, and also to the gesture of our bodies; we cannot always be affectionate in prayer, for affection depends upon the vigorous motions of the bodily spirits; but we should always be reverent and serious in prayer, otherwise it is no worship.
Learn farther, That where faith gives a willing mind, bodily infirmities shall be no let and hinderance from duty.
Here we have a two-fold instance of Joseph's faith when dying.
1. He made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; he said unto his brethren, Behold I die, but God shall bring you unto the land which he hath sworn unto your fathers. See how the good man dies in the faith of the promise.
Thence learn, That it is of singular use and great advantage to the church, that such believers as have been eminent in profession, should in their dying moments testify their faith in the promises of God; so did Jacob before, so did Joseph now.
The second instance or evidence of Joseph's faith was, that he gave commandment concerning his bones; that is, he took an oath of his brethren that they should carry his bones out of Egypt, and bury them in Canaan, thereby owning and professing himself to be of the posterity of Abraham; and thereby also encouraging the faith and expectation of his brethren and their posterity to hope for their deliverance out of Egypt, and to be put into the possession of the promised land; so that it is evident that there was faith, much faith, showed by Joseph in disposing of his bones. The Papists' plea from hence for paying veneration to their relics, is weak and contemptible: this was a special charge given in faith to do what was done; and to shut them up in a coffin, and decently bury them was all that was done.
Now to take example, from hence, to dig men's bones out of their graves, to enshrine them and place them upon altars, to carry them in procession, to adore them, to ascribe miraculous operations to them, casting out devils and the like, is fond and ridiculous.
In these words the faith of Moses's parents is celebrated: the birth of Moses fell out in the very height and fury of Pharaoh's persecution, when the king had given commandment to destroy all the male children; Moses was then born and hid by his parents, and preserved as a deliverer of the church of God.
Oh! how blind are all the persecutors and opposers of the church of God! When they think all things secure, and their counsels so deeply laid that God himself cannot deliver out of their hands, then doth the Almighty lay in provision for his church's deliverance, and their destruction. Now was Moses, a deliverer, born and hid.
But observe a double cause of Moses' hiding: the first external, they saw he was a proper child; they had a persuasion that God would provide a person to be their deliverer; and they saw something divine in Moses to stir up their faith, and raise their expectation, that he might be the person.
The second, the internal and moving cause: They were not afraid of the kings' commandment, or bloody decree.
Learn hence, 1. That the commands of kings and princes have oft-times been a very great trial to the children of God; so was Nebuchadnezzar's command to worship the golden image, and such was Pharaoh's command here.
Learn, 2. That kings and princes must not be obeyed in things contrary to the word of God: obedience without reserve is to be paid to none but God. They were not afraid of the king's commandment.
The next person whom our apostle instances in, is Moses himself, whose faith and self-denial were most evidently conspicuous in all the instances of them.
Observe, 1. His great self-denial, with all the enhancing circumstances of it: When he came to years, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
Note here, 1. The circumstance of time, When he came to years; it was no childish act, when he knew not what he did, but when he came to age and understanding; nay, farther, this was when Moses was newly come to age, in the prime and vigour of his time, when he had just began to taste the sweetness of youthful pleasures. The world appears a dead and dry thing in the winter of old age, but looks green and beautiful in the spring of youth: but Moses, when come, just come, to years, refused it.
Note, 2. The circumstances of his education; he had been bred from a child in a princely way and manner, he never knew what belonged to a low estate: those that never had much, forsake but little when they forsake all, want will never much pinch those who never understood plenty; but those who have enjoyed fulness all their days, for them to stoop voluntarily from the height of ease and honour, to the depth of affliction and hardship, is admirable. Thus did Moses; he refused honour, and chose affliction.
Note, 3. The circumstance of his obligations; Pharaoh's daughter had saved his life, adopted him for her son, given him princely breeding, He was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; and set her heart upon him as her own. However, Moses breaks through all, and away he goes. But whither went he? Why, to a company of poor bond-men, labouring at the brick-kilns, to take his lot of suffering with them.
Note, 4. The circumstance of his expectations; how very fair and certain a prospect he had of enjoying the crown of Egypt; he did not refuse it because he despaired of attaining it, for he was an adopted heir unto it.
Note lastly, That all this was not a rash and sudden determination, but a deliberate and advised choice, Acts 7:23. St. Stephen said he made this choice when he was full forty years old; that is, when he was of ripest judgment, and in the height of prosperity and reputation: he did not only, as Josephus says, at three years old cast a crown, given him for a play-toy, to the ground, and trample it under his feet; but, as the apostle says here, when he came to be a man, he treated it with no more respect, but refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. Behold here Moses' faith, and eminent self-denial, in choosing rather to suffer affliction with the worshippers of the true God, than to gain a kingdom by renouncing God and his holy religion.
From whence learn, That faith is a grace which will teach and enable a person openly to renounce all worldly advantages at God's call, when we cannot enjoy them with an upright mind, and a good conscience.
Question But how did Moses come to know his stock and race, that he was an Hebrew born, and not an Egyptian, no son of Pharaoh's daughter?
Answer He found himself circumcised, and so belonged to the circumcised, and so belonged to the circumcised people. The token of God's covenant received in infancy, duly considered, is a most effectual means to preserve persons in the profession of the true religion.
Add to this, that his mother was his nurse, and continually with him, and probably his father frequently; who being persons fearing God, took care very early to impress him with the principles of the true religion, and with the detestation of the Egyptian idolatry.
Observe here, 1. The common lot and usual condition of God's people in this world; it is an afflicted state and condition.
2. That wicked men oft-times enjoy pleasures in the ways of sin, whilst good men meet with much affliction in the work of holiness.
3. That notwithstanding this, all wise and good men do rather choose afflicted godliness, than pleasant and prosperous wickedness.
4. That a spiritual eye can see an excellency in the people of God, when in the lowest suffering condition; will join itself unto them, and appear with them, and for them, though it be with great loss, and much hazard. Moses here chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the short sinful pleasures of Pharaoh's court.
The former verse acquainted us with the general choice which Moses made of affliction with the people of God: this acquaints us with one sort and particular kind of affliction which he chose, namely, reproach for Christ; this he counted his glory, his riches, his treasures, beyond all the riches and treasures of Egypt.
Note here, That the people of God have been, and usually are, a people under reproach; not only a persecuted, but a reproached people; the foundation of all sufferings is laid in reproach: this is the cover for all. The Jews by reproaches first stirred up the rage of the people against Christ, before they attempted to take away his life.
Note, 2. The reproach of good men is the reproach fo Christ, because he and they are but one mystical body, and because of the near union that is between them. The reproach of the wife is the reproach of the husband, especially if she be reproached for his sake, and upon his account.
Again observe, What an high esteem a gracious person has of reproaches in the cause of Christ, and for the sake of Christ; he esteems them his glory, his treasure, his greatest treasure; he rejoices and takes pleasure in them, and very much values himself by them.
Verily no man deserves the name of a Christian until he hath such an esteem of Christ, and value for him, that the worst things in the world, even persecution and reproach, should be preferred by him before the great things of the world, when they stand in competition with him, or in opposition to him.
Observe lastly, The ground of Moses's faith, self-denial, contempt of the world, and all its excellent actions; and that was, the recompence of the reward which he had respect unto: For he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
Where note, That there is a reward laid up for good men; that it is a lawful, yea, laudable, very expedient, yea, very necessary and needful, for a Christian to eye this reward, and to have respect unto it in the whole course of his obedience; and this doing will be a mighty encouraging motive to undergo all hardships and difficulties in the way of religion: He had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
Our apostle having described the faith of Moses, with respect to his sufferings with the people of God, in the former verses, comes now to instance in the power and activity of it, with respect to their deliverance, in these verses.
Where note, 1. The spiritual fortitude which attended his faith, He forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; even the wrath of the greatest king upon the earth, is to be disregarded, if it lies against our duty to God.
Note, 2. The reason or ground of this his fortitude and courage, He endured as seeing him who is invisible; that is, he saw him by faith whom he could not see by sense; he saw him in his omnipresence, power, faithfulness, and a had fixed trust in him at all times, and on all occasions.
Learn hence, That there is nothing insuperable to faith, whilst it can keep a clear view of the power of God, and the promise of God.
Note, 3. The commendation of Moses's faith, from a due observation of a double ordinance of worship, namely, the passover, and the sprinkling of blood.
As to the former, Moses's faith in keeping the passover had respect to its divine institution, to the command for its perpetual observance, to the sacramental nature of it, to the mystical or typical signification of it.
Learn hence, That a vigorous and lively exercise of faith is always required unto the right and due celebration of a sacramental ordinance; By faith he kept the passover; it follows, --and the sprinkling of blood. This was a temporary ordinance and observation annexed to the first celebration of the passover, not repeated afterwards; the sprinkling of the blood on the side posts of their houses, was a token that the destroying angel should pass over those houses, and that none should be destroyed in them; but this rite, though it ceased with the first passover, yet it abides for ever in its mystical signification; God hereby teaching us, that unless we are sprinkled with the blood of Christ, our paschal lamb, no other privilege can secure us from the displeasure of God, and everlasting destruction; By faith he kept the passover, and sprinkling of blood, verse 28.
Note, 4. A farther instance of the power and efficacy of Moses's faith in passing through the Red Sea, verse 29 probably he entered first into the sea, at the head of the people himself, both to conduct them, and to encourage them; the water doubtless was raised to a very great height on both sides of them; and though they were a wall unto them, yet it was a mighty act of faith to put themselves between such walls as were ready every moment to fall upon them, had they not been under an Almighty restraint.
Learn hence, That faith will overcome all fears and dangers, and find a way through a sea of difficulties, under the call and at the command of God.
But how came it to pass that the Egyptians, going in the same path through the Red Sea, were drowned in which the Israelites were preserved?
Answer The Egyptians entering in was an act of presumption; the Israelites, was an act of faith; God commanded the Israelites to go through; now as faith gives courage to obey God in difficult duties, so it gives encouragement to hope that safety shall evermore accompany duty.
After the faith of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea, we have here the faith of Joshua and the Israelites before Jericho, recorded and related. Jericho was a walled and well-fenced city, and a frontier town, that kept them from entering into Canaan. God commanded them not to fight, but to walk, to go round the city seven days, and he would give them an unexpected entrance into it; they believe and obey, and the success was according to their desire: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, &c.
Here note, 1. The grace exercesed, faith: they believed God upon his word, they enter Canaan at this frontier town; God remembers his promise, and disappoints not the faith and expectation of his people.
Note, 2. The readiness and exactness of the people's obedience; they compassed the town so many days, they do what God commands, and no more; here is no mount raised, no engine planted, no sword drawn, they only walk, not fight. Doubtless the men of Jericho made themselves merry with this sight, and said one to another, "What, will these men beat down our city with their eyes? Will they conquer us only by gazing upon us?"
And farther, as the army only must encompass the city, so must the priests blow the rams'-horns; a contemptible mean! had they made use of the silver trumpets of the sanctuary, that had been a good ground to hope for success, they being the symbols and sacred signs of God's presence with them; but verily trumpets of rams'-horns seemed more fit to move laughter, than to do execution; yet assuredly no ram of iron could have been so forcible for battery as these rams'-horns, when God had appointed them. It is the praise of omnipotency ofttimes to work improbabilities.
Note, 3. The event and success which followed their faith, and accompanied their obedience, The walls of Jericho fell down. Nothing can stand before the power of God and the faith of his people. If we will believe God's promises, and execute his commands, we need no shifts nor artifices, no power nor policy of our own, to work deliverance for us.
Learn hence, That when faith makes use of the means prescribed by God, though it cannot discern what influence the means can have to the end aimed at, yet the issue and event shall certainly be according to God's appointment and faith's expectation; By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after, &c.
Observe here, 1. The person spoken of, Rahab, a Gentile, an Amorite, an harlot, who kept a victualling house in Jericho, and so was both harlot and hostess, defiled both in body and mind, with idolatry and adultery.
2. What is spoken of her; she believed: By faith Rahab, &c. She was converted to God before the spies came to her, by what she had heard of him and his mighty works.
Behold here a blessed instance!
1. Of the sovereignty and freedom of God's grace.
2. Of the power and efficacy of divine grace, in calling and converting a person given up by her own choice to the vilest of sins, even to the ravings of lust; but no sinner nor sin is to be despaired of, in whose cure sovereign grace is engaged.
Observe, 3. The effect and fruit of her faith, She received the spies with peace; that is, entertained them safely, concealed them, gave them intelligence, exposed herself to danger in the converance of them; an eminent fruit, a special evidence, and an high demonstration of her faith: indeed she told an officious lie; but God pardoned it, and the apostle here makes no mention of it; the Holy Ghost lays, as it were, the finger upon the scar, and covers it out of sight, contrary to the practice of the malignant world, who overlook all the good, and reflect only upon the evil of an action; whereas God takes notice of the good, but passes by the evil.
Observe, 4. The benefit and advantage she received by her faith, she perished not; that is, when the credulous and idolatrous people of Jericho were destroyed, she and her family were preserved.
From the whole learn, 1. That God is ready to show wonderful mercy to penitent sinners, if they return to him, and believe in him, how great soever their sins have formerly been.
Learn, 2. That true faith, wherever it is, will show itself by some eminent effect, and notable fruits of it.
Learn, 3. That the rewards of faith are excellent and truly glorious; as she was preserved from the common ruin at Jericho, so shall all believers be saved from that wrath and destruction which shall come ere long upon the impenitent and unbelieving world.
In these and the following verses, our apostle sums up the remaining testimonies which he might have produced to show the great things which faith had assisted persons to do, and also enabled them to suffer the hardest and most terrible things that could be encountered with; in the verses now before us, an account is given us, of the great things of all sorts, which faith has enabled to do; particularly, it was faith that made them fearless whom God raised up, in the days of the judges, to conflict with the enemies of the church; it was faith that assisted them in the combat, and rendered them victorious in the conflict; it was faith rendered Gideon successful over the Midianites, Barak over the Canaanites, Samson ever the Philistines, Jephthah over the Amorites, David over the Jebusites and Moabites: it was faith in the promise of God that made them courageous, and rendered them victorious; there is nothing so great, so difficult, or seemingly insuperable, that should hinder us from acting faith in all things, even things more great and excellent than the conquest of earthly kingdoms.
Observe next, Our apostle having enumerated the persons believing, he now reckons up the noble acts and honourable achievements of their faith, Through faith they subdued kingdoms: So did Joshua subdue all the kingdoms in Canaan, and David all the kingdoms about it, viz. Moab, Ammon, Edom, Syria, and the Philistines: thse were subdued by faith because what they did was in obedience to God's command, and in the accomplishment of his promises, for he has given all those kingdoms by promise to the Israelite, before they were subdued by them; thus they are said to subdue kingdoms by faith.
Yet note, That they made use of all their heroic virtues besides faith; courage valour, military skill, and military statagems; faith excites all graces and virtues, and puts them in motion.
Wrought righteousness; they executed the judgments of God on the enemies of the church, and administered justice impartially to all that were under their rule and government; and this working righteousness is a fruit of faith, for unbelief is the cause of all the injustice and oppression that is in the world.
Obtained promises; that is, the good things promised: so did Abraham by faith obtain a promised son, Joshua a promised Canaan, David a promised kingdom; but there was a great space of time between the promise and the performance, which put their faith sometimes hard to it.
Stopped the mouths of lions; thus Daniel, chap. 6 because he believed in his God, ver. 23 Deut 6:23 and the faith which heretofore stopped the mouths of lions, can stop the rage of the most savage oppressors and persecutors, whenever God pleases.
Quenched the violence of fire; so did the three children's faith, Deut 3:1-29. In Daniel, chapter 3, we discover, through faith, that, not a hair of their head was singed. They knew not which way God would deliver them, but they committed themselves to the omnipotency and sovereignty of God in the discharge of their duty, with a full persuasion that one way or other he would deliver them.
Escaped the edge of the sword; as did David the sword of Goliath and Saul, though sometimes his fear prevailed that he should one day perish by the sword of Saul. Fear may be in cases of danger, and yet faith at the same time have the principal conduct of the soul; by faith David escaped the edge of the sword; so did the Jews the sword of Haman, and Elijah the sword of Jezabel, Out of weakness were made strong; some apply this to Gideon and his three hundred men, Jg 7:15, others to Hezekiah, who by the power of faith was, in a wonderful manner recovered, and restored from a desperate sickness to perfect health, Isa 38:1-21. Waxed valiant in fight; so did Joshua.
Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, and David, who through faith in the promise, and of the presence of God with them, feared neither the number nor strength of their enemies. David often declares, that God girded him with strength to the battle, and taught his hands to war, and his fingers to fight; so that though an host encamped against him yet his heart was not afraid.
Turned to flight the armies of the aliens; those aliens were the Heathens and Idolaters, Philistines and the Midianites, who were enemies to Israel, and the the God of Israel, and they made them fly, and turned their backs; for as they fought for God out of a principle of faith, so God fought for them, according to the faithfulness of his promise, which was the ground of their confidence and courage.
Women received their dead raised to life again; this is applied to the widow of Zerephath, and the Shunamite, 2Kgs 4:36; 1Ki 17:23. They were raised by the prophet's faith, and received by their mothers, when raised, with joy and thankfulness.
These ten instances did the apostle select and choose out of many, to give, of the great things that had been done through faith, thereby to assure the Hebrews, and us with them, that there is nothing too hard nor difficult for faith to effect, when it is set on work, and managed according to the power of God.
Our apostle having in the foregoing verses acquainted the Hebrews with the great things which faith enabled the Old Testament saints to do, he now lays before them an account of the hard and difficult things which faith enabled them to suffer, and here reckons up the sharpest and bitterest sufferings that human nature perhaps can be exposed to; but to do the greatest things, and to suffer the hardest, is all one to faith. Faith stands ready for both, as God shall call.
Observe here in general, that the evils enumerated are of such various sorts and kinds, as to comprise ever thing that may befal believers on the account of their Christian profession: Do we meet with temptations, scorns, mockings, scourgings, bonds, imprisonments, yea, death itself, by all sorts of tortures and extremities? THis is our encouragement, that others in the cause of God, have undergone them, and been carried victoriously through them: but the particulars in this little book of martyrs follow.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance. In this passage, and several others here following, the apostle is concluded to refer too the story in the Maccabees, whic though written after the closing of the canon of the scripture, when there was no extraordinary prophet in the church, yet the matters of fact were then fresh in memory, and are here alluded to, particularly Eleazar, 2Macc 6:28, who was beaten to death, when he had been persuaded and allured to accept deliverance by transgressing the law; and also the mother and her seven sons, they expected a better resurrection, better than what their persecutors offered them, even a glorious resurreciton of their bodies at the last day.
Others had trials of cruel mockings, as Micaiah, 1Kgs 22:24, and others' and scourgings, as Jer 20:2,15.
Also bonds and imprisonments, as Joseph in Egypt, and Jeremy in the dungeon; some were stoned, as Zachharias the son of Johoiada, 2Chr 24:21.
Others sawn asunder, as Isaiah under the tyranny of Manesseh; others were tempted with fair promises and great rewards, but refusing, were slain with the sword.
Learn hence, That torments in the case of religion have been a very old invention of the devil and the world, and they have placed great hopes of prevailing by them; but no instruments of cruelty, no endeavours of hell, shall ever prevail against the faith of God's elect. They wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins; destitute, afflicted, tormented. This some refer to Elijah, who was destitute and fed by ravens, 1Kgs 17:4, but it has been the portion of many of God's faithful servants to be driven from their habitations, sometimes by the cruelty of the laws, sometimes by force and violence.
Of whom the world was not worthy; that is, the men of the world think the saints of God not worthy of to live amongst them, whereas the world is not worthy of such excellent company; and therefore, as soon as their work is done, God removes them.
Learn hence, 1. That God's esteem of his people is never the less because of their outward sufferings and calamities, whatever the world judgeth of them; they esteem them the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things; but God is of another mind.
Learn, 2. Let the world think as highly and as proudly of itself as it pleases, God thinks it at all times, but especially when it persecute his people, base, and unworthy of their society. They wandered in deserts and mountains: Behold here the state and condition of some of the servants of the Living God, who, when driven from all inhabited places, took up their lodgings in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
Learn hence, That oft-times it is much better, and more safe for the saints of God to be in a wilderness, among the beasts of the fields, than in a savage world inflamed by the devil into rage and persecution.
That is, "All the fore-mentioned scripture saints, with others that lived from the beginning of the world, and the first giving out of the promise of the Messiah, Gen 3:15 all and every one of these obtained a good report through faith, that is, a good testimony that they pleased God; nevertheless they received not the promise, that is, the actual exhibition of the promise, Christ, the promised Messiah; the promise they had, but not the thing promised, this was not in their days exhibited, Christ was not then come in the flesh: this promise was made by God to the elders from the beginning, but not actually accomplished untill the fulness of time."
Learn hence, That the Old-Testament saints had from the beginning the promise of God concerning the exhibition of Christ in the flesh from the redemption of the world; which promise they were persuaded of the truth of, embraced it with desire, longing for the actual accomplishment of it, and thus enjoyed the benefit of it as well as we.
The better thing here spoken of is the coming of Christ in the flesh. Lord! what were we, and how are we better than they, that this better thing should be reserved for us? They saw the promise afar off, we enjoy it at hand, "Jucundius est spectare, quam expectare bonum." That they without us should not be made perfect; without us, is as much as, without the things which are actually exhibited unto us.
God never intended or designed that the infant condition of the church should be made perfect before the exhibition of Christ; that is, that they should be justified and saved by any sacrifices and satisfaction of Christ, whereby both they and we are perfected.
Learn hence, That it is Christ alone who was to give perfection and consummation to his church; all the outward glorious worship of the Old Testament, though it pleased God, yet had no perfection in it; this God reserved for our times, that they without us should be made perfect.
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