The Path of Faith As Typified in Hebrews XI
FIVE persons are in this chapter most prominently set forth, namely: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses; and five distinct phases which ought to mark the path of the believer may be discerned in that which is recorded concerning these patriarchs. After the first three verses, which shew what a reality faith is, and that thereby a good report was obtained by these elders, and that by faith and not by geological experience, the formation of the world is understood; Abel is presented to us as the first of these five persons.'' By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained Witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he, being dead, yet speaketh.'' This answers to the first phase of faith in the life of the believer, for as Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof, so the believer comes to God by faith in the work of Christ; and as Abel presented the lamb, so the believer presents by faith the Lamb of God as the ground for his acceptance by God. It is not said that the testimony was given to Abel, but it is stated that God testified of his gifts; so it is not for the believer to be looking for or depending upon the action of the Spirit in himself, but rather in faith simply to receive the testimony that God has given to the gift, the Lamb of God, and which the believer by faith presents. We are not told in what special way (whether by fire coming down and consuming it, or otherwise). Jehovah testified to Abel's gifts, but that there was a testimony given to the gift by which Abel obtained witness or testimony (for it is the same word in the original) that he himself was righteous. So when man had rejected and crucified Christ, God raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. And as the testimony of Jehovah to the lamb which Abel offered, was the proof to Abel of his being righteous, so, not the experience (however blessed it may be when God graciously gives it) of the Spirit being in the believer, but the testimony to Christ Himself, the Lamb of God, is the proof to the believer whereby he obtains witness that he himself is reckoned righteous in God's sight. The fact of Christ being at the right hand of God becomes by the Spirit a demonstration to the world of righteousness (John xvi.). There was no righteousness from the hands of man to the blessed Lord when He was in this world; the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put Him to death, and found none (Mark xiv. 5,5); and although many bore false witness against Him, their witness agreed not together. A great crowd had but recently hailed Him as the King of Israel that came in the name of the Lord (John xii. 18), and the Pharisees had been troubled at (to use their own expression) the world going after Him; but notwithstanding the testimony to Him as Son of God, in raising Lazarus from the dead, as Son of David, in riding into Jerusalem, and as Son of man, when the Greeks desired to see Him (John xi. and xii.), notwithstanding the multitudes that had been blessed by Him outside Jerusalem (Mark viii. 19, 20), and the great multitudes which had followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond Jordan (Mark iv. 25), not a voice was raised against the unrighteousness or wickedness of man. A warning voice there was indeed through the dream of another to Pilate, and a testimony given to him to have nothing to do with that righteous Man, but at the judgment-seat there was but one cry, ''Crucify him, crucify him.'' But when the full measure of man's unrighteousness and wickedness had been filled up by the crucifixion of Christ, then the righteousness of God was manifested in Christ, being set at God's own right hand in the heavenlies. When the Spirit is come he will convince the world ''of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more.'' If we desire to see righteousness, we must look at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and never expect to see it either in ourselves or others, save so far as we have light from Him who is Light; then judgment is formed, not according to our thoughts, but according to the thoughts of Him who judges righteously. To be righteous or act righteously we must have discernment of a mind and way higher than our own. God had in the garden said to Adam, concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, ''in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,'' and had declared that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. And Abel, in offering up the lamb, identified himself with death, and the shedding of the blood. So, we can say, ''He died, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God;'' ''without the shedding of blood there is no remission;'' and ''He made peace by the blood of his cross.'' Cain, on the contrary, brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to Jehovah; he brought, doubtless, the best of the fruit; but he brought that upon which his own work and labour had been bestowed. He was a tiller of the ground, and he brought the fruit upon which a curse had been pronounced because of man (Gen. iii. 17), and offered it to God, shewing an utter ignorance of the way of approaching God. Where there is faith, there is a perception of that which is according to God's mind; but the natural man, even though he gives his body to be burnt and all his goods to feed the poor (1 Cor. xiii.), has no perception as to that which is acceptable in God's sight. The next step to misjudging what is acceptable to God, is to be entirely wrong as to his neighbour, and we read in 1 John iii. 12, that Cain slew his brother Abel, because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Many at the present day are offended at peace being preached through the work of Christ alone, and on the principle of faith in Him apart from law or our own works, but we do not read of any record of Abel except his faith and gifts. Cain's offering had cost him toil and labour, but Abel's had cost him nothing, he had had no part in its production; with him there had been no sweat of the face as there had been with Cain. Abel's offering then answers to the first phase in the believer's life, and which is ever followed by more or less of hatred from the religious natural man, which Cain was; for however evil his course might be, he, as well as Abel, brought an offering to Jehovah.
The second phase in this path of faith is that which is recorded concerning Enoch. ''By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation, he had this testimony, that he pleased God.'' It is one thing to be clear about the offering of Christ, and that we are righteous before God on account of it, it is another thing to have the testimony, before we are caught up, that we please God. At the commencement of John xiv., the Lord tells His disciples that He will come again and receive them unto Himself; that where He is, there they may be also. But in verses 21, 23 of the same chapter, He does not speak of them collectively, but gives a promise of an earlier manifestation of Himself unto the one that loves Him, and then speaks of His Father and Himself taking up their abode with such a one. In these verses, obedience is the proof of love. ''He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.'' And again: ''If a man love me, he will keep my word (not words) and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.'' What so precious as love, even as regards the earthly side? In Cant. viii., it is written, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.'' And in Revelation ii. 4, after all that could be stated in favour of Ephesus, the Lord says, ''Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.'' If poor fallen man can prize it, what must it be to Him who is it, and whose eye discerns every pulsation of it, and every departure from it! He says to Ephesus in the next verse, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen." That assembly had once reached to a great height, and though there were remaining ''works, and labour, and patience, and not bearing those who were evil, and discernment of those who falsely claimed to be apostles, and enduring, and going through things for his name's sake, and not fainting," yet there was to the Lord a fall from that high and blessed place which was once theirs. His love sought to bring them to their first works, but the spring for full blessedness was gone. There is a. marked difference between verses 21 and 23 of John xiv. In verse 21, the manifestation of the Lord is consequent upon having His commandments and keeping them, but in verse 23, the Father and Son coming and making their abode with the disciple is consequent upon keeping the Word; this latter is the whole testimony of the Scriptures, whilst the former is more special in its character. A babe in Christ is not acquainted with the Word, and does not understand the scope of it to the same extent as the young man or father, nevertheless the obedience of the babe to the simple command will elicit the manifest approval of the One who loves it, and this is in accordance with verse 21. But where there is obedience to the full testimony of God, as His will is more known and understood, there, instead of the manifestation of verse 21, the Father and Son make their abode with the obedient one; and, as in natural things, there is a freshness in the joy of receiving a visit from and seeing one who loves and is beloved. But this deepens into a more quiet though fuller enjoyment of the presence of such, where, instead of a visit there is the continued abiding in the same dwelling, and the taking counsel with, and profiting by, the grace and wisdom of those who are ever at hand to be spoken to and consulted. So, blessed as the manifestation of verse 21 may be, there is the deeper though more quiet blessing from the abiding promised in verse 23. Many dear children of God in their writings have referred to and longed for the past manifestations of verse 21, and even doubted their own blessing because these manifestations were no longer given; but had they been less occupied with themselves and their own portion, and learned through the Word more of Him, who is thus pleased to reveal Himself, there would have been the consciousness of the continued presence of both the Father and the Son; and instead of vain regret following upon heavenly blessing, there would have been the constant enjoyment of continued blessing without losing, in any way, the remembrance of past favour. However, whether it be verse 21 or 23, such manifestation or abiding is a proof, to the disciple, that through grace, there is in him both love and obedience; and thus before the coming to His own spoken of in the first few verses of the chapter, the obedient believer has the testimony that he pleases God. Are there those who are clear as to the first phase (Abel's), and who are content to go on with but little of the second (Enoch's)?
With Noah we have the third phase, namely, condemnation of the world. ''By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.'' If, as in the case of Enoch, the believer has the testimony that he pleases God, condemnation of the world must follow, not however from finding fault with it or its systems, but by being occupied with the One who not only blesses by the manifestation which has been mentioned, but who also saves, as Noah in type was saved, from the wrath to come (Rom. v. 9; l Thess. i. 10). We do not read of Noah being occupied with evil, but we do of his being a preacher of righteousness and building an ark; he set forth the way of escape for any who would listen, and occupied himself with that which alone could save from the coming judgment. So as regards this third phase, the believer's mind is not filled with, or carried away through, the failure of saints or the evil state of things in the world, but whilst giving a testimony according to the measure given to him, he goes on with that which delivers from the world, and we learn from Philippians iv. that God will then be with him; there it is written, ''Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.'' It is sometimes needful and helpful to shew the evil state of the world, and that which is in it; in chapter iii. 18, 19 of the epistle just referred to, 2 Timothy iii. iv.; 1 John ii. 16, and many other portions point them out distinctly, yet to have God as the God of peace with us, we must go on with the things mentioned in Philippians iv. 8, 9. Anyone who learns this truth must go through much sorrow, for not only will he find the flesh in himself seeking to occupy him with that which is unlovely, but Satan, the world, and even many believers themselves, will seek to engross him with the evil side of things.
We find from Philippians i. how Paul carried out in practice what, in Philippians iv., he impressed upon others in doctrine; how from his prison, he encourages the Philippians, who probably were distressed and discouraged at the apostle of the Gentiles being in bonds. When he makes mention of these bonds, it is not as regretting them, but as having been used for the furtherance of the gospel through the conversion of his guards. Again, in the same chapter, when he alludes to those who preached Christ even of envy and strife, of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to his bonds, the blessed apostle rejoices in the loveliness of the subject of their preaching, however unlovely the characters of the preachers themselves might be, and is persuaded that all will, through the prayer of that assembly and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, be used for blessing to him in his whole course whilst here below. The work is always liable to be hindered or stopped when the minds of the Lord's servants become occupied with those things which are contrary to those mentioned in Philippians iv. 8. To deal with evil and unlovely things, or go through them, may be necessary, but the mind itself is to be set on things above (Col. iii. 2). Condemnation of the world ever accompanies a decided path, but, as with Noah, not by being occupied with the evil, but by building that which saves from it. We shall none of us know, whilst in this world, the full effect of a separated walk upon the consciences of others (1 Pet. ii. 12).
The fourth phase in the path of faith is Abraham's; he came out of everything. ''By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out not knowing whither he went.'' Other acts of faith are in the same chapter recorded of him, but separation is the first named. By faith Noah condemned the world, and by faith Abraham went out from all that most held him in it. How often do we find Christians who condemn that in which they remain! Their intelligence is far beyond their walk; they can point out the inconsistencies and evils of the system in which they remain almost as clearly as those who have separated from it, but there is no power to go out from it. Some are hindered because, though conscious that they ought to leave the evil, they are not willing to take the first step until they can see where they will eventually be led. But this is not the path of faith. Abraham went out not knowing whither he went. Sarah is mentioned, but, valuable type as she surely is, we may view her as being one with her husband, holding a blessed place, too, as an example to all worthy to be called her daughters (l Pet. iii. 6); but Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, named in the three verses which immediately precede the mention of Moses, point, in type, to that knowledge of future events which those only who have taken the fourth step really have.
It will be noticed that all three speak of future events. Jacob is shewn to do so from Genesis xlviii., xlix.; Isaac and Joseph from the chapter itself, ''By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones.'' If the conversation or the writings of those mixed up with the systems of men be noted or examined, it will be found that none are really clear as to prophecy, or future events; not only do they differ greatly amongst themselves, but very palpable errors on these points are manifest in all. Separation (the fourth phase), must take place before they can be clear as to future events. If the Lord will spue that which marks Laodicea out of His mouth, those who know it, will not continue in company or fellowship with that about which the Lord has so clearly foretold. It is folly for believers to talk about understanding these things, and not to act in accordance with such knowledge. They may indeed acknowledge them in theory, but they do not know them by faith. Where there is faith, works must follow, though not such as the natural mind either understands or approves (James ii. 21, 25).
The fifth phase in the believer's life is the becoming a leader of God's people, not in Egypt but in the wilderness. Moses typifies this: ''By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ, greater riches than the treasures in Egypt for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." The wisdom of this world would have suggested to him to have remained in that which, to the natural mind, was tho place of power, and through such favourable and providential circumstances to have ameliorated the condition of his brethren. His position might have enabled him to have effected this, and to have procured for him their thanks. His giving up the world's glory was followed by their misunderstanding him, and his becoming an exile in the land of Midian; but it was also followed by the passage of the Red Sea, and the destruction of Pharaoh's chariots and host. Faith will lead the believer to do the very thing that seems most to close the door against obtaining the object that has been laid upon his heart, but faith does that which is according to God's mind in the minutest details as much as in the (to man's mind) most important affairs. ''He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much." The being faithful in some act, may to the natural mind make the object sought after appear much harder, or even impossible to be obtained; but faith believes God, and does that which is discerned to be according to His will, however much the way seems thereby stopped.
We have an instance of this in Abraham's' offering up his son Isaac, whose death to the natural mind rendered it impossible that the promises to Abraham should be fulfilled, for of that son it had been said, ''In Isaac shall thy seed be called,'' but Abraham accounted ''that God could raise him up, even from the dead, from whence also he received him in a figure.'' Faith leads the person who has it to act according to the mind of God; and the believer is not affected by looking to the consequences of the act itself, he believes that God is (verse 6), and does that which he discerns to be according to God's mind. He knows that without faith it is impossible to please God. Moses forsook everything which in a natural way gave him power or influence with men, and then by faith forsook Egypt itself, and Jehovah honoured him; and we read that ''Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the first-born should touch them." Again that ''By faith, they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land; which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned." Thus we have five principal phases which mark the believer's life as viewed in the wilderness; first, the offering (Abel); secondly, walk (Enoch); thirdly, condemnation of the world (Noah); fourthly, separation (Abraham); and lastly, leading God's people not in, Egypt, but in the wilderness (Moses). Although the measure may be very small indeed, yet all those who are led through the first four phases will, according to their measure, be leaders. A captain as well as a colonel may have to lead into action, but the former must be content to follow in the presence of the latter; so believers can only lead according to the place God gives them. ''Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves'' occurs in the last chapter of this epistle, the neglect of which precept has caused much sorrow amongst saints and brought much dishonour upon the name of Christ at the present day. We must bear in mind that the path thus marked out is in an epistle which does not take us out of the wilderness, for as regards the truth of the one body, no particular member can be a leader. It may be essential for the body that the eye should see clearly which way the body should go, and the little finger may be used to remove the dust that obscures the vision of the former. Nevertheless, neither eye nor little finger can be called the leader of the body, the heart may have as much to do with the action of the body as the eye; each member acts according to the one spirit, and as part of the body, In this path of faith, all is of Christ, whether Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, or Moses, or any of the cloud of witnesses afterwards mentioned or referred to, Christ is the beginner and ender of their faith. ''Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith.'' (Heb. xii. 2). However different and distinct from each other the actings of these elders might be; it was the Lord Himself who was the spring and strength of all.
In Enoch we have a type of the translation of the saints (1 These. iv); and in Noah of the Jewish remnant being carried through the great tribulation. But the object of these remarks is to point out the moral rather than any dispensational teaching. We do not find the church or the one body in Hebrews, and yet in a figure, we may trace it in this very chapter, for as soon as the apostle mentions the faith of one (Rahab) who was a Gentile, and outside the special line of blessing, he can no longer individualize, and although in verse 32, he mentions a few special names, he more and more passes away from individuals to the general faithfulness of the whole body of those who had been chosen as witnesses for the truth upon the earth, and in addition to this, refers in the last verse, to ''some better thing'' than anything that the patriarchs of old possessed. A. P.