The Triumphs of Faith
by G.J. Stewart
The Triumphs of Faith
Hebrews 11: Creation, Redemption, Translation
Our chapter tells us WHAT FAITH DOES.
Illustrations all along the line are given of what faith has done in acquiring and retaining what God has made its own; as in defending it when necessary. It is not, therefore, a definition of what faith is, but tells us what it does; a list is then given of the mighty deeds it has accomplished in the illustrious worthies of old, in every stage of the life of faith and in every possible circumstance connected with it. So truly is it a history of faith’s deeds that many impersonal acts of faith are recorded at the end of the list.
Faith never goes under, it always comes out top; so that we see the true definition of faith underlies every act recorded. It is this, “He that hath received His testimony has set His seal to this that God is true” (John 3:33). This is the basis of all true intercourse with God, and this is often sealed with the blood of the believer. “I believe God” has meant death to thousands. On the other hand, “I believe God” meant the saving of the lives of all who were with Paul in the shipwreck.
Faith is essentially the principle of this epistle to the Hebrews, it appropriates the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the unseen blessings of the heavenly calling, and sets the soul worshipping in the Holy places even while on earth as to the body, before actually entering heaven, body, soul, and spirit. The position today is that of spiritual, heavenly worship on earth, while awaiting the prize of the calling on high, which is to be with Christ and like Him when He comes. He will then usher those who look for Him into the Place He has prepared for them, where they shall sit upon thrones and worship God, a royal priesthood for the universe under Himself, the great Melchisedec Priest, throughout the Millennial age. The illustrations given are such as bear upon every circumstance here on earth, for faith’s province is only in the region where the promises are not actually in possession. Faith carries the individual on to Christ’s coming or to death; God’s just men always live by faith in Him, and if it be so, die according to the faith in which they lived. Then faith for them ceases. This, then, is characteristic of faith—it makes substance of things hoped for, and gives conviction of things not seen (v. 1).
This is the effect of faith in the soul, and opens up the range and power of faith. It ranges through the whole of the unseen universe, the realm compassed in the Word of God. It makes all that is revealed substance in the soul; substance so real that life itself, for which a man will give coin upon coin, all that he hath, is not more real. It gives also a second sight, convincing the soul so really of things unseen, that being warned thereby it escapes dangers, or endures trials, or dies to God’s glory. This effect of faith in the soul is translated into the life and walk here, producing the faithful man. Faith is a marvellous principle. It avails itself of the power of God as a defence against every adverse power, bringing the soul out conqueror. How much substance of heavenly things have we in our souls? So much faith have we!
Faith not only receives God’s testimony, be it that of the Father, of the Son, or of the Holy Spirit, but it also obtains further testimony of God’s approval. This is what we have to be concerned about, not what testimony do I render to God which makes me important, but what testimony do I obtain from God? By faith the elders obtained testimony! It is not “a good report,” which may be from others, but “testimony” from God Himself to the soul. For example, Abel obtained testimony that he was righteous; Enoch that be pleased God. May we not ask ourselves again, How much testimony do we, do I, obtain? This is what gives encouragement, and this is what brings glory to God. He who receives testimony will not be backward in giving it as led of God; though not occupied with that side, but with the God from whom he obtains that which he cannot do without.
The elders here are the men of God mentioned in the chapter. We enter now upon the longest list of the deeds of faith that is given in God’s Book, and there are many lists; a list in which, although the names are fewer than in some, the deeds of faith are more and greater; stretching from the beginning to the then present time, and reaching on to what lies immediately before.
These examples of faith are arranged in divine order as is all that God does; each part illustrating some principle of faith analogous to that which suited the Hebrews at the time of writing, the “now” time. It shows how vast the necessity of the present time is, as also the infinite character of the resources. What men of faith at any time have needed we may need, and more, for the days are worse. What they obtained, we may obtain, and more, for God is more fully revealed.
The sections of the chapter are four, each one exhibiting an epochal principle of faith, and each helping to build the soul up in faith from the beginning. May we be instructed in what faith does and thus built up in faith as we proceed in its consideration, to the end. These sections are as follows, namely:
1. A short summary is given of the whole range of faith in its application to man’s relationships with God. It compasses faith in the testimony of God in creation; faith for the establishment of a new relationship by sacrifice between the fallen creature and God; faith for translation, after a walk in communion with God, resulting in worship and faith for preservation from judgment and for testimony (vv. 1-7).
2. Faith for walk, the endurance of faith. Here Abraham, the father of the faithful, provides most of that which is required, in four notable acts of faith. A few additional traits are added in his own immediate descendants, a family of faith. This is subdivided, giving Abraham’s crowning act of faith a place by itself, an act which brings in God as the God of resurrection. This section ends in worship, and dying according to the faith while awaiting the fulfilment of the promise (vv. 8-22).
3. Faith for service—the energy of faith in testimony. This is exhibited in very remarkable acts of faith in Moses and the children of Israel, on to the deliverance of the Red Sea. A short appendix of the same character on the other side Jordan is added (vv. 23-31).
4. Faith that obtained testimony amid the defection of professors. This is the most difficult sphere for the action of faith. Still faith makes substance of the truth and convicts of unseen things, producing overcomers, who obtain testimony and deliverances more wonderful than ever. Names are few here and without acts; while many most worthy deeds are without names—the world was not worthy of them; their reward is before them. The order is that of merit rather than of time, and energy precedes endurance and is mingled with it. It is faith’s deeds in whomsoever it may have acted and the names, though withholden from us on the page of inspiration, are not forgotten of God and cannot be hidden when the scroll of faith is fully made up and openly displayed. These all having obtained testimony received not the promise; a better thing being reserved by God for us in this present time (vv. 32-40).
The first section begins with:—
FAITH AS TO CREATION.
“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things that are seen were not made of things that do appear” (v. 3). This is a verse to be noted. It begins at the beginning when God framed the worlds by His spoken word (rhema), though expressed by the Logos (John 1:3). In Genesis 1 we have also the creation of the worlds by God in the beginning, then, when all had been reduced to chaos, the reforming it again as an abode for man. The word in our verse (katatizo) is used for “perfecting,” “restoring after dislocation”; properly it means, to reset or replace a broken limb. In Hebrews 1:2, the making of the worlds is attributed to the Logos, the Son, but the word used there (poieo) is a general word for make, cause.
From our verse we see the understanding is enlightened by faith, and this in a realm which science claims as its own. By faith we understand. Many there are who refuse to believe what they do not understand, but faith opens the understanding even in this sphere. Christ risen opened the understanding of the disciples (Luke 24:25). The Spirit of revelation opens the eyes of the heart, that the truth of God may be understood and loved (Eph. 1:18). But this is in the region of a higher revelation. Men who do not understand in this region, at last refuse the truth and apostatize. Those who receive not the truth of creation by faith, settle down to make cosmogonies of their own as of old, or stop at second causes as the scientists of today, and become agnostics. This verse meets both these cases. We understand by faith that the worlds were framed by the spoken word of God; this settles all the heathen mythological cosmogonies of whatever character. The conclusion from this—so that not out of phenomena came the things seen—fairly demolishes the scientists’ doctrine of evolution, so many years their pet. One thing was not evolved from another. But the testimony of two is true, and a verse from the Old Testament forms a dual testimony with this one, “God made every tree before it was in the earth and every herb before it grew” (Gen. 2:5). God spake and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast. Faith in a personal Creator delivers from the vagaries of the human mind, as from the deadlock of those who, refusing the great first cause in the personal God, perish upon the frigid shore of Agnosticism. Would that all such could be warned and quickened by the knowledge faith gives of a God of love—a Saviour God. Faith still surely opens the understanding as to the facts of creation.
This is the first of God’s testimonies and we can understand Adam’s delighted reception of it, himself the fruit of the work of the same hand and head of the creation he surveyed with God. It is a testimony rendered by God Himself in those days of which we know so little. There could have been no thought of a refusal of it in Adam’s plastic mind, and everything around him spake of the God who came down to talk with him in the garden. Incorporated now in God’s word, of which it forms part, how little is it believed today.
Even after the fall it remained the universal testimony to the Creator’s eternal power and divinity, so that men ought to have known these otherwise unknown things (Rom. 1:30). Alas! they knew not, and were without excuse in worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.
Creation stands as the first testimony in Psalm 19, followed by the law. Then that of Messiah in Psalm 20. The testimony of creation filled up the time between the fall and the law; during this time men were left to themselves, their trespasses not being imputed to them. This is returned to in the closing days to a very great extent, when those who carry the everlasting gospel to the earth-dwellers call upon them to “Fear God and give glory to Him. . . who made heaven, the earth, the sea, and the fountains of waters (Rev. 14).
How many lessons creation teaches us today! It is a wonderful page of revelation thrown open to faith. Herein lie types of all kinds, which the pious soul delights to apply; types of the great work that was in God’s mind from the time it was written in the roll of the book; types of happy Christians living in the enjoyment of God’s goodness, consistently with their environments; of goodness which is infinite; of a wisdom unfathomable; of a power eternal; of a Being divine. The discovery of these things draws out the heart in worship and praise to a personal God.
But the resources of God are not exhausted in creation. To Him belongs the right of redemption also, for this the Son became Man that all might behold this greater work. No power of creation itself could restore the creature from the devastation caused by sin, so as to suit a Holy God; therefore, the Creator becomes the Redeemer. A new creation apart from fallen man had been easy, but God is love and will not abandon him who is the masterpiece of His handiwork for earth. This He immediately reveals in the sentences. He passes upon the fallen ones and their seducer.
The first voice to announce the recognition of this is that of the
FAITH BY WHICH ABEL YET SPEAKS.
The curse upon the guilty pair, with the promise that the Seed of the woman should crush the serpent’s head, together with the covering God provided for them, showed four things—the fall; the necessity for atonement; that the devil’s power, should be destroyed; and that they must stand before God in the righteousness of another. All these things could be brought to pass by God alone who would accomplish them by the woman’s Seed; a wonderful unfolding of the nature and counsels of God. This as taught by his parents had its effect upon Abel, who received it by faith, everything around corroborating the truth of it also.
“By faith Abel offered UNTO GOD a more excellent sacrifice than Cain and by it he being dead yet speaketh.”
“By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death.” (Hebrews 11)
Abel was born, outside Eden, of sinful parents, surrounded by fruits of the curse, the thorn and the thistle, and subject to the temptations of the devil, and he recognized the need for atonement. For this he turned to God Himself, as also for that which should cover his unrighteousness and for the one who should deliver him from the power of Satan. “By faith he offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (v. 4), of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. It was this that fixed his occupation—a keeper of sheep; not to meet his own need; for men ate no flesh in those days. It was to meet the claims of God, by putting the life of another between himself and God, and to provide himself with clothing, covering himself, in figure, in the righteousness of that other before God. His offering was a sacrifice for sin, it owned the necessity of death and was to meet God’s righteous claims.
Cain, on the other hand, owned neither the fall of man, nor the claims of God. The fruit of a cursed earth, produced by a fallen man is no sacrifice for sins, though the offering and product of honest toil, it could not claim the respect of a holy God. Cain believed not the testimony which he in common with Abel had heard, he did not recognize that he was a fallen man, nor that his life was forfeited to God. His occupation also showed his object in life, as did that of Abel, he tilled the ground that be might satisfy his own natural requirements with the fruits thereof.
Abel’s faith in the testimony rendered to him obtained the further testimony that he was righteous. This became substance to his soul; he knew God counted him righteous, having accepted his gifts in the same way Cain knew that God had no respect to him, nor to his offering. Yet Abel was in no wise different in himself to Cain, the difference was in faith and its gifts. God bore testimony upon (epi) his gifts in some visible way, perhaps from analogy we may say by fire. The distinction between “gifts” and “sacrifice” is sustained here. Abel offered both, “Of the firstlings (pl.) of his flock, and of their fat.”
“By it he being dead yet speaketh.” What does Abel speak? He tells to man universally that the only ground of relationship for a sinner with a holy God is through the death of Another, who bears the penalty of sin on his behalf. He tells also that the death of that Other is so precious to God that He makes the one who presents Him as a Sacrifice to become the righteousness of God in Him. He who knows this may well be satisfied to seal his testimony to it with his own blood, as did this proto-martyr. In this way the fruit of the fall was his as to his body, for it is appointed unto man once to die; but be escaped the following judgment through Him who bore it for him, and shall live again with Christ, body, soul, and spirit. So Abel speaks by his faith and sacrifice. In his gifts he was a worshipper also. May we hear and take up his words!
But that which constitutes a sinner righteous before God, must also finally deliver him from all the effects of the fall, setting aside death altogether. This is exhibited in another man of faith. It may be noted that every fresh announcement from God, whether of judgment or reward, is absolutely new to men. In this way, “dying thou shalt die,” was new to Adam, who had never seen death, that which sets it entirely aside was new to Enoch.
This deliverance from death is illustrated next:
BY FAITH ENOCH WAS TRANSLATED.
A marvellous statement! Here all the dire effects of sin are done away by faith. But how can this be accredited to Enoch as an act of faith? Did faith spread her pinions and bear the patriarch out of the scene in which he had walked with God for three hundred years, and from the death that might naturally have been expected to terminate it? Is this within the province of faith? If so, would not many a saint fly away and be at rest? Ah, No! Faith can accomplish no such achievement. This belongs to God’s power, and so it is written: “God took him.” And “He was not found because God had translated him.”
But it is within the province of faith to believe God and God is able to reveal His mind upon any subject He chooses. What, though it be something never before seen? The question is, Who announces it? God had already revealed to Enoch that he was well pleasing to Him; now He reveals that he should not taste death, but be translated without dying. Enoch believed, and living in the power of the expectation of it was found patiently waiting for it when it came to pass. In this way it is accredited to him as an act of faith.
The testimony that he was well pleasing to God was obtained as the result of his walk with God apart from the world, and he learned it in communion with God. Now a walk with God in communion, with faith in the revelations made in this way, must produce worship, which also lies under this commendation of Enoch. The faith which in Abel establishes a new relationship in righteousness with God, delivers Enoch from the effects of sin, leading to communion and to the worship in which God finds all His good pleasure. The next verse reflects on this life.
Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who approacheth God must believe that He is and that He is a Rewarder of them that seek Him out (v. 6). Faith is connected with every step for those who approach God and the climax of this is that they come into the holy places in worship. Faith does not believe what it likes, it is no act of the human mind, it must have God to lay hold of. It believes that He is and seeks Him out for Himself, praising Him when found. It learns there, not only that He exists, but what He is as a Rewarder of all such and praises Him the more.
Faith rests with the most implicit confidence in every word of God awaiting its fulfilment and enjoying Himself meantime, as it enters into all that vast scheme of blessing which is already the province of faith. It blesses God upon every fresh sense of His love by the Spirit through the Great High Priest, with ever-fresh delight. The power of approach is distinctly faith, the great principle of the epistle. Now God’s rewards may be present or future, but His presence known to faith now is a better thing than that put before the saints of old, better than any of the good things to come for the Jews. It is of the same character as the final reward with Himself in heaven, and this enlivens hope. “Our commonwealth has its existence in the heavens from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ (as) Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory, according to the worship of the power which He has, even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21, N.T.).
At the same time it leads to the warning which Enoch also gave, “Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment.”