Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
for, etc. This is not a definition or description of what is called, in theological phrase, saving faith. It does not set forth faith in Jesus Christ in particular, but faith in its general meaning and its comprehensive exercise. The text teaches us that -
I. FAITH IS THE DEMONSTRATION OF INVISIBLE REALITIES. It is "the evidence of things not seen;" Revised Version, "the proving of things not seen." There are two classes of unseen things:
1. Things which are absolutely invisible. Of these we may mention:
(1) God, a Being of almighty power, of infinite wisdom, of perfect holiness, etc. "No man hath seen God at any time." "Whom no man hath seen, nor can see."
(2) The human soul. That part of his being which thinks and feels, hopes and fears, loves and hates, no man in our present state has seen.
(3) Spiritual truth is Invisible to our bodily eyes. We perceive it, but we cannot see it.
2. Things which are relatively invisible.
(1) There are great historical facts which are invisible to us. Some of these are mentioned in this chapter; e.g. the Creation, the Deluge. But those are of the greatest importance to us which are connected with the life and work, the suffering and death, the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ - the great facts in the accomplishments of human redemption. These were witnessed by many, but to us they are invisible. Our attitude in relation to them is a thing of the utmost moment to us. If we accept them, it must be by faith.
(2) There are important future events which are invisible to us at present. The heaven into which our Lord has entered, and where God is enthroned, is at present hidden from our eyes. And Hades, the great world of departed spirits, is impenetrably veiled from men in the flesh. The great and solemn judgment, and the different abodes and states of men after the judgment, are as yet invisible to our senses. Now, faith is the evidence, the "demonstration," the "actual proof," of these invisible things which are declared in the sacred Scriptures. "It is an act which itself gives the knowledge and proof of the existence of those things not seen." "The essential meaning of the word," says Mr. Matthew Arnold, "is 'power of holding on to the unseen.'" It is a deep and intense conviction of the existence and reality of things and persons which are not apprehensible by the senses.
II. FAITH IS THE ASSURANCE OF DESIRABLE POSSESSIONS. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for;" Revised Version, "the assurance of things hoped for." It is a firmly grounded confidence of things hoped for. Two observations are suggested:
1. Some of these invisible things which are apprehended by faith are regarded as desirable and attainable. They are "hoped for." Hope is the "desire of good with a belief that it is obtainable;" it is" well-grounded desire." We hope to receive in this present life Divine grace and guidance, provision and preservation, spiritual help in our daily work and warfare, and illuminating and sanctifying influences. And in the life that is to come, we hope for heaven and all its blessedness; its entire freedom from sin and suffering; its perfect purity and peace; the holy and delightful fellowship of glorified saints; the perpetual presence of our adorable Savior and Lord; and the enrapturing manifestation of God (1 John 3:2, 3). We regard these things as attainable because they are promised to the sincere believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we hope for them through him.
2. Faith gives assurance of these desirable and attainable things. It appropriates such of them as may be obtained at present, and confidently anticipates those that are reserved for the future. It was well said by Ambrose, "The heir must believe his title to an estate in reversion before he can hope for it; faith believes its title to glory, and then hope waits for it. Did not faith feed the lamp of hope with oil, it would seen die." And more, it brings future blessings into our present experience, and it gives to us foretastes of heavenly blessedness, which are a pledge and an earnest that our holiest and brightest hopes will meet with full and glorious fruition -
" Where faith is sweetly lost in sight,
I. FAITH IN ITS RELATION TO THE FUTURE.
1. Nothing is more to be desired than a hopeful outlook towards the future. The future may be regarded doubtfully, fearfully, or even despairingly; on the other hand the question rises if it be not possible to regard the future with a hope which shall become a duty. Doubtless there are many who do look hopefully forward, but they are hopeful simply because of a disposition constitutionally sanguine. They may even make a brightness where there is nothing in the circumstances to warrant it. They think it is quite as likely chance may bring to them success as failure. But this sort of hope never can become a duty, a feeling which a man ought to have, potent and governing in his breast. We do not want a future dependent on chance, or natural endowments, or favorable circumstances. We want a future which shall become bright to every human being because of his humanity, because of his character, because one of the elements in bringing it about is his own choice.
2. This bright outlook towards the future is secured by Christian faith. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." More correctly, faith is a substance of things hoped for. Bengel alleges that the metaphor is taken from a pillar standing under a heavy weight. We accept the explanation, only adding to it that this heavy weight rests on more pillars than one, and all of them are necessary. The things hoped for will never come into existence for us unless they be related to us by a present, practical faith. Suppose to each of two men a quantity of seed is given. One of them sows his portion, and then to him a harvest is among the things hoped for, his hope being reasonable and based upon an act of faith when he put his seed into the ground. The other, not sowing, if he hopes for a harvest, is clearly under a delusion. The thing he hopes for has no substance; he has done nothing to show real faith. The thing indicated by the word "faith" is something practical; not a man merely saying he believes, but showing his faith by his works. Such a faith becomes a matter of conscience. God gives to the man who wishes for the gift a peculiar insight, a deep conviction in the heart, which is worth more than any argument. The course taken may not satisfy others, may provoke their laughter, their wonder, their pity; but after all the one thing needful is not that our course should be clear to others, but clear to ourselves. If we go wrong in our course through neglect of the Divine voice speaking within us, it is we who suffer the most. We must look to God altogether, and he will give us the right impulse, and concentrate our faculties so that we shall not drift through life, but rather speed onward with a definite aim, concerning which, in our own best moments, we shall have a full assurance that we cannot miss it. These heavenly certainties are not to be revealed by flesh and blood. So much turns on faith that it is no wonder it is so much dwelt on in the New Testament. Of what a glorious life, of what beatific imaginations, does unbelief deprive us?
II. FAITH IN ITS RELATION TO THE UNSEEN. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for;" it is not called the substance of things unseen. For it is in no sense the substance of things unseen. They exist, whether we believe them to exist or not. But faith may become to our hearts the evidence of these unseen things. Certainly there can be no other evidence. To all our natural faculties there is presented nothing but a bundle of phenomena, and whatever we may think of beyond them comes into our minds simply because we are unable to believe that there is nothing beyond them. There is an outward man, perceptible to the senses, feeling through the senses a like pleasure and pain; but there is also an inward man, a deep, invisible existence, to which God and Christ appeal, as having the proper sphere of its life in the great invisible outside c f it. It is by faith that the invisible in us is to profit by the invisible outside of us. Prayer is a recognition of the invisible. We are to endure as seeing him who is invisible. The only source of inspiration for a real and full Christian life is to be found in the invisible. And when the invisible rules, when faith lays hold of its riches, then even the visible becomes a more glorious and profitable thing than it ever can do while sense rules alone. - Y.
I. THE TERM BY WHICH THEY ARE INDICATED. The elders. Those spoken of are these who had lived the life of the flesh centuries before, but the term is not used merely to indicate this fact. We know from the subsequent illustrations that the men of long ago are meant; but there is a much more comprehensive meaning in their being spoken of as πρεσβύτεροι. Πρεσβύτερος is a relative word, its correlative being νεώτερος (see 1 Peter 5:5). The elder and the younger are to be taken together - as part of one community, and the younger are to be in subordination to the elder. These elders are to be thought of, not as the dead, but as the still living. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are among these elders, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God, not of the dead, but of the living. Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or any other of the glorified believers, could have appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration as easily as Moses or Elijah, had this been the necessary thing. And these elders, who have received a good report through faith, are not to be made perfect without us.
II. THEIR RELATION TO FAITH. They received a good report. They had witness borne to them. Surely there is great inclusiveness in this word.
1. Their faith stood to them in the place of evidence from experience or observation. They were at the beginning of things. They had no histories, traditions, and customs to fall back on. They had to trust the deepest impulses of their own hearts. We are the inheritors of discoveries and benefits which, in the beginnings of them, can have had little ground but faith.
2. Their faith is the great element which makes them memorable. The good men among them were better men because they were believers. Indeed, the only goodness that can be anything more than a matter of fashion and convention must come through faith. Take faith out of the lives of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and you have nothing that should lift these men out of the common multitude. Testimony could be borne as to their faith; but we know that testimony could not be borne to other very desirable qualities in human character. Abraham had no very great regard for truth, and Jacob was utterly disingenuous. But they were believers, and in this one fact was sufficient leverage to secure their ultimate salvation, and make them adequate agents for the Divine purposes.
3. In their faith they become witnesses to us. We see plain results of their faith up to a certain point. We see Noah justified in building the ark. We see Abraham justified in leaving his own country. We see Joseph justified in giving commandment concerning his bones. We do see that he who sows in bare faith reaps a harvest corresponding to his faith. And so we must take heed lest these elders, now being witnesses to us, may one day become witnesses against us. - Y.
1. That God existed before the visible universe. As the architect must have lived before the edifice which he designed was built, so he who designed and "built all things" existed before any of his creations. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world," etc.
2. That God's existence is distinct from and independent of the visible universe. God and nature are not identical. Nature is not God. God is not a poetic name for an infinite and impersonal spirit of the universe. He thinks, wills, and works; and the universe is the expression and embodiment of his thoughts. The painter does not lose his personality in the productions of his imagination and his pencil. And the Divine Artist existed before his works, and exists independently of his works. The text teaches:
3. That God is the Creator of the visible universe. "The worlds were framed by the Word of God," etc. Very early in this Epistle this truth is asserted. "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands," Our text brings before our notice -
I. THE ABSOLUTENESS OF THE CREATION. "Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." This statement implies:
1. That matter is not eternal. The universe was not made by God out of pre-existent materials.
2. That the visible universe is neither self-originated nor the product of chance. On this point Archbishop Tillotson forcibly observes, "How often might a man, after he had jumbled a set of letters in a bag, fling them out upon the ground before they would fall into an exact poem? How long might one sprinkle colors upon canvas, with a careless hand, before they would make the exact picture of u man? How long might twenty thousand blind men, who should be sent out from the remote parts of England, wander up and down before they would all meet on Salisbury plain, and fall into rank and file, in the exact order of an army? And yet this is much more easy to be imagined, than how the innumerable blind parts of matter should rendezvous themselves into a world."
3. The universe was absolutely created by Go& He not only formed and arranged its materials into order and beauty, but he created the materials themselves. As to the alleged impossibility or difficulty of creation in this absolute sense, Cudworth has well said, "It may well be thought as easy for God, or an omnipotent Being, to make a whole world, matter and all, ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, as it is for us to create a thought or to move a finger, or for the sun to send out rays, or a candle light, or, lastly, for an opaque body, to produce an image of itself in a glass of water, or to project a shadow; all these imperfect things being but the energies, rays, images, or shadows, of the Deity. For a substance to be made out of nothing by God, or a Being infinitely perfect, is not for it to be made out of nothing in the impossible sense, because it comes from him who is all."
II. THE VAST EXTENT OF THE CREATION. "The worlds were framed by the word of God." Not simply our world, but all worlds. It is stated that in our sky there are one hundred millions of stars visible by the aid of a telescope, each of which is the center of a cluster of tributary stars, making together "a great multitude which no man can number." All these worlds were created by the Almighty. And the probably far more numerous host of worlds as yet undiscovered by man he created. How amazing is the extent to which the creative energy of God has been exercised!
III. THE BEAUTIFUL ORDER OF THE CREATION. "The worlds were framed," or arranged, or adjusted by the word of God. How perfect are the relations of the worlds to each other! Carlyle says, "A star is beautiful .... It has repose; no force disturbs its eternal peace. It has freedom; no obstruction lies between it and infinity." May we not say this of all stars? How beautifully and beneficently are all things framed and ordered in our world! The earth upon which we tread, and from which we derive our subsistence, has been fashioned in infinite wisdom and goodness to the natures and necessities of the creatures which dwell upon it. In its structure it is not only useful but beautiful. It ministers to the needs of both our physical and our spiritual natures. It stimulates thought; it awakens admiration, etc.
IV. THE DIVINE, INSTRUMENT OF CREATION. "The worlds were framed by the word of God." "God said, Let there be light; and there was light." "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made," etc. "He spake, and it was done," etc. This mode of expression is suggestive of the case with which creation was effected. There was no painful effort in the production of the universe; no struggle to overcome difficulties in framing the countless hosts of worlds. God has but to utter his command, and that command at once becomes an embodied and- beautiful reality. The continuous activities and developments of nature illustrate and confirm the fact that the creative acts of God are accomplished with sublime ease. All the forces of nature work without friction, with regularity and order, with highest efficiency and deepest repose. Now, these truths concerning God and his creation are not the discoveries of human reason, but the disclosures of Divine revelation. F.W. Robertson says, "Man may tell us of the development of the world from the theistical or atheistical point of view, but the simplest and most religious way is to look at this world as the expression of the will of God. It is sufficient if we feel that the light reveals to US something of the will of the Eternal; enough if the beauty of nature can speak to us of the mind of God; if the blue heaven above and. the green earth below tell of our Father's home; if day and night, light and darkness, are symbols of the word God has spoken out of himself in the creation of the world." And these aspects of the visible universe we apprehend by faith. We credit the Scripture testimony, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Thus "by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God," etc. - W.J.
2 Corinthians 4:18). But the things that are seen have also to be dealt with; we want to know the connection of the seen with the unseen; and the origin of the seen we also want to know. Faith has something to say concerning the ου βλεπόμενα; what has it to say in respect to the βλεπόμενα? The answer is that as faith gives our only resource for being sure of the reality of unseen things, so faith gives our only resource for being sure of the origin of seen things. The seen things, at least as to the surface of them and certain manifestations of them, lie before us. Especially there are before us those seen things which have life in them. We see them spring into being, have their time of growth, maturity, decay; and then they pass out of any life that we can see. They are not only seen things, but also φαινομένα, things that appear. Yesterday they had not appeared; today they appear; to-morrow they will disappear. And yet in disappearing they leave behind them that out of which will come a succession of phenomena like themselves. Thus generation is mysteriously linked to generation, and the world goes on. Suppose we have before us a field of grain. A little time ago that stretch of waving stalks was not; nothing but an extent of broken soil. We look for an antecedent; and the first antecedent we find is the seed that has been sown. We do know that if grain-seed is sown in the earth the result will be a crop of grain, but to say this does not satisfy us. The heart cannot believe that natural observation has the last word to say on the matter. Scientific inquiry goes as far as it can into the seen, and then faith spreads its wings for a flight into the unseen, and declares that if generation so regularly succeeds generation, and age so regularly succeeds age, it must be because God is joining them all together - framing the ages, as in this verse it is sublimely expressed. The verse must be taken as referring, not only to the original creation of the world and all that is therein, but also to the continuance and reproduction of life. The first origin of life is not more mysterious than the continuance of it. And faith says that the word of an unseen God has to do with these mysteries, and the word "God carries all the rest that has to be said. To say that God speaks the life-giving word is to say that all is spoken in love, in wisdom, and in all-comprehending power. - Y.
I. THE SUPERIORITY OF ABEL'S SACRIFICE. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." This superiority was manifest:
1. In the sacrifice which was offered. In itself Abel's sacrifice was "more excellent" than that of Cain. In endeavoring to ascertain in what respect it was more excellent, it seems to us that we are not justified in going beyond the statements of the sacred Scriptures. And we are not aware of any satisfactory reasons for entertaining the opinion that Cain and Abel had a knowledge of the significance of the different kinds of sacrifices corresponding to that which was communicated by the Mosaic legislation. The narrative in Genesis 4. shows in what the superiority of Abel's offering consisted. "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof." Each brought of his own. Cain, being "a tiller of the ground," offered of the things which the earth had yielded as the result of his culture; Abel, being a shepherd, offered from his flock that which had been reared as the result of his care. This seems appropriate. But Abel selected the best of his flock for his offering, while Cain does not appear to have made any such selection, but to have offered that which was most readily obtained. Gurnall states the case well: "Abel is very choice in the matter of his sacrifice; not any of the flock that comes first to hand, but the firstlings. Neither did he offer the lean of them to God, and save the fat for himself, but gives God the best of the best. But of Cain's offering no such care is recorded to be taken by him." When the heart is right even the best of our possessions will seem too poor to offer unto God.
2. In the spirit of the offerer. This is the chief thing. The quality or the quantity of the offering itself is of little importance as compared with the spirit in which it is offered. "By faith Abel offered." This is the grand distinction. Abel had faith in God, while it is clearly implied that Cain had not. Abel seems to have been humble; Cain was manifestly proud and presumptuous. This is clear from his anger at the non-acceptance of his offering, and his dreadful daring in bandying words with Jehovah. How could an offering from such a character be acceptable to God? In his sight it is not the material but the moral and spiritual qualities that determine the worth or worthlessness of an offering. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar," etc. (Matthew 5:23, 24).
II. THE DIVINE TESTIMONY TO ABEL'S CHARACTER. "By which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts."
1. The matter of this testimony. "That he was righteous." He was a true believer in God, a sincere and humble worshipper of him, an upright and honorable man. Our Lord spake of him as "Abel the righteous;" and St. John says that his works were righteous. "Jehovah had respect unto Abel and to his offering."
2. The manner of this testimony. "God testifying of his gifts." In what way did God manifest his acceptance of Abel's offering? Many suppose that it was consumed by fire from heaven, while that of Cain remained untouched. But this seems to us very improbable; for the descent of fire to consume a sacrifice was very exceptional, and if it had taken place on this occasion it would almost certainly have been recorded. We are acquainted with only six cases recorded in the Bible in which a sacrifice was consumed by fire of supernatural origin (Genesis 15:17; Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1). And each of these cases was an extraordinary one. That no mention is made in the Scriptures of such fire in connection with Abel's offering points to the conclusion that there was no such fire. Alford says, "We must rather think of some appearance or word of Jehovah by which the preference was shown." Probably Abel was conscious that his offering was accepted by God, and Cain that his was rejected, by an inward witness; the acceptance and rejection were intimated to the offerers by the direct action of the Divine mind upon their minds.
III. THE ABIDING INFLUENCE OF ABEL'S LIFE. "By it he being dead yet speaketh." By reason of his faith his life is a permanent power for good to men. He speaks to us truths of the greatest importance; e.g.:
1. That God will graciously accept the worship of sinners when it is offered in a right spirit.
2. That faith is essential to the true spirit of worship. "By faith Abel offered unto God," etc. "Without faith it is impossible to please him," etc.
3. That when the true spirit of worship exists man will offer his best to God. Abel offered "of the firstlings of his flock and. of the fat thereof." When we feel aright toward God we shall humbly and heartily present unto him the best of our thoughts, affections, services, and possessions. - W.J.
I. In his action there was NO RELATION MEASURABLE BY HUMAN REASON BETWEEN MEANS AND ENDS. Where something is done perceptible to the senses, and the result is also perceptible to the senses, then reason can see that there is a relation between means and ends. But here, while the something done is perceptible to the senses, the result is in no way perceptible to any natural faculty of man. To the pure rationalist, the killing of a beast in sacrifice must ever seem an aimless, resultless act, always a mere superstition, always a waste. It is rational to kill a beast in self-defense, and plausible reasons may be urged why beasts should be killed for food; but there is no reason, save that of a deep, inward, authoritative impression, why a beast should be killed in sacrifice. Abel certainly could give no other reason. And yet, looked at in the light of the subsequent death of Christ, certain great principles of sacrificial action are seen in this first recorded sacrifice, and all the numberless similar ones which followed. There is the acknowledgment of human fault as well as of Divine goodness. There is the acknowledgment of Divine goodness in giving back to God what God first of all had given. But this might have been done by an offering like that of Cain. There has to be something more, and it is reached when a life is taken. The innocent suffers for the guilty. Granted that Abel's state of mind is one inconceivable to us, one which we cannot imagine being produced in us, yet it may have been appropriate enough to that stage in human history. If we had been in Abel's place we should have done right in following Abel's example.
II. THE FAITH THAT IS REQUIRED FOR THE TAKING AWAY OF ANY LIFE, Life is taken away recklessly, thoughtlessly, upon very slight occasion - even human life. And yet, as a child is reported once to have said, it ought to require great faith to put a man to death - a very clear conviction that the thing is right and necessary. Liberty, if wrongly taken, can be restored. Life, however taken, is gone forever. And there should be consideration, surely, in taking the life of even a brute beast. Hence, whenever there was real obedience in such a sacrifice, there must have been a very deep faith. Faith that what looked like waste was really using a brute life to the very best purpose. The natural life was yielded up, and there came back an accession of spiritual life. The brute was for the time of greater service as a sin offering than in any other way.
III. THE EXTENT OF ABEL'S FAITH. It cost him his life. He died through it. The first example of faith that the writer finds is one where the believer loses his life through his faith. Moreover, he loses his life through faith that had Divine testimony borne to it. God makes it plain that he accepts the true obedience, but he does not preserve the natural life of him whom he thus accepts. The path of faithful obedience may be the path to natural death.
IV. CAIN'S UNBELIEF. By the results of that unbelief Cain still speaks. He did not believe that a sin offering was needed. Then came the results of the unbelief.
1. Non-acceptance of what he did offer.
2. Consequent envy and malice of his brother, who had been witnessed to as righteous.
3. Malice leads to actual murder.
4. Cain, filled with remorse, looses the links that bind him to his fellow men. Abel's faith has to be looked at, not only in its results to him, but in contrast with the results of Cain's unbelief. - Y.
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, etc. That Enoch should immediately succeed Abel in this record of the ancient heroes of faith is not a little significant. How remarkable is "the contrast between the fate of Abel and Enoch! The one was crushed to the earth by the hand of a brutal and ferocious murderer; the other was conveyed to heaven, most likely by the ministry of some benevolent intelligence. The one met death in its most repulsive form, and will probably be the longest tenant in the sepulcher; the other entirely escaped it, and was the first to possess the happiness of perfect and immortal humanity. There is something instructive in these characters being placed side by side on the page of revelation. The contrast seems to furnish an illustration of the mysterious diversities of fact and circumstance, which are perpetually occurring in the moral government of God." Our text brings before us -
I. THE CHARACTER OF ENOCH'S LIFE UPON EARTH. "Before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." It is a great and blessed thing that it is possible for man to please God. We know that we have grieved him by our many and heinous sins; and it is a fact full of encouragement that we may so live as to yield him positive satisfaction. In his infinite condescension he is so interested in us that our character and conduct are viewed by him either with delight or with sorrow. That man should please God implies:
1. A revelation of his will. Enoch had no portion of the sacred Scriptures. His revelation of God was small and dim as compared with ours. But evidently he believed in the existence of the Supreme Being, was convinced "that he is," and he knew something of his holy will. We live in the clear and full light of Divine revelation. "God hath spoken unto us in his Son." We know without any uncertainty what to do and what not to do, if we would please God.
2. Personal sympathy with him. The moral separation which sin causes between the soul and God had been removed in the case of Enoch. The consciousness of the Divine presence was not painful to him, but blessed. "Enoch walked with God." The will of God must have appeared to him not tyrannical or harsh, but reasonable and gracious; for otherwise his life could not have been brought into such relations with it as would please God. And still moral sympathy with him is an indispensable condition of pleasing him. While we regard him with suspicion or distrust, while we esteem his commandments as grievous, our lives cannot be viewed by him with complacency. As a first step towards pleasing God we must heartily "receive the reconciliation" which he offers to us m Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10, 11).
3. Sincere effort to do his will. To know and approve the will of God without cordial and continuous effort to conform to it cannot be pleasing to him. Enoch embodied his religious knowledge in his practical life; he translated his convictions into actions. And so must every one who would please God (cf. John 14:21-24; James 1:25). It was by faith that Enoch pleased God. He walked by faith, not by sight. The Lord Jesus Christ presents to us the supreme and perfect example of pleasing God. His joy was to do the will of him who sent him. Twice the Father testified of him from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him." Him the Father ever viewed with infinite complacency, He is also the Reconciler of man unto God. Moreover, "he giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength," that they may please God in their lives. Let us trust him, accept him, imitate him.
II. THE NATURE OF ENOCH'S REMOVAL FROM EARTH. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had translated him." Notice two points.
1. The nature of this translation. We have no means of satisfying all the inquiries which curiosity may make as to how this man of God was translated; but we may bring together a little of the light which the Scriptures shed upon it. It is certain that he did not pass from earth by the same way as other men; that he entered heaven without passing through "the gates of death." But his body must have undergone some great change; for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven." This change was probably similar to that which is reserved for those who are alive at the coming of our Lord. "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," etc. (1 Corinthians 15:50-54). St. Paul says, "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." What the properties and characteristics of the spiritual body are we know not as yet. But we think that the body of Enoch was spiritualized by God. Its vital relations with earth were severed; it underwent an essential change or changes. Previously it was mortal and corruptible; then it became immortal and incorruptible. Previously it was of the earth, earthy; then it became of heaven, heavenly. So changed was it that Enoch was no longer fit for earth; his body, as well as his spirit, unable to find its true sphere on earth, rose heavenward, Godward. His body was so refined and purified by God as to be capable of the blessedness and glory of heaven. And thus "he was not; for God took him." "He was not found, because God translated him."
2. The design of this translation. Why was Enoch thus removed from earth?
(1) His translation was a distinguished honor and reward to Enoch himself. By it he was taken from that dark wickedness and daring blasphemy (Jude 1:14, 15) which must have been so painful to a soul in sympathy with God, as was Enoch's. But two men of all the departed myriads have been honored by God with a triumphant entrance into Paradise without passing through the gloomy portals of death. Of these, Enoch was one. His character was extraordinary, and extraordinary was his reward. There is a beautiful propriety in such a reward for such a life. It is remarkable that the only two men who passed from this world without tasting of death were distinguished as prophets fearless in rebuking evil-doers and asserting the Divine claims, and each in an age of dominant wickedness. And it would seem that their translation was a decided testimony from Heaven that he who stands unmoved, though alone, for God, is the man whom the King delights to honor.
(2) His translation was fitted to impress beneficially the men of that age. Enoch was a prophet to a race of daring sinners. His serene and holy walk had failed to benefit them; his prophetic exhortations and rebukes had embittered them against him; and now perhaps his sudden and strange removal from them will give new and additional emphasis and energy to the words which he had spoken, and the life which he had lived amongst them. They were living in the material and temporal alone; this translation was suited to impress them with the reality and importance of the spiritual and eternal. They were atheistic, some of them anti-theistic; but this extraordinary removal of the holy prophet of God from sublunary scenes would perhaps force upon them, at least for a time, the conviction of the existence and presence of a Power unacknowledged by them heretofore. Let us, through Jesus Christ, seek in this life to please God, and then, through Jesus Christ, death will prove our introduction to an everlasting, ever-increasing, and ever-brightening life. - W.J.
I. WHAT HAPPENED TO ENOCH. He was translated so as not to see death. This must have happened in some way manifest to his neighbors, so that they might take knowledge of the event and profit by it. The translation is to he looked on in the light of a reward; but, after all, this may not be its chief significance. It may have been for the sake of others, to whom God's approval of Enoch had to be made manifest. It is no slur upon Enoch to imagine that men as holy as he have been on the earth, yet they have had to die; perhaps live in privation, and die in pain. Therefore we can hardly be wrong in assuming that Enoch's translation was in such a public way as to teach those willing to be taught, and act as a rebuke to the unbelieving. There is something eminently evangelical in such an operation of God. He would draw men to faith in him by showing what can happen to his believing ones. He shows the way of blessing before he shows the way of cursing. The translation of the holy, righteous man comes before the drowning of an impenitent race.
II. WHAT THERE WAS IN ENOCH'S LIFE TO MAKE THIS TRANSLATION POSSIBLE. "He pleased God." Long before his translation he had had proof of this. God does not defer the signs of his pleasure. He has made us so that the way of obedience is the way of pleasantness, even while we walk in it. But all that God had thus given Enoch by the way was for his own sake. The common unheeding world knew nothing of the joys coming to Enoch through his religion. Now at last, in his translation, something shall be given for a joy to Enoch, and at the same time an instruction to the world. Enoch might have pleased God and yet not been translated; but he could not have been translated unless he had pleased God. Then from this inference the writer proceeds to yet another - that Enoch must have lived a life of faith. To please God certain conditions are requisite, and in the very front of these is faith. We cannot please God unconsciously, as the heavenly bodies do in their movements, or a plant in its growth. We must do such things as the will of the Invisible requires. He will not be pleased with anything we do simply because we do our best according to the light of nature. But this is a matter which may be dealt with in a homily by itself.
III. ENOCH'S EXPECTATIONS. God translated Enoch, but it does not follow that Enoch expected to be translated. All that Enoch could be sure of was that a good present would be followed by a better future. Enoch left this world by a gate that has been very rarely opened - a gate the mode of whose opening we can hardly comprehend. It may never be opened again till that day which is hinted at in 1 Thessalonians, when Christ's people then living will be caught up to meet their Lord in the air. If Enoch had expected translation without the pains of death, he would not have been showing the spirit of true faith. True faith will go on humbly serving God on earth, and feeling that entrance to heaven will come in God's good time. - Y.
I. THE APPROACH OF THE SOUL TO GOD IS ESSENTIAL TO OUR PLEASING HIM. "Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God," etc. Having asserted that apart from faith man cannot please God, the writer proceeds to show this by affirming that he who comes to God must believe certain truths concerning him, thus clearly implying that we cannot please God without coming to him.
1. Coming to God implies distance from him. The unrenewed soul is far from God by sin. Sin against him generates suspicions concerning him, dread of him, and so banishes the soul far away from him. Like the prodigal son, the sinner wanders away from the gracious Father "into a far country." The expression, "them that seek him," also suggests that the seekers have not the consciousness of his presence and favor; they do not always realize his nearness unto them, or they would not need to seek after him.
2. Coming to God is the approach of the soul unto him. As the implied distance from him is not local but moral, so the coming to him is not physical but spiritual. It is the soul drawing near to him in thought and desire, in affection and devotion. The penitent thus comes to him with confession and prayer for pardon. The poor and needy, with petitions for succor and supply. The thankful, with warm tributes of gratitude and praise. The pious, with lowly loving adoration.
3. This approach of the soul to God is gratifying unto him. That his creatures, created in his image and for fellowship with himself, should stand aloof from him in distrust, or suspicion, or indifference, or by reason of absorption in other things, is painful to him. His fatherly heart yearns for the confidence and love of his children. He welcomes the first approach of the penitent sinner to him, even as the father of the returning prodigal saw him "while he was yet afar off, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." He is pleased when his children regard him with assured confidence and warm affection, and come to hint in their necessities and satisfactions, their sorrows and joys, etc.
II. THE EXERCISE OF FAITH IN GOD IS ESSENTIAL TO OUR APPROACH TO HIM. "For he that cometh to God must believe that he is," etc. Ebrard says wisely concerning this faith, "Precisely the faith that there is a God, and One who will reward those who seek after him, found place in Enoch, and could find place in him. Far front intending to ascribe to Enoch the New Testament faith, the author defines the faith here in its general form as it applied to the time of Enoch." The faith which is essential to the approach of the soul to him is:
1. Faith is, his Being. "Must believe that he is." And we have the amplest anti firmest ground upon which to base this article of our faith. The Bible says "that he is;" the universe witnesses to the same great truth; and human consciousness confirms the testimony.
2. Faith in his entreatableness. "That he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." This implies faith in his accessibility; the belief that we may approach unto him; that our prayers will reach his ear. He hears the sigh of sorrow, the moan of misery, and the whispered aspiration of the pious heart. He is perfectly acquainted with the godly "soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed." He not only hears prayer, but he also answers it. The teaching of the sacred Scriptures on this point is both full and explicit (Psalm 37:4; Psalm 50:15; Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 18:19; Matthew 21:22; John 15:7; John 16:23, 24; James 1:5, 6; James 5:16-18; 1 John 5:14, 15). The testimony of the godly is no less clear and decisive. "He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." This means more than that the exercise of prayer to God in itself exalts and enriches, calms and cleanses the praying soul. The reflex benefits of prayer are undoubtedly very great and precious, but their existence depends upon the belief that God hears and answers prayer. Prayer would lose its reality and become a mere pretence, offensive to all honest souls, if we had not faith in God as "a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." But the seeker must be diligent; he must be earnest. "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." The prayer must be fervent and persevering, or it may fail of its reward. "When prayer mounts upon the wing of fervor to God, then answers come down like lightning from God." Thus we see that "without faith it is impossible to please God." Our subject shows:
1. The necessity of cultivating and exercising faith in God.
2. The advantages of believing prayer to God. - W.J.
I. IT IS, THEN, POSSIBLE TO PLEASE GOD. Some there are who care nothing whether he be pleased or not. God's will, God's delight in the obedience of men, never enters into their thoughts. They live to please themselves. They can even understand that some object may be served by trying to please other men. And yet those who live for self-pleasure are sure to be disappointed. God has meant our pleasure to come through first of all pleasing him. The great law of man's being is that he should serve the purposes of God, and he can only serve those purposes by finding out what they are, and taking God's means to carry them into effect. If, then, it is God's will that we should please him, he will surely show us what to do and how to do it. There ought to be in our hearts a desire to please God. We are not without the wish to stand well with our fellow men, to have their good word. How much more, then, we should desire to become acceptable to him who is perfect goodness! If Enoch pleased God, we may do it. And the first thing to be considered is, not whether it be difficult or easy to do it, but whether it be possible.
II. How GOD IS TO BE PLEASED. Remember always that, in the writings of apostles and evangelists, when God is spoken of Jehovah is meant. Jehovah as over against the gods of heathendom. Their priests taught that it was possible to please them, and showed how the thing was to be done, by offerings of all sorts, and by adding constantly to the wealth of their shrines. The offerings in themselves were reckoned good; and well they might be, for they made many priests rich. Jehovah also received offerings, but to him the offerings had no value except as expressive of intelligent obedience. The offerings were for the sake of men rather than of God himself. He must be pleased by something different from mere gifts of what he has himself created. And here the writer gives us one of the essentials towards pleasing God. Apart from faith we cannot please him. There are many elements in the character that is pleasing to God, and one element is made prominent at one time, another at another. We know that Enoch must surely have been a loving man, for without love it is impossible to please God. Here the important thing was to insist on his being a believer. Idols could be approached without faith, for they were really not approached at all; no heart of man ever came into living contact with them. But of God there was no image; the worshipper had to believe that there was a real existence all unseen. Suppose for a moment that we had set before us for search and discovery an object perceptible by the senses. Before beginning the search, should we not be wise in assuring ourselves on the following points?
1. The real existence of the object.
2. The probability of finding it.
3. A corresponding reward for the possible toil of the search.
There has been faith on these points which has had no rational basis, and of course has ended in disappointment; e.g. the enthusiastic searching for the philosopher's stone. But here is an object, the object supreme of all - God, the Fountain of being and blessedness; and this object cannot be known by the senses. There are many so-called arguments for the existence of a God, but men who think that they therefore really believe in the existence of a God are self-deceived. Believing in the existence of a Being to whom this name of God is given must be an act of pure faith. Men must say, "I cannot believe otherwise; I cannot believe the contrary." Then to this must be added the practical impulse to come in contact with him. Note here exactly what is demanded, as the ordinary version fails to give us quite the meaning. He that comes to God must believe in God's existence, and that when men seek him out and come to know him in actual experience and service, he gives them most real, substantial rewards. For the seeking out diligence is of course required, but diligence is not the quality primarily referred to. "Seek out" is only a more suggestive way of saying "find." - Y.
Genesis 6:8, 9. And his purity and piety are the more conspicuous and commendable by reason of the terrible corruption and violence which were universal in his age (Genesis 6:5-7, 11-13). Our text leads us to look at the faith of Noah in three aspects.
I. IN ITS BASIS. Noah was "warned of God of things not seen as yet." His faith rested upon a Divine communication (Genesis 6:13-21).
1. This basis was exclusive. Noah had nothing else upon which to ground his faith - nothing which could serve as an auxiliary support to it. On the other hand, matters were not lacking which were calculated sorely to test his confidence; e.g.:
(1) The entire absence of any precedent of an event corresponding to that which had been announced to him. The world had existed long, but no such devastating flood had ever occurred.
(2) The uniformity of the courses and operations of nature. It surely would not have been strange if he had reasoned thus with himself -
"Not but by a miracle (3) His own soul might have suggested serious doubts. Would God destroy all his human creatures - the creatures whom he had created in his own likeness? True, the race had become terribly depraved, men were great sinners; but could he not save them? Would he destroy the innocent child as well as the hardened rebel? And would he wreck the beautiful and fertile earth which he had made and embellished? Or the question may have arisen - Why should he and his family alone be spared in the universal destruction? He was conscious of imperfections and sins, his family too were sinners; then why should the Almighty bestow his mercy upon them, and upon them only? To meet doubts and questionings of this or any other kind, Noah had simply the word of God which had been made known unto him, and his faith rested upon that word. 2. This basis was sufficient for Noah. He founded his faith upon the communication which he had received from God, as upon a rock; and his faith remained firm and steadfast throughout its protracted and severe trials. God had spoken to him, and that was enough for him. II. IN ITS EXPRESSION. Noah, "moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house." He manifested his belief in the Divine communication by his obedience to the directions therein conveyed (Genesis 6:14-16). His faith was expressed in an appropriate and very remarkable course of action. That we may the more fully realize the strength of his conviction, let us notice that the work in which it found expression was: 1. A work of great magnitude. The dimensions of the ark are stated in Genesis 6:15. If we take the cubit to be twenty-one inches, "the ark would be five hundred and twenty-five feet in length, eighty-seven feet six inches in breadth, and fifty-two feet six inches in height. This is very considerably larger than the largest British man-of-war. The Great Eastern, however, is both longer and deeper than the ark, being six hundred and eighty feet in length (six hundred and ninety-one on deck), eighty-three in breadth, and fifty-eight in depth." 2. A work of long duration. From Genesis 6:3, some have concluded that one hundred and twenty years intervened between the commencement of the ark and the coming of the Deluge. But the interpretation of that verse on which this conclusion is based is doubtful. Yet the work of preparing the materials for and constructing the ark must have been a very long one - a work of many years. And through all those years he was nerved and sustained by faith, and faith alone. 3. A work involving very great expenditure. The building of such an ark in any age and in any circumstances would have been utterly impossible apart from great expense of time and toil and wealth. But to these demands also the faith of Noah was equal. 4. A work prosecuted despite of derision. There were probably men of science and philosophy who pronounced the predicted deluge an impossibility, and pitied the prophet as a deluded fanatic. And there were men of a lower type who would greet him with scoffs and jeers, and make him the butt of their scornful laughter and contemptuous sarcasm. Yet the faith of the man of God failed not. The great work was steadily prosecuted, and in due time was fully accomplished. III. IN ITS RESULT. "By which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." 1. The condemnation of the unbelieving world. "His holy fear condemned their security and vain confidence; his faith condemned their unbelief; his obedience condemned their contempt and rebellion. Good examples will either convert sinners or condemn them." 2. The acquisition of a character eminent for righteousness. "Became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." "Noah was a just man and upright" before he was commanded to build the ark; but in that work his faith was splendidly exemplified and his righteousness greatly increased. His righteousness was great as his faith. It is important to observe that the faith of Noah which was manifested in such an extraordinary and exemplary manner, and by reason of which and in the measure of which he was regarded as righteous, was not fixed upon the coming Messiah as its special object, but upon the communication which he had received from God concerning the Flood. He fully accepted the Divine testimony and nobly acted upon it, and as a consequence God accepted him as righteous. "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." And he who believes in God now will accept his Son whom he hath sent. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." 3. The salvation of himself and his family. While all other human beings were destroyed by the flood, he and his wife, his three sons and their wives, were saved in the ark which he had built. Many are the lessons which our subject suggests. We mention a few of them. 1. That there is justice as well as mercy, severity as well as kindness, in God. 2. That it is foolish, and it may be ruinous, to refuse to believe a thing because it seems to us improbable, or is to us incomprehensible. 3. The sacred Scriptures announce the coming of events of stupendous importance and solemnity - the destruction of the world, the judgment of mankind, etc. Let us believe the announcement. 4. A secure Refuge is provided for man in view of these coming trials, and it is adequate for all, open to all, and free for all - even Jesus Christ. Let us enter in by faith, and eternal security and blessedness will be ours. - W.J.
(3) His own soul might have suggested serious doubts. Would God destroy all his human creatures - the creatures whom he had created in his own likeness? True, the race had become terribly depraved, men were great sinners; but could he not save them? Would he destroy the innocent child as well as the hardened rebel? And would he wreck the beautiful and fertile earth which he had made and embellished? Or the question may have arisen - Why should he and his family alone be spared in the universal destruction? He was conscious of imperfections and sins, his family too were sinners; then why should the Almighty bestow his mercy upon them, and upon them only? To meet doubts and questionings of this or any other kind, Noah had simply the word of God which had been made known unto him, and his faith rested upon that word.
2. This basis was sufficient for Noah. He founded his faith upon the communication which he had received from God, as upon a rock; and his faith remained firm and steadfast throughout its protracted and severe trials. God had spoken to him, and that was enough for him.
II. IN ITS EXPRESSION. Noah, "moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house." He manifested his belief in the Divine communication by his obedience to the directions therein conveyed (Genesis 6:14-16). His faith was expressed in an appropriate and very remarkable course of action. That we may the more fully realize the strength of his conviction, let us notice that the work in which it found expression was:
1. A work of great magnitude. The dimensions of the ark are stated in Genesis 6:15. If we take the cubit to be twenty-one inches, "the ark would be five hundred and twenty-five feet in length, eighty-seven feet six inches in breadth, and fifty-two feet six inches in height. This is very considerably larger than the largest British man-of-war. The Great Eastern, however, is both longer and deeper than the ark, being six hundred and eighty feet in length (six hundred and ninety-one on deck), eighty-three in breadth, and fifty-eight in depth."
2. A work of long duration. From Genesis 6:3, some have concluded that one hundred and twenty years intervened between the commencement of the ark and the coming of the Deluge. But the interpretation of that verse on which this conclusion is based is doubtful. Yet the work of preparing the materials for and constructing the ark must have been a very long one - a work of many years. And through all those years he was nerved and sustained by faith, and faith alone.
3. A work involving very great expenditure. The building of such an ark in any age and in any circumstances would have been utterly impossible apart from great expense of time and toil and wealth. But to these demands also the faith of Noah was equal.
4. A work prosecuted despite of derision. There were probably men of science and philosophy who pronounced the predicted deluge an impossibility, and pitied the prophet as a deluded fanatic. And there were men of a lower type who would greet him with scoffs and jeers, and make him the butt of their scornful laughter and contemptuous sarcasm. Yet the faith of the man of God failed not. The great work was steadily prosecuted, and in due time was fully accomplished.
III. IN ITS RESULT. "By which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."
1. The condemnation of the unbelieving world. "His holy fear condemned their security and vain confidence; his faith condemned their unbelief; his obedience condemned their contempt and rebellion. Good examples will either convert sinners or condemn them."
2. The acquisition of a character eminent for righteousness. "Became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." "Noah was a just man and upright" before he was commanded to build the ark; but in that work his faith was splendidly exemplified and his righteousness greatly increased. His righteousness was great as his faith. It is important to observe that the faith of Noah which was manifested in such an extraordinary and exemplary manner, and by reason of which and in the measure of which he was regarded as righteous, was not fixed upon the coming Messiah as its special object, but upon the communication which he had received from God concerning the Flood. He fully accepted the Divine testimony and nobly acted upon it, and as a consequence God accepted him as righteous. "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." And he who believes in God now will accept his Son whom he hath sent. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."
3. The salvation of himself and his family. While all other human beings were destroyed by the flood, he and his wife, his three sons and their wives, were saved in the ark which he had built. Many are the lessons which our subject suggests. We mention a few of them.
1. That there is justice as well as mercy, severity as well as kindness, in God.
2. That it is foolish, and it may be ruinous, to refuse to believe a thing because it seems to us improbable, or is to us incomprehensible.
3. The sacred Scriptures announce the coming of events of stupendous importance and solemnity - the destruction of the world, the judgment of mankind, etc. Let us believe the announcement.
4. A secure Refuge is provided for man in view of these coming trials, and it is adequate for all, open to all, and free for all - even Jesus Christ. Let us enter in by faith, and eternal security and blessedness will be ours. - W.J.
I. THE TRUE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DELUGE. There is much about the Deluge that we cannot understand, never shall understand. Its mode, its details, its extent, we shall have to leave unsettled questions. Difficulties inherent in the record we must confess. But at the same time, our ignorance and perplexity will be a small matter if only we take care not to lose the spiritual significance of the record. We have in the Deluge great illustration of human faith on the one side, human unbelief on the other. Noah had a revelation, an intimation of impending destruction, which he believed to be from God and to be the truth. Straightway he began to show his faith by his works, thus becoming by his very action a prophet to his neighbors and a lest of their disposition. Noah, the believer, is the great central figure in connection with the Flood, and the narrative of it is given, not for the sake of recording a stupendous physical change, but for the sake of illustrating how the character of one man may influence the destiny of a whole race.
II. NOAH HAD NO GROUND FOR ACTION EXCEPT PURE FAITH. Everything in the way of human experience and ordinary probability was against him. He was not guarding against any of those things which men take trouble to guard against. Possibly the certainty of a greater evil led him, comparatively speaking, to neglect smaller ones. It would seem to the world that he might have employed his time more profitably, and also his substance. He could not make his work appear a prudent or a rational one; as he went on with the work and felt his loneliness, he would often be compelled to ask whether he was deluding himself, or was really in the path of duty.
III. THE CORRESPONDENCE OF NOAH'S ACTION WITH HIS PROFESSED FAITH. It does not appear that he went about proclaiming destruction. The revelation was made to him to secure his own safety. His real belief in the Deluge was shown in the most convincing way by his building of the ark. Many beliefs are only in word; they do not at all influence life; nay, more, the stress of necessity may bring action that contradicts them. We have to watch what a man does if we would know what he really believes.
IV. NOAH'S IMPLICIT CONDEMNATION OF OTHERS. In building the ark, he condemned the world. The believer cannot help condemning the unbeliever. He does not wish to condemn, but his very action is a censure; and the more full of spirituality the action, the more does it look like a censure of others. And in the case of Noah the condemnation was unusually manifest. For if he was right, then all round him, on every side, ark-building ought to have begun. The condemnation indeed was mutual, and only time could show which condemnation was grounded in right and authority.
V. NOAH'S RESPONSIBILITY. He built an ark for the saving of his house. To neglect the Divine demand for faith will not only ruin us, but may bring suffering to others. Noah had his family to think of. Blessing and security came to his children through his obedience. The highest things can, of course, only come by individual faith and submission, but something will come to others if only we believe. The believer, while he serves himself, cannot but be of service to others. - Y.
called, etc. Abraham was a good and a great man. "He was called the friend of God." Even amongst the heroes of religious faith he is conspicuous as a believer in God. St. Paul speaks of him as "the father of all" the faithful. Let us consider the exhibition of his faith which our text presents. We discover it -
I. IN HIS OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE CALL. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed," etc. The summons here mentioned is recorded in Genesis 12:1-5. This call was
(1) of Divine origination. It was not solicited from God by Abraham, but addressed by God to Abraham. The initiative was Divine, not human. Every summons to the true and good is from above. Every aspiration and effort after holiness and usefulness is the result of Divine influence. This call was
(2) a Divine communication. How it was addressed to Abraham, whether through his bodily senses or direct to his spiritual consciousness, we know not. But we know the fact that the summons came to him, and was felt by him to be a sacred and Divine command. A mysterious and mighty impulse came upon him, and he felt that it was from God. The call was to depart from his country and kindred to a land whither God would lead him. And it seems that either then or formerly he was called to a truer and higher life. Whether he was ever an idolater we cannot tell; but if such were the case, he was summoned from polytheism to monotheism. Most glorious and animating was the destiny which was set forth for him and his posterity (Genesis 12:2, 3). But at present we have to do with his call to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees, and to follow whithersoever the unseen hand might lead him. In his prompt and pious obedience to that call we have an impressive illustration of his faith.
1. He obeyed, notwithstanding the fact that his obedience involved considerable sacrifices. Unto a man like Abraham it could not have been a light thing to depart "from his country, and from his kindred, and from his father's house." It must have been a trial to him to go forth from places which were hallowed by precious and sacred memories, to sever many close and tender social associations, and without any prospect of returning to these cherished friends and familiar scenes again. Yet he obeyed the heavenly call. His faith in God was mightier than his strongest human feelings.
2. He obeyed, notwithstanding his ignorance of his destination and of the way by which it was to be reached. Abraham must, we think, have had some idea as to the direction and destination of his journey. But he was called, not to any country which is named in the call, but "unto a land that I will show thee." "And he went out, not knowing whither he went." The distance he might have to travel, the difficulties and dangers he might have to encounter, the scene and circumstances in which his journey would end, he knew not. Yet he went out, obedient to the voice which faith alone could hear, and guided by the hand which faith alone could see. The Divine call is addressed at some time or other to every man. The summons from carnal existence to spiritual life, from selfish pursuits to generous sympathies and services, from the local and temporal to the universal and eternal, from sin to holiness, - the call to God by Christ Jesus sounds at some time in the soul of every man. It is addressed by various voices and at different times; to some it comes again and again; and it is variously treated by those who hear it. Be it ours like Abraham to attentively hear, heartily believe, and promptly obey the heavenly mandate. If we have believing]y received the summons, let us not hesitate to go forward, though the way be unknown to us. Complying with the Divine command, the Divine conduct will never fail us.
II. IN ITS CONTINUED EXERCISE, NOTWITHSTANDING THE LONG-DELAYED FULFILMENT OF THE PROMISE. "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country," etc. When Abraham arrived in Canaan Jehovah appeared unto him, and promised to give that land to him and to his seed (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15, 17; Genesis 15:18); yet he never possessed that land. Very forcibly is this fact stated by Stephen: "And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: and he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child." Once in the life of Abraham the fact that he had no actual possession in that land was very forcibly and feelingly expressed. In his great and sacred sorrow by reason of the death of his beloved wife, he had to purchase a place in which to bury her mortal remains. "And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." And he paid four hundred shekels of silver for the field and the cave of Machpelah for a possession of a burying-place (Genesis 23.). The points which we wish to bring out as taught in ver. 9 are these:
1. Though the land was promised to him, yet he never possessed it. "He sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country;" or, "as in a land not his own."
2. Though he dwelt in the land, it was as a stranger. He became a sojourner there, not a settler or a citizen. He had no home there. He did not attempt to build a fixed dwelling-place, but took up his abode in tents, which could easily and speedily be removed from place to place.
3. Yet he believed God - lived "by faith in God and in his promise. Now, as Robertson says, the surprising point is that Abraham, deceived, as you might almost say, did not complain of it as a deception; he was even grateful for the non-fulfillment of the promise; he does not even seem to have expected its fulfillment; he did not look for Canaan, but 'for a city which had foundations;' his faith appears to have consisted in disbelieving the letter, almost as much as in believing the spirit of the promise." Abraham's life in Canaan as exhibited in the ninth verse may be viewed
(1) as a picture of our life upon earth. There is no abiding-place for man in this world; and the Christian's treasure is in heaven, not upon earth; his inheritance also is not here, but is "reserved in heaven for" him. This part of Abraham's life may be viewed
(2) as a pattern for our life upon earth. We should emulate the spirit of the illustrious patriarch. "Seek the things that are above," etc. (Colossians 3:1, 2).
III. IN THE SUBLIME HOPE WHICH IT INSPIRED. "For he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." We must not attribute to Abraham views of the future state as full and clear as those which are unfolded in the New Testament. Yet it is evident that the writer of this Epistle intended to teach that he and the other patriarchs expected the fulfillment of the promise of Canaan in something higher than any earthly city. Abraham believed God's promise; but by faith he looked for even more than its literal fulfillment. His faith hoped for and anticipated a more glorious inheritance than the earthly Canaan, and a fairer, firmer, and diviner city than was ever designed by human skill or constructed by human strength. He looked forward to:
1. A state of social blessedness. "He looked for the city." A city is suggestive of society. In Canaan Abraham was a sojourner amongst strangers; he anticipated being a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, and at home in congenial society. Heaven is a scene of the most delightful fellowships.
2. A state of permanent blessedness. "The city which hath the foundations." The inhabitants of the heavenly world are immortal; and their "inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away." The crowns which the faithful wear in that high realm are "crowns of glory that fade not away." Its holy enjoyments are everlasting.
3. A state of Divine blessedness. "Whose Builder," or Architect, "and Maker is God." As an edifice illustrates the mind of the architect and the character of the builder; so in the new Jerusalem will be specially displayed the skill and the strength, the goodness and the glory, of the great God. "He hath prepared for" his people this city. Its securities and sanctities, its occupations and enjoyments, are all from him. "And he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, their God." This state Abraham was eagerly expecting. The sublime hope of it sustained him in his earthly sojourn. To us a fuller, clearer, brighter revelation of the future is given. If we have obeyed the Divine call and are following the Divine guidance, let us hold fast and cherish the inspiring hope of perfect holiness and perpetual blessedness, in "the city which hath the foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." - W.J.
I. ON A DIVINE CALL. It was not an impulse of his own. Not in ambition, not in discontent, not in self-will, did he go forth. Nor was it a suggestion from some other human being. The voice came from above, speaking to what was inmost in him. Jehovah had chosen him for a purpose of his own, and therefore made the authority of the summons indisputably clear. It is the fact of this Divine call at the beginning which makes the observation of Abraham's subsequent course so interesting. We desire to see what God will make out of a man to whom he gives a special summons. It is a great deal when any of us can be quite sure, amid the difficulties and perplexities of life, that we are where God has put us.
II. ON A DIVINE PROMISE. The promises of God give a better resting-place for faith than any projects of our own. God had said definitely to Abraham that there was a land of inheritance for him. Abraham, so far from going out on the great journey of life with nothing better than a peradventure, really had the best of prospects. All he had to do was to show the obedience of faith. God always presents us with a hope when he calls us to a duty. He sets before us great ends corresponding to our nature and to his interest in us.
III. ON DIVINE GUIDANCE. This was the element in the Divine call which would try Abraham most, that he knew not where he was going. This would expose him to the wonder and the ridicule of his neighbours. Human prudence seems such an excellent principle of action, seems to keep men out of so many troubles, seems to achieve such satisfactory results, that men can hardly think of a higher and a better one. But then human prudence has its value only in a certain path. We cannot begin by choosing our path according to God's directions and then going on in it according to our own judgment. Everything must be begun, continued, and ended in God. - Y.
I. OBSERVE THE CONTRAST UNDERLYING THESE VERSES. The tent is in one place in the morning, and may be miles away at night. The city always remains in the same place. Thus there is forcibly indicated an altogether different kind of occupation and interest for the dweller in tents from that for the dweller in cities. As the one class of men increases the other must decrease. The fathers dwell in tents; the children in cities. He who dwells in a tent can have no particular interest in the land where he happens to be at the time. If it supplies his wants for the passing day, that is all he needs to care for. But he who has a house built in that land must feel the deepest interest in its fame, prosperity, and development.
II. THE PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF A PROMISE. He who called Abraham gave him a promise, and guided him, brought him at last into the land of promise. He dwelt in the land of promise, in however imperfect and fugitive a way. Thus we see how God gives us all that can be given under present conditions. The time had not yet come to possess the land - the seed of Abraham had to be immensely increased and vigorously disciplined before that was possible - but, nevertheless, Abraham could dwelt in the land. Satisfaction and joy would begin the moment obedience began. And have not we also entered in part on our inheritance? Do not the blessings of the heavenly state stream down upon us even now? Abraham enjoyed Canaan; he himself and his dependants got food, and there was abundant herbage for his cattle. He was happier in Canaan, even as a wanderer, than he could have been anywhere else in this world, for he was there by the will of God.
III. THE FIRMER GRASP OF A PROMISE. Abraham probably had always led a nomadic life. Even in the land of his nativity and earlier days he would be more or less of a wanderer. The wandering spirit would be in him by nature, habit, tradition. Therefore as far as he personally was concerned, Canaan gave him all that earth could provide for the wishes of the heart. But he rises above the individual and the present. As he advances in obedience, the aims of God, the possibilities of his own life, the needs of all his posterity, rise more distinctly before his mind. For himself and his children, and all the families of the earth that are to be blessed in him, he looks for something better than a land to live in for a few years and then be buried in. There is a correspondence which cannot fail to be noted between what the writer of the Epistle says here concerning the tent and the city of foundations, and what Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:1) concerning the tent and the eternal, heavenly building of God.
IV. PATIENCE HAVING ITS PERFECT WORK. He discerned that the city which was to have foundations worth calling foundations must come, not from the wisdom and power of men, but from the planning and fabricating of God. And foundation-work of this kind went on very slowly, according to human computation. The great thing to be remembered is that the foundation of this city of God lies outside the limits of the seen and the temporal. The city of God is to be looked at in a similar way to the rest provided for God's people already spoken of (Hebrews 4.). There remaineth a city which hath foundations, a house of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Waiting is our great duty, rejoicing in the present indwelling of God's Spirit as the earnest, and knowing that the fullness will come in its own order. - Y.
I. THE CHRISTIAN DOES NOT REALIZE HIS GREAT HOPES HERE, BUT ANTICIPATES THEIR REALIZATION HEREAFTER. The patriarchs "all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar." They did not inherit Canaan. The promises of God to them were not fulfilled in this life. The hopes which those promises awakened were not realized when they died. But our text teaches:
1. That they firmly believed in the blessings promised to them. By faith they saw them from afar.
2. They anticipated the possession of these blessings. They "greeted them." "From afar," says Delitzsch, "they saw the promises in the reality of their fulfillment; from afar they greeted them as the wanderer greets his longed-for home, even when he only comes in sight of it at a distance, drawing to himself as it were magnetically and embracing with inward love that which is yet afar off. The exclamation, 'I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord (Genesis 49:18), is such a greeting of salvation from afar." "The image is that of sailors who, catching a glimpse of the shores they wish to reach, salute them from a distance." Cowper expresses the idea. He speaks of
"The savage rock,... II. THE CHRISTIAN IS NOT A RESIDENT HERE, BUT A SOJOURNER - A PILGRIM. "Confessed that they were pilgrims on the earth" (cf. Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9), All men are pilgrims in this world. David, in the height of his power, confessed this (1 Chronicles 29:15). Whether they will or not, every man is moving ever onward from the seen to the unseen, from the temporal to the eternal. Some are unwilling pilgrims. If they could they would be citizens here, not sojourners. But if they attempt to settle down, some sharp shock soon reminds them that their condition here is not stationary, but itinerant and changeable. The Christian cheerfully recognizes the fact that he has no continuing city here; he confesses that he is a pilgrim on the earth. Mark some of the features of this pilgrimage. 1. It is irretraceable. There is no opportunity of going back to past scenes and experiences. The movement is invariably onward. 2. It is continuous. There are no stoppages on this journey. Life never pauses in its motion. 3. It is rapid. Compared with the work to be done in it, and with the boundless and solemn future to which it leads, how brief is life! III. THE CHRISTIAN IS NOT AT HOME HERE, BUT A STRANGER SEEKING HIS HOME ELSEWHERE. "Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek after a country of their own." They seek a fatherland, a home. There is much in this world which is uncongenial to the true Christian. He has desires which this world cannot satisfy. He does not want to stay here permanently, He does not feel at home here. But he is seeking his home in heaven; he is pressing onward to his Father's house. There many of his best and dearest friends have already entered; there many of his spiritual kinsfolk dwell; there the elder Brother and the heavenly Father are at home; and as he journeys thither he sings- "There is my house and portion fair, 1. In the excellence of the way on which he travels. "A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness," etc. 2. In the attractiveness of the prospects which beckon him forward. 3. In the delightfulness of the companionships of the journey. "He himself shall be with them, walking in the way the redeemed shall walk in it." 4. In the blessedness of the destination to which He travels. They "shall come to Zion with songs," etc. (Isaiah 35:10)
II. THE CHRISTIAN IS NOT A RESIDENT HERE, BUT A SOJOURNER - A PILGRIM. "Confessed that they were pilgrims on the earth" (cf. Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9), All men are pilgrims in this world. David, in the height of his power, confessed this (1 Chronicles 29:15). Whether they will or not, every man is moving ever onward from the seen to the unseen, from the temporal to the eternal. Some are unwilling pilgrims. If they could they would be citizens here, not sojourners. But if they attempt to settle down, some sharp shock soon reminds them that their condition here is not stationary, but itinerant and changeable. The Christian cheerfully recognizes the fact that he has no continuing city here; he confesses that he is a pilgrim on the earth. Mark some of the features of this pilgrimage.
1. It is irretraceable. There is no opportunity of going back to past scenes and experiences. The movement is invariably onward.
2. It is continuous. There are no stoppages on this journey. Life never pauses in its motion.
3. It is rapid. Compared with the work to be done in it, and with the boundless and solemn future to which it leads, how brief is life!
III. THE CHRISTIAN IS NOT AT HOME HERE, BUT A STRANGER SEEKING HIS HOME ELSEWHERE. "Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek after a country of their own." They seek a fatherland, a home. There is much in this world which is uncongenial to the true Christian. He has desires which this world cannot satisfy. He does not want to stay here permanently, He does not feel at home here. But he is seeking his home in heaven; he is pressing onward to his Father's house. There many of his best and dearest friends have already entered; there many of his spiritual kinsfolk dwell; there the elder Brother and the heavenly Father are at home; and as he journeys thither he sings-
"There is my house and portion fair, 1. In the excellence of the way on which he travels. "A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness," etc. 2. In the attractiveness of the prospects which beckon him forward. 3. In the delightfulness of the companionships of the journey. "He himself shall be with them, walking in the way the redeemed shall walk in it." 4. In the blessedness of the destination to which He travels. They "shall come to Zion with songs," etc. (Isaiah 35:10)
1. In the excellence of the way on which he travels. "A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness," etc.
2. In the attractiveness of the prospects which beckon him forward.
3. In the delightfulness of the companionships of the journey. "He himself shall be with them, walking in the way the redeemed shall walk in it."
4. In the blessedness of the destination to which He travels. They "shall come to Zion with songs," etc. (Isaiah 35:10)
I. THAT FROM WHICH THEY HAD COME. The writer of this Epistle has been a student of the recorded experiences and habitual feelings of his devout ancestors. Many of the descendants of Abraham had no devoutness in them. They cared nothing where they lived so long as they could get gain and their fill of the pleasures of life. Such were really not reckoned in the exceeding multitude at all. They that are of faith are the children of faithful Abraham. And few as they were probably out of the bulk of Abraham's descendants according to the flesh, nevertheless they may have been a great number, more than we have any idea of. The Lord's people, though far from being as many as they ought to be, are yet more numerous than we think. Remember Elijah's ignorance of the seven thousand who had not bowed to Baal. Such people must ever express their longings for something far beyond what any earthly locality can supply. And as the writer says, these longings are ever expressed in the spirit of faith. Looking away from earth, and from self, and from the present, they see what an abundance of promises is theirs. They dwell in Canaan as strangers and sojourners dwell in a land. They pass through it as seeking something which they do not expect to find in it. It is part of the necessary way; it does not contain the journey's end. All travelers have a choice; they can press forward into the unknown or they can go back. Israelites might have sought the home of Abraham, on the possibility that there might be found a peace and satisfaction not to be found in Canaan. There is something in the power of fatherland. Englishmen will go to live abroad for many years, but they like to come back for the last chapter of life. We all know the popular belief that people out of health may benefit by going to their native air.
II. THE HEAVENLY FATHERLAND. Our Father in heaven makes in heaven the satisfying provision for his children. All the meaning of the passage here is only to be apprehended by bearing in mind the fatherhood of God. Spiritual relations are more than natural ones; heavenly relations than earthly ones. Abraham left the land of his fathers because only by doing so could the seeds of a new, a better condition of things be sown. And then little by little it must have become clear that outward change was to make clear the need of something more - individual, inward change. Spiritual aspirations, strongly expressed because they are deeply felt, draw forth God's response of special interest in those who cherish such aspirations. God holds forth the heavenly land, the land of his full manifestation and his unobscured glory, before all believers. Prophecy is full of that which encourages faith in this respect. As to the nature of the heavenly state, the Lord's true people may have been in much ignorance; but as to the satisfying reality of it they were fully assured. God never asks for faith without giving something corresponding to cheer his people, to lift them above the attractions, the delusions, and the temptations of the present. - Y.
I. RESOLUTE RENUNCIATION OF THE THINGS WHICH ARE BEHIND. And truly if the patriarchs "had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to return." Though having no possession in Canaan, they did not wish to go back to Ur of the Chaldees. Though strangers in Canaan, they did not desire to return to their old home to seek for friendships there; for had they wished to do so, opportunities were not lacking for the realization of such a wish. There are at least two senses in which the Christian has renounced the things which are behind.
1. He has no desire to return to a life of worldliness or of sin. He could do so if he wished, but he is not disposed to do so. He has no relish for those pursuits and pleasures of this world, which are followed without any thought of the life and the world which lie beyond. And a life of sin is abhorrent to him. To go back to the old life would be to pass from light into darkness, from liberty into bondage, from noble unrest to seek for ignoble satisfactions, and the true Christian will not entertain such an idea.
2. He has no desire to return to the past season,'s and experiences of life. There may be times when he has a brief and unhealthy longing for the lost innocence of childhood, or for the too-fleeting enjoyments of youth, or for the recurrence of past opportunities which were neglected or only partially improved. There are, we conceive, few persons but at times have painfully felt such longings. But the calm, considerate desire of the Christian is not to go back to any of these things. His judgment assures him that if he could return to the past, or recall departed seasons and opportunities, he would probably make no better use of them than he has already done. Hence, like St. Paul, he endeavors to "forget those things which are behind."
II. EAGER DESIRE FOR THE THINGS WHICH ARE BEFORE. "But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city."
1. The object of their desire. "They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly." Heaven is better than the best of earthly countries or homes. It is better:
(1) In its society. The Christian will not feel himself a stranger there; for he will be with kindred spirits. Good people here are not always agreeable; but in heaven the society is always genial and refreshing.
(2) In its services. The service of God is delightful at present, though that which we render is very imperfect in its character, and often interrupted in its exercise, and very contracted in its sphere. But hereafter we shall consecrate our perfected powers to him, and "serve him day and night in his temple," without weariness and with joy unspeakable.
(3) In its enjoyments. "In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." The heavenly enjoyments are distinguished for their purity, their plenitude, and their perpetuity.
(4) In its security. Sickness, sorrow, death, and sin, the prolific parent of suffering, cannot enter heaven. Verily, the heavenly is a better country.
2. The propriety of their desire. They who have received the Divine call, as the patriarchs had and the sincere Christian has, should aim at the end of their calling; they should seek to realize it, and endeavor to act up to it. In seeking the better country Christians are doing so; "wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God." It is fitting that the children should long for their Father's house; "wherefore God is not ashamed of them," etc.
3. The blessedness of their desire. It will end in full fruition. The longing which is never satisfied is only a protracted pain. The longing for what is worthy, and which is lost in its fulfillment, issues in blessedness. Such is the desire of the Christian. "God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city." If God by his promises had kindled their hopes only to disappoint them, he might be "ashamed to be called their God." If he was their God and Father, yet provided no home for his children, he might be "ashamed to be called their God." But he has provided for the satisfaction of the hopes which he has awakened; and the home for which they long he has established. "He hath prepared for them a city." Since we are journeying homeward:
1. Let us not be much concerned for either the pleasures or the possessions of this world.
2. Let us not count it a strange thing if we have some discomforts on the way.
3. Let us yet dread death, for it is the gate of admission into the city which God hath prepared for his people. - W.J.
I. FAITH SORELY TRIED. The supreme trial of Abraham's faith will appear if we consider the sacrifice which be was summoned to make. He was commanded:
1. To offer up as a burnt offering his only and much-loved son, Isaac. "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac; yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son." Isaac was called his "only son" because Ishmael had been finally sent forth from the paternal home, and because Isaac was the only son which Sarah the wife of Abraham bare unto him. He was now a young man, and inexpressibly dear to the hearts of his parents; and his father is commanded by God to offer him up as a sacrifice. Being a human sacrifice, Abraham's conviction of the sacredness of human life would rise up against the fulfillment of the command. Can such a behest proceed from him who had so solemnly asserted the sacredness of human life (Genesis 9:5, 6)? Being his own son, his only son, his Isaac, the laughter of his heart, his deep and pure and strong paternal instincts would rebel against the dread summons. Is it possible that the holy and Divine Father can make such a demand upon any human father?
2. To offer up his son who was in a special sense the gift of God to him. Isaac was the child of Divine promise, and he was born when his parents were far advanced in years, and when in the ordinary course of nature his birth was impossible (cf. vers. 11, 12; Genesis 17:16-19; Genesis 18:10, 14; Genesis 21:1-3). For twenty-five years Abraham had waited for the fulfillment of the promise; twenty-five years more had elapsed since the birth of Isaac, during which he had been growing ever more and more precious and beloved; and now God is asking back the gift so long waited for, and which had become so inexpressibly dear. Can such a demand proceed from that God whose "gifts are not repented of"? Can it be that he should try his servant thus?
3. To offer up his son upon whose life the fulfillment of the hopes which God had inspired seemed to depend. Isaac was not only the son of promise, but the other promises made to Abraham were connected with him as to their fulfillment. The promise that he should inherit Canaan, that he should be the father of a countless posterity and the founder of a great nation, that in his posterity all nations should be blessed, - all these were to be fulfilled in Isaac. "To whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Only the descendants of Isaac were to be known as Abraham's seed, and only in them were the promises to be fulfilled (cf. Genesis 17:19, 21; Genesis 21:12). These promises the patriarch "had gladly received." "He had as it were with open arms accepted and taken to himself each and all of the promises;" he had drawn from them assured hopes - hopes which he had cherished during many years. But if Isaac be sacrificed as a burnt offering, how shall these hopes be realized? - nay, how shall they not each and all expire, leaving the soul of the patriarch in dark disappointment? It seems that God is asking him to give back the promises which he had made to him, and which had so long sustained and cheered him. But is it possible that "the faithful God, which keepeth covenant with them that love hint and keep his commandments to a thousand generations," should make a demand like this? Can it be his voice that summons to the terrible sacrifice?
4. And there is a sore aggravation of this trial. Abraham is himself to be the sacrificing priest. He is to kill and to present this precious and awful offering. The knife that was to slay the victim must be driven into the heart by the hand of his own father, and the same hand must kindle the fire for the consumption of the sacrifice. When Ishmael seemed near unto death in the wilderness of Beersheba, his mother laid him "under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him at the distance as it were of a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the boy. And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept." But for Abraham there is no such relief. He must "see the death of " his beloved son; and more terrible, himself must strike the death-inflicting blow. Can it be God, the good and the holy One, that commands this? And is it possible that any loving father can comply with the terrible requirement?
II. FAITH SUBLIMELY TRIUMPHANT. Abraham made the awful sacrifice. "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac... his only begotten son." Virtually he as fully offered Isaac as if he had sheathed the knife in his heart and consumed his body on the altar. And he did it by faith. The triumph was the triumph of faith.
1. Faith in the righteousness and supremacy of the authority of God. Abraham believed that God had a right to his obedience in this also; that "the Judge of all the earth" would not command what was wrong. The reason of the command to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering was dark and utterly mysterious to the patriarch; moreover, it pierced his inmost soul with sharpest and bitterest sorrow, and convulsed his being with fierce agony; yet God was supreme and righteous, therefore he would obey him. Faith was victorious.
2. Faith in the unlimited power of God. "By faith Abraham offered up Isaac,... accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead." How extraordinary and astonishing was this faith in that early age!
3. Faith in the unchanging fidelity of God to his word. Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promises, however unlikely or even impossible that fulfillment might appear to him. How he would do so after Isaac was sacrificed the patriarch knew not. But he felt assured of the fact. And so by faith he obeyed the dread command, and offered up to God his only begotten son. Faith in God triumphed over doubts and fears, the questionings and reasonings of the intellect, and the pathetic pleadings and passionate appeals of the heart. And how God honored this sublime and conquering faith! Isaac was truly offered to God, yet he was untouched by the sacrificial knife. He was given by his father to God, and then given back by God to his father unhurt, and inestimably more beloved and more sacred. And high is the encomium given to Abraham: "Now I know that thou fearest God," etc. (Genesis 22:12). We know what it was that God required of Abraham. It was not the sacrifice of Isaac, but the complete surrender of himself to God. When that was made the Divine purpose in this awful trial was accomplished, and" the last and culminating point in the Divine education of" the patriarch was attained. And still God requires this from us. He demands the unreserved surrender of ourselves to him, "Whatever is dearest to us upon earth is our Isaac." And when God summons us to give that Isaac up to him, his object in so doing is to lead us to present ourselves wholly and heartily to him as "living sacrifices." "He that loveth father or mother more than me," etc. (Matthew 10:37-39). - W.J.
I. FAITH TRIUMPHING OVER NATURAL INCLINATIONS. Not over natural affections; for Abraham, having loved his son, loved him to the end. The very depth and intensity of his natural affection make his faith appear the stronger. We must not for a moment admit that natural affection could be even deadened in his heart to allow him to do such a thing. But assuredly his natural inclinations must have had a struggle with his faith before they surrendered. It is an almost universal tendency among parents to wish that their children should have the rewards and comforts of life. Wherever failure and suffering may come, they are not to come to them. The mother of James and John showed this feeling very strongly. This is the way in which natural affection gets spoiled and made a hideous thing through selfishness. This is the way in which natural affection often defeats itself, and instead of doing the best thing for children does the worst. Here surely is an example for parents in dealing with their children. Let them try to find out what God would have them do, what is really best upon a large view of the future, and not what seems best, not what is easiest and most comfortable. God called both Abraham and his son to self-sacrifice, and his view was far better than any inclination or judgment of their own.
II. FAITH TRIUMPHING OVER PLAUSIBLE OBJECTIONS. Was there ever a finer chance for the tempter to make the worse appear the better reason, to strengthen natural inclination by plausible representations as to what was the Divine will? It seems most reasonable to say, "Isaac is the child of promise: the future for generations depends on his life; whatever else may happen to him, it is clear he is not to die now." And only too often in life plausible reasons for what turns out in the end an utterly wrong course are found with very little ingenuity. It is not enough that a way should seem right to love and prudence. Opportunities may come seeming on the surface of them to have signs of Providence, and yet all the time the real pointings of Providence may be neglected. The mind gets led away with unconscious sophistries. Now, it is in view of just such circumstances that God comes in with his clear authority to take the place of our plausible views and arguments. There are times when distinct, impressive intimations are not needed, when ordinary common sense and right feeling are quite enough. But also there are times when one clear, significant word from above will settle everything to the humble and docile mind.
III. FAITH ASSURED OF THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD. Notice that God did not come in with this trial of faith at the beginning of his dealings with Abraham. He showed him first of all much of his power and his guiding hand. The child whom he asked in sacrifice had first of all been given in miracle. Divine demands are always proportioned to strength and to previous experiences. And so, however hard the trial might be to the feelings of the father, yet it had its eminently reasonable side when it appealed to the experience of the believer. God was putting honor upon Abraham in judging him fit for such a demand as this. - Y.
I. THE IMPORTANT EVENT. "He was a-dying." In any circumstances and in any case death is an important and solemn event. It is so for several reasons.
1. Think of the mysteriousness of death. There is the mystery of the dissolution of the soul from the body. There are the mysteries of Hades. Where is Hades? What is it? What is the mode of human existence there? There is no authoritative response to our inquiries.
2. Think of what death terminates. It ends our visible association with earthly scenes, circumstances, and societies; it writes "finis" upon all the privileges of this life; it concludes our opportunities for the discharge of the duties of this life.
3. Think of what it inaugurates. It introduces us to the retributionary and eternal state. Yes, death is important and solemn. Jacob's death is worthy of study; it is interesting, instructive, and sublime.
II. THE INTERESTING ATTITUDE. "Leaning upon the top of his staff." Some things of little worth in themselves are yet very precious by reason of their associations. Such in all probability was this staff. It was rich in associations, fruitful in suggestions. It was, perhaps, the same one that is mentioned in a former portion of his life: "With my staff I passed over this Jordan." Probably he took it with him when he left his home and his parents with a guilty and sorrowful spirit; with him, perhaps in his hand, at Luz when he slept with the stones for his pillow, and dreamed, etc.; with him that other night, when "there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." It supported his feeble frame when he met his long-lost Joseph at Goshen; and now it is with him in the "last scene of all," as he worships leaning upon the old staff. What associations clustered round it! What emotions it would evoke! what gratitude! trust! etc.
III. THE SUBLIME ENGAGEMENT. The venerable patriarch was engaged:
1. In blessing men. "Blessed each of the sons of Joseph." The meaning of this may be ascertained by referring to Genesis 48:15-20. The blessing comprised petition, benediction, and prediction of good. A bequest like this is better than proud titles or vast domains. The richest human bequest is the blessing of a holy man. Parents, bestow upon your children this. Children, prize this. "My boast is not that I deduce my birth From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth; But higher far my proud pretensions rise - The son of parents passed into the skies." (Cowper.) Now turn to the staff for a minute. In blessing the lads Jacob thought and spake of God's goodness to himself. Would not the staff inspire him with confidence in assuring that goodness to others? As it reminded him of that sad departure from home, and of other trials, and of the way in which God had led him and sustained him and prospered him, it would fill him with assurance and hope for these two grandchildren. Observe how self-forgetful and magnanimous the patriarch was in this. He has not a thought or purpose for himself. He does not seek to be ministered unto, but he ministers unto others. Such is his attitude towards men in dying. He passes from this world pronouncing benedictions upon men.
2. In worshipping God. "And worshipped." In this also the staff would stimulate the aged saint, as it revived his recollections of the fidelity and forbearance, the mercy and munificence, of the dealings of God with him. Towards God his dying attitude was religious and reverent. He died devoutly adoring him. How different is the death of the impenitent! and of those who, although penitent, have to seek God on the bed of death! "Let me die the death of the righteous," etc. But how may we do so?
IV. THE MEANS BY WHICH JACOB ACCOMPLISHED THIS. "By faith." This is true as regards:
1. The blessing. Unbelievers would pronounce his blessing an absurd superstition, empty sentiment, wasted breath. The patriarch believed in the power of intercessory prayer, and so he prayed for the sons of Joseph. He believed that God often conveys his blessing to men through men, that he blesses man by man. So he utters words of blessing on the lads. Do you think they were vain? I am sure they were not. The memory of them would be a mighty influence for good in their lives. And as their father would tell them in after days of their grandfather and his blessing, high and holy purposes would kindle within them.
2. The worship. Jacob believed in the Being of God. God was a reality to him, or he would not have worshipped. He believed in the holiness and spiritual beauty of God, that he is worshipful, or he could not have worshipped him.
3. The dying. That by faith the aged saint worshipped God and blessed men "when he was a-dying is a point of importance. Life and immortality were not brought to light then as they are now. The revelation as to the departed was very dim. Yet by faith Israel died calmly, victoriously. It was by faith in God rather than in immortality. He could trust all his interests and all his being to God. He was confident that he would do well and wisely and kindly with him and for him; and so he fell asleep in the everlasting arms. Faith in God is the secret of victory both in life and in death. Let us cultivate it. - W. J.
Genesis 48. Jacob had a blessing for each of his own sons, but when he comes to Joseph he individually is passed over as it were, because Manasseh and Ephraim cannot be comprehended in a common blessing. All these blessings of Joseph are, of course, to be taken as predictions, having a particular emphasis, solemnity, and memorable character as the words of a dying man concerning sons and grandsons. The distinctions then made could not be afterwards ignored or destroyed. There was a correspondence between the blessings and the after history of the tribes. Jacob did not thus speak because of some peculiar interest of his own in Ephraim and Manasseh. The father and the grandfather assumed the prophet while he spake the blessings. He laid his right hand on the head of the younger, his left on the head of the elder. He did it wittingly,' contrary to the wish of his son. If we would have God's blessing, we must leave God to apportion it according to his own purposes. Jacob knew nothing at the time of the way in which Levi would be merged as it were in the other tribes, and so leave a place for Ephraim to come in. But he knew that somehow or other a place of distinction was reserved for Ephraim. Thus faith transcends all natural anticipations, and contradicts oftentimes natural probabilities. Then it is worthwhile noting how the triumph of faith is blended with the work of retribution. Here is the true exaltation of Joseph. Here is the true fulfillment of those dreams which brought him so much suffering. Something he got of honor in Egypt; but beyond this and more significant is the position of his two sons as being each the founder of a tribe. God can bring to a permanent exaltation those whom jealousy would humble. As to the eminence of Ephraim, notice that it begins even in the wilderness, where the numbers of Ephraim exceed those of Manasseh (Numbers 1.). And as to the importance of Ephraim in after history, it may be enough to cite the position of this tribe in the prophecies of Hosea. - Y.
I. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING IN ASSURED HOPE OF THE FULFILMENT OF THE PROMISES OF GOD TO HIS PEOPLE, The end of Joseph's life upon earth was at hand, and he was well aware that such was the case. Very extraordinary had been his career - remarkably checkered and eventful, now dark and anon dazzling, now full of trial and anon full of triumph, useful beyond any other in that age, and very illustrious; yet it is now nearly ended. It reminds us that the most distinguished and powerful, the most holy and useful life, must come to an end here. At this time Joseph's glances were not cast back regretfully to the greatness and grandeur which he was about to leave, but forward hopefully to a splendid future. He had a firm assurance that a great future awaited his family, and this faith rested upon that God who in his providence had so wonderfully led him and so richly blessed him. "By faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel." "And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die; and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."
1. This assurance forms a fitting conclusion to a life of distinguished piety. The faith which had sustained him in the changeable and often trying experiences of life is clear and vigorous in its closing scenes. In Joseph's case the testimony of his active and public life, and the testimony of his last hours, beautifully harmonize.
2. This assurance was suited to the needs of his kinsfolk at this time.
(1) As a caution against entertaining the notion that Egypt was to be their home. The Israelites at this time were peaceful and very prosperous in the land. They were in danger of losing sight of the destiny to which God had called them, and of endeavoring to find a final settlement in the land of their temporary sojourn. The word of Joseph was fitted to guard them against this peril. It is in worldly comfort and prosperity that men are most prone to be unmindful of their heavenly calling.
(2) As a comfort to them under the loss of his protection. It would not have been strange if the Israelites had feared for their peace and safety when their kind brother and powerful patron was removed by death. But Joseph's calm assurance would encourage them to believe in God's continued interest in them, in his providential care over them, and in the fulfillment of the promises which he made to their fathers. When friends die, when great and good men are summoned home, let this be our encouragement, that God ever lives to save his people and to carry on his work.
II. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING WITH A BEAUTIFUL DESIRE FOR CONTINUED IDENTIFICATION WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Joseph was a great man in Egypt. His elevation and honor, the triumph of his genius and the success of his plans, his prosperity and power, had all been won and enjoyed in Egypt. He had contracted a distinguished marriage with an Egyptian princess. Pharaoh "gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On." In Egypt "the priestly caste was the royal caste also." In authority and rank, in state and splendor, in greatness and power, Joseph was inferior only to the king himself. Yet he wished both in life and in death to be numbered amongst the Israelites. Hence he "gave commandment concerning his bones." "And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence." We discover in this an evidence of:
1. His warm affection for his family. For some years of his life, for more than seven years of his prosperity and power, we have no evidence of any interest taken by Joseph in his father and brothers; but now he manifests a tender and tenacious attachment to them. This is the more worthy of commendation when we call to mind the grievous injury which his brothers had done him aforetime. Joseph loves his kindred who had treated him so ill more than the Egyptians who had treated him so well. "Love as brethren."
2. His unwavering fidelity to his God. Joseph's faith in Jehovah had not been undermined or shaken by his residence in idolatrous Egypt. Through life and in death he was faithful to the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. "Be thou faithful unto death," etc.
III. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING WITH A SUGGESTIVE INTIMATION OF THE HOPE OF IMMORTALITY. Joseph "gave commandment concerning his bones." He "took an oath of the children of Israel" that they would carry his dead body with them, when God should lead them into the land which he had promised unto their fathers. Why should so wise and good a man be so concerned concerning his body? Such concern in such a man is inexplicable apart from the craving of the human heart for immortality; and not for a vague, shadowy existence after death, but for immortality associated with a distinct and recognizable form. The same craving found expression amongst the Egyptians in their embalming of their dead. Joseph must have had some measure of faith in such an immortality. This craving is met in Christianity. "Our Savior Jesus Christ hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." "There shall be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust." "The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth," etc. Both the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body are revealed to us as facts in the Christian Scriptures. Therefore, with our clearer revelation and richer privileges, as the end of our earthly life draws nigh we may realize a failer and firmer assurance than he did whose faith we have been considering. "For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:1). - W.J.
I. FAITH OCCUPYING ITSELF WITH THE PERSONAL FUTURE. Joseph had lived long in Egypt, been held in great honor there, and had brought his kinsfolk into great comfort. All the ordinary probabilities pointed to a continued residence of the descendants of Jacob in Egypt. Who had better chances than they? One might compare them with the Dutch companions of William of Orange who came over with him at the Revolution, and many of whose descendants now stand high in rank and wealth amongst Englishmen. Joseph, however, had the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob distinctly before his mind. The solemn and unique experiences of father and grandfather and great-grandfather were doubtless frequent topics of meditation. Canaan, not Egypt, was the destined home of his people. Anti in this future, though he knew not how it was to come about, he felt he had a share. And a feeling of this sort should prevail in our hearts as we ponder the future of the Church of Christ. We, while we have our day of earthly opportunity, are bound to contribute towards the manifestation of the inheritance of the sanctified, and we must do it ever with the distinct conviction that we have a part in the inheritance. We do something for those who have lived before us, and something for those who have come after us. And so also our successors will do something for us. Each generation of believers adds its part to the capacious and magnificent building in which, when completed, all believers are to dwell together in immortality and glory.
II. FAITH TAKING AN UNNECESSARY PRECAUTION. It really mattered nothing, as to the essence of the inheritance and the promise, where Joseph's bones were laid. But that is a view, which to Joseph himself would probably have been quite unintelligible. Sentiment is almost omnipotent in these matters. The dead are taken hundreds of miles, over land and sea, to repose with their own kindred. Joseph's faith, therefore, was not a perfectly instructed faith. But we may even be glad of this, for the very error of his anticipations only makes the reality of his faith in the essential truth more manifest. We must labor to get rid of all error, but intellectual error is a small matter if only our hearts have hold of spiritual truth. We may be cured of a great many vain traditions and popular superstitions, yet not be one whit nearer to a part in the place which Christ is preparing for his people. - Y.
hid, etc. The writer now passes from Joseph to Moses; from the time of the peace and prosperity of the Israelites in Egypt to the time of their heavy oppression and bitter persecution. This persecution culminated in the terrible edict that all their male children that should be born should be cast into the Nile. It was at this time that Moses was born. Hence the Jewish proverb, "When the tale of bricks is doubled then comes Moses." Some of our own proverbs set forth the same truth. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." "The darkest hour of the night is that which precedes the dawn." Our text tells how by faith the parents of Moses protected their child from the fate decreed by Pharaoh, and preserved his life in infancy. We notice -
I. FAITH IN THE DIVINE INTEREST IN HUMAN LIFE. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a goodly child." They seem to have believed that their lovely child was the gift of God, and that he was not unmindful of the gift which he had bestowed. Moses was distinguished for his beauty. "He was a goodly child" (Exodus 2:2). "He was exceeding fair," or "fair unto God" (Acts 7:20). Josephus tells that when the daughter of Pharaoh saw the babe, "she was greatly in love with it, on account of its largeness and beauty." He also tells that when he was three years old every one who saw him was "greatly surprised at the beauty of his countenance: nay, it happened frequently that those who met him as he was carried along the road were obliged to turn again upon seeing the child; that they left what they were about, and stood still a great while to look on him; for the beauty of the child was so remarkable and natural to him on many accounts, that it detained the spectators, and made them stay longer to look upon him." Probably his parents believed that so strikingly beautiful a child was destined by God for some great and good end. They may have had a presentiment that God designed him for the accomplishment of some important work. His beauty was to them a presage of his illustrious career. It awakened or strengthened their confidence in the Divine interest in the life of the child. A truth of unspeakable preciousness is this. God is interested deeply and graciously in every human life. He cares not only for the young life before which a great career extends, but for the obscurest and feeblest human creature. "The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works." There is not a sparrow which "is forgotten in the sight of God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." "He careth for you."
II. FAITH IN THE DIVINE POWER AS TRANSCENDING THE AUTHORITY AND MIGHT OF HUMAN SOVEREIGNS. The parents of Moses believed that God could protect their child notwithstanding the cruel edict of the mighty Pharaoh. They showed their faith by concealing their cherished treasure in their house for three months. They showed it yet more clearly and impressively when they placed that treasure in its frail little vessel amongst the flags on the brink of the Nile. They committed their beloved child, not to the margin of the river and its flags, but to the ever-observant and almighty providence of God. Their faith was as reasonable as it was strong. God can either preserve from danger or deliver out of the very midst of it. The most determined edicts of the mightiest monarchs are utterly powerless against his counsels. "He shall cut off the spirit of princes; he is terrible to the kings of the earth." "He poureth contempt upon princes." "God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another." He is able to guard his faithful servants against the wrath and the power of fierce sovereigns. He can preserve his people unhurt in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:19-27); or can make even hungry lions to be unto them as gentle companions (Daniel 6:16-23). Trust in him is, therefore, the highest wisdom; for his gracious interest in humanity is infinite, and his power to defend and save is almighty.
III. FAITH IN GOD INSPIRING HUMAN INGENUITY AND COURAGE. It did so in the parents of Moses. Notice:
1. Their ingenuity. For three months they successfully concealed their beloved babe. They managed to hide the infant from Egyptian eyes, and to prevent his cries from reaching Egyptian ears. They skillfully constructed the ark, and judiciously selected a refuge for it. They did these things by faith. Faith stimulates ingenuity; it quickens the inventive faculties. And when, as in the case before us, love is engaged as well as faith, and the object of affection is in danger, then the inventive faculties are stirred to their highest and utmost exercise. Great inventions and discoveries are impossible apart from great faith.
2. Their courage. "They were not afraid of the king's commandment." It has been well said that "faith has an eagle's eye and a lion's heart. It has a lion's heart to" confront the difficulties and dangers of the present, and it has an eagle's eye to descry the success and blessing of the future. The servant of Elisha was terrified when he saw the Syrian army surrounding Dothan; but Elisha was perfectly calm, because by faith he beheld the hosts of his heavenly guardians. Faith nerves the soul with invincible courage. The most earnest believers are the greatest heroes. The ancient religious believers "through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness," etc. (vers. 33-38). How splendidly was the faith of the parents of Moses vindicated! God kept the infant in safety during the three months in which it was concealed in the house. His eye was fixed on that little ark of bulrushes on the brink of the Nile, making it more secure than if it had been enclosed by castle walls or guarded by hosts of mailed warriors. His hand, unseen and unsuspected, led Pharaoh's daughter to that part of the river where the frail barque with its priceless treasure floated. And in his providence he ordered all things for the protection and education of the life of that Hebrew child, and for the fulfillment of his great destiny. Therefore, "trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." - W.J.
I. THE POSSIBILITIES IN EVERY INFANT LIFE. These must often be in the view of every thoughtful parent, and the view must be mixed with a good deal of confidence and sanguine expectation. Parents sometimes wish to stamp their own views and purposes on their children, and it is a dreadful shock to them when they find individuality, originality, strength of will, asserting themselves in wholly unexpected directions. Where one thing is expected another thing is found. Where much is expected little is found. And, on the other hand, where little is expected much is found. One knows not what may have been lost to the world through the deaths of so many in early life. The possibilities need to be constantly borne in mind. Not that we are to be particularly on the look-out for genius and exceptional ability. As a rule, these have to be manifested and strongly asserted before they are recognized. But we never know what the opportunities of people of ordinary abilities and acquirements may be, and so all children should be guided in the ways of Christ and guarded from the snares of evil, so far as guiding and guarding will avail for this.
"Men think it is an awful sight
But 'tis more awful to behold II. THE CERTAINTIES WITH RESPECT TO SOME CHILDREN. MOSES is by no means the only child mentioned in Scripture for whom a memorable future might be predicted. Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptist, all stand in the same category. And if we believe that there is a Divine purpose in every human life, then in every generation we are certain some will be raised to do a great work. There will come the needful correspondence between character, circumstances, and opportunities. And one very noticeable point in the biographies of some distinguished men is their neglected childhood. They seem to have grown up anyhow - plants that should have been in a garden left to the chances of the wilderness. But all the time God is really watching over them, guiding them in a way they know not, making hindrances and vexations to turn out for their good. As we look back on the past of the world and count up its eminent saints, its evangelists, its philanthropists, its discoverers, its pioneers in paths of usefulness, we may assure our hearts with the confidence that the future will not be lacking in men of the same sort. We have not the wisdom, and there is no need, to make predictions with respect to particular individuals. But we may infer the future from the past, and say that somewhere now there are "proper children" who will rise to do their work in the Church, the senate, the university, the exchange, in every place where men may be made better and the legitimate comforts of life increased. - Y.
II. THE CERTAINTIES WITH RESPECT TO SOME CHILDREN. MOSES is by no means the only child mentioned in Scripture for whom a memorable future might be predicted. Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptist, all stand in the same category. And if we believe that there is a Divine purpose in every human life, then in every generation we are certain some will be raised to do a great work. There will come the needful correspondence between character, circumstances, and opportunities. And one very noticeable point in the biographies of some distinguished men is their neglected childhood. They seem to have grown up anyhow - plants that should have been in a garden left to the chances of the wilderness. But all the time God is really watching over them, guiding them in a way they know not, making hindrances and vexations to turn out for their good. As we look back on the past of the world and count up its eminent saints, its evangelists, its philanthropists, its discoverers, its pioneers in paths of usefulness, we may assure our hearts with the confidence that the future will not be lacking in men of the same sort. We have not the wisdom, and there is no need, to make predictions with respect to particular individuals. But we may infer the future from the past, and say that somewhere now there are "proper children" who will rise to do their work in the Church, the senate, the university, the exchange, in every place where men may be made better and the legitimate comforts of life increased. - Y.
Acts 7:22). The choice of which our text speaks was his calm and deliberate decision to separate himself from the Egyptians among whom he had hitherto lived, and to identify himself with the Israelites to whom he belonged by descent and parentage. He freely chose the oppressed people of God as his people. This involved the great avowal that their God was his God; that he rejected the gods of Egypt, and reverently and heartily accepted Jehovah as his God - the Sovereign of his being and his Supreme Good. But brought up in the Egyptian court, instructed by Egyptian teachers, how would Moses become acquainted with his connection with the Israelites, with their history anti their hopes, and with the sublime character of the God whom they acknowledged? In the providence of God it was so ordered that his own godly mother was his nurse, and she would instill these things into his active and receptive mind, and teach him the simple and holy faith of their religion. Moreover, when we call to mind the place which, in the Divine purposes, he was to occupy and the work he was to do, we cannot but conclude that God communicated directly with his mind and. spirit, and he received immediate enlightenment and impulse from him. And thus prepared, in due season he makes the great decision actual, and openly chooses the living and true God for his own and only God, and the down-trodden people of God for his people. Several aspects of this choice are mentioned in the text.
I. IT WAS MADE AT A SIGNIFICANT SEASON OF LIFE. "When he was grown up." "When he was full forty years old" (Acts 7:23). Moses made the great choice neither in the heat and impulsiveness of youth, when the judgment is immature and the decisions hasty, nor in the decadence of age, when the faculties are failing, and the mind no longer perceives with its former clearness or considers with its former comprehensiveness and force. He came to the great decision at a time when his mental faculties may reasonably be held to have been in full maturity and vigor, and when he was able correctly to estimate the significance and importance of that decision. Moreover, the choice was made at a time when it would require an effort to break away from old associations and modes of life. Generally speaking, a person's habits are formed and fixed at forty years old; and he does not easily take to new circumstances and associations and customs. But Moses did so. These considerations point to the conclusion that the choice was made intelligently, deliberately, and with entire decision.
II. IT INVOLVED GREAT SACRIFICES.
1. Eminent position and brilliant prospects. "Moses... refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter." He was the adopted son of the king's daughter; but he sacrificed that princely position. If Jewish traditions are at all reliable, he occupied a position of great eminence and influence amongst the Egyptians. His prospects also were dazzling. Some say that he would probably have succeeded to the throne. All these things he renounced in making his great choice.
2. The pleasures of the world. Moses declined "to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." What are these?
(1) The gratifications which are prohibited by God: "The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."
(2) The pursuits which are condemned by conscience. "To him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." "He that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: and whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:14, 23).
(3) Anything which diminishes spiritual susceptibility or strength, or retards spiritual progress. There is pleasure in some of the things which are divinely prohibited. There are gratifications connected with sin. It were folly to deny it. But they are only "for a season." They will not bear reflection even in this present life. They will have no existence in the future life. All these pleasures Moses cast aside.
3. The treasures of the world. Moses turned away from "the treasures of Egypt." It seems beyond doubt that he must have lived in affluence in Egypt; and as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, he must have had prospects of great wealth for his own portion. How strong the fascination of riches is for many persons! And this fascination is more fully realized when men have reached the age of Moses than in earlier days. At the age when he made his great decision it costs no small effort to relinquish voluntarily the almost certain prospect of great wealth. Yet Moses did so.
III. IT INVOLVED THE PROBABILITY OF GREAT SUFFERINGS.
1. The endurance of evil treatment. Moses was well aware that by reason of his choice he would very likely have "to suffer affliction with the people of God." The Israelites were treated by the Egyptians as slaves; they were an oppressed, a cruelly ill-used people. Moses knew this when he determined to cast in his lot with them. "To be evil entreated" was almost certain to be his portion; but it would be "with the people of God." An important fact that. They were a people of a pure faith, sustained by a mighty hand, and inspired by a glorious destiny.
2. The endurance of bitter reproach Moses looked forward to "the reproach of Christ" as a probable result of his choice. "He would be exposed to ridicule for his folly in leaving his brilliant prospects at court to become identified with an oppressed and despised people." "The writer," says De Wette, "calls the reproach which Moses suffered the reproach of Christ, as Paul (2 Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24) calls the sufferings of Christians the sufferings of Christ, i.e. of Christ dwelling, striving, suffering, in his Church as in his body; to which this reproach is referred according to the idea of the unity of the Old and New Testaments, and of the eternal Christ (the Logos) already living and reigning in the former." Reproaches do not strip a man of his worldly goods or break his bones; but to some they are even harder to bear than these things. They enter terribly into the soul. Thus David cried, "Reproach hath broken my heart."
IV. IT WAS ASSOCIATED WITH A GREAT EXPECTATION, Moses "had respect unto the recompense of reward." He looked forward to the fulfillment of the promises made unto their fathers - that they should possess the land of Canaan, that they should be a great and independent nation, and that in them all nations should be blessed. And beyond earth and time he looked for a great reward and an eternal. He had yearnings for immortality. And his hopes reached beyond the bounds of time and space to a perfection heavenly, everlasting, and Divine. This was not the grand motive for his great choice. He did not consecrate himself to the true God because of the rewards of his service. Higher and purer were the motives which determined his choice. But the prospect of these rewards encouraged him in making the choice. And as to ourselves, we should choose to believe the true, do the right, lore the beautiful, and reverence the holy, even if no advantage accrued to us by so doing. But there is an advantage in godliness, there is a peerless prize for the faithful servant; and we may take encouragement in the duties and difficulties, the sufferings and crosses of life, by the contemplation thereof.
V. IT NECESSITATED A GREAT EXERCISE OF FAITH. If he had been guided by his senses, Moses would have viewed these matters in an entirely different light, and have made the directly opposite choice. He was guided by his soul. He listened to the higher voices of his being, and complied with them. He looked at things with the eye of faith. By faith he saw the vanity and transitoriness of the things he was renouncing, the reality and righteousness, the essential and abiding worth of the things he was embracing, and he made the choice - the true, the wise, the blessed choice. Let those who are not yet decidedly religious copy the example of Moses. To be guided simply by sight and sense in making the great election is irrational and ruinous. Let faith and reason be brought into exercise, and then your choice will be hearty and earnest for the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. - W.J.
I. THE CRITICAL MOMENT IN EVERY HUMAN LIFE. Moses has come to manhood, has passed through all the perils of infancy and childhood, perils in which the prudence and courage of others count for the effective safeguards, to find himself at last face to face with the worst perils that can beset a human life. The edict of a tyrant is not so dreadful an evil as the temptations to self-advancement. The hour of temptation is the hour when all available considerations of duty and interest should be gathered together to fortify the heart. The peril to Moses as an infant was practically nothing; Jehovah's miraculous intervention could come in any moment to shield him. But the peril to Moses as a man was very great when the prospect of high rank in the Egyptian court stood right before his eyes. Nay, more; from Moses we may pass to Jesus. Jesus was in no real peril when Herod sent out his band of destroyers to Bethlehem; but in those after years, when he had to face the prospect of toil and suffering, there was a real peril to his inner man - the pressure of considerations which only the peculiar strength of his nature enabled him to resist.
II. THE SERVICE OF FAITH IN SUCH A CRITICAL MOMENT. The spirit of the world says, "Look at the position which you at present occupy - a position thousands would give anything to attain." Moses is the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and what more can he have but the kingdom? If he gives up his position, what has he left? Nothing, truly, unless he has had the revelations given to faith. And these revelations we are sure Moses must have had in abundance. If Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, had revelations of the coming inheritance and glory of their people, is it credible Moses would not also have revelations such as would effectually strip the aspect of the court wherein he lived of all its glitter? When we have the spirit of faith in us, the discouragements of the present are dwarfed before the attractions of the future. It is seen that the life of faith has joys beside which the joys of the life of sight are poor indeed. What are the Pharaohs of Egypt compared with Moses? Mere names. Whereas Moses has contributed to the coming of Christ, that is, to the uplifting and purifying of the whole world. When the critical moment came, the eye of Moses was so purged that he saw where his own real interest lay. He saw which was the better thing for him to choose for his own sake. He saw that, in choosing affliction with the people of God, he was choosing an exceeding great reward, which would more and more manifest itself as such.
III. THE CONSEQUENT NEED FOR A CONSTANT CULTIVATION OF FAITH. We know not when the critical moment may come, therefore we must be ever ready for it. Men must not leave the making of weapons for the day of battle. The experience of a lifetime makes the physician wise and successful in the hour of disease. We must be assiduous in laying up treasures of faith against the day when the persuasions of this world will try us. - Y.
I. THAT GOD IS ESSENTIALLY INVISIBLE TO THE SENSES. He is the invisible One. "God is a Spirit;" and the physical eye cannot behold pure spirit. Organs of sense have no fitness for immediate dealing with the great verities of the spiritual realm. Truth, holiness, love, cannot be perceived by the senses; for they have neither material form nor visible color, Neither can the Infinite Spirit be seen by our finite sense. When he is represented as manifesting himself to man (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 18:1), it does not mean that the essence or substance of God was seen by human eye, but that he assumed some visible form in which he communicated with man. When Jacob is said to "have seen God face to face" (Genesis 32:30), and a statement of similar import is made of Moses (Exodus 33:11), we must understand thereby that he drew near to them in a very remarkable theophany, that he granted to them some full and clear manifestation of the Divine, and at the same time admitted them to intimate spiritual communion with him. To Moses himself the Lord said," Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33:20). "No man hath seen God at any time," etc. (John 1:18). He is" the King eternal, immortal, invisible;' "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16). We infer the unlawfulness of any attempt to represent God to the senses. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," etc. (Exodus 20:4, 5); "To whom will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?" (Isaiah 40:18).
II. THAT GOD MAY BE PERCEIVED BY THE SOUL. Moses "endured as seeing him who is invisible." The Infinite Spirit cannot be sensuously apprehended, but he may be spiritually apprehended. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." The pure heart is the organ by which the invisible One may be seen. "There is another vision beside the vision of the body; faith itself is sight; and where faith is complete, there is a consciousness of God's presence throughout our life and service which amounts to a distinct vision of God's personal presence and government." Thus may we blessedly realize his presence in our hearts and lives. Thus did Enoch, as he "walked with God." And David, "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." "I will fear no evil: for thou art with me." And Paul, "The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me."
III. THAT THE VISION OF GOD SUPPLIES THE SOUL WITH ITS STRONGEST AND SUBLIMEST INSPIRATIONS. "He endured, as seeing him who is invisible." This realization of the Divine presence:
1. Raises the soul above the fear of man. By faith Moses did "not fear the wrath of the king; for he endured," etc. This enabled the psalmist to utter the triumphant challenge, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do unto me?" (see also Daniel 3:13-18; Acts 4:18-20; Acts 5:27-29).
2. Inspires the soul with patience in the trials of life. It enables the Christian to say even of severe sufferings, "Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen," etc. (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18).
3. Inspires the soul with energy and perseverance for the difficult duties of life. Sometimes the sympathetic presence of a friend is very encouraging and helpful in arduous and dispiriting labor. But the consciousness of God's presence and approbation always imparts courage to the heart, resolution to the will, and energy to the arm of his faithful servants.
4. Exalts the tone and spirit of the entire life. "Seeing him who is invisible," a life of unworthy aims or sinful practices will be impossible. Realizing his presence, both character and conduct must grow in purity and power, in piety and usefulness. - W.J.
I. A WAY MADE WHERE NONE SEEMS POSSIBLE. It must be remembered how completely the Israelites were shut in. The land had shut them in; mountains on each side which they could not overpass; the sea in front of them; the Egyptian host behind. Something they must do - either turn upon their pursuers, or march on into the sea, or submit without a struggle. The choice which God gave to them was that of trust in him or destruction. As it were he drove them into the necessity of faith. He did not first of all make the channel through the waters and let the whole of Israel see it, fur in that there would have been no calling forth of faith. They were told to go forward while as yet there was no sign of escape. God never makes interferences with the ordinary course of nature unless for a sufficient reason, and therefore he does not make them before the time. Enough was done if the waters opened to let God's people pass and closed again the moment they were through. Our business is to listen and wait for the Divine command telling us what to do. That is our only safety when difficulty and danger appear in every direction. There are many positions in life when human prudence will do something; there is at least a choice between going on in the lower path of human prudence or changing to the higher one of conformity with the will of God. But there are also positions when acceptance of God's provisions is the only chance of safety. After all, difficulty and danger are relative words. They only indicate our weakness. They are meaningless in relation to the power of God. To him there is neither ease nor difficulty, danger or absence from danger. The greatest difficulty and danger men have to face come from being opposed to God. God can make a way through the deepest waters for his friends, and where his enemies appear to have a smooth and straight way he can suddenly fill it with causes of the worst disaster.
II. A WAY CLOSED WHERE ONE SEEMS OPENED. "When two do the same thing, it is not the same thing," says Bengel. The Israelite is one sort of man, the Egyptian quite another. The Israelite is involved in a covenant, a purpose, and a plan. He has not come into this present strait by a kind of chance; he has not drifted there by his own negligence, or rushed there by his own folly. Therefore a way is made for him through the sea. But the Egyptian goes down into this way through the sheerest presumption. The conduct of the Egyptian host is perhaps never sufficiently considered when this narrative is being dealt with. The power of Jehovah, the miracle itself, so fills the mind that the amazing rashness of the Egyptians does not appear. And yet how rash they were! Their recollections of the immediate past should have combined with their present observations to make them pause while yet they were safe. True it is that God destroyed them, but equally true is it that they were self-destroyed. A man cannot be reckoned presumptuous when he acts in accordance with the nature of things, but here were people presuming on the continuance of a miracle. The greatest unbelievers are ever the greatest presumers. - Y.
I. FAITH IN THE DIVINE WORD OF DIRECTION AND PROMISE, Directions were given by the Lord to Joshua for the taking of Jericho, with the promise that on their fulfillment the wails of that city should fall to the ground (Joshua 6:2-5). This communication Joshua conveyed to the people; and they believed it, they received it as a message from God. They exercised faith
(1) in his righteous authority over them;
(2) in his power to fulfill his promises; and
(3) in his fidelity to his word.
In these respects their faith is exemplary; for his authority is supreme, his power is almighty, and his faithfulness infinite.
III. FAITH IN THE DIVINE WORD WHEN THERE WAS NO NECESSARY RELATION BETWEEN THE DIRECTIONS GIVEN AND THE RESULT PROMISED. Generally speaking, in the Divine arrangements the means ordained are wisely adapted to accomplish the ends for which they are employed. But it is quite the opposite in the case now before us. The course of action prescribed and the consequence promised cannot possibly be regarded as cause and effect. The marching round the city, the blowing of rams' horns, and the uttering of great shouts, cannot by any stretch of imagination be looked upon even as means for leveling strong city walls to the ground. Such proceedings have no necessary relation with such a result. If related at all, the relation is altogether arbitrary. The things enjoined upon the Israelites were simply conditions with which they were to comply - tests of faith and obedience; and the Lord guaranteed a certain result upon the fulfillment of the conditions. And without raising any objections or proposing any questions they believed his word.
"Theirs not to make reply, III. FAITH MANIFESTED IN PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. The Israelites proved the reality of their faith in the Divine communication by complying with its requirements. "It came to pass, when Joshua had spoken to the people, that the seven priests," etc. (Joshua 6:8-20). Genuine faith always leads to a course of conduct in harmony with its own character (cf. James 2:14-26). IV. FAITH LEADING TO PERSEVERING OBEDIENCE EVEN WHEN NO APPARENT EFFECT WAS PRODUCED BY THEIR ACTION. The Israelites went round the city as they were directed, "but not a brick of the walls fell; and they went round a second time, and a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time, and still all the bricks were there, firmly cemented, and the walls stood. The defenders of Jericho would look on those wonderful walkers, and one can imagine them saying, 'It is a new mode of assault you are adopting. We wonder how long you will have to walk before the walls fall; Jericho will stand for a long time if it is to be taken by walking.' Nevertheless, the Israelites held in their hands the promise, and they felt it in their hearts," and they persevered in their obedience notwithstanding the utter absence of any sign of success. They completed the prescribed process, and then their obedience was rewarded with success. And in our case, faith and obedience must be persistent, though our discouragements be great. We are called to be "imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." "Ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise" (cf. Matthew 10:22; Romans 2:7; Revelation 2:10). V. FAITH COMPLETELY VINDICATED BY GOD. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down." When the Israelites had completely carried out the directions which the Lord had given them, "the wall fell down fiat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city." Thus the result fully justified their confidence and their conduct. And no one ever trusted God in vain. Faith, resting upon God's word or character, honors him and gratifies him; and he will not, he cannot, fail the soul that trusts him. If we honor him with our hearty confidence, he will honor us with his glorious salvation. - W.J.
III. FAITH MANIFESTED IN PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. The Israelites proved the reality of their faith in the Divine communication by complying with its requirements. "It came to pass, when Joshua had spoken to the people, that the seven priests," etc. (Joshua 6:8-20). Genuine faith always leads to a course of conduct in harmony with its own character (cf. James 2:14-26).
IV. FAITH LEADING TO PERSEVERING OBEDIENCE EVEN WHEN NO APPARENT EFFECT WAS PRODUCED BY THEIR ACTION. The Israelites went round the city as they were directed, "but not a brick of the walls fell; and they went round a second time, and a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time, and still all the bricks were there, firmly cemented, and the walls stood. The defenders of Jericho would look on those wonderful walkers, and one can imagine them saying, 'It is a new mode of assault you are adopting. We wonder how long you will have to walk before the walls fall; Jericho will stand for a long time if it is to be taken by walking.' Nevertheless, the Israelites held in their hands the promise, and they felt it in their hearts," and they persevered in their obedience notwithstanding the utter absence of any sign of success. They completed the prescribed process, and then their obedience was rewarded with success. And in our case, faith and obedience must be persistent, though our discouragements be great. We are called to be "imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." "Ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise" (cf. Matthew 10:22; Romans 2:7; Revelation 2:10).
V. FAITH COMPLETELY VINDICATED BY GOD. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down." When the Israelites had completely carried out the directions which the Lord had given them, "the wall fell down fiat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city." Thus the result fully justified their confidence and their conduct. And no one ever trusted God in vain. Faith, resting upon God's word or character, honors him and gratifies him; and he will not, he cannot, fail the soul that trusts him. If we honor him with our hearty confidence, he will honor us with his glorious salvation. - W.J.
I. BELIEVERS OUTSIDE. No illustration of faith is given from the wanderings in the wilderness. In truth, those wanderings were conspicuous for unbelief rather than faith, for apostasy rather than fidelity. At times the people mounted high in faith, and then they fell as low. Just at the time they came to Jericho there was everything in the circumstances of their outward life to inspirit them. They were escaped from the wilderness, they had crossed the Jordan, the land of promise was under their feet. The faith asked from them, it will be observed, did not involve anything very difficult in practice. All they had to do was to march in a certain order for seven days round a fortified city. Still though the deed was not difficult, it was a deed of real faith. For the people might well ask what connection there could be between marching round the city and the downfall of it. And assuredly there was no connection of cause and effect between the mere marching and the mere falling. Another company might have marched till the day of doom without producing the slightest result. In the great works of the Church of Christ instruments are nothing save as the occasions of faith.
II. UNBELIEVERS INSIDE. Our attention is specially called to their unbelief. The world would say, "Why should they be anything else than unbelieving? If Israel had come with all the regular appliances of siege, then the people of Jericho would have felt there was something to believe. Then a real danger would be reckoned as present." We have always to be on our guard against the deceitfulness of appearances, and especially against the appearances of safety. It was not by might, but by the word of Jehovah, that Jericho was to fall, and the procession round the city only signified that the word of doom had gone forth. The procession was a sign of the times. Who knows what might have happened in those seven days if only Jericho had wakened up to inquiry, repentance, and negotiation? Whereas the attitude of the people indicated the most complete self-confidence. It is one of the worst follies of unbelief that unbelievers are so assiduous in guarding against visible, external evils, and so negligent, so indifferent, with respect to the worst evils of all.
III. ONE BELIEVER INSIDE. One, and only one. A woman of no very good reputation, and yet able to discern afar off the ill that was coming. What an encouragement to sinners the faith of Rahab is! For if in her heart could be lodged the power of faith, then what heart should be reckoned impenetrable? Rahab, with all her faults, stood far higher than many reputable people in Jericho. She had the one thing needful by way of beginning. Her faith saved her in the hour of temporal destruction to the other inhabitants of Jericho. But, of course, in the end her faith would do her no good unless it led to a life of righteousness and full obedience. Faith saved many in physical matters who came in contact with the miraculous workings of Jesus. But another power must come in, working conviction of sin and spiritual need. Then the faith which was found so mightily operative in the lower sphere will be found equally operative in the higher one. - Y.
1. Faith in Jehovah as the true and supreme God. She believed in him not simply as a superior and powerful local or national deity, but as supreme over all beings universally. This is her confession, "Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11).
2. Faith in the fidelity and power of Jehovah to fulfill his purposes in relation to his people. "She said unto the men, I know that Jehovah hath given you the land" (Joshua 2:9); and therefore she was confident that they would actually come into possession of it.
3. Faith in the fidelity of the worshippers of Jehovah. She showed kindness to the spies, entered into an important agreement with them, and fulfilled her part of the agreement, evidently expecting them to fulfill their part (Joshua 2:12, 13, 21). Three aspects of the faith of Rahab are suggested by our text.
I. FAITH IN AN UNLIKELY PERSON.
1. Rahab was an idolatrous Canaanite. She had not been blessed with parental instructions and home influences inclining her heart to faith in the true and holy God; but the reverse. She was the daughter of heathen parents, instructed in a loathsome and degrading idolatry, and belonged to a people whose "abominations and iniquities had become full, so that the land spued out its inhabitants, and the Lord could deal with them only in sheer destruction." Yet she believed sincerely and strongly in the living and true God.
2. Rahab was a known harlot. Whether she was such at the time she received the spies we know not, probably she was not; but if not then, she had been formerly, and was still known by the disgraceful title of "Rahab the harlot." But, as Bishop Hervey remarks, "it is very possible that to a woman of her country and religion such a calling may have implied a far less deviation from the standard of morality than it does with us; and, moreover, with a purer faith she seems to have entered upon a pure life." We should not have expected true religious faith in such a woman, much less conspicuous faith; but such faith she exemplified. Learn that the outwardly moral and respectable may be further from the kingdom of God than the openly disreputable. "A woman which was in the city, a sinner," was accepted by the blessed Savior much more than the prosperous, respectable Pharisee, Simon (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus said unto "the chief priests and the elders of the people... Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you," etc. (Matthew 21:23, 31, 32).
II. FAITH CLEARLY ENVINCED. Rahab manifested the reality of her faith:
1. In receiving the spies. She would not have shown courteous hospitality to any of the Israelites, who were dreaded and detested by her countrymen, but for her faith. "By faith Rahab received the spies with peace.
2. In concealing and delivering the imperiled spies at her own risk. (Joshua 2:2-7, 15, 16, 22.) Grave objection has been raised to the conduct of Rahab in telling a lie in order to conceal and protect the spies. We have no wish to apologize for falsehood; but the objection is not a reasonable one. Strict truth," says Bishop Hervey, "either in Jew or heathen, was a virtue so utterly unknown before the promulgation of the gospel, that, as far as Rahab is concerned, the discussion" of her conduct in deceiving the King of Jericho's messengers with a false tale is quite superfluous. The objection also overlooks a very precious truth as to the relations and dealings of God with man. "God demands not of the feeble at the beginning the great works of consummate faith; he beholds even in the imperfect act the faith which prompts it, if faith is actually operating in its performance." St. James inquires, "Was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?" (James 2:25).
3. In entering into a solemn contract with the spies and carrying out the terms of that contract. The compact she agreed to was a thing of life or death to her; and she kept her part of the compact, and exhibited even to the end steady confidence in the fidelity of the two spies to their engagement. Her actions proved the reality and strength of her faith.
III. FAITH RICHLY REWARDED.
1. In the preservation of herself and her kindred when her fellow-citizens were destroyed. (Joshua 6:22, 23, 25.) "By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient." Her fellow-citizens had heard the reports of what God had done for Israel, and of the remarkable victories which the Israelites had achieved, but they believed not in the God of Israel. "They believed not that Israel's God was the true God, and that Israel was the peculiar people of God, though they had evidence sufficient of it." Or, as Alford expresses it, "The inhabitants of Jericho were disobedient to the will of God manifested by the signs and wonders which he had wrought for Israel; as is implied by Rahab's speech (Joshua 2:9-12)." And they perished. But Rahab and her family were saved.
2. In the honorable distinction to which she attained. She is exhibited in this Epistle as an example of distinguished faith, and by St. James (James 2:25) as an example of conduct consistent with her faith. And, far higher than these commendations, as the wife of Salmon and the mother of Boaz she became an ancestress of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our subject is full of encouragement for sinners to turn (o God by faith in Jesus Christ. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord," etc. (Isaiah 55:6, 7). - W.J.
I. HOW THIS WRITER SPEAKS FROM FULLNESS OF KNOWLEDGE. AS one might think, he has already been tolerably copious, but he hints that there is really much more to tell. He has looked through all the records of God's people, and he finds faith everywhere. Thus has been produced in his mind a strong conviction of what man can do when he believes in the right way. And might we not attain to a similar fullness of knowledge? Reading ecclesiastical history, in the widest sense of the term, we should see how much stronger is the man of simple faith than the man of this world, with all his resources and ingenuity. As knowledge and experience of the right things grow, so must convictions with respect to them deepen.
II. HOW HE CLASSIFIES THE EXAMPLES OF FAITH. He shows us faith active and passive - what it can do and what it can bear. By his function the prophet had to be a man of action, and as the result of his action he had also to be a man of suffering. God sent him out to do special deeds - deeds beyond ordinary resources - and then he had also to make ready for sufferings out of the ordinary way. He who would do great things in the sight of God must be ready also to suffer great things. Live on the level of the world, and you may escape much in the way of toil and strain; but try to achieve the things which Christ sets before you, and then you will find you must not only have strong hands, but a brave and patient heart.
III. THERE IS PLENTY OF WORK FOR FAITH YET TO DO. There are kingdoms to be overcome, not by physical force, not by disciplined armies, but by those who, having yielded first of all to truth, know its claims and its power, and believe in persistent pressing of that truth on others. Righteousness has to be worked out, promises have to be appropriated; and if we would inherit the promises, we must accept the conditions of faith and patience. Our faith can achieve great things, and therefore great things are set before it. The faith of a simple, humble Christian has far greater things within its reach than anything to be attained by the unaided human intellect even at its best.
IV. SIMILARLY THERE IS PLENTY OF TRIAL FOR FAITH YET TO ENDURE. The more there is to be done, the more there is to be suffered. Ingenious torments and cruel deaths there may not be, but the spirit of the world is unchanging. Let a man persevere as seeing the invisible one, and he will have to suffer. He may not be stoned, but he will be pelted with the sneers of thoughtless and ignorant men. Those who through mere self-respect would refrain from a blow with the fist yet delight in the most cutting words. - Y.
I. AS THE STATEMENT OF AN HISTORICAL FACT. In all ages there have been men "of whom the world was not worthy." Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Samuel, et al., are examples. In the apostasy and exile of the Jews there were Jeremiah and Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Amongst the Greeks there was Socrates. Amid the corruptions of the Papal Church there was Savonarola, and after him Martin Luther. And at present there are many who are far superior to the world; who are in the world, yet far above it.
II. As AN HISTORICAL FACT OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE TO THE WORLD. Without the presence in the world of men "of whom the world is not worthy," it would hasten to its doom. A few scientific men "of whom the world is not worthy" save it from scientific stagnation and death. Some of the statesmen of the past who were much abused by the world, and far superior to it, are now recognized as its great benefactors. And as for the heroes of faith, the godly amongst men, they are the saviors of society - " the salt of the earth," arresting its progress towards utter moral corruption, "the light of the world," saving it from unrelieved moral darkness. The presence of ten righteous men would have averted the doom of the cities of the plain. The world knows not its benefactors and saviors. For those who prophesy smooth things to it, it has crowns of honor and thrones of power; but for those who proclaim the truth, it has crowns of thorns, and for a throne the cruel cross. So it treats the men of whom it is not Worthy; so it treated the Divine Man (cf. Matthew 10:24, 25; John 15:18-20; John 19:1-18).
III. THE GREATER THE UNWORTHINESS OF THE WORLD THE MORE URGENT IS ITS NEED OF MEN OF WORTH. The darker the night the greater is our need of the street lamps. When the night is darkest and the storm most furious, the lonely watcher in the lighthouse most diligently trims and tends his lamp. So in the darkest moral night God has often lit and sent forth some of the brightest stars in the firmament of the Church. Israel was in a terrible condition under Ahab and Jezebel, and God raised up the intrepid and holy Elijah. When vice was rampant in the Romish Church God summoned forth the fearless and faithful Martin Luther. At a more recent date, when religion seemed almost extinct in our land, God called and commissioned the Wesleys, and Whitefield, and Fletcher of Madeley, and Selina Countess of Huntingdon. It was because of the unworthiness of the world that Jesus Christ came into it.
IV. THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD SO LIVE THAT THE TEXT WILL BE TRUE OF AIM. Is it not true that the world is perfectly worthy of many "who profess and call themselves Christians"? In business, in amusements, in politics, is their standard higher than that of the world? Let us test this question in the matter of gambling: are our hands clean of it? Is it not spreading amongst professedly Christian people in the forms of card-playing, raffling, and lotteries? But listen to our Lord: "Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world;" "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." And St. John: "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Let us live above the world; let us live to God. Be this our ideal, "For to me to live is Christ."
V. FOR MEN OF WHOM THIS WORLD IS NOT WORTHY THERE IS A WORLD WHICH IS WELL WORTHY. Into heaven the worthy of all peoples and all ages are gathered. There men are treated according to their own inherent worth. The worthy are worthily received and honored. How the judgments of earth are reversed in that world! All true worthiness is "by faith " - by faith in the unseen, in the soul, in truth, in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the great and gracious God. Let us cultivate this faith. Let us live up to such measure of it as we already possess. - W.J.
I. THE APPEARANCE OF UNWORTHINESS. Men going about in sheepskins and goatskins, wandering in deserts and mountains, sheltering themselves in dens and caves, have had this judgment passed upon them, in effect if not in form, that they are not worthy of the world. They are banished from this world's social toleration, being held to trouble their fellow men concerning existing institutions and habits without sufficient reason. The world knows no higher standard whereby to judge a man than its own accepted code. If he travels beyond that code of traditions, proprieties, and decencies, he must be ready to be put down among fanatics, madmen, and incomprehensible people generally. In setting out upon a genuine Christian life, we must reckon among other dements in counting the cost that of our relation to the world's good opinion. If we will not go anywhere or do anything that may lose us the world's good opinion, then we may at once spare ourselves the trouble and effort of being Christians. If we, living in the world, would be reckoned worthy by the living world around us, then we must be conformed to the world. We must consult its fashions, its prejudices, its vested interests. Originality will be pardoned so long as it keeps to the sphere of the intellect; but once let the conscience break forth into originality and individuality, seeing a right and a wrong where the world has not troubled to consider whether there be right or wrong at all, then henceforth for such a daring spirit, faithful to the light from on high, there is banishment from tolerance by the world. To speak the words "for Christ's sake" from the very heart means persecution. For then one cannot keep to mere generalities; renewing of the mind brings that transformation which is itself a loosening of those common projects and views that have bound us to the common society of men.
II. REAL WORTHINESS. By a decisive expression the writer turns the tables on the calm assumptions of worldly criticism. The world says of the Christian, "This man is not worthy of me; he does not correspond with my attainments, my philosophy, my art, my refinements; he says unappreciative, not to say rude, things about them." But now the Spirit of God steps in to pass a judgment on this same judging spirit of the world. The lamp that has been kindled from light of human making presents but a poor show when set beside the lamp kindled from him who is the true Light of the world. Everything in this matter depends upon the eye with which we look at things. Many there must have been in Jerusalem to lament the dreadful change from Saul the Pharisee to Paul the disciple of Jesus. To them it meant apostasy from all that was godly, honorable, and true. But we know that Christian character, shining by its own light, is its own justification. And we also know that the man of this world, fully exposed in the light of actual Christian character, is his own condemnation. Out of his own avowed and justified words and acts he is condemned. The very fact that he thinks himself right proves how utterly he is wrong. - Y.
I. THE GOOD REALIZED BY THE OLD TESTAMENT BELIEVERS. The better thing provided for Christians implies that some good thing was bestowed upon the godly under the former covenant. They had:
1. Divine promises. Many were the promises made to the ancient saints; e.g. promises of temporal good, of providential guidance and oversight, of spiritual forgiveness and help, etc. These promises encouraged their hopes, and raised the tone and character of their lives.
2. Fulfillments of Divine promises. Many of the blessings promised to the saints of the earlier dispensation were received and enjoyed by them. They "obtained promises" (ver. 33); i.e. they obtained certain promised blessings. A glance at the names mentioned in this chapter will at once show that this was the case. Abraham received the promised son; Jacob was blessed in his worldly circumstances, purified and ennobled in his character, and brought to the goal of his pilgrimage in a good old age, in peace and in honor. Joseph was wonderfully preserved, guided, exalted, etc.
3. Divine commendations. They "obtained a good report through faith." They "had witness borne to them through their faith." Each one mentioned or referred to in this chapter was commended for some distinguishing excellence, and every one for faith. Abel "had witness borne to him that he was righteous," etc. (ver. 4). Enoch "had witness borne to him that he had been well-pleasing unto God" (ver. 5). They had within themselves the witness of a good conscience; they enjoyed the smile of the Most High; and in his holy Word God has expressed his approbation of their character and conduct.
II. THE BETTER PORTION REALIZED BY NEW TESTAMENT BELIEVERS. The heroes and heroines of faith who are mentioned or referred to in this chapter "received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us." The promise which they received not, and the better thing provided for us, we take to be the actual fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah, and the blessedness of the gospel age. "Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not." Our portion is a better thing:
1. Because the realization of any genuine good is better than the anticipation of it.
2. Because of the clearer revelation of redemptive truth. "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son" (Hebrews 1:1-4). "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." He embodied the will of the Father in his character and words and works. He revealed the heart of the Father toward us his sinful and suffering children.
3. Because of the greater fullness and power of redemptive influence. Atonement for sin is now accomplished. The mighty influences of the love of God in the sacrifice of Christ are now brought to bear upon us. Our restraints from sin are more pathetic and powerful than were theirs of the earlier dispensation; our incentives to righteousness and reverence and love are more exalted and constraining than theirs.
III. THE BEST BLESSINGS IS WHICH BOTH THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE NEW TESTAMENT BELIEVERS ARE SHARERS. "That apart from us they should not be made perfect." This perfection is the holiness and blessedness of the saints in light. "The writer implies," says Alford, "as indeed Hebrews 10:14 seems to testify, that the advent and work of Christ has changed the estate of the Old Testament fathers and saints into greater and perfect bliss; an inference which is forced on us by many other places in Scripture. So that their perfection was dependent on our perfection: their and our perfection was all brought in at the same time when Christ 'by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified.' So that the result with regard to them is, that their spirits from the time when Christ descended into Hades and ascended up into heaven, enjoy heavenly blessedness, and are waiting, with all who have followed their glorified High Priest within the veil, for the resurrection of their bodies, the regeneration, the renovation of all things." Then all God's people of all ages and of all lands shall enter into the joy of their one Lord, and participate in the blessedness and glory unspeakable and eternal. - W.J.