These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them…
I. How FAITH FILLS EYE AND HEART WITH THE FUTURE. AS some traveller topping the water-shed may see far off the white porch of his home, and wave a greeting to it, though it be distant, while his heart goes out over all the intervening, weary leagues; or as some homeward-bound crew catch, away yonder on the horizon, the tremulous low line that is home, and welcome it with a shout of joy, though many a billow dash and break between them and it, these men looked across the weary waste, and saw far away; and as they saw their hearts went out towards the things that were promised, because they "judged Him faithful that had promised." And that is the attitude and the act which all true faith in God ought to operate in us. So, then, here are two things to think about. One, faith's vision; the other, faith's greeting. People say, "Seeing is believing." I should be disposed to turn the aphorism right round, and to say, "Believing is seeing." The sight that faith gives is solid, clear, certain. If I might so say, the true exercise of faith is to stereoscope the dim ghost-like realities of the future, and to make them stand out solid in relief there before us. Well, then, still further, there is suggested that this vision of faith, with all its blessed clearness and certitude, is not a direct perception of the things promised, but only a sight of them in the promise. And does that make it less blessed? Does the astronomer, that sits in his chamber and when he would most carefully observe the heavens looks downwards on to the mirror of the reflecting telescope that he uses, feel that he sees the starry lights less really than when he gazes up into the abyss itself and sees them there? Is not the reflection a better and a more accurate source of knowledge for him than even the observation direct of the sky would be? And so, if we look down into the promise, we shall see, glittering there, the starry points which are the true images adapted to our present sense of reception of the great invisible lights above. And then, still further, let me remind you that this vision of faith varies in the measure of our faith. It is not always the same. Refraction brings up sometimes, above the surface of the sea, a spectral likeness of the opposite shore, and men stand now and then upon our southern coasts, and for an hour or two, in some conditions of the atmosphere, they see the low sand-hills of the French or the Belgian coast, as if they were in arm's length. So faith, refracting the rays of light that strike from the throne of God, brings up the image, and when it is strong the image is clear, and when it flags the image "fades away into the light of common day"; and where there glowed the fair outlines of the far-off land, there is nothing but a weary wash of waters and a solitary stretch of sea. My brother! do you see to it that this vision of faith be cultivated by you. Do you choose whether you shall, like John Bunyan's man with the muckrake, have your eyes fixed upon the straws and filth at your feet, or whether you will look upwards and see the crown that is glittering there just above your head, and ready to drop upon it. "These all in faith saw the promises." Yes! And when they saw them they greeted them. Their hands and their hearts went out, and a glad shout came to their lips as they beheld the fair vision of all the wonder that should be. And so faith has in it, in proportion to its depth and reality, this going out of the soul towards the things discerned. They draw us when we see them.
IX. How FAITH PRODUCES A SENSE OF DETACHMENT FROM THE PRESENT. "They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." A "stranger " is a man who, in a given constitution of things — in some country with a settled government, owes allegiance to another king, and belongs to another polity. A "pilgrim" or a "sojourner is a man who is only in the place where he now is for a little while. So the one of the two words expresses the idea of belonging to another state of things, and the other expresses the idea of transiency in the present condition. But the true Christian consciousness of being "a stranger and a sojourner" comes, not from any thought that life is fleeting, but from the better and more blessed operation of the faith which reveals the things promised, and knits me so closely to them that I cannot but feel separated from the things that are round about me. Men that live in mountainous countries, when they come down into the plains, be it Switzerland, or the Highlands, or anywhere else, pine and fade away, sometimes with the intensity of the "Heinweh," the homesickness which seizes them. And we, if we are Christians, and belong to the other order of things, shall feel that this is not the native soft, nor here the home in which we would dwell.
III. HOW THIS SAME FAITH TRIUMPHS IN THE ARTICLE OF DEATH. "These all died in faith." That is a very grand thought as applied to those old patriarchs, that just because all their lives long God had done nothing for them of what He had promised, therefore they died believing He was going to do it. So for us the end of life may have a faith nurtured by disappointments, made more sure of everything because it has nothing; certain that he calls into existence another world to redress the balance of the old, because here there has been so much of bitterness and woe. And our end like theirs may be an end beatified by a clear vision of the things that " no man hath seen, nor can see"; and into the darkness there may come for us, as there came of old to another, an open heaven and a beam of God's glory smiting us on the face and changing it into the face of an angel.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.