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Hebrews Chapter 11:2-4

2. For by it the elders obtained a good report.

2. Per hane enim testimonium consequuti sunt seniores.

3. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

3. Fide intelligimus aptata esse secula verbo Dei, ut non apparentium spectacula fierent.

4. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

4. Fide Abel praestantiorem hostiam quam Cain obtulit Deo; per quam testimonium abtinuit quod justus esset, testimonium reddente Deo ejus donis: et per ipsam mortuus adhuc loquitur.


2. For by it the elders, 203203     Macknight and Stuart render the word “ancients” and more suitably in our language. The word “elders” most commonly refers to age, but “ancients” to time: those meant here were such as lived before and under the Law. — Ed. etc. He handles this subject to the end of the chapter — that the fathers obtained salvation and were accepted by God in no other way than by faith.

The Jews indeed had some reasons for paying great deference to the fathers; but a foolish admiration of the fathers had so prevailed among them, that it proved a great hindrance to a thorough surrender of themselves to Christ and to his government. It was occasioned either by ambition or superstition, or by both. For when they heard that they were the blessed and holy seed of Abraham, inflated with this distinction they fixed their eyes on men rather than on God. Then added to this was a false emulation; for they did not consider what was mainly worthy of imitation in their fathers. It thus happened that they became attached to the old ceremonies, as though the whole of religion and perfect holiness consisted in them. This error the Apostle exposes and condemns; and be shows what was the chief excellency of the fathers, in order that their posterity might understand how they might become really like them.

Let us then bear in mind that the main point and the very hinge on which the Apostle’s argument turns is this, — That all the fathers from the beginning of the world, were approved by God in no other way than by being united to him by faith: and this he shows, that the Jews might know that by faith alone they could be bound together in holy unity with the fathers, and that as soon as they renounced faith, they became banished from the Church, and that they were then no longer the legitimate children of Abraham, but a degenerate race and bastards. 204204     The verb rendered in our version “obtained a good report,” is rendered by Calvin, “obtained a testimony;” by Beza, “were approved;” by Macknight “were born witness to;” and Stuart, “obtained commendation”. It is better to retain the idea of a testimony, as a reference is made either to the written testimony of Scripture, or to some express testimony given by God, as in the case of Abel. As the verb is everywhere used in a good sense, as referring to a good testimony, “the good report” of our version, or “the honorable testimony” of Doddridge, seems to convey the right meaning. — Ed.

3. Through, or by, faith we understand, 205205     That is “We, by faith in God’s word which gives the record, understand, or know how the world was made.” This the heathens did not know by the light of reason, and yet they might have known this, as the Apostle declares in Romans 1:20. The reference here, according to this view, is to the fact, to the case as it was, but in the Romans to what ought to have been the case.
   Why “worlds?” the same word, though in the plural number is rendered “world” in verse 36 and 1 Corinthians 10:11, and so here by Beza and others. The universe, the whole visible creation, is what is meant, as it appears from “seen” in the next clause: and the word αἰὼν, in the singular number, says Stuart, is not employed to designate the “world” that is the universe. It is said to be used plurally to express the various parts of which the world is composed. But the term “world” in our language comprehends the whole: it means the whole visible creation.

   The verb “framed,” is rendered “compacted” by Beza — “adjusted” by Doddridge — “produced” by Macknight — and “formed” by Stuart. Calvin has “fitted” or joined together, aptata, the word used by the Vulgate. It is justly said by Leigh, that the verb properly means to compact or knit together disjointed parts, either of a body or a building. But it is used also in the sense of adjusting, fitting, preparing, setting in order, and perfecting, or completing. It is most commonly used in the sense of making perfect or complete. But we may render the words “the world was set in order by the word of God.” — Ed.
etc. This is a most striking proof of the last verse; for we differ nothing from the brute creation, if we understand not that the world has been created by God. To what end have men been endued with understanding and reason, except that they might acknowledge their Creator? But it is by faith alone we know that it was God who created the world. No wonder then that faith shone forth in the fathers above all other virtues.

But it may be here asked, Why does the Apostle assert that what even infidels acknowledge is only understood by faith? For the very appearance of heaven and earth constrains even the ungodly to acknowledge some Maker; and hence Paul condemns all for ingratitude, because they did not, after having known God, give him the honor due to him. (Romans 1:25.) And no doubt religion would not have so prevailed among all nations, had not men’s minds been impressed with the convictions that God is the Creator of the world. It thus then appears that this knowledge which the Apostle ascribes to faith, exists without faith.

To this I reply, — that though there has been an opinion of this kind among heathens, that the world was made by God, it was yet very evanescent, for as soon as they formed a notion of some God, they became instantly vain in their imaginations, so that they groped in the dark, having in their thoughts a mere shadow of some uncertain deity, and not the knowledge of the true God. Besides, as it was only a transient opinion that flit in their minds, it was far from being anything like knowledge. We may further add, that they assigned to fortune or chance the supremacy in the government of the world, and they made no mention of God’s providence which alone rules everything. Men’s minds therefore are wholly blind, so that they see not the light of nature which shines forth in created things, until being irradiated by God’s Spirit, they begin to understand by faith what otherwise they cannot comprehend. Hence most correctly does the Apostle ascribe such an understanding to faith; for they who have faith do not entertain a slight opinion as to God being the Creator of the world, but they have a deep conviction fixed in their minds and behold the true God. And further, they understand the power of his word, not only as manifested instantaneously in creating the world, but also as put forth continually in its preservation; nor is it his power only that they understand, but also his goodness, and wisdom, and justice. And hence they are led to worship, love, and honor him.

Not made of things which do appear. As to this clause, all interpreters seem to me to have been mistaken; and the mistake has arisen from separating the preposition from the participle φαὶνομένων. They give this rendering, “So that visible things were made from things which do not appear.” But from such words hardly any sense can be elicited, at least a very jejune sense; and further, the text does not admit of such a meaning, for then the words must have been, ἐκ μὴ φαινομένων: but the order adopted by the Apostle is different. If, then, the words were rendered literally, the meaning would be as follows, — “So that they became the visible of things not visible,” or, not apparent. Thus the preposition would be joined to the participle to which it belongs. Besides, the words would then contain a very important truth, — that we have in this visible world, a conspicuous image of God; and thus the same truth is taught here, as in Romans 1:20, where it is said, that the invisible things of God are made known to us by the creation of the world, they being seen in his works. God has given us, throughout the whole framework of this world, clear evidences of his eternal wisdom, goodness, and power; and though he is in himself invisible, he in a manner becomes visible to us in his works. 206206     Moderns no less than the ancients differ from Calvin as to this clause; and yet his explanation is more suited to the passage, and especially to εἰς τὸ which means properly, to the end that, or, in order to, denoting the object or final cause. But there is no authority for making ἐκ and φαινομένων one word as he proposes: yet if the transposition of μὴ be admitted, which both ancient and modern critics allow, the meaning advocated by Calvin may still be defended: “in order that of things not apparent there might be things visible;” the things not apparent or visible being the power, wisdom and goodness of God, in exact harmony with Romans 1:20, where God’s power and divinity are said to be “invisible things” — τὰ ἀόρατα: they are things not apparent.
   Again, the verb κατηρτίσθαι denotes not creation, but the fitting or adjusting, or setting in order of things previously created: it seems to designate the work done, not as described in the first verse of Genesis, but in the following verses: so that the object or design of this adjustment or arrangement is what is expressed in this clause; it was, that there might be visible things as evidence or manifestations of things invisible.

   It may be further said, that the world is said to have been set in order by the word of God: and so it is recorded in Genesis: but this word or fiat is not mentioned in the first verse of that book, in which the heavens and the earth are said to have been created. It hence appears that the reference here is to the setting in order of this world, and not to the first creation of its materials; and if so, the second clause cannot refer to the creation of the world out of nothing, as it is necessarily connected with what the first clause contains.

   “Faith” then refers here, if this view must be taken, not to the fact that the world was made by God, which even heathens admitted, but to the design of God in creation, the manifestation of his own glory. “The heavens,” says the Psalmist “declare the glory of God,” etc. — Ed.

Correctly then is this world called the mirror of divinity; not that there is sufficient clearness for man to gain a full knowledge of God, by looking at the world, but that he has thus so far revealed himself, that the ignorance of the ungodly is without excuse. Now the faithful, to whom he has given eyes, see sparks of his glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing. The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of the divine glory.

4. By faith Abel offered, etc. The Apostle’s object in this chapter is to show, that however excellent were the works of the saints, it was from faith they derived their value, their worthiness, and all their excellences; and hence follows what he has already intimated, that the fathers pleased God by faith alone.

Now he commends faith here on two accounts, — it renders obedience to God, for it attempts and undertakes nothing, but what is according to the rule of God’s word, — and it relies on God’s promises, and thus it gains the value and worth which belongs to works from his grace alone. Hence, wherever the word faith is found in this chapter, we must bear in mind, that the Apostle speaks of it, in order that the Jews might regard no other rule than God’s word, and might also depend alone on his promises.

He says, first, that Abel’s sacrifice was for no other reason preferable to that of his brother, except that it was sanctified by faith: 207207     “Abel’s offering was more acceptable than that of Cain, because he had faith.” — Grotius.
   The word “sacrifice,” θυσία, means properly an offered victim, but sometimes anything offered to God. Indeed Abel’s sacrifice is called in Genesis 4:4, an offering. The word πλείων is literally more, but is used in the sense of more in number, quantity or excellency. The last is evidently the meaning here; for Abel’s offering, according to the account given, was not in the number or quantity, but in quality. Then a better or a more excellent sacrifice, and not a fuller, as some have rendered it, is the right version. — Ed
for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odor, pacify God. The Scripture indeed shows plainly, why God accepted his sacrifice, for Moses’s words are these, “God had respect to Abel, and to his gifts.” It is hence obvious to conclude, that his sacrifice was accepted, because he himself was graciously accepted. But how did he obtain this favor, except that his heart was purified by faith.

God testifying, etc. He confirms what I have already stated, that no works, coming from us can please God, until we ourselves are received into favor, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus, — God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God. 208208     What the Apostle evidently refers to are these words, “the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering.” He calls this “testifying.” How this was done, we are not told. The divine approbation was in some way conveyed; there was respect had to Abel and to his offering, but not to Cain nor to his offering. The Apostle says here first, that Abel “obtained a testimony that he was righteous,” and then he adds by way of explanation: God testifying of his gifts. It seems then that the approbation of his gifts was the testimony he received that he was righteous, this was evidently the meaning of the Apostle. Now the question is, how was this testimony as to that sacrifice. What was it? Such, we may reasonably conclude as was given in other recorded instances; it was by fire sent from heaven to consume the sacrifice. See Leviticus 9:24; 1 Kings 18:38; 2 Chronicles 7:1.
   “By which,” and “by it,” are commonly referred to faith, but the passage would be plainer, by referring them to “the sacrifice.” It was by the means or medium of the sacrifice, that the testimony was given, and it was on the account of it that Abel was put to death; “and through it, having died, he yet speaketh;” that is, though he died, owing to his sacrifice being approved, he yet speaketh, that is, by his example as a believer, say some, in the atonement; as a sufferer in behalf of the truth, say others. — Ed.

This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outward masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.

By it he being dead, etc. To faith he also ascribes this, — that God testified that Abel was no less the object of his care after his death, than during his life: for when he says, that though dead, he still speaketh, he means, as Moses tells us, that God was moved by his violent death to take vengeance. When, therefore, Abel or his blood is said to speak, the words are to be understood figuratively. It was yet a singular evidence of God’s love towards him, that he had a care for him when he was dead; and it hence appears, that he was one of God’s saints, whose death is precious to him. 209209     Though this view has been taken by Grotius and many others, yet the one suggested above is what has been mostly adopted. It is Abel himself who here speaks as a man of faith; it is the voice of his blood that is referred to in chapter 12:24. Instead of the received reading, the preponderance of copies is in favor of λαλεῖ — Ed

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