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The Meaning of Faith

11

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.


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Heb 11:1-40. Definition of the Faith Just Spoken of (Heb 10:39): Examples from the Old Covenant for Our Perseverance in Faith.

1. Description of the great things which faith (in its widest sense: not here restricted to faith in the Gospel sense) does for us. Not a full definition of faith in its whole nature, but a description of its great characteristics in relation to the subject of Paul's exhortation here, namely, to perseverance.

substance, &c.—It substantiates promises of God which we hope for, as future in fulfilment, making them present realities to us. However, the Greek is translated in Heb 3:14, "confidence"; and it also here may mean "sure confidence." So Alford translates. Thomas Magister supports English Version, "The whole thing that follows is virtually contained in the first principle; now the first commencement of the things hoped for is in us through the assent of faith, which virtually contains all the things hoped for." Compare Note, see on Heb 6:5, "tasted … powers of the world to come." Through faith, the future object of Christian hope, in its beginning, is already present. True faith infers the reality of the objects believed in and honed for (Heb 11:6). Hugo de St. Victor distinguished faith from hope. By faith alone we are sure of eternal things that they ARE: but by hope we are confident that WE SHALL HAVE them. All hope presupposes faith (Ro 8:25).

evidence—"demonstration": convincing proof to the believer: the soul thereby seeing what the eye cannot see.

things not seen—the whole invisible and spiritual world: not things future and things pleasant, as the "things hoped for," but also the past and present, and those the reverse of pleasant. "Eternal life is promised to us, but it is when we are dead: we are told of a blessed resurrection, but meanwhile we moulder in the dust; we are declared to be justified, and sin dwells in us; we hear that we are blessed, meantime we are overwhelmed in endless miseries: we are promised abundance of all goods, but we still endure hunger and thirst; God declares He will immediately come to our help, but He seems deaf to our cries. What should we do if we had not faith and hope to lean on, and if our mind did not emerge amidst the darkness above the world by the shining of the Word and Spirit of God?" [Calvin]. Faith is an assent unto truths credible upon the testimony of God (not on the reasonableness of the thing revealed, though by this we may judge as to whether it be what it professes, a genuine revelation), delivered unto us in the writings of the apostles and prophets. Thus Christ's ascension is the cause, and His absence the crown, of our faith: because He ascended, we the more believe, and because we believe in Him who hath ascended, our faith is the more accepted [Bishop Pearson]. Faith believes what it sees not; for if thou seest there is no faith; the Lord has gone away so as not to be seen: He is hidden that He may be believed; the yearning desire by faith after Him who is unseen is the preparation of a heavenly mansion for us; when He shall be seen it shall be given to us as the reward of faith [Augustine]. As Revelation deals with spiritual and invisible things exclusively, faith is the faculty needed by us, since it is the evidence of things not seen. By faith we venture our eternal interests on the bare word of God, and this is altogether reasonable.

2. For—So high a description of faith is not undeserved; for … [Alford].

by itGreek, "in it": in respect to … in the matter of," it, "or, as Greek more emphatically, "this."

the elders—as though still living and giving their powerful testimony to the reasonableness and excellence of faith (Heb 12:1). Not merely the ancients, as though they were people solely of the past; nay, they belong to the one and the same blessed family as ourselves (Heb 11:39, 40). "The elders," whom we all revere so highly. "Paul shows how we ought to seek in all its fulness, under the veil of history, the essential substance of the doctrine sometimes briefly indicated" [Bengel]. "The elders," as "the fathers," is a title of honor given on the ground of their bright faith and practice.

obtained a good reportGreek, "were testified of," namely, favorably (compare Heb 7:8). It is a phrase of Luke, Paul's companion. Not only men, but God, gave testimony to their faith (Heb 11:4, 5, 39). Thus they being testified of themselves have become "witnesses" to all others (Heb 12:1). The earlier elders had their patience exercised for a long period of life: those later, in sharper afflictions. Many things which they hoped for and did not see, subsequently came to pass and were conspicuously seen, the event confirming faith [Bengel].

3. we understand—We perceive with our spiritual intelligence the fact of the world's creation by God, though we see neither Him nor the act of creation as described in Ge 1:1-31. The natural world could not, without revelation, teach us this truth, though it confirms the truth when apprehended by faith (Ro 1:20). Adam is passed over in silence here as to his faith, perhaps as being the first who fell and brought sin on us all; though it does not follow that he did not repent and believe the promise.

worlds—literally, "ages"; all that exists in time and space, visible and invisible, present and eternal.

framed—"fitly formed and consolidated"; including the creation of the single parts and the harmonious organization of the whole, and the continual providence which maintains the whole throughout all ages. As creation is the foundation and a specimen of the whole divine economy, so faith in creation is the foundation and a specimen of all faith [Bengel].

by the word of God—not here, the personal word (Greek, "logos," Joh 1:1) but the spoken word (Greek, "rhema"); though by the instrumentality of the personal word (Heb 1:2).

not made, &c.—Translate as Greek, "so that not out of things which appear hath that which is seen been made"; not as in the case of all things which we see reproduced from previously existing and visible materials, as, for instance, the plant from the seed, the animal from the parent, &c., has the visible world sprung into being from apparent materials. So also it is implied in the first clause of the verse that the invisible spiritual worlds were framed not from previously existing materials. Bengel explains it by distinguishing "appear," that is, begin to be seen (namely, at creation), from that which is seen as already in existence, not merely beginning to be seen; so that the things seen were not made of the things which appear," that is, which begin to be seen by us in the act of creation. We were not spectators of creation; it is by faith we perceive it.




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