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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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1. Now faith, etc. Whoever made this the beginning of the eleventh chapter, has unwisely disjointed the context; for the object of the Apostle was to prove what he had already said ­that there is need of patience. 200200     Griesbach makes the division at the thirty-eighth verse of the last chapter, and this is no doubt what the subject requires. — Ed. He had quoted the testimony of Habakkuk, who says that the just lives by faith; he now shows what remained to be proved — that faith can be no more separated from patience than from itself. The order then of what he says is this, — “We shall not reach the goal of salvation except we have patience, for the Prophet declares that the just lives by faith; but faith directs us to things afar off which we do not as yet enjoy; it then necessarily includes patience.” Therefore the minor proposition in the argument is this, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, etc. It is hence also evident, that greatly mistaken are they who think that an exact definition of faith is given here; for the Apostle does not speak here of the whole of what faith is, but selects that part of it which was suitable to his purpose, even that it has patience ever connected with it. 201201     “Faith is here generally described, not only as it justifies, but also as it acts towards God and lays hold on his promises, works, and blessings revealed in his word, past, present, and future." — Pareus. Let us now consider the words.

He calls faith the hypostasis, the substance of things hoped for. We indeed know that what we hope for is not what we have as it were in hand, but what is as yet hid from us, or at least the enjoyment of which is delayed to another time. The Apostle now teaches us the same thing with what we find in Romans 8:24; where it is said that what is hoped for is not seen, and hence the inference is drawn, that it is to be waited for in patience. So the Apostle here reminds us, that faith regards not present things, but such as are waited for. Nor is this kind of contradiction without its force and beauty: Faith, he says, is the hypostasis, the prop, or the foundation on which we plant our foot, — the prop of what? Of things absent, which are so far from being really possessed by us, that they are far beyond the reach of our understanding.

The same view is to be taken of the second clause, when he calls faith the evidence or demonstration of things not seen; for demonstration makes things to appear or to be seen; and it is commonly applied to what is subject to our senses. 202202     The two words “substance” and “evidence” have been variously rendered, though the meaning continues materially the same: “substinance” and “demonstration” by Beza: “confident expectation” and “conviction” by Grotius and Doddridge: “confidence” and “evidence” by Macknight: “confidence” and “convincing evidence” by Stuart. When the primary meaning of words is suitable, there is no necessity of having recourse to what is secondary. The first word means properly a foundation, a basis, a prop, a support: and what can be more appropriate here? Faith is the basis or the prop (as Calvin renders it in his exposition) of things hoped for; that is, faith is the foundation of hope; it is the fulcrum on which hope rests. The other word is properly “demonstration” a proof supported by reasons — what is made clear and evident. Conviction is the result of demonstration. So, then, the meaning is this — faith sustains hope, and exhibits to view things unseen: it is the basis on which the objects of hope rest, and the demonstration or manifestation of what is not seen.
   The word “substance” is derived from the Vulgate: though its etymological meaning corresponds with the original, yet its received meaning is quite different. The original word occurs five times in the New Testament, and is rendered “confidence” in 2 Corinthians 9:4, 11:17; Hebrews 3:14, — “person” in Hebrew 1:3, — and here “substance;” but why not its more literal meaning, “foundation?”

   The things “hoped for” include the promises; but the things “not seen,” all that is revealed as to what is past and is to come, — the creation, the future destiny of man, etc. — Ed.

Then these two things, though apparently inconsistent, do yet perfectly harmonize when we speak of faith; for the Spirit of God shows to us hidden things, the knowledge of which cannot reach our senses: Promised to us is eternal life, but it is promised to the dead; we are assured of a happy resurrection, but we are as yet involved in corruption; we are pronounced just, as yet sin dwells in us; we hear that we are happy, but we are as yet in the midst of many miseries; an abundance of all good things is promised to us, but still we often hunger and thirst; God proclaims that he will come quickly, but he seems deaf when we cry to him. What would become of us were we not supported by hope, and did not our minds emerge out of the midst of darkness above the world through the light of God’s word and of his Spirit? Faith, then, is rightly said to be the subsistence or substance of things which are as yet the objects of hope and the evidence of things not seen. Augustine sometimes renders evidence “conviction,” which I do not disapprove, for it faithfully expresses the Apostle’s meaning: but I prefer “demonstration,” as it is more literal.

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.




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