We now arrive at the passage which is pre-eminently the faith
chapter of the Bible, and it is easy to see how thoroughly it fits into
its place in the whole scheme of this Epistle. Judaism as a religious
system largely appealed to sight, whereas the great realities of
Christianity are unseen and only appeal to faith. The object of the
Epistle being to deliver the converted Hebrews from the grave-clothes
of Judaism which clung to them, and to establish them in the liberty of
Christianity, the Holy Spirit naturally dwells long upon faith .
How fitting all this is! We do well to dwell long upon it,
that the wonder of Divine inspiration may more and more appear to us.
We may notice also how the great love chapter of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13, and the great hope passage
is 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11. Now 1 Corinthians is as we may term it,
the Epistle of the local assembly, and it is just in the local assembly
that all the friction is created amongst believers, and the trying
disagreements and disagreeables take place, and consequently love is so much
needed. So also 1 Thessalonians is the Epistle where the saints are
seen suffering at the hands of the world, and in these circumstances
nothing sustains the heart more than hope.
The whole of our chapter is like a commentary on that little
sentence from Habakkuk – “The just shall live by faith.” We are shown
that from the very outset of the world's history that which pleased God
in His people was the outcome of faith. This may seem very obvious to
us, but it doubtless was a rather revolutionary idea to the average
Jew, for he had accustomed himself to consider that what pleased God
was the ceremonials and sacrifices of Judaism, and the works of the law
connected therewith. But here the Spirit of God goes behind the
activities of these Old Testament believers to bring to light the
faith that moved and inspired them. Their works were not the works of
the law, but the works of faith. In this connection you might do well
to refresh your memories as to the contents of Romans 4 and James 2,
noticing well how Paul excludes the works of the law from our
justification, and how James insists on the works of faith as
evidencing the vitality of the faith we profess.
The first verse defines, not what faith is in the abstract, but what it does in practice. It is “the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The New Translation gives
this rendering together with a footnote saying that the words
“assurance,” or “firm conviction” might be substituted for
“substantiating.” Faith then is the telescope that brings into our view
the unseen verities of which God speaks; making them real to us, giving
us assurance of them, and turning them into solid substance in our
Before however we are led to review how faith wrought in “the elders,” we find one word is to ourselves . Verse
3 begins, “Through faith WE understand …” and the things seen in
creation are brought before us. This is a very significant statement!
In apostolic days it was evidently the common faith of Christians that
“the worlds were framed by the Word of God.” Is it the faith of all
Christians today? We have just seen that faith is “the conviction of
things not seen.” We now discover that only faith
can give us a proper understanding of the things that we do see.
Nineteen centuries ago the philosophic world was full of weird theories
as to the origin of creation. Equally weird theories fill philosophic
minds today. All these theories, both ancient and modern, take it for
granted that things that are seen were made of things that do appear; and the process, by which they think they were made, has received the name of evolution . The
philosophers are very clever men, and they have provided themselves –
especially in these modern days – with a really wonderful equipment for
their researches. They only lack one thing. But that one thing is the only thing
that counts! They lack the faith that enables anyone to understand.
Through faith we understand the origin of creation. Without faith we do
not understand it at all.
All the readers of this little paper have, we trust, the faith
that understands creation, and so we are prepared to understand the
faith which actuated the elders, the recital of which begins with
The story seems naturally to fall into three parts. First, we
have in verses 4 to 7 the three great worthies of the antediluvian
world, and in them faith is seen as that which sets in right relation
with God, and consequently saves. Second, we have the
patriarchs of the postdiluvian world before the law was given. They
illustrate faith as that which brings into view unseen things – the
faith that sees. Third, beginning with Moses, the law-giver,
we find the faith that gives energy in spite of all obstacles – the
faith that is prepared to suffer. In so saying we merely
allude to that which seems to be the prominent thought of the Spirit in
each section, for of course no one can have faith at all without its
effects being known in all three ways.
Abel's faith led to the “more excellent sacrifice” and to the
knowledge that he was righteous before God; which knowledge he got by
faith in God's testimony. He offered his sacrifice, not by chance nor
by some happy inspiration, but by faith. Faith in what? we may ask.
Doubtless in that which God had already shown as to the value of the
death of a sacrifice by the coats of skins, about which we read in Genesis 3:21. God testified to the value of his gift by accepting his sacrifice; and Abel knew that
in accepting his sacrifice God declared him righteous. Many a
professing Christian today is saying that it is impossible in this
life to have the knowledge of sins forgiven; but lo! here is a man
living some four thousand years before Christ, and he possessed this
very thing. And may not we possess it who live nearly two thousand
years after the great atoning work has been done?
Abel died; but in the case of Enoch, the next on the list,
translation took place and he never saw death. And further he had the
testimony, not merely of being right with God, but of pleasing God. In
this connection we are reminded that without faith we cannot please God
at all. Faith is the root out of which spring all those fruits that
delight Him: just as in 1 Timothy 6:10, by way of contrast, money is
said to be a root out of which every kind of evil springs.
In the case of Noah we see faith which saved from judgment and
condemned the world. When warned of coming judgment he took God at His
word. When instructed to build the ark he yielded the obedience of
faith. Thereby he was separated from the world. He received
righteousness and reached God through sacrifice in the renewed earth,
while the world was cut off in judgment.
The case of Abraham occupies verses 8 to 19, with the
exception of one verse which is occupied with Sarah, for had she not
been a woman of faith Isaac, the promised seed, had never been born.
Abraham's faith was so exceptional that the Apostle Paul speaks of him
as “the father of all them that believe” (Rom.4:11); so it is not
surprising that in this chapter more is said as to him than of any
other individual. What is said seems to fall under three heads. First,
the faith that led him to respond to the call of God at the outset. He
started forth from a city of civilization and culture without knowing
where he was going. When he did know it proved to be a land of less
culture than the one he had left. Yet all this mattered not. Canaan was
the inheritance God had chosen for him, and he moved at the call of
God. GOD was before his soul. That is faith!
Second, when in the land of promise he had no actual
possession therein. He sojourned there as a stranger and pilgrim,
content to dwell in tents. Finally he died in the faith of the promises
without ever receiving them. His course was indeed a most remarkable
one; and what accounted for it? Faith – the faith that endows a man with spiritual eyesight. He not only desired a better and heavenly country, but he “ looked for ” a heavenly
city far more enduring than Ur of the Chaldees. Verse 13 tells us that
he saw the promises, though they were far off as we count time.
Third, his faith seemed to reach a climax and express itself
most fully when he “offered up his only begotten son.” Isaac was a
child of resurrection even as to his natural birth: he became doubly
so after this event. Yet the faith was the faith of Abraham, who
reasoned that the God who could bring into the world a living child
from parents who were physically dead, could and would raise him from
the dead. When Abraham believed in the Lord and He counted it to him as
righteousness, as Genesis 15:6 tells us, he believed in a God who could
raise the dead, as the end of Romans 4 shows. The offering up of Isaac
demonstrated this faith of his in the clearest fashion. It was the
special work in which his faith wrought, as the latter part of James 2
After Abraham we find Isaac, Jacob and Joseph mentioned. In
each case of the three only one detail in their lives is mentioned, and
in two cases out of the three that detail is the closing one. Reading
Genesis we should hardly recognize any faith at all in the blessing
that Isaac bestowed upon his sons, and we might not see much in the way
Jacob blessed his grandsons; yet the keen eye of the Spirit of God
discerned it, and He notes it for our encouragement. If He had not a
keen eye like this, would He discern faith in the details of our lives?
We may well ask ourselves this.
The case of Joseph is more distinct. Egypt was the land of his
glory, but he knew by faith that Canaan was to be the land of Messiah
's glory, so he commanded that ultimately his bones were to rest not in
Egypt but in Canaan .
Verse 23 speaks of the faith of Moses' parents rather than of
Moses himself. The faith of Moses occupies verses 24 to 28. The first
great display of it was when he refused to continue any longer in the
splendid circumstances into which the providence of God had brought
him. Faced with the alternative of suffering along with the people of
God or enjoying the temporary pleasures of sin, he deliberately chose
the former. He cast in his lot with the people of God, though he knew
that, being at that moment just down-trodden slaves, it meant reproach
for him. Indeed he esteemed that reproach as treasure, even greater
than the treasures of Egypt , and how great those treasures were recent
discoveries have reminded us. The reproach Moses endured was in
character the reproach of Christ, inasmuch as it was a faint
foreshadowing of the infinitely greater stoop of Christ when He came
down from heaven and identified Himself with a poor and repentant
people on earth, as we see for instance in Matthew 3:13-27.
We saw that in the case of Abraham, faith acted like a
telescope, bringing into his view things that otherwise he had never
seen. We now discover that in the case of Moses it acted like an X-ray
apparatus, bringing to light things that lay beneath the surface and
enabling him to see through the tinsel glory of Egypt . In this way he
got down to the real root of things, and he found that “the recompense
of the reward” was the only thing worth considering. It was evidently
this that governed him in the whole of his remarkable career.
Having a view of the divine recompense he was able to form a
correct estimate of Egypt 's treasures and he ranked them far below the
reproach of Christ. If Egypt 's glory is not to be compared to the reproach of Christ, how will it look in comparison with the glory of
Christ? Faith's penetrating sight led to faith's estimation, and this
in its turn led to faith's choice and faith's refusal.
From Moses we pass on to the people of Israel in verse 29 and
to Joshua – though he is not named – in verse 30, and we reach Rahab, a
Gentile, one of an accursed race, in verse 31. Had it not been for this
verse we might never have discerned that faith was the root of her
actions and words. Reading Joshua 2 we might have supposed that she was
a woman of poor morals and no principle, who was anxious to escape her
doom. But the fact was that her eyes had been opened to see God. The
Canaanites merely saw Israel . “Your terror is fallen upon us,” said
she, “all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you” (Josh.2:9).
Her attitude however was this: – “I know that the Lord hath
given you the land.” This was faith; and her actions expressed the fact
that she dared to side with the God of Israel. This courageous faith
did not mean suffering for her since God was at once intervening in
Usually, however, God does not intervene at once and then
suffering is entailed. So after the mention of Rahab we have a list of
names in verse 32 and a further recital of the triumphs of faith and
then especially of the sufferings of faith. Multitudes of saints, of
whom the world was not worthy, have been through every conceivable form
of persecution and suffering. They endured, not accepting deliverance
which might have reached them had they recanted or compromised. Faith
suffered, but it carried them through.
Verse 39 brings us back to the point from which in verse 2 we
started. They obtained a good report when their “term time” was over.
They emerged “the finished article,” from God's school. An intimation
of the recompense that awaits them in the great “prize-giving day” is
furnished by the statement that although they suffered at the world's
hands, the world was not worthy of them. They were infinitely its
And yet they, one and all, did not receive the things
promised. In due time, according to God's wise plan, another company
was to be gathered and constituted, spoken of as “us” in the last verse
of our chapter. Note the contrast between the “they” and the “us” –
between Old Testament and New Testament saints. The saints of old days
had much, but “some better thing” is provided for Christians, and we
shall all reach final perfection in glory together. The perfecting in
glory of Old Testament believers waits for the completion of the church
and the coming of the Lord.
This verse makes it abundantly plain that God's people are
found in more families than one. The saints of Old Testament times form
one family; Christians form another. Saints of the coming age, when the
church has been removed, will form a third. We find different companies
distinguished in such passages as Revelation 4:4; 7:3-8; 7:9-17;
14:1-5; 19;7,9. Much depends upon the revelation of God, in the light
of which we live, and upon the purpose of God in regard to us,
according to which is the calling wherewith we are called. Here
however, the contrast is between that which God purposed for the saints
who lived before Christ came, and for those whose great privilege is it to live after .
In Christianity the “better thing” has come to light. Indeed
the word “better” is characteristic of this epistle, since, as we have
seen, the great point of it is to show that proper Christianity wholly
transcends Judaism. Already we have had before us, a BETTER Apostle,
Priest, hope, covenant, promises, sacrifice, substance, country and
resurrection. Run over the chapters and note these things for