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We find in this chapter not exactly a definition of faith, but the effects of its power, brought before us; and this is to make things so present as that they should be real to the soul. The things looked out for are as substantial to the soul as if possessed, and this which are not seen are as vividly before us as if they were seen. This is what characterises a believer. He is a person who has such an evidence of things not seen as to govern his thoughts and affections, as his motive. The world in which he lives is seen and felt by faith.
This is calculated to bring home that question in a man’s soul which God Himself answers. Is there any substance in my soul? are things unseen as real to me as if I saw them? Faith is opposed to law; for “the law is not of faith.” Law brings out the rebellion of the will. The carnal mind is opposed to God’s law; and, therefore, there is disobedience wherever there are self-will and law. If I have no law, I may do my own will; but if there is a law, it is the will of someone else I must do.
There is another character of sin brought out here. It is not rebellion against a law, as in Adam. There was the absence of faith in Cain: while it is said of Abel, “by faith he offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” What substance have you of things hoped for? This question does not disturb one who has real faith. I do not ask if you live up to these things—that is another question; but have you faith? The Jews had killed the Holy One and the Just, but they believed that He was the Holy and the Just One, for if they had not, they would have said, when they were charged with having killed Him, Oh, He was not the Holy and the Just One at all; but their very confession of “What shall we do?” proves that they did not deny His being so, and it made them fear. They were not what they should be, but they were pricked to the heart; and the effect of it is they cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?”
The conscience may be frightened about sin, but that is not faith. There is no power in natural conscience to acquire life, but there is fear of punishment— “a certain fearful looking for of judgment”; but this is not faith. There is nothing “hoped for.” Have you such a sense of the reality of future things on your heart? Is it a reality in your souls, so that it controls your thoughts and feelings and habits? If not, you have not faith. In the end of John 2 we see a class of persons on whom there was no insincerity charged, but there was no faith in them. They saw the miracles and they marvelled; but Christ did not commit Himself to them.
All through this chapter (Heb. 11) faith is spoken of in a practical way. “By it the elders obtained a good report”; and in all the instances mentioned, it was such a real and practical thing that it characterised the man.
If your soul is distressed with the thought that you have not the outgoing of soul answering to what Christ is to you, it is a proof that you have faith. Christ has such a substance in your heart. There is something wrong, something not given up—some levity, carelessness, vanity, etc.; but still you have got some substance. There is a connection between these four first examples of faith. The first shews us its exercise about the sacrifice, on which Abel rests. The second is, the walk with God consequent upon this. The third is, the knowledge of the future which actuates. The fourth opens the special subject of walking as pilgrims and strangers; but all following each other in order.
The moment a soul is brought home to God, it changes everything to him. “The fashion of this world passeth away.” He sees God through it all, instead of seeing it as He did before, only as man’s world with none but man through it all. You cannot bring God into a world which has rejected and slighted Christ, without altering everything to the heart and judgment. You are not in paradise now, and you know and feel that you are not. There is not a circumstance in the world, but in it we see the results of our having broken with God, and God having broken with us. The very fact of our dress reminds us of it; it is the consequence of sin.
Cain went out from the presence of God, and what does he then? He builds a city: and what next? You cannot have a city without having something to amuse. Then comes Tubal-Cain with the arts and sciences, and Jubal with pleasant sounds— “he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.” There was no harm in the music, etc., itself; but why did they want it? What was the source of it? What use did they make of it? It was to make them content in being away from God. Is not this “harm” enough? Adam, after he sinned and heard God’s voice, hid himself among the trees in the garden: there was no harm in the trees, but there was harm in his hiding himself. There is harm in man’s trying to make himself comfortable away from God. The prodigal went and joined himself to the citizens of the far country: but when he was in want, no man gave to him. There is none to give him where the devil reigns. Man never can satisfy himself in that country. Bring God in; and what is the result? It gives the consciousness of the truth. It makes him feel and say, “I am perishing with hunger.” This is the first effect of faith coming in. Mark, too, the next consequence. How thoroughly he would hate all those things which governed and attracted his heart before! There is nothing a soul will detest so much as the very things he loved most before. When a soul comes to God, he finds out what it is to have left God—that he might do according to a will that is utterly corrupt—his own will. This is the effect of such a discovery. He thinks of the contrast and of his father’s house: “How many hired servants of my father’s,” etc. The sense of the contrast comes in when God is made known. Then comes the sense of sin—I am this wicked person. There is not only wickedness, but it is I that am this wicked thing; and then the discovery of ourselves, just as we are, would be more than we could bear; we need the revelation of God’s grace. We could not bear to see all otherwise. There was One and only One who could. The conviction of sin comes into the soul in the sight of the blessedness of Him who is without sin.
Let us look a little at these religious characters brought before us. Cain and Abel were both alike as to outward character and circumstance. They were both under the sentence of banishment from the presence of God. They both had employment, and both seemed to have been outwardly decent characters. They both came to worship, too, and Cain brought that which cost him most, that for which he had worked. God had sent him forth to till the ground, and he tilled it; that was all right, and it was right for him to bring an offering. The difference between them was not in all that. In outward character, too, Cain was just like Abel; nothing came out amiss until he killed his brother. What was the mistake in Cain? There was no sense upon his heart that he was driven out of paradise because he deserved it: he might not have known that he was driven out even, for he thought he had nothing to do but to go to God, as if he was all right with Him. This is just what men are doing now. They are driven from God’s presence and favour, going on with their occupations, tilling the ground and the like, and, when the time comes round, thinking to come and worship! What would a father feel about his child who had been disobedient to him one day, and coming the next, just as if nothing had happened, expecting to be received as though all was right between him and his father? This is just what men are doing with God. But, dear friends, you are out of paradise, and can you think to come and worship God as if nothing had happened? Are you expecting to get into heaven just the same as (not one whit better than) Adam was when he got out of # paradise? If you got into heaven, you would spoil it; but the truth is, you are making your own heaven down here.
Abel was not a bit better than Cain as to his position and nature; but there is one great difference—he owns it all, and obtained testimony that he was righteous. “By faith he offered to God a more excellent sacrifice,” etc. It might have been said he was not so right as Cain in a natural sense, as to his calling, for God had not set men to keep sheep, and he had to till the ground; but he brought a sacrifice from the flock, a bloody sacrifice. He had a sense of being out of paradise; but, more than that, he had a sense of being an outcast for sin. He felt he was a sinner. He had a sense of having broken with God and God with him, and he knew Him to be of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. He owned that God had not done wrong in turning man out, and that it would be wrong to let him in. He owned that death hung over him as his proper desert.
It is God’s sentence upon me, and my ruin is my desert. These things had such a reality to his soul that he would have known it would have been presumption for him to go to God as though nothing had happened. Then he had something more still; for he had learnt, through the grace of God, that there was something needed between him and God, and that this something was there. Sacrifice was the only way. See the other side of this blessed truth. Not only could he not go without a sacrifice, but, beyond this, it was there: and we know who this is—the Son of God. God says, I cannot look at sin; but there is one thing I can look at—an offering about sin, and that is my Son as a sin-offering. Faith apprehends this, and there was no thought of coming in any other way. “There will I meet with thee,” God said to Moses. And what did he put at the door of the tabernacle? The altar of burnt-offering, the sacrifice for sin God had there; and faith rests on this as the only possible way of approach.
There was no climbing up some other way. There is but this one door by which to enter, and it is through that sacrifice, by which the holiness of God is fully maintained, as well as His love manifested, in the highest way. I want to see my sin put away in His sight, just as I see it brought out first in His sight; and here is the perfect sin-offering, and there is no place where this wonderful question of good and evil has been judged as at the cross of Christ. The sacrifice is fully accepted. He has borne all the wrath and put it away. Hear Him saying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There was perfect obedience and perfect love. He was a perfect sin-offering; and there He is now at the right hand of the Father. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” His offering for sin has for ever settled the question of sin. He has made peace about my sin and for my sin; and has He done it in part? Would that be like God? No; it was complete. “When he had by himself purged our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.” When I see that, I cannot go to God as Cain, just as I am; and yet I must go to Him if I am to have happiness or blessing. But I also see that God has provided Himself with a burnt-offering. It is taken out of our hands, as it were; it is God’s own perfect work; it is His settling of sin, and I can rest in the result of what He has offered. This is faith. Now we go to God by Him. This is, as it were, offering Christ. God gives me the resting-place; and the convinced sinner cannot come to Christ without finding all his sins put away for ever. The sacrifice of the burnt-offering is there, and the moment I am there I come with the sacrifice, and can be happy in His presence, though with a perfect knowledge of His holiness.
“Abel obtained witness that he was righteous”: not merely that the sacrifice was perfect, but he had the witness that he was righteous. It was not only true that he was righteous, but that he also had the witness of it, and this gave him peace. The gospel is God’s witness to His acceptance of Christ. See how this is “God testifying of his gifts.” If you bring that Lamb, I accept you according to all the value of that Lamb.
The next effect of faith we see in Enoch, walking with God when brought to Him, and it is with a God who has found a propitiation in the blood of Christ. “Am I accepted in the Beloved? “I have no hope but in Christ; but He is my hope. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,” etc. God’s holiness is the measure by which He has put away sin, and there is not a spot upon him that believes in Christ. Then I can walk with God. It is not only peace, but walking with Him till I am in heaven with Him. How can I have all this? Christ is my title. I may expect all that God can give as the fruit of the travail of Christ’s soul. I know God and am known of Him; and walking in the comfort and peace of His grace and truth in Christ, I trust Him.