Now faith] Since he has said “we are of faith to gaining of the soul,” the question might naturally arise, What then is faith? It is nowhere defined in Scripture, nor is it defined here, for the writer rather describes it in its effects than in its essence; but it is described by what it does. The chapter which illustrates “faith” is full of works; and this alone should shew how idle is any contrast or antithesis between the two. Here however the word “faith” means only “the belief which leads to faithfulness”—the hope which, apart from sight, holds the ideal to be the most real, and acts accordingly.
the substance of things hoped for] The word “hypostasis,” here rendered “substance,” as in Heb_1:3, may mean (1) that underlying essence which gives reality to a thing. Faith gives a subjective reality to the aspirations of hope. But it may be used (2) in an ordinary and not a metaphysical sense for “basis,” foundation; or (3) for “confidence,” as in Heb_3:14 (comp. 2Co_9:4; 2Co_11:17): and this seems to be the most probable meaning of the word here. St Jerome speaks of the passage as breathing somewhat of Philo (“Philoneum aliquid spirans”), who speaks of faith in a very similar way.
the evidence of things not seen] The word rendered “evidence” means “demonstration,” or “test.”
not seen] i.e. which are as yet invisible, because they are eternal and not temporal (2Co_4:18; 2Co_5:7). God Himself belongs to the things as yet unseen; but Faith—in this sense of the word, which is not the distinctively Pauline sense (Gal_2:16; Gal_3:26; Rom_3:25)—demonstrates the existence of the immaterial as though it were actual. The object of faith from the dawn of man’s life had been Christ, who, even at the Fall, had been foretold as “the seed of the woman who should break the serpent’s head.” The difference between the Two Covenants was that in the New He was fully set forth as the effulgence of the Father’s glory, whereas in the Old He had been but dimly indicated by shadows and symbols. Bishop Wordsworth quotes the sonnet of the poet Wordsworth on these lines:
“For what contend the wise? for nothing less
Than that the Soul, freed from the bonds of sense,
And to her God restored by evidence
Of things not seen, drawn forth from their recess,
Root there—and not in forms—her holiness.”
For by it the elders obtained a good report – By the elders are meant ancestors, forefathers, such as the patriarchs and prophets, several of whom he afterwards particularly names, and produces some fact from the history of their lives.
It is very remarkable that among the whole there is root one word concerning poor Adam and his wife, though both Abraham and Sarah are mentioned. There was no good report concerning them; not a word of their repentance, faith, or holiness. Alas! alas! did ever such bright suns set in so thick a cloud? Had there been any thing praiseworthy in their life after their fall, any act of faith by which they could have been distinguished, it had surely come out here; the mention of their second son Abel would have suggested it. But God has covered the whole of their spiritual and eternal state with a thick and impenetrable veil. Conjectures relative to their state would be very precarious; little else than hope can be exercised in their favor: but as to them the promise of Jesus was given, so we may believe they found redemption in that blood which was shed from the foundation of the world. Adam’s rebellion against his Maker was too great and too glaring to permit his name to be ever after mentioned with honor or respect.
The word εμαρτυρηθησαν, which we translate obtained a good report, literally signifies, were witnessed of; and thus leads us naturally to God, who by his word, as the succeeding parts of the chapter show, bore testimony to the faith and holiness of his servants. The apostle does not mention one of whom an account is not given in the Old Testament. This, therefore, is God’s witness or testimony concerning them.
Through faith] In this chapter we find fifteen special instances of the work of faith, besides the summary enumeration in the 32nd and following verses.
we understand] ‘we apprehend with the reason’. See Rom_1:20.
that the worlds were framed] The word for “worlds” means literally ages (Heb_1:2), i.e. the world regarded from the standpoint of human history. The “time-world” necessarily presumes the existence of the space-world also. See Heb_1:2.
were framed] “have been established” (Heb_13:21; Psa_74:16; LXX.).
by the word of God] Rather, “by the utterance (rhemati) of God,” namely by His fiat, as in Genesis 1; Psa_33:6; Psa_33:9; 2Pe_3:5. There is no question here as to the creation of the world by the Logos, for he purposely alters the word λόγῳ used by the LXX. in Psalms 33 into rhemati.
so that things which are seen …] The true reading and literal translation are “so that not from things which appear hath that which is seen come into being,” a somewhat harsh way of expressing that “the visible world did not derive its existence from anything phenomenal.” In other words, the clause denies the pre-existence of matter. It says that the world was made out of nothing, not out of the primeval chaos. So in 2Ma_7:28 the mother begs her son “to look upon the heaven and earth and all that is therein, and consider that God made them out of things that are not” (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων). If this view be correct, the writer would seem purposely to avoid Philo’s way of saying that the world was made out of τὰ μὴ ὄντα, “things conceived as non-existent,” by which he meant the “formless matter” (as in Wis_11:17). He says that the world did not originate from anything phenomenal. This verse, so far from being superfluous, or incongruous with what follows, strikes the keynote of faith by shewing that its first object must be a Divine and Infinite Creator. Thus like Moses in Genesis 1 the verse excludes from the region of faith all Atheism, Pantheism, Polytheism, and Dualism.
By faith Abel] Intending, so to speak, “to pluck only the flowers which happen to come within his reach, while he leaves the whole meadow full to his readers,” he begins to cull his instances from the world before the flood. His examples of faith fall into five groups. 1. Antediluvian (4–6). 2. From Noah to Abraham (7–19, including some general reflexions in 13–16). 3. The Patriarchs (20–22). 4. From Moses to Rahab (23–31). 5. Summary reference to later heroes and martyrs down to the time of the Maccabees (32–40).
more excellent] Lit., “more “or “greater.”
a more excellent sacrifice than Cain] This we learn from Gen_4:5, but we are not told the exact points in virtue of which the sacrifice was superior. We may naturally infer that Abel’s was a more carefully-chosen and valuable offering, but especially that it was offered in a more sincere and humble spirit of faith and love.
he obtained witness] By God’s sign of approval (Gen_4:4; LXX.). Hence he is called “righteous” in Mat_23:35; 1Jn_3:12. The Jewish Hagadah was that God had shewn His approval by fire from heaven which consumed Abel’s sacrifice.
testifying of his gifts] Rather, “bearing witness to his gifts.”
and by it] i.e. by his faith.
he being dead yet speaketh] Another reading (D, E, I, K) is “though dead, he is still being spoken of.” But the allusion seems to be to “the voice of his blood” (Gen_4:10), as seems clear from the reference in Heb_12:24. No doubt it is also meant that he speaks by his example, but there seems to have been some Jewish Hagadah on the subject, for Philo says “Abel—which is most strange—has both been slain and lives” (Opp. i. 200). He deduces from Gen_4:10 that Abel is still unforgotten, and hence that the righteous are immortal.
By faith Abel offered – see Gen_4:4-5. In the account in Genesis of the offering made by Abel, there is no mention of “faith” – as is true also indeed of most of the instances referred to by the apostle. The account in Genesis is, simply, that Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock, and the fat thereof, and that the Lord had respect to Abel and his offering.” Men have speculated much as to the reason why the offering of Abel was accepted, and that of Cain rejected; but such speculation rests on no certain basis, and the solution of the apostle should be regarded as decisive and satisfactory, that in the one case there was faith, in the other not. It could not have been because an offering of the fruits of the ground was not pleasing to God, for such an offering was commanded under the Jewish Law, and was not in itself improper. Both the brothers selected what was to them most obvious; which they had reared with their own bands; which they regarded as most valuable.
Cain had cultivated the earth, and he naturally brought what had grown under his care; Abel kept a flock, and he as naturally brought what he had raised: and had the temper of mind in both been the same, there is no reason to doubt that the offering of each would have been accepted. To this conclusion we are led by the nature of the case, and the apostle advances substantially the same sentiment, for he says that the particular state of mind on which the whole turned was, that the one had faith, and the other not. “How” the apostle himself was informed of the fact that it was “faith” which made the difference, he has not informed us. The belief that he was inspired will, however, relieve the subject of this difficulty, for according to such a belief all his statements here, whether recorded in the Old Testament or not, are founded in truth. It is equally impossible to tell with “certainty” what was the nature of the faith of Abel. It has been commonly asserted, that it was faith in Christ – looking forward to his coming, and depending on his sacrifice when offering what was to he a type of him.
But of this there is no positive evidence, though from Heb_12:24, it seems to be not improbable. Sacrifice, as a type of the Redeemer’s great offering, was instituted early in the history of the world. There can be no reason assigned for the offering of “blood” as an atonement for sin, except that it had originally a reference to the great atonement which was to be made by blood; and as the salvation of man depended on this entirely, it is probable that that would be one of the truths which would he first communicated to man after the fall. The bloody offering of Abel is the first of the kind which is definitely mentioned in the Scriptures (though it is not improbable that such sacrifices were offered by Adam, compare Gen_3:21), and consequently Abel may be regarded “as the recorded head of the whole typical system, of which fist was the antitype and the fulfillment.” Compare notes, Heb_12:24. “A more excellent sacrifice.” Πλείονα θυσίαν Pleiona thusian – as rendered by Tyndale, “a more plenteous sacrifice;” or, as Wicklift renders it more literally, “a much more sacrifice;” that is, a more full or complete sacrifice; a better sacrifice. The meaning is, that it had in it much more to render it acceptable to God. In the estimate of its value, the views of him who offered it would be more to be regarded than the nature of the offering itself.
(“By offering victims of the choice of his flock, Abel not only showed a more decided attachment to God, but there is great reason to suppose (as Abp. Magee on Atonement, p. 52, shows) that his faith was especially superior, as being not only directed to God alone (recognizing his existence, authority, and providence) but also to the Great Redeemer, promised immediately after the fall, Gen_3:15 whose expiatory death was typified by animal sacrifice, by offering which Abel had evinced his faith in the great sacrifice of the Redeemer, prefigured by it: and then he obtained that acceptance from God, and witnessing of his offering, which was refused to Cain; see more in Macknight and Scott” – Bloomfield.
By which – By which sacrifice so offered. The way in which he obtained the testimony of divine approbation was by the sacrifice offered in this manner. It was not “merely” by faith, it was by the offering of a sacrifice in connection with, and under the influence of faith.
He obtained witness that he was righteous – That is, from God. His offering made in faith was the means of his obtaining the divine testimonial that he was a righteous man. Compare the notes on Heb_11:2. This is implied in what is said in Gen_4:4. “And the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering;” that is, he regarded it as the offering of a righteous man.
God testifying of his gifts – In what way this was done is not mentioned either here or in Genesis. Commentators have usually supposed that it was by fire descending from heaven to consume the sacrifice. But there is no evidence of this, for there is no intimation of it in the Bible. It is true that this frequently occurred when an offering was made to God, (see Gen_15:17; Lev_9:24; Jdg_6:21; 1Ki_18:38), but the sacred writers give us no hint that this happened in the case of the sacrifice made by Abel, and since it is expressly mentioned in other cases and not here, the presumption rather is that no such miracle occurred on the occasion. So remarkable a fact – the first one in all history if it were so – could hardly have failed to be noticed by the sacred writer. It seems to me, therefore, that there was some method by which God “testified” his approbation of the offering of AbeL which is unknown to us, but in regard to what it was conjecture is vain.
And by it he, being dead, yet speaketh – Margin, “Is yet spoken of.” This difference of translation arises from a difference of reading in the mss. That from which the translation in the text is derived, is λαλεῖ lalei – “he speaketh.” That from which the rendering in the margin is derived, is λαλεῖται laleitai – “is being spoken of;” that is, is “praised or commended.” The latter is the common reading in the Greek text, and is found in Walton, Wetstein, Matthzei, Titman, and Mill; the former is adopted by Griesbach, Koppe, Knapp, Grotius, Hammond, Storr, Rosenmuller, Prof. Stuart, Bloomfield, and Hahn, and is found in the Syriac and Coptic, and is what is favored by most of the Fathers. See “Wetstein.” The authority of manuscripts is in favor of the reading λαλεῖται laleitai – “is spoken of.” It is impossible, in this variety of opinion, to determine which is the true reading, and this is one of the cases where the original text must probably be forever undecided.
Happily no important doctrine or duty is depending on it. Either of the modes of reading will give a good sense. The apostle is saying that it is by faith that the “elders have obtained a good report” (Heb_11:2); he had said (Heb_11:4), that it was by faith that Abel obtained the testimony of God in his favor, and if the reading “is spoken of” be adopted, the apostle means that in consequence of that offering thus made, Abel continued even to his time to receive an honorable mention. This act was commended still; and the “good report” of which it had been the occasion, had been transmitted from age to age. A sentiment thus of great beauty and value may be derived from the passage – that true piety is the occasion of transmitting a good report – or an honorable reputation, even down to the latest generation. It is what will embalm the memory in the grateful recollection of mankind; that on which they will reflect with pleasure, and which they will love to transmit to future ages. But after all, it seems to me to be probable that the true sentiment in this passage is what is expressed in the common version, “he yet speaketh.” The reasons are briefly these:
(1) The authority of manuscripts, versions, editions, and critics, is so nearly equal, that it is impossible from this source to determine the true reading, and we must, therefore, form our judgment from the connection.
(2) The apostle had twice in this verse expressed substantially the idea that he was honorably testified of by his faith, and it is hardly probable that he would again repeat it so soon.
(3) There seems to be an allusion here to the “language” used respecting Abel Gen_4:10, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground;” or utters a distinct voice – and the apostle seems to design to represent Abel as still speaking.
(4) In Heb_12:24, he represents both Abel and Christ as still “speaking” – as if Abel continued to utter a voice of admonition. The reference there is to the fact that he continued to proclaim from age to age, even to the time of the apostle, the great truth that salvation was only “by blood.” He had proclaimed it at first by his faith when he offered the sacrifice of the lamb; he continued to speak from generation to generation, and to show that it was one of the earliest principles of religion that there could be redemption from sin in no other way.
(5) The expression “yet speaketh” accords better with the connection. The other interpretation is cold compared with this, and less fits the case before us. On the faith of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, it might be said with equal propriety that it is still commended or celebrated as well as that of Abel, but the apostle evidently means to say that there was a voice in that of Abel which was special; there was something in “his” life and character which continued to speak from age to age. His sacrifice, his faith, his death, his blood, all continued to lift up the voice, and to proclaim the excellence and value of confidence in God, and to admonish the world how to live.
(6) This accords with usage in classic writers, where it is common to say of the dead that they continue to speak. Compare Virgil, Aeneid vi. 618.
Et magna testatur voce per umbras:
Discite justitiam moniti, et non temnere Divos.
If this be the true meaning, then the sense is that there is an influence from the piety of Abel which continues to admonish all coming ages of the value of religion, and especially of the great doctrine of the necessity of an atonement by blood. His faith and his sacrifice proclaimed from age to age that this was one of the first great truths made known to fallen man; and on this he continues to address the world as if he were still living. Thus, all who are pious continue to exert an influence in favor of religion long after the soul is removed to heaven, and the body consigned to the grave. This is true in the following respects:
(1) They speak by their “example.” The example of a pious father, mother neighbor will be remembered. It will often have an effect after their death in influencing those over whom it had little control while living.
(2) They continue to speak by their “precepts.” The precepts of a father may be re membered, with profit, when he is in his grave, though they were heard with indifference when he lived; the counsels of a minister may be recollected with benefit though they were heard with scorn.
(3) They continue to speak from the fact that the good are remembered with increasing respect and honor as long as they are remembered at all.
The character of Abel, Noah, and Abraham, is brighter now than it was when they lived, and will continue to grow brighter to the end of time. “The name of the wicked will rot,” and the influence which they had when living will grow feebler and feebler until it wholly dies away. Howard will be remembered, and will proclaim from age to age the excellence of a life of benevolence; the character of Nero, Caligula, and Richard III, has long since ceased to exercise any influence whatever in favor of evil, but rather shows the world, by contrast, the excellence of virtue: and the same will yet be true of Paine, and Voltaire, and Byron, and Gibbon, and Hume. The time will come when they shall cease to exert any influence in favor of infidelity and sin, and when the world shall be so satisfied of the error of their sentiments, and the abuse of their talents, and the corruption of their hearts, that their names, by contrast, will be made to promote the, cause of piety and virtue. If a man, wishes to exert any permanent influence after he is dead, he should be a good man. The “strength” of the faith of Abel here commended, will be seen by a reference to a few circumstances:
(1) It was manifested shortly after the apostasy, and not long after the fearful sentence had been pronounced in view of the sin of man. The serpent had been cursed; the earth had been cursed; woe had been denounced on the mother of mankind; and the father of the apostate race and all his posterity, doomed to toil and death. The thunder of this curse had scarcely died away; man had been ejected from Paradise and sent out to enter on his career of woes; and the earth was trembling under the malediction, and yet Abel maintained his confidence in God.
(2) There was then little truth revealed, and only the slightest intimation of mercy. The promise in Gen_3:15, that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent, is so enigmatical and obscure that it is not easy even now to see its exact meaning, and it cannot be supposed that Abel could have had a full understanding of what was denoted by it. Yet this appears to have been all the truth respecting the salvation of man then revealed, and on this Abel maintained his faith steadfast in God.
(3) Abel had an older brother, undoubtedly an infidel, a scoffer, a mocker of religion. He was evidently endowed with a talent for sarcasm Gen_4:9, and there is no reason to doubt, that, like other infidels and scoffers, he would be disposed to use that talent when occasion offered, to hold up religion to contempt. The power with which he used this, and the talent with which he did this, may be seen illustrated probably with melancholy fidelity in Lord Byron’s “Cain.” No man ever lived who could more forcibly express the feelings that passed through the mind of Cain – for there is too much reason to think that his extraordinary talents were employed on this occasion to give vent to the feelings of his own heart in the sentiments put into the mouth of Cain. Yet, notwithstanding the infidelity of his older brother, Abel adhered to God, and his cause. Whatever influence that infidel brother might have sought to use over him – and there can be no reason to doubt that such an influence would be attempted – yet he never swerved, but maintained with steadfastness his belief in religion, and his faith in God.
By faith Enoch was translated – The account of Enoch is found in Gen_5:21-24. It is very brief, and is this, that “Enoch walked with God, and was not, for God took him.” There is no particular mention of his “faith,” and the apostle attributes this to him, as in the case of Abel, either because it was involved in the very nature of piety, or because the fact was communicated to him by direct revelation. In the account in Genesis, there is nothing inconsistent with the belief that Enoch was characterized by eminent faith, but it is rather implied in the expression, “he walked with God.” Compare 2Co_5:7. It may also be implied in what is said by the apostle Jude Jud_1:14-15, that “he prophesied, saying, Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints,” etc. From this it would appear that he was a preacher: that he predicted the coming of the Lord to judgment, and that he lived in the firm belief of what was to occur in future times. Moses does not say expressly that Enoch was translated. He says “he was not, for God took him.” The expression “he was not,” means he was no more among people; or he was removed from the earth. “This” language would be applicable to any method by which he was removed, whether by dying, or by being translated. A similar expression respecting Romulus occurs in Livy (i. 16), Nec deinde in terris Romulus fuit. The translation of the Septuagint on this part of the verse in Genesis is, οὐχ εὑρίσκετο ouch heurisketo – “was not found;” that is, he disappeared. The authority for what the apostle says here, that he “was translated,” is found in the other phrase in Genesis, “God took him.” The reasons which led to the statement that he was transported without seeing death, or that show that this is a fair conclusion from the words in Genesis, are such, as these:
(1) There is no mention made of his death, and in this respect the account of Enoch stands by itself. It is, except in this case, the uniform custom of Moses to mention the age and the death of the individuals whose biography he records, and in many cases this is about all that is said of them. But in regard to Enoch there is this remarkable exception that no record is made of his death – showing that there was something unusual in the manner of his removal from the world.
(2) The Hebrew word used by Moses, found in such a connection, is one which would rather suggest the idea that he had been taken in some extraordinary manner from the world. That word – לקח laaqach – means “to take” – with the idea of taking “to oneself.” Thus, Gen_8:20, “Noah took of all beasts and offered a burnt-offering.” Thus, it is often used in the sense of “taking a wife” – that is, to oneself Gen_4:19; Gen_6:2; Gen_12:19; Gen_19:14; and then it is used in the sense of “taking away;” Gen_14:12; Gen_27:35; Job_1:21; Job_12:20; Psa_31:13; Jer_15:15. The word, therefore, would naturally suggest the idea that he had been taken by God to himself, or had been removed in an extraordinary manner from the earth. This is confirmed by the fact that the word is not used anywhere in the Scriptures to denote a “removal by death,” and that in the only other instance in which it (לקח laaqach) is used in relation to a removal from this world, it occurs in the statement respecting the translation of Elijah. “And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel, came forth to Elisha, and said to him, Knowest thou that the Lord “will take away” (לקח laaqach) thy master from thy head today?” 2Ki_2:3, 2Ki_2:5; compare Heb_11:11. This transaction, where there could be no doubt about the “manner” of the removal, shows in what sense the word is used in Genesis.
(3) It was so understood by the translators of the Septuagint. The apostle has used the same word in this place which is employed by the Seventy in Gen_5:24 – μετατίθημι metatithēmi. This word means to transpose, to put in another place; and then to transport, transfer, translate; Act_7:16; Heb_7:12. It properly expresses the removal to another place, and is the very word which would he used on the supposition that one was taken to heaven without dying.
(4) This interpretation of the passage in Genesis by Paul is in accordance with the uniform interpretation of the Jews. In the Targum of Onkelos it is evidently supposed that Enoch was transported without dying. In that Targum the passage in Gen_5:24 is rendered, “And Enoch walked in the fear of the Lord, and was not, for the Lord did not put him to death” – לּה lo’ – ‘amiyt yityeh Yahweh. So also in Ecclesiasticus or the Son of Sirach (49:14), “But upon the earth was no man created like Enoch; for he was taken from the earth.” These opinions of the Jews and of the early translators, are of value only as showing that the interpretation which Paul has put upon Gen_5:2 is the natural interpretation. It is such as occurs to separate writers, without collusion, and thus shows that this is the meaning most naturally suggested by the passage.
That he should not see death – That is, that he should not experience death, or be made personally acquainted with it. The word “taste” often occurs in the same sense. Heb_2:9, “that he should taste death for every man;” compare Mat_16:28; Mar_9:1; Luk_9:27.
And was not found – Gen_5:24, “And he was not.” That is, he was not in the land of the living. Paul retains the word used in the Septuagint.
He had this testimony, that he pleased God – Implied in the declaration in Gen_5:22, that he “walked with God.” This denotes a state of friendship between God and him, and of course implies that his conduct was pleasing to God. The apostle appeals here to the sense of the account in Genesis, but does not retain the very “words.” The meaning here is not that the testimony respecting Enoch was actually “given” before his translation, but that the testimony relates to his having “pleased God” before he was removed. “Stuart.” In regard to this instructive fragment of history, and to the reasons why Enoch was thus removed, we may make the following remarks:
(1) The age in which he lived was undoubtedly one of great wickedness. Enoch is selected as the only one of that generation signalized by eminent piety, and he appears to have spent his life in publicly reproving a sinful generation, and in warning them of the approaching judgment; Jud_1:14-15. The wickedness which ultimately led to the universal deluge seems already to have commenced in the earth, and Enoch, like Noah, his great-grandson, was raised up as a preacher of righteousness to reprove a sinful generation.
(2) It is not improbable that the great truths of religion in that age were extensively denied, and probably among other things the future state, the resurrection, the belief that man would exist in another world, and that it was maintained that death was the end of being – was an eternal sleep. If so, nothing could be better adapted to correct the prevailing evils than the removal of an eminent man, without dying, from the world. His departure would thus confirm the instructions of his life, and his removal, like the death of saints often now, would serve to make an impression which his living instructions would not.
(3) His removal is, in itself, a very important and instructive fact in history. It has occurred in no other instance except that of Elijah; nor has any other living man been transported to heaven except the Lord Jesus. That fact was instructive in a great many respects:
(a) It showed that there was a future state – another world.
(b) It showed that the “body” might exist in that future state – though doubtless so changed as to adapt it to the condition of things there.
(c) It prepared the world to credit the account of the ascension of the Redeemer. If Enoch and Elijah were removed thus without dying, there was no intrinsic improbability that the Lord Jesus would be removed after having died and risen again.
(d) It furnishes a demonstration of the doctrine that the saints will exist hereafter, which meets all the arguments of the sceptic and the infidel. One single “fact” overturns all the mere “speculations” of philosophy, and renders nugatory all the objections of the sceptic. The infidel argues against the truth of the resurrection and of the future state from the “difficulties” attending the doctrine. A single case of one who has been raised up from the dead, or who has been removed to heaven, annihilates all such arguments – for how can supposed difficulties destroy a well-authenticated “fact?”
(e) It is an encouragement to piety. It shows that God regards his friends; that their fidelity and holy living please him; and that “in the midst of eminent wickedness and a scoffing world it is possible so to live as to please God.” The conduct of this holy man, therefore, is an encouragement to us to do our duty though we stand alone; and to defend the truth though all who live with us upon the earth deny and deride it.
(4) The removal of Enoch shows that the same thing would be “possible” in the case of every saint. God could do it in other cases, as well as in his, with equal ease. That his friends, therefore, are suffered to remain on the earth; that they linger on in enfeebled health, or are crushed by calamity, or are stricken down by the pestilence as others are, is not because God “could” not remove them as Enoch was without dying, but because there is some important “reason” why they should remain and linger, and suffer, and die. Among those reasons may be such as the following:
(a) The regular operation of the laws of nature as now constituted, require it. Vegetables die; the inhabitants of the deep die; the fowls that fly in the air, and the beasts that roam over hills and plains die; and man, by his sins, is brought under the operation of this great universal law. It would be “possible” indeed for God to save his people from this law, but it would require the interposition of continued “miracles,” and it is better to have the laws of nature regularly operating, than to have them constantly set aside by divine interposition.
(b) The power of religion is now better illustrated in the way in which the saints are actually removed from the earth, than it would be if they were all transported. Its power is now seen in its enabling us to overcome the dread of death, and in its supporting us in the pains and sorrows of the departing hour. It is a good thing to discipline the soul so that it will not fear to die; it shows how superior religion is to all the forms of philosophy, that it enables the believer to look calmly forward to his own certain approaching death It is an important matter to keep this up from age to age, and to show to each generation that religion can overcome the natural apprehension of the most fearful calamity which befalls a creature – death: and can make man calm in the prospect of lying beneath the clods of the valley, cold, dark, alone, to moulder back to his native dust.
(c) The death of the Christian does good. It preaches to the living. The calm resignation; the peace; the triumph of the dying believer, is a constant admonition to a thoughtless and wicked world. The deathbed of the Christian proclaims the mercy of God from generation to generation, and there is not a dying saint who may not, and who probably does not do great good in the closing hours of his earthly being.
(d) It may be added that the present arrangement falls in with the general laws of religion that we are to be influenced by faith, not by sight. If all Christians were removed like Enoch, it would be an argument for the truth of religion addressed constantly to the senses. But this is not the way in which the evidence of the truth of religion is proposed to man. It is submitted to his understanding, his conscience, his heart; and in this there is of design a broad distinction between religion and other things. Men act in other matters under the influence of the senses; it is designed that in religion they shall act under the influence of higher and nobler considerations, and that they shall be influenced not solely by a reference to what is passing before their eyes, but to the things which are not seen.
But without faith it is impossible to please him – Without “confidence” in God – in his fidelity, his truth, his wisdom, his promises. And this is as true in other things as in religion. It is impossible for a child to please his father unless he has confidence in him. It is impossible for a wife to please her husband, or a husband a wife, unless they have confidence in each other. If there is distrust and jealousy on either part, there is discord and misery. We cannot be pleased with a professed friend unless he has such confidence in us as to believe our declarations and promises. The same thing is true of God. He cannot be pleased with the man who has no confidence in him; who doubts the truth of his declarations and promises; who does not believe that his ways are right, or that he is qualified for universal empire. The requirement of faith or confidence in God is not arbitrary; it is just what we require of our children, and partners in life, and friends, as the indispensable condition of our being pleased with them.
For he that cometh to God – In any way – as a worshipper. This is alike required in public worship, in the family, and in secret devotion.
Must believe that he is – That God exists. This is the first thing required in worship. Evidently we cannot come to him in an acceptable manner if we doubt his existence. We do not see him, but we must believe that he is; we cannot form in our mind a correct image of God, but this should not prevent a conviction that there is such a Being. But the declaration here implies more than that there should be a general persuasion of the truth that there is a God. It is necessary that we have this belief in lively exercise in the act of drawing near to him, and that we should realize that we are actually in the presence of the all-seeing Jehovah.
And that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him – This is equally necessary as the belief that he exists. If we could not believe that God would hear and answer our prayers, there could be no encouragement to call upon him. It is not meant here that the desire of the reward is to be the motive for seeking God – for the apostle makes no affirmation on that point; but that it is impossible to make an acceptable approach to him unless we have this belief.
By faith Noah – It is less difficult to see that Noah must have been influenced “by faith” than that Abel and Enoch were. Everything which Noah did in reference to the threatened deluge, was done in virtue of simple faith or belief of what God said. It was not because he could show from the course of events that things were tending to such a catastrophe; or because such an event had occurred before, rendering it probable that it would be likely to occur again; or because this was the common belief of men, and it was easy to fall into this himself. It was simply because God had informed him of it, and he put unwavering reliance on the truth of the divine declaration.
Being warned of God – Gen_6:13.” The Greek word used here means divinely admonished; compare Heb_8:5.
Of things not seen as yet – Of the flood which was yet future. The meaning is, that there were no visible signs of it; there was nothing which could be a basis of calculation that it would occur. This admonition was given an hundered and twenty years before the deluge, and of course long before there could have been any natural indications that it would occur.
Moved with fear – Margin, “Being wary.” The Greek word – εὐλαβηθεὶς eulabētheis – occurs only here and in Act_23:10, “The chief captain fearing lest Paul,” etc. The noun occurs in Heb_5:7, “And was heard in that he feared,” (see the note on that place), and in Heb_12:28, “With reverence and godly fear.” The verb properly means, “to act with caution, to be circumspect,” and then “to fear, to be afraid.” So far as the “word” is concerned, it might mean here that Noah was influenced by the dread of what was coming, or it may mean that he was influenced by proper caution and reverence for God. The latter meaning agrees better with the scope of the remarks of Paul, and is probably the true sense. His reverence and respect for God induced him to act under the belief that what he had said was true, and that the calamity which he had predicted would certainly come upon the world.
Prepared an ark to the saving of his house – In order that his family might be saved. Gen_6:14-22. The salvation here referred to was preservation from the flood.
By the which – By which faith.
He condemned the world – That is, the wicked world around him. The meaning is, that by his confidence in God, and his preparation for the flood, he showed the wisdom of his own course and the folly of theirs. We have the same phrase now in common use where one who sets a good example is said to “condemn others.” He shows the guilt and folly of their lives by the contrast between his conduct; and theirs. The wickedness of the sinner is condemned not only by preaching, and by the admonitions and threatenings of the Law of God, but by the conduct of every good man. The language of such a life is as plain a rebuke of the sinner as the most fearful denunciations of divine wrath.
And became heir of the righteousness which is by faith – The phrase “heir of righteousness” here means properly that he acquired, gained, or became possessed of that righteousness. It does not refer so much to the “mode” by which it was done as if it were by inheritance, as to the “fact” that he obtained it. The word “heir” is used in this general sense in Rom_4:13-14; Tit_3:7; Heb_1:2; Heb_6:17. Noah was not the “heir” to that righteousness by “inheriting” it from his ancestors, but in virtue of it he was regarded as among the heirs or sons of God, and as being a possessor of that righteousness which is connected with faith. The phrase “righteousness which is by faith” refers to the fact that he was regarded and treated as a righteous man. notes on Rom_1:17. It is observable here that it is not said that Noah had specific faith in Christ, or that his being made heir of the righteousness of faith depended on that, but it was in connection with his believing what God said respecting the deluge.
It was “faith or confidence” in God which was the ground of his justification, in accordance with the general doctrine of the Scriptures that it is only by faith that man can be saved, though the specific mode of faith was not what is required now under the gospel. In the early ages of the world, when few truths were revealed, a cordial belief of any of those truths showed that there was real confidence in God, or that the “principle” of faith was in the heart; in the fuller revelation which we enjoy, we are not only to believe those truths, but specifically to believe in him who has made the great atonement for sin, and by whose merits all have been saved who have entered heaven. The same faith or confidence in God which led Noah to believe what God said about the deluge would have led him to believe what he has said about the Redeemer; and the same confidence in Godwhich led him to commit himself to his safe keeping in an ark on the world of waters, would have led him to commit his soul to the safe keeping of the Redeemer, the true ark of safety. As the “principle” of faith, therefore, existed in the heart of Noah, it was proper that he should become, with others, an “heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
(If this righteousness which is by faith be the same with that in Rom_1:17; Rom_3:21; and of this there can be no doubt – if it be the same with what forms the ground of the sinner’s justification in every age, namely, the glorious righteousness which Christ has worked out in his active and passive obedience – then clearly there is no way of getting possession of this, but by faith in Jesus, And, without doubt, by “this” faith, Noah was saved. It is absurd to suppose that the doctrine of salvation by the Redeemer was unknown to him. Was not the ark itself a type and pledge of this salvation? 1Pe_3:21. Was Noah ignorant of the promise concerning the Messiah? Dr. Owen can scarce speak with patience of the view that excludes Christ as the specific object of Noah’s faith,” That in this faith of the patriarchs no respect was had unto Christ and his righteousness, is such a putid figment, is so destructive of the first promises, and of all true faith in the church of old, is so inconsistent with, and contrary to the design of the apostle, and is so utterly destructive of the whole force of his argument, that it deserves no consideration.” The idea indeed seems to derogate from the glory of Christ as the alone object of faith and salvation in every age; see also Scott. Bloomfield, McLean.)
In regard to the circumstances which show the strength of his faith, we may make the following remarks:
(1) It pertained to a very distant future event. It looked forward to what was to happen after a lapse of an hundred and twenty years. This was known to Noah Gen_6:3, and at this long period before it occurred, he was to begin to build an ark to save himself and family; to act as though this would be undoubtedly true. This is a much longer period than man now is required to exercise faith before that is realized which is the object of belief. Rare is it that three score years intervene between the time when a man first believes in God and when he enters into heaven; much more frequently it is but a few months or days; not an instance now occurs in which the period is lengthened out to 120 years.
(2) There was no outward “evidence” that what Noah believed would occur. There were no appearances in nature which indicated that there would be such a flood of waters after more than a century had passed away. There were no breakings up of the fountains of the deep; no marks of the far distant storm gathering on the sky which could be the basis of the calculation. The “word of God” was the only ground of evidence; the only thing to which he could refer gainsayers and revilers. It is so now. There are no visible signs of the coming of the Saviour to judge the world. Yet the true believer feels and acts as if it were so – resting on the sure word of God.
(3) The course of things was much against the truth of what Noah believed. No such event had ever occurred. There is no evidence that there had ever been a storm of rain half sufficient to drown the world; or that there had ever been the breaking up of the deep, or that there had been ever a partial deluge. For sixteen hundred years the course of nature had been uniform, and all the force of this uniformity would be felt and urged when it should be alleged that this was to be disturbed and to give place to an entire new order of events. Compare 2Pe_3:4. The same thing is now felt in regard to the objects of the Christian faith. The course of events is uniform. The laws of nature are regular and steady. The dead do not leave their graves. Seasons succeed each other in regular succession; people are born, live, and die, as in former times; fire does not wrap the earth in flames; the elements do not melt with fervent heat; seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter follow each other, and “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” How many probabilities are there now, therefore, as there were in the time of Noah, against what is the object of faith!
(4) It is not improbable that when Noah proclaimed the approaching destruction of the world by a deluge, the “possibility” of such an event was strongly denied by the philosophers of that age. The fact that such an event could have occurred has been denied by infidel philosophers in our own times, and attempts have been gravely made to show that the earth did not contain water enough to cover its surface to the height mentioned in the Scriptures, and that no condensation of the vapour in the atmosphere could produce such an effect. It is not improbable that some such arguments may have been used in the time of Noah, and “it is morally certain that he could not meet those arguments by any philosophy of his own.” There is no reason to think that he was endowed with such a knowledge of chemistry as to be able to show that such a thing was possible, or that he had such an acquaintance with the structure of the earth as to demonstrate that it contained within itself the elements of its own destruction. All that he could oppose to such speculations was the simple declaration of God; and the same thing is also true now in regard to the cavils and philosophical arguments of infidelity. Objections drawn from philosophy are often made against the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; the destruction of the earth by the agency of fire; and even the existence of the soul after death. These difficulties may be obviated partly by science; but the proof that these events will occur, does not depend on science. It is a matter of simple faith; and all that we can in fact oppose to these objections is the declaration of God. The result showed that Noah was not a feel or a fanatic in trusting to the Word of God against the philosophy of his age; and the result will show the same of the Christian in his confiding in the truth of the divine declarations against the philosophy of “his” age.
(5) It is beyond all question that Noah would be subjected to much ridicule and scorn. He would be regarded as a dreamer; a fanatic; an alarmist; a wild projector. The purpose of making preparation for such an event as the flood, to occur after the lapse of an hundred and twenty years, and when there were no indications of it, and all appearances were against it, would be regarded as in the highest degree wild and visionary. The design of building a vessel which would outride the storm, and which would live in such an open sea, and which would contain all sorts of animals, with the food for them for an indefinite period, could not but have been regarded as eminently ridiculous. When the ark was preparing, nothing could have been a more happy subject for scoffing and jibes. In such an age, therefore, and in such circumstances, we may suppose that all the means possible would have been resorted to, to pour contempt on such an undertaking. They who had wit, would find here an ample subject for its exercise; if ballads were made then, no more fertile theme for a profane song could be desired than this; and in the haunts of revelry, intemperance, and pollution, nothing would furnish a finer topic to give point to a jest, than the credulity and folly of the old man who was building the ark. It would require strong faith to contend thus with the wit, the sarcasm, the contempt, the raillery, and the low jesting, as well as with the wisdom and philosophy of a whole world. Yet it is a fair illustration of what occurs often now, and of the strength of that faith in the Christian heart which meets meekly and calmly the scoffs and jeers of a wicked generation.
(6) All this would be heightened by delay. The time was distant. What now completes four generations would have passed away before the event predicted would occur. Youth grew up to manhood, and manhood passed on to old age, and still there were no signs of the coming storm. That was no feeble faith which could hold on in this manner, for an hundred and twenty years, believing unwaveringly that all which God had said would be accomplished. But it is an illustration of faith in the Christian church now. The church maintains the same confidence in God from age to age – and regardless of all the reproaches of scoffers, and all the arguments of philosophy, still adheres to the truths which God has revealed. So with individual Christians. They look for the promise. They are expecting heaven. They doubt not that the time will come when they will be received to glory; when their bodies will be raised up glorified and immortal, and when sin and sorrow will be no more.
In the conflicts and trials of life the time of their deliverance may seem to be long delayed. The world may reproach them, and Satan may tempt them to doubt whether all their hope of heaven is not delusion. But their faith fails not, and though hope seems delayed, and the heart is sick, yet they keep the eye on heaven. So it is in regard to the final triumphs of the gospel. The Christian looks forward to the time when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. Yet that time may seem to be long delayed. Wickedness triumphs. A large part of the earth is still filled with the habitations of cruelty. The progress of the gospel is slow. The church comes up reluctantly to the work. The enemies of the cause exult and rejoice, and ask with scoffing triumph where is the evidence that the nations will be converted to God? They suggest difficulties; they refer to the numbers, and to the opposition of the enemies of the true religion; to the might of kingdoms, and to the power of fixed opinion, and to the hold which idolatry has on mankind, and they sneeringly inquire at what period will the world be converted to Christ? Yet in the face of all difficulties, and arguments, and sneers, “faith” confides in the promise of the Father to the Son, that the “heathen shall be given to him for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession,” Psa_2:8. The faith of the true Christian is as strong in the fulfillment of this promise, as that of Noah was in the assurance that the guilty world would be destroyed by a flood of waters.