Rev. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
There are in Hebrews 11 several giants of faith presented with their works of faith. They may be called giants of faith rather than heroes of faith, because it is a greatness of faith which our covenant God eternally decided to work in them. Our God, not men, decided and determined to realize in men the exact physical height of their bodies. Man never decides how tall he is going to get when full grown. He may want more height,. but he cannot realize how tall he will be come. He cannot do that as far as his physical life is concerned; and that, as far as his spiritual life is concerned, is also exactly as the almighty God determined for him.
Our sovereign God also determined the works which every one of His elect children would in this life perform. Not only is it true that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), but with a view to the place which He determined for us in the body of Christ He—not we—determined from all eternity exactly how strong and tall we would become spiritually in this life. David wrote in Psalm 132:14: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
God decided whether we would be a male or female, a human being or an angel. He not only brought us into being, but also determined what we would be physically and spiritually. Beautifully and correctly we sing from our Psalter this truth, which we find in Psalm 139:14:
All that I am I owe to Thee,
Thy wisdom, Lord, hath fashioned me;
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.
Nowhere in Scripture will you find the word hero. But we can by God’s grace be made giants of faith, and we do find this truth so often and clearly in Hebrews 11. It would be far better to call those saints giants of faith rather than heroes of faith. The praise must be given to God, even as we correctly sing: Praise God from Whom ALL blessings flow. Our praise of men and clapping of our hands, crediting them for what they sang and did, rather than praising God for the truth which they sang, overlooks so much that God Himself has written in His word for our instruction.
A single sin calls for everlasting punishment, even as God told Adam that in the day he performed what might look to us as a mild act of disobedience—merely eating a piece of fruit and hurting no one’s flesh—he would die. And he did die that very moment. Physical death began to come upon him as the punishment of sin; but spiritual death came completely upon him. He tried to hide his sin rather than in sorrow and hatred of sin to run to God for forgiveness. He tried to run away from God after trying to hide his sin by means of fig leaves. And since Adam and Eve lost all their spiritual life that very moment of their first sin, we get no spiritual strength from our parents and grandparents. Adam and Eve could not give it to their children, and therefore their children could only give us spiritual death. Our God through Paul says to us that we are quickened, that is, made alive spiritually as those who through Adam are “dead in trespasses and sins.” But go a step further in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 2:5 we read, “Even when we were dead in sins, (God) hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved).” And again in Ephesians 4:18, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” Death means that all life is gone; and here we are taught that fulfilling conditions, accepting Christ by faith, a well-meant offer of salvation to dead people reveals that salvation is absolutely impossible. If we want Christ and salvation, it is because we already have in God’s grace been given the beginning of salvation. He does not ask us to believe. He gives us the desire and power to believe and then calls us in order to have that work of salvation continued in us, strengthened, and brought to its fullness in the day when Christ returns.
Let us then look at this spiritual giant called Abraham, whose divinely bestowed gift of faith caused him to go to the land God promised him, and to offer up Isaac at God’s command. Let us also look at his old man of sin which clearly revealed itself in some gigantic sins, which clearly reveal that faith and walking in love toward God is His gift to us, and not what we give to Him.
In Hebrews 11 we do read that Abraham performed these great works of faith. By faith he did go to the promised land. By faith he did offer up Isaac. But take hold of that very important truth inEphesians 2:8-10. We are saved by grace. We do not save ourselves by believing. We are by God’s grace saved from our unbelief and are given—not manufacture by ourselves—faith as a free gift. We are not saved by works, but saved in order that we may perform works that are pleasing in God’s eyes. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, not because of good works. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 carefully. We are not invited to be saved, but we are saved from our lack of desire for salvation. We fulfill no conditions, we accept no invitations. God is not dependent upon us and upon our spiritually dead nature in order to get us saved. Even as no child is born because he asked his father or mother to bring him forth, so are we not born as the children of God because we, who by nature are spiritually dead, heard Him offer salvation to us and wanted it. Once again, Adam and Eve did not run unto God. They tried to run away from Him. And then He told Satan in their hearing that HE would put enmity between Satan and us. Salvation is a one hundred percent gift to those who could not want it! For they were spiritually dead. And they could not give us as their descendants spiritual life and the desire for salvation.
Let us note and appreciate that sovereign grace of God. The lie brought the whole human race into total depravity. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Take hold of those three words: EVERY, ONLY, and CONTINUALLY! By nature the heart of man beats evil thoughts and desires continually. Now and then a child of God will have thoughts and desires pleasing to God; but he has all through this life the old devilish nature that has such powerful control over him. We need to pray to our God every step of our way, not only for the forgiveness of our sins, but by all means also for strength and desire to do what is pleasing in His sight. We need to have God cause our new man in Christ to control our thinking, willing, and acting. By His grace God will give that to us, and He speaks to us through this epistle to the Hebrews and tells us He is going to make us spiritually perfect when Christ returns and our bodies are raised and united with our sinless souls.
But go back to Abraham as he is pictured in the book of Genesis, and see how evil a nature we still have in this life. Way back in Genesis 12:7 we read that God “appeared unto Abram and said, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” And yet Abram left that land because of a famine in it. Even though God assured him of living and of getting a son, his flesh moved him to doubt, not to faith in God; and, fearing death, which indirectly God assured him would not come upon him until after he got that child, he went down into Egypt. He fell into the sin of lying as well. He told his wife to tell everyone that she was only his sister and not his wife. Then Pharaoh took her away from him to become his wife.
Although our God in His grace saved Abraham from losing that wife and gave him freedom to go back to the promised land, we again read in Genesis 20 of Abraham committing the same sin, and that in an even more sinful situation. In Genesis 20:10 we read concerning God, “And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.” Yet into that same sin of lying Abraham again fell. Even though Sarah was the daughter of his father through a different woman than Abraham’s mother, he did not tell the people that she was his half sister. It was therefore a lie. Sarah was his wife, and that truth might not be hidden and covered! And since this was after God assured him that Sarah would bring forth his covenant seed, it was a gross lie.
Here was a step back into the sin for which he was rebuked, when he had incorrectly gone to Egypt, and had not stayed in the promised land. To that act of not walking by faith in the land promised him he added that sin of lying, trusting in Sarah’s words of saying she was his sister, rather than in God’s word that He would, through her as Abraham’s wife, give him a son who would inherit that land of Canaan through his seed.
Now that he had the promise of a son through Sarah, this sin of lying was even greater than the one he committed in Egypt. And if Adam deserved death because he ate a piece of forbidden fruit, surely Abraham did not in himself have the right to the smallest part of Gods covenant promise.
Abraham did by God’s grace have forgiveness because of what Christ did for all the elect by His holy walk and cross. Abraham was given faith and such great trust in God that he did, at God’s command, take Isaac and offer him up with the full assurance that God would keep His promise and give him covenant seed through Isaac – which means that he believed what had never happened before. He had never seen, nor is there recorded anywhere in Scripture before this, that a child of God would be raised from the dead. Enoch was taken to heaven; but Isaac would be returned to this life and bring forth the covenant seed that would inherit this land of Canaan. What a strong faith was given Abraham to believe that although he must sacrifice Isaac, he would through Isaac bring forth that covenant seed! In Isaac would his seed be called (Gen. 21:12). What a tremendous promise! What a tremendous gift of faith implanted in Abraham!
Yes, throughout the Old Testament Scriptures we have shadows of what now takes place in the New Testament dispensation. Not only do we find that the cross of Christ is foreshadowed in the shedding of the blood of the animal whose skin was used to clothe Adam and Eve; but here, too, when the promised son is by God’s command placed on that altar to be sacrificed, there is again a shadow of Christ and His cross as the only way of salvation for us.
But by all means do not (overlook the fact that in God’s giving Abraham that faith, we have a shadow of what He will give us in the days that lie just ahead, when the Antichrist will threaten to take away from us salvation and its promises by his devilish works. In his day it will look to unbelievers as though God forsook us. But be of good cheer. As Christ arose from the dead, because of what He did for us through His death, we will receive EVERYTHING that God has promised us in Christ.
Let this encourage you. Hate your sins and fight against your old, sinful nature. And if you find the gift of faith in you, be encouraged by the truth that our God saves His people fully through His Son and His Spirit. Hate your sins and you have a sign that Glad has begun salvation in you and will save you fully when He sends His Son back to raise sinless bodies for His chosen people. Be encouraged by the signs and shadows God gives us in His Word.