We would conclude our short series of articles on the unconditional character of the promises of the Lord, in connection with the Lord’s covenant with His people, by calling attention to Hebrews 11. We could refer to other portions of the Scriptures such as the apostle’s epistle to the Romans. In this epistle the apostle Paul develops the truth of the righteousness of God and emphasizes that it is indeed the righteousness of God. In the holy writer lays the groundwork for his inspired revelation by establishing the utter and complete condemnation of the world, the whole world, Jew and Gentile, concluding this part of the epistle with the well-known words: “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Thereupon Paul reveals that our righteousness, our justification before God, humanly impossible, was effected by God Himself in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, this righteousness is a righteousness of God because God Himself realized it in His Son, our Lord. In the chapters 4 and 5 the apostle develops the truth that this righteousness, realized by God, is also God’s righteousness in the sense that He bestows it upon us by faith; and this, let us understand, is presented by the writer as the reward, not of works, but of grace ( ). In the chapters 6 and 7 the spiritual calling and struggle of the Christian is vividly described. Fact is, the faith through which the righteousness of God is bestowed upon us is a living faith. Having died to sin we must also conduct ourselves as having risen with Christ unto a new and godly life. And in the seventh chapter we have that stirring description of the inner struggle of the child of God, culminating, however, in that exclamation of triumph that we have the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord. And in the eighth chapter of this beautiful epistle the apostle rejoices in the fact that the eternal salvation of the Church of God is sure, only because nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. However, we will conclude this short series by calling attention to Hebrews 11, the well-known Scriptural passage dealing with the Old Dispensational heroes of faith.
The Relation Between God’s Promises And Faith An Important Question
The importance of this question is immediately apparent when we notice the Scriptural emphasis which is laid upon both: the unchangeable promises of the Lord and the activity of faith by the Church and child of God. That the Word of God emphasizes the sovereignty of God is surely well-known to all the readers of this paper. All of Scripture speaks of this sovereignty of the Lord. We need not emphasize this now. Attention has been called in detail to the fact that the covenant of the Lord with His people is unilateral throughout, from the beginning to the end. Scripture also, however, emphasizes the activity of faith. That we must believe is also taught everywhere in the Word of God. Such, indeed, is the keynote of the gospel: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” In the third chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians the apostle speaks repeatedly of faith, as in the verses 11, 14, 22, 24, 26: “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. . . . That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. . . . But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. . . . Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. . . . For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Well-known is the emphasis laid upon the activity of faith in the epistle of James, as in : “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” In the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews the holy writer has recorded the activities of faith of the saints of God in the Old Dispensation. Yea, all of Scripture lays continuous emphasis upon the activity and necessity of faith.
The importance of the question, therefore, relative the relation between the unconditional promises of God and the activity of faith, is self-evident. Must we understand these conceptions as running parallel to each other? Is it true that both must be maintained, however contradictory they may seem and appear, and that they must be embraced as two apparently contradictory truths? In the same vein present day thought would explain the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. These conceptions are also presented as contradictory. Why does the Lord save us through faith? Is this optional on the part of God? Could He save us some other way? Does the fact that the Lord saves us by faith, as the alone sovereign God, not imply that faith is the Lord’s only possible way of salvation? Faith, then, does not contradict the sovereignty of the Lord, but it represents the only way in which that wholly sovereign God can save us. Or, is the matter of our salvation conditional after all? Is it true that the work of salvation is after all, in some form or another, dependent upon an activity of man? But, how is this possible? Faith itself is a gift of the Lord. Can or should we speak of conditions in the application of salvation when it is God Himself Who alone fulfills these conditions? Is it not true, when we speak of something as being conditional, that we imply that it is dependent upon something outside of ourselves? Conditional salvation implies that it is dependent upon man.
The Importance of Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11 is important, as far as our present discussion is concerned, because, firstly, it does not treat an isolated case. This chapter covers the entire Old Dispensation. It is by faith that the Church of God, throughout the Old Testament, received the salvation of the Lord. Secondly, this chapter is significant because all the examples quoted here have one thing in common, and this one thing, as we shall see later, is expressed in the very first verse of this chapter. We need not enter at this time into a detailed exposition of verse 1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Some would have us believe that this text presents us with a complete definition of faith, tells us exactly what faith is. This, however, is hardly true. On the one hand, the Bible is no dictionary which gives us in various passages the exact definitions of various and several concepts. Besides, faith is defined in this first verse as the power of God but from the viewpoint of its enabling the child of God to bear all suffering and pain, and gain the promise of everlasting life. And all the examples of this chapter establish this truth of verse 1.
Thirdly, and this is certainly important, Hebrews 11 is significant exactly because it defines the relation between faith and the promise. This, let us bear in mind, is exactly what we are discussing in these articles. our condition upon which the divine fulfillment of the promise depends? Hebrews 11 gives us a beautiful answer to this question.reads as follows: “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Please notice that the holy writer mentions the promise in verse 36, in the words: “Ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Please notice that the holy writer mentions the promise in verse 36, in the words: “Ye might receive the promise.” The idea of the promise in this passage speaks for itself. The promise refers to that which we shall receive after we have done the will of God and after He, who will not tarry, shall have come. The promise here refers to our eternal salvation which we shall receive as an inheritance in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ when all things shall be made new. And, incidentally, this is the content of the promise of God throughout the Holy Scriptures, the solemn and unchangeable pledge of Jehovah to bestow upon them, for the sake of Christ, His eternal glory and salvation. Why, now, do we receive this promise through faith? Why is it that the just shall live by faith, according to verse 38 of the preceding chapter? Is faith
The Many Examples of Hebrews 11.
Through faith, we read in verse 3, 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. Of Abel we are told that he by faith offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts. Enoch was translated by faith that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had translated him. Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, and moved with fear, prepared by faith an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. Concerning Abraham we are told that he, by faith, when he was called to go out into a place, which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. And by faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise, for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Abraham and Sarah embraced the promise and Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. And by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said that in him his seed would be called; for he accounted that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. Isaac, we read, blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. Jacob, when he was a dying, by faith blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff. By faith, Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. It was through the power of faith that Moses’ parents hid him when he was born because they saw that he was a proper (beautiful) child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. It was by faith that he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured as seeing him who is invisible, By faith the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed seven days. And by faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. This is the divine record. Lack of time, we read in verse 32, forbids the holy writer to tell of Gideon, of Barak, of Samson, of Jephthah, of David, of Samuel, and of the prophets. By faith these children of God of the Old Dispensation subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens, received their dead raised to life again, were tortured not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, of bonds and imprisonment, were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy), wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
What All These Examples Have In Common.
We read in verse 1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hence, all these examples speak of the power of faith, whereby the people of God received the things invisible and that which was humanly impossible. This characterizes Hebrews 11 throughout. By 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. Enoch, mind you, was translated by faith that he should not see death. He and Elijah are the only children of God who were translated into glory without passing through death. Noah built an ark through the power of faith, when as yet it had never rained, and he believed that he would be saved through the destruction of the world. Abraham surely walked by faith, the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. He left his native land and journeyed to a strange country, not knowing, we read, whither he went. He looked for a city which had foundations, the heavenly city, surely invisible. He believed that God would raise up of him and Sarah a seed as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. And this was surely, a faith in the invisible because he and Sarah, as far as the bringing forth of children was concerned, had both died. By faith he offered up Isaac, believing, mind you, that God would raise up Isaac from the dead. Abraham, therefore, believed the invisible, namely, that life would come out of death. Moses believed that the Lord would bestow upon him the recompense of the reward and that at a time when the appearance of things made the realization of that recompense seem utterly impossible. By faith Moses believed the humanly impossible and invisible, namely, that the Lord would cut a path through the Red Sea and grant His people the victory. By the same faith the Lord made the waters of the Jordan part before them and caused the walls of Jericho to fall down. And the same trusting in the invisible God and invisible things characterized the saints of the Lord throughout the Old Dispensation. Thus it is ever throughout the history of the development of God’s covenant throughout the ages. The divine promise of everlasting life, the heavenly city which has foundations, is indeed something which human eye cannot see, human ear cannot hear, human heart cannot conceive of. To obtain that promise by faith means exactly, therefore, that we look forward to the realization of that which is humanly impossible and only divinely possible.
Why God Saves Only Through Faith.
The phrase “by faith” occurs repeatedly in this eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. The idea of this expression is that faith is the means by which these saints obtained the symbolical realization of the promise (I say “symbolic” because the promise of the Lord was granted His people in the Old Testament symbolically). A means we would define as something we use or do, adapted to the obtaining of that which we seek. In this sense, e.g., bread and water are means which we use unto the sustaining of our earthly life. They are adapted unto the sustaining of our earthly existence. Faith, now, is the means wondrously adapted unto the obtaining of our eternal salvation. It is the means which we use and wherein we stand, which the Lord bestows, and through which God operates and realizes in us His salvation.
Let us notice how this applies to Hebrews 11. Faith in this chapter does not emphasize what we can and therefore must do. How could Abraham and Sarah of themselves produce Isaac, inasmuch as both had died as far as the bringing forth of children was concerned? How could Enoch effect his translation into glory without seeing death? How could Abraham effect Isaac’s resurrection from the dead after sacrificing him according to the Lord’s commandment? How could the children of Israel of themselves make a path through the Red Sea and later through the Jordan? How could that faith of the Israelites, if faith be regarded as a human means, effect the destruction of the walls of Jericho? We understand immediately that faith cannot be interpreted merely as a human means in this eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews.
Faith, in this chapter, however, is God’s means unto the realization of this salvation. God alone does the things, also in Hebrews 11. He brings forth Isaac, makes a path through the Red Sea and the Jordan, causes the walls of Jericho to fall down, etc. Our conscious believing is that spiritual activity whereby we, united with the living God in and through Jesus Christ, put all our confidence and trust in God. Hence, the Lord bestows faith and works through faith exactly because faith looks to the Lord and He is therefore glorified through it.
This also applies to the people of God throughout the ages. God alone is the worker of our salvation from the beginning to the end. Faith is His means of salvation and it is the only divinely possible means of salvation. Another divine way of salvation is inconceivable. When the Lord saves us He must save us as the only sovereign Lord, as the God of our salvation who alone is our Savior. Therefore He saves us and grants us His eternal inheritance through faith. For faith emphasizes, not what we can do but what we ourselves cannot do. When the Lord grants us faith He causes us to be united with Himself, enables us to look away from ourselves and to look exclusively unto Him. When the Lord saves He, of course, saves us all by Himself, and, therefore, through faith. In that faith we recognize the Lord as our only Redeemer and Jehovah is therefore glorified.
Connection Between Faith And Promise.
This also enables us to understand the connection between our faith and the promises of God. They must not be understood as running parallel to one another. It is not true, then, that the Lord is willing to fulfill in us His promise but that we must believe. The connection between them is never such that the fulfilment of God’s promise is dependent, contingent upon our act of faith. This, we understand, is quite impossible.
Nevertheless, faith and the promises of the Lord are inseparable. The promise of Jehovah is His solemn announcement to the effect that He will bestow upon us the eternal salvation which He has laid away for us from before the beginning of the world. Faith is that operation of the grace of the living God in our hearts whereby we place our implicit trust and confidence in that God of our salvation. Hence, the promise is realized in us exactly through faith because our salvation is a matter of the promise of God alone. Faith does not stand over against the promise of God; it embraces that promise. Faith does not emphasize what we must or can do; it recognizes the fact that the Lord alone is the author and worker of our salvation. Of course, we must fight the good fight of faith; we must hope and pray even unto the end; we must put off the old man and put on the new; we must put on the whole armor of God and resist the power of the devil and all his evil host. This, however, we must do, not because this our calling constitutes the condition of our believing or of God’s salvation, but only because faith, the gift of the Lord unto salvation, is a living faith, unites us spiritually with the living Christ, and has therefore as its fruit that we walk and conduct ourselves as the party of the living God. Faith and promise—the latter demands the former and the former recognizes the latter.
(to be continued)