“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Indeed, the just shall live by faith, Heb. 10:38. The church was in danger of falling back into the bondage of the shadows of the Old Dispensation. Notice what we read in Hebrews 10:19, 25. In verse 32 the apostle reminds the church of the former days in which, after they had been illuminated, they had endured many afflictions. Perhaps they expected an early return of Christ upon the clouds of heaven and were disappointed when this did not occur. And so they were threatened with the danger of falling back into the bondage of the shadows of the Old Dispensation.
This explains why the apostle writes to them that the just shall live by faith. We do not live by sight, the things that are seen. Perhaps, as Christ seemed to delay His coming, the promise of God began to appear more and more impossible. They became discouraged. However, we do not live by sight, but by faith.
And now we read of this faith in Hebrews 11. He causes to pass before their review the saints of the Old Dispensation. Well must the church bear in mind that, returning to the shadows of the Old Dispensation, they were not moving toward them but away from them, inasmuch as these saints of the Old Dispensation also lived by faith which this church threatened to depart.
We do not have here a complete definition of faith. Scripture is no dictionary; it is not a book of exhaustive definitions of various and all concepts. If it were, there would probably be no heresies. The Word of God is the revelation of the living God, accompanied by the operation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and unto the condemnation of the wicked as they oppose the truths of Holy Writ. And heresies there must be. That we do not have here a complete definition of faith must be evident. After all, faith is also a bond whereby we are ingrafted into Christ, as is evident, for example, from John 15where we read that Christ is the vine and the believers are the branches. This passage surely teaches that these believers live out of Christ, and they live out of Him by faith. Besides, faith here is, of course, viewed from the viewpoint of Hebrews 11. All emphasis falls here upon the conscious activity of faith. Here, as emphasized in Hebrews 11, the Christian is a pilgrim and stranger in the earth; here we read of things unseen which God knows to be true, filling us with joy and confidence; here faith is a power enabling the child of God to bear all afflictions and sorrows for the sake of the glory awaiting us. This is the viewpoint of faith in this text.
The world moves in the sphere of the things that are seen, in the sphere of natural perception. Man has five senses: sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. He sees a building and knows it is a building, smells a certain fragrance and knows that flowers are near, etc. He need not prove it is a building; his senses do not deceive him. Only, however, this is the world’s only sphere. O, in a certain sense also the world does not live merely by sight. When a farmer plants his seed, he does not see the crop; he proceeds in the hope of obtaining it. Yet, also in this sense, sowing and harvesting are for him a matter of natural experience. He sees it happening every year. And, the world lives, not by faith, but by sight. Its only sphere is what is carnal, satisfying to the flesh. After it he lusts and he rejects everything else. The world cares not for unseen things.
Things unseen! What is meant here, generally, is plain. Verse 3 speaks of the creation of the worlds.Hebrews 11 speaks of the promise; this promise, we know, was fulfilled by Christ. So, the facts of Christ and all things relative to Him are meant. Hebrews 11also speaks of the city that has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. And, these things are unseen. They are not merely unseen in the sense that we do not see them, but in the sense that we cannot see them. They do not fall within the range of our perception. We cannot see them, naturally, physically, or mentally. We cannot touch them, handle them, understand them. They cannot be grasped by our five senses.
This is true of the creation and preservation of the world. That God created the worlds and sustains them are strictly unseen. This we cannot see, understand, or prove. Of course, that God did not create the world, that man descended from an ape, etc., are also unseen things, things that cam-rot be proved.
This also applies to Christ and His salvation. His wonderful birth is unseen. O, we may have been able to see a babe in Bethlehem’s manger. But we cannot see HIS birth, the birth of Immanuel, God’s eternal Son. We cannot see the divine element. This also applies to HIS suffering and death. And then there are the wonderful facts of His resurrection, ascension to heaven, and His sitting at the right hand of God. All this, as also God’s creation, belongs to things past, the things that have happened.
Then, there are the things that are present: Christ’s sitting at God’s right hand, the city that has foundations, all the saints that have gone before us. Yes, this city is very real to us. But we have never seen it, never heard from it. We cannot possibly have contact with it. It is all unseen.
And, finally, there are the things of the future. We believe in a new heaven and a new earth. We know that we must die, but all people know that; we also believe in the resurrection, in a wonderful, immortal glory to come. All this, in all its details, is also unseen. But, the Christian walks by faith and not by sight.
Faith is the evidence of things unseen. No, this does not mean that, objectively, faith is the proof of all these things. On the one hand, I can never prove to the world that God created the heavens and the earth, that Christ was born, suffered and died, and rose again. However, neither is this necessary. I see the world in which I live. Must I prove it? I see a tree in my yard. Must I prove it? Scripturally, I see God and believe in Christ, that He suffered and died for me. Must I prove it? I do not need proof. Faith itself is this evidence.
That faith is the evidence of the things unseen means that it is this evidence in the sense of immediate assurance. And it is that not merely in itself. If we had faith and nothing more we would never be certain of these things. This would be subjectivism. Indeed, faith is this evidence only as through the scriptures. The Word of God alone gives content to my faith. Without the Word of God, I would know nothing.
For, secondly, faith is the substance of things hoped for. What is the Christian hope? All men live by hope. Everybody is always looking forward. Fact is, we are all creatures of time. Besides, the present never satisfies. But, the Christian’s hope and that of the world are so vastly different. The hope of the world is always earthly and carnal, always reaches out to things on this side of the grave. The hope of the Christian, however, is other-worldly, eternal and heavenly. And, the wonder of this hope is also that, cleaving unto the things that are above, it also includes everything of this present time. The child of the world seeks relief from sorrow and misery and has no place for it. The child of God, however, knows that all things work together for his good. He includes in his hope all the sorrows and miseries of this present time, also death and all the powers of sin and all persecutions and afflictions which he must suffer as inflicted upon him by these powers of sin and of darkness. His hope is all-inclusive.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for. This does not mean that it is the content of our hope, as the word “substance” could imply. But, it is the ground or foundation of our hope, as also the Dutch translation expresses it. And this must not be understood as if faith were the ground upon which our hope rests, as if they were two. Faith-and hope are inseparable. That these unseen things are the object of our hope is rooted in our faith. Fact is, faith is the bond that unites us with Christ; hope is faith as it reaches out to the future. And therefore this faith itself is the evidence of things unseen, our immediate assurance. By faith we are-united with the living God through Christ Jesus, His Son; through faith we cleave unto Christ, live out of Him, and through faith the life of heavenly and immortal glory has been bestowed upon us as a principle; by faith we are become pilgrims and strangers in the earth, citizens of the City that has foundations. That faith, living out of Christ, reaches out to its fulfillment is therefore the ground, the foundation of our hope; it gives the Christian, within himself, the immediate assurance and certainty of the things unseen, enables him to know these things as beyond any doubt.
Do we believe? Are we sure of these things that are unseen? Do we stand in the Christian hope, the certain and joyful assurance of life and glory immortal, the joyful readiness to regard all suffering and affliction as not to be compared with the glory that shall follow?
If this be lacking in us—why? Is not faith itself the evidence of things unseen? God gave this faith to us. Why, then, do we not believe? O, it is because we do not exercise consciously this activity of faith. We have in our members, we know, much flesh. Carnal and sinful as we are, we cleave to the things that are seen; besides, our flesh so often times rebels against the thought of suffering shame for the sake of Christ.
O, the futility of seeking the things that are seen! The world, then, may point with disdain and ridicule at the people of God as they suffer for Christ’s sake in the midst of the world—see verses 36-38. But, what have they to offer as they seek the bread that perishes, cleave to this world that passeth away, heaping up for themselves treasures of wrath? But, oh, the joy of the things unseen! No wonder we read of the people of God what we read in the verses 36-38! Erelong the things that are seen will make way for that which could not enter into the heart of man; erelong our souls will be satisfied far above what we pray or ask; erelong this believing and hoping will attain unto that for which the Church has struggled and suffered throughout all the ages. Then we will be satisfied, even forevermore.
Indeed, faith is the substance of things hoped for.
It is the evidence of things unseen.
May we believe unto saving of our souls.