"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:39,40)
In this chapter the Apostle gives us a very long catalogue of those heroes in faith "of whom the world was not worthy." He points out some of their heroic acts, and tells us that "through faith they 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, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens." And thus we have here the fulfillment of what another Prophet declares "The people that know their God shall be strong and do exploits." (Dan. 11:32)
It being evident from scripture that there is a false as well as a true faith, it behooves us to examine ourselves, to see whether we are in possession of that precious faith, called the "faith of God's elect;" (Titus 1:1) for, if our faith be wrong, all is wrong.
Now, since the scriptures point out different kinds of faith, I will endeavor to give you my views on them in a three-fold point of light.
1. By the expression "faith," as sometimes used in the word of God, the doctrines of the gospel are intended. We are told by Paul that he "preached the faith he once destroyed." He exhorts, "to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," (Jude 3) and "to hold the mystery of faith in a pure conscience." (1 Tim. 3:9) And, when he was about to be offered up, he says, "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith." (2 Tim. 4:7) In all these passages of scripture the doctrines of the gospel are intended.
2. In the next place, there is what may justly be termed a temporary faith, because it endureth but for a time. Our Lord describeth this sort of believers in the parable of the sower and the seed; for he says, "They that receive the seed on stony ground are those that hear the word, and with joy receive it; but, having no root in themselves, they endure but for awhile;" (Luke 8:13) for, when they are brought to the test for the trial of their faith, they take offense, and turn back; and, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved, God oftentimes sends them strong delusions that they should believe a lie, (2 Thess. 2:11) and eternal damnation is the awful consequence of thus turning away from the truth. And truly some such believers have been given up to believe the greatest absurdities. Instance the case of those whose faith was overthrown by the doctrine of Hymeneus and Philetus. Others have been given up to a reprobate mind, to commit iniquity with greediness; and, like the dog, they return again to their vomit, and like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire: and such with a witness are "reprobates concerning the faith." (2 Tim. 3:8)
3. In the third place, there is a faith that endureth for ever. This kind of faith is the gift of God, and it stands in divine power: the residence of this precious grace is the heart; and every act of faith is with the heart, and eternal salvation is connected with it; and by the power of God all the heirs of salvation are kept through this grace of faith unto everlasting salvation. Therefore, everyone blessed with this heavenly gift shall doubtless receive at last the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul.
This is the faith of which the Apostle is treating so fully in this chapter. It is remarkable how the same faith shows itself in different ways in each of these Patriarchs. In order, therefore, that you may ascertain where you are in respect to your life and walk of faith, I will endeavor to treat of these Old Testament saints separately, in their distinct and special acts of faith.
1. The Apostle, you perceive, begins with Abel. He tells us, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain; by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he, being dead, yet speaketh." (Heb. 11:4) I have always considered there was nothing wrong in the offering that Cain brought; the great and fatal error with him was the way and manner he offered it. "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground," (Gen. 4:3) we are told. No doubt this was the first-reaped sheaf; and, under the law, Israel was to bring a sheaf of the first-fruits, and waive it before the Lord. It appears, from the testimony of Paul, that this prefigured Christ as our holiness and sanctification; and, he says, "If the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy." (Rom. 11:16) Abel brought of the firstling of his flock, (Gen. 4:4) which prefigured Christ as our atoning sacrifice. Therefore, each offering was figurative of Christ; but Cain, being destitute of faith, had no eye to look through and beyond the type to Christ the antitype, but he looked to and rested in his offering, so that all his expectation was grounded upon the act of offering it. And is it not to be feared, my friends, that many in this day, like Cain, are resting in the shadow instead of the substance; "having a form of godliness but not the power;" (2 Tim. 3:5) having clear views of truth, a sound judgment, and a belief in all the fundamental doctrines of grace. Added to which, having a walk, conduct, and conversation in the world corresponding with their profession, they judge favorably of their state; and, like the foolish virgins, they take the lamp of salvation by grace in their creed, and with it they go forth in a profession of religion in company with the wise, not considering that the "one thing needful" is wanting to keep their lamps burning. And, taking it for granted that all is well, they never examine themselves by the scriptures of truth and the experience of Old and New Testament saints, whether or no they are in possession of "like precious faith" with them; but they go blindly on, as Mr. Hart says, "and trust a faith that's dead." But there are others, like Abel, who look through the offering to Christ, and "by faith," not in the offering, but in Christ (of whom his offering was a figure,) look to and trust in him for the blessing of justification to eternal life. In like manner, everyone who is taught of the Spirit of God cannot and dare not trust in a mere knowledge of the truth, nor in a practical observance of the truth, good and right as these things are, if kept in their proper place. No! for the Spirit, having convinced him of his need of Christ, will reveal Christ to him as suitable to his case and condition; and he shall, with the eye of faith, see Christ in his beauty, which beauty consists in his suitableness to the sinner's case. Like the Prophet, by faith he looks to the Lord for the blessing of salvation in all its branches; and, with David, by faith he waits for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning. In this his labor is not in vain; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for him, but in due time they shall be enabled to say with Paul, "I know in whom I have believed." (2 Tim. 1:12) And then, with Abel, they obtain witness that they are righteous. This witness they have within, as the Apostle declares "He that believeth hath the witness in himself." (1 John 5:10) Such a sinner therefore has proved his own work, and now has rejoicing in himself and not in another.
2. The next character Paul mentions is Enoch. He says, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; but before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." (Heb. 11:5) In the history of this man we are told that he "walked with God." Now we know that two cannot walk together unless that are agreed; (Amos 3:3) therefore Enoch walking with God implies that he was in a state of reconciliation and friendship with God. The Apostle tells us the elect of God by nature are children of wrath as well as others; (Eph. 2:3) they are born under the law and its curse; having sinned and come short of the glory of God, they are under the sentence of death: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek. 18:4,20) God is a just God, and he will in no wise clear the guilty. (Num. 14:18) This being the case, the breach must be healed; reconciliation must be made, or the law will take its course; it cannot forego its claims; the justice of God cannot be sacrificed to make way for mercy. Now, to heal the breach, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, is wholly the work of Christ; for the Prophet says, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity." (Dan. 9:24) Paul says that "it behoved Christ to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a faithful and merciful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." (Heb. 2:17) He tells us also that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." (2 Cor. 5:19) Here, you see, is reconciliation on God's part. The Lord tells Israel, for their comfort, "he is pacified towards them." (Ezek. 16:63) Now, this is one of the leading doctrines of grace; hence the gospel is called the "ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:18) But then, the elect, as well as others, by nature are all enemies to God; yea, their carnal mind is enmity against God; (Rom. 8:7) they are opposed to and fight against both God and his truth, and say, "We will not have this man to reign over us." (Luke 19:14) Thus their ways are opposed to the Lord's ways, and their thoughts to his thoughts. Hence there must be reconciliation brought about on the sinner's part, before he can, like Enoch, walk with God. You and I might take different views of the same subject, and, as long as we continue to do so, we shall dispute the point; but as soon as we can see eye to eye in the matter all contention on the subject will cease, and we can walk together in perfect agreement. The Most High is determined to save man freely of his own grace. Fallen man is opposed to this; but, when the law of God enters the sinner's conscience as the ministration of death--when the character of the Lawgiver is revealed and made known to him as the just God who will in no wise clear the guilty--when he views him with righteousness girding his loins and faithfulness his reins, and administering judgment to the people in righteousness--when he is convinced of his weakness as well as his vileness, and sees that he is condemned and consigned over by the law to everlasting destruction, and altogether without power to deliver himself--then salvation by grace alone will meet with acceptance in this sinner's heart; he will bless God for it, because it opens to him a door of hope. All contention upon this subject now ceases between God and the sinner; they can walk together, being agreed. The blood of Christ is applied to his conscience, and it takes away the guilt and filth of sin. The Lord sends his word with power to his heart; it heals him, and delivers him from everlasting destruction, sealing home pardon, and producing a joy and peace in the mind which is unspeakable and full of glory. Now, when this takes place, the poor sinner walks with God in peace and equity; no disputing, contending, or quarreling with God now; his ways now are "ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace." (Prov. 3:17) And not only so, but at such times the poor sinner is perfectly reconciled to the path in which the Lord is leading him, however trying it may be to flesh and blood; and he can and does say, "Not my will, but thine be done." If the hand of God goes out against him, as in Job's case, he will argue thus: "Shall I receive good at the Lord's hand, and shall I not also receive evil?" (Job 2:10) If the Lord shows him "hard things," and causes him to "drink the wine of astonishment," he says, "It is the Lord; let him do as seemeth to him good." (2 Sam. 15:26) There is no just cause for a living man to complain. If he is called to suffer the loss of all things for Christ's sake--if reproach is heaped upon his character, and his name cast out as evil--by faith he is enabled to rejoice, inasmuch as herein he is a partaker of the sufferings of Christ, knowing that, if he suffers with him, he shall also be glorified together with him. (Rom. 8:17) He can then say with Paul, "None of these things move me." (Acts 20:24) Now, if you understand those things by heartfelt experience, you know what it is to "walk with God," to have your will absorbed in his, and to say unto him,
I do not mean to say that the child of God is always in this sweet, submissive frame of mind. By no means. Every step taken in this path of obedience is in faith; and it is only as faith is in exercise in the sinner's heart that he can thus "walk with God."
3. The next character spoken of is Noah; and it is said of him, "By faith Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house, by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." (Heb. 11:7) Here we have faith showing itself in a different way from either Abel or Enoch. We are informed the Lord appeared unto Noah,and told him, that the "end of all flesh was come, and that he would destroy man from off the face of the earth." (Gen. 6:13) This was heavy tidings to him; and believing, that it was not merely a threatening of the Lord to keep them in awe, but that he would assuredly execute the threatening, his mind was filled with a solemn fear and dread of God (something like the prophet Habukkuk, who says, "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at that voice; and I trembled in myself that I might rest in the day of trouble." (Habuk. 3:16) But the Lord does not leave it here: he points out to Noah a place of safety for himself and family; he tells him to build an ark, and instructs him in the building of it. Noah, being thus instructed by God, and moving with fear, sets about the work; he builds the ark, and thus escapes the destruction which befell the others. Noah's faith here, is, I think, figurative of the poor sinner who has been apprised of his danger, and warned of God in his word to flee from the wrath to come. His conscience being aroused, and his soul alarmed, his sins stare him in the face, and stand in battle array against him; and he fears in this day of evil. Whatever views hitherto he may have had of God, he now gives up the idea of a God all mercy: for the wrath of God is now revealed in his soul, and the terrors of God set themselves in array against him; God appears a swift witness in judgment against him. When this is the case, "Fearfulness and trembling take hold upon him, and horror overwhelms him." (Ps. 55:5) The language of his heart now is this, "Oh that I had wings like a dove, then would I hasten my escape from his windy storm and tempest!" (Ps. 55:6) But the only place of safety from this overwhelming deluge is Christ, as says the prophet, "A man shall be a hiding place from the wind; a covert from the tempest." (Isa. 32:2) And again; "For thou hast been a strength to the poor; a strength to the needy in his distress; a refuge from the storm." (Isa. 25:4) Bless his precious name! he is still a refuge for the oppressed, and a refuge in times of trouble! Sure a poor distressed, condemned, heavy-laden, and guilty sinner as this, is directed by the written word, and is powerfully moved and prompted internally by the Holy Ghost to flee to Christ for refuge; and from sheer necessity, like the guilty manslayer, he is constrained and compelled to flee for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before him in the gospel. (Heb. 6:18) The guilty manslayer might have had a thousand fears whilst on his way to the city, knowing that the avenger of blood was pursuing him; but when he got within the city gates he was delivered from him and from his own fears. So the poor sensible sinner may have a thousand doubts and fears while he is coming to Christ; but when by faith he enters into Christ, he is experimentally delivered from the curse of the law, and the wrath of God revealed therein; from the sword of justice; and, for the present, from his own fears. Now, my friends, if you know these things by heartfelt experience, I verily believe you are blessed (at least in measure) with "like precious faith" with Noah.
4.The next character Paul mentions is Abraham. His faith shows itself in a different way from the others. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go to a place which he afterwards should receive for an inheritance, obeyed and went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise." (Heb. 11:9) The Lord said to Abraham, "Get thee out;" Abraham obeys the command of God, and goes at his bidding he knew not whither. In obeying the Lord, he yields the obedience of faith; and as the Lord intended to lead him in a way that at present he knew not, Abraham had to "walk by faith, and not by sight;" (2 Cor. 5:7) trusting in the Lord both for direction and protection. We are directed to "look to Abraham, our father, and to Sarah that bear us: for I, saith the Lord, called him alone and blessed him." (Isa. 51:2) Thus, we see, that the call of Abraham was personal as well as powerful. "Whom, he (the Lord) did foreknow, them he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son; and whom he did predestinate, them he also called." (Rom. 8:29,30) But there is a general and there is a special call. The Lord, in the prophetic age, called to Israel by the ministry of the prophets; he called to the sons of men, in the apostle's days by their ministry; and he still calls by the ministry of his word. But this, unattended by the power of God, was and is disobeyed and rejected. On the other hand, when the Lord calls an elect vessel, the call is both personal and powerful: witness the call of Saul of Tarsus; the Lord spake to Saul, and not to the men that journeyed with him. He calls powerfully, as in the case of Peter and others, who left all and followed him. It was truly said of him, "Never man spake as this man;" for his words are with power; and "where the word of a king is, there will be power." The Lord not only speaks to the ear of the body by the written word, or by the ministry thereof, but he speaks to the soul; a divine and irresistible power is displayed in the sinner's heart, and he is constrained and enabled to rise up and forsake all, and to follow Christ: for "he that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me," (Matt. 10:37) saith the Saviour. Therefore, father, mother, husband, wife, children, friends, and foes are all forsaken for Christ's sake. Thus obedience is yielded to God's call. But now a very solemn and important question with him, and one that excites his jealous and suspicious fears is this, whether he shall land safe at last in eternal glory. The many "lo here's" and "lo there's" which this and the other man preaches, which this and the other man believes, may perplex his mind, stumble his judgment, and throw his soul into confusion. He may see some who have run well for a time turn back in the hour of trial; others also, who seemed to have begun in the Spirit, ending in the flesh, or in a fleshly religion; and being without an assurance of God's love to his soul, not having an evidence of his interest in Christ, he is so dark and confused in his mind, that he is not capable of forming a correct judgment of himself or his experience. But still he is not without hope that he is in the right path, nor is he without fears that all may be wrong. Being thus perplexed, therefore what step does he take? Why the first account we have of Abraham after he left his native is, "that he erected an altar, and called on the name of the Lord." (Gen. 12:7,8) And though we are not told what he prayed for, yet doubtless, among the many things petitioned for was this, that the Lord would direct him in the way in which he should go. In like manner, the poor sinner calls upon God in this day of trouble and perplexity: he entreats the LORD to lead him "in a right way," and to hold up his goings that his footsteps slip not. He dare not trust in a guide, or put confidence in a friend; but he commits his way to the Lord, and looks to him to direct his path, agreeably to his promise. Thus, he walks by faith, and not by sight." For the encouragement of such, the Lord has promised, "the meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way:" (Ps. 25:9) consequently the wayfaring men, though a fool, does not err therein; although thousands who are wise above what is written, do.
The next account of Abraham relates to his son Isaac. The Lord tells him that Sarah shall bear him a son; Abraham's old age, and Sarah's barrenness, was not a consideration; for he believed that He who had promised was able to perform. "Through faith, also, Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a son when she was past age because she judged him faithful who had promised." (Heb. 11:11) Abraham by faith received the promise, and rested in the promiser for the fulfillment of it. Thus they were helpers of each other's faith. No matter how contrary to nature, how improbable, or how impossible it might appear; the Lord says, "Sarah shall bear thee a son." That is enough; all things are possible with the Lord, and so they are to him that believeth. "Faith laughs at impossibilities, and says it shall be done." In like manner, when the Lord speaks a promise home to the sinner's heart, he receives the promise in faith, and rests in the power and faithfulness of God: he fully expects and blessedly anticipates the accomplishment of the promise. This is very different from a dead faith, resting with a carnal confidence in the mere letter of truth; that brings no comfort to a sorrowful soul, nor rest to a weary one: but true faith hangs on the promise, like a sucking child on the breast, and extracts and sucks the sweetness of it. For instance. Suppose you were in a situation to require the assistance of a friend; you go to that friend, and succeed in obtaining a promise to the utmost of your request. The next question that will arise is this, Is my friend in a situation that he can render me the needed assistance? If you are satisfied on this point, the next thing is, Can his word be depended on? If so, thy burden is gone, and thy heart relieved. But how very different it is where unbelief prevails! Witness the case of Zacharias, placed in very similar circumstances with Abraham. He and his wife both righteous before God; both old; she had been barren all her days; both desired a son, and for a son they prayed. Now when the set time was come to favor this man, an angel is sent from heaven to inform him his prayers were heard, and his wife should bear him a son; and then gives him full particulars respecting the character of this child. Zacharias directly falls to reasoning upon the subject; he looks at his old age, as also the old age and barrenness of his wife; and wants an additional proof to the words of the angel, (which in fact was a declaration of God,) that he should assuredly have the son; and an awful sign is given him. But his unbelief did not make the promise of God of none effect: the son came at the time named by the angel; and it is our mercy, that if we believe not, He still abideth faithful, and will not deny himself. Unbelief deprives us of the comfort of the promise, but not of our interest in it. Here we have two men, both righteous before God, placed in very similar circumstances; one is strong in faith, giving glory to God; and the other shut up through the power of unbelief. (Luke 1:5-25) And what shall we say to these things? Why "Whatsoever was written aforetime, was written for our learning." (Rom. 15:4) And, if you are walking in the same path that they walked in, you will know what the power of unbelief is, as well as the power of faith.
The next account of Abraham's faith is his offering up his son. There we have faith, if I may so speak, in its manhood: "for by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that received the promises offered up his only begotten son; of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called, accounting that God was able to raise him from the dead, from whence also he received him in a figure." (Heb. 11:17-19) The Lord said to Abraham, "Take thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him up for a burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." (Gen. 22:2) Who can describe the feelings of Abraham when he received the summons? But he conferred not with flesh and blood, nor did he contend with the Almighty. He goes at the Lord's bidding; and when he arrives at the spot, he builds the altar, lays the wood in order, binds his son, takes the knife with full intent to slay him. (Gen. 22:9) O who can tell the conflicts in Abraham's mind between his parental feelings, and the fear of offending God at this time! But grace prevails, self is denied, and the cross taken up. How is this accomplished? "By faith" only. What did Abraham believe? "That God was able to raise him from the dead." He clearly saw a needs be for that, or the promise of God must fall to the ground; for if Isaac dies now, he dies childless: and if he is not raised from the dead, what becomes of God's promise, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called?" This being the case, "by faith" he bowed with submission to the will of God, leaves the Lord to pursue what course he sees fit, and to vindicate his own character and honor respecting the promise. Thus he takes up his cross, and follows the Lord, walking in the path of obedience. And Job was not far behind Abraham in this act of faith; for, when the Lord stripped him of all that was dear to him as a man, he said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; and blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21) But Abraham was not at all times thus strong in faith, nor was Job at all times remarkable for his patience. Abraham counseled his wife to dissemble, in saying that she was his sister. This act took its rise in unbelief. And Job, though when the trial first came upon him, bowed with submission to the will of God, and in patience possessed his soul: yet, when the Lord continued to hide his face from him, and permitted Satan to come upon him without limit, excepting as to his life, we find him cursing the day of his birth, saying, "Why did the knees prevent me, or why the breasts, that I should suck?" (Job 3:12) Yea, he charged the God of his mercies with being cruel to him, and he became so impatient under the chastening rod of God, that nothing short of having it taken away would suffice him; and, because the Lord did not immediately grant his request, he rebelled against God, and chose death rather than life. In his desperation he prays in the following manner: "Oh that I might have my request, and that God would grant me the thing I long for. Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off! Then would I yet have comfort; yea, I would harden myself in sorrow." (Job 6:8-10) This is the same Job who is so highly commended in Scripture for his patience. But, when Job saw the end the Lord had in view, namely, the trial of his faith and the exercise of his patience, and that his affliction was not unto death, but for the glory of God, he then says, "He knoweth the way that I take; and, when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10) Now, if you are walking in the same thorny path, you will find something of the same feelings; you will at times be enabled to bow with reverence and submission to the will of God, however trying the path may be, saying, "It is the Lord! let him do as seemeth good unto Him." (1 Sam. 3:18) At other times, under the same or similar afflictions, you will feel like a bear bereaved of her whelps, rebelling against the word of the Lord like Jonah, contemning the counsel of God like Israel, or saying with Moses, "If thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness." (Num. 11:15)
5. The next character I shall notice is Moses. His faith shows itself somewhat different from the others we have noticed. "By faith," it is said, "he 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 of Egypt." (Heb. 11:24-26) Thus he turns his back upon those things that are pleasing and gratifying to proud fallen nature, and chooses those things from which proud fallen nature revolts; he foregoes all the worldly interest and honors that awaited him in Egypt, and from choice joins with the people of God, though a poor and afflicted people, yea, chosen in the furnace of affliction, and, strange as it may appear, rates these afflictions higher than all the treasures of Egypt. This was not the effect of his natural free-will, but of a living faith; and truly his faith overcame the world, as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." (1 John 2:16) And Ruth's faith shows itself in a very similar way; for she forsook father, and mother, and the land of her nativity, and could not be prevailed with to desist from following Naomi, although there was nothing before her but poverty, affliction, and sorrow. But, in the face of all these things, she enters into covenant with her mother-in-law, and pledges herself to abide with her in life and in death, and says, "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." (Ruth 1:6-17) But, it may be asked, what had Moses and Ruth in view to induce them to take such a step? Why, we are told of Moses, that his eye was fixed on "the recompence of reward." (Heb. 11:26) This recompence of reward is a hundred-fold in this world with tribulation (which includes all things really needful, both for body and soul,) and in the world to come everlasting life. What are all the things of this world, compared to what Moses had in view? Why, vanity of vanities. Oh! my friends, have any of you been enabled to leave father, mother, husband, wife, or children, as the case may be, to forego your own interest and sacrifice all your worldly prospects, forsaking the pleasures, pastimes, and fooleries of life, and, in consequence of the union you feel to the people of God, choose them for your companions? Where you can discover the image and grace of Christ in a people or person, are they in your esteem the excellent of the earth, in whom your soul delights? Are the ways of God, notwithstanding the many trials you meet with, ways of pleasantness to you, and rather to be chosen than the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season? If so, then doubtless your faith works by love to God's people, truth, and ways. Christ says, "By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one toward another." (John 13:35) John says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." (1 John 3:14) Therefore, "wait upon the Lord: be of good cheer, and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord."
The next account of Moses' faith is that "he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." (Heb. 11:27) Thus his faith delivered him from the fear of man, which oftentimes brings a snare. He was not afraid of his wrath, nor all the persecutions and cruelties his wrath might move him to exercise toward him. But what caused him to be so fearless? Why, we are told that "he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible." He knew that Christ had all power in heaven and in earth, that men and devils were under his sovereign control, that all things and circumstances were subservient to his will, and that he oftentimes makes the wrath of man to praise him, while the remainder he can and does restrain; therefore he would triumph with David, and say, "The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my heart; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Ps. 27:1) We read of the Hebrew midwives, who were not afraid of the king's command, but were afraid of offending God. This was acting in accordance with the Lord's counsel, who said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28) Oh! my friends, whatever you do, study to keep a conscience void of offense toward God, and leave the consequences with the Lord. How often the servant is afraid of his master! If the master is not a God-fearing man, he may demand things of the servant which his conscience will not allow him to do, and may threaten to turn him out of his employ on account of his religion. This brings the poor man into a strait, having a wife and family dependent on his daily labor for support. "Oh! what shall I do?" is the language of his heart. But perhaps a promise like this drops into his soul: "Fear not; for no man shall set on thee to do thee harm." This, received by faith into the man's heart, will deliver him from the fear of his master, and will enable him to commit his way and cause unto God. This will apply also to a wife who is threatened by her parents. Sometimes a word like this drops into the heart: "Who shall harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" (1 Pet. 3:13) When this is the case, they soar above the fear of man. A tradesman may be afraid to offend his principal customers: they may think him too particular and righteous overmuch, and they may expect things of him which his conscience will not allow him to consent to. But, when faith is in exercise, he is enabled to leave it with the Lord, and to obey God rather than man. A minister may have this yoke upon his jaws in the pulpit, and be tempted to keep back things which otherwise he would not, or so color over truth that it does not appear clothed in its native hue, through fear of offending his hearers. How often is reproof withholden, when circumstances loudly call for it from the pulpit, from this very cause--the fear of man!--particularly if the minister is dependent upon the people for his support. But when the Lord lays the importance of the work with weight upon his mind, and gives him deeply to feel the responsible situation which he fills, and that he must one day give an account to God of his stewardship, then he cannot and dare not keep back any part of the truth, but preaches the preaching that the Lord bids him, lays the axe to the root of the tree, (Luke 3:9) reproves sharply when and where reproof is called for, separates the precious from the vile (Jer. 15:19) and the chaff from the wheat, (Jer. 23:28) showing the difference between him that serveth God in spirit and truth and those who serve him in the oldness of the letter, between the form of godliness and the power of truth in the heart, studies to show himself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, and, whether men are pleased or offended, he says with Paul, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24)
6. The next character that I shall notice is the most mysterious of all, namely, the harlot Rahab. In reading the history of this woman, we should not have concluded, perhaps, that she was in possession of faith; at least not sufficiently eminent to be placed with such champions in faith as Noah, Abraham, and others: but Paul tells us, that "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she received the spies with peace." (Heb. 11:31) Therefore her faith (although it was not so strong as to shine forth with that luster and glory, as in the case of Abraham and others,) was doubtless saving faith; for "she perished not." But, perhaps you will ask, "Wherein does her faith show itself?" I confess to me there appears something dark and obscure in it. But, if I give you my views and opinions upon it, this is all that you must expect. I will endeavor to do so; and leave you to judge whether or not my views are in accordance with truth. First, she receives the spies sent by Joshua into her house. Now if she was prompted to this kind act from a union she felt to them as the servants of the Most High God, then her faith showed itself in working by love: and in receiving a righteous man, in the name of a righteous man, she received a righteous reward, which is salvation. But, if the preservation of her life, and of her household, was the object she had in view in receiving these spies, which, I think, is most likely, then she acts the part of the prudent one, who, foreseeing the evil, hideth himself. We may gather from the history the troubled state of mind the whole inhabitants of the city were in, in consequence of Israel's near approach to it; for we find the woman telling the spies, "I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you; for we have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and how he hath destroyed the two kings of the Amorites; and as soon as we heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man because of you; for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath." (Joshua 2:9-11) Here is faith coming by hearing. The whole city heard these heavy tidings, and believed the truth of what they heard, and trembled in consequence: they were all in the same perilous situation, standing in jeopardy every hour. But what a different course did this woman pursue from the rest of the citizens! The whole city, with the king at their head, were determined to take away the life of the spies, if they could catch them. Here they showed their enmity; and although they knew from what they had heard that their city was doomed to destruction, they were determined to withstand the God of Israel, and defend themselves to the utmost of their power against the armies of the living God. But this woman "being moved with fear," entreats for her life, and the lives of all her father's house; and she does not cease entreating till she obtains a pledge from the men that they will grant her her request. And mark, she asks for a "true token:" something that she may rely upon with confidence. Now this world, like Jericho, is doomed to destruction; the men of the world know, and believe it, and oftentimes tremble on account of it; but such is their enmity against God, his truth, and his ways, that they fight against him with all their might; and being in league with the devil, in union with the world, in love with sin, and slaves to every lust and besetting sin, they are led on by the devil in a path of rebellion against God, although they know in their consciences that it will end in their everlasting destruction. Thus, like the fool, they go on and are punished. But the step which this woman took, is figurative of the poor sinner who has been aroused to a sense of his danger, and led by the Spirit, with weeping and supplication to Christ. He cannot perhaps speak of a heavy and severe law-work in his conscience, nor of wonderful revelations, either of God's wrath or mercy in his own soul: but he has seen and felt enough to know that if he dies in the state he is now in, he must perish. Feeling his perilous state, he is led by the Spirit to sue and seek for mercy. He cries, entreats, wrestles, and uses every argument possible; he pleads the promises of God, and the merits of the Saviour; tells the Lord his state, and shows him all his trouble; begs of the Lord not to put him away in anger, but to show him mercy; and he dares not, yea, he cannot finally give up, until he obtains the blessing. Like this woman, he wants "a true token," even that experience that will bear the scrutiny of truth. The wound slightly healed; the soul daubed with untempered mortar; peace spoken, but not by God; vain hopes, false joys, delusive peace, a dead faith, and carnal confidence, are things that he dreads; therefore he begs of God to keep him back from presumptuous sins, and to search him and know his heart, to try him and know his thoughts, and to lead him in the way everlasting. Here is the same faith in grain, as that of Abel, Enoch, Abraham, and Moses; but certainly not performing such great exploits as theirs. But "O thou of little faith, wherefore dost thou doubt?" (Matt. 14:31) Thus there is no real ground for even little faith to doubt.
Now, my friends, I trust I have given you a scriptural account of faith, and have pointed out to you some of the heroic acts of faith. How far your faith agrees with these heroes, and where you are in regard to your life and walk of faith, I must leave to God and your own souls.
Now Paul says in the text, that "these all obtained a good report." Of whom?
1. Why, first of the Lord himself. The Lord speaks highly of Abel, Abraham, Moses, and others; and he still honors those that honor him; and commends his children for their "work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope." (1 Thess. 1:3) And what Solomon says of a virtuous woman will apply to the church; and perhaps Solomon's virtuous woman is the church in the figure, "Many daughters have done virtuously; but thou excellest them all. Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates." (Prov. 31:31) This is a good report from the Lord of Hosts that dwelleth in Zion.
2. They are of "good report" in the church. When Paul gives instruction to Timothy in his choice of deacons, he tells him to seek out men of "good report;" he was not to be influenced by their station in life, but to choose men sound in truth, with a choice experience and blameless lives both in the church and in the world.
3. And sometimes they obtain a good report even from their most inveterate enemies. Ahab was constrained to acknowledge that Micaiah was a prophet of the Lord, although he hated him. True faith will produce good works. Hence, says James, "Shew me your faith without your works, (which, as Mr. Huntington remarks, is what no man ever did,) and I will show you my faith by my works," (James 2:18) which every righteous man will study to do. James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son? See how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect," (James 2:21,22) or proved to be genuine, for a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. How often does it occur that a master says, "Such a man is a good servant; but I hate his religion. Such a man is an honest, upright tradesman; but I should like him better, if it were not for his religion. Such a man is of a good principle; you may credit him to any amount, and trust him with untold gold; he will not rob you; but then he goes to chapel instead of church, and this I cannot endure." This is obtaining a good report of those who are without; and sad it is when professors give their enemies reason to speak otherwise of them, saying, "Such a man is a great professor: but he is only an eye-servant. Such a man makes a great to-do about religion; but he will take advantage of you in business, if he can get an opportunity. Such a person always goes to chapel; but he has not religion enough to keep him out of the world; for he can join in company with them, and imitate them in their pride and vanity." Really what I sometimes witness among professors makes my very heart sick. But these things bear witness against them to their very faces. Oh, my friends, be not deceived, you cannot serve God and mammon; you cannot join in company with the world, and with the Lord's people too; you cannot be carried away with the pride and vanities of this life, and at the same time keep a conscience void of offense toward God. Oh, study to adorn the doctrine of your God and Saviour in all things, and do not give the world any just cause to cast a reproach upon you, or of the good ways of God; but may you obtain a "good report," even of those who are without.
"Consider what I say; and may the Lord give you understanding in all things." The remainder of our text I must leave for the present. May the Lord add his blessing to what has been said; and I add no more. Amen.