ŇFor by it the elders obtained a good report.Ó Hebrews 11:2
This verse containeth the second effect of saving faith: which is, that faith is a means whereby a believer is approved of God.
This verse hath special relation to the fifth verse, for that that is said here of all the elders in general, is there affirmed specially of Enoch; namely, that he was reported as to have pleased God.
Let us first search the true meaning of the words.
That is, all such men as living under the Old Testament, believed in Christ; amongst which (though all be understood) yet some were more excellent in faith and obedience than others, and so more honourable and of higher estimation with God and men; and of them it is specially to be understood.
Now concerning these elders, it is further said that they were well reported of. Hereby are meant three things:
1. That God approved and allowed of them.
2. That God did approve of them because of their faith in the Messiah.
3. That God gave a testimony, and declared that He approved of them.
I. For the first, it may be asked, How were they approved of God? Answer: Christ the Son of God is He in whom the Father is well pleased. Now they believing in Christ, their sins were laid on Him, and made His by imputation: and contrariwise, His holiness, obedience and satisfaction were imputed to them, and by the same imputation were made theirs. Now, that being theirs, God being so well pleased with Christ, could not but also for ChristŐs sake approve of them. If this seem hard unto any, I make it plain by this comparison: Look as Jacob, a younger brother, puts on EsauŐs garment, the elder brother, and in it was taken for Esau, and obtained his fatherŐs blessing and patrimony, which by himself he could not have got; even so we are as younger brethren, Christ is our elder brother; we have no right nor title to our fatherŐs blessing, nor to the kingdom of heaven. We must put on the robe of perfect righteousness, which is the garment of Christ our elder brother. We, standing clothed with it, purchase our FatherŐs favour, and with His favour His blessing, and His blessing is the right and title to everlasting life. And thus by Christ they were approved.
II. Secondly, for what were they approved? The text saith: By faith; not because faith is an action of a sanctified mind and a good grace of God; for so are humility, love, fear of God (all which are graces of the sanctifying spirit, as faith is); but because it is a worthy instrument in the heart of the believer which apprehends and applieth to the soul that righteousness of Christ by which he is justified; thus it being the hand and instrument of their justification, by it (it is said) they were approved.
III. Thirdly. The text addeth, that God did not only approve of them, but that He testified and made it manifest to all the world that He did so. And this testimony God gave them 1. In His Word, and 2. In their own consciences.
1. The truth of the first is manifest in that not only in this chapter, but often also in the Old Testament, God hath made such honourable mention, and given such honourable titles unto many of these elders, calling Abraham the friend of God (2 Chr. 20:7), and David a man after GodŐs own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), and them all His anointed and dear chosen children (Psa. 105:15). Thus God hath testified of them in His Word. 2. Secondly, God testifieth it to their own consciences in that He gave them His Spirit, inwardly to assure their consciences that He did accept them in the Messiah to come; and thus these elders received a testimony, both outward to all the world, and inward in their conscience, that God in Christ approved and loved them: to the sense is plain, the use hereof manifold.
I. In that it is said these elders were approved by faith. Here we learn what is the old and ancient way, the right and straight way (that hath no by-ways) to life everlasting: namely, this only, To rely only on the mercy of God in Christ for pardon of sin; this is the way wherein all the ancient elders walked to heaven; this is the way that God hath opened and made unto His court: it is the KingŐs highway, the beaten way, common to everyone that knows how to walk in it; and deceived none that ever went in it; and beside which there is no other. Seeing, then, God hath consecrated, and our elders have trod this way before us, let us follow them; that so we may attain the kingdom whereto it hath brought them.
Many doubt whether this be the way or no. The Spirit of God puts it out of doubt (Isa. 30:21), first affirming peremptorily, This is the way; secondly, bidding us therefore, walk in the same. This is the way, walk in it. Our elders obeyed this commandment of the Spirit; and, walking in this way, found the end of it – everlasting life. If we would attain the same end of the journey, we must walk the same way.
But the world will say, This is a needless exhortation, for we walk this way, we deny ourselves and look to be approved of God only by Christ; but it is strange to see how men deceive themselves. Can a man walk in a way and not leave marks and steps behind him; even so, he that walks in this way, follow him and you shall see the steps of his continual dying unto sin, and living unto holiness, insomuch that a man that followeth him and marketh the course of his life in this way, may evidently say, See where he hath cast off and left behind him this and that sin; see where he hath taken up and carried with him these and those virtues and graces of God. Mark, here is a print of his faith, here is a print of his hope, here are prints of his love. And, may a child of God be followed and traced all the way to heaven, even until he come to his death, which is the gate of heaven? How mightily then are they deceived, which think they have walked all their lives in this way, and yet there is not one step to be seen; for assuredly this way is so beaten and trodden, that no man ever trod in it since the world began, but he left behind him manifest and visible steps, that all men that would look at him might see that he had gone that way. As therefore we all desire to come to heaven, and as we profess we walk in the way thither; so let us be as careful to leave behind us our steps; namely, tokens and prints of our faith, our hope and love; which if we do, then mark the excellent use of those steps. 1. They testify unto all that see them that we walked the right way to heaven; and secondly, they will serve for marks and directions for them that shall walk in the same way after us. By the first we shall leave an honourable testimony of ourselves behind us; by the second, we shall move others to magnify GodŐs name, to whom our steps have been marks and directions, helps and furtherances in the way to heaven.
II. Secondly, for what were these elders approved? For their faith: for nothing else. Amongst these elders Samson was wonderful in strength, Solomon in wisdom, Joshua in courage, Moses in learning; many of them in the honour and pomp of the world, in beauty, riches and other external gifts, and the most of them all in long life; yet not for one or all of these are any of them said to be regarded of God; but it is plainly said that for their faith God did approve them. Hear then learn what is the thing amongst all things that must make us acceptable unto God, even this, To deny ourselves and to rest upon the mercy of God in Christ; this will do it and nothing else. Hast thou strength? So had Goliath as well as Samson. Hast thou beauty? So had Absalom as well or more than David. Hast thou wisdom? So had Ahithophel, though not like Solomon, yet above ordinary men. Hast thou riches? Esau was richer than Jacob. Hast thou lived long? So did Cain and Ishmael, as well as Isaac. Hast thou many children? So had Ahab as well as Gideon. Hast thou learning (the glory of nature)? So had the Egyptians as well as Moses, for there Moses learned it. All these thou mayest have, and yet be a vile person in the sight of God; so far from being approved of God, as that He will not vouchsafe (unless it be in His anger) once to regard or look at thee. Hast thou therefore any of those outward gifts? It is not to be contemned, it hath his use; thank God for it and use it well; and use it so as by it thou may be approved amongst men; but stand not to it before God, for though it be wisdom, or learning, or never so excellent a gift, it cannot purchase the favour and acceptation of God; but true faith is able to please God both in this life and especially at the Day of Judgment.
This doctrine: 1. first confuteth the error of some gross papists, who hold and write that many philosophers, for their good use of the light of nature, for their deepness in learning and for their civil lives, are now Saints in heaven; a most manifest and shameful untruth, and here as manifestly confuted, for was Solomon not accepted for all his wisdom, and shall Socrates? Was Moses not accepted for all his learning, how then should Aristotle ? If faith made all of them accepted, and nothing but faith, how is it possible they should be accepted which never heard of faith? Nay, I say more. If many a man which liveth in the church, as deep (it may be) in human learning as they, and of great knowledge also in the whole doctrine of religion (which they never knew) and yet could not, nor ever shall be accepted of God, only for want of this saving faith, how absurd it is to imagine salvation for them, which neither had spark of faith, nor knowledge of Christ? Let us then hold that as there is no name whereby to be saved but only the name of Christ; so no means to be saved by that Christ, but only faith, even that faith for which these elders were accepted of God.
2. Secondly, this excellency of faith above all other gifts, shews the vanity of the world; so careful and earnest in seeking honour, riches, credit, wisdom, learning (all which can but make them esteemed and approved to the world), and so careless and negligent in getting true faith, which will both approve a man unto the world, and make him honourable in the sight of God.
3. Thirdly, by this doctrine, the popish doctrine is justly condemned, which teacheth that a man is justified by his works, and that faith is not the most excellent of GodŐs graces. Here we are taught other divinity; for, that for which a man is accepted, by that he is justified. But for their faith only were they accepted, therefore justification is only by faith. Again, that which makes a man accepted of God, that must needs be the most excellent thing of all. For God which is goodness itself, regardeth that that is the best: but God esteemed them only for their faith: therefore it is the chief of all graces of God, in regard of making a man accepted of God.
4. Fourthly, here is a pattern and precedent for GodŐs children, how to bestow and measure out their love and estimation in the world. God loved Solomon more for his faith than for all his glory and wisdom; and esteemed Moses more for his faith than for all his learning. So deal thou with thy wife, thy child, thy servant, thy friend, and with all men. Hast thou a wife never so beautiful, loving, honest and thrifty; never so toward and obedient a child; a most wise and trusty servant; a friend for faithfulness like thine own soul? These are indeed much to be esteemed, yet think not thyself in a paradise when thou hast such; for there is a greater matter behind than all these. Look therefore further, Is thy wife, thy child, thy servant, thy friend endued with saving faith? That is worth more than all the rest. That is it that makes them beloved of God. Let that therefore make them best beloved of thee; and that which makes them so honourable before God, let that make them most honourable and most esteemed of thee. So in all men, love that in a man best, that which God loveth; and so thou shalt be sure not to lose thy love. Esteem of a man, not as the world esteemeth, not according to his strength, beauty, high place, outward gifts; but as God esteemeth him, namely, according to the measure of saving faith which thou seest in him; for is not that worthy of thy love, which hath purchased the love of the Lord God Himself?
5. Fifthly, here is comfort for all such servants of God, as having true faith, yet are in base estimation for worldly respects. Some are poor, some in base callings, some deformed in body, some of mean gifts, many in great distress and misery all their lives; most of them some way or other contemptible in the world. Yet let not this discomfort any child of God. But let them consider what it is that makes them approved of God: not beauty, strength, riches, wisdom, learning (all these perish in the using), but true faith. If then thou hast that, thou hast more than all the rest. If thou hast all them, they could but make thee esteemed in the world; but having true faith, thou art esteemed of God; and what matter then who esteems thee and who not? This crosseth the corrupt censure of the world, who more esteem a man for his outward gifts and glory of riches or learning than for saving graces. Let GodŐs children when they are abased, contemned, mocked, and kept from all place and preferment in the world, let them I say, appeal from their unjust judgment to the judgment of God, and be comforted in this, that though they want all things (without them) that should make them esteemed in the world, yet they have that (within them) for which God will esteem, approve and acknowledge them both in this world, and in the world to come. And they have that that will stand by them when strength and beauty are vanished, when learning and riches and honour are all ended with the world.
Thus much of the second doctrine.
III. Thirdly. In that our elders by faith obtained a good report; here we learn the readiest and surest way to get a good name. a good name is a good gift of God (Eccl. 7:3), it is a precious ointment; it is a thing that all men would have. These elders had it, and they have laid us down a platform how to get it, and it is this: 1. Get into favour with God, please Him, that is, confess thy sins, bewail them, get pardon, set the promises of God in Christ before thee, believe them, apply them to thyself as thy own, be persuaded in thy conscience that Christ did all for thee, and that He hath purchased thy acceptation with God.
Thus when thou art assured that God approves of thee, God can easily give thee a comfortable testimony in thine own conscience, and He can move the hearts of all men to think well, and open their mouths to speak well of thee; for he hath the hearts of all men in His hand. And therefore those that are in His favour, He can bend the hearts of all men to approve them; yet this must be understood with some cautions:
1. God will not procure His children a good name amongst all men, for then they should be cursed (Luke 6:26), Cursed are ye when all men speaketh well of you. But the Lord meaneth that they shall be accepted and have a good name with the most and with the best. For indeed a good name (as all other graces of God) cannot be perfect in this life; but they shall have such a good name as in this world shall continue and increase, and in the world to come be without all blot; for sin is the disgrace of a man, therefore when sin is abolished, good name is perfect.
2. God will not procure all His children a good name, not always; for a good name is of the same nature with other external gifts of God; sometime they are good to a man, sometime hurtful; to some men good, to others hurtful. Everyone therefore that hath true faith, may not absolutely assure himself of a good name, but as far forth as God shall see it best for His own glory and his good.
3. The good name that God will give His children stands not so much in outward commendation, and speaking well of a man, as in the inward approbation of the consciences of men. They must therefore be content sometimes to be abused, mocked, slandered, and yet notwithstanding they have a good name in the chief respect, for they whose mouths do abuse and condemn them, their very consciences do approve them.
Out of all these the point is manifest, that God will procure His children a good name in this world, as far forth as it is a blessing and not a curse, and that, because they are approved of Him and by faith justified in His sight; for so to be is the only way to get a good name. For in reason it stands thus: that those who are in estimation and good name with the Lord Himself, much more will God make them esteemed, and give them a good name with men like themselves. Hence we learn, first, that the common course of the world to get a good name is fond, and wicked, and to no purpose. They labour for riches, preferments, honour, wisdom and learning, by them to get estimation in the world. Yea, many abuse these blessings in vain ostentation, to increase their credit and name with men; and in the meantime saving faith is never remembered, which must procure them a good name with God. This is a wrong course. First, we must labour to be approved of God; and then after the good name with God, followeth the good name in the world. He therefore that labours for favour with men, and neglects the favour of God; he may get a good name, but it shall prove a rotten name in the end (Prov. 10:7), The memorial of the just shall be blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot. The good name of the wicked is rotten: 1. Because it is loathsome and stinking in the face of God, though it be never so glorious in the world. 2. Because it will not last the wearing out, but in the end vanisheth and comes to nothing, unless (as a rotting thing leaves some corruption behind it, so) their good name in the end being vanished, leaves infamy behind it. And this is the name which commonly is gotten in the world, because men first seek not a good name with God. But that good name which is obtained by faith, will stand and continue all a manŐs life, and at his death leave behind it a sweet perfume, and abideth forever in the world to come.
2. Secondly, this maintains the excellency of our religion against atheists, and all enemies of it, which esteem and call it a base and contemptible religion, and of which can follow no credit nor estimation. But see, their malice is here controlled. Our religion is a most glorious and excellent profession, it is the highway to get true credit and estimation. It makes a man honourable in the sight of God and men; for by it our elders obtained a good report, which continueth fresh to this day.
3. In the third place, Were they well reported of for their faith? Therefore their faith was not hid in their hearts, but manifested in their lives. For the world cannot see nor commend them for their faith, but for the practice of faith. Here it is plain that men must not be content to keep their faith close in their hearts, but they must exercise the fruits of it in the world; and then both these together will make a man truly commendable. Thy faith approves thee unto God; but the practice of it is that that honours thee, and thy profession in the world.
4. Lastly, in that faith was that which approved our elders unto God; here is a storehouse of comforts, for all true professors of this faith.
Art thou poor? Thy faith doth make thee rich in God.
Art thou simple and of mean reach? Thy faith is true wisdom before God.
Art thou any way deformed? Faith makes thee beautiful unto God.
Art thou weak, feeble or sick? Thy faith doth make thee strong in God.
Art thou base in the world and of no account? Thy faith makes thee honourable in the sight of God and His holy angels.
Thus thou art poor and foolish and deformed and sick and base in the world, but mark how God hath recompensed thee; He hath given thee faith whereby thou art rich, and beautiful, and wise, and strong, and honourable in heaven with God. Say therefore with David, The lot is fallen to thee in a fair ground, and thou hast a goodly heritage, namely, thy faith which thou wouldest not change for all the glory of the world. Faith is the true riches, the sound strength, the lasting beauty, the true wisdom, the true honour of a Christian man; therefore take thyself ten thousand times more beholden unto God than if He had given thee uncertain riches, the crafty (and yet foolish) wisdom, the decaying strength, the vanishing beauty and the transitory honour of this world.
If thou hast true faith, thou art sure to have enemies: 1. The wicked of the world will never brook thee, but openly or privately hate and hurt thee. 2. Then the devil is thy sworn enemy. How canst thou deal with so powerful an enemy and all his wicked instruments? Here is sound comfort: if thou hast faith, thou hast God thy friend. Labour therefore for this true faith, and then care not for the devil and all his power. Night and day, sleeping and waking, by land and sea, thou art safe and secure, the devil cannot hurt thee, thy faith makes thee accepted of God, and brings thee within the compass of His protection. The same little spark of faith, which is in so narrow a compass as thy heart, is stronger than all the power and malice of Satan. As for the malice which his instruments, wicked men in this world, shew against thee in mocks and abuses, much less care for them; for their nature is to speak evil, and cannot do otherwise. Look not therefore at them, but look up into heaven, by the eye of the soul, where thy faith makes thee beloved and approved of God Himself, and honourable in the presence of His holy angels.
And thus much of the second action, or effect of faith, the third followeth.