ŇBy faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.Ó Hebrews 11:22.
We have heard in the former verses the several examples of the faith of the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now in this verse the Holy Ghost setteth down the example of JosephŐs faith. The words in this verse are plain and easy, and need no exposition. They are a plain and brief sum of the end of the fiftieth chapter of Genesis. Let us therefore come to the points of doctrine and instructions which are learned and gathered forth of the words.
I. First, note in general the great resemblance of this example with the former; of Joseph a godly son, with Jacob a godly father; for both of them shew forth their faith when they die. For it is said of both, By faith when he died; so that in ground and circumstance of time, they both agree.
Herein we may observe:
1. First, that the good examples of superiors (whether they be civil or ecclesiastical) are of great force to bring other men on, and to make them forward in the duties of religion; their zeal (as Paul saith to the Corinthians in the case of alms) provoketh many. Jacob the father, a worthy prophet and patriarch, and giving an holy and blessed example unto Joseph and his children, doth shew forth at his death most notable behaviour; wherein he worthily expresseth the truth of his faith. Now his example works with Joseph, and he in his death behaves himself in the same manner that his godly father did before him; and therefore superiors must look to all their sayings and doings carefully, that they may be worthy examples to their inferiors, to draw them on in religion, and in the fear of God.
2. Secondly, hence inferiors also must learn to follow the godly, holy and religious examples of their governors and superiors (whether they be civil or ecclesiastical), as we may see in this place, Joseph doth imitate the godly example of his father Jacob. Hereof St Paul giveth strait charge unto the Philippians, saying, Brethren, be followers of me, and look on them which walk so, as ye have us for an example (Phil. 3:17). And in the next chapter, exhorting them to honest conversation, he bids them do those things which they had heard, received and seen in him (Phil. 4:9). But are these duties practiced among us? Be the elder sort teachers of good things to the younger? And do the younger follow their elders in well-doing? Nay verily; but such are our times, too many among us, both those who give and those which follow good examples, are as sign and wonders, as the prophet speaketh; they are made a reproach, a by-word among men, and are foully disgraced by odious terms (Isa. 8:18). But this indeed is the practice of Ishmael, that mocked Isaac (Gen. 21:9). And we again must undoubtedly know that unless it be reformed, that hand of God which hath been stretched out against us in many fearful judgments, will not be pulled back, but stretched out still, till it bring us to destruction; for God will not suffer His ordinance to be condemned and His holy ones to be abused. He looketh for better fruits at out hands, and therefore we must learn of these godly patriarchs, both to give and to follow good examples.
In the example of Joseph, it is said that by faith Joseph when he died &c. Joseph for ought we find in Scripture, had not such means to come by faith as his ancestors had before him. For the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had at other times the appearance of God unto them, at other times His holy angels brought them messages from God, and sometimes they had His will revealed to them by dreams and visions; all which were notable helps and means both to begin and to increase faith in them; but Joseph wanted all these means, or at least many of them. For, read his whole history, and you shall not find that either an angel appeared to him, or else that God by dreams and visions spake unto him; and no marvel; for he lived out of the visible church where GodŐs presence was, in superstitious and idolatrous Egypt; and yet for all this, he is here matched in the matter of faith with the three worthy patriarchs.
Is it then a good question to ask: How did Joseph come by this faith? Answer: We must know this; that though he had not the like extraordinary means with the patriarchs, yet he wanted not all means; for in his younger days he was trained up in his father JacobŐs family, and by him was instructed in the ways of God, and in the practice of religion; and in his latter days also, he had the benefit of his fatherŐs company and instruction in Egypt. Now Jacob was not an ordinary father, but a notable patriarch and an holy prophet; in whose family God had placed his visible church in those days, wherein Jacob was the LordŐs prophet and minister. Now Joseph, both in his young age, and also after his father came to Egypt, did hear and learn of him the ways of God; and by that means came to that excellent faith, for which he is so commended here and matched with his fathers the holy patriarchs.
1. Here we learn that the preaching of GodŐs Word by his ministers (though extraordinary means, as revelations and visions, are now wanting) is sufficient to bring a man to faith; yea, to such a faith as the three patriarchs had. Indeed in the ministry of the Word, he which speaketh unto us is but a man as others are; but yet the Word which he delivereth is not his own, but the mighty Word of God; and look what is truly pronounced by him unto us out of GodŐs Word, the same is certainly sealed unto us by His Spirit, as if God Himself from heaven should extraordinarily reveal the same. And howsoever in former times men had visions and dreams, and angels from God Himself to reveal His will to them; yet this ministry of GodŐs Word in the New Testament is as sufficient a means of the beginning and increasing of true faith, as that was then.
This plainly confuteth all those that neglect or condemn the ministry and preaching of the Word, and look for extraordinary revelations, and for visions and dreams, for the begetting and increase of faith and grace in their hearts. But our Saviour Christ doth notably check all such in the parable of the rich man; but the words of Abraham saying of the rich manŐs brethren, that they had Moses and the prophets; if they will not hear them, neither will they believe though one should come from the dead again (Luke 16:31), insinuating that if a man will not believe by the preaching of the Word, there is nothing in the world will make him to believe; neither revelations, nor visions, no not the words of them that rise again from the dead.
2. Secondly, the consideration of the sufficiency of GodŐs ordinance in the holy ministry to beget and to increase our faith, must stir us up to all care and diligence, not only to hear the Word of God preached to us, but to profit by it both in knowledge and obedience.
And thus much for the first point.
II. The second point to be handled is the commendation of JosephŐs faith by two actions thereof; to wit:
1. His mention of the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt, and,
2. His commandment concerning his bones. Of both which we will speak briefly, because the special points herein were handled in the former verse.
1. For the first,
Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel, that is, out of Egypt into Canaan.
(1) Here we may observe a most notable work of faith: it makes a man to keep in memory the merciful promises which God hath made unto him. This is it which commends JosephŐs faith for a lively faith; that being about to die, he remembereth this merciful promise of God made to his forefathers touching their posterity; to wit, that after they had continued as servants in a strange land four hundred years, they should then have a good issue and a happy deliverance, and be brought into the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:13,14). This is a notable work of faith, as may appear by two notable effects hereof in the life of a Christian. For first, by this remembrance of GodŐs merciful promises, the servant of God in all times, and in all distresses and extremities, doth find comfort unto his soul. This brings to his memory the wonderful goodness and mercy of God by which he is comforted. When David was in a most desperate case, so as he cried out by reason of affliction and temptation, Will the Lord absent Himself for ever, and will He shew no more favour? Is His mercy clean gone? Doth His mercy fail for evermore? (Psa. 77), with such like most fearful speeches; how then did he comfort himself in this distress? Answer: Surely, by remembering the works of the Lord, and His wonders of old, and by meditating on all His works and gracious acts which He had done for him. So likewise in another place, in great anguish of spirit he saith to his soul, Why art thou cast down my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? (Psa. 43:5). Yet in the next words he thus stays himself: Wait on God, for I will yet give thanks unto Him; He is my present help and my God. How came David to say so in this distress? Answer: By means of faith, which doth revive and refresh the death of man by bringing to his remembrance the merciful promises of God.
St Paul pressed with corruption, cried out: O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:24). Yet in the next words he saith, I thank my God through Jesus Christ our Lord; then I myself in my mind serve the law of God &c. How come the latter words follow on the former? Answer: In the first words indeed, he is cast down with the view and sight of his natural corruption, which drew him headlong into sin; but yet the latter words are a remembrance of the merciful deliverance from sin which God had wrought in him by Christ; and therefore he breaketh out to this saying: I thank my God through Jesus Christ &c.
(2) Secondly, the remembrance of GodŐs promises serveth to be a means to keep a man from sin; for manŐs nature is as ready and prone to sin, as fire is to burn when fuel is put on it. But when by faith he calls to mind GodŐs merciful promises, especially those which are made unto him in Christ; then he reasoneth and striveth against temptation, and lays the Word as a shield unto his soul, to keep out the fiery darts of Satan; yea, he applies the same Word to his own soul as a corrosive unto corruption; whereupon it is said that faith purifies the heart (Acts 15:9). How? Namely, beside the applying of ChristŐs blood, it brings to memory GodŐs merciful promises in Christ; which stays a man from committing such things as would pollute and defile the heart. And therefore is faith said to be our victory over the world (1 John 5:4), because by applying to our souls GodŐs promises in Christ, we do not only condemn the world in regard of Christ; but also stand against the assaults thereof; so that it is a most notable and excellent work of faith.
(3) Lastly, observe the circumstance of time, when Joseph made remembrance of their departing. The text saith, When he was dying. Hereof we have spoken in the former verse; yet this one thing may here again be well remembered: Joseph calls to mind the promises of God at his death, which concern the temporal deliverance of His people; and we by his example, when we are dying, must learn to call to remembrance the gracious promises which God hath made unto us in Christ, touching our eternal deliverance from the spiritual bondage of the devil. Oh! Great will be the fruit hereof, not only for inward comfort to our own souls, and joy to such as love us; but also we shall hereby give a worthy evidence to the world, that we have been sound in the faith; wherein we shall leave a good precedent to those that follow us.
2. The second fact of JosephŐs faith is this: He gave commandment concerning his bones.
The meaning thereof is this: that Joseph, lying on his death bed, gave a solemn charge to his brethren, to have a special care how and where they buried him; that his bones might not be lost, but so preserved while they stayed in Egypt, that at their departure they might be carried into the land of Canaan, and there buried in the sepulchre of his fathers. The causes why Joseph gave this commandment were these:
(1) Hereby to testify unto his brethren and posterity that howsoever he lived a long time in the pomp and glory of Egypt, yet his heart was never set thereon; but he had greater delight, and more esteemed to be counted a true member of the church of God, than to be a noble prince in the land of Egypt. For if he had loved and liked the pomp of Egypt, he would have had his sepulchre among them; but giving commandment to the contrary, it sheweth plainly that his heart was never set on that glory and pomp in which he lived.
By whose example we are taught that in using the world and the things thereof, we must not set our hearts on them; but as the apostle saith (1 Cor. 7:31), use them as though we used them not. Still have our affections in heaven, which is our spiritual Canaan.
(2) Hereby Joseph would testify unto his brethren what he esteemed his chief happiness; namely, that in faith and hope he was joined unto his fathers and ancestors that believed in God; and that he was of their religion, and looked for a resurrection and another life, as they did. And this he would have known, not only to his brethren and posterity, but to the Egyptians also, among whom he lived.
(3) Joseph hereby intended principally to confirm the faith of his brethren and posterity in GodŐs promise, for enjoying and possessing the land of Canaan after his death; and this was a notable way to strengthen their faith. For when they should see or remember his corpse, it was unto them a lively sermon, to shew them plainly that howsoever they lived for a while in bondage in Egypt; yet the day should surely come wherein they should be set at liberty, and brought (as free men) into the land of Canaan. And undoubtedly, Joseph would have his bones kept among them, that they might be a pledge unto them of their deliverance.
Yea, note further the story saith (Gen. 50:25), that Joseph did not only charge his brethren generally; but binds them by an oath to carry his bones; hereby shewing that it was a matter of great weight which he did enjoin them; even a sign and pledge of the truth of GodŐs promise in their deliverance. Whence we learn that it is a matter of great moment for every Christian, both carefully and reverently to use the sacraments, which God hath given as pledges of His covenant of grace made with us in Christ. For shall Joseph cause his brethren and posterity to swear concerning his bones, that so they might more reverently regard that pledge and sign of their outward deliverance? And shall not we with reverence and good conscience, both esteem and use these holy pledges of our eternal deliverance by Christ Jesus?
The papists from this place would justify their practice in reserving and honouring the relics of saints. Now by relics, they mean the parts of the bodies of saints departed; as the head of John Baptist, the arms or bones of this or that saint, the milk of the virgin Mary, and also the parts of the cross whereon Christ suffered, with such like. Answer: First, let us know that their relics are nothing else but forged devices of their own, and no true relics of saints; as by one instance may appear. For the parts and parcels of wood kept in Europe, which they say are parts of the cross whereon Christ died, are so many that if they were all gathered together, they would load a ship; which shews plainly that herein they use notorious forgery, for it was no greater than a man may bear. And the like is their behaviour in the rest. Secondly, the keeping of JosephŐs bones was for a good end and purpose, namely, to testify his own faith, and to confirm them in believing GodŐs promise for the duration of their bondage in Egypt; but their relics serve rather to extinguish faith in Christ than to confirm it; for they nourish men in fond devices and foul superstitions, and not in the truth of GodŐs promises. Thirdly, we do not read in all the Bible that JosephŐs bones were ever worshipped; and therefore from this place they have no ground whereon to build their superstitious worshipping of relics.
And thus much for the example of JosephŐs faith.