ŇWho through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.Ó Hebrews 11:33-35.
II. In these words, the apostle propounds unto us ten several fruits of faith; the nine first whereof are the particular actions of the parties spoken of in the former verse; and they are here related for the commendation of their faith.
1. The first is subduing of kingdoms; which serves chiefly for the commendation of the four judges there named and of David. For as we may read in the books of Judges and of Samuel, all these subdued kingdoms; as the Canaanites (Jud. 4), the Midianites (Jud. 6), the Philistines (Jud. 15,16; 2 Sam. 8:1), the Ammonites (Jud. 11), the Moabites and Aramites (2 Sam. 8:2,6). Now how did they overcome and subdue them? The text saith, by faith; which we must not thus understand as though only by the very act of faith they subdued kingdoms. But the meaning of the Holy Ghost is that they believed the promises which God made unto them of delivering the kingdoms into their hands; and according to their faith, God accomplished His promises unto them; and so they subdued kingdoms by faith.
In this work of faith, we may learn two things:
(1) First, that it is lawful for Christians in the New Testament to make war; for that which may be done in faith, is lawful for GodŐs servants; but war may be made in faith; for these servants of God subdue kingdoms in war, and that by faith; and therefore it is lawful for Christians, upon just cause, to make war. The Anabaptists of Germany say that it is not lawful for a Christian under the gospel to carry a weapon or to make war. But this one place of Scripture (if there were no more) is alone sufficient to prove the lawfulness of war under the gospel, if it be used according to GodŐs will and Word. When the soldiers came to John the Baptist, and asked him what they should do; he bids them not leave off their callings, but this: Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:14). And our Saviour Christ reporteth of a centurion (who was captain of a band), when he came to have his son healed, that He had not found such faith in Israel (Luke 7:9). And he was not a centurion only before he believed; but even afterwards, when Christ commended his faith; yet did He not dislike his calling. The like may be said of Cornelius (Acts 10). All which shew plainly that upon just causes Christians may lawfully make war.
Objection 1: But to defend their opinion, they object some places of Scripture, as Matt 5:39, Resist not evil, saith Christ; therefore, say they, a man may not wear a weapon, nor use a sword; lest those make him to resist, and so to break this commandment of Christ. Answer: That place must be understood of private revenge; and so it maketh nothing against lawful war. For what though a private man may not revenge himself, nor make war; yet that hindereth not, but that a magistrate who bears the sword, may lawfully use it. Again, it is frivolous to imagine that resisting is only by a weapon; for the chief resistance that God respecteth is in the heart and affection. And a private man may resist; that is, break this commandment, by unlawful resistance, though he carry no weapons; and the public person break it not, though it make war.
Objection 2. Secondly, they object the prophecy of Isaiah who, speaking of the kingdom of Christ under the gospel, saith that they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into mattocks (Isa. 2:4); therefore (say they) there must be no war under the gospel. Answer: That prophecy signifies that in ChristŐs kingdom there must be great love and peace, and wonderful concord among all the true servants of God. But here they take advantage, and say: If this be so, what then needeth any war? Answer: We must know that as there be two kinds of kingdoms, a spiritual kingdom, and a politick; so there be two kinds of peace: spiritual and politick. Spiritual peace is inward, in the church; and politick peace is outward, in the commonwealth. Spiritual peace is begun and preserved by spiritual means of grace in the ministry of the church; but war is an ordinary means for the establishing and preserving of politick peace.
(2) Secondly, hence we learn that GodŐs people may make war, not only by way of defence; but also in assault upon their enemies, and that according to GodŐs Word. For here it is said that Gideon, Samson, David and the rest by faith subdued kingdoms, making war against them by way of assault, and not in defence only. Indeed, special care ought to be had that offensive war, in assaulting an enemy, be made upon just and good grounds. One special ground or cause is here implied in this work of faith; to wit, the recovery of just right in matters of importance; for the kingdoms of Canaan were given to the Israelites by God Himself, and for the recovery of them, they made war by way of assault. So when Lot was taken captive by Chedorlaomer and the kings of the nations, Abraham, LotŐs kinsman, gathers his servants together, and pursues the kings, and overtaking them, destroyed them for the recovery of Lot and his goods. Other respects there be for which offensive war in assault may be made; but because they are not here mentioned, I will not propound them.
2. The second fruit of their faith is this: they wrought righteousness; that is, some of these men in their places wherein God had set them, gave to every man his own. This working of righteousness consists in two things: First, in giving rewards to such as deserved them. Secondly, in inflicting due punishment according to menŐs deserts. In both of these, the men before named did all excel; but especially two of them, David and Samuel.
(1) For David, it is a wonder to see how righteous he was; for when he was anointed king in SaulŐs stead, and Saul rejected, how did he behave himself towards Saul? Did he seek SaulŐs blood? No; but when Saul hunted him, as the hunter doth the partridge, David even then gave himself to study and practice righteousness; yea, when Saul was fallen into his hands, both in the cave and asleep in the camp (1 Sam. 24:5ff, and 26:7ff.), he would not touch him, nor suffer others to do him hurt, because he was the LordŐs anointed. Yea, so righteous was David towards Saul that his heart smote him for cutting off but the lap of his coat. Therefore David is here commended especially for this effect of faith, the working of righteousness.
To apply this unto our times; if this be a fruit of faith thus to work righteousness, then what may be said of the church of Rome, and of the popish sort amongst us? They pretend the ancient faith, and none must be so good believers and Catholics as they; but how do they shew this their faith? Is it by the practice of righteousness? Do they give to every one his due? Nay verily; but they set themselves to work the ruin of kingdoms that join not with them in religion. For this, witness their manifold and devilish plots against our state from time to time. This did not David, no not against Saul, though he were rejected of God, and also most unjustly sought his death. But they have many times sought the death of the LordŐs anointed over us; whereby they declare their state to all the world, that they have no spark of true faith at all; for true faith will make a man practice righteousness and innocency. And therefore we may judge of them, and all their adherents that be of this mind to allow such practices, that they have none other but the faith of devils; which is to believe the Word of God to be true. This the devils do with trembling. And as their faith is devilish, so are the fruits thereof; namely, treachery and falsehood, such as the devil most approves. But we must learn that true faith is especially commended by these fruits: the study and practice of innocency, and the maintaining of peace in Christian estates; for true faith, and treachery, and contention, will no more stand together than light and darkness.
(2) Secondly, Samuel also wrought righteousness; as appears by his protestation before all Israel, when he gave up his office of government over them unto Saul (1 Sam. 12). Behold (saith he) here am I: bear record of me before the Lord, and before His anointed; whose ox have I taken? Or whose ass have I taken? Or whom have I done wrong to? or whom have I hurt? Or of whose hand have I received any bribe, to blind mine eyes therewith? And I will restore it.
Now, as these two, Samuel and David were famous for this fruit of faith in working righteousness; so likewise were the judges and prophets before-named in their places careful of this virtue; and did practice the same, partly in rewarding the good, and partly in punishing the wicked.
But some will say, To work righteousness cannot be a work of faith; for the very heathen, which never heard of Christ, by the light of nature have done justice, and are highly commended by heathen writers for the same. Now, that which the heathen can do by the light of nature, is not thus to be extolled as a fruit of faith? Answer: True it is, the heathen have done many works of justice; but we must wisely consider that every just work is not a fruit of faith, unless it be done by a righteous person in obedience to God, and for His glory. But in all thee, the heathen failed in their works. For, though the thing they did were good in themselves; yet seeing the heathen were corrupt trees, remaining in the sinful state of corrupt nature, their works must needs be corrupt fruit; as coming from them. For an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit. The heart is the fountain of every action; now their hearts were corrupt, being destitute of faith which purifieth the heart; and therefore their works must needs be sinful. Again, they did not their works in obedience; for they were guided only by the light of nature, and knew not God aright, nor His commandments. And lastly, they propounded not the glory of God, as the end of their works, but the praise of men, their own profit, or some such end. But these worthy persons do not only such things as were just in themselves, but they do them in faith, in obedience, and for GodŐs glory, and so please God.
Now, seeing these renowned princes and judges have their faith commended unto us by their preaching of righteousness; we must learn to follow them within the compass of our calling, doing justice and righteousness in such things as concern us. There be many reasons set down in GodŐs Word to persuade us hereunto. As first, for this end hath God caused the gospel to be published (Tit. 2:11,12), The saving grace of God hath appeared; but to what end? To teach us that we should deny ungodliness, and live soberly and righteously; that is, that we might do justice. Unless therefore we work righteousness, we make the gospel a vain word unto us. Secondly, we desire to be counted just before God and men; and it would grieve us if we should be otherwise thought of; but if we would be just indeed both before God and man, then we must work righteousness; for (as St John saith) He that doeth righteousness is righteous (1 John 3:7). Thirdly, there is no man set over a family, but he either doth, or ought to endeavour to bring a blessing upon his family. But this he cannot do, unless he work righteousness, and do justice; for Solomon saith, He that walketh in his integrity is just, and blessed shall his children be after him (Prov. 20:7). Lastly, we do all of us desire to escape hell; well then we must remember to practice righteousness; for the apostle saith, No unrighteouss man, that is, none practicing unrighteousness, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9). So that within the compass of our calling, we must all endeavour to do justice.
Here, some will ask, How shall I do justice and work righteousness? Answer: For doing of it, we must remember to practice these rules that follow:
(1) That which is both the Word of God and the rule of nature; we must do to all men, as we would they should do unto us; this is the law and the prophets (saith our Saviour Christ, Matt. 7:12). Now, the square for all our actions must be the Word of God; and GodŐs Word gives this direction: do thou to thy neighbour as thou in thy reason and conscience thinkest he should do to thee, if thou wert in his case, and he in thine.
(2) The second rule is that which Paul teacheth us, saying, Give to every man that which is their duty; tribute to whom tribute belongeth etc. (Rom. 13:7). That which GodŐs Word and our conscience and the wholesome laws of the realm bind us unto, that we must give to every man.
(3) The third rule is this: Every man within the compass of his calling, must not only intend and labour for his own good, but for the common good in that church and commonwealth wherein he liveth. The blind world, out of their carnal minds, have learned this for a rule: Every man for himself, and God for us all; and this is many a manŐs practice, he will labour diligently in his calling, but all is for himself. But he that propoundeth only this end in his calling, to benefit himself alone, dealeth unjustly, both towards the church and commonwealth in which he liveth, who ought to have a part of his care with himself.
(4) The fourth rule is taught us also by St Paul: Defraud or oppress no man in any matter (1 Thess. 4:6). This rule concerneth our manner of dealing in common affairs. In all our traffick and bargains, as we would benefit ourselves, so we must seek to benefit those with whom we deal. This rule is very necessary to be learned; for this is the common practice of men in their traffick: To use all means whereby they may defraud others; so that they get unto themselves, they care not how it come. But in the fear of God, let us remember that the practice of justice (to which we are all bound) standeth in this: that we defraud or oppress no man in anything.
And thus much of the second fruit of their faith.
3. The third fruit and effect of these menŐs faith is this: They obtained the promises. By promises, we must not understand the main promise concerning the MessiahŐs coming; for that they obtained not as yet for (as it appears in v.39) they received not that promise, for Christ was not incarnate in their time. But by promises are here meant certain special and particular promises, made unto them alone, and not common to all; so that the meaning of these words is this: They obtained the benefit and accomplishment of those particular promises that God made unto them. This effect is specially to be understood of Caleb and David; for Caleb entered into the land of Canaan, and there enjoyed his possession, according to GodŐs promise made unto him in Joshua chapter 14. So David had a particular promise made unto him, that he should be king over Israel; this he long waited for, and resting herein, he was not only anointed king, but in due time actually made king over all Israel.
Whereas these worthy men by faith obtained these promises; hereby we may be directed to see the true cause why, after so long preaching of the Word, and often receiving of the sacraments, men reap so little profit; especially considering that God hath made a promise of grace and salvation by means of His Word and sacraments. Hence therefore we must learn that the Word of God preached and the sacraments received, are unprofitable, not because God altereth His will, having promised His blessing in these means; for herein the will of God is unchangeable; but the cause is the great measure of unbelief in those which hear and receive. They therefore profit not, because they receive them without faith. For howsoever men say they have faith; yet the works of their lives, and their estate in sin, shew plainly that they have none at all. Take a vessel that is close stopped, and cast it into a river or into the sea; yet it receives no water, because it hath no place of entrance. Even so, bring a man that wants faith to the Word and sacraments, wherein God hath promised the fulness of His grace; yet he receives none, because his heart is closed up through unbelief. This is it which makes the heart like a stopped vessel, which hath no entrance for GodŐs grace. We therefore in the fear of God, must labour to have our hearts purged of this unbelief and lip-faith; and to be endued with true saving faith; whereby we may profitably hear the Word and receive the sacraments, and to enjoy GodŐs most excellent promises in Christ. Men may lie and be deceived, but God is truth itself and cannot lie; and therefore, as He hath made His promise of life to believers, and to no other; so will He assuredly accomplish the same to them, and to no other. Wherefore if we love our souls, and desire life, let us get into our hearts the grace of faith. And thus much of the third effect of their faith.
4. The fourth and fifth effects, which I will handle together, are these: Stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of the fire. For the fourth: whereas some of these persons are said to have stopped the mouths of lions, it is to be understood of Daniel; as appeareth in the sixth chapter of that book. For Daniel (through the malice of others that incensed the kingŐs wrath against him) was cast into the den of hunger-bit lions. But Daniel even then believed in the Lord, and put all his trust in God; and for this cause, the Lord by His angels stopped the mouths of lions and (as it were) sealed up their paws that they could not hurt him.
5. The fifth effect in quenching of the violence of the fire, must be understood of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel; which three (as we may read in Daniel chapter 5) refused to worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up. For which cause they were cast into an hot burning oven. But they put their trust in God, and clave fast unto Him in obedience, even unto the hazard of their lives. Whereupon the Lord, by His omnipotent power, did most miraculously preserve them, by staying the rage of the fire, contrary to the nature thereof, that it had no power over their bodies; it did not burn the hair of their heads, nor cause their garments to smell. And therefore they are said to have quenched the violence of it, because it had no power over them, though it burned most fiercely; but was to them as though it had been quite put out and quenched.
Now, join these two effects together, and they afford us good instructions.
(1) First, here we learn how to behave ourselves in time of danger, and at the point of death. Even as these four men did, so must we from the bottom of our hearts forsake ourselves, and put all our trust in Christ. This did Daniel, when he was in the lionsŐ den; and this did the three children in the hot fiery furnace. And this hath been always the ancient practice of GodŐs children in all ages. At the very point of death, and in the extremity of all danger, they rested themselves wholly upon the merciful promises of the true God. The time will come upon us all wherein we shall be called unto the practice of this duty; for we must all pass the door of death, and once lie in the pangs thereof. Now what shall we do when we lie half dead, gasping and panting for breath, able to speak to no man, nor to hear any speaking unto us, when all comfort of the world fails us? Surely, we must then, at that very instant, labour to leave ourselves and this world, and yield up ourselves by faith into the hands of God, and cleave fast unto ChristŐs passion, from the bottom of our hearts, and He will surely deliver us from the danger; stopping the mouth of Satan, that roaring lion, and quenching the fire of hell, that it shall not touch us.
But some will say, If this be all we must do, then all is well; for this I can soon do when time serves, and therefore I will take no care until then. Answer: Beware of spiritual guile; for it will be found a most hard matter for a man to rely and cast himself wholly upon Christ, in the hour and pang of death. For then above all times is the devil busy against us; then will the conscience stir, if ever; and the body being tormented, the soul must needs be wonderfully heavy. This we may see by the state of our Saviour Christ, in His agony and passion; and therefore we must not reckon so lightly of this duty.
Question: But if it be so hard a thing, how could Daniel and the three children do it? Answer: They were prepared for it; for they rested upon God in the time of peace; and so were enabled to rely upon Him in time of peril. Even so, if we would believe in God when we die, and then shew forth our faith, we must while we live put our trust in Him, and shew it by obedience; for rare it is to find a man that lives in unbelief, to shew forth faith at his end. And therefore while we have health, strength and peace, we must labour to believe, and then shall we find the comfort of it in time of peril, and of death.
(2) Secondly, from these two effects of faith, we observe further that GodŐs divine providence doth firmly rule and govern the whole world. Ordinarily, God governs the world by secondary causes, setting one creature over another, and ordaining one to do this thing, and another that, and accordingly they work; but we must not think that God is bound to any of these means, but is most free to use them or not to use them. Ordinarily, He executeth this or that punishment by this or that creature, and so by means conveys His blessings; but yet He can work without them, as here we see. For He preserves His creatures against the ordinary means; as Daniel from the lions, whose nature is to devour; and against the nature of fire, he saved the three children in the fire. So that God worketh by means, but yet freely; because He can work at His pleasure. Either without or against means; and His powerful hand, saving against means, shews His ruling and disposing providence over all things.
(3) Thirdly, by these effects of their faith, we learn that GodŐs goodness and mercy towards believers is far greater and more unspeakable than ever He promised, or they could expect. This point is carefully to be considered of us all; for it is of singular and extraordinary use, especially in time of peril and trouble; and yet we see it is the plain truth of God; and therefore Paul gives thanks and praise unto God, who is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Daniel put his trust in the Lord when he was in the lionsŐ den; and what doth he obtain for his labour? The Lord never promised to stop the lionsŐ mouths, neither did Daniel ever presume upon that deliverance; and yet the Lord saved him. And so the three children though they made no account of their lives, because God had not promised to keep them from burning, yet they come out in safety. For God in mercy so quenched the heat of the fire unto them, that though it burnt to death those that cast them in; yet did it not so much as burn their garments, or the hair of their heads, to cause the same to smell. And the like is His goodness towards all His servants. David saith, The Lord prevented him with liberal blessings (Psa. 21:3), that is, when David never asked such blessings at GodŐs hands, even then did the Lord bestow His liberal blessings upon him; as namely this, when David was following his fatherŐs sheep, and walking in his calling, he never dreamed of any kingdom; yet thence the Lord took him to be king over His people Israel. So the Israelites having been seventy years in captivity, never thought of return; and yet then were they delivered; and their deliverance was so strange and miraculous, that they were like men that dreamed (Psa. 126:1). When Peter was cast into prison by Herod, and committed to four quaternions of soldiers to be kept, the angel of the Lord came and awoke him as he slept, and led him out of prison, past the watches, and through the iron gate, and then left him. Now this deliverance was so strange unto him that he knew not whether it was true, but thought he had seen a vision (Acts 12:9). From hence it is that God hath made this gracious promise unto His church, to answer before they call, and to hear while they speak (Isa. 65:24). So endless is His mercy, and His goodness so unspeakable towards His servants, that if they cleave unto Him unfeignedly, they shall find His bounty far surpassing all that they could ask or think.
The consideration hereof serves to stir up every one of us in our places, to cleave unfeignedly unto the true God with all our hearts, by faith, in due reverence and obedience. If a servant were to choose his master, and among an hundred should hear of one that besides his wages, would give unto his servants gifts which they would not think of; this servant would forsake all the rest to come unto this one. Behold, the Lord God is the bountiful master; who doth not only keep covenant with His servants, in a full accomplishment of His promises; but is exceeding gracious, preventing them with liberal blessings, above all that they could wish for themselves; wherefore let us forsake all our bad masters, the world, the flesh and the devil, in the service of sin; and resign ourselves with full purpose of heart, to serve this our good God, to the end of our days. There is no man living that can have such true joy in heart as GodŐs servants have; for God shews more kindness to them than they can ask or think of. And take this for truth also; there be none that thus give themselves to serve God faithfully with all their hearts, but before they die they shall find this to be true, that God is a most merciful God, and His goodness endless towards them above their deserts.
Secondly, the endless mercy of God must move us all to repent of our sins, and to trust in Him for the pardon of them, be they never so many or heinous; for they can never reach to the multitude of His mercies. Though they be in number like the sand of the sea, they must not dismay us from coming unto Him; but considering that His goodness is endless, and His mercy is over all His works, we must come unto Him for the pardon of our sins. For God is merciful to perform His promise; yea, and beyond His promise, to do for us more than we can think of. Many indeed abuse this mercy of God by presuming thereon to go on in sin; but such deceive themselves, for God will not be merciful unto them (Deut. 29:20). It is the penitent person that shall find mercy.
6. The sixth effect of their faith is in these words: Escaped the edge of the sword. The words in the original are thus: Edge, they escaped of the sword; which is the Hebrew phrase in the Old Testament, and here followed by the penman of this epistle; and before, where he called the Word of God a two-mouthed sword (Heb. 4:12), hereby meaning (as it is translated) a two-edged sword. This effect must be understood of two worthy prophets, Elijah and Elisha; for Elijah, we may read that when he had slain BaalŐs priests (1 Kin. 19:1), Jezabel the queen threatened to kill him; which he hearing fled into the wilderness, and thence was led to mount Horeb, and there escaped by means of his faith. And for Elisha, we may read that when he disclosed the king of Syria his counsel to the king of Israel (2 Kin. 6:8ff.), he was compassed about in Dothan, the city where he lay, with a huge host of Assyrians; but praying to the Lord, the Lord smote the host with blindness, and so the prophet led them in safety to Samaria. So then, the meaning of this effect is that when the servants of God were in distress and danger of death, they denied themselves, and their own help, and by faith relied upon God unfeignedly, from the bottom of their hearts; and so found deliverance with God from the peril of death.
(1) First, here we learn that God provides for the safety and deliverance of His servants, in the extremity of peril and danger, when both might and multitude are against them. This point we have touched in divers examples before, and therefore do here only name it.
(2) Secondly, in that these men in the extremity of danger believed, and so escaped the edge of the sword; we learn that when we are in greatest danger, so as we see no way to escape; even then we must put our trust in the true God, and He will save us. This we must do, not only for the safety of our body; but more especially for the salvation of our soul. Put the case a man were in despair of his salvation, and that he sees legions of devils compassing him about to take him away; what must this man do in this case? Answer: Look what Elijah and Elisha did, the same thing must he do; he must not lie dead in desperation, yielding thereto; but at the very same time, when such terrors oppress him, he must by faith lift up his heart to God, and put his trust and confidence in Him through Christ. And if he can do this, he may assure himself that he shall certainly escape these fearful terrors of conscience, and the torments of hell, as Elijah and Elisha did the edge of the sword; for let a man put his whole trust in God, and whatsoever his troubles be, God will deliver him. Great are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psa. 34:19). Indeed we must not limit God for time or manner of deliverance; but wait on God by faith, accounting His grace sufficient, till deliverance come. And thus much of the sixth effect.
7. The seventh effect of their faith is this: Of weak were made strong; or thus: Of weak were restored to health. This must be understood of Hezekiah, a worthy king of Judah, who (as we may read in 2 Kings 20) being sore sick even unto death, was restored to health, and obtained of God the lengthening of his days for the space of fifteen years. Which wonderful recovery he obtained by means of his faith, which he shewed in time of his sickness by a prayer he made unto God; the substance whereof stood in these two things: First, being very sick, he prayed for the pardon of his sins. This appeareth by his thanksgiving upon his recovery (Isa 38:17), where he confesseth that God had cast all his sins behind His back. Now look for what he gave thanks that (no doubt) he had before begged of God in prayer. Secondly, he made request unto God for prolonging of his days, for some reasons which did concern himself; and this he also prayed for in faith.
Now, the reasons moving him to pray for longer life were these:
(1) First, he had then no issue to succeed him in his kingdom; and therefore he prayed for life to beget a child which might sit upon his throne after him. And the ground of this prayer was this: God had made a particular promise to David and Solomon (1 Kin. 8:25) that they should not want issue after them to sit upon the throne of Israel, so that their children took heed to their way, to walk before the Lord, as David did. Now king Hezekiah, knowing this promise, had regard hereunto; and building himself hereon, his conscience bearing him witness that he had walked before the Lord uprightly, he prays for issue to succeed him; and for that cause, he desires strength of body and length of days. This appeareth notably by his prayer (2 Kin. 20). Lord (saith he), I beseech thee now remember how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart. The sum of his prayer is this: All the kings succeeding David and Solomon, which walk in GodŐs commandments, shall have issue to sit on their thrones after them. Now from hence he prays thus: O Lord, I have walked before thee in truth and sincerity of heart; and hereupon the conclusion follows: Grant me issue to sit upon my throne after me; and therefore life and health to accomplish the same.
(2) Secondly, he prayed that he might live to glorify God in that weighty calling wherein God had placed him over His people. This appeareth likewise by his thanksgiving unto the Lord upon his recovery, where he saith (Isa. 38:20), The Lord was ready to save me; therefore we will sing my song all the days of our life in the house of the Lord. Thus by his worthy prayer, he shewed forth his faith notably; by virtue whereof, being sick unto death, he obtained of the Lord the prolonging of his days, for the space of fifteen years. And so we see to whom this seventh effect of faith is to be referred.
Here we are taught a special duty for the recovery of our health, in the time of sickness; to wit, before we use the ordinary means of physick, we must (according to this example) first put our faith in practice by humbling ourselves for our sins past, confessing them truly unto God, and praying for pardon from a resolute purpose of heart to lead a new life; and also by entreating health of God, and His good blessing upon the means which we shall use for our recovery. Thus have others of GodŐs servants done besides Hezekiah. When David was grievously sick, the principal thing he did was this practice of faith; in humbling his soul before God for his sins, and entreating earnestly the pardon of them, as we may see (Psa. 6 and 38). This is the principal thing which in those psalms is propounded of David. And so the apostle counsels (Jam. 5:14,15), Is any man sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and what must they do? Surely, first, pray for him; and then (as the custom was in those days) anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up again; and if he have committed any sin, it shall be forgiven him. And here we must be admonished to beware of the bad practices of the world in this case; the most men in their sickness, first seek to the physicians; and if that fail them, then they send for the minister. This was king AsaŐs practice, for which he is branded to all posterity, that being diseased in his feet, he sought unto physicians, and not unto the Lord (2 Chr. 16:12), though otherwise he had good things in him (1 Kin. 15:14). And many do far worse, who seek to witches and enchanters, when they or theirs are in distress; but this is to forsake God, and to seek help of the devil, like to king Ahaziah, who sent to Baalzebub the god of Ekron to know of his recovery, when he was sick upon a fall (2 Kin. 1:2). This should be far from all GodŐs children, for as AhaziahŐs sickness became deadly, through his sending to Baalzebub; so undoubtedly, many diseases become incurable by the bad and preposterous dealing of the patient, who either useth unlawful means, or lawful means disorderly, or trusteth therein. We therefore in this case must remember our duty in the practice of faith, as Hezekiah did.
8. The eighth fruit of faith is this: Waxed valiant in battle. This effect may well be understood of all the judges before-named, and of all the good kings in Judah and Israel. But yet there be two especially to whom we may more peculiarly refer it; to wit, Samson and David. For Samson, he by means of faith came to be so mighty (Jud. 15:15), that with the jawbone of an ass he slew a thousand Philistines. And for David, he likewise was so encouraged by faith, that with the same sling wherewith he kept his fatherŐs sheep (which was but a slender weapon for war), he encountered with Goliath, that huge Philistine, and hit him with a stone in the forehead, and slew him. Both these facts were the fruits of their faith, which made them bold to encounter with these mighty enemies.
In this effect of their faith:
(1) First, we may observe that true fortitude and manhood, right valour and courage, comes from true faith. It must be granted that many heathen men had great strength and courage, but indeed it was but a shadow of true valour; for right valour comes from a believing heart. And therefore it is said that these judges and princes of Israel waxed strong in battle by faith.
(2) Secondly, doth true faith make men valiant in battle? Then should the preaching of the Word be set up and maintained, as well in the camp and garrison, and among soldiers on the seas; as in cities and towns of peace. For the preaching of the Word is the means of this faith, which gives valour in battle to them that fight in a good cause.
Hence it was that the Lord enjoined by Moses that when the people of Israel went out to battle, the priests should come forth and encourage the people, that their hearts might not faint, nor fear, nor dread their enemies; because of the powerful presence of God fighting for them. The papists object this (by way of reproach) against Zwingli, who was one of the reformers of the gospel; that he died in the field amongst soldiers; but this indeed is not reproach, but rather a matter of great commendation unto him; in that, for the increase of faith and knowledge in them that were weak Christians about him, he was content to hazard his own life.
And thus much of the eighth effect.
9. The ninth effect of faith for which these worthy men are commended is this: They turned to flight the armies of the aliens. This may be understood of the most of the judges, and of the good kings of Judah and Israel. But I will make choice, especially of two, Gideon and Jehosaphat; for Gideon, one of the judges, with three hundred soldiers (Jud. 7:7), altogether unweaponed, only with lamps in their hands, put to flight a mighty army of the Midianites. And Jehosaphat, a godly king, being assaulted with a mighty and great army of the Moabites, Ammonites and men of mount Seir, knew that by force of arms he could not withstand them; and therefore by faith makes a worthy prayer unto the Lord, and the Lord heard him, and set his enemies one against another, and so did he put them to flight, which he could never have done by any strength of his own.
Here we may learn how kingdoms and people may become able to put to flight their enemies. The best way is to put in practice their faith in God; by humbling themselves truly for their past sins, with unfeigned confession of them unto God, praying withal earnestly for the pardon of them; and for GodŐs aid, assistance and protection against their enemies. The power of this means is evident in Scripture; and therefore when Elijah was taken, Elisha cried, My father, my father, the chariots if Israel and the horsemen thereof (2 Kin. 2:12), giving him this notable commendation: that he was good to Israel, by means of his faith, as all their chariots and horsemen. Question: How could this possibly be true? Answer: If we read the story, we shall find it to be most true, that by his prayers which he made in faith, he did as much or more than all the strength of the land could do. And so it shall be with all Christian kings and people; if they can shew forth their faith, by prayer unto God, they shall do wonderfully much hereby, in subduing their enemies.
To apply this to ourselves; we have had many and dangerous assaults from popish enemies, both domestic and foreign, who have of a long time, and no doubt still do, purpose our overthrow. Now, how shall we be able to withstand their might, and to escape their malice? True it is that Christian policy and warlike provision must be used; yet our stay and rest must not be thereon; but we must stir up our faith, both magistrates and subjects, prince and people; and first of all humble ourselves for our sins, and shew forth our repentance by new obedience in time to come; and then pray for a blessing upon the outward means which shall be used. This is the right practice of faith, in the case of danger by our enemies; which we shall find (if we exercise it unfeignedly) to be a surer means of safety and victory against our enemies than all worldly munition and policy. For hereby we shall have the Lord for our protection and His blessing upon the outward means, giving strength and good success thereunto; whenas, omitting this duty, the Lord will not be with us, and then we shall find that vain is the strength or wit of man. Let us not therefore betray ourselves against all our enemies whatsoever; otherwise we may justly fear to be delivered into their hands for a prey unto their teeth. And therefore if we love our own safety and the welfare of our land, let us practice this duty; for the prayer of faith availeth much with God, if it be fervent (Jam. 5:16); and therefore the Lord saith to Moses, when he fell down before Him, to turn back the wrath that was broken in upon the people, Let me alone (Ex. 32:10); as though Moses had held or bound the LordŐs hand by his prayer, that He could not smite His people. And thus much for the ninth fruit of faith.
The women received their dead raised to life.
10. This is the tenth and final fruit of faith, which must be understood of these two women especially: the widow of Zarephath and the Shunamite. The widow of Zarephath, giving entertainment to Elijah in the great famine, had this blessing vouchsafed unto her for her faith, that her dead son was restored to life by the prophet. And the Shunamite that provided lodging for the prophet Elisha, had her only son restored to life from death by the prophet through faith. Now here we must observe that these two women did not only believe in the true God; but more particularly that God would use these His servants as means to restore to life their two children that were dead; as appears by this: that both of them made means to the prophet for the reviving of their children; which they did by faith.
But some will say, This last effect of faith may seem to cross the Scripture elsewhere; which saith that Christ is the firstfruits of them that sleep (1 Cor. 15:20). How then could these that were before ChristŐs incarnation be restored from death to life? Answer: St PaulŐs meaning is this, that Christ is the first of all those that rose from death to life, to die no more, but to live for ever. So indeed Christ is the firstfruits of them that sleep; for He rose to live for ever. As for these two, and some others mentioned both in the Old Testament and in the New, that were raised from death to life, they rose not from the sleep of death to live for ever, but to die again.
In this tenth fruit of faith, all parents may learn their duty towards their children in the case of sickness or such like. They must follow the example of these two godly women, and labour especially to shew forth their faith in such duties as God requireth in such a case; to wit, they must humble themselves for their own sins, and for the sins of their children and family; praying earnestly to God for the pardon of them (for God may visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children in bodily judgments) and entreating the Lord to restore them to health and liberty; and withal, they must use the ordinary lawful means of recovery in physick and such like, praying to God for a blessing thereupon.
This is their duty, but (alas!) the manner and practice of many parents is far otherwise; for whereas they should first seek unto the Lord, and come to His prophet, they either come first to the ordinary means of physick; or being worse disposed, seek help of wizards and blessers by their charms and forgeries forsaking God; and running to the devil. Indeed, the use of lawful means is not to be discommended simply; but this preposterous course is blameworthy, and deprives many of GodŐs blessings in the means, that seek help of physick before they have sought to the Lord in this holy practice of faith.
Question: But how can the parentsŐ faith benefit the child? Answer: It cannot procure unto it eternal life; for everyone must be saved by his own faith in Christ. And yet the child receives many a good blessing at GodŐs hand by means of the parentsŐ faith; as namely, the benefit of the covenant of grace in the seals thereof; besides the fruition of many temporal blessings, as life itself in this place.
The consideration hereof must move all parents, above all things, to labour for true faith; for by the practice thereof, they shall be able to bring the greatest blessing upon themselves and their children, and upon the lawful means which they shall use for their good. Say the Lord shall lay his hand upon children and servants in a family, what must parents and masters do? Surely the best way for help is the practice of faith in true humiliation for sin and prayer to God for mercy, and for a blessing upon the means which they shall use. In all societies this is true, that by the faith of the governors, many curses are removed, and many blessings procured. God sends His judgments among us daily, and we know not when other more shall befall us; but for removal and preventing of them, we must give ourselves to true humiliation and prayer; and so we shall find the LordŐs mercy towards us, as these two women did.
And thus much of this tenth fruit of faith, and of them all severally.
Now from them all jointly together, observe this special point: That faith is such a grace of God as doth bring down from heaven, upon every believer, all GodŐs blessings that are merciful for him. Who is he that desires not to be made partaker of GodŐs blessings needful for him, both in soul and body? Well; the only way and means hereto, is to get a true and a lively faith, and to put the same in practice, in all such duties as God shall require at our hands. The worthy men before named, obtained all the former most wonderful blessings, by means of their faith. By it they escaped the edge of the sword, they quenched the violence of the fire, waxed mighty in battle etc., as we have heard.
Now if faith be such a notable grace of God, then above all things in this world, let us labour for it. We must not content ourselves with lip-faith, and so presume upon GodŐs mercies; but we must labour for a true and a lively faith in Christ, which may purify our hearts, and bring forth fruit in our lives. Here are strong motives to persuade us hereunto; for what do we desire? Riches, honour, or favour and grace in the world? Would we have health and strength? Nay, the favour of God, which is all in all? Then look to get true faith; for in the practice thereof, thou shalt obtain of God, all needful blessings, both temporal and spiritual. Many toil themselves exceedingly by worldly means to get temporal blessings, as health, wealth, honour etc., and yet never attain thereunto, because they seek them not by faith. I confess, natural men get many good things; but to them they are no blessings; because they want faith, both in getting and keeping of them; for they lay all religion aside, and toil themselves wholly in worldly means. This course the child of God must beware of. Say that a prince bids one of his servants to go to his treasury, and there enrich himself with jewels, with gold and silver, and with whatsoever he lacketh; what will this man do? Surely, first he will call for the keys, whereby he may unlock the doors and chests; for else he can get nothing. Behold, in the ministry of His Word, God shews us His full treasury, wherein we may enrich ourselves with all His blessings. Now, we must not with the fool run without the key, but labour first for true faith; which is that key whereby GodŐs heavenly treasures are opened unto us; and we must be sure that we have a sound key; that is, a true and sound faith, which may strongly turn about the locks of GodŐs treasury. For this it is most certain: he that doth unfeignedly believe, shall never want anything, either in body or soul, that is good for him to have. Every one will say he believes; but the truth is, that true faith is rare; for mensŐ hearts are not purified, nor their lives changed; but they remain as sinful as ever they were, which causeth GodŐs judgments to be so rife among us. Wherefore as we desire our own good both in soul and body; so let us labour for true faith, and shew forth the power of it in our lives. And thus much of these judges and prophets, and of the fruits of their faith.
III. Others also were racked, and would not be delivered; that they might receive a better resurrection.
In these words, the author of this epistle proceeds to the fourth order of examples of faith contained in this chapter; wherein (as in the former lastly handled) he proceeds briefly, heaping up in few words, many worthy examples of faith, concealing the names of the parties, and only setting down those things for which their faith is commended unto us. And this fourth and last order of examples, comprehendeth such believers as lived under the regiment of the Maccabees; and afterward to the coming of Christ. For of believers in former times it cannot be understood, because there is a manifest distinction put between these believers and the former judges, kings and prophets; in these words: Others also; whereby it is plain that here he propounds examples of believers different from those which he mentioned before. And it is also plain that these believers lived before the coming of Christ. For howsoever the Christians in the primitive church were racked, scourged and tormented after this sort; yet of them this place cannot be understood, because they enjoyed the promise of the Messiah; but these here mentioned enjoyed not that promise in their days, but waited for it by faith, and therein died (v.39). And indeed, in the time of the Maccabees, the church of the Jews was wonderfully persecuted by Antiochus, about two hundred years before Christ, as we may see in 2 Macc, 4th and 6th chapters.
Question: Where had the author of this epistle this large narration of these strange persecutions, seeing they are not registered in the books of the Old Testament? Answer: We may judge that he gathered it out of the stories and records of men; which (howsoever they be not now extant) yet in his days in the primitive church, were extant, known and approved. Neither must this seem strange unto us; for the Spirit of God, in the Old Testament speaking of men, hath oftentimes reference and relation therein to human writings; as this phrase : The rest of the acts of such and such, are they not written in the books of the Chronicles of the kings of Judah and Israel?, so often used in the books of Kings and Chronicles, doth evidently declare.
Now those books of the Chronicles were not parcels of Holy Scripture, but civil, or ecclesiastical stories, like to our books of Martyrs and Chronicles. St Paul saith (2 Tim. 3:8), Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses. Now, in the book of Exodus, we shall not find the sorcerors that withstood Moses once named. And St Jude maketh mention of a prophecy of Enoch (v.14), which in all the Old Testament is not recorded; and it is likely that Moses was the first penman of Holy Scripture. Whence then knew these apostles these things? Answer: No doubt the Holy Ghost might reveal such things unto them, though they had been unknown in those times; but it is more probable that the apostles had them out of some Jewish writers, or records then extant, and approved among the Jews. So Paul preaching to the Athenians (Acts 17:28), allegeth the saying of Aratus, an Athenian poet: For we are His generation. And to the Corinthians, he propoundeth a sentence of Moniander: Evil words corrupt good manners (1 Cor. 15:33). And to Titus, he allegeth Epimenides, a Cretan poet (Tit. 1:12) Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.
Now whereas the Spirit of God taketh these sentences out of the writings of men, we may learn that to read the writings of men is not unlawful, but a thing of good use to the servants of God. But whereas some would hence prove that their authority may be alleged ordinarily at every manŐs pleasure in the public ministry, it hath no ground in these places. For first, the apostles were so guided by the Holy Ghost in their public ministry that they could not err; but no ministers at this day have such a privilege. Secondly, the apostles alleging or recording the sayings of men in their sermons and writings, did thereby sanctify them, and make them to become a part of Holy Scripture. This no ordinary minister can do; but let him allege a human testimony ten thousand times, yet still it remaineth human, and is not GodŐs Word. Thirdly, they that would warrant their practice in alleging human testimonies in their sermons by the apostles, ought to follow the apostles in their manner of allegations. Now the apostles were so sparing herein, that in many books we shall not find one; for there are only three in all the New Testament. Again, the apostles did it without any ostentation; for the names of the authors are concealed whence they took their testimonies.
And lastly, the apostles did it upon weighty cause and just occasion; to wit, when they were persuaded in conscience, that those testimonies would convince the consciences of their hearers in those things for which they allege them. Now how far many differ from the apostles in their allegations, let the world judge.
Yet before we come to speak of these examples of faith in particular, there are sundry general points to be handled:
1. In the three former verses, the Spirit of God hath set down the prosperous success of believers through faith; but here he comes to acquaint us with a different estate of other believers under grievous persecutions and torments, even to most cruel and bitter bonds of death.
From this which the apostle here observeth, we may take a view of the state of GodŐs church and people here in this world. For God vouchsafeth peace and prosperous success to some, as a just reward of faith and obedience; but others must want the comfort of outward peace and welfare, and undergo most grievous trials and persecutions. Look as there is a continual interchange between day and night, and the one doth constantly follow the other, so as it is one while day, and another while night; so it is with the church of God, and with true believers in this world; sometimes they have peace and prosperity; and this continueth not always; but another while they are in trouble, misery and persecution.
To make this point more plain, because it is of some importance; we may behold the truth of it in the church of God from the beginning. AdamŐs family was GodŐs church, and therein was first notable peace; but when God accepted AbelŐs sacrifice, and refused CainŐs, then persecution began, and Cain slew his brother Abel. Abraham is called the father of the faithful, and his family in those days was the true church of God; wherein we may notably see this changeable estate; for God calls him out of Haran to dwell in the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1). But within a while, the famine was so great in the land, that he was fain to go down to Egypt to sojourn there. And there the Lord blessed him exceedingly, and enriched him so greatly that he became a mighty prince, able to encounter with the kings of those nations in battle, after his return to Canaan (Gen. 14).
The Israelites, GodŐs chosen people, were 400 years in bondage in Egypt; but at the appointed time, God gave them a glorious deliverance; and yet they were tried in the wilderness 40 years; after which time they were planted safely in the fruitful land of Canaan, a land that flowed with milk and honey. And there also, the church of God was in this case: sometimes in prosperity, and otherwhiles in adversity, for when it was ruled by judges (as in that book appears) for ten, twenty, thirty or forty years together, the Israelites for their sins, were in subjection and bondage to the nations round about them; as the Moabites, the Philistines, the Ammonites etc. Yet then, when they cried to God, He sent them some mighty judge to deliver them, for so long time again. This was the interchangeable estate of the church, all the time of the judges. And afterward, when it was governed by kings, it was in the same case; for one while God gave them good kings, who would advance religion, and maintain and cherish the priests and prophets of God; and for their time the church prospered. But otherwhiles, for their sins, God would send them wicked princes; which persecuted the prophets and the godly in the land. This is plain in the books of the Kings and Chronicles. After the reign of good king Josiah came the captivity into Babylon, and after 70 years expired, the Lord by king Cyrus returned them again. After their return they were for a while in peace, and another while in distress; as we may see in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. But above all other, that persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes was the most notorious, which was foretold by Daniel in his prophecy (Dan. 11:36), and is recorded in the books of the Maccabees.
To come to the time of the gospel; the primitive church, after the ascension of Christ, in the first 300 years, suffered ten most bloody and grievous persecutions; between each of which, she had some times of peace, and (as it were) respite to breathe in. And after the tenth persecution ended, the Lord raised up the good emperor Constantine, who brought peace and welfare to the church. But soon after him, the heresy of Arius, raised up by the devil, brought us grievous persecutions on the church, as ever the pagans did; being a most blasphemous heresy, denying the eternal deity of Christ and of the Holy Ghost; and it prevailed in the church for 80 years. Not long after the suppression of that heresy, began the idolatry and tyranny of Antichrist to prevail in the church for many hundred years. And now, about four score years agone, the Lord in mercy raised up worthy instruments, by whose means He delivered his church from that idolatry and blindness; yet so, as still the church hath felt the bloody hand of Antichrist in grievous persecutions. All of which shews this to be most true: that the outward state of GodŐs church is interchangeable, having one while peace, and another while grievous persecution.
To apply this to ourselves; God hath planted His church among us in this land, and for many years together, hath blessed us with prosperity and peace; which in great mercy He hath given us, as a reward of the faith of His servants which are among us; and during this time, we have had great freedom and liberty in GodŐs holy ministry, for the Word, prayer and sacraments. But we must know that the state of GodŐs church, for peace and trouble, is interchangeable, as day and night for light and darkness. Wherefore we must be advertised to look unto ourselves; for our estate in peace must not last always; these golden days will have an end, and troubles and afflictions will undoubtedly come. Indeed God only knoweth what kind of afflictions shall befall, and the particular time thereof; but that they shall come in the time appointed of God, we may resolve ourselves by the reasons following.
(1) First, the tenor of the law is this: that the curse doth follow the transgression; so that when any man, or family, or people, live in breach of GodŐs commandments, they must look for GodŐs judgments to be poured upon them. Now we may too truly assume that this our nation and people abound with grievous sin in all estates. For in the civil estate (to omit the manifold practices of oppression), where is justice without bribery? Or bargaining without fraud and deceit? And in the ministry (beside many abuses), where is that care which ought to be for the building of GodŐs church? And for the body of our people (beside gross ignorance and superstition), what fearful blasphemy, whoredom, swearing and Sabbath breaking doth everywhere abound? Beside fearful atheism, which is a mother of abominations; whether we respect natural atheism, whereby many deny God by their works, or learned atheism in some, who dispute against the truth of God revealed in His Word. All these, and many other sins among us, cry loud for GodŐs judgments upon us; even for that fearful judgment, the removal of GodŐs kingdom in the gospel of peace.
(2) Secondly, consider what manner of persons of place, and note, both in church and commonwealth, God takes from us by death, even in their best time; are they not such as excelled among us, for great wisdom and learning, and for true piety and good conscience? Now howsoever this may seem but a small thing in the eyes of many; yet undoubtedly, it is a forerunner of GodŐs judgments; for the righteous perish, and no man considereth it in heart; and merciful men are taken away, and no man understandeth that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come (Isa. 57:1).
(3) Thirdly, God hath set His fearful judgments among us and about us, war and sword in our neighbouring nations; which also hath been often shaken at us; also famine and pestilence throughout our own land, by intercourse and long continuance (Lev. 26). Now this is the truth of God, that when God sends His judgments upon a people, if they do not repent, one judgment is but the forerunner of another more grievous and terrible than the former. But little or no repentance appears among us; nay rather, we fall away more and more, and so stand still in danger of more fearful judgments.
(4) Lastly, it is usual with God thus to deal with His own servants: as He doth sometime reward their faith and obedience with peace; so otherwhiles He will try their faith by affliction. Thus He dealt with His servant Job, though there were none for piety like him in his time through all the world. Now God hath His servants among us, for the trial of whose faith we may persuade ourselves some tribulation shall come upon us; for all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer tribulation (2 Tim. 3:12).
This being so that our peace shall be turned into trouble (as by the former reasons, which directly fasten themselves upon our church and state, may evidently appear), let us then here learn our duty.
(1) First, we must cast with ourselves what may be the worst that can befall us, when persecution and trial shall come. This is the counsel of our Saviour Christ to those that would follow Him constantly as good disciples; they must, as good builders, consider of the cost before they lay the foundation; and like good warriors, consider of their strength before they go out into the field, lest they leave off, and turn back, like fools and cowards (Luke 14:28ff.). We by GodŐs mercy do now profess the true religion of Christ, with hope to be saved thereby; therefore we must cast with ourselves what our religion may cost us, and see beforehand what is the worst thing that may befall us for our profession of Christ and His gospel. If we have not done this in the beginning of our profession, we must now do it; for better late than never; lest going on securely, without this account making, we shamefully forsake Christ when trial comes.
In former times, the constant profession of Christ hath cost men loss of friends, loss of goods and liberty; yea, the loss of their heartŐs blood; and the same case may befall us. Wherefore, we must cast with ourselves, and see whether we be willing to suffer the loss of goods and friends; yea, the loss of our lives, for the defence of ChristŐs true religion.
(2) Again, as this estate of the church must move us to make this account, for resolution in suffering; so it must teach us to labour for those saving graces of GodŐs Spirit which may enable us to stand fast in all temptations, troubles and persecutions. We must not content ourselves with blazing lamps, as the five foolish virgins did; but get the oil of grace into the vessels of our hearts. Knowledge in the Word is a commendable thing; but not sufficient to make us stand in the day of trial. We therefore must labour for true saving graces; especially for this: to have our hearts rooted and grounded in the love of God, through faith; whereby we are assured that God is our Father in Christ, and Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost our Comforter and sanctifier. This assurance of faith will establish our hearts in all estates; come life, come death, we need not fear; for nothing shall be able to separate us from this love of God in Christ Jesus.
2. And thus much of the coherence of this verse with the former. Now to the words.
Others also were racked etc.
Here the Holy Ghost begins to propound the fruits of faith, for which this last rank of believers are commended to us. And they are not such famous exploits as the former, but nine several kinds of sufferings; unto all which we must remember to apply this clause by faith; from v.33; as thus, Through faith they endured racking, mocking, and so for all the rest.
Out of these effects in general, we may learn two things:
(1) First, a singular fruit of faith, for which it is here so highly commended in this last rank of examples; to wit, that by it the child of God is enabled to bear whatsoever the Lord shall lay upon him. The torments wherewith manŐs body may be afflicted, are many and terrible; and yet, be they never so many, nor so terrible, true saving faith will make the child of God to bear them all for the honour of Christ.
The effects of faith before set down, were many and singular; but undoubtedly, this strength of patience, which it giveth under the greatest torments for ChristŐs sake, is one of the principal.
This Paul doth notably testify in his profession (Rom. 8:38,39), I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Oh, singular power of faith! Which so firmly unites the believer unto Christ, that no torments in the world, no not all the power of Satan and his angels, can separate them asunder.
Question: How does faith work this indissoluble power in cleaving unto Christ? Answer: After this manner: It is the property of faith to persuade the conscience of GodŐs love and favour in Christ; and upon this persuasion, the heart begins to love God again. Now by this love doth faith work, and make a man able to bear all torments that can be inflicted for religionŐs sake; for love suffereth all things (1 Cor. 13:7), even that love wherewith one man loveth another; how much more then shall this love wherewith we love God in Christ, make us to suffer anything for His nameŐs sake? Hence it is that love is said to be strong as death; and the coals thereof are fiery coals, and a vehement flame; yea, much waters cannot quench love, neither can the flood drown it (Song 8:6,7); that is, grievous persecutions and torments cannot extinguish the same. Nay, such is the power of love to God when it is fervent, that it makes a man so zealous of GodŐs glory, that if there were no other way to glorify God than by sufferings; the child of God would rather yield himself to endure the torments of the damned, than suffer God to lose His glory. This we may see in Paul (Rom. 9:2,3), I would wish myself (saith he) to be separate from Christ for my brethren that are my kinsmen according to the flesh; that is, the Israelites; meaning for the advancement of GodŐs glory in their calling and salvation. Such zeal we may see in Moses; for thinking that God should lose His glory if the Israelites were destroyed, he prays the Lord to pardon their sin. But if thou wilt not, then (saith he) erase me out of the book which thou hast written (Exod. 32:32).
This being the fruit of faith: To make a man able and willing to suffer anything for ChristŐs sake; we must hereby be moved to labour for true faith; for tribulation may come; nay, some affliction will come on every child of God more or less. Now without faith we shall never be able to glorify God under the cross. The just must live by faith in this estate (Heb. 10:38), as here they endure racking, burning, hewing asunder, etc.
(2) Secondly, out of all these sufferings here endured by faith, note the mind and disposition of ungodly men towards GodŐs church and people: they are most bitterly and bloodily bent against them; for here they put in execution upon GodŐs children whatsoever cruelty the devil could suggest in their hearts. And this hath been their disposition and behaviour, not only before ChristŐs incarnation, but also ever since; as may appear by the manifold strange tortures devised against Christians in the primitive church; and both then and since inflicted upon them. Behold it in the church of Rome, especially in their late Inquisition; whereby, beside the cruel racking of the conscience by unjust enquiries, they put the Protestants to most cruel torments.
The consideration of this cruel disposition in the wicked, against the godly, is of special use:
(i) First, it proves to us that the religion which by GodŐs mercy we profess, contained in the books of the Old and New Testaments, is no politick device of man, but the sacred ordinance of the everlasting God. For, if it were the invention of man, it would so fit their humour, and accord with their nature, that generally it would be loved and embraced, and not one of an hundred would mislike it. But we see it is generally detested; This sect is everywhere spoken against (Acts 28:22). Natural men reject it and persecute it, and the professors of it, unto the death. This they do, because true religion is contrary to their nature, as light is to darkness; and condemns those ways and courses which they best like of. This reason shall justify true religion to be GodŐs own ordinance, even to the conscience of the worldly atheist; his devilish malice against it proves GodŐs divine truth to be in it.
(ii) Secondly, do the wicked hate the godly because of their religion and profession? Then, on the contrary, we must learn to love religion because it is religion; and the professors of it for their professionŐs sake. This is ChristŐs instruction: to love a disciple because he is a disciple (Matt. 10:42). Indeed, we must love all men; but especially those that embrace the gospel of Christ, and be of the household of faith; for all such are brethren having one Father, which is God; and brethren ought to love one another . But alas, this lesson is not learned; for the world generally is given to mocking and scoffing; and the matter of their mocking is religion and the professors thereof. This ought not to be so; for howsoever men may fail both in knowledge and practice, yet the professors of religion should not so be despised. This abuse is grown to such an height, that many refrain from the diligent hearing of the Word preached, lest they should be mocked. But let these mockers know that herein they shake hands with the devil, and with the persecutors of GodŐs church; for mocking is a kind of persecution. Young Christians should not be so dealt with; but rather encouraged, for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. Thus dealt our Saviour Christ with those that gave any testimony of the sparks of grace; when the young man said, he had from his youth kept GodŐs commandments, the text saith, Jesus beheld him and loved him (Mark 10:21), and hearing a scribe answer discreetly, He said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34). Now we must be followers of Christ and walk in love, judging and speaking the best of all professors, accounting none for hypocrites, till God make their hypocrisy known. It is a note of a Christian to love a man because he loves religion; on the contrary, to hate a man because he is a Christian is a note of a persecutor, and an enemy to Christ. And thus much in general.
Now we come in particular to the several kinds of suffering which these believers endured by faith; the first whereof is racking; in these words: others also were racked; or, as some translate it, And others were beaten with clubs. For the word in the original will bear either translation; and both of them fitly agree to this kind of suffering. For in these times, the enemies of GodŐs church used to set the bodies of them that were to be tormented upon racks and engines; whereon they stretched out every joint, and then did beat the whole body thus racked with clubs, till the party were stark dead. An example of this kind of suffering we have in Eleazer a Jew (1 Macc. 6), who under Antiochus was first racked, and then beaten on every part of his body unto the death; because he refused to eat swineŐs flesh.
But some will say: This cannot be any commendation of faith, to be racked and beaten to death; for malefactors and traitors are so used. Answer: To prevent this objection, the Holy Ghost addeth these words: and would not be delivered; or, would not accept deliverance; to shew that this suffering was a notable commendation of true faith. The meaning of the words is this: That whereas some Jews in the Old Testament were condemned to death for their religion by persecutors; and yet had life and liberty offered unto them if they would recant and forsake their religion. This proffer of life they refused, and would not be delivered upn such a condition.
In this example of faith we are taught to hold fast to true religion, and to prefer the enjoying of it before all the pleasures and commodities in the world; yea, before life itself. This point Paul urgeth in sundry exhortations, saying, Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12), forbidding us to preserve our outward peace by communication with idolaters. And again, Stand fast in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). Yea, this is one main point that Paul urgeth to Timothy in both his epistles: to keep faith and a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5,19). And our Saviour Christ in one of His parables (Matt. 13:44) compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure hid in the field; which, when a man findeth, he hideth it, and goes home, and sells all he hath to buy the field. Whereby He would teach us that everyoneŐs duty, who would enjoy the kingdom of heaven, is this: In regard of it, to forego and forsake all things else, esteeming them to be dross and dung, as Paul did (Phil 3:8). What though a man had all the riches and pleasures of the world, and all things else for this life that his heart could wish? Yet, if he want religion and a good conscience, all he hath is nothing; for so he wants the love and favour of God, and shall lose his soul; for the ransom whereof all the world can do nothing. Wherefore, we must hereby be admonished to have more care to get and maintain true religion and a good conscience, than anything in the world besides.
Now, because nature will judge it a part of rashness to refuse life when it is offered; therefore, to prevent this conceit against these believers, the Holy Ghost sets down a notable reason of this their fact; to wit, They refused deliverance, that they might receive a better resurrection. Many interpreters understand these words of the resurrection at the day of judgment simply, as though the Holy Ghost had said, These martyrs therefore refused to be delivered from death because they looked to receive, at the day of judgment, a greater measure of glory; even for this, that in obedience to God, for the maintenance of true religion, they were content to lay down their lives. This (no doubt) is the truth of God, that the more we humble ourselves in suffering for the name of Christ in this life, the greater shall our glory be at the general resurrection; for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, causeth unto us a far more excellent and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). And yet (as I take it) that is not the meaning of these words; but their resurrection at the last day is here termed better than the temporal deliverances offered unto them. For being in torments on the rack, they were but dead men; and when life was offered unto them, it was (as it were) a kind of resurrection, and in regard of the enemies of the church, a good resurrection; but for that they would not lose the comfort of resurrection to life at the last day.
Here then are two resurrections compared together. The first is a deliverance from temporal death; the second is a rising to life everlasting at the day of judgment. Now, of these two, the latter is the better; and that in the judgment of GodŐs servants and martyrs. So then, the true meaning of these words is this: These servants of God refused deliverance from temporal tortures and punishments; because their care and desire was that their bodies might rise again to life everlasting at the day of judgment; which rising again to life at that day, they judged far better than to rise to a temporal life for a while in this world.
This reason, well observed, may teach us these two special duties:
(1) First, to be careful above all things, for assurance in our consciences (as these servants of God had) that our bodies shall rise again to life everlasting at the last day. True it is we make this confession with our mouths among the articles of our faith; but we must labour to be settled and resolved effectually in our hearts that these our bodies (be they never so miserably tormented here) shall one day rise to life and glory by Jesus Christ. All the true martyrs of Christ knew and were resolved of this; and this it was, that made them so confident in their sufferings. And if we can attain unto it, we shall find great use hereof, both in life and death. For our lives, this will move us to embrace true religion from our hearts, and in all things to endeavour to keep a good conscience. This Paul testifieth (Acts 24:15,16), for having made profession of his hope in the resurrection, both of just and unjust, he saith, And herein I endeavour myself to have always a clear conscience, both towards God and towards men. And for death, this persuasion also is of great use: for it will notably stay the heart against the natural fear of death. It is a wonder to see how terrible the thoughts of death are to many a one. Now this fear ariseth hence, that they are not in heart resolved of their resurrection to life and glory at the last day; for if they were, they would endeavour themselves with patience and with comfort, to undergo the pangs thereof, though never so terrible.
(2) Secondly, hence we must learn so to lead this temporal life, that when we are dead, our bodies may rise again to life eternal. These martyrs are a noble precedent herein unto us; for they are so resolute to hold that course of life which hath the hope of glory, that they will rather lose temporal life than leave that course. And indeed this duty is so necessary that unless we order well this temporal life, we can never have hope to rise to glory.
Question: How should we lead this temporal life that we may rise to glory after death? Answer: This St John teacheth us (Rev. 20:6), Blessed and holy is he that hath his part in the first resurrection; for on such the second death hath no power. We must therefore labour earnestly to have our part herein. The first resurrection is spiritual, wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost, causing him that is by nature dead in sin, to rise to newness of life; whereof whosoever is a true partaker, shall undoubtedly rise to glory. For they that are quickened in Christ from the death of sin, are made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:5,6). Natural death may sever soul and body for a time; but it can never hinder the motion of eternal life. Wherefore as we desire this life which is eternal when we are dead, so let us frame our natural lives to die unto sin while we are alive.