Ň(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.Ó Hebrews 11:38-40.
(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (v.38)
In these words the Holy Ghost doth answer to a secret objection or surmise, which a natural man might conceive against the believers spoken of before. For it being said that they wandered up and down; some man might think thus: No marvel though they wandered up and down; for it may be they were not worthy to live in the world. This the Holy Ghost doth flatly deny, and avoucheth the clean contrary of them; to wit, that they wandered up and down by faith; and the Lord caused them so to do, because the world was not worthy of them, they were too good to live in the world.
In this answer to this surmise, we may observe what is the opinion of natural men concerning the children of God; to wit, that they are not worthy to live in the world, but the earth whereon they tread is too good for them. This hath been, is, and will be the worldŐs estimation of GodŐs children (Matt. 24:9), Ye shall be hated of all nations for my nameŐs sake. (John 16:2), They shall excommunicate you; yea, the time shall come that whosoever killeth you shall think he doth God service. (Acts 22:22), Away (say the Jews to Paul), with such a fellow from the earth; it is not meet that he should live. And hence he saith of himself and the other apostles (1 Cor. 4:13), They were made the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things.
In the time of the persecuting emperors in the primitive church, when any common calamity befell the people or state; as famine, death, pestilence or such like, they straightway imputed it to the Christians, saying that they and their wicked religion were the cause thereof. And though we have religion maintained among us, yet the poor servants of God find the like welcome in the world; for thus the wicked censure them everywhere, saying that they are dissembling hypocrites, and none so bad and vile persons as they are. Now if any man ask, how comes it to pass that the world should slander them so, and think so vilely of them? Answer: First, because they be taken out of the world, in regard of state and condition in grace (John 15:19), therefore the world hateth them. Secondly, the world knowest them not (1 John 3:1), and therefore speaks evil of them (Jude 10). Thirdly, the wicked measure others by themselves, and therefore despise the godly that join not with them (1 Pet. 4:3,4). Lastly, there is a secret enmity between the seed of the wicked and the seed of the church (1 John 3:12). The wicked are of the evil one, the devil; and therefore must needs hate the godly who are born of God. So that when we shall see or hear that ungodly persons shall in any such sort abuse the children of God; we must not marvel nor be troubled at it, for it is no new thing, it hath been from the beginning; but we must pray that God would open their eyes that they may turn from their sins to repentance; and then (no doubt) they will change their conceit, and alter their behaviour towards them; as Paul did (Gal. 1:13,15; Acts 9:1,26).
To come to the words more particularly, the Holy Ghost saith, The world was not worthy of them; that is, the company of ungodly livers, without Christ, and void of grace, were not worthy of the society of these holy ones; and for this cause did the Lord take them from among them.
Here note a singular fruit of true faith: It brings man to that estate, and gives him that excellency, that he is more worth than the whole world. I mean by the whole world, the estate of all those that live in the world out of Christ. If then a man would have true and stable dignity, let him labour for true faith; for faith hath this privilege, to advance a believer to true honour and excellency. And therefore our Saviour saith, As many as receive Him by faith, to them he gave power, or prerogative, to be the sons of God (John 1:12).We take it for a great prerogative to be the child of an earthly prince, and so it is; but to be the son of God (who is King of Kings) is a pre-eminence and dignity above all dignities; and no tongue can express the excellency thereof. For what more can a man desire than to be heir of glory in life everlasting? And yet true faith bringeth this to a believer. It is an excellent dignity to be matched with angels; and no prince in the world, by all human wit or power, can attain unto it; but yet the child of God can, being joined to God by faith in Christ; whereby (in some sort) he is above the angels themselves; for our nature in Christ is advanced above the nature of angels.
Honours and dignity in politick or civil estates are the good gifts of God, and His own ordinances, whereby men are in higher places, and in account one above another; but yet all the dignity, honour and pomp of the world, severed from that dignity which faith bringeth to the believer is nothing worth. Indeed, if worldly pre-eminence be joined with faith, it is a great and excellent prerogative; for faith makes it acceptable unto God; but sever faith from worldly dignities, and what are they but vanity of vanities? Which will turn to the greater condemnation of him that enjoineth them. If a man have favour in the court, and yet want the kingŐs favour, it is nothing; and such are all temporal dignities without GodŐs favour; for at His indignation they vanish away. Now His favour without faith can no man have; for he that cometh unto God must believe (v.6).
Again; the Holy Ghost saith, The world was not worthy of these men, for another cause; and that is this: Every Christian man by his faith brings many blessings among those parties, and to that place where he lived; now the world deserves no such blessings, and therefore is unworthy of the persons by whom they come.
Question: How do Christians bring blessings to places where they live? Answer: First, by their presence; for as God said to Abraham the father of the faithful, Thou shalt be a blessing (Gen. 12:3), so it is with all believers. Laban confessed that he perceived that the Lord had blessed him for JacobŐs sake (Gen. 30:27). And Potiphar saw that Joseph was a blessing in his house, for the Lord made all that he did to prosper (Gen. 39:2,3). While Lot was in Sodom, the angel could not destroy it (Gen. 19:22). And if there had been ten believers in Sodom, the Lord would have spared all for tenŐs sake (Gen. 18:32). Now, bringing good things, and keeping back GodŐs judgments by their presence, they are thereby blessings. Secondly, they are blessed by their prayers. Abraham prayed for Abimelech (Gen. 20:17,18), and God healed him and his family of barrenness. At MosesŐ prayer, GodŐs judgments were taken from Egypt (Exod. 7:12,13, 30), and His wrath appeased towards His people (Exod. 32:11,14). And some think that StephenŐs prayer at his death for his persecutors, was one means for mercy unto Saul, that then consented to his death (Acts 7:60, 8:1). Thirdly, they bring blessings upon a place by their example; for when men shall see godly persons walking before them in the fear of God, and making conscience of all manner of sin, it is a special means to cause others to turn from their wicked ways to newness of life. And therefore Peter exhorts the Christians to have their conversation honest among the Gentiles; that they which speak evil of them, as of evil doers, might by their good works which they shall see, glorify God in the day of their visitation (1 Pet. 2:12). And he bids godly wives so walk that their husbands may be won without the Word, by beholding their pure conversation which is with fear (1 Pet. 3:1,2). And Paul bids the Phillippians to walk blameless in the middle of a wicked and crooked nation, as lights in the middle of the world (Phil. 2:15), that those which were to be converted by their good conversation might be won to the truth. God sent a flood upon the world for the grievousness of menŐs sins. Now why doth He not send more floods? Are men now as wicked as they were then? Yes undoubtedly, man for his part deserves it now as well as they did then; and therefore our Saviour Christ saith, As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of man (Matt. 24:37); so that every day we deserve a new flood; but yet the Lord stayeth the execution of His judgments for a time, that His elect may be gathered and converted. And as soon as that is done, heaven and earth shall go together, and God will not stay one moment for all the world besides. So that every nation and people in the world have benefit by GodŐs children, because for their sakes doth the Lord stay His wrath and defer His judgments, even the great judgment of fire, wherewith the world shall be consumed at the last day. These things the world should take notice of, as well to move them to repentance of their sins, whereby they are made unworthy in the presence of a godly man, as also to persuade them to a better behaviour and carriage towards the godly, by whom they are so many ways blessed.
The Holy Ghost addeth, that wandered in wildernesses, and mountains, and dens, and caves of the earth. These were desolate places, and not inhabited; and yet for the wickedness of the world, God will have these believers here to wander. We must not think that they betook themselves voluntarily to this solitary life, but only upon necessity, being constrained by persecution to fly into the wilderness for the saving of their lives, and the keeping of a good conscience.
This serves to descry unto us the blind error of many ages before us, wherein it hath been thought, as it is by papists at this day, to be a state of perfection to live a monk or hermit out of all societies in some desert place, and there to spend their whole life in contemplation only, and that voluntarily; and they magnify this estate so much, that hereby they think to merit eternal life at the hands of God. But these believers did neither voluntarily, nor with opinion of merit, betake themselves to this solitary life, but of necessity. And indeed this kind of life hath no warrant in GodŐs Word; for every Christian is a member of two kingdoms: of ChristŐs kingdom of grace, and of that particular state where he dwelleth; and by reason hereof, hath a twofold calling; a temporal and a spiritual calling. In both of which he must walk diligently so long as he can, doing the duties both of a child of God, and of a member of that commonwealth where he liveth. Now when a man goeth voluntarily to lead a solitary life, he forsaketh his temporal calling altogether, and perform the other but negligently; for he withdraws himself from many duties of piety, whereby the people might be furthered to Godward; which none can do with a good conscience.
Further, observe the places where they are constrained to wander, to wit, in wildernesses, caves and dens; places where wild beasts have abode and recourse; and yet here they live, whenas men will not suffer them to live among them. Where note that many times more mercy may be found among wild and savage beasts than with some men; so merciless are the wicked when God forsakes them, and leaves them to themselves. The lions entreat Daniel better than DariusŐs courtiers and servants do (Dan. 6). And Lazarus finds more kindness with the dogs at DivesŐ gates than with him and all his family besides (Luke 16:21). The consideration whereof must teach us to nip sin in the head at the beginning, and not to suffer it to grow; for if it get ahead and reign in us, it will make us worse than brute or savage beasts, and cruel as the devil himself; as we may see in the worldŐs usage of these believers.
Thus we see the state of true believers under many and grievous miseries, which we must well observe, to arm ourselves against the times of adversities which God may send upon us. We must not judge it a cursed estate to be under the cross; for here we see that the faith of His servants is commended for suffering nine several kinds of miseries. If we shall think that these were but a few; we must know that in them the Holy Ghost setteth down the state of His church unto the end; for these things were written for ensamples unto us. And therefore if calamities come, and such miseries befall us as do drive us towards distrust, as though God had forsaken us, we must remember that God did not forsake these His children in their calamities, and therefore also will not forsake us. And thus much for this last example.
ŇAnd these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:Ó (v.39).
The Holy Ghost, having set down at large a worthy and notable catalogue of examples of faith in sundry believers that lived from the beginning of the world to the time of the Maccabees, doth now for a further commendation of their faith, rehearse the same things that before he had said in the 2nd and 13th verses of this chapter. In saying that by faith they all received good report, his meaning is that they did believe in the true Messiah, and looked for salvation in Him alone; whereupon they were approved of God Himself, who gave testimony hereof, partly by His Word, and partly by His Spirit in their consciences, and partly by His church; by all which they were commended and assured to be GodŐs servants. And yet notwithstanding this good report, they received not the promise; that is, the promise of ChristŐs incarnation and their days. They received Christ truly by faith, and so saw His day; but His actual incarnation in the flesh they lived not to see.
Whereas it is said that by faith they obtained testimony:
1. Here, first observe that there is nothing in man that makes him acceptable to God but faith only. God regards no manŐs person; He accepts not of a man because he is a king, or because he is wise, or rich, or strong, etc., but if a man believe, then the Lord is ready to give testimony of him, that He like well of him. In regard whereof, we must all labour diligently above all other things to get true faith in Christ, that so we may have approbation at GodŐs hands; without which there is no salvation to be hoped for.
2. Secondly, here also learn the right way to get testimony, approbation and credit with men; a thing whereof many are exceeding glad; and which the child of God must not contemn. Now the way is this: He must first labour to get approbation at GodŐs hands; which, indeed he cannot do any other way save only by a true and lively faith, as we have heard before. Now the Lord approving of him, He that hath the hearts of all men in His hands, inclining them whither He will; and if it stand with His glory, He will cause them to like and to speak well of him that doth believe. Many indeed get great applause in the world, which little regard true faith; but in the end, this their glory and applause will be their shame; for they that honour me will I honour, saith the Lord, but he that despiseth me shall be despised (1 Sam. 2:30).
3. Lastly, whereas the Holy Ghost saith that all these worthy men obtained testimony of God, and yet received not the promise, we are hereby taught that we which now live in the church are much more bound in conscience to believe, than they which lived in the Old Testament. For we have received the promise of ChristŐs incarnation. They received it not, and yet believed. Wherefore in the fear of God, let us labour for true faith. But some will say, Why should we hear so much of faith? We do all believe. Answer: Indeed we say so with our mouths; but it is a rare thing to find true and sound faith in the heart; for gross and palpable ignorance abounds everywhere, and yet men will needs be good believers, which is a thing impossible; for how should faith be without knowledge? And as men are ignorant, so they have no care to learn nor to get knowledge, that so they might come by true faith. Their hearts are wholly taken up with the world for matters of profit and delight; that they can spare no time to seek for this precious gift of faith. Again, many have knowledge with whom true faith is rare; for faith purifies the heart, it is joined with a good conscience, and shews itself by obedience through love. Now (to leave the heart to God), where almost is the man that walks answerably to his knowledge? May we not truly say of many, that as the Word cometh in at the one ear, it goeth out at the other? And among those which learn and bear away something, there is little care to practice it in life.
But we must know that if we would be approved of God, we must believe. Now so long as we remain ignorant, or else having knowledge do not join practice therewith, in obedience from a good conscience; undoubtedly we have no spark of true faith in us. We may make a shew of faith, and so bear the world in hand that we believe; but certainly this will prove a very dead faith; and in the end, and finishing of all, appear to be nothing but bare lip-faith, and mere presumption. Now, to conclude this point, we must know that unless we get true faith, as these believers had (which we must shew by good fruits, as they did), even they shall rise up in judgment against us to condemn us at the last day. For they believed, though they had not the ground of faith so laid before them as we have. Wherefore let them that want knowledge, labour for it; and they which have it, let them join obedience with their knowledge, that the faith of their hearts may be seen by the fruits of their lives; for true faith cannot be hid, but will break out in good works.
ŇGod having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.Ó (v.40)
Because some man might much marvel that such men as received testimony of God for their faith, should not yet receive the promise; therefore here the Holy Ghost renders a reason thereof: the good pleasure of God, appointing that Christ should be incarnate at such a time as was most convenient for the perfect consummation of the whole church, consisting of Gentiles as well as Jews. For though these ancient believers were in time long before; yet God provided ChristŐs incarnation so fitly for us, that they without us should not have perfect consummation in glory.
God providing a better thing for us.
The word in the original translated providing, signifieth properly foreseeing; wherein is likewise included GodŐs decree and ordination. Now, this we must know: that it is a peculiar prerogative belonging to the true God alone, to be able to foresee things to come; and that many thousands of years before; no creature of himself can do it. And yet it is true that this property to foresee is ascribed unto God, not properly, but in regard of our capacity; for if we speak of God properly, God cannot be said to foresee anything, because all things are present to Him, whether past or to come.
The prescience, or foreknowledge in God, puts a difference between the true God and all creatures; for the true God foresees all things that are to come; so can no creature do. Indeed, some creatures foresee and foretell some things; yet herein they come short of the divine property; for God foresees all things by Himself, without signs and outward means. But creatures only foresee some things not of themselves, but by means of signs and outward causes, or by revelation from God; otherwise no creature can foresee things to come.
Now as we said before, this foresight in God includes His decree and ordination; for therefore did these things so come to pass because God ordained them. Whereby we see that GodŐs prescience or foreknowledge is not idle, but operative and joined with His will; (Matt. 10:29,30), an hair cannot fall from our head nor a sparrow light upon the ground without His will. As all things in time come to pass, so God before all worlds willed, that is, decreed and appointed them. And under this large extent of GodŐs will or decree, we must include the sinful actions of men; for God doth not barely foresee them, but decree the being of them, and so will them after a sort, though not to be done by Himself, yet by others. When Judas betrayed Christ, and Pilate with the wicked Jews condemned and reviled Him, they sinned grievously; and yet herein they did nothing but that which GodŐs hand and counsel had determined before to be done (Acts 4:28).
This point well considered confutes their opinion who indeed enlarge GodŐs prescience or foreknowledge over all things good and evil; but yet exclude sin from without the compass of His decree and ordination. But here we see GodŐs foresight includes His decree; and nothing comes to pass simply without His will; howsoever many things be done against His revealed will, yet without His absolute will can nothing come to pass. He worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11); doing Himself those things that be good, and willingly permitting evil to be done by others for good ends.
But what did God here provide and foresee for us? Answer: A better thing; that is, God in His eternal counsel provided a better estate for His church in the New Testament than He did for believers in the Old.
Hence we learn that as God hath His general providence whereby He governeth all things; so also He hath His special and particular providence whereby in all things He provides and brings to pass that which is best for His church. For in the Old Testament God provided that for His church which was meet for it. But considering that the church in the New Testament (in some respects) was to have a better estate than the church in the Old Testament had; therefore He provides for a better estate. And look, as in His eternal wisdom He foreseeth what is best for all estates and times; so in His providence doth He accomplish and effect the sin.
That is, for the church in the New Testament; where note that GodŐs church, and the state thereof in the New Testament, is better than it was in the Old, before the coming of Christ. The Holy Ghost here speaks this plainly, and therefore we need no further proof thereof.
Question: How should it be better with the church now, than it was then? Answer: True it is that God gave the Covenant of grace in the beginning to our first parents in Paradise; the sum whereof was this: The seed of the woman shall break the serpentŐs head (Gen. 3:15). And this Covenant did God renew and revive unto His church from time to time, in all ages, unto this day. Both circumcision and the Passover were seals of this Covenant, as well as our sacraments are; so that in substance they differ not; the free gift of grace in Christ belonged to them as well as to us. The believing Jews in their sacraments did eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink with us (as the apostle witnesseth, 1 Cor. 10:3,4), and believers then obtained the same eternal life that we now do by faith. And yet if we regard the manner of administering the Covenant of grace in GodŐs church unto the people of God; herein doth the church of the New Testament far surpass the church of God in the Old; and indeed herein consists the pre-eminence of the church under the gospel; which stands in five things especially:
1. First, in the Old Testament, spiritual and heavenly were propounded unto the church under temporal and earthly blessings. This is plain by GodŐs dealing with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; for the Lord promised unto them the temporal blessings of the land of Canaan; under which He signified the gift of life everlasting in the kingdom of heaven. But in the New Testament, life everlasting is plainly promised to the believer without any such type or figure.
2. Secondly, in the Old Testament, Christ was shewed and signified unto them in ceremonies, rites and types, which were in number many, and in signification some of them dark and obscure; but now these types and ceremonies are abolished, the shadow is gone, and the substance come; and instead of dark signs and figures, we have two most plain and sensible sacraments. More plainly, the Covenant of grace in the Old Testament was sealed by the blood of lambs, as signs of the blood of Christ; but now to His church in the New Testament, Christ Himself hath sealed His Testament by His own blood.
3. Thirdly, in the Old Testament all the knowledge they had was in the law; and their understanding in the gospel was obscure and very slender; but in the New Testament, not only the law is made manifest, but also the supernatural knowledge of the gospel.
4. Fourthly, the law was only committed and published to one nation and people; but the gospel is spread and preached to all the world.
5. And lastly, the church in the Old Testament believed in Christ to come; but now the church believes in Christ which is already come and exhibited; in all which respects, the church in the New Testament doth exceed the church of the Old.
Now, whereas the text saith, God provided a better thing for us, we must not understand it of all these prerogatives, but only of the fifth and last, touching the actual exhibiting of Christ in the flesh; as Christ also imports (Luke 10:23,24), Blessed are the eyes which see that ye see; for I tell you, many prophets and kings have desired to see those things that ye see, and have not seen them; which things we must understand of the incarnation of Christ. And that this is such a prerogative to the New Testament appeareth by old Simeon, who, when he had seen Christ in the temple, as it was promised him, sang unto God this song (Luke 2:29,30), Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation; as if he should say, I have now Lord lived long enough, let me now depart in peace, seeing now I have seen thy Christ my Saviour (where we see he makes it a matter of full contentment unto his soul) which the believers under the law saw not.
Hence we must learn our duty; for if our state be now better than the state of the Old Testament was, and if we enjoy privileges denied to GodŐs ancient servants before and under the law; then undoubtedly we ought to strive to go before them in grace and obedience; for every manŐs account shall be according to his receipts. He that receives five talents, must make account to return more than he that receives two; where God is more abundant in His mercy, there He looks for answerable thankfulness and obedience. We go beyond the ancient church in five things; and therefore we must stir up our hearts to be answerable in grace and obedience going beyond them. But if for all this, we come short of them in these things, then surely our case is fearful, and our punishment shall be greater; for they that had less prerogative shall be witnesses against us, if they go beyond us in obedience.
That they without us might not be made perfect.
That is, might not be fully glorified. Here is the reason why Christ was not exhibited in their days. Indeed all true believers before Christ were justified and sanctified, and in soul received to glory before us; but we must all be perfected together. Now His will herein He bringeth thus to pass. All must be perfected in Christ. But He will not have Christ to come and suffer till the fulness of time came, in these last days (Heb. 1:2) (as the apostle speaketh), that the believers living in these days might have time of being in the church to be called, justified and sanctified; and so they might be glorified with them that lived before. For put the case that Christ had suffered in the days of Abraham or David, or thereabout; then the end of the world must needs have come the sooner; for so it was foretold that Christ should come in the latter ages of the world (1 Pet. 1:20). Now if the world had been sooner cut off, then had there not been time of birth and calling for all the elect that now live and shall live; therefore for their sakes was ChristŐs coming deferred till the fulness of time. And this I take to be the meaning of the words.
Now in that the Holy Ghost here saith, The members of Christ in the New Testament must be perfected with all the ancient believers in the Old; we must hereby be admonished to conform ourselves unto these ancient fathers in the participation of grace and practice of obedience in this life. For how can we look to be glorified with them after this life, if here we be not like them in grace? Christ tells His followers (Matt. 8:11,12) that many should come from the east and form the west to sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (because they were followers of these patriarchs in the faith) when as the children of the kingdom, that is many Jews by birth, born in the church, should be cast into utter darkness. Now, if Christ deny to glorify the children and posterity of these ancient believers because they did not follow them in grace and in obedience; how can we which are by nature sinners of the Gentiles look to be glorified with them, unless in grace and obedience we conform ourselves unto them?
Thus much for these examples of faith; now something must be added out of the next chapter; because the Holy Ghost makes use of all these worthy examples.