We have here the characteristics of faith as set forth in the saints of old. Sin having entered into the world, wherever there was faith the man of faith perceived that the present state of things was not suited to God, and consequently by faith he looked outside of the existing world to God. He could not perceive heavenly things as we understand them, for Christ had not appeared, nor had He been rejected and raised from the dead.
"By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." (v. 3.) This is not a mere belief that this present universe was created by God - of course, we believe that - but it is said, "by the word of God." The word is the expression of the mind and thoughts of God, and by faith we understand, not merely believe the fact, that the worlds were made by the word of God - that the thoughts and purpose of a divine Person were expressed in creation, and not merely that all was the effect of divine power. Thus we read in Genesis 1 again and again, "And God said." We find ourselves, so to speak, in the presence of God, and the soul realises that the living God was there speaking; "He spake, and it was done." We cannot separate the word of God from what He is; His word is the expression of His mind, and we understand by faith that the worlds were framed according to the plan and purpose of the divine thoughts. Chapter 1 of this epistle shows us that all were created by the Son, and that He is the appointed Heir of all things. This gives us the unfolding of the divine mind, that God had in view a sphere in which He was going to display His glory in Christ the anointed Man, and the Church is to be associated with Him in it.
But when we look at the world as it is morally, what do we see? A system which has gradually grown up, and is in opposition to God and His Word. All the moral elements of this present world came in by the fall. But is God's purpose going to be frustrated? Never. We get the answer to this in Psalm 33. Psalm 32 had already described the blessedness of a forgiven man, and now in Psalm 33 we get for the first time "the new song." "Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto Him with the psaltery. ... Sing unto Him a new song." The "new song" involves that there is to be an entirely new state of things established upon earth; it celebrates the fact that "the earth is filled with the goodness of the Lord." Now all this hangs on the word of the Lord. "For the word of the Lord is right, and all His works are done in truth." His own character is to be made good in it. "He loveth righteousness and judgment." Now it is the same word as that by which the heavens were made - the word of the Lord - the earth stood fast by it. "He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." Then we have in verse 11, "The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations." He does not give up His purpose as to the world which He has made. His creation, and His counsel as to it, depend upon His word. If we look at the state of things in this world, the moral elements are the same as in the Psalmist's day, though the development of those elements may be different; but we read, "The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: He maketh the devices of the people of none effect." He does this that His own counsel may stand. Faith understands this.
Thus far it is what we understand by faith. Then the line of faith begins with Abel; he wanted to reach the blessed God, and he approached Him in a way that recognised that God was morally apart from the existing state of things. Not so Cain: his thought was that man as he is, and the world as it is, both would do for God; and he is rejected. Abel recognised that death lay upon man as the judgment of God, and he came to God by death. There was in Cain insensibility to the fact that man was no longer in paradise, where, so to speak, the river of God watered the garden, but in the place of the curse, with death upon him, and having to eat bread by the sweat of his brow. The devil had got between the heart of man and God; and in Cain we have the proof that there was no return of heart to God. Further, the murderous character of Satan comes out in slaying Abel by Cain's hand. We can well understand how Satan, having tempted man away from God, endeavoured to hush the voice which spoke of a way back to God by sacrifice and death, that God had accepted Abel with his offering; but "he being dead yet speaketh." He passed out of this world, but the testimony abides that faith had found the path into God's favour.
In Enoch we have the faith which perceived the pleasure of God in having man with Him. Enoch could not have approached God except as one conscious of the testimony borne to Abel, and of the ground on which God can have man in His presence. Death severs us from all here, and yet it is death that brings us to God in the excellency and savour of Christ's offering. Then, in walking with God, he passed by faith into the scene where death is not. By faith he was translated that he should not see death. It is a great thing to look at these saints of old and see that faith walked in a path which led them outside of present things. It was a power in the soul, which led them to take the place of strangers and pilgrims in this one. Enoch walked with God; and to walk with God is to please Him. He was already in spirit outside of this world when God took him. We know what a dreadful thing death is in this world when it rolls in upon us, but Enoch did not see it. In Jordan we see how death has been turned into gain for us. When Israel came to it they found not one drop of water. Death is that which comes upon all things that are here. Israel left behind all the lustings of the wilderness in passing through Jordan, but they reached Canaan, God's side of things. We need to enter into this; but this is not faith, but experience. Enoch's faith was very simple; by it he chose God's side of things; he walked with God. Enoch did not see death; he was actually translated - a type of the rapture of the heavenly saints. But the faith which characterised Enoch should characterise us, and thus our souls be carried above this present world. As we survey it we must be conscious that it is not according to God. The great endeavour which man makes by legislation and otherwise to make it bearable to live in, only proves what it is. Faith looks outside of it to the right hand of God where Christ is, and has the sense of the good pleasure of God in man; and that it is God's pleasure that we should be in association with Christ, and seek the things where Christ is at His right hand. Ephesians shows us, so to speak, our present translation to the place where Christ is.
Noah's faith recognised that the world was a judged scene. Here we return to our being actually down here, where we need to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Noah prepared an ark for the saving of his house. We have not to prepare an ark, but we have to accept the shelter of the death of Christ and the end of all flesh before God, and so find how we are borne through a judged scene in the power of God's salvation.
These first three witnesses in the line of faith belonged to the world that was before the flood, "the world that then was," as Peter speaks. Abraham is the first witness in the world "that now is," and in which we find ourselves today. It was out of this world that the God of glory called Abram. Man in this world blesses himself, but God's word to Abraham was, "I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing." By faith he went out, not knowing whither he went. The point with Abraham was, that he was to receive an inheritance from God. Hence "he looked for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God"; there were many cities of man's building, but the man of faith only sojourned where the Canaanite was, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. 'We, too, are strangers where we are heirs; we shall inherit all with Christ, but we do not take it now. All will be blessing upon earth when the holy city Jerusalem descends out of heaven from God. It is the city Abraham looked for, the city to which we belong. There is nothing of man there; it has the glory of God.
What I seek to impress upon you is that faith carries us along in the path where the light of God's thought and purpose shines. It brings us to a scene where everything is of God. It is a wonderful thing to have the light of God's glory in Christ, and to be able to shape our course according to it; it carries us outside of things here, but inside with the blessed God, who has given us to know His pleasure. It is a great comfort to know that the whole universe will be filled with His glory, and that the heavenly city is the vessel of it. Meanwhile we have to move on in faith, with our eye upon Him who is the author and finisher of faith. T. H. Reynolds.