Heb. 10:35; Heb. 11:1-4, 8-10, 24-26; Phil. 3:1-11; Heb. 12:1-2.
Address at High Leigh, July 27, 1924.
F. B. Hole.
(Extracted from Scripture Truth Vol. 16, 1924, page 248.)
As you probably know, the eleventh of Hebrews is like a sermon based upon a text taken from Habakkuk 2:4. It is a commentary by the Spirit of God on the text, "The just shall live by faith." It was a little information which Habakkuk received when he was much disturbed in mind by the conditions that prevailed in his day. He was granted a wonderful vision. In the third and last chapters of his prophecy we are given a description of God riding in majesty to the deliverance of His people and the accomplishing of His own purposes in-the earth, which is clearly God putting the world right. God will yet ride in majesty in the overthrow of evil. When Habakkuk heard the story we may imagine him saying, "Oh yes, but how long have I to wait?" But the Lord said to Him, "Habakkuk, whilst you wait I will give you the secret of a life according to My mind." The great secret of spiritual life from the beginning is given us in the eleventh of Hebrews, which shows us that it is faith in God — "The just shall live by faith." It has been suggested that in the three New Testament quotations of that little text you have the emphasis laid on a different word in each case, and very clearly here the emphasis is upon the word "live." The point here is, not that we start by faith, nor that we are saved and justified by faith, but that we live by it. It is the great operative principle of Christian life and, indeed, has always been. It is the great principle on which the people of God of all times have pursued their pilgrim way, and what has been core in the past God will do for us to-day. It is really an inspiring thought that we are actually found in the grand faith-succession, which began with Abel and has been increasing down the ages. All along the line God has been pointing out His thoughts; there has been as time has progressed far more for faith to see. I remember being told when a young man that faith is "light," but I should feel inclined to say that faith is "sight." Revelation is light, but faith is sight. You may have two men in a dark room, and one of them has most acute vision and the other is stone blind — there is nothing to choose between them; but bring them into the light and there is all the difference. One has sight that takes in and appreciates the light, and the other has not. Faith is that peculiar capacity which can receive and appreciate the light when the light shines.
The eleventh of Hebrews begins not exactly with a definition of faith, not what faith is in its essence, but with what faith is in its practice. "Now faith is the substance (substantiating) of things hoped for, the evidence (conviction) of things not seen." Faith is that which turns "things hoped for" into positive "substance" today, and this, of course, is the main argument of this letter to the Hebrews. Some of the Hebrew Christians were beginning to think that they had lost the real thing. Imagine a Jew who had become a follower of that Jesus who was crucified as a malefactor some thirty years before. His old friends say to him, "You are surely a fool. Here is our Temple, with the sacrifices going up and silver trumpets sounding; we have the ancient God-instituted worship and the priests descended directly from Aaron. You can see our religion; you can smell it; you can hear it; we have the real thing. You have got only a little upper room, where your Master gathered His disciples together; but now He is gone, and where has He gone? Really you have got nothing, you are running after mere ideas." This is the language of the world, but the language of the Epistle to the Hebrews is, "Your sacrifices are shadows, you have only a shadow temple. Your priests are shadows, and your altar is only a shadow altar." A few years after the epistle was written the Roman armies came and swept the whole shadow system off the map. We Christians have got the substance, that of which the shadows when first they were ordained of God spoke, but it is no good to us except there is faith that lays hold of the unseen things and turns them into real "substance" in our hearts and lives. The writer goes on immediately to speak of creation: "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God." No one can prove it nor fully understand it. In the same way as by faith we understand that the Bible is the Word of God, we understand this truth of Creation. Faith can and does receive it. Faith is the eye of the soul, or, as I think we shall see in a moment, is more like a telescope which, applied to the eye, brings into evidence things beyond the reach of mortal eyes. I am not speaking of something that only appeals to very advanced Christians; you are not a Christian at all if you have not got faith. If Christ is not a reality to you, you can hardly claim the name of Christian. I am speaking of that with which you have begun, and I want you to see that faith is not only that with which you start, but the operating force on your side that is going to carry you through. Your life in this grand faith-succession comes down from Abraham, Moses and Paul, and. here we are today blessed in the Lord Jesus Christ. However humbly you start, you are in this grand faith-succession. Faith saves the soul, and this comes out in the opening instances of Abel, Enoch and Noah. Faith was that which respectively put them in right relations with God, translated them, saved them from the judgment. Faith does save the soul, but it would not do that were it not that faith is sight that sees the thoughts of God and enables us to hold them: "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain"; it was not by accident, but by faith. How could he have done it by faith except there had been some "light"? I have no question in my own mind that it was the first action of the Lord God in the garden in the day when sin came that was the object of Abel's faith. Again and again he must have heard that story of the ineffectiveness of the aprons and how the Lord God made coats of skin, thus indicating His way of covering.
The day that sin came in, sacrifice came in; that very day the death of some sinless victim had to take place, thus in pictorial fashion God set forth His thoughts. The death of a sinless victim is that which covers man's nakedness in the presence of God, and I suppose Abel heard that story again and again, and would say, "Then that is God's way of approach, that is God's way of maintaining such intercourse as is possible between the fallen creature and Himself." Faith sees and discerns God's mind and God's way.
When you come to Abraham, this state of things is very greatly stressed. Abraham was a man with a telescope, a man who had within his knowledge things that his contemporaries apparently knew nothing about. Abraham lived in a very highly civilized age, as is shown by the excavations which have recently been made, but suddenly there came within his knowledge other things; the God of Glory appeared to him and altered his whole outlook. He began to look at other things, and when he was called to go out into a place and take a wanderer's life, he went not knowing whither he went, and he began to look for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God; he turned his back upon Ur, that city of gods. In the case of Abraham what is emphasized is what he saw. Faith brought that heavenly city built of God into his vision, and we are told how the promises came before him and, with others, he saw them and was persuaded of them, and confessed himself a stranger and a pilgrim in the earth. All these things came into Abraham's view, and faith was to him like a telescope of the soul. What the world thought of Abraham I do not know; he was like a mariner steering his ship by stars which not one of his fellow-mariners had ever seen. They knew about gods and temples and such science as there was approximately two thousand years before Christ, but they did not know God, nor God's country, and Abraham did. He was content to go on in faith, for he had God. Have we all been in the habit of using faith's telescope? Have you before your soul things that the worldling, with whom you have to mix, knows nothing about? Do you steer your course through the world by these things? This is the way the Christian should steer.
The third outstanding character in this chapter is Moses. When he was come to years he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chose rather to suffer affliction the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Faith not only sees like a telescope, but is something like seeing by X rays. Faith has marvellous penetrating power. It not only sees what God sets before us, but it sees through all the fine objects by which it is surrounded. This is what we find in the case of Moses; he had the power of seeing through a thing, and when you see through a thing its fascination for your heart is broken. What you do not see through exerts a remarkable charm over you, but when you see right through the thing (and the things of this world are rather threadbare) the charm disappears. Moses was a man of faith when he came to years, and he knew how to sum up matters and measure things. He made his immortal choice; he saw through the finery and glory of Egypt. Moses saw the purposes of God in a nation of slaves out of which he had been lifted and put into a position of glory and honour. It might be assumed he would say, "Surely I must keep the place God has given to me"; but he saw through it all, and summed it up rightly, and found it to be but the pleasures of sin, and that only for a season (and a very short season). He saw in this race of slaves a people out of whom was coming Christ, who was to be manifested in the flesh. He said, "I will identify myself with the people of God rather than accept the honour of the world." In this way he is a faint reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he esteemed it greater riches than the pleasures of Egypt. He was prepared to suffer in identification with what was of God, and from that point onward he accepted the thought of suffering.
In the third of Philippians the Apostle Paul was speaking almost in the same strain. You may almost say, "By faith Paul, who before his conversion was a man of eminence with an immense fund of things in which he might glory, saw through all the things which surrounded him, and said, 'I count them but loss for Christ.'" We must remember he wrote these words when he was in a Roman prison near the end of his career. Here was a man who threw up all social position — soon he would have been in the Council of the Seventy, and an acknowledged leader of Israel — but he identified himself with Christ and His interests. He endured in the teeth of opposition for years. They stopped his public labours and left him for years to languish in captivity in the dungeon of Rome. The world would have said, "The man is a fool, he has thrown everything over for a theory." Paul lived long enough: to see everything apparently crumbling away, and everything going wrong, but he says, "I am just exactly of the same conviction. When I met Christ on the road to Damascus I flung all away so that I might have Him for my gain." He would have said, "I did not identify myself with Christ because I thought I was going to build up a church. It was Christ I had before my soul, and He is as bright as ever, in fact He shines more brightly for me in prison than ever He did before."
Christ is to be known now. He is actually living in the presence of God, and we are exhorted to know Him and the power of His resurrection. We are going to know that resurrection with regard to our bodies, but while we are waiting for Him we want to know the power of His resurrection in our spirits and souls, lifting us out of this life into another region of things. How little we know this! You younger Christians may very well desire to know it. It will revolutionise your lives as it will ours. Only remember, Paul is not the one that we are to be primarily occupied with, but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. That is why I read the opening of the twelfth chapter, which we must not disconnect from the eleventh. Those who witness to us of the fortitude of faith in the Christian race have been enumerated in the eleventh chapter, and now comes the exhortation: "Let us lay aside every weight."
The writer was adopting the language of the athletic contest. The athlete carries no weight beyond what is absolutely necessary, and so we are exhorted to lay aside every weight and sin which so easily besets us, as though it were some kind of obstacle on the ground, and let us run with patience (endurance) the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus. The word "look" here means looking off every other object and looking exclusively at Him. He is the One who has traversed the path of faith in its perfection, always doing the things which please the Father, always living in the light of the Father's presence, traversing the whole way of faith from the start to the martyr's crown. He was much more than a martyr, as it goes on to say — by inference, at least — He resisted to blood striving against sin. All round Him were the powers of evil and of Satan, but He went right through to the finish — death. Ah, fix the gaze of your soul on Jesus, by faith keep Jesus as the living object of your soul! He is seated now at the right hand of God in heaven, and as you keep Him before your soul you will find there is power even today for you to run the Christian race.
Let us beware of the weights and of sin. There are many things which you could not exactly label as "sin," but may become weights, viz., those things which impede our progress. We often hear the question: "Is there any harm in it?" but that is not the question at all. "Is there any good in it?" It is not "Is there any harm in this pursuit, or in that book?" but "Is there anything that will help me on in view of Christ and His glory and kingdom?" God helping us, let us lay aside the weights and be warned against the sin that besets us, and looking to Jesus, let us keep Him before us and run the race which is, I believe, now not long. The day of His coming is near. My dear Christian, let us not at the last give up; we are in sight of the goal, let us run the race of faith to the glory of God.