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The Great Cloud of Witnesses
by E.W. Bullinger
1. The Scope of Hebrews ElevenWe trust that our readers are by this time duly impressed with the fact that we must not give an interpretation of any passage of Scripture, or even a chapter, apart from its context.
We have learnt also that the Scope of the passage must be gathered from its Structure. In other words, we must know what it is all about before we can find a clue to the meaning of the words: and we can find this out only by getting the Structure of the whole context.
As our subject here consists of a complete chapter, will be necessary for us to see the exact place in which it stands in relation to the Epistle as a whole. We must therefore give the Structure of The Epistle to the Hebrews as a whole: --
Its subject does not begin at the first verse of chapter 11, but at the nineteenth verse of the previous chapter (chapter 10), the member of which it forms part. That is to say, it begins at chapter 10:19 and ends with chapter 12:29.
Hebrews 11 therefore comes in the middle, and forms part of a larger portion of the Epistle. Consequently no exposition of it can be complete which treats it as beginning only at chapter 11:1. We must go back to chapter 10:19 if we would see the part it bears in relation to the whole.
The commencement of this member, C, is marked off by the catch-words "Having therefore;" these are the same words which commence the corresponding member C (chapter 4:14-16). The former of these two members (4:14-16) contains the conclusion which follows from the establishment of the argument concerning The Mission of Christ (chapter 3:1 -- 4:13); while the latter (chapters 10:19 -- 12:29) contains the conclusion which follows the argument concerning The Priesthood of Christ (chapter 5:1 -- 10:18).
It will be necessary now for us to note the Structure of the second of these conclusions, so that we may, by its being broken up, see what is the scope of the whole, and what is the special place of the chapter we-are to consider.
Each of the large members given above has its own proper and peculiar Structure, and is capable of being expanded, and of having its various-sub-members exhibited to the eye. The sub-structure of C (chapter 10:19 -- 12:29) is as follows:
C Particular Application of chapter 5:1 -- 10:18.
We see also the true place of the member "G b," and the relation in which it stands to the context.
The Scope of the whole passage is an exhortation to patient endurance in view of the promises. This exhortation is based on the faithfulness of the Promiser (10:23), and the examples of faith are shown in those who "lived by faith" (chapter 11.)
The pivot on which the whole turns is the quotation from Habbakuk 2:4, "The just shall live by faith."
This is quoted three times in the New Testament, and each time the emphasis is on a different word:--
Romans 1:17. "The just shall live by FAITH." (Hebrew: The just shall live in (or by) his faith [or faithfulness].
Galatians 3:11. "The JUST shall live by faith."
Hebrews 10:38. "The just LIVE by faith."
In the first of these (Romans 1:17) the subject is Faith or Faith-principle as being the principle of Justification, in God's Gospel, which is there being revealed.
In the second (Galatians 3:11) the subject is Justification, which is by Faith-principle in contrast with law-principle.
In the third (Hebrews 10:38) the subject is Living by faith in God's promises, so as to be able to wait and watch with patient endurance.
This is the subject of Habbakuk 2:1,3,4, which begins "I will stand upon my WATCH, and set me upon the tower, and will WATCH what he will say unto me ... For the vision is yet for an appointed time... But at the end it shall speak, and not lie: Though it tarry, WAIT for it; Because it will surely come, it will not tarry ... The just shall LIVE through his faith."
This context is clear. Faith in God's word can alone enable us to wait with patience for the fulfilment of His promise.
This is the burden of the context of Hebrews 11, and hence, in Hebrews 10:37, the third verse of Habbakuk 2 is quoted as well as verse 4, while, in Romans and Galatians, this verse (verse 3) is not quoted; because patient waiting is not the burden and object of the context in those two quotations of Habbakuk 2:4.
The exhortation (Hebrews 10:32-37) is to patient waiting through faith: "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Then it goes on to quote Habkakuk: "for yet a little while," etc.
The whole burden of Hebrews 11 is the patience of those who endured by faith, "not having received the promise" (verse 13); and of those who, "having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise" (verse 39).
Now we are prepared to understand and appreciate (1) The Definition of Faith in verses 1-3, and (2) The Exemplification of Faith in verses 4-39.
In Hebrews 11:1 faith is defined as being
"The FOUNDATION of things hoped for,
The CONVICTION of things not seen."
There is no question as to the meaning of the word rendered "substance" in the A.V.; which, in the margin, gives "ground, or confidence," as an alternative.
In the R.V. it is rendered "assurance," with "giving substance to" in the margin. The word is hypostasis, a setting or placing underneath. Hence, its primitive meaning is foundation. The rendering "substance" comes from the Latin, sub stans (standing under). In the Papyri it is used of title deeds.
We all hope for many things, but the question is, What foundation or ground have we for our hope? What are our title deeds? All depends upon this.
As to our hope for eternity, it all rests on the faithfulness of God's promise. If there be no God; or, if His promise be not true, then we have no foundation whatever for our hope; all is baseless. Everything, therefore, depends upon the fact that God has spoken, and that what He has said is true.
Hence, the definition of faith in Romans 10:17:
"Faith cometh by hearing, And hearing [cometh] by the word of God."
If we have heard nothing, there can be nothing to believe. There is neither place nor room for faith. We may think it, or imagine it, or hope for it; but we cannot possibly believe it, because we have not heard anything about it. Our hopes and thoughts and imaginations are all vain, being without any "foundation."
Hence, of Abraham's faith, the "father of the faithful," it is said, "Abraham believed God"
God had spoken; Abraham had heard; and he believed God.
What he had heard came "by the word of God: and his faith came by this hearing."
Abraham believed what God had said; God had "caused him to hope;" and hence, believing God, his faith in God's Word was the foundation or ground of that for which he hoped.
None can hope in vain who believe God.
This is why the common question, Do we believe? is so senseless. The real question is, not Do we believe? but WHAT do we believe? or rather, WHOM do we believe?
We believe many things that man says, and that man promises. But the question is, are they true?
It is not a question of the sincerity with which we believe, but of the truth of what we believe.
The more sincerely we believe what is not true, the worse it is for us. This holds good in every department of life. If what we hear be not true, then, to doubt it, means our safety.
When we give ear to man, we can never be certain that what he says is true. But when we give ear to God, we can set to our seal that "God is true" in what He says; and that "He is faithful" in what He promises. Faith is hearing God and believing what He says. This is the simple definition. But there are various expressions connected with this faith.
It is used with the preposition "in". This means that our faith rests in the truth of what is said (Mark 1:15, etc,). It is the same when used with the Dative of the person.
It is used with "upon", which means that faith rests upon what we hear; and that what we hear is the foundation upon which our faith rests (Romans 9:33; 10:11, etc.).
It is used with "unto", which means that faith goes out to, and is directed to Him of whom, or that of which we hear (John 2:11; 3:16, etc.).
There can thus be no mistake as to the meaning of the first part of the definition of Hebrews 11:1.
As to the second: -- Faith is said to be "The CONVICTION of things not seen."
The A.V. renders this "evidence," while the R.V renders it "proving," with test" in the margin.
The word is elengchos, a proof, that by which anything is proved or tested; logical proof, proof that conveys a satisfying conviction to the mind. Hence, this is the best meaning to give the word here. It is the conviction produced by demonstration.
In John 8:46 the Lord says, "Which of you convicteth Me of sin?" (not "convinceth," as in the A.V., but "convicteth," as in the R.V.); so in John 16:8, "When He [the Holy Spirit] is come, He shall convict the world in respect of sin," (not "reprove," as in A.V. margin, convince), but convict, or bring in guilty. None could do this of Christ; but the Holy Spirit does this of the world. He brings it in guilty, and convicts it of sin. Why? For this very reason: "Because they believe not on Me."
This is the great sin. And this brings us back to our subject.
God hath spoken; and the sin is defined as not believing what He hath said: for He was the Living Word, and through Him we believe in the Living God.
Hence the opening words of Isaiah chapter 1, which is the great indictment of Israel's sin:
"Hear, 0 heavens,This is the great fact for us who possess the Word of God. GOD HATH SPOKEN.
Do we believe what He hath said? This is the one abiding question. He has given to us, and made us exceeding great and precious promises. Do we believe Him? If we do, then, this faith is the "foundation" of all we hope for. It is the "conviction" of what we have heard but do not see. Thus Faith is the opposite of sight. Man says that "seeing is believing." This is one of his many fallacies. Faith is the demonstration to us of what we do not see. Hence, we live in, and by, this faith, "we walk by faith, and not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).
What we see is what we know.
What we believe is what we hear.
Hence the examples of faith given us in Hebrews 11 are those who, having heard God, believed what He said. Every instance of faith in this chapter comes under the category of "things hoped for," or of "things unseen."
Noah believed the truth of "things not seen as yet" (verse 7).
Others by faith saw the promises "afar off" (verse 13). Moses "endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (verse 27).
This is faith. This was Abraham's faith. He "rejoiced to see Christ's day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56). But he saw it, by faith, "afar off".
This page Copyright © 2000 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: http://www.peterwade.com/.
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