|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
11:1-3 Faith always has been the mark of God's servants, from the beginning of the world. Where the principle is planted by the regenerating Spirit of God, it will cause the truth to be received, concerning justification by the sufferings and merits of Christ. And the same things that are the object of our hope, are the object of our faith. It is a firm persuasion and expectation, that God will perform all he has promised to us in Christ. This persuasion gives the soul to enjoy those things now; it gives them a subsistence or reality in the soul, by the first-fruits and foretastes of them. Faith proves to the mind, the reality of things that cannot be seen by the bodily eye. It is a full approval of all God has revealed, as holy, just, and good. This view of faith is explained by many examples of persons in former times, who obtained a good report, or an honourable character in the word of God. Faith was the principle of their holy obedience, remarkable services, and patient sufferings. The Bible gives the most true and exact account of the origin of all things, and we are to believe it, and not to wrest the Scripture account of the creation, because it does not suit with the differing fancies of men. All that we see of the works of creation, were brought into being by the command of God.
Verse 1. - Now faith is the substance (so A.V., with marginal readings, "or ground, or, confidence") of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. On the senses in which the word ὑπόστασις (translated "substance") may be used, see under Hebrews 1:2. As to the sense intended here, views differ. There are three possible ones, expressed in the text and margin of the A.V., substance, ground, and confidence. The first is understood by the Fathers generally, the idea being supposed to be that, inasmuch as things not yet experienced, but only hoped for, become real to us by faith, faith is metaphysically their substance, as substantiating them to us. So Theophilus: Οὐσίωσις τῶν μήπω ὄντων ὑπόστασις τῶν μὴ ὑφεστηκότων: and Chrysostom, who illustrates thus: "The resurrection has not yet taken place, but faith substantiates (ὑφίστησιν) it in our souls." So also Dante, following St. Thomas Aquinas, in a striking passage quoted by Delitzsch ('Paradise,' 24:70-75) -
"Le profonde cose
Che mi largiscon qui la lor parvenza
Agli occhi di laggiu son si nascose,
Che l'esser lore ve in sola credenza,
Sovra la qual si fondu Palta spene:
E pero di sustanza prende Fintenza."
"The things profound
That here vouch safe to me their apparition
From all eyes here below are so concealed
That all their being is in faith alone,
Upon the which high hope doth base itself:
And therefore faith assumes the place of substance." The rendering ground, which involves only the simpler idea of faith being the foundation on which hope is built, has not much support from the use of the word elsewhere, nor does it seem suitable here. For it is not the things hoped for, but rather our hopes of them that are grounded on our faith. The subjective sense, confidence, or assurance, is most in favor with modern commentators, principally as being the most usual one (cf. Hebrews 3:14; 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:17; also Psalm 38:11, Ἡ ὑπόστασις μου παρὰ σοῦ ἔστιν: Ezekiel 19:5, Ἀπώλετο ἡ ὑπόστασις αὐτῆς: Ruth 1:12, Ἔστι μοι ὑπόστασις τοῦ γενεθῆναι με ἀνδρί). One objection to this sense of the word here is that it is usually followed, when so intended, by a genitive of rite person, not of the thing; though Ruth 1:12 is an instance to the contrary. But apart from this consideration, the consensus of the Greek Fathers is a weighty argument for the retention of the rendering of the A.V. Either rendering, be it observed, gives the same essential meaning, though under different mental conceptions. Faith is further said to be the evidence of things not seen; ἔλεγχος meaning, not as some take it, inward conviction of their existence, but in itself a demonstration, serving the purpose of argument to induce conviction. So Dante, in continuation of the passage quoted above -
"E da questa credenza ci conviene
Sillogizar senza avere ultra visa;
E pero intenza d'argomento tiene."
"And from this credence it is fit and right
To syllogize, though other sight be none:
Therefore faith holds the place of argument." Is this meant as a definition of faith, or only a description of its effect and operation, with especial regard to the subject in hand? Virtually a definition, though not in the strict logical form of one. At any rate, "the constituents and essential characteristics of faith are here laid down" (Delitzsch); i.e. of faith in its most general sense - that of belief in such things, whether past, present, or future, as are not known by experience, and cannot be logically demonstrated. "Licet quidam dicant praedicta apostoli verba non esse fidei definitionem, quia definitio indicat rei quidditatem et essentiam, tamen si quis recte consideret, omnia ex quibus fides potest definiri in praedicta descriptione tanguntur, licet verba non ordinentur sub forma definitionis" (St. Thomas Aquinas, 'Secunda Secundae,' qu. 4, art. 1). Faith, in the general sense indicated, is and has ever been, as the chapter goes on to show, the very root and inspiring principle of all true religion. And be it observed that, if well grounded, it is not irrational; it would rather be irrational to disregard it, or suppose it opposed to reason. Even in ordinary affairs of life, and in science too, men act, and must act, to a great extent on faith; it is essential for success, and certainly for all great achievements - faith in the testimony and authority of others whom we can trust, faith in views and principles not yet verified by our own experience, faith in the expected outcome of right proceeding, faith with respect to a thousand things which we take on trust, and so make ventures, on the ground, not of positive proof, but of more or less assured conviction. Religious faith is the same principle, though exercised in a higher sphere; and it may be as well grounded as any on which irreligious men are acting daily. Various feelings and considerations may conspire to induce it: the very phenomena of the visible universe, which, though themselves objects of sense, speak to the soul of a Divinity beyond them; still more, conscience, recognized as a Divine voice within us, and implying a Power above us to whom we are responsible; then all our strange yearnings after ideals not yet realized, our innate sense that righteousness ought to triumph over iniquity, as in our disordered world it does not yet; - which things are in themselves prophetic; and, in addition to all this, the general human belief in Deity. And when, further, a revelation has been given, its answering to our already felt needs and aspirations, together with the usual considerations on which we give credence to testimony, induces faith in it also, and in the things by it revealed; natural faith is thus confirmed, and faith in other verities is borne in upon the soul; which is further itself confirmed by experience of the effects of entertaining it. In some minds, as is well known, and these of the highest order, such faith may amount to certitude, rendering the "things unseen" more real to them than "the things that do appear." It cannot be said that to accept such faith as evidence is contrary to reason; our not doing so would be to put aside as meaning nothing the deepest, the most spiritual, the most elevating faculties of our mysterious nature, by means of which, no less than by our other faculties, we are constituted so as to apprehend the truth. And we may observe, lastly, that even to those who have not themselves this "fullness of faith," its very existence in others, including so many of the great and good, may surely be rationally accepted as evidence of realities corresponding to it.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,.... The "faith" here spoken of is not a mere moral virtue, which is a branch of the law; nor a bare assent to anything revealed, declared, and affirmed in the Gospel; nor a faith of doing miracles; nor an implicit one; nor a mere profession of faith, which sometimes is but temporary; nor the word or doctrine of faith; but that which is made mention of in the preceding chapter, by which the just man lives, and which has the salvation of the soul annexed to it: and it does not so much design any particular branch, or act of faith, but as that in general respects the various promises, and blessings of grace; and it chiefly regards the faith of Old Testament saints, though that, as to its nature, object, and acts, is the same with the faith of New Testament ones; and is a firm persuasion of the power, faithfulness, and love of God in Christ, and of interest therein, and in all special blessings: it is described as "the substance of things hoped for"; and which, in general, are things unseen, and as yet not enjoyed; future, and yet to come; difficult to be obtained, though possible, otherwise there would be no hope of them; and which are promised and laid up; and in particular, the things hoped for by Old Testament saints were Christ, and eternal glory and happiness; and by New Testament ones, more grace, perseverance in it, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal life. Now faith is the "substance" of these things; it is the ground and foundation of them, in which there is some standing hope; in which sense the word is used by Septuagint in Psalm 69:2. The word of promise is principal ground and foundation of hope; and faith, as leaning on the word, is a less principal ground; it is a confident persuasion, expectation, and assurance of them. The Syriac version renders it, the "certainty" of them; it is the subsistence of them, and what gives them an existence, at least a mental one; so with respect to the faith and hope of the Old Testament saints, the incarnation, sufferings, and death of Christ, his resurrection, ascension, and session at God's right hand, are spoken of, as if they then were; and so are heaven, and glory, and everlasting salvation, with regard to the faith and hope of New Testament saints: yea, faith gives a kind of possession of those things before hand, John 6:47. Philo the Jew (e) says much the same thing of faith;
"the only infallible and certain good thing (says he) is, that faith which is faith towards God; it is the solace of life, , "the fulness of good hopes", &c.''
It follows here,
the evidence of things not seen; of things past, of what was done in eternity, in the council and covenant of grace and peace; of what has been in time, in creation, and providence; of the birth, miracles, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ; of things present, the being, perfections, love, &c. of God; of the session of Christ at God's right hand, and his continual intercession; and of the various blessings of grace revealed in the Gospel; and of future ones, as the invisible realities of another world: faith has both certainty and evidence in it.
(e) De Abrahamo, p. 387.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Heb 11:1-40. Definition of the Faith Just Spoken of (Heb 10:39): Examples from the Old Covenant for Our Perseverance in Faith.
1. Description of the great things which faith (in its widest sense: not here restricted to faith in the Gospel sense) does for us. Not a full definition of faith in its whole nature, but a description of its great characteristics in relation to the subject of Paul's exhortation here, namely, to perseverance.
substance, &c.—It substantiates promises of God which we hope for, as future in fulfilment, making them present realities to us. However, the Greek is translated in Heb 3:14, "confidence"; and it also here may mean "sure confidence." So Alford translates. Thomas Magister supports English Version, "The whole thing that follows is virtually contained in the first principle; now the first commencement of the things hoped for is in us through the assent of faith, which virtually contains all the things hoped for." Compare Note, see on Heb 6:5, "tasted … powers of the world to come." Through faith, the future object of Christian hope, in its beginning, is already present. True faith infers the reality of the objects believed in and honed for (Heb 11:6). Hugo de St. Victor distinguished faith from hope. By faith alone we are sure of eternal things that they ARE: but by hope we are confident that WE SHALL HAVE them. All hope presupposes faith (Ro 8:25).
evidence—"demonstration": convincing proof to the believer: the soul thereby seeing what the eye cannot see.
things not seen—the whole invisible and spiritual world: not things future and things pleasant, as the "things hoped for," but also the past and present, and those the reverse of pleasant. "Eternal life is promised to us, but it is when we are dead: we are told of a blessed resurrection, but meanwhile we moulder in the dust; we are declared to be justified, and sin dwells in us; we hear that we are blessed, meantime we are overwhelmed in endless miseries: we are promised abundance of all goods, but we still endure hunger and thirst; God declares He will immediately come to our help, but He seems deaf to our cries. What should we do if we had not faith and hope to lean on, and if our mind did not emerge amidst the darkness above the world by the shining of the Word and Spirit of God?" [Calvin]. Faith is an assent unto truths credible upon the testimony of God (not on the reasonableness of the thing revealed, though by this we may judge as to whether it be what it professes, a genuine revelation), delivered unto us in the writings of the apostles and prophets. Thus Christ's ascension is the cause, and His absence the crown, of our faith: because He ascended, we the more believe, and because we believe in Him who hath ascended, our faith is the more accepted [Bishop Pearson]. Faith believes what it sees not; for if thou seest there is no faith; the Lord has gone away so as not to be seen: He is hidden that He may be believed; the yearning desire by faith after Him who is unseen is the preparation of a heavenly mansion for us; when He shall be seen it shall be given to us as the reward of faith [Augustine]. As Revelation deals with spiritual and invisible things exclusively, faith is the faculty needed by us, since it is the evidence of things not seen. By faith we venture our eternal interests on the bare word of God, and this is altogether reasonable.
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