And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:…
1. There appears to be little doubt, that the persons here spoken of are the Old Testament believers — all of them, not only those mentioned by name in this chapter, but those whose history is more comprehensively alluded to. "These all, having obtained a good report through faith." True religion was always the same, in every age of the world — that is to say, in the substance and vital saving truth of it — however the outward expressions of it may have varied,
2. But now consider, in the next place, what the apostle says concerning these men. He says that they "obtained a good report through faith"; they were well witnessed of, in consequence of the life they led, and that life was a consequence of their faith. The same vital principle which enabled them to rest implicitly on the Word of God, and thereby to be justified in His sight, enabled them also to overcome the world. It rose superior to the attractions and solicitations of sense, to let their light shine before men, so that all could see their good works, and glorify their Father which is in heaven. By faith they were enabled to refuse every inducement which would have driven them off from obedience to their God. By faith they held all personal interests and all natural feelings, the fear or the favour of men, subservient to the one great duty, obedience to the living God. Their works, then, were their credentials upon earth, and by them their profession was justified — the profession of sincerity in the service of God. What a proof was there of the power over them of real religion, that raises man above the fear of his fellow, and gives him holy communion with his God! This, and this alone, in any age, is religion. These men, then, received "a good report through faith." But how agrees this with the fact that they were persecuted, that they were stoned, that they were sawn asunder, that they were cast out as evil? The two things agree well. Their conduct, by contrast, condemned the world; this is expressly recorded of one of them — Noah. Men of the world, condemned by the contrast, resent the affront; and so they that are born of the flesh persecute them that are born after the Spirit. To be commended by the Church is only one-half of the "good report" of the saint; to be condemned by the world is the other half. The Old Testament saints "obtained a good report" both ways "by faith." And are there not in our own times, and in our own country, men who have thus "obtained a good report through faith" — men who have resisted the tide of the times, and what was manifestly the rising tide of advancement and advantage among men — men who have refused to dilute their testimony for God's truth, and have calmly and patiently, and with their eyes open, preferred honourable neglect, yea, contempt and scorn, to any crooked management, any disingenuousness, aye, or any concealment of their sentiments, for the purpose of conciliating compromisers in high places?
3. But now, returning to the Old Testament saints and to the language of the text, we inquire, for further explanation, what it is that the apostle denies them. He says they "received not the promise." And here we must distinguish between the words containing the promise, and the thing promised by the words. The apostle uses the expression in both senses, as you will see readily by a comparison of the thirteenth and seventeenth verses of this chapter. At the thirteenth verse he writes, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises." One of the persons referred to is Abraham. Then in the seventeenth verse the apostle writes thus: "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son." Abraham was one of those who had not received the promises, and yet he had received the promises; that is, he had received the words in which the promises were conveyed, but he had not received the things promised. Now, what are we to understand here by the thing promised, which was not then received? Light will be thrown upon this by the language of the apostle, in some of the stirring acts of his true life of faith. See Acts 23:6; Acts 24:14; Acts 26:6-8. Mark how the apostle's mind was fixed upon the great promise of the resurrection of the dead. No doubt "the promise" generally signified Messiah, but especially that blessing which remains to be enjoyed, previously to His second coming — the resurrection of the dead. It was the great hope of the Old Testament saints. Hear one of them. "I know," said he, "that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." Nothing can be more distinct than this expression of his hope. And another of them said, "I shall be satisfied when I awake up in Thy likeness"; expressing his hope nearly in the same words with the apostle — "We wait for the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body." Observe the one hope of the Church; that as there was " one Lord," as we have seen, in the Old and in the New Testament, and "one faith " in Him, and " one baptism " by the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins, so there was "one hope," and they were "called in one hope of their calling." This doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was indeed denied by some of the Jews. There is no truth, however plainly revealed, which will not be denied by some men. The Sadducees had learned a strange secret — to admit the Old Testament, and yet deny the resurrection of the dead. They came to Jesus, and gave Him opportunity to set the matter in its true light; for they came with what they conceived to be an unanswerable difficulty. If by saying that "all live to God" with reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our Lord had intended merely to say that their souls were alive in the presence of God, it would have been no argument at all against the Sadducees. The question was the resurrection of the body. But if our Lord meant to say that the spirit of Abraham is not Abraham, but only part of him, God having made him of both matter and spirit, that when God called Himself "the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob," He called Himself the God of the men, and not of the spirits of the men merely, and then added, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to Him," then it is to the point, for the bodies of those men shall yet live, as well as their spirits; and so it was an answer to the Sadducees. The resurrection was indeed the hope of the Old Testament if properly understood. But this promise was not received by the saints under the Old Testament. They "obtained a good report through faith," as we have seen, but they "received not the promise." They were kept waiting in abeyance. The whole scheme is imperfect as yet.
4. And then follows the reason: "God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." The preliminary and preparatory steps are given seriatim, to member after member; they are born into this world, they are born again, they are justified, they are in their measure sanctified, they are separated from the flesh; their souls, made perfect, are in felicity with their Lord; but there remains a step, which is not so given: "God having provided some better thing for all, that some without the rest should not be made perfect." Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, must wait for Moses and David; and they must wait for Isaiah and Jeremiah; and they must wait for Peter and James and John; and they must wait for and Ignatius and ; and they must wait for Luther and Calvin and Cranmer; and they must wait for us; and we must wait for others, till He has accomplished the number of His elect, and then all, in the twinkling of an eye, shall receive the promise at the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Here we see, then, the true communion of all the Church — the true oneness of the one true Church — the mystical body of the Lord Jesus, gathering from time to time, in all the preliminary, preparatory steps of it, and all ready at the appointed time to stand up in perfection, in the likeness of the Son of God. It is with this body that we now have communion by faith; not with those around us here upon earth only, but with them that have fallen asleep also, and with them in two divisions, if I may so speak. With some among them we hold communion through memory, as well as faith, for we knew them while they were here. They were faithful and true, and our hearts loved them. They have been taken from us, hidden for a little season from our sight, and are waiting for that better something which God hath prepared for all that love Him. With others we have communion only by faith; memory has nothing to do with it, for we never knew them; but by faith we know what their characters were. They, too, have fallen asleep, and they too are waiting for that better something which God hath prepared for us all. There is consolation, as well as instruction, in this. Every other association must be broken up; every other tie must be snapped asunder; all our business associations, all our social, domestic ties must give way; death is no respecter of any of us; they are all suddenly broken. Here is an association, from which nothing can separate us, the communion of the Church of God, the fellowship with those that have obtained a good report through faith, and are waiting for that something better. Must we, too, leave this sunny world, with all its enjoyments, with all that remains so attractive to the natural heart, in defiance of the disappointment, the mourning and lamentation and woe that prove it to be a fallen world? Must we be drawn from the little family circle, in which it is our delight now to dwell? Ah! remember, it is not to go among strangers; it is to join a larger circle of the same family — it is to be transferred from a small and a suffering circle to a large and a rejoicing circle of the same brotherhood, the First-born in the midst of them.
(H. McNeile, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: