And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:…
I. THE FUNDAMENTAL GIFTS OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE CAN BE RECEIVED BY THE INDIVIDUAL IN HIS SEPARATION AND OBSCURITY. We may be ready to ask the question, Was it not hard that these early believers, who had so nobly satisfied God's demand upon their faith, should be shut out from their full and final blessedness for ages? For the present let it suffice to reply that they received, without a single exception, compensations that in the meantime more than filled up the measure of their desires. Each Old Testament saint was assured by some sign or other that he had become acceptable to God. Their comparative ignorance and detachment did not bar them from the possession of this precious rudimentary grace. These religious heroes, upon whom the seal of God's clear approval and acceptance was set, did not belong to great devotional and educating fellowships. They lived apart. In the brain of many a Bedouin sheik, who canters across the desert-sand to-day, you might find a more elaborate theology than in some of these patriarchs. If we, with our modern wealth of learning and abstract divinity and scientific illustration, could have conversed with Abraham or Isaac or Jacob, we should probably have been repelled by the crudeness of their views. Their expectation of the Deliverer had more in it that was akin to inspired instinct than reason. But they were entirely loyal to its leading, and God sealed their faith. In the absence of the fully accomplished promise, a witness of some sort was vital to their sustained fidelity. The God who had called them to His service could not well leave them destitute of it. He could not prove Himself an Egyptian taskmaster, and command His servants to form characters fit to be built into the universal temple, without granting one of the first requisites for the strengthening and consolidation of character, the sense of His favour and acceptance. It was through this assurance that the first believers became capable of an ever-growing fidelity. And then God could not leave an unnecessary burden on the conscience of His people. No organ or faculty of a man's nature can compare with conscience in its sensitiveness. To deny conscience the rightful assaugement of its pain would be a barbarity akin to torture. Whatever disabilities and tribulations might be laid upon the fathers of the Jewish Church, they were brought at least into the light of God's unshadowed favour. They lived in that light, and the light was not quenched when they passed away.
II. THE CROWNING GIFTS OF THE COVENANT ARE VOUCHSAFED TO MEN IN THEIR MUTUAL FELLOWSHIPS. "That they without us should not be made perfect." The world's gray fathers and the youngest child in the latest term of time must be glorified together. The firstborn cannot outrun or anticipate the last. The life of nature is social, and its different parts are perfected together. God does not fashion isolated orbs to shine in solitary splendour. He kindles systems and galaxies and constellations. In all parts of nature there is community of development, fellowship of life and ecstacy. The rapture of one type of life is timed to the ripeness of another. The skylark carols over the springing corn. The nightingale pours its liquid love-plaint into the red heart of the rose. There is a co-perfecting of all the kingdoms of life. God seems to delight in the magnificence of aggregate effects. And is it not so also in the spiritual world? Not till the golden chime is heard that proclaims the approach of God's ripe summer will the life of all the separate ages receive its highest glory and development. We are only in solitary training for the anthems that will usher in the coronation of our common humanity. True music will never be heard till the blended song of Moses and the Lamb awes the listening spheres. The higher you ascend in the scale of life, the more pronounced is this principle of interdependence. The whole of humanity is, after all, one organism. It is very significantly described as "one body". The description is almost as true if looked at from the commercial or political as if viewed from the religious standpoint. Humanity is being slowly bound into an economic whole. With the setting up of the new dispensation some new effusion of light and knowledge and spiritual victory has come to the Old Testament saints in the region of the unseen. The basis of faith must be laid in life; but faith can increase in ever-expanding progression after life has ceased. In respect to all these, of whom it is said they have received together with us the better things of the promise, the basis of faith was well laid in life. They through their faith had received, without exception, some sign of God's approval. And now, in ways unknown to us, they have entered into the fulness of the promises desired and waited for by kings and righteous men of old. In what way were the believing dead spiritually perfected, and made to enter into the fulness of the promise through Christ's manifestation amongst men? They were perfected in knowledge, in conscience, and in character. By that blood of sprinkling to which they came in common with their fellow-believers in the flesh, they learned that the forgiveness of sin was no piece of unthinking indulgence on the part of the Judge of all the earth; they came to recognise a higher significance in sanctity, and to feel their obligations of worship and service measured by a higher ideal of sacrificial love and unselfishness. Besides the richer effusion of joy that came to the first generation of God's servants through the work of God's incarnate Son, their joy is further perfected with the progressive perfecting of human history. The first promise to Abraham looked forward to the blessedness of all nations through his seed. The promise is not fully brought to pass, nor is the large hope of the father of the faithful fulfilled till that has been accomplished. The highest victories of the Church in heaven are only consummated by the victories of the Church on earth. We shall miss nothing by dying. The sunshine will come to us in the far-off land. We shall not be cut off from the supreme triumph. Just as the air of the polar and the equatorial regions is ever changing places and bringing about fresh and tempered atmospheres essential to all life, so between the different epochs of the human race there are grand and consolatory equalisations always going on. The perfecting will be common. Abraham and David and Daniel waited for us, and we in our turn shall wait for others. The perfecting is common for the Church of all ages. Within certain limits we hold in our hands the blessedness of God's servants of olden times, and we work in trust for the dead. Others will one day work in trust for us. There will be no supreme perfecting till the saved whole is brought in. The text suggests that there is a larger fulfilment of the covenant in the last great day, for which the spirits of the old and the new dispensation must alike wait. Before the crowning touch can be put on our destinies we must needs tarry till the most distant heir of the promises and the latest born of all God's sons has come into the horizon. God treated the race as a unity in Adam, He treated it as a unity in Christ, and He will treat it yet again as a unity in the consummation of all things. It is said that sometimes swallows arrive on our eastern coasts before the winter has quite passed away, and the great tide of migration set in. These stray birds have been observed to gather together and fly south, probably to the coast of Spain, for a few days or weeks, till the spring temperature has come, and the carnival of vernal life has begun to quiver in the air. They have had to turn aside to balmier climbs for a little space and await the coming of the rest. So with the saints and prophets and martyrs of the earlier ages. They have passed into the unseen before God's summer sun has begun to shine upon the universe. In some sphere of temporary rest and blessedness, in a more genial land than this, their spirits are refreshed, and they await the completed number of the elect. The rearguard and the vanguard, the sowers and the reapers, the fathers and the children. The quick and the dead, will be gathered into one common circle to share the matchless manifestations of the great day of God. The splendour to which the latest ages have come will flow back into the earliest. The last perfecting benediction will not alight upon us in our isolation, but as members of a countless assembly. The lowliest believer of the coming ages will not be shut out from the consummated bliss and triumph. All parts of humanity, all races, all generations, possibly all hidden worlds of the unknown universe, will be closely and significantly interdependent in their final blessedness. The fact that God should have determined to perfect the men of all ages together shows how much He thinks of those great principles of mutual association and fellowship which we sometimes esteem so little. He shows honour to those lowly disciples and followers of His Son whom we do not sufficiently honour. He will not crown them apart. Their services have been obscure, their prayers secret, but their recompense shall be in presence of all worlds and all generations. Be prompt to recognise God's law of community. He will put supreme honour upon that law by blessing and glorifying at His appearing all members of the saved humanity together. God will not honour those who set aside that law. In helping our brethren we are helping ourselves. Their progress and perfecting is necessary to ours. God seems to be teaching us in this way the humility which can be best learned and exercised through fellowship. It is a check to our pride to be reminded that we can only be crowned in common with the rest. We cannot be crowned alone. The honour would be too high for us to safely sustain. It might imperil the balance of our moral life. And then by perfecting His servants together God seems to remind us of the graciousness and beauty of patience. Disembodied saints of the olden time are waiting for us, and we shall have to wait for them. They had their blessed compensations here, and receive yet better compensations in the presence of their redeeming Lord; but they still wait till the last convert from savagery has been won, the last backsliding disciple reclaimed, the last weak and inconsistent servant of God strengthened and sanctified. They are in the van of the pilgrimage, but they have learnt so much of the gentleness and patience of Christ, that they wait about the fountains of life for the fading of the world's last twilight and the coming up of the last straggler in the far-off rearguard. Do not let us think ourselves isolated pilgrims or travellers. We belong to the sacramental host. Let us watch against selfish hurry and impatience. We shall have to await the weakest for our final blessedness. Let us wait for them with more Christlike patience here, and help them along the pilgrim path. And then God has ordained that the perfecting of our destinies shall be in common, because He wishes to set forth His grace and power upon a scale of incomparable magnificence. How splendid the perfecting for which the holy spirits of so many epochs wait! How sublime the destiny into whose effulgence all elect souls shall be together gathered!
(T. G. Selby.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: