And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:…
Thus faith makes character. The Pyramids of Egypt are dead stone. The pyramids of Israel are holy men. Worldly fortune most of these heroes and heroines had none. Fame indeed came to them; but they did not march up to Fame and say, "Be thou my god." And what was that fame? Not that of eloquence; nor did they gain the laurels of war; they obtained a good report. Their virtues lived after them. Thus faith achieved the great result. And faith in what? A promise. Seeing, then, that faith in a promised Saviour is so good a thing, what can be better than such a promise? The apostle is speaking of the promise fulfilled. We live now not under the promise, but under the full revelation of the Christ.
I. A GLORIOUS REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD. "Something better." The works of man often show decrepitude, wasting genius, failing power. Witness Turner in art, and Sir Walter Scott in literature. But all God's works show development — onwardness. Creation in its physical aspect does. Look at the crustaceans and at the silurian fossils, &c. None can fail to see progress — some-thing finer, nobler, better. Look at the moral world! Look at God's revelations of righteousness and truth! How wonderfully superior the light which David had to that which Abel had! Then, as the course of inspiration rolled along, the devout Jew heard descriptions through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah, which filled in the sublimely prophetic history with the story of Messiah's sufferings. In the incarnation and redemption of our Saviour we still see something better. And then our Saviour tells us that there is still something better. He says, "It is expedient for you that I go away," then the Comforter Shall come. Life is not to be a mere obedience even to Christ's words, but a spiritual potency within, God's Spirit in the inner man. The unprejudiced mind is bound to see in all this a revelation of God's character — of His interest in man, of His wisdom, His pity, and His grace! We ought to make history a ground of trust and hope in God, so that in looking back we may say, "I will trust, and not be afraid."
II. A GLORIOUS INTERPRETATION OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. The path of the Christian is like that of the Church, from strength to strength, from glory to glory.
1. Learn to interpret life by the key of this principle. It is the only one that can solve the mysteries of pain and sorrow, or that can soothe the heart in agony and trouble. The motto, "It is better," cannot be ever on our lips, it is true. We should act a lie as if we were false enthusiasts. We cannot say, "I see or feel this to be good"; but we can say, "I believe it to be so." Faith trusts. Faith rests upon the Divine order!
2. This principle of interpretation is supported by human histories. Life only blossoms by slow degrees, and only when it is in full bud do we see how suitable the soil, how perfectly adapted the atmosphere. We would not have had Stephen stoned, but it was better that his dying testimony should aid in turning Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle, and better for Stephen himself to enjoy so early the welcome where Christ Himself rose from His throne to receive him. It is when the fabric is woven that we see what colours were best to let pass through the loom. It is when the temple is complete that we understand why the crooked stone that puzzled us was placed in its appointed spot. It is when the haven is reached by a circuitous voyage, and a strange tacking to and fro in troubled waters, that the captain tells you all about the sand-banks and the sunken rocks.
3. This principle of interpretation explains the providence of earth. Pitiable are those conceptions of life which treat the universe as though we moved only in some meaningless cycle. There is progress in all that makes for the enrichment of thought, the amplification of life, the elevation of the common lot. It is better to live now than in the old times before us. Nations, as well as men, do rise on stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things. Doubtless as the waves of the incoming sea seem sometimes to recede, so there appear to be periods of drawback and disheartening. But progress is made. The islands once in darkness do see great light. The gospel does spread. Law does become more equitable. Sanitary science does triumph. Intercommunication between great nations in travel and commerce does increase. Education does spread.
4. This principle of interpretation explains the Saviour's preparation of heaven. The very same word is used — "I go to prepare a place for you." He has "foreseen" all that, and made ready the home. We cannot see the occupations and delights of our departed ones, but we know that they are blessed; we know that where they are there is "something better"; and we know that this prepared home will be soon ready for ourselves. There knowledge is freed from earthly limitation. There love is no more enfeebled by divided affection. And what mean these words? "That they without us should not be made perfect." The temple is incomplete. The table is not full. They are blessed, but our home-coming will add intensity and fulness to their joy. How transfigured would human life be if we studied this text in all its breadth and beauty — if we remembered, as students, that God disciplines human life, so that the golden corn of experience may afterwards be a harvest for others; that as servants the heroism of our faith is remembered in that which is least as well as in that which is greatest, so that "something better" is coming than any earthly reward; that as worshippers, when thrilled at times with the glories of spiritual song, we are nearing the fellowship of the great multitude which no man can number!
(W. M. Statham, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: