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THE JOINT PERFECTION OF OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT SAINTS
HEB. XI. 39, 40.—"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
The remark of the Apostle Peter, that “ in the Epistles of his beloved brother Paul there are some things hard to be understood,” will be readily acquiesced in by all who have made these Epistles the subject of careful study; and to none of these inspired letters does the remark apply with greater force, than to the Epistle to the Hebrews, to which he seemis, indeed, to have had a direct reference in making the observation. What is hard to be understood, is, however, by no means equivalent to what is impossible to be understood. Of this I trust that we have had satisfactory proof, in some of the illustrations of select passages from this Epistle, which at intervals I have laid before you; and that we have found, too, that when the Apostle's meaning is somewhat difficult to be apprehended, its importance, when discovered, far more than compensates for all the pains bestowed on the investigation. Another of these somewhat difficult passages comes now before us for consideration. May God open our understandings, that we may understand this portion of the Scriptures. May He open our hearts to receive the love of the truth which it contains, that it may thus contribute to our salvation.
The remarkable words before us are the conclusion of the Apostle's historical illustrations of the importance of faith, as that which can enable a man to do what otherwise he could not
1 This was the last Action Sermon prepared by the lamented Author. On finishing it, he expressed his persuasion that his work was about done.
have done, suffer what otherwise he could not have suffered, obtain what otherwise he could not have obtained. They consist of two parts :—First, “ And all these, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” Second, “God having provided some better thing for them, that they without us might not be made perfect.”
I. The words, “ all these," have by some interpreters been considered as referring only to the whole of those who, in the immediate context, are represented as having suffered under the influence of faith, in contrast with those who, in the words preceding these, are represented as having acted under its influence. The latter, according to the Apostle, ver. 33," by faith obtained promises.;" the former, though they have “obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” While Gideon, and Barak, and Jephthah, and Samson, and David, and Samuel, by their heroic deeds, performed under the influence of faith, “obtained promises,” i.e., obtained possession of the blessings promised to them, those who, when exposed to the fury of the Syro-Macedonian king, through faith endured tortures of the most exquisite kind, vers. 35-38, obtained indeed a good report, but died without obtaining any such blessings : “ they received not the promise.” On carefully looking at the passage, however, it is scarcely possible, I think, to doubt that the contrast is not between two different classes of the ancient worthies — between the working believers and the suffering believers, but between believers under the ancient economies—the patriarchal and Mosaic—the elders who received a good report, mentioned at the 2d verse of the chapter—and believers under the new economy-the Christian ; and that what he says is this, * All these persons (to whose history the Apostle, in the preceding chapter, refers as an illustration of the power of faith,—all those whose names are so honourably recorded in the book of God, on account of their faith, or its results), “ all these received not the promise.”' We should have expected just the reverse of this declaration—All these did receive the promise ;' but the Apostle's assertion is, 'All these did not receive the promise. What can this mean?
The words, “ did not receive the promise,” taken by themselves, may signify, “had not the promise made to them,' or, had not the promise fulfilled to them. There are interpreters who
adopt each of these views. Those interpreters who take the first view of the words, explain them thus :— Those ancient believers had a number of promises made to them, “ exceeding great and precious promises ;” but there was one promise, which by way of eminence may be called the promise—the promise of “the resurrection,” and “eternal life” in heaven,-that promise was not given to them. They obtained it not; we have. “Life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel.” This better thing is provided for us.
This explication is, however, by no means satisfactory; for it is evident, from the statements made in the preceding part of this chapter, vers. 11, 13-16, as well as from our Lord's argument from the declaration made to Moses at the bush, in the desert, that the promise, “ I am the Lord thy God,”—which all these worthies received in the sense of its being made to them,included the promise of resurrection and immortal happiness, Luke xx. 37, 38; and it is clear also, that it was understood by them to include this promise. This promise, no doubt, is more fully unfolded to us than to them; it is expressed in much plainer terms in the New Testament than in the Old; but the promise of eternal life, though forming no part of the Mosaic law, was yet given to the people of God, both to those who lived before the giving of that institute, and to those who lived under it.
The expression here, “ received the promise,” must then be understood, not of the having the promise made, but of having it fulfilled to them; just as “ to inherit the promises,” Heb. vi. 12, means, to inherit the promised blessings. But still the question remains, What is that promised blessing, which none of the Old Testament worthies, though renowned for their faith, did receive? The great blessing promised to the ancient Church, both before the law and under the law, was salvation, in all the extent of meaning that belongs to that most comprehensive word, through the Messiah. It was promised to them that “the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent; that in Abraham's seed all the families of the earth should be blessed ; that to them a Child should be born, a Son given, whose name should be Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; and that Israel should be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.” Now this blessing, which is indeed a congeries of blessings,
these ancient believers did not receive during their mortal life. They died before the Messiah became incarnate, and suffered, and died, and rose again ; and consequently they could not enjoy the blessings which originate in the fuller and clearer revelation of the truth respecting the salvation of the Messiah, and in that correspondingly enlarged communication of divine influence, which were the natural consequence of that great event. They saw the promised blessings afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and lived under their influence; but they " received" them not (ver. 13). On their death, indeed, they entered on a state free from sin, and suffering, and fear; but still they “received not the promise.” They were “ saved," but “in hope.” They waited in paradise—some of them thousands of years—expecting the manifestation of the mystery of mercy; but till that took place they could not have the full knowledge or enjoyment of the promised blessing. We have no reason to think that the departed spirits of good men, who died before the coming of Christ, knew more of the plan of salvation than the angels did, who had to learn from the divine dispensations to the Church that manifold wisdom of God: Eph. iii. 10. On the Word being made flesh, on His finishing the work on the earth which the Father had given Him to do, and on His taking possession of His mediatorial throne, great accessions were made both to the knowledge and blessedness of these happy spirits. But even yet they have not " fully “ received the promise.” The promise of a glorious resurrection, and an immortal, celestial life in their entire natures, remains yet unperformed. It is not to them a matter of enjoyment, but of expectation. They are, in reference to these, but “saved in hope.” Their flesh rests in hope, in the silence and quiet of the grave; and their spirits, looking forward to the glorious consummation, breathe out the longing desire, “ How long, O Lord! how long!” Thus did all the ancient worthies, though celebrated for their faith, not receive the promised blessing.
It would have been, as I have already observed, more in accordance with our anticipations, had the Apostle said, “ All these, having obtained a good report through faith, did receive the promise. After all the difficulties and trials, labours and suffering, to which they were exposed, they at last obtained, in the fulfilment of promises made to them, a rich recompense for