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Commentary On Hebrews by Jean Calvin

Hebrews 11:8-12

8. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

8. Fide Abraham, quum vocatus est, obedivit ut exiret in locum quem accepturus erat in haereditatem; et exivit nesciens quo veniret.

9. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

9. Fide peregrinatus est in terra promissa quasi aliena, in tabernaculis habitans cum Isaac et Jacob, cohaeredibus ejusdem promissionis:

10. For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

10. Expectavit enim civitatem habentem fundamenta, cujus architectus et opifex est Deus.

11. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

11. Fide et ipsa Sara facultatem ad conceptionem seminis accepit, et praeter tempus aetatis peperit, quia fidelem existimavit eum qui promiserat.

12. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

12. Propterea etiam ex uno geniti sunt, et quidem emortuo, multitudine tanquam astra coeli et quasi arena quae est juxta marginem maris innumerabilis.

8. By faith Abraham, etc. He comes now to Abraham, who is the chief father of God's church on earth, and in whose name the Jews gloried, as though by the distinction of being the holy race of Abraham alone, they were removed from the common order of men. But he now reminds them of what they ought to possess as the main thing, that they might be counted among his children. He therefore calls their attention to faith, for Abraham himself had no excellency which did not proceed from faith.

He first teaches us that faith was the cause why he immediately obeyed God when he was commanded to remove from his own country; and then that through the same faith it was that he went on without wavering, according to what he was called to do even to the end. By these two things, -- his promptness in obeying, and his perseverance, was Abraham's faith most clearly proved.

When he was called, etc. The old Latin translator and Erasmus apply this to his name, which is extremely tame and frigid. On the contrary, I refer it to the oracle by which he was called from his own country. He indeed did in this way undergo a voluntary exile, while yet he did nothing but by God's command; and no doubt it is one of the chief things which belong to faith, not to move a step except God's word shows us the way, and as a lantern gives us light, according to what David says. (Psalm 119:105.) Let us then learn that it is a thing to be observed through life, that we are to undertake nothing to which God does not call us.

To go out into a place, etc. To the command was added a promise, that God would give him a land for an inheritance. This promise he immediately embraced, and hastened as though he was sent to take possession of this land. It is a no ordinary trial of faith to give up what we have in hand, in order to seek what is afar off, and unknown to us. For when God commanded him to leave his own country, he did not point out the place where he intended him to live, but left him in suspense and perplexity of mind: |go|, he said, |into the place that I will show thee.| (Genesis 12:1.) Why did he defer to point out the place, except that his faith might be more and more exercised? Besides, the love of his native land might not only have retarded the alacrity of Abraham, but also held him so bound to it, so as not to quit his home. His faith then was not of an ordinary kind, which thus broke through all hindrances and carried him where the Lord called him to go.

9. By faith he sojourned, etc. The second particular is, that having entered into the land, he was hardly received as a stranger and a sojourner. Where was the inheritance which he had expected? It might have indeed occurred instantly to his mind, that he had been deceived by God. Still greater was the disappointment, which the Apostle does not mention, when shortly after a famine drove him from the country, when he was compelled to flee to the land of Gerar; but the Apostle considered it enough to say, as a commendation to his faith, that he became a sojourner in the land of promise; for to be a sojourner seemed contrary to what had been promised. That Abraham then courageously sustained this trial was an instance of great fortitude; but it proceeded from faith alone.

With Isaac and Jacob, etc. He does not mean that they dwelt in the same tent, or lived at the same time; but he makes Abraham's son and grandson his companions, because they sojourned alike in the inheritance promised to them, and yet failed not in their faith, however long it was that God delayed the time; for the longer the delay the greater was the trial; but by setting up the shield of faith they repelled all the assaults of doubt and unbelief.

10. For he looked for, etc. He gives a reason why he ascribes their patience to faith, even because they looked forward to heaven. This was indeed to see things invisible. It was no doubt a great thing to cherish in their hearts the assurance given them by God respecting the possession of the land until it was after some ages realized; yet as they did not confine their thoughts, no, not to that land, but penetrated even into heaven, it was still a clearer evidence of their faith.

He calls heaven a city that has foundations, because of its perpetuity; for in the world there is nothing but what is transitory and fading. It may indeed appear strange that he makes God the Maker of heavens as though he did not also create the earth; to this I answer, that as in earthly buildings, the hands of men make use of materials, the workmanship of God is not unfitly set in opposition to them. Now, whatever is formed by men is like its authors in instability; so also is the perpetuity of the heavenly life, it corresponds with the nature of God its founder. Moreover, the Apostle teaches us that all weariness is relieved by expectation, so that we ought never to be weary in following God.

11. Through faith also, Sarah herself, etc. That women may know that this truth belongs to them as well as to men, he adduces the example of Sarah; which he mentions in preference to that of others, because she was the mother of all the faithful.

But it may seem strange that her faith is commended, who was openly charged with unbelief; for she laughed at the word of the angel as though it were a fable; and it was not the laugh of wonder and admiration, for otherwise she would not have been so severely reproved by the angel. It must indeed be confessed, that her faith was blended with unbelief; but as she cast aside her unbelief when reproved, her faith is acknowledged by God and commended. What then she rejected at first as being incredible, she afterwards as soon as she heard that it came from God, obediently received.

And hence we deduce a useful doctrine, -- that when our faith in some things wavers or halts, it ceases not to be approved of God, provided we indulge not the spirit of unbelief. The meaning then is, that the miracle which God performed when Isaac was born, was the fruit of the faith of Abraham, and of his wife, by which they laid hold on the power of God.

Because she judged him faithful, etc. These reasons, by which the power and character of faith are set forth, ought to be carefully noticed. Were any one only to hear that Sarah brought forth a child through faith, all that is meant would not be conveyed to him, but the explanation which the Apostle adds removes every obscurity; for he declares that Sarah's faith was this, -- that she counted God to be true to his word, that is, to what he had promised.

There are two clauses to this declaration; for we hence learn first, that there is no faith without God's word, for of his faithfulness we cannot be convinced, until he has spoken. And this of itself is abundantly sufficient to confute the fiction of the sophists respecting implicit faith; for we must ever hold that there is a mutual relation between God's word and our faith. But as faith is founded chiefly, according to what has been already said, on the benevolence or kindness of God, it is not every word, though coming from his mouth, that is sufficient; but a promise is necessary as an evidence of his favor. Hence Sarah is said to have counted God faithful who had promised. True faith then is that which hears God speaking and rests on his promise.

12. Therefore sprang there even of one, etc. He now also reminds the Jews, that it was by faith that they were the descendants of Abraham; for he was as it were half dead, and Sarah his wife, who had been barren in the flower of her age, was now sterile, being far advanced in years. Sooner then might oil be expected to flow from a stone, than a nation to proceed from them: and yet there sprang from them an innumerable multitude. If now the Jews are proud of their origin, let them consider what it was. Whatever they are, everything is doubtless to be ascribed to the faith of Abraham and Sarah. It hence follows, that they cannot retain and defend the position they have acquired in any other way than by faith.

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