The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:1 (Hebrews 11:1)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. On the senses in which the word ὑπόστασις (translated "substance") may be used, see under Hebrews 1:2 . As to the sense intended here, views differ. There are three possible ones, expressed in the text and margin of the A.V., substance, ground, and confidence. The first is understood by the Fathers generally, the idea being supposed to be that, inasmuch as things not yet experienced, but only hoped for, become real to us by faith, faith is metaphysically their substance, as substantiating them to us. So Theophilus: οὐσίωσις τῶν μήπω ὄντων ὑπόστασις τῶν μὴ ὑφεστηκότων : and Chrysostom, who illustrates thus: "The resurrection has not yet taken place, but faith substantiates ( ὑφίστησιν ) it in our souls." So also Dante, following St. Thomas Aquinas, in a striking passage quoted by Delitzsch ('Paradise,' 24.70-75)—

"Le profonde cose

Che mi largiscon qui la lor parvenza

Agli occhi di laggiu son si nascose,

Che l'esser lore ve in sola credenza,

Sovra la qual si fondu Palta spene:

E pero di sustanza prende Fintenza."

"The things profound

That here vouch safe to me their apparition

From all eyes here below are so concealed

That all their being is in faith alone,

Upon the which high hope doth base itself:

And therefore faith assumes the place of substance."

The rendering ground, which involves only the simpler idea of faith being the foundation on which hope is built, has not much support from the use of the word elsewhere, nor does it seem suitable here. For it is not the things hoped for, but rather our hopes of them that are grounded on our faith. The subjective sense, confidence, or assurance, is most in favor with modern commentators, principally as being the most usual one (cf. Hebrews 3:14 ; 2 Corinthians 9:4 ; 2 Corinthians 11:17 ; also Psalms 38:11 , ἡ ὑπόστασις μου παρὰ σοῦ ἔστιν : Ezekiel 19:5 , ἀπώλετο ἡ ὑπόστασις αὐτῆς : Ruth 1:12 , ἔστι μοι ὑπόστασις τοῦ γενεθῆναι με ἀνδρί ) . One objection to this sense of the word here is that it is usually followed, when so intended, by a genitive of rite person, not of the thing; though Ruth 1:12 is an instance to the contrary. But apart from this consideration, the consensus of the Greek Fathers is a weighty argument for the retention of the rendering of the A.V. Either rendering, be it observed, gives the same essential meaning, though under different mental conceptions. Faith is further said to be the evidence of things not seen; ἔλεγχος meaning, not as some take it, inward conviction of their existence, but in itself a demonstration, serving the purpose of argument to induce conviction. So Dante, in continuation of the passage quoted above—

" E da questa credenza ci conviene

Sillogizar senza avere ultra visa;

E pero intenza d'argomento tiene ."

"And from this credence it is fit and right

To syllogize, though other sight be none:

Therefore faith holds the place of argument."

Is this meant as a definition of faith, or only a description of its effect and operation, with especial regard to the subject in hand? Virtually a definition, though not in the strict logical form of one. At any rate, "the constituents and essential characteristics of faith are here laid down" (Delitzsch); i.e. of faith in its most general sense—that of belief in such things, whether past, present, or future, as are not known by experience, and cannot be logically demonstrated. " Licet quidam dicant praedicta apostoli verba non esse fidei definitionem, quia definitio indicat rei quidditatem et essentiam, tamen si quis recte consideret, omnia ex quibus fides potest definiri in praedicta descriptione tanguntur, licet verba non ordinentur sub forma definitionis " (St. Thomas Aquinas, 'Secunda Secundae,' qu. 4, art. 1). Faith, in the general sense indicated, is and has ever been, as the chapter goes on to show, the very root and inspiring principle of all true religion. And be it observed that, if well grounded, it is not irrational; it would rather be irrational to disregard it, or suppose it opposed to reason. Even in ordinary affairs of life, and in science too, men act, and must act, to a great extent on faith; it is essential for success, and certainly for all great achievements—faith in the testimony and authority of others whom we can trust, faith in views and principles not yet verified by our own experience, faith in the expected outcome of right proceeding, faith with respect to a thousand things which we take on trust, and so make ventures, on the ground, not of positive proof, but of more or less assured conviction. Religious faith is the same principle, though exercised in a higher sphere; and it may be as well grounded as any on which irreligious men are acting daily. Various feelings and considerations may conspire to induce it: the very phenomena of the visible universe, which, though themselves objects of sense, speak to the soul of a Divinity beyond them; still more, conscience, recognized as a Divine voice within us, and implying a Power above us to whom we are responsible; then all our strange yearnings after ideals not yet realized, our innate sense that righteousness ought to triumph over iniquity, as in our disordered world it does not yet;—which things are in themselves prophetic; and, in addition to all this, the general human belief in Deity. And when, further, a revelation has been given, its answering to our already felt needs and aspirations, together with the usual considerations on which we give credence to testimony, induces faith in it also, and in the things by it revealed; natural faith is thus confirmed, and faith in other verities is borne in upon the soul; which is further itself confirmed by experience of the effects of entertaining it. In some minds, as is well known, and these of the highest order, such faith may amount to certitude, rendering the "things unseen" more real to them than "the things that do appear." It cannot be said that to accept such faith as evidence is contrary to reason; our not doing so would be to put aside as meaning nothing the deepest, the most spiritual, the most elevating faculties of our mysterious nature, by means of which, no less than by our other faculties, we are constituted so as to apprehend the truth. And we may observe, lastly, that even to those who have not themselves this "fullness of faith," its very existence in others, including so many of the great and good, may surely be rationally accepted as evidence of realities corresponding to it.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:1-3 (Hebrews 11:1-3)

The nature and power of faith.

In the close of the previous chapter, the apostle has spoken of faith as the principle of spiritual life, and the spring of patient endurance. He has quoted a great saying from Habakkuk, "The just shall live by faith;" and he now proceeds to vindicate its truth in a series of brilliant biographical illustrations. First of all, however, the apostle supplies a theoretic definition or description of saving faith.

I. THE NATURE OF FAITH . (Verse 1) Faith is a natural principle of the mind. All men exercise it with regard to earthly things. But spiritual faith has for its objects a higher class of realities—the truths of religion revealed in the Bible. In the text this faith is looked at in the most general and comprehensive way. It is viewed, not so much as an act, but as a state of mind, and as antithetical to sight.

1. Faith is the eye of the soul. It is "the conviction of things not seen"—the organ by which we look upon the invisible and the eternal. And, if faith is the eye, the Bible is the eye-glass through which faith looks. The objects of spiritual faith are all supernaturally revealed truths—"the things of God," "the things of the Spirit." These embrace all the great truths concerning God, man, the way of salvation, the Church, the last things. The believer's conviction of these "things not seen" rests upon the testimony of God, given not only outwardly—by the lips and pens of inspired men, but inwardly—by the witness of the Spirit himself within the soul. "Seeing is believing" in the world of sense; but in the domain of faith this maxim is reversed, for in spiritual things "believing is seeing."

2. Faith is the hand of the soul. It is "the confidence of things hoped for." The universe of the unseen contains those glorious realities which are the objects of spiritual hope. And those realities faith grasps. Saving faith is appropriating faith. The "things hoped for" are all involved in the coming of Christ's kingdom, which shall bring with it the final triumph of truth over error, and of good over evil. They include also, in subordination to this crowning hope, whatever is necessary for the spiritual cleansing and culture and comfort of the individual believer; as e.g. the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, victory over indwelling evil, growing likeness to Christ, the communion of saints, and the prospect of a blessed immortality. The man whose heart reposes on these hopes will be no longer dominated by the things "which are seen" and "temporal." He will become heavenly-minded. His faith will make him the longer the more humble, pure, laborious, courageous, meek, long-suffering, forgiving. "The just shall live by faith."

II. THE FOUNDATION - DOCTRINE OF FAITH . (Verse 3) Here the author specifies, as one of the great objects of faith, what is really the fundamental truth of all religion, as it is also the first utterance of revelation ( Genesis 1:1 )—the doctrine of the creation of the world by the living God. For our knowledge of this truth we are indebted exclusively to the Bible. Human theories regarding the origin of the universe have been mere conjectures. Heathen philosophers have dreamed of the eternal existence of matter; or they have taught, in some form or other, the doctrine "that what is seen hath been made out of things which do appear." Unaided reason has never ascended by the steps of the design-argument "up to nature's God." Paley's famous illustration of the watch suggests a conclusive syllogism only to the Christian theist. What, then, does the apostle assert here regarding creation?

1. That all that exists in time and space was skillfully framed and finished by a simple fiat of the Almighty.

2. That it follows that the universe was not formed out of any pre-existing materials whatsoever, but was created by God out of nothing. The question of the mode in which "the worlds have been framed" is one, when regarded from the spiritual point of view, of very slight importance. It matters little whether "what is seen" assumed its present form in connection with a series of creative acts, or by a process of evolution. What faith lays stress on is this, that the universe is in no sense self-existent, but owes its genesis to the will of a personal Creator or Evolver. Ancient paganism deified the power of nature, and atheistic evolution in our own time sees in matter the "promise and potency" of all life. But the candid, sober confession of science still is, that "behind and above and around the phenomena of matter and of force, remains the unsolved mystery of the universe." Now, revelation explains this mystery. The doctrine of a personal Creator is the foundation-doctrine of faith. If this truth be accepted, it follows that miracles are possible, and that a supernatural revelation is not an unlikely blessing. If God has made us in his own image, then surely we are heirs of immortality; and, although we have gone astray from him, peradventure he may hear us when we call upon him, and may graciously receive us back into his favor.

III. THE POWER OF FAITH TO FORM CHARACTER . (Verse 2) The "things not seen" and "hoped for" control the life of the believer. They engage his attention. They call forth his energies. They mould his habits. They direct his affections. The conviction and the confidence which make his character what it is are grounded, not upon knowledge, but upon testimony. This truth receives splendid illustration in the lives of the saints who lived during the twilight before the rise of the Sun of righteousness. "The elders" are the Hebrew fathers, and "the world's gray fathers" of antediluvian times. They trusted in a Savior who was yet only "hoped for," and in a sacrifice for sin that was "not seen." Although they lived so very long ago, and although the truth which they rested on was still but imperfectly developed, yet theirs was saving faith, and it was vigorous, valiant, victorious. For, faith is the belief of a Divine testimony, whatever that testimony may be. Under every dispensation the believer has ventured his eternal interests upon the bare word of God. "The elders had witness borne to them," i.e. the approving testimony of God and his Word. And the apostle proceeds, in the verses which follow, to name some of these illustrious eiders, and to show that their excellence of character was due to the moral power of their faith. This chapter, accordingly, may be said to point out some of the great constellations which blazed in the firmament of the Jewish dispensation. Or it may be compared to a national picture-gallery of the soldiers of faith, and their battles. Or its verses may be likened to the epitaphs on the ancient monuments in the fair and venerable abbey of the Old Testament Church. In conclusion, have we this faith? The assent of the intellect to Bible truth is not enough. Faith for us means personal trust in a personal Savior. Spiritual faith is a grace; it is God-given. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to be guided, in our whole walk and conduct, by the unseen and eternal realities.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:1 (Hebrews 11:1)

The nature of faith.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, " etc. This is not a definition or description of what is called, in theological phrase, saving faith. It does not set forth faith in Jesus Christ in particular, but faith in its general meaning and its comprehensive exercise. The text teaches us that—

I. FAITH IS THE DEMONSTRATION OF INVISIBLE REALITIES . It is "the evidence of things not seen;" Revised Version, "the proving of things not seen." There are two classes of unseen things:

1. Things which are absolutely invisible. Of these we may mention:

2. Things which are relatively invisible.

II. FAITH IS THE ASSURANCE OF DESIRABLE POSSESSIONS . "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for;" Revised Version, "the assurance of things hoped for." It is a firmly grounded confidence of things hoped for. Two observations are suggested:

1. Some of these invisible things which are apprehended by faith are regarded as desirable and attainable. They are "hoped for." Hope is the "desire of good with a belief that it is obtainable;" it is" well-grounded desire." We hope to receive in this present life Divine grace and guidance, provision and preservation, spiritual help in our daily work and warfare, and illuminating and sanctifying influences. And in the life that is to come, we hope for heaven and all its blessedness; its entire freedom from sin and suffering; its perfect purity and peace; the holy and delightful fellowship of glorified saints; the perpetual presence of our adorable Savior and Lord; and the enrapturing manifestation of God ( 1 John 3:2 , 1 John 3:3 ). We regard these things as attainable because they are promised to the sincere believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we hope for them through him.

2. Faith gives assurance of these desirable and attainable things. It appropriates such of them as may be obtained at present, and confidently anticipates those that are reserved for the future. It was well said by Ambrose, "The heir must believe his title to an estate in reversion before he can hope for it; faith believes its title to glory, and then hope waits for it. Did not faith feed the lamp of hope with oil, it would seen die." And more, it brings future blessings into our present experience, and it gives to us foretastes of heavenly blessedness, which are a pledge and an earnest that our holiest and brightest hopes will meet with full and glorious fruition—

" Where faith is sweetly lost in sight,

And hope in full, supreme delight,

And everlasting love."


- The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:1 (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith in its relation to the future and the unseen.


1. Nothing is more to be desired than a hopeful outlook towards the future. The future may be regarded doubtfully, fearfully, or even despairingly; on the other hand the question rises if it be not possible to regard the future with a hope which shall become a duty. Doubtless there are many who do look hopefully forward, but they are hopeful simply because of a disposition constitutionally sanguine. They may even make a brightness where there is nothing in the circumstances to warrant it. They think it is quite as likely chance may bring to them success as failure. But this sort of hope never can become a duty, a feeling which a man ought to have, potent and governing in his breast. We do not want a future dependent on chance, or natural endowments, or favorable circumstances. We want a future which shall become bright to every human being because of his humanity, because of his character, because one of the elements in bringing it about is his own choice.

2. This bright outlook towards the future is secured by Christian faith. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." More correctly, faith is a substance of things hoped for. Bengel alleges that the metaphor is taken from a pillar standing under a heavy weight. We accept the explanation, only adding to it that this heavy weight rests on more pillars than one, and all of them are necessary. The things hoped for will never come into existence for us unless they be related to us by a present, practical faith. Suppose to each of two men a quantity of seed is given. One of them sows his portion, and then to him a harvest is among the things hoped for, his hope being reasonable and based upon an act of faith when he put his seed into the ground. The other, not sowing, if he hopes for a harvest, is clearly under a delusion. The thing he hopes for has no substance; he has done nothing to show real faith. The thing indicated by the word "faith" is something practical; not a man merely saying he believes, but showing his faith by his works. Such a faith becomes a matter of conscience. God gives to the man who wishes for the gift a peculiar insight, a deep conviction in the heart, which is worth more than any argument. The course taken may not satisfy others, may provoke their laughter, their wonder, their pity; but after all the one thing needful is not that our course should be clear to others, but clear to ourselves. If we go wrong in our course through neglect of the Divine voice speaking within us, it is we who suffer the most. We must look to God altogether, and he will give us the right impulse, and concentrate our faculties so that we shall not drift through life, but rather speed onward with a definite aim, concerning which, in our own best moments, we shall have a full assurance that we cannot miss it. These heavenly certainties are not to be revealed by flesh and blood. So much turns on faith that it is no wonder it is so much dwelt on in the New Testament. Of what a glorious life, of what beatific imaginations, does unbelief deprive us?

II. FAITH IN ITS RELATION TO THE UNSEEN . "Faith is the substance of things hoped for;" it is not called the substance of things unseen. For it is in no sense the substance of things unseen. They exist, whether we believe them to exist or not. But faith may become to our hearts the evidence of these unseen things. Certainly there can be no other evidence. To all our natural faculties there is presented nothing but a bundle of phenomena, and whatever we may think of beyond them comes into our minds simply because we are unable to believe that there is nothing beyond them. There is an outward man, perceptible to the senses, feeling through the senses a like pleasure and pain; but there is also an inward man, a deep, invisible existence, to which God and Christ appeal, as having the proper sphere of its life in the great invisible outside c f it. It is by faith that the invisible in us is to profit by the invisible outside of us. Prayer is a recognition of the invisible. We are to endure as seeing him who is invisible. The only source of inspiration for a real and full Christian life is to be found in the invisible. And when the invisible rules, when faith lays hold of its riches, then even the visible becomes a more glorious and profitable thing than it ever can do while sense rules alone.—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary