Faith: its witness and hope

The Witness of Faith

(1) Abraham, the father of all them that believe, is a fine exemplar of what it means to give testimony of a heart-residing faith, a faith that bubbles over, a faith that cannot be hidden. Faith concentrates fixedly on unseen things: though unseen, they are most real. "For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10).

Not everybody is called to be a martyr (martus = witness), that is, to give the ultimate witness to Christ by enduring death rather than deny Him.

But every Christian is definitely called to be a witness; and this is seen excellently well in the life of Abraham.

(2) First of all, a characteristic of his life was that he dwelt in tents rather than in a permanent house (Genesis 12:8). A tent is a symbol of a traveller passing on: it is a temporary dwelling-place. This Abraham did because he looked forward to something far better: he anticipated a city with eternal foundations, a dwelling that will endure, that cannot be shaken.

So, just as Abraham made every attempt to improve society in which he lived, helping those who needed help (such as rescuing Lot who was taken prisoner), yet Abraham did not get involved in the pettiness of a world, the fashion of which is passing away.

(3) Secondly, Abraham built at least five altars in different places, as God met with him, or as new revelations of God were granted to him. An altar speaks of atonement (Abraham was a redeemed man, rejoicing in seeing the day of the Messiah in whom he believed); it speaks of confession (Abraham was not ashamed of the God of heaven and earth, his shield and his great reward); it also speaks of worship (Abraham recognized his worthlessness and at the same time the worthiness of God).

In giving witness to his God, his faith drove him to erect these altars, visible signs of faith in God, tangible token to others around him of God's favour upon him. His was no secret faith. Why should ours be?

Faith and hope

What is the relationship between faith and hope and how it may be applied in a pastoral situation?

By faith the elect are saved, and sanctified throughout their walk on earth, though their practical perfection is not attained here. The Holy Spirit, who works effectually in them, thus intimates that better things are still in store. He makes manifest the grace of God within the heart, and yet He testifies of the fact that what we enjoy right now is not all of it.

The Christian, then, produces the practical life of love on the way to something greater; the church lives by hope. The redeemed are persuaded that better things are yet in store, and therefore they anticipate that all will be will in the end. Heaven is their home, and their deeds go after them. They are blessed in that whatsoever they do in the Lord will not be in vain. They are promised the reward of grace, and thus they emulate to please God in all things.

Heaven, as they grasp their destination by faith, involves not merely happiness, but also goodness, and goodness is realized in communion with the One who alone is good. They are in possession of eternal redemption; being called, they are to glorify God and enjoy Him, but not only in time, but also in eternity, as the Shorter Catechism succinctly puts it.

This thought and anticipation of heaven is no pie in the sky by and by; it is most real, for they grasp it on the authority of their unlying Lord, who is truth Himself. They have never been there yet; still, they are convinced of the heavenly reality, just as much as they are convinced of the terrors and anguish of hell, motivating them to give witness that only in Jesus Christ is deliverance to be found.

These two contrasting eternal destinies they accept because their Master spoke about them repeatedly (for instance, Matthew 25:46; Matthew 10:28; 18:9; Luke 12:4ff.). They discover that the thought not only of heaven but also of hell runs all through the teaching of Jesus. They are impressed by it in such a way that their whole orientation in life is changed radically. They find that the stupendous earnestness of Jesus' ethics is rooted in the constant thought of the judgment seat of God.

In all this it becomes apparent that faith is not merely founded upon knowledge, but also it leads to knowledge. It provides information about a future world that otherwise would remain unknown. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Though not a strict and complete definition of faith, this statement is an affirmation of at least one important aspect of faith. What we have in this verse is not all of faith, but one particular aspect of it.

Faith is here regarded as providing information about future events; it is presented as a way of predicting the future. Future things - the things hoped for, specifically heaven - are always also "things not seen."

But since faith is based upon God's testimony, it is more sure than scientific evidence or personal proof. Being sure, faith keeps us going, persevering towards the goal. Here, then, is seen the intimate relationship between faith and hope.

Pastorally speaking, this bond between faith and hope must be placed to the attention of every Christian. Faith in Jesus Christ and eternal verities makes us most realists. Our eyes have been opened to see reality as never before, just as the servant of Elisha saw the chariots of fire all around him when God opened his eyes to see the spirit world.

And since we know by faith, we are not to sell the precious testimony of infallible Scripture for a mess of pottage. The highest and noblest and surest testimony is the testimony of God, as recorded in Holy Scripture. Since this is so, we are not to lose heart, but are to press on, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that it will not be in vain. The work of faith, and labour of love and patience (steadfastness) of hope move together and are developed in the Christian soul, as he approaches day by day the celestial city.

For though we get sick and grow old, and are harassed about by many trials, by fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, we will not grow weary. He has gone in before us, as our precursor and guarantee that we will one day behold His glory that was His before the world was made.

Pastors need to present to the congregation (and privately to dejected brethren) the eschatological hope in the assurance that the Lord Jesus will return and deliver them for their present troubles and from God's coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:2ff.).