Now faith is the substance of things hoped for - On the general nature of faith, see the notes on Mark 16:16. The margin here is, "ground or confidence." There is scarcely any verse of the New Testament more important than this, for it states what is the nature of all true faith, and is the only definition of it which is attempted in the Scriptures. Eternal life depends on the existence and exercise of faith Mark 16:16, and hence, the importance of an accurate understanding of its nature. The word rendered "substance" - ̔́ hupostasis - occurs in the New Testament only in the following places. In II Corinthians 9:4; II Corinthians 11:17; Hebrews 3:14, where it is rendered "confident" and "confidence;" and in Hebrews 1:3, where it is rendered "person," and in the passage before us; compare the notes on Hebrews 1:3. Prof. Stuart renders it here "confidence;" Chrysostom, "Faith gives reality or substance to things hoped for."
The word properly means "that which is placed under" (Germ. Unterstellen); then "ground, basis, foundation, support." Then it means also "reality, substance, existence," in contradistinction from what is unreal, imaginary, or deceptive ( tuschung ). "Passow." It seems to me, therefore, that the word here has reference to something which imparts reality in the view of the mind to those things which are not seen, and which serves to distinguish them from those things which are unreal and illusive. It is what enables us to feel and act as if they were real, or which causes them to exert an influence over us as if we saw them. Faith does this on all other subjects as well as religion. A belief that there is such a place as London or Calcutta, leads us to act as if this were so, if we have occasion to go to either; a belief that money may be made in a certain undertaking, leads people to act as if this were so; a belief in the veracity of another leads us to act as if this were so. As long as the faith continues, whether it be well-founded or not, it gives all the force of reality to what is believed. We feel and act just as if it were so, or as if we saw the object before our eyes. This, I think, is the clear meaning here. We do not see the things of eternity. We do not see God, or heaven, or the angels, or the redeemed in glory, or the crowns of victory, or the harps of praise; but we have faith in them, and this leads us to act as if we saw them. And this is, undoubtedly, the fact in regard to all who live by faith and who are fairly under its influence.
Of things hoped for - In heaven. Faith gives them reality in the view of the mind. The Christian hopes to be admitted into heaven; to be raised up in the last day from the slumbers of the tomb, to be made perfectly free from sin; to be everlastingly happy. Under the influence of faith he allows these things to control his mind as if they were a most affecting reality.
The evidence of things not seen - Of the existence of God; of heaven; of angels; of the glories of the world suited for the redeemed. The word rendered "evidence" - ̓́ elengchos - occurs in the New Testament only in this place and in II Timothy 3:16, where it is rendered "reproof." It means properly proof, or means of proving, to wit, evidence; then proof which convinces another of error or guilt; then vindication, or defense; then summary or contents; see "Passow." The idea of "evidence" which goes to demonstrate the thing under consideration, or which is adapted to produce "conviction" in the mind, seems to be the elementary idea in the word. So when a proposition is demonstrated; when a man is arraigned and evidence is furnished of his guilt, or when he establishes his innocence; or when one by argument refutes his adversaries, the idea of "convincing argument" enters into the use of the word in each case.
This, I think, is clearly the meaning of the word here. "Faith in the divine declarations answers all the purposes of a convincing argument, or is itself a convincing argument to the mind, of the real existence of those things which are not seen." But is it a good argument? Is it rational to rely on such a means of being convinced? Is mere "faith" a consideration which should ever convince a rational mind? The infidel says "no;" and we know there may be a faith which is no argument of the truth of what is believed. But when a man who has never seen it believes that there is such a place as London, his belief in the numerous testimonies respecting it which he has heard and read is to his mind a good and rational proof of its existence, and he would act on that belief without hesitation. When a son credits the declaration or the promise of a father who has never deceived him, and acts as though that declaration and promise were true, his faith is to him a ground of conviction and of action, and he will act as if these things were so.
In like manner the Christian believes what God says. He has never seen heaven; he has never seen an angel; he has never seen the Redeemer; he has never seen a body raised from the grave. "But he has evidence which is satisfactory to his mind that God has spoken on these subjects," and his very nature prompts him to confide in the declarations of his Creator. Those declarations are to his mind more convincing proof than anything else would be. They are more conclusive evidence than would be the deductions of his own reason; far better and more rational than all the reasonings and declarations of the infidel to the contrary. He feels and acts, therefore, as if these things were so - for his faith in the declarations of God has convinced him that they are so - The object of the apostle, in this chapter, is not to illustrate the nature of what is called "saving faith," but to show the power of "unwavering confidence in God" in sustaining the soul, especially in times of trial; and particularly in leading us to act in view of promises and of things not seen as if they were so. "Saving faith" is the same kind of confidence directed to the Messiah - the Lord Jesus - as the Saviour of the soul.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Hebrews 11:1:
2 Corinthians 4:18
2 Timothy 3:16
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