By Cecil Willis
There is no theme that is more suited to man’s nature than is the subject of faith. Faith is, to the spirit of man, what food is to the body. It is that which sustains life within us. There is nothing about faith that appeals to our body. We do not crave it for food for the body, but it is food for the soul.
When one thinks of a definition of faith, his mind becomes puzzled. The profoundest of thinkers have sought diligently to give us a proper definition of faith, but their inability adequately to give its meaning has demonstrated man’s lack of insight into the subject. Since faith plays so important a part in every man’s life and it is related to man’s soul, one should expect that in God’s revelation to the soul of man a definition of this important term should be found. So it is that one must turn to the word of God to learn what faith is and anything about it’s nature.
In Hebrews 11:1, the writer stated that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (K.J.V.). Or as the A.S. V. has it: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here in one brief sentence the Holy Spirit has done more than all the writings and thoughts of men to define the word “faith.” The author had more in mind the giving of a description of faith, than defining the word itself. This statement is not a logical definition of the mental act of faith itself, but is rather a statement “describing faith in its relation to the human soul, as a means of growth and a principle of enjoyment” (Milligan, New Testament Commentary, p.299).
Through the Apostle the Holy Spirit said that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Many take this to be a definition of faith. Faith is not the things for which we hope as some would take from this passage, for if it were then that would signify that we do not have faith, for the things hoped for are future since the word “hope” itself is future in its nature. Faith is that which gives reality to the things which we expect in the future, but which we have not yet seen. For example: I have confidence that there is a place prepared called Heaven. I have never yet seen it, but, if I know my heart, I have as much confidence that such a place exists as if I had already seen it. Faith is the foundation, the substance, the essence of the things for which we hope. It is that which gives us reason for hope. Faith is the basis on which we look for things which as yet we have not seen. To the soul of man then, says the apostle, faith is the substance of things hoped for: “So that by means of faith, man is able to enjoy, as present realities, what without faith would be to him nonexistent” (Milligan, op. cit. p. 300).
But not only does faith enable one to peer into the future and view as realities things which would to us, were it not for faith, be nonexistent, but it also enables us to do other things. “The phrase `the evidence of things not seen’ embraces all the invisible realities of the universe, whether they be past, present or future, about which the Holy Spirit has borne witness” (Milligan, op. cit. p. 300).
We can now more fully understand Paul’s statement in the third verse: “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.” All the knowledge that I have of the creation of the universe comes by faith, and any knowledge of the beginning that I have which I receive from revelation in God’s word is just that much more knowledge than the atheists have. The beginning is beyond the realm of experimentation and investigation, for it is outside the realm of the corporeal senses. One cannot know by observation what occurred in the beginning for none of us was there; so the atheist as well as the Christian has to depend upon faith for his knowledge of the beginning. “But to the eye of faith, it is just as plain that `In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ as it is that Columbus discovered America or that George Washington was once President of the United States” (Milligan, op. cit., p. 301). It is all dependent upon faith. Without faith we know neither our beginning nor our end; our origin nor our destiny. We know nothing actually of our destiny or mission here. Without faith we would not know from whence we have come, why we are here, nor where we are going.
Through faith we can know that the beginning of the universe was an absolute creation. Paul said, “the things which are seen hath not been made out of things which appear.” Many have held that the beginning of the universe was nothing but a renovation of preexisting materials into their present form from their former state of non-intelligent and incoherent mass, but the writer of Hebrews says that all things that are, were made from nothing. It was an absolute creation. Through faith we can know more than the profoundest philosophers.
Thus far we have thought of faith as a means of enjoying the realms beyond the reach of our five senses. Let us now think of faith as a means of enduring the trials which confront man. It is in this light that Paul presents faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. This chapter, often called the “Honor Roll of the Bible,” is found in the context of Paul’s argument given in an effort to persuade the Jewish Christians to continue in the faith. In the beginning of the gospel, many Jews accepted it and renounced Judaism. After doing this, their former brethren of the Jewish faith set about using every means available to encourage the Christians to turn back. They even sorely persecuted them, but Paul said, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). Paul had told them about all the great men of faith throughout Bible history and how that, by their faith, they had been able to meet every obstacle and then to surge on over it, and with these things in mind, he had laid a perfect foundation upon which to urge these Jewish brethren to remain faithful. Faith was their power of endurance. It was the motivation they needed to enable them to look beyond the few years of this life, though filled with the bitterest hours, the severest persecution, the most discouraging events, to Him who is invisible, and thus to renew themselves in their warfare against sin and to endure faithfully to the end. This is what we mean when we say that faith is a power of endurance.
Faith also is a prerequisite to salvation. It must precede salvation, for without it salvation cannot be had. Not only is faith a prerequisite unto salvation, it is also an essential of life. Practically everything we do is dependent upon faith, either in ourselves or someone else. When one buys on credit he is granted that credit upon the faith that his creditor has in his fidelity. By faith the farmer sows in anticipation of a bountiful harvest. So predicated is our civilization upon faith that even when one waits on the street corner for the city bus, he demonstrates his faith in the company to have one coming on that route, in the driver safely to bring his bus to this particular corner, and also that the driver will stop for him. Our civilization is dependent upon faith. Is it any wonder then that our salvation should likewise be dependent upon faith? In this same eleventh chapter of Hebrews Paul asserted, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Or, as Christ stated it, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). Faith is seen to be indispensable to one’s salvation and thus to one’s pleasing God.
Faith is the foundation of our religion and without it we have no hope. It is necessary for us to point out how this faith is to be obtained. Even though one should realize how essential faith is, should he not know where and how to obtain it, then the knowledge of its essentiality becomes of no value to him. It profits him nothing. Paul very plainly stated in Romans 10:17, “So then we see that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”
Our faith is the foundation of things not seen., as we have learned, but in itself, faith is nothing more than mental assent or intellectual persuasion. It comes from the collection of evidences that persuade our minds. We have faith in God because of the evidences we see in nature and in the Word of God. We have confidence in the Word of God because of the evidences that are presented for its inspiration, evidences both internal and external. Before one rationally can have faith, that faith must be predicated upon a consideration of evidences. These evidences must have been investigated either by us, or by someone in whom we have confidence, before we can express faith in them. The Christian needs to Make a personal examination of the evidences upon which his faith rests. By means of evidence we are convinced of everything we believe. Testimony, not feeling, is the only real basis for faith. Faith is an intelligent mental assent or intellectual persuasion to any given fact or promise which is outside the realm of the five senses, which faith is based upon evidences presented.
Truth Magazine XIX: 18, pp. 275-277
March 13, 1975