John Calvin on Justifying Faith in Hebrews

If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

John Calvin comments:

10:36. “For ye have need of patience”, &c.

He says that patience is necessary, not only because we have to endure to the end, but as Satan has innumerable arts by which he harasses us; and hence except we possess extraordinary patience, we shall a thousand times be broken down before we come to the half of our course. The inheritance of eternal life is indeed certain to us, but as life is like a race, we ought to go on towards the goal. But in our way there are many hindrances and difficulties, which not only delay us, but which would also stop our course altogether, except we had great firmness of mind to pass through them. Satan craftily suggests every kind of trouble in order to discourage us. In short, Christians will never advance two paces without fainting, except they are sustained by patience. This then is the only way or means by which we can firmly and constantly advance; we shall not otherwise obey God, nor even enjoy the promised inheritance, which is here by metonymy called the “promise”.

10:37. “For yet a little while”, or, for yet a very little time, &c.

That it may not be grievous to us to endure, he reminds us that the time will not be long. There is indeed nothing that avails more to sustain our minds, should they at any time become faint, than the hope of a speedy and near termination. As a general holds forth to his soldiers the prospect that the war will soon end, provided they hold out a little longer; so the Apostle reminds us that the Lord will shortly come to deliver us from all evils, provided our minds faint not through want of firmness.

And in order that this consolation might have more assurance and authority, he adduces the testimony of the Prophet Habakkuk. (Hab. 2: 4.) But as he follows the Greek version, he departs somewhat from the words of the Prophet. I will first briefly explain what the Prophet says, and then we shall compare it with what the Apostle relates here.

When the Prophet had spoken of the dreadful overthrow of his own nation, being terrified by his prophecy, he had nothing to do but to quit as it were the world, and to betake himself to his watchtower; and his watchtower was the Word of God, by which he was raised as it were into heaven. Being thus placed in this station, he was bidden to write a new prophecy, which brought to the godly the hope of salvation. Yet as men are naturally unreasonable, and are so hasty in their wishes that they always think God tardy, whatever haste he may make, he told them that the promise would come without delay; at the same time he added, “If it tarries, wait for it.” By which he meant, that what God promises will never come so soon, but that it seems to us to tarry, according to an old proverb, “Even speed is delay to desire.” Then follow these words, “Behold, his soul that is lifted up is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” By these words he intimates that the ungodly, however they may be fortified by defenses, should not be able to stand, for there is no life of security but by faith. Let the unbelieving then fortify themselves as they please, they can find nothing in the whole world but what is fading, so that they must ever be subject to trembling; but their faith will never disappoint the godly, because it rests on God. This is the meaning of the Prophet.

Now the Apostle applies to God what Habakkuk said of the promise; but as God by fulfilling his promises in a manner shows what he is, as to the subject itself there is not much difference; nay, the Lord comes whenever he puts forth his hand to help us. The Apostle follows the Prophet in saying, That it would be shortly; because God defers not his help longer than it is expedient; for he does not by delaying time deceive us as men are wont to do; but he knows his own time which he suffers not to pass by without coming to our aid at the moment required. Now he says, “He that cometh will come, and will not tarry”. Here are two clauses: by the first we are taught that God will come to our aid, for he has promised; and by the second, that he will do so in due time, not later than he ought.

10:38. “Now the just”, &c.

He means that patience is born of faith; and this is true, for we shall never be able to carry on our contests unless we are sustained by faith, even as, on the other hand, John truly declares, that our victory over the world is by faith. (I John 5: 4.) It is by faith that we ascend on high; that we leap over all the perils of this present life, and all its miseries and troubles; that we possess a quiet standing in the midst of storms and tempests. Then the Apostle announced this truth, that all who are counted just before God do not live otherwise than by faith. And the future tense of the verb “live”, betokens the perpetuity of this life. Let readers consult on this subject Rom. 1: 7, and Gal. 3: 11, where this passage is quoted.

“But if any man draw back”, &c.

This is the rendering of |oflah|, elation, as used by the Prophet, for the words are, “Where there shall be elation or munition, the soul of that man shall not continue right in him.” The Apostle gives here the Greek version, which partly agrees with the words of the Prophet, and partly differs from them. For this drawing back differs but little, if anything, from that elation or pride with which the ungodly are inflated, since their refractory opposition to God proceeds from that false confidence with which they are inebriated; for hence it is that they renounce his authority and promise themselves a quiet state, free from all evil. They may be said, then, to draw back, when they set up defenses of this kind, by which they drive away every fear of God and reverence for his name. And thus by this expression is intimated the power of faith no less than the character of impiety; for pride is impiety, because it renders not to God the honor due to him, by rendering man obedient to him. From self-security, insolence, and contempt, it comes that as long as it is well with the wicked, they dare, as one has said, to insult the clouds. But since nothing is more contrary to faith than this drawing back, for the true character of faith is, that it draws a man unto submission to God when drawn back by his own sinful nature.

The other clause, “He will not please my soul,” or as I have rendered it more fully, “My soul shall not delight in him,” is to be taken as the expression of the Apostle’s feeling; for it was not his purpose to quote exactly the words of the Prophet, but only to refer to the passage to invite readers to a closer examination of it.

10:39. “But we are not of them which draw back”, &c.

The Apostle made a free use of the Greek version, which was most suitable to the doctrine which he was discussing; and he now wisely applies it. He had before warned them, lest by forsaking the Church they should alienate themselves from the faith and the grace of Christ; he now teaches them that they had been called for this end, that they might not draw back. And he again sets faith and drawing back in opposition the one to the other, and also the preservation of the soul to its perdition.

Now let it be noticed that this truth belongs also to us, for we, whom God has favored with the light of the Gospel, ought to acknowledge that we have been called in order that we may advance more and more in our obedience to God, and strive constantly to draw nearer to him. This is the real preservation of the soul, for by so doing we shall escape eternal perdition.

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  1. Pingback: Mark Horne » Blog Archive » You must be Roman Catholic to think Hebrews 11 is about justifying faith?

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