Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
~ Hebrews 11:26, Colossians 3:24
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
~ Genesis 15:6
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger. Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
~ Proverbs 8:17, Zephaniah 2:3, Isaiah 55:6
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
~ Luke 6:35, Matthew 5:12, Matthew 10:42
Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD. Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually. Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.
~ Psalm 119:2, 1 Chronicles 16:10, 1 Chronicles16:11, Psalm 105:4
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
~ Genesis 15:1
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
~ Psalm 73:25
John Owen’s Exposition of Hebrews Eleven, Verse Six.
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.
~ Hebrews 11:6
[1.] There is required thereunto a previous sense of a wanting, lost condition in ourselves, by a distance from God. No man designs to come to God but it is for relief, satisfaction, and rest. It must be out of an apprehension that he is yet at such a distance from God as not to be capable of relief or rest from him; and that in this distance he is in a condition indigent and miserable; as also that there is relief and rest for him in God.
Without these apprehensions no man will ever engage in a design to come unto God, as having no reason for it nor end in it. And this can be wrought in none sincerely but by faith. All other powers and faculties in the souls of men, without faith, do incline and direct them to look for rest and satisfaction in themselves. This was the highest notion of those philosophers who raised human wisdom into an admiration, namely, the Stoics, “That every one was to seek for all rest and satisfaction in himself, and in nothing else;” and so they came at length expressly to make every man a god to himself. Faith alone is the gracious power which takes us off from all confidence in ourselves, and directs us to look for all in another; that is, in God himself. And therefore it must see that in God which is suited to give relief in this condition. And this is contained in the object of it as here proposed, as we shall see. [2.] There must antecedently hereunto be some encouragement given unto him that will come to God, and that from God himself. A discovery of our wants, indigence, and misery, makes it necessary that we should do so; but it gives no encouragement so to do, for it is accompanied with a discovery of our unworthiness so to do, and be accepted in doing it. Nor can any encouragement be taken from the consideration of the being of God, and his glorious excellencies absolutely; nor is that anywhere in the Scripture absolutely and in the first place proposed for our encouragement. This, therefore, can be nothing but his free, gracious promise to receive them that come unto him in a due manner; that is, by Christ, as the whole Scripture testifieth. For what some pretend concerning coining unto God by encouragements taken from general notions of his nature, and his works of creation and providence, without any promise, is an empty speculation; nor can they give any single instance of any one person that ever came to God, and found acceptance with him, without the encouragement of divine revelation, which hath in it the nature of a promise. Faith, therefore, is necessary unto this coming to God, because thereby alone we receive, lay hold of, embrace the promises, and are made partakers of them; which the apostle not only expressly affirmeth, but makes it his design to prove in a great part of the chapter, as we shall see. There is nothing, therefore, more fond, more foreign to the apostle’s intention, than what is here ignorantly and weakly by some pretended; namely, that faith here is nothing but an “assent unto the truth of the being of God, and his distribution of rewards and punishments,” without any respect unto the promise, that is, unto Christ and his mediation, as will yet further appear. Wherefore, —
[3.] To come to God, is to have an access into his favour, — to “please God,” as did Enoch; so to come as to be accepted with him. There may be a coming to God with our duties and services, as did Cain, when we are not accepted; but the apostle treats in this place only of an access with acceptance into his grace and favour, as is manifest from his instance, his design, and argument.
(3.) For those that have this design, it is their duty to “believe.” This is the only way and means of attaining that end. Whence believing itself is often called coming to God, or coming to Christ, Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 55:3; John 6:37; John 6:44; John 7:37. And it is by faith alone that we have an access into this grace, Romans 5:2; that is, whereby we thus come to God.
(4.) The object of this faith, or what in this case we ought to believe, is twofold:
[1.] The being of God; “Believe that he is.”
[2.] His office; in that “he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
The Syriac translation seems to make but one entire object of faith in the words, namely, that God is a rewarder, referring both the verb ἔστι, and γίνεται, unto μισθαποδότης: as if it were said, “must believe that God is, and will be, the rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” — namely, in this world and hereafter also. But I shall follow the usual distinction of the words.
[1.] The first thing to be believed is, that “God is.” The expression seems to be imperfect, and something more is intended than the divine being absolutely, as, his God.
The schoolmen, and sundry expositors on the place, as Catharinus, Salmeron, Tena, etc., dispute earnestly how the being of God, which is the object of natural science, seeing it may be known by the light of reason, can be proposed as the object of faith, which respects only things unseen, inevident, supernatural, made known by revelation only. And many distinctions they apply unto the solution of this difficulty. For my part, I no way doubt but the same thing or verity may on diverse respects be the object of reason and faith also. So is it when that which is consistent with reason, and in general discoverable by it, as the creation of the world, is more distinctly and clearly proposed unto faith by divine revelation; which doth not destroy the former assent on principles of reason, but confirms the mind in the persuasion of the same truth by a new evidence given unto it. But the apostle speaks not here of any such assent unto the truth of the being and existence of God as may be attained by reason or the light of nature; but that which is the pure object of faith, which the light of reason can no way reach unto. For that he treats of such things only, is evident from the description which he premiseth of the nature of faith, namely, that it is “the evidence of things not seen.” And it is such a believing of the being of God as gives encouragement to come unto him, that we who are sinners may find favour and acceptance with him. And that apprehension which men may have of the being of God by the light of nature, yea, and of his being a rewarder, Cain had, as we have showed; and yet he had no share in that faith which the apostle here requires. Wherefore it is evident, from the context, the circumstances of the subject-matter treated on, and the design of the apostle, that the being or existence of God proposed as the object of our faith, to be believed in a way of duty, is the divine nature with its glorious properties or perfections, as engaged and acting themselves in a way of giving rest, satisfaction, and blessedness, unto them that come unto him.
When we are obliged to believe that he is, it is what he proposeth when he declareth himself by that name, I AM, Exodus 3:14; whereby he did not only signify his existence absolutely, but that he so was, as that he would actually give existence and accomplishment unto all his promises unto the church. So when he revealed himself unto Abraham by the name of “Almighty God,” Genesis 17:1, he was not obliged to believe only his “eternal power and Godhead,” which are intelligible by the light of nature, Romans 1:20, but also that he would be so unto him, in exerting his almighty power on his behalf; whereon he requires of him that he should “walk before him and be perfect.” Wherefore the believing that God is, “I AM,” the “Almighty God,” is to believe him as our God in covenant, exercising the holy properties of his nature, his power, wisdom, goodness, grace, and the like, in a way of giving rest and blessedness unto our souls. For all this he required Abraham to believe, as the ground of the covenant on his part; whereon he requires universal obedience from him.
To suppose that the apostle intends by that faith whereby we may come to God, and find acceptance with him, nothing but an assent unto the being of God absolutely considered, which is altogether fruitless in the generality of mankind, is a vain notion, unsuited unto his design. Wherefore, —
Obs. 3. God himself, in his self-sufficiency and his all-sufficiency, meet to act towards poor sinners in a way of bounty, is the first motive or encouragement unto, and the last object of faith. See Isaiah 50:10; 1 Peter 1:21.
[2.] The second thing which, in order unto the same end of acceptance with God, we are required to believe, is, “that he is, or will be, “a rewarder of them that diligently seek him;” that is, he will act in all things towards them suitably unto the proposal which he makes of himself unto faith when he says, “I AM,” and “I am God Almighty,” or the like.
Two things may be considered in this object of faith:
1st. The assertion of the truth itself; “God is a rewarder.”
2dly. The limitation of the exercise of that property as unto its object; unto “them that diligently seek him.”
And this limitation wholly excludes the general notion, of believing in rewards and punishments from God, present and future, from being here intended; for it is confined only unto the goodness and bounty of God towards believers, — “those that seek him.” His dealing with them is not exactly according unto distributive justice with respect unto themselves, but in a way of mercy, grace, and bounty. For “the reward is of grace, and not of works.”
1st. That which these words of the apostle have respect unto, and which is the ground of the faith here required, is contained in the revelation that God made of himself unto Abraham, Genesis 15:1, “Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” God is so a rewarder unto them that seek him, as that he himself is their reward; which eternally excludes all thoughts of merit in them that are so rewarded. Who can merit God to be his reward? Rewarding in God, especially where he himself is the reward, is an act of infinite grace and bounty. And this gives us full direction unto the object of faith here intended, namely, God in Christ, as revealed in the promise of him, giving himself unto believers as a reward (to be their God), in a way of infinite goodness and bounty. The proposal hereof is that alone which gives encouragement to come unto him, which the apostle designs to declare.
2dly. This further appears from the limitation of the object, or of those unto whom he is thus a rewarder; namely, such as “diligently seek him.” ζητεῖν, to “seek” the Lord, is used in general for any inquiry after him, from the light of nature or otherwise, Acts 17:27. But ἐκζητεῖν, the word here used by the apostle, argues a peculiar manner of seeking, whence we render it “diligently seek him.” But this duty of seeking God is so frequently enjoined in the Scripture, and so declared to consist in faith acting itself in prayer, patience, and diligent attendance unto the ways of God’s manifestation of himself in his ordinances of worship, that I shall not here insist upon it. Only I shall observe some things that are necessary unto the interpretation of the place.
(1st.) To seek God, is to do so according to some rule, guiding us both what way we are to go, and what we are to expect with him and from him. Those that sought him without such a rule, as the apostle tells them, did but strive εἰ ψηλαφήσειαν, to “feel after him,” as men feel after a thing in the dark, when they know neither what it is nor how to come at it, Acts 17:27.
(2dly.) This rule neither is, nor ever was, nor can be, any other but the rule of God’s covenant with us, and the revelation made of himself therein. In the state of original righteousness, man was bound to seek God (for this is eternally indispensable to all creatures, until we come to the full fruition of him) according to the tenor of the covenant of works. His seeking of God consisted in the faith and works of obedience required in that covenant. And there is now no way to seek God but according to the revelation that he hath made of himself in the covenant of grace, and the terms of obedience required therein. All other seeking of God is vain, and not prescribed unto us in a way of duty. All those who do attempt it do “wax vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts are darkened.” When once we have the knowledge of this rule, when God hath revealed his covenant unto us, and the confirmation of it in Christ, all things are plain and clear, both how we may find God, and what we shall find in him.
(3dly.) This seeking of God is progressive, and hath various degrees. For there is,
[1st.] Antecedent unto it, God’s finding of us in a way of sovereign grace and mercy. So “he is found of them that sought him not,”
Isaiah 65:1. And if he had not so sought us, we should never have sought after him; for “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first.
[2dly.] In itself, it takes in our first conversion unto God. To seek God, is to seek his grace and favour in Christ Jesus, to seek his kingdom and righteousness, to turn and adhere unto him in faith and love unfeigned.
[3dly.] A diligent attendance unto all the ways of duty and obedience which he hath prescribed unto us. “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD,” Isaiah 51:1.
[4thly.] A patient waiting for the accomplishment of the promises, which the apostle so celebrates in Abraham. Wherefore, —
(4thly.) This diligent seeking of God, in them unto whom God will be a rewarder in a way of goodness and bounty, is an access unto him by faith, initial and progressive, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus, that we may find favour and acceptance with him. So did Abel seek God, when he offered a bloody sacrifice, in faith of the future propitiation by the Seed of the woman. So did Enoch seek God, when he walked before him in covenant-obedience. Neither will God be such a rewarder as is here intended, he will not give himself as a reward unto any but those that seek him after this way.
Obs. 4. Those who seek God only according to the light of nature, do but feel after him in the dark, and they shall never find him as a rewarder, namely, such as is here described, though they may have pregnant notions of his justice, and of rewards and punishments according unto it.
Obs. 5. Those who seek him according to the law of works, and by the best of their obedience thereunto, shall never find him as a rewarder, nor attain that which they seek after; as the apostle expressly declares, Romans 9:31-32.
I have insisted the longer on the exposition of this verse, both on the account of the important truths contained in it, as also because some of late have endeavoured to wrest this text, as they do other scriptures, as though it should teach that no other faith was required unto the justification of them of old but only an assent unto the being of God, and his wisdom, righteousness, and power, in governing the world with rewards and punishments; so to exclude all consideration of the promise of the Lord Christ and his mediation from their faith. So is the place expounded by Crellius, and Grotius who followeth him, with his admirers, and others that borrow falsehoods from them. But as that assent is supposed and included herein, as necessary unto all religion, so that it is what, and all that is here proposed and required, is consistent neither with the scope of the place, the design of the apostle, nor any expression in the text rightly understood. Observe, —
Obs. 6. It is the most proper act of faith, to come and cleave unto God as a rewarder in the way of grace and bounty, as proposing himself for our reward. Obs. 7. That faith is vain which doth not put men on a diligent inquiry after God.
Obs. 8. The whole issue of our finding of God when we seek him, depends on the way and rule which we take and use in our so doing.