Pleasing God

And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
~ Numbers 14:11, Numbers 20:12, Job 21:14, Psalm 78:22

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
~ Romans 10:14

The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.
~ Proverbs 11:18

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. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.
~ Genesis 15:1, Ruth 2:12

And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.
~ 1 Chronicles 28:9

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.
~ Jeremiah 29:13-14

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
~ Matthew 6:33

John Owen’s Commentary on the Book of Hebrews 11:6.

Verse 6

There being no direct mention made of faith in the testimony given unto Enoch, but only that by walking with God he pleased him, the apostle in this verse proves from thence that it was by faith that he so pleased God, and consequently that thereby he obtained his translation.

Hebrews 11:6. — χωρἰς δὲ πίστεως ἀδύνατον εὐαρεστῆσαι· πιστεῦσαι γὰρ δεὶ τὸν προσερχόμενον τῷ θεῷ ἐστὶ, καὶ τοῖς ἐκζητοῦσιν αὐτόν μισθαποδότης γίνεται.

εὐαρεστῆσαι. τῷ θεῷ is not in the original, but is in all the old translations, and is to be supplied. We add “him,” as contained in the word, and not as a supplement.

Hebrews 11:6. — 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.

The assertion of the apostle whereon he builds his exhortation is, that Enoch was translated by faith. The proof of this assertion he expresseth in the way of a syllogistical argument. The proposition he lays down in the verse foregoing, Enoch had a divine testimony that he pleased God. The assumption consists in this sacred maxim, “Without faith it is impossible to please God:” whence the conclusion follows, by the interposition of another argument of the same kind, namely, that whereby Enoch pleased God, by that he was translated; for his translation was the consequent and effect of his pleasing God. And, thirdly, he gives an illustration and confirmation of his assumption, “For he that cometh to God,” etc.

The adversative particle δέ, “but,” constitutes this form of argument, “He pleased God; but without faith it is impossible,” etc.

1. In the proposition itself, the form and matter of it may be considered.

(1.) As unto the form, there is a positive affirmation included in the negative: “Without ‘faith it is impossible to please God;” that is, faith is the only way and means whereby any one may please God. So χωρίς is frequently used to intimate the affirmation of the contrary unto what is denied. John 1:3, χωρὶς αὐτοῦ, — “Without him nothing was made;” that is, ‘Every thing was made by him.’John 15:5, χωρὶς ἐμοῦ, — “Without me ye can do nothing;” that is, ‘By me, or my strength, ye must do all things.’Romans 10:14, “How shall they hear χωρὶς χηρύσσοντος;” — “without a preacher?” that is, ‘All hearing is by a preacher.’See Hebrews 7:20; Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 9:18. Wherefore, “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” is the same with, ‘All pleasing of God is, and must be, by faith, it being impossible it should be otherwise.’And this sense of the words is necessary unto the argument of the apostle, which is to prove the power and efficacy of faith with respect unto our acceptation with God.

(2.) As unto the matter of the proposition, that which is denied without faith, or that which is enclosed unto the sole agency of faith, is εὐαρεστῆσαι, “to please,” “placere,” “beneplacere.” The verb is used only in this epistle, in these two verses, and Hebrews 13:16, in the passive voice, “God is well-pleased;” “promeretur Deus,” Vulg. Lat., without any signification. The adjective, εὐάρεστος, is used frequently, and constantly applied unto persons or things that are accepted with God, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 4:18; Colossians 3:20. Three things are here included in it:

[1.] That the person be accepted with God, that God be well-pleased with him.

[2.] That his duties do please God, that he is well-pleased with them, as he was with the gifts of Abel and the obedience of Enoch. So Hebrews 13:16.

[3.] That such a person have testimony that he is righteous, just or justified, as Abel and Enoch had, and as all true believers have in the Scripture.

This is that pleasing, of God which is enclosed unto faith alone. Otherwise there may be many acts and duties which may be materially such as God is pleased with, and which he will reward in this world, without faith: such was the destruction of the house of Ahab by Jehu. But the pleasing of God under consideration includes the acceptance with God of the person and his duties, or his justification before him. And this regulates the sense of the last clause of the verse. Our coming unto God, and believing in him, must be interpreted with respect unto this well-pleasing of him.

This is so by faith, as that without it is “impossible.” Many in all ages have attempted thus to please God without faith, and yet continue so to do. Cain began it. His design in his offering was to please God; but he did it not in faith, and failed in his design. And this is the great difference always in the visible church. All in their divine worship profess a desire to please God, and hope that so they shall do, — to what purpose else was it to serve him? — but, as our apostle speaks, many of them seek it not by faith, but by their own works and duties which they do and perform, Romans 9:32. Those alone attain their end who seek it by faith. And therefore God frequently rejects the greatest multiplication of duties, where faith is wanting, Isaiah 1:11-15, Psalms 40.

2. Wherefore, saith the apostle, this is a fundamental maxim of religion, namely, ‘It is impossible to please God any other way but by faith.’Let men desire, design, and aim at it whilst they please, they shall never attain unto it. And it is so impossible,

(1.) From divine constitution. Hereunto the Scripture bears testimony from first to last, namely, that none can, that none shall, ever please God but by faith, as our apostle pleads at large, Romans 3:5.

(2.) From the nature of the thing itself, faith being the first regular motion of the soul towards God, as we shall see immediately.

Howbeit the contrary apprehension, namely, that men by their works and duties may please God without faith, as well as by faith, or in the same manner as with faith, is so deeply fixed in the minds of men, as that it hath produced various evil consequences. For, —

(1.) Some have disputed with God himself, as if he dealt not equally and justly with them, when he was not well pleased with their duties, nor accepted themselves. Cain was so, being thereon not more wrathful with his brother than with God himself, as is plain in the rebuke given unto him, Genesis 4:5-7. So did the Jews frequently: “Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not?” Isaiah 58:3. And so it is with all hypocrites unto this day: should they at any time be convinced that God is not pleased either with their persons or their duties, especially the duties of religious worship which they perform unto him, — which they judge to be every whit as good as theirs who are accepted, — they are angry in their hearts with God himself, and judge that he deals not well with them at all.

(2.) This is that which keeps up hatred, feuds, and persecutions, in the visible church. The greatest part generally are contented with the outward performance of duties, not doubting but that by them they shall please God. But when they find others professing that the sincerity of saving faith, and that working, in serious repentance, and universal obedience unto God, are necessary unto this pleasing of God, whereby their duties are condemned, their countenances fall, and they are full of wrath, and are ready even to slay their brethren. There is the same difference, the same grounds and reasons of it, between true believers and persecuting hypocrites still, as was between Abel and Cain. All profess a design to please God, as they both did; all perform the same outward duties, the one commonly more attending unto the rule of them than the other, as they did: but the one sort plead a secret interest in divine favour and acceptation by faith, that is invisible; the other trust unto their outward works; whence an endless difference doth arise between them.

(3.) This hath been the foundation of all superstition in divine worship. For a secret apprehension that God was to be pleased with outward works and duties, as Cain thought, was the reason of the multiplication of innumerable rites and ceremonies in divine service; of all the masses, purgatories, pilgrimages, vows, disciplines, idolatries, that constitute the Roman church. They were all found out in answer unto the inquiry made, Micah 6:6-7, “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Hence one pretended duty, that shall have something to commend it, as its charge, its difficulty, or its beauty as it is adorned, must be added unto another; — all to please God without faith.

(4.) This hath stirred up and maintained innumerable controversies in the church in all ages. Some openly contend that this pleasing of God is the fruit of the merit of our own works, and is not attained by faith. And others endlessly contend to bring our works and duties into the same order and causality, as unto our acceptance before God, with faith itself; and think it as true. as unto the end of the apostle’s discourse, — namely, our pleasing of God and being accepted with him, — that without our works it is impossible to please God, as it is that without faith it is impossible to please him: which is to overthrow both his argument and design.

Wherefore, unless we hold fast this truth, namely, that whatever be the necessity of other graces and duties, yet it is faith alone whereby we please God, and obtain acceptance with him, we condemn the generation of the righteous in their cause from the foundation of the world, take part with Cain against Abel, and forego our testimony unto the righteousness of God in Christ. And, —

Obs. 1. Where God hath put an impossibility upon any thing, it is in vain for men to attempt it. From the days of Cain multitudes have been designing to please God without faith, — all in vain; like them that would have built a tower whose top should reach to heaven. And, —

Obs. 2. It is of the highest importance to examine well into the sincerity of our faith, whether it be of the true kind or no, seeing thereon depends the acceptance of our persons and all our duties. None ever thought that God was to be pleased without any faith at all; the very design of pleasing him avows some kind of faith: but that especial kind of faith whereby we may be justified, they regard not. Of these things I have treated fully in my book of(6) Justification.

3. Of this assertion the apostle gives a further confirmation or illustration, by showing the necessity of faith unto acceptance with God. And this he doth by declaring the duty of every one that would be so accepted: “For it behoveth him that cometh unto God to believe,” etc. Wherein we have,

(1.) The assertion of the duty prescribed; “It behoveth him,” or he must.

(2.) The subject spoken of; which is, “he that cometh unto God.”

(3.) the duty prescribed; which is, to “believe.”

[1.] That “God is;”

[2.] That “he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

That he gives a reason and proof of what he had before asserted is declared in the illative conjunction, “for:” This makes the truth herein manifest.

(1.) He makes application of his assertion to every one concerned in particular in a way of duty. ‘Whoever he be that hath this design to come to God, and to be accepted with him, he ought, he must do so. This is his duty, from which no one living shall have an exemption.’

(2.) The subject spoken of is, “He that cometh unto God.” προσέρχομαι in general signifies any access, or coming to any person or thing; nor is it used in a sacred sense anywhere in the New Testament but only in this epistle, and 1 Peter 2:4. But the simple verb, ἔρχομαι, is frequently so used. And this coming unto God signifies in particular an access or approach unto him in sacred worship. See Hebrews 10:1, with the exposition. But in general, as in this place, and 1 Peter 2:4, it denotes an access of the person into the favor of God, including the particular addresses unto him with his duties. We must therefore inquire what it is thus to come to God, and what is required thereunto; that we may understand what it is that the apostle makes believing so necessary unto, and whereby he proves that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” And, —

[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 favor 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 favor 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 favor 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.