Hebrews 11:1 is a fascinating verse, but there is hardly a consensus on how it should be translated. For example:
- NRSV – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
- NIV – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
- NKJV- Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
With a little help from various commentators and a peek at the Greek, here is the rendering (because it’s darn sure not a translation) I’d like to offer: Faith is the reality of everything we’re looking forward to – the very witness of what remains unseen. Somehow, faith is the very reality of the end to which things are heading – faith itself, is the witness to what remains unseen. After my little paraphrase, I thought I’d look up Eugene Peterson’s as well. Here’s the rendering in
- The Message – The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.
As I read this, it drew me to think about examples of those, like Abraham in Hebrews 11, who pressed on in spite of a lack of clarity – those who lived faithfully in spite of the dim vision we have of the unseen reality of God. Thinking as a good Methodist, John Wesley was definitely one who came to mind. I found a reference to Wesley’s perseverance here.
Problem is, I like to check stuff like this and the words they said were in Wesley’s Journal were nowhere to be found. Trust me, I checked the PDF version at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library! It is there in Spirit, but you’ve gotta do a little work. Here’s what I found (with a little editing such as adding the months, even though I didn’t track down the years):
Sunday, May 7th: I preached at St. Lawrence’s in the morning, and afterward at St. Katherine Cree’s Church. I was enabled to speak strong words at both; and was therefore the less surprised at being informed that I was not to preach any more in either of those churches.
Sunday, May 14th: I preached in the morning at St. Ann’s, Aldersgate; and in the afternoon at the Savoy Chapel, free salvation by faith in the blood of Christ. I was quickly apprised that at St. Ann’s, likewise, I am to preach no more.
Friday, May 19th: I preached at St. John’s, Wapping at three and at St. Bennett’s, Paul’s Wharf, in the evening. At these churches, likewise, I am to preach no more.
Friday, November 3rd: I preached at St. Antholin’s; Sunday, 5, in the morning, at St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate; in the afternoon, at Islington; and in the evening, to such a congregation as I never saw before, at St. Clement’s, in the Strand. As this was the first time of my preaching here, I suppose it is to be the last.
Friday, March 10.—I rode once more to Pensford at the earnest request of serious people. The place where they desired me to preach was a little green spot near the town. But I had no sooner begun than a great company of rabble, hired (as we afterwards found) for that purpose, came furiously upon us, bringing a bull, which they had been baiting, and now strove to drive in among the people. But the beast was wiser than his drivers and continually ran either on one side of us or the other, while we quietly sang praise to God and prayed for about an hour.
Then in Wesley’s 85th year of life, with a history of many successes and perhaps far more apparent failures, he writes these words near the end of his journal:
Saturday, August 22. I crossed over to Redruth and at six preached to a huge multitude, as usual, from the steps of the market house. The Word seemed to sink deep into every heart. I know not that ever I spent such a week in Cornwall before.
Sunday, August 23.–l preached there again in the morning and in the evening at the amphitheater, I suppose, for the last time. My voice cannot now command the still increasing multitude. It was supposed they were now more than five and twenty thousand.
In the end, like Abraham, Wesley didn’t see the invisible and heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16) that he desired, yet he pressed on in faith. That’s the kind of faith that is the very witness of that which remains unseen. May we all live so faithfully!