As Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) steered the course of the English Reformation until he was burned at the stake for supporting a coup that would have prevented the accession of Mary. Reflecting on Hebrews 11, Cranmer recounts the blessings that faith brought to the saints of the Old Testament, expanding the catalogue given in the text while following the passage in emphasizing faith as the key factor for understanding one’s relationship with God.
Commentary on Hebrews 11
How plentiful this faith is of good works, and how it makes the work of one person more acceptable to God than of another, St. Paul teaches at large in the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews, saying, that faith made the oblation of Abel better than the oblation of Cain. This made Noah build the ark. This made Abraham forsake his country, and all his friends, and to go into a far country, there to dwell among strangers. So did also Isaac and Jacob, depending only of the help and trust that they had in God. And when they came to the country God promised them, they would build no cities, towns, nor houses, but lived like strangers in tents, that might everyday be removed. Their trust was so much in God that they set but little by any worldly thing; for that God had prepared for them better dwelling places in heaven, of his own foundation and building. This faith made Abraham ready at God’s commandment to offer his own son and heir Isaac, whom he loved so well, and by whom he was promised to have innumerable issue, among which one should be born, in whom all nations should be blessed; trusting so much in God that though he were slain, yet God was able by his omnipotent power to raise him from death and perform his promise. He mistrusted not the promise of God, although to his reason everything seemed contrary. This faith wrought so in the heart of Moses that he refused to be taken for Pharaoh his daughter’s son, and to have great inheritance in Egypt, thinking it were better with the people of God to have affliction and sorrow than with naughty people in sin to live pleasantly for a time. By faith he cared nothing for the threatening of Pharaoh: for his trust was so in God that he passed not of the felicity of this world, but looked for the reward to come in heaven, setting his heart on the invisible God, as if he had seen him ever present before his eyes. By faith the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down without stroke, and many other wonderful miracles have been wrought.
In all good people that heretofore have been, faith has brought forth their good works, and obtained the promises of God. Faith has stopped the lions’ mouths: faith has quenched the force of fire: faith has escaped the sword’s edges: faith has given weak people strength, victory in battle, overthrown the armies of infidels, raised the dead to life: faith has made good people to take adversity in good part: some have been mocked and whipped, bound and cast into prison; some have lost all their goods, and lived in great poverty; some have wandered the mountains, hills, and wilderness; some have been racked, some slain, some stoned, some sawn, some rent in pieces, some [be]headed, some burned without mercy, and would not be delivered because they looked to rise again to a better state.
Hebrews, James, ed. Ronald K. Rittgers, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 13, forthcoming.
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