Seeing the Invisible

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” —Hebrews 11:1

IN II CORINTHIANS 4:18, Paul writes, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” It is through the eye of faith that we are able to see what would otherwise be unseen things of God. If our faith is weak we will find ourselves laying hold upon one object or another as props to our belief, material things, that is, which can be seen by the natural eye.

Everyone who is called of God has to possess a certain degree of faith in order to respond to that call through a full consecration to do his will. Even the apostles realized that they did not possess sufficient faith when they requested, “Lord, increase our faith.” Likewise we discover that our faith needs to grow if, through its power, we are to be able to look beyond the temporal things to which we cling, and receive the inspiration which comes from being able to see the invisible and eternal things of God.—Luke 17:5

We think of Abraham as the ‘father of the faithful’, yet, to begin with, his faith was sufficient only to enable him to respond to God’s call to leave his own country and go to the Promised Land. (Rom. 4:16) The Lord had promised him a child, a ‘seed’. There was a long wait for this promised child. Meanwhile Abraham made two attempts to assist the Lord in fulfilling his promise.

The first was in constituting Eliezer of Damascus his heir. By doing this Abraham had a real person to look upon as his heir, not merely an invisible promise. But God did not accept this substitute arrangement. We read that “the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.”—Gen. 15:1-4

Having thus been informed that the seed which God had promised must be his own son, not an adopted heir, Abraham made another attempt to help the Lord. With the consent of his wife, Sarah, he used their bondmaid Hagar, an Egyptian, to mother the ‘seed’. In this way Ishmael was Abraham’s own son, and in him he again supposed he had material evidence of the genuineness of God’s promise—something visible to support his less-than-perfect faith.

Although Abraham pleaded with God to allow Ishmael to stand before him as the promised seed, he was told that this would not be acceptable. Not only must he be the father of the seed, but Sarah must be the mother. (Gen. 17:17-19) In God’s own ‘due time’ Sarah did bear a son. How Abraham’s faith must have been strengthened by this! Later, when God asked Abraham to offer up this miracle child as a sacrifice, his faith was so strong that he could see the invisible power of God raising Isaac from the dead. And through faith he did receive Isaac “in a figure” from the dead.—Heb. 11:19

The entire history of God’s typical people reveals this development of faith on the part of those who were faithful, and the failure of those who seemed to have little or no ability to see the invisible. Two of the spies sent into Canaan reported their belief that, with the help of the God of Israel, they could enter and possess the land. The majority of the spies, on the other hand, impressed with the visible strength of the Canaanites, as represented in their walled cities and their giant-like soldiers, advised against an attempted conquest of the land.

Time and again throughout Israel’s wilderness journey, the people lost faith, charging that Moses had brought them out of Egypt to perish. An abundance of quail, water brought miraculously from a rock, and other providences of God which produced visible evidences of his care, restored their faith. But withal it was not a faith sufficiently strong and constant to give them an assured standing in the favor of God.

Jehovah, the true and living God of Israel, was invisible to his people. Few of the nation, without some visible aid to their faith, could lay hold of his promises. When it came time to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Moses experienced no difficulty securing the needed material for it; for, when the people realized that there was to be some evidence of God in their midst which they could see, they gladly gave of whatever they possessed that could be used. In fact, Moses had to instruct them to cease their donations!

But the Tabernacle did not long satisfy their desire for the visible. Throughout the Jewish Age the lure of idol worship as practiced by surrounding nations appealed greatly to Israel’s lack of faith. They could not see Jehovah, but their heathen neighbors worshiped gods they could see—at least, they could see the various idols which represented their gods. At times these idols were brought right into the sacred Temple of the Lord.


Throughout the Jewish Age, God had used physical objects as types to teach lessons pertaining to the present age of the invisible—the age of faith. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day, not understanding this, continued to lay great stress upon the visible. Whenever opportunity offered, Jesus presented the higher concept of those typical truths, but there were only a few who understood. To the scribes and Pharisees he said, “Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”—Matt. 23:23

The exercise of judgment, mercy, and faith, was an ‘invisible’ form of worship and obedience which the scribes and Pharisees had not comprehended, so they could not appreciate the true spirit of Jesus’ teachings. Note the telling points along this line made by Jesus in his sermon on the mount: ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6) “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”—Matt. 6:19-21


This change of emphasis from the visible to the invisible is highlighted by Jesus in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. The climax of this conversation is in Jesus’ statement that the time would come when those who worship the Lord would worship him in Spirit and in truth.—John 4:23,24

The historical background of the Samaritan woman throws light on this episode. The Samaritans were more than simply residents of the region of Samaria. They had their origin in a group of people sent into the land of Israel during the time of its desolation caused by the captivity of the ten-tribe kingdom in Assyria. They were dispatched there by an Assyrian king as recorded in II Kings 17:24, being Assyrians either by birth or by subjugation.

They were idol worshipers at the time, and as a historian states, “worshiped a strange medley of divinities.” Later, one of the captive priests of the ten-tribe kingdom was sent to teach them “how they should fear the Lord.” (II Kings 17:25-29) Henceforth, in the language of verses 40 and 41, they “did not hearken, but did after their former manner … and served their graven images, both their children and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.”

These were the people who so bitterly opposed the rebuilding of the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Then, under the direction of a man of priestly lineage who was expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah, a temple was built for the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim. Later this temple was destroyed, but the Samaritans continued to consider Gerizim their holy mountain, and believed that there they could approach nearer to God than could the Jews in Jerusalem.

Jesus met the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well. Her understanding being limited to the ‘visible’, her first surprise was when Jesus said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” This was a tremendous thought to her, and with her limited faith she replied, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”—John 4:14,15

She still did not understand the ‘invisible’ nature of Jesus’ statement, for she thought he was speaking of some magic sort of literal water which would render him who drank thereof forever free from thirst. To get a drink of such water, she thought, would save her further trips to Jacob’s well. Only those enlightened by the Holy Spirit can discern that Jesus was here using water as a symbol of the life that consecrated believers would receive from him; life which, when perpetuated through the resurrection, will continue forever.

And even fewer through the centuries since have seen the further meaning in Jesus’ words concerning the fact that those who, in this age, receive life from him will become channels for this life to flow out to others. Yes, each consecrated recipient of life from Jesus will, if faithful, have the privilege of passing on that life to others. It is these “wells of salvation” that are evidently referred to in Isaiah 12:3.

After the woman of Samaria realized that Jesus was a prophet of God, perhaps even the Messiah, she engaged him in further conversation. She said, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20) This was Jesus’ opportunity to set forth that great truth concerning the worship of God, not from the standpoint of things visible and tangible, but ‘invisible’. He replied, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, not yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what,” said Jesus.—vss. 21,22

As expressed in II Kings 17:41, the Samaritans “feared the Lord, and served their graven images.” It is no wonder that they were confused and did not know what they really did believe. Such is the inevitable result of endeavoring to serve the Lord on the one hand, while compromising with error on the other hand.

But how different it was with Jesus! “We know what we worship [believe]” (John 4:22), he continued. What assurance is thus expressed! How did Jesus know? He knew because he accepted and had full confidence in his Father’s Word which had been provided through the holy prophets of the Old Testament. However, the Samaritan woman did not, nor could not, understand how Jesus could be so certain of his position.

She could grasp and understand only those things which the natural eye could see. And how she must have wondered when Jesus said that the time was coming when the people would worship God neither at Mount Gerizim nor at Jerusalem. With her limited understanding she would wonder how a person could worship God at all apart from some such visible and material center or monument of worship.

“God is a Spirit,” Jesus said, “and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) Yes, God is a Spirit, an invisible being. (Col. 1:15; I Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27) Our faith must grasp this, and be able to look up to him in worship and praise at any time, anywhere, under any and all circumstances, without the help of visible assistance. Such is the faith that enables us to look at the things which are unseen by the natural eye.


Beginning with Pentecost, when the enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit came to the church, the Lord has expected his people to walk entirely by faith. Note the great change which took place at the close of the Jewish Age and the beginning of the Gospel Age. In that former, typical age the Lord’s people had—first the Tabernacle—then the Temple. They had their visible sin-offerings and burnt offerings. They had their priests with robes of glory and beauty. Besides, they had the promises of the Law Covenant that God would bless them ‘in basket and in store’; and when they were faithful he did bless them.

But our ‘Tabernacle’ and our ‘Temple’ are invisible. Our ‘High Priest’ is invisible. Instead of offering up a visible animal in sacrifice, we deny self and give God our hearts. From then on, we sacrifice time and strength. O yes, we offer our substance—whether of money or otherwise to the Lord, but these sacrifices are made through the urgings of the heart. It is not a matter of one animal, or two animals which we must sacrifice; but what the desires of our hearts lead us voluntarily to give. And the reward for faithfulness is also largely in the realm of the invisible.

The Lord has not promised to bless us in “basket and store.” (Deut. 28:5) He has promised only to give us spiritual strength to endure the trials; which his loving providences permit to come upon us; providing a way of escape only when the trials, are more than we can bear. It is only a faith that’ is strong enough to see the unseen things of God that, under these circumstances, enables us think of our fiery trials as light afflictions, which are but for a moment, and to be assured that they are working out for us a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”—II Cor. 4:17


We sometimes sing, “The arm of flesh will you, ye dare not trust your own.” This expression was first used by good king Hezekiah when the king of Assyria was threatening to attack and destroy Jerusalem. He assured the people of Judah by saying, “With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles.”—II Chron. 32:8

We are told that the people “rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” Hezekiah and those who shared his faith could ‘see’ the invisible power of God operating on their behalf, although for the moment there was nothing that the natural eye could discern. Nor has the Lord given us anything ‘visible’ upon which to lean.

However, down through the age many have endeavored to provide their own ‘arms of flesh’. Human leadership has again and again been established. Those weak in faith have found it very helpful to place their confidence in the teachings and directions of their favorite leaders. Many have attained a measure of temporary security, but what rich blessings they have forfeited by not training their eyes of faith more resolutely upon the promises of God. They have looked too much at the things which are seen, and not sufficiently at the things which are not seen.

The one thing most nearly ‘visible’ which the Lord has given us to lean upon is his inspired Word. But, actually, it is not the ink and paper that constitutes his Word. It is the thoughts expressed by the words outlined by the ink on the paper that are important; and these thoughts—instructions; warnings; corrections; assurances; and promises—are invisible. They can be seen and appreciated only by that strong faith that enables us to see the unseen things.

And how wonderfully the Lord has prepared his Word for us! The prophets of the Old Testament contributed their part; and Jesus and the apostles theirs. We properly look up to the invisible, glorified Jesus, as our Head and Master; our Advocate; our Good Shepherd; and our prospective Bridegroom. Indeed, we honor him even as we honor the Father. But no one of the prophets or apostles occupies any such prominent position in our hearts and minds. We do not depend upon any one of them alone for our spiritual guidance and strength.

Together they have expressed the thoughts of God, and it is the sum total of these invisible thoughts that faith’s vision beholds and in which we find our security, and rejoice. When the apostles were personally present in the Early Church, some of the brethren, in their weakness, chose favorites. Some in the Church at Corinth wanted to be “of Paul,” and some “of Peter.” Paul exposed the evil of this viewpoint and in other ways discouraged the brethren from leaning upon him instead of the Lord.

Paul congratulated the Jews of Berea for being “more noble” than the Thessalonian Jews because they searched the Scriptures in an effort to discover whether or not he was presenting the truth to them. (Acts 17:10,11) When one of the inspired apostles takes this position with respect to the ultimate authority of the Word of God, should we not hesitate to insist that the brethren accept our, interpretations of the Bible simply because they are ours?


As we have seen, God’s inspired Word has been made available through Jesus, the prophets, and apostles. But as Paul points out in Ephesians 4:11, he also has provided helpers—pastors, teachers, and evangelists. These are not inspired servants; but, since they are provided by God, they are certainly needed by the brethren, by all of us, that is.

These uninspired servants have been provided for the church throughout the age. Certainly a “faithful and wise” pastor was raised up in this end of the age; and how we rejoice in the manner in which the Lord used him to bring forth “meat in due season” from the great storehouse of truth, the inspired Word! (Matt. 24:45; Luke 12:42) How this rich spiritual ‘food’ has strengthened and built us up in the “most holy faith.”—Jude 20

To suppose that we do not need the help which the Lord has provided would be to assume that we are self-sufficient—brilliant enough to study the Bible independently and obtain from it the glorious truths which it contains. In taking this position, we might reason that we do not wish to accept a ‘man’s’ interpretations, not realizing, perhaps, that we are setting ourselves up as being the only ‘man’ we can trust! Thus we make an idol of ourselves, which, when we would worship God in Spirit and in truth, gets in the way of faith’s vision of the invisible.

On the other hand, all the Lord’s people should continue to discern the difference between the inspired Word of God and the uninspired teachings of the lesser servants of the church. “That servant,” was commissioned to bring forth and serve “meat” (Matt. 24:45) already provided in the “storehouse”—the Bible. And how marvelously he did this! He brought forth the great fundamental doctrines of the divine plan with an unsurpassed clarity and positiveness. He could do this because there was a ‘thus saith the Lord’ for every precious doctrine of the truth.

Our responsibility is to acquaint ourselves with the Scriptural proof of all the various items of truth; so that by the eye of faith we will be able to ‘see’ and know what we believe and why. And the ‘why’ should not be because a prominent brother or our favorite class elder or pilgrim said so, but because the Lord has declared it in his inspired Word. Failing in this, we may well be in the position of leaning upon an ‘arm of flesh’ which we have created by our own weak faith. If such be the case, then we are failing to see clearly those invisible riches of the truth which we daily need as an encouragement to continued faithfulness.

Pastor Russell once said that he was but an ‘index finger’, pointing to the truths in the Bible. What a beautiful way of emphasizing that we should be looking to the Word, not to the index finger. Just as we recognize the intrinsic worth of Paul’s compliment to the Jews at Berea because they insisted upon examining his teachings in the light of the inspired Word, so we should recognize that the same principle applies with respect to all the servants of the church. The noble Bereans of old did not risk their standing in the truth by the course they took with respect to the teachings of Paul; nor will we when we apply the test of the inspired Word to every teaching which may be presented to us, no matter by whom it may be presented.


We will be able to worship God ‘in Spirit and in truth’ only through faith’s vision of the things unseen. But to have such a vision requires a stronger faith than that possessed by the Samaritan woman at the well. She was concerned over a ‘mountain’ or a ‘city’ in which God could be worshiped. She needed something to ‘see’. Have we actually progressed beyond that point? The history of the church throughout the age is cluttered with ‘mountains’. Some, indeed, weak in faith, have made ‘mountains’ out of God’s arrangements for promulgating the Gospel of the kingdom, and serving the brethren.

Let us discern the difference between utilizing sacred places, and looking upon them as centers of worship. The true worshiper and servant of God is not made holy by the place where he worships and serves. Rather, the place is made holy by the fact that it is used by those who there worship God in Spirit and in truth. If we think literally of a ‘place’, this would be true of the humblest home in which there are a few uncomfortable chairs, and it would also be true of a more commodious meeting place. The same principle would apply if we think of a ‘place’ from the standpoint of a service medium through which we can cooperate for the furtherance of the truth.


As we have seen, during the Jewish Age’ the rewards for faithfulness were visible and tangible. Not so during this age of faith. We may strain every nerve to please the Lord, and yet severe trials may come upon us. We may zealously labor to promulgate the truth and see no results of our efforts. Do we wonder why the Lord permits us to have such disappointing experiences? If we do, it is because our faith is not sufficiently strong to “see” the eternal, invisible things of God.

In his Word God has revealed that it is only through “much tribulation” that we can enter the kingdom. (Acts 14:22) Do we really believe this? If so, we will not wonder why the Lord permits us to suffer. He has also made it plain in his Word that only a comparatively few will give heed to the truth in this age just one here and one there. Do we believe this? If so, why should we be discouraged if there are no apparent results from our labors in the vineyard?

By ‘seeing’ the invisible things of God we will know that our suffering is preparing us to share in the glory of the kingdom; and that our apparently unrewarded service is laying up for us “treasures in heaven.” So, no matter what the circumstances of our Christian lives may be, let us continue to look at the eternal and unseen things of God which are visible only by the eye of faith. Thus, and thus only, will we be worshiping God in Spirit and in truth.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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