The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 4 - FAITH

Chapter Four - FAITH.

FAITH is a mystery to many, a stumbling-block to not a few. By some it seems to be regarded as the condition upon which God compounds with men who ought to have righteousness, but have it not: with others it is the last mite added to make up the price of our redemption. At times it appears like a new barrier set up between the soul and God, when the work of Christ had broken all the old barriers down; and not unfrequently it is represented as an operation, like the new birth itself, in which the sinner is a passive agent in the hands of God. There is the rationalist view of faith, making it merely the assent of the mind to truth demonstratively proved; there is the Romanist view of faith, which makes it a sort of good work of a mystical and spiritual kind; and again, there is what I may term the fatalist theory of faith, which regards it as a kind of grace imparted to the soul by God. But when we turn to Scripture all such subtleties and errors vanish like mists before the sun. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." What simplicity, and yet what reality and power are here! "Faith cometh by hearing," whether it be faith of the gospel, or of the news of some temporal calamity or good. There are no two ways of believing anything. And hearing comes - the true hearing - by the Word of God:not by reasonings founded on it, it may be rightly founded on it; not by " enticing words of man's wisdom," but by the Word of God. And here is where the difference lies, not in the character of the faith, but in the object of it. The sinner is brought into the presence of God. He hears God, he believes God, and he is blest with believing Abraham, and just on the same ground, for "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness."

In its first and simplest phase in Scripture, faith is the belief of a record or testimony; it is, secondly, belief in a person; and it has, lastly, the character of trust, which always points to what is future. To speak of trust as the only true phase of gospel faith, is wholly false and wrong. In fact, the word generally rendered "trust," is never used in this connection once in Scripture. It is etymologically "hope," and the element of hope invariably enters into it. In what is pre-eminently the gospel book of the Bible, it occurs but once, and in.the sermons of the Acts we shall seek for it in vain. "We are saved by trust," is a statement at once true and scriptural, if only we understand salvation in its fullest sense, as yet to be made good to us in glory;' but the salvation of our souls is not matter of trust, but of faith in its simplest form. The redemption of our souls is a fact to us, because we believe the record God has given of His Son, no less so is the redemption of our bodies, but it is because of our trust in God. As the apostle writes to Timothy, "We trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe." Trust springs from confidence in the person trusted, and that again depends on knowledge of the person confided in. In this sense, faith may be great or little, weak or strong " I write unto you, little children" (says the Apostle John), "because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake."' Here is a testimony and a fact. Upon our state of soul may depend the realisation, the enjoyment of it, but this faith can admit of no degrees. But trust in God has as many degrees as there are saints on earth. Some believers could not trust Him for a single meal others can look to Him, without misgivings, to feed a thousand hungry mouths, or to convert a thousand godless sinners. Our faith in this sense, depends entirely on knowing God, and on communion with Him, the faith of the gospel comes by hearing Him.

At every pier along the new embankment of the Thames, there hangs a chain that reaches to the water's edge at its lowest ebb But for this, some poor creature, struggling with death, might drown with his very hand upon the pier. An appeal to perishing sinners to trust in Christ is like calling on a drowning wretch to climb the embankment wall. The glad tidings, the testimony of God concerning Christ, is the chain let down for the hand of faith to grasp. Once rescued, it is not the chain the river waif would trust for safety, but the rock beneath his feet; yet, but for that chain, the rock might have only mocked his struggles. And it is not the gospel message the ransomed sinner trusts in, but the living Christ of whom the gospel speaks; but yet it was the message that his faith at first laid hold upon, and by it he gained an eternal standing-ground upon the Rock of Ages.

He who truly hears the good news of Christ believes it just as the little child believes a mother's word. And none but such shall ever enter the kingdom. There is neither mystery nor virtue in the faith, in the one case any more than in the other ; the only difference is in the testimony itself. He who believes the gospel, receives a word that is nothing less than "the power of God unto salvation."
The case of Cornelius affords a striking example of this. "A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, and prayed to God alway," it might well be asked, What did he lack? Yet to such an one the message came: "Send men to Joppa and call for Simon Peter, who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (Acts xi. i3, Z4).
If, in fact, none can believe apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, the difficulty depends on no peculiarity in the faith itself. It is not a question of metaphysics, but of spiritual depravity and death. As far as the act of faith is concerned, the gospel is believed in the same way as the passing news of the passing hour. The hindrance lies in the apostasy of the natural heart of man. And, doubtless, the reason faith is made the turning point of the sinner's return to God is just because distrust was the turning point of his departure from Him. Disobedience was not the first step in Adam's fall; it was the last, and it followed disbelief.

Faith then in its simplest character is not trust, nor even faith in a person, but belief of a record. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God." "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.?" And so, if we read through the chapter from which these words are quoted, we find it is the witness, or testimony of God, that is in question between the sinner and Himself. "There are three who bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He hath borne witness concerning His Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning His Son." And so also if we turn to the Gospel of John. The Book was written that we might believe "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, we might have life through His name.

Nor will this seem strange to any who understand the gospel. The gospel is not a promise or a covenant, but a message, a proclamation. It is the "good news of God, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord."' And the belief of that good news is life: not indeed when retailed as the word of man, to suit the whims or errors of the natural heart, but when it comes in the power of the Holy Ghost, and, "as it is in truth, the word of God." "The words that I have spoken unto you, they are spirit and they are life," the Lord declared,. when many of His disciples were offended at His teaching. The many heard but the words of Jesus the Nazarene, and were offended and went back. To the few, these same words were "words of eternal life," and called forth the confession of Him as Christ the Son of God.' The ioth chapter of Romans claims notice here, confirming, as it does so fully, what the other Scriptures already quoted amply prove. God has brought the gospel as near to men as in the old time He brought the law. "This commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee,. neither is it far off," said Moses in his parting charge to Israel, -"It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it. But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it."

Thus spake the righteousness of law, now, hear the righteousness of faith. "Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach, that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." It was for Israel to have the commandment in their mouth, and to do it with their heart it is ours to have the gospel in our mouth, and to believe it with our heart. There is no mystery in the one case any more than in the other Metaphysical distinctions between believing with the head and with the heart, are wholly untenable A Christian believes with his heart, just as a Jew obeyed with his heart. It was the obedience of the inner man, the real man, that God required, and so it is with faith.

In modern English "the heart" is synonymous with the affections; but not in Scripture. The Lord speaks of "the heart" as the moral being, the true man as distinguished from the mere outward man. And so also here. With the mouth man speaks, but the confession of the lip may or may not be the expression of what is within, and therefore secret. The confession of Christ by the outward man is the sequel and complement of the faith of the inward man. A man cannot believe with lus affections; indeed, all such expressions are fanciful. Love and hope and faith and fear are not independent entities with rival or co-ordinate rank in the complex being, man. It is the man himself who loves, and hopes, and believes, and fears. Just as he may say he loves, and never love at all, so he may say he believes, and the profession may be a sham; but if he really believes, and believes God, the gift of God is his. But there is no subtlety in the faith. "Faith comes by hearing"; faith in God comes by hearing God. "Every one that hath heard from the Father,"- said the Lord Himself, or perhaps, making due allowance for the English idiom, the verse would be better rendered, "Every one that hath heard the Father, and hath learned of Him, cometh unto Me." But as for them to whom He spoke, they could not hear.
Some men speak of the Spirit's work in the soul, as though the sinner were an irresponsible vessel which God fills with faith; and yet these same men, when faith itself becomes their theme, seem to forget the Spirit's work entirely, and enlarge on subtle distinctions between head faith and heart faith. "faith in" and "faith on," faith of saving truth, and faith in. general, until faith itself looms great and mysterious upon the burdened sinner, shutting Christ out altogether.
Let us then get this great fact implanted firmly in our minds, that there is neither merit nor virtue in faith, no; even in the letter of the truth believed; but that to believe God is eternal life. To believe God, whether it be, as with Abraham, the promise of a family, or, as with us, the testimony to a Person and a fact. Faith is the opened lattice that lets in the light of heaven to the soul, bringing gladness and blessing with it. It is only in ophthalmic hospitals that people are always thinking of their eyes, and it is due entirely to the prevailing errors and follies of modern teaching that so many Christians are hypochondriacs respecting faith. In Scripture, faith is like healthy eyesight, unheeded and forgotten in the ease and enjoyment of its use. Nowadays it is more like the glasses of people with failing or defective visicn, sometimes lost, often dim, and constantly a trouble.

But faith not only receives the word of Christ; it reaches on, and lays hold upon the person of Christ. Belief of His word leads to belief in Himself. And here, again, there is no difficulty, save such as men have made. To receive Christ, to come to Christ, to believe in Christ - for all these words are used in Scripture - means today just what it meant when the Lord was living upon earth. To come to Christ, was not outward contact with the son of Mary, but submission of heart to the Son of God. "No man can come to Me except the Father draw him," was His word to those who had followed Him from Capernaum to Tiberias, and back again across the sea. Anyone might come to Jesus, and rone need leave His presence without proof of His power and grace. He fed the hungry just because they hungered. He healed the oppressed of Satan, just because they were oppressed, and His mission was to destroy the devil's work. But how few there were of those who thus came to Jesus, that ever truly came to Christ!

"If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." "That I am He" : it was this that faith laid hold upon. They who did believe it as a divine revelation came to believe in Himself in a further and fuller sense, and this again led to confidence and trust, j.ust in proportion as they were abiding in Him, and His word in them, and, moreover, as their knowledge of Him increased. "How is it that ye have no faith?" was the Lord's appeal to the terrified disciples on the Sea of Galilee, when they awoke Him with upbraidings for neglecting them. In the gospel sense they believed on Him then, as they ever did; and indeed their remonstrances were based on their unchanging confidence othat, being the Christ the Son of God, He had power to deliver them, but did not. They believed on him, but as yet they did not know Him, and therefore their knowledge of His power only led them to doubt His love.

"Acquaint now thyself with Him and be at peace," is a word for the tempest-tossed believer. The faith that "comes by hearing," brings us salvation and the knowledge of salvation. The faith that springs from abiding in Him and acquainting ourselves with Him, is the secret of a peace-ruled heart and a holy life. Like all the sons of faith, Saul of Tarsus believed God, and so set out upon the Christian course And the "faithful saying" that brought life and joy to him at the starting-post, was the strength of his heart even to the goal. It is the same gospel that is the resting-place for our feet as we lay hold upon the Rock of Ages, which becomes the pillow of our dying hout as we pass away from our service and our sins on earth Whether as the converted persecutor on the Damascus road, or as the Apostle of the Lord at the close of that matchless life of labour and testimony, Paul's faith in the gospel was the same. Here it is not growth we speak of, but steadfastness. At the beginning, just as at the end of his race, he "believed God," but at the end, when looking back upon his life from his Roman prison, he could add "I know whom I have believed" , and having come to know Him, he had learned to trust Him.
Everybody understands what it means to believe in the claimant of a fortune or a title. It is just to receive him for what he represents himself to be. And believing in Christ means primarily nothing more than this. It leads to more, doubtless, but that depends not on any peculiarity or virtue in the faith, but on Him who is the object of faith. They who thus believe in the Lord Jesus come to confide in Him, to trust Him, and to love Him, but to believe on Him is simply to "receive His testimony," and thus to "set to our seal that God is true." And yet, such faith is impossible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Not, I repeat again, for it needs to be repeated, that faith in Christ is a metaphysical achievement so difficult that man is insufficient to accomplish it; but that the heart is utterly apostate, and man's natural condition is that of pure distrust of God.

More than this, "the carnal mind is enmity against God." Man is capable of the firmest and most implicit faith in himself and in the world - aye, and in the devil too, as will be proved one day; but his whole spiritual being is so utterly estranged from God that not only does he not know Him, but, if left to himself, he is incapable of knowing Him. Just as a warped window pane distorts all objects seen through it, so the human heart perverts even the very truth of God, and changes it into a lie. A heart in fellowship with God would have found proof in every act and word of Christ that He was divine; but men heard His words and saw His works - sincere men, too, and good and estimable - and yet adjudged Him to be an impostor. Because He told them the truth, they believed Him not. And as it was then, so is it still. It is not the head that is at fault, but the heart; it is not that man is silly, but that he is sinful ; not that he is weak, but that he is wicked.

Indeed, if Christians were made, as certain writers upon evidences would lead us to suppose, by reasoning out Christianity from the miracles of Christ, the company of the Lord's disciples would have numbered thousands more than the little band who owned His name. Those who believed on Him thus were not few, but many. But He who could judge the heart refused to commit Himself to such. The true faith is not based on "evidences," but on the word of God; and these miracle-made believers could not and would not hear that word. To acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Son of David, on account of the miracles He did, was one thing; to receive eternal' life in Christ was quite apart from it.

There had never risen a greater prophet than John the Baptist; and yet at the very time this testimony was given to him, his political faith, if I may use the expression, had broken down, and his disciples were on their way back to his prison, to reassure him by the record of the Lord's miracles. And so it was at the last with His most favoured saints: "We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel," was their sad tribute to the memory of His name. Their faith had failed, their hope had died out, leaving only love to cling to Him; but still they were His own. In common with the multitude around them, they had seen His miracles, and hailed Him as their coming king. But more than this, they had themselves been the subjects of a miracle the multitude knew nothing of: they had been born again by the word of Him whom now they mourned. They had received the gift of life from God; and though they knew it not, that death which seemed to them the end of all their hopes secured to them eternal glory.

However," says Bishop Butler in summing up his argument on this point, "the fact is allowed that Christianity was professed to be received into the world upon the belief of miracles," and "that is what its first converts would have alleged as their reason for embracing it." True it is that no earnest, honest man, with the Scriptures at hand, could doubt the Messiahship of Jesus, while witnessing the miracles He wrought; but it is no less true that men cannot reason themselves into Christianity. How different from Butler's account of it, is the story the early Christians told of their conversion! What is the testimony of those who were with Him in the Holy Mount, and witnessed that greatest miracle of all? "Which were born," writes the beloved disciple, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever," is the kindred witness of the Apostle Peter.

Nor did Paul, as great a reasoner as Butler, strike a discordant note: "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." Such was his glad but humble testimony. The multitudes followed Him because of the loaves His power supplied: they cared not for the bread of heaven. But His true disciples knew and owned Him as the One who had the words of eternal life. This was the bond that kept them at His side when the many were offended and drew back. The works of God might convince the ,reason; but it was not thus the dead got life, the troubled conscience peace. To weigh the evidences and embrace Christianity, as the true religion, is the part of a fair and prudent man; but salvation is God's work altogether. The blessing is not for the apt scholar, but for the outcast and lost. It is not for the clear head, but for the contrite heart. Not for the clever reasoner, but for .the self-judged and guilty, not for logicians, but for sinners; not for the wise and prudent, but for babes.

So it has been in every age. The public revelation of God to man has varied again and again, but His secret revelation to the soul that turns to Him has ever been the same. "He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and He hath put a new song in my mouth." Thus sang His saints in the old days three thousand years ago; so sing they still. " It pleased God to reveal His Son in me," is the testimony of Paul; and if Peter owned Him as the Son of the living God, it was not a deduction from His miracles, but a revelation from the Father in heaven.3 And so with the rest. It was not that they saw His works, but that they heard His words. We are saved by faith; and faith is the reception, as true, of what is beyond the range of proof, either by demonstration or by evidence. It is the substance (or assurance) of things hoped or trusted for, the conviction of things not seen. Salvation is within the reach of all, but it is as suppliant sinners they must receive it. Grace does not place either the Saviour or the Gospel at the bar of human judgment; that is the arrogance of infidelity. As has been already seen, grace is based upon the cross, and assumes that man is guilty and lost. It does not place him in the dock, but it finds him there: it does not brand him as ruined and lost, but it comes to him as thus branded already. And the very gospel which tells of life and peace and pardon, is itself the power to make good this testimony. It is not a question of God's submitting either Himself or His revelation to the tribunal of the creature's judgment, but of the sinner's waking up from his death-sleep in sin to hear the voice of God. The hour is come of which it is written, "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live."

We are saved through faith, but faith is not our saviour. If faith had intrinsic virtue and could bring blessing with it, hell would be impossible; for there are no unbelievers save on earth, and that, too, in the days of Christ's humiliation and His absence. The day is coming when all shall believe and confess His name. And if faith and confession bring blessing now, it is not because of any merit they possess, but because God is saving men in sovereign grace. . If the blessing were not by grace, it never could be gained by such as we are. "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace."' As it is written, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that (salvation) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Salvation is the gift of God, bestowed on the principle of grace, and received on the principle of faith..

"The gift of God" here is salvation by grace through faith. Not the faith itself. "This is precluded," as Alford remarks, "by the manifestly parallel clauses 'not of yourselves,' and 'not of works,' the latter of which would be irrelevant as asserted of faith." It is still more definitely precluded, he might have added, by the character of the passage. It is given to us to believe on christ, just in the same sense in which it is given to some "also to suffer for His sake" (Phil. i. 29). But the statement in Ephesians is doctrinal, and in that sense the assertion that faith is a gift, or indeed that it is a distinct entity at all, is sheer error. This matter is sometimes represented as though God gave faith to the sinner first, and then, on the sinner's bringing Him the faith, went on and gave him salvation! Just as though a baker, refusing to supply empty-handed applicants, should first dispense to each the price of a loaf, and then, in return for the money from his own till, serve out the bread. To answer fully such a vagary as this would be to rewrite the foregoing chapter. Suffice it, therefore, to point out that to read the text as though faith were the gift, is to destroy not only the meaning of verse 9, but the force of the whole passage.

And how does faith come? "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." This is the time of which Isaiah spoke, when God is found of them that seek Him not; the time in which the gospel is to be carried to the lanes and highways of the world, and men are to be compelled to come in 'when forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed far and wide, and all that believe are justified; when there is salvation for the lost, life for the dead, heaven for the outcast sinner. The cross has been set up, not half-way on the road to heaven, where man's unbelieving heart would place it, but right down in the market square of the City of Destruction, that men may look and live. Such are "the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus."