“Not that I have already obtained, or am already perfected, but I press on. . . . One thing I do, I press on toward the goal. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded. Brethren, be ye imitators together of me.” Phil. 3: 12-17.
The mark of the perfect, as set before us in Paul and all who are thus minded, is the passionate desire to be yet made perfect. This looks like a paradox. And yet what we see in our Master proves the truth of what we say: the consciousness of being perfect is in entire harmony with the readiness to sacrifice life itself for the sake of being yet made perfect. It was thus with Christ. It was thus with Paul. It will be thus with us, as we open our hearts fully and give God’s words room and time to do their work. Many think that the more imperfect one is the more he will feel his need of perfection. All experience, in every department of life, teaches us the very opposite. It is those who are nearest perfection who most know their need of being yet perfected, and are most ready to make any sacrifice to attain to it. To count everything loss for perfection in practice, is the surest proof that perfection in principle has possession of the heart. The more honestly and earnestly the believer claims that he seeks God with a perfect heart, the more ready will he be with Paul to say: “Not that I have already obtained, or am already perfected.”
And wherein was it now that Paul longed to be made perfect? Read the wonderful passage with care, and without prejudice or preconceived ideas, and I think you will see that he gives here no indication of its being sin or sinful imperfection from which he was seeking to be perfectly free. Whatever his writings teach elsewhere, the thought is not in his mind here. The perfected disciple is as his Master. Paul is speaking here of his life and lifework, and feels that it is not perfected until he has reached the goal and obtained the prize. To this he is pressing on. He that runs in a race may, as far as he has gone, have done everything perfectly; all may pronounce his course perfect as far as it has gone. Still it has to be perfected. The contrast is not with failure or shortcoming, but with what is as yet unfinished, and waiting for its full end. And so Paul uses expressions which all tell us how what he already had of Christ was but a part. He did know Christ, he had gained Christ, he was found in Him, he had apprehended in wonderful measure that for which Christ had apprehended him. And yet of all these things — of knowing Christ, of gaining Him, of being found in Him, of apprehending that for which he was apprehended — he speaks as of what he was striving after with all his might: “If by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead;” “I press on to the goal, unto the prize.”‘ It is of all this he says: “Not that I am already made perfect. Let as many as are perfect be thus minded.”
Paul had known Christ for many years, but he knew there were in Him riches and treasures greater than he had known yet, and nothing could satisfy him but the full and final and eternal possession of what the resurrection would bring him. For this he counted all things but loss; for this he forgot the things that were behind; for this he pressed on to the goal, unto the prize. He teaches us the spirit of true perfection. A man who knows he is perfect with God; a man who knows he must yet be perfected; a man who knows that he has counted all things loss to attain this final perfection; such is the perfect man.
Christian, learn here the price of perfection, as well as the mark of the perfect ones. The Master gave His life to be made perfect forever. Paul did the same. It is a solemn thing to profess the pursuit of perfection. The price of the “pearl of great price” is high: all things must be counted loss. I have urged you to put down your names in the class-list of the perfect; to ask the Master to put it down and give you the blessed witness of the Spirit to a perfect heart. I urge you now, if, like Paul, you claim to be perfect, single and wholehearted in your surrender to God, to live the life of the perfect, with all things loss for Jesus as its watchword and its strength, and its one desire to possess Him wholly, to be possessed of Him, and to be made perfect even as He was.
O our Father! be pleased to open the eyes of Your children, that they may see what the perfection of heart is that You now ask of them, and what the perfection in Christ is that You desire for them to seek at any cost.
Beloved friends, who are seeking the Lord, but have not yet found Him, it is for you that this little book has been written. When I recently spoke with you, in the course of my pastoral visitation, my soul was filled with deep sorrow over your condition. I still met with many who with manifest earnestness and spiritual desire were seeking salvation, some indeed for many years past, and who, notwithstanding, had not yet arrived at faith.
This ought not to remain so. It tends to the dishonor of our Lord. True religion is thereby brought into contempt, for the world is then right in concluding: the service of Jesus gives neither joy nor salvation. On young converts your influence is by no means helpful, for your example gives them absolutely no encouragement. In this way also, the congregation suffers loss, for instead of helping as joyfully active members to build it up, you are on the contrary serving to divide its energies, and you hinder its spiritual prosperity. To your minister you are often the cause of care and anxiety; you make him dispirited with the thought that the Word of God has so little influence with you. You spend your life in sorrow and gloom, and you place your souls in peril for eternity.
Beloved, your condition goes to my heart, and many a time I ask myself, What is really the cause of this unbelief? I know that there are some who cannot believe, because their heart is not right before God. The man who loves the world, and does not, with confession of his guilt, betake himself to Jesus with the prayer that he may be delivered from the love of the world, cannot, may not, believe. The man who still cleaves to this and that bosom sin, and, for instance, will not have done with deception, love of strife, pride, avarice, and such like iniquities, ought not to be surprised that he cannot believe. Jesus would ask him, “How can ye believe?” (John 5: 44). It is an impossibility. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you. I write to you as those of whom I hope that it is in truth their earnest desire to find the Savior, and of whom I really trust that they have truly declared before the Lord: “LORD, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” And with my eye fixed on your condition, I ask myself, What can be the cause of it, and is there no means of delivering you out of it? “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?”
The cause cannot be that God has closed His dealings with you, and that it is no longer possible for you to believe. No: God commands you to believe. He desires this, and in His word has laid down before your faith promises for it to take up. And yet I fear that there are some among you who imagine that there is an appointment of God, against which you can do nothing, until God makes some alteration. With all earnestness, I entreat you to put these thoughts far from you. It is your own guilt that you do not believe, and indeed a heavy guilt, which you ought to confess with humility, and of which you should be ashamed. If you do not fully acknowledge this, I see no remedy for bringing you to faith, for this secret thought will make all your endeavors of no avail.
The cause of this unbelief of yours can just as little be that God has not given you power for faith. I know that this misunderstanding is prevailing with some of you. Because there are some Christians that have been brought to faith very suddenly and effectually, it is imagined that such a mode of conversion, if not the only one, is certainly at least the best. Secretly, therefore, some are waiting for a powerful impulse whereby they shall be as if driven to faith and brought to it at once. This thought also is a very dangerous hindrance in the way of faith. There are always two ways, along which one can attain to the enjoyment of abundance. To make the first plain by an example: one may become rich at once by an inheritance that one receives, or by this or that successful undertaking; but one can also attain to wealth by the more gradual and quiet method of faithful industry and economy, or by making a wise use of every opportunity of increasing one’s resources. So, to use another illustration, one can have a large space filled with water by a plentiful shower of rain as well as by a watercourse from a clear fountain; by which latter method the thing is done more slowly. The first is the easier way, but it is also that which stands exposed to the most dangers. The second is the longer and more troublesome way, but in some respects also the safer. The souls that find the heavenly treasure of the assurance of faith at once are to be accounted happy that the way for them has been so short; if others have to tread a more difficult path, they can nevertheless at least reach the goal. If they only move along the pathway of means with real desire, and with the positive conviction that they also can believe, they shall be brought to this point.
In connection with the two erroneous ideas just mentioned, stands what I have also just referred to, namely, the means of healing for your complaint, and therefore on this point, too, I shall say a few words.
You must acknowledge that it is the will of God that you should believe. “If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8: 46). This question of the Lord Jesus to the Jews, which He also puts to us, shows that unbelief must have a cause apart from Him. He spoke the truth with the aim and desire of awakening faith. You must further take into consideration that there is nothing for which you have to wait, before you begin to believe. You have to set yourselves forthwith in the way of the means, and with them you must be diligent; then you may hope for the blessing of the Spirit. On the Spirit you have not to wait, as if He had still first to come and were to make you by one token or another know that He was now ready, and that you could thus believe. No; He is promised to you. He has already often desired to work in your souls; and instead of your having to wait for Him, before you begin to believe, you have just to make haste to believe, for the Spirit waits for you. You have already kept Him waiting too long. Begin, therefore, immediately without further delay. And if, trusting in the promises of God, that the Spirit is given to those who ask for Him, you are diligent in learning to believe, you may also certainly expect that He, the Spirit of grace, will make you capable of faith. Wait not then, and delay not under the impression that all is not yet ready, or that it is not yet your duty actually to believe. In this sense there is nothing for which you have still to wait. No: ask for the Spirit, expect His influence, be diligent, and, although you do not then as yet actually observe His workings, you may, nevertheless, reckon upon it that, even while you may suppose yourselves to have been passed by, the Spirit is already cooperating with your first feeble endeavors.
You must pay special attention to what the means for coming to faith is, and to what way it has to be used. The means is the word: but the main stress falls on the manner in which the word is employed. When one searches it merely in a general way, and reads it to get knowledge and religious instruction, it operates so strongly in the line of reflection and repentance that the anxious soul is often embarrassed by the influx of thought, and thus fails to attain his object in reading. It is my counsel, therefore, that you should read the Bible with a definite aim, namely, to find out what promises there are that you have to believe. It is my counsel that you should seek and come to know what promises there are that are available for you, in order that you may be occupied with them, and so take advantage of every expedient for receiving them in faith. Meditate upon them, learn them by heart, remain continuously absorbed with them, bow your knees before the Lord, and say to Him that you are resolved to believe them. Grudge not the time that this exercise costs you. Do not fancy that this business can be finished in ten minutes or so. The vast eternity is surely worth the striving of some hours. Take time thus to search the word with set purpose, with that one definite aim of arriving at faith. Ponder the word and pray for enlightening influences from above: such earnestness cannot remain unblessed.
There is still another remark to be made respecting the manner in which this means is to be used, namely, that the duty is to be done with faithfulness and perseverance. We all know how great the power of habit is. By continuous and intentional repetition a thing that was at the outset strange and opposed to our taste, becomes a second nature and thereby easy and acceptable. In religion the laws of human nature are not set aside; the Spirit is indeed above them, but He still makes use of them. So is it also with faith. The heart that is habituated to distrust and doubt does not arrive at the new, holy habit of faith without the continual, often repeated exercise of the act of faith. The promise that found a slight entrance today loses its influence in turn tomorrow, just because the soul does not persevere, and has taken no pains to keep and confirm the blessing received. Thus I have often observed that, after a sermon or a conversation, a soul had a little light but speedily again lost it. And why? Because he did not recognize the importance and the necessity of his still keeping the promises anew before him, to the end that the old habit of unbelief might not again obtain the upper hand. Therefore, beloved be faithful continue FROM DAY TO DAY, YES, AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, occupied with the promises of God. The question must be continually repeated, “What does God require me to believe?” and in like manner, in the face of whatever weakness, must the answer be expressed at His feet: “Lord, I believe; I will believe.”
To hold out a helpful hand to this perseverance, I have written for you this little book. It is offered to you with this urgent entreaty that for a month, day by day, you specially concentrate your attention on that faith to which God calls you. It was in the midst of prayer that these words were addressed to you: do you read them also with a praying heart. May it please the Lord to deliver you soon from the chains with which you to this day are still fettered. God grant it. Amen.
“He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that does not believe shall be condemned.” Mark 16: 16.
Hear this word of the Lord, all you who have decided to seek your salvation. He that believes will be saved; simple faith is enough: more God does not require. With less, however, He will not be content. Faith is the only way: there is no other way that leads to salvation. He that does not believe will be condemned. Thus, alike on the right and the left hands, on the one side by the attractions and charms of His grace, on the other by the menace of His wrath, does God seek to impel us to faith in Christ as the one indispensable condition of salvation.
However much man may be opposed to this method of God, the time comes when the lost in hell no less than the saved in heaven will justify God in this ordination of His. The whole universe will acknowledge the equity of this sentence: he that does not believe will be condemned. The gracious Lord had always met the sinner with the wonderful offer of having remitted all the offences he had committed, or what the law had still to demand — of having bestowed on him all that was necessary for an everlasting salvation. He required no worthiness or merit, but simply this, that man should accept what was offered to him, and believe what was said to him. And, in order to remove every impediment to faith out of the way, and win the heart, God ordained to be sent the glad tidings of salvation through His own Jesus Christ, who manifested Himself in the most loving and attractive form, and sealed His love with His own precious blood. He, then, that still does not believe — the whole creation must approve of the sentence — he will be condemned. He has anew set the seal upon all his former sins, for he will not suffer himself to be redeemedfrom them. To his former sins, he has yet added this, the greatest of all, that he has affronted the authority of God, despised the love of God, lightly esteemed the Son of God, defied God’s vengeance, and thrust away from him God’s salvation. By unbelief he has shown his enmity against God and his rejection of God; it cannot, it may not, be otherwise: he that does not believe will be condemned.
Not less is the absolute necessity of faith confirmed by the contemplation of the other side: he that believes will be saved. Man has nothing, absolutely nothing, whereby on his part he can be in a position to contribute something to the attainment of salvation. And yet the Lord will do nothing but reign over a willing people. Man is no stone; on his own side, he must play his own part. It is faith that solves the difficult enigma that man who can do nothing should yet do something: faith which is manifested in the acknowledgment of poverty and misery, in the confession of inability and helplessness, in consent, submission, and surrender to that grace of God which is to be everything in us. More God could not require; less He may not require, for He will not inflict wrong on His own honor and the freedom of man. He requires faith: faith alone. What grace it is that thus bends to our weakness: he that believes will be saved.
Reader, behold, then, these two ways: make your choice. Pray, reason not any longer, nor ask the question if there be no other way; but, come, submit yourself to God and to the word of His grace: he that believes will be saved.
No longer yield to the secret thought, that something else may after all still be necessary. I am well aware that everlasting salvation appears to you to be too great a boon over against this meager and paltry faith. It appears to you too hazardous for your sinfulness to venture so far merely upon faith; yet, see, it is God that has spoken: only by faith. He that possesses this faith, has all; for by it he has Christ. He that does not possess faith has nothing, although he should possess all besides. Faith is indispensable.
Anxious ones, hear it yet once again: “he that believes will be saved; he that does not believe will be condemned.”
“For she said, If I but touch His garments I will be made whole.” Mark 5: 28.
What a glorious representation of the Lord Jesus does this woman in her simplicity give to us. She regarded Him as so filled with the divine power of life, as He in truth is, that it flowed out on everyone that only touched Him in faith, and streamed over him. She felt assured that even the slightest fellowship with Him would be blessed, and that she would experience the healing power of the life that was in Him. Not for a moment did she have any doubt of His power and still less of His willingness. Had He not come for the sick? Why should she still ask, as if she had no claim? No: she knew the one truth just as certainly as she knew the other — that in Him there was healing. This healing is also for her. She should doubt her right to make use of the light of the sun, sooner than her right to Jesus. She should fear whether it were indeed open to her to take a draught of water from a rushing river sooner than cherish the thought that there was no health for her to be found with Jesus.
O that you, doubting soul, would think of the Lord Jesus just as this woman thought of Him. It is always the good pleasure of the Father that in Him all fulness should dwell. All the fulness of His love and His life has the Father of set purpose made to dwell in Jesus, the Son of Man, in order that it may be truly visible and accessible to us. In Him dwells the power of a new and holy life from the dead, which he obtained by making atonement for our sins. This life is mighty to impart health to souls sick unto death, and this is for us sinful, dead, condemned sinners. Pray, do understand what the woman calls out to you; the blessing and the approval of Jesus are always the seal of the truth of her words. In Jesus is life, life even for the most wretched.
What a glorious representation is there here also of true faith, as the means of our participating in the fulness of Jesus. The woman knows that she has no work to do; that she has no great motion of strength to put forth; that she has not to consider, as is the case in dealing with other professors of the healing art, whether she is really in a position to pay the fees that will be demanded. No: she has merely to touch Him, that is, she has merely to appropriate what is prepared for her; the healing is there as soon as she stretches out her hand to receive it. Anxious soul, who has already been so long seeking to prepare and make yourself fit for the great work of believing, let this poor woman cure you of your error. In Jesus everything is ready; you have merely to stretch out your hand. O, do understand it. Here He stands ready for your deliverance; He is also given to you by the Father; only touch Him with the firm conviction of the faith: Jesus is for me; with the simple thought, I have a right to Him; in Him there is deliverance for me also. Touch Him, and, as truly as His name is Jesus, you will be delivered. This may not be immediately felt by you; in that case just wait, hold on, say from day to day: “If I touch Him, I will be made whole.” The healing will be consciously yours.
And what a glorious representation is there besides of the blessing which Jesus will give to faith. That the woman was healed was much to begin with; but it speaks of yet richer blessing that Jesus observed her, the poor trembling believer who would fain have hid herself for shame, even while others were seeking her in the crowd. He gives her the assurance of His good pleasure and His favor; He constrains her to confess Him openly. He praises her faith, and thus makes her an example and a blessing for thousands. O, all you who are looking out and yearning for the salvation of the soul, pray learn to understand what is awaiting you with Jesus, what you may hope for from Him. It is not only forgiveness of sins and rescue from destruction that He will make you partakers of: the friendship and love of the Savior will also be your portion, and by these He will make you become a blessing to others.
Beloved, what more have you need of to make you say humbly and with faltering lips, after this woman, “If I but touch His garments, I will be made whole.”
Very simply as well as strikingly is the word of God set forth to us in this parable. There lies the cold, dead earth, which of itself brings forth either nothing, or thorns and thistles. It has not the power to give man nutritive corn. When the husbandman, however, desires to have that corn, he takes good seed and commits it to the ground that had hitherto brought forth nothing but weeds. The soil receives it, and keeps it in the silent and dark secrecy of its bosom. Encouraged by the sunshine and moistened by the dew of heaven, it shoots there and grows up; and the cold dead earth by and by becomes the mother of a beautiful crop. The life was not in the earth, but in the seed; and yet the earth was just as indispensable as the living seed, before that these fair fruits could be reaped. Although the seed did not receive life from the earth, yet without the earth’s having its share in the work, the seed could not yield its fruit. It must offer the seed the soil, in which the root can shoot; in its bosom must the seed still be kept until it be ready to make an appearance above ground.
A glorious and instructive picture is this of the new life of grace. Like the seed, the word has a divine power of life. Like the earth, the heart is in itself lifeless, unfruitful of itself in what is good. Like the seed in the earth, the word is strewn in the heart and committed to it, simply to be received and kept there. The living power that God has lodged in the seed is the security that the ground, although in and of itself wholly incapable of bringing forth anything but weeds, will be changed into a fruitful field. Thus, however helpless you may feel yourselves to be, will the living seed of God’s word send forth its roots in your heart, and sprouting upwards bring forth fruit. Sinner, yearning for salvation, you have only to acknowledge that a living power is presented to you in every word of God. With that confidence must you keep it in your heart, and the certainty of fruit depends not on any ability of yours, but on the faithfulness of God. Only endeavor by prayerful consideration and faithful keeping of God’s word, to prepare a place for it in your heart.
Mourn no longer, then, that your heart is so hard and so full of weeds, but rather understand what you see every day, that by the keeping of the seed the dead earth is transformed into a fruitful field. Faith is not a thing that is present in you before you receive the word, or with which you must meet the word. No! there is life in the word, and it is by the word that faith is first awakened.
Meanwhile, forget not that there are many kinds of seed, and that every kind bears fruit according to its nature. A child of God, for example, longs for comfort in adversity; he chooses one of the promises of God to His people, sows it in his heart, and keeps it; the desired fruit is the comfort of God. As those who are troubled about your sins, you have need of the promises of God’s grace in relation to the ungodly. Seek for seed according to your need. “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion”; “He will abundantly pardon”; “He that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out”; “Christ died for the ungodly.” That is the kind of seed you must use. Every one of these words is a heavenly grain of seed containing power for eternal life. One of them is sufficient to bring forth, when it shoots up, the fruits of faith and peace and life. Let one of them be faithfully kept in the heart, and it cannot but be that faith will be born of it. In the seed is life: the seed of God’s word has a divine power of life. O, take, then, the heavenly seed, lay it up in your heart, and keep it there. Although you do not actually feel that you believe, resolve at least to hold fast by the thought: “It is the living word of God. God will give the increase in His own time.” The seed needs time for development. It must be kept a long time quietly beneath the ground: one day it certainly comes up. Day by day continue absorbed in heart with the word of promise and of grace. The true God and His living word are the guarantees that your experience also will be: “Faith comes by the word of God.”
Here is one of those heavenly grains of seed that have only to be received and kept in the heart to become living, and to bring forth faith, peace, and blessing. Let me have the privilege of commending it to you this morning, anxious soul.
It is such a simple word: every one can understand it. Every one knows what is meant when an earthly father forgives his child. He answers him that he will no longer remember his sins, will not impute the evil experienced, and will not punish him. He will deal with the child as if he had done no harm. In like manner the guilty and consciously-condemned soul looks to God on high, and says: “Lord, with You there is forgiveness. My guilt is heavy, I have deserved Your severest punishment; but with You is forgiveness. Of free grace You have promised to acquit the guilty of everything, and not to impute his sins to him.” This is the simple, and at the same time the only way along which one exposed to the curse, who can do or bring nothing, can be saved. Altogether freely and for nothing, without the least worthiness or merit on his part, he receives the divine acquittal from all his guilt.
Is it not also a glorious word? Should not every one desire this boon? For a soul that, with David in this psalm, has to cry “out of the depths”: “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who will stand?” it is glorious to be able to look up to God with the assurance: All these sins will God blot out and bring to nought. Yes: very blessed it is to be able to look up to God out of the distress and anxiety with which the soul has felt its heavy guilt and deep misery, and to say: “With You is forgiveness; the Lord looks upon me in grace, His anger is turned away from me, and He comforts me.” What a blessed peace, what a heavenly joy then falls on the heart. O, it is glorious, in the face of all conviction of sin and experience of misery, in the face of every thought of death and judgment, to be able to say: “With You is forgiveness.” Who would not desire it?
It is also such a sure word. Everyone may believe it. The whole Bible announces it. Jesus came from heaven to obtain and to seal it for us. His blood is the pledge of it. Thousands of the greatest sinners can support the truth of the cry: “With God there is forgiveness.” All heaven confirms it. Eternity will re-echo: “With God is forgiveness.” It is sure. The certitude of it depends not on your faith. Whether you believe it or not, whether you despise it or not, “With God is forgiveness.” As truly as He is God, is He a God of forgiveness, a God who abundantly pardons. As certain as you are that He is God, may you be certain that there is forgiveness with Him. Before you believe it, it is truth, and you may rest your soul and safely commit yourself to God upon it. You will experience it: with God is sure forgiveness.
Further, it is such a powerful word. Every one can receive blessing from it. Although you have as yet no faith, take this word as a living seed into your heart, and it will awaken faith. Although you dare not as yet call God your Father, lay up this word in your heart, give it a place there, think over it, and say in spoken words before your God: “Lord, with You there is forgiveness.” This word is living and powerful; it will cause hope to rise in your soul. It will inspire you with new thoughts about God, it will instil into you confidence and boldness before Him. Insensibly you will get up to saying: “With You there is forgiveness also for me.” It will thus awaken the fear and love of God in your soul. It will bind you to Jesus, it will impel you to dedicate yourself wholly to Him. O soul, mourn no longer over your weakness. Receive this word; it is “living and powerful.” Go with it trustfully to your knees, and, although it should be the thousandth time, use it as the language of your heart to God: “Lord, with You there is forgiveness.” This word will work mightily, and faith and peace and love will be its fruits.
Beloved, I offer to you this word of God. God gives you freedom to use this word with Him; God commands you to think thus of Him. True, your heart says, “I do not know whether there is forgiveness with God”; but come, let these perverse thoughts of yours go and give room for God’s thoughts in your soul. Let it stand fast with you: “With God is forgiveness,” and you will speedily be able to add: also for me. And so you will soon learn to sing: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgives all your iniquities.”
“Yea, Lord, I have believed that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” John 11: 27.
The Lord had said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live”; and after that He had put to her the question, “Believest thou this?” What answer was she to give? The thought that her brother was to be raised again was still too high and wonderful for her. And yet she was conscious that she believed in Jesus, and did not doubt Him or His word. What reply was she to make? With childlike simplicity and sincerity she says: “I have believed that Thou art the Christ: I do not indeed know aright what I believe concerning the resurrection of my brother. It is to me, as if I cannot understand, cannot conceive it; but this I know, I have believed and still believe in Thee, as the Son of the living God. Thee, Thy birth, Thy power, Thy love, I doubt not.”
How instructive is this picture of Martha’s faith. How frequently it happens that when the word of the Lord comes to a soul with the promise of forgiveness and reception into child-ship with God, and the question is put, “Believest thou this?” that the discouraged soul falls a-sighing and answers, “Ah! no: this I cannot yet believe”; and thereafter he proceeds to condemn himself — a thing that profits nothing, instead of acting as Martha did. She did not yet believe everything, but what she believed that she spoke out before the Lord. She believed in Him as the Son of the living God: this was the principal thing, and would prove the source of greater faith. In connection with what she did believe, she was diligent in prayer; by this means her faith would be strengthened and become capable of receiving yet more and more.
Follow that example, O thou of little faith. When you are asked: Do you believe that your sins are forgiven, that you are a child of God, that everlasting salvation is yours? you are perhaps afraid to answer, ” Yes.” You see others who can say so. You read in God’s word that the Lord will give His grace, that you may be enabled to say so. But you cannot say so, and you do not know how you shall ever come to the point of daring to say so. Soul, learn the way from Martha. Do not continue sitting down there, mourning over your unbelief, but go to Jesus with that which you know that you do believe. This at least you know that, although you cannot yet say, He is my Savior, your whole soul believes that He was sent by God to be a Savior, and that He has proved Himself to be a Savior for others. Well, then, go with this confession to Jesus, utter it before Him in prayer, look to Him and adore Him as the Savior of the world. Speak out what you do believe, and by this means will faith in your heart be confirmed and increased. Say: “Lord Jesus, how unbelieving I am; this, however, I do believe that Thou art the Savior, full of love and grace, and mighty to redeem.” Forget yourselves and worship Jesus, although you dare not as yet say, that He is yours. In the midst of those exercises your faith will increase, and by and by you will insensibly come to the confidence that He is also yours. Only persevere: so long as you cannot yet say, “He is mine and I am His,” let your soul be found, this and every day, in the ceaseless adoring confession: “Yea, Lord: this I believe, that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He will speedily confirm to you that word of truth: “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matt. 25: 21). You will speedily learn to believe, and then, like Martha, you shall also see the glory of God.
“But having the same Spirit of faith . . . we also believe.” 2 Cor. 4: 13.
For the hundred times that in the word of God we are exhorted to faith, or that faith is spoken of as an act of man, it is but in some few instances that it is expressly said that faith is the work of the Spirit. And thus, when we insist on faith as a work in which man must be active and in which he must trustfully and perseveringly use means, it may sometimes appear as if we forget who the Author of faith is. This, however, is by no means the case. We believe that those who feel most deeply the truth about the complete dependence of man on the Spirit, as the Spirit of faith, will also be the most eager to fall in with the exhortation addressed to man. He who knows that there is a Spirit to actuate to faith knows also that man may, with spirit and hope, strive to exercise faith.
The right understanding of this truth is, for anxious souls, of great importance. They must especially know that when they wait for the influence of the Spirit to carry them on to faith, they must not expect that this influence shall be unveiled to them in a conscious and sensible manner. The beginnings of life are hid in darkness: the first workings of the Spirit are not known or observed. The soul must work on, although it be not conscious that the Spirit is in it: it must as readily in the dark as in the day, and that too in its own strength, obey and strive to believe; it must hold fast the word in confidence that the Spirit will, through the word, work in it, expecting that sooner or later the Spirit will be recognised as the power that has put it in a position to believe. That faith will then be to it the first sure token that it has the Spirit. He is always the Spirit of faith. Faith is his internal manifestation, the form in which He reveals Himself, and by which He becomes known. It cannot be, “If I once have the Spirit then I believe,” but, “when I believe, then I know that the Spirit has wrought this result in me.”
In this way the right desire of the soul to know that it has the Spirit of faith may be fully gratified. It will learn that there is something more in it than its mere faith, that faith is not its own work: it will learn that the divine Creator of the new life is in it, According as the trustful soul is in itself unreservedly surrendered to live through faith, shall the Spirit witness with its spirit which was active in faith, according to the word of God, that after we believe we are sealed with the Spirit: “Ye know Him, for He abideth with you and shall be in you.” (John 14: 17). By His divine, indwelling power, he always stirs up the soul more and more to faith, carrying it into all the riches of the promises of God, and giving it confidence to appropriate every blessing to itself. And thus the one influence always operates upon the other; the more fully the soul believes, the more clear becomes the revelation of the Spirit; the more fully the Spirit works in it, the more does the soul grow in the life of faith and confidence. And thus at length, but not by the way which most of us had pictured for ourselves, we come to the experience of the blessedness of which we are speaking, namely, of having the Spirit of faith.
Seeker of salvation, why do you not believe? The Spirit of God is a Spirit of faith. It is the Spirit of God that has broken your slumber and made you anxious to believe. It is the Spirit who will help you in the conflict for faith, in which you think that you are abandoned by Him. He is given in answer to prayer. Let the thought encourage you, that where there is a soul desirous of salvation the Spirit will certainly work faith in it. At the outset you are not yet in a position to recognise His working. You are not yet accustomed to His ways; His tokens are still unknown to you. Hidden, but really existing, He is at hand to help you, if you but pray for Him and do your work, relying upon His operation. In this exercise and conflict of prayer, and in the desire to believe, it is He that all unconsciously draws on and strengthens the soul. Believe, for the Spirit will give faith within you. Work, “for it is God that worketh in you.”
And, when you have believed and have become known to Him as the Spirit of faith — O, be thou only faithful to Him. Yield yourself wholly to Him; set your heart entirely open for Him; through Him, let there be a progress “from faith to faith,” until, with full certitude, you are able to witness: “We have the same Spirit of faith, therefore we also believe.”
“Repent ye, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1: 15.
This beginning of the preaching of the Lord Jesus contains the summary of the will of God for our salvation. Repent ye and believe. W hat God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Without repentance no real faith, without faith no true repentance.
Without repentance no real faith. The entire design of God in the mission of Christ, the great aim for which the salvation of faith has been given to us, is to win the heart back from sin, and to make it free from sin. A real desire for this salvation can thus never arise in the heart that is not also prepared to be loosed from sin, and to abandon it. Faith is a surrender of the soul to God: this is an impossibility where it still continues to give itself to sin. Faith is an appropriation and a reception into the heart of the grace of God: it is an absurdity to suppose that this should take place without a contemporaneous repentance, an abandonment and casting out of sin.
Without faith also no true repentance. Repentance is not only a turning away from sin, which of itself would tend to self-righteousness, but a turning back to God, and this can take place only through faith. Repentance is not a work of one’s own power, but a consenting, a cooperation with God’s plan, in God’s strength, a trustful surrender to the redeeming grace of God. And this can be done only through faith. Repentance is not an actual victory over sin, but the soul has to bring every sin to the feet of the Lord Jesus, the great victor over sin, that He may take it away; and this cannot find place, except by the faith which has acknowledged that He is faithful to forgive sin, and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.
Thus the power of repentance is faith: for the more we trust that Jesus makes us free from sin, the stronger are we to turn away from it. And the power of faith, on the other hand, is also repentance: for the more eager to become freed from sin it causes us to be, the more are we shut up to faith. “Repent ye and believe”: he that observes and holds fast both shall be saved.
Nor is it only at the beginning of the way, but on to the very end that these two must accompany one another. No sooner is faith cultivated in a one-sided fashion, without a growing conscientiousness in the casting off of little sins, and the sanctification of the whole heart and walk, than it becomes a work merely of the understanding or the feeling. And as soon as continued repentance occupies itself with the furtherance of sanctification, without daily holding fast and increasing a living faith by the promise of God’s grace, such a repentance will also lose its worth.
“Repent ye and believe.” See here what Jesus calls us to. Every wish and endeavor after repentance, every remembrance of the sin which is in you, and of which you would be free, must be a summons to faith in that Jesus who is exalted to bestow repentance. Combat every sin, and make renunciation of it at His feet with faith fixed on Him. And let every thought of faith on the other hand be an encouragement to fight more bravely against sin, until at length your whole soul shall be filled with the faith of which it is written: “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.” So shall repentance and faith in due time become entirely one, and the out-going of the soul to Jesus shall be a departurefrom sin: the enjoyment by faith of the light of His love, shall of itself drive away the darkness. Then shall believing and working no longer be considered as antagonistic, but the soul shall know that a continually renewed faith is the fruit of sanctification, for it carries it on in the strength of Jesus, and continued repentance then gives to faith courage to persevere, experience which it can plead, and the certitude of a full assurance. Soul, why do you not believe? O, pray let it not be because you will not repent. It should not be that you are not willing to make a renunciation of sin. And let it not be that you would first repent and then later on believe. No: let both go together from this moment onwards: “Repent ye and believe.”
“Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. ” Matt. 8: 8.
The faith of which these words are the utterance was so great that the Lord wondered at it, and exclaimed: “I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.” It may be of service to those who desire to come to faith, or who long for a stronger faith than they have hitherto had, to examine carefully the faith of the centurion, and to observe the soil in which that great faith struck its roots. The soil is — deep humility. This man who, although he belonged to the Gentiles, was praised by the Jewish elders as worthy of the Lord’s favor, and whose faith surpassed all that the Lord had found in Israel, — this eminent man is the only one of whom we read, during Jesus’sojourn on earth, that he did not consider himself worthy that Jesus should enter his house. Wonderful humility in such a hero of faith. We learn from this the most momentous lesson — that deep humility and strong faith are knit to one another by the closest bonds.
Out of humility springs faith. Then first, when the soul fully acknowledges that it has nothing, and is also content to receive favor as one that possesses nothing, does it cast itself on the free grace of God, and receive it as one that believeth. In the acknowledgment of its nothingness, it does not dare to contradict God with its thoughts of unworthiness, with its desire still further to bring this or that to perfection. It feels that, since it has pleased such a great God to say that He is prepared to show compassion to the poorest and most wretched, then nothing becomes it better than to be silent and suffer Him to manifest His love. It knows, moreover, that it is so deeply corrupt that it can never of itself become better, and on this account its faith is just the best proof of its humility: it is from the recognition of its utter helplessness, from its knowledge of the fact that it can never become better, that it casts itself on the will of God. This is an entirely different state of mind from that of all such as imagine that humility comes out in not believing; as if there could be humility in waiting till something has been found in us that could make us more acceptable to the Lord than we really are; as if there could be humility in giving no obedience to the command of God actually to believe. Nay, verily. And just as perverse is the idea that faith will at any later period lead to pride. No: faith, as it springs from humility, will in turn only increase humility. It was because the centurion by faith recognised Jesus as wielding over nature a power which could not by any circumstance be prevented from healing the sick by His mere word, that he felt himself to be unworthy of having him in his house. And thus will it always be. The more glorious the revelation and experience of the Lord’s greatness and goodness which faith enjoys, the more deeply does it sink in self-abasement and in lowly acknowledgment of the condescension by which such a God unveils Himself to such a sinner. And thus it always continues to be: the deeper humility the more faith, and again, the stronger faith the deeper humility. May the Lord teach us these truths — that there is no stronger proof of humility, and also no better means of increasing it, than just faith; and that, whether we feel ourselves deeply humbled, or still desire to come to a deeper humility the one as well as the other should only shut us up to faith.
And now, soul, why do you not believe! Are you still too unworthy? You dare not say so. The deeper your humility, the stronger your reason and right for believing. Are you still too proud? Ah, let it not be longer so. Only bring yourself to the acknowledgment of your entire weakness, and confess that you are wholly lost: in the depths of your wretchedness, you will see that there is no other remedy than to let the Lord help you, and to commit yourself trustfully to the word of His grace.