The Man Who Had Great Faith
George Everard, 1884
A Roman centurion has a servant sick. The servant is very dear to him, and he longs for his recovery. He hears of the mighty works of Jesus, and believes in His power to heal. But he shrinks from going to one so holy and so great. Filled with a deep sense of his unworthiness, instead of coming himself he sends the elders of the Jews to Jesus. Though by birth a Gentile, he had "loved their nation," and "had built them a synagogue." So that we may be sure they would be willing to do him a kindness, and go on the errand on which he sends them.
They come to Jesus and entreat him for the centurion's servant. They tell Him of his dangerous condition, "paralyzed and in terrible suffering." At once Christ promises to come and heal him. But from this too the centurion shrinks. He reckons not himself worthy that Christ should come under his roof. This would be far too great an honor for one sinful as he. And there was no need. Let Christ but speak the word and it shall be enough — his servant will be healed. For are not all things at Christ's beck and bidding? If he himself can command his servants, and at his word they come or go, or do whatever he may say — then shall it not be even so with Christ? What are sickness and health, disease and pain, life and death — but His servants, His ministers, to do His pleasure, and to fulfill whatever He may appoint?
Jesus beholds this man's sure unhesitating faith in His word and power, with delight. He has seen nothing like it. Who could have looked for such a spirit from a Roman soldier and a Gentile? As if a man went through his vineyard, and scarcely a handful of fruit rewarded his toil and pains — and then went forth into the uncultivated wilds and found a vine covered with richest clusters — thus did Christ regard the faith of this centurion. "When Jesus heard this, He was astonished and said to those following Him: I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!" Matthew 8:10
As Jesus ponders the faith of this man, there arises in thought before Him, a great multitude of Gentiles — once strangers to the covenants of promise, who by a like faith should press into the Gospel kingdom and share all the glories that pertain to it. "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 8:11
It is as though Christ would point to the centurion and speak somewhat in this way: "Behold yonder Gentile! Once far off, by faith in Me he has become a true child of Abraham, and partakes of all the privileges of my covenant and kingdom. Nor is he alone in this. See in him the first fruits of the Gentile world. See in him a type of ten thousand times ten thousand who from every land shall be brought into my fold. From the rising to the setting sun, from every nation, and language, and people, and tongue — shall the incense of prayer and praise arise, and sinners be brought near to God through faith in Me."
But Christ added another word, and it was a solemn one. By faith those once far off should enter His kingdom, while the natural seed of Abraham, the favored children of Zion, through their unbelief, should be thrust out. "But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 8:12
The story of this centurion is full of INSTRUCTION.
It teaches us, first of all, that a true genuine faith is the one door into Christ's kingdom. Jesus puts His finger on this one thing. Because of the centurion's faith, Jesus received his petition, healed his servant, and numbered him among the true Israel of God.
True, there were other points in the man worthy of Christ's commendation. He was evidently a good, kind master, for he cared for his servant's welfare. Nor can we doubt, if this were so, that he was equally conscientious in the other relationships of home life. Moreover, he had an affection for the Jewish nation. He valued religious privileges, and as a proselyte, he would attend the synagogue worship. He was a man of a liberal and bountiful spirit, for at his own cost he had built a synagogue for them. He was also a man of profound humility. He had discovered something of his own sinfulness, and had reckoned himself utterly unworthy of coming to Christ, or of Christ coming to his house. But Christ said not a word of all this, though no doubt He saw and approved it. He singles out the man's faith, and extols its mighty power, and thereupon speaks of him as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom.
Let us learn to estimate the value of a true faith aright. Without it, it is impossible to please God. Without it, the most showy works, alms-deeds, gifts, or efforts, however useful to others, are but "dead works" in the sight of God. Without it, there can be no forgiveness, no true holiness, no entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem.
But what is this faith which is so precious to God's sight, and so profitable to the soul? It is not a flower that grows in nature's garden, but is the direct work and operation of the Holy Spirit. It looks up to Christ as the very Son of God, and relies upon His word of promise as sure of its accomplishment. In the case of the centurion there was but little knowledge, compared to that which we possess — but as far as he knew, he showed a marvelous confidence in the word and power of Christ.
In our case faith necessarily goes much further. It regards the death of Christ as the only ground of pardon, and His resurrection as the sure pledge of His divine mission. It brings a man face to face with the Savior, and learns to trust Him as the One Mediator and High Priest of His Church. It is a mother-grace, ever bringing in its train a fair group of daughters — love, joy, peace, patience, prayer, praise, all good works, and faithful and devoted service. Very especially does this faith prove its reality by cleaving fast to the Savior and abiding in Him.
An old Christian in Africa was once asked, "Suppose Jesus will not receive you, what then?"
"Won't receive me! but I won't let Jesus go. If he thrust me away," making the motion with his feet, "I'll take hold of His feet and lie there still, but I won't let Him go. I'll tell Him, Did you not come to save me? Who am I trusting to but you? Where else can I go? Am I not a sinner, and you the only Savior? No, Jesus, I will not let you go — you must save me!" The old man then clasped both arms on his breast and said again, "I will not let Him go!"
Let me ask you who read these words, What do you know of a faith like this? "Do you believe in the Son of God?" When conscience reminds you of sin, do you humbly confess it and fly to Christ to cleanse you in His blood?
When troubles come — do you make Him your Refuge, and leave them all with Him? When care and anxiety weigh upon you — do you cast your burden on Him and rest in His love?
Without this living faith, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit — all else is in vain. You may have a right creed, and a zeal for truth — but this will not save you. You may have a character before men for all that is virtuous and of good report — but this will not save you. Nothing brings salvation, but true genuine faith that binds you fast to the Savior.
Because of their unbelief, the Jews were rejected and their beautiful city brought down to the ground. Because of their unbelief, many who bear the name of Christ will be cast out and never, never enter the city of Light and Joy. It is written: "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life. He who believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
But there is another lesson I should like you to learn. It is a great privilege to aid in the work of Christian missions. Christ tells us of the blessed outcome of His work. The Gospel feast shall not be spread in vain — nor shall the Savior suffer and die upon the Cross in vain. "He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied." From east and west, from north and south, from far-off isles and distant continents — shall the children of God be gathered together to form the general assembly and Church of the first-born.
Very marvelously during the last eighty years, has this purpose of the Most High been moving on to its fulfillment.
The wandering Indian tribes of Northwest America,
the swarthy African,
the busy and active Chinaman,
the cultivated intellects of India,
the inhabitants of the scattered islands of the South Seas —
all these have their representatives in the native churches which have arisen of late through missionary enterprise.
But who will come forward to aid in this blessed work? It will be accomplished in its season — but will you share the toil, the self-sacrifice it involves, and the honor it will bring?
It was a saying of the great Columbus: "The highest honor man can have, is to be a conscious instrument in the hand of the Most High for the accomplishment of His purposes."
If he reckoned this true in his discovery of a new world — then how much more is it true of those who go forth to recover for God a world lost in idolatry and sin!
Christian brother or sister, be assured that God calls you to this work. "Go work today in my vineyard," is still the message sounding in our ears.
It comes to us through the tale of misery that yet reaches us from unhappy Africa, and the terrible slave-traffic that yet debases it.
It comes to us through the open doors that are set before us in every quarter of the globe.
It comes to us through the preparation already made for the work in the two hundred versions of the Scriptures ready to our hand.
It comes to us through the evident success already granted to our efforts.
It comes to us by the Holy Spirit revealing to us the love of Christ, and bidding us for His sake go and preach His Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world.
And remember, "what you do, do quickly." Time is short — your own life is but a shadow. Souls are perishing. Doors are often shut because we will not enter in.
Let me give you a proof of this. Years ago a tribe of Indians sent a request for a Christian teacher. Six times they sent year after year, but the answer was returned that English Christians had not given men enough training or money to break fresh ground, and it was impossible to grant their request. The seventh year a teacher was sent, but only to return. The tribe refused to receive him. They would not believe Christianity was true — or a teacher would have been sent before. Moreover a fierce war had broken out, and they could not now give heed to the instructions of a teacher.
Alas, for lost opportunities, for doors shut through our negligence and apathy. Alas, for the multitudes who live and die without ever hearing the Savior's name! Alas, for our guilt in permitting our brothers and sisters in far-off lands to pass into eternity without one ray of that bright and blessed hope which cheers the dying Christian.
Let not this guilt be yours. Be a faithful laborer in Christ's harvest-field. Offer to Him — yourself, your means, your influence — to be used as He will in this good work. Then shall you be able to claim the promise. "He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit unto life eternal" (John 4:36).