William Nicholson, 1862
"Precious faith!" 2 Peter 1:1
Worldly men dote upon riches and prestige, and power, and pleasures, and possessions — but however highly they may be prized, the Christian possesses something infinitely more valuable. He has "precious faith" in Christ, which secures him a saving interest in the "favor of God which is life," and in his "loving-kindness which is better than life."
Earthly honors, dignities, grandeur, estates, etc. — are but fleeting vanities, and unsatisfying in their nature. Man will soon be taken from them forever — or they may elude his grasp before his death.
But that which "precious faith" gives to the Christian, shall exist forever. That faith looks not at the things which are seen, which are temporal — but at the things which are not seen, which are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18.
The statesman may glory in his eloquence, as the instrument of his success;
the legislator may glory in his wise regulations, to promote the benefit of his country;
the warrior may glory in his sword, his skill and valor, as the source of his mighty achievements;
the sensualist may glory in his carnal pleasures and pursuits, as the only source of his enjoyment;
the rich man may glory in his gold, his vast domain, his equipage of splendor, as the very fountain of his bliss
— but, says the Christian, I will glory in my faith, for that faith is precious. It is more precious than rubies!
I. The Nature of Faith.
Faith implies trust and confidence in God, through Christ, for acceptance. Ephesians 1:13. This is the Gospel sense of faith; saving faith has no other interpretation. Therefore,
Saving faith is more than mere opinion, or creed; as some will say, "I belong to this sect; I am of this faith, or of that creed." Faith is a vital principle.
Saving faith is more than a mere belief that Christ is the true Messiah, though this is implied. Many thus believe, but yet they have no true faith.
Saving faith is more than believing that Christ died for sin, as a sacrifice, etc. Many believe this — yet have no true faith. It is more than an attachment to, or defense of this truth. This may be induced by early training, education, and prejudice. Attachment to the truth can only be real, and its defense can only be efficient, when faith has its lodgment in the heart.
1. Saving faith implies Divine enlightenment. Knowledge is the foundation of saving faith:
knowledge of God,
knowledge of our relation to him as our Divine Lawgiver,
knowledge of ourselves as sinners, and as wretched and helpless before him. "Those who know your name will put their trust in you."
Saving faith implies a knowledge of Christ in his Mediatorial character, as the Almighty Savior, who, by his sacrifice, "made an end of sin, finished transgression, and brought in an everlasting righteousness."
This enlightenment, produced by the Spirit, gives a perception of the adaptation of the remedy — to the spiritual exigencies of the sinner. It is hailed by him with rapture, as that which alone can make him eternally blessed and happy.
2. Saving faith implies the renunciation of all other grounds of trust, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith!" Philippians 3:7-9
David Dickson, professor of divinity in Edinburgh, being asked, when on his death-bed, how he found himself, answered, "I have taken my good deeds and bad deeds, and thrown them together in a heap, and fled from them both to Christ, and in him I have peace."
3. Saving faith implies the full surrender of the soul to Christ to be saved. Faith is "coming" to Christ, "beholding" him, John 1:29; 6:37; it is a participation in the satisfaction and suretyship of Christ. "He who eats my flesh," etc. John 6:54-56. The believer, therefore, can say, "He loved me — and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20.
4. Saving faith is a constant act. It is the vital principle that actuates the Christian throughout the whole of his earthly pilgrimage. He walks by faith, prays in faith, reads and worships in faith, labors in faith, fights in faith, stands by faith, and dies triumphantly by faith! There can be no Christianity, without faith.
II. The Excellency of Saving Faith.It is called "precious faith."
The word "precious" means valuable, of great price, costly. Faith worth a great price, and faith which cost a great price. It must be of infinite value, for the spiritual blessings it brings, were purchased by the Redeemer's blood. Faith is also the instrument by which the soul realizes salvation. Faith is precious,
1. As to its Author. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." Hebrews 12:2. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8. Consult Philippians 1:29; John 1:12; 6:65. That which has God for its Author, must be precious. It is he who "begins a good work in us." 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
2. As to its Object. It rests on Christ. It depends upon . . .
the great Prophet of the Church,
the atoning Priest and Intercessor,
the Almighty King,
the Faithful and True Witness.
The faith of the Christian rests not on flesh and blood, not on sand, not on a broken reed — but on the Rock of ages, against whom the gates of Hell can never prevail. How precious then must be this faith that has so firm a basis — that will support in every trial — in every season — a foundation firm and invincible!
Behold Christ . . .
in the dignity of his person,
in the power of his grace,
in the freeness of his salvation,
in the expansive willingness of his heart to save —
and it must be conceded that the faith which embraces him is precious. Christ is the infinitely valuable "treasure hid in a field," etc., Matthew 13:44. He is the "Pearl of Great Price." verse 46. "Unto those who believe he is precious" . . .
and supremely precious.
3. Saving faith procures all the precious blessings of salvation for the soul. The hand of faith brings down from the cross, the blessing of pardon for the most numerous and blackest crimes; it receives the blessings of justification from all condemnation. See Matthew 9:2:Acts 13:38, 39; Romans 3:21-26. What precious blessings are these!
Adoption follows the exercise of faith. The arms of the Eternal God expand to receive the returning outcast and prodigal, and the door of the Church and of Heaven opens to receive him who was formerly the heir of wrath. "You are all the children of God by faith."
Faith gives the enjoyment of peace with God, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Romans 5:1.
Hushed are the charges of the law,
silent are the thunders of Sinai,
discomfited is Satan!
The peace of the soul flows as a river, and its righteousness as the waves of the sea.
Faith is the instrument of sanctification. "Purifying their hearts by faith, unto sincere love of the brethren." Acts 15:9; John 3:2, 3. It fills with joy unspeakable, etc. Romans 15:13. Is not this a "precious faith"?
4. Saving faith is precious in its works. Faith must be followed by works to prove its vitality. Hence we read of "the work of faith," etc. 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and see James 2:18. Behold the effort of faith:
it benefits the believer himself,
it longs to honor the Savior,
it seeks to benefit the Church,
in its benevolence it encompasses the world,
it agonizes to save souls from eternal death.
Hence how laborious was Paul and his colleagues — and also the primitive Christians. What a stand against Satan was made by the martyrs. How valiant were Luther and Melanchthon, and multitudes more, men of faith and undaunted courage!
O precious faith — you are the producer of the noblest and holiest influences that have ever blessed this sinful world! Actuated by you, the Missionary wends his way to barbarous hordes in foreign climates, to circulate and preach the everlasting Gospel.
Impelled by you, some of the most unselfish and self-denying of men are constantly laboring, by the diffusion of knowledge, the instruction of the young, and by preaching the cross — to rescue man from spiritual slavery and everlasting death.
Stimulated by you, the mind has commiserated the wretchedness of man, and formed institutions and hospitals, and asylums for the helpless, the indigent, and wretched.
O precious faith! Who can enumerate . . .
the blessings you have dispensed,
the miseries you have alleviated,
and the crimes you have prevented?
What if no faith were found upon the earth? Then would this world become as Sodom, and like unto Gomorrah. Let the fruits of infidelity be contrasted with the works of precious faith. What has infidelity done to benefit the world? Where are its blessings — where its benevolent institutions — where its trophies of love? Alas! compared with the holy fruits of faith, how wretched are the operations of infidelity! The summit of its ambition is the annihilation of Christianity, and mere gratification on the lap of sensual indulgence. Its influence hitherto has been but to scathe and destroy. How different from precious faith!
5. In the comfort and support which saving faith imparts in seasons of trial. Then the "God of hope has filled the soul with all joy and peace in believing, to make it abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." To the feeblest disciple Jesus says, "Let not your heart be troubled," etc.
Faith has counteracted the chilling influence of poverty; and in that season the prayer of faith has been answered. Witness the faith of the prophet, "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior!" Habakkuk 3:17-18. Witness the faith of Job, "Though he slays me — yet will I trust in him," Job 13:15.
Faith has dispersed the darkness of the chamber of affliction, irradiated it with glory, and caused the lip of submission to kiss the bitterest cup of sorrow.
Faith has stripped the world of its glitter and delusion, exposed its vanity, and given the victory over it. "And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith."
Satan has come in like a flood to harass the soul, but he has been "resisted steadfastly in the faith."
Bereavements the most affecting have wounded the mind, but faith has produced the hope of mutual recognition, and whispered to the soul, "Your believing brother shall rise again — you shall meet in Heaven!"
In persecution, faith has nerved the feeblest soul to martyrdom.
In the closet, in reading the Scriptures, in the house of God, the hand of faith stretches to Heaven, and reaches clusters of comfort from the Tree of Life, and draws water with joy out of the wells of salvation.
When nations are dashed against one another — when rumors of war are loudly heard — when kingdoms are convulsed, and the sword is bathed in blood, faith says, "The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad!"
To see the triumphant influence of faith, see Hebrews 11.
6. Saving faith is precious, on account of its establishing influence. "Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you be established." 2 Chronicles 20:20.
Faith gives the assurance of salvation. By acquaintance with the gracious promises and dealings of God, the Christian feels assured that he will be safely and triumphantly supported to the end of his life. He has a saving interest in all the promises, and feels persuaded that the infallible veracity of Jehovah will make them all good. Faith removes his doubts, and dispels his fear. He is "rooted and grounded in the truth." While others are carried away by the inventions and strange doctrines of men, he is "not moved away from the hope of the Gospel," but holds fast "the form of sound words." His heart is "established with grace," and he is "determined not to know anything but Jesus Christ and him crucified."
7. Saving faith is "Precious" because it gives the hope of eternal life, and a complete conquest over death. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen." Hope is intimately connected with faith. As there can be no true hope without faith — so vital saving faith always produces hope. It may have to war with constitutional feebleness of body and mind; still, in degree, it exists. Faith rests upon Christ for salvation and eternal life; hope expects to enjoy them here, in death, and in the paradise of immortality. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ." "Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
How precious is this hope, amid all the tempests of time! "Which hope we have as anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters within the veil," etc. Hebrews 6:19. How valuable amid the darkness of this earthly night! It is the pole-star of the believer in all his trials. It cheers him on; it guides him safely to the port of endless rest; for "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."
"Yes," says the Christian, "I am an heir of the kingdom of light, and I shall soon come to the possession of it forever. All these sorrows will soon be annihilated. 'Weeping endures but for a night; joy comes in the morning.' I hear a voice from yonder temple, which says, 'Arise and depart, for this is not your rest.' 'A house not made with hands,' raises its turrets before the vision of my faith. The departed saints already inherit it; they wait to receive me; they long for my arrival; they prepare to 'cry unto me, that my warfare is accomplished.' Terrestrial enjoyments already melt into distance, and fall into the shades of the long perspective. A little longer, and the fading visions of time shall float in broken images before my closing eyes. The sun dips below the horizon. The shadows of evening descend around me, but hope irradiates their gloom! The voice of God calls me home. Earth recedes. Time vanishes. Eternal glory is near. 'Arise, let us go hence.'"
Thus faith is "precious" in life and in death. Resting on the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the believer triumphs over the last enemy. Faith in Christ has procured for his soul the absolution of all sin, the removal of all guilt and condemnation, and it assures the soul of complete acceptance with God. Then why should he fear? He knows that death can never conquer Christ. And as he trusts in him for final and everlasting acceptance, he is enabled to surmount the infirmities of his nature, and to defy the king of terrors: "Strike, monster, strike!" sitting under the shadow of the cross, I fear not the mortal blow that will introduce my soul to immortal life! Strike! I know this body must fall; but "rejoice not over me, O my enemy; though I fall I shall arise; though I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me." "O death, where is your sting!" etc. 1 Corinthians 15:55; Psalm 23:4.
Faith accounts death as . . .
only a sleep, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, Acts 7:6;
a departure, Philippians 1:23; 2 Timothy 4:6;
entering into rest. Revelation 14:13; Isaiah 57:2.
How calmly did Simeon speak of death! "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation!" Luke 2:29-30
What a vision of glory faith gave to Stephen in the hour of martyrdom! "Look, I see Heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.! Acts 7:56
Mark the confidence of Paul, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing!"
Peter speaks of his death with as much calmness as a man about to take off his clothing, "I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me." 2 Peter 1:13-14
O wonderful achievements of precious faith!
1. Be thankful for the foundation of faith — as it follows the text, "To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:1
2. Pray for the increase of faith.
3. How dreadful the state of unbelievers!