SARAH; Or, The Power of Faith
James Smith, 1856
"It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She considered him faithful who had made the promise." Hebrews 11:11
Faith in God is of the greatest importance; for without it we cannot please God — and we have no power with God. Faith is the root of all spiritual fruit, and the spring of all evangelical obedience. No one ever enjoyed acceptance with God, access to God, or intimate fellowship with God — but through faith. Faith is God's gift. It is the Spirit's work. It is the evidence of the life of God in the soul. It is commended and celebrated through this chapter. All that was done — is ascribed to faith. All who became famous — did so through faith. Faith justifies — it sanctifies — it keeps — it saves: not as an agent — but as an instrument.
We have one instance of the power of faith before us — it is Sarah, Abraham's wife, the most honored and honorable woman of her day. She is held forth as a pattern to all Christian wives, and is called the mother of all holy women. Let every Christian wife hear and ponder well the language of the Holy Spirit by the Apostle Peter: "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." (1 Peter 3:1-6).
What a mercy for the church, and for many families it would be — IF these verses were made the rule of female life. How much would be saved for the poor, for missions, and for other good purposes; and what peace, prudence, and propriety would be the result.
But we must look at Sarah as an example of faith.
The object of her faith was a promise. God had promised her a son, and a numerous seed.
This promise, like all his promises, flowed from his free and sovereign mercy. There was nothing in Sarah to lead her to expect it, or to warrant her to ask for it. Nor do we find that she did ask it. But God came and said unto Abraham, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:1, 2).
Abraham believed God, and did as he was commanded. Years rolled on — but no son appears! Sarah's faith was staggered, and she gave her Egyptian maidservant to her husband to be his wife. This piece of folly produced mischief and misery, trial and trouble. Then the Lord appears again, and says plainly, "Sarah your wife shall have a son." (Genesis 18. 10.) This was pointed, and, like all God's promises, plain. It was positive, for no condition was appended or implied. It was the free and spontaneous mercy of God, pledging itself to confer on the aged couple what they most desired. Sarah overheard the conversation; she was surprised, excited, and laughed; ashamed of her conduct, when called to account, she denied that she laughed. How like is human nature in all places, and at all times. Nevertheless, Sarah believed God; she now lived expecting that God would make good his Word. She had God's bond; he was indebted to her a child, and a child that would fill her with joy, and make her laugh. But she must wait God's time. and receive God's gift in his own season. Weak faith cannot give long credit, not even when it has God's faithful promise; but strong faith can. It says, "God has spoken in his holiness, I will rejoice." It considers that God's promise is as good as performance, because it knows that his Word can never fail.
The TRIAL of Sarah's faith was long and severe. There was her natural barrenness. Then there was her great age, she was ninety years old. Then there was the long delay in the fulfillment of the promise. For twenty-five years she had to believe God. To go on trusting his naked promise, believing against nature and all appearances. Her heart was as prone to unbelief as ours is. Many a long and severe conflict she must have had. How often would she reason over the subject, and find her reason baffled. How often would she look at the promise, and ask, have I understood it? or, have I mistaken its meaning? Frequently she would converse with Abraham on the point, and perhaps try him with her questions, as God tried her by his delays.
Satan also was as active and as busy then, as now. He would no doubt suggest his vile suspicions to her mind. He would try to misrepresent God's character. He would endeavor to produce doubts and fears. In addition to this, she had no written Word of inspiration as we have, nor such refreshing, strengthening, and soul-supporting ordinances.
Put these things together, and it is pretty clear that Sarah's faith was strong. It had much power in it. If it had not, it would have failed. Her life was a life of faith, a fight of faith. She had to walk by faith, and amidst the darkness that surrounded her, to trust in the name of the Lord. Her faith rooted itself in God's veracity, derived nourishment from his faithfulness, and, therefore, she gave him credit for sincerity.
Year after year rolled on — yet she believed she should have a son. It became less probable every day; but she knew that nothing was too hard for the Lord. Her heart was set upon it, God had plainly promised it, therefore she often prayed for it, and lived expecting to realize the blessing. Nor was she disappointed, for the time fixed in God's decree arrived; the child was born; and, as in hundreds of cases since, it was proved that "the thing was true, though the time appointed was long." This leads us to notice,
The TRIUMPH of her faith. It failed in the skirmish — but it conquered in the full battle. This is often the case. We are like Gad, of whom it was said, "Gad, a troop shall overcome him — but he shall overcome at the last." She received strength. God gave what she had not, what was necessary. She believed that God would, and he did, Her faith honored God in expecting, and God honored her faith by confirming it.
Faith looks not at what we are — but at what God is; nor at what we have — but what God has. It trusts in Jehovah, who has everlasting strength. She "received strength" from God through faith. Faith took poor, old, weak, barren Sarah to God's throne — and there she enabled "to have a child." Faith is the receiving grace, because it is the pleading grace. She was "past age," but not past help. Nature was exhausted — but grace was vigorous and strong.
Reason may say, "It is too late;" but faith says, "God's time is best, and he always appears at the right time." Reason says, "It is impossible;" but faith smiles and says, "Impossible! With man it may be impossible — but with God all things are possible." Faith looked not at Sarah's barrenness, weakness, or age — but at God's promise; and whispered to the good old lady, "Fear not, the Lord will come with strong arm; the God of truth will not lie; the Immutable will not change his mind; one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
"She believed that God would keep his promise." She was persuaded that he would not falsify his word — that his promise was true — that it was trustworthy — and therefore, doubtless, she continued to plead with God, to long for the set time to come; and having patiently waited God's time, she triumphed — for Isaac was born, Abraham's heart was gladdened, God's character was cleared, illustrated, and glorified.
Faith was now victorious.
Unbelief was overcome.
Carnal reason was silenced.
Satan was proved to be a liar.
And Sarah found that there was "an end, and her expectation was not cut off." Her last days were her best, her happiest; and, dying in faith, she died in peace with God, lamented by her honored husband, and has left us an example that we should follow in her steps.
Observe, how tenderly the Holy Spirit deals with the faults of the Lord's people; he commends Sarah's faith — but says not a word of her unbelief. He tells us how she believed him faithful who had promised — but never mentions her laughing. Pardoned sins are forgotten sins. The Lord never upbraids his penitent children with their faults or follies. He says, "Their sins and their iniquities, I will remember no more."
As an historian, the Holy Spirit faithfully records the believer's faults; but when holding him up as an example, or a proof of the power of divine grace — these are generally passed by. How different to many professors; if there is one blot — they point to it; if there is one visible corruption — these ravens feed upon it. Happy Shem and Japheth, who went backward to hide their father's folly; but miserable professors are those who love to expose the believer's faults.
Good women are often great women; for we are all just as our faith is. Woman, who introduced sin — introduced also the Savior. She who led us from God by her example in Eden — would now lead us back to God by her faith in the wilderness. Let us go to school to woman, and let Sarah teach us the lessons we need to learn.
Sarah will teach us to believe God's promise. To believe — though nature, reason, and appearances are against it. To believe it — in spite of Satan, sin, and unworthiness. To believe it — simply because God has spoken it, intends to fulfill it, and is in one mind, and none can turn him.
Sarah will teach us to expect our faith to be tried. To be tried severly. To be tried for a long time. To be tried more thoroughly than gold that perishes, though that is tried by fire. That the Giver of faith, is the Trier of it; and that he tries it — that it may be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
Sarah will teach us to persevere until faith triumphs. True faith urges its way through all difiiculties. It presses through every crowd, until it draws out virtue from Jesus. It is like the path of the just, which shines more and more until the perfect day. It may be damped — but it never dies. Like the righteous man, if it falls seven times a day — it will rise again. Faith has power from God. It has power with God. Give it but a plain promise — and it will . . .
grasp it with its full strength,
hold to it amidst the greatest opposition, and
expect its fulfillment in the face of the greatest difficulties and improbabilities.
Honored Sarah! your faith made . . .
your husband happy,
your household cheerful,
and your spirit peaceful.
It has . . .
dethroned carnal reason, and
given a lesson to the whole church of God.
Holy Spirit, generate, we beseech you — like precious faith in our hearts, that we may receive strength to . . .
overcome the world,
crucify the flesh,
benefit the church,
bless our fellow-men,
face death without fear,
look for the glorious appearing of our Lord,
and honor God in life, in death, and forever.