What is it to Believe?
James Smith, 1860
Jane Jones had just come out of the pastor's vestry, and she looked very sad, dejected, and cast down. A friend seeing her inquired into the cause, and she said, "I am very anxious about my soul. I see and feel that I am a great sinner. I want to be saved. Oh if I should be lost! I have been asking how I may be saved, and I am told to believe; but oh, what is it to believe?"
Cheer up, my friend, and I will try and tell you what it is to believe.
First, What are you to believe?
You are realizing that you are a lost sinner, unable to save yourself, or to do anything toward your salvation.
You are to believe that God sent his own, his only begotten Son into the world, to do and to suffer all that is necessary to save any sinner who comes to him.
You are to believe that Jesus Christ, having come into our world, has obeyed the law which you have broken, and has suffered punishment, the just for the unjust; and that now all that Jesus did, and all that Jesus suffered, is placed to the account of all that believe on him. So that when anyone believes on Jesus . . .
all his sins are forgiven,
his person is justified, and
God treats him as if he had done and suffered all that Jesus did!
Jesus, you see, took the sinner's place, obeyed the law and suffered death in the sinners' stead; and by him all who believe in him are justified from all things.
Jesus took their place — that they may take his place.
Jesus suffered death — that they might never die.
Jesus stood forth on their behalf, and was condemned in their stead — that they may be honorably pardoned, and saved for evermore.
"It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners."
"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities."
"He died for our sin."
"He died for the ungodly."
"He died, the just for the unjust."
This is the testimony of God in his Word, and this is to be believed. You are to credit this — because God testifies it. You are to place confidence in this — because it is God's own word. You are to be persuaded of this — because God has said it, and it is impossible for God to lie. You are to rely on this — because it is clearly revealed and positively affirmed, on the highest authority.
Secondly, then, What is it to believe?
This we have already stated. It is not merely to give credit to God's testimony concerning his Son — but to place confidence in what God has said of him; not merely to be persuaded that God means what he says in his Word about saving sinners, and will make it good — but to rely on the Lord Jesus Christ alone to save you freely and forever. Believing is trusting in Christ alone to save you. It is looking to Jesus, and expecting to be saved by him, just as the Israelites looked to, and expected to be saved by, the brazen serpent. It is committing the soul to Jesus, just as it is, and trusting him to do all for it that is necessary to save it.
Trusting in Jesus is a most simple exercise, and yet when we think of the value of the soul and the solemnities of eternity, we do not wonder that anxious souls find it difficult. It is an exercise of the heart — not merely of the intellect; for "with the heart man believes unto righteousness." It is the heart relying on Jesus, to be its Savior.
Ann Smith had been much exercised about believing, and had long been on the verge of despair. Often the minister to whom she had spoken had directed her to look to Jesus, and to look only to Jesus; but all his efforts were vain. One night she came, and the minister said, "I can say no more to you than what I have said — you must look simply to Christ, or perish. She went away sad, very sad; but, soon after, her mind was directed to Jesus — to Jesus as dying in the sinner's stead. She forgot all about herself — was wholly taken up with Christ; she felt her heart going out in the exercise of confidence in Jesus; she cast her soul on him, and she was happy.
Mary Gregory was in bondage of soul fourteen years, because she could not clearly perceive what faith in Christ was. She was always wishing she could feel differently and act differently — and then she thought she should have peace and be saved. At length, one day, she was reading a letter, and in that letter she read — "You must look out of self, you must look wholly to Jesus." In a moment the truth flashed across her mind, that she was looking at herself and into herself, instead of looking to Christ alone. She turned the eye of the mind to Jesus, and instantly found peace.
Sarah Margetts was in a similar state for some time, and all means to comfort her was tried in vain. She had been directed to look to Jesus, to trust in Christ, to commit her soul to the Savior; but it was of no use. She did not perceive exactly the nature of faith. But one evening, when she was at the worst, she went to chapel in almost a hopeless state. A hymn by Isaac Watts was given out, in which are these words:
"But there's a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds from the sacred word;
O you despairing sinners come,
And trust upon the Lord!"
She was struck, her attention was riveted, she was lost to all that was going on around her, and she said to herself, "Why, is that it? Is it simply trusting on the Lord?" The words of the hymn again and again sounded in her soul; she did trust in Jesus, and in Jesus alone, and went home a new creature.
These are not fancies — but facts, and are cited to show what believing in Jesus is. It is looking out of self and away from self, and a looking to Jesus, who has said, "Look unto me, and be saved." It is trusting the Lord to save you, who has said, "Him who comes unto me, I will never cast out.
"But would it be right in me, in my present wretched state of mind, without any previous preparation, or without feeling any change in myself — to depend on Christ to save me?"
It would. You are to come to Christ just as you are — be what you may, or feel as you may.
Now suppose that, in the place where you reside, there was a drought, and no water could be had; and, out of pure kindness, the squire has a deep well sunk, touches a main spring, and plenty of water rises. He sends out the crier through the place, who cries, "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters! Yes, come, without money!" In addition to which he caused to be painted in large letters, and placed over the entrance to the well, "Whoever will, let him come and take of the water freely."
Now if you were to meet a poor creature dying for thirst, and very filthy for lack of cleansing, and the poor thing were to say to you, "Do you think that I may go to the squire's well?"
You would say, "Of course you may."
"But I am so thirsty."
"Well, the crier said, "Everyone who thirsts."
"Yes, but I am dirty — may such a filthy creature as I come?"
"To be sure you may," you would reply; "for the board says, whoever will, may come."
"But I have not a penny to pay."
"What do you want of money? the crier said distinctly, 'Come without money;' and the board says, 'Come and take of the water freely.'"
"But I don't belong to this parish; perhaps it is only for parishioners."
"The proclamation is — 'Everyone who thirsts,' let him belong to what parish he may; 'Whoever will,' no matter from what country be may come."
Now this is just the true state of the case. Jesus has opened "the wells of salvation," and salvation is now as plentiful and as free as water. We has stood and cried, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink." He has sent his heralds to cry, "Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters!" And lest it should be thought that something peculiar was intended by thirsting, or that it was to entitle people to come, he has by his Spirit and bride said, "Whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely!"
As, therefore, in the former case, everyone that wished for water, and who, hearing the crier, believed him, and the announcement on the board, would come to the squire's well, and get a supply; so every one who wishes to be saved, and believes the gospel message, will come to Jesus, to the wells of salvation, and receive salvation as a free gift.
This is believing, even receiving the gospel report and acting upon it. So then, faith is an inward persuasion that there is salvation in Jesus, and a personal application to Jesus, in confident expectation that we shall be saved by Jesus.
Take yet another view. You are in debt — deeply in debt, and have no prospect of ever being able to pay one penny. You, therefore, expect to be apprehended and imprisoned. You are filled with despondency and gloom. A kind and generous friend sends you word: "I know the trouble you are in, and I have made arrangements to pay your debt. Not only so, but, while I am about it, I shall arrange for the payment of the debts of any other members of your family who may be in difficulty. You may, therefore, refer them to me, and assure them from me that I shall take pleasure in removing their difficulties."
Now, in such a case, all that would be required would be confidence in the ability of your friend to do as he promises, and a persuasion that he is trustworthy, and will do as he has said. Then trusting his word, and relying on his faithfulness — you would be easy and happy.
Now this is just what Jesus has done. This is just the message the gospel brings you. Jesus is the great paymaster of all the sinner's debts. He has paid all the debts, and met all the liabilities of all and every one who puts his case into his hands, and is willing for him to save him. If, therefore, you trust in Jesus, he is answerable for you to the law and justice of God, both now and forever. You have only to go to him and rely on him; only to put your case into his hands, and leave it there. If you rest assured that he can meet all your need and save you — he will do so. But that he can, there is no doubt, for he is able to save to the very uttermost, and his blood cleanses from all sin.
This made the apostle so confident, so courageous, and so happy, that he says, "I know whom I have believed;" or, I know whom I have trusted; "and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." Paul's faith was, believing on Christ, trusting Christ, committing the soul to Christ — and leaving his soul to be saved by Christ, persuaded that be was able to keep it safe. This, then, is believing.
"Faith comes by hearing." While we hear the gospel, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to understand it, and opens our hearts to receive it. He persuades us of its truth, and leads us to embrace it; to depend on it as true, to put confidence in it, and trust in the Lord Jesus to make it good. This is believing with the heart unto righteousness; for when we heartily embrace the gospel message, we look to Jesus to be saved by him; and when we apply to Jesus, he receives us and takes up our case. Then his righteousness is declared to be ours, and we are made the righteousness of God in him; all our sins are forgiven or blotted out, on account of what Jesus has done and suffered; and his perfect work being placed to our account, we are righteous, even as he is righteous.
If the reader, therefore, be he who he may, or what he may, wishes to be saved; if he asks, "What shall I do to be saved?" We reply, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." There is no perhaps; salvation is certain to every one who believes, no matter who he is, what he has done, or where he comes from.
The faith that ensures salvation is an inward persuasion that Jesus is able to save, joined with trust in him to do so. If I simply and heartily receive the gospel as the apostles preached it, I have confidence in Jesus that he will save me. But, being naturally depraved, and therefore suspicious of God, we never exercise confidence in him but as we are taught and enabled by the Holy Spirit. So that, if I believe God's word to be true, if I receive the testimony he has given of his Son, if I apply to Jesus to save me, and commit my soul into his hands, and leave it there to be saved by him — it is a proof and evidence that I am under the gracious teaching and sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit.