Faith in God
Then Jesus said to the disciples, "Have faith in God." Mark 11:22
In laying the foundation of our faith in Himself, God has made it as firm and durable as Deity itself. Had He proposed for our confidence another and an inferior object, it had been but a mockery of the necessity and the woe He sought to relieve, the most bitter and humiliating. Faith is a divine principle. The object of its trust must necessarily be Divine. It is its privilege, as its boast, that all its concerns are transacted with Deity. It deals with nothing less. It is the queen grace of the royal priesthood, its home is the king's palace, and its position is always near, and its communion is always directly and exclusively with, the King himself. Descending from God, its tendencies are ever ascending to God. It struggles upward from the lowest degree, fighting its way through a host of the fiercest and most formidable foes, until it reaches Him, its Divine and blissful object. This will account for the indestructibleness of the principle of real faith; springing from, it is perpetually nourished by, God.
The church of the Apocalypse, driven into the wilderness, and nourished there, may illustrate the life of faith. It cannot really perish. Its operations may for a season be embarrassed, its actings for a while suspended, its pulsations fluctuating and tremulous, its oppositions and its trials formidable and severe, but it cannot perish. No power can draw it entirely away from God. Voyaging to the better land, faith is the believing soul's compass. The needle points to God, its one object and center. Nothing can divert it. As you cannot destroy the magnetic principle, although you may for a while disturb the regularity of its movement by the false attraction of a foreign object, so does true faith defy all annihilating power. Its movements may for a moment be tremulous, and its pointing not always true- for example, when second causes and creature confidence interpose between it and God- but relieve it of its pressure, and remove its false attraction, and, like the magnetic needle left to its free and uncontrolled operation, it will return again to its center, and point once more to its God.
And yet no exhortation does the believer more constantly need than that which has suggested the theme of the present chapter. In consequence of the many and sharp trials of faith, the temptations by which it is assailed, and the difficulties with which it has to cope, we require those inspiring words of the Savior to be ever sounding in our ears, "Have faith in God." And in what, my Christian reader, does this high exercise of the soul consist? Need I remark- and yet of elementary truths we should never lose sight- that it commences with the very first principle of the Gospel, ''Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?" Our Lord embodies the same important sentiment in His remarkable words, "You believe in God, believe also in me." All professed faith in the Father, which ascribes not equal glory to the Son, is an awful delusion. Faith approaches God by Christ. Through this medium only can it behold Him. By this door only can it enter and hold audience with God. A faith, so called, that excludes the Savior, and by sequence denies the atonement, will make shipwreck of the soul whose course to eternity it proposes to steer; guided by such a compass, its doom is fixed and fearful- it must eventually strand the noble vessel upon the bleak, dark shores of eternity. It never will conduct it to the haven of eternal blessedness. As a sinner, what confidence can I have in the holy Lord God apart from faith in the atoning Savior? He is so great, so holy, and so true, that I cannot, I dare not approach Him, except through the mediation of One whom He has appointed and accepted. "I think of God and am troubled." Sin makes me afraid, but when I see the sin atoning blood upon the mercy-seat, and when God sees the sin-cleansing blood upon my soul, there is agreement, there is confidence, there is peace, there is fellowship. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" Impossible! Here, then, is the ground-work of faith in God- believing with all the heart in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And now, supposing myself to be addressing a true believer in Jesus, I would endeavor to open up to his mind this- the great principle of all holiness and happiness- faith in God. Have faith in Him 'as God'. His character justifies it, His word invites it, His promises encourage it, His Son imparts it, His Spirit creates it, His blessing crowns it. How frequently in the word does God condescend to invite the exercise of faith in Himself by a declaration, and on the ground of what He is! Thus to Abraham: "And when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God: walk before me, and be perfect." And again to His Church: "I am the Lord God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."
How kind and condescending in God is this mode of asking and encouraging the confidence of His people! How signally does He come down to our weakness and infirmity! What a foundation for faith to build upon does He reveal; what a field for faith to work in does He open; what amplitude, what scope, and what riches amid which it may revel! "I am God all-sufficient. Is anything too hard for me?" Faith needs and asks no more. Less than this would not meet its case; more than this it could not have. When faith feels that it has God's word for its warrant in believing, God's command for its rule in obeying, God's promise for its encouragement in suffering, and God Himself as the foundation of its confidence and the center of its rest, it becomes invulnerable, and almost omnipotent.
The exact measure of our faith is the extent of our experimental knowledge of God. Acquaintance with God must inspire the mind with confidence in Him. The more truly we know, the more implicitly we trust in Him. It is in this way, among others, that He answers the prayer of His people, "Establish your word unto your servant, who is devoted to your fear." God establishes the truth of His word by enlarging the believer's knowledge of Himself, and this knowledge is mainly attained through the truth. The word reveals God, and an experimental knowledge of God confirms the truth of the word; the one thus establishing the other. Our faith, then, if it be a real principle, must have respect to God 'as God'. "Have faith in God." Acquaint yourself now with God, and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto you."
We have already hinted that true faith in God supposes Him reconciled in Christ. This is the ground-work of all holy, humble converse with God. But here we must be cautious of placing a limit, as, too many do. It is a great display of sovereign grace, that we should have peace with God. God reconciled to us in Jesus is, of all Divine and experimental truths, the greatest. Until this is experienced, we can affirm of no individual that he is safe for eternity. Yet, alas! what numbers reject this truth, and still dream on of heaven! But great as is this grace, it is not less our mercy to be advancing, on the ground of assured peace, to more matured attainments in universal holiness. We are, at best, but dull scholars in the science of spiritual arithmetic. We have imperfectly learned one of its first rules, that of adding grace to grace. "Giving all diligence," exhorts the apostle, "add to your faith virtue". Peace through the atoning blood being obtained, the movement is to be progressive, the course onward; each day, if possible, augmenting the measure of our grace, and adding to the number of the Spirit's graces.
Reconciliation with God is but the starting-post in the Divine life, not the goal; it is the commencement, and not the end of our course. In other words, vast numbers rest in their first reception of Christ. They are hopefully converted, they unite themselves with a particular section of the church of God, and settle down under an attached ministry. But here they seem to abide. There is no advance, no progress, no forgetting of the things that are behind, pressing upwards to higher rounds in the glorious ladder, which a gracious Father has let down out of heaven, by which we may ascend to heaven. Content with having placed the foot upon the first step, there they remain. There is no "following on to know the Lord." And yet why has the Lord removed the burden from the shoulder, but that we might mount upward? Why has He broken the chains from our feet, but that we may go forward? Thus are we constantly forgetting that the cross is our starting-point in our race- and yet ever to be kept in view; while holiness, breathed after upon earth, and in some blessed degree attained, but perfected in heaven, is our bright and certain goal.
Again, the exhortation of our Lord warrants the most implicit reliance upon the 'Divine faithfulness'. To have faith in God necessarily implies faith in Him as a God of truth. Hence the security which the believer possesses, that all that God has promised, He will assuredly perform. He has made all His covenant engagements to rest upon His faithfulness. With what frequency and earnestness He alludes to this! "God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent: has he said, and shall he not do it? Or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" "I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it." ''Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor allow my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips." ''Once have I sworn that I will not lie unto David." "If we believe not, yet he abides faithful; he cannot deny himself."
But precious as these words are, they are only Divine asseverations of the truth. Faith has something still more substantial and firm to rest upon; something even superior to the averment of the promise- even the faithfulness of the Divine Promiser Himself. Here it is that faith has its stronghold- not the word of God merely, but the God of the word. God must be faithful, because He is essentially true and immutable. "He cannot deny Himself." "God that cannot lie." "It is impossible for God to lie." What asseverations of any truth can be stronger? And now, O believer, have faith in God, as true to His word, and faithful to His promise. Has the Spirit, the Comforter, caused your soul to rely upon His promises, to hope in His word? Have you nothing but the naked declaration to bear you up? Stand fast to this word, for God, who cannot lie, stands by to make it good.
Have faith in His faithfulness. In doubting Him, you cannot dishonor Him more. If to discredit the word of man, were an impeachment of His veracity, and that impeachment were the darkest blot that you could let fall upon His character; what must be the dishonor done to God by a poor sinful mortal, distrusting His faithfulness, and questioning His truth! But, "God is faithful." Have faith in Him as such. He is engaged to bring to perfection that which concerns you, to supply all your need, to guide your soul through the wilderness, to protect your head in the day of battle, and to guide you to ultimate victory, and rest. Oh, trust Him! It is all that He asks of you. Is it now with you a day of trouble? a time of trial? a season of pressure? Is your position perilous? Are your present circumstances embarrassed? Now is the time to trust in the Lord. "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will answer you, and will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
Oh if God were to speak audibly to you at this moment, methinks these would be the words that He would utter: "Have faith in my faithfulness. Have I ever been untrue to my engagements, false to my word, forgetful of my covenant, neglectful of my people? Have I been a wilderness to you? What evil have you found in me, what untruth, what wavering, what instability, what change, that you do not now trust me, in this the time of your need? " Oh let your soul be humbled that you should ever have doubted the veracity, have distrusted the faithfulness of your God. ''But though we believe not, yet he abides faithful, he cannot deny himself." "A God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he."
In all His dispensations- the severest and the darkest- have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, is an easy task. But to have faith in Him when He 'holds back the face of his throne, and spreads his cloud upon it;' to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay- this is faith indeed.
And yet all this the faith of God's elect can achieve. If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough winds? Faith, as we have already shown, is the believing soul's compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest, as through the serenest calm.
To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, out-distancing suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God's smile under a frown; it can read His name to be 'love' beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of the gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, and the towering turrets and golden spires of the 'new Jerusalem' glittering in the distance. Oh it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God's elect!
Is God dealing with you now in a way of deep trial, of dark providence, mysterious to your mind, and painful to your heart? Is He even chastening you for your backslidings, correcting you for your sins? Still "have faith in God." Sensible appearances, second causes, cannot in the least degree affect the ground of your faith, which, as we have shown, is God Himself- His immutable nature, His unchangeable love, His eternal purpose, His everlasting covenant, His own Divine and glorious perfections. Believe that you are in His heart, and that your interests are in His hands. Have faith in His wisdom to guide, in His love to direct, in His power to sustain, in His faithfulness to fulfil every promise that now relates to your best welfare and happiness.
Only believe in God that all things in His disposal of you, in His transactions with you, are working together for your present and eternal good. All that He expects and requires of you now, is to have faith in Him. The cloud may be dark, the sea tempestuous, but God is in the cloud, and "the Lord sits upon the flood." Even now it is the privilege of your faith to exclaim, "My soul, hope in God. He is my God, I will trust in him and not be afraid."
Oh, what inspiring words are these- "hope in God!" I hesitate not to say, my reader, you may hope in God. Though your case may seem desperate, to your eye cheerless and hopeless, not merely too intricate for man, but too unworthy for God, yet you may hope in God. Take your case to Him, hoping against hope, and believing in unbelief. Will He close His heart against you? Never! Will He repel you when you fly to Him? Never! It is not in the heart of God, no, nor is it in His power, to do so. Take hold of His strength- I speak it humbly, reverentially- and you have overcome God. You disarm Him of the instrument and of the power to punish you; you have laid your hand of faith upon the strength of His love, and have made peace with Him. You cannot cherish a hope too glowing, nor exercise a faith too implicit in God; hopeless, cheerless, and extreme as your case may seem to be. Impossible! God never appears so like Himself as in the season of the believer's darkness and suffering. At the very moment in which He sees the least of God, God appears the most what He is. The tenderest unfoldings of His heart are in sorrow, the brightest exhibitions of His character are in darkness, and the most glorious displays of His wisdom, power, and grace are seen looming through the mist.
Have faith in God, as the answerer of prayer. "This is the confidence that we have in him," says the apostle, "that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us; and if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." And what is the true prayer which the believing soul breathes, which Jesus presents, and which God answers?- is it not the prayer of faith? Unbelieving prayer is powerless with God. It prevails not. It is as the discharge of the rifle uncharged with the bullet- there is the transient flash, but there is no execution. Such is prayer without faith.
But believing prayer is prevailing, successful prayer. It assails the kingdom of heaven with holy violence, and carries it as by storm. It believes that God has both the heart and the arm; both the love that moves Him, and the power that enables Him, to do all and to grant all that His pleading child requests of Him. We may mention a few of the attributes of believing prayer. It is real prayer, because it is the expression of need. It springs from a felt necessity of the mercy which it craves. It is sincere prayer, welling up from a soul schooled in the knowledge of its deep poverty and need.
Oh, how much passes for real prayer which is not prayer! It is not the breathing of the soul, nor the language of the heart, nor the expression of need. There is in it no true approach to God, no thirsting for Christ, no desire for holiness. Were God to bestow the things which had been so thoughtlessly and heartlessly asked, the individual would be taken by surprise.
The prayer of faith is importunate and persevering. It will not take a refusal. It will not be put off with a denial. Thus Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the covenant until he prevailed- "I will not let you go until you bless me." Thus the woman of Canaan would not release the Savior from her hold until He had granted her suit- "If I am a dog, satisfy me with the crumbs." And thus, too, the man who besieged the house of his friend at midnight for bread, and did not leave until he obtained it; and the oppressed widow, who sought justice at the hands of the unrighteous and reluctant judge until he righted her, illustrate the nature of that prayer; even earnest, persevering prayer, which prevails with God, and obtains the blessing.
Believing prayer is humble. How low in the dust the truly importunate suppliant lies before God! There is nothing of bold ruffianism, of unholy freedom, in the cases of earnest prayer which we have cited. There is no irreverence of manner, nor familiarity of speech, nor rushing into God's holy presence as if He were an equal; but rather that awful consciousness of the Divine presence, that profound spirit of self-abasement, which seems to say, "How dreadful is this place!" "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer you? I will lay my hand upon my mouth." Oh, how low is the heart from where arises the incense of believing prayer! How utterly unworthy it feels of the least of all the Lord's mercies; how unfit to be a channel of grace to others; and with what trembling it lies prostrate upon the spot where God, the Triune God, is passing by! ''Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and you upon earth: therefore let your words be few."
Submission is another attribute of the prayer of faith. Its utmost range of request is bounded, and its deepest fervor of spirit is chastened, by submission to the Divine will. It presumes neither to dictate to God, nor to counsel Him. It leaves the mode of answering its petitions- the time, the place, the way- with God. Trained, perhaps, in the school of bitter disappointment, it has learned to see as much love in God's heart in withholding as in granting its requests, as much wisdom in delaying as in promptly bestowing the blessing. And seeing that delays in prayer are not denials of prayer, he that believes makes not haste to anticipate the Divine mind, or to antedate the Divine blessing. "Your will, not mine, be done," ever breathes from the praying lip of faith.
Yet another, and the crowning attribute of believing prayer, is that it is presented in the name of Jesus. As it is life from God through Christ, so through Christ it is life breathed back again to God. It approaches the Divine Majesty by the 'new and the living way,' its mighty argument, and its one prevailing plea- the atoning blood of Jesus. This is the ground of its boldness, this the reason of its nearness, and this the secret of its power and success. "Whatever you shall ask in my name," observes Christ, "that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
Such, my reader, are some of the features of the prayer of faith. Are you not prepared to exclaim, "What a glorious privilege, then, is prayer!" Ah, yes! and you may add, "What mighty power, too, it possesses!" The power of a holy wrestler with God approaches the nearest to an act of omnipotence of any display of finite might whatever. Angelic mightiness must be weakness itself in comparison. What eloquence in that one word 'Father,' lisped in believing prayer! Demosthenes and Cicero, consumed in the blaze and conflagration of their own eloquence, never surpassed, no, never equaled it. It is breathed- and heaven's door expands; it is uttered again- and the heart of God flies open. With such a key in the hands of faith which may at any moment unlock the treasury of God, as prayer, why do we not oftener use it? Oh that the Spirit of God might stir us up to more earnest prayer! teaching us to enshrine everything, to envelope everything, to pervade and saturate everything in the heart and with the spirit of humble, importunate, believing prayer. Oh what real gainers should we be, did we, "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known unto God!" "For what nation is there so great, who has God so near unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?"
In a word, my Christian reader, "have faith in God" at all times and in all things. This is the utmost that He asks at your hands. No unreasonable, or impossible requirement. Would Jesus have limited you to this single duty, making your whole happiness for both worlds dependent upon it, were it so? Never! Relinquishing your own wisdom, resting from your own toil, and ceasing from man, God would have you now cast yourself upon Him in simple faith, for all things. You have had faith in the creature, and it has disappointed you; faith in earthly good, and it has faded away; faith in your own heart, and it has deceived you. Now, have faith in God! Call upon Him in your trouble, try Him in your trial, trust Him in your need, and see if He will not honor the faith that honors Him. "HAVE FAITH IN GOD," -words of Jesus, oh how sweet! spoken to allure your chafed and weary spirit to its Divine and blessed rest. Press the kind message to your grateful heart, responding, in a strain of blended praise and prayer, ''Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."
"All joy to the believer, He can speak
Trembling, yet happy; confident, yet meek.
Since the dear hour that brought me to Your foot,
And cut up all my follies by the root,
I never trusted in an arm but Thine,
Nor hoped, but in Your righteousness divine.
My prayers and alms, imperfect and defiled,
Were but the feeble efforts of a child;
However performed, it was their brightest part,
That they proceeded from a grateful heart.
Cleansed in Your own all-purifying blood,
Forgive their evil, and accept their good;
I cast them at Your feet- my only plea
Is what it was, dependence upon Thee.
While struggling in the vale of tears below,
That never failed, nor shall it fail me now.
Angelic gratulations rend the skies;
Pride falls unpitied, never more to rise;
Humility is crowned, and FAITH receives the prize."