THE PRECIOUS THINGS OF GOD
by Octavius Winslow, 1859
THE PRECIOUSNESS OF FAITH
"Precious faith." 2 Pet. 1:1
The indispensableness of faith as an essential element of salvation, and as an influential instrument in all well-doing for God, is very clearly and impressively set forth in the apostle's declaration, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him." And yet, what crude and superficial views of this eminent grace of the Spirit do the most of us entertain. To believe is by many regarded as a most facile and commonplace thing. They suppose that an individual can believe when he will, and may believe what he will; that faith is the mere assent of the judgment to a certain creed; and that with this intellectual reception of the truth, there requires no other operation of faith to give its mold to the character, and to impart root and acceptableness to the actings of the Christian's life. And have not even the most enlightened and spiritual of God's people to mourn over their deficiencies touching their conviction of the nature, worth, and preciousness of this grace of the Holy Spirit, apart from which nothing is well-pleasing to God; but springing from which, the lowliest action, the faintest desire, the gentlest throb of the spiritual believing soul, is infinitely precious in the view of Jehovah?
Having in the preceding chapter considered the preciousness of the Object of faith, it seems proper that our thoughts should next be directed to a consideration of the preciousness of faith itself. We desire, as God the Holy Spirit shall guide us, so to unfold the nature and operations of this cardinal grace of the Christian character, as that the unbelieving reader may learn the true nature of saving faith, and that the reader who through divine grace does believe, may have his views of faith so cleared, and faith itself so nourished and invigorated, as shall result in a deeper experience of the power and preciousness of the doctrine of faith. The faith of which we are now to speak is described by the apostle in the passage from whence our motto is taken, as being "like precious faith with us." The "faith of God's elect" in all ages of the world, and in all dispensations of the Church, is essentially and identically the same. There is a divine unity in faith which no distance of time, or differences of nation, or standards of theological opinion, or modes of religious worship, or forms of ecclesiastical polity can touch. True faith is essentially and unchangeably the same, in every age, and in every Church, all the world over. Just as the sun that now pours its golden beams by day, and in the moon's soft luster sheds its reflected silver rays by night, is the same that shone on Eden's bowers, that veiled its face in sackcloth when its Incarnate Creator died, and that illumines all creation, so the "precious faith of God's elect," that now pulsates in the lowliest breast of the believer, is essentially the same as that which poured the joy and luster of a glorious hope upon the trembling spirit of our primeval parent, when God, in evening's twilight, revealed to Adam the promise of a Savior. We propose, in the present chapter, to unfold the preciousness of faith in two or three particulars.
We have already expatiated upon the preciousness of the Object of faith; but we revert to it again, for a moment, as illustrating the preciousness of the character of the grace of faith.
The believing soul, while it reposes on the three persons in the ever adorable Trinity, fixes its eye, in the great matter of salvation, especially upon One—the central Person of the Godhead—embracing whom, it includes in its faith, and enfolds in its affection, the Father and the Holy Spirit. There is a unity and simplicity in all Jehovah's works. In nothing is this more traceable than in the salvation of man, the master-work of God. The object which the gospel presents for his belief is, the Lord Jesus Christ. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." Thus, a simple and not a complex object is upheld to his eye. There is here nothing to divide the attention, and thus bewilder the mind. As the pole which Moses erected in the wilderness was single—no other object commanding the look of faith—so single and simple is the object of salvation presented in the gospel. "Look unto me, and be you saved"—"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved," is the united voice of the two witnesses for Christ, the Old and the New Testament, touching the one Object of faith—a crucified Savior.
Thus, while human religions, be they Romish or Protestant, present a plurality of objects for belief—false saviors many—to the eye, the Bible presents but One—Christ crucified. It is interesting and instructive to trace the interweaving of this blessed doctrine—the unity of the Object of faith—like a thread of gold, throughout the entire Scriptures of truth. In the Levitical economy, every type however varied, every symbol however mysterious, every shadow however profound, had JESUS for its object—all conspired to exalt, and all pointed to, the Lamb of God as the one object of saving faith. Thus, too, with the prophetical writings of Scripture,—"TO HIM gave all the prophets witness." And in the New Testament the agreement is perfect touching this typical and prophetical testimony to the unity of the object of faith—"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." In another place, the same Divine Savior says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." "And, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Oh, rejoice, beloved reader, that in the great matter of your salvation, your faith has to look to one object only; that, amid your own fluctuations of spiritual feeling, and the conflicting judgments of men, you can—like the roving dove, sweeping with drooping wing the troubled waters and finding no repose, until, weary and panting, she retreats back to the ark,—turn to a full and perfect rest in that one, precious object of faith—the LORD JESUS CHRIST. You find creed contradicting creed, opinion conflicting with opinion, church opposed to church, and your heart sickens within you; but, amid your embarrassment and depression, you bethink yourself of JESUS, and betake yourself to His feet; and in that one object, forever blessed and precious, and in this lowly posture, your fluttering, believing heart finds perfect rest. Oh, thank God that the object of saving faith is one; that, in knowing Jesus, in looking to Jesus, in trusting in Jesus, in confiding your soul to Jesus, you have no fear, misgiving, or doubt; but, in the confidence of a humble, yet unwavering faith, can exclaim, "I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."
Thus, then, does faith derive a preciousness from the preciousness of its Object—precious in His person, to which faith looks; precious in His atonement, to which faith leads; precious in His fullness, from which faith draws; precious in His intercession, in which faith relies; precious in His example, by which faith walks. Thus, let faith contemplate the Lord Jesus in any one of His ten thousand forms of beauty—as the sun unveils the landscape's loveliness, while the landscape endears the luster of the sun—its preciousness is enhanced by contemplating Christ's beauty, while the loveliness of the Savior illustrates the costliness of faith. Precious faith dealing with a precious Christ enriches the believer with the two most precious things of God.
But faith is not only relatively, it is intrinsically precious—precious in itself. It is emphatically denominated, "precious faith." And with this description of its character will correspond the experience of every true believer in the Lord Jesus. As the universal testimony of men will confirm the value of gold, all evidencing by their earnest, and many by their covetous, pursuit of the metal, its intrinsic value; so shall each believer, though possessing but the smallest portion of this divine gift, witness to its essential and priceless worth. One grain of this precious grace, in his estimation, has in it more of real value, more of positive good, than all the wealth which ever has been, or which yet may be, dug from the mines of the earth. Glance at some of those essential features which stamp the preciousness of faith.
Faith is a divine grace, consequently precious. It has not its origin here. It is a plant indigenous not to our fallen humanity. Faith in that which is created, springs from the creature; faith in that which is human, is human; but the faith which deals with God, believes His word, trusts in His Son, beholds the invisible, and is the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," must be divine. It deals with the spiritual, and itself is spiritual; it has to do with the divine, and itself is divine. We are not born believers. A parent, as Cecil did, may explain to his child by a simple and ingenious illustration the nature of faith, but the faith itself he cannot give. A minister may enforce upon his hearers the necessity of faith (and it is his duty so to do), but be forgets not that the Holy Spirit has written, "Faith is the gift of God." Thus, then, faith is a superhuman grace. It comes from God, it descends from above; and because it is a supernatural and heavenly grace—proceeding from heaven, and leading to heaven—it is of itself inconceivably precious. Do not think lightly, then, beloved reader, of the faith which you may have, measured though it may be in its degree and feeble in its exercise—it is divine and precious; and although of this gold from God's mint you may possess but the smallest coin, yet that coin, bearing the superscription of God, will secure your admission into glory, and will put you into the full and eternal possession of that "inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and which fades not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
But faith is precious being the product of the Holy Spirit. As a fruit of the Spirit, it is preeminently costly. "The fruit of the Spirit is—faith." As He is the Author of all that is divine, and holy, and sanctifying, He is, and must be, the Author of that divine root of all holiness in the heart—the grace of faith. The lowliest fruit of the Spirit in the regenerate soul is of priceless worth. And how low and feeble that work may be, who can tell? How hidden—how unsuspected—how faint? Yet, be it but a tear of godly sorrow falling in secret—a sigh soft as an infant's, and breathed to the lone winds of heaven—the eye smiting the earth with its downcast glance of conscious sin—it is truly an emanation of the Spirit, and is as essentially the offspring of faith as is the 'abundant entrance' into the kingdom of grace with which, when in full sail, faith wafts the believing soul. How full is God's word of this! The imagery of the Bible, illustrative of this truth, is exquisitely beautiful. We read of the lily springing among thorns—of the lamb browsing among wolves—of the tremulous touch of the hem—of the dim look—of the bruised reed—of the smoking flax—of the faith that doubts Christ's power while it believes His willingness—of the faith that disbelieves His willingness, yet reposes in His power. Why these varied and expressive images, but to teach us that grace in the soul may be limited in its degree, and yet real in its character,—that faith may be weak in its actings, yet divine in its nature,—that God despises not the day of small things in the spiritual experience and exercises of a gracious soul? Is there a single product of God in nature upon which He looks down with disdain? is there a spire of grass—a shaded flower—a buzzing insect—a winged sparrow—a line of beauty—a gleam of light—a morning's dew-drop, or an evening's zephyr unnoticed or disregarded by Him? No! He despises nothing that He has made. How much less will He regard with indifference, or look with a frown upon the weakest, obscurest, faintest putting forth of the faith of His own Spirit in the soul! If the lowliest product of nature—fading in its beauty, and evanescent in its duration—is arrayed with loveliness and invested with interest worthy of His notice, how much more the tenderest bud, the lowliest flower of divine grace in the renewed heart!
Not only is faith precious in itself, but the trial of faith is precious. The Holy Spirit thus asserts this truth: "The trial of your faith being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire." The process as here described is severe—it is the trial of fire. Yet that is the element by which the refiner tests and separates his precious metal. God condescends, as it were, to borrow from man an illustration of His wonder-workings in regard to our faith. He places it in the furnace heated by fire. Thus we find how frequently and pointedly the figure is employed in the Bible. We read of a "fiery furnace" (Dan. 3:6); of the "fiery darts of the wicked" (Eph. 6:16); of the "fiery trial" (1 Pet. 4:12); of "the baptism of fire" (Matt. 3:11); and in the words already quoted—"the trial of your faith, though it be tried with fire." And yet, severe and painful, and, to all appearance, destructive as this process is to which the faith of God's elect is subjected, it is described as one of the precious things of God in the experience of the saints. Why so? Let us see.
The trial of faith is precious because it attests its reality. Apart from its trial, what an uncertainty attaches to faith! Untried faith is uncertain faith, just as unsmelted ore is suspicious ore. A believing man knows not upon what he is really leaning until God brings his dependence to the proof. Has he wealth? has he strength? has he friends? has he influence? has he interest? has he gifts? How far he may be secretly and unsuspectingly leaning upon one or more of these and not upon God, he cannot know until God tries him. But when all these creature-dependencies, these human supports, tremble and fall from beneath him—when the flood-tide of sorrow has swept them away, or the wintry blast of adversity has scattered them, then comes the grand test of his true support,—he stands or falls, raises his head in hope or droops it in despair, just as is the reality and strength of his faith in God. Trace in some of its illustrious examples the sustaining power of real faith in the hour of its severe trial. "I had fainted," says the Psalmist, "unless I had BELIEVED to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." In an earlier stage of his tried experience we read, concerning this man of God, that, "David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him,…but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." In the prophecy of Habakkuk, there occurs a remarkable and beautiful instance of a like result of a severe trial of faith: "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." Trace the power of real faith when brought to the trial of that most certain and solemn of all tests—a dying hour: "My flesh and my heart fails: but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." It would seem impossible to surpass these instances of the supporting, sustaining power of real faith in the hour of extreme trial. And yet there is one—the most illustrious—that distances them all, extraordinary and precious though they are. When suspended upon the cross, amid its agony and gloom, in the exercise of a faith that doubted not, staggered not, Jesus clung to a frowning, hiding, deserting Father, exclaiming—"MY GOD, MY God, why have you forsaken me?" Behold the Man—the God-man—the Author, the Giver, the Sustainer, and the Finisher of your faith, treading the path of faith's trial, and leaving you an example that you should follow His steps. Thank God, then, believer in Jesus, for every fresh evidence of the reality of that faith, which is "like precious faith" with the faith of the Son of God. The test may be severe, the trial may be fiery, yet if it confirms you in the blessed assurance, "I know in whom I have believed," you cannot afford to lose it, scorching and painful as the furnace may have been; that trial may be as severe as Abraham's, when commanded to slay his son—as David's, when the people talked of stoning him—as Job's, when hurled from the pinnacle of health, affluence, and adulation to the lowest depth of sickness, poverty, and contempt—as Daniel's, when cast into the lion's den—as the three children, when thrown into the fiery furnace—or as Paul's, when the messenger of Satan buffeted him—nevertheless, it is the ancient path to glory, and severe though the trial, blessed, eternally blessed, will be the result.
The trial of faith is precious, because it purifies faith. In its own nature faith, as it comes from God, is pure and without alloy. Essentially there is no admixture whatever with the faith the Holy Spirit inspires—it is as pure, sinless, and untainted as was our humanity when it first came from the hands of God. But, as the mountain stream which starts from its hidden source pure and sparkling, partakes of the earthiness and tint of the soil through which it courses its way into the valley beneath, so the faith which proceeds from God holy and unmixed, mingles with the hidden corruption and unbelief of the heart in which it dwells, and thus becomes alloyed and impaired. Hence the necessity and the preciousness of its trial. The fire separates—the furnace purifies—the crucible refines; and so, in the happy experience of the believer, the trial of faith becomes "much more precious than gold, though it be tried as by fire." Oh to have the dross of carnality, and the alloy of unbelief, which so dims the luster and paralyzes the vigor of faith destroyed! Nothing, after the fiery trial, may be left, of all that looked so divine, so holy, and so spiritual, but one grain of the pure gold of faith—yet that one grain of faith, obscure, infinitesimal as it may seem, outweighs in its real value millions of worlds, and it shall never, never perish.
But we may illustrate the preciousness of faith by its actings and fruits. Faith is a wonderful plant in the garden of the soul—it yields all manner of precious fruits, and, like the tree of life in the midst of the streets of the New Jerusalem, it bears fruit all the year. Dear reader, there is no holiness in the soul but faith is its root. Springing from, resting in, and looking to Jesus, from whom its fruit is found, faith produces love, joy, peace, patience, holiness, humility, and every grace that adorns the character, and beautifies the walk of a believer in Jesus. Faith is precious, too, in its wonder-workings. It has a powerful faculty of sight and of extraction. It can see both sides of the guiding pillar—the cloudy and the bright. It can extract a smile from God's frown, love from God's displeasure, mercy from God's judgment, encouragement from God's refusal, hope from God's delays; can find a door of hope in the valley of Achor, and can sing as sweetly in the dreary night season as in the bright and sunny day. Wonderful triumph of faith that can say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!" Thus faith, laying one dispensation over against another—placing in the scales apparent opposites and contradictions in God's government—can see light in darkness, can produce harmony from discord, and can gather encouragement from defeat; and, dipping its pencil in the darkest colors of sad and gloomy providences, can trace upon the canvas of the Christian's life some of its most brilliant and cheerful pictures.
From this general view of the fruits of faith, let us specify two or three in particular.
What is peace but a blessed fruit of faith? The peace which God gives, which the Holy Spirit creates, which the Atonement of Christ secures, and which in its nature and blessedness "passes all understanding," is only received from precious faith dealing with a precious Christ. Were you, my reader, banished like John to some lone isle, bearing with you but a fragment of the Bible—that fragment the single but full and sublime declaration, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"—it were enough to calm, cheer, and assure your mind, amid all the dreadful consequences of sin, with the hope of a full acceptance with God through Christ. Oh, how real and tranquillizing the peace which simple faith brings into the soul the moment Jesus is seen as the "Prince of peace," as "making peace," as "our peace," and as bequeathing "peace," His last legacy of love to His saints! All peace is contained in that one word—RECONCILIATION. Reconciled to God through the peace-making, peace-speaking "blood of the everlasting covenant," there is no longer any ground of condemnation, nor fear of hell. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" God pacified towards us, no matter who accuses or condemns; the believing sinner, at peace with God through Christ, can afford to be at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Beloved, bring all your sin and guilt to the atoning blood of Jesus, and the "God of peace" will give you peace; and "when He gives quietness, who then can make trouble?"
And what is true joy—a twin grace with peace—but a precious fruit of faith? The apostle reminds us of this—"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." In the same proportion to the directness and simplicity with which your faith deals with Christ, looks to Christ, lives upon the fullness of Christ, rests in the complete salvation, the finished work of Christ, draws all its evidences and hopes from Christ, will be your "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Nothing can enkindle this holy joy in the heart but a believing view of what the Lord Jesus is, and what He has done. It is only a sense of full pardon, of free justification, of gracious adoption, of the hope of glory, that can awaken real joy in the soul of a believing sinner. What joy can there be in the heart of a convicted felon, or of a condemned criminal, or of a convict paying the sad penalty of his crime in lonely exile, toil, and degradation? None whatever. But convey to him a free pardon, unbar his prison, break his manacles, and bid him go free; restore him to his country, his family, his home, and, bruised and broken though that heart be with a consciousness of guilt and a sense of shame, you yet have awoken in its sad chambers the sweetest chimes, and joy, entrancing joy, thrills and dilates his bosom. Such is the picture of a soul cleansed from the guilt of sin, and freed from the condemnation of the law by a believing acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. That moment Christ is received into the lowly, penitent, and believing heart—the instant that Christ is seen paying the great debt, suffering the penalty, enduring the condemnation—a joy springs up in the soul such as never thrilled an angel's heart, and all this joy is "joy in believing." "In this rejoice not," says the Savior, "that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." Oh, how much more joyful would the saints of God be did they deal less with themselves, and more with Jesus! They look at their sins, pore over their unfitness, pine at their leanness, and succumb to their failures and infirmities, their poverty and emptiness, and so all sweet, sacred joy droops and dies within their souls. But, "the joy of the Lord is your strength." "The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord." And seeing that the Lord has "clothed them with the garments of salvation, and has covered them with the robe of righteousness," it is the privilege of their soul "greatly to rejoice in the Lord, and to be joyful in their God" (Isa. 61:10). But, beloved, remember that Christ's joy can only remain in you, and your joy be full, as in childlike faith you look directly, and only, and constantly to Christ. "We joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." Oh for a higher tone of holy joy among the Lord's redeemed! Who in this vast universe have such reason to make the valley resound and the mountain echo with the glad notes of praise, as you who are freed from servitude, who are delivered from hell, and who are on your way to heaven, to spend your eternity—"forever with the Lord?" Beloved reader, if you are saved—if, in the exercise of the lowliest faith, you can cherish the hope of acceptance, as a poor sinner, with God through Christ—you may rejoice in tribulation, and glory in infirmity, and count the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in you. "Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, Rejoice."
This precious faith is equally the parent of all holiness, and in this view is not less precious to the child of God. There is no true holiness apart from faith in the Lord Jesus—it is the root of all real sanctification. "Purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9). "Faith, that purifies the heart and works by love" (Gal. 5:6). How much is there in the outward religion of many that has all the appearance of holiness, but which is yet unholy in the sight of a holy God! The religious worship, practices, and duties of some, clothed with an air of sanctity so profound, and which awaken the awe, win the admiration, and elicit the applause of so many, pass for nothing with that infinitely holy Being concerning whom it is written by the Holy Spirit, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Faith is a revealing, emptying, impoverishing grace—it gives its real possessor to see the depravity of his own nature, the vileness of his own heart, the worthlessness of his own righteousness, and the innumerable flaws, spots, and failures of all holy spiritual doings. It opens the eye, too, to Christ, and by its gentle and persuasive influence leads the soul, thus emptied and impoverished, to Him, as having all fullness of righteousness, all riches of grace, all soothings of love treasured up for the "poor in spirit," and for those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness." Faith resting in Christ, beholding Him who is invisible, will mold and influence the believer's entire walk. It begets holy principle, and holy principles inspire holy practice, and a holy practice will be "filled with the fruits pf righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11). This precious faith will influence a man to walk prayerfully, circumspectly, and vigilantly. His daily prayer will be, "Let integrity and uprightness preserve me." In his worldly calling he will seek to glorify God. The false balance, the scanty measure, the exaggeration of the seller, the depreciation of the buyer, the rash speculation, the prodigal expenditure, the grasping covetousness, love for the world, its pleasures, attire, and show, an uncharitable, unforgiving, censorious, malicious spirit, with all the corruptions and sinful infirmities of our fallen nature,—true faith, looking to Christ and dealing with eternal realities, will constrain the believer to war against, crucify, and conquer. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." Oh for more of this heart-purifying, soul-elevating, Christ-assimilating, God-glorifying, heaven-attracting faith! When your worldly business opposes God's glory, your interests Christ's honor, your temper the Spirit's witness, your conduct the high and heavenly calling you profess, remember that true faith will not cause a moment's hesitation as to your duty. Oh that at that moment, the most critical it may be of your life, when the balance quivers between self-interest and the Divine honor, your faith may take one close view of the cross, one piercing glance into eternity, and so bring you off more than a conqueror, covered with the deathless acclaim and reward of a Christ-exalting triumph!
Precious, indeed, is that faith that leans upon God in adversity, that goes to Jesus in trial, and that repairs to the Spirit in sorrow. Precious faith, that finds a promise for every condition, a helper in every emergency, a soother for every sorrow,—that can hope against hope, taste a sweet disguised in every bitter, and see a bright light veiled by each dark cloud. This is the true gold that procures all blessings and enriches its possessor with all good. He that has FAITH IN GOD has every desire of his heart fulfilled. He can dive into the treasures of God's word and say, "All these are mine, for they are my father's epistles of love." He can turn to the Redeemer's fullness and exclaim, "It pleased the Father that all this fullness of grace, and truth, and love, should dwell in Jesus for me." He can repair to the throne of grace and say, "Here I am permitted to draw near to God, burdened with sin, laden with want, oppressed with trial, assailed by temptation, crushed with sorrow, casting, by an act of faith, all my care upon Him." Is not that precious faith that enriches my poverty, that dignifies my lowliness, that guides my perplexities, that cheers my loneliness, that calms my grief, that defeats my foes, that paints a bow upon every cloud, and that brings all heaven into my soul? Yet such is the fruit of that faith of which God is the giver, the Spirit the author, Christ the object, and a poor, empty, unworthy soul the happy possessor!
But rich and inviting as this subject is, we must conduct the present chapter to a close. In doing so, suffer me to exhort you not to despair when God sees fit to deal with you as He did with the father of the faithful—assure you of a promise, and then put death into all the means leading to its fulfillment. Be it so—that promise, lifeless though it may seem, yet stands good against all that militates against its accomplishment. One affirmative of God may be weighed, against ten million negatives of man,—one Divine promise against a universe of human improbabilities and impossibilities,—a grain of faith against a pyramid of unbelief. "Let God be true, and every man a liar." With second causes faith has nothing to do. It sees God only, deals with God only, believing that "with God all things are possible."
Beware of making a Christ of your faith, precious as it is. If you are staying away from the Savior because your faith is weak, you are substituting your faith for Christ—the channel for the Fountain of comfort, peace, and salvation. If I have a mission to the sovereign of these realms—some petition to prefer—and I linger upon the steps that conduct me to the royal presence, or in the corridor that leads me into the royal chamber, what marvel if I have no audience, and, consequently, no response to my request? That lofty flight of steps, that magnificent corridor, are but introductions to my approach to the sovereign, not the sovereign herself. Such is faith! Divine and precious as it is, faith is but the path that leads us to the King. And although it is often with hesitation and weakness we tread this royal pathway, yet each new step upon which we place our foot brings us nearer to Jesus. We must, however, beware of lingering upon the steps, or of loitering in the ante-rooms, substituting our going to Christ for our having actually come to Christ. Onward we must press, discouraged not by our slow, nor elated by our rapid progress—counting nothing of our faith but as a mean to an end—that end our full reception of the Lord Jesus—until we find ourselves in the royal presence, "beholding the King in His beauty." It follows, then, that faith does not save you, it being but the instrument of salvation; that your weak faith is no reason why you should stay away from Christ, and that your strong faith is no plea recommending you to Christ. It is CHRIST, and Christ only, from first to last, that saves; and your faith is precious and valuable only as it brings you to Him to be saved through His imputed righteousness alone. The truth we are endeavoring to explain is so vital and important, we would venture to simplify and enforce it by another illustration. The ship riding in the roads heaves not her anchor in order to aid the little boat which has just put out from the shore, and contending with wind, and tide, and wave, struggles to approach her. But casting forth a line, she bids the frail vessel grasp it and draw itself to the ship. Thus, it is not the ship that approaches the boat, it is the boat that approaches the ship. Trembling soul! setting out for Christ, leaving the shore of a sinful, delusive world, and loosening yourself from the strong grasp you have long had of your own righteousness, let me remind you that Christ is in heaven, and that He comes not down again from above to meet the soul battling with sin, and guilt, and unbelief in its struggles to come near to Him. What, then, does He? He gives an exceeding great and precious promise—"Him that comes unto me I will in no wise cast out;" and bidding the sinner take hold of that promise by faith, He invites it to approach Him and receive all the blessings of salvation, and all the treasures of grace of which He is the Author, the Head, and the Giver. Faith does not bring Christ to the soul (the blessed Redeemer is self-moved—moved by His own graciousness and love), but faith brings the soul to Christ. Faith fastens itself upon Jesus, "exalted a Prince and a Savior to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins," and so it draws the soul to Christ. "Say not in your heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above;) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what says it? The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." Here is the divine cord that draws the sinner to Jesus, and will, if taken hold of in simple earnestness, assuredly bring the weakest, most trembling, and unworthy soul to the Savior. "If you will BELIEVE in your heart,…you SHALL be SAVED."
Then, let no sin-distressed soul, bending over this page, despair of being saved. Numberless, aggravated, great as your sins may be—death and condemnation staring you full in the face—confronted as if by the grim, gloomy instrument of your execution—behold, here is a full and free pardon asking but the acceptance of your faith. "Only believe." When the trembling jailor of Philippi rushed into the cell of Paul with the memorable inquiry, "What shall I do to be saved?" did the apostle send him to religious ordinances, or to duties, or to pious doings—to baptism, to the Lord's supper, to prayer, and fasting, and charities? Oh no! These were proper in their place, but sadly out of place here, and therefore most improper. But what is the work the apostle puts the anxious penitent upon?—the work of believing. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." This is the work,—"And this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." And when a poor woman came and poured an alabaster box of precious ointment upon His head, what did Jesus say to her? what was the act which He commended? He mentions not her tears, though she wept; He speaks not of her fondness, though she kissed His feet; He commends not her liberality, though her anointing was very costly and precious. He does not say, Your repentance has saved you, your love has saved you, your liberality has saved you; but He says, "Woman, YOUR FAITH has saved you; go in peace." He passes by all her other qualities, and places the crown of acceptance upon the head of her faith. Dear reader! Jesus is just the same at this moment that He was then—as ready to receive, accept, and save you—as ready to crown your feeble, trembling faith with such a diadem of glory as angels never wore. "Go in peace, your FAITH has SAVED you." Oh that with the believing, weeping father in the Gospel, you may exclaim, "Lord, I believe; help you mine unbelief."
Is it with you a season of great strait, difficulty, and want? Now is the time to set faith to work. Your faith may long have been inactive and dormant. The sword has so long reposed in its scabbard that you can with difficulty withdraw it, now that it is a time of need; and your arm has become so enfeebled from disuse that you can scarcely wield the sword even when drawn. But God has sent this pressure in order to restore and quicken your confidence in Himself. Oh, have faith in God that He will appear in your behalf, and glorify Himself in you. His name is Almighty—God all-sufficient. Listen to the language of one who thus, from a chapter in his own deep experience, unfolds the blessedness of that simple, believing confidence in God to which we would urge you in this hour of need:—"I have seemed to see a need of everything God gives me, and want nothing that He denies me; there is no dispensation, though afflictive, but either in it or after it I could not have done without it. Whether it be taken from me or not given to me, sooner or later God quiets me in Himself without it. I cast all my concerns on the Lord, and live securely on the care and wisdom of my heavenly Father. My ways are in a sense hedged up with thorns, and grow darker and darker every day; but yet I distrust not my good God in the least, and live more quietly in the absence of all, by faith, than I should do, I am persuaded, if I possessed them all. I think the Lord deals kindly with me to make me believe for my mercies before I have them. The less reason has to work on, the more freely faith casts itself on the faithfulness of God. I find that while faith is steady nothing can disquiet me, and when faith totters nothing can establish me. If I tumble out among means and creatures, I am presently lost, and can come to no end; but if I stay myself on God, and leave Him to work in His own way and time, I am at rest, and can sit down and sleep on a promise when a thousand rise up against me; therefore my way is not to cast beforehand, but to work with God by the day. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.' I find so much to do with my calling and my heart that I have no time to puzzle myself with peradventures and futurities. Faith lies at anchor in the midst of the waves, and believes the accomplishment of the promises through all these overturning confusions and seeming impossibilities. Upon this God do I live, who is our God forever, and will be our guide unto death. Methinks I lie becalmed in His bosom; as Luther, in such a case, I am not much concerned, let Christ see to it. I know prophecies are still dark, and the books are sealed, and men have all been deceived, and every cistern fails. Yet God abides faithful, and faithful is He that has promised, who also will do it. Many things now I might say, but enough; O brother! keep close to God, and then a little of the creature will go a great way. Maintain secret communion with God, and you need fear nothing. Lay up all your goods in God, so as to be able to overbalance the sweetness and bitterness of all creatures. Spend no time anxiously in forehand contrivances for this world; they will never succeed; God will turn His dispensations another way. Self-contrivances are the effects of unbelief. I can speak by experience, would men spend those hours they run out in plots and contrivances in communion with God, and leave all to Him by believing, they would have more peace and comfort."
Such, then, is the preciousness of faith—it is so precious that none but God can bestow it, and when bestowed it is so precious that it brings into the soul, as the queen-grace, untold blessings in its royal retinue. It has been remarked by an eminent minister of Christ, now in glory, that were God to limit him to one prayer it would be the apostle's—"Lord, increase our faith." And this is no exaggerated sentiment, because the increase of faith brings with it an increase of love, joy, peace, obedience, and every grace of the Holy Spirit. But while not content with any limit to your growth in this grace of faith, yet remember for your encouragement who do you think have no precious faith, that it may exist in the soul, and for the most part does, in the smallest degree. Who will affirm that he has yet attained unto faith, small even as the grain of mustard seed? Then we ask such a boaster that he say to this mountain, Be you cast into the sea; to this sycamore tree, Be you plucked up: for our blessed Lord has told us that "if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible unto us." Thank God, then, for the least degree of faith, though it be less than the grain of mustard seed, for the smallest measure will conduct you fully into heaven. And yet do not forget that there is no difficulty that faith in God, however small, cannot surmount, no mountain it cannot level, no tree it cannot uproot, simply because it deals with the power of God. Calling to its aid omnipotence, allying itself with the Almighty, it can thrash the mountains small, and make the hills as chaff, it can leap over a wall and run through a troop, and though often lame and halting, it yet can take the prey.
We conclude the present chapter with a brief glance at the crowning act of precious faith—the glory it brings to Jehovah;—and this is the crown of its preciousness. If the faith of a child of God terminated in himself—even though it were to put him in the full possession of heaven—it would come short of its highest, holiest, noblest end. It is worthy of God that He has made all things to center in Himself. "The Lord has made all things for himself" (Prov. 16:4). "I have created him for my glory" (Isa. 43:7). In no being in the universe has God put forth so much of His glory, and by none will He finally appear so illustrious as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. God has done more for that saved soul, and will more magnify His great name in him, than for all the unfallen intelligences of heaven. He will appear more glorious, His perfections will shine forth with more full, harmonious, and complete luster in one sinner saved, than in the final and eternal destruction of the myriads who people the regions of the lost. In the case of the lost, justice and holiness appear in dreadful severity; but in those who are saved, justice and holiness—yet more awfully illustrated in the soul-sorrow and dying agonies of Jesus—are seen blended with love, mercy, and grace; so that men and angels see more of the divine glory in the salvation, than in the condemnation of man. It is the glory, then, of faith, and the perfection of its preciousness, that it gives glory to God. "The reason why faith is said to give glory to God is, because faith answers God's faithfulness. Great faith is said to give glory to God: one of the special commendations of Abraham's faith is, 'He was strong in faith, giving glory to God' (Rom. 4:20). God magnifies His name of faithfulness above all His name; the believer magnifies his faithfulness by his believing; therefore he gives glory to God. There are three honorable services that some men get put into their hands, and which are denied to angels. There is preaching of Christ, suffering for Christ, and believing in Christ. Let us consider wherein there is an honoring of God by believing; for it is a point very rarely believed. Who is there of believers that think that by bare believing they give God more glory than any other way they can do?
"Faith gives glory to God, because it brings nothing to Him but poverty, want, and emptiness. All graces bring something to God, but faith brings nothing. Love brings a flaming, burning heart to God; repentance brings a bleeding, broken heart to God; obedience brings a working hand to God; patience brings, as it were, abroad back to God, let Him lay on what He will; poor faith brings just nothing, but the poor man's bare hand and empty dish. The poorer man comes to God the more glory to God. It is remarkable that, in those cases wherein we bring something to God, we are very apt to carry away something of the glory that belongs to Him: faith brings nothing at all to God; it brings no more than broken bones and sores to the great Physician (Rom. 3:27).
"Faith glorifies God, for it seeks all in Him, and from Him: as it brings nothing to Him, so it expects everything from Him, whatever its wants be. The language of faith is, 'All my wants be upon You, O Lord;' there is no other way of bearing them; it expects all from Him, and from the single warrant of His word. (John 3:33.)
"Faith always glorifies God, for it ventures its all upon His word. The believer is still in this frame, in the exercise of faith: 'Now, here I have God's faithful promise; and if it should fail me, I should certainly sink forever. My soul, body, reputation, privileges of the gospel, all my concerns whatever, are all laid upon the faithfulness of God; they are all put in that bottom of the ship; if I miscarry, I am gone for ever.' Who is there of believers that believes this, that a bare adventuring of your eternal salvation upon the Son of God, by virtue of the promise of God, brings more glory to God than all things else can do? (1 Cor. 1:30, 31.)" (Traill.)
If this be true—and most true it is—then, beloved, besiege the throne of grace for more of this Christ-crowning, Spirit-honoring, God-glorifying grace of faith. Oh, it is the mightiest grace of the Holy Spirit in the soul, and because it is so, it brings the richest revenue of praise to the Triune Jehovah! Behold, how like a queen she enters the soul, her train composed of the costliest material, her train-bearers the sister-graces of the Spirit. "The king's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold." Seek, O seek it, then; earnestly, diligently, importunately seek it. Every new deposit of this precious coin augments your real wealth; and every new victory this grace of faith achieves adds another precious stone to the diadem of glory with which your Savior is crowned. Whatever may be your present circumstances, "have faith in God." Stand still, and see His wonder-working on your behalf. He will smite that rock—He will part that sea—He will level that mountain—He will exalt that valley—He will roll from off the tomb of your buried mercy the stone you can not move. Only have faith in Him! "Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass." Thus, your soul, in the exercise of this "precious faith" that looks from self, ceases from man, and trusts alone in God, shall repose in Him, acquiescent, tranquil, and safe as an infant on its mother's breast. Then will the Psalmist's enviable experience be yours—"Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child."
"Leave God to order all your ways,
And hope in Him, whatever betide;
Thou'lt find Him in the evil days,
Your all-sufficient strength and guide;
Who trusts in God's unchanging love,
Builds on the rock that nothing can move.
"What can these anxious cares avail,
These never-ceasing moans and sighs?
What can it help us to bewail
Each painful moment as it flies?
Our cross and trials do but press
The heavier for our bitterness.
"Only your restless heart keep still,
And wait in cheerful hope; content
To take whatever His gracious will,
His all-discerning love has sent.
Doubt not our inmost wants are known
To Him who chose us for His own.
"He knows when joyful hours are best,
He sends them as He sees it meet;
When you have borne the fiery test,
And are made free from all deceit,
He comes to you all unaware,
And makes you own His loving care.
"Sing, pray, and swerve not from His ways,
But do your own part faithfully,
Trust His rich promises of grace,
So shall they be fulfilled in you;
God never yet forsook at need
The soul that trusted Him indeed."
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