<< Luke VII: Saving Faith, and Faith not Saving >>
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. LUKE VII
Faith is the soul’s confidence in the Lord. It is holy trust. No one can make any spiritual advancement without faith. It is childlike reliance on the truth, and on the goodness of the Lord. By faith we depend on truth and reject error. By faith we come to the Lord and are accepted. By faith we implore His strength, and have those spiritual miracles effected which heal our sorrows, renew our souls, and cause our flesh to come again as the ”flesh of a little child.” Faith holds the lamp of the Lord and enlightens our path. Faith, like a moon, shines in the spirit’s darkness, and is an evidence that the sun still shines, and will surely rise again. Faith is our guide in life, our guardian in death, and our herald in eternity. It is the grand instrument of salvation, — ” Thy faith hath saved thee.”
Our theme today is saving faith, and faith not saving ; or true faith, and false faith. And we must solicit your most earnest and affectionate attention while we discuss the nature of each, and the difference between the two; for as true faith is a source of unspeakable blessings, a false faith is a dangerous snare. May the promised Spirit of our Lord guide us into all truth on this important subject. Let us further consider how faith is attained, and what is its intrinsic and genuine character. It has sometimes been spoken of as a gift of God quite independent of evidence or any intellectual exercise. But this blind belief, thus thought to be obtained, is not faith; it is superstition, and not a blessing: but one of the greatest of calamities.
Faith really is a heartfelt belief in God’s truth, as revealed in His Word, and is a compound principle. It is formed partly of the truths we receive in proportion as we understand them, and partly of the affection in which we receive the truth, and this is imparted to us from the Lord in proportion as we obey Him. “Faith Cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” — Rom. X. 17. Here is the first part, the Word must be heard, and we may add understood, for “When any one heareth the Word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside.” — Matt xiii. 19. The second element is the love of truth. Without this there can be no faith, nor any salvation: “With the heart a man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” — Rom. x. 10. Faith cannot be alone in the sense of having only one element in it. In such case, it is knowledge, not faith : “With the heart a man believeth unto righteousness.” Truth, in which there is no heart, is cold and cheerless, having none of the saving powers of faith about it.
The first great truth of faith is, that God is; but it grows with every fresh discovery of Divine Wisdom which is received in love. The apostle says : “Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God), for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” — Heb. xi. 6. And, undoubtedly, these truths are not only in harmony with revelation, but with our best reason : what faith perceives, reason confirms.
Faith is exceedingly small and weak at first. The Lord compares it with a grain of mustard-seed, and calls that the least of all seeds (Matt. xiii. 31). And it is not difficult to discern the reason. When religious truth is first awakened in the soul, it is raised from the chambers of memory where it has slumbered since a father’s counsel and a mother’s care stored the young spirit with the seed of future blessing. Other knowledge has been learned and prized and cultivated, but this has been suffered to remain like seed in the hand of a mummy, shriveled and outwardly dead. It has, however, a strange vitality in it, and when the spirit becomes aroused by the inspiring call to prepare for a higher life, and the heart becomes affected, the despised seed begins to grow, and advances until it becomes a great tree, under which all the birds of heaven can make their nests. That faith is a growing principle is evident from its constitution: for as it comes from hearing the Word of God in love, of course the more we hear and understand the more vigorous our faith will be. In this sense the disciples prayed to the Lord to increase their faith. We read also some who were weak in faith; others who were strong in faith; of those whose faith groweth exceedingly; of little faith, and of great faith, –all which expressions show that it is a state of mind which grows with the growth of goodness, grace, and wisdom in the soul.
We have observed that faith comes by hearing; but all who hear do not believe. The most eloquent unfolder of divine truth may give the most brilliant expositions of its sacred claims, and by some it will be welcomed and adopted; on others, the effect will be transient or none. Again, we ask in what consists the ground of difference? The Lord gives the answer : “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” — John iii. 20, 21. The apostle states the same truth, when he says, ” Charity, (or love, as it should be rendered,) rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” — 1 Cor. xiii. 6. ” Love believeth all things” (ver. 7). The groundwork of faith, then, is love; where this is present there will be a reception of truth when it is presented; where this is wanting, there will be an aversion to truth, and no faith will be the result of the most earnest and eloquent entreaties in its favour. Experience teaches the same lessons, and the experience of ages has embodied itself in the proverbs : “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” “None are so blind as those who will not see.” “Convince a man against his will, he’s of the same opinion still.” The parable of the sower who went out to sow, teaches the same fact. The seed was sown on all kinds of ground, but only that which fell upon good ground took proper root and sprang up so as to bring forth, some thirtyfold, some sixty-fold, and some a hundredfold. The good ground, the Lord said, is an ” honest and good heart.” It may indeed be objected by those who teach that faith is the gift of God, quite independent of effort on the part of man, that if some people are like the wayside, others like the stony ground, and others like the good ground, only the latter can bring forth fruit because God has made them so. But we reply, each man is like a universe, and has every kind of ground in him. According as he acts, one or other kind of ground becomes the ruling disposition in him. If he does good, he comes to the light, as the Lord said, and he believes in the light, and rejoices in it.
Love, then, is the life and very essence of faith. There is a deeper meaning than at first appears in those words of the Lord, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” He has it already in the living principle of love for the truth, which glows within him. “Whoso liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”
But the love that is the soul of faith must not be regarded as a sentiment merely, but as an active principle. “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. xiii. 10), said the apostle Paul; and the apostle John stated the same truth, when he said, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” — 1 John v. 3. Love that does not keep the commandments is a maudlin sentimentality, and not genuine love at all. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” — John xiv. 21. “He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings.” — Ver. 24. Hence, real love which produces real faith, will also produce real good works. The whole three, in truth, go together. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision ; but faith which worketh by love.” — Gal. v. 6. If faith is genuine it has its root in love, and produces the fruits of virtuous works. A living faith, how wonderful and glorious it is! It is grounded in love. “He that believeth in Me HATH everlasting life. It gives the soul to perceive and feel, with the deepest concern, the leprosy of sin. Like the little Syrian maid in the household of Naaman the leper, it says, “Would, God, that my master were with the prophet that is in the midst of Israel!” When the heart sinks under the consciousness of its pollution, Faith says, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
Why, then, is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered ? Go, and wash seven times in Jordan, and thy flesh shall become like that of a little child.” Faith is a child-like confidence in the love and the omnipotence of the Lord Jesus. With Philip, it says, “Lord, shew us the Father;” and when the Saviour replies, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” it believes and trusts. With Thomas it falls before Jesus, and cries out, ” My Lord and my God ;” and with Peter, it exclaims, “Lord, to whom shall we go: Thou hast the words of eternal life I” This gracious confidence sees tho Lord ever before it in a Divine Human Form, smiling upon our efforts to live for Him ; extending His hand when we stumble; and giving us the crown of victory when we are tried and triumph. Faith follows wherever the Lord calls. When He says, ” Come,” with Peter it is ready to go upon the stormy sea of a turbulent world, and if it trembles amidst the boisterous waves of human life, it looks to Him, and cries, “Lord, save me.”
Faith, thus livingly connected with the Lord Jesus, embodies His image in itself, becomes gradually moulded to His will, and confidently expects that entire conformity to heavenly love which the worldly deem impossible. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith ” (1 John v. 14). Faith says every passion and lust shall be subdued. ” The lion and the adder, the young lion and the dragon, shalt thou trample under feet” — Psalm xci. 13. This faith, which is small as a grain of mustard-seed at first, but like the mustard-seed is warm and living, grows with our obedience to the divine commandments, until it becomes a commanding system, covering, blessing, and protecting the whole life and mind. It is a tree of the Lord, full of sap, and throws one glorious branch over our friendships, and only encourages heartfelt connections with such as are friends of our Divine Master, and fellow-walkers on the way of life: another branch it throws over our home, and seeks to make it the sweet centre of a thousand virtues and graces, a heaven in miniature: other branches are thrown over our business engagements: others over our worship; and others again over our pleasures; until our faith has become a great tree, in the branches of which all the birds of our heaven, the thoughts which soar above the common places of life, can make their nests.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen (Heb. xi. 1). It is the union of truth and love. Truth from the Word brings evidence of the existence, the laws, and the glories of the life beyond the grave. The power and the beauty of the unseen spheres of things which address themselves to the spirit; the unseen friends who welcome us after death; the glorious unseen home to which they conduct us; the Divine King who reigns there; these are the invisible realities on which faith dwells with delight and rejoices in the evidence; while the love that forms the essence of faith forms also the essence of heaven. Faith is itself the substance of things hoped for. The love which is the soul of faith is also the soul of heaven. The lamp of faith, supplied by the oil of love, is in the soul what the light of wisdom is to the heavens, everywhere glowing and golden from the warmth of love divine.
Life, illuminated by faith, acquires a certainty, a peace, and a charm, all unknown before. “The Lord is my shepherd,” is the language of the soul, “I shall not want.” ”He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters.” We have meat to eat of which the world knows not We have a rock to stand upon which never can be moved. Is our way through the valley of natural sorrow and affliction, and does darkness come on? faith, like the moon, lends her friendly light, and we can even sing songs in the night. Are we assailed by outward or inward enemies ? there is still the abiding assurance, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall arise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” — Isa. liv. 17. At times, when our natural states bring us into discouragement, and our Lord gives us to see ourselves, and our yet unsubdued evils more deeply and fully than before, our lusts and passions assume a gigantic form and fearful aspect, and we shrink from the terrible task of encountering such monsters, for ” there are giants in these days,” and we seem “as grasshoppers in their sight” But faith, like Caleb and Joshua, stands forth and stills the people. “Let us go up at once and possess it,” faith says, “for we are well able to overcome it.” — Numb. xiii. 30.
Faith and fear are incompatibles. We know in whom we have believed, and in life and in death we are assured that ”He is the First and the Last.” Are we on the mountain of love with danger threatening from afar ? faith, like the prophet, opens our eyes, and we see the “mountain full of horses and chariots of fire? “Are we in the gloom and in the storm ? do we go down into the deeps? We then do business in great waters; we behold the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep (Ps. cvii. 24). And we learn how sweet is the time when He makes the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still ; and we join in the grateful and adoring aspiration, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men 1 (Ver. 29, 31.)
Faith altogether transforms the character of death. To the natural man death is the gloomiest of all visions. He is the robber that takes from him all they have fondly loved. Death is the opposite of all he has called life. In the grave the wicked are stripped of all their adornments, and without riches, without power, without attendants, what are they? or whither go they? These terrible considerations make death a subject from which the natural man shrinks with shuddering, and which be would he only too happy could he for ever pass by. But faith pierces the wall at the end of this dark valley, and lets in a light divine. The grisly horror we once thought death, becomes transformed into a beautiful messenger of heaven. The notes of wail and lamentation we formerly heard, are turned by faith into the tones of a golden harp, ever resounding with
“O grave, where is thy victory?
O death where is thy sting?”
The riches of earth may go, but we have riches which will never perish: we are rich in the sight of God. The world may pass away, but a brighter and a better world awaits us. ” For us to live is Christ, but to die is gain.” The whole of the clouds which lowered upon the termination of our path, are now like those of Raphael, full of angel’s faces.
“Faith is the spirit’s sweet control,
From which assurance springs;
Faith is the pencil of the soul,
That pictures heavenly things.
“Faith is the conquering host that storms
The battlements of sin;
Faith Is the quickening soul that warms
The trembling heart within.
“O rock of Ages. Fount of bliss!
Thy needful help afford ;
And let our constant prayer be this,
Increase my faith, O Lord.”
Faith grounded in love always brings forth good works. If it does not do this, it is not real faith at all. The apostle James asserts the worthlessness of a faith which has no works, in the most marked manner. He says, ” What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith and have not works ? Can faith save him ?” And here I would direct, especially, the attention of my hearers to the apostle’s important and interesting teaching. ” Can faith save him?” James asks. “Yes,” say vast numbers, including all which are called orthodox Protestant Churches, ” Faith can save him, faith alone.” But the apostle manifestly implies that it cannot. Hear him further, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them. Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled ; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so, FAITH, IF IT HATH NOT WORKS, IS DEAD, BEING ALONE.” — James ii. 14-17. The apostle here undoubtedly teaches, that he who fancies he has faith alone, has no more intention to be truly religious than he who bids the naked and hungry be warmed and filled, but does nothing to contribute the means. Such a one cannot really desire to supply the needy with warmth and clothing. His deeds speak more powerfully than words. So judges the apostle, and so do all men judge in all cases, except this of religion. When we see a person testify friendship with his mouth, but in deeds manifesting enmity, we always believe the deeds. If we heard a person expressing the utmost desire to go to a beautiful city, but with ample opportunity never made least preparation to go, nor stirred a step in its direction, we should say he did not really believe what he professed to believe upon the subject. We have a perfect conviction that, in the ordinary concerns of life, what a man does is what he believes he ought to do, and if his language be different we esteem him insincere, or say he does not know his own mind. This is a simple and a true rule. What a man DOES is what he really BELIEVES, and so the apostle judges : hence, he proceeds, ” Yea, a man may say. Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” — Ver. 18. “Shew me thy faith,” he says, “without thy works ;” plainly intimating that it is impossible. The drunkard believes in his liquor; the gambler in his dice; the selfish man in his selfishness; the ambitious man in the glory of his fame; the thief in the sweetness of unlawful gains; the sensualist in his disgusting pleasures. These are their real beliefs, and all professions different from these are deceptions. If a man is not a doer of good works he must be a doer of evil works; and if he does evil works he must believe in them. He may believe that virtuous works would be better than vicious works, if his self-will had not to be overcome, his passions to be subdued, and his habits changed; but as he loves his vices too much to give them up, and goodness and heaven too little to pay the price of their attainment in self-sacrifice, he believes, upon the whole, that evil is better than good for him, or at least for the present. This, when stripped of its disguises, is the faith of a wicked man, however he may deceive himself that his faith is right, though his life is wrong.
There is a species of belief which may influence a person’s conversation and his thoughts as a speculative matter, but may not at all enter into the life’s love, which is the real man. Such a belief an infernal may have. He may speak like an angel, and only be the greater hypocrite. Hence the apostle says, ” Thou believest that there is one God: thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, vain man, that faith without works is dead.” — Ver. 19, 20. How sad it is to think that from so many Christian pulpits it is incessantly declared that faith alone saves, that we must especially guard against having the least idea of anything but faith conducing to salvation, in the face of a world, yes, a professing Christian world, overrun with evil. Here is the great solution of the fearful problem, that with centuries of professed Christian teaching, and with forty thousand pulpits in active use in our land, so little Christ-like practice exists. The faith preached is that very faith alone, which the apostle says is dead. How can dead faith produce living religion?
James proceeds. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar ?” Yes, “justified by works,” the apostle says. Justification, have said hosts of modern preachers, is by faith alone, and not in the least by works; but the apostle plainly affirms what they deny, and his doctrine produced virtuous men, who were the admiration of the heathen. His faith overcame the world. But some will say, “Did not Paul declare that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him for righteousness ?” Why, so it was ; and it was thus reckoned because it was a righteous faith, for it was a working faith. This was why it was reckoned for righteousness, and was righteous, and Abraham was justified by it, and by the works it produced at the same time.
The apostle Paul, equally with James, teaches that Christian works justify the doers of them. See his declaration, Romans ii. 13, ” For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Here we have the very self-same word, “justified,” used by Paul, not in relation to believing only, but to doing. “The doers of the law shall be justified.” He speaks, in the third chapter of the same epistle, it is true, of a man being justified by faith without the deeds of the law; and afterwards, of the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness, without works; but we should be slow to believe that the apostle contradicts himself, or another apostle either. But we should remember the controversy of the time, between those who sought to continue Jewish ceremonial works, beginning with circumcision, and going through the whole ceremonial law, just according to the letter, at the same time that they acknowledged the Lord Jesus. Others maintained that the law was now abrogated in the letter, and that the spirit of the law and the principles of the Christian faith, were now all-sufficient. Paul was the great leader of these latter, and the epistle to the Romans was chiefly written to set forth his views upon that subject. Works, in this controversy, meant Jewish works, or even the keeping of the commandments from Jewish motives, that is for the sake of merit, or to make God your debtor, and consider heaven as fairly your due for keeping the law.
True faith is rooted in love, and results in good works. When James says that Abraham was justified by works, he means undoubtedly Christian works; good works in the sense our Lord used the expression when He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” — Matt. v. 16; but when Paul says, ” If Abraham were justified by works, he has whereof to glory; but not before God,” — Rom. iv. 2. , he means works in the Jewish and technical sense, that is meritorious and ceremonial works. Christian works, done in humility, from love and faith, do justify a man; but meritorious works do not, they are defiled with self-righteousness. Hence our Lord said, ” So likewise ye, when ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” — Luke xvii. 10. We must do all that is commanded, but we must also confess, we have no merit in it.
Alas! that man with his imperfect efforts, either of love, or faith, or active virtue, should ever dream of merit, in the sight of Him ” who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven.” — Ps. cxiii. 6. What have we that we have not received ? Our love is as much a gift of God, as our faith, and every effort to do good in like manner is imparted from His Divine Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. — Gal. v. 22, 23.
But equally unhappy is it when to avoid this fear of men attaching merit to their works, it is preached and insisted upon that good works are not necessary to salvation, that FAITH ALONE is the essential requisite for an inheritance in heaven. This strange irrational and unscriptural doctrine is the great secret bulwark of vice in this country. Each man secretly buoys himself up in an evil life, by the idea that there is plenty of time left for him to do that which he is constantly told he can do in five minutes or in a moment. “And to the mercies of a moment leaves, the vast concerns of an eternal scene.” The evil-doer of every class determines to get the fruit of his iniquity and enjoy it in this world, and rely on believing, and a prayer at the last to make his peace with God, through the merits and sacred blood of the Redeemer. Thus the blood of the Redeemer is made an excuse for continuing in the sins, to abolish which, He lived, and died, and rose again. The public spectacle is almost monthly rendered of murderers, wretches whose life has been a compound of every other villany, and at length been consummated by a most hideous, dastardly, and cruel assassination, whose minds must long have been a miniature hell, where foulest thoughts and maddest passions have lurked and burrowed, are supposed by their unwise chaplains to be sent direct to heaven, if they can be persuaded to say on the eve of death, or at the gallows, that Christ has died for them. If they can be pursuaded to ay, what they are thus badgered to say, their death is declared most edifying. Sometimes there is an intense quarrel in the gaol and in the papers between the chaplain and the priest as to THE FAITH of villains, whose multiplied atrocities we shrink with loathing, even from reading; whose whole lives and habits proclaimed, that they had no faith in anything divine or sacred. Who can tell the injury done by these unholy squabbles ? They spread far and wide the delusion that LIFE has no bearing on eternity; that the assertion of a man’s faith, and the manner of his death are the only passports to heaven.
Of what importance can it be what creed men believed whose lives proclaimed aloud that they believed in nothing good? Blind leaders of the blind, attend to your Divine Master’s injunction, “Not every one that saith unto me. Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. — Matt. vii. 21. ” Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say ?” — Luke vi. 46. “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in NO CASE enter into the kingdom of heaven.” — Matt. v. 20.
How daring it is of minister’s professing the religion of Christ, to warrant these people to appear safely before the tribunal, where every man will be judged according to his works, because they say they believe Christ died for them. No doubt Christ died for them, but of what avail is it, or of what consequence is it to believe Christ died for us, unless we shew we livingly receive this faith, by ourselves dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness?
One chaplain, a few short months ago, assured the public of the edifying faith of a culprit, who, when he was about to ascend the gallows, had forgotten what words he should use in prayer on the scaffold, and asked, was it, “Let us give thanks?” Surely such teachers can have no idea of heaven and its purities; no idea of the soul, its principles, its habits, and the laws of its changes; no idea of the value of life in the world, and its necessity to prepare for the higher life of a better world. But they might remember our Divine Master’s oft repeated declaration that, “He will give unto every man as his work shall be.”
Even in the Exeter Hall sermons, from which so much has been expected, and for which so much is done, still the one note is prominent, —faith, faith, faith ; believe, believe, believe. The sermons are said to be for the working classes. The working classes have been fearfully alienated from religion, and abound in sins and sorrows. They have had the common lot of fallen human obstinacy, against the loving laws of heaven, to seduce them to evil; and the example of the middle and higher classes in too many instances has not been calculated to win them to better things. The church has been one huge mass of injustice, and wrong, which even Parliament has yet only partially rectified. These corruptions and wrongs have been the great alienators of the working classes, and they must be won to religion by these being reformed, as well as by the exposure of sin in themselves, and in all classes, as the great foe of human happiness. The essence of sin is injustice: the essence of religion is justice; expressed in the Sacred Writings by righteousness. To win men from vice to virtue ; from evil to good, from self to Christ, is the grand work of religion. But it is evidently labour in vain to draw multitudes together to listen to the same reiterations about faith which they have heard until they were tired before; and which they had seen produced no real justice or practical goodness in the men that preached it; and which could not even save the church, whose one note it was, from being the hugest injustice in the world. To expect men to be converted by such means is simply absurd. The churches must repent, in their articles, their doctrines, and their practices; and then preach real repentance to others. So will they become not sectarian, but saving institutions. Until this is done, no great gathering to God will take place, however many novelty-hunting hearers may rush excitedly to Abbey or to Hall.
To call crowds together, to discuss before them the relative worth of salvation by faith alone ; or salvation by the merits of their works, is worse than a waste of time. It is a mockery. What person in a gathering of thousands of supposed working men could be suspected of being in danger of ruin from building his hopes of salvation on his merits? Do men now believe in this Protestant country, that they do so many good works that they have more than enough to merit heaven? Is not the universal lamentation entirely the other way ? that religion is so separated from work, that religion has become words, and work is full of sin. Is not the feeling everywhere that from the divorce of religion, and the world, we have a sour religion, and a bad world? Selfishness, and not the love of God, rules in most of our operations. We rush on, inspired by the ambition of becoming rich, great, and powerful; but are slow to labour to become childlike, just, and good ? The operative classes, who do not trouble themselves as others do to keep up appearances, make little pretension to religion of any kind, but practice the grossest vices. To call them together to induce them not to think of meriting heaven by their works, is to dream we are yet in the Romish controversy; it is to be two hundred years behind the time. For Luther, it was a necessity to show the folly of dependence for salvation on the puerile works of a drivelling superstition, but for us the great want of the time is to pray men to be virtuous for the love of Christ ; to prepare for heaven, the land of love and right, by becoming righteous here. It is to urge men from love to the Saviour to fly from sin. The men who even neglect public worship altogether, the drunkards, the gamblers, the swearers, the adulterers, who are supposed to be the parties addressed at Exeter Hall, surely cannot be thought to be presuming upon their good works. How strange then that an excellent clergyman like the Rev. Baptist Noel should be so accustomed to the faith-alone routine, that the burden of his sermon should be to persuade such characters not to trust for heaven to the merit of their works. First, get them to work at all, then guard them against self-righteousness. First, get them to learn the soul-murder which sin induces, and beseech them to fly from that, and the time may come, but it is yet far off, when it will be needed to guard them from exalted ideas of their own merits. The crying present want is, to induce men to take religion to the counting-house, the workshop, the business of society, and into every man’s work ; from the immense manufactory, to the humblest shed ; from the most fashionable emporium, to the lowliest shop ; from the monarch’s palace, to the cottage, the cellar, and the garret of the poorest artisans ; to seek first the kingdom of God, and his justice, in confiding faith that all things will be added unto us (Matt. vi. 33). To urge this upon mankind, and to show how it may be done ; to lead men to Him, who can kindle a living conviction, a confiding faith in the soul of this all-important truth is the grand work of the age. This alone will draw men back to God; and by this one will ”the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.” — Rev. xi. 15.
A faith NOT saving then is a faith not grounded in love ; “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity (love), I am nothing.” — 1 Cor. xiii. 2. Indeed, such a faith is in reality no faith at all. ” Where love is not, faith is not, for it is love that believeth ” (ver. 7). The Lord Jesus said to the woman alluded to in our text, ” Thy faith hath saved thee ;” but He had previously said, ” Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” — Luke ii. 47. The faith of a person who loves God, and goodness, saves; but where love is lacking, there is no salvation. The Lord did not say in general terms, ” Faith hath saved thee;” but, “THY faith hath saved thee.” When the Lord was appealed to by the blind men to heal them, He asked, ” What WILL ye that I should do unto you ?” and when He describes the reason of the destruction of the impenitent, He does so in the pathetic and impressive words : “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent onto thee: how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” Those who were healed WILLED to be healed. Those who were unsaved, WOULD not be saved. It is the state of the will, which determines man’s final lot. The whole man becomes in the end what the WILL really is. The ruling passion becomes strong in death, and stronger in eternity.
A faith NOT saving, is a faith which does not subdue sin, and produce a righteous life. Such a faith, is a dead faith, as the apostle James says ; and a dead faith certainly cannot produce a living Christian. The faith which is often proclaimed by exciting preachers, is simply the blind persuasion that the believers of it are saved ; saved, as they often cry out, just then. Two terrible delusions are set forth with frantic violence, and passionate appeals to fear and hope. First, the unchangeable God of love is described with all the malignant attributes which befit an evil spirit. The hell, which it is said he kindles, is described with all the horrible appendages which a wild imagination in the preacher can invent. And, when his weak auditory, generally the youthful part of his audience, have been made frantic with terror, the preacher then takes it upon him to assure them that if they will believe that Christ has died to save them, they will be saved in a moment. And this is salvation by faith alone. But this is no salvation from sin, it is a salvation from fancy. Hence, when the excitement is over, and the so-called saved ones exhibit tempers as evil, selfishness as grasping, and sometimes grosser weaknesses as great as before their supposed salvation, they are told that these sins inhere in their flesh, and they will be troubled with them until they put off the body; but they are saved nevertheless. One reverend gentleman, addressing his flock at the beginning of the present year, tells them they are not to work for salvation, nor work from salvation, for their salvation is kept safe for them in heaven ; they cannot lose it nor destroy it. Persons led by such deluded, and deluding dreamers are often full of spiritual self-conceit, often not more correct in their dealings than the merest worldling, and most bitter towards those who think differently from themselves. Oh! for words of thunder to echo among such vain deluders the divine lessons of our Lord and His apostles ” God is love ” (1 John iv. 16) ; “He is the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning” (James i. 17). Condemnation is not from Him, but from sin, and selfishness is the very soul of it.
You say you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and so you are saved, for salvation is by believing only. But have you indeed believed in Jesus Christ ? Do you believe that selfishness must be renounced to follow Him? ” If any man will come after me, let him DENY HIMSELF, and take up his cross, and follow me.” — Matt xvi, 24. Do you believe Him, when He says, ” If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments ?” Do you believe Him, when He says, the great commandment of the law is, ” Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind ;”and the second is alike unto it, ” Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”— On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Do you believe Him, when He says, ” He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me ?” —John xiv. 21. Do you believe Him, when He says, “You are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you?” — John xv, 14. Do you believe Him, when He says, ” If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love ?”
Can you believe the Lord Jesus, whose gospel is full of these assurances, and yet believe that keeping the commandments, and working, and doing, have no concern in salvation ? Your faith is not in Him, but in fancies of your own.
You say that keeping the commandments is a heavy burden you cannot bear. Alas! it is not KEEPING them that makes all the burdens in the world. The Lord Jesus says truly, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” — Matt. xi. 30.
John assures us that ” His commandments are not grievous.” — 1 John V. 3. And whoever felt them so when he was in earnest to be saved?
Depend upon it, my beloved friend, unless you actually repent, actually labour against your sins, and actually obey His laws from love to Him, your supposed faith is vain, for you He has died in vain ; you are yet in your sins. He died to give you power to die to sin, and live to righteousness. Are you dead to sin? Are you dying daily as the apostle did?
Suppose two farmers had land given them by a landowner to cultivate. One, believing in the goodness of Gods, and the excellence of the divine laws, applied himself each season to his work, and reaped the result in a bountiful harvest. The autumn came, his barns were full, and his heart was filled with gratitude and love, for the divine gifts which were stored around him. Here is an illustration of faith working from love. The other farmer hunts, drinks, and neglects his business, until September reveals scanty fields, weeds instead of com, want instead of plenty. Of what avail would be his prayers or professions then? The time for work had gone by. His faith then would be faith alone.
O talk not of the thief upon the cross! You know nothing of his life. But He who did know, and who judges each man according to his works, adjudged him to heaven. The heart and life of this man must have been, in the main, right, though like Peter, he may have failed in one trial ; and, like Peter, deeply repented. Look to the Saviour, the centre figure on those crosses, and not to the thief ; and He says, ” Not every one that saith unto me. Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
You Bay you are saved by faith alone. Has it saved you from ill-will, contentiousness, uncharitableness, from impulses to sin, or even practices which are inconsistent with the blessed laws of heaven ? How can you be saved from sin, when you still have sin in you, and are daily sinning ? How is a person saved from a disease, while he is yet suffering from the disease? Would you deem it common sense for any one to tell you, suffering from fever, that you were in no danger, because Galen many centuries ago laid down the means of curing fever ? You say Christ took away your sins on the cross. And yet you have them. my brother, put away this jargon. Christ redeemed the world from the power of hell, and put away sin from His own human nature. ” He abolished the enmity in His flesh” Eph. ii. 15 ; but He must abolish it in yours before you are saved. “ Christ in you is the hope of glory ” (Col. i. 29). Think not that your evils cannot be overcome, but seek them out sincerely. Pray to the Lord Jesus for power. He who overcame all hell will overcome all evil in you. Have faith in Him. Believe truly in His promises, in His might, and in His kingdom : ” His name was called Jesus, for He should SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.” — Matt i. 21. And by little and little, as fast as the laws of the wondrous nature He has given you will permit. He will redeem you from all iniquity, and purify you unto Himself as a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Believe from your heart on Him, and you will know from His works in you, that He is truly ” Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)
Pictures: James Tissot —-Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum