The Law of Faith: Excerpts
The swaying battle of present-tense faith is well seen in the instance of Peter walking on the water. Peter was the pioneer in faith amongst the disciples, and it is interesting to watch his development. It was Christ who first lifted the veil and showed him the undreamed of possibilities of faith, and enticed him to make a trial, when He told him to launch into the deep and let down his nets for a draught, after a night without a catch. We see the momentary struggle of faith then, when he weighed up which he believed most, his opinion as an experienced fisherman and that of his brother fishermen on the beach, or the word of this Wonder-worker. He hesitated, then plunged: "Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing"–that was faith in appearances: "Nevertheless, at Thy Word I will let down the net"–that was faith in the invisible, in the power of His word and the resources at His command. It was a cheese-paring faith, even then, for he let down one net when Jesus had said "nets," and paid for his niggardliness by getting it broken! No wonder he fell at His feet, cut to the quick by his own unbelief.
But he had learned a great lesson. There are resources in God which counteract nature, and man can use them. Next time, Peter needed no invitation. To that figure walking on the water, he calls out, "Lord, bid me come to Thee on the water." No altruistic motive in this, no service for mankind, just a "stunt," we may say; but here Christ had found a pioneer in things of the Spirit and He welcomed the sign. "Come," He said. Peter got out and walked. For the one and only time in recorded history the laws of gravity which govern the sinking of a body in water were counteracted by a higher power for a mere man. How? By Peter’s transferred faith. By nature, he believed and acted all his life on the known fact that a man sinks in water. In Christ he saw a higher power operative, enabling him to transcend this law of nature and walk on water. He knew by previous experience that the power of Jesus was at His disciple’s disposal. So, deliberately he transferred his faith from its life-anchorage in natural law to that which he could not see or touch, to a power which was upholding his Master and could uphold him.
But he was just a beginner, an experimenter. Along came a big wave. It would engulf him! Away, almost automatically came his faith from its new anchorage back to the old, to the familiar "fact" that we sink in water. And down he sank. According to his faith, so it was. No, not quite. The hand of the Saviour held him. He had a ducking for his daring, but he also had gained something more priceless than any of his more cautious stay-in-the-boat brethren; an experimental knowledge of the fact that a man can stretch out the hand of faith, almost at his whim, and take hold of the hidden power of God.
That he had thoroughly grasped this amazing truth in the only way truth can be known–by trying it out and coming some bumps in the process–we see a short while after. We see Peter, with John, at the Gate of the Temple called Beautiful. Peter, knowing his secret possessions, sees a man in need, the lame beggar. Something in his appeal for alms strikes Peter, something which comes to his heart as a call to action. "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have, give I thee." What has Peter? All the power of heaven and earth which is released by the Name of Jesus. The power which he was invited to use in the fishing incident, which he asked if he might use in the storm incident, he now knows to be his in Christ, and he just uses it as his own in his healing incident. Faith has found its resting place, the doors of its treasure-house lie wide open to it: "Such as I have, give I thee." And when, later, he is called upon to explain this miracle of healing, note where he lays the emphasis: he points them full-faced to the Christ they have rejected. His is the power. But note. He does not just say that the Name of Jesus has done this: but "His name through faith in His Name…yea, the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness." Not just the Name, but the applied Name. There lay Peter’s well-learned secret.
Apply now the secret that Peter had learned to our subject–sanctification by faith, the purifying of the heart by faith, crucifixion, burial and resurrection, with Christ by faith, Christ dwelling in hearts by faith. We face a given set of statements of fact in Christ, pronounced as such by the authority of Scripture; yet they go against appearances, against our feelings, against the consciousness of sin and self in us, against the facts of our many failures in thought and conduct. We are faced, then, with two sets of realities: things as they are in the visible, and things as they are in the invisible, in Christ. Have we not, then, to carry out in the simplest fashion these straightforward laws of faith which we have been examining?
We must coolly, deliberately, definitely transfer our faith from the lower set of realities, things visible to us in our inner lives and outer conduct, and place it in God’s spoken word: "Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." We must do exactly as Peter did, when he said: "We have toiled all the night and have taken nothing, nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net." We must do it. Faith is inner action. We must not flutter around, and hope, and hesitate, and pray. We must do it, as definitely as Peter launched out with his net in the presence of his doubtless sniggering fisherman friends; as definitely as he later got out of the boat on to the water. We must make a transaction of faith, maybe on our knees, maybe by signing name and date against a verse, maybe by public confession or to a friend.
But that is only where the battle of present-tense faith begins. What we are to do with that undertow of unbelief which seems to pull us backward, as when a swimmer struggles against an undercurrent? We must note the following carefully, for it is a point we have not touched on before. There are stages in faith; and we often get into much confusion by attempting to claim as 100 per cent faith what is really only 50 per cent faith or 25 per cent faith. In the language of Scripture, there is little faith, great faith, and perfect faith.
Let us examine this more closely. We have said from the beginning that the God-given faculty of faith is the means by which human beings receive and use all God’s varied gifts. In other words, faith is not to be confused with mere mental assent to a proposition; that may be called "belief," for want of a better word, although belief in Scripture is usually synonymous with faith. Nor is faith some vague hope for the future. Faith is action: the whole man in action, spiritual, mental, physical. We have abundantly illustrated that by such natural acts as eating and drinking, or the first great act of the awakened spirit in receiving Christ as Saviour. Now, because it is action, it has certainty, and not doubt, as its motivating power. That is to say, we perform the act of eating because we are sure of the food; we see it with our eye, we believe it is good for us. We take the step of humbly accepting Christ, because we are sure of His grace, we believe He died for our sins, we see the statements of Scripture. Faith therefore always has the thing in its grasp or at its disposal that it acts upon or uses. That is faith; the having and using the unlimited resources of God in nature and grace. That is perfect faith.
Now, whereas in the simple things of life such perfect faith is our without difficulty (we see them with the naked eye; the flower we pick, the food we eat, the road we tread upon; and, automatically, we have and use them); it is not so in the things less easily seen or obtainable, as we have already pointed out, whether when delving into the deepest secrets of nature, as does the scientist, or leaping across the gulf into the kingdom of the Spirit reopened to us in Christ.
Here we may start with imperfect faith, that is to say, we are not so certain of our facts, our premises; they may often be contrary to what we see with the naked eye, or thought we had learned from life around us. There is an element of struggle in our faith, twinges of doubt, a sense of unreality. Our faith cannot genuinely be said to "have" the thing it would reckon on, but rather to be trying to grasp and maintain it against opposition. There is a labouring faith and there is a resting faith. What Jesus called little faith, for instance, was the action of the disciples in the storm, when He lay asleep on a pillow in the boat and they awoke Him, carrying out: "Master, carest Thou not that we perish?" The disciples believed that He could save them, but doubted if He wanted to! There was faith, but of a very water consistency.
Great faith was what Jesus called the attitude of the centurion, for he not only believed that Christ’s word was with saving power, but that He would speak if asked to. He believed Christ could and would. But perfect faith is the description given of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. There it is seen that, when God told Abraham to go and offer his only son as a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains of Moriah, Abraham obeyed. It is plain that he had full intention of carrying out God’s word to the letter, for he not only bound his son and laid him on the altar, but also raised the knife to plunge it in him; and not till then, in the last split second, did God withhold his hand. Yet, a few hours before, when leaving his servant with the ass at the foot of the mountain, he had said to him: "Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." And the comment in Hebrews 11 is that, so sure was he of God’s promise of seed through Isaac, that he knew if he slew him at God’s word, God would raise him up again. In other words the faith of Abraham always had his son, and never let him go. God not only could and would, but could, and would, and had. It was all settled before he started out. He and the lad would come back.
Now, the mistake we so often make is to try to pretend to ourselves that the faith that has really received is ours; whereas, in point of fact, we only have the faith that labours to receive. It is not wrong to have the labouring faith; it is necessary stage in the process of advanced believing, but it is wrong to try to deceive ourselves about the stage we are in.
The best analysis of labouring and resting faith in the Bible is the description given in Romans 4:16-22 of Abraham’s pioneer act of faith. We there see the process exhaustively outlined. We see faith’s beginning and foundation in a discovery of the will of God; in this case it was a word from God: "So shall thy seed be"; for faith always comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
The second stage is the counter-attack of the visible–in this case his and Sarah’s age and physical condition. This he countered by turning his back on the visible; a deliberately considered act, for "he considered not his own body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb." This is described as being "not weak in faith"; in other words, he did not just lie down under existing circumstances, as we so often do. He rose up and began to take action, negative action at first.
In the third stage, he passes form occupation with things earthly to things heavenly; from the downward to the upward look. "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief." Now the muscles of his faith are rapidly gaining strength: he who had refused to be weakened in faith by natural appearances is mightily strengthened in faith by contemplation of the promises, strengthened to the point that a sheer impossibility does not stagger him.
At the fourth stage, a radical change takes place: the burden and struggle is replaced by a burst of praise "giving the glory to God." Now faith is shining out in noontide strength, and is called "strong." God alone, the God of the impossible, fills the vision; worship and praise take the place of strife and travail, for the soul that is occupied with glorifying God cannot at the same time be obsessed with doubts concerning Him.
At last, at the fifth stage, the topmost run of the ladder of faith is reached: full assurance; "being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform." Now he knows, now he has, perfect faith has come. The fulfillment is already his in the invisible, and, as day follows night, will be seen in the visible. And the mighty results of a battle of faith fought and won is seen in its fourfold fruit: it pleases God, it moves God to give public honor to the believer; it has its visible answer in the birth of Isaac; and it is an inspiration to the world.
Some have to toil up the ladder of faith, with varying degrees of labour; but we say again, it is not wrong to feel the conflict with doubt, so long as we are honest about it. Indeed, it is only living faith that doubts, for "faith is not the banishing of all difficulties, but their subordination to greater certainties."
One of the most candid remarks in this respect was made by the father who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus. It will be remembered that he said: "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us"; and Jesus’ answer was: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Now notice his reply. "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." In other words, he recognized frankly two counter-currents in him: one believing, one disbelieving. With one half of him, as it were, he said: "Lord, I do believe." But the other half of him was calling out "Impossible"; and, instead of hiding it, he exposed it and cried for deliverance. That is the way through.
How, then, do we scale this ladder of faith, and pass through the various stages from little to perfect believing?
Some years ago we described in a pamphlet the struggles of the soul that goes through with God, and we will repeat here: God says, "Reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God." But facts are simply against it! We are not dead to the one nor alive to the other. We must stand to the Scriptures, and yet we must also be realists, true to facts! We will find a compromise, a backdoor out! It says "reckon." That means that we are not actually dead, we only reckon ourselves dead, but are not really so. We are crucified with Christ according to our standing in Him, but not according to our actual state on earth! And so, at the critical moment, we nicely elude the real bite of faith, and begin a crazy, wobbly walk with a foot on both levels of reality, the carnal and spiritual: we endeavour to do exactly what Jesus said it was an impossibility to do; to serve two masters, acknowledge the dominion of two lords, the flesh and the Spirit.
No, that will not do. Faith is the utmost simplicity, but because we are distorted and subtle, it is a long road back to the transparency of childhood. Here is what the Scripture calls the fights of faith. The issue is clean-cut. We are summoned to step right off the level of the visible, the natural, carnal, and take the giant leap into the invisible. Witnesses are plied on us to press us into it. The inward light. The outward Scriptures. The historic fact of Christ. The miracle of changed lives.
Very well, at last we do it. We state to ourselves that we have begun life on a new level of reality–in Christ. We pronounce the new realities to be the new facts of our everyday life. We are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. We are crucified with Him and He living in us. We have His love, His wisdom, His power. We are in a mystical union with the Godhead. We are in a new, timeless, spaceless realm; a fourth dimension, where, in the Spirit, we reach everywhere, possess all things, and touch all lives or supply all needs by the law of this invisible kingdom, the law of faith. And in the magnificence, wonder and glory of this new and full livingness, like Paul, we loose our hold on all the paltrinesses and trivialities which were once the sum of all life to us, out little bit of earthly dignity, position and reputation, our miserable scraps of earthly possessions, our little world of friends and relatives, even our tenacious hold on our minute particle of physical life. All these rivulets of the good things of existence are now merged and submerged in the endless sea of the ALL in Christ…not lost…merely absorbed, as the light of the night lamp in the morning glory of the sun. How can we grasp tight and cling to our petty dignities, our few bits of things, our tiny circle of loved ones, when hands and hearts are brim full with the wealth of the universe, the honour of divine sonship, the whole family in heaven and earth, and we are busied in praising, blessing and dispensing, in place of coveting, grabbing and keeping?
And then, with a roar and a rush, back flood the plain facts of the old reality. What’s the use of all this idealism? Stark realism present us with unmistakable upsurges of the self-life, patent lapses in the flesh, visible situations of need and lack. Back we swing again into the old beliefs, with their satellites of fear, depression, and fruitless struggling against the enemy.
Yet again in the stillness, the outline of things eternal rises before our misty vision, and we climb back, wearily, shamefacedly, but with grim determination, to the highlands of faith. The things that are seen are only temporal, only the rough-ended, distorted shell of reality, shattered by the hammer blows of Christ’s death and resurrection: such bastard claims to reality we now ignore. The things that are not seen are eternal; here is the heart of reality, the unsearchable riches of the I AM, who now says to us, "In Me, YOU ARE." Yes, here we stand, in Him.
And so the fight of faith sways to and fro. But note carefully that there should be no fight at all! We only fight and struggle because we are still in the infancy of faith; still seeing men as trees walking so far as the full way of God is concerned. A great veil, indeed, is over the eyes of thousands of Christians just at this point, because they are given to understand that Christianity is ever a struggle and strife against inward and outward foes. No. That is the half-way method of the law, provided only as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, to teach us the power of sin and weakness of self, and thus stimulate us to the discovery of true deliverance. That is meeting the negative with the negative; opposing the devil’s "Thou shalt not do good," with God’s "Thou shalt not do evil," with the consequent exhausting tug-of-war and endless alternation between victories and defeats. But the negative is swallowed up by the positive, the evil overcome by the good.
But this method, the evil, the visible, the fallen condition, the oppositions of Satan, are disregarded; while all the energies are concentrated on believing, affirming and standing in the victory of Christ. When this is done, the other merely disappears form view. It becomes an unreality to us, a chimera, a dream. We have passed out of the principle of darkness into the principle of light, and these two cannot know each other. The wrestlings against the rulers of the darkness of this world to which Paul refers, are, he distinctly says, not just a negative recognition of and struggle against such forces, but a positive standing in full mental and spiritual occupation with the great positive facts of our salvation, the realization of the heavenly armour, the helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, shield of faith (Eph. 6:10-18).
We struggle and labour and fight in faith, because we have not yet discerned between soul and spirit, the hallmark of the mature. We are constantly moved in the human realm by the impact of the visible. We "see" this or that failing or lack. We "feel" depression. We "hear" an unceasing stream of unbelieving talk. All this affects our minds and conditions, and we seem to have pressing down upon us a mountain of oppression, hardness, inability to maintain our grip on the invisible. We struggle, we strive, and the best we can do is dumbly, without feeling or sight, "to cling heaven by the hems": and the worst, which we more often do, is to let faith go for a season. The battle is fierce.
The enemy this time is no dead and gone catalog of past sins: it is a living, pulsing, corrupt nature. Blows are given and taken in an endless hurricane. One moment, flesh puts its foot on the neck of faith and summons it to surrender, the battle seems hopeless, flesh seems to pop up its evil head whenever it pleases. Another moment, faith rears up again from the dust, flings off the flesh, tramples it under foot and shouts, "They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." "Cast out the bondwoman and her son."
Then what happens? Who can tell? The contest was unequal from the beginning, despite all appearances. Faith had the trump card all the time, the victory already won by Him who "having spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in the Cross." Only one requirement was essential: that faith should endure to the end and not be bluffed into a surrender.
The same principle can be seen on the natural plane, in the exercise of natural faith. Take as an example the learning of a foreign language. You are faced with a series of hieroglyphics in a book, you hear a medley of sounds around, which mean absolutely noting. Yet you know that it is a language which can be learned. More than that, you have gone there to learn it.
Now that is the first rung of the ladder of faith. However weakly or waveringly, in your heart (even though out of modesty you might not even confess it yourself) you do believe that you can and will get it. Otherwise, obviously you wouldn’t try to learn it. So you plod on. Many a time faith and courage fail, the mind is weary and the heart heavy, and you almost give up. But not quite. To give up is faith’s unforgivable sin. On you go at it. Months pass. It seems largely to go in at one ear and out of the other. Then–the length of time depends on the difficulty of the language and the ability and industry of the pupil of course–a miracle seems to happen. The day or period comes when, without your hardly realizing it, what you are seeking has found you; what you are trying to grasp has grasped you! You just begin automatically to speak the language, to think it, to hear it. What was an incomprehensible jumble of sounds without, has become an ordered language within the mind.
That is the way of faith. It takes what God gives–here a language. It believes that it can attain it. It works at it both by maintaining faith (keeping the spirit up as we call it), and by industry; then the day comes when through faith and through work, the Giver of all knowledge is able to implant in that mind, as part of its very own possessions, that department of knowledge He had already given and it was seeking. Faith has gained the objective God was offering it.