Subject One: Faith

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Questions by O. Lambert; answers by H. P. Barker.
The first subject we have chosen is one of prime importance, for faith is the great principle upon which God bestows His blessing.
When the question, “What must I do to be saved?” rang from the agonized lips of the prison warden at Philippi, the inspired answer did not direct him to pray or strive or make vows or anything of that sort. He was told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Nothing that he could do could secure God’s salvation. The doing had all been done by Christ. All that is left for the sinner is the appropriation of the results of His mighty work by simple faith.
What Is Faith?
Faith is something which people exercise in a hundred ways every day of their lives. When that lady entered just now and sat down on that chair, it was an act of faith. She trusted the chair and committed herself to it. When I removed my hat and hung it on the hook, that again was an act of faith. I trusted the hook and depended on it to hold my hat. The faith of which the Bible speaks is just as simple as that. Christ is its object, and to have faith in Him is to rely on Him, or count on Him for that which our souls need. The same thing is expressed in other ways in Scripture: “look,” “come,” “take,” “receive” — all these mean very much the same as “trust” or “believe.”
Can a Man Believe of His Own Accord?
When the Lord Jesus told the man with the withered hand to stretch it forth, the man did not ask, “How can I?” He might have said, “Lord, I have not been able to move this arm for years. It is paralyzed and helpless. I cannot be expected to raise it.” But he simply did as he was told. From this we learn that when God commands, He gives power to obey.
Now it is His commandment that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ (see 1 John 3:2323And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. (1 John 3:23)). Left to ourselves, it is not likely that we should desire to trust in Him. Our hearts are naturally so depraved and hard that there is no room for Christ there. But God has His ways of producing what He seeks, and it is not for us to reason as to our ability or inability to believe, but to remember that we are commanded to do it. The best thing is to be simple about it. We often can trust one another without question. It ought not to be more difficult to trust the Saviour.
Why Is It Said That Faith Is the “Gift of God”?
It means, I think, that not only does blessing come to us freely from God, but that the means of taking possession of that blessing is provided by Him.
Suppose that a friend comes to you and says, “I have placed a large sum of money to your account at the Colonial Bank. Here is a checkbook for you. When you wish to withdraw any money, fill in a check and present it, and you will get what you want.”
Your friend thus makes a twofold provision for you. First, he provides a sum of money for you to draw upon. Second, he furnishes you with the means to draw upon that amount. But it would be useless for you to say, “Very well then, all I have to do is to fold my arms and wait till the money comes to me.” You would forever remain without the money if you were to act in that way.
You would have to use diligence in availing yourself of the means provided. You would have to fill in and sign the checks and present them at the bank for payment.
Now faith is like the checkbook. It is the gift of God and is the means by which you may freely avail yourself of all the blessing which Christ has won for sinners by His work on the cross. The effect of it should be to exercise you and make you diligent in applying for the offered blessing.
Will Believing That I Am Saved Save Me?
No more than a pauper would become a millionaire by believing that he is one! We sometimes hear it said, “All you have to do is to believe that you are saved, and you are saved.” One might as well go to the bedside of a man sick with typhoid fever and say, “All that you have to do is to believe that you are quite well, and you are quite well.” It is worse than useless for a man to believe that he is saved, until he really is saved through faith in Christ.
What Must a Man Believe in Order to Be Saved?
I would rather say, “Whom must a man believe?” for it is not a fact but a Person that is set forth as the object of faith. In 2 Timothy 1:1212For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12) the Apostle says, “I know whom I have believed.”
In order to be saved, we are not told to believe about the Lord Jesus Christ, but to believe on Him — that is, to trust in Him.
A lady once came to a friend of mine after an earnest gospel preaching and said, “Will you please point me to some text in the Bible which I am to believe in order to be saved?” The preacher replied, “Madam, you may believe any text or all the texts in the Bible and yet not be saved. Believing the Bible never yet saved a soul.
“Well,” said the lady, “if I believe that Christ died for sinners, will that save me?”
“No, madam,” was the reply, “for that would only be the belief of a fact — a very blessed fact, I grant you, but still only a fact, and believing a fact, however true, never yet saved a soul.
“I suppose,” said the lady, “that you mean that I must make it a more personal matter and believe that Jesus died for me.”
“Madam,” replied my friend, “it is an unspeakably precious fact that Jesus died for you. He died for the ungodly, and therefore for you. But that is only a fact, and let me repeat that believing a fact never yet saved a soul.
“Christ is a living Saviour, mighty, through the work that He has accomplished, to save. Trust Him to save you. He is willing; He is able; rely on Him.”
I could not put the matter more simply than my friend did in his conversation with the lady. It is a living, loving Saviour in glory that we are directed to trust.
Is Faith the Only Condition of Salvation?
I hardly like to speak even of faith as a “condition of salvation.” When Queen Elizabeth I was about to pardon one of her nobles who had offended against the laws of the realm, she wished to make certain conditions.
“Your Majesty,” said the offending courtier, “grace that hath conditions is no grace at all.” The Queen saw the truth of this, withdrew the conditions, and freely set the nobleman at liberty.
To speak to the Queen as he did, he must have trusted her. He had faith in her clemency and grace, but this was not a condition of his pardon.
Now God’s grace is as free and unconditional as was Queen Elizabeth’s. It has no conditions. If faith is the principle on which God blesses, it is in order “that it might be by grace” (Rom. 4:1616Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (Romans 4:16)).
This is important, I am sure, for many people regard faith as something that they have to take to God as the price of their salvation, just as they would take a fee to their doctor. Faith is simply taking possession of what God freely offers.
But, probably, my friend, in asking this question, has in his mind something that always goes hand in hand with true faith, and that is repentance. These two are twin sisters. When one really turns to the Lord in faith, one always turns away from self with loathing, and that is what I understand by repentance. I am rather sceptical as to the so-called “faith” of people who have never been before God in self-judgment about their sins.
How May I Know Whether My Faith Is of the Right Kind or Not?
The great point is, Does it rest on the right object? If so, though it may be weak and small, yet it is faith of the right kind. For instance, suppose that I am sick with influenza. I may have great faith in a certain medicine to cure me. Repeated doses, however, produce no result, and I come to the conclusion that my confidence, great though it was, was misplaced, because the medicine in which I trusted had no effect. On the other hand, a remedy of proved value is recommended to me. I have little faith in it, however, and can hardly be persuaded to try it. But when at length I begin to take it, I find myself much benefited. My faith in it was small, but it was the right kind of faith, because the medicine I took was effective.
In like manner, one may have strong faith in prayer or in happy experiences or in dreams, but such faith is faith of the wrong kind. One’s faith in Christ may be very small, but it is indeed faith in Him alone; it is faith of the right kind.
How May One Get to Have Strong Faith?
If a person is untrustworthy, the better one knows him the less one confides in him, but if a person is trustworthy, one’s confidence increases as one gets to know him better. The more we learn of the Lord Jesus, the deeper our personal acquaintance with Him goes; the more we explore the heights and depths of the grace of God, the stronger our faith in Him becomes. Every fresh lesson learned of Him strengthens our faith.
Suppose a Man’s Faith Is Always Weak, Will He yet Be Saved?
It goes without saying that it is good to be like Abraham, who was “strong in faith, giving glory to God.” It has been truly said, however, that while strong faith brings heaven to us, weak faith (so long as it is faith in Christ alone) will bring us to heaven.
I was once travelling by train in England to the city of Birmingham. Two ladies were in the same compartment. One was evidently accustomed to travelling, and, having determined that she was in the right train, sat quietly in her corner, reading a book till she arrived at Birmingham.
The other was an elderly lady, whose great concern seemed to be that, after all, she might not reach her destination. At nearly every station at which we stopped, she put her head out of the window and inquired of some railway official whether she was in the right train. All their assurances seemed powerless to set her mind at ease.
Let me ask you a question. Which of those two ladies do you think got to Birmingham first? Both, of course, got there at precisely the same moment. Their arrival did not depend on the amount of their faith, or the lady with the doubts and misgivings would have been left far behind. Their arrival depended on the fact of their both being in the train that was bound for Birmingham.
In the same way, two persons may have committed themselves to Christ and taken His precious blood as the only hope of their souls. One is filled with holy boldness and calm assurance; the other is the victim of torturing doubts. But there is no better likelihood of the one reaching heaven than the other! Both are sure to get there, because the One in whom they have trusted has pledged His word never to let any of His sheep perish.
Suppose a Man Tries His Best to Believe, What More Can He Do?
For anyone to talk about “trying to believe” shows that he is entirely mistaken as to the nature of faith. If you came to me and said, “I live at No. 10, in such-and-such a street,” and I were to say, “Well, I will try to believe you,” how would you feel? You would draw yourself up, and with an indignant tone you would say, “What? Try to believe me? Do you think, then, that I would tell you a lie?” Your indignation would be natural. Yet people talk of “trying” to believe in Christ! Is He, then, of such doubtful trustworthiness? Is He not rather the one Person in the universe whom we should find is the easiest to trust?
Do not let us get occupied with our faith. Like everything else about us, it is disappointing, and no amount of “trying” will improve it. Let us look away from self to Christ. We cannot trust ourselves, but, thank God, we can fully trust Him.
Is There Not Such a Thing As “Believing in Vain”?
Indeed there is, and the Apostle Paul speaks of it in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 15. But this is only another way of expressing what we have already spoken of, namely faith in an unworthy object. The Apostle was showing the Corinthians that the resurrection of Christ has proved Him to be an Object worthy of our fullest trust. If He had not risen, it would have proved that the load of our sins was too great for Him to bear. Faith in Him would, in that case, have been in vain. But He is risen from the dead, proving thus that His work of atonement is complete. He sits in heaven a mighty Saviour. None who trust in Him will trust in vain.
Must Not Faith Go Hand in Hand With Works?
Faith without works is dead, but it is faith that saves, not faith and works. The works come in as the evidence of the reality of the faith, and very important they are. I am suspicious of the man who tells me that he believes in Christ and yet is not “zealous of good works.”
If you see smoke coming out of a chimney, you know there is a fire inside. You cannot see the fire, but the smoke is evidence of its existence. But it is the fire, not the fire and smoke, that gives warmth. Faith is like the fire; works are like the smoke. They do go hand in hand, but not in securing salvation. No works that we could do could add to the value of the work done by Christ on our behalf. Faith rests upon His work and shows itself in works which are done by the saved ones out of gratitude to Him.
“By grace are ye saved through faith,” we read, “not of works, lest any man should boast.” But in the very next verse we are told that we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:810).
Do We, When We Believe in Christ, Exercise Faith Once for All, or Is It a Continuous Thing?
In trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and salvation, we trust Him to give us what we seek once for all. From the judgment which our sins deserve, from the hell towards which we were hastening, from the wrath that hung over our heads, we trust Him to deliver us once for all. In trusting Him thus, we find that the question of our eternal future is divinely settled, once for all.
But in saying this I do not mean that there will ever be a time, throughout the whole period of our earthly life, when faith should not be in lively exercise. We do indeed believe in the Lord Jesus Christ once for all, but we never cease to trust Him.
Moreover, there are other things than the salvation of the soul that call for the constant exercise of faith. Salvation itself is viewed in more aspects than one. Besides being the present portion of the believer, it is looked at as something which, in its fullness, yet awaits us and which will be “revealed in the last time.” For this, according to 1 Peter 1:55Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5), we are kept by the power of God, not as mere machines, but through faith.
Then there are a hundred things, great and small, connected with our pathway here, each one of which calls for the exercise of faith. For even the smallest earthly mercy we are dependent upon the goodness of God, and in connection with such, as well as in reference to those higher things to the enjoyment of which we are called, we need from day to day to exercise faith in God.
Here our first subject ends. May each and all know what it is to lay hold of Christ by faith for salvation and for all the blessings that God’s grace has stored in Him for us.