THE LAW OF FAITH.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith." -- Rom. 3:27.
IN considering this text not long ago, it dawned upon me that the expression, the "law of faith," must have a deeper meaning than is sometimes given to it. The word "law" emphasised itself to my mind, and I saw it could not mean only the fact of faith, or the results of faith; but that it must also mean the law by which faith works, its inherent nature as it were, or its mode of action. We speak of the law of gravitation, or the law of chemical affinities, and we mean something far more than the mere facts or phenomena of gravitation or chemical affinities. We mean the laws behind the facts, which govern the facts, and which are their mode of working.
The law which lies behind the fact is, of course, the really potent thing. The fact of gravitation was a great discovery, but it would not have revolutionised the world as it has without the further discovery of its laws. Until these laws were discovered, the mighty force hidden in the fact of gravitation was comparatively worthless. It could not be applied.
We have nothing here to do with the doctrines concerning faith. These are for theologians. But what we need is to get at the practical common-sense every-day laws of the spiritual life, that we may use them in our daily battle with the world.
The progress of thought and investigation removes all things in the material world, sooner or later, out of the region of isolated and unexplained fact, into the region of ascertained and orderly law; the region where whatever powers they may possess become capable of practical application.
Something of this same progress of thought in regard to faith may be seen in the spiritual world. The facts of faith have been brought before Christians of late years with increasing prominence. We have had Faith Missions, and Faith Homes, and Faith Healing, and Faith Works in abundance, and the Church has gradually been learning that faith is a real and mighty spiritual force, which can accomplish things and control things in a way that cannot be accounted for except on the ground of some actual definite law of faith, that works with the irresistible and inevitable certainty of all law in every region of life.
"And He said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague" (Mark 5:34).
"And He said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke 17:19).
"And He said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace" (Luke 7:50).
"Then touched He their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you" (Matt. 9:29).
We are all familiar with these declarations of our Lord, and have all repeated many a time to ourselves and to others the magical words, "According to your faith" it shall be unto you. But have we not looked upon them too much as magical words, involving a sort of continuous miracle, for which there was no law, and about which there could be no certainty? Has not the feeling concerning faith been more or less that it is a capricious, uncertain factor, which may work or may not, and upon which no real dependence can ever be placed? Has not the exercise of it been always somewhat of an experiment, even with the most devout souls? And is not the wonder and admiration with which we regard a successful issue to its ventures, an indication that the truth has hardly yet dawned upon us of a "law of faith," about whose working there can be no experiment and no doubt?
"Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig-tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. 21:21, 22).
There is no experiment or doubt in the faith here described. It is an assertion of the most uncompromising nature, that there is a "law of faith" which will inevitably work, wherever and whenever it is applied, and that not even mountains can withstand it.
"And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine-tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you" (Luke 17:6).
"Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt. 17:19, 20).
All these astounding assertions are from the lips of our Lord Himself, and they must contain a deeper truth than any the Church has yet comprehended, or our achievements in the region of faith could not possibly be so few and meagre. I believe myself that Christ was here telling us of a mighty, irresistible, spiritual law, that is inherent in the nature of God, and that is shared, according to our measure, by every one who is begotten of God, and is a partaker of His divine nature. Just as gravitation is a law of matter, inherent in matter, and absolutely unerring and unintermittent in its working, so is faith a law of spirit, inherent in spirit, and equally unerring and unintermittent in its working. When Christ says, therefore, that "nothing shall be impossible" to faith, He is not stating a marvellous fact only, but He is revealing a tremendous law.
"Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23).
We know that all things are possible to God, and here our Lord tells us that all things are possible to us also, if we only believe. No assertion could be more distinct or unmistakable. The great thing for us, therefore, is to discover the law by which faith works, in order that we may know how to exercise this tremendous spiritual force, that is declared by our Lord to be our birthright, as being children of God, and partakers of His nature.
First of all, then, let us consider what faith is not, that we may be better able to understand what it really is.
By very many faith is considered to be a gracious disposition of the soul, wrought by the Holy Ghost in answer to wrestling prayer, which puts us in a fit condition to receive favours from God. By others it is thought to be an acceptable frame of mind, that causes God to be pleased with us. Others look upon faith as though it were a sort of thing, received also in answer to wrestling prayer, a tangible reality of some kind, that can be seen and handled; a sort of spiritual commodity, done up, as it were, in packages, and labeled "faith," to be stowed away in the heart, ready for use, as a species of coin with which to buy God's gifts, or an equivalent to induce Him to part with them.
In all sorts of ways the subject of faith is often so mixed up with mystery, that a plain, common-sense way-faring man can make neither head nor tail of the matter in his every-day life. But the truth is that faith is simply neither more nor less than trust or confidence. We have faith in ourselves when we trust ourselves; we have faith in a friend when we trust that friend; we have faith in a bank when we trust that bank. Faith in the Bible sense, therefore, is simply trust or confidence in God. Faith in man and faith in God are precisely the same thing in their nature; the difference consisting only in the different persons believed in. Faith in man links us on to and makes us one with mere humanity; faith in God links us on to and makes us one with divinity.
"If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son" (1 John 5:9, 10).
Faith, then, is not a thing to be seen, or touched, or handled. It is not a grace, nor a gracious disposition. It is nothing mysterious or perplexing. It is simply and only believing God. And to "exercise faith," as it is called, one has only to exercise towards God the same believing faculty one exercises towards man.
Neither are there different kinds of faith. Men talk about a feeling faith, and a living faith, and a saving faith, and an intellectual faith, and a historical faith, and a dead faith. But it is all a waste of words; for either I trust or I do not trust. If I trust, I have faith, and if I do not trust, I do not have faith, and that is all there is about it.
There are two Scripture illustrations that seem to me to make it very plain what faith really is.
"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" (Heb. 11:3).
"As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations, before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:17-22).
The passage in Hebrews simply means that we know that the worlds were framed by the word of God, because God says they were; and we believe Him, without requiring any other proof but His word. We were not there to see them so made, we do not know anybody who was; but God says it, and we believe Him; and this is faith.
The passage in Romans is similar, only that it illustrates faith in regard to a future thing instead of a past thing. Abraham is the Scripture pattern of faith, continually pointed to as such all through the Bible. Now what did Abraham do? He simply believed God, when He told him He was going to give him a son. He had no outward proof of it, and no rational human hope, but "against hope, he believed in hope," because God had said it, and he chose to believe God. And therefore, it is said of him, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness."
The "law of faith" appears, therefore, to consist simply in two things, namely, a conviction of God's will, and a perfect confidence that that Will must necessarily be accomplished. There are two passages that seem to me to set forth very clearly and definitely the working of this law.
"And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him" (1 John 5:14, 15).
"And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:22-24).
Notice the process of faith, or in other words, the "law of faith," as set forth in these passages. We are commanded to have the same sort of faith that God has. (See margin in Mark 11:22.) Now God's faith that what He desires will be accomplished, is of course absolute and unwavering. He knows it. And we are to know it also. Then we are to say so.
"For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" (Ps. 33:9).
One passage says "ask," and the other says "say." I believe they are interchangeable words in this connection, and that the prayer of faith is really a command of faith also. "God spake and it was done," and so are we also, who are begotten of Him, to speak, and it shall be done also. This is what it means when it says, "Have the faith of God," as the margin puts it. We are to have the same sort of faith that God has, according to our measure. Rom. 4:17 describes the sort of faith God has.
"God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were."
God disregards all seemings, but, calling "those things which be not as though they were," He creates them by that very calling. How much of this creative power of faith we His children share, I am not prepared to say, but that we are called to share far more of it than we have ever yet laid hold of, I feel very sure. There are, I am convinced, many "mountains" in our lives and experiences, which might be overcome, had we only the courage of faith to say to them, "Be thou removed," accompanied with a calm assurance that they must surely go.
The difficulty is that we neither "say" the word of faith, nor "pray" the prayer of faith. We say generally the word of doubt, and pray the prayer of experiment, and then we wonder why our faith and our prayers are so ineffectual.
"But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (James 1:6, 7).
It is of no use to fight against this inevitable law. As well might the architect try to work in opposition to the law of gravitation, and undertake to build his house from the top downwards, as for the Christians to try to accomplish anything in the spiritual realm by means of doubt. It simply cannot be done; and the sooner Christians know this the better for them. How much can be done by faith, may remain an open question perhaps, but it is a settled matter for ever that nothing can be done by doubt.
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).
Faith is, I believe, the vital principle of the spiritual life, just as truly as breath seems to be the vital principle of the bodily life; and we can no more live spiritually without faith than we can live our bodily life without breath.
As to the limits of the power of faith, I am not, as I said above, prepared to speak. The Scriptures, it seems to me, put no limit whatever. Read the triumphant declaration concerning it in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. There is scarcely any experience of human life that is not enumerated in one way or another in this magnificent record of faith's achievements and faith's victories.
"And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:32-40).
These old worthies surely must have understood the "law of faith," and must have known how to apply it, far better than we do of the present day.
To them this "law" was a law that applied, not only to their religion, but to their life. They brought it into use, not only on fast days or feast days, but on ordinary week days as well. They applied it to every emergency. We of the present day make the mistake of limiting the working of this law to what we call the religious part of our life. And yet it is evident that the Bible, in teaching us to "live by faith," must mean our daily living. We are to bring faith to bear upon all that concerns us, whether it is what we call spiritual or what we call temporal; and, in the earthly plane of things, as well as in the heavenly, we are to "overcome by faith." Let us make up our minds, then, to live by the "law of faith." Let us bring it to bear on our household affairs, on our business enterprises, on our social duties, on all and everything, in short, that concerns us, whether it be inward or outward; and see whether we, too, may not "obtain a good report through faith," and may not triumph, as these old worthies did, over every emergency and every need of our lives.
Table of Contents Chapter 14 Home The Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith