WHEREFORE DIDST THOU DOUBT?.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" -- Matt. 14:31.
"WHEREFORE didst thou doubt?" This is a most significant question. It is as though our Lord had said, "Knowing me as thou dost, Peter, and having had experience of all my love and care for thee so long, how is it that thou canst doubt me now? If I have called thee to come to me on the water, of course I will enable thee to do so. What are boisterous winds or tossing waves to ME, who am the Creator and Ruler of them all? Wherefore dost thou doubt?"
This question is as full of significance now as it was on that stormy night in Galilee 1,800 years ago. Of thousands of Christians living on the earth at the present moment it might well be asked. For when winds are contrary and seas are stormy with us, doubts and fears are as near at hand to overwhelm us as they were near at hand to Peter; and the reproach, "O thou of little faith," applies as definitely to many of Christ's disciples now as it did to Peter then.
"And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him and say unto Him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?" (Mark 4:37-40.)
The fright of these disciples was not caused by the great storm to which they were exposed, but by their own lack of faith. Storms cannot frighten people who are trusting in the Lord. Doubt is the foundation of every fear that can by any possibility assail the child of God.
"For whoso hearkeneth unto me, that is, whoso believes what I say, shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil." Most people, alas! do not hearken unto God, but they hearken instead to their own fears. The soul that really hearkens unto the Lord knows there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of, and will declare triumphantly with the Psalmist, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" And it will answer its own questions with the confident assertion, "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear!" Not all the hosts of earth or hell can frighten the soul that "hearkens unto God."
Of course it will be understood that I am not in this lesson dealing with the doubts of unbelievers, such doubts as are called Agnostic doubts. It is the doubts of disciples I refer to, such doubts as Peter had, or those disciples in the little ship into which the waves were beating on that stormy evening, long ago; doubts as to God's love for us and His care over us, doubts as to His wisdom, or as to His omnipotence, or as to His interest in our affairs, or as to His watchfulness, or as to His abiding presence with us. We all know the sort of doubts I mean, and have probably all been more or less plagued by them at one time or another in our lives.
"And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see" (Deut. 28:66, 67).
I believe there are many Christians whose experience could best be described in very much these same words. Their life (spiritual life) hangs in doubt before them continually, and they have no assurance of their life. Doubts eat into the very heart of everything. Nobody can have any comfort who indulges in doubts. A great many people have contracted such an inveterate habit of doubting, that no drunkard was ever more in bondage to his drink habit than they are to their doubt habit. And the worst of it is that they seem to have settled down under their doubts as to a sort of chronic malady, from which they suffer very much, but to which they must resign themselves as to a part of the necessary discipline of this earthly life. They even lament over their doubts as a man might lament over his rheumatism, and look upon their doleful experience as though it were an "interesting case" of especial and peculiar trial, which calls for the tenderest sympathy and the uttermost consideration! I appeal to my readers whether this is not a true description of a great deal of their religious life.
Now the vital question is, Wherefore do we doubt? Is doubt a necessary and integral part of the Christian religion; and if it is not, why has it gained such a foothold? To the first part of this question I would reply emphatically, that the whole testimony of Scripture, and the verdict of common-sense as well, is utterly against doubting; and that as a truth doubting is always and everywhere, in the Bible and out of it, treated by God as a sin. We are, in fact, told plainly that the man who wavereth (i.e. doubteth) must not expect to receive anything of the Lord (James 1:6, 7). Faith, absolute and unconditional, is the universal requirement; and, in view of the character of the One whom we are called upon to trust, it is the only sensible and reasonable thing. It is amazing that we can be so idiotic as to doubt or question anything with which God, our unchangeable omnipotent God, has to do. Our Divine Master when on earth tried to convince us of the utter folly of doubt. One of His very last commands was this, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid;" and consequently when we indulge in doubts or fears, we are not only doing a very silly thing, but we are also directly disobeying Him. The grounds upon which He gives us this command is His own assurance that if there was any, even the slightest reason for fear, "He would have told us." Surely He would! We can trust His faithfulness and honesty this far, at least! Then, since He has not told us that there is any cause for fear or anxiety, but, on the contrary, has assured us that there is none, how is it that we can dare to doubt? I confess it is a mystery to me. As far as I can find out, Mahommedans do not doubt, neither do the worshippers of idols. It seems reserved for Christians to make a sort of religion of their doubting, and to look upon it as the indication of a humble and proper frame of mind. As if the doubting, which would be considered most unfilial and wicked in an earthly child towards its earthly father, becomes pious and beautiful in the child of God towards his Heavenly Father.
And yet I know well how reasonable and sensible our doubts seem. "Look, Peter," the tempter most probably said, "look at those roaring waves, and remember that such a thing was never heard of as that a man could walk on water. It is really presumptuous for you to try to do it. The Master does not mean for you actually to go to Him. It is only a figure of speech; and if you do not want to be drowned, you had better get back to a safe place on the ship as fast as you can." The amazing thing to me is, however, that Peter could listen for a moment to these suggestions of doubt, when he had heard the Master's command. And yet in the face of hundreds of similar commands and promises, Christians now listen to far worse suggestions of doubt, and even think they are pious and humble in so doing! It is simply amazing!
"If, then, God so clothe the grass, which is to-day in the field, and to-morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will He clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things" (Luke 12:28-30).
To say that our Father "knoweth" we have a need, seemed to our Lord a sufficient guarantee that of course He would supply it. It is enough for the child if its mother knows that it has need of anything. Her mother love compels her, if it lies within her power, to supply that need. And it is the same with God. He who made the mother's heart must have one at least equally as motherly; and to know we have a need, must mean that He will unfailingly supply it. If then we are of "doubtful mind," it is an implication on our part that either He does not know our need, or else that, knowing it, He does not care. Surely we cannot want to be guilty of such an insult towards God as this. Paul says, "I know whom I have believed, and therefore am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him." If we knew Him, as Paul did, we also should be equally persuaded; for we would see how utterly impossible it is that He could ever fail us. Men may fail us, but God never! Every doubt, therefore, is in reality a libel against God; for it is an implication that He who has promised is not faithful, but unfaithful, and that He cannot be fully trusted.
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee! be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee: yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. For I, the Lord thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 41:10-14).
The Bible is full of these "Fear nots," with their accompanying assurances that God will be with us, and will certainly care for us. If we believe these assurances, no enemies and no dangers, whether they are outward or inward, can cause us a moment's fear or doubt; for we will know that the Lord our God is stronger than any enemy the universe contains, and we will say with the Apostle, "If God be for me, who can be against me?"
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Ps. 23:4).
Not even the valley of the shadow of death can cause the trusting heart to fear. The fact of God's presence is enough always to make the "fearful heart" strong, let the circumstances be what they may.
"Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense: He will come and save you" (Isa. 35:3, 4).
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).
The "spirit of fear" does not belong to the Christian religion. It is never enumerated among the "fruits of the Spirit." It is not given to us from God. On the contrary, it is always condemned as being alien to the whole idea of Christianity, and as coming purely and only from unbelief.
"Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can He give bread also? can He provide flesh for His people? Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; because they believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation" (Ps. 78:19-22).
All doubts are a "speaking against God." I know a great many of my readers will start at this and exclaim, "Oh, no, that is a mistake. Doubts often arise from humility. We feel ourselves to be so unworthy of the love and care of God that we cannot believe it is possible for Him to love or care for us. It is not that we doubt Him, but we doubt ourselves." This sounds very plausible; but let us see what it amounts to. Does God's love for us depend on the kind of people we are? Does He love only good people? or does He love sinners? The Bible says, "God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." And again it says: "But God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ." Can it be called humility to question this, and to doubt whether, after all, He really does love us who are sinners? We would not think it humility on the part of our children, if, when they were naughty, they should begin to doubt our love for them, and, because they had been disobedient, should be anxious lest we should neglect them and fail to protect their interests. True humility, no matter how unworthy it may feel itself to be, instead of creating doubts, extinguishes them, because it would not presume to doubt God's promises of love and care.
"We love Him because He first loved us," is what the Bible says. But we are continually tempted to reverse this order and say, "He loves us because we first loved Him;" and then, finding our own love so weak and poor, we naturally begin to doubt whether He loves us at all. We can never do anything but doubt, just so long as we think God's love for us is dependent upon the amount of our love for Him. But to think this, is to fly in the face of every word He has said about it. Our duty, therefore, is to throw aside every doubt, and to let ourselves go in an unwavering belief in the unmerited but unfailing love of God.
"But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 20, 21).
To keep ourselves in the love of God, or, in other words, to keep ourselves in God's love, does not mean, as so many think, to keep ourselves loving Him. It means to settle ourselves down, as it were, into His love as an absolute and unalterable fact, to take up our abode in it, and to stay in it forever. It means never to doubt His love, never to question it, never to fear losing it; but to believe in it, and trust it, despite all seemings to the contrary, utterly and steadfastly and for ever.
"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:14-19).
The soul that is "rooted and grounded" in the love of God, and that keeps itself there unwaveringly, has got into a region where doubt is impossible. For who could doubt love? It is in the very nature of love to do the very best it possibly can for those it loves. This is its law. Therefore, when once we believe in the love of God, we know, without a shadow of doubt, that we cannot possibly have anything to fear.
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).
He that feareth has never yet fully believed in the "huge tenderness" of the love of God!
"Pining souls, come nearer Jesus,
And, oh, come not doubting thus,
But with love that trusts more bravely
His huge tenderness for us."
Doubts are a complete barrier to any success in the Christian life. Spiritual things work altogether by the law of faith, and doubts are barriers that effectually hinder the working of this law.
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:7, 8).
It is a most significant fact that among the sins which are here declared to plunge a soul into the "lake of fire" that of being "fearful and unbelieving" heads the list. All that this means I do not know, but I am certain it must mean this much, that to be fearful and unbelieving is as absolute a hindrance to the spiritual life as many things which we consider far greater sins. And this leaves us no alternative as to whether or not we shall go on indulging in the habit of doubt. We dare not do it. We must get rid of our doubts somehow. The only question is, How? To this I would reply that there is only one way. We must GIVE THEM UP. We must make a surrender of them to the Lord, and must trust Him to deliver us from their power. Doubts are a "speaking against God," and are consequently sin. They are not an infliction, but a rebellion. We can never indulge in them for a single moment without disobeying our Lord, who has left us, as His last command, this law, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." No matter how plausible our doubts may seem, we simply MUST turn our backs on them, and refuse to entertain them for a moment. I believe myself it is a good thing to sign a pledge against doubting, just as one signs a pledge against drink. This means that you give up all liberty to doubt, that, in short, you make an entire consecration or surrender of your doubting. And if you do this, the Lord, as He always does when anything is surrendered to Him, will take possession of your doubts, and will deliver you from their power.
You must hand your doubting over to Him, as you do your temper or your pride, and must trust Him to deliver you from doubting, just as you do to deliver you from getting angry. The great point is to give up the liberty to doubt. The trouble lies in the fact that, in this matter of doubting, most people reserve to themselves a little liberty, because they feel it is impossible always to trust and never to doubt. "I do not want to doubt anymore," we will say, or "I hope I shall not;" but it is hard to come to the point of saying, "I will not. I give up all liberty to doubt for ever." But no surrender is really effectual until it reaches the point of saying "I will not." Therefore our only hope for victory lies in an utter surrender of all liberty to doubt for ever.
I do not mean that doubts will not come. As long as we are in this body of flesh I suppose we shall be subject to the temptation to doubt. But while we cannot help the temptation coming, we can help entertaining it, and giving it an abiding-place in our hearts. We must treat every temptation to doubt as a temptation to sin, and must refuse to entertain it for a single moment. It will help us in this if we begin to assert by faith the exact opposite of our doubt. Doubts always fly when faith appears on the scene. If the doubt, for instance, says, "God does not love you," faith must declare more emphatically than ever, "God does love me. He says He does, and I know it is true." Kill your doubts by refusing to listen to them for a moment. Doubts cannot live where they find no nourishment.
Therefore, dear doubting souls, this is what you must do. You must hand over your doubting to the Lord and must "set your faces like a flint" never to indulge in doubts again.
"For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed" (Isa. 50:7).
A little experience in the life of one of my children may be helpful. One night as I was tucking her up in bed she said to me, "Well, mother, I have had my first doubt." "What was it?" I asked in great surprise. "Oh," she replied, "Satan told me that God did not love me, because I was such a naughty little girl; and he said I was a foolish child to believe God loved me, even if my mother did say He did." "What did thee say?" I asked. "Oh," she replied, "I just said, 'Satan, I am going to believe it, and I WILL believe it; so there!' And then he did not bother me anymore."
Of course I was delighted at the child's sensible way of dealing with her doubts, and encouraged her all I could always to treat them after this fashion; and did not suppose I should hear of them again. But the next night after she was in bed, and I went for my good-night kiss, she greeted me with the words, "Well, mother, Satan has been at it again." "What did he say this time?" I asked. "Why, he said," she replied, "that the Bible was not true, and that only foolish people believed it." "And what did thee answer him?" I asked. "Oh," she replied, "I just said, 'Satan, shut thy mouth!' and he ran away as fast as he could."
That little child had learned how to treat her doubts. May the blessed Spirit teach each one of us how to do the same!
A TALK WITH ST. PETER
BY GEORGE MAC DONALD
"O Peter, wherefore didst thou doubt?
In truth the scud flew fast about;
But He was there, whose walking foot
Could make the wandering hills take root;
And He had said, 'Come down to Me,'
Else had thy foot not touched the sea;
Christ did not call thee to thy grave;
Was it the boat that made thee brave?"
"Easy for thee, who wast not there,
To think thou, more than I, could'st dare!
It hardly fits thee though to mock,
Scared as thou wast that railway shock!
Who said'st this morn, 'Wife, we must go;
The plague will soon be here, I know.'
Who, when thy child slept (not to death),
Said'st, 'Nothing now is worth a breath!' "
True! True! Great Fisherman! I stand
Rebuked by waves seen from the land!
Even the lashing of the spray,
The buzzing fears of any day,
Rouse anxious doubt lest I should find
God neither in the spray nor wind.
But now and then, as once to thee,
The Master turns and looks at me!
And now to Him I turn. My Lord,
Help me to fear nor fire nor sword;
Let not the cross itself appal!
Know I not Thee, the Lord of all!
Let reeling brain nor fainting heart
Wipe out the sureness that Thou art!
Oh, deeper, Thou, than doubt can go,
Make my poor hope cry out, "I know!"
And so when Thou shalt please to say,
"Come to My side," some stormy way.
My feet, attuning to Thy will,
Shall, heaved and tossed, walk toward Thee still.
No leaden heart shall sink me where
Prudence is crowned with cold despair;
But I shall reach and clasp Thy hand,
And, on the sea, forget the land!
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