The Foundation, Conditions, and Relations of Faith
Text.--Gen. 15:6: "And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness."
"What shall we then say that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the flesh,
hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but
not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted
unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of
grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth
the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Rom. 4:1-5
The passage in Genesis 15, refers to Abraham--to the promises God had made to him--to his faith in those promises, and to the Lord's acceptance of that faith. These topics are first brought to our view in Genesis 12, again in Gen. 17, and thenceforward frequently in the course of Abraham's history. The case was highly instructive, and St. Paul could not fail to see its important bearings. Hence the free use he makes of it as an illustration, both of what faith, and of its results.
In treating this subject, it is important,
I. To notice the foundation of Abraham's faith.
II. Some of its conditions.
III. Its governmental relations.
IV. Its natural relations and results.
I. The foundation of Abraham's faith.
II. Conditions of Abraham's faith.
The covenant of grace to Abraham, God revealed yet more fully, thus expanding more distinctly His purposes of loving-kindness towards a sinning race, and making yet more distinct and definite this ground of saving faith.
III. The governmental relations of saving faith.
What relations did Abraham's faith sustain to the government of God?
In the case of Abraham, faith gave him, as indeed it does all believers, the full benefit of all the work comprised in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. All that Christ has done for the sinner becomes his on condition of his embracing it by faith. This is the only condition. Abraham was to believe the promise before Christ actually came; all believers since Christ's death are to believe on Christ as actually come; in each case the condition is substantially the same; it is believing what God has said, and taking hold of His promise to rely upon it as truth.
Yet here let it not be lost sight of, that, providentially, he may be and is still treated as a sinner. Under the providential, disciplinary government of God, he is regarded as a sinner--as yet imperfect, and needing discipline to improve his character and train him for heaven. Hence, while governmentally he is regarded as righteous and not doomed to hell, yet providentially, it is not forgotten that he has sinned, and that he still needs discipline to evolve and perfect the spirit and the habits of holiness.
IV. Its natural relations and results.
Cases sometimes occur in which we may get from our own observation, very striking and just views of the nature of faith, psychologically considered. You may sometimes see persons give themselves up to another so completely as to believe everything they say, and be entirely controlled by their influence. I was much struck with this in the course of the Second Advent discussions. Some then seemed most manifestly to have unbounded confidence in all Mr. Miller said and believed. Often they manifested a similar confidence in their sub-leaders. For example, I heard a man say--a man who I have reason to fear is a wicked man--"That woman will do just what I tell her to do, and I can make her believe anything I say." This was said in her presence, and I had but too much reason to think that it was literally true.
During the progress of these scenes, I felt constrained to say to one lady--"I am afraid you will go to destruction; you have given yourself up to be led anywhere, and I do greatly fear this will not end short of plunging you in absolute ruin. You believe the most utter nonsense as strongly and firmly as if God Himself had met you and told you to believe it."
This case may serve to illustrate the natural results of faith. Let one man commit himself to another as a leader and teacher, and the latter can lead him anywhere and anyhow he pleases. Let a soldier commit himself thus to his general; he can then be led right into the very jaws of death. So let confidence be cherished in another; its natural result will be to bring the confiding mind under the complete dominion of the mind confided in.
Such was the natural influence of Abraham's faith. We see him hanging upon what God said, just like a child upon its parent. If anything happened to try him, we see him coming forth from the trial in the utmost simplicity of character. How beautiful and how noble to see him stand firm as a rock while the storms of temptation dash around his feet! So it is with real faith always. Abraham's faith had in it nothing peculiar in character or in results. It was simple faith--nothing more.
Let a man believe what is said of the future state; he will then deem it a small thing to be judged of man's judgment. But Oh! to stand right in the eye of the Great and final Judge--this will be his supreme concern. Let him only be assured of this, and all within is peace and joy. Let him only apprehend God's universal providence and put his trust in this all-present and all-controlling Deity; then all is peace and joy. Whether sick or well, it is all the same; nothing disturbs his peace; for he knows that under God's hand all things shall work together for his good. No matter whether he has much or little of earthly supply; he knows that he has just so much as is good for him, for the amount is wisely and kindly measured out to him by One who both knows and loves. He may enjoy honor, or dishonor; may have much learning, or none; all is well, if he knows that God has appointed all just as it is, and if he can thoroughly trust in all to be perfectly right. Be the circumstances what they may, he knows that what is infinitely wise and good is taking place and always will be. Now he has only to believe this, and it is all the same to him whether he have little, or much, or none at all of this world's good things. If he will only believe with unfaltering faith that all is wise and well, he has a key in his own bosom with which he can unlock all treasures.
Here is a professor of religion, under God's glorious government, fretting about a pin! Alas! what is the matter? He has lost a single pin! This is not the worst thing--he has lost his faith! I saw him one day in great trouble and anxiety of mind. It was a few days after his conversion, and then he seemed a bright and joyful convert; but he lost his way and fell into temptation. Alas! go and ask him now what is the matter. "I have lost my Jesus!" It is well that he knows it. Many do not seem to know it when the fact is most obvious to everybody else. Listen to the Psalmist, and mark the beauty and pertinence of his words. He sinks into the deep mire of the Slough of Despond; yet opening his eyes somewhat to his condition, he cries out--"Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him." He would excite his own soul to believe God, and hence he begins to arraign and catechise himself for his causeless unbelief. O, my soul, Why art thou cast down? Believe thou in God! Believe what? Believe in God. Believe that thou shalt still praise Him.
1. The faith of Abraham was purely a mental act. The apostle speaks of it curiously. "If Abraham were justified by works, he would have whereof to glory;" but now he has nothing of which to glory, and therefore he is not justified by works. Plainly he was not justified at all by works in the Jewish sense. It was not on the ground of certain external doings, but on the ground of his mental faith, that he was justified. The purely mental act of faith was the condition, itself antecedent to all external manifestations, and the condition of them. This faith is accounted to him for righteousness.
2. Some confound the condition of faith with faith itself. Some just knowledge of God is doubtless an indispensable condition to the exercise of faith; but this knowledge--this intellectual apprehension of God, is not to be confounded with faith itself.
3. Some look to something within themselves as the ground of faith. Consequently they attend continually to their own mental states, instead of looking up to God. They are evermore looking within at their state of feeling for evidence upon which they are to believe. Believe what? Not believe in themselves, but believe in God. Under the pretense of self-examination, they are forever playing the fool with themselves, and looking down, as they suppose, into the depths of their hearts, to find evidence on which to believe. God announces to them a truth, and says, Believe. They reply--I can believe that, if I can only get the evidence that I am in a right state of mind. But what is a right state of mind? A state of faith. Believing is the right exercise; nothing else is right. The great piety of Abraham, when brought out in the Bible, is simple belief--trust; this constitutes a right state of mind. He believed what God said, not on the ground of having certain right emotions and feelings, but because it was God who had said it. What if Abraham had said--O, I could believe all God has said, if I only had the evidence--of what? Do you want evidence that God is true? No, but I want evidence that I am in a right state of mind. Abraham was not such a fool as to back out of God's light into the darkness of his own mind, and draw a vail of thick darkness over and all round about him. No, it was enough for him that God had spoken, and that God was true.
It would really seem as if God was unable to say anything to Abraham which he would not believe. God almost seemed to tell him lies, to try his faith; but yet Abraham would believe. The Lord told him he should have a son; but still he went on in His providence as if He never meant to fulfill His promise. After Isaac was born and grown, He told Abraham to take him far away to a specified mountain, and there kill him! O, what a scene was that! Yet Abraham believed God. He knew that God could even raise his Isaac from the dead; hence, why should he fear to obey God, even when He gave such a command? If this man of God were among us in our prayer-meetings, would he do as some now do--be looking continually after his feelings? No; he would simply believe God.
Yet mark how sorely God tried him. "Take now," said He, "thy son, thine only son Isaac," (how every word sinks to the bottom of a parent's heart!) take him away from his loved home, and from his fond mother--forever! Set off on this dreadful expedition tomorrow. One night intervened. Did the tried father sleep quietly as ever that night? If he did, it must have been the rest of faith. In the morning he rose, said not a word to Sarah; he could not have her sympathy, for (probably) he could not trust her faith against her maternal feelings. His own faith stood apparently, unfaltering. The simplicity of his faith was the glory of his piety.
Yet Abraham had but few things to believe. If those full revelations made to us had been made to him, what a mighty, triumphant life he must have lived! In what a sunset of glory he must have died! Only a single ray fell from heaven upon his eye, yet his eye caught this one ray, and his heart believed. On that ray he kept his eye fixed continually. Oh, if he were to live now and among us, what would he think of our faith? What could he think of us, always prating over our unbelief as if we had not faith enough to keep us above the fear of hell!
4. What many Christians say is greatly calculated to stumble young converts. They seem not to have gone a step beyond babyhood. They are no more able to stand alone than a mere child, though counting the years of their Christian life, they ought for the time, to be men of adult age and of adult strength.
When a young convert sets out in the Christian life with a flood of emotions and these soon subside, it happens not seldom that he falls into deep trouble. Like a raw hand aboard ship, he shows but too soon that he is no sailor. A storm comes on, the mountain waves dash high--such a wind he never knew before--his knees smite together, and he cries out "Alas! I am lost, I am lost!" So the timid convert feels when he thinks he has lost his Jesus. The fact is he has only lost his faith. And perhaps this sad loss has befallen him because he was misguided by much older Christians, who should have strengthened his faith rather than weaken it.
How plain it is that God meant to confirm our faith and teach us to keep it always strong and earnest. Else why did He give us such a history as this of Abraham? Look at this man of living faith! See him pushing his way along with only one dim ray of light, yet firm as a rock amid the waves; steadfast, though all around be dark as death. But Oh, what a zigzag course many now pursue! Faltering now, and now turning aside to shun the lions in the way; feeling their path along as if they could not trust the Mighty One who has said, "This is the way; go forward, and fear not, for I am with thee." How many such Christians would it take to promote a revival? Ten thousand of them would not promote one! In fact, the more there are, the worse for the cause of God; the greater the difficulties in promoting revivals where their influence is felt. O how weak and sickly they are! They need to be fed with a spoon like an infant. You might as soon march an army of invalids against Gibraltar, as lead such Christians out to conflict by prayer and faith in promoting revivals on religion. I can afford and endure to see infancy and weakness in young converts; but O, when I see old Christians still shut up to the diet and leading-strings of infants, it is so afflictive, so disheartening! To see them go round and round forever in a circle after their feelings, their feelings. What an abomination that they don't learn to walk by faith! A perfect state of the physical system doesn't make a man think much about his health. It leaves him to mind his appropriate business and seek the proper enjoyments of life. If his digestion is good, he never thinks of his stomach. Why should he? Perhaps he never knows from any sensations felt that he has any stomach. But if his digestion is bad, then alas! the poor man has enough to do in thinking of his troubled stomach. So of the sickly Christian. You see him perpetually troubled about his feelings, his feelings, like the invalid who runs to the glass to see his tongue! O when will such Christians learn to have faith, and be strong in the mighty God of Jacob.
5. That is a most unhealthy religion which is forever dwelling on views and frames and feelings. How is it in heaven? Are they thinking of their feelings and frames? No; they are so absorbed in the great objects before them that they are unconscious of the lapse of time. Perhaps a thousand of our years may pass over them and leave no consciousness of its having been a moment. Is this extravagant? No. Have you not been sometimes so engrossed that you could not mark the lapse of time at all? We mark time by noticing the succession of events. Have you not been so much engrossed as not at all to notice this succession? I recollect the case of a young convert in the northern part of New York State, who on one occasion prayed all night. When he came to consciousness of time and began to think what time it was, he was astonished to find it morning!
It is said of William Tennant that he rode all day in thought so profound that he never knew till he reached the end of his journey, that he had been bleeding profusely at the nose. Now in such cases, their own state is not the subject of thought at all. Of course they are far indeed from studying and watching over their own feelings.
This latter is, as I have said, a most unhealthy state. He who is forever dwelling upon his own spiritual frames, instead of being absorbed in the objects of faith, is a poor, spiritual dyspeptic. This thinking of his own frames, is the very thing which destroys his religion.
Suppose I go to England and leave my wife at home. Far away from her, I set myself to examine my feelings to see if I love my wife. I turn my mind away from her, and fasten it upon my love. I make this love the only and the all absorbing subject of my thought. What will be the result? Who does not know that the affection of love is correlated to its object? In this case my affection is correlated to my wife, and can not spring up and develop itself, except in view of its object. Hence I must think of my wife, if I would make it possible for the affection of love to develop itself. Contemplation of the object is the condition of all manifestation of the affections. Consequently by turning my mind wholly away from the object, and then demanding that love to that object should manifest itself, I demand a natural impossibility. Let me do this and I might pronounce myself a stark hypocrite, and be as well employed as many Christians are who withhold their contemplations from God and all the proper objects of faith, and exercise themselves in scanning and trying to judge of their feelings. O what misguided efforts are these!
[This is the only lecture by Mr. Finney in 1850.]
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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