Faith And Presumption
“Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins” (that is, the sin of presumption) (Psalm 19:13).
“Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Luke 4:12).
“Because thou hast thought that the gift of God can be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20).
“Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities” (2 Peter 2:10).
There is always an extreme, beyond which no truth can be driven by finite minds, because it is lost in infinity. Space is infinite, but no human mind can conceive of it thus, but must always, in thought, imagine a limit. Eternity is endless duration, but none of us can think of it, without imagining bounds to it, thus really thinking in the terms of time.
Faith is another boundless matter, according to Jesus Christ, who took the limitations completely away from it, and threw it open to all and sundry, who could qualify by fulfilling the only requirement: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible, to him that believeth.” This is nothing less than infinity, applied to releasing God’s power over one’s faith channel. In the actual operation of it, however, we must beware lest we lose the real faith — faculty by permitting ourselves an excursion into the realm of presumption.
The great multitude of Christians fall far short of exercising any very great faith in God, but live for the greater part of their lives in the partially lighted land of unbelief. We are not here alleging that they do not believe enough for their own salvation, for they must do that much, in order to be Christians at all. But most of them stop short of a faith that will keep their hearts filled to overflowing with His grace and power, and, practically all, are lamentably short on believing Him for achievement.
There can be no doubt that a few persons have pushed far up into the land of faith, and wrought amazing wonders by releasing God onto the various things with which they were concerned, and it is quite certain that a few have stepped entirely over the border of faith, and wandered into the country of presumption, bringing great odium on the cause of Jesus, and also great disaster upon themselves. It is to warn our readers against doing this, that this chapter is written. We undertake it, however, with great fear and trembling, because knowing the frailty of humanity as well as we do, we are reasonably sure that many readers will cease at once endeavoring to believe God, beyond where they have always been, and take as their excuse this chapter on presumption. They will say, “Well, I am so afraid of presuming on God, that having faith enough for my own salvation, I will let well enough alone.” Thus they will lapse again into their former indolent condition, and the great cause of God lose what otherwise it might have gained, by some one of His servants reading these pages. With a great prayer that the caution contained herein may not operate as a hindrance to the exercise of faith for achievement, we proceed.
Faith and presumption are very much alike, just as full, blazing, fervent holiness is strikingly similar to fanaticism that masquerades under the name of holiness. All earnest lovers of Jesus desire that their friends and associates shall possess themselves of a wondrous fullness of entire sanctification, and yet they grieve and lament when some ill-balanced soul goes too far, and revels in false fire, instead of holy fire. However dangerous, subtle and damaging fanaticism is, yet it has not ruined God’s cause as formalism has. Where the former has slain its thousands, the latter has slain its millions. In the same way, can it be said, that where presumption has ruined one soul, unbelief has damned a hundred thousand. The ruin of the presumptuous soul is so much more spectacular, than the ruin of the unbeliever, that it paints its fretted fire on the skies, while the other hides its faithless face in the sands. They are, nevertheless, so similar to one another in the beginning of things that they can be easily mistaken one for the other.
Genuine faith in God, reliance in His Word, and trust in His promises, is quiet, cool, collected, devoid of fever, fret, worry, or astonishment. It firmly plants its feet upon His wondrous Book, and goes undauntedly forward in pursuit of the matter to which it has been called. It may, and probably will, storm and agonize over the thing it desires, till faith has been perfected, but then it will be as quiet as a June day, and as softly restful as an evening zephyr. Genuine faith does not ask so much for what it wants, as for what it needs. Wants can be multiplied infinitely, while needs are governed by cold calculating facts. In some unusually intimate moments, real faith may prefer a request to the heavenly Father for some desire that is not strictly speaking a need, and that desire will as graciously be met, but this is unusual, and genuine faith is too humble, too appreciative of what it has already received from God, too chary of its own wisdom in deciding what it ought to have and what t ought not to have, as to prevent it, for the most part, from preferring very many requests for sheer enjoyment and delight, either for itself or for others around it. The faith that is real thinks largely in the terms of others. Their need of salvation, healing, food, necessities, stirs it to a perfect activity, and over its perfected cable, releases the power of God for the accomplishment of these things. Perfect faith is patience lifted to the nth degree. It can wait, and yet hold on in real, genuine, unwavering, active, conscious contact with God, and finally will see the results wrought out, just as He said they would be, if we would “fear not, but believe only.” The heart filled with true faith is utterly unselfish. It will, ’tis true, pray much for itself, but only that it may be strong to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please itself. It desires that it may be itself on fire, that it may scatter that fire among its fellows. It desires means, not for hoarding, but for expending. It even then recognizes what is reasonable to desire, and what is unreasonable. It would have been presumptuous for George Mueller to ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars when he began trusting God for an orphanage, but it was perfectly reasonable, and in keeping with true faith to desire, and expect, and ask for that (and still higher) amounts, when the need arose. True faith cannot ask for things for personal aggrandizement, or for denominational ascendancy, or for any other reason tainted with selfishness. Motives are of the greatest consideration when endeavoring to detect the narrow, almost invisible line that separates genuine faith from its spurious sister, presumption. Is this desire of mine, one should ask, solely for the glory of God? Is there no hidden reward to self in it? If it advances me any, or brings public notice to me, am I prepared in an extraordinary way to resist the subtle reflex influence upon me? Am I perfectly willing that it shall not be done, provided God wants something otherwise? Am I perfectly willing (and can see it done without a pang) to have someone else take my place suddenly and carry out my own desires, plans, and requests to God, and win success with them, while I shall sink into obscurity, and be laid on the shelf? We think that it can fairly correctly be said, that motives make all the difference between faith and presumption. Motives are so liable to be mixed, and few there are who can separate the blended strands, or recognize the existence of the subtle selfishness in that which looks as though it were wholly for the glory of God, or the good of mankind.
Genuine faith ought to be as humble as the wire that connects the electric light with the dynamo. The wire is not the dynamo. Neither is the wire the light. It is the small, shining, silent medium that connects the two. The great trouble with most human beings, is that they think they are at least the light, and some think they are the light and the dynamo both. In how many thousand instances have we known men and women to say: “I have prayed through for this man, and know exactly what he ought to do!” Such a thing as that, is not genuine faith, but is the sheerest presumption, which seeks to be the inner consciousness to another soul. That is being guilty of thinking that one is the electric light, and not the wire. How many others have said: “If you differ with me, or with our movement, or with our’ church, or with our opinions, you will break with God!” Steady now! Such a matter cannot be anything less than presumption. No person can be a conscience to another. To his own Lord he standeth or falleth. You can pray mightily for one lest he break with God, but for you to say that he must see through your crack in the fence in order to be right with God, argues an absence of real faith on your part, and indicates that you are guilty of presumption. We fear that much that is called faith in connection with divine healing, is nothing but a false faith. When we repudiate all the subordinate methods of healing, such as doctors, hospitals, medicines, surgery, climate, rest, and a hundred other methods of reaching the body with curative helps, and insist, with set jaws, and stubborn minds, that God must miraculously heal us, we have long since left the real faith country and entered the strange, weird, feverish, restless land of faith’s spurious twin.
As we have stated in a former chapter, we are sure that God prefers to heal miraculously every one of His dear children who have anything wrong with their bodies. Nevertheless, real faith will be so tenderly and intimately acquainted with the Holy Ghost, and on such delightfully familiar terms with Him, resting so comfortably in His strong arms, that when He whispers and asks whether we are willing that He should heal us in some other way, and suggests a doctor, a hospital, an operation, a change of climate, a rest, or something else, we will just as intimately whisper back, that we will be perfectly contented for Him to have His own blessed way, whatever that way may be. And if He should whisper that He wanted us to come quickly to Him in the heavenly land, there would be the same happy and cheerful response.
Presumption is faith gone mad with obstinacy or selfishness. It is one of the most dangerous states of mind that a Christian can be possessed of. It is as far removed from genuine faith as wild-eyed fanaticism is from tenderhearted fullness of the Holy Ghost. Presumption is dogged and set in its opinions and ways. It often misquotes the Scriptures. It almost invariably misapplies them. It is severe and harsh especially to one who differs with it. It possesses the “rule or ruin” spirit. It appropriates to its notions and views all the infallibility of the pope of Rome. Presumption is certain that it cannot possibly be mistaken. It is spectacular, calling ceaseless attention to itself. It refers to those who differ with it, with a sneer of contempt. It is constantly ringing the changes on the backslidden condition of any who do not see just as it does. Especially if they break with it, then they are declared to be hopelessly backslidden, and the opinion is whispered around that their fallen condition had long been suspected.
So feverishly dominant is presumption that it will, and often does, throw its baleful influence over those around it. It speaks oracularly. It does not exactly pronounce curses on those with whom it differs, but it does pronounce mild, modern maledictions on them. Consigns them ultimately to hell, and is sure that any blessings that God may be visiting them with, must spring from Satanic power. Presumption is sure that it can obtain the end without the means. That all it has to do, is to hang onto a reiteration of its fanatical desires before the Lord, and they will come. It holds the keys to the kingdom; those whom it blesses must be blessed, no matter what they do; those whom it objects to, have no standing whatever with the Lord, regardless of what they do, or are. It can pray, so it thinks, its wishes onto people, whether they desire it or not. It can maintain an “inside wire” from the Lord with regard to itself and also with regard to everyone else. It holds its head loftily and says, with smug satisfaction, “The Lord told me” this or that. The opinions of the holy brethren, presumption cares nothing for, if perchance they go counter to its own views. It has “heard from the Lord,” what care does it have; then, for the opinions of others, though they may appear to be wise, indeed.
All fanaticism has its roots in presumption. All presumption, unless repented of, brings its victim at last to the position that “my views must be accepted, my position honored, my movement united with, my restraints agreed to, my interpretations believed in, and my ways followed, or you do not, and never can belong to the Lord God Almighty!” It is presumption that breeds all the little warring denominations, that insist with set teeth that one must unite with them, see as they do, sound their shibboleth, or be damned. It is this spurious counterfeit of faith that makes a Catholic do penance for a sin he plans to commit again, a fundamentalist to stand for the Bible with anger in his heart, a modernist to think that he can write a Word of God better than the one we have, and a holiness man to have a perfect love that is so bitter as to be a terror to his relatives and friends. It is this fell imitation of faith that has kindled every fire of persecution down through the ages, created the inquisition that slaughtered its millions, turned every wheel that broke its victims’ bones, shut prison doors upon frail women and tender children for religious reasons, that shed the blood of the innocents, that precipitated St. Bartholomew’s massacre, that has hardened hearts, stiffened necks, made persecutors out of God’s church, and made true the indictment that “man’s inhumanity to man makes countless millions mourn.”
Presumption is the essence of bigotry and the root of fanaticism; it flowers into hypocrisy, and makes all its followers twofold more the children of hell than itself. Just as hate is love perverted by being turned to gall in the heart of the devil, and just as blasphemy and cursing are prayer crazed by its contact with the awful demon of the pit, just so presumption is faith warped out of all semblance of the sweet silver thread that is lifted confidingly to God from the heart of the loving Christian, twisted on the rack of devilish ingenuity till it has lost its real faith-faculty, and then is paraded by the demons of the outer darkness as a bait to catch unwary children of God; and when caught transform them into fanatical bigots, arrogating all the truths of the Bible to themselves and their own company, till hell has a jubilee and heaven drapes her battlements with mourning.
Jesus’ very great care lest He “tempt the Lord God,” indicates His attitude toward this very matter. Never did He offer Himself as a spectacle, save solemnly to ride into Jerusalem on a common beast. For the temple court with its thronged thousands, and its lynx-eyed leaders, He had never a miracle; but for the lonely hillside, the wave-wet lake shore, the distant mountain, He had healings a plenty, great draughts of fishes, loaves multiplied, blind eyes opened, and graves despoiled. With all his subtle ingenuity, reinforced with unparalleled hunger, Satan could not induce Him to transform a small stone into a loaf, or leap spectacularly from the temple’s pinnacle, presuming on His Father’s care, by misappropriating scripture. How lowly, how humbly He walked; how willingly He took the rugged path, the way of poverty, the most humiliating and painful of deaths. He believed God perfectly, but never, even remotely, approached the line of presumption. Every miracle was for someone else, as for Himself — He always chose the bitter cup.
A failure to imitate Him in this regard has deluged the world with sorrow, drenched it with martyr blood, visited it with sickness and disease, turned the church into warring camps, with weapons red with gore, and made the cause of God, in both ancient and modern times a spectacle to heaven. Dear reader, believe God, oh, yes, believe God, but remember, that though it is possible to have a faith that can remove mountains, unless that is accompanied with a love that is perfect — perfect — perfect, you are nothing!