Faith A Factor In Christian Life And Service
Without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Pray . . . that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith (2 Thessalonians 3:2)
Faith, like love, is not really divisible. John challenged those who claimed to love God by the standard of their love for their fellow Christians, and condemned as false those who claimed they loved God and hated their brethren. And faith is like that, and unbelief is like that. The infidel (from Latin en, plus fidelis) is one who is not faithful or one who has left off fidelity. And it has often been demonstrated that one who does not trust God is doubtful of his fellow men. In the courts of law a man who does not honor the oath is not a dependable witness. The old Christian who paid his bill to the landlord and rejected a receipt on the ground that “God is witness between us that I have paid you,” and then called for a receipt when he found the landlord was an infidel was right in his deductions. And Paul was no doubt drawing on experience when he asked for prayer that he might be delivered from men who did not have faith.
We know that faith in its most primary sense is the prime condition for forgiveness and peace with God, and that all the way along one must trust for the mercy and keeping power of God, so that we are saved initially by faith and continue to live by faith as we walk the Christian pathway.
But today we are thinking of faith as a principle and as a factor in Christian service. It is not necessary that we think of faith as anything different from what we have already seen it to be. Men have sometimes mystified faith unnecessarily. Ask many, “What is faith?” and they will quote from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” But that is really a characterization and not a definition. Faith does give substance to things which are yet in the future and makes very real things that are invisible. But faith itself is simply believing God or believing what God has said. And if we are to work for God, which is but another way of speaking of service, we must believe Him and believe what He has said.
There is no higher place in life than simply the place where God wants us to be. That place may be, in the estimation of men, a very humble one, and it takes the continual exercise of faith in God and His promises to be content to fill the humble place in the full assurance that it is the highest promotion, since it is God’s place for us.
But it may sometimes chance that the will of God places us in positions of responsibility and influence. Here one is sure to see much of his work come to nought. One who is dependent upon results for encouragement is in a position of uncertainty. Think of the work of the ancient prophets. Think of the work of the Master himself. Think of the work of early Christians. Those who praise today may cry “crucify him” tomorrow, and we must have that penetrating faith that sees farther than the present day to enable us to keep our courage up. God is true, and His promises are true. This we know, even when our best intended efforts seem largely to come to nought.
The trial of our faith in God is based largely upon the fact that we know so little of His ways. We are much like Job. In his distress he sought to find out the ways of God. He leaned forward, but God was not there. He stepped backward, but could not touch God. Right, left, up, down, every possible place was searched, but God evaded him. But in his extremity Job bethought him of the fact that it was not essential that he discover the mind and plan of God. “He knoweth the way that I take.” I cannot discern his way, but He knows my way, and “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” His way is mysterious, but my faith in Him and His word makes me sure that His way is right. Into my life has come a large portion of disappointment, sorrow and deep bereavement. Why such things have come I do not know, I cannot now find out. If I had to trace before I trust, my faith would be paralyzed. But I trust as I understand, and trust wherein I cannot understand. I believe God in the sunshine and in the shadows. I believe also that the work I do for Him will and does prosper, although there are often few evidences that appeal to the senses of men. God knows, and He will bring to fruition the sowings which I make for Him. This faith enables me to be patient in the tests, and to wait in hope for the reward which He shall give. It is impossible that I shall be underpaid for my expectations are from Him, and if He does not reward me now, He will reward me later when I shall need the reward more and can keep it longer.
Faith and faithfulness are words very closely related in sound, and of course closely related in meaning. Faithfulness is faith become permanent. Faithfulness is rendering to God for His mercies already bestowed. One must have faith first as an act, then with time faith takes on the character of state, and dependability on the part of the Christian answers to the fidelity of God to all His promises.
In the second place, there is a sense in which we must have faith in ourselves if we are to be happy and useful in the service of God. Paul called this faith “a good conscience. We know we are sincere and pure, and upon such knowledge we base our faith that we are within the divine provisions for peace within and victory without.
The Master, in His Sermon on the Mount, set forth the necessity of accepting our own measure when receiving, as well as when giving. “With such measure as ye mete, .it shall be measured unto you again.” There was a principle in the old law which forbade any man’s having varied measures or balances. Whatever he used in measuring or weighing what he sold, he must use the same in measuring what he bought. But this same principle is applied to us in our dealings with God. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:18-22). Thus God makes us the criteria of our own blessing. We cannot believe Him to bless us and our efforts, except we come with the conviction that we have prepared ourselves for such blessing. It approaches the irreverent, but it comes to this: we cannot believe God to bless us unless we would ourselves bless one under such considerations as we ask Him to bless.
There is, of course, a continual conviction of unworthiness, so that pride and self-sufficiency are utterly ruled out. But, on the other hand, our unworthiness must always be to us limited to the unworthiness of inability, and must exclude volitional disobedience or careless neglect.
But how can I have a clear conscience, knowing myself as I do? Some people tremble over the thought that “God knoweth the heart.” But this is really occasion for rejoicing. My neighbors must judge by my conduct, and my conduct is often colored by weakness or misjudged by my neighbor on account of his limitations. It is really easier to please God than to please anyone else; for while there is no possibility of my deceiving Him in the very least, yet, on the other hand, I need nothing more than transparent sincerity to obtain His approval, and the approval of my own conscience, on that account. But I need judgment and efficiency to enable me to please my neighbors and my friends.
And in the sense in which we are speaking the same standard which brings God’s favor brings also the favor of my own inner monitor. It used to be said of one that “He has the strength of ten because his heart is pure.” And it is that way with us all. A man can meet the persecutions of his enemies, and even brook the misapprehensions of his friends, but he whose own heart condemns him is weak and hopeless.
In actual conflict and in the conflict of his own reasonings upon circumstances, Paul was wont to say, “Nevertheless, I am not ashamed.” This was not the boastings of an egoist who could disregard what others said and did. Rather, it was the witness of a Christian who could say, “I am right, even though circumstances do not prove it, for I have an inner consciousness that tells me so, and I can be brave and courageous even when all about me falls down upon my head.” A man may not be able to command votes and win in the elections, but he can be right, when it is not given him to be President. An approving conscience is a boon of greatest value, and yet the humblest can have it, for its conditions are subjective and possible to all. It may not be given us to be profitable servants, but it is ours to be faithful, and to be assured of approval now and at the end of the day.
In the third place, we must have faith in our fellow workers. It is little anyone can do working by himself, and one cannot get far having others to work for him. The demand is for mutual confidence so that men can work with one another. Even in worldly business, a partner is worth more than an employee. But if the relation must continue as employer and employee, there must be mutual confidence. Big business cannot be built up on a fabric of petty dishonesty, for if a man teaches his employee to steal for him, it is but a step until that employee will steal from him. Faith begets faith, even as suspicion begets suspicion. If we doubt men in our hearts they will be aware of it, and they will in turn hold themselves in position where we cannot do them harm when we turn false, as they believe we will do.
The church is not only a fellowship of communion, it is also a fellowship of service, and one of the reasons for joining the church is that by united service we are able to accomplish things which are important to all of us working alone. Of course there are some people who do not believe in joining the church. They say there are so many hypocrites in the church, and that there is so much lethargy and useless motion in organized Christianity. But they should remember that there is more hypocrisy in the world than in the church, and that at its worst, organized Christianity is doing more for the salvation of souls and the uplift of humanity than all agencies private and public outside its pales. But unless one is going to believe in his fellow workers, it is best for him to stay outside. There are some who are not too bad as solo singers who demoralize a quartet and exasperate a choir. These exceptional people must be the whole meeting or they will be no part of it at all. But the fact still remains that we can accomplish more working together than we can working alone, “Else how can one chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight?” One working alone for God can chase a thousand: another working alone can chase a thousand. The two drive two thousand enemies from the field. But if they would organize and work together they would be able to take on eight thousand extra enemies which in the unorganized state are that many too many for them.
A generation ago, when John Cecil Rhodes was the Diamond King of South Africa, the press carried stories about his life like later stories of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. One of the stories of Rhodes was about the time when as a youth he took a position as an assistant in a sideshow. He and two others performed the amazing feat of “catching the cannon ball.” I do not know the technique of the trick, but very close co-operation was required. One man stood in the sight of the crowd and pulled the string that fired the cannon, Rhodes stood out in front and caught the cannon ball in his hands. A third partner who worked out of the sight of the crowd, pulled his string just at the. right moment to nullify the effect of the charge, and this was the secret of the success of “the catcher.” But one day this unseen partner doubted the timing of his colaborers, and did not pull his string on the second. The result was the future Diamond King went to the hospital for a term of months. Much of the work of the church requires just such delicate timing as that. A missionary goes to the foreign field in the full confidence that his fellow Christians will bring in their tithes and offerings for the evangelization of the world. The God-called man gives up his secular work to enter the ministry in the full confidence that his fellow Christians will stand by and do their share. The humble layman puts his little gift upon the place in the full confidence that his fellow Christians will do likewise and that the program of the gospel will not fail, and none of us can know in advance that the others will do their share, but we must believe they will, and on the basis of this faith, do our share too.
We come now to faith in the possibility of the task to which we are assigned. It is as important that a man should be unashamed of his work as that he should be unashamed of himself. Ours may be but the task of digging a ditch for the foundation, or cutting a rough stone for a place down under the ground, but for all that, we can join in the credit for helping to build a cathedral.
Our field of useful service is limited to those who believe in us, and that in turn is pretty much limited to the ones in whom we believe. By this we do not mean that we must believe men are right who are not right, but we must believe in their interest and savability. Great soul winners have always been great believers in men. The motto of the Salvation Army whose task it is to strive to help the most hopeless, is “A man may be down, but he is never out.” Knowing people found that the confidence people, who live as parasites by hard luck stories, put Spurgeon at the top of the list of “easy” men in London, but the great preacher was rewarded for his undefeatable faith in men by seeing many of them make good who utterly failed under the tutelage of those who boasted that no one ever deceived them, because they never believed in a man until he proved himself. Spurgeon believed in them so they would prove themselves.
In old China, it is said, prospective schoolteachers were asked this apparently inapplicable question: “Will a stray dog follow you on the street?” The thought was that the homeless dog was a good judge of temper, and that one whom such a dog recognized as a friend would be a safe person to trust to be kind to children who were trying to learn. But little children are also good judges of temper, and one whom the children shun has something fundamentally the matter with him, and common people have an uncanny way of knowing when they meet a friend. Mere assertions of love will not turn the trick. People know intuitively whom they should trust, and they trust them who in turn believe in them and their possibilities. In such a matter appearances will not do. The suave word and the politician’s smile and handshake deceive only the shallow. No cloak is thick enough to cover an indifferent heart. On the other hand, the misfortune of a rough exterior is not effective in nullifying the heart of one who is truly a brother under the skin.
Faith in our task is not always easy. Truth has never been popular. Men’s hearts respond to the way of ease and self-indulgence. The devil is a sworn foe of Christ and righteousness. The hearts of all men are depraved by sin and take to evil more naturally than to good. The organized “world” is in opposition to the kingdom of God. Even the prophecies of the Scriptures depict a dark conclusion for the present evil day. Any but a stout heart would quake from such a sight and give up the task as useless. Pessimism is the easy way, and the useless way. Unless we believe men can be reached and saved, we shall not be instrumental in reaching and saving them. But how can one believe in the feasibility of the Christian task under such conditions as beset it now?
As Christians our fundamental tenet is faith in God, and the fundamental content of the very word God is goodness. God is, and God is good. He is good, even when He seems to be severe, as is the case much of the time in His providential dealings with the world and with men, sickness and poverty and death, notwithstanding! But how can it be? It is true because God is primarily interested in the spiritual and the eternal, and to this end lays tribute to the material and transient. It is to the end to which we look for full justification of God and His ways with man.
And because we believe God is good, we believe He made man with the highest possibilities. Making him thus involved tremendous risk. Had man been but an automaton he could have been infallibly saved, but his life and happiness would have been on a level so low that it would have compared only with the sphere of stocks and stones. And even in his fallen state man is not an utter and hopeless ruin, for by what the theologians call “prevenient grace” God seeks after the wanderer and strives to bring him back. The atonement made by Jesus Christ upon the cross is (notwithstanding all the theological controversies of the past) available to “whosoever will” come to God through Christ. The instrumentality of the gospel is perfectly adapted to man in his present state to encompass his salvation. The facts upon which the gospel rests are such that a man can judge them through his senses. The ethics of the gospel is adapted to man’s conscience. The philosophy of the gospel is adapted to man’s intellect. The appeal of the gospel is adapted to man’s heart. The power of the gospel is adapted to man’s will. The comforts and assurances of the gospel completely meet the needs of those who receive them.
Let us come then and fully subscribe to the creed of the Christian worker: I believe in God who is infinite in mercy, love and power; I believe in my own sincerity and purity as vouched to me by the Spirit of God on the basis of conditions which I have knowingly and consciously met; I believe in my fellow Christians, and am glad to be a coworker with them in the great field of God; I believe we can accomplish what we ought to accomplish in the reaching and saving of men, women and little children, and in bringing in the full quota for the membership in the Church Triumphant which shall one day appear as a bride adorned for her husband, and of which then, as now, I hope and plan to be a member. And in this faith I announce myself ready and willing to perform any service lowly or great under the direction of my blessed Lord and Master to whom be praise and glory now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen.