“Be not afraid: only believe.”
–Mark V. 36.
The difficulties of religion are not in the understanding.
The first problem, salvation by faith alone, is the simplest proposition that ever was placed before the mind of man. It reminds me of a pretty illustration of the childlike simplicity of a Christian’s trust, as I once heard it in the Sermon of a French preacher.
Two children, standing at evening on the summit of a hill, watching the setting sun, as it seemed slowly to roll along the bright horizon —” What a way,” said the elder, “the sun has moved since we saw it coming from behind that tree.” “And yet you remember,” said the younger boy, “we learned in this morning’s lesson with our father, that the sun never moves at all.” “I know we did,” replied the first, “but I do not believe it, because I see that it is not so. I saw the sun rise there this morning, and I see it set there to-night. How can a thing get all that distance without moving: you know very well that if we did not move, we should remain always just where we are upon the hill.” “But our father,” said the other, “our father told us it is the earth that moves.” “That is impossible too,” replied the elder: “for you see it does not move: I am standing upon it now, and so are you, and it does not stir: how can you pretend to think it moves, while all the time it stands quietly under your feet?” “I see all that, as plain as you do” — rejoined the younger — “I feel the ground quite still under my feet —I see the sun rise on that side, and set on that side of the heavens. I don’t know how it can be —it seems impossible, —but our Father says it, and therefore it is so.”
These simple ones might divide mankind between them, and carry the banner of their parties through the world, from first to last; from the gates of paradise to the judgment-seat: there never has been, and never will be any other division, but they that take, and they that will not take, their Father’s word. Every page of the Bible is a declaration of this truth: every page in human history is a manifestation of it: every page in our own life and conversation is a perpetual confirmation of it. The believing and the unbelieving, the righteous and the wicked, the happy and the miserable, the saved and the lost, the justified and the condemned, the dead and the living, we may take the scripture definition of the two parties under what terms we please —explain them, descant upon them, write volumes on volumes to elucidate or to confound them: it comes to the one simple proposition at the last: they that do, and they that do not, take their Father’s word. Can the youngest amongst us, the most ignorant, the most foolish, pretend to say we do not understand it: we do not know what is meant by faith? We are not sure if we have faith enough, if we have right faith or wrong faith, or any faith at all? As if it were some strange mysterious thing; conjured into or out of us we know not how, inherited of our parents, imparted at our baptism: conferred upon us, or exercised for us by the church? The subjects of faith may be indeed mysterious —inscrutable, incomprehensible. Nay, they must be so —they must always have been so —they must always be so — when it pleases God to reveal himself in them; because the creature cannot compass the Creator, the finite comprehend the infinite. Can a man search out God? No, nor a saint, nor an angel! There will be to all eternity an exercise of faith; and it will be then, what it is now —” Our Father says it.” It may be visually —it may be orally —it may be by communication of Spirit with Spirit, without voice or vision: there have been many ways of intercommunication between the Creator and his creatures here: and there may be other ways hereafter, in which it never has been here. It is not this which makes the difference. It is enough if we recognize our Father’s word. Our reception of it will be hereafter, like that first out-breaking of the light upon this earthly globe —”Let there be light —and there was light.” “Light be —and light was,” which is the closer sense. “God willed light —and behold light,” perhaps is closer still. There will be no hesitating —doubting —reasoning —proving: one reason and one proof, will be for all. “Our Father says it.” Be it revelation, manifestation, or command: be it something to do, to have, to be, or to believe: —” God wills, and it is so,” will be the faith of heaven.
The practical simplicity of faith, is beautifully exhibited throughout the Old Testament. “Why art thou wroth,” said the Lord to Cain: “If thou dost well, shalt thou not be accepted Cain witnessed the acceptance of Abel’s offering. If he had no previous command, or had not understood it, what was more simple than to believe what he saw; and instead of hating and slaying his brother, to go straightway and offer the acceptable thing? The world beheld the building of the Ark. They knew what it was building for: they heard all that Noah had heard, and saw all that he was doing: it is especially said, “Whereby he condemned the world,” showing that what was enough to convince him, might have convinced them. He did not know what rain was —he saw no signs of a flood —any more than they did? Why were they not moved with fear as he was? The case of Lot was something different; in that the people of Sodom had indeed no opportunity to believe: they did not know what God was doing that night. But there were some who did; who had the offer to depart, and would not, and the cause was very simple: He seemed as one that mocked to his sons-in-law. There was one who went out, who probably did not believe; she looked back to see if it was so or not. Throughout all the Bible history, we find the same results. The father of the faithful gained that high distinction which is ever since his blessed cognomen, not by mere obedience in giving up to God the child of his affections: thousands have had faith enough for simple resignation: but by such signal reliance upon the word of God, he was not afraid to slay the promised seed: he knew that he must have his Isaac back: he was prepared to make his father’s word apparently impossible, in full assurance that it must be true.
In the New Testament, we may study the doctrinal simplicity of this faith, as illustrated in every miracle the blessed Jesus wrought; to learn the nature and the power of that “Only,” by which everything was proposed, accepted, and received. This simplicity was of a threefold character. First, it was faith “only” in the heart of the recipient. Jesus never desired the supplicant to do “some great thing;” to do anything, but that which necessarily implied or followed upon believing — “Stretch forth thy hand,” “Take up thy bed, Sec.” He never asked what they had been doing hitherto: what character they bore, or what state of mind they were otherwise in: apparently, there was no impediment to his gracious operations but unbelief. “He could not do many works there, because of their unbelief.” “If thou canst believe.” “All things are possible to him that believeth.” “Believe only, and she shall be made whole.” Secondly, there was to be singleness in the object of belief: it was faith in Himself “only:” in his power, his word, his works, as the manifestation of God the Father. When the Apostles wrought miracles, they required belief in another —in the name of the holy child Jesus. He never required faith in anything but Himself, the incarnate word of God: He reproved their readiness to believe in something else: If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. Nay —God as he was, and knew himself to be, Jesus never bade any man to believe in him, except as he proved himself to be the Son of God, and spoke the words of God —”The word that I speak is not mine, but the Father’s that sent me.” “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.” What are we to think of those, who in the face of this, now claim authority for their own words and doings, or those of any other men, without examination of them by the Father’s word? Jesus gave, nay, imposed on every individual of the perverse and ignorant multitude to whom he spoke, the right, the necessity, the responsibility of private judgment: not as to the truth of the Father’s words —but whether that which he — even he spoke was of the Father or not.
The third manner of simplicity was singleness of intention, of desire —more properly perhaps than either, singleness of consent: we commonly express it by singleness of heart. To one who applies to him for help, Jesus answers, “According to your faith, be it unto you.” To another, “As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee,” words applicable to the subject-matter, as well as to the proportion of their faith. There was no duplicity of desire then: the blind wished to see —the centurion would have his servant healed by any means: they wished precisely that which they requested; and did not care who did it or how, so it was done: they believed too the extremity of the case, that it could be done by no ordinary means. The centurion’s faith is most striking in this particular, he desired not the intervention of means: he would not have the master to come down to his unworthy house: he preferred that he should do it, as he believed he could do it, by the utterance only of his sovereign word. Jesus himself marveled at the willingness of this belief: so unlike the tardy, reluctant faith, that often impeded his workmanship in Israel: that even threatened to interfere with the raising of the beloved Lazarus. But suppose that in any case the will had not been single: that pride, or prejudice, or reason had been in the way; so that the applicant half wished the power appealed to, might not be proved sufficient of itself; and means might be used, which would entitle them to doubt the nature of the cure : they had been better pleased, at least to find another remedy, so that they might not be compelled to have recourse to him: and meant to excuse themselves from believing in his divinity after all. Whether this was the feeling of any who came to Jesus to be healed, we do not know —not impossibly it was —and to such, “According to thy faith,” would not be a very pleasant grant. Wilt thou be made whole? —seemed a strange question to him who had been in a state of suffering, thirty and eight years. He was willing, no doubt, though he understood not who it was; but there is something of ominous warning in the close, “Behold, Thou art made whole; sin no more lest a worse thing befall thee.” Possibly he had received to the extent of his desires —a present help without the saving knowledge of the power that did it, which could alone preserve him from future ills. With those who only witnessed the Savior’s miracles, we know that it was so: they were displeased at the very benefits he conferred. “For which of my good deeds dost thou stone me?” Their denial was a false one; they were as much incensed when he proved himself the Son of God, as when he said it: they would rather his attempted miracles had failed; and when they beheld his power, tried still to attribute it to other means: even to Beelzebub himself. There are always those who do not like what their Father says. They desire to be saved, but there is a reservation of the will, as to the means: they would rather it were not by the blood of Jesus simply: if it must be so, it must, but they would have it otherwise: they would rather heal themselves: or use the instrumentality of other things — churches, or sacraments, or alms, or penance, anything by which they may be excused from ascribing all the work to the free grace of God. They prefer the teaching of those who describe it otherwise: they are willingly persuaded not to trust the Holy Book: they would rather that their Father’s sayings were not true. Are these hearts single?
Duplicity in any one of these particulars, is fatal to the simplicity of faith. “Let not that man think he shall receive anything of God:” the “Only” is not complied with. The blessed Jesus, when he was upon earth, often pointed out the impediments to the required faith: we cannot too closely investigate what they were, for they are still the same. Sometimes it was Satan who had blinded their eyes, that they should not believe. Sometimes it was sin, or the love of sin —”Lest their deeds should be reproved.” Then it was unbelief or ignorance of what they professed to receive —”If ye believe not Moses and the prophets.” In one place, Jesus says, “How can ye believe who receive honor one of another?” in another, there was unwillingness to make the sacrifice, “How hardly shall they that have riches.” Every obstacle to believing in Jesus now, will be found to have been in operation then. It was never want of understanding what he said, that made the difficulty: he never required them first to understand how he performed his works; how he healed —how he restored. It was “Only believe.” To one who raised a difficulty quite natural to reason and experience, “Lord, by this time he stinks,” Jesus only answered, “Did I not tell thee, if thou wouldst believe.”
“Go, wash in Jordan seven times.” Is that all? Was the resisting first thought of the Syrian leper: but it was all; and had very nearly been that only thing too much. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “Is that all?” is the resisting first thought of the sinner: but it is all —and alas! It is that all too much. Nay, we go farther back than this: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, “Ye shall not eat of it.” “Is that all,” might well have been the first thought then — and most probably it was: but there was one who knew that even that little “Only” would be too much: enough at least for him to give the lie to; and therefore enough to lose the whole human race. Why should life and death be suspended on so small a matter? How could it be? Nay, it was not possible it should be — and therefore Eve ate, and Adam fell, and man was lost eternally. No child of Adam is lost finally, without a repetition, for the most part, many repetitions, of exactly the same process. How can salvation be by faith alone? Why should a man be condemned for his opinions? It is not likely eternity should depend upon so small a matter. It is not possible that faith can save us —and therefore, it ends as it began —the commandment has gone forth into all lands: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and be ye saved,” —the greater number say it cannot be —and perish in unbelief. Apparently then the only condition of human salvation, is not, as is alleged, too easy, but too difficult: so difficult that everything is preferred before it —everything is tried before it is consented to; everything is more readily and easily complied with: so difficult, in fact, that nothing but the interposing power of God’s Holy Spirit, ever yet induced a sinner to believe and live. Why is it so? Doubtless because all other ways are man’s ways: and fall in with the tastes and dispositions of his depraved nature, more or less: with his pride, his sensuality, his independence, his self-love, his self-indulgence: often crossing the one to gratify the other; but always congenial to the self of the entire manhood. Salvation by faith only is of God, and therefore opposed to the whole fallen nature; to all its dispositions —all its tastes —that entire self of which it demands the sacrifice. We know not where else to find an explanation of so great a wonder.
We hear of thousands immolated to the gods of India: chariot-wheels streaming with the worshippers’ blood, the waters of Ganges strewed with floating bodies —fires never surfeited with their unnatural fuel. Without charity —without love to God or man —not even to his own God, whom he has far more cause to hate —the devotee gives his body to be burned, because he believes he can so propitiate the savage deity whose supposed word he takes for things the most extravagant; unproved —improbable —very often morally impossible. From Moloch to Mahomet, and from Mahomet to Hildebrand, from Hildebrand onward to Johanna Southcote, and something further still: no invention of Satan or fantasy of man has wanted true believers —honest, devout, self-sacrificing believers: while we know by the testimony of God’s own word, that “No man can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost.”
It is not understanding that is wanting, but submission: it is not knowledge that is necessary, but simplicity.
We will not take our Father’s word. And whereas this only condition of salvation has been characterized not by the easiness, but by the difficulty of performance, —not by the many, but by the few that would comply with it: the simple believer may well be on his guard against the alleged improbability so often heard of, that so many sincere, devout, and learned men, carrying the public mind rapidly along with them, can be leading us to error: the real improbability being, that the public mind will ever do otherwise than it always has done, —follow error in preference to truth; believe anything rather than the word of God.
Taken and adapted from, “Sunday afternoons at home”
Written by, Caroline Wilson.
Published in 1844