Faith — What is it?
I want to speak to you a little tonight about faith — what it is, and what it leads to. There is a great deal in this chapter you observe about faith, and we are told in verse 17 that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
God is; and another scripture says, "He that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6). I have first of all to get in my soul the sense that God is. You may say, I do not know Him. That is quite true, and the question is, How can you know Him? You cannot learn Him from nature; but He reveals Himself by His Son and by His Word. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). The great thing to get hold of is this, that God has spoken. What you and I have to do is to listen, and I am certain of this, if you listen, you will believe, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. If you listen to God's Word, it will have an effect upon you, it will produce a deep, real mark upon you — a mark which reason will not produce, because reason may turn a man away from God, and often does; but faith, the fruit of the reception of the Word of God, always leads a man to God.
Scripture is full of instances of faith, and of what faith can do. Remember, it "comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." In that statement is contained the true value to the soul of the sound of God's own blessed Word. A man may ask me, What is faith? I do not know that I can define faith to you, but I will read you a scripture, which I think gives us a perfect definition of faith. This is found in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. I find there these words concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, "He that comes from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth." He that comes from above can tell us what things please Him who is above; while he that is of the earth — you and I — I take it, one and all of us, could discourse about the earth, though perhaps you could not tell me a word about heaven. But continue: "He that comes from heaven is above all. And what he has seen and heard, that he testifies; and no man receives his testimony. He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that God is true" (John 3:31-33). Very striking that! You must receive first of all what the Lord says of you. There is not a man — a Christian man — in this room, but will confess, I was forced to it. Man's heart naturally sets itself against God, but faith accepts his testimony. "He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that God is true." There I believe you get the real definition of what faith is.
God has spoken by His Son the Lord Jesus, and the man that receives His testimony, "sets to his seal that God is true." That is faith. What evidence have you got of the truth of what is alleged? you ask. None at all! There is no evidence to the senses, nor does faith ask it. Ask any person who is a believer, question any of your friends who have been born of God through grace, and have had their eyes opened, to know the blessedness of the love of God, the value of the cleansing of the blood of Christ, and the joy of knowing that they are saved — ask them how they first really got to know that they were saved, and they will tell you, by giving God credit for speaking the truth, by taking Him at His word, which is faith. Human reasoning and wisdom of words cannot manufacture faith; it comes by hearing the Word of God. A young man said to me, when coming to the meeting tonight, "I hope you will make it plain, doctor!" I cannot do that. I cannot make it plain to any man's mind, and I will tell you why, because the gospel is divine. It comes from God, and no human mind can explain it; and no human mind will receive it. Faith is the result of hearing God's Word, and the Spirit of God working upon the heart. The Word of God goes through a man, it convicts him, converts him, and gives him a new life somehow. He does not know how, but his eyes are opened, and he believes. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
This simple faith is a very blessed thing! It puts the soul wholly in touch with God. You are brought to have to do with God. Indeed, you must meet Him sooner or later. It is in vain for a man to endeavour to avoid this. Unbelief and nineteenth century scepticism may lead you to say, "Perhaps there is no God, and I shall not have to meet Him." Make no mistake, you will have to meet God sooner or later. You are a responsible creature — a sinner. It is the essence of responsibility that the creature, man, should have to meet God, his Creator, sooner or later. Why not meet Him now? Why not know Him now? The aversion men have to this shows something is radically wrong. Sin has produced strained relations, distance, and dread of God, and when you try to get near a man with the gospel, and want to put the blessed things of the Lord Jesus Christ before him, he is frightened at, or indignant, with you. He draws back, as if you were about to inflict some great injury upon him. That just shows that there is a natural repugnance in the heart of man to have to do with God. I do not deny it it is perfectly true. I can remember the time when there was repugnance in my own heart to the things of the Lord Jesus. Thank God, that day has gone by, and I can echo the language of one of your companions, who said to me this day, as he confessed that he had got his eyes opened a week ago, "This has been the happiest week of my life!" I do not doubt it. It is bound to be the happiest week in a man's life when he comes to know the living God as his Saviour. If there be those here tonight without the knowledge of the Lord, and of His salvation, I trust they may learn from God's own Word, God's way of salvation, and how very blessed and simple it is. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
Now, observe how our chapter opens. In the first verse I find the apostle Paul saying, "My heart's desire and prayer for Israel is, that they might be saved." In that verse salvation is seen to be that which the apostle greatly desired Israel to know, and salvation is what you and I need. Why? Because the naked truth as to the condition of man is that he is lost. Man is a lost sinner. There is no making a mistake as to that. There are only two classes in this hall tonight — the saved and the lost. There is no intermediate stage, no middle ground anywhere in Scripture. The Lord Jesus Christ brought that plainly out in His lifetime. You recollect in the fifteenth of Luke, He speaks of the Shepherd going out to seek the sheep which was lost; secondly, He gives us the figure of the woman who swept the house diligently for the bit of silver because it was lost; and thirdly, when the son comes back to his father's house, the father saw him afar off, ran to meet him, kissed him, and brought him into his house, saying, "Let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Three times do I get that solemn description of man's condition — lost.
But in blessed contrast with man's awful condition, we get the activity of God — the Son, the Spirit, and the Father. The Son seeks the lost sheep, the Spirit liberates the wanderer from the death that lies upon him, and the Father receives the lost one, when he comes back. We have there not three parables, but one. "He spoke this parable," it says. Why? Because He was bringing out the activity of the love of God to man, the lost sinner. The gospel met me as a lost man, and convicted me of being lost, and when I took the place God gave me, He saved me on the spot.
The condition in which man is renders it an absolute necessity that he be born again. He needs not reformation, but new birth. Reformation will not do. Have not I seen many a young man try to reform? Did not I try it myself? I recollect well the time when, on a sick-bed, I thought I was dying; and I was very near it. I remember well, when I thought I might soon die and felt my unfitnesss to die, that I turned to the Lord and cried, "If Thou wilt spare my life, I will serve Thee." God answered my prayer, and I recovered from my sickness; but I was more than ever the child of hell after than before. You see I was going to turn over a new leaf. I tried it for a time, but the fact was I was a lost sinner, and the devil was too strong for me, and I was soon worse than ever. Man has no strength in himself. He has to be brought to this point sooner or later — and you have to be — that he is a sinner, ungodly, without strength, and therefore a lost man.
People say to me sometimes, We thought a man was lost only if he left this world in his sins, and so passed into eternity. Scripture does not say so. When a man passes into eternity without the knowledge of God, I will tell you what he finds, — that he is damned. He finds out that he has to be judged by God, and none can rise out of that judgment. All men are lost now, and that is why Paul says, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." That was the very desire that filled my heart for you in having these meetings, and that I might shake hands joyfully with those who are saved, for I know there are a good many among you that are already on the Lord's side. My heart's desire and prayer to God is, that you might be saved tonight, if you have never been saved before, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
Have you heard God's Word, and bowed down before it, believing what it puts before you. I do not ask you to believe a word of mine. I want you to believe God's Word. I am certainly seeking to unfold that Word, and make it simple, and I love to point out to you that salvation is that which the gospel brings to a lost, undone, and irrevocably ruined creature, like you or me. The gospel meets me as I am, and after it has met me and shown me what I am, it shows me what Christ is, and what He has done for me. If you believe it, you will get what I got — salvation through the blessed Son of God.
Observe that Paul says here of Israel, "For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." I think there are still a great many men of this class. They have a zeal of God. They have thoughtful minds, and all young fellows are not careless. I believe students are considered a careless lot. That is quite true in the main, but a great many are thoughtful. A large proportion of those who come to hear my voice are thoughtful men. The apostle says, "I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." Now, such a man is doing his best to get saved. He has zeal, but not according to knowledge. Are you hard at work trying to mend your ways, and to do what you think is necessary for your salvation? I commend you for your zeal, but it is not according to knowledge, because the man who has had his eyes opened to the truth has learned this, I can do nothing.
The apostle further says, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." What does that mean? That the man is ignorant of what God has done, and is ignorant of that which God has brought in through the Lord Jesus Christ. God can now justify a sinner who believes in Jesus, righteously, because He has been glorified about his sins by the death of Jesus, and His righteousness is manifested in raising Christ from the dead, and saving the one who trusts in Him. But the one who is it "going about" to establish his own righteousness is in exactly the same position as the young man who went once to a monastery. He was a young fellow of noble birth, and splendid fortune. Like many another in that position, he thought he would enjoy life, and soon found himself the prey of every harpy in a world like this. He very quickly ran through his money, and through his friends. It is a strange thing, but true, that when you have plenty of money you are the jolliest fellow alive; but when you get knocked about a bit, have run through all your coin, and lost your credit, and your coat gets shabby, and your hat worn, then, those who used to think you such a charming chap, do not know you. They pass you by blindly, or cross to the other side of the street, and turn their eyes away lest you should accost them. Why? You cannot give them anything, and they have nothing for you. That is the world, and this poor fellow found it out. The result was he got exercised, and God spoke to him. He got to the end of his resources, and then God spoke to him, and he became deeply anxious about salvation. He was convicted of sin. He found out that he was a sinner. He had sinned against God. So have you and I. The sense of his sin rooted itself in his conscience, and he thought the only thing he could do was to enter a monastery, so he walked hundreds of miles in order to get his guilty soul saved.
To that monastery he walked, begging his food on his way, and on the road became the perfect picture of misery. Unkempt, and ill-fed, he at length reached the monastery. The porter came in reply to his knock, and asked him what he wanted. "I want to see the Father Superior," he said. "Very well," said the porter, as he slammed the door in his face, and locked it. The Father Superior, a kindly old monk, went to the door. "Well, my son," he asked, "what do you want?" "My father," replied the young man, "I want you to let me in. I want to become an inmate of this monastery." "Why?" asked the old man. "I have lived an evil life," and then he told the story of his wicked life, "and now," he said at the finish, "I hope it is not too late. I hope I may be able to atone for my sins, and escape from the just judgment of God." The old man listened, and when he had come to the end of his story, he said, "My son, it is too late!" "Oh, father!" cried the young man, "let me in. I will do the most menial tasks, and will perform any penance you may order, so that I may atone for my sins." "My son, it is too late." "Oh, tell me not, it is too late!" said he. "My son, it is too late. All that you propose to do, has been done already by Another before you." The old man knew the gospel. He knew the love of Christ, and he told the young man the simple story of Christ, and of the cross, where the sinless Son of Man atoned for the sinner's sin. He told him of that which Paul brings out here, — "the righteousness of God," — how the sinless Substitute had died in the room and stead of the guilty sinner. He told him the story of the gospel, as I hope to tell it to you tonight.
Do not you "go about" trying to establish your righteousness! You are too late. The work has been done by Another, who has been here on earth, and who on the cross finished the work by which God has been glorified, and sin been put away. Jesus, the sinner's friend, has died for us, and nothing but His precious blood can wash away your sins. How foolish then are they who "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes." What did the law bid me do? The law bade me be holy. I was not. The law bade me be righteous, and I was not. The law bade me love God with all my heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; but then I have not done it. It bade me love my neighbour as myself. I have not done it. Have you done it? Do you think you are going to get salvation in that way? You have a poor chance. Have you loved God with all your strength? Well I leave God out altogether. What about your neighbour? Have you loved him as yourself? I doubt it.
But you say to me, Are you saved? Yes, thank God, I am, but not on that ground. Not long since my next-door neighbour's house was on fire. It was late at night, and I was out, attending a patient, in a hotel near my residence. While seeing this gentleman, there was a knock at the door, and when I left the room, a waiter said to me, "Doctor, your house is on fire." Of course I ran downstairs, and out of the hall as quickly as I could, for my dear wife was very ill, and I thought of her. When I got out I could see what I thought was the roof of my house all ablaze, and I can tell you my heart was in my mouth. As I ran up the hill some one met me and said, "It is not your house, doctor, but your neighbour's." "Thank God!" I exclaimed. Did I think of my neighbour as myself? I did not. That expression came out honestly enough. I was not sorry that it was not my house, though I was sorry for my neighbour. I could never get to heaven if it depended on loving my neighbour as myself.
My dear fellows, you will never get blessing in that way. Do not try that ground. The law may curse, but it cannot save you. Legal righteousness is a delusion. Give up all thought of attempting yourself to repair the distance between your guilty soul and God. See how God has repaired it by Christ. See how God has repaired, and bridged over the chasm that sin has brought in, by the death of Jesus. "Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which does those things shall live by them." The law only proposed to man long life on earth. The law never offered him eternal glory. No, the offer of eternal glory comes through the Son of God. The law proposed long life on earth; the gospel gives the believer association with the glorified Saviour, at the right hand of God. "Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which does those things shall live by them." He shall live by them, if he continue to do them, and if he fail he must bear the penalty. That is just what Scripture says! "The soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). That means that the fathers should not die for the sins of the sons, nor the sons for the sins of the fathers. Every man should die for his own sin. The man who sinned would be the man who died.
Now, the gospel proposes eternal life to those who, although they have sinned, and deserve to die, bow to the righteousness of God. "The righteousness which is of faith speaks on this wise — Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above)." Why must I not say that? He has come down. Love brought Him down. Neither your, nor my prayer, nor cry brought Jesus down. I admit our necessity was before His eye, and His heart, but His love brought Him down from above to meet us. Nor say in thine heart, "Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead)." No, that will not do either; for He has already come up. He has come down in love, gone into death, and annulled it, and He has come up from among the dead. Love brought him down, and He has been taken up in righteousness. Do you see? Love and righteousness are the two things which appear in the gospel — the love of God, and the righteousness of God. These are the two foundations or pillars on which the whole superstructure of the gospel rests. It reposes upon these two wonderful pillars — the love, and the righteousness of God. Love gave the Son of God, and sent Him to earth to die in the sinner's stead, and righteousness raised Him, because He had glorified God infinitely in dying for sin, and the sinner.
Love and righteousness, which are the two great pillars of the Christian faith, are lacking, at least one or other of them is, in every other religion under the sun. You just inquire whether what I say be true or not. You are surely well acquainted with the mythology of the heathen. Was there much holiness in it? You know pretty well that nearly all the gods of the Greeks and the Romans were deified lusts. Who was Bacchus? Who was Venus? You know they were but deified lusts. Holiness was not there. On the other hand, where was love? You get Jupiter, a thoroughly vengeful deity; and Mars, the god of war. These are but samples of the many gods of the heathen, in every case the creation, in men's minds, of what they thought God must be, and in their religion either love or holiness was lacking. If they allowed lust, they did not judge sin. If they judged sin, there was no love. Now the charm of the gospel of Christ is that, while God is Love, He is also Light; and while He judges sin unsparingly, He loves the poor sinner infinitely. Before the day of judgment has come, when He must judge sin eternally, and the unforgiven sinner bear the fruit and consequences of his sin, His own blessed Son has come into this scene, and in love has died on the cross. His work done, atonement made, and redemption accomplished, He has been raised from the dead in righteousness for our justification. The claims of God have all been met. God's righteousness and hatred of sin have been met in the judgment of the cross. "He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." And now the worst sinner who looks to Jesus as his Saviour, is saved.
But what says this gospel? "The word" — the word of righteousness and the word of faith — "is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith, which we preach." Is not that very simple? A young man wrote me lately, saying, he had been listening to many voices. I inquired what the voices were, and was told the voices of men; the mere outcome of the brains of men. And in this case these voices had led this young man into perfect agnosticism, which only brought sorrow and distress into his heart and conscience. Nihilism gives the affections nothing to feed on; God's gospel gives you Christ. Friend, you and I must listen to the voice of God, and when we listen we shall get the truth. "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach." What says this word? "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
Does anybody in this hall desire to be saved? Does any one in this meeting tonight really want to be saved? If you want to be saved, you may learn the simple truth how, and if the Word of God is to be believed, you may be saved now. God desires that you may be saved. If any one wants to be saved, let him listen. First of all, note God's two conditions to salvation — (1) "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus." I think that is difficult; for confession of the mouth does not, I judge, refer so much to getting up in a meeting like this and confessing Christ, as the walk day by day, — "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and (2) shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." The second condition is very simple. I sometimes call this tenth of Romans "A simple gospel for simple souls." It is very simple indeed. If I had never been converted before, I think I should be tonight. I think I should get it standing on this floor now. I see so clearly what the gospel, which I am to believe, is. The Son of God has come down into this scene, and died the just for the unjust, and, in dying, He has met the claims of God on me. He has gone to the cross, and He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, and has had laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He was forsaken by God, that we might be accepted. He died for us. God has raised Him from the dead, and I see the effect of His death God-wards. It meets God's claims. The resurrection of Jesus is the demonstration that the claims of God have all been met by His death. Upon the treasury bench of heaven has been laid down the ransom-price of my redemption; I believe that in my heart, and know that I am saved.
"If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believes to righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made to salvation" (vers. 9, 10). Mark it is first the heart, then the tongue. It is not head-work. That will not do here. It is all head work with zoology, geology, or physiology, but when you come to the knowledge of the Lord, it is heart-work. You have all got hearts, let Christ fill them. Think of His love — do you not believe that blessed One? Do you ask me if I believe? Yes, I believe Him from the bottom of my heart; I believe He loved me, as the apostle Paul says, "The Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). What is the result of knowing and believing that? The tongue is loosed. When a man's heart is touched, he believes, and then confesses Christ. "For with the heart man believes to righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made to salvation." It is exceedingly simple. "Confession is made to salvation." You get right with God first in your heart, and then put yourself right with men by your mouth. Your tongue exalts Christ. The man who is saved, tells of it to other people. He rejoices to speak of Christ's grace, and to Christ's credit. There is no credit to him. It is all to the glory of Christ.
You believe in Him with your heart, and with your mouth confession is made to salvation, for the Scripture says, "Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed." God does not suppose that the man who believes in His dear Son is going to be ashamed of Him, and if any of you have found the Lord as your Saviour, and have learned that His death has washed your sins away, and delivered you from judgment to come, do not be ashamed to confess Him. Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed is a fine word. I do not think he need be ashamed. The man who has believed will never be put to shame; but for the man who has not Christ, there is nothing before him but dreadful shame. He will be ashamed of himself; ashamed that he missed the light; ashamed that when he had the chance to take Christ, he did not take Him. It is far better to be His now, and each of you may be, "for there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (vers. 12, 13).
Mark this verse with which I close, "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?" It is a very simple and a very blessed thing that, "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved;" but some put that off until too late. I admit, God may meet a man, as he did the poor fellow who dreamt he found Him as he fell from his horse, and broke his neck in falling —
"'Twixt the saddle and the ground,
I mercy sought, and mercy found,"
he tritely put it afterwards. If he called on the name of the Lord, he was certain of salvation; but do not you run away with the idea that you have a long time before you. Will you not call upon Him now? In the quiet of your chamber this night turn, and call on the Lord.
Believe on Him now, for you will not call unless you believe in Him, and you will not believe in Him unless you have heard of Him, and this you have. "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? as it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (vers. 14, 15.) This is a beautiful circle. First of all God sends out the preacher; as the evangelist preaches, the sinner hears — as he hears he believes; the gospel of peace first goes into his heart, and then comes out of his mouth, and he says, "Lord, I believe." It is like touching the button of an electric bell, the circle is completed. I want the circle completed tonight. How is it to be completed? By simple faith, for "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." You just receive simply what the Lord has told you, and then the bell of your heart and lips will ring. The circle is completed. The Lord sends out the Word — the gospel of peace; you believe it; as you believe it, it works into your heart. You say, Lord, I believe; and then you confess Him to men, with your mouth, to salvation.
The apostle adds here, "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias says, Who has believed our report?" And I ask you, Who has believed our report? What man in this room has believed the report of the Lord Jesus Christ? It is for you to say. The man who confesses with his mouth and believes in his heart is the wise man. Again let me repeat, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Have you faith in that blessed One, who died and rose again? If so, confess Him boldly.