CHARACTERISTICS OF FAITH
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, May 27th, 1860, by the
REV. C.H. SPURGEON
At Exeter Hall, Strand.
"Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe."—John 4:48.
YOU WILL REMEMBER that Luke, in his letter to Theophilus, speaks of things which Jesus began both to do and to teach, as if there was a connection between his doings and his teachings. In fact, there was a relation of the most intimate kind. His teachings were the explanation of his doings—his doings confirmations of his teachings. Jesus Christ had never occasion to any, "Do as I say, but not as I do." His words and his actions were in perfect harmony with one another. You might be sure that he was honest in what he said, because what he did forced that conviction upon your mind. Moreover, you were led to see that what he taught you must be true, because he spoke with authority,—an authority proved and demonstrated by the miracles he wrought. Oh my brethren in Christ! when our biographies shall come to be written at last, God grant that they may not be all sayings, but that they may be a history of our sayings and doings! And may the good Spirit so dwell in us, that at the last it may be seen that our doings did not clash with our sayings! It is one thing to preach, but another thing to practice; and unless preaching and practice go together, the preacher is himself condemned, and his ill practice may be the means of condemning multitudes through his leading them astray. If you make a profession of being God's servant, live up to that profession, and if you think it necessary to exhort others to virtue, take care that you set the example. You can have no right to teach, if you have not yourself learned the lesson which you would teach to others.
Thus much by way of preface; and now concerning the subject itself. The narrative before us seems to me to suggest three points, and those points each of them triplets. I shall notice in this narrative, first, the three stages of faith, in the second place I shall notice the three diseases to which faith is subject; and then I shall come, in the third place, to ask three questions about your faith.
I. To begin, then, with the first point. It seems to me that we have before us FAITH IN THREE OF ITS STAGES.
Doubtless, the history of faith might with propriety be divided just as accurately into five or six different stages of growth; but our narrative suggests a threefold division, and therefore we stand to that this morning.
There is a nobleman living at Capernaum; he hears a rumor that a celebrated prophet and preacher is continually going through the cities of Galilee and Judea, and is given to understand that this mighty preacher does not merely enthral every hearer by his eloquence, but wins the hearts of men by singularly benevolent miracles which he works as a confirmation of his mission. He stores these things in his heart, little thinking that they would ever be of any practical service to him. It comes to pass on a certain day that his son falls sick,—perhaps his only son, one very dear to his father's heart,—the sickness, instead of diminishing, gradually increases. Fever breathes its hot breath upon the child, and seems to dry up all the moisture in his body, and to blast the bloom from his cheek. The father consults every physician within his reach; they look upon the child and candidly pronounce him hopeless. No cure can possibly be wrought. That child is at the point of death; the arrow of death has almost sunk into his flesh; it has well nigh penetrated his heart; he is not near death merely, but at death's very point; he has been forced by disease upon the barbed arrows of that insatiate archer. The father now bethinks himself. and calls to recollection the stories he had heard of the cures wrought by Jesus of Nazareth. There is a little faith in his soul; though but a little, still enough to make him use every endeavor to test the truth of what he has heard. Jesus Christ has come to Cana again; it is some fifteen or twenty miles. The father travels with all speed; he arrives at the place where Jesus is: his faith has got to such a stage that, as soon as he sees the master, he begins to cry, "Lord, come down ere my child die." The Master, instead of giving him an answer which might console him, rebukes him for the littleness of his faith, and tells him, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." The man, however, pays little regard to the rebuke, for there is a desire which has absorbed all the powers of his soul. His mind is so overwhelmed with one anxiety, that he is oblivious of all beside. "Sir," said he, "come down ere my child die." His faith has now arrived at such a stage that he pleads in prayer, and earnestly importunes the Lord to come and heal his son. The Master looks upon him with an eye of ineffable benevolence, and says to him, "Go thy way, thy son liveth." The father goes his way cheerfully, quickly, contentedly, trusting in the word which as yet no evidence has confirmed. He has now come to the second stage of his faith; he has come out of the seeking stage into the relying stage. He no more cries and pleads for a thing he has not; he trusts and believes that the thing is given to him, though as yet he has not perceived the gift. On his road home, the servants meet him with joyful haste; they say, "Master, thy son liveth." He enquires quickly at what hour the fever left him. The answer is given him,—about the seventh hour the fever abated; nay, it stayed its course. Then he comes to the third stage. He goes home; he sees his child perfectly restored. The child springs into his arms, covers him with kisses; and when he has held him up again and again to see if he was really the little one that lay so wan, and pale, and sick, he triumphs in a higher sense still. His faith has gone from reliance up to full assurance; and then his whole house believed as well as himself.
I have given you just these outlines of the narrative, that you may see the three stages of faith. Let us now examine each more minutely.
When faith begins in the soul, it is but as a grain of mustard seed. God's people are not born giants. They are babes at first; and as they are babes in grace, so their graces are as it were in their infancy. Faith is but as a little child, when first God gives it; or to use another figure, it is not a fire, but a spark, a spark which seems as if it must go out, but which is nevertheless fanned and kept alive until it cometh to a flame, like unto the vehement heat of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. The poor man in the narrative, when he had faith given him, he had it but in a very small degree. It was seeking faith. That is the first stage of faith. Now just notice that this seeking faith excited his activity. As soon as ever God gives a man the seeking faith, he is no more idle about religion, he does not fold his arms with the wicked Antinomian, and cry, "If I am to be saved, I shall be saved, and I will sit still, for if I am to be damned, I shall be damned." He is not careless and indifferent, as he need to be, as to whether he should go up to the house of God or no. He has got seeking faith, and that faith makes him attend the means of grace, leads him to search the Word, leads him to be diligent in the use of every ordained means of blessing for the soul. There is a sermon to be heard: no matter that there are five miles to walk, seeking faith puts wings upon the feet. There is a congregation where God is blessing souls; the man, if he enters, will probably have to stand in the crowd; but it does not signify, seeking faith gives him strength to bear the uneasiness of his position, for, "Oh," he says, "if I may but hear the Word." See how he leans forward that he may not lose a syllable for, "Perhaps," saith he, "the sentence that I lose may be the very one that I want." How earnest he is that he may not only be sometimes in the house of God, but very often there. He becomes amongst the most enthusiastic of hearers, the most earnest of men that attend that place of worship. Seeking faith gives a man activity.
More than this, seeking faith, though it is very weak in some things, gives a man great power in prayer. How earnest was this nobleman—"Lord, come down ere my child die." Ay, and when seeking faith enters into the soul, it makes a man pray. He is not content now with muttering over a few words when he rises in the morning, and then, half asleep, ringing the same chimes at night when he goes to bed; but he gets away—he steals a quarter of an hour from his business if he can, that he may cry to God in secret. He has not the faith yet which enables him to say, "My sins are forgiven;" but he has faith enough to know that Christ can forgive his sins, and what he wants is that he may know that his sins are really cast behind Jehovah's back. Sometimes this man has no convenience for prayer, but seeking faith will make him pray in a garret, in a hay-loft, in a saw-pit, from behind a hedge, or even walking the street. Satan may throw a thousand difficulties in the way, but seeking faith will compel a man to knock at mercy's door. Now the faith that you have received doth not vet give you peace, it doth not put you where there is no condemnation, but yet it is such a faith, that if it grows it will come to that. It has but to be nourished, to be cherished, to be exercised, and the little one shall become mighty, seeking faith shall come to a higher degree of development, and you that knocked at mercy's gate shall enter in and find a welcome at Jesus' table.
And I would have you further notice, that the seeking faith in this man's case did not simply make him earnest in prayer, but importunate in it. He asked once, and the only answer he received was an apparent rebuff He did not turn away in a sulk, and say, "He rebukes me." No. "Sir," saith he, " come down ere my child die." I cannot tell you how he said it, but I have no doubt it was expressed in soul-moving terms, with tears starting from his eyes, with hands that were placed together in the attitude of entreaty. He seemed to say, "I cannot let thee go except thou come and save my child. Oh, do come. Is there anything I can say that can induce thee? Let a father's affection be my best argument; and if my lips be not eloquent, let the tears of my eyes supply the place of the words of my tongue. Come down ere my child die." And oh! what mighty prayers those are which seeking faith will make a man pray! I have heard the seeker sometimes plead with God with all the power that Jacob ever could have had at Jabboks brook. I have seen the sinner under distress of soul seem to take hold of the pillars of the gate of mercy and rock them to and fro as though he would sooner pull them up from their deep foundations than go away without effecting an entrance. I have seen him pull and tug, and strive and fight, and wrestle, rather than not enter the kingdom of heaven, for he knew that the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent would take it by force. No wonder that you have not any peace, if you have been bringing before God your cold prayers. Heat them red-hot in the furnace of desire, or think not they will ever burn their way upwards to heaven. You that merely say in the chill form of orthodoxy, "God be merciful to me a sinner," will never find mercy. It is the man that cries in the burning anguish of heart-felt emotion—"God be merciful to me a sinner; save me or I perish;" that gains his suit. It is he who concentrates his soul in every word, and flings the violence of his being into every sentence, that wins his way through the gates of heaven. Seeking faith when once it is given can make a man do this. Doubtless there are some here who have got as far as that already. I thought I saw the tears starting from many an eye just now brushed away very hastily, but I could see it as an index that some said in their souls, "Ay, I know the meaning of that, and I trust God has brought me thus far."
One word I must say here with regard to the weakness of this seeking faith. It can do much, but it makes many mistakes. The fault of seeking faith is that it knows too little, for you will observe that this poor man said, "Sir, come down, come down." Well, but he need not come down. The Lord can work the miracle without coming down. But our poor friend thought the Master could not save his son, unless he came and looked at him, and put his hand upon him, and knelt down perhaps upon him as Elijah did. "Oh, come down" saith he. So is it with you. You have been dictating to God how he shall save you. You want him to send you some terrible convictions, and then you think you could believe; or else you want to have a dream or a vision, or to hear a voice speaking to you, saying, "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee." That is your fault you see. Your seeking faith is strong enough to make you pray, but it is not strong enough to cast out of the mind your own silly fancies. You are wanting to see signs and wonders, or else you will not believe. O nobleman, if Jesus chooses to speak the word and thy son is healed, will not that suit thee as well as his coming down? "Oh," saith he, "I never thought of that?" and so, poor sinner, if Jesus chooses to give thee peace this morning in this hall, will not that suit thee as well as being a month under the whip of the law? If as you pass out of these doors you be enabled simply to trust in Christ, and so find peace, will not that be as good a salvation as though you should have to go through fire and through water, and all your sins should be made to ride over your head? Here, then, is the weakness of your faith. Though there is much excellence in it because it makes you pray, there is some fault in it because it makes you imprudently prescribe to the Almighty how he shall bless you—makes you in effect to impugn his sovereignty, and leads you ignorantly to dictate to him in what form the promised boon shall come.
We will now pass on to the second stage of faith. The Master stretched out his hand and said, "Go thy way, thy son liveth." Do you see the face of that nobleman? Those furrows that were there seem smoothed in a moment, all gone. Those eyes are full of tears, but they are of another sort now—they are tears of joy. He claps his hands, retires silently, his heart ready to burst with gratitude, his whole soul full of confidence. "Why are you so happy, sir?" "Why my child is cured," saith he. "Nay, but you have not seen him cured." "But my Lord said he was, and I believe him." But it may be that when you get home you will find your faith to be a delusion and your child a corpse." "Nay," saith he, "I believe in that man. Once I believed him and sought him, now I believe him and have found him.' "But you have no evidence whatever that your child is healed." "Nay," saith he, "I do not want any. The naked word of that divine prophet is enough for me. He spake it and I know it is true. He told me to go my way; my son lived; I go my way, and I am quite at peace and at ease." Now mark, when your faith gets to a second stage in which you shall be able to take Christ at his word, then it is you shall begin to know the happiness of believing, and then it is your faith saves your soul. Take Christ at his word, poor sinner. "He that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved." "But," saith one, "I feel no evidence." Believe it none the less for that. "But," says another, "I do not feel enjoyment in my heart." Believe it, be your heart never so gloomy: that enjoyment shall come afterwards. That is an heroic faith which believes Christ in the teeth of a thousand contradictions. When the Lord gives you that faith, you can say, "I consult not with flesh and blood. He who said to me, 'Believe and be saved,' gave me grace to believe, and I therefore am confident that I am saved. When I once cast my soul, sink or swim, upon the love and blood and power of Christ, though conscience give no witness to my soul, though doubts distress me and fears plague me, yet it is mine to honor my Master by believing his Word, though it be contradictory to sense, though reason rebel against it, and present feeling dare to give it the lie." Oh! it is an honorable thing when a man has a follower, and that follower believes that man implicitly. The man propounds an opinion which is in contradiction to the received opinion of the universe, he stands up and addresses it to the people, and they hiss and hoot, and scorn him; but that man has one disciple, who says, "I believe my Master; what he has said I believe is true." There is something noble about the man who receives such homage as that. He seems to say, "Now I am master of one heart at least," and when you, in the teeth of everything that is conflicting, stand to Christ and believe his words, you do him greater homage than Cherubim and Seraphim before the throne. Dare to believe; trust Christ, I say, and thou art saved. (Please click here to continue reading, "Characteristics of Faith")