Believing on Jesus, and Its Counterfeits
Delivered on Lord's-day Morning, February 22nd, 1891,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
"As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."—John 8:30-32.
OUR LORD, on this occasion, was surrounded by cavillers. We must not be astonished if the like should happen to us when declaring the gospel. Our Lord went on preaching all the same, and he did not conceal objectionable truth because of opposition; say, rather, that he set it forth with greater boldness and decision when surrounded by his enemies. The more they opposed, the more he testified.
The Lord Jesus also told the contradicting sinners that the day would come when cavillers would be convinced. Observe how he put it: "When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself." Cavillers may have a fine time of it just now; but they will one day be convinced either to their conversion or their confusion. Let us hope that many will see the truth before they die—early enough to seek and find a Saviour. But many in our Lord's day who discovered it after his uplifting on the cross, and his uplifting from the grave, came by their knowledge sadly late; for in the mean time they had crucified the Lord of glory. Ah, how much of sin comes out of faith delayed! A far greater number of these Jews were convinced in their minds altogether too late; for when they were driven to feel, by the attendant circumstances of his crucifixion and resurrection, that he really was the Son of God, they still persevered in rebellion, and sank into obstinate rejection of his claims. On such his blood rested to their eternal condemnation. Cavillers, you may riot for a little season, but your time is short; the hour will come when you shall behold, and wonder, and perish. I pray that there may come an end to your unbelief by your being convinced in this life, and led to repentance; but if it be not so, you will certainly be ashamed and confounded in the day when the Lord shall come in his glory, and you shall in vain beseech the mountains to fall upon you and hide you from his face.
Cavillers ought to be convinced even now; the Saviour implies this when he adds, "He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him." The character of Jesus should have convinced the Jews of his mission. His evident obedience to God, and the equally evident witness of God to him, would have led them to see his Messiahship if they had not been blinded by prejudice and pride. Any candid man at the present day studying the life of Christ, and observing his unique character, should be convinced that he is the Son of God, and should come to believe in him.
But, beloved, though the Saviour was thus surrounded with objectors and had so much to endure from their ignorance and their malice, yet his controversies with them were not without hopeful effects; for our text informs us, "As he spake these words, many believed on him." Albeit we may be surrounded with general and virulent opposition, yet there will be fruit from the preaching of the truth. The Word of the Lord shall not return unto him void: it shall prosper in the thing whereto God hath sent it. We may hope that not only a few, but many will accept the sacred testimony, since we see that, even in the midst of an exceedingly hot dispute, it happened that "As he spake these words, many believed on him."
I. These believers were not all of one kind; and upon that fact I shall enlarge in this beginning of my sermon. Let that stand as our first observation upon the text—OUR LORD HAD DIFFERENT KINDS OF BELIEVERS AROUND HIM. There were two sorts of believers evidently, who may be set forth to you by the differing expressions used in the Revised Version. We read in verse 30, "Many believed on him"; and then in the thirty-first verse we read of "those Jews which had believed him." Mark the distinction between "believed on him" and "had believed him." It is a singular expression also, "Those Jews which had believed him." They were Jews still as to their traditional belief and connection—Jews first of all, whatever they might be in connection with their Judaism. The omission of the word "on" or "in" is a happy one, because it is exactly accurate; and it helps to bring out an important distinction, while it also accounts for what seems so strange, that those who had believed him should, almost immediately after, charge him with being a Samaritan and having a devil, and should even take up stones to stone him. There were two sorts of believers, and on these I will speak a while.
The first "believed on him": these are the right kind. What is it to believe on Christ? It means not only to accept what he says as true, and to believe that he is the Messiah and the Son of God, but trustfully to rest in him. To believe on him is to take him as the ground of our hopes, as our Saviour, upon whom we depend for salvation. When we believe in him or on him, we accept him as God sets him forth; and we make use of him by trusting on him to do for us what God has appointed him to do. This trusting on Jesus is saving faith. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." To believe him may be a very different thing from believing on him. Such belief may fall far short of saving faith. To believe on him means heartily to give yourself up to him, and to follow him as the way, the truth, and the life to you. Rejecting all rival confidences, the heart leans on Jesus all its weight, and leaves with him all its burdens. Believing in him, we repose all our concerns, for time and for eternity, in his hands. To believe on him is also to believe implicitly. We believe all that he may yet say. We accept not only what he says which we can fully understand, but that which as yet is dark to us. We so believe in him that we go with him in all his teachings, be they what they may. We not only go as far as he has hitherto revealed himself to us, but we are prepared to go as much farther as he pleases. What he says is truth to us, on the sole evidence that he says it. We believe in Jesus, not because we judge that what he says can be endorsed by our understanding (though that is, indeed, the case), but because he says it. Our Lord's word is reason enough for us. The ipse dixit of the Son of God suffices us, even if all men deny his assertions. He has said it, and he is the truth itself. We believe on him; Son of God and Son of man, living, dying, risen again, ascended into the heavens, we trust him. He is our infallible prophet, and our omniscient teacher. We rest ourselves wholly on him. That is saving faith. Oh, that it may be said of this congregation, "Many believed on him"!
But there is another kind of faith which was produced by the Saviour's testimony, and had much of hope in it, and yet it never came to anything. There is a temporary faith which believes Jesus in a sense, and after its own way of understanding him, or rather of misunderstanding him. This faith believes about him; believes that he was undoubtedly sent of God; that he was a great prophet; that what he says is, to a high degree, reasonable and right, and so forth. This faith believes what he has just now said; but it is not prepared to believe on him so as to accept everything that he may say at another time. This faith believes everything that commands itself to its own judgment: it does not, in fact, believe in Jesus, but believes in itself, and in him so far as he agrees with its own opinions. This faith is not prepared to obey Christ, and accept him as its Master and Lord. This was the kind of faith these Jews possessed: it was a faith which was so crowded up with a mass of favourite prejudices that before long it was smothered by them. They might accept Jesus as the Messiah, but then he must be the kind of Messiah they had always pictured in their own minds—a leader who would defeat the Romans, who would deliver Palestine from the foreign yoke, rebuild the temple, and glorify the Jewish race. They half hoped that he might turn out to be a great leader for their own purposes; but they did not believe in him as he revealed himself as the light of the world, as the Son of God, and as one with the Father.
A great deal of disbelief and misbelief is current at the present day. We are encouraged by certain persons to include in our churches all that have any sort of belief; and, indeed, the line is to be more inclusive still, for these who have no belief at all are to find an open door. The Church of Christ is to be a menagerie of creatures of every kind. I fear, if they come into this Noah's ark wild beasts, they will also go out wild beasts. Only those who enter by the door of regeneration and spiritual faith will in very deed be within the kingdom of the Lord. If they have received Christ, we may receive them into his church, but not else. It is true the people of temporary faith will creep into the visible church, but they do so on their own responsibility. Nor need we think that some strange thing has happened unto us as a church when the baser sort are found among us; for one such entered into that college of apostles; a man who, doubtless, believed the words of Jesus, and thought him to be the Messiah: I mean Judas, who, with a traitor's hand, sold his Master. His intellect had been convinced, but his heart had never been renewed. He even dared to use his profession of religion, and the position which it brought him, as a means of unhallowed gain. Another notable believer of this sort was Simon Magus, who believed because he saw the signs and wonders wrought by the apostles; but as he also sought to make gain of godliness, he remained in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity, and never became "a disciple indeed." There is a greater one than all these, even the devil. We read that "the devils believe and tremble." They hold the faith, and feel something of the power of it, for they tremble which is more than modern critics do. Devils know that Jesus is the Christ of God; for they have upon occasion confessed it, and have borne witness to the gospel in the open streets, crying after the preachers of the Word; and yet with all their knowledge, and with much of a sort of faith, and with an apprehension which leads to trembling, they remain devils still, and make no advance towards God. Ah, my hearers! beware of that faith which is a mere intellectual movement, which does not control the heart and the life. To come to faith through a cold argument, and to feel no spiritual life, is but a poor business. You want a faith that leads you to an entire reliance upon the person of Jesus, to the giving up of everything to him, to the reception of him as your Saviour and King, your all in all. You have not believed unto eternal life unless you have so believed on him that you make him the foundation and corner-stone of your hope? You must believe in him as taking away sin. God has set him forth to be the propitiation for sin, and you must believe on him in that capacity.
This will suffice upon our first head, and this very naturally leads us to the second remark.
II. OUR LORD TAKES NOTICE EVEN OF THE LOWEST SORT OF FAITH. When he saw that these people believed him in a measure and were willing to accept his testimony so far as they comprehended it, he looked upon them hopefully, and spoke to them. Out of a weak and imperfect faith, something better may arise. Saving faith, in its secret beginnings, may be contained in this common and doubtful faith. It is written, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Certainly he can find it if anyone can. He has a very quick eye for faith. He deals with little faith as we used to do with a spark in the tinder, in the days of our boyhood. When we had struck a spark, and it fell into the tinder—though it was a very tiny one—we watched it eagerly, we blew upon it softly, and we were zealous to increase it, so that we might kindle our match thereby. When our Lord Jesus sees a tiny spark of faith in a man's heart, though it be quite insufficient of itself for salvation, yet he regards, it with hope, and watches over it, if, haply, this little faith may grow to something more. It is the way of our compassionate Lord not to quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed. If any of you have only a little faith now, and that marred by ignorance and prejudice, it may be like a connecting thread between you and Jesus, and the thread may thicken to a cable. Your partial and feeble faith as yet only takes hold upon a part of the revelation of God; but I am glad that it takes hold on anything which is from above. I would not roughly break that single holdfast which now links you to the truth; and yet I would not have you trust to it as though it would stand the stress of tempest. Oh, that your faith may be increased till you trustfully commit yourself to Jesus, and believe in him unto eternal life!
Our Lord addressed himself especially to these questionable believers. He turned from his assured disciples to look after those who were more in danger. Their character was a curious combination—full of peril, "Jews who believed him." You that are familiar with the New Testament Scriptures will think the phrase more suggestive than it at first sight appears. It reminds me of those of you who believe the gospel and still remain worldly, impenitent, prayerless. You fear the Lord, and serve other gods. You are not infidels in name, but you are atheists in life. To you there is urgent need to speak. The Master turned round, and spoke to those who were believers, and yet not believers; holding with Jesus, and yet really opposed to him. Oh, you that halt between two opinions, my Lord looks on you with a pitying hopefulness, and he speaks especially to you at this time! May you have grace to hear and obey his Word!
It is clear that he encourages them, but he does not flatter them. He says, "if." A great "if" hovered over them like a threatening cloud. Wisely does our Lord commence his word to them with "if." If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed." Continuance is the sure test of the genuine believer. Our Lord does not say, "Go your way, you are not my disciples"; but he, in effect, says, "I stand in doubt of you. The proof of your discipleship will be your persevering in your faith." If we say that we believe in Jesus, we must prove it by abiding in believing, and by still further believing. The Word of Jesus must be the object of our faith; into that Word we must enter, and in that Word we must continue. Beginning to believe is nothing unless we continue to believe.
Our Lord showed his interest in the weaker sort of believers by helping them on in the safe way, urging them to continue in his Word. You believe," he seems to say, "believe still; believe more; believe all that I say. You have entered into my Word; dive deeper into it, and abide in it. Let my Word surround you: dwell in it; continue in it." Good advice this! and it is the advice I would give in my Master's name to any here who are feeling after Christ and his gospel. As far as you have already come in faith, keep fast hold, and seek for more. You are on the right track in believing Jesus; a track which will lead to the King's highway if fairly followed up. Any kind of faith is better than that deadly doubt which is cried up so much nowadays. By faith comes salvation, but by doubt comes the opposite. Your feeble and imperfect believing has in it much of hopefulness, but it must be continued, or we shall be disappointed. Your home and refuge must be the Word of the Lord Jesus, and in that refuge you must abide. Believe what Jesus says in his New Testament of love. Whatever you find that he reveals by himself or by his apostles, receive it without question. Hold fast his Word, and let it hold you fast. First, believe him, believe him to be true, believe him to be sent of God for your salvation; and then put yourself into hands. When you have committed yourself to him, continue to do so. Do not run away from your faith because of ridicule. Mind that you so believe in Jesus as to practice what he commands: you cannot continue in his Word except you learn to obey it. The text of faith is obedience. What he bids you, do it. Let your life be affected by the truth he teaches. Let your whole mind, and thought, and desire, and speech, and bearing, and conversation, be coloured and savoured by your full faith in Jesus. Enter into his Word as a man into a stream, and live therein as a fish in the water.
"Continue in my word": get into Christ's Word as a sinking sailor would get into a life-boat, and once there, keep inside the boat: do not throw yourself out into the stormy waves through despair, but continue in the place of hope. This is Christ's gracious counsel to those in whom there seems to be some hopeful sign.
My hearers, we never preach the saving power of temporary, unpractical, unsanctifying faith. If a man says, "I believe in Christ and therefore I shall be saved, his faith will have to be tested by his life. If, sometime after, he has no faith in Christ, that faith which he claimed to have is proved to be good for nothing. The faith of God's elect is an abiding faith; it is precious faith, and like precious metal, it survives the fire. Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three." Thus true faith is classed among the abiding things, it is undying, unquenchable. If you truly believe in Jesus, it is for life. Saving faith is a life-long act. It is the relinquishment of all trust in self, once for all, and the trusting in Jesus for ever. He is and ever shall be our only confidence. That is the faith which saves; but the temporary faith which comes and goes, is nothing worth. The shout of "I believe it" too often ends when the excitement is over. To sing "I do believe, I will believe," is well enough; but unless that believing appertains to daily life, and changes the inner nature, and abides even till death, it has not saved the man. The measure of faith of which we have been speaking may turn out to be the beginning of saving faith; but it may, on the other hand, turn out to be a mere deception soon to be dispelled, a morning cloud which disappears, an early dew exhaled by the sun.
I think I have said enough upon my second point. Let it encourage you, that our Lord takes notice even of the lowest kind of faith; but let it also warn you when you see that he receives it with an "if," and goes on carefully to exhort and warn, lest the hopeful thing should die, and its promise should be unfulfilled. (Please click here to continue reading, "Believing on Jesus, and Its Counterfeits")