Great Texts of the Bible
Life by Faith
The just shall live by his faith.—Habakkuk 2:4.
There is no single text in the Old Testament that plays a larger rôle in the doctrinal discussions of the New Testament than this little sentence from the prophecy of the prophet Habakkuk. It is also one of the foundation stones on which Martin Luther built his anti-papal doctrines of the Reformation, and changed the course of Church History.
Six hundred and thirteen affirmative and negative precepts, says the Talmud, are in the Law given to Moses on Sinai. Since the giving of that Law many a compendium of these hundreds has been suggested. The Psalmist compressed them into eleven. These are to be found in Psalms 15. “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle. He who walketh uprightly and worketh righteousness, and speaketh truth in his heart,” and so forth. Isaiah contracted them into six; Micah into three, “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” The second Isaiah into two, “Observe justice and do charity.” But then came Habakkuk and comprehended them all in that one phrase—“The just man shall live by his faith” (Maccoth 23).1 [Note: S. Singer, Sermons and Memoir, 279.]
To do justice to this great text we must consider it first in its historical setting, and then in the application of it in the New Testament.
The Original Meaning of the Words
1. This text was written on the eve of a Chaldæan invasion. The heathen were coming into Judæa, as we see them still in the Assyrian sculptures—civilizing, after their barbarous fashion, the nations round them—conquering, massacring, transporting whole populations, building cities and temples by their forced labour; and resistance or escape was impossible. The prophet is perplexed. What is this but a triumph of evil? Is there a Divine Providence? Is there a just Ruler of the world? And he breaks out into pathetic expostulation with God Himself: “Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in the net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous. Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?”
Thus Habakkuk had to face the problem of the strength of the wicked and the humiliation of the just. It had been the problem with which Job had wrestled, and the Psalmist and Ecclesiastes; but now it thrust itself into notice under serious and startling aggravations. These arose from the struggles of suffering innocence, but hitherto they had presented themselves mainly in individual instances. The miseries of the individual might be explained away as a result of the infinite complications of human life; but when the sufferer was not a man, but a nation, the chosen people, the seed of Abraham, Gods servants, the only nation which did not worship carved images or deal in heathen gods, it was natural that terrible misgiving should overcloud the souls of men. Belief in the protection of Jehovah had been the main element in the religious conviction of the Jew. Was it not shattered to the dust? The cry of the prophet went up in his perplexity with the question, so often asked before and since, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear?” “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity; wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously?”
He had spoken out his doubt and his distress, and therefore he had not to wait long for an answer. As one who stands upon a watch-tower, straining his eyes for the first gleam of the spears and helmets of a hostile or a friendly army, so he watched, as from the fenced place whence the vision of the truth was seen, to see what the Lord would say to him, what answer he should give when men mocked and taunted him. Then, as the sunlight rises upon the watchman who all night long has looked out through the darkness, the Lord answered him and said, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” Not on the papyrus roll, but on tables of wood or stone; not in the cursive hand of scribes, but in the large characters employed by the sculptor of a graven monument, legible to the distant traveller as he passed at full speed, he was to make known, as Isaiah had done before him, the words that were to be the stay and comfort of his own soul, and of the souls of his people. He was assured, by that word of the Lord which came to his inward spirit, that the vision of a Divine order in the midst of the worlds confusions would come at the appointed time in the fulness of its truth. “At the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it.” The attitude of patient, trustful expectation was the truest and the best for him. That expectation should not always be disappointed. “It will surely come; it will not tarry.” So prefaced and so proclaimed, the words were sown on the wide fields of the worlds history. “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just by his faith shall live.”
Faith means vision. The constant sense of things unseen and eternal. Faith means trust. Daily confidence in the faithful Creator, the loving Redeemer. Faith means expectation. The anticipation of the recompense of the reward. Faith is the root, hope is the blossom, charity is the flower of true religion. Let me beware of the technical, the tangible, the formal in my religious life; let me keep intact the ethereal cords which bind me to the upper universe, and which bring into my life the spiritual electricity on which everything depends. I live by trust, love, admiration, fellowship, revealing themselves and justifying themselves in obedience.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Gates of Dawn, 34.]
2. The terms used by the prophet need to be accurately defined. He says, “The just” or “righteous” shall endure in his faithfulness.
(1) The word “just” means exactly what is meant by the word “righteous.” The just are the righteous, and the righteous are the just. Now “the just,” or “the righteous” are such as are in the right. The idea is rather forensic, and belongs to a court of law. In a trial in court, the righteous man was the one who had the right on his side. In its primitive sense it was merely a juridical right, with no idea of ethical righteousness. Gradually this idea gathered to itself a moral and religious character, and extended to and included right conduct toward God, and toward His creatures. “The just” or “righteous” of the Old Testament is scarcely more than what we call “the sincere,” or what the New Testament calls a true heart, even when estimated at its highest. The “righteous” man, then, is the true, sincere one, whose words and works are in full harmony with the laws of right and so of God.
(2) The term rendered “faith” meant to the prophet simple “faithfulness.” The Old Testament has no word for faith as an active principle, but has two passages in which the word amun or amunah is translated “faith.” One of these is Deuteronomy 32:20, in which the children of Israel are spoken of as “children who have no faith,” or steadfastness. “Unfaithful children” would better express the thought. The other instance is the text. These are not the only examples of faith in the Old Testament, as the eleventh chapter of Hebrews abundantly testifies, but they are the only uses of the word, and in each case the real meaning is “faithfulness.” Naturally the one speaking of the absence of faithfulness is little used and relatively unimportant; but the one which speaks of it as a saving principle or consideration is one of the chief stones in the mosaic of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. In the New Testament the Apostle quotes this passage more than once, but reduces faithfulness in conduct to its root in the heart, and calls it “faith.” It is well that he does so. “Faithfulness” is the Old Testament word. “Faith” is the word of the New Testament. This same word which in the text is translated “faith” is translated “faithfulness” ten times, which along with other derivatives from the same root translated “faithful,” “faithfully,” etc., make over fifty passages in which this rendering prevails. These two passages are the only ones in which it is translated “faith,” and it would not have been so translated here except to make it conform to the New Testament rendering. The Hebrew term indeed is much larger than faith, and carries in itself the idea of firmness, steadfastness, faithfulness. It is used of the holding up of Moses hands by Aaron and Hur (Exodus 17:12): “his hands were steadiness”; of the stability of the times (Isaiah 33:6); of the trustworthiness of one in office (2 Kings 22:7); of an office as a trust (1 Chronicles 9:22; 1 Chronicles 9:26); in connexion with righteousness (Proverbs 12:17); and of right conduct in general. The basis of its meaning is the verb to “believe,” and in its many connexions to believe in God. The root-idea of the noun is belief in, and faithfulness exercised toward, God in true whole-hearted obedience.
3. We are now in a position to appreciate the meaning of this great prophetic utterance. A righteous one, exercising true faithfulness, shall live, shall endure; and (to add the Hebrew idea) shall endure affliction and reproaches with patience and long-suffering. The righteous man through his faithfulness shall live perpetually.
Here then is the oracle to the troubled prophet and the trembling nation. It has two sides. The first is the old law. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; more than that, it shall die because of its sin, for “the wages of sin is death”; still more, it is potentially and in reality dead already, for sin is death. You see a guilty nation apparently triumphing. It carries its own sentence of death. “But the righteous man shall live by his fidelity.” Righteousness may be hated, persecuted, maligned, slandered, imprisoned, beaten, burnt, crucified over and over again. That is in one form or another the lot of righteousness on earth. Nevertheless, righteousness is life, sin is death. That was essentially the oracle of Habakkuk, to Judah, and to all mankind.
The words came to Habakkuk as the solution of many dark and difficult problems; it gave him strength for the battle of his life, and was to him, as the “prophetic word” has ever been, as a light shining in the darkness; but, unless we ascribe to him a foresight differing in kind as well as in degree from anything that Scripture warrants us in connecting with a prophets work, we cannot think of him as seeing far into its future history. Not for him was the vision of all the wondrous destiny of those wondrous words—how they were to be the starting-point of a new stage in the spiritual life of mankind, the glad tidings of great joy to myriads of penitent and contrite hearts,—kindling in the heart of St. Paul the fire which was never to be extinguished,—stirring the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to his long muster-roll of the heroes of a faith which overcomes the world,—casting a ray of brightness even across the dreariness of the Talmud—starting ever and anon, in Augustine and Luther, and a thousand lesser prophets, as on a fresh career of victory, conquering and to conquer,—the trumpet-call of the Churchs warfare, the watchword of mighty controversies, the articulus stantis vel cadentis Ecclesiœ. Yes, in the very van of that goodly fellowship of preachers was that prophet of whom we now know so little, whom we have almost lost out of our sight in the great procession of his followers. The first preacher of the truth of justification by faith was not Luther, or Augustine, or Paul, but the prophet Habakkuk.
In answer to an inquiry from his brother Robert as to his opinion of Mr. J. H. Newmans recent work on Justification, Bishop Wilberforce wrote: “The living faith which is the formal cause of our Justification is a compound, an assent of the Understanding to the truth of what God reveals and a co-existing going forth of the Will approving of and choosing it. Now this is wholly independent of good works. Let time indeed be given and this principle will necessarily produce Good Works, but still by a necessary accident. It is not, I mean, the future production of Good Works which makes the difference between the one and the other, but the present difference of the Will. The man may die before he has had time to produce one Good Work, yet his living Faith is not made to have been dead, by Christ. You show me two seeds; one is a dead seed, the other a living. I cannot see the difference; so I say, Plant them and then the living seed will grow; but it is not this after-growing which constitutes its life. It was just as much alive before it began to grow. The living principle within made it unlike the dead seed: only my infirmity prevented my being able to detect it. So in Faith. The living Faith, before the least possibility of working, is wholly different from the dead Faith, and God sees this; and the man in whom it is, is freely and as much justified as if he had worked ever so much.”1 [Note: A. R. Ashwell, Life of Samuel Wilberforce, i. 121.]
However he may have stated it in the old familiar forms of bargain, this was Luthers real doctrine of justification by faith. It was mystic, not dogmatic. It was of the soul and the experience, not of the reason. Faith was not an act, but a being—not what you did, but what you were. The whole truth of the immanence of God and of the essential belonging of the human life to the Divine—the whole truth that God is a power in man and not simply a power over man, building him as a man builds a house, guiding him as a man steers a ship, this whole truth, in which lies the seed of all humanity, all progress, all great human hope, lay in the truth that justification was by faith and not by works. No wonder that Luther loved it. No wonder that he thought it critical. No wonder that he wrote to Melanchthon, hesitating at Augsburg, “Take care that you give not up justification by faith. That is the heel of the seed of the woman which is to crush the serpents head.”1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Essays and Addresses, 383.]
“For my part,” was Stephen Crisps strong language in one of his sermons—“for my part, my tongue shall as soon drop out of my mouth as oppose the doctrine of being justified by faith in Christ; but let me tell you this may be misapplied.… If a man hope to be saved by Christ, he must be ruled by Him. It is contrary to all manner of reason that the devil should rule a man, and Christ be his Saviour.”2 [Note: F. A. Budge, Annals of the Early Friends, 144.]
The Deeper Interpretation
1. The note struck in Habakkuk rings on through the whole New Testament. We find the words quoted three times, and applied so comprehensively as to embrace the whole Christian life within their scope. In Galatians 3:11 they specially refer to the beginning of that life, the justification of the sinner who confides in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. By faith he passes from the curse of the Law into the position and privileges of a son of God. In Hebrews 10:38 the text is quoted in another sense, and refers to the continuance of the Christian life in steadfastness and strength through all its probation of earthly trial. The life which was received by faith is maintained by faith to the very end. Then, in Romans 1:17, St. Paul quotes the words in a way which seems to include both of these ideas. From first to last faith admits man to the blessings of the covenant of grace. God unveils His righteousness little by little, stage by stage, to the believer. It is the eye of faith that sees the unfolding vision, the hand of faith that grasps the ever-opening blessing. The revelation of the gospel in its justifying, sanctifying, transforming power is given, not from faith to struggling, as we often mistakenly think, but “from faith to faith.”
St. Paul found in the words a meaning that Habakkuk did not dream of. To the Galatian Judaizers he saw that there was another, truer source of righteousness, and therefore of life, than the rigid observance of rites and precepts, or than the lifelong accumulation of deeds of an outward ethical obedience; to believe in God and in His righteousness, in His will to give what He demands, in His justice and His love; to trust that Will in all the chances of life, in all the convulsions of the spirit, was to find peace and life. But the words which follow show the new object of faith which was present to his mind. It was no longer simply the moral government of God. With an abruptness more impressive than any logical precision, he shows what his own mind was dwelling on: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” It was to that he turned as the source of all hope and peace. The Son of the Eternal Father had come to share mans sorrows, to identify Himself with mans sins, to know and bear even the curse which follows upon sin. The very form and manner of His death had upon it the brand of such a curse; and therefore that death had been mighty in its power to redeem men from the curse. The law required obedience, and here was an obedience perfect even unto death. It demanded nothing less than life, and here the life was offered as a sacrifice, precious, without spot, acceptable. By trusting Him, trusting God manifested in Christ and reconciling the world unto Himself, as the prophet had trusted Him when He made bare His arm in the crash of armies and the fall of empires, the Apostle might hope to find the righteousness and life which on the other track were ever slipping from his grasp.
The teaching of the Epistle to the Romans is in this, as in other things, an expansion of that of the Epistle to the Galatians. What had before come to St. Paul out of the depths of his own experience, swift as an arrow, sharp as a two-edged sword, in the controversy which he was then waging, was now seen in its bearing upon the wider questions of the religious history of mankind. The history of the Gentile world showed that the witness of the eternal power and Godhead in the things that are seen was not enough, that even the law written in mens hearts was not enough to save them from a fathomless degradation. The history of Israel showed that even the oracles of God, and the covenants and the promises, even the voice on Sinai and the word that spoke by the prophets, were not enough to raise men from hypocrisy, formalism, selfishness. For both something more was needed, and that something was found in the revelation of the Divine character as seen in the humanity of Christ. So it was that the thoughts of the Apostle rose to the height of that great argument. Among the marvellous fruits of the seed sown by Habakkuk, cast like seed-corn upon the waters, to be found again after many days, we may place the Epistle to the Romans.
We do not recognize all that Paul means when he describes the Christian experience unless we lay the emphasis on the Divine grace and the human faith. While faith calls into exercise, and free and full exercise, the whole personality of man, it is not understood as Paul understood it, if it is regarded as a task to be done by mans strenuous effort. If faith were this, salvation would be of works, and grace would not be grace. The stress in Pauls doctrine is on the objective facts of Christs Crucifixion and Resurrection; the subjective states of being crucified and risen with Christ are the necessary effects of these facts, where a man submits himself to Christ. Faith is not a productive, but a receptive energy. It is the greater personality of Christ which inspires and sustains that dependence on, communion with, and submission to, Him which results in a mans moral transformation. In these days, when on the one hand the Jesus of history is receding into the distant past, and on the other the Christ of faith is being sublimated into a moral and religious ideal, the identity of both needs to be insisted on to make the one present and the other real. It is the real presence of the personal Saviour and Lord which alone explains Pauls own experience, and the experience which he assumed to be common to all believers. The moral passion and power of the Apostle can be recovered by the Christian Church to-day only as it recognizes the moral meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and reproduces that moral content in personal union with Him.1 [Note: A. E. Garvie, Studies of Paul and his Gospel, 185.]
2. Luthers one corner-stone of the Reformation, in opposition to the decrees, decretals, and bulls of Rome, was this text. In his interpretation of it, he did not read it, “The just by faith shall live,” the man who is made just by his faith, but the one who is just, having been so made by God Himself, shall live, endure, through his belief and faith in God. Belief and faith in the Church, in popes and decrees, is ineffectual, does not make for endurance, for salvation, for eternal life. Luthers tremendous emphasis upon the main teaching of this text made it a kind of battle-cry of freedom among the German reformers.
Once enunciated, the doctrine spread rapidly; faith as a grain of mustard-seed waxed a great tree; the morsel of yeast leavened the whole lump. In the secular twentieth century it requires a slight effort of the imagination to realize what enthusiasm a purely religious idea might arouse in the sixteenth. That it did so is certain; undoubtedly because multitudes were sick of the holiness of works offered them by the Church, and longed for a more spiritual religion. Though it may be admitted that the antithesis has often been exaggerated, nevertheless the popular idea remains roughly right—that the Reformation meant a movement from a mechanical to an individual and subjective conception of religion. It was the same need of doing away with externals and seeking an immediate relation to God that moved the mystics of the fourteenth century; but Europe was not then ripe for the idea. The explanation of Luthers success where Tauler failed is partly found in the timely elements with which he combined his original thought. His own experience was but the nucleus around which was gathered all that was most vital in the thought of the age—the return to the Bible, to Augustine, and to mysticism, the protest against the sophistries of the Schoolmen and against the corruption of the Church, and a simpler, more individual relation of the soul to God. Above all, Martin Luther was fitted to be the prophet of his age because he had the most searching experience in what that age imperiously demanded—personal religion.
Lo, Lord, Thou knowst, I would not anything
That in the heart of God holds not its root;
Nor falsely deem theres any life at all
That doth in Him nor sleep nor shine nor sing;
I know the plants that bear the noisome fruit
Of burning and of ashes and of gall—
From Gods heart torn, rootless to mans they cling.
3. Faith remains as of old the condition of the highest life. To the prophet the supreme idea of life is safety, preservation from peril. To the Apostle the supreme idea is entire devotion to the will of God. He alone lives who can, in his measure, say after Christ, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” It is that life which a man shall live who has, and maintains, a living faith in God. And nothing else but faith can possibly inspire or sustain that life. A living faith maintains the higher life of righteousness, and the higher life of righteousness upholds, and ever reinvigorates, the living faith. Faith cannot but work out righteousness. Righteousness cannot but make demands that ennoble faith.
(1) We are not to suppose that faith is a supernatural faculty which we cannot exercise until it has been imparted to us by God in some mysterious manner. Faith is of course Gods gift, but it is bestowed upon us just as naturally as memory is bestowed, or the gift of reason. It is one of the normal faculties of our manhood, for the exercise of which we are responsible. Were it not so, Christ could never have upbraided His disciples with their unbelief. The arguments used to present faith in any other light rest largely on a mistaken interpretation of Ephesians 2:8. It is salvation, not faith, which is declared in that verse to be “the gift of God.”
Perhaps if Gods existence had been one of those things of which formal proof could be given to the world, the acknowledged fact would have lost its interest. It would have killed individual inquiry.… We should have lost all those touching and noble associations which gather round the name of faith, and should have had instead a cold science—common property, and so appropriated by none. As it is, each man has to prove the fact for himself. It is the great adventure, the great romance of every soul—this finding of God. Though so many travellers have crossed the ocean before us, and bear witness of the glorious continent beyond, each soul for itself has to repeat the work of a Columbus, and discover God afresh. And this can indeed be done; but intellectual argument is not the sole nor the main means of apprehension. At best it prepares the way. Moral purification is equally necessary. Then spiritual effort, determined, concentrated, renewed in spite of failure—calm and strong prayers in the Name of Christ—enable the believer to say, like Jacob after he had wrestled with the Angel,—“I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”1 [Note: A. J. Mason, The Faith of the Gospel.]
(2) Christian faith is an attitude of the soul which wholly honours God. It takes Him simply and implicitly at His word. It rests upon His promises. It asks no questions. The fact that God has spoken is sufficient; the soul trusts, and in its trust is again at peace with God. Mans oneness with God was ruptured at first by unbelief. It was through the door of doubt that sin entered into the world, and death by sin. “Yea; hath God said—?” Faith reverses the subtle whisper of the tempter and trustfully accepts the word of the Living God—“Yea; God hath said”; thus faith speaks, and there faith rests.
The late Master of Balliol (Dr. Jowett) asked the question, “Is it possible to feel a personal attachment to Christ such as is described by Thomas à Kempis? I think that it is impossible, and contrary to human nature, that we should be able to concentrate our thoughts on a person scarcely known to us, who lived 1800 years ago.” Discipular experience from St. Paul downwards, through the centuries, acknowledges that it is possible, and finds the experience is proportionate to the culture of the spiritual nature and the enjoyment of the atmosphere of God and the Christ, who is at the centre of it. The testimony of the centuries corroborates Dr. Dales view, “that faith in Christ is trust in a Person, not belief in a book; that the ultimate foundation of faith is personal knowledge of Christ, and its originating cause the personal testimony of those who in our own time, and before it, have trusted in Christ and have found their faith verified in spiritual experience.” This statement is true to the heart of things and to the fundamental elements of spiritual and discipular experience. Christ is as real to the Christian experience as the air we breathe.2 [Note: D. Butler, Thomas à Kempis, 75.]
(3) It is by such faith that men live. The life of our spirits is a gift from God, the Father of spirits, and He has chosen to declare that unless we trust to Him for life, and ask Him for life, He will not bestow it upon us. The life of our bodies He in His mercy keeps up, although we forget Him; the life of our souls He will not keep up; therefore, for the sake of our spirits, even more than of our bodies, we must live by faith. If we wish to be loving, pure, manly, noble, we must ask these excellent gifts of God, who is Himself infinite love and purity, wisdom and nobleness. If we wish for everlasting life, from whom can we obtain it but from God, who is the fulness of eternal life itself? If we wish for forgiveness for our faults and failings, where are we to get it but from God, who is boundless love and pity, and who has revealed to us His boundless love and pity in the form of a man, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world? And to go a step farther; it is by faith in Christ we must live—in Christ, a man like ourselves, yet God blessed for ever. For it is a certain truth, that men cannot believe in God or trust in Him unless they can think of Him as a man. This was the reason why the poor heathen made themselves idols in the form of men, that they might have something like themselves to worship; and those among them who would not worship idols almost always ended in fancying that God was either a mere notion or a mere part of this world, or else that He sat up in heaven neither knowing nor caring what happened upon earth. But we, to whom God has given the glorious news of His gospel, have the very Person to worship whom all the heathen were searching after and could not find—one who is “very God,” infinite in love, wisdom, and strength, and yet “very man,” made in all points like ourselves, but without sin; so that we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who is able to help those who are tempted, because He was Himself tempted like us, and overcame by the strength of His own perfect will, of His own perfect faith. By trusting in Him, and acknowledging Him in every thought and action of our lives, we shall be safe; for it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Tolstoy had decided that for him at least life was simply not possible without faith. And by the logic of the heart he moved up to that position which Pater, by a curiously similar process, attained: that since there are certain presuppositions, postulates, beliefs, without which a man simply cannot live, is not this a presumption that these presuppositions, postulates, beliefs, do signify the permanent, universal truth?
“I had only to know God, and I lived: I had only to forget Him, not to believe in Him, and I died. What was this discouragement and revival? I do not live when I lose faith in the existence of a God; I should long ago have killed myself if I had not had a dim hope of finding Him. I only really live when I feel, and seek Him. What more then do I ask? And a voice seemed to cry within me, This is He, He without whom there is no life! To know God and to live are One. God is Life! Live to seek God and life will not be without Him. And stronger than ever rose up life within and around me, and the light that then shone never left me again.”1 [Note: J. A. Hutton, Pilgrims in the Region of Faith, 143.]
(4) It is by such faith that men endure. Faith is an attitude of the soul which is instinct with tremendous moral power. It is an energizing principle of such potency that where it operates the whole current of the life is changed. It fills the soul with a new inspiration. It uplifts the most sordid. It emboldens the most timorous. It banishes the fear of the craven and slays the lust of the profligate. It impels the slothful to a life of holy activity, and sends the most selfish forth into the world in self-forgetting service. Let faith live in a human heart, and there is nothing man will fear, nothing he dare not attempt. All things are possible to him that believeth. Let a statesman only believe in his cause and there is no toil that he will not endure, no ridicule that he will not brave, no opposition that he will dread to encounter. His faith is able to transform his whole character. And when a man from the depths of a sincere heart can say, with St. Paul, “I believe God,” his creed is no impotent shibboleth, but an imprisoned energy in the soul, a moral dynamic, which will change his whole life. Potentially he is already one of Gods heroes, one of that noble roll whose deeds are written on the sacred page, “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:33-34).
By faith men endure in the midst of the greatest troubles and calamities. They so confide in the righteous God and in His declared promises, they remain so entirely loyal to the heavenly vision and hope which are beyond the ken of the natural man, that they are secretly strengthened in the darkest hours to hold fast their integrity. Faith in God means confidence in Him, fellowship with Him, devotion to Him; and such whole-hearted trust is the inspiration and guarantee of highest character, even when the stress and strain of life are most severe.
God! Thou art love! I build my faith on that.
Even as I watch beside Thy tortured child
Unconscious whose hot tears fall fast by him,
So doth Thy right hand guide us through the world
Wherein we stumble.…
I know Thee, who hast kept my path, and made
Light for me in the darkness, tempering sorrow
So that it reached me like a solemn joy;
It were too strange that I should doubt Thy love.1 [Note: Browning, Paracelsus.]
Life by Faith
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National Preacher, xxxvi. 353 (A. T. MGill).
Penuel, i. 10 (E. G. Fishbourne).
Treasury (New York), viii. 670 (W. E. Barton).