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Sermons from the Psalms, 5 - Fainting

By Clovis G. Chappell


      "I had fainted, unless I had believed." Psalm 27: 13

      Clovis G. Chappell: HERE is a man who realizes that he has had a very close call. He has just succeeded in traversing a bit of rugged road that threatened to work his ruin. More than once had his knees gone weak. More than once had the whole world seemed to grow black about him. Again and again had he been on the point of toppling over in a dead faint. But when he was reeling in his tracks and ready to fall, there was one firm staff that did not break in the grip of his clutching fingers. There was one solid wall against which he leaned that he found amply able to bear all the weight he could put upon it. That wall was faith. So he won through; but as he looks back over it all he declares with humility: "I had fainted, unless I had believed."

      I

      Now fainting is one of the most common and deadly foes that you and I have to face. We know from our own experiences what it is and something of the havoc that it works. Sometime ago I was preaching in a church that was greatly overcrowded. Suddenly a gentleman who was standing in the rear of the building toppled over with a dull thud. The moment before he fainted he was, to all appearances, an eager and interested worshiper. He was making a worth-while contribution to the service. But as soon as he had fainted all this was over. There was no use to give him a hymn book; he would not sing. There was no use to pass him the collection plate; he could not give. There was no use to call him to prayer; he could not pray. There was no use to preach to him; he could not listen. Not only so, but four other men who had also been making their contribution to the service had to leave in order to look after him. Thus, by his fainting, he not only ceased to be an asset, but became a positive liability.

      But for every one who faints physically there are literally scores who faint spiritually. How many such do we have in all our churches! Once they could be counted upon to be in their places at every service. Once the whole moral tone of the community was purified, in some measure, through their efforts. But all this is passed. The fires of their enthusiasm have gone out. Their interest has become listlessness. They are no longer a help, but a positive hindrance. They are no longer life-giving, they rather lie like huge stones across the mouth of the sepulcher where God is trying to raise some needy Lazarus from the dead. And this is the case, not because they have become openly antagonistic to the Church. It is the case not because they are vicious or flagrantly corrupt. It is rather the case because they have fainted.

      A few years ago, over in a staid old city of Virginia, a lovely young couple stood before the altar to be married. They were of sufficient prominence socially for the event to be one of importance, not only to themselves, but to their community. All went well till the minister was about in the middle of the ceremony. Then his voice suddenly faltered, his ritual dropped from his fingers, and he himself toppled over into the palms. And there stood the embarrassed couple only half married. I rejoice to say that this minister was not so far gone that he could not be restored. Friends took him into the open air, and he was at last able to see his task through, "and they lived happily ever after."

      But such tragedies do not always end so fortunately. In fact, because of our proneness to faint, our lives and our world are cluttered up with half-finished tasks. There are beautiful pictures that we never quite paint, books that we throw aside when we have written only the preface. There are fine goals from which we turn back when our pursuit has only begun.

      Near a certain Southern city there stood for years a very expensive building called "The Pink Palace." It was constructed of beautiful pink marble that had been brought from a distance of hundreds of miles. But in spite of all the wealth and labor that had been expended upon this palace, in spite of the beautiful material of which it was builded, it was not a poem, as it was surely meant to be. It was only a windowless ruin. This was the case because the builder fainted and gave over his task before he brought it to completion.

      While I was pastor in Washington, D. C., I was sent one summer to the Panama Canal Zone on a preaching and lecturing tour. Here and there, as we crossed the isthmus, I noticed great heaps of machinery that were slowly sinking into the mud and rusting away. Upon asking about these worthless heaps I was told that they had been left there by the French. Then I remembered that the French had undertaken to dig the canal and join these two seas. To that end they expended much money and not a few lives. But they did not see the task through. This was the case, not because they had proved the enterprise to be either undesirable or impossible, but rather because they fainted before their dream came true.

      So we might go on endlessly. For of all cause of failure in every department of life there is none more sure than fainting. No wealth of opportunity, no gift of ability, even to the point of genius, can save us if we yield to this temptation. Had you and I been present when that famous race between the hare and the tortoise was run, who of us would have staked anything on the leaden-footed tortoise? But it was he that won, not because of his fleetness of foot, but because of his staying powers. Much of Thomas Edison's success is no doubt due to his keenness of intellect, but still more is due to his ability to hang on to the track of a dream with the tenacity of a bloodhound till he has made it a reality. If lack of opportunity and lack of ability have slain their thousands, fainting has slain its tens of thousands.

      Since this is the case it is not to be wondered at that the writers of the Bible warn against fainting again and again. No more is it a matter of wonder that, when they seek to show us the religious life at its very best, staying power, a stubborn refusal to faint, is one of its prominent characteristics. Possibly the finest word, for instance, that they have to say of Moses is that he endured (Heb. 11:27). There was opposition, there was disappointment, there was bitter heartache, but he endured. Such staunchness, they felt, could only be accounted for in terms of God. So they said: "He endured as seeing him who is invisible."

      And they keep looking back to this same sturdy quality in Abraham. He had been lured into the unknown by a great dream that seemed destined never to come true. God had promised him much, but long years had slipped by and nothing had come of it. Springtime had gone, summer had gone, autumn had gone, and the gray days of winter were rapidly flying past. Still the promised heir had not come. But this stanch soul never gave up, never believed for a moment that God was going to let him down. "He staggered not at the promises," (Rom. 4:20) writes Paul with evident admiration. And refusing to faint, he at last realized his dream.

      II

      What are some of the causes of fainting?

      1. A bad atmosphere. This causes us to faint physically. Even more often it causes us to faint spiritually. In fact, I doubt if we have ever rightly estimated the power for good or evil of a right or wrong atmosphere. How almost inevitably we take on the spiritual coloring of those about us! There are atmospheres created by the individual and by the group that give hope and help. Peter created such an atmosphere, according to The Acts, that his very shadow had healing in it (Acts 5:15).

      There are homes that to enter is to be enriched. It is to find one's self in an atmosphere in which it is hard for a guilty thought to live. There are also churches like that. The ushers remind us of interpreters at the House Beautiful. The people are friendly, reverent, and worshipful. The minister and choir seem possessed of good tidings. To enter such a service is to be made to say: "Surely God is in this place" (Gen. 28:16). To be a part of such a congregation is to be enriched. To be privileged to preach to such is to be lifted to the heights.

      But there are those who create an atmosphere that chills like an east wind and bites like a killing frost. I have preached in some churches whose congregations by their prayers and sympathy lifted me on eagle wings. I have preached in others and finished feeling as if I never wanted to preach again. Beware of the atmosphere you create. Beware also of the atmosphere with which you surround yourself through your associates. If the group in which you spend your evenings is one that treats with levity and contempt life's supreme values, if it ignores those fundamental integrities by which the soul lives, then you are going to faint.

      There are atmospheres in which a vitally religious life is flatly impossible. Weak Herod made a little fight against his soul with the blood of John the Baptist. But he had put himself in a bad atmosphere, therefore he failed. "For the sake of them that sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her" (Matt. 14:9). The wise man had in mind the power for evil of a bad atmosphere when he said: "The companion of fools shall be destroyed." (Prov. 13:20)

      2. Some faint at the sight of blood. One day a young enthusiast came to Jesus with the finest of all possible purposes in his heart. "Lord," he said, "I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest" (Matt. 8:19). Nothing could be finer than that. But Jesus did not thrill. He knew that the young man did not understand all that was involved in his promise. Therefore he told him that he himself was more homeless than the foxes, that he might have to sleep supperless upon the mountain side. He showed him a cross with a bit of crimson upon it, and, at that, he who was all eagerness fell into a dead faint. While he yearned for the goods, the price was greater than he was willing to pay.

      It is too often the case. Some of you are not in the fight, not because the call of Christ makes no appeal, but rather because you are afraid of a little bloodletting. Therefore you say whiningly: "But for these vile guns, I would have been a soldier." (Shakespeare, Henry IV Pt.1)

      3. We faint from weakness. Sometimes our weakness is natural. Sometimes it is the result of utter weariness. That was one of the causes that led Elijah to faint. After his victory at Mount Carmel, he trotted some seventeen miles to Jezreel, then a day's journey into the wilderness. He was tired when he began. He was utterly exhausted when he reached the familiar shades of the juniper tree. (1 Kings 19:4)

      Christ's way of life is not one of ease. It is not a drifting with the current, but a breasting of it. At times we get tired of being good, feel in our very hearts that we should like to fling up the whole business, rush back to the leeks and garlic of Egypt (Numbers 11:5), and go our own heedless and selfish ways.

      Then we sometimes faint from weakness that is brought on by lack of food. When Richard Mansfield was struggling to win success on the stage, he was also having a hard fight with poverty. One night, in the midst of his act, he fell in a dead faint. The cause of his fainting was weakness born of hunger. Many of the saints have fainted for this same reason. They have forgotten that their spiritual needs are just as pressing as the physical. It was the realization of this that enabled Mr. Stedfast to win where so many others have failed. "His Word," he declares, "did I use to gather as an antidote against my faintings" (Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress). Beware of the starving of the soul. It ends in moral and spiritual collapse.

      4. Others, still, faint from chastisement. The writer of the Hebrews was facing this fact when he said "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him" (Heb. 12:5). I have seen people faint through sheer suffering. Sometimes it came in the guise of a material loss that left a howling wolf of want where there had once been luxury. At other times it came as hopeless physical pain where there had been buoyant and abounding health. At other times, still, there was the loss of one unspeakably dear that seemed to leave life far more bare than the boughs of a tree stripped by the rude winds of winter. Some grow more sweet and strong under sorrow, but others faint under it.

      5. The final cause of fainting I mention is discouragement. This is possibly the most fruitful of them all. I read sometime ago of a man who lost his life in a blizzard in one of our middle-western States. When they found the body it was only a few feet from his own door. No doubt he fought hard before he allowed himself to sleep the sleep of death. But it was night, and he could not see how near home he was. I feel sure that had he only known, he would have gone those few remaining steps. He fainted, in part, from loss of hope. Certainly that is the secret of the failure of multitudes who undertake the Christian life. They struggle and fail, till at last they allow themselves to become convinced that real sainthood is beyond their reach that, whatever others may have made of the high and exacting business, for themselves it is a sheer futility. Thus they become discouraged and faint.

      III

      But in spite of all the temptations to faint by which this sturdy saint was surrounded, he somehow managed to stand firm. "I had fainted," he tells us frankly, "unless I had believed." But he refused to surrender his faith. In the face of difficulties he kept believing. Thus he came through all his tempestuous trials with honor. What, then, did he believe? Upon what rugged convictions did he stand to find them as the very Rock of Ages under his feet?

      1. He believed in the Church. It is evident that this psalmist had found strength in the worship of the sanctuary. He was zealous and faithful in his attendance upon the services of his Church. He might have gone for varied reasons, but this was supreme: That he might behold the beauty of the Lord (Psa. 27:4). In these services he somehow won his way past all that was outward and visible till he came face to face with God. In the strength born of this vision, he was able "to walk and not be weary and to run and not faint." (Isa. 40:31)

      2. He believed in prayer. He had learned to wait on God. "When I was sorely tempted to faint, I found strength to stand through prayer. You will find that it will work in your case," he declares with quiet confidence. "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord" (Psa. 27:14). Those who pray do have a strength to which the prayerless must remain strangers.

      Jesus, you remember, spoke a parable "to the end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1). He did not believe that praying and fainting could live in the same heart at the same time. In the Garden he gave himself to prayer and won the fight (Matt. 26:36). His disciples came to their ordeal prayerless, and for this reason they came to it powerless.

      Here is a little merchant vessel that has been for weary days and nights the plaything of the storm. All on board have fainted except one. "All hope," says the story, "that we should be saved was taken away." Then comes a man of prayer to cry "Be of good cheer" (Acts 27:22). Through the strength born of prayer he refused to faint and thus saved both himself and those that sailed with him.

      3. He had faith in the final triumph of righteousness. There is nothing more weakening than the belief that we are fighting for a losing cause. There is nothing more bracing than the conviction that, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we are sure to win. Did not our Lord strengthen himself with this conviction? "Who for the joy that was set before him," (Heb. 12:2) the joy of victory, the joy of drawing all men unto him self, "endured the cross, despising the shame."

      It is with this same faith that Paul is seeking to strengthen us when he says: "And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Gal. 6:9) No seed of goodness sown ever comes to naught. Tares will grow if we plant them. But so will roses and violets.

      "I had fainted unless I had believed" that no life invested on the side of right can ever fail. But, because I believe, I will fight on to the victorious end.

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