By Norman P. Grubb
APPLY now the secret that Peter had learned to our subject - sanctification by faith, (Acts 26:18) the purifying of the heart by faith, (Acts 15:9) crucifixion, burial and resurrection, with Christ by faith, (Col. 2:12) Christ dwelling in hearts by faith. (4 Eph. 3:17) We face a given set of statements of fact in Christ, pronounced as such by the authority of Scripture; yet they go against appearances, against our feelings, against the consciousness of sin and self in us, against the facts of our many failures in thought and conduct. We are faced, then, with two sets of realities: things as they are in the visible, and things as they are in the invisible, in Christ. Have we not, then, to carry out in the simplest fashion these straight-forward laws of faith which we have been examining? We must coolly, deliberately, definitely transfer our faith from the lower set of realities, things visible to us in our inner lives and outer conduct, and place it in God's spoken word: "Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." We must do exactly as Peter did, when he said: "We have toiled all the night and have taken nothing, nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net." We must do it. Faith is inner action. We must not flutter around, and hope, and hesitate, and pray. We must do it, as definitely as Peter launched out with his net in the presence of his doubtless sniggering fisherman friends; as definitely as he later got out of the boat on to the water. We must make a transaction of faith, maybe on our knees, maybe by signing name and date against a verse, maybe by public confession or to a friend.
But that is only where the battle of present-tense faith begins. What are we to do with that undertow of unbelief which seems to pull us backward, as when a swimmer struggles against an undercurrent? We must note the following carefully, for it is a point we have not touched on before. There are stages in faith; and we often get into much confusion by attempting to claim as 100 per cent faith what is really only 50 per cent or 25 per cent. In the language of Scripture, there is little faith, great faith, and perfect faith.
Let us examine this more closely. We have said from the beginning that the God-given faculty of faith is the means by which human beings receive and use all God's varied gifts. In other words, faith is not to be confused with mere mental assent to a proposition; that may be called "belief", for want of a better word, although belief in Scripture is usually synonymous with faith. Nor is faith some vague hope for the future. Faith is action; the whole man in action, spiritual, mental, physical. We have abundantly illustrated that by such natural acts as eating and drinking, or the first great act of the awakened spirit in receiving Christ as Savior. Now, because it is action, it has certainty and not doubt as its motivating power. That is to say, we perform the act of eating because we are sure of the food, we see it with our eye, we believe it is good for us. We take the step of humbly accepting Christ, because we are sure of His grace, we believe He died for our sins, we see the statements of Scripture. Faith therefore always has the thing in its grasp or at its disposal that it acts upon or uses. That is faith; the having and using the unlimited resources of God in nature and grace. That is perfect faith.
Now, whereas in the simple things of life such perfect faith is ours without difficulty (we see them with the naked eye; the flower we pick, the food we eat, the road we tread upon; and, automatically, we have and use them); it is not so in the things less easily seen or obtainable, as we have already pointed out, whether when delving into the deepest secrets of nature, as does the scientist, or leaping across the gulf into the kingdom of the Spirit reopened to us in Christ. Here we may start with imperfect faith, that is to say, we are not so certain of our facts, our premises; they may often be contrary to what we see with the naked eye, or thought we had learned from life around us. There is an element of struggle in our faith, twinges of doubt, a sense of unreality. Our faith cannot genuinely be said to "have" the thing it would reckon on, but rather to be trying to grasp and maintain it against opposition. There is a laboring faith and there is a resting faith. What Jesus called little faith, (Matt. 8: 10) for instance, was the action of the disciples in the storm, when He lay asleep on a pillow in the boat and they awoke Him, crying out: "Master, carest Thou not that we perish?" The disciples believed that He could save them, but doubted if He wanted to! There was faith, but of a very watery consistency.
Great faith (Matt: 8: 26) was what Jesus called the attitude of the centurion, for he not only believed that Christ's word was with saving power, but that He would speak if asked to. He believed Christ could and would. But perfect faith is (James 2: 22) the description given of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. There it is seen that when God told Abraham to go and offer his only son as a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains of Moriah, Abraham obeyed. It is plain that he had full intention of carrying out God's word to the letter, for he not only bound his son and laid him on the altar, but also raised the knife to plunge it in him; and not till then, in the last split second, did God withhold his hand. Yet, a few hours before, when leaving his servant with the ass at the foot of the mountain, he had said to him: "Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." And the comment in Hebrews 11 is that, so sure was he of God's promise of seed through Isaac, that he knew if he slew him at God's word, God would raise him up again. In other words the faith of Abraham always had his son, and never let him go. God not only could and would, but could, and would, and had. It was all settled before he started out. He and the lad would come back.
Now, the mistake so often made is to try to pretend to ourselves that the faith that was really received is ours; whereas, in point of fact, we only have the faith that labors to receive. It is not wrong to have the laboring faith; it is a necessary stage in the process of advanced believing, but it is wrong to try to deceive ourselves about the stage we are in.
The best analysis of laboring and resting faith in the Bible is the description given in Romans 4:I6-22 Of Abraham's pioneer act of faith. We there see the process exhaustively outlined. We see faith's beginning and foundation in a discovery of the will of God (a subject dealt with in chapters 18 and I9); in this case it was a word from God: "So shall thy seed be;" for faith always comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
The second stage is the counter-attack of the visible - in this case his and Sarah's age and physical condition. This he countered by turning his back on the visible; a deliberately considered act, for "he considered not his own body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb." This is described as being "not weak in faith;" in other words, he did not just lie down under existing circumstances, as we so often do. He rose up and began to take action, negative action at first.
In the third stage, he passes from occupation with things earthly to things heavenly; from the downward to the upward look. "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief." Now the muscles of his faith are rapidly gaining strength: he who had refused to be weakened in faith by natural appearances is mightily strengthened in faith by contemplation of the promises, strengthened to the point that a sheer impossibility does not stagger him.
At the fourth stage, a radical change takes place: the burden and struggle is replaced by a burst of praise "giving glory to God." Now faith. is shining out in noontide strength, and is called "strong." God alone, the God of the impossible, fills the vision; worship and praise take the place of strife and travail, for the soul that is occupied with glorifying God cannot at the same time be obsessed with doubts concerning Him.
At last, at the fifth stage, the topmost rung of the ladder of faith is reached: full assurance; "being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform." Now he knows, now he has; perfect faith has come. The fulfillment is already his in the invisible, and, as day follows night, will be seen in the visible. And the mighty results of a battle of faith fought and won is seen in its fourfold fruit: it pleases God, it moves God to give public honor to the believer; it has its visible answer in the birth of Isaac; and it is an inspiration to the world.
Some have to toil up the ladder of faith, with varying degrees of labor; but we say again, it is not wrong to feel the conflict with doubt, so long as we are honest about it. Indeed, it is only living faith that doubts, for "faith is not the banishing of all difficulties, but their subordination to greater certainties." One of the most candid remarks in this respect was made by the father who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus. It will be remembered that he said: "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us"; and Jesus' answer was: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Now notice his reply. "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." In other words, he recognized frankly two counter-currents in him: one believing, one disbelieving. With one half of him, as it were, he said: "Lord, I do believe." But the other half of him was calling out "Impossible"; and, instead of hiding it, he exposed it and cried for deliverance. That is the way through.
We met three young missionaries who never knew by experience the truths of Romans 6 and Galatians 2:20, until the camouflage was stripped off their faith. In early days they had maintained that to reckon themselves dead, as Paul had said we were to do, was sufficient. Three years later they gave the illuminating account of how, during their stiff struggle with a difficult language, they became increasingly conscious of their spiritual need and ineffectiveness. They decided to set aside a time for heart-searching. Here they were brought to see that what they had called "faith," when they had said that all they need do was "reckon," was really only a camouflage. What they really meant in their hearts was: "We reckon ourselves dead unto sin and alive unto God, but of course it isn't really so." Now, however, they were not going to be content until they had a real living faith, a full assurance that these things are so; they then described how this assurance came. Actually their earlier faith was not a camouflage in the sense that it was unreal or hypocritical. It was an imperfect faith. It was the first stage, in which conscious faith and conscious unbelief are both active; but their mistake had been to pretend to themselves and others that there was no unbelief; and God can never respond to dishonesty.