Therefore, I say unto you what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.-- Mark 11:24.
The congregation will recollect that these words were spoken by the Saviour as he was passing from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. By the wayside he saw a fig tree which looked beautiful, and doubtless gave signs of fruit upon it. And, being hungry, he looked up among the leaves for fruit, but there was none. And he said, "No man eat fruit of thee henceforth forever." He killed the tree, but taught a great doctrine. The next morning, as Christ and his disciples were passing by, Peter remembered that the tree had been cursed. He looked at it, and said, "Master, it is withered," withered from top to bottom, dried up from the roots, cursed. Jesus said unto them, "Have faith in God; for verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore, I say unto you, what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." I should like to say to this audience, that whenever our Saviour said, "Verily, verily," he was about to deliver some very important truth. He was now teaching the omnipotence of faith.
In Manchester, within the last few days, many things have been said about sudden conversion. An old lady said to me, "Why, Mr. C., I hear that you are converting them by scores, and by hundreds. I don't understand this sudden conversion." I answer, there is no such a thing in the Scripture as gradual conversion, or gradual purity; there must be a last moment when sin exists, and a first moment when it does not; and this must take place in time, for one moment after death would be too late, unless we believe in purgatory. Pardon and purity are doctrines clearly taught in the Bible; and, in the very nature of things, they must be sudden in their attainment. Our text is the great polar star of our salvation. You will remember it is recorded in the life of Napoleon, when he was contemplating the Russian campaign, his uncle, Cardinal Fesch, endeavored to dissuade him from it. Napoleon's words are these: [The first two or three letters of two words in the following quotation of Napoleon were destroyed on the page. I am not at all sure that the letters I have added to those words are correct. I have placed my added letters in parentheses. -- DVM] "Am I to (assu)me because the great degree of power I have already attained (for)ces me to assume the dictatorship of the world? My destiny is not yet accomplished; my present situation is but a sketch of the picture which I must finish. There must be one universal European code -- one court of appeal. The same money, the same weights and measures, the same laws, must have currency throughout Europe. I must make one nation out of all the European states, and Paris must be the capital of the world."
His uncle remonstrated with him, and conjured him not to tempt Providence -- not to defy Heaven and earth, the wrath of man and the fury of the elements. At the same time, he also expressed his fear that he would sink under the difficulties. The only answer which Napoleon gave was in keeping with his character. He led the cardinal to the window, and opening the casement, he pointed upward, and asked him "If he saw yonder star?" "No, sire," answered the astonished cardinal. 'But I see it," answered Napoleon.
We point you to our text as the great polar star of faith, the great charter for believing, containing a principle on which slumbers Omnipotence, as the medium that links man to the throne of the Great Eternal, connecting man with God.
Archimedes, when he discovered the power of the lever, said, "If you can find me a fulcrum to rest my lever upon, I can move the world." "What is a fulcrum?" says one. I answer, a point or center on which a lever turns. "And what is a lever?" I answer, a bar, or mechanical power by which great weights are moved.
Our text is the fulcrum, faith is the lever; and with it we can move two worlds at once, and hell into the bargain. "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
Before we discuss this subject, we want to ask a few questions. There are, perhaps, persons here belonging to other denominations. You may be Calvinists, and as good, I hope, as any of us. You may, however, differ from me on doctrinal points, and, to do you good, I should have to argue with you half an hour, and then perhaps leave you as I found you. Well, I leave all controversy with the pastors; but I want to beg just two things of you. First, go with me as far as you can; and the second is, get all the good you can.
There are also some backsliders here. Are you willing to come back? "Yes," says one, "I am, I am; for I have had a miserable life of it."
And you who are seeking pardon, I want to ask you a question. "Pardon!" says one; "why, my heart is as hard as a flint." Well, if God shall convert your soul before I leave this place, will you meet me in the school-room at the close of this service to let me know it? Will you do it? Well, I believe you will.
And you who are seeking the witness of the Spirit and purity of heart. If God shall purify your heart before I leave this place, will you meet me at the close of this service and let me know it? You will all do it, will you? Well, I will trust to your honor. Says one, "Then you are expecting souls to be saved before you leave the pulpit, are you?" I am, I am expecting it; and heaven expects it, and hell expects it. I believe we shall have souls saved ere I leave this place. Lord, help! Holy Ghost, help! "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
I. Is there any difference between faith and believing?
I answer, Yes; just as much as between water at rest and water in motion, air at rest and wind in motion. Believing is the application of faith to some truth. Believing is faith in motion. There may be ever so much faith, and no believing. It is not enough that there be a general conviction that God is true; that the Bible is a revelation from him; that the invisible things of which the Bible speaks are realities: there may be all this, and yet no salvation. God has given us his testimony that Jesus Christ died a sacrifice for the sins of every man, and consequently for me. Faith, then, is putting confidence in God's testimony; it is to be understood in a plain, common-sense way. The Bible was written for the people, the common people, the mass; and if God has not meant the word faith to be understood in a common-sense way, he would have prefaced the Bible with a dictionary, and have explained the nature of believing. But, as there is no such an explanation given, we infer that we are to understand it just as it is understood in ordinary language among men. As to the mystery of faith, there is no mystery about it. Just put confidence in God as you would in a friend. Unbelief is the great sin of the age, the sin that shuts up heaven, the plague-spot of eternal death on the soul, the sinner's mittimus to hell written in his heart, the sin that damns the soul. On the other hand, faith opens the hand of God, secures salvation, conquers hell, and places the soul on the throne of God. Believing, then, is faith in motion, faith laying hold on the testimony of God.
II. Is faith the gift of God?
There is a great deal of controversy in the world on this question -- in America, in England, and especially in Scotland. Is faith the gift of God, or is it not? I answer, everything that is good in man is from God; and everything that is bad in him is from the devil and himself. I am exceedingly jealous of everything that seems to rob God of a particle of the glory of a sinner's salvation. But in what sense is faith the gift of God? I answer, believing is the gift of the God of grace just in the same sense as breathing, walking, eating, hearing, seeing, are the gifts of the God of nature. It is plain to every man's common sense that while the power to perform these acts is from God, the acts themselves are purely his own. As God does not breathe, walk, eat, hear, see for us, neither does he believe for us. God has given man a capacity to believe; viz., a mind to weigh evidence, and to receive truth when supported by evidence. He has given the object of faith; viz., the Lord Jesus Christ, which is like a great sun risen upon our world. We infer, then, as God has given the capacity, the evidence, the object, and as he has laid the responsibility on man: as the sentence of the last judgment turns on this point; as salvation or damnation is suspended on believing or non-believing, the act of faith must be possible, must be a man's own. O, how important it is that you understand what is God's part, and what is your part, in this matter! that you should see the folly of indulging in unbelief, under the delusion that God has not given you faith! How many on this vital point have been deceived! How many of the slain have the grave closed over! How many, as they rushed into eternity, and as the gleams of immortal light flashed upon them, and dispelled the delusions that ruined them, uttered a death-howl, went down damned, and more than blood was shed! What could God have done to enable you to believe that he has not done? If all things be ready, then, why tarry? Why wait? Believe and be saved. "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
III. How can you account for it that there is in some a greater aptness to believe than in others?
Some account for it on the ground of constitutional differences. I don't believe a word of it. I don't believe that one man is born with greater constitutional tendency to believe than another. Others account for it on the ground of divine partiality. I answer, there is no partiality in God, except such as you make yourselves. God is partial to them that believe his word; hence it is written, "He that believeth shall be saved."
We may, in some measure, account for this ineptness to believe, on the ground of the pride of intellect. "O!" says one, "I am not like one of the simple herd of mankind, who receive for truth every silly notion announced to them. I must have evidence, good sound argument; I must be convinced before I can believe."
"Well," you say, "do you despise me for that?" No; I honor a thinking man; but you pride yourself above the common mass, and you will not come down to receive God's plain, simple testimony. God says, "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them," and you refuse to believe this testimony.
"Well," says another, "some have a weak faith, and some a strong faith; how do you account for that?" I answer, the one has an exercised faith, and the other a non-exercised faith, and that is the reason why there is a greater aptness to believe in one than in another. Look yonder at that blacksmith, wielding the heavy hammer from hour to hour, and that without any injury or inconvenience. Were you to labor with that hammer for one half an hour, you would be so stiff, the next morning, that you would scarcely be able to lift your hand to your head; but the blacksmith is up and at it the next morning, as lively as ever. Exercise has made the difference.
Take another illustration. Suppose a mother to bandage her son till he is thirteen years old, beginning at his feet, bandaging him up clean to his chin, like an Egyptian mummy. At the age of thirteen, she removes the bandage, and says, "Now, my son, run forth and play with other children." Why, he cannot move. His joints are stiff; he is a complete cripple. Ah, some of you have been in bandages all your life; you are spiritual cripples. Glory be to God, if you will but believe, he will set your joints all right, and put strength in your limbs. "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
What does another mother do with her weakly child? Why, she sets him on his feet, and holds out one finger to him, and says, "Now, my dear, try." Down he tumbles. She sets him up again. "Come, come, my son; try, try again." (Ah, you see he is very weakly yet!) He tries again, and down he goes. "Come, come, my son; try once more. There, now, that's better!" Soon he reaches from chair to chair; and, if you don't take care of him he is out of doors among the wheels. That mother knows the philosophy of getting strength. He gets strength. "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
IV. Are the objects of faith limited?
Can I believe for what I like, and have it? I answer, No. On temporal matters you must put in an "if". I was coming the other day from Ireland in a steamer. I generally suffer dreadfully from sea sickness. I therefore asked the Lord to let us have a calm sea. Yet I did not know but that many ships might be lying outside the port loaded with corn, and would want a wind to blow them up [to blow them into port] to give food to the starving people, and I would not have the people perish to save me from sickness. Therefore, I had to put in an "if". Still, I believe we may get the full assurance of faith even for temporal matters. That mother may, for the safety of her son; that wife, for the deliverance of her husband. There's an instance in the life of Luther of the assurance of faith in prayer. Miconius was ill with a swelling in his throat, given up by the medical men, and appeared to be on the borders of death. Luther prayed for him, and said, "Lord, Miconius is necessary to thy church; thy work cannot go on without him." He felt he had hold of God, and he said, "Miconius shall not die, but live." Intimation of the confidence of Luther for Miconius was sent to the latter, and he was so excited that the swelling burst, and his life was spared.
In a German work there is a circumstance recorded of a mother who was lying on what seemed to be the bed of death. Her little daughter, about five years of age, was heard to pray, "O, dear Lord Jesus, make my mother better!" The little child was heard to repeat to herself; "Yes, I will make your mother better." Some would call this the child's superstition, but I call it her faith. The mother recovered. There was once a man who had a cancer in his eyes, and his eyes were being eaten out with the disease. This poor man cried to the Lord, and said, "O Lord, wilt thou let the cancer eat out mine eyes? Thou wilt not, Lord; thou wilt put greater honor on thy servant than that;" and, to the astonishment of medical men, his eyes were spared. And, if we walk closely with God, we shall often get the full assurance of faith, even for temporal blessings.
But, in reference to justification and holiness, we may pray with unlimited faith. "Be it onto thee according to thy faith," is the law of the kingdom. The kingdom of his grace is thrown open to you, and a voice from the throne says, "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." The veracity of God, the blood of Christ, yes, every attribute of the Deity, every person in the Godhead, are pledged to the fulfillment of this promise. If you abandon sin, give up yourselves to him, trust in the blood of his Son, he will save you. Nay, he doth save you. There must be no "ifs" here, no peradventures. Let there be an uncompromising, unreserved trust in the blood of Christ. And if the Bible be a revelation from Heaven, if there be a covenant of mercy, if there be virtue in the blood of Christ, power in the Holy Ghost, truth in God, you will be saved. "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
V. How can we reconcile the phraseology of the text, and believe that we have in the present what is spoken of in the future tense?
I was greatly perplexed on this point till one day I happened to be in company with two ministers: one was a Methodist, and the other a Baptist brother. The Methodist said to his Baptist brother, "I have been thinking much about that text, 'What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.' I think there must be some mistake about the translation. Have you a Greek Testament?" A good old Greek Testament was reached down. The Greek lexicon and grammar were also produced to examine the root and the tense of the verb. [I have not typed phonetic versions of the Greek words in the following text, but rather, I have typed in Greek letters in Symbol Font. To restore the Greek, change the bracketed English letters into Symbol Font. -- DVM] The words [Pisteuete] (believe), and [lambanete] (receive), were carefully examined. The Baptist brother fixed his finger on the words, and said, "It must be in the first future." "No," said the Methodist "see, [pisteuyete] the first future, has a different termination:" "Then," said he "it must be in the first Aorist." "No, brother: see, [epizeuyate], the first Aorist, has a prefix to it; therefore it cannot be that." The Baptist brother said, "I see I must give it up. The words are rightly translated." He remembered it was written (Isa. 45:24), "And it shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear." And had not Charles Wesley an eye to this passage when he penned that hymn,
"I take the blessing from above, And wonder at thy boundless love"?
The Greek scholar can examine for himself; and though he may have all the knowledge of an archangel, I defy him to say that the passage is wrongly translated. It is, then, "What things soever ye desire, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Then you are not to believe that it was done some time ago, not that he will do it at some future period; but believe that he doth it now.
VI. What preparation must a man have, in order to believe? man must shed, how deep must be his conviction, how soft must be his heart, what amount of godly sorrow must he feel, how long must he remain in a state of repentance? I have read this blessed Bible through on my knees, every word of it, and I find no standard in it; God has set up none. There is not a word said about how many tears a man must shed, how soft or hard the heart must be. Nothing of the kind. And, as God has set up no standard, I'll be the last man in the world to make one. I believe there are far too many creeds and standards floating about the Christian church already. No, there is no spiritual barometer or thermometer; and I am glad of it, for it would greatly perplex a minister, and it would also greatly distress penitent souls. Some persons could not shed a tear, if you gave them the world, still the heart may bleed, while the eyes are dry. Glory be to God, he has put the power in believing, purifying their hearts by faith. It is nowhere said, purifying them by tears, by feelings, by soft hearts or hard ones, by deep convictions or shallow ones. He has, however, said, "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
O! it is by faith, by confidence in God. And this method will meet all cases, the case of the farmer, of the doctor, of the lawyer, of the president of the college, of the servant, of the master, of the subject, of the sovereign, of the little child, of the venerable sage, of the man of A B C, of the philosopher, yes, of all grades of mind, from the first dawn of reason up to intellectual noon. "You do not mean to say," says one, "that no preparation is necessary?" I answer, no, I do not; for where sin is indulged, God will never save. Sin must be given up. Many of the Methodists are holding on to sin, indulging in things that grieve the Holy Spirit. They are holding the truth in unrighteousness. But, thank God, other denominations are awakening up to these great doctrines, some of the Calvinists are. Some of the Calvinist ministers came to one of our meetings the other day and said, "Sir, we are come to get our hearts cleansed from sin." The Calvinists may not have all the clearness on these great doctrines the Methodists have; but God will purify their hearts by faith.
The Methodists have clear scriptural views of these great doctrines. But I tell you, you are holding onto things that will damn you. God would as soon sanctify the devil as sanctify you. I know what I say; I speak advisedly. "Lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting." Lift them up to show that there is no iniquity in them. You may leave the chapel as soon as you like, or, if you have patience to tarry, you may; but I tell you it is of no use; God will never purify your hearts till you give up the sins to which you are clinging. See that poor fellow wandering on through the wilderness; the night is dark; he stumbles, and falls into some deep, dark pit; he sets up a cry for help; his cry breaks on the stillness of night, and is heard echoing on through the wilderness. See those three men passing on, now, as the moon just glimmers through the cloud; -- see! see! they are standing listening; they have heard that cry for help; -- now they are making way to that spot whence the sound proceeds; one of them is standing on the edge of that deep pit; he listens, and the cry is heard again. "Who is down there?"
"O, sir, I have fallen into this dreadful place; my feet are stuck in the mire!"
"Be of good courage, my friend; there are two strong fellows here besides myself; we'll soon have you up."
Now the rope is being let down. "There, take hold of that rope, man; take fast hold; now give a strong pull." Up comes the rope: the man in the pit has let it slip. "Why, what's the matter, down there? Come, come; now take a firmer hold. Now, comrades, give another pull."
Up comes the rope again. "Why, man, you must surely have something in your hands." "I have a few things, sir, that I should like to bring up with me, down here."
"Come, cast them away, and take hold of the rope, and not trifle in this way!"
Now he casts the things out of one of his hands, and they try again; but up comes the rope again. "I tell you, man, if you don't cast away those things and take hold, we will leave you to your fate."
Now he casts them all away, and takes firm hold, and up he comes!
And you must renounce sin. If you indulge iniquity in your heart, you may cry till doomsday, and God will not hear your prayer. "What preparation is necessary?" I ask, do you want pardon or purity? "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Here, then, you see the preparation necessary. 1st, desire; 2nd, prayer; 3d, faith.
1. Desire. -- If your desires be sincere, you will put away every evil; you will sacrifice every idol, though it may be dear as a right hand, or precious as a right eye. Desires, says an old writer, are the sails of the mind. What is it that hurries the poor drunkard to the drunkard's grave with a velocity swift as time? Why, desire; deep, intense, burning desire; desire hardly surpassed by the damned, as they thirst for the cooling stream. What is it that hurries on the thief to plunder his neighbor, to stamp his own character with infamy, and endanger his life? Why, desire for wealth not his own. What is it that works up man to a point, when he can commit a crime, the recollection of which chills his blood, a crime that brands him with the foul deed of murder? Why, desire. "If you desire salvation, then," says Wesley, "look for it every day, every hour, every moment." Why not this hour, this moment? Certainly, you may look for it now, if you believe it is to be obtained by faith. And by this token you may surely know whether you seek it by faith or by works. If by works, you want something to be done first. You think you must do thus or thus. Then you are seeking it by works unto this day. If you seek it by faith, and just as you are, then expect it now. It is of importance to observe, that there is an inseparable connection between these three points: expect it by faith, expect it as you are, and expect it now. To deny one of them, is to deny all of them; to allow one of them, is to allow them all. Do you believe we are sanctified by faith? Be true to your principle, and look for the blessing just as you are, neither better nor worse, as a poor sinner that has still nothing to plead, but Christ died."
John Fletcher says, "Come to a naked promise by a naked faith." I mean by naked faith, faith stripped of feeling, with a soft heart, or a hard heart; just such a heart as you have now. If you are seeking to weep more, to get a softer heart, before you come to Christ, then you, until now, are seeking salvation by works. You see the condition God requires, desire, prayer, faith. Desires are the sails of the mind. Have you your sails up? Yes, some of you have. O, my dear brother, you are on the very edge of the fountain. Said the poor woman, "If I can but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." The crowd presses around him. "I am weak with the loss of blood; I fear I shall never reach him; I shall die in the attempt. Well, if I tarry here, I die; I can but die. I will make the attempt." Borne this way and that way, by the waves of the people, now she is being borne nearer and nearer. "If I can but touch the hem of his garment!" Now trembling, pale, agitated, she stretches out her hand, and touches, and is made whole. Now, sinner, Christ is in the crowd; he is nigh thee; he is passing by thee; touch him, touch him, and live!
In America, some years ago, there was an old gentleman who had constructed an electrifying machine. The students from one of the colleges went to his house to see this wonderful machine. He began to wind round, and round, and round, till the machine was charged with the electric fluid. "Now, my lads," said he, "take hold of each other's hands; now you that stand before there, touch that brass ball." He touched, and sudden as lightning, the shock was felt through the whole group. And if ever this promise was charged with electrifying, galvanizing, saving power, it is now. "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." See! see that vessel leaving the port of Liverpool. (Now, don't laugh at my seafaring language.) "Ship ahoy! whither bound?" "New York, sir." "New York! when do you expect to get there, captain?" "Good vessel, sir; fair wind; I expect a short voyage." "Why, man, you have not a rag of sail up; I'll tell you where you'll get, if you don't take care; you'll get to the bottom." Now, here comes another vessel. "Ship ahoy! whither bound?" "New York, sir." "New York! when do you expect to arrive there, captain?" "Look aloft, sir; the compass stands direct to a point; fair wind and a fine breeze!" How finely she's rigged-- mainsail, top sail, top-gallant sail! See, how she bounds on before the breeze! The desires are the sails of the mind. "Have you got your sails up? Yes, yes, bless God! I see many of you have, many of you in the gallery there, and many of you below there, have your sails up. Come, "Blow, breezes, blow a gale of grace."
Now let all get down before the Lord; all of you in the gallery there, and all of you below. Now, "what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." It is not a cold, lifeless trust, but a good bold, hearty venture on Christ. I cannot doubt the truth of my Lord; I can as soon doubt his divinity as his truth; I can as soon doubt his Godhead as his verity. "What preparation," says one, "is necessary?" "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." God cannot lie, I will die rather than doubt my God. God is not a man, that he should lie. The devil does not care a rush for a Christian believing that God is able, willing, waiting, and anxious to sanctify the soul. Nor does he care for him believing that God will do it some time. No, it is faith in the present tense that the devil dreads, believing that God does just now do it. This simply and fully taking God at his word is the great spell. Come, my dear brother! come, my dear sister. Don't be afraid to step into the sea to Jesus, as Peter did. Hark! he bids you meet him. Now step (so to speak) on the naked promise, and the Spirit and the blood will fully cleanse. If ever my God was here, he is here now. Touch the promise, touch the hem of his garment! I know some of you are touching. He is saving some of you; I know my God is saving some of you. Let your inmost soul cry out -
"'Tis done, thou dost this moment save; With full salvation bless! Redemption through thy blood I have, And spotless love and peace."
"What things soever ye desire when ye pray believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."