"Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."Mark 9:23.
I believe that our own Authorized Version conveys to the mind of the reader the sense intended by the Evangelist; it is, however, exceedingly probable that in exact words the Revised Version is nearer to the original. It runs thus"And Jesus said unto him, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth." Our own Version better expresses the sense to the general reader, and the main object of a translation is to give the meaning. The father of the lunatic child had said to our Lord, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us;" and our divine Master virtually replies, "If thou canst lies not with me, but with thee. It is not if I can, but if thou canst." Thus you see the word "believe" is implied if not actually expressed. Jesus would certainly go as far as ever the man's faith could go; but as the rule of the kingdom is, "According to thy faith, so be it unto thee," the man's unbelief would hamper the Lord in his working. If the suppliant could be rid of unbelief, Jesus would get rid of the devil from his child. The difficulty of casting out the demon lay mainly in the want of faith in the father. Let it, then, be understood as the teaching of this text, that the difficulties in the way of souls that would be saved do not lie with Jesus Christ, but with themselves. They need never ask the question, "Can Jesus forgive?" or "Can he renew?" there is a prior questionCanst thou believe that he can forgive, and that he can renew? If God's grace enables thee to say, "I can and do believe that Jesus can work in me according to the full measure of my need," then all difficulty has vanished. Thy faith is the shadow of the coming blessing, the token of the Lord's favor towards thee. When thy faith believes in Christ's omnipotence, he is omnipotent to thee, for "all things are possible to him that believeth."
I long at this time to get at some here who cannot get at Christ. I would to God that by his Spirit I may deal with their difficulties, so as to remove them once for all, so that they may come just as they are, and put their trust in Jesus, and find eternal life this day.
I. The first subject we shall speak about is the vital questionWHAT IS BELIEVING?
After all these hundreds of years of gospel preaching, is this question necessary? I believe it is so necessary that, if faith were explained in every sermon, it would not be too often spoken of. It is a good rule that every tract ought to contain the gospel; and it ought to be put in the plainest way, for still, despite all the gospel teaching which is around us, nothing is so little known or so little understood as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am also bound to admit that many explanations of faith are all explanation, but tend to make the subject darker than it was before; and I am fearful lest my own explanation should be of the like order. Certainly, I will do my best to avoid such a catastrophe, for I will speak very plainly.
Let us take the man before us as an example, and from him let us see what faith is. This man evidently believed that Jesus was a healer, for he says, " I brought my son unto thee." He would not have brought his son to Jesus if he had not felt some measure of confidence in him. It is a good beginning of faith to know that if I am saved it must be through Jesus Christ alone; it is well to he aware that the salvation of the soul must come from the work of Jesus, and from no one else, since no other name is given among men whereby we must be saved. This man had also some slight faith in Christ's willingness to help him. It may not have been very strong, but still it was there, or else he would not have laid the stress of his prayer upon the Lord's power; he did not say "if thou wilt thou canst," but "if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." Looking up into that blessed face so full of singular tenderness, the man felt that he might say, "Have compassion on us." From some persons we could not ask compassion or fellow-feeling, because they do not appear to have any; they wear a harsh look, and a chill air surrounds them; but the Savior was not so; the man felt that Jesus was full of compassion his suit was that this compassion would show itself to him and his son. It is a good beginning to saving faith if thou believest that Jesus is witting to save thee. I trust that many of you have advanced as far as this.
What is it really and savingly to believe in Jesus? The suppliant father had not yet reached that point of faith which would secure the miracle more was needed; what was it? He needed to believe in Christ's power in reference to his own case. The point in which his faith failed was our Lord's power as to the special case now before him, for he said"If thou canst do anything." Before you condemn the anxious father for his doubt, let me remind you that his son was in a very evil plight, and our Lord had just caused him to remember and review the sad features of the case. The father had sorrowfully dilated upon the fact that "wheresoever the spirit taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away;" and then he had further told the Lord that the youth had suffered thus ever since he was a child; and he had gone still more into detail, saying, "Ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him." After that painful detail he added his pitiful "If thou canst." Do you wonder at it? Jesus seems to tell him, "If thou canst believe in the teeth of all this, then thou shalt see the salvation of God." It is very easy to say, "I believe" when you have no sense of your sin, and no consciousness of your danger. It is the easiest thing in the world to say, "Yes, Christ can save me," when you do not really believe that you need saving. Faith, where there is no present sense of need, is but the image of faith, and not the grace, which saves the soul. This is the question: can you, my dear hearer, at this moment trust Jesus to save you, though you feel that you are full of sin? Can you say, "Lord, I am possessed with the spirit of evil: I am under bondage to him, and have been so since I was a child? I have been driven to one sin and so cast into the fire, and then I have been hurled into the opposite sin, and so thrown into the water: I have been rent with passion, and torn with evil desires; I have sinned against light and knowledge, I have sinned against love and mercy; I have sinned in thought, and word, and deed; I have sinned grievously and continually, and yet I believe that thou canst pardon me, and that thou canst make me a new creature. Wicked as I am, I believe that thou canst drive sin from the throne of my heart and cause me to love thee and to serve thee all my days." If thou canst believe in Jesus after this fashion he will save thee, yea he has saved thee. If thou, as an undeserving sinner, canst so honor the mercy of God as to believe that through Christ Jesus he can blot out thy sin, it shall be done unto thee: only remember that this confidence must not come unto thee because of thy forgetfulness of thy sin, but whilst thou art conscious of it and humbled on its account. If I persuade myself that I am merely a sinner in name, then I shall only find Jesus to be a Savior in name. If I am not such a sinner as to deny that I am a sinner, but pay the Lord the compliment of saying, "Oh, yes, I am a sinner; we are all sinners," then 1 am a sham sinner, and I shall become a sham believer, and the true Savior will have nothing to do with me. Jesus came to save that which is really and truly lost. The downright sinner, who dares not deny his guilt, is the object of the Lord's saving search. In the teeth of thy conscious guilt, canst thou believe that Jesus can wash thee and renew thee? Then thou hast one main element of the faith which saves.
Yet, mark you, if this man could by any possibility have believed in Christ's power to save his son and yet had refused to bring him to Jesus for healing, he would have missed one of the essentials of true faith. For, hark. If thou wouldst get to the very heart and bowels of faith, thou hast it here: it is to trust the Lord. Trust! trust! that is the word. To believe that Christ is able to save thee is an essential, but to put thyself into his hands that he may save thee, is the saving act. Believe Christ's word to be true; then appropriate that word unto thyself as spoken to thee: believe that it is true to thee, and rest in the truth of itthat is saving faith. To see Christ as such a Savior as thou needest, able and willing to save thee, is a right good sight, but thou must also take this Savior to be thine. Say heartily, "Into that hand which was nailed to the cross I commit my guilty soul, hoping and believing that Jesus will forgive all my trespasses, and cause me to love all that is true and holy henceforth and for ever."
It certainly is difficult to seine. It cannot he so in itself; yet many in trouble of heart find it to be so, and those that labor to bring them to Christ, find themselves sore put to it.
Why, first, it is difficult to get the very idea of faith into some men's mindsnot only difficult for them to believe, but even to know what it is to believe. I have met with persons who have attended a place of worship regularly twenty or thirty years, and yet they have never made the discovery that faith is a childlike trust in Jesus. I, as a lad, was taught this blessed secret by the Spirit of God; but it was at the first a great wonder to me that I should have attended evangelical ministries for years, and yet should not have known what was meant by believing in Christ. That simple truth broke in upon my mind like a new revelation. I had read the Bible; there was no part of it with which I was not acquainted, and yet even from that blessed book I had not learned what believing in Christ meant. Is not this singular? It is remarkable, and yet it is a general fact. We try by illustrations, by anecdotes, by parables, to drill the notion of faith into men; but we cannot even get it unto their heads, much less into their hearts. Martin Luther complained that he thought he must take the Bible and bang it about his hearers' heads because he could not get them to see its clear teaching as to justification by faith. This idea of believing is alien to men's minds, and it can only dwell there by forcing its way against the tendency of human nature. Again, I say, that this is a sad proof of human depravity, since in itself it is no difficult idea: it is the simplest thought that can be uttered or accepted. Trust thou thy salvation with Christ, and Christ will save thee, is a lesson, which a babe may learn. Still, the unregenerate do not think so: they muddle it all up, and stick to their belief that faith is something to be felt, or seem, or done, or suffered. To trust their God, to rely upon the atonement of his Sonthis is not to their mind, and so their foolish heart is darkened, and they cannot see the way which lies straight before them.
When we get that thought into our hearers' heads, then there comes the next difficulty, to make them believe that faith can save them. It seems so difficult to believe this because the way is so easy. They sayWhat! am I, after thirty, forty, fifty years of sin, to be delivered from all the punishment of my transgressions by simply trusting to the Lord Jesus Christ? If you were to tell them that they must go to a desert and hive there as hermits on berries and cold water for the rest of their natural lives, they would believe the message. If they were bidden to scourge themselves with whips of wire, they could expect some good result from such suffering, but not from mere believing. If they were to hook at the idea of propitiating God by their personal suffering, it would soon become impossible of belief; yet for a time they incline to it rather than to the doctrine of salvation by trust in the great Substitute. Hideous imaginings, despairings, and dreads are also looked upon hopefully by many; they hope that by deep feelings they may arrive at forgiveness, and may force their way to heaven by the gates of hell; but to trust Christ, and to believe the promise of God, is a thing too simple for them; they fear that safety is not to be found so soon! Ah! poor soul, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much rather then when he saith to thee, "Believe and live?"
I wish you would change your opinion as to what faith really is, for it is by no means so insignificant a matter as you suppose. Simple as it is there lies within it great excellence and value. Faith in God is the divinest exercise of the mind. To believe in God and his Christ is to be reconciled to God and restored from enmity. We are in unison of heart with those we trust. To believe your God is to worship him: the essence of worship is faith. For a poor sinner to trust the Lord gives him more honor than the cherubin can bring him with their loftiest notes of praise. In the teeth of all my sin and sinfulness, with a thorough sense of my guilt, I believe that the blood of Jesus has saved meis not this true praise? To confess scarlet sins, and yet to say, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow," gives unto the Lord great glory for his mercy and his power. Yet the doctrine of "Believe and live" startles poor sinners because it is too easy.
When they get over the idea of its extreme ease, they say to themselves, "This news is certainty too good to be true. Do I really understand you, sir, that if I trust the Lord Jesus now I am at once delivered from sin and am made a new creature in Christ?" Yes, you understand my teaching if that is the sense you find in my words. Yet you say it is too good to be true. Do you not see how poorly you think of your God? I know that pardoning grace is infinitely above your deservings or thoughts; but then does not the Lord say of himself, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts?" Grace may be too good for you to expect, but it is not too good for God to bestow. Oh that you would think better of God than you have done, and say of his amazing grace, "It is just like him!" Sing with me these words
The Holy Spirit alone can do that; but he does so by bringing certain truths to remembrance. Faith is rendered easy to a man by the Holy Spirit when, first of all, he sees clearly the infallible certainty of the sacred record; and this is the record that God gave concerning his Son, that he that believeth in him hath everlasting life. Is this Bible true or not? I believe in every letter of it: I accept it as God's word in the most unreserved sense, and so do you to whom I now speak. Well, if that be so, then it remains no longer difficult to believe what is plainly taught in this book. If God hath spoken then questions are ended. It may be a hard saying, it may be a dark saying; it may seem to be too good to be true; but what of that? Do we dare to question the Lord? He is not a man that he should he, nor the Son of man that he should repent. He has said that whosoever believeth in Jesus shall not perish, but have everlasting life; and if we have so believed, eternal life is ours.
The next thing that the Spirit of God helps us to see is the applicability of that record to ourselves: that is to say, we read, " Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners," and we conclude that as we are just such, we may look to him to save us. We read, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." We labor and are heavy laden, and therefore we come, and he gives us rest. We read that "in due time Christ died for the ungodly"; and knowing that we are ungodly, we yet take heart and come to him who justifies the guilty through his righteousness. We read again, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." We feel that to will is present with us, and therefore we freely take the living water. We read once more, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;" and as we are creatures, we conclude that the gospel has something to say to us. On one or other of these accounts we see that the gospel is directed to us, and so we receive it. It is better for us that the promise should be directed to us in terms of character than that it should mention our actual names. Is your name John Brown? "Well, if the gospel came in a letter to you, directed to John Brown, what might you not say if you were tempted to doubt? You would think to yourself that there are many more John Browns besides yourself, and therefore the message might not be for you. If it was directed to your address, you might then fear that another John Brown once lived at that house, before you were horn, and so you would fear to appropriate the message lest it should prove to be out of date. Even supposing that your name was there, and the address, and the date, you might be mistrustful enough to fancy that there was a mistake, or that some other person of your name had used your address for the day. If you mean to ride on the back of unbelief any fancy will do for a saddle. But when the promise comes "to him that believeth in Jesus," there can be no question that it is ours if we believe. We read, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins;" is it not clear that if we have confessed our sins, mercy is ours? It is a blessed thing for us when the Spirit of God leads us to see that the gospel is free to all who are made willing to receive it.
Another thing that makes faith easy is when the Spirit of God shows us the glory of Christ's person. Our Savior is truly God, and this fact helps us to believe in him. It strikes me that the poor anxious father may have been much helped to believe in our Lord by that peculiar majesty which shone about him through his having just come down from the mount of transfiguration. It was a very hard case which exercised the poor man's mind, and therefore our Lord appeared to him with an unusual splendora splendor of which we read"when they saw him they were amazed." A sight of our Savior's face helped the trembler to cry, "Lord, I believe." Oh, if the Spirit of God will lead you to read the Scriptures till you get a clear idea of the Godhead and perfect manhood of the Lord Jesus, you will feel that everything is possible with an Almighty Savior. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Our Lord is gone up unto his glory, and he is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him. Oh, could you but grasp the idea that he who asks your trust is the Son of the Highest, who has all power in heaven and in earth, you could not, you would not withhold your confidence! As for myself, knowing beyond all doubt my Lord's divinity it seems easy enough to rely upon him. I have told you before what John Hyatt said on his dying bed, when his deacons said, "Mr. Hyatt, can you trust your soul with Christ now?" "One soul!" said he, "I could trust a million souls with him if I had them." Even so could I trust the Lord Jesus not only with my soul, but with all the destinies of earth and heaven, time and eternity. Every child of God may safely say that. I could trust Jesus with all the souls that ever lived or shall live, if they were all mine. Surely, he is able to keep that which we have committed to him.
Another great help to faith is to perceive the completeness of the divine work and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. He took our sin upon himself, and in his own body on the tree was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Only let your eyes behold the Son of God suffering the death-agony for guilty man, and you must believe in his power to redeem. I have thought that if men had been more sinful than they are, and if they were a million times as numerous as they are, and if every star that studs the midnight sky were a world, and all crowded full of sinners, yet the sacrifice of God himself must from the glory of his nature be such a vindication of the law that it might well suffice as a reason for forgiving a rebel universe! Shall the infinitely holy suffer for the guilty? Shall the Eternal take upon himself humanity, and bow his head to death? Then the sacrifice must possess such boundless efficacy that none may fear that it will fall short of their need. No limit can be set to the power, which lies in the divine expiation. My God, I see that thou hast given thine own Son to die, and surely in his precious blood there is more than sufficient reason for my faith in thee.
If that does not lead you to believe perhaps the Spirit of God will go to work in another way. Some have been helped to believe in Jesus by the sight of others converted, justified and made happy. When someone like yourself is saved you take courage. "I have been a thief," says one.
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