© Copyright 2005 by Tony Capoccia. This
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Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, ©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This sermon, preached by Tony Capoccia, is now available on Audio CD: www.gospelgems.com
The Year 1872
C. H. Spurgeon
This sermon was one of the Presidential Addresses at the Annual Conferences of the Pastors’ College. Spurgeon always regarded the Conference as one of the most important in the whole year; and he devoted much time, and thought, and care, and prayer, to the preparation of his messages to the hundreds of ministers and students who were gathered together from all parts of the country and also from abroad. Surrounded by his sons in the faith, many of whom were his own spiritual children, and all of whom delighted to call him President, leader, brother, friend, he spoke with a freedom and a frankness which could never be excelled, nor hardly equaled, in any other gathering; and the messages themselves supply abundant evidence of the solemn responsibility which he felt in speaking to such an audience, and of the faithfulness with which he discharged that responsibility. Though there is here the special, personal appeal to his own men, the subjects dealt with concern the whole Christian ministry at home and abroad, using the term “ministry” in its widest sense as applying to all servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. The clergy and ministers of all denominations, home and foreign missionaries, open-air preachers,
Sunday-school and Bible-class teachers, tract-distributors, and Christians of all ranks will here find much that will help them to exercise that “all-round ministry” of which Spurgeon himself was so earnest an advocate and so bright an example.
The complete series of messages from the Presidential Addresses at the Annual
Conferences of the Pastors’ College, from 1872 to 1890 are available in a
book entitled, An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students,
that can be purchased from Pilgrim
). The entire book can also be read online at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/aarm.htm
Now that the time has come for me to address you, my beloved brethren, may God Himself speak through me to you!
The subject which I have selected for this message is FAITH. As believers in Jesus, all of us belong to the pedigree of faith, however, there are two lines of descent that claim the covenant heritage. There is the line of nature, human efforts, and works, headed by Ishmael, the son of Hagar. We have no kindred spirits there. We know that the highest position to which the child of the flesh can attain will only end in the command, “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son” [Galatians 4:30]. We, brethren, are children of the promise, born not of the flesh, nor according to the force of nature, but by the power of God. We trace our new birth not to blood, nor to the will of the flesh, nor to the will of man, but to God alone. We owe our conversion neither to our own human reasoning, nor to the eloquence of the preacher, neither to our natural goodness nor to our personal efforts at reformation; we are, as Isaac was, the children of God's power according to the promise.
Now, the covenant belongs to us, for it has been decided—and the apostle has declared the decision in the name of God—that “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ. . . . If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” [Galatians 3:16, 29]. We are completely saved by faith. The brightest day that ever dawned upon us was the day in which we first “look[ed] to [Christ] [and became] radiant” [Psalm 34:5]. It was completely dark until faith beheld the Sun [S U N] of Righteousness. The dawn of faith was to us the morning of life; by faith alone we began to live. We have since then walked by faith. Whenever we have been tempted to step aside from the path of faith, we have been like the foolish Galatians, and we have suffered for our folly. I trust we have not “suffered so much for nothing” [Galatians 3:4]. We began in the Spirit, and if we have sought to be made perfect in the flesh, we have soon discovered ourselves to be sailing in dangerous waters, and coming near to sunken rocks. “The righteous will live by faith” [Romans 1:17], is a truth which has worked itself out in our experience, for many times we have felt that, in any other direction or path, death stares us in the face; and, therefore, “we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” [Galatians 5:5].
Now, brethren, as our pedigree is of faith, and our claim to the privileges of the covenant is of faith, and our life in its beginning and continuance is all of faith, so may I boldly say that our ministry is of faith, too. We are heralds to the men and women, not of the law of Sinai, but of the love of Calvary. We come to them, not with the command, “Do this and you will live” [Luke 10:28], but rather with the message, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” [Acts 16:31]. Ours is the ministry of gracious faith, and is not according to the will of man, nor according to the law of a carnal commandment. We do not preach man's goodness, but Christ crucified.
The object of our preaching, as well as its doctrine, is faith; for we believe that we have done nothing for sinners until, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring them to faith; and we believe that our preaching is only useful to true Christians as we see them increase in faith. Faith is in our hand as the power with which we sow, and as the seed we sow is received by us by faith, and steeped in faith, so the harvest for which we look is to see faith springing up in the furrows of men and women's hearts to the praise and glory of God.
Interwoven, therefore, with our entire spiritual life, and with all our ministerial work, is the doctrine and grace of faith; and, therefore, we must be very clear on it—that is a basic requirement. We must also be very strong in faith—that is the greater issue here. On that topic I will speak to you today, praying earnestly that every one of us would be like Abraham, “strengthened in his faith and [giving] glory to God” [Romans 4:20], and, like Stephen, “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 6:5]
Above all, our work requires faith. If we fail in faith, we would be better off not have entered the ministry; and unless we obtain faith commensurate with our calling, we will soon grow weary of it. It is a proven fact that success in the Lord's service is very much in proportion to faith. It certainly is not in proportion to ability, nor does it always run parallel with a display of zeal; but it is always according to the measure of faith, for this is a law of the Kingdom without exception, “According to your faith will it be done to you” [Matthew 9:29]. It is essential, then, that we must have faith if we are to be useful, and that we must have great faith if we are to be greatly useful. For many other reasons besides usefulness—namely, even for our being able to hold our own against the enemies of the truth, and for ability to stand against the temptations which surround our office—it is imperative that we must have abundant confidence in the living God. We, above all men, need the mountain-moving faith, by which, in the early days of Christianity, men of God “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” [Hebrews 11:33-34]
One of the brethren observed, at last night's
meeting, that I have the habit of saying, firstly, secondly, and thirdly. I
must plead guilty to the charge, and continue to follow the same method; for I
don’t judge it to be a fault, but a practice helpful to the speaker in
the arrangement and recall of his thoughts, and profitable to the listener in
their remembrance of the sermon. We can be more formal when being formal is
useful. Though it should not be blindly followed, the custom of announcing
divisions in a message may be generally maintained, and we will maintain it, at
any rate, today.
I. I will first speak, concerning faith,
asking this question,—WHERE AND ON WHAT ISSUE HAVE WE, AS MINISTERS,
FAITH, OR A GREAT NEED OF IT?
1. First, we have faith in God.
We believe “that He exists and that He
rewards those who earnestly seek Him” [Hebrews 11:6]. We do not believe
in the powers of nature operating in and of themselves apart from the constant
input of power from the Great and Mighty One, who is the Sustainer as well as
the Creator of all things. Far be it from us to banish God from His own
universe. Neither do we believe in a merely nominal deity like those who make
everything to be God, for we believe pantheism is only another form of atheism.
We know the Lord as a distinct personal existence, a real God, infinitely more
real than the things which are seen and handled, more real even than ourselves,
for we are but shadows, He alone is the I AM, remaining the same for
ever and ever.
We believe in a God of purposes and plans, who has not left a blind fate to tyrannize over the world, much less an aimless chance to rock it back and forth. We are not fatalists; neither are we doubters of providence and predestination. We are believers in a God “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” [Ephesians 1:11]. We do not conceive of the Lord as One who, after He created the world, has then left it and its inhabitants to themselves; we believe that He continually controls all the affairs of life. We, by faith, perceive that the very hand of the Lord gives to every blade of grass its own drop of dew, and to every young raven its food. We see the present power of God in the flight of every sparrow, and hear His goodness in the song of every bird. We believe that “the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it;” and we go forth into it, not as into the domains of Satan where there is no light, nor into a chaos where rule is unknown, nor into a boiling sea where fate’s resistless storm clouds shipwreck mortals at their will; but we walk boldly on, having God within us and around us, living and moving and having our lives in Him, and so, by faith, we live in a world of providence and grace where everything speaks of His glory. We believe that God is present wherever we are, and that He is a working and operating God accomplishing His own purposes consistently and surely in all matters, places, and times; working out His perfect plan as much in what seems evil as in that which is obviously good; in all things driving on towards the goals which infinite wisdom has chosen, never changing His timing, but forever, according to the eternal strength that is in Him, moving forward without pause. We believe that this God is faithful to everything that He has spoken, a God who can neither lie nor change. The God of Abraham is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He is our God today. We do not believe in the ever-shifting views of the Divine Being which differing philosophies are adopting; the God of the Hebrews is our God,—Jehovah, the Mighty One, the covenant-keeping God—”this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end” [Psalm 48:14].
Whether we are fools or not to believe in
God, the world will someday know; and whether it is more reasonable to believe
in nature, or in powers that operate in and of themselves, or to believe in
nothing, than it is to believe in a self-existent Being, we will leave eternity
to decide. Meanwhile, to us, faith in God is not only a necessity of reason,
but the fruit of a child-like instinct which does not hesitate to justify
itself by arguments, being born in us with our regenerate nature from the Holy
2. Next to this, our faith most seriously and intensely fixes itself upon the Christ of God.
We trust in Jesus; we believe all that inspired history says concerning Him; not making a myth of Him, or His life, but accepting it as a matter of fact that God did most certainly live among men in human flesh, and that an atonement was really and truly offered by the Incarnate God upon the cross of Calvary. Yet, to us, the Lord Jesus Christ is not simply a Savior of the past.
We believe that “He ascended on
high,” and “led captives in His train,” and that “He is able to save completely those who come to God
through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” [Hebrews
7:25]. I saw, in the cathedral at Turin, a very remarkable sight, namely, the pretended grave clothes of the Lord Jesus
Christ, which are devoutly worshipped by crowds of Roman Catholics. I could not
help observing, as I looked upon these relics, that the fake relics of the
death of Christ were the only things that the Roman Catholic Church possessed
of Christ. They may well show the true cross, for they crucify Him over and over;
they may well pray in His sepulcher—His supposed grave, for He is not
there, or in their Church; and they may surely claim to have acquired His grave
clothes, for they only know a dead Christ. But, beloved brothers and sisters,
our Christ is not dead, neither has He fallen asleep; He still walks among the
golden candlesticks, and holds the stars in His right hand.
Our faith in Jesus is very real. We believe in those dear wounds of His as we believe in nothing else; there is no fact so sure to us as that He was crucified unto death, and He has redeemed us to God by His blood. We believe in the brightness of His glory; for nothing seems to us so necessarily true as that He who was obedient unto death should, as His just reward, be crowned with glory and honor. For this reason, we also believe in a real Christ yet to come, a second time, in the same manner as He went up into Heaven; and, though we may not constantly seek to know the exact day and hour, yet we are “looking forward to the day of God and speed its coming” [2 Peter 3:12], at which time we expect the manifestation of the sons of God, and the rising of their bodies from the grave. Christ Jesus is no fiction to us; and, with Dr. Watts, we sing,—
“While Jews on their own law rely,
And Greeks of wisdom boast,
We love the incarnate mystery,
And there we fix our trust.”
3. We have an equal confidence, beloved brethren, in the Holy Spirit.
We sincerely believe in the Holy
Spirit’s Deity and personality. We speak of His influences, because He
has influences, but we do not forget that He is a Person from whom those
influences stream; we believe in His functions, for He has functions, but we
rejoice in the Person who fills them, and makes them effective for our good.
Each one of us would most fervently say, “I believe in the Holy
Spirit.” Yet, my brethren, do you truly believe in the Holy Spirit?
“Yes,” you say unanimously, spontaneously, and emphatically. I also
say “Yes;” but don’t be grieved if I ask you yet again if you
truly and undeniably believe in Him; for there is a believing and a
believing. There is a belief which I might have concerning a man, for which I
may have but little grounds for such a belief, thus I would not risk a single
penny of my money with him; but there is another form of believing in a man
when I feel that I could trust my very life with him, being assured that he
would be true to me, and prove both an able and a willing helper. Have we such
a reliance on the Holy Spirit? Do we believe that, at this moment, He can clothe
us with power, even as He did the apostles at Pentecost? Do we believe that,
under our preaching, by His energy a thousand might be born again in one day?
If we all believe this way, then we should rejoice to be in such an assembly,
for the majority of Christians, if attending and listening to one sermon were
to then observe just a dozen persons crying out, “What must we do to be
saved?” would respond exactly as the unbelieving Jews did by making fun of them and saying, “They have had too much
wine” [Acts 2:13]. They would
condemn the whole transaction as the result of dangerous emotional excitement;
they would never imagine it to be of the Lord. For this reason, I sadly
conclude that there is not, in the Church today, a belief in the Holy Spirit as
there ought to be; and yet, as surely as we hear the voice which says, “You,
O God, are strong” [Psalm 62:11]; as surely as we hear the Divine voice
of the Son of God, saying, “Trust
in God; trust also in me” [John 14:1]; so truly does the third Person of the blessed Trinity claim our loving
confidence, and woe be unto us if we displease Him by our unbelief! When we
have a full faith in the Triune God, then we will be “strong in the Lord
and in His mighty power.”
4. Beside this, dear brethren, you and I believe in the doctrines of the gospel.
We have received the
certainties of revealed truth. These are things, which are truly believed among
us. We don’t bow down before men’s theories of truth, nor do we
admit that theology consists of “views” and “opinions.”
We declare that there are certain truths, which are essential, enduring, and
eternal—from which it is disastrous to turn away from. I am deeply
grieved to hear so many ministers talk as if the truth of God were a variable
quantity; a matter that changes daily, that is constantly being reshaped; a
cloud driven by the wind. I have been charged with being a mere echo of the
Puritans, but I’d rather be the echo of truth, than the voice of
deception. It may be a lack of intellect which prevents us from departing from
the old gospel truths; but even this is better than a lack of saving grace,
which lies at the root of men’s perpetual altering and changing of their
beliefs. Rest assured that there is nothing new in theology except that which
is false; and that the truths of theology are today what they were in the time
of Christ and the Apostles.
But, in these days, the self-styled “progressive ministers”, who begin with preaching the gospel, degenerate as they advance, and their theology, like the snail, melts away as it progresses. I hope it will never be this way with any of us. I have likened the career of certain ministers to the journey of a Roman wine-cask from the vineyard to the city. It starts from the winepress as the pure juice of the grape; but, at the first stopping-place, the drivers of the cart felt the need to quench their thirst; and when they come to a water fountain, they substitute water for the wine, which they have drunk. In the next village, there are a number of wine lovers who beg or buy a little, and the discreet carrier dilutes it again. This watering of the wine is again and again repeated, till, on its entrance into Rome, the fluid is remarkably different from that which originally started from the vineyard. There is a way of “doctoring” the gospel in much the same manner. A little truth is given up, and then a little more, and men fill up the vacuum with opinions, inferences, speculations, and dreams, until their wine is mixed with water, and thus is no longer pure wine. Many preachers—and I speak it with sorrow—have built a tower of theological speculations, upon which they sit, like Nero, fiddling the tune of their own philosophy while the world is burning with sin and misery. They are playing with the toys of speculation while the souls of men and women are being lost.
Much of human wisdom is a mere cover for the absence of vital godliness. I went into some first-class railway cars in Italy, which were lined with very pretty crocheted fabric, and I thought the travelers were highly honored, since no doubt some delicate fingers had magnificently furnished the cars for them; but I soon discovered that the crochet-work was simply put on to cover-up the grease and dirt of the car itself. A great deal of emotional appeal and religion that is now preached is nothing more than mere crochet-work covering up the detestable heresies long since disproved, which dared not appear again without a disguise for their hideousness. With words of human wisdom, and speculations of their own invention, men disguise deception, and deceive many. But let us give to the people what God gives to us. May each of you be like Micaiah, who declared, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell [them] only what the Lord tells me” [1 Kings 22:14]. If it is foolishness to believe in what we find in Scripture, and if it is madness to believe in verbal inspiration, then we purpose to remain fools all of our lives, and hope to be among the foolish things of the world which God chose to shame the wise, “that no one may boast before him.”
5. Brethren, our faith which rests upon the doctrines of the gospel and upon the God of the gospel, embraces the power of prayer.
We believe in the primacy of supplication. I
am afraid that this belief is going out of fashion in the so-called Christian
world. The theory of some is, that prayer is useful to us personally, but that
it cannot be effective with God; and much is said about the impossibility of
the Divine purposes being changed, and the utter unlikelihood of a finite being
affecting God by his prayers. We also hold that the purposes of God are not
changed; but what if prayer is a part of His purpose, and what if He ordains
that His people should pray when He intends to give them blessings? Prayer is
one of the necessary wheels of the machinery of providence. The offering of
prayer is as effective in the affairs of the world, and the production of
events, as the rise of dynasties or the fall of nations. We believe that God
truly listens to the voices of men and women.
For my own part, if anyone should say to me now, “God does not hear prayer; such a belief is nothing but superstition;” I would reply to him, “No sir that is not true, but I don’t have an argument with you. The whole question is a personal one, which concerns my own character—am I an honest man or not? If I am a man of truth, then my testimony is worth receiving; and I solemnly declare that the Lord has heard and answered my prayers hundreds of times, and that the answers have come so often and so exacting that they could not have been mere coincidence.” I would not argue beyond this point, “Unless you are prepared to prove that I am a liar, you are as much obligated to believe the facts which I affirm that I have witnessed, as I am to believe anything which you solemnly assert to be true.”
Brethren, we should not always boast in our
ability to prove Scriptural truths to ungodly men, for many of those truths are
beyond their ability to understand. I would not try to prove to a blind man
that the grass is green and the sky is blue, because he has no comprehension of
colors. Argument in such a case is folly on both sides. To us, prayer is not a
hopeless activity. We go to our rooms alone, believing that we are transacting
lofty and real business when we pray. We do not bow the knee merely because it
is a duty, and a commendable spiritual exercise; but because we believe that,
into the ear of the eternal God, we speak our needs and desires, and that His
ear is linked with a heart that feels for us, and a hand that is working on our
behalf. To us, true prayer is true power.
6. One other point, which I believe is essential to a minister's faith, is that we believe in our own commission to preach the gospel.
If any brother here is not assured of his
call to the ministry, let him wait until he is sure of it. He who doubts as to
whether he is called of God to preach, preaches with uncertainty; but he who is
certain of his call from above demands and commands an audience; he does not
apologize for his existence, or for what he says, and boldly speaks God's truth
in the Name of the Lord. He has a message to deliver, which he must deliver,
for woe is to him unless he preaches the gospel! In the face of the Roman
Catholic Church, who boast that they alone have the apostolic succession, we
declare that ours is the true commission, and that their claim is false. We are
not afraid to submit our claims to the test, which the Lord Himself has
appointed, “By their fruits you will recognize them.” We believe
that God has anointed us to preach the gospel, and we do preach it; but who
will give evidence that these Roman Catholic “priests” even so much
as know the gospel? In our message we preach that the Spirit of God regenerates
men, but He does not work through these pretenders. They do not even comprehend
what regeneration is, but mess it all up with their ceremonial slander. Our
gospel satisfies the heart, renews the nature, comforts the soul; but can these
pretenders do so with their sorcery? If they are apostles, let them show us
their signs. We claim to be the Lord’s ministers, and our epistles of
commendation are written upon many hearts.
Now, having detailed the great points of our faith, let me say, brethren, we believe, therefore, on account of all this, that in spite of our weaknesses and many needs, the Great Shepherd of the sheep will give us all that we need to feed His people.
Believing in an all-sufficient God, we expect
to see our loaves and fishes multiplied; consequently, we do not store up our
resources, but give away all that we have. I saw in Rome a fountain, which was
a figure of a man holding a barrel, out of which an abundant stream of water
was perpetually running. There never was much at any one time in that barrel,
and yet it has continued to yield a stream for four or five hundred years. So
let us pour out from our very soul all that the Lord gives to us. For over
twenty years, I have shared everything I know, and have run dry every time, and
yet my heart still bubbles up with more truth. I know some brethren in the
ministry who are comparable to a great huge vat for capacity, and yet the
people do not receive as much gospel truth from them as from preachers with
very inferior capacity who have formed the habit of giving out all they have.
We believe that the Spirit of God will be in us a well of water springing up
unto everlasting life, and we act according to that conviction. We do not
expect to have plenty of good things laid up for many years; rather we live by
our daily bread, so that we continually feed our people with that abundance.
Away with the musty, worm-breeding stores of old manna, and let us look up
every day for a fresh supply!
1. Brethren, our faith detects an unseen agency on our side.
While we are at work, God also is at work. We
do not believe that the forces engaged on our side are confined to the pulpit;
we know that all week long, God is, by care, and affliction, and trouble, and
sometimes by joy and comfort, making the people ready to receive what He has
charged us to teach them. We look upon our congregations, and perhaps are ready
to cry out in unbelief, “Master, what will we do?” but our eyes are
opened, and we see horses of fire and chariots of fire all around the prophet
of the Lord; mysterious agencies are cooperating with the ministry of grace.
When the Mont Cenis Tunnel was being constructed thorough the Alps, a party of
engineers worked from the Italian side for six years, and expected at the end
of that period to see an open roadway through the mountain. They knew that the
work would take, at the rate they were going, at least twelve years, and yet
they knew it would be completed in six years, because there was another party,
on the French side, working to meet them; and, accordingly, in due time they
met one another within an inch of the planned location. I cannot understand
these miracles of engineering, and do not know how two tunneling parties manage
to meet each other in the heart of an mountain; neither do I know how the
Lord’s work in the consciences of men and women will fit in with mine,
but I am quite sure it will, and, therefore, in faith, I go on working with all
2. Faith leads us to believe in the ability to overcome difficulties that will promote our success.
Because we believe in God, and in His Holy
Spirit, we believe that difficulties will turn out to be blessings to us, for
they are only placed before us as stepping-stones to magnificent results. We
believe in defeats, my brethren; we believe in retreating with our flag trailed
in the mud, persuaded that this may be the surest way to lasting triumph. We
believe in waiting, weeping, and agonizing; we believe in a failure which
prepares us for doing greater and higher work, for which we would not have been
ready for unless anguish had sharpened our soul. We believe in our weaknesses,
and even glory in them; we thank God that we are not so eloquent as we could
wish to be, and do not have all the abilities we might desire, because now we
know that “the Excellency of the power” will “be of God, and
not of us.” Faith enables us to so rejoice in the Lord that our
weaknesses become platforms for the display of His grace. Brethren, we believe
that even our enemies will, in God's hands, serve our highest interests; they
are yoked to the carriage of God. Perhaps, of all the powers, which effect the
Divine purposes in the world, no one does more than the devil himself. He is
but a servant of the Eternal God; Satan unwillingly performs work which
the Lord would not make His own children perform, work which is just as needful
as that which seraphim perform. Do not believe that evil is a rival power of
equal force with the Holy God. No, sin and death serve the Divine purposes;
and, though they do not know it, when the Lord’s enemies rant and rage
the most, they fulfill His eternal purposes to the praise of the glory of His
wisdom and grace.
3. Further, brethren, we believe that the gospel is God’s power to save.
We know that, for every case of spiritual sickness, we have an infallible cure; we need not say to any man, “We have no good news from God for you.” We believe that there is a way of reaching every heart. There is an opening in every sinner’s armor, though he is as evil as Ahab was, we may draw the bow with hope, praying the Lord to direct the arrow through it. If we believe in God, nothing can be too hard or too heavy for us. If I believe only in myself, I feel that a hardened sinner may refuse to listen to my reasoning, and may not be moved by my loving message; but if I believe in the Holy Spirit, I feel that He can cause the wicked to listen, and carry conviction to the conscience. We believe, brethren, in the power of truth. We do not expect truth to be loved by all of mankind; we do not expect the gospel to become popular among the great and the educated, for we remember that word of the apostle, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth;” [1 Corinthians 1:26] but we do not believe that the gospel has become weak through old age. When the foolish wise men of this age sneer at the old gospel, they render an unconscious homage to its power. We do not believe that our grand castle and defense has been shaken and fallen to the ground, because men say it is so. We remember the story in the Bible, when the king of Assyria sent his supreme commander and officers to King Hezekiah, and how they mocked and despised the Lord, and how, nevertheless, it happened to the king of Assyria even as the Lord said, “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return” [2 Kings 19:32-33].
We have seen enough philosophies go back
“to the vile dust from where they sprang,” to know that the whole
species of them is of the order of Jonah’s vine. We, therefore, in
confidence wait, and in patience bide our time. We are sure of victory before
If our gospel is true, it will yet come to the front, and God will work for us; therefore we remain “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” If we do not see souls saved today or tomorrow, we will still continue our work. Ours is not the wasted toil of rolling a heavy stone uphill, which will eventually roll back on us, nor that of those who seek to fill a bottomless pit. Our work may no more quickly appear than the islands which the coral insects are building below the blue waves of the Southern sea; but the reef is rising, far down the foundation of the massive structure is laid, and its walls are climbing to the surface. We are laboring for eternity, and we do not measure our work by each day’s advance, as men measure theirs; it is God’s work, and must be measured by His standard. Be well assured that, when time and creation, and all that oppose themselves to the Lord’s truth, are gone; when every solemn sermon is preached, and every persistent prayer offered, and every form of Christian service honestly rendered, there will then remain the mighty structure which God from all eternity has resolved to raise to His own honor.
II. Now, brethren, our second question for today will be, WHAT DOES OUR FAITH WORK IN US?
1. First, our faith works in us a glorious independence of man.
We are happy for sincere helpers, but we can do without them. We are grateful for our faithful deacons, but we dare not make flesh our strength. We are delighted if God raises up brethren in other churches who will associate and fellowship with us, but we do not lean upon them. The man who believes in God, and believes in Christ, and believes in the Holy Spirit, will rely only upon the Lord. He does not wish to be a loaner, or to be odd, yet he can by himself contend for his Master; and even when he has a lot of human help, he still diligently endeavors to wait only upon God. If you lean on your helpers when you have them, it may be that you will realize the terrible meaning of that ancient word, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength” [Jeremiah 17:5]. As the apostle said, “Brothers, the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none;” [1 Corinthians 7:29], so because the time is short we should also say, that we who have enthusiastic helpers should live as if we had none, and to let our confidence in God be as simple, and our own selves be as free of all carnal confidence, as if we stood like Athanasius against the world, and had no one to speak a good word for us, or to bear a part of our burden. Only God is able to hold the sky in place. He alone creates the clouds, and places them in the heavens. He lights the night stars, and gives the sun his flames of fire. God alone is sufficient for us, and in His power we will achieve the purpose of our being.
2. Further, true faith gives us courage
under all circumstances.
When a young boy came home from an outing, his aunt scolded him for staying out so late at night, and remarked, “It’s a wonder that fear didn’t make you come home.” “Fear?” said the lad, “I don't know him.” That is a fitting response for a believer when working for God. “Fear? I don’t know it; what does it mean?” The Lord is on our side; whom will we fear? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” A minister stands trembling in the presence of a educated schoolmaster, who, with his twenty scholars, makes an important argument in a town hall meeting; but is that a right response of the heart for a prophet of the Lord? A preacher gets very nervous when he looks out in the congregation and sees a well-known minister sitting there, who is visiting the area; is that trembling preacher a man? I say, a man! I will not ask, is he a man of God? If you have something of your own to say, my dear friend, don’t try to say it when those educated people are present who can speak so much better than you can; but if God has something to say through you, He knows which trumpet is most fitting for Him to use; and what does it matter to you who may or may not be listening? Dare you play the coward in the presence of God? No. The conviction that you have a commission from God, and that the Spirit of the Lord is upon you, will make you very bold. Faith in God will cause us to honor our calling so much that we will not dare to disgrace it by being a coward.
3. True faith in God will also produce in us an abundant amount of good works.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a chapter dedicated to the glorification of faith; but if I assert that it records the good works of the saints, can anybody contradict me? Isn’t it also as much a record of works as of faith? Yes, absolutely, because where there is much faith, there will surely before long be abundant good works. I know of no true faith which does not produce good works, especially in the preacher.
Those philanthropists who are always telling us what ought to be done, and yet who do nothing —what good is their faith, and what good is their philanthropy? To what will I liken it to? It reminds me of a shipwreck, off the Tuscan coast, some years ago. The Tuscan coastguard reported to his government that there had been a terrible shipwreck on the coast, and he said, “Although I provided the crew on board the ship every assistance possible by means of yelling instructions loudly to them, I regret to say that a number of dead bodies were washed up on the shore the next morning.” Wasn’t that wonderful assistance? And yet this is the kind of assistance which many preachers, who profess to have faith, have given to the people. They have given them the assistance of rhetoric, flowery speeches, and poetical quotations, and yet men and women have persisted in their sins. There has been no real concern for their souls. The sermon was preached, but the people were not prayed for in secret, they were not hunted for as men search for precious things. They were not wept over; they were not really cared for. After all, it was just the loud yelling of instructions to them, and nothing more.
But our faith produces an abundant amount of good works in us. May I say to you, if you are doing all you possibly can for Christ that you need to endeavor to do still more? I believe a Christian man is usually right when he is doing more than he can; and when he goes even further beyond that point, he will be even more right. There are scarcely any bounds to the possibilities of our service. Many a man, who now is doing little, might, with the same exertion, do twice as much by a better plan or method and by being more courageous. For instance, in our country towns, a sermon delivered on the village green would, in all probability, be worth twenty sermons preached in the chapel; and, in London, a sermon delivered to a crowd in a public hall or theatre may accomplish ten times as much good than it would have in a local church there. We need, like the apostles, to launch out into the deep, or our nets will never be filled with a great multitude of fish. If we had the courage to come out of our hiding-places, and face the enemy, we would soon achieve immense success. We need far more faith in the Holy Spirit. He will bless us if we will depend entirely upon Him.
4. Faith in God enables many of you, to put up with a great deal of hardship, and exercise much self-denial, and yet to persevere in your ministry.
My heart rejoices over the many brethren here
whom God has made to be winners of souls; and I may add that I am firmly
persuaded, concerning many here today, that the hardships they have undergone,
and the zeal they have shown in the service of their Lord, though unrewarded by
any outward success, are a sweet savor to God. True faith makes a man feel that
it is sweet to be a living sacrifice to God. Only faith could keep us in the
ministry, for ours is not a vocation which brings with it great earthly reward;
it is not a calling which men would follow who desire honor and rank. We have
all kinds of evils to endure, evils as numerous as those which Paul included in
his famous catalog of trials; and, I may add, we have one danger which he does
not mention, namely, the danger of church-meetings, which are probably worse
than the dangers of robbers. Underpaid and undervalued, without books and
without friendly associates, many a rural preacher of the gospel would die of a
broken heart, were it not for his faith that provides him strength from on
5. Well, brethren, to sum up a great many things in one, true faith will greatly expand our souls.
Men who are anxious to possess a self-consistent creed—a creed which they can put together into a neat little package—are very apt to narrow their souls. They believe that all truth can be reduced to a half-a-dozen formulas; they reject as worthless every doctrinal statement which cannot be put neatly into their little formulas. Those who do this will only believe what they can easily understand in their little minds and will necessarily disbelieve much of Divine revelation; they are, without knowing it, following the lead of the Rationalists. But those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will accept two things, twenty things, yes, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonizes them all together. It is far better to believe the truths, and leave it to the Lord to reveal their consistency in His time.
6. Those who believe firmly are, moreover, the men who are strong for service.
Have you ever seen the famous statue of the
boy sitting down and picking a thorn out of his foot? I saw him twenty years
ago, and I saw him again only the other day, and he was still extracting the
little tormentor. I have known brethren in the ministry, who are just like that
statue, they are always picking thorns out of their feet; they have a doubt
about this, and a hesitation about that; but the man who says, “I know
whom I have believed, I know what I have experienced,” he is the man who
can accomplish all that the Lord has assigned him.
7. Faith is also our refreshment.
Our faith in God relieves us of our
weariness. Even natural fatigue is sometimes overcome by faith. Certainly, weakness
of spirit needs no better cure than reliance upon God. Close to the Roman Colosseum
there stands the ruins of an ancient fountain and bath called the Meta Sudans.
Here the gladiators came who escaped with their life from the struggles in the
Colosseum; covered with blood, and sweat and dust from the arena, they plunged
into the bath, and felt delicious refreshment. Faith in God is just such a bath
to our hearts.
III. My concluding question is, WHAT DOES OUR FAITH SAY TO US THIS MORNING?
1. First, it claims to be well-founded.
I put it to you, brethren, in very simple
words. Is the living God worth trusting? Does His Omnipotence deserve that you
should lean on it? Does His Omniscience warrant you in believing it? Does His Immutability
justify you in depending on it? Why, if I were to bring here the best man in
our generation, ever born of a woman, whose name would be the synonym for
virtue, and if I were to tell you that you should trust him with your lives, I would
speak with bated breath, for who will trust in a man? Yes, and if there stood
here today, Gabriel, the angelic messenger of God, and he should tell us that
he would fervently defend us, I might hesitate before I said to you, “O
sons of men, rest in angelic strength and zeal!” But when I speak of the
Father, the Incarnate Son, the ever-blessed Holy Spirit, who will venture to even
hint of a limit to our trust in God? What academic scholar will accuse us of
folly in trusting in the Divine Trinity?
The older I grow the more and more I feel sure of the things which I believe, not merely (as some would insinuate) because I get into the habit of saying them, and therefore think I believe them, but because they agree with my soul's best experience. I read, occasionally, some of those productions of genius which are associated with the superficial religion of modern thought; but when my body is sick, or I am depressed in spirit, nothing suits my case but the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which was to our fathers the very truth of God; and I believe that the doctrine which a man's innermost experience confirms to him in the day of trial, and in the day when he is nearest to God, is to him, at any rate, the very truth itself, and worthy of his belief.
I never feel when I meet with intellectual men, who look down upon me as a mere preacher of platitudes, that they have any right to do so. I really don’t pay any attention to them. To us, the truths of the gospel are absolute certainties for which we do not crave tolerance, but to which we demand submission. If any will brand us with descriptions, such as “bigot”, “vulgar dogmatist”, or “mere echo of departed Puritanism,” (and all these have been used,) we will only reply, “You may apply to us any contemptuous titles you please, but we know that, if we were to express the truth about you, there is no adjective of contempt which you do not deserve; and, therefore, because we know of no language sufficiently strong to set forth our hatred of your false doctrine, we will let you pass in silence.”
My brethren, when you hear that a educated man has made a new discovery which contradicts the Scriptures, don’t feel alarmed. Don’t imagine that he is really a great man, but believe that he is just an educated idiot, or a self-conceited fool. If you find time to read the works of scholarly skeptics, you will soon see that their statements of fact are not reliable, their deductions are not logical, their inferences are monstrous, and their speculations are insane. I remember reading some statements of the great German, Oken, which to me sounded so much like the babblings that come from the patients of the local insane asylum. They reminded me of an incident which occurred when a prize was offered for verses of poetry, which were to be quite free from any meaning. Two of the competitors were nearly equal, but in the poem of one of them there was the faintest glimmering of an idea, while the other had not even a trace of sense, and therefore gained the prize.
If people believe that express myself too
strongly, it must be true, for I believe I speak what God Himself would
endorse; He uses no soft terms to boastful unbelievers. When He takes any
notice of them at all, He calls them fools. You will find that to be the
expression which the Lord constantly uses concerning unbelievers in the Old
Testament, and in the New Testament, too: “Professing themselves to be
wise, they became fools.” And, brethren, when I hear my Heavenly Father
say that a man is a fool, I dare not think the man wise. Don’t let us
think differently than God does.
Though we may be confused in an argument, we cannot be confused in experience, or driven from that which we have tasted and handled of the Word of God. Neither are we confused in our faith. We know that our faith is well-founded, and, therefore, we say, “Do not treat me as if I were a dream. Do not deliver your message with bated breath. Preach it boldly, for he who contradicts it is a liar!” If it is of God, it must be true. We are not adherents of an infallible church which bases its faith on its own authority, or of an infallible Pope who fancies himself to be the image of truth; if such were our boast, the world might well laugh at us; but, having learned God's truth by Divine revelation, we defy the world's sneer, and we will speak what God has revealed to us.
2. Next, our faith asks us this question, “Have I ever deceived any one of you?”
I will pass that question around. God put to
His ancient people this question, “Have I been a wilderness to Israel?” And I may ask you, Has the Lord ever failed you? Has He turned His back on
you in the day of trouble; and, when you have leaned on His arm, has it proved
insufficient? If God has failed you, if His truth has been a lie to any one of
you, speak out now, and say so; but if you can not, would not, must not, accuse
the Lord of unfaithfulness, but would loathe such a thought because your
experience would deny it, then, brethren, go on to believe, and believe with more
conviction; rest more implicitly on your ever-faithful God.
3. And so faith says, in the third place, “Give me a wider range. Trust your God far more.”
We have only waded ankle-deep in faith as
yet. We thought the water was very cold when we timidly ventured in; but having
tried it up to the ankles, we have found it good and pleasant. Let us advance
until we are breast-deep, yes, and deeper. Blessed is that man who gets his
feet off the bottom, and swims in the stream where he has no hope but his God,
and no confidence and no helper but the Invisible One who sustained all things.
Faith cries out, “Trust me, my son, to make you preach better. Have more initiative.
Be more daring. Don’t fight your own battle in the church-meeting, leave
it to your God; trust all with Him. Don’t be afraid to go and speak to
that foul-mouthed man; I will give you the right word to say to him. Trust me,
and go with prudence but with zeal into the darkest haunts of vice. Find the
worst of men, and seek their salvation. There is nothing you cannot do if you
will but trust in God.” Brother, your failure, if you fail, will begin in
your faith. The air says to the eagle, “Trust me; spread your broad
wings; I will lift you up to the sun. Only trust me. Take your foot off the rock
which you can feel beneath you. Get away from it, and be lifted up by the
unseen element.” My brethren, young eagles of Heaven, rise up in the air,
for God invites you. Rise! You have but to trust Him. An unknown glory rests on
Him, and the radiance of it will come on you if you only know how to trust Him.
4. And then faith says, (and with this I will close,) “Feed me! Feed me!”
Faith has been everything to you; feed it
with the Bread of Heaven. Faith feeds on Christ. The other day, I saw a group
of lovely ferns in a grotto which was continually watered with a cool, clear,
crystal rain; those ferns were perpetually fresh and beautiful, because their
leaves were constantly bathed in the refreshing drops. Although it was at a season
when greenness was scant, those ferns were as lush as possible. I told the
friend who was with me that I wish to live in the everlasting drips of grace,
perpetually watered, and bathed, and baptized in the overflowing of Divine
fellowship. This makes a man full of faith. No wonder Moses had faith, for he
had been forty days on the mountain with God; and if we have communed with God,
it will be a marvel if we doubt, and not that we believe. Feed faith with the
truth of God, but especially with Him who is the Truth.
I pray that the Lord will endow this College with faith. May we be both established and endowed —established on a rock, and endowed with the blessings of the covenant of grace! Remember, brethren, that you and I are committed to faith now; it is too late for us to retreat. We are in the condition of Bunyan's pilgrim; we must go forward. There are many dangers ahead of us, the Valley of the Shadow of Death lies ahead; arrows will fly very thickly around us as we traverse through the shadows. It is hard to keep going on, but we cannot walk backwards, for we have no armor for our backs. Suppose we should give up the fundamentals of our faith, what would remain for us to do? For my part, I would have nothing to do but to take the rope of Judas, and to end a miserable life, for only my faith makes it worth my while to live. If faith were gone, I would plead for permission to die; to be extinct would be better than to live if these things are nothing but a delusion after all. It must be onward with us, for in the case of brethren of this College, the most unsafe thing for us is to think of turning back. One or two of our former comrades have turn away from us; I cannot judge their hearts, but I fear they have also gone away from God. I will not say more of them than this —they are the last men you would envy if you knew their whole history. They have known the truth, and defended it, and yet, for the sake of money, or ambition's sake, have turned away from the truth. If it were fitting, I could write narratives of apostate experiences which would relate to men into whose faces I have looked as I now look into yours, and who were familiar with me, but with whose names, once well-beloved, I am ashamed now to be associated. God have mercy on them! It is all that I could say if I had to write their epitaphs, “God have mercy on them!”
Well, brethren, you and I are committed to the onward course, we cannot go back; neither can we turn to the right or to the left. What will we do, then? Will we lie down, and fret? Will we stand still, and be dismayed? No! In the Name of the Lord, let us again set up our banner, the royal standard of Jesus the Crucified. Let us sound the trumpets joyously, and let us march on, not with the trembling footsteps of those who know that they are bent on an enterprise of evil, but with the gallant bearing of men whose cause is Divine, whose warfare is a crusade. Courage, my brethren; behold, the angels of God fly in our front, and, yes, the eternal God Himself leads our way. “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” [Psalm 46:2]. Blessed faith! God grant us more of it, for Christ's sake! Amen.
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