FAITH AND WORKS.
Having read the two preceding articles some perhaps will feel inclined to ask, "has not the individual anything to do toward his own salvation? Is he altogether like clay in the potter's hands?" Does not the Bible tell us to "work out our own salvation?" to "make our calling and election sure?" that "faith without works is dead?" etc. Is there nothing for man to do?" I answer, yes. But what is the nature and the purpose of this doing? Christians do the wrong thing and with the wrong motive, hence their doing is a snare and a stumbling stone, causing them to "fall from grace" (Gal. 5:4), rather than to "grow in grace." (2 Pet. 3:18). Let us see about this doing.
In the first place I would say most emphatically that we cannot do anything to make ourselves like God. Whatever we do for such a purpose is labor lost; and worse than lost; for as long as we are trying in the slightest degree to work for our salvation we thereby demonstrate that we have "fallen from grace," and are living under the shadow of Sinai. All our doing that amounts to anything is the spontaneous outgrowth of the spirit of Christ within us, so far as it is developed; and such doing does not make us more like Christ, but simply shows us how near like him we have already become. Thus we work out the salvation that God works in. We can do no more than this. We cannot work out any salvation that we have not already in us. We do not work for salvation, but simply work out the salvation we have already. "It is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Christians are continually trying to do God's work. They try to make themselves good, or at least to improve themselves, or finally at least, to help improve themselves; they work in, trying to get more salvation, instead of working out the salvation they have already. Put the bight of a rope under your feet and then take the two ends in your hands and try to lift; how high can you raise yourself? Just so high and no higher can you lift yourself spiritually by anything that you can do. Settle this question now once for all, and "cease from your own works."
"Cast thy deadly doing down,
All down at Jesus' feet."
Our doing is a manifestation of our state of grace, or our degree of spiritual growth. It is an effect, not a cause, the outgrowth, not the source, of our faith,- the fruit of the tree, not the tree itself. Our doing is a gauge to measure the depths of the spirit within us. "Be filled with the spirit" is the command; but we come far short of such fullness, and are more likely to be very shallow in our spiritual state; our doing marks the depth. Again, our doing is not a stepping stone to heaven, but a mile-stone in the way of life, to show us how far we are along. Now most Christians view this matter in the way just opposite to the truth. They must do in order to be right within; being faithful is doing a great deal; their doing they think is the means of spiritual growth, the way to increase their faith. In their estimation it is the tree that is to bring forth all the fruits of the spirit, and a ladder by which to climb to heaven. Christians do not express their view thus directly, but practically, the above is their faith. This is a subtle snare of the devil, and oft-times those who think they are trusting in God, are in reality trusting in self. Remember that a very little of this legal doing will vitiate and neutralize a great deal of faith. You cannot even help in the smallest degree to save yourself or to make yourself better any more than the clay can help the potter. If anything beautiful and good is ever made of you, God must do it, and He alone. "Let these sayings sink down into your hearts."
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Christian, as I have said, has something to do. What we need to know is, what it is, and the purpose of it. But as works are the outgrowth of faith-the fruit, and not the tree-logically and practically faith comes first, hence before saying any more on works, we will ask,
WHAT IS FAITH?
First, I would reply negatively in the language of Scripture, "The law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them shall live in them." If you want to get salvation by doing, even by the least bit of doing, go back to Sinai, you have no need of Calvary. The word faith does not occur in the Old Testament except twice, while it occurs hundreds of times in the New Testament. Read on this point very carefully, verse by verse, the whole of Gal. 3. We shall refer to this further on. In the realm of law faith has no place; and yet the law must be the "child leader," and it must come before the gospel; we shall see why presently.
In seeking an answer to the question, what is faith, we need not blunder about among the wordy disquisitions of men, or the unreasonable creeds of the churches. We have a plain direct Bible answer. "Faith is the substance (i.e., foundation or ground) of things hoped for, the evidence (proof) of things not seen." Heb. 11:1. Let us study this definition. Faith is the foundation of things hoped for. "We are saved by hope," says the apostle in another place; but it is not any and all hope but a hope established on spiritual faith. Faith is the foundation of hope, but what is the foundation of faith? The truth, I answer, for "faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God." Now we have "the Word of God" as the foundation of faith; and faith as the foundation of hope. It will not do to leave out either of these foundations. A hope that is not founded on a scriptural faith is shadowy and vain; a faith that is not founded on the truth, God's word (John 18:17), is a dead and worthless faith. These, truth and faith, are the massive blocks that build up a solid pedestal for that "hope which is an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and which entereth into that within the veil." The first important point then regarding faith is that it is founded upon the truth, or knowledge of God, for all truth is knowledge of God. Our faith in God will be in proportion to our knowledge of Him. Thus it is always; we cannot have much faith in a stranger or in one with whom we are slightly acquainted. In proportion as we know a worthy person, as we become better and better acquainted with him, so our faith in him increases. So it is in our relationship with God; it is but reasonable that the better we know God the more we should trust him, the less we know him the weaker will be our faith. Thus we see how true it is that the foundation of faith is knowledge of God. Every advanced Christian knows how true this is in his own experience. When he was a "babe in Christ" his faith was weak and wavering; but as he "grew in grace" and "increased in the knowledge of God," his faith continually strengthened. This is an important point, and one that many Christians miss. They realize that faith is important, but they do not understand that it is founded on knowledge. Hence they try to work up a great faith with very little knowledge of God. People but slightly acquainted with the Lord strain after an enormous faith; thus building with wood, hay and stubble, instead of gold, silver and precious stones. (1 Cor. 3:12). There is a great deal of foolish talk among Christians, about believing. Seekers after religion, are told to "believe, only believe." Seekers after sanctification are given the same advice. Believe, believe, all you have to do is to believe-believe you are saved and you are saved-believe you are holy and you are holy-and so on to the end of the chapter. Such teachers of faith are "blind leaders of the blind;" and such a faith is a castle in the air supported by acute manipulation of the will to say that you believe something of which you know but little or nothing, and which your own common sense tells you is not so. Learn this truth,-"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." Hear the Word! Study the Word! "Search the Scriptures," and so get acquainted with God, become one of His friends, to know what he is doing, and you will not have to struggle to get your faith up to a certain pitch, as one might strain himself to blow up a big bladder and have nothing but a bag of wind after all, but your faith will grow spontaneously with your knowledge, yea, it will "grow exceedingly" (2 Thess. 1:3) like the tiny mustard seed from a mere speck to a great tree, a finished perfected faith (Heb. 12:2) at the appearing of the Lord.
Now I think we can understand why the law was necessary, and why it must come before the gospel. The purpose of the law is given in Rom. 3:20, 21. "By the law is the knowledge of sin," and it is also a "witness" of "the righteousness of God." In other words the law gives us knowledge of our self, and knowledge of God. I do not intend now to notice the former thought; but simply how the law gives us knowledge of God. The whole system of the law is one of God's revelations of himself to man. All the ceremonies and forms, all the paraphernalia of the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, etc., all these are types, shadows, patterns, figures of the "things pertaining to God," thus revealing the Creator to the creature. Hence the law must come before the gospel which inculcates the way of faith, because the law gives us knowledge of God, the foundation of faith. The order of development in this respect is as follows. First comes the law giving us knowledge of God in type and shadow. Then comes Christ, the most perfect revelation of God and hence giving us the most perfect knowledge of God. Then established upon this knowledge, comes faith, begetting blessed hope that lifts the veil of the future and gives us a foretaste of heaven. Then in the next age comes sight, a clear view of all that was dimly foreshadowed in the law, face to face with our Savior, hope merged in glad fruition, and the actual realization of all that we now claim by faith.
Now all this is set forth in Gal. 3. In the first place the apostle makes it plain here that the gospel is the realm of faith and not law. "Received ye the spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the spirit are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" The law is of the flesh, faith is of the spirit. These Galatian Christians were trying to do what the church has not ceased to try to do to this day, namely to unite the law and the gospel in the same dispensation; this is an impossible union. When the law obtained, there was no faith; see verses 12, 23-25. When faith comes we are no longer under the law; the two are mutually exclusive; you must choose between them, for you cannot live under them both at the same time; which shall it be, Sinai or Calvary? law or gospel? works or faith? Moses or Christ? Do not deceive yourself by supposing that you can mix law and faith together; that while you are an "heir of the righteousness which is by faith," you may also be "under the law." "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Of all professing Christians the most to be pitied are those who profess to believe on Christ, and to have entered the covenant of grace, and yet at the same time are trying to stagger along under the yoke of the law which neither the apostles nor their fathers were able to bear (Acts 15:10). They might as well try to walk on both sides of a stone wall at the same time; they might as well try to walk in opposite directions simultaneously. The apostle goes on to illustrate faith, as he does in Rom. 4, by Abraham, "the father of the faithful." "Abraham believed God,"-that is all Abraham did-"and it was accounted to him (set down to his account as) righteousness." There's the whole scheme of justification by faith in a nutshell. Now do not try to tack anything on to it; let it be plain and simple,-faith accounted for righteousness. Now right here I would notice how Abraham's faith illustrates the truth that knowledge is the foundation of faith. If Abraham had not had knowledge of God he never could have believed him, because God told Abraham something that humanly speaking was not true, "A father of many nations have I made thee; and I have made thee exceeding fruitful, and I have established my covenant between Me and thee, and I have given to thee and to thy seed after thee the land of thy sojourning, and I have become their God," and so on. According to the common version verse 8 is contradicted by Acts 7:5. In verse 8 God promises to give the land to Abraham, but according to Acts 7:5, God did not keep his promise, for Stephen says that God "gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on." There is a discrepancy here in the letter. But when we see the spirit of this passage, when we understand that God is speaking in the past tense according to the rule that he "calleth those things that be not as though they were," and when we see furthermore that the whole passage is prophetical and spiritual, referring to the true seed (Gal. 3:16) and the true land of promise (Heb. 11:16), etc., etc.-then we shall understand that there is no discrepancy, but perfect harmony. This view makes the passage clear to us; and we can also see that if Abraham had not been well acquainted with the Lord he never could have believed him when he spoke of those things that were not as, as though they were. And herein lies the greatness of Abraham's faith, and the ground of his claim to the title of the "Father of the faithful." It was "before faith came" that Abraham thus believed God, way back in the dim period of type and shadow and allegory; and he believed not only a promise in the future tense, and one which in the common course of nature was impossible, but when God spoke in the past tense as though the thing were already accomplished, although as yet God's word had not begun to be carried out, for "the seed had not come to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19)-not even the typical seed much less the true seed,-yet "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith giving glory to God; being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform." Can we not see how mighty and wonderful Abraham's faith was? That he is worthy to stand at the head of those who "believe God"? And can we not see also from this illustration what faith is, and how it is dependent on knowledge? Faith takes God at his word, and "staggers not," even when the "wisdom of this world" would say-and, humanly speaking say it truthfully too-that God's word was not true. But a faith that measures up to this Abrahamic standard is one that is founded on a knowledge of "the deep things of God."
Now we will notice further the third chapter of Galatians. The apostle goes on to show that "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse," but that "Christ hath redeemed us from this curse," for He is "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom. 10:4). Mark it well; if you have not come to "the end of the law," you have not come to Christ, a truth that we shall find still further confirmed in this same chapter. The apostle goes on to set forth the true seed, "which is Christ," and to tell why the law comes in between the promise and its fulfillment; "it was added because of transgressions till the seed should come to whom the promise was made." "Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid." It is preliminary to it; it gives us a needful discipline and training to prepare us for the way of faith, as the apostle goes on to show. "Before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our child-leader unto (i.e. until we get to) Christ." There are two very misleading errors here in the common version. First instead of schoolmaster it should be child-leader; the figure is taken from the ancient custom of having slaves attend the children to and from the school; such a slave was not by any means a schoolmaster, but one to lead the child to school, when he was handed over to the charge of the schoolmaster. The other error here is in the supplied words, "to bring us." These words are not in the original as is indicated by their being in italics, but are supplied by the translators to make out the sense, as, doubtless, they supposed; but they make the passage express an untruth. The law does not bring us to Christ; this is not the purpose of the law. The law brings us to ourselves; it slays us (Rom. 7:11); it brings us to a knowledge of the horrible pit in which we are sunk, and leaves us there, for it has no power to help us out. The law brings us into that condition of perfect self despair where Christ can help us (Rom. 7:24, 25), but if Christ did not come to us we should never be helped, for the law would never bring us to Him. What Paul means here I think is as follows. The law deals with man in his childhood-the "natural man" restraining and checking, and condemning him until he gets far enough along to cry out, "O wretched man!" Then the law has done all for him that it can at that stage of his development, and Christ takes him up-he begins to attend the school of Christ to learn how to escape the deadly grip of the law (Rom. 6), and to "obtain the righteousness which is by faith." Now read the next two verses: "The Law was our child-leader unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith, (we never could be justified by law) . But after that faith is come we are no longer under a child-leader, for ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ." Thus we have learned two important facts about faith. 1. It is dependent upon, and in proportion to, our knowledge of God." Faith comes by hearing; and hearing by the Word of God." 2. It has no place in the law, and the law has no place in it. "The law is not of faith;" "After that faith is come we are no longer under the child-leader," law.
Now we will notice a little further. Heb.11:1. "Faith is the foundation of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Rotherham renders this passage thus: "Faith is of things hoped for, a confidence,-of facts, a conviction, when they are not seen." (A confident expectation that cannot be denied). This brings out the apostle's meaning very clearly. The foundation or confidence of our hope is faith, a scriptural faith, itself founded on knowledge of God. This explanation reminds us of Heb. 3:6. We are Christ's house "if [an important if!] we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." (Notice another important "if" in the 14th verse of the same chapter). A hope that has no foundation, one in which we have no confidence, is a worthless hope. It is our faith that gives us confidence; our faith in God's word is the foundation, broad and solid, of our expectations of future good.
As yet we have actually experienced nothing of our hope. We are yet unborn ( Luke 20:36). We are yet lifeless (Col. 3:3: 1 Cor. 15:23). "The life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God." All we have now is faith and hope. We live by faith. We are saved by hope. But this faith may be so strong, if we know God (Jer. 9:23,24), that we may actually speak of the realization of it as in the past, as Paul does in Eph. 2, and Col. 3, N.V.*; and our hope, founded upon such faith, will be "as an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast."
Is it not clear that "faith is the foundation (or substance) of things hoped for?" It is equally true that it is, "of facts, a conviction, when they are not seen. The only things in this world that really deserve to be called facts are the "unseen things" (2 Cor. 4:18); the things discerned, not by natural sense, but by faith. Of course this is contrary to worldly wisdom, which will acknowledge nothing as facts that does not come under the cognizance of the natural senses, or is not established by evidence plain to the natural man. Hence "the things of the spirit of God" are "foolishness" to the natural man; and yet these only are the enduring, the eternal things. But they can be apprehended only by the spiritual sense: and oh, how solid and substantial they appear to the one who, with anointed vision (Rev. 3:18), is able to see "afar off" (Heb. 11:13; 2 Peter 1:9), and having his spiritual "senses exercised by reason of use" (Heb. 5:14), can interpret the allegory, type, figure, pattern and shadow, so as to apprehend the truth thereby concealed!
"The steps of faith fall on the seeming void,
But find the Rock beneath."
Thanks be unto God for the solid facts that faith enables us to grasp! God can make "the things that are not seen" (2 Cor. 4:18), so plain and positive to us that they will indeed appear as facts; the things that we grasp by faith will seem the most solid (in fact the only solid things) of all others. Why? Because they rest on God's word. "The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," and it cannot fail. Happy is the man that thus knows the way of faith. "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him." O ye called and chosen ones, "HAVE FAITH IN GOD." Mark 11:22.
Some other thoughts on faith, and the further consideration of the other part of the subject, Works, I must leave for the next paper.
*i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)