Where the "If" Lies
“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”— Mark ix. 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, “The ‘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 question— Canst 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 favour 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 question— WHAT 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 no explanations, 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 be 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 Saviour 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 willing 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, tor 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 a w a y a n d 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 honour 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 saviour 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 Saviour 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 it— that is saving faith. To see Christ as such a Saviour as thou needest, able and willing to save thee, is a right good sight, but thou must also take this Saviour 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.”
“Thou canst, thou wilt (I dare not doubt),
Th’ indwelling demons chase;
I trust thy power to cast them out,
I trust thy pardoning grace.”
He that trusts in Jesus is saved. I said not, “he shall be saved,” but he is saved. “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life.” “He that believeth in him is justified from all things, from which he could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
Will you please to notice about this man’s faith that it was not perfect faith. Though it obtained for him the healing of his son, it was weak faith, and for its weakness he was blamable; but the faultiness of his faith was not the destruction of his faith. A feeble faith can receive a mighty Saviour, even as a beggar with a palsied hand can receive a golden gift. An heir to an estate has as good a title to it when he is a child as he will have when he is grown up, and even so little faith possesses the inheritance, though as yet it be a babe. The anxious father had to cry, “Lord, help my unbelief,” but that unbelief, confessed and lamented, did not shut him out of the blessing. The unbelief which lingers around our faith is a thing to be got rid of by the help of Christ, but still it will not destroy the virtue of the faith which we possess. So, dear friend, if thy faith in Jesus Christ amounts to this, that thou believest him able to save, and thou dost therefore trust him, thou art a saved man, even though thou mayest be staggered with a host of fears, and troubled with a multitude of sins. Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace; for that faith of thine shall grow from a mustard-seed into a far-spreading tree. I would that thou couldst take Jesus up into thine arms as Simeon did, for then wouldst thou say with full assurance, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” But if thou canst nut do so much as that, at least stretch out thy finger and touch the hem of the Lord’s garment; for if thou dost but touch his clothes thou shalt be made whole. The faintest contact with the ever-blessed Christ will open up a way by which saving power will How out of him into thee. Oh, how blessed it is to think that God hath ordained this plain way of faith for poor sinners! It is of faith that it might be of grace, to the end that the promise might be sure to all the chosen seed.
This faith in the Lord Jesus ought to be to each one of us the easiest, thing in all the world. If we were what we ought to be it would never occur to us to doubt our Lord Jesus; and our shameful unbelief of him is the most conclusive evidence of our need of him, for we must have become grievously wrong in heart to be forced to admit that we find it difficult to believe in Jesus. What an insult to him! What a crime on our part! Remember the whole story of grace and blush for your wicked unbelief. God, the ever-blessed, whom we had offended, sent his dear Son to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and he dwelt here among us as our brother, friend, and helper. In the fulness of time he took upon himself our sin and sorrow, and went up to the cross with the awful load of our guilt. Though still the well-beloved Son of the Father, he suffered even unto death in the room and stead of his people, and God’s record concerning him is that he has set him forth as the propitiation for sin. God has accepted his atonement, will not sinners accept it? This is the Saviour; God has ordained him such: will not the sinner agree that Jesus should save him? It not, why not? If we were not fallen to the uttermost degree of depravity we should cry out with delight, “Lord, we believe. Blessed be the dear name of Jesus, our Substitute, we can and do trust him. We are quite sure if the Lord God has made Jesus to be his salvation to the ends of the earth he must be a perfect salvation; therefore we accept him with joy and delight.” But this is the curse of our nature, the innate vice of our hearts, that we cannot believe our God, thus making him a liar. Oh, the horror of suspecting his truth whom angels adore with veiled faces! Oh, the daring presumption of questioning the promise of a faithful God! It is horrible, horrible, horrible to the last degree to mistrust the Almighty Father, to doubt his bleeding Son! There ought to be no room for an “if” when we know that in the Lord Jesus all fulness dwells. I am not at this moment speaking to those who reject the word of God, and deny the Deity of Christ: I can understand their position, and deal with them another time; but I am now speaking to you who accept this Bible as God’s word, and unquestioningly believe that Jesus Christ is divine: to you I say that your refusal to put your trust in him is without excuse; at least, I cannot find an excuse for you. Remember those telling words of the Lord Jesus— “If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me?” If you believe Jesus to be the Son of God and the Saviour of men, why do you not trust your own soul with him? Why not at this moment confide in him whom you admit to be worthy of your trust?
II. I have tried thus to explain the nature of faith. I will now, in the second place, deal with the startling question, How is IT THAT FAITH CAN BE DIFFICULT? It certainly is difficult to some. It cannot be so in itself, yet many in trouble of heart find it to be so, and those that labour 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 minds — not 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 bad 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 into 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 seen, or done, or suffered. To trust their God, to rely upon the atonement of his Son— this 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 say— What! 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 live 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 look 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 honour than the cherubim 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 me— is 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 certainly 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 except, 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—
“Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who hath grace so rich and free?”
Salvation pitched in such a key as this, given freely to whosoever believeth in Jesus! Why, that is like the Lord, and we will accept it as having the divine stamp and impress upon it. He forgives like a God, and this does not stagger our faith, but confirms it.
Then, again, men are astounded by the rapidity of justification. Shall fifty years’ sinning be forgiven in a moment? Shall an instant’s believing end the guilty past, and commence a holy future? It is even so; in one instant a man begins a course of believing which introduces him into a new world. What is strange about this? Is it not God’s way to do wonders in a short time? He took but a week to fit up the earth for man; nay, six days sufficed, and on the seventh he rested. To make the light in which we rejoice, only needed for the Lord to say, “Let there be light.” In the case before us our Lord only said to the demon, “I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him,” and the deed was done. If we had all time at our disposal, we could not work such wonders, but to God there are no limits as to length or brevity of time. A thousand years are to him as one day, and one day as a thousand years. He speaks, and it is done. Think of it— salvation in a moment! The moment a sinner believes he lives unto God, and his trespasses are forgiven. Oh sinner! why shouldest thou doubt it? Yet we cannot get the conscience-stricken one to believe it.
If we lead our friends out of this difficulty, they plunge into another. They cannot be satisfied with the word of God alone as the ground for their faith. Why do I believe that I am saved? I know that I am saved because the word of God says, “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life and I do believe in Jesus, and therefore I have everlasting life. “But,” saith one, “if I had that word applied to me with power, then I could and would believe it.” Just so; but until then you refuse to believe the promise of God, and treat him as a liar! God must needs give you some pledge or bond beyond his promise, because his word is not good enough for you, though you admit that even with a good man his word is his bond. You cannot trust your God. “Oh, but if I had a dream.” Just so. You would have more faith in a silly dream, perhaps caused by indigestion, than you have in the solemn word and written promise of God. “Oh, sir, but if an angel were to speak to me, I could believe.” Just so; and if God does not choose to send the angels, what then? Then he is not to be believed, but treated as a liar. What is this but saying, “Lord, thou shalt bow to my whims, or else I will not believe a word thou sayest?” Is it come to this? Dare you demand signs of God? Then let me ask you— Is this Book God’s word? Say “No,” and I can understand your conduct; but if you believe, as I know you do, that this is the very word of God, how dare you disbelieve? If all the angels in heaven were to march by me in a file, and assure me that God would keep his word, I should say, “I did not require you to tell me that, for the Lord never fails to be as good as his word.” God is so true that the witness of angels would be a superfluity. If my father were to make a statement, I certainly should not call in his servant to confirm it. If this book be dictated by the Holy Spirit, it is ours to believe it without demanding confirmations or applications. Let us say, “That word is true, for God hath said it. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners: I am a sinner, and I trust him to save me. Inasmuch as the word says, ‘To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name;’ I do believe on his name, and therefore I have the power and privilege to become a child of God, and a child of God I am. God says so: that is enough for me.” We cannot get men to see that the word of the Lord is surer than all signs and wonders— they want something in addition.
If we compel them to own that the word of God is the only and sufficient basis of faith, they straightway begin to look at their own believing as if it were the Saviour. They cry, “My faith is so wreak; my faith is so variable; my faith is so shaken,” and so forth. It is as if those who were bidden to look to the brazen serpent had, instead thereof, tried to see their own eyes. Here is a child thirsty, and there is a flowing fountain; you give the child a cup that it may drink of the water. The child does not go to the fountain, but is so pleased with its empty cup that it tries to satisfy its thirst out of it. What a foolish child! Or suppose it should refuse to go to the fountain because the cup was of earthenware, or of tin, would not that be a strange way for a thirsty child to act? A child needs the cup to drink out of, but it cannot drink out of an empty cup. Faith is the cup, but Christ is the fountain. Faith is a secondary thing compared with Christ. We must have faith to be as the finger with which we touch the hem of the Master’s garment, but the finger does not work the cure. Shall I refuse to touch because perhaps I have not washed my finger clean, or it has no gold ring upon it; or there are traces of rheumatism upon it? To attach so much importance to the finger as to refuse to touch Christ’s garment with it would be insanity. Do not mind your finger: touch the garment’s hem. Sinner, get you to Christ somehow, anyhow; for if you get to him you will live. It is not, after all, the greatness nor the perfection of your faith, it is his greatness and his perfection which is to be depended on.
Then the next trial is, that we cannot get troubled sinners to see the difference between their faith and its fruits. “I would believe in Christ,” says one, “if I were as holy as So-and-So, who is a believer, but then you see I am a sinner.” Now mark, dear friend, that the person of whom you speak in that fashion does not think himself to be one particle more deserving than you are. If you talk to that good man he will tell you that whatever holiness you can see in him is the work of grace, and that at the first he came to Jesus just as you must come, that is, as a sinner. Faith produces holiness; but when we come to Jesus, at the first we come as unholy persons, and as such he receives us. Suppose that I have a number of bulbs which I am told will produce most remarkable flowers; if I believe the statement I shall take care to have them properly planted. The gardeners are beginning to put such things into pots, that they may have hyacinths and other fair flowers in the winter and early spring. Suppose that I resolve not to plant my bulbs, because I use my own eyesight, and come to the conclusion that as I cannot see a hyacinth or even the beginnings of one in any of the bulbs, therefore there can be no use in planting them. Why, everyone would tell me that in this matter I must go by faith, and plant my hyacinth in order that I may in due time see it bloom. “That bulb will yield a beautiful blue flower,” says one. I answer that it is a brown, dried-up sort of onion, and that I shall throw it on the dunghill, for I can see no bud or flower in it. What a simpleton I should be if I talked so! Though I cannot see it, yet there is, closely compacted and quietly hidden away within that bulb, a slumbering thing of beauty which will wake up at the call of spring. Even so, if thou believest in Christ, there is a holy life packed away within thy faith, and it will gradually develop itself. Even within a feeble faith there are the elements of ultimate perfection. If thou dost truly trust Christ, thy preparation for glory has begun. As the king was hidden in the oak so is Christ hidden in true faith. Do not, however, expect to see all this at the first: look to the root now and the growth will follow. You are not to come to Christ because you are healed, but to get healing; your faith must be a sinner’s faith before it can be a saint’s faith. Trust Christ while yet you are foul, lost, and undone, and he will wash, save, and restore you.
Still we find the awakened ones clinging to the idea that they must be something or feel something before they may trust Jesus. We cannot get them to see that the whole of their salvation lies in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone. We cannot wean them from some sort of reliance upon their own feelings, or weepings, or prayers, or Bible-readings, or some other form of working. Why, they will even look to their own faith rather than to Jesus Christ alone. Know ye not that our Lord has offered a full atonement for sin, and brought in a perfect righteousness for his people? His propitiation is to be accepted as full and complete, and his righteousness we are to wear as our own. Our whole trust must go to the perfect work of our Lord, it must not even rest on our faith. To trust in our own trusting would be absurd. A wounded man has healing ointment given him and a piece of linen with which to bind on the ointment; now, if he were to wrap the linen around the wound and leave out the healing agent, he could not expect a cure. Faith is the linen whereon the ointment of Christ is spread, and we must not put it out of its due place and order, or we shall be making it a rival to Christ. Oh, that I could clear up some of the difficulties with which men surround themselves, so that they would consent to look out of themselves to Jesus only!
III. We must now speak to the last point. Oh, you that are seeking rest, dwell upon each word as it is now lovingly delivered to you. WHAT IS IT THAT CAN MAKE FAITH EASY? 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 lie, 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 labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We labour 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 born, 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 Saviour 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 splendour— a splendour of which we read— “when they saw him they were amazed.” A sight of our Saviour’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 Saviour. “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 ail 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.
“The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may you, though vile as he,
Wash all your sins away.”
“I have been an adulterer,” saith one. Alas! so was David, but he said, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” “I have been a murderer,” sobs a third. So was Manasseh, who shed innocent blood very much. “But I have been a persecutor and a blasphemer.” So was Saul of Tarsus, yet he obtained mercy. “But I seem to have far more of the devil in me than anybody else.” So had Mary Magdalene, out of whom Christ cast seven devils. You think you are a sinner all by yourself, but there have been others like you, and the door through which others have passed into mercy is open for you. If I had been a little rabbit in the day when Noah brought the living creatures into the ark, I do not think I should have been troubled about whether there was room for me to enter the ark; but if I had been so timid I should have forgotten all my fears when I saw the elephant come up and his mate with him, and had seen them go tramping through the door. Then I should have known assuredly that there was room for me. Oh, you who have been kept moral and upright, and therefore are not outwardly great sinners, surely you may enter where the chief of sinners have found ready admission. The salvation of others is often a sweet encouragement to sinners to trust in Christ.
Lastly, I will tell you one thing which will make you trust him, and that is, desperation as to all other hopes. It is a singular thing that despair is often the mother of faith, but the mother dies when the child is born. We were many of us led to believe in Jesus because we had nothing else to trust in. When we are driven to the last extremity, then it is we come to Jesus, and take him to be our all in all. A boy was awakened in a house which had taken fire. He could be seen from the street, poor child, and his danger was great indeed. He rushed to the window: his father stood below and called to him to drop into his arms; but it was a long way down, and the child was afraid. He clung to the window, but dared not drop. Do you know what made him let go his hold and fall into his father’s arms? There came a burst of fire out of the window and scorched him, and then he dropped directly. I wish that some of you would get just such a touch of the fires of despair as to compel you to say:
“I can but perish if I go;
I am resolved to try,
For if I stay away I know
I must for ever die.”
Years ago one of our students was greatly emaciated with what seemed to be consumption. He had heard of a certain medicine which was said to be useful in such cases, but he had no faith in it. When he was growing worse and worse I said, “Brother, you are at death’s door; try that man’s stuff. There may be something in it. At any rate, nothing else does you any good.” He took the medicine through sheer despair, of all other prescriptions, and God blessed it to him so that he is alive at this day. He would never have tried the remedy if he had not felt that there was no other hope. Even so, it will be well for you to be driven into a corner as to your soul’s estate, that you may believe in Christ Jesus and say with his disciples in old time, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Here is a closing verse for you to sing at home by yourself
“A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On Christ’s kind arms I fall;
He is my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus and my all.”