69 The Nature And Ground Of Faith
“O Lord, my God, mine Holy One! We shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and O, mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.”—Habakkuk 1:12
This is truly the language of faith. To say, in faith and feeling, “O Lord my God,” is a blessed thing, and also to feel assured that you will not die. Christ says, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” And it was on this ground that Habakkuk’s faith was built: “Art thou not from everlasting?” Some speak about faith as though it were a mere trifle, a bauble, or a toy, and that they could use it as their fleshly nature felt disposed; as if they could take it up and lay it down at their pleasure. But this is an awful delusion. Such men are entirely ignorant of vital faith. They cannot, with such fleshly ideas, rightly say, “O God, thou art my God.” But the language of our text truly bespeaks the convincing power of precious faith living in the heart: “My God.”
1. Let us consider the nature and ground of this faith.
2. The claim faith makes: “My God.”
3. The conclusion faith comes to: “We shall not die,” though “we are ordained for judgment, and established for correction,” and though faith seems sometimes at a distance from us, and we are ready to say, “Ah! Why all this judgment, and why all this correction? Why are we thus taken through the furnace of affliction? But faith anon comes with power, and we see our everlasting security in Christ, and are enabled to draw the blessed conclusion,’ “We shall’ not die.”
1. The nature and ground of faith. The Pharisee of old thought he had great faith, and talked largely of his goodness; but he was deceiving his own soul; he was unacquainted with the operations of divine faith. While he was thus boasting of his goodness, the poor publican could not say anything; he was, as it were, struck dumb; and, perhaps, while thus trembling with fear, he was wishing he was half as good as his friend opposite. But no. He felt that he had no righteousness of his own that he could bring to God; he felt himself destitute of faith and all that was good, and durst not even so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, and groaned out, “God be merciful tome, a sinner.” Thus we see that vital faith is of such a nature that it stops the mouth from speaking such high- flown language as the self-righteous, who think they can pray and believe, and can command all good gifts and graces; all are at their control; they can take them, and make use of them, or reject them at their pleasure. They are too proud to receive these as gifts. Their faith being presumption, not vital faith, can act with self-control in these matters. But ah! Vital faith cannot swell itself thus big with importance. The mouth of the sinner is stopped, under feelings of his own sinfumess and helplessness; but the heart is enlarged, and is led to taste of the rich bounty, which God has provided for his people; and the application of Christ’s blood completes the cure of his malady. A dreadful sore in the flesh may probably receive probing before it can heal, on account of the foulness that may he in it; and though it is a painful operation it must first be probed, or it will not heal. So it is with the Christian. His false hopes must first be rooted up, his fleshly pride brought down, and he must be humbled in the dust under a sense of his lost condition and his awful malady as a sinner; then the blood of the Lamb cures his malady: “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth him from all sin.” Not a tittle is left for us to manufacture, or work out a part of the cure by good deeds, &c. “What!” some will say. “Will not piety in us, charity to all mankind, and love to our neighbours, make us pure in his sight, and blot out those stains of sin and guilt?” No; for the core is impure, and nothing less than divine unction will effect the cure. This then is the nature of faith.
And now notice the ground of faith. God hath taken a solemn oath, in making the covenant for his people, that all the seed of Abraham should be saved: “And because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself;” thus confirming his engagement with an oath. And faith rests there, feeling that Christ is the only Saviour by covenant love; and though sin assail the believer, and sometimes he doubts and fears, yet, eventually, he is brought to see that Christ is for him, and such as he only; his atoning blood is the only basis whereon he can rest his soul; and is his only ground of faith.
2. The claim faith makes. We have noticed the language of faith; and now, that we may better illustrate our meaning on this head, let us compare it to the husband and wife. While the husband is at home with his wife she can converse with him, and his soothing language will cheer her spirits, and console her in her trying moments by his unremitting kind attentions. Thus they sweetly commune together and enjoy each other’s company. She needs not then the exercise of faith to believe that she has a kind and affectionate husband; for he is with her. But suppose he is away, at a distance, where troubled seas roll between them, and that during his absence there should rise storms and tempests; this may cause the anxious loving wife much trouble, and she is ready to believe her husband may be lost, she a widow and destitute. This apparent transition of her circumstances and situation requires the exercise of faith to believe that he is yet alive,—a tender and loving husband. But, though billows roll between them, his mind is fixed on her, and he loves her still; and she still claims him as her husband. This seems to have been the case with Jerusalem. God had for a while hid his face, and they were desolate of comfort. All was wretchedness and misery. But amidst these trying circumstances, the prophet is enabled, by faith, to look to God, believing that he is from everlasting his Lord and his God, his Holy One. Therefore he should not die. He not only desires to know God as the God of nature, the God of providence, and the God of grace, but as his own God.
3. The conclusion faith comes to: “We shall not die.” “Thou hast ordained them for judgment, and established them for correction.” This may refer, first, to the designs of God in providence; secondly, to the wicked; thirdly, to the people of God.
First. The designs of God in providence. How prone is human nature to repine at the dispensations of God’s providence. If they are poor, they wish to be rich. If they are rich, they are tormented by the poor, and fear of losing their property. If one is bereaved of a member of his family, he repines at his loss. If he is sick, he frets and desires to be soon well. If he experiences hardships, he is impatient and murmurs. How few consider that sin has brought all these troubles into the world; that even the ground is cursed for man’s sake, and that man is born to trouble, and must live by the sweat of his brow. O could men but look to the Lord, whose ever watchful eye surveys all our actions, and who does not willingly afflict the children of men, then would they cease their murmurings. See the rebellious children of Israel. Although the Lord led them by the pillar of the cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, and conducted them dry shod through the Red Sea, and sent them bread to eat and water to drink; yet, notwithstanding, they murmured, and remembered the flesh-pots of Egypt. And the Lord bore with their manners in the wilderness forty years. Thus are the dispensations of the Lord’s providence ordained for judgment and established for correction.
Secondly, it may refer to the wicked. God is all wise, and just, and good, and all things are ordained by him, in the counsels of his providence, for a wise purpose. “He knoweth the end from the beginning;” “He hath made all things for himself; even the wicked for the day of evil.” It is wise, just, and good that all things are all ordered after the council of his own will. The wicked condemn the righteous, or their malicious projects would not exist. But they will one day have to stand before the awful tribunal of a just and holy God, the Judge of all. Their actions will be weighed in a balance, and, being found wanting, the awful sentence, “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity; I never knew you,” will be pronounced against them, and they will be hurled from the presence of Jehovah, to spend eternity in everlasting punishment. They are thus ordained for judgment and established for correction.
Thirdly, it refers to the people of God. The people of God are a peculiar people. Their ways and their experience, their language and their opinions, are peculiarly different to those of other men. They are the third part which shall he brought through the fire,—the fiery trial of affliction. “Through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom.” The other two parts—the nominal professor and the profane, are both estranged from God. A life of ease, a calm undisturbed mind is all they desire. “The wicked have no bands in their death: they are not plagued like other men.” They get into a profession of religion and the full assurance of faith without any bands, any strugglings, any feeling of the plague of sin or of their own hearts. The profane delight in sin. “The fear of God is not before their eyes.” But the people of God have troubles on every side, from without and from within. They are often in perplexity and doubt, and feel the plague of sin and of their evil hearts. They loathe the pleasures of this world and the evils thereof. They die daily; and how can they who are dead to sin live any longer therein? They wade through judgments and corrections; and thus become cleansed from the dross and sin of their corrupt nature, and purified by the blood of Jesus, even as he is pure.—Manchester.
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist. John Hazelton wrote of him—
“[Gadsby’s] labours extended to well-nigh every part of the country, and who by his sermons, hymns, and other writings, exerted a wide spiritual influence, and his interest in the poor and needy in Lancashire and elsewhere rendered his public advocacy of their cause of great value. In him we have a man of eminent public spirit, as well as of originality and spiritual force…The first time he preached was in 1798, in an upper room in a yard at Bedworth, from the words, "Unto you therefore which believe, He is precious." His Hymn Book, now so widely known, was first published in 1814, his desire being "to have a selection of hymns free from Arminianism and sound in the faith, that the Church might be edified and God glorified.” He removed to Manchester in 1805, and while over the Church there he travelled over 60,000 miles and preached nearly 12,000 sermons.”