I can not understand faith. What is faith, anyway? I try to believe; sometimes I feel that my faith is strong, but at other times I feel that my faith is giving way. Can you help me in this matter? Faith seems such a hazy, intangible, elusive thing; now I think I have it, now it seems certain I have it not. I feel at times that my faith is so strong I could believe anything, then again I feel that every bit of faith I had is gone. Can you give me any instructions that will help me?
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Suppose we imagine we have an invitation to visit Caleb today (Numbers 13:30; Joshua 14:6-14), and we embrace the opportunity.
We should expect to find the old warrior at home on such a day because it is bright and fair; he did the most of his fighting in bad weather. It is not far to Hebron, where he makes his home. See, we are there now! Isn't the prospect from here beautiful and inspiring! To the north along the ridge is Bethlehem and Jerusalem; to the east the silvery waters of the Dead Sea glitter in the sun; westward is Gath, where Goliath the giant came from; and to the south is Beersheba.
Tell us, Caleb, some of your experiences in Canaan.
"Forty and five years ago I first saw Hebron. It was when Moses had sent twelve spies, of whom I was one, to determine the character of the people and land of Canaan. Long ago our father Abraham trod this soil, and God Almighty promised to give it to him and his seed for an everlasting inheritance. When I first heard of Canaan, down in Egypt, my faith was strong that it was a good land, flowing with milk and honey, as God said, and I longed to set foot upon it.
"When we twelve first left Kadesh-barnea for Canaan [Numbers 13:1-3, 17-33], I noticed that ten of the spies kept close together; but Joshua and I were eager to see all that we could of the land, and we ranged as far and wide as we could. Not far from where your feet rest now we got our first sight of the Anakims, giants of Canaan. They were giants indeed. Their legs looked like tree-trunks, and covering their faces was a dense growth of beard out of which their eyes gleamed like crystals in a haystack. The sight of them set my heart all aflutter, because I knew at once that they were very dangerous foes, not easily reckoned with. We were very cautious that they should not see us, and I must say that part of our company trembled violently with fear and, as soon as we got away a little distance, they ran with all their might.
"But something in my heart said that if God gave this land to Israel, then God would give us power over the Anakims, no matter how many or how strong they were.
"By and by we came to the walled cities. Joshua and I talked over the matter of taking them. While we could not see just how we were to do it, we decided that, since God had unmistakably promised the land to Abraham, and since He had already marvelously delivered us from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and his dark bondage, and since He had helped us along through the wilderness and now had brought us to the very borders of the land, surely He expected us to have Canaan. And this I told to the others.
"'We can never take it,' they said, 'never in the world. Let us get out of here and back into Egypt as quickly as we can. We feel so faint. We can not conquer such a country. Why, see those giants, we are no bigger than grasshoppers by the side of them! And look at those walls, reaching almost to the sky! Let us get back.'
"'But if God said we should inherit this land, shall He not help us?' said Joshua and I.
"'We thought surely God promised us the land,' the ten replied. 'But we did not expect to have to fight for it. We supposed God would just give it to us without any fighting or trouble on our part.'
"'Oh, no, God never promised Canaan without a battle,' we replied. 'But He will help us fight, then we shall properly appreciate both God and Canaan and the fighting will make us stronger.'
"Well, we could not convince them, and our arguments fell upon very impervious minds, hardened as they were by unbelief and doubting [Numbers 14].
"Then for forty years we wandered in the black wilderness.
"Five years ago we crossed the Jordan, blessed be God. Those were great days in Canaan! God was very near us, and our foes trembled. Jericho fell down, Ai was taken, kings of darkness and giants of iniquity melted before the army of the Lord, until the land was in our possession.
"Then I went to Joshua and made known my request for Hebron, my home in Canaan. There were several giants making Hebron their home, and I was eager to dispossess them; for I liked the situation. Joshua gave me permission, and I marched toward it fully confident that our God would help me.
"There is no use to tell you the rest. Here am I, by God's help, at home in my possession. The giants are dead, and I hold peaceable possession by right of divine promise, the oath that God swore to our father Abraham that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life [Luke 1:74, 75]. Thanks be to God for His great gift!"
We may visit Caleb again, since the recital of his conflicts and victories has uplifted our souls so greatly.
You say you can not understand faith. Let me ask you if you can understand joy? or sorrow? or a heartache? or rapturous rejoicing? Can you find the cubic contents of anger? or measure love in bushels or weigh it on scales? And because these things are intangible and elusive, do you think they are not real? Indeed not! You love someone, and while you can not cube your love, nor weigh it, the reality of it you never question. So also with acts or decisions of your will. Who ever saw a will in action? And yet the outer life, in all its forms, is proof enough that a will has been functioning all the while.
Now faith is the same kind of thing as joy and love. It belongs to that family of intangible, unseen realities of life. They have to do with the spiritual part of our nature, and through them we rise higher or sink lower than we can through any mere physical feelings or actions. Faith, joy, love, are spiritual qualities, spiritual things, things of the soul, affecting it favorably or adversely according as they themselves are affected by causes good or bad. Doubt, unbelief, anger, wrong ambition, pride, and such are as intangible as are faith and love, but they are at the opposite pole.
Faith is no harder to understand than is doubt. Faith is believing, and doubt is not believing. One is the opposite of the other, just as heaven and hell are opposites. Considering doubters more closely, we find that doubters believe; but they believe the opposite of what they should believe. Doubters believe the wrong thing. A doubter is one who could and ought to believe facts, but for some reason or other can not bring himself to do it. Instead, he believes another set of things, which appear to be facts but are not.
Let us illustrate faith and doubt. You pick up a newspaper this morning and read that a fire destroyed a hotel in Chicago and four persons were burned, that a train ran off the track in Iowa and no one was hurt, and that a Congressman from Florida died. Do you doubt these facts or believe them! If you believe them, that is proof that you have faith. You look at the almanac and find it says that tomorrow there will be an eclipse. If you prepare to look at the sun through smoked glass, it is proof that you have faith. If you receive a letter stating that your uncle John died and feel sad at the thought of his leaving his family in destitute circumstances, it is proof that you have faith. If someone in your place of business brings you a report that fire has destroyed your warehouse and you feel at once the loss, it is proof that you have faith.
Then, of course, there are things which you doubt. You are told that some one has discovered perpetual motion. You smile, and do not believe it. You doubt. Doubt is simply the opposite of faith.
Now to show or illustrate how faith works instantaneously always, let us suppose you are a parent and one of your children is lost. It is your youngest child but one. You have hunted until you are exhausted, and find no trace of the child. Your heart is sick; a load as heavy as lead bears down upon you. You can think of a dozen different things that could have happened to the child; he may have been kidnapped, may have been run over and killed, may have fallen into the water and drowned, may be weeping his heart out somewhere. At last the whole neighborhood gets out to search, and you, exhausted, sit impatiently waiting. By and by you hear some one halloo. Then you hear another. And then some one runs up excitedly and says, "The child is found, safe." The very moment you believe that news the load lifts, the heart is light, the soul is happy. Tears of joy flow freely.
But suppose it proves a premature report, and by and by another comes and says it is a mistake, that the child was found dead. Then all your joy is turned immediately to sadness. Faith always works instantaneously.
The quickness with which faith works has been illustrated by this: Suppose some one rushes into an office of philosophical, higher-critical professors, and cries, "Fire!" You would see those hard-boiled skeptics, if they believed the cry, rush unceremoniously and indecorously out of that building with all speed. People may scoff at faith working with lightning speed; but every exhibition of it only proves that it does.
Now you mentioned that at times you feel as though you believe strongly, and at other times you feel as though your faith is leaving you. You are making a great mistake mixing up your faith with your feelings. They never did mix; and all who try to mix them only get into trouble; for faith is one thing and feelings are another.
The only way for you to know that you have faith is to believe something. Do you believe anything? If so, then you have faith. Do you believe in God? Then you have faith in God. Faith is believing, just as seeing is seeing and hearing is hearing. If you see something, you know you have sight; if you hear something, you know you have your hearing; and if you believe, you have faith.
Faith in God is just like faith in anything else. God has said He will do or has done something for you. Do you believe He has done something for you? Do you believe He has done or will do that thing? If so, that is faith.
For instance, you have repented of all your sins and have asked God to forgive them. He has said that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). Do you believe this? You say, "Yes." Well, then, you have faith, and "by grace are ye saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8), and, "therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). And, moreover, "he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10); or, in other words, when you believe you know it, and God does for you what He promises to do.
The same reasoning holds good in entire sanctification. The conditions are consecration and faith. You are to put all on the altar, and ask and trust God to do the cleansing and give you the filling of the Spirit. Have you thus consecrated? Have you given all? If you say yes, then do you believe that God sanctifies you wholly? If you do, you have faith, and you are sanctified wholly, because God can not lie nor fail.
Faith in God, then, is believing God's Word, the Bible. Whenever you obey the Bible and meet the conditions laid down therein for any blessing promised, you may then believe that God does or is doing for you whatever He has there promised. And when you believe, you will have all joy and peace in believing, you will enjoy the riches of God's grace, and He will work in you mightily, as He does in all those who believe (Ephesians 1:19).