To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God…
1. It is commonly said that what are called the distinguishing doctrines of Christianity are rather found in the Epistles than in the Gospels, and the reason is that Christ came not to speak the gospel, but to be the Gospel. Yet if anybody asks us where did Paul get the doctrines which he preached, the answer is, Here, on the road to Damascus, when he saw his Lord, and heard Him speak. These words spoken then are the germ of all Paul's Epistles. Man's ruin, man's depravity, the state of darkness, the power of Satan, the sole redemptive work of Christ, justification by belief in that, sanctification coming with justification; and glory, and rest, and heaven at last — there they all are in the very first words that sounded upon the quickened ear of the blinded man when he turned from darkness to light.
2. To the one part of this comprehensive summary I turn. The word "faith" is so often on our lips that it has come to be almost meaningless in many minds. These keywords of Scripture meet the same fate as do coins that have been long in circulation. They pass through so many fingers that the inscriptions get worn off them.
I. THE OBJECT OF FAITH IS CHRIST.
1. Christianity is not merely a system of truths about God, nor a code of morality deducible from these, but the affiance and the confidence of the whole spirit fixed upon the redeeming, revealing Christ. True, the object of our faith is Christ as made known to us in the facts of His recorded life and the teaching of His apostles. Apart from them the image of Christ must stand a pale colourless phantom before the mind, and the faith which is directed towards such a nebula will be as impotent as the shadow towards which it turns. Thus far, then, the attempt which is made to establish a Christianity without doctrines on the plea that the object of faith is not a proposition, but a person, must be regarded as nugatory; for how can the "person" be an object of thought at all, but through the despised "propositions"? But notwithstanding this, it is He, and not the statements about Him, who is the object of faith.
2. Look at His own words. He does not merely say, Believe this, that, and the other thing about Me; but believe in Me! "He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and He that believeth in Me shall never thirst." I think that if people rightly grasped this truth, it would clear away rolling wreaths of fog and mist from their perceptions of the gospel — that Christ is it, and that the object of faith is not simply the truths that are recorded here in the Word, but He with regard to whom these truths are recorded. The whole feeling and attitude of a man's mind is different, according as he is trusting a person, or according as he is believing something about a person.
3. What a strong inference with regard to the Divinity of Christ is deducible from this! In the Old Testament you find constantly, "Trust ye in the Lord forever"; "Put thy trust in Jehovah!" Religion has always been the same in every dispensation. It has always been true that it has been faith which has bound man to God, and given man hope. But when we come to the New Testament, the centre is shifted. With calm, simple, profound dignity, Christ lays His hand upon all the ancient and consecrated words, and says, "They are Mine — give them to Me! That ancient trust, I claim the right to have it. That old obedience, it belongs to Me. I am He to whom in all time the loving hearts of them that loved God have set. I am the Angel of the Covenant, in whom whoever trusteth shall never be confounded!" And I ask you just to take that one simple fact, that Christ steps into the place filled by Jehovah; and ask yourselves honestly what theory about Christ's nature and person and work explains that fact, and saves Him from the charge of folly and blasphemy? The object of faith is. Christ; and as object of faith He must needs be Divine.
II. THE NATURE AND THE ESSENCE OF THE ACT OF FAITH ITSELF.
1. If the object of faith were certain truths, the assent of the understanding would be enough; if unseen things, the confident persuasion of them would be sufficient; if promises of future good, the hope rising to certainty of the possession of these would be sufficient; but if the object be a living person, then it follows that faith is the personal relation of him that believes to the living Person its object, viz., trust.
2. By laying hold of that simple principle, we get light upon the grandest truths of the gospel. It is the very same kind of feeling, though different in degree, and glorified, as that which we all know how to put forth in our relations with one other. When the child looks up into the mother's face, the symbol to it of all protection; or into the father's eye, the symbol to it of all authority, that emotion by which the little one hangs upon the loving hand and trusts the loving heart is the same as the one which, glorified and made Divine, rises strong and immortal in its power, when fixed and fastened on Christ, and saves the soul. The gospel rest upon a mystery, but the practical part of it is no mystery.
3. And if this be the very heart and kernel of the Christian doctrine of faith, all the subsidiary meanings and uses of the Word flow out of that, whilst it cannot be explained by any of them. People are in the habit of setting up antitheses betwixt faith and reason, faith and sight, faith and possession. But the root from which springs the power of faith as the opposite of sight, as the telescope of reason, as the confidence of things not possessed, is the deeper thing — faith in the Person, which leads us to believe Him whether He promises, reveals, or commands, and to take His words as verity because He is "the Truth."
4. And then, again, if this personal trust in Christ be faith, then there come also, closely connected with it, certain other feelings in the heart. For instance, if I am trusting to Christ, there is inseparably linked with it self-distrust, and it will obviously have for its certain and immediate consequence, love.
III. THE POWER OF FAITH. If a man believes, he is saved. Why so? Not as some people sometimes seem to fancy — not as if in faith itself there was any merit. What is that but the whole doctrine of works in a new form? When we say we are saved by faith, we mean, accurately, through faith. Faith is simply the channel through which there flows over into my emptiness the Divine fulness, or the hand which is held up to receive the benefit which Christ lays in it.
IV. THE GUILT AND CRIMINALITY OF UNBELIEF. People are sometimes disposed to fancy that God has arbitrarily selected this as the means of salvation, but the principles that I have been trying to work out help us to see that it is not so. There is no other way of effecting it. God could not do it in any other way than that, the fulness being provided, the condition of receiving it should be trust in His Son. And next they show where the guilt of unbelief lies. Faith is not first and principally an act of the understanding; it is not the mere assent to certain truths. It is the will, the heart, the whole moral being, that is concerned. Why does a man not trust Jesus Christ? Because he will not; because he has confidence in himself; because he has not a sense of his own sins; because he has not love in his heart to his Lord and Saviour. Unbelief men are responsible for. Unbelief is criminal, because it is a moral act. And therefore Christ, who says, "Sanctified by faith that is in Me," says likewise, "He that believeth not, shall be condemned."
(A Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
WEB: to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'