Mighty Faith Needed
By James A. Stewart
One is challenged as he strolls along the corridors of the National Portrait Gallery of heroes and heroines portrayed for him in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Here one finds on every hand buoyant, energetic, dynamic faith at work in the history of God’s people. What a contrast to the sleeping, useless Christians one finds everywhere today who are passive in their lives and contribute nothing to the advance of the church of Jesus Christ.
The reason for this difference is not far to seek; men and women of God today do not exercise faith as did His people of old. Faith is the secret of buoyancy, for it is by faith that God’s people become strong and do exploits. As J. H. Jowett says:
"In our Christian warfare we are to stop at nothing. To believers in Christ the impossible is to shine in the attractive light of a glorious assurance. We are to march against terrific and hoary fortresses in the joyful certainty that we can overturn them to their deepest and most secret foundations.
"‘Mighty to the pulling down of strongholds,’ is to be the shining distinction of the army of the Lord. This army is to move against the impossible and, by the very character of its stride, it is to compel the world to believe that the impossible is already being accomplished.
"The church is not here to do what anybody else can do. She is not one of a hundred institutions, standing with them in common rank and file. The church does not share her errand. She stands alone, her mission being to do the impossible; to achieve wonders of which no other fellowship ever dreams."
Only a man or woman of faith can accomplish the impossible and go forward to take the kingdom by force in the name of the conquering Christ. It is important, therefore, for us to understand the nature, the power and the possibilities of faith, for upon this depends the richness and depth of our Christian experience.
Strategic Importance of Faith
The word "faith" occurs 244 times in the New Testament; "faithful" 67 times and "believe" 247 times. The large number of occurrences, however, fails to fully suggest the strategic importance of this theme which holds a commanding position at every vital point of scriptural argument and appeal.
The matter of faith occurs at the key positions of our life of holiness. Its importance reminds us of a general in command of a great army whose authority and influence outweighs an unlimited number of soldiers who are under his command. At his word, whole regiments and battalions wheel into line. So it is with faith. We meet it in commanding positions in the Word of God and in every conceivable application to the Christian life and experience.
So important is faith to the believer that in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews we find it stated that without faith it is impossible to please God. Furthermore, it is implied throughout the whole chapter that without faith it is impossible to accomplish anything for God.
Enoch’s holy life is described in two sentences: he pleased God; he walked with God. To please God is the desire of every sanctified soul. Was it not Enoch’s steady walk day by day amidst a sinful people that pleased God? One cannot walk in communion with God without faith in Him. In connection with Enoch’s testimony the writer of Hebrews states, "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (v. 6).
Enoch believed God in a day when others scoffed at his faith. It is easy to believe that God was, after we have seen His mighty works, but can we, like Enoch of old, believe that God is alive and mighty today and that He is working through us in this crisis hour in the history of the church?
We are thrilled to the depths of our innermost beings when we read of what ordinary men and women in the National Portrait Gallery of Hebrews accomplished by faith. For by faith they:
Stopped the mouths of lions,
Quenched the violence of fire,
Escaped the edge of the sword,
Out of weakness were made strong,
Waxed valiant in fight,
Turned to flight the armies of the aliens" (vv. 33-34).
Without this energetic faith we cannot accomplish anything for God. I firmly believe that God wants us just now to step right into the pages of this glorious chapter and join the ranks of these mighty men and women of faith.
Millions are perishing, souls are going to hell all around us, the church of Jesus Christ is so weak, and many Christians are as powerless as a burnt-out volcano. If God is going to accomplish His work today, His people must have faith, for it is the man of faith that always gets the contract from God.
Faith links us up with the omnipotence of God, and makes us more than conquerors. It is the will of God that there should be a glorious "plus" in all our warfare today. The size of the task must never be a justification for our retreat.
The Meaning of Faith
Since faith is so important in the Christian life and battle, we must needs seek a more intimate knowledge of it. In order to understand the meaning of the word, we must go back and apply the rule of "the law of first mention" in connection with it. As you know, it is one of the principles of exegesis that the first occurrence of a word in the Scriptures usually throws light on its basic meaning.
The first mention of the word "faith" in the Bible is found in Genesis 15:6 where we read that Abram "believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness." The Lord God had given to Abram a promise of untold blessing which should certainly come to him through his seed, though at that time he had no child and was too old to have one.
But having received the promise from God, Abram "believed" God could perform the miracle it would take to fulfill His promise. Literally, Abram "amened" God. Yet, the thought of "amen" in the original word here does not mean "let it be so" as one often thinks, but a positive "it shall be so."
You have the same thought expressed by Paul when he faced shipwreck in a storm as he exclaimed, "Sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me" (Acts 27:25). In other words, Paul was saying, "I amen all that God has told me – it shall be so."
Let me share with you here four of my own definitions of faith which have helped me greatly during my more than forty years of Christian experience.
1. Faith is a response in a man’s heart to the promises of the Lord. We are told in Hebrews 11:13 that these old warriors "embraced the promises." They hugged them to their bosoms, declaring, "These promises are for us."
Now faith can operate only when it has a promise from God. Faith never looks at conditions or at symptoms. Faith depends on nothing of the natural. It is faith only when it sees nothing. It asks only one thing: that it may rest upon the Word of God. So then, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
When you go to prayer with your Bible in your hand, God speaks directly to you concerning His plans and purposes for your life. He never gives a command without an accompanying promise and this promise becomes the foundation of your faith: it is the confidence that what God has said He will perform. Faith in the heart cries out, "Amen, Lord, Thou hast said it; I embrace it and act upon it." Yes! Faith takes God at His Word.
2. Faith is the act of stepping out on the Word of God. By faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed. He did not wait for a map of the route, but set out at the call. Faith is active, never passive. As soon as a promise is obtained and embraced, faith begins to move out. We notice, however, that the saints of old never launched out without having the witness born to them that they were in God’s will; that they were called, chosen, and commissioned to do the thing which they were about to undertake.
But once the Spirit of God had spoken directly to them concerning God’s will for them, they stepped out in full confidence that "what He had promised, He was able also to perform" (Rom. 4:21).
It was this sort of faith that led George Müller to take responsibility for hundreds of orphans when he had no guarantee of material resources from which to feed them. It was active faith that prompted Hudson Taylor to challenge and lead forth scores of missionaries to China’s dark interior when he had only God’s command and promise on which to base his daring act.
And it is the same kind of faith that the Lord of the harvest seeks in His saints today, that through them He might do mighty exploits in the Savior’s name.
3. Faith is the attitude of mind and heart which causes a man to constantly regulate his life according to God’s promises to him. Faith is the organ of the soul through which man receives information of the Spirit upon which he shapes his creed, character and conduct. The Holy Spirit selects Enoch from a galaxy of heroes as a striking illustration of a man who regulated his life on a promise, or in response to a promise.
Enoch was the man who was caught away to heaven without dying. At one time God must have let it be known to him that such a rapture would occur, else the Scriptures would not have stated that Enoch was translated by faith. It would have been necessary for Enoch to have received such a promise from God for him to have had ground on which to exercise his faith.
Genesis 5:24 and Jude 14 and 15 indicate that Enoch believed in a rapture and the revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven with His saints. And believing this without knowing the time of its fulfillment caused Enoch to walk with God day in and day out in order to be ready.
One of the most thrilling stories in connection with the Welsh Revival of 1904 is that of young Evan Roberts’ determination to attend every prayer meeting possible, expecting each time to see the power of the Holy Spirit fall upon the group assembled there. Evan Roberts had received a definite word from God that revival was on the way and he regulated every event of his daily life to conform with this expectancy. One day his faith was rewarded, for the Holy Spirit came in operating power even as God had promised His servant He would do.
It is the missionary with a vision obtained from God concerning His plans and purposes for a certain place who stays unmovable when all signs point to a time for moving on. It is the man of faith who moves on to a different place at God’s command when all seems to be going so smoothly in his present place of service.
Every thought, every plan, every consideration of the man of faith is colored by the word of promise or command which God has spoken and every moment is regulated accordingly. And as Hudson Taylor used to say, "God’s man in God’s place doing God’s work will not lack God’s support."
4. Faith is the present rejoicing of the soul in contemplation of the future fulfillment of a promise of God. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
The word translated "substance" is of great interest. The discovery of the papyri has thrown a great flood light on ancient colloquial Greek. In it this word translated "substance" was often used for what we speak of as "title deeds" – documents which give a sure guarantee that what we are expecting to come into our possession will certainly be ours.
One may hope for all sort of things: building castles in the air and dreaming of becoming multimillionaires without there being the remotest chance of any such thing. But if we have in our possession the actual title deeds of a piece of property, which at that moment may be in possession of others, our hope is of a very different order.
With the title deeds we have an assurance that eventually the property will pass into our possession. Such is faith; it is the groundwork or substance which gives us the assurance that the things hoped for are in reality ours. Faith brings the future near and makes vivid the invisible.
For this reason, many giants of faith are often misunderstood by those of lesser vision. Men of faith talk and act as if the promise of God had already been fulfilled. For instance, they see buildings erected and souls saved in reality through the eye of faith. They no longer pray for these things, but rather rejoice in the fulfillment of what God has promised them.
A blessed pioneer missionary to Africa wrote home to Scotland requesting friends to send a communion set as one would be needed very shortly. This request was made at a time when there was not one soul saved as yet in that mission field, and yet the matter was made so urgent in the letter that the friends sent the coveted set away in the next post. When the parcel reached the missionary, there was a blessed band of redeemed ones to sit down together to commemorate the Lord’s death!
All the blessed men and women in Hebrews eleven looked through faith’s telescope and saw realities. Abraham, for example, "looked for a city...whose builder and maker is God" (v. 10). This holy city was so vivid in the eye of faith that he rejoiced in the present reality of being a citizen of that city. This caused him to be a pilgrim all his lifetime and filled his heart with joy.
Oh, that God would baptize us with the Spirit of Faith so that we would become resistless in battle and turn to flight the armies of the hosts of darkness! Oh, for a holy buoyancy and audacity of faith to invade Satan’s kingdom and rescue souls from his power!
Dear brother and sister, in this dark hour let us get alone with God and His blessed Book and let Him speak to us in a direct, definite way so that when we get up from our knees we will know that He has spoken to us personally by name. Then there will not be a shadow of doubt that we have heard from heaven. It is when we thus pray and receive a promise from God that faith becomes operative.
"Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees
And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries, ‘It shall be done!’"
– Taken from The Trumpet. Used by permission of Revival Literature, publisher of all the books of the late James A. Stewart, P.O. Box 6068, Asheville NC 28816, 800-252-8896, www.revivallit.org.