HABAKKUK, ii. 4.
"The just shall live by faith."
This is those texts of which there are so many in the Bible, which, though they were spoken originally to one particular man, yet are meant for every man. These words were spoken to Habakkuk, a Jewish prophet, to check him for his impatience under God's hand; but they are just as true for every man that ever was and ever will be as they were for him. They are world-wide and world-old; they are the law by which all goodness, and strength, and safety, stand either in men or angels, for it always was true, and always must be true, that if reasonable beings are to live at all, it is by faith.
And why? Because every thing that is, heaven and earth, men and angels, are all the work of God--of one God, infinite, almighty, all-wise, all-loving, unutterably glorious. My friends, we do not think enough of this,--not that all the thinking in the world can ever make us comprehend the majesty of our Heavenly Father; but we do not remember enough what we DO know of God. We think of God, watching the world and all things in it, and keeping them in order as a shepherd does his sheep, and so far so good; but we forget that God does more than this,--we forget that this earth, sun, and moon, and all the thousand thousand stars which cover the midnight sky,-- many of them suns larger than the sun we see, and worlds larger than the world on which we stand, that all these, stretching away millions of millions of miles into boundless space,--all are lying, like one little grain of dust, in the hollow of God's hand, and that if He were to shut His hand upon them, He could crush them into nothing, and God would be alone in the universe again, as He was before heaven and earth were made. Think of that!--that if God was but to will it, we, and this earth on which we stand, and the heaven above us, and the sun that shines on us, should vanish away, and be no-where and no-thing. Think of the infinite power of God, and then think how is it possible to LIVE, except by faith in Him, by trusting to Him utterly.
If you accustom yourselves to think in the same way of the infinite wisdom of God, and the infinite love of God, they will both teach you the same lesson; they will shew you that if you were the greatest, the wisest, the holiest man that ever lived, you would still be such a speck by the side of the Almighty and Everlasting God that it would be madness to depend upon yourselves for any thing while you lived in God's world. For, after all, what CAN we do without God? IN Him we live, and move, and have our being. He made us, He gave us our bodies, gave us our life; what we do HE lets us do, what we say He lets us say; we all live on sufferance. What is it but God's infinite mercy that ever brought us here or keeps us here an instant? We may pretend to act without God's leave or help, but it is impossible for us to do so; the strength we put forth, the wit we use, are all His gifts. We cannot draw a breath of air without His leave. And yet men fancy they can do without God in the world! My friends, these are but few words, and poor words, about the glorious majesty of God and our littleness when compared with Him; but I have said quite enough, at least, to shew you all how absurd it is to depend upon ourselves for any thing. If we are mere creatures of God, if God alone has every blessing both of this world and the next, and the will to give them away, whom ARE we to go to but to Him for all we want? It is so in the life of our bodies, and it is so in the life of our spirits. If we wish for God's blessings, from God we must ask them. That is our duty, even though God in His mercy and long-suffering does pour down many a blessing upon men who never trust in Him for them. To us all, indeed, God gives blessings before we are old enough to trust in Him for them, and to many He continues those blessings in after-life in spite of their blindness and want of faith. "He maketh His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." He gives--gives--it is His glory to give. Yet strange! that men will go on year after year, using the limbs, and eating the food, which God gives them, without ever believing so much as that God HAS given them, without so much as looking up to heaven once and saying, "God, I thank Thee!" But we must remember that those blessings will not last for ever. Unless a man has lived by faith in God with regard to his earthly comforts, death will come and put an end to them at once; and then it is only those who have trusted in God for all good things, and thanked Him accordingly in this life, who shall have their part in the new heavens and the new earth, which will so immeasurably surpass all that this earth can give.
And it is the same with the life of our spirits; in it, too, we must live by faith. The life of our spirits is a gift from God the Father of spirits, and He has chosen to declare that unless we trust to Him for life, and ask Him for life, He will not bestow it upon us. The life of our bodies He in His mercy keeps up, although we forget Him; the life of our souls He will not keep up: therefore, for the sake of our spirits, even more than of our bodies, we must live by faith. If we wish to be loving, pure, wise, manly, noble, we must ask those excellent gifts of God, who is Himself infinite love, and purity, wisdom and nobleness. If we wish for everlasting life, from whom can we obtain it but from God, who is the boundless, eternal, life itself? If we wish for forgiveness for our faults and failings, where are we to get it but from God, who is boundless love and pity, and who has revealed to us His boundless love and pity in the form of a man, Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world?
And to go a step further; it is by faith in Christ we must live--in Christ, a man like ourselves, yet God blessed for ever. For it is a certain truth, that men cannot believe in God or trust in Him unless they can think of Him as a man. This was the reason why the poor heathen made themselves idols in the form of men, that they might have something like themselves to worship; and those among them who would not worship idols almost always ended in fancying that God was either a mere notion, or else a mere part of this world, or else that He sat up in heaven neither knowing nor caring what happened upon earth. But we, to whom God has given the glorious news of His Gospel, have the very Person to worship whom all the heathen were searching after and could not find,--one who is "very God," infinite in love, wisdom, and strength, and yet "very man," made in all points like ourselves, but without sin; so that we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who is able to help those who are tempted, because He was tempted Himself like us, and overcame by the strength of His own perfect will, of His own perfect faith. By trusting in Him, and acknowledging Him in every thought and action of our lives, we shall be safe, for it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
These things are true, and always were true. All that men ever did well, or nobly, or lovingly, in this world, WAS DONE BY FAITH--by faith in God of some sort or other; even in the man who thinks least about religion, it is so. Every time a man means to do, and really does, a just or generous action, he does it because he believes, more or less clearly, that there is a just and loving God above him, and that justice and love are the right thing for a man--the law by which God intended him to walk: so that this small, dim faith still shews itself in practice; and the more faith a man has in God and in God's laws, the more it will shew itself in every action of his daily life; and the more this faith works in his life and conduct, the better man he is;--the more he is like God's image, in which man was originally made;--and the more he is like Christ, the new pattern of God's image, whom all men must copy.
So that the sum of the matter is this, without Christ we can do nothing, by trusting in Christ we can do every thing. See, then, how true the verse before my text must be, that he whose soul is lifted up in him is not upright; for if a man fancies that his body and soul are his own, to do what he pleases with them, when all the time they are God's gift;--if a man fancies that he can take perfect care of himself, while all the time it is God that is keeping him out of a thousand sins and dangers;--if a man fancies that he can do right of himself, when all the time the little good that he does is the work of God's Spirit, which has not yet left him;--if a man fancies, in short, that he can do without God, when all the time it is in God that he lives, and moves, and has his being, how can such a man be called upright? Upright! he is utterly wrong;--he is believing a lie, and walking accordingly; and, therefore, instead of keeping upright, he is going where all lies lead; into all kinds of low and crooked ways, mistakes, absurdities, and at last to ruin of body and soul. Nothing but truth can keep a man upright and straight, can keep a man where God has put him, and where he ought to be; and the man whose heart is puffed up by pride and self- conceit, who is looking at himself and not at God, that man has begun upon a falsehood, and will soon get out of tune with heaven and earth. For consider, my friends: suppose some rich and mighty prince went out and collected a number of children, and of sick and infirm people, and said to them, "You cannot work now, but I will give you food, medicine, every thing that you require, and then you must help me to work; and I, though you have no right to expect it of me, will pay you for the little work you can do on the strength of my food and medicine."--Is it not plain that all those persons could only live by faith in their prince, by trusting in him for food and medicine, and by acknowledging that that food and medicine came from him, and thanking him accordingly? If they wished to be true men, if they wished him to continue his bounty, they would confess that all the health and strength they had belonged to him of right, because his generosity had given it to them. Just in this position we stand with Christ the Lord. When the whole world lay in wickedness, He came and chose us, of His free grace and mercy, to be one of His peculiar nations, to work for Him and with Him; and from the time He came, all that we and our forefathers have done well has been done by the strength and wisdom which Christ has given us. Now suppose, again, that one of the persons of whom I spoke was seized with a fit of pride--suppose he said to himself, "My health and strength does not come from the food and medicine which the prince gave me, it comes from the goodness of my own constitution; the wages which I am paid are my just due, I am a free man, and may choose what master I like." Suppose any one of YOUR servants treated you so, would you not be inclined to answer, "You are a faithless, ungrateful fellow; go your ways, then, and see how little you can do without my bounty?" But the blessed King in heaven, though He is provoked every day, is more long-suffering than man. All He does is to withdraw His bounty for a moment, to take this world's blessings from a man, and let him find out how impossible it is for him to keep himself out of affliction--to take away His Holy Spirit for a moment from a man, and let him see how straight he rushes astray, and every way but the right; and then, if the man is humbled by his fall or his affliction, and comes back to his Lord, confessing how weak he is and promising to trust in Christ and thank Christ only for the future, THEN our Lord will restore His blessings to him, and there will be joy among the angels of God over one sinner that repents. This was the way in which God treated Job when, in spite of all his excellence, HIS heart was lifted up. And then, when he saw his own folly, and abhorred himself, and repented in dust and ashes, God restored to him sevenfold what He had taken from him--honour, wisdom, riches, home, and children. This is the way, too, in which God treated David. "In my prosperity," he tells us, "I said, I shall never be moved; thou, Lord, of Thy goodness hast made my hill so strong"--forgetting that he must be kept safe every moment of his life, as well as made safe once for all. "Thou didst turn Thy face from me, and I was troubled. Then cried I unto Thee, O Lord, and gat me to my Lord right humbly. And THEN," he adds, "God turned my heaviness into joy, and girded me with gladness," (Psalm xxx.) And again, he says, "BEFORE I was troubled I went wrong, but NOW I have kept Thy word," (Psalm cxix.) And this is the way in which Christ the Lord treated St. Peter and St. Paul, and treats, in His great mercy, every Christian man when He sees him puffed up, to bring him to his senses, and make him live by faith in God. If he takes the warning, well; if he does not, he remains in a lie, and must go where all lies lead. So perfectly does it hold throughout a man's whole life, that he whose soul is lifted up within him is not upright; but that the just must live by faith.
Now there is one objection apt to rise in men's minds when they hear such words as these, which is, that they take such a "low view of human nature;" it is so galling to our pride to be told that we can do nothing for ourselves: but if we think of the matter more closely, and, above all, if we try to put it into practice and live by faith, we shall find that there is no real reason for thus objecting. This is not a doctrine which ought to make us despise men; any doctrine that DOES, does not come of GOD. Men are not contemptible creatures--they are glorious creatures--they were created in the image of God; God has put such honour upon them that He has given them dominion over the whole earth, and made them partakers of His eternal reason; and His Spirit gives them understanding to enable them to conquer this earth, and make the beasts, ay, and the very winds and seas, and fire and steam, their obedient servants; and human nature, too, when it is what God made it, and what it ought to be, is not a contemptible thing: it was noble enough for the Son of God to take it upon Himself--to become man, without sinning or defiling Himself; and what was good enough for Him is surely good enough for us. Wickedness consists in UNMANLINESS, in being unlike a man, in becoming like an evil spirit or a beast. Holiness consists in becoming a TRUE MAN, in becoming more and more like the likeness of Jesus Christ. And when the Bible tells us that we can do nothing of ourselves, but can live only by faith, the Bible puts the highest honour upon us which any created thing can have. What are the things which cannot live by faith? The trees and plants, the beasts and birds, which, though they live and grow by God's providence, yet do not know it, do not thank Him, cannot ask Him for more strength and life as we can, are mere dead tools in God's hands, instead of living, reasonable beings as we are. It is only reasonable beings, like men and angels, with immortal spirits in them, who CAN live by faith; and it is the greatest glory and honour to us, I say again, that we CAN do so-- that the glorious, infinite God, Maker of heaven and earth, should condescend to ask us to be loyal to Him, to love Him, should encourage us to pray to Him boldly, and then should condescend to hear our prayers--WE, who in comparison of Him are smaller than the gnats in the sunbeam in comparison of men! And then, when we remember that He has sent His only Son into the world to take our nature upon Him, and join us all together into one great and everlasting family, the body of Christ the Lord, and that He has actually given us a share in His own Almighty Holy Spirit that we may be able to love Him, and to serve Him, and to be joined to Him, the Almighty Father, do we not see that all this is infinitely more honourable to us than if we were each to go on his own way here without God--without knowing anything of the everlasting world of spirits to which we now belong? My friends, instead of being ashamed of being able to do nothing for ourselves, we ought to rejoice at having God for our Father and our Friend, to enable us to "do all things through Him who strengthens us"--to do whatever is noble, and loving, and worthy of true men. Instead, then, of dreaming conceitedly that God will accept us for our own sakes, let us just be content to be accepted for the sake of Jesus Christ our King. Instead of trying to walk through this world without God's help, let us ask God to help and guide us in every action of our lives, and then go manfully forward, doing with all our might whatsoever our hands or our hearts see right to do, trusting to God to put us in the right path, and to fill our heads with right thoughts and our hearts with right feeling; and so our faith will shew itself in our works, and we shall be justified at the last day, as all good men have ever been, by trusting to our Heavenly Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the guidance of His Holy Spirit.
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