A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Evening, June 12, 1870, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. 5/30/2011*5/30/2011
When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to those who followed, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matthew 8:10)
1. You remember that we introduced this morning’s sermon by observing that Jesus is not reported to have marvelled either at the gigantic architecture of the temple, or at the wonderful discipline of the Roman army, or at the profound knowledge of the rabbis. (See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 935, “The Sad Wonder” 926) He only wondered twice, according to the record, and on both of those occasions he marvelled concerning faith, once at the absence of it, and once at its presence. In the case which we spoke of this morning, he marvelled at the unbelief of his fellow townsmen; in the narrative before us, he marvelled at the faith of the centurion. From this we learn that we ought not to be so engrossed with the wonders of science and of art, or even with the wonders of creation and of providence, as to become indifferent to the marvels of grace. These should occupy the very highest place in our estimation. The seven wonders of the world are nothing when compared with the countless wonders of grace. That man must be foolish who does not admire the works of God in nature; he is frivolous who does not trace with awe the hand of God in history; and he is even more unwise who despises the masterpieces of divine skill and wisdom which are to be seen in the empire of grace. In the kingdom of God the wise man only wonders once in his life, but that is always: fools do not think so, but they are void of understanding. The museum of grace is richer than that of nature. A heart broken on account of sin is a far greater wonder than the rarest fossil, whatever it may tell about ancient floods of the sea or convulsions of the land. An eye that glistens with the tears of penitence is a greater marvel than the cataract of Niagara, or the fountains of the Nile. Faith that humbly links itself to Christ has in it as great a beauty as the rainbow, and the confidence which looks alone to Jesus, and so illuminates the soul, is as much an object for admiration as is the sun when it shines in its strength. Do not talk of the pyramids, the Colossus, the golden house of Nero, or the temple of Ephesus, for the living temple of God’s church is fairer by far. Let others glory in the marvels they have seen but may it be mine to say to my Lord, “I will praise you, for you have done wonderful things. Your love for me was wonderful. Surely I will remember your wonders of old.”
2. Consider well the work of God within the human heart; consider well the faith which lies at the beginning and foundation of spiritual life, and you will have as good a cause for wonder as the Saviour had when he marvelled at the centurion’s faith. The particular point for admiration may not be the same, but all faith has in it admirable elements, and like its divine Author, may be called “wonderful.”
3. I shall speak upon what there was that was so remarkable in the centurion’s faith, making practical remarks in a kind of running commentary as we pass along; and then if there should be any fragments that remain to be gathered up, we shall try again to apply them in the same way for personal application.
4. I. What was there, then, so remarkable about the centurion’s faith that Christ wondered about it? I think the first point was, THAT THERE WAS SUCH FAITH FOUND IN SUCH A PERSON.
5. The Lord seemed to imply this when he said, “I have not found such great faith, no, not in Israel”; as if he might have expected to find it in Israel, among an instructed people, among a people to whom the oracles had been committed, but he could not have expected to find it in a Gentile, in a Roman, in a soldier, in one who was apparently an unlikely subject for spiritual influences. From this I gather that the most astonishing and acceptable faith may be exercised by the most unlikely people. Here was a Gentile believing, a Gentile believing far better than one of the seed of Israel. Rich grace thus brought the far off one into the full blessing of the kingdom. Here was a soldier believing, a Roman soldier believing in the Lord. Roman soldiers in Judea were not as our armies are, a guard protecting their native hearths and homes, but they were the servants of tyrants, treading down the liberties of the Jewish people, and obnoxious, of course, in the highest degree to the Jews; and yet for all that, though the soldier’s business in those days was oppression, and his wages were plunder, here was a soldier believing in Jesus Christ; and, to increase the wonder, this believing legionary was not merely a common soldier, but one who occupied a position of responsibility, bringing to him no small degree of honour and of respect. Alas! the honours of this world are seldom helpful to belief. When a man receives honour from men, he too often finds it impossible to receive the gospel as a little child. All these things met in the centurion, and yet he was not only a believer, but a surpassing believer, even to a marvel, so that Christ wondered about his faith.
6. My dear friend, though you should happen to be in the most unlikely circumstances of body and of mind for you to be converted and to become a Christian, yet I do not see what does hinder your being so converted if the Lord blesses the word. If you have been brought up altogether apart from the influences of religion, yet remember, so also was this centurion, and he became a master believer. Why should you not be one? Although the ground of your heart has as yet never been tilled, and remains like the virgin soil of the primeval forest, yet my Lord may get a gracious crop out of your hearts not many days hence, when the tillage of the law and the sowing of the gospel shall have been tried upon you, for by his gracious touch he can turn a barren heath into a fruitful field. Though you feel tonight as waste as the moorland, yet you need not despair. Though now dewless as Gilboa, he can water you as plenteously as Hermon itself. The barren woman shall still keep house, and the desolate shall rejoice in her children. Nature’s death may still yield to the Spirit’s life.
7. Perhaps you follow a calling which is supposed to be hostile to religion, but even then do not despair. Why should the Master not call you by his grace, and constrain you to leave the calling, as Matthew left the receipt of custom; or else through the power of grace within you, enable you to exercise your calling without sin? You have, perhaps, never read the Bible, why should you not begin? It is possible that you have not been a believer in it, yet there are such arguments in its favour — I am not about to trouble you with them just now — but there are among them living arguments which may convince you before you are quite aware that your prejudice is being removed, for some of us have tasted and handled the word of life, and are witnesses of the power which comes with the gospel. We ourselves are living witnesses of what it can do in breathing peace into the soul, and in putting sin away, and I do not see why you also should not prove it and rejoice in it, yes, and even outdistance others in the race of grace. That tinker playing tip-cat (a) on Sunday, on Elstow Green, did not look to be a likely man to write the Pilgrim’s Progress, and yet John Bunyan did it. That blaspheming sailor cast ashore on a slave trade settlement, on the coast of Africa, and there made a slave himself, did not look as though he would become a minister of evangelical godliness, whose name should be sweet and full of savour to later generations, and yet such was John Newton. There is no reason, because of the darkness of the past, why the future should not be bright, for there is one who can blot out sin and pass by transgression and iniquity. However hostile your nature may be to the gospel and to spiritual truth, there is power in Jesus Christ to change that nature, and to cause you, the most unlikely person, to become a leader in his camp, a mighty trophy of his sovereign grace. Is it not written, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I was revealed to those who did not ask for me.” “I will call them my people, who were not my people; and her beloved, who was not beloved.” Surely angels rejoiced when they heard the Roman legionary say, “Speak the word, and my servant shall be healed.” Surely the disciples as they clustered around the Master, said to each other, “What strange work of grace is this, that this soldier should stand here and speak better than any of us concerning the truth and the power of the Lord Jesus!” I do pray to see some in this place become equally remarkable trophies of Christ’s power. I do expect to see throughout our country the most unlikely people converted. The great trumpet shall be blown, and great sinners shall find that the day of their redemption has come. From the east and from the west, the far off ones shall gather to the feast of love, while the astonished church shall cry, “These, where have they been?” The church could not have thought that Saul of Tarsus who once persecuted the church would have become her chief apostle, and yet so it was, and, so it still shall be while the King sits on his throne. He will still come down again and take from the ranks of the enemy the stoutest hearted men, and make them bow their knees before his majesty, and afterwards he will enlist them beneath his own standard, and send them out conquering and to conquer. The prey shall be taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive shall be delivered. Grace shall abound even more where sin abounded. As in the present case, the marvel of grace shall be the more memorable because of the singularity of the person enjoying it. May God make you such a person, and such a wonder, too!
8. II. The next point concerning which our Lord may have marvelled, was THE SUBJECT OF THE CENTURION’S CONFIDENCE.
9. He had a servant who was struck with palsy. This was a disease which at that time at any rate, if not at present, was considered to be utterly incurable. In the case of this servant the disease was of the most aggravated kind, for he was “grievously tormented.” The strength of his constitution battling with the paralysis caused an unusual agony. It had come to a climax, for he was at the point of death; yet, though a cure of the palsy had never been heard of, and was a most astounding miracle if ever performed, this man believed that Christ could heal the palsy and could at once restore his servant to perfect health. Yes, here was a faith which took an impossibility into its hand, and threw it aside; faith which knew that all things were possible with an omnipotent Saviour; faith which saw in Christ that omnipotent Saviour, and therefore raised no question concerning his ability or willingness.
Dear hearers, this is the kind of faith I wish that we all exercised.
I will suppose, dear friend, tonight that your case, your sinful
case, is like that of the centurion’s servant’s physical case. You
believe your sin to be incurable, that is to say, unpardonable. You
think also that if it were pardoned concerning the past, yet you
would be sure to go back to it again, as a dog returns to its vomit.
You therefore look upon your case as being an utterly hopeless one.
Oh do not think so; do not think so! He who can heal the drunkenness
that lies in one, or the tendency to lust that lurks in another, can
cast out any and every sort of sin, and cast it out with a word.
There is no transgression too black for his blood to wash out the
stain, and there is no propensity to sin too strong for his Spirit
to control and at last destroy it. Cures of all cases of spiritual
disease are possible with him. The blackest sinner may yet become the
brightest saint. At the gates of hell you may sit tonight in your
moral filthiness, and yet not only at the gates of heaven may you yet
stand in the brightness of holiness, but within those gates you may
even be enclosed in the perfection of spotlessness, with all the rest
who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the
Lamb. The centurion’s faith was this — he believed that there were no
impossibilities with Christ, and he left his palsied servant in those
gracious and mighty hands. And, my friend, your faith, if it is to
save you, must do the same. It must take your case at its worst, and
yet believe that Christ can save even to the uttermost. Your sin has
been aggravated — confess it. Your sin is in its own self unpardonable;
justice writes it with a pen of iron, and no tears of repentance or
endeavours after reformation can blot it out. Only sovereign grace,
fresh from the altar of atoning sacrifice, can make an end of sin.
Confess all this. You are far gone from hope — confess it. Your natural
estate is perilous, indeed, deadly — confess it. Make out your case to
be as bad as you can conceive it to be — it is so — and when you have
done so, say, “But for all that, I believe that God in Christ Jesus
can forgive me, and I rest my guilty soul at the foot of the cross
where expiation was made for sin; I believe that Jesus put my guilt
away there, and thus I have peace with God.” If you believe that you
are a little sinner, and that therefore, because of the moderate
degree of your guilt, Christ can save you, you know nothing about it;
but if knowing your sin to be great, heinous, aggravated, and
damnable, then you can still come to Jesus and glorify his name. If
you affirm yourself to be the chief of sinners, and yet believe that
he can save you, and rely upon him to do it, you have a marvellous
faith, a faith that will bring you to heaven. Not to forget the guilt
of our sin, and then trust Jesus, but to remember our sin with more
shame and grief than ever, and yet to trust in the cleansing blood of
Jesus — this is faith, this is the wonder of the skies. Be of good
cheer, oh sinner, if all your reliance leans on the Mediator, despite
ten thousand times ten thousand accusing sins, you are a saved man.
Oh that others like you would place their dependence upon the same
sin forgiving Saviour! May the Eternal Spirit draw them now to Jesus,
and give them immediate salvation by precious faith in a precious
Christ. Faith is the vital point, the one needful matter, may it be
produced in you now. Faith can soon remove the difficulties which
stand in your path, and make you a straight road to glory, for it is
a wonder worker, and all things are possible for it —
It says to the mountains, Depart,
That stand betwixt God and the soul;
It binds up the broken in heart,
And makes wounded consciences whole;
Bids sins of a crimson like dye
Be spotless as snow, and as white,
And makes such a sinner as I
As pure as an angel of light.
11. III. Thirdly, another wonder was THE REALISING ENERGY OF THIS MAN’S FAITH WHICH LED HIM TO DEAL WITH THE CASE IN SUCH A BUSINESSLIKE WAY.
12. Alas, alas, the hackneyed form which most men’s religion assumes! They take it up second hand, or they cut and shape it after someone else’s fashion. Not so this man. I do not know that he had ever had a religious acquaintance, but finding some of the books of Scripture, he read them, and he discovered that Jesus Christ was what he professed to be — the Son of God and the Saviour of men. Having come to this conclusion, he at once trusted in him as a matter of fact, not merely as a matter of profession; and having trusted in the Saviour, he acted upon the trust in a businesslike common sense manner. He sat down and he thought to himself thus — “I am a captain; I say to a soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; I say to another, ‘Come’ — he comes; I appoint my servant who waits upon me to do certain business, and he does it; now, this Jesus Christ is a far greater commander than I am; all the powers of nature must therefore be under his check and control; he will only have to say a thing, and it will be done; if he were to ask the heavens to be clothed in blackness, they would don the sackcloth, and if he were to command the clouds to disappear, and the sun to shine or to stand still, the obedient sun would know its Master, and yield a willing homage to him.” The centurion, according to the best rules of argument, was led to this conclusion, and his practical mind made immediate use of the inference. That Jesus can accomplish his will with a word is only what you and I ought also to infer from his nature and office, and that he is ready to exercise that power is clear from his character and his promises. “Well, then,” said the centurion, “I have only to go and ask him, and if his heart is moved with my pitiful story, he will only have to say it in one single word, and, bad as my servant’s case is, he will be cured at once, and I shall be the happy master of a healthy servant.” Now, that was fine reasoning. That was treating fact as fact, and not as we too often do, as if it were pious fiction. This godly soldier was no mere theorist, no superficial holder of an impractical creed, but a doer of the word, a genuine matter of fact believer in what he held to be true.
13. Now, I do pray that each one here may be able to treat the gospel as a matter of business; treat it as a matter of fact, and may none of you trifle and toy with it, nor think it to be a mere subtlety for the consideration for doctrinaires, a theme of dispute for theorists and men who merely think and talk. I urge you make the one thing needful the first and truest business of your lives. If anything is real surely eternal salvation must be. Your condition before God is not a subject for cloud land; it belongs to the common sense, practical, every day, life business of men. See, now, how it stands. You have broken God’s law. You are guilty. God must punish you; eternal justice demands it. But the Lord Jesus came into the world to provide a way by which, without dishonour to God’s justice, sin may be forgiven. That way was substitution. Christ stood in the sinner’s place, was punished with the sinner’s punishment, and bore the wrath of God for sinners. But for what sinners? For all sinners? No, but only for such as will trust him. I, then, being guilty, come and trust him. I see good reason to do so. He is God, and he was appointed by God to be a propitiation for sin. What God appoints, and God delights in, I may truthfully and confidently accept. I do accept him. I now trust my soul with Jesus. Then I am saved. My sin has gone; my iniquity has ceased to be; I am a saved soul. Come and reason like this with yourself. Oh! I pray the Holy Spirit to help you to do so. Let this be the subject of your soliloquy, “If I were omnipotent, as Christ is, it would be as easy for me to move a mountain as a mole hill; and therefore is it as easy for him to take away my great sins as another’s little sins; if there is a universal cleansing fluid, it will remove large spots as well as little spots, and therefore the blood of Christ can wash out my great sins as well as the lesser sins of other people. One stroke of the hand, and the bill is receipted; it is as easy to write a receipt for a bill of fifty thousand pounds as for a bill for ten pence; so if Jesus Christ, who has already paid believers’ debts, calls me pardoned and absolved, it is done; he has the power to do it, and I rely upon the merit of his atoning blood.” Oh that you would now do so! and I will add, oh that you would do so now! These Sabbath days, how they are flying! Your time, how it is passing away, and with your time your opportunities for finding mercy! It does not seem long ago since we were in the depth of winter, and now we are getting near the longest day in summer, and immediately the wings of time will soon bear us again into months of frost and snow. How long do you halt between two opinions? Are these delays to continue for ever? Will you always go on hearing about these things, but never attending to them? I do urge you by the flight of time, by the certainty of death for each of you, and your ignorance of its appointed hour, seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Lay hold of eternal life; and, like the centurion, come and put your trust in Jesus to save you; and though your faith will be marvellous, yet the honour shall be all to him, and the glory to his blessed name.
14. IV. I will pass on to another point of wonder in the centurion’s faith, THAT HE DID NOT ASK FOR A SIGN.
15. Many of the great ones of old, when God was about to fulfil a promise, needed to be strengthened for service by a sign. Gideon was a man of great faith, yet he needed first to have the fleece wet when all was dry around, and then to have the fleece dry while the threshingfloor was wet. He needed to hear the soldiers’ dream of the barley cake that tumbled upon the tent of Midian. He needed signs and wonders or his heart would have fainted. With many others the desire for signs and wonders has been a great barrier to simple faith. Now the centurion did not say as Naaman did, “I thought he would surely come and put his hand over the place and recover the paralytic.” No, he did not need Jesus to come to the house and say a word, or offer prayer, or even to touch the sick with his hand. “No, Master,” he said, “there is no need for you to come; my servant is far away, lying sick and near death; you need not stir an inch; say in a word, and he will be healed. Distance is nothing to you; your word at a mile’s distance can cure as well as your touch.” Oh, but this was grand faith! He needs no visible sign, his spiritual eye sees the invisible, and his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. His unstaggering faith requires no crutch. He needs nothing, but only prays that the Master will say the word. I do not think he expected to hear the Lord speak that word aloud, for in Luke he is described as praying Jesus not so much to say a word as to “say in a word.” Perhaps he remembered the language of the psalmist when he sang, “He sent his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions,” and he looked to that same creating and almighty word for the restoration of his servant.
16. Now, brethren, transfer this to yourselves. I pray the Holy Spirit that many here may have the faith which does not crave for signs and wonders. “I could believe,” one says, “that I were saved, if I felt some terrible work of the law within my heart; I have heard of others who have been ready to despair, and have been tempted to commit suicide, and if I felt as they felt I could then think that there was grace for me.” Ah! poor simpleton. You do not know what you say. Be glad to be delivered from such dreadful things as these, for if some have come out of them to Christ, I am afraid that some have been brought by them to the noose or to some other suicidal death. Do not desire the terrors of hell, but accept the tender mercy of our God by which the Dayspring from on high has visited us. Horrors and dreads, if you felt them, would not help you; believe me, they would do the very opposite. “No,” another says, “I should like to feel an extraordinary sensation; if under the sermon tonight I should be struck down, as I have heard some have been in the Irish revivals; if I felt some remarkable physical, mental, or spiritual emotion, such as I have never experienced before, I should say that this was the finger of God.” My dear hearer, why be so foolish? God’s word tells you that if you trust Jesus Christ you are saved. Is not God’s word enough? Will you not take the assurance of God without laying down this and that as a condition for your Saviour? Some of you talk and act as if the great God must do what you like, or else you will not believe him. I have known people who were once in the habit of giving away roast beef and other gifts to the poor at Christmas time, but who have stopped doing it because of the picking and choosing of those who came to receive the gifts. One woman actually took back her joint because she wanted a piece of beef for boiling, and would have a boiling piece or none at all. I have not wondered when people who have been charitable have not been allowed to do as they wish with their own, that they have ceased to distribute their alms as they once did. Reason teaches us that when we receive benefits we are not to dictate to our benefactors. And is God, when he saves your soul, to let a beggar like you be a chooser about the way in which it is to be done? Are you to exact this and exact that, or else you will not condescend to be saved? This is infamous pride. Be ashamed, I beseech you, be ashamed to indulge in it any longer. No longer demand new proof of God’s truthfulness in the form of feelings and excitements. God’s word is worthy of your trust. If you had these remarkable feelings, what would their evidence amount to if you looked at them as a sane man and not as a fanatic? If you were to meet an angel tonight, and he were to tell you that you would go to heaven, you would have no reason to believe him, unless you believe in Jesus Christ. An angel who gave you any comfort while you remain an unbeliever would be a devil, even though he shone like an angel of light. But if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and are baptised, you have God’s word for it that you are saved, and what do you want an angel’s word for? Is not the word of Jehovah sufficient; is a creature’s testimony necessary to make the Lord’s word worthy of credence? “No,” say others, “but we would be comforted if we could dream remarkable dreams.” Now, what could there be to assure the soul concerning its salvation in the vain and frolicsome motions of the mind when they are free from the bridle of reason? Dreams may sometimes happen to come true, but nine times out of ten they are nonsense. If good doctrine and wise warning is brought home to the heart by a dream, it should have none the less our most earnest heed; but if presumption should have a thousand visions to back it, it would be none the less dangerous. It would be a dreadful thing to hang one’s confidence upon such a fragile thing as a dream. No, no, sir; you have God’s word, and will not believe it because you pretend that a dream would help you, and confirm your confidence; as if God were not to be trusted so well as your dreams! Oh do not be so foolish, but like this centurion say, “Speak the word only.” Brethren, we must accept the bare word of God in Christ Jesus as the basis of faith, for no other foundation is to be depended on for a moment. Not your feeling but his promise must sustain you. Can you not consent to this? If you will do so you shall have peace. If you will come to God like that, you shall see many signs and many wonders before long of a better kind than you have ever dreamed of. Your joy shall be like a river, and your peace shall overflow. But you must first come without these things. Come, and take God at his word, and do Christ the honour to believe in him without anything to corroborate what he says, and you shall find the blessing coming to you afterwards. This was a remarkable point in the centurion’s faith, that he believed without demanding a sign.
17. V. Fifthly, one very remarkable point in this good man’s faith was HIS CONVICTION THAT CHRIST COULD CURE HIS SERVANT AT ONCE, “Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.”
Ordinarily a successful combat with disease requires time. The
surgeon must drive out from his strong entrenchments the fiend of
disease, must chase him from one defence to another, and perhaps even
then he may fail to dislodge his foe. It may be weary months or even
years before some forms of disease can be eradicated. But the
centurion believed that the word of Christ could remove the palsy,
and do so at once. And why not? Omnipotence knows nothing of time any
more than of any other of the hindrances which impede mortal
progress. To the eternal God time is nothing; to him a thousand years
are as one day, and on the other hand, one day is as a thousand
years. The faith that saves lays hold on this truth that Christ Jesus
who is now at the right hand of God can in a moment save the soul.
The dying thief did not imagine that his salvation would occupy a
month. He simply said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your
kingdom,” and the answer was, “Today you shall be with me in
paradise” — saved that day, saved at once. The pardon of sin is not the
result of weeks of fasting, and months of repentance, and years of
mortification. The sinner’s eye looks to Christ and the sinner’s sin
is gone at once.
The moment a sinner believes,
And trusts in his crucified God,
His pardon at once he receives,
Salvation in full through Christ’s blood.
The new birth of the soul, the regeneration of our nature by the Holy Spirit, is not a work requiring a long period of time. It is in a moment that the Spirit of God visits our hearts, and turns the stone to flesh. It may seem as though I talked without consideration, but yet I speak the words of truth and soberness when I say that if the Lord exerts the fulness of his power, sinners sitting in these galleries or in this area, might be saved before that clock ticks again. Who shall restrain the Lord, and say what he can or cannot do? All things are possible with him, and we will therefore add, that if each one of you tonight were led to put his trust in Jesus, what I said was possible, would be literally done; you would all retire, each one saved, and saying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord who has taken us out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay, and set our feet upon a rock, and put a new song into our mouths, and established our goings!” Oh that you would do this, good Lord, that your name might have praise!
19. VI. Again there is one other point of wonder. THROUGHOUT THIS WHOLE ENCOUNTER THE CENTURION’S DEEP HUMILITY WAS CONSPICUOUS, BUT THAT DEEP HUMILITY, INSTEAD OF WEAKENING HIS FAITH, ONLY STRENGTHENED IT.
20. Pride is the associate of presumption, but humility is the companion of assurance. He who thinks that it needs only little grace and power to save him, that he is, in fact, better than most, and as good as any, cannot believe at all. He may be able to presume, but he is unable to believe. Doubtless presumption would grow well in the soil of his heart, but a broken heart alone becomes a believing heart, and an assured heart must first be a humble heart.
21. The centurion had done good service for the Jews. He loved their nation and had built them a synagogue. They thought a great deal of him, but he thought very little of himself. He said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof”; I am not only not worthy of the blessing I am asking for, but not worthy that you should come into such communion with me as to tread my floor. Deeply humbled was the man, and in a humbled spirit you also must become a believer. I have met a great many who when they have felt a sense of their sin have said directly, “I cannot believe in Christ.” Then you imagine, do you, that if you had less sin you could believe? No; I tell you it is not so. If your sense of sin is a hindrance to faith, your sense of righteousness would be infinitely more a barrier. To believe that I shall be saved because I am not a sinner, is not faith; but to know that I am one of the very worst of sinners, and very guilty and very vile, and yet I place my trust in Jesus — this is faith. I do love when I look at my sins to look at the cross too. If I have been of service to God, and the Holy Spirit has helped me to do some good thing for the church, it is scarcely faith to say that I then am at peace. Why, that is seeing not believing. But when I see my imperfections, and bemoan my follies, and lay my mouth in the very dust, then to say: “Notwithstanding all this I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to him” — that is faith; and I pray God that you may exercise it every day. If my sins were worse than they are, or if I could have a deeper apprehension of them, I would nevertheless rejoice that he is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him, and from that rock of confidence my soul should not move. My brethren, do not imagine that to have faith in Christ you have to work yourselves up into the idea that there is some good thing in you which can commend you to Christ. You are sailing on the wrong tack altogether when your trust leans on you. Faith is to come to Christ blind, and believe that he can open your eyes; it is to come to him poor, and believe that he will make you rich; it is to come to him as having nothing of your own, and take what he has to be yours for ever and ever; it is, in fact, to see death written on the creature, and to find life in him; corruption written on your best righteousness, and to consider it to be as dross and dung, and then to take Jesus Christ to be your wisdom, your righteousness, your sanctification, your redemption, and your all.
I have thus, I trust, set forth what faith is in as simple a way as I
know how to speak, and yet, simple as this statement is, if any of
you do so believe, there will be glory brought to God by it, for no
man ever did believe unless the Holy Spirit led him to believe.
“What,” one says, “what such a simple thing as that?” Permit me to
observe that it is the simplicity of faith that makes it difficult.
If it were difficult there would be many who would attempt it; but
because it is nothing except — “Believe and live,” therefore proud
hearts will not yield to it. It is as simple as the first elements of
spelling, and because it is so, men cannot understand it, for their
pride must needs surround it with mystery. Men would gladly be wise,
and therefore they puzzle themselves with what a child may
understand. What is needed for a man to know Christ is for him to get
his conceit of education winnowed out of him; I mean that what he
thinks to be education must be all pulled away, so that he may be
made like a little child, to sit down at Jesus’ feet and trust Jesus
as a child believes his father’s word. It is not going up that most
of you want, but pulling down. It is not getting good, it is feeling
you are not good, which is the main matter for most of you to look
into. It is not being better in your own esteem, it is being utterly
undone in your own esteem, which will make you ready for Christ. This
you need, and when you have it I believe you will then come and
cheerfully lay hold on this blessed, this simple way of salvation,
suitable to the vilest, and yet suitable to the most moral; fitted,
as one said once, to poor old women who are on their deathbeds, and
equally fitted to the most profound of philosophers; fitted for the
poor, fitted for the rich; fitted for me, fitted for you. Oh that you
would have my Lord to be your strong refuge. May my Lord and Master,
grant that he may also marvel at your faith, dear friends; and,
though you had none when you came into this Tabernacle, may you go
out rejoicing because the Lord has visited you, and helped you to
believe in his name.
[Portion of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Matthew 8]
(a) Tip-Cat: A game in which the wooden cat or tip-cat which is a short piece of wood tapering at both ends, is struck or “tipped” at one end with a stick so as to spring up, and then knocked to a distance by the same player. OED.