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Oakley's Sermons

The Permanence of Faith

Reading, I Corinthians 13:13
Hymns: 277, 272, 279, 415, 424
Text: "And now abideth faith" I Corinthians 13:13, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Luke 18:8

In every decade men are startled by some new insight into the mystery of things, which seems to some to forebode the passing of faith. In every generation therefore are found those who have thus proclaimed that the age of faith is past. When our fathers were young a group of eminent scientists intoxicated by new visions about the making of the universe thought they had found the secret of life in the slime of the sea, and were not slow to declare that now at last, there would be no longer use for faith. We are young to-day, and our eyes have seen and are still beholding men filled with a new historical insight, delving as it has never been the privilege of men to delve before into the actual facts of the case, and some of them finding that in the light of a different Bible than it was supposed we had, a new reason for thinking that faith is about done with its race.

Evidently this is no new thing under the sun, since our Master himself witnessed it, and once asked in the words of our text, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" The generation that followed his advent was likewise troubled. One of the greatest of his followers fought and debated with the enemies of the faith, but his conclusion was a practical one for the present, whatever might be the outcome of it all,-"And now abideth faith."

In view of this permanent attitude of query, it has seemed well that we should think for a little time to-gether concerning the permanence of faith.

But first of all we must be very certain that we understand what we mean by faith. Any confusion here would lead to disastrous results, as it has all too often in the past. For men have been inclined to fasten on some triviality, making this an essential, supposing that if this perished faith was doomed. No greater mistake is possible. Let us try to avoid it this morning. Because it is not only a theoretical mistake made by scholars, but a practical mistake made by well intentioned Christians. Thus some were accustomed to certain forms of worship in their childhood. May be these forms were in another land than this, or that they were in quite unlike surroundings- let us suppose in the country in a settled farming community. They do not find the same conditions here and to-day in the city. In larger churches men are not so well known. In a more hurried life, religion does not seem the only thing, as it did in the country circle, where the church was absolutely the only tie, whether religiously or socially. Men do not seem to be converted in the same way. They do not talk with the same brogue, and it may be do not emphasize quite the same aspects of their belief as once was emphasized. Now there are not wanting who are apt to confuse this shift of emphasis, and change in condition with fundamentals. Some think that because everything is not as once it was and perhaps as they best loved it, as indeed they have perfect right to do,- that faith is passing from the earth. We must always guard ourselves, I repeat, that we do not confuse non-essentials with fundamentals in our thought of the permanence of faith on the earth.

What then do we mean by faith? By faith, we mean a complete surrender of the will to God, confident that he will accept of us, and that he is able to save us. On our part, therefore, faith is not so much a matter of our thinking, as a disposition of our will, and the inclination of our feelings. But this of course rests on our firm and unshaken supposition that God is good and is both able and willing to assist those who look to him for help.

We shall need a little closer approach than a mere formal definition, to properly grasp the real meaning of faith. We shall be able to do this better, not by confining ourselves to hair-splitting distinctions about faith, but by broadly contrasting faith with certain other things with which it is often confused.

Faith must not be confused with belief, for in such confusions lies half our trouble. I do not share the prevalent hostility toward our formulated beliefs in the creeds,- but I can not help but see that faith and belief are not the same. In the confusion of them lies error and falsehood. Jesus knew this full well for he once pointed out that the Devils believe and tremble. Devils may believe as much and as completely as the most orthodox and be Devils still. The thing that saves a man is not how much he knows, but the will set on serving God, and such attitude of the will we call faith.

Faith is permanent, but knowledge varies. We have a convincing illustration of this in the case of Paul himself. In his first letter to the Thessalonians he dwells a good deal on the immediate coming of Jesus; he evidently thought that very speedily Jesus would return again, as he did just after his resurrection. That was indeed the belief of the early church. That belief led to all sorts of absurdities. Some good Christians refused to work, for the said if Jesus is soon coming and we go to heaven, what matters it what we do now. Just like this the Second Day Adventist argues in our day. This could not be tolerated. In his second letter, Paul announces that he has misunderstood about the coming. The Thessalonians must go to work. It is quite likely Jesus is not coming as soon as was expected. Now Paul had not lost faith. He had up to his death the same abiding faith, of which he speaks in our text, that Jesus would come. But his belief had changed.

A little sense of this sort saves us a deal of trouble in thinking about the creeds. These great historical statements of our faith were formulated centuries ago. The great cardinal facts are there and are not likely to ever be altered. But some of the details are. Thus they were written under the conception of a crude astronomy, which supposed that this earth was the center of things, and that everything else revolved around it for its especial benefit. When one comes on a snatch of this archaic belief, he does not need to be excited. His faith need not be disturbed because his belief has changed.

Or to take a more common illustration in our day, from this same order of facts. Everyone used to think the world was made in seven literal days. Some have been greatly perturbed because it appears now from the rocks that it took quite a little longer than that. Once men feared they would lose their faith about it- but when one remembers that a day may be a thousand years with the Lord, many have thought they need not lose their faith even if the world was not made in seven days. I repeat these facts not for argument but for illustration. Faith and belief are not to be mixed.

By this I do not mean to deny of course that there is not a connection between faith and belief. No one knows better than I that there is such relation. All I am concerned about is to point out that it is a relation and not an identity. If we had no belief in God, we could not of course have faith in Him. Reverence, sincerity and patience are keynotes in faith; they could scarcely be said to be in belief. Belief varies as we have pointed out; but faith holds. This may be seen from the very meaning of the word for faith in the Old Testament. "Whatever holds, is steady, or can be depended upon, whether a wall which securely holds a nail (Is 22:23), or a brook which does not fail (Jer 15:18), or a kingdom which is firmly established (2 Sam 7:16) or an assertion which has been verified (Gen 42:20) or a covenant which endures forever (Ps 89:28), or a heart found faithful (Neh 9:8), or a man who can be trusted (Neh 13:13), or God himself who keeps covenant (Deut 7:9), "is [Hebrew ka-eman] to be absolutely trusted. (HDB. vol.I.p827).

Faith is not fancy. A young man may fancy he is going to marry a certain maiden, but he may have no good grounds for such a faith. Another may fancy he is to be governor, but with no more basis in fact. Joseph, the great caretaker of Israel in Egypt, cited in Hebrews as one of the illustrious heroes of faith, offers a convincing case in point. As a boy he was full of fancies. He saw bundles of wheat moving about by sleight of hand. His brothers did not like it, because they knew how heavy they were and how tired it made them to lift them. He saw stranger dreams; but they did him no good but make him trouble. When he was grown, however he became a man of faith. Dying he asked that his bones be taken back to Canaan. Abraham had lived in Canaan. He too was a man of faith. Abraham and Joseph had faith that some good day should see Canaan filled with their descendants. But all they had there now was a grave. Joseph had faith to ask that Israel take his bones back to that grave, when Israel returned. That was faith. The vain speculations of men are fancies. We are flooded with them in our day. Theories which have good parentage, and theories which are fatherless and motherless stop us on the street and beg our allegiance. But we are not to run after every theory, if we are to be men of faith. Faith is not fancy.

Faith must be distinguished from fatalism. Fatalism thinks of you and me as cogs in a great machine, wound up by some power we know not of and running whether we will or no. We play our part and do our work, not because we would, but because we have to. the machine runs and we must needs turn. I do not suppose that fatalism as a theory exists to any great extent among the common matter of fact folks such as we are of to-day. Fatalism as a theory of the universe is pretty largely dead. Few indeed believe that this great universe, and we also, are accidents. Most of us, even if we have no faith in God, believe in God to the limited extent of thinking that he made the universe and is able to sustain it. But fatalism as a disposition still remains. We still know of men giving as an excuse for bad conduct such as drunkenness, this lame word, "I cannot help it". They might as well say, "I am a cog in a great heartless machine run by laws and forces. There is no God." they do not say that. May be they dimly hope some day to become men of faith. But meanwhile they say, I am driven to it. I cannot help it. Many still repeat that Judas was borned betrayed Jesus and therefore is not really to blame for his conduct. He did as he was forced to do. Nothing benumbs the will like this belief that we are not to blame and cannot help what we do. Once fastened on a man it is nearly impossible to shake off. But when one thus becomes a fatalist he has killed his faith.

Faith must be distinguished from obedience. One may obey from fear, or a sense of compulsion, neither of which are aspects of faith. Thus a dog runs behind his master out of obedience, but the dog has no sense of faith. Some men's religion it is to be feared is of this sort. They are religious because they fear the consequences if they are not. They are religious because society, and their surroundings compel them to it. The sense of obedience rather than faith is always uppermost in a child's religion. Here the sense of the unknown and the sense of dread is more keen. Obedience is good. It aught and usually does lead to faith. But it is not the serene and simple trust of the soul in God, that faith is. Obedience is good. Faith is better.

I do not desire to worry you with needless niceties. I am not consciously doing so. There is one other distinction which I am anxious to make clear, however. It is that faith must not be confounded with self-confidence. Thus we say of a man who has a great deal of self-control, that he has great faith in himself. We declare that he trusts himself greatly. This self-confidence is a valuable asset,- by no means to be decried. Happy is the man who has it. It will save him much grief. But it is not faith. The Scriptures offer us to great illustrations of this self-confident spirit as contrasted with faith. The first is the Old Testament illustration of trust in the law. In the old days when a man kept the law, he assumed generally an attitude of complacency, and said, "Surely if I keep the law, it is well with me". The second is from the New Testament and is held up by James. James contends against the man who says "I have faith" but does nothing. "Faith without works is dead", says James. The self-poised man who says "I believe in the churches and in God", but does not go to church only on Christmas and Easter, and brings forth no fruit of his faith- such a man's faith is dead. In other words, what he has is not faith but a complacent self-confidence.

A newspaper clipping is glued to the page here.

The Glory of the Future

Another word before I stop. He will also give us the glory that awaits on the other side. The night He made this prayer He ended it thus: "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am ; that they may behold my glory, which thou has two given me ; for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world."

We believe that behind the stormy waters there is a paradise that awaits each soul that longs for home and wants to remain with God through eternity. I hope we may all meet there, and He who won back to paradise will show us the way. It is our Lord and Savior who will give us of the glory which He shared with His Father before the foundation of the world. The Lord be praised! I know not when your or my last moment will come, but we know that it will come! We do not know if we shall see another spring, if we shall see the trees turn green and the young lambs play in the fields, but we know that soon all flowers will wither and my hand and my heart grow cold, but when the sight grows dim and the mist descends and the voices of the night begin to whisper, then I wish for you and me that it may be with us as it was with the Wesleyan minister, Morley Punshon, who was so eloquent that no hall could hold the crowds that came to hear him. When old and tired he lay on his deathbed, ready to die, his wife sat by and whispered to him while death was creeping over him : "When now you have gone and the children come home and their father is dead, let me have a word to say to them. Let me have something I can say to them when we sit here and talk about you and long for you." Once more he opened his weary eyes, and the voice that used to be strong and clear was broken as he whispered : "Tell them to love Jesus--and meet me in heaven!"

Then she said to him : "But you, have you no word for me to console me when you are gone?" And he said again : "Love Jesus and meet me in heaven." That was the whole summary of the theory of this great and eloquent preacher.

Then he closed his eyes and she thought that he was passing through the golden gate. But as she saw he was still alive, she said : "But you--you have preached for others these many years, and they were happy to hear your eloquence, what do you say about yourself, now that you are going to die? Say a word that I can remember when you were gone."

Then he lifted his head once more and is his eyes shone for the last time, and once more his voice was strong and clear as he cried : "Jesus is the living reality of my soul!--Jesus, Jesus, Jesus ! ! !" And he shut his eyes and fell asleep with the Savior's name on his lips.

"Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am ; that they may behold my glory, which thou has two given me ; for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world."

Enough has been said, I trust, to make it clear, that faith is not to be confused with belief, with fancies, with fatalism, with obedience or with self-complacency. We have come now better to appreciate the greatness of the simple but far-reaching act of the will involved in faith. Perhaps now we are better able to appreciate that by faith we mean a complete surrender of the will to God, confident that he will accept of us, and that he is able to save us.

Here handwritten notes say "End of sermon no. 1." and "Sermon no. 2."

Having seen what faith really is, it remains to discover what evidences there are, that faith is permanent. Paul thought it was, since he declares in the text, "And now abideth faith". We proceed to ask the answer to the Master's query, "When the son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?".

1. That faith bids fair to be permanent is seen in the fact that it has been constant in the recorded history of man's highest religion. What gives faith its value, is not that we as men bend our wills towards God, but that there is a God concerned in us. The fact of God concerned in us, we make call the object of faith. It is a significant thing that the object of faith has been always the same in Israel's history if not in the record of all religion. In the Old Testament, in the very beginning, whether thought of as the maker of the world, or Him who would somehow shelter those who had driven themselves out of Eden, God is thought of as the one on whom man depends. This never altered. With later prophets came greater insight into God's character. With Jesus came a knowledge of how men are saved such as was not suspected at the first. But at the bottom, there was an unvarying thought, that God who made the world and who made man, was both able and willing to sustain man if you wished God's help. Thus while men's thought and beliefs about God varied, their faith was always the same. I do not think that it is too much to say that in even pagan religions, this attitude of faith is present. They too believe in God, and that God cares for them. They cannot think as we do, for only Jesus has told us enough to satisfy us about God; so that when men tell a pagan about what Jesus told us of God, it seems to him as if he had known but little or nothing before. Yet Paul himself, once spoke kindly of those who in pagan darkness lived up to the faith they had. This fact, then, that in the story of religion faith has always thus far been a constant factor, is pregnant with meaning that faith is not likely to be lost, so long as religion persists. When religion is gone, God pity us.

2. That faith is permanent is seen again in that were that removed we fall into despair. It is the object of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to show this. He does not speak as does James about faith's connection with the law and with works. He does not show how faith is bound up with belief and yet is not belief as did Paul. He rather tries to indicate how if faith were gone, the very nerve of living would be severed. Thus he shows how faith takes a weak character and perfects it; how it takes possession of an impatient man and makes him like Job in his patience. He shows how in sufferings one is kept sweet, as was Able; how in disappointments one is sustained by hope, as was Moses. He dwells on the boldness of faith, the confidence of faith, and the almightiness of faith. Faith is so much taken for granted in our day, that we do not read as often as we should this great defense of faith in Hebrews. We are able to appreciate however, what the removal of faith means in religion, by thinking of what it means in science and business. For it is as true that science and business are built up on faith, as it is true that religion is. Science could not proceed far, were it's working hypotheses suddenly negated. In the business world, ever and again, suspicion creeps, and the hard times come. Then have no faith in investments. Moneys instead of being put into circulation are withdrawn and the markets are tied up. Then from the world of business faith, that writes checks and deals in paper, comes a great cry of despair. For we cannot barter today in coins. The streets are not wide enough to cart the mountains of gold and silver that would have to be carted if each business transaction of our day had to be paid not in faith, by notes and checks, but by actual specie. Now what despair in the business world is, in times of great depression, is the loss of faith in religion.

No one can conceive of the race as given over to permanent and unrelieved despair. There have been apostles of despair. They get a meager following. The great business world is sane and happy and full of faith at heart. If we may trust the instincts of the human heart, we may suppose it will never be given over to despair--but will continue to cherish its faith. We are compelled to think of faith as permanent in this view.

3. The security of faith is again emphasized in that its uses the highest faculties of man's being. This might not in itself be so very important, but taken in connection with such other facts as we have cited it has real meaning. The high and chief faculties of one's being or able to put to ignoble service. But the recognition is instant between such use and their own proper one.

Thus faith uses the power to discover the unseen. This is perchance the noblest use of faith, since it has given man the power to read the secrets of the unseen. Faith has no nobler use than to detach a man from his present and force him to answer the great issues of why and when and wither? The faculty to read the unseen is a noble power even in its lower uses. It is the handmaid of science. By its power the secrets of the earth have been discovered, the mystery of the heavens has been made known, and the processes that were supposed to be hidden revealed. The discovery of the unseen is the handmaid of commerce. It sailed with the early Phoenicians, it rounded the cape with Magellan, it crossed the ocean with Columbus. But when it is allied to religion the power to look into the unknown rises to its highest level. The secrets of the soul's origin, the mystery of its being in the flesh, and they heaven to which it is destined,-these are the facts it is made clear to us.

Faith again uses love and trust. These are of the very essence of faith. It is not by a harsh commandment that men bow the will to God. It is in love. They believe in him, and his power to help them, not because they must but because they love him, and think that He loves in return. Surely anything that gathers around the love and trust of men is not speedily going to lapse into "innocuous desuetude".

Once more, faith calls into activity man's sense of his incompleteness. It is this sense that has compelled men ever to be wanderers and hunters, restless, unsatisfied, and looking for larger possessions. Robbed of this, the world would speedily be wrapped in a robe of insensibility, so thick that it would never catch a sound of the stirring in the top of the mulberry trees. It is appalling to think of what the world would be, if each of us came to think that we were about as good as they make them. Once in a while some lonely individual gets to feel that way now. It is a matter of common knowledge as to how such pretensions are received. What if everyone suddenly became possessed of that spirit? But that is identically what would be, if we did not have a sense of our own incompleteness. Faith, by showing us the infinite realms yet unknown and unpossessed by us, keeps us humble.

In the discovery of the unseen, in the use of love and trust, and in making real a sense of man's incompleteness, faith uses the very best powers nature has lavished upon her crowning work of creation. Surely no one can think that such powers were made for naught and are soon to be superceded.

4. The permanence of faith is again witnessed in the fact that the higher life becomes, the greater is the need and the more common the use of faith. The lowest life hardly lifts its head from the earth. It is enough for it, that it should be born and eat and die. Even the possession of goods is unknown to it. What use for faith has a worm? What realms exist in which a fish is lordly enough to exercise faith? By such comparisons we see how easily we take too much for granted, if we think lightly of faith as a human possession.

Our point of the larger use of faith as life advances iss seen even more clearly from a slightly different angle, i.e. in the mastery and supremacy of the weak, involved in the act of faith. It is evident at a glance that faith does not give that power. Man is not on a parity with God. Left to contend with God, it would be too uneven for even a thought of contention. But in faith, weak men are taught to suppose that they are to be able to shake kingdoms, move mountains, and change the procedure of God. Now this power and dominance of the weak over the strong is likewise seen to be increased in the development of the best life.

Let us take for an illustration the lengthening period of infancy, as an indication of the dominance of the weak over the strong in proportion as life grows higher. In the lowest forms of life, there is hardly what can be called an infancy. Such lowly developed animals as some of the lowest worms, can be cut into two pieces, and each piece starts off as a whole individual. In fact some of the lower orders of life reproduce themselves, by simply splitting into two pieces. Surely in such an act neither half will waste much sympathy on the other. Each will look out for itself; and so it does. But as life advances, life is not secured in such simple fashion. A little bird is born--costing the mother bird her freedom, and the father bird his efforts to get proper food for his charges. But a few days at the longest elapse before one would choose the young bird in preference to the old one, and the old ones know it and fight their offspring, as children even witness in the henry and the cattle pastures.

But when a human life is to be given to the world, the cost is multiplied a thousand fold. And when the life is born, the infancy is prolonged not by days, but by months and years. But in all these lengthened years, the tyranny of the weak over the strong is not relaxed. The whole family revolves around its weakest member.

This power of the weak over the strong is by no means confined to infancy, though that makes its most striking illustration. Let a weak man slip into peril and many strong hands stand ready to try to rescue him. Let a young girl faint and a whole assembly bent steadily on an object forgets its end and helps the weak. All this that is truly characteristic of the best life, is sadly lacking in the lower life. The weak of the Indians were sacrificed, when need arose. The infant and the sick and the aged, could expect no mercy when the merciless exigencies of tribal war arose.

Now faith by its inherent nature is the dominance of the weak as known in man over the strong as recognized in God. No choicer putting of our truth was made then once by Jesus himself. He said in one of his great stories, that once there was a man who had a flock of sheep. One night he gathered them as usual into the fold, and was about to close them in safe from the storms and robbers, when his count checked him, for he saw that one little lamb was gone. Now what should he do? Should he, who is strong, and rich also in the possession of his many sheep, keep what were left, or should the claim of the one weak sheep control him? He decided the one sheep was to be saved, and left the ninety- and nine to rescue it. Here surely is the compelling power of the weak over the strong.

It is pertinent to ask if we are such men of faith that the weak has such compelling force over us, as the weak sheep had over the shepherd, as the weak and erring had over Jesus, and the sinful have over God, even yet. If we are to be truly men of faith, such necessity must be felt by us. The weak are all about us. Weak men and women, crippled by their own false choices, ruined by the fiery blasts of Satan, bruised in their struggle against too great odds in life,- surely one has not far to go to find the claim of the weak. For a man of faith, such a claim is a personal one. His own power is instantly mortgaged to relieve it.

It must be evident that faith grows stronger, rather than a weaker as life advances. If there is any meaning in the story of the upward movements of life, if there is any reason in the nature of things, it must be clear, that faith instead of waning is in its crescent period.

5. Last of all, we note that faith may well be considered a permanent factor in man's life, since it alone brings two of the indispensable requisites of the highest life- namely, Poise and Power.

Poise steadies the soul. It makes it calm and confident in the midst of the greatest contentions in life's arena. It is not self-confidence that we mean, but a Godward confidence. The men of faith have to a man than men of poise. Moses trembled not in Pharaoh's court. Elizah was not abashed before a wicked king and a still more contemptible queen. Isaiah stood his ground, when all the rest of the court wanted to go over to the side of Egypt. Paul dared the greatest power of his time, if not of the ancient world, when he persisted in getting to Rome. These and others, not the least of whom have been the martyrs and the missionaries, have been men of poise. "The Christians die well," said their enemies in ancient Rome. Why? Not that they did not fear death. Many of them were timid men. Not that they had nothing left to live for. Not that they had no hearts and had killed their sensibilities- none of these things. They died well because they were men of faith. God had entered their lives and they did not need to care. He cared. Men of faith have not only died well from that day to this- as when the missionaries in China died a year or more since in the Boxer uprising and dying prayed that their children might live to return to China to tell the story they were cut off from telling all too soon,- but bless God- men of faith have lived well also. In the midst of crooked and perverse generations has the light of God shined out for the illumination of the world hidden in sin.

This ability to live well and to die well, is derived from a peace in the soul, that comes from God. That it is that gives poise. And poise all men wonder at and admire.

Power likewise involves faith. No man can give power but he alone who has it. Nor can he give it long, who, by giving, impoverishes himself. The power of faith Is not duller by use, since it is in touch with the forces of God. How happy he who wizard-like can tap those mighty resources. Such is the privilege of the man of faith.

Long years ago one illustrious man of America, of adventurous disposition flew to the winds his kite. But not as boys fly kites did he. His kite went with a great question. He sent to heaven one of the largest interrogation points. Heaven answered in fire. When the kite came down, old Benjamin Franklin knew that away in the clouds was a great reservoir of forces that had as yet been untouched, and which when mastered would revolutionize the world. And we are yet learning what he caught the merest glimpse of that day. The day of electricity has not yet come. That day will not be here till we speak by it through the air, till we ride by it, and cook buy it, and see by it, and live by it.

To the Christian belongs the same opportunity that was afforded this man of long ago. We too may fly our kites- but they are kites of faith. But sent into to heaven, they come back not alone. They sink back to us with a message and a story. The story is of forces yet untouched and unused by us. The heaven of heavens cannot contain that power of which are kite of faith brings us knowledge. And we by means of this magic kite of faith are able to go out and take the world. God help us to do it.

The Poise and Power of faith. How great they seem. To live in the midst of the mystery and tragedy of life, safe and balanced always, because hid with Christ in God. To be ministering servants always, because the light that never was on land or sea, the light of God shines out from us. Such is the inestimable privilege of the Christian's faith.

How shall we secure it? Simply by going to God. Deep as faith is it is born of experience. We do not have faith in God, and then learn to love Him. We love Him, and faith comes as naturally as the flower follows the stock.

Dear Father help us to thus go to Thee. Those who do go to Thee Thou dost not cast out. Even those who go, with little knowledge of why they go, Thou dost receive, and multiply their faith. Those who go with great expectations Thou dost send away with even greater realizations. Thou dost make our faith not only the source of our Christian life but its fairest flower. Help us to Thyself, O God, that we may be helped to a more abiding faith.