Saturday, 6 May 2017

But what of faith?

When the Apostle Peter took his last leave of the Christian people of Antioch, having set his face toward Rome to follow his Lord in death, a great number of the faithful, young and old, accompanied the beloved Father beyond the city. But they had to separate, weeping as He blessed them, and returning to their homes, they yielded their hearts to the will of God. The apostle went his way.

But there was one, old in years, who, having shared in the parting benediction, yet followed in the distance. And Peter, perceiving him, beckoned him to approach.

Thou art troubled, my son, said the aged apostle, with winning love; what is it that oppresses thy heart?

Father, replied the stranger timorously, is it not faith which justifies man in the sight of God, and makes him an heir of the kingdom?

Yea, surely. Canst thou not believe?

I do believe, beloved Father, but I cannot tell whether it is saving faith. It seems so weak and wavering, and yet by faith alone I may reach to heaven. That is my grief! I seem to be able to believe, fully and ardently at times, but not for long, and again I am left troubled and doubting. Faith seems to be shattered to pieces then, robbing me of all assurance, and were it not for the blessed name of the Saviour, I had nothing left to cling to. I have known moments when I seemed to rise as on wings of trust, when the fulness of heaven seemed given me. At such times I tasted all the blessedness of believing that he who seeks shall find; that he who knocks shall be received of God; of believing fully that I, led and taught by the Holy Spirit, would never again wander away from my Father in heaven; that I was bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ, and that His love would hold me safe to all eternity. I have known such faith as this, and, believe me, Father Peter, it was free from self-sufficient thoughts. And yet it cannot be saving faith, for at the very moment, sometimes, when my heart seemed nearest to the blessed communion of my Saviour, sin was at hand, and I fell grievously, losing the sense of divine acceptance, and finding myself in the dust, bleeding and helpless, and more miserable than he whom the thieves left lying on the road to Jericho, but the Good Samaritan was far—far away!

Alas, Father, my sufferings at such times are great. The sneers of the unbelieving at the power of faith I could have borne, but that the experience of my own heart should confirm such doubt distresses me greatly.

Yet so far I have always risen to my feet again, to renew the conflict; shutting my doors on unbelief, and willing to be led as a little child by Him who came to save. But woe is me, I am not saved—I think I am standing, and lo, I fall.

I am truly grieved at this my state, but repentance never yet gained me that power of the Spirit that might fit me for more real fellowship with Christ. Alas, Father Peter, my sorest weeping avails me not. When thou hadst fallen, thou didst weep I know, but thou couldst rise from tears more firmly planted than before, never again to deny the blessed Lord. But not so I—I fall, I weep; I rise, I fall, denying the Master continually.

You see, holy Father, what manner of faith this is! There is but one thing I am sure of, even the name of the Saviour which alone has never left me; aught else is wavering and, I doubt me, no certain foundation. Had I not been troubled already, I must have been filled with fear and trembling on hearing the word lately—Show thy faith by thy works! For alas my works, if not altogether evil, are full of imperfection testifying against my faith. How, then, shall it save me, if this is all my hope of acceptance?

I look back on life, and lo, I see a continued struggle—now in sorrow, now in despair. I will not say I have lost hope entirely; nay, I know that in spite of defeat I must go on battling, remembering that salvation is not of man's striving, but of God's giving. But I am old now, fast approaching the time when no man can work. Dare I hope for victory? will it be given to such weakness of faith? I am full of fear, clinging to the one hope only that the Good Samaritan, whose name I have believed in, for all my backslidings, will come to me at the last to lift me in His arms of pity and carry me home.

But will He do it? He has bound up my wounds again and again; will He accept me in the end? I dare not plead my faith—weak and wavering as it is, I am altogether unworthy of His saving mercy. I have not loved Him as I ought; even less than father or mother, or son or daughter, coming continually between me and Him. Ah, what shall I do to find His peace? what shall I do to be sure of being saved?

The apostle had listened in silence. His countenance shone with a heavenly light, his eyes seeking for things afar. What was it that moved in his soul, radiating from his brow—what blessed memory of a day gone by? The Spirit had carried him back to the sea of Tiberias, and he hears the voice of the risen Saviour, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? And now, as then, his heart makes answer, Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. And his Lord repeats, Feed my sheep.

My sheep! He looked upon the aged man. Here was one of the Good Shepherd's wandering sheep. And greatly moved, the apostle said

My brother, if faith, being poor, cannot help thee, try love. Mark my words; let it be thy one desire henceforth to show to the Lord that thou lovest Him. Let nothing be too great, and nothing too little, to do for His sake. Let love to Him be thy staff and thy strength, and thou shalt find peace for thy soul. Thy very endeavour to prove thy love to Him will make thee rich in the assurance of His love. It will fill thy soul, it will save thee utterly. Love for thee also will be the law's fulfilment.

Behold, he added, how wondrous is His love! steeping thee in blessing even while thou art sacrificing all. Whatever thou doest for Him comes back to thee. He never takes; He only gives, fulfilling His own word that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Yet it is thy love He looks for.

But what of faith, my Father, asked the stranger doubtingly, by which alone we are said to live?

A happy smile lit up the apostle's countenance, and he replied

It will be well, my son, with faith even. Thinkest thou it could be absent where love lives and moves? Go thy way, and hold fast that which thou hast and grace and peace be with thee evermore.

Letters from Hell, L. W. J. S., Richard Bentley & Son, London, 1889