THE SPIRIT OF FAITH
2 Cor. 4:13:—"But having the same Spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak."
This verse is a declaration on the Apostle's part of the grounds of his courage and faithfulness in preaching the glorious Gospel of Christ. The circumstances which attended his proclamation of this Gospel were of the most oppressive. In the preceding verses we have a picture of them which is drawn by means of a series of declarations which rise, one after another, to a most trying climax. He says that in the prosecution of his work he is in every way pressed, perplexed, pursued, smitten down. Here is a vivid picture of the defeated warrior, who is not only pressed by the foe, but put at his wits, ends,—not merely thus discouraged but put to flight,—not merely pursued but smitten down to the earth. A lurid picture of the befallings of Paul as a minister of Christ amid the spiritual conflicts on this side and that, in Galatia and in Corinth! Nevertheless things have not come to an end with him. Side by side with this series of befallings he places a contrasting series which exhibits the marvellous continuance of the Apostle in his well-doing, in spite of such dreadful happenings to him. Though he is in every way pressed yet he is not brought to his last straits; though he is in every way perplexed, yet he has not gone to despair; though he is pursued yet he is not overtaken; though he is actually smitten down he is yet not destroyed.
In the prosecution of Paul's work as a minister of Christ, there is thus a marvellous co-existence of experiences the most desperate and of deliverances the most remarkable. It is as if destruction had continually befallen him; yet ever out of destruction he rises afresh to the continuance of his work. In this remarkable contrast of his experiences the Apostle sees a dramatic reenactment of Christ's saving work, who died that He might live and might bring life to the world. In it he sees himself, he says, ever re-enacting the putting to death of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in his body. As Jesus died and rose again, so he daily dies in the service of Christ and comes to life again; and so, abiding in life, he is ever delivered to death for Jesus' sake that the life also of Jesus might be manifested in his mortal flesh. Oh, marvellous destiny of the followers of Christ, in the very nature and circumstances of their service to placard before the world the great lesson of the redemption of Christ—the great lesson of life by death; to manifest thus to all men the life of Jesus and the life from Jesus springing constantly out of His death. Thus the very life-circumstances of Paul become a preached Gospel. They manifest Christ and His work for souls. They manifest it. For the dying is for Paul and the life for his hearers.
Now Paul gives a twofold account of those circumstances in which he preached the Gospel. He assigns them ultimately to the purpose of God. This great treasure of the glorious Gospel has been put into such earthen vessels for the very purpose of more fully manifesting its divine glory. In contrast with its vehicle, the power of the message is all the more discernible. It is just that the exceeding greatness of its power may be seen to be of God that it is delivered to men in vessels whose exceeding weakness may be apparent. On the other hand, that these earthen vessels are able to endure the strain put upon them in conveying these treasures, is itself from God. Paul attributes it to God's upholding power, operating through faith. That in the midst of such trials he is enabled to endure; that though smitten down continuously he is not destroyed; that though dying daily he still lives with a living Gospel still on his lips; it is all due to the support of his firm conviction and faith.' "So then, it is death that worketh in us, but life in you, and having the same Spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed and, therefore, did I speak; we also believe and therefore speak, since we know that He that raised up Jesus shall raise us up also with Jesus, and shall present us with you." Here are the sources of the Apostle's strength and of his courage. It is only because of his firm faith in the Gospel he preaches that he can endure through the trials into which its service has immersed him. With a less clear conviction and less firm faith in it, he would long ago have succumbed to the evils of his life and his lips have long ago become dumb. But he believed; and, therefore, though earth and hell combined to destroy him, he could not but speak. Let earthly trials multiply; beyond the daily deaths of earth there was an eternal life in store for him; and the more he could rescue from death to that life, the more multiplied grace would redound to increased thanksgiving and abound to God's glory. In the power of this faith the Apostle can face and overcome the trials of life.
There are many important lessons that may come to us from observing this declaration of the Apostle's faith.
Beginning at the remoter side we may be surprised to observe that he seeks the norm of his faith in the Old Testament saints. "Having the same Spirit of faith," he says, "according as it is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak"— referring for the model of faith back to the words of this hero Psalmist. Now we may not be accustomed to think of the Old Testament saints as the heroes of faith. The characteristic emotion of Old Testament religion, we are accustomed to say, was awe or even fear. The characteristic expression of it is summed up in the term, "The fear of the Lord." The New Testament on the other hand is the dispensation of faith. And if we have consideration only for the prevailing language of the Old Testament this is true enough. The word "faith" is scarcely an Old Testament word; it occurs but twice in the English Old Testament, and it is disputable whether on either occasion it fairly—or at least fully—represents the Hebrew. Even the word "to believe" applied to divine things is rare in the Old Testament.
But the word and the thing are different matters. And it may be doubted whether the conceptions of awe, fear, and of faith, trust, are so antagonistic as is commonly represented. Certainly reverence and faith are correlative conceptions. A God whom we do not fear with religious reverence, we cannot have such faith in as the Apostle's. And certainly the New Testament writers do always look to the Old Testament saints as the heroes of faith. This is the burden of one of the most magnificent passages in the New Testament, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. And of others too. It is the faith of Abraham which is the standing model of faith to both Paul and James; and it is he who both in the subjective and objective senses of the word is represented to us as the Father of the Faithful. Let it be allowed that these heroes of faith lived in the twilight of knowledge; knowledge and faith stand in relation to one another, but are not the measure of one another. If there can be no faith where there is no knowledge, on the other hand it is equally true that the realm of dim knowledge is often the region of strong faith,—for when we walk by sight, faith has no place. No; he that believes in Jesus whom he has seen, must yield in point of heroism of faith and the blessedness promised to it, to him who having not seen yet has believed. Those great men of God of old, not being weak in faith, believed in the twilight of revelation, and waxing strong, died in faith; and we could wish nothing higher for ourselves than that we might be like them in their faithful faith.
It is observable next that the Apostle attributes the faith of the Old Testament heroes to whom he would direct our eyes as the norm of faith, to the work of the Holy Ghost. He felicitates himself not merely on having the same quality of faith with them. He looks deeper. The ground of rejoicing in their fellowship is that he shares with them the "same Spirit of faith." "Having the same Spirit of faith," he says. It may be doubted, once again, if we should have naturally spoken in this way. We may be accustomed to think of the Holy Spirit as an esssentially New Testament possession; and to conceive, in a more or less formulated manner, of the saints of the Old Testament as left to their own native powers in their serving of God. Heroes of faith as they were, it would be peculiarly difficult, however, to believe that they reached the height of their pious attainment apart from the gracious operations of the Spirit of God. Or shall we say that only in New Testament times men are dead in sin, and only in these days of the completed Gospel and of the New Covenant do men need the almighty power of God to raise them from their spiritual death?
Certainly the Bible lends no support to such a notion. Less is said of the gracious operations of the Spirit in the Old Testament than in the New, but to say less of it is one thing and its absence is quite another. And there is enough in the Old Testament itself—by prayer of Psalmist that the Holy Spirit should not be taken away from him, by statement of historian that through the Spirit God gave this one and that one a new heart, by assurance of prophet that the Spirit of God is the author of all right belief and of all good conduct,— to assure us that then, too, on Him depended all the exercises of piety, to Him was due all the holy aspirations and all the good accomplishments of every saint of God. And certainly the New Testament tells us in repeated instances that the Holy Spirit was active throughout the period of the Old Dispensation, in all the varieties of activities which characterize the New. The difference between the two lies not in any difference in the utter dependence of men on Him, or in the nature of His operations, but in their extent and aim with reference to the life of the Kingdom of God. Our present passage is one of those tolerably numerous New Testament ones in which the gracious operations of the Spirit in the Old Covenant are assumed. Paul here tells us that the faith of the Old Testament saints was the product of God's Holy Spirit; and he claims for himself nothing more than what he asserts for them. "Having the same Spirit of faith," he says. He is content— nay, he is full of joy—to have the same Spirit working faith in him that worked faith in them. He claims no superiority in the matter. If he has a like faith, it is because he is made by God's grace to share in a like fountain of faith. The one Spirit who works faith is the common possession of them and of him; and therein he finds his highest privilege and his greatest glory. What David had of the operations of the Spirit, that is what Paul represents as the height of Christian privilege to possess.
It may not be wholly needless to observe further the naturalness of Paul's ascription of faith to the working of the Holy Spirit—whether under the Old or the New Dispensation. He means to express the confidence he has in the glorious Gospel which he proclaims. He does not say, however, simply "having a confident faith." He says, "having the Spirit of faith," the same Spirit of faith which wrought in the Psalmist. So much was faith to him the product of the Spirit that he thinks of it in terms of its origin. Clearly to him, no Spirit, no faith. Faith is, therefore, most absolutely conceived by the Apostle as the product not of our own powers but of the Spirit of God, and it is inconceivable to him that it can exist apart from His gift.
We may sometimes fall short of the Apostle's conception and fancy that we can—nay, that we must—first believe before the Spirit comes to us. No, it is the Spirit who gives faith. Faith is the gift of God in its innermost essence; and the Apostle continually thanks God for it, as His gift. We find it enumerated in Gal. 5:23 among the fruits of the Spirit; in 1 Cor. 12:7 we find it among the gifts which the Spirit distributes to men. In our present passage it is emphasized as the work of the Spirit, by its being used as a characterizing description of the Spirit. We do not describe or define a thing by something which is common to it and others. The possession of a vertebral column will not define a man; and we should never use the designation of vertebrate as a synonym of man. That the Spirit is called the "Spirit of faith" means that faith does not exist except as His gift; its very existence is bound up in His working. Just as we call Him the Spirit of life, the Spirit of holiness, and the like, because all life comes from Him and all holiness is of His making, so, when Paul calls Him the Spirit of faith, it is the evidence that in Paul's conception all faith comes from Him.
It matters not where faith is found—under the Old Testament or the New—in Psalmist or in Apostle—or in the distant believers of the Twentieth Century,—it matters not what degree of faith is present, weak, timid faith which scarcely dares believe in its own existence, or strong faith that can move mountains,—it matters not what of divine things be its object, God as our Ruler and Governor, the Scriptures as His Word, Christ as our Saviour; if it exists at all, in any time, in any degree, the Holy Ghost has wrought it. He is the Spirit of faith and faith is His unique product.
Finally, it will be of interest to us who are charged with the same duty of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation with which the Apostle was charged, to take especial note that he attributes that supreme faithfulness and steadfastness which pre-eminently characterized his work in the Gospel to a Spirit-wrought faith in the Gospel which he preached. The secret, he tells us, of his ability to continue throughout his dreadful trials in the work to which he had been called; the secret of his power to faint not, that is, not to play the coward, but to renounce the hidden things of shame and refuse to walk in craftiness or handle the Word of God deceitfully; the secret of his
power to preach a simple Gospel in honest faithfulness in the face of all temptations to please men, and to preach the saving Gospel in the face of all persecution—was simply that he had a hearty and unfeigned faith in it. When we really believe the Gospel of the Grace of God—when we really believe that it is the power of God unto salvation, the only power of salvation in this wicked world of ours—it is a comparatively easy thing to preach it, to preach it in its purity, to preach it in the face of a scoffing, nay, of a truculent and murdering world. Here is the secret— I do not now say of a minister's power as a preacher of God's grace—but of a minister's ability to preach at all this Gospel in such a world as we live in. Believe this Gospel, and you can and will preach it. Let men say what they will, and do what they will,—let them injure, ridicule, persecute, slay,— believe this Gospel and you will preach it.
Men often say of some element of the Gospel: "I can't preach that." Sometimes they mean that the world will not receive this or that. Sometimes they mean that the world will not endure this or that. Sometimes they mean that they cannot so preach this or that as to win the respect or the sympathy or the acceptance of the world. The Gospel cannot be preached? Cannot be preached? It can be preached if you will believe it. Here is the root of all your difficulties. You do not fully believe this Gospel! Believe it! Believe it! and then it will preach itself! God has not sent us into the world to say the most plausible things we can think of; to teach men what they already believe. He has sent us to preach unpalatable truths to a world lying in wickedness; apparently absurd truths to men, proud of their intellects; mysterious truths to men who are carnal and cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. Shall we despair? Certainly, if it is left to us not only to plant and to water but also to give the increase. Certainly not, if we appeal to and depend upon the Spirit of faith. Let Him but move on our hearts and we will believe these truths; and, even as it is written, I believed and therefore have I spoken, we also will believe and therefore speak. Let Him but move on the hearts of our hearers and they too will believe what He has led us to speak. We cannot proclaim to the world that the house is afire—it is a disagreeable thing to say, scarcely to be risked in the presence of those whose interest it is not to believe it? But believe it, and how quickly you rush forth to shout the unpalatable truth! So believe it and we shall assert to the world that it is lost in its sin, and rushing down to an eternal doom; that in Christ alone is there redemption; and through the Spirit alone can men receive this redemption. What care we if it be unpalatable, if it be true? For if it be true, it is urgent.