Copyright © 1975, 2002
What are the conditions of faith? We do not mean, “What physical or soulish conditions are necessary to enable faith to work?” nor “How may we arrange the circumstances or how may we procure the right atmosphere by the use of soul-thrilling music or by drama or by the charming display of an extraordinary human personality?” We have tried to make it clear that the faith of the Scriptures is a spiritual faith, not a psychic one: it is the faith of God. Therefore we are not concerned with outward atmosphere, but with spiritual conditions, that is, with the spirit of the man of faith.
We have already said that faith works in spite of contrary conditions. If that were not so, there would be no need of faith. Usually circumstances and conditions are against the victory of an act of faith. For example:
- Noah—by faith—built an ark, an unsinkable ship, to float in a worldwide storm of such titanic dimensions that it is beyond human thought even to conceive of it. No past or present shipyard could produce a ship to keep afloat through such a universal deluge [Genesis 6-8].
- Abraham and Sarah received miraculous ability—by faith—to produce a child, when every physiologically relevant fact shouted against their ability to do so (Hebrews 11:11-12).
- Abraham—by faith—was prepared to slay his son, burn him to ashes on an altar, and then expect to see his son rise from the ashes, phoenix-like, in newness of life, “from whence also he received him in a figure” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
- All the evidence was against human levitation in the days of Enoch. No one had ever risen from earth before. But—by faith—“Enoch was translated [taken up into the heavens]” (Hebrews 11:5), “for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).
Utter Helplessness: A Worm’s-Eye View of Faith
The man of faith is one who has felt his complete need of it—one who has no confidence in the flesh. To whom does God promise that he shall be “a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth” that should “thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and make the hills as chaff”? To whom does He say, “Fear not”? He says it to “thou worm Jacob” (Isaiah 41:14,15). A worm is the most lowly thing on earth. It is a weak, despised, helpless thing—a prey to the mole which burrows for it in the earth, and a prey to the thrush which listens and watches for it above ground. It has no defenses against attack; it has no means of offense; it is a prey to fear. A worm has no voice to cry out for help; it has no eyes to see; it has no ears to hear; it is a trembling thing, sensitive to every vibration.
“Fear not,” says the Living God to every weak, trembling Jacob, for these are the candidates for a living and triumphant faith. Jesus took our place; He calls Himself a worm. “But I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people” (Psalm 22:6). These are the prophetic, messianic words inspired by the Holy Spirit. God says, to confirm this: “Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth. I have put My Spirit upon Him…He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He shall not break, and the smoking [dimly burning] flax [lamp-wick] shall He not quench” (Isaiah 42:1,3). Again He says, “Who is blind, but my Servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent?” (Isaiah 42:19).
But this is the faithful One who “shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth” (Isaiah 42:4). He shall “open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isaiah 42:7). This One who made Himself a worm is the only One who is God’s man of faith and God’s man for the hour. Would you share in His triumph of faith? Then you must fulfill the conditions and be of His character.
The spirit of our evangelical age is contrary to this. We puff up, we inflate, we shout our loud advertisement of a man. We glory in education and in human ability; we are ever alert to listen to the latest clever preacher, that we also might be amongst the knowledgeable, lest we should be considered ignorant. To what a pass we have come! No wonder true faith declines, and substitute faith is so often the order of the day. Listen again to the Holy Spirit speaking to the early Christians through Paul:
- For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
- But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
- And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
- That no flesh should glory in His presence…
- …as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29,31
The Lord Jesus confirms this: “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matthew 11:25,26). What God has hidden, no man can find. He has hidden from man His life, His truth, His faith, His love, His Son; all can come to us only by His unveiling, through direct personal revelation.
Associated with this condition of humility is that of poverty. What is spiritual poverty? What did Jesus mean when He said, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20)? True Christian poverty is not a physical condition, but a spiritual one. Matthew’s equally inspired record of this beatitude includes two additional words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). This makes it quite clear that the Lord is not saying that being poor of itself is the condition for being a possessor of the Kingdom of God, nor conversely, that one who has wealth is of necessity excluded from it; but that being poor or being rich must have the foundation of a Christ-like spirit. To be poor in this sense means that I own nothing; that all I have, little or much, I hold as a responsible steward of God; and that I am ready to dispense it how and when and to whom He wills.
James says, “Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?” (James 2:5). One cannot hold one’s riches to oneself and at the same time wield that faith that subdues kingdoms, works righteousness, stops the mouths of lions, quenches the violence of fire, resurrects the dead, etc. (Hebrews 11). One can have great knowledge of doctrines and dogmas and Bible truths, which are called “The Faith,” but not have that word of faith which the Lord confirms with signs following. This is the reason that He is able to do many more miracles amongst the very poor of India or Indonesia, where riches are not a barrier, than among the members of the more affluent churches of the West.
The Example of Jesus
Let us consider the earthly life of the Lord Jesus, for He ever practiced His own precepts. How and where was the Lord born? He was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger. When Mary and Joseph came to Jerusalem to dedicate the Baby to the Lord, they offered a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (Luke 2:21-24). Reference to this offering in Leviticus 12:6-8 reveals that it was the offering of poverty—provision made for the poor who could not afford to bring a lamb. Where was Jesus reared? Amongst the poor and uneducated.
Did Jesus of Nazareth have an education like Paul? No! “How knoweth this Man letters [Greek: gramma; i.e., “the writings”], having never learned?” (John 7:15) “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Jesus was brought up to be a carpenter, not one who necessarily worked only in wood, but one who was an artisan, working also in iron and stone. He was of ordinary stock, one of the common, useful, humble people. If He had lived nowadays, His surname could likely have been “Smith.” He belonged to none of the exclusive circles, the rich, the educated, or the aristocracy. This enabled Him to speak on faith. Faith was a great necessity to One who had neither a hole like a fox nor a nest like a bird—“not where to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Are then Christ’s true and poor disciples entirely dependent on the charity of kindly disposed people? Never! Rather, their dependence is on the ever-flowing bounty of an all-providing Heavenly Father!
An Example from Church History
Here is one of the Lord’s humble poor, the Rev. John Wesley, a man of faith. See now how he follows His Master. We will take just one incident of many from his journals. He is eighty-one years old at the time of this entry:
At this season we usually distribute coals and bread among the poor of the society. But I now considered that they wanted clothes as well as food. So on this and the four following days I walked through the town [London] and begged two hundred pounds, in order to clothe them that needed it most. But it was hard work, as most of the streets were filled with melting snow, which often lay ankle deep; so that my feet were steeped in snow-water from morning ’till evening. I held out pretty well ’till Saturday evening; but I was laid out with a violent flux which increased every hour, ’till, at six in the morning, Dr. Whitehead called upon me. His first draught made me quite easy; and three or four more perfected the cure.
By contrast, to make the light shine clear against the darkness, consider one of the usual clergy of those days. Here is an extract from the diary of Parson Woodforde of this period. He details one of his usual dinners:
…A fine pike roasted for dinner with a Pudding in his Belly; a leg of mutton with caper sauce, a pig’s face, a neck of pork roasted with gooseberries and a plum pudding and eggs, roast fowl, orange pudding; custards and jellies.
And for supper, which in England would be just before going to bed:
…A brace of partridges, some cold tongue, potatoes in shells, meat pies and more tarts…
Can you see more clearly why the clergy of Parson Woodforde’s type despised, scoffed at, and maligned John Wesley? Parson Woodforde on Sunday would read to his congregation a homily on “Justification by Faith.” Yet what did he know of the scripture that “God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith” [James 2:5]? John Wesley, however, knew it in deed and in truth.
More Examples from Jesus’ Life
See again, how the Lord’s poverty brought Him to the necessity of faith. Matthew records how the collectors for the Temple authority came to obtain the half-shekel tribute which they exacted from every Jew. Jesus had no money, nor had Peter. Their poverty necessitated a miracle; it was done! Peter was commanded to angle for a fish—and how wonderful: the one he caught had a stater in its mouth (a coin introduced by the Romans that had the value of a shekel), and this he paid for Jesus and himself. [See Matthew 17:24-27.]
The Lord’s very first miracle was wrought out of poverty. The wedding party had no wine; the wine merchants had. But this required money; and very gladly would the merchants have delivered more wine if the money had been forthcoming. Jesus was poor, but rich in faith and compassion. His poverty necessitated a miracle. He turned water into wine. [See John 2:1-11.]
Again there came a time when a great multitude heard Him and hung on His words as the hours slipped by. With the approach of evening, the sun had begun to set. It was a desert place. The multitude was hungry and would have to go fainting away. If Jesus had been rich, His foreknowledge would have provided ample food. There were food merchants in the cities where the people had come from who could have provisioned an army. Had He possessed worldly wealth, Jesus could have ordered the food from them for such a time and at such a place, and paid the money, and a cavalcade of camels, mules and asses would have brought it there. But Jesus was poor; and saying, “I have compassion on the multitude,” out of the riches of His divine faith, the faith of the Son of God, He took five barley loaves and two fishes and fed to the full five thousand men, besides women and children. [See John 6:1-13.]
Are You Rich or Poor?
Whenever the church increases in political power, pride and wealth, her glory dies with her poverty. The Lord Jesus said, “Thou sayest, I am rich…” (Revelation 3:17). Do not the major denominations tell us of the extent of their properties, their magnificent buildings, their earthly possessions and their mortgages? But listen again to the word of the Lord: “Thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). The story is told of a pope, his heart swelling with pride as he looked around on the glories of the Vatican and as he thought of the wealth represented by the curia of which he was the head. “Our founder, St. Peter,” said he to a cardinal, “could say, ‘Silver and gold have I none…,’ but we,” said he smilingly, “could not say that.” “No,” thoughtfully replied the cardinal, “nor can we say, ‘Take up thy bed and walk!’”
True faith, then, cannot be exercised without poverty of spirit. It is not the fact of being poor that enables the operation of faith. Poverty alone can militate against it. The “cares of this world” can choke the seed of the Word as effectually as can its opposite, the “deceitfulness of riches” [Matthew 13:22]. It is this blessed “Sister Poverty” whom Francis of Assisi knew so well, this meekness and lowliness of spirit, that takes with joy the privilege of being wholly dependent on its Beloved, which is the fruitful ground for the planting and growth of the tree of Faith. This lowly spirit has the spirit of forgiveness; the spirit of forgiveness ever walks hand in hand with the spirit of confession. “Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another that ye may be healed” (James 5:16). This does not mean that the one seeking healing should confess his faults; that has already been covered in verse 15. It means, the elders of the church who have come to lay hands upon the sick one and to anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord confess their faults one to another, in true poverty of spirit, that the riches of faith might be released. If this were done more often, we would see more miracles of healing. More will be said concerning the conditions which enable faith to increase when we come to consider the life and growth of faith.