A Sermon by the Rev. C. H.
Delivered on February 17, 1861
The Object of Faith; or, to what Faith looks
I am told in the Word of God to believe...what am I to believe? I am bidden to look...to what am I to look? What is to be the object of my hope, belief, and confidence? The reply is simple. The object of Faith to a sinner is Christ Jesus. How many make a mistake about this and think that they are to believe on God the Father! Now, belief in God is an after-result of faith in Jesus. We come to believe in the eternal love of the Father as the result of trusting the precious blood of the Son.
Many men say, "I would believe in Christ if I knew that I were elect." This is coming to the Father, and no man can come to the Father except by Christ. It is the Father's work to elect; you cannot come directly to him, therefore you cannot know your election until first you have believed on Christ the Redeemer, and then through redemption you can approach to the Father, and know your election.
Some, too, make the mistake of looking to the work of God the Holy Spirit. They look within to see if they have certain feelings, and if they find them, their faith is strong; but if their feelings have departed from them, then their faith is weak, so that they look to the work of the Spirit, which is not the object of a sinner's faith. Both the Father and the Spirit must be trusted, in order to complete redemption, but for the particular mercy of justification and pardon, the blood of the Mediator is the only plea. Christians have to trust the Spirit after conversion, but the sinner's business, if he would be saved, is not with trusting the Spirit nor with looking to the Spirit, but looking to Christ Jesus, and to him alone. I know your salvation depends on the whole Trinity, but yet the first and immediate object of a sinner's justifying faith is neither God the Father, nor God the Holy Ghost, but God the Son, incarnate in human flesh, and offering atonement for sinners.
Hast thou the eye of faith? Then, soul, look thou to Christ as God. If thou wouldst be saved, believe him to be God over all, blessed for ever. Bow before him, and accept him as being "Very God of very God," for if thou doest not, thou hast no part in him.
When thou hast this believed, believe in him as man. Believe the wondrous story of his incarnation; rely upon the testimony of the evangelists, who declare that the Infinite was robed in the infant, that the Eternal was concealed within the mortal; that he who was King of heaven became a servant of servants and the Son of man. Believe and admire the mystery of his incarnation, for unless thou believe this, thou canst not be saved thereby.
Then specially, if thou wouldst be saved, let thy faith behold Christ in his perfect righteousness. See him keeping the law without blemish, obeying his Father without error; preserving his integrity without flaw. All this thou art to consider as being done on thy behalf. Thou couldst not keep the law; he kept it for thee. Thou couldst not obey God perfectly; lo! his obedience standeth in the stead of thy obedience...by it thou art saved.
But take care that thy faith mainly fixes itself upon Christ as dying and as dead. View the Lamb of God as dumb before his shearers; view him as the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; go thou with him to Gethsemane, and behold him sweating drops of blood. Mark, thy faith has nothing to do with anything within thyself; the object of thy faith is nothing within thee, but a something without thee. Believe on him, then, who on yonder tree, with nailed hands and feet, pours out his life for sinners. There is the object of thy faith for justification; not in thyself, nor in anything which the Holy Spirit has done in thee, or anything he has promised to do for thee; but thou art to look to Christ and to Christ Jesus alone.
Then let thy faith behold Christ as rising from the dead. See him...he has borne the curse, and now he receives the justification. He dies to pay the debt; he rises that he may nail the handwriting of that discharged debt to the cross. See him ascending up on high, and behold him this day pleading before the Father's throne. He is there pleading for his people, offering up today his authoritative petition for all that come to God by him. And he, as God, as man, as living, as dying, as rising, and as reigning above...he, and he alone, is to be the object of thy faith for the pardon of sin.
On nothing else must thou trust; he is to be the only prop and pillar of thy confidence; and all thou addest thereunto will be a wicked anti-christ, a rebellion against the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. But take care if your faith save you, that while you look to Christ in all these matters you view him as being a substitute.
This doctrine of substitution is so essential to the whole plan of salvation that I must explain it here for the thousandth time. God is just, he must punish sin; God is merciful, he wills to pardon those who believe in Jesus. How is this to be done? How can he be just and exact the penalty; merciful, and accept the sinner? He doeth it thus: he taketh the sins of his people and actually lifteth them up from off his people to Christ, so that they stand as innocent as though they had never sinned, and Christ is looked upon by God as though he had been all the sinners in the world rolled into one. The sin of his people was taken from their persons, and really and actually, not typically and metaphorically, but really and actually laid on Christ. Then God came forth with his fiery sword to meet the sinner and to punish him. He met Christ. Christ was not a sinner himself; but the sins of his people were all imputed to him. Justice, therefore, met Christ as though he had been the sinner...punished Christ for his people's sins, punished him as far as its rights could go...exacted from him the last atom of the penalty, and left not a dreg in the cup.
And now, he who can see Christ as being his substitute, and puts his trust in him, is thereby delivered from the curse of the law. Soul, when thou seest Christ obeying the law, thy faith is to say, "He obeys that for his people." When thou seest him dying, thou art to count the purple drops, and say, "Thus he took my sins away." When thou seest him rising from the dead, thou art to say, "He rises as the head and representative of all his elect;" and when thou seest him sitting at the right hand of God, thou art to view him there as the pledge that all for whom he died shall most surely sit at the Father's right hand. Learn to look on Christ as being in God's sight as though he were the sinner. "In him was no sin." He was "the just," but he suffered for the unjust. He was the righteous, but he stood in the place of the unrighteous; and all that the unrighteous ought to have endured, Christ has endured once for all, and put away their sins for ever by the sacrifice of himself.
Now, this is the great object of faith. I pray you, do not make any mistake about this, for a mistake here will be dangerous, if not fatal. View Christ, by your faith, as being in his life, and death, and sufferings, and resurrection, the substitute for all whom his Father gave him...the vicarious sacrifice for the sins of all those who will trust him with their souls. Christ, then, thus set forth, is the object of justifying faith.
Now let me further remark that there are some who may read this, no doubt, who will say..."Oh, I should believe and I should be saved if"...If what? If Christ had died? "Oh no, sir, my doubt is nothing about Christ." I thought so. Then what is the doubt? "Why, I should believe if I felt this, or if I had done that." Just so; but I tell you, you could not believe in Jesus if you felt that, or if you had done that, for then you would believe in yourself, and not in Christ. That is the English of it. If you were so-and-so, or so-and-so, then you could have confidence. Confidence in what? Why, confidence in your feelings, and confidence in your doings, and that is just the clear contrary of confidence in Christ.
Faith is not to infer from something good within me that I shall be saved, but to say in the teeth, and despite of the fact, that I am guilty in the sight of God, and deserve his wrath, yet I do nevertheless believe that the blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth me from all sin; and though my present consciousness condemns me, yet my faith overpowers my consciousness, and I do believe that "he is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him." To come to Christ as a saint is very easy work; to trust a doctor to cure you when you believe you are getting better, is very easy; but to trust your physician when you feel as if the sentence of death were in your body, to bear up when the disease is rising into the very skin, and when the ulcer is gathering its venom, to believe even then in the efficacy of the medicine...that is faith.
And so, when sin gets the master of thee, when thou feelest that the law condemns thee, then, even then, as a sinner, to trust Christ, this is the most daring feat in all the world; and the faith which shook down the walls of Jericho, the faith which raised the dead, the faith which stopped the mouths of lions, was not greater than that of a poor sinner, when in the teeth of all his sins he dares to trust the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Do this, soul, then thou art saved, whosoever thou mayest be. The object of faith, then, is Christ as the substitute for sinners. God in Christ, but not God apart from Christ, nor any work of the Spirit, but the work of Jesus only must be viewed by you as the foundation of your hope.
The Reason of Faith; or, why doth any man believe, and whence doth his faith come?
"Faith cometh by hearing." Granted, but do not all men hear, and do not many still remain unbelieving? How, then, doth any man come by his faith? To his own experience his faith comes as the result of a sense of need. He feels himself needing a Saviour; he finds Christ to be just such a Saviour as he wants, and therefore because he cannot help himself, he believes in Jesus. Having nothing of his own, he feels he must take Christ or else perish, and therefore he doth it because he cannot help doing it. He is fairly driven up into a corner, and there is but this one way of escape, namely, by the righteousness of another; for he feels he cannot escape by any good deeds, or sufferings of his own, and he cometh to Christ and humbleth himself, because he cannot do without Christ, and must perish unless he lay hold of him.
But to carry the question further back, where does that man get his sense of need? How is it that he, rather than others, feels his need of Christ! It is certain he has no more necessity for Christ than other men. How doth he come to know, then, that he is lost and ruined? How is it that he is driven by the sense of ruin to take hold on Christ the restorer? The reply is, this is the gift of God; this is the work of the Spirit. No man comes to Christ except the Spirit draw him, and the Spirit draws men to Christ by shutting them up under the law to a conviction that if they do not come to Christ they must perish. Then by sheer stress of weather, they tack about and run into this heavenly port. Salvation by Christ is so disagreeable to our carnal mind, so inconsistent with our love of human merit, that we never would take Christ to be our all in all, if the Spirit did not convince us that we were nothing at all, and did not so compel us to lay hold on Christ.
But, then, the question goes further back still; how is it that the Spirit of God teaches some men their need, and not other men? Why is it that some of you were driven by your sense of need to Christ, while others go on in their self-righteousness and perish? There is no answer to be given but this, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." It comes to divine sovereignty at the last. The Lord hath "hidden those things from the wise and prudent, and hath revealed them unto babes." According to the way in which Christ put it..."My sheep hear my voice;" "ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you." Some divines would like to read that..."Ye are not my sheep, because ye do not believe." As if believing made us the sheep of Christ; but the text puts it.. "Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep."
"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me." If they come not, it is a clear proof that they were never given; for those who were given of old eternity to Christ, chosen of God the Father, and then redeemed by God the Son...these are led by the Spirit, through a sense of need, to come and lay hold on Christ.
No man yet ever did, or ever will believe in Christ, unless he feels his need of him. No man ever did, or will feel his need of Christ, unless the Spirit makes him feel, and the Spirit will make no man feel his need of Jesus savingly, unless it be written in that eternal book, in which God hath surely engraved the names of his chosen. So, then, I think I am not to be misunderstood on this point, that the reason of faith, or why men believe, is God's electing love working through the Spirit by a sense of need, and so bring them to Christ Jesus.
The Ground of the Sinner's Faith; or, on what ground he dares to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ
My dear friends, I have already said that no man will believe in Jesus, unless he feels his need of him. I have often said, and I repeat it again, that I do not come to Christ pleading that I feel my need of him; my reason for believing in Christ, is not that I feel my need of him, but that I have a need of him. The ground on which a man comes to Jesus, is not as a sensible sinner, but as a sinner, and nothing but a sinner. He will not come unless he is awakened; but when he comes, he does not say, "Lord, I come to thee because I am an awakened sinner, save me." But he says, "Lord, I am a sinner, save me." Not his awakening, but his sinnership is the method and plan upon which he dares to come.
You will, perhaps, perceive what I mean, for I cannot exactly explain myself just now, if I refer to the preaching of a great many divines, they say to a sinner, "Now, if you feel your need of Christ, if you have repented so much, if you have been harrowed by the law to such and such a degree, then you may come to Christ on the ground that you are an awakened sinner." I say that is false. No man may come to Christ on the ground of his being an awakened sinner; he must come to him as a sinner. When I come to Jesus, I know I cannot come unless I am awakened, but still I do not come as an awakened sinner. I do not stand at the foot of his cross to be washed because I have repented; I bring nothing when I come but sin. A sense of need is a good feeling, but when I stand at the foot of the cross, I do not believe in Christ because I have got good feelings, but I believe in him whether I have good feelings or not.
Between that word "save" and the next word "sinners", there is no adjective. It does not say, "penitent sinners", "awakened sinners", "sensible sinners", "grieving sinners", or, "alarmed sinners." No, it only says "sinners," and I know this, that when I come, I come to Christ today, for I feel it is as much a necessity of my life to come to the cross of Christ today as it was to come ten years ago; when I come to him I dare not come as a conscious sinner, or an awakened sinner, but I have to come still as a sinner with nothing in my hands.
I saw an aged man lately in the vestry of a chapel in Yorkshire. I had been saying something to this effect: the old man had been a Christian for years, and he said, "I never saw it put exactly so, but still I know that is just the way I come; I say, Lord,
("Black enough," said the old man.)
I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
The ground on which a sinner comes to Christ is that he is black; that he is dead, and not that he knows he is dead; that he is lost, and not that he knows he is lost. I know he will not come unless he does know it, but that is not the ground on which he comes. It is the secret reason why, but it is not the public positive ground which he understands. Here was I, year after year, afraid to come to Christ because I thought I did not feel enough; and I used to read that hymn of Cowper's about being insensible as steel...
Generally the people who repent the most, think they are impenitent, and people feel most their need when they think they do not feel at all, for we are no judges of our feelings, and hence the gospel invitation is not put upon the ground of anything of which we can be a judge; it is put on the ground of our being sinners, and nothing but sinners.
"Well," says one, "but it says ‘Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest'...then we must be weary and heavy-laden." Just so; so it is in that text, but then there is another, "Whosoever will let him come;" and that does not say anything about "weary and heavy-laden."
Besides, while the invitation is given to the weary and heavy-laden, you will perceive that the promise is not made to them as weary and heavy-laden, but it is made to them as coming to Christ. They did not know that they were weary and heavy-laden when they came; they thought they were not. They really were, but part of their weariness was that they could not be as weary as they would like to be, and part of their load was that they did not feel their load enough. They came to Christ just as they were, and he saved them, not because there was any merit in their weariness, or any efficacy in their being heavy-laden, but he saved them as sinners and nothing but sinners, and so they were washed in his blood and made clean. My dear reader, do let me put this truth home to thee. If thou wilt come to Christ, as nothing but a sinner, he will not cast thee out.
Old Tobias Crisp says in one of his sermons upon this very point, "I
dare to say it, but if thou dost come to Christ, whosoever thou mayest
be, if he does not receive thee, then he is not true to his word, for
he says, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out'." If thou
comest, never mind qualification or preparation. He needeth no
qualification of duties or of feelings either. Thou art to come just as
thou art, and if thou art the biggest sinner out of hell, thou art as
fit to come to Christ as if thou wert the most moral and most excellent
of men. There is a bath: who is fit to be washed? A man's blackness is
no reason why he should not be washed, but the clearer reason why he
should be. When our City magistrates were giving relief to the poor,
nobody said, "I am so poor, therefore I am not fit to have relief."
Your poverty is your preparation, the black is the white here. Strange
contradiction! The only thing you can bring to Christ is your sin and
your wickedness. All he asks is, that you will come empty. If you have
nothing of your own, you must leave all before you come. If there be
anything good in you, you cannot trust Christ, you must come with
nothing in your hand. Take him as all in all, and that is the only
ground upon which a poor soul can be saved...as a sinner, and nothing
but a sinner.