This week's 'thought' comes to you from an old book I purchased recently. I started glancing through it and found this selection interesting -- from a historical and biblical perspective. In fact, if you are one of those people who idealizes the past as the "good old days" when everything was supposedly, "the way it should be," when compared to today, you may be disappointed to discover otherwise!
I'll save the date the book was published for the end so you can try to guess from its contents what era he is talking about. The title is "Remember Jesus Christ" and its author is Robert E. Speer. [I have taken the liberty of condense and update the language while holding to the author's intent]. Enjoy.
Christ's Command to Believe
"One of the most significant characteristics of the temper of our day is its dislike of the imperative mood. It does not like commands, or to be addressed in terms of, 'You must!' It likes to be spoken of in other terms, such as, 'Will you not, if it pleases you?'... For the last few years in this land we have had abundant evidence of the dislike of great classes of men for enforced limitation, for obligation, for law. There is across the country an antagonism to obligation...
The human will has never liked to limit its sovereignty, but it is quite clear that there is scarcely anything that is now as distasteful, especially in the sphere of religion, as the imperative mood. We are told that as far as religion is concerned, it must keep its hands off the rest of our life; that it is a matter altogether beyond reason, having no right whatsoever to coerce reason; and that it cannot say to people, 'you must.'
Yet it must at once occur to us that Christ speaks constantly in the imperative. We have it in these words: not, 'It is desirable, if you wish to have blessings, that you should have faith in God' -- but 'Have it.' 'Have faith in God.'
And He not only uses the imperative in religion, but He uses it in the most objectionable sphere of religion - faith. 'It is all right,' some will declare, 'to say, 'Thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not,' in the sphere of conduct. But to tell us we must do certain things in the sphere of belief is absurd.' They continue, 'How can God override all the laws of our lives by compelling us or ordering us to do things which, perhaps, in the very nature of our constitution, it may not be possible for us to do? We cannot intellectually assent to a proposition on orders.'
And yet, it is precisely on this matter of faith that the New Testament persists in putting the imperative... When the Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they advised him in terms of a command: 'Believe!' This is a stumbling block to many, or at least to everyone who does not like obligation. But it is also a stumbling block to those who say that belief comes from having the facts laid before them, and that if belief does not spring up spontaneously from it, no amount of commanding it will create it. That may be true if faith were to be defined as 'intellectual assent' and nothing more. But this is not an adequate definition. If it were, faith could not be commanded.
Yet faith, primarily and essentially, is vital, moral -- a personal relationship -- and intellectual assent is a fruit of this relationship. When a child believes something which its father tells it, we call the child's acceptance an act of faith. Yet it is not. It is a fruit of faith. Faith is the confidence which the child posits in its father, which leads it to believe in what the father says...
If you will read through the New Testament carefully, you will see the commands to believe are used with reference to the moral and vital relationship every soul is summoned to recognize between himself and God [ie: I John 3:23 -- 'And this is God's command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another.']...
And so Christ felt He had a right to order people to have faith, because it was not a matter, primarily, of their minds. He could and does order it because it is primarily a matter of moral character, of heart, of life, of personal relationship.
With that emphasis in mind, let us consider Christ's command as a fourfold call.
FIRST of all, it is a call to a personal surrender to God. If you read through your New Testament you will find that in pretty nearly every case the root idea of the writer or the speaker is that there should be on the part of men, a moral surrender to God or to the personal truths of God. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ' means 'believe on Jesus as Lord; as the one who possesses you; as the one to whom you must make a personal surrender... In saying 'Have faith in God,' Jesus summons us to an unconditional, hold nothing back, irreversible, life-engulfing surrender to Him.
SECOND, the words, 'Have faith in God,' are a call to intensity in service... Faith, Christ meant to tell them, links us so closely with God as to make us co-workers with Him to give us His power in the world, so that we work no longer with a human soul's strength only, but with the strength of God... Faith in God is a rest, surely enough, but it is also a life of power and a call to a life of intensity of service in which every faculty and gift of life must find play, transfigured and made a thousand fold more effective by the Spirit of Christ...
THIRD, the call to 'have faith in God' is a call to confidence. It was not, 'Have speculations about God,' or, 'Have doubts regarding Him.' The early church had an unqualified unhesitating message. 'Have faith in God' was its one word -- 'in God, and in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ'... The agnostic type mind was vexed by the positive certainty of the Christian doctrine and life. But the early church knew. It had faith, and spoke... So stand fast. Believe. Be not tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. Have faith in the eternal and trust-deserving God.
Then LAST, Christ's command is a call to hopefulness... The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews conceives of faith as 'the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'... He goes on to say to those struggling believers who lived by faith even though it resulted in their torture or death, 'God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.'
The Gentiles conceived of the night as coming after the day. Day came first, night followed. Their golden age was behind. The good old days had passed. It was darkness ahead. But for the Jew, the golden age was always to come. They left darkness (Egypt) behind... Day does not begin when morning comes. It ends in light. The Genesis account says, 'there was evening and then there was morning, the first day' not, 'there was morning and then evening, the first day.' The Christians brightest days are ahead. Bonar expresses this truth in one of his hymns,
'Not first the bright, and after that the dark,
But first the dark, and after that the bright.
First the thick cloud, and then the rainbow's arc;
First the dark grave, then resurrection light.'"
Oh yes, I forgot to mention this was published in 1899. One of those "not so good old days" when people from coast to coast (according to the author) had a loathing for imperatives, laws or commands (similar to our day)!
Yet, in light of his last point, where he tells us the call to faith is a call to hopefulness, do we have that biblical mindset where we believe that day follows night, instead of night following day?
Could it be that despite the present darkness, a morning is coming and light is just around the corner? Can we believe God to bring it about? Can we, "Have faith in God"? Or should I phrase it in that despised imperative tense -- people, "Have faith in God!" "Believe!"
It does make a difference. Yet as he notes, it all depends on that ever-necessary personal relationship with God. Blessings on your day, Pastor Jeff