By James Oliphant
We do not regard faith as a condition of salvation, from the fact that it is a gift or a grace that God bestows upon us. While we believe that all men are in duty bound to believe in the being of a God, and to believe what God has said in his Word; yet, we believe that it is the result of God’s grace that we look to Jesus for life; that we believe in him as an all-sufficient Savior, and receive him as our righteousness.
Faith is a gift from God
We read in Heb 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” In this text he is declared to be the author and finisher of our faith; hence those who have this faith “are his workmanship,” Eph 2:10. The faith, therefore, of God’s people is a gift, or the result of divine power. It is called “the faith of the operation of God,” Col 2:12; that is, it is the result of God’s operation. In Eph 2:7, it is distinctly called “the gift of God.” Again, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” Ga 5:22-23. Here faith is declared to be “the fruit of the Spirit.” In this text, as faith is the fruit of the Spirit, so is love. “Love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost,” Ro 5:5. “We love him, because he first loved us,” 1Jo 4:19. So love in us is not of human, but of divine origin. It is not the result of our efforts, but a gift; whatever goodness we have is from the Lord. So our faith is “the fruit of the Spirit.”
The Spirit produces faith
It is not faith that produces the Spirit in us, but the Spirit that produces faith. The Bible teaches us that God deals to us faith by measure. Ro 12:3, “According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” If faith is measured to us by God it can not be produced in us by teaching. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Heb 11:6. “They that are in the flesh can not please God,” Ro 8:8. A man without faith can not please God, and if it be said that a man must do something to get faith,” we reply, let him do what he will he can not please God.
If any man ever did please God, it was after he had faith, for it is impossible without it. In Ac 3:16, we read, “And his name through faith in his name hath man strong; * * yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.” Here faith is declared to be “by him,” as well as in his name, and I argue that it is by him in the sense that Jesus is its “author and finisher.” In Mt 11:25, the things of God are said to be hid from some and revealed to others, and the reason assigned is “because it seemed good in his sight.”
Faith comes as a direct revelation
This passage fairly interpreted proves that a saving knowledge of God is produced by a direct revelation from God. Joh 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” So that to teach one to know God is no less a task than to give eternal life to him, but eternal life is God’s gift, Ro 6:23. Therefore to know God is God’s precious gift, and he who presumes to teach the people to know God presumes to do that which God alone can do, and which he forbids him to do, Heb 8:13. “Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him,” Mt 11:27.
The Savior emphatically told the disciples that it was given unto them to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to others it was not given, Mt 13:11. So, under his teaching, those who understood his doctrine were enabled to understand it by a divine power, and hence Paul tells the Corinthians, “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God,” 1Co 2:5. Doubtless Paul understood that God’s power was engaged to sustain and hold up their faith. If we are asked how men believe in him, we will let Paul answer, Php 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.
Faith is more than the product of teaching
How terribly mistaken are they who hold faith to be nothing more than the mere product of teaching. 2Th 1:11, Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would fulfill the work of faith with power.” Can one make such a prayer who believes faith to be the result of teaching? Paul prays God to fulfill the work of faith in his brethren with power. He knew that God’s power could fulfill their faith and complete it. Paul declares that “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,” Ga 2:20. His faith was of the Son of God, and if of him, it was not of any one or anything else.
The doctrine of direct revelation is taught in Eph 1:18-20, “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling.” Here the apostle thanks God that their understanding is prepared to know this hope, showing that Paul understood God to have prepared their hearts to know these things. “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward that believe, according to the working of his mighty power.”
Undoubtedly this teaches that it is the “mighty power of God” that makes men believe or gives them faith. Not only does their faith stand in God’s power, upheld and sustained by it, but the “mighty power of God first makes men believe, even “the mighty power” of God “which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him up from the dead.”
It was no mere teaching that raised Jesus from the dead, but an almighty influence from heaven. And the very Spirit that raised up Jesus dwells in his people, Ro 8:11. It was the Spirit that opened Lydia’s heart and prepared her to know and do the things taught by the apostles, and that had taught Cornelius, a poor gentile, to know and love God before Peter visited him. The faith of God’s people overcometh the world, * and the just shall live by faith; * by it men are justified. * and comforted * and have access with confidence into God’s grace, * and we live by faith of God’s Son; * and we are children of God by faith, * and the end of our faith is the salvation of our souls. * It was faith that caused Moses to see such glories in God’s people that he preferred their suffering to Egypt’s glory, * and by faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
Faith originates in God
The wonderful deeds faith prompted God’s people to do, anciently, tells clearly that their faith originated in God. The benefits derived, the effect it has in us and upon our lives, changing our rough, evil life into the lamb-like tempers of God’s people; all these things, seriously considered, is no mean argument showing that God is the direct author of our faith.
“The express image of his person”
I desire to continue this subject in a plain, simple way, to show that faith is not a mere conviction, or the result of teaching by men. Heb 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” etc. The word rendered substance in the text is the same that is rendered person in Heb 1:3, in which Christ is called the “express image of his person.” Evidently the word person here and the word substance in the text means more than a mere influence or belief. It is certainly God referred to, so the word substance is not a mere influence, but it is no less than Christ.
The Greek word rendered substance in our text is Hupostasis, signifying “anything set under as a support.” What is it that supports the people of God? Is it a simple belief? No, it is Jesus. He is the chief corner stone that bears up all our hope. “Metaphorically it is the ground-work of a thing, the foundation or ground of our hope or confidence,” also subsistence. The definitions given this word forbid the idea that this faith is anything less than a God-given grace which upholds our hopes, and upon which we feed, and by which we are sustained.
Faith in us is Christ in us
This faith in us is Christ in us, the hope of glory. “He is our meat and drink,” Joh 6:1-71. Christ to us is what the manna was to ancient Israel; they were fed by it; so we are sustained by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. As further proof that faith is more than a bare influence or belief produced by teaching, I call your mind to 1Jo 4:4, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
Who is this great one in the Christian by whom he overcomes? Christ without a doubt. See, also, 1Jo 5:4, “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
What is ascribed to Christ in our case is ascribed to faith in another. Our faith overcomes, because faith in us is no less than Christ in us, and he says, “Without me ye can do nothing.” By ascribing to faith this power or merit, i.e. By viewing faith in us as Christ, we can see beauty in the whole chapter that our text is in. “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death * because God had translated him.” It was not argument that translated him, nor was he simply persuaded to be translated, but Christ, the almighty power of God in Christ, wrought this wonder in his case.
In Heb 11:11, “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age.” Such events as this, when ascribed to faith, can not be understood in light aside from that of faith being a direct gift from God.
Not the result of argument
Also by faith Abraham gathered up his son and hurried away into the wilderness, three day’s journey, to make a sacrifice of him. Look at this affection of the father of his long-promised son, now made willing to slay him in obedience to the voice of God. Ask yourself, in all candor, is such faith the result of argument? No, NEVER. It is in-wrought by God’s blessed Spirit, by which he is assured that God is able of his ashes to raise him up a son; by faith Isaac blessed Jacob concerning things to come, looked far into the future and foretold the destiny of his two sons. Joseph also by faith saw the deliverance of Israel, so that the power of faith enabled them to know the future.
If we regard this faith as being Christ in these men, the narrative is easily understood. By faith (Christ) they passed through the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho fell down; by faith (Christ) they subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, and stopped the mouths of lions. Nothing less than Christ in men can enable them to do all this. The mighty deeds of Gideon, and Barak, and Sampson, can be explained in this way, and we can understand how David, the young stripling, took a sling and a few stones and sped away across the valley to meet the mighty Goliath, and how the three Hebrews walked unharmed from the fiery furnace, which was so hot as to consume those who threw them in; all this they did by faith. And Daniel came unhurt from the lion’s den; Jesus was there also. Women also received their children from the dead, not by the mere force of argument, but by Christ, who is the resurrection.
This divine faith caused the ancient saints to endure affliction as seeing him who is invisible. They endured being stoned and sawn asunder; they counted not their lives dear unto themselves, but gave up their lives as a toy; braved terrible storms of the wrath of men, faced death in every shape, looked on worldly honor, and wealth, and ease as nothing; by faith Elijah left his own native land and went to the mountain in the desert, not knowing of any friend on earth.
And I will add, dear brethren, that thousands live today, who are bearing burdens and hardships that nothing but grace within could cause them willingly to bear. Men who would die rather than give up their religion or Savior.
Reader, has your heart ever been opened to see the fullness there is in a Savior? And you been led to love him above all things? So that, though you are a weak worm, exposed to death and sin, yet rejoice as seeing him that is invisible?
Direct spiritual influence
If the foregoing positions are true, then the doctrine of a direct spiritual influence is true. In all the cases of conversion given in the Bible there is evidence of the Savior’s presence. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit was marvelously manifested, and under its influence Peter preached with power; the people were pricked in their hearts. By the Spirit Lydia’s heart was opened, and under the Spirit’s influence Paul and Silas sang the praises of God at midnight in the prison, and when the jailor was converted, God’s holy presence was fully manifested by the quaking earth, and the unlocking of the prison doors, and loosening of the prisoners; and the fact that the jailor came trembling, all proves God to be the direct author of the jailor’s faith.
Cornelius was a devout man, whose prayers and alms had been received of God before he heard the preached word. Saul of Tarsus was visited by an immediate operation of God, the result of which was his conversion, and he assigns as a reason why the Colossians were the elect of God, that “our gospel came to you not in word only, but in power and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance.”
The true reason assigned why they had received the gospel was, that it came to them in the power and great majesty of the Spirit. “Who hath believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.”
Faith prepares the way for the gospel
It is the revealed arm of God that makes way for the reception of the gospel. In the parable of the sower, where some seed fell by the wayside, etc., it was not the falling seed that prepared the ground, and to demonstrate that the bare sowing of the seed can not prepare, we learn that none yielded a crop except what fell in a good and honest heart; a good and an honest heart is certainly one divinely prepared, and thus fitted to hear and obey the Word of the Lord.
The case, also, of Philip and the eunuch is one in which the Spirit’s work is manifest; the Spirit directed Philip there to instruct one divinely prepared in heart to receive instruction, and whose mind had been turned to look after divine truth; and after Philip had taught this serious man and baptized him, the spirit caught him away.
We learn that where the Spirit is there is liberty, and consequently where it is not there is bondage. Zacharias was filled with the Spirit when he spake the last twelve verses of Luke, 1st chapter (Lu 1:1-80). Mary and Elizabeth were filled with it, and thus prepared to speak the words ascribed to them in the same chapter. Peter and John and Paul also spake by the power of the Spirit, and Stephen, and in fact, all who ever spoke to good purpose spoke in his power.
Many men heard our Savior speak who were not benefitted by it, and the Savior says to them, “Ye can not hear my words,” and also affirms that to some it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, and to others it is not given.
God the author of conversion
We should not overlook this class of scripture which abundantly proves that God is the direct author of our conversion. In the following passages a special, effectual and saving calling of God is plainly taught, “The promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call,” Ac 2:39. “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” Ro 8:28. “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” 2Ti 1:9.
A holy and effectual call
These passages teach that God calls with a holy calling, and with an effectual calling; and in no other light can we understand this scripture, “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many noble are called,” etc. It is impossible to understand the things of the Spirit, unless we are first made spiritual. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, neither can he know them.”
Nicodemus could neither see nor enter the kingdom until he was born of the Spirit, and this birth was “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The will of man is wholly excluded from this work, and God is emphatically declared to be its author.
To exclude the Holy Ghost from this world of ours would be to leave us in midnight darkness, spiritually. There would be no one convinced of sin, for the Spirit reproves (convinces) of sin, and there would be no hungering and thirsting after righteousness, nor mourning on account of sin; there would be no real service to God on earth.
The Spirit is like the wind
The Spirit is compared to the wind, and it is to the people of God what the air is to this world; without it the whole world of animal and vegetable life would end, and so every vestige of religion would be at an end; but it can not be excluded from this world, although thousands are taught from the press and pulpit that they should neither expect or desire his presence or aid in their conversion. Their road escapes all mourning and weeping on account of sin; there are no tears and trembling for sin, no “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
The real marks of a gracious state
Oh, how sad and awful to know that many have the reputation of being teachers in Israel who entirely overlook the real marks of a gracious state, and whose congregations never heard one true description of the mourner given. The nature and origin of faith as laid down in this chapter is in harmony with what I have said on the subject of depravity and the will.
I have given, as I believe, the Lord’s manner of rescuing sinners from the awful situation they are in by nature. Praying that you and I may be the recipients of God’s mercy in these things, I close.
From Principles and Practices of The Regular Baptists by J. H. Oliphant