Beware Of Distrusting Him
by Henry Varley
An Address at Malden Hall.
I DESIRE, as the Lord shall help me, to speak in regard to some things that will help us in the life of faith upon the Son of God. Touching this present life—i.e., in order to its real possession, fullness, and enjoyment—we have a whole set of senses----eyes to see, ears to hear, and so on. Now we could understand a person being alive, and yet without the sense of sight, or even destitute of the sense of taste, smell, or hearing; but you will notice that such are cut off from life in any healthy, comprehensive measure. In the spiritual life, we are not aided by sense. We walk by faith, not by sense or sight. The exercise of faith in God stands in the stead of all the senses. Faith in God takes the place of eyes, ears, and all the rest. Now that which makes the Divine life real and blessed largely depends upon the courageous exercise of trust in God.
We need to sound the depths, touching this vital question of the exercise of faith. Have you noticed how Peter says, "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ"? Probably there is nothing that our Lord values so much in His children as a courageous, confiding, trustful faith.
You are aware that if we have children, and they develop talent in certain directions—say for painting or sculpture—or if there be the gift of a good voice, there will follow the cultivation and pursuit of music and singing. We notice with pleasure and enjoyment the things in which our children excel; we rejoice to see their gifts and to observe their increase; and if they bend their energies until they become very proficient, it yields us intense pleasure.
I believe that God, in like manner, loves to develop in His children that which pleases Him, and which is of real worth. He allows the trial of faith, and permits us to come into circumstances of trial and difficulty. I am not at all sure that Abraham had not reached such a stage of excellence, as touching faith in God, that the Lord said, "I will try him at the highest point"—i.e., where submission and confidence combine—and forthwith came the great trial of his faith in the offering of his son Isaac. Seeing that he did not withhold his son, God opened the storehouse of blessing. He took Abraham out, showed him the star-bespangled heavens, and said, "Even as these shall thy seed be, seeing thou hast not doubted or distrusted Me." Oh, then, let us be careful that our faith grows exceedingly. Let us not be surprised or dismayed at the trial of this precious gift and grace.
It may be that we, as God’s children, know much of trial and extremity, that it may be proved that we through grace can trust Him just there, right in the dark, by the side of the grave, or where poverty and where weakness is. It is a blessed thing when with one of old, we say, "Though heart and flesh fail"—a weak heart, a failing heart, a depressed heart, hopefulness gone, the wine of life perhaps drained out;—"When heart and flesh fail"—its desires, its pleasures, its excitements, its active forces and energies gone,----then to say, "God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever."
Now, beloved friends, turn in your Bibles to Luke’s Gospel, chap. v., verse 12: "And it came to pass, when Jesus was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy, who seeing Jesus, fell on his face, and besought Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." Now I desire to guard you against some of these qualifying if’s. Observe the qualifying word. "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." What have we here? Carefully notice. Doubt of the Divine willingness! It is the language of unbelief. Not unbelief pure and simple. In our early experience, faith is greatly mixed up with unbelief; it is difficult to separate them in the workings of the human mind, though we may and ought to distinguish between them. Trust in God and unbelief are essentially antagonistic. The strife on either side is for supremacy.
I have great sympathy with the leper. Probably he had never known a single case of healing. Now that in itself would be a great difficulty. He had certainly lived in a very isolated condition, for lepers were not associated with.
By the way, what a lonely thing sin is! how it isolates men from the good and true! Sin is a horrible thing, despite its pleasures. Sin separates men, depresses and degrades them. The morning’s loathing follows the night’s debauch, and the sinner’s isolation soon becomes intense and real. Poor leper! many a time had he passed over on "the other side;" often had he placed his hand upon his lips, saying, "Unclean! unclean!" and his fellows avoided him.
I have wondered where he came in contact with our Lord. He evidently recognized the ability of Jesus Christ to deal with his case. Was he amongst the crowd on the mountain top when the Lord was preaching His wonderful sermon? Possibly he heard the gracious testimony, for in Matt. viii. 1, we read, "When Jesus was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean."
I do not wish to be misunderstood, or to misstate what I think was true in the experience of the leper. There was here real faith, nevertheless there was also doubt touching the Divine willingness. Now, unless we are careful, a similar experience will mark the workings of our own minds. It is not only true in the experience of the awakened soul, or the soul conscious of sin, but it is the thought which will come to us again and again, viz., doubt as to the Divine willingness to help and save in all conditions. If you carefully watch the workings of your own mind, you will often find this doubtful "Lord, IF Thou wilt."
It is not an easy thing to recognize that all which happens to us is under God’s control. Of course, errors of judgment may lead us into much trouble and sorrow. These things are not to be attributed to God’s will. He may overrule and help us if we get into false positions, but the anxieties and trials arising therefrom are not to be laid at God’s door; they are not His bringing about at all.
He will help us in the midst of them, nevertheless. Let us be careful that we do not impeach the goodness of God. A young man enters into partnership with a man of the world. I do not say that God will forsake him in that position, but he would never have entered into the association if he had obeyed the voice of God. Possibly he may not get clear of the difficulties for years. Let us be careful then, to be on the line of the Divine will.
But now, in any case, let us watch against distrust of the goodwill of Jesus Christ. I think it likely that the leper had been afflicted for years. A gentleman informed me that he had known, in India, a child born a leper, come up to fifteen, thirty, yea, fifty years of age, the disease gradually increasing the whole time. He had heard of old men afflicted with leprosy for eighty years, and never cured. When you look at the incurable nature of the disease, it is marvelous that the leper should say, "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." Yet in this strong faith there was the element of distrust at work. If all along the line of our experience we kept on trusting God without any admixture of distrust, we should know continuous victory. It is because faith in God fails that we fail.
Why do we speak so strongly about faith? For this reason, amongst others, faith never deals with her own resources. I often wish we could get clear of that questionable phrase, "Saved by faith." It is an incomplete statement. "We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, that is all the difference. In the experience of the child of God, it is faith in God that is always to be our aim. If our faith does not grip the eternal mind, and take hold of God Himself, it is nothing.
Faith does not know how to distrust God; she has never learned that lesson. She will never depend upon herself or work with her own resources. Her testimony is, "I cannot trust any other being than God in regard to deliverance and salvation." "Do not ask me," she says, "to trust you." You may have made great attainments, but it is written forever, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm . . . Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is" (Jer. xvii. 5, 7).
I desire to ask you to try to purge your minds of all if's and it’s. I do not like these neuter words. You hear persons speak of receiving "great blessing," and they say, "I received IT." "Well, mind you, do not lose it." If we receive Him, we shall not lose Him; He will keep us "against that day;" but if we change God’s realities for neuter words, we have indeed left the track.
In the Revised Version, Rom. viii.----the only occasions, indeed, where the word it is used in relation to the Holy Spirit—-in both places, the neuter word has been expunged. "The Spirit Himself beareth witness." That is the true reading. It is not it; it is Him.
Qualifying words of an indefinite and neuter character are out of place when we deal with God. It is one thing to say, "Lord, should this be in accordance with Thy will, grant our request;" but it is quite another thing to come with suspicion that He is unwilling. In this man’s case, strangely enough, he called in question the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, what does the Lord answer? "I will, be thou clean!" Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Is not that grand? If I should be addressing one here who is yet a stranger to the grace of our Lord, I may add, though you have neglected Him so long,-—though you have become injuriously familiarized with these things, and, like a door on its hinges, have swung to and fro for years and made no real decision,—-remember our Lord still says, "I will, be thou clean." Yes, indeed, the leper’s dread disease was immediately cleansed. What a beautiful checking, what a healing check to his distrust that was! "Lord, if Thou wilt;" and the rejoinder came, "I will."
I wonder which he admired the most, his healing or the Master that healed. I think he must have been divided in approbation that day as he looked upon his flesh, fresh and fair as that of a little child, and then gazed upon the beneficent form of Him who had healed him by His Word. Oh, happy, blessed man! A grand way this of getting purged from our if's! Let us, beloved friends, deal with the Lord as a reality, and never doubt or distrust His willingness.
Another scripture. Look at Mark ix. 22. This is an intensely interesting case. It is the father who brought his poor demon possessed boy to Jesus Christ. Now, if we have sympathy with the leper by reason of his experience, surely we shall have sympathy with the father in his. The son appears to have been well grown. Do you not gather that from what Christ says? "How long is it since this came unto him? And he said, of a child." Probably he was sixteen or eighteen years old, and he was possessed of this strong demon. By the way, what a number of young persons become possessed of these strong demons! I have great sympathy with that English bishop who, in the drawing-room of one of our nobles, was talking with a young daughter, twelve years of age, about yielding her heart to Christ. The mother overheard, and, speaking with his lordship afterwards, said, "You know, my lord, I never speak to our children about religion until they reach fifteen or sixteen years of age." The bishop quietly replied, "Madam, if you do not speak to your children about Jesus Christ before they are sixteen, the Devil a long time before that will speak to them about the world."
It is very true; we cannot begin too young with our children. Let us not expect too advanced an experience on their part; but do let us aid them to an intelligent, careful, and definite confession of trust in Christ. Poor father! what was he to do with this boy? He has been, from childhood, such a burden, the father had lost heart and was oppressed; we can read that in the history. Yet, observe, he comes to Jesus, and says, "Lord, I brought my boy, and spake to Thy disciples, that they should cast him out; and they could not."
In reproving words to the disciples, but in comforting words to the distressed father, our Lord said, "Bring him to Me." Struggling nobly against his distrust, the father says, "If Thou canst." Our Lord rejoins, "Nay, but if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." In the struggle of that fierce conflict with the powers of evil, he cried out, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief."
Let us not misapprehend the meaning of this expression. He was really battling against years of strong opposition. He had been beaten back from confidence again and again; and now that the supreme crisis has come, he says, "Lord, I believe; but, oh! help me against this terrible oppression."
It is a painful condition when parents have a son or daughter eighteen or twenty years of age, and they see the loved one cursed by some destroying evil spirit----given, it may be, to passion or appetite; given up to self-will, to the novel, to the theatre, or to the inordinate love of pleasure. As for the Bible or prayer, these are neglected and forgotten—-nay, it may be, opposed. Ah! tried children of God, face to face with the withering of your bright hopes, what can you do? God only knows how hard it is to see, behind an amiable front and pleasant exterior, amongst young people, a dogged indifference to vital Christian life. What says our Lord in this painful case? Mark His words. He said to the demon, "I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him." Ah! that’s it; there is competent power in the Lord.
How shall we describe the working in the father’s mind? Was it not distrust concerning the Divine power? It was not distrust of the Divine will—-the father appears to be clear at that point; it was doubt concerning the power of Jesus Christ.
This doubt of our Lord’s power is very remarkable, set, as it evidently is, over against the strength of the evil one’s possession. I will not go into the details; but I want you to notice that when Christ was actually delivering that boy, the devil cast him on the ground, and he lay there and "wallowed, foaming." Let us not get out of heart if in some cases, we appear to be approaching a tremendous crisis. Had we been present at that scene, and noticed the boy wallowing on the ground, we might have said, "Where is the Master’s power?" Where is it? "Why, there, down there, in the boy struggling and foaming; that is where the power is. He will come out of the experience all right, rest assured of that.
Well, beloved friends, let us get rid of this IF also. Praise His name, our Lord has abundance of power; He that holds the stars in their courses! We may not, we will not, say either of Him or to Him, "IF Thou canst."
Some of us know this well. He has kept us these forty, fifty years. Ah! His strengthening grace is teaching us that He has the power; and He is not slow to exercise it. Is not that a striking word, "Christ the power of God"? God has put power in the right place----limitless power, yet always exercised for beneficent issues.
Some persons are afraid of Christ’s coming in power and great glory. Many think that the world is to be converted by the moral forces of the Gospel. The reason so many object to this thought of our Lord’s energy, is because power has been greatly abused and generally found in the hands of tyrants. Power in the hands of Jesus Christ will never be used for tyrannical purposes. I call Christ’s power beneficent force and coercive goodness. There is all the difference between force in the hands of the tyrant and force with the Saviour.
The next word is Matt. ix. 21. The poor woman with the vital issue is before us. She came and touched the hem of Christ’s garment. She said, "If I may but touch His clothes." What is this? Do you not think it is doubt concerning her personal fitness? Mind, the Devil does not get an advantage over you by suggesting that you are not fit to come to Christ Jesus. If you have restrained prayer, and love has declined, Satan will suggest, "You go before God now, in the state in which you are, with your heart and mind cold and away from Him—-nay, your conscience burdened and unpurged?" I believe that Satan does not mind what argument he uses, if he can but keep us from the living God. We need to remember the well-known words----
"If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all."
We say that to the unsaved. Do not let those of us who are believers forget that there is an application of these words which often suits Christian experience also.
Poor weak woman! oppressed with a deep sense of her unfitness and unworthiness. And she said, "If I may touch but His clothes, I shall be whole;" and immediately the virtue went out of Him. I do not suppose (I speak with reverence) that there was any virtue in Christ’s garment; but it is evident that she believed there was. Her faith had reached to that point.
Dr. A. T. Pierson said a sweet thing the other day. Talking about having "faith as a grain of mustard seed," he remarked, "You remember that Christ says, ‘You should say to this material mountain, be thou cast into the sea, and it should be done.’" Dr. Pierson pointed out this vital distinction: The mountain is a lifeless mass, the mustard seed a living germ. There is life in that seed; there is no life in Mont Blanc. There may be a little on its sides, but the mass is lifeless. Faith, even as a grain of mustard seed, is full of life, and is always dealing with the resources of the great King.
And now, in conclusion, notice that when our Lord met that poor woman, He met her at the bottom of His robe. He says, "Have you got so far as to believe that if you touch the fringe of My robe you will be healed?" Then down went the virtue. It is but another illustration of the principle upon which the father acted when, seeing the prodigal son a great way off, he ran to meet him. God is so full of goodness that He loves to display and impart it.
The last word is in Matt. xiv. 29, the incident concerning Peter saying to the Lord, when He came walking upon the water, "Lord, IF it be Thou, bid me come to Thee upon the water." What have we here? A measure of doubt concerning the Divine presence. The Divine presence is not seldom difficult to determine. You cannot locate God to certain positions only. Often the Lord manifests Himself where we, judging by sense, would least expect to see Him.
I am not surprised at the doubt that was working in the minds of those disciples. It was so entirely unlike anything they had experienced before, for a real person to appear, walking on the crest of the waves, just as if they had been a solid floor. The storm is beating on that boat. You remember it was the fourth watch of the night—-between three and six in the morning. If we suppose that they entered into the boat at six o’clock at night, they had been "toiling in rowing" for nine hours, and even then were only in the midst of the sea----perhaps half-way across. What a night they had! and then He came.
In many a tempest, we also may know what it is to be for hours alone. The Lord had been on the mountain-top, yonder, in prayer to the Father. Ah! those waves could not overwhelm the prayers of Jesus Christ. They might wash into the boat, but they could not sink it; for He who had sent them, in the evening, was mindful of them; His eye was upon them, and His prayer for them. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth;" and when nothing less than His presence could meet the need of their disconsolate hearts, He came and manifested Himself "walking on the water." May it be ours, beloved friends, to look out for His presence.
One of the grandest habits of thought that we can cultivate, in the life of faith upon the Son of God, is to recognize that, in the power of the Holy Ghost, Christ is dwelling in us. It is blessed to take this Word and read what He says: "I will NEVER fail you, I will NEVER forsake you." Well then, suppose we are tempted to believe that the Lord is at a great distance from us, let us hold that word fast. Faith is firm, so long as she deals with the promise of God. Then, as the next verse says, "we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Blessed be God! "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
Beloved friends, if our Bank Holiday leads us to take these injurious and hindersome ifs, and put them away; and instead of calling in question His will, His power, our want of fitness, and His presence, we, in the true courage of faith, triumphantly affirm, "He will! He has the power! I am fit! My fitness is my need! I have His presence, for He declares the fact!"-—if this be not only sentiment, but divine facts translated into the prose of our daily life, beset as it is with doubts, difficulties, and trials, God will not have permitted us to meet together in vain. May He bless to us His everlasting Word.