Faith or Despair?

1883 330 In all the great crises that have overtaken and convulsed the people and the church of God there has always been a remnant which, though in weakness, have witnessed for the truth; and whose faith has, by God's grace, proved equal to the occasion. God has always had His faithful ones though unknown and unseen by men; and indeed those convulsions have ever been a wholesome, though painful and sorrowful, means of manifesting the faith of such as desire to be true to Him. Hence, however evil the origin of these troubles, and however disastrous their effects, they are, after all, not an unmixed evil, as they serve to bring out that which is really true, and that which is merely pretentious. Not that we should not deplore contentions and divisions among God's own people, as every right-minded Christian surely does; but when evil, whether in principles or in practice has slipped in and is allowed insidiously to work without being judged, it is a great mercy on the part of God to permit the whole thing to be broken up in order that His truth and honour might be vindicated and maintained. "For there must be also heresies among you that they which are approved maybe made manifest among you" (1 Cor. xi. 19).

But there is another element which such times of trouble produce, or rather make manifest, and which often has a very disastrous effect upon the testimony itself; and that is — the element of despair. It is this element of despair, which often appears at times of great crisis and trial, amongst a portion of those who desire to be faithful, but who have not the courage to "trust in God and do the right," that acts as a dead weight upon the testimony and hinders the due progress of the principles of God. When the Israelites came up out of Egypt and got into the wilderness, it was the mixed multitude, who had gone up with them, that fell a lusting and brought trouble and vexation into the camp.

And so it ever is. History does but repeat itself, whether in the church or in the world. There is always a number of people who are ready enough to follow those who lead the van, and who really do desire, in measure, to be in the right path, as long as things go smoothly. But when things go no longer smoothly, when times of trial and testing come and difficulties appear, at once we hear the cry of despair: — "Oh! we shall never accomplish our object; it is only a fool's errand after all: let us go back. What is the use of our going on when our cause is hopeless?"

Just so! they have never got a clear idea that it is not "our cause" but God's; and as long as we are occupied with the progress of "our cause," there will be sure to be distraction and bewilderment in the presence of real trial.

The fact is these dear people never duly counted the cost before setting out, nor have they ever had it settled in their minds that every true work for God is wrought by God, and that we are merely His instruments. We being but the channels, not the Source, as surely as we get occupied and absorbed with our testimony, our work, our progress, etc., instead of with Christ, God will blow upon it that we may find our true level and Christ alone be exalted.

Now no one can grieve and mourn too much or too deeply over the sorrowful spectacle presented by the divisions of the church of God today; nay, we believe, and insist upon it, that it is the only right condition of soul for any and every true child of God who knows and loves His truth; yet, for all that, mourning over a failure is a very different thing from despairing on account of it. Trial, whether to the individual, or to the church, is surely permitted by God for His own wise and gracious purposes; but whatever those purposes may be, they are certainly not that those who profess His name should lose confidence in Him, and give up everything in despair.

And yet how often this happens when those trials actually come! How many there are who, when convulsions and testing times come, look upon them with feelings of disappointment and bewilderment! They are happy enough and earnest enough, while the testimony prospers and the stream runs without a ripple; but when reverse comes, when the testimony is checked, when those who take the lead in bearing it are taken away or prove unfaithful, how many alas! begin to lose heart and take up and echo the cry of despair: — "Oh, the testimony is ruined; corporate testimony is a failure; unity is broken up!"

I have no doubt that such men as Nehemiah and Daniel had to encounter a good deal of this kind of thing. Doubtless there were many in their day who said with a wail of despair: — "Oh! the children of Judah are scattered; the nation is broken up; the testimony of Jehovah and the unity of the Godhead are ruined: What are we to do? What good can be done in Babylon by being so tenacious of a ruined cause? Let us make a few harmless concessions and fraternize with the people around us and do the best we can, under the circumstances, in our individual capacity!" But the men of faith — the Moseses, the Gideons, the Nehemiahs, the Daniels, — did not talk in that fashion; though there were but two or three, or even one, they were determined to be faithful even if they perished in the attempt. True, they might he mocked and laughed at; they might have to suffer and be put into a fiery furnace; but what of that? That was not their business; at any rate so they thought. They acted for God and left the consequences to Him. It is also true that there have been men like Jeremiah whose scalding tears were eloquent, though mute, witnesses of the sorrow and contrition of heart which they felt for the sin of their people; and though they wept as perhaps no others have wept before or since, they had faith in God and did not despair. Ezekiel saw a valley full of dead men's bones, but when God told him that they should live, he believed God. Had he fretted and complained and despaired he would never have been the true and faithful and honoured man of God that he was. Did he not feel the apostasy and corruption of God's beloved people? Ay! that he did, and deeply too; but that only cast him more upon God's faithfulness. Look again at Nehemiah and Daniel who so completely identified their souls with the sins of their people and took the entire onus upon themselves, confessing all to God with sorrow and with shame.* But they were not overwhelmed, they did not get paralyzed. They confessed that confusion of face belonged to them and to their people, but they did not sink down into confusion and despair!! No! they were men of faith, and faith never despairs because it looks at God. When every one else had failed, they knew that God had not failed — could not fail; and so they rose from their knees refreshed, strengthened and mighty through God to accomplish whatever He willed they should.

[*See Nehemiah ix. and Daniel ix.]

Beloved reader! do we not need to take courage today from such lessons as these? Do we not hear the cry of despair? "The testimony is all broken up, corporate testimony is ruined and everything is in confusion, we must walk now as individuals and not trouble ourselves about ecclesiastical questions!" But we would ask: — Is the truth of God ruined? Is the church of God a failure? have the gates of hell prevailed against it? "Unity is a failure," they say; whose unity? man's or God's? That men have failed to keep God's unity we sorrowfully confess; but to say that the unity of the body of Christ which is made by the Holy Spirit — the unity of the Spirit — to say that this is a failure is sheer unbelief, and a direct denial of the truth of God. Notwithstanding all the confusion and sectarianism that man's unbelief and unfaithfulness have brought in, the truth still remains that "There is one body"; and our responsibility to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" is not one whit less now than ever it was. The failures of men do not relieve us of our responsibilities to maintain the truth of God. It is not that God would have us raise a party cry, nor organize a human confederacy, nor invent a unity of any kind, but keep that unity which is already made by the Holy Spirit — the unity of the Spirit — the unity of Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, in one body — the body of Christ — the habitation of God by the Spirit. Are we keeping that unity? It is not "endeavouring" to keep, as though it were doubtful whether we shall succeed, but "giving diligence to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Beloved reader, again we ask you: — Are you doing anything which practically denies that unity which is so precious to God and to Christ? Are you helping on in any way that city of despair and unbelief, The testimony is ruined, corporate testimony is a failure?" Nay, rather let us "have faith in God." He has not failed: not one jot or tittle of His truth shall fall to the ground. Let us see to it then that we are obeying the word of Him whom we call "our Lord and Master" by "giving diligence to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." For "There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all." H. C. C.