Faith and Discipleship

Faith and discipleship are intimately connected, and yet are quite distinct the one from the other. Indeed, faith must necessarily precede discipleship if the latter is to be genuine. That there may be a great profession of discipleship without faith is clearly shown in the Word, and borne witness to by the history of ages. But it is worse than valueless; it is a deception and a snare - "without faith it is impossible to please Him." This is a truth of universal application, and of the deepest import. It strikes at the root of all will-worship - of all legal service - of all the inventions of man wherewith he essays to serve and to please God. But He looks for faith in the heart before everything - faith that puts man in his right place and condition before God, and gives Him His right place as the alone source of all good. It gives to the soul a true sense of what is pleasing to God according to the character of the revelation He has been pleased to make of Himself, and thus a true apprehension of the character of our calling.

Only then can the path of discipleship be really accepted and maintained, and indeed its maintenance can only be, in the energy of faith, sustained by communion with God as to all that He sets before His people - by His Word speaking to the heart, and revealing the end of the path, even coming glory.

A striking illustration of what we are considering is furnished by the incidents recorded in Matt. 8, where these two principles of faith and discipleship are found and set before us in their divine order.

Immediately preceding we have what is generally called "The Sermon on the Mount," which is connected with discipleship, and addressed to His disciples as such. Still the multitudes hear Him, and, astonished at His doctrine, follow Him; but without any true faith in His person, or any apprehension of where His path would lead. Hence we find that when the Lord afterwards declares the truth as to what was involved in following Him, who, as Son of man, had "not where to lay His head," and then enters the boat to go over unto "the other side," none but His disciples follow Him. There was no real attachment to Himself, and therefore no preparedness to face danger, or loss, or opposition, for Him and with Him. No, there was no true faith in Him; His glory and His love had never been known in their hearts, for they had never really felt their need of Him.

The poor leper and the Gentile centurion had so come to Him. True, the faith of the latter exceeded and excelled that of the former; but though Jesus appreciated and commended the bold and unhesitating faith of the centurion, He does not despise the poor leper, nor refuse to recognize and respond to his weaker faith. And what a response on the part of the blessed Lord! And the leper, thus wretched and defiled, represented the true state of Israel in their sinful and morally degraded condition; but, alas! they knew it not, and knew Him not in His glorious person and yet tender pity, that had brought Him (Jehovah the Saviour) into their midst. They were in the darkness of unbelief and spiritual pride, and were therefore not prepared to take their true place like the leper before Him, nor yet own His true glory and power to remove the evil like the Gentile centurion; and hence no true lasting link existed between their souls and Him, by which alone true discipleship can be accepted and maintained. They follow Him ostensibly, and perhaps with apparent zeal for a while, but were not prepared to accept the cross (suffering and rejection here), nor to accompany Him to "the other side."

His disciples follow Him. They knew not what lay in the path - what opposition, what danger, what power of evil would oppose, but they knew Him - at least they knew Him sufficiently to love Him and to desire His company, and to turn to Him and call upon Him in the hour of their distress; nor did He disappoint them in any wise. No, but, as in the case of the leper, He dispels their fears while He responds to their cry, and they find in Him one who has power above all the opposition of the forces of nature - typical of all the moral forces of this world, which Satan uses to oppose and hinder those who, in faith, follow Jesus through this world to be with Him "on the other side."

He calms the storm; He calms their fears. A very present help in time of trouble is Jesus our Lord! True, their faith was weak, as we speak, for they might have calmly reposed in the midst of the storm, even as He was doing; but He responds to that appeal, which, after all, owned Him, and showed that He was their resource; and His divine glory is, so to speak, unveiled to them in answer to their cry, for "the winds and the sea obey Him."

There is, however, another manifestation of Satan's power presented, but, as always, only to display a still greater power in Him, who "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" (v. 17). Two men, possessed by demons, come out of their dwelling amongst the tombs to oppose their progress - the terror of the enemy's power is set forth in order that "no man might pass by that way." But now, in the person of a man, the demons recognize One who they knew was their Judge, and from whose hand they are yet to receive their final doom in the lake of fire, but who had then come to bind the strong man, to spoil his goods, to set free his captives, to undo his works - yes, to bruise his head by the cross, and lead captivity captive, and to lead over to the other side, even to eternal glory with Himself in all the joy of the Father's house, those who had trusted Him here as their Saviour, and, drawn by the cords of His love, had followed Him, confessing His blessed name, and owning Him as their Lord and Master.

Our first coming to Him must be in the spirit and character of the leper, finding virtue in Him to cleanse and heal; or, like the centurion, owning our own unworthiness, but confessing the glory of His person, whose grace brings Him near to us. Only then can we rise above the attractive claims of nature, or go on in face of the storm of the world's hatred, scorn, and reproach; or stand calm and unmoved in the presence of death, or all that Satan can do to terrorize the conscience or heart. Jesus is "able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him." S. M. A.

The least bit of allowed self obscures the presentation of Christ.