PREPARATORY SELF-EXAMINATION (Con’t.)
“Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”
Such is the confession and experience of the child of God throughout his life in the midst of a sinful world where the powers of darkness not only continually assail him but where sin itself adheres to him and pollutes even the best of his works. To have the day by day assurance that God, to quote the Communion form, “forgives all our sins only for the sake of the passion and death of Jesus Christ and freely imputes to us as our own, the perfect righteousness of Christ,” is to experience the blessing of communion with God.
This possession is ours by faith.
To the burden of self-examination belongs the task of discovering within ourselves the real presence of that faith as well as the presence of that real faith. Faith in us must be both genuine and consciously active or it cannot be said that we are “in the faith”. (II Cor. 13:5) Without this consciousness we are unable toparticipate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper even though, being physically present when the sacrament is administered by the church, we observe the outward form and even taste the physical elements. Doing no more than this we have not yet partaken of His communion, neither have we reaped the saving benefits of His death. The latter is ours only through faith.
The accomplishment of this self-examination necessitates that we understand and recognize unmistakably the characteristics of genuine faith in Christ. All the more important does this become when the world (church-world) is filled with pseudo-faith. Certainly all is not gold that glitters and all is not faith that is called faith. Many there have been and many there are now who say, “Lord, Lord,” but fail to enter the Kingdom of God. They are and remain outside of the communion of our Lord.
We must ask the question: What is faith?
Our purpose with this question is not that we may dogmatically explore this theological term in order to arrive at a suitable scientific definition. We do not aim to lead our readers into the catechism class to interrogate them on the seventh Lord’s Day of our Heidelberg Catechism. Rather, the scope of our exploration is limited to the matter of self-examination and with this in mind the question may be rephrased in the following forms: What is my faith? Do I really believe the promises of God? Does my faith make these promises of God actual realities for me?
Faith, we then discover, is not a mere defining of terms. Its essence consists of more than attaining an intellectual comprehension of the doctrines of the church so that I can feel that, having reached such intellectual attainment, I am ready to “confess my faith”. However important and necessary it is that we strive to understand thoroughly the instruction of the church from the Word of God, the point we establish here is that this alone does not make us believers. It does not give us faith.
Neither does faith consist in a blind trust in the church. Not uncommon is it to encounter those who confuse a certain religious loyalty to the church with faith. These people do not know what they believe, if they really believe anything at all, but in any discussion of matters of the truth they will hasten to inform you that they believe what they do because the church says it is so. The church, they think, will give them a passport to heaven and that is all that counts. Now we may not minimize the important place that the church has as a means which it pleases God to use to gather His people but the fact nevertheless remains that the church has never saved a single soul.
In examining our heart for the evidence of faith we must be careful that we do not get off to a wrong start in thinking, as many do, that faith is some hidden faculty which is resident in all men and that can be activated simply by the exercise of the will. All men, it is claimed, have faith or at least the potential of faith. It has to be admitted that all do not use it and therefore it does not come to expression in all men, but the potential is nevertheless there. With such a notion the task of self-examination concerns itself more with the will than with the heart. The pressing question becomes: Have Iwilled to accept the promises of God? Recognizing an act or action of our own will and identifying that with faith is wrong and cannot lead us to a real assurance of salvation. Does not every child of God know from experience that of himself he cannot and will not will to believe because his will is also totally depraved?
What then is faith?
In addressing ourselves to this question we must point out also that faith is not something that is totally divorced from the intellect and will of the child of God. Neither is faith an entity that has no relation to the doctrines of Holy Writ which are taught by the church. Faith, in its conscious activity, certainly embraces the truth by means of the mind and will of the child of God but this may more properly be set forth as the effect and fruit of faith rather than its essence.
Faith, we wrote last time, is the gift of God. This must be emphasized because by means of this gift God performs His sovereign work of salvation in which He unites His people with Christ and makes them one. Throughout, therefore, faith is His sovereign gift bestowed upon His people exclusively by sovereign choice. Thus the Canons in Chapter I, Article 6: “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree . . . . According to which decree, He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.” And that it is not something which God gives for man to use as he pleases is evident from Canons III-IV, Article 14: “Faith is therefore to be considered the gift of God . . . . because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him (man) . . . . . . . or nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because He who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also.”
From the foregoing we may now point out the particular viewpoint or idea of faith which we desire to emphasize in connection with the matter of self-examination. It is that sovereign power of God’s grace whereby He brings us into a real, spiritual, living communion with Christ, His Son. By it we are made new creatures in Christ, radically and completely changed so that Christ lives in us and we in Him. Faith is that power of God which “casts down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”. (II Cor. 10:5) Having faith, we do not walk after the flesh to do the works of the flesh, but we are led by the Spirit to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in which our Heavenly Father is glorified. This radical transformation is so pronounced that it becomes evident to all the world that although we are still in the world, we are not of it. We become identified unmistakably as that people that has no abiding place here but is seeking a new and better city, the heavenly. This change, wrought in us through the power of faith, cannot be hid in the whole of our life. Our speech, dress, entertainment, labor and everything we do manifests it for it becomes the dominating and motivating force in our whole life. In reality, it is no longer we that live, but Christ Who lives in us and faith is that power of God that brings Christ to expression in our lives.
This gift of faith God implants in our hearts and therefore it is the heart that must be examined. Out of it proceeds the issues of life. Where faith is absent the mind and will of man function in accord with the sinful and depraved heart. Quite different is this where the heart is renewed. From that heart the power of faith influences and controls the mind and gives proper direction to the will. We then no longer want and seek the things that are evil but we abhor them and we think upon and seek “whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report”. (Philippians 4:8) With delight we muse upon the commandments of God, esteeming them more precious than silver and gold. To keep them in all our walk of life is our singular desire and our faith will not allow us to deviate from them even when we are made to suffer reproach and scorn, are persecuted in the world for Christ’s sake and denied a name and place. “We glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom. 5:5)
The evidence of faith in us is marked by the experience of the love of God. That love is not a sentimental, superficial emotion of the flesh but it is the unbreakable bond of oneness that binds us to God in the fellowship of His covenant. Neither may this love be identified with a meaningless “lip-profession” that is supposedly then authenticated by our going to church at least once a week but it is that zealous and energetic seeking after the things of God’s Kingdom day by day, Love dictates that the things of His Kingdom are first, and that not simply in the temporal sense but principally and, therefore, God’s Cause is ALL! To the children of faith there is no serving of “God and Mammon”. There can be no division of love between two masters. If God is loved, He is loved with “all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength” and otherwise He is not loved at all.
Living by that faith we are called to fight a battle. It cannot be otherwise for Scripture speaks of the “battle of faith.” Faith is militant in character and it is simply impossible for one to be a true believer without encountering the opposition of unbelief. That battle is not only one that is waged against the ungodly world and its unrighteousness and the outcome of which is the sure victory of faith, but it is a battle that begins within one’s self. There is a constant warring of the flesh and the spirit within the Christian. Then that battle projects itself into the sphere of the church in the midst of this world where all things have not yet been made perfect and where, as we learn from the history of Israel, the carnal element is very much present to spoil and destroy God’s cause. Indifference to the battle and unwillingness to be engaged as a good soldier of Jesus Christ in the conflict of the church throughout the ages is not a mark of faith. The believer dons the armour of God willingly and stands ready to serve in the day of battle. Believing the faithful promise of God, he is confident of victory.
Our Communion Form enjoins every one to examine his own heart that he may know whether he possesses that faith. Having it we know and are assured that Christ has died for us and delivered us by His death from the power of sin. He has imputed to us His own righteousness so that for us old things have passed away and all things are become new. A new life with Christ is the essence of communion and without it there can be no fellowship with Him at the table of the Lord.