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MATTHEW XVII. 20, 21.

Sister Blake, of Charleston, S.C., has desired our views on this passage: “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief; for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit, this kind goeth not out, but by fasting and prayer.”

Connected with these words we have an account of an afflicted parent whose son was sorely vexed with a lunacy, or derangement, which seems to have been occasioned by an evil spirit, and in his distress he had called on the disciples to cure him, but they could not, and as a last resort he had now come and implored the mercy of the gracious Savior. Jesus, in his wonted kindness, rebuked the spirit and cured the child. “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?” and the words of Jesus above copied were his reply to their inquiry.

From these words we learn one important fact, which is consoling to the saints down to the present time, namely, that the primitive disciples of our blessed Lord were, as well as ourselves, troubled, embarrassed and defeated in some of their undertakings by unbelief, or by want of a firm and unshaken confidence in God. And when we would do good, how frequently do we find this very evil present with us, to clip our wings when we would rise up, and to paralyze our strength when we have to contend with evil spirits. But we presume the point on which our sister desires to be enlightened is in regard to what is said in relation to the quantity and power of faith, the removing of mountains, &c.

The faith of which our Lord is speaking in our text, we understand to be that faith which is the fruit of the Spirit, and the gift of God, and not the faith of devils nor of men. No quantity of human confidence or self-assurance can qualify the disciples of Christ to successfully encounter evil spirits, either in ourselves or in our fellow men. Hence, instead of cherishing or confiding in any kind of faith that we can originate or exercise, we are solemnly admonished to have no confidence in the flesh. And by the term flesh we understand is meant all that is born of the flesh, all that is of the earth, and all that is not given to us from above. That faith which is peculiar to those who are born of God, is a heavenly and not an earthly principle. Death is stamped upon our flesh, and all the powers thereof, and hence that kind of faith which natural men can produce and exercise is, in the Scripture, denominated dead faith. But the faith which removes mountains is living faith. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” - 1 John v.4. The faith then which can remove mountains, or otherwise overcome the world, is that, and only that, which is born of God, and it is that which is expressly called the faith of the Son of God, by which we live. For says Paul, “The life which I now in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,” &c. The faith of the Son of God, exemplified by him in the days of his flesh, never failed; it was equal to every trial; to blast a fig tree, still a tempest, heal the sick, or to cast out devils. The same faith was tested in the patriarchs, prophets and Old Testament saints, as recorded in Heb. xi. By it the elders obtained a good report, and through it we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God, and its victories are traced in that chapter from the framework of creation and its power in Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham, down through the prophetic ages to the coming of the Mesiah, subduing kingdoms, working righteousness, obtaining promises, stopping the mouths of lions, quenching the violence of fire, escaping the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turning to flight the armies of the aliens, &c. Of this victorious faith the inspired word tells us in the next, namely, the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the Author and Finisher.”

Having now learned what kind of faith it is that removes mountains, or overcomes the world, let us attend to its comparison to a grain of mustard seed. This figure, as used by our Lord in another case, (Matt. xiii. 31, 32,) is said to be the least of seeds. Applying this idea of the mustard seed to its use in our text, we are encouraged in our assurance that, although our faith may seem very small, and when we attempt to compare it to that of Abraham, Gideon, Sampson, David or Daniel, or even to that of dear brethren and sisters contemporary with ourselves, may seem to be truly least of all seeds, yet the power of divine omnipotence is in it, and however long the siege may be with us, it shall assuredly overcome the world, and witness the subjection of the last enemy which is to be destroyed, even death, and the delivering up of the kingdom in all its fullness to God, even the Father. (1 Cor. xv. 25, 26.)

Again, the kingdom of heaven itself is likened, in a parable of our Lord before alluded to, to a grain of mustard seed. But small as that kingdom has appeared to be, the germ of immortality was in it; the Tree of life, with all its living fruits and healing leaves, is its development. So is the faith of God’s elect, in all his children, in whose hearts God has implanted it, shall be equal to every emergency. It is born of God, and it can, it will, it certainly shall overcome the world. Mountains are portions of the world; they are lofty and towering, and our feeble efforts to remove them by a word of command is altogether unnatural; they mock our vain attempts, and we are humbled as we contemplate their surpassing majesty and stability. Our ambition droops as we see the “Alps on Alps arise.” But all these mountains shall leave their beds of ages, and with lightning speed leap into the sea, before the living faith of God’s poor, tried, tempted and afflicted children shall fail. Mountains of the earth are sometimes figuratively used in the Scriptures to signify the difficulties which seem to obstruct the way of the saints, as the mountains hemmed in the children of Israel at the Red Sea, when the Egyptians pursued them, or the great mountain before Zerubbabel. (Zech. iv. 7.) How often do we find our way hedged in by what seems to us like insuperable mountains.

“An host behind, a sea before,
And rocks on either hand.”

But that living faith deposited deep in the heart shoots forth from its immortal germ, the blade, the stock, the ripened confidence in God our Savior, and as Dagon fell before the ark of God, and as Goliath fell before the Hebrew stripling,

“Faith, like a conqueror, can produce
A thousand victories.”

We do not see christians trying experiments with their faith by attempting to remove mountains literally. Should they attempt it as a test of their faith, the very attempt would prove a want of confidence or faith, and they would certainly fail, unless that faith which is born of God directed their effort. Their faith, being of heavenly birth and origin, lives only on heavenly food, is directed by the word of God, and is of the operation of God, and that direction is given to it only by the Lord, and only to result in his glory. Hence it cannot be used to gratify an idle curiosity or to inflate us with pride. But if God bids Moses raise his rod over the Red Sea, faith obeys, the sea divides, and Israelis saved. When God directs, Daniel by faith securely enters the den of raging lions; Elijah calls for fire from heaven, for drought, or rain, as the Spirit of the living God directs; Peter lets down his hook successfully into the sea, when Jesus bids him do so, and Paul, by faith, strikes Elymas, the sorcerer, blind, when so directed by the Holy Ghost. But let the seven sons of Sceva attempt to cast out devils by their self-wrought faith, or let all the magicians of Egypt attempt to imitate the wonders wrought by the hand of Moses, and all will prove abortive and vain. Or let even the child of God attempt to go beyond the word of the Lord, and he will find himself shorn of his seven locks like Sampson, and like David, when clothed in the mail of Saul.

Howbeit this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting. From these words of our Lord we understand that the saints have to encounter divers kinds of spirits, and among them there are some which are not easily displaced or cast out. The spirit that vexed the lunatic child was of that kind. Fasting and prayer on the part of the disciples, were to show that their only ground of hope for success was in God, and their faith leads them to call on his name, and to humble themselves by fasting, under his mighty hand. The spirit of the world, when it gets possession of our fleshly minds, leading us into a conformity to the world, is seldom cast out, until a painful fasting has been endured. The spirit of falsehood in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets, or in the many false prophets which are gone out into the world, when these false prophets creep into the churches, cannot often be cast out without much fasting, and that, perhaps, in a two-fold sense. First, the saints are made to feel a famine, not of bread, but hearing the word of the Lord, and this famine and consequent fasting continues as long as those false prophets, who make empty the souls of the hungry, remain in the church. And secondly, the false prophets themselves generally require to be starved out. We do not often see them go out peaceably, so long as they can remain secure of a large salary, or a fat living.

From the whole subject, in its connection, we learn that when called to confront evil spirits, our faith in God, however small, it being genuine, shall certainly triumph ultimately, and when we seem to fail we have occasion for humiliation and prayer to God, whose potent word shall vanquish all the foes of Zion, and give to the saints the final victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory evermore. Amen.

Middletown, N.Y.
August 1, 1859.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 252 - 256