The two passages on which brother Varnes desires our views are these: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James 2:17);” and “What then? Notwithstanding every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:18).”
In the first of these passages, the apostle James is treating upon the practicable effects of faith by which its nature is to be tested. If the faith be genuine living faith, its vitality will be known by its activity, and its action will be in harmony with its nature. The apostle seems to admit that there are different kinds of faith; the faith of the Son of God, which works by love and purifies the heart, is a living faith. Being born of God, it partakes of the nature and vitality of its heavenly Author. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith if we have the faith of God’s elect. This faith being born of God, though it encounters the world, and is opposed by the world, will overcome the world, and triumph ultimately over all opposition. “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.” Natural faith, or the faith of the world, has no conflict with the world, and will not overcome the world, being in agreement with the world. But the faith of the Son of God, by which the children of God live, walk and stand, is essentially different in its origin, nature and development, from the faith of men, and from the faith of devils. Paul says of the living faith of the gospel, “And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).” Hence we live by faith; not by a dead or nominal faith, but by a vital principle, even by the faith of the Son of God; a faith pertaining to his Sonship, because begotten and born of God, it partakes of his Sonship, of his spirit, purity and power. It can never therefore be dead or inactive. Those who possess it may not always feel its mighty power, because so far as they are led, or live after the flesh, they shall die, or fail to feel and enjoy its life inspiring power. They not only live by faith, as we have shown, but also walk by faith, not by sight. To walk by faith is to move on confidently trusting in God, when all is dark and inscrutable to our sight or to our natural judgment. As when Abraham staggered not at the promise which seemed so unreasonable and so unnatural; yet he staggered not at the promise, because God had made it, and his faith inspired implicit confidence in, and unfaltering reliance on, God. At God’s command he went forth, not knowing whether he went; it was enough for him to know that God had commanded; and in the same confidence Enoch also walked with God. And all the saints shall know that in all their walks with God, they walk by faith, and not by sight, having no confidence in the flesh. The nature, power and vitality of the faith of the Son of God is always the same; but we only enjoy it experimentally as the fruit of the Spirit, and as the gift of God; we only enjoy its saving manifestations when our spirit, which is born of the Spirit, triumphs over the flesh; and we are made fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. All who have this faith in them will assuredly know of the Christian warfare; for the flesh, and all our fleshly powers, are as full of infidelity as they ever were. All the doubts, fears and unbelief that rises in opposition to our implicit confidence in God comes from our flesh, and inclines us to endeavor to walk by sight and objects strenuously against taking a step in the dark. This conflict of flesh and spirit, nature and grace, faith and unbelief, is more or less illustrated in every child of God. Faith points the new-born child of God to the yoke of Jesus, to his example and precepts, and bids him move on in obedience to the Savior’s great commands, saying, “Why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized,” etc. But unbelief says, Better not be too fast; wait till this dark cloud shall pass; till you are satisfied that you are a fit subject for the ordinances and worthy to take a place in the church of God. Chided for his disobedience or tardiness in following his Lord by the spirit of faith, which relies alone on Jesus, the convert sees a beauty in the lovely ordinance; while unbelief insists that he shall wait until he has sufficient light to walk by sight. Carnal reason too, believes that it is safer to walk by sight than to walk by faith; but the faith of the Son of God in the believer looks through the thickest cloud, and sees with delight the things which are within the veil, whether the forerunner is for us entered; and fixing its steadfast eye on him who has entered within the veil, desires to fly away from all human reason and carnal understanding, and be governed in all things by him.
“Through floods or flames, where Jesus leads,
To follow where he directs.”
Looking steadfastly not on the things which are seen, but on the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal (or things of time); but the things which are not seen are eternal; and therefore only looked upon by faith.
But we presume our brother Varnes desires our views on the apostle’s declaration, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” We have already intimated our firm conviction that the faith of the Son of God, which all who are born of the Spirit receive in that birth, is a vital and undying principle, which is never dead; nevertheless that vital principle in us may be dead practically, in the sense in which the apostle James has illustrated. “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed, and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful for the body, what doth it profit?” If one of you who are recognized as brethren who possess the faith of the Son of God should thus treat a needy brother or sister, as to practical profit to the needy brother or sister, your faith would be dead to them in that particular sense. The life of genuine faith would fail to appear. Or, to express in other words, what we understand to be the meaning of the apostle, a professed disciple of the Lord Jesus, to treat a brother or sister in that heartless way would deny the faith, and act in opposition to all its teachings. Whatever we may believe, or whatever faith we may have, if it produces no action, is practically dead or dormant. To illustrate the apostle’s meaning, he speaks of Abraham, and of Rahab the harlot. Abraham believed God and his faith was perfected, or demonstrated by his obedience to God. Rahab the harlot believed that the city of Jericho, in which she lived, was to be given to the Hebrews; but her faith, however strong and sincere, would neither have profited her nor the Hebrews, if it had not been practically demonstrated by her receiving the spies, and concealing them, and sending them out another way. It is only in this sense that we understand our apostle to be speaking of faith being dead; that is, destitute of practicable results. What if we have faith to believe there is one God, if we do not love and serve him, devils are equally orthodox, for they also believe and tremble.
Again, we may understand James as speaking of the doctrine of the gospel; what though we vainly believe it to be the truth of God that shall stand forever, what practicable benefit have we from our correct, or orthodox, profession of faith, if we do not walk in it, and contend earnestly for it, as it was once delivered to the saints? All kinds of faith must be made manifest by works. The husbandman has faith in the order of nature, seed time and harvest, and his faith inclines him to plow his fields and sow his grain, because he has faith that the harvest will come when he shall reap, if he faints not.
In the application of the admonitions of the apostle to the children of God, we are not to understand that to profess faith in God, in Christ, while in works we deny him, such profession can be accepted by the saints as an evidence that those who so profess are entitled to their fellowship or confidence. The disciple who says he has faith in Jesus must show his faith, that is the evidence of it, by following him. In the commission to the apostles, as a mark by which they should know the called and quickened people of God, Jesus said to them, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Not merely he that believeth. Living faith will lead its possessor to obey, as well as to believe. How many there are in the vicinity of all our churches who give us every other evidence that they believe and love the truth, and love the people of God. The sincerity of their convictions and their love, we cannot discredit; but their faith is dead to us, that is, it is unavailing, because it is alone, not manifested by obedience to the gospel of the Son of God. Their faith is not so strong as to subdue their doubts, fears and unbelief; nor is their love so ardent as to draw them with willing feet to walk in the footsteps of our glorious Leader. “If ye love me, (says Jesus) keep my commandments.” “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.” But where these evidences of love and obedience are not found, whatever of faith or love a person may have, it is dormant, or we may say, dead, as to the production of the true and legitimate fruits of vitality. In short, the church of God must judge of the vitality of one’s faith, by his conduct. If one says he loves the cause, but on every occasion will betray it, that he believes our doctrine, but will not walk in it; that he regards us as the church of God, but walks with, builds up, and strengthens the hands of our adversaries; we may safely say to such, as the apostle has said, “Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” But we will pass to consider the text in Philippians 1:18.
In this text the apostle expresses his joy that Christ was preached, and in a variety of ways, and from different and conflicting motives; some even of envy and strife, and some of good will, or with pure motives. The one preaches Christ of contention, not sincerely, but maliciously, designing thereby to add affliction to Paul’s bonds. Others of love, knowing that Paul was set for the defense of the gospel. Of all this, Paul says, “What then?” What if the enemies of the gospel are filled with envy and feel maliciously inclined towards Paul, and towards all the ministers of Christ who like Paul preach of love and good will? Shall their enmity, envy and malice retard the dissemination of the gospel? By no means. They can do nothing against the truth, but for it. Their wrath shall praise God, and the remainder of their wrath God will restrain. What then? If some preach Christ even of envy and strife, and others of good will, and some of contention, to afflict Paul, “Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached;” the tidings are spread far and wide, and the great purpose of God in publishing the gospel in every land is subserved; and in that Paul rejoiced; yea, and would rejoice.
The words of the apostle seem to imply that there were some preachers who really preached the gospel, and to the edification and profit of their hearers, who did it from the basest of motives, even from envy and strife, and with a design to add affliction to Paul’s bonds; and we have no right to doubt that such was the case then, and that there are even now some who with no better motives, have really preached Christ, and that to the profit of the saints, whose hearts have never been warmed by the love of God, who in their preaching have designed to gain the confidence of the saints, and finally to make division and trouble in the church, and to bring the true ministers of Christ into trouble and disrepute. If not greatly mistaken, we could now name a score of preachers of that description, some of whom we have once regarded as able ministers of the New Testament, and under whose ministry we have sat with delight and profit, until their real character has been developed, their mask has fallen off, and their hypocrisy has been exposed. These have added far more affliction to our bonds than all the open avowed enemies of the cause combined could do. Like the unclean ravens which carried food to Elijah, they have dealt food to the saints of which they themselves have never tasted; or like Balaam’s ass, when speaking with a man’s voice, they have uttered words which, while unintelligible to themselves, have been God’s message of comfort and consolation to some of the saints.
But it is not, however, our understanding that those malicious enemies who desired to add affliction to Paul’s bonds always preached Christ as Paul and other ministers of Christ did, by standing up in the public assemblies to expound the Scriptures, or to proclaim salvation in his name. But the manner in which their opposition to them, and to the gospel, was overruled by the Lord to the furtherance of the gospel, as explained in the context in which he adverts, first to the things which had happened to him, probably when he was in Macadonia, or at Philippi, and the bitter persecution which he had encountered, and by which his life seemed to be imperiled, had fallen out rather for the furtherance of the gospel. So that their wicked efforts to prevent the preaching of the gospel by raising a tumult against him, having him arrested and bound and imprisoned, and sent away to Rome, had given currency to the gospel, and they were themselves instruments in proclaiming it, instead of being able to conceal it. Their malicious persecution had stirred up the brethren, so that the brethren of Paul, or as he calls them, “Brethren in the Lord,” waxing confident by Paul’s bonds, in which he was held by their malice and envy, were much more bold to speak the word without fear. It is in this way that some preach Christ of envy and strife. Some of whom? Of the brethren in the Lord; but how of envy and strife? Of the envy and strife of their enemies; for certainly not of envy in their own hearts; but they were impelled, emboldened, and waxed confident, by the envy and strife of their enemies. While others of the dear disciples, less timid, did not need the enmity and persecution of their adversaries to stimulate them, but preached Christ of love and good will. It is certain that the envy and strife of the enemies stimulated the disciples with the greater boldness to preach Christ, and even the imprisonment and bonds of Paul had exemplified this truth. And the joy and exultation of Paul was in that the gospel of Christ was preached, by his brethren in the Lord, who were stimulated to preach, by the envy and strife of their cruel and malicious enemies, who were maliciously bent on surpressing the preaching of Christ, and adding affliction to Paul’s bonds. Yet notwithstanding every way, through some of his brethren from love and good will, regardless of the opposition they encountered, and others, being timid, were stimulated by persecution; although persecution was used to embolden them, still, in the result, Christ was preached and Paul rejoiced.
It has been, and still is the wisdom of God to employ the envy and strife, and persecution of the world for the promulgation of the gospel from the beginning of the gospel dispensation. Instead of offering large bounties of worldly comfort, fame or treasure, to induce men to engage in the work of the gospel ministry, it has been the divine pleasure and wisdom of God to employ the rage, malice and persecution of his enemies to hasten his ministers to the field of their labor. A large number of God’s chosen ministers were very pleasantly situated in a large upper room at Jerusalem, and being all of one accord, it was delightful to be all of them in one place. But, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest,” so the Lord caused them to be scattered as soon as they were endued with power from above; and this was done by letting the powers of darkness loose upon them. Persecution arose against them in Jerusalem, and being severely persecuted, they were scattered by the persecution, and they that were scattered went every where, preaching the word. That is just where the Lord had told them to go and preach; and we have no right to doubt that persecution was by him ordained to enforce their obedience to his command. At all events the persecutions they endured were used, under the mighty hand which controls them, for the furtherance of the gospel. The experience of Paul himself is in point, from place to place, he was tossed about by the cruel persecutions which followed him everywhere, so that he knew whereof he affirmed, when he said that some indeed preach Christ of envy and strife; but all that envy and strife had resulted in the more abundant dissemination of the gospel of Christ. In our context, he says, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things (persecutions, etc.) which happened unto me, have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.” Heartily and cheerfully as the apostle labored, and more abundantly than all the other apostles, who can doubt that much of his labor was induced by persecution? Instead of Mission Boards, and Mission Societies, large salaries, and flattering titles, the apostles and primitive ministers were hurried from place to place by the lash of persecution; and thus of the envy and strife which rankled in the hearts of their bitterest enemies, Christ was preached, and more abundantly preached by the persecuted servants of God, and Paul rejoiced, and would rejoice. The things which had happened to him had finally resulted in taking him to the capitol of the Roman Empire, and before kings and rulers where he had opportunity to preach Christ, which otherwise he could not have had. And from the apostle’s days to the present, the envy and strife, opposition and persecution, endured by the faithful servants of Christ, under the overruling hand of God, who controls them all, has done more for the promulgation of the gospel of Christ than all the humanly devised institutions that have ever been invented for that ostensible purpose. And in the great result, with Paul, we do rejoice; yea, and we will rejoice.
Of course, Paul did not approve nor rejoice in the deceptive course of those who preached Christ insincerely, deceptively, or hypocritically, of envy and strife; nor did he sanction the spirit of persecution in the avowed enemies of Christ, though God had overruled all to the furtherance of the gospel. It was rather on the principle that we now rejoice in the crucified and risen Savior, though his crucifixion was by wicked hands. “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and with wicked hands have crucified and slain (Acts 2:23).” We rejoice not in the wickedness of his murderers, but in the accomplishment thereby of the gracious counsel and purpose of God. So Paul, and so we rejoice, that Christ is preached, notwithstanding every way.
December 1, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 306 – 313