Faith looks to the End

[1 John 3:2]---'Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.'

The words come upon us with a shock of surprise---the strangeness of an unexpected paradox. Here is St. John who has seen, if any man has seen, the tragedy of mortal things, the weakness, the failure, the untrustworthiness of men; who has watched Divine Love being rejected and crucified; to whose penetrating gaze, as he looks out at sin and the penalties and consequences of sin, the whole world 'lieth in wickedness.' And yet, in spite of all this, he has not lost his belief in what men are, in what they are to become. Something has saved him from the fate of the cynic or the pessimist. And yet what is this highest essence of dust? St. John reverses all the emphasis and goes much further. To him this highest essence of dust bears the likeness of the sons of God. After all that has happened he can still believe in the unquenchable divinity in man. It is a supreme act of faith---faith in God, faith in man, faith in the ultimate power of goodness. 'Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.'

It is only the power of faith that can carry us safely through the dark and troubled days in which we live---that can keep our spirits free from gloom and fear, and equip us for the work we have to do. It is so even with the ordinary trials and efforts of life. No book says such astonishing things as the New Testament about the power of faith. Faith can remove mountains. All things are possible to him that believeth. Is not this true of our everyday experience? When the will is braced the difficulty vanishes. The man succeeds because he thinks he can; he fails because he believes that he will. To him that believeth all things are possible.

But even more than this, it is faith which gives all the color and atmosphere and horizon to our higher life. There are three things in the human career of our Lord which stand out conspicuously on the record---His faith in God, His faith in man, His faith in the ultimate triumph of His cause. The intense, unfaltering faith of Jesus in the Father is not only a supreme example for us when things happen to try us and our faith to the uttermost as the years go by, but has also an evidential value all its own; for, though some men have questioned the claims which a Christian makes for his Lord, none can doubt that His eyes have looked more deeply than any others into the mysteries of the eternal world. And just as strong and pure as His faith in God was His faith in man. We did our best to destroy His faith in us, but we did not succeed. He deemed us worthy of His death upon the Cross. And as He believed in God and man, so He believed, against all appearances, in the final victory of His cause. He knew that whatever men might do they could not battle or prevent the ultimate triumph of righteousness and love. Nothing but a faith which possessed the strength of the great mountains and the tranquility of the great deeps could have faced such terrible odds and met so many rebuffs and disappointments, and yet have remained so certain of itself.

As His days on earth neared their close, how little result He saw for all His labors! In teaching and in healing and in limitless love, He had given Himself to the uttermost, and only a few had followed. The majority were indifferent, and the civil and ecclesiastical powers were preparing a Cross. But He never cast away His confidence; never washed His hands of the whole human race. No, quietly He committed His spirit into the Father's hands, confident that if He were lifted up, He would draw all men unto Him. Surely there is at least far more reason to mistrust our own blindness than to mistrust His certainty.

We are apt to think that there never were greater trials to faith than those which we ourselves have to undergo. "We are living in dreadful times," one man will say. "Christianity is bankrupt," cries another. "Why does God allow this war?" asks a third. "The whole world seems given up to evil and misery," says a fourth. It is quite possible, with St. John, to reverse all the emphasis of these sayings. 'The whole world lieth in wickedness' is precisely what he thought; yet he adds, quietly enough, 'Now are we the sons of God.' That this is one of the great days in the world's history; that instead of Christianity being bankrupt, the war---as far as some nations are concerned--is directly due to the Christian love of freedom and independence and the sanctity of the plighted word; that if the powers of evil are revealed in what we see, so, too, are the much stronger powers of goodness---all these are equally legitimate points of view.

The fact is that all periods in the history of men, including the so-called ages of faith, have been equally difficult for belief. Faith in God is not meant to be an easy thing. We are meant to struggle for our faith, to hold it as a fortress against the enemy. Rightly looked at, it is often much harder to believe in God in times of peace than in times of war. It is rather to strenuous times, such as that out of which the Church itself was born, that faith generally belongs. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, writing in such times, draws up his great catalogue of men and women who have lived and conquered by the power of faith. What faith did for that long line of splendid figures, amid their awful trials and sufferings, was to enable them to keep alive and to hand on to others the hope and promise of better and happier days, which they themselves were never destined to behold. And the lesson which is drawn from this great cloud of witnesses is not merely that faith should falter when it is put to the test, nor that the Church has not necessarily failed because evil passions are manifest in the world, but that God has 'provided some better thing for us' and that our duty is 'to run with patience the race that is set before us.'

What faith tells us, then, is this: that, if only we are convinced as to the righteousness of the cause, whether it be national or personal, for which we have to contend, we need not trouble any more about its victory or defeat. It is impossible for a war which begins with treachery, and a broken pledge, and a defiance of the elementary rules of justice and mercy, to end in anything but disaster to those who begin it.

Lies, bad faith, treachery, brute force---such weapons may serve a bully well enough in the despicable work of crushing weak and helpless nations, but they are sorry foundations on which to build a New Order. Certain it is that against the forces of freedom---armed, alert, and strong in faith---they shall never prevail!

Patience not only helps us to go on to the end calm and determined and free from panic, whatever may happen about us, and however far away the end may be, but also brings us to a point from which, as we look back, we see the past transfigured. Patience means the solution of our doubts, the explanation of our problems. In your own life, it may be, either before these days or during it, you have been called to bear some great trial, loss, or sacrifice, and for a time it seemed to overshadow your days with questioning and disillusion, and even with doubts of God; yet if you were true to yourself and did not hastily reject the Divine discipline, you found in the end that under that shadow God had drawn even nearer to you than before. We see incalculable trial and loss; we see blood poured out like water; we watch the retreat where we hope for the advance; we find weakness where we expected strength; and we are all too ready to clamor for some sudden and dramatic development. It is not unlike the ups and downs of our ordinary life; and not unlike, too, should be the power of faith---the faith that looks, without faltering, to the end. It may be that not till many years from now will come the full explanation of these distracted days. It may be that our children in the sunshine will understand what we have been struggling for darkly in the mists.

In Christ, timothy.


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