Christians have trials, tests, temptations, failures, but ...

Jesus is Our Example of Faith

"Let us run with patience the race that is set before us; looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." - Hebrews 12:1,2.

J. Moffatt: "Let us run... looking," says the apostle. A strange word! "Let us run looking?" But this is really the source of all movement in life. Motive-power always depends upon the direction of the mind and heart. "The world is forwarded," says Matthew Arnold, "by having its attention fixed on the best things."

What keeps people up and urges them forward along any line of advance is the inward aim. When by strength of purpose we keep to some course without flagging, when we renounce this and hold to that, when we take a certain line amid the various openings and opportunities of the world, it means that we have set our minds upon a particular end. We are always seeing that end; it comes up before us at the cross-roads or among the dust of the beaten track. Other people may not see it, or see it as we do; but because we realize it, as we possess this vision and conviction of what we judge is our true end, we hold to our course and make progress.

That is true of any calling or sphere, social or political, but it is tenfold true of our religious experience. Here, above all, it is the quality of our inward vision and the amount of insight we possess that lend us energy and inspire us with endurance. "We run." For faith is not drifting with the tide of current practice and opinion; it is a course directed by our sense of God, and especially by our sense of the will of God for us in Jesus Christ.

"Let us run, looking unto Jesus." Why? Because Jesus ran our race. He, too, had to live by faith (Heb. 10:38), as we are called to do. Our English version describes Him as "the author and finisher of our faith," but the word "our" is in italics, and what the apostle meant was that Jesus is "the pioneer and perfection of faith." He gives us a lead in the matter of faith, and we are to look to Him as the great Believer.

He is our leader and pioneer in this kind of life, which follows the will of God, for He began the life of faith at its very beginning and carried it through to the end. He has left us a perfect pattern of what faith is and does. Part of His divine message to us lies in the fact that He too had to exercise faith in His human life, to "learn obedience by the things that He suffered," (Heb. 5:8) to look up to God for direction and guidance at critical moments, and to pray for aid in temptation.

Jesus is the inspiration and example of faith. If you and I are to know anything about faith, from beginning to end, we must look to Jesus who held faith in spite of appearances and worked it out triumphantly. Whenever the pace of the Church or of the individual has slackened, whenever there has been any abatement of zeal and vigor in Christianity, it has been due to the fact that for some reason or other there has been a failure to realize the faith of Jesus and to give Him the central place in our conception of religion.

What is faith? Belief in God and in some promise of God which is to be worked out in our experience. Now Jesus began His life on earth in the faith that He was the well-beloved Son of the Father. He had heard God assure Him of this vocation, and He ventured to hold fast to it, in spite of everything. He thought and spoke and acted by this faith in the divine word of promise. He died rather than give it up.

And the same quality of tenacity is to mark our faith, whatever discouragements we have to encounter. Faith is the assurance that God has spoken to us, and that He will make His promise good, if we leave Him free to deal with us. Faith is the conviction that we belong to Another, not to ourselves, that we are here for some end of God, that we are not made in vain. When we believe, we trust that God has a future and a hope for us. What it will be we do not as yet clearly see, but we believe Him when He assures us that our life is to have a meaning and that He will unfold that meaning. It is a faith which never can be held without an effort to discount appearances to the contrary. And I wish to speak briefly of some of the practical difficulties which meet this line of life, and which have been already met by Jesus Himself.

I. There is the difficulty of delay to begin with. To wait is always one of the trials of faith, and it is most trying because it often meets us at the beginning, when we are young and naturally impatient. Hope deferred makes people sick at heart and never more so than when they are under thirty. We may commit ourselves to faith as the true method of life. We may believe God is, God is good. We leave ourselves to Him, and let Him take us in hand. But for a time it seems as if nothing happened. It is so slow of coming, our chance of a place, that we may be tempted to imagine that God has somehow overlooked us altogether.

Many men and women find this period of waiting extremely irksome. They feel that life is passing, and they do not see how its hopes are going to be fulfilled. They are conscious of powers vaguely stirring within them; they are eager for a career, for some opportunity of service, for independence, for love; they think they have a right to these in God's bright, breathing world, and a right to them now. Yet the doors do not always open. And it is hard, perhaps as hard as anything in the life of faith, to hope against hope, to wait bravely for the fulfillment of God's word in face of an experience that seems to mock it. No one who has had to pass through the ordeal of waiting, with desires repressed and ambitions thwarted for a time, will ever speak lightly of it. Some people really lose their faith here before it goes any further; and many more lose something of the vitality which throbs in faith.

Yet, look at Jesus. Think how He was tried along this very line. From the age of about twelve to the age of about thirty, He too had to wait. During these years of which we know nothing, years that would correspond to the most stirring and ardent in human experience, He was apparently left to Himself at Nazareth. No one seemed to need Him. He must have been conscious of His destiny, and yet He was assigned the humble lot of a provincial carpenter, never known beyond His little village, watching the years pass by, and hearing no voice from heaven summoning Him to larger work and business for the Father. We often forget these eighteen years in the life of Jesus, and what they must have meant for Him. And yet it was during these dragging years that our Lord was winning His first fight of faith, against the temptations of delay.

So, if any of you are on the threshold of life, still waiting for some opportunity of wider service, still passed over, apparently, and not yet called to step forward, look to Jesus, and do not grow impatient with God. Don't gird at circumstances. Never imagine that you had better take life back into your own hands. This is one of the places where you can learn the priceless lesson of self-command. If you are ever to be entrusted afterwards with any responsibility and called upon to give a lead to other people, it will be only as you have first learned how to obey and possess your souls in patience. Remember that Jesus went before you on this hard path. Look at Him, at His brave patience in the discipline of early obscurity, and you will be less likely to grow dispirited.

II. Then there is the temptation of disappointment. When the openings do come, when we start to work out the life that God sets before us, it may bring acute disappointments which test the nerve of faith. Some never get the recognition to which they thought themselves legitimately entitled. Others fail to answer the hopes entertained of them by their friends. The handicap of bad health or of uncongenial surroundings may fall on life, and a first flush of success may be followed by a failure, or by what seems a failure in the eyes of men.

There are many such ways in which our faith in God encounters trying experiences in the middle part of life. If we are not careful, they will set up bitter feelings or produce a dull melancholy which saps the spirit of confidence in God's good purpose, for when people reach a certain point in life they recognize their limitations and are forced to admit that some hopes are beyond their reach. Besides, responsibilities press on them, disillusionments undermine their zest in life, and they are disappointed in others as well as in themselves. Nothing is more common then, in the lives of many people, than to find thwarted hopes producing a spirit of resentment against God, or at any rate a spirit of apathy.

Now, Jesus knew something of this temptation also. When He was at last called forward to His mission, the nation failed to answer His appeal. At first, indeed, popularity flowed to Him. It was roses, roses all the way, thousands from every part of the country thronging to Him. Apparently He had the nation in His hands. But soon His searching message proved too much for them. The early popularity waned, until He was left with a mere handful of adherents. His very life was in danger; He was suspected of heresy, denounced, and opposed on all hands. Yet He never lost His faith in God. With unwavering confidence He clung to the will of God for the world, believing to see the goodness of God in, the land of the living. Jesus, in fact, resisted the temptation of the middle part of life, the temptation to repine, to make our personal feelings the first thing, to brood over what we have lost.

And there are men and women for whom also God's work has been thus revived in the midst of the years. We know something of what they have had to suffer in their prospects or in their families. But we never find bitter smoke rising from their lives. On the contrary, they are bright and unselfish and interested in things about them, just because they have won their fight with this particular temptation. Do as they do, look to Jesus. Never pity yourselves. Self-pity is the most dangerous drug to take, when disappointments come. Never let yourselves dwell on lost chances or opportunities that will not return to you.

"Canst thou, thy pride forgot, like Nature pass
Into the winter night's extinguished mood?
Canst thou shine now, then darkle,
And being latent feel thyself no less?"
Ralph Waldo Emerson - Musketaquid

It is a fine test of life. And the best way for us to meet these temptations to grow cynical and inactive, the surest help against the pressure of the middle part of life, is to look to Jesus who Himself passed through the ordeal in front of us. Even out of these troubles and trials God can make materials for faith. He can use them to make us more thoughtful, more humble, and more sympathetic. And as we acquire these qualities, we are advancing steadily in all that faith means for a fruitful life.

III. Then, towards the end, there is the difficulty of death. For, however good life may have been, however full of opportunities and inspiration, still life is short. At the best it is an easily measured quantity, and often it is prematurely cut short by accident or disease. It would be morbid to be thinking of this often, for life not death is our concern. But sometimes a thoughtful person must face the fact. When you insure your life, for example, you are told the number of years upon which normally you are entitled to count. At a death in your family, you are reminded again of the brevity of your days. Death, you realize, defeats many a plan and purpose. And the question rises for faith: Does death defeat everything? Does it defeat even what God purposes in us? The answer of faith is, "No."

When we reduce the question to its simplest elements, it comes to this: "What is the last reality in the world? Is it God or death? Which of these two powers is the stronger?" Faith tries to answer, sometimes with a tremor in its voice, "God! It must be God." In the earlier days of Israel, no doubt, men did not realize all that was meant in the promise, "I will be thy God" (Jer. 7:23). But Jesus came, and ever since then it has been clear that this promise involved immortality. For Jesus laid down His life, believing that God would give it back to Him in glory everlasting. And God did not disappoint His faith. He met death in faith, and faith was justified.

We read that it had been revealed to Simeon of old that he should not see death till he had seen the Lord's Christ. And that revelation is made to us. We get our vision, our revelation of what Jesus is; then, in the light of that, we can see death truly without exaggerating it. This is the order of experience.

First, the conception of all that Jesus means for life; then the sight and experience of death.

How real death is, we know. It strips and empties life for us repeatedly. But, as we see Jesus, we know that the most real thing in this world or in any other is the faith which holds to God as Jesus held, and so we learn to take death in its true proportions.

To meet it is the least act of faith by which we shall be called upon to honour God. More people, even in the Church, are afraid of death than is commonly imagined. Some are all their life in bondage to this fear, ashamed to admit it perhaps, as if it were a weakness. But many strong Christians have suffered from this fear, men like Dr. Johnson, for example. It is partly constitutional, partly due to certain physical conditions.

Only, it is the experience of most doctors, nurses, and ministers, that the fear of death is not at all common on a deathbed. That may be some comfort to you. Perhaps God mercifully deadens the senses; perhaps He draws out unsuspected resources of courage, when the actual experience has to be faced. But anyhow the fact remains.

And this further help is for us, that Jesus Himself encountered the same temptation. He knew the natural shrinking from death. He had to pass through the haunting recoil from bodily collapse which many of us hate and fear. Where He went we can follow, and follow safely, as we look to Him. What we have to face here He once faced.

Now, it is to sustain this faith that we are called to the worship of the Church. Life is difficult for us, and faith sometimes is difficult too. It never can be more difficult for us than it was for Jesus our Lord. But He believed in God, and He gathers us in our fellowship to strengthen faith. "Let us run the race set before us, looking to Him." When we look at things round us, there is much to discourage faith. What we see and hear in the world is often enough to take the heart out of any belief in God or in ourselves or in human nature.

But we meet here to look to Jesus, catching His spirit for life, and He always revives our confidence. There is not a word that ever fell from His lips suggesting uncertainty or doubt. We see nothing in Him that does not encourage us to believe, nothing that does not make us ashamed of being listless or doubting God. We catch from Him the impetus that sends us forward with new heart and hope, nerving us to believe steadily in God and goodness, to the saving of our souls. You may be here, facing delays or disappointments or even the subtle fear of death. Well, but He is here to show you what faith in a living God can do for you. He is here to help you as none else can do, to begin, to continue, and to end, in the faith that overcomes the world.

James Moffatt, Glasgow, Scotland, 1920

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