H. W. WEBB-PEPLOE
“We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.”—2 Corinthians 1:9, 10.
The Scriptures of God abound in paradoxes, in difficulties which are absolutely insuperable by the common laws of reason; and yet the more we take them into our souls, instead of puzzling our brains over them, the more we find these paradoxes are not really contradictions, but are blessed truths with two sides, and that they only need the light of God to illumine first one side and then the other, in order to reveal them as one grand truth which shall be blessed to the life of the soul.
Exalting Requires Humbling
It is a glorious fact that God must be exalted and man must be humbled, and that just in proportion as man is humbled in his own eyes he is exalted in God’s; but if man dares to exalt himself he becomes, not truly humble, but humiliated, and loses the blessing that would otherwise be his through all eternity. It is impossible for God to give His glory to another—that is the lesson which God has been seeking to teach humanity since the day when Adam and Eve fell under the power of the devil. As long as there was no sin in the world man did not seek to rob God of His glory; but the moment sin came God lost His place of honor in man’s heart, and until God is restored to His proper place it is impossible that the designs of God—which are all love, all goodness, all joy, rest, and peace for the creature—can be fulfilled in man. If men could only learn this blessed truth, their life of blessing would begin. If men could only understand that it is not humiliation when they are humbled and brought to a condition of nothingness in the sight of God, they would then be exalted to their position in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. It matters not what we are in the sight of men; it does not concern us how we stand in regard to the animate or inanimate creation; the one question that concerns every rational being, and must be answered solemnly and truthfully, is, What are we in the sight of God, and what would God make of us if we gave Him full control over our lives?
When God created man all was life. Death had never entered the creature, and only existed as an unknown quantity. Though God was compelled in His wondrous wisdom and love to say to man, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” man knew not what was meant by death; it was an unexperienced horror which might strike him, but could not strike him with fear, because he could not conceive of the existence of death as we now understand it. But the moment that man fell the decree of God took effect, and has remained in force ever since—the decree that sin entails death, that sin demands and enforces death, so that sin and life cannot coexist. Sin not only brings death, but sin is death, by reason of the penalty enforced upon the act of sin, which severs us from God; because to be separated from God is to die.
Therefore there was found in man henceforth, not life, but spiritual death; and there has never been life in any person born into this world until that person is given the blessed gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Physical life men may have, mental life they may have, emotional life they may have, and yet they may lack the true and better qualities of life. Notice the poor idiot: he lives, but he is dead in very life. The madman lives, but he is mentally dead. A man in a condition of syncope lives, and yet it is merely a physical existence; he breathes, but he is dead to all the outside sounds and surroundings. Thus it is possible to live in death and to be dead in life; to have one part of one’s being in full possession of its faculties, while the other parts are altogether lacking; and this is death.
The moment that Adam fell he ceased to exist in regard to the life of God; he lost the life that is called eternal. The purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He was revealed from Heaven among the children of men, was to re-bestow what Adam had lost, and to endow humanity with something better; He came to give us back all that we lost in Adam, and also to make us the sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty in the fullness of the enjoyment of that wonderful term. Adam could not be called the child of God in the sense in which that term is applied to a Christian. Adam was only a child of nature, with the God of providence and power overruling him; the Christian is a child of grace, with the God of love and beauty and holiness overruling him.
Faith Claims What God Bestows
Faith is the act which God has empowered every creature to perform, and by which we take to ourselves the gifts of God. Thus it is that in the Scriptures eternal life is everywhere described, not as a possibility through human merit, not as a possession to be attained by labor, but as a gift—“the gift of God is eternal life.” What does a man do when he would receive the benefits of that gift? He simply stretches forth his hand and receives it as his own, receives it to himself with all his faculties of gratitude and joy, and then participates in the benefits that accrue from it. Faith, then, is simply claiming from God what God bestows, and thankfully accepting the benefits thereof. Faith may submit blindly in some respects. The world may laugh, but we are not ashamed to say that while our faith is reasonable, reason cannot as yet satisfy itself with regard to everything in which faith must be exercised. Otherwise there would be no room for faith, for the highest faith does not exist where reason has satisfied all these requirements. Faith simply takes what God bestows, and enables man to become a partaker of all the benefits that can accrue from the blessing which God in His grace or goodness is pleased to offer to man. Thus faith is receptive; and faith, when it has received, submits, because it is blind and ignorant, and because it simply accepts the Word of God as infallible.
Faith Necessarily Submits
But while faith is demanded by God from all mankind, because He has endowed man with the possibility of using it, there is another blessed spiritual quality which is of equal importance, and must have full play before one can enter upon this life of privilege which God offers. It is essential that we should have the faith which involves submission to the authority of God—the authority which appears in the gospel dispensation as pre-eminent love. Thus faith brings grace and secures pardon, peace, and acceptance with God; it secures life and a participation in the very powers and essential attributes of God; it brings to man an indwelling power for life, enabling him to live out that life with which he is endowed by the grace and goodness of God. The Holy Ghost is the source of energy and of ability for all service, sacrifice, and enjoyment. But still faith brings, through the revelation of God accepted in the soul, all these benefits, and until we by faith take them and claim them for ourselves we have not entered upon the life of blessing.
Faith Requires Trust
The first duty of a child of God is to exercise faith by believing God’s Word and submitting to His authority; but in order to secure the true blessings of life in action, instead of enjoyment we must turn the objective gifts of God into a subjective experience of man. We must do this by the exercise of the quality which the Scriptures call trust. Faith is totally distinct from trust; they may be called co-partners, but are not the same in any sense, and it is essential that we should understand the difference not only of the terms, but also of the action involved in the exercise of faith and trust. No life of rest, no life of peace and joy and power, can ever be enjoyed until the Christian takes God’s gifts by faith, and by trust gives himself into God’s hands. By faith we claim our privileges; by trust we prove that we have taken possession of the gifts of God, and that they have become to us what God intended them to be.
Why is it that many have thus far lived so low a life as Christians, and why should so many who call themselves believers not even be so much believers as the devils?— for they do not even tremble. Alas for the sinners who exceed the devils in unbelief. The very devils believe and tremble; men believe and calmly sneer. But we may be believers in the very best sense of the word, yet we may not have been trusters, and only as such can we really attain to the life of rest and power.
Trust Constantly Relinquishes What is Dead
The gospel has a two-fold effect wherever it is rightly preached to the unconverted. St. Paul says (2 Cor. 2:15) that we who preach “are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life.” The gospel brings those that believe into the possession of life, because they take the gift of God; it brings a double sentence of death upon those who refuse, because they reject the free offers of God in Christ Jesus. Such a sentence instinctively recommends itself to our ideas of propriety and justice. We feel that God could not do otherwise than give life where He has provided it, when men have fulfilled the conditions of belief, and that He cannot but refuse life to those who will not submit themselves to the righteousness of God, which is Christ Jesus our Lord. But while we accept those words as applicable to the outside world, have we, as Christians, ever realized that those terms describe the two-fold action of the gospel all through our course of life upon earth? The separation of death unto death and of life unto life never ceases in the believer from the moment that he first accepts the gift of God, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Many Christians fail to realize that wherever the gospel carries its proper force it is continually handing over to death what is of death, and passing on into brighter and more abundant life that which is really the life of God in us. Therefore St. Paul goes on to say (2 Cor. 4:10) that we are “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” He then adds, “So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” He means, I suppose, that every man who of his own free will gives over to the death whatever is of death—whatever is mortal, of the earth, corrupt—finds that life comes into that part which he has given to the death; he finds that death leads to life, and that this is the only way to live.
Nothing humbles a man so much as the gospel, for it causes him to realize his own impotence and worthlessness. Many have thought that they could obtain eternal life by labor. I would to God that, convinced of the folly of trusting to self-righteousness as a means of receiving eternal life, we might never forget the solemn fact that after receiving, like poor beggars, the gift of life through Jesus Christ, our life is no longer ours, but His; we cannot live it, He must live it in us; we cannot work it out, He must work His will in us. But against that life of God in Christ Jesus which the Holy Ghost would carry out in us, there arises a militant body of enormous force within us, resisting the Holy Ghost at every point, so that the Holy Ghost must work its way point by point throughout our being. How is this to be obtained? First by the recognition of the fact, and then by the glad submission of faith to the will of God, and then by determinedly throwing overboard anything that would be an obstacle to the life of the Christ, and then by yielding the whole self to God. Begin by yielding, for trust is the outcome proper of yielding. Your nature is dead; therefore you must give up death to death, and take the life which is His gift and say, “It is thy life, let it reign; I yield all, but I have Him;” and the life of the Son of God will be manifest even in your mortal body, and of course still more in your soul and spirit.
Faith Takes; Trust Gives
This idea of trust is illustrated in the case of the Apostle Paul in connection with the trouble which befell him in Asia, and for which he sought relief on every hand (2 Cor. 1: 8). There has been much argument as to what was the trouble of which he speaks, but I care not what the occasion was; it suffices to say that in Paul’s experience there came a moment when he realized that he was in the very face of death, and the pressure upon him was so great that it seemed impossible for him to obtain deliverance. He looked out, he looked around, he even looked up; but it seemed as if there was no possibility of escape. At last he looked in, and then he says, “Moreover we have the sentence of death in ourselves.” He looked in as a man might who is in a sinking ship in the midst of the broad Atlantic, and who realizes from the face of the captain and the sailors that there is no hope, no possibility of a near sail, no life-boat ready, and who at last looks within and says, “It is death; there is no escape.” But just as human despair seizes upon him, St. Paul turns from man, he turns from circumstances, he turns from all earthly conditions, and he looks up into the face of God and says, “We have the sentence of death in ourselves,” that what?—“that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” Like Abraham on Mount Moriah, in one instant his gaze goes up to God, and he feels that God can deliver, though no one else can. So this man Paul felt that there was no deliverance in man, no hope in himself, but that this was the moment for trusting God, for giving up his whole being to Him. This is trust far more than faith; faith takes, trust gives; by trust you commit into the hand of God, with perfect certainty of deliverance and blessing, that which in itself brought you nothing but the absolute certainty of death.
This is very humbling, but the gospel was never meant to pander to man’s pride. Men would like to go to heaven by human toll; they would like to do great works for the glory of them; Christian ministers would like to feel that a magnificent sermon had led to great results upon the world at large. No, my brother, my sister, you must learn that you first must come to the point of despair of self and of everything that is human, and then you must look into the face of God and acknowledge that He alone can help you, and then He will give you deliverance. “He hath delivered me from so great a death, and doth deliver,” says St. Paul. But what about the future? “In whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” Past, delivered; present, doth deliver; future, he will deliver.
Men too frequently say to themselves, “Well, I have no one else to trust, so that I will say that I trust God. I would take a man if I could find him; I would trust myself if I dared; I would look to the undertaker to keep me out of the coffin if it were possible, but because he cannot I will try to say that I will trust God.” Do you think God is going to let you sneak into heaven that way? Do you think God will give you the place of honor when you give Him the place of humiliation? Give God the glory. How? By coming to this blessed condition, which St. Paul describes in himself. When you look in as well as around and see no prospect of death, then look quietly up into God’s face and say, “Now, Lord! Now, Lord!” For twenty years those two little words have been the greatest help of my life —“Now, Lord!”
Despair Unbinds Trust
Brother clergy, you know what it is to be engaged in making the finest sermon that ever a man preached, and when you have finished sundry beautiful sentences, and are just evolving with the travail of spiritual toil the most perfect sentence of that very perfect sermon, suddenly the door of your study is assailed, and in comes the little domestic and says, “Mr. Tompkins wants to see you.” He has spoiled the best sentence that human mind ever made! “Bother Mr. Tompkins!” Never say “bother” again. Because the very moment that there comes the knock at the door, which has spoiled the best production that humanity ever enjoyed, God can step in and give a better still. When I lived in the country, and was working away at my sermons with little time left, my neighbors’ cows used to break into my garden and spoil that “best sermon,” until I learned that even when there is little time left, into a parson’s study there could come the living God, who could manage the sermon better than I could. If you will only learn that trust comes when you have reached despair you will have learned something, which in addition to the doctrine of faith, will make your life a life of rest, calm, and power. I love to feel now that when ten times the interruptions come in a London study compared with what I used to have in the country, my Lord is still sufficient for it, but that He wishes a servant who despairs of himself. You must despair before you can rest; you must give up before you can receive; you must give out before you can enjoy the blessed inflowing of the Holy Ghost as the revealer of Christ Jesus the Lord.
Trust Brings Confidence and Boldness
But there is something further which is meant by this word trust. It is very distinct in the original from our word faith. Faith is pistis; trust is pepoitha; pepoithesis, the noun, only comes six times in the New Testament, and is only once translated trust, In the other five passages it is translated confidence, a very blessed word, but it is not the same as trust, because confidence and boldness (parresia) are the outcome of faith and trust. Faith takes into the soul what God in His mercy reveals, and believes God against all comers. Trust hands over to God what God has given us and says, “Keep. Lord, and use, for I cannot.” Then comes a holy confidence and assurance of soul which prevents us from ever being disturbed under any circumstances whatever, and out of that confidence there comes a boldness which enables us to act for the glory of God. Faith, when it has conceived, bringeth forth trust; and trust, when it is finished, bringeth forth confidence and boldness.
These two, faith and trust, will be exercised in different ways. It is a noteworthy fact that in almost every case faith is described as exercising itself to do what is already complete. It takes the word of God, which is already spoken; it takes the work of God, which is already accomplished; it takes the Son of God, who is already provided; it takes the Holy Ghost, who has already come to give life and power to every man who will receive it. Faith is always taking that which is already provided for us by God, and it matters not that we cannot fully understand; we believe God’s word, because we believe that He cannot lie.
Enduring Confidence Enables Godly Abandonment
But now we must go a step farther in order to be fully blessed in every part of our lives. We must now evince active trust in God by throwing ourselves upon Him in the despair of self and of everything earthly and human, with the conviction that as we abandon ourselves to Him He will undertake for us and carry out His purposes in us. You may think that it is very presumptuous for a man to make such a demand of God, especially in connection with your earthly business.
A friend went one morning to the house of the great Sir Robert Peel, and found him with a large number of letters lying before him; he was bowed over them in prayer. The friend retired, and returning a little later, said, “I beg your pardon for intruding upon your private devotions.” Sir Robert replied, “No, those were my public devotions; I was just giving the affairs of state into the hands of God, for I could not manage them.” If you will just hand the letter-bag over to the Lord you will find that you can trust it to Him. It may contain vital matters to your firm, to your nation, perhaps, which you think only you can manage. Try trusting the living God with your letter-bag or your housekeeping. Do not ever fret or fidget again; put everything into His hands and say, “Now, Lord, undertake for me.” That is quite distinct from faith. For instance, I am in a very difficult situation, and a friend tells me of a very able lawyer. He says, “I forget his name, but I will write to you, giving you his address.” I receive a letter from him the next morning containing the name and address of the lawyer. I have faith in my friend’s word and in the letter that contains the name and address of the lawyer. I have not yet trusted him at all, but now I go down to his office and put my secrets and difficulties into his hands and say, “Take them, and I will leave them without a fret in your hands.” He looks at them and says, “I can manage this affair without the slightest trouble. I can win your case without a shadow of a doubt.” I go out calm and confident, because I have faith in the power of that lawyer, and because I have trusted my case in his hands.
Henry Varley used to tell how, when he was in America, he once walked down to a river’s edge in the dead of winter, and thought that the ice looked rather peculiar. A friend who was with him said, “It will bear; go on.” He put out his stick and felt his way along until he suddenly saw a fellow come down with a team of four horses and drive right over the ice. Then he said. “I can trust it.” That is human trust—trust in earthly things. Trust in God steps out into the dark and gives everything into His hands though everything seems hopeless.
In the Bible faith is distinguished from trust in that by faith we take Jesus Christ, and trust takes us to God through Christ. Let us see how it acts. Notice how sin is treated of in the Epistle to the Romans. First there is the sense of guilt. Faith takes the doctrine that in Christ God was satisfied in regard to me as a sinner; trust goes to God through Christ and says, “I have now no fear of judgment. I walk up to God with perfect confidence as to my guilt, for it is put away.” Then faith takes the word of God that Christ is a Savior from the power of sin; trust steps out into the place of difficulty into which God calls me, believing that the Christ will really deliver me. Faith takes the doctrine that I am delivered from the action of death in sin; trust, when I yield myself to God as a man that is alive from the dead, passes my whole being into God’s hands for keeping, for power, for service. Faith takes the fact that there is no condemnation; trust believes that there is no separation, and that I am joined to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus trust is to be exercised in every department of salvation. God alone knows your trial, and He will help you. Look your trial right in the face and say, like St. Paul, “I cannot escape; I despair; the sentence is death.” A dear one may be dying, or the fell sentence of the physician may be upon yourself; the dark trial of poverty may stare you in the face. You say, “I try to believe in a God of love, but I am very greatly troubled; I cannot rest night or day.” My friend, faith is not enough there; you must trust. You desired life, and the answer came death. Now trust, trust! Alexander the Great had a physician at his court who was his bosom friend, and we are told that Alexander loved him greatly. One day there came an anonymous letter on a waxed tablet to the king, which read: “O king, thy physician purposes to kill thee; there is treachery in thy court. He will kill thee by the draught which he gives thee tomorrow, under the plea of healing thee.” The king put that waxed tablet into his breast, and the next day, when the physician came to give him the draught that was for the healing of his body, he put out his left hand and took the cup, and at the same time with his right hand he pulled forth the waxed tablet from his breast and handed it to the physician, and said, “Friend, I trust thee.” and drank the potion before he had even stopped a moment to see the effect of that letter upon the physician. That was trust. My brother, I know not what God’s draught for you may be, but…
“The great Physician now is near.
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the doubting heart to cheer:
Oh, hear the voice of Jesus!”
How dare you doubt the great Physician! How dare you say, “My God, I cannot, I cannot go forward!” Believe that the Lord can. Despair of self; the Lord comes in when you put out your soul toward Him. It is not enough to believe that Jesus is the great Physician; you must trust Him. We trust the steamer every time we cross the ocean; we trust the cook every time we partake of food. What fools we are that we do no trust God when He tells us to look up to Him and lean hard upon Him through Jesus
Godly Abandonment Enables Effective Service
Lastly, there is service in business, service in the home, service in the church, service with the children; and you are saying, “I cannot, I cannot!” How often ministers settle down to write a sermon and say, “There is not a text in the Bible that will do!” One day I said to Spurgeon, “Brother Spurgeon, did you ever find it difficult to get a text from which to preach.” “The Bible sometimes seems to me like blank wall from beginning to end, without a text in it.” Spurgeon replied, “That is what I sometimes feel. When I was a young lad in Cambridge I lived in a very narrow street where the roofs of the houses were very high. My room was not a pleasant one for there was nothing to look at but roofs. I began one Monday to look for a text. I could not find one. Tuesday came and I had none—Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—and Saturday. I was in despair. I said, ‘Well, Lord I suppose that in the country I will get a text.’ So I started out to go for a walk but just then there came a rain, and I had no chance of leaving my room. Four o’clock came and there was not a text in the Bible. All at once I heard a twitter, twitter, twitter, and there were a flock of sparrows under the eaves just outside of my window pecking at a canary. I had my text in a moment: ‘Mine heritage is unto me as speckled bird, the birds round about are against her.’” God gave him his sermon, and when you come to despair in yourself, God will come to the rescue.
In 1860 I went for the first time to see York Cathedral. I reached there about seven o’clock in the evening, and sat down in a corner. A child caught my attention. As a result I did not see that a man was sitting next to me. I was suddenly moved by the beauty of the architecture to say aloud, “What a grand building! What a wonderful building! How splendid! Thank God!” A voice at my side said, “Yes, it is very beautiful.” I turned and there at my left sat an old man about seventy-five years of age, in a smock-frock, with a stick in his hand. He looked very sad, and very, very hungry. After talking with him for a moment I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out eighteen pence (thirty-six cents)—I was a poor fellow and had very little money. I know not why I did it. As I rose to go, the old man began in an instant:
“Stop, sir; you won’t be ashamed to take an old man’s blessing, will you? Do you know what you have done for me? You have just saved my life. I received word last evening that my daughter was dying, so I started off and walked into York last night, and arrived with four pence in my pocket. I went to a lodging-house, and found they would give me a dirty bed for two pence and a clean one for four pence. Father always told me to keep clean, and I did not think, though I was hungry, that He would wish me to go to a dirty bed: so I took the clean bed for four pence and trusted Father. I came here at seven o’clock this morning to Father’s house, that I might talk to Him, and I have been waiting until Father sent the bread. I knew He would send it, and you are His messenger.”
“You don’t mean that you have been sitting here since seven o’clock this morning? It is seven o’clock at night; and you have had nothing?” He said, “I have been waiting for Father’s time. It is Father’s time now, and He has sent you.” I put my hand into my pocket and took out what I had—three or four pounds—and said, “keep what you like.” He looked me in face and said, “Sir, how dare you! Father told you what to give, and do you suppose He doesn’t know how to find more when it is needed? I cannot touch a penny that he did not send. You have given all Father wanted me to have. Bless you!” He gave me such a blessing, putting his hands on my shoulders, asking God to make me HIS all through life, and to make me a vessel to carry God’s grace. That old man’s prayer has clung to me for thirty-five years, and I bless God for it.
My brethren, despair of self, and then trust in the living God, “who hath delivered, and doth deliver: whom we trust that he will yet deliver.”
This address by H. W. Webb-Peploe, which was slightly edited for inclusion here, appeared in the Gospel Herald, Vol. 3, September 19, 1911.
Hanmer W. Peploe (1837- ) was raised in a Christian home; became a noted track athlete in his younger days; was converted at the age of 19 as a result of reading a Bible given to him by a pastor and the unsettling conviction that fastened upon him of his perilous spiritual condition as he was watching some races. He was educated at Marlborough College and Pembroke College. Among his first pastoral assignments was one in the country. It was while vacationing that he found the secret of spiritual power as the result of another pastor’s question: “Have you found perfect spiritual rest and joy unceasing?” He sought that rest and joy, and it changed his life. He spent over twenty-five years as the pastor of St. Paul’s in London, where it was his delight to preach on Christ and Him crucified in simple terms. He saw himself as a simple messenger for God. He preached anywhere from eight to fifteen sermons each week. He also accepted many additional invitations in the city and other places. He often responded to as many as 40 letters per day, which necessitated starting early in the day and going until 1:30 AM when he was younger, and midnight when he was older. His wife was also a tireless worker. They had four sons, three of which were in ministry.